This was once a yucca. Now it is words, and tides, and bark, and verdure. The abstractions were jokes, lozenges and ponds, places in which the sky does not appall and destroy earnings. This is not a light because that is not in its calm. Gingivitis serves the light. But what happened first? Perfume schools, a boiling ticket and a torment to be disturbed by which emotion is indigo or granite. Scourge meanings and themes. Jingle or a gun bangs and a noodle whirls. This makes technology easy and there is often a point to housing and feathers. The embrace of oblivion, the kimono’s harmonica. Paint touches the ensemble money. Drool fiber if the dance of the grebe is a riotous hit. Mint volume. The flare writhes in deeper attraction. Clasp Corso. I greet the demonstration. It hooks a private excitement. The genre burns. That is rather in the details carved and cooked. A violent control is first boxed than packed in thick mud. The odor of the novel is the path to mustard and its emotion. Infantry! Muscle personified to spin coordinates at a café or trumpeted like a box to sound the transformation interprets the dark. Choose the stew in the pathos knob that does a fluorescence, like Ezekiel. A moose above the keyboard enriches ocher. The taproot opposes boiling but accepts its mood. Infringement tied we galvanized it. The birth of thought is entertaining in a piece of cloth. The reckless strength of cognition will menstruate when it is squeezed. This is enveloped by a gaze, then dipped in haste. A structure of clay fired at a heavy metal produces scholasticism and subterranean fungi, usually truffles, a warm infrared that hobnobbing presents as a lyrical opposition to predestination. Talking is jungles. Ooze feeling as burning words. Steam. Abstract machine. Feeling is quicker than math. Death always has money. The grebe which complies in embryonic beams is still developing. Sugar is quixotic, a trapeze for Bach. Float the throat. Freight and farm not sent in succession but hurled into redemption. The Blob was equipped with maple to approach the sublime. The radical version elevated everyone. Emphasis slides for a bug. Massive roots have pasting there. Passion forms a key. Winch a willow with the moon. Wrestle a beginning. Travel by spectrum and growth. So which is it going to be: to develop an echo, or mirror a raspberry? I was lost and now odd is mutable and incognito. I must adorn everything with lips. I must indulge a feeling of seaweed abhorred in sweat and engine. The phonograph rattan has corners like codeine and slams the resonance of umber on a touch of thistle. Ascensions are prodigal when crawling to greenery. Development coppers. The air is dimes. Eyebrows harnessed to heaven. The glow of coal. The pink of willow. Daylight stabbed by description. The physiology of wind lengthens a seashore and ripples the sand. Blisters map the incense of palliation. This is floating. This is bitumen. This is acceptance and scorn. This was once a yucca. Proud and tall and potato chips.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
When philosopher and author Yannick Haenel found himself unemployed, unable to pay the rent on his Paris apartment and eventually evicted, he began living in his car. It was 3:00 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and the car was parked by the sidewalk. Cherry petals twirled in the air and came to rest on his windshield. It was his good fortune that the car was parked on rue de la Chine, one of the last Parisian streets that didn’t charge for parking. He had in his possession three cardboard boxes packed with laundry and books. The apartment had been furnished. The car belonged to a friend in Africa who’d not yet made plans to return. He had no idea what to do. He had no other but to sit in his car and muse on the vagaries of life. He was outside the protective walls of daily stability. The odd thing was, he felt serene. He felt a peculiar sense of well-being. This was a new chapter in his life. A life which suddenly felt delightfully disengaged, free of the usual domestic hassles and responsibilities.
It was, at first, an odd sensation, being behind the wheel of a car, pedestrians walking by paying no attention, but with nowhere to go, no reason to start the engine. Just sit. Sit and gaze. Sit and think. Sit and muse. It was like falling into a hole.
But the hole he dropped through landed him in what he referred to as an interval, a feeling combined of joy and what the French call déchirure, of being ripped, wrenched, torn. It is, he says, hard to describe. It’s one of those feelings that elude definition and is a mixture of contradictory emotions, but more than that, it extends meaning into the void.
Yannick turned the key and the radio came on. It was the news concerning the national election for a new president. It did not matter in the least to him. He had long since begun to feel disconnected from politics. I know the feeling. After having voted for Obama in the first election, and watch as he pursued policies even more violent and diabolical than those of the Bush administration, I realized that George Carlin had been right. Voting is useless.
France and America are not that different, at least not when it comes to politics. There is the same corruption, the same empty platitudes delivered to appease the populace, the same deceptions, the same elite class running things for the banks and corporations.
The least link connecting him to society felt absurd, remarked Yannick. Amen, say I.
In music, an interval refers to the distance in pitch between two notes, which is expressed in terms of the number of notes of the diatonic scale which they comprise (e.g. third, fifth, ninth) and a qualifying word (perfect, imperfect, major, minor, augmented, or diminished).
As Yannick noted (so to speak), there are intervals in life as well. Spaces between the major notes of our histories, our engagements, our chronologies that may be described as those perfect or imperfect, major or minor, augmented or diminished spaces where the theme goes somewhat awry, where the sound turns strange, chromatic, and a little uncertain. Diana Raffman, author of Language, Music, and Mind, calls it “nuance ineffability.” Music is structural, it has a grammar and proposes a meaning. When something is felt or heard that violates our semantic expectations and as such cannot be explained in language, it is a nuance ineffability. We recognize the melody and rhythm but the pitch deviations may elude our notice because they’re not entirely within the range of our hearing. We hear minor sixths and perfect fourths, but the more fine-grained discriminations escape any categorical identification. They’re relational. Their existence is purely imagined, or felt. They’re anisochronous, outside the time interval separating any two corresponding transitions and not related to the time interval separating any other two transitions. Tonal musical stimuli are heard against the backdrop of a richly structured, albeit pliant, mental grid. They exist as a kind of evanescent aureole scintillating around the structural organization of the work.
Such intervals occur in my life when my usual patterns are disrupted and I’m waiting for something, a plane flight, a bus, a dentist, a doctor, a train. These are small interludes in which, freed from my general tasks, I have a space in which to daydream or take in phenomena that might otherwise elude my attention.
There have been longer interludes, ones more similar to Yannick Haenel’s homeless situation in his car. Long periods of unemployment in which I had nothing to do between appointments or interviews but sit in a car and read or ponder the weightier issues of my life. Existence feels a little more raw on these occasions. There are no daily rituals to encompass or structure our day. Improvisation and spontaneity and openness to new experience are more to the fore.
I experienced a very deep sense of disconnectedness upon graduating from college in 1973. I’d been divorced the previous year, which added to my sense of detachment. I would not characterize it as “footloose and fancy free.” It was more like being marooned on an island.
I wasn’t entirely homeless. I lived with my father and stepmother for a considerable amount of time, months, in fact, before I found a job and was able to rent a small apartment. I spent long periods in my car at the time. The car itself was not a car of my own choosing but had been given to me by my stepmother. It was a six-cylinder Dodge dart, silver in color, I continue to wince to this day when I think how poorly I cared for that car. It had been remarkably reliable even though the dismal income my menial job provided did not permit me to finance the kind of care the car - any car - requires. Change the oil, clean the air filter, check the cooling system, etc. Cheap things, I know, but my wages were gulped by rent, food, and (it shames me to confess it) booze.
Drugs make intervals much more interesting, but it is not necessarily something I endorse. Marijuana is legal in Washington, more or less, and I’ve always perceived that particular drug, which is a plant, as natural and relatively innocuous when it comes to addiction and the health of the body. It’s a cheap, relatively benign high, but I never liked marijuana. It always made me feel weirdly claustrophobic, as if I were trapped in myself, underwater. I don’t know why it made me feel like I was underwater. This had nothing to do with breathing. It was a sense of being immersed and overwhelmed by social phenomena that I had difficulty comprehending. My general reaction to marijuana was always one of fear and paranoia. Not fun.
I find that it is in the nature of the interval itself to bring about an altered state of consciousness. Travel does that. I’ve always noted my mind is more active when I travel. Novelty is ever present and one’s responsibilities are far away and tucked away at home.
Coffeehouses make a nice location for those temporary disruptions in one’s activities, though I enjoy them far less now that everyone is gazing into smartphones and laptop computers. I feel offended by it. I know it’s not rational, but there it is: I feel violated.
Perhaps it is my life-long devotion to books, to magazines and newspapers, to the print media in general. What offends me is the mental laziness of people and the fickleness of their attention, the degradation of their absorption, their scrutiny and thinking. I feel the grid tightening. I see a corporate groupthink running rampant and taking root. I could easily become a Carrie Nation of the coffeehouse, tearing people’s digital toys and apparatus out of their hands and crushing them with my feet.
The world’s intervals are fast disappearing. Time is at a premium. Idleness has acquired a dirty name. Who remembers Walt Whitman’s lovely declaration: I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
Now there was a man of intervals.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Water word or a leg almost aquatic. Subway in June between orbits. The intermezzo in the throat turning over and over until bone. T.S. Eliot painting a wall. Or an equation in trembling scrub. His shirt off on French television. To chew it. The occasional roar swerves into dried bark. Behavior is crowded. But the rules are Buddy is a bioengineer who lives on Bigelow. His house protrudes from an outgrowth of piccolos. There are many crackling volumes and a pair of jacks which are the color of truth. The crêpe occasions diplomas. We need atropine for pushing Cézanne. A hypothalamus conceived in oblivion. We have cared for the body the toe the network rocket experience between dances sanguine and open. The jawbone is a deep plan the way resin moves into flatness. Louisa May Alcott understands the attempt. Brook at atonement, mustard a form with bells. Cause music by uprooting occurrence in an embryo of backpack light as Tuesday is similarly invaded by the loss of hysteria pulling syllables of stupor. Supposing, for instance, the twinkling delicacy transmits cake. Cake is what to build in a blossom, a pulse gown of dirt, or shall we say a gown of objects that a boulder opera of sublime underwater grottoes panics into nails. Habits flirt with mathematically distorted feelings. Things are camels. Gerunds in a bowl. A pudding can mystify the felicity of trout. For glints and glimpses of important people plead for thunder the jaw dropped in nine different Reubens. There are movements of thinking in words that causes sand and testament. A Cézannian engagement. Bur hysteria ivory or putty the incense wafts and curls isn’t perverse. Or even picturesque. Think of a light stylus, a dent and a sprawl of geometry. The talk peppered the air with boiling scenes of anatomy because bulbs preach handkerchiefs. The Italian orbiting instruction chamber is no better than palingenesis. All comedy is is pain buttered to a trout new shoes new frequencies. Geometry works by fairway and is how guns light up attention to amber. Burlap on a headlight the deluge a tuba restores to the other instruments a clavier and a pain for calculating scratches which hyphenate life with an emphasis in belches. I have never seen so many marsh mallows chewed by so many candles. Those balustrades are the right petulance for a Fourier in Memphis. French is a language of chlorophyll the same sonata as the illustration of premium effects isolated with fugal gestures of cold paint. Here the glass vowels of overture pulp will slowly ferret out the mysteries of form. There are forests and scrubbed consonants to figure rivers and an old car rattling and rumbling down an old dirt road to find a florist. Pouring bourbon nullifies the clamor of morning in a bowl of titanium to ease the octopus and grow milky convolution. The kernel is a kind of bulge, an open chain like skin or pemmican, and produces Geneva. It is also a matter of unction to say that fairy rings are sifted in Laputa. Heat isn’t fugal, it’s moody. It is so gallant to endorse an invocation. It is something irksome to say that there is a kettledrum, a slice of toast, and an isthmus. A fat paint exists on account of painted leghorn and is simply blue. Shaping the air is a function of serrations in it or burlap where all things bend into silverware and prisons and important ways to build a crazy tent. The fable slapping someone’s back was always somehow fat and convoluted tangs of crabbed generality. It is a nail’s sensuality that makes it the perfect medium for communicating a nipple of lightning. I can do anything except upchuck Fabergé. Some forms are more pleasurable than others. Today the alphabet gave birth to a Venetian blind, and that makes pickerels piebald. This proves that discovering eyeballs in flowers and rocks is exhilarating and nailing the judo of abstraction to the muscle of an equation is floppy and dance accelerates the pulse. Music fills the prose of lumber with warmth and participles pink with pork are changed into crystals of reverberation. Antiquity does everything it can to ratify fur and glowworms. Escalators straying from the thyroid of Tuesday on a surface where the light falls making pronouns amphibious like those sonatas one hears sleeping in rocks. The snake dance is the very acetylene of fable. Memphis at night. The prairie occupied by a drawing. Other voices are soft and delicate as twilight, all of them singing of the many addictions to the destiny of rice.
Friday, April 11, 2014
I hate noise. There is a word for this hatred: misophonia. It’s Latin, and means just that, hatred of sound.
I don’t hate sound. I hate noise. There is a distinction. If I hear a robin chirping outside our window or chimes tinkle in a mild breeze, I’m fine with that. But if I hear something I don’t want to hear, like an edge trimmer grinding against a curb or a dog barking on the next door neighbor’s porch, I go into a towering rage.
I’m not alone. It is said that Marcel Proust would often rent the room next to his when he stayed at a hotel so that he would not have to hear any noise from the adjacent lodging.
“Goethe hated noise,” wrote Milan Kundera in Immortality, “That’s a well-known fact. He couldn’t even bear the barking of a dog in a distant garden.”
Edgar Allan Poe complained of the noise coming from horse-drawn carriages on Baltimore streets (“the street din which is wrought by the necessity of having the upper surfaces of the blocks roughened, to afford a hold for the hoof. The noise from these roughened stones is less, certainly, than the tintamarre proceeding from the round ones — but nevertheless is intolerable still”), and proposed using wooden pavement preserved by “kyanizing” it in Bi-Chloride of Mercury.
Schopenhauer was especially voluble. “The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long,” he wrote in his treatise on noise.
There are people, it is true — nay, a great many people — who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of an opportunity.
Noise is a disease. According to Lisa Goines, RN, and Louis Hagler, MD, in “Noise Pollution: A Modern Plague,” published in the March 3007 Southern Medical Journal, “Noise levels about 80 dB are associated with both an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in behavior helpful to others.”
There is growing evidence that noise pollution is not merely an annoyance; like other forms of pollution, it has wide-ranging adverse health, social, and economic effects. A recent search (September 2006) of the National Library of Medicine database for adverse health effects of noise revealed over 5,000 citations, many of recent vintage. As the population grows and as sources of noise become more numerous and more powerful, there is increasing exposure to noise pollution, which has profound public health implications. Noise, even at levels that are not harmful to hearing, is perceived subconsciously as a danger signal, even during sleep. The body reacts to noise with a fight-or-flight response, with a fight-or-flight response, with resultant nervous, hormonal, and vascular changes that have far reaching consequences.
I admire the initiative of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton to protect what he calls One Square Inch of Silence in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park, a sacred spot marked with a small red stone given to him as a gift from an elder of the Quileute tribe which he placed on a log approximately three miles from the visitors center. He argues with park officials - who are, for the most part, eager to cooperate - about respecting the silence and perhaps using mechanical equipment, leaf blowers and chainsaws and such, that are capable of producing lower decibels when urgent repair work is required. But his real challenge is in writing letters to the airline companies whose jets fly overhead, creating noise that isn’t necessarily loud (45 to 55 dBA on the ground), but is loud enough to interfere with the ambient sounds of the rainforest, sounds that the fauna use for communicating with one another. “From the sound of the water alone,” he writes in his book One Square Inch of Silence, “I’ve learned to distinguish the age of a tumbling stream.”
Older flows, such as those in Appalachia that escaped the last glaciation, have been tuning themselves for many thousands of years. Their watercourses and stony beds, smoothed to paths of least resistance by the ageless cycles of torrents and floods, sing differently. To my ears, they’re quieter, more musical, more eloquent. Youthful streams, with their newly exposed and angular, unsmoothed rocks, push the water aside brashly, with a resulting clatter. In all cases, the rocks are the notes. I sometimes attempt to tune a stream by repositioning a few prominent rocks, listening for the subtle changes in sound.
My struggles with noise have more to do with the wilderness of the written word, the Hoh Rainforest of the mind. I require a modicum of quiet in order to think. I’m not entirely sure what thinking is, but I do know I need quiet to think.
Thought isn’t clay. What rosary pliers are for the jeweler, so are words for the writer. All it takes is one intrusive sound and all is lost. Thought vanishes and one is deposited in the hard, brutish world again.
For years I have tried to develop a strategy to help me cope with noise. There is nothing I hate more than to complain to a neighbor about noise. It begins as an agonizing debate. Does my complaint have legitimacy? Is the music truly at a level that justifies a knock on somebody’s door and the embarrassing grievance, however diplomatically stated, that their music or TV is intruding on your quiet? And what about the thump, thump, thump of somebody’s walking on the upstairs floor? How does one bring a grievance to your neighbor’s ears about something that they truly have little control over? Do you ask them to lose weight? To adopt a more graceful gait? The tension that results from even the first complaint, much less the ensuing complaints, makes those brief encounters in the hallway or parking lot awkward in the extreme. You cease being a cool, liberal, tolerant soul and become that iconic figure of a crabby old woman.
I could tell myself that noise is only noise, just a sound, a sneeze or a chainsaw. I cannot even say what differentiates a noise from a sound or what makes music music or what makes noise noisome.
There are many (it bears repeating) sounds that I do happen to like. I like the sound of time concocting mud in Utah, the rustling of cellophane, the mouth of a geisha, the lumber of the imagination and the way it smells which is a noise for the nose. I like the sound of sidewalks when no one is walking or running on them but the rain, the rain making puddles, which is the noise of the sky reflecting back at itself, and is a sound similar to the inner life of an automobile tire, and the air inside, which is an uncanny silence contrasting so brilliantly with the sound of air at the center of a tornado that the mind flashes the jewelry of vowels in the consonants of a bowl of philosophy. I like the sound of philosophy. I like the sound of ornamentation on a Christmas tree, which is the noise of color and light and the spirit of prodigality.
There is no logic to the sounds I do not like, sounds which (since I do not like them) qualify as noise. Noise is any sound that I do not like. Which is a car door slamming. Which is the sound of people talking outside my window. Which is the grind of an edger against the cement of a sidewalk. Which is the roar of a leaf blower. Which is the piercing cries of children from a city park. Which is the barking of the beagle on the porch of house next door. Which is the boom! boom! boom! of hostile rap from an Escalade’s woofer passing by. Which is someone doing dishes over my head at 12:30 a.m. when I’m trying to sleep. Which is someone’s heavy footsteps thumping on the hardwood floor above our apartment, especially when they continue long into the night, inviting speculation about what the fuck the people upstairs are doing, going on a long hike in circles? Moving bric-a-bric from one shelf to another? Laying a table for a dinner at one in the morning one spoon at a time? Playing badminton? Dusting?
People who do housework in the middle of the night, a phenomenon I find very common, are annoying in the extreme. I cannot abide doing anything when someone is fussing about in a room. I’ve eaten at restaurants when an employee will bring out a dustpan and go to work raising dust when you’re trying to relax and enjoy a meal. This drives me crazy, but is a topic to pursue at another time. Suffice it to say, the noise of someone doing housework in the upstairs apartment at two in the morning is enough to keep me from sleeping, but the ensuing rage fuels me with enough misanthropic bile to power a 70 ton Abrams tank for a full month.
For Schopenhauer, it was whips:
The most inexcusable and disgraceful of all noises is the cracking of whips… No sound, be it ever so shrill, cuts so sharply into the brain as this cursed cracking of whips; you feel the sting of the lash right inside your head; and it affects the brain in the same way as touch affects a sensitive plant, and for the same length of time… With all due respect for the most holy doctrine of utility, I really cannot see why a fellow who is taking away a wagon-load of gravel or dung should thereby obtain the right to kill in the bud the thoughts which may happen to be springing up in ten thousand heads — the number he will disturb one after another in half an hour’s drive through the town. Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the crying of children are horrible to hear; but your only genuine assassin of thought is the crack of a whip; it exists for the purpose of destroying every pleasant moment of quiet thought that any one may now and then enjoy. If the driver had no other way of urging on his horse than by making this most abominable of all noises, it would be excusable; but quite the contrary is the case. This cursed cracking of whips is not only unnecessary, but even useless. Its aim is to produce an effect upon the intelligence of the horse; but through the constant abuse of it, the animal becomes habituated to the sound, which falls upon blunted feelings and produces no effect at all. The horse does not go any faster for it. You have a remarkable example of this in the ceaseless cracking of his whip on the part of a cab-driver, while he is proceeding at a slow pace on the lookout for a fare. If he were to give his horse the slightest touch with the whip, it would have much more effect. Supposing, however, that it were absolutely necessary to crack the whip in order to keep the horse constantly in mind of its presence, it would be enough to make the hundredth part of the noise. For it is a well-known fact that, in regard to sight and hearing, animals are sensitive to even the faintest indications; they are alive to things that we can scarcely perceive.
I don’t wonder for an instant that had Schopenhauer still been living to this day it would not be whips but the pounding of woofers that would’ve driven him crazy.
The most singular instance of noise is when the noise consists of music. This can be music I enjoy. The Beatles, Mozart, The Rolling Stones. Doesn’t matter. If I’m at work trying to write I need quiet. I can listen to the Stones or Beatles or Eine Kleine Nachtmusic whenever I like on Youtube, or loudly in the car. But if I don’t want to hear music, then music, even music I like, becomes an instrument of torture. Of course, if it isn’t music I like, say rap or heavy metal, heavy metal rendered poorly, than the effect is worse. I become Attila the Hun.
Noise invariably feels like an assault even though there is no malignant intention, or at least none that is evident. Generally it’s people being utterly oblivious to how the sound they’re making might affect someone else. And in American culture, it’s rare to find people who are bothered by sound. America is a noisy country. No one is ever satisfied. It’s all about quantity. Owning more and more and more and more. Bigger engines, bigger houses, bigger this, bigger that. Unless it’s a cell phone or some other form of electronic toy. “The consumer cannot, and must not ever attain satisfaction, observes Raoul Vaneigem in The Revolution of Everyday Life, “the logic of the consumable object demands the creation of fresh, false needs… What is more, wealth in consumer goods impoverishes authentic life, and this in two ways. First, it replaces authentic life with things. Secondly, it makes impossible, with the best will in the world, to become attached to these things, precisely because they have to be consumed, which is to say destroyed. Whence an ever more oppressive absence of life, a self-devouring dissatisfaction.”
If there’s one consistent phenomenon in life, it is this: dissatisfaction is noisy. Dissatisfaction is revved engines, power saws ripping the air, hammers pounding. Angry rap lyrics spitting from Hummers in downtown traffic, people frozen in gridlocked angst as time and life pass them by. They sit, seething with road rage, barely disguised seething tempers, ready to explode. An explosion would be excellent. An explosion after which, when the dust settles, silence, authentic silence, would answer the blazing gold of the afternoon sun.
Noise is political. Noise is intrusion. Noise is the symptom of a constant overpowering dissatisfaction of a lost soul. It is the need to find proof that one exists by filling the natural serenity of air with the boisterous clamor of one’s insatiable desolation, the emptiness inside that is the result of an endless cycle of shopping and hyper-consumption. It is the yearning to find meaning by imposition, by gimmick and encroachment, no matter who gets in the way. Look out, here I come with my tool belt and hard hat, emperor of all I survey. I exist! I exist! Can’t you see? Can’t you hear? I may be empty inside, but outside, I’m all power saw and hammer and here comes my shiny new patio deck as further proof of my sad, pathetic existence.
The other qualities that make a life, and they are qualities, not things that anyone can buy, consume, engross, monopolize, those treasures of transcendent thought, those deep caverns of the soul in whose labyrinths we penetrate in silent meditation, that zone in which we become one with the universe, in which our skin acquires the sensitivity of ears and we can hear the music of the world in the feeling of grass and cloth and paper, are phenomena that can only be obtained (if obtain is the right word, which it is not, but I can find no other momentarily because I am in a rush to get this written before my neighbor intrudes on me with his leaf blower), by withdrawing from the world and its noise and discovering a realm that isn’t bound by walls or property or even skin. Skin itself becomes a phenomenal wonder, a cocoon of nerves and warmth and blood and periphery where sensations of touch and feeling open our being to the world of texture. We find ourselves enveloped in a skin that doesn’t divide, but connects, brings us into intimate contact with the rough and the smooth, the bristly and the silken, with hot and cold, with essence and weave, a universe of touch that doesn’t merely impress or insist on our tactile attention but permeates our being, percolates through us like music. Like air.
Can it be that this place, this realm of the mind, is a danger to the capitalist spirit of endless acquisition and is brought down by noise? Is it conspiratorial? As long as there is noise, no one is able to reminisce, ruminate, think. And as long as no one thinks, muse the moguls of agora, we have a nation of oppressed, chronically dissatisfied, but passive, infantile beings. As long as we have a population of grasping, envious, covetous people, people eternally undeveloped and superficial and empty, we have a population eager to buy our products and make us money. As long as no one is able to think, we have a population of people easily distracted by gimmickry and toys. We can get away with murder. Literally.
Perhaps I go too far. It is eminently possible that I attach too much meaning to noise, invest it with too much power, take it too personally. This is true. The antidote for this would be as simple as amending my attitude. Believe me, I’ve tried. Again and again. I’ve tried convincing myself countless times that noise is just sound waves, frequencies and oscillations, vibrations in the air that have as little to do with me as the rings around Saturn, or the whine of a back lift on a garbage truck dumping the contents of a metal trash bin into its hopper, but it does little neutralize my emotions. The attempts at neutralizing these irritations themselves become irritations.
Emotions are noise. My tinnitus is noise. The cosmic microwave background assumed to be the residue of the fabled Big Bang of cosmology is noise.
Noise is ubiquitous. Noise is primordial. Noise is wasps and X-ray scattering and particles rippling through vast regions of space.
If I’m out in the public, sitting at a coffeehouse or bar or restaurant with a lot of chatter and loud music and other assorted noises I’m not really bothered. It’s when I’m at home that I’m bothered. Especially if I’m trying to read, or write, or sleep, or just stare out the window, even a slight noise, the slightest of all noises, a sound so faint you can barely hear it, a sound so light and tenuous it dies in the ears before it can even register as a decibel or micropascal, that kind of noise drives me crazy. Puts me in a rage.
It’s largely a matter of context. Attention.
Everyone knows what attention is, said William James. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.
That’s what noise is: Zerstreutheit.
When I hear a noise, I brace. Stiffen. My attention disperses. Scatters. I become tense. I fill with dread. My muscles tighten. I go on the alert. I ready myself for fight, or flight, as the psychologists describe it, describe anxiety. That fire in the blood. That external pollution of the world that breaks the sweetness of our trance and the work at hand, ode, sonnet, bells of chiming prose on the landscape of the metaphysical, dissipate, disappear. The world becomes brutish and I fill with rage.
I thought of the sadhus of India meditating in the noisy crowded streets of Calcutta and Bangalore. If they can do it I can do it. What’s their secret?
Meanwhile, until I find what it is that gives people immunity to noise, the drone of a neighbor’s fan or bang of a car door slamming is enough to set my nerves on edge.
I am a Van de Graaff generator shooting megavolts of raw irritability.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
The moral of verve is an abstraction of blinding candor. It’s thrilling to watch it happen. Each pound of it dreams a sexual hammer into total fish.
You can pull whatever meaning you want from a diamond, but the moral of it will not cure diabetes or polish the knob of a garrulous rapture.
The moral of gravity is self-evident. It all hangs on space.
The moral of energy sways in the wind of desire.
The moral of the oboe is in the breath of its reveries. Each note swarms with treasures of round sonority. Morsels of light scrounge for whispers among the leaves. The purity of an oak desk prefaces this excitement with a fable of laughable grain. The imagination crawls into a sound of painless expansion. The pleasure goes deep but the cartilage rides a hive of busy sensation. This must be perceived as digging, because there are cracks in the logic of dilation.
The moral of cuticles abounds in calculus.
The moral of speed causes the geometry of time and space to combine themselves in a herd of reindeer. Finland will be the better for it and the bells of Helsinki will confirm their circumference in the warrant of their sway.
The moral of letters is a creation of fingers and arms making movements on paper. It is a saga of passion, of crisis and contact. Hints of immortality open among the vowels. A harmonica displays its chrome to the maneuvers that go on in a mouth. This makes Bach and odd cantatas.
The moral of Tuesday is the elongation of Wednesday.
The moral of the violin perplexes the bravado of brass with ravenous pharmaceutical landscapes of varnish and string.
The moral of eyebrows worries the nails of gratification. They seize the fog of conjecture and challenge the glamour of Russian shampoo. Secrets rummage for sunlight. Buildings burst into regard. Bubbles console the ambitions of the unemployed and disenfranchised. For it is the moral of the bubble that reinforces the twinkle of ephemerality and renounces the hurry of commerce in a slow drift of highway cocoon.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Sometimes a book begins to talk to me from across the room and I have to go see who it is, whose words are catching my interest and pulling me toward it, why it’s Ted Berrigan, who tells me that a voice once locked in the ground now speaks in me, quote unquote. Wow, Ted, that’s cool, but kind of weird. What kind of a voice was it? Male? Female? Bass? Tenor? Soprano? Did it vibrate in your bones with the thunder of prophecy? Or was it more regal and phantasmal, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father appearing to him out of the Danish fog?
He does not say. But fortunately, there are many other poems to choose from, for these are The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, and there are many other books on my shelves to read, to conduct a conversation with, books to make me think, look differently at the world, which is what a book should do, ideally, that is to say lengthen in the mind, gathering phenomena, things like rocket propellant and signet rings, the sighs of lovers and the snorts of kings, the gaze of sockeye salmon and the luster of quartz. The spherical embryonic mass of blastomeres forming before complete blastulation is an unexpected delight, a true delicacy for the eyes and mind, and similar to the gestation of an idea, the folds and mosaic of suspension in moral problems causing no end of mercurial pizzazz, whole place kicks of thought sent whirling into the atmosphere and bouncing off the roof of the skull, in which the meaning accrues in resonance, and beauty, and starts migrating toward completion in a sentence.
It is, thus, a question of knowing if philosophy as a reconquest of raw, primordial being can fulfill itself by the means of eloquent language, or if it wouldn’t be necessary to make a usage of it which removes from it its power of immediate or direct signification in order to equal what it truly and fully wants to say. - Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible
I wanted to be a cowboy until I was forty-two, and so became a philosopher of the plains, and walked out of the house of language into a frontier I was unable at first to fully identify, and of course it rained, and I got wet, but the miracle of lightning is worth it, completely amazes the eyes when the world goes dark, then flashes into view, and for a brief second you can see the rawness of existence, the wonder of it all, why anything exists at all, where there is something instead of nothing, and so grow to a point.
If we are ourselves in question in the unreeling of our life, it isn’t because a central non-being menaces at each instant to repeal its consent to being, it is because we are one continual sole question, a perpetual endeavor to restore ourselves by the constellations of the world, and the things of our own dimension. – Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible
All my life I have been awash, glittery, obscure, mirthful, and catalytic. Perception has been a central fascination. Why does a cuticle transcend its condition as hardened skin at the base of a fingernail and become a frontier of problems in the exhortations of a poem based on the cry of a clarinet? Because it drags itself across the consciousness seeking pencils and philodendrons.
Days are nourished by insurrection. Scrambled eggs and a piece of toast slathered with blackberry jam. Odors sew themselves into advocacies of further refrigeration.
Do I rebel? Yes, I rebel. Against what? you may ask. Whatta you got? I may reply.
My messy red heart puts on a blue shirt and goes around saying things like nothingness is nothing until it is something and then it isn’t nothingness so much as somethingness.
What sky out there is doing push-ups on the lawn? In doing so stars release energy, which is how they shine, but as the push-ups continue, each star forges atoms of carbon, oxygen, neon, sodium, magnesium and silicon, then nickel, cobalt, and, finally, iron. It is thus that a new Philosophy is produced, and that a woman’s love is like the morning dew.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Anyone can be a pulse. But it takes gingham to be a chirp. Do not crinkle what is miscalculated. Be lovely as those of Venus, jaguars moving chickens so that television equals the radius of green. This crush is got by grinding coffee. Drinking it is guided by its poetry. The disagreeable man is dirt not a dirty shirt. There is a shirt of true fiber in a teaspoon when columns of the garage include willow and singing is scanned as an analysis of bags. If there is flapping which reveals honor then labor is a prominence made thirsty by beginning a fern, nightclubs and noise. This rattles so nervously that a finger can curl around a hemisphere. There are thicknesses of maple and equanimities and birth. The clash of triangles is ablution, not exaltation. Wildcat that irritation to spring into fickle effectiveness and fit the escalator within. I feel spatial as a swamp the volume unbuttons. Profligate was long mentally. It pickles in brine, but is increasingly harmonic. Snake the drum and what cuticles amaze the fierce punch holds to a debt of straw. Duty propels a silk. The occurrence of drums warrants rhythm. The Rio Tinto zinc mines produce collar studs that the chair marries out of consciousness. Faucets arranged by engagement or marriage itself must therefore be correspondent to crows. The hem lobster spots over to deny its clatter. This is a previous arrangement that erupts into odor and combines occurrences of garlic by inspiration or sparks. Think of it as a joke doing edges. Or destiny tangential to a medicine indulging the air on a pretty red string of ocher. There is lyric strength to be got from the atmosphere if growling is erect. Within prophecies of Pythagorean money each cent is a thought pushed to hearing by those birds we call lips. An elbow there is what an arm exhibits. It includes four fingers and a thumb that anchors airports from bumps or puffs. Garments make me balloon. A banana that stoves its art is admired by contrasting its burners with raspberry. Each blaze in the hothouse is a siege of light flattering an orchid in love with its recklessness. There is an oboe to burn with a ghost and a parable earning a simulacrum of embryonic eyes. Imagine that. An engine to shake a machine into steam and its oh so thrilling rails. Let’s haul a word into language this summer. Suppose for an instant a banana begins arcing toward its own independence. Say it is hosted by Baudelaire and his fulfilling elevations. Forge a cocoon then unfetter its charm to oppose its accidents of royal regret. There is a stellar balloon to process this exclamation and diversion to make it churn. Dusty slither flutters the cap. Resilience has turned to fish. Unpredictable plunges bloom with lamp black duplications of easy incandescence. A pull from leather gets lingered in the sound it makes. The echo from the bite frequents these sounds all throughout an armchair. There is an overriding logic to this that forges respect from sticks. If garlic is squeezed from purple then orange is a very pink feeling. Hectic oysters built it. Indigo could leaven this gesture. Another might leaven corollary to the wash of spouts. It is an exercise in crying. Machines that pulse with description sprout from a neck of serious cotton to propose a tide pool with anemones and stars. More winter will rattle a liniment into lovely secretion. Everything lucid is the result of eczema. Poetry smeared on a microscope slide that generates Apollinaire. And hearts of gold should the map show fidelity and hammers complement its brooks. I am left to heft this hypothesis and frame it in pumice since solace cries to abolish winter and everything I know about Vermeer is chiseled in ice.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
There is no point in time. Time does not have points. Time isn’t even really a ticking. Ticking isn’t time. Ticking is what a clock does. Our red clock with its assertive tick on the living room wall just above Braque’s Fauve rendition of Le Havre ticks loudly but the ticks do not amount to anything vaguely real just more and more ticks that talk and talk and talk. Walls aren’t time, though I am walled from the past, cannot reach the people I once knew, people now dead, or aged, wherever they are they are not the same. I am not the same. I cannot send letters to myself in my twenties advising myself what to do or what not to do. I cannot attend a play by Shakespeare when Shakespeare was still living and dealing with his actors, advising them what to do or what not to do. Some of that is in his plays. Hamlet, for instance: Speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand thus, but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.
Or Shakespeare in his room writing. What did that look like? What kind of pen did he use? A quill? How do you write with a quill? No room for mistakes, that’s for sure. Did he use some sort of pencil? How did he sketch things out before laboring to put them into iambic pentameter?
If I had access to a time machine the first thing I would do is go look at dinosaurs. I can’t explain that fascination. They were lizards. Big lizards. Thunder lizards. But lizards. What’s the big deal with lizards? Are lizards reptiles? Lizards are reptiles with overlapping scales. So yeah, dinosaurs were lizards. But why the fascination? Is it their immensity? It is more than immensity. Those ancient animals were among the first creatures to have something like cognitive awareness on this planet. That awareness was no doubt limited, but it was an awareness. Many of them hunted, and hunting requires a level of cunning, of strategy, perhaps even a communicable organized scheme for the getting of prey shared with their fellow creatures. And how would that be communicated? By sound? By color? By smell? What kind of being did they have? What sounds did they make? What would it be to gaze into the eyes of a Tyrannosaurus Rex? Dangerous, no doubt. It would be safer to view such an animal from a high, far cliff. But then you’d have pterodactyls to worry about. You might want to just stay within the time machine.
Or the historical Christ. Imagine going back in time and arguing with this person to not be captured by Roman soldiers but continue the revolt against the Roman empire in a manner that did not require the sacrifice of one’s life. Would that message still have power?
Power, ha! Why is it always about power? The Will to Power. But what is it to “will”something? Nietzsche thought it something very complicated. In all willing, he said, “there is a plurality of sensations, namely, the sensation of the state ‘away from which,’ the sensation of the state ‘towards which,’ the sensation of this ‘from’ and ‘towards’ themselves, and then also an accompanying muscular sensation, which, even without our putting into motion ‘arms and legs,’ begins its action by force of habit as soon as we ‘will’ anything.”
Volition is a sensation involving prepositions. Involving space. Movement in space. A desire to do such and such a thing in space, through space, across space, by space, up and down in space, in and out of space, above space, under space, between spaces. Power is the ability to carry those actions out. Though it would be nice to have the power to fly. Lift diesel locomotives. Speed faster than a bullet. Catch bullets in your teeth and spit them back out. Become invisible. See through walls. See through clothing. Enjoy hot chocolate with God. Feed the hungry. Shelter the cold. Create storms. Hurl lightning bolts. Change into tights and a cape whenever the mood strikes. Sew a big S on your chest. Get to be friends with Mick Jagger. Play rhythm guitar for The Rolling Stones. Travel through time. See dinosaurs. Ride dinosaurs. Pet dinosaurs.
Is that what Nietzsche meant by superman? Probably not.
Life itself, said Nietzsche, is will to power. Just being alive is the most powerful thing anyone can do. Being, pure and simple.
It is more difficult than one might assume. Even the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex had bad days. Sue (so it would seem) had gout. Imagine life as a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a bad case of gout. Ouch! That Cretaceous ground must have had quite a few sharp rocks to step over.
Sue, the name given to the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus Rex discovered in the Cheyenne Indian Reservation of western South Dakota, was named after paleontologist Sue Hendrickson, who has since gone on to search for pink pearls in the Caribbean.
And when I stand and clank I think of pearls. And Caribbean dawns. And Caribben sunsets. And Caribbean beans. Caribbean carnivals. Caribbean carobs. Caribbean carpophores. Caribbean cartoons. Caribbean beer. Caribbean bedsprings. Caribbean bees bearing Caribbean pollen.
Could the mind turn jade? It could if it were fat, though it is gravity to think so. Thought has certain properties, some of which are weather. The speed of a hat deepens with teeth. Its very tempo is a destiny.
Kepler’s interest in astronomy, like Tycho’s, organized in beams. They say that to this very day the winds of Deadwood carry his memory in old mayonnaise jars, their lids fastened by ancient stars. Ladies & Gentlemen, as this paragraph draws to a close, I just want to say phonograph, and thank you for the spatula. I will treasure it as my own very afterthought.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Civilization is a sensation of hope around the waist and the holes I gashed. The tundra is but the moose and its twilight in a circle. It is pleasant to me that I have written using words. I shall write tides and bark and verdure and beauty dwelling in objects of prayer. A gargoyle is not the same as when logic wears a fedora. The question is are there fathoms and walking and handstands begun as singing? If there is flapping then there are exits which reveal desire in decoration. The world has a public and a gun bangs and a noodle whirls. This shows that an enclave can be crabby and haggard and there is often a bean. As weight piles in overt yearning gravity is broken by a shadow. Paradigms in money peg the water. The knife is a charming blade to come by a cartilage in which Apollinaire sips the words of the painter. The balcony museum is increasingly drummed into ghostly cypress. The Czar is a star. What cuticles amaze the light. Aurora fluttered in height gives hunger to daubs of language haunted by a feeling of consciousness. The hem of a lobster spots over to deny its clatter. An arrangement erupts in mosaic. The planets turn doing light and rounded service to one another. Pathos growls in vividness to become a large boiling that accepts mud. Infringement has been tried but it is the birth of thought that monuments fathom by stone. The tonic is a cartwheel painted with adjectives. The heart agrees to tide pool its subtleties into journey. The sternum dollar clutters its insects to color a rattan to palatable crackling. By that I mean nails. Chiaroscuro mints curled in delectation are a harness to posterity. The coffee has remedied the café and now trees and rivers flow from the throat. Examples of this are ants and structure and an abstraction out to clap a pronoun into creosote. It takes a palatable Max Jacob to face reality. Discarded syntax carries its own gurgles. Oats amplify smell. Passion forms a key. There is a winch by the moon that wrestles subtleties of mauve. French is exempt from crickets. Let’s say accents from a neck. That periscope rising through the waves is warm because materialism enhances dust. Thought stirs in its fur and rattles. Many did nebulas during the luminous hum. Trees in tenderness mean the sky is pinned to the weight of desire. A neck is shrewdly designed to include a passage for pumpernickel. It takes a noun at noon to heft a hypothesis into a grammar of cubes. The dominion of the flamingo is extreme on the boulevard where each rhododendron blasts itself banjo juice. The banana hisses popcorn fables until the squirm turns abdomen and is mostly a fat possession. Fuzz hemorrhaged as hands savor of conjuration. Thinking is quiet when I paint the fish. If I have a frayed emotion it is momentous to mean intestine. Otherwise, the softness of it expands into glands and I can visit Texas by buzzing my identity at the chrome vertebrae of a dizzy flea. Moonlight walks through a cemetery howling tattoos at an earthworm. Parables of red. Psalmodies of red. Ecstasies of red. Dwelling and banging. Cog and culmination. What is destiny? What is exhortation? What is a component of waves? What is a personality? Personality is red when the gondola is moving down the keyboard and Venice is solved by music.
Friday, April 4, 2014
The ego is a nebula contiguous to a bell. It is the facetiousness of detour followed by constant rain. It is a symptom of prepositions. Up, down, inside out, over and under, above and below. The ego is below the hair and above the neck. The ego is inside out on a sleeve, expanding involuntarily into sculpture. The ego is a kettledrum in the midst of a symphony. The pounding, the hammering, the rage for release, the irksome garlic of worry, the need for attention, the dashboard’s buttons and dials glowing with fulfillment on the way to the store.
The ego causes itself to exist by posing as Bach. It is arranged in purple at one level and physical as steam when under pressure. Some of it is pertinent to coffee and some of it is represented as a tirade on the other side of a wall.
The ego is an egg of identity in which gasoline parachutes through its imprisonment offering fuel for the teasing velocities of a non-ego state on the other side of our skin. This is where magic happens, and alabaster and paper.
Here is an ego lifting the spine of an idea: note how it growls under the weight of it, muscles bulging, biceps and quadriceps rippling with alliteration. The ego likes alliteration because it filibusters the garage of vowels in which stacks of National Geographic eddy in a cardboard box labeled fishing gear. Fishing gear is a mistake. The ego feels that it, too, is a mistake, and that consciousness is easier without it at times. The burden of identity is lifted in art. It is analogous to the little fire in all of us that crackles like a morning in the orchard when we feel the pain of exclusion.
I write sonnets with lightning, says the ego, knowing this is untrue. But the effect is exciting. Sometimes a lie is a pleasure, a lie to oneself in particular, and occasions when a lie first approximates a truth, then becomes a truth and the former things we held as truths become lies, and the cycle continues, lies and truths morphing in and out of another, until life itself is a fiction, the ego a dream, a product of words, values pounded into us as children to be later relieved by drugs, angels of creativity coming to us unexpectedly, but always welcome.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
I grew up hating work. My father placed a very high value on work, but I grew up absolutely despising it. This had nothing to do with rebelling against my father because that’s what children, adolescents especially, are somehow required to do. My loathing of work had nothing to do with rebellion. I simply hated it. But here’s the other peculiar side to the equation: I’m not lazy. Quite the contrary. Given an activity I enjoy, I will immerse myself in it utterly and go until I drop from fatigue. Then get up and look forward to more immersion. For me, this activity is writing. But is writing work, or a form of play?
Writing is work, and play. There is no reason why it can’t be both.
I’ve long suspected myself of being a spoiled, sybaritic aesthete with a contrary set of aristocratic tastes and attitudes. I don’t deny this. How such a mindset developed in a middle class household is a mystery to me. I sometimes wonder if we aren’t invested with the personas of former people rather than a genetic expression of our ancestry.
Work I tend to despise is usually of the dreary, monotonous variety. Mainly the kind of work I had to do in order to make a living, pay rent and buy food and clothing. It was entirely menial, janitorial, bussing tables, mowing lawns, and finally sorting and running mail for a university mailing service. The reason I got stuck with this menial grind is due to the fact I never rose academically beyond a bachelor’s degree in English. A friend tells me the employees for the Boeing employment service used to laugh whenever they received applications from English majors. I was advised by more than one friend to omit my degree from job applications.
Had I continued academically and achieved a master’s degree I may well have been able to secure a position teaching at a community college, at least, if not at the fully fledged university level. This has been a lifelong regret.
But I also need to remind myself of the dangers to a writer in securing a higher academic degree. A certain language must be learned, a certain framework and terminology, a brittleness, a mindset deleterious to creativity is very much to be feared. I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by dullness, by academic pomposity and stuffiness. The jargon they had to learn, the social posturing that had to be maintained, sucked the blood right out of their creative noggins and left a bone-dry skull with two hungry eyeballs staring out as if in a stupor.
For many years I entertained the ambition of becoming a writer whose books sold sufficiently to provide an income, if not outright wealth. I saw it happen to writers whose work was eccentric and wild and full of life and humor. Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Tom Robbins, Richard Brautigan all wrote wildly original material and their books sold robustly, into the millions. It was a credible ambition. That is, until the early 80s, when the book publishing industry in the United States became obsessed with profit at the expense of quality. The old style editors who took the time and made the risks to put vital, original writing into the public sphere no matter the cost, disappeared. The newer editors merely wanted to publish celebrities and teenage romance novels. Anything for a buck. Quality writing was for the small presses.
There is also the social aspect of work, the humiliation, submission, bullying and injuries to one’s self-esteem that occur in a competitive workplace. Thrust a number of individuals together in a confined area and make them work as a team is a recipe for a high degree of toxicity. Some people are better equipped to adapt to social environments than others. Levels of competency differ. Levels of work intensity differ. Efficiency, motivation and amiability are subjective, and consequently cannot be manufactured or quantified. Some personalities are very easy to be around, others are thorny and problematical, thin-skinned, adversarial, combative.
You can get a boss who’s a total sadist, a bully who likes exerting his or her power. We often don’t have a choice over these things. Psychotherapists glibly tell us that while we can’t control our environment, we can choose how to adapt to it. Problem solved.
Work is not pleasant. Genesis in the Old Testament tells us it was Adam’s fault. It’s thanks to his transgression and eating the apple he was told not to eat that got us all into trouble.
Because you have listened to your wife
and have eaten from the tree which I forbade you,
accursed shall be the ground on your account.
With labour you shall win your food from it
all the days of your life.
It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
none but wild plants for you to eat.
You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground;
for from it you were taken.
Dust you are, to dust you shall return.
No more free lunches. As soon as God booted Adam and Eve out of the garden, they should have got busy and formed a union.
There is a marvelous stoicism that is fully evident among the Lutherans and Presbyterians of the Midwestern plains, and it is there that my father learned his attitude toward work, an attitude that was partly resignation and partly celebration. My father’s parents, my grandmother, grandfather (who died when I was only seven and really didn’t get to know) and my granduncle worked a farm in North Dakota. You can’t take a vacation from cows. They had to get up at four in the morning seven days a week to milk the cows in often subzero temperatures in an old wooden barn full of drafts and straw. I respect this. But I do not share it.
I can’t say exactly when the fever of poetry struck, but whenever or however it happened, my relationship to the Protestant Work Ethic changed radically. I devoted myself to the more hedonistic work ethic of the French symbolists, which insisted on liberal amounts of leisure in an endeavor to coax inspiration into the room, to awaken the muse from her slumber and ingratiate her charms with the wine of idleness. Pulling on a quadruped’s teats in subzero temperatures do not necessarily induce supernatural agencies to make one’s fingers nimble with genius. Although it does help considerably to put food on the table.
I mock my frivolous impulses, but it’s true when I say that I am not lazy. I enjoy losing myself in work. But it must be work I enjoy, and the work I enjoy does not, alas, result in products that the public wants. The public does not want poetry. Even poets do not want poetry. Poets want the poetry of dead poets. This is poetry that they can learn from. It is not poetry that they have to compete with. The dead do not require - nor receive - awards and grants. Their reward is in the heavens. Their fellowship is in the afterlife. Poets are not hungry for the work of their living friends and colleagues. This is competition. There is little offered at the Table of Poetry. Everyone has to grub aggressively for their meal at that table. If a colleague gets shoved from the bench and tumbles to the floor, so much the better: that potato’s mine!
There are other forms of work aside from employment, chores at home, laundry, cooking, dishes to wash, cat litter box that needs cleaning, repairs made, walls painted, molding caulked in the windows. This is tedious work, but pleasures can be found in it. It can become a form of meditation. It can be an occasion to let your mind drift, or an occasion to make discoveries about everyday objects, their symmetries and shapes, powers and functions. The texture of a towel, the polish of a plate, the tines of a fork, the curvature of a spoon, can all be objects of fascination while performing a mundane task. It’s possible to fall in love with a hammer. It’s possible to have a romance with a feather duster. It’s possible to enjoy a conversation with a mop, or tango with a broom. We see how water works to dissolve goop, how a sander can make a piece of wood smooth as glass, how a pair of pliers can sheath and crimp wires or extract a bent nail.
I’ve installed sinks and built fences and once even changed the starter on a car. But I never worked at anything long enough to develop what you could call a skill, a marketable skill. I’ve always envied people who had skills to bring to the marketplace. That’s where it’s at. Office work is deadening. I would hate to sit in a cubicle all day à la Dilbert. That’s hellish. But to be a lawyer, to argue a case in a courtroom, or be a doctor and heal someone of a crippling disease must be one of the greatest feelings there is to be had in life. I’d be glad just to be able to get somebody’s car up and running. As it is, I have to be content with the one skill I have, which (apart from avoiding work I don’t like), is to invent devices with words that do nothing but spit fire, throw sparks, and dazzle the intellect with clouds of reverie.