Talk, Talk

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I don’t think we learn much when we talk. Mostly we just impart what we already know, and that has never had much appeal to me. I prefer to listen or not listen at all and write what I can’t articulate vocally. Let other people jaw away. At least with writing there’s a kind of permanence to the act. There’s also an opening out and an expansion of potential.

I have spent too many hours of my life subservient to the human voice, trapped in cramped quarters by didactic gasbags with nothing to say and all the time in the world to prove it.

They’ll always get you. They’ll call and you’ll make the mistake of picking up the phone or they’ll turn up at your door or corner you in a bar and begin, opening their flapper valves and prating and chittering on, bragging and blasting out, and swelling, and soaring, admiring the sound of their own voices while failing to perceive in their self-love the deadening of your expression or lack of engagement, so hell-bent they are on bending your ears and cramming them chock-full with doggerel and seaweed and vowels and bird droppings.

“How the hell do I get out of this?” you start asking yourself. “I know, I’ll add nothing to the conversation but a few ‘uh-huhs’ and “right-rights,’ and wait for a pause.” But the pause invariably comes too late, and by then you feel utterly soiled, demoralized, wasted.

“You are living as if destined to live forever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don’t notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply.” ~ Seneca

Which is why if we are to be greedy with anything, it should be our time, and if we are to be leery of anyone, it’s the watercooler windbag who wants nothing more than to rob us of it with witless slush.

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On Truth, Power, Denial and Death

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Today is the last of my eleven-day odyssey with my four-year old, which means tonight I will be back on The Motherfucking Boat, and hopefully not too hungover tomorrow. In the meantime, someone left this comment the other night on my recent post Morning Commute, Melancholy and the Human Face:

I wonder if instead of “too much power” in the human face, there is too much “truth” in the human face. It’s harder to look at truth, easier to avoid. Power is compelling and draws our fascination. Just a thought.”

I disagree. It’s the power of the glance and perhaps the corresponding play of the features that we are struck most by and averts our eyes. The reason: the face is a hologram of all a person’s thoughts, and thoughts are infinite and mysterious and therefore powerful, whether they’re true or not. They’re often more powerful when they’re untrue.

The only time I can imagine there being “too much truth” in the human face is when the onlooker is in denial of something.

Do you want to know what there’s “too much truth” in?

A human corpse.

That’s why we immediately cover them and shuffle them off into obscurity, as if with disgust. The truth they represent – Death, something most of us live in constant fear and denial of – must be suppressed. Our Western sensibilities must not be cognizant of man’s ultimate destiny. We must not know that

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

Which only shows we keep way too wide a berth from ordinary reality and fact. Now I’m not saying we should be like the tribes of Papua New Guinea who keep the skulls of their ancestors in their living rooms. But we should be a little closer in our acquaintanceship with Death so that when it does ride in on its ghost horse it’s not such an unnatural shock to the system.

If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according what others think, you will never be rich.” ~ Seneca

We should also keep in mind that Death is not the greatest misfortune of all, despite what we are bred to believe and led to believe at funerals and on the news, etc.

It might, however, be the greatest fortune. We’ll never know.

More light!” ~ Goethe’s last words.

A Review: The New Selected Poems of Seamus Heaney

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There were nine mosquitos standing upsidedown on the ceiling above my bed. I managed to kill three that came down, but the others stayed up there and were too high to reach, even standing on my bed waving a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Selected Poems. I turned out the light and waited for the others to descend. I could imagine them planting their feet on my skin, injecting me with their needle-like straws and sucking my blood out. I wrapped my sheets around me like a mummy and curled my pillow around my face.

It didn’t take long. Pretty soon there was a buzzing in the air that kept growing louder. I tried to ignore it. They won’t get through the sheets I said to myself and started thinking about Seamus Heaney and his poems that mostly seemed to be about peat and bog with a sprinkling of words no one ever uses in regular conversation. I couldn’t connect with them. Not because they weren’t technically proficient. I could appreciate the talent and skill it took to craft them. I just didn’t feel them. It was as though they were written for the head alone, and neglected the gut, the sinews, the bone marrow, the bloodstream and soul. They were as flat as the paper they were written on. They were – even worse – academic.

The poems for me have a living quality to them. They hold a mirror up to my experiences. They delight, they instruct, they weave the air and breathe. You can read them again and again. They’re like the rapid heartbeat of a bullfinch in your hand or a Komodo dragon hiding under the living room sofa – immediate and vibrating with life.

The poets for me are the ones who give you the sense of a deep heart, a heightened consciousness, humor, gamble, passion, tenderness, originality, a refusal to compromise or heed to public opinion.

“For whether we agree with the Greek poet that ‘Sometimes it is sweet to be mad,’ or with Plato that ‘A man sound in mind knocks in vain at the doors of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘No great intellect has been without a touch of madness,’ only a mind that is deeply stirred can utter something noble and beyond the power of others.” ~ Seneca

Give me Horace, or Hafez, or Rimbaud, or Lorca, or e.e. cummings, or Pound or Bukowski or Tranströmer. Give me anyone but someone who has nothing to say and a million ways to prove the fact, whether it be via dribblings and runnings-on about peat and bog, or an overabundance of words like bullaun, or Pennines, or vowel-meadow, or hidebound, or Catkin-pixie, or whatever other clever contrivance it takes to tickle the mind but fail the senses and soul (of the universal man).

The buzzing grew louder and started circling my ear. Then it became a chorus. All six mosquitos must’ve been hovering over me, waiting to feast. There was no way I could sleep with that threat, I decided. My insomnia is bad enough as it is. I de-mummified, turned on the light, grabbed Heaney’s Selected Poems, and started batting away.

The book proved to be a good flyswatter at least. Well, it only cost me a pound. I bought it used at a bookstore in London.

Notes from Work

I have come to the realization lately that I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I am capable of. Sure, I work on my novel every day, but when I go through a lull in that,  I put it aside and do something else, even though there’s still gas in my tank for words. This is why I’ve been blogging more often the past few weeks. I hope I can keep it up. Pretty sure I can. I like it better than Facebooking, for one reason (among the many) because the posts over there are here today, gone tomorrow. Here they stay fresh and are easily accessible years later. And as for doing a diary, which I’ve been at occasionally, it’s only really interesting to myself. And I like to share, even if it’s only with one or two people.

“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.” ~ Seneca

I am at work now, at the shop where my next novel is based. I used to own this place. Now it’s my brother’s and it’s totally changed from the way I had it. He cleaned it up, remodeled, swept out all the reprobates and derelicts with his Hercules broom, etc. etc. Even the customers are different, most of them anyway. Some are the same. The latest to come in was a house painter with long gray hair pulled back in a ponytail and a dyed pitch-black mustache (the vanity! the vanity!). I rented a pressure cleaner to him two weeks ago and came back today to rent it again.

“Hello, Mr. Mushrush,” I said as he entered the store.

He was flattered I remembered his name. But how could you forget a name like Mushrush? He lit up the room with his barracuda smile…

I have learned more about human nature from my seventeen years in the tool rental business than from anywhere else. That it was always my money that was on the line was of course the greatest factor, but also dealing with mostly blue collar people of the middle and lower classes every day. I could’ve never had such a great course in humanity if I’d worked in an office, or a school, or a place like that. No, my job required a deep level of street-psychology. My customers were always lying to me, trying to get an edge, stealing…  And my employees were often even worse. Add to that the fact that the business was barely even making it the first ten years, and there you go.

But Mushrush setting the room ablaze with his barracuda smile reminded me of some of the other great con-artists who have come into the store over the years. Some would try to win me over with their unique personal charm, a gracious smile, small talk, flattery, so forth. But I could usually tell right away there were hidden motives involved. As I said, it was my money on the line, my welfare, my mental health, and eventually I could sense things before I even thought them. Sometimes I didn’t need to do either. Sometimes it was obvious. A customer would come in and want to rent something with no credit card, no cash deposit, not even enough for the rental. They’d want to pay on return…

“Come on man, you know me. I’m good for it. I wouldn’t screw you over.”
“I’ve heard that before from people I’ve known a lot better than you, and they did screw me over.”
“Yeah, but that’s them. I wouldn’t do it. I’m not like that. I’ll pay you when I get paid for the job.”
“Sorry, I need payment upfront, plus a $100 deposit.”
“$100? Are you kidding?”
“Nope.”
“Wow…”
“Store policy,” I’d say. “The machine’s worth $900. Usually I get a $200 deposit. I’m only doing it for $100 because I half-know you.”

Customer scratches head. “S’cuse me for a moment,” he says. He goes to corner, extracts phone from pocket, calls girlfriend, or wife, or someone else who doesn’t trust him. The answer is no. She won’t loan him $100. She knows better now, knows the con, the fix, the tendency, and hangs up. Customer then hides disappointment, pretends conversation went very well, slips phone into pocket and says, “I’ll be right back.” He then exits store and, with an invisible Greek chorus trailing after him, gets into pickup truck and drives off into the sunset, never to return.

“Men are false. Therefore, the best assurance against being hurt by someone must be founded in his inability and not his unwillingness to hurt you.” ~ Guicciardini

Of course I wasn’t always so strict. Most of what I learned I learned by getting screwed.