Thursday, July 24, 2014

Just dug this out from a 1985 writing workshop

I was 20 when I wrote this.


...and she felt a silence so complete and deadening that she would furtively pick the phone from its hook and hold it to her ear so she could hear the familiar annoying drone and thus prove herself still living. It was proof, which calmed her somewhat, but in her state of paranoia, she could imagine a voice suddenly emerging from the hum, first barely distinguishable from it but soon becoming clearer and louder yet without gaining any human characteristics and it would say her name with a quiet assurance and she would be forced to go with it, and, worse, to love it...

She told me this and I wanted suddenly just to hold her and tell her she was safe, that I would keep the ugly dead things from her -- I would kill them if need be, kill all the horrible things that couldn't comprehend such fragility, that strove to suck the life out of her and draw her into the void they inhabited. I wanted to grab Alan, and her mother and father, and scream into their worthless faces, scream until I had driven them crazy, driven them to see what they had mutilated in her with their carelessness and their useless remnants: her mother's stupid minks, her father's oil leases, her mother crawling naked on the floor, bits of glass still clinging to her bloody forearms, screaming for someone to please, please slit her throat; her father standing silently, poking the glass shards and her mother with the toe of his boot, saying calmly, "I would if I had the time." And the little brown-haired girl in her candy-striped pajamas, crouched in a ball by her door, ear pressed to the cold wood, drawn unwillingly, guiltily by the sound of glass shattering. The unadulterated waste of this 28-year-old whose own desk told her to die, who had to write "live" on her mirror with lipstick, like a reminder for something that shouldn't have to be remembered.

"What have they done to you?"


And December 19, 1987, I wrote my first REAL poem (at age 22):

Devil Drives
(for Joan Crawford)

The darkness drives me far from where I must be
my knuckles bare in bone-white urgency
clutching the stringent moonlit wheel
that turns without swerving toward mercy

the sweat-stained fools of late
sip their beer and bet on
who I might be

There are roads running earthwise
undestined for divergence
stopped stone-cold in tracks that
vanish at some point

Such things I cannot flee:
the vortex forcing me
toward life without lights,
my name on each marquee,
the search for an existence
that didn't need to be proven

This haunted sky, the moon
I will outlast

Just ask the garden that once bloomed upright
near my back door, cut by my cold hand
and carted away in night's deadness
by babies oblivious to the pain of thorns

Ask it what prevails, the bloom or bane
of shears and let the silence be your reply, something
to live with, or not.

Bloody, I await what newness may arise,
fulfilled by a fury purely mine.

That is enough.

There is no leaving me.


Many years later, post-grad school writing program, I sent the Joan Crawford poem, among others, to the Poet Laureate of England, Ted Hughes: In June 1997, he wrote back: "...I like your poems -- a real language, real inner momentum."

Whatever else happens to me in my life, whoever does or does not love me... I was/am a fucking good writer. Oh yeah, and Ted Hughes read, and liked, my poems. (Anybody else out there with a Poet-Laureate-of-England Stamp of Approval? OK then.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Wagner in the Desert" by Greg Jackson

Started reading this on the bus today, from the 7/21 New Yorker. At first, theme- and voice-wise reminded me of a more-muscular Bret Easton Ellis and Raymond Carver, i.e., the literature of my Youth and also of how I partially felt then (only partially, since Ellis/Carver, though the settings of each could not be more different, also managed to be similarly non-emotively engaged, i.e., unnecessarily "cool").

Jackson, on the other hand, writes about ennui the way that the hyper/verbal Norman Mailer would have written about ennui had he felt it and had the late '60s/early '70s world and publishing world asked for it.

At this passage by Jackson, I stopped thinking about Ellis/Carver/Mailer and started thinking about Jackson:
When I say that I was visiting old friends, friends from whom my life and sense of life had diverged, I am not trying to set myself apart. Marta and Eli had lived in Los Angeles for a number of years -- long enough, I suppose, that whatever logic connected immediate impulse to long-term goal to life plan to identity had slipped below conscious awareness and become simply a part of them. I was by no means innocent, either, of the slow supplanting drift by which the means to our most cherished and noble ends become the ends themselves -- so that, for instance, writing something to change the world becomes writing something that matters to you becomes publishing something halfway decent becomes writing something publishable; or, to give another arbitrary example, finding everlasting love becomes finding somewhat lasting love becomes finding a reasonable mix of tolerance and lust becomes finding a sensible social teammate.

And then:
But in retrospect it wasn't really about Lily, this sense of being cheated. I needed something to happen. Something new and totalizing to push forward a dithering life. I needed to remember what it felt like to live. And drugs were not just handmaiden or enabler but part and parcel of the same impossible quest, which you could say was the search for the mythical point of most vivid existence, the El Dorado of aliveness, which I did not believe in but which tantalized me nonetheless, a point of mastering the moment in some perfect way, seeing all the power inside you rise up and coincide with itself, suspending life's give-and-take until you are only taking, claiming every last thing you've ever needed or wanted -- love, fear, kinship, respect -- and experiencing it all at the very instant that every appetite within you is satisfied.

I wanted to read a poem that had recently moved me. I'd been trying to read it every night, as a prelude to dinner or a coda to dinner, but things kept getting in the way. The mood, for instance. It wasn't a very poem-y poem, but it was a poem, and I guess it had that against it. Still, it was funny and affecting, and I saw it as a sort of moral Trojan horse, a coy and subtle rebuke to everything that was going on, which would, in the manner of all great art, make its case through no more than the appeal and persuasiveness of its sensibility. The others would hear it and sit there dumbfounded, I imagined, amazed at the shallowness of their lives, their capacity nonetheless to apprehend the sublime, and the fact that I had chosen a life in which I regularly made contact with this mood.

Then there's the passage from Lily's POV re why she doesn't particularly feel like having sex with him:
"The thing is," Lily said, "we could and I'm sure it would feel good. But we're old enough now to know some things, to know what happens next, to know that we have sex and then we text and e-mail for a bit, and then you come visit me, or I come visit you, and we start to get a little excited and talk about the thing to our friends, and then we get a little bored because our friends don't really care, and we remember we live in different places and think, Who the fuck are we kidding?, and then we realize that we were always just a little bored, and the e-mails and text messages taper off, and the one of us who's a bit more invested feels hurt and starts giving the whole thing more weight than it deserves -- because these things become referendums on our lives, right? -- and so we drift apart and the thought of the other person arouses a slight bitterness or guilt, depending on who's who at this point..."

At the very end of the story, the 4 friends (the couple, plus Lily and the narrator thrown together) visit the Joshua Tree area while on drugs:
We were listening to a late Beatles album very loud, finding folds within the music that seemed never to have been there before and unlikely to be there again. Lily, every few minutes, burst out laughing wildly, I don't know why. We petted each other a little, sensually, asexually, then we passed into the Coachella Valley, swept down, down into the vast grid of lights, so many colors, all communicating with one another in a lattice of shifting and persistent harmony. And as we returned to the valley floor, where the windmills blinked red and the stars through our open windows were small rounded jewels in the great velvet scrim of night, Lily spoke:
"It's like... it was all choreographed for me," she said, her voice hushed and marveling. "Like everything was arranged for me. To experience just like this."
It took me a second to realize what she was saying and what it meant, to gather my thoughts and say the only thing there was to say.
"But that's what it is," I said."That's what being on drugs is."


The time for wearing white is gone...

...we grab our steeds and learn to pray
while spider sound hovers, blade itching our palm
and we find only steel for reflection.

by me, circa 1987


That said, today was indeed the first day this season that I got up and felt like wearing WHITE PANTS. White Pants aren't something you just get up and put on. You've got to feel a certain way about it. If you're hung over, you certainly don't feel like wearing them. If you didn't have a good night's sleep and woke up cranky, you're not going to feel like wearing them. If you're simply not in the mood to strut around sassily that day, you're not going to wear them. With White Pants comes a burden of assumed attitude that you must attempt to fulfill..

Aside from the psychological burden, there's a physical one: You get dirty during the day when you wear them. When you wear jeans or any other color pants, you have no idea what you've either sat on or brushed up against during the day. You don't think twice when you're on the bus about hauling your bag onto your lap. White Pants will let you know. They will make you think twice. 

And since with the White Pants come the White Shoes, you can't just walk through grass and dirt paths where the city hasn't bothered to put down sidewalks, as you normally do. Last year, the only accompaniment to White Pants that I had was one pair of white CANVAS espadrilles. White CANVAS shoes are just stooopid to own. One stain, and they're done for. The stain never comes out, despite your wishing, despite your attempts at applying liquid Wite-Out stolen from your office. 

After THAT fiasco, this year I invested in one pair of white LEATHER shoes (that you can wipe off). And I have a nice white purse...(More psychological stuff: It's not a BIG bag like I have to carry work-stuff in. And still no white belt; hate to waste money on that, since I never tuck in shirts and it will never show, but I KNOW when my belt doesn't match...)

Nonetheless, I wore White Pants today for the first time this season! Even after my horrible depressive/lonely/hate-filled episode displayed on this very blog Friday night (that kept me in bed all day Saturday), I rallied Sunday BECAUSE I HAD SOMETHING TO DO!

The Thursday before, an editing job for a 40-page proposal with a potential $7 million at stake came across my desk. I'd been expecting it to come in that previous Monday. When I finally got it Thursday, I was irritated that it had arrived that late, and more irritated that I was supposed to have the thing finished by noon Monday. You can't really carefully edit 40 pages of dense text in 2 days. Nonetheless, it was due noon Monday. So I had to work at least 8 hours over the weekend... Like I said, after my spiel on this blog Friday night, I woke up Saturday with a huge sense of loss and hopelessness about the entire world and my relations with everyone in it. Which staying in bed all day Saturday re-reading Raymond Carver's stories certainly did not assuage! :)  I knew Saturday was a mental recuperation period, but then I also knew that I HAD A TON OF WORK TO DO, which only added to my sense of malaise.

When I woke up Sunday, I immediately popped out of bed and started in on the day's worth of work. Worked focused, only water and cigarettes.. E-mailed the doc in by 4pm. An hour or so later got the following e-mail feedback from a 2nd party:
Just finished going through S's thoroughly edited document. (I am truly impressed. Brings back fond memories of S---- and L--- [2 previous editors, who'd been in my position for the 40 years before me], and honestly, S might just outdo those two pros!!).
My parents might not love me (which hurts), the woman I'm still in love with might not love me (which hurts), but... BY GOD, SOMEONE OUT THERE APPRECIATES ME!  

I got up Monday morning and went to work with White Pants on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cher, 1971

My favorite Cher song of all time: "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves." (25 years before Cher got gay-icon'd to death, she was, in her prime, an actual mainstream American icon.)

Mary Karr in The Paris Review

You have constantly to question, Is this fair? No life is all bleak. Even in Primo Levi’s camp, there were small sources of hope: you got on the good work detail, or you got on the right soup line. That’s what’s so gorgeous about humanity. It doesn’t matter how bleak our daily lives are, we still fight for the light. I think that’s our divinity. We lean into love, even in the most hideous circumstances. We manage to hope.

But we remember the bleakness.

That’s mostly what we remember.

And: "The fury that I thought protected me from harm actually sealed me off from joy."

Monday, July 14, 2014

"What It Used to Be Like"

Have recently been on a Raymond Carver kick, ordering the "Library of America" edition of his stories (which I'd owned and read in various cheap paperbacks back in the '80s), plus the 2009 bio, plus the 2006 memoir by his wife of over 20 years, Maryann Burk Carver: "What It Used To Be Like."

I'm now halfway through his wife's book. (It's 1961: The Pill has just become available, and Maryann is understandably relieved after two kids in three years.)

Maryann was a college-prep kid with a future when she met Ray Carver. Carver was a working-class kid who didn't like to study (even at a junior college) or work. He got very, very lucky in that someone like John Gardner "discovered" him during one of his brief stints at a state school (Humboldt). Not "lucky" in the sense that Carver wasn't a great writer, but "lucky" in that: How many other potentially "great" writers get  hyped by a minor academic and then such hype takes hold in the literary industry? Very rare. Carver's taking off was very much the exception and not the rule.

Good for him. But the "bad-for-her" Maryann part is that after over 20 years of her supporting him (and providing first-hand emotional intelligence and, most importantly, ENERGY for his stories), he decided to leave her for some peace. Tess Gallagher, an academic that he met in '79 and officially married only six months before his death in '88, I don't consider as much of anything except an executrix of his estate.

Maryann Carver's reminiscences are a counter to the idiocy of a professor that I had in grad school at San Francisco State in the mid-90s: This professor, in a Melville/Dickinson class I was taking, was certain that Herman Melville's wife had been nothing but a drain on his creativity.

Oh really? Melville had been fucking about on odd jobs and as a sailor, with one publication, "Typee," to his credit in 1846, the year before he married. AFTER the year of his marriage in 1847, the ENTIRE rest of his work was published, including the now-famous novel "Moby-Dick" and the story "Bartleby the Scrivener" --- and again, not just those, but EVERY OTHER THING he ever published.

Melville not only had a home base but also had a willing cadre of women (his wife and daughters) there to transcribe his every word. Melville wasn't operating in a vacuum. Neither was Carver.

During my time in academia in the late-80s-to-mid-90s learning about various literary men, I can't tell you how often the female life partners were dismissed and denigrated as somehow being nothing more than "balls and chains," as local girls that the guys had gotten pregnant... I'd like to see a history of art/literature sans such women (aka, "muses" and/or in-house secretaries).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

That's Someone You'll Never Forget

My crying jag about Ginny...

...that started Thursday night carried on into Friday and the subsequent calling in sick for work/lying in bed weeping all day Friday.

As I was remembering more and more things about her, I was remembering more and more things about someone who really LIKED me and wanted to be around me! (Until she didn't, of course, but while she did, she really did!)

In subsequent years, I've had "lovers," but no one that I could get lost trying to find a Fort Worth Unitarian Church with; no one to "shush" me when I innocently blurted out "What's a MUFF DIVER?" in her parents' car while viewing downtown Atlanta graffiti; no one to share a parents' hotel room with while simultaneously trying to get off on "Endless Love" with the sound turned off. :) 

That parentally-shared hotel room would have made a great story 20 years later had we survived.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My first love on Find-A-Grave

Find-A-Grave is a website I've up 'til now associated with celebrities; I've looked up "Joan Crawford" there, for instance, and left a couple of "in memoriam" messages on her death date over the years.

Today was a slow day at work and I randomly typed in to "Find-A-Grave" the name of a girl I loved in 1983, when I was a Senior and she, a Junior at our high school.

In our 8 months of knowing each other in the Spring/Summer of '83, we:

saw "Frances" twice together (we later went to Fort Worth's Ridgmar Mall and had T-shirts made: "Frances Lives");

played the White Album backwards and listened to Lennon together (she was not that into solo Lennon but kindly went along with my excitement over finding the "Some Time in New York City" album -- also at Ridgmar Mall -- and then put up with my insisting on listening to it OVER AND OVER AGAIN);

wrote a punk song together ("He's a Geek [of the Pencil-Necked Variety]" -- the title of which she later paid to have immortalized on matchbook covers and sent me dozens of once I'd gone off to college).

There are dozens of other things, some of which I've written about here before. (A favorite memory will always be when I spent the night at her house one time and I, wearing a big, floppy T-shirt, accidentally stood over an upstairs air vent, which blew my shirt up... "I feel like Marilyn Monroe!" I said. And she laughed. Getting the reference, getting me.)

At the time, at 17, I thought such a connection (though new to me at the time) must be commonplace among adults... I thought I'd find exactly the same feeling over and over again. Once I went off to college; once I had sex. I did not.

I remember her showing up at the doorway of the stock-room of the K-Mart where I was a part-time teen worker... She'd greased her hair back with Vaseline (this was '83, pre-gel) and had on a "punk-looking" shirt and a shy smile on her face, peering around the corner to see my reaction... That look on her face is a permanent snapshot in my mind.

I also remember us wearing our then-trendy "Japanese-looking" off-the-shoulder sweatshirts when we went into our town's 7-11. The cashier said to us: "You ain't from here, are you?" We got a big thrill out of that.

On my way to the state competition for editorial-writing, we tried to sneak her onto the bus... At the last second, our sponsor discovered her and kicked her off.

At my high-school graduation, I had no white shoes to wear. She lent me hers. She played in the school band that was situated to the left of where we graduates were marching to the stage. As I passed her, I lifted up my robe and flashed a leg/white shoe. She laughed.

It all went bad once I went to college in the Fall of '83. We didn't argue or anything; she just met a new "best friend" pretty quickly a month or two later. I'd left for Austin in late-August 1983, and by Christmas 1983, she was completely removed from me emotionally, though we still exchanged Christmas presents that year. (In October 1983, she'd run away from home -- by bus -- to me in my dorm room in Austin; that's a whole other parental-trauma that I had nothing to do with. I had no idea how her reaction to her parents' upset would afterward affect her thinking about me. We were never the same after that, though I continued to try and she "ran off to Austin" a couple of times after that.)

There are hundreds of other things... As I said above, I didn't know at the time WHAT this was. I thought this type of feeling and awareness of another would be a Given for the rest of my life, especially once I got to college, started having sex, etc. After 30 years, I can honestly say that there's been nothing like this.

What was I initially saying? Oh yeah --- the Find-A-Grave site. Which I'd thought was only for celebrities... Not so, apparently. Someone posted there in 2012 a photo of my friend's grave, which I found by accident today. She's buried in Georgia, where her family's from; I'd never seen the grave before: 1966 - 1988. I started crying at work and couldn't stop.

I had been worried about my unhappiness in Austin while she was worried about dying. We'd argued in the past about the existence of God, and while she was dying she wrote me that she now believed. And that she was reading Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet." She wrote me that she, though I might not believe it, loved me.

Not in regular contact, I didn't find out that she had died until I called her number around Thanksgiving of 1988: Her father answered, and when I asked for Ginny, he had to tell me that she'd died 6 months earlier. He thought he'd already notified all the "Azle People."

Here's the addendum: Songs that Ginny particularly liked in 1983 but that I never wanted to listen to...

Plus any Heart, plus any Prince.

And here's what I made her listen to again and again after my mall discovery ("Fweedom, oh Fweedom!" and "Aye, aye, genocide!" she sang back):

I didn't know what all of this was at the time. I didn't come out until 1989, a year after her death, and then to a simplistic, dumb club dyke "into vampires" who owned a total of 2 books and didn't like the Beatles. Sex, though: I was desperate for it after all of the years of yearning and wondering. But what I got was textbook (as I later learned) S-and-M --- nothing imaginative or sexy or interesting about it, just a lot of dumb posing. No songs shared (except for maybe Depeche Mode's "Violator" album and Siouxsie/Banshees' "Peek-a-boo.") Couldn't have been further from what I'd earlier felt. But this was officially "gay," right? I was supposed to LIKE this, right? If I was to be gay, I couldn't love or be with the girl I wanted to love, but rather had to go with the extremist scumbag -- who was one of the only ones then willing to be gay publicly. Right??