“People simply empty out.” ~ Charles Bukowski, letter to John Martin 8-12-86
Found the following on a site that I have just had the good fortune to discover: Letters of Note (Correspondence deserving of a wider audience). This one is from Charles Bukowski to his publisher.
In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did just that, and in 1971 his first novel, Post Office, was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press.
15 years later, Bukowski wrote the following letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full time employment.
Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”
They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.
Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:
“I put in 35 years…”
“It ain’t right…”
“I don’t know what to do…”
They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?
I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
“Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt, Leap, leap between us and the easy out; Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go; Let our loves, freed in us, gaudy and graceful, grow.” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Private and Profane”
Sunday afternoon. Rainy and windy, low 60’s.
The wind is gradually picking up, and the sky is white. I can hear the trees outside. We lost power for about an hour, and the storm isn’t here yet. I was scheduling my posts for the week, and was doing my Two for Tuesday when the power went. Of course, I hadn’t saved. Luckily, the autosave kept most of what I had done.
I have a big pot of chili simmering on the stove, corn bread in the oven. Seems like good storm food. That’s one of the great things about having a gas range, I can cook even when the electricity goes. Even though my range has electric ignitions on the burners, I can still manually light with any flame, so when the power went, I decided to make chili. It was that or spaghetti, and I decided that chili sounded better. I think I may have left out a spice but cannot figure out which one. I’ll wait until the flavors simmer more and then try again.
Today is my m-in-law Joyce’s birthday. Here’s hoping she has a wonderful day.
“I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names.” ~ Albert Camus, from The Stranger
When the power went, I kind of lost my writing mojo. I was going full steam, and then all of a sudden nothing. The thoughts that had been coming fast stopped as abruptly as the power. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to finish this post. I mean, if I keep going, it will probably just be a whole lot of blah, blah, blah and not substance.
Oh well . . .
Much later that night . . .
I was right; I just couldn’t focus earlier today to write. My mind was going in so many directions, trying to stay focused and calm. I mean, I don’t usually get too worked up over hurricanes, so why this time? And who cleans when a hurricane is coming? Only someone as obsessive as I am, I suppose. I wanted to get laundry done while we had electricity and water, and then I thought that I should probably clean the bathroom, and I wanted to keep the dishes washed just in case we lost hot water, and then . . .
Anyway, the chili turned out tasty, but the cornbread was kind of icky. Usually I just buy Jif cornbread mix, but I had bought a package of Marie Callendar’s mix. Be forewarned, it has that artificial aftertaste to it. Things to keep in mind.
“Tomorrow, if we should drift apart, I shall find you by this picture.” ~ John Balaban, from “The Painting”
One of Eamonn’s friends made an interesting remark: He saw a picture of Alexis on the piano, and asked how old she was when it was taken. Well, it was taken when the family went on a cruise in 2007, so five years ago. He said that she looked so much younger in it. That kind of blew me away. Isn’t it funny how we do not really notice how an individual changes when we see them day to day, how the gradual changes that occur naturally are just filtered in by the eye, processed and come to rest in our subconscious?
It’s like with Olivia, how when I don’t see her for a few days, I notice more because infants change so much in that first year, but when Corey was home back in September, he really noticed how much she had changed since he had last seen her. Which makes me think about all of those service men and women are deployed for months at a time only to return to virtual strangers. I mean, it’s still their spouse or child, but so much has changed in the months while they were gone. Yet another thing that makes such separations incredibly hard for all who are involved.
And my own father, how many months and months of my life he missed while he was on those long hitches, the longest during the Viet Nam war. If I remember correctly, it was almost nine months, three quarters of a year. As a child, I just knew that my dad was gone, and then he was home, and to be honest, my dad aged so very gradually. It wasn’t until that last year when the strain of his illness and his rapid weight loss really changed his physicality that I realized that he had gotten old somewhere along the line.
“The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.” ~ Willa Cather
When I was a child, about seven or eight I think, my dad’s only sister was killed by a drunk driver. She was a nurse in Chicago, and she was crossing the street after her shift when the car hit her and dragged her down the street. I seem to recall that she had a young child.
My dad was at sea when this happened, and when he got home, my mother found out that someone had given dad some kind of drugs on the ship because he was so wild with grief. My dad got hooked. I never knew what kind of drugs he had taken, and I never even knew that there was a problem. I only found all of this out one day when my mother made a passing remark about my dad’s depression and what had happened.
As children, we never really know our parents as people. To us, they are mom or dad. They have no lives beyond our orbit, but that’s simply not true, is it? They are fully fleshed individuals with likes and dislikes, lovers and enemies. They do things that we never ever know about, just as we do things that they never ever know about—perhaps years later there is an exchange of information, when the gap between parent and child has lessened because of the ensuing years.
But what I find sad about this natural order is that as children, so few of us come to appreciate the people who have raised us as people, real people. We view them in light of how they interacted in our lives, how we saw them with others, what they said while we were within earshot. And then when they’re gone, when we hear their friends telling stories about them, it a bit of a shock.
“Alone with our madness and favorite flower We see that there really is nothing left to write about. Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things In the same way, repeating the same things over and over” ~ John Ashbery, from “Late Echo”
Two things come to mind: When we used to visit my mother’s relatives in Great Bridge on Sundays, inevitably the kids would migrate to one part of the house or outside while the adults would collect around the big dining room table and have coffee. One time, my cousin Butch and I were actually just in the room off the dining room (we called it the breezeway, a particularly Southern term), and I don’t think that the adults realized this. They began to talk about something pertaining to a neighbor who was having an affair.
Butch and I tacitly agreed not to make a sound. We listened as the story unfolded, completely in awe of what we were hearing. We weren’t discovered until one of the adults walked out and saw us and shooed us outside.
Another time, my mother was on the phone with her sister in Winston Salem. I picked up the extension in the bedroom (remember those) and began to listen to their conversation. I don’t know what I had in mind when I picked up that receiver, probably that I would hear something about me or my cousins, after all, isn’t that what adults always talked about? Their children? Instead, I heard some very adult conversation.
At some point, I made a noise and gave myself away. Needless to say, my mother was not amused.
Families are strange units, actually. We view one another in a very defined way, perhaps in the way we were when we were much younger, or in our particular roles within the unit, never really acknowledging that life beyond the family unit holds so much sway. As parents, we rue some of our children’s’ choices as friends. As children, we do not always like one of our parents’ friends. But do we always know why?
At what point do we acknowledge that our mother or father is a person? I know that it happens for most of us, but it’s the when that I find fascinating.
More later. Peace.
Music by Dan Auerbach, “Going Home”
Advice in the Form of Confusions
I have been watching the young
struggle through their daily lives
and waste the flesh we all remember
and I have seen the gardens they shine
their leaves in, the kind invented
by distraction and devices that run
on little lithium ion batteries, flat
disks that power music and voice
into strong tremble and staccato chain
that barrels into the angelic orders
we raise our heads to see, or hope
to see, but never do, for they have
sprung into louder volumes and faster
rhythms that disorient and confuse.
There are sounds we can no longer
hear, at our age, and we don’t want
anymore to know what we left
behind on that sill or under
that abbreviated sun. I can’t know
wry substitutions. I can’t hear breath
embrace five-minutes-ago or tomorrow
and there must be a word for that,
but I don’t know it. I know the sound
of thinking a hard whistle into the lung.
I know the shape of houndstooth
and the hang of each tag’s pricing
itself out of so many’s reach.
I swoon and recoil at the tresses blowing
in an arbor without glow
or flame. These are reprieves. Respites
in the demands of sensation
and flow. Know this: you can you can
you can you can you can.
~ Margot Schilpp
(every other line in this poem should be indented; WP formatting does not allow for this)
“Winter dawn is the color of metal, The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves. All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations” ~ Sylvia Plath, from “Waking in Winter”
Saturday afternoon. Cloudy, drizzle, high 60’s.
When I let the dogs out around 4 a.m., the sky was beautiful—streaked with clouds and a kind of purplish hue. The moon looked like it was covered with gauze. Oh to have a camera that would capture such a sky.
Last night I dreamed I was babysitting for a couple who were renovating their home. The husband was morphing into something with wings. He would bend and contract, and then the faint impression of wings would appear on his back. The baby was eating rice. The mother was getting ready for an interview with Oprah. I had nothing to wear. My sister-in-law Alana had a beautiful cream-colored sweater that she had just bought from Hecht’s, but I knew that I would look like a sausage in it. The husband had concave grooves on his back where the wings would go.
Make of that what you will.
So Sandy was downgraded to a tropical storm and then upgraded right back into a hurricane. It’s going to be one of those. My biggest worry is the back door; other than that, I’m as prepared as I’m going to be.
I really don’t feel like leaving the house today, but I’m supposed to drive Brett and Em to a Halloween party this evening. We shall see . . .
“We depend on nature not only for our physical survival. We also need nature to show us the way home, the way out of the prison of our minds. We got lost in doing, thinking, remembering, anticipating; lost in a maze of complexity and a world of problems. We have forgotten what rocks, plants and animals still know. We have forgotten how to be – to be still, to be ourselves, to be where life is: here and now.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Why was I awake at 4 a.m.? The dogs, of course. Unfortunately, Shakes is wheezing more and more, and his breathing is ragged. But the big culprit last night was Tillie the Lab, who wanted to go out every hour. I don’t know if the impending storm is making her antsy, but for some reason, she will not be still.
I’m on the fourth (fifth?) day of this headache. I have intermittent respites from the pain, but this is a bad one. Probably the swaying barometric pressure combined with anxiety of weathering a hurricane and worrying about Corey, although he is out of the storm’s path. Around here, all of the ships have left port, standard procedure when there is a hurricane coming. They go out of port to ride out the storm, to avoid getting buffeted against the piers. That’s a lot of ships.
The governor has already declared a state of emergency, and closings were being flashed on the television screen last night. Forecasters are predicting damages in the billions—that’s with a b, not an m, and everyone is bandying about that phrase “perfect storm” again. Images are all over the Interwebs and television of rising tides and ferocious seas. I think of my friend Sarah and hope that she does not suffer another flood with this storm.
I guess everyone is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, but nature will do what she will, regardless of the humans. I’m just hoping selfishly that we don’t lose power for an extended time like we did back in 2003 with Hurricane Isabel. I think we were without power for days then. We really should have brought home that generator that Corey’s parents were going to give us.
“I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of the mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world still is alive; it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day and night, winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance.” ~ William Stafford
So, what else is going on besides hurricane news?
Ooh, a memory from Hurricane Isabel: The boys and I set up Risk and played by candlelight. We played for days, and never finished the game. I was winning. Those were good times. I bought the boys a Lord of the Rings version of Risk. We have never played it. That makes me a bit sad. I doubt that we shall ever play it. They have grown up, moved on, changed so much since those powerless afternoons of almost a decade ago.
The longer I write, the more my head hurts, but I’m determined to get a real post up today. The earlier satellite images do not count as today’s post because . . .. well, they just don’t.
I would be lying if I said that I wouldn’t feel better about the hurricane if Corey were home with us. Of course I would, but we’ll just have to muddle along without him, at least for another couple of weeks.
“How to photograph this, the dark when one has said too much. The dark of sudden feeling. Love’s darkness.” ~ Anne Michaels, from “Fontanelles”
I have put Anne Michaels on my list of poets whose books I would like to own, a list that continues to grow and grow. Speaking of which, I still have not shared anything with you about the two poets I saw during the literary festival. I’ll get to that, just as I’ll get to the three book reviews for the books that are sitting on top of the pile.
I remember the first time that I went to Mari’s house, I was so pleasantly surprised to see that she had piles of books in every room in much the same way that I do. That was how I knew that I had found a kindred soul. Speaking of which, the other night I dreamt that I had missed a week’s worth of classes for some graduate literature class, and then I showed up right as it was time for the final exam (usually these are math dreams). Mari was in the class with me, but she refused to share her notes with me, and she wouldn’t talk to me.
Then I was meeting with the class’s professor who was very upset with me for missing so many classes, and she didn’t want to let me take the exam, even though I told her I was ready, but I knew that truthfully I wasn’t.
How weird is it that I still have classroom dreams so many years later? What does that say about me, about my inability to move on? Probably way too much, I fear.
“I liked the solitude and the silence of the woods and the hills. I felt there the sense of a presence, something undefined and mysterious, which was reflected in the faces of the flowers and the movements of birds and animals, in the sunlight falling through the leaves and in the sound of running water, in the wind blowing on the hills and the wide expanse of earth and sky.” ~ Bede Griffiths
So, let me end this post, yet another disjointed one, by talking a bit about the Nereid, sea nymphs in Greek mythology. Why Nereids? Why not? Well, mostly because they embodied the sea.
There were 50 Nereids, daughters of Nereus and Doris, and they were specific to the Mediterranean, as opposed to the Naiades, the nymphs of fresh water, or the Oceanides, the nymphs of the great ocean. Nereus and his 50 daughters dwelt on the bottom of the Aegean Sea in a silvery cavern. The Nereids were considered good fortune to seamen as they supposedly came to the aid of sailors in distress. Individually they represented aspects of the sea such as the foam, the brine, the waves, the currents, etc. In ancient art, the Nereids were depicted as beautiful young maidens riding on the backs of dolphins or as having small dolphins or fish in their hands.
The Nereid Amphitrite was the queen of the sea, and all of the Nereids made up the retinue of Poseidon, god of the sea. Together with her sisters Kymatolege (end of the waves) and Kymodoke (steadying the waves), Amphitrite possessed the power to still the winds and calm the sea. One other Nereid worth mentioning is Sao, the Nereid of safe passage, or the rescue of sailors.
So here’s hoping the Nereids are doing their respective jobs in the coming days.
More later. Peace.
(Images include the beautiful Nereid fountainheads in the Channel Gardens of Rockefeller Center, NYC)
Music by Peter Bradley Adams, “Keep Us (from the storm)”
You are Tired
You are tired,
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)
You have played,
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
So am I.
But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.
Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart
While the moon comes out of the sea.