Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dec 23, 2013—Winter Project

                       This was the worst day for icing I have seen in a long time.  The tree limbs are arced over toward the ground and the electric lines are weighed down almost to where they must snap. It is work walking anywhere. I have to start up the old yard truck to carry me where I want to go. I simply cannot walk on this uneven wet glare ice. The 4wd in the old truck still works fine. One of the tires is almost flat; the better will it pull on the ice. I have in mind a project for today. It is not cold, hovering around 30f. The rain, which freezes on anything it falls on, downpours every now and then. The old disgusting barn we started raising goats in almost twenty years ago is now for the most part empty. For awhile we kept bucks in it so I call it the buck barn. Once upon a time Charlie Connell, a neighbor, took down an old barn, thinking he might build a barn himself with it, but he never got around to it, and then he died and his family sold the pile of old rough boards to me for $75. Took me awhile to transport it all home. Somebody had already removed most of the nails. No way to build a proper foundation except by digging ditches and throwing in stones I had gathered, but I got to work and soon my wife and I had a shelter for her rapidly multiplying herd of goats. Believe it or not, our goats seemed much happier in that crumbling old barn than anywhere we have put them since. Now, though in the same state of ruination, it tends to be my summer home—chickens in the back. And in winter, when the weather is terrible, a biting chill and frozen rain, I have a mind to amuse myself with a carpentry project. I have cleaned the barn out, as I tend to be disorganized, and snugged it up, and I have a few of my power tools set up, and I have shortly ago taken a trip to the dump for some new furniture, and I went to Lowe's and bought a drawer slider set, and I have in mind to build me a desk for my ever increasing pile of computer junk. I am running two computers at once. One of the monitors I actually bought at a store, the other a Hanns-G, a very fine monitor, though elderly, but mat and comfortable to stare at for hour after hour, I got in a trade for 35 dozen fresh eggs. (I had a lot of chickens at the time.) The poor fellow soon ended up in a divorce and he moved to Atlanta and he never did get the eggs but I got the monitor, which is easily my favorite—no glare, I don't know how they did it. A third monitor will be coming soon, when I run into more junk. So I need room. Especially I need a slide out shelf to put an extra keyboard and mouse on. The sliders came with no instructions at all. How do they go together? I had to use the precious gray matter. It was not like figuring out Emmanuel Kant or Ludwig Wittgenstein. I think you never really figure them out. You get a general idea, but just when you think you have all the answers, some new trouble comes up. I had trouble enough figuring out how to install that sliding shelf, and how to put the junky desk together so that it might be usable. That's one thing you never do get out of Kant, in my opinion, something usable. It took two years to figure out Wittgenstein's Tractatus but that only left me in the middle of even more mysteries; mysteries, incidentally, Wittgenstein claims do not exist. So it was great amusement figuring out how to build this contraption but not like the amusement one finds in Spinoza or Descartes, not like the amusement one finds in Shakespeare or Dante. I thought, as I was putting this piece of serviceable nothingness together, how much fun I was having after sitting around for two days because of the terrible weather. I was using my hands and my gray matter. I guess plenty of people will disagree with me but damned if what I got out of it in total, three or four hours of fun and a table to put my computer junk on, is more than ever I got out of any book. Can that truly be? The juice never did go out, ice burdening the power lines or no. I thought it was something of a miracle. I finished and made it back inside the house in plenty of time to bug my wife with another winter project I have in mind. This one requires that you have to drill a few holes in the house. She wasn't too happy with that.

This is what I came out with. Now I have room for one more monitor. I wish the Macbook was a Thinkpad.

More projects are scheduled for this winter. It is predicted to be a long one.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dec 12, 2013—An Instigation

                         Still don't know what I want to do. I might retire, I might not. Tonight is bitter cold. I might bundle up and go out, fresh air could do me good, or I might not. Right now what I really want is a cup of coffee. The pot is empty. It is very silent in the house. The light from the barn is flooding the snow in the dooryard. The curtain to the window beside me is open just enough. Christmas is in the air. Time and space glimmer on ice. It is about 1a. I am thinking about a coffee and a snack. I truly have nothing to do but think, and all I can think about is a hot coffee and a snack. My brother calls up. As I am working my overnight, he is working his, driving his truck toward Detroit. He is on the web trying to find his way. He does not think the directions he has been given are right. Night workers work in a world of incomplete or incorrect directions. Life often does not come with directions, either right or wrong. God leaves it up to us to find our way. I have been instructed that there is a plan but I see very little evidence of it. We fumble around, all of us in whichever shoes, feeling a way, and when true to our feelings, God provides the smallest push, a surprising instigation that cannot be ignored. If ignored we go slowly insane; if obeyed God lifts us out of the commonplace into wisdom. In the end we do the heavy lifting, we perspire. There is the process, a vision or a dream to stumble toward. Seems as if I have been awake all my life, and I have done work, it is important to me to do work, so I know I can explain the work right. And I have struggled with the writing and the thinking, which I could not ignore, it has followed me close, close like the back pocket in my trousers. There is a process. I know enough about the process to hate the irrelevancies that beset it. I hate the fillers, the illusions. But the self criticism hurts. It is brutal; it is like walking through fire. There is so much that is just junk you have to scrap and toss out. You cut down by half and there is still a half more to cut down. You build with the sentences. You are the sentences you build with. No filler; no irrelevancies; no cliché. I have done the work on this winter night. I am the only one left who can be me, Pablo. These sentences belong to Pablo from the top of his skull to the soles of his feet. Yet what does he know which can be true? Is Pablo an encyclopedia of cliché? He clings to the irrelevant with a demon's ferocity. Every roadblock to put up from the greater world he clings to. Maybe he really does not want to know. I am sick of words that don't mean anything. Now on this bitter winter night I think about a cup of coffee and buttered toast.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nov 14, 2012—Oh Human Puzzler

                                I went outside for awhile this morning, then came inside because of laziness and the cold. The wind was worse than irritating, a strong north-wester. In spring such a wind would not disturb me, but these sudden cold snaps in fall are harder. They bring a noticeable bracing thump to the pulse. The high arctic sky is amazing blue but the unobstructed sunlight seems cold and far away. It is a puzzling sunlight because it seems to give no warmth. And when there is a wind, as today, though there is work to do outside, I am driven inside with surprising urgency. In this weather salting my attitude with fortitude is as good as to waste it. A person who prides himself in hardiness is displeased to fritter away fortitude on a lost cause. But I come to this season prepared with outside work vaguely finished, as finished as ever it gets, and jobs to do indoors. I amused myself the other day by dis-assembling a computer keyboard. It was old and worthless, it was worthless when it was new, another mistake of mass produced technology; mostly it worked, but for the rest it didn't. People put up with it as if they don't know any better. But now it has been beat up with years of use and collected dust and dirt and some of the keys are gone dead. Curiosity will waste hours; in the glory days of computing when no expense was spared, keyboards were mechanical, and to this day though more than twenty years later, they are valuable to expert typists, and I might be better employed expending my curiosity on something valuable. The keyboard I use most of the time is a twenty years old IBM standard. I use other keyboards, one of which was very expensive, a Happy Hacker. But I wouldn't part with the old IBM ever. There are other ways I might be better employed than staring at keyboards and motherboards on the Internet. But telling myself that something is an ineffective utilization of time and actually persisting in avoiding it is hard work, especially where curiosity is involved. So I am anxious to go inside because I know that I'll soon have that simple-minded task in front of me. (One of the keys has disappeared. I theorize that a cat kicked it off the kitchen table to play with and stashed it somewhere.) I have classic works of literature to study but here also are one-hundred-and-fifty or so small parts to puzzle over. I remember the first Chevy 327 short block I disassembled. Since that day my opinion has been that anybody who has passed through a certain number of years of life without seeing the bottom end of a Ford or Chevy V-8 must not be very bright, must not know anything, in fact. It is right up there with watching a baby being born and milking a dairy goat or cow. A V-8 engine also has a large number of parts, and one must be careful which goes where. There is involved a lot of organizing; but there is a fair amount of puzzling too. You try to do away with as much puzzling as you can through organization, but even the best organizer sometimes gets confused. People love to puzzle but they also love to avoid what should be most puzzled over. But in the end it was not the puzzling over the worthless damned Dell keyboard, which I took apart because it happened to be broken, it was the simple desire to get out of the cold. So a little disgusted with myself because I had a job to do and it was not getting done, I went inside from outside, and the heat hit my face and it seeped under the lids of my eyes and I became almost sleepy. So now it was time for puzzling. I had already puzzled about the cold sunlight, and now I puzzled my way through the keyboard puzzle. There are puzzles and then there are other puzzles. The keyboard was a puzzle; a computer OS is another puzzle; a V-8 engine or a nuclear submarine is a bigger puzzle. Which takes us through puzzles to a point. But what does that mean? My keyboard, which was broken long before I ever thought of dis-assembling it, is a puzzle whose solution tells me hardly anything. What, for instance, does this mean? How is it that this life we slouch through such dim souls so mistakenly seems so inexplicable? Then who is going to explain, and attempt to explain we must, who is going to explain the mysteries? Take error. How is it that two men can take two common facts and the one will make out of it truth, the other while away into error and wonder and get nowhere and both with a conscience equally clear? Oh, human puzzler, who just built that atomic bomb, explain to me the Trinity! Thus in anguish, careless of the blunt north-wester, I returned outside to chop firewood.

Oct 23, 2013—Big Pastures

                     A cold front was passing through this afternoon, bringing in showers and a foreboding winter wind, but the rain stopped and Sunshine, my dog, and I walked on the north, the downhill, side of Kittridge Brook Road. There used to be big fields in here. Jack Robert's father, a dairy farmer, once worked this land. But now the fields are all grown up to brush. Sunshine and I got into the woods on a slash cut where there had been logging, and we missed the trail but there was a stone wall to follow and the stone wall crossed the trail again. There was a rusted wire fence along the stone wall in the middle of the woods. To have these old fields all grown back is a hard thing to think about. I have some idea what it means to clear land. And now my own land is growing back because there is no crowd of animals to graze them any more. Used to be the bucks would clear brush behind the buck barn but now we have only Johnny, a Nubian. It doesn't take long for the brush to take over, three or four years. I should hire a bulldozer to level it off and clear the big boulders to make something of it; then fix the fencing and buy a little crowd of sheep to raise and sell. Sheep are too dumb to get personal about, not like pigs, who are surprisingly smart, and you name them and when you send them to the butcher it can get personal. I'll probably knock down more firewood this winter. I am getting older and my legs are not so good but I want to get firewood. Pretty soon that's all there will be for me to do, cut firewood and take care of a vegetable garden. It would be nice to get a couple of years firewood ahead, maybe ten, fourteen cord cut, split and stacked. Then I'd burn like I used to, which is all the time. That would keep my open spaces―I almost said fields―clear. But it is much easier on my wife, who is getting old too, to run the furnace. In Jack Roberts' backyard the pines and spruce have taken over, which must be the first cover toward a normal Maine woods before the leafy trees come in. Possibly the fact that the land slopes north reduced the number of leafy trees in this first growth because, of course, northward sloping land tends to get less sun. But once the leafy trees take hold in most situations where the ground is not too uneven, they crowd out the piney trees; the leafy trees, even the poplar, tend to be taller and their upper branches are more needful of light. I have observed that numerous times in old growth that has not been recently logged, at least here in the foothills, deciduous trees tend to dominate. Now in this young growth there are few trees worth cutting down. Where we walked today Jack Roberts had laid out some large trees to work into firewood. But the trees had been cut from a place along the edge of the new growth. The logs looked like sick and broken down elms. Cows like to hang on the edge of the field on hot summer days for the shade under the big trees that have been left. Along the edge of the cleared land the farmers used to leave substantial trees. I myself have left a sturdy beech, for instance, which happened to be nice to look at, inside the fenced in area for that very reason―it would be useful as a shelter to the animals. But the animals interfere with the roots and sooner than you can imagine the branches are naked and the tree having ceased to flourish becomes dangerous enough so that you cut it down. Hopefully the tree is not very close to house or barn. Twice in my life I have come uncomfortably close to felling a big tree on my house. More recently big weather knocked over a hefty maple that just missed ruining my new roof, the roof I am planning to retire under. This big tree had been left for its shade. But my opinion is that sun windows in winter are more valuable than shade is in summer, and, of course, creating sun windows for winter often leads to an adventure. You have to cut the damned trees down! I feel as we cross out of the new growth and brush into the fields that someone has kept open that same feeling of adventure. When the farmers cleared the land, it must have been something like a battle in war. These fields are like small battlefields. Woodsmen tell me about cutting on blustery Autumn days. You couldn't know which way the tree would fall. There were injuries, unforeseen accidents, even deaths of both animals and men. As I walk I feel the souls of these men so close, so close. They are very dear to me. How has it happened that so much has changed? I can think of hardly a person man or boy strong enough to cut down a big tree with an axe and pull the stump. What has happened to the dairy farms? I did not think this change or these fields grown up to brush could presage anything good. As I walk through I struggle in damp combat with contrary images of an American future I can not believe in.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pablo's Preamble List

Now Pablo when writing the Preamble to Annals of Pablo ended up with another of those gosh darned lists. Not in order of importance. Are you kidding?

  1. I’m usually not interested in anything that doesn’t have some sort of climax somewhere close to the end.
  2. Almost everything I try to read is about a third too long, even Holy Ye Christmas! books. And then all of a sudden her eyes turned to blazing spikes, etc. The popular taste is inured to it; it’s just another opportunity to speed read and accomplish something. Think again.
  3. If I don’t know the story by personal experience, I’m not interested in writing it. But I hate journalism and my stories are anything but memoirs.
  4. I don’t know what imagination is. I think it’s something you’re born with. In that case I give up.
  5. I like to dump my subject matter into the road and drive over it about a thousand times with a ¾-ton pick up. To leave it fluffed up is a sin. Once it’s flattened then you load it. You don’t want to drive away with less than a full load. I try very hard at this. It is something that has always bothered me. Too long, too much stuff. Either you understand this or you don’t. I really don’t have any words for what I am trying to get at from my love of brevity. Not minimalism. That is a professor’s word, and I don’t even know what it means. The wisdom silence spins off. Lists.
  6. I like the illusion of spontaneity. Who invented the term “flash fiction”? I guess it is supposed to leave the impression of an insult like teenybopper used to. But I like it and crave to obtain an effect that is immediate, that “flashes” at you. And best of all: the work is all figured out when you finally write it down as if on an impulse. Then you don’t have to spend the best part of a lifetime worrying it to death.
  7. This all goes hand in hand with the classical drill that is supposed to inculcate clarity. Clarity sure helps. It is hard work, though, and good luck to the player. You have good days and bad days. On a bad day you can’t get the mud out of the writing because you don’t even know it’s there.
  8. One thing I’m pretty sure of, I have noticed quite often in my life, that a time comes for everything. I owned a paperback copy of Isaac Babel’s stories for almost twenty years before the cobwebs cleared and I could finally see in his stories a philosophy that I could build on. Take John Milton! What a struggle I had with him! How could I ever read that? I must be dumb. No sense going to school any more. One day the time will come. I really like to read, and I’d read a lot more than I do if I didn’t love to write so much.
  9. The big objective: avoid journalism. A man does not avoid a rat carrying the plague like I avoid journalism. In my younger days we used to sit around wondering why we didn’t want to write journalism. Some of us eventually did. And there was a scholar among us, too. But to this day I’ve never sinned that way. Journalists tend to be poor fools, though some of the ladies are cute.
  10. I don’t set myself up as anybody’s conscience. I am not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what happens in the ER. I can’t write a glossy detective story either. Criticize another writer? Don’t be ridiculous. But write a potboiler? Maybe. I have several juicy ideas. I don’t intend to mirror my age, wouldn’t know how to even if I wanted to. I’m a guy who loves to write. I’ve been doing it all my life on the back of cereal boxes, on file cards, little notebooks, big notebooks and now on my laptop. In college I cut an amusing figure. People shook their heads in bewilderment and smiled: I didn’t look smart enough to put one foot in front of the other! Still it can’t be that of all the several millions of words I have written nothing of it can be any good, can it? Given the possibility of eventual happy accident.
  11. Face it, the object is to finish the work, and like it enough to believe somebody ought to read it.
Thanks. Me, Pablo.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dec 6, 2013—Out of Season

                                     Lately, Sunshine and I have gone out every day, though the weather has been bad, to do our walk. Hunting season is almost over, except for the muzzle-loader who has saved his permit on the odd chance that he might run into a good buck when most hunters have already packed it away. Today we heard a lot of shooting in the distance. Rifles which load in the muzzle not the breech go off like a stick of dynamite. Sporting rifles have a sharp report that sounds less important. The explosion of a muzzle-loader wakes you, reminds you of the wild west of distant longings. I don't have time for hunting but then why not make time? As long as I have lived in these foothills with deer everywhere? As many times as I have sauntered through the woods and fields near my house, Sunshine and I? Would that be a distraction if I did? I am always thinking about distractions. What isn't a distraction? I'd love to build a garage to put all my tools in and then build a for real pickup that I really like, not one of these pansy things get stuck in a mud puddle. I'm not so strong on my legs any more, but I like to get out even more than I used to. I long for the solitude of the big woods on the northwestern border. But that must certainly be a distraction. So that makes essentially everything a distraction from going to work and doing the real work I get paid for. But who can live that way? The hunter whose shots I just heard might get a bite or two of deer flesh in exchange for all the energy he has expended. He also may have a job, a family, but should any resident of the woody foothills dare suggest that such sporting was a mere distraction from the real work of life, that hunter utilizing his muzzle-loader in the last of the season, one might almost say out of season, certainly might have a few sharp words to expend in his defense. What is a distraction? Suppose a man's work is the distraction and the hunting in the dark season—and it gets dark now not long after 4pm—is a man's real work, his reason for being? Well, workers of the world, why not? Some days I sit and think for hour after hour. I dare anybody to tell me I am wasting my time! I don't feel guilty about it. But my idea is that though you can think all day, one way or another you have to remove the thinking into a useful pattern that you can defend and explain clearly. The hunter has his meat, but I have my meat, too. I have been all day trying to think of a word. It has to do with people who use too many words to communicate something simple. (Lord knows, might I not be one of them! Seems to me I often have more than enough to say.) They constantly overstate the case. It is a common drawback in certain kinds of artistic(?) writing. Pretentious? I think that's a good word. I like that word. But deliberately understating the case, making it brief, succinct, is a wonder too. The jaws of speech shut tight; even common words are an anguish; you never get to the point, you hope they'll figure it out. It hurts to sing that way; forget it then, just remain silent. But the irony of the understated case makes it more vivid. It demands more art, more intense digging, heated, headachy spade work, and the possibility of silly failure is one word away. The problem is that there are lots of ways to do something but one of them may be better than the others. Do something one way, and “alternatively” do something another way, and who can say the former is better than the latter? There may be an argument about it, but that should tell you everything. What is to do in those turns of affairs? Why not save it for later, when the head is clear and the cool limit of out of season is reached? One must wait, hold his breath. Simplify! Error is likely. But error is a sort of outcome. Obviously it teaches you something. It could be a better day ahead than I think. Even if I blow it, have that big accident—a possibility that has nagged at me as I drive here and there all of my life—I'll still have to make it better. Now I hear the muzzle loader explode one last time in the distance. I think Sunshine can hear the last sounds of a dying animal, or she knows, for she has whimpered softly. I know there are white tails in that direction. They are in a stand of thick growth in an old cow field that has been permitted to brush over. The overcast is spreading a mist through the last of the daylight. The hunter got his buck in a season past the usual. He waited till the crowd had gone. That old muzzle-loader from his grandfather's arsenal? Who wouldn't expect failure? But it was simpler that way.


                            It had rained all night. Usually the rain on the trailer's metal roof don't bother me, lulls me back to sleep in fact, as if somebody was talking to me...a soft voice...and it drains bad stuff going on in your head and you can't help dropping off but tonight I was thinking stronger than the soft voice and I stayed awake a long time before I fell asleep again. I don't like this job I had to do tomorrow. So I thought about that and finally went back to sleep and it seemed like five minutes before my father was shaking me awake. I had already loaded the six pigs yesterday afternoon at feeding. There was Milly and Bucky and the four others who were not so friendly as Milly and Bucky, and they had followed me into the stock trailer as if it was nothing. That didn't make me feel so good as it should have because they were trusting me and I was leading them all right. I tried to think about that Dad would pick this day because he had been doing this since a long time and I knew he'd picked this day because there was a hot market, so I tried to think about the money. These hogs were some fat hogs, and I had fifty chickens, meat birds, also very fat, which I didn't care about like I did the hogs especially Milly and Bucky. Don't know why, as long as I have been on this farm and raising hogs, since I was a little boy, I guess, hogs bother me so much. Dad says if you can't make money raising hogs, maybe you ought to think about something else to do. Well, I do think about something else to do all the time. I think about playing my guitar in fancy places in the big city, or writing my poems or stories on my computer or just staring at my computer all day.  But then I get out with my hogs, and there they are. Same with cats and dogs and goats and all the other animals around here but worse with them hogs. Some things there is no figuring them out I guess, except the money, even the money.
     So finally after Dad shook me awake, after I lay there awhile wondering if Milly and Bucky knew what was happening to them, like I swear She-she did, our old family milker Jersey, who dried up one day and wouldn't freshen any more...she pointed at me her wet black nose and big black eyes eyeing me woeful, I swear she knew...anyway, I gave up thinking about them because I started thinking about the money I'd put in my pocket today. Jerry had a used Wrangler down to the garage about 8 or 10 years old, a Florida car he brought back from speed week, no rust, and I thought I might be able to swing it. You know about Jeeps. It's been like that all my life.  I forget the guy's name, George something, when we lived in town a long time ago, had a CJ he fixed up fancy. Me and Dad went over one day to look at it. Maybe Jeeps are a guy thing. Ma laughed, "That thing leaks in the rain, cold in the winter, no heater, won't start! Adele, three babies, must think the world of all the money George has sunk into it." George took us for a couple hours ride. That was it for me. Damned, that thing could get around. So after awhile of thinking about hogs and my dirty deed and then thinking about Jeeps, maybe I felt a little better. Besides, I didn't have to look at the hogs this morning or feel their itty-bitty all knowing eyes. I got up. Dad was eating breakfast. Not me. I went outside. As I was walking outside, I could feel mom and dad looking at me kind of funny. I always feel better when I'm outside, 'cept when I'm outside too long, then I want to be inside again.
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Pablo's Prologue

                            I have been writing for a long time. I would not call it work. Other writers say "my work" but I don't know what they are talking about. Writing has given me solace and diversion in troubled times and in good times recreation and delight. Writing is thinking in a relatively systematic way via words and the way they hang together in sentences. The ends in this kind of thinking, if done honestly, may not be obvious but rather therapeutic in the way that football or psychoanalysis are said to be therapeutic. In the process of my avocation I have learned a few general understandings. Perhaps you will find them interesting.

I really don’t like autobiographic writing, or whatever it is presently called. My dream has always been to write imaginative stories. I have tried for a long time to learn how to use the imagination. I am embarrassed to tell you exactly how long because then you'll certainly wonder about just how with it I am, I mean that I did not give up a long time ago. I didn’t want to let the imagination get extreme. Usually that’s what happens. Wildly imaginative "creative" writing can be very popular. I still don’t know what it all means. I avoid thinking about it because I dislike it. For some people it is "entertaining" to spend time on subjects that will never nor have ever had any possibility of being real either in the details or the general thrust. But even if you are a person who has art burning inside you, you shouldn’t have to suspend disbelief to the point that you wonder if you are cracking up! Take "Romeo and Juliet". While the professor was waxing effusive, I was wondering, "Humpf, do ya think?" The English tradition is all tangled in similar confusions. To keep myself safe from the subsequent stoning I'll avoid the long list. But I personally am waiting on the truth, and frankly I don't give a damned about anything else, and it is in my nature to be skeptical. Anyway I have resolved some of my personal qualms about the imagination and I have been able to move on.

I don’t think anymore that truth has much to do with the real world; truth has more to do with the unreal world. When you are driving in traffic and you are irritated by an extra long stop light, you are engaged in a great untruth. Stoplights like untruths come and go; untruths are here now and then vanish. Truths are more stubborn and persistent. They find a niche in the world and they persist, and damned if you are not stubbing your toe on them your whole life! You may stub your toe on an untruth, too, like that stop light above, but that has more to do with accident. So what I mean by realism is not what comes and goes but rather the patterns that are incessantly THERE; and it seems like at times they’re gonna drive you crazy. When I was a young philosophy student, I was impressed by Plato's Theory of Forms. Now I am an old philosophy student, though I hardly ever read Plato any more, still the thought that a story is how characters are conducted through the forms always gets my attention.

So I try to stick to realism, even though sometimes it is not autobiographic. I try to stick to the stuff of ordinary life that you are constantly stubbing your toe on. So I try to be realistic. I haven’t gone off into fantasy very much. The upshot is that if you go by this notion the writing must be believable and not in the sense of "verisimilitude" but in terms of factual matter relating to data that is the everyday case. The data does not have to be autobiographic but it must be the case.

Now, I’m thinking of the word “fair”. It disturbs me that a fair-minded person in this world tends to sound like a radical, or like a person who has let his imagination get the better of him. You take a fair-minded person trying to explain why it is better to compromise with another person than kill him. Fair-minded people tend to clear the air, but how has it come to be that they sound so weird? I used to be a nihilist and an anarchist. I still love the theory that the least and simplest of everything is best. If you want to improve something make it simpler; if you want to mirror the real world use common sense. My youthful nihilism, which simplified everything it couldn’t destroy, eventually made it a little easier to believe because in reducing the number of blockhead pre-conceptions, it made my ideas about the real world a little truer. (I hope!) So I try to convey that perception because it has been a struggle to learn to believe in it myself. The result is that I want to be fair to my characters (and my feelings) and not kill them off just because they have slipped up and some notion has suddenly occurred to me that they deserve that end. I don’t mean to suggest that everything I write about really happened. Something very similar to it did happen to me personally. But I’m only a soldier, a lover of the written word who is incapable of shutting up, but not one of the brass. I’m not interested in the doings of the brass, what I’m interested in is the greater world that exposes the darkness that surrounds and limits the self. I am convinced that the fact that we can actually turn back darkness into light is what makes us human, and a little less than angels.

What I have tried to write about are the mysteries that surround every one of us, to turn back that darkness a little. Well, a man can always dream. In my life I have been a terrible dreamer. Any kind of light can be a very long time coming.

Another word, balance, has bothered me for a long time. Everybody thinks about Ulysses’ avoidance of extremes. Now suppose. You want to write a best seller. But you want to be loyal to your upbringing and your mother’s admonition about not lying your ass off, and true to the experience of the world you have gathered over a lifetime. So invoke balance. Stand there, let them take their shots. Fantasy defenders, go ahead! Maybe you’ll even get taken as a serious person. In other words: show up!

When I was a young fellow, I used to search all over for stores that sold used paperback books for a nickel. I loved glossy new books, too, but I was a rag tag kid. There was always some crazy guy in there who’d give you a cardboard box, and pretty soon you were walking out with fifty or a hundred books, a big pile of them anyway. My dream was that one day I’d find a book that had everything you could imagine in it. Not The Holy Bible, which, of course, is okay for starters—I spent many hours loitering over it—, but a for real scuzzy paperback that had everything in it, and no bullshit. Then I’d have it to screw around with and keep in my back pocket. Leaves of Grass, plenty of good reading there, I used to tell myself, better get started, time is wasting; and there were others. Now I’m dreaming that one day I’ll write that big book with everything in it and no bullshit. But that’s just energy and enthusiasm. The simple object is to write a best seller, the complicated object is to get read. How do you do that now? A little sex, a little violence (guns and war always help), a little love, family. If you can write about kids, that’s a good thing. Not very many writers have been lucky that way that they can really write about kids. Something for the head, something for the heart. If anybody can explain to me how you get read, I’m open to all suggestions. Well, I guess that’s about all I am pretty sure about.

My shoes are more like hiking boots than shoes. I've hiked around in them quite some, and maybe they'll fit you too.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Writer's List

                          Being by nature a prolific list maker, this morning I made a list. A writer must bring with him a thing or two in order to face that blank space to put the letters on. I think about now it snowed a bitter few snowflakes in the last of the darkness.
  1. Experience. Pretty hard to avoid. I don't want to sound like a moron explaining it. Young people explain it back and forth to each other. For some of them it is a "thing".

  2. Book learning. I guess books are always there; morons tell you how learned you have to be, how well read. I've been on the wrong end of those sermons more than once. Book learning is expensive. Time passes and you have written nothing. Enough! I don't think you are born with book learning. That should tell you everything.

  3. Grabbing stuff out of the air. If you can do it it is a good idea, and may be the best thing for you if you have the knack for it. It reminds me a lot of experience, but it is more about simple attentiveness, paying attention to what you are really doing, and how what you are doing looks to who is looking at you doing it. (This one could pick up some elaboration. Maybe tomorrow.) It's so simple it must be a gift from God!

  4. Listen to elders, wear their old clothes, even if just for a little while. Everybody knows old clothes get thrown away when they are worn out. But if it fits, why not wear it?

  5. Somehow put it all together. I used to use the word fuse all the time. Then fuse got all mixed up with purity, and then damned if I knew what either of them meant. So I don't know about fuse, it's a violent word, as if you collide ideas into one. Identities have to be retained. I am unhappy when through incorrect utilization identities become corrupt, fuzzy. Fathers are not sons. Poetry is not prose. One is this, the other is that. The commonsense phraseology is "it is what it is." Yet, if you have any fight in you, you'll put likenesses in one column, and differences in another column.

  6. Avoid vanity like the plague. (Check out Solomon.)

  7. All the frigging hours I've spent staring at blank spaces to put words in you'd think I'd have figured some thing out. Okay. Write one sentence then write another sentence.

  8. There was a ninth part to this list, but I forgot it, and time now to take Sunshine, my dog, for a walk. I can see, though just a dog, how disappointed she is when I am late.

Oct 16, 2013

                              The house was sleeping, and the darkness outside imprisoned the windows. I started to read a Hemingway short story, "Fathers and Sons". Besides this one there are several others from that period, "Summer People", for instance, that though rarely anthologized are unusual. As was this starless morning for me, these stories are dark, almost sinister. Their realism is blunt, direct. Many of the details are the last that would come to mind when you think about beauty. But the style is precise, clean, gritty, in the vernacular, mostly common words given a new light by their correct use and setting. It taps the pure fount of American English to a fault, the which, I might add, in this case written by a globe trotting linguist who in the greater part of his life seemed to avoid the country of his origin. This story and some of the other later masterpieces seem more intensely autobiographic than the early stories that we read in school. Does the middle-aged Hemingway, several times husband and father, eschew the imagination for the actuality of more immediate memories? Perhaps the time lost between the conception and the execution was shorter. When we are young the stories bank up fast, so it may be ten years or more before a certain conception is dealt with, then the original impression is dulled by time — and often becomes less painful to deal with. More complex still are stories forgotten about which suddenly emerge into memory as if from nowhere. When we are old, why not write what happened yesterday because what else is there? So time has no time to dull the original experience. No matter how you do it...the fresh colloquialism "alternatively" comes to mind: you may do it this way or alternatively you may do it another way...wait for the execution to come, or do it day after tomorrow, armed with copious journal will get nowhere without somehow rounding up for yourself an intellect. It is a subject I have wondered about since I was nineteen: what is intellect and how do you get it? By intellect, I don't mean the general intelligence you are born with. We are all smart enough: some do better in life, others do better in school, some manage, others get lucky, every dog will have his day, and so on. So this is what I was thinking about as the darkness encasing my window began to lighten. One day long ago I asked Hannah Arendt if you had to read every book in the library before you could start writing. She said, "No!" To this day I am not embarrassed by that question. The professors who were protecting her from the student peasantry like thugs a despot were embarrassed that they had not caught the crazy kid in time.  As the years passed and I ran into a few more literary people, I admired Ms. Arendt more for that blunt, one word answer than for her numerous famous books.  A blunt answer to a blunt question is a rarity. Now the sun has risen, filling my dooryard with light, as I knew it would. It is one thing I am certain of. The dawn I am certain of; but how a Tolstoy or a Yeats or a Hemingway came to be I can only guess. Maybe one day someone will explain it to me.