The Great Leap Forward

It’s been scorching in Maine the last 2 days, air like a rattled tiger, sun like a gangster with too much hubris.

I can’t write in the heat. So my family and I drove to Lake St. George and swam, lounged, and grilled spicy veggie burgers. I suppose I could have sat in my closet (this is where I write) in nothing but a loincloth, but that’s too devout for me. “Life is a process to be experienced, not an object to be coveted.”

Today’s overcast, with that maggoty white sky and a haze like a weeping gauze, and I’m back to the writing. Sort of. It’s more like mowing the grass without the bag on and letting the clippings fly.

And fuck if I’m not in a funk. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s my mood, maybe it’s the size of Roget’s International Thesaurus that seems to hold more words than I can ever hope to.

As a child in Wales, I used to have this recurring dream. My grandparents lived in a council house on this long stretchy street, all of the houses joined at the hip, and neat, or sometimes overgrown, narrow gardens of equal size out the back that were separated by a wall. Most days there was laundry flying high and dogs barking. Well, in my dream, I would always climb onto the roof of my grandparents’ house and like a Puck, who didn’t know he was a Puck, I’d jump from roof to roof, sometimes disturbing the roosting chimney sweeps (remember, this was a dream) and have to sneak past the crows dressed in busbies and carrying muskrats and occasionally interrupting Mr. Parry and Mrs. Jones joined at the lips and ascending into the heavens, Mr. Parry’s suspenders attached to the rising moon.

And where was I going? Anywhere, nowhere, I didn’t care. I just wanted to live out a life, even a make-believe one, above the mundane. Even in my dreams, somebody would wake, open a window, pop their head out, and shout, “Keep off the Roof! You’ll ruin the flowers of youth with all your mad running about.”

It never stopped me. I’d race on and on, the end of the street nowhere in sight, the candle in my hand with the nervy flame whispering words as the empty smoke from all the houses drifted off across the sea.

I never got to the end of my street in my dreams. But that was never the point.

I don’t dream of running across roofs now. Maybe because where I live there are no connecting houses, just the uneasy masts of trees and the moon that’s too small for a sail. I sometimes dream of lifting the house I live in up on my shoulders and striding like Bendigeidfran (Bran the Blessed) across Penobscot Bay and out to sea, dolphins jumping at my side and my two girls waving to them and my wife at an open window, the wind playing in her hair.

If I ever really spent some time thinking about these dreams. I might come up with something about myself. But I think I already know what it is.

Maybe that’s why I always won’t settle for what comes easy. Maybe that’s why I have scribbled on the soles of so many of my shoes my own simple magic that wants to live a livid life, a life that is a great leap forward into something extraordinary. A life like a row of roofs on a long stretchy street with no end in sight where I can always run.

Here’s some classic Bragg.


The Headmaster’s Ritual Slaughter

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart, my school’s headmaster used to haul me to his office, flog me, and then while I wept contrite tears, he would tell me with a sinister flash of his ceremonial gown “I trust you, boy, as far as I can throw a grand piano.”

At the time, I felt beyond worthless and would walk around in a daze of flat keys only hitting a high note when I walked into my English teacher.

With hindsight, I now see the headmaster’s appraisal of me as a bit of a compliment. The “couldn’t be trusted” remark I have put to good use as a writer.

And I do take some pride in being compared to a grand piano. It commands attention, does a grand piano, and only the most accomplished masters can sit before its ivories and play masterpieces. It’s big, bold, with all that action going on behind the lid as felt-covered hammers strike steel strings.

But I still do have these recurring dreams in which I behead my headmaster with a piano string, toss his corpulent body into a deep lake, and watch it sink like a grand piano nobody will ever play again.

Let’s Rough It Up

Helium. I think writers need some of this. I know I do to help me float above the tedium. Because life gets tedious. And life can sometimes appear like it is designed to kill your dreams. I’m not trying to be mawkish or sentimental.

We all have our misery, our hopes, our fears, our anxieties, our failures, that little bit of the authentic in us that desperately wants to get out and which reality wants to keep down. We’re like fragile soap bubbles floating around, seeking to merge with another, but more often than not, colliding, and popping in a spray of iridescent sadness.

You’ve got to fight for your right to be a writer. Although I suppose anything a person loves takes a certain amount of crazy fighting to keep.

And you’ve got to kick-in the TV as a writer. I’m not talking about the actual TV (although you could if you wanted to). I mean the fabricated channels of thought and emotion we let become our prime time. That’s anathema for a writer; to just passively sit and flip through the channels, letting the TV drama of thought and feeling take over.

Here, this is what being a writer means to me. And I’ll let Aleksandar Hemon tell it to you: “All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.”

Fuck, yes! That is what the world is, and it’s an authentic feeling, an authentic idea. It’s not sitting between the daze and the haze of reality, but going into life, slipping through the cracks in the pavement and finding the grit to produce a pearl of the dream others have passed up on, but artists keep alive.

“I happen to think that an ounce of empathy is worth a boatload of judgment.”

Stand & Deliver

I didn’t watch the Oscars. In my opinion, Billy Crystal is peeling wallpaper from the 50s and needs to be painted over. They need to get someone like Sacha Baron Cohen; he would lively the damn thing up.

And the winners are about as predictable as spirits at a table-tipping séance.

And the movie stars strut and prance about like Norse gods who pretend that Gotterdammerung is a series cancelled by Hollywood.

But my real reason for not watching is that I’m starved for a sense of the mythic when it comes to movies; starved for a performance that I can talk about with rapture for years to come. And so many movies now are more about narratives than images, which is good. But when did a visual art form decide it could steal all the thunder from books? If I want great stories, I’ll go to a book.

What I want from films are surrealist visions, offerings of Dali, Bosch, Klimt, Picasso, Bruegel, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Harry Clarke, Max Ernst, Alfred Kubin-like images; a stunningly visual montage of frames that makes you gasp in awe and wonderment. And I’m not talking just blockbuster, but images that make us see the world differently, like the way that old French filmmaker Georges Méliès did with his movies.

OK, so there’s that movie with George Clooney, The Descendants, about a father and his relationship with two teenage daughter. I have 2 daughters, although they are not teens, but I know this story, even though it’s not mine. What I don’t know, though, would be a story about a father living with the ghosts of two dead daughters, say, or a father with 2 android daughters, and it could be this surreal, decadent, dreamlike movie.

Why do movies not create a visual bang? They have the technology. Imagine a movie that was like a dream? Who’s making those?