Bring It On Home

It’s spring. Life is stirring again. But first, there must be mud, at least in Maine. And then there are the pigheaded strips of snow that refuse to trot off.

Darwin and his Beagle, it’s lonely being a writer. Not the physical solitude (I’m equipped for that), but the loneliness of never knowing. I probably shouldn’t have read Adam Phillips’ Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. Instead of inspiring me to greater heights of sufferance, I can’t nudge free the idea that I’m missing out on something.

And what do I feel like I’m missing out on? A gang of one’s own (instead of a room); John Ashbery talking to himself; a lovely coterie of friends; more involvement in the literary world (although I don’t even know what shape that should take); a vintage pair of jeans; a book deal.

“We make sense of our lives in order to be free not to have to make sense.”

My life at times feels like a boat in dead waters: waiting to get an agent to love me through the leafy vines; waiting for the sun to go supernova; waiting to hear if there is water on Mars; waiting for a physicist to find the God particle. If only it could be just Waiting For Godot. Why can’t I get a Golden Ticket like Charlie? “I never thought my life could be anything but catastrophe….”

But as King Lear told me the other night, “The art of our necessities is strange.” But the night before that, Mad Cyril told me: “The future is simply a ship in a bottle waiting for the right wave to let you out.”

What has happened to universities and the academic life? Send me off to American Idol with a song in my mediocre heart, but aren’t universities and colleges the Land for the Lotus Eaters? I thought it was the last refuge for exiles, eccentrics, the obsessed, thinkers, libertines, seekers, the disaffected, the lonely, those who don’t wanna grow up, those who fled the working world with Ginsberg’s Howl in their veins, those whose backs were pushed up against the wall by the world and who hopped over it into some cerebral paradise. How did all this professionalism and success and play the bonny tenured prof come about? Shouldn’t universities be letting misfits and miscreants and the mad teach the bright young things of the future?

Why is it that the middle class always work like dogs and yet never have anything to show for it but debt and mortgages and exhaustion and unfulfilled dreams? I don’t want that. I want the Alexandria Quartet in my backyard. I want the sun and moon to pass over my writing desk. And I want to someday go to Bruges as a hitman.

I have gone on long enough. I must get back to my bean field. If I don’t, somebody will think me a curmudgeon in the prime of life. I’m not that irascible. I just have this thing called life breathing down my neck all the time.

Is That A Novel on the Phone?

This is a phone conversation I wrote for a non-existent novel about people in odd telephone relationships. Nobody was hurt during the exchange, but somebody really should have been. It was also carried out under normal conditions, which may explain the banality of it. I’m making a record of it in case the person on the other end of the phone ever wants to cease and desist at some point.

“Hello, is this God?”

Pause for laugh.

“This is Arthur Lent.”

“I was kidding, sonny. So, Artemis, I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

“I’ll try.”

“Great. I’m from Maryland, the Old Line State where women beg and men give in.”

Pause for laugh.

“I don’t know much about Maryland.”

“Never mind me, I’m as full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“Are you.”

“I’m also old and forgetful and don’t own a computer or know what to do with it except surf for porn. Hopefully when you get older you won’t loose your marbles.”

Pause for laugh.

“I hope not.”

“So, Artie, I’m trying to find out if Maine has a lobster trap tree? I seem to remember it does, but all my friends think I’m full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“Yes, there are 2, one in Rockland and another in Kennebunk, I think. I’ll have to check.”

“Great! Can you send me a copy of the tree, kiddo.”

“I thought you said you don’t have a computer.”

“I don’t. I’m as full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for laugh.

“I’m aware.”

“So, can you send me a copy?”

“Like a photocopy, then?”

“Hell no, I wouldn’t know how to use one.”

Pause for laugh.

“I’m not sure, then, how to send you a copy.”

“How about you send it to my wife’s email address. Do you have a wife, Albert?

“Yes.”

“I’m so forgetful, I forget mine. Worst thing I ever did was marry. I’m so full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Uncomfortable pause.

“Why don’t you give me your wife’s email address and I’ll send the photo of the tree along.”

“Sure, sure. The old bag will love getting an email. Say, while I have you on the phone. Do you know the address of the Bush compound at Walker Point? I’d like to congratulate the president on another 4 years in the White House.”

“I believe the current president of the U.S. is Obama.”

“In your dreams, Andrew! That SOB don’t live in my White House. Do you know what SOB means, Harold? It means He Of Little Faith.”

“That would be HOLF.”

“Yeah, it’s perfect, isn’t it? I told you I’m full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green.”

Pause for final laugh.

“I’ll send a photo of the lobster trap tree shortly.”

“Thanks, Alice. Maybe some day you and your husband will make it down to Maryland. There’s loads of stuff here that makes the grass grow green. Thanks again for all your help. I’ll show those sons of britches that I haven’t lost my memory.”

“It’s been a pleasure.”

Dead line.

Here’s some Atoms for Peace. That would be Mr. Yorke and Flea in a skirt.

Sand in Pocket

At last, the temperatures in Maine are back to a thinking man’s idea of summer. No more groveling in the shade or taking my family to shop at the local Hannafords simply to cool down besides the dairy and cheese.

And my family and I have discovered a sand beach. We had no idea it even existed this close to our house. An idyllic strand hidden in plain view. Crashing waves, warm water, a circling bald eagle, the lazy beat of a passing blue heron, scuttling hermit crabs, and the slow crawl of sea snails, leaving straight lines in the wet sand. The best part, though, is that nobody seems to know about this small sandy beach. The day we went, we were the only ones romping about.

If I worked for a lifestyle magazine that enticed out-of-staters here with the promise of everlasting delight, I’d have to spill the location. But since I don’t, I’m not giving away its whereabouts. I’m keeping its location all to myself. I might even draw a map, stuff it into a peg leg, and forget about it. Or I may get the map tattooed to a spot on my body that hardly sees the light of day.

I’ll most likely continue to write about the sandy beach. It’s such a find. I might write about how I surfed to shore on the last wave of the day. I might write about finding a passport photograph of a young man with a moustache whose portrait gave no hint of the life he lived. I might write about the stone dog that washed ashore and came to life. I might write about the scrap I got into with a feisty hermit crab in a yellow periwinkle shell who almost took pity on me. I might also tell of the hermit crab who gladly offered me his shell in return for my bipedal life among giants.

I’m still pursuing a job the way the Snork Maiden pursues Moomintroll. I’m ready for something now to fall out of the sky and hit me on the head. I promise not to carry an umbrella. I’d also settle for an agent to pick me up in his or her strong arms, swirl me around, and point me in the direction of a publisher for my novel.

Ok, time to get back into my foxhole to write. Then I’m off to that beach for some extra solitude.

Here’s some Mission UK.

Nothing Important Comes With Illustrations

What a scorching couple of days in Maine. The last time I remember it being this hot, I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar….

My family and I have been living a life aquatic by swimming. I haven’t been getting many words down. I can’t write in the heat. I can’t think in the heat. I can only think the air-conditioned nightmare, and we have fans. I actually hate it when it gets hot since I’m only good at lounging and swimming for so long before I get bored.

Due to my highly paid skills of deduction, I’ve noticed that I am not much liked on Facebook.

This whole job seeking pursuit of sweet homilies puts me in mind of Mr. Tumnus, who said, “The capacity for ordinary work is not for me.”

I know I’m spoilt rotten by this gift of so much free time to write because I hold no honest entertainment, but always at the back of the cart I can hear the moans of a Mr. Malcontent, who sings, “I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

It seems true that you can never get as much done as you planned to. But, then, even God rested on the seventh day. And if a deity can feast on lotus flowers, I suppose I can as the world wags on and on.

“Why are we weighed upon with heaviness,
And utterly consumed with sharp distress,
While all things else have rest from weariness?
All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
We only toil, who are the first of things,
And make perpetual moan,
Still from one sorrow to another thrown;
Nor ever fold our wings,
And cease from wanderings,
Nor steep our brows in slumber’s holy balm;
Nor harken what the inner spirit sings,
“There is no joy but calm!” —
Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?” Tennyson

All I can say is, I’m glad that “omissions are not accidents.” (Marianne Moore)

I’m also glad I get to write my books, have my family, my friends, my Moleskine notebooks, my records, my penchants, my cup of PG Tips. These things bring me joy — and panic on the mean streets of writing. Cause right now, the novel I’m working on has a proper unlikeable protagonist and I keep wondering how low he can go be before a reader will refuse to turn the page and curse my name. But I also don’t want to change a thing about him.

I suppose it all hangs off the idea that what interests me will also interest others. But can I be sure? Do people read books for the things I do? I know I’m not that much engaged with writers who assuage or comfort but prefer writers who provoke and unsettle. And I’m not that bouncy about characters who are either villains or heroes, I prefer characters whose lives and even their morality change over the length of the novel. I don’t go to book and I don’t get books that set out to confirm my own behaviour, ideas, or feelings. And I also don’t like to read the kind of realist fiction, the low mimetic, as Angela Carter called it, that deals in simulacrums of the world I live in. Why do I want to hear and feel and think more about that? It saturates me every day. I want to discover a world that hasn’t been covered up by the philistines, or else a world that everybody has overlooked for some grand cause with money at its root, or a world nobody has imagined beyond their pedestrian constraints of the imagination.

Here’s some Smiths, lots of them, on bikes.

Palaver

A hot Harmattan wind has passed through Maine. Days and nights of heat have turned to history, remembered in glands and sweat and some one, somewhere, naked on a bed.

Dear Reader, I am writing to you, a Welshman in drab underwear, out of skepticism, sensualism, sentimentalism, hollow Michiavelism.

Dear Reader, who looks earnestly through phantasmagory and a state of frenzy to the courts of wild justice, now is the time to shout, “Temptations in the Wilderness.”

Our life is rounded with necessity and voluntary force of habit. And every last one of us knows the 3 Ds: Disappointment, Denial, Doubt.

Although I have been known to dream of a 36D going from Chichester to Dumfries.

Together now, as in a chorus of paper bags: Disappointment…Denial…Doubt….

And, yet, “the fraction of Life can be increased in value not so much by increasing your Numerator as by lessening your Denominator.”

Ask yourself, what’s all this fretting, fuming, lamenting, and self-tormenting about?

No idea.

Think, man, think!

Ah, yes, the everlasting yea! Can you buy it at the corner shop?

It’s my opinion, said Mr. Sartor Resartus, that the “Thou” is not sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared for.

But where will I find such a lovely Thou?

In the stupendous section of Aisle 5 right next to the box of firelighters.

Produce! More Produce!

Nay, I want to Produce a thing of beauty.

Do the duty which lies nearest thee.

Right, I will. Thanks for that. Because I live not on morality, but a cookery of capability and performance.

Ha! Every one needs to learn the folly of that precept Know Thyself is really Know What Thou Canst Work At.

Now, there’s that Thou again. It’s like a damn Ideopraxist: in the idea he lived, moved, and did a jig.

— At this point an Editor would like to make an appearance and advise a principle of caution. And if I were you, Dear Reader, and sometimes I am, when I read other blogs and books, I’d listen to the Editor, he always has the last word.

Here’s some Style Council.

Free Content From My Life

Episode V

When my wife and I got married, we decided to get in a hot-air balloon and see the world in more than 80 days. In short, have a very long honeymoon. We didn’t want to begin this new adventure by ordering the little drummer boy to play the same old tunes of: start a family, own a house, have matching luggage and careers, and vote in elections.

So, with the reckless spirit of Blake’s Flea, we sold all our belongings, raked blueberries in Washington County in Maine to make tons of money, and bought one-way tickets to Ireland.

We tried living in Galway at first, but that inn was full with students and tourists, so we travelled to Yeats Country. Well, the Gateway to Connemara, to live in a one-room apartment above a barn in Oughterard, the Gaelic words meaning in English the “the Upper Lower Place,” which had perfect meaning for us. We were living in the “Upper Place” of what Wordsworth describes as those “spots of time,” which I have always understood as key elements, both psychological and imaginative, in one’s life. It was also the “Lower Place,” too, since we had very little money and no real ambition for anything besides reading lots and living life from the daily visits with the postman to the encounters with frisky bulls and the roaming bands of long-horn Connemara sheep.

The place I’m living now, the one of writing is also the “Upper Place” of imagination and the time to get it done, since I have no immediate temptations of the working kind. But it is also the “Lower Place.” I could explain, but some things are best left to oneself even in the Age of Transparency.

I also remember a funny incident from that time, cooped up in a barn reading Tolstoy and Hamsun, Ursula Le Guin and Moorcock. It happened at night between my wife and I. We had just finished an evening of watching two Bond flicks on RTE. The wonderful couple who rented the barn to us had gone to bed long ago (they were farmers). My wife and I crawled into bed and fell into a deep sleep. We were woken some time later by footsteps in the courtyard below the single window, open to the scent of wild roses. Back and forth went the footsteps. We were still drowsy from dreams of secret agents and so to our active ears it sounded like a couple of crooks were stealing farming implements or hidden treasure in the barn below. We were so scared, neither one of us could move – not even to get closer to each other. We just listened to the footsteps coming and going and hauling off the loot. We stayed awake until a jaunty robin appeared in the roses. With at least some semblance of light, I was now determined to get up and find out what the hell was taking these thieves all night to rob a barn. Like a very early bird, armed with a frying pan and ready to catch the thieves red-handed, I tiptoed out.

There were no night-time burglars.

Trotting back and forth in the early morning courtyard was a horse. A big iron-shod horse who had escaped his field and thought he would spend the night terrifying a young couple of night owls.

I remember my wife and I sat on the steps of our garret among the rafters of an old barn and laughed until the sun came up.

Here’s a Cave named Nick.

The Light of Common Day

The sun is back in Maine, like an old lion prowling for meat to burn.

I know frustration. I know the spooling away of the smallest thread of one’s life until it’s all just a pattern. But can frustration help to fuel extravagant and visionary imagination?

“To the depths of the unknown,” wrote Baudelaire.

Some days I wish I just raised chickens, felled trees, broke ice in the bucket, chopped wood for the stove, and went out in the evening in fine threads.

Where are the little dells and corners of paradise?

“We fear all things as mortals, and we desire all things as if we were immortal.”

Life’s not a dream. I can prove it! All you have to do is take the quantum pulse of my atomic level to see that I can be both a particle of hope and a little light of luck.

Reality is nothing but the remainder of our lives.

“The short story is not minimalist, it is rococo.” Angela Carter.

The past is dead but alive in us. The moment is forever vibrating. And the future is knowing where to begin and when to end.

If I didn’t imagine, I might as well elope with an amoeba.

But I’m practical, too. And honest. And hardworking. And I understand the Cocteau Twins’ lyrics.

Here’s “Born of Frustration” by Manchester band James.