Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010

The past few days my literary energies have poured into the writing of my screenplay, Pillar of Fire, and the details I like to record of my life have waited, some of them lost irretrievably in the meanwhile. I tell my students that you never forget anything you’re meant to remember.

Outstanding review in Journal of Singing (Vol 67, No.2) of Frank Ferko and my Cyclamen. After quite a thorough exegesis the reviewer concludes it is a “beautiful and meaningful text.” The reviewer’s analysis of the music is too technical for me to appreciate, but the overall impression is very favorable. I would love to work steadily with a composer. I would love to set my own poetry. I used to write quite a lot of music, before I was hanging out with so many musicians, and the gap between their understanding of the intricacies of it all and mine shamed me into silence.

Burn the lights of the Christmas tree every moment that it’s dark, such as now, when the last dawn of the year is still an hour off. I look up and down the street and it’s the only one I see. Almost all the Christmas cards one receives are photos of the family. One is happy to keep up, but everything begins to sink under a chirpy secularization. What are our sacred things now? I’m not sure I know. Maybe I’ll spend time in the new year working for the re-sanctification of– something.

Hit the town last night. Saw The King’s Speech at the Fine Arts, then stopped at Sazerac for a drink. Said Happy New Year to John C and Matthew. A line of old people sat behind me at the cinema, One of them was deaf. This meant that when she made comments during the movie– which she couldn’t stop herself from doing–it was at a volume which would be for a normal person near to shouting. It also meant that no response cold be made only once:
WHAT DID HE SAY?
He said “bugger.” Now, you should stop talking.
WHAT??
He said “bugger.”
I DIDN’T HEAR YOU.
HE SAID ‘BUGGER,’ NOW PLEASE STOP TALKING.
I HEARD “BUGGER.” WHAT WAS THE REST OF IT?
Shhhh
WHAT??
It also meant she couldn't hear herself digging in her popcorn bag like a shovel into broken glass all thrugh the film.

Excellent sessions at the Y recently. In Christmas photos with my nephews I was too much older and too much heavier.

Driving home from Atlanta in the snow I had a mind-storm that I’ve not known how to put into words until now, and perhaps my words will be inadequate still. The odd thing was that holiday reading of Tolkien helped me into it. Christopher Tolkien makes the observation in The Peoples of Middle Earth that when the elves became aware of Sauron’s ring, they hid the three elven rings and, to keep them safe, made the everlastingly consequential choice that they should make nothing new, but only protect what was already made. For however thousands of years that was, the elves did nothing bold, but fought a long retreat, hoping to save the remnant. By contrast the fiery hero Feanor had risked all to forge ahead in a manner whose outcomes were unknown, but certainly perilous. Perhaps the elves had chosen the one in response to the terrible consequences of the other. Celebrimbor balancing Feanor, and each choice fraught with unforeseeable consequence. Anyway, I was pondering all this, when I realized that the choice of Feanor is always my choice, to a degree that the conservativeness of the elven lords afterwards is almost incomprehensible to me, as if it were a principle of debate and not a real option in the world. But I know most of the world would disagree with me on this.
So, as I was driving, I must have been turning this over in my mind, for with a jolt I realized that herein lies an explanation of my life. Far back in my childhood, lying in bed vibrantly awake, eyes brimming years, exultant far beyond any vocabulary I had then–or now– to describe it, I dedicated my life to love, and to a single love that has never wavered, however frayed by fury and disappointment, never explained itself to the laity, never known quite what it was beyond beauty and joy. Danger or mockery mattered not at all. Consequence mattered not at all, because I had found what in my life to love. I loved the spirit that came down to me on those nights. Was he an angel? Was he Shelley’s BEAUTY? I am happy to call him God, though what I mean by that word any more I am not sure. I have always called him God in my heart, though it is too secret–and embarrassing– to speak aloud. He was my Maud Gonne, my Beatrice, except one became a crone and the other died, whereas the love of my life is swift brave and and radiant forever. I became one who has dedicated himself not only to love, but to a love that required a certain kind of life, lived in a certain way, and fidelity to that choice has informed all my days. If your lover is God, there are certain things you do not do, and certain things you must do, and if I was sloppy and awkward at all this, it was because there was no precedent known to me to work from. I was learning it as I went. Things which were not worthy of him must be tolerated, of course, but never adopted, never accepted inwardly. His rules are not the world’s rules, and when I was writing poetry or singing in a choir or wrestling with sweaty boys in a Dublin sauna, all was the same, all sanctified by his imponderable example. I was set apart by love, given a destiny by love which I did not see clearly but which I groped toward every hour of the day. I loved the music that I loved because it seemed to be the music that surrounded the Descent. I loved poetry because poetry came to me almost with the Being’s first touch. People thought I was above myself because I wanted to go to museums and concerts, and perhaps I was, but I was pulled there by someone I loved and in desire for him I wanted to be as close as possible at all moments. I knew which things were of this love, and which things were not, and I provoked and puzzled those around me in my obstinate fidelity. I beat my way into a life of art when I seemed destined for a desk in an office like my father, because art was the nearest thing I could do which was like to him. I loved men both unwisely and well, for that it what I received from him, a passion overshadowing, transcendent, holy, shattering. They added only a body. Days and years were predicated on the awesome boldness of whispering yes to the presence in the room, vowing to follow wherever he lead.
There were times when I think I was the happiest boy in the world, and I could never tell anybody why.
In practical terms, when you’re looking for a mortal lover to mirror that radiant spirit, he has to be as much as possible like Him. The pursuit of heroes for your lover is beautiful, epic, but one must not be that surprised when it turns out. . . well, when it doesn’t turn out. When you are creating, you must create only, leaving publication to the powers of the world. On one level, this was a terrible, pervading error that I will pay for till then end of my days. On another it was simply right; it was what he did. He offered the beautiful thing, and one took it or one did not. How many ceilings opened to his dark, enfolding arms, and how many times was he turned away out of fear or conflicting values or just plain dullness? I would do the same as he. I could be as prodigal as earth, and let flowers bloom in hidden citadels of stone. I would create like no one created before, and leave creation at the roadside for anyone to pick up. That no one picked it up should have wounded me less than it did.
In recent years it has gone bitterly wrong, as love affairs do, and I have accused him of deception and cruelty. He is guilty of deception and cruelty, and no tribunal but repentance can wipe that clean. On the other hand, I lost my nerve. In a life which asked or sought no certainty, I came to a certain age–this one-- and realized I had none, no certainty, no palpable achievement, no family, no spouse in the flesh, no comfort, no provision for the time to come, no life as most people think of it. I panicked. I began grasping for things I never wanted before, assurances and supports and acknowledgments which are not of him, and were not of me until I grew afraid. Yet as long as I fixed on turning back to what was–or plunging forward to the paradise I thought we were seeking from the first-- as long as I fixed on bringing it all to the consummation I felt was just or right, there would be nothing for me but wrath and misery. He is wild; that’s why I loved him. Fairness, even kindness, was never part of it. I shouldn’t have deceived myself. He did not change. I did. I simply lived too long.
Driving in the blizzard, for whatever reason (perhaps mortal fear) I suddenly let go. The love affair was over. I began to sob, trying to drive through blinding tears. But the remarkable thing is they were not tears of sorrow at all. As I veered and skidded I was crying thank you. . . thank you. . . thank you, for I had lived a life bolder and more strangely beautiful than I could have imagined. I had dedicated myself with a hero’s valor, with a lover’s passion, and that it came to nothing is, ultimately, not the point. A more glorious interlude can scarcely be imagined. For a time–a very long time, now that I think of it–I was the lover of the power that shouts upon the mountain, that sings between the waves of the deep, and, in the face of that, disappointment in any mortal thing seems trivial. Thank you, thank you, I said. I still say it. When I drove into the parking lot across the street on St. Stephen’s Day, I was for the first time in fifty years free. Divorced. Widowed. I don’t know what to do with myself now, but I’m trying this and that, as any person suddenly single would. It is all right. Thank you. Thank you. From the bottom of the heart that is within my heart, thank you. And goodbye.

Angry note from Ste. I don’t know why. Something in my Christmas letter provoked hm. He said he should never have cooked Indian for me. He accused me of making lousy cauliflower curry, which is true.

Resolutions? I have already forgiven God for being the ruination of my life. I think that’s enough for now.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 29, 2010

Rococo pink and powder blue sunset.



December 28, 2010

Half moon glittering through the frost on m study windows.

Moved my car, did errands even before the sun initiated thaw.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 27, 2010

Blowing snow and drifting snow in the dark outside the windows, like time lapse photos of some great white desert.

After Christmas Eve service I skipped the parties and came home, staring at the lights of the tree until I was too sleepy to sit up. Rose and drove to Atlanta in the first outriders of what would become this monumental storm, listening to an audio books version of Moby Dick. Though written rather more lushly than modern taste, it’s clearly the great American book, still. Mapple’s sermon alone is excellent almost beyond imagination. Melville also funnier than I remembered. Had the honor of experiencing Atlanta’s first white Christmas in memory, which was in fact very beautiful. Beka did not return from Colorado, but Linda and the boys were well. The boys are inseparable, very handsome, very different. Both are wrestlers and therefore in breathtaking physical shape. They showed me their wrestling videos, which were impressive, but they pinned their opponents too quickly for there to be much to see. One white boy in a singlet looks much like another at distance, so I had to keep asking who was who. We ate incessantly. Jonathan drove us through the snow to see the latest Narnia movie, and then we played cards until midnight. I rose early and drove north. Deliberately did not listen for the weather report. Just above Atlanta the roads were a hair’s breadth from impassable. My tractionless little Prius slid and fishtailed if I went over 25, but on we soldiered. Cars had skidded into the grass on both sides of the road for twenty miles or so, and the air throbbed with the lights of cops and tow trucks. Several cars towing trailers had swerved around almost blocking the lanes. We inched gingerly past. I kept going, thinking, for some reason, that things would improve as I headed north into the mountains. But, in fact they did, and from north Georgia on the highway was dry, though snow fell ceaselessly and the roadsides and hills were a glory of pure white. You could see far into the roadside forests, and I looked deep for animals. Off the highway on the streets of Asheville, things were much worse. The streets were lined with bundled pedestrians, by which I knew everyone was afraid to use their cars. I couldn’t get into the alley, but parked at the apartments across the street, where the long-traveling Prius is now also trapped and useless. Don’t know if the pickup has any traction. Might test that out today. My ice driving skills did come back on I-85, and that gives me a certain confidence.

The only mark in the snow is my tracks from when I went out on the porch to fill the bird feeders.

The tree has not dropped even a single needle.

Circe startles when something surprises her, a leftover from her life on the streets of New Orleans, I guess. Then it’s a claws-out panic escape over anything that lies in the way. Last night–though what on earth could have startled her I don’t know–it was my face. I was asleep, and what came suddenly to my dream when it happened was a vivid close-up of thorny stalks of briar. I’m fascinated by this, by the way a physical sensation turned instantly into an image in dream time.

Blizzard conditions. High wind warning. The bushes outside my study window look like a snowman trying to peeping Tom.

Evening. The snow blanket made the nearby mountains wonderfully visible. I think you could have seen anything as big as a dog moving over the whiteness between the black slashes of the trees. When sunset came it made those same mountains the most radiant rosy gold I have ever seen. They seemed not to reflect but to originate the light.

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24, 2010

Brilliant Christmas Eve. The Y was nearly empty this morning, the streets vacant. But the grocery stores are full to overflowing. Couples push carts with $200 worth of food in them while I stand behind them at the checkout with my sushi and cream soda.

Working steadily on my filmscript of The Pillar of Fire.

Sick to death of The Santaland Diaries.

Ste writes tender emails from Cambridgeshire. I answer them tenderly, I think, but I don’t know how anything sounds to anybody else anymore. Part of his delectable strangeness is an almost supernatural tenderness, a quality so extreme you think at first he’s mocking. But he’s not. I’m tender in my way, I suppose, but I’m also worldly and direct, and I don’t always know if I’ve mixed the recipe of my responses right. Yet somehow he blasted his life to smithereens. Somehow he got himself barred from half the pubs in his hometown, so when I was there we had to wander to find a place to tipple. What part of him is that? He can snarl and hiss. Sickened reaction to that in himself is part of his tenderness.

Muddy paw prints appeared on my back doorframe at about the height of my eyes. It seems pretty certain I was visited by a bear.

Christmas has defeated me every year since I was thirteen.

So cold in my studio that the paint won’t dry. My peacoat has a green stripe from where I backed into a piece that should have been dry last weekend. Driving back, I was almost wiped out by a garbage truck. Afterwards I thought that if I had died then, my last words would have been, “Logan! Merry Christmas!” That would have been all right.
December 23, 2010

Tiny snow, like salt, carried by the wind.

Harpist Grace Cloutier joined us for the Britten Ceremony of Carols, and at Avenue M for drinks afterwards. She is reinforcement for my judgment that, among professional artists, musicians tend to be the least temperamental, the least diva-ish. Her last and next gig are at Saint John the Divine, so our class quotient soars. To continue the thought above, musicians (along with, maybe, film-makers) have the greatest tendency to equate artistry with the fixing of mistakes. One really has very little to do with the other.

I think I need a rest from the things that annoy me. I probably annoy them just as much, and they need a rest from me.

Massive windstorm, during which only one bulb was torn from the spruce tree outside. I will take that as a sign.
December 21, 2010

Terry came to the studio yesterday and decided to give me a show at Avenue M. This means a new task ahead of me, for the most part a joyful one, of preparing and touching up and selecting and filling in gaps. I had misunderstood her purpose, actually, and wasn’t ready for the offer of a show.

Decorated the spruce and the magnolia in the backyard with red bulbs. They’re shocking in the universal brownish-gray of this dull day.

Appropriate gloom for the Solstice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 20, 2010

Bright moon setting far to the north. Did my Saint Nicholas gig at church yesterday, the time I think I have enjoyed it most. People remember me for doing this far more than I remember doing it–which is only when Thomas asks me to at the opening of Advent. They shout “Saint Nicholas!” across the street to me, and I have to stop and think what they mean. A little girl in one of the houses I looked at was beaming at me the whole time, and her father said, “She is proud to have Saint Nicholas in her house.” I bought balsa airplanes and balloons for the kids. This seemed to have the same temporary effect as very expensive gifts.

Putting up DJ’s Christmas tree. The stand would not unfold, and he handed it to me. I said, “I’m not really very mechanical.” He said, “You always seem to have your way.”

Haven’t been following the issue closely, but L seems to have written something in a Mountain Xpress review which provoked people to cry politics. Some of the same people defending her attacked me on the very same principle for my blog, and attacked SS for daring to give The Beautiful Johanna the review it deserved. Politics called for a hatchet job, and because he didn’t succumb, it was assumed he was indebted to me in some way. The most cravenly political are the first to cry politics. Now that L is tied to the Magnetic Field, dishonest people will assume dishonesty. Any review not glowing will be read by the offended party as meant to profit herself and the venue in some way. L bravely defends herself. I was so shocked that I laid low. Her defenders are vocal. I assumed I had none. But perhaps I’m being too careful on L’s account and mine. The sort of people who respond anonymously to reviews in the papers usually do not have an actual point of view, but merely vehemence of reaction. Maybe more people understand this than we realize.

Dream last night that I had insulted a judge or a magistrate or someone and was sentenced to a week in jail. Everyone shrugged and said “it’s only a week,” but I was devastated, and vowed to fast until the week was over. I think I’d watched too many episodes of CSI before bedtime. Curious thought about that: I adore the people on all the versions of CSI, which I watch whenever I can– yet viewed from the point of view of the public they’re supposed to serve, they’re arrogant, reckless, self gratifying assholes. Katherine in Los Vegas is a Nazified bitch, just as happy to destroy reputations as find the truth. Most of them are mightily pleased with themselves and smirkingly amused by their own abuses of power. When I’m in the fictional moment, I think it’s amusing too. When I put myself in the place of the public, I think they’re vaguely horrific; I feel that one must think twice to decide whether the protection they provide is worth the abuse they dole out. The more true to life this is, the more disturbing.

I know the solutions to two major problems of contemporary American society. The economy: legalize marijuana and tax it. This has the added benefit of getting a quarter million harmless people out of jail. Law Enforcement: change from the American paradigm of putting bad guys into jail to the Irish paradigm of keeping the peace. In a glimmer goes the whole brutal, wastefully expensive, asinine conception of law as a cock fight between prosecutors and defenders, wherein the truth is, by and large, irrelevant. The only argument against that is that people who get rich off the suffering of others would lose access to the sources of their wealth.

Incipient blossoms on the witch hazel.
December 19, 2010

Buttery dawn. Yesterday all but annihilated by lethargy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 18, 2010

Russell and his friend Zach joined DJ and Kyle and me for Russell’s birthday dinner. It was sweet. The boys had such a wonderful time in their choruses and glee clubs at ETSU that this was their central topic of conversation. Money came from somewhere so that they could tour most of Europe. I tried to think of what was quite so monumental in my life. If there had been something of the like, I would not have spoken of it. Three of the five people at the table were professional musicians and the other two of us vehement amateurs, so music pervaded. We even barbershop harmonized for a few moments. Not surprisingly, barbershop seems to come naturally to the American ear. It was good to see such steadfastness between friends, and amazing to witness the unabashed qualities of Russell’s affections. His wife should have been present to drink in his praise of her. I sort of wished I were him. With a better job. J and L arrived later. J was drunk and toasted the chandelier.
December 17, 2010

The Cantaria concert was better than we could have expected, by virtue, I think, of contact with a live audience. If audience reaction is used as the measure, it was the best show ever. A couple from Wilmington stopped by the studio as I was painting. I invited them to the concert, and they came. I didn’t make progress in painting as far as personal development, but I finished two big pieces on plywood that I’m going to offer to Terry at Avenue M for her bare walls.

Blue and gray ski cap bought from a street vendor on lower Manhattan for five dollars, now practically my favorite possession.

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 16, 2010

Spent the dark of morning sending Christmas greetings and listening to Handel’s Trio Sonatas. When I left the house yesterday morning, the Ohio boy kicked in and, though it was 8 degrees, the cold stop agonizing me as it had the first days of its reign. Through Tom I met Jack the vacuum salesman, and I decided that I needed a straight, red-necky, gym-rat, door-to-door appliance salesman in my life, so I arranged to meet him for a zumba class at the Y. Our communications crossed, and I ended up in a pilates class, without Jack, the only man, which strain I feel to the extreme right now, Less, though, than I had feared. Tom persuaded me to buy a Kangen water machine a few weeks ago, and I attribute every advance in health, or every failure of disability, to the magic waters. Who knows? The pilates instructor whispered in my direction, “it’s all right to cheat.” Believe me, I was cheating like mad. Jack ran into the locker room looking for me, having figured out the snafu. I helped him look in his gear for a comb, for he wouldn’t go into the weight room without combed hair. I decided not to tell him I don’t own a comb.

My sister has been sending photos of our family–that is to say, grandparents, great aunts and the like–from back in the day. Both of us were amazed how many of them I knew, even to houses and dates and names of dogs. I’d always seized onto details of family heritage, seeking something fuller, deeper than the shallow experience that was ours in the present. I knew that somewhere back in the mists our people must have been passionate, lyrical, interesting. There were photos of our bungalow on Goodview Avenue being built, a hole in the ground, the old brick houses of Malaysia Street visible behind over the bare ground, then dad standing proudly at the back door, opening it for the first time. I was there, in the photos, though of course I don’t remember it. I do remember my consciousness waking standing at that same back door, looking into a haze of summer flowers. What annihilates are the images of my mother and father. My mother was wildly beautiful. I thought so as kid, but kids think that of their mothers generally. The photos confirm it. In the early pictures my parents were so unbelievably happy, beaming, dewy, almost silly with love and confidence. Then at one moment, almost locatable on a calendar, that ceases. Whatever happened to them happened to me, for in the photos at the beginning I’m a grinning, carefree little elf, but at one point–I can point to it in the images– I become withdrawn, furtive, resentful of the camera, shying away from it, as though there were some terrible truth I wanted to gnaw on in secret. The images that have come into my mind when I try to search back for that moment seem cause insufficient for the effect, so I think I have not found it. Something about me? My mother’s incessant illness? Father tapping into his cruelty for the first time? Something else? Though the social quality of my life has prevented this from manifesting too much, I have always wished to be invisible in public, unless that visibility were formalized in some way–if I were on stage, or in a class, for instance. I remembering Harry’s off-hand but blistering observation, “you deflect friendship.” He was right. But it’s because I don’t believe it. I have always believed that no one would be much interested in me unless I were–well– showing off in some way. Nor is the “always” in that previous sentence true. I remember when I was not that way. Something happened. The photos show everything but precisely that. Mostly one looks at the shapes on the screen and murmurs, lost, lost, lost. They are images with syllables attached. Too many doors were shut against our knowing them.

Dinner party here tomorrow night in honor of Russell’s birthday. Russell has taken to joining us for drinks after choir, and he is a tonic. We grimy sophisticates sit around the table watching his guileless, confiding wholesomeness, agape with wonder and, in my case anyway, a sense of loss. The people we could have been, and turned aside for–what?

Rotting snow compacted by rain. A good day to do what I’m doing.
December 14, 2010

I foresee days of nothing more than commenting on the weather. The motion sensor thinks the snow is a body and keeps the garage light on all the time. Left the house only reluctantly yesterday. With the stiff wind it is most remarkably inclement. But I did get a number of manuscripts into the mail, and carved a short story out of the ruins of an old version of Night, Sleep.
December 13, 2010

Deep howl of wind outside. Gliding snow and blowing snow.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 12, 2010

Woke to that strange glow outside that one identified finally as a blanket of snow reflecting the city lights. When I looked out the window, a black-and-white cat sat at the head of my stairs, surveying the night as though he were Lord of the Midnights Snows. I pulled on my shoes and coat and took a walk in the cool, snow-filled darkness. Met four girls–two of them neighbors down the street, two of them sleep-overs-- who were doing the same, though they seemed to be fueled by a night’s worth of alcohol. They took pictures of me on their cell phones. We were the only people abroad. I had been on another route, but turned so I could play with the kids for a while. Only two cars the whole way, one of them, with Indiana plates, shimmying into a turn. I stopped once or twice to see my lonely, surprisingly splay-footed tracks trailing behind me in the otherwise unmarked pre-dawn ivory. “There must be a story there” the writer in me couldn’t prevent himself from saying.

Set up my Christmas tree on Friday afternoon. Bought it where I always do, from the guy at Stoney Knob. I go there every year because I remember some kindness from him long ago, though I no longer remember what the kindness was. I think it’s been two years since I had a tree. The last one I bought in a panic, because Conrad was dying, and I thought he might like one last Christmas tree.

Sang for Thomas Murphy’s ordination. What an excellent priest he is going to be. Wiley came from W Va for it, and we caught up a little. Wiley is the sort of activist professor I stepped back from being almost immediately, regretting it a tiny bit now. But it suits him. He is still young enough for indignation unchecked by irony. He gives Jeff and me credit for his professional life, which I accept, writhing in a mixture of delight and mortification. He is among the best students I ever had. Top ten anyway. He was beautiful as a kid, but now has that handsomeness one ascribes to the fulfilled man.

Final Cantaria rehearsal before dress, which I will miss. C, standing next to me this time (there’s usually a buffer) sings wrong most of the time, then sings wrong sotto voce during my solos. “What the hell was that?” Says I. “Oh, I thought I’d just sing along. You’re singing the wrong notes.” He’s such a jackass that I lose perspective on the whole of it. Maybe that was his intention.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 10, 2010

Poetry in Prime Number, the zen pieces I wrote at the outdoor table in Times Square.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 9, 2010

No pretending winter is not yet upon us. Word is for the next week it will just get colder. Global warming? I say, bring it on. If asked “What do you hate most in the world,” I’d say, “being cold.”

The Christmas cactus which Paul gave me at least two years ago is finally blooming the pinkest pink in the world.

Rehearsed with the Reynolds Band “A Bell of Anya.” Dr. Bryant is a remarkable presence in the classroom, full of high expectation that the kids fall over themselves to fulfill, organized just short of the military, able to reduce large adolescent forces to order with little more than a glance. Whenever I hear the call to eliminate “superfluous” arts instruction from the classroom, I think of the Reynolds music program and wonder where a student would get more varied lessons about more varied things in all their school experience. Math and science classes are insular and isolated in comparison. How many students are really going to find logarithms more useful in their life than the clarinet or the ability to read music?

I can’t explain why the piece, which is bubbling foot-thick cheese–is nevertheless very moving. I can hardly get through it without choking up.

It finally dawned on me who Minehaha, my blog-mocker, is. My question now is what it always was, why bother?

Reading at Pulp last night. It was a sweet and relaxed occasion, in a venue previously unknown to me. I read well to an attentive crowd, saw many old friends, and was rushed at the door by a lad named Caleb, a graduate of WCU, who said he had always been a fan of my poetry and how great it was to meet me. If someone paid him to say that, then it was exactly the right Christmas present. Caleb read a long poem about poetry which was really quite wonderful. Everyone was good. The one exception was the slam poet, though she was very beautiful. The Slam apparently still thinks that hysterical self-assertion and self-glorification legitimizes bad poetry. I have missed the poetry scene. It is less insane than many of the orbits I turn in, and the poets, by and large, mean each other well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 8, 2010

Purple in the east. Choosing poems to read at Pulp tonight, a process harder than I remember it being in the past. Attended the festive opening of The Magnetic Field last night. I think back on the venues and institutions I was there for the openings of. Dear Lord, sic transit, and all that. The Magnetic Field has an urban feel to it, as though it were something nestled among the skyscrapers Uptown in New York. It’s not what one expects in this part of the world, and that adds to its boldness. The kitchen looks serious. The crowd was a slice of old theatrical Asheville, and not what I expected, but comforting to be amid again. The opening show was a piece–apparently an episode to an annual event– called the Bernstein Family Christmas. Technical glitches were to be expected in what was, because of the snow, a dress rehearsal, and the overall effect was uneven, but when it hit–as in the Tom Waits rendition of the dreidel song–it was transcendent. It was the first sketch comedy I have seen locally that was real theater, genuinely funny, with no need for the Asheville phenomenon of the pity guffaw. I admired the actors. I can do a comic role on stage, but I think if I were like that, like they were on stage always at the far edge of plausibility, I would be terrified.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 6, 2010

The heat registers whistle comfortingly. Outside is the first deep cold of winter. Rags of snow catch and tear across the landscape. Spent the day revising The Falls of the Wyona. Freakishly good workout at the Y.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 5, 2010

Squally snow out of a yellow morning sky. Much digging, much planting, much plotting for what I want yet to plant. Above all, much writing. They have been full days without being happy ones, and I must investigate this phenomenon. Far too much singing. Two days of Cantaria rehearsals (this afternoon will make it three) to claw our way to adequacy. Our most rah-rah members sneak away from rehearsal to have a massage. Lessons and Carols at All Souls last night. I think it was probably lovely; I was too exhausted and grumpy to notice. But drinks with Nancy and DJ and Russell at Avenue M afterward, and that mellowed me before sleep. It’s right to be dedicated to art, but wrong to be dedicated to too much art, which is not dedication at all, but necessarily a kind of dilettantism. I’m lucky not to be accused of dilettantism, that I know of. I’m not a dilettante, but I can sure look like one. I feel like one at Christmas, when I try to fend off everything I can do in order to have a little peace. Anyway, I am grateful the trees and shrubs I got into the ground before the coming of the snows. I am grateful that my invention and my energy do not flag, though one of them wavers a little under the onslaught.

It is almost midnight. A few moments ago I wrote the last sentence of Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 1, 2010

A productive morning drew me within one chapter of finishing Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers. Making sure to get to the Y in the morning is, once again, the savior of my days.

Made a foray to Jesse Israel’s and acquired a laburnum, a golden magnolia, and a red witch hazel. Planted the witch hazel between my living room window and Kelley’s porch, because of her fear for her privacy when the hemlocks came down. The laburnum had no evident roots, and fell right out of the pot when I was planting it. I went ahead with it, muttering growth spells and watering like mad.

Poetry in Voices of Israel. Short story in Blue Lake. Ordered a Toshiba laptop and received an HP. Guy spends a heap of dollars on a study to prove that cussing makes you feel better. Had a serious cold one night, bought all the necessary medicines for the next night; the cold was gone. I suppose a cure is a cure.

Yesterday’s rain flooded my studio. SS wrote and article for Mountain Xpress in which he gave me the epithet “much lauded.” I would have thought myself, if anything, notoriously under-lauded. . . . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

November 29, 2010

The dark tonight outside my windows is different from the dark all nights since I moved here. The two rows of ragged hemlocks, one on the north side of the property and one on the south, are gone. They were the property’s most evident feature. The absence will take some getting used to. Even today, which was cloudy and blustery, the a flood of unwonted light was obvious. The arborists’ boss, Evan, had to leave to go to the funeral of a childhood friend. We talked about that for a minute. Evan said nobody he knew had died before; he had not only lost a friend, but faced death for the first time. Kelly and Zach are not sure they like it, though I did ask before I cut. It certainly allows us to mind each other’s business more than before. Caroline loves it. She said she was always afraid someone was hiding in the brushy tangle near her parking space, an issue which never crossed my mind. The openness reveals more fully the ugliness of my little house (which, like a father with the plainness of his offspring, I overlook). Also, it makes evident that the house is set at an angle on the property, or the property is itself a trapezoid. A bushy holly was cut free from its strangling companions and faces new life in the open. I have square yards of new planting space, and new light, and a few feet are already filled by the yellow rhododendron I got into the ground just before the rains. The intention to render this place as a cabin in the woods, completely successful when I moved here, is now undone. I almost cancelled the action because Evan said he had to cut phone cables in order to work. That sort of thing always feels disastrous to me, but I took a breath and work went ahead. Turns out that the cables were dead and brought power to nothing in anybody’s house. One of the tree men said, “They probably never bothered to fish them out of all that mess.” The ferns are flattened from having limbs dragged across them, and a downspout is down for the same reason, but all in all, I am glad it was done, even if all that was achieved was change.
November 28, 2010

Pale blue morning, crows calling.

A Congressman from Illinois, John Shimkus, who is being considered for the chairmanship Energy and Commerce, is confident that Global Warming is not a peril because the bible says that God will never again destroy the world by flood. An educator rolls his eyes and wishes that the lost might truly be lost instead of finding their way into government.

Combative dreams. In one, Chinese people –what’s with the Chinese people all of a sudden?– downtown own a museum that I’m taking my students to. I pay the entry fees, and then the owner of the museum tries to slap on a charge for parking. I point out that we didn’t park, but walked, and I refuse to pay. We argue for a long stretch of dream time about whether he has the right to charge for services he did not provide. He says they have to be paid for whether we use them or not, so we should use them. I sort of don’t totally disagree with that, but I set my jaw and the argument goes on.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 27, 2010

Pale blue morning, crows calling.

Adam included me on his list of visitations over the holidays, and that is a blessing. Drinks at Jack of the Wood. Someone across the room wouldn’t have to know he was talking about his life in the theater and as a student at UNG to see that he was very happy, very fulfilled, very much ready for what rolled before him on the horizon of time. Being with him is like drinking champagne, like holding your hands over a campfire. There are some who are simply blessed on all sides by all the gods. You’d think that knowing them would induce envy, but it doesn’t. Instead it makes you say in your heart, “This, at least, they got right.”

Then apres-Thanksgiving at Jack and Leland’s, where my pork roast with root vegetables was a hit the second time.
November 26, 2010

Now that I don’t have a Thanksgiving dinner to worry about, I can’t get J’s phone call back to its proper place at the back of my mind. I fear for The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. London is not right for it. It’s like having a dog show in Kabul. What on earth are people meant to think? Tomorrow or the next day are not right. The wave is cresting and another will not come. I did make mistakes. I sold the option for far too little for it to make any difference to them whether they acted on it or not. Relative to my long-standing resolution not to be a pain in the ass, it took me a year to inquire, let alone nag or insist. The rotten spot of that resolution is that it leads people to ignore you in favor of people who do nag and inquire, until it has taken too long and you emerge from a cloud of frustration as a shrieking harpy. It confuses everyone, who probably thought you didn’t care. The part that really must be hilarious to the lords of destiny is that B sweet-talked Me into investing in THEIR show. I can’t rage against that with perfect indignation because Pink Carpet was amusing and heartfelt. I don't like the feeling of powerlessness. I could hand them the Best Play Ever Written, and they might even agree that it was, but all they’d have to do is shrug and say, “the time’s not right” and I am annihilated.

Melancholy, poetical e-mails from Stee. I usually don’t know what to say. Sometimes when he says he loves me, THAT seems to be the source of the melancholy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving. Began it with a hike around Beaver Lake at dawn. The two best things I saw was a kingfisher and a man in a scull, rowing back and forth across the water at what I thought was a tremendous pace. Kyle and Thomas and I were the remnants of the company, but we ate well and happily. Grandma’s gravy boat saw action for the first time, maybe, in 40 years. The dishwasher sings a merry mechanical song in the kitchen. Leftovers for Kyle and Thomas and the crows and the neighbors’ dogs and such creatures as may be prowling this clement night.

I concentrate so much on what I want that I don’t think of what I’m thankful for. Everything, of course. Everything that I have and do not long for, plus the energy with which to long.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 24, 2010

Achy and bent from yesterday’s phlebitis attack. Whoever doubted the disease is brought on by stress should take the last couple of days as witness. Not a light one, but not a devastating one either, and I think I can address today’s tasks. No fever dreams this time, but in the regular dream before waking, I had invented a blanket that if elderly Chinese immigrants lay under it, it would not only restore their youth but provide them proper documentation for citizenship.

Illusion–perhaps the illusion–that the moon had been full many nights in a row. Varying silver on the backyard, slashed by the blue shadows of the trees.

Hauled three huge boxes full of clothes to Goodwill, and my closets are still what I would call overstuffed.

Cantaria sang for a gathering to honor the AIDS quilt at Pack Place. AIDS had receded a little in the public consciousness. I needed those handsome faces and appalling dates on the quilt to remind me of the lingering, wasteful tragedy.

Had to stay home from rehearsal last night watching Glee DVDs. The upside of that is that I received two wonderful phone calls from voices I had missed– Adam and Keith– who had thought of ways to get us reconnected. Sweet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 22, 2010

Days of progress in my writing typically alternate with days when I despair of its coming to anything in the world. This is the worst of all hazards, the worst of all dangers for an artist. Dodging bullets in your study, writing with berries and your own blood on roofing tile is a picnic in comparison. In the East they say you should not be attached to outcomes, but I am so attached, and, in this life, there is no way around it.

Lost half my Thanksgiving diners. . . after I bought the food, of course.

Call from JB on the progress of The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. He talked of everything else first, in his native enthusiasm, but also to imply how much they have on their plates, and how my little serving is pushed to the side. Their time is taken up with the Pink Carpet in London, with The Scottsboro Boys in New York and with a “new comedy” he didn’t tell me the name of, which will feature “real stars” and open on Broadway soon. The plan now is to do my play in London, in the West End. On one level this is fine–cooler than Broadway, even–but on several others it is full midnight. It represents delay. It’s another opportunity for everything to drift into the backwater and be forgotten. I think of Bruce’s smiling face at LJ’s opening “You’re next!” Well, evidently I wasn’t. London is cheaper because there are fewer unions to contend with. “It takes half a million even to load in,” Jack says. Most–by no means all--of what is playing in New York is dreck. People seem to find the odd half million to load in that.

Terrible rehearsal, singing all around as though they were seeing the music for the first time, me waiting for the call from Jack and paying imperfect attention, performances I’d forgotten about looming. Not a good Sunday, all in all. Yet this is Monday morning. All night the moonlight lay with supernatural beauty on my back yard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 19, 2010

Claudia reports that my 6th grade girlfriend Mary Ann Dailey is dead. She was funny and fun in the 6th grade and disdainful and mocking in 7th. My first taste of mutability–

All my photos on Facebook are of me doing something, painting, doing a poetry reading, doing a wedding. No “just me” photos.

Dreams involving real estate last night.

Evening: the full moon rose in a silver sky, pink-silver on the eastern horizon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 15, 2010

Long slow rain. I rejoice thinking that all my bulbs are in the ground, sucking it in.

Drew, snapping photos of me during the studio stroll, said he had heard I was writing an autobiography that would be “one of the great books of the age.”
“Who’d you hear this from?”
“Oh, word is all around.”
I thought, maybe I’m going to have to sit down and write this book.

Huge progress on the Vance play and the Asheville novel. It is early in the night and I’m exhausted. It was Night, Sleep, I believe, transcribing the words that seemed to come out of the air at me.

Watched a two part biography of Bob Dylan, directed by Martin Scorsese. I found myself understanding Dylan instantly, even when he was being cryptic. I thought it was because we are both Mid-westerners. Both of us think the reward of artistry should be not having to answer any more questions.

Dusty pink heirloom rose still blooming. I have a rose catalogue that claims it has the white rose of York for sale. I think I must have that.

I remember when there were trolley cars in Akron, and you could watch the sparks coming out of the wires as they traveled. I remembered when there were people with cleft palates in the neighborhood, before there was a cure, or before anybody could afford the cure. I remember Vicky, the girl at church who had to press a button on her throat to speak. I remember Jimmy Lambert, who had a lead sole on one of his shoes, to cure some abnormality in his leg. If you were cruel to him–it was easy. Just calling him “lamb” would do it-- you could get him to kick you with the leaden shoe, and that was some kind of thrill. His vengeance was growing up to be fiercely handsome. His sister Corinne was hit by a car going to get a pizza.
November 14, 2010

Most of my recent dream life has taken place in Ireland. Last night I was running a camp or a school in Galway. The kitchen served one serving of a hundred different kinds of food, so it was my duty at each meal to suit the meal with the student, making sure they got what they wanted and needed. My knowledge of their intimate lives (at least as pertaining to food) was remarkable.

First day of the studio stroll was not so exhausting as usual, perhaps because the people who came to mine seemed smarter and more interested than in times past, perhaps because I had to leave hours early to do an intro for the Harwood-Cole lecture at Warren Wilson. The lecture was too beautiful to be listened to very attentively. The campus was a paradise of autumn colors and vistas. This will linger as the one of the great autumns of my experience, clement, vivid, almost agonizingly beautiful. The autumn when I almost bought a house in the country. The autumn when I wrote more than at any other time in my life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 13, 2010

Dug and planted under the spruce yesterday afternoon. It was late, the sun declining. I stood up for a moment and leaned on my spade, and was still for maybe a minute. In that time a flock of goldfinches–eight at least–came to the birdbath and began to drink. At the same instant a downy woodpecker landed on the dogwood and commenced exploratory pecking. All in all, in the space of two minutes, while I stood still, watching, eight species of bird landed in area I could cover with a sweep of my spade: robin, goldfinch, downy woodpecker, nuthatch, chickadee, titmouse, mockingbird, house finch. I thought there was a cedar waxwing, but there is almost never only one. It was the Peaceable Kingdom. It made me remember a time earlier in autumn when I was filling the backyard birdbath with the hose, a process which must be slow or the power of the hose empties the basin as fast as it fills. An olive-y-yellow warbler sat in the branches of the dogwood. He was clearly very thirsty, for as I poured, he dropped down branch by branch, till he was inches form my shoulder, watching the progress of the water, wondering if he dare plunge in while I was standing there. He even squawked and scolded a little to hurry my lumbering giant ass along. As soon as I turned my back and made for the door, I heard the tiniest splash behind me.

Circe did an amazing little dance around her stuffed mouse. It was downright ballet. What goes on in a cat’s imagination?

Sent Riding Funhouse to the Anderson Agency in New York, at their request.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 11, 2010

Kimberly Road alive with flags for Veterans’ Day.

Sacred and Profane Love finally arrived from the National Gallery, London. It is more meaningful to me than I fully understand at the moment.

Had a meltdown at the studio when I was attacked by Henry the dog. For the third time. Heather, his owner, said it was my fault for not being there more so the dog would know me better. I said it wasn’t my place to cater to the psychology of a dog, but hers to keep it under control. Etc. The dog and I have been friends in the past; he had slept in my studio, suffered my petting, and to have forgotten me is indicative of some sort of doggie retardation that I haven’t the time to help them through. I thought that my outburst would make me a pariah on the second floor, but no such thing. In fact, L and A, having lunch at the table upstairs as I left, were tenderly and gratuitously kind to me. They seemed astonished to hear that I had never used the elevator and had dragged everything up to my studio up the winding cement stairs on my own back. L looked at me with expression one reserves for the very pitiable. It is true that I get notions into my head that I don’t shake on my own and yet inconvenience me terribly: YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO USE THE ELEVATOR. . . .YOU HAVE TO HITCHHIKE BECAUSE NOBODY WOULD LET YOU RENT A CAR. . . NOBODY IS GOING TO GIVE YOU A MORTGAGE. . . X MIGHT BE LEAVING TOWN, BUT YOU’RE NOT ONE OF THOSE SHE WANTS TO SEE BEFORE SHE GOES. . . YOU CAN'T ASK YOUR NEW EMPLOYERS TO HELP YOU FIND AN APARTMENT. . . YES I KNOW IT’S YOUR TURN, BUT YOU DAREN’T ASK. . .This conviction of negative entitlement has cost me more labor, perhaps, than anything else in my life. I even assumed that I could protest being attacked by a dog because I was somehow not part of the “group.” Turns out Henry has had his turn with everybody. This is not most people's experience of me; they probably think of me as forward and direct, and that is true, too, so how I pick the things to be timid about is an ongoing mystery.

Glorious day, but maybe too glorious. I look at the dirt over the billion or so bulbs I’ve planted, saying delaying spells so the bulbs don’t think it’s spring.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 2010

Slept late. The east was pale when I shouldered the cats off me and threw the comforter back. Rising was difficult after two days of hard yard work. Monday I dug the front yard against the house, and planted the irises I had planned for the newly cultivated back yard, when the hemlocks would be cut and my tiller would be in operation. The arborist never came and the tiller didn’t work, so back to the spade and the bent back. The men from Sears who came to pick up the hateful tiller were kind and enormous. Yesterday was even harder. There was some sort of emotional crisis that I never identified, and I wanted to do none of the things I had to do, so I began pulling ivy out of the fern beds. As I did, I kept running into the dark bushy spruce, and it entered my head to prune it. It was like the cone of a green rocket, its thick branches coming all the way to the ground, a depression in there in which animals–including Jocasta–used to hide. I had never seen the trunk of the tree. I keep forgetting how long I’ve lived here, but it’s years and years, and in all that time the wide circle under the tree has been completely hidden. I didn’t know the tree was branched into three near the base. When I was done, the spruce was bare of limbs up to the level I could reach with my handsaw. One of the three trunks I cut away completely. One can walk under the tree for the first time–if you’re no taller than I, standing up. The ground underneath was powdery and ashy, whether from some chemistry of the tree or because it had been hidden from the elements for so long. I dug up a wide circle around the trunk, hauled in 180 kilos of topsoil, and planted crocus, iris, anemone. The topsoil–400 pounds– I had to haul twice in the space of two hours. They were short-handed (and all girls) at the hardware store, so I had to load the pickup, the unload again onto the land. All that and the depression underneath is still visible, though barely. I wonder what it was. A garden pool long ago? I dug quite deep and got nothing but old needles and powdery soil. And a lost softball.

Reading about Zeb Vance. There are a number of ways to get into his life if I were just pleasing myself, but I imagine around me the throng of amateur historians and descendants of the great man and protectors of Southern honor who will all expect their axes to be ground.

Got to the studio at last. Painted joyfully. I was the first there, and there was sweet silence, but the noise level rose as one by one the others arrived and began the battle of the speakers.

A water leak bubbled up from a crack in Lakeshore Drive three or four days before the city came out to fix it. It’s taken them too days, digging an immense trench and doing a lot of banging and scraping, which shook the windows in their frames. The guy running the bulldozer weight upwards of 300 pound, I’d bet, and is maybe necessary as a counterweight to the tremendous blade that shakes the earth when it falls.

Evening: More digging, more planting. I think the property is thanking me with what pleasure it can give for not buying the other land and moving away. Dug up more of the immense flagstones that must have paved most of the back yard at one time. Some I could lift. Some I had to roll like Sisyphus to the place I wanted them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 7, 2010

An observation from the wedding: heavy ink does not go well with evening wear, with low cut gowns, with deep backs and necklines, with sleeveless gowns. The women who had heavy tattoos (and there were several) looked. . . well. . . inelegant. I love unmarked bodies, so I hope this fad passes, but if it doesn’t, someone should devise a kind of formal wear which can harmonize with it.

The white Christmas cactus is in bloom.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

November 5, 2010

Bright, cold morning.

The bride’s dad sidles up to me and says, “I wish we had gotten someone else to do the service. . . someone spiritual.”

I’m sitting at my desk reverberating from the shock of finding Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers, whole, intact, sound, blessed, blessed, blessed. It was in a file where I would have never saved it, discovered this morning while I was just idly poking through wondering what could be safely deleted. And there it is. I will keep from the laity my conviction that I did not save it there, would not have, could not have, though it was saved. In any case, the world turns around.

Planted twenty or more lilies. Received delivery of a rototiller which is far too big now that I decided not to take the Pine Forest property. Do I send it back, or keep in hopes of larger times to come?

The L wedding was sweet and happy, all cozy and candle lit while the sleet fell outside. Felt affection for the lot of them. The groom was handsome, the bride was beautiful, the families were (so far as I could tell) at peace. Stopped at the Usual on the way home, heard the life story of a woman caring for her invalid dad.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 4, 2010

The best bet is that I was trying to save over a read-only file. The program actually warned me’‘ “You can’t do this”– but I assumed THAT was the glitch. Yesterday was the most terrible day in my writing life, at least that had to do with something mechanical. Carlyle’s manuscript in the fireplace; Hemingway’s valise lost on a train; Millay’s poems burned up in a hotel. Woke before 4 today to savor still more of the dead, exhausted feeling. It’s like losing an election, I guess, or a child. Not as bad as a child. But I mourn as though I lost one, as I have, a wonder of my own making now gone.

Cut the last of the roses and brought them into the house, for there are rumors of snow tonight. The yellow Paul Newman was just in bud after the dry shock of summer. The Mr. Lincolns are huge and fragrant. Pruned the holly and the dogwood and the oak, to encourage loft and discourage bushiness.

Sarah’s wedding rehearsal. No reason why it shouldn’t all go well tomorrow. EN was there, looking radiant, with her equally radiant Israeli fiancĂ©.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 3, 2010

Remembering things from the journey: how the waters between New York and Newark teem with life, low trees thronged with herons I at first took for debris. In the water were strange shaped I couldn’t identify, until I realized they were herons standing on limbs in the water, the whole heron what I took to be the bills of something huge and fabulous; the great cities beside complicated rivers, the sea opening on the distance. Philadelphia? Baltimore? I never knew.

Frost came while I was gone. Some things are withered, but the roses remain undaunted.

Sad election results, but I suppose not tragic ones. I thought President Obama was doing a good job, and was prevented from doing a heroic one only by the recalcitrance of the Republicans. I never understood what all those angry people were angry about. “We want our own way” is, after all, not a very patriotic rallying cry. My great astonishment is that the GOP didn’t die of mortification two years ago, when it should have done.

First meeting will BG et al at SART, to discuss the Vance play. I was sort energized and sort of discouraged–energized because Vance seemed to have lived an eventful life, discouraged because the number of constituencies which need to be pleased by this project may be unworkable.

Put together my new Kangen water machine and drank the first draughts out of it. The water is, as they say, tingly, and I haven’t had acid-reflux all day, but the experiment is ongoing.

Started to write on Night, Sleep, and the Dreams of Lovers this afternoon. What came up was not right. The computer had not been saving my work to that file since September 28. I save after every paragraph, so it was not me. Everything written in the month–since before I went to London-- is lost. I have no idea where or how. Carbonite has only what the computer has. It is all lost, wasted. Someday I should just take the hint.

Oh. . . it’s worse. . . the revisions I made on other texts have also not been recorded since that time. . .

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NY, NY

November 1, 2010

It was only this morning that I realized my shoes are mismatched, a left shoe of one pair, a right from another. I hope people (who tend to be more attentive to shoes than I am) interpret it as a fetching eccentricity.

Saw Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight in Mamet’s A Life in the Theater. It was, essentially, two good actors having a good time, and that brought pleasure. Talked briefly with Knight afterwards. He looked so tired. I thought for a moment he was a buddy of mine whom I could invite out for a drink and a little chit-chat, but the delusion passed and I move on. Walked to Columbus Circle and wandered the edges of the park until it was night.

Spent the morning paddling about in Soho and Tribeca. It was cold, but the light was clear and beautiful. It was difficult to look east. The curved scimitar of the moon hung pale over Varick Street, Ate at the Tic Toc Deli, for old time’s sake. The men next to me were discussing the filming of a movie, clearly the director and the cinematographer. It was exciting to listen to. Near the entrance a self-satisfied young man was reading a script, broadcasting to all the world “I have a part.” I was happy there. I almost missed the atmosphere of theater blocks and blocks wide.

Evening. Quite cold enough. Luckily it’s only a block from the theater when I saw Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. The show was great fun, not as revolutionary as the talk about it would imply, and an apt thing to see the night before an election which may plunge us again into an at-least-temporary Populist backlash. The show is right that the inevitable outcome of Populism is tyranny made worse by the belief that it is the tyranny of the people. I tried to analyze the difference between Jackson’s Populism and the Tea Partyers’, and I think that it’s the fact that Jackson’s was genuine and ours is the disgruntlement of the privileged classes at having their privilege curtailed. The difference between Jackson and someone like Sarah Palin is that Jackson had some genuine– if historically questionable, even lamentable–achievements, whereas she is merely a complainer.

Calls from Mickey and Damian. Finally glad I bought the phone.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zen Preludes

Seven Zen Preludes: Halloween Morning: Times Square


1
This is the corner where the tourists stand
to have their photo taken
before the greatest possible concentration
of bazillion kilowatt billboards.

I’m surprised to feel so tenderhearted toward them.

They will think when they look at the picture later,
“My friend took this.
That was the day we had raw salmon.
That was the day we got the last seats at the matinee.”

That it is Times Square is irrelevant.
It might as well be
Iguazu Falls
or a stand of trees
weighed down with autumn.

Oh. I wish I were taking somebody’s picture,
kneeling, ignoring the crowd
to get a better angle.

2
The pigeons note my pigeon-disgusting chai, move on.

The brown sparrows come after,
perching on the rim of my table.
They’re sure I’ve something hidden,
something kept from the complacent pigeons,
but that may yield to them. The brown of their feathers
is more complicated than one expects.
I rise. Go to the Starbucks. Buy a bagel.
Crumble it pieces and present it to the sparrows,
bit by bit. You can tell by the casualness of receipt
this is what they expected all along.

3
A tiny Japanese girl with her face made up
to be a kitten offers me a plastic pumpkin
to put something into.
Her parents watch, beaming.
They have got the custom slightly wrong.

I have nothing. I have a plastic bottle of antacids.
I put that in.
The girl-kitten dances for joy.
The smiling parents bow, and bow.

4
The woman with the cigarette catches me
cleaning my glasses with a dollar bill.
“I learned that from my father,” I say.

Then tears course down the lenses,
and I have to take the dollar out again.

5
The domes I cover myself with
are the color of the air, therefore invisible.
But I know they rise above those towers
and seal the square, the city, the gray Hudson
flowing down, against what ever danger
I was sent here to prevent.

Who knew that they took in so much?

6
The policeman and his horse
pose for photographs.
The horse is beautiful and allows
on his nose the caress of children.

Some life in this city will be saved
by a caress on the muzzle of a beautiful horse,
and the cop and the horse chant
from their quarter of the well of light

O come, O come

7

I am sitting here weeping in gratitude
for the gift of poetry.
Passers-by think I have lost someone
and the news had just come.
October 31, 2010

Must praise Halloween in New York. The dark, quite streets of Long island City were haunted by ghouls and princesses, and Times Square around midnight was carnival, joyous and absurd, everybody talking at the top of their lungs for delight. Ever corner was a theater and ever gaggle of black girls or team of white boys in borrowed uniforms was an act.

Somewhat unintentionally, yesterday was museum day. Started with the Met, where I wrote in the sunny hall of all the broken statues. Concentrated on portraits, and came away with the lingering mirth of Raeburn’s The Drummond Children. All those masterpieces. . . sometimes the abundance is nauseating; yesterday it was a field of flowers. On to the Guggenheim, which had by far the most satisfying show I’ve ever seen there, Classicism and Chaos, I think, gleaming with Marc, Kandinsky, Nolde, Leger, Kirchner, all the moderns who had not abandoned painting.

Went to the theater to see if I could exchange my A Life in the Theater tickets so I could see Cody. Under a sign saying Absolutely No Refunds or Exchanges they exchanged them, so off I went to the Irish Center on Jackson Avenue in Queens to see the play called Wake. How quiet the streets were there! You could cross one without looking. Ghosts and fairies walked to parties somewhere looking quite ghostly and isolated. The theater– an Irish social hall-- was all very casual, and the actors were clumped up in the main room getting ready, and I talked with beloved Cody for a time, hiked off and found an Irish bar, threw one down with a guy who was rooting for Texas in the World Series because they were the ones who had beaten the Yanks. The play was three hours long, it turned out. This becomes an issue because it was also not very good. The first 20 minutes were electrifying, because they were brave and poetic, and in fact the whole piece was brave and poetic, but the plot was a skein of threads dropped on a carpet, the structure was chaos, the playwright far, far too in love with her material to have thought it through. But what it also signified was the depth of acting talent in the city, for whatever else, the actors were every second committed, “on”, expressive, working to professional standards. Plus, they had memorized all those peaks after peaks of marshmallow. There was a lot of shouting when all the passions were meant to be on display, but that too was over-thought, and misdirected into a torment of crescendoes, each trying to top the last. I suppose real family quarrels go like that, but real family quarrels aren’t so damn literary. Plus, by that time I’d lost track of both characters and issues and didn’t know who was being petulant and who was being reasonable. Was proud of Cody out there, handsome and professional. He had one long aria when he was trying to marry a woman he didn’t love, for the sake of his dead friend who did love her, and it was virtuoso, and, beyond that, real.

Then it was Times Square on the first night of Halloween. I thought “somebody should write a play about this,” but then I realized that somebody was, right there as I was watching.

NY NY 2

October 30, 2010

Pale morning. I’m hoping NY’s bout with winter is over until I leave. Elisabeth’s performance was wonderful last night. It’s a tiny theater and I was on the front row, and if she recognized me I hope it was a comfort to her. 59E59 is three theaters piled on top of each other in a sort of cement box, a lovely idea, I thought, and the fact that each hosts something new and daring is brilliant, Had I known about it I would have spent all my entertainment dollars there.. I wish I hadn’t noticed with such grim clarity that Plath’s oven was electric.. Happy with my own part. My face was expressive, but way uglier in close-up than I hoped. Sprint then down to the Playwright to meet MA and Owen, who were late too so it didn’t matter. That bar was too crowded with pirates and zombies and Lady GaGas, so we came here to the lounge at the Paramount, which is very elegant, though it cost $120 for drinks for three. Great bliss talking with my boys, who were sunny and allusive and full of ambitions and ideas, the perfection of what UNCA turns out. I haven’t been able to talk about art and ideas like that since . . . I don’t know. It’s as sad commentary, considering what I do for a living. Their criticism of UNCA is that the professors let students have their own heads too much, and sometimes classes dissolve into sessions of undirected sharing. Some of the professors are not dedicated to the pursuit of truth, but more to the pursuit of good evaluations. I didn’t ask them to specify.

I will not get tickets ahead of time ever again. It causes one to miss so any immediate opportunities.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New York New York

October 29, 2010

Nineteenth floor of the Paramount Hotel, with its teensy spaceship rooms. To my joy, my window looks down onto 8th Avenue, and most directly onto the Playwright Pub and Restaurant. All the scurrying shapes. . . all the yellow taxis. The water pressure ir minimal, but I guess if I were water I wouldn’t want to haul myself up 19 floors either. Flight uneventful (though, of course, delayed). The bus from Newark got tangled in a wilderness of its kind at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Somehow everybody got through.

Caught first preview of Neat LaButte’s The Break of Noon at the Lucille Lortel in Christopher Street. The play was not very good. Indeed it was kept from being seen-it-coming-a-long-way-off crap only by LaButte’s skill at dialogue, which makes you think, for a while, that something might actually be happening. A sensational premise (a guy survives an office massacre and becomes a prophet) wasted. But it must be said that David Duchovny puts in a thoroughly believable, nuanced, affecting, even majestic performance. His TV work has been concealing a truly fine actor. The acting in general was quite good. The producer joked that last night’s performance would differ from all others because it was the first premiere and changes would be made. Unfortunately, the things that can be changed need not be changed. The thing that needs to be, probably cannot.

Muscular Hispanic boys were doing gymnastics on a scaffold. My cabbie got honked at as he took pictures with his cell phone.

The play was not only disappointing but quite short, and I went to the brink of drunkenness in a bar next door, which was either gay or African American, maybe both. They dude next to me related how Bedford Stuyvesant is now a quiet and safe place to live. The free hors d’oeuvres were magnificent.

At midnight I was at one of those little tables on Times Square, eating my tuna fish salad. I was happy.

Meeting with my director in a cafĂ© on Broadway and 86th. I took the train early because I’ve had so little time to explore the Upper West Side. Lovely, stately, quiet as New York counts that quality, an old Jewish neighborhood where the kids were screaming and laughing at recess at the Yeshiva. Spectacular (if eclectic-to-the-point-of-hideous) memorial to the Union dead of the Civil War. Standing there I received inspiration for the third part of my Lincoln trilogy. The trip was worth it if only that should happen. The golden leaves of the locusts gave all the scene royalty. A sprig of kudzu flourished in the little rose garden against Riverside Drive. I wonder if anyone in authority knows that?

I didn’t want the meeting with SB to be too business-like, but he did steer the conversation immediately to The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. What can I say? I expected him to say that they had dropped the project, but he was horrified at the thought. It seems to be in a suspension zone, not as near to realization as I had hoped, much nearer than I had feared. Much uncertainty comes from their determination for find a “star” to play Lincoln. “We’ve sent it to two people so far and they LOVED it.” What does that mean in ordinary speech? If they loved it then why– well, anyway, I came from the meeting neither elated nor distressed, so I suppose that is well enough. I hoped the meeting would be like someone kicking a stone at the top of a hill, which ends up in a landslide, but we’ll see. SB has done a lot of work on the script, and made suggestions that are actually useful.

On to MOMA, where there is now an important exhibit of Abstract Expressionism. I came away muttering to myself, “that Jackson Pollock is just not a good painter.” Compared to people in the room with him, Pousset-Dart, Klein, de Kooning, etc, he is their inferior in every measure but reputation. There’s no denying the power of the drip paintings, but whatever excuse we make for them, they APPEAR to have been made by simply throwing paint around, an accusation made by the public against most modern painting, and a perception modern painting seems to want to canonize by accepting Pollock as its god. It’s a kind of counter-Reformation which says, “we are going to make our orthodoxy that which you despise most, and we are doing so BECAUSE you despise it.” One might interpret this another way, as “We hate the tradition of our art so much that we will apotheosize someone who seems not to have profited from one lesson of its thousand years of striving.” It is an odd fact that no one has ever revolutionized an art form by intending to. The A-Es simply tried to hard, and though some of the work stirs my soul, the school is–even now– a moment in history only, not the paths ages, or even decades, will tread.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 27, 2010

Rain. Good and ample rain.

Bill Greg calls from SART to report that I won the commission to write a play for them based on the life of Zebulon Vance. I get to wallow in ignorance until next week when I meet with the historians the grant demands. We all agreed I shouldn’t be forming my own ideas until I talk with them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 26, 2010

My spider is gone, her web a sing thread whipping in the breeze.

The house hunt has become traumatic to a degree I wouldn’t have anticipated. I’ve seen two properties that I like, and letting them go (I have already refused one of them) is painful to me, and yet I can’t commit. It’s not money. BB&T allowed me to think I can have anything I want. But the question is, what do I want? Do I want to live like a hermit on a mountain, more isolated than I already am, however surrounded by acres and square feet? I sat in my house last night pretending that the night was the night of a mountain ten miles away from anybody, and I was, frankly, anxious. I called the tree guys to cut down the gloomy hemlocks on either side of the back yard, thinking that if every possible square inch of this property were lit and tillable, I would be content. In any case, my package from the nursery came, and I planted two kinds of lilies and two kind of fritillaria.

Some of this day has been brilliant, some has been (such as now) gloomy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 23, 2010

Met TB at 5 Walnut last night, to take in that venue’s unique charm and to catch up a little. TB was looking good, with what he describes as a “Big Boy” haircut suiting him fine. I enjoy his company. I cannot foresee what his plans to go to TISCH will come to, but we did consider my applying as well, and our living together as freshman roommates. Charming thought, but more exhausting than charming. What he remembered most fondly from our cohabitation in New York were my outbursts of profanity.

Ran into Kathy, late of the Usual Suspects, on the street. She and Les are opening a wine shop on Broadway. Less stress than a bar, for sure, and nights home.

Lovely high round moon over downtown Asheville, happy people on the street.

Disappointing news from the provost and the academic appeals committee, which, deliberately I suppose, misrepresented my response concerning the young woman dissatisfied with her grade. Doesn’t matter much, but it does matter some. There’s a world of difference between seeking the good and avoiding the blame, and that difference remains unaccounted for in this matter.

Oklahoma at the Thomas Wolf. I stuffed envelopes and handed out programs for free entrance. I have never seen so many wheelchairs, so many walkers. Good looking kids with lovely voices. I sat considering the virtues of predictability, a quality which I have left rather under-explored.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 22, 2010

One orange bachelor button seed fell into a crack between bricks on the porch stairs, and now blooms there in proud and lonely splendor. My spider continues her tenancy on the porch. Will she die when winter comes? I suppose so, though some must live in order for there to be spiders in the spring. Does she think of this blazing autumn as a lingering twilight for her and her race? Is she capable of melancholy?

The theme for today’s house hunt was inaccessibility: roads impossibly steep and unpaved on which my little Prius spun her wheels hopelessly, narrow ways with precipices on either side, hideous botches of architecture mercifully hidden in the high forest.
October 20, 2010

The garden had never been richer in roses. It is a cruel blessing, coming just before the frost. Red and gold and pink. I really want to move so I can have more land to plant more roses.
October 19, 2010

They delivered my bed yesterday. It looks huge in the room, and is rather severe in the firmness department. I had a touch of fever last night, and the inaugural sleep was full of investigation of various features of the bed–buttons to push, services to experience–which of course it does not have. The two Haverty’s delivery men had piercing blue eyes and a sense of humor they must have honed on each other through the long hours. The big one was twenty five and already had severe back problems. I saw him carrying the mattress by himself, back bent in an S, looking down at the difficult stones .

Drove down Pisgah Highway today looking at properties I had read of online. Actually found some of them. Every such foray has made staying put look better. I think that I’d rather live where I lived once in the past, when it comes down to it, rather than forging ahead into the new. I lay down on the huge hard new bed and dreamed a nap dream, and in it I was traveling with Maud the Cat. At one point I got sick of traveling, and the cat and I took a turn and found ourselves in Galway. It was night, and the streets were dark and bright at once, full of laughter, and I was so, so happy. I had come home. Not only was I in Galway, but the Knoll Shop, the candy store that delighted me when I was a boy in Akron, was there, and just as it was.
October 18, 2010

Dark of the morning. Dream: I was at the Dublin airport waiting for a bus to Sligo. I’d lost my passport, and had to decide whether t stay in Dublin and try to get my passport back, or continue on. I thought that if I could just get to Sligo, everything would be all right, passport or none.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 16, 2010

Music from the court of Charles V on the CD. Days of flawless, radiant blue sky. The hills are blinding in their variety of colors. It is the Lord’s own autumn.

Looking hard at a property on Pine Forest Road in Weaverville. It has the forest I need to transfigure, and the rest is, at least, adequate. The house looks like a Hobbit dwelling. I can live with that. It will look less Hobbity when the toys disappear from the yard and the zoomorphic windchimes from the eaves. I have one more day to think about it before I phone the bank and begin the process, or don’t.

The property has the further merit of being close to Reems Creek Nursery, where I stopped to buy–something–which turned out to be a holly tree. I actually bought the tree for the woods at Pine Forest, but I don’t own it yet, so I planted it in my own front yard. The planting was unusually laborious; I don’t think the tree will survive, for that reason, because it was so laborious. Things that will prosper usually have a lightheartedness, a kind of inevitability about them. I take it is a sign of probable failure when I have worked too hard.

Angels in America at NC Stage last night. MM’s Roy Cohn added something missing from every other interpretation of that part I’ve ever seen, including Pacino’s, and that is humanity. One might say MM the man is not capable of inhumanity, but one might say the actor found dimensions in the character which made him, at times, almost too complicated for the play, an evil too multi-valenced to be entirely hissed. Ethel Rosenberg came off as a bit of a harpy, foretelling the bitter death of one we did not entirely hate. The production had everything talent and skilled rehearsal could bring to it. It was, in that sense, flawless. It lacked dazzle, sparkle, surprise, but those come and go with the night and the spirits that rule the corners of the stage, and their descent cannot be prepared for any more than the angel’s.

Had to fight the receptionist to have before theater cocktails at Zambra’s. I asked to be seated, and she said that we had to have a reservation and that all the tables were taken. The fact was that NONE of the tables were taken. I asked to see the manager, and he seated us. It was 6, and she was keeping tables open for reservations at 7:30. Plus, she had too many tattoos, and I think sometimes that introduces impurities into the blood which block good sense. We had to dodge a fight between the (perfectly enormous) bouncer and a drunken patron to get into Scully’s afterward. A laborious night. Except everyone in Scully’s that evening was physically beautiful, so it was worth the labor.
October 15, 2010

DJ and I cruised Weaverville and the Reems Creek area looking for likely properties. I sort of like doing it, but it’s a huge syphon of energy and time. Even the evening after was laid waste. Like any kind of shopping, it exhausts and discourages me.

Letter from an agent admiring the power of The Riding Funhouse but complaining that the opening sounds sketched in and hasty. I tamped down my scorn and looked at the book, and the opening is sketched in an hasty. He was right. In one of those great and silent victories, I went back to the beginning. Deep into it now, liking it better, smiling as Im write, and there has not been on ray of fury.
October 13, 2010

Bought a bed. Never have had my own bed, but a mattress and box springs on the floor all my adult life. Enough of that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 12, 2010

Four in the morning. Why? So I can tap-tap-tap on this machine. Talked to Sarah about her wedding, met her lanky groom, shared gossip about the dragon lady of our common experience. Would I go on the way I was going if I were certain everybody hated me for it? Would I lose friends and leave a bitter taste in all mouths only to have it the second best way? Went to the Woodfin Y after WEEKS away, and J at the counter said, “You’ve been away so long and you haven’t sent my any pictures of your summer adventure,” and why was I set the trial of not being able to say, “I can’t come here because of the sure knowledge that you will nag me for the pictures that I told you the first time do not exist.” If I could just walk in and work out and nothing more, life would be good. Being asked the second time for what I decided not to provide the first time infuriates me more than anything else. People have the idea that persistence wins in the end, but me it seals like an angry clam. Please, world, learn this.

Golden waterlily in the golden autumn.

Titus speaks through the open window at something lurking out in the dark.
October 11, 2010

Began looking the properties the real estate lady has been sending me. DJ and Iooked for three, found one, but the one was a gem, a sort of moss green gingerbread house back in the woods in Weaverville. The house may be ideal, but the property is not, quite. I wish I knew what I was looking for, or whether the whole enterprise is just the release of excess energy. DJ said “I can see you pottering around in a place like this.” I could, too, though it makes me seem rather more Hobbit-like than I would prefer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 10, 2010

10/10/10. If I waited a few hours it could be 10/10/10 at 10. Palestrina on the CD.

Took DJ to the see Asheville Lyric Opera’s The Magic Flute. The orchestra had some intonation problems, and the conductor didn’t seem completely comfortable, but the overall effect was thoroughly entertaining, and the piece settles deeper into its status as one of my perpetual favorites. The music is beyond flawless. The plot is ludicrous, of course, and this production’s approach made the funny spots truly funny, rather than just weird, which is what some settle for. The transcendent quality of the play comes from a vision which Mozart shares, in my experience, only with Shakespeare: that is the smiling conviction that the highest solemnities in the world and the most raucous earthiness are on exactly the same level, and each the road to joy. Those of us who are high and solemn are saved by conviction and solemnity. Those of us who are simple and kind are saved by kindness. Silliness from a pure heart is as good as heroism. Tamino is a hero and does everything right. Papageno is a appetite-driven lout who does everything wrong, and yet both get their hearts’ desires, and no one would contest the Papageno is the apple of Mozart’s eye. Papageno, after all, finds and rescues Pamina; he is unfallen Tristan, a hero who never beats his shield and shouts. Mozart mocks chivalry without dismissing it. It’s fine for them for whom it is right. Most of us can’t carry it off. Most of us are hungry, scratching Papagenos who forget the solemn vows we just made and wander about in a chaos of appetites, which we trust–correctly, it turns out-- to pure-heartedness to redeem. The slob next door is not necessarily any less sanctified than Galahad on his white stead. ALO was fortunate in having a Papageno who was personable, comic without exertion, an actor of great skill, and all the qualities mentioned above were asserted without being preached.

DJ and Bill and Amy and I had dinner before and drinks after the opera.
October 9, 2010

Fuzzy stars before morning. Beautiful and healing dreams before waking, metamorphic. Some power (I don’t know whether I was the power, or the beneficiary of the power) was turning people into the gods they would be (or had been) and gods in to the people they would be when all the world was divine. We were clanking about trying on our new powers and splendors. When I woke I had a flawless feeling of well-being, and so many ideas for creation I haven’t enough hands to carry them out.

Roses–all of them–and honeysuckle join the more expectable low cloud of asters as autumn coolness warns everyone of final chances. Took the truck shopping and bought azaleas and bulbs. Dug mightily to get them all into the ground. The front yard flutters with pale butterflies. My spider has grown perceptibly.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 7, 2010

Turbulent return. The flight from London seemed very long. I slept fitfully through it, and when I was not asleep the thoughts in my head were unquiet and disturbing. Very nearly the most disturbing thoughts I ever had. But I was sick and exhausted and uncomfortable, so maybe there was nothing to them. Delayed in Atlanta because Delta had not thought to secure a pilot, apparently. Came home to a new bathroom compliments of Matthew the Handyman. All green and cream as it was before, but without the cracks in everything, and the tiles seceding from the floor. He will appear in a few moments to tell me how much I owe. Went to choir rehearsal, and was glad I did, for there was something fresh and adventurous about it that reminded me why I joined in the first place. Discovered this morning that my computer had given up the ghost–or rather added some. Nothing would load, nothing would delete, nothing would respond. I tossed it with some vehemence into the trash and moved a laptop up to take its place, and it seems to be doing fine. So, this lordly morning I am fully home and caught up with myself, and Circe has acres to nap in where the fat computer tower used to be. A little stuffed panda bear sits on my desk lamp. It was lying on the cement path that leads to the Millennium Bridge, dropped or otherwise abandoned. He lived in my pocket fot a while, and now he lives here, plush against the plush back of the cat.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

London Last

October 6, 2010

LGatwick. In my departure haze I gave the cabbie 70 pounds more than I meant to. Hope he can make use of that on his honeymoon in Las Vegas, The sickness turned out to be phlebitis, which I fought back with antibiotics, but which took Monday evening out of the schedule, and slowed down Tuesday. Monday night was the hateful miasma of fever delusions, Thought of Steven, sometimes in the midst of delusion, sometimes weith sweet clarity. Everything is lost, always, but somehow there is always something more. I did taxi to St. Paul’s and took the Millennium Bridge to the Tate. The Gauguin exhibit was sensational, and re-convinced me of his status as a major figure. Went to the play Lower Ninth at the Trafalgar Studio 2. It was the story of three men (one dead) on a New Orleans roof during the hurricane. It had dramatic occasion and great energy of language, and though it ended abruptly, as if somebody had suddenly called “time!” it was a good evening of theater. It’s hard to gather one’s thoughts in a space like this, but the basic thing to say is that I was not done with London. I had more to do, more to see. Since Dublin broke my heart, maybe this is the prime destination for a time. I have an hour before I have to appear at the gate. Maybe I’ll spend the last of my pounds.

London 5

October 4, 2010

The west gleams peach and gold, deepened by blue-gray, the great round tower with the revolving purple band at the top stabbing through. It is early Monday evening, and I have arisen from a sleep that accompanied some kind of sickness, though I don’t know what. Flue-like symptoms, maybe flu. Arrived back in London in the midst of an underground strike, which didn’t affect me as I was walking anyway, but Kings Cross was apparently the epicenter of discontent.

Took the train yesterday To Cambridge. Steve can’t drive because of a series of DUIs, so I was picked up by his girlfriend Karen and driven out to Willingham. I assumed she was his mother, so I’m glad she introduced herself first. The back of the car, and indeed everything in their lives, smelled sharply of dogs, specifically three versions of a ratty terrier I forget the name of. Steve has two of them, with much too much personality, and a certain amount of time needed to be spent learning to keep them under the level of hysteria. Willingham is a quaint and scenic Fens town, the kind people put in TV shows, but the old town is surrounded by council housing, such as Steve’s, heavily subsidized by the government for people in various stages of ill luck. I did a riff on “Willingham”– reluctant pork, eager bacon, etc– which Steve didn’t seem to understand. Steve and I cooked an elaborate curry, and then headed out to the local in Willingham, the Black Bull. The Black Bull was joyful, friendly, and at the end of the evening four of us were left– the landlord, a man whose speech could barely be understood, Steve and I, the three Brits talked with surprising knowledge and interest about American comedians. Steve was broke, so I bought the drinks, which included samples of all five colors of Sambucco, which each taste mostly of anise, and are each a little more disgusting than the real thing.

What do I say of the visit? I came away feeling that my love for him is better informed and stronger for the weathering of contact with his actual situation. I looked at him watching TV, and I knew I have a friend for as long as circumstances allow. I had hoped for romance different from the kind that happened. It was romantic, but chaste and poor and sad. Steve cuddled me as he did his dogs, as a physical comfort, as a kind of living wall between himself and the darkness. Finally, one of us had nothing to give. It was all right. I might have gone to Willingham for the sake of both of us, but it turns out I went for his sake, and that is well. Any purpose is a purpose.

Steve is handsome and presentable and capable of suave conversation, and has an MBA, so it’s clear his present state of near-indigence is caused by something other than ability. He’s in the midst of a soul-quest, of which he speaks at length, but how can you tell someone the gods are speaking something other than he thinks they are? The book he is writing is fascinating to a friend, as it is autobiography and fills in the blanks of his conversation, but it has no commercial value–unless he were already a celebrity. He foresees a time, a few months off, when the money from selling that book puts his life back on track. I am powerless to say what I think, even though he asks me. And at then end of it, how do I know I’m right? Things may go exactly as he foresees.

He found the wishbone in the chicken, and we pulled it, and I won, but I did not get my wish. I’d be glad to relinquish it if I thought he got his.

Stopped between the hotel and the station to eat at a Greek restaurant. The tables were on the sidewalk, and I’ve become enough of a Brit not to be bothered by the mist of rain. A boy was singing at the next table, singing to the music of his headphones, loud and happy and oblivious. He was partially annoying and partially festive, and at last I decided that the festive won.

A bird sings on my balcony, a sweet small London bird singing in the gathering darkness.

London 3, 4

October 3, 2010

Sunday morning. Skipped yesterday because I got home too drunk and wet and happy.

Strolled most of Saturday, to the National Gallery where I was stuck by painters I had never noticed before, and returned to old friends like The Shrimp Girl and Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows. Sat a while in Trafalgar, realizing one could have a pretty full tour of London just sitting there. In the evening I went again to Covent Garden to see the Royal Ballet do Onegin. It was perplexing to me. By the end of Act II I was in to the story and the characters, but I must say that, though I love dance, classical narrative ballet has always struck me as superfluous. It’s about perfection of execution, and the execution was indeed perfect, but there must be something original and vital to be executed. In narrative ballets, good dancing is sadly coupled with very bad acting. I remembered from my days in The Nutcracker Ann’s admonitions to dress the stage and stay active and to stay in character, and I could not avoid seeing those things in Onegin. Is ballet acting deliberately bad–I mean, is it part of the form?–or is it that the dance takes so much effort they leave the rest to chance? I tried to push down the word “preposterous,” but it pretty much was. The Nutcracker is mostly fantastic, and for fantasy ballet works fine, but for anything that is supposed to be “real,” is just doesn’t. Unless your story is about swans or fairies, ballet is not your medium. The work dates from the 60's, but it seemed to have take nothing from a milieu within sixty years of its own time. I suppose that if one likes Eugene Onegin one might be interested in a dance version, but why, exactly? Without a great book shoring it up at every point, it is a very silly dance. Beautifully done, of course. Onegin was wildly handsome. Plus, I had a stupendous seat, At intermission, digging my ice cream out of its carton with one of those little spades they give you, I flipped a big dollop of chocolate onto a Japanese grandmother’s skirt. She was so polite she was going to pretend she didn’t see it happen.

Pouring rain when I left the opera house. Drank at the Freemason Arms, and thought of Jason. Drank at O’Neill’s on Long Acre, which was loud and merry, and where I met short dark Rick and tall red Bruce. I bought them a round of what they were drinking, and they bought me untold rounds of Sambucco, which I’d never had before. Bruce is an engineer and Rick was leaving for Japan in the morning, and had not yet packed. Bruce was a hugger, and soon I was being enveloped in drunk boy hugs and plied with Sambucco, and I was happy. Why does one leave one’s front door except for that? In the driving rain on Southampton, the Sambucco and the cider rose up in conflict, and I vomited lustily, but I was happy even while engaged in that. What did O’Neill’s have that the ballet did not, I wondered, seeing that one was a delight and the other had to be endured, considering what one had paid for the ticket? I suppose the answer is inspiration. On the stage nothing was new. In the bar, everything was.