Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31, 2010

Great crooked moon in the northwest when I passed Beaver Lake in the dark of the morning.

Moved the flat rock bearing the bird bath, and found under it the white coils of peony shoots, creeping palely sideways, trying to find the light. They’re already taking on color and aiming upward. I felt as good discovering and freeing them as if I had opened the Bastille. After running this morning I packed dirt into the canyons left by the plumbers. The damage to the flowers in front may be less than I feared (if still more than I wanted) Red peony feathers are coming up even in the raw trench. Huge fronds of the crown imperial rising, not yet blooming. We are about a month behind from last year.

Received a check from NC Stage for The Beautiful Johanna. The approximate sum I lost, as producer, was $3400; I think it best not to follow too precise an accounting. I plan to give most of the proceeds back to the theater, so that digs a hole rather more than $4400 deep. Better weather might have doubled the intake. Might not have. Was it worth it? In most ways, yes. As the playwright, yes. As a friend to my lovely cast, crew, and musicians, yes. As a citizen of the Asheville art world, I’m not so sure. I didn’t realize what an opportunity for hysteria in the Mountain Xpress comments page it was going to provide the local arts wannabes. But those who got something from it got something, and that’s what theater is for.

Found two reviews and an interview in Metabolism. I’d forgotten I’d given the interview, and assumed the reviews were never written. But there they were. I couldn’t really tell if they were favorable or not, but I was honored by the serious and intelligent analysis both UNCA students gave the production. I was proud to have been part of their education as scholars. It was like being the track upon which two champion runners won their first race.

Rush to the studio to paint as much as I can, exploring the nuances of egg tempera. I don’t know why it never caught with me like this before. Like painting with beautiful mist, or liquid silk.

Discussion with Mark Ramont of Ford’s Theater about Earthly Power. He probably understands that everything is frustrating, nothing is satisfying, everything is an affront except “yes.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 29, 2010

Auditions for my playwriting class’s one-acts were not only successful, but bewilderingly so, drawing from pockets of the community I never imagined was paying attention. We had 3 African-Americans, which is 3 more than I have ever had at an audition before. My students responded with courtesy and high spirits, and I was proud of everyone. The plays themselves are, judged as a whole, better than they had ever been. One would not have anticipated this by looking at the playwrights. I too favor the attractive, the exotic, and must learn, repeatedly, that they do not necessarily produce the most interesting work. Flamboyant spirits sometimes expend all their energy on flamboyance.

Despite protestations to the contrary, J disappears. I think of him, and turn away from the thoughts with defeat and sadness. You cannot make people want what they do not want.

Exhaustion like a second skin . . . .
March 28, 2010

Dark morning, something Renaissance on the CD. The end of Voices had been bothering me. Cocteau helped me, and I rewrote it last night into something far more– well, far less plot-dependent, less specific to a moment which, one day, will have to be explained.

My right arm blossoms with poison ivy picked up while hacking the thickets between the terrace and the street

Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 27, 2010

Days slip away in the journal, but that it because I was seized with a fit of poetry unparalleled since I sat in the woods writing The Glacier’s Daughters, and maybe with the same vehicle: the adoption of a flexible and accommodating form.

Replanted the leaning lilac. Its swelling green buds suggest the operation was a success.

Saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and thought it very beautiful– except for a real-world envoi which seems to involve Alice (who is given Charles Kingsley for a father–how many people got that?) in the British China trade– one of the blackest evils of colonialism.

Some inconclusive minutes in the studio; hard labor in the garden, mostly trying to fill the ravine left by the plumbers. The vine gets my vote for the most tenacious item in Flora’s armory. Planted a big lilac to replace the one I destroyed (though it has leaves coming anew from the sides of its stalks), creeping phlox, and another ground cover I forget the name of, but which promises flowers of scarlet.

Returned to the studio in the evening. DMcD is afraid of me. I painted in egg tempera. It went well, and I counted the day, finally, as not wasted, in that regard. Watched Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus. It was wonderful. It featured Picasso, Yul Brynner, Jean Marais. I wonder if everyone notices how much fun Cocteau is having.
March 22, 2010

Two crows fucked on the wire outside my front window. I took this as a propitious sign.

Driving back from Waynesville I caught a small herd of deer grazing at the side of the road. They looked enormous against the dark wood, lit by the fleeting mechanical eyes.

In the Hobby Airport, a giant, muscular black man with a cell phone. I assumed he was a football played. Then there was a tiny old white woman he was pushing in a wheelchair. He was calling her “grandma,” and running to fetch her coffee. I thought, “I love America.”

Went downtown to see W Tower’s film, the name of which I forget, but which was far and away the best local film I have ever seen, shapely and mysterious, well-acted, the camera work like a good art film, still and evocative. The camera loves Cody’s face. I hope he took note of that. A handful sat in the BeBe with me watching. I’ve been in a theater with scores watching the really bad ones, and there is something to be understood from that fact, but I fear to know what.

Congress passes Obama’s healthcare bill. I’m sure it’s flawed in many ways–it is hysterically anti-woman-- but, however flawed, it is a triumph over the forces of selfishness and the astonishing deficit of compassion in the Republican party. I’ve always thought a one-payer system like Sweden’s was inevitable, and everything else but corporate greed’s stalling tactic, though in fact I don’t know enough of the subtleties to be sure. If it reboots his Presidency, if it upholds the weak and humbles the proud, then I am for it.

Poking around in my poetry files, I find many–as many as 200–poems which have never been published. Most, I think, have never even been put into the mail.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 20, 2010

Most perfect Equinox. I rose in the dark and finished Voices. Though I had planned other things, when I saw how the day would be, my thoughts turned to the garden. At first I wrought nothing but destruction, destroying, I think, a lilac in yesterdays attack on the terrace bushes, and in trying to clear out vines in one corner, cutting my spade into the white, surprisingly thick roots of my first peonies. So I went and bought a white peony and a white tree peony, a japonica for the shade, bleeding heart, low woodland iris, golden alyssum for the blaze of sun, and planted them all.

The Lieutenant of Inishmore at HART this evening. It’s a farce with mayhem, gruesome and hilarious. They did McDonough proud: it would be hard to imagine the piece better acted, more efficiently directed, the satire more readable even to those innocent of the cause.

Picked up Gerald Clarke’s biography of Judy Garland in Houston. Fascinating, but I’m sorry I read it. She was selfish and destructive to a degree no talent excuses, and her life was no worse than what she had earned. So much for over the rainbow.
March 19, 2010

Went to a reading at the university last night. Writing more fine than it was engaging. The interest was in the belle-ness of the lettres. Meaning tended to fade into the glow. Hilarious and informative talk-back afterwards, our students rather astonishingly well prepared with insightful queries.

Rose before light for my work-out at the Y. When I was finished, the sky was a gray silk, here and there shot with lilac and flamingo. I sat over bitter coffee in Mountain Java and wrote three scenes– all the way to the last scene, which was made at the same time implicit in my head– of Voices. Left from there to the arboretum where, to honor the glorious day, I hiked in the silver and blue forest. Sat down at a table outside the pavilion and wrote a poem. Stopped by Jesse Israel’s and dropped a hundred dollars on a golden peony and a fall-blooming scarlet camellia. Planted them, but also took a fit of brush-clearing, on the terrace, down at streetside, and the sad remnants of the deceased (except for a few shoots at the bottom) rhododendron. Scratched up heroically and poked viciously in the eye by the resistant foliage. Visited Ben, whose magic hands did their work. In less than an hour I’m off to St. Matthias to hear Dido and Aeneas. In short, an almost absurdly productive day.
March 17, 2010

Blessed Saint Patrick.

Email informed me of the results of last night’s drunk e-bay-ing. Could have been worse.

Golden crocus. Purple burst of Lenten rose near to the ground.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 16, 2010

My sister phones that our Aunt Daisy is dead. Daisy was the one of my father’s sisters whom we knew best. She would take the bus down from Cleveland to visit us. I remember her young, tanned, vital, and the first vivid example of what I recognized as full-bore female sexuality. She was not like the rest of her women in her family; the ones I knew were frigid and frowning and churchy. She was bouncy, gossipy, happy, full of talk about men and her work at the GE plant. She rode the bus. She saved me once from drowning in Lake Erie. She was like a big sister sometimes, sometimes like a movie star, a whiff about her of a wider world. She stole her own sister’s husband away, a drama of which I was ignorant at the time., though I knew there was a feud between her and Aunt Alice. When relatives began to die and we began to go to their funerals, she was my favorite among them, though I was sad to see her become a grown, married woman, standing in the kitchen with her hands folded in front of her like everybody else. I don’t know that she ever laid eyes on me as a grown man. In any case, farewell. You are probably better remembered than you imagined.
March 15, 2010

Rainy Monday, the end of a break that I am not ready to end. I left everything go, of course, and now am faced with a necessary whirlwind of activity.

The American Guild of Organists sponsored a program with a group called Friends of the Groom at the Cathedral last night. The room was packed to overflowing, and the program proved to be simple–“childlike” is the term–and sophisticated at once, an outstanding afternoon of inventive religious theater and organ music. One expected. . . something else, I suppose, but what one got was better. I was moved to distress by the complicated thoughtfulness of a life–my life-- that could be founded upon simple faith, and the music and the dramatic scenes allowed me a vision of something simpler, more immediate, less subtle and regretful. Unfortunately, I could not sustain the uplift past the sleep of the night, and I am my old anxious self in the morning, but maybe a little calmed and modified, in ways even I don’t yet notice. Now, which jacket to put on, how much money to put in my pocket, what face to arrange for the day .

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 13, 2010

Troubled dreams, though they seem mostly to be about a messy kitchen.

Pale lavender crocus in the grass.

Woke remembering catching myself singing “Zueignung” in the airport.

My father’s birthday. He would have been 91.

Excellent painting in the studio yesterday. Except a woman came in and watched me for a long time before I noticed her. I thought that was kind of romantic, until she said, “Do you know where I can find the glassblowers?”

Zack left me a guest pass to Bela Fleck at the Orange Peel. It was very crowded, but curiously not too crowded, for there was no jostling or impatience, and people had enough room to dance to the music in their little spaces. African pop music is, evidently, very low-key, homely, gentle. I did enjoy the feel and the happiness of the crowd, and now and then shoulders would part and I could see there were people on stage. I really am remarkably short. Wandered from the Orange Peel to the New French Bar, where I had a drink and chit-chat with the owner and with Cyrus, a former student, whose band was playing later than I would be able to endure. When I left the bar the rain was torrential, and I shambled back to the car trying to raise a shoulder against the oncoming spears of cold rain. I’d love Home as much as I love Away if I got out more.

Some bird outside sounds like the ringing of a phone. I’ve risen twice to answer.

Albee asked me how many plays I had written. I counted this morning for my own information: 35 full length, 37 one-act or shorter, as of today.

Evening: Eventful day. I painted through the morning. As I left the studio and drove W. Haywood, I was flagged down by a prostitute with money in her hand. A prostitute with money out, offering it to me, was peculiar enough that I stopped, and agreed to give her a ride to Hill Street, to the Hillside Projects. She wanted me to wait for her outside the crack house, but I declined. Never got the money. I checked the car to see if anything was missing when she left. It wasn’t. Had to account for my loathing of her. It wasn’t her profession, for which I have a kind of cautious respect. It was her, the idea she had that squalor was the real life of which other lifestyles were but deluded postponements.

Coffee with Cody, back from Texas to do a little theater here before he tries New York, as I think he should. It was a fascinating meeting. I understood better (or for the first time at all) some of the things that happened during Crown of Shadows. He is elusive but attractive to me. His elusiveness is not intentional, but because our minds work in very different ways. He has the makings of a great actor. He sees more obstacles to the fulfillment of that potential than anyone else would, perhaps more than are actually there. I think I could write great parts for him. He said dealing with my works was difficult for him. “Why?” I ask. He answers, “Because you write real people.”

Just returned from the wedding of Chall and Lucia at the Diana Wortham, presented as a play about their meeting and courtship. It was unique and delightful in every way, and I pray launches them into a land of enduring milk and honey. I was going to say they set the wedding bar very high, but my actual belief is that nobody around here will dare follow in their footsteps.
March 11, 2010

Purple crocus on the back terrace.

I receive a copy of Frank and my Cyclamen from ECS Publishing, my first published musical collaboration. I receive from Harold Bloom a hardback of The Sublime, which includes my essays on Whitman, Rilke, Shelley, my first bound-in-a-book literary criticism. I look at literary criticism like a neglected part of the yard, rich and promising, but it seemed I always had something better to do than tend to it. Plus, compared even with poetry and theater, the tides of fashion that tug at literary criticism are absurd and exhausting. But still, I look at the book and push new projects from my mind, quell excitement till a better time.

Spent yesterday working out and revising Bronzino’s Gaze according to impressions from the reading.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Houston 5

March 9, 2010

Intermittent sleep last night. I’d slept the sleep of inexplicable exhaustion through most of the afternoon, and I was revved up from the reading. It was one of those times when the acceptability of the prelude left no clue of the excellence of the main event. The reading of Bronzino’s Gaze went over spectacularly well. I was standing in the lobby beforehand when Edward Albee walked in with a protégé. Thankfully he did not remember me from before, and I set quick flame to earlier impressions, and we started over in a little huddle in the lobby. I mentioned that I have acted almost all of his plays, most recently Virginia Woolf, and that gave us something objective to talk about. “That is, of course, George’s play,” says he. He was sharp, engaged, luminously anecdotal. His protégé is writing a dissertation on Albee as Teacher, and had scars and evidence of a tracheotomy, as well as beautiful hair. It is terrifying to have Albee in the audience for one of your plays, but the terror had an excited edge. It turned out that he liked it very much, and at the talk-back defended it against opinion-givers whose opinions he thought misguided. When the dramaturg repeated my question of what speech or monolog could be left out, Albee said, “I’ll be damned if I know what it is.” The lyricism of my language was praised (I was sitting there thinking it was far too dry) and when the term “blow job” was objected to, Albee said to the objector, “You’re just upset because the blow job wasn’t live and performed on stage.” In any case, a far more satisfying outcome than I expected in the middle of the afternoon.

“What do you have coming up?” says I to Edward Albee. “Oh,” says he, “ a play called Me, Myself, and I in New York in September.” I said “I will be there.” And I will.

Nick, the young man sent to pick me up at the airport, was told to look for “Your dad, with red hair.” I found that rather dear.

Evening: There was snow on the north sides of the mountains as we approached Asheville. Everyone in Houston, when told I was from here, said, “Oh, that is beautiful country, isn’t it?” The arty ones said, “That’s really getting a name for itself as a center for the arts.” Does everyone believe this, or is it just what one says?

I have the feeling that my time in Houston was wildly successful. I’ll stop at that, no analysis, no second thoughts.

Houston 4

March 8, 2010

Rain against the high windows.

Trent in the Galleria confided in me, while pausing in ringing up my purchases, that his young life was not turning out the way he wanted, that he was trapped in retail while his heart belongs to psychology. His mother’s family is rich, and they thought he should be prepared to deal with that, so he went into finance in college, but there were no jobs. He is bitterness needing ten more years to flower. Maybe he can get out. I said “Get out, then,” and his eyes shifted the way they do when there are too many conveniences that must be left behind if you are to attain the Great Goal.

Met a woman in the hotel bar from Billings, Montana. Her husband has been dying since 1994, but they are in Houston because they never had a honeymoon and now they are having one, come to see some Country singer at the rodeo. “He has every disease there is,” she said, grasping the glass of whisky she was taking to him in their room. “It’s the only thing that keeps him alive.” She reminded me of Aunt Marian, of those elderly female relatives who have acquired a general and particular rhythm and tone through much rehearsal, turning into a kind of Chinese opera the tale of their hardships.

Richard was sitting at the bar again, and I was glad to see him, glad to have even a temporary friend in Texas. The Oscar pre-show had come on, so we talked about the movies. Why on earth this apparent interest in everybody’s gown? Burt Lancaster was his favorite.

Rehearsal in the afternoon for Bronzino’s Gaze at the Main Street Theater. I had the same odd impression I had the first few nights of rehearsal for The Beautiful Johanna: I could venture no kind of qualitative judgment. I didn’t know if the show was good. I couldn’t form a unified impression. Part of the reason for this is that the words seemed foreign to me. I remembered the circumstance of the writing well enough, but I couldn’t recognize the words as my own. It was very disorienting. I do wish I had not suggested British accents (most of the characters are, after all, British) because it’s coming off like a B-level episode of Masterpiece Theater. How much does an actor get paid for a reading? Enough to take notes from a playwright, whom they probably mistrust anyway? I don’t know if the play is good, though if someone said, “Well, compared to something else, how good is it?” I could say unblushingly “ten times better than what I saw last night, anyway.”

The weekend has been keenly labor-intensive on all sides, and I will be changing, after it, something I knew was wrong when I reread the piece last week prior to coming. What was the use? Meeting new people and seeing new places? Yes, that, primarily, yet who knows what is coming? I did get breakthrough thoughts for Voices on the plane. I am considering a play which I’ve barely considered since I typed the last period, and I do know now it deserved more than that.

Susan volunteered to pick me up after the rehearsal. She was very anxious that I have someplace nice to wait for her, so on our cell phones she had me walking all over to cafes which turned out to be closed, until she was satisfied with Bell Park. I waited there for her, cold, the rain impending, a derelict asleep on a bench under a camo tarp. With my heel I demolished a rotten tree stump, thinking–I realized in the midst of it– that such an action would bind me a little to the life of that little space.

Afternoon: Completed an interview at KUHF FM on the University of Houston campus. The questions were interesting; here’s hoping the answers were too.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Houston 3

March 7, 2010

Sunday morning, and the traffic on the highway below is sparse.

Met EE and learned a little of the structure of Wordsmyth Theater. We went to an opening at Archway Gallery somewhere in Montrose. They had hit on the brilliant idea of bussing kids in from somewhere, and the room was merry with teenagers taking photos and pointing at details. I followed two boys for a while to see what they were noticing. They were noticing anomalies or surprises, like the word “bird” stenciled on the painting of an egret, a tower of old band instruments serving as a fountain. The Archway is a collective, and the art competent and undistinguished, except for some exquisite antiquity-inspired pottery by a man named Kim.

When I meet people I usually try to compare them with people I know, but EE eluded this operation, being totally unlike anybody I know, and I think we would be friends if I were going to be more than a weekend in Houston. She began the Wordsmyth–well, I haven’t figured out exactly why, but I think, like me with Black Swan, in trying to grasp toward something she hoped would reveal itself in the process. She is a horrifying driver.

E and her friend Susan and I attended a play at the Midtown Arts Center. The producing agency was called Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company, and it seems like Houston theater companies vie with each other for colorful names: Infernal Bridegroom Productions, Catastrophic Theater, Theatre Collide The play was Flu Season by Will Eno. It was well acted and well produced. The play was about the making of a play, about the sad power of the playwright to create something out of nothing. Unfortunately, THIS play opted to stay put at “nothing.” Well written in an arty, second-string Absurdist way, it offered plies of knowing ironies (it is a solemn autumn full of golden light, or maybe not. . . whatever) which, like a pie in the face, were amusing only in the moment of commitment. It undercut whatever minimal (and exhausted) plot there was by having TWO choruses remind us that what we were seeing was a mere fiction of the omnipotent playwright, changeable at his whim. The play invited intellectual approval of its wit, while forbidding emotional involvement. The actors were good to watch, especially Bobby Haworth as the Epilogue, whose job it was to call into question everything the Prologue had just said. But I wondered if I was the only audience member who groaned inwardly when the fifteen minute intermission was announced, and it was not actually the end.

I have heard myself say there is no such thing as bad sex. I can almost say the same about a thing I like almost as well: there may be bad theater, but there have been very few nights when I would rather not have gone. Last night was not one of them. It still gets a “Pass.”

I wanted to say to the girl on the plane, “You don’t serve Christ by talking about him.” I wanted to say to the clever playwright, “You don’t serve drama by talking about it.”:

Took it into my head to exhaust The Galleria, to see every bit of it on a Sunday morning. It defeated me. I did get a chair massage. There were three strapping Chinese lads waiting, but I got grandma. Turned out that grandma beat the shit out of me, It was grand. They kept talking in Mandarin or whatever it was over my head. It’s strangely restful not to know what anyone is talking about.

EE said, “My father thinks that all art by women is, by definition, male-bashing. But he adds that mine is not as bad as some."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Houston 2

March 6, 2010

Cooling my heels while the Filipino lady fluffs my pillows.

Walked last night, discovering that the Galleria– which I took to be an Arts District of some kind– is a shopping mall. But, it was a happy place, with a skating rink, and a Fossil where I replaced my demolished carry-on bag. An Israeli girl gave me a free sample which I thought was candy when I put it into my mouth. It was soap. Hit the hotel lounge, where I met Richard Parrish, a big, bright-eyed Wyoming boy who is now “Director of Business Analytics” at Key Energy Services, Inc. He lives in the hotel across the street, preferring a hotel to a bachelor’s house (his estranged family is back in Wyoming) and comes to the Sheraton for cocktails. I learned huge amounts about the University of Wyoming in the 70's, and huger amounts about the multi-layered petroleum business. He used a martini glass to illustrate how a well is driven straight down, and then the pipe is extended sideways into the actual oil deposit, and sandy water is used to. . . do something. . . which gets the oil flowing into the pipe. He is very valuable to the organization for, though he is an accountant, he also understands the mechanics of the business. Apparently the big oil companies out-source nearly everything, and his is one of those they out-source to. I feel a little inadequate, wondering if he now knows as much about writing as I do about oil.

Richard pointed out the direction of Montrose, and I lit out for it first thing in the morning. I have the following distinction: in 1981 or perhaps 1980, when I was in Houston for the MLA convention, I walked to Montrose from downtown. Today I walked to Montrose from the Galleria. So have I now walked from the Galleria to downtown, though the trip took me thirty years and I started at both ends and ended up in the middle. Today’s trip was considerably farther than I wanted to go when I started out and, unlike the former time, I had to walk back as well. But I was happy: it was a bright day in a new city. My ears first and then my eyes returned to me a vivid image from all those years ago: grackles rustling amid the leathery leaves of magnolias. Bright-edged image of a grackle shining in a parking lot on the evening I walked to Montrose from the other direction, one of the last days of the year, thirty years ago. I went to Mary’s Bar then. I couldn’t find Mary’s this time, but the memories came flooding back. Underwear hung from the ceiling, the custom being that any man who wore underwear would have it removed at the door. I bought but one drink when I fell in with a group of men who had planned an orgy, and needed, apparently, but me to complete the number. We went to their apartment, where five or six of us melted into the undifferentiated, ecstatic pile that was possible in the great innocence before the plague. Neighbors espied us from their balcony and joined the fun. The apartment complex seemed to be all male and all gay. Two singled me out in particular. The blond whose name I forget I nevertheless remember for his tenderness and standard, Hollywood issue physical beauty. John, though, I remember most vividly. He wore leather, and kept a leather harness on when otherwise naked. He was older, with a little gray in his close-cropped hair. His body was forceful, strong, rough where the others were tender, but tender itself in its own way. His spirit was a little sad. He kept returning to me, and I kept receiving him. He drove me back to my hotel that night, and named me the thing he would change in his life if I would stay with him.

I did not get a job offer at that MLA, and my failure professionally and my success (repeated elsewhere over the next few nights) erotically made me wonder if I had chosen the wrong path, if academics were perhaps not right for me while. . . something else was. I don’t know that this perception was askew, but in any case it was not that path I followed. Of course one wonders, does John remember me? Is John even among the living? Every one of those I-don’t-remember-how-many happy boys could be lost, or running antique stores, or beyond recognition.

Snapdragons and marigolds bloom in the cement planters on the streets. Roses–all a mysterious dark red–push through the slats of fences.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Houston 1

March 5, 2010

Asheville Regional Airport. A man speaks broad Scots into his cell phone. A girl plays with a stuffed giraffe. I arrived so early I walked back to my car in the parking lot and bade it goodbye again after I checked in.

On I-26, I was in the right lane, a white van athwart me in the left. Suddenly a dark green van swept around the white van on my left, on ITS left, raising a dust from the dividing grass. It narrowly missed the white van and then narrowly missed me trying to settle into a lane. The green van stopped in the left lane and almost made the white van crash into it. I looked into my rearview mirror and saw the vans stopped side by side on the highway, blocking both southbound lanes, their headlights flashing. As long as I looked in the mirror, until the turn-off to the airport, I saw no vehicles that had moved around the vans and on their way.

I feel sad for my cats to be four days without me. I feel sad for my car sitting among strangers in the Long Term parking. I anthropomorphize frantically.

Ninth floor of the Sheraton Galleria, Houston. It’s a suite. I have two TVs. I see a sparse city and a teeming highway from my window. The flight from Atlanta was inconsequential (which means I slept all the way) but the flight between Asheville and Atlanta was strangely horrible. I sat beside a charming 19 year-old African American girl, who’s taking distance courses in some bible college I had not heard of, and who was grasping a textbook on Apologetics. We had ordinary chit-chat for a while, and I thought she was sweet and eager, but then she launched, before I realized what had happened, into what can only be called cult-speak, an as-fast-as-possible, never-take-a-breath outpouring of mingled Sunday School faith, shoddy scholarship, murderous bigotry, innocent misunderstanding, cheerful deception, radiant self-satisfaction, all with the open exuberance of a ten-year-old-with a new toy. There was, literally, no break in her presentation from lift-off to the first announcement of the approach of Atlanta . My left ear ached. Even when the engines roared or the stewardess made an announcement, she didn’t pause. It was like the constant chatter of Satan in Lewis’s Perelandra, I’d at first thought she was just eager to share her new learning, but I realized, with a mingling of resentment and sadness, that I was being witnessed to–no, no, far worse; I was being mind-raped by a cultist who-- though her understanding of Christianity was, at best, idiosyncratic-- was flawless at the instruments of brainwash. She was a cultist, and I was the–very unlikely–mark. It was sort of interesting to analyze the rhetoric as it flowed, as much as one could, it being specifically designed not to let the mind dwell too long or too critically on any one point. I would have tolerated all that had it been presented as an expression of faith, but the argument tried to cover too many bases at once, pretending at once to be scientific and above science, to be logical and outside logic, to be experiential while denying all experience but a that of a very select number– Saint Paul, it pretty much came down to, though Paul himself has to be made equal with Christ in order for that to be accomplished, The few observations I attempted early on, when I thought we were in an ordinary conversation, were met with a clearly pre-prepared response, which need not be adequate because it was an improvisation to lead to the next rote point. The presentation was specifically designed not to allow scrutiny of individual points, and absurdities, factual errors, passages of breathtaking bigotry were inserted as lightning bolts of superior insight, or instantly passed over that they might blend seamlessly with the hermeneutics of the whole. I might have considered the argument–as I did for maybe two minutes–if it hadn’t been so preposterously misinformed, error or bible-speak emerging, as if some self-destructive compulsion, even in sentences which might otherwise have past the truth test. When a creed presents itself as all-encompassing and infallible, even one error is negation. But it wasn’t a creed. . . it was a weapon. It’s not something you believe, it’s white noise to justify a belief unexamined or fearfully doubted in the inner self. I wonder if it crossed her mind, even for a second, that her actions were Satanic, whatever her impulse might have been? I gathered that she was trying to convert me, The bible does suggest that innocent faith confounds the wisdom of the wise, but here there was neither innocence nor faith, but a parody, a violent burlesque of the wisdom of the wise, meaning to pass for it, to supplant it with impassioned ignorance. At the end, when I was clearly looking away, and had been for ten minutes, she said, “I’m sorry if I bored you.” I said “You didn’t bore me,” but what I meant was that boredom was way down the list of horrified responses.

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 4, 2010

Dim blue light over the snow. Isaac on the CD. Icicles stream down Caroline’s roof gutters.

The last few have been among those when I have felt remarkable physically– limber as a boy, ache-less, energized, as though it were thirty tears ago. No idea what causes it or how it passes, but shall wallow in it while it’s here.

Of Bogs and Books reading group in suburban Chicago will be looking at Bird Songs of the Mesozoic at their April 10 meeting. It happens at a place called Volo Bog, which, from the Internet, looks like paradise.

B posts a photo of me at the Bobo the other night, Casey’s arm around my shoulder, MM’s eyes shut against the flash. I look happy. I often work up a smile for photos, but this time I look happy.

Steaming away on Voices, one of those lucky pieces which, once I find the groove, writes itself.
March 2, 2010

Housekeeping note: Murphy’s oil soap will, eventually, remove dried and petrified cat vomit from leather furniture.

Soft sifting of snow, darkly light under the darkish clouds.

Seeing the bands at Bobo the other night has lifted my spirits considerably. I need to go out more. I need to worry about my own work, as that of others progresses just fine without a constant infusion of anxiety from me.

Now, enormous snow, burying the world. Classes were cancelled ten minutes before mine began. Miraculously, all my students got the word.

Listening to “alternative” rock on the internet radio. Shocking recognition that it is a better accompaniment to writing than the classical music that I always, always played when I was not wrapping myself in silence.

Every ten years or so I remake myself. Perhaps the time is now upon me.

Monday, March 1, 2010


March 1, 2010

Shivered my way downtown last night, to the Bobo Gallery, for an evening of new local bands. The first had a Central European feel, with a fantastic male vocalist and, I think, enormous possibilities. The violinist didn’t realize he was playing out of tune, but with all the exuberance round about, it didn’t make much difference. The second act was a girl with an amplified violin. I wasn’t sure how she made the sound she was making, but the result was a sort of Sino-Appalachian feel that, solidified, could be commanding. I’d gone for the sake of the third band, Poor Mouth, because Casey and MM are playing in it. The out-of-tune violinist appeared there, too, as a sort of bossy auteur whose presence was the one flaw of the night. But Poor Mouth, when it finally got through whatever preparations it was making behind the wall of backs, was rough in all the best ways, passionate, sweet, cacophonous, sloppy, vital, wonderful. I was so proud looking at Casey, and MM on his unexpected, transported vocals. I’m used to thinking all types of love are pretty much the same at root; what I felt last night was tilted towards pride, and the most joyful perception of the triumph of one’s friends. I walked out into the night smiling. Poor Mouth is very like the Pogues, though without the ruinousness that haunted them, undamaged, and, if possible, more eclectic. Bobo itself was a revelation. The too-big-for-the-room crowd was there to consume art, in the most serious, supportive, and discriminating manner. We ancients are tempted to lament that those behind us have no feel for culture, but that would have been an idiotic prejudice; it would have been difficult to find a room more intent on the building of culture, more respectful of art and artists, more determined to enjoy what was laid before them. I felt honored to be among them. Many of my students were there, and I counted each one a victory. I left wondering how to add that energy to my own work, how to have people standing at the edge of the stage, laughing, eyes gleaming, waiting for me to begin.