May 24, 2015

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.


Travels with Charley: In Search of America
By John Steinbeck

"During the previous winter I had become rather seriously ill with one of those carefully named difficulties which are the whispers of approaching age. When I came out of it I received the usual lecture about slowing up, losing weight, limiting the cholesterol intake. It happens to many men, and I think doctors have memorized the litany. It happened to so many of my friends. The lecture ends, "Slow down. You're not as young as you once were." And I had seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this they are encouraged by wives and relatives, and it's such a sweet trap.
Who doesn't like to be a center for concern? A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby. I knew that ten or twelve thousand miles driving a truck, alone and unattended, over every kind of road, would be hard work, but to me it represented the antidote for the poison of the professional sick man. And in my own life I am not willing to trade quality for quantity. If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It's bad theater as well as bad living."
(pp. 17-8)

May 17, 2015

In the end, we were more alike than not, and gravitated toward each other, however wide the breach.

Just Kids
By Patti Smith

Just Kids is the most beautiful tribute to someone I've ever read. I finished it this morning, and have been thinking about it all day. I listened to Horses for the first time while I made dinner. Just me and my thoughts and the music. It felt appropriate and I loved it in a way I don't think I could have before. I'm sad, but in complete awe. So incredible are the connections human beings can create with one another if they want to, if they're open, if it's meant to be. What a gift that Patti could capture hers with Robert this way to share with others.

"We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad. Through the years these roles would reverse, then reverse again, until we came to accept our dual natures. We contained opposing principles, light and dark."
(p. 9)

"Our social differences, however exasperating, were tinged with love and humor. In the end, we were more alike than not, and gravitated toward each other, however wide the breach. We weathered all things, large and small, with the same vigor. To me, Robert and I were irrevocably entwined, like Paul and Elisabeth, the sister and brother in Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles. We played similar games, declared the most obscure object treasure, and often puzzled friends and acquaintances by our indefinable devotion.
He had been chided for denying his homosexuality; we were accused of not being a real couple. In being open about his homosexuality, he feared our relationship would be destroyed.
We needed time to figure out what all of this meant, how we were going to come to terms and redefine what our love was called. I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth."
(p. 200)

On Robert shooting the album cover for Horses:

"The light was already fading. He had no assistant. We never talked about what we would do, or what it would look like. He would shoot it. I would be shot.
I had my look in mind. He had his light in mind. That is all.
Sam's apartment was spartan, all white and nearly empty, with a tall avocado tree by the window overlooking Fifth Avenue. There was a massive prism that refracted the light, breaking it into rainbows cascading on the wall across from a white radiator. Robert placed me by the triangle. His hands trembled slightly as he readied to shoot. I stood.
The clouds kept moving back and forth. Something happened with his light meter and he became slightly agitated. He took a few shots. He abandoned the light meter. A cloud went by and the triangle disappeared. He said, "You know, I really like the whiteness of the shirt. Can you take the jacket off?"
I flung my jacket over my shoulder, Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow.
"It's back," he said.
He took a few more shots.
"I got it."
"How do you know?"
"I just know."
He took twelve pictures that day.
Within a few days he showed me the contact sheet. "This one has the magic," he said.
When I look at it now, I never see me. I see us."
(pp. 250-251)

It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods.




Just Kids
By Patti Smith

"Yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up."
(p. 104)

It didn't matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language.


Just Kids
By Patti Smith

"I was always hungry. I metabolized my food quickly. Robert could go without eating much longer than me. If we were out of money we just didn't eat. Robert might be able to function, even if he got a little shaky, but I would feel like I was going to pass out. One drizzly afternoon I had a hankering for one of those cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches. I went through our belongings and found exactly fifty-five cents, slipped on my gray trench coat and Mayakovsky cap, and headed to the Automat.
I got my tray and slipped in my coins but the window wouldn't open. I tried again without luck and then I noticed the price had gone up to sixty-five cents. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I heard a voice say, "Can I help?"
I turned around and it was Allen Ginsberg. We had never met but there was no mistaking the face of one of our great poets and activists. I looked into those intense dark eyes punctuated by his dark curly beard and just nodded. Allen added the extra dime and also stood me to a cup of coffee. I wordlessly followed him to his table, and then plowed into the sandwich.
Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. "Are you a girl? he asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Is that a problem?"
He just laughed. "I'm sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy."
I got the picture immediately.
"Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?"
"No, enjoy it. It was my mistake."
He told me he was writing a long elegy for Jack Keruoac, who had recently passed away. "Three days after Rimbaud's birthday," I said. I shook his hand and we parted company.
Sometime later Allen became my good friend and teacher. We often reminisced about our first encounter and he once asked how I would describe how we met. "I would say you fed me when I was hungry," I told him. And he did."
(pp. 122-123)

"I was excited to go. I put on my straw hat and walked downtown, but when I got there, I couldn't bring myself to go in. By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and grinned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed softly and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn't matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.
"The language of peace. You dig?" I did.
I can't remember if I actually went into the studio, but Jimi never accomplished his dream. In September I went with my sister and Annie to Paris. Sandy Daley had an airline connection and helped us get cheap tickets. Paris had already changed in a year, as had I. It seemed as if the whole of the world was slowly being stripped of innocence. Or maybe I was seeing a little too clearly.
As we walked down the boulevard Montparnasse I saw a headline that filled me with sorrow: Jimi Hendrix est mort. 27 ans. I knew what the words meant.
Jimi Hendrix would never have the chance to return to Woodstock to create a universal language. He would never again record at Electric Lady. I felt that we had all lost a friend. I pictured his back, the embroidered vest, and his long legs as he went up the stairs and out into the world for the last time."
(pp. 168-170)

"Janis spent most of the party with a good-looking guy she was attracted to, but just before closing time he ducked out with one of the prettier hangers-on. Janis was devastated. "This always happens to me, man. Just another night alone," she sobbed on Bobby's shoulder.
Bobby asked me to get her to the Chelsea and to keep an eye on her. I took Janis back to her room, and sat with her while she bemoaned her fate. Before I left, I told her that I'd made a little song for her, and sang it to her.

I was working real hard
To show the world what I could do
Oh I guess I never dreamed 
I'd have to
World spins some photographs
How I love to laugh when the crowd laughs
While love slips through
A theatre that is full
But oh baby
When the crowd goes home
And I turn in and I realize I'm alone
I can't believe
I had to sacrifice you

She said, "That's me, man. That's my song." As I was leaving, she looked in the mirror, adjusting her boas. "How do I look, man?"
"Like a pearl," I answered. "A pearl of a girl."


May 16, 2015

The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them.




Bridge of Sighs
By Richard Russo

"The line of gray along the horizon is brighter now, and with the coming light I feel a certainty: that there is, despite our wild imaginings, only one life. The ghostly others, no matter how real they seem, no matter how badly we need them, are phantoms. The one life we're left with is sufficient to fill and refill our imperfect hearts with joy, and then to shatter them. And it never, ever lets up. Blame love."
(p. 463)

I'm 25 and continually overwhelmed by endless possibilities, this or that decision, deep impassioned attraction(s), yearning. And faced by the growing understanding that there are a million and one decisions I will have to make, am making, every day of my life, but there is only one path. In the end, I'll have to make peace with it. This book gave me such a rich, layered experience, and there's so much more I want to say about it but won't/can't, for now.

May 13, 2015

It is the nature of some things to remain locked away for the simple reason that revealing them serves no earthly purpose.



Bridge of Sighs
By Richard Russo

Oh, this book made me feeeel. My friend knows me so well. More on those feelings another time.

"It is the nature of some things, I believe, to remain locked away for the simple reason that revealing them serves no earthly purpose. For instance, I've never told anyone, even Sarah, what my father confided to me when he was ill. I've wanted to. His secret has weighed heavily on me, especially these last few years. I tell myself that he didn't mean I shouldn't tell Sarah, whom he loved and whose kind heart he trusted. But his instructions were "Don't tell nobody," and so I haven't. I've told no one that when my father entered the voting booth each Election Day, he stayed there for as long as he judged it would take to complete a ballot, then returned his to its protective sleeve, unmarked. Unable or unwilling to follow my mother's advice, he wasn't confident enough of his own conclusions to act on them. He felt the burden of democratic responsibility and believed that decisions of such magnitude should not rest with men like him. Because he was a proud American, he knew he had the right to vote. But he also knew he had the right not to, and he exercised both of these rights each Election Day.
Have I kept this secret so long because I'm ashamed of him, as my mother would've been if she'd known? Or because it would break Sarah's heart to hear it? Or because it broke my own, to know that he considered voting to be something for my mother, and later for me, but not for him? I don't know, but his secret is mine to keep, and so I will. I am not Buddy Nurt. I don't mine humiliation for gold. That said, what then can be the point of telling my story? Why scan the past for the shapes and meanings it surrenders so reluctantly if you mean to suppress some and exaggerate others?
But is the living of life so different from the telling of it? Do we not, a hundred times a day, decide not to bear witness? Do we not deny and suppress even at the level of instinct?"
(pp. 218-9)

"Is it any wonder our adult lives should be so haunted? Over and over we go up and down the alley between the theater and the dime store, as my mother and I did today, moving through space, yes, but also through time, meeting ourselves, as Owen always says, coming and going."
(p. 220)

April 26, 2015

We shared, all of us, a powerful sense that what was at stake on those crowded stairs was nothing less than the rest of our lives.


Bridge of Sighs
By Richard Russo

"The terrible anticipation began on the stairs when, if someone tripped or an adult appeared on the first landing in an attempt to slow the throng surging upward like water through the damaged hull of a ship, the stairway would jam, desire and anxiety and unbearable hope momentarily thwarted, delaying by eternities our emergence into the gym, into Mystery itself, where the music--we could hear it in there in the stairwell--had already begun to play. Once, stalled in this fashion, I happened to look at the girl next to me, and when our eyes met, I saw that hers were full of tears. Possibly she was simply afraid of being crushed. She'd been separated from her friends, and though we couldn't move forward, those below continued to press upward, causing everyone in the stairwell, our feet locked in place, to lean forward, our hands pressing for balance into the backs of those on the next-higher step. In a matter of moments we were stacked there like semi-toppled dominoes.
That's one explanation. But I recognized this girl as a fellow East Ender and think now that her eyes had simply filled up with pent-up anticipation. She was imagining her friends already upstairs, dancing without her, getting so far ahead that she'd never catch up. By the time she joined them, the boy she'd been thinking about all week, whose eyes she'd met across the crowded cafeteria, who was too popular--admit it--to be a realistic aspiration, would already be taken. We shared, all of us, a powerful sense that what was at stake on those crowded stairs was nothing less than the rest of our lives, that our every move in that gymnasium had an unimaginable significance, that we were being watched, judged, elected or damned. Slow down, we were being told at home and at school, you've got your whole lives ahead of you. But to get stalled in that stairwell was to understand how little time there was, and how fast it was wasting."
(pp. 124-5)