25 May 2006

The Name of My Novel is Novel

To say where it all begins is to lessen the fact that it happened. I had been living in an apartment with two of my closest friends and business partners, while running a small used bookstore. We got along quite well the three of us, Sky, Ben and myself. We were always of a mind to get a few bottles of wine, or whatever seemed appropriate for the evening, and drink the night away pounding on one or another typewriters that were always present and always in need of some maintenance. We would pass the machine back and forth across a small card table set up in the middle of the room, which always seemed to be covered in ashtrays and half full wine bottles, a stack of books one or the other of us had taken home from the store. It was a rather small studio apartment and all of us basically lived in a large room along with a psychotic cat and an indifferent, depressed iguana. There was a kitchen with a defective sink with a short basin that would clog up and overflow if you tried to wash dishes in it, as well as a small bathroom with concrete floors and a large, ominous claw-foot bathtub sitting against the wall. The apartment was on the third floor of one of those older buildings that at one time had been a hotel of ill-repute, and had large, open beamed ceilings on the first floor where any number of businesses have come and gone over the years. You find these buildings in all cities from the megalopolis to the small trading burg in the middle of nowhere. The men who built these buildings did so in order to make their cities grow, to make their wallets swell with money and for prestige to lay its’ wreathe upon their necks. In an attempt to make their personal empires grow, these men built their buildings and their cities on the edges of the continent, in port towns along both coasts, on the plains in the juncture of railroad lines, anywhere there was money to be made. The city of Olympia is no different, and is quite small. It is at the ass-end of the Puget Sound, on of the last ports before crossing into Oregon and California. A port town attracts the same type of men and women, the sailors and seamen of bygone days who lived, and still do, amongst the waves rather than on the land, and who would venture only as far on shore as to be able to have a clear view of the harbor and another boat to take them away to distant ports where they again became nameless and faceless, just another sailor with no history, but a long and adventurous, if slightly exaggerated, story trailing behind them where ever they went. Port cities, even Olympia, were inhabited by sailors worthy of Melville and whores not even the old western novels could convince you existed, but they were also inhabited by hard stock, sturdy folk from the upper reaches of the Hudson Valley, from Minnesota and the environs surrounding the bread basket of America, the Dutch and Irish immigrants who had at first, a generation before, stepped in the footsteps of their fathers and mothers, their grandparents, lived and suffered in the great cities of the East Coast, had been slaved into poverty in Boston and New York, broken in the humid heat of North and South Carolina, and finally wanted to escape from the drudgery of a still fresh, if decomposing New World. They sought after richer lands where farms still grew in abundance and life could be lived on a steadier pace without the reminders of the hustle and bustle of large cities that swallow your soul whole and leave you tired and broken at the end of it all. They sought this kind of freedom here on the West Coast, and they found it to a degree, but they also found that the rough edges of a city were as yet honed compared to the scarred coasts of Washington and Oregon and California, and here I think most specifically of Big Sur and its churning, blasted coast line that cuts into your mind and leaves you breathless before the magnificence of this unfinished landscape where God seems to have left off and not returned. And so it is Olympia where these forces and people met in direct opposition to each other, and where I found myself. The studio apartment housed the three of us, the cat and an iguana I had adopted from a close friend who could no longer take care of it, and was going to set it free in the desert. We were a motley bunch, drunks with passion and the sharp clear edge of our tongues to bite at the bit and the hand that fed us. Being young, we often ventured into the bars early in the evening and did not leave until the last call had been made and the bartenders had told us to leave. We would stumble out into the night and walk down the road the stone’s throw away we lived where we would open the last bottle of wine and turn the music up loud enough to hear it from the street down below. There was no end to what we threw out the window on nights like these, usually accompanied by a few friends eager to ingratiate themselves with the wine bottle while we were busy causing trouble.

There are a series of what seem to me endless nights, though they have ended and are long gone, like the memories we have of childhood which are ever-present yet altered by time and age; nights where we ingested one drug or another to stimulate further our deranged minds; nights filled with the swirling colors and melting walls of hallucinogenic mushrooms or LSD, or some powdered substance or another that would make our thoughts race along at dangerous speeds. There was always pot smoke mingling with cigarette smoke, and a cloud of electrons spinning madly through our altered minds. At times, the walls of our studio would seem to vanish, to become translucent, and suddenly we could see out onto the street, and still further beyond towards Seattle and down to Portland. The dimensions of Time and Space seemed brittle before these visions and you would find yourself roaming somewhere over the Pacific, or perhaps standing on the peak of an unnamed mountain on an uncharted continent still filled with magic and mystery mingling with the morning dew. Standing thus upon the edge of an undiscovered country at the end of the world, we failed to realize we stood on the very edges of our childhoods, on the verge of becoming adults. It seems so naïve looking back to not have seen what was coming, not to have heard the bell as it tolled for us, but there we stood looking down on all of creation and not realizing we were so close to the Fall, the final steps out of the Garden.
The night has grown long on me and now, from my vantage point, I see the drunks start to roam their drunken way up the hill and out of downtown, trying to thumb a ride as they have always done and will always do until Time deems it necessary to end and the world and everything we have known are gone and turned to dust. So much has changed and so much will always stay the same. I am still the last one to trail off to sleep at night, pounding away on my typewriter while my friends have moved along in other directions or been forced to by circumstance. It seems I have not changed, am still the person I was then, though a bit older, a bit more cynical. I wonder at times like these whether it is not my defect, rather than theirs, which has kept me in this place and in this way; whether I might not be the broken one who will never change, but become a traveler by necessity and a stranger to all those I have loved and left behind as I stand still. As it always does, spring has brought out in me a sense of desperation and futility that all life is but what you make of it, and I am doing a rather poor job of it. I have always felt I was on the edge of something, moments away from plunging off and out of sight, that something would happen to radically alter my being, but then nothing happens, or I am too dense to notice it until long after the fact. As the air warms and the flowers start to bloom, a seed, a simple thought begins to grow in my mind and I am overcome with a sense of sadness that beckons me into the past to stare at all the works of man and realize my small place amongst them, amidst the past and the future, which are no different, and realize there is no point to history or the universe; that the cosmos simply churns along, a blind gurgling river of truth and not-truth containing the seed to every action and the germ of every thought; that there is no other point to the simple sufferings we make ourselves endure other than the desire to feel something and tell ourselves that we are strong and the world is right; that Heaven and Hell are where they ought to be; that the heavens hold for men what they have always held for men: the possibility of something greater, more meaningful, more true than even the most vivid dream that is remembered long after you have woken, remembered long after you have slept and dreamt a thousand different dreams, becoming the quintessential, absolute state of dreaming ever afterwards.

09 May 2006

Thoughts on a Train...

Riding the train to California. I feel apprehension at seeing her again after so long. I wonder if this won't be good-bye and so long, whether this will only lead to more doubts of self and purpose, whether I won't give up everything for her and the promise of something with more flash and excitement. Part of me wants nothing more than to stay gone, never return to Olympia.

But I know well enough there are demons wherever you go- especially when you carry them with you. I want to be free and wandering the back alleys of the world like Miller, although I know he wasn't free from doubt and fear...the same way Kerouac was never free, but hounded by his demons through novel after novel, ultimately drinking himself to death while watching the Galloping Gourmet on his mother's color television.

No, they weren't free from gravity or passions or the bodily urges to piss and shit and vomit their souls out; weren't separate from death and only achieved immortality through the repetion of empty words as invocations of lives and deaths and myths and metaphors and ellipses...

My thoughts trail off and I stare out the window as dirt roads trail off to someplace I wish I could follow. A small creek winds its way down past the railroad tracks, full with the spring's rain. It's gray outside my window, the light diffusing over the trees, casting my thoughts with melancholic hues. In less than a day I will be in San Francisco, home to a girl, rather a woman, I love and fear. I wonder how close we can be? How far apart we have become in these last two months; whether we can rekindle some thing that was in jeapardy of dying before she left.

06 May 2006

My Self

The truth of the self comes in the form of slights and faints, shadow glimpses caught in the flicker of light by the window, and in the blink of an eye. The self comes, as if out of nowhere, and disappears just as quickly. And how it seems to elude your attempts to study it. And still, it is all around you, at all times, making the motions you use to search and never find your self. I have searched in countless books and studied, if only poorly, hundreds of people, yet can see no comparison between them, as though they were completely different species of men. They come from different realities not unlike the one I inhabit, yet they are different as night and day.

I am coming to realize the fiction of man, that it is men and women who are the shallow, two-dimensional creations of a poor author. Those who inhabit the realm of books, bounded by the margins on the page, and locked away in dusty, unread volumes for years without hope of escaping the black and white contours of their existence, are more real to me than the man who asks me for a cigarette on the street as I walk by, more real than the woman who looks up from her book in the coffee shop to glance in my direction as I pass her table on my way down the street.

Even my own life comes to resemble the architecture of a novel. Set to the bland, often meaningless track of my thoughts, I realize it seems nothing like a good novel at all, and I the poor author who fails to breathe the gift of life into himself and his creations. I fall off the elusive moment into a litany of small sufferings that never end, never allow me a chance to find my balance before plunging off in another erratic direction. I feel the gyroscope of my self falling forwards and backwards and down so many times I imagine the inside of my thoughts to be black and blue; so bruised and bloodied and benumbed by aching spasms my thoughts are nothing more than a weak and unsatisfying wine distilled out of the blood and bones held loosely together by the carapace of my head.

Thus, the weary and encrusted pustule of my mind leaks like a sieve the thoughts I would save for the right moment to marry to words and paper. Even this elusive, narrative jargon of half-thoughts and lost images becomes a canvas of my self, a broken mosaical monstrosity of attempted and aborted undertakings caught for a split second in the blink of the eye; an image out of nowhere, gone again to the mysteries and meanings I neither remember, nor need. The drunken, mad wailings of my thoughts for the underlining structure of my self, the inquisitive eye turned inwards and out, are nothing more than minor quakes of the mind, the gasping for air while in the death throes and last rites long before the end, long before the tectonic shifting of my thoughts, the cataclysmic earth shaker devouring all and sundry.

It is the habit of people to believe themselves a part of a grand and unique (his)story rich in meaning and cause, while secretly fearing the worst; a horrible seed of doubt growing in the mind disclaiming any and all foolish ideas or beliefs, and they are all foolish. The temples and altars we have constructed over the centuries within our minds to reflect the elusive figure in the mirror will fall into dust and disappear beneath the earth, covered over by newer, more alien structures we cannot even imagine...