Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A (Lack of) Vision Statement

Back in the dark ages of 2005 when I started to blog, almost on a whim, as I do most things, I think (although I am not sure) that my intent was to talk about the past as I partook of it, or witnessed it. I guess that would be sort of my vision statement, which, like those of most companies, ignored the real motives, which in my case was to do something to alleviate the boredom of living in small-city Alabama, and in the companies’ case, to make a heap o’ cash. This latter aim, I hasten to say, was my purpose in being in Alabama in the first place, but had nothing to do with the blog. And the main two reasons that living in small-city Alabama was boring was because I was relatively new there and had no connections, and more importantly, because I am a person who just sits around and is bored, rather than one who seizes the opportunity to explore my surroundings and make new friends.  It has nothing to do with the blandishments, or lack thereof, that Alabama offers.

As a vision or goal, this writing about What Happened has wavered some and has glowed mighty dim sometimes. Sometimes I get caught up in what is going on now, and sometimes I get caught up in issues, neither of which areas brings out the best in me, and both of which seem to extinguish for the moment my interest in what has gone before. I most emphatically do not want to blog as a diary of what I did today, and equally I do not want to talk about issues all the time, since when one does that, readers (sometimes even readers as bright and insightful as my Shaggers, all two of them) tend to snap into their pre-existing belief set and read only to agree, if they are so bent, or to nitpick if they are of a different view. Moreover, what could I possibly say that makes any difference?

It may or may not surprise anyone, considering the paucity of my entries lately, that I actually blog mentally several times each day. In the last day or two I have written a mental blog about a great blue heron which spent hours yesterday progressing majestically through and around my pond (Damn! they are big!) and about the ponds themselves, and about watching closely a video of Bush at Ground Zero and obsessing over how easily and naturally he kept his arm across the shoulder of the man in the hardhat (head cop? head fireman?) throughout his remarks via bullhorn and how different he is as a person from me in a way that makes me wish I had some of him in my make-up, and about buying my brother Luke his first computer (with his money, I hasten to add), and about my trip to Las Vegas with my former roommate from Saudi, and about my forthcoming trip to my niece’s wedding in California whither I am travelling by train.

I have not actually considered, until this moment, why the few who come here do so. Y’all have given me some very flattering comments, and since the majority of the tiny crew of readers who do come have been around for a very long time, I have to believe that some of it is true. It can’t ONLY be because then I’ll come and visit you, can it? That would seem too high a price for you to pay. I try to write as well as I can – at least in respect to using the English language I grew up with – although I hasten to admit there is no re-write or polish (or very little anyway – I do usually spellcheck, and in the good old fashioned way, by rereading, at which time I also check if my sentences actually make sense). No, I am not fishing here for compliments; I was just struck that I actually have never before thought about WHY such folks as jeankfl and onebeam and flooz and mizangie and Shana and the rest drop by. (I could mention some other faithfuls such as Gayle and Kittycatlane, but the former seems to be vacationing from blogging – and reading - for the nonce, and the latter is, I think, on a different site and is finding the navigation here a slog – besides, all those cats…) It would probably be useful for me to think about this, and then again, one of the reasons I do not use my real name – or the real names of my subjects - is to avoid writing FOR somebody, which for me means running a mental censor over everything and the whole point was to avoid that. But still, it is pointless to write things without some yardstick to measure, in my own head, whether those things were worth writing about, or whether what I wrote is worth anyone’s time to read.

I always knew (this is a seguĂ©, by the way) that there was something in my head that was highly counter-productive and that was the voice of my depression, or tendency thereto. And the other day, when I was walking away from the kitchen counter, leaving something or other lying there which should have been put away, I heard my head say, “I don’t have the time.” Since I had read the Sunday magazine that comes tucked in my newspaper this week (which I rarely do) and had found therein some words on the very topic of limited time by Diane Keaton, I was struck by how this phrase works for me so differently from the way it does for her. In discussing being older, and more aware that the time left to her on this Earth is limited, she spoke of stripping away the non-essential and throwing herself into the things worth doing. For me, limited time is a paralyzing thought, quite the opposite view from Ms Keaton’s. It is true that I strip away quite a bit of non-essential activity – and disposing of the food and utensils I was leaving on the counter could arguably been non-essential, at least for the nonce (and would also have taken two minutes, MAX!). But I find that I do absolutely nothing all day every day other than fill time with the least demanding activity possible, my nap (or naps) being the highlight. Anything that takes a foreseeable commitment of time is something from which I shy away. I don’t usually watch daytime TV (there are limits!), but I fiddle with repetitive computer games, read idly, wander about – anything that I can stop at any point without having to return home, clean up, or draw to a close one minute after I want it to be over with.

I thought during all those years of unrewarding work, that there was a certain legitimacy to the claim that I didn’t want to spent my off-work time doing that which I didn’t like doing. But now I have nothing but time – the Sunday breakfasts here with Mom are the sole scheduled events in my entire week and I do neither the cooking nor the clean-up for those. And I still hear nothing in my head, except variations of, “It takes too much time.” It takes too much time to make new friends, to try to reanimate old friendships, write letters, find congenial volunteer work and then perform it, mulch the garden, put up the deer-proof fence around my yew hedge, water house plants, finish painting my dining room (going on 5 years now on this project), straighten up this or any other room, set up my TV-cable-DVD properly – you name it, it takes too much time or effort or there are too many bits I don’t like about it. Do I know what I should do? Absolutely – at least in part. But I don’t do it. In the past when I have spun endlessly in ruts like this one, I have eventually revved up the energy or whatever to break away completely. I have hitched or flown or driven off to new, really different, places and that move in itself got the juices flowing for a bit. My friend Emily, the one friend I do call at least once a week, says that I am now reaping the whirlwind that I sowed by being utterly unable to commit to anything or anyone in my life. She is, I think, right. That doesn’t, however, seem to get me anywhere.

At the time, I thought I would have the Farm to live on forever, have my college friends forever, then I thought that I would surf forever (inept as I was), I would live by the ocean forever, then I believed I would do theater forever, I would be with Tumwell forever, and on and on. I never swore I would stop at any one of these places and stick it out through thick and thin, I just assumed I would never leave for something else, and even when I left each of these behind, I denied I was doing it – it was just a temporary respite, a quick foray into a new interest and that, unlike me, they –the friends, the places, the lovers - would remain the same, frozen in time, awaiting my return. I thought, I guess, that if I never closed a door behind me, that the door would remain open. But the portals of life are immune to the laws of inertia; the natural state of doors is closed and close they will if one does nothing to keep them open.

It is a grey day and I am having grey thoughts – and speaking of grey, the great blue heron looks grey to me; I don’t know where that ‘blue’ business comes from. And what do they eat all winter? The one out back looked like he was snapping up frogs or something, I am pretty sure he wasn’t having a salad. How many frogs can be found forging their way through winter's snowdrifts?  I'd look into this, but I just don't have the time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Point of It

Yesterday, I took back a book, very much overdue, to the library and then killed a little time by looking over the books they had available at the annual book sale. I came across a book of roughly a zillion pages called An Introduction to Literature and leafed through a few pages. It will give you some idea of the size of this book if I tell you that it contained all of the plays Hamlet and Death of a Salesman and twelve other plays, as well as a two complete short novels, plus essays, poetry, commentary, discussions of each of these entries and a good deal more. And pictures! I spotted the lyrics to Dylan’s Times They Are a-Changin'. I also noticed and was a bit intrigued by a short story by David Leavitt, who is known for, among other things, having published at the age of 20 in the New Yorker that magazine's first openly gay short story. I read a line or two of the short story of his which was included in this book (It was not the one from the New Yorker) and was somewhat intrigued – it just looked like it might interest me. As is my custom, when faced with something I should read, and which will forever after clutter my already filled-to-bursting home mostly untouched ever again by the warmth of a human hand, I purchased this book for a mere fifty cents - only 15% of the fine I had just paid for my lack of vigilance in the matter of the due date of my returned book.

I didn't know if I would even read this enormous tome beyond perhaps dipping into the Leavitt short story that had caught my eye and maybe one or two others but already this morning, worn by the elections, I sat down and started off at the beginning of the book for the hell of it and on page FIVE it has already earned back its cost by gifting me with a quote that says EXACTLY what I have come to feel about blogging - MY blogging, not other people's. It took a while to realize what I was doing for myself with this plebian form of writing – though only sometimes and only at the best of times. I had actually realized some time ago that it seemed to be giving me that awful word "closure" and allowing me to let go of times and places that were long dead. In regard to saying farewell to individual people, I had previously discovered a description that was emotionally exact in describing my feeling in a quote from Death of a Salesman, where the wife says of her failed husband, "Attention must be paid!”, because I feel exactly as she did, that neither my life nor that of a person who is subject of my writing, can be allowed to pass unmarked - even though she and I both know they will. But they will not go unremarked by ME. I, at least, will say, "Thank you" as best I can, even though in haste and poorly, and on the spur of the moment - or at least the spur of the hour or two.

The quote that rocked me with its exact perception as to what I feel and what I want (when I think about it - and I nearly always have to see what I have said and work back from that to discover what I feel or want), was from, of all people, a Japanese courtier named Lady Murasaki and she wrote it a thousand years ago about literature:

"Again and again something in one's own life or in that around one will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, the writer feels, when people do not know about this."

So many people feel something of this nature; in its most mundane and annoying form it is that late night conversation (or monologue) after way too many drinks, where you hear some asshole saying of some song or writer or NASCAR winner, "But you gotta understand what this is about!" to the unmoved or uninterested or contemptuous.
When I think about writing something, I almost always forget this. And when I know what I am going to write about, I get caught up in facts and outrage and opinion and attempts to DO something or get to some thing or to make some point. But when I have just written something without thinking, and on re-reading find that I still like it, I get that this is what I was doing.