Sunday, September 20, 2020

Plenty of Nothing

As Alice said to the White King In the Looking Glass, I saw Nobody.to which he replied, I only wish I had such eyes to be able to see Nobody. Nobody is like Nothing…… And Nothing’s plenty for me.

What’s up? Nothing much. And therein lies the tale.

Shakespeare, that rascal, wrote Much Ado About Nothing but his nothing was a pun for No Thing, thing being the term for phallus at the time. Nothing has quite a history.

Poetry changes nothing said W.C. Auden………but people die everyday for lack of it wrote William Carlos Williams. Maybe that nothing which poetry changes is worth looking into.

There is a vast something in Nothing. It’s the absence better left unsaid or unsayable. Look for the meaning of a poem in among the words. The intervals make the music. The pause is pregnant.

When a friend needs our ear we are best advised to be quiet and reflecting. Just being present and silent allows the flow. All is nothing at all.

One of the problems with this world is our hunting and gathering of too many things. As the comedian says, I don’t want everything. Where would I put it? With our consumer brains we want, we grab, we accumulate heedless of consequence. The earth is scarred. The air is toxic. Our souls are not fed.

On that Streetcar Named Desire we lose touch with a healthy simplicity. Maybe that new car, shirt, shoes, I-phone was merely a distraction. Much can be said for nothingness.

At this age our time is now to liquidate. No attachments, the Buddha said. Disowning isn’t all that easy. That Kwakiutil mask is still blessing the Hopi pots. I’d like to think those books on one shelf are in conversation with those on the other. Wittgenstein is in dialog with Foucault and Samuel Clemens with Dorothy Parker. Reluctantly we'll let them all go. I’ll invite them to our fantasy Thanksgiving table.

In the end we have the Nothing which is Everything. It has all been interjected one way or another. The album is in my inner vault, that inviolable place which takes up no space, gathers no dust and is impervious to the next quake.

As Janis Joplin screamed about freedom…. It’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Magical Thinking

For those of us in California, PCH means Pacific Coast  Highway. It’s that vertical ribbon of highway which runs through Malibu and later winds into and out of Big Sur, with waves crashing below. However, to folks in Dreamsville, USA, PCH is short for Publisher’s Clearing House. The wait for that phone to ring or that knock on the door is their retirement plan.

Wait, says our inspirational leader, one bright morning the coronavirus will just disappear. Yesterday he also proclaimed that the weather will soon get colder. Since autumn begins in a week that’s a fairly safe bet but it won’t necessarily mean the end of the fire season.

Trump, in his infinite wisdom, relies on his audience’s short term memory loss as his unfulfilled promises stack up. As a devout naysayer to science and one who sits next to Jesus he believes there’s a time for fire and a time for floods; a time for pestilence and a time for hydroxychloroquine. Gaia sighs awaiting his next delusion.

And when a tree falls on your car or your house explodes it must be part of God’s plan. After all, everything happens for a purpose, doesn’t it? Actually no, it doesn’t.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you. That’s nice. I suppose. This has become the stock phrase for politicians. Translate as, Don’t expect this fire, this hurricane, this mass shooting to bring with it any new legislation.

Those words get the bearer off the hook. Too bad the sentiment is wasted. When we extend our fervent wish for a friend’s recovery it is all we have to express our love. And that matters to the extent that self-healing can happen.

But do thoughts and prayers travel through the contaminated air into the bloodstream of the infirm patient? Or vibes? Or pulsating energy transfers? Or pins in an effigy?

Count me among those who do not subscribe to wishes or curses. Nor can I, as an avid fan, determine the course of a ballgame by standing on my head or opening an umbrella while sitting on the couch.

I’ll probably lose a few friends saying all this. Prayers are wishes sent to God but she doesn’t answer mail no matter how many candles we light or gospel we mumble or how loud the exhortations from the pulpit.

What causes God’s wrath? We do. From denying, from abusing our habitat, from electing morons, from abdicating our duties as custodians. God’s wrath is nothing more than a cocktail of neglect and randomness.

Don’t bother me, say those in their moral torpor, I’m waiting for the phone call with my PCH sweepstakes retirement check.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Hidden Spring

On Friday Peggy took the stairs. All nine of them. A small step for humankind but a giant step in her return to ambulation. We didn’t plan this burst of energy; it came about because the medical transit vehicle was a no-show.

We may never know what resources we have until called upon to make the leap. The other lesson learned by me is that aging is a one-time adventure. We don’t get to rehearse our stumbles and bumbles. It’s all improvisational. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Peggy’s appointment was for an infusion of iron for her anemia; a certain motivation for making her way both down the stairs and back up on our return. The benefit of the I. V. has yet to be in evidence. The shortest distance from here to there is a zig-zag, sort of like life itself.

Part of the drama of aging is the discovery of what stuff we’re made of. In Coleridge’s Kubla Khan he writes, Where, Alp the sacred river ran / Through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea.

Coleridge never finished his poem. He was famously interrupted from his opium dream by a Person from Porlock. The poet, Ted Weiss, took this to suggest the beginning of the end of Romantic Poetry. In his book, The Man from Porlock, he makes the case that this was the metaphorical imposition of reality upon poetic flights of fancy. I doubt it. There was much more gas left in the tank. More likely Coleridge’s imagination simply dried up or the narcosis wore off.  

Thirty-five years ago, we visited the home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is said to have believed that there were underground waterways in that region of England. In fact, we all possess some untapped springs within and Peggy reached deep down to find that stream by which she navigated those nine steps.

What allows the athletes to push themselves beyond themselves to break the four-minute mile? Up until 1954 it seemed an impossible barrier. When Roger Bannister first did it he ran seven tenths of a second below four minutes. Today the world record is almost seven seconds faster. Who cares, I hear you ask.    

I do, for one. When I followed such things, I used to listen to track meets on the radio. I recommend it for exercising the muscle of the imagination. Staring into the art deco speaker I could see the runner panting his way around the track and collapsing but not quite finding that extra push to beat the stop-watch. Perhaps he was nine steps short.

We don’t know every room in our mansion. There are  locked doors with secrets inside. The poet knows this but conceals as much as she reveals. The poet manages the nine steps but the well from which it is sourced and scooped remains mysterious and not necessarily replicated. Today we dip once.

Another poet, Ann Lauterbach wrote a book entitled, On A Stair. She suggests it may also be read as, Honest Air. For Peggy managing those stairs required a deep breath of honest air.

 

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Land's Sake

In the past 170 years we have gone from Alice’s Wonderland to  T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland to Walt’s Disneyland. If this is progress, I’m on the wrong bus. And now Trump seems to think Kamala Harris wasn’t born in this country because she’s from Oakland. He must be thinking of Thailand or Iceland. Or maybe he is just upset because he couldn’t buy Greenland. Or perhaps he can’t forgive New Zealand for their enlightened approach to the Covid virus.

My preferred Land would be Wonder. Not as in white bread but the state of being astonished. There is an immense mystery to life which Eliot seems to be wary of without the presence of a supernatural being to propitiate. April is not cruel; it is full of wonder.



Yes, of course, Western Civilization was shamed by the cruel folly of World War One which had just ended when Eliot wrote his monumental poem. He lamented the absence of God in its aftermath. Could it be God picked up Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice and got curiouser and curiouser. Maybe it killed him the way curiosity killed the cat.



The bulbs that burst in April do indeed wither and go to Mulchland but that’s not the way Walt Disney saw it. His flowers are paper or silk; they never die. Just as Mickey Mouse and Pluto have found immortality, his Frontierland perpetuates the American myth.



Part of that myth is, Land of the free and home of the brave. I prefer Woody Guthrie’s, This land was made for you and me.



As far as Lands go my stop would be at Birdland, the jazz joint I remember from the early 1950s where Ella, Sarah and Billie sang and Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie blew. Those were the sounds that deposited me in a place to wander and wonder.  



Going back to Land’s Sake, I think that expression passed out of our common tongue about seventy years ago along with, For Pete’s Sake. Land is a euphemism for Lord and Pete stands in for Christ all of which brings us back to T.S. Eliot who couldn’t find God in the Roaring Twenties or in Be Bop and certainly not with the Mad Hatters so he landed in the Church of England. 



Some of us are willing to walk that Lonesome Valley all by ourselves. Not even Walt Disney can grant us a constant renewal on our lease.