Odd Words November 5, 2014Posted by The Typist in Biography, books, bookstores, Indie Book Shops, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Lady Fest 2014, NOLA Book Fair, Odd Words
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This week in literary New Orleans featuring LadyFest and the NOLA Book Fair:
& Thursday at 6 pm Dominic Massa presents New Orleans Radio, with guests: Bob Walker, Keith Rush, Ed Clancy, and “Pal Al” Nassar at Garden District Book Shop. Thursday, November 6th 6-7:30PM From humble beginnings in a physics lab on the campus of Loyola University came the sounds of the first radio station in the lower Mississippi River Valley when WWL Radio signed on in 1922. The little station would grow into a national powerhouse, with its morning Dawnbusters show and nightly broadcasts from the Blue Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. The city’s second oldest station, WSMB, with studios in the Maison Blanche Building, developed its own cast of favorites, including “Nut and Jeff.” Later, in the city known as the birthplace of jazz, radio played a key role in popularizing early rock and roll. Disc jockeys at leading stations WTIX and WNOE helped develop the Crescent City sound, along with local personalities with colorful names like “Poppa Stoppa,” “Jack the Cat,” and “Dr. Daddy-O.” Dominic Massa discusses and signs his book, New Orleans Radio, with guests: Bob Walker, Keith Rush, Ed Clancy, and “Pal Al” Nassar.. This book is avaiable in paperback ($21.99). If you are unable to attend, you must call the book shop to order signed books.
& At Garden District Book Shop on Thursday at 6 pm James Nolan will be reading and signing You Don’t Know M.e In this collection of interrelated short stories, James Nolan swings wide open the courtyard gates of a city fabled both for its good times and bad. With ten new stories plus ten from his acclaimed previous volume, Perpetual Care. We meet fatherless boys, Creole spinsters, and lying hustlers, a pregnant teenager, a concert pianist searching for his roots, a crooked homicide detective, a Carnival-parade king hiding in a Dunkin’ Donuts, a pistol-packing babysitter, and a codger who plots to blow up an overpass. Bookended by two post-Katrina stories, this collection takes us from the secretive hive of the French Quarter to decaying cemeteries, from Gentilly to Uptown to family dramas in the suburbs.
& Thursday at 6 pm check out the weekly Spoken Word event #WordConnections at the Juju Bag Cafe.
& Thursday at 7 pm bring the bi-weekly meeting of the SciFi, Fantasy and Horror Writer’s Group at the East Jefferson Regional Library. James Butler, a writer of science fiction and fantasy (especially steampunk), leads a workshop to encourage the creation of these genres by local authors. Open to all levels. Free of charge and open to the public. No registration.
Library: East Bank Regional Library
& Thursday at 8 pm Poet performer DON PAUL and members of ORQUESTA FLEUR present: “Duende, that mysterious force that surges up through the soles up your feet…” Featuring poet performer Don Paul: Poems & songs with bhodran and shakers, and Tangos by members of ORQUESTA FLEUR: Katarina Boudreaux (piano0, Stephanie Reed (accordian), Tom Collins (blues harp), Dancers Nanci Zhang & Casey Mills w/ Grand Finale featuring a full collaboration of all artists, musicians & dancers with OPEN MIC hosted by JIMMY ROSS.
& Every Thursday evening the New Orleans Poetry Brothel hosts a Poetry Hotline. Call 504-264-1336) from 8-12 pm CST and we’ll to hear an original poem.
Friday at 2 pm WordPlay New Orleans poets and educators Asia Rainey and Christopher Williams presents a celebration of poetic works by Tom Dent through readings of his work and inspired new writings. Community is invited to share poetry and learn more about the legacy of Tom Dent at the Main Auditorium of the New Orleans Main Library, 219 Loyola Avenue. His published works included the book of poetry, Magnolia Street. He was a passionate groomer of other Black writers and worked hard to sustain the Free Southern Theater writing workshop and Congo Square Writers’ Union in his hometown of New Orleans and the Umbra Workshop on the Lower East Side in New York.
& Friday at 5 pm Octavia Books Shop hosts Good Night, Sleep Tight (Fall-ish) Story Hour Children’s Picture Book Event featuring Strega Nona’s Harvest. Miss Holly, one of our best book slingers, will read from a selection of fall-ish books for our second Good Night, Sleep Tight Story Hour.
& Friday at 6 pm Dillard University will host an Author Panel featuring Shelia Goss, Kristina K. Robinson, and Maurice Ruffin discussing Tom Dent’s life, works, and mission. Authors will read a selection from their original works and an audience Q & A about the state of black contemporary fiction, publishing, and the writing process will follow.
& Friday at 6 pm at Garden District Book Shop with her memoir, A Street in a Town Remembered, Carole Shelby Carnes does for Shelby, Mississippi, what Laura Ingalls Wilder did for the Great Plains and what Lucy Maud Montgomery did for Prince Edward Island. Memorializing this small Delta town from its roots through its heyday, Carnes tells the story of remarkable families and one extraordinary place. Carnes captures the spirit of Shelby in her descriptions, both of the famous plantation dances where the Delta elite mingled and of the hard times and indomitable spirit of the laboring sharecroppers. Through her own voice and the voice of her mother, May, readers meet Lizzie, Carole’s brave and funny nurse; Kennedy, the town’s tragic WWI hero; James Chow, the town’s Chinese grocer; and many others. Carole Shelby Carnes discusses and signs her book, A Street In A Town Remembered.
& Friday is the first day of the 2014 Lady Fest Poetry Series at Buffa’s. Hosted By: Megan Burns, the evening features poets FreeQuency, Nancy Dixon, Gina Ferrara, Amanda Smith, Whitney Mackman, Chyana Hall, RK Powers’ Sandra Johnson, Paula Anicete, Izzy Oneiric’ Roxy Seay, Kim Vodicka, Stacy Balkun, Patti DeMatteo, Kesha Star Young’ Sunday Shae Parker, w/ a special dance performance by Miz Reese Johanson.
& Every Friday The Rhyme Syndicate presents a spoken word open mic at Dish on Haynes Boulevard hosted by Hollywood. Doors at 8. Admission $7, $5 will college ID. Music by DJ XXL.
& Saturday at 1 pm T(w)een Weekend Writing Workshop will be held at the Norman Mayer Library. No matter what kind of writing you do or even if just think you’d like to, join us 2nd Saturdays in the Teen Room to talk about and share (if you want to) your stories, poetry, scripts, or comics.
& At 2 pm Saturday at the Algiers Regional Library Luci Parham will read her book Sacalait Smith, about a young girl who learns the important lessons of self-acceptance and appreciation of where she comes from.
& Sunday starting at 10 am the Zeitgeist Multidisciplinary Art Center hosts the annual New Orleans Bookfair. With a diverse list of authors, publishers, presses and local book-arts collectives this years bookfair will be an exciting all day bookstravaganza. The bookfair will include tablers, panels and performances and is not to be missed. Including tabling and presentations by: AK Press, PM Press, Ben Passmore, Erin Wilson, Alisha Rae, Osa Atoe/Shotgun Seamstress, Deep South Samizdat Books, Crimethinc. Ex-Workers Collective, Community Records, The Southern Letterpress, Lost Tales Publishing, Mamaphiles, The Iron Rail Book Collective, and The New Orleans Review
& This Sunday at 3 p.m. The Maple Leaf Reading Series features features an Open Mic.
& 2014 Lady Fest Poetry Series continues Sunday night at 5 pm at The Silk Road back room (formerly Schiro’s Cafe) 2507 Royal St. Hosted by: Megan Harris and feature Valentine Pierce, Geryll Robinson a.k.a. Dr. G. Love, Lisa Pasold, Constance Adler, Renee Nelson, Desireé V. Dallagiacomo, Emily Ewings, Sara Jacobelli, Alice Urchin, Kailyn McCord, Roselyn Leonard, Jade Hurter, Laura Mattingly and Raina Zelinski.
& Starting this Monday at 5 pm New Orleans Spoken Word Artists will present monthly workshops that include poetry writing and performance, with the goal of building community through writing and strengthening students’ written and verbal communication skills. Second Monday of the Month (beginning November 10), 5 p.m
& On Monday Octavia Books presents W. Bruce Cameron’s THE MIDNIGHT PLAN OF THE REPO MAN. Cameron is the author of A DOG’S PURPOSE and 8 SIMPLE RULES for DATING MY TEENAGE DAUGHTER.. When you pre-order THE MIDNIGHT PLAN of the REPO MAN during October, $4 of the sale will go to Villalobos Rescue Center. Ruddy McCann, former college football star, now Kalkaska, Michigan repo man, has a fairly simple life repossessing cars, hanging out with his dog Jake, and working at the bar his sister inherited from their parents, enjoying the nightly company of friends and all of their colorful patrons. Simple, that is, until he starts hearing a voice in this head.
& Monday at 7:30 pm poet Andy Stallings, who just published his first book To the Heart of the World), will be reading at Tulane University in Stone Auditorium, Art Building, 7:30PM. Reception to follow, 8:30, Faculty Lounge, Newcomb Hall. You can read an interview from his last New Orleans appearance on Room 220.
&On Tuesday the Jefferson Parish Libraries will be closed in observance of Veterans Day.
& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest. Watch Odd Words on Facebook and Google+ on Tuesdays for a complete list of her guests and features.
& Tuesday at 6 pm Octavia Books hosts a reading and signing with Moira Crone celebrating the launch of her new novel, THE ICE GARDEN. Ten-year-old Claire adores her brand-new baby sister, but her mother doesn’t feel the same. Trapped in the suffocating culture of the small-town South in the early 1960s, Claire’s mother tries to cope with her own mental illness and all the expectations placed upon a woman of her class. While Claire’s father remains too dazzled by his beautiful wife to recognize the impending dangers, Claire is left largely on her own to save herself and her baby sister–with mesmerzing and shocking consequences. Moira Crone won the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2009 for the body of her work. She is also a recent finalist for the Phiip K. Dick Award. The author of six books of fiction, she has received fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute of Hardvard/Radcliffe, and the ATLAS program for Louisiana Artists. Her shorter works have appeared in The New Yorker, Oxford American, Southern Review, and more than a dozen anthologies.
& Tuesday at 6 pm Garden District Book Shop features Tina Freeman and Morgan Molthrop’s Artist Spaces, New Orleans. Few artists have the luxury of separate work and living spaces, thus work and life often end up compressed into a singular personal environment. Artist Spaces, New Orleans provides a comprehensive portrait of the city’s artists and their relationship to space. In more than one hundred extraordinary photos taken by Tina Freeman and more than a dozen artist interviews by Morgan Molthrop, Artist Spaces, New Orleans highlights the spaces of New Orleans art luminaries George Dureau, Ron Bechet, Ma-Po, Dawn Dedeaux, Elizabeth Shannon, Willie Birch, Ersy, David Halliday, Robert Tannen, Elenora “Rukiya” Brown, Nicole Charbonnet, Kevin Kline, Amy Weiskopf, Keith Duncan, Josephine Sacabo, Lin Emery, and graffiti artist “Fat Boy.” The interviews and photos provide a perfect complement. While Freeman poetically captures an intensely personal vision of the artists and their spaces, Molthrop unearths what the most accomplished artists in the city have to say about their relationship to that space. What results is an indication that each artist’s style is often reflected in the quality, character, and aesthetic of their living/working environments–a striking illustration of how deeply personal, all-encompassing, and interconnected are life and art.
& Tuesday at 7 pm at the Alvar Library on air personality, painter, and book artist from Kenner, Myrna Leticia Enamorado will read a selection from Growing Flowers By Candlelight In My Hotel Room, one of her hand made artist books — collections of illustrations, completed over a decade.
& Tuesday at 7 pm brings the monthly 1718 Reading at the Columns Hotel, featuring Catherine Lacey, Loyola alumna, read for us next Tuesday, November 11th. Here is a short bio: Catherine Lacey’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Guernica, McSweeney’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, The Atlantic, The Believer, Electric Literature and many others. She was named a New Voice by Granta in 2014 and has earned fellowships from The New York Foundation for the Arts and Columbia University, where she earned an MFA in Nonfiction. She was born in Mississippi. Lacey will be reading from her debut novel Nobody is Ever Missing.
& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.
& Wednesday at the Latter Memorial Library A Book Club Named Desire meets. Adults meet to discuss a local classic every fourth Wednesday of the month at 6 pm. For more information, contact Toni at email@example.com.
& At 8 pm Wednesday it is Poetry & Music at BJs’ Blood Jet Series at BJ’s at 8 pm. This Wednesday’s feature is poet Ben Lowenkron joins us at Blood Jet this Wednesday night. Lowenkron ‘s home is the river. Born and raised in Virginia by the Potomac, he moved beside the James and the York to attend the College of William and Mary, and now lives with the Mississippi in Louisiana where he received his MFA from LSU and currently teaches at Baton Rouge Community College. His collection, Bone River, was published by Ampersand books.
& Every Wednesday at 8 pm at the Neutral Ground Coffeehouse there is an hour-long open mic poetry night (or fiction night; whatever you want to read really!).
Never Get Off The Boat (Unless You’re Going All The Way)) August 30, 2011Posted by The Typist in Biography, cryptical envelopment, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bulworth, Hurricane Katrina, Joan Didion, The White Alburm
thanks. I’ve had enough. I’m going to
pull myself up over the side, and get
all the way out of my mind.
Just Normal, by Everette Maddox.
I introduced someone recently to the film Bulworth. Whether your are a regular reader of this blog or an accidental visitor, this may strike you as just another (uncharacteristic, for me) Dear Diary blog entry of the sort that litters the internet.
Instead, I wanted to use this moment to explain to the reader when it was I started to get all the way out of my mind, as Everette Maddox puts it. Or, as the person I was introducing to the film suggested, when I found it. Some people assume it was Katrina and the Federal Flood that was the watershed moment in my life, and to some extent that’s true. It was, however, just a milestone in a journey that began earlier with the viewing of this film.
Bulworth came out in 1998 but I didn’t see it until the early oughts, at a time when I was a legislative district chairman of the North Dakota Democratic Party, had stood as a nominal candidate for the state senate against an undefeatable Republican incumbent in our suburban district. A veteran of statewide and presidential campaigns and former Capital Hill staffer, some people in the party no doubt had high hopes for me. In the period after the Clinton impeachment I was, however, already drifting away from politics, disillusioned at any practical hope for comity necessary for a real democracy to work.
The film is the story of a United States senator from California, a former cast iron liberal with a charcoal drawing of Bobby Kennedy on his wall. It opens with him watching reels of his campaign ads, which attempt to recast him as a moderately conservative neo-liberal of the Clinton stripe. He is unshaven, with an uneaten pizza on his desk. He is crying.
I won’t reveal too much of the film (as part of the purpose of this post is to encourage you to finish this piece, navigate to Netflix or Blockbuster and order it immediately.) It is enough to know he is having a nervous breakdown over this opportunistic transformation, and as he watches his spots in endless loop has already arranged for his own murder, has decided to betray his principles completely to kill an insurance reform bill in exchange for an under the table gift of a $10 million life insurance policy payable to his daughter from the insurance lobby.
In the last days of his campaign–and his life–he breaks down completely, crumpling his carefully written speeches and instead telling various constituents the unvarnished truth: they only matter in so far as they can donate money. He starts in an Africa-American church, and in the delirium resulting from days without food or sleep he picks up three young black women, who lead him ultimately to an after hours hip-hop club in Compton where the patrons must check their weapons at the door. By the end of a long made night of smoking blunts, he emerges and gives a scathing, hip-hop inspired performance to a multi-million dollar fundraiser, wandering through the audience and calling out each special interest in the room, what they have paid and what has been delivered in return.
The plot you will say is implausible Hollywood. I will grant you that. It is A Fiction (as Tim O’Brien brilliantly subtitled his compelling narrative of the Vietnam War) and yet every moment and word of dialogue is true, the capitalized and dangerous Truth: producer and star of the film Warren Beatty laying out the dirty secrets of our profoundly broken and corrupt political system for all the world to see. It is possible for the sort of politically attuned viewer who would be drawn to the film to treat it as comic exaggeration with the same dishonest ease I would, as a Capitol Hill press secretary and speech writer, defend the Political Action Committee system as groups of thoughtful citizens banding together to advance their beliefs.
Bullshit. Bulworth was a revolutionary act of propaganda masquerading as entertainment, and among a more thoughtful people it might have become the spark that started an an uprising but Americans are a lazy, self-satisfied people. I watch the revolutions sweeping North Africa and the East the way I watched those that took down the remnants of the Soviet bloc and wonder how the residents of the land of the free and the home of the brave sat dumbly through the coup of 2000, the angry mob threatening violence to disrupt the counting of votes. And we did nothing.
In our very real and carefully crafted system of corporate-regulated free speech and superficially open markets, Bulworth was missed or ignored by most, dismissed by the Right as the very propaganda it was, trumpeted by the powerless left who learned nothing new from it except some current urban slang, and the film was allowed to slide into obscurity on the shelves of Blockbuster by the people the film was intended to perhaps unseat.
I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but watching it uncorked something inside me. I wanted to rent a room at the Fargo Civic Center and show the film on endless loop to the earnest, white-bread delegates at the state Democratic Convention where my wife and I would serve as the page coordinators. If you have seen the film, you understand why I would have been thrown out of the Civic Center, if not the party itself, as someone who has lost his mind, someone as dangerous as Bulworth unleashed.
I never screened the film but somewhere inside I had lost interest in the Democratic Party as a meaningful institution, in politics in general. In that same year, the candidate for governor–a beloved and long-serving woman Attorney General who seemed a shoe-in for the job–had her campaign smashed when someone lead her private medical records to the press, revealing she had breast cancer. Although such a leak was a felony, there was not even an attempt at an investigation. No one was punished, the murmuring began, and she lost.
After that, I had no more faith in the system than Bulworth. I stopped reading the liberal site Democratic Underground, found reasons not to attend local party meetings, quit watching the talking heads on cable news: just drifted away.
All through the movie, the blind seer Rastaman the Griot appears, repeats some variation of the phrase “you got to be a spirit, Bullworth, you can’t be no ghost,” tells him at one point he must sing. I have one phrase tattooed on my body and if I were to choose another, that would be it, my soul exposed on my skin in a bit of ink, but at the time while I understood exactly what Rastaman meant I was to weak or confused to take his advice myself. I made it the signature on my email, that cheap refuge of the Internet intellectual, and got on with life.
A few years later, in the build-up to Gulf War II, then-president George Bush visited Fargo, N.D. Some zealous state party operative assembled a list of 41 people who should not be admitted to his speech, a list including my own city councilwoman. It was leaked to the press, a large black headline above the fold, and a list of names that would come to be known in liberal circles as The Fargo 41, mine included. My wife was flabbergasted and angry, embarrassed by this dangerous publicity. What would people think?
It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Bulworth broke something inside me, the same lingering naive faith in change and possibility that lead me at 20 to join the Young Socialist Alliance, fraternal youth wing of the Fourth International. (That’s Trotskyist gibberish for a commie), the same change-the-world impulse that led me to become a suburban newspaper journalist at a salary in the high four figures (pause for arithmetic), what brought me back to the N.D. Democratic Party even after I had walked away from a decade on Capitol Hill years earlier.
Fast forward a few years to late August, 2005. I am standing atop a renovated old hotel in downtown Fargo at a political fundraiser, drinking too much and in shock. I was expecting my cell phone to ring at any moment, a reporter from The [Fargo] Forum calling to talk to me about the failure of the levees in my home town of New Orleans. Every one of the political and news junkies on that roof-top bar had spent the last several days watching scenes from the Convention Center and the Superdome. At one point I stood in a circle that included the former chief-of-staff to a North Dakota U.S. senator. I was trying to explain why people would be trapped in the city, would take desperate measures to find food and water, do what they needed to survive.
At one pause, the former chief-of-staff took a leisurely sip from his drink then said, our people would never behave like those animals. The entire circle of people turned to look at me. I said nothing for what seemed an eternity but was more likely 30 seconds, still a long pause in a conversation. I was later told that my drink hand was just perceptibly trembling, that every vein above my neck was visible, my blood-pressure no doubt at some dangerous figure. I was contemplating if it would be possible to drag this man from his chair and throw him over the railing, leaving him a broken splatter on the street six blocks below.
Instead of impromptu mayhem, I ultimately uprooted my family and moved them to the disaster zone, itself an act of questionable rationality. I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie books to my daughter when she was very young and finding in these tales of supposed Midwestern fortitude echoes of the dark Southern Gothic, wondering why no one saw in the father a tragic figure dragging his family from place to place on the godforsaken Plains of the nineteenth century, twisting straw to burn so as not to freeze to death.
I became that man and they dutifully followed, but they could not hear the howling ghosts that haunted Faulkner and Styron in Little House either.
Katrina was a long time ago. Get over it.
I can’t know if the person who supposedly said this about me truly did, as I only heard it second hand and the situation doesn’t permit me to ask. The words were intended to wound like a slap to an hysterical person in a movie, as if my current personal circumstances were a weakness, an inability to pick myself up, slap the dust off with my cowboy hat like a good American and get on with life.
The fact is, I have, just not in the way intended by the remark or implied by the movie analogy. I walked away from the fight, left the obvious plot unresolved and rode off not into some Technicolor John Ford sunset but into the barren hills and desert, a man with no name leaving my American dreams behind me.
I don’t write about Katrina and the Federal Flood much on this blog. That was another time, another place. I reached a point a few years ago when I hung up the Closed sign at the Wet Bank Guide, ending on what I though was a perfect coda to that tale. Still, you can never escape the past. The road you are on, winding over the hills before you to god only know where, unwinds behind you just the same and every twist and turn has formed your soul the way climbing the hills of San Francisco shape the calves of the natives.
Katrina was a damned big hill to climb and my legs still ache, but it was not as simple as a single event upending an otherwise carefully scripted life. It was instead just the snapping of one critical strand of the rope that kept me moored to conventionality, a strand in which many threads had already unraveled.
Watching Bulworth I realized that I had spent a third of my adult life in the service of a lie, not just a simple lie, the stories we tell ourselves to live, but one of the Big Lies, a term coined by Adolft Hitler in Mein Kempf. He attributed this to the Jews in his book, but used the same technique effectively to his own ends. I used to jokingly refer to Joseph Goebbels as the father of modern political public relations, not the sort of remark that makes you popular on Capital Hill,but it illustrated the Big Life I was a part of, telling myself I had good reasons to be an actor in that drama. The movie laid out for me, my own role, the stories I had told myself to live.
Katrina was another strand snapped, not a fiction like Bulworth but the reality of seeing all the big lie tapestry of modern American life unravel. This snapped not just another thread but a critical remaining strand, the moment Our Hero is left spinning in the wind, suspended and helpless and the camera turns to the rocks below. Still, I had to get up and go to work in the morning to pay the homeowners insurance I knew was worthless, to pay the taxes to a government I recognized did not exist to serve me and which did not represent me in any meaningful way, reminded routinely in the evening in a casually emasculating way that I was not paid enough for the stress and hours of the job that paid all those bills, just another sucker on the corporate treadmill.
I had to try and be present as a husband and father and not drift into Willy Loman fatalism but it was hard. I was shell-shocked not by a single event in the past but by the horror of getting up every morning and pretending none of it had ever happened, that I still believed, as bitter as a priest consecrating the eucharist to an absconded god, doing so because as a man he understands and tries to fulfill his obligation to the people in the pews who look upon him as the agent of their own salvation.
And somewhere in this tragi-comedy, unconsciously at first but deliberately as time went on, I finally “[pulled] myself up over the side, and…all the way out of my mind” as the poet puts it. I was in the condition Joan Didion famously catalogs in her essay The White Album, the piece that opens with the line “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” and continues:
[My life] was an adequate enough performance, as improvisations go. The only problem was that my entire education, everything I had ever been told or had told myself, insisted that the production was never meant to be improvised. I was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot… [In] what would probably be the middle of my life I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative intelligibility, but to know that one could change the sense with every cut was to begin to perceive the experience as rather more electrical than ethical.”
I have not mislaid my script exactly, except perhaps at the end of the last act, a consequence of my unconscious decision to cut the last strands. The script instead fell apart, large parts of it blown away on the wind until the larger tale was incomprehensible, the individual stories unraveling in predictable drama but without continuity. To quote another film, my life had become something like Synechdoche, N.Y., a sound stage production in which the only coherent thread was my own unraveling.
There was only one thing to do: send the crew home, and go back to re-write. The answer to the problem of lost coherence, to the unraveling of my own personal narrative, was to take back the script and begin again. The convenient Wal-Mart verities of that life, the conventional measures of career and marriage, had lost their hold on me (and I my hold on them), and so had no place in the script not because they were wrong but because the script was a mess of revisions, the story unraveling in the telling.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. I had been doing that, I realized, for years, but the stories where changing. Here on these blogs, and in other places where I write: the much revised first chapters of a stalled novel, in poetry, in more private journals: all these words and all the hours on the computer from which they were born were leading to something, the discovery that there was a door in the horizon of that sound stage, that I was writing the prologue of the story of the rest of my life.
What have you ever done for New Orleans, someone once asked me in anger. You haven’t gutted a house or help build a new one in Arabi. Fair enough, but I’ve written and done it well enough at some moments to be noticed, to fell the Potemkin villages and tell instead the beauty of the Dnieper River. Once you realize that it’s not a wonderful life and that like Willie Loman you are worth more to this world dead than alive you have choices to make.
And I choose to write, to spend as many hours of the rest of my life as I can reading, studying and writing because somewhere deep inside I have both a cautionary tale to tell and an abiding love of the beautiful particulars of this fucked up world to share. Perhaps no one will notice. Perhaps I am only good at poetry and, by definition, irrelevant. Still, I don’t understand how any rational person can sit through Bulworth or The Truman Show and get up and go to work the next morning. Am I the only one who has finally recognized that to go all the way out of my mind as the only rational response?
Didion, in The White Album, writes about her psychiatric evaluation after “patient experienced an attack of vertigo, nausea and a feeling she was going to pass out.” The extended diagnostic notes are worth reading She ends that section: “By way of comment I offer only that an attack of nausea and vertigo does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.”
If I have made bad choices they are my own, and some of the alternatives–Willy Loman’s for example–are worse. In the end it only matters that I spent an entire morning alone in a half-furnished apartment finishing this piece started a few weeks ago, that I had the strength of conviction or (lack of sense enough, take your pick) to pull the publish trigger before I iron my shirts for work, and that you read it through to the end .
You got to be a spirit, Bulworth. You can’t be no ghost. You got to sing, fool.