Friday, June 05, 2009

Voices in the darkness

But because I was a writer—for it’s an early state of being, before a word has been written, not an attribute of being published—I became witness to the unspoken in my society..

~ Witness: The Inward Testimony
Nadine Gordimer

A writer is one who writes. How many times has that been said and been shot down by those who claim that a writer is someone who is paid for their writing? Does that make Emily Dickinson any less a poet or any person who has put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to give inward testimony of the world they inhabit?

Gordimer states that being a writer is an earlier state of being before a word is written, that the urge or desire or focus is on being witness to the world and needing to capture it in words or pictures. It is the same need that drove early man to paint images on cave walls and tell stories around the fire in the night. Because modern man thinks in terms of writing as concrete proof of a story, the idea of storytelling becomes the fact of writing. Writers are in essence storytellers, something encoded in their basic genetic structure, hardwired in the matrix. There is something different about writers, about storytellers, that sets them apart. It has nothing to do with financial success or acclaim or even about excellence. It has to do with the drive to bridge the gap between the outer and inner world, to bear witness to the changing landscape of the heart and mind and reality of being human. Without putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, writers/storytellers are born.

In The Comedians, Graham Greene writes: “The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly.” Indifference is not part of a writer's makeup. Writers are never indifferent. They may be out of step with the world -- at least as far as the world judges -- or adamant when espousing one cause or belief over another, but they are never indifferent. Writers are passionate about life and about themselves and those around them in relation to the rest of the world, and writers are well known for their bitter feuds among themselves and with those outside of the world they inhabit. Writers find it difficult to understand indifference. How can people live in the world and not be affected by it, engaged with it, vibrantly and obviously alive in it? No matter how quiet the words or the demeanor, writers are the lighthouse on the bare and rocky shore shining a light into the darkness to point out the dangers and the path to safety.

Around the fires that kept away the predators in the night, ancient storytellers kept back the darkness and fired the imaginations of the huddled forms, reminding them of past glories and keeping hope alive in a savage world that beyond the warmth and light was poised to devour and eradicate them. Storytellers were the keepers of memory and the reliquaries of the wisdom of the gods and goddesses. Storytellers are the conscience of their times, often a still small voice of sanity and reason, witnesses to the present and custodian of history.

In the movie, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon tells the detective she hired to follow her husband that marriage provides a witness to a person's life. If a partner or spouse is witness to one life, then writers are witness to all lives, to the times in which they live and their corner of the world.

In the end, we look to writers, to the modern storytellers, to fill in the gaps in the sweeping canvas of history, the voices in the darkness around the fire that feed the soul, spark the imagination and keep us safe in the night. Writers write to keep back the darkness, but also to remind us that we are all basically alike whatever distance or time separates us.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Coal mine canary

Animals -- dogs, cats, birds, canaries, cattle, horses, etc. -- have an innate sense of something wrong when an earthquake is about to move the earth or a volcano is going to blow. They know when the elements are gathering for a grand, and often destructive, display and they are nervous, restless, uncomfortable and anxious, acting contrary to their usually calm natures. They pace, can't sleep, can't settle down, can't focus on anything productive or on a more normal and natural action. They are disturbed emotionally, physically, mentally, psychically as they teeter on the event horizon.

I've felt the same way, restless, anxious, nervous and uncomfortable, and I'm not alone. Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling the same formless restlessness and anxiety. They're cranky, can't sleep, unfocused and unhappy and it has been going on for a while now. It reminds me of Egon explaining to Winston that if you look at normal psychokinetic energy as a Twinkie, the current buildup of psychokinetic energy would make the Twinkie 35 feet long and weighing approximately 600 pounds, but that's only in New York. That's a big Twinkie. Think about how big it would be if you measured the psychokinetic energy over the whole U.S. It would feed the world's starving for about 1000 years, providing you could keep it fresh that long.

When Lynn and I talked last night, she said she thought the restlessness began about a year ago. She may be right. As the event horizon moves closer, more and more people are affected. It finally caught up with me, or rather I can no longer find excuses for the restlessness I feel. I haven't been sleeping well for about a year, although there are periods in which I sleep for 6-7 hours at a time. I've blamed my intermittent insomnia on more physical causes when I should have been looking further afield. I do feel we are on the verge of some big blow-up and the aftermath will be worse than the levee failure in New Orleans or the devastating wake of Katrina and the worst tornado in recent memory. Something's coming and it won't be soft and squishy like a Twinkie.

Some of my friends are losing their jobs, being down sized and forced to take mandatory leave (cutting hours and days). That's never good, especially when other people are involved, like spouses and children. The fallout falls into two main categories. One category involves everyone working together to tighten belts and budget more carefully.

The other category involves the unaffected spouse blaming the affected spouse. How could you do this to me? What am I going to do? What did you do to get laid off, fired, have your hours cut? It's all about them and not about the spouse who just lost their jobs or had their hours cut. It never occurred to the unaffected spouse to consider cutting expenses or offering to help out, just blame the affected spouse for causing the problem.

No doubt rising unemployment is contributing to the anxiety and restlessness, but not all the people I know who experience this formless, nebulous disruption have lost their jobs or had their hours cut. It goes deeper than that and has much deeper roots. Whatever it is that has unsettled so much of this country's population, we should consider it the dead canary in the coal mine. Something's coming and it won't end with us drenched in torrents of warm melted marshmallow. We should hope to be so lucky.

Your Freudian slip is showing

According to B.O. who claims there are 57 states in the Union, now the U.S. is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.

According to the statistics, Indonesia: 200 million Muslims. India: 156 million Muslims. Pakistan: 150 million Muslims. United States: 2.3 million Muslims (according to the Pew Research Center). The U.S. is about 40 on the list.

Maybe B.O. shouldn't work without a teleprompter.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

And they called Bush an idiot

President G. W. Bush's idiocy was nothing compared to current tenant of the Oval Office. He is not a gaffe machine, but supposedly a cyber-savvy intellectual well versed in Constitutional law.

Into his hands we have committed our souls.

That is all. Disperse.

Requiem for the sun

Every morning after I wake up, perform the usual voiding and eye opening rituals, get breakfast and sit down in front of my laptop to check email, I am bombarded by news. Some of the news is of the book variety, but most is of the local and world events variety. It also depends upon what time I sit down to read emails. This morning, it was fairly early and my usual news feeds aren't yet awake, and I don't feel very awake either. There's nothing like a jolt of marrow chilling and blood heating information to jump start my emotional and mental engines. Today, I'll have to wake up more slowly, but I'm certain the usual physician pranks and irritating habits will set my system humming in no time, providing the adrenaline I need to get through yet another day of wet and cold weather and chores. I need a vacation, a really good vacation.

The week, and the year, are about half over and the cold has settled into my bones. I crave the warmth of my bed where the imprint of my body has yet to smooth out and the heat from my dream excursions has not dissipated. Tranquility radiates from the bedroom and calls to me. It's hard to face another gray morning of weeping skies that never break into the wild, wind-whipped explosions of sound and light and sizzling momentary heat that invigorates the soul and the soil. Instead, my nose drips in slow and steady rhythm with the drip, drip, drip of the leaden sky. It was easier to sit in the evening dark without light or heat after Zeus's dazzling bolt took out a transformer nearby, abruptly ending my work day and forcing me into the world of dreams and shadows between the covers (books and bed). It was a mini vacation that ended with the sharp intrusion of returning electricity, yanking me back from a world of other days through others' eyes into the persistent hum of appliances and buzzing lamps. Without the punctuating markers of children entering and leaving their school days, all was the peaceful harmony of silence. The traffic was muted and the neighbors silent and I drifted in a warm embrace, lulled by the even cadence of breath and heartbeat.

Now it's back to the work-a-day world where the ever present tick and hum of electricity mark the time and my actions like a metronome pace I am forced to match and maintain. Just another melancholy day in a grey world beneath steel skies drip, drip, dripping bitter tears.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Portrait of a mensch

There is something about being rich that is tantalizing and oh so seductive. After all, who doesn't need more money than they can spend in a lifetime? There's nothing like having so much money that it's like one hundred Chinese lining up and jumping off a cliff. They would never all die because the birth rate would keep the line going forever. It's the same when you have a certain amount of money, like $300 million. The daily interest alone would keep even my mother in junk food, shoes and clothes for the next 500 years or so.

Numbers like that really don't compute, but for some people that kind of money is a reality. Men like Aaron Feuerstein have that kind of money. He's not as rich as Bill Gates who comes in at a cool $200 billion net worth, but it's nothing to sneeze at. Strangely, not all rich men need PR professionals to tell them they need to clean up their act and do some very visible charity work, like Bill Gates, because they're too busy taking care of the people who helped make them rich.

If you think you know what I'm talking about, check out Malden Mills and the man who should be President of the U.S. He knows how to run a business, make money and protect the people. He is the kind of man all multi-millionaires and multi-billionaires should be and aren't, and he doesn't owe his money to the mob or foreign oil interests.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Weight of the world

Words are cheap. It's only words. Only feelings matter. How many times have we all said it and meant it?

We were wrong.

Words have heft, depth, size and weight even at a time when words are conflated and inflated, signifying nothing. Empty titles to obscure the menial nature of a job. Sanitation or domestic engineer instead of janitor and homemaker. Administrative assistant instead of secretary or girl Friday. Administrative consultant instead of temporary office worker. And the relabeling goes on as if someone with a new label maker must justify the expense and renames everything. It's a new kind of shell game played with words.

The politically correct police have outlawed, or made inappropriate, simple words: dwarf, gimp, blind, fat, skinny, stupid, idiot, vapid, ugly, plain, empty, old, young, handicapped, useless. Everything gets a new designation, a less hurtful and ego friendly name. Who are they kidding? Most of the time, simple words are best. They say what they mean and the person means what they say.

As a teenager just discovering cursing, I was hopeless, which turned out to be a good thing since I wasn't fond of the taste of soap. SOB became son of a biscuit eater. Hell was heck and damn was darn. The words that came out of my mouth were sanitized, sans soap, but the words in my head remained the same: son of a bitch, hell and damn. Some were worse. I'll bet you can guess what fudge and shucks really meant. Inside my head or out of my mouth, the words had a certain taste and considerable weight. All the really good words do: freedom, love, friendship, poverty, hatred, anger, death and life. We all forget that sometimes, the heft, and dimensions and often massive weight of words, not in their ability to inflict pain or pleasure, but in their ability to keep hope alive. That really didn't become real to me until I began corresponding with people in other countries.

I was born in America and traveled some of the world with my father who was in the Army. I was fascinated and amazed by people and cultures of everyone I saw. It never occurred to me that I was privileged. I had no frame of reference -- until now. I have pen pals and fans in more countries than I visited as a child. We are drawn together and get to know each other with words. We have not met in person, but we have a common language. Sometimes the meanings are a bit different, but at the heart of things we share a love of and need for words.

Many of the people have a simple vocabulary, but the one thing they share is a willingness to learn, to stretch their knowledge and reach for more, weight lifting words. At first, our discussions are very basic, but as we get to know each other, feeling out the territory and finding the right words, the concepts become more complex. One thing remains the same, their idea of what it's like to live in this country, to be an American.

Like the statue that stands on an island in the New York harbor holding a book and a torch, America means space and freedom to break out of the narrow confines of religion, politics and culture to embrace a future without limits. They have not been taught that words are cheap or meaningless or that they are empty and devoid of life and flavor like fat-free food. All they know is the feel of the words on their tongue and the hoarded and weighty mass of the words in their dreams and minds that is at once as light as a feature and as solid as the Statue of Liberty. Words have weight like actions have consequences. They know America isn't perfect, but they believe that only here can they dream big and work to make their dreams come true.

As I sift through the words of my novels, throwing out whatever doesn't make sense or is repetitious, I forget what those words cost, and they cost a lot. They are a distillation of my dreams and experiences, what I have seen and what I still hope to find. They are the threads of hope woven to create a tapestry of possibility. Those words carry the weight my dreams. As they move out and into the other people's hands, they are proof that dreams become flesh and blood, muscle and sinew, soul and heart. They are inspiration, the breath of the gods. Words have heft and breadth, width and weight as they connect ideas to action and dreamer to dreamer. The are not cheap and they are more than consonants, vowels and sentences. Use them wisely before they are regulated and outlawed. They are the stuff of life and reality. They carry the weight of the world.