Thursday, June 29, 2006

Maudlin Mariner

I don't know about this.

Some say writing is what you make with your hands.

My hands have been idle of late.

The devil soon finds lots of work for you.

Devil or Lutheran demon?

Don't know.

But here goes anyway.

The writing life is not a person's period in time, it's a dimension.

A dimension that can span a period of thirty years or more--sometimes much more--and it tells more about the nature of the gods than it does the nature of the writer.

Sure, the autobiographical facts will be there, he/she was born, went to schools, got married, decided on the writing life but had children all the same, had some early success, a kudo here from the writing communiy, a grant here, a magazine piece published there, a novel snipped published in serial form.

But the call. That Hank Williams call:

But when that lonesome road
takes to callin' me
There's something o'er that hill
That I've just got to see.

Poor pity the writer who answers that call, that Nietzschean sound whistling through the keyhole, into the room where you're safely bedded down with you wfe and children in your rambling Victorian house, the moon outside shining a ghostly white, as in Bob Seeger, or Jefferson Aiplane: "Come with me, my friend, I'll show you another country."

You are, of course influenced by the art around you for the past seventy years, from country tunes to William Burroughs to rock'n'roll. You are also, somehow, a child of the Thirties, perhaps because of your parents or those tough-nut landladies of Toronto or maybe Baltimore.

An original Jimmie Rogers song is haunting your mind:

Gonna pack all my things in a grip
Take me a long ocean trip
Out on a great big steamship
You ain't gonna see your daddy no more, no more, no more.

And throw Momma from the train?

Or Momma throwing Dagwood Bumstead off the train when she has had enough?

The mood is not hitting only you. It is hitting the old lady as well. She too, wants to learn about life.

But the children, what about the children? Lately, only the babysitter is in there pitching and here is where the gods come in, for selfishness is not a virtue, Ayn Rand be hanged.

Pack all my things in a grip.
Take me a long ocean trip.

Tahiti. Gaugin country. The beautiful Wahines. Love under the Seagrape. Sand whispering through the palms.

You have abandoned the creepy meatball of your life. Ah, Jerry Rubin.

Abby Hoffman." If it feels good, do it."

Tahiti was the high school popularity you never had. And many beautiful lovers. And an aristocratic status for being vaguely European and a writer. For every writer is an European, and every European a writer.

How nice it was to outfit the boat, to travel to islands, first the near ones, the long green of Paradise Island , throwing your dice. Then the Panama Canal and the Pacific. Just you and your lover. Can't do laundry once in the Pacific. Will have to wait till next port.

Robinson Crusoe country. But Friday is not your firs mate. Tuesday is, and she is American

The gods appear to smile.

Every artist needs a Tahiti. Every Monday needs a Tuesday.

Every homosexual must sail the ocean alone in a 35-foot boat.

To each his own.

So you think you'd gotten away clean, the sense of relief, as in the first stages of divorce.

Oh if it were only so easy.

You leave your spouse and children for the sake of your beautiful canvases and there is a karma that will follow.

Greek theology proposes a Poseidon Earthshaker. Not for nothing did blind Homer sing the song. But how did he commit it to writing? Part of the mystery.

For a typhoon will soon appear and knock your around and will split your mast and will split your boat and throw your lover into the sea where only by your resourcefulness and seamanship do you finally rescue her, trying all the time to show fate can be thwarted , but she has been somehow broken and uglied by the experience and she is not the same beauty she was just scant days ago. The gods demand a price. Fate can not be fucked, not really.

And so after all the S.O.S.and all the helicopters, you somehow return to your Tahiti, but and things have changed between you and your lover.Your money is gone, your boat is holed and your beautiful lover has gradually been transformed into very nearly a hag. Part of it is the passage of time.

Poseidon is immortal, and you are not.

You know, also that something out there punishes.

Adultery is not a game. You have pitted yourself agains all the gods, against God. Yes, yes, your strength, your free will in the place of the natural laeticia that is grace.

Dubliners:" For you, I have given up my life, my peace of mind. Even my god."

But must you know sin to move onto the next plane?

The late Johnny Cash did not entirely walk the line, yet he knew about moving to the next dimension.Sin? He certainly knew about pain.

And yet, somehow you get the sense that this is not a period in your life, it is part of an even larger dimension, the life-space of a writer in time, who sought to steal fire from the gods and was himself set on fire in an oily boat wreck that was fast becoming a climax to his life, yet the climax would not come, not right away.

And so you set down the details of the past 33 years, looking for a matrix, auguring for the key to the dimension you are in. You intuit, somehow, that you left as a boy and you will return as an experienced man.

The former wife and children former wife and the children are still back there trying to cope with it all and the hell of it is that they understand.

And since your shipwreck had drawn headlines, the CBC is suddenly tramping up the woods looking for you, and they do a documentary on your life, and it works, and the producer pays you for it, probably your idea in the first place, and suddenly you are safe and sound.

Ah, but three-thirty in the morning, when again the moon comes calling a ghostly white, you know you hadn't really done it. The great sprawling novel, the final key to your life, just isn't there. There had been other novels, television skits, freelance pieces, but The Big Book isn't there.

The problem? You were born in Nova Scotia and not Europe. You have a Yankee seafarer's truth, but it is not a universal truth. You were not Norman Mailer, not wise enought to just write about Micronesia, period. Europe is the museum of culture, a culture possibly too rich for you. Possibly, you culd have been born in the wrong country.

You are a North American writer.

Bit off more than you could chew. Destroyed your family. Destroyed two more families and a couple of friends. The god demands a price.

And now, my friend, you can finally sit down and write.

Inside your dimension.


Sela Carsen said...

Gracious. That makes me grateful that I'm just a dilettante hausfrau tapping out my little romance stories. I've no wish to grasp a piece of the universe. It's too hot for me.

ivan said...


Jaye Wells said...

Right on, Sela.

On another note, our audacity to think we have the capacity to understand the universe is ridiculous. Infinite we are not.

Great, thanks, Ivan, you have me sounding like Yoda now.

general jack ripper said...

Nicely done, Ivan. You've managed to scare the shit out of this young hack.

ivan said...

General Jack:
Who wouldn't have loved to have been Stanley Kubrik?
there are days when I feel more like Elmer Fudd.
Hacking too.
(I was going to say coughing fruitily, but the the PC set would have gotten on my case).

ivan said...

Ah Jaye,
You could be my Yoda.

Jaye Wells said...

Your Yoda, I am.

ivan said...

Well, to coin a phrase,
How cool is that?
I think it's the journalism. That's the link.

DoubtingThomas said...

To every thing there is a season, even for navel gazing, or to be more polite, looking back on one's life and taking stock of one's experiences. I prefer the season for getting on with things, but that is me. No matter how many times you give the warning, "Don't touch that!", you know, you just know, that somebody will reach out with an inquisitive finger. "Asi es la vida."

ivan said...

Asi es las vidas escritores Canadienses.

I was watching the lives of former communal farmers in Ontario, who also happened to be writers, on CBC's Thirty-five Years in the Life.
Many of them came to tragic, almost unbearable ends.
To everything there is indeed a season.
Of the six (three couples) all separated and only one of them completed his book.
I more or less identified, having been something of a communal farmer
and expatriate writer.
But I winnowed the wind for the epiphany inside my blog, knowing that I too had done the frozen -fencepost-with- my -tongue trick.
Tampering with commandments, I guess. Tampering with literature.
Lord, how nice it had been in the garden!

ivan said...

Second maudlin note to Thomas:
Too much early success; too much money, and again, too much money and the talent we thought we may have had.
As Jay pointed out above, maybe hubris.

Shesawriter said...

This was another good one, Ivan. Where do you get your inspiration?

ivan said...

Tanya, you sweet thing.
Thank you.

There are times when you somehow
get your own space in a magazine on a regular basis and after you've written you fifth vignette or so, you find yourself dying of starvation, are gasping for air and running out of gas.

Things the neighbour said, things the checkout girl said, the tedium of cutting grass--and someody else cutting your grass because he/she wants your job--all that stuff that is suddenly more like real life than the dream job you'd set up for yourself by getting your columnist's job,
writing about nothing at all and getting coin for it.
But as you get drier and drier, a panic sets in. You begin to use old letters, old postcards, something you saw on TV and that got you thinking --anything at all is grist for your suddenly ravenous mill.
...And then nothing at all, while a part of you is standing outside you, watching the pitching and tossing of your brain.

Then comments like yours come in, and they somehow do the trick.

I am trying to get back up on the tightrope of commercial writing,but worry again that once airborne, I will again have to dip into old letters, post cards and a lot of TV watching for inspiration.

So much good stuff up on public television, even if in rerun.

And after a sip of Southern Comfort, so much more grist for the mill.


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