Friday, December 28, 2007

The Lesson and the God-Awful Secret

Thirty years ago, on a bright January day, I decided to quit working as a part-time teacher and learn something about life.

The decision was not hard to make.
I was untenured, low man on the totem pole and developing all the insecurities that come with that plight. You don't know whether or not you'll be working next semester. It is up to the gods and the Dean. There was also the manuscript gathering dust in my attic, reminding me over the years that the dream would not age, while I surely would. My intention was to have been a writer, not a teacher. Teaching is a job, chores. It was what everybody else in my cirlcle did. It was kind of a temp position.
There were, of course, perks.
The night dean would come in, load me up with night classes, lead me to drink so I could come down from being
"on" all the time. Wife upstairs asking my whey I paced the kitchen floor and whom was I drinking with.

I had "people overload", everybody was nipping and tucking on me. I guess I was a good teacher, but my true vocation was writing, and here I was explaining to students the difference between the subjunctive and the indicative.
Yep. The good old "as it were" and as it really was.

As it really was.

I was teaching too much.
Forty hours a week, half of it at night. Talking, talking, talking. Gesticulating, demonstrating.
Intellectual stimulation all the day and then up to ten at night. Insomnia with my own theatrics and pumch lines still in my head, Johnny Carson impersonator, Professor Irwin Corey, Fungus Freddie of the science classes. Dr Suzuki goosing fruit flies for fun and profit.

Mid-life crisis.
I had to run away. To escape. To learn something about life. To write my great novel, which would finally put things into perspective. Theory of Everything... Einstein--now there was a cat.

Now Dr. Rip Van Winkle is back.

The book she is writ; the Einstinian pathway was a rollercoaster.
And what did I learn about life?
Not much.
Except that science is theology and theology is science--both point marvels above and beyond and both try to form a synthesis. Science and religion sharing the same yoke.
And science is today propaganda---like religion?

I was either dangerously close to the Ass' Bridge where I thought I knew everything, or the very Matrix that everybody is writing about these days.

I was sitting in my loft apartment shortly after I came back from my odyssey.
Thumbing and old bible in Russian.

I noticed strange similarities between Hebrew and Church Slavonic.

Especially in one of the names of god, the old biblical one.

I was getting close, really close. I think I mouthed one of the names out loud.

And then a lightning bolt hit my apartment, and the earth seemed to split underneath.

No kidding.

This will be the last time I will go fishing in forbidden streams or roam in magical forests.

Send an apprentice to the underworld the next time.

The poet says,

Every so often one of us makes a run for the wall.
And brains himself against it.
But the wall knows more wittily than we about being alive.

I had hit the wall.

Oh that "subjunctive and and indicative."

Kierkegaard went mad with it.

And that, I suppose, I share with him.

What rot.
"Mere literature," Einstein would say.

But Something is out there.
And it punishes.

...And I know that writing on these matters is somehow going to cost me. It already has.



eric1313 said...

Writing and insanity are forever linked in my mind. Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Beating one's head on the wall, expecting not to bleed. Voting in an election where the winner is really the loser.

Insane I say. We are all nuts for hoping our words mean anything besides what we think they do.

Kierkegaard went mad? Maybe he always was mad, he just finally accepted it instead of fought it. He stopped banging his head on the bricks, decided talking to his socks about the meaning of life was more worthwhile.

He is to be envied. If only I had his talent for page long run on sentences that made sense!

Anyway, It's time to pass out. Just wanted to rant. I was saying hi to Josie and I saw what looked like Ivan, only you were signed in! I hope you got it fixed.

You may have to tell Google what to do with itself and get a Wordpress blog. They have tons of options. I've seen setups that people made their self that would accommodate all your novels the way you like it. But I hope that everything is straightened out. It must be nerve wracking to not be able to post comments on your own blog. Insane, actually...

the walking man said...

Ivan, I would have liked to have thought that teaching was my vocation but instead I dropped the desire for knowledge of the panderers of philosophy and religion and learned how to repair mechanical things.

Not that different really, except I leave my manuscripts in the attic to gather dust.

It's that wall thing, we keep hitting up against it until we are knocked senseless and once in said senseless condition we forget to think...think to turn right or left because every wall has an end, even the Great Wall of China has an end and we can always find a way around it.

The omnipotent "they" has called me insane every which way from Sunday and now that I don't knock against walls anymore I wonder if maybe "they' are projecting their own diagnosis's onto the only sane man "they" ever see.



ivan said...


Oh is that it? Old Ivan has finally lost his marbles? Kierkegaard had lost his marbles?
Well, I have something in common with the Mad Danin in that I had set up my own publishing company to issue my dreadnoughts.
Like you, I wish I'd had young (relatively young) Soren's talent.
Soren Kierkegaard was working in the shadow of Hegel, as Jung had to work in the shadow of Freud.
Both men were in a difficult position, and I'm sure you and I have worked with enough difficult, manipulative people to understand how hard it is to play second fiddle to somebody smarter and maybe even more ruthless.
The thing I admire about Kierkegaard is that he undestood Hegel but went on to find his unique truth nevertheless.

I'm sure that like me, you may have had a crack at reading Hegel in the raw. The system is a kind of mechanical kaleidescope and anybody nowadays who claims to understand Hegel mus surely be a liar, like anybody who has read Finnegan's Wake all the way through has got to be a real Baron Munchausen, that famous king of liars.

On me and Google.
Maybe once my son pulls himself out of his current domestic difficulty, he may be able to help, but I agree that
I should try wordpress, though I am becoming more and more senile every day and wonder if the old brain still has enough bounce to work in the new system. I think I have reached the law of diminishing returns as far as my technical abilites go.
As for the madness, I think my scant knowledge of theology is leading me straight to the devil and one should really not tackle this sort of metaphysics, which, as a matter of fact, is dealt with in my novel, Light Over Newmarket. The seeker is trying to find the truth about everything-- the theory of everything --only to end up in a strange bed and a mental asylum. "The roads to hell are paved with good intentions"?
Basically, I think I should have stayed in my room and not play with matters that must surely approach some sort of Oija board, where a god controls the play, that is to say, writing a novel in hopes of an inquiry into the ultimate reality. Monkey business. Art Bell. George Noory.

Well, I did come back from Mexico with a degree and a novel, my stated aim, and though it is small beer by now, one has at least done it.
But the awful sense of having bumped up against the Demiourgos!
Again, fishing in forbidden streams and hunting moonbeams in the forest.

Enough to make you clazy.

ivan said...


I have heard it said that it is always the wrong man who is in the asylum.
Who should be in there is the person who drove him there.
Ah, the things crazy people do to people who are just a little less crazy, but weaker.
One of the mystries of either sleeping with a psycho or maybe even marrying one.
That's my Loonie's worth tonight anyway.

TomCat said...

For some, teaching is a vocation. The world is just a little better off, because for you, Ivan, it was not.

ivan said...

Subtle, gracious tomcat.
Thank you!

eric1313 said...

Ivan, as long as your mind is as sharp as your words portray it as, you are far from senile.

I guess Wordpress operates the same ways that blogger does--only it's not a bunch of electronic codes that have been patched and re-patched together over a ten or twelve year period of time. Some of the pages I saw look boring and are very basic, but others have been customized to the max. You can easily create side bars and headers to put your novels in. And then you can have your old Ivan IDs from here to check into to comment with.

On my sidebar, there's an Australian fellow called Gingatao, or Paul S, who is somewhere between yours and my age who has a WP blog with all kinds of customizations. And he's a really good writer, very Beat-like. He told me that there are even easier setups to have even more than he has, but he wanted it to be a jumble so people would explore it. Method and madness coming together as one.

Me? Until the day blogger locks me out of my own website, I'll be here. They almost pissed me off with shrinking my header (oh no! ;)
but I fixed that by making a bunch of custom headers--about twenty of them--with the words on the pictures already, so I don't have to ask too much of blogger.

Sorry to hear that your son is having domestic problems. It's the symptom of this sick age. I read a eulogy carved on a Roman grave, from husband to his dead wife. I tread thusly:

"To my beautiful wife, who in thirty years never argued with me one time".


That can't be accurate!

I hope he gets his house settled and back to a reasonable level of domestic bliss.

ivan said...

Thanks Eric.

My banker tells me that I indeed have some brains, but I am loath to use them. LOL.

I must say you are a very bright guy and a welcome guest in this space.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great post. Part of the reason I became a teacher was to have summers off to write, and long vacation periods, like at Christmas. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the career in ways I hadn't forseen and very seldom got much vacation time off. This last year I took summer off, though, and really made great progress in writing.

Very fine point toward the end of your post, though. To every creative thing there is a cost. And you won't know what until the bill arrives.

Donnetta Lee said...

As you say, Ivan, one has at least done it.

I'm plodding away with my speech therapy and so tired of it. Only one year left to go--then, blessed retirement.

I will have done it.


ivan said...

Oh you are so right about the workload, Charles.
I was working trimester, hardly any time off, for about a year. Talk about burnout!

And yes, right again. Seems you lose hair and teeth when writing a novel of 50,000 words or more.. And the god exacts a price.

Have you noticed too that the same thing seems to happen when you go for an advanced degree...Something comes in from the side and slaps you hard.

ivan said...

Yes, Donnetta,

You will have done it.
And of that you will have reason to feel proud.

eric1313 said...

Ahh, thanks, Ivan. You, too, are welcome any time. I have a new one up right now, actually.
Here, I have shot... Smirnoff.

oops, just drank it. Here I'll pour another real fast, nobody will know...

And I have Led Zeppelin on the stereo, "In My Time Of Dying", an electric slide guitar romp that goes on for eleven minutes, ends with a cough.

ivan said...

Led Zeppelin most cool.

And Dylan, same theme.

Knock-knock-cnockin' on heaven's door.

"I see my light come shinin'..."

...Or is it just my full stomach giving me associations? (Gurgle).

I'll traipse over to your site.

eric1313 said...

I have the Jimi Hendrix BBC collection, too. He covers a few Dylan songs, a Cream song, and a lot of blues staples, from Curtis Knight to Muddy Waters to Willie Dixon. Great stuff. Including three different versions of Hey Joe.

How's the writing going?

ivan said...

Visited your site.
Oh poetry of love and loss.

Reminds me of a similar situation years ago.
Listening to Queen a lot.

"Death on Two Legs"


What a feeling.

And I don't mean the Fashion theme, originally by our Crowbar, from Toronto.

The writing is not going well.
...Always starts out that way.

Gotta apply a little "technology"--if technology doesn't belong to the devil.

ivan said...

p.s. to Eric,

Just revisited your blog to see that you were more poignant than heartbroken when you wrote the poem.
Up until 40, I never seemed to lose seriously at love.
And then the Wham.

"What's it all about, Alfie?"

eric1313 said...

The devil is everywhere--especially the details, or quoting scripture, so don't worry about technology so much.

It'll all get back on track. It might be the holidays messing with you! Maybe you need a drink. Here have another shot...


Drank it, too. Oh well, I'll pour you another.

Peace out

ivan said...

I think I'll finally have that shot, Eric.

Woaah. Thanks.

I really needed that.

They tell me a shot is better for you than a coffee.

Ah well. Like W.C. Fields used to say, "It's gotta be noon somewhere."
Ein Prosit.


Alle Votre, as they used to say in Haiti.

Who got the Voodoo? We do.


Middle Ditch said...

Ivan, you are not insane, you are just a writer.

Happy New Year and keep writing.

ivan said...

Thanks, middle ditch.

I see you have a new installment of your radio play.
My audio a bit bad, thanks to, I think, Microsoft, but I'll give it a better listen soon. Sounds good, under the circumstances.
Infidelities. Yeah.
I write a lot about that.

And happy New Year to you too.


Josie said...

Ivan, I know this sounds totally insane, and you can tell me so, but have you ever considered writing children's books? I think you would be a natural, and there is big $ to be made. Children love to be frightened. I think you could write some wonderful, scary children's stories.

Just thinking out loud...

ivan said...


Intriguing comment.

I notice that when I relate parts of Antoine St. Exupery's The Little Prince to my grandchildren, who are very young, they are rapt with attention.
...You know, the little prince who comes from a tiny planet on which there are two volcanoes, one active and the other inactive...The little prince examines his two volcanoe every day and waters the solitary flower on his little asteroid world.

This is the kind of story I would like to write, but obviously the airman-genius St. Exupery beat me to it.

A children's story is something I would like to try and thank you for suggesting it to me.

(I am certainly good at scaring the crap out of people, no?) :) said...

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