November 6, 2009

Zombie Notes

The truth is that I’m still messed up by the loss of a valuable relationship that was in no way intimate or intended to be. It was a relationship that I wanted to be a deep, lifelong friendship, for however much longer my absurd life persisted. I was prepared to put all I had into it. It went south. The details can't matter much to anyone but me. It would be self-serving to tell them, and I don't want to badmouth anybody.

The details must be seen from at least two contrary perspectives, hers and mine. From mine, it is obvious to me that I loved her, perhaps more deeply than any other in my long, harried relationships with women; and that she wouldn’t let me know her, or make the time to know me. I made mistakes. She did too. It ended in another one of those "misunderstandings," that I habitually assume major responsibility for. She thinks very poorly of me now, and I know only one other woman that I admired as much. It did nothing for my self-esteem, already gnawed by alligators.

We both had illusions I suppose. She said she thought I was a very good writer, a good actor, and that I looked “great” on film. I don’t know what her illusion was; mine was the illusion that I had found a solid friend at last, someone who appreciated me, and that the love I felt for her was real, and its own reward. To feel love again was the greatest feeling. She inspired me to think that I might finally produce something from 50 years of seemingly-pointless writing, and yet become an artist. She gave me a confidence in my own work that I'd never had, and when it all went to hell the confidence followed. I can't even read the stuff I wrote then.

I remember the thoughts and feelings that enticed me to begin writing in the first place. I was twenty one and recently discharged from the Marine Corps. I had no serious thought of being rich or famous. After reading some very fine authors like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Isak Dinesen, I wanted to write but didn’t think I could. I wrote embarrassing journals, and later, after reading Kerouac and Gorky, I realized that I could write if I wrote truly about what I knew.

These and many other creative writers gave me such gifts of understanding and deep feeling, that I simply wanted to give something back by planting something of my own in the garden of literature. They captured my heart. I'm grateful to Gorky for making me feel the plight of Russian serfs, and to Kerouac for presenting in amazing detail how the world vanishes before our very eyes, how every moment and detail of it is important, and for illuminating the sad hopeless tragedy of it all, demanding my compassion, and opening my heart. Pure gratitude and reverence inspired me to pick up a quill, and imitate their examples.

I wanted to write something that would move someone somewhere somehow to want to write or to give his or her own gift in their own way, as I had, so as to pass mine on in a creatively written chain of truth, hope, understanding, inspiration, and above all, resolution of mass mental illness. I wanted to inspire as I had been inspired. But what did I have that could inspire? That was my problem and the subject of my quest. Creative writing is a process of self-discovery. At first I discovered my own emptiness, and the vapid banality of my own thoughts. I had nothing, and only God can create from nothing. I didn't understand my own experience, and it contained the only substance I could create with.

I knew in the beginning that one must write about that which one knows. The only thing I knew was my past. I feared that if I wrote about it I would hurt my family. I couldn't do it. I didn't understand then how to write fiction (I still don't.) I put the knowledge aside, and tried writing about things I didn't know much about at all. Newspaper reporters do it all the time, but it is disastrous for a creative writer to do so.

That is what I meant to do, but the path has twisted through an insane asylum of sick, tortured people, in various postures of selfishness, cruelty, and suffering, with a background of war, and other forms of State and personal sadism. Some creative writers can write about seagulls and angels, or compose entertaining detective novels, or pen fantastically scientific and entertaining descriptions of geophysical time, but that wasn't my thing. Writers observe what they see, and gnaw their own bone if they’re any good. I lamented that my vision of the human race was ugly, and tried to see it otherwise; to focus on the good, the lovely, and so on; but I could not. In the end, the minefields, the carpet-bombing, the prisons overstuffed with innocents, the mass graves crammed with swollen corpses, the Congresses of snakes, and the torturers dominated my vision, making all else seem trivial. I smelled the rotten bodies, heard the agonized screams, was outraged by official hypocrisy, and felt the futile but inexhaustible fury of the wrongly imprisoned. I am intensely aware of the forgotten, and I refuse to forget them.

Injustice is my obsession.

Yet what have I done but complain? And have I been just?

Still, I kept writing, expressing myself hastily and poorly, with writings sometimes personal and others political, armed only with desire and confused thoughts, impeded by inadequate education and inability to concentrate, blinded by narcissism and selfishness, hobbled by substance addictions, beset with emotional problems, and going nowhere. I kept writing for nearly 50 years without publication or even an effort to publish. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I learned to like to write, but I never could finish a thing to my own satisfaction. I could not see what it all meant or where it was going, or how it could be important. If I could not satisfy myself, how could I hope to satisfy others? I trashed a million words and never hesitated to start again. I never considered giving it up until recently.

I always thought that if I began with one true sentence, then followed it with another and another, it would be sufficient. And it should be. The difficulty lies in determining truth, which produces its own vocabulary. I concluded that truth has many levels, and is as relative as anything else. It's a pain in the ass to see both sides of issues, in a world where doubt is criminal, where everything is a contest, where right must surrender to might, and in a time when one should doubt almost everything.

I could have hired out to another newspaper, or tried simply for money to break into a particular lazy writer’s market with work that would appeal to the romantic, escapist crowd, which finds good reading in the supermarket. But I didn’t for various reasons. For one thing, I’m not that competitive, and for another, if I’m going to imitate someone, I’ll say so. For another, most popular writing is contemptible crap. It should go into the world's biggest bonfire. I didn’t want my book sitting on a shelf with it. I wouldn't be caught dead with it.

With my luck, a guy named Adolf Havenar will start World War Three, murder half the world, be executed for war crimes, and leave his own version of Mein Kampf standing beside my book until the pyramids erode. But a book can’t choose its neighbors.

One of my gentler critics suggested that I aimed too high. I'm afraid I didn't aim high enough. And I didn't work hard enough.

During this largely-fruitless effort that took place while I struggled to make a living like everyone else, I developed an undisciplined, chaotic system of study of anything seeming to offer insight or material for my inchoate but persistent vision. I chased any shiny lure, until I had either exhausted the subject, or gotten tired of it. I made thousands of notes. Several times, I copied whole works in longhand so that I could grasp every word. Everything led only to something else, and nothing went anywhere. All I could see was the neverending war. I was and am transfixed by it. Everything was aimed at understanding and stopping it. I felt that a writer should write about his time and country in a broad context.

Without a writing lesson since the 8th grade, I was grappling with this stuff in yet-another bar—sober two years then--and plowing through yet-another spiral notebook, as forced, drunken exuberance hummed about me like white noise, when this gal walked up and introduced herself. I can’t say I wish she hadn’t. I only wish it had turned out differently. And as I said, I’m still messed up with it. Beauty danced through the madhouse, and slammed the door as I attempted to follow her out.

No closure is possible. I’m left with this bad taste, like salt in a gulp of coffee. The experience was experienced; now it’s only another piece of the puzzle of my life, impossible to solve, impossible to forget, and useful only as material for my own curious writing.

We're supposed to learn from pain. I've learned at least to lock it up. Now it is only an ordinary pain. The worst of it is confined with the others, which, like zombies, keep trying to bust out of their tombs.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place."
~ Unknown

Anonymous said...

"When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow,
Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit."
~ Unknown

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