gall and gumption

Friday, May 13, 2011

The God of Poetry Wears Loud Shirts

In response to a query from a friend about the short post preceding this one:

Carolyn, everything in that little piece is true. I mean, it is an account of actual experience. Experience of what? Grace, I guess. It assumes, first, that there is no meaningful distinction between the exotic on one hand and the everyday casual on the other—it’s imagination that is either working or not working. It’s about my complicated feelings about the island landscapes and seascapes which get inside my gut like nowhere else on earth--even places of more natural beauty. But for all this intense feeling about nature that I have when I’m there, it is, like everywhere else, a casual and everyday kind of place. I know nothing duller than the capital city of a small Caribbean island on a Sunday afternoon.

So this is kind of about how your possible happiness can come by a sort of grace, unsought, not as a solution to anything but just existing of its own right like nature. It comes among the ordinary things like the dude who promises to call but never calls, it comes among flat tires and laundry and all the things that need solving, but it does not come by solving them—unless the Gods of What We Want happen to be agreeable. And that is the great thing about it, it's what your aliveness is actually about, but I didn't understand this at the time. It was a fleeting experience of being in love, not with the sleeping man, but with being. There is no “why.” It just is. And being in love with being means finding a way to love the dull and ugly bits as well, the everyday, to find the whatchamacallit—Holy Spirit if you will or god of poetry—resident among them. You could say that the feeling of loss of grace, as chronicled by so many poets (Herbert, Wordsworth, Hopkins come to mind) is the conviction that for some reason you don’t have it within you to get that love of being, that you’ve lost something, you’re cut off. Being in love with someone is like the next best thing, and sometimes it is the best thing. (However, if you feel and suddenly express a sudden surge of love for being, you don’t have to waste weeks afterwards trying to figure out how to talk the fucker down out of a tree--which, it is probably safe to assume, is a waste of time anyway.) The solitude I feared, then, was full of promise; that’s what came in through the window that day, and something in me was yearning for it but feeling unworthy of it.

This thing occurred during a very unhappy time in my life, eight years ago, and although the experience impressed me I didn't know what it meant or what to do with it. Over all these years this experience kept trying to fit in somewhere--should it be in a novel, in an essay? I mean, I’ve tried putting it to various uses like that and while these experiments were fun they didn’t let me feel finished with the matter. Whenever I try to “use” anything it doesn’t work. Maybe one doesn’t finish. I put a man-of-war bird in this version and then I took the man-of-war bird out again. The man-of-war bird is a whole other story.

I am able to wholeheartedly welcome its persistence in my mind. That persistence, it occurred to me just recently, was part of the gift.

The "I'll call you" is a reference to the other party in the piece, the sleeping man, who always used to say, "I'll call you," but would never call. I mean you’d be walking down the street and “Beep! Beep!” he’s sticking his head out of his car window, “I’ll call you!” The call never came. This line is a joke at his expense.

You have to be unhuman sometimes for a while; be a man-of-war bird or just nothing. My vision of what that's like is the Caribbean, the sea there, perhaps because that experience was so common in my childhood.

See how long and boring this is compared to that?


At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I like your explanation quite a bit. I guess my brief philosophy of things is that we all die. Mortality is a terrible tragedy and on the road there, if you are lucky, sit tiny bits of grace (as you describe). And it's a good and mighty thing if the grace resonates because, no matter what, everything good (and bad) ends.It's the Beatles' song, "All You Need is Love." Not romantic love--thrilling as it is. What helps sustain the spirit is recognition of grace in the mundane. Just small bits of time, that we can return to again and again. Anne

At 2:52 PM, Blogger Kia said...

But how come you can manage to say it so much more economically than I can manage?

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, jesus. i can't write like you. but i'm a fatalist and i think this leads to a spare view and perhaps sparse thinking. robyn, who is the most empathic, sensitive being, and who sees everything as not even half full says i have the bleakest outlook of anyone she can imagine. it may be true; i am constantly aware of that time is fixed, finite, achingly fleeting. i think it became more pronounced living with a painful, chronic illness. but the flip side is that if you live in pain--then the small steps outside of pain are so wonderful that they carry for months, even years. grace becomes Grace. Anne

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Kia said...

I miss you both. A lot.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also like this, and what’s been said. And no I don’t think it’s long and boring. I never doubted what you’d written happened, or that it was your imagination and love that brought it all to light, the guy maybe especially. Sometimes the best thing about a person or experience is what I feel and see, not what happens from it or what the other person thinks or tells me about it. It’s so often that my perception of something or someone is the only part I get to have. I like Anne’s short philosophy and additions to it. It seems practical and yet elevated, romantic (not in a dreamy way but in a way that appreciates the romance of living) all at the same time.

Okay so about the casual, which was maybe not the best word in this case, though I like your thoughts about the casual and the exotic and it all being lived with the same passion and love, with aliveness throughout. Without knowing the story behind it—a great story that I’m glad I got to hear—the “I’ll call you” is maybe dismissive. There’s something thrown away there. It’s wonderful and right that all of life, the mundane and exotic, is alive and passionate. Maybe it’s the joke I inadvertently picked up on but that line feels tossed off, which the rest of it isn’t. And that’s fine, tossed off. I guess I’m defending, trying to clarify, my reaction! Though I take solace in the fact that it got you to write more that I got to read.

And now I’m wondering what I’m doing trying to write back to you, you two. I’ve loved it though. Not so happy with the way it’s come out here but it’s the best I can do for now and figured, hope, it’s better to write it than not.

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Kia said...

Oh please, Carolyn, it's great that you showed up and gave me some pushback. A few people whom I will not name AHEM just show up here and say, "Great!" or "Lovely!" They leave an epithet and depart. OK so I totally see your point about the "I'll call you," and here's why. The piece is not about the guy. It's about not getting that it's not about the guy. And then she gets this little gift and she's puzzled by it for years. Me, that is. Was, to be precise. And bringing it back to him with that "I'll call you" is a cheap shot. But alas I have a weakness for the cheap shot. And it might as well stay there now and be part of the atmosphere like a plastic bottle.

Indeed it was better to write your comment than not. I can't think of any context in which that would not be true except maybe a Dear John Fuck You letter. Those are always a bad idea, it appears. Please come back often and write more things. I can use the company and the occasional poke with a sharp stick., and it's a little bit like being amongst you all.

At 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah,the cheap shot. It's like using tricks when painting. you rely on them because they work on a certain level and will pass through most people. and both are reliable and get you to where you need to be. the trick i use most often is color--it can hold up a painting that wobbles in other places.
and, when working so hard, the "cheap shot" or easy remark is sometimes necessary--it provides the writer with a bit of a rest, and the umph to finish up. it's like a lull during a romantic encounter; it doesn't diminish the end. Anne

At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or the cheap shot tells you something else, something about the personality of the writer or the painter. I mean that seriously and not as a jab or joke at either of you but more to say when in doubt, where does one's cheap shot (or reliable tool?) come from...color; humor... I wasn't objecting to the "call me," maybe just noting it out as a turn in tone and wondering about it. I'm fond of your humor and also Anne's use of color so wouldn't object to either. Am happy they're there and part of how you each work. "Atmosphere" is a good way to put it.

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