ramblings of number 747
(read me andpass me along)
February 3, 1983 5:47 AM
I was awakened this morning by a booming against the side of the boat. What?! Driving rain such as one encounters only once a year was all the answer I got. Go Away!
I tossed under the quilt, looking for the comfort that I had only just lost
My God, could that -- whatever it is -- really crash through the hull? It's so miserable out there.
Gentler now. A soft bumping that taps the rhythm of waves. Probably just a chunk of ice broken free by the wind.
Now I wonder if I will be able to sleep again.
I remember something from last night. The quilt was damp from condensation on the inside of the hull, next to which it had been stored. I'd pulled it out with some sense of dismay, wondering what other areas of neglect were stored around me. I'd just showered, out of a mixed sense of intolerable sliminess of the skin and the always paired inability of my thoughts to grasp. The clouds of steam fill the cabin and find their rest along the frigid planks of the boat's hull. But I couldn't find the calm that usually comes with cleanliness.
So I decided to give in to my tiredness. I had a futile moment when I went to arrange the bedding. Silly preoccupations. I was smooth and soft, and there was the sleeping bag I was accustomed to bundling in. It was to be washed tomorrow -- today -- and I hated to immerse myself in its accumulated punguence. So there was the lighter-weight quilt, quite fresh and only slightly damp now.
It was a luxurious feeling to lie between light and clean covers, which to me betoken visits to other, more established lives. Made beds with sweet cotton sheets. Sprawling in a dry warmth which so differs from the sweaty coziness of a sleeping-bag during an over-cold night.
Should I, or shouldn't I? What will be my fate? It was warm enough for now to enjoy the clean bed, but I knew that before morning I would be cold. Good, I thought. Then I'll just have to wake up. It will break the monolithic silence of the overly sound sleeps I've been having lately. The wind was building, and light squalls were scraping over the boat with increasing frequency. It was with real luxury that I was rocked to sleep this night.
This time the impact was definitely threatening. It carried a much greater weight than just a chunk of ice. I was summoned. It will be difficult to explain why I felt summoned. There was a moment's remembering of the decision upon turning into bed that I would wake in the night. So this was why I was to sleep in the quilt.
Alright, so now instead of resentment, I felt eager to learn what specter of destruction was getting me out of my comfort. I arose. No, not those pants. Some work pants. And the old wool sweater that seems to be made of iron yarn. The one my father wore thirty-five years ago, I remembered, and which doesn't begin to show wear. The one with my-his name embroidered inside -- varsity swimming.
No point trying to keep dry. It's a typhoon out there.
I crawled out in my bare feet. A moment's hesitation that was reduced to a pinprick of awareness that I shouldn't really want to go out there. There was no physical hesitation. Immediately I was spinning in the stormy world that I liked so much to perceive from inside the cabin.
There was no feeling of getting wet or cold. There was no possibility of even distinguishing those sensations. They were too pervasive. Water on the deck was up to my ankles. The rain was torrential; there's nothing on deck to hold a pool that deep. What is it then? I scrambled toward the bow with just enough abandon to be reminded of the need to grab hold.
A huge slab of ice had wedged itself between my hull and the behemoth in the next slip. The crash I felt was the full weight of that monster transmitted through the ice each time a wave hit. It was indeed a force that could crack my hull. The wind and waves pushed it further into the vee between the boats.
I sat on the edge of the boat and gave the slab a mighty shove with my bare feet. As though driven by a ghost, it drifted away against the gentler prodding of more natural forces.
I followed its course until I was perched on the spindly bowsprit, where I was reminded of other exhilarating times there when crashing though waves at sea. I felt no less exhilarated. And now as the cabin fire has warmed me again and I sit in dry clothes writing.
So that was why I was waked from the comfort of my sleep -- and this. I ought to have felt unlucky to have to go out into that storm. This writing, too, is a burden. But there was a moment in which by purest accident I was called to partake. A moment of soul-moving existence that otherwise I was bound -- and determined -- to sleep through. It seemed not to be an accident though, and that is the subject of more writing.
I had known that I was to be awakened, and had even prepared for it. The consternation of why the preparation --for what -- was answered in the simplest and most mundane fashion. Strange how life is to be made wonderful by such simple preparedness to meet one's fate. I can't say that there was any God to greet me at this moment of miserable epiphany, but the feeling was exactly as if there had been. That is the thing that requires some explaining.
It's calmer now. The rain has stopped. I'm warm. Only my eyes hurt from the early hour. There's a lot of work ahead, and I'm not sure I'm equal to it. I have a metaphor in my life for such times, though. I have this boat. There was a moment of dread following the excitement and disbelief that came when I realized that I actually own this boat on which I now live. I had never sailed anything more complicated than a 'sunfish'. I was far from certain of the boat's seaworthiness. There were impossible and imposing considerations of time and money. Behind the excitement was the lurking fear that I might just have done something crazy. And so now, as I scrawl, I know that it is not just to myself -- though it might principally be for myself -- and that too seems out-of-bounds. I don't know how to write.
How many authors write Accident or Fate in the same capital letters they use for God? They have all seemed aware of what I, with my peculiar style of reading, find most compelling in their writing. There is life borne through the written word. I never remember the words -- their meaning or their sound -- but I think their life stays with me. Yet these authors are no worshippers of fate. Theirs is a controlled writing. Still, I would insist that there are the muses. I can't judge whether I'll be blessed by their attentions, or whether my writing will crumble under the entropic force of too many details left uncared for. 0 gentle muse, how can I prepare for your coming?
And what a lie! What conceit! I don't set out to write literature. Belles-lettres, even. What I'm about comes perilously close to the profane realm of argument. I have something to prove, though I don't believe in proofs. If she comes, the muse will only-just grant a blessing upon a lost sheep. There will be little fiction here, and even less poetry. My only claim for indulgence is my lonely spirit, which even now can hardly believe that words are the proper release. There are other, and deeper mysteries which call forth my captured soul. They are there beyond the words, though not, perhaps, apart from them.
I had been in school, and miserable, when the lure of ships and the sea finally demanded a response. Boats, really. Or anything that could fly white sails and have some space within for repose. The embodied paradox of calm enclosure; shelter set free in the grip of the literal swells of fate. It began as might the longing of a child for love of the sexual sort that he cannot understand. It begins as a beautiful image, too distant to be anything but the subject of pleasant dreams. The body is left out and there is not yet the painful ache of adolescent longing. By then the dream is painful in its impossibility. Whole worlds are lost at each moment that desire is confounded by what is too far beyond comprehension. A kiss which once was innocent now becomes cruel for its promise of what is unknown.
And for me even the kiss was unknown; or rather the plunge was made precipitously thereafter. Like all true fallings in love, I am convinced, this one was surrounded by the mysteries of synchronous happenings. These are simply conjunctions which defy rational appeal, and in their occurrence change the main event as a presence made more real by the impossibility of its circumstances. First, there is the simple coming together of the lover and his object. Then there are the little things which make one know it is right.
The conjuring up of apparitions made real by merely speaking their Name. The start of turning a corner to find what you know not where to seek after. These are the proof of relationship, as I will set out here to prove. But they are all first led up to by tiny seeds each time we have opened our hearts. The love that is first sown as belief can bear fruit in reality when the heart remains fecund.
I was not actually miserable in school. Quite the opposite. My belief in meaning was bearing its fruit in questions answered and mysteries confirmed. I was excited by what I was learning, but it was to the point of distraction. I can rarely read poetry, for after the first poem I am distracted by beauty -- too excited. The whir of my being takes off in an impossible building of meaning such that I fear the text. How can I be competent for the task of reading, when such words as these are put to paper? It is the exhilaration that keeps me away, and such was my relationship with school.
There was a mistrust, not of what I was learning, but of the demands in return. The piles of words which are a product of universities grew nightmarish in their aspect for me. What came together in the excitement of learning was something that could sweep away that rubbish and get back to the text. I didn't want forever to be afraid of poetry, and I felt my fear to be connected to that kind of understanding -- the piling up of words. Each new clue to the unraveling of the poetry of a text -- of the world --was a catalyst-seed in the crystallization of whole encyclopaedias of meaning.
This is why -- that's why -- Ah, now I understand. But where would it all end?
It could be that my boat romance began there -- that I needed to be delivered into the sort of exhilaration that doesn't even flirt for understanding. I don't now, and I didn't then understand why I dreamt of boats. There was something familiar in it. Something to do with bicycles and motorcycles; scuba diving, mountain climbing, and other passions of my past. This seemed like one more attempt to transcend the flesh -- to get out of my skin -- and that worried me. There had been too much disappointment in the past, and I felt wary of repeating it. Yet they need not remain disappointment.
I began to make excursions to the shore; to wander around the marinas and admire the boats. That was instead of writing the papers which I knew could never come together; so full would they be of impossible longing for knowledge to prove what I had already proven to myself. If you want to stay sane, the understanding has to come after the words and not before. I was not a sane member of the university community. I already knew what I wanted to say and could scarcely bother to find the evidence. It all jumped out at me, rather, and I was overwhelmed. So I took to looking at boats.
Marinas exist in an other world, protected by ties of belonging -- in and out -- and by signs which make the visitor nervous. I've never been good at penetrating those invisible but very real social barriers. I feel ill at ease, and that is why I now sit alone in my boat. But there have been moments, we all know them, when the piercing of such barriers provided the route to an untold aliveness.
Climbing atop a monument in ever proper Austria just because the sign said verboten, and discovering the singular vista, made singular, perhaps, by its having been a breech. So in the marina, I walked past the signs and tried to be natural. I was armed with a fiction -- a lie -- that I was looking to buy a boat. Otherwise I would have scurried away at the first guarding glance of one of those who belonged.
I had less than no money and little enough experience to dare open my mouth. But my inward pretense gave me the courage to stroll. I didn't see much at first because I didn't dare to look. I didn't want to be caught off-guard. When you are a part of something, you stop noticing the things of which you are part, and I instinctively knew that I should be nonchalant.
Eventually, whether because curiosity gets the better of you, or because someone is sympathetic to your alienness, you begin to learn; and by degrees can gain admission to any other world. I know I left a trail of bewilderment with my misplaced terminology and impossible circumstances. But no-one called my bluff. I couldn't have been a good actor; if I were to see myself now I would know exactly what I was up to. And so, I guess, did everyone I encountered. It was the sincerity of my interest that gave me my education. The attempts at playing a part were too bald to be offensive. I guess.
But I did eventually get myself into a lot of trouble. Because I began to believe, myself, the part I had cast for myself. Pretending to be interested in buying a boat in order to gain admission to the museum led through a real desire to possess something like the objects displayed therein to a swindling of the soul who would sell me one. Still, they were salesmen whose souls are already so twisted by charade of truth that there could be no further harm.
I was gaining momentum. Those arcane forces -- that arcane structure -- was taking shape that would funnel me to the object of my desire.
It was against all reason. As in cases of true love where the emotion is so overwhelming that only later can one reflect on the utter impossibility of the meeting. Not because it is so unusual or even special by comparison with the myriad other events which conspire to make up the world. Just in what it entails. That this boat should have been there, at that time. No-one else wanted it. I'm afraid to say her -- and indeed, it had much to be wary of. It was not impossible simply by the occurrence, but by what it entailed.
This is difficult. I'm being led to all corners of my life, and there seems to be the necessity of drawing in those other souls who've been reflected therein. I would expose them -- or their soul as it strikes me-- and then cast myself off more completely than I already am in my floating hermitage. The telling requires it, however. 0 where is there justice? Not to tell is to leave the narrative of my own life unpeopled and dull. But to lay bare the basis of all existence -- the communion between souls that must forever remain other to those who are not friends -- that would be abominable sin. What then? I have no power for invention.
"You seem to have come to a dead-end, Mr. H****. It's about time, too. I was getting sick of that pile of involuted shit you've been writing. You tear open the sewer of your soul -- as if all it took was a series of words --and suddenly you're wallowing in it. Every fucking detail gets connected to every other little detail until it has to stop, of its own confusion."
Who are you? What are you doing here?
"Who do you think I am?"
You couldn't be the muse. Muses are gentle.
"Fat chance. They're about as far away from you as the moon.
"We've been there, you know. To the moon, I mean. That's the whole problem. You strike down your goals by achieving them. All narrative has that kind of goal. There's an end to it. It wants to comprehend something. And fiction presumes the comprehension to be accomplished by invention -- like getting to the moon. You invent a vehicle that's more real than the conveyance of one's feelings, and when you've gotten there, everyone who's been left behind is saddened, though they might not know it. The moon of poetry has been destroyed, and we are fooled into leading our lives at a remove, through the thrills of those few who actually galloped off to the moon. I mean, you read a novel and there they are, those astronauts bigger than life whose existence you can only wish for. Only Tolstoy avoided that.
"Enough! God, you go on. How are you ever going to get this under control?"
Will you help?
"I'm not your muse."
Perhaps you could pretend?
"Ah. Well, perhaps -- if you do."
Well then let's pretend. Let's imagine there's a young fellow by the name of Howie Hahn -- that's sort of Chinese for "hero" -- and that he ... Hell, that's just changing the names to protect the innocent. It'll never work. And I don't want to be a hero. That's just my point. That's what I want to prove.
"Why don't you just go ahead and prove your point then?"
I don't have the evidence, or rather the only evidence I have is my own experience. I can't just invent that. Or maybe I did invent it. Let's be honest. I'm going to invent a story and the protagonist is going to be me. I don't want anyone to fall into the trap of thinking that my whole life is here, though. I won't let slip all the dishonorable moments. And I don't want the reader to think I've gotten anywhere at the end. It might be nice if the reader has gotten somewhere, though.
"Bull Shit. If anybody reads this you will think you've gotten somewhere. And so will the reader, if he likes it. Any writer casts himself in the role of hero. People who live life don't need to read about it. And people who read about it aren't fooled by the characters in the book. Their real hero is the author."
I don't read that way.
"Yeah, I know. You identify with the characters. Living your life as though you were a character in a novel. You thought that once, didn't you? That instead of having to write out the play of life, one ought to take the message and live it. So why are you writing?
I have something to prove.
"To who? To yourself?"
Maybe so. I don't know. There's something I know -- I feel -- that I think the whole world needs to know. I decided a while ago that you can't just tell people such things. You can't prove to them the truth. So I thought I was free of words. The way to teach what you know is to live it. To be the author of your own life. But there I was, a mechanic, a carpenter, and always the words would ensnare me.
I learned something from the very real satisfaction of building things -- fixing them. But ecstasy was reserved for words. That seems to be my realm. Not beautiful, well-written words. I'm not trained for that. But words that are the only vent for a soul inadequately tied to the world by other means of expression. I don't know. Maybe I do have to prove something to myself. Just as I got myself into the boat project and had to see it through -- well, somehow I've gotten myself tangled in the net of words. I have to see it through. I can't keep turning my back with excuses that are only more words.
"You can't prove anything to people with words." That's a truism, but all I ever really do that's central to my being is talk -- words. I go around the woodlots and boat-yards as an enigma. Nothing of what I want to let out gets released because I'm just a confusion. No matter how I perfect my skills at carpentry -- my soul's not in it.
"Christ! Don't get so upset. I'll help already. We're going to have to consider this a bit more. Let me get this straight. You have something to prove, but you can't prove it by words. You might prove it by carpentry if your soul were in it. Is that right?"
I'm not sure. I guess so. There are carpenters who know what I know. They're calmer, though, because their work gives vent. I mean it connects them to the world. But, it's different. They wouldn't be able to put into words what I know. I've struggled with words -- with reason -- and so what I've got to say takes that form. Perhaps it's an interpretation -- a translation. I'm sure the world is as caught up in words as I am. Many people don't understand the work of the carpenter. They put it into words and suddenly the carpenter is alone -- because no one connects with his work.
Those carpenters who can tolerate starvation just keep on working. And so life goes on. The rest are dead...
"Stick to the topic. We're trying to figure out how you can make your connection in the world, and you keep going off trying to vent your soul or something. There's got to be some order here. There are good words and bad words; good carpentry and bad carpentry. You can't just spill your soul into your words and expect them to be good."
I wanted a muse!
"Listen! The way I see it, you're only trying to connect with people who read, right?"
But there a lot of dead carpenters out there!
"Well, start a religion, for Christ's sake. Maybe you just want to preach."
That's no fair. Alright, I'll admit there's something dead in religion. Something about God. I mean His Word. But I'm not trying to replace that.
"So you keep telling yourself. You lost a good majority of the 'dead carpenters' anyway. A lot of them believe in God -- and His Word."
No they don't. I mean they don't really. Well some might --but not the dead ones.
"Stop! I agree you don't know how to write. Poetry isn't it. And fiction seems dangerous to you. Why not an essay?"
An "Essay on the Life of R*** H****". Not too promising.
"You've got to start somewhere."
Well, you've given me a thought. I've put it all wrong. I don't know anything. I have nothing to prove. That's what I really meant before anyway. My life is here, on this page. Open it, gentle reader, I would like to talk with you. I can't think except when I'm talking, and I have to talk to somebody. By the way, you wouldn't be my reader would you?
"Not a chance."
During my childhood, I would spend my winters dreaming of the summer, when I had the whole world of Lake Erie at my back door. The water was clear then, and I loved to swim. In my winter dreams, the house would have flooded with that sweet transparent water. I could float through the rooms, and especially up and down the stairs. I didn't worry about breathing. These were day-dreams and had no true logic. At night, I would dream of flying. In the end, I would actually physically crash onto my bed. Falling, I suppose, from the paroxysm of fear that preceded the crash in my dream.
My summer dreams were concerned with skiing. A controlled falling at breathless speeds down slopes of clean white snow. The dreams were present also at the event. The reality wasn't a disappointment, I mean. At least it provided the stuff that would fuel the next season's dreams.
But there I was in the hot activity of summer, where the whole world invites you to repose -- dreaming of the exhilaration of winter. And in the cold repose of winter when the house beckons with its warmth -- dreaming of the easy drifting of summer. The dreams were confused, but the activities were in place. I was doing things all the time, and in their rush even the seasons passed too slowly.
There are other moments that come later, when I would have stopped the progress of time to expand the moment into an eternity that I might sort out who I was. Dead, empty moments of thinking. Thinking is an impossible activity, and I know now that I wasn't thinking. I was troubling. There was something unfinished hanging over my life, and each time I was beaten down by the senseless procession of events which always left me short of where I wished to be, I would be pushed flat on my ass to think -- or so it seemed to me. I was actually just troubling.
But I would have moments of clarity when the words that flitted through my mind clamored together their great sense. It made thinking seem legitimate, but it didn't get me back into the procession of time. Each time I'd solved something through thought, a book or an event -- or the event of reading a book -- would come my way and prove to me that this wasn't it. This had been "thought" of countless ages ago. Yet this conspiracy of little accidents that would both excite and depress me gradually drew me out.
Excite, because they legitimized my activity -- that is, my inactivity; my thinking. Depress, because I'd solved nothing. And finding that my thoughts had already been thought prodded an effort to control -- to find out as much as possible about what had been "thought" before, so that I could really own my own thoughts. So that I could know that my own thoughts were truly original. So that, as it seemed would happen if I didn't learn to take control, I wouldn't forever be misleading myself and rehashing old mistakes.
Recognizing my thoughts in the thoughts of others also enraged me. I was enraged at the blindness and stupidity of the world. A world that hadn't told me what it already knew, but had fed me a pack of rotten lies instead. Generally, the anger put me back on my ass.
Here was the situation; what I had been told -- what had been put my way in a controlled manner -- seemed wholly lies whenever something would come my way accidentally -- beyond control -- to prove that my own doubts about the controlled truths had been expressed before. They were therefore both legitimized and taken away from me. I knew I had a right to doubt the received truths, but I knew the revealed truths weren't original. They were very old. A kiss is a revelation only to a fool who imagines that no-one's ever felt that way before.
Yet personal revelation seemed not enough. To get a handle on the revealed truth of the world, and to know that personal truth is also original. That each new discovery is not made illegitimate because somebody's been there before. But also to find someplace, through effort and control, where you could be sure that you are the first. That you might own the territory.
But why own the territory? Why this desire to be so alone? My struggle between the ancestral truths and my own, expressed itself violently in the prepubescent nightmares I suffered for so long. When the inkling began that I would in fact eventually find myself alone in the world, my sleeping mind would warn me of the consequences of stepping beyond the ancestral territory. Simple things, like being upside down --even though everything was upside down in the dream and I wasn't falling -- would send me into a howling panic. There would be no pain in the nightmares, just an undeniable sense that nothing made sense. There was even my awareness within the dream that I could ignore the fear and relax, because my senses told me that I was alright. Nothing was hurting me, and I wasn't apparently affected by the lack of sense. But I couldn't stop the terror. A terror such as I have never experienced since.
There are only two ways to stop the terror -- the nightmare. Either you bind yourself ever more tightly to your inherited world, or you learn to be alone and swallow fear. I followed the path I was shown, but always the ground felt insecure. Terror would lurk behind me -- a breath away. The inherited world gradually became the nightmare, and I was bounding to some private world. I sleep soundly with hardly a memorable dream. But I am ever more lonely, and ever more callous. There must be a way to stand firmly without being alone. And there must be a way to be alone without stepping beyond the solid ground of the community.
It has been my restless, childhood years that have pulled me out of the swamp -- and the anger, and the terror, and the thinking -- each time. When in high school, I had fallen into the brooding which this century's early sex and late morality leads to. It was the instincts bred in childhood that saved my soul. There was a sucking power of depression that set in as each revealed truth was contradicted by the expressed truth of society. The sexual experience that was real and the morality that was also real and needed to be corrected. My mind wasn't up to the task, of course, nor could I stand ad-hoc solutions. I was too troubled by morality and by truths to just ignore them. Perhaps if I had read. But I didn't or couldn't. As I've said, fortunately there was my childhood. I would sooner brood on a long bicycle ride than in a dark corner. And this at least left me exposed.