Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Chapter 3, from 1983

The heartbeat of footsteps,
Drawn soft through the shimmering night.
Heaven forget, be heedless of his plight.
Young ones come o'er half the oceans wide,
Bringing forth in girth the breeming tide.

I'm torn between two worlds, and always will be, I suppose. The world of literature with all its rich rewards might be the highest. Where visions are set by interactive construings of the only truly human language. There is only one reality, and it is most real in books.

But all it takes is a tale of far off life in the flesh. Sailing around the world in a gaudy yacht. Captain of a virile life. Then I spill my ashes all over my lap and am set into a deep funk. There would be experience gained there that would set my knowledge in the scramble of a little boy away from the billy-club of authority. I would have nothing to say. And it wouldn't be worth saying anything in the face of those lives I'd rather lead.

The burden of life is to be happy where one is -- and the joy. There is no-place else. When the soul takes up residence in far-off places, it loses its right to speak. Struck dumb by the voice of authority that already lives there. I learned something once by my stupid embarrassment in the presence of a wealthy scion from my hometown. I had nothing to say, and knew then my own smallness.

Why not me? I have the intelligence, the skills. I should be there. I should. There is a way, though, to convince oneself that it is ade­quate that somebody is there -- and not on a movie screen. There is a way to partake of greater lives without jealousy. There is a way to possess with­out owning, and experience without the sure thrill that makes history. I can almost believe it with my being. I believe it easily with my head. There is nothing on the other side that isn't already here. And if you need to get there you will -- or die in the crossing.

* * * *

Howie's shock came in part from a profound innocence of books, but mostly from a world which tried in so many ways to sterilize its security. To lop off the groping and clinging tendrils which reach out from the muck of the earth and embrace even the crystalline pinnacles. His world was buffered by an intervention of invention. An imposition of will where only the most sinuous of those shoots could reach. It was a tower of plastic, the malleable stuff so far from its organic roots of carbon rings and chains that it must be considered the purest product of will.

That same buffer would -- might -- have served him better in the form of words. The plastic (in the other sense?) world of imagery where all the web of existence is intensified. Or are they two sides of the same coin? Surely a crenellated tower is a product of will. Why, then, am I so certain that on its ramparts the breathing earth must still condense her breath, and not on those other ramparts of gleaming alloy. There are some works of literature -- most of those that endure -- whose earth-born stoniness vibrates in its roots. There are cruder and crueler words, though, whose mirror held up to nature reveals only ghoulish death behind the mask of Cinderella. You have to look hard, but it's there.

Or perhaps the difference is always and only in the man. If we deter our secretly cherished holocaust and Armageddon, these plastic moldings may one day too be looked upon with awe for the life they contain. There is no escape or release from the tendrils of being but the final one. There is now, even when man intervenes his will too strongly -- yes plastic, celluloid, indoctrinary fictions -- these too vibrate with the pulse of life. It is the attempt at escape that may be dangerous. In the foolish way that a drowning untrained swimmer grasps for the air only to drive himself under.

Howie could be shocked, but he was not innocent. His shock was never moral outrage, and he had made forays beyond the false security of the fortress impregnable that was home. He'd felt the infusion of mother's milk pouring through rents in mountain's mammary sides; the caress of rain which pulls away a gentle blanket of snow; and even, in the crashing thunder of colliding clouds making their electrical discharge of energy that was only latent because they had not touched -- even the ejaculation of nature's orgasm in her darkest moments. He knew he was connected, but it was a lost knowledge.

His shock came from the discovery of the power words could have for keeping that knowledge lost. No one had told him. The untutored contact he'd made with words was never enough to find his groping way beyond the dams of conventional truths. He took them at their face -- because of their beauty in which he had deep faith, never once suspecting that each uttered truth might be a lie that covered the eternal attempt at escape. Truths are secure and, like plastic, cannot deteriorate. Howie found them beautiful on their face. He cried at the truth of romantic love when he found it. He built steamy anger at the truth of greed and pettiness. Mostly, he was inconsolably impatient before the truth of lies.

He felt these truths with those same senses that deliv­ered nature's sounds, smells, tastes, touches and broad coherence. And so he was shocked at each little breach. The world of words was beginning its dissolution and it was as upsetting as if he were watching a mountain crumble before his eyes at the behest of nothing more than a whim. When the mountains crumble, there is no life. The daisy whose life reaches out toward a million worlds and across a million eons would become a piece in a museum -- disconnected from its integral soil whose nourishment is now replaced by words. Not the literal nourishment which is easy enough to provide, but the kind that would bridge the gulf that is unbridgeable between the explanation to the side of the display and the actual meaning of the homely little daisy which may be encountered for its truth perhaps by only the very youngest and most innocent -- or the most accomplished.

A mountain of words which had held together for him only by the tight restraint of a net of truths, was being under­mined at each new glimpse of the reality behind. And so as the days passed in a mist between his subsequent incarnation there in the woods near her, he began to carry an image from a dream of his hand in hers --held over the top of a tall filing cabinet. The bliss of the dream was not to be dis­appointed when actually their hands met.

That was a shock of revelation -- that the actual could be as real as the truth he had known. It was a bliss that wore thin for her more rapidly than for him who still took that hand with infinite wonder. It had become artificial, though -- almost an obligation, and the kiss was sure to follow. The kiss that would assure him of the solidity of the ground by its involvement of many more senses than just touch.

He'd tasted his sister's tongue when they were still young enough to bathe together. It was a game more innocent than "doctor" yet initiate enough to leave anyone without a sister deprived. It was a final extension of the curiosity that compels all tikes to taste the grime of a bus's window, and know the different qualities of metals; dirt, weeds, brick -- all those qualities that are still there, though forgotten.

Still, he was shocked by Jackie's insistent tongue which parted that which in him was ever content to remain closed. He hadn't known. It was a tumultuous collapse that left them writhing on the ground squeezing the other toward oneself for hours without ever admitting that any other barriers could exist. It was an afternoon made so permanent and stationary that he was to scrawl the only diary he ever kept on a tiny square of paper that said simply "This has been the best day of my life." There were no other possible words.

That moment of collapse -- it was a moment for what went afterwards didn't matter -- gave him the one pure impulse he would ever have to invoke the mysterious power of words to enshrine what all history conjoins to produce and then throws away with the next moment. The mind which is universe iden­tical to the one outside is forever stupefied that trans­formation should go on unabated in the face of its own crystallization. A word. Not in the beginning, but to be an end.

The knowledge would later rack him with silly jealousy. This person whom he has possessed so fully must have passed that way before. But where? How can such sordid knowledge exist beyond the sanctified trust of lovers who told and gave all? He couldn't conceive that she could have ever been frivolous, nor that she could ever have loved any other. Ridiculous as it seems, it was in no way different than the battle already begun in his soul between his instinct that knew that all truths must be overturned, and his knowledge that they cannot be. He hated by now the hypocrisy that would denounce impurity at the same time that it was man­ufactured constantly. O, he wanted to see lewd magazines published and sex made free, but his own anchor was slipping over the ground made slimy.

But she rode horses and not bicycles, and didn't have to understand what wasn't given in a moment. She was a true admirer of daisies, and made them beautiful simply by her attention. Yet she assuaged his jealousy out of the same obligation that made her listen to his mechanical explan­ations. She didn't need to know whom she loved and whom she didn't. It was for his sake that she invented the mistake of her past and swore to its frivolous circumstances. It was for his sake that she uttered the word love, though only in the negative and in regard to her past. He made oathes to her from the deepest reaches of his available heart, and she was truly obligated.

He knew what he knew and hated the slow passage of time that made them too ridiculously young for that knowledge to be sealed forever by marriage. Why? It would have been that way in the past. He was willing to forget all the hypocrisy of what had been sanctified only by convention just to stop the onward rush with the acceptance of this one truth. He was throttled by an image formed early wherein he was stand­ing at the altar next to a fulsome beauty from TV. That was the promise of life, and now he was willing to overlook the inconsistencies. He'd taken the face value and made it whole in his heart. Brush away the stupid image -- this is real!

"Can you believe it? This is puerile. Where in the world could anyone find more romance and less truth? Howie, you've got to stop this."

I can't help it. It is the truth. It's tangled and overburdened, but there is the actual thing. It's actually much more difficult than revealing the inner recesses of other forbidden paths I've trod. This is the most forbidden; the absolutely shameless admission of the transgression of the ultimate sin of ...Of what? Stupidity? Innocence? No, not these. They have some charm. But this is the ultimate sin of being so foolish that you tell the reader you don't know what you're talking about. You make a claim for know­ledge, and then you reveal this? Better let a monkey type Shakespeare. Not that I haven't since learned. But to have been so gullible. Anything I try and portray through my writing might as well be taken for the ecstatic claim of an idiot to have found the answer to all questions in a moral tract by Jerry Fallwell.

"Or in a daisy?"

Hardly the same thing. The daisy speaks for itself. So does Jerry Fallwell in that sense. No? No, gullibility is a sin. I don't know how I missed that teaching for so long. You just don't go around believing in Santa Claus after it's not cute. If you're prone to, then you'll always be a fool and hardly worth a chuckle when you want to be taken ser­iously.

"Did you believe in Santa Claus?"

Sure, when I was a kid. But wait a minute. I remember the cruel transition now. Oh, I didn't believe in Santa Claus any longer than any other kids. I wasn't that gull­ible. But like the kiss that leads instantly to collapse if it is meant too sincerely the first time, I instantly doubted God after Santa's fall. I remember that.

"You mean like the kiss that leads to blind and innocent groping on the ground. Be honest now."

Yes and no. I haven't finished that story yet. No, I'm talking about a fear of gullibility that went to the quick. How was I to know that God -- the God I knew had a white beard and was the strict antecedent to all human attributes -- how was I to know he wasn't a put-on. I tried desperately to convince myself. I wanted that gullibility. But it poked at me.

"How can you see a bird flying," I asked Jackie, "And not believe in God? All the beauty of the world is too perfect. Did you ever look at a snowflake, or even think about your own existence. The perfection of your body; the hands, the eyes, the way it all works. I mean why are we here? There has to be a reason."

I desperately -- really desperately -- wanted to believe in God. And I did believe. I prayed, and I felt my prayers were answered. I entrusted my soul to the wisdom of the ages, for at least I knew that God hadn't been invented in anyone's knowledge. There must be a God. I wanted these things that I asked Jackie to be enough, and was perplexed that they didn't move her that way.

In the end, it may have been her own family tradition of atheism. My family was atheistic too, though I couldn't have known it, nor could they. But if you have a home, then that is enough.

"Nobody had to make them beautiful. They just are beautiful. I think we evolved from something like them and that's why they're beautiful."

"Yeah, but in the beginning. I mean WHY? I can't believe that birds and bees just happen. There has to be a reason."

My love for her was growing pagan. Oh, there were no longer any scruples. The dogma had long since eroded. But there was that one last threshold beyond which a truer damn­ation than the one I'd been brought up on seemed to lie. It wasn't the threshold of the flesh. As soon as I'd learned through Jackie of the power of the moment when all is made perfect -- when all of one's life; its accidents, mistakes, and marvels, are proved beyond any doubt, reasonable or unreasonable, to have been designed to create you -- oneself at the moment of your perfection -- just then another and identical power was made manifest.

That power is the darker one which causes all items in your touch to turn dusty. The bad luck. The rain come to quench a sunny heart, and the demon sent to pull the crucial timber from the construction of one's plans. When all the world turns staring on its one worst accident -- mistake.
These moments provided no impulse in me to check them with a word in a simple diary. Perhaps they should have, but that is not what we wish to hold on to.

That might have been a way out. A balance to the egotism which held on to that one greatest moment and got mixed up in jealousy to hold me poised on a razor's edge. There can be no more stale existence. By the light she had lit in me and by her subtle but insistent refusal to be possessed, she held me poised on my unwillingness to forsake my personal God whose reason had to be for me; and my desire for confirmation in her ungodded truth.

I managed somehow to trap her for long hours at the other end of a phone line, by a brooding need for an answer that she knew I didn't want given. I don't know how. I can't remember what words could have kept anyone tied to that childish melancholy that managed to make its cause the object of its release. Listen, won't you? Understand that I am alone in the world, and that if you leave me now, you will have forsaken your only claim to humanity. It was pre­posterous.

Before this time, there was no aura of depression around me, and no hidden ecstasy as its cause. I was a child in every way fulfilling the ancient pattern of guarded growth into an adult world that still made sense. I'm convinced that there has been no age before nor could there be one hence, when it is possible to have such guarded growth. I wasn't a particularly good kid all the time. There were many wicked deeds done at a secret remove from the realm of authority. But there was never any need for contact in the wider world.

The community provided only that aspect of life that was wanted. Playing, sleeping, eating and all the other activ­ities that are considered desirable in a world where work is at the remove of gray business suits, gray long rides, and gray greetings that need a ritual transformation before they re-enter the truer and more colorful home life. The wicked deeds of youth were all the natural ones, but they never brought me into contact with that other world that would cause such shock when the plunge of adolescence has so sud­denly to be made. Filth was restricted to the city. Wicked­ness was kept innocent by the boundary of the playground which screened for attitude as well as activity.

Thus the outward breach of authority never touched the more central authority which kept all truly wicked urges under moral lock and key. But this is all a wrongful attempt at explanation. I can't know why I would so easily set off bombs and never touched a bottle of beer. Why I would tres­pass wantonly over all the laws that would restrict my plea­sure and my curiosity, yet never steal a candy-bar. It wasn't that I had the money to buy them, or that they were provided at home -- they weren't. But that was for my own good, and there managed to be instilled a fierce pride in the deprivation.

It was a selfish childhood geared specially toward proving my own specialness. The only rule that could not be broken was that I would not become like everyone else. They were beneath the promise of my clan. Ultimately, they were beneath the promise of an ordered world where other people made horrible mistakes, got involved in car accidents, had dreadful diseases and more dreadful problems. Where my own immunity was based on no sufferance but on simple belonging to a stable and comfortable center. Even as I cringe for the exposure of its selfishness, I am intensely grateful for that family.

But what is the value in being sheltered from the more real side of life? Can it do anything more than compress disappointment that would be released in one explosive anger and hatred of the world. That only slowly but inexorably would be turned inward to hatred of oneself? Yes, because where there is life and love there is the possibility of growth. And there is truth in the vision of eyes that have been kept unnaturally blind only to be opened at the last moment -- after all the other changes had already taken place. Equipped for a bright world and borne into a dark one, if he is not defeated, the weakling innocent may recover some of the brightness that was promised. Or even by lending it in his defeat, may cause some odd remembrance in those who have long since learned that you have to play dirty.

"Are you really this innocent, Howie, or are you trying again for sympathy? Sympathy for your persistent child­ishness.''

No, I'm not innocent. I might want sympathy, but I want to deserve it. I want to show that the bright world promised in my youth was cruel not only to those excluded, but even to those whose citizenship has been confirmed. I want to say nothing for myself, except as I may be judged fairly.

"By what standards? You can't set up your own and expect people to abide them."

The standards aren't my own. I'm not important. I want to know if anyone can ever believe that I believe that. If they can, then I might be able to believe it myself.


There is nothing right or good about my life except as caring people made it so. They couldn't care if I refused them. That’s a bond more strong than any I know. And yet, if I believe that I am the person these caring people tell me I am, then I am lost. My caring in return has to touch others who don't care. The comfort that love gives is a responsibility to use it -- not just in return -- but to impose the fantasy on the world.

"Sounds to me like you think you're pretty important."

No! I don't want to believe that. I'm no more impor­tant than a grain of sand. But there are no obstinate, brooding grains of sand. They don't refuse their place. If I refuse mine, then I blink out of existence like a grain of sand that refuses to move. There are no such grains of sand. And that is the lure of egotism. To believe that it is possible to deserve a birth on the crest of a ripple, and thus refuse the wind that would bury you again. Or to be­lieve that you are just there and that there is nothing you need do. Humans are not grains of sand. But I am not impor­tant.

"Then why do you go to such lengths to reveal your life?"

I need to be believed.

"You need people to listen to you?"

Maybe through me. Look. It doesn't matter. I have to do this. I'm sitting in front of my block of wood, for whatever reason, and I have to make it into some shape that stirs my soul. There are other ways. You could even leave the block as it is. But that wouldn't mean anything to me. I've already gotten out my knives and chisels. Stop it! You're killing me.

"Am I now? Well, I'm sorry. You were saying?"

I was saying. I don't know why I've always been such a damn fool. I don't know why I've always taken for revelation what is and should be commonplace. I don't have the be­ginner's mind of the Buddhist. I haven't worked for my gullibility. And yet now I want someone to listen to the way things look to me, and furthermore I want them to find there a revelation. I'm trying to be sure that I haven't just planted my revelation as it appears to me. It's important, because that's the position I occupy. Because I can't help myself. Because it's only by doing this that I gain the right to go on.

"What a justification! I was hoping you'd get back to the story. Now you worry me. Don't you know that you are mocking every adolescent writer who ever tried to write? They have always failed."

"Shut up! No. I don't know that. I don't want to know. I'm not sophisticated. I haven't even read Shake­speare. And it's too late now. I am what I am.

"OK Popeye. I just couldn't help myself."

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