Friday, January 8, 2010

A Post On The Last Decade That Changes Tone Abruptly Round About Halfway In

Both my jackass friends have seen fit to reflect on their experience with live, love, and Jeff Beck during the last decade. Being something of a jackass myself, I decided to follow suit.

I started the decade living in the same city I live in now—Los Angeles. Technically I lived, then, in a small suburb on the Northeastern edge of Los Angeles called Sierra Madre. I was there because I’d won admission into a TV Writing “Workshop” run by Warner Brothers. It was, in fact, a glorified audition, one which awarded paid writing spots to top performers at the end of the ten-week class.

I loved living in Sierra Madre; I loved the town; I loved my life. I woke up every day and went to the same coffee shop, where I ate the same breakfast (two lemon poppyseed muffins, eight cups coffee) read the same paper, and came back at the same time every day to write (10:30). Afternoons I read the same book (In Search of Lost Time), played pick-up at the same court, and spent the late afternoon watching the same TV show (NYPD Blue). I was lonely, but happy.

About halfway into the class I found out that I had been accepted into MFA programs in both fiction writing and poetry. (I had applied the previous fall). I had several choices. I could move back to St. Louis where I had been living, attend the fiction program at Wash U and try to patch things up with my then-girlfriend; I could stay in LA, where I was doing well in the TV writing workshop and try to make a lot of money writing crap that no one would want to watch; or I could go to Iowa and attend the poetry program at the Writers’ Workshop.

So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow…. I went to Iowa. I don’t know why. It was probably a mistake. I went from a sunny and friendly place, writing something I didn’t care about but could do well—to a dark and unfriendly place (the Workshop, not Iowa) writing something I cared too much about but didn’t seem to do very well. I made one very close friend, read a lot of contemporary poetry, and thought about art. This is not a good place for those (unquestionably profound) reflections, but suffice it to say that I ultimately decided that writing poetry seemed to me to be a dead-end. I have likened it before to learning how to inscribe parts of the Bible onto grains of rice; undoubtedly it’s difficult—but what does it achieve? What does it matter?

I was in Iowa on 9/11. I remember sitting in a bar that night and listening to one of the fiction writers declare with grave certainty that the US would soon reinstate the draft (“they would have to.”) Iowa in toto—extremist, frightened, and wrong. None of us could understand it, and it was all so far away. (Random note: the news source that best captured 9/11 for me turned out to be The Onion. I still remember the article about a Midwestern housewife who, having given blood and baked a cake, worried that she had no other way to help her country.)

This is stating to get long. Let’s speed it on its way. 2002: Left Iowa, went to Boston. Taught my most fulfilling class ever (poetry writing for adults). Hung out with the Harvard Classics Department. Great guys—terrible poker players. Sort of learned Latin. Wrote a lot of mediocre poetry. Turned thirty, had a party (thanks, J!), watched Mirror, Rublev, Passion of Joan of Arc. Left New England never to return (we hope).

Back in Texas, guns-a blazing, tutoring business going good. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. Played at poker. Reconnected with some friends of yore. Tried to learn to cook. Half-wrote a half-screenplay. Built a web site. Watched the movies I was told to watch. Quoted Master Shake, perhaps too much. Read many things I don't recall. Happy, but in need of song, I set my sail upon the seas of online love. Shipwrecked all at once.

Learned a girl I’d met some years ago was suddenly free. Concocting surreal fantasies of blimp and ficus tree, emailed. Amazed to get reply as funny and bizarre as one I’d sent. Felt stirring, faint yet powerful, deep in the cockles, a there where stirring had not previously been felt. Bought a shirt and had a date. Learned she didn’t eat cheese. Convinced her that a polished rock was actually an after-dinner treat. Had second date. Had tenth. Cockles now a place of swift and steady storm.

Met her family. Got an easel. Watched Tarkovsky once a month at least. Painted now but not in oils. Bought a book on how to buy a diamond ring. Bought a diamond ring. Bought a life-sized teddy bear. Felt the future suddenly change.

Found a chapel, found a planner, found a cake. Well, she found the cake, but I expressed support, checking in from time to time on plans I didn’t fully understand. Many colored folders on her desk. Listened to Sly and the Family Stone. Felt I might not be as funky as I was back then. Wore an eye patch (not for fun). Made sure wedding invitation featured talking box of Fries.

At the chapel, playing rummy in the back, received a rabbit-headed cane. At the service the minister wished not happiness for us, but joy. I understood. The wedding: everybody came, everybody danced. Many vodka shots to those who needed them. (And who did not?)

Went to Austin, went to Cuzco, ate a guinea pig, came home. All the nights when I thought Sal Paradise was right. Moved to Brentwood, bought a sofa, watched The Wire. Did not want a dog. Went to Vegas, hated Vegas, went again. Won and lost enough to almost live upon. Continued not to want a dog. Acquired a dog. Learned how marriage worked. Learned to care for something small and strange. Gave it names to pass the time. Sang to it at night. Began to find a need to go to total strangers and explain the ways my dog was best. Realized I’d lost my hold.

Got a realtor. Got a mortgage. Got a job (sort of). Joined a gym. Found I’d put on weight. Found I’d lost some hair. Found my writing hadn’t gotten me to any place of note. Felt despair encroach. Resisted it, as best I could.

Saw the 10s begin back here, in Valley Glen, in house with wife and dog. Like other friends, I also spent 2000 in Houston, at the same party as my friends. All that’s over now. No more colored alcohol; no more smoke machine (or was that from a different year?) Now it’s time for kids, for work, for middle age. Wisdom just another word for sorrow, in the end. But joy comes also, pushing up through time’s thick sediment, a plume of smoke illumined by the light of those surrounding it, transporting us outside of time as often as we need, almost.