Monday, April 27, 2009

Play Offs

I passed this gymnasium today… a court where my son used to play his league games. It was the first summerlike day and basketball had joyously moved outdoors. There were 4 balls scattered on the wooden floor in a way which so completely defined the past tense… and I couldn’t help thinking, with a stab of something like nostalgia or loss… no work of art, no sculptural accident or surrealist act could possibly have conveyed the still and perfect randomness of those balls as they lay.

My neighbor called today and was annoyed at me for suggesting he watch some Indie Swedish film which he found totally worthless. Okay… maybe I was under the spell of the strange language, the dark, cold photography, the sparse, subdued, smoky breaths of dialogue. Had I underestimated his intelligence? Well, I countered, referring to some poet he had recently praised…if you define a poet as someone who is attempting to write poetry…
And there ensued a duel of minds batting back and forth the misshapen ball of mediocrity. Actually, the perfectly formed ball of mediocrity because this is where technology has placed us… in a position of perfect reproduction, straight edges, the pre-drawn, pre-loaded, synthesized, airbrushed landscape of culture. And who is really listening…or watching?

Paper and pen which were treasured by some ancient poets…is near-obsolete. Corrections are automatic, publishing is instantaneous… everyone has a network, a preset audience, an email list. Does it matter if they are too busy putting out to actually listen or read or watch? Everything has been said, written. This, as well. Every teenager has a guitar as well as a car in the garage. Not. But the new poetry might be architecture. At least it requires ‘presence’ to be experienced. For the time being, that is.

I read some work by a South African poet today who is quite acknowledged… and full of metaphor… so full, in fact, that it passed me by. I began to spar with the poet, mentally. Is a shadow really the ‘widow of the light’? Is that not the dark, what is left behind? And he spent so much time setting the scene…describing the landscape, as though none of us readers have eyes or soul or heart or imagination… I grew angry.

Maybe I, too, am a victim of the impatience instant messaging has cultivated. Maybe I am overstimulated and sensorily anesthetized. Maybe we all need to be shot, and then to feel the pain of the wound, in order to explore our own feelings. We are ever-so tolerant of the gruesome violence and gratuitous cruelty we see on even prime-time TV. The odd thing to me is the same audience seems to flock in equal numbers to both the horrific cinematic frightfests and the pathetically scripted Jennifer Anniston/ Reese Witherspoon froth which monopolize chain theatres. At least I stay home and watch Sundance.

I do notice, though, that in the award department, tragedy beats out comedy. How many of our lives are truly marked by 9/11 moments, as opposed to happiness. Besides, that is, the births of our children, which, according to the wise poets, is the sad instant their world becomes intermingled with death.

How is it, I wonder, coming home, still in the spell of the empty basketball court, that these people who live among me can worry about the status of their prams and strollers and fail to feel something for all the starving children? That we must feel guilty if we do not buy the iphone for our kids when animals are being tortured, millions are suffering? And on TV they are asking for money for the polar bears. I can scarcely manage the quarters for my corner panhandler who I notice today is missing another tooth. Does lack of money make me more qualified to empathize, to hate the investment bankers, to ‘dis’ the late Picasso show at Gagosian, to weep over the orphaned elephants and my own failed attempts to communicate all of it?

I do know that I hate more than ever the trapped basketball in the tank of Jeff Koons which always had some perverse sexual and monetary connotation. In a Batmanesque parable of the Gotham City art world, Mr. Koons is some kind of pathetic Joker. The anti-Houdini, the lizardous creature in a tank or a bank vault who conspires to deflate the souls of all those who might give to the polar bears if only they had something to give.

I am thinking also there must be some pop philosopher-- some pensive or laid-off sportscaster somewhere, especially during this season of playoffs, who will never read Writerless, but who has observed ‘I am the basketball on the abandoned court’. Maybe he is even a Swede.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cello-Pain

I was at my gym exercising tonight and a grey-haired woman, in lieu of saying excuse me, gave me the slightest brush of hand on my extended leg, to let me know she was passing—so sorry—and as I looked up, there was this warm sort of split-second Susan Boyle twinkle in her eye that informed not only of a rare kind of generous humanity, but an equally capacitous depth of loneliness. Of course there is no appropriate response besides the half-smile I gave her, but it lifted me out of my egocentric gym fog into a
mode of empathy and compassion.

I think part of this whole obsession with Susan Boyle, besides the Cinderella thing, has to do with the shifting gear thing…when suddenly the commonplace and ordinary becomes worthy of reverence. And of compassion… via a sort of Eleanor Rigby gifted with an incredible and moving talent… the voice of great beauty which turns the froggy woman into a sort of queen. An unlikely stone on the shore is revealed as a diamond. And all of us, now, have learned the lesson of not taking everything for granted, of not judging all books by their cover. All of us were magic-wanded, at least for a day, into a kinder and more forgiving temper.

Because like a kind of miracle, we get this glimpse of joy…the place where her voice begins… the truth of it… the utter lack of attitude toward these people who placed themselves as her superiors, and who were humbled into some kind of genuine happiness at pure ungroomed talent as we do not generally see it on American Idol. It is not the face of Jesus in a croissant, it is something living and magical at once and it moves us from our cult of cynicism and fraud into a kind of belief, even if it came from Youtube.

Now they are pleading that she should not have plastic surgery or get her teeth fixed…is it ‘charming’ and part of the fairy tale that she remain a frog? Does she not deserve the pampering the judges receive? Would that not make her eligible for another makeover reality show and dilute the phenomenon?

I’m not certain what will happen to Susan Boyle…whether she’ll wish she had remained a frog with a heavenly voice… but I’ve noticed this week that poverty gets in your veins and arteries and it is hard to get it out. Like damp. It ruins you. And in the end, it stunts your spirit. It suffocates and taints like mold. I feel as though I’m never going to be a home for success….I’m too wrecked. I’ve become the downgraded mask I’ve worn for years as a disguise in which to become an artist. I am no longer viable. It’s terrifying in a way that I could find comfortable.

It could be a 21st century sociological phenomenon… obviously 99 percent of today’s successful ‘artists’ are merely products, and are fueled with rich parents or other forms of lucre. And I also realize that no matter how many millions these people and/or their rich investment-banker families have hoarded…they feel like losers… they are not real celebrities or great men… they are not heroes…they are not as rich as they long to be… except maybe Jay-Z… but they are like these filthy landlords here. And I am one of the pathetic hideous poor tenants…with the mold of it seeping in, the stained bathroom… terminally incapable of success in some way. But once you are old and arthritic and close to death.. .does it really make a difference if your chauffeur helps you out of a Lexus or you scuff around in filthy mules in C-Town looking for prunes and white bread with your foodstamps?

Comic relief: re: the wrong number/tech hell maze, some cellist tonight emailed me by mistake… I don’t even know her… but she was obviously emailing someone else.. .this whole confession about spending the night with this guy… it was kind of lewd and gross …she’s got kids… I’ve exchanged emails with her maybe once and somehow my name was crossed in there. I hope she never figures it out. Now I DO NOT want her to play on my cd. Isn’t that judgmental of me? It’s not a morality issue, but it was just such a pathetically pedestrian confession!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Re-Joyce

I dressed down for the Joyce Carol Oates reading at Barnes & Noble tonight. Who am I kidding? The only distinction I make these days is ‘clothes I sleep in’ and ‘the rest’. I avoid mirrors, I am the last to know if there is egg or jam or even blood on my face, and I have entered that ambiguous section of the female timeline where men rarely look, and other women, if you are unbuttoned or wearing your lunch, will avoid confrontation. My hair? I plead the 5th.

Despite the fact that my highbrow literati friends think Joyce Carol Oates novels are as prolific and valuable as late-night infomercials, I have a soft spot for her in my Goth girl-heart. Besides, we might have the same stylist: i.e., God. Okay…so I am late and of course any free event in New York City is jam-packed SRO, and that guy with the gray frizzy hair-plug-do who is at every single gallery and gratis museum opening is blocking the view from the back row, so I slink over to a niche on the side and sit on the floor from which vantage point I have a great view of Ms. Oates as she reads deadpan the title story of the new Dear Husband collection.

Q&A. Some numb-brain asks her whether her monotonous delivery was meant as a dramatic device to express the lack of emotion of the main character. I don’t really know how Joyce managed to keep her cool, and I doubt he’s been to any other readings, but she’s not exactly a bellower. Then a few writers asked the obvious questions about productivity, and whether the story was inspired by the actual killings in Texas which even a cursory reading of the jacket blurb could have answered. But these adult children cannot resist the act of publicly ‘engaging’ with a celebrity mentor.

The inevitable signing ritual.. with all the bookdealers hoarding their proofs and cloth bagfuls of novels. I thought of bringing one or 2 vintage books, then thought better. They want you to buy the new one…that’s the point, but all the new covers are so pathetically cheap-novel looking, I’d prefer borrowing from the library.

Actually I brought along a manuscript. Since she teaches at my alma mater, I’d been encouraged to show her one of my small dark poetry epics…. She seemed so accessible…so--- well, badly dressed and anti-celebrity. I asked the Barnes & Noble emcee if she’d give her an envelope and she nodded toward her publicist who was sitting in one of the folding chairs, consulting his Blackberry. He gave me such a lip-curled gay-snot look of slight horror as though I’d vomited and splattered him… I backed off. I know well how much he earns and what he does, the little Filene’s Armani rodent. So I split. Okay, I’ll mail it to her at Princeton. Not. I’d like to have given him a piece of my mind about the packaging of her sinister books in these happy house-wife-friendly pink and dusky rose jackets.

The thing is, I like her. She’s unpretentious and outs her literary money before her mouth, this is for sure. She admitted her deep sympathy for the child-killer, for all imprisoned housewives and claustrophobic warped mothers. And that sexy Elvis poem she wrote early on... she must have been a sort of anorexic Winehouse-esque hottie at some point in the late 50’s. All that damn writing. She even put out poor-quality stuff under different names. Pretty amazing. Well, she doesn’t have kids… they certainly suck out what creative juices they can, especially if you’re poor and starving and get no relief from husbands or babysitters. Jesus, the weather and the economy are getting to me.

Back I go on the train, tossing the pathetic current New Yorker issue which Joyce managed to innocently dis as she mentioned their habit of selectively editing the balls out of her fiction. Guess I can safely sourgrape the rejections of my poetry. Inspired to read some Oates, I suddenly remembered I’d loaned The Falls to my son’s now-ex-girlfriend. She'd asked me for a book on murder. She probably left it at the beach and bought a kindle version of Twilight. She’s an honor student at NYU. Never heard of Proust, Doris Lessing or Joyce. The meek-minded but well-dressed inherit.

Passing another B & N on the way home, I notice they’ve had a Tuesday reading as well: Charles Grodin. Is this an author? According to the roster of upcoming events, most of the readings are actors who write, or chefs, or actors who cook who write, or models who diet who write, desperate housewives who get a reality show who write. Desperate book publishers. After all, it's Barnes & Noble, not 'Nobel'.

Video/Facebook killed the writer. Except Joyce. She was still doing it… still with the old cardigan sweater and the top button closed. On the way out, the music department was playing an old Cult album. Getting warmer. Amy Winehouse wasn’t conceived when they recorded this. And somehow I believe, when all the Twilight novels are forgotten, all the Gossip Boys and Girls have done rerunning and JK Rowling is scratching her head, Joyce might be on a plane to Stockholm. Okay… she’s no Saramago, but among those B&N wallpaper caricatures, she’s got the Oscar Wilde/Virginia Woolf facial credibility; at the least she’s a bad hairday antidote to Candace Bushnell. A Roy Orbison of writers.

So to the publicist: F--- you. But do something about that pathetic packaging. Forget the fashion portrait. Award-winning writers have better looking book-jackets. 50 novels later, she deserves it.