To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
(from the novel ... perhaps)
My Biographer is drinking coffee. He says this morning feels like a Leonard Cohen song, something like "Famous Blue Raincoat." He says I should be writing some of my stories down, and that way he can keep up with my thoughts.
I don't want to make it too easy for him.
If it's too easy to tell the story, the story won't be good enough for anybody.
Usually there are airplanes flying overhead, but it's too early for airplanes. When the airplanes aren't making noise, we can hear the trains. I prefer listening to the trains. I want to jump one of them and close my eyes and then many hours later find out where I've ended up.
I might end up right where I started from. Right here. In this Little Room.
It's dark, except for the green light, and the light from The Spirit House, and the colored lights from the little Christmas tree my Biographer keeps lit year-round. He says there's a spirit to it, just as there's a spirit to the my other character friends, who are waiting for their names to be called, so they might end up in a story, my story or somebody else's -- doesn't much matter, as long as their names are called.
Some of the characters don't have names. They are like the in-betweens that my Biographer has written about on this scroll of a page. They are like the ghost people that my Biographer has written about on this page.
They are like me, except that my name was called many years ago, and I am here talking to you. I am here imagining that you are listening to me, and I don't expect you to say anything. I just like to think that you are listening to me.
This is the last day of September.
I wonder what yesterday felt like.
I don't remember yesterday.
I can feel tomorrow more than I can remember yesterday. (I suppose that's forward-thinking.)
I want all of my character friends to have names.
I want all of my friends to be in my story.
I know that's not possible.
My story isn't that big.
My story is small, really. It's like a speck. It's like a dot in the universe.
When my Biographer finishes writing down everything, will anybody even care to read about me? Do people read anymore?
Maybe I should be a song, instead of a story, instead of a novel.
If I were a song, people could sing me, all day long, all day and all night.
I'd be on everybody's lips.
I'd be a melody.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Eleanor has asked me to post the following excerpt, a rerun of sorts from way down in the scroll.
Eleanor tells it this way: "I want to call out to all of the lost people and let them know I can see," she says. "I want them to know I can see where they went. I can see who they are. I can see what happened. I just want them to know -- that I know."
from the novel -- Geoff
I do know one thing. It has to do with spontaneous combustion. I've watched it happen, people picked out from a crowd, exploding into their own little fireball, like a geyser of flames shooting upward, and then they disintegrate into a cloud of dust. Have you watched a crowd ever? Have you noticed when one person starts coughing or sneezing, so do a lot of other people in the general vicinity? That's because probably, more than likely, another person has just combusted, like poof, one minute you're here and the next you're gone.
I think, and this is my theory only so give me credit if it's true or blame me if I've steered you wrong, I think that it only happens when you're useless and forgotten. That's why there hasn't been more of a scientific study. People joke about spontaneous combustion. People write books about it. But no one really takes it seriously. And they wouldn't take it seriously unless it happened to a relative or a friend of theirs. And that's exactly the thing, because these combusted people are out of relatives, completely out of friends, so who's to notice when they're gone?
Me, that's who. I know I can see things other people can't. I know I can sense things. I think about it quite a lot, about my responsibility. Spontaneous combustion happens more than you think. There are more lost people out there than you think. At any moment, they might combust.
And now, today, soon, tomorrow, I might become one of them.
I wonder what it looks like from the other side, as you're combusting, as you feel yourself go up in flames. I wonder if you even have that last split second to know what's going on, or if you just disappear and don't even know it yourself, like you're so lost in this world, you even forgot your own existence. Now that's something severe. And how many people even think this way -- enough to recognize what is happening, I mean? Or maybe it's not even a question you need to ask.
Friday, September 26, 2008
It's still deep into the night, and well before dawn -- our favorite time. Eleanor is thoughtful today. She is always thoughtful. Today she is -- one might say -- intensely thoughtful. There, we said it. Eleanor is outside in her bare feet, collecting moondust from the morning dew. Her delicate character fingers slip through most everything, except for moondust. We can hear the night noises. We can see the moondust sparkle. Actually it's more of a twinkle, reflected in the little ponds of dew. Sparkle, twinkle, thoughtful -- the words of the moment. Inside The Little Room, the green light is glowing. The interior of that green glowing light holds a promise, and the promise is more words -- words we are sure to share here, on this page, given a few hours.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
"Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders."
-- William Faulkner
"Happy Birthday, Mr. Faulkner," Eleanor says. She's baked a cake filled with everything she believes -- all of it, even the parts of her life she has not lived yet ... the chapters that still need to be written before any of it becomes fuzzy.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"Pray for the people inside your head
for they won't be there when you're dead"
-- Johnny Flynn, lyrics from "Tickle Me Pink"
Today's recommended music, in words, so please check out the actual song (with a thank you to Maestro Jason Archer for pointing us toward Johnny Flynn).
Johnny Flynn "Tickle Me Pink"
"With every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (Chapter 7)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
from the novel-in-progress
I am not one person but two. I am named Eleanor and Eleanor. There are two of me but we both want attention.
I'm so sorry, Eleanor, Eleanor said. Do you feel like kissing me?
Eleanor's fortune cookie today reads: "Life is a series of choices. Today yours are good ones. Lucky numbers 12, 24, 37, 38, 40, 42." Eleanor is pleased. She also wants us to post the Shakespeare Sonnet, below. This leaves her Biographer with more questions, of course, which he will ask -- most likely after dark, when the world is quiet again.
by William Shakespeare
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.
This week, we have major literary birthdays. First, F. Scott Fitzgerald on Sept. 24, followed by William Faulkner on Sept. 25.
As well, a frequent contributor with her poetry to This Side of Paradise, Cher Bibler will be celebrating her birthday on the same day as F. Scott. That makes three big celebrations.
Happy Birthday, to our literary inspirations!
Geoff & Eleanor
"All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible."
-- William Faulkner
"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Monday, September 22, 2008
Jason Archer, Archivist and Busker-in-Chief for This Side of Paradise, received a dispatch from Will Amante just hours ago, and we are pleased to share it here. You'll recall Will from postings earlier this year -- or shall we say, "earlier this page?" (Simply scroll down and look for the mangoes.) We are most pleased to hear from Will (through Jason), and especially so on this day ... the 22nd of September. There are 100 full days of calendar year 2008 remaining. And, there are many strange roads we must travel to make the words "better than good."
-- Cada Cabeza Es Un Mundo, Geoff
Well it must have been one of the muses, because there before me was the mango grove I'm laying in now. I'd never seen this place before, never heard of it, never even dreamed of it. And -- yes, wait a moment. It is what I thought. Another of the muses is speaking. I have to be very quiet and put down my pen.
Ah, that's a good one, but perhaps I need to ponder it for a few moments. The muse said: "It's most often the things you're not looking for that end up being the things you are supposed to find." (I think she might have been talking about me.)
My friend, I think it is time for me to enjoy a siesta. Wish you could have come, but do not worry. I will be bringing back a treasure chest of gold, green, and red ripe mangoes for you ... that is, if there are any left after I stop to visit Geoff and Eleanor on my way back.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
"I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems."
-- Donald Hall
Eleanor shows her Biographer these words. "The analogy is obvious," she says. "In just a couple of days," she says, "we'll have just 100 days left -- of 2008."
Her Biographer nods slowly, knowingly.
Eleanor says, "Do you suppose Will Amante will return, with more mangoes?"
"I suppose he will," her Biographer says.
"We need to seize these days, all of them, all of the rest of them, all of 2008," Eleanor says.
"We do, yes," her Biographer says.
"Would you like some more coffee?" Eleanor asks. "Do you need another energy drink? Would you prefer some tea?"
"I'll take whatever you have."
Eleanor to the readers, on the outside of their world, on the outside-inside, those people (of you) who have been most loyal in their (your) returning .... Eleanor to you, reading now: "This really is just one really long page. You can scroll down to the middle and start reading anywhere. It's our life story, my life story -- what we know so far. Everything from there to here. All of our -- my -- secrets. Even Will Amante and the mangoes. The mangoes are there. Will Amante brings us the sweetest mangoes and the best stories."
Eleanor's Biographer says: "I need to spend time with Eleanor -- perhaps the next two or three days; perhaps less. We need to prepare for what time we have left. In 2008, these final 100 days -- that amount of time. Eleanor has to get me fit, ready for the task, the work ahead of me, and I need to make sure that Eleanor is ready, too -- and fit to reveal even more. There is so much I do not know, and this I will admit."
Eleanor says, "So tell your friends who think like you do, or who think like we do. Is that the same difference? You know what it's going to be like. The days and weeks ahead will be like one really big party, and you're invited! You're invited just by being here right now!"
Eleanor says, "Do you accept our invitation? If not for my Biographer, for me?"
Eleanor's Biographer says, "We need you. There's no shame in saying so."
Friday, September 19, 2008
"The moment comes when a character does or says something you hadn't thought about. At that moment he's alive and you leave it to him."
-- Graham Greene
"YES!" says Eleanor to her Biographer.
"Your move then," her Biographer replies.
Eleanor smiles. It's a wickedly good smile.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
We are feeling a bit "empty" right now. This is most likely comparable to a calm before a storm (and a storm that might possibly/could become creatively manic ... or not). Eleanor is quiet. I am quiet. Perhaps we are thinking, and therefore not feeling a bit "empty" at all. Perhaps -- this is entirely contemplation. And that would be a good thing. We are hopeful, through all of the quiet.
-- Eleanor's Biographer
euphony \YOO-fuh-nee\ noun
*1 : pleasing or sweet sound; especially : the acoustic effect
produced by words so formed or combined as to please the ear
Sample sentence: Eleanor's character voice is an euphony for her Biographer.
"Euphony" was borrowed from French at the beginning of the 17th century;
the French word ("euphonie") itself derives from the Late Latin "euphonia,"
which in turn traces back to the Greek adjective "euphonos," meaning
"sweet-voiced" or "musical." "Euphonos" was formed by combining the prefix "eu-"
("good") and "phone" ("voice").
(Copyright 2007 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Eleanor's father, Jay Spain, from the novel
How exactly do we manage to “lose” ourselves? I’m not talking about people who off searching for this or that with the excuse of trying to find themselves. Truth is, they haven’t looked hard enough inside to realize that they already have. But for the others of us, how do we manage it? To lose ourselves. You can suffer from a disease, physical or emotional, or some disaster in your life, or a bad relationship. It all comes out the same in the end.
This morning, I walked into a small newsstand to buy a lottery ticket. The woman who owned and spent most of her waking hours inside the store smiled at me, as she usually did. We been through this routine before, even if it was my routine, and she wasn’t privy to that fact. She had begun to open up to me, and was telling me all about her husband, who was a compulsive gambler. She just couldn’t understand it -– how he kept hurting her, time and time again. Why couldn’t he just stop? He could see he was hurting her. She did everything from cry for hours, she said, to scream at him. There was no secret about how she felt, how this was killing her inside, because she loved him, and how do you begin to understand that love can kill you. Well, maybe not. Maybe it can only kill you if you let it –- if you give up, or you want to commit suicide by loving somebody too much.
“Every time I need to leave to run an errand, or when I’m not feeling well, and I need him to watch the store for me,” she said, “I come back and there’s money missing. Or he’s been at the scratch-offs again, and he doesn’t go for the dollar scratch-offs. He goes for the $20 scratch-offs. And then I have to rob Peter to pay Paul, because you can’t be short on the lottery or they’ll come and take it away from you. And that means I’m short with my store accounts.”
She went on, even as I held my money in my hand and the card that had my carefully penciled in numbers: “He’ll deny everything, of course,” she said. “You know, it’s gotten to the point where I have to take money home with me and I have to sleep with it under my pillow. Like stuffing money in your mattress! And if I’m not careful, and leave my purse out, I’ll find money missing, or sometimes I’ll even catch him. The other day there were two twenties on the table next to my purse and I walked in, and he was standing right there, and he had the nerve to look at me and tell me he found the money, and it must be mine, because I knew he didn’t have any. It’s so crazy – well, it’s so crazy it drives me crazy. But I’m 58 years old, and what’s my future like? I’m so far in debt because of him, but I can’t throw him out. I just tell him he’d better hope that I don’t die before he does because then he’ll be in big trouble. I can’t afford life insurance and I don’t have health insurance anymore. He’ll be in big trouble if he has to bury me before I bury him.”
Sometimes –- not today –- but sometimes, her eyes would become glassy, and she’d say, wistfully, as if she were dreaming, “When I met him, I thought, here’s a real catch. That’s what I thought.” Her words would trail off and she’d blink a few times and that would be that.
This kindly woman, my friend, she would see me coming through the door, and immediately go to the back of the store, and bring me a cup of coffee. She knew I liked it black. We’d been through it before. She never charged me for the coffee –- just asked me one day if I drank coffee, and she always made more than she could possibly sell in a day, so she’d be happy to give me a cup. I guess she did this because I was a regular customer, but also because I was a good listener. And the reason I was a good listener was partly for me, and partly for her. I wanted to hear of someone else’s misery and pretend I was better than that. Not her misery, but the misery I knew her husband endured – the very misery my friend could not comprehend, why he did what he did and couldn’t stop doing it.
Oh –- but he did love her, I so wanted to tell her, to reassure her, that he did love her! But he could not stop hurting her, because he was killing himself first. You’ve got to love yourself in some way before you can love anyone else, and he was killing a whole lot of love at once.
This morning, after my friend got me my cup of coffee, and after I decided what numbers I was going to play, she said, “I want to be me again.”
And it just made me want to hold her tight and tell her everything, instead of just doing my listening.
So how do we lose ourselves? I don’t know how it starts. I wish I did. For a moment I wished I had the courage to suddenly put on a show for my friend, and be somebody who was worse off than her husband, and tell her my secrets, and raise my voice like I never did before –- to scare her, you know, to scare her. To let her know, somehow, through this kind of shock therapy, that she was still intact. Her husband, he was another story, but she had not lost herself. Or if she did, it would be possible, maybe even easy, with enough distance to look at all this with a clear heard, to wipe away the clutter and the dust and the other nasty stuff –- sort of like cleaning a car window after you’ve driven along a dirt road in the rain. You stop the car, you get out, you begin to wipe the windshield clean, and eventually you can see both ways again –- in and out.
This morning, after she said, “I want to be me again,” I thought those exact same words. Couldn’t say them out loud, of course, but I thought them. And that’s when I began to wonder about how we manage to lose ourselves in the first place. How could we let such a horrible thing happen –- unless we were horrible to begin with, and in that case, well, who wouldn’t want to lose a previous self. But I have to believe that most of us are good people, and that we have good hearts, and that we mean well even if we don’t always do well.
As you entered the store, there was a large birdcage, near the window, but far enough back to protect it from drafts of cold air. The weather was getting colder, so my friend had a space heater set up to keep the birds warm. She told me that at night, when she closed the store, she would leave the radio on for them, even after she covered the cage with a blanket. The birds with all of their chirping and activity, they were part of the total picture -– of me trying to self-medicate and heal myself and keep my secrets from at least some people who still trusted and believed in me. There were times when I just visited the store to say hello to my friend, and also hello to the birds.
“I want to be me again,” she said, but then she began to tell me about how the female had just laid an egg, and her boyfriend was being so good in protecting her. There was a small wooden box that looked like a bird feeder you’d put outdoors inside the cage, resting at the bottom. It was inside this box that the female had nested.
“Do you want to see the egg?” my friend asked, and of course I did. There weren’t any customers in the store, so she came around and we both went to the cage, and I hovered over her shoulder as she reached in ever so carefully and lifted the top of that wooden box. There was the female, and she looked up without otherwise moving.
“You can’t see it now, I’m sorry,” my friend said, “but next time, we can try again.” She put the lid back on the wooden box, and closed up the metal cage, and the other three birds, including the female’s boyfriend, started up their chirping again.
What I saw here was love, and trust, and nurturing. What I saw here was that my friend couldn’t have lost herself, she just couldn’t have. Maybe she was too close to her pain to realize this, but she was going to be okay. I could tell through all of her actions not taken that she was a fighter. Funny how you can see this kind of love and tenderness and know that a person is also somebody you just don’t want to mess with, because there is a point you’ll reach when she won’t back down anymore, when she won’t be so nice anymore.
Her husband hadn’t reached that part of her yet, the part of my friend that was hiding, and doing such a good job of it that she didn’t even understand all of the dynamics herself. So maybe it is something else, I thought. Maybe it is that we don’t lose ourselves, but we become like an absent-minded professor and forget where we put who we really are, or maybe our survival instinct kicks in just when we need it to and places who we are in a safe house, like the wooden box with the female bird and her egg. That egg is being protected at all costs. We would sooner die than lose the egg, which also means, we would sooner die fighting for ourselves than give in, and with this running through my head, as I left the store, my lottery ticket in my pocket and my cup of coffee warming my hand, with all of these thoughts like mathematical equations running through my head, that such and such equals this, and this makes for a reaction, but this and this mean you’ll find the right answer -– the right answer, I was thinking, the right answer is another day, waking up and going about your business, and the right answer is also hope, and the right answer has to include love, some nearly forgotten version of love that’s still strong enough to get you through the nights when you hurt the very most.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
"I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest."
-- John Keats
"We need to concentrate again on being 'better than good,'" Eleanor says. "Remember when we were really concentrating? I don't want to be average. I don't want to be mundane or ordinary. I want to be essential. I -- I need to be essential. Otherwise, what's the point?"
Her Biographer, now able to hear her voice, listens intently.
"Eleanor," he says. "I'll try harder, I promise. I'll work harder -- this is my vow to you. Just give me the words. Tell me the story. Make me believe that there's nothing else but your story. Make me see it. Make me see you. This goes both ways. Together, we'll be unstoppable. But I really must have that all-access pass to your world. Do you understand what this means? Are you prepared to be that vulnerable?"
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Eleanor says, I'm cold. I don't know why I'm cold.
Eleanor says, My Biographer will probably say that this is part of "the process." He likes talking about "process." But -- I haven't felt cold like this before, except for those couple of times when my story has been put away, on a shelf somewhere, and I didn't know what would happen to me -- how long I would go missing, I mean. Did anyone even know I was missing? I wonder.
Eleanor says, I've made sure that I have copies of the keys to the secret rooms in my Biographer's head -- to protect myself.
Eleanor says, I wish I knew why I was so cold. This is another problem with being somebody's made-up character. You can't reach out and touch me. It's not easy like that. Maybe when my story is finished, at least the parts of my story that need to be finished first, I'll have moments of flesh and blood, and when I get cold like this, somebody can reach out and hold me, and tell me it's going to be warm soon enough. I don't feel sad. I don't feel lost. I don't feel forgotten or neglected. Just cold. And maybe I'm not even describing it right. This is new to me. This is scary new.
Eleanor says, Tomorrow morning, before sunrise, when the moon is officially full, I will be outdoors collecting moondust. In the early morning, there will be dew on the grass, and that will capture some of it. If I open my mouth and stick out my tongue for the moondust, it will melt like snowflakes.
Eleanor says, My Biographer can talk about moondust and write about it all he wants, like he's an expert on the subject. He can't collect it like I can, though. I have that on him. Moondust is for made-up characters, not for the other world, his world, that living and breathing world. I can see that world -- I can see everything, and the hidden places too. But when I reach out to touch it, my arm goes right through, as if what I see and what's there are two very different things. I would trade two handfuls of moondust for just five minutes of flesh and blood.
Eleanor says, I think I feel goosebumps on my arms. Is this possible?
Eleanor says, My Biographer has changed the locks on those secret rooms. I wasn't looking. It's my own fault I wasn't paying attention. I don't think he even realizes what he's done. I'm trying to tell him -- I'm trying to tell him right now -- I tried to whisper but he's not hearing me and I need to make him hear me. This is so odd. What part of the process is this?
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
-- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Saturday, September 13, 2008
We at This Side of Paradise are stunned. Reports coming from California tell us that David Foster Wallace is gone (an apparent suicide). We remember being first amazed by David Foster Wallace's prose in his collection of stories, Girl With Curious Hair. We remember thinking that when David Foster Wallace received a Genius Grant, somebody got it right.
There is nothing more to be said, except that the almost-full moon seems all out of sorts tonight. And we are, too. Eleanor is in The Spirit House and refuses to speak. We need to get our thoughts straight. Yes, we need to think.
"The interesting thing is why we're so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness."
-- David Foster Wallace
"As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."
-- David Foster Wallace, from his Commencement Address at Kenyon College, May 2005
On this day, Sept. 13, in 1876, Sherwood Anderson was born. The writer who would influence Hemingway (and many others) and give advice to the young William Faulkner as he was writing his first novel in New Orleans, is a favorite here at This Side of Paradise. In particular, Anderson's book, Winesburg, Ohio, published in 1919.
Eleanor was conceived and born not far from the setting of Winesburg, Ohio -- Tiffin, Ohio is a short drive from Clyde (the thinly veiled town that Winesburg was based on). It's a shorter trip if you're a character, as Eleanor is, who can fly like Tinker Bell and be gone and return in the time it takes her Biographer to clear his throat.
"Let's find the part about everybody being like Christ and crucified," Eleanor says, and so we do.
Eleanor's Biographer has questions to ask, because she seems to identify so much with this passage, but he will wait until after dark to begin the asking.
Doctor Parcival began to plead with George Willard.
"You must pay attention to me," he urged. "If something
happens perhaps you will be able to write the book that
I may never get written. The idea is very simple, so
simple that if you are not careful you will forget it.
It is this--that everyone in the world is Christ and
they are all crucified. That's what I want to say.
Don't you forget that. Whatever happens, don't you dare
let yourself forget."
-- from "The Philosopher," in Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson (1919)
Friday, September 12, 2008
"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter-- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning-- ."
-- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (from Chapter 9)
Eleanor is sitting in a lounge chair, cradling a cup of moondust tea with her tiny fingers. She's placed a decorative toothpick umbrella inside the cup of tea, imagining this a boat drink, and that we're on a sandy beach. The decorative umbrella is bobbing in the tea, buoyed perhaps by the moondust. This is all happening under the green light in The Little Room. "I'm getting a tan," she says, "isn't this wonderful?" The green light is like a second sun, and this in the middle of the night, with a nearly full moon shining through the open window.
-- Eleanor's Biographer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
"Eleanor is percolating inside my head -- that's only way I can describe what's happening right now during this process. Eleanor will reveal more ... in words and in ways I can comprehend, soon enough. I understand she plans to stay up all night again."
-- Her Biographer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"
-- Jack Kerouac, from On The Road (1957)
Eleanor (2008): "2 in the morning now, and I'm telling my biographer stories he's never heard before (he's writing down everything) -- stories about what I was like when I was five years old and my parents were still together and how they used to pretend each other didn't even exist so they made up new names for themselves, new first names to be called by, and they'd be like, Hello (new name), would you fix me a drink, and Hello (new name), I couldn't stop thinking about you today and I couldn't stop thinking about what you were thinking and I couldn't stop wondering if maybe our thoughts were connecting somehow (here's your drink). Now, I always was me. I was always me. I was Eleanor. I didn't get to have a fancy new name, just so I could avoid being me, or talking to me like I was somebody else, somebody who was like love at first sight all fresh and not spoiled by time and fights and growing apart. I wanted a new name, at least at first I did. I wanted a new name so I could be a different five-year-old little girl for my parents, and say, Hello mommy and daddy, just look at me, just see me -- do you see me for who I am or for who I could be or for who you want me to be? It was crazy, like mad like Kerouac mad but not the same, because we weren't living some glorious American dream we were making up as we went along. I wished it was the same kind of Kerouac mad. That American dream, we were killing it dead. And we were trying to cover our tracks so nobody could find us. Even I was -- even I was as Eleanor, always Eleanor. After a while, I wanted to keep my name. I like my name. My name was my own. It was me. And I learned how to be daring, from that moment on, from the moment my parents denied themselves and just about everything else in our life. Oh, they fawned over me and told me how much they loved me, but in private, and not together, and then they would ask me questions, like what does your mother say about me, and what does your father say about me, and I was the good girl because I kept my mouth shut when they asked stupid questions. I was not going to be a traitor to anybody. I wasn't going to take sides. My mother taught me to read. And my father taught me to read. I had two lessons a day and neither of them knew that I was being taught twice, but they were good teachers let me tell you. First they only told me stories, before they realized how quick I was -- smart I mean, and then they read me stories, and my father was good at making up stories to tell me. When neither of them were paying attention to me, when they were calling each other by their fake names, I took my friend Jack Kerouac into my bedroom and I read his words at five years old! -- and his words, they spoke to me at five years old, even the parts I didn't understand completely. So that's when I felt most alive and cleansed, being five years old and reading Jack Kerouac and imagining like I was on the open road too, with lots and lots of friends ... people who cared about me and people who didn't change their names to try to be somebody fake. And I tried to stay awake all night just so I could see the stars, and I envisioned the stars as fireworks, like hanging in the sky by thin invisible strings just waiting for someone to set them off. Just think about all the stars in the sky suddenly exploding into colors, and then just think about me, looking out my bedroom window when I was supposed to be sleeping, but all along I was waiting, and I waited until I was six years old and then seven years old and eight years old. I never got tired of waiting. I was patient. I never got tired, because I was always believing, you know? That something marvelous and unexpectedly good was about to happen. I wonder -- I wonder if you are believing in what I'm telling you. I mean, five years old and reading books. Reading Kerouac. And me understanding what it was like to be mad, but in a different way from what Jack Kerouac was writing. Do you believe me? I was mad in hope. I was mad in wanting what I couldn't have. I was mad in not knowing that all of this waiting for the stars to burst into fireworks colors was a waste of time. I was mad in trying to love too hard, even as a little girl who loves or is supposed to love unconditionally, without trying, you know? I really wanted to see the 'blue centerlight pop.' I just really really wanted to be the little girl who was getting older, but in a way like this -- the little girl who was really really wanting to grow up to be the little girl her parents would look at and see for who she was, and for who they were, and go, oh, wow. Eleanor, me. And my mom, my mommy, and my daddy, stopping, stopping and being themselves, because I always thought that who they were was plenty good enough, and nobody needed new names or identities or reasons to define love by any other standards than what they felt -- you know, like what you feel -- deep inside. You know that place -- you have to know that place. It's where nobody can hurt you, where everything is pure, and if you want to be mad you can be mad and nobody in the whole wide world is going to judge you because you just are."
Monday, September 8, 2008
Eleanor is bedazzled by Shakespeare's line, "And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted." She insists we post the entire sonnet. In fact, she plans to make "strumpeted" her word for the day. -- Geoff
"Sonnet # 66"
by William Shakespeare
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And guilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly doctor-like controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."
-- Henry Miller
Eleanor smiles, and then in words that convey her true character age, says, "It really is all in keeping your eyes open. Or if you need to sleep, it's about continuing those conversations you have with yourself during the day, and then acting them out with lots and lots of characters in your dreams. Wild characters. Bigger than life characters. Even the plain characters you have to paint with color and give a good push. Never close your eyes when you're dreaming. That's worse than doing it when you're awake."
Saturday, September 6, 2008
a novel by Geoff Schutt
The band was loud and people were screaming.
Eleanor told M. she had to get out of here.
You're too inhibited, M. said.
M. was hugging her.
M. was whispering, I love you I love you I love you.
M. was saying, I love you, Eleanor.
Goodbye Eleanor, M. whispered.
M. left, but Eleanor stayed.
The people were still screaming. The band was still loud. Eleanor joined in the screaming. The band stopped playing. The lead singer was staring at Eleanor. Everyone was staring at Eleanor. The people stopped screaming. Not Eleanor. She screamed and clenched her fists to her chest. She screamed so loud her eyes closed. She could not feel her body anymore, but she did feel alive. Feeling alive was more important than all the rest of it.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Here's a list of "essentials" from Jack Kerouac to hang on your wall, or put under your pillow at night, or tape to your bathroom mirror, or keep in your breast pocket (or all of the above). "Belief & Techniques For Modern Prose" is an amazing list -- and even if you never write a single word, it could be a testament to life itself. (Eleanor has taken appropriately sized copies of On The Road to the other characters in The Spirit House.)
BELOW: "Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials" from a 1958 letter to Don Allen (and published in Heaven & Other Poems, copyright © 1958, 1977, 1983 by Grey Fox Press).
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside yr own house
- Be in love with yr life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is
- Visionary tics shivering in the chest
- In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
- Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
- Like Proust be an old teahead of time
- Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
- The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
- Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
- Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
- Accept loss forever
- Believe in the holy contour of life
- Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
- Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
- Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
- No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
- Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
- Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
- In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
- Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
- Youre a Genius all the time
- Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion."
-- Jack Kerouac
We are still "on the road" 51 years later (many of us not even born 51 years ago but who's counting numbers anyway), following in Kerouac's footsteps, trying to capture his beat barehanded and careful not to drop one bit of the rhythm, talking, walking, being mad and being alive and giving no notice to 24-hour increments on the calendar but instead reaching forward, moving in that kind of motion (that's a good thing) that traps other people's discarded dreams under our toes and keeps our own dreams breathing open-sky air, putting all of these dreams together, ours and the discarded, into a pot of dream stew, and it's quite delicious (won't you have a bite?) and never too filling ("I could eat a dozen bowls of dream stew!" says Eleanor, "and then a dozen more!). You should never discard your dreams on the side of the road, but if you do, we'll be along shortly like hunters and collectors. Nothing is ever lost. Some things are forgotten, but never lost. Some people are lost, until we find them. Everyone is waiting for something, but that's just silly, to be waiting when you could be walking or running or hopping trains or sitting in the backseat of a stranger's car, listening to life stories, and smiling because you know it's all a shared experience, all of it. Lose yourself -- just try to, and we'll find you sure enough and you can take back your dreams and live again with purpose, with determination. We've been taught more than once or twice that we're on this road together and always will be.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
"The artist must bow to the monster of his own imagination."
-- Richard Wright, born on Sept. 4, 1908
Eleanor lights a birthday candle and watches it flicker in that slight moment between the darkest night and dawn. The crickets are singing outside. The Spirit House is lit up and the characters are still awake, dancing (a waltz, which is somehow calming) into the new day. A train approaches from somewhere in the distance. We don't even know where the train tracks are, but we can hear the train as it travels by, toward somewhere else in the distance. The birthday candle's flame goes wildly to the left, and then the right, as the train passes, and maybe it's closer than we think. Even the characters stop their waltz to listen. The breeze is now on our faces. The dawn is being to slap our cheeks, to say, this is my turn, my turn, my turn, but the darkest night doesn't give in so easily.
"We are going to find one small amazing something today," Eleanor says quietly.
She holds the candle high. "Happy Birthday, Richard Wright," she says. "I am imagination, but I am somebody else's imagination, so I bow to you." Eleanor lowers the candle, closes her eyes and blows on the flame, makes a wish.
That moment, this moment, between the darkest night and dawn -- it's like the nape of a beautiful woman's neck. You would like to kiss it (your first instinct), but instead, you stand back and focus, for as long as you can. A kiss would be an intrusion and ruin everything. You nod your head as the dawn turns your direction, at the same second the darkest night turns just a bit (a tiny bit) brighter. It's a relay race, done in slow motion, and the day has now taken the wand. The train will be back tomorrow, on the same schedule. If you're a tick-tock too late, you'll miss it, and that would be a shame.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
(detail of "The Eleanor Painting," Geoff Schutt, circa 1999 - present, layered acrylic and mixed media on canvas)
Inside my head, during the process of creation -- it's colorful, crowded, bumpy, shiny, expressive -- loud. My thoughts work in tandem, or they rush for the exit, bumping into one another trying to get out. It can be messy in there. Writing is like that. And often, there is too much happening inside my head, too much racing going on. In 1999, I picked up a canvas and a collection of acrylic paint tubes (acrylic because it dries so quickly, and I can spread the colors like putting gobs of jelly on toast). When I get stuck on the page, or have a particularly good day with Eleanor (the extremes, always one or the other), I can put that excess creative energy into the painting. The painting changes each time we meet. Not being a visual artist, but thinking visually, sometimes the colors mesh well and sometimes I get a nice little design going. Other times, it's just -- crowded. Most gets painted over. "The Eleanor Painting" is so thick now, nine years going on 10 later, that it weighs a good five pounds, maybe more. Five pounds of paint, five pounds of thought, of paragraphs or sentences at a time. I can see parts of Eleanor that I have not touched, or have touched very little, but much of the painting is a revisionist view, and so it continues. I want to touch people with my words, so I make my painting (the inside of my head) inviting to the touch -- the rivers and ridges and hills and valleys and flatlands and mountains, the roads that seem to go nowhere but are colorful just the same. This is the only way I can feel my work in progress, in a different form, even as I continue to write. And the passage of time means very little here. If nothing, the passage of time tosses up new ideas, fresh angles -- fresh paint! But I'm not trying to be a painter. I'm a writer. The paint is a surrogate for the words that I can't find places for in the novel, or even as notes in one of my Moleskines. The paint is precious, and it's specific, not an abstraction or an aside or a fleeting idea. It's right there. It's my head, turned inside out, my brain cells, my imagination come to life like a cartoon. There is truth in cartoons, we know this, in the exaggeration, even in the impossibilities of human "being." And that sort of exaggeration gets distilled into the one word at a time. Inside my head, there's too much of course. If I lay out its contents, I can organize and reorganize. A garage sale of thoughts, but nothing is really for sale. September begins with a caress. I close my eyes and physically touch my subconscious. That -- is amazing. And to this, I say, bring on more tubes of paints, any colors will do. Have you ever touched the inside of your head?