Writing to you seems the least important activity in my everyday life; but, to eternity, it's probably the only thing that matters. When I'm dead, where will I be but here?
The ongoing, the everlasting, the ineffable... Now I'm reminded of another of William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell":
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
I was in the most negative mood yesterday, because this home repair mega-chore (which has continued for months and is actually not just one single mega-chore but an ever-growing plethora of mega-chores) killed my spirit.
Therefore fear home repair: for any common criminal can slay your flesh, but home repair will cast your very soul into hell.
We're stuck in this dilapidated home, and if we don't repair it something thinkable could occur; so... But the point is that, in the evening, when my sweetheart returned from work, I said: The problem with this day is that we did not make time to read poetry. So let us do that now.
Then we did that. We read another section of The Way of All Flesh; we finished a volume of Geoffrey Hill's poetry; we read two prose poems by Octavio Paz; we read a sura from Alcoran: "The Enfolded," in Ahmed Ali's rendering – my favorite part says:
Purify your inner self,
And banish all trepidation.
Lastly we read some manuscript poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson. I'm surprised—pleasantly—to discover that Emerson's unpublished work, or even what might be called his unpolished work, is as powerful and strengthening as his better-known writings. (At least it is to me; which should go without saying, as I'm the only author of this diary.) It is powerful because it contains a force of mind that I've only experienced in the best of the best — Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, a few biblical books — and it's strengthening because one cannot confront it passively; it's not a spectator sport: the reader becomes the god that she beholds.
Or it's like an instruction manual: Here is the surefire way to ignite your genius.
But the other thing I hate about home repair is that it takes time away from one's private readings (as opposed to the time that it sucks from one's public recitals, of the kind that I referred to above), thus one's library loans all come due overnight. Three weeks are telescoped (or is it microscoped?) down into three bare days, because the rest are destroyed by the measuring and cutting of underlayment, which is a layer of flooring that must be installed before the main planks are installed; it's like the flooring's lingerie: so sad no one sees it.
I checked out Robert Henri's The Art Spirit (for the scandalous backstory, see my July 5 post) and got a quarter of an hundred pages into it, and now I must give it back. What I've read of it is alternately wise and half-interesting. Some of Henri's maxims or reflections are straight from Endlessness, which is my atheist term for Th'Almighty, so I mean that as a compliment. And then some parts of the book (its first eighth, that is) amount to practical directions on artistic experimentation. No, not experimentation-for-experimentation's-sake, as I greatly prefer; but experimental ways to improve one's technique in the painting of portraits (for instance). You know, craftsmanship. Except far superior to mere technical lessons, because these test-setups or study-probe trials that he propounds really do get the creative juices flowing.
But now having accurately categorized 99% of what I encountered, let me give a sample from the precious residuum that hath me in thrall. This part took the wind from me and swept me up and captured me because I relate to it too perfectly – not in an art way but in a life way (which distinction is worth mentioning, in this case, because Henri composes the following paragraphs as a springboard to comment on certain artistic effects; whereas I, in quoting them, deliberately obscure their context, so as to stress their existential perspective):
All things change according to the state we are in. Nothing is fixed. I lived once in the top of a house, in a little room, in Paris. I was a student. My place was a romance. It was a mansard room and it had a small square window that looked out over housetops, pink chimney pots. I could see l'Institut, the Pantheon and the Tour Saint Jacques. The tiles of the floor were red and some of them were broken and got out of place. There was a little stove, a wash basin, a pitcher, piles of my studies. Some hung on the wall, others accumulated dust on their backs. My bed was a cot. It was a wonderful place. I cooked two meals and ate dinner outside. I used to keep the camembert out of the window on the mansard roof between meals, and I made fine coffee, and made much of eggs and macaroni. I studied and thought, made compositions, wrote letters home full of hope of some day being an artist.
It was wonderful. But days came when hopes looked black and my art student's paradise was turned into a dirty little room with broken tiles, ashes fell from the stove, it was all hopelessly poor, I was tired of camembert and eggs and macaroni, and there wasn't a shade of significance in those delicate little chimney pots, or the Pantheon, the Institut, or even the Tour Saint Jacques.
As I said, Henri gives this memory in order to illuminate an aspect of the importance of backgrounds in painting. I like it because it's at once utterly foreign to me and yet wholly familiar. Everything outward is foreign and everything inward is identical to mine own. This stupid apartment that I've been trying to fix up is the same place I've been living in for Henri's Span: that is, from romantic paradise to dirty little room with ugly floor.
Imagination beautifies anything. That's the problem. Of course it's not the problem but the solution (or, as Duchamp says, there is no solution because there is no problem); but we live in a marketplace inferno, therefore it's a problem. Those who possess riches of imagination are able and willing to get by on practically nothing; and the marketplace cheerfully, or rather indifferently allows this slanted state of affairs to persist (indifference can seem like cheer to the cheerfully imaginative); for those who are deficient in imagination are often, in inverse proportion, proficient at business.
Business. What is it? Busy-ness. Being busy. Busy work, as opposed to work that bolsters life. Razzle-dazzle: creating a distraction while I lift your wallet.
Anyway, these unimaginative businessmen are all-too-eager to allow those gifted others to suffer for their (the others') crime of having not been born vacant-minded. (Market-savvy creeps, through their spectacles of resentment, see artists as opponents.) And it is their lack of imagination that keeps war profiteers in business – they would never continue in this line of work if they could perceive the reality of its consequences. (In this way, I'm sort of complimenting them, for I'm assuming they have a heart but that it's only, as it were, disconnected from the mind's eye.) Imagination is like a sight beyond sight; and lack thereof is blissful ignorance. This type of people only change policy after personally suffering its ill effects. Only after, and it must be personal: no sympathy, no empathy. Imagination is ahead of the game, and all-pervading. Again, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (do I quote this daily now?):
Every thing possible to be believ'd is an image of truth.
I only refrain from deleting the last couple paragraphs (my whining words; not the Blake quote) because I'm trying to let this blog be more of a thought-catcher and less of a sorting demon. Immediately after unleashing this kind of complaint, I realize that I'm projecting my own resentment onto THEM: the people who know how to make it with the market. I'm jealous of their success: I wish it came naturally to me; but I hate hawking wares. And if you don't hawk your own wares, you must hawk someone else's; which means you've got to hawk your own self as a hawker-for-hire.
But the most central, mature knowledge at the core of my being tells me that the small group of affluent foemen who rule the world are not foemen but our fellow men, and that we'll get nowhere fighting them: only sincere listening, only acknowledgement of each's position in our shared reality, and forgiveness for the sake of harmonization can revamp the golden age.
I say "revamp" because I assume this world's cyclical. What I mean is that the golden age, if it ever was enjoyed, occurred at a time long predating what we call human history.
When we (my sweetheart and I) got back from our bike ride Sunday night, our neighbor was in his garage tending to his motorcycle. I said hello, and he waved me in and said: Look!
His bike was banged up in many ways, the metal was dented and the steering column was warped; there were huge fractions of the shell that were torn away, and the pieces that remained were held on with bungee cords.
What happened? I asked. (Our neighbor's bike is normally in tiptop shape, perfect shiny and better than new: pristine. —So the vehicle's fallen state was a genuine shock.) And he answered:
I hit a deer. I was riding home at 4:30 in the night: it was pitch black out, and before I had a second to react, this deer pops out in front of me and I ran smack into it.
(I'm quoting my neighbor verbatim now, by the way.)
The deer's body wrapped around the front of the bike, on impact; its neck was around by my right arm and its rear at my left: there was poop all over this side of the bike, I had to clean deer poop off my whole left leg; and there was saliva all over the right side of the bike and all over my jacket. ...But the deer didn't come from the ditch at the roadside; it was in the center median, just eating the grass that was growing there, and it walked out into the road from my left and stopped. If it had kept going, I might've been able to get around it, but it just stood there. It was a big buck, and he was thrown like fifteen feet away by the impact. After I stopped, I went over to him on the side of the road, and I saw him struggling there on the ground, trying to run away with three broken legs. I gave him a kick, and said: You dummy! what were you thinking!?
When I asked my neighbor if he was injured at all by the collision, he said his wrist is a little sore, and his knee hurts, but that's all. And so I asked if he's gonna go get a medical exam, to make sure nothing serious is wrong, and he said no. Then he told us of how he used to work some sort of a machine in an industrial factory; and he felt a burning sensation in his hand, and he looked and noticed something had happened that had unnaturally bent his finger. So he re-bent his finger back and kept on working. Then the next morning he awoke and his finger was all swollen and purple. So when he got to work, he told his boss: I think I broke my finger yesterday. So his boss told him to go to the doctors, no more than five minutes away from the plant. So he went there, and there was (I'm quoting him verbatim now again) half of the room filled with old men gasping and holding their chest, having heart attacks apparently, and the other half of the room was filled with women gasping and holding their belly, in labor apparently. And the nurse informed my neighbor that it would be a two-hour wait to get his finger examined. So my neighbor just left.
I'm struck by the fact that last week we (my sweetheart and I) met a deer during our walk, and I was so proud of not disturbing it that I recorded my memory here as an enchanted experience, and now this week I'm left feeling that the serenity of my encounter was simply offset by the agony of my neighbor's freak accident. I can't stop thinking of that poor creature groping through the night with all its bones broken and bleeding after being hit by this speeding craft from nowhere.
And the soul is still groping, to this moment. It can never expire.
(Some words from Ezekiel chapters 1 & 10:)
Now it came to pass . . . as I was among the captives by the river of Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. . . . I looked, and, behold, in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. . . . And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. . . . As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful . . . And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. . . . And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters . . . This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Just imagine: you're standing peacefully by a stream, and God crashes into you with his mobile throne and then climbs down and kicks you and blames you for it.