"The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society.... No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey."
The Sociological Imagination
C. Wright Mills
I don't know quite how it happened, but yesterday I picked up my landline phone, and I had 17 msgs going back to September. I'd used the phone in the interim, and there was no beep-beep-beep, the usual sign that there are msgs waiting to be listened to. Odd. Probably has something to do with the fact that I've been using (720) 304-8077 for dialup until my DSL gets installed. in the meantime I've been using my cell to make and take calls: (720) 530-4897. both are good, but the 8077 one is likely to be busy.
Yada yada. So I finally got your message from, what? A week or more ago. Would have liked to talk, so I'm sorry we didn't connect.
I've had a really weird sort of relapse day today. Didn't sleep well at all last night, then woke up feeling like homemade shit. Took my meds and moaned a lot. Invaded by those same old memories of loss and abandonment. Jesus. You know? I think you do. Yesterday was so different. I was feeling great. Got money from my Chicago client, wrote a "press release" that made me laugh. Jim Lipton sent me all kinds of presents from my "Wedding Registry": a beautiful large cobalt blue Emile Henry Couleurs Pasta Bowl, an elegant black S&M-lite "Foxtails Soft Flogger" (not really into being flogged; I don't think; he says "I missed the wedding, but perhaps this will help with the ongoing nuptials." Not sure how he got the thing, as it seems to have been discontinued.), a DVD of The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland, and a book by psychoanalyst extraordinaire Otto Kernberg on Love Relations: Normality and Pathology. They were all sorta jokes on my Wedding Registry for me and RB getting married, but all were very nice surprises. Especially the bowl, which is lovely, and the Kernberg book, which I've wanted to have a look at for years. The DVD player still isn't set up, hasn't been for two years, but the kitty likes playing with the whip.
Evidently, Jim was inspired to these acts of outrageous largesse by his "spiritual advisor" (he tells me), The Happy Tutor, who recently writes: "We need martyrs. What we have are whores. I should know." I've done my best to warn Jim about his devotion to someone as... volatile as the man who fronts his blog with such fare as this.
But so far the influence seems to have been salutary. Makes me think I should update my Wish List.
Hmmm... I see I have lots of chocolates on there. Must have been hungry when I did that. And coffee, naturally.
Also, I had a good session with Don yesterday. I was feeling like The Depression was finally gone. After crawling through Barnes & Noble for a couple hours, went over to my son Jesse's house (his wife is away somewhere) and watched a cheesy movie with him -- The Core -- which is what we often do together.
Then this morning: crash. Fuck shit piss.
And the best I can do today is tell myself: "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
Hope I'm not bringing you down with this. I know it will pass. But so weird to wake up and feel so lost and find myself again holding my head in my hands, rocking back and forth and wanting to cry. Chinatown. Somehow, I don't know why, thinking that helps. It's Chinatown. We'll never understand why things happen the way they do. But of course we can't forget. At least there are other people who understand that too. Like you. I have such wonderful friends. I do. Otherwise I don't know what I would have done in the worst of it. And it helps me to remember that this, today, is not "the worst of it." No. But there's this Stones song I sometimes think of called, I think, When Blue Turns to Gray. The blues, when they're happening, when I'm fully in them, hurt so bad. But when they leave, when it's over, then... what? Can't even feel the loss. The loss of loss. What a thing to long for, to invite back, because it feels deeper, more real, more connected. Something.
I guess I need to write. This is the place I can sometimes write from and say things I can't even begin to find words for when I'm holding my head in my hands. I think I'll try to write something, anything. There may be echoes of what I've written here in it, whatever it turns out to be.
Please don't let this make you sad. But, hell, how can I say that? I can only write this stuff to you because I know, or have a pretty good idea, that you know what it feels like to be in this place. I never read it, but I think: desert of the red night. Not the real title, but something Burroughsian. Don't know why. Always wanted to read him, but never have been able to. Something too scary about where he lived in his head. I imagine that. That it's too scary. He used to ask his students here in Boulder: "What do snakes dream about?"
All that beat stuff. Desolation Angels. Dharma Bums. Mexico City Blues. Kerouac drinking himself to death. Visions of Gerard, did you ever read that? About his brother. so tender. Sentimental even. Then burning out in some Boston backstreet with his maiden Aunt. They all play on the penny whistle you can hear them blow, if you lean your head out far enough on Desolation Row... Dylan of course. Who I don't really like anymore. Like after all his beautiful blasting he knows nothing at all. That's how he strikes me. I don't even listen to him. I read last night that he turned the Beatles on to pot. and I thought: so what.
This is depression, I guess. Maybe the meds aren't working right. Or maybe it's Chinatown for real. Dunno, dunno. There was once a time in the worst of it that I was trying to train myself not to say "I don't know." It was hard. I don't think I ever got to the place where I could stop saying, feeling that. Carol Gilligan says something about saying "I don't know" in The Birth of Pleasure. Good book. Struck me as good in a lot of ways, but also has some weird shit in it about her work with Terry "I Don't Want to Talk About It" Real. Terry Real. Everybody's got an angle. Everybody KNOWS. I don't. I don't fucking know. I hope not in the same way I think Dylan doesn't know. Seems like he's run out of things to believe in. A lone Jew in the desert waiting for Moses to tell him to stop fucking with that golden calf. Waiting for God.com heh.
I'm reading some about the Puritans. Those whiter-than-white people who came here. City on a hill, all that. God-fearing motherfuckers all. Fire and brimstone, Jehovah losing it on them. Cosmic abuse. Cosmic trauma. Amerka in the borning. I want to write this, slashing crashing triumphal bring down the goddam walls of Jericho kinda writing. I don't know. But loud! I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!! You miserable peasants! You fakirs with your fucking turkeys and weird hats. Wait. Those were the motherfucking Pilgrims, weren't they. All chummy with the Indians -- put a fish in the hole when you plant your corn, they told the White People. And it worked. Were those the same as the Puritans? Stuffing fish in their corn holes?
OK, I laughed. Pilgrim's Progress. Heh.
I'm interested in the "Awakenings." There was one about 1670 or so. Something like that. Whole lotta shakin goin on. The entire population flipping out on God. There was a lot of embarrassment later. I read that somewhere a couple days ago. Not sure what they did, but can imagine it got pretty excessive. One guy broke his own neck he was writhing around so much. Died from it right there. Wow. Then there was another Awakening around 1840. The Second Great Awakening, it's called. And then it got all tied up with Manifest Destiny and god's on our side and let's go kill the fuck outta them Mexicans and Indians and Niggers.
Reason I'm interested is Tom Wolfe's essay on The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening. Which, simply put, is about narcissism. In our own time. About how religion gets into it and then oh look out he says.
And what will the Real Me be like? It is at this point that the new movements tend to take on a religious or spiritual atmosphere. In one form or another they arrive at an axiom first propounded by the Gnostic Christians some eighteen hundred years ago: namely, that at the apex of every human soul there exists a spark of the light of God. In most mortals that spark is "asleep" (the Gnostics' word), all but smothered by the facades and general falseness of society. But those souls who are clear can find that spark within themselves and unite their souls with God's. And with that conviction comes the second assumption: there is an other order that actually reigns supreme in the world. Like the light of God itself, this other order is invisible to most mortals. But he who has dug himself out from under the junk heap of civilization can discover it.
And with that . . . the Me movements were about to turn righteous.
The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening
At one point -- yeah it was in The Worst of It -- these were clues to something, some way of explaining what happened to me. Saved me to be working on it, like watching the detectives, dragging the lake, getting closer to understanding how that all happened. Why I was hurting so bad. Holding my head in my hands. With the blues all in my bread, like the song says. Coffee and Ativan. Books everywhere. Just trying to stay alive, keep breathing in the lostness, empty desert except for my wonderful friends none of whom I would have ever known if I hadn't tried to write about it. I thought it was only women who could feel it. thought that for a long time. but some of the men, too, I think.
They don't say much,
but they give me money. Send presents. How cool is that? I thought the men were only like hey buck up, have a beer, watch the game, get laid, pull yourself together dude, don't say these things because you'll bring us down be strong be stoic be manly and rock steady like we are, see? How we go right through it without missing a beat? Talk about Microsoft v. Linux and Bush v. Kerry and technolibertarianism and antidisestablishmentarianism or whatever shit is passing by on the screen of life as we know it, we know it goddamit. We do! We are sure! We are Doing Our Best. We are blogging as if there were no tomorrow. Telling it like it is. Yeah. that's what I thought. And it fits in enough cases to be practically true. True for all practical purposes that is to say. Pragmatic. But now I think they're not all like that. Maybe none of them. Because I've gotten to a few. I know I have. Peeled away the veneer, the comfortable assuredness of knowing that things are this way for a reason and we don't have a clue why but are we not men?
We are Devo.
Oh christ. oh holy moses, Leslie. Maybe I am discovering my Inner Jew. Wandering in the wilderness waiting for some messiah. No, that's bobby dylan. He doesn't deserve the name he took from Dylan Thomas, who wrote from his guts and then died of too much good high octane booze in New York pubs it must have been a burning to remember. Drunk on the night on the sky who bore him angels he said dying for his unfaithful wife back in Wales. Wailing wall. But B. Dylan had it once too. The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face. No one got acid down the way he did in Visions of Johanna. The harmonica plays, the skeleton keys of the rain. And these visions of Johanna...
So maybe I am being unfair and unkind. Perhaps jealous. I am: of those lines. Of how he, how both of them, could capture that in words, in music, make you feel it down in your maybe who knows soul.
Why I am writing any of this is beyond me, but I am writing dammit and that's better than sitting here with head in hands being lonely and depressed. Jesus. I don't give a fig for jesus btw. I can't understand how people get so worked up about him. Some fucking guy in Galilee. Where the fuck is Galilee anyway? Someplace we're probably bombing the holy shit out of right now. My cat just saw something outside. Comes to abrupt attention like a pointer dog. This is reality right here right now there are crickets chirping the day is beautiful outside last of the summer last days last light last ever forever and I? Sit here typing all this stuff coming out of
my head my heart bleeding still for some lost door like Thomas Wolfe whom I read as a boy, you can't go home again and all that. Some echo of innocence anger what's the word... poignant. Touching. A world saturated with memory present not past. Alive with everything that's ever been. The American night. the American dream. Thomas Wolfe. Not Tom Wolfe in the white suit and the right-on call about the Third Great Awakening of narcissism in our time. The American Way. The American Century. Fuck, it's true: we're different from Them. From the ragheads and Eurotrash, asians and spaniards with their rinkydink gods and visions of conquest and what it was like at the bullfights with the ladies throwing flowers for the bull. Minotaur, labyrinth, cretan sun Durrel in Greece with the child remembering, trying to remember, Justine. As if, as if... there were another place for us, orphans huddled in the night so big too big. Maybe go to France. The whores there, my god. And later in Big Sur he mellows down easy. I liked the older Henry Miller. Thought he had attained a kind of wisdom. He liked himself, you could see that. Not like narcissism, not at all like that. He had become his own friend. Good friend. I read The Air-Conditioned Nightmare when I was a teenager. Read all kinds of stuff that bent my head. All I remember from that book is he comes on a wall in some city and someone has written in big letters on it GOD IS LOVE. And it floors him totally. Blows him away. And later at Big Sur he says stand still and the world comes to you. The Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch. I studied Bosch. Deeply. A lot. That's why I read that book. Because of the title. Bosch. Wow. I read recently he was contemporary with Leonardo Da Vinci. Holy crap. Like two timelines crossing. Bosch medieval in his vision, Leonardo trying to fly with mechanical wings. I could relate to Bosch much better. Always thought Da Vinci was kind of a flatlander despite or because of his Renaissance Man poster boy image. Bosch was crazy. Mad. Demons and tortures beyond imagining. The world gone mad. It's so modern.
So Leslie, my dear... thank you for letting me go on like this. Of course, you couldn't stop me, as you're in France and I'm in Colorado USA. But it makes such a difference not to be writing to myself, you know? And I think there is one thing in all this spew that sounds true to me, and that's that
we are Americans no matter what we do or think or where we go. It's a blessing and a curse, but it is our fate. I don't believe in Fate, of course, but I mean we have inherited this along with whatever personal traumas and delights and history. And I think, for the first time -- I've never thought this before today, writing this -- that understanding something about what it means to be an American is necessary to understand the rest. Sounds weird as shit to me too, but I think there's something in that. We usually go for Human -- what it means to be Human. Or Jewish, or Catholic, or (saints preserve us) Spiritual But Not Religious. But those Puritans were brewing up some strange gris-gris, mamma, back in those early colonies. Some psychotic devil's brew still all wrapped around our ancestral DNA. America is insane. But how it got that way is fascinating. The grip of mass hallucination so profound it still shapes the space the place the oh baby blue eyed master race. Anglo-Aryan motherfuckers armed to the teeth and high on God.
So yeah, as I was saying, thanks for letting me write all this. Thanks for being there. Thanks for reading it.