Good news is when you’ll be teaching American Literature at a university in the fall. Even better is when you can do a section on Louise Gluck: some lines of hers:
I think it would have been better to love no one than to love you
The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime…
Extend yourself — it is the Nile, the sun is shining,
everywhere you turn is luck.
FULL POEM The Undertaking
The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime. There you are – cased in clean bark you drift through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton. You are free. The river films with lilies, shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now all fear gives way: the light looks after you, you feel the waves’ goodwill as arms widen over the water; Love
the key is turned. Extend yourself – it is the Nile, the sun is shining, everywhere you turn is luck.
Once I had a friend who sat for days on the white stone steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, finally going in to pray. Her prayer was for Jesus to show her his love — or more precisely, to show her “what this love was that he had.”
Jesus did, too, because it was as if my friend lived on the other side of a sheet of glass. She was physically strong, yet her face at twenty eight was riven with emotion– and her hands shook so violently it was all one could do not to grip them.
At other times, if one looked down as at a clear pond, one might imagine her floating past, at rest under its surface, like Ophelia with her long maple colored hair. She had a way of being that I could see, and feel, but that was out of my reach.
You were mine, but you were God’s more. – Nicholas Samaras
I had a glimpse of her reality one afternoon when we stood in a thunderstorm that spilled sheets of rain onto the summer fields and shot the sky with silver electric light.
To live as she did was to live in a reality exiled from the human — and for a few hours, I lived in it with her. At the same time, I had a recognition that this world of hers, and this world she had accessed, was not yet mine. It was not my time, no matter how I wished it was. I had go back and do my time and my work in the world.
To live is Christ, and to die is to gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you.
Two of my favorite people in the world revere Philip Guston — and one recently gifted me with a biography of him by Guston’s only child, Musa Mayer. This was a revelation for me, particularly when the Guston description of visual art so closely describes that of written art. Says the daughter, quoting the father
the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act — rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze, or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event
What an exact description of the best writing: not a description or reproduction or analysis, but an entirely fresh and new event in words.
Let me also say that while my friend artist Paul Dodd gave me this book, Night Studio, my friend Jake in Toronto let on that he once was in the possession of some of Guston’s old tubes of paints. When I inquired about this to Jake, hoping I could maybe procure some of the paint for Paul, Jake said that he, sadly, used up the paint himself (Jake is also a painter.)
And whereas I tend to favor Guston’s earlier abstract painting both Paul and Jake favor his later work: writes Jake Boone:
I love his later paintings partly because he really risked it all, in a way- lots of critics piled on him for leaving abstraction (DeKooning had a nice quote saying something like, “we’re not on all on a team, you know” (how Guston wasn’t betraying the Abstract Expressionists). And in a way Guston went back to where he started, with his work for the WPA. Maybe more than the Klan paintings, I really like the studio paintings- evokes a quiet loneliness working late at night…
No wonder Paul and Jake are my friends: they both think alike, and they both concur that Guston’s late paintings should in no way be held back from the public in 2020 or 2021 due to ‘concern’ over Guston’s expressions about the Klu Klux, Klan — but instead be widely shared for this. Guston was born Goldstein; his family escaped anti-Semitic Europe and his sensibility is that of the persecuted minority. SHAME ON YOU BAD GALLERIES!
I think that growing up my friends and I in NYC were unduly encouraged to look at our problems. Therapy was in vogue and therapy was about analyzing problems and devoting serious study to them. It’s hard to get out of that mindset — to get out of seeing the most important thing in my life at any time as the problem in my life to be mulled over and plumbed and solved.
I think I would like to put the problem on the side and write down my non-problems. With that there seems to be an element of boasting or vainglory — but these days are not the therapists calling that gratitude, as in my gratitude list? I will never write a public gratitude list, I don’t think, when others suffer so.
Instead, let me say that in the past few weeks the November air has been warm with currents or days of cold. We’ve gone to the vineyards to meet friends, and to sit alone with cider and a cheese plate. I discovered the Rose Cider — it’s something out of a fairytale: so crisp and a rose color, and light.
We’ve come home to burn some wood fires before the creek and when the sky has darkened Mars has appeared always, first, and to the right of us. Matthew sent me some Medieval Princess quiz and it seems I am in the ‘house’ of Mars or some-such. This makes sense as Mars is always the planet I see first, whether in the northern hemisphere or the south. Traveling back and forth between hemispheres much of my life has been dizzying, doubling, destabilizing, sometimes a problem (lol). But at the same time it makes me feel a conqueror of blue planet earth, a Medieval Princess who has swung between two poles, a at home in each. After Earth, what comes next? May I feed the rose and not the problem.
Despite having a flawed and sometimes dangerous and volatile personality, I have been rather sickened at the hatred being displayed on social media and elsewhere, particularly by niche groups of the fuming self-righteous. I think we all know by now that any truth can be twisted and any person brought low — or high — and if you can’t rise above slights and injuries or flaws in your friends and fellow creatures– well, I just can’t be here to applaud you or cheer you on.
Here is the beginning of a new work that begins with my time in both a Jewish and an international school in New York, and moves on to some kind of commitment to a kind of “higher calling.” I’ll update this link when it can be properly embedded. I think the webmasters at this new magazine out of SUNY OSWEGO known as SUBNIVEAN are still working on that. Kudos to its editor, a welcome and much talented new voice and arrival to our wilds, Soma Mei Sheng Frazier.
Meanwhile I’ve been back reading Sebald, and a book of essays on Gerard Richter. If these two don’t lift you out of feeling a victim of society in any way, no one will. I quote Richter when asked the purpose of art: “For surviving this world… (art) has the measure of all the unfathomable, senseless things, the incessant ruthlessness of our world. And art shows us how to see things that are constructive and good, and to be an active part of that.”
Some things are so primal. We find ourselves hurling insults that have been used against us. Not that anyone has ever called me a whore. But you get the idea. Today, when every other interaction seems to have the possibility of violence, I strive to distance myself. Because I believe there are bigger fights at hand. Because it is to those that we must pay attention. The universe contains to expand, as does human life. And in the end, expansion reaches completion. Nebulae — did you know, they are made of the debris of dead stars, that then becomes, under gravity, a new star.
I had what some might call a religious experience at age 23 or so. It was so fantastic and wild and forceful — it ripped the skies open and the skies invited me in.That was at the beginning of the life I chose to lead instead — life of the every man/person, life of the soldier, a life that has veered, as some of you know, from Manhattan to the outback, riches to poverty, dining with the Mafioso and the one-percenter, the Reverend and the murderer. Chaos. Life. Don’t mind the broken bones. Don’t mind the star showers. Once, I stood on the top of a hillside in New Zealand with my cousin Ted. I reached up at dusk as if to touch the bristling orange planet Mars. It was as close to earth that night as it had ever been and I have often thought — after my worlds at various times, fell apart — And if you had not been abandoned, how would you have become yourself?