Monday, September 24, 2012

A Better Dream

Friday, September 21, 2012—Long Beach

I had an interesting, positive Margo dream last night; I woke up from it feeling almost joyous (though I’m fully sure why—the dream didn’t strike me as being that positive). Unfortunately it’s details have become very sketchy as I’ve moved thru the day. We were together, as a couple, or at least we sort of were—even when I dream her at her most stable she’s a squirrelly flight risk. I’m no longer sure of the “plot” of this dream. Mostly what I have left of it is little fragments of the two of us walking down streets hand-in-hand. As usual our interactions are not going smoothly; she’ll hold my hand for a while, but then feels the need to extricate herself from it as if she’s feeling trapped, only to again seek it out and grip it more tightly than before once she’s got it back. We’re even having trouble walking at times, because we’re alternately rubbing up against and then pulling away from each other (actually she’s instigating most of this; I want nothing more to be as close to her as possible, though not in a wide-eyed way—I understand how little courage she has and how limited she is emotionally and ultimately don’t expect anything from her).

The most striking scene in this dream (of the ones I remember, at least) is one where were lying together wrapped up in a white sheet, or maybe it was a light blanket. We’re entangled in each other. I’m deeply in love, but not a slave, as in so many of my past dreams featuring her; I have a handle on my emotions, they don’t overwhelm and rule me. We’re kissing here and there and she’s actually kissing me back, tentatively, though like she can’t quite decide how she feels about what she’s doing. She’s also running her fingers thru my hair, while telling my not to worry, that she likes bald guys. I protest that I’m not bald and she says that I don’t have that much hair left and what I do have will be gone soon. I remember being very confused by this, because in this dream, as in real life, I have plenty of hair.

This scene in the sheet/blanket seems to go on for a long time. I remember having other conversations with her during this time, but I can’t remember what they were about. I do remember that they were relatively positive and that they were part of the reason I woke up feeling so good about this dream. I also remember that at one point, from the waist down, she was wearing only her panties and that I had my hand just barely down the front of them and was running my fingers thru the top part of her pubic hair. This is significant because in many of my Margo dreams, if things begin getting overtly sexual she usually finds some reason to pull away from me.

I just realized that I forgot to mention the weirdest part of this dream. While Margo and I are in the sheet/blanket we’re lying on a front lawn somewhere, for part of the time. Other times we seem to be under a parked car. At other points we appear to be in a house or apartment or something. In all these places, though, there are lots of people walking by. I also vaguely remember that she and I were shopping together at one point, which was why we were out in public.

Like I’ve said, I woke up feeling really good after this dream, deeply happy to the point where I was kind of upset that I’d woken up and consciously tried to both fall back to sleep and pick up the dream again. Neither of these things happened (sometimes I can pull this off). Again, I don’t know why I felt so good—it wasn’t that good of a dream. I say this not just based on what I remember now. Even right as I woke up, when everything was a fresh as it could be, I knew that the dream’s content and my mood didn’t quite seem to go together. These positive feelings aside, I’m getting very tired of dreaming about this woman—this has been going on for a decade. I long for an experience with a woman that can rival the power of my Margo debacle, that can finally blow her out of my mind (her presence in my heart has long-since diminished). I need to feel that deeply again. I need to love again. I’ve bailing water like this for way too long …

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Secret Garden, A Bad Dream

Monday, September 17, 2011—Irvine, CA

Hanging out on the IVC campus, killing time between my last class and the start of a talk I’m going to be attending this afternoon. The talk is on Andy Warhol as a portrait painter and is being given by Amy Grimm, a friend of mine here in the art history department. I’m really looking forward to it. The four o’clock starting time is a bit awkward (two or six would have been better), but it’s still doable. However, the minor hardship should be worth it: I’m really interested in the topic and Amy really knows her stuff.

The last several days have been a bit quiet and odd; I’ve been quite solitary, even by my loner standards. Part of this is because I’ve still been fighting a cold. It’s also been so hot and unpleasant (it got up to 103 in Long Beach a couple days back) that I haven’t been in the mood to do much other than struggle thru things I have to do for work and basic survival. Still, I’ve added a bit more to the third Backwaters book. I’ve also managed to study a touch more Greek than has been the norm of late. I’ve also been reading some interesting stuff. On a whim I picked up The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, from the Santiago Canyon College library last Thursday. This was perhaps my favorite book I read as a child. I’m about halfway thru it and I’m enjoying nearly as much as I did when I first read it at age seven or eight, (though in somewhat different ways).

In retrospect, I understand exactly why I liked the book so much when I was a kid. The idea of their being a secret place, a place where you an experience and create the beauty and hope that is not in the rest of your life is extremely compelling. But The Secret Garden is more than just that—it's a place where you can understand what beauty and hope are, and why these things matter. For me it was a way to help forget about, and in some small way attempt to transcend, all the things around me that were dragging me down: abandonment, divorce, forced relocation away from most of my family, psychological and emotional abuse (unintended for the most part), lies, raging ego, fear, being unwanted and completely misunderstood (or aunderstood—I don’t think anyone then ever really tried to figure me out) … I felt so much like Mary (the book’s protagonist), starting at about age six. I too was taken from the only place I’d ever known and placed with people who I didn’t really know and didn’t seem to have much interest in me (beyond the surface level at least). I too had to come to my own understandings about life with little in the way of adult help. I too found friendship in odd places, in my case (the occasional housekeeper, with whom I interacted with when my mom and stepdad were at work, sort of like Mary does with Martha). I didn’t find a secret garden, though—just a book about one. The magic of that book meant so much to me because my life had no magic—I just fought thru each day and was happy if nothing scaring happened.

Reading it today I realize that I’m still looking for my secret garden, my place where I can grow and matter and feel pure. In other words, I understand this book differently today because I’m coming at its truths from different angles, not because its truths have changed (by definition “truths” cannot change). In fact, in some ways I still feel like how Mary is first described before her transformation: ugly, plain, sallow, alone, unloved … As I read this book the last couple of days, I realized that the reason I’ve been so unhappy most of my life, am still not anywhere near as happy as I think I can be, is because I’ve thus far failed to fully become myself. I’ve yet to find the key to unlock my secret garden—I’ve found lots of keys and doors, but I never been able to put the right two together …

On a less harrowing note, rereading The Secret Garden has made me realize that I’m not comfortable with the way books are labeled as being for children, “young readers,” or adults. While maybe kids aren’t going get much out of James Joyce or Henry Miller, there is no reason why an adult can’t be enthralled by books like The Secret Garden or, say, A Wrinkle in Time (another one of my childhood favorites I plan on soon rereading). Growing up, by definition, is the process of trying to  come to grip with the wonders of the universe, both those enchanting and terrifying. I think a lot of us get lost emotionally beginning around our early teens and in a sense forget (or never fully learn—that’s probably more accurate) what growing up is—we begin to substitute the fears of those around us for what we know in our hearts to be true. By this I mean that we tie ourselves to notions of survival and leave the wonder of living behind, as if it was some juvenile misconception. I’m coming to believe that readers should return to their favorite childhood books periodically thru life, not as a way of hiding in the past, but as a way of reconnecting with fundamental truths of life. There is nothing to do with life other than live it. And there’s nothing more important in life than the warmth of the sun on your face or the feel earth or water running thru your fingers. Growing up is to take this knowledge thru all your life and use it as the basis from which you grow. Most kids get this, until they get it beaten out of them (sometimes literally) by adults. So to be truly adult is to avoid becoming an “adult.” Good “children’s books” are usually in some sense about this attempt, or at least the preparation for this attempt.

Had a very disturbing dream last night; I woke up at four this morning feeling confused and upset, a little lost. Some of the details are quite fuzzy now, but the dream was centered around what seemed like a kind of horseshoe-shaped set of buildings (where these builders were I can’t say—at one point they seemed to be in Hawai’i, but later I vaguely remember something about them being in New York). Some of the buildings are apartments, but others are businesses, all of which appear to be car repair shops. I’m in an upstairs apartment in one of the buildings. From this apartment I can see my old friends E— and S—. I’m looking down on them as they’re wandering thru the car repair places. I can tell that’s there is something wrong with them—they both seem to be severely mentally disturbed. The images at this point fragment. I remember S— rolling around in a parking lot next to a car that is being worked on. Later I’m talking to E—. I can tell he’s completely gone. I’m not sure about the reasons. He’s working a ridiculous number of hours; he’s so tired and burnt out that he basically work drunk. I remember as I’m noticing this he’s telling me how he’s just gotten another job. He’s also proudly wearing the work shirt from this new job. I’m not sure why I know this, but I’m aware that what’s also causing a lot of his troubles is that his marriage is falling apart. Is he working so much as a way to hide from this?

The situation for S— seems worse. He’s gone completely over the edge. He’s speaking gibberish, while wandering thru the various car repair areas. I somehow know his marriage is falling apart too, and that there are other horrible things going on in his life (what these are I either never knew or don’t remember). Later in the dream he’s basically raving. I’m in a car with him. He’s driving. There’s a roadblock and he immediately swerves the car into a detour that soon has us driving into a lake filled with milky, light-brown water. The car’s sinking and I have to pull him out the driver’s side window and drag him to the shore to save him (how I got out of the car I don’t know). By this point he’s making no sense. Later we’re dry and in some building, a restaurant or coffee shop or something. The cops come in and take him away. They’re treating him like a criminal and I don’t get why—he’s just sick and in need of help. For a moment his wife is in the scene. She looks like she did when they first got married, twenty years ago or whatever it was. She’s in her twenties, still has long hair. I don’t know why she’s there or why she’s so young. Other stuff happens that I don’t remember, which all revolves around the crack up of my two friends. Then I wake up.

What I found/find most disturbing about this dream is that the way E— and S— were cracking up was just how I know it would be with them if it ever happened in really life—I understood every emotion they were having , understood exactly how their issues were interacting with their basic personalities. It was incredibly painful watching these people I love go down like this. I tried to help, but could never seem to get thru to them, which also hurt. Life suddenly seemed very fragile when I first woke up from this dream. More disturbingly, it also seemed preordained—thru this whole dream I felt that I always knew this would happen to them and it had just been a matter of time. I don’t know what any of this means (I did when I woke up, to some degree, but now it’s nearly all gone).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little Cold, School, and Thoughts on Some Poets

Tuesday, September 11, 2012—Long Beach, CA

I’m not feeling too hot. Last Friday I felt a cold coming on and it’s been with me ever since. It’s a mild one, though, just bad enough to irritate me, but not bad enough to really slow me down. I’m not surprised I’ve gotten sick. It’s pretty typical for teachers to get colds at the beginning of the fall semester, especially those who haven’t taught summer school. Suddenly being exposed to tons of new people also means that one is being exposed to tons of new microbes. Actually I’m surprised that teachers don’t get sick more often—schools are meeting places for so many different types of people, who come from so many different places, jobs, etc., that campuses are essentially a gathering place for all the illnesses going on in a region. This creates the situation where teachers probably develop more extensive immunities than the general population, but we also get sick more often than most people, just because we’re exposed to so much more—even our gnarly immune systems can’t handle it all.

Speaking of school, I’m having a pretty decent semester so far. I’m ahead of the game, which is nice (the last couple of semesters I’ve been playing extremely stressful games of catch up). I also like my classes; I’ve got a good bunch of students who really seem to be into things. Still, I’m under-employed, which is a drag. My schedule is a bit problematic too, in that it involves a lot of time commuting. I’ve been saying some pretty disparaging things about teaching here, but I’m deciding that I should be a bit more grateful. Though my life’s not where I want it to be, I do have it better than most of the people I know. I basically enjoy my job and on most days I feel like I’m making at least a little difference in the world. There are definitely worse day jobs than mine …

As usual when school kicks into high gear, there hasn’t been too much time for anything else. H— came in from Claremont the other day and we went out for breakfast. That was really nice; we hadn’t seen each other for a long time and it was nice to get caught up. I’ve also been entertaining myself with my fantasy football team and listening to a lot of Angels games (they’re a frustrating team, though—they have so much talent, yet they’ve yet to really gel as a group). I’m keeping up with my Greek studies too, (though I’m not putting as much time into that as I would like). The writing has tapered off a bit, but that’s mostly because I’m not sure exactly what I want to do with the latest Backwaters book—the novel’s main conflict has not made itself apparent to me yet—so I’m just chipping away at it here and there.

On the subject of writing … As I mentioned a couple entries back, I wish I could write poetry these days—my writing life is so much poorer when that’s not happening. I did try reading some poetry recently, Penguin’s reader of Romantic poetry. I couldn’t get too far into it, though. That’s not an era, a group that really moves me much, though I do like some Blake, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. My main problem with the Romantics is that I can’t shake the feeling that their metaphysical bent is a bit of a dodge—I feel that so often their swooning is unhealthy, is a way to avoid confronting the material reality of their days. Reading these folks, though, does make me realize how desperately the Western world needed Walt Whitman to come along. He really was the great broom of Western poetry, sweeping so much of what went before him away. Does Whitman negate Shelley or Keats’ Grecian urn. Of course not. But he does render Longfellow, Bryant, and many other lessor poets unreadable (In my opinion, of course)—he shows how of their time they were, how trapped in their time they are. Still I admit, there is much to laud with the Romantics, their dedication to their art, if nothing else. I also admit one’s taste has a lot do to with this. For example, I really enjoy the Decadents and even the Pre-Raphaelites, both of whom many people loathe.

Though I’m not writing poetry, I did recently unearth and revise and retitle an older poem of mine (from 1995—it’s now called “Suburban Installation”). I’d always liked the piece but I never quite knew what to do with it. With these minor alterations, though, I’m understanding it better. I’m choosing to see this as a good sign, a sign that I’m coming back to poetry, slowly, to at least a small extent …

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Ruminations

Monday, September 3, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Labor Day. I’ve got nothing planned. Sometimes we barbeque at my sister’s, but for whatever reason that’s not going to happen today. That’s OK with me. It’s nice just to have the day off from teaching. Besides, I have plenty to do around here—I want to finish a lecture I’ve been revising, along with a few other work-related things. Not that I plan on working too hard. Most of my day I hope will involve me lounging around and reading. The whole point of having a day off is to have a day off. Sometimes I forget that …

Actually I think that a lot of us in this country have forgotten that; we’ve been battered and brainwashed into thinking our lives’ main purpose is to kill ourselves for our economic masters. Not “working” (I define “work” as “a person giving up their precious time to largely line the pockets of the economic elite for relatively little compensation”—something one enjoys that primarily benefits the individual or that individual’s loved ones is not “work,” which is an inherently negative act, something perpetrated against someone in an unbalanced power relationship), I’m beginning to see, refusing to be part of the big soul-crushing environment-scouring system, can be an important act of defiance against that system.

I’ve been thinking a lot about economics lately, economics and power, in massive terms. I’ve come to the conclusion that since the rise of the first state societies (civilizations) several thousand years ago the overwhelming majority of labor done by people falls into two categories: that which is part of a system which has as its primary purpose to funnel the a huge percentage of that which is produced (wealth) to a small elite, or efforts thru which people eke out a living where much of that produced go to those producing it, but because so much of the available resources are controlled by the elite class that wealth potential for others is so limited that the wealth obtained thru this labor provides little basis for power, or in many case even enough to live anything approaching a full, healthy life. Nothing of course has changed today. Most people I’m sure don’t realize (or if they do they try not to think about it) that the primarily purpose of their job is to in some way help transfer most of the planet’s wealth to a tiny ruling class; any benefit seen by the worker is usually the minimum amount the elites can give to the worker and still have him or her be willing to do the job. In other words, most people’s lives are spent making other people rich at their own expense.

In recent decades it has become apparent that we are now dealing with something more than just a social problem. Due to massive increases in human populations in recent centuries and the rise of more complex technologies, the basic exploitive nature of hierarchical societies is gutting the planet and will soon make it unlivable. In fact, it is already nearing that point for the majority of the world’s population, especially those living in so-called “Third World” countries. Though it’s a complex question as to why some states have more power than others, the fact is that the wealthier parts of the world have gotten that way (or at least stay that way) because of their ability to strip resources and coerce labor from the world’s poorer regions (by which I largely mean those that have little control of their economic, and by extension, social destiny). Leaving aside the horrible direct human costs of this colonialism, it by definition creates an unstable ecological situation that seems to be coming to a tipping point.

The late Roy A. Rappaport, a very influential anthropologist, called this “ecological imperialism,” and pointed out that the power differences between nations creates a transfer of wealth, which creates unstable ecological situations at both ends of the spectrum: poor countrys' ecosystems are essentially destroyed to provide resources for wealthy nations, while these resources allow the wealthy to develop lifestyles that foul the planet (the dependence on fossil fuels would be a prime example). This, if left unchecked, will eventually cause a complete collapse of the biosphere. This shows a direct correlation between hierarchical societies (and especially their current capitalistic systems, which I see simply as a spreading out of the exploitive qualities from a smaller hereditary ruling class to a larger and therefore more destructive business class) and the degradation of the wild ecosystems on which everything alive must ultimately depend.

The reverberations from such an analysis are staggering, for they call into question nothing less the evolutionary viability of hierarchal societies. Human power is ultimately based on the control and exploitation of resources. However, this generally destroys wild ecosystems, which by definition are self-regulating. Human survival again is dependent on these ecosystems. This means that in order to survive as a species power in society must be decentralized—the more spread out this power is the healthier our environment, but also the healthier our society, in that human potential will not be harnessed to the machine of elite accumulation, but to fulfilling the individual’s needs (nutritionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, etc.). Is this a kind of proof of the anarchist dream or a recommendation for the New Paleolithic of the Deep Ecologists (I draw from, respect, and perhaps am of both camps)? I don’t know—but big changes will soon be coming one way or another …

All of this is my way of saying that I never want to “work” again. The machine has had too many of my years and from now on I’m going to fight hard for every minute it tries to wrestle from me. From the chiefdom to the devine ruler to the manor farm to wage slavery the elite classes have attempted to harness the majority of us to help fulfill their own misguided wants. Now not just the people but the planet itself is groaning under this weight. It’s become an ethical duty not to “work.” Personal fulfillment and social responsibility are one and the same—if we don’t all start seeing this soon catastrophe is in evitable.

Happy Labor Day.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Of Poetry and Death (Mine!)

Saturday, September 1, 2012—Long Beach, CA

Haven’t been in the mood to write here much lately. I’ve started back teaching and that’s been eating a lot of time (as well as screwing up my sleep patterns so I’m always a bit tired when I do have some free time). I’ve also been working on the latest Backwaters book and when that’s flowing it will always be given priority over these pages. It’s been going well, slowly; the deliberate pace is fine by me. I see it as turning out much less frenetic than Backwaters of Beauty or Mother Earth and the way I write books tends to reflect their nature, which means I’m probably on the right track. Plus, I’m still a touch burned out on the Backwaters universe and so I can at the moment probably only take this third book in small bites and have it still hold my interest. I’m still feeling like I should be writing other things as well. I’m not sure if this is because I haven’t accepted that this book is simply my lot at the moment or if it should be paired with something I’ve yet discovered. What I wish I could do is write poetry—I’ve been stuck in the world of prose so long that I’ve almost forgotten the rush and then contentment of pulling off a good poem. Poetry is simply more personal and profound than prose. I’m really missing hitting those deeper places …

In regards to my poetry drought, I’m beginning to see that it stopped flowing for me in relation to how much I’ve been teaching. Right before I went back to teaching I’d hit the most productive poetry phase I’ve ever been in; the verses were coming at a sometimes frightening rate. The first year I taught I was very much part time and I still was writing poetry, though not as much as before. When my teaching duties more or less became full time the poetry stopped cold—I have not written a single worthwhile poem since then (the well has gone so dry I haven’t really even turned out many failed ones). Since poetry is in a sense life (or the most telling window into the one's life, in regards to those who practice the art of writing) I can’t help but to ask myself if my teaching has essentially sidetracked my true life, what I should really be doing. I’ve filled more pages here than I like to admit with complaints about teaching. But I’m beginning to see my bitching perhaps hasn’t even scratched the surface. Perhaps what I’m doing for a living really is killing me …

We spend our lives working to increase the material wealth of a very few at the top, while squandering our real riches, which are the days and nights of our lives and the contemplation therefore of. Poets are not respected because they know too much—if they were taken seriously by those in power the whole “civilization” edifice would vanish like chalk in the rain …

I’ve got to get out of this appalling situation before my poetry is gone forever.