He tried to tell me a story,
About what he learned as a boy,
How the men rode off to capture the horizon,
And left perfectly respectable homes.
I rose, yet a tired grip upon my wrist,
Enfeebled and gnarled by time and toil,
Made me think, "Would I lose a chance to fortune's evasion,
Should I take the time to sit with him?"
He said, "Hear me son.
"Because you will not listen,
I have to tell you what my old man once said to me,
With hope someday it may calm your mind,
When in yearning's grasp you mire in confusion.
"Within the country your grandfather called home,
Lived peace hard won through battles waged,
And proved ideals through virtue's strength,
Yet in contentment's prison the curious raged.
"For there were in those days sacred pacts,
And the faithful prayed to the lights in the sky,
While strong men girded themselves for battle,
The women forged passion like steel in fire.
"There was not one who in peace could wait,
For the world's rotation in our heavenly gyre,
They left no alternative to striking out,
To returning victorious or upon their shields.
"And the wise men wondered on the floor of the senate,
Aloud in the historic halls of university forums,
In print, on screen, and in whispers on pillows,
Must we always become the stories we've told?"
I left him there beside his bed,
In a hospital ward he would not escape,
And as he expected, forgot until now,
My father's final warning, his blessing, his prayer.
For he was old enough to have seen ever after,
He knew Camelot as a citizen and chased happily to his grave.
Inevitably, cried as Arthur had when he found his greatest loves conspired,
And watched everything he treasured sink beneath the waves.
People give me books without provocation.
They say, "You're a writer, so I bought you this book. I love it. You should read it." I love them for it. But it also makes me hate them.
Beside my bed is a stack of books that reaches to my mid-thigh, and I'm no small guy. So it's a lot of books. They have been given to me by people, and I think some of them I'm supposed to return. But I don't remember which ones.
There's an implicit committment people are seeking in me that by giving me a book I'll spend the time to read it. They went through the trouble to buy it or find it in their book pile, and so the least I can do is to read the damn things and provide a book report. They are wanting I should say, I expect, "I loved it."
I can't think of a single reason people would give me a book and want me to say, "What a crashing bore. What an unmitigated consumer of valuable life span. Never before have I spent my days in a less useful pursuit than scanning the pages of the abysmal tome with which you cursed my existence. Had I decided to vandalize an art museum, slashed the tires of station wagons in the grocery store parking lot, or urinated on the lawn of the state capitol, I would stand here now and feel I had better committed my time as a human being than in perousing the pages you so generously graced me with last month. "
Unlike a lot of guys trying to make it as a writer, I try not to read a lot of stuff in the same genre as I'm trying to write. I worry about "bleed through". I don't want to find myself reading Kurt Vonnegut's voice in my own words. Or Richard Brautigan's. Or Stephen King's. So when I'm trying to write something, I don't read something like what I'm trying to write.
But people say, "OH I KNOW WHAT YOU"RE WRITING ABOUT," and then with true friendly passion, produce a volume of material by a famous writer that has the unintended consequence of causing me to stop dead in my literary tracks. My lord, dear God in heaven thouest suffer unto me my well-meaning friends. For I love them with all my heart as you demand, and bless each knife they thrust errantly into my chest, each missing the ventricles of that true heart by millimeters.
One day they'll kill me, dead on, my dear ones.
"Oh, you'll love this book," one of my well-meaning friends will say, and I know with the dread of one awaiting a root-canal appointment that within days I will find the volume on my desk or chair with a note, "Let me know how you liked it." Lots of times, these books are 500 pages or more. And almost always, I cannot bring forth from my own loins the same furvor with which my friends lust for life after consuming the richness of the poems or prose within.
Also, I'm a fucking slow reader. Lots of people I know can sit down and finish a 350 page novel in ninety minutes. For me, that's a week-long commitment. It would take me a year or more to read all the books people have given me. And by then, they'd give me more.
In my book stack are novels. Books about UFOs and some about angels. Books about people channelling ancient Egyptian kings. There are books of poetry. Books I read as a kid and didn't like the first time, that someone has insisted I read again as an adult, because I'll see it all differently.
And there are books I want to read and feel guilty getting to, because if I mention to someone who has given me a book that I've read another, they give me that, "When are you going to read 'My Life as a Former NASCAR Groupie's Uncle?'" look.
Sometimes people give me book suggestions and I go out immediately and buy the book. I get eight pages into it and realize I'm in trouble. I bought the book, "American Gods", and made myself get 60 pages into it before I could stand it no longer. It's beside my bed with a VTA Bus schedule wedged in it as a book mark. I never take the bus. I'm just out of bookmarks.
Anything flat or skinny is liable to become a bookmark in my house. Coins. Toilet paper. Dried plants. Thread from sweaters. Shoelaces. Post-it notes. Those little blow-in business reply cards that fall out of magazines are best.
There are at least 50 books in my house sporting little white tags that say, "Usual...For just $1...and that's not..." Most of them are cards requesting a subscription to Smithsonian magazine. For reasons I can't understand, I have never actually subscribed to Smithsonian, nor have I read an article in it straight through, yet shows up at my house each month like an uninvited guest who insists on staying for dinner, an HBO movie, and a glimpse at me brushing my teeth. Some member of my family gives me a subscription to it every year. Monthly, it provides me with at least five of those cards that say "YES I WANT a subscription to Smithsonian for only $12 (that $213.23 off the regular newsstand price)" that I use as bookmarks for all the books I can't read. And I use them all up and have to go for slivers of newspaper or toothpicks. Yes, toothpicks can be formidable bookmarks.
I'm reading a book now by Charles Bukowski called Post Office. It seems like a good book. It's about a guy who's a postman, who goes to work with a perpetual hangover, gets bit by dogs, marries and divorces a rich girl, and has sex with bored women on his route every week. Nobody recommended it to me. I'd never even heard of Charles Bukowski except for the single-line allusion to him in the movie, Sideways which I was taken to by friends who adored it more than I ever could. I didn't even know Bukowski's first name was Charles, and were it not for the fact there are no other writers named Bukowski who sold 20+ novels between the 1940's and death in 1994, I'd never even know his first name was Charles.
Now why didn't anyone ever recommend him to me?
Maybe I just don't like what other people like. Maybe people want me to be like them and like what they like, because that's how they "connect".
I liked the movie "Fight Club". Nobody recommended it to me nor did anyone suggest I read the book, which I also liked a lot. It's a story about what kind of men boys become when they're jettisoned by their fathers. I wasn't abandoned by my father, but I thought it was a great story, anyway. And funny, too.
I wish someone would have said to me, "Hey, check out Palaniuk," instead of giving me an impenetrable book about Gurdjeiff. (That same person did send me "A Confereracy of Dunces" which I eventually read and laughed at. So sometimes it works ok.)
Not one person recommended it to me. Instead, I have a book called, "A Brother's Journey" sitting beside my bed that I can't bring myself to open. It's about the brother of a guy who was abused as a child. Not the abused kid, for whom lots of books have already been written, but his brother. Because that hadn't been written about yet.
My wife is reading it now, and for me, that's the kiss of death. What she likes, I know I must burn. My wife is entranced by Dean Koontz and Barbara Landover. I tried reading a Dean Koontz book once, but I was distracted by the sound of water leaking from a faucet in our kitchen, and even though it's now fixed, I can't see that book without hearing the dripping water in my mind.
On the other hand, I left the tea kettle on last night and all the water boiled out of it and the metal got so hot the paint bubbled while I was reading about this postman fucking randy women he met on his route and getting the mail truck stuck in a big puddle during a thunderstorm.
Maybe that's why my writing goes nowhere. I don't like what people like. I'm not a regular book kind of person.
And no, I have no idea where your copy of "Hey: Isn't That My Underwear?" is.
I don't know what that poem has to do with my grumpy note about all the books I haven't read.
They were two thoughts juxtaposed in my mind that had to come out. That's why it's a daylog.
And not something more coherent.
Yes, I'm still writing, Dad. Still making the same mistakes.
The distance apples travel hasn't changed much over the course of human history, sorry to say.