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You've got a Baseball Face

For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill. Baseball is a game of the long season, of relentless and gradual averaging-out. Irrelevance—since the reference point of most individual games is remote and statistical—always threatens its interest, which can be maintained not by the occasional heroics that sportswriters feed upon but by players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art. Insofar as the clutch hitter is not a sportswriter's myth, he is a vulgarity, like a writer who writes only for money. It may be that, compared to managers' dreams such as Joe DiMaggio and the always helpful Stan Musial, Williams is an icy star. But of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner. It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport's poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.

From John Updike's article "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" in the October 22, 1960 edition The New Yorker.

Incomplete Unrest

I've been feeling, by turns, jubilant and desolate. I think I prefer jubilant.
Let's stick with that for a while.

I'd like to do my friends a few good turns sometime soon. I'm so out of practice with charity, however, that I don't know where to start. Perhaps I'll craft them objects and then present them with those objects. Seems to be traditional 'round these parts.

Talking in Bed
    Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
    Lying together there goes back so far,
    An emblem of two people being honest.

    Yet more and more time passes silently.
    Outside, the wind's incomplete unrest
    Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,

    And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
    None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
    At this unique distance from isolation

    It becomes still more difficult to find
    Words at once true and kind,
    Or not untrue and not unkind.

                              -Philip Larkin

When I was searching the internet to find this poem the first thing I happened upon was an essay on its "style", whose first few sentences are the following: "Philip Larkin's 'Talking in Bed' (1964) is a poem about isolation, disillusionment and failure, about the gap between expectations and reality, about the ironies of love in the modern world. It is also about the difficulty of telling the truth and being nice at one and the same time."

This 'analysis' sort of sums up what's wrong with academics in general. What an extraneous, useless recapitulation in poorer words those sentences are. To say it is a poem "about isolation" is almost offensive. The penchant for analyzing and rephrasing things is what I really dislike about the university establishment. It's hell bent on re-production and regurgitation without focusing at all on production. This is, of course, less true in the sciences, as they approach the world almost entirely differently. The whole thing just makes me throw up my hands and yawn a thousand why bothers.

The discursive aspects investigated in the study, based on Halliday's three metafunctions, are images and isotopies - language, love, and nature; lexical sets, cohesive devices, representation of reality (field) and transitivity choices - processes, participants and circumstances; demonstratives, pronoun reference, interpersonal relationships (tenor), deictics and the deictic sub-worlds of the poem.

What a waste. Such INSIGHT.

*** ***

There's something so alluring in the way you've lived your life, so differently from mine. Not that I'd wish to copy it or repeat it, just that I'm fascinated and attracted to it. I want to understand it, and you as well (obviously). Primarily you. I wonder if I could hold your interest in a similar way, or anyone's for that matter. It seems dubious; my assuming posture with my bland choices and my easily known whearabouts. I'm rather uncommonly boring. (But through the democracy of the internet I still assume that I deserve this little soapbox, I still assume that there is sufficient warrant for someone to think of me).

On the verge of
work-weathered hands;
ancient all too early's
just not for me.

*** ***

More Larkin. Stop me when you're sick.

A Life With A Hole In It

    When I throw back my head and howl
    People (women mostly) say
    But you've always done what you want,
    You always get your own way
    — A perfectly vile and foul
    Inversion of all that's been.
    What the old ratbags mean
    Is I've never done what I don't.

    So the shit in the shuttered chateau
    Who does his five hundred words
    Then parts out the rest of the day
    Between bathing and booze and birds
    Is far off as ever, but so
    Is that spectacled schoolteaching sod
    (six kids and the wife in pod,
    And her parents coming to stay)...

    Life is an immobile, locked,
    Three-handed struggle between
    Your wants, the world's for you, and (worse)
    The unbeatable slow machine
    That brings what you'll get. Blocked,
    They strain round a hollow stasis
    Of havings-to, fear, faces.
    Days sift down it constantly. Years.

                                     -Philip Larkin 

I'm worried about how I'll turn out. I don't know if it's justified or not, presumably it is. (Wild mood swings, reckless commitments, etc.). But sure as death, I'll turn out somehow. That's a bit comforting, in it's own way, to know that uncertainty only extends to the coffin and no further. Or at least I don't (can't) care what happens after that. But am I really so entirely uncomfortable with uncertainty. Not all the time anyway. I do like sure things though. I'd like something solid besides my family. (A girl).

An Incomplete Day

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the J.J. Hoys of my life. I suppose they're largely jailed by now.

What would we talk about?
Likely as not nothing, I'd get a shiv in the ribs for my trouble.

So I'm back to my old work-hating self. I have to figure out a way to not work for the rest of my life. I really can't spend my days selling my time for money just so I can eat. That's just insane. I suppose I should find work I like, but what would that be. I can't imagine. I'm so immature in that regard, I'm so of my times. An "individual", a PRIVATE individual at that. What a farce. My ease made possible by the toil of trillions, of course. But my feeling for the ethical realm clearly doesn't extend past intellectual amusement these days. Horribility, &c.

One positive thing I could talk about is all the nice big computer drawings I've been doing. I wouldn't exactly say I'm proud of them, but I do think they're quite nice, and worth something to me. Even if they are only hour-whiling amusements (good ones). I've been thinking about printing them high-quality like and maybe trying to sell them. Who knows how that would go though.


In hindsight, it's kind of interesting (read: painful) that it all ended up being an impossible geometry anyway. Even though I described it as that in that wistful-hopeful-honeyed way that I hate (but use all the time). It really IS impossible, even though I can see all the angles so perfect-clear in my head. Everything ends up being like that part in Silk where they release the thousands of birds from the aviary. But the birds quickly turn on me and peck out my eyes and lungs. "All in a day's work, eh what?"

    "We slowed again,
    And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
    A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
    Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain."

My eyes are always so unfocussed these days on the train. I turn everything off.

Yeah, a dozen weddings got underway the other day and all I could notice was how filthy the brides' fingers were, year-soaked in tobacco and calloused with the loom. That's what you call a metaphor for my cantankerous disposition, friends. Find the gloom in things, latch onto it, force it to fake a smile, then release it back into the wild, allowing it to wreak whatever foul deeds it will on the good-hearted out there.

(Ah resisting the urge to call you).

It disgusts me that when things go sour I turn bitter and nasty. "Is this what I call 'love'!" What a lie I am. I don't even know if I feel these things or not: I feel like an actor almost to the core of me. Histrionics indeed! Oftentimes I try and arouse a feeling in me to convince myself. What's the technical term for that delightful little bit of self-delusion?

I think that if I can feel these things correctly (love, anguish) then I'm less a fraud.

But I also worry that me pretending to feel these things is my way of avoiding actually feeling what I feel and opening up the quick path to my insanity. "On the edge of a precipice," etc.

One of these days I should just allow me to walk around myself and stop closing all the doors to everything. Maybe I'm good somewhere in there. "Just an outline, sketchy but fine, I'll colour me in," some day soon no doubt. I can't keep living my dizzying vacillation between ultra-sincerity and its opposite. Or I assume I can't, my stomach just WON'T handle it. (But maybe I have little faith in my body when it is in fact the only thing that seems to function on my steady diet of desert air and printer's ink).

Deciding never got anyone anywhere.
Sloshing about in here only gets to me at night. In the day I'm an amusing parlour trick unfolding before a sympathetic audience.

It's too bad we can't turn to the virginy bosom of sweet lady Church these days, I mean without being even bigger liars than we already are. These heady days of science and post-colonialism, you know. When are they going to build that bridge across the Bering Strait anyway, and this space elevator is dragging its feet, and Eritrean independance is hardly the news issue it should be, right.

So the war continues on yet another incomplete day for you, my dear faithful nobodies.

An Incomplete Catalogue of My Repellant Aspects

Well, there's no day like today to do a little stock-taking. A list of my failings to follow. My "total knowledge (i.e. what I know)" of myself falls into roughly four categories: Women, Friends, School, "Personality"

Let's start with Women, as they are on my mind more often than not.

As pertains to women my failings are numerous and repetitive. My biggest problem when dealing with the opposite sex is "intensity". Not that I'm an intensely passionate person or anything, but that with me it's either 'on' or 'off'. I either LOVE YOU or you are not on my agenda, or only barely-briskly. This is a failing in two ways. First, because it off-puts most potential girls because they think I'm either kidding or that I'm "too much" (perhaps even a bit of a FAG). Second, and relatedly, its bad because it leads me to avoid girls almost entirely, except those rare few who I think could "DEAL WITH" my clingy-ness.

But when I get past worrying about being too much like myself and actually fall "IN LOVE" with a girl, I end up doing so in one of two ways. I either fool myself into thinking that they love me just as much as I love them and that we'll be 2gether 4ever OR I fool myself into thinking that they can't possibly be IN LOVE with someone like me (in all my wretched disgustitude) and then I get resentful and angry because I think they're constantly placating me for whatever insane reason I've concocted for them. Usually it begins with one and ends with the other.

Another particularly irritating feature of my personality is my constant feeling that I NEED a woman in my life in order to DO anything. I just can't shake that feeling, I mean I do do things when I'm "single" but I just feel a lot more invigorated with the companionship of a woman I love (or believe I love, at least). And, really, invigorated, like livelier and more robust physically and mentally. This feeling usually lasts well past its prime, even into those grim days of breakup makeup that I hate so much and avoid so poorly.

I want to be CHOSEN instead of fallen into.

But enough of women.

So, to Friends.

Friends are, alternately, far simpler and far more complex than WOMEN. Simpler in that no obvious or crippling problems arise with them (almost never) and more complex because the 'problems' that do arise are invariably related far more deeply to basic elements of my personality than the slap-dash grating of minds that happens with (some, not all) Wymyn. What I find chiefly repulsive in my dealings with my friends is my selfishness. I talk a good game about how important my small number of friendships are to me, but when it comes down to it I do very little to maintain their good standing. When I move to a new city, for instance, I've rarely made much effort other than MSN contact to keep in touch with people. And in those surprisingly numerous instances where people do not use the internet or messenger frequently, I all but lose contact with them save the occasional every-six-months whats going on sort of email. Jeremy is a prime example of this. One of my best friends and I almost never talk to him, and sadly enough I think about him all-too rarely as well. I complain incessantly about my loneliness and bla bla bla, but really I do very little to remedy the situation; a little effort would likely go a long way with friends who are willing to meet you three quarters of the way. "I mean, what does it take?"

And now to that empty friendless wasteland that I've poured 8 wasted youthful years of my life into, that festering sore of platitudes and pat-on-the-backism: School. Yes, School.

What chiefly forms a floodtide of barely restrained bile at the back of my throat in connection with "school" has been accurately summarized by one Matthew Furlong:

"I'm talented but I resent even my own capabilities because of my disdain for using them"

All false modesties aside for the briefest second, I am, at least according to the existing standards for measuring these kinds of things, a more than capable 'student'. On paper, I look good. I am indeed 'talented' but in the following way: I'm talented at presenting aspects of other people's thought clearly and revealingly. I'm not talented at 'research' in the real, productive sense. I'm not talented at producing original or engaging thoughts, or in producing insight of any sort of general interest. The things which I am capable of producing are either entirely and uselessly self-referential (i.e., this blog post, the 50 bad poems I produced earlier, my jokes, etc.) or too muddled in the specificities of scholarship to be of any actual value to any one, myself included. So when M. Furlong suggests that I am disdainful and resentful of my own capabilities, it is because my aim is to produce something of value, not something of merely scholarly interest. And I end up hating myself for what little talent I have because it constantly fails up to my own measure. And I end up hating school for it because it allows me to get a free ride to self-loathing and ambitionlessness because I'm so easily able to 'play the game' and so, cowardly, I refuse to leave.

And with that delightfully over-written bit of biliousness, we come to our final subject, my 'personality', the root of all the above failings. In such a minor catalogue as this we can only hope to scratch the surface of 'Mark Burke: An Uncomplicated Failure'. To PERSONALITY!

Let's begin again with some words of wisdom from Matthew Furlong: "You're rigged to find dissatisfaction in everything". This is my ultimate failing. Or at least it seems like it today, I'm sure come tomorrow I'll have become disatisfied with this assessment and found that my preference for banana milkshakes is the real thorn in my side.

I know lately I'm super Larkin-on-the-brain, but I can't help it, I'm reading his letters and they're anchoring my thoughts. I find that whenever I read something I really like, especially something like letters, I end up finding myself in all the parts I like. Larkin is particularly bad for this, because he actually is a lot like me in a lot of ways (or, rather, I'm a lot like HIM in a lot of ways): he thinks too much, he's too negative, he's got no ambitions, his dealings with women are fraught with indecision and self-doubt (and self-loathing) and he, like me, finds the 'greats' (for him: Auden and Lawrence, for me: Larkin and Foucault) so alien in their greatness even while they are to be aspired to. Anyway, so I don't know quite what to think of my admiration for Philip Larkin. He spent his life an unhappy, disconsolate librarian in various towns, notably the provincial backwater Hull. He sent letters to his few friends, he was unsuccessfully engaged, he had unsuccessful affairs, and was generally unable to produce what he wanted or to make a living off what he had produced. And yet, here we have The Whitsun Weddings and The North Ship and whatever else you care to mention. Here we have such perfect jewels of insight, some of the poems are just so crystalline, you see exactly what it is to be a failure for him, for instance (in "To Failure" below). God, if all it takes is a wasted life to produce something like "Talking in bed" well I don't know that it's not worth it. But MY problem (one of them) is that I'm not so insightful (and even though I just compared myself to Larkin, who compared himself unsparingly and unfavourably to Lawrence, I doubt I have it in me to say anything of note). I'm not a poet, but I don't have the drive to be a novelist; I'm not a scholar, but I really don't have the drive in me to be a philosopher either. I'm only nominally a graffiti writer, I'm certainly no artist, and I'm either too pretentious or not pretentious enough to be the kind of architect that I could actually admire. So the difference is that while Larkin lacked the ambition to do anything he didn't want to do, he nevertheless had it figured in his head that he wanted to do something even if he was largely a failure or at least not a significant success at it (i.e., at being a novelist). And I think having SOME ambition, even if you don't achieve it, particularly, can lead you to do something that is worthwhile. Maybe something unexpected.

Actually, I guess my ultimate problem isn't dissatisfaction with everything (how unsurprisingly fickle) it's my inability to foster ambition. It leaves me lying fallow for whole summers and winters, all piled into each other indiscriminate like. I feel like I have SOMETHING in me, but I don't know what it is, or who it's for. How can you encourage ambition? Doesn't it just come upon you like the wind or like a feeling for destiny. That's how I imagine it anyway. I was briefly wracked with desire, but that's passed impassed I should say and now I forget what it's like to need something. I haven't actually forgotten, but that's not ambition, its stubborn refusal and empty selfishness (I think ambition and desire are the same thing I just noticed).

(Can't I just be this hysterical bundle of conflicting thoughts and satisfy the demands of Art? Are we SO conservative!)

But maybe I'm wrong, and all I have in me is this. And this is all there is going to be.

I believe in too many things.

Philip Larkin's "To Failure" sums up the pettiness of my life up to this point.

    You do not come dramatically, with dragons
    That rear up with my life between their paws
    And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
    The horses panicking; nor as a clause
    Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
    What out-of-pocket charges must be borne
    Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
    That's seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

    It is these sunless afternoons, I find
    Install you at my elbow like a bore
    The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I'm
    Aware the days pass quicker than before,
    Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
    They look like ruin. You have been here some time.

Such undramatic ruin, mine.