Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thanks to Charles Olson, or Why I Read History

Charles Olson caught my attention on two fronts when I was a young, apple-cheeked writer trying to figure out poetry. One, as a writer doing things with language that I at first resisted but found myself drawn to: disjunction, foreign language, and a primrose of a narrative that rejected straight lines. Two, the immediacy of history, even in its smallest elements. With Olson, they certainly could be pretty small.

Prowling amidst Olson’s work, and that of those affected by him, decidedly helped me into a writing sensibility that I could work with. The sense of history’s immediacy gave me some power to feel contrite, and empathetic. That is, history became a common all, a touchstone by which.

That lesson from Olson about history comes to mind now, with two books. I am reading Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson. During the time up to this past election—Obama vs. Mitt for all the marbles—I read Truman by David McCullough. Both books seem to bear on contemporary events.

As a president, even as a candidate, Truman seems unlikely. He didn’t go to college, which nowadays would be an impossibility. Even a knucklehead like G. W. Bush “went to college”. Truman was simply a farmer thru the first part of his life.

WWI gave him an opportunity to establish his leadership skills. He became captain of an artillery unit, with a good dose of unlikelihood. His practical skills and his ability to get along with people helped him succeed. After the war, his haberdashery was successful enough until the depression took the bottom out. He was not a stumblebum, as some have claimed: the circs were bad.

He was social. He joined the Masons, that network, and otherwise stayed connected to people. He kept in touch with the men who served with him in the war. The father and uncle of a long time friend ran the Democratic machine in Missouri. Truman became Judge then Senator as part of that machine by being reliable. He earnestly went about that business. Missouri was a completely Democratic state then, tho there were factions. He managed to cross factions.

Truman was never anyone’s first choice. Others had failings of one sort or another, and there was unsullied Truman. The same happened when he became Vice President. All the sparkling choices either cancelled themselves out or revealed stridencies that spoiled their venture. Even running for president, Truman was a second choice.

I’m getting wordy here. Truman had practical accomplishments, not designated ones like a plum degree or some shifty exploit in the business world. Specifically, he wasn’t some buffed up myrmidon for Silver Spoon Inc.

Truman had the aroma of racism and anti-Semitism, the product of the era. Yet Truman was, to use a Masonic term, square. He was the first president to press for civil rights, for instance. Given the racist air of the past few years—bestirred by Barack Obama’s presence on the national scene—it shouldn’t amaze that Truman pushed for anti-lynching laws. I mean that lynching could have somehow survived in a culture that legislates against, you know, murder. Yet we know that defenses for racism are silently on a lot of lips.

Truman supported the creation of a Jewish state, against considerable contention. I felt a real sense that expediency was not his central motive. He had this firm sense of what’s right, not the wavering declarations of a candidate who fine tunes the talking points to the specific stupid audience.

Reading this book, I saw how many issues have changed little. I also see how efflorescent dickheads have commandeered the machine. Poll-reading jellyfish (not to insult jellyfish) pretend to stand up straight. Mitt Romney was only an oppositional concept, not a real candidate (McCain was just an opposition). As troubadour for a racist audience, Romney didn’t push where push needs pushing. Imagine Mitt Romney sitting down between Churchill and Stalin one month after being sworn in.

Truman was direct in his language, sincere, and thoughtful. He wasn’t always “right”, that would be a ridiculous expectation. But he was real at what he did, which is an expectation we should have for our political leaders. He had little money when he became president and little when he left, tho a book deal from Life Magazine soon gave him funds. Can any president since say the same?

I have had Battle Cry of Freedom for years now, but only now am reading it. When I first got it, my interest in the Civil War circled around the battles, the drama. McPherson takes his time getting to that. McPherson is a full third of the way into the book before he gets to the attack on Fort Sumter. He provides a detailed rendering of the forces that led to the war. It’s not just state’s right versus anti-slavery, as everyone can realize. It’s many divergent forces, social, political, and stupid, that brings this country to an angry implosion.

The jibber jabber about secession today exhibits zero comprehension of what that might entail. It’s a childish sort of whining by those who think they aren’t getting their way. The slavery issue, which the framers of the Constitution dodged, took a long coming to this head. How could a country exist with a division on this issue? It finally could not.

I recently found myself writing rather “partisan” pieces in the days leading to the election. It was how I dealt with the ghastly urgencies of false language and disrupted empathy, Glenn Beck type assholes with simulated virtues in their mouths. Iniquities spoil our language because it is so difficult to find words that will stand true in the face of war, slavery, anti-Semitism, and such other doors that close on our humanity.

Charles Olson gave me a sense of mission as a writer. Language has been undermined by political underwriters. The necessity, then, is to find ways to write words, and read them, such that meaning isn’t twisted by endeavour. Olson helped me to see this path.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Simple Theories

I got caught up, in the words and machinations of the politic. Immersion and then distinction let me write some poems. The point is not opinion,  but rather the words in the presence. Thus the ongoing, captured here:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Report: Controversial, Salacious, and Inviting!!!

The simplicity of Thanksgiving makes it a pleasant holiday. People gather and share food. Certainly the meal can get complicated, it does with us, with many items to prepare, but that’s controllable. In our home, Beth likes to create a big spread of food.

Wednesday, I made bread, as noted here: Without trying to mirror an insipid Judy Collins song (“I always cook with honey / It sweetens up the night / I always cook with honey / Tell me how’s your appetite”), there’s something keenly appealing about such an old-fashioned act as baking bread.

I rose early on Thanksgiving to bake pies before the turkey went in. We weren’t eating till after 4:00, so I had time. A few years ago, I stumbled on a Martha Stewart recipe for Apple-Blackberry pie. She supplies a recipe for pate brise, which somehow is no different from the recipe for the pecan pie crust that I used. I’ve made Martha’s pie at least three times, probably more, and each time there seems to be a new step that I never saw before. How does that happen?

I punted a bit with the pecan pie; most of the pecans were walnuts. It turned out that we had more pecans but so it goes. Agave syrup replaced corn syrup. I think I forgot to include the dollop of molasses that the recipe asks for.

With the pies done and the turkey in the oven, Beth and I risked going for our almost daily walk in the woods. We go to the same place because we have found the daily changes fascinating. We take at least 100 pictures every visit.

We got back in time to rush thru cleaning the place, and readying the rest of the meal. Our guests were our neighbor and her daughter home from school. They arrived bearing pie and ice cream. In the introductory phase, the daughter mentioned that she works at a brew pub, which stoked my interest. She said to her mother the like of “Oh my god, if you had told me they like beer I would’ve brought a growler!” We had more than enough wine as it was; both the mother and Erin are teetotalers,but still.

And so it went, with an enormous amount of food leftover. What we did not do was rush off to Black Friday celebrations. Thanks but no thanks.

I realize that there’s an adventure element to these midnight store openings, like midnight showings of the newest Harry Potter movie, but the fire of desperation burns hard for the Thanksgiving sales. An awkward feeling of necessity arises.

According to a study by the Wall Street Journal, the discounts of Black Friday aren’t all that great, and often not applied to the cherry items people hope for. Apple’s is in the 10-20% range, which is paltry for the richest company in the universe using sweatshop labour. Well, isn’t it, or must the Apple mystique win out?

Saturday we decided to skip our walk and go to the mall. Not with intention of buying anything, just for our yearly look around. The place was busy but not maxed out. I would imagine all those Black Friday troopers might have taken the day to rest.

I should mench that a decorated Christmas tree, along with window decorations, were seen near us, BEFORE Halloween. That’s part of the desperation that I have noted. And on it goes at the mall.

A Christmas decoration place called A Christmas to Remember—which, for my next movie, I have changed to A Christmas to Dismember (© Bramhall Creative Trust)—looked initially cleaner than previous years. The store exists for two months then disappears till next Christmas. I then noticed stains on the carpet and breakage in an ignored condition. No time to clean up the image, it’s about sales.

The store offers enough tasteful stuff to keep the place honest, but Santa with a gun ornament, Santa in fatigues, these push the limits. If you like to fish, then a fisherman Santa makes sense. Solider Santa doesn’t make sense. Neither does the song “Santa Baby”, a pernicious piece of melodic desuetude if ever.

The place had a cashier, another person who remained behind the counter doing something, and another who wandered around. I could tell what the cashier was doing, she dealt with a line of customers. The others were mysteries to me. Not saying they weren’t doing their job, it just wasn’t evident to me what their job was. Usually you can tell.

Saw Santa trudge down the main corridor to his post in front of the camera. He used a wizard-like staff to walk, bent forward. He wore red rather than the green of previous years. His vest was a light green silk. An entourage went with him, kids and associates, I guess. A woman who may not have been part of the entourage followed, talking on her phone. She looked like Secret Service.

The Apple Store was busy but not crammed. I am developing an aversion to Apple. As much as the iPod seemed nifty, it was surprisingly clunky to use. Maybe that has changed. Likewise iTunes, which I no longer have on my computer. I cannot comment on other hardware because my experience is limited. I just don’t think Apple deserves the sheen it has. With the money it saves with its sweatshops, it can litigate against all comers. Sure would like an iPad, tho.

Saw a woman dressed in black shorts, black top, with heavy black eye makeup. For a suburban mall, that’s pretty extreme. The display of muffin top seemed to be a feature. In the city, the look would not bear noting. Here she seemed like a victim. She scurried back to Bebe, where apparently staff all dress like that, for safety. She looked awkwardly out of her element out in “the real world”. And sorry to even mention this, I don’t like to judge others. I’ve looked in the mirror once or twice.

Nordstrom’s was its busy old self. Beth thunk as how she could use boots, and entered that process. A lot of women’s shoes, in my estimation, belong on the Are You Kidding? shelf. Plastic uppers, for heaven’s sake! Some plastic, some chintz, and you’ve spent $150. Beth hooked up with an associate, or whatever a staff minion is called, who didn’t have a clue how to deal with anyone older than 22. She brought out a completely random selection of items, including slippers which, the canny will note, are not boots.

I tried on a wool coat at Beth’s insistence. Wasting the sales associate’s time, we weren’t going to buy. Some of the softest flannel shirts were displayed, but $125 therefore doesn’t work.

We glanced thru a few more stores. When we left, the temperature had dropped closer to 40 and the wind was plenty lively. The Christmas engine lurched right into 4th gear. I no longer want much to do with it. I mean, I like stuff too, I just don’t want to feel desperate. Is that so wrong?