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Letter to Shelton Walsmith - 4 May

S - 

Thank you for the kind and considerate reply. And support. 

I take deep into my heart any insight and advice you offer. As I write each day, the world, my world, the handful of relationships I cultivate and encourage, are essential. It is a charged world. Electric, shining like Hopkin's shook foil. Synchronicity, dreams, signs and wonders abound. 

Picasso's alchemical negredo is resonate. As are the empty black pearls for eyes in the pigeons watching the dead writer on the ground below. And the Invisible Dog is one of those idiosyncratic souvenir archetypes that wander through my memory palace like that insane Minah Bird in the racist Inki cartoon that emerges when a mountain cracks in half. Ramakrishna advocated turning your weaknesses into strengths by hanging lanterns on them. I often see my life - from the inside looking out - as series of extinguished lanterns in the gardens...

Cyril Connolly prophesied:


“It is closing time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair.” 


The resonance of my solitude. Encouraging the swan to sing. 

The wonderful and fertile rituals of our shared conversations are vital conduits for me. I know if I pull three times on the rope either the bell rings or I know I can continue to climb up the cliff. 

But my increasingly solitary nature removes me from the pasteurized milk and artificially sweetened honey of social response and reaction. Jennifer is here but she is too close to be an accurate gauge. Like the Siamese twin Chang reading the newspaper while his brother Eng engages in sex with his wife. Pronomial confusions abound. 

My training to be a hermit works for me because it cultivates my own peculiar sense of what it acceptable, good, excellent. Plato's arete. Throreau's "genius" - insistence upon inner character. The opinion of the entire world matters nothing as I am navigating through the Dark Waters of my imagination. Most people are phantoms to me, shirts floating just under the surface, arms waving in the semblance of a living thing, composed of little petty minnows swimming in a ring. 

When I was working at Bookstop I often dreamed of writing a story of a minimum wage Don Quixote who, when told to do some mindless busy work by a manager with the push broom mustache, imagines he has been tasked to alphabetize the salvaged books from the Lost Library of Alexandria which are only disguised as gardening books, their true nature hidden from the unregenerate. And the manager is merely the vessel of the daemon who is speaking through him. Standing there under the fluorescent lights, Bookstop Quixote listens to the push broom manger's words and tells him, You know not what you do or who you are.

I want to cultivate this insanity of self-expectation, to make myself vulnerable to possession by the gods like a Voodoo priest, invoking one of the gods to enter into me and ride me like a horse. I feel like my entire life has been in training for this event. And that my usual anxieties of doubting if I know enough "to speak about" are being put to the test. 

When I was at SMU in Dallas, I won an award for Scholarship in Latin. Afterwards, I tutored other students in Latin. A few years later, I received a call one day from a mother concerned about her son's performance in an upcoming Latin examination. He was a student at St Mark's - an elite private boy's school. It had been years since I had even thought about Latin. But I need the money. We agreed to meet on Monday after his school, the day before the exam. I pictured an over-privileged Tyro bursting with cynicism and teenaged angst, who at the first sign of intellectual weakness would pounce upon his ill-prepared Latin tutor with no remorse. I was determined this would not happen. I spent the weekend studying, going over the most arcane declensions and conjugations, re-reading thorny passages in Virgil, Ovid and Caesar. Still, as I knocked on the door of the sprawling North Dallas home, I felt woefully unprepared. I decided if things went poorly, I would offer my services for free. The weekend of delving deep into Latin again was a reward in itself. I just hoped the precocious Young Man - who I assumed to have been taught latin through all four years of High School, wouldn't be too rough on me. This long dog walk of set-up cues up what happened next. The helicopter mother greeted me at the door and took me into the dining room to meet her son, a slight towheaded child, eleven years old,  suffering through elementary school Latin. I quickly hid my arsenal of guns I had brought to this pillow fight. The kid has been woefully taught and we had a fun few hours. It was clear from talking to the Mother that she believed Latin was good language to know for a future doctor. 

In the years following, I quickly realized this sense of self-excellence, initially fueled by a fear of not being good enough, was rooted deep within me. And that fear evolved into a hunger for understanding, for self-knowledge, for harmony with a set of values and a meaning that transcended the social context of 20th and 21st century United States, that looked backwards to Ancient Greece for tuning and forward 2000 years to what a future being might think about what I was doing. All of my life I have been in pursuit of this Realm of the Platonic Ideal - be it in the guise of a lost father or the love of a distant mother - and all of my life I have been haunted by the emptiness of the future. 

There was only satisfaction in solitude - in those long, uninterrupted sessions of reading Plato and Shakespeare, memorizing poems, listening to music, performing music, and marveling at how it all gathers around and orbits the enduring hieroglyphic forms - whether that be the Kabbalah's Tree of Life, The Platonic Solids, The Kalachakra Mandala, Om Mani Padme Hum, or the Shiva Nataraja. In solitude, away from the distractions and temptations of the buzzing, blooming hyper-mediated world, I had freedom - Freedom From... and Freedom For.... 

I don't know if you are familiar with Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Influential upon me as a child. But the Martian's are empathetic creatures that become - physically transforming - whomever the people from Earth want them to be. If they are around too many people, they suffer a sort of nervous overload, unable to be what everyone want them to be. I often think about the empathetic Martians when I am immersed in a social context - Bookstop, europa, FringeWare, the Showdown, the Black Drop, The Honey Moon - these places I have worked. I am disturbed by how chameleonic my outer skin is. I am nauseated by how readily I begin to see myself inside "the gaze of the other" - as Sartre called it. I have often felt akin to the cafe proprietor in his Nausea - when his cafe empties, his mind empties too. I am grateful that I have enough salt or spit or gumption to have held on to my sense of self. It's been touch and go at times as I have been consumed by desire and drugs. 

It is difficult for me to create in an active social context, around a group of people. The empathetic Martian in me feeds too greedily from this energy.  I need to feel the flames of doubt and insecurity under my feet so that I over-prepare and condition myself to endure a level of suffering and discomfort that is beyond what any sane or loving person would ever ask of me. I like to think it is an Achilles like sense of self-excellence, but I believe it is more an philosophical fear about forgetting, being too comfortable, of wasting time. The wealth of experience I have been privileged to experience have warped and shaped me into a strange animal - of this I have no doubt. 

My guiding lighthouse parable is that of an Ancient Man, a solitary Aladdin in an Enchanted Cave, with more wealth than can be spent in the few years remaining to him. But he has no desire to leave the cave. There is nothing that this wealth can buy out there. He doesn't desire anything the world has to sell. He knows he will die in the cave. And he is happy with this knowledge. His own requirements are minimal, ascetic. He amuses himself by spending the wealth that is his, his Memory inside the Enchanted Cave of his Skull, using language to change one currency into another. He dreams of the Ideal Reader: this future Aladdin who has likewise found his way into the Cave and discovers the smiling skeleton clutching the manuscript. 

- S