Thursday, September 24, 2009

I just saw the movie Pi

for the first time.
It was great until the last fourth or so, which
got a little too crazy, which I guess is the very point,
or one of them.

The mumbo-jumbo with the numbers is fascinating
on its own, the suspicion that there is an order
in nature, in reality, that can be found in
numbers, that numbers are somehow a part of nature,
that there is order in everything if we know how to
look, the suspicion that there is a key in numbers
that can unlock the mystery of life, or express
it, the idea that the true name of God is 216 letters

Although the spirit in which we look for the solution
to these mysteries seems finally to be the real key

I would have very likely been living a life of
numbers instead of words had my father not died
when he did, when I was young, just turned 13.
13 years & 13 days, as a matter of fact. He was a
scientist, a mathematician, engineer in aeronautics.
And I was already headed up the same road. I might
have even been into defense contracting eventually,
as he was at North American Aviation.

The summer he died he went to Brussels for some global
conclave of aeronautical types, and I put together
a scrapbook of photographs of missiles & rockets
I had cut out of his Aviation Weeks, with pertinent
data alongside--size, payload, range. He had dozens
of scientists who attended sign the book for me. I
don't know where that might be today.

After he died I continued to think I would be
something of the same sort as him, because I was
good in math, it came easy. I dug it up to algebra, but
then hit trigonometry & said to myself, this ain't
fun no more, and there wasn't anybody around to push me
where I didn't care to go, if he would have.

It wasn't really until I went away to college at 17 &
had no friends that I started to write--letters back
home to family & friends, writing entirely different types
of letters & using disparate parts of my personality when
I wrote to my mom, sisters, guy friends, girl friend.
Communication is a problem, or a need, and the secret is
finding the way to get out what's inside in a way that
will unlock & awaken myself & inspire somebody else. But
how to find that way that is like nobody else. Fingerprints
are all so almost alike, but every one entirely different.
Like that, only writing, words, not swirls in skin, but
swirls in sentences.

Words offer the same temptation as numbers in a way,
the same suspicion that you will be able to put them
together in a certain particular way that will turn the
key that will open reality, that will explain or describe
it all, or a part of it in such a way that has never been
seen or heard before, that gives the idea or sensation that
it has all been explained or described or pointed to without

With numbers there is the added suspicion that the answer
is either there or not, either right or wrong. That's what
I liked about Pi, that the closer you get, the crazier it
makes you. I read a story about Bobby Fischer's madness the
other day & thought something along the same lines. I told
my wife tonight, watching PI, that I wished I were more
eccentric. She said not to worry about it.

Words offer the same enchanting promise, that there is one
perfect way to put each sentence, each paragraph, story,
book, poem, line, phrase. And there is, in a sense, in this
one moment, because the sentence is alive and what's perfect
today will grow into something differently perfect later,
when I'm a better writer, or in a different mood. It's like
trimming a tree so it's perfect, today.

So, the guy in Pi (SPOILER COMING!), after chasing the numbers
rainbow, ends up nuts & puts a hole in his head with an electric
drill, a somewhat extreme approach to letting off some
pressure from figuring out the universe, but apparently it
didn't do him too much damage, because while he can no longer
perform big multiplication tricks in his head (or simply doesn't
care to anymore), at least he enjoys the playful presence of a
little child & the leaves turning & trembling in the sun & wind
for the first time.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Write or Drink, Live or Die.

Alcohol, at the end, was my only companion, my
lover and killer both. It was me and the bottle
against life, the human race, God. I'd lost every
relationship, every friendship, every love, even
killed my talent to write, or at least sure felt like
I had.

It got to a point where it was either live or die,
go insane & give up any hope of writing again,
or somehow stop drinking, which I had no hope
of doing either. There wasn't room enough in
town for both me & booze. One of us had to go,
one of us had to be left behind.

Over 20 years of drinking & misery I brought on
myself & those I loved, but when the decision came
it was a pretty quiet event. Nothing disastrous. I just
saw with total clarity not only that that I had to stop,
if I every wanted to write again, & that I needed
help to do it.

Physically I had years left to drink I guess, but every
morning was like a little death. I was hurting everybody
around me until there wasn't anybody left around me,
to hurt or to blame.

I saw the future fitting me for a straitjacket.

Far as writing went, every night I'd tell myself I'd
have a couple drinks just to tap the spring & get the
juices going, but all I'd do was drink & produce
nothing except hermetic barely legible ravings.

When I got that help I needed & stopped drinking,
began to get connected to other folks with the
same problem, I didn't write a word for six months.
In fact, life was a dead empty bore, just exactly like
I figured it would be sober, but it was still better than
the insanity I'd been about to collapse into, so I kept
trudging along. And every once in a while found out
that I could help somebody else along the way.

At some point I started feeling a little bit better about
things, kind of slowly began re-entering the human
condition, getting aquainted with the sober me. In the
meantime, the old connection with alcohol was dying,
and I was beginning to emerge from a kind of grief.

But I couldn't see much point in living without
writing, & I still had no desire or ability to write
anything about anything. I was so used to writing
while drinking that I couldn't write without it,
even though it had been a long time since I actually
wrote anything worthwhile while drinking.

Desperate, I answered an ad & wrote TV crap with
a guy for a year or more. I hated it so much that
for the first time I could imagine enjoying writing
by myself sober. I tried it, starting with plays
& their emphasis on dialogue, something I've always
had an easy facility for. It was still too much
to ask of myself to describe a table or a landscape
to save my life. That all came back in time.
Everything came back, and better, in time.

If I hadn't stopped drinking, hadn't said goodbye to
booze, I doubt I'd be alive, much less writing anything.
I certainly would not be sane, as I am today, or at least
a reasonable facsimile of sanity, sometimes even serenity.

If I would have kept going the way I was, still
drinking & managing to be writing somehow, it would
be a bitter toxic spew that wouldn't do me or anybody
any good. And there's no way I would have ever been
able to write Mixed Animal or anything near it, with
its humor, hope, joy, wonder, & love.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nobody likes to hear other people's dreams.

From Mixed Animal:

"Nobody likes to hear other people's dreams.
Unless they're in them, and then they only want
to hear that part. When Shane started telling me
one of her dreams I twisted around like a cockroach
tangled in a spiderweb.

"Other people's dreams are so looooong
and boring and full of obvious painful Fruedian details.
The one telling it can't see how embarrassing it is
because they're too close to it. They think it's a interesting
TV show instead of a direct look into their tawdry subconscious.
Why are you even telling me this? Don't you have any shamelessness?"


The following are my dreams, not Lemuel's. I had them on successive
nights. They are short. They are not written to communicate with
anybody's conscious mind. If anybody figures them out, please don't
tell me, I got enough problems as it is. It don't have anything to do
with me anyway, it's about my subconscious. I always try to
mind my own business and let my subconscious mind its.

1. A tiger came out of the garden and looked at me
about four feet away. I had a dagger in my hand
and would wait for the tiger to leap at me and then
drive the knife up under its jaw into its throat.
I woke up. Looking back I see the tiger's face, very
human, and it was just watching me to see what I would
do, it didn't look angry or aggressive at all, just
curiosity and intelligence in the form of a tiger.

2. Also in the garden. My back to a chain-link
fence, a big crow came flying like a rocket just over
head-high at me. I thought it was going to attack me but
it didn't see me until it was almost at me and it put on the
brakes and landed on the fence. It was huge. I thought it
wanted to fight. I reached an aggressive hand to bat at
it and it pecked my hand, but playfully, and I thought,
Oh I'll have a pet crow, at which point it turned into
our black&white cat Jolly and it jumped off the fence
into the grass and I petted it.

3. I dreamed I was giving a speech and I realized I didn't
have any pants on. I was sitting at a table. I felt oddly
calm. The room was bustling with before-speech chatter. I
saw my pants to one side of the table. I wondered how they
got off me and over there. I couldn't get up and put them on
because everybody would see me. I thought maybe giving a
speech without pants on was a part of the format of the meeting.
I decided to give the speech, then while the basket was
being passed and everybody was preoccupied with their money,
I would get up and put my pants on relatively unnoticed. I
began to give my speech and instead of talking about whatever
I was going to talk about, I recounted roughly what I just said
in the paragraph above. In other words, I told them the dream
that I was in the middle of. It was a rousing success, with lots
of laughter and understanding.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Burning of Los Angeles

Streetsweeper wakes me at 3, hour of the wolf.
Lonely, thoughtful job, streetsweeping.
Long thoughts, long & quiet as streets
laying in a coat of ash.

I looked in my father's closet after he died.
I felt his suits, found his comb in a pocket.
I smelled it, his smell. He was gone, the smell
of smoke & him on his comb remained.

The glowing seasick hive of man
held to the world by one red nerve.

Painted on the building across the street:
earthquake mural of a freeway falling
& tidal wave rising out of an orange sky
to swallow the city.

Beyond the Santa Monica Mountains,
a fin of red moon glides.
My eyes come upon a dark jewel of lights.
Remorse prowls the deepening current.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lars & the Real Girl!


A movie about a weirdo who buys a plastic doll and tries
to pass "it" off as his actual girl friend?

Creepy or insane or ridiculous or sick or all four, right?

Wrong. Lars & the Real Girl is the first movie I've
seen in a long time that I even remembered the next day,
much less loved, and I do.

I'm not going to say much about the actual movie, because
whoever you are, if you read this blahg, I guarantee
you will love Lars & the Real Girl. The part about him
buying the doll is early in the movie and has been pretty
widely a part of the ad campaign anyway.

Couple things I learned, or re-learned, about storytelling
while watching this wonderful movie.

First, you can get away with anything in terms of love,
or sweetness, or even cornballness--IF you unfurl the absurd,
or the impossible, a step at a time. Don't be afraid to let the
very sweetest part of your creativity & imagination show. Put
your heart on the table, but an artful card at a time.

Always have somebody in the story who acts outraged, unbelieving,
who doubts & sneers & protests, who asks the questions that need
to be asked and raises the issues that need to be raised--even if
the answers are half-assed or brushed off by those who go
along & believe. People want to believe, but they want all their
questions asked at least, if not answered fully. That critical
function is fulfilled by Lars' brother, who is amazing and essential
to the beauty & truth of this story.

The whole town itself is a character which is also essential,
but that part you have to see for yourself.

The other thing is, no matter what they say, everybody loves
love. They still do. So much art today is harsh & violent &
scary & crazy & loveless. To me, it's an addictive sickness,
just my opinion. Maybe it's the way it's supposed to be, I don't
know, but thank God for artists who make heartful, soulsome gems
like Lars & the Real Girl.

The best things in life, the most essential things, are quiet,
wordless, silent. This from a writer & a blabbermouth, yes, but I believe
it. Yet the world gets louder & noisier & faster & full of more & more
words & images with less & less human meaning.

Lars & the Real Girl is about another world, or another part
of the world. A place of craziness, maybe, yeah, sure,
but it's the tenderest of craziness, the craziness of love, and
how far & determinedly people will crawl through their fear (of themselves)
to get to that love.

Viva Lars & the Real Girl!

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