"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Sunday, June 26, 2011

CHEATED

"You must live like a bourgeois and save all your violence for your art."
-Gustave Flaubert

Ever since reading that quote in this month's The Nation, I've wondered...is it possible to fulfill Flaubert's directive in the society we live in? With the burden to “earn a living” that is hammered into us from an early age, shackling us in adulthood? The hammer and sickle that squishes the creative spirit like a bug against a windshield? If I live like a capitalist, how will I have the time and energy to write? If I don't, how will I live at all?

In "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter",

Carson McCullers shows us what mundane work does to creativity. Fifteen-year old Mick, a blossoming musician and idealist, has to drop out of school and go to work at Woolworth's to help support her family in the depressed south for ten dollars a week. Ten dollars will buy fifteen fried chickens or five pairs of shoes. She thinks about a piano but does not mention that aloud. She does not want to work in a ten-cent store but when they all start to think about what that ten dollars could buy, she is trapped into it. Her description of losing her energy and ambition to write music is a heartbreaking account of how hard it was then (pre WWII) and harder now to spend your life creating art without being independently wealthy.

In McCullers' words:

Now no music was in her mind. Sometimes a quick little tune would come and go. It was like the store took all her energy and time. Woolworth's wasn't the same as school. When she used to come home from school she felt good and was ready to start working on the music. But now she was always tired. A song she had started in her private notebook two months before was still not finished. She did not know how to stay in the inside room. It was like the inside room was locked somewhere away from her. She was mad all the time, only there was nothing to be mad at. It was like she was cheated. Only nobody had cheated her. Just the same she had that feeling. Cheated.

How many feel like that at the end of the day? After years of nose-to-the-grindstone, the inside room—a metaphor McCullers uses to describe our inner selves where creativity begins—is forever lost and life is sleeping, eating, and working. There is no inside room where thoughts are developed, stories thrive, music is written, and great paintings are created to tell a tale, enriching our lives in the process.

Can you find your inside room? Can you stay there? I think it possible to live comfortably (which is maybe all that Flaubert meant) while staying outside the retail rat-race, far far from the shopping hordes and the rampant consumerism of modern society. Whistle, sing, write, or draw with passion, whatever it is that lifts your spirits and makes you feel alive, but live simply, like a frugal bourgeois. Save your violence for your art, and guard your inside room.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Of Food And The Human Spirit

Eavesdropping in the grocery store, like any good, self-respecting writer, I overheard these conversations in the checkout line....

"My mommy and daddy got married."
They did?"
"Yup. On Wednesday."

"I can buy some food now and know it won't get eat."
"Oh?"
"Yeah, I was buying all the food and those people were eating it all. Now they're gone, so I'll have some food."
"Oh."

"The milk makes my hand cold. I had to set it down."
"Good. You don't want warm milk."

I was kinda glad to escape that store, but I still see that little girl with her proud proclamation, and the man with the groceries he was finally going to get to eat, and the old woman with the half gallon of milk and knarled hands.

Then I caught a report on the radio about planting potatoes in Peru. Because of the warming trend over the last twenty years, farmers have had to move their potatoes up the mountain to plant at higher and higher elevations for the cooler temperature. But the mountain only goes so high. In some areas, they are already planting on top of the mountain.

I've been meaning to share this story, so now I will. There was an old man who walked his dog along the road every day. Morning, afternoon, evening, regardless of the weather, he was out there. My sister and I always passed him when we drove to work at different times, and he always threw up an arm, like he knew you. He waved at everyone. Then one day he wasn't there. Several days passed, and no one saw him. My sister worried about him. She thought his family put him in a home. I said nonsense. She worried about the dog. I thought he might come back, but he never did. Every time I drive that stretch of road I think about him.

And further back inside my brain: When someone uses a cane or a walker, you can hear them coming. Thump. Thump. There’s an undertone of foreboding in that noise. You want it to stop. You want it to continue. You wonder when it will all come crashing down around you. One thing that has recently become clear to me is how much easier it is to give assistance than to receive it.

That's it. My blog has been quiet but I've been busy getting the garden in (everything is late) and editing Black River, my new novel. I have all these thoughts racing around in my head and no time to delve into them. If I go much further back in my brain I might discover something really scary.