Preparing to give up coffee addiction, now into my 4th day without COFFEE, visit acupuncturist. I leave feeling calmer, a little more mindful and anxiety free. Home to "once more" tackle my room, do justice to my new MacBook. Coffee, anxiety, disorder, they seem to go together. And some related health problems. MacBook an inspiration to get the fucking room in order! Sorting through my papers I come across "Coffee Without Compromise," a magazine piece I wrote for Monterey Life and Taste Magazine. Those were the days! Working as a food reviewer. For one column (I was known as "Mr. Taste Test") I visited ten Santa Cruz County coffee houses in search of the BEST cappuccino. Ever the academic, I began with this entry from Samuel Pepys DIARY, written in 1663: "On the evening of 3rd of February, 1663, I just looked in on my way home from Covent Garden, at the great coffee house there where I never was before; where Dryden, the poet I knew at Cambridge, and all the wits of the town were assembled." * In the 17th Century, coffee was associated with health. The first known coffee advertisement in 1652 claimed that coffee "is good against the eyes... excellent to prevent and cure the dropsy, gout and scurvey." * By 1700, there were more than 2,000 coffee houses in London. Poor students paid a penny for a 'dish' of coffee--the price of admission--to listen to such illustrious conversationalists as Alexander Pope, John Dryden and Jonathan Swift. The coffee houses became known as 'Penny Universities.' * In 1732, Johann Sebastian Bach paid high tribute to the pleasures of a good cup of coffee. "Most precious of blisses," sang the immortal composer in his 'Coffee Cantata.' --more to come-- -- [from "Coffee Without Compromise," Mr. Taste Test] --- Wed., 8:30 PM - 1.28.09 Updike's death at age 76 - notes, jottings in course of Tom Ashbrook's NPR show... plan to re-read Pigeon Feathers, Rabbit Run... Sue Miller and critic William Pritchard... first use of MacBook in this way, i.e., as a notebook, carrying into the kitchen... We were put on earth to praise creation, Updike is quoted as saying. Updike a self-declared Christian. One caller praises him, "That man can make even psoriasis interesting..."
My birthday and Father’s Day coinciding. Five children, five grandchildren… Reflecting on the "if only" moments in my life. No regrets, but journeys I made, some of them without exactly knowing why I was making them, leaving a thoroughly advantageous position (teaching in the Writing Program at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, for example) to go, as much on whim as anything else, to spend a year in London... Reading David Grossman’s New Yorker (6/15/09) feature “The Age of Genius, The legend of Bruno Schulz.” A couple paragraphs in particular stand out: "…salmon have always seemed to be the living incarnation of a journey. They are born in freshwater rivers or lakes. They swim there for a while, and then head for salt water. In the sea, they travel in huge schools for thousands of miles, until they sense some inner signal, and the school reverses direction and begins to return home, to the place where its members were hatched. Again the salmon swim thousands of miles. “Along the way, they are preyed upon by other fish, by eagles and bears. In dwindling numbers, they scoot upriver and leap against the current, through waterfalls twenty or thirty feet long, until the few that remain reach the exact spot where they were spawned, and lay their eggs. When the babies hatch, they swim over the dead bodies of their parents. Only a few adult salmon survive to perform the journey a second time. “When I first heard about the life cycle of salmon, I felt that there was something very Jewish about it: that inner signal which suddenly resonates in the consciousness of the fish, bidding them to return to the place where they were born, the place where they were formed as a group. (There may also be something very Jewish in the urge to leave that homeland and wander all over the world—that eternal journey.)” So blog becoming something of a scrapbook, snippets of things I want to remember… blog more handy, more efficient than the hardcopy journals I used to keep. Well, in truth, I still keep 'em.
Once more, what might otherwise go into The Journal goes instead into The Blog. Key Words... continue to find 'em a convenient way to keep track of entries… sample follows… Random stuff, but if I ever want 'em, I can find 'em. BTW, I make no claim to this stuff being original. The wisdom of animals: put your nose where you will, but don’t go near a bad marriage. 7/8 of everything is invisible. “News is what people want to keep hidden. Everything else is publicity.” --Bill Moyers. Nelson Algren's famous advice, "Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a guy named Doc, and never go to bed with anyone who has more troubles than you." I think the point of most “games,”--and what is not a game?—is to understand it, and to think it’s important. So we have to be smart and dumb at the same time, and to be smart enough to know it. (quote from Senator McCarthy, NOT Joseph McCarthy) McCarthy said, "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important." “If Momma aint’ happy, ain’t no one happy!” My father was a podiatrist, so I know shit like this: The sole of each foot has over 200,000 nerve endings.
THIS IS A FATHER Where are you going? That you don’t know, do you? Yes, it’s me. Who else would it be? You think I don’t see what you’re up to? Wait, I’m not finished. He’s in such a hurry to leave but he doesn’t know the address. Walk, walk, that he knows, the easy part. How will you end up? You think I’m hard on you? I’m not hard enough. Where do they come from, smart guys like you? And where do they go? Head at one end, feet at another. What kind of creature is this? Meshuggener, a crazy man. Two billion times in a lifetime it beats, the heart. And the brain, three and a quarter pounds, 200 billion neurons. And for what? To walk. What, again! Walks out on a wife. Walks out on a child. You I didn’t walk out on. For you I stayed—even now, I may be dead, that’s true, but I’m not going anywhere. This is a father. ------ [from The Collected Poems, Black Moss Press.
Santa Cruz, CA. Watch Obama and McCain with 15 friends & neighbors. Three Republicans and 12 Democrats. Host and hostess begin by laying down ground rules, Respect is required, we're not to blast the intelligence of those who disagree with our positions. Very diverse Northern California community, a professional chess teacher, several women from a choir which performs for patients in hospices, a University teacher visiting from San Diego, comedy school students, several craftsmen --and women--, a retired librarian, environmentalists, a massage person who specializes in facials... sorry, that sounds a little off color. Anyway, it's as if host and hostess are preparing us for a prize fight. And the candidates, at the same time, get prepared, shake hands and come out fighting. But it's not a real debate. It's all carefully rehearsed, Obama, who I favor, and McCain both with their talking points. Talking points versus Talking points. Both, complain our friends, skirt the real issues, they deal instead with the froth... it's near the election and therefore they're playing it safe. At some level, their talking points blur, one into the other... several people complain that Ralph Nader is missing. That two million people have been evacuated / Iraqui refugees and 100,000 or more Iraqi civilizans killed (according to BBC radio) and so that is one reason why there is less sectarian violence. Also, says the University professor, neighborhoods in Iraq have been ethnically cleansed and, as a result, Sunnis are less likely to face off, as they once did, against what Martin Buber might call The Other. Who has recently read Buber's I and Thou? So it's not The Surge, says the teacher, it's that there are fewer people around... And Karl Rove and his divide and conquer approach, says choir woman, that Blue State vs. Red State, that hate radio and anonymous ads attacking one side or the other... that's dividing the country and, no matter who wins the election, puts that person, whoever is the winner, into a position where he / she has half the country against him / her right from the beginning. The anti-Clinton folks let their hatred get in the way of their patriotism, because Clinton actually did a number of things right, like manage the economy. When he left office there was a surplus, which... well, enough! Sedate discussion. Repressed feelings. And, to make matters worse for the Democrats, McCain came off looking better than we had wanted him to. Woman healer: Party system is very narrow... and, is military force the only way to solve all this country's problems? Too much emphasis on the military. Both Obama and McCain... these two guys blur, they blend into one another, says the healer. They're too well and too carefully coached and probably rightly fearful of how the media might manipulate, i.e., over simplify, what they say... anything to make a story, anything for a headline.
Immanentize the eschaton - in conversation with an environmental scientist, I learn that there are some political, religious and scientific thinkers who believe some "end of days" type event(s) might actually be a good thing for our screwed up world and, possibly, in the long term interest of, well, I'm thinking, those political, religious and scientific "thinkers." Good for the world? Things have to be pretty bad for "end of the world" to sound like not such a bad thing. I dunno. I'm not on board with the rapture. Maybe I need to re-read The Book of Revelations. Speaking of environmental and financial messes, F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby has a character remark on the tendency of the very rich, the very well to do, to simply "walk away" from the messes they themselves create. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "To immanentize the eschaton means trying to make the eschaton (the transcendent, uncreated, spiritual, or future; the end of days, see eschatology) in the immanent (within the limits of possible experience) world." --- Jon Stewart speaking to a Republican guest on The Daily Show remarks, "So your party is the only party that can fix the damage your party has done?"
Beverly Hills, 90210 [I have my daughter Hannah Sward's permission to run this brief excerpt from her work in progress, Diary of a Non-Starlet] On the Set of Beverly Hills, 90210” Author’s note: Chloe is an L.A.-based, aspiring 22 year old actress with a Master of Dramatic Arts degree working as a TV and movie extra -- and stripper -- while she waits to break into the Hollywood scene. What follows is the opening section of a book titled Diary of a Non-Starlet. A work of fiction, the book begins January 3, 1997. January 3 - Breaking in Some people do this for a living. They’re the ones with portable lawn chairs, a small wardrobe they carry around everywhere on hangers and a cellular phone to make endless calls about the next day’s work. Some even have a call-in service that they pay for and that guarantees them five days of work each week as an extra. They’re the “professionals.” The average day is eight to twelve hours on the set. The first eight hours pays $50. for non-union and $100. for union members. Anything after that is overtime. Naturally, everyone tries to get into the union and not only for the money. Union members get treated with a tad more respect. Union members are one rung up from the bottom. For example, on some shows non-union extras get paper bag lunches while union members are allowed to walk over to the catering truck and eat whatever and whenever they want. There’s always a professional chef on hand, pancakes, grilled rosemary chicken… you name it! When it happens to be a big cattle call, it feels quite barbaric. I feel kind of embarrassed ambling over to the catering truck in front of all the other extras. Like I’m some princess. Sometimes some famished soul asks me to bring back a hot roast beef sandwich. I hate it. If I were to say no, it’s like I’m some sort of Nazi. And if I say yes, I feel like some sort of spy smuggling contraband over the border. Most of us haven’t given up hope of one day becoming what we went to school and trained for – to find paying work as actors and actresses with lines. They don’t say ‘Extras’ when they call you, they just say, ‘Background.’ It sounds harsh, but really that’s all you are. And so you go where you’re told. You become what you are called, “Background.” Mr. Megaphone picks up his instrument. “Background,” he bellows, and everyone puts down their books, magazines, junk food, etc., climbs out of their lawn chairs, and mope over to the designated spot. My habit of making the best of every situation doesn’t apply to this lousy job and I hate the happy nerds, the enthusiastic extras who jump up and try to look as if they’re having a good time. Yet here I am . . . but what’s the appeal? I get to read and write and there’s lots of leisure time and I don’t mind getting paid for that, even if it’s only $100. I’d rather do this than wait tables . . . so I’m doing this while waiting for a chance to act, which is what makes this extra work somehow endurable. And it’s a continual process. You may land one acting job, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be another and so you still have to do something in between . . . jobs in between jobs to pay your rent. [sample... more to come...] (copyright (c) 2008, Hannah Sward) -- Hannah Sward lives in Los Angeles and is a recent graduate of Antioch University. Another sample of her writing, "Starving," may be found in Alimentum, The Literature of Food, Issue 4, 2007.
Sometimes I think I have no imagination at all. I'm just a _recorder_ of one thing and another, a witness... like, I need to write down how "the retina accounts for 40% of all nerve fibers connected to the brain--but only one-millionth of a person's total body weight. Our eyes register 36,000 visual messages each hour... and can perceive about 150 different colors." Information overload? Sure... I jot that down and am open to more... diVoga notebook April 2008 entry, "Beagle who won Westminster Dog Show is praised by at least one judge for having 'the most beautiful shoulders...' another judge observed, 'Look at that face, you melt right down... a sweet face... I give that dog a 10!" And then, April 2008 (still), I start a poem about Spam, "I am a nice girl--that would like to chat with you." I think of titling the poem, "I am a nice girl that would like to chat with you." She goes on to say, "If you would like to see some of my pictures..." "Man be lonely no more..." that's good! "Thank goodness he had a big wang." I think of using that for the refrain. "debt free in 3 years..." sounds too good to be true. If you want to learn more about the American Dream, seems to me, all you need to do is read Spam.
Not so many months ago George Bush declared himself The Decider. “I’m The Decider…” Soon after I had this dream, I dreamt I was a passenger in a car driven by… The Decider. A squinty, out of control man who may or may not have been drinking. And, in the dream, I’m struck dumb, unable to raise my voice, “Let me out of here…” “Slow down, boss…” The Decider meanwhile at the wheel, we’re going faster and faster. And I wake abruptly with my foot pressing onto the floorboard, the way one does, or I do anyway, when a plane is coming in for a landing or someone I’m uneasy with is driving. I am re-assured, I have confidence in Obama, thank God for Obama. Still I wake some mornings with my foot pressing… slow down, slow down… only this time it’s not the President, it’s the world that seems out of control. The world…. Whirled world whirled whirling world.
In 1952, sailing to Korea, a U.S. Navy librarian for Landing Ship Tank 914, I read T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Ill- educated, a product of Chicago's public school system, I was nineteen years old and, awakened by Whitman, Eliot and Williams, had just begun writing poetry. I was also reading all the books I could get my hands on. Eliot had won the Nobel Prize in 1948 and, curious, I was trying to make sense of poems like Prufrock and The Waste Land. "What do you know about T.S. Eliot?" I asked a young officer who'd been to college and studied English Literature. I knew from earlier conversations that we shared an interest in what he called "modern poetry." A Yeoman Third Class, two weeks at sea and bored, I longed for someone to talk to. "T.S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but he lives now in England and is studying to become an Englishman," the officer said, tapping tobacco into his pipe. "The 'T.S.' stands for 'tough shit.' You read Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, what one English Prof. called 'the first poem of the modern movement,' and if you don't understand it, 'tough shit.' All I can say is that's some love song." An anthology of poetry open before us, we were sitting in the ship's all- metal, 8-foot by 8-foot library eating baloney sandwiches and drinking coffee. Fortunately, the Captain kept out of sight and life on the slow-moving (8-10 knots) flat-bottomed amphibious ship was unhurried and anything but formal. "Then why does Eliot bother calling it a love song?" I asked, as the ship rolled and the coffee sloshed onto a steel table. The tight metal room smelled like a cross between a diesel engine and a New York deli. "Eliot's being ironic, sailor. Prufrock is the love song of a sexually repressed and horny man who has no one but himself to sing to." Drawing on his pipe, the officer scratched his head. "Like you and I, Mr. Prufrock is a lonely man on his way to a war zone. We're sailing to Korea and we know the truth, don't we? We may never make it back. Prufrock marches like a brave soldier to a British drawing room that, he tells us, may be the death of him. He's a mock heroic figure who sings of mermaids and peaches and drowning. Pointing to lines 129-130, the officer read aloud: "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wakes us and we drown." "Prufrock is also singing because he's a poet. Prufrock is T.S. Eliot and, the truth is, Eliot is so much like Prufrock that he has to distance himself from his creation. That's why he gives the man that pompous name. Did you know 'Tough Shit,' as a young man, sometimes signed himself 'T. Stearns Eliot?' You have to see the humor - the irony - in Prufrock to understand the poem." "I read it, I hear it in my head, but I still don't get it," I confessed. What is Prufrock about?" "'Birth, death and copulation, that's all there is.' That's what Eliot himself says. Of course the poem also touches on aging, social status, and fashion." "Aging and fashion?" I asked. The officer threw back his head and recited: "They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!' My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin." He paused, then went on: "I grow old... I grow old... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." "At the time the poem was written it was fashionable for young men to roll their trousers. In lines 120-121, Thomas Stearns Prufrock is laughing at himself for being middle-aged and vain. "Anyway, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an interior monologue," said the officer, finishing his balogna sandwich and washing it down with dark rum. Wiping mustard from his mouth, he continued. "The whole thing takes place in J. Alfred Prufrock's head. That's clear, isn't it?" I had read Browning's My Last Duchess and understood about interior monologues. "Listen, sailor: Prufrock thinks about drawing rooms, but he never actually sets foot in one. Am I right?" "Yeah," I said after re-reading the first ten lines. "I think so." "The poem is about what goes through Prufrock's mind on his way to some upper-class drawing room. It's a foggy evening in October, and what Mr. Prufrock really needs is a drink. He's a tightass Victorian, a lonely teetotalling intellectual. Anyone else would forget the toast and marmalade and step into a pub and ask for a pint of beer." Setting down his pipe, the naval officer opened the flask and re-filled our coffee mugs. "Every time I think I know what Prufrock means it turns out to mean something else," I said. "Eliot uses too many symbols. Why doesn't he just say what he means?" "The city - 'the lonely men in shirt sleeves' and the 'one-night cheap hotels' - are masculine," said the officer. "That's what cities are like, aren't they: ugly and oppressive. What's symbolic - or should I say what's obscure - about that?" "Nothing," I said. "That's the easy part - Prufrock walking along like that." "Okay," said the officer. "And in contrast to city streets, you've got the oppressive drawing room which, in Prufrock's mind, is feminine - 'arms that are braceleted and white and bare' and 'the marmalade, the tea,/Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me...?'" Using a pencil, the officer underlined those images in the paperback anthology. "You ever been to a tea party, Sward?" "No, sir, I haven't. Not like Prufrock's." "Well," said the officer, "I have and I have a theory about that 'overwhelming question' Prufrock wants to ask in line 10 - and again in line 93. Twice in the poem we hear about an 'overwhelming question.' What do you think he's getting at with that 'overwhelming question,' sailor?" "Prufrock wants to ask the women what they're doing with their lives, but he's afraid they'll laugh at him," I said. "Guess again, Sward," he said leaning back in his chair, stretching his arms. "What's your theory, sir?" "Sex," said the officer. "On the one hand, it's true, he wants to fit in and play the game because, after all, he's privileged. He belongs in the drawing room with the clever Englishwomen. At the same time he fantasizes. If he could, I think he'd like to shock them. Prufrock longs to put down his dainty porcelain teacup and shout, 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all...'" "Why doesn't he do it?" I asked. "Because Prufrock is convinced no matter what he says he won't reach them. He feels the English gentlewomen he's dealing with are unreachable. He believes his situation is as hopeless as theirs. He's dead and they're dead too. That's why the poem begins with an image of sickness, 'a patient etherized upon a table' and ends with people drowning. Prufrock is tough shit, man." "You said you think there's a connection between Eliot the poet and J. Alfred Prufrock," I said. "Of course there's a connection. Tommy Eliot from St. Louis, Missouri," said the officer. "Try as he will, he doesn't fit in. His English friends call him 'The American' and laugh. Tom Eliot the outsider with his rolled umbrella. T.S. Eliot is a self-conscious, make-believe Englishman and you have to understand that to understand Prufrock. "The poem is dark and funny at the same time. It's filled with humor and Prufrock is capable of laughing at himself. Just read those lines, 'Is it perfume from a dress/that makes me so digress?' "You were talking about Prufrock being sexually attracted to the women. How could that be if he is, as you say, 'dead.'" I asked. "By 'dead' I mean desolate - inwardly barren - godforsaken. Inwardly, spiritually, Prufrock is a desolate creature. He's a moral man, he's a civilized man, but he's also hollow. But there's hope for him. In spite of himself, Prufrock is drawn to women. "Look at line 65. He's attracted and repelled. Prufrock attends these teas, notices the women's' arms 'downed with light brown hair!' and it scares the hell out of him because what he longs to do is to get them onto a drawing room floor or a beach somewhere and bury his face in that same wonderfully tantalizing 'light brown hair'. What do you think of that, sailor?" "I think you're right, sir." "Then tell me this, Mr. Sward: Why doesn't he ask the overwhelming question? Hell, man, maybe it's not sexual. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe what he wants to do is to ask some question like - like what you yourself suggested: 'What's the point in going on living when, in some sense, we're all already dead?'" "I think he doesn't ask the question because he's so repressed, sir. He longs for physical contact, like you say, but he also wants another kind of intimacy, and he's afraid to ask for it and it's making him crazy." "That's right, sailor. He's afraid. Eliot wrote the poem in 1911 when women were beginning to break free." "Break free of what?" I asked. "Of the prim and proper Victorian ideal. Suffragettes, feminists they called themselves. At the time Eliot wrote Prufrock, women in England and America were catching on to the fact that they were disfranchised and had begun fighting for the right to vote - among other things - and for liberation, equality with men. "Of course Prufrock is more prim and proper than the bored, over- civilized women in the poem. And it's ironic, isn't it, that he doesn't understand that the women are one step ahead of him. What you have in Prufrock is a man who tries to reconcile the image of real women with 'light brown hair' on their arms with some ideal, women who are a cross between the goddess Juno and a sweet Victorian maiden." "Prufrock seems to know pretty well what he's feeling," I said. "He's not a liar and he's not a coward. To be honest, sir, I identify with Prufrock. He may try on one mask or another, but he ends up removing the mask and exposing himself..." "Now, about interior monologues: To understand Prufrock you have to understand that most poems have one or more speakers and an audience - implied or otherwise. Let's go back to line 1. Who is this "you and I" Eliot writes about?" "Prufrock is talking to both his inner self and the reader," I said. "How do you interpret the first ten lines?" the officer asked, pointing with his pencil. "'Let us go then, you and I,'" he's saying, let us stroll, somnolent and numb as a sedated patient, through these seedy "half-deserted streets,/The muttering retreats/Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels...'" "That's it, sailor. And while one might argue that Prufrock 'wakes' at the end of the poem, he is for the most part a ghostly inhabitant of a world that is, for him, a sort of hell. He is like the speaker in the Italian epigraph, from Dante's Inferno, who says, essentially, 'Like you, reader, I'm in purgatory and there is no way out. Nobody ever escapes from this pit and, for that reason, I can speak the truth without fear of ill fame.' "Despairing and sick of heart, Prufrock is a prisoner. Trapped in himself and trapped in society, he attends another and another in an endless series of effete, decorous teas. "In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo." "Do you get it now? Do you see what I mean when I say 'tough shit,'" said the officer. "Yeah, I'm beginning to," I said. "T. S. Eliot's Prufrock has become so much a part of the English language that people who have never read the poem are familiar with phrases like "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" and "I grow old... I grow old.../ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled" and "Do I dare to eat a peach?" and "In the room the women come and go..." "Do you get it now? Eliot's irregularly rhymed, 131-line interior monologue has become part of the monologue all of us carry on in our heads. We are all of us, whether we know it or not, love-hungry, sex-crazed soldiers and sailors, brave, bored and lonely. At some level in our hearts, we are all J. Alfred Prufrock, every one of us, and we are all sailing into a war zone from which, as the last line of the poem implies, we will never return." [continued] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- *Originally published in Touchstones, American Poets on a Favorite Poem, ed. by Robert Pack and Jay Parini, University Press of New England, 1996. Copyright (C) 1996-97 by Robert Sward. All rights reserved. Reprinted: Bedford Books' Introduction to Literature, 5th edition, 1997-98. Reprinted: Bedford Books' Introduction to Poetry, 2nd edition, 1997-98.