I’ve really been kind of a zombie lately. For, oh, like the past year or two. Or maybe the past ten or twenty years. Okay, what the heck, most of my life.
But let’s just focus on lately. Maybe it’s just winter, but I don’t think so, because apart from the occasional frigid gales, it’s been a reasonably mild winter. More days than not I’ve been able to go out to the park and do t’ai chi and run around the track in relative comfort.
Not necessarily that I’ve actually done that more days than not, just that I could have. However, lately I’ve gotten pretty regular at it, as I tend to every time a substantial bout of torpidity, i.e., my default state since Christmas or maybe Thanksgiving, results in my being depressed enough to do something about it.
Exercise works well to dispel the sort of gloom that creeps into the short days (all the shorter when I stay up till 3 and don’t get out of bed till 10 the next morning) and lengthy nights of midwinter, but even knowing this doesn’t always provide sufficient motivation to do it.
Similarly, this period of semi-hibernation provides – or should provide, anyway – an unparalleled opportunity to get all sorts of writing work done, an opportunity I’ve also spurned. Just this morning, in fact, I was staring at one wall or another when it occurred to me that in less than two months, spring would be here. A cheering thought, no?
It was until I saw myself on the first warm days of March or April, wanting desperately to run outside and bask in the sun while watching the city turn green again, but unable to do so because I’d have to stay indoors and finish all the writing I didn’t do this winter. At that point I let loose with a wail of anguish that might have discomfited the neighbors if they weren’t already used to my plinking guitar and caterwauling vocals whenever I get moved to run through a few old Potatomen songs.
On one hand, I should feel gratified that people are starting to bug me about when they might see the next installment of Spy Rock Memories; on the other, I’m cowed by the prospect of actually having to finish writing it. Meanwhile, my brain is already racing ahead to other projects I’ve dreamed up, and racing backwards to recall that it’s been some months now since I’ve done any work on my novel, the one, you might recall, that was certainly going to be finished by Christmas.
Oh well, I thought, since I’m not accomplishing much of anything myself, I might as well go out and get some of what, back in Detroit, we used to call “culture.” I hasten to note that back in Detroit this was a largely theoretical construct, but there was this notion that by attending performances or lectures (again, as I say, largely theoretical, at least in the part of Detroit I inhabited), one could become edified and maybe even “improved.”
So this past week I was out every night to some sort of event, all except Wednesday, when I (if we can stretch a point) participated in the creation of culture by heading over to Greenpoint to allegedly help Gabrielle Bell with her Lucky website (turns out she probably knows more about websites than me).
Monday night in the East Village I saw some sort of performance piece I’d read about in the Times, a baby boomer named Matthew Maguire telling stories about his wild and crazy past. Doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that would normally appeal to me, but I figured, hey, I’m running the same sort of schtick without attracting any notice from the Times, so maybe I could learn something. He reminded me of the 1970s, when a lot of my friends in California started taking avant-garde acting classes, only older, more polished, and definitely more successful. Good stories, but just a teensy bit too pleased with himself.
Tuesday I journeyed farther downtown to hear a couple of 20-something writers, Max Steele and Dan Fishback, read from their works in progress. This, I’ll admit, was a humbling experience; both were not only very good, but also read with a verve and élan that exuded confidence and self-appreciation without bleeding into the “Aren’t I just so cool?” territory mined by Maguire.
Steele writes mostly about sex; he calls it – perhaps a little self-mockingly – porn, but it’s not really, not unless you also think of Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence as purveyors of wank-lit. Not that I’m drawing any comparisons, though Steele’s mostly Brooklyn and lower Manhattan-based urban landscapes do illuminate the underbelly of the city in a way not unlike what Miller did for bohemian Paris.
Fishback is on the sex tip as well, but from a different angle: his work in progress is a reflection on what it’s like to grow up gay in the shadow of AIDS (a disease, it might be noted, which barely seems to exist in Steele’s happily promiscuous universe). It’s something I admittedly hadn’t given much thought to; Fishback tells a strangely hilarious tale of how “Jewish kids are jaded about the Holocaust by the age of 12” (I hope I’m paraphrasing that more or less accurately), and I think a lot of people who spent the 70s and 80s in either New York or San Francisco have come to feel similarly about the epidemic that carried off so many of their contemporaries.
Or maybe not, but I seem to have reached AIDS overload sometime back in the 90s. Maybe that’s just a defense mechanism, or maybe it’s just that the number of people I knew who died – a dozen or so – was relatively small, at least when compared to some men I’ve met who lost almost everyone they knew.
I guess, too, that I didn’t realize younger people gave that much thought to AIDS, but unless Fishback is an anomaly, apparently they do. Anyway, he wrote and spoke with searing honesty and clarity about it, and I was mightily impressed by his work. All except the song he opened with, which was actually more like an opera with multiple movements. There was nothing really wrong with it; it just wasn’t up to the standard of his written and spoken work. Ironically, he told us that he’d opted for the song because there a piece of writing he didn’t feel confident enough to present. These things being as they usually are, I’m willing to bet it would have been the highlight of his performance if he’d gone with the original plan.
What struck me too about both Steele and Fishback was the way they wrote so freely and un-self-consciously about sex. I must admit I felt a little intimidated, as I’ve never been able to do the same. In fact, I’ve barely even attempted it, and it occurred to me that the inability to write about such a fundamental part of life might pose a severe limitation on any and all writing I do. But I always come back to the question of whether anyone seriously wants to hear details about my sex life, should I ever have one, and the answer usually comes back: probably not.
Thursday night I was at the Brooklyn Library, a rather magnificent building perched on the edge of the Grand Army Plaza which I’d somehow heretofore managed to avoid noticing, to hear Gabrielle Bell, who, along with Jessica Abel and Jillian Tamaki, was part of a panel discussing “Women In Comics,” and which was ably moderated by Publishers Weekly’s Calvin Reid.
I’m no expert in comics, but I happen to think women are generally better at them than men, especially when it comes to the personal/memoirish/semi-fictional variety that many women seem to excel in. At any rate, this was an excellent discussion, and not burdened with any of the geekiness or tech-talk that invariably seems to creep in when boy artists are involved.
Friday night I finally made it uptown, as far as 42nd Street, anyway, to see my friend Bill Koch’s play Sonnets From The Tower. Not the sort of thing, I’ll admit, I’d be rushing off to see if I didn’t know the writer and director, considering that it acknowledged right up front that it consisted of “44 sonnets of 12 lines each” presented by various ghosts inhabiting the Tower of London. What’s more, the play’s protagonist was a poet, i.e., the sort of person I’m inclined to give the stink eye at first mention of his calling.
But surprisingly – or perhaps not, given Koch’s talent – the sonnets not only scanned and rhymed, they actually made a good deal of sense and conveyed a poignant message. There was a little too much focus on the chopping off of heads, but I suppose there’s no getting around the fact that a lot of that sort thing went on in the Tower. Some of the best of the lot were delivered by various animals, including a raven, a snappy little poodle, and a pair of lions, one new and feisty and the other full of world-weariness and resignation.
Which, after a whole week of unremitting culture, was how I was beginning to feel so I came home and watched TV all weekend, assiduously avoiding anything that threatened to challenge my intellect and opting instead for such masterpieces as Independence Day, the Grammy awards, and half a dozen Law and Order reruns. By Monday (today), normal service had been restored and I felt like a zombie again.