Saturday, March 27, 2010

Because it promises so much, a trip to the bookstore can be irritating, even downright frustrating when it happens to not shelve a particular book one is looking for. I sometimes find myself cursing whoever is in charge for the oversights ("You don't have Slaughterhouse Five?! Really?!"). At moments like that one grumbles, but is reassured that the book can be found online, at least. Back home, it's only a matter of seconds for Amazon to dutifully ship it to you the next day.

Yet one is missing something if they cite this as reason for shutting down the physical stores. Sure, the stocks there are finite, and sure, it sometimes lets you down because of that. But where else are you confronted by a great mass of books, staring in you the face, leaving you in awe of both your ignorance but also instilling you with a yearning to read until time runs out? Standing in the middle of the store, all around you are nothing but pages and pages of other men's thoughts, confessions, lives. At a particular author's section - if you're lucky! - you get to see his works neatly laid out, all those years of work sitting quietly next to each other. Flipping through the pages of any book, for a second, one is half tempted to sit down then and there and read through the entire thing. Even if the book is only vaguely familiar, it can be cause for hope: the sound of the title, the direction implied by the dust jacket, and the style that jumps out from a few pages picked at random - the excitement it generates at the possibility of this being one's next ticket to bliss!

Of course, one can conjure a similar sensation online: browse through the Amazon archives of literature and find yourself weeping at how there simply is no time for all of it. But does it have the same visceral feeling as when one is overwhelmed in the physical world? Hardly. No doubt the online store has its place. But it's purely a commercial affair. At the bookstore, sure, I'd like to buy something, but I'm also there for the experience.

I don't mean to suggest that the death of the physical bookstore - not as imminent as that of the record store, but definitely somewhere on the horizon - signals the death of books themselves. Ultimately, if you have the thing in your hand, you spend your time going through the pages rather than thinking about where you purchased it. (The electronic reader, of course, now that is the death of the book ;-)) But like a book itself, the trip to the bookstore offers an escape from the world. When it's just you and a shelf of books, the possibilities seem limitless. Life seems not so bad. There is the promise of satisfaction till the end of all time. The ego yields, the mind warmly accepts the limits of its own knowledge, and is thirsty for answers.

Friday, March 26, 2010

I recall the same -
A reply
A plan you once had
From time down to mine
That time was bad
So I knew where I was
And so at home.

The words lift me, and I am no longer walking, but instead flying up high, leaving behind my mind, floating away from the bad dreams, the chatter of unwelcome voices, the black that my steps were leading me to towards. Once up here, it seems remarkable that I haven't stumbled already, that I've made it so far without falling down and breaking apart. All I have now is the song. I can imagine myself singing the tune to infinity, till the stars run out and the moon has no more light to give. Perhaps this is no beacon taking me back home, and perhaps I will have to come down again and walk on. But carrying the song gives me hope, for at least I know my notions are not wholly my own. Whatever my feelings, some scrap, some shard has blossomed in another heart, and some other soul has felt the longing I grapple with every night & day. After a long time, I remember what it is like to pause and gaze longingly at the heavens. The moment is alive, the sky lit up. In every direction, there is only light.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I saw you sitting there, in the tower beyond time, watching the entire universe unfold. As I entered from the savage lands outside, soaked in fear and perspiration, I immediately felt time stop and take a breath. Before I could explain what had happened, the sight of you sitting in contemplation was everything. Your gaze slowly met mine, and I received the most knowing smile of my life. I could only melt under its power. Without words, you confirmed that each of us has a fate, and that you know mine. I knew then what I always suspected: fairest, it's you who rules our world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You must realize that no one teaches me these things. That I know of, I've never actually met anyone dabbling seriously in writing; finding a reader is tough enough, a writer nigh impossible in the circles I move around. Whatever improvements in my pieces that are apparent through the years are the product of some form of common sense, but it's one that I've had to work hard for. Even now, I'll admit that there are times when I imagine that I've outgrown most of the problems that plagued my early writing. I'll write a particularly satisfying piece and pat myself on the back for the accomplishment. The darn problem is, it isn't always that easy. Heck, a good 50% of my drafts are either deleted or become posts I purposely avoid when perusing my archives. Much as I'd like to think otherwise, it isn't the case that with time my first drafts are somehow magically better. Perhaps all that has changed is my understanding of what makes something good; where once I would have published straight away, citing the trueness of emotion as reason enough, now at least I spare you, dear reader ;-)

"Trueness of emotion", now I think I can make that claim about what I write. I certainly don't find myself sitting at the desk and manufacturing things to write about. But it takes time to realize that there has to be something more than just an emotion, however valid. In Tobias Wolff's Old School, there is a beautiful little section where Frost himself (!) defends his school of aesthetics against claims of it being insufficient to capture the complex uncertainties of modern life, circa the early '60s. In particular, he rallies against the notion that form, most prominently rhyme, is somehow naive in its belief that everything has a neat resolution: words join together, the poem has finality, and as a result the world inside bears no resemblance to the real one. "Form might be all we have", he says, and it made me think. After all, it really is tempting to argue the counterpoint to Frost, namely that structure implies a certain...sense underlying things. Heck, isn't this part of my defense of Berryman a few posts ago? Regardless of how true that statement is, throwing our hands up at the brutality of the world and giving in to anarchy (blank verse ;-)), well, as he says, perhaps that is mere laziness!

Why this topic is particularly interesting to me is the case of music. I've often thought that classical is simply incapable of addressing the emotions that popular music does so well. When pressed for details, I usually say something about the uncertainty of life that's captured in, say, a Tom Waits song. It's to be expected - were our nature of expression the same as two centuries ago, it would be cause for concern - but are these changes or, if you will, improvements? I used to learn towards the latter, insofar as I thought that the classical form was simply antiquated after a point. Yet, perhaps it is me who is antiquated! It might be that the emotions I champion are simply unable to stand by themselves. Without form, perhaps the emotions and feelings crumble into dust when faced with the ravages of time. I'm willing to admit that it could all be a matter of time before I realize such things. Not that I've completely switched sides, mind you, but I'm now wary of having a firm stance on this issue.

I don't know if there have been many books that have changed my life. But in several instances, like this one, literature has made me pause and think deeper about things I took for granted. Long may it last.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1) Ween, "She's Your Baby". With time apart from the wonder duo, one forgets that even minor songs display a remarkable acuity. To think I once found this a weak end to an otherwise fine album! It strikes me that, if it wasn't obvious already, the band is now firmly in the category of the great mystics for me. Songwriting whose source I simply cannot fathom, but lord bless it doubly for it.

2) The Go-Betweens, "As Long As That". Another potential wonder duo in the context of my life, but it's too early to say. There's something special in the care displayed in the lyrics, which tempts one to use the phrase "poetic"; but given the term's associations with popular song, the intent is diffused. Anyhow, the same care undeniably makes proceedings a bit dry, in general; refined, but with none of the electric energy the medium conducts so well. But "I've got a feeling / It sounds like a fact / It's been around / As long as that"? Lines like this are why I once wanted to be a songwriter.