Madrone sunrise, Point Lobos

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dark as a dungeon

Man of Peace - Leonard Baskin
I enjoy writing. Some folks say I might even have a knack. It has always been a dream of mine to become a serious writer, or should I say, to delve into the more powerful and personal writing that I occasionally flirt with but can't really publish in a public forum such as this one.

The raw stuff would blow too many circuits, or maybe get me committed to some looney ward. There is a good reason many authors use pseudonyms. Only way to be honest.

I was talking to my friend D. up in Berkeley the other day, a poet and professor who has known many poets and wordsmiths in his time. "To become a poet one must become a monster," he said.

I think that he maybe is on to something. Poets and authors, or at least the ones I tend to favor, have to divorce the world to work, hole up in cheap hotels with a handful of number 2 pencils like Gardner and Simenon, remove themselves from compression and cohabitation, find their way to places like Hemingway's Key West, Proulx's Newfoundland, or a sick and worn out Stevenson' in Samoa. Probably helps to drink.

Get the fuck out of Dodge and start peeling away the layers of onion skin within. Not always pretty. Often depressing. Writing requires a need to feel that isn't necessarily so important in the other creative pursuits.

If you look at suicides among the practitioners of the creative arts, why is it always poets and writers who punch their ticket and not bassoon players or contraltos, potters or even tole painters? What is there about the craft of writing that summons up the darker demons? Fucking writers are right up there with dentists.

Hart Crane
Thomas Disch
Abbie Hoffman
Robert Howard
Arthur Koestler
Primo Levi
Hunter Thompson
David Foster Wallace
Virginia Woolf
Seneca the Younger
John Berryman
Jerzy Kosinski

All of these writers penned their own final chapter. I like Jerzy's suicide note; I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity.

Jerzy Kosinski
I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide, but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit, made me want to hang myself, realizing that I would not be able to cut his throat. Antonin Artaud
I have had two suicides in my family, that I know about. My father's mother and my mother's father. Nice symmetry. Never met the latter, lost my grandma when I was about seven, supposedly she had enough of my grandfather's reported serial infidelities and swallowed pills.

My mother's mother died of a cerebral aneurysm in 1955, before I was born. They had left Moldava in the twenties, signing a note promising never to return. Moshe, born Mordko and finally Martin, was a horse thief and smuggler of wheat and tobacco and finally a furrier. Ended up first in Providence and then headed west to sell furs with his brother Sam. Short but incredibly powerful, he sidelined as a strong arm man for the Furrier's Union, kept everybody in line.

My mother hated how her house smelled, the ghastly chemicals used to tan the hides and furs. They lived in Los Angeles, near the original El Cholo on Western. Think she was embarrassed of her parents, the poor immigrant jews who didn't know how to assimilate quite as seamlessly as she did.

My Uncle Norm wrote a fine family history. The following is what he wrote about my grandfather, a man who died the year after I was born, who I may or may not have ever met, although I got his hair.

... Dad was always physically healthy, he had mental problems, not mental illness, but problems. Dad either had too much confidence in himself or not enough.  One day he thought he could lick the world, that as long there were peasants around ( the blacks and poor whites) Moshe Wainrober would do ok. At other times he felt totally inadequate. Probably the latter was an accurate description in his later days.
Dad lived three years after mother died. He closed his business, but didn't have anything important to do. He was alone. He couldn't seem to find a job because by that time the fur trade was pretty well dying. For a little while he worked as a box boy in a jewish owned supermarket on La Cienaga. He found that his inability to write legibly kept him from even applying for a job, even driving a taxi. Of course it was difficult for anyone over 57 years old to find work, especially when that person is unskilled except for knowledge in an almost dying trade. Finally he purchased a neighborhood fur store on Vermont near Eighth St. I don't think he did too well there, In 1958, when he was 60, he locked the doors of the store and killed himself in it.


Anonymous said...

About my dad, I don't remember writing that little squib about my Dad--I guess I did--it is accurate. To complete your knowledge, Dad killed himself in what could have been a horrible way. He locked the store, affixed a flexible gas pipe under his head with a rope, the pipe was attached to a gas jet which was for the purpose of attaching a space heater, and then open the jet. When the door lock was drilled open, and the front door opened, the place was full of gas. The whole block might have blown up if a spark had ignited the gas. I almost did so because I was smoking a cigarette when I was about to go into the place--luckily a police officer stopped me before I walked in.
Regarding our home, while we lived behind the "front rooms" when I was born and until I was 13, or slightly more, from 1942 or 1943 we owned a beautiful duplex--one unit upstairs, our home downstairs, at 1241 South Hudson Avenue--near Los Angeles High School. I went by there earlier this year--I was amazed how nice the neighborhood was and our old house. It amazed me how nice it looked--well kept--as it is ninety years old--it has been remodeled--new heat and air conditioning.
I am sure my mother was not ashamed of either house--remember she was an immigrant and lived for a while in a room on the lower east side of Manhattan.
Oh, one of the things you do not mention is why we lived in Los Angeles--I had a brother. I was told he fell out of a third floor window in mom and dad's apartment. In Los Angeles we could live on the ground floor--not possible in New York. It is why I was such a protected kid--never walked to school, didn't ride a bike until I ws over 50 years old when I became a fanatic. Your mother was too independent to be kept in a "protected" environment or state.


Blue Heron said...

Never knew that there was an older brother. Strange. Although my mother would never talk about her past and fabricated a past whenever convenient.