Saturday, May 28, 2016

Be Happy White-Folks - A Memorial Day Weekend Entertainment

Jean Baudrillard amuses me in discussing the fun-system, where a person is “obliged to be happy, to be in love…If he forgets, he will be gently and instantly reminded that he has no right not to be happy…otherwise he runs the risk of being satisfied with what he does and of becoming asocial.”

Thomas Merton got all admonitory about it, warning that "the man who locks himself up in private with his own selfishness has put himself into a position where the evil within him will either possess him like a devil or drive him out of his head. That is why it is dangerous to go into solitude merely because you like to be alone."

I don’t feel devil possessed, so I must be crazy, and a writer.

The writing life: reading, thinking, thinking about writing, sleeping, doing crossword or jigsaw puzzles, gardening, watching the birds (the yard regularly contains finches and sparrows and doves and scrub jays, but also I’ve seen pine siskins, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, grosbeaks, roadrunners, juncos, towhees, crows) and maintaining their feeding stations, surfing the internet (email, Facebook, websites), listening to Helene Grimaud playing Brahms piano concerto numero uno, considering art by Betye Saar, driving into town for groceries, fuel, and from time to time socialization at a coffee shop, or, rarely, entertaining an out of town guest; now and then I’ll participate in a community event, such as a fundraiser, or fulfill a civic responsibility, like voting. Most recently I’ve been to a birthday party and a wedding. Those are the good days.

The two journal entries below exemplify the extremes.

Wednesday the 12th

Up early, exercise. Reading. Picked apricots. Filled seed feeders. Breakfast was toast plus all the fruit that is around, peaches and apricots from here, strawberries from down south, apples from Washington State. But I did have lunch out later, and, for dinner, picked up tortillas and salsa anticipatorily and proactively at Los Altos market. Came home and wrote for a few hours and Shelley came by and we talked and talked and I was able to hand off some apricots to her and then I went back to writing.

Saturday the 15th

I stayed in bed most of the day, wishing I would die.


So anyway, here’s some literature that have recently smack me upside my head:

Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. He subtitled it “an entertainment” and that seems right because the only real sense of 1950’s Havana I got was the theatre scene where nude dancers performed in revues and porno films were shown between acts and marijuana cigarettes were sold by female vendors in the aisles. WOW! Greene also parodies spy novels and mocks UNESCO and other NGO bureaucracies, but there's no specific mention of Batista or Castro aside from offhand mention of the government vs. rebels. There are also British views of Cold War issues but scant mention of USA involvement in Cuba, and a colonial and inappropriately breezy attitude regarding torture.

The Blood of Others, by Simone de Beauvoir, (translated from French to English by Roger Senhouse and Yvonne Moyse) takes place during the German Occupation of France during World War II. There are lots of characters and much existential political talk heady to the early 1940’s but not to me today. Nonetheless, even though the story wasn’t working for me, the way de Beauvoir writes, if the translation is to be trusted, is a wonderment: time and space may change in the middle of a paragraph, descriptions are sumptuous and thick, a stylistic revelation to me and worth reading.

Out of the blue and in an entertaining and stunning manner is “A Day’s Work” by Katherine Anne Porter, which can be found in her collected stories or in a book titled The Leaning Tower and Other Stories. It is a grim, domestic narrative set in the Depression era of late 1930’s USA history. It destroys the idealized American concept of family and capitalism. It is an urban nightmare, hallucinogenic in black and white. It reminded me of the Twilight Zone if twilight zone wasn’t just weird but ugly, and contained brutal domestic violence and snotdripping drunkenness. This story scared the hell out of me, it resonates today.

From the daily poems and notifications I get via email and Facebook I came across: 
  • Two pieces by Donald Quist; one a fiction set in Bangkok, the other an essay about being black in the USA as opposed to being black in Thailand. A good writer.
  • An anthology of pieces from the litmag Drunk Monkeys, including a hilarious story called “The Island of Misfit Janitorial Items,” by Shawn Berman, an endearing tale about janitorial workers as portrayed by the tools of their trade.
  • Various pieces by Jon Leon (“Three hours later I have what feels like jetlag but I haven’t traveled more than two barstools.”)    
Which leads to another bar scene, the whole of chapter three, the notorious Golden Day whorehouse and drinking establishment of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Here’s a sample:

…The door flew open. A brown-skinned woman with red hair looked in. “How’s white-folks making out?” she said, staggering inside. “White-folks, baby, you done come to. You want a drink?” “Not now, Hester,” the vet said. “He’s still a little weak.” “He sho looks it. That’s how come he needs a drink. Put some iron in his blood.” “Now, now, Hester.” “Okay, okay … But what y’all doing looking like you at a funeral? Don’t you know this is the Golden Day?” She staggered toward me, belching elegantly and reeling. “Just look at y’all. Here school-boy looks like he’s scared to death. And white-folks here is acting like y’all two strange poodles. Be happy y’all! I’m going down and get Halley to send you up some drinks.” She patted Mr. Norton’s cheek as she went past and I saw him turn a glowing red. “Be happy, white-folks.”

That’s it. Be happy, white-folks.