not quite touring

Sunday afternoon. Alone. I read my way through an Amsterdam, Bruges, and Brussels tour guide. I am beginning to feel I’ll know what to do when I arrive at those cities to which I’ve never been. I wish I could say the same about Chicago.

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Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vertigo

She sleeps late, oblivious to the sunlight flooding the room. I sit in a chair by the window and read Sebald’s Vertigo. Occasionally, I glance at her and wonder how she sleeps so deeply and long. I am most content on Sunday mornings such as these.

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

At Wrigley

I went to the Cubs game last night with my great friend Greg Walker. He does not follow the Cubs as closely as I, so he did not have the faith I had going into the eighth inning that the Cubs would make up a 4 to 1 deficit. But they scored five runs in the eighth, Kerry Wood shut down the Phillies in the ninth, and they won 6 to 4 on a honey of a night for a honey of a ballgame.

After, we retired to Jackie’s(sp?) bar for some whiskey drinking. I really don’t know how I got home, but I woke in bed early this morning safe and sound.

I like this year’s Cubs team as well as I have liked any Cubs team I have followed. And sweet Lou Pinnella is a sweet manager for them.

Hook ‘Em Cubs!

Published in: on August 29, 2008 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

An old traveler

Yesterday, I was reading a travel guide for Amsterdam, Brussels, and Bruges–three cities, along with Paris, I will visit in September. The most fun part was studying the maps and tracing walking tours. I imagined V was accompanying me on the trip. We walked along foreign streets, and sat in cafes refreshing ourselves.

She sat down beside me unexpectedly and unannounced while I was immersed in thoughts of traveling. I enjoyed sitting with her. I did not mention how sad I was that she was not going with me. The melancholy of it disturbs my thoughts this morning. But I would rather have this melancholy than not having met her at all, despite my disappointments regarding the impossible.

I suppose these thoughts made me fish four of the Sebald novels from the book stacks in my apartment. They are written in the first person. The protagonists are melancholy travelers through Europe. These characters share a personal exhaustion with the age in which they live and the countries through which they travel. The plots are a fascinating accumulation of detail. The hero starts his journey tired and melancholy. He never leaves those states despite who he has met or what he has witnessed. All seems as it necessarily must be.

I feel old today. That’s just as well, for I am. I resist any attempt at objectivity as I think about what I want to do. I cannot say anything as eloquently as a Sebald character can, yet I may never have tried, for eloquence arises from the subjective, not the objective. I’ve run away from myself for so many years I wonder if I can ever recover something imitating a genuine self.

I hear in my mind’s ear Willie Nelson singing his beautifully styled version of I Can See Clearly Now.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Light squares; dark squares

There’s something about staying up all night playing chess that makes me tired. It might be sleep deprivation. It might be the extreme amount of whiskey I imbibe while playing. Then breakfast is had rather than exactly eaten at 4 AM at a 24 hour restaurant. The clock says 5:15 AM as I roll through the apartment door.

Now, what am I fit for today? More chess, in case there is a chess player anywhere near me.

I am playing in an Internet chess tournament against this woman who lives in the European Union. She has played 20,756 chess games on our web site since April, 2003. That is a prodigious amount of chess given the web site is devoted to correspondence style chess. She currently has 200 games in progress.

I wish I did not care as much about my chess rating. I’d play more games since I would not be worried about losing. The most games I have had in progress at one time are around 30 to 35. Those are not distinguished numbers.

After all, it’s only chess. However, saying that today sounds like saying, “it’s only love.”

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 12:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Rust stain

A few years ago, a rust stain appeared on one of the walls supporting an highway overpass on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. Some people thought the rust stain looked like a picture of Jesus Christ. The power of suggestion being what it is, if somebody told you that it looked like Jesus and you used a lot of imagination, you might believe it. Art, no matter what creates it, is often in the eye of the beholder.

However, some people actually drove to the overpass and prayed to a rust stain they believed was an image of Jesus. There is a lot of talk these days about respecting others’ faith. Well, we should tolerate others’ faith within decent limits, but I will never respect the religious belief of anyone who worships to a rust stain.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Voices

We all have different voices and personae we show the world as facades masking what goes on indoors. I know, that is not shocking or imaginative to say. An acquaintance at the bar has said on several occasions he does not read my blog because he finds my writing pretentious and not at all like the voice I present at the bar, which he finds much more interesting. Well, he is correct in one way. My “bar” voice is different than this voice that rambles round my head when I am at home alone. However, he is one of those people who expects me to listen to him with me merely giving him a wink and a nod for recognition and comprehension, so his critique does not much matter to me.

Let’s face it. This blogging time is a private time when I can speak a whole sentence without being rudely interrupted. It puts a much needed and sincere smile on my face. 🙂

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 10:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Possibly pathetic

You might find it pathetic, but my favorite thing to write is this blog. What writer can resist instant publishing? Answer the question truthfully, writers.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 9:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Books for a desert island

Many of us readers, for good or ill, daydream about what books we would have with us if we were stranded on a desert island. Let’s say you had the complete works of Shakespeare with you. That would keep you busy enough reading for the rest of your life.

I find myself choosing Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the whole of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time as book companions. That way I would not forget about the busy doings of the world in my splendid isolation.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 9:42 am  Leave a Comment  

The fall of paganism

As the objects of religion were gradually reduced to the standard of the imagination, the rites and ceremonies were introduced that seemed most powerfully to affect the senses of the vulgar. If, in the beginning of the fifth century, Tertullian, or Lactantius, had been suddenly raised from the dead, to assist at the festival of some popular saint, or martyr, they would have gazed with astonishment, and indignation, on the profane spectacle, which had succeeded to the pure and spiritual worship of a Christian congregation. As soon as the doors of the church were thrown open, they must have been offended by the smoke of incense, the perfume of flowers, and the glare of lamps and tapers, which diffused, at noonday, a gaudy, superfluous, and, in their opinion, a sacrilegious light. If they approached the balustrade of the altar, they made their way through the prostrate crowd, consisting, for the most part, of strangers and pilgrims, who resorted to the city on the vigil of the feast; and who already felt the strong intoxication of fanaticism, and, perhaps, of wine. Their devout kisses were imprinted on the walls and pavement of the sacred edifice; and their fervent prayers were directed, whatever might be the language of their church, to the bones, the blood, or the ashes of the saint, which were usually concealed, by a linen or silken veil, from the eyes of the vulgar. The Christians frequented the tombs of the martyrs, in the hope of obtaining, from their powerful intercession, every sort of spiritual, but more especially of temporal, blessings. They implored the preservation of their health, or the cure of their infirmities; the fruitfulness of their barren wives, or the safety and happiness of their children. Whenever they undertook any distant or dangerous journey, they requested, that the holy martyrs would be their guides and protectors on the road; and if they returned without having experienced any misfortune, they again hastened to the tombs of the martyrs, to celebrate, with grateful thanksgivings, their obligations to the memory and relics of those heavenly patrons. The walls were hung round with symbols of the favors which they had received; eyes, and hands, and feet, of gold and silver: and edifying pictures, which could not long escape the abuse of indiscreet or idolatrous devotion, represented the image, the attributes, and the miracles of the tutelar saint. The same uniform original spirit of superstition might suggest, in the most distant ages and countries, the same methods of deceiving the credulity, and of affecting the senses of mankind: but it must ingenuously be confessed, that the ministers of the Catholic church imitated the profane model, which they were impatient to destroy. The most respectable bishops had persuaded themselves that the ignorant rustics would more cheerfully renounce the superstitions of Paganism, if they found some resemblance, some compensation, in the bosom of Christianity. The religion of Constantine achieved, in less than a century, the final conquest of the Roman empire: but the victors themselves were insensibly subdued by the arts of their vanquished rivals.

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter XXVIII, curtesy of Project Gutenburg

Gibbon writes the best about religion. (Take chapter XXVIII in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire where he writes of the demise of paganism for instance.) Nobody makes better sport of the credulous nature of the Christian from earlier times than he. Nobody speaks more truly of the Christian believer than Gibbon documenting the words, beliefs, and deeds of the fanatical devout. The belief in the miracles and prodigies of the glorified saints and martyrs would seem to knit all of the religious in one piece of cloth, yet unfortunately, people of differing faiths hate each other unto death.

I’ll admit it. Watching the acts of the various ranks of the holy is amusing sport to watch. That is until the next bomb explodes in the service of god.

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Definition of the reader

One definition of us is whether we read or not. I read; I understand why people don’t. It does not matter. Yet if you read, you are further defined by what you read and why. After that, you are defined by what you absorb of the writer’s humanity be it for good or ill.

That is the way I feel today anyway.

Published in: on August 23, 2008 at 12:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Omniscient

I finished reading Wood’s How Fiction Works. A nice read with fascinating conjectures about fiction. Wood starts his book with opinions and explanations about point of view. He tells how once in conversation with W. G. Sebald, a writer I greatly admire, Sebald told him that convincing third person omniscient point of view was no longer possible, or even preferable given that the age in which we live suspects all attempts at a view from nowhere. (My interpretation without quotation, me being the lazy soul I am.)

That puts me in mind of the first draft of the novel I recently finished. I attempted third person omniscient voice, but realized towards the end of writing that draft that my attempt at reason while writing it destroyed any meaningful effect. I am a product of my age and time. I do not wear The View From Nowhere well.

I have reached the age of memoir even if covered in the facade of fiction of the most gross and rank kind. I wake each morning with a thirst to write if only a little. I wriite until the thirst is slaked. It is my passion. I should put it in my writing, yet I keep holding back.

I had a friend tell me last night her mother thought I was just a drunk. Of course, I am a drunk. But is anybody just a drunk? I wonder if she told her mom about all the mornings when I rise early to write a few words, words most likely no one will read, and at the end of it all my reward is abject despair at how magnificently I’ve failed.

Oh well, from here on out I will never attempt The View From Nowhere. I’ll try to let my passion do the talking. On October 3rd I’ll start working on the second draft of that novel. It is going to be damned difficult getting that fucked up third person omniscient voice out of it.

Published in: on August 23, 2008 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tumult

I’ve just finished reading several chapters of Gibbon about the short reign of Julian. Julian attempted to restore the pagan religions in the Roman empire after the reign of Constantine and his sons had favored Christianity. He also led an ill fated expedition against the Persions. He was wounded in battle and died while retreating from his adventure.

The episode puts me in mind of the disastrous Athenian expedition against Sicily recommended by Alcibiades and related by Thucydides. Valor and intelligence do not supply the want of wisdom.

Why I read and think of the rise and fall of ancient empires while my personal life is mired in a stultifying tumult I do not know. I guess I will write it off to the effects of the Dog Days. Then hope the voice of reason will eventually drown the multitude of voices arising from emotion, passion, and desire.

Published in: on August 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sunrise

The sun rises over a broken heart. It hurts.

“The trick is not minding that it hurts.”

Published in: on August 23, 2008 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment  

note to self

Never try write a lengthy blog entry using the mobile phone: postcards only. For one, it’s easier

Published in: on August 19, 2008 at 3:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Together

I can read one book at a time if I find a book that is of minor interest to me. When I start reading a book and discover it as a major interest, I start reading other books too. So, I find myself reading Vollmann’s Europe Central, Gibbon, Chekhov’s short stories, and Wood’s How Fiction Works together, a sort of jumble of ideas and prose. The experience is only slightly disorienting. Somehow, I feel I am creating a unified whole, at least by interest, from reading them together. Or maybe I never do that, no matter what I am reading. Let’s say I just like reading for the moment and such.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gibbon

The spine of Womersley’s abridgment of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire consists of unabridged chapters extracted from the text. I get a better sense of Gibbon’s ability to weave drama, observation, and reflection in a miniature whole that is something akin to a short story. The bridging selections between the unabridged chapters knit together Gibbon’s sustained argument for the causes of the fall of the empire, but I find the argument less interesting to follow than reveling in Gibbon’s narrative ability. The unity of the chapters seem as if they were chiseled out of granite.

What I have lost by not reading the whole again, I have gained by seeing the literary value of the work in closer perspective. I suspect Gibbon will always be one of my favorite writers.

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  

Up all night again

Almost 4:30 AM. These late boozy nights will kill me sooner than I think. After all, I am an old man.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Oh, wait, it is tomorrow.

Published in: on August 17, 2008 at 4:36 am  Comments (2)  

Exchange

Still Saturday morning: I’ve drunk the coffee and smoked enough cigarettes for now, all the while reading Chekhov’s stories. The stories remind me of events this week.

This was the week for listening to people whether I cared to or not: the men telling me about their successes and hard work; the anxious, troubled, and lonely women telling me about boyfriend or husband problems, career aspirations, past glory days, or wanting to kiss, hug, or dance with me as if I were their favorite uncle. I should write the details here, but each person presents a story that needs to be told a different way than their verbatim monologues. A higher truth should supplant the bare truth of their lives.

I gave them my ears in return for their souls.

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 10:38 am  Comments (1)  

Harvest

Nine on Saturday morning: all’s relatively quiet so far. In the city, I notice the silence most. It’s mornings like these when I trick myself into believing I could live alone in a small place out in the country. Yet the nights I spent alone would be too grievously long and empty for me to be happy with it.

Take what the day and people may yield; don’t ask for what they are incapable of giving. For now, the cigarette burning in the ashtray, its smoke curling into the air like some lost soul, the French Roast coffee brewed strong, and these paltry words written while quiet reigns out of doors will suffice. There will be time enough today to yearn for that woman’s body lying next to mine one more time.

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Hidden

I’m home. I’m still sad and blue, but I’m home. Nobody can see it.

Published in: on August 16, 2008 at 1:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Stray State Street

I swore I would be in bed by now. Instead, I’m out again. I guess I can’t stand to be alone anymore. Lots of stray dogs out tonight too.

OK, I’m going home soon. Seriously, I’m tired, way depressed, and ugly stupid.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 11:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

On empty

Two nights without much sleep, and that sleep of the lowest quality. I can barely keep my eyes open at 5:40 PM.

Tonight, I’ll go home, read a Checkhov story in bed, fall asleep, forever. I’m that sad and desperate.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dreaming of reason during the Chicago air and water show

Drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes. The sun rises into a clear sky. This day: I like it so far.

Soon, there will be all manner of airplanes thundering along the lake shore and shattering reverie. The planes will continue arcing across the sky through Sunday, their paths a part of the geometry and culture we’ve imagined and built from our dream of reason.

Don’t watch the planes. Think about the geometry they draw in the sky. Meditate on the myriad ways there are to prove a given proposition. Your sixth sense tells you Euclid is watching. You live inside his dream of reason.

Published in: on August 15, 2008 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Torus chess

Studied geometry and topology all day. Working on exercises playing chess on a board wrapped and glued in the shape of a torus (donut). Interesting stuff, yet hard.

Published in: on August 12, 2008 at 4:20 pm  Comments (3)