Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Iron Nails

(Photo by C. Sanchez-Garcia 1984
Old woman and blind son.
Kangwon-do Province Korea)

They say a man is either chasing the ghost of his father or being chased by the ghost.They say a man spends his life trying to live up to the expectations of his father, even after he's gone or trying to avoid or if possible repair the mistakes his father made. Women; I don't claim to know who or what's eating them.

My father did not marry well. He fell in love with a beautiful woman,my mother, who over time proved to be schizophrenic. She was terribly ill, mentally ill. She became delusional, occasionally psychotic and at the end died homeless and alone. He did the best he could for us for as long as he could stand it and then came the big break when I was fifteen. He went on to sow some wild oats, explore himself, read extensively and study spiritual matters. As a result of his new insights he met a sane, responsible woman who was perfectly suited for him and went on to become the great love of his life. He prospered and lived in a trendy part of Minneapolis and had two fine daughters who adored him. When he died he was attended and mourned by legions of honest friends who had known him for many years. I have not yet found a way to forgive him for these accomplishments.

I fell in love only once in my life, very long ago. It failed miserably, then I joined a religious group and was celibate until age thirty three, then married in an arranged marriage which I have endeavored to honor and preserve. I know nothing of myself. I did not have the opportunity to explore myself, and must write my stories from that shallow foundation as best I can. I don't really know what form of sexuality would give me pleasure, or what relationships would make me happy. The price of exploring myself at this point would be catastrophic to those two people who deserve the best of me, such as I am. I am spiritually ill and have been for a long time.

I made breakfast for my family this morning. It won't get me sex. It won't earn me gratitude. Later I will do some ironing. It wasn't what I wanted to do with my day. The pleasure I took was not in the cooking, nor in the providing. It was in the physical labor which enabled my mind to wander, to reach behind to a yellow note pad and scribble some ideas to try out. Sausage on the skillet, coffee in the filter basket,reach behind and scribble some possible lines of dialogue, a string of fine sounding words that may turn stupid when its time to connect them to something. Flip the eggs between some doubts about a blog premise. None of this is what I want. What I want to is to read this collection of erotic short stories I just bought and try to learn from the authors who write better than I do. What I want is to work on this short story that is becoming interesting to me. I will do none of these things today. I will cook mostly, listen to complaints,many about myself, drop family members where they need to be, buy the groceries. Tomorrow I will go back to work.

I am not inspired about my dead end job. But I am certainly grateful for it. It is adequate as I am adequate. It is an even exchange and fair expression of aging mediocrity which enables me to care for my wife and child, the one thing I really do care about in this world. I have had jobs in the past that I was passionate about, authentic and heartfelt work that excited and fulfilled me. These were the jobs that broke my heart. These jobs had to be abandoned because there was no money. Now I've learned better. Me - I go for the money.

I feel a great distaste for modern self help talkers like Dr. Oz and others who want to teach you how to live an "authentic"life, find the job and relationships that will be reveal your authentic self. Fuck that. Babies and dairy cows are authentic. My opinion is that life is not about being authentic. Its about being true to your responsiblities to those who depend on you. If you want to be authentic be true to the people who need you. Begin there.

Once a friend of mine told me about her parents. Her mother, like mine, was crazy. Even lethally crazy at times. Her father loved this woman dearly and stuck with her through the years, at a cost of great personal misery and occasional mortal danger. Through the violence and hallucinations, the hospital stays, the returns home, the relapses, he has never left her and is with her still. He will never abandon her and she knows that. He is an intelligent, educated, hard working man who might have made a name for himself, but he has never had a prosperous or happy life. I don't suppose he gets laid much if ever at all. But he is faithful to this drowning woman, who would have sunk into oblivion without him. He has nothing much to show for it, though clearly she loves him too. But he is a hero beyond all words to his daughter. Perhaps, in lucid moments he is a hero to his wife. I have never met him, but he is a hero to me. He represents the kind of person I would like to be. You see these people around. A mother pushing a palsied child in a wheelchair. A soldier missing limbs, shopping with his family. We see these plain and common people, who tuck their grief away out of sight, pick up the burdens of some permanently wounded person, and carry them along with love and without complaint. They love not with competence or wisdom, but with unshakable fidelity.

I think that all of us at one time or another are drowning. Some of us never stop drowning because we have no capacity to learn to swim. Drowning is what we do. We find ourselves looking for that person we can cling onto who will not permit us to drown. Most of the people you think will save you will kick you off as soon as you start to pull them down. On autumn nights, when dry leaves blow down gutters and the air is chilly, they'll think of you with a twinge of nostalgia for their own past and wonder whatever became of you. But if you show upon their facebook looking to be tagged as their friend they will politely ignore you.

Then there are the other ones, the iron people. Those people who through some noble spirituality or ferocious love refuse to let you go down without a fight,no matter what the cost to themselves, even if you must drag their own dreams down with you. These are those iron nails who hold the ship of life together. They keep the human story afloat and chugging ahead. They are the ancient and unsung heroes of our species, and maybe our only legitimate claim to divinity.

The universal dream of all people, anywhere you go, is not for romance or erotic fulfillment. Those are incidental. What romance points to,what people dream of, is that person who will love you unconditionally. The person who knows you as you really are and will love you anyway and will not change. The iron nails. People say "Jesus loves me." Nobody says "Jesus is in love with me."

Romance fiction lives and thrives on this border line of fantasy and reality. I think for most it is a healing escape, as is most popular fiction. Romance fiction isn't Love the way most of us have experienced it, which I think is the whole point. We don;t fantasize about what we already know. I tend to see it as the WD-40 for the iron nails of this world, a taste of a life most of us will never have but would like to imagine from a distance. I think literary snobs who dismiss it as chick-porn are missing the point. Erotic romance I would argue, far from being junk reading, represents a kind of hard nosed innocence. It is a sweet fireproof faith against reality, which can be so cruel, that a consuming passion and true love can exist somewhere. It is the medicine for melancholy for the person with a dull marriage, or the iron soul propping up a hopelessly damaged loved one. It represents what religion used to represent not so long ago, a glimpse into a better world.


  1. Garce,

    Profound and moving. As always, it's a pleasure to read your writing.


  2. Garce, I love how you are able to plumb the deeper meanings out of the mundane. You are such a subterranean writer and very authentic, whether you realize it or not.

    I asked my Dad what gave him value. He said, "Your mama, loving your mama, loving you kids." That was his authenticity. His life has not been easy, but I don't perceive an ambiguity from him, or a regret. Maybe that devotion was his passion, and he did gain satisfaction from his work life.
    my point is this: my dad's path was authentic, but it was one path. there are many authentic paths and they each look different, imo.

    Finally, I love what you say about romance and eroticism at the end. Very elevating.
    Godspeed, my friend.

  3. I was impressed with what you had to say..being abandoned at birth I often wonder what life would had been like with a true family but than I stop and think it wasn't all that bad with what I had. I stopped thinking of what may had been and enjoyed what was. Now in my 60's I feel that was a good choice to undertake but at times I still wonder but don not dwell on it. susan L.

  4. Hi Garce,

    Interesting. Romance and erotica as not only escapism, but a kind of catharsis. I'll take that a little farther. It's not only thus for the reader, but often for the writer. Yes?

    Good post!


  5. Hi Ashley!

    Thanks - yours too.


  6. Hi Anonymous!

    Thanks for reading my stuff. I saw "anonymous" and for a second I thought you were that guy from last week - but I'm happy that you;re not. I relate to what your dad said. Sometimes when I wish i could be on my own I ask what my life would be worth without my family and the answer always seems to be - not much. So I'm glad I have these two people in my little corner of the world.


  7. Hi Susan!

    I can't imagine what that would be like, being abandoned at birth. YOu must have a lot of stories to tell and to work from. I hope you find ways to write them.


  8. Hey Jude!

    Yeah, you got me there. Its for the writer too.


  9. Hello, Garce,

    You may as you claim be spiritually ill, but you are anything but shallow. Your experiences of pain, of abandonment, of disillusionment, are just as much part of finding who you are as was your father's quest for his own freedom.

    I think you are right about what matters, what is "authentic". It is not what we accomplish, how many books we publish, how much money we make. It is the level of compassion that we are able to express, and the determination to take care of those for whom we are responsible, even when that is difficult.

    "Erotic romance I would argue, far from being junk reading, represents a kind of hard nosed innocence. It is a sweet fireproof faith against reality, which can be so cruel, that a consuming passion and true love can exist somewhere."

    This may be the best summary of the value of romance that I've ever read.

    Thank you for another stunning post.

    Much love,

  10. Garce, your posts always leave me unable to think of a coherent response that wouldn't diminish your voice. Thank you.