Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Good morning! Good morning!
Saturday morning I head out to for my occasional pilgrimage to Aiken South Carolina. It’s not that far from Augusta about a half hour drive depending on how hard you push it. I like driving on the highway because it’s so meditative and the mind is so free to wander. I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff and car trips are good for thinking.
Aiken is pure old south. Pulling off the highway, heading down the county road towards Main Street you see cotton fields go by, junk stores and farmer’s markets. As you get towards town, everything is less funky and more gentrified. The main street on Aiken is made for tourists, kitschy and artsy and precious. I lock up the car and as I slouch my way towards Moonbeans, I’m already starting to feel moody.
Moonbeans is what I come here for. A while back I decided to take my coffee jones to the next level and bought an old electric coffee roaster from eBay. Moonbeans is a little coffee bar where the artful folks gather to write earnestly in notebooks and discuss the the big stuff. Fifty years ago they’d all be wearing berets and turtlenecks. Next to the coffee bar is a little room, a snug little wizards den with exotic burlap bags of green coffee beans locked away in bins and the air is filled with a water watering toasty smokiness. Jim is that rare man who is madly in love with his woman and his job. He’s a young man who kind of fell into this work by accident when the business opened. He’s happy, tall, strong looking with wire glasses, a kind of taliban beard, and a black t-shirt that reads "Corporate Coffee Sucks!" We talk coffee roasting and beer making for an hour and negotiate over a couple of small bags of tiny green unroasted beans from Guatemala and Sumatra.
I toss the bags in my van and lock them up. I look around and I feel that feeling again. That feeling that I should have lived here, that in a better life I would know these people and people like them. That I could be a part of that airy black turtleneck world of latte fueled ideas. I’m always okay until I’m among them and then I have that sense of a life unlived, of having left the tracks long, long ago. I want to write about that feeling, but I don’t know how yet and who wants to read that soppy stuff anyway?
It’s such a nice morning and I feel so much like going for a walk to beat the blues. I wander into this little shop of locally made art objects. This is a good place to pick things up and touch them. You never know. This is where ideas come from. John Lennon wrote “Good Morning Good Morning” for SGT Pepper’s by listening to a Kellogg’s corn flakes commercial on TV. “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” came from a vintage circus poster he picked up, probably in a shop like this one.
In my case I would never write a story about my wife or kid, I wouldn’t even know how to bring them into the worlds I write. I suppose that’s true for most writers. A fiction writer is more like a beach comber, wandering the streets, looking down at his feet with one wet finger in the air testing the wind. You pick up small objects of thought here and there and see if they can be fit together, like arranging cards from a tarot deck into a story or bit of sooth saying. It seems to me this is the only difference between a writer or poet and relatively sane people. You pick stuff up and stick it in your head the way a baby sticks things in its mouth. That and some verbal skills if you work hard to learn language. The rest is managing your demons.
My eye is drawn to a sexy green pot bellied goddess, nude and full breasted, etched with continents like the earth. She smiles like a feminine Buddha with infinate maternal patience, and her hands are resting proudly on her swollen pregnant belly. Gaia, goddess of the world.
I imagine myself and her standing next to me. Will such a person greet me when I die? If it were God would I forgive God for all that goes on? I try to imagine God this way, this sexy pregnant babe who wants to be my lover and friend and maybe teach me how to boogaloo. I try to sketch out a story like that and I can taste it just out of my reach. I almost want to go back to Moonbeans and buy a cup and sketch it out on some napkins but I can’t feel the emotion of it, just a vague longing with no where to go.
Back on the street I start walking towards the edge of town and turn left down a side street. This is a very gentile, old south road such as buggies with horses, and young men in uniform returning from the war might have come down. There aren’t any sidewalks, but it doesn’t seem to need them. The street is a wide boulevard such as you see in big cities, lined with towered pines and Magnolia trees. If the magnolias were in bloom I might feel like Nixie remembering dark German forests at night with her heart breaking cuckoos. I remember that line when I wrote it, it was a good line. Where did I get it? I think I got it walking down this street a long time back.
A woman in loose blue exercise jerseys and thick sneakers goes padding by pumping her elbows high. I can’t see her face, but I know from how she moves that she's an older generation Korean. I’ve lived with Koreans, I know how they carry themselves, and she’s wearing one of those huge billed poker visors that Korean ladies like to wear when they exercise even on cloudy days. As she trots by I notice she has unusual breasts for a middle aged Asian lady, a D size at least. The stuff of fantasy. I wave and try not to stare too rudely as she wobbles past like a buxom little butterfly in blue.
I stop and think, what would it be like to be married to her? Fantasy. How? What if she only married me for a green card, didn’t even speak English, but intoxicated by her body I decided to keep her? Even though we couldn’t communicate? Could I marry someone for their exotic sexuality and keep them and be happy? Is that what the eroticism of paranormal romance is about? Does this mean I'm an ugly person? Try again, what does it really mean to be the lover 0f someone so different?
I would never write about my family. But I’d write about her because she's a stranger, a blank sheet. I don’t know why I desire her so specifically and so strongly. This is where stories come from, things that drift by and stick to the flypaper of the mind’s eye. Images. Images are how the soul searches itself. And think again – the desire to fuck her, no, that’s incidental, that’s not where the truth is hidden. Why make love to her instead of another? Why so exotic? Is it exploitation or something else? Explore that question and you have the real story.
Next to me is a huge old house, a kind of antebellum mansion such as Scarlett O Hara might have entertained soldier boys in. Another sea shell on the beach, I pick up and hold up to my eye. What if I lived there and it were haunted? A lady ghost who seduces you at night and gives you pleasure to exhaustion and leaves with the dawn? Why does it appeal to me? No doubt it’s been done to death by a dozen writers already. But in real life, wouldn’t that be delicious?
I search my heart and realize these are all fantasies of alienation, which is how Aiken with its rich artsy culture and gentrified atmosphere makes me feel so bad whenever I come here. I could have had such a different life. I could have been a better person in my own eyes. Walking in Aiken makes me feel small and mediocre until I want to die.
I think about the little statue in the shop. Why couldn’t God have been that God, female and earthy; a goddess who would whisper dirty jokes in your ear and guffaw haw-haw-haw and give you a hug, instead of the dour male desert God of religion?
There’s this feeling that comes to me in that moment, in the midst of my down-castness that I will try to explain. But I can’t explain it well. Not really.
It’s a revelation. A kind of consolation a lonely man might receive from his soul. In the real world revelations are not dramatic blinding experiences. Neils Bohr discovered the basic model of quantum mechanics while standing at a crosswalk waiting for the streetlight to change. He wasn't even thinking about it. A revelation is a man stopping and standing where he is. Looking at his shoes, chewing gum, with far away eyes. A triumphant grunt “Huh.” And continues walking, but he is not living in the same world anymore
It says to me – nothing is as it seems. Death is not as it seems. Life is not as it seems. Absolutely God is not what you think. Come here honey, says the green goddess. Just put your ear against my tummy and listen:
The world is a web.
I’ve heard this before, but it takes a moment of howling soul sadness to recognise it. Nothing is as it seems. Everything is connected, the way every drop of water in the vast ocean is connected. I feel profoundly alone, but the little pot bellied Goddess is saying to me – you are never alone. You cannot be alone. There is nothing in existence that is not connected to everything that exists. The fall of a sparrow is felt by the world. The passionate intense union and intimacy with The Other that you starve for is the natural longing of your soul just before it blossoms, as the flower longs for the bee that completes it.
The feeling passes and my feet begin to hurt. I need to go back, go home to my little house and roast some coffee. And none of it is important, and somehow all of it is profoundly important. The revelation is just out of my reach, like a feminine orgasm. I know there’s a story in there somewhere. If I just knew how to write it.
As I walk back to the main street I feel dazzled and released. The Korean lady with the extraordinary breasts goes jogging past and this time looks up at me and smiles. I’m connected to her. We are all a part of this huge laughing pot bellied cosmos. Is she an angel? I’m going to think about her all the way home and if I write a story, she’ll be an angel.