Friday, December 14, 2007

A True Man

So last evening my wife walked in from picking up one of my sons at the public library and handed me Portraits and Observations: The Essays of Truman Capote.

I fell into it and have only just surfaced. Read it all, or all that I'd not already read or want to read just now. Reminds me how good he could be: "Handcarved Coffins" is riveting, for instance.

"You trying to kill me or get me killed?" I asked my wife once when I glanced up. "You know this will just quicken my ambitions."

On the back of the book is quoted an excerpt from the Preface for "Music For Chameleons". It says in part, famously, "...Writers...who take genuine risks... bite the bullet and walk the plank..."

He is comparing writers who go for broke to professional gamblers but he misses the mark. It's an act of redemption and you risk trading your soul for your art. As he so notoriously did with In Cold Blood and as he so vividly understood.

There is an interesting passage in this book during which he discusses having published two chapters from his work-in-progress Answered Prayers. These famously caused backlash from rich friends who felt he'd betrayed them. In this passage he says no, he merely used his material, as all writers must, and then goes on to say, much more interestingly -- because their reaction is inconsequential to him compared to what he discovered -- that after the chapters had appeared he reassessed all his published writing, and found all of it wanting, and, worse, knew why. He says he had systematically tried to conquer all forms of writing, some with great success, others with little. He says the failing he spotted was built in to each form; by following the techniques of a given form, he was forced to leave out abilities and effects he may have mastered from other forms. Thus he conceived the ambition to bring all of it to bear at one time -- everything he'd learned from novels, short stories, poetry, screenplays, stage plays, essays, reporting, and so on.

He claims this is the style one sees in the book Music For Chameleons and perhaps most effectively in "Handcarved Coffins".

I chose to read this book as a collection of high spots. Many reviewers scrambled to sneer at its lesser pieces, such as a portrait of Liz Taylor. Their loss.

There is a remarkable interview with Bobby Beusoleil, one of the Manson Family, that reveals several aspects Bugliosi's lies about helter skelter cannot cover up forever, and there are any number of amazing passages and entire pieces that sustain a focus and balance that was, and is, remarkable. He is shown to have been nothing like the effete, lisping femme of his image, but a very tough-minded, agile-minded, single-minded writer who gave everything to his art and who looked deeper and less blinkingly into evil than many a seemingly tougher guy. Maybe than any of us.

He concluded the one unforgivable thing was deliberate cruelty.

Funny how that is what so many offer his memory now.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Apocalyptic Calypso

I woke up from my second day in a row of dreaming about total destruction.  Yesterday's dream has faded but involved running through a landscape of bombed-out buildings, smoldering craters, and a panicked, dangerous populace.

In this one, first I was a kid in a school for fascists, taught to fear brutal trained chimps and baboons that would come into one's room to search out disloyal books and so on.  At one point we were encouraged utterly to destroy our rooms and all our possessions in a frenzy of state loyalty simply to prove we gladly followed any and all directions; it felt so awful.

And then I was adult me, in my old home town of Ebensburg, PA, as the fascists soldiers came with demolition in mind, literally to raze the town with the people still in it.  If we ran, they killed us.  If we hid, they knocked the buildings down on us.  I kept having to duck, and watch above me.  I-beams fell on people, little three-legged robots rushed soldiers around to shoot stragglers, and tremendous sheets of glass fell and shattered.  Flying shards cut us; my hand caught one as I blocked my face.  I saw them using small squibs to knock out supports so the buildings would just collapse sideways and take out whole streets.  I saw them torching what ever burned.  I saw them driving trucks over people and swinging wrecking balls at windows full of screaming people.  Everything was falling and crushed us, and there was nothing stable underfoot as debris shifted.  You had to run on half-crushed people, some grabbing your ankles for help.  There was nowhere to go, and as you ran from soldiers you had to try to avoid cul-de-sacs and dead-ends.  There was literally no refuge, either.  Nowhere to go, nothing to do.   It was terrifying, and it ended with me and some kid standing in a field surrounded by the debris of a housing development -- I'd somehow gotten out of downtown proper.  We stood panting and jittery, responding to every sound, and then there was a huge, deep rumble and we looked over and saw the courthouse going down in a huge plume of smoke, and in the distance we could hear more of that low sound and I thought, Ah, Johnstown's going down.  A cat came by, walking arrogantly the way cats do, and the kid said, without moving,  "We could eat that; wh didn't we kill it?", and I said, "We didn't kill the cat because then we'd be like them.  We can scrounge, though.  Canned goods and stuff. Trouble is, winter's coming, and our fires will give us away.  Unless we live in the burning rubble.  Maybe then they won't bother looking."

Really bleak.

And just as I woke I thought, "Uh-uh; you'd have no meds.  You'd croak from the effort of scrambling for survival."

Another day in Paradise, eh?  LOL  Whoa.


Vast is the Earth, yet so is it small.  To a demon, Earth is a bauble.  To one lost in a desert, it is a solid echo of the sky.

Between those truths we live our mad scramble lives from dark to dark.

Balanced on a grain of sand called love, those truths keep each other at bay.  Size and its lack encompass us.  Micro and macro swing us in their arms.

And so we sleep.

--From the Liturgy at Hessia Abbey


A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.
-- Bertrand Russell


May I humbly suggest "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS as theme music for this Apocalyptic Calypso dream?  Made me cry right after I wrote down the dream; elegiac defiance. J. S. Bach’s “Air On a G String” provides a nice cool-down, then, followed by "Don't Cry" by Guns & Roses for a stirring bounce-back.


Story is the song, writing is the singer.
--W B Kek, informal talk