When I was going to school, I worked two jobs for awhile. I had no time to write at all, which was driving me a little crazy, so I started writing on one of hte job's, at The Belmont Suites, a nice old hotel on lakeshore that had rooms for transients and a few upscale residents. Gorgeous place to live. The work I spent the most time on was a series of poems I called the Belmont Sweets, which basically gave biographies taken from the person's these retires showed me. I found out real quick who was happy and who was just waiting to die, and the difference between the two was striking.
One set of people had lived their lives devoted to love, rather than materialism. The men and women who left positions of power where they propped up their well being with fancies cars and diamonds and furs, did poorly at the Belmont Sweets; spent the last fifteen or twenty years of their life being bitter, unhappy, and filled with self-loathing. They were mean to everyone, though they turned the knife on themselves more often than not. They tended to die sooner, and they felt more burdened by their illnesses or impending deaths than the other people there, the ones I watched closest, the happy people who despite infirmity and more aches and pains than a few pills can fight off, smiled throughout their days and were still excited about stuff.... One guy wrote dirty poetry for his wife, a skill he had no idea he possessed until a poet started a writing class at the hotel, and no writer was ever more pleased with himself.... In a humble, self-effacing manner that is rare in this day of puffed up resumes and trophy wives.
I thought of this series of poems, which are mostly probably not that good anyways, while I was at the Big Star this afternoon picking up a cup of ethiopian coffee that sits by my keys as i speak. Two regulars were sitting in there, Don, a neighborhood historian who used to have a coffee shop (a famous one) where the Big Star now resides and Fred, a director who owned the beloved chew-wow-wow who used to come to our show sometimes, and has since been forced to replace with another, Rosie, who looks like a little Doberman. I can seldom stay long at the Big Star, because I have to take my dog everywhere, and leaving her tied up outside too long seems rude. This day, I had to play with fraud's little pup, Rosie, who is a lot shyer than his last chew-wow-wow. As we talked, den's usual strong opinion came out a few times. He is a man who is convinced of many things, and knows enough to back up most of what he says. He's a good judge of life, in his sixties I believe, and knows enough to make his opinions worth listening to. Fred is like me, in his forties, and a very cool dude. He takes his dog everywhere, like me, so we are kindred souls in more ways than just being artists. He recently directed a revival of the spoon river anthology that I had tickets for and still bucking missed (this is one of my favorite bits of prose, too, but the mother in law who was staying with us was too sick to go and I was guilt tripped into staying home with them).
The conversation about the Belmont sweets came up when Fred and I were talking about not having any money. I told him basically what I wrote in the first paragraph, how there are two types of retires -- one who lived for love and thus has a life rich beyond their possessions and work status, and the ones who relied too much on the fleeting thrills of materialism.
Now, the part of this that I hoping is interesting to myself one day when I read this (not to mention whoever finds this new site, which I can't imagine is near the 1000 people a day I was getting there for awhile at johnnypain.ebloggy.com (The website is still down, by the way, though a new message today says that it will be back up soon)) is that I am trying to find a path to point to in my fiction. I do not want to just be nihilistic and shallow in my work. The problem is that I have no idea what the path entails, for the most part?
Who am I to offer my opinion on how other people should live? I am a total fuck up in some ways; a conventional life I have not lived. In other ways, I think I am almost too sane for my own good. I think this sanity is less of my choosing than the result of habits I formed early, like writing and reading and drawing, which built an inner room within me where I could develop into the kind of man that seemed best from the evidence at hand. This inner room is only words, though....
I know some things that I didn't know when I was a kid, and wish I did and other things I was sure of when I was a kid that I wish I still believed... but they are hardly enough to sustain a novel.
This is when I really envy people who see more than chaos breaking out at the foot of calvary. I miss the feeling of being 'chosen' by some god to something 'great,' but I have read too many people say this over the years who shouldn't have to make the words nauseating to me. The cream does not rise to the top -- accident is not design, no matter who many crystals or deity quotes you drag into the conversations.
But... If the people in the Belmont Suites were happiest were the ones who lived for love, including a love of god, then this whole series of poetry I wrote points to living for something like religion... But, I can't in good conscience be this Machiavellian, and I care more about my conscience than I care about anything else, to be honest, because if I don't, it beats me down worse than even my girly, M..
So what should I do? I am almost ready to just write some book meant merely to snag an agent and a publisher. I did some of this with the last one, but this time I could really plot the thing to death, and take out all of the wild and wooly shit that makes the work really good.... write like a lawyer, I could. Or like a horror writer, or bad science fiction . .. not that I think I am better than these writers, I just have higher expectations. These expectations mean less every day, so who knows? I could be a word whore with the right offer. Not to the extent of those black radio shit for brains who preached Bush's agenda on their shows after being paid a quarter million, but I would certainly be happy with a book that is just entertainment.
Maybe that is all that is left of novels for me? I no longer read them expecting to learn a hell of a lot; I read fiction to live other than I do, to escape into a world that makes sense. Like on that new show, Numbers, where the mathmatician worked compulsively on a math problem while his beloved mother died. I write to do the opposite, or have so far... I write to find the truth as I know it; to be a town cryer of the news and the truth and a conduit for scientific truth into the lives of potential mystics. I write to be a part of the solution.... but, part of the solution maybe is just giving people a room to rest and laugh and be refilled with an urge to live?
That is what I have needed lately, stories to make me believe there are reasons to be nobel, honorable, and to fight for what is right for all the passengers on this planet. Reading the hobbit and the other books in the series gave me so much peace this month. They may have saved my life? I was pretty intent, due to circumstances and the stupid ass move of getting off a seritonin uptake drug that sent me falling down into the darkest of dark, that it was time to just die. The thoughts surprised me a bit? There was no real reason for me to be this bummed out. The problems I was facing were ones I have beat before, and were soon enough conquered, to some degree (the degree I am capable of with self-talk, getting back on the serotnin uptake drug and starting to write again, however dull these essays on the view through the glass darkly may be for my readers.
------------------------------------------------all work here is the sole property of John Scott Ridgway, Chicago Illinois, host of the elves attic reading, every Friday night at the Big Star Cafe.