I don't do many things well. In fact I am mediocre at a number of tasks, though I was told once that I drive really well in reverse. What makes this more pathetic than it might initially sound (as if it doesn't sound pathetic as is) is the person was attempting to delineate the things that I did really well, beginning the list with the above gem and unfortunately ending the list quickly thereafter. So, I am great driver in reverse, there are worse things to...be...good...at, I guess. Humility is something I that I think I am good at, you know, that polite sort of humility that really isn't humility at all but just a general self-effacement intimated to engender a sympathetic response. One thing I am genuinely and authentically humble about is writing. There are many, many, outstanding writers in the world-past, present, and no doubt future-some of them wildly successful and some, unpublished.
Most writers, writers in particular, are generally a humble bunch. Tormented by a language that never serves their emotive or literary purposes, they learn to respect the craft of writing and appreciate the difficulty in producing anything of note. Those artists however, they are an arrogant/tortured group of bastards, look what I can do, I can draw a circle freehand, give me the commission to build your Church. Therefore to meet or even hear about a genuinely arrogant writer is usually an interesting story, since 1) it is pretty rare 2) it is usually humorous, since their arrogance more often than not is genuinely unfounded. One such character is Edward Dahlberg. He believed in the humiliation that is writing, but because of his abrasive individualistic attitude, developed a distaste for the professional community of writers. He was in 1968, listed as one of the ten most neglected writers in the United States. Jonathan Lethem, in the title essay to one of his works, The Disappointment Artist, discusses the bitter existence of Mr. Dahlberg and his Aunt Billie's unfortunate run-in with the man. A recently graduated friend of mine introduced me to this writer and his work, and he happened to pick up a copy of his autobiography, Because I Was Flesh.
There is no better way for me to explain his writing style than to just show you and have you judge for yourselves. If you are intrigued by this passage, and become interested in reading the autobiography-let me suggest that you bring a dictionary, a Bible, and a primer on the last 500 years of Western Culture-just a suggestion.
In this brief passage he is describing the book he is currently writing:
This book is a burden of Tyre in my soul. It is a song of the skin; for I was born incontinent. Everything has been created out of lust, and He who made us lusts no less than flesh, for God and Nature are young and seminal, and rage all day long. I shall sing as Tyre, according to the Prophet Isaiah, like a harlot, and for seventy years.
Pretty freaking intense, eh? Gravely moral, he is writing sub specie aeternitatis maniacally driven by the pressing weight of his own disappointment. The novel proceeds through his life much in this fashion, exasperating. Though it was a truly worthwhile read, and I gained much from it, the oppressively recondite passages demanding your submission were just too much at times. Dahlberg was a courageous, emboldened writer unafraid of being not understood, despite his deeply wounded psyche, he was not scared of the reading public and their quotidian demands.
This same friend who introduced me to the oeuvre of Dahlberg, showed me a website in which registered members could upload their poetry and have it searched by others. One word: Exasperating. A few more, simplistic, not just simplistic-they exhibited all the mastery of such emotionally complex issues as love, loss, and death as possessed by an elementary school boy. Moreover, versification, rhyme scheme, or rhythm were not terms familiar to these individuals. Perhaps, many of these individuals were in fact elementary school boys and girls, but having looked up a few of our colleagues who we knew to be on this site...sub-par. Poetry is a notoriously difficult literary form to make sound good, or original, or even authentic. Most of the poetry on that site suffered from stifling Harold-Bloomesque influence and horrible diction.
Though there are a number of great writers, many of whom are unpublished there are some authors who manage to get published that, well, one wonders who they had to drug, or sleep with in order to get this through the publishing house unnoticed. One example of such work is a poem I happened to read by Cin Salach. Yeah, that is her name-not protecting the guilty, that is her name. Sexy, kinda! I am unsure why or how I ran into this "poet," but again, Exasperation. I decided to write my previously mentioned friend an e-mail expressing my indignation at this Ms. Salach. Serving this in reheated form, the subsequent e-mail, in my defense, it was written fairly late at night after a long day of which I am a little proud, (by a little I mean a whole lot but again, that whole polite humility thing) by the way I apologize for the cursing but it is a spice in the dish of exasperation which adds a lovely flavor:
The purpose of my filling your inbox today with a message which barely passes as legitimate and which should not be sent to the Junk E-mail folder is a bit of a reminder of a distant episode (queue iconic harp-music indicative of a flashback) when you had introduced me to that website with a lot of really bad poetry. I was recently online, a scant few minutes before sending you this memorandum, and I had run across an Amazon.com “So you want to be…” whose appositional conclusion was “pretentious.” One of the works listed that trained one for the wide-world of pretentious pseudo-intellectual adult male cow feces, was a book of poetry by a Cin Salach called, Looking for a Soft Place to Land. Bad. Very Bad. I suggest you check it out and be encouraged by the fact that despite the saccharine simplicity of this woman’s poesy that she has somehow managed to get published, my only conjecture as to how this could have possibly occurred is that it might have something to do with her bitchin’ name Cin Salach. Perhaps you should change your name to something equally as retro-futuristic with just that hint of medieval Welch or Celtic. Spicy.
To leave you with an epic line from the oeuvre of Ms. Salach, "It is the language of words, and it is unlike anything I have heard with my fingers" now I will give her the benefit of the doubt on this one and suggest that she is either blind and deaf or referring to someone who is so-but that given that concession, YOU CAN’T FREAKIN’ HEAR WITH YOUR FINGERS (this capitalization in case you are unfamiliar with any of my particular idiosyncrasies, means that I am exasperated and serious, but mostly just exasperated). Also, let me suggest that there is something insipidly moronic about the phrase “language of words,” as opposed to what exactly…a language of éclairs. Moreover this Braille-fetished douchebag has apparently heard other things besides a language of words with her fingers; it is just this singularly unique and perhaps even fucking transcendent language of words which is so uncanny in its ability to carry sound THROUGH HER FINGERS (still exasperated). Perhaps if she used her ears, she would recognize that her poetry of words (because that’s how we use words, language, get into it!) sounds like cat urine smells, which by the way if you haven’t had a recent opportunity to smell cat urine, and consider yourself cosmically luckily in that case, cat urine smells bad, like the sulfurous clogged toilets of hell bad. Yeah, no good, no good at all.
So how are you and the kids? Misses doing well? How’s that new job in Duluth treating you? Banging the secretary yet, huh tiger?
P.S. I am tired, and papers do not write themselves. Stupid fucking papers.
Again, I don't do many things particularly well, and I wish I was better at a few things mainly: dealing with women, thesis writing and Guitar Hero II. But I've got driving in reverse, and indignant exasperation, but probably not humility after all.