I read Joan Didion whenever I get stuck in the goo that seems to clog the brain. I love reading Didion as she goes through a drawer in her old bedroom and offers clues to a world lost from conscious memory—a bathing suit worn when she was seventeen, a letter of rejection from The Nation, three teacups hand-painted—there is no final solution to the items, she writes. We are sucked in, however, to these clues, to a world where some kind of hope still clings. Didion offers herself as a sane voice in the midst of a crumbling culture, and we tend to believe her. Or I do. But the crumbling world, the vandalized cemetery, the pregnant underage bride at a Las Vegas wedding—her father making jokes with his son-in-law about the “wedding night”—who tells her mother it was everything she hoped it would be, the pretty girl on crystal taking off her clothes in an “amateur-topless” contest with no particular sense of moment, serves as the foil for Didion’s sanity.
It’s a common pose, common because it works. The world is bat shit crazy, and the author offers a few sentences that seems to make sense of it, as if the world may be crazy but you and I see it for what it is. As if seeing it for what it is makes us not crazy.
We settle into our coffee, sitting at a table at Mozart’s or Central Market in Austin, Texas, and talk about romantic and existential philosophy, about boot camp in the late 1960s, about the war that never ends, about the last time each of us saw a certain woman who captivated both our hearts. She was so damned smart, smart being beautiful. And we both know that it is the talk that makes it true and beautiful and good. We seek shelter there.
I sip my coffee. It has grown cold. I pour a fresh cup. I take a breath—single breath meditation.
Switch the music from meditative binaural sounds to dance and sweat. You know the moves. I get up and dance, loosen the tight muscles, shake it out… I’ve eaten a quarter watermelon so my stomach jiggles. I sit down and set Didion aside for now. In the coffee shop of memory, I listen to the surrounding conversations, or the tone and rhythm of the voices. No crazy rants about illegals immigrants, just the smooth rhythmic noises of people in concert or accord. The world may be mad, but a good segment of it isn’t.
I’ve been reading a Dwight Gray manuscript lately. His poems are sane and clear. Each poem asks you to reconsider your held assumptions. That’s what poems do.
Outside my window, because of the recent Harvey rains, the grass and weeds that make up my yard beg for attention. Something about the need for cut lawns in America. I load the washer.
It’s Friday. I miss my old job mostly on Fridays. That was the day the department, or some of us, went to the campus cafeteria and ate lunch together. Jonathan who ate skimpy calorie frozen meals for lunch during the week would load up on Fridays, eating at least two whole plates of meats and vegetables then topping it off with a stack of waffles. The dinning room was loud with student conversations, the pitch and rhythm different from ours. Their world was no longer our world, but it was at one time. We didn’t want it back, but it was comforting, at least for me, to hear it, to be surrounded by it, at least for an hour on Friday.