Category Archives: shards

a feminist, a stalinist & a working stiff

A Feminist, a Stalinist & a Working Stiff


It’s probably not a good sign when what’s happening to me right now won’t take place for another three weeks. But, there it is. Most people who carry on about “Living in the Now” aren’t really doing it, they’re living in a concept. “Living in the Now” is sparked by the commingling of cosmic forces with recent personal actions, and it always takes you by surprise.

This morning, for instance, coming out of a deep sleep at 5 a.m. and realizing I wouldn’t be able to drift off again. My plan had been to sleep in and then head down to the laundromat, but I wound up starting the day three hours earlier than planned.

Acceptance is the portal to the Now. I’d gone to bed bone-tired and only got four hours sleep, but I let it go. I didn’t get caught on the barbwire of I Must Be Tired. I didn’t get trapped by a routine that dictated a hot bath and a healthful breakfast before going out the door. I just slipped on some clothes, ate half a banana, and carried the laundry basket to the van.

It was dark, and everything was iced over. There was a slight wind. I started the van, and while it warmed up I began scraping ice off the windshield. Halfway through I stopped to light a cigarette and look up at the dark sky. It began sprinkling hail, and right there, standing on the street looking up at the sky with a cigarette in one hand and a scraper in the other, it happened–there was no place else I wanted to be. I was in the Now, and chronic physical pain, cold wind, hail and the closeness of death were all absorbed into that moment.

“Living in the Now” is misnomer phraseology for a permeating realization that you live in eternity, and when such a realization comes over you, you feel pleasantness. I knew it wouldn’t last, but I didn’t concentrate on that, and it lasted through the rest of the morning. Once, after a series of severely traumatic occurrences, I stayed in the zone for weeks, until one day I stubbed my toe, swore and it was over.

Now, twelve hours later, this morning’s pleasantness has been replaced by living three weeks in the future when I’ll ride a train south and with a feminist and a Stalinist, take turns reading to an audience from behind a podium. Such events have negative reference points in my past, and being in that space of expectation kick starts some pretty stormy mojo. But I’m doing my best to put into practice what I’ve learned over the years, which is nothing. Which shouldn’t be ambiguous if you’ve followed what I’ve been saying.

With a little luck I’ll step off that train into a blazing sunrise and suck the whole city of Sacramento into the aura of my winning smile.

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a well-lighted place

A Well-lighted Place


A well-lighted place. Wasn’t that the title of a Hemingway story? Are you able to write in a well-lighted place? Hemingway’s well-lighted place, if I remember right, was a nighttime cafe terrace in pre-Franco Spain, the light artificial but clean, a light to ward off the suffocating feeling of having too much bottled-up inside.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I’ve forgotten the story completely, I don’t think I even have the title right. It might have been “A Clean Well-lighted Place.” All I remember now is the mood it created in me when I read it in Cologne at an outdoor table in broad daylight, on the Ring, on an overnight pass — army days. A place to make a stand and hide out simultaneously, that’s the mood the story evoked in me, a place to turn around twice and lie down in and let it flow out of me–the stories, the poems, the novels, all of it dammed up inside like a deep brooding body of water.

What I started to say here, a few lifetimes after that day in Cologne, what I meant to say but got sidetracked by a flicker of recollection, is that if it’s in you you need to shape it and sail it on out there, you don’t have the luxury to hesitate and strike poses. You don’t even have the option. You’ve got to learn how to get it out anywhere under any conditions, like in this well-lighted restaurant I’m in right now, glaringly well-lighted, packed with people including a girl’s basketball team taking up five or six tables, wearing purple and white school sweats with San Francisco State in gold letters across the front of their jerseys, not a one of them under 5′ 10″. Did they come all this way on a bus to kick ass on the local college girls? Do they know they’re fucking with my writing space?

I forge on no matter what, and eventually what came out shaped into poems and novels, and after enough time went by, the poems and novels melted down into an uninterrupted flow, and I called it Shards, just to put a name on it. I forge on, even when it comes out like this, writing about the writing and how it got that way. I don’t falter even then, I speed up in fact and if I persist page after page I come to the place where less than 24 hours ago a very good friend closed his eyes forever and possibly passed into the cleanest of all well-lighted places, leaving behind a house crawling with paramedics and cops and hospice workers and his wife in a state of shock flushing his pharmaceuticals down the toilet and people arriving and crying out and holding her in their arms, and each time she bursts into tears all over again, until her eyes are swollen and red, and is this all life has to offer once the dancing’s done?

Life is a savage force that devours itself without consideration. We call the ultimate outcome of life’s process death.

A clean well-lighted place is where we realize the darkness to come and rush toward it.

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surviving false cheer

Surviving False Cheer


Soon it will be Winter Solstice. It’s one of my two favorite days of the year. It may have less sunlight than other days, but the day after has a bit more. It carries me thru the holidays.

My other favorite day is January 2nd. Down come the Christmas trees, out goes the false cheer. I walk out the door stronger than the average man for having survived Christmas without cracking a smile.

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sudden bursts of laughter

Sudden Bursts of Laughter


I wish I could doodle. Kenneth Patchen doodled. Bukowski and Henry Miller. Even Leonard Cohen. My friend Richard who (like Leonard Cohen) dabbles at being a Buddhist monk, doodles. Doodling and dabbling are aspects of Zen, which is trimmed down Buddhism. Full-blown Buddhism is too structured for doodling.

I shy away from full-blown Buddhism, even as Leonard Cohen finally did. It’s right there in his Book of Longing. Cohen is a doodler and a dabbler and a writer of songs. He’s a snake charmer and a poet, a lady’s man.

Here’s what Zen is: I went to the Leonard Cohen concert in Seattle with a woman who has one green eye and a blue one. Halfway through the show Cohen did his standard “introduce the band” routine, but in a very stylish manner. He sang their praises and then bowed (like a Buddhist monk), and the musicians bowed back. While Cohen and the bass player were bowing to each other, the bass player glanced up to see if Leonard was thru bowing yet, then looked quickly back down when he saw he wasn’t. My lady with one green eye and one blue eye laughed with delight.

No one else in that sold-out auditorium laughed.

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vindicated in the blood of the lamb

Vindicated in the Blood of the Lamb


He felt a strong need to be vindicated. Then to be syndicated. On the first show of Blood of the Lamb he stood stage-center in his bathing suit and had buckets of lamb’s blood poured over him by a stage hand from up on the catwalk. “Be washed in the blood of the lamb and be vindicated!” he cried out, and ushers went up and down the aisles passing out small vials of wash-out red dye. The plant in the first row sprang to her feet and cried out, “Oh, save me, lamb of heaven! Let me be vindicated!” Then, popping the cork out of her vial, she poured the dye down her face.

A handful of nervous women capitulated immediately, rose to their feet moaning and splashed themselves in dye. Then peer pressure set in and others got to their feet and poured dye over themselves.

What choice did they have? They were live on FOX TV and the whole country was watching.

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visiting with oliver stone

Visiting with Oliver Stone


Oliver Stone pulled up to the curb in front of my house at three in the morning in a limo facing the wrong way into traffic. He wasn’t driving, a middle-age Asian was driving, wearing a leather jacket and a chauffeur’s cap. He didn’t come to the door either, someone sitting next to the chauffeur did–young, dapper and wearing a suit and tie.

I don’t know how long he knocked. I sleep the sleep of the dead after a hard day’s work, but eventually the knocking got thru to me and I went up on one elbow and fingered apart the blind slats over the window by my bed. I slipped the Tokarev out from under the pillow (an old habit) and padded barefoot to the front door, pulling my robe around me.

“Yes?” I said thru the door.

“Mr. Bennett?” said the dapper young man on the porch.

“Can I help you?” I said.

“Mr. Bennett, Mr. Stone would like to speak with you, if it’s convenient.”

I opened the door and followed him across the frosted grass. He opened the back door of the limo, and I slipped inside.

Stone was smoking a cigarette and holding a glass with ice cubes and Scotch in it. There was no light inside the limo except what filtered thru the tinted windows from the streetlight on the corner. Riders on the Storm was playing low over a P.A. system.

“I’m doing Winslow’s book,” said Stone. “You probably already know that.”

“I read something somewhere,” I said.

“Scotch?” said Stone.

“I don’t drink,” I said.

“Cigarette? Imported Turkish.”

“I roll my own.”

“Some reefer?”

“Tempting, but I dropped that too somewhere along the line.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Stone. “How about a $300 Cuban cigar?”

“Okay,” I said, and the dapper man up front pulled two Cubans from a silver case and handed them back over his shoulder.

“Thank you Edward,” said Stone. “And Edward, I’m going to ask for a little privacy now.”

There was a whirring sound, and a glass panel slid out from behind the chauffeur and sealed us off.

“I got your book,” said Stone. “It’s good, but thirty years behind the times. That’s sudden death in today’s market. If I’d made a movie out of Bodo like I almost did when you sent it down back in 94, and if it had gone big, and if Winslow hadn’t come along with Savages at the same time you sent me Children of the Sun & Earth, well, that would have been a different story. Given the way you resurrected the character of Bodo in Children, it would have had sequel value. But that’s not how it went down. That’s as Zen as it gets–you don’t get a movie, you don’t get rich and famous, and you keep coasting along in obscurity writing Shards. Which, by the way, I enjoy reading.”

We sat there puffing on our Cubans in the dark.

“Beautiful,” Stone said. “You’re not going to try to work me. That’s why I drove over the pass from Seattle before flying back to L.A. To see if I was right, if my intuition was on.”

“I’m not down-hearted,” I said.

“Mose Allison,” said Stone. “That’s a Mose Allison line.”

“Yes it is,” I said.

“Look,” Stone said. “I want you to have something.” He held out an envelope. “This will get you into the premiere of Savages once the movie’s made. Front row seat, right up there with me and Winslow and whoever the leading roles turn out to be. It might open a door for you, you never can tell.”

I didn’t take the envelope.

“I’ll catch it when it comes to town,” I said, and got out of the limo. I went back in the house, and the limo pulled away from the curb before the front door closed behind me.

I took the Tokarev pistol out of my robe pocket and put it back under the pillow. It never crossed Stone’s mind that I was packing.

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