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Saturday, August 18, 2012

THE OUTSIDER

     rb kitaj


It's a new moon in Leo. This evening I saw Roman Polanski's TESS, starring Natassia Kinski, who was then Polanski's wife, daughter of German actor Klaus Kinski. It was a good Thomas Hardy story. I think he has the name the First Modern novelist, something like that. I think I had to answer a test question on why he was the "first modern" novelist. It's been so long ago, I forget. Yet, watching the film, made by most modern Roman Polanski, he brought out the mind of Thomas Hardy. A story about a young woman who makes up her own mind was possibly on the borderline of scandalous in its time and place. Like Tom Wolfe's I Am Charolotte Simmons was not enjoyed by people of Charlotte's home town because it was so vulgar, so modern. Younger people see it as how things are and the older people see it in shock. Part of that shock has to do with a certain smugness that comes with getting older. I make conscious efforts to avoid that old age way of looking down on the young as completely out of control, uninformed criminals. I see it in my peers and I want to smack them. I want to say, You know better than to act like that!


In college, everybody I knew swore they wouldn't be anything like their parents. At a 30 yr class reunion, I saw they all became clones of their parents. I came from a different climate, and a summer night in Charleston, even in a seersucker jacket, was boiling hell. I'd sworn off cocktail parties when I left Charleston, and this class reunion was a giant cocktail party full of people I didn't know, people I'd forgotten, people who had forgotten me, and like usual, I'm at the bottom of the hierarchical ladder. Judges and lawyers galore and doctors, lots of doctors. Me? I didn't even have a career. Painted houses in the mountains for relatively very little, have spent the second half of my life rurally where katydids, crickets and tree frogs sing after dark. I had jumped out of the career oriented frying pan before the heat was turned on. It wasn't my way of life. In childhood I knew I did not want to be a social climber and did not want to marry one. In childhood I decided not to live chasing the dollar except as necessity, like for keeping expenses paid up. Money has never been worth to me what it takes to get it. When I finish a painting and sell it, the money in return is like nothing at all, like I gave the painting away for scraps of paper. What do I do with the money? Pay bills. How boring.


At the 30th reunion I stood around and my clothes were soaked with sweat. I was constantly drinking water, acting like it was a "drink," to keep myself hydrated. The sweat popped out all over. Nobody else was sweating like I was. They were living in the lowcountry and were acclimatized to the heat. I used to be, but no longer. I couldn't have felt more out of place if everybody spoke a foreign language. I didn't even want to be there, but went out of curiosity, not believing I'd be as bored as I foresaw. It was worse. I didn't want to be like them and they saw it. They belonged to country clubs and had a lifetime of cocktail party experience, knew how to talk and hold interest, how to sound important. I just wanted to be back on my mountain with my dog, not posing, not sounding erudite, not climbing. I never wanted any of that. Of course, as a child I lived what I'd been taught and wanted the rewards of the climb, like impressive house and impressive car. Impressive the key word. When I came to the place of finding out what it took to have impressive things, I wasn't willing to dive into total commitment to pursuing money. No corporation tells me I have to be married with 2.3 children, 2.7 new cars and live in a suburb where the houses "are all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same."


I'm disposed to want to tell you something impressive about why I came to the mountains, but it was just a matter of self-healing, getting myself among trees in a semi-wilderness world where the human spirit feels comfortable. We are, after all, the hairless ape. There is no missing link. If there is, we're it. We don't thump our chests like gorillas, but we do look down our noses conspicuously. We drive expensive cars instead of swinging through trees on grapevines. In some ways it can be said we're advanced. In other ways it can be said we're retarded. We have a lot of machines. Buying and selling machines is a great part of the economy. Golf carts, electric razors, televisions, vehicles, cameras, tractors, chainsaws, and a list so long it appears there is no end to it. We're retarded in that we don't know how to live among ourselves as a species. We're operating on patterns carried down through animal ways from way, way back. In human form we have ourselves to civilize the best we can, home-schooling where the student is the teacher too. The school of trial and error experience. I've never wanted to be the one running on a rat race treadmill. I'm the sort that if I'm staying in place running, I'll get off the treadmill and stay in place standing still.


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