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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HOW I DID NOT BECOME A MILLIONAIRE

salvador dali

Henry Miller has been in my mind all day today. I looked at the spines of his books on the shelves, felt drawn to them like they were magnets pulling my mind. I was looking for Colossus of Maroussi, a small Penguin paperback I bought in Athens, April 18, 1965. For some reason that I'm glad of now, I wrote the date on the title page. A few years before, I'd bought book club editions of the Grove Press Tropics. Soon after high school I was reading the paperback of Tropic of Capricorn a friend gave me after he'd read it. Neither of my parents ever exhibited curiosity about anything in a book, except the Bible, "the ONLY book," whatever that means. I left Tropic of Capricorn in the living room one day assuming nobody would touch it for the book cooties. Of course, daddy picked it up and it happened to fall open in his hand to the page I looked at over and over, and he asked where I got it. I said I borrowed it from a friend, was told to give it back. I put it in the glove compartment of my car and read it in parking lots, my introduction to Henry Miller. It was in the time I was discovering Jack Kerouac, On the Road, Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues. Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, A Coney Island of the Mind. Joan Baez, beatniks in NY, Bob Dylan. Also reading novels in paperback from drugstore racks movies were made from, A Summer Place, The L-Shaped Room, Peyton Place, Ben Hur, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the crazy Betty Davis and Joan Crawford thriller. I read the book to try to figure out what was going on in the end of the movie. Started taking an interest in movies a step beyond movies I was used to, out there beyond my grasp. La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini was the first film to knock my sox off. I didn't feel like I got any of it, would not have done well on a test about it, but I was pushing my way through, learning by practicing. First thing learned after high school, I needed to be able to read with comprehension if I wanted to go to college. First apartment, I stayed home and read as much as possible, wanted everybody to leave me alone.
 
salvador dali
 
I did not want peer pressure, parental pressure, church pressure, think about a career pressure. Nor did I want to look for a way into adult life with adult concerns, money and sex, jump in and find a job to cover expenses. I never wanted to join the hierarchy. I went into adult life knowing only what I did not want to do. I felt ambition, but for nothing. It was just a feeling. I disliked competition. I did my best work at anything where competition was not an issue. I wanted to follow my own light, but my light didn't lead me to anything that would pay the rent. My light pursued reading that paid nothing at all. So I had to work. Work drained the art spirit. I kept work going and read, letting art expression go. During college time, I read more interesting books through the summer than through the school year. Always had a stack waiting for summer. I have followed my own light through adult life, learning history, sociology, habitually self-educating, reading with some comprehension and loving it, reading writers who informed me, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, Henry Miller, people who thought about things and wrote their thoughts. In the beginning, I did not know what was "good," so I read more or less by trial and error, looking for what I got the most from. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti were good introductions to poetry and to reading. They wrote in present day language I understood, and from contemporary mind, which I was a part of by mere existence. They spoke to my rebel spirit, encouraged my inclination to nonconformity, and they articulated American life the television glossed over and ignored. For personal appearance, I chose the look that makes it possible to have a job, a haircut, because I needed the money to get by on. I wanted long hair and to wear Indian kurtas. I wanted to lay about with headphones on listening to Led Zeppelin stoned, but had to work, had to go to school, had to study. My parents did not support me, so I had to give the appearance of conformity to maintain existence.

salvador dali
 
I already knew how to go my own way under the camouflage of clothes that identified me with the world that looked to the ruling class for guidance, instead of looking to beatniks. Ginsberg and Kerouac influenced my first thinking out in the world on my own. Can't leave out Henry David Thoreau, a powerful teacher. I wanted to play bongos and hang at Manhattan coffee shops where Doc Watson and Bob Dylan played. A kid who had nothing about him that could be mistaken for cool connected with the beatnik idea of the cool, and felt cool reading books identified cool. In the late Fifties and into the Sixties cool was very important. To some. A very small percentage. Everybody else kept with the as-seen-on-tv look. I wanted to be a bohemian writer in NYC, a part of the cool scene, uber-cool by association. I didn't want to live like a street bum to be cool, needed to make a living, and was not in NYC. I pretended not to be a rebel at work and in the social life. Had plenty of practice pretending in my life before, with parents. I kept everything about myself a secret from them. The kid was told so many times they were not interested in anything the kid had to say that I finally got it. From then on, the kid went inward on the trail to schizophrenia, but found a way to reverse direction in time. Years before, I had already shut my heart down to them in self-preservation. It took a lot of years to get the heart re-activated. It was in the time, age 17, when mind and heart were both about to blow a gasket, Allen Ginsberg spoke his own paen, HOWL, to my pain. Though I later came to regard Ginsberg the Mr Rogers of poetry, while he was playing that role for me in my subconscious he turned me on to poetry. Just out of the Navy and just into first semester at College of Charleston, I bought the Selected Poems of Robinson Jeffers in a paperback. Thought I'd read a few poems before sleep one night, and never put the book down all night. Read every poem in it multiple times, could not stop. I loved Jeffers' writing, something I'd never seen before, the art in poetry elevated several notches. Loved where his mind was coming from and what he did with it. At the same time, I discovered Salvador Dali and Abstract Expressionism.

salvador dali

These were the doorways that opened the world of art to me mid 20s. Before, I'd only been exposed to Norman Rockwell and Remington as art. I didn't want to go to medical school to study anatomy to be an artist. When I stepped through the doorway to the art world, I went alone, alone in a culture, American television culture that only dealt in the obvious, and dismissed art along with reading, doesn't pay, a waste of time. During and after the McCarthy period, anything incomprehensible to the average television viewer was suspect of subversion, of being labeled with the Scarlet C: communist. Rock n roll was called communist, beatniks were communist, abstract art was communist. Daddy told me when I was 14, "If you ever join the communist party, I'll kill you." Suddenly, I wanted to be a communist. Did not know how to look for communists to join me up. Never found any. As soon as I was out of high school I started a wider search for communists and still couldn't find any. I wanted to be a card-carrying member of the communist party, didn't know anything about it except how to spell Khrushchev. In college I took a course in Soviet History that cured me of wanting to be a commie red pinko. I was disposed to like Stalin, he was Mr Red, himself, the Red Menace, but saw he was a tyrant, who treated his own people worse than the enemy. Lenin I took for just as bad. If Stalin had not had Trotsky killed, Trotsky would have been just like them. Nonetheless, it was an educational search. Communism didn't work, same as capitalism didn't work. Both created a lot of miserable people, a lot of dead people, and a lot of privileged people. I did not want anything to do with any of it, did not want to be another brick in the wall, did not want to give my energy to build and maintain the Death Star, the American Empire. I was not a boy who wanted to grow up to wear a uniform and obey authority. Did not want to be a hippie, either. Just wanted to hunker down out of sight with a book and let the war machine fly overhead. As a non-conformist, I'm no more than the cow in the herd that stays off to itself.    

salvador dali, himself
 
 
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1 comment:

  1. Good read this morning Tj...gives a lot of insight into what made the man called Tj Worthington...We have so much in common with our parents attitude towards us...though mine were too buy fighting to notice what I was doing...once when staying at my grandparents home in Oregon which I did a lot, I was sitting on the front porch with a paperback book hid in an open school book so I could read it without my grandfather noticing it...well, needless to say I got caught and he took the book from me...I never got to finish reading it and to this day have not finished it...It was "God's Little Acre"...I love Henry Miller books and Dali art ...would love to go to the Dali art museum here in Tampa but the price has kept me away...Enjoyed the blog this morning and will be re reading it later today

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