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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

FINDING LEO TOLSTOY


 

henry miller
 
Driving home from seeing the race Sunday, the history of my life as an employee came forward and I followed a thread that runs through all the work life that started a long time before I started working for pay. It started in childhood seeing daddy laid off during Eisenhower recessions, and during union strikes. He worked for GM in Kansas City as a "ding man," he smoothed the bumps on car bodies in the assembly line. Every recession, every strike he found whatever work he could, driving a milk truck, this and that, awful jobs that paid little and frustrated him along with everybody in the house. The guy he worked for driving the milk truck loaned him money to buy a used 51 Oldsmobile, a beautiful car, yellow and white, and repoed it when daddy couldn't keep up with the payments. That really was a frustration. Next was a big Nash tank that had a similar "modernistic" body style. It was parked in the street in front of the house one night during a storm, an electric wire fell onto the car and toasted it. I swore to myself for the rest of my life that I will never work for a big corporation. I set as my life purpose to only work for individuals or very small businesses. This meant a lifetime of minimum wage inspiring me to determine that I will always live on very little. I must learn frugality. It's not that frugal is in my nature, so I taught self over a long period of years. A guideline I carry in my head from artist Marcel Duchamp, "It's not what you earn ; it's what you spend." I've learned along the way that desires are expensive, wanting is expensive. I've trimmed my desire for a new black Ferrari down to wanting what I have, a 93 Buick Century that runs perfectly with a classic motor that doesn't even burn oil 21 years later. Things go wrong, I take it to the mechanic over something rusted away almost regularly. That's ok. It's better than payments. It helps keep a man working for a living in his own business at home where he wants to live, and each repair improves the car. Win-win. I drive on the interstate and see thousands of new cars with the unconscious thought: everybody has a  new car but me, weep weep. Next thought: everybody is making payments but me, tee hee.
 
alberto giacometti
 
Even though the Kansas Fundamentalist church I lived in throughout childhood filled the child's mind with so much contradiction and general obvious falsehood called dogma, I did get a spiritual education. It took fifteen years to reason it all out of my head. I had to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It took fifteen years to find the baby. I've spent my life reasoning away the nonsense. What I found fifteen years later was I had actually exempted the words of Jesus from everything else I'd thrown out, because they bore out. As was said of him in his day, he spoke with authority. He knew what he was saying. It wasn't just that he was smart; he was way beyond smart, in another league. I didn't know I was testing what he'd said, holding it up to the light of experience, but the whole process ran its course and left me with the words of Jesus. I don't' recall a time I did not question in child's mind why the preacher was always talking about Jesus and love, but nobody in the church liked anybody else in the church. And they sure didn't like anybody outside the church. I asked somebody once about love your neighbor and was told it has a spiritual meaning that doesn't apply to this earth. I thought: What? And left it there. All the kid's real questions were passed off with equally vacant knee-jerk nothingisms to the point I quit asking adults anything that mattered. The people in the church didn't get it. The people outside the church didn't get it. Teachers didn't get it. Parents of friends didn't get it. Parents didn't get it. If we're bowing down to Jesus to pray, and avoid each other, and control each other, what's the use of going to church or bowing down to Jesus if you aren't going to get your heads and hearts out of the Old Testament? The moment I left parents' house I ran as fast as Usain Bolt from church mind. It was slow in receding. I find that in the subconscious I carry a moral code for my life: always do work that benefits humanity, not takes away. I saw GM and the other mass corporations taking from us, depleting us, spoiling our planet of its minerals and gold so a few can live in uber-luxury and the many can work for the very least allowable by law, and that struggled for by labor unions. 
 
alberto giacometti
 
A friend told me about a job opening at a shoe store. He got the name of the store wrong, but I didn't know it. I went where he told me and they, too, had an opening. I felt like shoes are a necessary item for us in civilization. Selling shoes gives rather than takes away. I wanted to experience face-to-face with strangers, people I'd never seen before all day every day. I was the shyest kid in school all the way along. I was shy of everything and everybody. I wanted to learn to speak freely with people I did not know as with people I knew. It made a difference; I look back in gratitude to the man who gave me the job in good faith that a kid just out of high school could do the job. It was a great learning at the beginning of my life. From there on, I could enter the world "out there," anywhere, a passport. The high school graduate was in a state of confusion that could have broke-out of a straightjacket like the Hulk. All kinds of shit that happens to the ignorant jumped on me like fleas on a stray dog. I jumped in a bucket of shit way up over the top of my head and did like the frog dropped into boiling water, got outta that shit right now. Thank you, God, for the US Navy. It rescued the clueless kid of my tailspin life for two years. I hated it for that. But, it took me out of my life at a time an escape hatch was necessary. I went into it knowing I needed an education. The reason I wasn't able to get going with advanced education was I could not read with comprehension. I used every minute of free time reading, remembered the titles of the books taught in Senior English, a class I didn't dare take. It involved a lot of reading I couldn't handle. The day before leaving for the airport to go away for two years, a few years after high school, a kid, a senior in high school, a friend of somebody I knew, handed me a copy of Albert Camus' The Stranger to read on the plane. By this time in the life I can see that kid as an angel unawares. One of many I suddenly see, now that I've noticed the pattern. I don't know his name, couldn't pick him out in a lineup.
 
alberto giacometti
 
The Navy was good practice in doing what I did not want to do. Going by my anti-authoritarian interpretation, it was not to the good of humanity. It was to the worst. I had a hard time committing to a role in a death machine. Couldn't do it; never advanced, never took it seriously, only wanted to read. Every port we stopped, up and down the East Coast and the southern Europe, northern side of the Mediterranean, the others looked for bars, I looked for bookstores. The very last thing in the world I wanted was to be carried back onto the ship. I wanted peace, not mayhem. Found Henry Miller's Colossus of Maroussi in Athens, Greece, 1963, so glad now I wrote the place and date in it. Colossus, like The Stranger, was one of the great books of my life, great in that they spoke to my soul like Ralph Stanley's music. Like Camus, Miller woke me up a step further. I'd read a fair amount in those two years, mostly French Existentialists, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone deBeauvoir, Camus, French underground resistance fiction and plays I felt at home in, resistance the key word. Even crawled my way through Heidegger, even getting some of it, a spot here and there, but followed it. His appearance was toward the end, a kind of graduation test given self upon entering the college phase of  my new life making my own decisions. Again, an angel unawares had confidence I could work in his bookstore. The years in the bookstore, side-by-side, interwoven with the years in school educated a major dummkopf to satisfaction of what I wanted from college, a further understanding of how to get along in this world. Every summer I dove into a stack of books. In the summer I read way beyond what we were reading in school. Like Great Gatsby didn't impress me at all, still doesn't. Even movies of it don't. It was good writing. There is a lot of good writing. A whole lot that I Iike better, like Patrick White, Tolstoy and a great long list. I read War and Peace while school was going on. Couldn't stop. He held me like Stephen King holds his readers. Once I found Tolstoy, this was what I was looking for. Have read several biographies, one by a daughter, one by a son. In this house I can actually put my hands on two volumes of his letters. Henri Troyat's biography brought Leo to life. Why am I not reading Tolstoy now? I'm reading Henry Miller now. Like when reading Tolstoy or Patrick White, Naguib Mahfouz, I don't want to read anything else until I feel like a change. These four are people who illustrate an interpretation of great minds. They were benefits to humanity in their time, and in all time, like Sophocles and Harold Pinter. Nelson Mandela comes to mind.
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alberto giacometti
 
 
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