Saturday, September 1, 2012

Writ in water

Even after all these years, I feel that way when I publish a piece of writing online. Oh, it looks real enough, but when I turn away from the screen and back to my workroom full of books, some of them hundreds of years old, I swear I can hear the beating of wings.

Back home, my great-grandparents’ barn was a cathedral of light and sense and sound. I’ll never forget, as a child looking up, the fleeing of pigeons into the sunlight through holes in the roof. Little did I know, the living image of that experience would come to symbolize an act I’d repeat thousands of times as I commit poem after poem, note after note, story after story, to a world I can imagine and magically traverse, and even love, but never really see — except that I do see it, because this electronic experiment is but another facet of ourselves, our activity and yearning in another dimension.

I do not know what will become of the work I publish online. I do not know what will become of the books I have published. I do not expect ever to know. I do not try to know. I am too busy listening, and then rising to answer the call.

Do you know? Not about mine, but about your own. Do you worry? Do you care? Or do you simply let it go?

Each time I ask myself when I became a writer, I give a different answer. I was writing notes to myself and hiding them when I was ten. Once on the farm, when I was twelve, I wrote something on a small piece of scrap paper, and then tore it up and buried it. I remember it so clearly that, if it were possible for us to go there, I could show you exactly where to dig. And it would still be there. And I would be embarrassed by what it says.

When I was fifteen, I wrote a poem for my father that made him cry — my father, strong as a bull, more than two hundred pounds with hairy chest and arms, fierce, good, honest, and a proud descendant of the heroes of yore. What did that moment do to us? I have been trying to understand it ever since.

And where is that piece of writing? Like him, gone, gone, gone.

Here, too.


erin said...

i don't know if you are interested in the music of phillip glass but there was an interesting interview with him lately with jian ghomeshi, a canadian iconic young, hip journalist. (heard here: jian asked phillip glass about his legacy near the end of the interview and seemed to want to take phillip's answer in a particular direction but phillip glass resisted, not in any real and active resistance, but because the truth of his journey had little to do with legacy. legacy would determine itself and had nothing to do with the organic genesis of the work itself.

how to be authentic and organic in our journeys, isn't this what it is about, to learn from the self about the world surrounding us? we start inside the self, even when we are determined to shed the self. to start with the end result, legacy, i'm afraid too much opportunity would be overlooked, lost. we come to terms with our mortality - this is our life, our learning to die, and from this our art is born. we must be prepared to die, all of us, and by this i mean every one of us, yes, but all aspects of us as well, including our art. if we create anything enduring, that is for someone else to determine.

again and always, william, your writing speaks to me and somehow cleanses me. perhaps you will survive as a way for us all to cleanse our dirty (and beautiful) human spirits.

i think i'm ready to read your novel now:) if only i can find it. we have moved and so much remains sprouting hairs out of boxes. i will set to searching for it soon.


William Michaelian said...

Don’t worry, Erin — when you least expect it, the book will find you.

It’s true, meanwhile, that being wholly present at our death is a worthwhile goal, when nature and circumstance permit — which tells us, too, this life is every bit as much about learning to live as it is learning to die. Even more so, learning that life and death are one and inseparable, just as we are one and inseparable, despite the illusion otherwise, and the desperate notion of our individuality. As if we have always been, and always will be, human only — as if it were not every bit as much a piece of good fortune to be here in the form of a leaf, a fish, or a rock.

Ultimately, our “how to be” runs directly parallel to our willingness “not to be,” in the sense that each burden we set aside (including the precious idea of our self) leaves us freer to see.

Ed Baker said...

nice replies/reactions
Erin & Bill

me-thinks that this body is just a vessel or vehicle
that (temporarily) takes my (unknowable) self around

also my thinking;

when one gets to the end of the trail
instead of turning around just go
straight ahead (in any direction) and make a new
(your own) trail

no past. no future. just this now
every thing else depends upon this

what was that great line?

"do not ask 'what is it?'
just go and make your visit."

Joseph Hutchison said...

For me, as I suppose for you, writing is a way of being in the world. A habit of being, to borrow Flannery O'Connor's term. Like a daily morning walk. Sure, there are good health reasons—elevate that heart rate, keep the lungs pink and active, work the cranky joints—but that's not why the walk is important. There's the beauty of it before everything, and the pleasure of noticing things in that not-self reality that surely has its own habits of being, from deer flies and dung beetles to larks and stippled trout that swim. None of it lasts, of course, and none of it matters less for not lasting. Same thing with writing, it seems to me. Would I like to write something that someone finds profit in reading 2000 years from now, as we do in reading Ovid or Homer? Sure. But the possibility never crosses my mind. What good would it do me, having long been returned to the elements? All I can do is make my makings as good as I can make them, for the pure, eccentric pleasure of it.

William Michaelian said...

Thanks Ed. Thanks, Joe. Speaking of cranky joints, my creaking neck is getting a workout this morning nodding in tune to such fine input. Wonderful music on a quiet Sunday morning. I take a deep breath, inhale who knows how much microscopic fiber from these old tomes of mine, and think, Why not live forever? — that way I can go on reading and writing and see how it all shakes out — when, from a dusty corner, someone laughs and clears his throat. Homer, damn you, get back in your book.

Jim Murdoch said...

I was talking about this only recently, William. Actually I was talking about house clearings. One of the things that served as the inspiration for my last novel, Left, was thinking about my daughter coming into this very flat in twenty or thirty years’ time and there being no me, merely the things I’d left and what would they say about me? I look at the print of the cow’s head on the wall and it has meaning for me. I remember the trip to Oban and how my wife fell in love with it. I remember carting it back on the train. When we die all of that will be lost. My books and poems will not. She will save them, sentimental thing that she is, and they will sit around in her flat or in her garage gathering dust for another twenty-odd years and then someone else, some stranger (possibly her half brother or sister who are strangers to me) will determine their fate since she has no children of her own. Before I die I intend to make sure that all my books have been converted to ebooks and are online and free to download on a site like Amazon which will last forever. That’s a close as I’ll ever get to immortality. I am not worried about being remembered as much as it bothers me that my writing might be forgotten. I am not especially memorable. Some of the things I have written are and I’ve always felt pity for those Greek philosophers of old whose entire life’s work has been reduced to two or three lines in some book of quotes. I wonder what my two or three lines might be.

erin said...

Nothing retains its form; new shapes from old.
Nature, the great inventor, ceaselessly
contrives. In all creation, be assured,
there is no death—no death, but only change
and innovation; what we people call birth
is but a different new beginning; death
is but to cease to be the same. Perhaps
this may have moved to that and that to this,
yet still the sum of things remains the same.

Ovid, Metamorphoses
translation by A.D. Melville


i woke up with the itch to read this again. bly has it noted rumi's poem as the title poem to his book, what have i ever lost by dying?

I lived for hundreds and thousands of years as a mineral,
And then I died and was reborn as a plant.
Then I lived for hundreds and thousands of years as a plant,
And then I died and was reborn as an animal.
Then I lived for hundreds and thousands of years as an animal,
And then I died and was reborn as a human being.
Tell me: What have I ever lost by dying?

(i am beginning to understand)))


Ed Baker said...

picking "it" up via a verse out of Shantideva's book
chapter 8, #179"

"Alive or dead, what difference does it make?
"What good to me is this machinery?
"What difference will divide it from a clod of earth?
"Oh, why not rid myself of this conceit of "self" ? "

and the verse before that (#178):

"Dust and ashes are the body's final state,
"This body which, inert, is moved by other forces.
"This insupportable and unclean form -
"Why do I regard it as my "I", my "self"?

isn't that a neat word? I really appreciate the dbl "p"s

unsuPPortable / suPPortable : unclean / clean !


I just came across a verse in chapter 8 (#30) which
will be placed .... maybe ... on the back cover of my new book(as a paper 'thing' via Knives, Forks and Spoons Press:

"Even if we know that all is like illusion,
"How will this dispel afflictive passion?
"Magicians may indeed themselves desire
"The mirage-women they themselves create."

(just noticed it is plural : "womEn" and not the singular - "woman"

William Michaelian said...

Very interesting. All of it. Thanks, Jim. Thanks, Erin.

A thought arises: Do it now.

And another: What you think you do and what actually is done might well be two — or three, or more — different things.

We’re gone in a heartbeat. We might not finish this sentence. We might outlive our children. We might grow senile or be stricken with disease and destroy the objects and accomplishments which today we cherish the most.

“Nothing retains its form; new shapes from old.” Imagine discovering an ebook two thousand years from now. Ever so gently brushing the dust from its code.

I recently read Petronius, The Satyricon. Fragments, translated, re-translated, added to. The work now of many, many hands. In a book itself almost sixty years old, now resting on my shelf.

I am reduced to fragments by my own thinking, and by reliving the memories I hold dear.

William Michaelian said...

Ah-ha. Across the continent we press buttons at the same time. Ed wins by a nose — or, rather, we all do.

Ed Baker said...

we-all yet "on the same page"?
this just might 'open' the door or
at least a window
on "things"

she just died last year... the last of that Surrealist group
yet excites my imagination.... (such as it is)

a cpl of quotes out of this TERRIFIC film/interview that

" come visit me if you can
& bring the tequila"

"it's not that easy
to have a very close friend"

"we've been brainwashed into our ideas of death"

L.W.Roth, said...

I have stumbled into the wrong place for me. I admired your writing and the writing of all of your commenting followers. But I am a painter who has just discovered what I want to paint. During my search, I didn't think; I just did. Painting was an adventure. Writers think as they go. Thinking is not good for a painter. Color is a painter's words.

Ed Baker said...

well, L.W.

I paint and write and sculpt..
all same process as far I I can

"paint" on any thing that serves as a
paint with color on plywood,
paint with words on a blank sheet of paper

cut into a stone or piece of wood

all the same.

"color is a painter's words" ?

how many shades of black are there &
is black a color?

hey ! I am now thinking:

SHADES OF BLACK can be the title of my next book ? or,
better still title of my next painting ?

as for that "what I WANT to paint".... it s not so easy dropping habits ... eh?

art schools/ writing schools just don't "teach" a
"go your own way"


as for "thinking" thinking just
willy-nilly comes and goes

ad infintnighdumb


this here is an example of my composing / painting with words...

sort of spontainiously and w/out 'thinking


now ? I am thinking of doing another
4our feet by 8ight feet painting

I'll gather the necessary cans of paint and old brushes and a canvas and see what the paints do...

after all a painting is nothing
than what the paint does..

(unless you are TRYING to paint something that looks "real" and then..

might as well either paint by the numbers so that EVERYBODY will see the agreed upon (defined) ...., UH:
Real Image

William Michaelian said...

Linda, thanks for your kind words, and for signing on and weighing in. Don’t let Ed fool you — he can think, and quite well, when he’s sure no one is looking. The funny thing about him is, he makes a lot of sense — although I’m sure he’d insist that too is a happy accident. Through it all, somehow, we get along.

In the meantime, what you say doesn’t quite coincide with my own writing experience. I too tend to feel my way. Whether writing or drawing, thinking usually gets me into trouble. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lifetime of thinking leading up to a given piece, and that more thinking won’t follow. And of course this explanation, in its haste, is a rather crude approximation of what is really going on. We do it because we need to, and we do it in our own way, and for many different reasons, all of which are subject to change.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Keats would have been proud of you, William, for setting off such an enlightening exchange of thoughts.

William Michaelian said...

Less proud, I think, Vassilis, than pleasantly surprised to find so many “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


For You Not Yet

As I write, right now, your mother
is the size of a pea.
She will grow and be born
and not hear of me.
You at this time
do not even exist and only
by luck and grace will you be
if your mother survives
and gets married.
But I write not for your mother
or even right now.
Now knows nothing of me.
Now knows not what I do.
I write for tomorrow, for they
not yet here.
I have written for you.

Copyright 2010 – Ponds and Lawns :New and Corrected Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

William Michaelian said...

As always, Gary, I thank you. Kids trading lunches. Grown-ups trading poems. Therefore I give you

The Blind

Someday, when the wake of flight
is visible to the human eye,
consider this note from an earlier time
by one who imagined what others denied.

From Songs and Letters,
also filed here.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

well, isn't that a kick? My wife likes your poem better than mine.

Thanks a lot, pal!

Gotta go and get back to the back porch and the 'Deadhead' show on the radio.

Funny thing. The song on right now is 'Goin' down the road feelin' bad'.


Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Actually, I like your poem better, too.

William Michaelian said...

Gary, I went to a little country school called Grandview — you could see the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada from the school yard. Once in fifth grade, one of my best friends and I got into an intense tether ball match during recess. The first bell rang, but we kept playing. When the second bell rang, we ignored that too. The play area was empty. We were soaked with sweat. Finally the game ended. We tramped into the classroom all steamed up, dragonflies hovering in the hot still room, the teacher, Mr. Evans, looking at us over his glasses, trying to seem mad, but failing. He asked us who won. At the same time, Edwin and I pointed at each other and said, “He did.” Loyal to the end.