Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jake and Mr. Big


Many words cause speed bumps in the metaphoric road you travel most days.  Such words are appropriate in their name; speed bump is supposed to slow you down.  You’ve in fact been trying to slow yourself down in order to give close readings to the important things so far as you are concerned.

Close readings is a lovely term, leading you not only to reread favored books or books you struggled to get through because they were assigned in some class, or because someone you know and respect indicated you being less present in the universe without having read a particular book.

Speed bumps slow you down, making you aware of yet another vital word, revisit.  At dinner last night, you sat across a new friend, from Portland, fresh, in fact, off the plane from Portland.  As you spoke, you knew you’d have to go back to Portland, at least once more, if only to sit for a few minutes in two rooms.

The thought of revisiting Portland and the reasons for doing so were perfect reasons for writing a book.  You could have been more direct:  reasons for writing a book.  The attribution of perfect does not intend the book be perfect so much as it acknowledges your reasons for writing books and for thinking of this one in particular.

You have in mind a number of books you’d like to write, foremost among them two novels set in Santa Barbara, revolving about a character who extends back to your undergraduate days, where he made his first appearance.

There are also a number of works of nonfiction on your bucket list, not the least of which will carry your name in its title, Lowenkopf on Fiction Writing.  Not to forget the underway venture with your late great pal, Digby Wolfe, that came up as you both knocked back steaming mounds of linguini con vongole, wherein he grabbed your wrist and said, “We have to do that.”  The title there was The Dramatic Genome:  The DNA of Story.

Okay, you also wish to write what will be in essence a group of essays about twelve transformative American writers, six women, six men, given the self-important title, Studies in Classic American Literature.    Yours will be called volume two, volume one having already been written by one of your heroes, D. H. Lawrence.

Bucket list implies things you hope to write before you die.  You are of an age now where such thoughts are less abstractions.  Even though you were diagnosed with a stage III cancer, you did not think you might die when you nodded to the anesthesiologist before you were sent reeling into an eleven-hour sleep while your insides were bared to the light and worked over.  Only after you were well enough on the road to recovery and back teaching did you, of all places in a men’s room stall at the University of Southern California, think to yourself that you could fucking have died.

You write this with no known cloud of finality hanging over your head.  You write it will expectations of having time, energy, and means with which to write the books you have in mind, then see them through to publication.

Among those now, is the book you understood you wished to write, simply by having a conversation with someone newly arrived for a visit from Portland.

The place you think to visit again is 1157 SE 55th Street, in the Mt. Tabor section of Portland, a place you have visited eight or ten times since your mid-forties.  1157 SE 55th is a kind of home to you, wherein a door was opened and you were brought fact to face with things you did not believe in then and do not believe in now, yet what you found was a palette of colors and focus and techniques from a culture even older than the one you were born to.  This was in large measure because of a man who was like a second father to you when you had a perfectly good father already.

Both men were born in the same year, thousands of miles and extraordinary cultures apart.  Both tried to teach you things.  The extent to which each was successful seems the logical focus on what this new book will be about.  Your biological father was not so much an educated man as a man who understood what he wanted and how to share the fruits of his desires.  Your second father was a student of philosophy.  Both men radiated a sense of presence and self-awareness you recognized and caused you great pleasure to experience.

Much of your time spent with your father involved sitting with at baseball and basketball games, things that you experienced more for his presence than the game.  Your second father surprised you by asking you to edit a book that was more or less about the individual who was his second father.

You still think of your biological father as Jake, of your second father as Mr. Big.  Jake was several inches taller than Mr. Big, whose bigness was in the presence he radiated.

Mr. Big came to 1157 SE 55th in 1955, having been previously in Southern California and New York.   He was born in Fardipur, India.  His platform was as a monk of the Ramakrishna Order.  When you first met him, he was the senior monk of the order in America.  You’d just attended funeral services for a much beloved monk of the same monastic order, Swami Prabhavananda.

Your own connection, if you will, to religion, is to involuntarily say Jesus Christ if you have a narrow escape in a traffic situation or hit your hand with a hammer while trying to drive a nail or, as you did only the other night on your evening walk, say it rather loudly to someone in an RV who appeared to be on a collision course with your walking self.  You received the standard rite of passage most males from your culture experience at age thirteen, but you did not pursue any study nor follow any sincere path of community thereafter.  You do observe the mourner’s kaddish for your parents and sister, but this is almost entirely from love of them.

The awareness of this being a book for you is a surprise.  You had not expected this, which is, you have learned, a splendid way for things to begin.  Since you met Mr. Big, on July 4, 1976, the things you wrote seemed to take on a focus where, truly enough, you write intending publication, but more to the point, you wrote to discover what you knew and felt about the subjects of which you wrote.

What will you learn from Jake and Mr. Big:  A horse-playing father and a non-dualistic swami?  


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