Preface: Terminal Velocity—A Man Lost of Tribe
What is a life, revealed? What is this idea of truth, the unadulterated history in one’s narrative? The baggage, the contexts, the points of view, dredged into one’s psychological state, all the trauma of simple moments in a boy’s or man’s life, boy-to-man and man-to-boy sense of things, are these parts of the lens one should focus in a process of a looking backward (writing it) and then forward to draw lessons learned and still to be revealed (as an organized, somehow, autobiography)? Is it important for someone like me to write a “biography” even at all without the pedigree of “someone who’s big, still rising, haven risen and/or now fallen from grace,” or in this case the anti-autobiography of a simple man, Willy Loman sort of teacher, even without a bone of celebrity in my body?
“I don’t say he’s a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper…. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must be finally paid to such a person.” – Linda Loman, Death of a Salesman
Is the crucible of democracy in the wasteland of American white manifest destiny the very essence Henry Miller was attempting by address in the simple cut of a man in his play, a salesman separated from tribe, from any real sense of giving back to community. The lost and plagued American displaced inside his own land, in his mind, empty of an alternative to this denuded existence selling or hawing or moving information around for deceitful misanthropic companies and corporations?
The body of this long-form writing is a 30-part “series” possibly distilled into fictional fusions—captured life moments, galvanized to the heart of seeing creatively in a pretty messed up world.
The body of this long-form writing is a 30-part “series” possibly distilled into fictional fusions—captured life moments, galvanized to the heart of seeing creatively in a pretty messed up world. I believe this to be one of the most gut-flooding truth seeking to some of us, painted characters and landscapes, conflicts, yet the dog of the lamentation, those roses that shed blood, tears from the prickly pear, the ghost inside cenotes.
The Mayan legend is close to me since I lived in the Yucatan for a while and returned several times: women, sisters – Xtabay the sinner and Utz-Colel the good—in Maya land, come to the male traveler, or the drunkard or just one who laments some image of beauty lost. Lured into the sacred well, the flowers sweet and succulent, and this glorious angel (the warts and sag of skin like the witch not revealed yet) entwines him in her long black hair, and, in the morning, if he is lucky enough to make it out with his life, he finds in the morning flooded with sadness, cruda, which is the hangover of unbearable light of life to never pass through that crucible of potential and idealized beauty.
So, as this unfolds, in serialized life form, quickly, the reader may be entering a carnival, where hummingbirds make nests in the bleached rib cage of grandpa out back helping hold up the hydrangeas. There will be allusions and pathways marked. There will be the flow of a creative writer. The confusion of age in a time long shriveled into the amnesia of our collective lobotomy.
The one-toothed lady from Hanoi, shriveled in her 70s, but there, $3 massages, on China Beach, holding the man’s manhood, the fragrance of sea and bottled passion fruit singeing the neck hairs of some battle-fatigued old timer wondering if he immolated the woman’s daughters and sons, brothers and grandchildren.
Napalm mornings and nights lifted by fruit bats in the hundreds. The memory of my life is energy, like ball lightning one moment, then like a tree holding orchids a hundred years old. Reflections in the koi pond come at night, in dreams, as coral reefs are mowed down by giant parrot fish and dredges from eco-miners.
Time is compressed and flipped, and images are truths, poems the shouts in the night in the careening howls of wolves released on Nez Perce lands in Idaho, and then the lies that make up the fabricated, truths, twisted deceptions reflected through the parallax to become something of a tribute to one man’s survival, which is in the end the very essence of finding death withheld.
What will be true in these 30 parts is fantastical drawn from the mundane, the nanosecond of death revealed in a lifetime under a sheltering moon.
I like Mark Twain, and boy could this world use another one, now, and Gore Vidal, or Zora Neale Hurston. Here, though, some prescient words about autobiography from Twain:
“An autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines, where the author-cat is raking dust upon it which hides from the disinterested spectator neither it nor its smell (though I didn’t use that figure)—the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.” —Letter to William D. Howells, 14 March 1904
It’s absolutely truth that the reader has to work at unmasking the masks and then read between the lines of anyone’s autobiography. My goal in this work is to even go a step further and fuse streams of consciousness and great leaps in narrative structure to suture up what can be for me and others a disgorgement of what is revealed inside a nasty system as we pledge allegiance to North America, these United States, in whatever form that allegiance takes. I am not talking about patriotism or nationalism, to be sure. Here, Twain, on autobiography, his, which is relevant to me, to my small life compared to Samuel Langhorne Clemens”, but most great books are repositories of vivid truth about even the smallest man or woman notched into capitalism:
“This autobiography of mine is a mirror, and I am looking at myself in it all the time. Incidentally I notice the people that pass along at my back — I get glimpses of them in the mirror — and whenever they say or do anything that can help advertise me and flatter me and raise me in my own estimation, I set these things down in my autobiography. I rejoice when a king or a duke comes my way and makes himself useful to this autobiography, but they are rare customers, with wide intervals between. I can use them with good effect as lighthouses and monuments along my way, but for real business I depend upon the common herd….
An autobiography that leaves out the little things and enumerates only the big ones is no proper picture of the man’s life at all; his life consists of his feelings and his interests, with here and there an incident apparently big or little to hang the feelings on.” – Mark Twain’s Autobiography
This is a time and age when the mainstream publishing world is looking for the next big thing, the expose, some catharsis from some celebrity, or famous person from any walk of life, more so from the mover and shaker in the millionaire or billionaire class, possibly some jock or military general or politico who got caught, or just gets the stage because of all the collateral damage they caused in their service to the paymasters and dispiriting guiders – CEOs, Spooks, Presidents, Despots. Some Bruce-to-Caitlyn aberration, or philandering Patreaus, some mothball brained Kissinger, Johnny Depp, or that hyper-Breaking Bad-or-Orange is the New Black sort of story-boarding memoir thing?
Life Uninterrupted, a solemn credo tied to anti-authoritarianism, against the tide of cultural devolution, consumerism, from a precariate, one of the truly precarious workers in this trickle-down and buckle-up Consumer Free-to-Exploit Market System that has banked on ignorance, amnesia, fear and loathing, non-participatory “democracy, racism-sexism-otherism to run a majority of the workers into the ground .
In the old days, magazines like Life or Look or Harpers or Any Number of Periodicals That Have Been Scarfed Up by Media Moguls, they serialized long form, novellas and even novels. Here, at LA Progressive, thanks to Dick and Sharon and their progressive insight into gaining other voices, I have been offered up a section of the online magazine. Can I live up to the challenge of daily distilling “the things of life” to make all lives relevant, to meet a weekly deadline? From me, a lowly activist and pretty well-read and well-traveled and well-shaped writer with a few low-hanging fruit laurels. Amazing how in the slip-stream of life, six degrees of separation reverberating in my life, others’ lives, that Dick and Sharon are giving me a chance and the challenge to write a “memoiry” kind of new journalism auto-biography as something more than expressive and cathartic, or wholly self-indulgent. But as a clarion call to a certain rarefied group of readers who might learn from the scatter shot world I have lived in, thus far, 59, and counting.
I will journey with a reader into psycho-political dynamic seascapes, flowing with a sense of splendor at some things and places I have been lucky to encompass in an undertow that for me is a natural place to be inside a tide pool of ebb and flow, since I am also a seasoned diver who has seen a few riptides and swarming packs of hammerheads.
Travelogue and full of internal dialogue, with a trade-wind of constant magic realism, lots of punctuated stream of consciousness and a real concern for reaching audience and listener, so the form does not overtake the language and the lessons tied to universal rules and goals.
In a nutshell, I am tasked to write my life as it is in some fashion in 30 weeks, an assignment that I have to utilize daily since my life is not written down as such. This is more than journaling, but at times it will feel like a journey into the now, with folded chapters back.
A life doesn’t start Feb. 6, 1957, in San Pedro, California. That birthing moment when I exploded out of womb six weeks premature, blue baby with mama’s cord wrapped around the neck twice, is pressed into a continuum that goes back to tribes long forgotten, to ancestors from Ireland and Germany. Pressed into the DNA of floating through the laws of time, the influences of nature and nurture, all those small traumas, and larger ones.
Maybe this attempt will be a fusion of fantasy and fiction, cemented to some concrete perception of the world I created and continue to create. Here, Lidia Yuknavitch
“I think our identities—the ones we live in the real world—are really made partly from stories that we build up around ourselves—necessary fictions—so that we can bear the weight of our own lives. We like to call these “truths” or “facts” or “selves,” but I maintain that they are fictions. Fictions for instance called “mother” or “wife” or “lover” or “teacher” or “writer.”
I think we understand our own life experiences in narrative terms. If you consider that idea for a moment, we are walking novels. No one has a pure identity. Everyone has an identity made from everyone they’ve ever known and loved or hated, and from every experience they could process and withstand, happy or sad, arranged in memories, otherwise known as stories.”
I am a walking set of novels, and a few have ended up on the trash bin of US publishing houses, and my former agent, Jack Ryan, always pressed upon me that I was ahead of my time, that my novels he tried schlepping were over the heads of the Vassar and Brown university interns looking over “new” novelists’ work with not much eye toward form and subject outside what was tracking that year in publishing circles.
The embedded lie is almost everything in America, and so working here and living and grappling against the vicissitudes of a vulture, parasitic capitalism and invented history that is our way of living and doing business, one has to develop more than just a bi-polar way of dealing with so much corruption and anti-egalitarianism.
My call of duty is to get something right, something outside the norm that we see as storytelling and dramatic novel writing. I want to pledge allegiance to the profane and prophetic, and still have the pleasure of enjoying staking out emotional, intellectual and cultural space.
We are the sum total of everyone else’s projections, those parts that jigger the reality based belief system that there are clear boundaries between right and wrong, success and failure, happiness and sadness, sanity and insanity.
This writing is part of the great wind of time, full of limited perspectives, but something holy to the atheist’s regard for humanity starving for communitarianism. From the Heights of Macchu Picchu to the Power and the Glory, we are all living “under a volcano” as the “memory is fire”.
And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.
And give me silence, give me water, hope.
Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.
Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.
Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.
Speak through my speech, and through my blood.
Or, beyond, inside the bottle of Mexico, too, Malcolm Lowry:
“There was something in the wild strength of this landscape, once a battlefield, that seemed to be shouting at him, a presence born of that strength whose cry his whole being recognized as familiar, caught and threw back into the wind, some youthful password of courage and pride—the passionate, yet so nearly always hypocritical, affirmation of one’s soul perhaps, he thought, of the desire to be, to do, good, what was right. It was as though he were gazing now beyond this expanse of plains and beyond the volcanoes out to the wide rolling blue ocean itself, feeling it in his heart still, the boundless impatience, the immeasurable longing.”—Under the Volcano
Caught inside the subterranean magic of history foretold:
“While we can’t guess what will become of the world, we can imagine what we would like it to become. The right to dream wasn’t in the 30 rights of humans that the United Nations proclaimed at the end of 1948. But without it, without the right to dream and the waters that it gives to drink, the other rights would die of thirst.” —Eduardo Galeano, author of Memory of Fire
Captured by the essence of the puritanism of capitalism and religion intermingled like some unholy alliance of the captured and the corrupted:
“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” — Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
This will be a process of regaining a future, remembering the links of the past are part of continuous chain, pulling and pulling me deeper into my past, which is my future, and I hope the process is well suited for a reader, many readers.
June 24, 2016