When Patriotism Becomes A Curse

Thunder Over Louisville
Thunder Over Louisville

Notes on celebrity, Gordon Lish, Jack Gilbert, J.D. Salinger, friends who write, Guido, and Thunder Over Louisville

There is danger for the artist himself participating in his personal love fest, his growing popularity or celebrity status. I am not pretentious enough to think this will happen to me, and I am not speaking about the danger of it happening to me either. What I am considering however is this loving adoration of a few quick fans. My personality, or my writing for that matter, just doesn't allow me an abundance of that type of love. Back when I drank gin tonics chased with the champagne of beers I provided myself enough proof when I was honest enough that I truly hated too much of a good thing. If life was going swell I would surely find a way to muck it up. If I woke up feeling too happy, by noon I was sure to have deadened that feeling to something more acceptable to me. I like pain. And a little sadness is customary for me. Too much at any given time of either the good times or pain is something I simply do not trust. I mostly go for balance, and thank goodness the pendulum swings more softly these days than it did in my youth. So I am not cut out to make new friends and accumulate more fans. The social website Facebook is a good example how that can get way out of hand. But I have decided to write, to put my thoughts and work out into the light of the public eye, but to resist the physical contact that other writers seem to crave so much. In other words, I want to be forthcoming, honest and accessible in my writing and films, but that is where I must draw the line. We won't be having cookouts together because I do not think it is a healthy thing for us to do at this stage of our relationship. Perhaps when I am eighty.

Because of Gordon Lish I write about Jack Gilbert quite a bit. Jack has kept himself out of the limelight for the greater part of his eighty years. He was once quite famous in 1962 after he had won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for his first book VIEWS OF JEOPARDY, after his great celebration in the pages of Lish's Genesis West, and before he escaped to Greece to live his life above the fame he felt he must reject. He currently lives in the cold northeast quadrant of North America and accepts a few accolades here and there, gives a reading now and then, and enjoys a modest return on the fruits of his labor. But he is old and has lived an honorable life. I will give him a pass for breaking with his principles after all these years. Another great influence on me was J. D. Salinger who died just a few short days ago. He was a recluse for the last forty years or more after he got what he wanted out of literary fame and decided it was even too phony for him. Lish is historically connected to both these great writers, and if you know your literary history you will know what I mean by that. As a teacher Lish espouses a theory based on rejection of celebrity and has used both these writers, Gilbert and Salinger, as sterling examples of stubborn men he holds in the highest esteem.

I write poetry and I too am pretty serious about it. I don't have time to spend with shitty poems unless they are my own frustrations that I am hammering into perfection, or reading somebody else's drivel, or even critiquing each new pal who asks me to take a quick look at his latest and most exciting new work. As my editor Gordon Lish wrote in my first book of poems ZIMBLE ZAMBLE ZUMBLE, I too am looking for work that will "buy me out to the last red cent." I have made two exceptions in my writing career: one for a friend who attends fiction-writing workshops as if they were his pants and the other an old rhyming poet with Parkinson's disease who demonstrated to me as teenagers how to live alternatively off the land instead of doing what I rather stupidly chose to do by being involved in the mainstream. Robert, the rhyming poet, at least writes an interesting story with talking fish and other creatures. I find myself getting a pretty good belly laugh from time to time, but mostly feeling just my deep fondness for him given the life he has lived in light of my own. But his rhymes are gratingly bad for me, and he wants nothing of my poignant tips for possibly finding another way to express himself with poesy. Robert quite erroringly believes it isn't a poem if it does not rhyme. And my other pal, Bob, wishes he were Ernest Hemingway and I want to tell him that hey that dude's dead, he's already been done, but I can't because of the pants. He has a lot of time and money in them. And the not telling, my evasion of this truth, is why I don't like having friends or fans who write. It's hard to be honest with them, and for me there isn't any exception to the hard truth when it comes to any type of fiction. So I conduct myself with them as the fraud I am in order to produce in me subsequently more emotional pain. I do not like martyrs and it is because of these abhorrent behaviors of my own that I produce a self-loathing that I suppose is acceptable as some sort of penance for my sins. The reason I am confessing these sins to you is because it takes a long time to work up the courage to tell almost anyone the truth, even myself. In other words, I am buying time. And I know there are many of you who will ultimately not agree with me and I want you to know in advance that it's OK, you don't have to, but what I am softly saying is, really, it won't make a difference either way.

I recently lived down on Main Street across from the river in downtown Louisville for about eight months before moving further inland where the real drug addicts, beggars, and crazies actually live and stay up all hours of the night when they are taking a break from working the tourists on Main Street. Once in a while you will see a new face on the street, but all in all pretty much the same ones week after week. The tourists on Main Street don't know the difference between a person in need or a talented professional panhandler and will dig into their pockets for spare change to relieve their white guilt and to get rid of the abomination before them. It is usually a request for forty cents for bus fare or the ubiquitous request for enough change to get a lousy cup of coffee. When I walk the streets, as I do every day, it is my practice always to ask these beggars first, or hands-up exclaim before they get to me, "Where's mine?" The only street person I know and halfway like is a fellow who goes by the name of Guido. He is likely a kook, a drug addict with severe mental problems, but he is a likable fellow who, for the most part I think, is harmless. I was planning on doing a feature story on Guido at some point down the road, but Guido has turned a little sour on me as I have seen him lately in a different light. He is very photogenic as is demonstrated in the photographs next door.

Living downtown on Main Street subjected me to some of the parties pseudo-hip Louisville thrives on. Thunder Over Louisville is supposed to be the big kickoff to start the two week extravaganza called The Kentucky Derby Festival which leads to the culmination of the running of the Kentucky Derby itself. Thunder is a fantastical air show followed by what amounts to me to be as personally close to a World War battlefront as a civilian can get. I saw Apache helicopters doing synchronized dance steps, four in a tight formation, all in a row, dancing as if they were gods. Little anthropomorphic dancers in the company of dangers. Fighter jets cutting across the sky and suddenly going up on their tales like Flipper, tail fins scraping across the tops of bridges like giant fish. It was unbelievable. Amazing. But I have never enjoyed fireworks. And after witnessing the largest fireworks show I have ever seen I am convinced I never will. I don't care how big they are; I don't care how creative. Fireworks are not for me. The only ones I can tolerate are the simple ones, as in one at a time, and the occasional great one that happens unexpectedly. But all these mostly green shitting things exploding as if we were being invaded made me want to puke. Add the American Flag being spotlighted, the country music praising pride in America, the show of force in the air whether military or civilian, and I am wondering what being a citizen here is really all about. Add the uniformed young man in a motorized wheelchair smiling as he makes his way through the crowd with both legs off at the pelvic area and also missing one arm and it makes me want to run like a mad dog. Of course there are always the true fighters who would seek out a war at any cost and have no care for what happens to them anyway. They just want to fight and be a soldier, or lead others into war. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the innocents. And it pisses me off.

I caught this couple gearing up for the big fireworks show and I knew the colors and his person would fit nicely in a photograph for me. Add his wife or girlfriend for good measure. I had the shot I wanted, but was afraid he would get a little miffed at me for focusing on him as I was sitting right next to him. So I asked. I asked if I could take a pic of him. Of course he said yes. And this is what I got. Asshole posing for the camera. Giving me the peace sign I suppose because of my long hair. I asked him please do not do this. Just be yourself. I like the colors Mister. I like the scene. I just want to take a natural picture of you two people getting ready for your thunder show. He couldn't do it. Everything he did was a pose. He was living for the camera. Even the lady changed. She adjusted herself, making sure her tits were in place, uncomfortable but willing. Given my failure here at getting what I wanted, me attempting again the same thing in the future, if I couldn't first get a candid shot, I still would always ask. But I finally gave up here. No, I did not thank the bastard. I simply walked away.

I heard a citizen commenting the other day that "if this is the America we have fought for, if this is America, the loss of all those Iraqi's lives was not worth it."

All text and photographs copyright 2010 by M Sarki

Comments 5 comments

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago

Your writing is among the best on HubPages. (I don't mean to be damning you with faint praise.) Let's have some more on Guido. Depending on my mood I tend to be a sucker for panhandlers of whom there are more every day in Detroit.


mewlhouse profile image

mewlhouse 6 years ago from Louisville Author

Ralph, my film Alphonso Bow was just accepted into the first Detroit Independent Film Festival which is I think the first weekend in March. AB premieres at 4:30 PM Friday afternoon. Now, thanks for reading my hub. I appreciate the kind words.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

A wonderfully quirky and angry Hub. I love it. Patriotism is indeed so banal and boring, really. Thanks for sharing

Love and peace (really!)

Tony


mewlhouse profile image

mewlhouse 6 years ago from Louisville Author

Thank you Tony.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago

mewlhouse, I'll watch for it and try to catch it. Detroit is on its way to catching up with Hollywood!

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