Archive for March, 2014

First Love Never Die

 

weaving

Limits

“Art may spill over from creating a world of language into the dangerous and forbidden task of trying to create a human being.”

I adore that quote.

Edward Mendelson’s essay in the New York Review of Books on W.H. Auden reveals a writer who jumps back, or runs away, as much as he leaps in. When I was a young writer, I did not understand how other young writers of my day put him at the top; I still don’t. But more and more I know why older writers do. Writes Mendelson:

In an age when writers as different as Hemingway and Eliot encouraged their public to admire them as heroic explorers of the mind and spirit, Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was.

That would be love.

buffalo_B

My son, Miles Basil, writes: “Sent you some photos I took today from the old industrial waterfront/ first ward region of Buffalo.  J. bought a new camera so we wanted to do some exploring.  Buffalo is such an awesome city to photograph … just one more reason I’ll miss it so much.”

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But that would be rude.

StanfordGoodbyeGift

I was an extrovert until April 20, 1992. That was the day after Easter. I resigned from my position as Senior and Acquisitions Editor at Prometheus Books Inc. on that day and began a journey that took me from Buffalo’s East Side, to New York City, and then to Stanford University, and, at last, to Vancouver.

I spent that Easter in Toronto. I was there to appear on a 90-minute-long talk & debate show on CBC TV on behalf of Prometheus Books and its two sister organizations (here and here). I don’t actually remember what the topic was but guess, since this was Easter, it was “Near Death Experiences,” often a popular subject during the Easter season back in the day. After the show, which was exhausting, I went out into the city, which was dead, so I bought a dozen or so magazines and returned to my hotel and had some drinks from the mini-bar and read for hours. Back in Buffalo the next day, I cleared out my office after the business manager at Prometheus rejected my expense report, saying it exceeded the allowable per diem. I became an introvert the moment I left the building, and never went on television or did a radio interview again.

Back in New York City a few weeks ago, I went to a bar in Little Italy to have a shot of tequila and a beer while waiting for my sister Jenny to swing by the neighborhood for dinner. I’d hardly sipped some tequila when a fellow at the bar started talking to me about how a wife can now track her husband via the GPS in his cell phone and see what he’s doing, live, online, because web-cams are used in all the bars now. “No kidding!” I said. The bartender joined the conversation with a funny wife-with-GPS story. A woman got up from her table and came to the bar with her own tale. Within seconds, it seemed, seven or eight of us were engaged in loud, intense and very fun conversation. When I got up to leave, to meet my sister, my new friends offered to buy me another round to get me to stay. That sure was tempting.

I left that bar feeling strangely great, and not just Cuervo Gold strangely great but truly elated, as if I had found a treasure, or remembered a most important password or secret. I was on a train going from Manhattan to Buffalo a few days later when I figured out what I had found and remembered: *This* is what life had been like, *this* is what I had stopped being, decades ago, a gregarious man living in places where people wanted you to be gregarious. What did I have in common with the people at the bar that could make our conversation so immediate and intense? We were in the same place, and that was enough.

I flew back to Vancouver the third Sunday of Lent, two weeks before Easter. I walked out my front door the next morning and felt something I had never felt before in Canada: that I was in a foreign country. I am grateful that this feeling soon ebbed, and is now gone.

My students and some of my Vancouver friends have heard my Little Italy story, all of them agreeing that that type of conviviality simply does not exist in BC. One student noted, “Of course it doesn’t. That would be considered rude.”

Here we look after others, but we leave them alone.

(Originally published April 30, 2011. Beautiful goodbye card by Dena Bowles, Stanford University, 1995)