August 27, 2010

Saffron and Blood

This post has been amassing inside me for a few days, and let me warn you before you continue it will be scattered mess. It will be all over the place, and I feel this early confession will save me from an apology later. It would be best if after completion, I would either edit and organize it, or simply delete it. However, due to shear bravado, excitement, a fire burning in my gut, or Henry Miller, I choose to vomit onto this page, clean up a few grammatical things (I said a few mind you) and hope something sticks.

This post is for every student who has ever been bored to death by the five-paragraph essay. Proof that sometimes writing need be nothing more than a bit of rock n’ roll. A writhing beat, pushing and pulsating with no direction or purpose. Forget organization, introductions, supporting details or any other textual murder machines. Grab a few loose ideas slap them down on the page, smack them around a bit, and feel your blood flow. Sometimes there is violence in writing and that is okay, if through your final draft you seek peace.

What has me in such a voracious mood tonight? A combination of things: I haven’t wrestled with the book in a week. I was on a roll and now it has been over six days since even a comma has been placed. Please before you cast stones note that I had friends in town from the States and I was battling hives and bronchitis, even the most dedicated scribe must be given a few allowances. I know, I know every good marathon runner knows that you never deviate form the routine, but I was really not feeling it.

After my brief hiatus the juices are flowing again and I need to get some of it out. I chose to leave the book till Monday, but I needed to write a bit tonight, and my mind has been with Henry Miller. I have decided to re-read his book "Big Sur And The Oranges Of Hieronymus Bosch"

According to Suite 101 the book was written... after Henry Miller had lived on the beaches and neighboring forests of Big Sur for thirteen years. Composed years after the success of "Tropic of Cancer" and "Tropic of Capricorn", the book highlighted an important step in the development of the novelist. Miller had matured from the earlier years as a young man, slowly making the difficult transition from literary unknown towards that of novelist, to an older wiser man; looking back over his life and the world around him, to produce a work unparralleled in its' grasp of complex ideas, turning them into beautiful prose that simplified the abstract into language of the common man. For Miller, the book would accidentally turn into his "magnimus opus" or the summarized completion of his life's work. The last pages of the book consist of an epilogue intended to be originally entitled, "This Is My Answer", was to be the final expression of the author's view on the meaning of art with-in the context of the life experience. What came later was the novel and incredible literary experiment.

This book had a profound affect on me when I was twenty-two or three. Before I go on let me tell you about this young man, me, and his relationship with Henry Miller. I have a three idols that I worship. You can have your Jesus, your Moses, or your Muhammad, but I will take Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and Henry Miller any day. I know every wanna be rebel has at one time or another found affinity with this trilogy. In that respect I am probably no different. As I write these words, I am not sure what separates my reverence for them, from the groupie mentality of every other college burn out. Alls I know is that in my twenties, I read nearly everything I could get my hands on by these men. I devoured their work. Their words were the fuel that led me down many, some would say dangerous and irresponsible, paths. Regardless of the effects my actions had at the time, looking back as a more calm, dare I say responsible adult, I know for certain that these men played the most crucial part in making me who I am. I am a man born of three fathers. I spent hours of lascivious reflective thoughts swimming in their words and pushing the boundaries of my mind. Sure they wrote of sex, drugs and booze and at the time I was into sex, drugs, and booze, but it was more than that. It had to be more. It was the power of art and freedom and life that seized my interest. Where others perhaps honed in on the flashy use of hyperbole to exaggerate their libidos or tolerance for sexual conquest, I saw only the beauty of lives lived in full awareness and awe, reflected eloquently in the creation of page after page of perfection.

These men did not live life as a passive activity that happened to happen to them. They tore life apart and danced with its corpse, caressed it when it was down and kicked it in the ass when it was being unruly. More importantly they used words to give shape to what their various nightmares and states of bliss looked like. Their words taught me more than anything I ever learned in school. I would trade my high school diploma, my BA from San Francisco State and my Grad degree from Columbia for their books without thinking twice.

They proved to me the breadth of what life has to offer. From the abyss to the stars and everything in between. No glory or shame, just life. Sometimes you are on top and living like a king and other times you will grovel in the gutter, but all of it is magical and important and perfect. Grab these moments as they pass and tack them to a wall with words. Scribble them in your journal, don’t let them pass. Scream to the people who move about in their daily drudgery that there is only one life and it is to be lived fully. There is no success or failure. No one should guide you, or judge you, or set your path.

I read their words on park benches and trains. On buses and airplanes. I read them with money in my pocket, I read them scrounging for change. I read them alone and I read them in love. The secret is I read them and read them and read them….

Wow….that came out kinda fast. I was almost shedding tears of excitement for a second there. This writing is serious stuff. Let’s catch our breath and regroup.

I am a different man now. I am thirty-six. I have two children. I should be more responsible and have outgrown the shenanigans of these old buffoons. But there is still that voice. He talks to me as I prepare for sleep or when my mind drifts in traffic. I can see him behind my eyes in the mirror. He reminds me that I made promises to myself that I would hold onto these books, these words, these dreams and revisit them whenever I felt that I was growing up. I highlighted the passages and marked the pages to remind myself of where the words had taken me, so I would know where I would need to go.

These books line my shelves not as mere trophies, but as maps, of photo albums, of a distant fading memory that I cannot afford to lose lest I become another sheep. Another fading flower, a father mired in midlife crisis crying alone for not living a life I should have lived.

I don’t regret anything about my life, but I still need the stories that help me live through it. I need them like I need my friends, to remind me of who I was and to remind me of the person I promised myself to be when I “grew up.”

I shake my head when people say that the Kindle will kill the book. Never. Because if the Kindle kills the book than it might as well kill me too….

I envision a room placed sometime in my future. There is lots of wood, a fire place, corduroy and velvet. Fresh flowers and whisps of incense. A collection of guitars and other stringed instrument. Persian carpets. A sheesha pipe and a sound system that registers on the Richter scale. This is the room I will die in. It will be painted the color of blood and saffron. There will be no walls, only shelves filled with my life: stories, plays, novels, words- annotated, documented and highlighted. Pages marked and faded. The stench of parchment will dance with the fire and smoke. No Kindle will ever give me that. No evaporating text dependent on fading fossil fuels will ever offer me the security of my own history.

There you have it. I started to re-read Henry Miller because I hoped he would help kick start my muse, and I will let you judge whether or not he did. I have only read the first 4 pages…

From what realm of light were we shadows who darken the earth spawned?


  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    I think this may be the best piece of writing I've ever read from you. Hope your book turns out like this.

  2. These anonymous comments will be the end me. Thank you stranger....

  3. Re: anonymous comments. The more people you reach, the more of them you'll never know.

  4. When Henry Miller moved to beautiful Big Sur he set out to create a new home infused with creativity, energy, a sense of community and an appreciation of nature. At the same time he coped with intrusions and financial pressures and the charisma and creepiness of other people. Perhaps you are also re-reading him because you are also trying to do (and endure) some of these things in your new home (as your posts about gardening have proved).
    Me? I find myself once again amongst green fields, big fat raindrops splashing onto my face and normality. We are home and we finally have internet. Today we visited Den Bosch a beautiful Dutch city near to our town and definitely one of my favourites. Den Bosch has a famous ‘son’- Hieronymus Bosch, the one in the title of Henry Miller’s book! I too find many excuses not to finish my blog- too busy running, too busy being a mum, too busy re-organising house, too busy gardening, too busy doing other things......... but actually they are poor excuses aren’t they?
    Great writing Jabiz, I really enjoyed this piece– more please!