Saturday, January 2, 2021

Three Beautiful Things 01-01-21: Shopping Cart, Loss of an Idol, Accepting the World's Pleasures BONUS A Limerick by Stu

1. I ventured out into the world today. I hobbled like Amos McCoy out to the Sube and rocketed over to Yoke's and purchased a few items and then went to Carol and Paul's long enough to pick up my tote bag of booze (have booze, will travel). Carol and Paul had a couple of homemade treats for me: prime rib soup and some blue cheese dressing. Carol asked me how my back was doing and I told her that I wished I could go everywhere with a shopping cart. I ambled around really well leaning on the cart at Yoke's.

2. As I half-heartedly scrolled through my Twitter feed today, a New Yorker post caught my eye. Sort of randomly, the magazine posted a link to Pauline Kael's 1967 essay on Bonnie and Clyde. From around 1980 until she retired in 1991, I read Pauline Kael voraciously. I especially enjoyed it when I'd already seen a movie she reviewed. I tried to predict what Kael would say in her review -- and I was almost always wrong. I'm not sure Pauline Kael helped me watch movies better, but I found her fearless writing and forceful arguments thrilling. 

In her essay on Bonnie and Clyde, Kael raised the question of why many viewers were so upset by the movie, especially its violence, and, in the course of her essay developed what she thought worked and what, in her mind, fell short in the movie.

As I had been when I was younger, I was very impressed, reading this essay, with Kael's encyclopedic knowledge of movies, cinematic history, and her work to place Bonnie and Clyde in the nearly forty years of gangster movies that preceded it. 

But, unlike when I was younger, I didn't enjoy reading this piece. I often found Kael's pronouncements about moviemaking, screenwriting, and acting tedious -- I even found myself, much to my surprise, wondering how she arrived at her analysis of, say, Warren Beatty's or Faye Dunaway's acting or her assertions about the movie watching public. 

I think when I was younger, Pauline Kael's autocratic and eccentric reviews exciting. I'd often laugh out loud when reading outrageous, and usually mean, things she wrote about movies, actors, and directors.

In short, I got, to use one of Kael's words, a kick out her arrogance, her assumption of a regal standing in the world of movie reviewing.

I didn't get a kick out reading Pauline Kael today.

I think I've lost an idol from when I was in my late twenties and all through my thirties.

3. Back in November, inspired by Billy Collins, I ordered a four volume series of poetry anthologies: Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human, Staying Human. I don't know anything about Neil Astley aside from he's the editor of these anthologies. Each contains about 500 poems and the contents of each anthology are organized around a theme.

Lately, I've reading, thinking, and writing about aging, loss, suffering, and acceptance. As I lowered my Amos McCoy stiff back into bed on top of my heating pad and pulled my new gray cotton sheets over myself tonight, I decided to read about something different.

I opened Being Alive to its second section of poems, collected under the heading, Taste and See. 

This section features one poem after another exploring another kind of acceptance. I've been focused lately on accepting things in my life that go against my wishes, desires, or cravings, on accepting long periods of being alone, my compromised health, the death of my parents, and other difficult aspects of my life. 

But these poems explore a different dimension of acceptance. 

Take for example, Denise Levertov's poem, "O Taste and See":

O Taste and See

The world is 
not with us enough.
O Taste and See

the subway Bible poster said,
meaning, The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination's tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking 
the fruit.

Denise Levertov

If, as this poem claims, the "world is/not with us enough", it is, I think, a problem of acceptance, or, to put it another way, receptiveness. If the world is with me, it is connected to me. I've accepted it. I'm receptive to it. In Levertov's words, I breathe the world, bite it, savor it, chew it, swallow it. I "transform" it "into [my] flesh". 

I love how Levertov calls radical acceptance, receptiveness, the ingesting of the world "living in the orchard". It's "being hungry". Her poem prepares the way perfectly for other poems in this section. In "From Blossoms", when Li-Young Lee bites "into/the round jubilance of peach", he takes "what we love inside", and, much like Levertov, describes how it is "carry[ing] within us an orchard". Likewise, Galwell Kinnell, in "Blackberry Eating" celebrates the profound pleasure of eating these ripe berries; Philip Levine similarly rejoices in the eating small red potatoes in "The Simple Truth". 

All of these poems, as well as others in this section, invite us to greedy acceptance, a radical love of the world's juiciness, saltiness, bitterness, its sorrows as well as its copious pleasures. If we hurry, pay little attention, take all that is in the world for granted, then, indeed, the world is not with us enough. 

So, for example, just an hour or so ago, I cut a flatbread roll in half and cut across that half to make two pieces of bread. I put salami disks on one of these pieces, sharp cheddar cheese pieces on the other, and squeezed ribbons of French's yellow mustard over the meat. I put the cheese half atop the meat and mustard half. I wanted this sandwich to be with me. I wanted to savor the peppery salami. I wanted the yellow mustard to awaken memories of all those lunchmeat sandwiches I ate after pulling, stripping, and stacking four loads of plates of zinc in the cell room before lunch. I wouldn't carry within me an orchard, but the Zinc Plant. I wanted the flatbread roll's chewy texture to take me back to the Metropolitan bakery in Eugene and those perfect baguettes. And then, suddenly a surprise! A long ago lover returned. Sometimes on Saturday mornings she fixed me, for breakfast, a salami and mustard sandwich on bread cut from a Metropolitan bakery baguette, served with Peete's French Roast coffee. Those gauzy mornings returned, with the voice of NPR's Scott Simon in the background. Suddenly, the world seemed with me enough.

The poetry I've enjoyed over the course of my life that extols the virtues of sensual pleasure has expanded my spiritual life. I came of age in a Christian tradition that regarded the worldly and material world as inferior to the world of spirit and the invisible. I absorbed ideas that pleasures of the flesh were to be entered into with care, not really trusted,often regarded as temptations to be resisted.

This is why I write about these poems and my salami sandwich in terms of radical acceptance. No longer regarding the pleasures of world with a degree of suspicion, more and more I have embraced them and the joy, rush of memories, pleasure, and other connections that I experience. 

So, learning to be accepting of not having what I might crave has calmed and pacified me, has helped stabilize me emotionally. It's been just as important that I accept and throw myself into the pleasures of raw oysters and bourbon, the deep range of flavors in a bourbon barrel-aged stout, the comfort of newly laundered cotton sheets, the spicy sweet complexity of curry sauce, that I accept and relish the sights, sounds, tastes, textures, and smells of the material world. 

Here's a limerick by Stu. I had told Stu I would post it yesterday so it could be read on New Year's Day. I muffed that, but here it is today. If need be, just pretend like it's yesterday again as you read it!

Ring in the New Year with a grin. 
No matter what last year has been. 
It may have been great, 
Or sucked eggs as of late. 
But, today you start fresh once again!

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