On Poets and Madness

White GoddessWhen I was a younger man, perhaps from the time of my sophomore or junior year at university I wanted to be a poet. (Go ahead and snicker, really, it’s okay.) During this obvious and earnest phase of my life I came across and read Robert Graves’ dense and obscure “White Goddess.” Labeled ‘a grammar of poetry,’ it was nothing of the sort. It’s full of Graves’ ramblings about a pan-European Goddess of poetry and the secret language used by the ancients, medievals and early-moderns to summon her. Don’t get me wrong, some of the historical anecdotes are fascinating, but as a whole? It’s bizarre.

The book, which I still own, sits on that bookshelf we all have filled as it is with other random books that make up a category all their own. Defiant in their solitude. “The White Goddess” is still as canary yellow as the day I purchased it, too.

During one of Graves’ discussions of the ogham script and its relation to pan-Celtic, Druidic poetry (yes, there are a few in the book), he mentions the Welsh mountain Cadair Idris. The Chair of Idris is a wild, glacial-scraped mountain of the Snowdon range that towers over and protects Lyn Mwyngil and Abergynolwyn on one side and dominates the town of Dolgellau on the other. It’s a stupendous rock with an absolutely stupendous (and cold) lake right in the middle of it.
Cadair Idris 5
I’ve climbed it several times and it seems each time I’ve learned a new myth or legend about it. Some myths were gleaned while meeting other climbers on the mountain: it’s an odd rock too, one that makes climbers loquacious. Other legends I have heard while having tea in local Welsh B&Bs or ale in the pubs and one loutish legend a crazy transplanted-Kiwi told me and my best friend one summer as we hitch-hiked through Northern Wales.

But only one legend concerns us here, that which Graves recounts about the mountain in his book.

“For it is said,” and I paraphrase, because even though I have the energy to go out and take a photo of the book I have not the strength to open it up and wrestle with the demons from my youth that will inevitably claw their way out of the pages as memories, the spawn of demons, are wont to do, “that he who spends the night atop Cadair Idris will either become a poet, a madman or die that night in his sleep.”

Youth being exquisite in its stupidity and foolhardiness I was just dumb enough and foolish enough once to attempt this feat. And I succeeded.

I didn’t die up there that night, although it was cold enough even in the middle of summer on that barren summit that I shiver now. And I do not write poetry any more, for as Bukowski said (or maybe it was Catullus) “I see there are many poets in the world but not so very much good poetry.” (Even though once upon a time I was good enough to get published.)

So, that leaves only the one option.

Makes complete sense.

Ranchers and Prairie Chickens

I’m headed out to Don Henry Ford’s ranch today outside of Gonzales. Anything y’all want me to ask him while I am there? I’ll be taking an obscene amount of photos so rest assured that will be covered. I’m excited. It’s been a little over a year and a half since I last saw Don and Leah. And this will be the first time I’ve been to the ranch.

After meeting with Don and staying at his ranch for a night I’ll make my way up to San Felipe, the homestead of Stephen F. Austin. In the area is the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge where I hope to snap some shots of a the bird itself. I’ll be dilly-dallying around the area for a day or so, checking out old grave sites and trying to fix the location of where Sanchez crossed Tejocote Creek, which is now called Peach Creek. I will endeavor to locate more of the Daughters of the American Revolution granite markers on the old King’s Highway. (I’ve already documented two.) And also try to locate some more of his infamous “hills.” I’m about to go all Inigo Montoya on him, because he keeps using that word and I don’t think he knows what it means. I had a damnable and impossible time find a hill with iron deposits in it south of San Antonio, as I recounted yesterday.

After that I will head up to Nacogdoches, making a stop in Alto, Texas’ most recent libertarian paradise. More soon.

Ode To ‘Something’

My buddy—we’ll call him ‘A’—and I are sitting on his back porch. His dog is spinning around wildly in circles, chewing on an old, smelly, dog-slobbered rag. The dog likes to set the rag in my lap, as some kind of canine-human bonding trick. “A” and I have both had far too much to drink.1

“Dude, have you seen those new thingeys?” he asks.

“What-huh?”

“It’s one of those doo-dads you see on TV, man!”

I look up from the computer in my lap. We’ve been chatting across the porch to each other via instant messenger, checking our emails and generally acting like the GenX slackers we are. We call it ‘compunicating.’

“Are you high?” I ask. I punch the key board, shooting a quick, “you’re a freak’” IM back to him across the internets.

“No,” he says. “But pass the Scotch.”

“At least you know what that is,” I tease.

“C’mon man, you know what I’m talking about, they were advertised during the last Superbowl. They sell ‘em at, um, uh, whosamawhatsit!”

“What on God’s green earth are you talking about?” I sigh. I grab the bottle of scotch and pour him another drink. And one for me. He smiles. He’s having a hard time focusing his eyes. The dog starts barking.

“Eh, freak, you know what I’m talking about. Those thingamabobs!”

“Yeah, thanks. That helps. . . ” And before I can finish he says, “They’re about yay-high and about half the size of my, umm, uh, left foot.” He holds it up for good measure.

“You need help.”

“No, I don’t,” he says and coughs, lights up another smoke. “Ack, it’s on the tip of my tongue. I can’t get it out. It’s like one of those damn gahooters we had a few weeks ago.”

“Huh?”

“You’ve seen ‘em. We had one for a while in our whosamajiggy.”

“Whydontwejustaskyergirlfriend,” I IM him and then say, “She’ll know what you’re talking about you ingrate. Hey! ‘E’, ‘A’ has a question for you.”

“Honey,” he yells, “you know that whomagutchey we saw last night. What’re they called?”

“Oh, yeah,” she says, “those thingamajigs that hang from the doo-hickey on the whatchamadoodle?”

“Guys,” I say, “I’d hate to listen to one of your lover’s spats.”
———
1 Dialogue inspired by Schott’s Weekend Vocab.

A Thanks, Long Overdue

Escher recently wrote to me about Buddhism that “termites build mounds out of dirt; humans build ours out of thoughts.”

Food for thought, no doubt, as I wasted several days on a Mexican beach and then a long mid-night drive across the coast of Michoacan to Ixtapa.

I may be poor. And a struggling writer at that. I may never see the success I hope for. In the end, success is ephemeral, anyway, which is something I remind myself of every morning when I wake up and ask: are you having fun?

Now, when I use the word ‘fun’ I’m not talking about an everlasting party—although there has been some of that lately; it’s hard to begrudge a guy two weeks on a beach in Mexico, no?

But that’s what I ask myself every morning when I wake up. And it’s a question first posed to me by Master Ma in Singapore long months ago.

I greeted today affirmatively. “Yes,” I thought to myself sitting up in my small bed, tossing the covers off and shivering in the ice-cold AC. “I am having fun and I am also grateful.”

Gratitude is something Master Ma had an easy time coaxing out of me. I’ve always been a positive person, even in those moments of depression, grinding out the days, struggling just to function. The reality was always that it could be so very much worse. But I was reminded of his calm smile and balding pate this morning, as I meditated on the word and what it means to me.

I entertain an endless list of things for which I am grateful and in recent weeks it has only grown longer. Reconnecting with old friends. Falling in love with my family all over again. Learning to love their peculiarities, unique characters they all are. At some point my father and I will patch things up too. And the simple knowledge of such potential is enough to smile. I have a career I enjoy, after all, how could one not enjoy writing for people, arguing on the radio, seeing the world and sharing it with others? Sure, it’s not a career choice many people would make, especially due to its utterly un-remunerative nature. And yet here I am.

As pondered gratitude this morning I realized a large ‘thank you’ was long overdue to some of the most important people in my life, many of whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting.

Things have changed around here in the last year. My focus has changed and with it, this place. People change and hopefully they grow. Perhaps I have as well. But, I have been horribly remiss in not thanking you all. Just for being here. For the constant irritations. The questioning of what I saw while traveling, for the criticisms, the judgments, the corrections and the steady hand you provided, helping me to find the way. Were it not for you all I doubt I would have walked away from the job in Singapore and set out into the world. I knew that where ever I went you would be there with me. Laughing with me. Laughing at me. Sending me kind notes when I was down and swift kicks in the ass when I needed them. All of it mattered. And I never thanked you. My gratitude for you, this morning, is endless.

As for Escher’s comment about mounds? If I’ve built a termite mound this last year it’s gold plated. I know that much for sure.