I Am An Ordinary Man

Proust On The Shelf

I am an ordinary man who owns extraordinary tastes in literature.

Plah, plah.

Proust and Updike live on my bookshelves, and yes, I’ve read them. Updike every word several times over. Proust now and again for a while, until I remind myself that Death awaits me at the end of a short corridor, and that therefore I might either finish Marcel, then cough and slobber through my final breath, or reach for one of Paul Monette’s tragedies or Auster’s New York Trilogy.

Like most ordinary men who suffer extraordinary tastes in literature, I am sometimes tempted to entertain the trashy part of my mind. She’s the Devil, a whore and a glutton. She’s Charles Bukowski’s puss-bloated boils. She’s Jim Thompson’s tree branches tilted to become a hungry, palpitating crotch. She’s Patricia Highsmith’s innocent nighttime stalker.

She’s the reason I am bound for Hell.

She’s the tender side of me.

Plah, plah.

I am a literary man without a valet. A writer destined never to become an author, because I refuse to surrender to the tawdry stampede of me-too digital personalities who try to outrun the bulls by branding themselves as cackling chatterers who just happen to write books.

So illogical some of their plans.

Not all, I agree. Not you and I. No way. We know that gurus come and go. I’m OK, You’re A Sucker. Seven Habits of Highly Effective Calendar Salesmen. The Secret Just Fell From The Sky and Killed You. Sock Drawer, Are You There? My Feet Are Cold.

Yes, some of us Hell-bound independents have lived long enough to understand that we are our own gurus.

Still, it’s a woeful fact that some less ordinary, less plah plah literary people these days say . . .

Follow my blogospherical, coffee klatch articles that compare my life to that of a sock drawer run amok. More than that, love me for the fact that some of my socks are missing their matches (so High Concept, because admit it now, I sound just like you, tee hee). Then please be sure that when my novel — my never-ending work in progress, my paranormal zombie romance self-help guide with a hunk and a hunkess on the cover — is published, you click on over to lightreading4thelighthearted.com and buy my book.

What’s that you say? Which chapter will be about mismatched socks?

Well, paranormal zombie hunks don’t wear socks. You must have missed that conversation in the comments section of my post about my life as a perfect pedicure.

You can what? You can read my chat-session blog for free, so why spend money on yet another guide to enhanced romance?

I told you already. I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. And like we spiritual bloggers . . . like we . . . like we see things that other people don’t see. Like, one night, I was like Who’s that walking down my short corridor in the dark? And this zombie was like . . . well he was like sayin’ . . . it’s me. Like I used to live inside your sock drawer long before you were born. And like . . . I’m surprised you can really . . . I mean like . . . can you see me? Cause like that means you must be paranormal, and so am I. It’s like I’m a zombie, or maybe like a vampire who wants to like . . . slay you.

So now you’ll buy my book?

Sure enough. Like wow, why didn’t you say it was like about sex, not socks?

Well, like look at the cover.

But not I, yon teens. I refuse. I don’t give a damn about your sock drawer, unless it forces me to think about where my own feet travel. All my socks, by the way, are married and monogamous, folded neat and free from lint inside the footwear compartment of my mind.

Plah, plah.

I am an ordinary man who owns extraordinary tastes in literature.

I am my own guru.

And yes, I sometimes entertain my hungry whore.

So these days I am reading Paul Alexander’s biography of Sylvia Plath, Rough Magic. I’m a short way into the book, and a long way into the story.

Those of you who left the room after my mention of Proust, or somewhere between there and here, will likely not return to read what I discover in later chapters; as I intend to write more here about this book as I pursue it.

To the readers who might leave me comments about what a stuffed-shirt snob I am, I say thanks for a well-worded rejoinder. Life as we attempt to define it isn’t all about sad, chatty calendar salesmen and twenty-first century gurus young enough to be my children.

Rough Magic is a plah-plah book. No hint of paranormal zombies or coffee-klatch vampires. But for those of us who equate entertainment with intellectual challenge, its pages are more filling than a holiday feast of bloody feet.

And for those of us who are plagued by palpitating gluttons, there’s plenty of gossip and conjecture.

A couple of nights ago, I mentioned to a friend that I was reading this book, and she branded the story of Sylvia Plath a “downer.” Perhaps many of you yon teen bloggers are about as familiar with the term “downer” as I am nauseated by the frequent and misappropriated use of the word “like.”

Suffice it to say that my friend is not alone in thinking Sylvia’s life a sad affair.

I agree with her, but as my own life nears its end, I grow sadder for the prospect of oblivion. Sadness is a legitimate state of mind.

And did I yet mention that I love gossip? Not the tabloid variety that tells us what brand of toilet paper an ephemeral celebrity uses. But the curious kind that makes up most human conversation, spoken as well as written.

Ted Hughes, the dead Poet Laureate who married Sylvia Plath in 1956, suffered through the mad obsession of her depressive personality, and last left her bed to find a more intense flavor of hero worship in the arms of a woman more delicious than his wife.

His lonesome wife, now abandoned, caring for two diapered children, staring across a wintertime moor, pen, paper and passion in her hand. A tear inside her heart.

Ted Hughes was a thug who wore a cape to cover the slouch of his shoulders, shoulders far too weak to bear more than the weight of self-aggrandizement.

Professor Hughes, blowhard academic poet. His technical skills advanced, his conscience retarded by admiration for his own echo.

His hollow, wooden poetry praised by priests of Her Majesty’s Empire, subservient and obsequious members of the congregation one and all.

His cowardice ignored by all but the few who tried to chisel his name from Sylvia’s headstone.

The dead soul who for thirty-five years laid claim to grief by way his silent refusal to admit that adultery can kill a lover’s dream, if not her body.

The mean man who prepared his final, archival statement just months ahead of what he knew would be his death by cancer, yet who with purpose destroyed Sylvia’s last journal.

I’d like to condemn that man to company with me in Hell, but age, experience and my own list of mortal sins tells me not to dare such a claim to divinity.

That and the fact that no one cares what I think of Ted Hughes.

And isn’t that same fear — that no one will care about what a writer tries to publish — the more accurate reason that Sylvia sealed a dank and ugly room in Devon, then turned on the gas and placed her head deep inside an unlit oven? Was Ted Hughes, Plath’s second Daddy, an excuse for her own wrath?

I’ve read every word published by Plath, and I suspect that had she not committed suicide her name today would not be famous. The Bell Jar is a boring book, except for the fact that its somber story confesses Sylvia’s own and predicts her demise. Her Colossus poems fell flat before an absent audience, while at the same time King Edward James Hughes ruffled his hair in order to enhance his growing reputation as a wild romantic inspired by the gods.

And so what most attracts me to this pair of graves?

An ordinary man’s extraordinary taste for tawdry gossip? One writer’s probe into another writer’s pain? Love of a mystery left unsolved? A keen desire for justice, born of injustices resented during the course of my own lifetime? The tension of a mathematician’s need to make the numbers work in logical fashion versus the artist’s understanding that love and hatred aren’t based on numbers?

At this point, either I don’t own an answer, or I’m unwilling to confess another sin.

Maybe later I’ll have an answer. Then later still I’m sure to have a different one.

22 thoughts on “I Am An Ordinary Man

  1. I have to agree that you’re not ordinary. There are many extraordinary people that haven’t been published. There are also many excellent, extraordinary self-published books. “I grow sadder for the prospect of oblivion.” Aw, now that makes me sad. I disagree about oblivion. And just because you’re growing older doesn’t mean you can’t live to realize your dreams. Chin up. Yes, sadness is a part of life, but so is joy. I’m sending you some holiday cheer!

    1. Dear Lynn, When I was young, I thought joy would be a bubbled combination of escape and peace of mind. Now that I’m old I realize that peace of mind comes only when the mind is still. For that I can wait a while longer. Thank you for the compliment of reading.

  2. Anthony,
    You must go out and grab a bottle of champagne and shower some on your fine, brilliant, audacious noggin, and then gulp down the rest. You are the only other blogger I’ve come across to use the word “obsequious” in a sentence.

    Forgive my silliness, but it is silliness that saves me when I think of my own date with oblivion. I have no Proust on my shelf and no Updike, but I have Shirley Jackson, Eugene O’Neil, Shakespeare, and I learned recently that Harper Lee threw her manuscript of “To Kill a Mockingbird” out into the snow because she thought it sucked.

    I know you are not a religious or a spiritual man, but I am a spiritual woman and I KNOW for a fact that all of your efforts are not in vein, whether published or not, you are at least WRITING. There are so many who talk about writing, but never get their butts in the chair and do the work. So, again, drink the champagne, you’ve earned it.

    I for one, have been looking oblivion in the face and trust me, when your body falls away, and your spirit re-joins the cosmos, you’ll have the chance to punch Ted Hughes in the face and it will feel good!

    Keep fighting the good fight my dear, it’s the only one worth fighting.

  3. Rachel, You gave me more than a gift of champagne. You caused me to laugh at myself, and to consider the possibility of demanding an explanation from Professor Hughes (who was, after all, no more sinful than I). Thank you.

  4. Alicia Street

    I may be one of those zombie loving, hunk loving, puppy dog loving schlockers (although with a degree in philosophy I also enjoy escaping into Hegel and Merleau-Ponty), but I loved this post, loved its rhythmic, poetic snark and sneaky vulnerability. I do sincerely hope you get published, Anthony. You are a fine writer.

  5. Alicia, My cat Kiku sleeps beside me on the couch when I nap there. I oftentimes cup her head in my hands, then lean down and in to kiss her right between the ears. She purrs, and I allow my insides to match her rhythm. Kiku doesn’t read Proust or Hegel — and for all I know she sees zombies where I am blind — but I’m sure that we both feel loved.

    Thanks for the compliment of reading.

  6. You write of: “…the trashy part of my mind…the Devil… a whore… a glutton. She’s the reason I’m bound for Hell.” — But Anthony, perhaps she is also the reason that ‘some’ of your writing is so exceptional, so distinctive, so peerless and often so genuinely superb. Perhaps…?

  7. Now Anthony, I am a believer in quality, not quantity!

    And thank you for NOT writing about socks in a sock drawer!

    I think by what you read shows the deepth of the man.

    I am a very sensitive person and cannot read strong, dark pieces of literature because it will give me nightmares. 🙂 As much as I try to put on a thicker skin, it’s been to no avail. So I repect your love for all things rich full of artful somber.

    You’re a fabulous writer Anthony! Thank you for putting a value on the written word!

    1. Karen,

      First of all, thank you.

      And yes, I know how dark stories can haunt the mind. Maybe you’ll understand me when I tell you that — for whatever reasons — a book and my inherent sense of timing must meet in order for me to feel ready to enjoy the story, or the poem. I read all of Thomas Wolfe (the one with ruffled hair and a trunk filled with pages, not the dapper don) when I was in my late twenties. A few months ago, I slipped You Can’t Go Home Again from my bookcase. I read about 200 pages before I put it back, and I wondered if my tastes had changed that much, or if I’d learned that lesson well enough that no mystery remained.

  8. Anthony, I read every word and then I read it again. I love the rhythm and cadence of your words. The specific word choice that makes this an emotional read.

    I wonder if we start to think about the oblivion as we age? I have certainly given the end of life and after my life ends more thought than ever before. Something happened when I turned 60 and although I am busy and lead a rich full life, oblivion is there, staring me in the face. I spent the afternoon with my granddaughters and I know that at some point in time, it will be only them who have memories of me – proof that I was here. And it’s up to me to ensure they have good memories that they want to recall.

    1. Louise,

      Your comment about rhythm is a special gift, because whenever I write I hear the melody (or leave the keyboard if the notes sound sour).

      Può cantare bene? Se si può cantare bene, è possibile acquisire una seconda lingua. Esiste una relazione tra i due.

      And yes, Louise, as I feel my future become shorter, I’m forced to confront some difficult issues. Why is it important that we die? Because death makes life worth living.

  9. November Durand

    Anthony, I love the way you play with words. Your writing is so vivid and colourful I see rainbows. I love the way it all twists, going fron the pseudo-serious to silly and then almost somber. The rhythm in your writing is always so interesting to me. Of course, I could rhapsodise for ages about the style and neglect the substance, which I’ve often feared ends up above my head, but I always find what you have to say as interesting as how you say it.

  10. OM–sounds like a chant. I’m never sure, reading your Plebeian rants, whether I should cough discreetly in my elbow or take a cold shower. I don’t even know it he’s pronounced Prawst or Proost, and I sure haven’t sullied my eyes on his musings. I have to hand it to you–an ideasmith if ever there was one.

  11. What a fabulous wordsmith you are! An extraordinary writer, try not to forget that. I’ll echo Lynn in reminding you that many extraordinary writers are yet to be published. Your day could be just over the horizon. Your words flow with song and cadence along the page and into the reader’s heart and soul. I adored this piece Anthony! Never look forward and see oblivion but possibilities. The future is not set, but wide open. Maybe see the possibility of an afterlife where you can sock Ted Hughes square in the jaw?

  12. Well , I read the phrase ” sock drawer run amok ” , spoken as one whose sock drawer evidently is undoubtedly ordinarily not amok ; mine , on the other hand , is always amok . I will not worry about zombies romancing in there . Let it all be ; we may be to old for such concerns , after all . I know , this comment arrives years late on an earlier work of yours — but your writing is worth commenting on .

    1. Mr. Dan,

      Thanks for the compliment of reading. I had forgotten I wrote this tale those sinful years ago.

      I solved the Affair of The Sordid Socks by nailing shut that particular drawer and settling for a one pair Life of Riley, all the way to Heaven.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s