I've seen three movies in the past five days. There's something about fall this year - the way it's pouring onto the city in wet puddles and cold winds, instead of spreading from the top down with leaves red, then orange, then yellow - that's making me want to sit inside in the dark and hunt for inspiration on a screen. I've not been disappointed so far. I saw The Social Network Friday night, the day it opened, and the theater was totally packed. Then yesterday Stephen Elliott, increasingly becoming my favorite contemporary writer, wrote about the film in his daily Rumpus e-mail. He talked about what touched me most about the film - whether or not Mark Zuckerberg is tragic, or an asshole, or neither. I wrote him back, which I do a lot, and he asked me if he could post my response to The Rumpus. I was thrilled. I said yes.
Last night I saw Howl and Never Let Me Go. Never Let Me Go was beautiful but ultimately bleak and it made me want to be in love. I liked Howl, mostly for the scenes depicting Allen Ginsberg's interviews with the Paris Review, which you can read here. He talked a lot about his writing process, and a few things stood out to me as a prophecy for my own experiences with writing. Here's a snippet from that interview, and my response below.
"Usually during the composition, step by step, word by word and adjective by adjective, if it’s at all spontaneous, I don’t know whether it even makes sense sometimes. Sometimes I do know it makes complete sense, and I start crying. Because I realize I’m hitting some area which is absolutely true. And in that sense applicable universally, or understandable universally. In that sense able to survive through time—in that sense to be read by somebody and wept to, maybe, centuries later. In that sense prophecy, because it touches a common key . . . What prophecy actually is is ... that you know and feel something that somebody knows and feels in a hundred years. And maybe articulate it in a hint—a concrete way that they can pick up on in a hundred years." -- Allen Ginsberg
When Allen Ginsberg first read Howl at a bar in California in 1955, he was 29 years old and unpublished. I find that comforting.
I think if people have great things inside of them that are meant to be shared with the world, they will be shared. God doesn't operate on human timeframes. It's quite the opposite. Ideas will emerge in their own time. Before he wrote Howl, Allen spent eight months in a psychiatric hospital trying to '"rid" himself of his homosexuality. I think he was around 21 years old at the time. Do you think he wrote during those eight months? I don't know, but it seems unlikely. I wonder if he tortured himself about not writing. That seems more likely, but still improbable. I imagine it's hard to find time for either writing or self-injury when everyone around you is getting shocked with electricity and lobotomized. The act of brushing one's teeth becomes one's poetry.
Allen shared Howl with the world when he was 29, and I find that comforting. Self-injury is mostly just a waste of time. At my most self-injurious, I never really produced a piece of work I felt proud of. Mostly I just laid around and cried and struggled to find words to describe what I was experiencing and ended up submitting myself to my wallowing. But when I've found my path again, which by the presence of God I've always found a way to do, I've felt invigorated and filled with words. Even if on that path lied sadness or fear or grief, I could find the words for it. Spending a night watching television is better for one's poetry than spending a night hating oneself for wanting to watch television. God is, for the most part, very forgiving about television-watching.
If you were born to express something, do not be afraid. It will be expressed. Just keep writing, or whatever it is that you do. God will carry the rest.
And if you were not born to express something, also: do not be afraid. That too will be revealed in time. You can still lead a happy life and love and make the world better by living through your heart.
It's all useful.
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