Monday, November 4, 2013

The Courage of Thomas Lanier

I'm living in New Orleans, not far from where Tennessee Williams once lived.

He lived in several places in the French Quarter, and my current apartment is close to where he sets A Streetcar Named Desire.

I have always looked to him for courage, and now that I am growing old in his favorite city, even more so.

Every so often I pick up the marvelous biography of his early life, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams.  It's a highly under-appreciated book.  I like to to read about those early struggles of his, many of which took place just a few blocks away.

You get the impression in letter after letter, journal entry after journal entry, that, no matter how bleak the situation was for him, it never came close to dissuading him.  He hocked his typewriter, he hocked his only suit, he hocked his bicycle to pay the rent, to pay for food.  He wrote.  He never stopped writing.  He was a courageous writer, a courageous man.

                                                                 
     
                                                    
Brave and funny.  I remember seeing him on a Chicago talk show once with three or four other people.  One of them was a Catholic priest.  Tennessee had recently converted to Catholicism.  The priest, knowing this, said, "I shall pray for you."

Without missing a beat, Tennessee said, "I don't require your prayers."

Years ago, I read something he wrote in a preface to one of his plays: "...time is short and it doesn't return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition."

I can hear it, the ticking. 

Give me courage, Tennessee.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Allen Ginsberg taught me this...

I mean the actual Allen Ginsberg, not his poetry.

Allen--as so many called him--lived most of his life in New York City's East Village.  I never saw him there, although I lived in the same neighborhood.

Who in my generation wasn't startled and set on fire by "Howl"?  I loved that poem so much I taught my four-year-old daughter to recite the famous opening lines, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...."   My daughter actually did very well with it. Much to the horror of her mother.

And I, like so many others, admired Ginsberg's guts, his fearlessness about standing up for what he believed in.

So, it was with great surprise and delight that one day I saw Allen Ginsberg walking out of the now-defunct (and oh so sorely missed) Books & Company bookstore on Madison Avenue.  This was probably around 1996, toward the end of both the store's life and Ginsberg's.

I was driving up Madison Avenue in my car.  As I rolled by Books & Company, I saw him.  Allen Ginsberg.  He was standing on the sidewalk, looking, I supose, for a cab.  You couldn't mistake him for anyone else.

                                                             


What did I do?  I slowed the car down almost to a stop, leaned out the window and shouted these profound words,

"Hey, Allen!  You're a great fucking poet!"

He looked here and there, not certain where the voice had come from.  Then he spotted me.  He looked at me and then said,

"I'm still here."

Indeed, so am I.  I may bitch about growing old, but I'm still here.

Grateful.