I’m writing this while Susan, my host in Enderlin, North Dakota, is doing her morning piano practice. I’m in the basement of her house, my eyes on the computer screen and my ears at Susan’s fast hands on the piano.
Yesterday I discovered the gloomy writing of Jim Harrison. On our way from the station, I was telling Susan about how I met a guy called Max who was dressed up as writer Hunter S. Thompson. This happened at a post-apocalyptic themed party in Portland. It was just after Halloween, when Mexicans celebrate the “Day of the Dead” (but Americans will celebrate it too). “Oh, Mike loves Hunter S. Thompson”, said Susan about her husband. On our right side, the moon was still shining. On the left side, the clouds near the horizon were burning with sun light. On the North Dakota plains you can see the Northern lights.
Back to Jim Harrison. “Do you know about Jim Harrison?”, asked Mike. “He was Hunter S. Thompson’s friend.” Mike is into history and writes. He questioned me about World War I, his favorite topic, and about Romania. Then he gave me some of Harrison’s books.
“The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.” That’s the first sentence from Harrison’s novel – The Beast God Forgot to Invent. After that striking first sentence I read a few more pages about the story of a man who had an accident and he lost his visual memory. It’s something called ‘prosopagnosia’. Everything around you seems new every day, even people’s faces.
Then I went through his other books and stopped on a collection of essays. He has the best first sentences:
Many of us like to think we own some unappreciated talent, modestly concealed and perhaps lacking the urgency to rise towards the light. (from The Tugboats of Costa Rica)
I admit I woke up grousing; a lick from my Airedale pup Hud, named Hud to offend all people of good taste, did little to improve my mood. (A Plaster Trout in Worm Heaven)
The thirteen year-old girl walks out into the damp moonlight. (From the Dalva Notebooks, 1985-87)
First of all: what does Hud mean? Second, don’t these sentences make you want to read more?
Last night, before going to bed, I read an essay Jim Harrison published in 1992 called Dream as a Metaphor of Survival. His words ache and comfort at the same time. Ache because his words remind me of emotions which are hard to deal with, things that make me feel vulnerable. At the same time, they are comforting because here is somebody else who went through the same thing and writes about it with such clarity.
“It only gradually occurred to me that our wounds are far less unique than our cures. There is a specific commonality in the nature of the spectre of anguish that arises and expands within us that makes us seek help, whether from an analyst, guru, roshi, shaman, preacher, even a bartender, those experts at symptomatic relief…
“The bottom line, as they like to say nowadays, is that we no longer feel at home either within, or without, our skins. There are thousands of ways to adorn this fact. It is largely the content of modernist and post-modernist literature and art, not to speak of the relentless fodder of self-help books and columns in newspapers. Rilke, that grand master of dislocation (he moved virtually hundreds of times) said, “Each torpid turn of this world bears such disinherited children/ to whom neither what’s been, nor what is coming, belongs.” Alienation, so obiquitous as to be banal, fuels our nights and days, our hyperactive adrenals gasping for fatigue. Where, and how, do I belong?”
(moment of silence)
This post, like my previous ones, will end with something to hear. But this time it’s not music. It’s the protest shouts of hundreds of Romanians living in London who waiting for hours at the polling stations, unable to vote in the presidential elections. Here is what Laurentiu Calciu, who filmed the London protests, wrote about what happened there:
“We went to the polling station at the Romanian Cultural Institute around 7:30PM, not expecting to find many people there, like last time. To our big surprise, we found a huge queue of over 1,000. Some had been waiting for 7 hours. Only 10 people were admitted at one time and there were only 4 polling booths. They tried to lock the door at 20:40 (20 minutes earlier than scheduled) after having called the Metropolitan Police. They did close at 21:00 and the crowd that didn’t get the chance to vote continued the protests for hours after that.”