if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it. unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it. if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it. if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it. if you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it. if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it. if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it. if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it. if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. if it never does roar out of you, do something else. if you first have to read it to your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or your parents or to anybody at all, you’re not ready. don’t be like so many writers, don’t be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don’t be dull and boring and pretentious, don’t be consumed with self- love. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. don’t add to that. don’t do it. unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don’t do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don’t do it. when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. there is no other way. and there never was.
[With thanks to Dean Sluyter – a truly great artist and teacher.]
Nirvana by Charles Bukowski
not much chance,
completely cut loose from
he was a young man
riding a bus
through North Carolina
on the wat to somewhere
and it began to snow
and the bus stopped
at a little cafe
in the hills
and the passengers
he sat at the counter
with the others,
he ordered and the
the meal was
the waitress was
unlike the women
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
the fry cook said
laughed, a good
the young man watched
the snow through the
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
the curious feeling
swam through him
that it would always
then the bus driver
told the passengers
that it was time
the young man
thought, I’ll just sit
here, I’ll just stay
he rose and followed
the others into the
he found his seat
and looked at the cafe
through the bus
then the bus moved
off, down a curve,
downward, out of
the young man
he heard the other
of other things,
or they were
they had not
the young man
put his head to
there was nothing
else to do-
just to listen to the
sound of the
the sound of the
My grandfather was Austra-Hungarian nobility. He was very rich. What did that mean?
He spoke 17 languages and consulted on cultural projects throughout the western world including the original Madison Square Garden.
His father built hospitals and schools for the blind, the first of which ever in Austria.
He bred Dalmatians to run alongside his horse and carriage and made them better and better for use for fire fighters’ carts safely getting quickly to the rescue.
He insisted education be continued and my mother speaks 9 languages.
He was a Hussar.
He was murdered in a gulag after being held captive for over 10 years for the crime of being a rich aristocrat.
Imagine alone the connections and ideas that can be made when you can communicate and read 17 languages.
The word aristocrat now implies egomania, selfish acquiring and soulless self centered motivations.
That’s a lie created by people who wanted to produce the fear of false oligarchies.
Carol VanBreyer’s DNA is in mine and I say this with some epigenetic need to caution some of you today…fear is the hottest ticket in town and the easiest to acquire. You’ll be surrounded by people you know and feel supported and safe as everyone nods knowingly and gratefully at those telling you who to fear. The seat is free of charge.
But you’ll never be able to get up again. That costs way too much.
Please consider this when talking about this election this year. Better to have no one to vote for than vote because you’re afraid.
The America my grandfather touched was made to be beyond and untouchable by such a thing as fear of one man. But the way that must happen is very delicate.
I trust you’ll understand. That’s why America is unlike any other place.
Thanks for reading. smile emoticon
If you ever go crabbing (or have) you’ll notice you don’t need to cover the pail because as soon as one tries to get out, it’s yanked down and back in by the others.
I’d like to imagine this guy somehow got out. And he’s not gonna go back in without a fight.
People, far too often, are like those other crabs in a bucket.
I had a meadow once. I think.
There I walked with my father’s loving hand
Reaching to gently say hi atop each flower.
I got married there. I think.
And as I walked toward my soon to be husband
His eyes reached and touched to say you’ll always be mine.
There was a bench there. I think.
Where I sat in my lace dress on cool hard marble, it held me
Then said go, go, go now to your future embraced by love all ways.
We planted the daffodils there. I think
My grandmother – her hands showed me how dirt feeds
While I balanced glasses of iced tea on a tray decorated with smiles.
Snowdrops grew there. I think.
The most dependable flower. Every February they showed their delicate reminder that spring would come.
While I watched in amazement wondering how they broke through ice.
Someone made it for me. I think
Oh how amazing to hear a meadow would be planted just for you
Oh how I listened in delight and couldn’t wait to see it grow.
It’s there if I go rightly. I think.
And all the bees and birds, butterflies and milkweed
Will sing in delight “Ah! There she is! We were waiting to dance.”
Written in the early 2000s I’ve published this not only because it’s still very true, relevant and tells you quite a bit about who I am (and how to pronounce my name), but also because I want readers to consider what’s sacrificed when we urge people to believe in a idea of safety or self confidence that, in my opinion, is shallow at best and harmful at worst.
Recently there has been a lot of attention toward celebrities and the unusual names they’ve chosen for their children like; ‘Apple’ or ‘Rumor’, or spelling variations like ‘Phinnaeus’ for an already uncommon ‘Phineas’. People have responded with scrutiny and confusion; “What was she thinking?” or with accusation; “I can’t believe anyone would do that to their kid!” They are convinced that the selfish parent has marked the child in an irreparable way that will reverberate through adolescence right into adulthood.
In my trendy Manhattan neighborhood, I recently overheard a man say to a woman walking beside him “It’s irresponsible to give a girl a name like Apple. Children are cruel and her whole life she’d have to deal with – you know – like “Hey, Apple! Wanna apple? Why do it? How will the kid live with that?”
Perhaps I should have stopped and answered his questions. My name is Ooana. It is pronounced, “wanna” – you know – like “Ooana, wanna apple?”
Why did my parents do this? My Hungarian born mother immigrated to the United States via Romania and married my father, an American. Five years later, I came along. She’s explained (with a tone of delight that would rival a four-year old-girl talking about how she chose the name for her most favorite doll) how she first read the name in a poem, that it’s an ancient Dacian Princess’s name and that she always knew she wanted a daughter named Ooana. She’ll also insist that the original (rarely used even in Romania today) spelling with two O’s rather than with one (Oana) “is prettier and more elegant.”
Suddenly Phinnaeus doesn’t seem so bad, eh?
How did I live with it? My father’s mother did not-too-gently advise that the name “Ooana” would be a poor choice. She suggested her mother’s name – Katherine. Throughout my childhood I’ve memories of my grandmother’s regretful gaze and sighs of, “You really would have made a lovely Katie.”
It was Juliet who asked “what’s in a name,” and decided that ultimately it didn’t matter. My name did and it does: I’d been teased and made to feel self-conscious. It was difficult, hurtful and cruel. My name has always posed challenges. But my name also has been the real inspiration to honestly examine myself, become an arbiter of my own destiny and in the spirit of Emerson, strive to be truly self-reliant.
There’s a point when some are confronted with their eccentricities and recognize them, not merely as challenges to overcome or to be bridled by, but as traits and qualities that make up a unique and broad potential. For me, that recognition began when I stopped worrying that I had a funny-sounding name that marked me as a target for people’s unkindness. Instead I decided to see it as a mark of distinction. It is my responsibility and good fortune to live up to it. And that simply has made all the difference.
It may be simple, but it wasn’t easy. I did have to overcome any sense of insecurity or loneliness that came with childhood teasing. I did have to compare myself and decide what it meant – to me – that unlike my classmates I didn’t require or receive a clever knick-name. From the first day of roll call I stood out and there was no way to avoid it. So I had to relish it.
I’ve never been one of five or three or even two people with the same name. I’ve never needed tricks or numbers, middle or last names, or adjectives like “Little Katie and Tall Katie” to distinguish me. I’ve always stood out, often alone and sometimes feeling naked in a room full of eyes. Yes, it is daunting. But also, it gave me the inklings of insight that; having ultimate say in the kind of person or image I reflect and am therefore defined by is immensely powerful.
Using patience and creativity when challenged by someone or something that can’t be controlled is another element of self-awareness. Unlike Katherine, my name isn’t easy for people at first read. It isn’t always easy when first heard. My name can’t be changed or shortened like “Katie, Kath, or Kat.” It doesn’t carry with it any helpful references or tricks that allow people to catch on quickly to what my name “must be.” Therefore, people have used a variety of names they’ve assumed to be mine because their experience has defined “what does and does not make a word an appropriate name.” Some think of Charlie Chaplin’s wife, Oona and others recall the similar sounding, Juana. They insist that it must actually be one of these. I’ve seen people argue about it, forgetting I’m even there. Other times, I’ve had someone think they are the brunt of my joke saying with more than a hint of sarcasm “Yeah right, like, ya wanna?”
I actually have used that joke – to help someone remember or understand my name. “Its Ooana, like I wanna know your name.” So, I enjoy seeing the variety of reactions my name gets. It isn’t tedious or inconvenient. Meeting new people or approaching a stranger I do with confidence because I always have a conversation starter. And sometimes, someone will simply say; “I’ve never heard that name before, that’s wonderful.” How could I be fearful of introducing myself? There’s always that chance that my first conversation with someone begins with a compliment; even if I’m having a really terrible hair day.
I’ve had to embrace something about myself that others find challenging and learn how to help others overcome the challenge. I do it every day. This lead me to reflect on how else I effect and impact the world and if I both react and act on what I discover. Intellectually, academically, personally, creatively and socially this act of reflection is invaluable.
Yes, being named Ooana is sometimes uncomfortable. That discomfort is what spurred the desire for skills that gave me and later strengthened my ability or opportunity to be flexible during, ultimately overcome, or grow more at ease in the midst of any feelings of discomfort. It required a more keen awareness of my instincts. So next I began to understand that I could successfully live a life that challenged my abilities. I can pursue what really gets me motivated. And I’m free to adjust if those ambitions that resonate deepest within me change their tones.
Would these lessons have come were I named Katherine? There’s no way to know. What I do know is that no one looks at me anymore with concern regarding living with the name my parents gave me. My father acknowledges that naming a daughter Ooana gave him some reservations and has said “I knew you’d have to live up to your name.”
He was right. Everyone should be so lucky.
I heard a story once, that shouldn’t be believed.
Or maybe it was that it should, but should never be shared, or maybe it was a bus timetable and fares – muddled became a story (as the mind is oft to do) of a graveyard, a mass grave with no markers or names where people, piled twelve deep and miles across are splayed criss cross and tongue tied around each other.
It’s said that there are no visitors – a sign says so in gentle block lettering “No Visitations” and were a curious person to walk in anyway to see if this tale is true – nothing would be found. Not even under stones.
Here they say, is a place where even the birds respect the silence demanded, for what a killing it is indeed that brought them together. It’s a place beyond wishing rest, where sleep is done softly wide eyed.
The buried are not to be missed or mourned or cried “why for why for” in this place. Here the secrets are too old for words, too sacred for memory, and too fragile to know.
Or so they say and how ridiculous a thing – a story like that.
But it’s said that just before a kill is made, all voices gone before can be heard by a few, their speech only for when they offer this comfort (weirder and more true than any other) that it is known that a mass grave, miles splayed, criss crossed lie the tongue tied, bound to each other – bones locked in solidarity for all time.