Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of Razzamatazz – Hemingway, Nietzsche, HL Mencken, and getting closer to our daunting standards

Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac

What follows is an exchange of emails between myself and my longtime friend and colleague Emory Holmes II, a Los Angeles based writer. We are both members of Art Chat Podcast, a weekly group of artists, musicians and writers who gather in our shared virtual creative space and exchange news, interests, and projects started, in the middle of, or completed. With no plan other than to meet on Skype or Google+ Hangouts on Mondays, 10am Pacific. At the end of the most recent ACP, Episode 69, I brought up my correspondence with Emory and it was suggested we post the emails and, perhaps, continue to correspond on these topics. It is quite possible one or all of the ACP participants might add their own thoughts.
Oh, remind me to tell you how Emory and I first met - Peach

Feb 6, 2012
from: Jimmy thePeach
to: Emory Holmes II
subject: talk about writing ruts and get you to look at something

Hi Emory,

I am wondering if we could arrange a time to talk about a couple of things.

1.       Talk about the practical nuts and bolts of finishing your work/projects, a particular problem of mine.

2.       Balancing creative time with other social obligations, your inside with your outside, your I/we/us razzamatazz. My mind is either focused (not sure focus is the right word) on the arrangement of ideas or just turned off. Not sure if you are familiar with this.

3.       Another thing I am very interested in is any thoughts you might share with me concerning this time to be alive, 21st Century, I mean how did you get to who you are? Did you bargain pieces of yourself away in an attempt to knuckle down and be a grownup? Have your ideals been beaten into plowshares?


I imagine you worked hard all your life to do what you thought was right, and at some point took responsibilities as a parent, a husband, (a brother?)and a son. These things and more shaped and grooved you.

I do not know where to go with this.

I am discouraged. Not a deep, soul-splitting discouragement, to be sure. Not talking about the obvious stuff of course, the external descent into chaos. More discouraged with myself...

In the Second Coming, Yeats declares, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…” Rather than the big picture post-World War 1 civilization, the external world as it were, I suspect he was talking about himself. He was around 54, in 1919 when he wrote the poem. He lived another twenty years.

Consider that my malaise is not a monster, not an all-consuming, watch-that-last-step doorway I have passed through. No, my grey days are a little thing, really when compared to others.

Still I have this feeling of having let someone down, of not fulfilling the promise of the first buds of spring. Mostly the misuse of time, a result of the baser things, anger, jealousy, inconsolable loss.

I suppose I hope that talking with you about such things will cut my burden in half. Advice I often give to others when they ask.

Unfinished, though I send this and hope you are well. This evening I feel the déjà vu of an earlier lifetime you and I might have shared, tethered as it were, by the writing and receiving of correspondence such as this.

Jimmy

"I'll play it and tell you what it is later." Miles Davis (1926-1991)



Feb 7, 2012
from: Emory Holmes II
to: Jimmy thePeach
subject: re: talk about writing ruts and get you to look at something

What a fine piece of writing, Peach. Reading that back to yourself a few times should provide you with evidence of the sparkling originality, not to mention the focused machinery, of your mind. We have a choice, either to talk brilliant stories, or write them down. For artists like ourselves, I've learned that the most edifying choice is to write down our stories first, and then brag about them after they're on paper. Hemingway depicts this eternal dilemma in his autobiographical work, "A Movable Feast." Write first, then talk, the old man advised. Of course, that's easier said than done, as we both have learned, but there it is. Nietzsche wrote about the artists' crucial need to embrace both laziness and "procrastination," explaining that the fallow times that seem to halt one's creativity, are actually essential to the work of creation, allowing the artist to "gather strength" for the inevitable tasks to come. The despair you express is part of the aging process. We look back over our shoulders to assess the path we've walked and all we've accomplished and see only paucity and banality. Perhaps you are aware of the quote, attributed to HL Mencken, one of the greatest and most influential authors of the 20th century, which I'll paraphrase as: "Every day, as I prepare for work, I stare at my reflection in the mirror, and repeat my fervent hope that today no one will finally discover what a fraud I am."

I always welcome a talk with you. I'm pushing myself down the same paths you identify in your note. It's hard to take serious the deadlines for achievement, which we impose on ourselves. And, too, life -- including the day-to-day chores and obligations that give life its substance and meaning -- continually interrupts and lays waste to our "best laid plans." Be patient with yourself. Confidence, as well as achievement, may seem long in coming, but they will come. I don't think any artist is qualified to judge which of his achievements matter most. I'm sure you have had the experience of creating a poem or song, which you judge to be godawful dreck, only to have everyone you know and love praise it as one of your best; while the work you labored hard and long to craft and perfect only rates a yawn and looks of bafflement and boredom from the same admiring crowd. Our job is to make the best of the talent and the time we are given -- to be the very best Jimmy Aaron or Emory Holmes we can be. That's the best we, or any living soul can achieve. The closer we can come to that daunting standard -- to find ourselves, to find our own voice and strengths, and take pains to express them, clearly, memorably -- the closer we will come to achieving the originality (and by that I mean, 'the genius'), we alone can lay claim to, and are born to express.

I've got visitors in my house; and a crew of workers hammering on the roof, but you can call me anytime (555 55 5555), to discuss this further. If I miss your call, I'll catch up with you when I get free. Also, I think this subject would be a great one for our next podcast. Until then, keep punchin', my friend. You'll get where you're going -- not always where you want to go -- in due time. Of course, this is something you already live and know; this is just a gentle reminder.

All the best,

Emory