I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small

for those wonderful people out there in the dark

14 May 2006

Cynicism vs. Earnestness

That's the spiritual/aesthetic battle for me, not that old tirade between good and evil. And the point for me is to maintain a foot in both, but not to be swallowed by the quicksand of either one.

I am desperate to find the goodness in individuals--this is why Gerri tells me that everyone "likes" me so immediately. I guess I am that transparently earnest, which is a danger of being too affable, too noncontrary, and so ultimately, being too dismissive. Even so, I need that confirmation of goodness in others. I suppose it is to see that seed of God in them, or perhaps it is a Buddhist/Hindu thing in me, the whole namaste business. And without that rather foolish belief, I don't think I could write a word of poetry, but it is also a fool's paradise as well, to dwell in that happiness for too long.

And on the other end, the cynicism is the caffeine jolt that keeps me awake, and with a drop of fear, it all becomes paranoia. But oh dear, how I am sure I am living in one of the worst stretches of American history, the apex of American Imperialism. I think of Mark Twain now, especially his dread in America's appropriation of the Philippines through the Spanish-American War. No, it is not as bad as the stretch right before the Civil War, but in some ways worse, with our material wealth, our cultural comfort, and our overwhelming information agencies. Yes, I want to be awake, alert to it all, to be hep. But the price of that aloofness leads me away from poetry, too.

Here is an example that gives me hope: a couple of weeks ago, I receive a hand-written card/letter from a former student, a genuine Ayn Rand objectivist libertarian, and she's telling me how she's living off the grid in rural Vermont: a cabin without running water or electricity, bartering for water from neighbors, raising free-range chickens, etc. It's all about living by one's wits, individualism--though there is a genuine communal aspect as well, especially with the trading and trucking with neighbors, but she insists that it's not icky-new-agey. When she describes her own beauty now--her complete abandonment of cosmetics, her callused hands, her broken nails, her strong back, her more ample bosom--I believe her. I also view her endeavor as heroic, even though I can't get a hold onto her absolutism, that such sure footing is too dizzying for me. I am warmed to know that such Americans are about as she is.

And then I think of more manufactured beauty, too, that I adore, the Miami kind, the Hollywood kind, the very worst of the late fifties kind, all a result of that crass Americanism and capitalism. And so I have that, too, that love as well as that adoration of Amanda and her good life. And there I am again, with this awful mix between being high minded and low browed, and still wanting something that devastates me with its intelligence, brilliance, and goodness, that sheers me of the saccharine and the cynical.

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