Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (Sweden, 1986) offers a hypnotic sequence of images, the camera tracking sideways across rooms and fields, fog horns and chanting girls in the background. Amazingly, the 143-minute film is comprised of only 115 shots, some of these over eight minutes in length. This, Tarkovsky’s final film made while diagnosed with terminal cancer, is a staggering work that strikes at a primal level. And while the film can get bogged down by an obscured story and series of monologues, the images are profound.The colors transform throughout, sometimes into black and white, often washed out, dreams and reality, from an apocalypse through a glass partition to a sleeping boy, until it all seems to mean the same thing. It’s us and all in our head.
This National Hockey League lockout/strike/work stoppage thing is pathetic; the owners and players can make as many serious faces and proclamations as they like, but the farce has to end. If these gravel-heads can’t figure this out – how much money do they want now?!? – they need to hire an arbitrator to do it for them. It’s that simple. They can hire me, and I’ll do it gratis, out of the goodness of my ice-cold heart. I’ll solve it in one hour. One hour, that’s a promise. Done. (And if they don’t like my final solution, I’ll send in the fourth line to straighten the matter out.)Let’s be clear about this. Both groups – the players and the owners – are to blame. None of those involved in this brain -damaged dispute can hope for understanding for the simple reason that they both decided to have beer-drunk summers, doing absolutely nothing. I’m sorry, did I say nothing? No, I’m wrong; they actually did engage in a spree of free agent signings, including Parise and Suter for $98 million apiece…uh, what?!? Make no mistake, these ne’er-do-wells are greedy, stupid and expendable. Indeed, as much as today’s players might impress – Stamkos, Karlsson, Quick – they can all be switched out – every last one of them – if they don’t want to play. They can go to Europe, go to Russia, or go home. Or if they want to stand firm in their cute little collective, they can all get jobs in a hockey school together. But if they want to play hockey, if they want to play the game, they need to do that now. No excuses. No press conferences. Nothing but ice. Nothing but hockey. They need to just shut up and play. Bettman, Fehr, Leipold, Crosby can pretend all they want. They can pretend that they’re something in their owner’s boxes, in their jerseys, in their locker rooms, on their benches, microphones in their sad little faces, drafts of contracts on their table, their ridiculous numbers – 57%, 46%, 50% – in hand, but it’s nothing, worse, just a percentage of nothing. Hockey is a game, not a business.I own hockey. That’s me. The game, the cup, the dream, they are all mine. These others, these pseudo-players and pseudo-owners, these halfwits and buffoons will be gone soon enough, all of them; and the game will remain as it was, mine, truly. Somebody should tell them soon. Or did I just do that? Goal.
I’m still in limbo, still waiting to get back at the book, another week to go, maybe more, but I have to admit that I have slipped in and messed around, adding details, taking them out, putting them back in.
One scene I have spent the last few days over-writing is the night of Dee’s Grad Cruise. It’s a background moment, something I hadn’t fleshed out previously, and now in which I’ve added a classmate and dialogue to the counselor. She’s alone on the deck and then joined by a classmate who she doesn’t know. He gives her a cigarette, and the supervising counselor shows up.
“I thought we were allowed.”
“You thought wrong.” He looked back, almost like he was smiling; he wasn’t.
This last line is what I’m going back and forth with at the moment. I’ve tried each of the following:
He stared back, like he was smiling, but he wasn’t.
He glared back, close to smiling, although he wasn’t.
He waited, almost smiling; he wasn’t.
…and a few variations in between. I keep going back to the first because it’s neutral and still expressive. I don’t know. I know I should just leave it alone. And I will…very soon.
A few songs have figured prominently in my head as I wrote My Bad Side and thus figure in my dream soundtrack for the film:
I failed Music in Grade 8. Mr. Clements said I was a “capable student in theory class, but very little effort (was) shown all year instrumentally” resulting in a 47% final grade.It was the only class that I failed in school – except of course for Grade 13 Physics which doesn’t count because I didn’t go to class. (The teacher was confused: “I find it difficult to understand why a student would let himself get into a situation like this” and awarded (?) me a final grade of 21%.)I know nothing about performing music (clearly) but I am an obsessive listener. Music is magical and mysterious, all-consuming, so much more so because of its temporal nature, overwhelmingly there, and then…gone. Music is a dream I remember and must get back to.I have great regard for so many musicians – Alan Sparrowhawk (Low), Robert Pollard (GBV), Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab) and Mozart (eponymous) to cite a few – but nothing compares to the collective of The Grateful Dead. This group played over 2300 concerts spanning 1967-1995 and acquired a devoted following, worshipful during the performances as everything was offered from psychedelic (China Cat Sunflower) and traditional folk (I Know Your Rider) to country (Me & My Uncle) and rock ‘n roll (Sugar Magnolia), covering practically everyone in between (Not Fade Away), and weaving it all through the holy and endless jam…but the thing about The Grateful Dead for me isn’t so much the songs, singing along, as how remarkable it is for making my mind work.Truth be told, I was stuck as to how to write this blog and listened to The Grateful Dead’s Augusta, Maine concert (October 12, 1984) to get myself on track. That’s where the idea of posting my failing grades came from, citing the Augusta show, indeed focusing back on how the music affects my mind, not to mention helping me fix a problematic scene in My Bad Side, structuring a Middle School lesson on Film Theory and remembering to call my therapist.
The funny thing is that the members of Grateful Dead, well known for the remarkable stage camaraderie, are not so well regarded for their inter-personal skills. (Read Dennis McNally’s A Long Strange Trip for more on that.) It’s unnerving thinking about what a personal wreck Jerry Garcia was; indeed it is profoundly sad, especially knowing that he was in the thralls of heroin for the Augusta concert cited above. What do I do with that? The music is so wonderful, so crystalline and pure; it is of another world. Is that what I should have tried for my Grade 8 clarinet test? That sure would have shown Mr. Clements. Only if.
There is no disputing that Pat Metheny is a virtuoso on the guitar. His latest group, The Unity Band, recently in New York (Town Hall, Friday, October 12), featured not only Metheny’s signature solos on a wide assortment of guitars, including the ostentatious-looking 42-string Pikasso…but also a wall of Lemur musical robots and a series of duets, each featuring a Unity Band member and Metheny, all of which established not only how musically gifted he is, but more to the point, how he is really into himself.I don’t know Pat Metheny as a person nor do I question his focus as a musician, but his on-stage persona and the narrative he established both point to megalomania…which made me think that he has the right personality to be a writer.
Writing is a singular, selfish act. It’s all about the author. It’s my world. As much as I might pretend to care about all of the wonderful people and places in my story, it’s mine and I’ll do what I want. It’s a straight dictatorship, hubris well done.The trick is disguising that for the audience, and coming across as empathetic and magnanimous. Metheny is a master of all of this, a back-handed compliment to be sure, but I think he (we) can take it.
It’s a weird place to be, awaiting permission from myself to start the next draft. There’s a calm to it, but it’s inert and purgatory-ish; more than anything, it’s a funk.
In the meantime I’ve been mulling over a couple of background characters for the book. First, there’s Derek’s great-grandfather, who farmed in upstate New York and drowned in a marsh when he wandered off from the house in the middle of the night. The family believes that he was undiagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And then there’s Teddy’s sister (Teddy is Dee’s co-worker at the Animal Rescue Agency), a fund manager in New York. She is round-faced and wide-eyed, but she is distant, especially for Teddy, and hasn’t see him in almost a year.I don’t know what they’re doing hanging around the fringes like this; maybe I’ll write a short story about the two of them.
I did a little more wood-splitting today. My hands are blistered, and my arms don’t work so good. I’ve had enough of that. I’ll offer a few lumbering terms instead:
BRUSH APE: Logger, usually the one who attaches chain to tree.
BULL OF THE WOODS: Person in charge of lumber operation.
PECKER POLE: Small, slim tree.
TIMBER BEAST: Rough, crude logger.
WIDOW MAKER: A precarious loose limb that is about to fall.
For more great lumbering, there’s the biography about lumberman Gordon Gibson from British Columbia called Bull of the Woods. It has a Hemingway feel, but without all the rain imagery.
I’m in between drafts. I might have mentioned this before. I admit to thinking about the book all the time, how Dee and Crystal might be, but I know I’m supposed to give them a break. We need the space. It’s supposed to further our relationship. And so the question now is what to do. I’ve started James Jones ‘leaner’ opus Some Came Running; I only have another 950 pages to go with that, but my mind wanders, sometimes back to the Blackjack table…but mostly to My Bad Side. Luckily, I was distracted this weekend by manual labor; I had some wood to split.
Wood splitting is a full-on experience. It takes a lot of back, shoulders and knees, and it’s a long way from working on imagery and story arc. Weirdly though, it’s not as different as one might think. It’s hard work and the feeling of finally getting through, the wood splitting and flying apart…That’s very much like figuring something out, almost like editing, getting rid of the big weird pieces and making something workable…It’s converting the morass into usable bits of fuel. It’s exciting…until it’s too much. After all It’s completely literal. My knees really do begin to hurt. That’s when it’s wise to stop, gather the bits up and enjoy the results.Time to read more of the leaner opus…and maybe even think a little about what Dee might be up to.