Anger Management

During the long break between 50-Cent's set and the arrival of Marshall Bruce Mathers 3rd, aka Slim Shady and Eminem, I visited with William, the tattooed guy sitting to my left in Section 380 at the Pepsi Center, five rows from the top. He looked like the only other person among the nearly 20,000 concert-goers who might be from my generation, so I figured he'd know who the Beatles were. "Yeah, I remember seeing them at Suffolk Downs in Boston in 1966," I bragged. He looked at me with new respect and said, "I wasn't even BORN then!"

"Concert" may be too strong a word for an Eminem performance. What it amounts to is a buff white guy strutting around a stage screaming unintelligible words to the accompaniment of a bass line so strong it literally makes your heart palpitate, even in Section 380. But the eerie thing was that the 20,000 fans seemed to know every word. They broke into ecstatic cheers at the first few thumps of a new beat, recognizing the song and shouting along. Myself, I did actually recognize a few numbers, because I sometimes listen to Eminem when I’m writing, to crank up the creative juices. I am one of 8 million people who bought his latest CD, Encore, since it was released eight months ago. At Bennington, my MFA graduating lecture was a comparison of Eminem and another outrageous and outrageously popular wordsmith, Lord Byron. I do believe that Mr. Mathers, a high school dropout who has created his different personas with skill reminiscent of Byron, is talented. But I don’t know enough about rap to judge his artistic output. All I know is that he
helps me break through when I’m feeling writer’s block.

When I saw last week that Slim Shady was coming to my neighborhood, I snapped up a ticket on the internet. But what does a 54-year-old non-buff book reviewer and poet wear to an Eminem concert? I had a vague sense that it’s about sweatpants, so I pulled out a gray pair I’ve used for workouts. My black Picasso t-shirt seemed to go okay, and for the photo before I left the apartment, I turned my Harvard ballcap around. Out on the street, it felt too weird, and I shifted it back to bill-on-front, slightly at an angle.

On the way into my row, a girl offered me a lit joint of marijuana, which I declined with what I hoped was a cool grunt. The fan on the other side of me, Dwayne, was smoking plenty of weed, and probably had been drinking, because he kept listing over, crashing into me a couple of times as we were all standing to see the show. Later he hit a subdued mood and sat down in an empty aisle seat a few rows lower. The crowd was mainly white, and mainly law-abiding, although William told me he’d seen someone with a bloody face running away from someone out by the beer stands, followed by the police. I, like everyone else, had stood spread-eagle for a light pat-down at the entrance to the Pepsi Center, but I was smart and had left my Swiss Army pocketknife and brass knuckles at home. Three women behind me in Section 380 were having a conversation not focused on gansta rap or mindless violence. “They put a contract on one of those brownstones,” one woman said, “but I don’t think she should buy it.” Later another of the women was telling a story that included this: “I said to him, ‘So if you guys got married would Killer be my dog?’ And Larry’s like, ‘Sure.’”

I walked home at midnight and didn’t’ get much sleep but still managed to drive to the Zen Center of Denver for the 6 a.m. silent meditation. Doing zazen, I could still feel the thump of the beat from the Pepsi Center. The tour, now headed for the West Coast, is named Anger Management 3, and it seems to be working--so far today I’m feeling more damn mellow than normal.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Allah Loves London

I woke up to images of millions of people standing for two minutes in silence throughout Europe, in memory of the victims of the London bombing a week ago today. Traffic stopped, the London Underground came to a halt. The U.S. Embassy flew the British flag. Millions of people, two minutes of silence, an amazement of human dignity in the face of death. I sat at my desk scrolling through the images, looking at them through tears.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Surprised by France

We’ve been home a week or so, and I find my thoughts about France to be more difficult than I would have expected.

I am delighted to be home. I walk around my wonderful house looking at things. It is summer and hot, but we have a pool. I’m on summer vacation. I bought some summertime novels at Barnes & Noble, and I go up to the pool for an hour or so each day and read. I love the feeling when, after a dip in the pool, I stretch out on that chaise and feel the warmth of the sun.

Life doesn’t get better than this. Because we are leaving for Maine at the end of the month, I don’t want to mess up my studio, so I am on a pause. I go to my appointments—doctor, dentist, hairdresser, dry cleaners—but in between I can just relax and enjoy the summer in Denver. Len and I go have a coffee in the afternoons outside at a table in Writers Square. I call my friends and family. I chat with people I meet—ever so aware that I can talk to them and understand what they are saying!

France was fun and exotic! I loved seeing the little villages on the hills and the markets full of fruit and vegetables and flowers. I loved seeing paintings by artists that I had only heard about. But now that I am home, I find myself a bit relieved. My attempt to speak French was telling. It will never be something I can do well, and I’m not even sure how much I can do poorly.

I think I was lonely in France, and I wonder if I went back for an extended time without the demands of school how much I would really enjoy it. And then there are all those other parts of Europe—Spain, Italy, Ireland—what about them? There is so much to see, which is different than thinking that I want to live abroad.

I like how travel expands me. My worldview is different after three months in France. I appreciate how old everything there is, and I love the charm of it.

But I also appreciate how clean and new everything is in Denver. I love how the streets and walkways are so well cared for. I love that I can take everything I ever thought about dry cleaning and the bill is only $67, while in France three pieces of clothing cost about the same amount. Everything seems like a bargain in the U.S. after living in France. I love that you can take a piece of luggage in to be repaired and get it in just a few days. I love that lattés are bigger and that Whole Foods grocery has olives from France in large containers similar to the olive vendors in Cannes. I love that if I forget to lock my door at the apartment there is a very high chance that nothing will be stolen. I love that I don’t know anyone in Denver who has had their home broken into, been pick pocketed or carjacked!

As I write this I realize that travel for me is to see and experience new things, so I can understand my world better. But it is not about preparing to live in one of the new places that I visit.

The thing that surprised me is how much living in France made me appreciate the United States. That’s what I’m really struck by when I get back. I’m struck by how much easier it is here to do my daily business. And I’m struck by all the advantages that our economic system offers. I don’t think I ever got that before. I was so sure it would all be better in France, and now I’m not sure it is better. When you see how stagnant their economy is and how unhappy everyone is, it doesn’t appear that it’s better. If it’s better, why is everyone always complaining about everything? They did not seem to be happier than the Americans I know. So that’s eye-opening. That changes your worldview because of your experience, as opposed to something you’ve read or something someone has told you about. It’s hard to say these things without seeming to say that America is better, which I would never, ever say. It’s just different. But for the first time, I’m not embarrassed to be an American.

My home is here. It is my base, and without it I feel lost. With it I feel open to trying anything—even learning a new language or learning how to have a dog in an apartment building that does not allow dogs. It’s as if I will need to learn how to raise an invisible dog. And so, our next adventure is Claire.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Late-Night Commercial

American Poet, journal of the Academy of American Poets: what a wonderful tribute to the vibrancy of contemporary American poetry! Poets write about other poets with finesse, admiration, and clarity, followed by poems written by reviewed poet and reviewer. I particularly enjoyed Kay Ryan's appreciation of Jane Hirshfield. Ryan's wise account of her kicking-and-screaming trip to the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference was a highlight of the current humor issue of Poetry magazine. The Hirshfield piece showed that Ryan has earned the right to be edgy about the Creative Writing Juggernaut. In the middle of the night (it's 3 a.m. now, my mind is finally starting to sag), what I read enters my consciousness easily, like an old friend arriving for a long weekend at the beach. Even given that susceptibility, this journal of the Academy of American Poets is wondrous. I knew that Tree Swenson, the co-founder of Copper Canyon Press and an acquaintance of mine from Bennington and WESTAF work, would turn the Academy into something wonderful when she took over as executive director three years ago. Tonight I've caught up with the proof.

(You get a subscription to American Poet when you join the Academy for as little as $35. Do it tonight!)

Denver Café Scene

Well, this isn't the Deep Sun Café on Boulevard Carnot, Cannes, but the Starbucks in Writers Square, Denver, has plenty of seats available at the outdoor tables, umbrellas, and strong coffee in big cups. We have taken to heading over there each afternoon for a coffee and some reading, an echo of café life in France.

One thing I never saw in France: someone eating a sandwich or a donut while walking along the sidewalk. One thing that I've never seen here: a woman and her little dog sitting side by side at a café, taking turns sipping out of the same beer glass.

As I sat yesterday pondering the differences, it occurred to me that the only certain difference has to do with centuries. Our downtown neighborhood in Denver dates back to a gold rush in 1858. The history of Cannes dates back to 200 B.C. when the Romans settled a dispute between the Oxybians and their neighbors in Nice and Antibes. The settlement, according to one local version of Canne’s early history, involved selling the Oxybians into slavery and setting up the port as a Roman trading center.

So you have to imagine Writers Square in the year 4205 to imagine a place with as much settled history as Cannes. By then the Tabor Center will probably be gone, along with the free mall shuttle on 16th Street. No doubt some wars will have occurred, perhaps a fierce and futile stand of civilized Coloradans against barbarian hordes from the Kingdom of Schwarzenegger.

New is not necessarily worse. In Europe, if you come up with a new idea and ask “Why not?” you are likely to be met with 800 years of very good reasons why not. But centuries of human history add flavor and depth which is difficult to describe. Let’s just say you can tell when they're missing.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

90 in 90

In AA, newcomers are often urged to attend "90 meetings in 90 days." I've been sober for 20 years, but my 90 days in France has led to a time of disorientation here in Denver, a feeling out of joint, unconnected to things which had been important to me on a daily basis before we left. So I decided to try "90 in 90" again. This has brought me to AA meetings I don't usually attend, so I feel like a traveler in my own city. But the main thing is that I have a plan. Every day I know there is one thing I will do, no matter what.

I am sure that "90 in 90" would spark forward motion in any area. The genius of the prescription is that it makes the scary word, "daily," seem palatable. But the fact is that anything I do daily becomes a potent part of my life. I began writing daily for 15 minutes each morning before work on Independence Day 14 years ago. That little beachhead of a habit changed my life, it's not too strong to say. In Villefranche-sur-Mer, amidst the disorientation of French immersion school, I stumbled on the daily habit of weighing myself in kilograms each morning, and keeping a little chart of my ups and downs in the face of the buttery baguettes and cheese. Just that little bit of dailiness helped anchor me. When I got out of bed, I knew what I had to do next. It also helped keep my weight hovering around 75 kilos instead of creeping up to new personal bests.

When Claire arrives, she will bring a new dose of daily duties, which is part of the terror I feel, but also part of the anticipation. My friend Kes Woodward wrote that he enjoys thinking about "how much she is going to complicate, and enrich, your life." My daughter, Sarah, is awaiting a little one of the human species, a complicating enrichment of the highest order.

For me, life's complications and riches are manageable with daily habits. I'm grateful to France for prompting me to freshen up my AA connection with a new 90 in 90. By the time I'm finished, on October 4th, the aspen will be turning yellow in Colorado and there will be a riot of yellow, red, and orange in the woods of New England.

Monday, July 11, 2005

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