Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Zen Redneck

I often wonder where to draw the line with things I’ll write about here. Once upon a time, I considered my life an open book of sorts, that any topic was fair game. That’s what artistes do: bare their souls.

Still have no problem with that, but the real issue is baring other people’s souls, or more likely my pale imitation of what I think their souls are, and deservedly catching grief in return. A lot of times, it just isn’t worth it. From a writer’s point of view, and much more importantly, from a humane point of view. Some shit, while it would make for great reading, could be perceived as hurtful or disrespectful by a reader who recognizes, “That’s me he’s writing about.” Some things are better left unwritten and unexploited.

Now, if you think this is a lead-in for me hanging someone’s ass out to dry, think again. No lead in, just wanted to get into writerly stuff here. Poking around the web, or just reading various themed-blogs, I gather a lot of people think everything in their lives is fair game. My intentions here are to only write about topics that I gather would make for good reading by an audience, but to leave plenty of stuff private, as I don’t see the logic in making that stuff public, not even for money. If you’re taking a shit with your laptop, or bored at work, or following me all along as I stumble through life, here’s something that will hold your interest for 15 minutes (and don’t forget to wipe). There are any number of petty gripes and personal opinions I could get into at any time, but most times, I think, honestly, who the fuck cares. I wouldn’t even care after the fact. Any person involved in the gripe would care, would think I was a huge asshole for doing it, and would have my total agreement on that opinion.

This all plays into the “there’s just so much I’ll do for writing” theme I developed in my life a few years back, which may well be a kiss of death in terms of making it big as a writer, but screw it, that’s part of it, too. There’s just so much I’ll do to make it big. (I don’t even know what “big” means anymore – I have friends making a living as writers, and they’re hustling their asses off to make ends meet.) It just doesn’t matter as much to me on that level anymore. I’ve managed to make a living all along. I’ve worked through stuff in my head to realize personal happiness is something you create for yourself, every day, like an exercise routine that keeps you fit, as opposed to some shining goal you must reach, which of course requires another shining goal once you realize that wasn’t quite it. My ambitions are to be sane, solvent and healthy, above all else. In my mind, happiness comes from those things. Not other people, not things, not various emotional states that come and go.

I’ve somehow entered a zen redneck frame of mind. I’m not a redneck, nor a Buddhist. But I can gather the way I see the world has become laid back in a way that I’ve seen many times before with guys in the country, who are rednecks. They don’t have a lot of money. Their wives are often plain. Their jobs kind of suck. Their homes are nothing to write home about. But, you look at these guys, and often you’ll see a look of contentment on their faces suggesting they know something you don’t. As related to the above details, they love their wives, work hard, and take pride in the upkeep of their deeply average homes. On one hand, some less savvy people would look at their lives and mutter “loser” under the breaths. But you have to ask yourself, how can it be that a guy like that appears to be happy and satisfied with his life. (This song might help; after two decades in New York, it rings true in ways I hadn't grasped before.)

And there you have the zen, the acceptance of life on its own terms, surrendering to it in a sense. I don’t think life makes sense until you’ve failed a bit, had life kicked your ass a little harder than you thought it could. You see that failure is an option. Granted, you don’t want to choose it all the time, or even again. But you fail in some sense … and life miraculously goes on. You’re left with a choice to pity yourself on some mass, grieving level that suggests you deeply understand Christ’s pain on the cross. Or you get your shit together and make your life worth living again. Could be a professional failure. Could be a relationship failure. Could be anything that didn’t work out the way you planned it. Frankly, I don’t understand people unless I can see and understand how they’ve failed in some sense. It makes them seem much more human and real to me. I guess it also gives me a sense of compassion towards the person. I don’t always feel compassion for people cruising through life in a convertible while “We Are the Champions” blasts from the car stereo (although a more apt analogy for "successful" people might be driving a tank through a maternity ward).

I guess this all is a minor lead-in for something. I’ve mentioned her before, a woman I see regularly at the laundromat – beautiful woman with two kids from a previous marriage, appears to be on her own now. Every time I see her in there, I feel a nice, beatific sense of peace. We smile at each other, say hello. I’d love to say more to her, but often it’s hard. Sometimes her two kids are there, and they’re doting on her more than she is on them. She also speaks Spanish, don’t know where she’s from (I thought she was a basic white girl for a long time, looks that way, as do her kids). I’ll often see her speaking Spanish with a nice older couple who come in at the same time and have really taken to her. This morning, there was a swarming nest of Indian kids and their mother next to my friend as she folded laundry, and it was nigh on impossible to do anything but say hello and pass.

It’s always something. I guess I’m saying I’d like to hit on her, but the circumstances are rarely conducive. Not to mention it’s 8:30 on a Saturday morning, I’m sweaty from sweeping the sidewalk, and I feel about as sensual as Boog Powell. It’s a fucking laundromat, not a tikki lounge. This woman has two kids, for crying out loud. I look like I’ve been working under a car. There are all kinds of nutty neighborhood people hovering around as we inter-act.

If you had told me at 18, back in rural Pennsylvania, listening to a Bowie album on headphones in my bedroom, that I’d be a single guy in (a previously working-class neighborhood in) Queens, New York in my 40s, seeing the good in the world in a pretty latina with two kids in a laundromat, I’d have shook my head and told you that you were nuts. Just telling me I’d be living in New York one day at that time would have had me thinking you were nuts.

But there’s that serene, kind look in her eye that I recognize: the zen redneck. Whatever’s gone on in her life, man, it's had to be rough. And I can see that she’s obviously learned from it, as she always has a smile on her face and carries herself light on the breeze. Good for her! I can’t tell you how attractive I find that quality in people, no matter what the relationship. I love seeing that sense of grace. That older couple she talks to, they look like the kind of people who’d drive around on a motorcycle with a sidecar, and bring along their pet chihuahua Raoul in a little helmet. And I think they're cool. I love meeting hang-loose, friendly people like this in my outer-borough existence (because not everyone here shares those admirable qualities, to say the least).

Where does something like this go? I’m not really sure. For all I know, it might stay right where it’s at the rest of my days, and in some strange way, that’s all right. Could go somewhere else, if I ever see an “in” to gently nudge things in another direction. I don’t feel pressured to move too hard in any direction. But I’ll tell you this – if it does go anywhere, this is most likely the last time you’ll read about it. Because I feel like I’ve already shed enough light on this scenario, and shedding any more wouldn’t sit right with me. Sometimes you just got to live life instead of writing about it.


Paul said...

A zen redneck has a sticker on his pickup that has Calvin pissing on a sticker of Calvin pissing. Om.

"As sensual as Boog Powell" is a phrase that will live on. I feel about as groovy as Sidney Ponson at the moment.

Andy S. said...

I concur; your language is as flavorful as Greg "The Bull" Luzinski's barbecue.