Just Call Me Sartre

Just Call Me Sartre

I finally decided to open the old trunk that I’ve left sealed up as tight as a drum for what seems like ages now. It has bits and pieces of my history packed in so tightly that two strong men were hard pressed to move it to my new place on Auburn Ave. last Summer without hurting themselves. They begged me to unpack it first, but I was reluctant to unleash the memories.

Other than wanting to move the trunk again to a place in the basement more out of the way, I’m not sure why I decided to allow the heavy ghosts to stir. I found a lot of little treasures I’d forgotten about. One of the best finds was an old contact sheet from when Andrea, my best friend from childhood and I took her dad’s camera for the day. We wandered all around snapping birds and bicyclists, treetops and houses. That was a significant event in my past because it marks the moment I knew I wanted to “become” a photographer.

Among the old photographs, home videos, darkroom supplies and memorabilia, I uncovered a calendar I’d purchased when I first moved to Buffalo to begin grad school. On the last page I had written the following…

“For a hundred dead stories there still remain one or two living ones. I evoke these with caution, occasionally not too often, for fear of wearing them out, I fish one out again and see the scenery, the characters, the attitudes. I stop suddenly: there is a flaw, I have seen a word pierce through the web of sensations. I suppose that this word will soon take the place of several images I love.”

I couldn’t help laughing at myself. What must have been going through my head to make me write such dramatic lines in the back of my calendar?

Upon looking a little closer, however, I discovered that, although the passage had been written in the calendar by me, the words were not my own. Apparently I had been reading Nausea at the time, and I was so moved by that passage that I wrote it down. I went straight to my book shelf to search for Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. I flipped through the pages and skimmed for the passage. Sure enough, on page 33 my pen marks directed me to the words. For some reason I did not include the entire passage in my calendar. It continues as follows…

“I must stop quickly and think of something else; I don’t want to tire my memories. In vain; the next time I evoke them a good part will be congealed.”

Flesh and Bones / Skin and Blood

I have a friend who once described his ex girlfriend as a “flesh and blood girl”. He said it in a way that seemed to include her among an elite group of individuals – a rare breed of intensely human lovers who can weave a complicated twine around your heart. I know what he was talking about. I have known people like this in my life. They are brave and terrifying and I’m glad they move among us.

I have another friend who once referred to the late Robert Creeley’s poetry as “skin and bones” poetry. He used that description to try to explain why he likes the poetry so much. With this phrase, my friend expresses his feeling that Creeley’s poetry is somehow removed from the cannon of contemporary works that attach themselves to a rigorous apparatus of linguistically innovative poetries.

I’m pretty sure I know what he was talking about as well. It’s about the Power of the daily mundane, the hyper familiar, or as he put it, the “common place”, to catch us by surprise by reminding us that that familiar thing we know as home can sometimes be the most foreign place on earth.

Robert Creeley
May 21, 1926 – March 30, 2005
Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose
itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
might run
or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head
of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.
It was Zukofsky’s
“Born very young into a world
already very old…”
The century was well along
when I came in
and now that it’s ending,
I realize it won’t
be long.
But couldn’t it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother’d say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,
did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.
I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.


My friend Lisa invited me to join her at the invitation only Babik DVD recording recently and we had a great time watching them perform with a couple of important guests. Babik is an emerging Gypsy Jazz quartet in Buffalo, NY and they are getting a huge following. Check out their MySpace site, and keep a look out for them. They are going to be big!

Marco Polo

During his travels in China, Marco Polo misidentified a rhinoceros as a Unicorn because of its horn. The rhinoceros was unknown in his world at the time, but the mythological creature he believed he had found was very familiar within his immediate context. It was easier for him to force what he saw to fit what he knew than it was for him to reconceptualize his objectives. Marco Polo wrote of his discovery…

“scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant’s. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead… They have a head like a wild boars…They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at. They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions.”

We can not say Marco Polo lied about his Unicorn. But in order to tame the madness, which threatens to explode in the face of whoever looks at it, we must acknowledge his mistake. The Heart has its secrets – the sun, storms, volcanoes, and wounds, self-consciously idolatrous, coherent in its own contradictions, which for us express the force of a desire.

Buffalo Theory

I found the below text on the web somewhere. The photo is my pool rock star friend Erika.

In one episode of ‘Cheers’, Cliff is seated at the bar describing the ‘Buffalo Theory’ to his buddy Norm. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the concept explained any better than this…
“Well you see, Norm, it’s like this… A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo and when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Now, as we know, excessive drinking of alcohol kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. And that, Norm, is why you always feel smarter after a few beers.”