I was in the kitchen the other day, and saw an ant scurrying down the wall, holding one of its fellow ants to carry back to wherever it came from.
Our apartment is cheaply built, and somewhat old, from around the ’50s or before, and looks kind of like a drive-in motel. In fact, people have gotten confused, or laughed, when they’ve seen it. “This is where you live?” they snort.
For some reason, in these old buildings, ants are constantly seeking dominion over our physical space, and are subject to be killed on sight.
My husband was standing near me, doing something else, and I called out, “Look, he’s trying to save his brother.”
Without missing a beat, Noel said, “They’re going to cannibalize him,” breaking through my temporary ant empathy lapse. This wasn’t an altruistic move on the ant’s part, he wasn’t carrying his soldier brother, damaged by war, back home to sit in a hospital bed and recover. He was taking the body back to the hive so that the other ants could feast on it. A lightbulb went off in my head, some creaky mechanism started turning, pondering the life cycle, and I squished them both.
I was in a barber shop in Oakland yesterday, waiting amongst the men for my husband to get his hair cut. On a side table sat Charles Bukowski’s book of short stories, South of No North. I started reading it, because I can’t resist one of Bukowski’s plain white covers when I see it.
I opened to “You Can’t Write A Love Story,” a story about a writer who can’t write, is stuck. In his room, he starts arguing with some girl he picked up at the local bar about the writer’s life. She criticizes him, saying he makes less money than her grandmother. He tells her she doesn’t understand the feeling of needing to shed his crawling skin through writing, of being unable to do so. She accuses him of throwing a lot of parties for someone who hates people. Finally, he badgers her enough that she leaves, and the altercation is enough to start him writing again: he types out the story of what just occurred, word for word.
I love this story. It’s pithy portrayal of the mobius loop some writers subject themselves to, the constant seeking of snakes to bite them, the slow extraction of the venom, the healing through typed words, and then the seeking of the snake, again and again.
I skipped through a few others, and then read Dr. Nazi. This narrator is visiting some forty-something doctor. The doctor is physically falling apart, and after the narrator tells the doctor he’s suffering from the fact that he’s a nervous man, the doctor tells the narrator he was once a Nazi, and spends the appointment ranting about his wife and his divorce.
The narrator keeps going back, because a doctor is better than a shrink. At one point, the narrator rants about lines. People love to wait in lines, he says, everywhere, at the grocery store, at the bank. The lines drive him nuts, make him nervous. He can’t understand the happy faces of the grocery store clerks, waiting to work up to management positions, going home to smiling wives. Lines are the problem with our society, the narrator thinks, the thing that separates him from them, makes him an outsider. Doesn’t anyone else notice these lines? Don’t they drive anyone else nuts?
As he keeps going back to the doctor, he starts to wonder why he never gets to talk about his own problems. I’m the one paying this doctor, he thinks. And then he starts to realize that he is not the only one with problems as he observes people he comes across in his daily affairs. Everyone has problems. Everyone has pain.
Sometimes, I get so focused and busy, it’s like I’m not paying attention, and the universe can’t talk to me because I’ve got my fingers plugging my ears. There’s something about noticing the world, not always sitting at the computer writing, or with a guitar, composing, but exploring surroundings, whether it’s an ant or a collection of gritty short stories.
Artists need space to observe the world around them and seek their inspiration. What does the ant seeking its home mean? What does it mean that I killed it? What does that say about me? What does it mean that after I spent the car ride over to the barber shop with my husband venting about the futility of the artistic life I opened right to Bukowski’s short story, “You Can’t Write a Love Story?”
Could mean nothing. Could mean something.
Someone else was equally afflicted by life. Other people balk at scripted space, crawl in their skin to get the words out. Ants are not necessarily altruistic. Come to your own conclusions. That’s your prerogative.
Oh, and yes, in two days. Come. Lip Service West. Fundraiser. I am playing music at 8:00 pm. My friend Jafar Thorne will be playing bass. I was getting all nervous, and my husband, always my muse, reminded me that this isn’t about me. I’m playing music for the event. He’s right. It’s not about me. It’s about helping a really cool reading series keep being really cool (and free!). Ten bucks per ticket, funds go towards the series.