Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Lawrence Durrell, the reality

Lawrence Durrell as I imagine him.

Today on OZY (my alternative source of news and views that I depend on to balance out the wimpy stuff other places) had a review of Lawrence Durrell, one of my all-time fav writers.  Long ago I found a paperback of the first of his Alexandria Quartet in a beach house where I was ignored enough to read in sweaty peace with an ocean breeze to keep me awake.  

Eugene S. Robinson --Leather Lit with roots in Africa

What’s strange is that the review was written by Eugene S. Robinson.  If you went out of your way to find my opposite -- a massive, black, rock bandsman who writes a sex column of surprising good sense that addresses totally “evil” and transgressive sexual situations (which everyone -- even people in small towns -- seems to think are peak experiences to pursue), who wrote a book about fighting, who is the lead in a band that is way out there -- he's it.   An illustration of what happens if you break boundaries.  And yet the trespasser was not hurt.  The KIND of violence this guy understands is mostly Asian-based, meaning it’s as much psychological leverage as just raw destruction.  Intelligent force.

In terms of the British empire "Downton Abbey" hegemony enforced by mothers (nationhood, class status, dependable income, good reputation, law-abiding, always in control, respect for authority, and oh-yes-romance) my two big deficits are contemporary counterculture music and anything physical, whether dancing, working out, or athletics.  I’d rather watch and think about it.  Eugene S. Robinson wouldn’t give me the time of day, but both of us love Lawrence Durrell.  Maybe it’s the thing about using the weakness of overbearing people to one’s advantage.  Maybe there’s a kind of rural canniness that exists in the rougher parts of mega-urbs.  Maybe it's just Berkeley.  Maybe we like purple writing.  In one interview he says that he doesn’t use the genitalia metaphors that Freudians so cherish, but if he had to, he’d say his band’s mode was more vagina than penis.  Whatever.  Watch his hands.  Especially in the ring or at the mic.

Robinson is an editor of Ozy.  How he got to be such a hip, smart, literate guy, I do not know.  I just respect it.  This interview was not much help, because it’s all about how to “play” the music scene and, anyway, I think it’s already a little out of date.  But it’s the best set of clues about how to survive commercially as a writer that I’ve found yet.  I’m just not sure which clues would really work.  The subjects of the song lyrics are far more relevant and dark than anything I see in the emagazine essays about life as a privileged thirty-year-old urban ignoramus.  I think, for instance, that the “religion” (noninstitutional) of the future is forming here -- NOT in any pews or pulpits or books.  Here's a story song that’s more accessible to me than the wild defiance stuff.  This is as close to a bio as I could come.  “No place else in America is even remotely interested in trying the probably near-impossible,” says Robinson. “Which is, in my mind: making the compelling interconnections between what we think and what we do come ALIVE.”  I guess that’s a good description of the passion that made the Durrell family so productive and seductive.  And sex is probably the most intricate and intense sort of framework to describe human interaction -- unless it’s violence.  The trouble with most violence is that it’s stupid, unmodulated, and has no point of focus.  It’s just big explosions with a high body count.  (Writing is too often like that as well.)  The Alexandria Quartet is still alive, still relevant.


My seminary group counselor (and for a summer my employer) was a black man also named Gene Robinson, but in the past every time I tried to google his name, I got Eugene S. Robinson.  (There's a third one, also black.  Maybe a fourth. I'll have to disambiguate.)  The Hyde Park Gene Robinson was not so literary as his namesake but trained in the context of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) which is meant to produce savvy, compassionate, chaplain-type people.  This morning I found him online.  He's done well.  And good, as well.

Eugene Robinson, D. Min

Eugene Robinson, DMin
Manager of Spiritual Health, EWW
Staff Chaplain, Mental Health Services
Education: BS (Chemistry), Paine College, Augusta, GA; MDiv, ITC at Morehouse School of Religion, Atlanta; ThM and DMin, Columbia Theological Seminary, Atlanta
Professional: Certified Supervisor, ACPE; Certified Marriage and Family Therapist, Northwestern U., Chicago; Member, AAPC; Diplomat, American Psychotherapist Assoc.; Licensed AAMFT; Studies in Clinical Psychology, GSU, in progress.
Faith Group: Progressive Baptist of America
Experience: Center for Family Studies, Chicago; Grady Health System and GAPC, Atlanta; Connections Center, Decatur GA
Specialty Training/Interests: Workshops on Family and Marital dynamics, Grief, Personal Growth for Teens and Men, Team development, Communications
He was counseling at the center attached to the First Unitarian Church of Chicago with half or more of his clients coming from the South Side black community, often kids in trouble.  A bit of a Robin Hood, he used the rich people’s fees to subsidize the poor kids.  He was like a stabilized, rather white, version of Tim Barrus (who IS white).  He was fascinated by me because he claimed my pale face kept turning all colors, and they were a giveaway of my emotional state.

Part of the cultural switcheroo of the U of C campus is that the high intellectuals all trooped down to the black Checkerboard to hear emotional jazz while other black men tended to the emotional lives of the wives and students of those same brainy white folk.  Good thing, because my “own people” -- relatives, other Unitarians, and Montana humanities folks -- find me totally out of sync, rude, and excludable.  In fact, Gene Robinson had to save me from a CPE supervisor of my own kind who was trying to fuck me over.  These are the kinds of twists and turns that Durrell loves.  They trace the subversive.  The book about Hyde Park has not yet been written.  

It won’t be written by me, because I was at the Seminary Coop Bookstore with my butt on the warm cement floor of the History of Science alcove.  (Better than theology.) And because fascinating as blacks are, engrossing as the city is, my heart is gripped by the Blackfeet Reservation.  A BIG book about this prairie place on the East Slope cries out to be written.  It might never be read.  I don’t know whether I could do it or not, but I’m tempted to try.  The bootlegger culture, the mission culture, the hunter culture, the fort culture, the military culture, the stubborn woman-centered family culture, the college grads,  the PTSD white vets, the drug dealers, the Mexican family men and the kids creating their own worlds.   All still there. Nothing like what anyone thinks, even themselves.  A steady pressure to keep things secret because at this altitude the ultraviolent [sic] light is so strong it suppresses life instead of supporting it.

I try not to be a shadow-rider who goes along watching myself on the wall as though it were a mirror, but it’s hard not to be if one is writing: it's a reflexive task.  My remedy so far has been ridge-riding, following along parallel to the real trench warfare to keep from being captured by the pussy Brit-worshipping hegemony intent on control.  But it does rather make one a target.  It must be nice to be a heavyweight African-American rocker with writing chops.


northern nick said...

. . . you seem pretty punk to me; enough to serve as that perched voyant from whose mouth The Front's War & Peace is narrated.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

"Punk" is like "nymphomania." Anyone who wants more change than anyone is willing to give them is "punk." The more conservative a person is, the less punk the outsider has to be.

Talk more about the "perched voyant." Aren't you doing that yourself? (Northern Nick is a nom de blog of Nicholas Vrooman.)

northern nick said...

Punk, for me and my circle, is the outsider who just does, and doesn't (necessarily) care about what others think. They know it's right for them; ta heck with formality or training, or certification, a la punk rockers. They make what music they can. And that's enough. As for "perched voyant," like "punk," I meant as a compliment for having a sharp and eagle-like view overarching the whole of Montana's Front Range.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Thank you, Nick.