A "beaker full of the warm south" is what John Keats calls it, and it is the kind of warm, balmy end-of-October weather here in Southern California that is very difficult to complain about. Even the haze has lifted from the valleys revealing massive bluish mountains in the clear air. Only a few pockets of brownish and light gray "hazy sunshine" drift in from coves and bays along the Malibu coastline and south and east of Long Beach, promising a heat wave throughout Los Angeles County and Orange. It's what friends of my father used to refer to, while teeing off at the local golf course, as "another shitty day in Paradise."
How do you account for feelings of ingratitude, depression, or downright grouchiness on such a morning? I would rather say with William Wordsworth: "I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,/ Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;/ The innocent brightness of a new born Day/ Is lovely yet." But there are no brooks and streams around here--only washes, arroyos, or wadis, linking us with Spain, the Sahara, and the Arabian Peninsula. I envy the attitude of an Englishman living two centuries ago, who was "home at Grasmere," and have indulged with him in "love of nature" as often as possible--that sense of reconciliation with the aging (and any other life) process. Things "far more deeply infused," . . . ."Which be they what they may/ Are yet the fountain light of all our Day." Such deliciously wholesome vagaries. Seven types of ambiguity be damned!
What is there not to like about being such a Romantic? But balmy weather, though no doubt comforting for aging joints and muscles, often seems to fry the brain, or at least raise the temperature on too high a heat, for any vigorous mental activity. Day after day of sunshine produces, at least in certain emigrant people of European stock, a Baudelairian ennui: "Un grand mirroir de mon desespoir." [A grand mirror of my own despair and desperation.] Or as we used to say twenty-six years ago about life in Honolulu, Hawaii, by 10 AM "us Mainland Haoles" begin to come down with a case of "coco-head."
Better the grateful variety of more seasonally-changing, active weather of storms, falling leaves, uplifted clouds, and high waves coming southwest out of the Gulf of Alaska, crashing on the rocks along the Oregon Coast. To quote Shelley from a hilltop above Florence, Italy in late October, "O Wild West Wind, Thou Breath of Autumn's Being!" or how about a sea shanty: "To Sea, Ye Landlubbers, to Sea!" "Till Havs, Till Storms!" as the Swedes would say. Though remaining wary of possible shipwrecks, I quote Mallarme, too: "Le coeur desole par des cruels espoirs/ Croit encore a l'adieu supreme des mouchoirs." [Desolated by cruel hopes, the heart believes again in the waving (white?) handkerchiefs of departure.]
No, like Keats, I will not sink Letheward, not let the Melancholy fit seize me. A man in New York this very week went out to "shoot Niagara" without a barrel and survived. Unemployed and depressed, he says, or at least one news story relates it, that the experience revived his spirits. And over the years I have become a specialist in glutting my sorrow on the morning roses, which continue blooming in luxurious profusion in my mother's garden in Camarillo, CA. Furthermore, the "viewless wings of poesy" buoy me, whether in verse or in the more relaxed medium of this kind of prose discourse. The point is to persist in my folly, with William Blake, until I become wise with special revelations.
But today, noting the shifting winds off the desert, I prepare almost unconsciously to rub carpets the wrong way with my shoes, igniting sparks every time I will reach for metal banisters or doorknobs. That kind of weather can be expected but not predicted with any long-term accuracy.
And the above thoughts and feelings would happen to coincide with a visit to the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood Village to view the Lee Bontecou Exhibit. Thus my belief again in serendipity. Of course, I carried my mood along with me, and while enjoying the pieces, I couldn't help thinking that her retrospective should be reversed: After getting a feel for her earliest metal sculpture, why not plunge directly into her most recent filigree and insectivore pieces riding the high waves of multiple perceptions, then sink back to the military vehicles and gaping, chastity-belt realities of her Vietnam protest pieces? I can't tell which way the world is slouching these days: away from filigree nuances and thousand-year-old Alhambra palaces into a struggle of fundamentalist ideologies--the battle cry is still "Fe y Oro," or perhaps "Fe y Petroleo"--or, as the exhibit currently progresses, away from cold-war, steaming-jungle, sinister black-hole gravity on to the bearable lightness of floating materials and ideas. "Till Havs! Till Storms! Var man forvakt! Till Havs!" [To Sea, to Storms, Let humankind be warned, to Sea!]
Anyway, the exhibit did wonders when it came to awakening my brain and taking it out of the microwave oven, off the backburner, or wherever it was cooking on too high a heat. Maybe I should attribute that feeling of finding an oasis to long afternoon exposure to a good air conditioning system in the Occidental Petroleum Building, where the Hammer Museum is housed. But I prefer to think that Lee Bontecou and all that went into the Exhibit itself provided me directly with the kind of oasis I really was looking for. Certainly stepping back into the concrete and glass-panneled jungle outside the museum and seeing the traffic jam through a Sahara of fumes and rising heat waves, I appreciated at the very least my good luck and useful respite. I am even tempted to go back on Sunday afternoon for a reading of ghost stories with Dennis Cooper and company. Anything to keep the faith, baby!
Notwithstanding the above, I must end here by saying that old Jeffers from his stone house in Carmel had it right three score and ten years ago: "You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy. . ./ meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic."
21 October 2003