Old Age

Sunday, April 18, 2021

I will turn 74 years old in about six months, and it’s hard not to reflect back and wonder how else I could have lived my life. Is there some way I might have seen myself fitting in when I was a young adult, and therefore made a better life for myself? Not likely. I am not a likable person, something made brutally clear to me throughout the first 18 years of my life, and subtly reinforced in repeated ways in the next five decades. If I sought refuge in communities of poets when I was young, it was only because fifty years ago those communities were the only ones willing to tolerate my existence. Even then, I worked at the peripheries, sustaining myself as a member of those communities in large part because I only intermittently flinched at doing a lot of work on behalf of others. A few people might have the illusion that I have been more than an exceptionally minor figure in the West Coast Poetry Renaissance. Get real. Try to find a book of my poems, published in the past 30 years, in a public library; and if you are the proprietor of a domestic library, and have a “recent” volume of my poems, count yourself an oddity. You are one of less than 100 people in this entire country.

This is not to say that I have wasted my life. Poetry still gives me immense pleasure, and teaching others to write and read poetry is gratifying work. I am still amazed, in fact, that after turning 50 years old I somehow ended up writing a book about West Coast poets that eventually led to remunerative work. I am earning enough, in fact, that I am now starting to slowly pay off the student loans I took out in order to write that book. With luck, I will die debt-free. Since my spouse doesn’t work and I have her loans to pay off, too, this will be a long haul. In the meantime, at least I have a job — albeit a demanding one — that enables me to rent a decent place to live and to buy nourishing food. Access to medical care, of course, is another matter. As the pandemic made abundantly clear, I am eminently disposable from the point of view of the system. Given a choice between me and a younger person, the policy is well in place, nor will it be amended in the future. It’s hard to keep working, knowing that one’s life is worth only a perfunctory effort.

Well, there is work to be done today, so I had best get to it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A few people who read the blog post two days ago wrote me and appear to have misunderstood what I meant by “I am not a likable person.” I am most certainly aware that there are several dozen people in Southern California who appreciate my efforts on both a literary and personal level. I only regret that I could not have accomplished more on their behalf.

My gauge for my own self-appreciation, however, involves far different factors than being of use to others. People who are likable are not physically accosted day after day when they are growing up. I am hardly the only person who has suffered at the hands of predatory schoolchildren. There are tens of thousands of us, and no one really gives a shit that the impact of that experience is a permanent deformation of one’s personality. Fortunately, many of those who have had that experience are still able to act — to pretend — that we are capable of making some contribution to some particular community.

But we never forget that most of the people we deal with on a day-to-day basis are the same ones at whose hands we suffered, or who stood by and watched and said nothing.

I may act as if that is not the case, but one learns early if one is likable, and nothing that happens subsequently can ever heal that paralyzing wound of other’s judgment. If you have been convinced that I feel otherwise, it pleases me to know that I am a good enough actor to deceive you.

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