My review at Arts Fuse. A must for all you “graphic novel” types. Or people who have navigated the personality currents of very offbeat workplaces.
I read The Mind of a Mnemonist when it was new — must have run across it in a Bozeman bookstore — and, though I had not read Borges yet, it was indeed like one of his fables was declared true. I was too inexperienced to realize the book was a bit slippery and evasive to be trusted as straight science or even faithful reporting — in retrospect, very similar to the shadow play of Carlos Castaneda. Two points continue unchanged: you really, really wanted the story to be true because S. was a sort of magic man; it was gratifying to see the book become such a hit — was as captivating as I thought it was.
I used to have at least one every summer. Maybe two or three if I was lucky.
Hot, sun-flooded day driving the car on some not-too-serious errand or trip, listening to terrific tunes that are hitting me like never before. I would be filled with the feeling that, just for this one long moment, the whole world was happy, every human being was at peace. I would enjoy the magic even more if I shared with with someone sitting next to me.
Last summer was the first one I can remember when I did not have any such moment. A lot of things had gone wrong already in 2016, in particular I was mired in the aftereffects of the car collision. And by the end of the year, we had all passed into an unprecedented shadow.
One passage on Anderson’s Heart of a Dog that grabbed me with its wisdom yesterday was her recounting of the Buddhist teaching that one must learn “how to feel sad without being sad.” Know the negativity without being conquered by it. I knew this morning I was having a real snap of depression because while I experienced the circumstances that trigger a magic moment, all I felt was downbeat. My attempt at redeeming the time is to describe what happened.
The heat, the sun, the driving, all in place. The music was Chet Baker singing “Grey December”. I had already thought, Geeze, “Let’s Get Lost,” with lines like “Let’s defrost/In a haze” was weirder than I remembered. But I suddenly realized “Grey December” was way weirder than that, outright spooky, with memories of love like ominous ghosts. It was written by one Frank Campo, who also arranged the strings with Marty Paich and Johnny Mandel. And that’s all I know about Campo, other than the brilliant judge of tunes Ran Blake did a solo-piano version in 1995. (we’re going to go see Blake perform with singer Dominique Eade on Saturday — maybe I’ll shoot out a request.)
Sadly, I can’t even track down any leftovers about it on the Web, but for several years Livingston Montana featured The Natural History Exhibit Hall that emphasized dinosaur fossils (along with some wonderful super-rare photo books of fossils). I had long ago moved away, but it remains a comforting memory for me. I also recall when I was a little kid and visited my first real-life reconstructed dinosaur in a little town half a day’s drive away from Livingston. “Wow,” I thought, “I sure wish there was someplace like this at home. I’d be there all the time.”
The Natural History Exhibit Hall didn’t make it (as with many operations in town, the customer traffic was too seasonal) but I treasure the memory of it, and this t-shirt.
I couldn’t understand it — our house in Livingston MT had beautiful views, esp. the spectacular living-room picture window, but over the course of three or four years, my Mother came to want the curtains drawn day and night. One problem was that she suffered for years from undiagnosed cataracts. But even after they’d been removed, the shades stayed down.
“Makes the house too hot,” she’d say. But by then the place had central air-conditioning and I knew damn well the darkness remained in winter. Eventually I felt strongly the pulled curtains were a symptom of her depression; a withdrawal from the world, a refusal to look out and engage.
So I resolved to never become afraid of sunlight. (Tough equally determined to not get sunburned ever.)
When I was growing up, my favorite of our sheepherders was also a true hermit at heart. His name was Vernon — Vern — and in the winters he ran a cattle ranch in Texas where he had to interact with all sorts of people all the time. I don’t know how he fell in love with the (I agree, irresistible) landscape of my father’s ranch near Livingston, but he arranged to be a solitary sheepherder in a mobile cabin with a couple-three dogs all summer long. What I most remember:
He was an exceptional cook who did dynamite lunches for my Dad and me that beat anything we could get in town. We brought him groceries a couple times a week.
He had extraordinary rapport with Shepard dogs. He had an unusual combination of barks and whistles where it seemed like he was speaking to them in a secret language.
He treasured being alone. My mother and I went out to her relatives in Oregon for a couple weeks each summer. My Dad, lonely, decided he would make it a regular thing to visit Vern for lunch each day. First day, fine. Second day, okay. Third day, tense. Fourth day — Vern was nowhere around his mobile cabin. Message received.
He was a master at rifle maintenance. His guns were in perfect condition — gleaming with oil. When he decided to retire, he offered to give one of the nicest items to my Dad as a gift. Dad, a bit socially inept, wanted to pay for it. “You’ll take it,” said Vern, “or I’ll keep it!”
The foundation of his solitude, his enjoyment of being a hermit, was his self-reliance. He shot all his own meat. He couldn’t keep a garden because he had to keep moving with the sheep, but he raised as much veggies as he could.
This is a person with a noble hermit soul.
This is a creepy psychopath parasite thief. Similar examples with murderous impulses (when somebody shows up at the home they’re robbing) are among the most disgusting killers. That this confusion even results in a book is a bleak sign of the times.
I’ve been fascinated by the manuscript ever since I heard about it as a romantic book-boy out in the sticks. I mentioned it early on in this blog. But I looked at my reproduction around the time I did that post and was disillusioned — how could I have thought the text was a made-up language? It’s merely decorative script-babble. Plus, the mysterious, secret-knowledge manuscript was a lot more common fantasy back in the ’60s and ’70s. I’m almost cynical enough now to put down the Voynich as being too famous for being famous.