Writing on Location or “I was Dante’s Scout”

You wouldn’t think that someone with Dante’s status and profile wouldn’t have a scout, his canary in a coal mine,would you?

Down past where Dante found it necessary to report on, I’d been places, seen things – and I didn’t get out.
riverside wreck 2
I was Dante’s Scout. I was in the suburbs. I abandoned Hope.

That’s sort of how it’s felt sometimes these last five years.  I was a city guy used to all kinds of street life and eccentrics – surprises around every corner, the urban “museum without walls”.

snakes his hers 2 ice car yorkville

Moving twenty miles out of the city Casbah, I found that parking was available – you just didn’t have to factor it in! What else? Well, that each colliding town had it’s own character and demographics, that you could get out to the country proper in minutes, and this giant new area code was as complicated and diverse as my favourite downtown ethnic market. There are people in the suburbs who are just as sophisticated as in the city. Maybe most interesting to me was the way different ethnic groups shared space. In the city, you go to Chinatown, Little Italy, Greek Town, Little India and immerse yourself in one culture at a time. In the suburbs, any given commercial area will have all these groups cheek by jowl in the same neighbourhood. Maybe the “melting pot” or “salad bowl” is more truly realized in the suburbs?

Which is a long way of saying that I grew to appreciate the ‘burbs. Now, I’m going back to the big smoke.

I want to talk about being out in this landscape while I’m still here because all the people I’ve met, roads I’ve driven, towns I’ve visited are not going to come into my city to pose. I have to do this on location, “in situ”.
goose sunset

A painter needs to be in front of his subject/object to do it justice. He or she keeps going back to the landscape, or the model keeps coming to the studio. And although a writer can pull from memory and write just about anywhere, I know I’ll forget. I’ll forget the feel of the place and the flavour. I’ll forget what the air smells like when I walk out of a coffee shop and that first sip outside heightens the fragrance of wood smoke and apples. That’s just one thing.
Some of these things I am missing already before I move. They are memories in the making,

The word “memory” comes from Mnemosyne the goddess of Memory and wife of Zeus. She is one of the three elder Muses. By Zeus she became the mother of the nine younger Muses.

Mnemosyne ▲ Mom and the Girls ▼ Muses


It is fascinating to me that Mnemosyne is the Goddess of Memory AND the inventor of words. What a combination.
Here is what a few other fellows had to say on the matter. 

Back to Dante:
from his “Inferno Canto XXXII:1-39 The Ninth Circle: The frozen River Cocytus”:

“If I had words, rough and hoarse enough, to fit the dismal chasm, on which all the other rocky cliffs weigh, and converge, I would squeeze out the juice of my imagination more completely: but since I have not, I bring myself, not without fear, to describe the place: to tell of the pit of the Universe is not a task to be taken up in play, nor in a language that has words like ‘mother’ and ‘father’. But may the Muses, those Ladies, who helped Amphion shut Thebes behind its walls, aid my speech, so that my words may not vary from the truth.”

I am only Dante’s scout. I can’t rival the above. Nonetheless, before I return “above ground”, I will attempt in a forthcoming post (or two) to write a little about my experience in a place I once thought of as hell. I’ll try to do this before it’s all a bunch of memories. Or I can dial up the Muses.

incense invoke

Today’s Listening:

1. Memory Pain by Percy Mayfield
2. If I’m Still Around Tomorrow – Roberta Flack and Sadao Watanabe
3. Circular Circulation by the GTO’s (Girls Together Outrageously)
4. Treasure Island – Bob James with Eric Gale

Is a storage bin worth a thousand words?

Memory hoarding?


1000 words t shirt

The recent attention in the media to hoarders, has brought the subject, if not the clothes, out of the closet.

And when you see the pictures of these people’s houses, you can feel the tangibility of all that junk. You can be disgusted. You can feel pity. You may be prodded to do a little purging yourself.

But what about hoarding memories? Is it the same as having “baggage”?
It’s the same old problem with dealing with invisible things. Another example of how the eye is a tyrant.
I first came across this notion of the dominance of the visual while reading “The Lords and the New Creatures” when I was 14 and ordered the 1st Edition when I was 14 (I thump my chest).

Lords_NewCreatures_cover Lords for Hoarding 2

 Lords for Hoarding 1     

How much of our consciousness is taken up by memories? How much of our belief systems, values, are informed by memories? And are these memories real, or selective? What goes on?

On a recent episode of CSI, the typical hoarder theme was used to show what hoarding looks like, what the psychology of a hoarder might be, and the mischief that hoarding can lead to. We were already used to a lot of this by way of the reality TV shows about hoarding. But what interested me was the use of “time capsule” hoarding in the CSI episode.
Unlike the usual garbage all over the place, possessions were carefully stored in plastic storage bins and stacked according to a time-line.

hoarding bins

This seemed to go beyond “someday this will come in handy” or “I just can’t let go of these things I paid good money for”. This seemed to be someone writing their autobiography by stashing material things in a chronological “order”.
Memories in physical form were being organized into some kind of story. 

There’s no question that hoarding takes up space most of us would sooner have as … space. And, as far as I know, there is no way to digitize all the junk you can’t let go of – no way to go “paperless”.
Of course, we can be “virtual” hoarders. Check out “If I Were a Hoarder” for lots of good, clean, messy, fun.

But, as far as “time capsule hoarding” goes, couldn’t this be another way for people to write things down?

The dumpster as diary? Worse things have been written. I’m sure of it.

Today’s Listening:

1. Small Town Talk by Amos Garrett & Maria Muldaur
2. Every Day I Write The Book by Elvis Costello
3. Whispering Grass by Sandy Denny
4. Do It The Hard Way by Chet Baker