Leonard Cohen Died Tonight
Prince, then David Bowie and now Leonard Cohen. What a terrible year this has been for those of us deeply touched and taught by these creative visionaries.
Leonard Cohen was once a wild man. Then he became a Buddhist monk. But he was still a wild man, even when he was a Buddhist monk. I love the story of him sneaking out behind the meditation hall early one morning to drink his coffee and smoke a cigarette.
A lover of women, words, good whiskey and wine. A fine poet indeed. A man with impeccable style, in so many more ways than just how he wore his clothes. The kind of youthful charm Leonard Cohen had well into old age, was proof that a man can grow old without growing old. Every time you heard him speak you listened and learned something original and new. A real philosopher and poet he was. Not many, if any, around like him anymore.
Leonard why did you have to go? I know you were almost really old, but couldn’t you hang around a few more years? I am not quite ready to make a go of this without you in the world.
His novels, poetry and songs where doorways into imaginative landscapes and lovescapes, the likes of which a person never heard before. Without even knowing it was happening he taught you how to live and how to die. This world will no longer be the same place without him in it.
I don’t know as much about Leonard Cohen’s songs, books and poetry as I probably should. I know the basics of Leonard Cohen’s life but I can’t tell you specifics from his biography. For me Leonard Cohen was an example of how to live as a man and an artist. It is strange to me that I have the deepest reverence and respect for a man I have never met. I studied his interviews and from that I learned what I needed to know. I have his album Songs Of Love And Hate hanging on my wall, in the same way that someone would hang a cross or a picture of their hero.
I suppose this is what Leonard Cohen meant to me. He was my teacher. He was a man who spoke more eloquently about how to live life and deal with the various demons he struggled with than any other man I have heard speak. He made me feel less alone with my demons and despair. He showed me the way to deal; through solitude, meditation, occasional nights filled with wine and women, books, music and filling up journals with words, wisdom and art.
How many people become icons but continue to live in very humble conditions, on the second floor of a small home (his daughter and her family live below) in a lower economic neighborhood? He didn’t care much for more ostentatious material things. Money was not his main thing. How rare to find a human being (especially a successful one in America) who puts his art and his life before preoccupations with money, status and more materialistic things.
In today’s America, it is the poets and artists who go unseen. No one talks about them. Leonard Cohen broke through the thick cloud of obscurity and showed generations of artists and poets that they do not have to live a defeated, delegitimized and conformist life. He showed artists, poets and writers that there are alternative ways of living where you can keep your edge and remain in the poetry.
I could be wrong but I think Leonard Cohen somehow knew me. I often felt like he was talking right at me, especially when talking about isolation, loneliness, women, love and art. But I know everyone who loved him felt this way. That is what made him so great and this is what makes things feel so much more hollow and empty now that he is gone.
Thank you for everything Leonard Cohen. You were such a class act. I will continue to live the things you taught. Hallelujah.
Paul Squires, Poet Laureate Of The Universe.
Dear Mr Paul Squires,
Even though I am slightly ill (so please forgive my spelling errors) I feel the need to write to you now that you are in heaven or in some other transgressive realm. I went to bed with you on my mind and awoke with the taste of your words in my mouth. I found out last night, upon arriving home from work, that you have passed away. I was told that you decided to “fall” your way out from this universe. Last night while I was lying in bed I was pre-occupied with the way in which you handled the fall. Did you have a smile upon your face as you let go of your physical body? Were you terrified and filled with fear or did your much adored alcohol take the edge off as you made your way down? I see you turning yourself into a worm like ball, sticking your hands over your head and yelling out “wee!” as you go. But I wish this was all that I could see because there is another picture of you that I have in my head as you take your final fall. I see you terrified and trying to hang on to something that will keep you in this life. I see you not yet ready to go and pissed that you were not aware of your final step. There is blood and a lot of unpleasant, un-poetic sounds. In my image of your fatal fall I see the words that you are yet to write into life trying to stop your terrible tumble. There are tears in yours eyes and pain in your skull because you know that not even the words that you dedicated your life to could save you when you needed them most.
This is an image that I am trying to erase from my head. Instead I have watched countless videos of you (okay only one video, but I have watched it again and agin) reciting your heart grown poems. I find myself being more interested in the way you move your hands and hold your body then I am with the actual poem. I know that you believed that the posture that a poet assumes when reciting a poem is as important as the poem itself- but the way you move your figure with the grace of a cat or fish makes me wonder if the beauty of your movements does not overpower your words. For me Paul, you were a physical presence. Even though I never met you in the flesh, you were my literary beloved. I feel your presence when I write and the knowledge that soon after I post an entry on my ridiculous blog, you will be using your eyes to digest my words, is what kept me going. The fact that now I know that you are not on the other side of my computer, that we are not connected by a digital umbilical cord any longer- seriously diminished my will to write.
But I do not want to talk about me. I want to talk about what it is you mean to me dear Paul. As far I was concerned you were my poet laureate. You were my greatest critic and a big chunk of my inspiration. You gave me the courage to believe that maybe what I was writing was not crap. Praise from you was like having one of my short stories published in the New Yorker Magazine. Because of your praise I gained faith in my writing and actually learned to see my self as a writer in the feedback that you gave to me. I threw out literary references at you and my intention was to hit you in the face or stomach. But each reference I threw out, even the most obscure ones, you caught, understood and returned to me with such grace that I was humbled by your intellect, understanding and skill. You did your homework Paul Squires. You read the books, toiled over and mastered the poetry and in my eyes you were without a doubt the real thing. A modern-day Yeats, one of the greatest Australian poets that has ever lived.
But I want to talk more about your fall because for now I am more hung up on your death that I am on your life. I am in a state of awe mixed with shock. This morning I woke up dizzy and sad. Two hours later I am still dizzy and sad. Personally I think a fall is a brilliant way for a poet such as yourself to exit from the stage of life. I can not help but wonder if you purposefully chose your exit knowing full well that it was the perfect literary death. I mean falling to ones death has been done by other literary giants. Primo Levi fell down a flight of stairs. Dylan Thomas fell out a window. Bohumil Hrabal fell out a window. I know that you must have been aware of these all too literary final exits and I can not help but wonder if one evening you got drunk and decided to follow their way down. I suppose this I will never know- and I am not so sure I want to know. I enjoy having the freedom to imagine you writing your final poem about” tumbling” and “the unexpected” and then stepping outside your door, smiling, taking a deep breath and then exiting stage left. Yes this is the kind of death I want to imagine you had. A literary death- the kind of death you deserved.
Paul’s final poem:
Gene Kelly Tattoo
that which you can see
you already have
it is the unexpected
stumblings over (airborne joy with tumble roll)
which constitute the treasure
merriment and dance
I love you Paul Squires and I love what you meant to so many others. For as long as I am alive I will archive your words and your being in my mind and if one day I ever manage to have a child of my own I will read them poems from your “Puzzle Box” before they fall to sleep. I still can not believe that you are no longer in this world since for me you were so full of life and love. The time that you spent giving so much support and feedback to others was a quality in you that I always admired. I will miss never again reading another comment from you on my blog. I will miss our emails. I will miss looking forward to our future meeting. But you lived for 46 years and like so many of us mortals love to forget, death is inevitable. In the face of death you lived, you wrote, you read and you inspired. What more is there to a life well lived? So you have gone first and as long as I am here I will continue to live filled with the language that you sang into me. I will also continue to take you final piece of advice to me and “step outside, take a deep breath and just enjoy the slightest vibrations that are in the fresh air. Even though you can close your eyes, never close your ears. Listen to the lullabies.” Goodbye for now my friend. With tears in my eyes I hope the hardest part of your fall has now come to a peaceful end. Now you are apart of the voice of God.
There are more books that I want to read than I can stand to think about. A mass graveyard of books waiting for me to resurrect them. I am so over whelmed by the amount of books that I want and need to read-that I have difficulty reading through one book from cover to cover. Half way through a book, I suffer such anticipatory anxiety by the thought of what book I will read next- that I loose interest in the book I am reading. Occasionally a work of fiction (which is all I read) will take a hold of me and I will complete the book (below I will cite the twenty books that have done this to me). In these rare and holly circumstances the book becomes an altar, a ritual and a prayer that I carry with me through out the day. I take the book with me wherever I go, like a doctor carrying his medicine bag. When I am finished reading the book a sadness comes over me because I know have to leave a part of me behind. There is a small death, a short grieving process and then like a true Booky I set off to the bookstore in search of another book.
I resent work because it keeps me away from my true work- which is reading. I have always said that the worst job to have in a capitalist society is that of a reader (this is why some of the most unhappy people are those who think that their happiness depends upon time that they get to spend reading). You spend a lot of time working/reading but are not payed for the work you do (this is why most Bookies are well educated and poor). And make no mistake, reading good literature is work- it requires complete attention, dedication and time.
As a Booky I also resent anything that resembles responsibility because it swallows up time that could be spent between the pages of a book (this is why a lot of Bookies avoid having children and friends). A true Booky shares an apartment, where the rent is to high (I say apartment because a true bookie could not afford a house), filled with half read and unread books and a stack of books by a reading chair that they are currently attempting to read (but will most likely never finish). As a Booky I spend a lot of time wishing that checks made out to me, would just show up in my mailbox. This way I could avoid the dreaded thing often referred to as “the job.” I also spend a good amount of time in bookstores but I do not always walk out with a book in hand. The book that I buy must be thought about, contemplated- because it has to be intriguing enough to take me away from the book that I am currently reading. Being a Booky is not without its downsides, life is hard for a Booky- but a true Booky spends the majority of their time lost within the pages of a book so that they do not have to think about the downsides.
I am fortunate to live in the San Fransisco Bay Area because there are a plethora of independent bookstores that I can meander around in. For me, the act of entering a bookstore is what I imagine entering a Church or a Mosque would be like for some. It is like entering a realm of endless possibilities. What I may stumble upon could forever change my perception of life- and this possibility is the high that keeps me in a kind of dedicated, hyper aroused pursuit.
My two favorite bookstores- City Lights in San Fransisco (stomping ground of Beat Writers and Poets which is owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti) and Moe’s in Berkeley are universes unto themselves (that have swallowed the large majority of my income). Every time I enter these bookstores I am carried away into a different time and space. I am possessed by a holly ghost. My worries and fears leave me. The burdens of my life let me go. I am at one with myself and as excited to find a new book as a beggar is to find God. I sometimes catch myself drooling over my chin as I search the isles of books looking for a title that will change my life. I spend hours in the endless, solitary investigations (this is why no one who knows me will go into a bookstore with me) until my back and neck hurts and it is time to go home.
Most often I walk out of the bookstore empty handed, dismayed by my inability to find a book worth reading. In these situations a small depression comes over me and I usually end up drinking too much booze to wash away the despair. But every once in a small while I will find the book. On these rare life affirming occasions it is a customary ritual for me to leave the bookstore with a new book in hand and go to the nearest liquor store where I purchase a cigar. I then find a comfortable lit spot to sit someplace along the street and smoke my cigar like a man who just been given second shot at life.
Twenty Books That Have Taken Hold Of Me From Cover To Cover (in no special order):
1- The Trial/Franz Kafka
2- The Looser/Thomas Bernhard
3- Ulysses/James Joyce
4- Women/Charles Burkowski
5- The Stranger/ Albert Camus
6- The Dharma Bums/Jack Kerouac
7- The Noodle Maker/ Ma Jian
8- Hard Boiled Wonder Land And The End Of The World/ Haruki Murakami
9- Crime And Punishment/Brothers Karamazov/ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1o- To The Light House/ Virginia Wolf
11- The Key/ Junichiro Tanizaki
12- The Satanic Versus/ Salman Rushdie
13- The Diving Bell And The Butterfly/ Jean- Dominique Bauby
14- Dance, Dance, Dance/ Haruki Murakami
15- Siddhartha/ Herman Hesse
16- Too Loud A Solitude/ Bohumil Hrabal
17- Journey To The End Of Night/ Louis-Ferdinand Celine
18- The Death Of Ivan Illiych/ Leo Tolstoy
19- The New York Trilogy/ Paul Auster
20- The Woodcutters/ Thomas Bernhard
21) Three Novels- Malloy/ Malone Dies/ The Unnamable/ Samuel Beckett
The difficult thing about being a Storyteller is finding the time to write. In our post industrial technocratic society man, woman and child are subjected to a fate similar to the wrath of God against Adam and Eve. We must work by the sweat of our brow, labor away all of our vital energy so that we can afford to maintain a semblance of dignity and pride. It is an unusual condition to be wedged between because most have become so habituated to this way of being (working) that they see no alternative. They have learned to love the hand that enslaves them and decry a life without hard work ( a classic case of conditioning). After all we know that the majority of hard workers are working hard only so that they do not have to be left with the time to take a deep look into themselves. They find their identity within their work because what is deep within them is devoid of substance. This is a catch 22 situation. You work hard and you loose your self but without hard work you loose your house. This is the great modern modern dilema- how to find the time to live your life.
Since, I have been working full time as a Teacher I have found little time to write. I long for the days when I posted upon my blog every day and read with great anticipation the comments that followed in return. I was telling my stories and people around the world were responding to what was told. As a Storyteller who has been burdened with the naging desire to write, tell stories and be heard (psychologists tell me this is because my parents did not listen or pay attention to me)- the outlet of a blog has been heaven sent. But now because of the curse of “working by the sweat of our brow”, I have had to labor away all of the hours of my day and night educating young minds about how to avoid getting stuck in this consuming rat race. We talk about ways to make a fortune before the age of twenty so that they can buy an island and live far away from this synthetic life-denying culture that us humanoids have created. We find critical solutions for problems of “work-addiction” and plan strategies for ways that I can escape from this society and join a race of people who live more in harmony with life rather than the preoccupation of working.
You may wonder how this has anything to do with being a Storyteller, and I would respond that it has everything to do with being a Storyteller. In societies that are consumed with progress and work the first species to become exiled our expendable are the Storytellers. The workers or citizens of these corporate republics do not want to be reminded of their servitude, their complete dependency upon forces outside of themselves. This is why Plato exiled poets from his Republic. “The poets will allow the people to see the many ways that the established government must manipulate the citizens into the cave and away from the light of humanity,” he said. This is what the Storyteller does- he/she makes people more human.
But I no longer have the time to write or spin stories in my head. I have been drinking more and sleeping less. All of my usual creative outlets have been plugged up by work. Time seems to have shortened. By the time I am ready to read and write my eyes refuse to remain open and willing to follow the words which exhaustion has caused me to read and write backwards. This is the world that I have found myself within, and yes it is the very dynamic that seeks to exile the Storyteller from the very body it resides within. Sometimes late at night when I am lying in bed, I can feel my body shaking and becoming tense. I grow restless and have difficulty staying still. It takes me hours to fall asleep and I know that these systemic sensations are the result of my inner Storyteller trying to escape from my body so that it can go some place else where it will have the peace, light and time to tell its many tales.