A Boiling-Down Summer

Dennis G. Sellers Cell: 812-205-8062 selldenn@hotmail.com 07/22/2013

A Boiling-Down Summer

My best friend, Carlton, a native and resident of Long Island, invited me this year from Indiana to come and spend a “Bohemian summer” with him and his housemate in his neglected, family-owned house that has no cable TV or air conditioning. All middle-aged and mildly disaffected artists or writers, we sweat in shorts and tank tops while rattling away on laptops or slathering pigment on canvas, suffusing the house with the smell of paint thinner and linseed oil. My friends shamble to and from odd jobs that pay enough to keep us in bread and cheese and wine, and we borrow movies and music and books from the Hampton Bays library. Carlton and I are collaborating on a half-baked idea for a novel about a spinsterish young woman who learns she’s an earth witch and gradually evolves into her powers, ultimately taking on a destined mission to help restore and calm our pole-shifting, climate-raging planet. As I write this more-or-less hackneyed tale, I realize the spinster is me in some ways, although I am discovering my empowerment through a kind of reverse evolution to a simpler, more instinctive way of being, living for the moment, flying by the seat of my pants, trusting shear happenstance from day to day.

At times, I have to remind myself that I am living a sort of romantic dream, spending a writer’s summer in the Hamptons like the novelists and playwrights I’ve seen in movies, crafting plot lines with the salt air sieving through the windows, sounding out dialogue on long walks by the ocean, massaging mental blocks with hard scotch in bayside pubs. I even bought myself a cheap fedora at Wal-Mart to channel the mystique of some of my favorite writers, brooding and hot-blooded and impetuous, like Dashiell Hammett or Hunter S. Thompson. But, my friends and I have no illusions in our efforts to produce any resonating semblance of art and literature in these muddled times with the generally beleaguered publishing and bookselling industries and the uncertain implications of the on-going shift from “real” to digital books, and with contemporary trends in art being mostly hybridized and undefined by the dodgy influences of globalism, and its patrons more preoccupied with the art of the dead than of the living. Even so, as for me, I press on, because my life is all boiling down to one thing, a long-simmered reduction, the only thing I’ve ever really cared about:

Writing. Good or bad. Consequential or not. Just writing.

When looking back at how I arrived at this personal distillation, I see the slow bubbling up to a crisis point that stunned me awake as from a long, drunken sleep. A late baby-boomer, I had believed the Great American Myth of social mobility and embraced my hero’s journey of debt-amassing education and subsequent job-slog where I spent many years with bright-eyed eagerness to manage the unmanageable, serve the insatiable, and otherwise tame mercurial dragons, all for less than a living wage and even less in the way of acknowledgment or promotion or actual job security. Finally burned out and disgusted by my decades-long stint of slavish bootlicking and by my having devolved into something resembling a toad, I quit the job and entered a lingering malaise, shuffling into aimlessness, fuming in the nihilist conviction that life had no meaning or purpose, that everything I’d ever believed in was a sham, and that my own life had no use but ill use. But a grumbly stubbornness began to ossify deep down, a rock-hard defiance against ever going back to that kind of work-a-day serfdom, even if it meant having to impose myself shamelessly on my friends and family, sponging and leeching, or possibly even joining those wayfaring, cave-dwelling, dumpster-diving Freegans I’d read about who live, unlawfully, outside the capitalist system, feasting off America’s rejectamenta and refusing to use money even when it’s offered.

I fell into a state of drift, surrendering my sails to the random winds while remaining committed to my emancipation. I eventually took some part-time, low-commitment work, but invested my energies in deep study and meditation, training myself to want and need as little as possible to avoid the necessity of life-consuming responsibilities. After awhile, the malaise lifted and I fell into a gentler flow; I felt lighter, unfettered, at times even happy. Hence, when Carlton proffered his invitation, I found myself splendidly free to let the gales whisk me here for what is turning out to be a lean, hot, carefree summer with my friends.

We spend a fair amount of time sightseeing. In Carlton’s 1992 Mazda Protégé with shot suspension we’ve bounced around the island, moving through the pine barrens and over the mint-green hills, visiting such charming hamlets as Greenport, West Hampton and Sag Harbor, browsing cheese shops and antique stores and old-fashioned five-and dimes. We’ve scooted here and yon, undeterred by rain or heat advisories, to visit a few notable sites such as Walt Whitman’s house in Huntington Station, the Gold Coast to see the affluent region that inspired the setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Jackson Pollock’s house and studio in East Hampton. A poor boy from Indiana with a liberal arts education, with little hope of ever seeing much of the world, I am left stirred and gratified by these excursions. And I’m struck by the fact that I wouldn’t be here if not for my determined disentanglement and nascent freewheeling philosophy.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and spiritual guide, writes that to be fully alive, fully awake, we must be continually thrown out of the nest, and that only by exposing ourselves repeatedly to annihilation can we find that which is indestructible in us. It’s a hard bit of wisdom that I’m attracted to. Only when we free ourselves to indulge the irresponsibility of our thoughtless whims, our impulsive detours, our Bohemian summers, venturing far from who we thought we were, can we even begin to experience that kind of annihilation and arrive at our very pith and marrow, our truest selves. To step willingly into such a trial-by-fire is scary and even counterintuitive, but so is every solemn rite of passage toward growth and transcendence.

And so, the summer shines on, and grows hotter, turning our house into a veritable sweat lodge. Still, we keep painting and writing and feasting large on very little. And I feel rewarded and reinforced in this life I’ve chosen, which allows me to be what I am and go wherever friends or opportunity might beckon.