Sympathists

Posts Tagged ‘Autobiography’

Exchange in Verse Between M. Lyon and M. Thomas

In Communication, Life as Lived, Poems on May 16, 2009 at 9:50 pm
Editor’s Note: For reasons passing understanding, one M. Lyon has decided that Mr. Thomas is a fit subject for a project in romanticization. To his great credit, he sent me a request for information in verse. I have posted his request and my response.
“M. Lyon‘s Project”
M. Lyon
Pt. I

I heard a legend of a man,
a man who was quite great.
He is the focal point of my master plan,
and the reason i’ve cleaned my academic slate.
I once heard he lived in a closet for a year;
only appearing at 4.
This mere fact made my purpose clear,
I must write fiction until I simply can write no more.
Pt.II
Yet there is a barrier in my path:
simple lack of facts.
I need to know some info,
on a thing about your high school days.
I’ve abandoned my pattern,
and probably my meter,
but who gives a crap,
I’m just trying to get some facts.
Did you ever toss a man in a river?
perhaps on his birthday?
In freezing cold Washington,
on a Thursday? Tuesday? Maybe never?
Who’s to say?
All I know is this:
A story is brewing,
about a man who graduated in linen.
The story will forever go incomplete,
if I cannot muster some details.
About your senior year of high school.

Note: This is my response to Mr. Lyon’s project.

“An Open Book”
M.S. Thomas


Not really in the mood
but you’ll think me quite rude
if I don’t make a reply
around me on the plane
folks eat, are entertained
no one’s writing save I

So I’ll take a look back
to days at the dog track
where I ended up by mistake
thought we could beat the odds
just silly teenage sods
there was no money to make

I know not if J.I.
has spun a pack of lies
concerning my personhood
Yes, I wrote poems for girls
who told me they were pearls
ah–but they weren’t any good

About a cold river,
+ the rest of his quiver
of myths and exaggerations
Well…if someone was shoved
it was done out of love
or of congratulations

So to upstate New York
in a trenchcoat–what a dork
but the world took pity
the life there was fine
but naught was on the line
should have gone to the city

I did two things quite well,
needing something to sell
I wrote brilliant excuses
‘bout ridiculous capers,
couldn’t finish my papers
I claimed aces, held dueces

My second great skill
is one I hold still
I fell for crazy ladies
locals, Russians, and Turks
they all drove me beserk
with a boatload of maybes

Four years in the dorms
and countless reforms
led to little of note
I left sans a sob
a plan or a job
and without my trenchcoat

~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~

Editor’s Note: We are not intending to make a habit on Sympathies of posting private e-mail communication, but in this case we can’t resist.  Here is M. Lyon’s response to my response to his project.  We will reproduce the poem, which we will use as an excuse for some general comments on meter and rhyme in poetry.

~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~
“M. Lyon‘s Project, II”

M. Lyon

Response in verse was fantastic,
Incredible more, considering location.
In magnitude drastic,
Oregon’s response was enthusiastic.
Wish you had heard J.I’s oration.
Romantic advice taken directly to thy heart.

I write frivolously, igniting amino acids,
All amounting to a considerable summation.
Good? Maybe; hopefully: a classic,
Yet my aims are not so bombastic.
Not all well in our nation,
Swine Flu! Kill it with some marital arts.

“Part about Local Girl” a bit spastic,
managing moments victim of inflation.
She was local, yet smart and sarcastic;
Her views on Hamiltonians* iconoclastic;
At least she provided momentary fixation,
But those girls were sour as stale tarts.

* M.T. and J.I. both attended Hamilton College in the state of New York.

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“My Dinner with Andre” Part I: Wally in New York

In Communication, Life as Lived, My Dinner With Andre on April 24, 2009 at 8:47 pm

my_dinner_with_andre_xl_01-film-aMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

Am not sure if this belongs in the series on classicism or not, so I will jump in and make a determination later. “My Dinner with Andre” is the famous, or infamous, 1981 film of a dinner conversation between Wallace Shawn, the actor and playwright, and Andre Gregory, the theater director. If I were to make a twofold claim for the film: i) that it is one of the most action packed films ever made, and ii) that it effectively encapsulates the thematics of the entire 20th century, I do not think this would be overstatement. My intent here, however, is not to establish either of these postulates, but rather to simply “blog” the script in the hopes that what needs to be said works its way to the surface. Fair warning: the undertaking will require several posts.

A note on my surroundings, which may prove relevant: I am sitting in the lounge of the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand and plying myself with an expensive, but not unappetizing, bottle of New Zealand Merlot. I am, in short, spending money that I need not spend, and spending it merely for the pleasure of doing so. I will charge the bottle to my room, and attempt to do so unaffectedly. Why does this bear mentioning? For one, because money crops up on two of the first three pages of the script, and because money, and the lack of it, is a theme that runs beneath the entire script: Andre has money, has the freedom to travel and to spend several years trying to “find himself”; Wally does not. Still, “having money” is, as ever, a relative concept.

At the opening of the film, Wally is seen walking through the streets of New York, heading for the restaurant where he is to meet Andre. It appears to be winter, maybe February. In the opening voice-over, Wally ruminates on the life of the artist:

The life of a playwright is tough. It’s not easy, as some people seem to think. You work hard writing plays, and nobody puts them on. You take up other lines of work to try to make a living–acting, in my case–and people don’t hire you. So you spend your days crossing the city back and forth doing the errands of your trade. Today wasn’t any easier than any other day. I’d had to be up by ten to make some important phone calls, then I’d gone to the stationary store to buy envelopes, and then to the xerox shop. There were dozens of things to do. By five o’clock I’d finally made it to the post office and mailed off several copies of my plays, meanwhile checking constantly with my answering service to see if my agent had called with any acting work. In the morning, the mailbox had been stuffed with bills. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to pay them? After all, I was doing my best (17).

One of the marvelous things about the film is the tongue-in-cheek humor that is rarely, if ever, directly alluded to. A deeply serious film, Andre is also a comedy, a fact which we can recognize because we see that the writers are having fun with the characters who are in turn themselves. That is, Wally and Andre are playing versions of themselves–we assume that most of the experiences that Andre recounts in the film are based on real experiences, and that Wally’s account of his home life is more or less true to life–but exaggerated versions. As Shawn says in the preface to the script, “I knew immediately that {…} I’d have to distort us both slightly–our conflicts would have to become sharpened–we’d have to become–well–characters {…} It would be an enormously elaborate piece of construction” (14). In this initial passage, the humor lies in Wally’s conception of a difficult life: “I’d had to be up by ten to make some important phone calls.” Continue Reading

Of Lincoln, and the Country of my Birth

In Life as Lived on January 25, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

Editor’s Note: What follows is a diary entry from 15 months ago assessing life at 33. It will be obvious that this was before Obama’s election, before indeed, he had become a household name, and from a time when the coming economic crisis was already fairly apparent. It should be noted that Sympathies is not a political blog, and this is not primarily a political piece. Still, it reflects a disquiet with the state of the world that, while I certainly don’t retract, has given way, at least temporarily, to a cautious optimism. In other words, for a variety of reasons, it is time for an updated assessment of matters both public and private, but before taking stock of where we are it is wise to recall where we have been. So, without further ado, here is a piece from the time capsule.

young-abe-lincolnIncreasingly, I feel a crisis coming, a point of decision that has been postponed far too long, avoided in fact because of a weakness of will. Either one is destined for action and achievement, or one is not…rather, either one makes the decision to act and to achieve, or one fails to summon the resolve and strength of will, all the while finding new reasons why this should be so.

Case in point: I am a reader and writer first, maybe a talker. What living there is for me lies in these realms; what achievement lies within my grasp ditto. But for a decade I have allowed the regular slide into lassitude to hinder forward movement. Fobbing off the notion that what is done at work is work enough is an unacceptable weakness. But are one’s lack of discipline and minor vices the cause or the symptom of the problem? The answer is the latter; the problem lies deeper. It lies in the character of the age.

People are born into all kinds of situations, situations which imprint their values and norms, their psychoses and their crusades, their taboos and unquestionables. I was born into nothing particular. Or rather, I was born a diffident, private intellectual into a mostly secular household without a governing ideology. Encouraged, but hardly pushed academically, it took me years to even figure out how to approach my potential, and all along the way I have been but infrequently challenged. Have I sought to avoid challenge–fearing that I would not measure up? This is possible. Have I created the conditions for mental atrophy? People have done great work in a variety of life situations–from the depths of debauchery; from the staidness and satiety of the suburban middle-class; from prisons and madhouses; from the gutter and from the palace. Context and daily company cannot be used as an excuse. Continue Reading