2/19/21: Affliction (1997): Doing Things Right #poetry

2/19/21: Affliction (1997): Doing Things Right #poetry

In the 1980s, a guy at NYU got me a free pass into the Creative Writing Program there

can you imagine — someone did that for me — handed me something worth tens of thousands of dollars

and I don’t remember his name

A girlfriend that I had at the time thought he was gay

He wasn’t

He didn’t have an agenda

She did

She wanted an excuse to cut me loose

She didn’t need one

She was a cold “visual artist”

Who did things right

she followed all of the recommended steps in her painting

and in her career

It was my time of exposure to people who did things right

Russell Banks was my creative writing teacher at NYU for a couple of months

I quit the program

It wasn’t for me

Russell Banks wrote the novel that was adapted into the film “Affliction”

He wrote “The Sweet Hereafter” and some other good work

A proper body of work

A proper literary career

He did things right

I’ve got nothing against doing things right

But when you do

you don’t come up with anything new

I was a refugee from a legal career

I couldn’t detect a difference between legal files

and Russell Banks’ fiction

or my ex -girlfriend’s paintings

I couldn’t detect a difference between legal careerism

and literary or art -world careerism

I was on the other extreme

I was living on friends’ couches

and unashamedly eating in soup kitchens

I was a couple of years from a nervous breakdown

Wildness was slowly turning into rage

My eventual psychiatrist

who used to be a Navy shrink

Dr. Viener

I remember his name

He taught me more about writing than Russell Banks ever did

and loved me more than that girlfriend

Who never loved me at all

I have no idea why we were together

I guess we just wanted to have a non -romance and an angry break -up

I needed someone to hurt me so i could get on with my desired project of avoiding intimacy with women or anybody else

and she needed to get a brief of justification to get rolling on her useful lifelong habit of cutting people loose who were of no use to her ambitions …

Russell Banks just thought I was doing things wrong

and would never get them right

and he was correct in his assessment

he really wasn’t interested in me

he knew that I was in the wrong place …

the insight was mutual

and eventually I went away

Banks wrote stories about marginalized people suffering

but never connected — I don’t think — the suffering to creativity

The creativity belonged to him

Not the characters

Their pain was the raw material of Banks’ creative satisfaction

and to a properly lesser extent

the fodder for his recognition and awards

Banks saw pain

but he didn’t see its redemptive qualities

Just like the society that rewarded him

The limitation of Banks’ writing is that he never got outside of society

He chronicled suffering

He painted portraits of empathy

and left it at that

I think that — I really don’t remember

I just know for sure that what Banks was doing was not for me …

I see Banks type every word of the novel “Affliction”

I see the director story board every shot

I see the actors neatly prepare for their roles

and rehearse their scenes

Every moment of the film

every word

every image

every emotion

is chosen

Meticulous and precise

So much exertion to understand what happens

and then report

their immaculate findings

The affliction of the title is the wound of an adult man who was abused as a child

I admire this movie

in spite of its stiffness

It’s so focused

A masterpiece of attention

protecting itself from all strangeness and surprise

It’s important to study wounds

but I want answers

Maybe Russell Banks was trying to figure something out for himself with his writing

He had questions

I just follow along and wonder

I used to have these sweet Irish friends who sentimentalized sadness, loneliness, failure and death …

Banks fetishizes same

I think suffering is Banks’ gilded cage

He can’t afford to quit suffering

It’s how he made his name

And that old girlfriend has spent her life hanging pictures of dead things on the wall

and Dr. Viener

and the U. S, Navy

gave me answers.

Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas

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