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Beatnik Beat: Beautiful Names

by William Morder

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a woman’s name. ‘Twas no ordinary name, such as mere mortals are wont to use, but rather methought a Divine Name that I knew only by legend and song. It took me a while to distinguish between the woman and her name, but then, what can I say? I was in love. All this to point out a peculiarity of creative persons, like poets. We (or at least, I) often make decisions based purely on sentiment or even superstition, suddenly changing course, affecting friends and family … for the sake of an indescribable feeling or quality. Art is not a thing like a marketable product, but rather a series of events in a recurring love-affair. This unpredictable nature of art is deeply annoying to people who would systematize everything. Other people make irrational decisions, too. But we creative types tend to live in defiance of common sense, because finally it is impossible to separate life from art. Who knows where lightning strikes? My own research indicates that inspiration depends on two elements: a good night’s sleep, and in the morning, the correct balance of caffeine and carbohydrates. The rest is unexplainable. Next to more respectable academic disciplines, I believe, literature, art, music, and so on, are just varieties of crystal-gazing. Now then, I ask you, what can be done with a grown man like myself, the father of grown children, who still falls in love with words and names, who walks round wide-eyed, and is a bit awkward, who sometimes buys books instead of food, who uses a Zen method of financial management, who takes up the study of music again after twenty years’ neglect, who is curious about physics, history, calendars, philosophy, mathematics, anthropology and cooking? Obviously, I will never amount to anything in business. Therefore, I must be a poet, or something like that. Some months ago I lived in a small town where strangers, I learned too late, were unwelcome — especially, strangers who did not bowl or golf. To own a guitar was cause for gossip. My boxes of books and records, reclusive habits and irregular hours could only mean that I was up to no good. My motorcycle was sabotaged by gangs, and my mail stolen, yet nobody had seen anything. The police said maybe writers imagine stuff. I evaluated my situation. Where could I, a man from the Land of Odd, survive and flourish? I said, Riverwest. Many artists live in this area, and many more travel here to work or perform. Even so, the arts community is a small fraction of Riverwest. Frankly, I doubt my Palestinian grocer cares what I read or write. His family still live in Gaza, and he attentively watches the Arabic news channel. Our conversation is sparse, but he seems affable and hearty, and he special orders my Guinness. The old Russian woman who walks her dog along my street also never mentions literature, not even Russian literature, not even Pushkin. But she always says privet, hello, and we discuss Milwaukee’s interesting weather, and what it might mean. Why did they come here, I wonder? I meet many like them, casually, but they make me feel at home. We are a crazy mix of every background, language, lifestyle, nationality, faith, philosophy and politics. At least in Riverwest, nobody is bothered by how I live. Here, instead, I am quite content to be the square who lags far behind the avant-garde. Most of my friends in this world live in Riverwest. This, too, is stranger than it sounds: I have been reunited with several dear friends, whom I had not seen in five, ten, even twenty years. How is it that we tell similar tales of our lives, and that all of us, at this fleeting moment in the course of civilization, decided to return to Riverwest? Now we live, work and play within a few streets of one another. But, what can I say? I am only one person, and what have my jumbled observations to do with the price of tea in China? It is That that makes people laugh and cry, and it is That that makes them live and die…. Qu’ran 53: 43-44 Riverwesterners as a rule are a pretty peaceful group. Somehow, in our diversity, we have few clashes due to race, culture or religion. We do have problems with crime, but that is the close cousin of poverty, and happens randomly; whereas in that small town I mentioned, crime was motivated by reptilian urges, and felt specific and personal. City planners, politicians, the media, developers and investors seem to have ideas about the future of Riverwest. In selling our image, beautiful names are thrown around, and names have power. Too often, though, beautiful names are euphemisms for ugly realities. Presently, I gather, these amorphous business entities are playing ‘Battleship’ with local property owners, the object of which game would require relocation of most indigenous inhabitants. To be beautiful means ultimately (according to the dictionary) to be blessed, or, that is, more than just lucky. Blessedness preserves the human spirit intact. To bless is to care passionately about something, somebody, somewhere. The spirit of Riverwest is its people, who are many more than just the artists who live here. Remove the people, and no matter what trendy name you call this real estate, the real Riverwest will evaporate. Perhaps the siege of Riverwest must follow its economically inevitable course, rolling steadily on to a bleak future of corporate cafes and gift shops, full of tasteless furniture and wallpaper music. There will be the usual bland merchandise and entertainment, and soon Riverwest will be another expensive slum. On the other hand, we Riverwesterners can be unruly, and maybe we will and maybe we will not abandon our homes so easily. Whatever happens now, I promise you, my friends, we shall meet again, someday soon. The spirit never dies. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002