God Save The Kinks. I was driving to the train station this morning and listening to Arthur (Or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire) when I had a vision of myself in Shangri-La. I was shifting uncomfortably in my seat, nudging with one finger the sore spot a few inches below my sternum, wondering if it was a hiatal hernia, and dreading my arrival at the office where work has been, according to the lingo, a series of ‘fire-drills’ these past two weeks or more. Then Ray Davies sang:
The little man who gets the train
Got a mortgage hanging over his head
But he’s too scared to complain
Cos he’s conditioned that way…
My wife’s parents live on the east side of San Jose, up against the Diablo Range foothills that are so brilliantly green this time of year. In line at a supermarket nearby I overheard a conversation between a clerk and a customer he seemed to know. “So, how’s it going?” the clerk asked. “You know how it is,” said the other, a big man, spreading out his arms, “…just another day in Shangri-La.” “More like Shanghai,” the clerk said, with a guilty chuckle. The three of us were possibly the only non-Asians in the store – but I suppose we each build a Shangri-La in our own image.
Flaubert wrote by way of advice that “[you should] be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Keep your head down. Conserve your creative energy. Pray to Wallace Stevens. Play Prince Hal among the middle class drudges and office zombies till your sun of glory vaults over the horizon. But what happens when you really are a bourgeois? What happens when you’re too tired and well-fed to be violent and original? Anyone want to take a mortgage off my hands?