Into Another Time & Shooting Baskets. Robert Roth

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LLapan sabadu, domingu ima Chelsea Marketpi bother Robertwan desayunuta yanukuyku iman semanapi qellqasykumanta rimarispa. Todo un placer conversar  con el editor de la revist And Then. Con la honestidad y bravura que le caracteriza, acaba de escribir sobre las kancha kancha literarios opresivos que actuan en NY. Comparte tambien una valiente oracion en una sinagoga. Pero  con su yanantin. Es decir, tambien se puede trasladar a una kancha de baskebol, donde  emboca canastas (no tan) solitarias. Iskaynikutam kusta qellqayta tukurqoun the same day. You such a brave, honest and refreshing chronicler Brother Robert. Manan timpo kanchu, pero si alguien se dedica a traducir estas piezas al espanol o al quechua estoy seguro que brother Robert estaria feliz yutu yutucha de compartirlas

Into Another Time

Robert Roth

For the first time in my life have been disliking what I have been writing. Usually I either like what I write very much or feel frustrated that I can’t express something that is important to me or am embarrassed by something I once wrote. But this is different. I actively dislike it.

 

A couple of years ago my friend Ralph, the publisher of my book, showed me a new collection of poems he was working on. What struck me about them was they were not as “good” as the poems he wrote in his 40s. Those poems had wisdom and a depth and a power to them that the new work didn’t have. I spoke to Ralph about it because it was clear to me that the deep truths that he was in touch with no longer had the same force or resonances for him. The new work reflected that. Obviously the new work was tremendous beyond measure but what I meant by it was that  it didn’t have the same sureness of insight of the previous work. And I don’t mean in any way there was anything glib or facile about the previous work. It was genuinely  beautiful and powerful. As for myself, I think I have lived beyond the time where my explanations and insights work as well as they once did.

 

When the demonstrations in Egypt were happening for example there was much exhilaration and hope. I told my friends I feared that at the end of the day the military will replace the military. Which tragically is what happened. Now is that something that someone should risk to get hurt or die for. At one point in my life I would say (and still do) it is horrible that things turned out the way they did but some spark has been ignited. If not now somewhere else at some point in the future or somewhere else someone will be inspired by it, gain courage from it. But the enormity of the actual loss in Egypt and elsewhere is larger and more destructive than I had ever before fully grasped.

 

Just the other day a friend on her Facebook page asked people to tag the names of banned books they have read. It was Banned Books Week. It resulted in a very lively and friendly and fun discussion. I wrote back, “I think there should be a week called ‘Couldn’t Get it Published Week’. I know many people who have written important things that very probably will never see the light of day. I feel very fortunate I have been able to read their work.”  This expressed maybe a quarter of what I was actually feeling. Obviously it is more than important, it is very crucial to fight back against repression and be in solidarity with the people whose work are banned, people often enough who are arrested, and sometimes even killed. But there is almost always inside that, the assumption  that certain writers are more worthy to be published than others. In a sense you are aligning yourself with organizations who are in serious ways oppressing you. On Friday I went to a friend’s reading. Someone’s whose work I feel deeply connected to. She was introduced by someone from some big official grant giving agency who said the competition for the grant was fierce, that thousands of people applied for it, so her getting it was such a huge honor. Such pernicious bullshit. And what do you do with that? I was happy for my friend. But still in some serious way I wound up clapping against myself.

 

I often wince when I hear people’s achievements listed before a reading. I don’t like it and I genuinely wonder why people are so in the grip of the need for that type of validation. Particularly when it is in the form of governmental or corporate validation. Publishing houses, universities etc. I usually give only the bare minimum for myself and don’t particularly like it if it is embellished in any way that plays into that. I do like it if the person actually talks about how they feel about me and or about what I have written. Sometimes when I have to introduce people at an event I have to take a deep breath when I have to list what feels to me as culturally sanctioned achievements. If I can get around it without hurting their feelings I will do that. But only if I am sure they won’t feel slighted. Otherwise I do feel it is an ideological imposition on my part towards no particular end.

 

I am a bit of a fanatic on the subject. Which sometimes has bad consequences. Many years ago I didn’t mention that a piece I was reading had been published. After the reading, the editor of the publication was upset and told me so pretty firmly. He was right. I was being very disrespectful to all the work he had done to put the magazine out. And blithely ungrateful for him publishing me. Having been co-creator of And Then for many years, I know how he felt. It does feel good when someone mentions the magazine. And it does feel particularly bad if they mention other magazines and leave us off the list.

 

 

Over the years I have felt almost any conversation about books or movies or music was feeding the machinery of official (or alternative) culture. That painting is great. That book is lousy. It is critically acclaimed. It is about time they give an award to…What do the critics know about anything? How could that piece of shit win an award? He is an award winning author. It is just stodgy academic nonsense. Prestigious journal. Prestigious gallery. Prestigious label. Prestigious company. Got a fellowship to a writing colony. What a powerful cutting edge series of poems. I liked her early work better. It is the same old nonsense. It is part of a new surging world transforming subculture. A truly remarkable discovery. That was a great book it deserves to win a Booker Prize. The class bias is just outrageous. It was such a powerful affirmation of life. Don’t understand why it didn’t win an Oscar. That writer opened up my world. She is without a doubt the most brilliant composer of her generation. What reactionary culture bound nonsense.

 

 

Even deep actual discussions would have the same impact on me. It feels like a closed circle. No matter what you do there is no way to be free from the the machinery, no way you are not legitimizing and feeding it. My separation from all that in some important ways allowed me to create. This also meant of course that I would miss out on some important work. But even more importantly that type of discussion facilitates certain type of connectedness with friends and other people. Talking about movies and books and music and art and dance gives people some common activity, something to share, some way to excite and connect with each other. As well as to create and learn and be inspired. It is not that I want that type of connection, it is more my separation from it is not providing me with the same alive space that existed in me before.

 

I feel in recent years I have been semi-closeted in many situations (not all)  that  give me a lot but where I can’t fully say what I feel or think. This took on comical proportions a few months ago. Involving two different events. One in the morning, one in the evening.

 

In the morning I went to the synagogue. I go there essentially to be near my dead parents but also because I like the people and have developed a real closeness with some of them. Usually it is okay being there. When things heat up in the Middle East it can be treacherous. There is a part of the service, though, where every week people pray for the American government. And then pray for American soldiers who are “defending freedom everywhere.” And then a special prayer for Israeli soldiers. That part of the service is particularly hard. Not because I wish anyone harm, but because there is an explicit assumption that the Israeli and US governments are essentially in the service of the good; the brutality and crimes of those governments are not only downplayed but are virtually white washed out of existence.

 

While there, I say my own kind of prayer. Pray for Chelsea Manning, pray for the soldiers not to get hurt, pray for soldiers who are resisting their orders not to be harmed, pray for the victims of American aggression. The same with the Israeli soldiers. Pray for those resisting orders, pray that all the soldiers don’t get hurt, pray for the people of Gaza they are trying to hurt and do hurt. I pray for the safety of the soldiers of Hamas and I pray for the safety of the people they are determined to hurt. I pray that the global dance of violence, power, greed and death stops. But the silent prayer I say in my mind only works up to a point in comforting me. Since everyone else is saying their prayers out loud, it is somewhat self deceiving (and not very convincingly so) to think I am not betraying myself to some degree.

 

Back to the morning in question. There was a visiting scholar who came to the synagogue to give a talk.  I was familiar with his work so I was hesitant to go. Many years ago when he was very young he was essentially pretty liberal. A few years later he made a sharp turn to the right. And in recent years has moved kind of to the center. He was born in New York but has lived for decades in Israel. He spoke that these days regarding Israel he is both hawkish and dovish depending on circumstances or what mood he wakes up in the morning. In the course of it all, he said he thought Netanyahu was getting a raw deal.

 

Someone who I like came over to me later and told me how much he liked his talk. The tone of the talk, if not the content, was non combative, humorous, sweet and reflective. “What a gullible jerk you are,” I thought when he said what he did. Felt bad about what I felt.

 

That night I went to a  jazz concert where two people I love dearly were performing. One of them runs the jazz series there. Wrote about the place in a piece I wrote a few years ago. The concert takes place in a highly politicized radical environment. Between sets the head of the organization, a charismatic, colorful, humorous, passionate black woman made an impassioned talk about heroic African leaders, particularly Robert Mugabe who she felt may be the greatest hero of all. All this within a very astute description of how the U.S. and Great Britain are trying to regain a neo-colonial foothold in Africa.

 

The audience clapped with real enthusiasm afterward. What got me was that people not part of the organization,  but   people who were there who just loved the music, were clapping with such enthusiasm. Don’t even know if they know what they were clapping about. Felt the same way towards them that I felt towards the man in the synagogue.  Don’t like feeling that way at all. A quiet contempt to hide my own sense of powerlessness and complicity. So on the same day in two very different situations, both situations where I get an awful lot from, two brutes were being celebrated. This is where my life has taken me. Don’t quite know what to do about it (obviously this is not the whole truth).

 

Recently I jolted someone, someone I care very deeply about, with a comment. It just spilled out from me. Felt bad about it. Not that I said what I said, but that I didn’t prepare her for something that she wasn’t expecting and that she would seriously disagree with. Apologized for springing it on her in that way. She is a genuinely gracious person and said let’s put time aside and have the conversation. Am afraid of actually having it. But will take her up on it.

 

 

 

Shooting Baskets

Robert Roth

 

 For Scott York

 

 

The fluidity is gone. Before it was a matter of subtle degrees. I could shoot a jump shot but not jump as high. I could make quick stops, starts and turns but maybe a little slower. But at the level I was playing at none of that really mattered. I might get out of breath more easily but not that bad. Now it felt more than just a matter of degree.

 

I turned 70 in December. I started shooting baskets again when I had trouble tying my shoes. Bending over, kneeling down I would get out of breath and find it difficult to do. Needed a stoop or a ledge or something elevated in order to do it comfortably.

 

The last time I played was well over a decade ago. I was shooting by myself when someone came over to join me. We kept taking turns. He would shoot a few, then I would. Suddenly I couldn’t miss. He kept feeding me the ball. I hit maybe 8 jumpers in a row from every place on the court. Then one pass hit the tip of my fingers. Two of my fingers felt like they shattered. Not like the swollen multi colored sprained fingers I would get when I was younger. These fingers felt broken. Don’t know if in fact they were. But they do look somewhat crooked to me. The feeling of them shattering made me worry that maybe all my bones were fragile and if I fell, something I am prone to do, I could hurt myself pretty badly..  For years I was discouraged from playing. But periodically I would want to. But my ball lost a lot of air and I didn’t know how to get a pump. Tried a couple of ways of finding one but got easily discouraged. And it seemed too daunting to buy a new ball. Spoke to a friend before the summer who had an extra pump. Started to play with my old ball. It lasted about six weeks. Then the outer cover started to seriously peel away. Bought a new ball almost immediately. Something I could have done all along.

 

As the summer progressed I could tie my shoes very easily. I could bend over and not get out of breath. My fingers themselves felt like they had more dexterity.   At first if I tried to turn or run I felt like a “doddering old man”. It was very unsettling. As the summer progressed I got more fluidity in my movement. Nothing like I used to have. Still it came back somewhat. I started trying to hit 50 shots before I called it a day. That went up to 65, then 75, then 90 and finally a hundred plus a couple extra for good measure. My shot got longer and more accurate. About half my shots would have to be from behind the foul line, more would be okay but at least that many. Then a few from behind the key. And I was able to reach from that distance fairly comfortably by the end. For the most part I couldn’t jump more than a mili-inch off the ground at best. If I were ten pounds lighter it might have made enough of a difference for me to feel at least I was getting off the ground. Any jump shot I would take would be pretty close to the basket. No more than half way to the foul line. Every so often I could actually elevate to a degree which felt incredibly good. And I think it was happening a bit more often before the cold weather came.

 

Since the weather has changed, even on a nice day, I haven’t played at all. The other day I had trouble tying my shoes again.

 

Over the summer I had many aches and small pains. None too bad but they did give me a sense of foreboding. My knee hurt a bit, then my lower back, then my foot. I might take a few days off and feel better. But I still needed to be careful. Maybe too careful, maybe not. Occasionally I played when I thought it might be a little risky but generally felt better afterward.

 

There is a small full court in the playground that is surrounded by a fence. There are a bunch of baskets all around the playground outside that area. During the time I was playing they put nets on the baskets inside the fenced area. It felt great when a shot swished through the net.

 

I would almost always go out early to avoid the summer heat. When I first started playing, there was a man and woman dressed in black playing in the enclosed area. So I shot on one of the other baskets. They were shooting baskets as well a doing exercises and running pretty much full court. They were in some kind of nice rhythm with each other. I could not tell their ages. In fact there ages seemed to change pretty dramatically from whatever the angle I would see them.

 

They would occasionally imagine there were about 10 seconds left in a game and do a countdown for the last shot. I would kind of play along in my head. The man at some point looked to me like Bruce Springsteen. Very much like him. He looked younger and little thinner. But in truth I know very little about Springsteen except what you can’t help but know. They played there for a while then stopped.

Recently my curiosity got the better of me and I looked up Bruce Springsteen on YouTube. The very first one I clicked on he came on stage with a basketball while Sweet Georgia Brown, the theme song the Harlem Globetrotters was playing in the background. He talked a bit about basketball and then began the concert. So who knows.

 

In the beginning when I first started there was another man with thick white shoulder length hair who was skating from one side of the park to the other with a hockey stick controlling a ball then shooting it against the fence. He also only played for a couple of weeks when I first started, then stopped for a long while until he started again. He was graceful and looked quite strong and clearly had been and clearly still was an impressive athlete.

It was the summer so maybe these people went on vacation. Or in the case of the first two maybe being here was the vacation. Occasionally I see the hockey player walking two very expensive looking dogs in the Village.

 

I started going earlier and earlier. The playground was now mostly deserted. Occasionally it made me nervous. Because the court was in a confined space. Sometimes some high school kids hung out in the park. Sometimes someone would be shooting baskets in the enclosed courts and I would shoot on one of the other baskets. Or sometimes some people who might be homeless hung out on some distant benches. The thought occurred to me that I was very vulnerable and if someone fixated on me for any reason I could be hurt. It was I think basically paranoia. Two times I got particularly nervous. Each time a different sullen looking kid came to the court to play. Both times I said hello and they didn’t respond. Very likely they picked up on my anxiety. But again who knows. Then there was another time when someone in his 40s approached me early one morning. He had been sitting on a bench pretty far from where I was playing. He was well dressed but he looked like a junkie, a word I never use and yet it was the fear that word can connote that entered my head as he walked slowly towards me. He asked if he could shoot baskets with me. I said sure. Got nervous, missed a lot of shots but also felt stronger and more energized. He said he had a fight with his wife and came to the park to cool off. That fight had to do with where they would be living. He wanted to stay in the Village. She wanted to move somewhere else. He had been a former basketball player at a New York City high school and then a professional fighter whose uncle trained him. He moved to Florida. His uncle asked him to take a dive with promises of a important fight in the future. Don’t remember if he did or not but it really upset him; he felt betrayed by his uncle and quit fighting soon afterward. He said he had been hooked on drugs (and alcohol) for a number of years but was off it now. We kept shooting and talking. Me keeping a kind of slight distance as we were doing it. Eventually he left. Aside from my anxiety he was a nice, very interesting guy and fun to talk to.

 

One other thing I was worried about was the ball getting stuck in the rim and I would have no way to get it down. This happened three times. Once a park attendant (after opening up they were not always there) jumped and knocked it loose with his hat. A second time the couple in black threw me their basketball and I knocked it loose with their ball. The third time I found a long wooden plank reachable from a construction site just outside the playground fence and I knocked the ball loose. As long as I could reach a piece of wood I was okay even without anybody being there. But when that was no longer the case and when no one else was around I had no idea what I would do. That to some extent controlled what kind of shots I would take. Occasionally I would take a chance knowing if the ball would get stuck it would because of a shot from that angle. So I took extra care and fortunately it didn’t happen.

 

Another time a man with a dog–at a certain hour people with dogs would come to the park– asked me how long I would be shooting. Even though the basketball court was primarily there to play basketball I still felt somewhat like an interloper.   He said don’t rush but that his dog usually ran inside the enclosed area I was shooting in. I said maybe five minutes. I had five baskets left to make to reach my quota. Of course the pressure got to me and it took me longer than normal. But still well within the five minutes. He then said don’t worry. I saw him a couple of times later and said I would go to one of the side baskets. He said it was fine and he just played with his dog in the outer area.

 

The next to last time I played was somewhat later in the day, maybe 11am or 12. Two young long haired men with headbands were playing on the full court. This time the park was filled mostly with women with children. A few extremely tiny kids with wild energy on scooters scooted right under me as I was shooting on one of the side baskets. These kids were totally oblivious to me shooting. I kept an eye out for them but still continued, worried the basketball might hit one of them on top of the head or that I would run over one of them or trip over a scooter and hurt myself. But in the end we all managed okay.

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