By Brian George
The 12-step curriculum of the wormhole; only two lines
could be saved from the Mahabharata
could be saved from the Mahabharata
You wrote, “I just realized that George's writing parallels the layers of dreams I just saw in the movie 'Inception'. There's a time-release / time-differential thing going on where some parts you get immediately and some just 'pop' in when you're not even thinking about it.”
It amazes me how moments of great significance can pass almost unnoticed at the time, and yet something has been seeded and set in motion in such a way that it will later smash and then rearrange your world. I, very luckily, became aware of this early on, and ever since have been reluctant to describe any potential teaching moment as being either a “positive” or a “negative” experience, until—at a minimum—several years have gone by.
When I was a senior at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, I had a “Cultural and Intellectual History of Europe” teacher called Samuel Sleeper. He was gruff but not especially loveable—a classic professorial type, with a tweed jacket and Meerschaum pipe, brilliant but absent minded and more than a bit disgruntled, since he was teaching at a high school and not a college. He seemed to forever be picking some piece of mucus or tobacco off of his lip.
His eyes fixed on a point known only to himself, words almost but not quite exiting from his mouth, his hand half-raised in some archaic gesture, Mr. Sleeper would drift through the corridors of our shopping-mall-style school—as though drawn by the field of a Nietzschean magnet, as though each door were the cover of one of the Great Books. At times, he would sense some strange disturbance in the field, as when, for example, a student might flag him down to ask a question about homework. He would pause, annoyed, as his eyes refocused on the third dimension, before answering a question that the student did not ask.
His lack of immediate focus was the sign of some deep philosophical assault on the Abyss. He would spend five minutes in tamping the tobacco into his pipe, and then stare at it, and then just as studiously remove all of the tobacco he had just put in.
Due to my inadvertent courting of the power of the World Snake, the egg that had contained the small city of my childhood was just about to be smashed apart. One night, at around 2AM or so, I experienced a kind of volcanic upsurge in crude visionary energy, which led to the creation of my first true poem—a 16 page megalomaniacal teenage Mahabharata. Very foolishly, perhaps, I turned to the most self-important teacher that I could think of for assistance. Mr. Sleeper agreed to serve as editor for these 16 pages of archly literate hallucination.
Slowly puffing on his pipe, and pausing every few minutes to pick a piece of food off of his tie or sport jacket, the Incarnate History of the West, the Living Sculpture of Praxiteles pondered, as the up and down wagging of his enormous head came finally to rest. He said, “Well, here is a good line down at the bottom of page three, and here is another one on 16 that has a bit of potential.”
I was crushed, as might be expected, and did my best to immediately forget his assessment of me as a self-deluded dilettante. This I managed to do—to some extent, and with variable success—for the rest of the school year. But his judgment haunted me. I found good reasons to ignore it: Mr. Sleeper was a snob. I was a working class kid from the wrong side of Worcester who had somehow stumbled into an affluent school. His most immediate concern, no doubt, was to put me in my place. The fact that such reasons were accurate helped to cover but not to heal the wound that had been so casually opened up. In retrospect, however, this was a crucial teaching moment and key turning point. Mr. Sleeper, in his arrogant and blissfully accidental way, had offered me a gift—a great gift—a fact that I came to acknowledge almost immediately upon graduation.
I was smart, yes, and reasonably well read, but there were nonetheless gigantic holes in my knowledge. During the two years before I went to the Art Institute of Boston, during which I was working as a janitor at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette—cleaning ink off of every imaginable surface, only to find that it had reappeared—I would spend almost all of my free time going book by book through the stacks at the Clark University Library. My teenage grandiosity had been killed by Samuel Sleeper, and I had turned into a kind of ghost.
But these two years of contemplative solitude were the womb from which my mature creative vision would be born.
(Illustration: Max Beckmann, Beginnings)