Sunday, September 20, 2009

She inspected restrooms for a living

It's been a long time since any parent was pleased by the prospect that their child decided to become a professional poet. Among the arts, this is the most cash-poor of professions, with low entry barriers and paltry rewards beyond the boasting rights of being published. I think the last poet to actually make a living from this craft was Rod McKuen, so that shows the depths to which poetry's respect has sunk. If you aren't familiar with Mr. McKuen's work, spare yourself the trouble of looking it up. Write a poem yourself instead.

I usually get lumped in with the poets wherever I land rather than with the more important kinds of writers. I'm no journalist no matter how hard I try to report the facts as I find them. Though I do write essays, I craft them with a turgid, alliterative prose fond of lists, a-la Walt Whitman, and dense with hermetic allusions. Too clever by half, I allow my free associations to guide my plot, such as it is, and even I never know where we will end up by paragraph's end. This is my style, for good or ill, and I enjoy it. What this gives to the reader, I have little idea but I haven't received many complaints beyond a recurrent observation that I sometimes resemble a donkey's back side. Be that as it may. In the right light, though I may not be the man some girls think of as handsome, being WK has its advantages.

I was once acquainted with a poet who, like most, couldn't make a living writing poetry. Her day job was travelling from town to town as a public rest room inspector. She would rate the general conditions and cleanliness of public toilets. As far as I know she never visited Boston. Who knows how many pages of demerits she could have written here? The funny thing is, she would boast about her paying profession. For her, it was a badge of authenticity. She could spin poesy as ethereal as gossamer, one syllable hinged to the next in a Jacob's Ladder that, when read aloud with halting...emphatic pauses, would allow the listener entrance to a world of spirit past the grime of day-to-day existence. Her passion was poetry, something which no one cared about. Her work was inspecting toilets, something that everyone does though few of us are paid for passing judgement.

She considered herself a poet of the highest order. The more she was acknowledged as a poetess, the more haughtily she would proclaim, "I'm a restroom inspector by day!" She wasn't a pretty woman. She looked like what you would expect a restroom inspector to look like, no insult intended to those who practice this trade. She would bring her infant daughter with her, one of her criteria being, "Would I change a baby's diaper in this stall?" She would brag that she brought her daughter to highway rest areas all over the Northeast. This isn't the kind of childhood I would wish on anyone but it may explain a social misfit's most deeply seated motivations. The poet in question didn't come from a long line of restroom inspectors. She seemed to have landed into it by chance and, having found something she was good at, she stuck to it. Like her poetry.

What does this have to do with Dorchester? A frequent critique is that I praise Dorchester much as this poet crowed about her career. I have landed in a place that isn't quite where anyone would want to spend their days and, to compensate, the Dot Matrix is dedicated to spinning gold and self-esteem out of manure. This isn't exactly true and I will tell you why.

Dorchester is not a pit stop where people answer the call of nature and don't care what they leave behind. Dorchester is a place where families are raised and futures find their foundations. It is a place that people move to by choice because it is the best option available, not because it is the only option available. Decisions aren't reached randomly in Dorchester, they are by design. After Dorchesterites make their move by conscious choice, they start to build on the community's strengths to enrich themselves and their surroundings. Though fertile ground, Dorchester is not where people flush their deposits. It is a place where they deposit their wages into bank accounts and all their actions accrue accumlated interest.

When I publicly state my affection for my surroundings, it isn't because I am trying make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. I am genuinely glad and grateful to live in the biggest and most diverse part of Boston that coincidentally happens to be the best. I am not masking shame with false pride. Dorchester is a place with a deficit of hubris. I report events as I find them, pressed through my patented Whalehead filter which many have tried to copy or mock with only partial success. Dorchester is good and there is no changing that bedrock fact. If you don't believe what you read on these pages, this says more about you than it does about Dorchester. I am happy and I know many other people who are equally happy and they wouldn't trade Dorchester for any other locale in the world. Dot pride is more than a state of mind. It is a way of life.

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