Happy birthday, Jonas!

By Stuart Heaney

Greetings friends and fellow diarists,

Today is Jonas’ 90th birthday and to celebrate, we offer all you diarists a a few stanzas quoting from one of his diary poems written in New York 10 years ago on the day before his 80th birthday. As you will see it was written at a time of sadness when his friend, fellow filmmaker and co-founder of Anthology Film Archives, Stan Brakhage, was dying of cancer. It also expresses his antipathy to the world of consumerism embedded in this time of the season and his belief in the irreversible entropic decline of Western civilisation that, according to Jonas, we are presently undergoing.

You might think that seems a curiously pessimistic note on which to celebrate a man’s life to date, particularly one that has been dedicated to expressing the joy of life in the small but lyrical art forms, but you’d be forgetting that his worldview and the poem itself expresses a great deal of tender and altruistic humanity, as well as pessimism – it also reminds us at this time of year that material acquisition is not the greatest thing to celebrate in the midst of deep winter, but instead to consider the overlooked and the marginalised, realising the importance of togetherness and community, which is the best of human society. Perhaps most importantly, it also expresses Jonas’ resistance to “growing up”, which could very well account for the long and healthy life he continues to live.

But tomorrow is my birthday and I should feel
more grown up, especially at my age, I should know more
about the real ways of this world.
But I don’t.

The world passed me by, I missed it, I only heard
noise and I saw blood in newspapers and salesmen on TV
selling things I have no use for.
I only own two pairs of pants, some shirts, ran out of
socks last week.

So where am I? The ultimate failure, according to the
statistics and evaluations of real life authorities
in Terra anno 2002 — just before my birthday,
which is tomorrow /same as Joseph Cornell’s and Louise
Bourgeois — Happy B’Day, Joseph, and Chère
Louise/.

NEXT DAY:
We all had a lot of music and dance and wine at
Anthology, and the Indians, the Uta Nation came and blessed
the avantegarde, they never did that for
Hollywood. And the Bear Boy sang a Uta Nation song in
our honor. And the snow was still falling
outside.

JM_3 Paradise Not Yet Lost

Still from Paradise Not Yet Lost (1979)

From ‘End of the Year Letter to Friends’, 3rd January 2003 in Letters, etc.

For the complete poem, go to Poems on Jonas Mekas’ website.

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