The act of composition forces my ever-whirring mind to slow to the speed of the pen.
This time warp allows me to see and focus on thoughts, which otherwise streak past like the blurry motion of a speeding commuter train.
Composition is the station and platform from which I can read the placards on the locomotives, and correlate them to the great galactic schedule on the wall.
I slow long enough to realize how, if anyone, I am positioned squarely for such life-changing events as those currently being navigated. I have prepared for many decades a heart and spirit that look to see beyond the occasional storms, grounded in the celestial and terrestrial. At once embracing the limitless cosmos and holding the delicate sparrow in my hand.
Such things are the farthest from transitory, and will carry me home.
p.s.: A special note to some special friends: I’ve been out of touch with a lot of things for a while, the blog community among them. I’d often wondered about the fleeting acquaintances one might encounter in such places. I’ve wondered at other blogs whose authors were absent for months. These boiling pot days spent forging the New Me brought scrutiny to this activity. Is it simply self-promotion? Is it conceit raised to new heights? Are all the brightly backlit names anonymous and as good as none? How could true bonds be formed within?
Then the notes trickled in. First from one and then another and then another. Sincere thoughts and well-wishing. Thank you Michele, Ellen, Justine, Leah, and a few other folks.
In the past I had likened life and time, a lifespan, my journey, to a trail. Many are the poets and songsmiths that have called it The Road. The Path it’s called in real Zen (i.e. not Armchair zen). So too, a voyage on a ship, charting one’s course, to set sail, all have found there proper places in the prosaic. These things rang true to me for my first few lives.
Similes to ships seem fitting in so many ways. One is the captain of one’s own ship, and one needs to set one’s heading and plan a destination. The boat can represent a physical body or a spiritual vessel in or on which you transit cradle to grave. It can be used to illustrate tremendous responsibility, and demonstrate what it means to let it run aground or to be asleep at the wheel. It can exemplify perspective, delineating the perimeters which should never be surrendered, simultaneously reminding us that a great wide world exists just on the other side of that thin hull. A world considerably larger and more powerful than you and your little boat. One does not sail through a hurricane. One prays through the tempest, and lives or dies at the mercy of Mother Earth and the ancient oceans from which we emerged. “The sea is so large, and my boat is so small.” There are a few other useful lessons available under the boat-driving brand of philosophy, not the least of which is (depending on what kind of boat) that under some circumstances, it is difficult or impossible to run the boat alone. (And under almost all circumstances, sailing is better with a mate or two.)
Most of the boat-speak still suits my taste. Particularly the part about the sea being several million or billion or trillion times your size. A tiny iceberg sank the infamous Titanic. I mean, it was as big as the Empire State Building, but for icebergs it was a bantamweight, and if you calculated its size as a percentage of all the glacial masses on Earth it would be a hundred zeroes followed by a one.
Now here’s where my divergence lies within these philosophical premises. The ideas about being the captain and responsible for your boat and your crew and setting your course and all that. Well, the Titanic had aboard a well-trained and skilled crew, and a seasoned captain. No knock on them. It was an accident, and that’s why we have the word. But even a full and skilled crew cannot ensure protection against every threat the world might send your way. And sailing a ship on the high seas or the great lakes or the reservoir is a deliberate act within your control. You can set a course, turn the tiller, raise the sails. You can monitor the compass and the wind. There are forces like Trade Winds and ocean currents with which you must deal, but pretty much you sail across the pond, large or small.
As my philosophies aged like cheeses and fermented like wines, I began to understand that life is much more a river than a sea. (I did sneak in a couple of good similes there.) And we don’t so much pilot a powerboat on this river, but rather sort of raft down it. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as something of a Tom Sawyer, poling my way to adventure. There are, of course, responsible adult ways to ply the river in canoes and kayaks. The point is: the river is always moving.
Yes, you can argue that there are currents in the oceans, or that there are tidal rivers which flow back and forth in opposite directions following the tides. But if you go around with that kind of attitude I bet you won’t get invited to a lot of parties at my house.
My metaphoric river carries me. If I stop paddling, I keep moving. I can zig-zag across the river. I can paddle with the current and move at twice the speed of the water’s flow. I can fall asleep, or daydream, or faint or even die I suppose and that river is just going to keep on flowing isn’t it? Now you’re not ever going to get that from a path, road, trail or anything else that you are required to follow and physically pursue.
I can rest. I can heal. I can be sick for days or go on a drunken binge and that river is going to keep right on carrying me. And whether I paddle with zeal or sprawl in a stupor, I will be brought to the places where the river chooses to flow. Brought to the places the river needs to bring me. Buoyed and wrapped in her caress, the moving water will bring me to where I need to be.
Since clearing the ice pack, we’ve had fairly good sailing to the south. Inspections revealed some considerable damage caused by being iced in, but nothing that will sink us. Moored several months for repairs, the crew was eager to be underway and have benefitted greatly from the warmer air and sunshine. Still encountering a lot of fog this far north, but currents bear us for now toward more favorable climes. It is in the hearts of the crew the greatest changes have occurred. Frozen in, there was nothing to do but pass the time, and soon they fell into their own doldrums, making the motions of the living, but with the eyes of zombies. For a considerable time after we were first underway, they were compelled to keep looking back at the sheet as if it were stalking them. It was out of sight more than a full day before the light returned to their eyes and they could finally believe that one of the longest and most arduous times of our sojourn was truly over. The following day they lingered in the galley and drank too much, and sang. It is the first in many, many months that I have heard voices lifted in song, merriment and celebration. I was moved to tears to hear their joy. “What were they celebrating?”, you may ask. Life.
Exhausted from a harrowing run down the cataracts, I sought respite in the deep sleep of the woe-worn, thankful for this broad and smooth, if swift, stretch of the river.
I woke to the sound of voices. Concern and caring from the close and the newly acquainted, inquiring as to need for rescue.
I have awakened in the levee. Sound and dry, I look to the sun and stars to determine my location. To determine how far I am along the river. Or perhaps I turn to these immortal and perpetual landmarks in space to recalibrate my sense of direction. A ponderous irony, these distant celestial objects make me feel grounded, secure. They triangulate my position on this tiny Earth with pinpoint accuracy. These life-long and eternal companions usher me along my journey, unaffected by tide or time.
Back here on Earth, however, there is some commotion ashore, and I am compelled to investigate. It is a band of those tireless workers. The nameless faces and friends joined in the communal act of shoring the levee.
A view abaft reveals the great length of river behind me, crashing in the slowest-motion imaginable, into the sharp bend. Volume and inertia and guileless will to have its way conspire against those man-made earthworks, and the water line rises with frightening rapidity. A man that reminds me of my Grampa Pete, whom I never got to know, calls out through a bright, toothy smile, sensing my anxiety at the loss of my bearings, and sudden immersion in the present circumstance.
“Don’t you worry about that levee.” his voice was deep and bellowed forth from a barrel chest hanging from broad shoulders, topped with a head dusted with the thinnest layer of white hair. “It’ll hold. I guarantee it.” He looked over my shoulder upriver and went on, as if I had ambled along, inviting idle conversation. “Lot of storms recently, that’s why it looks like a flood coming. Don’t you fret. They were not the first, and they won’t be the last. But from here you have one long stretch, and then you’re in the delta.” He returned his attention to this wayward but familiar wanderer, and looked me in the eye as he finished, “That’ll carry you to the sea.”
The tone of his baritone voice, the certainty ringing in his statements, and that sunny smile washed over me like a tonic, wrapped around my shoulders like an arm, and left me with a renewed sense of surety and harmony with this place and time.
Without another word he turned and strode down the embankment. The human hodgepodge of crew could be seen to be making routine repairs. It seemed the gathering and fellowship, laughter, and a sort of lingering were as much a goal of the operation as any physical productivity. As if they were selected as an ad hoc committee representing humankind. Front-line, first-person perspectives with feet on the ground and eyes on the road. Purposed to feel, on behalf of us all, the confidence in the levee, born of the many generations that have stood such watch, as it were, through fair weather and foul. They buoyed my spirit, and I was chagrinned to leave them behind.
Their voices filled the air like song. The smell of peony and phlox wafted like perfumes, and my ever-present friends the sparrows darted about as I rounded the turn and beheld the great flat of the river. It is massive, in an overwhelming, humbling, shoulder-shaking reality-check way. Immense and unimaginable forces moving at a speed incomprehensible for something so gargantuan. I float idyllically on the surface, as the kinetic energy is carried and dissipated over the broadening course.
How far along to the delta Grampa Pete didn’t say.
I reached for my compass, only to stop and realize it is a worthless bauble, merely a decoration, on a river.
Subterfuge. What a great word. I don’t know what it means and I’m too lazy to look it up but I think it means like undermining or disrupting or disturbing or undoing something but anyway I think that’s how I feel. Subterfuged. If it’s not a working description of an emotion it should be.
So the note from Old Me really left me kinda hanging. I’m not really sure if he meant our time had passed and I was to move on without him or he’ll be back tomorrow with the new opportunities for wonder and laughs and all that happy horse-hockey he’s hawking. I guess it was sorta inconsiderate and selfish of New Me to just take off with all of Old Me’s digs and time and money and doing away with the dishwasher and the couch and all that. But hey, I’m the New Me after all, and seem to have been born with a certain blind spot for some of those “lovely intangibles” he claimed to cherish so. I mean, even when he was away there was still all his stuff here, so everywhere you looked you couldn’t help but be reminded of the Baron von Munchausen existence and desire to be one of everything and his endless and ever-growing list of “interests” or “hobbies” or “pursuits” or “callings” or whatever name you want to give to these evidentiary examples: bird books and binoculars, snowshoes and fishing gear, paintings and poetry, cameras and more cameras and guitars and more guitars and antique radios and more and more and more and more.
New Me tried. Made bold but brief attempts at replications of behaviors, going through motions, forced, acting, pretending- no, focused, driven, grounded- no, drifting, unmoored, grounded again but in a bad way. It was only his ghost whispering in my ear that drove me to keep the plates spinning then-I know- let’s put cups and saucers on the plates! The Tilt-A-Whirl again, only now made of china. Ceramic chaos. And I roll with it and this suits the New Me now because I like cleaning a lot more than I like plate spinning. In fact I never really liked plate spinning per se but, eh, it was a job, and with no formal education you take what you get, you know? I liked being good at plate spinning. I like being good at a lot of things. Good things. Like fatherhood and fishing and baking and chess and manners and kindness and charity and love. And guitar. I’m a really great guitarist, or so I’ve been told many times by both the Old and the New Me, but I digress again and you know how that can be.
So, you know, being in a waking-, walking-, working coma for five months isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You do a lot in a comatose state and when you come to it’s all done already and you’re a little startled but not displeased necessarily and you realize that Comatose Me was partly some kind of alter ego like comic book characters have like Bruce Wayne who is really Batman -ooh, hope I didn’t spoil anything for you there-and Comatose Me did a lot of things I wanted to do or intended to do or should have done or wished I had but just never did and right there is proof of the answer to the question why not? Well, actually there are several good reasons— Hold it! Let me cut you off right there Professor before we’re forced to listen to some crazy spiel- gosh that’s usually thought of as a Yiddish word I wonder if people know the word or I wonder if you can’t use Yiddish words in this weird world where people make a big deal out of the wrong things sometimes like- don’t get me started.
So I’m not sure how this is going to pan out between Old Me and New Me and the place Comatose Me has Shanghaied us all to. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad place. It’s new and you know change is never easy for people they say though sometimes it is really, if you want it, like having a baby, say for instance, which is a BIG change but we want it so much we just make all the space and accommodations we need to in our lives and it seems like the best thing ever, but you know sometimes new things take a little getting used to and also too don’t forget these changes aren’t anything we planned for so that makes a difference too. One thing that held on from Old Me was this compulsive drive to embrace the richness of life before me; these numbered and precious days in this world, my children, nature, wonder and art and discovery and growth and learning and love and laughter. Sunrises and comfy chairs and ethereal guests. Voices lifted in song. And good coffee. I hear Van Gogh: “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”
I don’t know where it leads me some days and don’t care on others. There is a fading twilight shadow of a past behind me, and there is a glorious sunrise of a future before me. A great wide world and a sense of unbounded time fill me with ambitions and motivations and dreams and desires while simultaneously I am awash in a patient and peaceful stillness, a calmness and oneness with my world. It seems I feel for the first time in, well, perhaps the first time in my life as we know it that there is a sort of blank page, an unbroken trail, an empty stage. Space and time to contemplate and create, ponder and process, give and grow.
Old Me left behind a lot of little notepads. You know, those tiny spiral-bound memo pads that fit in a shirt pocket. Flashes of ideas, spontaneous spillings-forth of the heartfelt and hope-filled, observations of the ordinary catapulted into the mind and heart of the poet. Sentimental. Gibberish. Nonsense. Then a few hastily scribbled lines-
So, there you have it. There are no more “somedays” for us. Mind this lesson.
And wise Old Me has humbled brash New Me into silence.
I woke in the wee hours of the morning in the incredibly comfortable reading chair I have shared with four or five dogs over the past thirty-five years. Old Me had left again.
We were having such a great time listening to the ancient cassette tapes he had amassed during his heyday and that of magnetic recording mediums. With each new song he’d say oh how this is a great one and then turn up the cobbled-together ’90’s gear until the bass shook the 115-year-old glass in the parlor-turned conservatory; a mesmerizing genuine vintage mix of true Victorian parlor with a Victrola and oak bannister and an oval portrait of great-great Aunt Edna (or is it Edith? I can never remember which sister it was) flocked wallpaper in gold tones, rich contrasting burgundies. Planted between the piano and the fireplace, a lacquered-wood and chrome menagerie of musical instruments from the diminutive ukulele to a full set of drums.
Under his spell he had walked me through the attic between the Christmas decorations and the stored coffee tables and bedframes, astonished at the changes made in his absence and riding the gravy train at this chance at resurrection from the place old selves go when they go. “There was a whole box of tapes… Here it is!”
I picked up the glasses and the ashtray and carried them to the kitchen and found he’d left a note. A funny twinge struck me, as if I didn’t want to read the meager message jotted on less than a full page of my open journal. What if it said he was going for good now? That he could see I was done with all the things of the old skin, and the cassettes and coffee tables and carefully curated family heirlooms were merely clutter to me now, anchors, space-takers, white elephants, hangers-on, wood and plastic barnacles clinging to my bow, canting my course and slowing my speed. That he guessed all the good that went along with the old skin is attached to old ways and old things as old skins often are, and you can’t teach an old skin new tricks. Offloading furnishings and compulsively cleaning until all hours and filling every waking minute with more activity than the human body and mind should be able to withstand is the wave of the future and the way of this new skin.
Suddenly I feel a sense of loss. The setting sun at the top of the cottonwoods and the poor Pewee the cat killed (talk about a zen epiphany) and smell of the wind and the internal knowledge that the last place I can view the sunset at this time of year is by the well cap which you know if you’ve watched the same sun set from the same well cap for going on thirty-six years now are all part of Old Me and I love him. I didn’t mean to kick Old Me to the curb.
Kind of it was out of my hands in a cosmic existential sort of life thing and I didn’t have a lot of choice or control over the hurricane and could only warn the crew to don their lifejackets as the ship ran aground. I was unconscious for months afterwards, so it’s not like I planned it or anything, and when I came to there was my boat perfectly good but no crew. What else was I to do but hang around the galley and the officers’ lounge and my cabin?
But I digress which I do a lot more often lately. It’s like some magic recording engineer suddenly punches in a solo track in the midst of a peaceful passage of my life and we go with that for a while until it punches out. And so back to the note Old Me left New Me, or New-er Me I guess I should say at this stage of the aging game, and I lost track of all the other diatribes and digressions that keep bouncing like ping pong balls all around in my head like when Mr. Moose dropped them on Captain Kangaroo. (I won’t go into the names dissertation: Mr. Moose was a moose and Bunny Rabbit was a bunny rabbit but Captain Kangaroo was certainly not offspring of his namesake any more than Tarzan’s chimpanzee was a cheetah.) Then after a few more circles like putting wet clothes in the dryer but not starting it or putting laundry and soap in the washer but not starting it or plugging in the vacuum cleaner but not starting it I finally returned my attention (or closer to the truth to say my meandering attention again inadvertently fell)(on/to) the note.
This time I willed myself to pick it up and read it without hesitation. As soon as I’m done wiping down this kitchen counter and well there are only a few dishes in the sink so I may as well do them and oh would you look at this toilet then oh my goodness I didn’t realize it was two o’clock again and where is that note?
Now I miss his single-mindedness. His dogged and dutiful drag through the drudgery a la Walter Middy and all the while wishing for a New Me never realizing it would be his own death knell.
Where’s that note? It was on the table. Did I move it? Did I throw it away? Did it ever actually exist in reality? Oh! Duh! The note is written in this very journal. I’ll flip back a few pages and be right back.
*************************************** three hours later*****************************************
Time is a ponderous dichotomy of simultaneous wins and losses. Even as the winning ensues; the love and laughter, joy and wonder; the world turns ceaselessly. And the potent potential of chance encounters and visitations of beauty and awe vanish like voices on the wind, as another day is lost forever.
So, yeah. I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s a kinda pretty sort of poetic proverb-like thing I guess. I think I was hoping for something more direct and personal, you know like “Hey, went for a walk, back in a bit.” or I was really expecting maybe a last goodbye, something like “Gosh we had some good times, eh? Between beers and tears, let’s choose beers next time.” Or maybe even “Well I guess I know when I’m not wanted when you fall asleep right in front of me and right in the middle of that great song.” or even a simple “Vaya con Dios, mi amigo. Happy Trails.” or I dunno “Goodbye.” or “Drop dead.” even, something I could sink my teeth into or at least understand. But no. He was always like that. Over-thinking under-educated brainiac maniac. (Is verbose right?) I get some philosophical tripe about time. You know what? I have the whole rest of my life so why would I concern myself with time?
Dichotomy-loss-win. What does all that mean anyway? Just a minute, I need to go shut off the shower…
———————————————–terminal timed out 03:05——————————
Out of the corner of my eye I caught the reflection of my manic self, stretched and distorted by the curve of the glass in the china closet door like those mirrors in the Fun House at the carnival. The repetitions made me notice. The rhythmic and repeated patterns of a bird flying in circles. A mourning dove tracing the patterns of predecessors round and round the round silo top.
“It’s okay.” I told myself aloud. As if there were some calamity or crisis, some disruption or disturbance requiring response and reassessment. The listing begins immediately of the ordinary, if sometimes overboard execution of the everyday. Dishes, dusting, vacuum, break. Water plants, water dog, water man, break. Mow, trim, landscape, feed the cat, break.
Swiss cheese memory and post-traumatic stress and innocent instabilities conspire with an aging mind twenty-four hours high and most of them awake. “What am I forgetting?” The listing begins anew. Pay the insurance bill, pay the light bill, break. Like Morse code the messages dot and dash faster and faster across my mind. SK SK SK It won’t stop. G O O D N I G H T S I R SK SK SK Flames a constant distraction I am compelled to stop and stare, pass my fingers through the ruby plumes, marvel at the vapors curling the air in once-in-a-lifetime moments, and other deep dives into the cosmos within my home and my head.
I am spinning but I am not dizzy. Perhaps I’m riding the carousel, or maybe I am gracefully stepping through a Viennese waltz in three-four time. The signature doesn’t fit with the four-four pace at which I am moving. Perhaps the Tilt-A-Whirl would be a more apt description. Turning always, circles within circles, sometimes calm and slow and sometimes fast and impelled by inertia and centrifugally slammed against the wall, all the time grinning with glee and laughing out loud.
A grownup calls from the fairway with one of those typical grownup outlooks. Nagging negative things about needing to go and there are only so many tickets and where is your sister and the fair is closing soon. I must shut down the calliope and the search lights. It must be time for something. Time to go home. To go to supper. To go to bed. To go. To do. The fair is closing. There’s only so much time. Sun has set and fog prevails and from within the mist I see myself up on the Ferris wheel and climbing down the structure like Spiderman. “To Go! To Do!” I race myself to the gate as it is closing to see what’s the rush. Go where? Do what? The crowd presses close and shoves its rude self against the spindly legs of clowns on stilts holding their curious tiny wives “Just tuhwenty-nine inches tall-uh. Step right up!” and the barker is just now pulling the shade at the ticket office.
I lost Me in the crowd, and now I am home and dry in the parlor of my own beloved and vast Victorian Ark, my footfalls leading me to the kitchen. That is where I last saw Old Me. I can’t fully remember him now, like a childhood friend or old Army buddy, I know there were things I liked about him but time has eroded my memories and I’m having some difficulty recalling just what those things were. I gather up the essential elements that would inspire and infuse life into Old Me again, like Dr. Frankenstein only unto myself like some kind of antonym of suicide. The paper. The pen. The coffee. A chair to sit. A light to see. Glasses. I hear him rustling the hostas outside the north window. I hear him stalking through the back room between the freezer and the recyclables and the thousand-year-old relics of former lifetimes. I didn’t see him sneak in. Without warning or will my pen is alive and drives itself across the blank page, rapidly replicating that which as thought races at the speed of neurons around the inside of my skull like a bullet tracing circles in a barrel. There he is! I saw him! Just for a momentary manifestation, a vaporous and veiled visitor vexes my vision.
The spell is broken by the dog and the cat and the cottonwoods and the wind and the unwanted and unwarranted waking from this suspended reality. I return to the chair only to find him sitting in it! He has possessed me like a demon! No. Wait. Seemingly, he has been right here all along. Waiting for Me. We had a good laugh at this for a few beautiful minutes out of this waning day. We wondered very briefly if we were schizophrenic, but quickly reasoned we wouldn’t know the difference so how could we tell? Rendering the question moot, we poured more coffee. As sunset approached, we retired to the parlor, to sit still and admire the gleaming china closet.