It is the battle of lizard gulch; a box canyon, nowhere to run, ambuscade of the faceless ones.
When we fight our internal battles, self vs. uber-self, you'd think we'd have the home field advantage. We don't. Whatever it is we're struggling with beneath the hair on our heads, bad habits or psychokiller DNA, it seems to have gotten here before us, rooted in us before we even had bones, a precellular scent. Rose water and miasma mix; both are ours. Like we were born with all these internal flaws that it only takes a bottle of Jack Daniels, or sight of a shiny cleaver, to let bloom the inner man. We never had a chance, not to fight from the top of the pile, and there is no moral high ground when your nemesis is another, unseen you, contiguous hard-wrapped you. Homefield advantage goes to the primordial that swims in your spinal fluid.
You wonder why I do go on so about this, my incessant prattling about inner demons - or maybe just other selves, a bit off the mark in your neighbor's eyes. Really, it's the only show in town. I must pursue the thread. All those other galas and life-events - who failed fifth grade, who took Betty's cherry when she was non compos, who stole granny's allotment, who burns to visit the public toilets in the park in the wee hours....? they are all just referential, back to the scent in the blood. What else is there to write home about? I got a job/I graduated at the top of my class/my new girlfriend is smart'n'funny, I am saving 10% of everything I make/ my vaccinations are up to date? Side issues; believe me. All peripheral as moon-dust. It's that you who raises eyebrows and wrinkles noses that must be tucked securely back into the closet. The other, the complaisant, open-handed smiler-you can go everywhere sans souci, his, or her, little fist deep in a pocket wrapped hard around the cupboard key.
Our successes are carrots life allows us to taste before some seeming-horror or other sets in as the internal clock strikes successive hours. I don't say this to discourage anyone, or to bring you down. If you watch the news, or just look in the mirror, you know our communal and racial capabilities. Without public censure we might not even know that some of our ambitions were ill conceived. Hell, your brother Bob might want to marry Gary, a man, and not begin to realize the abhorrence of his desire without community support. Which tribe is yours? It is written in your heart.
In looking at the above I realize that I imply that all the uber-selves are trolls, gremlins and goblins. It isn't so. Many an 'other' self might be something of a saint, working from affection or a perceived kindness. The key isn't really in the evil we are capable of, but in the excess. Mild-mannered Mr. Goodneighbour understands the strictures of society, the expectations of community, the morals and mores of those who hold some vague belief in a 'god' and are sure of the lie of the land in that regard. He does not go against the grain.
It is in the direction of excess that trouble lies. When you want to chainsaw so-and-so's head loose, consider the very plausible reasons you have for wanting this, and then realize that excess is ill-condoned. No, it isn't always that simple; your desires may be more savage and less rational, but it is a start. Guilt is a lousy perch from which to fly.
A friend sent me, by accident of being a phonetic speller, the most perfect pun. He was talking about never having quite belonged; no membership in the Elks, no group or association ties, no name on the roll at church, no cronies who claimed a booth at the coffee shop every morning and expected his face in that chair, that one right there. Side-stepping isn't a state of complete isolation, just a wariness and a little dance toward the edge of the floor. He knows that we are both like that; we stand just a bit outside the river of humanity that rushes by with linked arms and desires and chorused voice. I assume that he, like myself, does this not out of any sense of superiority, but because we are each reflecting from various internal facets the mirror of our fellows, and reflecting with a cringe a sense of paranoia, disbelief, and worse. Much worse. Pejorative-plus worse. Perhaps, after all, that really is a sense of superiority, but one too tinged with caution to give much comfort. The group is simply not to be trusted. We are each essentially on our own. Facebook is a hoax, and we know that almost everyone will buy it lock, stock and twittering barrel. From just up the hill we observe the parade pass by. It isn't like there aren't scads of us up this hillside, either.
His perfect pun was that he referred to himself as a 'loaner.' Given that we have each suspended our avoidance enough to give life-lease to an older woman we are truly just out on loan. We have one other person in the known universe in whom we place trust and belief. They have become to us rudder and anchor, or at least a map coordinate to which we always return, the safe harbor. We are loaners who probably only ever had one true loan in them and the contract needs to run until the wheels fall off. Until dearth do us part; the lack of that friend voids all paper.
Some simply get off the bus when they arrive and sign up for the human-contract with every face they meet, glad-handers and backslappers, credulous as flies on poop. And some simply back away in mild horror and keep our pens in our pockets.
This morning at 0900 I was Penelope Klup. I lived in a trailer on Bloody Pit Bull Road a bit past where the pavement ends. The surviving chicken was a rangy old rooster who had avoided death with convincing skill. A black cat wandered past; it was my cat - sort of. I was in a pen on the lawn and watched it just sort of slide by in the tall grass; it lived with 3 other large Boxers and paid me no mind. Who says cats have minds anyway? They are lizards in fur coats. Clocks that tick and purr and growl. Organic machines. My brindle dad and all-white mom are nearby. I am four and a half months old; the other five in the litter are long gone, traded for Jacksons and Grants and Franklins. I was a 'keeper', but times are hard. I need to go. I shook like a leaf when the people came to see me.
Tonight I am Rose Forsey, and I live west-of-the-lake in the genteel town of Auburn. My new mom-aunt-sister is Shay Forsey. She growls at me when I box her head; I do it often. She is old, eleven on 9/11 I hear, and sometimes grumpy. I have been to the doctor and am found fit to be a puppy of magnitude - at least in the lives of these old people I have come to live with. Oh, and their funny cat hisses like an air leak. I think this just may work out if I can learn not to chase the chickens. I like my new name. (The ducks are slower than the chickens and much more tempting.)
Tales of Life on a Remote Planet / or / Who Pushes Your Buttons?
Sunday was announced ahead of time, on cerulean Saturday, as a day of socialization. Rose's second day as an Auburnite and the Saturday trip to the dog park had been a glorious success. Thirty-three pound Rose romped happily with cousin Lotus, a hundred pound Boxer-Bloodhound mix; not a designer-dog, but a fine design just the same.
Then Sunday arrived mantled in cool grey hues. August can be like that. She drops her crinoline flounces - she had taken to lifting and shaking them these last few weeks to cool her overheated hoohoo - it's been so hot, but now she instead studies woolen undergarments not out of the drawer since March. Commando season is closing. The first hints of Autumn creep down into Maine to alert the leaves to coming changes. Sweat dries into a fine crust on skin. We go from slithering when we walk to almost shivering.
It would be a socialization day anyway. Pat had a new book: the Monks of New Skete advised heavy socialization for the new puppy. Off Pat and Rose went in Blacky Honda, dog park bound.
Don sits down for his morning mocha and to read the news. A few minutes into this leisure the phone rings. Blacky is stuck at the gas station - can Don come and help?
Pat pulls in next to the pump, tosses the keys onto the driver's side front seat, and shuts the door. The car windows are all up this cool day. As she pumps gas Pat barely hears the small sound: THUNK! She glances in the window and sees Rose bouncing joyfully up and down in the driver's seat. She smiles at the perfectness of it. Replacing the hose she turns and pulls the door handle; mysteriously the door will not open. How strange - all the door lock buttons are in the down position. The she notices that Rose is sitting on the little button-box-thingee attached to the keys. Rose grins maniacally and bounces.
I drive Rosie-the-pickup and bring an extra set of keys to the party. Rose-the-dog is simply delighted to see me at the gas station, too. What a wonderful place this is! I park at the pump behind them. The pickup needs a fillup anyway. Pat and Rose are once again off to socialize, bouncing and grinning thru the cool morning.
Toilet training, aka housebreaking, appears to apply to only one house. This one, the new one is so exciting that Rose lets bladder and bowel go whenever the urge strikes. A lot of going outside to 'do it' has ensued. Stern voices reverberate across the lawn, urging sphincters to loosen and let flow. The number of accidents seems to be diminishing. Depredations against the chickens and ducks are down and Rose, as a name, is taking hold. Day four has been simply riotous fun.
In the garden doing weed triage, not an entirely easy process as some weeds aren't, or at least not wholly: take the dandelion, very important for bees and edible for us, but it has probably caused the purchase of more handspray bottles of evil Roundup than any other plant commonly in the lawn.
So, my triage duties lead my mind back to a blurp I heard on NPR. A man is writing about memory, what it has to do with identity. He uses his grandmother as an example. To paraphrase him: She was still demonstrably my grandmother, could still kick my ass at gin rummy, she just didn't know who I was any longer.
I got to wondering what it is that we remember that is most important. Is it the way from the living room to the kitchen, our children's faces, what we had for breakfast? Or is it how to be the same pleasant person you always were - hopefully, and how to play a mean game of cards, slap the table and yell 'gin!' with the unforgotten glee? To be serious, if it isn't the mundane markers that slip so easily away, yet leave us identifiably who we were and are, then is it something else which we can't quite grasp? Beats me. Interesting to realize there is some essence of us that lives deeper and longer than the who-we-know-we-are part in the mind.
You have perhaps cottoned to the fact that I am more than intrigued by the association of memory and self. One recedes; the other somehow holds fast. Is dementia an exalted spiritual state, the nirvana where self has eroded and left only a holy god-portion behind? Caretakers might find fault with such a thought, and it seems unlikely, especially for me since I don't hold much truck with the idea of an omnipotent creator. But it is so odd that we can lose all that we are on our outer layers, all our telltale self-identifiers, but when peeled like an onion still be an onion on the inside. We will be blank men without fingerprints and our DNA read as an empty page. After that - what is death?
Just chatted with Ara. He had not read all of the previous letter and didn't know a road trip was in the offing. My spawn fails me...... We are invited to park at his place, and even to live inside the house. He is delighted we are coming. So are we.
Looks like we will pull out of here about 9/27, get down into Wisconsin a few days later and to the left coast around 10/7. Nothing written in stone, no set plans to strive to adhere to. We will travel as we always do, somewhat whimsically. Rocky isn't coming this time. She has been a great companion on cross country trips. She has always had the run of wherever we parked and been ready to go when we left, but then we always worry a bit, too. She will stay safe in Maine. Rose will be with us - her first road trip. And if house breaking doesn't go better soon we shall arrive in a smelly Snooky.
I am looking from ninety, or two hundred and seventy degrees, out, at right angles anyway to normal perception. I see the sides of thoughts when I look dead at them. Things seen in only one way since I first uttered sounds suddenly acquire doors on their odd flanks: the same is all new, and I peep in the windows of creation. It is delightful. A complexity I cannot name shows itself; I truly understand for one instant.
How often can we chance upon a startlingly new perception that shakes all our old notions of how things are - ten times in a life? The tool in my mind is like a new language that illuminates new comparisons, allowing that one thing might have aspects of another, or all others, in some way never before apprehended. It is a little like dropping acid. Great men catch these moments and abbreviate them on paper: E=MC2.
I seek to imagine that my revelation might be the dogness of a tree, but that isn't something new, just words offered out of their normal context, pseudo-mystical confusion. A koan for the destitute. Flat and empty as my mouth.
I cannot know now. My apprehension flew like smoke dispersed in a breeze. Truly it was wonderful, was a new handle on how I saw and thought. But it is gone. What I have left is less than the ghost of a memory. A memory might tell me something about what it was I connected with for just a second. This isn't even that much. It's just the inkling of a thing I have no vocabulary for. I want cause and effect to take hold and pin down this realization so I can have it back, bite into it, savor it, use it, but I think maybe it is beyond ideas like cause and effect. Those two may have drowned it as it was born. Glaciers on the sun. Stifled. The stuff of steam.
It is like dream memories. They move lightly, on tiny feet, leaving almost no impression. There are no tracks to follow when they have gone, to see where they live, or lived, and might so be found out again. You awaken with that dream in your mind, take a breath, and the oh-so-lucid loveliness has evaporated, cast out when you exhaled. It is murder by chemical whimsy. Dream/ghost memories measured out in parts per billion and dissipating in units measured so tiny fingers and mind cannot grasp them. We are left alone in this world knowing full well that there is more. There truly is more, and it is so 'other' that our modest time frame can never hold it. There are ideas that are beyond physical constraint, and just seeing one whiff thru your skull - in one side and out the other, is a complete marvel.
I have been lying on the couch under the fan; it is in the nineties again today and my bones ache slightly. And this thing has happened to me, and a few paragraphs have resulted, and now the day will go on in its normal routine manner. Things that really could not meet have met, and I am lying on the couch under the fan.
So, I read the above to Editor-Pat, warning that what I had written probably could not be understood from hearing, much less from looking the very words in the eye. She listened and said it made perfect sense, as much sense as something that simply cannot be spoken about or put into thoughts can. Ten times in a life seemed about right. She said Aldous Huxley had written about this, but that I had done it better. Lawdy! Lawdy!! Doesn't she know how to flatter a man?
I have come close to deciding that I am not authoring Annals of the Brain-Damaged. No, Brain-Altered - and to no ill effect, just might be my tag.
Do you have relatives in the South? Did aunts and uncles whisper when you were ten "that boy is teched"? The good folk of Missouri may now take note that the operative term is brain-altered. It is almost in line with creationism - I did create this mess in my head: take brains, add lead, stir violently, and have a good life.
I simply have to get some pics loaded - Christians might say that summer in Maine is the glint in god's eye.... I'll just say it is mighty fine.
don and pat and rose and shay and rocky and assorted fowl-beings.