I go into my letters thinking 'I will do this, or that...', and then I get involved in what I am thinking and forget. I will make some of this deficit up. This letter will have pics. I used to post a lot of pics and just got out of the habit when I 'misplaced' the software I had learned to use. I will try to find it and add pics again, knowing how many of you look forward to portraits of dogs and chickens.
Also, I keep meaning to put in a small hype for a book my cyber-friend, Charles Hugh Smith, of http://www.oftwominds.com/blog.html, has written. He deals with aspects of my ongoing question - "what the hell happens next??" - in a much more comprehensive fashion than I ever will. While I lurk around the edges of that tar pit he distills its mysteries to a fare thee well. And I keep forgetting to tell you about this. It is a free download in pdf, or html, format for an abridged version. Even at that you get over a hundred pages of very interesting commentary.
I have a hard copy of the entire tome coming soon. If you have followed his blog at all - I have mentioned it here before, you will see that Charles has semi-fried his internal circuits in getting this book done. He tells me he has gone home to Hawaii to recuperate, so I don't imagine the blog will be very well-tended for a bit.
Our prayers.... wait, we don't do that here..... well, our "blank-blanks" go out to him, as they do to all victims of internal disharmony, struggle and trembling.
This is a corner on a side street. It is quiet, alley-cat sounds the backsplash, tin cans hitting the damp pavement, muffled growls creation's subnoise, crunchings its progress. I am here, standing deep in a shadow. It is evening, dusk fled, but I am not boredly-here, just here, waiting, patient for occurrence. A single bulb burns atop an old cast iron post, art nouveau curls and bends - I guess - another time, another life, and we who wait are just outside its milky circle. The circle is like Superman's X-ray vision; if you can get outside it you can wait safely to see what happens next. You are mostly invisible. Mostly is one quixotic word.
It is a quiet neighborhood. But everyone comes by here sometime. It all happens here; I am here to see. There is no rambunctious role-playing, no rowdy see-what-a-guy-I-am games. Yes, there are others. We wait here together. We watch. Nothing is going on, but something will - always does. We circle the pool of incandescent light, just outside its reach. And wait.
This is my neighborhood, my turf, my jurisdiction, and to some extent I can say what happens here. My brain feeds on this corner; it's a glucose drip, a sweet spot in time, amphetamines added again and again at moments unexpected and indefensible.
I am in the shadows chained to a drain pipe, its gurgle my mother tongue, and all the comings and goings of this place slip liquidly past me, indistinct burbles of complaint and satisfaction. This is my corner. I wait to see what happens next. I will tell you about it when it comes. Aren't you here, too, in the shadows?
That is what writing this letter feels like - in my gut. Somedays I feel like I am almost ready to start writing fiction again; it is so like what is taken for real. And I think that in the end I will die, not of cancer or a car crash, but of the weight of words.
Do you know the weight of words? Their heft is like the lead sinkers on fishing lines, only weighted to the loops of your private bowel, dragged out into thin membranes, become dubious in its ability to grant you sustenance, and you are left with nothing to feed on but the air of their passing, these words. Single words of given weight, sentences by the ton. Words are the magic that god wanted to be. Words are milk from the breast. Words are.
Pat had her perfect day. A balmy dusk in San Francisco, dinner in a small cafe, Otello's fatal jealousies looming later at the Opera House. She calls to tell me this; I am pleased for her. This dinner took place with her high school buddy, Bill. Almost a dream come true as Bill is one of those people Pat might have ended up with, had things turned left instead of right at some small juncture. (Instead she has the pirate who likes chickens.) And San Francisco is the city she would have had in the most perfect life. Then she gave me the little kicker: they talked about me. Bill likes my writing; I am pleased with this, but it is worrisome. Suddenly several crosscurrents have met and I don't know what to make of my own spinning head.
I will try to order this so that it makes sense. I have been getting more, maybe 2 or 3, messages a month from people who like what, and how, I write. These are not the obligated-few, family and friends, but smart, independent folk who owe me no duty. This first began to happen a few years ago, to my initial delight; one woman in New Mexico, a stranger, who took the time to tell me I had carved a place in her estimation, but numbers have increased, and I am not quite comfortable with it. Oh, I like to be liked, like to be admired, like to be thought well of - you might not credit that considering my topics: the pink sausage, my time as a thief, moments of madness, the proximity of suicide. I would seem to have no shame, care not a whit what anyone thinks of me, but I do, I confess that I do. For these topics are not uniquely my own; they are ours. I can only lay them out as I do because they belong to all of us and do not specifically implicate me. Maybe that doesn't quite make sense, but the truth of it is inescapable. I am only a mirror. I am not an individual person having a mix of adventures and catastrophes. Inside the smoke I am us. My life is a reflection. This is something I have said before; it is not certain to me that you understand it. We are all in the mix. The individual is somehow subsumed by the social whole - maybe we are evolving into bees.
Does this negate the personal, the self-consciousness, the shyness that comes of being seen, examined, and possibly found wanting? No. All that exists. And there is my problem. I love the praise, but I recoil to think myself examined and found wanting. What a hair's breadth it is between accolade and blame. What a tightrope we walk: the narrow path of what is found acceptable by the noisy majority, the way it bends us all.
Wikipedia called to me; I had to look up the 'observer effect', wherein the act of observation changes what is observed. This sounds both obvious and highly, suspectly mystical at the same time. And that brings us to Schrodinger's Cat - the reference pops up continually. Is it like the sound of one hand clapping, or the tree falling in the woods - does it make a noise if no one is there to hear it? Is the cat in the box alive or dead before you observe it to find out? Things start to get really fuzzy really fast here. I am going to have to find some layman's exposition of what the hell all this is about - anyone have any recommendations? Seemingly simple inquiries with quantum headaches.
The basic fact for me is that I begin to feel changed, perhaps constrained, perhaps prodded - I simply cannot tell. I am observed and begin to wonder if I can write this letter any longer, or more accurately, when the letter gets written will it be me writing it? This may all sound quite farfetched to you, but it is eating at me. This is not something new, or sudden, I have been feeling this pressure for a few months. As I get more notes I find the feeling of disquiet grows. I do want to be liked, despite how I appear. Will I be less appreciated if my letters get crazier, or if they become more subdued? Which? Will I actually move in one direction or another due to this wondering? A choice looming? This is a weird problem. I have always penned this letter from the relative solitude of an unknown person scribbling whatever came to mind. Now I feel watched. My pen may stutter; there is snow on the qwerty-screen.
What must it feel like to be really watched? Paparazzi hanging from the tree outside your bathroom window, your trash examined? I get watched by a few dozen people, who probably all mean me well, and I find my eyes narrowing and myself slipping backwards into a jungly periphery. Our expectations enfold us on quiet feet. This is the way we disappear.
One saving grace is that I am only, consciously, partly responsible for what ends up on the page. My fingertips know what is coming before I do, else they wouldn't be typing things I didn't know I had thought about. It's an aesthetic short circuit; a creative seizure. I recall starting out writing longhand over 50 years ago. My hands couldn't keep up. I lost more than I got down. It was like carrying water from the river to the cistern in a holed bucket. By the time I got to where the water was needed it had mostly leaked onto the ground and was lost, as forgotten as yesterday's flash. Mud, so irretrievable.
And now I have to get my head around going to the neighbor's for T-day dinner. Pat has left S.F. by now and is inching her way back to Jakk La Bomba and family to put any finishing touches on glorious food. I have only to carry the rum cake she baked-ahead and froze across the street to be welcomed into another family. I hope everyone's day is smooth and loving, and that any disasters are the sort that will later be recalled as very humorous.
Dinner is 24 hours done, and I am still considering it. Eight members of the family at the table; four generations, come down from the French, pure Maine-American. We had fun; we ate well. These are good people, probably more like the people with whom I was raised than I can recall; Kansas and family are fuzzed in my mind as if attacked by a mold that eats memory.
The blacksheep daughter who always calls from far away waited until after we had eaten to hook us. A sister-in-law answered the phone: "Joe's Pool Hall." "Fuck!" the blacksheep replies, "I wanted the bowling alley."
There's a family you can feel comfortable with. The conversation though, had that holiday-wake feel. The holidays are always a time of mixed sorrow and happiness. How can it be otherwise when the living have gathered but the missing loom. Mostly the conversation was about death. A list of missing aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, husbands was rolled out. Each was examined and a virtual audio autopsy given specifying who they had been, what they had been, their physical selves, and how they had died. It got quite graphic at moments. I don't know a lot about families. Maybe this is necessary. Maybe this is what families do to lock their history in place and keep it alive. There might have been more going on, too, maybe some reckoning in the air. Even the deaths of strangers were examined, recent auto crashes in the community. Is this some link between family and community that a blending occurs wherein we see all deaths as a loss to us?
And maybe the dinner table conversation was the same as always, and I simply heard it differently this year. My own emphasis shifted to catching words I had never paid attention to before. All in all, I enjoyed it a lot. A blue collar feast of turkey and dressing and renewed goodbyes. The tally taken, the family intact.
The storm drapes are pulled across the window and a little gold soaks thru from the setting sun. I think I feel better than I did awhile ago. My new sound-canceling headphones are firmly wrapped 'round my brain-box; I can no longer hear the wind. It has been blowing for hours. This morning the power was out and the house moaned around me; it trembled. The forest moaned and creaked. I have never liked the wind, not this wind, the one that is so huge it threatens to eat you. It is like that amorphous nether region on very old maps, the hand-drawn sort, that point to the edge of the world and say: "There Be Monsters There". History was an infant then and taught us mostly fright. Today it has grown into a toddler and teaches us all-new fears, ones that we can duly grow into.
Do I remember that wind from Kansas? The empty lostness seems to relate - the sky there was so big and the plains so flat that looking up from your feet was like looking into a lion's mouth, god's face. The entire gulf of it dripped with hunger; you would be devoured if you even breathed. Not just once, but over and over and over, because this sky could consume you without killing you and the agony would just go on and on. Kansas as metaphor, as chilled eternity.
The wind that sucks you inside out is more like a Bishop, the Owens' Valley, below the Sierra on the desert's flank, just after Kansas, sort of wind. That was where the wind first became ominous, where it started to talk to me, long conversations about nothing, really nothing. At night I would lay in my bunk - I was five and in kindergarten and it was 1949 and my father was working, and I would hear the wind come off the Mojave and feel it batter our trailer. The wind has always creeped me out. I feel like an open wound when the world starts to moan with the pressure of all that air moving, restlessly moving, not caring what is in the way, ready to crush.
Zoe is here, picked up from the Portland Jetport at noon, exhausted after flying troops to their battle stations. It used to be that she was flying out the fresh-faced kids to fight, peachfuzz warriors, faces new to the arena. Then it began to expand as the toll sank deeper into our flesh; now it includes fat old men who were selling insurance the week before, and young women being apprised of exciting new opportunities. I don't know if it is just the long hauls, anything up to 20 hours, or the rancid fear that must accompany these troops. She comes home drained, and maybe I get a hit of that exhaustion off her and it leaves me depleted. She is asleep now, and I am glad to be sitting here in my windless headphones: Neil Young is my solace this afternoon. Whatever bothers him I don't think it is the wind.
Pat is home. I am glad. The above seems filled with melancholic self-absorption. I think maybe last year's letter, when Waldo was dying, written, too, while Pat was gone was much the same. She is home, so glad to be here - for about an hour, then angry. I think it is a function of location. On the left coast she is the expected, the grandmother, the listener, empathetic-mom, and then she comes home and can be who she wants and a couple days of bitchiness ensue. No one here will be more than mildly miffed.
She tells me some parts of her get larger, and some smaller, in other places, and coming home is a reconfiguring. Some power that was needed while away is no longer needed, is in the way even, and is ceded to the balance of our relationship. The adjustment can be ragged. We will get straightened out into our own routines soon enough.
December the fifth and calm here now. Smiles and hugs. Homeostasis renewed. Read Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time'. Now I am reading 'The Tao of Physics'. Capra's book is much more my sort. He examines the uncertainties, the unknowables, of physics, and he relates what has been learned in that field to what age-old mystic traditions teach. Both come to the same thing: everything is one, all is connected, nothing is really knowable. I can understand this in an oblique sort of way. The first time I dropped acid was at the beach; I was probably 22. For a time my brain absolutely comprehended that all things were one. There were, for a short time, no boundaries, just a pure joy. That is why were were encouraged by the likes of Tim Leary to drop acid: we would see god's face, so to speak. Because it really has nothing to do with god, per se. What it does have to do with cannot be reduced to verbal terms. It can only be felt.
The quantum physics of subatomic stuff, and Einstein's Relativity Theory of bigger stuff both point to the same conclusions: everything is one, all is connected, and neither language nor rational thought can bring us any understanding of what that means. This assurance does comfort me as I was absolutely stuck in trying to even think about it all. I mean you can get really crazy trying to see what might have been before time, before the beginning, or will come after. We have neither the brain nor the speech to encompass infinity.
It is a relief to think that these puzzling terms are constructs I have been raised with, structures that bind my thinking into some sort of everyday coherence and let me get to the mail box, and make coffee and feed the dogs, but that they aren't reality. I might have better been left in dire quandary according to the Zen idea that the paradoxes we face finally force us into a new way of seeing. My doubt was the beginning of a rough healing; I dodged it. I have let myself off the hook with just another layer of rational explanation regarding an extended reality. Done myself no favors. But questioning all that is just another layer of trash added on again. We are good at adding thought-trash. We make up questions that divert us. It is what we are taught to do and enjoy and rely on. How to break out of it and see the coherence of it all?
This problem concerned me greatly for a time 40 years ago, just before Zoe was born. I fasted. I meditated. I sought. I longed. I ached. I thrashed. And it did finally come home to me that the longing absolutely blocked the finding. I understood I could only find out any truth, or the one truth, by not seeking it. What a pain! I had been doing Hatha Yoga; there are many forms of Yoga. Each is simply a discipline to focus you on simply being and getting beyond all the flailing. I took to the idea of Householder Yoga - I don't recall the exotic name for it. The idea was that you remain a Yogi, a seeker, but you do so without seeking. You live the life of the world. You are a householder, a husband, a father, a fuckup, and anything else that comes along. But you remain a Yogi, because you know more exists and know that by doing what is done everyday by everyone else you can move toward some truth. It will just take you a long time. I decided that was the path I had to follow. I had to live the life I had and the only thing I could do to move myself along was to live as kindly as I could. Not to say I have always been kind, or good; not at all. But in the recesses of my head I do remember, finally, that kindness is the gentlest slope, the longest hill to climb, the most gradual. Even when I have been unkind that appreciation nudges me along.
A couple of things I like about this approach is that it is free of guilt. The wrong you do you do to yourself. To put it another way, I may do you harm, but all I can really aspire to is to not do it again, or to do better next time. Berating myself will help neither of us. This does not absolve me of having done you harm. It allows me to try again. It allows you things too, but I would be quite beyond myself to know what they are. Should I tell you that there is some wonderful lesson to be learned by what I have done to wound you? I might occasionally be that big an asshole, but then, once again, all I can do is try again. I don't know that there is any 'getting it right', there is just the trying to be a decent person, to be conscious of where you are standing and what your hands are doing and which way your feet point. The other thing I like is that no god is needed. Since god, in this sense, is everything, god is also nothing. The guy with the long beard, the long memory and lightning bolts coming out his fingertips is as silly as silly gets. God is just another way of saying "all of it", and divinty be hanged. I will worship at the altar of Karo-smothered waffles and bacon cooked limber.
I like that. Maybe I will pursue this all a bit more. Paradoxes seem to be on my mind of late. They are somehow cleansing. An abrasive mental enemata.
Now I must confess that there are no pictures. I worked on some. Nothing came out right. Pat is home and we are all happy and warm: picture that.
all of us.