Saturday, November 18, 2017

TO GIVE THANKS IS TO DREAM ANOTHER DREAM


Since NaBloPoMo is, for me at least, a time to look back and reflect, and since I've recently crossed o'er into my 49th year (which I'll assume and frankly hope is th' mid-point), I've been finding myself looking back at lots of things, lots of patterns and events going back to my childhood.  Unlike previous years, I've discovered some fascinating things that I've never fully examined before; things that should have been obvious and important but that I've nonetheless missed for some reason or another, usually ego and pride, but also a lack of vocabulary to read th' symbols writ large therein.

One thing that is different this year is I'm finding myself looking forward to Thanksgiving again.

I don't think I fully realized it, but I've been slowly withdrawing from T'giving for several years; perhaps even going back as far as 1996, which is th' first year that my childhood traditions changed.  From as far back as I can remember up until '96 I'd always traveled to Grandma's house for T'giving, it was as regular as breathing.  I might even go so far as to say this was something like my own Green Lantern power lantern:  to NOT return there annually would be to loose a significant part of who and what I was and weaken me as a person.  So, when mom died in 1996 and my family basically ignored me and ceased to involve me in anything, I began to feel like something was missing.  This kept building and building until last year when I would've rather spent th' whole day in bed with th' blankets o'er my head sleeping through th' day than anything else.  T'givin' had become a kind of endurance test, something to just get through and not something to enjoy.  I think we wound up going out to a Chinese buffet last year.

This year it feels a little different.  There is still that feeling of loss and of you-can't-go-home-again that I've been feeling for literally 21 years now, but I'm not sure that will EVER go away; it may not be POSSIBLE for it to go away, it might be like loosing a bit of your very soul-- th' wound will heal, but will always ache and th' scar will remind you there was something here that is no longer.  You will have to learn to dream a new dream.

I'm put in mind of a piece of writing Jenny did on her blog:

Husband 1 mourned every Christmas since the one before our eldest was born. His dearly departed father’s birthday was Christmas Day and his mother passed around Christmas not two years after his father. While I bargain hunted for toys, spent hours hiding in the basement wrapping presents, and committed the last of my resources to manufacturing magic, he wept, drank and sat in the garage, playing video games. And from that same garage, he fetched me a gift on Christmas morning, after all the presents were opened and I noticed there was nothing with my name on it. It was an electric can opener, wrapped in aluminum foil. I wanted a divorce.

Later that year, he attempted suicide after I asked for a divorce and he instead broke his femur, unable to work for six months. We lost the house and went bankrupt. I postponed the divorce for four more years to care for him, shocked that he would try to take his own kids’ father away, he who is so lost without his own. He was ultimately successful, after my second request for a divorce. Rest in peace.
...I spent last Saturday at a Halloween party at our dear friend’s house where he spent the last few months of his life. I stood on the porch that overlooked the woods where he hung himself. I shared drinks with his sister.
“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.”

I remember this proverb when I’m feeling low. It pulled me through all those dark winters to here. It kept bitterness from utterly consuming me. It let me love again, wed again. And I recall it now, as I shake the fog from around my head. I can lay the cloak of doom down over so many puddles of tears, so that I may cross into the next season. 

I knew her 1st husband well, and though it makes me uncomfortable to recall th’ mas she speaks of in 2010, I remember it.  Doc’s sorrow and his tendency to fall apart at th’ Most Festive Season of th’ Year was hard for ME to ignore and I wasn’t even married to him; I'm sure it was much worse for her.  I began to wonder if perhaps *I* had been doing that same thing myself:  certainly E-- doesn't want a divorce from me 'cuz i gave her a can opener, but there's enough incompatibility there that it's only a hop, skip and jump from th' problems that Djenni and Doc had to th' ones that we had.  I began to realize that I was no doubt contributing to th' melancholy by being such a sad sack on T'giving.  Both Doc and I were / are prone to mourning our lost families, but whereas Doc suffered from alcoholism and possibly bipolar disorder and is no longer in this mortal world, I AM here, alive and dreaming, and I am a still-somewhat-newly-minted Franciscan novice, and as such, God has called me to seek joy and turn away from despair.  I can't help but wonder if Doc was able to hang on just a few more years if my stepping out and onto a Franciscan path might have helped him in some way.

I believe it was th' day after I read Djenni's words that E-- told me that come snow or hi water, regardless of what status OUR relationship was in (or NØT in, as th' case may be) she was going to have a good ol' fashioned T'giving and no more of this Chinese Buffet BS.  Having read Jenny's words and recalling one of th' final T'givings Doc was to have with us all, I decided E-- was right; time to count blessings and not sorrows.  Time to make sure that th' green bough in my heart was still green and growing for th' singing bird to find and perch upon.  This is nothing less than Francis would want us all to do.

I imagine it will not be easy.  at Thanksgiving we become a Nation of Two, there being no place for us to go, no one having invited us to their place and I'm not sure we'd want to go anyway-- it would no doubt feel akward.  E-- likes to do all th' cooking which means i can help most by staying th' hell out of th' way; maybe I'll go out and rake leaves.  My mind will still be playing old home movies and I'll bee seeing ghosts as I have been for th' last 2 decades, but I think I can begin to drum up a little happiness this year.

Friday, November 17, 2017

TH' FIRST POST

BLOGGIST'S NOTE / CAVEAT:  this is one of th' first pieces I planned to write for Still Life, circa 2007.  It's been lying in a folder, never published for all that time.  Why I never got 'round to putting it up, I'm not wholly sure, but as Vonnegut says, "so it goes."
 
“Canton in Northeastern Ohio is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.  Canton is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, The Timkin Factory of metal bars, honky tonks, restaurants and dark little pubs, and little crowded groceries, and theatres and flophouses.  It’s inhabitants, are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everbody.  Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said ‘saints, and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.

How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise--the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream-- be set down alive?  When you collect marine animals there are certain worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch.  You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water.  And perhaps that ought to be the way to write this blog-- to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

---Variations on John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row


I’m sitting on E--s Daedalus Bed, Windy the Stealth Cat near my feet (but not TOO close—she’s the very definition of “nervous cat”), her laptop cross my legs (which are encased in flannel PJ pants), hot Earl Grey tea at my elbow and my pink lava lamp all aglow.  The Manour is unusually quiet except for the occasional ratta-tatt-tatt of the desktop keyboard in the other room as she intermittently reads her homework and types answers for her online history class.  My belly is full of chickpea chili burritos (a special recipe my ex invented some 6 or more years ago when we lived in Pittsburgh) and I can almost FEEL the cold creeping against the house.

I’ve read and reread that paragraph from Steinbeck probably 50 times in the last 3 weeks trying to figure out the best way to say exactly what I want to say.   I know I want to write something brilliant that expresses nostalgia, but like my blogcake re: my Fifth Season, I’m not sure that I CAN put into words what I’m feeling.

The easiest way to put it is that I know I’m back in Ohio [having lived in Florida for 8 years and in th' woods of rural New York for almost 9 months].  I suppose I know it the way a Parisian who had gone to a long trip to the American Southwest would know when he’s back in Paris, but that seems such a strange thing to say about Ohio, a state that a lot of people consider rather bland, like Iowa.

There’s something about the quality of light, about the way people talk and the architecture of the houses that just says, “NORTHEAST OHIO” to me.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I seem to know it when I see it.  It’s the way the light filters through the clouds (it’s overcast a LOT this time of year and will continue to be so, on and off, until late December); it’s the way the light grows bright and then dims and grows bright again as clouds pass o’erhead.  It’s the way the sidewalks have remained a darkish brown from rain all day long—ALL day long, over 16 hours—and yet there’s been only ONE definitive rainshower all day long.

It’s the colours of the leaves as they change—while there ARE evergreens and pines here, MOST trees are deciduous and loose their leaves, more-or-less at the same time.  I’ve heard that to get REALLY pretty Autumn colours, warm days and cool nights are what produces the chemical changes that makes leaves REALLY vibrant, but even this fall, with it’s cool days and downright COLD nights, it’s beautiful.  I could tell the difference between an Ohio fall, a New York and a North Carolina fall within a second, even if you turned me ‘round 12 times and flew me blindfolded round the country first.

It’s a nostalgic feeling that is nonetheless tinged with a strong feeling of loss and distance.  I’m in Ohio, but my parents aren’t and neither are any of my children and a helluva lot of my distant relatives and friends have all been scattered to the 4 winds and aren’t here or nearby, either.  NORTON! lives 500 miles away in Possum Lodge.  My Palsberry lives an hour away.  My eldest daughter, Sunflower, some 200 in Erie.  My son and daughter, about 1,000 miles away in Orlando.  Oh, sure, I talk to them as much as I can—all of them—but that’s not nearly as good as having them nearby, especially NOW, as the weather turns cold and we begin to gather ‘round the homefires.

It’s strange, because when I was a kid there was this general, cultural dream, reinforced in things like science fiction stories and Saturday cartoons, that by the time the year 2000 (certainly by 2010) rolled around, we’d have almost instantaneous transportation and communication.  Well, we DO have the latter—we’ve got cell phones and text messaging and instant messenger and cameras in our phones, but it seemed too that we also would be able to VISIT, face-2-face more often.  There was this cultural dream that while we might not be able to transport like on Stark Trek, and we might not have flying cars, at the very least AIR TRAVEL should be quick and easy. Which it's not.  Nor is it cheap.

I remember being a kid and going to my grandmother’s house.  When my mother was a little girl she had a best friend named Debbie who lived across the street.  In time Debbie went off to California to go to college while my mom stayed in Ohio and did her undergrad at Wooster, like most of my family at the time.  YEARS would pass and she wouldn’t get to see Debbie face-to-face.  They would call and write letters and exchange photographs and news like we do (except the old fashioned, non-technological way, using pen and paper instead of e-mail), but they weren’t able to get together much more often than about every 5 to 7 years or so.  “Someday,” my mom said, “when you’re grown up, travel will be a lot easier.  You will probably be able to fly off to California for a weekend trip and be back to work on Monday morning.  Who knows, maybe your children will be able to fly to California for dinner and to England for a weekend.

Certainly she’s right—SOME people can indeed fly from NY to CA for a daytrip; business people are doing it all the time—but the Regular Joes amongst us still haven’t crossed o’er that magical line.  SkyDad and Mountain Mom cannot buzz out here for the weekend, and probably couldn’t even if they DIDN’T have children to attend to.  The Perfesser’s Kiddo is not living with her full-time and she still can’t drop everything and buzz back to her homestate of IN for a weekend visit, either.  Flannery goes all over the Eastern part of the country doing trainings, but that’s something she’s paid to do:  she’s got a corporation behind her sending her places, but if left to their own devices, she n’ Doc would not be able to zip off to New Mexico for a weekend getaway. 

I think of these things, sitting here with a cautious cat and an empty tea mug, and I feel oddly cheated, somehow.  In less than 120 seconds I can get up from this bed, go to the computer and find out the weather report in Iceland and the latest headlines in Senegal (I could do it in even LESS time with a wireless router for the internet), but I can no more go to Florida right now than I can walk on the surface of the moon.  Business meetings are taking place all the time that could just as easily be done via phone or videoconferencing, but yet it’s so important to see someone FACE TO FACE that companies that are saving money by firing half it’s work staff and conserving toilet paper will still spend hundreds of dollars to send one person 900 miles away for a 2 hour budget meeting.  For the cost of sending 3 people on 4 business trips, a company could purchase the cameras, monitors and software for videoconferencing through the Internet and save massive amounts of cash in travel—trust me, I know:  I WORKED for such a company 4 years ago and the technology has done nothing but improve since then.

::sigh::  I dunno.  In reading back o’er this all SORTS of different ideas are getting mixed up—nostalgia with technology with low-level economics and social engineering.  If this was a paper for a college Writing class I’d get a C- for not staying on topic.  I can see “wordy” and “vague” and “stay on topic!” and “who is Devereau Deschamps?  Point of view unclear” writ in red pen in a frustrated hand in the margins.  I guess this time of year just does that to me…

this piece ends here, probably originally put aside to ponder just a little bit more about where to go next, and in th' meantime someone hits th FF button and it's first gets lost, then forgotten about and then randomly rediscovered almost 20 years later.  I feel like th' story is only halfway told; like there was something else I wanted to say, some other heavier point that would make what I wrote there worthwhile, like setting a stage.  But from all this time forward-- and now having recently marked my second year anniversary in NC and oh-so far away from home, I'm not able to recall just what I wanted th' point of that Cake should be.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

[ELECTRONIC] SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING PRESENTS: 10/9/09-- I Dream Th' Keys To Th' Kingdom

I've decided that for this year's NaBloPoMo, I'm going to do a lil' Swedish Death Cleaning.  This month-- and probably going o'er th' course of this whole damn year and into NEXT year's NaBloPoMo, I'm going to go through old files and get them organized.  Instead of just filling up th' electronic attic with stuff I'll deal with later, I've decided that this is th' year when Later has actually come.  I've got DOZENS of writing files across 20 different genres, from old scribblings to unnamed and unsorted half started stuff; probably a few hundred photos (no doubt many duplicated), to old crap files that I can simply just get rid of now:  that application for food stamps and Medicare when I was living in rural New York a decade ago, that kind of thing.  All that stuff needs to go:  either out-and-out delete it, or finish writing and post th' damned thing and THEN delete th' original file.

Electronic Swedish Death Cleaning, if you will.

Indeed, if you've been following my scribblings I've ALREADY done several of these, and as of last nite I was able to clear out 95% of my old I'll-get-to-this-someday files.  It feels good to purge this stuff, especially really old crap that I was collecting from th' time before I was on FaceBook and Twitter hadn't yet been coded into existence.  I found a word doc I've been lugging around from PC to PC for about th' last 8 years, all full of 1 liner jokes and imponderables that I now realize make excellent twitter-fodder and lousy blogcakes. It feels good to get rid of all that stuff:  open th' file like an old hope chest hidden in th' back of a dusty attic, take out th' posts, put 'em on social media so a few people might see 'em and then just delete th' master file.  It's only a few KB and a few MB here n' there, but you add up a lot of 'em and you actually get something noticeable; that lil' bloo indicator bar showing how much space is available slowly gets smaller and smaller.
meanwhile, buried deep somewhere within all th' rubbish files i found this random note:

10/9/09, Friday.  I had a dream this AM where a little voice whispered to me, “if your dad hated dogs so much because they were messy and loud and chaotic and required too much work, then why did he agree to have children…??” It left me with a profoundly odd feeling:  like I’ve been given the key to something, or like I just had the painfully obvious explained to me:  dad didn’t like chaos, p-e-r-i-o-d, and children are nothing BUT chaos. How could I have gone the last 30 years without ever thinking that once? I asked myself shortly after waking.  Why didn’t that occur to me about 25 years ago in high school?  Why didn’t it occur to me 15 years ago when I was in therapy with Carol [my therapist]?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

FROM TH' ARCHIVES PRESENTS: Ladies n' Gentlemen, th' Mirado Black Warrior

BLOGGIST'S NOTE / CAVEAT:  this was originally written circa August of 2009.

This blogcake makes reference to Doc, th' author of Social Zymurgy, who died in th' summer of 2014.  Of course, at th' time of this writing, no one had any idea we would only have just under 5 more years with him.


The great advantage of using a bold line pencil is that it has no ink to run or smudge your paper, clothes or fingers. Furthermore, it lasts longer since you only need to sharpen it to renew its usefulness. This pencil has soft lead that requires a gentle press to write. Also, a good eraser can undo any mistakes you make. You will find that having a couple around the house and office makes you much more efficient.

---review of a pencil from th' Independent Living Aids, LLC website


I saw that Doc had a regular #2 pencil in the cupholder of his jeep that had a stylin' smooth, black shaft to it. I always pick up pencils to see what (if anything) is stamped on them and was amused to see in perfectly self-respectable gold letters on the side, MIRADO BLACK WARRIOR stamped there. Both of us laffed heartily that such a thing could exist in today's day and age-- "black warrior! Indeed!" I quipped, and Doc told me to hang on to it since he didn't even know it was there and I got such a kick of what it was called.  Later I called E-- and told her about it. I was to learn something interesting:

"Really? I LOVE Black Warriors!" said she, "in college those were the ONLY pencils I ever took notes with and I used them all the time in my drawing."

"Huh," said I, dumbquizzled, "there really IS such an animal?"

"Oh, yes!" she said, "they're really fine graphite pencils and very soft and black-- it's like writing with butter. I had to go to an art store or have them ordered and they're more expensive than regular #2's. In fact," she went on to say, "I remember reading in an article somewhere that Black Warriors are the ONLY pencils that Stephen King will use." So, to quote my late and VERY great Grandmother, "you learn something new every day, don't you??" 

So, yes, Virginia, there IS a Mirado Black Warrior Pencil, and if you're looking for some yourself you can either dig around in Doc's jeep or else you can stop by your local Rite-Aid and look in the school supply aisle-- I found a set of 8 of them for under $3, which, IMHO, is CHEAP for pencils of this quality.

Meanwhile, for me and my house, I have always loved pencils. I love the smell of graphite, strong and tangy and metalic as it might be, and I've always felt that one of the universal testiments of Hard Work is the ground-down-to-almost-nothing pencil stub. Spongebob once mused that the pencil is something that grows shorter as the writer's ideas grow longer. A stub of a pencil (like an almost empty fountain or ballpoint pen) indictes that it's been USED for something and the person using it has been hard at work putting ideas or drawings to paper. It's a visual record of our industry, and when I was in elementary school (wherein I consumed the most pencils) a stubby pencil was something to make you proud. Oh, sure, some kids cheated by breaking the lead prematurely and then grinding hell out of the thing to make it stubby before it's time, but *I* never did such a thing...

Really, I didn't-- I didn't NEED to, I was forever scribbling stories or drawing pictures that my pencils went stubby in record time without any extra work from me. Mind, I also like SHARP pencils and may have reduced their lives with more vigilant sharpening than my peers, but I never intentionally BROKE leads just so I could sharpen & shorten.

I've never liked ballpoints of ANY type and look on them with distain. If I'm to use ink, I prefer felt-tips, fine point Sharpie markers or-- best-- liquid inks in fountain or dip pens. I find ballpoints to go dry too easily and, for the size of my handwriting, not get enuff ink out and onto the paper. I've bought ballpoints for students and to have 'round the house, but the ones *I* use are all liquid inks with ONE exception-- the very oversized barrel, purple and orange pen that Doc gave me for a birthday present. I use that because it's also got a big bit of foam rubber 'round the barrel and I use that at work all the time (albeit only for recording notes that I turn in-- everything else is pencil).
I've done some drawing with a Mirado lately, though thanks to E-- and the aforementioned set of 10 art pencils, I don't need to.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

WORDS NOT MY OWN PRESENTS: Red Lip

RED LIP

Sixteen years later I sat down on a rock.  It was under a tree next to an old abandoned shack that had a sheriff’s notice nailed like a funeral wreath to the front door.

NO TRESSPASSING

4/17 OF A HAIKU

Many rivers had flowed past those 17 years, and thousands of trout, and now beside the highway and the sheriff’s notice flowed yet another river, the Klamath, and I was trying to get thirty-five miles downstream to Steelhead, the place where I was staying.

It was all very simple.  No one would stop and pick me up even though I was carrying fishing tackle.  People usually stop and pick up a fisherman.  I had to wait three hours for a ride.

The sun was like a huge fifty-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then lit with a match and said, “here, hold this while I go get a newspaper,” and put the coin in my hand, but never came back.

I had walked for miles and miles until I came to the rock under the tree and sat down.  Every time a car would come by, about once every ten minutes, I would get up and stick out my thumb as if it were a bunch of bananas and then sit back down on the rock again.

The old shack had a tin roof coloured reddish by years of wear, like a hat worn under the guillotine.  A corner of the roof was loose and a hot wind blew down the river and the loose corner clanged in the wind.

A car went by.  An old couple.  The car almost swerved off the road and into the river.  I guess they didn’t’ see many hitchhikers up there.  The car went around the corner with both of them looking back at me.

I had nothing else to do, so I caught salmon flies in my landing net.  I made up my own game.  It went like this:  I couldn’t chase after them. I had to let them fly to me.  It was something to do with my mind. I caught six.

A little ways up from the shack was an outhouse with its door flung violently open.  The inside of the outhouse was exposed like a human face and the outhouse seemed to say, “The old guy who built me crapped in here 9,745 times and he’s dead now and I don’t want anyone else to touch me.  He was a good guy.  He built me with loving care.  Leave me alone.  I’m a monument now to a good ass gone under.  There’s no mystery here.  That’s why the door’s open.  If you have to crap, go in the bushes like the deer.”

“F—you,” I said to the outhouse, “All I want is a ride down the river.”


---Richard Brautigan

Trout Fishing in America  © 1967

Monday, November 13, 2017

FROM TH' ARCHIVES PRESENTS: Sage Advice

BLOGGER'S NOTE / CAVEAT:  this was first written circa july 2010.  At that time, I was living in th' Midwest and working as a customer service rep for a pet health insurance company.

Many, many moons ago (say, 31 or so?? [NOTE:  circa Dec 2007; if I was writing this today it would be something like 87 months) I was living in New York with my buddy NORTON! And Th’ Country Monk.  It was a difficult time o’ life, and lots of advice was pressed ‘pon me from several different directions.  One of the things that was said was this lil’ tidbit of advice from Th’ Country Monk:

CULTIVATE AN ACTIVE DISINTEREST IN THE FEELINGS AND ACTIONS OF OTHERS.

I’ve thought about it on and off for the last 2 dozen moons [and forgotten about it until recently in th’ last 56 moons] and have come to realize that there’s something very Buddhist about this saying.  It’s sorta’ like a tarot card or perhaps the aleithometer in Pullman’s book—there’s a helluva lot more to it than just the surface meaning. 

The interesting thing is that I’m the sort of person who misses non-verbal social queues quite often (and sometimes I miss the VERBAL ones as well), but I’m easy affected by other people’s MOODS, especially anger.  If someone’s pissed, I’ll pick up on that RIGHT away, but I don’t’ think I’m unusual in that regard:  emotions are catching—one person begins laughing and generally everyone else does too, to the point that people laugh and they’re not even sure WHY they’re doing it, only because the person near them is.

Same thing with anger:  if I’m around Tom, Dick and Harry and they’re all pissed at something, chances are *I’M* going to get ticked off, too.  If they’re mad AT ME, then I’m probably gonna get REALLY cranked right back—ever notice that?  Person A can be in a fine mood but if Person B comes up and begins shouting at them, then Person A starts to get angry and shout back as well?? 

I suppose the cognitive psychologists who study human emotional response have a term for this, but I was too lazy to do research on it; I’ll just take it as a matter of fact that for some reason, probably having to do with big brains and VERY complicated social structures, humans evolved into emotionally empathic creatures who pick up on the general mood of the pack—one feels it and eventually the whole group does.  I suppose that sort of connection helps if you’re in a group that’s all tanked up on because we’re hunting large wild animals (although this same chemistry works very poorly in the case of riots and mobs).

MY problem is that you might as well call me Spongebob Ergopants—I’ve always been prone to absorbing the emotions of those around me, ESPECIALLY if there’s anger and ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY if that anger is DIRECTED at me.  For example, I had to stop watching daytime TV talk shows because they would find the most dysfunctional, angry and weird people they could and put ‘em on stage and waited for the words (and then sometimes the CHAIRS) to begin flying.  Sitting at home, not only removed in space from the studio but also in TIME since they shot the footage, I’d start getting really, REALLY pissed off.  “Why?” my mother would say, “why are you getting all upset over this?  First off, you don’t know these people nor would you even WANT to, and second, what they’re angry about has no relevance on your life.”  Without realizing it, I was picking up little pebbles of their rage and filling my pockets with them to the point that I was now weighted down with someone else’s troubles.

Well, I stopped watching TV just about 3 [now closer to 4] decades ago, but this issue of me taking on other people’s emotions or their anger still continues to this day.  It’s especially difficult for me at work, where several times a day people yell and carry on and accuse ME PERSONALLY of fucking up their lives.  People will shout things like, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself!’ as if I had anything to do with their dissatisfaction.  As if *I* personally had written the laws and the company policy that they’re unhappy with.  I suppose to them, at that time, I AM somehow responsible, because we all go a lil’ crazy when we’re angry and the blood is flowing. 

However the problem is that try as I might, I still too often take it personally.  If someone from New York (where people tend to run several degrees more into the fever zone than those of us here in the Midwest) calls up and yells and refuses to listen and calls me names, I hang up feeling shaken and sick to my stomach.  Oh, sure, NO ONE likes to be yelled at, ESPECIALLY when you can’t YELL BACK (which is my first instinct, to blow up and respond with “listen, punk!  I didn’t write these rules!  I’m just a poor schmuck who needed a job and this one was available!”), and lest we forget there IS that wonderful poster about stress:

STRESS:  that conflicted feeling you get when your body is caught fighting back the urge to choke the living shit out of some asshole who desperately deserves it.

Survey 100 people who work in customer service and ask “what’s one of the worst parts of your job?” and I’m sure you’ll get 100% responses of “having to be the corporate Whipping Boy and take someone else’s abuse.”  NOBODY likes that, so I’m hardly unusual in that regard.  HOWEVER, successful people, customer service agents, cops, lawyers, paramedics, etc, are able to NOT take it personally, wheras I still do.

Back to Th’ Country Monk: CULTIVATE AN ACTIVE DISINTEREST IN THE FEELINGS AND ACTIONS OF OTHERS.

Therefore I think his meaning is NOT that we should all be jerks and solipsists—after all, the person screaming at me on the other end of the line clearly is actively disinterested in MY feelings—but NOT to simply be an emotional sponge to other peoples negative emotions.

The Dali Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler have penned a series of books about happiness, and one of the points that was made right off the bat in the first book is that the Dali Lama IS happy.  He’s been exiled from his own country, his people have and still are suffering terribly, and it’s generally agreed that the whole WORLD has gone off the tracks in many cases and all sorts of hell is breaking out every day.  Still, the man is happy. 

Yeah, well, DUH, he’s TH’ DALI LAMA! I hear you protest, but one of the big tennents of Buddhism is that it’s not just for the chosen few:  there’s no magic number to the gates of Enlightemnet and some dude with a hand counter standing outside clicking away who will close it all up before you get the chance to get to the front of the queue.  In fact, whereas in more conservative religions there’s a US VS. THEM mentality, the GOAL of Buddhism is for EVERY SINGLE SENTIENT BEING to reach enlightenment—whether you’re a person or a bug.  And while I’ve never heard it expressed QUITE the same way that Th’ Country Monk has said it, I think the idea of cultivating a disinterest has very Buddhist o’ertones to it:  the idea is that while there certainly IS suffering in the world, and lots of it, it doesn’t mean that YOU have to personally dip your bucket into that suffering and then pour it over your head. 

MY problem is how to hang onto that idea and put it into practice in the heat of the moment.  It’s easy for me to sit on the porch with a cup of coffee or a cold bottle of beer and think on such things in a semi-detached way; it’s ANOTHER thing to override my programming and my brain chemistry when I’ve just gotten yelled at by someone and I feel like shit.  The chemistry in my head is already fucked up, and I’m prone to horrible bouts of depression and if I’ve missed even one day of my lil’ happy pills, small things can run me straight off th’ rails—one angry call can make me wanna go into the bathroom and slit my wrists (hence why I keep only teeny-tiny school scissors at my desk at work—too much temptation with the sharp, grownup kind). 



Sunday, November 12, 2017

PLACES I’LL NEVER BE PRESENTS: Zoom to a Small Space

BLOGGIST'S NOTE / CAVEAT:  this was first written in 2007, but nebber published. Well, now it is.

One of the thing that’s nice about having the internet is that I can see all sorts of faraway places I’m not likely to ever get to in my life.  Here’s one of them I randomly discovered


Here’s where it get’s interesting…  “Discovery Bay”, almost perfectly square, and it sounds like the name of part of a marine museum—the part with touch pools for stingrays and corals where kids can get up close to sea life.  Apparently, you can:

Take a second to lookit that even before you go on to the satellite images.  Lookit that!  All that water and all those roads!  What an engineering marvel! Was this already a natural landform, or was it carved out, built up and then flooded by humans? (probably both).  How much time and energy did this take to get it to this point?
 I’m not an envious person, but when I realized that practically EVERY SINGLE HOUSE has backyard access to water, I began turning several shades of green.

Almost amusing you’d need a swimming pool with all that water nearby…

Remember those old 1970’s Zest soap commercials?  There was a torrential downpour and the wife asked the husband, “how are you getting to work today?” and he, full of pep from a shower with Zest, said “BACKSTROKE!”  You probably COULD go to work that way if you lived here…

There is a short line in The Book of Joy where it’s said that Archbishop Tutu went to visit some friends’ house, and upon seeing the opulence of the place he cried, “Oh!  I’ve changed my mind!  I DO want to be rich!”  A joke, of course, but one that sticks in my head now that I’ve re-discovered this old file and have had so many new and strange (and quite often upsetting and rough) experiences since 2007 when I first penned this.

Of course, there’s no way in hell I could ever live here.  I don’t think I could ever do it even if I didn’t have wage garnishments:  I don’t have internet access at th’ time I wrote this, but I don’t NEED it to know that even th’ smallest, cheapest apartment here would probably be close to 100k a year in rentals (a HOUSE could easily go into th’ millions, I imagine).  I’m sure it would cost everything I’ve got just to TALK to a realtor for this area.

But one of th’ themes of this past year away from Still Life is that of small space living.  Since December of ’16 I’ve been spending almost all my time in th’ back bedroom of th’ house.  When E—asked for a divorce (demanded it, really) there was no place for me to go and sleep except for there, and in th’ intervening 11 months I’ve found that I rather like it there.  I’ve added some furniture I’ve scavenged, and a good friend donated a used laptop, and I was given a second one for school.  By removing th’ closet door I found I could use space more effectively, and by finding a work table with wheels I now can optimally have an almost 8’ square of empty space.  It requires a fair amount of movement and almost constant tidying up—there’s little available surface space to just leave things about, so I’ve developed routines for doing schoolwork, daily prayer, and sleep.  I’ve stared at th’ blank walls and have hung various things there that I enjoy looking at.  One wall has long-but-short windows which lets in a fair amount of light, and there’s another window in th’ intersecting wall that I have hung mini-blinds in for privacy as that window faces th’ street.  I have borrowed a bed with storage in th’ headboard, and I’ve arranged it so I can sit either on th’ bed or at a small desk I bout at th’ thrift store for 99¢  I can be semi-cloistered in here and pray, eat, sleep, work and play.  At first I thought of it as th’ bedroom I had been banished to th’ way most people who had been suddenly un-husbanded would retreat to, but in th’ intervening months, I’ve come to think of it first as my room and then as my cell.  Not in a pejorative, prison sense, but in a monastic, monkish way. It’s more than just a place to sleep; it’s become a sacred space (which is why it’s particularly disturbing if my roommate and I get into an argument in there—it’d be like two monks screaming at each other in a white-hot frenzy about what way to put th’ toilet paper roll on inside their own cell; it poisons th’ very energies.  About th’ only things I can’t do is prepare food and do bathroomy-things (but in fairness, even th’ most cloistered monks don’t do these things in their cell, either).

It’s funny, cuz one of th’ bestest parts of th’ house and th’ biggest selling point to me as a potential renter was what we call Th’ Great Room.  Obviously built on sometime after th’ house’s initial construction, it’s a huge salt box shaped rectangle attached to th’ back and contains 4 windows and a woodburning fireplace.  Like a lot of NC houses there is no basement (th’ water table is too high, I believe, or else it’s just cheaper) and th’ house is elevated some 3.5’ above th’ ground level.  There’s an open crawl space under th’ house which is how you access th’ furnace (which, in most Midwestern houses, would be housed in th’ basement).  Th’ Great Room is built flat to th’ ground, which means to enter it you descend 3 small steps, further separating it both physically and mentally from th’ rest of th’ house.  It’s also th’ only place that’s got carpeting.  It’s th’ best place in th’ building and th’ front living room is almost never used by th’ two human inhabitants, other than to access other parts of th’ house.  We HAVE chairs and furniture in th’ front room, but we never use it; only th’ cats do by sitting in th’ front windows and keeping watch o’er th’ street and sleeping in th’ sun.

When we first moved in, E—suggested that we should make th’ Great Room our bedroom.  Why not?  Th’ kingsized bed would fit easily in there, it had plenty of light, built-in bookshelves and th’ fireplace, of course.  Th’ room was already wired up for cable & internet, had a ceiling fan with rheostat, and was enormous and roomy.  Plenty of space for a then-married couple to hang about in each other’s company, and th’ desktop PC could be here too which would double as a TV for streaming video off th’ ‘net.  Th’ fact that we had no friends at th’ time, having just arrived in NC, meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about entertaining guests who would have to use th’ bed as a piece of furniture; besides, chairs could be brought in from other rooms in th’ house and th’ windows had window seats as well (if not already occupied by a sleeping or watchful cat).

So to LOOSE this room as my sleeping chamber and to intentionally seek out solitude away from E—who no longer wanted me in her presence meant that at first I took refuge in a room that was full of misc bits and boxes and other whatnots that we weren’t using.  It was a depressing and upsetting experience, until I began to actively do my daily prayers there and discovered one of th’ perks is that climate control was a lot more regulated than in th’ Great Room (since it’s an addon, there’s only 2 heat register vents that join to th’ main house, so th’ biggest and tallest room in th’ whole building has th’ least about of heat or air conditioning, sometimes approaching almost 15º in temperature difference between it and th’ main house (there are times when I have to turn on th’ ceiling fan or open a window because my room is like an oven while th’ Great Room is like an icebox—fire and ice existing in th’ same building; a kind of metaphor for th’ opposite nature of it’s inhabitants as well).

But o’er time, as I’ve said, I’ve come to LIKE being in such a tiny place, and there are times when I’ve needed to go from my cell to th’ Great Room to look for something—a book or key or old flashdrive or something—and I feel like th’ house is just too large.  I find myself thinking, “now, when we eventually split and I get out on my own, what kind of place do I want to live in?” 

You’d think such a thing would be an easy thing to answer, but it’s not.  Certainly I could never afford a house with marina access like in Discovery Bay, but more than that, I don’t WANT a house with marina access; it’s too damned B-I-G.  I’d be rattling around in it like a split pea in a 10 gallon bucket.  Besides, you have THAT much room and what do you wanna do with it?  Ya’ wanna go and fill it up with stuff.  I was visiting a friend’s house last night and they had an entire room dedicated to a pool table.  Th’ enormity of th’ whole thing—not only that room large enough to comfortably accommodate a competition sized pool table with full return pockets (vs. net catch pockets) that could be turned at an angle, but th’ REST of th’ house attached to it, each room in turn large enough to accommodate their own pool tables or two.  What’s more, everything was well designed and matching; leather chairs and sofas and fine art on th’ wall—anything less would’ve looked junky and pathetic.  If someone GAVE me that house to live so I had never to worry about rent, I still could never in my lifetime afford th’ finery to do it any justice.  No: in my mind, what I want for my own place is more akin to th’ 1-room long-term-stay flat I rented when I first got here to NC.  That TRULY was a monk’s cell, with a bed, table & 2 chairs, 4’ fridge, bathroom with shower (no tub), small kitchen sink, microwave on a shelf and 2 stove burners (no cooker).  A flatscreen TV was mounted on th’ wall on an arm so it could be extended to watch in bed but also folded flat against th’ wall to get it out of th’ way.  No closet, but a small indentation in th’ wall with a bar for hangers.  I brought my own coffeemaker and ironing board.

I was afraid that for th’ first 2+ weeks I stayed in NC I would be so overwhelmed with depression and sadness that I wouldn’t be able to function, especially when I saw what $200 a week would provide me for living space, compared to th’ 2-story, 3 bedroom and full basement HOUSE I’d been living in prior to moving.  I was afraid I was going straight to Hell, and yet once here, I found that indeed I COULD stand it and while strange and mysterious, I could still soldier on.  A year later, I find myself drawn back to that place in my mind o’er and o’er again, and wonder if perhaps while th’ rest of th’ world is going bigger n’ bigger n’ bigger (or renovating their existing house instead of buying a new one), maybe I should seek out smaller and smaller places??

I wonder if there’s any Tiny Houses for rent in Discovery Bay??

Saturday, November 11, 2017

WE ARE STILL MARRIED

One day last August, after the vet said that Biddy had only months to live, Willia and I took her for a cruise around Lake Arson on our pontoon boat.  She was listless and depressed from the medication, and we thought the ride might cheer her up, but she sat with her head in Willa’s lap, her eyes closed, and when a flock of geese flew down and landed alongside the boat she paid no attention.  I felt desolate to see her that way, and angry at other boats zipping around without a care in the world, and so when we got home and I found a message on the answering machine that said, “Hi, this is Blair Hague at People magazine, and I’d like to come to Minnesota and do a piece about your poor dog,” I was relieved to know that someone cared.

Willa and I discussed it that night, and although she felt that the illness of a pet is a private matter, eventually I convinced her that we should agree to the story as a tribute to Biddy and also because, as Blair said on the tape, our experience might help others who were going through the same thing.

Blair arrived on Thursday with Jan, a photographer, and he explained that they wanted to live with us, so they could do a better job.  “You get more nuance that way,” he said.  He had lived with a number of people in order to write about them, including Joe Cocker, Jean Shepherd, Merv Griffin, and the Pointer Sisters, he said.  I could see his point, so they moved in, and Jan set up a darkroom in the laundry, which was fine with us—one thing we realized, with Biddy dying, was that we didn’t have many pictures of her—and Blair got to work gathering background.  Willa and I opened up our scrapbooks to him and Willa even let him red her diary.  I wondered about that, but she said “Honesty is the only policy.  There’s a lot about Biddy in there.”

We lived in a two-bedroom condominium overlooking Lake Larson and although Blair and Jan were extremely pleasant and helped with the dishes and made their beds and kept the stereo turned down after ten o’clock, I started to feel crowded after a few days.  I’d be shaving and Blair would stick his head in the bathroom door and ask, “How much do you earn a year, Earl?  Do you consider yourself a religious person?  Do you normally wear boxer shorts?  Is that your real hair?”  After work when I like to sit down with a beer and watch television, he sat next to me.  How would I describe myself? Had I ever wanted to be something other than a bus driver?  How much beer did I consume per day, on the average?  Was it always Bub’s Beer?  What were my favourite books?  What was on my mind?  What did I think of the future?  What sorts of people make me angry?

I wanted to say, “People who ask too many questions,” but I held my tongue.  I did mention to Willa that I thought Blair was pushy.  “The article is about Biddy, not us,” I said.  She thought Blair was doing an excellent job.  She said, “I feel like he is helping me to understand a lot of things about us that I never thought about before.”

Soon after they arrived, we noticed that Biddy was getting better.  Her appetite improved and she got so she liked to go for walks again.  I told Willa I thought we should tell Blair that there was no story.  She said “There’s a lot more story here than you know, Earl.  Biddy is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Two weeks passed, then three, and Blair wasn’t running out of questions to ask.  He kept coming back to the subject of our marriage.  “Do you feel you have an excellent, good, average or poor marriage?  Do you regret not having had children?  How many times per week do you have sexual relations?  On the average—just a ballpark figure.  Do you think Willa is happy?”

I said, “You ought to ask her.”

“I have,” he said.

Right up to the day they left, I had no idea he was going to write the story he did.  Once, he said, “As so often happens, the story changes as a reporter works on it.  You start to do one thing and you wind up doing something entirely different.”  I thought he was referring to Biddy’s improvement.

The story was entitled “Earl:  My Life with a Louse, by Willa Goodrich as told to Blair Hague, photographs by Jan Osceola,” and the day it came out Willa took Biddy and moved to her mother’s.  I wasn’t home so I didn’t know she left.  I was driving a charter to New Orleans.  Some passengers picked up People in Des Moines, and as I drove south I could hear them whispering about me.  In southern Missouri, a man came to the front and crouched down in the aisle beside me.  “I thought you had a right to know this,” he said, and he read me some parts.  I couldn’t believe the stuff Willa said about me!  My personal grooming, my food preferences, my favourite TV shows, our arguments.  And her referring to me as “stubborn and unreasonable”—why would she say that?  In print?

In New Orleans I discovered the man had skipped some of the worst parts.  Willa said she had often wanted to leave me.  She said that I was uncaring and cold, that Biddy’s illness didn’t mean “beans” to me, and that I had talked about getting another dog soon.  She said that I had “Victorian ideas about women and sex.”  She said I was often personally repulsive.  To back her up, People printed three pictures with the story:  me in my shorts, bending over to adjust the TV picture; me with my mouth open, full of baked potato; and me asleep on the La-Z-Boy recliner, in my shorts, with my mouth open. 

I tried to reach Willa at her mother’s, but she was in New York and I saw her the next morning on “America, How Are You?” Essentially, she told Monica Montaine the same stuff, plus she said that I was “compulsive.”  She said “He walks around humming the same tune over and over, usually ‘Moon River.’  He taps his fingers continuously and he taps his foot in his sleep.  His breath is very bad.  He compulsively rips the labels off beer bottles.  And at dinner he always eats all his meat first, then the potato, then the vegetable.”  Monica Montaine got a big kick out of that.  “Sounds like he’s missing the Up button,” she said.

Two days later someone from “Today” called and wanted me to get on a plane to New York and join Willa on the show for a dialogue.  He said, “I think the country would like to hear your side, Earl.”  I told him I had no desire to engage in a public debate with my wife over matters I considered personal.  Willa did the show herself, then a number of other daytime shows, and though I made a point of not watching, my friends were starting to ask questions.  “Is it true about the almost total lack of any attempt at communication?” a mechanic at work wanted to know.  “And you wearing socks in bed—any truth to that?”  He said the story had given him a lot to think about.

In October, Willa testified before a House subcommittee, revealing new details about our marriage under oath.  Several congressmen expressed shock at what she said about my lack of affection, my “utter insensitivity” to her needs.  “What was he doing all this time you were suffering?” one asked.  She said, “He watched football on television.  He played seven different types of solitairezxc.  He carved a new stock for his shotgun.  He acted like I didn’t exist.”  That was the quote they used on “ABC World News Tonight.”

I was lonely as winter approached.  I’m not a man who can live by himself.  Some men are cut out for the single life, but not me.  So I told my boss I was available for all the charters I could get.  I spent November and December mostly on the road, going to Orlando six times, Disneyland four, making two runs to San Francisco.  Meanwhile I read in People that Willa had sold her story to Universal Pictures and was in California ironing out some winkles in the deal.  The next week, she got a call from the Pope, who expressed hopes that efforts would be made to reach a reconciliation.  “I’m ready any time Earl is,” she told the Holy Father.  She told me that although she was not a Catholic she respected the Church’s view on marriage.  “It’s a two-way street, though,” she said.

Finally we met in New York, where I had driven a four-day “New Year’s Eve on the Great White Way” tour and was laying low at the Jaylor Hotel, and where she had rented a great apartment on the Upper West Side and was on her way to a cocktail party.  We met at her place.  It was in a new building on Broadway, with a beautiful view from the twenty-fifth floor.  Biddy was living with her, of course.

Biddy looked wonderful, though she was a little hostile toward me.  So were Willa’s three friends, who worked in publishing.  “What do you do?” one man asked, though I was sure he knew.  The other man mentioned something about socks.  The woman didn’t talk to me at all.  She kept telling Willa, “We’ve got to get going—the invitation said five o’clock.”  Willa kissed me goodbye.  “Let’s be friends,” she said.  “Call me sometime.”

I did call her, four or five times, and we talked, mostly about her projects—she was writing a book, she was being considered as a substitute host.  We didn’t talk about our marriage until one day in April when she mentioned that Biddy was sick again, and she said she missed me.  Biddy died a week later, and Willa brought the body back to Minnesota for interment.  She came to the condo for dinner one night and wound up staying

My friends can’t believe I took her back after all those things she said about me, but I can’t see where it’s any of their business.  I told her there was no need for her to apologize, so she hasn’t.  She did scrap the movie project and the book, though.  The substitute-host deal fell through when the regular host decided he wasn’t so tired after all.  Except for our two dogs, Betty and Burt, we’re almost where we were last summer.  The ice has melted on Lake Larson, the lilacs and chokecherries are in bloom, soon the goslings will hatch and their mothers will lead them down to water, and everything will be as if none of this ever happened.

 Keillor, Garrison. We are still married: stories & letters. Viking, 1989.



WHAT'S IN A NAME? PRESENTS: We Are Still Married

Long before Keillor published his book in 1989, th' year I turned 21 and could legally drink (remember THAT kerfluffle from 1984?  about how th' Feds demanded all states raise th' drinking age or loose federal highway funding by 10%??  yeah, fun times, them) I had heard that phrase, "we are still married" dozens of times.  Sometimes it was said as a joke, as in "holy shit, we are still married!" but in my mind it was said as a kind of quick, historical verification, usually when people we'd not seen in a long time had come for a visit.  For example, you'd run into someone you'd not seen in awhile at th' grocery store and ask how they were doing (this was before FaceBook and other technology that could show th' world photos of th' fish tacos you'd ordered for lunch at a new restaurant and people actually fell out of touch for long periods of time), and they'd say, "oh, we're not bad, Bob and I are still married..."

As a child, I used to wonder at such a statement on two different levels.  First off, I couldn't quite fully grasp th' concept of marriage, though it was literally all around me; to borrow from Heinlein I couldn't quite grok just how 2 people would find each other, and then get to know each other well enough to decided to live in th' same house, sleep in th' same bed, drive in th' same car and-- even weirder-- decided to have children together.  I'd look at my classmates and even among those that I was really close friends with, I couldn't fathom living with them for th' rest of our lives.  How did this kind of thing ever happen?

But it clearly DID happen and growing up I don't think I knew ANYONE who had divorced parents.  once people conjoined it was like mixing powdered Tang with water:  th' two merged into th' proverbial One and couldn't be separated.  Just because I couldn't imagine myself marrying anyone, I knew I was still a child and this was Th' Way of Things.  Of course you're still married, I remember thinking, what else would you be?  It seems to me, in looking back, people should be saying 'we are still married' today, in 2017, not back in th' early 70's.  But say it they did, including my own mom, if i recall correctly, which is probably where Mr. Keillor got th' idea from.

In school we oft speak of mastering a subject; of having enough knowledge and functionality of it that we can move on to th' next thing (or th' opposite, and need further remediation to bring us up to mastery).  To this end, I personally have never mastered marriage, though I've taken a good whack at it three times now.  Indeed, to a certain extent I'm not wholly sure that I've made any real intellectual progress since my childhood days; I'm STILL not sure I quite understand it, and there are times when I frankly don't agree with it, either (or to repeat th' old Vaudville saw:  marriage is an institution... but who wants to live in an institution?)

I'm frankly not surprised that fewer and fewer young people are getting married.  I don't see it as as a sign of Impending Doom or puerile fear of commitment, but frankly think that These Kids Today may have a more realistic understanding of th' way humans work; I often wonder if humans are even designed to stay together in life-long pairbonds??  Maybe I've just got a jaundiced eye.

One of rich and strange seachanges that have taken place this last year since last I came here to Still Life to think, reflect and write for th' month of November is that I don't have a Gal anymore.  It hath come to pass that she who I used to call My Gal is no longer my romantic partner but IS my legal spouse.  Because th' state of NC requires parties seeking divorce to maintain separate residences for at least a calendar year before even FILING for divorce, and because neither of us can afford to live independently, we have entered a strange Schrödinger's cat-like relationship where we are both a couple and not a couple; both roommates and not roommates.  We are still friends, and yet we are still married.

There are no models for this kind of thing; no 70's TV sitcom, no movies, no novels where th' main characters are married but don't want to be and yet can't afford to be divorced but yet are still friends and care for each other.  I'm sure this kind of thing happens all th' time-- there's no way that we can be th' only 2 people in th' States today who are in this situation-- and yet here we are, a veritable Mother Night Nation of Two.

Needless to say this situation has created a whole new set of heretofore unseen difficulties and challenges, especially in th' realm of wording and nomenclature:  how do we refer to each other?  as it says somewhere in th' stageplay Savage/Love by Sam Sheppard and Joe Chaiken, "what should I call you?"


  • she is more than a roommate
  • she is not a lover
    •   (and yet she loves me and I her)
  • she is/is not my wife
    • (is not, for all practical purposes; is in a legal sense, but not really 'cuz we own no property jointly nor do we even file taxes jointly)
  • she is not my girlfriend
  • she is not my fiancee
  • "partner", while OK, makes it sound like we're in a same-sex couple
  • "squeeze", "hunny-pie" "boo-boo" and "bae" are not only all profoundly stupid but also imply romance that no longer exists.

Th' only word for a nonsexual platonic couple (and ARE we a 'couple'?  no, we're not that, either) is th' term "zucchini."  Cute, but useless because once said, you're back at Square One defining what you are and are not.  Besides, I don't like zucchinis.  Personally I'm more fond of th' word "flamingo" 'cuz it gives me a chance to sing th' Noel Fielding song:

Friday, November 10, 2017

DIE GROßE STILLE -- or -- Into Great Silence

"Silence is God's first language."

---St. John of the Cross


"Strict Observance" refers to the Trappists' goal of following closely St. Benedict's Rule and taking the three vows described in his Rule: stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience. Benedict's insistence on lack of speech has some impact on their way of life, though (contrary to popular belief) they do not take a vow of silence.

---Wikipedia




I have decided to take a break from FaceBook.  For th’ foreseeable future I shall not be posting anything or even reading other people's posts.  I gave serious consideration to deleting my account altogether, but decided not too simply because I rely on FB for various updates and groups that I’m in.  FB does have some uses, but I'm finding that I'm  A)wasting far too much time on it, sacrificing useful time I could be using to accomplish other more practical things, and B) I'm getting too worked up and upset by what I read there.  Too many political comments; too many angry and vitriolic opinions; too much negativity, and an endless flood of us-vs-them thinking and commenting has begun to depress me and affect my outlook on life.  Thanksgiving is 2 weeks away, and Advent begins in justa'bout a month.  Daylight Savings is over and nightfall is coming earlier and earlier, and in the words of Kate DiCamillo, "The world is dark and light is precious."

I do not wish to waste any more of this precious Light reading comments about how awful th' world is or about how it's still to early to talk about gun control.  I wish to enter my own große stille and BE still(e) for awhile...  Perhaps quite awhile…

For many years-- it might be more accurate to say "for many DECADES"-- I've been fascinated with th' idea of silence, especially that special, very rare kind of silence you get when you have people together but no one is talking.  



Something like 5 years or more ago I got th' idea for a NaBloPoMo blogcake I was going to call TH' MUTE SHAN'T INHERIT TH' EARTH.  I have been collecting fictional characters who are mute for that as-of-yet unwritten essay, both those with a biological handicap that prevents them from speaking (think Ada from Th’ Piano), or those who are selectively mute, and choose not to speak (think Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird or Silent Bob).  What I found very curious was that in researching mute characters, th' majority of those that were labeled as mute were in fact Deaf, which is not what I was looking for (and indeed is somewhat offensive:  the term ‘deaf mute’ is both incorrect and pejorative).  In trying to find characters who could do everything but speak, there were hardly any to be found, and when I DID find them, they tended to be minor characters or Fifth Business*.  Indeed, I have found only TWO main characters who were mute:  th' aforementioned Ada and Charlie in TheWool Cap, played by William H. Macy. What's more, in both cases these are characters with little power or authority and in broken, dysfunctional lives (Charlie is an alcoholic who manages a slum apartment, and Ada is in an arranged marriage who-- at least at first-- whores herself out to buy her own property back).

Now, th’ list of these characters and my thinking about ‘em is another day's blogcake, but my point for today is this:  humans are th' nosiest monkeys on th' planet, and th' young ones are th' worst.  Nature may abhor a vacuum, but humans abhor silence and will do everything they possibly can to fill it up with noise and especially with their own voices.  It's no wonder, then, that religious from all human faith traditions go to th' woods, th' mountains, th' caves or other places of solitude to cloister themselves away from th' never-ending clash n' bang & sturm und drang of other people.  How COULD you hear God's first language in th' midst of all that chaos?

This kind of noisy chaos is also online, and it’s getting noisier all th’ time.  It used to be that th’ Web was silent and still, perhaps because it could take up to 3 hours to download a 20 minute video, but with th’ advancements in technology things have been sped up to th’ point that for many people it’s faster and easier to just point th’ camera at yourself and talk than it is to go through th’ bother of writing.  I needed to just get A-W-A-Y from this cacophony for a lil' while, and ESPECIALLY needed to get away now that spend my day squirrel herding as a middle school teacher with 86 students.  There’s no scientific proof to this, but in my experience apparently a terrible atmospheric pressure builds up in th’ average middle schooler, so if they DON’T talk, they just explode (mind, I actually don’t know if this is true or not; no one seems to be able to get through more than about 25 minutes without talking).

Th’ other day it all just became Too Much:  a day spent Kung-Fu fighting with students to be silent; a noisy trip to th’ store where people were literally shouting to each other as a form of communication, and then th’ next day tuning in to my feed to find endless amounts of argument and rubbish.  I decided I needed to cloister myself away from this electronic noise to gain some peace.  I may not be able to do much about 5 people shouting in th’ toilet paper aisle at Wallie World, but I could sure’nuff retire from th’ world of FaceBook.

I am a Franciscan, and therefore NOT a Trappist or Carthusian.  I am a friar and NOT a monk, and therefore am in th’ world and not cloistered away from it.  But as it has been said, as friars we carry our monastic cells with us, in our hearts, and we are therefore responsible for constructing a place of quietude often in th’ thick of daily life.  Leaving FB was therefore a way of drawing closer to hear God’s first language while still serving Her children—literally. 

It seems th’ perfect time, too:  my school had th’ good sense to schedule a teacher workday on Halloween, and we all spent th’ day working classrooms, meeting with parents and doing all those 10,000 things we just never have time to get to during th’ kerfluffle of th’ school day.  We had a potluck lunch and got to relax and talk with each other in a way we don’t normally get to do:  th’ high school art teacher could sit and chat with th’ 6th grade science teacher, and so on.  Yet don’t you know that when I stopped by Wallie World for toilet paper and other supplies th’ store crew was already hard at work clearing shelves for th’ mas bits.  Th’ following day, All Saints, I noticed that a local radio station was now broadcasting 24 hour mas music and, of course, it was th’ usual off-to-th-races-faster-pussycat-kill-kill flurry of consumer frenzy (less than 8 hours into th’ day, th’ texts for upcoming Black Friday sales started rollin’ in, too). 

Somewhere in one of his many books of essays, Robert Fulghum wrote about th’ year he just felt like mas had become Too Much and he and his wife decided to skip it (I have no evidence that this essay inspired John Grisham to write Skipping Christmas, but I gotta wonder).  Instead of getting caught up in th’ maelstrom of yuletide pressure to do and buy more more more, he decided to go away and do less less less.  He found himself focusing on th’ meaning behind th’ holiday—a literal Christ mass-- and found that by staying still in a world that was beginning to run a breakneck holiday speed, he actually got MORE out of th’ Season than if he’d tried to keep up with th’ Joneses.  He re-discovered what those strictly cloistered and almost completely silent Carthusians had known for centuries and is summed up in the motto of their order:

Stat crux dum volvitur orbis
"The Cross is steady while the world is turning."

For quite a long time I felt like Billly in Th’ Polar Express:  mas just… never works out for me.”  For th’ bulk of 2 decades it’s been difficult for me to get into th’ spirit, and Thanksgiving, th’ REAL gateway to Th’ Season, has been a depressing hot mess for me for ages.  THIS year things feel different:  I feel an expectation and holy presence that I've not felt for quite some time.  I have moments that I associate with mas’s as a young child, joyous and anticipatory, and I do not want them to be damaged or squashed flat by coming across some idiotic political meme.  Th’ world begins to turn faster and faster at this time of year already, and th’ fact that we have a warmongering, misogynist, avaricious, homophobic psychopath in th’ highest office in th’ land means it’s only going to get MORE crazy as time goes on and this year comes to a close. 

No, like Fulghum I wish to enter into The Great Silence; I want to hear God speak to me in Their first language.  Whence comes December four-and-twenty I want to find a midnight clear like those ancient shepherds, watching o’er their flocks.  I want there not only to be peace on earth, but peace in my own heart.  To this end, I ask your understanding if I maintain radio silence.
            

*Fifth Business is a rarely used theatrical term that is defined by th' Canadian author Robertson Davies as:   "Those roles which, being neither those of Hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were nonetheless essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement, were called the Fifth Business in drama and opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business."