Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reminiscing with Sid

I reminisce for a spell, or shall I say think back... - Pete Rock and C. L. Smooth

I think Sid Vicious was right. Not about much, but maybe about stepping stones. I'm not sure stepping stones exist. If they do, you can't see them. Not until you get to the end and turn around. Stepping stones exist only in hindsight. Only as a reminiscence. You couldn't have known it at the time.

Calling something--a period of time, a job, a person, a relationship--a stepping stone purely negates it. Being a line cook in restaurants wasn't where I ultimately wanted to end up, but it is something that is as much a part of me now as any other job. It is a period of time full of great people, and memories, and late nights, and laughs, and people who are still close friends. It wasn't a stepping stone, it was then.

He lets this brilliant shape move through time like a needle stitching together the two moments that compose nostalgia. Then and now. - Anne Carson, "Plainwater"

Thank you, Anne. That's what I meant. Stitching together THEN and NOW. That's the only way something can look like a stepping stone. But remember what Jurassic Park has taught us, objects in mirror (past) are closer than they appear.

Maybe reminiscing is time travel and nostalgia is that sense of floating through time and space, of actually feeling those two moments being stitched together, and we wear those stitched threads like an old sweater that we can't let go of no matter how many holes it has. We can't let go of the past, we can't forget, we want it to help make sense of the now, the future.

Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. - Robert Hass, "Meditation at Lagunitas."

Shit, Bob, don't bring that up now. Why do we have to bring longing and desire into this? I was just trying to cut out into Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth and let the sound wash over. You can reminisce without longing, right? When we look back to a simpler time, prior to bills, prior to taxes, prior to heartbreak and death, when we look back to innocence, we don't have to flip the bird at experience, right?

Maybe we do want that simpler time. Before desire created distances we aren't sure we can traverse. Before hurt pulled us into ourselves. When it was harder to tell the difference between dreams and the every day, because we could see our dreams more clearly, every day.

Maybe it is Dream, our dreams, that float above us and stitch together then and now. To remind us. To show us, it wasn't a stepping stone, maybe you stepped off the path, maybe you are on the wrong river bank, maybe you need to look back, re-route, face forward, open eyes, open heart, sun rising on new days, new feelings, new.

But first, reminisce for a spell...

Monday, July 28, 2014

Running alone through the dark and back yard happy hours

A packed house is when I feel the most alone. Bar scene, packed house, music blaring, I am pretty well alone. Background noise to the forefront, sound becomes gray, I float on the outside of conversations. I've always felt the outsider.

But that goes back further than bars and crowds. Never fully identifying. Never knowing exactly where I fit in. I remember, high school era, four of us cruising in a car one night and our friend sitting in the back seat next to me looked around the car and said, "Check it out man, we've got a rasta, a skinhead, a longhair, and a... a... a Mike!" And at the time feeling like, well, shit, how come I'm not anything? And then realizing that that may have been the greatest compliment I have ever received. At a time when we were labeling, no label fit.

Among soccer players, I became a skateboarder; among skateboarders, I became a writer; among writers, I became a runner; but was all those things. The thing about it, is all those things, shifts, evolution, I don't know what to call it, happened without thought. It felt more like peeling off some other superfluous part of me to get to what was inside. And when I didn't think about it, it felt good.

But thinking. And man, I am guilty of chronic over-thinking. When I would sit and think about it, the end result was... alone. And Camus is right, if you make too much of defining happiness, you likely won't be happy; if you make the search for the meaning of life everything, chances are you aren't living.

So what does that mean for the outsider, the over-thinker, the stuck in my head? It means happy hour. It means go for a run. It means paddleboarding, skateboarding. It means find your niche, maybe.

Funny things can happen with time. And this came up in conversation recently, where at one point, feeling always a little outside, a bit different, standing within but not a part of the group, sucked, at some point it became the only perspective I wanted. It became what I dug most, that it wasn't any one group. It was maybe a group of one.

And even more odd, when that made sense, comfort in difference, you start to know yourself, and show yourself a bit more, you start running into other folks more and more like you. I think about our group of running friends. On a morning when we would run, I would start out from my house, running through the still dark. Over the next few miles, other folks are doing the same, running alone through the dark. And then we would each come into a familiar glow, the streetlight of the corner where we always met. And there would be four or five of us, together, running through the dark, smiles, conversations, questions, stories, sweat, soles hitting pavement.

And I got thinking about that more clearly the other night, at a back yard happy hour, celebrating/seeing off friends who are moving out of town. And I talked to the elementary art teacher about skateboarding, about Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian," and talking to the brewmaster about Liverpool, and talking to the physician's assistant about malt liquor and Camelbacks, and watching the photographer shotgun a craft beer, and watching all of our kids attempting to pole vault across the yard with bamboo poles, or playing soccer, or climbing on the swingset.

And I looked at the assembled group, the folks and families around me, and thought/felt, yep. That's it. I am not a crowded bar, I am a back yard happy hour.

And this may have nothing or everything to do with all this, but I read it this morning and it is stuck in my head. So now you can have it...

We live by tunneling for we are people buried alive. To me, the tunnels you make will seem strangely aimless, uprooted orchids. But the fragrance is undying. - Anne Carson, "Plainwater."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Of Words and Souls

I wonder if my soul has words written on it. And if it does, what words are they? As I've been walking through the worlds of Virginia Woolf and Charles Williams and Neil Gaiman, I always have a book of poetry going. Poetry where a poet, in the space of a page, can make me ponder love, life, the Cosmos, loss, sex, our place in the Universe and Nature, the color blue, mythology, history, God. Maybe in the space of three stanzas. Can do what it takes novelists 500 pages to do. Condense the soul into words, just a few, and make it speak.

Because a poem is made up of words, speech is how the soul is embodied. (Frank Bidart, from an interview at the end of "Metaphysical Dog.")

Sometimes when I read something that someone I know writes, I can hear their voice saying their words. At its best, I feel like my writing has my voice, my speech, my soul embedded in it. You want to see what my soul looks like? Can you see it in my eyes? Is my soul blue? Or could I better show it in something I've written, something that feels like everything I have to say, or have said yet. Can my soul live on a page, or on a screen, separate from me, created by itself? Or can you hear it in my voice? Tricky fu**ers, these souls. How can we get our arms around them?

Whatever it takes to get the whole soul into a poem. (Bidart, same interview)

Last evening, we were sitting on a dock on the Tred Avon River. A heron flew by overhead and landed by the shore. We have established that herons do enough for me that I have one tattooed on my arm. I've talked about herons as my spirit animal on here before. Watching a heron fly, with its legs kicked back long behind it; then watching it transition, ungracefully to land; and then to see them still, balanced, stoic in the water. I wonder if something outside of you, observed by you, can speak your soul? I wonder if my soul could be captured in that clumsy transition from air to water, when the legs come down and arrest forward momentum, both looking improbable, but working every time. My ungraceful, improbable, functional soul.

The words, like a bonfire encased
in glass, glowed on the horizon.

Can a soul be contained in words? Are words written on the soul of one who writes? If words are connected to the soul, maybe they would look like a bonfire encased in glass, glow(ing) on the horizon.

But I think Bidart's right. That's the creative struggle. To get the whole soul into the poem, the painting, the art. Maybe words, maybe art, maybe love is how the soul speaks to another or to itself.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Real Cool Hand

Life's mysteries start to reveal themselves when you discuss "Cool Hand Luke." It just happens that way. Maybe because Paul Newman was a bad ass. Maybe because one of the all-time great movies is just packed full of an attitude that most of us could use a whole lot more of.

The title scene of the movie, Newman and some other inmates are playing poker. The betting is getting high. People are folding rather than chancing losing. Newman keeps going all in. Wins the hand. When he shows his cards, he had nothing. He bluffed his way through it. His friend calls him out for having nothing. Newman pops a beer and says one of the greatest lines ever spoken on screen:

"Sometimes nothin' is a real cool hand."

I have heard folks complain about the hand, the cards life dealt them. Not third world country poor folks, not homeless folks, but folks who have things in their lives that some would kill for. But more to the point, it's not about the cards you were dealt, but how you play them; what you do with them.

If life is a poker game (and not a box of chocolates) and you get crap cards and fold right off, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Play them for everything you can. Because you know what? Maybe the person with the best hand is afraid to lose, afraid to play it. It's not the cards, it's the attitude. It's what you do with what you've got.

And that got me to thinking, about the cards we are dealt, Life cards. Maybe that's God as dealer's big joke. Maybe we are all dealt EXACTLY the same hand of cards. And we all walk around with them close to the vest, letting only ourselves see them. When if we play them, we learn we don't lose. These are meta cards people, you're not playing for the cash in your wallet.

Newman's attitude in Cool Hand Luke made being in prison an adventure for him and those around him. He didn't mope around and go into a funk. He ate 50 eggs. He boxed the biggest dude there and wouldn't quit. He won a poker game with a nothing hand.

What if we brought more of that attitude to our own lives? What if we had the stones/balls/guts to play our hand to the fullest? We could learn a bit from Lucas Jackson. Play your cards, whatever they are, and what they are likely won't matter. It's in the playing.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hubris, Geography, Dreams

I learned the word hubris in third grade. It has stuck with me since. I remembered it as meaning "excessive pride." It's been the downfall of mythological, historic, and fictional characters for as long as stories have been told. Hubris and karma are not the same thing. I'm not sure they're even kissing cousins.

Hubris rears its head in my life plenty. Whenever I'm outgrowing my britches, feeling larger than life. It's like an existential gut check, reminding me that I'm not all that. A little humble pie goes well with morning coffee. Maybe hubris is like a tea kettle with the water at a rolling boil; it's got no choice but to whistle to let it out.

And the hubris whistle says, "Stay humble, my friends."

Some of my reading has brought hubris back into focus. Characters in Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," who want to capture Death, to live forever, and end up summoning Dream and keeping him locked up for 75 years. And when he gets free, he goes about setting things right. There are all kinds of similar story lines. It's the Faust story retold, where someone wants more power, more knowledge, doesn't want to abide by the balance that life seems to move towards. They want to be outside the rules. In life and literature, it rarely ends up well.

Geography has been on my mind of late. The mountains, the beach, cabins, beach houses, New England, the South, the Eastern Shore. Maybe it's a restless leg syndrome of the soul. Wanderlust. Maybe it's being in the same place for too long. Maybe it's feeling like I have burned a path from Easton to DC that my car or truck would drive on their own, without me touching the steering wheel. You've seen what taking the same path too many times does to grass. It's not there to tell you about it.

The last several months of my life has been about change. A life revolution. Except that it hasn't. There is a stasis. Mentally things are different, except they aren't. But I'm also wary of hubris. Don't get too full of myself. Don't overreach. There is something to be said for familiarity. I've seen it when running the same route, of how much can be different, with the right eyes.

Ultimately, at the moment, hubris and geography and dreams combine to want something simple. Maybe a wee bit of solitude at a surf shelter like this one. Read, write, split firewood, try not to break my ribs surfing, cook simply, eat simply, walk and run through the woods. Recharge. And hey, there's a sauna. Sabbatical. Sanctuary.

Long live Cabin Porn for helping dreamers keep it simple, and be humbled by humanity's lowly role in nature's magnificence.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fire, Phoenix, Fork

I'm not going to set anything on fire. Not in real life. It's a figurative fire, we're talking Meta-fire here. Maybe.

Astrology is not nearly as cool a word as alchemy. Everyone knows, speaking Zodiac, what their sign is. An April 8 guy like myself, Aries. But if you change glasses and look into alchemical signs, you're exploring things a bit differently. Alchemists go back to the elements: air, fire, water, earth. An Aries like myself is fire as an element, fire representing action and creativity perhaps.

Once you've got your element figured, you look at modalities: beginning/initiation (cardinal), middle/sustaining (fixed), and end/change (mutable). So sticking with Aries, you're talking beginning of the spring season, Aries is Cardinal Fire. Maybe that explains me getting divebombed by cardinals during my runs? ;)

It's funny to think of fire having spent most of my life by the water. Then again, I intuitively feel like an outsider almost anywhere I go, on the fringes, the edges, looking in, looking out. Just out of place. Fire at a water party.

But fire has been on my mind a lot lately. Creative fire, but also destructive fire. And the way I've been pondering it, is best embodied by a legend/myth I learned as a kid: the phoenix. The phoenix is a great fiery bird, who is born of the ashes of the one before it. It is created from the ashes, the death of the one before it. It rises, is reborn. But you don't have the fiery new life without the incineration of the old one.

That is what this spring and summer has felt like. The ending of something, the rebirth, the beginning of something else. And so I'm thinking shit like that, minding my own business, and the album of the last few months for me has been Audioslave's first album, self-titled. And I'm driving to work, listening to "Show Me How to Live," and snag this thought from Mr. Cornell:

And in your final hours I will stand, ready to begin

And I happened to be pondering the phoenix (which will be a future tattoo by the way) when I heard that, and the cycle, the end and ready to begin. So there's that.

The other album that's been getting some air from me is Jack White's "Lazaretto." Typical White: lo-fi, raw, uneven, Nashville in places, tangential in others. Guitar and piano and lyrics that frequently make you think. And as White is singing along, he throws this gem out there as a way to woo a lady perhaps:

Put a fork in the road with me.

And, hold up, what? Instead of choosing a direction at a fork in the road, PUT a fork in the road. And man, I dig the hell out of that. Let's create possibilities. Let's expand things. Create choices. Not limit ourselves, expand ourselves. And I dig that.

So that's what the coffee says the last couple mornings. Cardinal Fire. Beginnings. Endings. Beginnings out of Endings. Phoenixes. Big-ass fiery mythical birds. Screaming guitar riffs. And putting forks in roads. Possibilities. All towards the creative unfolding of how things go. Set it off.