Archive for the ‘friendship’ Category

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

wide open

January 19, 2019
One of the regular sites I go to has an editor that ends his weekly round-up of madcap news stories (all political because that’s where the crazies most regularly perform) with an excerpt from something he’s reading.  He posted this a week ago.

“To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

from The Monarchy of Fear: a Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum

This week he had a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson.
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
You can see the drift.  I think fear provides the terms of courage, but we can’t deny ourselves the chance to talk about the fear not only for healing trauma but more importantly in the off chance that there are people who need to see how life works from the inside-out.
Since the horrific holiday I endured many small kindnesses have been bestowed upon me  I don’t mean to diminish the significance of all of them by sharing a story of one in particular that ended up being … perhaps … a gift I wouldn’t have accepted if I’d understood the terms in advance.
Without dredging up the murky details, I needed another vehicle and a person in the middle of the week without almost no advance notice possible to get me out of the house I’d been renting.  If I hadn’t met a former NPS co-worker in a grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, I would have been out of luck.  Furloughed by the government shutdown, near by, and still harboring kind thoughts of me from our brief time working side-by-side in the late summer of 2017, Chris had assured me he’d be there when the time came.  And he was.  However, in circumstances he would never have allowed himself to get into, given his overall conservative, if not downright timorous nature, he couldn’t help but feel that his vehicle loan & mediocre stacking assistance also required a large portion of advice on how to live my life going forward.
This attitude had been seeping out in the short time I’d rushed around packing and shifting my few belongings into his truck and my car.  But it was when we finally got to my new apartment and I offered to buy him lunch as a thank you that he pronounced his final act of largesse.
“You can thank me by never talking about this to people,” he answered.  “If you meet a man, don’t start talking about court cases and suing your landlord and this and that.  He’ll label you as a ‘drama-mama’ and stay as far away from you as you can.  Just forget about what happened and put it all behind you.”
What I had endured in the almost three weeks since an alcoholic landlord had gone to the magistrate and secured an emergency protective order against me based on lies he wasn’t required to prove deserved more than this.  I hadn’t required my former co-worker to sympathize – I had friends who were there for that – just to help me move with a minimum amount of judgment.  He had fallen short, and I felt bad that I was unable to be 100% grateful for the little he’d been able to offer that I had indeed needed.
After he left, my thoughts were now not only oppressed by the recent reign of terror but also that this person was sincerely convinced that by counselling me to keep my mouth shut he was doing me a favor, one greater than providing a truck.  That this person had been witness to another instance of my being bullied out of a job the Autumn we worked together and that he was currently furloughed due to the government shutdown — another manifestation of the bullying now in full ascendance everywhere — made it more dispiriting.  His advice distinctly implied that I was drawing these unfortunate events to me by my behavior and that to stop them I must never speak of them to anyone.  Was there no possibility of making connections in this increasingly hostile world that were based on solidarity against the oppressors?  Did we all have to cower in fear, hoping the storm would pass over us and devastate someone else — hopefully someone we didn’t know so we could pretend we “deserved” our near-miss?
Well, the mind, if cultivated assiduously, is there to find or create some form of survival mechanism, whether it’s a tattered life raft or an elaborate long-range escape plan.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t required to buy into the fear he was shoveling.  Buying into it, in fact, was the one sure way to make it grow bigger, stronger, more dangerous.  Testifying about the fear, about the trauma, was one avenue to finding out who was willing to stand beside me and say “Me too.”  It was a way to remind others hiding in the dark places of their mind, in the most depressed moments of their — and our nation’s — lives, that it is because of fear that we are able to express faith and hope and courage.  To be, in essence, a human being, one still capable of openness and trust, the only species I’m a card-carrying member of and the only species capable of creating a way out of this mess.

Time is on our side

March 11, 2018

I met Jean my last year in undergrad.  A core group were taking both the Virginia Woolf and the honors literary criticism seminars, so in the natural way young people do (and older people don’t), we fell in together.

Jean’s mind moves like a computer except she’s working with one or two more dimensions, making her mental loops fluid and fascinating.  Add to this her urban upbringing and her spot-on taste, and even a myopic magoo like me was intimidated.  After we graduated, that she’d been biding her time awaiting her reunion with better company was obvious.  We stayed in touch mostly due to my persistent letter-writing, until I found what I thought were my own people, ex-husband-to-be included.

Fast-forward some twenty odd years, and I’m wondering if I can find her on the internet, a do-hickey that was still in its university swaddling clothes when we’d last signed off.  And there she was.  Reconnecting with her was one of the shining lights of a 2017 where fog enshrouded and eroded much of what I’d thought was happening (aka, my reality).

Besides the advantage of the internet, we now also had cheaper long distance, so we were able to catch up in some small measure.  My lack of discernible progress in the material world ceased to embarrass me when she shared her own dissatisfactions.  We began to share strategies and insights, dream interpretations, youtube links, and photos.  As other friends had dropped away, retrieving Jean from the past was a timely gift.

The distance and difference between us, however, remained.  She had jumped from San Francisco to NYC to LA to Paris to Austin and back to the Bay Area, while my wanderings had taken me to places like Southern Utah, Yellowstone, New Mexico, and the Northern Neck of Virginia.  I don’t think she could conceive of why I would chose to live in these spots.  Helping me sort out my vision for the future, she offered a provocative comment:  “I think you’re avoiding something  because you think you’ll get contaminated by it.”  The assessment sounded right to me, but she thought I’d done the calculations wrong.

I was taking time to ponder the merits of this critique when she sent me a link.  “Great job for you,” she e-mailed.  The title did sound intriguing:  “Narrative strategist.”

Since I’d welcomed Jean’s earlier commands, like the latest version of What Color Is Your Parachute, as good structuring exercises, I read through the description with as much open-mindedness as I could muster, no easy task after the fifth sentence which touted serving clients like Facebook and Google and other “global change-makers.”

Eventually, despite my sympathetic willingness to imagine myself as more affluent and much much hipper and busier, even a cursory look at the job showed how I wouldn’t fit.  I was not only a “luddite” but proud to be so, and I was about as far down the line as anyone could be from their imagined candidate who was “passionate about disruptive technology.”

Passionate about disruptive technology?!  A storyteller?!  Would Homer be passionate about disruptive technology?  George Eliot?  Tolstoy?  I might be an “inherent optimist, with faith in the future despite the immense challenges of our time” and possess the “ability to process complex stacks of information without getting lost down a rabbit hole” as they phrase it, but I’d rather put my intellectual juice into conversations on how disruptive technology affects our ability to summon resonant metaphors and strategies for how to counteract it than into pretending it’s enhancing our lives.

Basically, the small start up wants to “on-board” someone to use stories to sell shit or to justify shit.  To convince people that shit doesn’t smell like shit because there isa beautiful story that connects us all to shit or whatever the fuck they need to do to make money so they can keep up their aesthetically and spiritually multi-hued new agey lifestyle in Sonoma county.  One of the bulleted “capabilities” for the position was “Maturity – you must have an active contemplative practice.”

During this moment, as I sat slackjawed, probing my disinterest in stepping up into the metropolitan fast-paced future Jean was envisioning for me, a few other “tells” passed in front of my eyes.  First, a Guinness beer ad that suspiciously sounded as if it were narrated by Alan Cumming, that deliciously gay man with a gorgeous Scottish accent.  Over images of all manner of folk connecting over a pint of frothing ale, the ad tells us that, in our desire to cozy up to friends and alcohol, we’re all alike deep down.  Okay, fine, I like beer too, and Cumming is hot regardless of his sexual preference.   All good.  But what if the challenge were to de-weaponize Amazon with a compelling story?

Then I stumbled across an article detailing what certain behaviors convey about a person revealed that long e-mail messages show neediness.  Well, yeah, that’s me, I conceded.  Needy.  Look at how long this blog post is.  And guess what?  NO ONE READS THEM.  After the shame the stupid content managers had slimed me with dribbled away, there remained a flicker of anger.  Yeah, I’m fucking needy, I wanted to shout.  I need people to pay attention; I need people to think for themselves.  I need people to understand how their day job is connected to the rest of the world.  My bad!

Then another article, which makes 3 and certifies this as a fairy-tale,  began with this quotation

We cannot be careful enough in refusing to act as splitters (i.e., like the Nazi doctors) or in refusing to live a split life in that sense.  And yet, in many circumstances, we cannot avoid acting as economic men and women of our time, performing certain professions and thus maiming our hearts.

— Ivan Illich In Conversation (David Cayley, editor)

I had a wild hair of a thought using a picture of the stories I was currently consuming as part of a job application.  An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States; Cheyenne Autumn; Killers of The Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and The Birth of the FBI; Pillar of Fire: American in the King Years 1963-1965; The Magic Mountain.  Which of these stories, I imagined asking coyly, might they ask me to draw upon to craft a narrative strategy for Facebook or, say, Energy Transfer Partners?

I suspect that the e-mail I received from Jean in response to my “thanks but no thanks” signals our friendship has shifted on to a back burner if not into cold storage.  This time, however, despite not yet finding my tribe, I’m less hurt.  She’s given me much to think about, even if it’s an awareness of where I don’t want my life to go and why.  And I hope when we connect again I’ll be able to report my progress and she’ll be able to share hers.  The stories we share will be complicated ones, cobbled together after we’ve done the hard work to chisel out and stay close to what’s most important to us.  I’ll drink to that!

 

ringing in the year: a letter to friends, known and unknown

January 1, 2018
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the wide, cold Potomac

Happy 2018.  I hope you rang the new year the way you wished to, in the company of one if not more of the people whom you’d like to include in many more joyful experiences as this year unfolds and the northern hemisphere moves into longer, warmer days.

Brr.  The Potomac here is too briny to freeze outright, but what’s fascinating today is that where the water level shallows, the waves, whipped to whitecaps in the center, slow down in a mesmerizing way kinda like those slowed down frames at the end of Taxi Driver.  In trying to describe it in my journal, my mind hit on the word “gravid.”  I’ve never once used it, but upon looking it up (don’t you love a dictionary?), I realized my mind had pulled out from all the clutter exactly what I needed.  Thank god something in there keeps chugging along!

As the most horrible year on my personal scorecard, 2017 just couldn’t end without one last scuffle.  Toward the end of last week I apparently indulged in the borderline-felonious illusion that my father’s wife might want to engage with me on a level other than the platitudinal.  Thus I committed what was apparently a heinous infraction of some invisible rule book by replying to her e-mail with one carefully expressing my recognition & gratitude for her love and support of my father while also noting that my experience with him had been much different.  Apparently this infringed well past her emotional boundaries, and the two of them both issued nasty e-mails to me telling me, with words undoubtedly served up by their separate laptops’ thesauruses, that I was intrusive and hostile.  blah blah blah.  A nice corporate-retirement touch:  they cc’d each other.

One interesting thing arising from this was when I called my mom to talk about it and she divulged a little tidbit from the workup to their second divorce: apparently my father, in his various nasty stratagems to reduce his alimony payments, had tried to float the idea that I wasn’t his child.  Nice.

That’s what I love about my dad’s version of family:  he always wants to have it both ways.  And the world, with all the arbitrariness of its ways, seems willing to let him do just that.  After many decades of searching,  he’s found a wife whose pension & savings not only pay the bills but who believes as fervently in his fantasies about the world & his participation in it as he adheres to hers.  True love.  Sigh!

Anyway, their behavior isn’t particularly upsetting, although at this moment in my life what I would prefer are fewer confrontations and more allies.  However, we don’t get a choice, and I haven’t got space for allies who are INSANE.  What is upsetting, unsurprisingly, is how much it makes me feel my solitude.  So few to turn to and ask, “Is it me who’s crazy or them?”  That was one of the bright spots of my relationship with my sister, another creature suffering the collateral damage wounding of that familial battleground.

It’s my hunch, however, that, just as my writing has allowed my mind better access to vocabulary words, so the work I’ve done on myself (all by myself) has strengthened my discernment to identify what matters to me, what I can accept as my responsibility, and what I won’t.  Jesus, I do hope that this hypothesis turns out to be true.  It won’t solve all or maybe any of my bigger, worldly problems, but if I keep paring stuff down to what I truly need, the baggage will continue to take up less space.  A very important criteria for nomads.

Well, thanks for reading this and sending out good vibes.  I know you’re out there beating back the craziness you’re encountering in your own ways.  That matters.  A lot.

Reggae donkeys

August 7, 2017

Here’s a story you might appreciate.

Two donkeys browse the field next door.  Here’s a picture of Pancho & Sarah.

They are in the midst of enjoying their morning snack of crabapples.  A tree grows on my side of the fence, but they can’t reach it.  So I fill a bucket and toss them out on their side of the fence.  My initial intention of feeding them apple-by-apple in a picturesque manner was revised the moment I saw the mosquitoes covering the poor asses’ hides.  I managed to toss the apples and make a break for it, barely escaping the swarm.

I’d been feeding them at my leisure, a schedule that didn’t suit them.  Their aggrieved complaints became apparent to me the other day when a series of seesawing “hee haws” drew me to my kitchen window.  The two had come up to the fence line and were letting me know it was high time to be fed more crabapples.

Now that they keep a close eye on my comings and goings, it’s not just the mosquitoes keeping me inside but Pancho & Sarah who keen when they see me water the garden or hang laundry.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy feeding them but that the supply of crabapples is dwindling.  I still have a week or so left and I don’t want to have to buy some bags of apples at the store to satisfy them (although as I write this, I can see myself doing just that).

Lately I’ve been playing Bob Marley in the morning.  I start my music with “Wait in Vain” and the next song is “Redemption Song.”  Bob sings the refrain plaintively,

Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?

‘Cause all I’ve ever had

Redemption songs.

The other morning, walking down the red dirt driveway to satisfy my friends’ demands, I shifted the lyrics, singing out to the morning sky,

Won’t you help to sing these songs of donkeys?

‘Cause I’ve ever had.

Donkey songs.

Finishing it, of course, with a loud “hee haw.”

This morning, watching those persistent two move from the lower pasture where they’d tried and failed to capture my attention, I knew they’d be up at my window very soon.  As I grabbed my bucket and headed out to the crabapple tree, I thought of how they were singing their own version of another great Bob Marley song.

Get up, stand up!  Stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up! Don’t give up the fight!

I’m going to miss my New Mexico mornings and my reggae donkeys.

 

A Yellowstone Valentine

February 13, 2017

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Roses are red,

bison are brown.

They forage on grass roots

held fast by the ground.

Oh their ways are quite ancient

and their demeanor seems patient

until late summer commences.

Then the herd starts converging,

and with the end to a’merging,

the rut hosts a range of offenses.

From this chart you will learn

how it’s hard to discern

the emotions a buffalo possesses.

But there’s one thing that’s true,

from a bovine or you,

nothing soothes like a Valentine’s caresses.