Go West, Young Man!

Mount Rainier

The photo above, of Mount Rainier, just east of Washington state’s capital, Olympia.

Olympia’s situated south of Seattle, at the southern end of that big, fingered bay hemmed in by Vancouver Island. And it was one of the cities mentioned on one or more of the “best cities to live in in the USA” lists I recently perused. Or “best economy” maybe.

I bring it all up because I’ve fantasized about the Pacific Northwest for a long time. And I’m contemplating a road trip to tour the US, maybe even finishing with a move there.

A pollution map of the United States, which I saw about a decade ago, amplified the desire to visit the Pacific Northwest. That region had just about the best overall pollution rating in the continental United States. And, somewhat more recently, after watching the Ken Burns documentary “National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” moving west (where pretty much all the national parks are), became an even more appealing idea.

National Parks

A dear friend got me a year-long pass to the national parks, for Christmas or my birthday, almost two years back.

It remains in a “to be activated” state. It came with some Southwest Airlines credit.

I’ll have to track down the pass info: nothing physical came with the gift, just words and a promise. I never activated the pass because my finances at the time wouldn’t have allowed me to make much use of it. But that’s about to change, for various house-selling, inheritance, debt payoff, income and game-selling reasons. So yay travel!

A neat, quiet film I saw years ago, with Michele and her daughter Lisa, took place somewhere nearby.

“Old Joy.”

Old Joy

Two very different men, with very different strengths and weaknesses, on a hike to a mountain spring.

Anyway, after I boil down my possessions to a “fits in one car” level, after decades of carting around tubs of stuff I don’t need, I should be good to go. Olympia supposedly has a great economy, if “settling” works out. And seeing how maybe social things feel different in a vastly different part of the USA should be a kick.

And there’s always meetup.com and FaceBook to find events and make friends.

And all my possessions?

I’ve always loved the line from the movie (and probably the book) “Fight Club” that goes….

Fight Club Things Own

More and more, recently, after carting around all those tubs and things, from home to home, move after move, I’ve felt it.

The… weight around my neck. The… lack of freedom. The inability to change, or to change direction any easier than an aircraft carrier.

And it impedes truly creative recreation too.

Golfcraft Carrier

Now that would solve things!

Anyway.

You ever read the late John Steinbeck book “Travels with Charley”?

I read it in high school, and it made a mark. Years after losing touch with the America he wrote about so famously in “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men,” Steinbeck, in the 60s, built a sort of mobile home into the back of a pickup truck and traveled the country to get to know it again.

With his dog.

Charley.

Travels with Charley

Always struck me as a cool book.

And, while I’ve often been a homebody, linked closely to movies, TV and mostly videogames, the loss of interest in those solitary pursuits since the breakup has freed me to crave adventure and new people.

So maybe my 2013 Mazda3 has, or can get, a trailer hitch. Maybe I can get a small camper trailer.

Maybe I can become mobile.

Maybe I can switch identities, as Waylon Jennings suggested a man couldn’t, in his song “Drinkin’ and Dreamin’.”

The line?

Jennings Free

Good line.

And forgive me, freedom, but possessions truly make a man feel tied down.

Obligations too.

Family, children, a house, a certain career, etc.

But, as my jealous he’s-selling-my-games coworker Steve said, he wishes he could do it too. But he has obligations. Two kids mostly.

Me? If I have any, the women have kept it secret. To the benefit of my adventure.

If not my spawn.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Funny Rut

And, if one does, it’s easy to have a dulling of the senses.

Become numb.

It’s very, very hard to see the World as an amazing banquet, daily, if routine sets in. There’s no counting how many days it took Phil Connors in “Groundhog Day” to figure out the way to see vitality in everyday life.

Beer Grounhog

Should I challenge myself to such minimalism?

Or should I have an adventure? Learn very new and different things, instead of looking for the new (which is there) in the everyday routine?

I’m still young-ish.

And I look young. Usually feel it too. Thank you yoga and this book bride of 17 years….

Ancient Secret Book

And now money, so long a future-blocking burden in my life, is swinging in my favor.

I don’t have anyone to go with, nor do I have contacts in Olympia (I could find them elsewhere, and ask FaceBook friends), but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it. I can sometimes get lost (mentally and spiritually) when alone and without the crutches of my routine, but my hope is that “adventure” would keep me energized and awake.

There is precedent.

Do you have the feeling that I do? In an airport? Ready to fly?

I don’t travel very often, and maybe that’s why when I’m about to fly far away… the world gets brighter and more tingly.

I’d love to sustain that feeling.

For ages now, maybe 3 years, I’ve fantasized about… starting maybe a monthly routine of… finding the cheapest flights to literally anywhere in the USA, cost being the selling point, not location, and flying with just a backpack for even just my 2 days off.

I don’t even need to eat, for that short a window. I’m fasting-able.

But the idea was to… just go, no plan, and wander.

See what happens.

Never did it, partly because the money stuff still seemed unbalanced. Better to get ahead of debt first.

Debt Country

But now that’s nearly done.

I’ll soon even have a big, checking account cushion. Yay me!

So where should I visit?

Here’s a good link:

https://livability.com/best-places/top-100-best-places-to-live/2017

If you don’t wanna click, the first 6 cities (to include another from WA) are….

Rochester, MN

Population: 110,275

  • Courtesy of Josh Banks.

    LIV
    SCORE
    695

    Four-time recipient of the Best Places to Live honor, Rochester earned the top spot for the second year in a row due to high scores for its health-care scene and a diverse range of affordable housing. Home to the Mayo Clinic, Rochester is also an entrepreneurial powerhouse, with many new businesses and a wide variety of things to do that keep residents entertained and engaged.

    Iowa City, IA

    Population: 71,832
    Courtesy of Alan Light under a CC 2.0 license.

    LIV
    SCORE
    678

    Home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes as well as Kirkwood Community College, Iowa City features a college-town atmosphere with big-city cultural events that are attractive to both locals and students. Quality of life conveniences include multiple shopping choices, arts and entertainment attractions, culinary options from fine dining to pub food, numerous nightlife spots and top health care at several hospitals. Iowa City perennially ranks high on the Best Places to Live list.

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Population: 116,194
    Courtesy of Nekonomist under a CC 4.0 license.

    LIV
    SCORE
    674

    Known largely for its 40,000-student University of Michigan flagship campus, Ann Arbor is a city that also houses two of the nation’s top hospitals – St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and University of Michigan Medical Center. Prognosticators rank U of M’s 2017 football team as one of the best in the country, and Ann Arbor enjoys amenities like well-regarded art galleries, performance venues and restaurants. The city continues to attract more and more high tech companies and consistently ranks as a Top 10 College Town.

    Olympia, WA

    Population: 48,941
    Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau
    LIV
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    672

    As the capital of Washington, Olympia’s major employers are state and local government. Residents have access to 25 hospitals within a 60-mile radius, and beautiful scenery highlights include Puget Sound, Turnwater Falls Park, Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and Wolf Haven International. Olympia has a top transportation system in place, and students have the convenience of Evergreen State College, Saint Martin’s University and South Puget Sound Community College.

    Charlottesville, VA

    Population: 45,084
    Courtesy of Bob Mical under a CC 2.0 license.

    LIV
    SCORE
    670

    Nicknamed C’ville, Charlottesville is home to Thomas Jefferson’s famed Monticello residence as well as the University of Virginia, and the city is graced with many impressive historic buildings. Two of the largest employersare University of Virginia Medical Center and Martha Jefferson Hospital, and Charlottesville offers a variety of independent restaurants, shopping opportunities and entertainment venues. Shenandoah National Park has excellent hiking trails, and city officials make parks and green spaces a priority.

    Bellevue, WA

    Population: 134,630
    Visit Bellevue, WA
    LIV
    SCORE
    669

    Across Lake Washington from Seattle and French for “beautiful view” is Bellevue, which has appeared on the Best Places to Live list four consecutive years and features some of the best public schools in America (along with Bellevue College). A high-ranking healthcare system exists along with a downtown district that accommodates 1,300 businesses, and shoppers have choices like Bellevue Square and three major malls. An annual Bellevue Arts and Crafts Fair has occurred since 1947.

Not a bad list.

Now, I don’t really wanna be anywhere too hot or dry. I suppose… a place that’d counter my tendency to be reclusive. Maybe help me be social and make friends. Hopefully stimulate community.

And lots of places listed on that website:

https://www.ic.org/

That’d be a boon. And, according to the state-by-state map on the site, Washington does have a lot. Not surprising, given the “hippy” concentration in the Pacific Northwest.

Maybe a good touring plan, in addition to national parks, would be to map out a route that hits lots of those best cities. Happy, livable, economic or whatever.

And maybe I should get a dog first….

Wanted one for decades.

Ironically… I’d wanted to wait until I was “settled.”

Happy Dog

That could be the base of Mount Rainer.

Right?

I thought so.

Good dog.

Now let’s travel, Charley.

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The Story of Campfires and Community

Ennadai Lake

That’s a photo of Ennadai Lake in the Nunavut province of Canada, well after that the provincial name of “Mackenzie District” (in place when Farley Mowat wrote “People of the Deer” in about 1950) got lost out of native respect.

It’s about 200 miles west of central Hudson Bay.

Apologies for all the “a” thingies and the rather apt “alarmy” thingies. I could only find photos stamped with corporate graffiti.

I wanted a photo of what Farley Mowat called “The Little Lakes, located about 40 miles northeast of Ennadai, and about 60 miles northwest of Nueltin Lake.

Nueltin Lake

But I can’t find any photos of “The Little Lakes.” Partly because “The Little Lakes” were names given by the deceased inland eskimo tribe called “Ihalmuit.” And the lakes, which I finally tracked down in that almost name-free region of Canada, using Google maps, only names one of them. The northwest one. Hick’s Lake. And no photos came up in a Google image search.

But here’s a partially name-labeled satellite photo. Using Google Maps.

Screenshot 2017-09-22 14.14.42

The Ihalmuit that Farley Mowat became a tribal member of, before writing his book, were reduced to living only in that area. This after decades of plague, destruction in the face of a Capitalism they didn’t understand, and the slaughter of the massive caribou heards they depended on. During that period of tragedy, the endured a reduction in their population from thousands to dozens. The tribe vanished altogether soon after Mowat’s book, the remnants reduced to working in canning factories and to the sadness of cultural death.

Here’s a photo of their approximate full range, 50-100 years earlier. Note the labeled Ennadai in the bottom left.

Screenshot 2017-09-22 14.20.16

Their range was not so square, but I can’t replicate the egg-shaped diagonal oval, top end northeast, bottom end southwest, that I see in Mowat’s book. A map drawn by him.

Well maybe I can find it in a Google image search….

Hold on.

Jesus how ironic. Only the right side of the map can be found. The half including not the land of the People of the Deer, but the legend, Hudson Bay, and Churchill (the white man’s settlement on the bay).

RIght Side Mowat Map

Wait.

No reason I can’t use my computer to take a photo of my hardcover copy of the right (being left) side of the map. Still figuring out this tech stuff….

 

Left Side Mowat Map

There we go.

Will miracles never cease.

Anyway, I’m bringing all this up in a blog post because, as usual, the book fascinates me with its chronicle of a true community. People who love and respect and would do almost anything for each other. Powerful bonds we scarcely know in our time, in part because too much peace and safety makes us slack (the Canadian Barrens, especially in winter, always keep death close at hand), and partly because of the tightly knit people.

The instant feeding of guests.

The powerful love of spouses, natural beauty, and the innocence of children.

And of course, the potent bonding that comes with long nights of storytelling and song singing by the (tiny, poor-for-burning-caribou-fat-lamp) fire.

Like the way war can be awful and yet bring people together in wondrous ways it’s possible to miss, the creature-comforts-scarce and almost terrifying lives of the Ihalmuit once again seem to me, in many ways, envious.

And, once again, I want to visit that land. Even, as it is now, bereft of “The People.”

As to the people again?

Amazing the love of hard work, with no resentment, because it’s in support of the beloved community, and not something that only matters because of the cash one is paid for it, regularly.

The way, without time for “art for art’s sake,” art is always wondrously woven into the work of daily life. The perfect clothing made by masters from parts of many Barrens animals that is their real homes, the kayaks, and the cookware.

Not to mention the hunting equipment.

And of course the primal, particularly to men, energy in killing for survival, not for sport. The acceptance of death on a mass scale, of caribou, for survival. And the sense that that made the caribou in a very real sense the mirror image of the people. It’s a true blessing to appreciate, deeply, the source of one’s food. And to work for it: by killing, prepping, storing and cooking.

I have a relative, my mother’s cousin, who own’s “American Flatbread,” a pizza company. And he’s written extensively about this. Supermarkets can tragically distance people from valuing foot. And that harms us in real ways.

American Flatbread

Good pizza.

OK. Gotta take a break. Will get more into the bonding magic of songs, stories and campfires later. Maybe tomorrow.

And in the meantime, I go on existing feeling very alone and without real community.

As do many of us.

I contemplate just how to deal with this problem, trying to face it head on instead of drinking.

I just found this resource online. A website called “Fellowship for Intentional Community.” It’s a national, or worldwide, resource for all kinds of intentional communities: eco-villages, communes, co-ops, and co-housing. And more.

Fellowship for Intentional Community

Here’s the primary photo on the homepage.

welcome-to-fic

Not a bad photo. Way to represent!

But back to “People of the Deer.”

A few more detailed examples would be good. I’ve been kinda telling and not showing, which is usually a writer’s idea, but I’m realizing works very well in many other aspects of life. There’s even a law about it in “The 48 Laws of Power.”

So, the first example relates to that, illustrating how showing and not telling can be a very good way to protect the feelings and ego of a community member.

In “People of the Deer,” Ohoto I believe is an Ihalmuit man, a “song cousin” of Farley Mowat (hard to translate, but a kind of deep brother, a reflection almost) who Mr. Mowat tasks one day with helping him. The help is in setting and collecting some traps Mr. Mowat needed to use to catch animal specimens of the Barrens for use in, say, museums. But he didn’t explain this to Ohoto, and so Ohoto believed Mr. Mowat wanted to catch the only animals he saw value in trapping: foxes, wolves, wolverines, deer maybe. But Mr. Mowat used tiny traps, being interested in tiny animals, like mice and lemmings.

Anyway, Ohoto came back with a curious bundle of moss, carefully wrapped. He seemed shy, but when asked about it, he opened it up to show his song cousin… the paw print of a wolf beside one of the tiny traps.

JB_WolfTrack

Sorry. Couldn’t find a photo of one in moss. But the Barrens have ample snow.

Mowat (it just occurred to me that using “Mr. Mowat” but only “Ohoto” could come off as an anti-Ihalmuit “micro aggression,” and so toodles, Mr.) had no idea what his song cousin meant. Eventually he either figured it out, or Ohoto explained, and Mowat then tried to explain the baffling concept of a museum. Ohoto realized he’d assumed that this white man who did not know the land was more naive than he was, probably felt embarrassed, and let the issue drop.

And then Mowat goes on to explain “The Law of Life,” which is hard to explain, but allowed the grand community of the Ihalmuit, its interaction with the nature of the Barrens, and, among other things, almost forbade the interference in another person’s affairs unless the person’s actions endangered the community.

Here’s the brief text from the Wikipedia entry on “The Law of Life,” which not coincidentally references Daniel Quinn.

“The Law of Life is a term coined by author Farley Mowat in his 1952 book People of the Deer, and popularized by Daniel Quinn, to denote a universal system of various natural principles, any of which tend to best foster life—in other words, any of which best guides behavior that tends toward the reproductive success and survival of some particular gene pool. The idea posits that, in general, the most fit organisms instinctively behave according to some natural rule (often, these rules vary among and are specific to the species). Since every organism has some instinctive “law” it can follow to be the most reproductively successful, this very notion is a sort of law itself, true of all living beings: thus, the Law of Life.

In his 1996 novelThe Story of B, Quinn writes, ‘A biologist would probably say what I’m calling the Law of Life is just a collection of evolutionarily stable strategies— the universal set of such strategies, in fact.’

Quinn points out that this is a physical law, like gravity, not a commandment like “thou shalt not kill” nor a legislative ruling like “pay taxes”. As he puts it, the latter two are written where only man can read them (in books), and that they can be changed by a vote, while the Law of Life is written in the fabric of the universe and cannot be broken. Those who do not follow the law simply won’t live.”

Hence, Ohoto realized he’d broken that law, trespassing (as the wolf paw hadn’t, in the tiny trap).

Mouse Trap

More modern than Mowat’s, surely. But it’ll do. Mowat wasn’t all about sketching nature and useful tools in “People of the Deer,” the way John J. Rowlands was in “Cache Lake Country.” Mowat only sketched the occasional Ihalmuit face.

Another example of community love in “People of the Deer.”

Children of the Ihalmuit treated their children with incalculable love and tolerance, with no corporal punishment, and basically letting them do whatever they wanted, trusting them to want to emulate the older tribe members they counted on as they grew. In fact, at one point, Ohoto almost became angry once when Mowat asked about the lack of corporal punishment (anger being a major transgression), and asking how any sane adult could turn a “man’s strength” against the weakness of a child.

Funny Spanking

Mowat let the issue drop.

But that’s not the example I meant to detail. The one I did mean to detail had to do with the utter seriousness with which a child’s desire to take on adult duties, to help, to “grow up,” were treated by Ihalmuit adults. If a child of six wished to go out and shoot ptarmigan, he would not be laughed at or humored. He would be treated with utter seriousness, given a small bow made that night with utter seriousness, and sent off with the utter seriousness of an adult going off to hunt for his family. If he succeeded? Adult praise. If he failed? Good humored adult jibes. And so, unlike in our culture, the onset of adulthood was not damagingly delayed, as we see in so many forced-to-stay-children teenagers, rife with resentment.

Desert Hunting Father Son

Snow-covered tundra can be called “the arctic desert.” So live with it.

A last example, and kind of a sad one, has to do with putting the community’s survival above love and selfishness.

The harsh, harsh life of the Barrens, especially during the disease and starvation after Kakumee brought disease back to his people and traders destroyed the Ihalmuit focus on the deer (read the book), would often force terrible choices on The People. Who lives, and who dies, in the face of great danger and starvation?

Of course The People adored their children. But who is most valuable to the community in the moment? The hunter who gets it food. So he must live first. Second? The young women, still of child bearing age. After that, the elderly and the very young.

Sad but true.

The specific example?

See “Dead Child Lake near the top of the “full range” map from the book? A grave there, with memorials and gifts, commemorated the young wife who, trapped far from other settlements with her baby in the winter, and with little food because her hunter husband had fallen ill, had, in order to survive the almost impossible trek to another encampment… to leave her child to die in the snow. She could not have made it with the child, no one else could go, and she was too starved to feed the child.

But she made it to help, brought help, and saved her husband. And they both lived to raise many healthy children after that horrible winter.

Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son

That’s a modern memorial called “Mother with her Dead Child.”

Sadly, the Ihalmuit mother from the above story had to leave her child to die. To be cared for only by the wolves, foxes and wolverines.

OK.

I suppose that about does it for this blog post.

The writing process is dead, as abandoned rather than completed as any piece of writing. Like a child of whatever age. Maybe many edits would make it more wise. More elderly.

Please don’t just like it if you like it. Comment, and above all, share. 🙂

Wise Eskimo Elder Woman

If You’re Not Angry, You’re Not Paying Attention.

Angry Punish

I have an anger management problem.

Denial isn’t working anymore, nor is denial just a river in Egypt. Anger’s one of those dogs or babadook’s I mentioned in my previous post. Or a whole breed of them.

I think anger destroys me.

But…

…not in the way you think.

If you were to track down the people who’ve known me the longest in life, the people who know me best and care about me most, they’d probably be hard pressed to come up with enough memories of me “getting angry” to fill the fingers of a hand. Sure, the middle finger would be covered, but beyond that….

My problem is suppressed anger. Which is a major fucking anger management problem too.

Jack Anger Management.jpg

Jack Nicholson. From the movie “Anger Management.”

In it, Adam Sandler’s character has the same problem. Not unlike his anger management problems in the great “romantic comedy” by P.T. Anderson called “Punch Drunk Love.” Suppressed by the trove of overbearing sisters he grew up with and still deals with, and lacking a brother.

Sandler Punch

I say again.

The people who know me would likely be baffled by me confessing this. Most of them. Not Mac of course.

“Amos Parker is the least angry person I know!”

But, ever since the breakup, almost half a year ago, I’ve felt the effects of the cracks in my anger wall that “protects” me an others, felt them in the form of days like I had today. Days where things begin with a hopeless, overwhelmed deadness, where not even writing seems to matter and “important” things seem as impossible to me as a man with Down Syndrome, no money, and two missing limbs fighting to protect the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Climate change is a threat many orders of magnitude more dangerous to life on Earth than the Nazis, though no single evil leader organizes it with the intent to destroy life. And I believe I need to be in that fight, but feel crippled.

Today, after sleeping in until almost noon because reality terrified me once more with its requirement to find meaning and because sleep “promised” escape, I finally got up.

Out of bed. Reality is never a monster under the bed.

And tried to research new jobs online. “Careers” in environmentalism, sustainability and the fight against climate change. And like the selfish and no doubt common people in Nazi Germany who wanted to “live life as they wanted and be happy,” the search terrified me because it promised unpleasantness and difficulty. I would not LIKE these jobs. There would be painful grunt work depending on the passion of faith in the cause, faith I wasn’t sure I could sustain. Yeah they’d have MEANING in ways that delivering pizzas, and making good money that I care about less and less because at long last I’m ahead of my debt, didn’t… but I wouldn’t LIKE them. I’d be unhappy and unhealthy. But if I were going to do a job I disliked? No way it’d be managing at Pizza Hut: the only possibility would be one with incredible meaning, life-saving, and health value.

I’d be… sacrificing for the greater good. And not just living for my own.

Nazi Bird

But the danger of climate change flies so far above my head…. How could I ever catch it? I’m just a man!

And so…

…as it often happens…

…I get home from delivering pizzas and I feel so angry and lost and trapped between a rock and a hard place that I…

…drink.

Immediately. Several beers or shots as fast as I can. I can’t WAIT to get home to it.

{Editor’s note: at least he’s fine not drinking on happy days, suggesting he’s not yet an alcoholic.}

But on the bad days it dulls the pain.

The anger. The often directionless rage aimed at all kinds of things almost indiscriminately:  at me, the World, at people who’ve abandoned me, at failings, at Death, at my job, at other jobs, at how Bikram yoga is at 7am and denies me and the Muse late night chances to mate, at my unwillingness to submit to a greater cause, at how the inability of Pizza Hut to find reliable employees causes “It” in the form of trapped managers to take advantage of me by murdering my weekends and nights.

Sometimes the anger takes the form of wanting to smash things. To go into the cabinet in this house I’m renting, pull out the nice glasses and dishes, and hurl them against the wall so I can stomp over the thousands of shards. Or to wait until the other two house residents are away… and then firebomb the place, because I had to move back here, and it’s come to symbolize life regression, not progression.

I’m three beers in right now, as I write this.

Harpoon 12 Pack.jpg

I have three more to go. They’re open. Waiting on the beige file cabinet to my right. Like reconstituted, liquified security blankets woven from barley fibers.

Already the anger ebbs.

But I know the ebbing’s a lie. It’s not a solution.

It’s a dodge. And I’ll wake up tomorrow and, even if I do go to yoga, I’ll get home and have to face the 8 hours between that moment and the 5pm start of my last work day this week, and unless I have my potent cocoa drink which it’s increasingly clear is being rejected by my body (my gums and tongue specifically) I’ll just have to endure the horrible void of vacant-stare meaninglessness because my acknowledgment of the vital nature of a “career” in environmentalism has killed my ability to be satisfied by writing. Which leaves me stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

Because I have yet to submit. To be willing to do “hard” work.

Hard Work

Writing is easy. This post will be a brain-dump first draft. Coasting on talent. You might think I’m working hard, but really it’s a kind of flashy laziness.

But the real and important work? Writing that I “get out there” and publish? Saving the World?

Arrows and inroads to anger.

{Amos pours his fourth beer}

Recently I’ve started to think more about how suppression of anger is dangerous. My uncle Mac, soon to be out of prison…

Mac Court

…he knows.

Look him up. Google search. He’s wise about emotional honesty, but if you’re not from Vermont, you wouldn’t likely know about the fiasco of his film “The Birth of Innocence.”

About twenty years ago he… went down the path of… emotional honesty?

Healing, he said.

He demanded the right to rage at loved ones. Unparalleled hurricanes of anger. Few handled it. “Mad Mac” he called it, a reference to “Mad Max.”

Mad Max Dog.jpg

Remember my post about “The Leftovers”? About dogs? About suppressed emotions? See the dog there?

For almost twenty years I never saw “Mad Mac” firsthand. Or “experienced” him. But then, while he was in prison a few months ago and I was distraught and maybe over-demanding after the breakup, sending him all kinds of stuff to read and not fully acknowledging that he has to pay for all computer time… I said I could send him money. He asked when, started depending on it, and then got angry when his brother and my uncle, who I said I’d ask for advice on how best to send the money, didn’t reply right away. And then Mac blew up at me… and in the beaten puppy way that I usually handle anger, I gloriously martyred myself and vanished on him.

You know. Instead of taking it like a man, accepting it, getting angry back if needed, learning from it, and more. And then I vanished on him. “To protect him from me,” it felt. Anger feels like hate, and if I’m going to hurt people I have to stay away from them. Even if everyone makes mistakes and no one can avoid hurting others forever.

In a sense, I added insult to injury. I compounded the mistake that financially troubled him, in that crucible of prison.

Yes.

Mac would understand the danger of suppressing emotion, though it’s been hard to communicate with him, in prison. He’s had to pay for computer time, from funds earned with prison work, or donations from outside.

Anger….

Almost from my first memories anger has been an awful thing. Felt like hate. In part because of my father’s relationship with it. Unpredictable. Hurtful.

Dad

“Like his father before him.”

Or so I’ve been told.

My Dad became a pastor about a decade ago. After being atheist for a long time, in a sense rebelling against his pastor father who died when my father was in 8th grade.

And then my father died just over a year ago. His relationship with anger changed, as a pastor, but I still remember the nervousness about his anger. When would it come? Would he hide issues with me until anger made it easy and messy to air them? I remember him asking me once if I ever walked in the woods and… just screamed, to vent it. I did that, for the first time, in July. Trying to “break out” and create a new life. To motivate myself for “important” work. Wandering the UNH College Woods, screaming and demanding that my fears show themselves. In the pitch dark. And, in hindsight, destroying my faith in “just writing” but without fully building my faith in “important work. Hence the rock and the hard place.

So far all I’ve done is flail. Become more and more vulnerable to fence-straddling dangers. In agony as I stare at the tree described in “The Bell Jar.”

Bell Jar 2

I almost never “do” anything with the anger. I rage and rage and rage inside my head… a practice that dulls the anger with partial use, enough to keep me from wanting to really express it at the real people. Especially if I love or respect them. Even email would be inadequate: I have to learn to fully go there, face to face, I think.

Otherwise I feel like… the evil wizard in “Harry Potter,” mouth taped up, casting a weak and ineffectual spell by just thundering the incantation in my mind.

Cowell Mouth Taped

This is key:

I often think about anger in terms of romantic relationships.

You know the feeling, early on in a relationship, when the other person can do no wrong? When they’re golden? When there are no challenges? Nothing they do could possibly make you angry or sad?

Ah….

But then, you know the feeling when that changes? When normalcy returns? When… they start to bug you? Make you angry? Sad?

When you both, once more… become human and lose your angel halos?

If you can express sadness, hurt anger, that’s OK maybe.

But not for me.

That’s the beginning of the damming and tragic stagnating of the beautiful river…

Stagnant Dam

…which, when flowing, makes me look like one of the World’s most amazing creatures.

What river?

The river of the free flow of emotion. No damning. Damming. And, hence, no stagnation.

You know that film/TV cliche? Where a couple has this huge, ugly, almost hateful fight? They DESPISE each other. So many things to be angry about. It all bursts out, almost out of the blue, after ages of hiding. Maybe they throw things. Break things.

Then… there’s this pause.

The man and woman stare at each other. Confused. Changing.

And then… they throw themselves at each other. Passionate kissing. Love making. The return in full force of what seemed forever and horribly lost.

Make-up sex and real intimacy.

Today, not needing the reminder AT ALL, I watched an episode of BoJack Horseman where that exact thing happened. Much more character driven than usual that show is, of course. Mr. Peanutbutter, running for Trump-parody governor and his honest, moral, and increasingly estranged writer wife Diane.

PB Diane

He breaks her computer. She shatters his beloved mug. He grabs her. She rips his shirt.

The pause.

And then it happens.

And yes, the image of a half man, half golden retriever screwing an Asian immigrant on his office desk WAS disturbing. I’m only full human, after all.

 

More and more I think about that as a broad summary of the damned river. Because it works in all relationships, not just the “most intense” ones, those being the romantic ones. If you bottle up those fucking ugly emotions, they build a horrible, unnatural dam that just fucking kills the free flow of emotions.

Friendship even. Often I think “couples therapy” could, and should, be expanded to “friendship therapy.” Or “teammate therapy.” Romances aren’t the only vital relationships that need outside wisdom.

You know how you can come to feel dead, even hateful, toward someone you used to love? A friend? A sibling? A parent? Do you know that horror?

In the intimate past it would’ve been as inconceivable as losing a limb.

More and more I’m starting to think that that’s caused by dams and stagnation in the vital river of emotion. And lack of practice handling the rapids.

Denial of life.

My God, it’s SO hard for me to express anger toward a person. Especially someone I care about. Anger feels so… motherfucking… vile.

Vile.jpg

Childish.

Chilish Anger

Arrogant.

Arrogant.jpg

Lazy.

Lazy

Hurtful.

Hurtful.jpg

Dangerous.

Biohazard

All those bad things.

And more.

But certainly not… helpful in the long climb toward the peaks of love.

Helpful

No.

All my training just SCREAMS otherwise.

I can’t place exactly where I learned that about anger being abhorrent, all the sources in our culture, but the… wall sealing in my anger (my father used to say that the clinical definition of depression is “anger turned inward,” and I have been vulnerable)… is so goddamned STRONG! And always in the moment it feels right that the wall be there.

Protecting me. Protecting others. Protecting the World…

Blue Planet.jpg

…from being… blue.

Har har har.

“Are you angry at me?” a girlfriend might say to me. “No,” I say, sick with certainty that it’s the right response.

And then builds, more and more, that dam and the dead stagnation. No flow. No fish. No oxygen.

Even adults, like children, need boundaries. And anger, as I said, can be childish. If you don’t give a loved one boundaries, and anger sets them… in a sense they can keep flailing about, desperate to find them, given too much freedom and not enough sense of their own capacity to do harm.

Relationship death, by degrees.

And more and more I feel like it’s a deadly, fucking deadly, threat to my life. Not just in romance, but in all relationships. There are surely times when the feeling that my relationships are threadbare brings thoughts of suicide.

And even in work. Career.

So often I have this… infuriating sense that people look at me and, objectively, see this… amazing person who they should love and want to be with. But they don’t feel love or desire. And then it makes them angry. At themselves, but also with me. They turn it on me because it’s easier. What’s wrong with me that embarrasses them so? That reveals to them their weaknesses? Why won’t I just STOP?

Raging River

Stop what?

Being… un-magnetic? Making them unhappy? Denying them their right to feel love?

I dunno.

It could be all in my head.

But more and more I feel like it’s the damned dam. That impeded emotion blocks up and stagnates the life-giving flow of emotion on both sides. Not just mine. I need to be able to say “Fucking stop it I feel angry about what you’re doing!” Paraphrased.

I need to feel like that’s PRODUCTIVE.

Or I’m killing more than just my own sprit. I’m killing closeness. Relationship. Of course we’re so poorly trained to RECEIVE anger. Gotta make everyone comfortable.

Discomfort is the great sin of normal life.

Jesus Sin Nothing

But on and on I placate, be nice, forgive, be kind, be generous, fail to call people on their hurts toward me (I could go into my housemate issues), and in some ways, I think, make myself into a doormat who’s sort of appreciated for that but who… also stagnates. Who’s taken for granted. A man who blocks of real love with a wall of numbed ease.

Of course… no one would actively BLAME me.

“It’s not you, it’s me! You’re great!”

No one WANTS to be slapped down for causing anger.

No one can put their fucking finger on what’s wrong with me. I seem amazing. They just don’t… FEEL anything.

Somebody get me some fucking dynamite.

Nature needs nurture.

More nurturing beer for my liver to denature.

Then bedtime.

And if you like this blog post, share it (and comment, to stimulate conversation)! Otherwise I swear to fucking God I’ll get angry at you for hurting my career.

Dogs Sharing Stick

Coping with Loss as “Leftovers”

 

Leftovers

Just a few minutes ago I finished season one of HBO’s lauded “The Leftovers.”

Easily one of my favorite shows ever. Already. And apparently it gets better. The final season, season 3, wrapped up earlier this year.

Like a lot of great shows, in this modern age of TV amazement, you wouldn’t know about it if you only look in the normal places. It’s not on the old networks, like NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox or whatever. Almost none of the best shows in this great golden age are. Only “This is Us,” which I haven’t seen, seems to poke its head out into the realm of the deep, fresh, character-driven and artistic moving film fan. For TV is just moving film on the small screen.

I haven’t seen “This is Us.” Maybe someday. Lots to keep up with though.

This is Us

Free tip: if you are a fan of deep, fresh, character-driven and artistic television, keep an eye on the goldmine that is metacritic.com. It uses an average of all legit critic scores of TV, film, videogames and movies to give a snapshot, with links for depth, of the best stuff out there now, and well into the past. So if you value how you spend your precious time and money and know that “whatever you happen to hear about or see commercials for” isn’t gonna be the best stuff out there, it’s a treasure.

The Americans, Fargo, Mr. Robot, BoJack Horseman, Catastrophe, Halt and Catch Fire, Master of None, The Handmaid’s Tale, Insecure, American Crime….

And yes Game of Thrones gets raves. Although TV shows often get their score based on only the pilot of a season, unless the show get’s released all at once, so sometimes the score doesn’t give the whole picture. Or the score for a season retroactively reflects the quality of much of the previous season.

Anyway. I got sidetracked.

Leftovers 2.jpg

It’s a TV show based on a book released maybe 6 years ago.

Leftovers Book.jpg

It tells the story of essentially our current World, through the eyes of Mapleton, NY, and primarily it’s tortured, unsatisfied, hunting-starved (though sheriff’s hunt crooked prey), quietly desperate sheriff Kevin Garvey played by Justin Theroux. And apart from flashbacks (No surprise there, as Damon Lindelof, one of the show’s creators, also helped create the show Lost), it all happens in the wake of the seemingly random but definitely simultaneous disappearance of about 2% of the planet’s population.

No warning. No explanation. No bodies. No proof of death. No closure.

And it shakes everyone to their core.

Some people lose no one. Some people, by long, long odds, lose everyone. But, as with many great cultural shocks, it creates amazing coping mechanisms in people. Or collapsing mechanisms. In such situations, historically, there have always been many more “prophets” appear. People who step up to explain. Who hear the voice of “God.”

And, seemingly opposing the Christian church in Mapleton, a Christian church led by the faithful Matt Jamison played by Christopher Eccleston, is the heart of this resistance: the Guilty Remnant. A group wearing all white, under a vow of silence, and always smoking. At first they seem vile, like a nihilistic white flag surrender brigade bent on proving the pointlessness of it all with their “Stop Wasting Your Breath” protests at public gatherings and their tobacco embrace of lung cancer and emphysema.

But there’s more to it, of course.

The balance is what it points to. When struck with tragedy and loss, especially the inexplicable, where do you aim between moving on and holding on?

In a way it reminds me of the great recent horror movie The Babadook.

Babadook

When, in trying to ignore the past so as to move on from the past, are you allowing monsters, or the wild dogs of The Leftovers, to flourish and devour you from behind? Are you starving parts of your soul for attention, and thereby turning them into demons through the pain of abandonment?

Pain turning goodness into monstrosities reminds me, of course, in my it’s-all-interconnected and applied-knowledge-loving mind, of Princess Mononoke. The great Japanese anime movie by the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Mononoke Demon

In the last five months I’ve faced a trial that’s brought this message home, alternately bringing me great peace and clarity… and to the point of being a Destroyer of Worlds.

A breakup, of course.

Not my choice.

And in some ways inexplicable.

So it fits well with the deep, brilliant symbolic versatility of the show. Just like Sheriff Garvey, I got a man’s complacency and itch after falling asleep in the relationship. I forgot the love, pretended in ways, and in others wanted out.

And if I’d left? As Sheriff Garvey was about to do, before October 14th, I might’ve been fine. But she left me, and the age old psychological traps came down on me like a sledgehammer, every day, to this day. It was a tragedy not of my choosing, and so one in synch with the kind of… inexplicable “by the will of the gods” tragedies that no doubt have… reinforced bonds since the dawn of time. Because, like Sheriff Garvey, who wanted out of his family before October 14th, he almost immediately wanted nothing more than to be as close as he could be to all his family once the terror of forces beyond his power reminded him (and everyone) that they still existed and that… every single fucking second of life was to be treasured.

Peace and quiet lulls us to sleep. It reminds me of how America and Americans have always sort of suffered when stripped of “an enemy” to turn our unity out at.

Like this one:

Nazi Flag.jpeg

Or this one:

Soviet Flag

I think it has a lot to do with Evolution and our hardwired need for cultural identity. Which of course has a lot to do with the “us and them” thrill of sports.

Sox Yanks.jpg

And how, lacking a true and unifying enemy, we are now, more and more, turning on ourselves in America, as if politics were a sport, with Democrats and Republicans seeing each other as the enemy.

Dems Republics.jpg

It also reminds me of… Agent Smith in the movie The Matrix, with his amazing monologue to the drugged Morpheus about the failure of the first Matrix and the success of the second Matrix.

Agent Smith Morpheus.png

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.”

It also reminds me of one of the very best movies of the last decade, to critics at the time, and to me, as of the breakup. Because finally I had excruciating heartbreak to help me understand.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Easily Jim Carrey’s best film. In it, a business sells people… targeted brain damage, to eliminate memories of people (and more) that they’ve lost, because the memories cause them more pain than they choose to bear.

Eternal Sunshine.jpg

And there are ample stories of people plunged into awful war, like in the former Yugoslavia, brought together by conflict. And when peace returned? They admit that, as bad as it was… they miss it. The complete unity and utter need for bonding.

So I find myself feeling as if my love woke fully, in the wake of the breakup. I can’t help it. Her refusal “to be cruel to be kind” contributed. She could have made me hate her by being mean, forcing me into rage and hate, but instead she gave me what my friend John called “The Cadillac of Breakups,” otherwise knowns as full explanations, kindness, support and love. Warm hugs and tears.

Which caused in me stronger feelings of love (too late) than I’ve ever felt in my life, given that she granted it all during the most vulnerable period of my life. Feelings far out of synch, at times, with reality and practicality. But capable of making me defend my clan. Were it in support of one, because she acted to remove herself from that category.

And then those raging feelings buried themselves deep in my heart. Like bedrock. Maybe forever. For good or ill.

Often, no matter the warning signs, I feel I’d walk through a pit of hungry wild dogs if a complete stranger told me she waited on the other side. And that there was a one in ten chance she’d “take me back” if I survived the indefensible journey.

Hungry Wolves

Often the death of a loved one washes away all flaws in the eyes of those he or she departed from. Have you ever felt that transformation of emotion and memory, standing over a grave while a pastor sermonized to a crowd in black? Turning the remembered person into something superhuman. Or just the human’s soul no one could truly see with the clay still in the way. And then godly feelings crystalize into bedrock.

As with Sheriff Garvey, caused by his loss and imagination. Throwing him hard and fast into a dream. Or waking him up.

Sometimes I still can’t stop the dreams. Nightmares about her pushing me away. Or, yes, jealous ones of her with another man, hiding just around the corner. And the panic attacks, with the cold sweat wake ups and the rapid heart beating my ribs. The relentless imaginings of “what I could’ve done differently,” at all points of the relationship, or even after the breakup, and even… way back in time, if I’d met her when each of us were fresh out of college, undamaged by the heartbreaks the last 17 years have brought us and broken us into pieces with.

Left fragmented, and a difficult fit for love.

I worry that my heart won’t let me move on. Now or ever. That “long term relationship” is only a way to harm myself or others.

So do I wear white, stop talking, and take up smoking?

Cigs.jpg

Forbid myself from forgetting the day the World ended?

Do I struggle to forget? Push away the dogs, gone feral, that are “no longer ours,” and the Babadooks that can drive a soul mad?

What’s the healthy way?

And what’s the way that respects what’s more important than me, which is the community, and the continuum of the Human Race? What’s selfish and what’s productive?

Besides love, I mean. Which, clearly, is both.

Maybe those two halves of the heart are enemies, granting each of them tribal purpose….

And lastly, I say again, if you like this, don’t just say so to yourself, or even click “like.” Feed more than my ego. Share it with others, by email or social media, and feed my career. Anything else is for the dogs.

Love.jpeg

On Grabbing the Spotlight with Acting

Sunglasses Hog.jpg

Greetings, all.

Though it may well undercut my intentions as an aspiring writer (to the extent that I truly aspire to popularity), I feel like I should open up about something here.

I am aware that… adopting a dramatic persona, one that isn’t “me,” is “good for business.”

Good Business Devil Briefcase

You don’t have to look far.

I mean, if you pay attention, you can tell that all kinds of people “play up” drama and conflict to get attention. To get the blood of the audience flowing. To start arguments. The news media provides many examples.

Info Wars Foil Hat.png

Maybe that’s not a good example….

Curses! Foiled again.

Anyway.

One of my favorite examples, as a one time (and perhaps future time) lover of videogames, comes from the great online videogame-review-by-video critic who calls himself Yahtzee, and works for the online magazine The Escapist.

Zero Punctuation.png

Don’t sue me, man. I’m about to talk you up. This is free advertising!

When he started, if you watch the early reviews, he, like most honest people who consider themselves thoughtful artists, went deep and sincere. But he soon learned that his audience loved it much more when he tore pretty much every game a new one, beyond the one it already had in the center of the DVD.

Like the great New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who may or may not have consciously adopted that kind of persona, people came to love to hate him.

Kael Photo Quote.jpg

 

Which made him money.

And his company money.

And money is, shall we say, useful?

Yes. We shall. As is fame and power. Not that all of them don’t corrupt. Not that I’m implying anything about Yahtzee please don’t sue me you are a great man yes you are you are a great and awesome smart man.

So I try, in my way (boy is it hard because I’m pathologically open and honest), to adopt some of that in my prepared writing. It’s possible in writing, because I don’t have to create it live and on the fly. Being a “phony” for positive gain in real life is VERY hard for me, though I increasingly worry that… not learning how to act better is maybe immature, selfish, and even hurtful. Not to mention an obstacle to big, concrete life goals.

You may sense that I’m kind of addressing my last post. Which scared at least one person. Sorry for that….

Yeah. Sometimes the voice in my blog posts isn’t fully “me.” It can be a character of sorts, designed to stir the pot, and possibly increase my fame.

I crave fame and fortune yes I do pardon me while my training drags me by the hair to the bathroom for a good vomit….

Clown Rainbow Vomit.jpg

{Sigh}

So yeah. I’m back to “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene, which I mentioned yesterday in my needling post about romance and relationships.

And hunting.

{Amos, remembering he’s hunting for fame as a writer, wonders if the pen is also mightier than the spear}

Am I a callous, tail-chasing wolf of a man?

Did I bring up “The Tao of Steve” in order to illustrate how much I love cruising the bars, picking up chicks, and then with a slam, bam, thank you may saying “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, hot pants.”

No.

Hells to the no.

Sauna Hot Pants.jpg

I brought the three rules up because… they work.

And even if, as used in the film, they make me SICK… it’s… truth. As illustrated amply by “The 48 Laws of Power” (BTW, why the Hell isn’t there a 49th law saying “Always remember that power corrupts”?) with it’s myriad examples of certain rules by fable, quote and story from all eras and all World cultures. Undeniable.

And terrifying. I feel like that book is the scariest book I’ve ever read. Sorry, Stephen King.

Stephen King Reads From His New Fiction Book "11/22/63: A Novel" During The "Kennedy Library Forum Series"

Shit.

Now I feel guilty….

Don’t sue me, man!

Anyway.

I… pride myself on being open minded. Because, so often in life, the greatest, deepest learning happens in the places where we’re certain, just totally certain, that there’s no learning to be had. It relates to a favorite quote of mine (by Amos Parker, who may or may not be the author of this post), which goes: “The beginning of judgment is the end of learning.”

Take that, you word-hunting Shakespeare whose spear was a quill!

Reality.

Those rules WORK. And hence, they apply to life, either to be used, or to understand so as to guard against the bad people who understand them and want to use.

Plus, why must they be used for ill?

Do you have to “eliminate desire” as the first step toward one night stands? I don’t think so. It was immediately apparent to me that that rule… reminded me a lot of the vital Buddhist notions of selfish desire as the cause of suffering and the cure of “non-attachment.”

And do you have to ” be excellent” for a woman just to bang her? Again, I don’t think so. It just makes her happy, and being excellent is all the easier when you’re not stressed about what she thinks about you. When you can “be you.”

And and do you have to “withdraw” only to get the deer to come to your bait? Once again, I don’t think so. I believe it… comes naturally when… life is full for you, when you love all life has to offer, and have much more that matters to you than just a woman.

Or a man. Or a person. Or a group.

You just naturally withdraw then. For other interests. And then you naturally give others space to breathe, and as an added gift, the fruits of you taking flight in their imagination.

One of my favorite films, one I watched yearly on the obvious day until my father died (next year, Dad, in Punxsutawney, for the 25th anniversary celebration, which you will surely attend in spirit), is the Bill Murray classic “Groundhog Day” from 1993. I’ve seen it a hundred times (Heidi II not so much). And I have long esteemed it as a road map to personal and spiritual growth in life. To success in love.

Groundhog Day Piano.jpeg

And then what do I go and do after my breakup left me in a million pieces?

Ignore the prime lesson, which is that… healthy love and escape from life-as-repetitive-drudgery comes to the man who lives life to the fullest. And for others.

And Phil Connors? By the end of the film?

He just naturally obeys all those three rules. Because of “figuring it out.” Not because he wants to bang Rita. But because he’s… fully happy and at peace with existence.

Surrender God.jpg

Even if your “god” is just… life. The great gift, when you awaken fully.

And, back to the “hunting part of my blog post from yesterday, there’s my extended hunting-exercise-in-marriage analogy. I think that… being fully happy in Phil’s final way would lead one naturally to that “constant low level of unavailability.” But in a good way. You love a person who wants you but doesn’t need you. Who has true self love as the bedrock of all other love.

OK. I guess I’m done.

Did that all sound like me?

I won’t tell you if it was: titillating an audience requires mystery, which, of course, is a grand kind of hunt in itself.

Final note. And I now plan to make this, or a variant of it, my permanent sign off.

If you like this blog… SHARE IT! “Likes” only flatter my ego: they don’t flatter the growth of my career. 🙂

And yes, careers are a form of power.

Career.jpg

For the Love of Hunting

So, on pondering the film “The Tao of Steve” from maybe 12 years ago….

 

Tao Steve

…and in contemplating it’s three rules of seduction….

  1. Eliminate desire, because women can smell an agenda.
  2. Be excellent in her presence, even if it’s just at throwing a Frisbee.
  3. Withdraw, because women want sex 15 minutes later than men, so if you wait 20 minutes, they’ll be chasing you for 5.

…and in reading the book “The 48 Laws of Power,” which is very, very popular, in Hollywood and prisons as my friend Nikkiana Henninger informed me….

 

Cell Sex Comic

…I’ve had some interesting thoughts about attraction and love.

Plus, I’ve had guilt about not making a blog post in so long.

Worry Guilt Shame

Anyway.

Why do men need “the chase” so much? The thrill of hunting down a woman who resists? Who plays games? And why is it such a manifestly bad idea for a woman to “give it up” too easily? Shouldn’t it be generosity? Trust? Love? Shouldn’t the man be thankful? Honored? Grateful?

The long, long, long history of seduction, as learned over and over again in myriad diverse cultures, independently, disagrees. Law #2 in “The 48 Laws of Power,” titled “Conceal Your Intentions,” has as its historical “transgression of the law” example a 60 year old legendary courtesan trying to “straighten up” a naive 20 year old princeling. He’s certain that love, honestly, openness, directness and poetical devotion will do, for the courtly woman he’s pursuing, and is… baffled that it isn’t working.

The courtesan, skilled in the arts of love, finds him at first amusing, and then maddening. He must play the game! Fail to be where she expects him. Appear where she often goes, unexpectedly. Seem interested, and then uninterested. Enthrall other women, so that she can see him being grand and worthwhile.

He does all this, with effort, because it is fake.

And then… at last alone in her chambers with her… he fails, regressing into the “always be yourself” trap. She sees it is a game, finds him boring again, an obvious friend who cannot stimulate mystery or imagination, and all, for him, is lost.

Government Sex

What’s the lesson in this?

Because, frankly, it defies everything I’ve been taught, and everything I’ve felt.

But it also suggests a way out of the “friend zone,” a way out of… being an objectively smart, fit, attractive man who… somehow is not seen widely as attractive.

So baffling.

So I came up with this metaphor, which works mostly for men, but also for women, and for relationships generally, because the hardwiring of the Human mind, evolved over millions of years, never forbade women from hunting.

Babe Turkey Hunt

Hunting.

Imagine this image.

A man with his “spear” walks into a bar. Maybe with his fellow hunters. They have this… deep seeded need to exercise or exorcise the hunt craving, probably one of the deepest evolved cravings men know. What’s more central, in our evolved past? Food. Family support. And the teamwork of tracking the mystery of the prey’s whereabouts.

We all love mystery stories. And they’re like the mystery of following the signs and tracks of game. I’m just certain there’s a connection….

Anyway.

So why do men love the chase? And why are they bored with women who give it up too fast? And why do smart women know not to give it up too fast?

Back to the man with his fellow hunters in a bar. They have an evolved need to exercise or exorcise the hunting craving. On a cellular level, they NEED hunting. Even if they don’t want it. Like the studied chimps who mime peeling their bananas given to them pre peeled. It’s an itch, not a skill that comes up only when needed.

So on some level, these men are yearning for a hunt. Not just the game. Not just the meat.

And if a woman immediately sidles up to the hunter and begs him to spear her? Is the craving satisfied?

No.

Sure he gets his kill. But the need for the chase gets the middle finger.

Baboon Middle Finger

Now, imagine another time.

Later.

We all know how tired long term relationships can get. Marriages. How devoid of spark. How lost the early thrill of love can get drowned.

Imagine a man gets a true hunt for a woman. He gets to hunt and spear his deer. The itch is scratched. He is content.

And, for months, during that early phase we all know so well, he eats well.

And then the itch, the need, the muscle twitch for the hunt resurfaces. And all of a sudden the honeymoon is off and he looks at his dear in a new light. He wants a hunt. A part of him wonders if he needs new prey.

But his dear… just comes up to him and says “Oh you hunter. It felt so good when you speared me before. Please do it again.”

Spear Ewok.jpg

Does that satisfy the man’s hardwired need for hunting?

No.

And what are the consequences of that?

More importantly, how does one SOLVE that problem? How does a partnership sustain the need, not just of the man but even of the woman….

Babe Turkey Hunt

For mystery and imagination?

Can a constant, low level of unavailability be cultivated, on both sides?

Can there forever be an element of the hunt?

Does it involve… each person… having very important things in life that extend beyond the partner? Dreams, and career, and goals? If a parter begins to seem like he (or she) has no purpose beyond living for their partner, is it… killing?

More thought is required.

But I’d welcome thoughts.

As is so often the case, for those who fully understand the power of Evolution, it is the skeleton key for explaining so much that seems… yes, mysterious… about Human behavior. And we’ll just have to hope that hunting down and killing that mystery will be a net positive.

Angler Mystery.jpg

 

The Art and the Heart

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Bell Jar

I haven’t read this book.

And, since I’ve mentioned it here before, in another blog post, I think maybe I should.

The first time I recall hearing the title? In the season one finale of the fine NetFlix original Show called “Master of None.”

MoN.jpg

A fine, New York City-based comedy that at first seems to be lighter fare, it becomes a much deeper affair in the last few of the 10 season one episodes, particularly in the relationship-revelation finale. In the finale, Dev’s father, an immigrant, sees his son’s thirty year old… uncertainty about what to do with his life… and mentions the metaphor of the fruited tree as it appears in “The Bell Jar.”

Life is like a tree, with almost infinite branches of paths. A kind of fruit tips each branch. Be a writer? Get married? Have children? Become a monk? An athlete? A wealthy businessman? A movie star? A hermit? A social butterfly?

Infinite choice.

Yet the choice overwhelms so many of us.

Me included. As I’ve mentioned before, it overwhelms me in the larger sense of “career and family,” and in the smaller sense of “what videogame to play next.”

Do you struggle with this pathfinding?

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Another reference to it that I recall came from a guidance counsellor. Not one I met, but one I heard quoted on the radio, perhaps. She referenced the crippling uncertainty of so many young people, young people unable to decide which path to take in life. What if they pick the wrong one? What if? She felt such empathy for them, in this World so full of choice, so illustrative of how freedom can be a burden.

The whole topic came up for me again, just under an hour ago, as I sat in the dark listening to Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” as masterfully read by David Horovitch. Coming about one third of the way through this my third listening-to of the novel, Constantine, at his country estate, questions the motivations of his visiting, intellectual brother. He feels something is amiss in how his elder brother comes to his sense of how to live rightly and helpfully. He senses that his brother comes to it not through his heart, through a deep, emotional certainty about what path to take, but through reasoning. And, Constantine believes, this results in a cold path where one is bound to one’s path with no more passionate attachment than to “a game of chess.”

Beer Chess.png

Seems as though Koznyshev, Constantine’s brother, could do with a release of some of his inhibitions so as not to be a pawn of logic.

Anyway.

This apt, eye-opening reference to “heart” as the cause of one’s cure to the problem of the bell jar life tree reminded me, of course, of how my father (and even an uncle) have “accused” me of imperfect writing due to “a lack of heart” in it. Not in all writing, as anyone who read my eulogy for my father knows, but more often in my fiction. I don’t “commit” to characters very easily, don’t know them fully, as even J.K. Rowling does.

Surely Sirius Potter.jpg

Ah but my father would SO have loved that “Airplane!” reference. Although I’m not sure he ever read the “Harry Potter” novels.

So it begs the question:

If I were better at fully committing to my characters, at “just knowing” with all my heart what THEIR path is, would I suffer less under the suffocating bell jar?

The other connection, of course, is to the Buddhism audiobook I listened to several times about fifteen years ago. I can’t remember if it was “The Art of Happiness,” co-written by the Dalai Lama, or “Buddhism: Plain and Simple,” but the idea had to do with how infinite choice is not freedom. Rather, “true freedom comes when you have no choice.”

That is to say… you just “know” what the right path is.

Your heart tells you. Full on. Plain and simple.

With passion.

The Art of Happiness.jpg

Buddhism Plain and Simple.jpg

I often wonder about my heart.

I know I have a big one. But I’m crippled so often by fear. My need for… safety… hampers me so much. Susceptible to great passions, I often suppress them in order to “keep the peace.” Romantic relationships suffer, although great communication and courage are needed if one is to un-suppress them. And “career” suffers, too. I just can’t “decide” to wholeheartedly devote myself to being a filmmaker, a social and environmental activist, a game-maker, a journalist, or even an author.

I just feel too much doubt. And it may be because I keep my heart off in the distance, misty and half-seen, visible only through a fog of safety.

Following one’s heart can lead to hurting people.

And I know all too well, as the channeler told me a decade and a half ago, that this life is in part a quest to deal with too much concern for what other people think. One should care about helping others, but betraying one’s heart so as never to make others uncomfortable, or so as to not be judged harshly, leads to trouble.

Climb Tree

That tree.

At times, one can even convince one’s self that the branches do not even bear fruit. So why risk the climb at all? Why be unsafe, both directly, and in the face of the “howls up at the fool” from below?

Fox Grapes.png

Ah, the Fox and the Grapes.

Those grapes, out of reach for one reason or another, were probably just sour anyway….

And so I stay on the ground, in a kind of comfortable, sedentary hot water, unaware that life is boiling me by.

Boiling Frog Global Warming

And how could I but finish with a reference to how Humanity is boiling the World by?

Although, in truth, the problem there is TOO MUCH certainty on the part of Humanity about the one true path. What a contradiction.

Galactic Conquest.jpg

Evolution is all about putting a little weight on every branch, and not all of it on one, which imbalances and tips over the whole tree.

If only I weren’t simply one man but rather… the whole scope of life. Then I could eat the fruit of every branch.

Galaxies have branches. Arms, really.

All arms? All branches? Alas, without access to all the realities in the “Many-Worlds Interpretation” of the Universe, I’m out of luck.

But so are you.

So choose.

No regrets.

Storm Trooper.jpg

I know. I know.

You’re most likely to do as I do, not as I say. Just don’t get pushy. I might tip over, infectiously drunk on Humanity’s fictional godly power as I likely am. And that would make me feel very, very unsafe.

Drunk Giraffes.jpg

 

 

The Art of Communication

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Delayed greetings and deferred salutations, my personally mythological friends.

It’s been a while.

I never cease to find it amazing how easy it is to grow disconnected from writing, despite the harm that such a disconnection does to me. One would think that, given how it’s my primary vessel of meaning in life and my shield from the killer D, I wouldn’t set it down for ages and let the muscles of my vessel and shield-carrying arms atrophy.

And yet I do set the vessel and shield down. It’s terrifyingly easy. Yes, the longer I write consistently, the harder it is: write 6-7 days a week for six months, and the agony of setting it down for more than a day is unbearable (idle hands do the Devil’s work). I’ve learned that meaningless agony extends for about a week, carrying on like a gasping, dying patient in a hospital, the pain and terror lancing through the body like wildfire. But keep the set down going? Two weeks? Three? The patient, so long lived, goes into a drifting coma, or a fugue state. The atrophy sets in, more and more, and soon a return to vibrant life becomes more and more nothing more than the bustle of life out in the hospital hallway, where family members, nurses and doctors go about their business, increasingly forgetful of the unproductive stasis bedridden in room 666.

Philosoraptor 666 Root

But it’s only the idea of waking up.

Those near the patient begin to lose faith. To move on. But it only takes a mysterious minute, a touch from the hidden hand of God or the Muse, to see the the eyelids flutter and the brain awaken.

That’s what happens when I sit down at the computer again and finally start. Not that, for a while, a relapse via weakness isn’t a great danger, if the staff isn’t mindful.

I have to keep at it.

The current habit rules. The old habit reclines. Blood-flowing strength and heinous atrophy war in the corridors of the mind, subject to the whims of emotion and fancy, to the pointlessness all endeavors more and more seem to carry around like chained stones around the neck, hung by Death.

Death Ambulence

Jesus.

Got a little over literary there. Sorry.

Where was I?

Oh right. The art of communication. Now that I’m back at my computer, the awakened creature active for the time beating, it seems easy.

Easy Maze

Communication.

It’s a constant source of suffering for me. God I’m so hungry for it, done well. But God I just have such a hard time doing it the “right” way.

What do I mean the right way?

You know. The way normal people want to communicate. Face to face conversation. Maybe just maybe the telephone. Not with handwritten letters sent through the post, the way people of the slender past did it, to keep up with people who didn’t live in the same town. And especially not by email, that it-once-was-a-tingling-new-thrill-but-now-is-a-medium-corrupted-by-Time-hunger-and-work-things-and-spam that makes even gold seem like nothing more than the iron pyrite, the fool’s gold of human intimacy.

But in modern life a good face-to-face can be hard, and rare, unless people are living together. Even then it’s hard. So many activities jockeying for our attention. Everyone raised so differently that in a very real sense everyone is a tribe unto themselves, hostile to the threat of a single lonely person constituting another tribe reaching out for connection in an isolated World. You know the feeling. Even though you feel the deep existential loneliness that you do your best to hide from, even though you yearn for connection, when that person reaches out to you, catching you off guard maybe on a train, or even in your own family, they seem desperate. Lonely. Terrifying.

That’s Evolution, I think. We identify our tribe, and, to preserve the diversity that is the watchword of Evolution, we recoil from members of other tribes crossing the boundaries. Of course “tribe” has many definitions, many levels, which is why we can feel unified as “Americans” or even “Humans,” if the time is right. But that doesn’t prevent the shame we feel, later, when that stranger opens his or her heart to us and we want to run screaming into the distance.

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Before my father died, for about a decade, I worked hard to be closer to him, as best I could.

I reached out to him, asking him to come over and watch movies.

I tried to join in with the activities in his world.

I emailed him.

Why? In large part because, after Michele’s breast cancer scare almost a decade ago, I came to an early “appreciation” of the tenuousness of life. I tried very hard to think about “death bed regrets.” What do people most often regret, if they don’t die suddenly?

Lack of time and closeness to those they love. Not knowing them well enough.

I was very aware that I didn’t know my father well enough. And I knew our relationship would end, probably in a few decades, possibly sooner. That it proved to be “sooner” didn’t surprise me as much as it surprised others: I always see the black cloaked figure with the razor scythe sliding with sleek familiarity from shadow to shadow, practiced in the art of passing within a car’s length of everyone, yet seeming not to be there at all.

I didn’t do a great job of meeting on his terms often enough. If I had, it might’ve gone better. I wanted to do it “my way,” so I could be at my best. and because of that, and because of many other things, he often more or less ignored me.

One time, in the midst of what, to me, was only a civilized debate across several mediums about the merits of audiobooks… he finally blew up at me.

Funny Grenade Love

By email.

I seemed “needy.” I seemed “desperate.”

That was when I broke. From then on, with great sadness, I forced myself to keep my distance. Sometimes I chose not to reply to emails because I felt I needed to give the impression that I could take them or leave them, as “normal” people can and do.

Sometimes I didn’t call him for months, to avoid seeming “needy” or “desperate.”

And all the while, inside, I cried.

I knew one or both of us, sooner or later, would have great regrets about how it “went down.” But I felt there was nothing I could do. If we tried to talk on the phone, one or the other of us was so often “not into it.” If I emailed, I’d only get a reply about 20% of the time (a rough estimate). And, lord knows, as busy as we all are, successfully carving out time for a face-to-face, when the twin lords of physical presence AND time must be subdued, often proved too much.

And then I moved even further away.

I could have tried to call more. So, too, could he have.

But I suffer from the fear that both my phone calls and my face-to-face time is… not good enough. I have a hard time feeling “centered” enough to keep people comfortable. And I get insecure at the first sign (surely often imagined) that I’m overstaying my welcome.

Ideal Guest

And so I idealize email.

Strictly speaking, as we all felt before reality corrupted it as a medium, it’s just about the easiest and most flexible way to stay in touch. Sure, many people don’t flourish as writers, but in terms of not stepping on toes… think about it as long as you want, and reply when you want.

It’s just words. The same words could show up by mail. On the phone. Face to face.

Should the words, if emailed, be blamed for spam and all that hateful rat race correspondence? Are those exhausting issues the fault of the words of a heartfelt email? Isn’t blaming a good email for the faults of the vile ones… kind of like racism?

And yet… and yet… over and over… when I reached out with my best self… to many more people than my father… the result is the same.

“I’m too busy.” “I’m too tired.” “I stare at a screen too much.” “I hate email.” “Wouldn’t it be easier to synch our schedules and drive six hours for a face to face please?”

Over and over, despite the flexibility of email, people had no interest.

I imagine them, over and over, seeing the heart and effort I put in. I imagine them feeling guilty. I imagine them, on some level, “knowing” that life is short, and that on our death beds we regret very expected things. But… gosh you know they’ve just been so BUSY…..

There’s never enough Time in the present. And there always seems to be plenty of Time in the future.

Time: God’s worst four letter word.

As my father reminded me with his last act (I won’t say taught me because I already knew all too well), we do not have as much Time as we think we do. Death somehow laid his hand on Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak after all. Whether or not he lays claim to the other Deathly Hallows I can’t say.

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I struggle with a huge tendency to give up. To not reach out to people. I can’t reach out, it seems, in the ways they’d accept.

They want to want to do more than the “one and done” email reply thing.

But they don’t actually want it.

So why reach out at all? I’m just not who they need. Better to impractically “know” that they love me, and try not to imagine them crying at my funeral (the way I will surely cry at theirs), when they finally “feel” like it… though it will be too late.

Not that I expect to have many people at my funeral. Not unless I have a lot more time. I’m not enough like my Dad yet.

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Like my father, I had the capacity for a deep understanding of women. A broad (no pun intended… all right yeah I intended it) love of them.

But unlike my father, that understanding and love has been crippled by my weaknesses and fears. Maybe, one day, I’ll have a singing group, or a congregation. But, as yet, the only time I’ve flourished is…

…by email.

The greatest flowering of email, for me, has been with women. In particular in the “budding romance” department, when one’s soul comes alive, and one seems to be, all of a sudden, the grand spirit one always knew one was, underneath all the caked on grime of the grind of daily living. Those emails, those instant messages, made, and terrifyingly still could make me, into something like a demi god.

What am I usually? Perhaps only a deep, interesting, and disconcerting enigma shrouded in fear.

The writing does not continue if the relationship does, though I keep the writing to look back on. The “early stages” pass, returning me to normal. Each party realizes it is not the superhuman that brief funhouse mirror suggested, but rather the same person one has grown so tired of, so beset with failings.

I fear the temptation, in any relationship, to become “that dating site” guy, minus the adulterous sex, who lies to get what he wants, until the time comes to vanish. How to get the writing no one I care about wants to give me (save for one or two: you know who you are), without carving out a second life from the flesh of monogamy?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Maybe it’s possible to, rather than finding people I care about, to “find writers.” Maybe they don’t have to be women in the early stages of love for me, or love for the demi god they perceive to be me.

But how to do that when I’m crippled with the fear my Father seemed to shed before the end? How?

Yoda Fear

Maybe if I just tell my fear that it’s being desperate and needy.

Screw it. Who cares? No one’s listening anyway.

Except God, who knows that loneliness is a sad side effect of life’s binding to Evolution. Everything, in secret truth, is unity.

I think I heard a monk say that once….

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Eulogy for my Father

Dad’s Eulogy

Oddly, up here at this church pulpit, I feel like a bumbling, novice pastor.

How to fix that…. Ah.

Dad? Little help?

Better. And it even feels like a hug.

I feel like an actor too. To be “good enough” actors need the lid torn off their heart and spirit, to learn to cry in a way I have yet to learn. And boy did Dad learn to do that with Ginny. He found a boundless love, using it to father still more, in others.

My father always loved theater. Offering. Performance. Teaching. Being valued by a familial audience. Giving and generosity of the transformed spirit. When I was in high school, he directed me in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a show he also played the lead in, long ago. I still remember him telling me about one night, live on stage, casually throwing a dart at a distant dart board. The audience gasped in awe when he hit the bull’s eye. But he kept as cool as Houghton Brook.

Being a father is a kind of theater too, and the endless search for the bull’s eye. Acting like you know what to teach. The giving and generosity of the ever transforming spirit. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. Alan worked to inspire and be larger than life. He came to baseball games, buying siren-and-flashing-light helmets for Christmas, and packed brown paper bag lunches at sunrise. All this while Life drained him as Life does. But he did his huge hearted best, with Ben and Amos Parker, with Aimee and Adam and Josh and Anthony Ducharme, then with Jed and Tamsin Flanders.

My father and I share a lot of things. Even now, for this service, since I don’t dress up much, the only clothes I’m wearing that aren’t his is my underwear. And with me he also shared a struggle to be “good enough.” With perceived failure, and with finding purpose. With the thinking too much and not feeling enough. Once when I was a child a teacher told him the lunches he packed weren’t healthy enough. I remember standing between the dining room and kitchen in the house he built in Tampico, sunlight spilling in while he trembled and cried. “Do you know what that makes me feel like?” he asked, heartbroken. “It makes me feel like I’m not a good Dad!” Heartbroken too, I saw past the everyday static, in the same way one does when a beloved man dies, the distractions falling away and the true spirit coming clear. “You are a good Dad,” I said, hugging him. It’s hard to hug so tall a man.

He was great Dad. His children know. After this service, go to Ben, Aimee, Adam, Josh, Anthony, Jed and Tamsin and ask them how he planted trees in their singular lives, thereby ensuring he’d live on.

I can only speak for what my father planted in me. And somehow that’s not about me, but him.

I remember fishing with him. With Ben. With the Ducharmes too. Strange joy, fishing. Taking the life of a worm on a sharp hook, casting it with hoping tingles far out into distant waters, and hoping to take the life of a fish in trade.

We did this at lakes. We did this at the Houghton Brook, where Dad’s cabin is and where he shared precious time with his first grandson George, a darling scampering and splashing to do his part for the photo we later rested on Alan’s last breaths in a sterile Lebanon hospital. Death accents life, as night highlights day, and poverty amplifies wealth. Modernity tries to impoverish us of the knowledge of Death, with a wealth of comfort. But valuable Death pursues us like rivers pursue the ocean.

Feel that, now. You feel my father’s tragic death reminding you of the true value of life. You’d only forgotten. See that silver lining like a lake lit to azure gold by the setting Sun, your cast worm arching toward it as Moon rises.

Jesus knew the value of fish. And even before he found Jesus, so did my father.

Another memory.

Ages ago my Dad and I sat behind our Tampico home, my butt on the red capped tube that topped the water well. I struggled with life and a numb, voiceless pain. School. Relationships. The future. And he understood. Remembered, rather. With love he wanted to help. I even told him I needed help, but admitted I was scared to accept it. To let the uncomfortable complexity and chaos out. So he put his hand on my shoulder with a man’s courage and told me he still wished to risk trying. I still wish I’d had the courage to trust him.

We saw some of each other at our best along our similar, spiraling paths. Life’s a game of cat and mouse, one person feeling ready to connect, the other disconnected by personal drama. And then the roles reverse. So often one would phone the other, in the open gear of confidence, only to hear the other miss the attempted shift to match it.

Ah, Life.

Yet he’d come with loving, fatherly friendship up to the cabin at Echo Lake in East Charleston Vermont, a cabin owned by my mother’s side of the family. He knew life overwhelms and obscures my core, but that overlooking that lake I feel like the real me, speaking like I write. And so we’d talk for hours, sharing a whiskey or a beer. Watching the water below, filled with wormless fish living their lives. Talking about Humanity and ideas. About family. About the loves of our lives. The Red Sox. We understood each other, joyful in the unity of the “true gear” his tragic early death has joined us in. And of course we ate Cabot cheddar cheese between Triscuits.

One of my father’s favorite things to say to me was “I love you, Amos Stone Parker.”

Sometimes hearing it was almost too much. It meant he loved every inch. Scary, to people who do not feel “good enough.”

When I said goodbye in the hospital, all by myself beside him after a nurse removed the wires from his head and left, I struggled to thank him for loving all of me. I’d already read him the Boston Globe article, printed when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. The lid ripped off the heart of a nation. The words of others were easy to say, as he lay unconscious in that bed surrounded by machines that go “bing.” My words? They would only be easy if I kept the lid on my heart and didn’t let out my soul. They would be hard, breaking my voice if opened up and faced the tears. Saying goodbye with his full name was like… saying goodbye to all of him. It refused to skirt the issue. I did love him. I do still. And the goodbye of “I love you, Alan Fletcher Parker” was one of the hardest things I ever did. But I did it, finding an adult’s strength in the way all children must, to do their parents proud.

Later, we friends and family stood around him. The father, once so strong with a tiny Ben or Amos in his arms, had become weak, the roles reversed by Time.

We sang or played his favorite songs. “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. “Graceland” by Paul Simon. “How Do You Stop” by James Brown. We shared memories of him. Ask Steve about the poems. Ask Ginny about the cooking. Ask Liz about the grandchildren. And, as he faded, I wondered how one could ever be “good enough” to honor such an end?

My best? I sat on his left side, his left hand in mine.

I watched the pulse on his neck, his face turned toward Ben.

I put my right hand on his heart.

It had beaten like the core of beautiful music for almost sixty five years, though everything. Through three hours of driving to Burlington for work weekdays, day after day, week after week. Like Groundhog Day. Just without the laughs. Through the bills he paid and the lawns he mowed. Even through the serpent’s tooth lack of the gratitude of children.

Then the ending began.

A breath every ten seconds. Every twenty. Every thirty.

His heart said “Please. Let me stay.”

How many beats does a heart get? How many ticks does it take to get to the worldly goal center of a goodly pop?

God only knows. And sorry about that convoluted Tootsie Pop reference, but that’s what happens when you take the lid off an English major.

So I started a new count, slower and slower, softer and softer. A ballpark count. Fenway ballpark.

A lot. A lot plus one. A lot plus… two. A… lot plus… three. A… lot… plus… four. A… lot… of… of… of… love.

Then the father’s heart stopped. I cried, trusting him with my chaos, the lid torn off.

A heavy price to pay for a moment of such power.

Thank you, Dad.

Was that good enough?

He says yes.

Right back at you.

But… he’s not up there. He’s here in our hearts, having trusted his performance and won over his audience.

Now do his many children a favor. And forgive me if the request sounds preachy, but remember I did begin here by asking a preacher for help

When you leave this warm closeness here and go back out into the long, hurtful battlefield of life, when its deadening grey soldiers reach your trench again, when those bills and rivalries and commercials crawl down your nose, ears and throat and try with cutting fingers to drag my father up out of your heart only to bury him in the front part of your logical left brain… fight back.

And if that feels like David against Goliath? Ask Alan for help. He will sling bull’s eyes for you as cool as the Houghton Brook, in tune with the hymnal song of your still beating heart, for as long as you’re willing to fight to keep him there.

Regret and Debt

Polonius 2

That’s Ian Holm there, above.

It’s not my new house mate, who I’ll get to soon. He’s central.

Ian Holm is a great actor, maybe best known for playing Bilbo Baggins in the three “Lord of the Rings” films. Prior to that, he played Polonius, in 1990, in the Franco Zeffirelli film version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The film’s best known for being one of Mel Gibson’s first forays into “real acting.”

Mel Hamlet

But my clearest memory of the film comes from Polonius. I’m not sure why. The first time I saw the film, I’d never even had a credit card. I didn’t experience my first one until five years later, when I entered college with one, having promised myself I’d never use it, realized I needed books for class, took the card to the college book store, paid for the required books with terrifying ease… and realized I was in trouble.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

That’s the line. Hamlet. Act I, Scene III.

But I’m not here to speak about credit card debt. Or rather, to write about it. I’m here about borrowing and loaning with people we know. Not faceless credit card companies. But friends. Family. Lovers even.

I remember, I confess, feeling some bafflement at the line, when I heard it in the film. Yet it stayed with me. Why? Fascination with stuff? Money? The value I placed on friends?

Also, Polonius seemed… hurried. Rushed. Almost confused. Desperate to convey wisdom before his son departed on a journey. He may not even have been reliable as a giver of wisdom, given his lack of charisma. But as a father his love shown clear. He meant well. And he had something important on his mind.

So what was it?

New SNES

I want to start with a story.

About a year after the release of that cinematic version of “Hamlet” in 1990, I found myself in the summer of 1991 filled with rapturous eagerness about the coming release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Scheduled for release in September, almost tragic because it meant the dawn of a new school year would interfere with my newborn, newly-opened obsession, I set about figuring out how to get one, on release.

I did not have a job, at that age. Being only about 14 at the time, I hadn’t yet gotten that far. Soon after I’d spend the summers on my uncle’s Christmas tree farm, in part to pay for games, but in the summer of 1991 I was SoL when it came to self funding.

To the rescue came my grandmother Margaret Stone. A wonderful woman who lived through the financially traumatic Great Depression, she volunteered to help.

My reaction, at first? Joy and gratefulness, of course.

How did she agree to help? Work. Not a gift, but work. I was to spend some of the summer doing some labor on her home, her fine Richmond VT home that she occupied even after the 80s death of my grandfather Fred Stone but before age and infirmity forced her to move to a smaller home. I remember, at her request, painting the deck. I don’t remember other tasks, though I’m sure there were some. And, know you, this was a home that rested on a foundation located an hour and a half away, by car. A distance almost as far away as September seemed, from June.

Squirrel Summer Vacation

That, of course, would be the normal reaction to the onset of summer vacation, for a junior high student about to enter high school. But a boy who loved videogames, with the release of the “SNES” imminent, could not be expected to have a normal reaction.

So.

She gave me the money in advance, I believe, so that I could pre-order the console, complete with its pack in copy of Super Mario World. Again: joy and gratefulness.

Then my grandmother had me do some work. And, to my dismay? I found my emotions beginning to do funny things to me, as time went on. I started to feel… resentful. Of the debt. Even of her. Why was this? I realized it was because I already had all the reward, and was, in a sense, working for nothing. I’d been given my pay, in advance. I felt icky, in the resentment, but feelings, as they are wont to do, ruled the roost.

As I recall, my grandmother did not make me work off all the debt. I think the total bill for the SNES came to about $200. Easily the most expensive thing I’d ever worked for or even owned. But my grandmother ended up giving me much of the money as a gift.

Maybe she sensed the problem. And, like any grandmother, she wanted to spoil. The idea of being resented by a grandchild was anathema.

Spoiled Grandma

Why do I bring this up?

First off, I’ll also bring up how, even very recently as an adult, I’ve experienced the same problem. I consider myself a normal person. I even consider myself a good person. But, a few years ago, when I was out of work and in debt, having just made a critical rule-reading error with PayPal credit, I found myself with no way to pay back a soon-due high-penalty loan of about $3000.

My girlfriend, who luckily is still my girlfriend, agreed to help. Of course I felt joy and gratefulness at the time. A short period of time.

But very soon? The stink of resentment began to waft out of me, from somewhere. She became “a creditor.” I already had everything, and could only look forward to having to separate myself from my precious job-earned money, chunk by precious chunk, for a long time to come.

I pretended I wasn’t feeling it. To me. To her. I tried not to think about it. I felt a huge pull to… delay. I wanted her to remind me when it was “that time of the month,” no menstruation pun intended. And I didn’t feel, things from her point of view. At the time, I’m not sure I had any clear experience I could call on of being in a position similar to hers, of being a creditor to someone I cared about.

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But now, because of my desperation to make a good impression on my new house mate, a nice young man of 21 who’s a full smoking age younger than me. A full selective service age. A full high school graduation age.

Part of my desire to please? A lack of a circle of friends. Then someone comes along who just… lives inside a circle, leaving only the “of friends” part out, and it seems easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

So I’d just gotten a deal on, yes, a videogame system. New. An XBOX One, exponentially more powerful than a Super Nintendo. I got the deal as part of a “bundle” that included a 43 inch Ultra HD television, a Vizio LED backlit LCD TV, highly reviewed for that old tech style. Saved about $300 in theory. But I only wanted the TV, having too many games yet unplayed for older systems (makes it hard to choose to play any, a problem SNES scarcity never allowed me to have, round about ’91).  So I chose to sell the XBOX One. Which meant, possibly, unpleasant shipping and eBay fees.

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And while I’m at it, here’s the TV… which I didn’t even keep, because I decided if I was going to upgrade, I wanted a better one. An LG OLED, new tech 55 inch.

Vizio:

Vizio M.jpg

LG:

LG 55

Anyway. At the time, I just needed to get rid of the XBOX One, and both wanted to avoid fees for a heavy thing, and to “make a new friend.”

Solution?

Sell to my new house mate. And I’d be nice! I’d be so generous he’d KNOW I was a good guy. I’d just give it to him, saying he could pay me when he wanted, and charge him a lot less than a new one would cost. Less than $300. Boy would he love me! I felt a nagging worry, but hey, he seemed nice, and my semi-landlord had vouched for him, as did her 35 year old Down Syndrome son who also lived in the house and who knew him from work.

So I had hope. Faith. What could go wrong? I knew what the warning signs would be if something were to go wrong, though. Signs he was avoiding me. Saw me as unpleasant. Not talkative. In essence, seeing me as not a friend because I was “a creditor.” Who would want to be friends with a credit card company?

And indeed he did pay me about half, fairly soon, after only failing to pay me that half when he said once or twice, over a period of about a week.

And to be fair, I went out of my way to say I didn’t need him to pay me back fast. I wanted to be so nice! To make him love me! I was probably generous in a way that could cross the line to creepy. Can’t be too nice with people or it’s worse than being mean. Can’t, ever, look needy. Cardinal sin.

Another point? I offered to be the one to spend my time, money and effort to take control of the shared house goods stuff. You know. Toilet paper. Laundry soap. He said I’d just have to ask and he’d pay me a bit.

Side note: with young people, you never know how much they’re still used to… living with parents, and having “the people who live with them” be “the people who take care of them and give them money.”

Anyway, he hasn’t come to me to say anything about the other half of the money. And, though I asked him once about money for a big discounted order of toilet paper, to which he said he didn’t have his wallet with him, he hasn’t come to me, though I leave my door open, unlike him.

His friends seem more interested in talking to me than he does. They know I gave him a videogame system… but they aren’t in debt to me. Different outlook.

I haven’t tried to talk to him, but I do see clear signs that he seems maybe like he hopes to not run into me. To not talk to me. Like he wants to get through the room without me stopping him for anything when he passes. Possible avoided eye contact. Who wants to part with their money, for no reward? He has all the reward already, and has acclimated to it. The thankfulness, in practice, has maybe worn off. Now there’s just the pain remaining.

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The worst part? The worst potential outcome?

I don’t even feel like it’s the prospect of never getting the money back. Of him, say, vanishing, of having his feelings convince me that, really, why would I need the money? Look at my amazing TV!

It’s….

Well, I go out of my way with time, money and work, to do something nice, with no reason to trust him, but trusting anyway. A major generous gesture.

And my reward?

I become… someone to avoid. Someone he doesn’t want to be friends with, as a result, when maybe he would want to be friends if I hadn’t been really generous.

Money messes with heads and hearts. God, the examples! Destroyer of relationships. Of romantic partnerships. Of marriages. Now, of course, I sympathize tons for my girlfriend, who so generously loaned me $3000. And I feel, what… shame? Shame. Shame that I could let myself be so blinded by the tricks money and debt play on the mind and the heart.

But life is about learning. I didn’t lose my girlfriend. But will I lose the friendship of my housemate?

Even as I write this, he’s walking back and forth from his room to the bathroom, in clear view outside my bedroom door. He could say hello. He could acknowledge me. But, very likely, he hopes to just be allowed to mind his own business.

I can think of all sorts of things to say. Ways to start.

Some would be wise and true, but likely condescending. Threatening even.

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“I worried from the start that you’d start to seem like you were avoiding me.”

Then every time he passed by he’d feel obligated to acknowledge me in some way, to not give the impression, and it would become a chore. Inorganic.

“I want to tell you a story about my grandmother and the summer of ’91….”

“Is this my reward for spending my time, money and work?”

“I’ve realized I’m paying 14% credit card interest on the money I’ve loaned you, so I have to make myself a bother and be that person who chases you for owed money.”

“Bet you don’t have any interest in giving me your money for no reward, eh?”

“Could you tell me when you plan to pay me that remaining $150? And if being in debt to me makes me unpleasant to you, we need to get this out of the way and then do our own toilet paper and laundry soap.”

Almost anyone would lie to some of that. Even to themselves.

“Oh no I don’t have any problem with you.”

They might feel threatened as I try to peel away denial.

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Obviously, I need to just start simple and non-threatening. Part of me wants to write a long email or FaceBook message. But then, even if they were short, he’s replied to only one of the several friendly FB messages I’ve sent him since we friended each other. The worrywart in me sees trouble. But then so many people hate written communication, and see no social faux pas in ignoring such communication, even if the same words ignored in a face-to-face would be a major faux pas.

Part of me feels like the only way to “not be unpleasant” is to… never say anything. But, if he’s like me, I could imagine his feelings slowly convincing himself that maybe I don’t WANT the money. I could imagine him moving out, having… forgotten all about it.

Money does that to minds. I’m sure money has made YOU stupid.

{Sigh}

Somehow I’ll work it out. Maybe I’ll even report the end result to you, my imaginary audience that I never feel exists in reality.

Debt. I have it over others. Others have it over me.

Moneymoneymoney…. Those green presidents are our real community, separated as we are from what we are evolved for. They are our support. We love them. And love is blind.

But that’s another subject for another blog post.

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Oh Grandma.

Even in death you can teach me wonderful things.

Do me a favor? Never stop. To be (helpful) or not to be (helpful). That is the question. The former, please. My girlfriend will thank you, in her prayers.