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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
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….