Thursday, August 7, 2014

Passing by

Yesterday, we decided to walk from the Ocean down State street which runs into the main downtown area.  It was Fiesta and the streets were full of various types of folks. Music filled the street.  It was a happy if strained happy feeling. The bars were full and spilling out into the street. It reminded me of New Orleans.

We walked slowly taking it all in until I saw a small boy sitting against a tree on the edge of the street. He looked about 14, the age of my grandson. He had 3 or 4 quarter sized wounds or lesions on his face.  He raised his voice to he barely audible level to ask if we had any spare change. I walked on.  We have all learned to walk on.

However, because of his age and appearance, my body walked on but mind stayed with him. In small measure, my thoughts are still with him.  I did not ask him anything. I did not speak to him. I did not offer any kind of help.

I wonder how I have become such a person?  I have known I was "scabbing over", as I like to put it. This has gone on for quite a while. Only rarely does any street-person penetrate my mind enough to elicit even a trace of compassion.  I think some call this street-wise.

I would stop at the scene of an accident or if someone fell.  I have done that. But my barrier is pretty high. Active eminent physical threat is necessary to stop my motion.  I have stepped over unconscious adults. But I would not step over an unconscious child.  Of course, I have never seen an unconscious child.

I know I am not alone in my behavior.  I wonder how others feel as they pass scenes of despair.  As we pass a ragged, filthy hallucinating person. Do we judge them? Do we ignore them?  How have we learned to ignore.  It must take practice.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Now and then

I am wondering why it is so much easier for me to write about the past. Is that really where good stories live? Could I write about the future? If I go through that door (presumably marked "Future"), it does seem that The Wolf I have been successfully avoiding all my life might be sitting, just on the other side. "I've been waiting for you, Mike." "What took you so long? The door hasn't been locked."

I think the handle to that door should be a nice big brass handle. I'll polish it with my little can of Brasso. On the rare occasions, the odd smell transports me back to my brief two years in the Army. We used Brasso on, you guessed: Brass. But since this little moment is about why I don't go through that door, you should be amused that I cleverly used the smell of Brasso to go back rather than forward. Not really clever. I am displeased. Assuming The Wolf is not really inside the door, I will try to step inside, at least for a moment.

 Inside the door is definitely a full length, very precise mirror. I would prefer that it not be there, but I'm sure it will be. The mirror will be well lit and I'll see myself. I will glance at myself in a very indirect look. I rarely look at myself. There is a single exception. Whenever I fly, I always go into the toilet and stand right in front of the mirror over the sink and look very hard at my face. I always do that. Odd. I look deeply not my face and I see my father. I see a variety of things on my skin, but I mostly see my father looking at me. I know that is why I look. It is the only time I really get to see him.
But I must press on. I will not look hard into that mirror. I am already a wreck. I don't need to stare at my entire body. That is absolutely too much. I will just walk down the hall a bit.

My philosophy of life. Stop. My view of life. No. Let's start again. When I reflect back on my life thus far, I see a variety of huge turning points, but I have always believed they were somewhat random events. I made big decisions and sometimes they were made for me, but I never knew the future. I just kept drifting down the river and climbing out to restart my life. I set up camp near the river, build some aspect of my existence and then the river bank collapses or I decide to go further downstream.

 So, not to twist all my metaphors into a huge knot, if I go down the hall on the other side of this scary door, is it peering around the bend of the river? Since I am now 71 years old, I've gone along many twists and there is good reason for caution. Moving down the hall, I think there are several doors. The doors are annoyingly unlabeled. Must I just try one? For the moment, I'll just scoot back past the mirror and return to my current spot.

Well, I tried. Maybe writing about today is quite enough.

Return to blogging

I've always loved Charla Bregante's writing. Only recently while exploring the virtues of Google+, I was so pleased to see that she had a blog. Drifting through her past posts, I found a moment when she had decided to restart her writing after a dry spell. I have my own dry spell story. I began writing some years ago after the death of my wife, Sarah. I used the writing somewhat as a semi-public diary. A few friends followed it, but I was very, very sporadic. I have been of the inspiration-required school of writing. Indeed, as I look back over some posts (e.g. Lab Partners), I'm pleased with what I wrote. A few years ago, I began to get emails from a person who asked if I would allow her to re-post some of my writing on her web site. It was clearly oriented for persons who were older. I said ok, and she immediately began to "accept" my pieces. Her audience of readers were very kind and encouraging. I liked that part. I sent in a few more pieces. But, as I have read, bloggers also get criticism that can fall in a wide range from helpful to nasty. Two things happened that stopped my writing, for a period. First, I got a solicitation for some writing seminars from the same web site that had been eagerly "publishing" my blog entries. In the corner of my mind, I had thought this might be an enterprise (not a scam, just a business), but I ignored that thought and enjoyed a bit of flattery. Next, one well intentioned commenter on my blog noted (correctly) that I wrote rather dark pieces. That was certainly true but her truth was like a slap to my self concept. Had I become a dark, grief obsessed person? I didn't think so, but here was one woman telling me that she hoped some day I could write things less dark. I believe she used that phrase: "less dark." So fragile ego that I apparently had, for quite a long time, I just stopped blogging. Charla's determination to write on a regular basis might motivate me. I wisely know this may be the last thing I post for a year, but I would like to return to this strange world of blogging
. I will try.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Bottle of Memory

It seems I have a bottle that is full of memories. Somewhere beyond 50 years ago, my sister Elaine returned from a trip to Northern California. She was very excited, telling me of a place called Berkeley. I was a young teenager and my big sister brought me a present. The bottle seems handmade with a carving of a bamboo plant.It has become one of the very few objects that I treasure and have taken with me on many moves across and around the country. Despite over 20 moves, this bottle sits before me and with certainty gives me pleasure. When I got the bottle it's neck was wrapped with a coarse hemp rope. I recall hanging it from my bedroom wall. At times it has held flowers and candles. During the put-a-candle-in-a-bottle period of my life, stubs of candles would fall inside and I would struggle to get them out. The thought of violently shaking and whacking my bottle seems odd to me now, since I carry it about with a certain reverence. As my sister lays ill in her 77th year, the bottle is my little shrine and I will fill it with my memories. When Elaine came home from her trip "up North" from Long Beach to Northern California, it was as if she had come home from China. I had never been far from home on my own and Elaine was the adventurer going off and returning with a little treasure for her brother. Elaine told me that she had visited the University of California at Berkeley and, as big sisters will do, she told me that when I apply to college (an event 5 years in the future), I should apply to Berkeley. Who knows if Elaine was that emphatic and certain. In my memory, Elaine pointed the way with perfect clarity . She told me just what to do. Indeed, when I was older, I applied to Berkeley. I sent in no other applications. Fortunately, I was admitted and I know my life was wildly altered because of that decision. Lately, I've been reflecting on the "doors" we go through as our lives progress. Deciding to go off to Berkeley and begin a dramatically new phase of my life was a gift from Elaine. Just like the bottle.