Last night a storm blew through. The wind and driving rain woke me up. I went downstairs to check the front door, which had been popping open if not latched properly, leading to a couple of mad scrambles to close it before the dogs ran out. One dog in particular seems to have his heart set on a walkabout.
The door was secure. I returned up the stairs and to bed. I slept more, but according to my Misfit it wasn’t very good sleep. The evenings have been sociable and I have been drinking. Sleep suffers.
When the wind howls it is easy to imagine that the universe is speaking. I gather the warmth of the cottage around me like a protective blanket, aware that there is little between me and chaos, but grateful that there is something.
The windy rain reminds me of the crazy rapids under the bridge and along the side of the Roundhouse in Beacon. When the rains come, chaotic energy thunders through. It becomes the destructive-creative center of the universe. I like to stand on the bridge above its maw and let it exhilarate me.
And now I think of the rock outside the cottage, beside the grassy driveway. I photograph its enduring sameness as often as I am on Block Island. There it sits, unchanged, unmoving, waiting to pull me into its orbit. I wonder about all the things that have danced around it during its perpetual slumber. Are we but the shadows of its gravitational dreams? The rock is a barker of the eternal, if not the-thing-itself.
We believe that Einstein proclaimed all things to be relative, but he preferred a theory of invariance to a theory of relativity. His idea — there are universal constants, which necessarily give rise to relativities. Vast swaths of humankind took the relativities to their symbolic hearts and transformed them into something other-than-the-thing-itself because it somehow helped them make sense of the world.
In a universe billions of years old, the rock is mutability. How much bigger was it before the glaciers moved it south in the last ice age? What was it part of? What shaped it before and since? Where did it come from? Where is it going?
The rock sits on the crest of a hillock wave in the landscape, surrounded by neatly trimmed grass. When I walk out the door, its invisible pull captures my mind and then my body. Space and time warp. The rock is a Haiku in its rigorous simplicity, the finite thing through which the infinite rushes in.
And now there are thoughts about the tree in the middle of the cemetery in Beacon that the universe tried so hard to kill before its time. It refused to die and, heroically, continues to sprout in the spring and bear fruit in the summer, giving testament to the tenaciousness of life, standing defiantly in the midst of a desert of certainty about life’s limits.
In aboriginal fashion, I find my spiritual bearings in the eternal rock, the tenacious tree and the destructive-creative center. Through their triangulate lens my being is focused and I learn about the brevity of me, the ferocity of life and the enormity of the universe.
It was no use to tell her there was rockin' chairs where she was goin'-- no use at all, until her first baby came along. Then she had to choose between her rockin' chair and the cradle, so she gave up the chair. She gave up the chair but she didn't give up the seat. She sat up all one night just to unravel the cane bottom seat. And from then on she wore that cane like it was a life preserver, all of it wrapped around her waist like a belt. When a snow trapped them in the Rockies she let them burn everything they had, cradle and all, except the Bible and that damn cane. Then in the spring I was born and after she wrote my name in the Bible I think the very next thing she did was work on a chair. Spend all of her spare time puttin' that old seat in a new chair. Eight more of us, besides me, grew up sittin' on it. First our names in the Bible then our bottoms on that chair. I used to think there was something crazy about how she held on to that cane, and the trouble she had bringin' it and the family Bible through. But I've learned that her home didn't need any more to furnish it. That little piece of cane was a line that she stretched across the country ahead of both the telephone and the telegraph. And it kept her in touch with more important things. Between the Bible and that chair she had room for whatever happened, and she kept our heads in the one and our bottoms where they belonged.
Trim-Pretty-Mom and blond-haired son were in the store yesterday. I hadn’t seen them in a long time. They sat at the round table right next to the one I was sitting at. I was happy to see them and careful not to look at them beyond the initial eye contact generated by their arrival. If our frequent eye contact had been creeping her out I didn't want the situation to get worse.
And now I hear the voice of a little boy saying no mommy! I know immediately she is here and up front today. Like the distinctive call of a species of bird, I have learned to identify her son's voice. I have memorized the particular calls of many of the familiars. I don't have to look up to know who has arrived and taken their place, or even who is missing, if for some reason I think of them. I match their sounds to the image I have of them in my mind. How much we remember without realizing we do! How is it possible that we can recall a person's voice and identify them without looking? And when we hear their voice, conjure a vague image of the-thing-itself and feel what they mean to us?
They say hearing is the last sense to die. We whispered into our dogs ears when they passed away. We told them how wonderful and beautiful they were. We told them how much we loved them. I don't know if the words made any difference to them, but the sound of our voices surely did if they heard at all. I am sure they remembered for a moment the body attached to the voice and its importance to them. I whispered when Camille passed away. H whispered when Calvin passed away. I hope they got one last charge of happiness from it. I know it made us feel better.
Root canal day. My first. The unpleasantness of this experience is legendary. It is the cliche comparator for any highly disagreeable experience. I have anxiously watched as days melted into hours, hours into minutes, minutes into seconds and seconds into thin air.
And so my appointment arrived.
The pain I feared did not materialize, but it was arduous. Two hours in the chair and we didn't finish. I was sealed up and invited back. Oh joy!
During the procedure, daytime network programming was playing on a television suspended from the ceiling in a corner of the room. First a soap opera, then talk shows. At one point there was an African-American man taking questions from an audience. A very attractive twenty-something white woman was asking him why men old enough to be her grandfather hit on her all the time and how could she politely discourage them.
Except for the hitting on her part — only in my fantasies — I resembled the men she was talking about so I waited with great interest to hear what the answer would be. The host turned it into a comedic riff on how they were looking for caretakers. No! Thats not it at all! I thought to myself. He got a lot of laughs but never answered the young woman's question in what I thought was a meaningful way.
It surprised and intrigued me that there seemed to be so many men with so little regard for appropriateness or their dignity that they openly and aggressively hit on women young enough to be their granddaughters. I am certainly no stranger to the way the lizard brain does back flips over them, but I have never been willing to risk my marriage or my self respect that way.
Are they ever successful? They must be once in a while, or why would they keep trying? I find myself warmed by the idea that they might be, however rarely. It gives me hope in the form of a fantasy to cling to, knowing that it’s possible, however unlikely, that I could toss my dignity into the air and fecund beauty would catch it and return it to me.
I wonder if any woman understands the importance of sex to the men around her? I wonder if any of them understands how profoundly alive sex can leave a man feeling?
I remember a Reader’s Digest condensed book from a long time ago. It was about a young woman and a young man who fall in love and set out to make a life together. She is the daughter of a coal miner, I don't remember where he came from. At some point in their journey she realizes that their best prospect for a reliable income is to return to the coal mining town she grew up in and for her beloved to descend into the mines. As they approach the town the young woman, knowing her man would need all the courage he could muster to confront the men of the town and face all that was coming, pulls him into the woods and makes love to him. I have always thought that the author had something there.
And does any man understand the importance of feeling safe to the women in his life? That his perceived ability to protect and provide for her and her children has everything to do with her capacity to make him feel alive and mighty.
Conceive me as a dream of stone:
my breast, where mortals come to grief,
is made to prompt all poets' love,
mute and noble as matter itself.
from Beauty, by Charles Baudelaire, translation by Richard Howard
Parisian-woman-mannequin stands in a shop window. Young, delicately featured, surrogate femme, provocatively attired in gray jacket with plunged neckline and no bra. A black, broad-brimmed, feathery hat perched on her head. Her unwavering gaze fixes me from the sharp edge of a deep shadow. She is mysterious and alluring. As I study her, she blossoms into fantasy, crooking a finger at my libido, teasing it up and into the open. I long for her to invite me into the depths of the shadow to be whatever I need to be with her.
She is new in town and has quickly become one of a number of surrogate femmes I routinely visit as I walk from one end of Main Street to the other. My "girlfriends,” I tell my wife when she sees the pictures I have made of them. I visit them to see how they have chosen to dress and what sort of come-hither attitude they have hopefully chosen to adopt this month. Spring and summer are my favorite times. My girls are reliably clad in playful sundresses that can, I fantasize, easily be lifted above the hips for quick lovemaking in elevators, closets or bathrooms. Or they are wearing something bare midriff or that hardly conceals crotch and breasts.
As I think about this I remember Sam's bare midriff a few days ago. It was a frigid winter day and I remember both the twinge of excitement and the involuntary shiver that passed through my body as I reveled in her belly button and thought about frigid air washing across it. I asked her how she could stand to be exposed in such cold weather. She told me it was very warm in the store and that she puts lots of layers on before she walks out the door.
I wonder about the longing and desire my surrogate femmes are able to provoke in me, how easily they coax my libido forward. Even the headless ones have their allure if they are posed and dressed in the right way. Surrogate femininity does not have to be very like the thing itself for the animal mind to embrace it as a promise of procreation. I wonder at what point libido would retreat, unable to conjure warm flesh and blood against the facts. Would it fade away the moment I reached out and touched her on the arm or brushed her cheek? Could it be prolonged to the moment of cupping a breast in my hand, discovering it to be lifeless, unyielding, cold? Could I possibly make it to the point of embracing her and rubbing myself against her, of ejaculation across her hard washable belly? At what point would libido falter?
Crepuscular: of, resembling, or relating to twilight
Things emerging from and submerging into darkness interest me.
Life is like that. It materializes out of the primal darkness of the past into the dawn, plays gaily and struggles mightily in the light of day, reminisces both fondly and regretfully in the advancing penumbra of evening, then melts back into the primordial pitch black night. We are most dazzled by the light of day, believing that this light is the heart of the matter. We can't comprehend at all the immensity of the darkness on either side, and how puny this little light of day really is.
I went to bed and woke up pondering my new website configuration. I was very distracted during my walk this morning. There are many decisions to make, it will be a major reconfiguration and a lot of work. I feel, on the one hand, daunted, and on the other, excited, to the point where I will lose sleep and let other important things slide because I won't be able to let go of it.
Strangely, I had been thinking about how to combine writing and photography. I had been thinking it would require some kind of web reconfiguration. And then BOOM! I fired up the editing panel of my Behance Pro website and was confronted with Adobe's decision to kick it to the curb in favor of a new (and, I hope, improved) alternative. I have until spring to migrate to the new format. There was no indication of whether that would be early, mid or late spring.
Uggh! was my first reaction. Alright then, it's time anyway, was the second.
My writing and picture making have evolved into a project with the working title "Days, Weeks, Months, Years." The project flows from daily walking and writing excursions. I have charged myself with the task of intentional and thoughtful observation of my surroundings and through them, as it turns out, I am looking deeply into myself.
Sometimes I worry that I have become a navel-gazing and useless-to-society “artist.” That I have taken refuge in art because I have failed at things more useful. There might be some truth in that, I don't know. What I do know is that this exploration compels me to the point where it has taken over and there is little I can do but sink my whole self into the enterprise and hope that something useful and resonant comes out of it.
My sole New Year resolution is to diligently and unflinchingly pursue my writing and picture making and to share my discoveries openly and honestly.
I am convinced that making art has value to society though society often fails to value its artists enough. Some number of its members must travel beyond the perimeter to search for and retrieve truths that are useful to the whole. The hard part is that no artist can be the judge of whether their production is valuable to anyone but themselves. They can only do what they do.
The best artists are visionaries. Like all visionaries, they risk much. Society defines and manages its perimeter, providing powerful incentives and disincentives to stay within an acceptable-to-it territory and offers little to no support to individuals who venture outside the walls.
To state what we witness, what we think about what we witness and what we long for within what we witness, in an honest way, is to be human, is to be relevant, is to be useful.
Not many people do this, or are even interested in trying. The way of the visionary is a hard way. Harder than anyone can imagine because visionaries who succeed and are lauded for their efforts are the tiniest fraction of those who embarked for the frontier. Most of them perish on the journey, swallowed by the darkness of obscurity for all time.
A cryptic message on Facebook this morning. It irritates me. I struggle with people who speak in code on their social media. Am I your friend or not? Clearly you have a special class of friends who have the decoder rings you’ve distributed.
And then I realize that "ground control to Major Tom - goodbye" is announcing the death of David Bowie, at 69, of cancer, and the spectre of my own death, lurking in the shadows of the evening of my life, rushes out.
Just like that, my generation has started passing away. There have, of course, been tragic, too-young-to-die deaths. We worry about that possibility for ourselves and the people we love, but we comfort ourselves with the idea that we haven't reached the age of the average lifespan of our species.
This is different. This is the approaching darkness itself. I am being moved to the front lines of a battle nobody survives.
There is much I want to do. Do I still have time to do it?
Bitter, bitter cold.
It is hard not to dream forward to spring, then lazy summer days. I remind myself that time spent longing for enigmatic futures is paid for by time lost from actual present moments.
This cold is delicious! It pings like delicate crystal, everything frozen to the point of extreme fragility!
I imagine a tiny flick of my finger shattering the world into a million pieces, that I possess a weapon of mass destruction.
It occurs to me that I can luxuriate in this sensation of bitter cold because I am dressed to endure it, my heated house waits paternally nearby to rescue me when I no longer want to endure it, and I have a few dollars in my pocket to pay for warmth and a cup of coffee in the interim.
I am only a little disturbed by the number of times I have fantasized about putting a gun to our dog's head and pulling the trigger. There, done, goodbye!
The dog in question is Calvin, our sixteen and a half year old Petit Basset Griffon Vendee. In human years that is one hundred and fifteen. At this stage of his life all he does is poop, pee, sleep, drink and eat, all of it within the confines of our house. Our paper towel consumption has become a deforestation threat. He is feeble, as any centenarian has the right to be, and needs a ton of help just to continue to exist, as any centenarian does. At odd times of the day he circumambulates from living room, to dining room, to front hall, to living room, with no apparent agenda. Sometimes he stops and stares at the floor as if trying to remember what he got up for in the first place. That adds senility to his list of infirmities. I am acutely aware of his restlessness, even when upstairs in my studio. I hear the clickety-clack of his claws on our hardwood floors. It irritates me. I think he wants or needs something, but don't know what, and I don't want to stop what I am doing to find out. Please! I scream in my mind, just lie down and go to sleep! I have begun to understand the attraction of medicating old people into submission.
My wife, a nurse, is much more charitable. She coos softly to him, telling him what a wonderful dog he is and how much momma loves him while changing his diaper or cleaning up after him. I understand in those moments what a beautiful human being she is. My wife is not happy about the difficulty I have dealing with it. She reminds me that I could find myself in a similar condition some day. That, I think to myself, is the point around which my irritation pivots. Calvin emphatically reminds me that all beings die and that those fortunate(?) enough to have long lives can look forward to an extended period of diminishment before death finally overtakes them.
In my worst moments I swear to my wife that we will never have another dog after the dogs we have are gone. We had three, but lost one last winter to kidney failure. She died on Valentine’s day. It was very sad to watch, but a relief when the moment of her passing came. So now there are two, soon to be one. Not soon enough! I catch that horrible part of myself thinking.
I wonder what is better, dropping dead suddenly or gradually fading into oblivion? It's a choice between quick, but too soon or slow and not soon enough. I don't even want to think about the middle ground of an extended terminal illness.
This is an opportunity to practice acceptance of the universal ebbs and flows, I tell myself. We are one with the universe, we are stardust.
Down the street ahead of me a man in blue hooded sweatshirt, blue sweatpants and red knit cap walks with a Pit Bull dog in my direction. The man is short, weathered and scrawny, no, scrappy would be a better descriptor. His thin upper lip curls down at the corners of his mouth, accented by a closely trimmed mustache. He walks haltingly. Weakness in his left leg causes him to list, resulting in compensatory bodily gyrations. The left leg of his sweat pants is pulled up to the knee. It is bitter cold. How is it comfortable to expose a leg that way? I ask myself.
As we pass, I notice a long scar on his bare calf and wonder if it is the reason for the exposure. I briefly consider how coincidental relationships in space and time are often mistaken as proximate causes.
Mr. Scrappy clutches the waistband of his sweatpants in his left hand to keep them from falling down. His right hand holds the dog’s leash. The arrangement seems precarious.
The dog is a veritable Brad Pitt of Pit Bull dogdom, young, confident and handsome. He moves with muscular grace, following his nose along the sidewalk, in stark contrast to Mr. Scrappy who has clearly seen a dog fight or two. If it weren’t for his junkyard dog appearance, it would be hard to imagine Mr. Scrappy managing the dog if it decided to lunge. Even so, it is not clear which creature is setting the agenda. We pass without incident.