Thursday, September 15, 2011
But seriously, how could you say a person had wasted his life? You would have to be sure that a) that his life was intended for some particular purpose and b) that he hadn't met it. Maybe you're privy to God's private thoughts like that, but I'm not. And likewise, I give a skeptical ear to discussion of a meaningful life. Meaningful to whom? And meaning what? Is it really proper – is it really meaningful to discuss a life as if it was an intelligible statement? Possibly. But if so, both the speaker and the audience are supernatural creatures, beyond our understanding. We should probably not get too big for our britches. Lets leave the meaning of our lives to creatures with the capacity to assess it.
I prefer more mundane questions: am I leading a useful life? Am I leading a satisfying one? And these are pretty easy to assess. I'm leading a useful life, if people would be distressed if I vanished. I'm leading a satisfying life, if I wake up looking forward to things. It's a little more complicated than that, maybe, but not much.
Just finished reading a fat history of Mexico. In times of stress I always become more political; and being – in the most minor way possible – a refugee, makes me think of refugees everywhere. My house stands empty, not yet moved into: the house we are buying has stood empty for six months, and belongs, in vanishingly minute shares, to people who have never seen it, will never see it, have not the faintest human interest in it: indeed, it's very difficult to determine, when a bank owns a property, just which bank it is, and equally difficult to determine who owns that bank. And the sale is hanging fire only because the bank (whatever bank it is) doesn't seem to know for sure whether, when it foreclosed on the previous occupants (whoever they are), it entirely extinguished all of their legal claims to the property. The temptation to simply move into this vacant house and get some people employed in making it habitable is strong. We wait, though.
We sleep in a living room with swords in brackets on the walls, a halberd or two, and a sort of shrine made of two daggers and needle-pointed vambrace above the mantel. The three samurai swords and the halberd make the four horizontal strokes of a Chinese character, at night, which the streetlight completes by supplying vertical strokes from the mullions of the window. At bedtime I read The Hobbit aloud to Martha, by dim lamplight. My eyes are not as good as they used to be, but I know the book so well, having read it aloud so often, that I need to distinguish only a few words per line to recite it correctly.
The weather has cooled, and we begin to worry about what we'll do when the rains come: much of our stuff is still loose in the back of the pickup (especially heavy stuff, such as the weight machine) or lining Ashley's driveway in a litter of cardboard boxes and makeshift containers. It's not supposed to rain until Saturday, though, and while I go to work and catch up on things, Martha exercises her genius for compression. I think of James Stephens' Philosopher, who teaches the precept: If there is no more room in a box, you must take something out in order to put something else into it, and his Philosopher's Wife's precept: There is always more room in the box.
Ashley's is close to Tosi's, so close that each morning I hesitate about whether it's even worth hauling my bicycle out of the garage. I could just stroll. At Tosi's I sit in the booth I've sat in of a morning for twenty-five years, and look across the slant of Sandy Boulevard to the north: four doug firs march away down the ridge, in a dwindling sequence, towards the invisible Columbia, beyond Ken Van Damme's Automotive. (Ken has breakfast here too, in the morning, and reads the paper.) Tressa, the ablest waitress I have ever known, brings coffee exactly when I want it, and remembers not only my regular order but also the different order I would make if, by some calamity, I didn't make it in until horribly late, say 8:30. No wifi at Tosi's, though. I can't decide if that's good or bad.
Each morning I think about how full of unemployed people Portland is, and I try to figure out some labor-intensive enterprise I could start up, to help all those people, like Martha, who are chock-full of skills, and are eager to work, and can't find a job. But it's not a kind of thinking I'm used to or good at, and I soon give up. I think vaguely about buying cheap properties and doing a bit to make them good, cheap, ecologically sound rentals, since the great American public has decided that the working class should no longer be able to afford to buy houses. But I know that idea only comes to me because my father did something like that, under radically different economic circumstances; and that few people could be less suited than me, by temperament or skill, to be a slumlord, however benevolent.
I wonder if I can bear to vote for a Democrat for president, again. I'm not one of those people who cherished great hopes of Obama, if you'll remember: he was and remains a center Democrat, and his administration has been governing, by most measures, to the right of Richard Nixon's. I like him more, personally, than I've liked any president since Jimmy Carter: I like his civility and his prudence and his imperturbability. Nevertheless, he is, politically, what in my youth would have been called a moderate Republican: I was horrified by some of his cabinet choices. His great selling point is that he's not dangerously insane.
Of course, if the Republicans nominate, say, Perry – and polls say he might win – and Oregon is in play – I'll vote for Obama, because any other act would be patricidal. Otherwise I'll probably vote Green: I want the Democrats to know that they're losing me.