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.


Zhoen said...

I like useful and satisfying, both within my ability to create and judge.

You are in limbo. It's not a bad place, for a while.

I will stick with the Dems, just because the other side is so far off the sanity scale. Not that my vote counts in this state either way.

Jean said...

I think times in limbo can be very fertile. Leaving your boxes outside, though: from what I know (mostly from you) about the weather in Portland, eeek. Take good care of yourselves.

I identify iwth your voting dilemma entirely. Don't know if I could ever vote Labour again - I guess I would to help block a worse alternative. With a heavy heart. But I would.

Dale said...

:-) Well yes, in your state, Zhoen, voting Dem is protest vote like voting Green would be in mine.

Jean & Zhoen, yes! Limbo I think can be very fruitful: it's a version of what Paz called "solitude."

& you're right, Jean, a person just can't knowingly send their country down the road to perdition, no matter how resentful and betrayed they feel.

Dale said...

(Sorry, by the way, that I have neither a real camera nor minimal camera competence.)

JMartin said...

Limbo has no place in a real estate transaction and banks, it turns out, have no rightful place as property owners. The listing agreement itself was likely robo-signed. Oy! By end of Depression, 95 percent of U.S. residential r.e. will suffer clouded title. Wish that I could recommend a nasty Portland lawyer, and industrial strength title insurance. Hang in there!

Jayne said...

My father used to like telling us that we were getting too big for our britches (when we were getting too big for our britches-- well, mostly is was my brother).

And those papers! Who knows where all those papers are? Certainly not the bank.

Hope it all comes together for you soon. In the meantime, I like hearing your meandering, limbo thoughts. :)

marly youmans said...

Oh, missed this! Too bad. The last time I moved, as the movers were carrying out the last of our things, my South Carolina realtor called to say that our buyer (also a realtor) hadn't made mortgage. They had not questioned her because she was a realtor! She had already weaseled 5K out of me, so I wasn't too pleased.

My husband had already been in New York for six months and was living in a room over a garage. We were closing on a house in a couple of days. Well. That threw everything into disarray, and we almost lost our current house.

But my children enjoyed it. We went to North Carolina and stayed with my parents for several weeks, and it snowed, and they climbed up and down the mountain using a rope tied to a railing.

My new house rules:

1. Never buy from a lawyer.
2. Never sell to a lawyer.
3. Never buy from a realtor.
4. Never sell to a realtor.

All ended happily, although their lawyer was pretty peppery.

Perhaps it's inspiring to you, as you have at least new good new poems in the bag...

As for parties, I have long felt discouraged about both. And I didn't think Obama had enough experience. I'm not sure it matters that much which party wins any more--we're governed by a pack of lawyers who aren't going to let go of their personal desires long enough to make good law. A reasonable cap on pain and suffering awards, say, would be a great help to our problems with medicine, but what motivation does a lawyer who hopes for off-the-charts wins have to change such a thing? Etc. Etc. Etc.

Wish we could have more farmers and doctors and shopkeepers and so on in Congress.

Hope all is straightened soon!

Marly Youmans said...

Wow, what a blatherer. I need to go write a haiku. Or a twitter novel.

Anonymous said...

Whew! I read The Lord of the Rings aloud to Bethany years ago -- one of the most wonderful times I've ever had. I love reading my favorite books aloud to others. It may take grandchildren at this point: Victoria has no interest in being read to.