Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Haven

When someone complained to William Morris that his long, bench-like, medieval-inspired settle, though beautiful, was not actually very comfortable to sit on, he was annoyed. "If you want to be comfortable," he said shortly, "go to bed."

Morris is very much on my mind, this weekend. I woke a couple mornings ago from an intense despairing dream of New Haven: I was half drunk, and trespassing, wandering into the houses of people who actually had lives: all their furniture was handmade and lovely, all their books were interesting, the drawings and paintings on the walls were so beautiful that you caught your breath. Everything was vivid and alive. These were people who knew how to live. You knew without seeing them that they dressed beautifully, without giving a damn about what was in fashion, and that they knew how to do make and repair all sorts of things. They were people who would sit down anywhere on anything and attend to the conversation intently. "Comfortable" would never enter their heads. 

Last night I was not cold enough to get up and get another blanket; not warm enough to sleep well. I wander through my past. The atmosphere of New Haven lingers: I was never quite good enough; I could never pass for native there. I was never careful and industrious enough to be a scholar, or adventurous and intense enough to be an artist. I never quite made a life for myself. It was a long time -- five minutes maybe -- from the waking from that dream, to realizing that I no longer lived in New Haven, and that I no longer had a dissertation to avoid: that no one but me still carried that failure around with them. 

Really, of course, New Haven was an ugly, dirty little city, full of dispirited people who didn't give a damn about their work. I don't know where the people who value beauty above comfort really live. Perhaps they've all gone to bed. It is, after all, getting dark.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Braiding in the Dark

I'm finding odd success with a simplistic shift of mask: when I'm tempted to shirk or procrastinate, I say to myself, "I'm not the person who does that any more. I'm this other person, the person who just gets it done." It's not a question of what I'm going to do, it's a question of who I'm going to be: and it's like flipping a switch. The tug of the other personality is very small: I just walk away from it. 

It is not so simple as that, I'm sure: there is a huge invisible infrastructure supporting each of those persons, and what has really happened is that some critical piece of the get-it-done foundation is finally in place and bearing weight. But it feels simple.

I am braiding something in the dark, my fingers working quickly, skillfully. But I don't know how I learned to do it, and I don't know what I'm making.

I take a few deep breaths, and I feel the oxygenated blood washing to every shore of this vast body of mine. I am so glad to be alive, to feel the numbness of the last few years wear off. I am older and grimmer, in some ways, but I'm as fierce as ever. And I care less than ever about keeping up appearances. There's no time for that. I may be rich: but not so rich that I can afford to throw good money after bad. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Children To The Last

Full moon, filling up the house with light, and unexpected news before bed: so I'm awake, tip-tapping at my keyboard, listening to my tinnitus sing its song, and wondering if there's time to become a good person before I die. Soberly deciding there's not much chance of it. The years ripple by, but my personhood -- though my religion says me nay -- seems more permanent than the earth and its seasons. I will be me, apparently, to the end, no matter how fantastically this new Oregon sky builds its towers of cloud. 

I carry my bag, my table, my folding stool, my extra pillows, over wet ground in the dim light. A sodden Douglas fir cone or two challenges my footing, but they roll half-heartedly and stop: not really treacherous. And the wet brown needles clump like the coagulating agents of some giant circulatory system. Other places I've lived, you might have to watch your step: here, not really. Everything is watching out for you. Push slows down to leave room for Shove to change lanes on the freeway: and the moon, the full moon, rose between the outlined buildings this evening, with a cloud thrown carelessly over her shoulder. What have we to do with grown-up things? We are children, coddled, if neglected; children to the last. 

But still, there is a smell of tannin on the rain. The heart of this country is not tame, and it remembers other things: fishermen singing on the river; girls carefully stripping cedar; women holding onto their canoes, neck deep in the water, digging the wapato from the mud with their toes. The moon brings them to mind, on a night like this. They lived here far longer than we have: but now even their ghosts have given up walking. All the land is empty under the moon: and if the trees whisper, it is only to each other. Other children, other times.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Doing My Job

Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting.

The rain has stopped, and the firs stand absolutely still against the sky. Cars and trucks rumble by, but muted, as if lapped in linen and ready to be stowed in a drawer: soon they will be antiquities, curiosities, to be taken out, cleaned, and laid out on a cloth for a 22nd Century estate sale. "And look at the little retrovisor, perfectly formed!" you will exclaim, and one of those disreputable people who do show up at estate sales will snort in his beard. "Rear view mirror," he'll grunt, and you, suspecting he's saying something inappropriate, will pretend not to hear, and smile all the more brightly. A job's a job.

There are questions to be settled, I suppose. Is Mt Hood shaped like a nipple, or are nipples shaped like Mt Hood? There are mountains splitting open in fire all the time, when you're the oldest living thing in the world. You can't fuss about all of them. But still. Finger and thumb, and the heat of the world. 

I looked up "The Stolen Child," because I had remembered profundities, and the tag line about a world more full of weeping, but I found only a twee Olde Irishe Fairie poem. Is even Yeats going to fail me, at the last? Not necessarily. He can still end an argument, slapping a coin down on the bar as he goes out--

Song, let them take it 
For there’s more enterprise 
In walking naked.

Still, in all this time, the heads of the firs have not moved: they are lines traced on the paper of the sky. A testament: illegible but immutable. If a tree leaves a legacy and no one can read it, then who should be its executor? 

Well, me. That's an easy one. That's who I am, isn't it? The one who can read what other people can't. Pull my legs up underneath me, wrap the blanket tighter, and attend. I am doing my job.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Beginnings and Endings

Face to face with all my failings and disabilities. I am slow, and deaf, and no longer young. I think too much and take too few risks. There are very few people who find me fun, or even tolerable, to be around. I'm sad about that. I admire people who are fun to be around. They do a great deal to make life better. Me, not so much. Unless you like massage or fancy writing or dense self-deconstructing argument (with someone who can't really hear) what you've got, with me, is a large obstinate lump, which has to be fed twice a day and showered.

Which accounts reasonably well for my orangutanish preference for solitude. We all prefer to do what we're best at, and what I'm best at is making my way to the remotest part of the jungle and settling in for a long think, while the daylight filters in and slowly fills the bowl of the world.

But the forms of things! The pattern of the snow clinging to the black bark of a tree in the parking lot, like a series of alternating white koalas: the curve of a drift against the sky: my hands back-lit by the screen of my laptop, pausing, waiting for the thought to flow through them again, like paused and puzzled wolf-spiders. "Was it for this?" Wordsworth keeps asking, in the Prelude: the question persists, long after I have officially decided it wasn't for anything in particular. It just is, right? But the question will return. "Was it for this?" You tell me.

This is a bleak land, in winter under the clouds. Nothing is growing. Everything alive is hiding out, sleeping under the snow, or locked in its seed form. I am not at home in this harsh country. It's beautiful, but I grew up with the year-round green, the spring rains and the autumn rains changing hands in their slow gentle dance. My home maybe encourages one to postpone decisions, or question whether they even must be made: there are no real beginnings or endings there.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

More Cheerful Curtains

When the dead arise, I think it's possible
that for a long time they don't understand they have been dead;
that they pick uncertainly at the cerements,
and murmur, "I wonder why I ever thought
I looked good in these?" They rub
the sleep of centuries from their eyes,
and a dusty cough wracks them. "This room,"
they say, dangling their rusty knees 
over the coffin gunwale, gazing about the bonehouse,
"this room is a little dark and musty. I think--"
but they have to pause a while, 
fretting their hands together, getting the feeling back,
"--I think maybe more cheerful curtains,
that let in a bit more light."