Sunday, November 24, 2013

Footnotes


      I find myself at the end of a bad two months-easily of the worst in recent memory.  I am just beginning to put it into context-which is a difficult thing-as I am recovering from several strokes which have quite dramatically fissured my brain.  As I write, the characters form words I can identify, but when I read them back, they appear to be a series of random letters  that seem to just escape reason and recognition.  My writer's mind blinks and the words are there, and I blink again, and they crack, spilling incoherency across the page.
 
     Still, this is better than yesterday, and acutely more favorable than a week ago.  Weeks past that, it was a small triumph to just form sentences in my head I could speak aloud to any understanding.  I am still uncentered-outside of myself one moment, beside myself the next, and still not grouped back into a single consciousness.  It is a hard thing to describe, and even harder to pull off the fa├žade of seeming to be a rational and normal human being once outside of my house and into the world.
 
     I can do math again, construct linear approaches to subjects again, drop the images of memory into those linear patterns and adjust them to the streams of words and thoughts that can now attach contrast to the memories...so contexts are falling into place once more with my self almost inside them, just out of reach, but walking slowly back into daylight.  My doctor asks me questions and when answered, queries if I am a child of the Sixties due to how I frame and describe my responses.  No, I reached for my writer's voice, I say-that strange and calming plateau of mind where words, senses, symbols, and angles of awareness I developed many years ago lives and heals and listens.
 
     That voice arose following my youth and calmed the insanity of reality into a structure of being I could live with and communicate more fully from.  That same voice I searched for these last weeks for balance and mental resurrection, much like grasping at a ledge after falling into an abyss or maelstrom of the mind and finding nothing but darkness and confusion, yet knowing there was a candle there...that ledge...that possible way back to a beginning of wholeness or salvation of a sort.  A way to connect the broken pieces of dots and dashes back into lines and grids, then back into circles with centers.
 
     I've spent this week on context, last week on memory reconstruction, the week before on beingness, the days before that on the search for the voice, and before that, I was just trying to survive while trying to survive.  Some memories are stark, others found only by following cues and associations from places or events or dates I can remember...others are simply gone 

     By my calendar notes, on the 25th of September, I had started getting sick.  By the 27th, I was in a surreal place of ill health.   I had been taking care of my father for the last couple of years, and he suddenly began to lose perspective of time, his place in it, and began what I could only describe as living in 12 hour cycles, then 8, and all this occurring and then increasing in that week.  This was more upsetting and unsettling to me than him and because I was being hands-on with his care and reporting any changes to his doctors, this became a rapidly growing concern.
 
     At first, I thought I wasn't ill-just overstressed by this-exhausted both physically and emotionally from running my household, his household, taking care of him and my cat who was in renal failure, running my business, going back and forth between them all and putting out assorted fires while juggling schedules, doctor's appointments...the list went on.  Maybe I was just burning out, fizzling into small pops that were catching fire into a flu or something from the worry on my Dad.  I was unsure.
 
     At the same time, my dog, Astro, had been exhibiting signs he may have a hip issue and slight infection, so I took him to the vet-also on the evening of the 27th.  I reeled when I found he was in renal failure-acutely and in final stage.  He had barely even seemed ill, so how could that be?  The vet remarked he was not acting like he was dying, if she didn't have the test results, she would have assumed he was just showing a moderate infection.  But he surely was dying, she repeated, and repeated again, to such effect that all hope was also dying in that little room.  I began to almost disassociate, and assumed her demeanor and the diagnosis was the reason why I couldn't hold my thoughts together 

     She recommended little other than fluids and waiting, and I immediately made plans for additional consultations with other vets.  By that night, I was beginning to hallucinate and run a fever.  I was almost positive it was a physiological thing created from my emotional state, but I was having difficulty thinking it out, getting a handle on it.  I remember my heightened state of worry, confusion, and the intense need to form a series of game plans for everything that was surfacing.  I wrote on all of this in my planner, focusing, attempting to lay it all out.

     The next days are a series of blanks riddled with recollections of pushing through with actions-trying to line up family help for my Dad, rescheduling business and appointments, making a distressed plea to friends for monetary assistance for Astro's care so it could begin immediately, and fighting through a vicious nausea that was all-encompassing.  Everyone was vying for me to go to the hospital, but I knew if I went, I would most likely be there indefinitely, and I felt my presence was better served elsewhere with others that needed me in the moment.  I was right and I was wrong and I made serious and well-intentioned decisions while in a precarious state of health.

     While in the middle of a three day emergency IV fluid push for Astro, I disintegrated into periods of debilitating neuralgia, seizures, loss of nerve control, further nausea, and neural levels of pain I had never experienced, in spite of the intense pain I live with every day from my broken spine.  I couldn't eat or drink and recall several times just passing out wherever I was, whether it was home, or the vet's, or the store-again, I was noting some of this in my planner to maintain some sense of organizational behavior, some external center to the internal chaos.

     My biggest memory is of focusing on my Dad and Astro and forcing myself to be as clear as possible in any matter relating to them and then further willing myself  to get up and do it.  There is a last clear thought of flashbulbs and seizure going off in my head before days of blankness with short jolts of maddening hallucination mixed with that intense focus.  My last notes from those days are illegible, and when legible, disconcerting or unremembered.

     Once my sister was at my Dad's and I had Astro stabilized, I finally went to my doctor, who tried to force me into the hospital.  He thought I had a severe version of a stomach virus going around and that I  had been pushing myself too hard while ill and had suffered several strokes for reasons as yet unknown.  I promised him I would rest and go to the hospital, and armed with the most powerful antibiotics and anti-nausea meds around, I resumed my activities, thinking there is really not much difference between situational heroics, simple responsibility, and dismal stupidity.

     At a snail's pace, I started to physically improve, though my neuralgia, perceptions, speech, and thought processes wanted to remain out in left field and I was in a sort of tunnel-vision with my focus on just getting my responsibilities handled.  My Dad was diagnosed with very early vascular dementia and treated with a combination of new drugs that not only make the brain work better, but slow down or halt the progression of the disease.  He began responding and soon fell back into a normal perception of time, though still required rather consistent caretaking due to his other health issues and I had to be present and prepared.

     Astro was returned to us almost whole for a short window before the cancer and renal disease worked its slow and methodical evil through his body.  He had hip issues that were separate from the kidney failure, and he began to lose his ability to rise, then to walk after being helped to standing.  Throughout this, I had managed to keep him stable, and thankfully, he had only had a few bad days, which are forever ingrained in my mind.  Our around the clock moments began to lose time, and I knew when the quiet came one morning that the storm of suffering was soon to follow.  I could write volumes on him, express pages of the bond between us, and tell hundreds of stories, but it could never put into words the depths of our life together.

     Late in the night on the day we lost him, I wrote a small tribute for him.  I had just begun to speak and act normally, but I had a real fear that words would never again form inside my head to mean across the page-that my brain had been too damaged to join once more in the act of writing anything of real substance.  I felt Astro move through me and he gave me his last gift, and I stumbled through it.  After it was written, I had no idea what it said-I couldn't read. 

     While I was writing, the words made sense, and when I was done-as I have noted-it was all a kaleidoscope of gibberish on my screen.  I trusted in the heart and ghosts and posted it, later finding I was still partially able to go to a place and talk to shadows and angels about things I can barely whisper in the light and report back-a place where God is there and God is not there and I was perhaps still blessed in that tiny space of light and darkness that calms and haunts me.

     Three weeks later to the night, I have been trying to place meaning and context on everything that has transpired these last two months.  As I have said, I have holes and blanks and disarrays amidst the days of broken transmissions and receptions, with aspirations to illuminations.  I have been reduced by forty pounds, regained a father and lost a dog who was, strangely, much like a son.  I have discovered that the illness that plagued me so and created such additional travail was probably bacterial meningitis.

    While trying to balance these contexts, I find placement and grounding while finally being able to sort and file all of the bits and pieces of memory whose fragments of intense focus I burned into my head through the mists of mental disorientation.  I still replay, re-enact, and second-guess every decision associated with the facts torched harshly into my head as those scorched bits of focus still cycle and burn-some petering out, others blazing away-awaiting their final contexts while my brain regains health and is at last processing all of these things in the backlog.  But it is mostly too late and after the fact-and all for nothing, as nothing can ever change-these very words a study in the circle jerk of retreading tires that are finally rolling after the journey has ended.

     I'm currently working through my physical well-being, catching up at business and finances and the continuance of caretaking, but lost in a maze of Astro and brain fugue.  I find I have too many crystal memories of what was going wrong all around and too few of what was right.  The memories of simple, short rests with my boy and gentle portions of days spent together with him and my Dad are dimmed with holes by the dark toll taken to fight through the black to achieve those times of light, and I feel trampled, cheated, cursed with too many words and mental workings now that few are needed.  And my brain burns on, as if by retrospective magical thinking I can enact a different set of outcomes.   

     Flame it will...until the events of these two months are finally all in context and filed, and hindsight is accepted for what it is, and the errant synapses will eventually crackle low, coal, and become ash for better things to sprout from.  And maybe some memories will return, some spring in the winter of the bare trees of strokes with their splinters and dry leaves that burn in my chest like a lost, cherished religion of love.

       .  .

Five Weeks

Three weeks ago, I posted the original to this on Facebook.  I was extremely ill and in recovery from a stroke, and unsure if I was writing words or a type of mental gibberish.  Exhausted, I fell asleep, and woke to find kind and beautiful messages from my family, friends, and a few strangers.  Thankful my brain is improving, and very mindful of the importance of this to myself and my wife, three weeks later, I have cleaned and corrected it to better pay lasting tribute to a brilliant and wonderful life.
 
    
EVERYONE'S BOY

     Astro entered our lives as a pup one spring day in 2001.  Part Bernese Mountain dog and part mutt, he was tossed out on the road by a nearby college where my wife picked him up, noticing the lone boy was trying to make friends with anyone.  He had me the moment I first saw him-all head, shiny eyes, round tummy-a fur ball that just wanted to please.

     I had lost my mother just months before, and he injected a full life back into mine-he was Astro, Mr. Bang, Slurpee, and a dozen other names, and he answered to them all.  Over the years we had our own vocabulary, our own playlists of songs-both real and imagined ones we made up together-the Bacon Dance, the Son Song, Goin' Outside.  We had a bond of shared empathy that most humans never seem to achieve with one another.

     He was a majestic boy, a stubborn, mischievous child, a dog of labor and the water, and a seeker of adventure.  He taught and reminded me of the immediacy of the now and of being present, that it is always better to give, and together we discovered the magical truth of existence-that the ball is the essence of life.

     When I was physically shattered by a drunk driver, he was beside me giving me his all.  The hundreds of mornings that I woke to pain and disability and that every-day decision to simply suck it up and get up and get on was made possible by that companion guarding over my waking bedside, his head softly reaching up and over the bed edge to nudge me into life. 

     When I would falter in step, he would plant himself against me to steady me.  When I sat, he would carefully climb halfway onto the couch and put his head in my lap and stroke my leg with his paw.  He told and reminded me of possibilities and dreams and wishes and that water wasn't simply water and that a day wasn't just a day-it was a wellspring of taste and life and joy-and he did it all by just being that good, fine boy he was on that first day and every day since.

     Our years passed like fast moving clouds in the sky and cool rain in the sun.  We both aged, and we both got lame, but we both kept the sparkle in our eyes, our shared dance, and our songs.  Barely five weeks ago, I got very sick and then discovered he also was ill-a fast moving, last stage renal failure from probable kidney cancer.  He had been in pain and discomfort for weeks, and in a testament to his strength, he never displayed it, and to my detriment, I did not fully sense it.  Days, the first vet said.  So, I rallied and fought through bacterial meningitis, a series of strokes, and debilitating every-second nausea, fighting for him, and he for me.  Good soldiers in a shared, precious life where pity parties aren't allowed.

     And we got five weeks and a day.  Five glorious, tragic, wonderful weeks.  And a day.

     Early this morning, the quiet of waking told me secrets of my boy, that he would fight to the end with me at his side-no quarter, no submission, but that the tide of battle was swiftly moving him to an ambushed endgame-one where there would in moments be only suffering until eventually, he would be claimed.  I woke my wife-my partner in Team Astro-and we began the long, slow planning and with stops, starts, and endless re-thinking, I set up a home vet specialist for the night.  I walked outside and the warm sunny day turned a bit chilled and a soft rain fell like everything around us was crying for the moment, for the coming loss, and the victory of things that shine, but that to my eyes seemed dulled.

     This is not a maudlin post of bullshit sentimentality of a boy and his dog.  This is a post of respect, and honor, and love.  For Astro was not my dog-he was my wife's, and in a way-he was everyone's dog, because he saw only one thing in people-a friend he could love.  In these five weeks, help, assistance, and that love came back from the most expected and unexpected places-loans, vet support, gifts.  All enabled me to push days into five weeks.

     We loved him all day, as we had every morning, night, and eve since the first.  We lay down beside him and petted and scratched and just were present in the moment.  And my wife, the love of both my and his life, was the ease and grace that was the ground he had today.  He was weak, as each day he had eaten less and less 'till naught, and the storms inside him that were gathering that would surely begin raging in deadly earnest tonight, tomorrow, or the precious early morning abated, the rain outside ceased, and peace reigned through our little house.

     Soft music played, a triad loved, and late in the evening, though forever early, we allowed our guy to be taken easily-all the while filling him with praise and touches and heart sounds.  And then it was over, and there was nothing maudlin about it-to me, it was the most blessed, incredible gift and the feeling of the most damning, betraying destruction coupled together.  The three became two again, and moments passed, and I have spent the last of them searching for and following his spirit all around and about me and into vapor.

     All alone and late, I type a post of one of the most beautiful things I have and will ever know.  Sleepless and wordless, I am unsorted.  I am damaged.  I am bewildered and shaken and tired.  The only thing I trust at this second is that all seconds, all moments, count.  The savoring of people and animals and fellowship, and most importantly-their bond in heart and love.  Twelve years that were seconds into moments into days, then into five weeks.  And one day. 
 
     This day.  All moments of a good, fine boy.  My boy.
 
     Everyone's boy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On 'Second Chances' - By T.A. Webb


     I know many professional writers, artists, film-makers, and creative people, and also a ton of amateurs. In today's world, the old publishing and creative models are morphing into new forms, such that even competent beginners can get a film made, a graphic novel produced, or an e-book out, ready to be downloaded via digital means (or print on demand). It is both a wonderful and distressing time, as there are gems out there that wash ashore from the oceans of mediocrity, but one has to be a true treasure hunter to stumble over them. There are so many shells on the beach and only a few will speak secrets into your ear.
 

     I read books like I listen to music-appreciating the favorites that touch upon my older synapses, making them purr or wink, yet I always look for an unheard voice or song that moves my more mature sensibilities while arousing my mind to make new connections within itself. There are genres and types I tend to be tractored into, but also classifications I float away from due to my personal tastes and realized pallette.

     Some books (and writers) leave me cold or dry, and sometimes, just feeling measures of tedium and disinterest-even anger or anxiety at subjects not to my appetite. Very few of those stay with me in any meaningful way, but in rare times, one does present itself as rose and thorn combined-like a pebble in the most pleasing shoe I have. I've just read one of those, and even days later, I'm settled and unsettled, comfortable and uncomfortable, with my brain working out the inner reasonings to its reactions and responses.
 
     What helps and doesn't help is that I am well acquainted with the author, as he is my older brother, T. A. Webb.

     Tom started a blog a while back (A Bear On Books), where he reviews gay erotic literature, a genre in which I found myself fairly ignorant. I followed it here and there and found some of the excerpts and stories not really to my liking, and for a number of reasons-the biggest of which is that romance as a genre and as the main story point just doesn't interest me, and male/male erotic romance surely does not. Tom is gay, so he has a familiar dog in the race, but I'm not a fan of the whole track. Still, his blog was and is interesting and entertaining and offers a look into stories, lifestyles, and sensibilites that are different from my own. I found it surprising that most gay romance is written by straight women for straight women, even though the niche audience varies.

     Tom fell into friendships with some of the writers of the books he reviewed, and with their urging, became one himself. His first shorts appeared, and he co-scripted a book with an established author, and I was curious about the work, but not ready to commit to a read in that genre. His proposal for a novel was accepted by Dreamspinner Press and I was happy for him, as first novels are always exciting, but I was also a little fearful for him, as they are also scary-it's the first time a writer really throws his colors on the wall for all to see and be judged, and hopefully, appreciated, rather than scourged.

     First novels are often semi-autobiographical, perhaps because the inner dialogue in a writer must be written out and broken through to clearly free up the words that will surely follow that beginning effort. From the ad synopsis of the book, that seemed like it may be as such. Along with what I knew of his writing journey and the story, my interest level was ramped to the point where I looked forward to reading it, regardless of my personal aversions to the genre.

     He sent me a galley proof before the publication date, and I sat down and started it. He warned me it would be graphic, but joked that I could just skim over those parts. I ended up reading it in its entirety in one sitting, mainly because I had a rare, clear notch of time in which to do so, and also because I was anticipating the read. I often analyze the writing, style, and structure of a book in the background of my mind while I'm reading it, and if I know the author, that backroom noise will somewhat spill into the foreground. If I recognize events in the story and can see the shift from reality into fiction and back again, I take note of the transitions and how they are handled, but I try to have an unbiased experience, and keep my relationship with the writer separate from what I'm reading. It can be tough.

     I found I had many reactions and responses while reading the novel, and when I finished, I was honestly unsure what my final feelings were. For myself, there is a line at how much gay is too gay, and my line was crossed early in the read-so much so, that I did indeed skim some of the later, more graphic scenes (and I loathe skimming a book) and picked up the story after the erotica. Being a straight man, I was open to the context of the story and genre, but not in general to the content, even though the writing committed me to the story. The graphic nature of parts of the book wasn't to my taste, and wouldn't have been whether it was a male/male or a straightforward male/female erotic story. 

     The first thought I had was that this book shouldn't have been written in the graphic erotica form, as it seemed the very genre held this novel back from its truth-but its truth was somehow also wrapped inside that genre-and it was a real conundrum to me. After all, it hit me viscerally in the nut sack, but I felt it didn't have to describe them. That enigma, the plot elements I recognized, and also the walk into an unknown territory, left me a bit overwhelmed. Bothered. Comfortable and uncomfortable with it at the same time.

     It took some time for my reaction to the gay themes to disperse and for the work to stand out. I won't lie-I still have a part of me that is a deep south male that emits an occasional gasp from inside the old stereotype box I thought I climbed out of years ago. I revisted parts of the novel later on, and brushed up on sections that appeared vague to me on recollection. I soon realized I missed some of what I had read because of the delayed and sustained reactions I was having while reading it. Days later, the book settled in my mind and left me with my final call on the novel.
    
     Inside its genre, I have no doubt this book stands out, as it repeatedly rises above the genre before falling back into it. It suggests (without saying so) that many gay sensibilities are vastly different from the straight perspectives, but some are as mundane and just as closely remarkable. It was the differences that threw me, as it was a walk into another room where I recognized nothing in the furnishings, but everything on the walls. It is a journey into the life and relationships of a gay man that spans ten years and offers a unique tale of that entire room-using both subtle lighting and the natural starkness of full sun. It is about love, anger, hope, and the need for second chances. It is not for everyone, but it does have an essence that is for any adult.
 
     I have no informed reference in which to critique the novel inside its genre (and have no desire to give a review), but I can speak on craft and context. I found parts of it funny, warm, compassionate, and of depth. At the same time, I also found it humorless, angry, unsentimental, and unforgiving-and all of these used well in the context of the narrator, who is the main character. Some books give you everything concerning that context, and others give you just enough to care. This one gifts you with something in-between, allowing the reader to somewhat engage him or herself into the work while thinking for themselves, without knowing all of the motivational stew-and it mostly works.
 
     The literary devices shown are not overused, in fact, most are underutilized. A portion of the book is loosely based on real events and real people, but done so in a fairly good fictionalization of reality. I can see myself, my family, and Tom's relationships in the story, but mainly as a reference for the characters rather than being the characters themselves. The book is in turns curious, devastating, and insightful.

     What comforted me about the book was its theme and the thematic workings in relation to the story and also being able to step into this world and relate to the strangers inside of it. What I found uncomfortable (aside from the dominant male homosexuality) was the turn in the story from romantic realism to romantic fantasy, like a hell of an unplanned car ride that suddenly turns into a jaunty plane trip over the ocean with a fixed GPS. Personally, I was waiting for the plane to crash, but then, it wouldn't have been erotic gay fiction-it would have been something else.
 
     As I was reading Catcher In The Rye some years back, I remember thinking only a sociopath could begin to relate to it. When I finished it, I realized that at the time it was published, psychological narration was a new storytelling device for drama and it was written like that for a reason. It had one genius paragraph in it that finally connected the reader to Caufield and the story (the allegory of the rye field, and the only explanation as to the title) and that lifted it up and made it a classic to some, rather than a study in banal sociopathy, and created a new genre of hardboiled socio- and psychopathically narrated books that exists to this day-but it was that paragraph that bound all reader perspectives into one and made it relatable. Of course, most English professors would argue me on those points.
 
     I bring that analogy up because gay literature has existed for years, but mainly as quick fix pulpy and lurid romance or porno, with only a few outstanding novels coming out of it, and most of those-only recently, and mainly because of the changing publishing model. Second Chances has moments in which it transcends its genre, and begins to look outside of it for a new one, before falling back into it. It has enough of those moments that I can see how Tom's future novels can possibly leap fully outside of it into a newer and more modern fusion of dramatic gay literature. My conundrum was exampled in that I was reading good literature that was chained to those pulpy roots. To be honest, had Tom not been the author, I never would have read it, and I would have missed out on a small gem masquerading as an unbearable (to a straight guy) hot mess of gay.
 
     Any book that churns and provokes these kind of turns for me is worthy of a perusing. I would offer this novel to any straight male who may wish an uncomfortable and new perspective, any female that gets all randy and curious at the same time about the other side of male, any gay friend that may just find a haunting new voice for themselves, and anyone who is touched by romantic tragedy and the need for a second chance. Also, all homophobes-just stay away-you have enough on your plate from the current election without any further strains on your sensibilities.
 


 
SECOND CHANCES LINK TO AMAZON.COM
                                                                 http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009S3BFSG/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_YFVMqb0J4QXJ9

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Mother's Hands And Kitten Paws

     Today I awoke to petulant memories from a sleep of troublesome dreams, and music from their cellar still haunts while I brew strong coffee. A more cerebral person than myself has led me through the alleyways of thought from post traumatic stress and cautioned me of the dark corners, but on occasion, I walk through them and stumble out safe. I sit by my kitchen window with my keyboard and sort them by size and depth, and I drink hazelnut and rub my dog’s ear while I ground myself and organize the intangibly tangible. He offers me himself while the memories line up and start a march.

      I remember kitten paws and little furry bodies my wife and I hand nursed. Early in our marriage, we took in dozens of rescues from problem litters and for every one we saved, we lost three. Several of them were needy warriors and would crawl all around our hands while nursing, clutching with those little paws and hanging on to that bottle and life until they were big enough to feed themselves. We were mom and dad and those paws worked their way into our hearts, and we kept those three-Magic, Flea, and Juan-who were soon joined by another rescue kitty-Ferret-and two rescued dogs, Penny, and Murdock-who was blind.

      We had the dogs in the house, so our enclosed two car garage became our cats’ home and security blanket. Our entire house was full of love and licks and kisses and paws that seemed to know every place they could curl up on in our souls. Over the space of twenty well-lived years, each of them, feline and canine alike, grew old and eventually, ill. Each clung as stubbornly to life as Juan had on that first bottle, and I fought every battle with them until the paws that were placed in my hands when they were born were again placed into mine at the end, when one by one, their mighty hearts fell silent.

      The first to leave was Flea. We placed a rose bush atop his grave that would bloom every late autumn and produce a single multicolored orgasm of flower. Just for us, we thought. Murdock was buried at my parent’s house among the multitude of animal friends from my first two decades of life, and Penny was cremated, with his ashes saved to be placed with me in my coffin. All of the others are interred together by the edge of the woods in our backyard, and at dawn I imagine I hear little paws prowling through the trees. I listen to them with a heart both empty and full in the same beat. Our later rescues sit at my feet and also listen, and they glow in the morning light.

      The memory march began on those beats, and continues its parade while whispering about the health issues that have crept into my mind while I sit listening to the forest and separating the dreams. I’ve wrestled with my own mortality and also fought enough for the lives of others to know that you win just the right amount of matches until you lose the war, but there is strength in the battle, a dam for the dreams. The joy and worth of life comes from the beautiful aspects of and within that struggle and its victories, and also within the stunning defeats.

      In my experience, the only grace that exists in living is a silent one found only in the honoring of life. I think the only honor existing is a thankless one, found in the nurturing of life, defense of it, and when it is over, respect of that which was alive and an avocation for the living. And I think the only meaning found in life is in living it with that grace and honor, and by doing so, knowing a love that is true, rather than as a label placed on a stew of conflicting desires and emotions that only serve to confuse that meaning. Everything else is just distractions, studies in arrogance, tells, and self-deception. Nightmares.

      The soft rain that has began to fall outside seems to echo its agreement to this, and I see that small stand of graves begin to glisten and shine in the mist-thanking me, damning me, and offering me kindness.

      I would like to say I’ve made peace with the losses, but I haven’t. I’ve raged and I’ve fought and I’ve looked for ways around the inevitable-for myself and others, human and beast. I’ve kept a stable of white horses at ready for the midnight rides against the black steeds of death and their master, fighting long and arduous campaigns against a tireless foe, and too often only finding solace in the beauty that was that struggle and the worth that was that life I thought I was so earnestly defending. And I remember them all.

      I remember my mother’s hands. They were beautiful and delicate and she used them well. She used to make biscuits and while she was kneading, she would say you had to love the dough, and her fingers would, just as they loved when she would knit, or paint, or touch. Those hands could make something from nothing, They were wonderful things, and when they began to fail her, I would sit and hold them and remember and try to will magic back into those loving fingers.

      She taught me many things, but the most important ones were those she didn’t even realize she was teaching. The reasons why the horses in my stable are white, why rain is sad, but healing, and why listening is perhaps the most important thing you will ever do-even when what you are listening to may not matter, or even exist, save in your heart and your imagination. Making something from nothing…like all good parents do.

      Towards the end, she would ask how long she had and I would tell her it wouldn’t be that night-it wouldn’t be tonight-and she believed me. I said those words every night until it was that night. She was supposed to die in a year, but it took three because we fought so well-years that were the worst, yet the best, of our times together-meeting the enemy that was also a friend in a war inglorious to friendships, and sons.

      When she died, our little rose bush offered what was to be its finest and last bloom. It was of every color and in every shade, all blending into each other and back out into the petals, like a master painter’s dreams at twilight. I placed it in her hands before the coffin was sealed, along with a portion of myself that belonged only to her. Sometimes, I hear her voice and what could be her footsteps moving around in that space the portion came from, and I listen…and I can hear the memory of her hands. I can hear them now, as I watch the rain.

      I think of the years spent in service after my mother’s death, and of September, 2001-volunteering in the aftermath of the attacks and walking across a destroyed section of city, breathing in the ashes of buildings and souls still burning. There were ghosts in the air, and girder crosses on the ground, and no matter how hard any of us tried-no one was rescued. There were only things recovered, dumped into trucks or draped in flags-all taken away. There were too many of us surreally attempting to bring it all back to life while raging on, hoping against hope for life moving in the shadows and fire, but finding only dead stone, and dead smoke, and silhouettes of dead hands.

      At shift’s end, some gathered at the prayer cross, some into the hands and mouths of the macabre rescue groupies waiting at the barricades, while others just lay down and cried. I slept one night in wet chill on the court beneath the Statue of Liberty, among the tired and those longing to be free of it all, wondering if rescuers rescued because they couldn’t save themselves and all they love.

      Lying there in the darkness of that night, the only thing I came to terms with is that my struggle with mortality always led me back to those circular movements of the heart and mind, so much so that all of my epiphanies became soliloquies of the obvious-my thoughts of womb to tomb and dust-as precious and maudlin as dirt and PTSD. The thought that dirt had layers of context made it anything but meaningless, and the thousands of living things that had come before me to end obscurely in a handful of living dust connected me to life more profoundly than just the acknowledgement of it and showed me that my need for permanent awareness had met itself buried in those contextual layers and scent of burning flesh.

      Sitting here now, I still feel the smoke deep in my chest-as with so many others who breathed hell from those ravaged acres-the mottled dust of a powdered plaza has once again slowly reformed itself as a permanent concrete in our lungs. My father-in-law tells me no good deed goes unpunished, but I think it more the price of seeing shadows of dead brothers and silhouettes of dead hands, and pity parties convened on a statue’s courtyard and splayed across the streets of New York.

      My chest and ashes and dust remind me that we mainly have what we need, not necessarily what we want-good terms for at least a partial acceptance of fate. Save for my conceit, I am no better than anything that has lived that comprises that dirt, and over the years, I have lost much of what I truly love into that dust and ash, while other things I love in this life have emerged from it-like that single, last Flea rose. The earth has a balance my own mind sees, but does not have, as philosophy and religion answers questions which, once discerned, my mind will ask again, in later, more happy-or sad-days and restless nights.

      I’m troubled by the seemingly chaotic game of chance that is attached to life and death, yet strangely comforted by its unseen playbook. I’ve lived long enough to perceive that one exists, if only to confound one and keep us on our game. Just like dirt, the chaos is not meaningless. What is painful today can one day be comforting, once all contexts are clear. Hands that hurt can also soothe, and we all take leaps of faith as amateurs to trust in touch.

      Working with the Red Cross and FEMA after Katrina, I wondered on the balance of Earth. Across three states and their coastlines and back two miles inland, everything was gone. We carried supplies in to the battered communities and while they ate and drank and grieved, we found their dead and brought them home. There were body bags stacked like cordwood, with some souls loaded into refrigerated trucks, and still more waiting that we pieced together before zipping them into their plastic-taking care to photograph any identifying marks while taping the photos to the bags to spare families the whole view. An old man shook my hand in silence, his eyes telling me what he couldn’t speak, while his wife was praising how wonderful we all were as she began to very carefully wash the blood of her son from my fingers.

      The ruin of New Orleans lay at the end, with more charnel delight. My truck was again emptied of supplies and filled this time with survivors. After the last load to the refugee camp, I made my way home, not stopping until I pulled into my driveway. I had been awake four days and I slept almost one, waking to paws, licks, and a measure of beauty. After eating, I held my first grandson in my arms-the same arms that had fished someone else’s dead child out of the water days before. I had been so busy and on autopilot for so long it was the first time I had a moment to recollect any of it.

      Instead of thinking, I just rocked in that chair and felt my grandson’s heart and looked into his eyes, and the only thought I had was that I was the first person he had seen when he had entered into the world and I wished him gentle travel always. I was humming and rocking, and I thought I heard the world balance itself again. I said a prayer for all of the lost and all of the lost still living, and I kept rocking until the boy was asleep and all I had inside that was alive was awake and found. It was much how I feel now, dogs at my feet, and moist graves gleaming outside my window, just at the edge of my vision.

      I hear my mother's hands, and the souls of all that I have known, and the forests full off paws that are all my own, and I know love amongst these ruins of red chapels and shining graves.  I wonder at all of the battles past and still to come, memories buried deep that have yet to surface after sleepless night. I feel the war has been a good foe, and also, a good-but entirely fucked-friend. I feel strangely at peace with my stable only half filled, my shining armor rusting lightly in this morning storm, and my thoughts still circling, teasing their moorings. 

        I suspect it will be a nice day.
 


Friday, September 14, 2012

On Words And Crows

 
     The brain is a wonderful forest and it stretches out pretty much forever across the landscape of being.  Most people stick to the marked trails and wander off into the sidelines on rare occasion.  When worldviews are set, generally all thoughts thereafter follow those cleared roads throughout the underbrush.
     Listen to someone talk and you can discern from it how they think and what they believe and hear their surprise when you sometimes note the words spoken show either the fence around their truth or the antithesis of it.  A good listener can often learn more from the words used than the meanings the talker intended to convey and one can survey those brain trails into a map of destination that can be used to traverse that person's beingness.  Ask any psychic, psychiatrist or psychologist how this works.
     Words profile the speaker or writer just as they intrigue the thinker, listener, or reader.
     When I was younger, my brain raced with thousands of thoughts in layers tied in to all of the senses and catalogued by emotional or rational responses to whatever stimuli was around.  Writing then was more about slowing down that race and noticing the inter-relation of concepts and inner symbology and choosing and building the correct literary expression from the forest of the mind.  Creation and creativity was more about bouncing those relationships into new trails in the woods and exploring those locales.
     A poem in those days was like being a tree.  I would have an idea or a niggling, nagging snippet of round logic that was ticking off the mind's square holes that needed to walk around on paper before it made sense to me.  Using the tree metaphor, the idea and urge would be the roots, and the form would be the tree itself and the structure was the branches and the words would be in the branches, or leaves, or birds and things flying into and out of the tree itself.  The process was like recognizing or choosing what should and shouldn't be there in the building on the idea upwards into wood and bark and foliage.  Eventually, the truth of the poem would form and grow and transform the tree into its species, height, visual and appearance. 
     Sometimes, the finished tree was surprising and its truth not exactly what was envisioned in the beginning, and if the itching idea that caused it all was successfully scratched, well, it was a new trail winding through the forest and back again that pinged once walked through. 
     All good poems ping when you walk them in the mind and great ones glow and sing during and after the trek, while mediocre ones tend to kind of seem like an old, frequently used path.  Poor ones are just hard on the thinking feet and pong in rhythmic disarray.  Poems-like trees-shouldn't need much of a reference guide for one to know if they succeed or not.
     As a young man, my trees were either curiously young or strangely leaved, and I worked hard on my forests, sometimes having to clear-cut them into oblivion to have a nice stand.  The process of writing in those days was more about finding and curing the voice that made the trees than honing the process of trail walking.  A young poet is a naive and earnest mess of self-involvement who is in real danger of being self-indulgent or mundane-all depending on the forests and the trees and the listening and seeing of the wood.
     I found poetry was a nice training ground for writing prose.  If you can encapsulate worlds of meaning into a few words and lines, then prose becomes more of a recess for the brain and you can write with much more creativity and eventually be more entertaining if you can make the transition.  I left poetry at one point, abandoned the trees for the forest and the tales within.  I'd make a sapling here and there and prune some leaves, but songs and appreciation of music changes.  The brain also changes.
     My brain now is a different animal.  Whether it is natural age, medications, structural damage from life or a combination of all three, it has left me a ranger in an ancient forest, navigating the familiar, clean paths and sometimes finding a tangle of overgrowth on the trails and noting there is an end to its expanse and density.
     Writing poetry now is also different.  It is like sitting inside of the tree in a vacuum while feeling for my surroundings and searching amongst the old thick roots for newer, more supple roots-ones that can still grow.  Once found, I look above and see a lifetime of words circling like crows, cawing and calling to each other with crow instinct, in crow demesne, and I feel a bit like dying prey just sitting there in that vacuum...fighting for life of poem and avoiding the old crows while seeking sparrows.
     There are no more thousands of thoughts that fly about the gigabytes of layers and transits and my trails all begin on well worn ground, my files all long since in order.  I sit in the tree and gestate thoughts and imagine trails for sometimes days before I take one swing with a bush axe because I now know the forest has end.  The idea or urge speaks as strong as before, maybe stronger, but the art of tree building and cutting with my present brain is an art in itself rather than an act because there is infinite and there is finite and the need for the distinction.
     An idea rolls around, settles and grows in those small roots I find.  I listen to crows and a word or turn of phrase sits up on the branches and I'll pull it down into that vacuum.  After some time, the vacuum has eggs and nests suspended inside of it, swirling slow, then some words birth, find weight and land on the wood, forming a bit of bark or else, fly off.  The beginning forms, the ending speaks, the middle clings to either and the outline hardens and I see branches, see sparrows and finches and the crows fly off and their prey lives and begins to breathe and the poem is there.  I work on it and finish it in shade of itself while the sun streams in from the forest.
     When it is done, if it lives, it still surprises me, still turns a truth far from the original idea, but yet, it is a more mature truth, borne of crow prey, crow caws into lines and rhythms and pings and sparrows.  At my current age, if it trills, it works.  My younger self would run it through a million filters, testing it in a hundred ways and painting its place exactly so in the forest of mind.  Today, I just plant it down a new row and appreciate how it looks to me and hope someone else finds the tree appealing, see it warm or cool, and finds a nest not of crows deep inside, but something singing just right there.
     I've been in that vacuum for a bit recently, words gelling and settling and finding their bark.  There has been an itching urgency to finish since inception, but if age has taught me anything, it is that crow shit stains.  So, I'm patient.  I'm finding it has nice leaves and it rustles in the wind in my head and I'm just enjoying its sound before I move on.
     There are times I wish I were younger and fresher and whipping a forest into shape, but I find mostly it is just a wish to feel better and younger and sharper but with the brain I currently have-all crow instinct and crow demesne needing a time and grace of sparrows.
    

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Risen

     It has been almost two years since my last post and almost as long since I have even checked in on this blog.  I have been surprised by its analytics that it still has visitors, most of which spend some time here...rummaging amongst the abandoned, it seems.  I wonder why. 
     I initially began this blog to reanimate the corpse of an almost forgotten literary career and attempt to move it forward.  It was always the plan to eventually settle in and once again live a life deep in the arts, establishing what I always knew to be my life's work-what I was apparently put here to do-and not die with the words and music still inside, roiling and raging against a life diverted from its truth.
     I had the past-the reams of poetry written over a space of years in what seemed to be another life...three finished novels...outlines, notes, pages and pages of beginnings and endings and visits to places all real and imagined...plus new things all tidy and shiny-all the filler I needed to bloat a blog with a sampling of good, bad, genius, and pure shit.  If not anything, I figured, it will be entertaining.
     And in the midst of it all, life happened. 
     We sudddenly became parents instead of grandparents and began helping raise two young boys with damaged hearts and heads.  Our work increased, our finances dwindled, and I found I once again had no time for the vanity of writing, or a blog, or even dreaming of it.  In all honesty, I was unsure of exactly what the hell I was even doing, and if the blog was just an exercise in ego, or even scarier, an exercise in convincing myself I had (or ever had) relevance.  I figured the audience of readers would tell me that, but no-I was registering a lot of visits and views, but little feedback-so I quit, vanished, closed it down.
     Tonight I logged in with the intention of deleting it all.  I noted Blogger had changed and upgraded and wanted to walk me through all the things I had missed over the last two years.  I saw my last unfinished post still sitting in drafts.  I clicked on recent comments and there were none.  I read over some of my posts and cringed a bit, with that old feeling of seeing what appeared to be another life creeping in again.  And I got pissed.
     So fuck it.   The truth is I am not what I wish to be.  I am nowhere near the writer I once was.  This blog is somewhat of a scrapbooking type of joke.  I spent years in a very tightly structured writing schedule that, from the sheer discipline of it, drove me to the outer reaches of my abilities and brain functions.  I lived it, I breathed it, and at the end of one day I realized I was living past the line of personal best and into quite another space.  I also realized that to continue would involve selfishness to such a degree that I could not live with the outcomes of it.  So, I reigned it all in and became responsible, raised a family, started a business, did volunteer work and just showed up-all things I could not do with a young mind in a quest for literary "greatness."  The truth is I could not reconcile the dream with the actuality of the dream, so I created success in another venue.
     Be careful what you wish for...very careful...there is a price even for successful mediocrity, for giving up one individual truth for a truth that involves others can still bring one full circle back to nothing, or at least the feeling of it, and a loss...the longing for more.
     I have reinvented myself several times in my life, but of late, the reinventing is more like a chained dog wrapping himself incessantly around a tree...that full circle back to inertia.  I was hit by a drunk driver in May of 2005 and that wreck ass-ended my life.  My back was shattered, disks lost, nerves destroyed, everything inoperable, and just like that, I was told by every neurosurgeon on the block I was done...check into wheelchairs, longterm eventual care and pay on the way out.  I was legally dropped by my insurance company on technicalities, legally bound by tort reform in the lawsuit, and not on the street, a minority, or an illegal, so no government or Social Security unless I wanted to live below poverty level in a hovel.  In a year I lost everything I spent my entire working life building.
     But in that year, I committed to physical therapy.  I learned to cope, learned to put the anger into useful things and let the rest of it go.  I re-learned how to walk, and how to keep re-learning how to keep walking.  I developed a high pain tolerance.  I became self-sufficient again and began re-building my business.  I reinvented myself that year.
     In the seven years since, my condition has worsened, but I have forced it to be gradual.  After five years of agony, I finally began pain meds in 2010, but only take the lowest dose.  I'm a lucky man.  I walk, I do and I create and am blessed to have no dysfunctions.  But every day I wake up and have to make the choice to get up and do it all over again.  Every day is varying levels of pain, sometimes indescribable.  I have neurological issues, seizures, whiteout blindness, occular migraines, the list goes on.
     But I don't give up.  Giving up is not tolerable for me-never has been.  Doctors tell me I am a miracle, but it is not so.  I'm just not a pussy, and doctors love pussies and write prescriptions to help you to be a better one.  So, the truth is I'm not the man I once was...I'm not the writer I once was...but the world and life and all their varying responsibilities are just as they have always been.  So, I don't have time for a blog, or writing, or any of it.
     So, I log on after two years to wipe it all out, but then I get pissed.  Mainly, because I don't quit, but partly because I was put on this earth to do something that I haven't done as yet.  Maybe my heart was right all of those years ago and it is indeed writing.  I won't know unless I do it.  So fuck it.
     I don't know what this blog will be.  I don't know what I will write-poetry, stories, diary-type monologues, beautiful things, hard things, all the aforementioned-I don't know.  I just know it will not be reprints of old me, tales of better days and vanity-driven bullshit with photos of headier times.  If so, just tell me to fuck off.  I'm going to write what I want to write and when I wish to.  I'll tell my own truth and be true to that and if you like it, that's nice and if you don't...well, there are 30,000 other writers that may tell you what you want to hear and more than a few doctors that like pussies.
     All I know is that I neeed to write-be it of a thousand lives lived in a deep green tangle of forest or the heart of one touched by the hand of something greater...and maybe it will all go somewhere I've never been.  

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Experimental Boundaries

     I snagged my first book contract with a series of experimental writings that had the preliminary title of Human Symbol Abstraction.  The larger body of that series was a complex and surreal work on the machination of personality and subconscious in transformation during the maturity process that was called, Irrevolution.
     Irrevolution originally topped out at over 120 pages and I won my first award for this book-length paradigm of thought processes.  I was asked to edit and rework the form of the work for publication and throughout the years it has become true to its theme of transformation as it has changed and matured along with myself into an ever-changing and living piece of form.
     What began as a free-flowing and linear epic single poem has become a more reader-friendly and palatable series and sections of verse that can each stand alone or connect readily to the greater whole.  The following is the first piece and beginning of Irrevolution:


A THEODOLITE VIEW OF BEING

Stance
degrees to turn, a
                       n
                     gle and sweat
                          for subconscious measure (l e n g t h s
                                                                     and

                                                                 v         s
                                                                  o      e
                                                                    l    m
                                                                      u

                                                            per convergence)-

cognition's endless lines
                             that             t
                                             c                                        r
                                           e               perception's     i      c
                                         s                          endless c            l
                                       i                                             s    e
                                    b                                     to
                                                                  bring
                                                           one
                                            returning
                                   to
effect degrees-
a conscious measure (and sometimes
                                                   one personal level more is
                                                                 attained,
                                  but growth capacities
                                  change) of no  w   i   d   t   h , only  d
                                                                                        e
                                                                                        p
                                                                                        t
                                                                                        h
(or azimuth in the eyes
to the topography
                            of the mind).
                                   Learned things granted (inferred that way)
                                                 and
                                   charted (or forgotten away).
          Affect degrees
changing these charts-
                                 unsocial boundaries realigned,
                                   asocial portions pledged,
                                     social Fahrenheit realized-with
      all interactive motion
and force
reckoning (inner inching voices
                            to
                  outer peck noises): thought's
                                                heart move-
                                                                  ments in
                                                                              chosen
                                                                              spatial
                                                                  radius
on the response plane of active measure
(as a man believes and
          becomes
himself,
bleeding
          character.