“Measuring thought, infinite space, by cogs and wheels. Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that - I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much - so very much to learn.”
— Sylvia Plath, The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Sunday, April 20, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
(This was written a couple of weeks back)
The nights will very soon become too warm for walking and I will miss it. But when I got home last night it was down in the sixties which meant very few mosquitoes and it meant that the dogs were pretty much jacked up about me being home. I opened the back door and for the first time ever, Lilith sailed, flew, took off the back steps from the top as if she was wearing a jet pack. She hit the ground at full speed and Lucas gave chase. I followed if for no other reason than to see what would happen next.
The half-moon was so bright I kept looking at it as if my eyes were deceiving me. Such light had to come from a full moon. I walked out into the silver light and heard the L hounds cutting back across the back acre and they came into view still running as hard as they could. The depression were the firepit is was flood a couple of days ago and the water there is still ankle deep but Lilith hit it at a dead run. Silver sparkles of light flashed and right behind her Lucas lumbered in leaving his own glowing wake. The celebration of my return was in full swing. I’m home four hours later than normal so let’s throw a water party, shall we?
Lilith has learned that she can beat Lucas on the flat out in the open run, but she loves to out maneuver him in the woods. There are twin trees, joined at the base, where she will dart in and out and in between, a black and white specter made entirely of the lithe and speed. She runs wide circles and she dares Lucas to try to cut her off at any given point. Lucas cannot hope to match her agility but he can gain some ground in the open and if he can catch her he can knock her down and pin her, but he rarely does. Lucas loves being the chaser when she runs and he loves playing the part of prey once they engage. Lucas rolls over on his back, feet in the air, and Lilith leaps upon him, snarling and growling, as she attacks. They haven’t done this in the water yet, but it’s coming, it’s coming.
Sam watches all of this and once upon a time he would follow at a distance but now he doesn’t even do that. Lilith has learned that very few things that she does will draw my ire like crashing into her much older brother. She’s one of the more polite dogs I have ever lived with. She doesn’t like making a fuss or bothering me and when she first arrived she nearly never approached me to be petted. I think Lilith spent most of her early life in a crate like a CD that isn’t played very much, just gathering dust and being there. It’s taken a while for her to get used to the idea that who she is as a person is more than enough reason for us to love her. She vies for attention now, not often mind you, but she will spring up on my leg to say, “Hi! Love me!” on occasion.
The end begins when you start having to carry a dog around instead of that dog walking. Sam moves so stiffly and so slowly sometimes I carry him just to save time. But Sam weighs in at sixty something pounds. There is no way I can keep lifting that much weight that often and hope that my health and his health won’t suffer. Bert hated being carried and he growled at me every single time I picked him up. Sam has resigned himself to it. That’s what Sam has done for most of his life; just taken whatever came his way in whatever form it took.
The interaction between very young dogs and very old dogs has to be managed and I’m not there all the time. I might have to pen Sam up but that’s not exactly a long term plan, is it? We humans have done remarkably poorly when trying to manage our own species when it comes to aging and I cannot help but wonder if there is a time when a bit of mercy wouldn’t be the answer. It would be for me. If I get to decide then I will. I’m making that decision for me, now, if it will take, and I may have to make it for Sam.
There was a time in his life Sam loved to eat. From the day I found him, beaten, starved, emaciated, and close to death in the woods, Sam and food have had a love affair that bordered on obsession. Watching Sam eat was a reminder of the pure joy found in simple meals. When Sam got a can of wet food or something special it was like watching a kid on Christmas morning. Sam actually danced with joy when he saw me haul in the fifty pound bag of dog food. In Sam’s eyes this was life. And now, Sam has stopped eating.
Wet food, dry food with water, wet food with bread in it, and honestly, bread is Sam’s favorite food on earth, it doesn’t matter anymore. Sam is disinterested. I can coax him into eating but he doesn’t eat nearly as much as he once did. His weight is headed back down again and there doesn’t seem to be much that can be done about that, either.
The spot where I buried Bert is underwater right now and it is likely to stay there for a few months. I have no idea if Sam has that kind of time. Once again, as always, the clock is ticking away for Sam. Hours or maybe even minutes from death nearly thirteen years ago, Sam is slipping back towards the darkness he has seen before. But it has been a very good thirteen years for Sam. He’s been well fed, well cared for, has slept on a bed most of his life, has his own chair now, and Sam has known love for each moment of those years.
Donetsk leaflet: Jews must register or face deportation
Fear replaced communal atmosphere in Donetsk's Jewish community as armed men handed out a leaflet Passover eve calling on Jews register their religion and property with the interim pro-Russian government or face deportation and loss of citizenship.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Back in the third grade my teacher decided that I couldn’t hold a pencil properly so she taped my pencil to my hand for an entire day. No one thinks for a second this would work and it wasn’t designed to work. The intent was to publically shame me for my poor writing skills. I had to eat lunch with half a roll of tape wrapped around my hand with a pencil sticking out of it. From that point on I always considered education to be equivalent to some sort of Concentration Camp where the guards and torturers make damn sure no one gets out with the ability to think clearly.
We had those huge thick pencils for the first three years of Elementary School and there was no good reason for it, really. The larger pencils were supposed to help build our muscles or something like that but I always thought it was wrong to force very small children to use very large writing instruments. As small as I was it was like trying to write with a boat oar. We were not allowed to so much as carry a pen with us, ever. That was one of the things that only adults did. We were constantly being told to stop acting like children but we were forbidden to behave like adults.
What we were required to carry was a three ring binder. Inside that was a little pouch that had a zipper on it and it also had holes that fit the binder. We were supposed to have, at all times, a pencil, an eraser, a compass, and a ruler, and as far as I knew, we never used the ruler. Candy, gum, or some interesting rock you might have found on the playground, all of that was considered an execution offense if they found it in your pouch. The Pouch Police were very real demons to the kids in my school.
I rode my bike to school and one day I found an ink pen on the road. I remember it very well because it had the name of some tire company in Dothan Alabama on it and Dothan was the only place in the Universe where they had movies and really large stories, as far as I knew. Oh we had a rundown theater in my hometown but Dothan…wow. It was an exciting find. It was like finding a dinosaur bone or some relic from a different age. Had I been thinking I would have never told anyone about the pen and likely I would have been able to keep it. But once on the playground I held it aloft like the Spear of Destiny. I had an ink pen. The other kids crowded around me as if I had picked up something an angel had dropped. The rats quickly went to tell. Of course, the teachers descended upon me.
Their rule was this “Anything you have that was not given to you by an adult is something you have stolen”. Clearly, the pen belonged to someone and I had taken it. The fact that it was on the street meant I had been playing on the road. (“Don’t you know you could have been killed?”) It didn’t matter that I had to ride my bike on the road to get there, mind you. The teacher laid out very clearly different courses of actions I could have taken and had I only taken the right path I would not have stolen the pen. I could have simply left it there. I could have placed the pen on the sidewalk so the true and real and deserving owner might have found it. But no, everything I had done pointed towards theft. I had not only kept something that belonged to someone else, oh that was terrible, but I had laid claim to it, and shown it to others as if I was proud of stealing. Even an eight year old knows all of that is just plain bullshit but there was nothing I could do about it.
And she had to tie all of this together to past sins as well. Why on earth would I take a pen, surely if a boy can’t use a pencil he isn’t going to be able to use a pen. I think she said that to everyone she spoke to for a year, “If a boy can’t use a pencil properly why on earth would he want a pen? He’s stealing something just for the joy he gets from stealing!”
There had to be some sort of show. There had to be a public execution. Everyone had to know that claiming to have found something was the same as having stolen it. At the same time, even third graders know that something like an ink pen, a simple push down on the button on top to make the pen appear at the bottom, isn’t really worth that much. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t change history. Yet we were also talking about me. The fact that it was me had a lot to do with the reaction. If I couldn’t write properly then that increased the likelihood of me being a thief. After all, it would appear that I wouldn’t succeed in becoming educated therefore I had already begun the turns towards a life of crime.
I just wanted to say, “I found a damn pen on the damn road. Could we not turn this into the fucking JFK Assassination?”
But it had already taken a life of its own. My teacher, who hated me and my left handedness, and my poor writing, was determined to find out who the pen belonged to. She was convinced I had stolen it and she was sure as hell going to tell the world about it. Because the pen had come from a tire company she went around at lunch to find out which of the teachers had bought tires in Dothan. No one had. I’m telling you, the woman was going to going through a lot of effort to pin this on me, no pun intended. Well, no one in the building had bought tires from that business so the teacher called my father, at work, and asked him had I taken the pen from him. Of course, my father who considered every accusation from a teacher against me to be true until proven false promised her that I would not get away with stealing the pen.
When I got home he asked me where I had found the pen and he drove me to the scene of the crime. “What was the pen doing there?” he asked me, and honestly, how do you respond to that question without sounding like a smartass? “How do you think the pen got there?” he asked and really, what answer would have done justice there? And so the next day he calls the teacher and tells her he’ll handle the situation and he’s going to make sure I don’t steal anything else, even though there really wasn’t any evidence at all that anyone had anything stolen from them, no, that just didn’t figure into the picture.
A meeting was called.
So, there we were: The teacher, my father, the Principal, and me. We’re sitting there and I’m going to be paddled for stealing the pen, I’m going a month without television or playing outside for stealing the pen, and if I get caught stealing pens again the police will be called and I will spend the rest of my life in prison for stealing pens. All the while I’m sitting there thinking, “It’s just a fucking ink pen!” I learned to curse at a very young age. There was a lot for me to curse at that time.
The teacher paddled me with a board, my father took me home, and put me in my room without supper and I remember thinking quite clearly that if this was justice I really had as much of it as I thought I needed.
Oh, and guess what happened to the stolen pen? The teacher kept it. I remember watching her use it and I wondered how an object with that much hypocrisy attached to it could still function.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Back in 2001 I walked into a house and wondered if I could ever really talk them into selling it to me. I scolded the Real Estate Agent for telling me there was a pond beside the house when clearly there was no water, well, very little water, in the damn thing. Five years later it flooded and I lost part of my back yard for a year, and I also lost Bert in the water. He grew gills and hunted catfish. That dog loved water more than he liked dry land. But since 2006 we haven’t had as much water in the pond and it has gotten very weedy and even trees have started growing in it. Until now, that is.
Last year was a fairly wet year and the pond didn’t shrink down very much and this year it’s rained a good bit already. Last night we got hit with about five inches of rain in less than twelve hours. The pond is beginning to creep out of the deep spots and starting to invade the low lying areas, like my firepit. It’s a swimming pool right now. There is zero chance of a fire right now, even using thermite.
A couple of years ago the mosquitoes were so bad I was using a baseball bat to knock them down so the dogs could finish them off. There were billions of them and I’m afraid we’re heading back into the billions and billions territory again. On the upside when the mosquitoes begin to swarm so does everything else on earth that feeds on them. It ought to be a good year for frogs and dragonflies. And DEET.
As the water rises I see fewer snakes. Surprised? Think of it like this; snakes who live in or near the water feel safer in or near the water. In dry times they have to come onto dry land to travel and they tend to travel more when there is less water. More water means less time on dry land which means they aren’t around my house. But it was in 2006 the Night of the Armadillo saw me lying on the ground near a smallish venomous snake wondering how I managed not to be bitten.
It’s a thought most people won’t have more than once or twice in their lives but I’ve succeeded in having that thought on a reoccurring basis even though I have given up catching venomous reptiles as proof of life. There are those of us who simply do not believe venomous snakes are all that dangerous in the first place and then there are those of us whose bodies twitch when there’s a photo of a snake in a book or on a computer screen. I’ve been tagged up by a few dozen different species on nonvenomous snakes and so I know how to move when a snake looks like there might be a biting party about to begin. I truly do not consider venomous snakes to be as dangerous as water.
We’re less than two months away from hurricane season. This means that if we get a very wet tropical storm early then I’ll be leaving my truck out beside the road and wading to it in the morning. The pond will fill up, invade my property, then go over to the overflow pond, and then it will head out into the woods. There is as much one man can do about that much water as there is a lot of people can do about a lot of water. Water is pretty much going to do as it damn well pleases unless there is a dam. Half of Georgia was on fire back in 2007 and it didn’t look like anything could put that fire out. A tropical storm came in and basically snuffed out in one day what thousands of people had been fighting for months.
I’ve seen some things. I’ve seen a really big hole in the ground where there was once a bridge. A concrete and steel bridge, mind you, not a wooden bridge. Gone. I mean, really and totally gone. Not a damn trace of it remained on site. Best be moving when the water starts to. It is more serious than most people can believe. You tell a group of people there’s a snake in the house and they’ll all run out screaming like a bunch of first grade school girls who just found out how babies are made. Tell a group of people a flood is about to hit and they’ll want to go out and take pictures of the water. I’ve seen that, too.
You know, honestly, I’m not sure how humans continue considering how much trouble it is for a woman to have a kid. It just looks like it would be a hell of a lot more trouble than it could possibly be worth and meantime guys walk around totally unaffected by the process. A woman can be so sick in the morning she is down on her hands and knees, puking her guts out and making noises like a donkey on meth while carrying something the size of a watermelon in her stomach, and the guy that did his part in this thing could be out running a marathon and getting into shape. Meanwhile, it takes a while for a woman to get over the physical part of childbirth and guys? I mean, you can’t tell if a guy has had one kid or half a dozen because he really hasn’t had any at all, has he?
I kinda strayed there for a while, didn’t I?
But it’s a very similar thing, really, because when a woman’s water breaks you know nothing will ever be the same again. And there is no stopping that water either. No matter if you’re prepared or in a cab going over the longest bridge ever, when the kid comes the kid comes and nothing you say or do or think or scream is going to stop that. I kinda like that sort of thing; the sense of inevitability, the sense of focus, and that sense of proportionality that comes with watching something happen that cannot be stopped.
It’s proof of life.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
My nephew, who was maybe five or six at the time, was amazed and stunned by my ability to put a flaming match into my mouth. It’s not nearly as dangerous as it sounds because the fire won’t burn in a place that fills up with carbon dioxide nearly instantly. My nephew, however, had another explanation. Without missing a beat he explained to us all that someone had come into the house that night and exchanged the real matches for special matches that would not burn Uncle Mike’s mouth.
To my nephew, the event of a flaming match being put into someone’s mouth without harm needed to explained. Matches burned people. They were dangerous, his mother and father had always told him so and this meant it was true. Fire was dangerous. So if fire was dangerous then this must not be real fire. My sister was not amused by the idea of teaching her son that fire wasn’t akin to Plutonium 666 because like all mothers she wanted her children to live long enough to kill themselves by dying slowly of old age.
But back to the mind of someone who is trying to make sense of something that doesn’t. The Special Matches Theory had basis in fact only if real matches would have indeed caused burns in all cases. Given this is true, and it isn’t, then the Special Matches Theory is valid, which it isn’t. But if you don’t know that carbon dioxide will kill a fire faster than it can burn then you would have to believe in the Special Matches Theory.
This goes on. If you believe in the Special Matches Theory then you have to have some event which occurred that brought the Special Matches in place of the regular, Uncle Mike- writhing- on- the- floor- in- agony- from- a- burned- mouth- matches. There were “people” who had brought the Special Matches in. This had to be true because the Special Matches could not have merely appeared out of nowhere, could they?
So what are we to do with this?
Somewhere along the way, my nephew had been taught that people caused things to happen and we did not always know who these people were. Well and good. We really don’t know who keeps the water running and the electricity on, and I would wager than if you had a well-educated adult try to explain the infrastructure needed to provide running water and continuous electrical power it might sound a lot like Special Matches Theorem. Hell, I’ve worked in the field and I must admit I don’t understand it all sometimes.
We live in a world of mysticism where we accept the idea that things work, more or less, the way they do because someone out there does something that causes it to be so. Many years ago a friend of mine bought a brand new truck. The first week he had it the damn thing would not crank. They towed it back to the dealership, ran extensive tests on it, replaced half the electrical parts on it and in the end, gave my friend a new truck to replace the one that even the very best of their engineers couldn’t resurrect. Look at what you’re doing right now; can you explain how my story got to the screen in front of you?
We might smile and nod at children who come up with outlandish ideas as to where things come from but the simple truth is that we, as adults, cannot explain much of the world we live in, and that’s just the human made stuff. There are green Arrowleaf Vines that I have cut back, year after year after year, and each year the same vines will spring forth in defiance of my efforts and will grow again. Why? What source of energy keeps these things alive when I cut them back to the ground each time there is a foot of vine? Are there people who come in and replace the cut vines with Special Vines? Yes, yes, please, do not tell me the roots are still alive, clearly that is so, but why are they still alive after so much little to show for their efforts?
So here you are now, with visions of matches and green arrowleaf vines and water pipes and a truck, a white truck, get it into your mind the truck was white, and it was a Ford, and we can see the white truck parked under some powerlines and the whole concept that as children we think there are “people” who make things happen suddenly turns into the realization that when we are adults, yes us, we think the very same thing. We rent our magic out to outside forces. That’s not a terrible thing, mind you, unless we get to the place in time when we’re renting out all our magic to “people” and there is no room in our lives for that which we create on our own.
There are people who write books, make movies, paint pictures, take amazing photographs, sing songs, play music, and all manner of things we view as wondrous. I remember when I began to write there was this feeling of trespass. I was venturing into other people’s territory. I was writing. My shelves were filled with books that were written by other people and here I was venturing out into the unknown and unknowable without the first damn clue as to what I was doing.
You can do this too.
As children we don’t think to control what comes into our minds. We see nothing as too silly or too playful or too wild. Children do not constrain joy with the realization it won’t last forever. Their minds eat everything that is on their plates and they beg for more. We adults put our minds on diets and hope we can get rid of some of the excess before it drives us mad.
Somewhere out there are some arrowleaf vines growing under some powerlines and not even Special Matches can burn them out forever. You don’t have to know where all the magic comes from, or where it’s going, no. Just know where your own magic lives and feed it. It’s waiting for you to come outside and play, right now.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
You may rail at the dead if you want, the dead will still be dead.
Make up rules for them to follow and the dead will still be dead.
Blame the ghost for the haunting, for the rattling of chains, the inability to lean against a wall, and the dead, will still be dead.
Ask the dead to accept the idea that it was suicide, after all, and not murder, and the dead will still be dead.
No matter how angry you are, how misplaced your emotions might be, no matter how your life has changed, you are still alive.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
It’s was eighty-five today and I can remember a time in my life this was almost cool weather. Take away air conditioning and the body gets so used to heat that it takes upper nineties to be really hot. When I was growing up in South Georgia it was never too hot. We kids ran around half naked and barefoot from the time school let out until it started again. From June to September we were rarely fully dressed, never fully shod, and we never once complained about the heat. Some families owned a fan. That was pretty damn good when you had the cash to own a fan and to run it, too.
We lived next door to the city pool and when the pool opened we were always the first in line. That first day in the pool was like the salmon returning to their home waters. We kids would line up to jump off the diving board and it always seemed an incredibly long time to wait even when it wasn’t crowded. I remember learning how to dive, head first, and that first dive of the season, to enter the water so cool, clear and seemingly blue, was always incredible.
Not once did it ever occur to me that this moment in time would be lost forever. The little girl crowding up behind me is gone from my life forever. The little kid in front of me is lost. We were like sardines when we were together in the water, long before anything sexual began, and we sat together, close together, our half naked bodies always in contact, and everyone smelled the same.
In kindergarten we would all put our mats on the floor and nap like dogs. One body next to another, touching and warming, would be so common no one ever thought anything of it, for what was there to think? Human contact was a commonality. Life was like that. You simply touched the person next to you and there was never a lot of fuss or commotion about it.
Then we grew up. It happened suddenly. Guys never came in contact with other guys unless it was sports or violence. We never touched girls again except to seduce them. Okay, that’s really exaggerated but in the end, touching nearly ended. When we stood in line there were more clothes and less incidental contact. We stopped sleeping on the floor together as a class. I bet that would be a great thing to do again, really.
I can remember a good half dozen of us that were always together and another six or seven that were always close by. It’s been decades since I saw any of them at all. I lost a friend of forty-five years in 2013 and I wonder when was the last time he and I sat down and talked about the things we first talked about when we were kids. Our last conversation was of cancer and dying and how he wasn’t going to stop fighting and maybe he didn’t. But he is still just as dead.
There was a time when what you found in a box of Cracker Jacks was important. It was like the local news when the other kids found out. You had to show it off, talk it up, and if it was something we had never seen before, there might even be a trade. I got a fake tattoo of a dragon and I remember one of the older boys helped me put it on my arm. I was dangerous. I was special. I could feel the power radiating from my body and it’s amazing I didn’t burst into flames.
No one cared if they were sprayed with a hose or got dirty or was hit in the head with something that was thrown. We bled each day. We jumped out of trees, landed on nails, fell on top of broken boards and we let the dogs lick our wounds. There was no time for being doctored on any other way and to go to the parents with an injury was to risk being blamed for it. No one ever died, no one was ever maimed, and there wasn’t a damn soul that ever lost an eye from a pointy stick.
The first pubic hair I ever saw in my life was from a nineteen year old girl who was hanging out of her swimsuit. A few stray hairs had escaped her attention but as she stood in line at the board I stared at her and something inside of me stirred. I was only ten or eleven but there was something about that part of her body that drew my attention like shade draws a dog. I got in line behind her the next time, and the time after that, and then my buddies began to notice that I was staring. We whispered and pushed one another and tried not to giggle. Suddenly everyone knew. It wasn’t long before she caught on and realized something was amiss. The lifeguard made us all sit on the side of the pool for fifteen minutes and we sat in silence; we were muted by the experience.
I didn’t realize that one day I would be eleven years older than a nineteen year old and I would talk her into drinking with me. Very nearly, almost, I told her the story of how a woman her age once enraptured me with a slip of a bathing suit and how the age nineteen meant something to me. But I wasn’t sure, there was another beer, maybe two, before there were signs that she had joined me in more than drinking, and the verbal intercourse we refer to as flirting got very serious at the wake of a twelve pack. The story seemed trite at the end of the night.
Later, the thought occurred to me that the woman from my past might have taken an older man as a lover. It occurred to me the woman next to me had shocked and shaken someone much younger. It occurred to me that we’re all lined up in front of the diving board, awaiting our turn to fly through the air before we land in the water, and then come up gasping for air, flailing, and wanting to do it all over again.