May 5, 2011

I think of Scotland on this rainy morning of a day I’ve taken off work.  It’s a fine day for not working, for taking an hour to drink my coffee, for reading and occasionally looking out at everything getting wet and feeling enwombed on the sofa.  I’m working on a tea now as the breeze from the cracked window brushes my knuckles.  This would be my last post here but for knowing how to end this tidily.  But what does it need of my ending it?  It’s over. It’s taken this long to write again because…well, I just don’t know, and I don’t feel inclined to sort it out, anymore than I do to come to neat conclusions. That’s not like me–not like that me, anyway. The transition I sought for Satellite Dance was, in fact, my own, and that transition has, practically and essentially, moved me from this blog. Regrets, hopes, lessons learned–whatever they are, I’ll live with them, not kill them through vivisection. They are a part of me more as vital organs than as tumors.

The rain seems to have let up a little. I hope it doesn’t stop. I don’t want to be tempted outdoors. It would not then, either, be a perfect day for whisky. The traffic is still noisy out. How could there not be a lull at ten in the morning? Is anyone going anwhere? The downspout’s output is down to a trickle, and the puddles are undisturbed. Wipers swish only to dispel the spindrift of the car in front. A tension grows in my shoulder.

I won’t come full-circle. That would put me back where I started. I didn’t book a round trip. I’d like to think–and I have to believe–that I’ve gotten somewhere, and I don’t need to know where I’ve been to know where I am. This satellite dance was not about me going ’round and ’round, but about all us satellites circling one another, hoping for and dreading collision. Satellites don’t get anywhere unless they’re knocked off course. I won’t belabor the metaphor; you already know what I mean.

The site will remain up, but I will do my writing elsewhere. It’s sunny now, and I’m compelled to lay down the pen and get out. That’s just the way it will be.


Spring Me

April 13, 2011

So many Richmond springs behind me, and I’ve probably yet to appreciate one.  They haven’t been the springs I wanted–a full three months of moderate weather–but a week or two of neither heat nor chill before the heat takes over. My  anticipation of an ideal spring causes me to miss the one we get, and the one we get seems to be in a great hurry to be done with this year. The succession of blooms is so compressed as to  give the impression of all the flowers blooming at once. Nature knows, and what it seems to have figured out is that we’re in for a very dry summer. For other reasons besides anticipation of an ideal, I have missed the last few springs.  The distraction is not wholly removed, but I see with less cloudy eyes now, though enjoyment of what I see is still a challenge.  I am still preoccupied with making a better life for myself, finding a place, building a space that is mine. I woke early this morning (the clock said 3:51) to a bird singing in the echo chamber between the two long apartment buildings.  The song had no rhythm and little repetition.  It seemed more like speech than song.  I then began to think of giving up writing altogether simply to find more time to myself, as I can’t  work shorter days or shorten my commute.  But that would be to surrender to all I’m trying to escape.  The wall is thick, and I have only a spoon.  Five hours later I could still, just, hear that bird over the traffic. 

It’s evaluation time at work again, when we have to put in writing what we accomplished last year and what we hope to accomplish this year.  This year, as last year, my stated goal is to “move to the Tuckahoe library and work in my own community.”  Writing–my spoon–might never dig me out of this prison, but maybe I can spend the rest of my days in a more relaxed facility.  My legs and body are overweary of the commute, and I want back those eight hours lost to it each week.  Well-meaning people who are the second incomes in their households or earn six figures wonder why I don’t get a car, while I only wonder why Richmond and Henrico can’t get together on a fucking bus system.  My employer doesn’t owe me a transfer or any kind of accommodation to my well-being, but neither do I owe them my health and sanity.  Loyalty is not a commodity–no salary can buy it.  It’s to the community that I owe my work, and my employer can’t say that I shirk that responsibility.  Neither can they say I wouldn’t do an even better job in a community of my neighbors.

Another hour later, and the bird is silent, or just can’t be heard.  Another Richmond spring, another day of work.  Rush through an unnoticed landscape to seal yourself off from it.  Appreciate it on your own time.  When you get it.

Spring, and I’m still stir crazy, though it’s not the cold weather that cages me. Though I have produced little here recently, I have been writing plenty. Yet I’m not feeling much better for it. Satellite Dance’s transition has been agonizing. I’m no longer sure of its purpose or scope. The harder I try not to mention Julie here, the more channeling I have to do those thoughts to Twickory, and it can’t handle the load. I’m also writing the proverbial letter-never-sent to Julie, apologizing and trying to explain what love did to me and what I did in its name. It should make me feel better to write this, right?–like talking to a friend–but I become focused on all those hopes and regrets, which logic will never erase. What good are words unheard? The desire to explain myself to her is not lessened by the virtual certitude of her having put all this well behind her. I’m still trying to get her attention, still not accepting that she felt none of the fascination for me that I felt for her. That still hurts. I see Twickory as a salvation. I see where the story is going, and I see resolution at the end of the tunnel. The end of Twickory will be the end of this whole goddamned mess. Phoebe will be more real than Julie ever allowed me to know of her, and I will understand why. Those are the hopes. Meanwhile, I’ve sent another postcard, the one with the cat, the books and the glass of wine, to Glen Allen inside Scottish Poems, beside “The Worst of All Loves” by Douglas Dunn. It said, “Crazy me: I miss you.” I have to live with hope as I have to live with writing. Sanctions are artificial and untenable. I had told myself I wouldn’t tag Julie a hundredth time before I’d written my two-hundredth post and that I wouldn’t write about her except as fiction, but how well could I follow either of those mandates and still work out this mess to a resolution? It won’t just go away. That’s why I’m writing. Twickory allows for some detachment, but detachment isn’t always what’s needed. Twickory isn’t always ready for the emotions of the moment, which, if they must be written will have to be written elsewhere. Elsewhere is here, or the unsent letter or the postcard.

I write every chance I get, but the chances are still too few, and I don’t know how to make more. I can’t write in the shower or on my bike. Eating is a begrudged distraction. Reading can’t find a place in my priorities, and as goes my reading, so goes my writing: I can’t seem to engage in a book, and so the writing is choppy and scattered. I’ve become desperate enough for time that I’m willing to pay for it, soliciting someone to transcribe my handwritten Twickory pages. Henrico County employees have an e-mailing list to buy and sell stuff, and I advertised there. A library worker was among the many who answered. He appeared to have the skills, but he works under Julie at Glen Allen, so though I initially felt bitterly mischievous to think of virtually writing under her nose, I didn’t want someone else innocently delivering my acid. I’d also like to keep the library system’s stinking nose out of my business. I won’t say there’s not enough time, only that too much of it is already allocated to something other than writing. Nights get later, but then so do mornings, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed at work. It would seem only fair for writing to compromise my work at the library, considering how badly work has compromised my time to write, but which am I getting paid for?

This dream I’ve deferred I have no intention of denying. The love I seek now is the love I have always sought. It’s the approval I needed to continue confidently in the direction of my passion. And though I can’t make up the love I didn’t receive as a child, I can give myself the approval to do what I need to do to reclaim the passion in my life. The love I seek now is not also the approval to seek it.

And where is the time to do that? The only time left to carve more from is that for which I’ve already carved it–writing. Ah, irony. Am I sealing myself in a vacuum and suffocating the writing I forsake everything else to get done? I have to beat its last breath to the finish line. Spring is not yet the breath of fresh air I need–forty-three degrees for a high today, and work besides–but it needn’t be an airless cage, either. Writing, life–too much, too little.

Despite its artificiality, I keep in mind the formula from Why We Love and have set an arbitrary deadline of the end of the year for finishing Twickory. I don’t know when I’ll finish the letter–maybe never–and then there’s Book Monkey. I’m burning out on the stress of finding the time to get it all done. I’m resenting work more every day, and that’s poisoning my writing. It’s a soul-sucking vortex of diminishing importance and increasing annoyance–a loud brat demanding ever more of what it ever-less needs. Or maybe it just feels that way when I’m sitting on the floor of the storage closet, lunch beside me, writing in my lap, and waving at the automatic light three times a minute to turn it back on as I try to get some peace from the inane nattering in the breakroom. Or maybe it’s when I’ve just pedaled forty-five minutes through the wet dark just to sit down in my rocking chair and scribble till the pen droops. Or when my mind is so clogged with what I don’t have time to write that I can’t say anything–and waste a thousand words saying it. I hate writing about writing. It’s dissipating. The end of the year. God, look at this mess.

To Have Known Then….

March 17, 2011

My girls will be fifteen in a few months, and I will still be thirty-seven-and-a-half years older.  I fear losing touch, as my parents lost touch with me.  But my parents had never quite been in touch.  I lived with three fifteen-year-old girls once before, but I was too busy being a fourteen-, sixteen-, and eighteen-year-old boy to take notes for the future.  At least my daughters know they are loved.  Love, though, is what pulls kids from their parents, isn’t it? a different kind of love than their parents can provide–the kind I have been pursuing for so long that it seems that all I’m chasing is the chase, a knight after a grail he barely believes exists.

What has this chase cost me?  What future cost will my children bear because of it? because I brought home anger and frustration that I couldn’t put aside to interact with them kindly?  What, ultimately, will it have been worth to have fallen in love?  Probably nothing until I fall in love again.  Or until my kids do, when I might have something to teach them, if I’ve not become too bitter by then to accept the wisdom offered by the experience.  I want them to be prepared for love younger and better than I was.  I guess there’s time.  I want them to know what I’ve been through, what a hard-headed ass I was most of that time, how little control I had over love, and how much I hurt someone in the name of it.  I want them to know what at least one man is like in love.  Maybe I’m not a good role model for that, but by the time I understand it myself they’ll be too old to tell anything to.  What does a daughter need to know? and when?  What does a dad need to know?

In love, I’ve been single-minded, neglectful of nearly everything else.  What did my daughters not get from me?  Being in love again would be tempered by more than a little guilt, as if it were a betrayal.  Emma probably still harbors resentment toward her mother for both the divorce and eventual remarriage, and I know she adores me.  Would I be betraying her?  Would I seem (to her) to be cutting her out?  I need her adoration.  I would probably feel abandoned, too, if she or her sisters fell in love.  I might retreat from them to give their love space, though I would hope that they would still seek my approval and advice.  These two loves–the one I have from my daughters and the one I seek–how do they coexist?  Who is the father and who is the lover?

All of these questions are probably the kind I should not try too hard to answer, as having asked them is awareness enough, a bridge I’ve yet reached:  Knowing there is a bridge is all I need to know, even as I cross it.  How much more prepared can I or need I be?  I hope my daughters fall in love, as I hope I do again; and I hope they recognize it and accept it without the struggle I put up against it.  Perhaps in one kind of love is bound the other, and each makes the other stronger.  It can be like that, can’t it?

The plant came home with me.  It was a rescue mission. I noticed that the aloe had been watered.  It should have been dry.  I taped a three-by-five notecard to the pot that read, “This plant is being overwatered.  Please leave it be.  If you want to live, leave it to me.”  The next morning, the card was gone and the plant was sopping.  I immediately removed the plant from the silll to my locker.  At the end of the day I carried it home on my back, wrapped in bubble wrap.

So, help me out with this one:  By my reckoning, this is the work of a sociopath.  What, besides killing the plant, was the intent of this action?  Who was this person attacking?  I didn’t sign the card–there was no point–and I don’t know who knows my handwriting.  Actually, I’d rather believe it wasn’t about me at all, because I don’t want paranoia to get too secure a foothold.  This is a person who revels in misery, their own and company’s.  Whose misery they wanted to join theirs, I don’t know.  All I know is that I don’t want to work with that person in the building.  Their presence is disturbing, especially since I can’t imagine who it is.  I haven’t noticed any other such acts.  Have I just missed them?  As scary as that person being here, is their perfect assimillation into the library’s culture.

Now someone does come to mind:  Chris, who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me why he felt he had to expose A Bright, Ironic Hell.  I can see Chris watering the aloe and convincing himself that it was a joke, but I won’t accuse him and will try  not to suspect him further.  It doesn’t matter who it was, does it?  Whoever it is is just one more reason to get the hell out of Twin Hickory.  This place has become so infested with backbiting and petty snitching that it’s becoming a junior high prison.  Morale is long gone, in a tank of formaldehyde in the Mutter Museum.  Everyone is resenting someone else for not pulling their weight in one way or another–using a cell phone in the stacks or making personal calls from a service point, shopping online at their desk or not shelving as scheduled.  Someone even felt they had to tattle on me for being late one day.  That place is toxic, and I’m going to at least get a plant out of the crossfire if I can’t save myself.

When I was hired, I pegged this as my last job.  I quit trying to be a writer and resigned myself to being a father and an employee, and I was able to fool myself for longer than ever before.  I’ve had this job a year longer than any other, but now I’m much more a writer than an employee (though, I hope, not more than I am a father), but what am I getting paid for?  To fit in with a group of malcontents.  The irony is that the more discontented I become the more accepted I feel here:  The waning cynic meets the waxing cynics.  But I don’t want to stop at their level, much as I crave acceptance.  I could easily join in the backbiting and tattletaling, and probably will to an extent, but it won’t make me feel good for long or help heal the damage to morale.  Neither do I want to be fired.  Knowing how high-handed and imperious management can be with none-of-their-business is knowing how much moreso they could be once given a leg to stand on.  No, I’ll leave on my own terms, even if I don’t know yet what they are.  This just might by my last job, not because I[‘m resigned to die at it but because whatever I do next, I plan to do for me and my soul, and that is not a job but a willing duty.  Ultimately, only one’s soul’s rules are worth following.  All other rules try to rule the soul.

The aloe won’t get as much sun in my window as it did at work, but it will get the care it needs and no malice.  I didn’t want to possess it, but the rules it follows were not respected at the library, either by those ignorant of the damage of their well-meaning care or by the malicious intent of a hateful individual.  Some people believe they’re doing the right thing in reporting their coworkers’ missteps; others want to demonstrate their superiority or just plain inflict pain:  Righteousness or sociopathy.  Would that I could be carried away to a caring, meaningful place where I would be allowed to follow the rules I know to be most beneficial to me, where I would be allowed to be me, but I will have to be my own white knight.

It was to be a four-friend weekend, and I was excited to have had so much on my social calendar.  I felt almost normal, to be in the society of acquaintances instead of strangers, to whom I’d have to reach out and from whom I would have to expect and accept rejection.  The people I would be with would, to varying extents, at least know me.  I aimed for a full weekend of healthy preoccupation without desperation.  It didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.  James was sick.  Though that saved my legs twenty-two miles and my wallet at least that many bucks for lunch, it also made me restless.  I stayed home and tried to write, but did everything but–washed clothes and dishes, cleaned the apartment, played the guitar.  The words wouldn’t come, so I let them be.  Dinner with Diane happened–subs and on-demand Netflix on her giant screen.  I couldn’t get Matt out for scooterball the next morning, but I did catch the matinee of  The King’s Speech with Susan (sort of), with cookies and talk in Carytown afterward.  Matt and I got around to scooterball the next evening.

So the weekend was done, and you’d think three-out-of-four was adequate, but quantity far outstripped quality.  Like The King’s Speech, it was good but not engaging.  Missing James was not a good start.  We would have spent most of the day together, walking the canal, talking, listening to music.  James and I connect as well emotionally as we do intellectually.  Idea and feeling are conjoined passions.  James has fallen in love at least twice since I’ve known him (three-plus years) and he’s passionate about many things.  He quit Twin Hickory to pursue writing two years ago.  He’s yet to make a cent, but he’s yet to give up, and I daresay he won’t soon.  James doesn’t drive or pedal, and I don’t own a car.  It’s nearly an hour on the bike east to Tobacco Row.  Even for James, I’m not willing to do that but on a Friday of a long weekend, which comes up every fourth week, so it will be another four weeks, at least, before I see him again.  I haven’t seen him since my birthday more than two months ago.

Diane and I had a little fun, I guess, watching old tv shows, but who really engages that way but loving couples? for whom it’s not about what you’re watching but who’s keeping you warm on the sofa, whose hair you stick your nose in, whose ribs you tickle with the hand around the waist.  Diane and I were never that cozy, even as a couple.  Susan was supposed to meet me at the box office of the Westhampton.  I got there just before showtime aned waited outside, cussing a little more vigorously the longer I waited, for fifteen minutes, finally going in and plopping into the nearest seat.  I didn’t know how much I’d missed until Susan found me during the end credits.  I was ready to pick a fight.

“Where were you?” i said, probably already a little shrill.

“Oh, I got here about five minutes early and just bought my ticket and came inside to wait in the lobby.  I peeked out every once in a while to see if your there.”

“I though we’d agreed to meet at the box office.”

She said, “Oh, silly boy.”

I bristled a bit but shook it off, though I was still disappointed we hadn’t seen the movie together.  She hadn’t meant anything by the remark, but a more respectful acknowledgement of our agreement would have been nice.  I didn’t tell her that.

Every weekend that weather and time permit us, Matt and I take our Xootrs and a soccer ball to Pinchbeck Elementary, my first alma mater, and push ourselves around the blacktop (the venue of most of my dodgeball glory) while trying to keep the ball on the court, sometimes passing the ball, sometimes attacking each other with it.  We’ve been doing it for more than eight years.  Usually apres scooter we have a coffee and sit and chat.  This time he had to get home to Mary and dinner by six-thirty.  By the time we’d done on the blacktop that’s all he had time to do.

Minus James, and without Matt to talk to at length, the weekend was a bit of a disappointment.  I realized, afterwards, that what I’d wanted was someone to really care about me.  Diane asked about the kids, which is what everyone asks who doesn’t really know me; it’s what they know.  Susan and I know very little about each other, but we have a good rapport and can make each other laugh.  We haven’t shared much backstory.  Usually, our conversations take place with the circ desk between us.  She once asked me something to the effect of what did I do with my spare time, and I answered, “Oh, I’m just always looking for love.”  I didn’t mean hers, and she had to have known that, but she blushed and turned slightly away.  There is not that kind of attraction between us, and she got about a fifteen-year headstart on life.

I can’t say Diane and I really connect; there’s just that dense four-year history we share from way back when that counts as a bond, and we don’t talk about that.  I find it difficult to relate otherwise.  She makes so much money that she paid in taxes last year what I grossed in income.  At the same time, she doesn’t seem to relate to my comparatively meager lifestyle, often suggesting I do something that is outrageously implausible for me to even consider, like buy a townhouse.

If I ‘d wanted more from Diane and Susan, I could have given more myself. I didn’t make an effort, not so much as asking “How have you been?”  I’m out of practice with the lesson “Giving Is Receiving.”  (Another victim of the winter layoff?)  But I’ve also expected–taken for granted–to connect better on an emotional level with women than with men.  I’m finally having to notice that it’s not necessarily true.  Women  seem to more readily relate to emotions, but are as wary of a man’s as they are accepting of a woman’s.  I don’t know if that’s true, and I hate to believe in such distinctions.  It could be that I’m simply more demanding of women, regardless of romantic intent, than I am of men.  Hm.

So it wasn’t the weekend I’d hoped for.  How can I complain?  I kept busy with people I know.  I was amused and entertained.  I was hopeful of more engagement, but not desperate for it.  (People give what they can give.)  Spring’s not even here yet, after all.  This weeekend was a pleasant run-up to that, a chance to hone the social skills with people with whom I could relax.  So far so good, lessons learned.  Expectations and hopes are for ideals.  If I can’t stop myself from having them (and it wouldn’t be wise to try), I can learn to accept falling short as just a smaller step forward than I’d wanted to take.  Forward is what matters (sounds like a mantra for the coming warm seasons) and I at least went that way.  Being so philosophical about it might be easy at this stage, but a running start can only help.

Paper Slaps

February 24, 2011

I’m pleased with the postcards–a couple more Quint Buchholzs with books, one with a cat on a stack, the other with a boy asleep under one.  Who knows when I’ll send them.  I have nothing to send them in but Impossible (Nancy Werlin), but I got that for my girls, and one of my rules for the game state that it has to be a book I’ve read.  I’m waiting on Scottish Poems.  A part of me really wants to believe I’m just doing this for fun–I am, but fun, for me, is in the challenge, and I don’t mind making my own challenges.  I have some theories, and the challenge is in testing them.  I want to see how much trouble I can almost get into for the sake of self-expression.  This paragraph is a test of those theories.

The last time I said I could “play it canny” was just before I crossed a big, fat line.  How sure can I ever be that I won’t do it again?  I don’t know how I can escalate from unaddressed, unsigned postcards, but I’m afraid I’ll figure it out.  Apparently, I’m neither content with the unrequited aspect of this love nor mindful of the pathetic quality of dialogue with her I usually provoke.  Spring can’t come too soon to give me something better, more positive to do.  Eh, but it’s still a few more weeks away, and it will get cold again before it warms for real, and I have time, postcards and love on my hands.  As I can no longer (thanks to Blaise Pascal) trust reason to keep me out of trouble, I can only hope for more rewarding distractions from trouble, because it’s trouble I want, and I can only talk myself into it, not out of it.  The less talking to myself the better.

God, how could I be missing Julie?  I feel almost ashamed of it.  How could I want her back?  How much of that hell could I go through again?  I don’t want her back at Twin Hickory.  I couldn’t go through any of that again, but hope always thinks things could work better the second time around.  It seems unfair that I am not rewarded for falling in love for the first time after fifty years, for not giving up on the possibility.  But nothing’s done right the first time, is it?  I understand what I’ve been going through, but it doesn’t seem to mean much at the end of the day, when I still have to write like this, with my smile cracked and my humor beaten flat, left with this wistful pain.  I write better feeling this way and feel better for having written.  It’s martyresque.

Anonymous postcards sent unaddressed.  What am I doing?  Does it matter?  Just let me do it.  It’s what I have to get me to spring.  Let me believe she reads them, and that when she does she thinks about them, doesn’t dismiss them as an annoying reminder.  If not my words, maybe the pictures on the front will be appreciated.  “Maybe” is all I have, because the postcards are a weak provocation unlikely to elicit a response–in fact, the game was all but designed to render all provocation inferential.  If what I really want is to stir something up, I won’t likely be satisfied–and so I’m back to worrying about escalation.

I would plead for spring’s hasty arrival, but what will that really change?  Julie and spring are just different brands of the same desperation.  Which has the more attractive package?  I don’t need it or want it, but I can’t help buying it.  Spring will probably just find me buying more postcards and having more books sent to Twin Hickory from Glen Allen.  I write, and spring isn’t likely to deter that activity.  Like anything else I write, the postcard game is a project, and though it’s destination is as yet undefined, I’ll see that it gets there.  That, also, is like everything else I write.  Everything I write is a provocation, too, a boot in the ass, a wake-up call, a rent in the drone of life:  Listen to me!  Listen to yourself!  If you think you have nothing to say, nothing better to do, then why would you read this?  You have given up and would as soon do what you do every day without deviation, without challenge.  Take it, keep it, go away.  To proclaim myself a provocateur is to say I’m no mere troublemaker.  I feel, and I want you to feel.  Spring and all its promises provokes a renewal of hope and its potential unrealized from last year.  I plead for a provocative new season to kick my ass, to expand my possibilities, to smother my excuses–not to distract me.

Whatever I’m doing with the blogs and the postcards I have to do, to whatever ends they take me–Oblivion, Nirvana, or Trouble. I don’t see an alternative.  It has been, and will continue to be a hellish sort of fun, a continual challenge, a wired-in, nervy awareness that might never be satisfied or restful.  That’s me, that’s the journey.  Wish you were here.