Memory Road

I lead a sort of Twilight Zone existence, in that I frequently think, as I’m turning onto a road I’ve never been on before, that I will, by turning there, get to visit a different time period of my life.

I found one such road today. Seeing scenery and homes and people for the first time reminds me of all the other first times I’ve had, when people long gone were still here, or when life was mostly a future thing.

We lived in Florida when I grew up; I now live in Georgia. However, my dad had a once a year trip here (where I am as I write this). He used to bring home photographs of this place, a beautiful set of gardens.

I am always expecting to see him on these drives, and I pull over to look at the flowers, which are stunning.

Many of you have lost a parent, or both parents; my dad is gone, but my mom is still here, just far away. I realized, recently, that both of them gave us (my sister, my brother, and me) everything they could of themselves, inside and out, and that I carry them around everywhere I go, really.

I stopped at a convenience store, really to use the bathroom, but I always try to buy something when I do. A very young woman was the only one working; their ice machine was broken and customers were complaining (it is almost 100 degrees today). I asked her how she was when I got to the front of the line (there was no one in line behind me) and she said she was having an anxiety attack. So I told her, if it would help, that (1) I didn’t need any ice (she laughed, which was a good sign) and (2) I could stand outside a few minutes and warn customers the ice machine was broken. She thanked me with a sort of watery smile. After about 15 minutes, when there was a lull, she came out and thanked me, and that she was feeling a little better.

“Hang in there,” I said. “You, too, sir,” she said.

Love is the recognition, I think, that we are really all the same. We live in time, people come and go, but all of us, everywhere and in every age, look for our loved ones, remember the best days, gain life by breathing in a garden, and need a little help, every so often.

So, maybe one day, you’ll be out driving in the country, and you’ll find a highway new to you, and we might see each other there. I’m the crew cut guy with giant sunglasses, you can’t miss me. Come up and say hi.

Then I’ll have a new first time to remember.

– Owen

My Real Life

“My Real Life”

3:00 in the morning, and I wake up like a shot. I look down at the time, then see that my wife is just now finishing up getting ready to come to bed. That happens fairly often with us; I’m getting up as she’s coming to bed.

I cough a few times, which is awkward, because I sleep hooked up to a CPAP machine. I don’t even know what “CPAP” stands for; I think it’s something like “Survival Kit for Fat People”, except it’s in Cyrillic. I disconnect myself from it and sit up, rubbing my eyes. Since I went to bed at 9:00, I got six hours sleep, and that will have to do.

I put on my glasses, disconnect my iPad and trudge off to the other end of the house. I see that I got a message from an online friend during the night, but my brain isn’t really functioning yet, so I say something inane back to her via text, then my wife comes in.

“Did I wake you up?”

“No, I was coughing.”

She tells me about the rough night one of our grandkids had (he got sick and threw up) and how she was on the phone with our daughter much of the night. We hold on to each other for a few moments, then she’s off to bed.

It’s 3:20 or so by this time, and I have a morning workout to do; however, I put that off for a few minutes while I ingest some caffeine and get caught up on my blog reader. I also edit my post that went up during the night (I changed the title for clarity), and repost that.

I also check my (two) Facebook accounts; I posted a video of me playing a piano piece on one of them, and I’m looking at comments and such. I once posted a video of one of my daughters and me playing a piece (she plays the cello) and that got, like, 100 likes; just me playing gets something like 12. This is what the system of “likes” does to you: it turns everything into a weird sort of contest. My stepdaughters, like my wife, are all ridiculously beautiful, which never hurts when you are posting pictures and videos: if it is both them and their kids, the response is even more enthusiastic.

This, in turn, leads to me to the recognition I had, years ago, that pictures of attractive women or beautiful scenery (or both) seem to attract more people to reading blog posts than anything else; hence, my frequent use of each. Which seems cheap and manipulative, now that I think of it in those terms.

Around 4:30, having delayed as long as I could, I change into my workout clothes and do today’s workout. It’s a short one, only about half an hour long, but it seems to be doing its job, as I feel terrible doing it, but pretty good afterwards.

I go back to the other end of the house and get out some clothes for work (being careful not to wake up my wife, who is sleeping blissfully) and then go back to shower in the bathroom near where I worked out.

I only shave the bottom of my neck, so that doesn’t take long; however, the sheer number of shaving mistakes I can make in a small area defies statistical likelihood.

I work as an officer at a large Fortune 500 company; this week is employee recognition week. Having dressed for work, and realizing it’s not even 6:00, I sit down to write, deciding, in this instance, to post the poem on Instagram.

Before leaving home around 6:30, I open the blinds so she wakes up to sunlight (her preference), take out the garbage, and bring in the newspaper. I also heard from the online friend I said something stupid to earlier (for those of you wondering about that particular plot thread). Online conversations can be odd in that they don’t necessarily have real beginnings or endings, and you never know if the other person is even there; or you just send your words out into the ether and rely on others to eventually respond.

My wife packs me a lunch most days. It’s really very good of her; it’s also really healthy. I pick it up (some of it is in the refrigerator, and some on the counter) and head off to work.

In the car, I’m listening to an audiobook of “The World as Will and Idea” by Schopenhauer. I just started it a few days ago. I loved this book when I read it, years ago; audiobooks seem to work better for me these days, so I will probably be listening to this for weeks.

It’s about a fifteen minute drive to work; I park in a parking garage and walk into work. The company I work for is rather large, but the location I’m at only has about eight or nine-hundred people. Most of the rest are in a larger facility across town, not counting ones spread across the country or concentrated overseas. I have a team of about 10 people who report to me; I’m responsible for doing financial forecasting for the company. I am an actuary by profession, according to the certificates beside my desk, and a mathematician by education, according to the degrees I have on the shelf behind it.

The short version of what I do is that I’m supposed to know what’s going on all over the company before it happens, so we can take appropriate actions and inform investors. I’m also supposed to remember everything that ever happened.

Now, at this point in time, you might be wondering: wait – you post (on NoTalentForCertainty.com) something like five poems a day. When do you find time to write?

I write mostly in the mornings; sometimes at night before bed, and at lunchtime, which I can do, having usually brought a lunch. I also write at speed (with frequent mistakes being the tell-tale sign) and usually edit only when I get around to reposting.

But, back to the company I work for. I was attracted to it, years ago (I’ve been here more than twenty years) because it did something I believed in (help people financially who are sick or injured) and because I like the company’s ethical stance, where the people running the company are genuinely more interested in doing the right thing than maximizing their own incomes.

I realized years ago, being “backstage” at this company as I have been, that no company like it has ever been described in any literature I’ve ever read. The art of politics, sadly, is often little more than organized calumny – and highly effective calumny, I might add. Most writing is shaped by some political viewpoint or another, and people in a large company being concerned about ethical issues just doesn’t seem to fit anyone’s idea of what companies do in the real world. But at least one does.

I don’t really have a “normal working day”, per se. I have a great deal of independence in terms of what I do, but I’m asked to analyze and answer a lot of questions of differing sorts, plus I’m just curious about other things, and spend a lot of time researching, analyzing, or synthesizing information that seems important to me to look at. I spend a fair amount of time discussing or conducting that work with others. My daughter (the same one that plays the cello) has now worked here more than five years; she commented, when she first started here, that everyone here seems to know me, which was pretty fair at the time. My job since then is much more insular and public; still, I know many hundreds of the thousands of people here, and work in some rotation with virtually all of them.

Incidentally, I missed saying it earlier, but I ate the lunch my wife packed me for breakfast on the way to work. So, at lunch time, I take a drive, listening to more Schopenhauer, dashing off one poem to post on NTFC, and eating in my car.

Back to work, and I work steadily until about 6:30, with one break around 2:15 when the little group of us went outside for a team photo. I look like a whale in the photos.

Alas for the merciless realism of the camera.

I get home st 7:00 pm and my eldest daughter is still there with her 2 year old boy and 7 month old girl my wife watches almost every day. They leave around 8, a few minutes later, my middle daughter drops off her 4 year old son, who has been sick, do she can run an errand. My wife watches him 5 days a week.

He’s just pitiful. He clings to my wife.

My wife, by the way, is something like a miracle. She’s a minister: teaching classes, visiting the sick, comforting the grieving, and yes, preaching sermons. I play the piano and organ at the church she works for — which is where we officially met, 20 years ago this fall.

I took a shower and am writing this sitting on our bed. I realize, reading over what I just wrote, that I left off the part, during lunch, where my son texted me, asking for help with rent and electric.

Which I did.

I also finished my conversation with my online friend, to the degree text conversations ever really end. I’ve only made three or four friends from blogging, but they are all inspirational to me in different ways. My natural personality seems to largely consist of being very positive, except in reference to myself; every one of these friends have noted this trait and been puzzled by it.

As am I. I’m just more used to it.

When I go out to say goodnight, my grandson is asleep and my wife is sprawled across the sofa on her stomach, looking up remedies to send home with our daughter in a few minutes.

I’m very lucky to have her, my kids, my grandkids, my job, and all of you, for that matter.

This is my real life.

April, Maypole

I learned about Spring, as a child, with my educational sources still reflecting mystical attitudes about the seasons that go way back into antiquity.

I remember, in elementary school learning what was called a “maypole dance”. This “dance” consisted of walking slowly in a circle with other clueless kids, each holding a colored ribbon tied to the pole, then all turning around and walking in the opposite direction. It was like tetherball, both structurally and in how baffling to us it’s whole purpose was.

(We were also taught square dancing, too; giving me a head start on a humiliation caused by dancing that many only start to feel in their teens.)

I remember also covering Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths about Spring, many of which involved girls being dragged off to Hell, a fate many of my female classmates seemed sadly too acquainted with through being forced to participate in cotillion — getting their own head start on dancing hell.

More happily, I also remember learning that Easter was always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, which has proved useful ever since, since I’m apparently one of six people in all of North America who has the first idea how the date of Easter is arrived at.


Ambivalence is not the issue, or maybe it is.


In the spring, a young man’s fancy
May turn towards some thoughts romancy,
Or to baseball turn, instead —
If they have thought in their head

In the spring, young women’s heeding
May turn towards some new succeeding
Or may turn to instead to guys —
I’m not saying if that’s

Wise


Here are the lyrics to a song I learned when I was still a boy, called “The Turtle Dove”. The song dates back to the 1700’s. I’m including it for no other reason than that I like it.

Fare you well my dear, I must be gone and leave you for a while –
If I roam away I’ll come back again,
Though I roam ten thousand miles, my dear,
Though I roam ten thousand miles.

So fair though art my bonnie lass, so deep in love am I –
But I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till the stars fall from the sky, my dear,
Till the stars fall from the sky.

The sea will never run dry my dear, nor the rocks ever melt with the sun –
And I never will prove false to the bonnie lass I love,
Till all these things be done, my dear,
Till all these things be done.

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove, he doth sit on yonder high tree –
A making a moan for the loss of his love,
As I will do for thee, my dear,
As I will do
For thee.

The Invisible Man At Target

I’m sitting in the parking lot of our local Target, way out on the edge, far away from most of the people.

I always seem to be in a parking lot, and I am almost always as far from people as I can get.

It’s hot today, hot and hazy. I’m out for my usual Sunday drive, and I stopped here to think, which I’m not all that good at.

A beautiful woman just got into the Jeep in front of me. There seem to be a lot of beautiful women here.

There seems to be a lot of them everywhere I go.

Even way out here on the edge.

Even though I drive a bright yellow car, I have long felt I was basically invisible. I drive to the local Target and I see hundreds of people, but I’m pretty sure none of them see me. So I’m ideally placed as an observer: seeing, but never seen.

You can see by the attached photo what I look like — if you noticed it at all. In real life, you’d walk right by me. Everybody does, except the people who actually know me.

As case in point as to my alleged invisibility, the woman with the Jeep proceeded to change her shirt in it, after looking around to be sure no one was there. I looked away when I realized what she was doing, but she hadn’t noticed me. I’m just talented that way.

There are fewer of these parking lots every year. Retail itself is changing rapidly, of course. I could see places like Dollar General putting Target out of business. That, and online distributors. But something will come along after those, as well.

Nothing human is permanent; we all know this. But we invest things with a type of permanence reflective of the intensity we feel about them.

I used to bring my kids here, and they loved it. Of course, they all loved Toys R Us, too, and now that’s going away. Just as I loved Sears, and my mother loved Woolworth’s, both of which are now gone.

A beautiful woman in a sundress just looked this way and smiled when she saw me. It’s one of my coworkers, out shopping with two of her children: I wave and she waves back. I’m sure we’ll talk about this at work tomorrow.

Well, it’s time for this invisible man and his bright yellow car to go. Not sure where, but they’ll no doubt be beautiful women there.

Ghosts

I have ghosts.

These ghosts aren’t the people from my past who I’ve known and lost. They aren’t even people from the past I’ve only read or heard about.

These ghosts are younger versions of me.

I look out the window of my office and I see myself, hurrying around the little walking trail adjacent, trying to figure out what to do about my drug-addicted twenty-year old son.

I walk out the front of the building, and I see myself, pacing before an exam, staring up at the tall building I now work in where the exams were administered.

Across the street, I see a much younger me eating at the old diner, in the very first week after we moved here – with a different wife (my ex) and our then-infant son.

A lot of our lives takes place within a few square miles: our joys, our heartbreaks, our meltdowns, even our sex. There are groceries stores we’ve walked miles in, church pews we’ve occupied, a couch we’ve watched 10,000 hours of television on.

But we change as we age. The play goes on, but our part changes, and the players change, as well. Sometimes we walk out on stage, only to realize we are in a whole different theater than we remember starting in. Or growing in.

My ghosts aren’t malignant. They don’t even notice me. They are fully wrapped up in the problems or experiences of their day. I’m just there observing. In a few short hours (it’s lunchtime right now), I’ll be back home, holding my baby granddaughter, who is very close to being able to crawl. I know she won’t be a baby much longer. One day I’ll see ghost me, holding her, smiling with her.

She, on the other hand, won’t remember.

Because, you see, what makes these “ghosts” is that I’m the only one who can see them, and I’m the only one who will ever see them. I write (and maybe you do, too) to try to recreate a little of my experience for you, in the hope I can’t faintly project a little bit of my ghost-world onto the walls of your cave.

But I can’t really expect you to look for long. All of you have ghosts of your own.

 

Down Broken Willow

Those two summers, we swam every day in the bayou “down Broken Willow”, as we said back home. There were different people there on different days, but always the three of us: my brother, his friend Danny, and me.

Being younger than the two of them by five years, I was assigned the lowest role in whatever games we were playing. The most common of these was to be a lookout for ski boats if we were playing too far from the tree or the shore. I also “got to” (it was a privilege, you see) chase and retrieve overthrown footballs, bring each of them towels, and go to shore to receive messages on behalf of the two of them (usually “come home”), and so on. I spent the better part of those two summers almost completely sunburned; the Florida sun pretty much laughs at things like t-shirts and sunblock.

Even though they used me as a lackey, a nine-year-old boy is pretty lucky when his fourteen-year-old brother will let him hang out, and I realized that at the time. All of that ended sometime during the next year, as my brother withdrew into his own world, a place he’s never really returned from in the forty-six years since.

My wife asked me last night why my brother and I never talk; I don’t really have an answer, other than that we’ve been having the same conversation for decades, and it never really varies. He tells me little to nothing about his own life, even when asked specifically, and has no interest in mine. We can relive the old days, though, laughing at the old stories; he still thinks its funny the errands he used to send me on, and the fatuous reasoning he’d use to justify it. And it is kind of funny.

Sometimes, you love someone, like a brother, but can’t really connect with them, except on some old ground. Maybe if he and I went swimming, back in our old neighborhood, we could still interact as though our lives had some ongoing commonality. But there doesn’t seem to be one.

Not every estrangement in life comes from anything bad really happening: sometimes, it’s just distance and difference, and you find yourself facing a stranger — one you love, but, who you no longer really know — if you ever really did know them.

With my brother, I’m not sure I ever did.

If Liberty Means Anything…

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” – George Orwell, the Original Preface to Animal Farm


I feel about political parties the way a cat feels about various packs of dogs. None of them are friendly, and none of them would ever want me as a member.*

I don’t like political parties because I don’t like gangs. I don’t talk about politics much on my blogs because you are either in a gang, or you are its enemy, as I have repeatedly found throughout my life. I belong to no gang, which makes me the enemy of all of them.

That being said, there is a political issue I do feel strongly about, and that is people’s right to express their own opinions. If you feel moved enough by a given issue to speak out about it, speak out. If you feel safer doing that with a large group of others, do it, that’s your right.

I won’t be comfortable around your large group, but I believe in your right of free opinion and speech, and free assembly.

In fact, I’ll probably be as far away from your assembling group as my noncomformist cat self can get.

I don’t like any part of political discourse that consists of trying to stop the other side from speaking. In fact, I despise it.  It can be right wing talk show hosts telling people to “shut up and dribble” (or shut up and whatever), or it can be left wing sheep saying “Four legs good, two legs bad”**.  All these tactics are reprehensible.

For those of us who live in the United States, we either believe in freedom and in government by the people, or we don’t.

And it’s the ones who don’t who are always the enemy.


* I used this image for a poem recently, but this was the sentence (and context) as I originally intended it.

** This is also from “Animal Farm”. You probably should reread it, eighth grade was a while ago.