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For me, the work of writing has always, in some way, been a fight against oblivion. It’s my way of resisting death and (however delusional) of trying to ensure that a trace of me remains after I’m gone.
– Julija Šukys
It’s inevitable. At some point after arriving safely home on my annual pilgrimage, I’ll take the short walk to the cemetery lying at the foot of the appropriately dead end street (a good place to run infinite loops as a child, but powerful incentive to go out into the world) and pay a visit to Leslie.
My earliest memory of her was when we were in a play together at school. Actually it was a dramatization of a poem a small working group of us seventh graders were asked to compose. Impatient with poetry-by-committee, I’d made it my homework to just write the damn thing myself, presenting it as a fait accompli the next day in English class.
I don’t recall exactly what it was about, but it involved a murder and I was cast as the guy packing heat. There’s a dramatically off-kilter snapshot of me holding the gun (perversely innocent now we’re in the age of metal detectors beeping at real ones) in the depths of the family archives.
Looking delicate and lovely in her yearbook picture, I’m amazed I didn’t fall for my classmate, but we were just friends, till even friendship passed away for some obscure reason.
She died around the time I was getting married. We’d last run into each other on a chilly afternoon on the quad at the nearest large way station to credentialed adulthood. I remember her telling me about a trip to England, where I’d eventually land.
Leslie has since become my guide to the underworld, as it were: those dark mental caverns where I sit in full Rodin’s Thinker mode contemplating my own time on earth. Her long afterlife haunts me and reminds me not to take breathing for granted. The school where we first met has since vanished, leaving a smooth green sward for drive by memories.
I don’t know if we’ve all got a book in us, but surely we’ve all got an obit. During the last couple of years I’ve taken to reading these short stories, a habit you’re not supposed to acquire until closer to your three score and ten. One day I was surprised to see William Bradley, face framed by copies of The Best American Essays on the bookshelf behind him.
Bradley had come to my attention around the time I started exploring Facebook, incidentally a medium I’d love to hate were I more invested.*
Hey, a writer in Tiffin! had probably been my first thought. Someone I’d like to get to know.
I was impressed that he made it through so much oncological horror without falling into the bottomless pit of self pity I’m pretty sure would be my final destination. We’d both ruminated over Warren Zevon’s last album, but for him it was a soundtrack to nearly unbearable experiences.
I admired his passion for the essay. He really got meta on its ass.
Alas I was never able to eek more than a polite like out of him when replying to his posts on FB, which nipped any possible RL friendship in the bud. Then again, as I later learned, he was going through rather a lot at the time; there was no opportunity for a concerted charm offensive.
I’ve been lucky in life. The Grim Reaper hasn’t collected anybody close to me. Loved ones are all still present and accounted for. I don’t know many people who’ve made it to their middle ages so unscathed.
Were I superstitious, this would be a good time to find a large piece of wood to knock on. The centenarian that held court in front of our house would be a suitable candidate if an almighty wind hadn’t brought it down, making me question its prophylactic qualities against reversals of fortune. I’m left pondering its ancient corpse, already sectioned by a tree surgeon but left to bleach in the sun.
It’s bad enough losing yourself. The thought of losing others is more painful still.
Fortunately (or not, from my DNA’s point of view), I don’t have children, so never faced the possible horror of that loss.
There is a little heart I fear stops beating, that of the impossibly dear rabbit who shares the house with us. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say I’d rather go before him, which hopefully would make him a very long-lived long ears indeed. It’s amazing what pets can do to you.
Childhood dogs and cats and such are typically said to be the unwitting instructors on how to process grief before you’re old enough to read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s a lesson I haven’t learned.
Recently I went looking for Bradley’s website and was unsettled it was gone. I don’t know that he would’ve cared, but oddly I did, perhaps highlighting my own thanatophobia [bloody hell, entire domain gone] by putting myself in the shoes of a dead man slowly being erased.
Thus did I recruit myself as curator, reconstituting and expanding the collection of links that had been in his library. Although this will allow anyone who happens upon the page a chance to help him continue to cheat death, it was in fact a selfish act.
He’s both alive and not, like Schrödinger’s cat, but of course, mostly not.
Or tell him You’re a Wonder was wonderful, joy rides in second person, less so. (Maybe not right away, but down the line, after a few glasses of wine, though I don’t drink, it’s just a prop.)
Or that I also fear inadvertently revealing my internal monologue underneath my polite, bland, midwestern facade, which would likely see me punctured with pitchfork holes. You should see some of my first drafts…
Or that the label “creative nonfiction” makes my eyes roll (more vino please. My first impulse is to say let the reader decide – possibly on both counts – but I know it’s the taxonomy, stupid.) He’d probably then roll his eyes at me for further and quite seriously informing him that bunnies are so much better than cats it isn’t funny…
Or collaborate in crowdfunding a mercenary to put a very liberal whupping on Aaron Sorkin.
Or bump into him at Kroger the next time I’m in town and ask if he remembered to put the eggs on top.
Or thank him for making me consider how essay means to try.
Death be not proud, wrote Johnny Gunther’s father to generations of school kids and John Donne to eternity. Appetizer for last supper conversation though that may be, here’s someone who really knew how to wrap things up:
*I’m not even invested enough to use my real name. Well, my current one.
Stills from the BBC documentary Queen: One’s Long Strange Trip
…and other columns written for my hometown Ohio paper.
Westminster (image googlegrab like the most of the rest + beaucoup graininess)
The Overseas Oval Office Club
What, you don’t remember President Yoda?
Transparencies, negatives and digital. At least digital – there is helpful software and everything. Completely hopeless of course, so might as well put it at the top of the list.
Where to even begin. By subject? Date? General era?
SORT THE LOFT
Or attic, which is the word I grew up with but which nobody in England seems to use. Googling yields niggling differences. Loft sounds, well, loftier, so we’ll go with that.
This is where things go to accumulate. Boxes from purchases retained “just in case it has to go back.” Suitcases filled with towels, as-new sleeping bags (been camping twice in 20 years), and coats. Clothes which no longer fit but may again some day. Bunny-proofing materials. Scrapboxes—like scrapbooks but in boxes. The fridge that came with the place which my wife still hasn’t forgiven me for hauling up there all by my lonesome. A bike and a half. And a whole lot of odds & ends.
It all needs to be inventoried, then sorted into neat piles and rows. Possibly labelled.
The elephant in the room is a collection of books which resists census. Call it a thousand. Sorry guys, there’s no room downstairs. Though you may end up at ground zero level anyway, if the structural beams don’t hold.
Once or twice I’ve wanted to lay my hands on a book I know is resting there, but given up the search and ordered another one instead.
Seriously, when is this process going to start?
FACEBOOK SPRING CLEAN
Yes, capture was achieved. Dragged kicking and screaming, I finally went limp and fell into its embrace. “Thou doth protest too much,” it whispered, all-knowing.
It’s important that you know I’m not bitter. No siree! I understand that we can’t all be friends; even on Facebook, where some claim that concept is devalued to near meaninglessness.
It has lately come to my attention that not all of my friend requests have been accepted. While I accept that it isn’t always possible to process applications in a timely fashion, there comes a point when one is faced with the grim reality that potential friends have examined my profile and found me wanting.
What to do? Hold on and hope they see the light? No. Optimism must be tempered by a refreshing cold splash of realism.
It is time to purge my friend request list. With fire. It’s the only way.
Call it an early spring cleaning. It’s Ash Wednesday anyway, no? “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
FINISH THE ENTIRE RUN OF STAR TREK VOYAGER
This really doesn’t belong here…
This is such a scary thing I don’t usually write it down; to put it in a public to do list is unprecedented.
In search of lost time? It’s here, there, and everywhere
I’ve had a book busy not writing itself in my head for years now. Have a title, too, along with domain name which I’ve been paying for, as if that will help move things along. Somebody else has since nicked my title for their own book, which they’ve actually gone and written, but that’s OK, it’s been done before.
LEARN ANOTHER LANGUAGE
Apprendre une autre langue.
MAKE A NEW TO DO LIST
This one is old.