This is about life, my darling, for at the core of the very first and lightest thought we could bear we learned that life is all we have.
Ever since we have tried as hard as we could to make it about everything else.
Know that I do now and will forever love you. What I believe is true for me, and that's the only truth I can offer.
You can never unlove anyone in my universe, and my universe is a land I can never leave.
My love, I have been walking the earth. This is my report.
Once I was taken for a movie star
. I was eyed flight from L.A.
, New Zealand
by two gray-haired ladies. They were about ten coach rows ahead of me, and they kept talking to each other, then turning around to look at me. I saw them do it about five times. They were probably doing when I wasn't looking, too. The eyeing went on for the entire 12 hours of the flight.
When we landed in Auckland and had passed through customs they came up to me and stood in my path.
"We saw you at Joel's house, last Friday night," one said to me.
"I don't think so," I said, not knowing anyone named Joel who owned a house I might ever go to.
"Coen. Joel and Ethan. You were at the reception last Friday."
"The Coen Brothers?"
"You're that actor. What's your name?"
Immediately the thought crossed my mind that the best thing to do was to withhold as much information as possible. This is how the international network of evil ropes you in. You start spouting your name in strange places, and then they want your driver's license number and social. Next thing you know, you're in a tiger cage in Burma.
"Wasn't me. I'm not an actor," I said. "I'm an electrical engineer on my way to the south pole."
"Are you sure? It's okay. You can tell us."
"I'm sure," I said, and I held out my bag so they could see my day-glo USAP program participant luggage tag that allowed other ice people to pick me out in crowds.
"When are you going to be back in L.A.?" one asked.
"When I come back north after the south pole."
"We'll see you at the next party, then."
"I don't think so," I said, and I waved as they took off to wherever they were going.
I'll look for them next time Joel invites me over.
The radio station asked for my picture to put on their website. They like to have pictures of all the djs and on the days I was doing a radio show they wanted the citizens of the earth to be able to see who they were hearing. So I sent them a picture.
I went back to the house and told Kristan, "Hey, KTOO is going to put my picture on their website."
She said, "Let me guess. You sent them one of you at the south pole."
Now, I must admit that I did think for the briefest of moments to send one of those, but I didn't. I sent one taken of me by a co-worker at my prior company while we were in my office one day talking about cameras instead of working.
"No, I didn't."
She said, "I don't believe you."
"Why do you think I had to send them one of me at the south pole?"
"Because it's your defining moment."
I thought about what she said. Had I managed to let one of my life's adventures become the raison d'etre of my entire life?
That would be pretty dumb, especially since I have children.
But seeing as how I had not actually sent KTOO a polar picture, I felt I could lay claim to the moral high ground.
"That's a pretty narrow way to view an entire life, don't you think? I mean, I've done a lot of things other than go to the south pole."
She hesitated, then said, "Well, ok. You're right." And then she went back to what ever she had been doing.
Thus I experienced how hollow and unfulfilling it can be to win an argument.
Today I was in the bookstore. I have been avoiding bookstores because they are generally filled with things that I do not wish to read. They also remind me of how much dreck there is in the world that is published, and consequently, of the unacceptability of my own dreck to publication.
"The Secret Lives of Rocks" was one such bit of dreck. The title interested me and so I picked up the book and opened it to a random page. I was accosted by some strange character names and it reminded me that perhaps one way to get a book published is to name your characters in a way that assures they can be confused for no living being. For instance, "Obi Wan Kenobi" Winner of a name. Before 1973 the chances of anyone being called "Obi Wan" were identically equal to zero.
"Jit" was the name of someone in the rock book.
It immediately occurred to me that the author was a slacker. I put it down. Jit. Gimme a break.
My house is full of books which I have quit after the first 20 pages. They are filled with characters named Jit and Pea and Geldendoreph and Scout.
I remember being chastised by editors who assured me that if I could not captivate a reader in the first 20 pages, I should give up. I remember that I should not hide my characters behind their names.
Did they change the rules? Why did the rock guy sell his book? What am I missing?
I picked up two gift books. One is by Anna Quindlen, whom I think is a great writer. But these days her name is on a lot of things. There are books by her which are no more than 30 pages long and mostly pictures. They're sort of children’s' books for adults. I read one while standing around, waiting for my mother to select another novel to buy she would not read.
Why, Anna? Why?
Is it always about the money?
I think I probably picked the correct profession, which is engineering.
Let's get real about Christmas. Who are we fooling?
"Paranoia paranoia everybody's coming to get me."
Here we are, two weeks hence. All of the adornments have been torn from their mounts with less decorum than we give a lawn full of dandelions. When only weeks ago our hearts filled with the hope mankind could gift itself an endless supply of kindness, the strangle hold of Visa's 18.75% APR constricts the heart muscles until, seeping from our ears, we lose the multicolored joy of pinpoint lights amid the pine. Back in the old days only the Mafia charged that much, and they went to jail. Now we have corporations dedicated to the vig.
If I was a cynical person, I'd say Christmas was the anthem of organized persons who seek to financially subjugate all of us. But I know better. There is goodness in the human soul that cannot be tendered for gold, but only via the wiring of love. How stupid can we be that we entirely mortal beings are willing to focus our attention on material trappings?
Every Christmas we try to remind ourselves stuff we can hold doesn't matter. Mostly we fail, to the benefit of the American economy, which is not in of itself evil but only the reflection our indulgence.
I live with a woman who was raised in a wrecked school bus.
Apparently, the bus could be driven at one point in the 60's. Lest I conjure Partridge family vistas, I mention the rust and vermin. I mention the lack of heat, water, and other household amenities. I mention she was brought home by her grammar school classmates to shower when she became too odiferous for others to withstand her presence in polite company.
When the school bus caved in they moved into an abandoned farmhouse. No central heat. No plumbing. Hiding from the cops on Bainbridge Island.
These days she bathes regularly. She goes to work, nine to five. She wears a t-shirt that she's had since the bus. It says, "Global Initiative" on the front, and there's a picture of something called a Mongo Chicken on the back. The slogan for "Global Initiative" is "Create the world you choose."
She was born brilliant. She went to an expensive private school on a full scholarship. She's the recipient of numerous academic awards, including a fellowship from the Pew Charitable Trust.
Her parents and step parents have PhDs in various subjects, including engineering.
Yes, they chose to live in a broken down school bus in the woods. It was their global initiative. Recently, the girl's natural father told me, "The dream is dead." I didn't know what he meant until I remembered that he lived in a 2 bedroom farm house with his two daughters who went to the school bus on alternate weeks to live with their natural mother and her new husband.
There is little room in my mind to comprehend such a personal history. I hear about it. I've met all the people.
"We had to cut firewood in the winter," says one. "We dug a latrine in the woods."
Me: "Isn't that taking things a bit too far?"
For Christmas they gave each other poems they'd written. They carved things. They sewed things. It was like an episode of The Waltons, an allusion none of them would understand if I brought it up to them today. They eschewed TV as if it carried the Ebola virus.
"Goodnight, Mary Ellen," I say to her on some evenings.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"How old were you before you got your first pair of shoes?"
"We had shoes, I just didn't wear them."
"My mother would have grounded me if I went out without shoes."
Last summer I visited her birth mother and her mother's partner. We had to drive an hour past the last vestige of civilization, into the nowhere of "where the hell are we?" Then we parked at a spot that looked exactly like all the other spots in "where the hell are we?" and we hiked 30 minutes through woods that seemed very much like all the other woods I had ever been to.
They were living in a place called a "gulch" near a dwelling made of mud and straw. A few feet away they had erected a teepee that was the property of some native American friends, and had been used on the great plains around the turn of the 20th century.
They were purifying their water from a nearby stream. They were growing their own food, mostly, and driving 30 miles to the nearest town for stuff they couldn't grow, like first aid supplies.
That night I slept in the teepee and there was a massive thunderstorm. For those who have never slept in a plains Indian teepee, I will inform you that the dry area of the teepee is a toroid, outside of which rain pours onto you only slightly diverted by sticks and canvas.
At 3AM I had to get up to pee, and so left the teepee to stand ankle-deep in mud during a torrential storm. Then, too wet and dirty to get back into my sleeping bag, I sat on top of it until it got bright enough to see.
In the morning the storm had cleared. The sky was blue. Overhead, hawks hunted. Snakes slithered through the grass around us. We crushed poison oak with every foot fall.
Her mother asked, "How did you sleep?" but it was probably evident from my face that I'd done no such thing. She'd known me since winter, but probably remembered me from a couple of past lives. The way she looked at me made it obvious I didn't have to tell her my favorite food or that I was afraid of spiders.
Because she didn't want to live in the mud hut with her boyfriend, she'd just finished another year living in a randomly erected tree house of a shelter down by the stream. It was the second time I'd met her. The first was several months earlier when she was refinishing the hardwood floors in the house in which I currently reside. She was on her hands and knees smoothing the planks in the living room, working her way from double-aught grit to ever finer grades. It had taken weeks, and would take several more.
She has a form of terminal leukemia, but she doesn't want God to know.
I told her I slept fine. I told her that my tenderfoot, pansy-assed, sissy self wasn't bothered by a single night of rain in the woods.
Then I skipped breakfast and hiked with my woman 30-minutes up out of the gulch to my car, and then drove the hour to civilization to get an honest pancake breakfast for which I had to tender American currency.
I've recently accepted a position with an established silicon valley company with a salary that pays enough per month to buy the gulch and most of the surroundings. And I am sickened by the fact that years of conditioning has created a person in me who is comforted by that volume of money. It makes me value myself more.
That is my unconscious global initiative.
My girl looks over my shoulder when I peruse the internet looking for housing in silicon valley.
"I don't want to buy anything. If we spend money, we'll need it. It just goes on and on," she says.
On and on.
Our Christmas tree died. They all do.
We defrocked it and tossed it onto the beach.
It's snowing in Juneau. The evergreens are accented in white. The seashore is dusted. The light is a muted gray-blue that turns everything to shades of nineteenth century newsprint, the way Currier painted it.
A bald eagle skims the surface of the bay. Ravens call.
The natives think, as all natives do, that the world was created here in their homeland when thieving raven stole the sun. The image is in evidence all over town, painted in the stylized method of the northwestern tribes, reminiscent of the Mayans. It's a bird, turquoise, red, and brown, with a star in its beak.
I have seen the Yavapai sipapu, the origin of their existence. The hole in the ground from which the first miniature sun of a soul emerged.
I have seen Bethlehem, where the star led the kings.
Let's remember what we said to each other a few weeks ago. We can be glad. We can be happy.
Creation is wherever we happen to be born with whatever gifts we have been given. It's entirely possible we can be happy with them. It's entirely possible we'd be happier living with the earth instead of atop it.
These ideas are so obvious when we're listening to the carols, but they fade like dreams when the year wears. So I am going to try to remember.
Sing a song of gladness and cheer
For the time of Christmas is here
Look around about you and see
What a world of wonder
This world can be
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Sing a Christmas carol
Like the children do
And the joy and beauty
Oh, the joy and beauty
That a merry Christmas can bring to you!
A Christmas Carol