Oh The Places You’ll Go

I’ve read a lot about blogging over the years. I’ve done a lot of it and I’ve read a lot about it. Seems like those who can do sometimes also teach. Or something.

One of the recurring tips I’ve seen is never blog about how long it’s been since you posted last, and why it’s been so damn long. Nobody wants to read that shit.

I don’t know. That could be wrong. And as I behold the fact that it’s been a solid month, and that my page views have slid off the continental shelf into a deep, cold sea, I say better to blog about shit than nothing at all.

So I’m going to write about not writing as a means of raising the wreck. I’m doing to throw caution to the wind and see if the dog can smell it.

First, here’s something to look at. This map shows where Google has followed me via GPS in the 30 days since last I wrote to you.

See if you can guess where I’ve been, and why.

Here’s a hint you can google: Everybody’s dancin’ in a ring around the sun.

My Google Location History 2015.06.17 - 2015.07.17

Click to enlarge

Peace.

The Little Engine That Clicked

My trusty Lexus wouldn’t start this afternoon. It just said, “click.” I said, “shit.” And it said, “click” again. I didn’t think I needed to say anything else.

The problem began a couple of weeks ago. It would say “click,” but then it would say, “vroom!” Then the problem went away for a while. It happened again last Friday and the battery connections got a thorough cleaning. It started perfectly for almost a week, until today. Shit.

Both times it said “click” this evening, a jump-starter got the car to go again. So I hope it’s just the battery. But the battery was brand new last August. The starter was brand new in 2011. And even if all it needs is a new battery, I’ve got appointments tomorrow. I’ve got a trip to northern California in a week. It’s gonna be a while before I stop dreading the “click” when I turn the key.

I hate car trouble.  It makes me nervous. It makes me use bad language. It makes me question the material efficacy of the universe.

I was telling my Dad this afternoon that together we’ve been dealing with this sort of thing periodically for 38 years, when I was 16 and he was 45. Now I’m 54 and he’s 82, and having a car that won’t start and might cost anywhere from $0 to $1200 to fix still takes pretty much the same mental and emotional toll on me as it did then. (Though in 1977 $1200 would buy a lot more of a car than a starter.)

He said, “it’s an inconvenience.” And he’s right. It’s an inconvenience, not a problem and it’s absolutely vital to modern human sanity to be able to recognize the difference. But I prefer to the term, “manifest and unsettling pain in the ass.”

By the way, can anybody explain to me what evil possessed the Toyota engineers, that they put the starter under the engine’s manifold? Pernicious plot, I say.

I need a new battery, I might need a good and honest and not-to-expensive mechanic, and I probably need at least 50 minutes with a good psychiatrist.

F–kin’ Click, is my point.

The Voice of the Choir

In mind of Mother’s Day, here’s an old poem about the incredible depth of emotion in which a family swims. How long can you tred water? I think the poem has some good, sincere intensity. But it needs to be rewritten. Maybe I’ll take another crack at the imagery, one of these days.

This is from my book Finding Oakland. It’s out of print but you can have it in PDF by clicking the Creative menu, above.

END OF DAYS

In the few cold minutes
since my death
I have seen my people
going by. Now I understand
returning home
and remaining away.
We fished orange salmon
from a bridge arched in pain
and rose at three to watch
the moon in the shadow
of the earth.

My mother and father
sleep in their armchairs
and rise up singing hymns.
The sharp November air
has taken the house
the grass is gray
and the birds are gone.
No hope of rain and no
forgetting.

My only brother
his face to the window
is singing
to the miles and the time
behind and forgotten
the words we must say
so we don’t give up.
His words rise like clouds
with thunder and trembling
becoming San Francisco rain.

The birds which are gone
had wings of wet lapis
and the voice of the choir
of heaven. But even I, who was
dead, know the true cost:
the quiet lost, the fear
of telephones, or light
beneath a door. All we can do
is love, hold fast, let go.

Creative Commons Licensed
Published 1992.
Changed just a little, 2015

A Way With Words

“It’s good. I like it. You sure have a way with words.”
“Thanks.”
“What does it mean?”

That always makes me smile, and a couple of answers pop to mind: “How the hell would I know? I only wrote it.” Or perhaps, “Well what does it mean to you?” Not good. People want an answer; they want clarity and feel entitled to it. But maybe I’m not the right person to answer the question. Maybe they’re not the right person to ask it.

If a cook is exploring a new recipe and asks you to try the dish, you might say Thank You, and report that you enjoyed it or not. But you don’t lay your napkin neatly on the table and say, “Gee that was yummy. What was it supposed to taste like?”

You probably know what Stephen King wrote in his book On Writing, that writing can be a kind of telepathy, a psychic connection of Meaning between two minds, across time and space. Or something to that effect. I have cited that postulate before in this blog, but I’m skeptical.

Let’s imagine I sit down with my copy of The Complete Poems of Robert Frost, a cup of coffee, and with my vague memories of my college studies in English. And I turn to my favorite poem – which is everybody’s favorite poem:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


What does it mean? It’s one of those poems that often gets called “deceptively simple,” and it’s true. Most people who read it are very much deceived. Robert Frost died when I was 2, so we can never know. …Well that’s not true. We don’t need to ask the artist, we can explore the art for ourselves. Let’s take a couple of jabs at it.

  1. Winter is peaceful. Horses are cool. It’s nice to live in the country and use words like “village.” Back in the 1920s, queer meant strange, perplexing. And we have to keep moving and get our chores done before we can go to bed.
  1. The woods are a metaphor of the psyche, which stands apart from tangible life – the home in the village. The falling snow is the passage of time. As we grow older (the nights grow longer and darker), the dark woods of death – the event horizon of consciousness – seem more real, impending. We pause to consider mortality. The woods are lovely: we have a yearning for the peace of our inevitable passage into the woods. Then there are the harness bells; for whom do the bells toll?

If I’m being honest, it’s always been simply a poem about quietude and peace for me. It reminds me of Christmas, with the bells and the snow and the darkness evening being Winter Solstice. But if I were pressed for deeper meaning, I’d say it’s a rich and elaborate poem about death and the awareness of death; the darkness beyond the lights of the town for all of us.

Around the same time, e e cummings wrote a poem about a girl,

whose least amazing smile is the most great
common divisor of unequal souls.

Nah, that’s Death, e e. Death is the greatest common divisor of everything. It’s what we all have in common. Beyond that fact, I don’t think any two of us look at life and death and Meaning in exactly the same way. And the right answer to all of it may very well be 42.

So I’ve come to suspect that Meaning isn’t rightfully my job; not my department. Please hold while I transfer your call. Honesty is my job, and diligence, and the best craft I can bring to bear. But Meaning is a task for someone else. And here’s a thought that might seem twisted: maybe meaning doesn’t belong to that certain reader who’s asking me to explain. If they’re not finding the Meaning, then the piece has reached the wrong audience. The Meaning belongs to someone I haven’t met and never will. Maybe that’s what Stephen King was getting at.

So despairing of a psychic connection with readers yet unraised, untutored, I have little cause for hope, but that someone years hence finds a scrap of my writing, and it will mean something to her that I can’t even imagine.

“A book, once it is printed and published, becomes individual. It is by its publication as decisively severed from its author as in parturition a child is cut off from its parent. The book “means” thereafter, perforce, — both grammatically and actually, — whatever meaning this or that reader gets out of it.”

– James Branch Cabell

now thoroughly small and dry

It is a dry time. Good Friday comes and The Garden is behind us. Cast out and hunkered down in the dust, thirsty, in denial.

This scrap went into my notebook tonight:

The well is dry.
We have sat by it all night
wondering about the secret
answers far below
afraid to ask questions.

~-~-~

And this is from my long-ago book, Finding Oakland.

ALL CREEKS DRY

I went to find a creek
today   a stream   a ditch
any water moving
They gave up the habit
with the end of spring
No reason to cut earth
batter rock   carry mud
another year

Most died of boredom
In the trickle of summer
its not worth the trouble
Some went in glorious
illusions
any reason to live
is a reason to die

A few by their own hands
The act prepared
in the quiet heart
alone   with the sound
of flies only
Draining mostly through
small holes punched
in the dust

~-~-~

Here in the long, dry riverbed of Time, we need rain. We need kindness. We need to turn from the unreality of self interest in these unreal, indehiscent days.

Creative Commons Licensed

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

– T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

As Ideas Go

I had what I thought was a pretty good idea for a blog post about decluttering the mind and life. It was based on a quote of David Allen, author of Getting Things Done:

“Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. …Don’t use your mind to get stuff off your mind.”

My idea was sort of like The Power of Now meets an episode of Hoarders.

As ideas go, it’s a pretty good one, because I often encounter people who are unhappily trying to use their brains like warehouses, instead of like pianos. I think you get my point.

So I was googling around, trying to confirm the exact quote and its source, when I stepped in something disappointing:

The top few Google search results for this quote are … me.

Dang it, I already wrote the blog post I wanted to write, about a year and a half ago.

https://kimberlin.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/dont-use-your-mind/

Hey, I’ve posted on this blog over 3000 times. Who can keep track of all the effluvium?

The good news is, the post I wrote in 2013 was probably better than what I was going to write tonight.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you ever have an idea for something to write, only to discover that you’ve already written it?

” It’s more like trading the two birds
who might be hiding in that bush
for the one you are not holding in your hand.”

– Billy Collins