shiny things in messy little piles

Category: writing life (Page 1 of 3)

Being Against the Eternal Now

I have been com­ing to Oax­a­ca for 16 years now. I come for weeks or even months at a time, and yet I am so far unable to mas­ter the lan­guage. In spite of all the time I’ve spent going to din­ner, rid­ing in taxis, and attempt­ing to deci­pher the labels in the gal­leries and muse­ums. Despite months of Span­ish lessons at home, I speak like a stunt­ed tod­dler: in mono­syl­la­bles, two words at a time. I am unable to coher­ent­ly express so much as, “I came from Seat­tle yesterday.”

Here I have no tens­es but the present. I can say “I going out now,” but can­not man­age “I arrived on Tues­day,” or, “I went to the Tole­do muse­um this morn­ing,” or, “I would like to ride the hors­es tomorrow”.

In Mex­i­co I have few futures.  I can man­age a sort of “fur­ther tense” using the present tense of ir (to go) and an infini­tive — loose­ly “I am going to” [do this thing]. Voy a scriber mañana. I am going to write tomor­row. Con­tin­ue reading

Nuke and Pave…

… is an old com­put­er term for remov­ing all of the soft­ware from the hard­ware and start­ing over again. Back when we could rm ‑rf we would occa­sion­al­ly find that a sys­tem had got itself into a non-recoverable state and need to be rebuilt from the ground up in order to func­tion again. Or on a hap­pi­er note when a project fin­ished we often wiped the soft­ware off of the hard­ware and repur­posed it for the next project.
While sys­tems have become much more resilient than they used to be, and rm ‑rf is rarely avail­able to the aver­age user, a com­pete wipe down of the bug­gy sys­tem using rm ‑rf’s new­er rel­a­tive, reset to fac­to­ry set­tings, is still the only solu­tion to cer­tain prob­lems. My iPhone got into one of those states recent­ly. Slow to load apps and data for sev­er­al weeks it final­ly reached the point of being unable to load the App Store for updates.
Google has as many solu­tions for these sorts of prob­lems as there are ways of cre­at­ing them. Every­thing from killing the run­ning apps to ful­ly eras­ing the phone’s mem­o­ry and rebuild­ing it from “like new.” It’s a fraught process. There is a fris­son of dread and hope. You will def­i­nite­ly start with the sim­plest least destruc­tive options but there’s always the ques­tion: What if you have to go all the way?
I found and tried a num­ber of folk reme­dies. Kill all the run­ning apps and then restart the phone. Tap any but­ton at the bot­tom of the App Store app 10 times to clear the cache — that worked for about 10 min­utes. Remove all of your net­work set­tings and reboot your WAP — okay so the WAP was lit­tle wedged, etc. In the end none of these worked. The last non destruc­tive option was a full back­up and restore. And easy but lengthy process that could  leave the phone in exact­ly the same bare­ly func­tion­ing state that I had start­ed in. An hour and half lat­er that’s exact­ly what happened.
So there I was — faced with the option of last resort. The nuke and pave. Leav­ing me with a blank phone with­out a sin­gle bit of the per­son­al­i­ty that I’d giv­en it over the last two years. That at once won­der­ful and fright­en­ing prospect of a new start. There is dread. It’s a colos­sal has­sle. You lose every­thing. Every set­ting, every App, every bit of data. Your con­tacts, your text mes­sages, your fit­ness band data, your pho­tos of the dog act­ing idi­ot­ic. All of it. It’s like los­ing your phone only with­out the cost of new hard­ware. A total PITA.
And yet, and yet. It is also an excit­ing prospect. The new, vir­gin ter­rain. All of the mis­cel­la­neous cruft and crap and use­less apps and pass­words for wi-fi points in air­ports you’ll nev­er vis­it again, and oop­sie pic­tures of your feet are gone. You get to start again with a sim­pler, clean­er, less over­whelm­ing device. You will also spend the next week adding back the apps, pass­words, and data that it turns out you were using but had for­got­ten about. You will lose all of your deeply ingrained kinet­ic mem­o­ry, the auto­mat­ic fin­ger press­es and unthink­ing scrolling though the pages to reach the thing that you need.
Still.. new ter­rain. As an adult how often do you get enter new ter­rain for such a small price? Sure you can change jobs, change hous­es, change spous­es, all of which take up a lot more than a lazy Sun­day after­noon babysit­ting a hard­ware reset and a cou­ple of hours of soft­ware updates and restor­ing data and pass­words. And so I did it. Set­tings -> Gen­er­al -> Reset -> Reset All Set­tings and pressed the many pop-up but­tons that con­firmed that I did indeed intend to remake my phone into a pris­tine ver­sion of its now non-functioning self.
We all love the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rein­vent our­selves. Even if it’s only in terms of lit­tle bit of pris­tine elec­tron­ic wilder­ness that we can remake to suit our now two years old­er and wis­er self. New phone wall­pa­per, a clean slate of wi-fi set­tings, and some nifty new apps. — Even if you end up reim­port­ing all of the depress­ing fit­ness band data.

A Ball of String

I think I was a cat for Hal­loween one year. I have a pic­ture of me in a leo­tard and tights with a con­struc­tion paper ears and a tail and my face paint­ed white with black whiskers.  It’s not much of a tail and I remem­ber being a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed that I did­n’t have a cloth one with wire in it so that I could make it twitch or at least curl it inter­est­ing­ly. I don’t remem­ber any­thing else about that Hal­loween, or that cos­tume. But I do have the picture.

I’m try­ing to work with the notion of fam­i­ly sto­ries in some essays that I am writ­ing. The need for those sto­ries and the vari­abil­i­ty of those sto­ries and how they orga­nize and glue togeth­er fam­i­lies. The prob­lem is that I need exam­ples and at any giv­en moment in time I can’t just call up sto­ries. My mem­o­ry is entire­ly asso­cia­tive. It’s as if my mem­o­ry is a very tan­gled ball of twine — the only way to find my mem­o­ries is to be offered an end of the string made up of some oth­er mem­o­ry or some remark from some­one. Or a picture.

I have a small album of pic­tures that my moth­er gave to me when I got mar­ried. In it are pic­tures of me as a child and a few of me and my sib­lings.  I love those pictures.

Some of those pic­tures of me are from before I mak­ing con­scious mem­o­ries. There are pic­tures of me being held by my grand­par­ents. One of me as a one year-old proud­ly wear­ing my father’s watch. And oh the hair, bright white and all over the place — fright-wig and looks like Ein­stein were fre­quent remarks.

Slow­ly as a I page through the pic­tures some things become clear­er. I remem­ber a house we lived in when I was  4 and my grand­par­en­t’s back yard. There’s the one of my in a tutu and those blue cat eye glass­es with my friend from kinder­garten — whose name was… oh yeah Lin­da! And how I want­ed to be a bal­le­ri­na — but I don’t think I ever took dance lessons. (If I’m wrong my mom will tell me.)

There are pic­tures of me and my sib­lings. One spe­cial one of the five of us just after my youngest broth­er was born. I don’t remem­ber the pic­ture being tak­en but I do remem­ber the warm Sep­tem­ber day that he was born. The neigh­bor was look­ing after us and told us in the mid­dle of the after­noon that we had a broth­er. And remem­ber­ing that after­noon reminds me of the fam­i­ly sto­ry that’s told about my broth­er’s birth. You see, it’s said that my dad and the doc­tor watched the first game of a Pirates double-header while wait­ing for my broth­er to be born. It con­tin­ues that after Joe’s birth with my dad, the doc­tor, and my new baby broth­er watch­ing the sec­ond game. True? Most like­ly not. But it’s been told over and over again and it does explain Joe’s grade-school obses­sion with baseball.

Once I start down that road — grab that bit of string of mem­o­ry I can find anoth­er sto­ry and anoth­er sto­ry and yet anoth­er. Sto­ries about my broth­ers and their odd­ly bal­anced rela­tion­ship (5 years and a good­ly num­ber of pounds sep­a­rat­ed them but they put up a unit­ed front when­ev­er chal­lenged.) Sto­ries about my sis­ters and their pas­sions, one for music, the oth­er for hors­es. All the things that make my fam­i­ly unique­ly my family.

But with­out the first pic­ture I get no where.

So I keep in my stu­dio a small brown, now quite beat­en up, pho­to album. With a hand­ful of pic­tures. That can send me back in time and unrav­el my mem­o­ry knots. Every time I open it I’m grate­ful that my mom made it for me.

I'm smiling!



The Thing about Hallmark

Why is every­body so down on Hall­mark? Aren’t we inar­tic­u­late enough with­out deny­ing us the chance to have some­one help us to speak? Haven’t we all had that moment when we don’t have any words of our own. When the words have been blast­ed right out of us? When all we are left with is a heav­ing heav­i­ness in our guts? No more than an emp­ty space — black, boil­ing in on itself — that can­not sig­ni­fy some accept­able mean­ing?  When there is an absolute require­ment — the need to speak, but no words.

That time when all you have to say is: This thing that has hap­pened — it has torn a hole in my heart and tak­en the words right out of me. I want to show you the blood rush­ing out to pool at my feet. To speak in the red sticky cop­pery taste of sor­row, to give you the torn out piece of my heart and say “eat this — it is my heart’s ache for you.” But no one wants to see the gun-shot hole in your chest. You can­not point to a pool of blood and say “this is for you.” But, you can always send a Hall­mark with its care­ful­ly deco­rous words that say “I have a hole in my heart for you.” with­out mak­ing an unseem­ly dis­play of arte­r­i­al blood.

The thing about Hall­mark is that the reply, the acknowl­edg­ment of the oth­er’s sym­pa­thy, of the wound that they have tak­en in response to your own heart-ache, can be as care­ful­ly rit­u­al­ized as the expres­sion. With Hall­mark you do not have to say “I see the hole in your heart but I can not answer it — the hole in my heart is too big and bleed­ing to quick­ly and it threat­ens to over­come me. And I can­not be held account­able for your sym­pa­thy.” You can sim­ply let Hall­mark say “Thank you for think­ing of me.”

Hall­mark. Because some­times the best you can do is to let some­one else help you say “I have some feel­ings about this. I thought you should know.”

I Believe (after Ron Shelton)

I believe in the image, the line, the stan­za, the iambic foot, the per­fect word. Asso­nance, slant rhymes, that the for­mal forms still have a place in mod­ern poet­ry. I believe that Shake­speare wrote the plays. I believe in a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment out­law­ing poet­ry about poet­ry and the use of the word “suf­fuse.” I believe in revi­sion, inter­lin­ear trans­la­tions, pub­lish­ing in print — not on-line, and I believe in long, slow, deep, wet poems that last three days. 

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