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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Looking for the Ghost smoocherer

i think i'm becoming a ghost.

It's a strange revelation for me since i wasn't aware that i was tethered to the world of the living at all until those tethers started getting severed. It started with my church closing it's doors. Snip. A group of people i had been worshiping with, been accountable to, laughed with, cried with, prayed for, been prayed for by for years was gone one cold day in February. The ground felt soft and shifting. But there was ground.

Then Happ, me eldest son, got his driver's license in June. Slice. Suddenly there's one less face at the dinner table. No more challenging discussions about life, ethics, God, growing up, acne. Elwood Station became noticeably more silent... at least on nights when his friends didn't coagulate at our place.

In July the adze finally fell. Though i wasn't sure it was permanent at first; it soon became clear that my boss was streamlining. Jettisoning the jetsom. For years i've looked at the same unshaven faces day in and day out. Spent more hours with a partner that i wasn't married to than the one i had. Now, i spend my days alone, talking to myself or the radio and trying to convince myself to stay at work. But the reasons are becoming ephemeral. They're ideas now, ideas with no flesh and no warmth to them. Just cold reasons.

Even Mynnie, the lovely bride i did marry has been less and less available. She's constantly about the needs of others. Work, volunteering and taking care of her recovering father, a man who nearly took the more traditional route to ghosthood, keep hacking out more of her time, and rightfully so. It might even be a good thing, right?

Now i'll have more time to write, non? Writers instinctually crave alone time anyway. In point of fact, i need it in order to write. People being around are a distraction; they interrupt the flow of my own thoughts. More and more those distractions were disappearing. This was a good thing, right?

It was insidious and patient. Like blood seeping unseen beneath a bandage. Like bleeding out. i was losing all of the close human bonds i had and as i did, i started to lose the ability to relate to those i had left. My world was in my own skull and everyone who tried to engage me was interrupting. i was starting to see people as nuisances more and more. Becoming less tolerant and more eager to be separate. To be alone with my thoughts but those thoughts were becoming restless. They were no longer interested in writing. They were lost, unfocused, missing something unnamed. They began to seek solace of their own in increasingly dark places dragging me along for the ride. (Yes, i know, they are my thoughts and therefore me, but it's easier for me if i think of them as someone else, so roll with it for now. It could be demons, right?)

What is it? What's missing? What have i lost? As usual, i turned to God: in prayer, in sermons (podcast of course, i haven't found a new church yet after nearly eight months), in more prayer. The darkness brought guilt and a need for forgiveness but not pious, self-justification. Pagan penance, buying God's favor wouldn't bring peace or purpose to the demons. Religion, phaugh. No. God reminded me, first in words and then in the touchable, pulse filled arms of my wife, that grace and mercy and forgiveness are not rites and fancy words, but they are all warm, wet kisses in a real relationship.

In the cold, blue light of the moonlit trees, with little sound but the cracking of branches by unseen feet and no companions but my own thoughts, it's easy to believe in ghosts.

When one loses or discards all ties to the living and lives only to please one self, it's easy to become one.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Wilderness waved

Of late, I have been working in the Poconos. Everything about the Poconos is a misnomer. They are called mountains, THE Mountains, by most Philthadelphians and New Joykers. But they are at best, foothills. The only reason they probably sidestepped that label was the lack of any genuine articles over their shoulders for people to skip over them to goggle at. It doesn't end with geography though. Every clump of cabins, shacks and hovels are called Estates. Every hotel with a putt-putt and waterslide is a Resort. Actually the Resorts might be the only names around here that possess a kernel of truth. If one accepts the alternate meaning of the action of turning to and adopting a strategy or course of action, especially a disagreeable or unpleasant one, so as to resolve a difficult situation, that is. The whole place just has the look of a run-down movie set for a white trash zombie flick that may or may not have ever gotten made.

Sure the work has been lonely, nasty and unrewarding; spending long days in a dank, dark crawlspace in dirt, filth and rotting fiberglass that are probably agitating my chest cold. Sure, I’m trying to fix up a pre-fab house that appears to have been assembled by the three stooges, maintained by someone who firmly believed in the Bugblatter Beast Philosophy of: if you can’t see it, it isn’t real and is ten years beyond it’s shelf-life. Sure, it’s rained most of the time I’ve been here and today, the first time I had a moment, pilfered really, to sit in the sun and write, I was immediately discovered by a swarm of gnatskitos and a pack of puginese yap-hounds. Sure, there’s no running water, no shower, no way to wash hands, face or dishes. Sure I spend two or three nights a week here now away from hearth, home and holly, sleeping on either the floor or my woodpile.

But the two hour drive up here, framed on either side by rolling foothills packed solid with autumn leafy things all the colors of the MnM's in the faithful jar at my side and WHUT slingin' its eccentric mix on the crackily ol’ jukebox reminds me that in my humble, pointless opinion, journeys are a heck of a lot better than destinations. Just hope now that I live long enough and strong enough to retire to that motorbike and tent someday and prove it.

Monday, October 04, 2010

My desert is flooding.

It's raining in my desert. Come to think of it, it rained for a large portion of last week in my desert and it's reportedly going to rain all this week too. One would think that all of this water would, by definition, disqualify my arid wasteland from it's "desert" status but one couldn't be more wronger. You see, (try to imagine Larry Fishburne's voice for this next part, i do) this: is a desert. of the surreal.

Tis not water this desert lacks but land. And if it keeps raining that will be less metaphor than material. The ocean is sometimes referred to as a desert. They share much in common. A wide featureless expanse where there is no succor or sustenance to maintain intelligent life. Intelligent life being here defined as: those who would not willingly go into a desert.

Biblically speaking, the desert is a place of testing and purification. Where everything one relies on in this life is stripped away and the soul is laid bare before God. Where the proud are humbled, the independent are made beggars, the active must be still and the distracted and disoriented are taught what is really, truly vital. There was a line from the Book of Eli. Solara asks Eli what life was like before the war made the world a literal desert. "People had more than they needed," he says wistfully. "We threw things away that men kill each other for now. We had no idea what was precious." Hostile and deadly, the desert is a place of silence. Where the only sound might be the wind, which, not coincidentally, is a favorite symbol for the Spirit of God.

The sea however is chaos. The sea is always changing, shifting, never solid. The sea is deep. There is all manner of mystery beneath. Only God can plunge it's depths. Only God can conceive it's vastness and it's boundary. There is no place for a man to stand. He must cling. He must remain in motion. He must fight to live in the maw of a beast that is actively, energetically trying to kill him. One may meditate in a boat on a calm day or steal a moment in the dark of an early morning but soon a wave will come and the struggle will resume. If the desert spawns visionary poems of prayer, with a weary, languid question mark if punctuated at all then the ocean is an exclamation point! A sharp cry is called for between breaths, between crests. One word sums up all and that word is HELP!

My desert is flooding. The pillars topple as the ground beneath heaves and drowns. Thrown from the ship of a steady job, a ship i had served since a cabin boy, i must cling to whatever work washes my way. That flostam can carry me far from home. Family are struck down or betray and those that remain can drag you down in their panic. Illness takes my strength. Disease, the comfort of my beloved. All that seems solid dissolves and i'm aware of a great, gaping depth beneath my kicking feet. What was it Peter saw when his faith wavered in the waves? What took his eyes from Jesus'?

Yea, though i tread in the trough of the shadow of death, i will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. But i'm getting kinda nostalgic for land.