Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hunted or Haunted?

I’ve been followed by two quotes in the past week. Yes, followed. It happens. If it’s a song, well, I won’t jump to calling it "following" unless there’ve been several unlikely recurrent encounters. And if the song is for one reason or another air-play likely – a recent release or big hit, say – then the whole idea of it following me is just dismissed out-of-hand. When I run across things as esoteric as these twice inside of the space of a few days, however, I can only conclude that I’m being followed.

One of them is a quote from William Blake and the other is in Latin, for pity’s sake.

First the Latin (although I think it was the initial appearance of the Blake that actually popped up first).

cras amet qui nunquam amavit; quique amavit, cras amet

I did a little online hunting, and found it identified as “the refrain from the 'Pervigilium Veneris', a poem which describes a three day holiday in the cult of Venus, located somewhere in Sicily, involving the whole town in religious festivities joined with a deep sense of nature and Venus as the "procreatrix", the life-giving force behind the natural world.”

The first pop-up came when I was unpacking a box from State College. (Well, it’s not really accurate to say “unpacking,” in as much as I don’t have anyplace to unpack this stuff to, if you see what I mean; I guess it’s actually more a matter of opening a box and going through the contents.) This was one of several boxes of books, musty but welcome. I cannot just look at books and move on. I need to look at the books, sometimes look through them. This made things a little mustier, as I thumbed pages. The box was all paperbacks, standard mass-market things, a mix of entertainment (a couple of Destroyer books – yea!) and literature (Isak Dinesen, F. Scott Fitzgerald) – decide for yourself where E.L. Doctorow falls.

Among them was John Fowles’ The Magus. Now, the odd thing is that the one line from this book that I’ve carried with me since I read it was not the quote that popped up and started following me. That would be the Latin. Nor was it the Blake, which was already on my tail and lying in wait for me here as well. That line I’d held onto, Fowles’ own, a commandment to replace the childish Old Testament Ten, is “Thou shalt not inflict unnecessary pain.” Even years distant and pulled from the context of the book, it sticks with me as a sort of truth in the imperative tense.

The Latin is a sort of a postscript to Fowles’ novel, two lines hovering unattributed below the last words of his prose. Unattributed, and untranslated.

cras amet qui nunquam amavit
quique amavit, cras amet

Below it on the page in my paperback is my own translation, probably done sans reference with my even-then rusty Latin:

Let he who has never loved, love
and he who loves will tomorrow love

Obviously, I was having some trouble with the tenses in that second bit.

A day or two later, the same thing showed up in the daily quotes e-mail I’d signed up for a couple of weeks earlier. I have to say I prefer my version of the first line, although it’s not specific about the “tomorrow” time frame, but their translation is certainly a good deal clearer about the second bit:

“May he love tomorrow who has never loved before; and may he who has loved, love tomorrow as well”

You must admit that the appearance of something like this twice in a few days’ time is pretty odd in its own right, never mind the ways its meanings might apply to my mood and life of late. Pretty damned odd. Wanna knock it up a notch? Grab your literary Spice Weasel and follow me…

Back on May 5, Terry Gross interviewed writer/publisher Charles Ardai, founder of the Hard Case Crime publishing group, on Fresh Air. I don’t think I heard the episode when it first broadcast; I think I heard it sometime the following weekend while driving out to work; that was when the Blake quote first appeared. How the Hell does William Blake get into an NPR interview about the preservation and revival of pulp crime novels? Good question. Ardai was a literature major in college, and was particularly drawn to the English Romantic poets as an undergraduate. (It is, not surprisingly, very easy for an individual of a certain slant to be greatly drawn to the Romantics as an undergraduate. I’ll willingly attest to that, as will the markings and marginalia in a certain section of my Norton Anthology Vol.II if I ever find it again.) The protagonist of the two novels Ardai has written himself is named after Blake; the books’ titles are taken from Blake; most of the chapters start with a quote from a Blake poem. One of the examples Terry Gross pointed to was this line from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”

Flash forward a couple of days. I’m flipping through that paperback of The Magus, looking at passages I’d underlined years ago. Perhaps I was looking for that commandment. I can’t really say with certainty. But what do I come across? A passage that references our line from Blake. “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” Underlined, by me, years ago. So I’m pretty definitely being followed by that line of Blake. How abso-fucking-lutely unlikely is it that something like that – Hell, that any Blake quote, never mind one that’s not among the most common – should show up in two such disparate places in the space of a few days? Seriously. But this? This line that slices cleanly through the meat and scrapes along the bone as though carving some accusatory scrimshaw in the pallor of my own ossified passions. This unflinching summary of the lost half of my life. This condemnation of all my unacted desires – not of my desires themselves, but of me in my having effectively repudiated them in never having acted on them. This line of Blake? What am I supposed to do with this?

More – elsewhere in that same paragraph, double-underlined by my hand:
“Despair is a disease.”

Don’t I know it.

The thing is, I have no way of knowing whether these two stalking quotes are working together or individually. I’d prefer to think they’re both agents of the same agency. Maybe they’re just doing the good-cop–bad-cop thing. I really can’t help looking for meaning, because this all speaks – screams – so loudly and emphatically to my soul at the present time. “Let he who has never loved, love…”

One last fragment to toe over as we wander these ruins, this one not stalking, nor stumbled upon, but sought after and found. Auden, way out of context, from “Anthem for St. Cecilia’s Day” -- Weep for the lives your wishes never led.

cras amet qui nunquam amavit

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Got the truck towed back to my neighborhood garage. They tell me the starter died. The part came in today, but not early enough to get the work done. So I won't have my truck back until tomorrow, and since I have a production meeting first thing in the morning that means I won't have the truck back until the end of the day tomorrow. Until then, I'm stuck driving the rental. Since I was initially stuck renting whatever Enterprise had available on the lot, I'm getting around in a mini-van. Can't shake the feeling that at any moment I'll be chased down by a bunch of kids expecting me to shuttle them to ballet class and soccer practice...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Aww, c'mon!

If nothing else, you'd think the universe would occasionally cut me a break, if only to fuck with my mind a little.

But, no. If there's one thing I can rely on (and I've begun to think there really is only the one), it's the certainty that stuff will go wrong in my life at either a point when I might otherwise actually stand a chance of enjoying something or at a point when I can least afford to deal with the going wrong of the particular thing that goes wrong. Unless, of course, it's possible to meet both criteria at the same time.

I think we just scored on that last one again.

I've had a few long days doing tech for the Theatre School's Adult Ensemble one-acts. Tonight was the final performance, in which we took just one of the three one-acts to Kendal retirement community. Limited space, very limited time, severely limited tech. And a good time was had by all.

Until I tried to leave.

The truck had pulled this odd routine of not turning over once earlier this week, but then shrugged it off without apparent explanation and started fine throughout the rest of the week. Why not wait until it's 9:30 on a Sunday night and we're in a parking lot that's closer to Delaware than to my house before pulling the stunt again and this time sticking with it?

Yes, it could have been worse. But that glib truism hasn't been of any use as consolation for quite some time, ever since I came to understand that no matter how bad things are at any given moment they can always be worse.

So I'm now at home (special thanks to Sara for the lift!) and my truck is in the parking lot at Kendal. I'll deal with this when it's daylight.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

just not fair....

I've known the release date for a while now (Hell, I have a countdown widget on my iMac), but I only just put the date in context and realized that Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will be opening while I'm in the middle of tech.

That's just not fair.

It's been a while since I went to see a movie after working a twelve-hour day, with another twelve-hour day ahead. Actually, I can't say that I've ever done that. But there's a first time for everything.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

On firm foundations

An example of why I always included something from King when I was teaching:

"Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Patient Belongings

I’m going to come back.

That was always the thought. I’m going to come back and get this stuff. Or, perhaps, I’m going to come back to this life. At this point, fifteen years distant from the thinking, I can’t with any certainty say exactly which was the thought. In truth, I’m not sure I knew which at the time, or even if I was thinking of the difference. There was just the thought – I’m going to come back.

And I did.

When I left State College in the Summer of ’92 to move back in with my parents and deal with the accumulating effects of my father’s strokes, I packed the contents of my apartment (hereafter referred to as “my stuff”) into a storage locker at Stowaway, Inc. and came here with some clothes and… well, I don’t really recall what else. I was going to deal with things head-on, as that seemed the only way to stop the constant barrage of blind-siding impacts as one thing or another demanded my attention. I was not going to get completely absorbed in this business. I wasn’t changing my destination; I was just pulling off onto a siding for a little while to avoid a head-on collision with the onrush of things with my parents; after all that had passed, I was going to roll back onto the tracks and continue on my way.

Yeah, right.

That’s not what happened. Never mind what I was or was not going to do. What did happen? Well, I didn’t collide; I didn’t pull off onto a siding, either; I derailed. Yeah – totally off-track, off the rails, rolling down the hillside to finally come to rest among the broken trees and tangled brush at the bottom, friction-polished wheels turned shining to the sky.

And I stayed. I was, of course, completely absorbed in this business. I dealt with what demanded to be dealt with. (Did it actually need to be dealt with? Further, did it need to be dealt with by me? Let’s turn that particular train of thought right back into the roundhouse. The whole concept of discerning – or even defining, much less meeting – these things called “needs” was always a very foggy one in my family. Let it suffice to say that there were demands, and I met them.) I dealt with my father’s health as it slid into a steeper decline. I dealt with his dying, and I dealt with burying him. I dealt with what would in retrospect reveal itself as the overture to my mother’s decade-long symphony of diminishing health and increasing demand. I dealt with my mother’s uncle’s death, and some off the massive mess he left behind. I dealt with my grandmother’s death, when it finally came after lingering at the door for half a dozen years. It’s tempting to say that I dealt with pretty much everything except my own needs; it’s tempting because it’s not entirely untrue. Oh, I dealt with doing what was necessary for me to survive during these years; I met the demands of my continued existence . I did not, however, do much, if anything, to actually answer my needs. Hell, I wasn’t listening to or evening acknowledging those needs – how could I possibly do anything about meeting them? I stayed, I did what demanded to be done, and it did not take long for those up-turned wheels to dull and seize with rust or for the swath of torn-up trees and bushes to fill in with new growth and vanish while the unused tracks above blurred beneath intruding grasses until there was no sign of where that wreckage at the foot of the hill might have come from nor the scar of its passing.

The only link other than memory to connect that overgrown wreckage with the rails above was the single baggage car, uncoupled before the rest went off the rails and left in storage back a ways along the line.

I know it’s just projection to imagine that after a while my stuff felt I’d abandoned it. Don’t know how I could see it any other way, though, given that I myself felt thoroughly abandoned by pretty much everything. Is it anything other than natural that the stuff in storage should end up saddled with a sort of totemic significance? Anything other than reclamation meant defeat. The thought remained: I’m going to come back. Foolish or not, that remained my sole intention.

I’m well aware – far too well aware – that at some point along the line this determination passed out of the lands of Reasonable, traveled all the way through the territories of Questionable and entered into the wilds of Ridiculous. I don’t need to actually do the math to concede that there’s every likelihood I’ve paid out more in rent for that storage locker over the years than the total cost of everything stored in it. That’s not what this is about. That was never what this was about.

There were times when I was asked to defend the consistency of my determination. Forgive me, but I still cannot see such a request as anything other than an insult. For all its faults, I’m grateful to this stubborn little hobgoblin for perching on my shoulder and affirming my doggedness.

Because I did come back.

This past Tuesday, 29 April, I came back with a rented U-Haul truck and emptied that storage locker. It was not the first time I’d opened the locker in that time: there’d been a small dipping attempt a few years back, when I’d retrieved some books, some CDs, my computer desk and some few other things, mostly whatever was right at hand and safe to transport in my pickup. But this was It: this was the clear-it-out, salt the earth and move on transition. When I pulled down the U-Haul truck door on this one and latched it with the padlock I’d taken off the storage locker, I was supposed to take my obdurate little hobgoblin and give him a true honest hug and perhaps a sorrowed kiss before grinding him under my heel and leaving him to the crows.

Let’s not mistake this for a cleanly joyful reunion, okay?

For one thing, I’m touching my stuff for the first time in fifteen years. Fifteen fucking years. That’s more than a third of my life. (And it feels like it's more than half.) Each thing I took out of that locker was heavy with regret, weighted by years of missed chances and lost opportunities. The dust that coated it all might just as well have been an early sprinkling of dirt on my grave. The thought had always been I’m going to come back. Now, the thought was It was never supposed to be this way.

I’m going to come back. Never was this thought more stabbingly clear than it was in the moment of stark terror when I pulled out a box labeled “Kitchen – Food.” I’m going to come back. That was the thought, remember? I wasn’t putting this stuff into storage. I was going to come back. Years. It was not supposed to be this way. Fifteen years. It was never supposed to be this way. Apart from some canned goods and a package of dried apricots that’s best not considered at length, this particular stab wasn’t as gruesome as it might’ve been. Pasta, some rice, a couple of packs of five-for-a-dollar Ramen Noodles and a few boxes Jiffy cornbread mix. Lots of tea bags. And – in a different box – some booze: maybe half a bottle of Bacardi 151, less than half in the Yukon Jack, an unopened (?!?) big 1.75 litre plastic bottle of Seagram’s 7 and two bottles of red wine, also unopened. (I’m curious about the wine; it’s a 1987 vintage; not ideal storage conditions, by far, but still…) There’s much – so much – yet to open, so I may well find more frightening things. None of this was put away with any thought that it would sit there the way it has. It was never supposed to be this way. I was going to come back.

Some write-offs have already gone out in this morning’s trash. There is a lot more to go through and a lot more to go out in the trash. The first floor of my house smells mighty damn musty and, frankly, looks like the inside of a storage locker. This is not a cleanly joyful reunion.

Still, this evening I listened to a particular CD for the first time since 1992. (Yes, I unpacked a box labeled CDs almost immediately. Yes, I know I’m pathetic.) I finally have the measurements of a piece of furniture I’m determined to have in my home. (Hell, I have the actual piece of furniture, albeit in pieces.) I have a glass bear bank containing several hundred pennies (all from 1992 or before). And somewhere in all this stuff should be a hat rack on which I used to hang my hat. (There’s some cool image in there, I’m certain, but I’m not quite up to teasing it out just now.) And at least as significantly, I don’t have anything in storage half-way across the state. For good or ill – and I am not at this moment wholly certain about assigning the proportions of either – one of the last concrete ties connecting me to those years of my life has been unknotted. I fought for years to keep it from being cut.

So now I’m left with two loose ends.

And enough rope to hang myself.