Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Went On

I went on first dates with no thought of a second. Anyone was up for consideration: an architect, a reporter just back from Iraq, a temp worker who collected furniture to sell on eBay. The temp and I got along pretty well: we both liked jazz and expensive whiskey and thinking about ourselves. While I sat on one of four soon-to-be-sold couches in his living room, he looked at me over his drink and said, "I don't usually live this way." I burst out laughing. He couldn't have explained my life any better.

- Felicia Schneiderhan, Newlyweds Afloat

* * *

The way we live becomes the life we live, becomes the thing we are. This happens in spite of our best intentions and our worst fears.  It happens through the slow accrual of the decisions we make day in and out about the smallest of things and the often unconsidered arc of our lives. To answer the question, "Where am I going?" you need only look at the steps you've taken. The very thingness of living, its tactile presence, the demands of our bodies to be fed, to rest, to be touched, to be hydrated and back 'round again keeps us tethered to the rhythms of 24 hours. The very otherness of living, its felt presence, the desires of our consciousness to know and be known, to be loved, to dream, to find communion and meaning is the long arc, the pattern revealed only after we're here no more. 

Our otherness is achieved through our actions. You can wear a hole in a prayer rug, philosophize with the grey beards, intend for kindness and greatness, but it is what you do that reveals the faith and philosophy you are actually living by.

I don't usually live this way is the disconnect that fucks us.

* * *

Take a minute and look around you right now. Look at the table you've set. Look at the things you have populated your life with. Look at how you are living - as it is right now. I look in front of me and I see a a dark blue multi-media painting my son made using a ceiling panel. Next to it is a gift from my daughter - a framed poster of a few lines from Friday Night Lights: "Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose." There are three journals, unopened mail, a metal box in green and red that was my father's Boy Scouts' First Aid Kit from the 1930's. I have a cigar box from a beloved family friend that was sent to me by his family after he died so I might keep him a bit closer in my memory. Also on this desk is some metal work my son has been working on. There is a now empty coffee cup, an empty bottle of blood orange soda and a bowl of bones from the ribs I ate at midnight after I got home from my second job two days ago - shit, two days. There are also six legal pads and dozens of torn out yellow sheets of paper littering the desk like fallen leaves: the detritus of my day job. This computer sits on the only clear space on this desk.

Is this the way I want to be living? I would gladly take the judgment on the art and journals and first aid kit and the cigar box. Hell, I'm down with the bones on my desk, but the legal pads and the unopened mail and the empty coffee cup trouble me.

I work at work that does not suit me, that does not come close to aligning with my temperament, my values. But it allows me to provide a place where my children make art and watch Friday Night Lights among other things that do make sense to me. 

I don't usually live this way is not true. This is exactly how I live and if that is the case, then the bones and mail and the shitty job and the kids and the journals and memories of two of the best men I have ever known are my responsibility.

Look around you, friend. What are you responsible for?

You own all of it. If there's something you don't like, that is evidence you have wandered far from your intentions and desires, then who is there to change it except you?

* * *

To read Newlyweds Afloat is to bear witness to the changes that an honest love can bring. The arc of their story is the arc of all lives: from stumbling to know love, to being held in the maw of it and to the shedding of old skins so that something new could arrive is an ancient story and one we participate in each day.  Doubt, misfortune, near tragedy, humor, resilience - it's the whole ball of wax, you see. It is a description of how two people once lived and then how they changed so they could live closer to the bone. 

Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace both believed that books helped us feel less alone in the world, that their primary function was one of companionship. It is easy, too easy, to slide away from the adventure we'd hoped to have on this go-round. Dreams and intentions shift, fall short or don't quite make it to fruition, or a tragedy befalls us and the dream we had can be no more. We can find ourselves adrift believing we were docked. It is tough. But books can change you - not by any overt message they may bring - but by the very fact of their existence. Some human being sat down and wrote out their story, took the time to sweat the story and conjured out of mere thought a reality that did not exist before. And when you finish the job by reading what they wrote you are joined to them, to that cause of making sense and being changed.

You being fucked is an illusion, a lie you are telling yourself because you always have the option to change, to change your response to the circumstances you find yourself in. Always.

Look around you again: what can you do without, what feeds you? 

Those choices are how you live.

* * * 

PS: The boat the newlyweds live on is called the Mazurka: a fast-paced dance. Let that be analogy enough.


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