On this, the last day of the first month of a new decade, I wanted to relate a story that came to me somewhere between sleep and consciousness. Before I begin, though, I must do the not-so-fine-print disclaimer thing: A) The names, nationalities, and nations are omitted because they are unimportant to the story. B) The creeds, colours, political and/or sexual affiliations are omitted because they are irrelevant to the point. There, I think that about covers it.
A captain stood upon the deck of a large ship. Normally, it would have been stacked high with cargo but today it was packed with people. He stood looking over the sea of humanity--refugees from cruel circumstances, hopeless situations, and unpleasant surroundings. Everyone was up on deck to breathe the air and feel the sun-warmed breeze upon their faces. The ship was nearing its destination and all eyes were looking to the horizon where a ribbon of land seemed to be floating upon the water.
At length a couple began making their way toward the captain tenuously. As he watched them he called to mind how these people had made every effort to make the other passengers comfortable, soothe their fears and sharing what little they had. He smiled and tipped his hat in greeting as he looked at them--their faces a mixture of anxiety and rapture.
"Good morning!" said the captain with music in his voice.
"Good morning!' came the equally melodic reply.
"Well, we're nearly there. Soon you will be in a new land where you can begin a new life without fear. You can put the past behind you and look to your futures."
The couple looked at one another and then back at the captain. "Please, sir, could you tell us...do you think... will we be truly happy here?"
The captain knew that all their hopes or fears hung on the words he would speak next. "Yes. Yes, I do. You will find this a wonderful place where you can start fresh. People will be kind and generous to you. You will have many friends and neighbours who will make you feel at home and that you are family". The couple showered their thanks in a relieved outpouring of smiles and tears. They shook the captains hand heartily before rejoining the others.
A short time later another couple approached the captain. He did not smile and all semblance of mirth left his face. This couple had complained about the accommodations, the food, and the closeness. They took whatever was being shared but did not reciprocate from their own meager possessions. The captain eyed them warily.
"Yes?" he intoned dismissively.
"We want to know what we can expect once we are ashore. What will be done for us? We know it has to be a hundred times better than the treatment we've had to endure aboard your ship."
The captain assumed an apologetic tone. "I am sorry that you have had such an unpleasant time of it while you've been with us. We're not used to--or equipped for--passengers. However I'm afraid that you will find it a hundred times worse on shore. The people are unfriendly and will try to cheat you at every turn. Everything is overpriced and of inferior quality. It is a sad, dismal place."
They clicked their tongues, uttered curses and hurried off in a huff. The captain smiled broadly at their backs.
All the while these exchanges were happening the first mate had been standing near by. He was perplexed by the captain's responses. He decided to inquire.
"Sir.....I'm a bit confused. I heard your conversation with the two couples and......"
"And you are wondering how one place can be both a paradise and a prison, is that it?"
"The heart is a magnet and it will draw what it is composed of to itself. If it is kind and generous than that which is kind and generous will be drawn to it and be made twice as strong. If, on the other hand, it is mean and selfish than it will attract only that which will, in time, destroy it. The first couple will be welcomed and the other will be shunned. Both will have their expectations met because of what is in their hearts. If you expect to be happy and are willing to work for it, than you will be. If you expect to be miserable and do nothing to alter your course, misery will find you. People, matey, fail to understand the power they have over destiny--their own as well as others'. No matter what our stations or circumstances are in life , every one of us has the power to create paradises or prisons for ourselves. The magnet in our bosom is the compass we all sail by; but WE choose the course."
Most of the passengers lived happily ever after. The captains' compass stayed true to his chosen course all the days of his life until he reached his Final Anchorage.
I am sick to death of pathetic wannabes blathering on about their unfair existences, limited opportunities, and the outright cruelty of being alive.
I think most of my Gentle Readers share a few common threads with yours, truly. We are of an age--between forty and dirt. We have been places, seen and done things beyond our back yards. We have endured trials and tribulations great and small. We can all wear the tee shirt proudly proclaiming that we've been there and done that. Huzzah for us!!
So nothing irritates me more than a seemingly sincere, relatively intelligent person wishing to consult my 'expertise' in order to get a handle on "what to do next" in attaining their aspirations. I listen as empathetically as I can, fighting the urge to interrupt for grammatical clarification, and trying to follow the rabbit-warren of logic.
Then comes the pause where I reflect, consider what I've just been told, gather my thoughts and attempt to guide, direct, advise based on academics and life experience. And thus begins the avalanche of 'buts'.
"That sounds great, but....", "I'd like to/I want to, but...." "That makes sense, but...." It's just as aggravating as "I can't" spoken with such conviction despite the fact no attempt has ever been made. These are the same people who are so addicted to self-victimization that they can only sing one song (over and over ad nauseam) and expect you to selflessly join in the refrain.
Well, I ain't Pavarotti and I really hate the "Song of But". Previous 'but' singers will not be given another opportunity to audition. Newcomers will have one chance to receive my input after which they become a previous 'but' singer and the rule goes into effect. Take note: the listener does enjoy variety in repertoire. This is key in procuring future engagements.
From here on my advice to any 'but' singer will be: "If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. The boat is the HMS Excuses--stay in it and you'll go nowhere fast. If you want to get anywhere you have to get your 'but' out of the boat. You may have to swim a bit before you can walk-- getting your 'but' wet never killed anyone. And don't even think about using your 'but' as a flotation device! It'll sink you faster and deeper than you already are. Now pull your head out of your 'but' and start walking."
I may just refer those seeking my counsel to come here first and spare myself any further irritation. In the meantime, Gentle Reader, thank you for stopping by. And know my door is always open to y'all.
"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."--Oscar Wilde
Lady Hawthorne of Canterbury Cottage hand-lettered, collaged, and framed that quote for me several years ago as a Christmas gift. She knew that Mr. Wilde is my touchstone when it comes to the creative pursuit of writing. This little treasure hangs on my studio wall just across from my cyber alcove where I can see and read it clearly.
It is also a mantra whenever I go shopping--whether in craft cathedrals or garage sales. Helps to allay any concerns I may have about whether the purchase is justified. It is good to have people in your life who understand you.
One more for the road: "I put all my genius into my life, I put only my talent into my works."--Oscar Wilde
More than twenty years ago, about a year after arriving in Texas, I allowed myself to be talked into a revolutionary cure for acrophobia. I was twenty-six and, for the very first time, I yielded to peer pressure. I didn't like being afraid of anything and was naively convinced I was bullet-proof and immortal. That is how I came to throw myself out of an airplane.
Air travel is not something I was fearful of. Not then anyway. I am more conscientious about it now. The idea of sitting next to someone with a potentially exploding crotch does not engender confidence or a sense of well being. No, it was the concept of free-fall that gave me the most anxiety.
I recalled a couple of statements after the second jump. Yes, Gentle Reader, I did it twice in one afternoon. The first was from an unknown source: "Why would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?" And the other from the jump instructor: "Remember to roll on impact". The first statements' response is self evident in its conclusion. No one in their right mind would 'want' to. It takes a particular kind of madness to go for it. But the second statement had a more far-reaching transcendental value to it.
Remember to roll on impact. Not a bad bit of advice, that. Whether it's jumping out of a plane or out of a bed. In these particularly choppy times, when the ground seems to be rushing up to swallow you--remember to roll on impact. When it appears that you are a dumping ground for all the slings and arrows of other people's outrageous expectations--remember to roll on impact. When you perceive how you are about to be the innocent victim of collateral damage in a collision course between an irresistable force and an immovable object--remember to roll on impact.
I'm still afraid of heights. So much for the 'cure'. But I am actually more afraid of the sudden stop at the end of the journey downward. I make it a point to remind myself daily to roll on impact whenever I attempt to rise above my limitations.
In an effort to dispel the dreariness of the winter doldrums from the household, I gave in to the whimsier side of my personality this morning. A few years ago I purchased a circa 1940's waiter's jacket from a vintage clothing store in Houston. I had very good reasons for buying it: A) it fitted perfectly and, B) the intricate piping and epaulets had great potential for embellishment. From the day I purchased it until this morning it has remained in its' protective plastic shroud. Several years and 1800 miles after being liberated from obscurity, today was its debut.
I am always up before my mother and I set my scheme in motion. At last I heard her trundling down the hallway toward the kitchen. I waited until she had settled into her chair. I had already prepared her cup of coffee as she was making her way and I stepped into the dining room with steaming cup and saucer in hand. "Good morning, Madame. I trust you slept well?" I placed the cup before her and she looked up. Why hadn't I thought to put a camera in my pocket? Bless her heart, it took a few moments for her to focus--and then assure herself she hadn't completely lost it.
There I stood--green and blue plaid flannel pajamas, moccasin slippers, and an ornate white linen waiter's jacket. The ensemble was completed by a tea towel carefully draped over my left arm. "Would Madame care to look at a menu or does she perhaps already have something in mind?" I produced a small note pad and a pen from my breast pocket and looked every bit the part. She's quick, that old girl of mine. "Two eggs, scrambled, a small bowl of fruit, half a bagel-buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and.....a hot dog." "Pardon me, but did Madame say a hot dog?" "Yes, I said a hot dog. Sliced at an angle and sauteed in butter before being blended into the eggs." Brief pause. "Very good, Madame."
I turned to go into the kitchen but just as I got to the door I heard the sound of snapping fingers. I turned in her direction. She had her right hand in the air and snapped them again while looking directly at me. "Oh, waiter, more coffee, please." "Yes, Madame, certainly."
I whipped up the breakfast and served it on my Royal Crown Derby plates and presented her with gleaming silver utensils from grandmother's silver chest. I unfolded the crisp white linen napkin and laid it across her lap--after removing the cat. She invited me to join her while she ate. I don't 'do' breakfast. I thanked her for condescending to share her meal with a lowly waiter. "It's more convenient having you at the table." she said. "This way I don't have to snap my fingers to get my cup refilled" as she nudged the empty cup in my direction.
Meal finished, she complemented the chef and thanked me for the excellent service as I cleared the table. She asked me to lean down as she had something to give me. I obeyed and she took my face in her hands and kissed me on both cheeks. With a broad smile she whispered "I love you, you sweet, silly boy!"
Sciaticus Maximus. No, not the name of a despotic Roman Emperor. It is the condition that has kept me from my computer lo, these many days. This is my third tango with a condition that literally kicks my butt to the curb. For those unfamiliar with it, sciatica is neuralgia of the hip and thigh. It is a very painful, debilitating all-out attack on the sciatic nerve--the largest nerve in the body. You cannot sit, stand, or recline comfortably for more than five minutes at a time. It's like having rabid free-range knitting needles playing tug-o-war up and down the leg. Every attempt to walk results in an Oscar-winning portrayal of Quasimodo. Step aside, Lon Chaney, Lord Wellbourne's on the move!
Most of my Gentle Readers will remember that my cyber nerve center is housed within my studio. The studio is located in the basement. There is a stairway consisting of 14 foot treads. With this condition they may just as well have been 14 bear traps. So close and yet so far. Cut off from the outside world by three days of continual snow, pernicious sciatica, and blog-withdrawal, I found myself enjoying a gondola ride through the canals of my own mental Venice. Here are several postcards depicting the virtual highlights down the lazy river.
1) Admiring the Celestial Confectioner sprinkling every branch and twig with a fine coating of icy sweetness.
2) Discovering a cousin I didn't know existed and with whom I am enjoying a happy pen-pal relationship.
3) Joyously hearing from a beloved Gentle Reader whose absence and silence left me feeling curiously lonesome.
4) Watching the avenging sun stealthily peeping through the clouds to liberate the pine trees from their burdens of snow-cone oppression.
5) Completing several commissions in record time because I couldn't remember where I'd put the remote .
6) Amusement in watching my mother embrace the role-reversal of caretaker during my incapacitation.
7) Finally being able to negotiate the stairway and return to the land of the enlightened. (Cue the heavenly choir and sunbeam machine)
In regards to #6, I have been remiss in not informing my Gentle Readers that my soon-to-be 92 year-old mother came through her surgery for colon cancer with flying colours and has reaffirmed her tenacity for life. Other than the anticipated discomfiture she is doing very well and her prognosis is stellar. She has been home for two weeks now and we have struck such a harmonic balance that it actually rather alarms me. Being of a reclusive and artistic bent I do not do well with close cohabitation. But I have found it rather pleasant to have companionable conversation at different times throughout the day. I have also become a rather accomplished short-order cook. She cannot eat very much in one sitting so it is necessary to provide several smaller 'noshettes' throughout the day. Her appetite is still voracious so I'm getting to spread my culinary wings in wild abandon.
I want to assure the Gentle Writers who I follow that I will catch up on my reading and comment where I feel inspired to do so. I have greatly missed you all and appreciate your visiting during my sciatic sabbatical. I commented at Ageing Gratefully yesterday to dear June, that there is no chasm of space and time between friends that words cannot bridge. That off-the-cuff remark stayed with me throughout the day and, while writing this, reiterated itself. I am grateful for each and every one of you.
I have spent the better part of this evening answering emails from loved ones in The Lone Star Republic. Not the best part of the evening--that comes later. I think I've managed to irritate one or two of them with my rather left-wing takes on various subjects pertaining to political agendas of administrations past and present. People WILL insist on bestowing their unsolicited political opinions upon me and invoking their constitutional right to free speech--irregardless of historical fact, geographic accuracy, diplomatic considerations or whether I want to hear them or not. I completely support the First Amendment--everyone should be allowed to speak his piece without fear of being silenced. I also believe people shouldn't go around stirring other people's pots and then getting miffed when they get scalded. What's a snowbound Down Easter to do when the temperature is at the lower end of the 'What the Hell?' Comfort Equivalency Scale? Why, turn to whimsy of course!
This is where the 'best part of the evening' bit comes in. Imagine if you would that someone calls to ask if you'd be interested in going through the house of a distant, unknown relative who has passed away. The deceased relative was something of a recluse and had lived in this house since birth and the house has been occupied by the same family for generations. Because of your background in the antiques business the caller believes you are the perfect person to evaluate the contents for liquidation since they have no interest in them or in the house. Barbaric attitude to be sure, but very common unfortunately.
Well, of course you would jump at the chance!! At least, I sincerely hope that you would. So there you are--standing before the front door delicately festooned with cobwebs. The doorway that is--not you. Your heart is beating fast. You have the feeling Indiana Jones has just before entering a Pre-Columbian temple or Egyptian tomb. The key finally turns in the lock and the door opens creakily. The accumulation of generations awaits your discovery and admiration. Isn't this exciting?
You go through the house without any concept of time because time stopped existing in this place long ago. It feels like only moments have passed when in fact you've been there for several hours. In an upstairs room, on a table littered with atlases and histories, there stands an inconsequential looking hourglass. Very dusty but still replete with its' sand drifted in the bottom section. You are drawn to it. You feel the need to wipe away the years of grime. You yield to the temptation. POOF!! A little Bedouin appears on the sand dune and tells you that, in return for your kindness, you are granted three chances to visit anywhere in the past for the length of an hour. You simply put your hand upon the hourglass, speak your chosen destination and time period and turn the hourglass upside down and away you go.
But where? The atlases and histories scattered about make sense now. Where? When? Who?
I have often pondered, if such an opportunity were to present itself, those very questions and I will share with you what my three choices would be and why.
Firstly, I'd choose to be present for the Sermon on the Mount. I would like to see what Jesus looked like, sounded like. I'd like to witness for myself if he really was 'all that' or if he just had an excellent publicity department. I would like to experience the presence of the man/prophet/God in whose name and for whose sake so much was endeavoured. Was he for real or the product of spin-doctors?
Secondly, I'd like to visit the court of Elizabeth I right after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. I would love to see Gloriana, the victorious Virgin Queen, at the height of her glory. I want to see her resplendent in bejeweled gowns, hear the voice that encouraged a vastly insufficient force to triumph, and witness her remarkable intellectual tenacity and wit.
Thirdly, I would want to go back to late August, 1976 to relive the moment when I fell in love for the first time. To recapture the instant when I KNEW I was loved equally in return to the same depth and degree. That feeling of empowerment--everything was possible and I was omnipotent. Tragedy separated us but I would still want to have that hour even knowing what was to come. Love is like that sometimes--masochistic and irrational.
So, Gentle Reader, where would you go? What and who would you see? You don't have to share but go through the exercise anyway. You might learn something new about yourself or even rediscover a self you didn't know was waiting to be reacquainted.
In future I would like the following descriptive adjectives removed from references to myself. They are: 'dependable', 'reliable', and 'personable'. Let me assure my Gentle Readers that these words will continue to define aspects of my personality--just a little less pronounced.
It has become apparent to me that the above words are the preliminary requirements for a more nefarious and highly incorrect, totally bastardized adjective: 'takeforgrantedability'. I have always made an effort to develop a rapport with employees and staff members wherever I conduct business--banks, restaurants, shops, etc... I don't know if familiarity breeds contempt but it certainly spawns rudeness.
A cashier in the grocery store today invited the lady behind me to step ahead since she only had a few items compared to my half-filled cart. Looking me straight in the eye, grinning broadly, she said: "It's okay, dear, he won't mind. He's such a nice guy." I most certainly DID mind. I would like to have been offered the option of playing Sir Lancelot rather than the condescending role of 'personable' push-over. Once the shopper had moved on-- warmly thanking the cashier and ignoring me--the cashier offered: "I knew you wouldn't mind. I've seen you do it so often for other people." Perfectly true. Still not an excuse for deciding my place in the pecking order.
I never promise anything--ever. The words "I promise..." should never be used in passing or flippantly tossed off the tongue. It signifies a verbal contract that to me has the same gravity of obligation a handshake used to have. Instead, I prefer using the phrase "I'll do my best". And I always do. That being said, I have been called upon by numerous family members, friends, and neighbours to promise participation in various activities; either as a solo act or in conjunction with others. "We know we can depend on you". "We can't take a risk on a stranger when we know how reliable you are". I'm assuming this is all due to the full page Op-Ed piece my evil twin wrote in the local paper announcing my illustrious propensity for impersonating a doormat.
I would certainly like to think that I am, indeed, a nice guy. I don't really mind having those endearing adjectives attached to me--as long as the respect and courtesy those adjectives should call into play are applied. Otherwise.....the party you are calling is no longer in service....
Some of my Gentle Readers will attest that, in the past, when some gentle soul attempted to foist a computer on me--expounding on the virtues and wonders the 21st century had in store for my benefit--my prompt response was that the internet is the Information Super Highway to Hell. Now, with the assistance of The History Channel, I have been proven right. So there.
This past Saturday THC did a multi-hour exploration of the Seven Deadly Sins. Ironically this expose' coincided with my birthday. I hadn't planned on committing any of them but I thought it was kind of them to remind me to watch my step.
It seems there were originally eight of them until Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 7th century decided that Eight Deadly Sins just didn't have the right ring to it so he combined two of them and created the more ominous sounding Seven Deadly Sins. Assonance is a very strong tool.
He combined the sin of apathy and the sin of 'sadness' into the deadly sin of Sloth. Apparently he believed the Dark Ages were so much fun no one had an excuse to be sad. In the eyes of the Church 'sadness' (read: depression or despondency) was a self absorbing and vain exercise that took emphasis away from turning grief into an opportunity of engendering faith. In other words, not giving every waking moment over to the work and praise of God, despite tragedy and suffering, was a one way ticket to Hell.
A symptom of Sloth, according to one of the 'experts', was the insidious proliferation of the internet. People devoting so much of their time to reading and sending emails, game-playing, and BLOGGING. (Pornography still comes under the Deadly Sin of Lust Department. It is merely a scenic by-pass on the internet interstate.) These activities absorb the soul in unproductive pursuits that do not elevate it or give glory to God. In other words, we're all going to hell. I rest my case. Is it any wonder that one of these tools of Satan is called 'Apple'?
I find it comforting to think I will not be alone and that I will spend a very warm eternity with clever, interesting people. Save me a seat and I'll do the same for you. I wonder if good ol' Gregory will be a super highway patrol officer just waiting to pull us over for high-speed.
Today, January 2nd, marks the 27th anniversary of the Silver Jubilee of the amalgamation of my biologic and spiritual selves. It's my birthday and I am 52. I do not clarify because I think my Gentle Readers incapable of figuring it out. Indeed not--I know that you are all very clever and creative souls. No, I clarify because I cannot seem to wrap myself around having another birthday. I am pleased, of course, to be having one insofar as the alternative would suck.
Since my return to behind the back woods (now the frozen tundra) I have felt as though I am hovering in suspended animation. The pace of my life has slowed, my anxieties have all but vanished, and the sharp impatience I felt at the ignorance of others has softened. No, Maine is NOT Shangri-La. It is what it is--beautiful, tranquil, harsh, and real. I am at peace here and, at the same time, at loose ends. I'm still looking for my niche, my 'raison d'etre'.
In the meantime I have turned 52 whether I like it or not. Doesn't feel any different than 51. Then again, no year has felt much different since I turned 40. Sigh...... I know what to expect, I'm familiar with the drill. I will continue to look at teenagers and young adults with a "What the hell is that about?" look in my eye. I will inadvertently catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and inwardly scream "When the hell did THAT happen?"
I have heard myself utter thoughts and opinions that had been my father's rather than my own and was alarmed that I was now channeling him. I am lucky that I am not disposed to wasting time pining for my youth or yearning to be younger. I wouldn't want to go through all that again. Besides, youth and beauty are no match for age and treachery. For now I am grateful that my mind, tongue, and appetite for life are as sharp as they ever were. Honed on the whetstone of experience. That's another thing I have to be grateful for. I was never much for looks but I had a quick mind. It has served me well along my life's journey and I don't see it deserting me anytime soon.
If June will forgive my borrowing, I am aging gratefully. I have all I need to be content right here in my own personal snow-bound Shangri-La-Ti-Da. I know my niche is just around the corner. It's always good--no matter how many birthdays you're blessed with--to have something to look forward to. I know, deep down, that I am my own 'raison d'etre'.