The War for Evermore

Rust and Ruins …

Once Upon A Dream

… and the journey starts with a vague imagining of what the day will be … what remains is to see what those dreams end up becoming in the real world  … I’m looking out over the reservoirs, northwest toward Twin Peaks … clear skies with only the hint of haze … Saturday morning, Fourth of July weekend … 2010 …

Sunrise - rivers of fog flow through San Francisco's valleys and canyons ...

… here I are … here we is … me and she, 7:00 AM, coffee brewed, dinner prepped … hop into the Buddhamobile, go larking … up O’Shaunessey, quick right and left at the top, then up the winding, bumpy track to the summit of Twin Peaks … sun’s rising, city waking up … we can see the Marin Headlands, the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge’s towers over the hills of the Presidio …

…birds flitting about in the crisp air, scattered people milling in small clumps … I yawn, take a sip of coffee … then we’re off, gliding down the other side, first north, then west … into the Inner Sunset, through the Park and the Richmond and we’re on the Bridge and across and we’re dropping again, descending into Sausalito, cruising along, sea level now, sunlight sparkling off the gentle waters …

Mill Valley – climbing again … then over and down, skirting Muir Woods , descending into Muir Beach, and then climbing yet again and we’re off, swerving north along the coast, Hwy 1, hugging the coastline of slowly disintegrating rock, the cold, deep blue color of the Pacific a framing contrast to the mix of stone and dirt and vegetation. In the distance the horizon is thinly veiled by the sea mist, and we breath in the fresh scent of the sea through the open windows.

A view of the Marin Headlands on another, stormier day...

We’re descending again, winding our way into Stinson Beach. We turn left at the market, into the parking area. It’s still early, around 9:00, and there’s plenty of open spaces. We walk out on the beach, to the waterline. The ocean is calm, its energy muted, the wet, flat sand seeming to stretch out in the distance, maybe a quarter mile, the tide is so low. The beach is empty; the lifeguard towers shut. I try to imagine this place in another few hours and then stop: if I want to think about crowds of people, I can go back to the city …

“Time to go.”

She smiles and nods and we’re gone.

Where Dogs Rule…

“Dogtown.”

“Huh?” I say after narrowly missing a bicyclist. They’re all over the place, and I really wish the roads could be a little wider.

“Dogtown.”

She points. I see the sign.

Dogtown
Pop: 30

Stu’s not going to be very happy when he finds out.”

“Don’t tell him, then.”

“You know I will,” she grins.

We cruise by a number of residences.

“It would be a bad idea. He would insist on stopping at every house, wanting to meet the mayor.”

“Yes,” she nods, her expression thoughtful. “A recipe for trouble.”

“Indeed. It would not end well, I’m sure.”

We drive on, leaving Dogtown in the rear-view mirror.

Olema is found where Sir Francis Drake Blvd intersects Hwy. 1. The impression is a comfy clump of buildings built around the intersection, with Earthquake-inspired names seen here and there on establishments.

The Buddhamobile passes through the place almost as quickly as Dogtown.

We’re on Sir Francis Drake Blvd now, and we pull into the parking lot for the Point Reyes National Seashore’s Visitor Center, found in, appropriately, the community of Point Reyes Station. Large barn, information center, gift shop and small, well-done museum. I linger by the skull of a whale and she mentions it probably is a good thing we didn’t bring the boys. I nod in agreement.

“Dogs and large bones never go well together. Likely catastrophic fail.”

“Yeah.”

We pass on the short hike out to where the 1906 Earthquake left a scar, electing to move on.

Skirting the northeast shore of the peninsula, along Tomales Bay and into Inverness and I see it. We stop again, behind a grocery store, near the shore, where the large boat lies abandoned, tilted about 25 degrees.

“Rust and ruins.”

She smiles, grabs the camera, heads out without a word, already caught up in what she’s doing. I lock up the Buddhamobile and follow, finding her roaming about a number of boats resting on trailers, focused, finding bright colors of decay, taking shot after shot.

Lots of rust.

I watch her and wonder – if Heaven were real, would it be like this moment for her?

And we’re off again and headed inland, leaving behind the shores of Tomales Bay … trees and residences thinning as we make our way west, soon giving way to wind-swept fields of scrub and grass … under the magnificent blue of the sky the world of muted browns and greens seems almost gray. The scent of the sea is more intense than earlier, fed by strong winds coming out of the north and west.

It’s a lonely land, dotted here and there by weathered structures, homes, barns, utility buildings.

“Cows,” she says. There they are, behind fences, along the roads. We discover there is a lot of bovine life residing here. We come over a rise and then down, taking in the artificial lake and the crowded set of buildings sheltered by the surrounding hills to the west, north and east. We slow, examining the quiet, wind-swept cluster of structures huddled about the road.

To the right she spies balloons.

“A party. How come we never get invited?”

“Table manners,” I offer and she nods and we accelerate, climbing up and over the next rise to see the road wind on in the distance.

At the End of the World

Finally, we arrive. In my imperfect memory, I recall my last trip here, a quarter century earlier with my not-yet-first wife, on the small 250 cc Suzuki, driving up from the city. All in all it seems the increasingly saddle-sore trip home stands out in the murky theatre of my memory. I also have a hazy recollection of being able to drive the motorcycle all the way in to the lighthouse, but maybe I’m mistaken and now I’m reminded of perspectives, of how we see the world, more specifically how we relate to and reshape the past. In my twenties, trips anywhere were to places I’d probably seen before, just a few months or years earlier. Everything usually looked the same, just as I remembered. Now, after having been absent for so long, approaching the end of another decade of life, I’m momentarily taken aback by the sense of time, the space between visits, a quick, momentary collage of what happened between,a separate, almost alien-life, all left behind just as that 25-year-ago day fades in time and memory …

We park and get out. The wind is strong and constant; we grab sweat-shirts. The temperature isn’t too bad, around mid-50s. We, being seasoned coastal residents, understand the value of wearing layers in the world of Bay Area microclimates. You can tell the tourists: they’re the ones shivering in T-shirts … we see one woman wrapped in a baby blanket; some guy cocooned in a sliver space-blanket.

The view to the east.

I look back the way we came. We’re high up here, presented with a panoramic view of the peninsula: the long, straight beach, empty, disappearing in the distance; the land, a combination of sand and soil and sparse, wind-swept vegetation, looking blasted and empty and gray; beyond and to the south the lighter blue of Drake’s Bay, hazed over with the vaguest of ocean mists, turning the distant shores to the south into a product of mirage, leaving Bolinas a shadowed rumor of land.

Looking South

Something about this is unsettling, oddly compelling. The feeling sits outside perceived things, in the shadow of unconscious awareness.

There’s a road that hugs the right side of the hills, a worn stretch of narrow, pocked asphalt; to the right of that graduating fields of shrubbery and scrub that end at a uniformly sharp drop. The ocean is far, far below us. There is no path on the south side – everything is steeper here, the drops much more shear and sudden, ending in broken rock hundreds of feet below.

The Spine

Being sensible sorts, we elected to climb the spine of the hill, up past the antenna tower with covered dishes pointed everywhere north, east and south. Toward a second series of rises we intersect the road and join the rest of the visitors as they trudge their way to the edge of the world.We make our way under cypress trees, bent by the constant winds, then past the Ranger residences until we’re at the lighthouse buildings.

The Stairs

From text borrowed from the California Lighthouse website

Point Reyes:

A Coast Guard public information pamphlet published in March, 1962 noted that “Point Reyes Light Station was established in 1870 at Point Reyes, Calif., 19 miles from the nearest town of Inverness. It is a family station with a complement of four men who maintain a first order light, fog signal and radio beacon. The light tower itself is a sixteen-sided structure of forged iron plate (the original tower) bolted to solid rock. The top of the lantern is 37 feet above the ground and focal plane of the light is 294 feet above sea level. To reach the light, men assigned must descend 304 steps on the headland from the plateau above the station where the family quarters are situated. The quarters are new, two-story, four-family units (four-plex) built in 1960. The four-plex contains two 2-bedroom and two 3-bedroom units. Buildings maintained on the property, in addition to the family quarters, are the fog signal building, engine room, pump house, paint locker, double garage and a four-car carport with adjoining office and work shop. Point Reyes is, by official records, the windiest and foggiest on the Pacific Coast. The station is frequently blanketed by week-long periods of fog and few years pass that do not see violent gales of 75 to 100 mph strike the area. Point Reyes Light Station is one of the District’s outstanding tourist attractions. On fair summer weekends we often have several hundred visitors logged aboard. Escorting visitors has become a major portion of the duties of men assigned. Dependent children on the station travel three miles by station vehicle to school. Commissary and post exchange privileges are available at Hamilton Air Force Base (the nearest armed forces installation), or in the San Francisco area.”

We climb all the way down to the lighthouse, 309 steps (there are five more than the source above mentioned – and, no, we didn’t count – the stairs are numbered every tenth step, like they want to really torture you on the way back up). They – the Park Service – claim the descent is equivalent to the height of a 30-story building, but I think it is closer to 20. We spend a lot of time, all over the place, checking out the sights, the buildings, the rust.

Rust and ruins.

We’re at the edge of the continent, thrusting out into the Pacific. I try to imagine the significance of this place for someone living 150 years ago. The universe was a lot smaller then for the human species … experiments with electricity and magnetism were primative; the light bulb was years off … men (and women) had yet to visit the poles, summit Everest … travel was by steam trains, and sailing ships still graced the oceans; Clipper ships had recently astounded the world with their record 90 day trips from New York to San Francisco via the tip of South America during the California Gold Rush … Mark Twain had yet to write Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … Jules Verne was dreaming of glass towers and calculators and trips to the moon … It is difficult to touch that time, to imagine a world void of what we think of as even the simplest things …

In that world, 150 years gone, this place, much more difficult to reach for them than for we happy travelers, must have seemed bigger than life.

Now, it’s just a place to visit.

Shadowland

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
~ T.S. Eliot

We’re walking back on the path, descending the last slope to the circular parking lot. We got here at a good time; there are many more cars parked on the road leading to the lot, and beyond them the long ocean beach and near-empty desolation beyond.

“Purgatory,” I say in sudden recognition.

“What?”

“That.”

I gesture out at the peninsula.

The land is barren, looking inhospitable, lonely, desolate.

“Purgatory … a visualization of an idea, a concept. This looks like it would make a good purgatory, what with the wind and the emptiness.”

And the land is empty, the waters before the steep cliffs and sandy beaches heavy with whitecaps, the whole mass disappearing in the distance – the mist washes everything over … and I’m feeling time with a little more awareness, sensing the idea of the finite. I’m not a geologist, but I ‘get’ erosion. I ‘know’ I’m watching things play out in slow motion … very slow motion … and some time in a distant future wind and water and earthquake will win the battle, cutting and clawing their way across and into the land, until everything I see below me fades or slips beneath the waves, and the peninsula is replaced by a set of islands that in turn fade from geologic history, leaving open water in its wake.

Everything ends. All of it.

I end.

Indelible

We’re driving again.

Talking…

“My big memory of the Space Program is Challenger blowing up,” she says. “One moment it’s climbing and the next I’m asking myself: ‘Did the Shuttle just blow up?’”

We’re cruising through Limboland. I can’t shake the image that caught me on the way back to the Buddhamobile … the idea takes up residence in my imagination, hanging a creative ‘no-vacancy’ sign in my consciousness. I’m not depressed; just feeling out-of-sync with things.

It’s still cold outside, and my free hand touches hers in absent caress as we move along the road, finding soft, warm comfort in this small intimacy.

We are talking as we make our way along the hilly, windswept landscape of the peninsula. The desolation is all so cold, yet oddly reassuring, touching a place I visit more often these years …

“I cut school and I watched.”

I look sideways at her.

“More cows,” she adds, pointing.

I grunt and focus on the road, muttering something inappropriate about cows under my breath.

I never got that,” I say.

“Got what?”

“The whole indelible image thing.”

She looks at me, her expression curious. “Indelible image?”

“Yeah. The idea of the indelible image. The Challenger explosion was an indelible image etched in the collective consciousness. The concept never occurred to me. Like I said, we – my generation – we grew up with space. It was all about getting there. We’d had set-backs, like Apollo 1 – but it wasn’t something that lingered in the public imagination; there were no images, no visuals to pop up in your memory. And the Russian accidents were more rumor than conformed reality, though I doubt it would matter to the American public – they were the Soviets, after all.

“We – my generation, the Baby Boomers – we never had that: the indelible image – negative – burned into our minds when we were young that lingered with us about the Space Program – not even Apollo 1. Instead, we got the realization of the dream – photos of Armstrong on the Moon, the American Flag planted in Lunar soil, earthrise from the orbiting Apollo – all positive stuff, our indelible images, in concert with the realization of one of the oldest dreams of mankind – to get to the moon.

“And Apollo 13 making it back – that was huge. Apollo 13 washed away the lingering taint of the Apollo 1 fire, gave the sense the program was too strong to fail.

“Oh, I’m sure we knew eventually something bad would happen, but by then we understood there were going to be setbacks and loss of life – Apollo 1, again – but it was from a perspective of success.

“That understanding carried on for a long time, the sense of success.”

I’m silent a moment, smiling tightly.

“Then Challenger blew up.”

“Yeah,” she says. “And everybody was watching. It was a big thing, a teacher going into space. Everyone wanted to see.”

We slow down: some cows have gotten out of the fields and are wandering about the road edge, munching on grass, oblivious to the wind, dully regarding us as we glide past. I wonder if Hitchcock could have done something with this … after all, he’d filmed ‘The Birds’ just north of here, in Bodega Bay.

Why not ‘The Cows?’

Sick.

“Yeah,” I echo. “The teacher.” I experience that feeling where I suddenly “get” something at a core level, excited with the switch of perspective even while experiencing the sinking sense of what that understanding tells me of the current resident of the White House’s perspective of the importance of space exploration and manned missions to orbit and beyond.

And on another, unrelated ADD level I remind myself we do this all the time, forgetting the difficulty of perceiving change.

“More cows,” she observes.

“Yeah, yeah,” I reply and on the disc player Morrison sings of Riders of the Storm …

Olema

We’re hungry.

Been that way for a while, but we had things we wanted to see before the crowds got there.

In Olema, at the crossroads of Hwy 1 and Sir Francis Drake Blvd, we find the Farm House Restaurant (& Bar) (The Point Reyes Seashore Lodge) that looks more respectable than the two of us on a good day, so, of course, we check it out. We sit in the bar, order drinks, kick back and enjoy each other’s company as we’re watching the tourists lining up to sit and the help trying to seat them, young girls, looking busy and bored all rolled into one package. I sip my ale, with wistful regret remembering a time when pretty young things such as these fetching fems seemed desirable … now they’re pleasant to look at, but way too young to be all that interesting and I distantly wonder at that change even though I know what it is, then look across the table at my lovely traveling companion and stop thinking about it; I am more than lucky.

I just am.

The temperatures are a bit higher here – high 70s as opposed to mid-50s with a wind chill we were experiencing earlier. I feel comfy, sort of wishing for some place to stretch out, take a nap. The Mt. Tam Light Ale goes down, cold and refreshing, and she sips on her lemonade thoughtfully as we talk about stuff. Her BLT arrives and she attacks it with dainty gusto, while I savor me a very tasty grass-fed burger (… and how the heck do you feed grass to a burger, anyway?).

Loves me some Olema …

HIPPIE FROM OLEMA
Jessie Colin Young
Jessie Colin Young / Youngbloods

Well i’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t watch commercials in Olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell

Well i’m proud to be a hippie from olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slight a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that

And i’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In Olema, california, planet earth.

North Beach

Finished, we jump back in the Buddhamobile and zip up Sir Francis Drake, a half-hour east through steadily rising heat until we reach San Rafael and 90 degrees, then south on 101 and back across the bridge past all those cars leaving the City crowded bumper-to-bumper and then we’re in the Richmond District for fresh sourdough french bread from Boudin’s on Geary and whatever, and then downtown where we park the transportation and hoof it into North Beach. Temps are lower, high 60s with wind. Comfortable in the sun, not so much in the shade. The streets are alive with people. Drinks in Vesuvio’s while sitting in the upper section, looking down on Jack Kerouac Alley and at City Lights Bookstore and the mural painted on the side.

There’s a street vendor selling ‘North Beach Art’, a slim woman in her 50s or 60s, pretty, tall and thin, wearing the living of her life in her features, gray shocks of hair above her forehead, gray-blonde everywhere else, like Rogue later in life. She sucks on a cigarette, the cancer stick seeming a perfect and appropriate prop, chatting with an older street musician, who absently picks and strums at his guitar while talking with her.

Vesuvio

My companion suggests she’s probably got her act together, and I nod in agreement. Something about the woman looks strong and determined. But I wonder what lives beneath the shell we see. A younger woman appears, turning the corner, headed up JK Alley, looking self-assured.

“She looks like she has it together, as well,” I remark.

“Not as much as the older one.”

I nod, looking at the older woman, then back to the blond with the sleeveless t-shirt and jeans with shredded knees who has stopped and now is lighting a cigarette. “No. But she could be a younger version of the vendor.”

My companion sticks her head out the window, scrutinizing both women. “Yes,” she says after a moment. “But the older one has got more going on.”

“Yeah,” I nod. “Living a while does that. Sometimes.”

We watch a while longer as the vendor packs up and leaves, a short lesson in compressing what looks to be a lot of stuff into a manageable, movable package. We finish our drinks, settle up and cross the alley and enter City Lights and exit a little later and a little poorer and happier. We walk northwest on Columbus on crowded, table-lined sidewalks, passing restaurants, mostly Italian, emitting rich, garlic-laden scents, warm and sweet and mouth-watering enticing. At Union we turn right and walk east to Grant, then turn right and south. More window shopping, past drinking establishments, loud with late-afternoon inebriation.

There’s a blues band playing in one, and we take a moment to sample.

Very sweet.

And we meander back to the Buddhamobile and head home to BBQ, salad and thick, tart San Francisco sourdough bread …

I should probably close with an “And it’s all good,” but you already know that … after all, I live in a region of dreams, on the faultline at the edge of the world …

~Originally published July 6, 2010 at Dark Puppy.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Momentum …

I think I want to write on truths now.

Personal truths. Truths we keep tucked away because, frankly, we really don’t want people to see certain parts of who we are. The weak parts. The failed parts. The lie-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-stare-at-the-ceiling parts.

We don’t want people to sense our own view of ourselves as having fallen short.

Sometimes it – life – is all about movement … momentum … momentum that creeps into your existence, wending its way into your affairs, dictating progress, obscuring goals, moving you in directions you may never have intended, taking on a life of its own …

… and then a moment happens, an unheralded, unexpected, a stop-in-the-middle-of-the-whirlwind-of-your-day-to-day-life sort of moment … and everything changes …

The Monster…

I recently traveled to the Sierra Foothills to visit an old and treasured friend. I’d finished the last two parts of Ronin, the second cycle of the series of books I’ve been working at on-and-off for the past decade. It was the stereotypical, metaphorical weight being released thing; the heavy sigh accompanying the long overdue resolution, and I was going to his place, to relax, visit with him, with his wife, enjoy their good company – and turn over the manuscript for impressions.

The monster had other plans, of course. Woke me up in the early morning hours before we set out, whispering softly she wanted to play. On the drive out she came and went, slipping in and out of the periphery, never quite disappearing. By our destination she rose, as if from slumber, stretched and settled in. A beautiful, sun-shining day gone gray, my time in this wonderful place informed by regular retreats to the comfort of shadows and quiet and the medications that could only blunt the assault, but never drive her off. Two days, long days, one side of me clear, unaffected; the other subsumed in a blanket of dull – and sometimes sharp, throbbing – pain.

2:00 AM, Sunday morning, waking from a featureless, distant dream. Darkness. I sit up, ignoring the accompanying thickness that floods my head. The monster wants to be clear with me: she likes it here, and plans to stay past the normal expiration date.

We know each other well, the monster and me. Headaches … the kind of headaches I get, migraine headaches … the headaches that I live with (there really is no other way to describe the condition) … have a life all their own. They become a constant, occasional companion in your life. There is this dance we do, this Monster, the headache, and me, something of a game: she likes to try to sneak up while dropping clues to let me know she’s coming … playing fair, so to speak. And if I’m paying attention, if I’m really listening to the soft murmurs of my body, I can head the bitch off, or at least blunt the arrival and the misery to come.

Not this time, though. Like I said, she’s there for a long haul, an unusual occurrence. Considerations of ice picks and do-it-yourself brain surgery slip in and out of my thoughts, and I breathe again, deep, the effect a dull knife inside as I feel her talons dig in from the base of my skull to the dull socket of my eye, streams of persistent fire that make me dizzy and sometimes nauseous (though, thankfully, not this time). In fact, my right eye has a mind of its own; a long tear slips free, tracing its way down the side of my face, unbidden, followed by another, and another, a small stream of salty moisture. There is no controlling the flow; the right side of my head is pretty much operating in its own reality. The phenomena will repeat itself throughout the morning and afternoon, coming and going.

I get up, putting on sandals, and go outside. Nighttime, summer in the Sierras, the weather unseasonably cool, but not so that I’m uncomfortable. The coolness softens things, helps release the tension, but it is an illusion. This will make the monster stronger, of course. Doesn’t matter.

I look up into the night sky, and for a moment, a very brief and happy moment, I’ve got the universe to myself. I forget my unwanted guest and take it all in, behold the stars as they arc across the night sky. So many stars, stars I never see … the sky is blazingly beautiful.

The beauty is marred, and I feel the energy drain as she bears down, throbbing pulses coursing through the right side of my head, and I finally give in, turn and head back.

The next day arrives and I shamble through, making the best of things until it is time to go. The journey home to my city is a study in quiet agony and traffic frustration, but as we near our destination I feel the pain ease off as she finally begins to relent and I am thankful for the sleep that awaits.

… and so the week began and I never catch this other thing that was talking to me in the foothills, ’cause the Monster was busy dancing with me …

Something…

I’d been watching the Civil War again. Just finished, actually. I keep going back. Ken Burns’ documentary is one of those films that never loses its power; it’s 20 years now, and still it retains the ability to draw you in, to stir your heart as it brings to life its long-dead actors. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fault, this time. I read his achingly powerful blog piece written upon completing Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir and started feeling the scratching in the back of my consciousness. It took a while, but I finally gave in. As always, it was well worth the visit.

Tears come easier these years. It’s something I’m noticing, testosterone is dropping a touch, I guess. Well, I know what can be done for that. Kidding aside, I’ve always been something of a softy, afflicted or gifted – depending upon perspective, I guess – with a gentle core that allows the emotion to play out. Of course, we live in a culture where such tears are frowned upon, even thought a sign of weakness, so my tears are oft reserved for the darkness, for the quiet, private places I retreat to to contemplate my karma and wrestle with my demons. It’s funny, in a way, and perhaps sad, this unspoken prohibition on emotion we seem to value as Americans. I recall how earlier cultures had no such curb, like the ancient Greeks, who felt that two men, sharing grief and emotion together, created a powerful bond between them. Then again, they didn’t have indoor plumbing, so I guess we’ve got something on them there …

It hurts to watch this thing unfold, to see the wrongs that fed it, the determination of Lincoln to save the Union, the sacrifices on both sides for their beliefs. You thrill all at once at both the courage and insanity that led so many to slaughter, sense the ache bubble up, seeking a release, feel those those forbidden tears spring unbidden from the heart. There’s something here in this story, something deep and profound that goes far beyond trite stereotypes and strikes deep into your soul. North vs. South, brother against brother … yes, yes, I’ve heard it all before.

This is something beyond that, far beyond  … I just don’t know what that something is.

The not knowing is troubling …

How Do You Feel?

It’s kinda crazy out there, these days, in this world we find ourselves in. Uncertainty is the watchword of the hour … things we’ve taken for granted and assumed, ideas and institutions – foundations we built upon – are shown to be vulnerable to failure. The culture is in what seems a perpetual state of upheaval and fear and anger. And we’re all in the middle of it, caught up in the details – or ignoring them altogether – and losing sight of the bigger picture.

May you live in interesting times …

I grew up in a world that is increasingly distant and alien to the world I live in. I look for it from time to time, occasionally catch glimpses, but such sightings are increasingly rare and illusory. I’m not sure what this means. Everything now is familiar and strange, comfortable and disquieting. I look at places I’ve known for decades and it’s like seeing two realities superimposed upon one another – that which once was, and that which is.

Lately I find myself wandering dank alleyways of the internet, poking my nose in the dark places we humans tend to live. Message boards, Facebook pages, blogs and news reports that seem to share a commonality … an increasing sense of the unhinged. I’ve noticed there are a lot more of these places – these dank alleyways and dark places – and it feels like people are gravitating to them in growing numbers. I wonder at this … sometimes. I’m not a Pollyanna, not by any stretch. I “get” the human condition, I know what we’re capable of, the nuttiness that can inhabit us, the madness that can carry us off on wild tangents, the nightmares we can conjure from the best of intentions. It’s all there in the history books, for one thing, hard to miss, and it seems like we’re watching a familiar story playing itself out right now. Everything feels like it’s taken on a life of its own, the pettiness, lunacy, bigotry – it’s all on display, everywhere you look, tearing things up, and no one seems to be aware or care – they’re just letting it all carry them along.

Momentum. You don’t even feel it sometimes. It picks you up and transports you places, places you never dreamed you were going …

Sleepwalking…

It was a week. On Monday, the Monster tried to make an encore performance, making for a loopy kind of day with little sudden explosions going off in the mess she’d made of my head over the weekend. But her heart wasn’t in it; it’s no fun when there’s nothing left to ruin. Tuesday was the living dead day Monday was supposed to be as the exhaustion of fighting the Monster for three days settled in. Wednesday was okay, but only just. Things are picking up at work, which is good in terms of employment, but there is inevitable baggage. Thursday things got busy. Really busy.

Meanwhile, we’re plotting out a renovation at Dartmouth Manor. This is a good thing, as school resumes for the Elektric One, and I prepare to go to war again – and try and get some blog posts in, some editing, and a few new chapters for the third cycle underway. The editorial staff huddled over floor plans for weeks, drawing up schemes to make the best use of the space – for themselves of course. Critters are like humans – self-interest comes first. Got so bad I rolled everything up and threw it in the trash. We’re upending things: the Elektric One is moving upstairs and she’s commandeering my room, I’m moving into the study, and the downstairs becomes the new study/entertainment room. In the process, we plan to downsize more than a little bit. Of course, the boys have their own ideas about what happens with the downstairs, leading to the inevitable negotiations and drama. It got to where the Elektric One threatened to get a real dog.

That shut ’em up.

But the project is on hold … we’ve not been able to do prep work around Dartmouth for the reorganization ’cause both of us are busy with our day jobs, so we’re putting it off for a week or two …

And still I sleepwalk through it all, ignoring everything I’m telling myself that I can’t hear.

It’s right there.

Right there.

And I can’t see it.

Until…

Have You Seen the Stars Tonight?

“… what you witness happened long ago in the here-and-now, in a time and place that never will be, where neither you nor Sienna ever existed,” she replied in a matter-of-fact manner, like she was discussing the weather.

“Say what?”

“Did you look at the stars yet?” I nodded. “Did you see anything unusual, anything strange?”

“Well, it is a bright night,” I replied slowly, looking up.

I heard her chuckle. “Indeed. Look at the sky carefully, Sam. Very carefully.”

Slowly standing to get a better view over the parapet walls, I did as she asked. The stars were blazing, everywhere I looked filling the night sky with a tapestry of brilliant colors that ranged across the spectrum. I took my time, scanning the heavens, trying to figure out what it was Charmayne was getting at. I was about to ask her when understanding finally dawned.

When you look up in the night sky in a city, you see only a few of the stars that would otherwise be visible because of the light pollution. Only when you get really far away from cities and towns do you see the night sky as the ancients did. In those empty places the heavens are a vision of white and amber lights that really bring home a sense of the millions and billions of stars that are out there. I recall seeing the Milky Way while camping with my parents in the Sierras as a child, the bright belt of stars streaming across the heavens, brilliant and glowing, and knew that what I saw then was nothing compared to what I beheld now. There were too many stars, too many colors, and so many of them far too large and close. I squinted, trying to sharpen my focus. I could actually see what appeared to be a glowing haze, green and red and purple, that stretched in places across large swaths of the sky, and in a few areas where there were no stars to be seen, I realized I was seeing black dust clouds, tens, maybe hundreds of light years across.  And with that realization came another, suddenly frightening in its implications.

“Charmayne,” I asked slowly, trying to keep my voice calm, “where are we?” She stood up to stand next to me. I pulled my gaze from the sky and looked directly at her, feeling dizzy and disjointed. “I know this sounds stupid, but we’re not on earth anymore, are we?”

She didn’t flinch, didn’t try to ease me into it. “No, Sam,” she replied evenly, “we’re not. Actually, we’re not even in the same region of your galaxy.”

“Oh,” was all I could come up with. I looked up again. “How far?”

“Very far. Um … about sixteen hundred light years, actually, give or take a few.”

“Uh- huh.” I paused again. The panorama really was breathtaking. “Am I going to get to go home again?”

She stifled a giggle and I looked back at her.

“This isn’t funny, you know…”

=====

When I started The War for Evermore and Dark Puppy, I had an idea of where I was going, what I was trying to do. Still do. They’ve been on hold for a while, but things are sort of falling into place and there will be more “stuff”, as Stu likes to put it, coming up soon. It’s something to look forward to, the writing, the creating.

Small pleasures.

Finishing Ronin was a pain. There were a lot of characters I fell in love with, and I ended up doing terrible things to them. This might sound odd, or even funny to you. I would understand if it did; after all, you have not lived with these “people” for a decade, chronicled their adventures, their loves and hates, successes and failures, thrilled at the discoveries made of who they were, found joy in how they became part of – and worked within – the greater tapestry of your creation.

And you didn’t kill any of them off.

That’s the odd psychosis of writing I’ve increasingly been aware of, the attachment that grows alongside the cold-blooded service to the story a writer is committed to. Even in fiction, there must be truth or, at least, what you perceive as truth.

Truth can be painful. One chapter I wrote involved the death of a beloved character, one I became attached to early on, almost from the moment of her creation. I found myself writing around the event, delaying the inevitable moment of pulling the trigger, so to speak. When I finally did, the event was short, concise and violent, as deaths can often be, and I found myself feeling both satisfied with the ‘truth’ of what I put down … and inhabited by the weird sense of loss and grief that accompanied that satisfaction.

And here it comes again as I write this, bubbling up from nowhere …

Everything springs from your imagination. You craft characters, imbue them with life, learn their histories, grow into their passions and desires, until you know them as you know yourself because, in truth, they are a product of something that lives inside you that you have developed and polished and learned about with naked intimacy. They are a part of who I am; I don’t think I could ‘write’ them any other way. I’m not sure this is how others write fiction; I don’t really care: this is how I write, how I create, wrapping myself around my character, immersing myself in their realities.

Writing those last few chapters was in some ways an exercise in closure. Normally, when I write a chapter I know where I am starting from, and I know where I want to get to – how I get there, however, is never really known until I take the journey. I don’t plot things out beyond a general understanding that certain things need to occur before we – my characters and I – reach our destination. It is a fun way to work.

But in the case of the entire cycle, I knew how it would end, knew who would die, who would be crippled and changed, what would be lost. So the closer I came to the finish, the more difficult it became, as the events were more delineated, the room for exploration more limited.

What I really wanted to do was get started with the next cycle, to move on in the adventure now that I knew the stage was set in my head, the backstory understood, pieces in their place, mysteries laid out.

But, first, there was a blood debt to be paid.

And I paid it.

And there I was …

Speed Trap…

So I finally caught up with myself.

It was Friday. Friday the 13th. Not that it means anything. The date, I mean.

I missed the insight all last week, just let it slip right on by me. It was right there, right in front of me, but the Monster had my attention.

And I would have kept missing it.

Except … I stopped.

Momentum. Sneaky summabitch. Bad as the Monster is, at least she’s upfront.

But momentum, that’s different. Like I said, you don’t even know it’s happening. You pick up speed, moving along, and everything on the periphery fades, becoming blurred shadows lacking form or meaning. And pretty soon you lose all meaning.

It’s all so perfect. Insidiously so.

We’ve been living under cloud cover for weeks now, here in the City by the Bay, including my small corner of our hilly metropolis that does get sun even when when the rest of the place is covered in gray. At night the fog settles, thick and moist, and the world around us shrinks to a couple of blocks bathed in dim amber light. As it is, if not for the trip to the Sierra Foothills, I would not have not seen the stars in weeks. “Are they still there?” Reggie asks, his discomfiture obvious. Dogs need the stars, I think. Little holes in the sky through which they search for their dreams …

And all the while I’m living a waking dream, existing in a comatose consciousness, leaving important bits and pieces of myself behind, it seems, to pursue …

What?

What is it I’m pursuing?

Silence.

I don’t know.

I know the things I want to pursue … but all of that seems distant, disconnected from my existence as momentum carries me forward, as I make ends meet and keep my eye on the ball and all the rest of the cliched crap, worrying at the future as the center increasingly does not hold and things appear to be falling apart all around us.

The future.

What happened to the future?

Our future?

My future?

I realize there are days now where I am more weary than others, and the road I thought I traveled seems lost in a maze of detours and dead ends. I’m sure on some level it is a byproduct of aging, of seeing the world with older eyes, with a sense of growing understanding of the finite nature of everything.

I mentioned Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece on Grant that brought me back to that war that did so much to define this land I live in. I mentioned tears, as well, and how I missed something and nearly forgot that I’d done so as the week progressed and I fell into the rhythms and momentums that seem to have a hold of my life these days. Coates put up something else, unrelated, but equally powerful. He talked about a lot of things, current events surrounding civil rights, people resisting bigotry and exclusion and related matters … and he wrote of the oddity of being of the city and visiting, living in the woods; of the fear he felt at what might seem simple things, fed by imagination, like the idea he could not see the animals at night, but knew they could see him; at the fury of nature as it cut loose around him. He talked about having less internet interaction than normal, and about breaking his iPhone, being cut off suddenly from everything and not minding.

And one line stood out:

“But out here in the great green, I’m not convinced that any of it matters.”

And the momentum crashed to a stop, fading out, disappearing as if it never were.

And I suddenly realized what the Monster had obscured that night a week before, even as I stared up into the star-filled sky and traced the faint line of the Milky Way and saw all the clues come together for me.

And then the tears came, and they still come, unheralded, unexpected, uncaring …

Something needs to change …

Something …

Postscript

I woke up in the morning
With an arrow through my nose …

~Neil Young – Last Trip to Tulsa

The Monster returned a week later, Saturday morning. Faint, distant, I could hear her whisper, and as I lay there, thinking on her, I wondered at my life and this thing that shares it with me. I got up and, as always, mounted my defenses, shrugged on my armor, and prepared for the new battle. There followed a shower, coffee, and  soon I was in the Buddhamobile and cruising the wet and misty pre-dawn shadows of San Francisco, rolling over slick, reflective streets, winding my way around the City’s periphery until I was at Ocean Beach, by the Zoo, and I drove on, past the Sunset District where I grew up and then the Park where I played with the 40th Ave. gang and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Bar at Beach Chalet where I drank and shot pool while in college, on past the foot of the Outer Richmond, where once upon a time I worked the carnival midway of Playland at the Beach, a ghost that lives on in my memories, now climbing up and around the cliffs where nestled the new Cliff House on the graves of the older incarnations of that structure, finally parking above the ruins at Sutro Baths on 48th Ave.

San Francisco Headlands, near China Beach

My walking companion was waiting, and we talked a while in the Buddhamobile while I finished my coffee, and then we were off, treking through the wet along the paths that hugged the coast, through some of the last remnants of wild that still exist in San Francisco. A pleasant walk, if a little tiring as we climbed and descended rough trails and stairs, skirting the edges of Lincoln Park golf course and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, making our steady way through the at times heavy mist, and as we did the darkness faded, giving way to gray.

We lingered here and there a while on our journey, taking pictures and talking of this and that. Before we knew it we were at China Beach, having passed some of the elegant and expensive homes of the Sea Cliff district, and there below us a man was flowing through his Tai Chi, greeting the day in his fashion.

And then it was time to go …


August 15, 2010 Posted by | Hodgepodge | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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