Grey Hairs & Live Wires

Hanging out in the tech store is an adventure of a new kind nowadays. There was a time when the generation gap between early adopters and those who have now grown up wholly in the personal-computing age was a crevasse of seemingly un-breachable magnitude. Now, the first generation of techno-babies has come far enough into their majority and the era of common computing has drawn enough of their elders into its mainstream that the paths are beginning to converge again.

It’s most evident in the staffing of technology stores, I think: customers of all ages are finally being served by experts of all ages. It’s an oddly comforting phenomenon to a middle-ground, middle-aged slow learner like me. I’m not as cowed by the expertise of youth, who, like those well-versed in so many other complicated fields, grew up knowing of their art and science’s nuances in ways that earlier generations couldn’t know. Neither am I so dubious of the expertise of people my age and older, who have now had enough years of immersion themselves to become equally, if not so innately, well-versed. It’s no longer that the people who were on the cutting edge of that first computer-building wave are utterly obsolete, but that they are—like my 88-year-old father in law, who worked in computing when it was still a universe of room-sized behemoth machines and basic binary punch cards—so curious as to have now trained into able manipulators of the current tech as well. It is a rich environment in which to learn and practice as I muddle through.

I just wish it meant that I could reboot my own brain, upgrade my mental hardware, and assimilate the new data without having to rebuild my mainframe entirely.Digital illo: Binary Baby

Things I’ve Learned

Most of the stuff I’ve been taught over the years hasn’t stuck especially well. Key among the useful and meaningful skills and knowledge that have been handed down to me are the remarkably applicable ones wherein I ought to spend most of my energy on keeping my mind open and my mouth shut. Many a disaster can be averted, I know, and many a mountain scaled, if one only practices this simple-sounding combination. But I also know from long experience that the person able to perform this remarkably magical duo of acts on a consistent basis is all too rare, and I am hardly the best practitioner of them.

Other people’s shortcomings, of course, are neither my excuse nor my problem: it’s I alone who need to iron out the kinks in this skill set. Along with these, there are a huge number of additional talents I ought to have cultivated better by now, knowing as I do through experience and example how significantly they can and should improve my life and the lives of those around me. For example, what if I stuck to the demonstrably excellent principle I’ve been taught, in which one stays focused and present in the now, the moment being lived, rather than entangled in mistakes past or muddled by the ever-impossible-to-read future? I can only imagine I’d waste a whole lot less time, energy, and worry, and spend it much more profitably and pleasurably.

I have learned a lot of things that, on their own and at face value, seem quite minute and insignificant but can actually be useful, if I pay attention to them. And if I bother to consider their inverses, their hidden sides, they may all the more inform and improve my existence. Life isn’t all clover and strawberries. Yet, as it happens, the occasional, if less-adorable, onions and garlic can season delicious dishes that even the most sensitive palates can love. A weedy dandelion brings provocative beauty, sometimes by its mere contrast, to the most refined and orderly of gardens. At times, the best company is oneself alone. Bigger, newer, louder, faster, stronger, and prettier are not always better. Cuddly looking creatures can bite. Long, heavy books can be well worth reading, but “Classics” aren’t always so.

Does hearing, knowing, practicing, or appreciating any of these tidbits really make me a better or more righteous person? Nope. But a longtime practice of attempting to find and test such little specks of potential goodness in the chaos of life might—could—help.
Digital illo: Things I've Learned

I’ve learned a lot of brilliant and useful things in my lifetime thus far. It’s too bad I’m not always good at putting them into practice. But I’m working on it, really I am.

Careening toward Excellence

Digital illo from photos: Psycho-Zydeco 1There is no chance, however infinitesimally remote, that I will ever be perfect in any way. Olympic scores of 10 notwithstanding, I suspect that quantifiable perfection is beyond human reach altogether. My reach, however, I can guarantee unequivocally will remain ever short of the absolute.

And I make no apologies for it. Argue the possibility for human outliers if you will, I am no such exemplar.

This doesn’t excuse a perpetual state of lying down on the job. Corpses are already better at that task than we are while still alive, no matter how expertly lazy. And you know that I do speak as a highly skilled practitioner of that art. Not being a corpse, just yet, thank you. Laziness.

I also know, however, that from play, serendipity, accident, and even out of the occasional non-life-threatening disaster can come growth and inspiration. We improve more by learning from our mistakes than from thinking, “Nailed it!” and settling comfortably into what we hope is an easy formula for repeating the success. This, however counterintuitive it may seem, gives me hope.

Perhaps as I go bouncing through life in my random, attention-deficit-slanted, cheerily inefficient way, I may well stumble upon my better self, eventually. Don’t look for me in the Hall of Fame, let alone among the stars. But if my fine intentions and a healthy dose of good fortune should, like mythic planets, align at some heroically splendid place and time, you can certainly find me in the shining company of the wonderfully, luckily contented.Digital illo from photos: Psycho-Zydeco 2

My Portfolio

I’ll leave it to others, preferably sometime after I’m dead and even less likely to be concerned about it that I am now, to determine whether I’m a real artist or writer. No doubt there are, and will be, many who are dubious that I am a real person, for that matter. But it’s of little consequence, as long as I believe I exist. There’s room enough in my delusion for a number of delightful companions, and as long as I am happy in my imaginary world, all is well. But I will stake a small claim that, whether as a real artist or writer or a mere fantasist, I’ve been making art and writing stuff for as long as I can remember.
Photo: Portfolio 1

I think it unlikely that much of either kind of output will ever be considered especially valuable by others. I don’t flatter myself so far as to think that a large quantity of my work in visual or verbal invention is more than a passing amusement even to me, so there’s no reason to believe that the rest of the viewing and reading world will be so moved by my thrilling creations as to consider it important. And I don’t worry about that.

After all, I am as ephemeral as all persons of the human persuasion are, and thus unlikely to be troubled by anything lasting after I’m dead. I’m not one to concern myself with my epitaph (although I’ve written dozens of silly couplets and quatrains that would more than suffice in summing me up for a headstone, so that’s taken care of already if it worries you) or my legacy. The latter, I hope, will be to not have left too much of a mark on the world when I’m gone, but rather have trod on it fairly lightly, as these things go.

But because I am alive in an era when a veteran introvert like me can now also easily ‘go public’ without the great anxiety-production that comes from real world interaction with other humanoids, and in order to keep myself motivated to enjoy my practice of art and writing as much and as long as I can, why then: I am; therefore, I blog. Inevitably, others will feel it incumbent upon them to critique. Thankfully, the most succinct and practical form of critique in the digital age is first, to ignore, and then, Delete. So if anyone finds my work offensive or ugly, or just plain tedious and tiresome, their best defense of their tender eyebulbs and precious time is to run away from my website and never darken its portals again. I take the grand liberty of assuming that anyone who comes here does so unforced, and is free to go galumphing off in a cloud of huffiness when and if that suits them, and has therefore no cause to chastise me with wasting their life-energy here.

Photo: Portfolio 2

Meanwhile, having this platform for self-training and/or self-amusement, I go on producing new posts, new drawings and photos and poems and fictions and musings and digital collages daily and to my heart’s content.

But I consider that my portfolio is more than just a blog. It’s more than all of the art and writing and publications and stashed-away unshared works of my lifetime thus far and to the end of my days, whenever that will be. My true portfolio is all of the inspirations and ideas and inventions from the alpha to the omega of my lifespan, plus every experience and dream, study and accident, fear and hope and longing that led to those works of my brain and hands. And most of all, it is the collected community of friends, teachers, icons, playmates, correspondents, counselors, and loved ones who have moved, and continue to move, me to pour out this satchel of tricks and treats by which I will leave what little mark I do make upon the universe before I go.

Calling All Saints

This is a day designated by the Christian church for the remembrance of all the good, fine people who have lived, illuminated our lives, led the way for the rest of us, and now are also gone before us in death. Recollection, commemoration and admiration of those who have lived as great-hearted souls on the earth and set an example, large or small, of excellence for those of us who follow is, I think, a practice that anyone of any stripe, religious or not, can embrace; we are certainly all made better by such meditations, especially if and when we are made stronger by their guidance to follow in our honored loves’ radiant footsteps.Photos + text: How Sweet the Moment

Spending a day in remembrance of loves lost is bound to be bittersweet, of course. When the bond has been close in life, it remains so in death, and however the pangs of loss may subside over time, on a day devoted to thoughtful recognition of our trusted and beloved friends, mentors and avatars of all things great and good, the pain can be as sharply new again as in the first sweep of sorrow. But if I am genuinely mindful and respectful of their gifts in life, I think that this can be transformational and healing and comforting, too.Photos + text: Bittersweet

Can I live as a reflection of my most-admired angels? It’s too tall an order for any ordinary mortal, I know. But that’s exactly why I think we have these living and loving models among us: to show that in community and mutual, loving support and with determined and patient growth on our own, greater things can happen than if we try to do significant and meaningful things independently. We are raised up by the waves of support around us. How can I not be grateful for that! This realization sweetens the day perceptibly. Do I wish that I could have my lost loves back again? Who would not! But I wouldn’t trade one tear, one iota of the hurt and anger and grief I’ve felt over any of their losses, to miss out on recognizing the beauty and joy and brilliance that they brought to this world in their too-short tenure here, and I know that some lights seem so bright in life that they can blind me at close range to what’s more easily discerned, when seen from this greater distance, as having the distinctive shape of an excellent soul.Photos + text: Last Lullaby

Hot Flash Fiction 13: Eternity Beckons

Photo: Science by CandlelightEternal life has always been the masters’ magnificent goal; no wonder that great magister and alchemist Osteodaimon was also determined to solve this elusive mystery himself, to plumb the Stygian depths of knowledge collected by the most piercing minds and intrepid souls ever to walk this dangerous earth. He began with years of reading, apprenticeship, exploration, privation, and experimentation. What Osteodaimon learned most quickly was that the process of becoming immortal was in fact incremental; it was a long series of tiny steps and grand leaps, of fallings-backward and soaring upward, all of which took him through both his long and arduous life of study and also a few strange periods of stasis, in which, all told, he began this mystical transformation of his into one truly able to transcend death. Many and terrifying were the missteps and passages, rites and elixirs, incantations, and the heart-shaking, wrenching feats of bravery and agility required of his profound intellect and the ever-disintegrating body that sought answers from that abyss.

One winter’s night, when he had traversed the grueling routes both between his birth and the ninety-two cycles of the seasons that already marked him as uniquely time-defying by his ancient era’s reckoning, and between the smoothly un-furrowed innocence of youth and his avidly acquired brilliance, he recognized in the ice crystals forming along his lashes the last increment required to complete his journey. Carrying the tinctures and potions that would preserve his last bits of mental and physical strength for the ritual, he set forth in the falling snow and moonlight to go farther into the frozen wilderness than he, or anyone, had ever plunged before. He began to notice as he went forward that the slower he moved, the faster the vastness of ice seemed to recede before him, until it was clear that his pace of progress was directly opposed by the increasingly swift passage of time. He knew that his own final breath was hardly a hairbreadth ahead of him, racing both toward him and away, and that only by letting the speed of it catch up with the glacial slowness he himself was approaching, at exactly the right juncture, and by taking the last dram of his precious medicine at exactly the same instant, could he affect the perfect circumstances for his final transformation.

Osteodaimon finally marked the spot. He lay down on the bottomless swath of blue-black ice, took the last draught of his alchemical magic into his gaunt grey mouth, and stopped. He became fused to the ice there instantly, his eyes made into a pair of wide, dull mirrors for the relentless moon and faded stars of perpetual polar night.

When he returned to himself and forced his eyes to focus again, his vision was oddly fragmented, and he sensed that he had drifted from his last stopping place far more than he had imagined he would have done. But the new place, also moonlit and cold, was pleasant enough, and he knew that soon his vision would clear and the slight buzzing in his ears would pass as he regained his strength. His sense of physical power, indeed, astonished him immediately as it returned; it was not only as though he were young again but as though he had new and exhilarating powers that would easily surpass those of his remembered early years, when he had labored so mightily in his pursuit of conquering death. This new Osteodaimon was a super-being to be reckoned with, and he took off at great speed to see what he could now accomplish in this next passage of his life.

It startled him how quickly he was able to go from place to place, how he seemed now to see things from so many new perspectives and rarely wearied of dashing about, looking, stopping to sup cold water or wine, or have a little food when he chose, but endlessly pursuing the delights of his renewed life. We cannot be sure, for history has failed to record all of the details perfectly, but it may be that it was only a matter of days, or at most weeks, before he realized that he could no longer read.

This proved a surprising disappointment that he would attempt to address soon enough. Not quite soon enough, perhaps, that he was ever able to learn the story of how, in A.D. 1867, a small group of botanists on the steppe discovered a perfectly preserved man encased in ice at the edge of a receding glacier. How the intrepid scientists chiseled their magnificent find out of his tomb in a manageable block and labored to drag it back to their fledgling university by sledge and wagon and train. How they built an ice-house museum room for the express purpose of preserving and examining this amazingly lifelike ancient man. How, one awful night in 1871, the city and that little-known museum in it were consumed by fire. How the ice-entombed mystery man had been spared cremation himself only because the conflagration had taken so long to melt his ice block that he remained weirdly, wonderfully intact, his eyes dully mirroring the moon once again.

Surely Osteodaimon could not have learned how to read again even in time to make sense of the tale that followed, of the chaos after the city’s destruction that prevented anyone from having further sightings of this miraculous time-traveler that had so clearly been the earthly form of the great magister and alchemist himself. Even if he had been able to read again, there would be no document to explain that his ultimate disappearance meant neither that he had finally ceased to exist nor that his old ideas of perpetual life being possible were entirely incorrect, for in the days and weeks immediately following the Great Fire, there was far more concern for removal of dangerous debris and rescue of injured and homeless known victims than for tidying up the remnants of an obscure museum. Had there been a witness to record it, there might have been something that Osteodaimon could hope to learn to read, something telling him that his thawed remains had rotted in the post-apocalyptic drear of an abandoned building, showing no more activity than the usual decay and natural recycling would show.

He might also, of course—had he been able to read it—thought that perhaps the early philosophers and proto-scientists were not entirely wrong but only slightly misdirected in their belief in spontaneous generation. For he would have found in the documentation of the ice-man’s progress that feeding on his mortal remains had been the usual generation or two of avid creatures that led to his emergence, eventually, as revivified carbon in the form of a blowfly. Once alive, always alive, but not, perhaps in precisely the way he had long imagined it.Digital illustration from photos: From Here to Eternity. Maybe.

Get Me Some Book-Larnin’

Drawing: Samuel ClemensJust because I have had the benefit of a decent education doesn’t mean I am smart. We all know that it’s entirely possible to have any number of degrees and diplomas, plaques and endorsements, letters and titles decorating your name and still be a complete fool. Idiocy is a far less rare condition than the number of high school and university graduates would have us believe.

Indeed, I have read a great quantity of writings during the course of my life, but I would never go so far as to say that I am well read. Among other contradictions to that claim would be my incredible slowness as a reader, both in speed and in comprehension: as a multifaceted dyslexic, able to turn words, letters, numbers, directions and relative spatial placements all inside out and upside down without even trying, I can easily spend four times the amount of energy and hours reading that any decent reader would need to get through the same amount of text. And of course that doesn’t guarantee that I will actually understand what I read in precisely the way the authors intended.

A more important reason that I don’t consider myself well read is that I have managed to conquer only a relatively small segment of the library most scholarly and literate persons would consider to be well written, informative, accurately researched and defended, or just plain must-read, important stuff among books. Long before I knew why it took me so long and so many tries to read a mere paragraph, let alone a book, I was required to tackle a handful of the so-called Classics of literature, and a bit of contemporary contenders for the title as well. It’s just as well I didn’t imagine I had such an anomalous reading style or that it was considered a disability by others, because I might have had yet more frustrations and difficulties in trying to fit the mold of how one was expected to overcome such things, instead of finding that by plodding through in my own backward way, I became attached to some of the books and stories to an equally unexpected depth. Whom should I, as a struggling reader, admire most among authors but those champions of the dense and complicated, say, Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies.

On the other hand, it’s probably less surprising that I also favor the purveyors of the most outlandish and appalling and ridiculous, from Ogden Nash, Evelyn Waugh, and Edgar Allan Poe to Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman and Franz Kafka. This part at least makes some sense, if you tend to believe I’d read writers who reflect something of my own mind’s workings or the weird ways in which I see the world. In any event, this latter crew might explain a little more about my tending to choose the least arduous paths in life, since I find a certain sort of familiarity in the strangest of their inventions and so can perhaps navigate their writings with a surer strength than otherwise.

So while I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer or the most edified of readers, I have at least a few pieces of proclamatory paper in my coffers to prove that I did my homework somewhat dutifully if not doggedly. My degrees don’t confer any special wisdom upon me, but they at least excuse my curmudgeonly attitude about how long it takes me to read my own posts, let alone anyone else’s books and articles and poems and proposals, no matter how brilliant and scintillating and clever and beautiful they are. I’m still trying, but give me plenty of time!