One of the dualities I struggle with is how beautiful the afternoons are here, despite the fact that I live in an aging apartment simplex. Amidst the traffic and people winding down from their days of obligatory toil and commerce, light and birdsong fill this place. It’s a time for introspection and casual hellos. I smell beans, pasta, undefined meat, and like most evenings, cannabis and cigarette smoke. I listen to the insects; even they know fall is carpeting itself around them. I saw only one hummingbird this evening. It flew down to the railing near me and then darted two feet above, perching on one of the two craft hooks I left hanging on the upper canopy. It remained for at least two minutes. When it left, it flew down a foot away from my face, humming and hovering before it made its departure.
I watch. I listen. I think.
If I go back inside, I’ll hear the backward clock ticking. I love backward clocks, but even the fact that they run in reverse is some sort of metaphor.
Evenings are the time for togetherness. It’s been that way for millennia. The sun’s slow surrender signals a retreat into homes and shared spaces.
I misjudged the quiet tonight. It is a blessing and it is a vexation.
My usual tactics of a long midnight walk or of untold pushups are out of reach, at least for the near future. I got great news from my doctor today. As contradictory as it sounds, the good news in some way amplified my need to be surrounded by sound, voices, and touch.
I am grateful to be here. So many others are facing ridiculous obstacles and certainties. I got a temporary pass.
The train arrives, claxons, stopping traffic for ninety-four seconds, the red alternating warning lights shining and reflecting on each car as it passes, the two opposing left-turn lanes backing up in frustration. Its siren recedes until I can hear it no longer. It’s replaced by the echoing barks of dogs, in homes I can’t quite picture.
I count sirens and ambulances. With so many people around me, both are inexorable.
I’m already futurizing, thinking of tomorrow. I’ll get to see the sunrise and feel the chill that’s predicted. My shoes are already laid out, socks on top, inviting me to go find a new adventure.
I can’t be me without all of y’all. And if you think of it for a moment, ask that the sunrise greet me in relative minutes.
There are so many beautiful houses near my apartment. I especially admire the ones packed with a variety of plants and foliage and a little bit of carelessness regarding the lawn. It’s easy to lose track of time wandering the streets, especially when I’m not attentive to how the byways interconnect. Streets with names like Elm, Poplar, Baker, Erstan, and Green Acres. One of the things about running is that I don’t have enough time to appreciate the gentle breeze, the wall of scents emanating from some of the yards, or give the inhabitants of some of these houses time enough to see me and greet me. If I’m walking, I take a moment to tell them how beautiful their yards are. One of the truths of life is that people forget the beauty around them; they go environmentally blind. I’ve noted the addresses a few times and sent them an anonymous postcard to let them know that the time, money, and effort are observable and appreciated. I don’t know if ironic is the right word. Still, it always occurs to me that most of the beauty in a yard tends to be enjoyed and observed by passersby rather than the owners.
There’s a metaphor there, one you should remember as you look at yourself in the mirror or wonder if you’ve added any value to people’s lives. The tentacles of who we are tend to be vast, though invisible. I continue to learn that we seldom know or recognize when people appreciate us. It is common for me to consider how ridiculous it is that we don’t take the time to be vulnerable.
The passenger train is running a little late as I finish my run. The blare of the horn is deafening. Oddly though, even as I wince a little, it is comforting. I wave with a little bit too much enthusiasm at the passengers; they watch me, I observe them. Several return my wave.
I’ve been using the dryer timer cycle as a bell to start my run a few times lately. It limits my burst of energy. I use the law of increments to my advantage. I can’t promise to run miles each day. But I can harness the enthusiasm that sometimes grips me and commit myself to do what I can now, today. Now that I’ve cooled off a little, I’ll return to my apartment. But I have snapshots in my head of this morning’s breeze, the walkers and the runners, and of the beautiful yards.
P.S. I found the flower art in the middle of the road. Whatever was connected to it is gone. I’m assuming it fell from a passing vehicle. I wonder what was attached at the top.
I’m reluctant to share it, but someone wrote and gave me one of the best compliments ever:
“X. What are you DOING? Sometimes I don’t quite get what you’re writing about, but I always feel what you’re saying. I wonder what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Whatever it is, I wish you’d figure it out and channel your interests. It would be amazing. Write a wanderer post this weekend if you can. Signed, A Lurker”
I stood under the canopy watching the lightning streaks. I held a cup of delicious dark bitter coffee in my hand, my first cup of the day. I was already drenched, so it didn’t matter whether I was protected from the rain or not. There aren’t a lot of instances when you have the premonition that you might easily recall the moment later. The place was mundane – but they all are, really. I took a little bit of delight and traced it in my memory. A few seconds after the next big streak of lightning, a huge boom echoed and somewhere in the distance someone gave a little shout and said, “Let’s go in!” Apparently, not everyone takes delight in drinking their coffee during a torrential downpour. There is no accounting for taste, is there?
Nearby, the traffic light seemed more vibrant in the dense rain and early morning light. The rain and thunder had attempted to veto my walk. I ignored the imposition and set out anyway. Who knows how many more times I’ll have the opportunity to watch the world duck and run simply because it’s raining. For that matter, or watching people pay $8 for a dessert disguised as coffee.
Despite the intense dark of the sky, I stole a long walk from this morning. During the first part of my walk, I stayed urban; for the second part I abandoned all concern about the weather and rain. Being somewhere new affords a different pleasure and I don’t need to be somewhere exotic to feel alive. (A truth I should learned more distinctly when I was younger.) I could share several pictures, ones I grabbed each time I took my phone out of the ziplock bag I had tucked into my pocket. But these would not be shared memories, and often that makes all the difference. It is why we feel a little empty looking at other people’s vacation photos, especially when the people we love are not in them.It is our presence and our memories that add value to a place or a vista.
So I’ll use my words to futilely attempt a description: I walk alone on this wide expanse of trail.To one side, the angry creek roars. The sky intermittently opens up and drenches me but fails to touch my enthusiasm. The birds carry on their business, and I watch a hawk on the edge of the farm and rows of test corn, probably searching for mice. It feels like I could walk forever, and possibly without encountering other people. The thunder is my applause. Somewhere out here with me there must be a touch of the ordinary. But I don’t see it.
Red is for stop green is for go Add this small thing To the list of things I do not need to know . . PS Lest you think everything is rainbows and butterflies… toward the presumptive end of my walk, I watched a bitter domestic fight in one of the single story apartments dotting my return. The woman stood outside screaming obscenities and threats as someone inside through her belongings out onto the wet sidewalk. Though she doesn’t know it, her life is both ending and beginning. Worse still, because of my life experience I can mentally chart out the rest of her life. As several of the neighbors stood outside in the light rain to watch the drama, I couldn’t help but think about how needless it all was. Needless and probably inescapable.
How strange to consider how enjoyable of a morning I had just walking, one of the simplest things in the world – while the woman in question probably was having the worst morning she’s had in years.
I’m going to go back to my regular morning, and if I’m lucky, like all of us, I might experience another touch of the divine. And another cup of coffee, one without the kiss of rain.
It was a beautiful moment, one whose aura has not been extinguished, despite the hurt. It was a moment of bliss. He had no way of knowing it would be the last time that he would touch her. Thanks to the picture, he now measured all pleasures and memories by that standard: was it a great movie, especially if it were his last? Would the knowledge of its numeracy trace an additional groove of recognition in his brain? Because he practiced this often, he learned that knowing one’s time to pass would render all moments useless. Nothing could be enjoyed in and of itself. The approaching darkness of a loss would cloak everything in its shadow. If you knew that your next cup of coffee would be your last, he guessed that you might never take a sip of it all.
But he sometimes looks at the picture and can’t help but get trapped in a labyrinth of what might have been. It’s a quintessential human emotion. Not regret precisely. It’s impossible to slice away the happiness that envelops the memory, just as it’s difficult not to take a moment to consider the pain that resulted from it. It’s an endless war with neither side of the emotional scale winning. He nevertheless gets comfortable and takes a minute to think back while looking at the picture. At times, he’s left with a light buoyancy, one derived from lingering happiness that he had the experience at all. At other times, he feels as if someone punched him while he was napping. “We always take away something from our moments,” he thought. “Why must we insist on a polarizing method to evaluate our experiences and memories?” Of course, he didn’t have an answer, so he did what we all do and came up with a temporary distraction, one which would occupy him until the next time he visited the memory.
He could only hope that time might continue to help him clear his mind.
He sat on the couch, his legs folded under him, the picture held between his curled fingers.
It wouldn’t matter if he slipped the picture back inside the book on the discolored end table. The image was graphed in his brain, now complexly tied to the emotions he felt during and after the hug and the picture.
When he dreamed, the picture became fragmented, polychromatic, and elusive. While he could no longer see the picture, he could feel it, like the hug itself, one radiating presence and acceptance. He put the picture aside and laid down on the couch, welcoming the dreams that might come.
“Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.” – Internet quote.
He stopped and stared at the long rectangular Target sign at the front of the parking lot. Though the sun shone brightly, the chill of winter still clung to him. His life had become one continuous transition. His heart felt the pull of softness and also the duality of the hardness needed to live a good life. Making choices always cut one’s life into disparate columns; a choice made inevitably rendered another to be toothless. Most people found themselves unable to keep regrets from spoiling their minds; restless minds fill with regrets of things both done and undone, attempting an impossible balance.
The horn behind him startled him. He laughed as he jumped, waving to let the other driver know he was sorry. It had bleeped a long, consistent tone. “Forward now!” it said.
Just like that, he did.
He left the indecision behind him.
“Be happy,” he said, to no one and to everyone. Like his car, his life lurched forward.
I want you to feel this sentence in your head, to experience the soft agony of a fleeting moment accelerating past. Words are knives, yet sharp edges have utility. The smell of wood smoke in December, hovering above a blanket of quiet snow. The smell of Saturday morning bacon or salt pork, your grandmother’s loving fingers artfully guiding the pieces in the hot pan, her mind focused on the utility of feeding those she loves. The smile of a September bride, her eyes opened to only possibilities and love, miles distant from those tragedies that always befall us. The tap of a piano beginning its melody in the background as someone lifts a cold beer from the family table. A raucous laugh bursting from an amused mouth. The sharp involuntary intake of breath when beauty is within reach. The rush of saliva in one’s mouth with the first bite of fried chicken, a grilled hamburger, or bell peppers slightly charred on a grill. Words are knives, but they are also caresses, ones crafted for delighted eyes and open hearts, to be whispered into attentive ears and crafty mind. Everything is a moment to an observant mind.
“When life gives you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.” Cathy Guisewite
Did you know that a truel is a duel except that three participants are involved instead of two? Most people don’t. Invariably, if I use the word without context, most people don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. (It’s the same when I use the word “antepenultimate,” which means “next to next to last,” or “third from last.” It’s a handy word. P.S. “X” is the antepenultimate letter of the English alphabet.)
He sat motionless at the window, his mind trapped in an alternate universe, another timeline, one in which he was essentially himself, yet immersed in the consequences of other choices. This day would have been substantially distinct, its eddies and currents carrying him far afield from his comfort zone. Tom Wingo echoed in his head. He knew that most people wouldn’t understand the complexities of a complicated life. The invisible and hidden worlds contained inside our own minds are within reach of us all; seldom do people share them, for fear of their essential selves becoming unraveled. It is precisely inside these private compartments of our minds that we reside.
If I tell you, “J is the only capital letter that faces the left,” you might immediately recognize that it is true. Despite this recognition, most people will stop and take a moment to inventory the alignment of their own alphabet. And if your mind is wired like mine, you will undoubtedly assign another moment to inquire as to why this small fact is true. Surely, there must be a reason.
Someone wrote me and offered this unsolicited advice. I rewrote it to this: “The best partner is both critic and fan, unafraid to alternate between the extremes of correction and adoration.” Can you imagine if this were to be true in your own life?
Can someone tell me why “Leave by example” isn’t a better cliché than “Lead by example?”
Curiosity has its limits. For instance, I often see a picture of a beautiful person and wonder how many minutes have passed since they REALLY let one rip.
About 1 in 10 people regrow at least some part of their tonsils back after removal. This fact has always stuck in my head, no pun intended.
I am 19,717 days old today. Yay!
Bananas are still the most popular item sold at Walmart.
People don’t sneeze while they are sleeping. If you sneeze, you will wake up before doing so.
A couple of the rooms here are flooded with rainbows emanating from the prisms I have in the windows. It’s the first day of Spring here in the United States. The day brought a lot of sunshine, some of which reached my heart today. That is a welcome change.
It is unimaginable the road that led me here. I walked it with an enthusiasm that eluded me before. The path seemed so clear, my eyes so focused, and my vision unclouded. I wish everyone could experience the joy of such certainty.
I’m sitting here, looking out the window at a sun slowly sliding down. The prisms hanging in the window take me to another place, a place I can’t call mine. All windows open to the same world; that much is true. But when it is you who have changed, the window loses its allure.
I weigh less than 165 lbs. Six months ago, I weighed 65 lbs more. I still can’t believe it. I fold myself into this chair and wonder how much life I crammed into those intervening months.
I shaved my beard down after allowing it to grow as long as it has in 20+ years. It wasn’t a decision so much as an obligation that boiled out of me in a rapid exercise of momentary certainty. I used the raw edge of the trimmer’s blade and failed to follow up with a razor.
I’m boiled away to me, raw.
My muse is absent. The silence is painful, hurtful, and uncomfortable. It’s my price to pay, even as I struggle to understand it.
The filaments that have sustained me became gossamer and intangible in a way that shocked me. I held my breath, summoning optimism, hope, and love to my defense.
This morning, I woke up to the surprising illumination of a solar light that somehow charged and lit up the entire night.
The next day will come.
I fear that my stumble has stolen an essential piece of me.
It is a cosmic coincidence that this day precedes the time change. Were it so that I could burst forth to the day when my muse returns.
I find myself looking out the window, between noted words, calling my muse back to my branch. The prisms hanging there beckon, their magic in plain sight.
I’ll include this picture of me from earlier as a comparison. For the briefest of moments, I held my muse in my heart.
And in the above picture, I took it accidentally while trying to get a picture of my crazy vest. It didn’t fit before. And I slipped into another one of those many moments where I simply didn’t recognize my body as my own. These moments only carry their significance forward when you have a reason to share them.
After a night of turbulence both inside my head and outside in the soaring sky, I listened to the thunder roll away out in the early morning hours. I peeked through the blinds in astonishment. I noticed that one of the many solar lanterns from last season’s yard project was somehow still illuminated, its white light shining particularly brightly even against the rain. What force charged it yesterday is an open question. How it maintained its brilliance after so many hours, another. However it may have done so, for this day, it was a much-needed reminder. Energy is energy and must find its outlet. I hope that for today, our energies produce surprises and radiance. We all need it. Spring is easy in its approach; hope is its byproduct. Not everyone we meet today will have Spring in their hearts, even if a smile is their camouflage. For me, at that moment in the window, a smile briefly touched my heart. .
Rainbow Girl walked across the expanse of the cemetery, turning about halfway. The dozens of prisms she’d placed carefully in the oak tree branches shimmered like floating diamonds. The rear perimeter of the property held a dozen large oak trees, each with outreaching and drooping limbs. March had not yet relinquished winter, leaving the trees unencumbered by the approaching greenery of budding leaves.
I watched her from several rows away. A year had passed since my brother died. Without a plan in mind, I came to visit the grave he insisted on having, even after being cremated. To my surprise, some of the pain of his loss and his wasted last few years weighed heavily on my heart.
Even if she had detected my presence, I would not have affected her. It was the first time I had witnessed her. Stories about her floated around time from time to time. Most were fantastical and exaggerated. It was apparent she was no more than a young woman.
I looked away for a moment to glance at my cellphone. When my eyes found Rainbow Girl again, she ran toward the oak trees in the back and then began a pirouette, one anchored by her outflung arms. She spun faster and faster. Her black hair swung freely across her face and shoulders. When she stopped, several rainbow patterns from the prisms around her painted her face, arms, and torso. I felt as if I were witnessing a ritual. I was mesmerized.
With her arms still out, she turned toward me and waved her right hand, beckoning me to join her. Without hesitation, I quickly walked toward her. She waited, even as the prisms slowly moved with the breeze in the branches holding them. Her lips were painted bright red.
She spun her index finger around. I realized she wanted me to spin as she had. I looked down to see no rainbows across my torso or legs.
I expected to feel foolish. I didn’t. I inexpertly began to spin. After five turns, I knew I might be unsteady on my feet, so I stopped.
Rainbow Girl smiled, revealing white teeth. The smile reached her eyes, and a rainbow from one of the prisms above rested across the bridge of her nose. I smiled back at her.
She pointed at my chest.
Looking down, I saw several rainbows coloring my shirt and arms. Rainbow Girl motioned with her hand to tell me that she could see several across my face.
I laughed. Rainbow Girl spun several more times and stopped. By no means I could detect, the number of rainbows across her body had doubled. I repeated my slower spins. To my surprise, I, too, had twice as many rainbows across my body. Rainbow Girl tilted her head and smiled as wide as any smile I had ever witnessed.
She put her right hand over her heart and pointed up to the trees and March sky above. I did likewise. I felt a thousand points of multi-colored lights assail my eyes. When I looked back toward Rainbow Girl, she was covered in dozens of prism splotches, each faintly distinguished by incredibly vivid colors.
She motioned for me to cover my eyes. I reluctantly did so, blocking the beautiful mix of colors. I waited.
After a few seconds, I opened my eyes. Rainbow Girl was gone. A single prism rainbow painted the leaves on the cemetery grass. I smiled, a smile that grew across my face like the green of spring spreading over a field.
Minutes passed as I stood in the grass, wondering about Rainbow Girl and thinking about my life and that of my brother. As I walked past my brother’s grave, I noted a single rainbow across his name. I laughed.
If you have the pleasure of seeing someone you love bathed in rainbows, take a moment to experience the magic of light rendered as color. And if you see Rainbow Girl, let her take the heaviness from your heart.