“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.
The title of this, “What’s remembered, lives,” is a quote attributed to the father of Frances McDormand’s character, Fern. It’s a pithy encapsulation of a truth many of us remember when we lose someone close. Fern finds herself trapped in a self-fulfilling cocoon of memory.
I tried “Nomadland” without knowing much about it. I heard buzz about it before. Frances McDormand seems to bring depth to everything. Though she’s not a classic beauty, she’s aged beautifully. Despite being sixty-four, she appears nude in this movie and does not shirk from any realistic depiction of her character. Some moments will shock you, but none of them are gratuitous.
Frances McDormand’s character is experiencing the hollow of life after her husband died. The town they lived in died due to economics. She travels in a van as a nomad. Each place she visits greets her with fascinating and complicated people, many of whom are portrayed by ‘real’ people from the nomad movement.
It was one continuous, unutterable emotion rendered as a movie.
I might compare it to a dream, one punctuated by hyperrealistic moments that don’t let you flinch away from them. The scenery is beautiful, as is the simple music by Ludovico Einaudi. (Who I discovered accidentally a couple of years ago.) There is an odd assortment of live music in the movie, and all of it is performed with creative intimacy – by people you would love to get to know.
The movie paces with an intentional speed that might confuse some people. This movie is a bit of poetry and prose set in motion. It might well be a creative second cousin to Pat Conroy’s writing.
If I had to compare this movie to something, I might say it’s a photograph of the love of your life found after a violent storm, half-hidden in debris. Or a woman’s beautiful singing voice rendered hoarse from exertion. The beauty is bare for you to see.
Like I always do, I found little pieces of myself in this movie, and in unexpected places.
As for the ending, after Fern experiences her catharsis, it is evident that Fern chooses herself and the nomad life over one filled with people and intimate love. She is a nomad once again.
Tessa stood near the living room window, staring through the cold glass. She hadn’t slept during the night. In the odd illumination that accompanies some winter snowfall, Tessa watched the footprints fill with snow.
Around six o’clock last night, when the shouting finally stopped, and the front door slammed, she watched him stomp away through the snow. Her heart filled with dread, and her face washed with tears that couldn’t find a suitable place to end. He left a trail of meandering footprints in the snow, his feet imprinting the snow with a line of steps reaching the road. He climbed into his friend’s car without looking back. After so many years, he was gone.
He’d slammed the door and left her alone many evenings in the last few years. She found herself worried with fear that he would find something outside in the world to keep him from returning. Even after he belittled her and made her feel worthless, she repaid his scorn with loyalty. She stayed up, sleepless, and consumed with being alone.
Last night, when the door slammed, Tessa jumped with fear. A few moments later, she also felt an unfamiliar sensation well up. Relief. She shook her head in an attempt to convince herself she was mistaken. The solar lights she carefully placed throughout the yard last summer glimmered against the white snow. As the light faded in the winter sky, she noted how beautiful they were. She also remembered how badly he mocked her for buying them. He pointed out that they’d make mowing harder. She felt a flicker of anger, considering he didn’t do any of the yard work. That the solar lights had charged sufficiently to come on at all surprised her.
As the night progressed, Tessa found herself at the window, the curtains held to both sides. His snowy footprints were slowly filling as the night progressed. The solar lights continued to shine.
Tessa returned to the window with greater frequency. The relief she initially fought filled her. As the footprints became almost invisible, her relief began to feel more like hope. She stood motionless at the window for at least an hour. Without realizing she could no longer see the imprint of her departed husband’s feet, she burst into tears. The snow fell with greater fury.
By four a.m., the solar lights went below the falling snow. The snow carried a bright yellowish bulb of light under the surface.
Shortly before seven, Tessa put on her snow boots, a pair her Grandmother gave her for Christmas fifteen years ago. She still had on her one thick robe. As sunlight began to strengthen, on a whim, Tessa went outside and took long steps into the snow, all the way to the street. She turned and stared back at the house. Suddenly, Tessa didn’t feel lonely. She stomped her way back to the house.
Impulsively, she took her cellphone from her robe pocket and took a picture of the buried solar light and her deep footprints in the snow.
Without a doubt, she knew her light would resurface. Her footprints would dissipate, but she’d remain.
For the first time, she felt at peace.
Tessa remained there, near the living room window, standing in the snow for a few minutes. She felt the magic of the moment hovering over her and whispering in a voice she couldn’t quite discern. When she went back inside, she made a pot of coffee.
Tessa took a cup of black coffee and stood in front of the living room window again. As she looked outside, the solar lights dimmed and went off. Her footprints remained.
The birds accumulated on the wire, arriving in bursts, their weariness from flying already subsiding. They stared down at the humans below as the drama escalated. In exchange for a short life, the birds have the freedom of flight and a disavowal of worry. As the people below shouted against the earless wind, the birds rose in unison from the wire. They flew away, destination undetermined, God’s creatures simply living. The people below briefly glanced upward, seeing the momentary beauty, then once again turned to the needless and cyclical fray of their lives. The birds receded from sight.
I looked out across the untraveled road, beyond the sunset-prismed sky. I listened as the birds clumsily and noisily converged. Their collective landing was awkward and unplanned, yet stunning in its unchoreographed simplicity. They transitioned from aerial to perched. I removed my rose-colored glasses to discover that the sky was as vivid and chromatic as I imagined and that the birds were indeed sovereign in their place. Though I had no words for them as they chattered, I nodded, knowing that the birds on the wire reminded me that optimism is a natural state of being. I put my glasses on the ground and walked away from the deepening sky. The birds remained, eternal in their perch.