Category Archives: Diuturnal

“The Picture” Lives On…

 

I originally posted this in 2014.

Enough time has passed since Jimmy died for me to remember the goofiness more than the anguish of cancer that he endured. It’s natural that death works that way, as he was alive and kicking for much longer than he was suffering. There are still those days when I catch myself wondering what Jimmy might make of something or I half-expect him to drive up to the house after getting more stuff for his hoard from a local garage sale.

Fair or not, a lot of Jimmy’s energy was siphoned away by his one family member’s obsession with money and getting what she thought was hers. It was a travesty and I learned a lot from it, whether I wanted to or not. It angered Jimmy that he was being punished with cancer. Had he survived and not relapsed, I think he might have begun to feel pity for his family member again, as she was at the whim of her own addictions and demons – and he could see it.

The above picture is one which my cousin Jimmy insisted I take of him. It was immediately after his first cancer surgery. We were at his mom’s house. (My Aunt Ardith.) As you can see, Jimmy was still smiling and laughing. His mom wasn’t too thrilled with our brand of humor. Our custom was to make the most outrageous, tasteless and macabre statements that we could imagine. Between the two of us, we used to come up with some epic craziness. Aunt Ardith would sit in her perch on the couch next to the sliding glass doors, drinking her whiskey and coke, smoking, and feigning surprise and mirth at some of our goofiness. We had the ability to literally say anything to each other or about each other, directly, without fear of anger.

Jimmy was very confident that he was going to beat cancer. When this picture was taken, I was very hopeful. Realistically hopeful, I thought. Jimmy joked that this picture would make an ideal Christmas card. His mom specifically told me that I had better not make cards with the picture on it. (My reputation for doing that sort of thing was quite well known…) Jimmy then chimed in that it would make an ideal “All I got was this lousy bout of cancer” t-shirt. It’s still funny, although with a slightly different twist to it now.

The plan was going to be to post this picture on Facebook after-the-fact. Jimmy was interested in being able to talk to people about his experiences. As a well-liked employee of Budweiser, he knew a lot of people and would have a lot of opportunities to talk to people. Unfortunately, his cancer came back to take him down.

This picture might as well have been taken in another century. It both seems like both yesterday and ten years ago simultaneously. His mom became ill and died a few short months before him after he relapsed. His mom’s house is sold to strangers and Jimmy’s life is fading in everyone’s collective consciousness.When Jimmy died, I had tried to get people to write anecdotes and stories to share with me. I had made a commitment to share them out in the world in such a way as to attempt to keep those memories alive. I did my best to disseminate his pictures to friends and family, sharing them on public drives and makings disks, printed copies and any other method I could think of. We all have our stories and moments to remember with Jimmy. Some of us have a strong collection of memories, many of which were times that weren’t fun while we were living them but are as much a part of his life as the “good” times. As time slides past us, our stories will slide into the fog with us.

Whether it is wrong to say so or not, Jimmy’s death affected me in countless more ways than my own mother’s death did. I was with Jimmy for much of his final time and was with him when he finally had nothing left with which to fight. He weighed so little that it seemed only his soul remained in him.

Not only were we contemporaries, but we shared a common bond of ridiculous attitude toward many of life’s idiocies. We were both forged in a family where laughter could be replaced by drunken rage without notice. My youth was fuller thanks to Jimmy and his parents, even when the times weren’t so good.

Jimmy’s life was one of potential. His younger years were full of missteps and mistakes. (Isn’t that true of all of us, though?)  It would have been interesting to see what he would have made of his promotion at Budweiser, of his relationship with his girlfriend (and then wife) before his passing, or of his new appreciation for the scarcity of life. Had cancer not kicked him, I think he would have been one of those people who would have flourished with another lease on life. His laugh would have been a beacon to people and his youthful impatience would have dissipated.

 

 

(Jimmy is on the far right. Picture from Dogpatch, USA, the 1970s.)
If you’re interested, you can find a few more stories about my cousin Jimmy on this blog by using the “Category” drop-down menu on the right-hand side of the main blog page.
Here’s one: A Reminder…   and An Unfinished Blog Post.

May This Be Enough, Always

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Though the photo might have been a bit blurry and taken with the most inexpert of hands, it perennially resided in Henry’s pocket, decades later, his own private Mona Lisa. In quiet moments, he studiously uprooted the snapshot from its cocoon, fingering the edges of the one true memory of his life. He saw the haunting beauty of the faintest smile in the picture in his hand and knew that the universe, though for a fleeting moment, had chosen to give him a precious and transitory gift.

His friend Joseph had come by to pick him up before the train came to gather young men. Joseph had a camera and seldom needed an excuse to use it. Henry and Joesph laughed as they drove, wondering at the uncertain adventure of their long lives stretched before them. They stopped near the house Henry lived in with his grandmother for 8 years. The love of Henry’s life wiped away the tears gathering in her hazel eyes and stood lonesomely by the roadside, her presence unexpected and a steely finger into his heart. Even though they spoke their goodbyes the night before, Sally was there, waiting, her hands restless and her eyes reddened from the shock of impending separation. Surprised by the sudden shift from jovial to melancholy, Joseph fumbled and took the cherished picture before Henry could join Sally for the picture. Instead of joining her for another snapshot, Henry embraced her as she leaned toward him, sobbing. They drove as slowly as the car would allow, marking the sun’s arc across the afternoon sky, telling shared stories of their times together. They all felt their childhoods melt away as they drove toward the station.

This picture, it was enough to replenish him, always, no matter how difficult the day. Jacob sent it soon after Henry entered boot camp. Attached was a note: “We’re waiting.” That day at Salerno, screaming and deafened by the inhumanity of his surroundings, the foggy minute early in November, decades ago, when the word “cancer” pierced his heart, even the afternoon 17 years ago, when the last connection to his biological family passed away – all of these were momentarily forgotten with a glance at his most prized possession.

Henry barely survived the river at Salerno, his vision of Italy scarred by war. He came home, hobbling and injured, to find his Sally waiting for him. They were married the day he arrived. Joseph stood by him and held him upright as the Presbyterian minister shouted his invocations. Henry and Sally loved like no other existed. Sally died in her sleep in early 1944 of an infection, one which came suddenly and with finality. They had shared only 122 days together as man and wife. No matter how sweet the days would be ahead of him, Henry knew that his life would be a black-and-white rainbow without her.

He returned to the war, voluntarily, and went back into the world to find something to stuff inside the void of his heart. Henry lived to be 96 years old, each day in recognition that he had already experienced the best of life. He laughed easily, cried deeply, and hugged with the ferocity of those accustomed to loss.  Henry taught me all the important lessons in life, each lesson ribboned with the reminder that pain comes to those who have chosen to live a full life.

Pressed inside his favorite book of hand-written words of wisdom, Henry’s treasured picture came to me,  its edges defying time and submission to decay. I wept, knowing that Henry’s fingers had caressed this last reminder of his sweet Sally countless times, each a silent prayer of thanks and loss.

When I decided to copy it and frame it for my own wall, I turned it over and found these words inscribed by Henry:

“May this be enough, always,” he had written.

May you find your ‘enough,’ and may it be sufficient for you, always.

 

Love, X

 

May Your Days and Nights Be Filled With Karls and Ninnys

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At the intersection of worlds: “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Sling Blade.” I awoke, staring at 3:33 on the clock, hearing the resonant voices of Karl Childers and Ninny Threadgoode fading from my mind. I could feel their enchanting universes slipping away from me, foggy nostalgia as real and certain as the bed in which I found myself. The quote in the picture popped into my imagination. I don’t remember the dream which seemed to have spanned an entire life while I slept, but what a great place to live, one in which both fictional and real people would come to life and interact. It was a testament to the power and appeal of both stories, with characters so rich that it would be impossible to resist an invitation to live in their worlds.

I would reverently walk those sparse roads and listen, sit on the porch and hear the whispers through time and share a thousand laughs. Yes, even dreams would come to an end, no different than our waking life, a finite loop of possibilities. When I awoke, though, the fading resonance of a rocking chair moving against loosely-nailed boards still filled my ears – and I felt an acute loss fill my heart, the one beating between the twilights, one waking, one still in the other world.

People often connect with us in ways that can’t be easily defined. Sometimes, they do so across years, generations, and in spite of all our differences. If we are lucky enough and allow our imaginations to flourish, sometimes those characters created by others come to visit us on either side of the drowsy line. Lifetimes can be lived between these spaces. For those truly blessed, the people within the boundaries of their lives experience this daily.

I hope your day has a few Karls and Ninnys, people who light your life with interest and spark.
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(The picture is of ‘the’ house from “Fried Green Tomatoes.” You can see Ninny in the upstairs window, watching Karl and Frank below…)
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Disvidisia

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After reading a friend’s post about the perplexity of inattention for an artist, especially in this golden age of social media, I began to wonder whether a precise word exists for the sensation she was attempting to describe. I volunteered to create a word to encompass the described melancholy or resigned sensation, regardless of which method of expression the artist chooses.

Before going off on a wordy tangent, here’s my paraphrasing of what she was describing:

“…the untethered feeling a creative person gets when they see that an acquaintance shows deep interest in the happenings in some far-flung place or in the life of a distant stranger, acreage they’ll never traverse or people he or she will never meet and whose trajectory may as well be that of an alien star, often regarding some mundane subject, while turning a blind eye toward their expression, one which germinates in their own backyard…”

I think writers and artists might be the most prone to experience this detachment.

It’s ridiculously easy to share what others have created, to choose words and media designed to urge us toward an emotional reaction. Creating anything is an invitation to criticism; honest artists often share themselves.

Prophets are seldom appreciated in their own communities. Authors, painters, and musicians tend to be ignored until they become substantial; proximity stymies allure. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a cliché with truth. We tend to need an outsider to tell us what we already know or we will reject the truth from those around us.

So many creative minds experience disconnectedness prior to recognition and when it comes, those same people comprising his or her initial disinterested audience clamor for reciprocity. It’s easy to overlook the fact that all those we find valuable once started with small voices, drawing, singing, writing and acting in small places. (And most of the time were labeled as eccentric or untalented.)

The biggest surprises come from the strangest places.

Doors to familiar houses seldom open to new rooms.

Disvidisia

 

 

 

 

This is a modified version of a post I wrote in September of last year. It struck a chord in many places – and not all were harmonious.

 

A Little Neighborhood Justice

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As the man lifted the lid of the trash can, he absentmindedly tossed in a bag of trash. It seemed to fall for several seconds, ending with a cacophonous thud in the bottom of the plastic receptacle.

He looked down the street, noticing which houses were alit with the signs of life, which houses had cars parked in the concrete driveways, and which seemed absent any movement. He knew from experience that often the quietest places contained the most activity, concealed behind doors and curtains. The deepening twilight resonated with an eerie sheen across vaguely reflective surfaces. Nothing stirred and it seemed as if the nothingness and quiet might have lengthened into an eternity of twilight.

He noted the absence of filtered whimpers and screams. The quiet was disconcerting and unnatural. It occurred to him that so many things seemed to be more fully defined by noticing those things which seemed to be missing. It would take some time for him to remember what a normal neighborhood was supposed to sound like.

So many nights he had passively noted the shouts, the cries, and the fractured silences from next door. Sealing his doors and windows only diminished their volume, yet somehow amplified their significance. It was an effort to distract himself from the evidence of violence – until this morning when an unseen valve mitigating his own violent thoughts opened completely.

Quiet now seemed like a musical cadence missing a beat of syncopation. It made him uneasy, like when he entered a dark and unfamiliar room, his hand vainly seeking the contour of a wall switch. He was unsure as to the velocity with which slumber might greet him in these circumstances.

After a few moments, he heard a door creak open. As he turned to the right, he saw a narrow beam of light cast its gaze upon the suburban sidewalk leading to the neighbor’s front door. A second later, a subdued housewife ambled out, shutting the door behind her. The man could hear the woman grunt with her efforts, undoubtedly a residual effect from so many nights of abuse from her husband. The man now knew that in time the housewife would regain much of her agility and zeal for life. An ember signifying a lit cigarette danced lazily in the air as she moved. She walked across the expanse of her driveway, lifting the lid of her trash receptacle. As she lifted the black bag to drop it inside, a pale arm fell across the outer rim, fingers pointed toward the ground in mock accusation.

She casually lifted the arm, dropping it without much consideration back into the trash, placing her new bag on top of whatever the lifeless arm might be attached to.

The man smiled in the dark, knowing the housewife did the same, a shared intimate secret born inside a few bloody seconds two hours ago.

After so many nights of questioning and endless tears and abrasions, they both had reached the same mortal conclusion, one punctuated by a single shot reverberating inside a cramped living room. Good neighbors help one another and do what must be done.

As the abuser fell to the floor, eyes wide in dead surprise, both participants locked eyes and deeply sighed, both relieved to be past the moment of action. They silently and mutually agreed that the abuser’s fate was predestined and unworthy of comment.

While the body lay cooling on the living room floor, they attentively listened with heads tilted for a minute, and then without conversation lifted the dead husband and carried him outside, unceremoniously tossing him inside the trash container. Just as no one had come to help during the preceding weeks, months, or years of fists and screams, no one had come to investigate the exclamatory ring of a solitary gunshot.

Now, two hours later, the ticks and clicks of a typical night were all that greeted them as they both went back inside their respective houses.

Sleep would come easily to them both.

The neighborhood settled back into its nocturnal routine of normalcy, ignoring the momentary lapse of its civilized veneer.

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YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

A Funny Burial Anecdote

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This is a truish story and names have been changed to confuse the guilty.

A famous writer, an author of at least 20 books, died in Springdale a few days ago. He was well-known for his sense of humor and dry wit. At my recommendation, his family went to a funeral home of which I speak highly. Although he usually doesn’t do so, the funeral director Scott offered to view potential cemetery plots with the family, even though he hadn’t yet met them and didn’t know the recently deceased. His dedication to customer service is quite legendary. I doubt he would have helped me had he not owed me a huge favor – but that’s a story for another day.

The family chose to visit Bluff Cemetery in Springdale. The place is known for its beauty and proximity to the creek running through downtown. Scott pulled in behind the new Cadillac the family of the deceased arrived in. The Springdale Parks worker had already arrived in a white pickup, his camera and clipboard in hand.

After the family exited the car and straightened their respective ties and dresses, Scott accompanied them to the periphery of the cemetery, situated below the overhanging trees. It was certainly a beautiful spot.

To make small talk, Scott nervously asked the family about the deceased. “What did your loved one do for a living?” he asked.

The youngest son answered, “Our dad was a famous writer. You’ve never heard of him?” He seemed surprised. “In fact, all of us are writers.”

“No, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know him or know of him. I read a lot, though.” Scott wasn’t sure what else to say.

The parks employee pointed out the available spots and mentioned that the price was adjusted, based on the reduced size of the plots. “We can dig with much more accuracy than we once could,” he added.

After a moment of silence, the youngest daughter looked along the edge of the cemetery where there were remaining spots available, seemingly measuring their size by her careful steps. She immediately started shaking her head.

“This simply won’t do. Not at all. Dad was too important of a writer to tolerate this kind of mistake.” She seemed agitated.

“How so?” Scott immediately asked.

“The plot’s too thin!” The daughter said, and then laughed loudly.

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PS Writers always get the last laugh.

The Gift of “Rectify”

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“It’s the beauty that hurts the most, not the ugly.” – Daniel

As a reader and lover of language, I sit in satisfied wonder after watching “Rectify.” It’s been said by many that it was the best show that no one was watching. Rarely do characters come so vivaciously to life, murmuring and whispering with such glib eloquence. Listening to the people in this show move through complicated lives in this show is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing visuals as if they were a novel. Several times in the past, I’ve read of the love and admiration of this show and renewed my self-promise to immerse myself. Not until the show was finishing its run, however, did I stop gazing at it on my to-do list and start down the intricate road it travels. I regret not having been a part of it since it first aired but I will make amends by recommending it to anyone with a discerning taste for depth.

If you have the opportunity, please visit Netflix and give this treasure of a show an open door in your life. You won’t regret it, even if the pace seems to be too languid for you at the beginning. Oddly, if you describe yourself as an avid reader, I’m convinced that this show will be an immediate friend to your life.

The intelligence of this show astounds me. The people inhabiting the world it paints for us trip and fall, even as they see the obstacles in front of them. Countless times I watched the inevitable pain surprise them, only to see a parallel to my own life. The mirror it smashes into my face catches all the sublime idiocy of the steps we all take, regardless of the severity of circumstance.

From the show’s beginning, Daniel emerges from prison and instead of railing against the injustice, he perplexes everyone with a deeply insightful commentary on the world. I’ve had trouble explaining to people exactly what about the show was so captivating. “It’s about a man who is released from prison after almost 2 decades.” If that’s the case, “Sling Blade” is just a movie about an eccentric older man being let out of psychiatric care in the South. The particulars aren’t what brings forth the revelations: it’s the humanity inherent in so many scenes of this show.

It’s difficult for me to pull back from my enthusiasm for this show; it’s likely I’ve over-sold it people. Something about it forcefully reminds me of the wild emotion I felt the first time I finished “The Prince of Tides” and heard the words, “Lowenstein, Lowenstein, Lowenstein” reverberate in my mind.

If you need a gift for yourself, I recommend that you find a quiet moment to step away from your real life, sit down, and give “Rectify” the chance it deserves to unfold the way television should be revealed. It avoids the mega-dose of plot twists that doom so many potentially great tv shows or movies. Don’t let the initial premise of a condemned man’s unexpected release from prison trick you into thinking you understand what this show is about. The story is about us, individually and collectively, careening around the backdrop of what it means to be human.

The show itself is a crescendo of discovery as the seasons reveal themselves. By the end of season 4, you will find yourself under the gossamer veil of nostalgia, for a world you would love to live in. As the show ends, you will find yourself feeling restless for unknown highways and side roads, all hopefully leading to places where people like Daniel Holden might feel at home. (And allow us a moment to sit in their presence.)

If you are lucky, it will reveal glimpses of your own self that you’ve kept hidden slightly around the corner.

“Finding peace in the not knowing seems strangely more righteous than the peace that comes from knowing.” – Daniel