Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Joy of "Doing Nothing"

I have always had a problem with people who seem proud of the fact that "they can't sit still." Or, rather, I feel bad for them that they think it is a virtue to not be able to relax; to, as Whitman sort of put it, loaf and invite their souls. I can see how someone who "can't sit still" might accomplish more than me, in terms of material gain and the like. But, I can accomplish quite a bit, at least by my own standards, sitting still.

Sir Frederick Leighton, 1895
I have heard others talk about their fear of retiring. (A fear, I fear, I might never have to face.) They worry that they won't know what to do with themselves; that they will be bored. I am incapable of being bored, as long as there is a world to observe and a way to record those observations; as long as there is music to make and beauty to appreciate.

Just yesterday, my family went on an excursion without me.

In the morning, I read Margaret Atwood (whose stuff I need to read more of) and drank coffee. After awhile, I napped. After my nap, I worked on my next novel for an hour or two, then I took the dog for a two hour excursion in to the woods. After that excursion, I swam in the pond among the curious trout and the fickle turtles. After the pond, I showered and practiced my Carulli on the guitar. (Not at the same time. The shower is bad for a guitar.) After the guitar, I went out onto the pond in a kayak and watched the sun dropping behind the tree line. I came in and had dinner with my son (who had also stayed behind) and we went out into the back with our gloves and had a catch.

Later, I sat on the dock and listened to the kids next door playing out on the pond; two brothers (sons of two really nice marine biologists), their voices at once big and small, reflecting off of the trees and the water: KID 1, in a kayak; KID 2 on a paddle-board:

KID 1: I'll meet you at the red thing.
KID 2: I know you'll beat me.
KID 1: I'll meet you at the red thing.
KID 2: I said, I know you will beat me...kayaks are faster.
KID 2: Not "beat," meet. M-E-A-T, meet!

By this time, it was evening. The sun was almost down. Tempus fugit when you're doing nothing. 

Okay -- clearly, I wasn't doing nothing. A nap is "nothing," I guess. The rest might have been active stuff. But I sure as heck don't need to work at a job. I guess "doing nothing" is in the eye of the beholder. 

But, man -- I could sure live like this. I know this is a vacation scenario, but the only thing I can't do at home that I did yesterday is swim in the lake. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kayak Meditation

Not ten minutes ago, I was on the water, sometimes paddling, sometimes drifting in the grey of a rainy morning; sometimes with eyes open and sometimes with eyes closed. With eyes closed, it feels like you're floating. Because you are, I suppose. But floating feels like transcending.

I tried to shut off the noise in my head, but that's hard. I tried to shut off the music, but that's kind of impossible. Still, with one's eyes closed, drifting forward and being held up by the bosom of a wide pond and cooled by a rainy breeze, the sense of peace works its way in to lubricate the mechanics of thought. It's an oil change for a brain like mine. Yours, too?

Mare's Pond, sans me, as it was before
and will be, after I go. 
Last night, I walked a long road lined with scrub pines and looked out upon by the occasional quiet house. The silence was dotted with the click of my dog's paws on asphalt which turned into gravel and then faded into a dirt path. But it was dusk, and the dirt path ran into a wildlife conservation of some seventy acres. Neither my dog nor I had the guts to go into it with night falling and facing the chance of meeting up with disgruntled coyotes (coyotes that are active at night and who, according to local Cape Cod science, are getting to be wolf-sized).

We walked back in the falling darkness. Most houses we saw were quiet. Some buzzed happily with families celebrating each other near fire pits or on horseshoe pitches. Some waved. Some looked vaguely suspicious of this visitor and his big, white dog.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Faith Helps

I have often said that I don't pretend to understand the God in whom I believe. But I do believe (if not under the all-too-narrow constraints of some of my fellow believers). In my mind, pretending to understand a Force so much superior to myself is actually an insult to that Force.

I think I have seen signs (not images of Jesus on toast, but more profound feelings and conclusions) that God is up there...

Could I be wrong? Sure. I don't think I am, but...I'm not the God I believe in; therefore, I am imperfect.

Some friends of mine, over the years, have believed very deeply in the healing powers of certain stones and crystals. Maybe that is a step more logical than belief in God. I don't know. But I admit, it seems "unscientific" to me. Let's say, I am an agnostic when it comes to that stuff.

But here's the thing: we need faith in something. If a person wears a crystal around his neck and thinks it makes his shoulder pain go away, the result is positive. Maybe the stone did it; maybe belief helped the body. This is nothing new. But it is good for people, right?

Some will say that it is a fostering of ignorance to encourage this sort of thing. Maybe. But maybe ignorance is a lot like innocence and maybe the world needs a little more wide-eyed wonder.

This doesn't mean we stop going to doctors or that we stop applying logic to our quest for understanding, even in matters of spirituality, but that we should open our eyes to the possibility that we might benefit by the touch of the intangible and, yes, even the unprovable.

My faith wavers, as it does with anyone else who has a mind. But I teach my kids a belief in God. It is a good thing for a child to believe he is being watched over; it is a good thing for a child to be able to pray. If I am right, prayer amounts to a helping hand from above; if I am wrong, it is, at the very least, good catharsis over the growing up years. Some day, they can draw their own conclusions as to whether Dad was right or wrong.

Well, I know one thing: when I was doing battle with cancer, I, on one particular day, felt like I was reaching the end of my strength (emotionally). I went upstairs and I lay on the bed and I started just talking to God -- out loud, mind you. After about an hour of this, I got up and went downstairs to the family. My strength was back and, eventually, my body won.

Why? Who cares. Faith helps.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Poor Man's Sting Speaks

It occurs to me that my life is full of miniature representations of dreams that I have had. It is as if I have taken the things I have always wished for and placed them around me, like knickknacks.

Not me.
First, I am a poor man's Sting. (Well, maybe a destitute man's Sting.) I don't say this to compare talent levels, but to show that where he is a former English teacher who worked in clubs as a musician and went on to become one of the most famous popular musicians of all time, I, too, am a bookish fellow who became a teacher of literature and who remaines a very active musician (of whom few have heard). A result of his having been one of my musical and lyrical heroes? Partly.

As a teenager, I wanted to be John Williams (the film/orchestral composer) but that hasn't happened; though, I did score a full-length independent film. So, I, you know, have done it, at least.

No word on an Oscar yet.

Monday, July 21, 2014

An Evening with Grandma and Grandpa (A Parable)

The year: 2044. (This is important.)

The kitchen, as grandparents' kitchens are wont to be, is scented of chocolate chips and sweet oven-crispness. Grandma is wobbling about in her apron, cleaning up the crumbs and spills of young bakers. Grandpa sits at the table with said bakers, ages seven and nine. Grandpa looks tired, his chin in his hands, his elbows on the table.

"F#$%ing, A, Grandpa," says the seven-year-old. "These f#$@ing cookies are bangin'. Grandma," she yells over her shoulder, "you can bake your f#$@ing a#$ off, b#@ch!" 

Grandma sighs. "Thank you, dear." She drops a glass that shatters in the sink.

The nine-year-old grandson gets up and goes to the sink. "Sh#@! Are you alright, Grandma?"