Friday, March 13, 2015

Purposefully Blurred, A Birthday Post

I sometimes wonder about the perceptions and memories of my own childhood.  I can't say they are very accurate, or chronological or even...

I call "do over."

Folks'll tell you to know what you are writing before you begin, or, if you don't, do not intend to publish it.  Well, I know what I want to say, but writing is admission sometimes, and sometimes that is hard.

It is hard to admit you are scared.  Hard to admit that as you get older you seem further and further away from the person you think you are, or were, or even intend to be... it's complicated.

It is hard to admit that time, once so seemingly endless, now beats down down on you like a forever storm, never offering the reprise it once did.

It's hard to admit that your heart can be so heavy when there is such joy surrounding you, me.

Yes, me.

It's hard to admit to the selfishness that this whole big thing is, admit that I do this mostly because I - I, I, I - want to have a place for my newer memories to live.  A place I can look back and remember that school project, a full craft-box, a camping trip, a vacation.  I say that this is for the boys, I frame it in that gilded wish but, truly, childhood memories are, for me, so vague and arbitrary and odd and, although that is a frustration to me, perhaps it is how it should be.

I am on a bus, a school bus, 1976 maybe '77.  I do not remember the circumstances, but sitting here it seems like everyone was wearing tracksuits and there were girls on board - one does not forget Jan M. in a a pair of track shorts - so I'd say we were traveling to a meet.  I could fill in the faces if I felt like it, but, they are not in the memory, really.  I know it was a sunburst big box Fender guitar I was playing and the song was "Country Roads" by John Denver.  I sense people singing along as the bus bounces along the country road heading to another rural school.

You see, the memory is a feeling mostly, and feelings are fuzzy - blurred on the edges and sometimes right down the middle like a smear on your glasses.  I am happy in this moment.  I am happy now in it.  I may be happier now because there is not the weight of detail.  The vagueness, those blurred edges, focus my attention to the emotion.  Maybe that's how it is supposed to be.  We cannot spend a lifetime piling detail after detail on to the delicate strands of emotional memory.  The very gossamer strings of something as sweet and ethereal as happiness cannot tolerate the weight of focus, the weight of precision, the weight of implication.

I caught an interception in a high school football game my junior year and walked it into the end-zone for the touchdown that won the game.  All I remember is the mud on my cleats and a tuft of grass on a teammate's white helmet.  Everything else is a blur.  I could fill it in with conjecture and this little bit and that one.  Mostly, though, I was a hero that one time.

I can't remember all the songs from "Man of La Mancha" but I remember what a massively good time it was, me and Dave and Bruce and so many others.  I remember the moment I entered as some knight or something and Lisa winked at me and I forget everything I was supposed to do for a second.  I remember the choir room and suddenly it all starts piling on, Mr. D. trying to get us to focus, a violin in my hands for the first time - or was that "Fiddler" - a dance that I never got quite right, a rainbow Fender off in a corner while the girls practiced.

Bits, pieces, fragments like the broken glass that rolls in the tide and becomes something softer, less edged, easier to handle.

And I have to know that is how it's supposed to go for me.  I must trust that.  Perhaps I am weighing down the memories the boys will have of their growing up.  I hope not, but I fear I may be.

Maybe these will help obfuscate things.  The boys finished their basketball season as runners-up this year.  I thought to take some pictures of their winning season.  Images to remind them of joy and accomplishment and commitment and being, for a moment, champions, warriors, winners.  I hope someday they will look at these and be struck by the details and the faces and ...

Yeah, I took some crappy photos didn't I.  But, when I imagine my childhood it somehow looks like this, unclear yet reassuring, indefatigable excitement blurred by the whims of light, the speed of apertures and my old foe and friend, time.

(In our defense, we got some good pictures of the team and all that.  And some good ones of them with their trophies.)

That's Nick, of course, getting his trophy shoved down his throat... at his request.  And this is Zack, walking away from me as I try to get a picture of him and his trophy.

I mentioned earlier that I think writing is an act of admission.

It is hard to admit that you are overwhelmed.  Not by the little decisions about glasses and musical instruments and sugar and vocabulary tests and romance and puberty and all that.  No, not one of those things overwhelms me, but, they do collectively.

Life seems too much, too often.

When you - and by you I mean I - are growing up I think the opposite of a blurred childhood also happens.  It is not clarity, no, that is not a word I use with much frequency.  I guess it is more a juxtaposition, although a boy would never know to call it that.  You see, when you are a boy - remember you is I - you see adulthood with the same blur and vagueness you may later see your past. 

For instance I thought being a grownup had to be easier than being a kid.  I thought, seriously, I thought adults knew what they were doing.  Through the myopic lenses of youth I thought the edges of the portrait of adulthood were soft, the scope of parenting narrow, the yoke of life's burden light.  I was, clearly, wrong.  We all know how difficult being a damn grownup can be.  But, as a child you think it looks so good, so free, so unburdened, so, well, desirable.

It is hard to admit that you I am ungrateful at times.

It is hard to admit that you dammit I forget the Grace that surrounds me.

Today is my birthday.  That can't possibly be important... except when it is.  I got to thinking about that place between the blur of childhood and the wispy hope of adulthood and remembered that it is here, now.  Your there, your now.  Wherever, whenever that may be.  This is the only moment that seems clear and honest.  It's funny, I feel a bit of sadness for now, without the future hope of what is to come or the bittersweet smoke of what has been, it seems a little flat.  Clarity can seem garish, focus too sharp.  The past and the future soften and round the toughness that is the now.

Will you give me a couple of more minutes, it sort of goes to my point today... and it is my birthday.  I wrote this song before I was married and ever imagined I would have kids, let alone ten year old twin boys.  A line in the chorus is "In this little boy's soul beats the heart of a man."  I always felt I was just a boy wrapped in mans clothing, all of my adult life I felt this.  Now, some sixteen or more years later, I understand what I was getting at.

We are always boys.

We are always men.

We are forever boys, forever men.

The line between is so blurred we fail to recognize it... except when we do

Thanks for coming around and celebrating with me.  I appreciate it.  I admit that I like having a few eyes see this silly stuff, it makes a difference... you make a difference, whenever, wherever you are.


  1. In this little boy's soul beats the heart of a man too. Beautiful post and a Happy Birthday to you!

  2. Wow, Bill! This is really great. As one that tends to reflect on the past a lot I wish I remembered all the little details to share with my kids. The blurred pictures really capture that feeling. Thanks for sharing and happy birthday.

  3. There's so much beauty in this post that I wouldn't even know where to begin. In more ways than one, reading this made my day. Thank you for sharing, Bill. Happy Birthday!

  4. I wrote some time back about getting away from "perfect" photos. I was particularly cranky about stilted holiday photos where everyone is facing the same way and has a smile glued on their faces (except for the youngest kids - the ones who are still too pure to pretend, too caught up in living to bother with anything else).

    One photo that I particularly like is one I found of Alberto Giacometti, striding brashly forward like one of his own sculptures, his propulsive motion captured in a static image as a "blur." There's something fascinating about the way photos freeze moments that were never, not even for an instant, frozen in time. In that sense, there's a sort of perpetual misunderstanding memorialized in every photo. What you write here has me thinking about that, and about how our memories memorialize experiences similarly . . . and yet at the same time that "fuzziness" about the edges offers an ambiguity that is both alluring and productive as we revisit them and try to connect the dots again, often in different ways . . .

  5. Perfect. Just perfect. Thanks for writing/singing out my thoughts and emotions so well.

  6. Yet again you did some awesome work! Always look forward to reading your stuff.

  7. Clarity and focus aren't all they are cracked up to be. Be well ...

  8. I think that's the way memory works. We remember snatches and fill in the rest. We remember feelings and put in the words.
    I often wonder what those memories will be that my kids carry into the future.