Monday, November 16, 2015

A Post in the Wind

I guess, today, I am posting something just for me

It seems so few are listening here these days that I can indulge in a little self-pity and

Songs have long held for me a significance beyond the meaning of their words, above the beauty of their melody, inside the significance of their story

Mass shootings, terrorists, Paris is

Nope, none of those seem to work this morning.

I think I'll just go ahead and sing a song if you don't mind. You can go away if you want - I'm really just doing it for me.

I'd guess that was one of the first dozen or so songs I ever learned on the guitar. There is no end to the ways one can play this song, Dylan himself did it about four different ways, and Peter, Paul and Mary and every-damn-one else have interpreted it for themselves, and it seems to come out different every time I do it. It might seem trite and cliche after all these years. It's not. It is, and shall unfortunately ever remain, topical to the second, to the instant, to every now that shall ever be or ever was.

I've mentioned before that I sing and play the songs I have long known when I am feeling down. Not, truly, just to lift me or make me feel better, but, to... it's hard to explain.

To make me feel more.

Yes, I suppose that's it.

When I sing a song, this song specifically, I do so atop the echoes of all the other times I've done it. The harmonies of friends come back and to fill the lonely refrain. The tune floats along on the vague, nearly forgotten memories of the times I've done it before and it becomes something else. The memories make it new. Or, perhaps the now, the event that led me back to it, adds new weight or maybe it just lightens the burden or... I'm not making sense.

And, why am I crying?

Things happen that I don't understand. If I don't understand them, how, God, can I explain them to little boys?

This song is my lame explanation to them.

Sorry, boys, it's the best that I can do.

When I went away to college - and I've mentioned this before in some post past, but I'll be damned if I can find it - I typed up all my songs on my Mom's monster electronic typewriter...

Damn, this is a rough post to write. In looking at this now, I see that below Blowin' in the Wind is a song that we wrote as freshman in college which means I didn't type this particular one up until after college started. Now I remember. I think a couple of buddies and myself promised we'd type up the songs we knew over Christmas break. Yeah, that seems true enough, at least plausible.

Anyway, I typed them up on something called "erasable bond" paper, an almost vellum like paper that one could erase typing from. It streaked terribly. I remember, this seems impossible but it is true, that we'd agreed to use carbon paper and make another copy of each one so there would be one to share. Of course I couldn't erase the carbon copy but, I worked hard on the project - hours and hours. It is funny what comes back to you when you dive right into it.

I've redone all those songs, modernized them, digitized them, but, in a folder on a shelf are all those old sheets, crisp and brittle, yellowed like parchment, coffee stained and worn out.

(Yes, those are seed burns, no denying the obvious.)

It is funny how deeply this stupid piece of paper affects me. I think of all the hands that handled it, all the times I've looked at it, all the places it's been, all the stories it holds - like a touchstone, a talisman, it soothes me. It makes me remember that I've been somewhere, been through stuff, known folks, loved others... lived.

And, I think that is what this whole thing is about today.  I can't figure things out sometimes, I can't make sense of the seemingly senseless, the arbitrary, the evil, the sad.  But...

I know this song, I've figured out this thing, maybe that gives me hope that I can figure something harder out.

I dunno.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..." 

Z: "Why did you laugh?"

M: "Because you are funny."

N: "ish"

I'm funnyish, too...

Thanks for coming by, Peace to you, Peace to us, Peace to the whole damn world, we sure as hell need it...

Hey, boys.  I think everyone else is gone.  When you find me, as you both have, playing a song and crying or screaming it with my eyes shut or just mumbling it into the wind, know I am just trying to figure things out.  It's a coping device.  Don't let it scare you.

I love you both so much...

... hand me that guitar, won'tcha?

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Turbines, Titanium and Time

I witnessed something profound the other night.  It made me wonder and worry and marvel and dream.  It scared me and lifted me.  It made time irrelevant and exploded memories like long buried, forgotten landmines.  I laughed and wept.  I felt simultaneously infinitesimal and embiggened.  I was at once a little boy again and then a very old man.

Baseball season is over so, a few nights ago, I took my hard apple cider out in the backyard, sat in an old lawn chair and looked up.  The moon was down over the edge of the yard and the sky was was black and the stars were bright and twinkling, The Big Dipper danced and just a scant smear of The Milky Way could be seen.  The maples in the yard are bare now and those beautiful black-blue branches traced a latticework in front of the stars.

And... somewhere in between, was the thing that overwhelmed.  A jet, high up, red running lights, a faint roar, soared through the night.

I wondered and worried about the souls on board, maybe the cockpit crew of a cargo plane casually ferrying the precious and mundane to those who do and do not need them, respectively.  I marveled at the inconceivable technologies that keep a plane up and guide it through the night.  The Wright's dream seemed manifest above me, true and perpetual.  I was scared with those on board who were frightened of either the turbulent bumps in the night or the more turbulent destination awaiting them.  Time folded on and around itself and settled on now which is both past and future and which always scares me so.  I felt small at the thought of all the importance that jet represented, the commerce and humanity of it when extrapolated across the skies upon which we all gaze and I felt bigger, superior perhaps, because of that same humanity, our Mankindness, that conquered the impossible and shortened and made manageable the vast and painful distances between us all.

And the memories, God, the memories...

My father was a metallurgist and worked for General Electric for a great part of his life designing and testing metals that went into the fabrication of jet engine turbines.  I probably understood the theory and some of the mechanics of jet propulsion well before I understood them in the lowly internal combustion engine.  He brought home pieces of the metals he was developing, powder technologies in those days, and I remembered holding them - which was like holding a piece of him - as he smiled on eager to tell me about it.

As a little boy, we'd go up to the Dayton airport and climb the stairs to the "observation deck" and watch the planes roll around or land, screeching tires and little puffs of smoke, on the tarmac while we waited for the one that would bring grandparents or my dad to land, to safety, to home.

In my twenties I boarded a red-eye from NYC to LA to see a girl who didn't want to see me.  Such high hopes going, bitter embarrassment on the return.

Meeting Marci at an Arizona airport and knowing the importance of it all.

A long flight to Europe, a longer flight back.

A first flight for me in a suit and bowtie and stewardesses in skirts and men in hats and silver wings on the lapels of heroes and china coffee cups and hot roast beef.  My most recent flight in jeans and sweatshirts, heroes double-locked behind closed doors, sad flight attendants, stale cookies and plastic cups and not a silver wing in sight.

All these memories and so many more hit me at once, which is a phenomenon that no longer surprises me as it used to.  Memories do flood.  One becomes another and that triggers another and it happens faster than seems possible.  It happens all the time.  It's a wonder our heads don't explode.

Back in the yard, under the trees, beneath the stars, I had to make a decision.  I knew that trying to imagine all that that plane held, all it represented, conjured, all the souls and collective dreams a pressurized tube of aluminum can carry, would overwhelm me.  I feel this way in crowds and on the interstate and at parties and in restaurants.  It is a sort of social vertigo which renders me scared and silent and lost.

So, as that jet made its inevitable way into the horizon, I let it go.  I prayed for the people on board as I often do when I see a plane overhead, and I whispered my goodbye.

And then I tried to remember every detail of a piece of titanium I once held in my hand, and the man who made it.

Peace to you today, I suppose this isn't very much about the boys, but, I can't help but wonder which of the memories I've put down here might stick, which ones might be important, which ones will linger, which ones will wait, which ones are theirs, which are mine.  Sometimes I think I get the social vertigo I spoke of for a reason.  Perhaps my mind or soul or intellect or whatever, the collective that is me, is saying wait, stop, hold on - we don't need new things to think about, new memories to imprint, we need to think about the ones already planted, already rooted.

Perhaps that is elderhood, perhaps it is selfishness, perhaps it is...  oh, hell I dunno.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

Nick: "This is the ultimate test of manliness."

Mom: "What is?"

Nick: "Opening this pack of Ritz crackers."

Zack: "True. They are hard to open."

Expectations of manhood have changed when I was kid...

Thanks for stopping around, I appreciate it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

This IS a Halloween Post

I've been trying to get an upper hand on this post today.  So much to consider - the Feast of All Souls' Day; it's the second day of November, a tempestuous month; it is two days past the gluttony of Halloween and twenty-four days until the comfort of Thanksgiving and a mere fifty-two days and ten hours and seventeen minutes and four seconds until the gift that, behind all the stuff, is Christmas.

I don't see a clever way to get all that in today, so, screw it... I'll do this instead.

A Bug and a Bee  '05 & '06

"Workermen" '07
Pink Zebra and Yellow Bunny  '08 & '09
Angel and Devil  '09
A Cowboy and a Pirate  '10
Wizards  '11
A Bat and a Skeleton  '12
 A Mime and a Scarecrow  '13
A Bankrobber and a Clown  '14
A Cow-boy "Literally" and a Hippie (not Dad)  '15

I can't imagine what I should say about this series of images.  Well, that's not true, actually, I can think of dozens of things.  In fact, I'd guess I could write a novel-length piece on them, stories within stories.  The story of the "wizard sticks" that went along that year.  The mime whispering "Timeout.  Can mimes hum?"  The time we went to their preschool party and they made folks weep in their Bunny and Zebra costumes.  True story.  The tool boxes they treasured and used as their goodie buckets that year.  Bones falling from skeletons, makeup running in a cold rain, the clever incorporation of an old black umbrella in a bat costume, the ancient silliness of a boy dressed as a scarecrow, raffia straw tickling bellies and faces.

I could bend it all so easily and expose the love story that lies beneath each costume, each smile.  The love song that is a mother tenderly crafting costumes year after year so two little boys would be happy, will linger a lifetime.  The love story that is hands held in the twilight, words of encouragement to a boy afraid of the doors and stranger and scary decorations.  The gentle reminders - to say thank you and to let the little ones go first and to be careful, and carefree and wild - last like letters in an old trunk, love letters from a past that once was now.

Yes, a past that once was now...  I see these individually and remember each story, each year, but, perhaps, the bigger picture is in the march through time the whole represents.  I constantly see time as an enemy.  It is, he is, she is, not.  Without the journey through the seasons and years, I wouldn't be able to see the whole of it.  The completeness of it.  The journey that is life, that is childhood, simply must play out, as it always has, with time as its ally.  Each shutterclick piled on one another is the essence of time.

There is one final frame I might use here, it's a little more complicated.  In her beautiful, lyrical novel, Gideon, Marilynne Robinson says- speaking in the voice of her main character who is writing a long memoir to his young son, the old and holy and dying pastor, John Ames:   

"For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough.  You feel that you are with someone.  I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering that you are only a little fellow now and when you're a man you might find these letters of no interest.  Or they might never reach you, for any number of reasons.  Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed.  That is to say, I pray for you.  And there is an intimacy in it.  That's the truth."

I have often called this thing I am doing here a long love letter to my sons, maybe the truth is, as Mr. Ames suggests, more than that.  Perhaps this is a long prayer for these boys - my boys, your boys, our boys, all boys.

Thanks for coming around, I've got to go meet a bus and start thinking about the next story, the next love letter, the next prayer.

Peace to you, peace to us.