Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grateful

I am thankful every day for a couple of people. First and foremost, I am thankful for the love and support of my daughter. She is never far from my thoughts, though she may be far away in miles. She brings me such unconditional joy each time we speak that I bask in the afterglow for at least an hour after. She is the realization of my potential; her talents exceed mine. By miles.

The other person is Steve, the man in my life who has been my companion for coming up on four years. He lives a hundred miles away, and when we get together, we have less than 48 hours at a time, but they are splendid hours indeed. He is kind and considerate. He is calming. He is funny and smart. He is sickeningly modest. And he is handsome like nobody's business.

Today we have spent the day in. We have watched movies and 3rd Rock From The Sun, partaken of my first ever Tater Tot Hot Dish, and snacked on peanut butter chip brownies. We watched a movie holding hands the entire time. He is a joy to be with, comforting to my temperament, and nice to hold.

It's been a nice, quiet day. The company has been good. I could use many more days just like this one.

I'll have to figure that out.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Repetitive

I must be getting old. I didn't realize until after I wrote it that last night's journal meandering was the second in less than a week where I espoused a positive/upbeat outlook. It's clear to me now that I will probably be telling myself that a lot from now on.

My workday yesterday ended on a pretty sour note. I'm not going to belabor it because it's really best forgotten. But like I said, anger is hard for me to release, so I sat last night and told myself (and by extension, you) that being positive is hard and a fragile state for me.

With time, I hope it will become less delicate. It will become more sturdy with repeated encouragement. Maybe some rebar will help. It would really be good for me to get to a place where I cannot be dragged under. Being down I can handle. I'm tired of drowning.

Positive

As part of the new me, I'm trying to be as upbeat as possible. It's difficult for me; it's contrary to my nature. It's also fragile.

It takes me a great deal of time to shake off anger. I hate it when that emotion happens anymore. It used to be that anger was my main nature. Perhaps I'm mellowing with age. Perhaps I'm just becoming less volatile. Maybe I'm more apathetic?

Any way one looks at it, people thrive on misfortune (including me, alas). There's nothing like the gleeful vitriol of schadenfreude. Nothing compares to juicy, malicious gossip. The height of anyone's day is the minor and major misfortunes that we can backbite about. Remaining above all of that distastefulness is challenging to say the least. Next of kin to impossible would be a nearer sentiment.

But I'm trying. I try to spar good-naturedly with my peers at work without being mean. I try to tow the company line. I endeavor to keep from sinking into the unhappiness on the other end of my phone each time it whisper-tones in my ear.

I try to think of innovative things to help out. I concentrate to formulate new stories. I fight against the entropy that has swallowed my creativity for a year or more. Sometimes I think that I might win.

I'm a compulsive doodler, and some of my calligraphic noodlings are quite attractive to me. Every one of them for the last four years has gone to the shredder. It only occurred to me this week that I could take one of the many little journals that Steve has thoughtfully gifted unto me and doodle into it, creating a little treasure book of silly, nonsensical, alphabet-like glyphs and sketches.

I have had a couple of new story ideas surface and I'm building the details slowly in my head. In addition, I want to recreate The Empty Space as an actual handwritten artifact and then incorporate it into a third-person narrative.

I want to make my real life (as opposed to my "career") the showpiece of my existence like it used to be, only without the alcohol abuse. I want to build a legacy for my daughter and joy for myself.

Good lord! Who the hell am I?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lost and found

Amongst the many bad habits of my middle age is misplacing things.  More properly, I think that I'm putting things away in a logical manner, but the logic is only temporary.  It will suddenly occur to me that I have to have something, and then it can't be found.

And can't be found.

And cannot be found!

When I bought my last computer, I tried to make it as top of the line as I could.  I wanted it to become my art machine.  I bought Photoshop and Illustrator for it.  I bought an expensive tablet for it.  I maxed out the processor and the RAM (for the time).  It cost me an enormous amount of money.

Of course things never turn out the way I want, and I got adept at Illustrator instead of using the tablet.  When I developed a hardware conflict, the bonus RAM card that I paid $300 for had to come out, and later had to be replaced by the manufacturer. And had to come out again.

Then I moved.

In the four years I've been here, I've been unable to locate the RAM card.  I've looked high and low.  I looked in every box of knick-knacks.  I opened every carton that came from the old computer room.  It was nowhere to be found.  So I had resigned myself to simply purchasing a new card.  What's another hundred dollars really?

Last night, I thought that I should check my laptop bag.  The RAM card is for an iMac.  My notebook is a Gateway.  What logic would I have for putting it there, except the card was small and the bag was for a computer?  And yet, there it was!  And much, much smaller than I remember.  But the RAM card was found and so I severed all of the iMac's attachments and peripherals so that I could turn it upside down and install the card.

Of course, it takes a precision phillips screwdriver to remove the protecting plate.  And I have two sets of precision screwdrivers.

But do you think I can find them?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Coming clean

Yesterday was a beautiful day.  It was not only gorgeous outside, it was productive inside.  I got a lot accomplished and that makes me feel somewhat better about my so-called life.

I managed to gather together all of the books I've purchased in recent months and allocate them to shelf space.  Many of them are oversized, so finding just the right spot should have been tough.

Some days ago, I relocated my old iMac to the living room to use as a media machine for when I'm doing stuff on the main computer.  The full realization of this project has not yet been achieved, but I did have an open computer desk in the other room...which is now doubling as a bookshelf.  As an aside, books are heavy!

As I've mentioned, flat surfaces become catch-alls in the Johniverse.  No surface is safe.  So my drawing table was full of accumulated junk and so was one of my big chairs.  The desk is now mostly cleared and ready to receive the big-ass book that I want to look at over the next days.  The chair next to my desk is still not fully liberated, but it's identifiable as a chair now.

Egad!

I just realized that this has become one of those journal entries that is nothing more than a list of my cleaning achievements.  God I hate those.  If this is what my life is going to become, let's not journal it and confirm for the universe that any sense of my real accomplishments is so boring that no one will care.

So let me say this instead:  I'm a lousy housekeeper.  I really am.  It's one of those disciplines that my parents were never able to instill in me. I let things go until I suddenly have no choice but to do something.  

I need a fork and there are none.  

There's no place in the living room to put my bottom while I watch a movie.

There's no more clean underwear.  Okay, this one is never a problem because I ritualistically do my laundry every friday between 2:00 and 3:00.  I hate doing laundry but it still gets done.  Not without resentment though.

Anyway, when I remark that I've done chores, the whole world should cheer.  Seriously.  If I could invent a system where my apartment would clean itself, I would not only implement it, but write a book.  It would allow me to retire for sure.

But then if I had the discipline to write a book, I'd have done that already too.

And that's a topic for another day.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Upbeat

Maintaining a happy-go-lucky, Pollyanna disposition is nearly impossible for me.  It's not that I don't try, but I'm really just not that person.  So when I tell you that I try, understand that my efforts are Herculean.

I have never understood what inner quality allows one person to seemingly glide through life, ever in a lighthearted disposition.  In truth, I've often considered such people to be shallow or simply unaffected.  On bad days, I look at them through narrow eyes and think that they are somehow charmed where I am not and am embittered just a little bit.

Bitterness is a cumulative emotion.  Like anger, the longer it is maintained (or manufactured), the more easily additional quantities can be added to it.  I've fought both of these all of my life.

Part of my make-up doesn't allow me to let things go, which is an interesting thing for someone who claims to manufacture closure on demand to say.  Grudges are easy for me.  Longstanding arguments become points of pride.

Today, after a solid night of sleep, I feel upbeat.  I believe that today I can achieve some things to which I've been meaning to get around.  Today I'll start in one corner of my living room (the one with the fan in it) and start to work around the walls.  

One of my recent acquisitions is a book by artist Charley Harper.  I spent an enormous amount of money on it and it's too big to hold in my lap.  When I say too big, I mean that it's 12-inches by 18 and over 400 pages.  It weighs 15 lbs.  I need a table on which to set it -- my drawing table will do -- but it is choked with the detritus that every flat surface in my place seems to attract.

So today I have ambition and a goal.  All of my activity will be facing my windows and it's a beautiful late summer day, so the view is bright, blue and somewhat astonishing.

I've got the 35,000 songs in my iTunes library for company too, so a little rockin' out should help the cleaning and rearrangement along.

It's nice to feel good.  It must be the Apocalypse.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Entitlement

Four the last three-and-a-half years I have worked in a retail customer service call center, both at the agent and senior agent level.  For those who don't know, the so-called supervisors are really a group of senior agents, not actual supervisors at all.  They don't have the power to fire an agent when the customer rats them out, but they do have some advanced empowerment and resources.

Anyway, one of the things that I've discovered in my time behind a phone, is that people feel that they are entitled to something even when -- and especially if -- they are not.  I shake my head on a nearly continuous basis over it.

I speak to customers daily who think that a working TV or computer is a god-given right, especially if they were sold a service plan.  They think that whatever timeframe for repair they have worked out in their head is what reality should be bent to fit.  They think they should get their delivery when they want it, without paying for that privilege.  They think that the store manager should do what they want, not what the rules say she should do.

This was especially true when I was taking escalated calls.  People's minds were so set on what they wanted that anything that they heard that didn't fit their absurd ideal was ignored.  Many are the times that the conversations would wheel around over and over as the customer tried to find some loophole in what we told them.  Eventually we just had to tell them how it was and that they would have to cope -- in delicate customer-caring terms, of course.

Since I changed from the senior position back to a frontline agent, my opinion formed over the last two-and-a-half years, as a senior agent, is beginning to revert.  I'd forgotten that most of the people who call us just want to be heard.  They've had an experience that they think was subpar and that we at Major Retailer™ should know.  They've got questions about our policies.  They lost a receipt or a gift card.

It's funny how one can become jaded after a time where all one hears is abusive language and off-the-charts expectations.

Just in writing this I realize that my opinion is shifting.  This was going to be a tirade about how Americans need to settle damn down and get a grip on their tiny little worlds.  But in thinking it over, a month in a different role is starting to erode that unpleasantness.  Maybe people don't suck as hard as I think they do.

Not all of them anyway.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Slow the hell down

I think people move too fast.  Somewhere along the line we got that idea that everything has to be done yesterday.  

There is nothing that has to be done yesterday.  

There's no reason for speed-walking down the hallway for a meeting that will start five minutes late anyway.  There's no excuse to rush through a meal.  There's no sense in blistering down the highway at 80 miles an hour when everyone you passed will catch you at the next construction zone anyway.

I had an opportunity at work that I passed up because I didn't want to re-enter the "I-need-it-yesterday" world.  It was a reporting gig, mining the data generated in my department and developing reporting and running existing reports for a growing number of clients within corporate and in the retail field.  The person who was doing the job told me that, one day, the director came to him and told him that a new report was a priority.  Shortly after that, she told him this other report was a priority.  Some time later she said, "Forget what I said.  This one I need now!"

I don't care what anyone says, that kind of crap doesn't need to happen.  Nor does anyone need to blast down the highway.  Or cut me off with their shopping cart at Target to get a can of peas before me.

If I had my way, everyone would take a deep breath and stroll leisurely to their next destination.  They would enjoy the sunlight, the heat of the summer day and meander.  Life goes by fast enough; let us not rush it.

And while we're at it, let's enjoy the speed limit for a change.

What do you say?  Just this once?

You might even like it.  Lord knows I do.

Losing the argument

I was going to write today about the differences between "religious" and "spiritual."  After starting the piece, I decided that it probably wasn't worth it.  I shouldn't muddy so volatile a topic by employing the mechanical definitions of words as opposed to the deep emotions that they invoke.

The reason I decided not to bother is because I have no faith in people, no matter how educated or intelligent, to engage in an actual debate without becoming asses.  Which, when one pauses to think about it, is the whole problem with religion anyway.

In my view, the arguments could all be settled if people weren't so entrenched in their own points of view.  Any debate must be entered into with the pre-admitted prospect of losing, of allowing for the possibility of conversion to the opponent's idea.

Instead, people enter into a debate for the purpose of espousing and supporting their own opinions.  This isn't a discussion, or even a debate.  Pulpits were made for that kind of declaration.  And political podiums.  How I would love to watch just one political debate where one participant made a point and the opponent paused for a moment and then responded, "Well said.  You're quite right on that."

Conversion is a powerful thing, not to be trivialized.  Most people, in my opinion, would not allow for the possibility of it.  The feeling is remarkable, indescribable.  All of the allegories in the world won't describe a fraction of the sensation.

One's worldview is overturned.

One's life is reordered.

A new platform for continuation is created.

All of this happens at once.  "Epiphany" is defined as "a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something."  That's what conversion is.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that losing a debate and being opened to a new viewpoint is tantamount to a paradigm shift or religious experience, but they share common qualities, just on a reduced scale.

I enter into any discussion hoping to lose.  The longest debate I ever engaged in, and with the most people, was to settle my religious strife.  It lasted 15 years and involved dozens of people over that time.  I had built up my walls and no one could tear them down; no one could defeat my side of the argument.  Then, one day, during a discussion with dear friend, i earned the missing piece.  I lost the argument finally, resorted the Johniverse and got on with it.

It was a profound conversion that I would not have had if not for wanting to lose.  I was holding to my own point of view so tightly that my life was slipping through my hands.

Anyway, not that I'm loftier than anyone else, but people don't enter into arguments to lose.  They enter into them to espouse and win.

That's dumb.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Loss

Loss is a funny thing in the Johniverse.  It has always seemed like there was so much of it in my life.  Every new beginning had an end, and sometimes not very long after the beginning.  I never had to deal with loss in the mortality sense until my ex-wife perished of cancer in 2002.  That was hard enough, because despite the acrimony of our divorce and the 15 years it took to bury the hatchet, if there was such a thing in my life as a soul mate, I truly think it was her.

Dad died in 2006.  While he and I were not close, we were not estranged.  I hadn't felt the loss of him at once.  His passing was like (and forgive me if this seems callous, it's really not) passing a place where a painting used to hang.  I know that one was there because of the discoloration on the wall, but I can't remember what it portrayed.

But my sense of loss has been growing.  We didn't talk often, but we managed to say hello and chat once a year at the very least.  I can still hear his voice and his laughter in my head, but it's finally coming to roost that my ears will never hear it again.

Dad's death was expensive in other ways too.  My sister and I had a fight in my mother's home a day or two before the memorial.  It was the last straw for me.  I never really liked her much as a person but always felt the commitment of blood.  What she said to me was inexcusable, really.  I've forgiven her for her hateful remarks -- grief is a powerful, unpredictable thing -- but I really have no interest in speaking to her again.  

My brother and I have the same relationship as I had with Dad: not estranged, but not in communication either.  I don't speak to Dan unless he's in front of me.  And in the last decades, I can count those occasions on a single hand.

Lately I've been feeling orphaned.  In 1980 I left Denver and my family and have continued to move farther and farther Away.  I've never been able to get back frequently; there was once more than a decade before I could make the trip.  Things were bad in the family during that time.  Dad's father was being monstrous and creating chaos and harm and I felt inclined to keep my daughter (and me) protected in our Ivory Tower in a suburb of Minneapolis.

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I tried to call my mom and got the robot of her answering machine.  It felt like being slapped.  It's not that I expect Mom to languish by the phone waiting for me to call, but...I do.  She called back about an hour later, but I was at work and the phone was in the car anyway, so I couldn't take the call.

In the time since I called her around Mother's Day, she has not called me once.  I really don't know what her relationship with my siblings is like at all.  I know they have the luxury of being only four hours away by car, where my car trip is 17 hours.  I know that my sister is quite dependent on Mom, so they speak often and she visits frequently too.  I know that my brother goes down when he can to help her with things.

I'm writing this not to be maudlin, but to try to get it out of my system.  Where my family is concerned, I feel quite deserted.  I find myself having thoughts like, when Mom finally goes to her reward, will I even bother to go to her funeral?  As I've said before, I'm pretty good at manufacturing my own closure.  And I certainly wouldn't go back for the purpose of mourning with my family.  It would feel like a wedding I went to once, where I was the only person of the bride's former social sphere that got invited and I knew no one else.  My joy for her was great, and I had no one to with whom share it.

And I guess this is no different really.  Here I am sharing this grief with strangers right now.

I should mention, as an added complication to these feelings, that the high school friend with whom I'd been exchanging email has not replied to my last missive.  It's been ten days.  

I guess that's that.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I spend way too much on music

I have purchased more new music this year than in the last five combined, and the year isn't over yet.  The reason for that is the sheer number of artists from my younger days that are releasing albums of new material.  I swear it's 1983 all over again!  Some of the artists have never gone away, but just released new albums.  Others have been away a long, long time (so it seems) and have decided to bless my ears with their sounds.  In no particular order, here's what's happening:

The B-52s released Funplex.  I was never much of a fan before or after "Roam," but I was converted by that song.  Funplex never quite reaches that level for me, but oh-my-goodness was a fun record it is!

Asia rose from its ashes with Phoenix.  While the album never gets better than Alpha or Astra -- that is to say, it's not as spectacular as their debut -- it is still a respectable Asia effort.  The first track of the album is pure "Sole Survivor" though.

While there isn't a new Yaz(oo) album this year, there is the fabulous In Your Room box set...and Alison Moyet's The Turn.  Yes, I know that her record has been out for nearly a year abroad, but it was just released a couple of months ago in the US of A, so it counts as this year to me.  I could listen to her sing all day.

Twenty-five years ago, Donald Fagen released the amazing The Nightfly.  This year, his co-conspirator in Steely Dan has a new album.  Walter Becker's Circus Money is more of the same, really, but I can never get enough.

On the hard rock front, there's new releases from (shock) Whitesnake and Alice Cooper and (horror) Judas Priest.  Whitesnake's Good To Be Bad is a straightforward pop-metal effort that is surprisingly not bad.  Alice Coopers Along Came A Spider is also an accomplished effort, also a concept album.  Judas Priest also came up with a concept album, Nostradamus that, while musically and vocally well-performed, is pretentious and ridiculous.  I'd have loved it to be better, but if the evil glowing-eyed Nostradamus on the cover doesn't serve as a warning to stay away, I don't know what else will.  Did I mention Def Leppard?  Songs From The Sparkle Lounge is surprisingly not bad for a group that I thought had finally disbanded!  Oh, and then there's Motley Crue.  Not a great record, but a fun one.  Lots of sex and profanity.

Carly Simon gave us Hello Big Man in 1983 and this year gifted us with This Kind Of Love.  For her first album of new material in hundreds of years, she's done pretty well with this release, including my favorite new track "People Say A Lot."

Chicago has released their "lost" 1992 album, Stone Of Sisyphus.  It's a pretty good album and has aged well really. There's none of that sappy Peter Cetera, and that earns it extra points from me.

Perhaps my biggest surprise this year was the release of Journey's Revelation.  It was a pleasant surprise.  The new vocalist is truly on Steve Perry's level and the new material is quite good!  The drawback is that I had to get it at Sam's Club.

In a year of surprising releases, Donna Summer's Crayons is right up there.  I thought that I was going to have a heart attack from the glee of anticipation.  When it finally arrived I was not disappointed.  Okay, I actually was a little.  Summer's virtue is her transcendent voice.  Many are the hours that her singing transported me into better places.  Crayons has far too much vocal manipulation in the production for my taste.  The songs are strong and witty, but I want to here Donna sing, not a vocoder-ized version.  Sakes people.  Wasn't Cher enough?

Cyndi Lauper says "fuck" on her new record, Bring Ya To The Brink!  My goodness, she's all grown up now.  And released a fuckin' good record too.

John Mellencamp's new effort doesn't have a "Jack And Diane" on it, but it's still a good, if depressing, release. Life Death Love And Freedom gives a little bit of all of the elements in the title, with an emphasis on mortality.

Tom Petty is back, but without the Heartbreakers, but with his first band, Mudcrutch.  Their self-titled debut (thirty years later) is a neo-country-rock effort with excellent musicianship and another vocalist to offset Petty's whine.  The nine-minute "Crystal River" is my fave from the record.

Madonna got her dance on (again) with Hard Candy and I like to dance.  I keep waiting for her to make another Like A Virgin, but my fear is that she'll make another Erotica.  This is neither, but it's quite listenable.

Another big surprise is Rick Springfield's Venus In Overdrive.  Probably his best since his 80s heyday (I agree with the critics here).  I think I just like him, guilty pleasure though that might be.

R.E.M. gave us Accelerate.  

Steve Winwood pumped out Nine Lives.  

Sparks released Exotic Creatures Of The Deep which so far sports my favorite song of the year, "Let the Monkey Drive."

Thomas Dolby's live effort, The Sole Inhabitant, is a CD/DVD set showcasing his recent tour.  It's good to hear all of these songs in fresh performances.  I think I like Dolby more than I thought I did, and for "Windpower" much more than "She Blinded Me With Science."

Still to come this year, Queen's The Cosmos Rocks (being released here a month later than in Europe, which pisses me off) and Pretenders' new one, Break Up The Concrete."  The rumor mill says that U2 might have a new album late this year.

All that's missing really is David Bowie, Rolling Stones, and a reunion of A Flock Of Seagulls!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Getting Romantic

Merriam-Webster.com defines "romance" as "an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity."  This is how I describe my feelings when I'm in a fantastical environment or when I find something particularly stirring that has no real foundation in reality.

Friday night, Steve and I went to Linder's Garden Center on Larpenteur near Rice Street.  It was just as the sun was going down.  We hadn't been there in over a year, which is unusual for me, being the plant maven that I am.  If you've never been there, Linders is in a fairly undeveloped area smack in the middle of Saint Paul.  Across Larpenteur is a marshy zone.  All around are treed hills.  Behind the greenhouse proper is the garden where all of the trees and plants for sale are, where all of their water features reside.  Friday night, just as the sun was going down on a warm summer's day, surrounded by gurgling streams and fountains, topiaries and exotically colored fronds, and eccentric statuary of all kinds, I was transported.

For the half hour we were there, just at closing time, it was magical.  Golden light poured through the trees, illuminating others.  The air was stirred by gentle breezes.  There were also darned few people there (the ones who were seemed frantic).  We wandered amidst the foliage and concrete sculptures speaking quietly and seldom.

I describe the calm I feel in such environs and situations as "romantic."  There is a pull I feel in my heart, not toward simpler times when humanity may (or may not) have lived in supposed harmony with nature, but toward a placidity that appears wholly absent in our modern world.

I have this experience when I read or write too, though less frequently in film.  We watched Hellboy II last night and, while there is little that is not loud, violent, or harsh about it, there are moments of that fantastical romance that so alters my thoughts and feelings.  I think that it's the notion that there is a whole unknown world next to (or beneath) the one in which I live.  

I sometimes feel like I get glimpses into that other world.  When I do, time stops.  The things I see are more real.  They become indelible in my mind and memory.  My breathing changes, I inhale more deeply.  Colors are more vivid.  There's always a sense of quiet or tranquility.

I think that this is why I have had so many plants, why the lamp in my living room looks like an antique gas street lamp.  There was a time when I would have described how this makes me feel as "pagan" but that word has connotations of religion.

The stirrings I feel are not religious (or spiritual, for the two words are synonyms and different by connotation, not definition).  There isn't a deity in those feelings.  It's just romance for me, but the feelings are deep and not without their power.

Perhaps that's just semantics?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Writing

It's been a long, long time since I've written anything.  It was over a year before I started putting my thoughts here again.  Before that, I wrote nothing of real substance for probably years.  My writing has been confined to chats with friends -- and that's not really writing.  That's just typing.

I had forgotten (again) how it is to write, where the words form out of nothing in my head and flow out of my fingers.  I forget how satisfying it is to watch the page fill with words, words that I chose.  Those words that express my ideas.

But that's not all that writing is to me.  It's also another chance to look at the beauty of words, to enjoy the characters of which they're formed.  "Q" and "R" are my favorite letters.  I doodle them all the time.  I've flirted with the notion of typeface design but never explored it.  Why?  Because the imagination in type design is coming up with an "I" that is exciting.  I'm not sure I have it in me.

The page fills one character at a time, one word, one sentence.  The lonely "T" becomes "the" and "then," "there," "therapy," and "theory."  "Thermopolis." "Thelma."  "N" becomes "no," and a "non sequitur."

The satisfaction of writing for me is not finishing.  If it were, I'd be the successful novelist that I envisioned myself being as a senior in high school.  The satisfaction for me is achieving "the zone."  That is to say, when the words forming in my head so strongly evoke the vision that I'm not typing the words.  What gets to the page is so completely in sync with what I'm envisioning in my minds eye, that I am doing neither and both at the same time.

I'm blessed with a visual imagination.  What I imagine can play out before my eyes.  Words representing things transform before my eyes into those things.  The computer screen ceases to be and I whirl about my ideas and they about me as if they were physical things with gravity and contour.

That's where the magic is for me.  That's why I write, for that sensation.

Funny thing, it doesn't have to be fiction that I'm constructing for it to occur.  It can happen even in the midst of this writing:  I was seeing the ideas whirling when I wrote that.  I don't know what an idea looks like.  But I saw it just the same.  Maybe felt is a better word.  Regardless, in the moment I was typing that, I was no longer in the room.  I was there, where the letter shapes I love become the words I love.  And the words I love articulate my ideas and declarations.

That's the real world for me.  The rest is just material.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Transformed

One of the unusual themes in my life just now is "transformation."  For whatever reason -- or no reason at all, I suppose -- a great many things in my life are pointing to it, enough that I can't ignore it this time.

Oh, yes, I've ignored pointers like this before.  What usually happens is that I'll read or see something, that will spark a notion:  this is how I can be better.  Before it can take root, however, the momentum of the idea is lost.  The mundanity of existence reasserts itself.  I continue in the same unchanged mode as before.

This time is different though.  So many things have come together all at once, it seems.  It's like this:

I read King's Dark Tower books and that was an eminently satisfying experience.  I really enjoyed that there were three successive endings, and how each seemed just a touch more satisfying than the last.  That's put me on a Stephen King binge, and he's not always the most uplifting author.  However, I did take a brief break after Insomnia and before Richard Bachman's The Regulators (which ended on a surprisingly high note considering the rest of the story) to read a book by my favorite author of all time: Arthur C. Clarke.

Before his death, Clarke collaborated on a trilogy with Stephen Baxter, A Time Odyssey, the first novel of which was Time's Eye.  That book I did not get.  It was weird and oddly pointless.  The second book was Sunstorm, and this book was as different from the first as Clarke and Baxter's first collaboration, The Light Of Other Days was from the bulk of Clarke's work. (Clarke's storytelling is not generally known for its heart; his collaborations with Baxter help with that.)  In short, Sunstorm was amazing.

Clarke's work, like King's, is not always uplifting.  Clarke has a cynical view of humanity, particularly where religion is concerned.  His stories "The Nine Billion Names Of God" and "The Star" are the prime examples.  But even in Sunstorm he gets his dig in.  One of the assertions is that sunspots cause events in our brains that we consider to be religious experiences.  A point in the story was that there was an unprecedented, huge solar event in 4 BC that caused incomprehensible visions in a certain Jewish infant.

But that's not the point of this:  the point was that an impending solar event, off the charts deadly, transformed humanity.  Inspired to survive, a 7000 mile wide shield of lunar glass is built to protect the earth from the worst of the mass ejection, one that would cause enough damage to the earth to sterilize the surface miles deep.

It's not the story itself that electrified my thinking, but the way in which the characters in the story, and the dross of mankind itself, became a larger entity.  

On top of this, I read Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason's The Rule Of Four -- given to me by a coworker with the disclaimer, "I think you'll like this.  I couldn't figure it out."  It's a Da Vinci Code-ish story about two college students who are trying to find a secret message in a five hundred year old book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.  After all of the adventure is done, the authors add the what I consider the key passage, a montage of what happened next in the protagonist's life and how, with the arrival of unexpected news years later, a window to transformation was opened.

But that's not all!  I've watched the first season of ABC's Eli Stone, wherein the title character begins to have visions of George Michael that inspire him to go from cutthroat corporate attorney to common man's advocate.  Of course, the visions appear to be the result of an inoperable brain tumor.  The 13-episode story was lush, uplifting and filled with unexpected developments.  But the key theme for me from it was the transformation, not only of Eli, but of everyone around him.

In the fiction I've written, the transformation of characters is a recurring theme.  They seem to do it for themselves too, which has always surprised me.  It makes me think that they were trying to tell me something.  And maybe they were.  Ages ago I wrote an opera (or, at the very least, the lyrics for a musical).  I worked on it for years and finished it in a blast of creativity as I was finishing a round of therapy.  In it, the four main characters sang to each other about their lives and dreams.  I had bestowed the characters each with some of my own attributes.  The result, when I read it after it was done, was that I had four separate parts of myself talking to each other.

And the things they said...

Soap Opera (horrible title, I know) was finished just before I moved to Minnesota in 1990.  The Empty Space I "finished" five years ago.  They share the same message in many ways.  It's the same message as in Sunstorm and The Rule Of Four and Eli Stone:  personal transformation.

The real life catalyst for me was the brief query from a dear old friend I mentioned previously.  The idea has formed that maybe, despite who I have been, who I become is more...  More what, important?  More better?

If I told you that I feel like I'm waking up after a long, long coma it would sound trite.  But it would also be true.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Unexpectedly found

I got an email the other day.  One might not think so in our modern world, but I'm largely surprised when I get one.  I mean, I get my share of junk and the occasional newsletter or order confirmation, but I seldom get an actual personal email.  So when I do, it's something of an event.  Anyway, the one I received was quite brief:

"Is this John Gee who graduated from Ranum High in Denver class of 1978?  If not I am so sorry to trouble you."

In the 30 years since I graduated, I've had only two or three people attempt to contact me.  Invariably, they were people with whom I really didn't want an association in my current life.  The last one was years ago; I don't even remember who it was from.  I don't think I replied.

This one was different though, and I replied at once.  It was from the woman who I considered my best friend in thosedays.  As I do when such things happen, my reply was equally brief:

"Yes, it's me.  I just read this and have to run for work.  But for my mortgage, this would be a longer reply.  It's so very good to hear from you.  I have thought of you often and fondly over the years, even tried to locate you a few times.  How have you been?"

What has followed is a stirring of feelings that I've not felt for a long while.  Is it nostalgia?  Is it more?  She and I didn't part badly, we just drifted apart.  There was no acrimony or ill will.  There was not parting embrace either.  We just slowed and then stopped.  We moved on.

In my life there's been a lot of moving on.  There's also been none of going back.  I've kidded myself into thinking that this means that my life has been moving forward.  What is true is that I've been moving Away ever since high school.

The fall after graduation I moved Away from home.  Six months later, I moved Away from my roommate.  A year after that, I moved Away from Denver.  And so forth.  Always Away.

But now I'm thinking about that and what it means.  I've moved Away from having friends these days.  Away from any kind of actual social life really.  That is not a new thing, but I have a new awareness of it. 

But the email has provoked an emotion I wasn't expecting:  regret.  Oh, I have plenty of regrets for things that I've done poorly, people I've treated badly.  But I've never had regrets about the direction of my life.  But this week I realized that what I thought was a direction was just Away.

There are a ton of what ifs going through my noggin.  What if I'd remained in Denver?  What if I'd not married?  What if I'd had some kind of discipline and wrote a novel at 18 instead of 43?  What if and what if?  What if my dear old high school friend and I had never drifted apart?  Who would I have married then?  Would I have?  Would I have been one of the friends that she buried in the early 90s?

The upshot of this windy ponderance is this:  what do I do now?  I'm tempted to open communications with other people I left behind, people who hurt me whom I hurt.  People who loved me whom I loved.  And I wonder what happens then?

From one email, new possibilities seemed to have opened.  Not opened like a door though, more like a narrow fissure.  But there's light on the other side that I wasn't expecting.  I wonder if I can be dazzled by it?

Turning a corner

It's now been more than a year since I put anything here.  In that time, I've worked on some creative projects and neglected my housekeeping chores.  I've given up a promotion at work and returned to a role at which I excel.  I've culled many of the plants from my home.  I've bought a lot of expensive books.  I've looked at LiveJournal every day to see what's new out there.  But I've put nothing here because, well, I have had no idea what to say.

I read a couple of really great books recently, finished King's Dark Tower series, and lamented the death of Arthur C. Clarke.  I've watched a number of movies, some good, none great, some awful, some highly overrated.  I've purchased more new CDs this year than in the last five combined, some great reissues and some awesome new material, much from bands with whom I grew into adulthood.  It's 1983 Redux.  That makes me really, really happy.

So what have I got to say for myself?  I don't know really.  I do know that I'm unhappy in the world the way it is.  In the last year I've admitted to myself that I'm really ready for this to be over.  My undisciplined mediocrity gets me down sometimes.

On the other hand, some things have come to my attention that have made me think uplifting thoughts and feel better about my crumbling little existence.  I've been maudlin and gloomy for most of my life, and so has the world..  I'd like to think that I can change.  

I'd like to think that I can change others too.  

I'd like to think that humanity doesn't need to rush about and drive giant cars.  I'd like to think that cellphones are a cultural frivolity and that people can put them down for an hour.  I don't know how to text-message.  I'm a Luddite.  Is that bad?

I'd like to think that people don't want to hate, even though it's really much easier than love.

People aren't nice enough to each other.  People aren't sympathetic with others.  People don't enter into a discussion except to espouse their own point of view.  People think the trivial is important when it should be, well, trivial.

I can sum up what's wrong with the world by summarizing a recent customer service phone call I answered.  "You don't understand," the customer said.  "It's summer and my children NEED the TV, so if you can't fix it today, I want it replaced!"  In my head, I said, "Have you considered sitting with your children and reading to them?  Playing cards?  Talking about what they're making in the sandbox? Maybe even hugging them and showering them with affection"

But I didn't say that.  As Stephen King observed often in The Dark Tower books, "The world has moved on."

So what can I do about it?

I can do this.