24 June 2012

Love, Between Stations

3:58 PM, BWI airport, at the gate and longing...

Heavens above, my daughter's presence leaves me stunned. Charm, beauty and smarts: a killer combination on a hapless man such as I am.

I am traveling again. I hold station in the Mid-Atlantic, awaiting passage back to what is my new home. The tension I feel is that of a wayward moon caught between suns. Longing for orbit but riding the invisible waves of gravity, seeking rest. 

I am between stations. This body of mine caught in a temporary Lagrange point where the stasis tightens the mind. It cannot and will not last, I tell myself. Yet the heart...the heart feels different. It holds its own baffling and anxious counsel, confounding the logic and reason on which the mind lays its foundations. It is the heart, after all. 

I hugged her, the radiant vein of my heart,  not two hours ago. It was my own attempt to bend space and time, extend the moment, or perhaps knock us both into an alternate reality where it was a hug of welcome, not one of goodbye. Her composure was impressive. Mine, less so. The dam held long enough for me to buckle her into her seat, kiss her on the cheek, and tell her I love her one more time. The closing of the car door had the steely finality of a guillotine. I stood in the heat of a sweltering Baltimore summer, waving my hand and watching the car recede down the parking deck. The sun was a blinding pinwheel diffracted by liquid prisms cascading down my vision.

I returned to a station abruptly transformed into alien country. A filter sliding into place over the minds' lenses, shifting to blurred edges and strange colors. The effect was not unlike stepping from shaded bar into a bright sidewalk. Like that, only missing the rounded edges provided by the dubious graces of alcohol. That is not an escape I will allow myself. Not here. Not between stations.

What shall we call this strange sensation, this unsettled rootlessness of the heart? I'm sure the Greeks had a word for it. It troubles me that I cannot recall what that word might be. Me, a man who prides himself on knowing the best word to use to describe anything. I am at a loss. Appropriate, perhaps, for a temporary stranding here amongst seething shoals of humanity.

There are no howling wolves here, no banshee winds blowing apart the lost and anxious heart. There is only the susurrus of a thousand muted conversations cut by the wailing of infants and machine noises. It is a landscape of the modern condition in this country of abundance. I cannot claim to be on the run from anything. 

Still, this limbo between loves is desolation. 

The sky darkens, a pewter the color of thunderstorms. I hear over the loudspeakers that my flight will be delayed nearly an hour. It is to my credit that I do not shed a tear, only utter a small curse. The petty frustrations of the wayfaring life, I grant you. 

It is difficult avoiding the urge to lay down and sleep. Saying goodbye to love, however temporary, is an exhausting business. Exhaustion of a sort that can only be allayed by finding one's way home. Between stations is crowded, but home is not to be found there.

As I recall her laughter and her voice, the sting of my earlier goodbye begins to fade. It is a small ember succeeding a red-hot coal. The image of ashes and fire makes me grin. Stop being melodramatic, I berate myself, it is pain of my own creation.  I know that to be true. I temper myself to remember that, while I left love, I am returning to it.

The journey back makes me smile. I am traveling between stations, knowing I find love at each end of gravity's tether. For this I shall be grateful. It is a rare traveller indeed who knows his heart resides on both sides of the universe. Our partings are temporary. Our love is permanent.

17 June 2012

On The Occasion of Her Majesty's Blessing

Last night, and after dinner, there were brownies being prepared for the oven. The cleaning up of the kitchen was in progress. I was possessed of the small luxury of sitting down and browsing my email and social media outlets. With a full belly, and friendly banter laying down the soundtrack to a pleasant domestic scene, contentment was in the air. I arose from the computer, intent on getting a drink from the kitchen.

My daughter came bouncing through the doorway. She wore an apron that was long enough to be a dress on her frame, having been engaged in the making of the highly anticipated brownies. The smile on her face lit up the room. I stopped and smiled back. Her hands were behind her back and she had an impish gleam in her eyes.

"Daddy, I have an early Father's Day present for you!" she chirped.
"An early Father's Day present? What is it?" I said, sort of expecting a lump of brownie batter.

She stepped forward, bringing her arms around to wrap me in the fiercest hug Wee Lass has ever given me. She grinned and growled, making as if she were going to lift me off the floor. She shook me with a giggle.

"Happy Father's Day, Daddy!"

She was looking up at me with that smile like a cross of Mona Lisa and the Cheshire Cat. She hugged me tight again, then let go to scamper off back to the brownies. I reckon the grin on my face would have lit up a room or two after she let me go. The warmth in my heart was proof positive of the gift I just received.

I'm a blessed man, jewel o' my heart, because I get to be your dad. Happy Father's day, indeed.

12 June 2012

Dreams of Empire

Thoughts from a recent trip to New York City, transcribed in a daze:

June 10th, 2012. Late morning in Newark Airport.

I bit of the Big Apple; I can't be sure it was not biting me.

New York is more than a city of landmarks and visitor's notions. It is everything like you thought it would be, and more than you could imagine. It is a city of heartbreaking brutality and breathtaking beauty. New York City will exhaust you, break you, lift you up and make you grateful to be alive.

You must be careful with this city. It will not be careful with you. This is not from inherent insensitivity. It is that the city has bigger things to think of, in its dreams of consumption and commerce. New York City exists as an ideal, within space-time and outside of it. If we are shrimp, the city is a whale. When it thrashes or dives, we can be swept aside by the power and awed by the majesty. As I said, you must be careful.

Ha. I laugh at myself for feeling this way. Fatigue and anxiety, ecstasy and exhilaration, I felt after experiencing only a fraction of the whole. I walked as much as possible, covering miles and territory mostly and heretofore unknown to me except primarily through media and the filters of others' experiences. I ate myself silly, chewing my way through the cuisine of the city and nowhere.

I had a long solitary walk, taking pictures. I became dizzy and disoriented by the noise and hustle of the city. I think my camera became my filter and shield, allowing me to keep New York at bay so I could breathe and make sense of it all. The austerity of the plaza in front of the Seagram Building was a tonic after a long day. Fountains burbled at each end, and the luxury of the open area before Park Avenue was surprisingly effective at pushing back the street. I was able to gather my thoughts and my breath, getting a second wind to go see more. Because the city always wants you to see more. It demands it, it coerces and flatters, it offers temptations to satisfy any curiosity.

Me, I simply wanted to understand the bones and the flesh of the place, and why anyone would choose to live inside the leviathan.

I did not do this entirely alone. Good company makes for good travel, and my companion excelled at assisting me in sanding down the rough edges of Gotham. We walked, the best way to understand a place, and we walked as much as we could take. The serenity of Central Park and the buzz of the street scene by the Flatiron Building were truly energizing. The Empire State Building was all that I thought it would be; an experience that lived up to the myths. The High Line Park is a world-class urban amenity, and a great example of turning what could have been dross into a ribbon of gold. If an oasis is needed, look no further than the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art.

The unceasing activity and the churn of the city continued to wear me out. So I turned to that which endlessly fascinates me: food.

New York is a city of astonishing food. It is the cuisine of everywhere and nowhere (to borrow a phrase from Gary Nabhan's "Coming Home to Eat"). It may not always, and usually isn't, cheap to eat in New York, but with consideration one can eat exceedingly well. You can eat America, and the world. And we tried.

From hot dogs to haute cuisine we ate some of the best food we have ever had. Gumbo. Fried oysters. Sublime pizza. Salumi, formaggia and a delicious glass of white wine in a frenetic Italian marketplace. Southeast Asian-French fusion cuisine, a medley of seafood that had me reeling and almost begging for more. Kati rolls from a biryani cart, the taste of which left me wanting eat twice again. And of course, the hot dogs. One of the most delightful eating experiences for me was chowing down on a hot dog from Papaya King, on East 86th Street not too far away from Central Park. Standing at the counter, looking out the window at the seethe and hiss of life out on the street, something came together for me. The food we ate was a reflection of what makes the city itself. We tasted the food of money and muscle, of thought and labor. We ate of the food that the city wants to be and of the food from the homes of those who make up the city. I had an inkling of what gives New York City its gravity.

The is brutality there, and ugliness, this is true. But there is beauty, there is sustenance, there is life. One has to choose carefully as to what sees as the true heart of the city. As for myself, I cannot say for sure that I could live there (at least, not yet); the noise and the closeness of so many other souls still drains me in ways I find unsettling. But I do know that I want to go back someday. I only touched the surface of its heart, and I need to know truly what lies at its core. I suspect it has something to do with a pleasant summer day, a hot dog at the counter and someone lovely to help me rule this empire of the heart.

02 June 2012

Silver Light So Pretty

Selene smiles on me, her silver radiance coruscating through the leaves of an oak tree near to the yard. The quiet of the night only broken by the muffled laughter and talk from another backyard over yonder. The sky is not quite dark, a darkening blue on its way to indigo and velvet. Selene is a jewel, she is, one I wish I could wear on a chain around my neck.

It is comforting, is it not, this liquid silver light that bathes us all at one time or another? It is reflected fire, containing mystery without the overarching presence of the daytime sun. I left the house this morning in hopes of catching the sun at the right time, down by bridges, trains and the river. Alas, my ignorance of local roadways combined with a special event conspired against me reaching the destination I sought. I spent time driving around in the morning sun, but not walking in it. Not enough, anyway. So I returned home and frittered away a good portion of the day ruminating on dinnertime and what I would eat.

I put aside the notion of light for a few hours, thinking instead of ingredients and menus, entrees and sides. I pored over books on food looking for certain recipes and other ideas. The sun did its thing outside the windows, while the birds frolicked in the grass. Blue jay and starling, robin and sparrow, they all have a fascination for the grass outside the window near my desk. I watched them, I constructed a plan for my culinary adventures, then set out to forage for my eats.

The sun at that point was just background, just another factor in deciding to put on sunglasses or turn on the air conditioning. I was paying very little attention to it as I made the rounds amongst market and store. It grew somewhat warm here today, just enough to crank up the fan and tilt the blinds. The sun and the light slipped from my mind.

Slipped, that is, until I stepped outside this evening, as the sky grew dark and the air began to cool. It was then I saw the moon, or perhaps it saw me. The flash of light through the leaves seemed like a signal, a flare, designed to get my attention. I looked up quickly and a small sound escaped my throat. I drew in a breath. A gentle breeze ruffled my hair as I stood transfixed by the moonlight. It held me still for a few minutes. I lost track of time, my sense of place. I have been so busy lately dealing with change I have had almost no time for contemplation, so this was an old feeling become new.

The silver light, from the crown of Selene, is truly an unearthly beauty. It slowed me down to remind me that it shines on us all. So our hearts are not alone, although miles sometimes separate us. The human beings that we are, woven together by silver light so pretty.

01 June 2012

What Are Words For?

Not much for me to offer right now. Sorry about that, dear readers. The thing that brought me to the keyboard, to write, is that today was the first day of June, 2012. Hardly anything of significance, but I had this nagging anxiety about letting the first day of the new month pass by with nothing to show for it. My very anemic output in May had something to do with this I am sure. I feel itchy and anxious when I have written too little.

Neil Gaiman said something to the effect that if you only write when you are inspired, you might make a decent poet but you won't succeed as novelist. I think a little of that may be at work on me, even though I have never had any serious claim to being a novelist. 

I'd like to be a novelist. The editing exercises I have indulged in this week have planted some doubts in my head as to whether that is possible for me. I have written a few substantial short stories and a lot of really short stories, even a lot of what I guess might be called flash fiction, too. Or maybe mini-stories? The file I have compiled of the short fiction is approaching 120 pages and over 64,000 words, but it is in no way a novel. Or a novella. Or a truly definable group of long short stories.

But I am not done yet. I have another short story I need to edit, and a connected series of them I need to stitch into one longer version. Then there is the memoirs I have collected, mostly related to my experiences of 2003 with the twins and the NICU, in a separate file. Then I need to start on the slice-of-life stuff I have written...

...then the stuff I don't even know how to classify...

The glaring trait that leaped out at me today, in the midst of reading through my back catalog, is that I don't have a specific genre I most closely identify with. It is the jack-of-all-trades phenomenon rearing its head.  So what to do? I observe, I think, I overhear, I experience. I get ideas and then the chatter starts in my head so I write it down. Sometimes it comes out as fiction, sometimes non-fiction, sometimes a blur of the two.

I don't know what to do with it all. This troubles me. Trying to sort it all out is a full-time job on its own. And I still want to write for the sake of writing! Time, please!

Oh, and another thing. I went through every single one of the 906 previous posts of mine, in the last two-and-a-half days. This was to sort out and identify the pure fiction pieces I wanted to collate. What I noticed is that over the course of time from October 2008 to the present is that my fiction output tapered off dramatically through 2011 to now, dwindling in frequency and in length. I don't know if that is a function of decreasing energy or attention span, but it made me uneasy.

What is becoming of the world if I cannot find more good stories in it?

My challenge is to find the inspiration for new stories and the discipline to write them even when I do not feel like writing. I must work at the writing, so the writing will work for me. So it is written, so it must be.