29 July 2018

Still Life

For most of us, we don’t know much about art, beyond being able to say we like what we like. As a consequence it is puzzling to feel we know too much about still life. Not the painting type, unless it be that life imitates art. No, the still life I refer to is ours. Ours in all its inelegant, awkward, and erratically composed non-glory. That is the nutshell version. Luscious fruits in a golden bowl will not be confused with the thin broth of our daily existence.

Whose fault is it that the broth is thin? It can only be ours. It is a poor cook that blames only his pots and pans. Quality of ingredients bears some of the burden, but a thoughtful and careful cook makes the most of what they get. Arrangement is paramount. Whether we cook or paint or compose with our lives it is up to us to maximize the good in our circumstances. By such endeavors the stillness of a life can be made as a snapshot, a slice of time, and not the rule. Stillness can thereby be a temporary rest and not permanent stasis.

This is what we tell ourselves when stillness becomes stasis. Yes, yes, it is not necessarily stillness that should worry us, it is stasis. Stasis can be defined as “the state of equilibrium or inactivity caused by opposing equal forces” and “stagnation in the flow of any of the fluids of the body”. Certainly there are times in all of our lives where either description fits the measure of our days. Consider the pressures generated by the singular matrix of life in which each of us is embedded. The quest for love. Looking for the cure for pain. Freedom from debt , financial or otherwise. How we exhaust ourselves seeking to escape the “sheer hellishness of life”, a phrase so eloquently coined by Jim Harrison in his essay Meals of Peace and Restoration.

Yes, yes, pressures. The external world generates far more of them than any of us want to confront in our lives. Let us not be so hard on ourselves in the rush to keep up. By some lights, we only get one life. By others, we get other chances. Either path could use more kindness to ourselves and others, so that those lives may not fade in stillness.

22 July 2018

Lost Threads

Making a career out of writing about the inability to write seems impossible. Of course, making a career out of merely writing also seems impossible to me, at least. Yet again ideas flit like hummingbirds into the garden of my mind, only to be chased off by the distractions of bad news, social media, and the attendant anxieties. In a world of flashing lights, my mind is a crow: observant, apparently intelligent, and overly fascinated with shiny objects. I am a compliant victim of self-inflicted diffusion.

This diffusion is irritating. The mind unfocused and swirling like a cloud of starlings over a meadow. There is no cure for it, aside from putting everything out of my head and latching on to one thing or thought. In my case, I find that near impossible, too. Most days when I can persuade myself to put down the phone or tablet, the one thing I grab hold of is food. Food and cooking. And thinking about food and cooking. The thing becomes the thought and vice versa.

To give you perspective, one day last week at work I just could not keep my brain on task. Not that the tasks were onerous, mind you, but they were not grabbing my imagination. Consequently, between queuing up music to stream (a bizarre intersection of electronic dance music and stoner rock, mostly) and desperate attempts to get things done, all I could think of was dinner. Specifically, a good sandwich from this local Italian deli I’ve come to favor. They call it a Roman. It is prosciutto, cappicola, and provolone layered on an Italian roll slathered with hot peppers. Yes, it is delicious, and yes, it had the strength to prop me up so I could power through the workday.

This deli has a television mounted up above the main dining space. I don’t typically cotton to such things when I dine out (hello, distraction, my old friend) but the management mercifully keeps the volume down to a background murmur. Easily drowned out when the place is busy. What is interesting is the set is usually tuned to an Italian station. News channel, it looks like. Even when I can hear the station I cannot understand the announcers, an unfortunate side effect of an inability to comprehend the Italian language. Between the ticker at the screen bottom and the video I can usually get a good idea of what is happening. Most of the Italian words and phrases I know are food related, but a few words I can suss out and the context of the video fills in the big gaps. What I do know from watching is that human misbehavior and mayhem are universal constants no matter where one is in the world. It just sounds better in a different language.

Dinner. Tucking into my goal for the day and watching the world burn in Italian triggered something, shunted my lollygagging mind onto a track hidden in the shadows. I had in my hands the luxury of a hefty meal. In my eyes I had a shipload of migrants encountering a navy vessel somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. No stretch to say chances were good those folks had gone without decent food for days or weeks. My reaction surprised me in its strength and duality, of good fortune and humility. For the first time in weeks, strangely, there was a gap in the cloud of depression which plagued me. The breath caught in my throat, brought on by illumination and disquiet. I chewed and chewed watching the humans on the screen. That the world chews us up, and that we cannot survive except by the destruction of something else. These thoughts would not leave my head, disturbing me and comforting me. Can something be melancholic and uplifting simultaneously? The evidence suggest this is possible.

The story changed. The scene changes from desperation on the water to something involving a beautiful woman and some unfortunate escapades in personal turpitude. Or so I gathered from the tableau on the television. My meager ability for translation of Italian had exhausted itself seeing as it was definitely outside the realm of food. The basic gist I was gleaning from the video. Downing the last bits of the sandwich, it came to me that this meal had hit the trifecta of human fascinations of existence. The great rivers of food, death, and sex intertwined into a roiling confluence that swept me away. I leaned back in my chair, belching quietly.

The news was over. The plate pushed aside, crumbs brushed off the shirt, and a few steps back out into the warm summer evening. I could not divine where this big river would flow whilst I search for the lost threads in my life. The important thing is that it carry you into and through experience. Oh, and enjoy every sandwich along the way.

15 July 2018

Plumb The Swell

It may be known by the pelicans, this wreck that lies not far offshore from the low tide line. The spray-flecked birds roost upon the crossbars in a display of maritime avian inscrutability. They seem comfortable perching on the rusty wet iron. Such a tableau piques the interest. It invites one to come investigate, to see what the pelicans see. Who would not want to commune with such creatures, perhaps divine some insight into a life spent in symbiosis with the sea? No one. The swim to the roost should be an easy commute. Yet it is the swell, vitreous and undulate, that holds one back.

Of course the swell makes the sea seem alive. A huge, peculiar beast seeking to swallow those daring enough to depart the safety of the strand. Ripples on the surface bear more than a passing resemblance to scales on a serpent or a dragon. Such an image cannot help but evoke nervousness as a swimmer wades into the surf. The roil and tumble of waves is exhilaration embodied in tidal energy. They curl in a jade opacity, and it is this opacity that strums the nerves with anxiety.

What the eyes cannot see the mind fills in with abandon. In the full light of day, no less. The surf becomes a medieval map. Here there be monsters, maybe, or at least very large beasts of unknown intentions. They stand between desire and fulfillment thereof. The blank space between that to be known and the actual knowing of it. Shipwrecks have a way of grabbing the imagination form an early age. The reality of seeing one in the world is very different than those seen in photographs. There is no filter or remove.

Waves roll. Pelicans rustle and flap. They seem a genial coven of witches, magistrates conferring in the square, as they dip and bob their heads while shuffling on the crossbar. What could be learned from such chatter? How to approach them at their party? If only we could know the witty banter of seabirds, perhaps we could join them at their leisure.

First, we must cross the water. Overcoming fear is the first step. Eventually we must dive into that which cannot be divined beforehand. There is no other way in this life. To connect is to invest, and treasures will not unearth themselves.

08 July 2018

Living the Life Histological: A Sunday Biji


Columba leaned back against the warmth of rough granite. Eyes closed, knobs of rock gently digging into his back, his sleepy mind wandered through a field of memory. It arrived empty handed.  It was nearly lost to history, the last time a visitor had trod the sand and slate before the keeper’s house. In his head the visit had become myth. So began another sere summer in servitude to the light.


Heat begets the melancholy. The turning of the seasons has undergone an inversion from the naive days of adolescence into the bittersweet twilights of adulthood. This has never been more apparent than upon being ambushed by three chords in a summer song that the heart would be happy to never hear again. It is not that the song itself is bad, by some measures, but wistfulness and regret ring hard on ears already full of the same.

The full experience of summer brings understanding of the winter. Your heart understands. It knows the singular jolt to the soul induced by spasming with chill while swathed in the swelter of humid sunlight. It seems impossible, illogical, but there it is. The trigger can be a song, a sound, a smell. Any stimuli, almost. What matters is how such things are woven into the soul. Peculiar combinations of memory and emotion combusting into an incandescent fount of reaction.


Sitcoms and soccer and a little sun and sand. The order reversed itself from what I thought it would be, to become what it was meant to be. We watched the games, critiqued the teams, and then laughed ourselves silly over sitcoms of which she had seen more than I. Of course, it is I who has seen more of life. It is not untrue to say I wish the situation was reversed.


No bones were broken during the fall. The same cannot be said of dignity. Dignity shattered like a glass Christmas ornament in the clutches of a deranged house cat. This sort of thing happens when attention lapses, or is allowed to lapse. Not surprising in this era of distractions, digital and otherwise. People convince themselves they can live without situational awareness, but that is the path to perdition. By our lack of care, we may find ourselves in Hell.

01 July 2018


Squeaky hinge clarion call of the gulls cutting through the syrup of a humid morning. A counterpoint of cicadas hums from the live oaks in the yard. A buzz of life just loud enough to be interesting but not overbearing. The susurrus of the ocean can just be made out over the whirr of traffic, ears leaning into the sound. The shore calls out, cajoling the legs into the short walk over to the waves.

With each step towards the water the body becomes lighter. Years slowly slip away, it feels like. More accurately the anxieties about the years begin to fade into the background, akin to the ghost crabs that skitter away from approaching footsteps to disappear into carefully constructed burrows. They will return. They always do. But for now they are out of view. It is the way of things.

What is eminently important in the moment is the water, its rush and burble of it over toes in the surf. This bracing jade coolness thrills the skin. It invites and entices the body to continue further into the sea. Waves curl in bearing with them their own exhortations to play. The body obeys, all the while under the influence of salt air and marine undulations.

Waves and the electricity of existence. Skin like solar panels absorbing the life of the sun. Rapid shuttling between the frigidarium of the sea and the caldarium of the air. The hands and arms break the crests while the feet revel in a comforting scratchiness of sand and pebbles on the ocean floor. Currents flow up and down, back and forth, through body and earth.

A seventh wave ripples the short horizon. The heart races, the belly flutters witnessing the power of Manannán mac Lir come to carry the body up the shore if not out to sea. Still, do not fret. Let it sweep you up. There are fewer things more affirming of life than taking a delicious tumble into saltwater and seashells, awakening into a maritime heart of gladness.