On Sharing Experiences, and the Experience of Sharing

There’s some way to stop this. It’s not like lightning or earthquakes. We’ve got a bad thing made by men, and by God that’s something we can change.

Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

The three years I spent in college were characterized by the exercise of one theme more than any other: experience. One person, the prevailing idea goes, can never know the experience of another. It would be a fine topic for philosophy, but it was never really examined at that level. Nobody cared to ask what deep, intrinsic features make experience unsharable, which things about the rights of ownership of experience are de rigueur vs, de jure, etc. It was simply posited and accepted that all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual preferences were irrevocably separated by the unbreachable uniqueness of their individual experiences. Individual, but immediately transferable, in uncorrupted perfection, to anyone who shares a skin tone or birth country, gender, etc. For instance, all gay people can immediately know and understand the experience of a single gay person. But no straight person can. Ever. Nobody but a black person can know the experiences of a black person, and all black people are privy to that single one. They can commiserate. Nobody else can. It can be broken down into more restrictive zones, based on birth place, country of origin, etc. It reduces all the way down to neighborhood and even family home, whenever that level of covetousness is required in order to guard against criticism and/or self-examination.

Shutting people off from one another is one of The University’s most refined skills.

But – If I cannot know the experiences of others, then why did I get ill a few weeks ago and turn away after watching the first video of someone being beaten by looters? Why can’t I handle watching the replay of an athlete breaking his leg? Why do those experiences of other people, black or white, male or female, physically sicken me, even through a computer monitor, if I can’t know or understand anything about them? Empathy, maybe. But I’m not sure that counts for much beyond being a nice thing to say.

I thought about this condition of experiential boundaries as much as anything else in college. I thought less about the experience, and more about the unknowability of it. The odd bubble around an individual that prevents me from knowing or understanding his experience, even when it is taught to me, or actually occurring right in front of me. The thing that came to me quickest, most frequently, and has never left me, was this: What are we doing, in college, telling each other that there’s things we can’t know? Things we can’t learn? What else is school for? I am not Pythagoras, but that didn’t prevent me from applying his theorem when I was building my patio. I was able to access and employ the experiences of a man who I am not, because, as a child even, I learned it. If Pythagoras were adhering to the tenets of today’s educated society, he would have copyrighted his theorem and demanded a stop to any construction using right triangles. When he said “you can’t possibly know this,” the absurdity would have been evident.

So – If I cannot know the experiences of others, why do I read? How am I supposed to react when a girl who grew up in poverty in Afghanistan stands at an open mic and reads a poem about her experience, if I can’t know anything about it? Why should she even bother? Why should anyone?

My God, the things that we would miss.

And of course, what of white privilege? After all, the concept of white privilege is the declaration of a perfect knowledge and understanding of the experiences of white people, by people who are not white. It’s an obvious contradiction, sure. And no doubt it’s the kind of rocky coast upon which essay after essay dashes itself without dislodging so much as a pebble. But honestly it isn’t much of an issue for me. I do not believe that my experiences are not commutable. People of all kinds are bright and capable, and can learn what life is like for me – even when they are not me – simply by asking and observing, and really by generally existing in the same world. The world is nothing, if not evidence for everything. I have no call to tell someone that because his skin is not white, he must look dumbly upon me and know only about me that which I am willing to tell him. I believe, in a word, that non-white people can observe and even share in the experiences of white people. All the time, and easily. They can cry “white privilege” and be right or wrong, but not dismissed on the grounds that it’s impossible for them to know.

I just also happen to believe that it works the other way as well.

I arrived here, eventually: any time you can convince someone that there is something he cannot learn, you can make him your slave. You can tell him anything about it that you want. Anything that serves you and silences him, because he is precluded from having any doubt about what you are saying, and strictly confined to doubting what he thinks he knows about it. You can build a prison of lies for him to live in, unable to protest, because his agreement is full submission to your mastery.

All of this language policing, all the shouts of racism and sexism where there is none; all the hoarding and walling-off of experiences and words as things owned and personal; it is about establishing that mastery, and gaining that submission. This is where it is easy to say it’s about power and control, in a sort of grand, state/national/global-level scheme, but I’m not convinced it’s quite so deep for most people. I think that the relationship – the arrangement – is sought as a means to arrive at a simple feeling of personal security, and is only carried further on its own momentum. That’s when it starts to dip into political waters, but I am not a very political person. I think about Steinbeck when I think about politics. I retrace my steps back to the humanity – the person – at the source. About “bad things made by men.” That’s what politics is. And like the tenant squatting in the disappearing top soil in The Grapes of Wrath, who believes that the men who built the bank-machine are still in control of it, I can’t shake the belief that that’s something we can change. I can’t grasp the notion that there’s something out there that is made by us but is beyond us. Run by us but not controlled by us. Made of us, but is not us. It’s logical but naive, sensible but stupid. That’s why it’s so easy to abandon.

So what I mean, somewhat obviously, is that politics is corrupt not because it’s politics and there’s something inherently, mechanically bad about it, but because of the people in it. The individual men and women using foul means to course-correct for personal shortcomings. Not because they are Democrats or Republicans, fascists or communists, but because they are individuals striving for small-scale salves for the wounds they suffer at the hands of their consciences. In short, nobody is setting out to make a city or state or country’s worth of people bow down to their whims. They are setting out to cover the holes in their armor. The things that make them feel small and vulnerable and, undoubtedly worst of all, mediocre. The shouts of injustice and privilege are not really about power – they’re about waking up in the morning feeling personally, individually unimportant, under the control of something outside of and bigger than you, and going to bed that night feeling you’ve done something about it. Like you’ve at least gotten your three dollars a day to drive the tractor, instead of impotently waving your rifle in the window of the farmhouse that the tractor’s running down.

College, by the way, deified the notion of vulnerability, while casting any skepticism to the lions. Once advanced, a person’s expression of vulnerability was never to be doubted or questioned. It was only to be supported and validated. It’s very nice at first, and as long as it is a voluntary revelation of weaknesses that we instinctively try too hard to hide, in almost every instance it’s a perfectly useful, pleasant, kindly and humane response. We can find a world of glad protection, outside of ourselves, when we dare to expose our soft spots. It’s beautiful. But ultimately grievance was made tantamount to vulnerability, so that anyone claiming any degree of victimhood also fell under the protection of the vulnerability tenet – that once uttered, it was not to be disputed. A case of good intentions wreaking havoc on the virtue of honesty. Soon every word is a wound begging for a bandage, and quickly slapping away the hand of any Thomas who dares to doubt. As for the vulnerability itself – it starts to ring shallow and measured, and offered only as a sort of unconscious habit, or tick, never left to be weathered by proofs. It is the robe snapped shut at the threat of the probe, with no soul noble enough to bare flesh and say “put your finger here.”

And more than than that, it’s about something that I’ve talked about several times before. It’s about getting something for nothing. About forgetting that it’s normal to have very little, and it’s exceptional to be affluent. That a life of being low-to-middling in just about every aspect is the common condition for minimal effort, which is how most of us go through life, and that anything above that bar is the result of having done something more. But for some reason we keep believing in the perpetual elevation of the minimum, that we are beaten if we are happy with what we have, and that there is virtue in an increasing gap between merit and reward. That while we shouldn’t be asked to do anything more, we should go on expecting to get something more. Perhaps if the United States is guilty of any injustice, it is guilty of spreading that particular optimism, poisonous as it may be.

All of which is about, of course, one thing: The refusal to accept reality. And most definitely the inability to be satisfied with it. Conflating contentment with submission has driven us to believing in an ethics of tantrum, wherein the intellectual creativity that we should be using for growth and creation is being exhausted in the pursuit of too-clever variations on the theme of “that’s not fair.” Our great capacity for belief is wasted in the notion that we are something that we are not, and that we deserve more than we’ve earned. And most perniciously of all, we believe that a person is defined by what is said about him, rather than what is known about him – the former being shamefully abundant, and the latter being dearly scarce. Any Monday morning cynic can prattle on endlessly about where that belief comes from, how and from whom that arrangement is learned, but that’s just another kind of witch hunt. Our obsession with blame over solution. The belief in progress through punishment. I’ve been a parent too long to believe that works.

Now, with this blockade set up around experiences, we’re able to claim a little territory. We’re able to tell people, at least in this instance, where they are not allowed to go. The tenant gets to stall the tractor and the owners have to get in their closed cars and go back to the bank, and everyone gets to believe for a while longer that it’s just a system. That it’s tractors and cars and banks and not people, until the tractor fills in the well and pulls down the porch and then it’s “were will we go” and “how will we eat” and suddenly it’s human. Now it’s time for a reckoning, because almost all of us want to – but almost none of us will ever get to – be the bank, and we don’t have the strength or courage – much less the capacity for contentment – to go on being the tenant. So we accept the bank’s offer, climb up behind the wheel of the tractor, spread our blameless arms to the horizons, and only have to try to keep the lines straight as we plow our old homes into the dirt. That’s powerful. It feels like getting something without having done much of anything. And that feels good.

It really does. I’m not saying this cynically or sarcastically. I have been in the military and have been on both ends of orders. Both sides of power and impotence. I have been arbitrarily prohibited from countless meaningless activities, even sometimes from speaking at all, for no other reason than that the person standing in front of me had the power to do it. I have also been that person, issuing the orders, the prohibitions, in the most trivial and ridiculous circumstances. And in every case, I enjoyed it. It felt good. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of me, and maybe it isn’t true of everyone, but let’s be honest in an era of equality, there really isn’t all that much difference between any of us. Winning always feels good, and in the absence of conscience, the Pyrrhic Victory doesn’t exist.

The military analogy is somewhat unfaithful, though, because to have the authority to shut someone up means achieving a certain rank, and achievement requires effort. You cannot become a non-commissioned officer without satisfying some number of requirements that require a level of input slightly greater than getting dressed in the morning. You do have to do something in order to get something. If, however, you are launching your authority from a platform of personal experience, claiming your promotions by birthright, then you are demanding to get something not from doing something for it, but simply by being something. It starts to look a lot like privilege, except you objectify and commodify yourself. You “earn” said authority through absolutely nothing more than being born in a certain place, or with a certain set of parents, of a certain skin tone or gender, etc. You are constructing an authority on nothing but sophistry and vain solipsism, making an arrangement in which you attempt to trade skin color or sexual preference for that sweet feeling that comes when you tell someone to shut up, and he has to.


Whenever I begin these things (begrudgingly, believe me, but I am sometimes compelled), I expect that I can do it well. Do it better. I expect that I can present my criticisms in a way that even the people I am criticizing will not take any offense. That they might even walk away thinking “there are some really good points in there.” I know that, first of all, I am not so deep and erudite that I can perform that particular miracle with the degree of success that I wish. Second of all, I know that it is the rarest of souls who takes criticism well, without rancor and resentment, and with a willingness to apply it constructively. The rarest of souls that takes a searching doubt by the wrist and guides the finger to the wound. Just as they teach in college, we don’t even believe that we ought to be criticized in the first place, and should immediately condemn anyone who does it. Irony’s a weird trip.

The third thing I know is that I am not supposed to care. That I am supposed to refuse to tiptoe around anyone’s sensitivities, and to outright dismiss the reactions of anyone who can’t handle what I have to say. That if I am right, I am right, and the cries of the offended are not my problem. If I were a more popular writer, I’d have a dozen comments in an hour telling me to stop being such a baby and not apologize, ever, for “telling it like it is.” But if you think about what I said earlier about politics being made of people, and not necessarily by people who are setting out to rule over whole populations, you can start to see how it gets that way. You start by thinking “I’ll post this essay, and damn anyone who can’t stand reading it,” and then realize that when you carry that attitude through a winning political campaign, you wind up applying that personal philosophy to your governing philosophy, and that’s what tyranny looks like. That’s when man becomes machine.

So think about the girl from Afghanistan reading her poem. I asked why she should bother, if I can’t know anything about growing up poor under a different sun, a different God, a different war. If her experience really is so singular and remote from me that I can do nothing with it beyond being told. The answer is that she should bother for the same reason we all bother: because we want each other to know. Every time we speak about our experiences, we act against the supposition that no one else can know them, and we do it in order to gain something that has, for a change, a grain of nobility. We do it not to win, but to win over. We want understanding every bit as much as we want allies (the latter without the former is a very weak tonic), but are struck by the disquieting feeling that every time we share something personal we lose ownership of it. We want to somehow both give it away and to keep it, to tie it to a string so that we can let it out when we’re feeling lonely, but yank it back when all the sharing feels like dilution, and we’re losing our claim to uniqueness. Without a way to reconcile those needs we’re very confused. Very vulnerable. And generosity of that sort – the giving away of something personal, the the gifting of some part of the soul – is always hardest to do because it means giving up a measure of something you have, to someone who can never care about it as much as you think it deserves.

One of the most worn-out cliches expended in praise of someone is the one that says “if you tell her she can’t do something, she sees it as a challenge and won’t quit until she proves you wrong.” Usually the premise is a lie, anyway – nobody ever said “you can’t do that,” in the first place, but it makes for a much prettier arrangement if we say it, and it is accepted. It sets up conflict, which we absolutely love, because we are at our most excited, most elevated, when we are triumphant. Especially over someone or something that can be shown to be mean, base, or cruel. Over someone who said “you can’t.” We celebrate victory uber alles, but triumph is only possible when there is an opponent, so we keep our lives as full of them as we can.

Well maybe it’s just me, but the fewer opponents I see when I look around, the more harmonious I feel. And maybe it’s just my experience, but the more often I’m told that I can’t know something, the less inclined I am to try, because all my efforts start to feel like submission to manipulation by some lilliputian force, and it becomes very appealing to just get away from that exclusion and stay closest to the things that are most like me. To spend less energy trying to assemble a gossamer affinity for a stated impossibility. In other words, this covetous ownership of experience has the only effect that it possibly could have: it pushes us apart.

The good news is that there isn’t very much that needs to be done to correct any of this. We’re already contradicting our covetousness by sharing our experiences every chance we get. It’s most of what social media is. It’s nearly everything produced in the arts and literature. Everyone’s experiences are everywhere we look, and everywhere we listen. The only thing that needs to be done differently is to cut the string that we keep using to yank them back from the brink of recognition in order to preserve our sense of ownership. The string that’s so clearly labeled “this is mine.” And for those of us being told that we can’t possibly know, it’s our job to reassuringly object. To insist that we can understand, and that we have something of equal value to share in return. As it is, we are doing ourselves the disservice of offering acquiescence in place of understanding, and losing the distinction between familiarity and enforcement. In a world where mutual respect across any discernible boundary is rarely expected, wilful servility is being proffered as an adequate substitute. If we could simply respect each other enough to believe that we can be responsible stewards of one another’s souls, we’d find out how natural an impulse sharing can be.

But still, and importantly, sharing does confront us with disharmony. It taunts us with imbalance. The possibility of giving something away only to watch it be mishandled can be very discouraging. That’s why we make of personal experience such an insular entity, and protect it so dearly. What we fail to realize is that sometimes we will lose a little something of ourselves, but that loss is a valid experience, too, and one that is every bit as sharable as the rest. So we have to just keep going. And if, at the end, we find that the world’s run off with all of our experiences and there’s nothing left of us to share, that’s how we know that we’ve done something right.

So please, tell your stories and read your poems out loud. Just resist the impulse to snap the cover shut when it looks like the audience is getting too close. Let the world take them, and run with them, and bring them back improved.

The PVP Diaries #58

Which Horseman are we up to?

These quotes are getting long. Wait until you see tomorrow’s.

“Oh, how well he understood that for the humble soul of the simple Russian, worn out by toil and grief, and, above all, by everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, there is no stronger need and consolation than to find some holy thing or person, to fall down before him and venerate him.”

– Dostoevsky, The Brothers K

The problem, Fyodor, is that we don’t have time for holiness, so we find some criminal charlatan, and venerate him instead. (He said, in an election year, during race riots.)

The toil and grief:

Not much left to say here. It was interesting to go to the KING 5 news website yesterday to see poor Governor Inslee and the Coronavirus buried deep, deep, and barely visible beneath a pile of violence, fire, and retreating police.

More West Seattle businesses reopened yesterday.

The everlasting sin:

I don’t know what to say here, as far as the police and the rioters go. It’s too obvious to point out the idiocy of running around and burning things, then becoming indignant when the police show up. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the police just left. They’re still around, still mildly present, but they boarded up and abandoned the precinct building. That might have been the smart move. The mature move. I have two children who fight with each other all the time, both of them being irrationally intractable and far more wrong than right, making it obvious to any 3rd party observer that the best course of action is for the smarter, stronger one to shrug, walk off, and let the other have his tantrum.

And it’s all very childish, isn’t it? Every time. The rioters are mad at the cops, so they do things to deliberately draw out the cops. The cops come and do hard, mean things to the rioters because the actions of the rioters demanded it, the rioters point and say “see?” and somehow nobody feels as stupid as they should. Or they actually do, and like all children when they start to feel their own guilt, they double down on the crookedness.

This is a questionable choice, though:

The mayor said previously she hoped the crews would help to clean up the area daily. The city is also maintaining chemical toilets in Cal Anderson and will add a new bank of toilets outside Seattle Central on Broadway in a bid to avoid the health problems that dogged the neighborhood’s Occupy camp nearly a decade ago.

Capitol Hill Seattle

They made this bed. Don’t clean the sheets for them.

The article also said that the rioters had rearranged barricades to block traffic. Cars and trucks are having to turn around. That’s nice, because we all know that businesses create their own goods on Star Trek replicators in the back room, and never have to be supplied by deliveries from the outside.

Perfect opportunity for a siege, if you ask me. Starve ’em out. Their little urban p-patches, fertilized as they are by patchouli and vanity, won’t be near enough to feed them all.

It’s important to note, just once, that equality and justice are the rallying cry, but as with everything else that mobs do, the true driving force behind all of this is the simple fear of not being able to take credit when something significant happens. “I was there.” Doesn’t really matter what that something is. We are driven by fear and loneliness more than anything perhaps. Surfing a human tsunami anonymously as it wipes a city away is preferable to having to say, afterwards, that you only saw it on snapchat. Lots of little nobodies are paddling in a panic out there, because fortifying your house against the flotsam-riddled wave is too much work, and lonely.

Anyway, it’s all fear and momentum now. People feel the advantage building for the other team, so loyalties will be shifting, and an embarrassing sequence of bad political decisions and dangerous policy choices is sure to follow. Votes uber alles. Seattle may get its experiment with real socialism sooner than later. The corporations that pump blood into this city and keep it alive are no doubt already working on their bugout plans. Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, etc. They’re the most generous, philanthropic, socially conscious and justice-oriented entities this city has ever known, but socialism’s about criminalizing the success of others, so it’ll be “off with their heads.” If you don’t think Bezos and Bill are fully prepared to wag a middle finger in the rearview without skipping a corporate beat, you’re more naive than I am. And folks, you read these pages, I’m pretty bad.

The humble soul:

It was my daughter’s last day of 6th grade yesterday. Felt like nothing happened. They had a Zoom class or two, then it was just over. Nothing changes much for me, either. She’s independent – gets herself up and fed in plenty of time for classes, so that was never part of my routine. The school tried to signify things by sending out a few high-energy emails full of great ideas for the summer and commiserations over the “weirdness of these times,” but in the end it’s just a few months without classes. No big to-do. I imagine we’ll all be out and about in a fairly normal, pre-Wuhan way sooner than later, because as hard as sudden homeschooling may have been for people, it at least had structure and requirements and a schedule, to some degree. Summer’s just chaos, and families are going to be clamoring for the progression of recovery phases to continue with as much haste as possible. We need to go from 1.5 to 4, like today.

I cut The Boy’s hair yesterday. I haven’t done that in years. His mom gave him a little trim a few weeks ago, but no kind of a lasting scourge like the one I laid on him in the bathroom, under the humming clippers after school. He’s got wild hair, he does, and I may not be particularly proud of my tonsorial handiwork, but he was perfectly pleased:

“Thanks for giving me a good haircut. I look a lot more like you. I like looking like you.”


Wax your plywood surfboard, Comrade Citizen!

Tumbledown

A Plague Diaries Interlude

When we moved into our house, a little over two years ago,  everything connected to our staircase up to the second floor was a solid half-wall. Except for the one side of it that had some kind of an almost Bavarian, gingerbread house-like vibe to it, with oddly carved slats serving as, presumably, statement-making balusters. It was a strange choice for a focal point, and ugly.  The rest of the stairs from top to bottom were the aforementioned half-walls, bulky drywall constructions that must have been done because it was easier (and cheaper) for the builder, including two short sections that made for a kind of balcony where you could look down to the cramped entryway below (I don’t think it deserves to be called a foh-yay). Early on, we had it all replaced with a more traditional railing – balusters and newel posts and a handrail. It opened things up and improved the aesthetics drastically in the house.

It took no time at all for our 10 week old kitties to find the joy in weaving in and out of the balusters like border collies in an agility competition. Cats are such daredevils, of course, with that treacherous combination of extreme sure-footedness and disturbing insouciance that makes you wonder how they survive. Last night, Princess Wuhannah Rae and Madame Quarantina Maggie were in their ten minute gap between 3 hour naps, pouncing, kicking, biting, scratching, and rolling all over the place, just as the rest of us were quieting down for the night. My wife and The Boy had just laid back to watch Some Good News with John Krasinski, our daughter was in bed with a bottomless stream of dog videos lulling her to sleep from her phone, a few inches from her face, and I was steadily vanishing into my big leather chair in the living room.

 

Thinking about it now, I can’t remember if I heard the squeal before I heard the thud, or if it was the other way around. It hardly matters. I heard them both and I knew right away that the thing we joked about but didn’t believe could happen, happened. From my seat I was closest to her by far, and as soon as I stood up I could see little Rae laid out on the hardwood floor below the second story balcony. She fell ten and a half feet.

Over the past week we had seen them both close to that edge. We just figured that it was an obvious enough peril that even as kittens they would have the sense to keep clear of the drop. But they must have gotten to playing, and forgetting, and that’s how it happened. I ran to her. When I was within a few feet she managed to pick herself up and run awkwardly away from me. By now everyone else was downstairs, too. They had heard the scream, the yowl, the obvious cry for help. For a few minutes we couldn’t find her, then The Boy checked the thin space on top of the craft bin on the bottom shelf of our living room console, and there she was.

We got her out of there, held her gently, and let her down to watch her get around. It looked, sort of, off. But were we just seeing it through our fear and our shock? Was she doing fine but we couldn’t believe it?

No, no that was definitely a stumble. And her sister wanted to play with her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with it. She wouldn’t climb onto anything, much less jump down, and she seemed entirely too willing to just lay down.

My wife dialed up an emergency vet. A technician heard her story and put her on hold for what turned out to be a very long time. I started googling things like “how high of a fall can a cat kitten survive.” Our daughter was pragmatic and observant, touching Rae here and there, checking her responses, and collecting data in her straightforward way. The Boy began by relating – “I know sometimes when I jump from somewhere high and then land, it hurts right around this part of my leg.” He points to a spot just above his ankle. “Maybe it’s the same for her.” Then, anticipating his sister’s reply, “I know she’s a cat and I’m not, but still…” Soon, though, he couldn’t stand thinking about it any longer, and his insuppressible empathy got the best of him. He started a hard, breathless cry that lasted for the next half hour.

My wife was still on hold with the emergency vet. I was getting surprisingly reassuring answers from the internet, which, as always, I took as gospel truth in spite of every bit of common sense telling me to do the opposite. One study was done that looked at cats that had survived five-story falls. Five stories! “How often does this happen,” I had to wonder. There were all manner of anecdotes about cats surviving drops from improbable heights, and walking away like nothing happened.

Eventually the vet got on the line and gave the practical guidance that none of us had the placidity to come up with on our own. “If she seems ok, monitor her tonight. Call your vet in the morning if there are any problems, or if you are still concerned.” Duh. Then also, “Keep an eye out for any signs of respiratory problems.”

That was good for a moment’s worry, but her breathing was normal, and she seemed ok. A little off, but wouldn’t you be? Sure, she seemed ok. I told The Boy, “she seems ok.” He told his mom, “I think she seems ok.” Our daughter told us all, “She’ll be ok.”

My wife carried Rae into the bedroom with her. The boy followed, and I tagged along, the four of us settling in to get back to watching Some (much needed) Good News with John Krasinski. Our Daughter and Maggie came in and joined us a minute later. Rae curled into my wife’s lap and slept, but we were all nervous because she wasn’t purring.  She tends to purr when she’s falling asleep. The Boy pointed to a spot on her midsection. “Usually when she breathes, this part goes up and down.” He moved his finger half an inch. “Now this part is.” Nobody said anything. His heart had discovered the lure of minutiae within a deep worry.

Maggie found a nook behind our pillows and purred enough for the both of them. Enough for all of us.

It was past 11:00 now. The bed was far too crowded for me to sleep, but nobody else had any trouble. I took myself downstairs to sleep on the couch, telling myself all the while that Rae would be just fine. My daughter said so, and she’s never wrong.

At about 5:45 this morning I woke up. I heard my wife come down the stairs, turn on the coffee, and then head back up. I didn’t hear anything else. But I listened. I just laid there and listened and I don’t know how long it took but finally I heard it. Like the fingertips of a hundred hands frantically drumming a desktop, the sound of eight tiny little padded paws tearing all helter-skelter across the hardwood floor – two fully healthy cats enjoying another ten minute gap between three hour naps by pretending to be lions. One of them would say, if only you asked her, that just last night she was in the savanna, lying in wait for a passing water buffalo, when she somehow fell from the highest branch of a tree.

Catnap
Rae has the white face markings. Maggie has the best seat in the house.

 

Summerpeek on the Plagueround

I have plague fatigue. The weekend was brilliant with kids and hoses and dirt and sun. And color!

Sumeryard

85 degrees. Let’s run that Summeryard inventory:

  1. Star spangled paddles
  2. Aluminum baseball bat (pink?)
  3. Hose with selectable nozzle
  4. Scooter
  5. One boxing glove
  6.  Bicycle helmet
  7.  Tiny soccer ball (pink?)(and sparkly?)
  8. Camp chair

Note: no children in sight, being so close to cleanup time.

They invented a game wherein they would heave the boxing glove down one end of the not-so-dead end street, then run past me to retrieve it. I was sitting in the camp chair, facing the street, about midway through their run to the glove, wielding the garden hose. They tried to go and get the glove, manufacturing a series of (let’s face it, pretty weak, if tremendously enjoyable) diversions, schemes, misdirections, and covering maneuvers, in an attempt to not be sprayed by the water. The paddles were shields, the baseball bat was used in an as yet inconclusive role (though it was generally menacingly pointed here and there), and a very pathetic, flimsy, plastic football helmet whose logo had long since worn off was passed from head to head. Each new wearer had high hopes for the helmet’s water repellency, but was ultimately disillusioned in turn. The cries were of the timeless variety:

“He got me!”

“You can’t run out of range!”

“Cover me!”

“No, split up!”

“Oh, who cares? Just spray me, I like it.”

………

You were wondering about the patio dig?

May 7
May 7

IMG_3524 (2)
May 9

Not vastly different, but measured and marked off. I’m in a holding pattern until my gravel and sand get here Wednesday. Fine by me – I need the rest. Ran the final numbers today and will order the actual pavers and wall blocks tomorrow. Finalizing the materials – shapes, colors, etc. has been a somewhat fluid endeavor, depending a bit too much on my own personal considerations of what would make things easiest on the installer (you know, me). Christ, I hope I can pull this off.

………

There has been a smell of gasoline in the air all day. It’s 9:30 pm, finally dark. I’m on the porch, listening to a very still night being lacerated every ten minutes or so by the sound of the next someone dragging trash cans to the street. The fuel smell persists. I keep putting my fingers to my nose to see if it could be me, but it isn’t. I haven’t touched gas at all today. The wind changes, and it goes away. I haven’t heard a ferry.

………

There’s been a void since completing Moby Dick. Animal Farm was just too much like reading the internet, so I knocked it off after about half. Steinbeck’s been good – my God why did nobody ever tell me about The Red Pony? What madness! What guts! Alas, I need something bigger/longer. For two bucks I put The Woman in White on my Kindle. I read a Wilkie Collins book a few years back in college – The Law and the Lady. It was a good read in a class taught by a woman who was a total fangirl for the Victorian/gothic/mystery thing that Collins does. I understand it is a long book – 600 some pages. Just what I need. It may become unwieldy on the Kindle. I don’t like the electric format for anything long. It’s best, anyway, for airplane and night reading.

The Brothers Karamazov is also on the way. I want to do that one in paper.

In the Time of the Virus We’re Not Sick, but…

One of the more common themes of life as a human, at least as I look back over things, is not knowing what to do, think, feel, or say. All the more true in this time of the incipient plague. Like earthquakes, winning the lottery, and getting published, I’ve got that undeniable sense that it will most definitely “never happen to me.” (He said in an election year.) And as the man in the song says:

“the agony and the irony, they’re killing me.”

Whatever that digression was about…

I’m being a little cleaner, more sanitary (what a word) than before, but that doesn’t amount to much. I’m more worried than before, but again…

I do wish that we would go back to calling it a plague. I like what Merriam Webster gives me online; this introduction to misery and despair:

plague
noun
\ ˈplāg \
Definition of plague
(Entry 1 of 2)
1a : a disastrous evil or affliction : calamity
b : a destructively numerous influx or multiplication of a noxious animal : infestation a plague of locusts
2a : an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : pestilence
b : a virulent contagious febrile disease that is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and that occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic forms
— called also black death
3a : a cause of irritation : nuisance
b : a sudden unwelcome outbreak a plague of burglaries

2b sounds suitably scientific, and that’s what we’re all after these days. That’s why we don’t call it a plague. We call it a what?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

We call it an epidemic. Now that’s science-y! Our saviors can do something about that! Scientists: the people who settle disputes in an indisputable manner, who answer questions with unquestionable answers, and are never to be doubted (except when it comes to food and biological sex; then suddenly they’re a bunch of Keystone Khemists who have no business telling us anything). Test tubes, beakers, swabs, and acronyms! An epidemic doesn’t stand a chance.

But then 2b dons its plague doctor mask, and descends upon us with the “black death.”

In which we think of Artifacts and potential Evocations - Onyx Path Forums

Call it the black death instead of an epidemic and things seem pretty hopeless, don’t they? I mean, just add it to definition 1a up there: “Evil.” “Calamity.” We don’t have labs for evil and calamity, much less black death.  We do have art, though:

Church Records Could Identify an Ancient Roman Plague - The Atlantic
Jules-Élie Delaunay’s “Plague in Rome” (1869)

And there’s literature, from Defoe to Camus, and a little work you may have heard of that’s called, in some circles, The Bible ((science has declared a hyperlink to be unnecessary in the case of The Bible (A little joke that I’m now recognizing has substantial depth to be explored, depending on your sleep and electrolyte levels this soon after DST clock changing)).

All of which is to say that I don’t know what I am saying, or what I want to say, or how to thnk or feel about it all. We have a germaphobe in the house already, so there hasn’t been much of an uptick in the previously sensible sanitation habits (though between me and the kids, our germaphobe hardly stands a chance).  And I find myself reading King County Health reports very selectively, for the information that helps me to not be concerned – all the dying people are old, they all came from the same care center, etc. There’s not much of a reason to give it any thought at all, as long as I do it like that.

I barely remember the swine flu or the bird flu, which are much cooler names, BTW, than Coronavirus, but there’s probably something worth examining in a society’s tendencies when naming it’s disasters – do we shoot for sensationalism? Gravitas? Humo(u)r? (our ancestors would certainly have much to say about the humors in the time of a plague).  I do know that we fancy ourselves a very intellectual culture and society here in the US, and “unseriousness” is frowned very seriously upon – he said, yet again, in an election year.

And I have to say, though I’m sure it’s just coming from the macabre child that will not release its hold on my soul, that I envy a society that called its affliction something so dour, dire, and distraught as “The Black Death.” That’s beautiful. Succinct. I don’t think we’d ever do that. I already note how unwilling people are to joke about this outbreak, and resistance to humor is another mark of a society that overvalues intellectualism amidst a dearth of it. Comedians are brilliant, and geniuses tell huge jokes. But mediocrity (and we are mediocre, on average – definitions and all that) – mediocrity poses and postures, and adopts a serious tone, because it adapts poorly to things that stray too far from the line it clings to. Mediocrity hides best when it moves least, and there’s nothing more stagnant than humorlessness.

I had no idea I was going to go there. But here I am, talking about fear and humorlessness in the time of plague, and in an election year, blah blah. Of course it’s somewhat overserious of me to draw that comparison at all, which fact brings swimming back to me what the man said in the song, and what I already laid out above:

“the agony and the irony, they’re killing me.”

Especially the irony.

 

The Dirty Geese

Any Season’ll Do

A few weeks ago, the family and I took a much needed but ill-timed (weather-wise) trip to Camano Island for the weekend. February is no time to head up the Washington coast. That wind. If you live in the PNW, you know that wind. We couldn’t do a lot. But my wife and I did get to take a good walk halfway across a vast bay that went full dry when the tide went out. It was clear from the pieces of driftwood that were still visible when the tide came back in, that we could probably have walked across it wet, too. Aside from that, the weather kept us mostly indoors. It was a nice rental, with a telescope for eagle spotting, and we did alright. Even the kids.

On a local’s advice we made a short drive from there up to La Conner. We were told we might see some snow geese on the drive.  Swans, too, but mostly geese. And we did. One of us pointed out the window to a field next a barn and said “She was right. Geese.” The wife and I shrugged. The kids shrugged. Our sharp black Mercedes shrugged and sped along the Pioneer Highway. And for a few minutes we saw a few more – dozen here, dozen there. “I think that one’s a swan.” But then we turned West onto Fir Island Road.

In the distance we could definitely make out a vague brightening, groundward, inverting the natural order of a Northwest winter, where the light we wait for – we pause for, we die for – is the elusive and short-lived sunbreak. The sky was far too thick to hope for that, but the dark earth of those coastal farms held an entirely unexpected thrill. We drove on and slowed so that my wife could avoid the cars pulled half-off the narrow road while also trying to see what they and their tri-pod mounted cameras were there for. We finally put two German wheels in a bar ditch and looked. Someone must have said “wow,” because it was the only word that could have made any sense.  The road was a new beach, and we had pulled off of it to look at a whole new ocean – this one snow white and downy, the furtive waves of a fallow field covered in snow geese. Thousands upon thousands of them. I believe it’s Carver, maybe Ford (maybe neither) who has a brilliant short story that takes place on a hunt during the height of the snow goose migration in Washington. Richard Ford it is, the story is Communist:

“I put down my gun and on my hands and knees crawled up the earthwork through the wheatgrass and thistle until I could see down to the lake and see the geese. And they were there, like a white bandage laid on the water, wide and long and continuous, a white expanse of snow geese, seventy yards from me, on the bank, but stretching onto the lake, which was large itself – a half mile across, with thick tules in the far side and wild plums farther and the blue mountain behind them”

Our geese were in a muddy field, and with Ford in mind I knew I wanted to ignore the fact that the pure white birds were hiding filthy undersides. This was no time for that. I don’t know if I said anything to my family then about that story – I know I remembered it right away and I hope that I said something. Let them know. Let them in. The world gets too big at a time like that, and a man shouldn’t be alone in it.

We looked for a while. There’s nothing ese to do about it.  I hoped someone would do something else – honk a horn, sneeze, fire a gun – that would make the whole thing lift off. Ford called it a “raft,” but of course his were on the water. I wanted to see if they would all take off at once, or if it might start gradually from one end and curl fantastically off the ground like a giant vegetable peeler scraping off a skin of soap. Or maybe it would be random and messy – disappointing. We didn’t find out.

We moved on to La Conner. Cute, quaint, all that stuff. It has the mildly interesting Rainbow Bridge. We spent a good couple of hours hiding out from the rain in curio shops and galleries. Bought some things we didn’t need, and had a grand finale in a candy store where the proprietors were wonderful with the kids. Walked out of there with way too much chocolate (I’m a sucker for a classic turtle – milk chocolate, caramel, and good, old-fashioned peanuts). The kids ate ice cream in the cold and rain. We went back to the car.

On the return trip the geese were still there, but I think some had left. Or maybe it was just that we’d already had our first time, and it would never look like that to us again. A lot of them were flying, having robbed us of the sight of the take-off that I wanted so badly. One of them, in a display of trite symbolism that could only disappoint, shat a great wad of stewed grasses onto the hood of the Mercedes. This is its own story, I thought, and I wondered if Richard Ford’s characters could drive their Nash Ambassador back out to that lake for a second run, and still pull their triggers:

“I don’t know why I shoot ’em. They’re so beautiful.” He looked at me.
“I don’t know either,” I said.
“Maybe there’s nothing else to do with them.” Glen stared at the goose again and shook his head. “Maybe this is exactly what they’re put on earth for.”
I did not know what to say because I did not know what he could mean by that, though what I felt was embarrassment at the great number of geese there were, and a dulled feeling like a hunger because the shooting had stopped and it was over for me now.

And to think, there was a moment in there when I wondered why we went.

 

 

Unabashed thanks to Gerard at American Digest. For more and better PNW tavelogueing, see his The Olympic Peninsula at the Vernal Equinox

The Hordes of the Invisible

It’s all leading to a mass grave of chickens and eggs.

I get a little thrown sometimes when I realize that I don’t know what things are like anywhere else. I don’t know the vibe in New York or the gestalt in Topeka. I don’t know what Floridians see when they walk down the street. I just don’t know much about how people measure their worlds outside of my own, and have to guard against the tendency to assume that what I know about my home applies everywhere.

I do know what it’s like here. And it’s strange. Seattle. It’s like touching something and not knowing right away whether it’s absolutely searingly hot, or skin-shatteringly cold, because there’s hints of both in the pain. We’re awash in activism. Utterly drowning in it. There isn’t a shop window that isn’t plastered with flyers for this march or that proclamation or that protest. Every author reading at every “local” bookstore – nota bene: everything is local, people. Absolutely everything. it only depends on where you’re standing – every reading is this cultural expression or that identity group’s response to something, or a statement of “this is me climbing proudly out of this miserable social/cultural prison.” In every instance it is billed, at least implicitly, in its subtext, as an exception. A rare opportunity. A victory over something. But you can’t have victory without competition, and you can’t have competition without an opponent, and so without realizing it, the movement itself ossifies the necessity of the opponent.

If you’re still listening to the subtext, you know that here it says that none who suffer do so as a result of their own failings. It is that whatever the nature of their suffering may have been – “invisibility” is a popular one, as well as the closely-related “marginalization,” and of course any word  with “phobia” trailing from its backside like some undigested serpent that can never quite be pinched free – whatever the suffering, these are people who not only are/were down, but were put there, intentionally and perniciously, and are now rising up in spite of “the dominant culture’s” efforts to keep them down. But this raises a question or two for me:

1. Who is the dominant culture?

As far as I can tell, they are. The sign makers, the book writers, the painters and poets. They’re everywhere. But if their claim is that they are resisting the dominant culture, who is it that’s putting them down? In light of their inescapable pervasiveness and influence, are they even down at all? If so, who is trying to keep them there?  Not the athletes and CEO’s – they’re all on board and applauding. They’re hosting fundraisers and lending their celebrity to “awareness.” (Show me, by the way, the unaware. There must be an odd colony of them somewhere that eats garden slugs and are too cut off from civilization to have heard of sexism or Old White Males or Macklemore). Corporations have more people in subcommittees working on fair hiring and balancing corporate skin tones than they have working on their actual bottom lines. Are the oppressors the shopkeepers and their customers, who block out the sun with their storefront virtue signals, and curse the planet-eating Republicans over cupcakes as they wipe pureed kale from their baby’s Che Guevara onesie? Can’t be the teachers and the principals (sorry “Heads of School,” as we can’t say “principal” anymore, and I honestly don’t know why), because they’re as helpful as can be. They organize days for students to leave school to protest climate and corporations (I always thought the protest was supposed to reflect the issue being protested. When I skipped classes, it was to protest school), they encourage multicultural literature and literacy, and are leading the way on efforts for diversity and inclusion. And of course the media and the universities, as well as the music and movie industry, they’re so obviously on the right side of this thing that I don’t need to say any more about them.

In short, every single representation of power and influence of any kind, is dominated by the spirit of charity, inclusion, and diversity. They are populated, organized, and run by people of, to quote Roger Waters, “every race, creed, color, tint, or hue.” So where are these oppressors? If the so-called “invisible” are not the dominant culture, then why are they the only ones I can see?

2. Given all this – given the undeniable momentum and power of movements towards fairness and righteousness and equality, given the ubiquity of this movement in every single aspect and institution of this city, how is it possible that it still feels like such an awful, intolerant, racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-indigenous (sorry if I missed anyone) hell hole of a city?

The answer to that is actually pretty simple. The misery, the injustice, doesn’t exist in spite of all the social justice activism, it exists because of it. And truthfully, as my own subtext from the preceding paragraphs indicates, it doesn’t actually exist at all. The world, this city, as I walk around in it, is simply not in its actions a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic place. But my God it feels like it, and the activists (or the media, but I repeat myself) won’t have it any other way. What does exist, in a fetid curtain as thick as the sad salmon hauled from the poison Duwamish, is the idea of injustice. The haunting spectre of it. And they have all – high and low, black and white, gay and straight, on and on – risen up in their holy alliance against it, not realizing how adept they have been, all the while, at creating their own need for it. Students are rewarded for writing about it. They are given extra credit for attending poetry readings about it. Their social capital portfolios are almost wholly dependent upon the growth of it. Resist and you’re in. Don’t and you’re dead. It’s a sinister little perpetual motion machine, eating from its own toilet to survive, and knowing on some instinctive, subconscious (dare I say invisible?) level, that achieving its stated purpose would only eliminate its only fuel source.

How oppressed they would feel if someone took their oppressors away!

So no, maybe I don’t know what the rest of the world, or the country, or even the state of Washington looks like. But I do know Seattle. I’m in it on several levels every day. It’s a much nicer, much friendlier, much fairer place individually than the collective seems to want me or anyone else to notice. But I do notice. I certainly hope more people begin to as well. Because all this rallying towards disharmony creates the sensory confusion I mentioned in the beginning. Too hot or too cold? It’s impossible to know, because it encourages an ever-deepening degree of personal guardedness that prevents anyone from staying close enough to each other to find out.

Moon-Cooled

Don’t get lost! But do!

Here’s another for the Morocco collection (sum total now 2 complete pieces, but a few more in draft form). Allison wrote a beautiful poem about Morocco and published it yesterday. Something she rarely does. I say only this about that: the first time you click that “submit” button is the by far the hardest. After that it’s just another thing that you do. Much like reading poems to an audience. The first time was brutal. The next couple were easier, and now that I have a few more that I’m comfortable with, I’ll pop out sometime soon and use them in an open mic somewhere.

You’ll read in Allison’s poem the impact that Morocco made on her, emotionally and spiritually and personally. I cannot say otherwise for myself. Something about my time there went far deeper than research, than mere information and entertainment and box-checking. And while much of that can be attributed to the country, the people, and our hosts, certainly as much comes from the fact that I did not enter Morocco defensively or skeptically. As I do at home with my family, I gave myself to Morocco, accepted it and processed it, and did not begrudge it for its eccentricities or the many moments of hesitation it presented. HAd I done otherwise, I culd not have written this poem, my first ever villanelle:

IMG_2978

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But First

Love, lead me through Moroccan streets
where the city burns behind its walls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that gilds the dates on every tree
and lights my throat’s mosaic halls.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where my shadow squats beneath my feet
when the muezzin melts the merchants’ stalls
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet

that clings to bees on lacquered sweets
whose nectar drips a torpid crawl.
Love, lead me through Moroccan streets

to where old men call through Berber teeth
while the Moorish sun burns over all
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

I’ve come to meet the Amazigh!
I’ve come to climb the Atlas wall!
But first, love, lead me through Moroccan streets
with a flame moon-cooled and honey-sweet.

Tilting Loveward

Every Dog Deserves a Eulogy

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If there is anything that is guaranteed in life, it is that we will love things that are not good for us. Few loves are ever a pure win. Some are calamitous. Most are in between, and most of those lean significantly towards the good. Tilting loveward is our most incorruptible instinct. It is the one thing we do that always moves in the same direction as God, so it is the movement that makes us both most human and most divine.

It is why we love our dogs, so often doing so not because of them, but in spite of them. The strife and inconvenience that they bring to our lives almost immediately outweigh the joy: the ruined rugs and floors; the shoes, furniture and walls chewed to pieces; the holes in the yard and the fence, the running away. The vet bills. The apologies to the neighbors and the boarding expenses when we go on vacation (if we still take vacations, now that we have a dog). The piles of dog-specific clutter that enters our homes and disrupts our lives from deep down in the Feng all the way up to the shui. And unless you are a full time hunter or a sled driver in the Yukon, the return we receive on this investment in chaos is rarely more than a wagging tail and yet another body that we didn’t invite into our bed but is there anyway.

Yet for all that, we look one time at some oversized paws, get nipped by those tiny piranha puppy teeth, and smell that unbelievably sweet vanilla-maple perfume down in their downy coats, and we tilt ever harder loveward.

The years go on and some of the early worries vanish, along with the amount of free space left on the bed. They are years on cruise control when the young dog mostly behaves and our lives are are an often mechanical, sometimes poetic routine. “This is why I got a dog,” we say and mean it because her coat is rich and full and as she naps after hours of running in the park her breaths come easy and even. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to invite friends over. We want people around us, and our dog. We want to show off a little.

The years continue to go on and some of the early worries start to return, along with the amount of free space on the bed because she can’t get up there anymore. We tap the brakes and adjust our speed more frequently. “It is difficult to have a dog,” we say and mean it because the mature dog has some new dietary needs and her coat is thinning and her face is turning white and as she naps after a short walk down the hill to the mailbox her breaths come with a slight wheeze and catch. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to sleep, too. We want to be alone with our thoughts, and our dog. We want to cry a little.

So yes, it becomes increasingly difficult to say, honestly, that we’re happy we have a dog. Yet for all the woes that I could easily catalog over the 15 years of a tumultuous life with our dear Lucy, I find us undeniably diminished by her departure. She died yesterday, medically induced. It was a decision we made based on the fact that for however much longer she might go on, every single day would be both her best day remaining, and also worse than the one before. We did it for her. We did it to let her go out on the highest note she had left.

We could have had it done at home, but at the vet she was well known and even better loved. We sat with her there on the floor and as the sedatives took effect the whole building seemed to sag with her muscles. She worked her way at first voraciously through the pile of treats that the doctor set before her. Then she forgot them, rested her chin on the blanket, and let her tongue hang comically and adorably from the front of her mouth. The rest was done with a somehow tender clinical ease, by way of two more injections, and she faded gently out from there without so much as the tiniest twitch or final significant breath. She was just still there – only not – and there was no longer anything we could ask of her. That, I suppose, is the final gift: that she no longer has to wonder how to make us happy.

She could have gone on for a while, survivor that she was. As a pup she was bitten in the face by a rattlesnake and barely flinched. I, on the other hand, drove so fast and recklessly to the animal hospital in a rented roller skate of a car that news helicopters were being scrambled.  Years later, the new dog we got to be her companion wound up turning on her and attacking her brutally several times. We found that dog a new home (literally – not in an “off to live on a farm” kind of way). She had food allergies and skin conditions and more medical issues than I can list. But in the end there was always Lucy, waddling bow-legged along and pawing her nose at a world that seemed bent on holding her back. She kept going.

But the joy was gone for her. She really just slept through any stretch of time in which she had no reasonable hope for food. She followed us to bed but could barely manage the stairs. Life was naught but compulsion and habit, and was only getting worse, so we let her finally get off those aching legs of hers forever.

We remember her best, perhaps, driven for years by a steroid imbalance that left her with an improbably large liver and a literally insatiable hunger for food, rushing to the kitchen whenever she heard the dishwasher open so she could scrounge up any scraps she could reach. She lived to eat, and she died among food.

I only ask her to please, just once, make sure to poop in God’s living room on Roomba day. My children can attest that it might be the only time you ever get to hear Him swear.

In her life and again in her death, Lucy tilts us loveward.

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When it Works, it Really Works

A bright, tiny poem at the end of some sappy reminiscing. Have a smile on me.

I followed, yesterday, the link to someone who liked my poem. It landed me at a blog called Reowr, a lively and fun place of poetry that I had never visited or heard of before. The author is talented and sincere, and this is what I used to love about the internet.

Eight or more years ago I blogged regularly, almost daily. Through the odd tentacles and tendrils of the world wide web, I made a whole bunch of friends. I never even knew what some of them looked like, how old they were. I only ever met one of them in person, and I don’t think I measured up in real life to what I was in writing, so we never met again. He was (and still is) a big fish out there. At my heyday I was barely a tadpole.

But we all left comments for each other at our blogs, exchanged emails when something called for it, and my family even got a Christmas card from one of them. For me, for a long time, the internet was good.

They’re all gone now. At least gone from me. Their websites are shuttered or stagnant, probably in a lot of cases from the sheer fatigue of keeping up, emotionally, with the too often sinister turns that personal exposure on the internet can take. It’s hard, oddly, to be a public nobody. One of them, a curmudgeonly but generous and compassionate Air Force retiree (and regrettable Red Wings fan) named Buck, died several years ago. I regret not finding out in time to make it to his funeral.

Yesterday I got a little glimmer of that good side of the internet when Cubby, the proprietor and author of the aforementioned Reowr decided she liked my poem, and I, as I always do, decided to go look at her blog. The first poem made me interested in reading a second one, and that’s something. There was a section on her site called “challenges,” and for the most recent one she supplied two lines to a poem and said “finish this.” I was happy to see something that seemed motivated only by joy and creativity, so I, as I almost never do, decided to accept the challenge. So did a whole bunch of other people. Poetry is always fun, but sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes poetry is cotton candy and high fives and a place where, finally, I don’t hesitate for a second to use exclamation points.

The first two lines are the ones she wrote, the rest is mine:

Dreams like water-colored paintings
Wash away when days are raining
But, the puddles!
My, the puddles!
The muddled, colored, splashable puddles!
I bootbrush the pavement
with the dream-streaky puddles!