“Did you know that you can save over a thousand dollars by making your own coffee instead of buying it at the coffee shop?” asked the self-help website dedicated to making sure that every man has a shot at the good life if only he is willing live frugally and forgo many pleasures and consider entering into a new asceticism that has the sheen of self-reliance but is actually warmed over common sense that still relies on the generosity of others. Also, you can save hundreds by cleaning lint out of your dryer. Thank you Internet, Sincerely.
I cannot write fiction, because I cannot in good conscience reduce a character to his traits. While waiting in line to purchase Biscoff cookies (Europe’s favorite cookie with coffee!) at a CVS Pharmacy, I watched an excited, likely homeless, black woman look at a stuffed bear that was on sale for Valentine’s Day, and exclaim how it was a million dollar bear, but was actually reasonable and fair, and not marked up as much as it could be. Her accent, diction, demeanor, and appearance fit exactly in with the stock ‘slightly-unhinged-vagrant’ archetype. A good writer of fiction would have no qualms about using her as a character.
But she should not be reduced to those traits. There is more there. But in writing, you can only describe so much, and what isn’t written does not exist. Whitman was large, contained multitudes; we all do. But we cannot grasp them. We exploit our traits, and others. We cannot help but exploit some while ignoring others. Life is fractional.
When I was walking into the office this morning, I caught a whiff of some vanilla and coffee from the outdoor coffee shop, and I was transported back to my freshman year of college, on a cold rainy day when I had no classes, and sat in our apartment in the dark woods, stirring Maxwell House International Café French Vanilla powder into hot microwaved water, and watching a TCM marathon of Aubrey Hepburn movies on a twenty-seven-inch CRT television.
Later, buying lunch at the grocery store, I saw a box of Lemonheads candy on sale for twenty-five cents. I bought it, ate one, and suddenly I was eleven years old, visiting my father’s office, with the scent of singed circuit boards and solder hanging in the air just outside the lab. Innocence lost, and now and then, fleetingly visible.
As I read the online journal of a man I once knew in high school, I think to myself how little I know, and how much I can offer, and how arrogant I am. He has led a difficult life, is depressed, and is giving up drinking, after going on a month-long bender that is really itself the continuation (conclusion? he hopes) of a multi-year bender, which is perhaps itself only one part of a life-long bender. On Facebook I congratulate him for his grasp at sobriety, and suggest cognitive behavioral therapy as something that might be effective in dealing with the depression that seems to lie behind the drinking.
I do this because I believe that cognitive behavioral therapy is a light form of stoicism, which I believe because I once read as much on Wikipedia. I tell myself, and others, that I am stoic, and that the stoicism of Xeno and Epictetus and Aurelius works for me, although it is often hard to practice. But to be honest, while it often works, it does not always work, and it is not particularly hard. Time will pass whatever happens to me, and through detachment I can merge into the world, and accept that, as Pope said, whatever is is right. But then that sentiment’s applicability in a world in which police (without any judicial penalty!) beat homeless people to death, and schools are places of shootings, and, and, and… is perhaps in question.
I don’t think about this, however, as I read his online journal, in which he lays bare his soul and his struggles with depression and alcoholism. I do think that I would like a drink, and when I get home, I walk to our bar-cart, pour myself a bourbon, drink it down, and then pour another. I need to slow my roll I told myself several weeks ago, and I did. But now I am rolling again, moderately.
When I was a young child, I didn’t know you. As I approached adolescence, though, I noticed you, and grew to like you. Things cooled off, slightly, in my teenage years, but then, when I moved away, we really connected. You were my connection back to home. As I entered young-adulthood, I fell entirely for you, and we committed ourselves to each-other, financially, emotionally. Even when I moved to another city, we were as close as two could be. And then, when I moved back home, we were reunited, happily.
And now you say you want to leave. That nothing I can do is worth you staying here, with me.
Well, fuck you and good riddance. Even if you don’t end up leaving, it will never be the same.
She has a round hole in her life,
Into which she has inserted a square-shaped peg.
It leaves gaps along its edges,
And stretches the hole at the corners.
When we are young, we learn,
That the round peg goes in the round hole,
And that the square peg goes in the square hole,
And that the triangle peg goes in the triangle hole,
And on, and on, and on.
When we are young, try as we might,
We cannot make the square peg fit into the round hole,
Or the triangle peg into the square hole,
Or the round peg into the triangle hole.
But as we age, our holes become malleable.
Maybe we can make the square peg fit into the round hole.
It cannot fit precisely, but maybe it doesn’t have to.
An imperfect fit may be better than no fit at all.
Maybe the gaps will forever remain unfilled,
And the vessel will always slowly leak.
Maybe we can live with a leaky vessel.
Though it may be easier for some, than for others.
As I am sitting outside at a picnic table, drinking grenache, I find myself becoming a distant observer. Tonight has been perfect; a blue-collar barbeque in wine country; tri-tip, bread with horseradish, potatoes, beer, wine, margaritas. My wife catches up on life with her high school friend, while at a table 20 feet away another half-dozen people converse.
As I am sitting, I step outside of myself, and look not at my wife, or her friend, or those conversing 20 feet away, but at all of them together, as if they are a tableau of an idyllic evening hung on a wall in a museum. But of course they are not. Because in the center of this scene is an empty vessel, a man who has stepped outside of himself in order to view it all. The picture is imperfect.
A typical tree planting takes more,
even to get a little pine or at the least two hours.
So reads the text of a comment caught in a Spam Filter. What is a typical tree planting, and what is atypical? What does it take more than?
Maybe a typical tree planting takes more than any one person has to offer. For what is a typical tree planting, but a small investment in something that will grow large, eventually. And larger than any one person, typically. In two hours I can begin, but I can never finish.
A little pine will often grow into a large pine, but it will take more than at least two hours.
Has this comment planted a tree in my mind, or in my soul? Will it bear fruit years from now? Will a little pine sprout out of me and into the world? If it does, will it thrive, or will it shrivel?
Whatever the results might be, a typical tree planting takes more.
Let’s Make a List! she says,
Whenever something exists to be done,
Or to be Bought, or to be Sold,
Or to be observed, or to be learned.
We need to Fix the House!
I’ll make a List of House Projects!
We need Groceries!
I’ll make a List of Foods!
We need to be Happier!
I’ll make a List of Ways!
We need to get in Shape!
I’ll make a List of Exercises!
We need go on a Trip!
I’ll make a List of Possible Places!
We need, we need, we need;
I’ll make a List, I’ll make a List, I’ll make a List.
We now have lists. Lists upon lists, and
Lists of lists, and lists of
Everything. And each item crossed off
Only reveals three new additions.
But should all Life be Cataloged and Listed?
All Actions, Possibilities, Potentials, and Inactions?
No! Listless Weekends, Lazy Days, Long Evenings,
These Call Out for the absence of Lists!
Too many Lists impinge all too much,
And in so many ways.
Oh, so many ways… those ways…
Let’s make a List of them!
I saw a motivational poster that read, “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but in her own wings.”
Self reliance is a good thing, but how sad it must be to never abandon yourself to entire delight.