This same gentleman had endeared me somewhat to his blog, last November, when he described his daughters at about age five and six, kneeling close to the screen of the television, saying, "I like this one..." one and then the other.
I have seen that happen with children I have cared for, and when you are very young it means nothing (somewhat like the antics of your siblings when you are all kids.) But even at twenty eight years old, I heard in the little girls I was watching, as they conjured what words they could, that desire to mark the world with their profession that some things make you feel kinda great.
I could go on and on, about that, and really would like to, but the feelings my readers have are the better version, of whatever I might say.
Of course, feeling great, isn't what the father was writing about. In fact it is extremely interesting to me how feeling bad, and other improvisations of such feelings, guides and conjures, folds and massages our perspectives. Sometimes so dramatically that a matter of some small significance (even insecurity) can become one of your more appreciated qualities in your life.
This writing gentleman, who may or may not read these words (I wrote him a year ago, and he has written me back that he read some of my stuff, but his interests are very much outside of my own in most ways, so...) will go nameless. The lessons I have learned from his writing about himself, aren't so particular in content, and can be found in the lives of almost anyone. Mostly he interests me because he comes from one sort of world, in California. And he has adopted a number of different camps in our pluralistic society to abide by; some of them antagonistic to others, and some of them that seem to stand in for expressions that his civic and religious bearing would not otherwise allow him to make. Like most people, any label really doesn't describe him. But he cultivates an appearance that does not completely honor that fact. He is normal, in that sense (yet very interesting) and that's why I chose him to discuss.
But first a shaggy dog story (owed, in a sense to Issac Asimov...)
When I first came to Bloomington, I lived in my car. It was not a particularly romantic decision, or experience, though I was safer than I had been in Indianapolis, and somewhat taken by a sense that I was surrounded by people who would naturally (in prejudice) regard me as a number of things that I could choose, or refuse, to exemplify. Such is the privilege of some folks in certain places.
I generally chose to exemplify. Not to the satisfaction of, say, the Rotary Club. But certainly to the satisfaction of the sort of people or persons that are attracted to this town.
One day I was driving about and saw a restaurant/ bar with outdoor seating, and parked my car and entered the place and ordered a beer. I went outside to the cheap plastic furniture and sunlight, and sat with the beer and stared out at the trees. Shortly, a huge truck pulled in to the parking lot (which like many in my area, is at a steep incline, giving the truck an even bigger entrance into my imagination.) I entertained the usual thoughts about this gleaming impostor into my virtuous journey. I know so much better than this guy, I thought. Or rather, felt.
The reason for the size of the truck became abundantly clear, when, a giant of a man, wearing the usual apparatus of midwestern middle aged men, withdrew from the apparently crowded confines of his cab. Just before I turned my gaze elsewhere so as not to add to the instances this truck driving gentleman can tally that normally shaped people have realigned his normal brain, to his lack of normalcy, I couldn't help but notice, in one of his two liter sized hands he cradled a tiny, white dog.
"Well," I thought, "at least I can stare at the dog with impunity." I took a sip of beer.
As the little white dog directed his anthropomorphic chariot into the bar, I couldn't help but notice the tiny thing (I have never really liked little dogs. Mostly I am impressed that they have convinced scientists that they come from wolves way back. More on all that later.) didn't like me so much. It was making a little sneering sound, that sort of echoed out of the instrument of the big man's hand, and was impressively suggestive of the dogs displeasure at my existence. I was a bit baffled, knowing as I do, how lacking that little creature is in virtue, where it got the same idea about me. But, then I noticed something really beautiful. Something freakishly human, and yet otherworldly in what it suggested to me.
As the fluffy white demon sneered louder and louder, in passing me to enter the bar, the look on the man's face was cracking ever so subtly, closer and closer to a grin. That little dog was saying what, perhaps, the gentleman would never.
It occurred to me for the first time how lovely it must be to take the four legged cotton ball to the park, and watch it frolick about for a time, then trot up to some cretinous fellow and piss on his foot. The giant could run up to the person and apologize profusely, his bellows of sorrow just pitiful enough to deny him the victims rage. His size wouldn't hurt either. But the cretinous fellow could only wring his shoe out when he got home, and shake his head for the thousandth time on why it is that in America we've never domesticated dogs for real. They aren't our best friends (obviously.) They are agents of our id. Or happy coconspirators, taking the blame, and with no property to be confiscated by the arbiters of justice. And their owners? They must know they are drugged in the opiate of these uncivilized carnivores, right?
Well, what was merely a wonderful night of lovemaking with your lover or wife, will become in time (you will profess to yourself or others or both) your reason for living. If she gets pregnant that is. And you will not be able to remind yourself of the lack of smooth transition from the nihilism of your ecstatic sexual shuddering, to the full embrace of the overwhelming implications of a baby's cry. And yet you do not pace the floor of your life, wringing your hands at the fickle aims of your nature. Everybody's got their reasons. You grew up, settled down, became a responsible adult. And it's hardly your fault that your method of achieving this was through the portal of karmic bliss. And it had been awhile.
There is nothing too disturbing about the manner in which we achieve our greatest treasures. That we call them achievements speaks to the sacred nature of the thing. And not everything in life, even if it is cruelly expensive, yields to the clever formulae of economics, or the rational order that our memory sets up into like concrete. Our mythologies and excuses are gigantic blessings, as anyone who's spent time in the company of people who are bereft of them knows.
The big man's dog may simply, like a farm animal caught flagrante delicto while chewing its cud, been indifferent, or saying hello. But I have to wonder then, on the face of the man, why the smile?
The above may be seen (as I am routinely accused of in the eyes of folks who understandably could care less about my musings) mighty unrelated, or at best tangential to the father looking at his daughters pointing at ponies. When we gaze with our minds at the father, our reminiscence is of wholesome (and what does that word mean, in its shape and form?) and healthy, beautiful archetypal things. Truth and beauty and innocence and elegy. And yet, that father is riddled with cruelties, some merely spraying back out of him, like an electrical shock looking for the ground, due to his receiving poor treatment like all of us. And some, confections of his own devising, little scribbles of transgressive graffiti, his message that this world is no utopia. "You don't understand," a tag common to the teenager, are words undignified when used by a grown man. But it all means the same thing, when a person doesn't just want, but requires the world to be recognized by those around them, as a place of trickery, that can't be trusted. And while there are many options, to avoid a life based on such pathos, it doesn't help much that anger and pleading, and defiance in the hurt eyes of the sufferer are based more or less in the reliable facts of life. Just one of the reasons why love, when applied (or really by the wise, shared) to a deserving soul, isn't very wordy at all. This is painful to neurotics like me, who would babble even when eros is in the room, were I not playfully told to shut up.
I think of that late scene in the play/movie "W;t" where the well respected professor of English is visited whilst on her deathbed from Cancer, by a beloved student. The student enters her room, and pauses, as the doorway to grief seizes all of us, and sits on a bed across from her, and takes out a book of what he knows are her favorite poems. As he begins to read them, the professor feels tears in her eyes and cry's, "Please, no. No... not now." And holds an arm out to her old (only?) friend/student. Her friend runs up to her, embraces her, and climbs into her deathbed to share a faculty for something we learn from no one. Language is our greatest technology (for Christ sake it's in my head and how I communicate to my self! Might be sort of different then a hammer, one would think.) But it isn't even a gift next to love. And that is why I feel if not despair at my failures to love my siblings and friends properly, then at least a denting in the hubris that it was my failure to allow inside my mind. And like a virus, give birth to in my life.
Funny thing really. Couldn't tell you the number of times I have seen people pass through the aura of other folks, walk right up next to the whole drama of another persons life, and simply be completely unaffected by the other person. They probably would tell you, "I don't know that person." Couldn't of said it better myself.
And then, a few years later, the same person, is lying on their couch, or driving their car, or talking to their baldheaded friend, and what do you know? They are experiencing what they used to be blind to. And it really is so different than they ever realized. I mean, when something is really powerfully impressive it could certainly be said to be, "like it's in a movie or something." But this example, for the person, this little slice of life they are leading, ain't like the movies at all. Like the kid said (probably puppeting Mr. Speilberg) in E.T., "Frank, this is reality." Our distressed friend could be said to have that as the subtext of every word they utter till the spell lifts.
These painful spells, and waverings into and out of empathic mastery, are intensely interesting to me. I know people who seem like respectable folks in every way, and yet are completely threatened by a homeless old woman, or a person with a perpetual cloud over their crabby head. Certain folks outside the norm, simply give them the willies or something.
They say that you can see in an MRI (well, not exactly an MRI, but I can't remember the device used in conjunction to look at peoples brains. So...) a patterning of electrical activity in peoples brains that were it to be given a description in terms of their emotional posture, would fit the term "distancing."
I myself have been plagued my entire life with a nearly daily realization that I employ vicious preferences, and cut the strings of the "marionettes" I encounter that I would rather not see so vividly. And somewhat worse (given that it can't be categorized as "human nature" by my friends, family and mentors) I have failed to "notice" or take notice, or respond to the lives of family members when a more active witnessing of them was recommended by common sense: or simply love. I have sat on the sidelines and simply lived as if nothing could be done for my siblings at times, when the opposite is true. Even as my financial health dramatically improved, I would find my emotions charged enormously by media products like the New York Times or a book, or friendship, and seek with expectation nothing from anyone in my family save my parents. I am not proud of this failure. In fact it is something I am desperate to address. But no matter how I address it, nothing can remove its stark reminder to me of the hypocrisy that my thoughts about the behavior of others represents. So often for me, in my life, I could not see, until shame grabbed hold of me. Luckily, I suppose, there has been no want for shame in this life.