“I hate watching the sunrise,” she said, her face turned away from me, the first shades of blue and yellow, the coming day taunting and teasing. “I know, beauty, blah blah, and new beginnings. There are none. All I see is another reminder. I don’t need another reminder.”
She stood up, grabbing a fist full of earth as she did. Pure elegance in each three lithe steps forward as she threw the sand and rocks towards the sky, unwinding cold and forceful, like a can of compressed air, all hissing. “You’re gone,” her voice slipping quiet, almost muffled, like my ears were plugged after swimming. “I’m alone, and every morning does nothing but offer me another day of it.”
I said nothing, only watched from my secret place, the outline of my form a puzzle on the rocks and trees. She came here every predawn, and each morning I waited for her in the shimmering gray, hoping that this time, maybe the light wouldn’t chase me away.
As a writer, I want to convey something to an audience. Some ideas are less concrete than others, some are explicit while others can be difficult to pin down. It is why I love this blog. I get to try all sorts of different things, write in various mediums and genres. I can write ridiculous lists, serious rants, heart felt paragraphs, almost anything. I get to choose if I want to make stuff up, tell stories as I remember them, or share images and songs that matter to me.
Each medium has its form.
Stories often have beginnings, middles, ends. Poems have stricter rules and guidelines. An essay should be coherent, have clear ideas, share evidence as well as substantiated opinion. Sentences must be written in the correct order with proper spelling and accurate grammar. All these forms are fluid. The give and sway with each writer, each written word. Some forms may appear quite restrictive, requiring strict adherence, but they are just spaces to write between, different templates for ideas.
A poet and friend of mine, Craig Arnold, loved to work in various forms. He would write sonnets, Sapphic verse, intense narratives, and some stuff I had never dreamed of attempting. He assigned our class several of these forms and sometimes, I would struggle to make ideas fit into such demanding forms. Writing something in Iambic Pentameter, I would often find myself using bland filler, words I didn’t need or want, rhymes that felt forced and false.
I expressed my discomfort and frustration to him over coffee one afternoon. I told him I felt like the forms were restricting me and I could never get them to flow right. He said something I have tried to remember. “Form is the vehicle to a destination, not the destination itself.”
I had to change the way I looked at writing. When I chose to write in a restrictive form, I needed to stop seeing it as a barrier to expression. I could instead use the structure to strip away the pretense, dig and chip away like a sculptor at a massive stone, until what was important and hidden in the rock started to push to the surface.
When I started to see writing this way, the creative process itself took on new importance. The vehicle began to reveal meaning, the writing itself exposing what I had been looking to express.
That said, few are ever impressed that my poem is rhyming couplets, and fewer less care if each line contains the same amount of syllables, or no stanza but the final one ends with a period. But for me, as a writer, the vehicle is invaluable. I would never get to my destination without it. I may never even start the journey.
I don’t have a favorite song, but I have a favorite band. I don’t have a favorite author, but I do have a favorite book. There are favorite teams in various sports, favorite cities, people, but not movies or words. There is even a favorite spelling of the word favorite. Yep, you guessed it…
What allows one thing to be preferred over another depends a great deal on my age. As a kid, I loved pepperoni pizza more than any other food. In my 40’s, pizza is way down the list, and pepperoni is not even in my top three types. My favorite television show used to be Miami Vice (I was 14, forgive me), while now I prefer things a bit less…dated. My favorite drink used to be Coke while now I prefer good spring water or coffee.
Here are some things I used to like, still like and now like.
Music-My first favorite band was most likely the Beatles. At the age of 8, I fell in love with KISS (thanks to the Destroyer album purchased from the DI). When I was 13, I flirted with three different bands: The Police, U2 and Big Country. By the time I was 14, Big Country had won out. Maybe I liked the idea that they were a bit obscure to most people I knew. I know it was one of the first records I bought with my own money, which gave them some significance. They remain in my top five today. At the age of 17, thanks to a late afternoon listen to the B-side of a greatest hits collection, I was introduced to The Cure. My affection for them also continues, but they were supplanted in 1996 by TOOL, who made my (still) absolute favorite album of all time that same year. Frustrated by the lack of catalog, I found myself searching for other bands and in 2004 shifted part of my loyalty to ISIS (my favorite memory of ISIS is the lady in her 50’s reading my octopus t-shirt as “ahh, I get it. Is, is.”), and that loyalty was rewarded by three full albums, 5 live records and a split release with the Melvins, while in that same time period, TOOL has provided me one record. Even after disbanding, ISIS continues to release live records, unreleased tracks and other material. I would have never listened to a band like ISIS when I was 17 or 26. They are not for everyone, but they are for me.
Books- The Call of the Wild topped my list when I was around 10. At 11 I read Watership down for the first time and was hooked. This book has impacted my reaction to every other book I have read. While certainly not the best written, or even the most poignant, something about the story spoke to me, making me want to read more books, more stories. I attribute my love of reading, and my eventual study of literature to this book. In my twenties, I fell in love with Vonnegut’s Cats Cradle and put it right next to Watership. Not until 2004, when I read Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, did I have a new favorite book. I think it is near perfect. You should certainly read it.
Sports- My first favorite baseball team was the St. Louis Cardinals. I played on a little league team for two years that shared the same name, so the allegiance seemed to make sense. Ozzie Smith was my favorite player. When I changed teams and played for the Cubs, they became my favorite and since as a young teen, I wanted to cheer for teams that struggled, I stuck with the Cubs until I was 21. A mission served in New England brought me a connection with the Red Sox, one that continues to this day.
There have only ever been two NBA teams for me-The Boston Celtics (as they one of three teams always on TV and I hated the Lakers and Sixers) and the Utah Jazz. I had affection for the Bulls the year they beat the Lakers, but the Jazz, being local, have my complete loyalty.
I have loved so many NFL teams, starting with the Denver Broncos, then moving from year to year to the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys (hard to admit, but they were Super Bowl Champions), the San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins (one season), back to the Dolphins, then back to the Broncos. After watching the Cardinals and Giants play to a 3-3 tie on Monday Night Football, I was attracted to the lovable losing (and drawing) ways of the Giants. Little did I know they would not be losers for long. Five Super Bowl appearances and 4 wins later, I still love The Giants. I have a connection with the Arizona Cardinals as I travel every year to watch them play, so they get to slide into my second favorite slot, but my heart bleeds Giants blue. That said, if any team were to move to Salt Lake, they would instantly become my favorite team. Because I have watched and loved so many teams, Football is my favorite sport. Unlike other major sports, I like a player or three on each team and can watch almost any team play and enjoy myself.
I have just started enjoying NHL hockey and MLS soccer, so the team lists are shorter. I am currently attracted to the Bruins and the Coyotes in the NHL and have a bursting loyalty for Real Salt Lake in the MLS. Friends keep wanting me to watch the English Premier League, and while I enjoy almost every match I catch, I really have no connection to any teams. It doesn’t help that I don’t like watching games on delay, and refuse to get up at 5 in the morning to watch matches live.
What a boring list! I almost want to delete this, but I did spend an hour thinking it through, reading and typing, remembering. The whole process is making me very hungry. I need a sandwich, or maybe some taquitos. I have some in the freezer. I think there might even be some ice cream in there as well.
And so you know, my favorite city is New York.
Sitting in a room with people who often do not share the same opinions as I do on the world, politics, religion, the conversation turned to ideas of right and wrong. One person, with a very serious look on his face said, “The world wants us to believe there is not only right and wrong, but gray areas, but gray is not a shade of white, gray is a shade of black.” Many others nodded their heads, the implications turning in their minds.
Rather than allow for one moment, that the universe was not broken down into clean dichotomies, that sometimes, what is right and wrong are not even the core issue, one sentence allowed everything to be placed back into tight little bubbles, an impermeable line cutting the two hemispheres.
Forgetting for a moment that the entire premise of that sentence is wrong (gray is an intermediate color, between white and black on the spectrum, a neutral color), the implications are frightening enough. If certain things are always right, always wrong, then most of our belief systems crumble.
Stealing is always wrong. Any killing is murder. Any deception is a wrong.
But none of us live that way, and few of us (certainly, there are some), believe that way. It doesn’t take more than a second to imagine exceptions to those statements, as over the top and outrageous as they are.
I’m not implying that human beings do not rationalize poor behavior or justify actions based on a fabricated sense of neutrality. I am saying that there are few things, if any in our world that are clear cut. When the topic is one we agree with, when the person talking is preaching to the faithful, it is easy to ignore things we know, through our own experiences, to be accurate. What one group of us finds offensive and immoral, another of equally good and honest people does not.
The worst part of the conversation, for me at least, was this feeling of justification in the room. We all could agree with what this person was saying, that the straw man they had created, this world view that there is nothing right or wrong, an ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ philosophy, was full of so much fallacy, and only a fools would attach themselves to it.
Or maybe, the worst part is that I remained silent, sitting there, stewing in my thoughts.
One sentence kept running through my head-
You always win, when you argue with the straw man in front of the faithful.
I like to think I made the better decision, keeping my mouth closed, avoiding an argument that I could not win, that would be nothing but a pointless disruption. Anger and frustration would not have been the best tools in this situation. I would not have changed minds, only made people angry. I’ve done that enough in my life.
“When your sister first saw these mountains, she sat down almost in this exact spot and stared for twenty minutes. Several times, I thought to disturb her, ask if she was fine, if she wanted to go someplace else, there was so much to see, but each time I would look in her face and see the awe in here eyes, the misty tears that she was barely able to hold back. She finally reached up, brushed them away, and looked at me.
‘Thank you’, she said, ‘for bringing me here.’
“I was reminded then of the beauty in the world that we often ignore. I have tried, since that morning, to always be mindful of what is around me. Every day, I find something amazing, something that strikes me and I make sure I pay attention, I write it down, take a picture, something to make it stay. Finally, I share it with someone else. More often then not, they look at me like I’m insane, intruding, they ignore me, but every once in a while, someone else gets it and we share something powerful. I like how that feels.”
Laura looked at him, trying to decide how to tell him what she had come all this way to say. She knew this story, having heard it directly from the lips of her twin, Lena, when she returned home. That was seven years ago and so many things were different now. Martin and Lena were divorced. She had left him less than a week after the trip to these mountains. Lena had described the agony in her heart as she sat, looking up and out at the harmony of the world as it presented itself to her. She was unhappy in her marriage, unhappy with her life and here he was showing her how wonderful the world could be. Lena wanted that happiness, that powerful feeling and she knew it could not be found where she was.
Lena told her how that poignant moment let her decide. “Right there, in what I can only describe as being in the direct presence of God, I determined and committed to being honest with myself and with my family, especially Martin. It broke my heart to think his bringing us here, his attempt at helping us be closer together would be the catalyst for my decision.” Lena would not lie to him any more, she would not continue to be the source of his sadness.
But this was no secret. Her separation from Martin was predicated by this very conversation. What she now held in her chest, the words that she had flown across the country, they caught in her throat. All her conviction, her determination, her absolute certainty, they seemed less concrete now as they stood together, staring up into the face of God. She was no longer sure that Martin needed to hear this.
The wind blew a bit heavier down the front of the mountains, slightly chilled in the waning summer day. Soon enough the leaves would change, another summer would grow old and die. The winter would arrive in its harsh indifference, carrying its own beauty. Everything always in spirals, moving out and forward. Martin moved a bit to the right, putting his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, a light smile working itself across his face. A cloud brushed across the sun, shading everything, muting the colors. He was remembering, she thought, remembering and loving that memory. That was enough for her. He needed to know.
“Martin,” she said, her breathing faster, her heart about to push through her t-shirt. “There is something you should know.”
He turned and faced her.
I once poured gasoline from a can onto an open fire. I was melting plastic soldiers in the backyard, and the little pool of gas I had made was not epic enough. Just like in the movies, the flame raced up the gas and was into the can before I could react. I threw it to the ground and ran, waiting for the explosion. Lucky for me (and my parents house, I was in the backyard, right against the foundation), it never came. After a brief moment of recovery, I slunk back to the can, grabbed the water hose I had left running and extinguished the flame.
I once raced several friends on my ten speed bicycle. After pulling away to a sizable lead, I heard shouting from behind. Glancing back, I saw my two friends screaming at each other as one refused to allow the other to pass. I yelled something to them, most likely telling them to knock it off, then looked forward just in time to see the curb before I collided with it. I went over the handle bars, flying over the drive strip, landing with a scrape and a slide on the sidewalk. My first experience with road rash, I stared at the spot the skin had been stripped clean from my shoulder. The tiny capillaries had yet to spill their bright red blood, but as soon as they started, the pain squeezed tears from my eyes.
I once rode away on that same bicycle from a confrontation with a rather large and muscle bound bully. He had walked from across the street as my friend and I sat on our bikes, pondering if we wanted to ride to the local Dee’s Hamburger joint and get some 25 cent burgers. He walked up to us, fists clenched, having been sent to teach us a lesson by a fine young lady named Bindi (yes, Bindi) Reynolds. Her family and my friend’s family were often at odds. This rather large and muscle bound bully looked from me, to my friend, then back and forth a few times before asking, “Are you Jason?” My friend replied in the affirmative and before he could say another word, took a quick right to the jaw. He was able to leap over his fence and run to his house. Instead of showing solidarity or rushing to the aid of my friend, I hopped on my bike and rode away like the devil himself was after me.
Continuing with the bicycle, I once decided it would be clever to ride cross handed. I picked up some speed, let go of the handlebars, then crossed my right hand over left and placed them back on the bike. Within fifteen feet, the bike swerved, and I couldn’t let go fast enough to right the wobble. Down I went, landing directly on my right elbow, laying the flesh wide open. Mushy and bloody, I wandered home to get aid. I wonder what story I told my mother.
I once spent the night sleeping out at a friends house, just so I could sneak over to my girlfriends house, where she was also sleeping out with a friend. The four of us spent several hours laughing and joking, telling stories and most likely keeping half the neighborhood awake with our noise and silliness. I think I was 13 or 14. I was in love and young and insecure about most everything, especially her. As the night slipped into early morning and everyone started to quiet down, my girlfriend and I zipped our sleeping bags together. I was so nervous, I couldn’t sleep, though I pretended. I often wonder if she did, or if she remembers this at all.
I once ate fish because someone made me.
I once was beaten up at recess by several boys a year older than me while their teacher watched.
I once wrote some of the worst poetry every written.
I once thought stalking was romantic.
I wish that there were other things I had done once, instead of several times, and I wish there were things I had done more than once.
It’s a funny thing, writing memories, walking those places again. It makes me smile.
It makes me miss you.
“I want you to have choices, create opportunity for yourself in a way I never did. Like every parent, I want you to avoid the silly mistakes I made. I know you can’t see it now, and maybe you don’t even want to see it, but there will be a moment when you look at your life and see the things that dictated your future in a very clear light. You will see the absolute foolishness of your action, or inaction. You will taste it on your tongue and smell it in the air and you will say to yourself, the same way I say it to myself, I wish…and that wishing will bring the same sadness, the same regret, the same hopeless feeling as you imagine your life if you could only have seen and understood.”
He took a long drink from the tall glass of beer in front of him. A far away look glazed over his eyes and I knew he was in that place, the very thing he was trying to tell me, the thing I wasn’t ready to see or willing to understand.
And there it was, the moment, the time I was given the chance to make things different, the place I go back to when I look at my life and wish, like we all wish at some moment, maybe many moments, that we were different, that our present was somehow more like our past self imagined.
“But you’re forgetting something crucial.” She said. Her voice creeping out from under the blankets, between the folds, where memory is not distorted or viewed without context. “You cannot make any choice in a vacuum. Action or inaction, they are learning moments. Every bad choice teaches you humility, gives you perspective, just like every inaction allows you to act the next time. Imprisoning yourself, choosing to be disappointed with one moment, one decision, or any amount of choices, negates the wonderful place you find yourself. The people you know, the love you share, the wonders you have seen, they would all be different if you had not done and done. Different, not better. Imagine what you would miss, the things you would not know.”
I can’t help it. His voice is always louder, always more convincing. But there are moments when I sit in the silence of the house, drinking coffee or staring out at the approach of winter and all I can hear is her whispers, deep in my heart. In those moments, what I taste, what I smell is happiness. I cannot help but smile and be grateful.