Good Day, Eh?

My latest newsletter about being sick, I received notes wishing me well and prescribing remedies, which I appreciate. This cold threw me off a cliff but I'm on a slow mend. Today was a day in which my head still felt full — music sounds muffled which is a damn shame because Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers deserve perfect clarity — and I was weighed by fatigue, but mildly enough that I was able to walk and talk with my wife, build something with my daughter, and make dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday. School's out too. You've got a happy boy here.

To walk and talk my wife and I brought the dog. She needs to exercise and poop (don't we all?). Our best talks happen on the move as though we are Aaron Sorkin characters (don't we wish?). The talk was heavy and layered. She has things on her mind, both good and troubling. I work things out by writing. She holds them in a swirling mix, then talks through it all. It's one of my favorite things about her.

The fresh air did me as much good as the talk did for her. She's often labeled quiet by those who don't let her get started. Once she's going, she's an engine of ideas and clear-headed. She knows both sides of most arguments. I relearn that when I fight what I misinterpret as an attack that is really a statement of the way things are and a question as to how we should proceed. This morning I mostly listened and my brain could keep up. The cold really is clearing.

Later, my daughter suggested we build a scratching post for our cats in the way my father taught me. He never had a cat, but had spare lumber in the basement and garage, tools at the workbench. He had screws, glue, nails, and ideas on hand. We made the scratching post without a trip to the lumber yard, hardware store, or craft shop.

There are few things I enjoy more than building things out of wood. The sounds of table saw and chop saw, the feel of a drill, the smell of sawdust, the mark of a pencil held against a square, all of it is just good, good, and good and is better with my girl who says oh-no when I ask her to drill a hole and who leaves the room when I cut wood because the saw is too loud, too loud. We built a great scratching post.

The cats still haven't thanked us, the ungrateful wretches.

Then I made fried rice for the family which tonight included my brother and mother. It's my brother's fifty-third birthday. My wife made carrot cake from scratch (Carl Sagan's: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.) I chopped vegetables, threw them in the wok, scrambled eggs, made a sauce from honey, soy sauce, and white wine, and mixed the whole shebang. It was delicious.

Everyone at the table thanked me for the rice and my wife for the cake. Take that, you damn cats.

I did what I wanted to today. I felt up to it and now I'm tired. This is what I'm after. That's all I want. I was happy all day, which is a luxury since I was only shooting for content. It's so nice when things work out that way.

Bring on tomorrow.

Want To Be

If there is one person I would like to be writing like, it's Donald Hall. I suppose I am writing like him, but I want to be doing it as well, with as much vigor, and such that it was more than enough to keep my family and I afloat. I just finished A Carnival Of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety and it was good, good, good. (Though I revere Ann Patchett, I disagree with her assessment on the back cover that it is one of a very few perfect books. The book is good, Ann, but it is not perfect and is equaled by your own This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.) I should say that I want to be able to write prose the way Hall did, the way E. B. White did, the way David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders, and Mary Karr all do. I've never been big for Hall's poetry, mostly I think because I don't understand.

For poetry, I'll take David Shumate who wrote this most beautiful of things called "The Long Road":

It’s one of those highways you come across late at night. No signs. No arrows. Just a road running north and south. You pause. You look one way. Then the other. Nothing. Only the hum of the engine, the chirping of crickets confirm you are here. You can’t remember where you’ve been. Where you are going. If it weren’t for the lines drawn through the middle, you’d think you were drifting down a river. Or stumbling upon a path through the sky. Remember, it is a moonless night. You are tired. Hungry. No one to talk to. Afraid that what you were thinking might have come true. You look to your left again. Perhaps you see a mountain. An ocean. A lover you wish you hadn’t lost. Spirits that seem so familiar, drifting in from the dark. You wait in that silence. It may be years before it is safe to proceed.

Perhaps it helps that Shumate writes prose poetry, which ought to be a bastard child but comes out instead as a an otherworldly thing, perhaps angelic.

If I were to want to be a different poet it would be Mark Strand in "Man And Camel":

On the eve of my fortieth birthday I sat on the porch having a smoke when out of the blue a man and a camel happened by. Neither uttered a sound at first, but as they drifted up the street and out of town the two of them began to sing. Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me— the words were indistinct and the tune too ornamental to recall. Into the desert they went and as they went their voices rose as one above the sifting sound of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing, its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for so long? I wanted to believe it was, but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped back to town. They stood before my porch, staring up at me with beady eyes, and said: “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”

Then again, two of those guys are dead and one is alive in the Midwest. I've no inclination to die anywhere right away or to live in the Midwest, so I might as well go on being me, leaving odd things on the page (screen) and wondering how they connect.

Soul Coughing

I'm tired from being sick, a little tired of being sick, but kind of okay that my body has forced me into a bit of a stupor. Two days this week I have spent on our living room couch, largely confined to soul coughing, reading Anne Lamott, napping, reading The New Yorker, thinking, sniffling, blowing my nose, reading The Sun Magazine, listening to a bit of music (but not much because my ears are stuffed and muffle the nuance of most anything), reading Laurie Halse Anderson, napping a bit, and then reading Donald Hall. I've mostly stayed off my phone and been on the computer only to write and read a few good articles. These have been my days. Well, all that and the usual amount of existential panic. I get that whether or not I'm sick.

This panic (which a more reasoned observer would likely call anxiety) stems in part from the fact that I'll soon quit my job and need another job. I can't think of much I want to do for a job. This apathy could be the sick and tired talking or me just being so burned out by the job I have, but it is a feeling and way of thinking that I have had for longer than this illness, longer than this calendar year, longer than my daughters have been alive, longer than I have been married. It doesn't help to have so enjoyed these days of being sick on the couch, to have savored them more than most any other days this year. I've read an absolute ton, done some writing, and had some ideas become maybe a pixel or two clearer. I still live with my usual panicked anxiety, but if I could live like this, even with the terrible, wet cough, I think I'd be happy.

There are jobs to which I will apply, even some teaching jobs to which I might send applications out of desperation. My hope is that one leads to something more interesting and something more interesting after that. Maybe I'll trip into some connection with writing. It could happen.

This sickness started over a week ago and continues. I stopped taking medicine for it. Rest seems the only cure. I'll get better. That or I'll die. Those are the two choices. It will take some time to figure out which way things turn out this time. To quell my existential panic about these things I remember that I've always gotten better and that evetually we all die. It will all happen.

For now I'm going out for a slow walk. Winter, like this cold, is hanging on longer than it should. The sky is too blue for the cold, and yet there it is. I'll pull on a hat and my fleece. The dog will get excited and whinny. Yes, I'll tell her, let's go together. She won't care where we are headed, whether spring has truly arrived, the quality of my wet cough, or jobs. She feels not the least bit of existential anxiety. Not ever.

Home I'll return to the couch. She will stand next to it, lick my hand or feet, and wag her tail. I'll pet her neck and scratch her behind. She will go lie on her blanket, I'll read more. Or maybe I'll stare out the window, perhaps into the future. When it's all too much, when the soul coughing wracks my chest and will, I'll lie me down to sleep and pray for something my soul to keep.

Elusive Music

At a record store in Burlington I heard some music so incredible I had to ask one of the guys up front, "Who is this?!" I said it with some desperation because I couldn't believe what I was hearing it was so good.

"It's this guy," the kid said, holding up this album.


I was about to say, I'll take it, when he said, "it's this crazy rare thing. This record goes for hundreds of dollars. It's crazy good, isn't it?"

I said that it was and noted the artist and title — Fitz Gore & The Talismen's Soundnitia — in my phone so I could find the music later. It's the twenty-first century. Everything's available online.

Except, not so much.

Of Fitz Gore & The Talismen there is all too little available, damn it. There's this magnificence and he does a great version of Horace Silver's Song For My Father (from which Steely Dan lifted the hook for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"). If that's not enough to make you want the album, we are hearing different things. I want that album bad! But it just isn't there.

This is disappointing but I also like that there is something so great in the world but not available to me. I can dream about it but not have it immediately. I need more of that in the world. More of less. Yeah, that sounds almost as good as Fitz Gore & The Talismen.

Still, if I find Soundnitia in a record bin for anything less than $150, I'll probably buy it on the spot. Less is good, but Fitz Gore is even better.