Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Outburst of Random Grumpiness While Waiting in the Mall

      They put a pole in my hands and the years fill up with photos.  My mother with her fishing pole.  My father with his fishing pole, a pipe in his lips.  All eyes on the water.
These old drug store pictures I remember, but I hardly take pictures anymore.  Where did the magic go?  The old mojo?  Today the cameras are idiot simple, take sharper pictures than the finest Leica M3 or Hasselblad ever did, but have no romance.  They make no demands and express no desire to be touched, offer no intimacy of delicate gears, knurled knobs, fine glass viewers, numbers, conversations of distance and depth of field demanding knowledge.  Where is the companionship of a familiar and well used possession?  These are modern machines, designed not to need respect or even understanding and we do not love them in return.  When they fail us we throw them away without sentiment and replace them cheaply. 

Relationships too when they fail are easily replaced with an app and an application.  Apply online to, when your first relationship fails we take the next in line.

In the mall here, watching the girl ringing up the customer in the China Wok concession I wonder who she is.  These girls, Asian or Mexican are rarely pretty.  I look at her plain and honest face long and long and wonder where she comes from.  Probably some small town in China, maybe the mainland with any one of hundreds of dialects.  Is she in school?  Is she homesick? No doubt, but her face shows no hint of defeat.  And does she have a photo album where loved people hold fishing poles?

I haven’t looked at my own photos in any serious way in years.  Once they meant the world to me, they still do theoretically, but I don't commune with the ghosts like I used to, as with dragging years I get closer to becoming a ghost myself.

These days I prepare myself for death.  Not meanly, or impatiently.  More like one choosing clothes for the suitcase.  Death is not a young man's game.  But goals and ambition are not always an older man's game.  Things change.  You reach a point in your life where you feel the big adventures are over and you want to make sense of what has happened.  To pull it into a line and tug it tight and try to comprehend it in a single glance. 

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?  All is vanity and the chasing after wind."  You know you're getting closer to the grave when your favorite book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes.  But there is something to be said for that.  All the great projects of my professional life and youth, the things which seemed so fearfully important at the time.  They're gone.  Time has washed them away.  Everything passes away.  Even the people we love eventually exit the stage of our life, pass downstream and over a waterfall somewhere off.

In one of my stories Father Delmar writes to Nixie "When I was your age I wanted to be a saint."  That's me speaking too.  That's me.  My first and most ambitious goal in my green years was to be no less than perfect, to reach enlightenment.  I was asking the wrong question, I should have been asking - why?  What would it look like if you did?  What would it matter?

And there is vanity blooming in me as I grow older,as a friend gently pointed out to me recently. It shows. I fear for my hair color.  The size of my belly.  The wobble of my gait.  The dead reek of my breath. The slouch of my standing. What do the ladies think of me?  What do they think of me now, these ladies?  What will they think of me tomorrow evening?  Ladies?  Think of me? Why don't you think? Ladies?  Laugh at me? Secretly?  Mermaids - sing to me. Please please sing.

I try to comprehend the past like a man lost looking blinkingly at a trail map trying to match up the compass and the trees.  Holding up my hand to forestall the very moment. The Chinese girl goes on ringing up customers.  She is in the moment like a Buddha.  If she's homesick she isn't aware of it, moving in the endless fugue of Now the way animals and babies do. 

Fixed on her face like a star, I want to feel the voice and heartbeat of each person in the crowd.  I want to feel the larger activity buzzing in the hive of shops.  The tiny dramas taking place.  A man by the Orange Julius holding his cell phone to one ear, a finger in the other, his face looking as though he is, at this very instant, hearing something that will change his life.


  1. Dear Garce,

    I worry that you're getting ready to die much too early. You're barely sixty. My aunt is almost 93 and she's still alive enough to be grumpy herself.

    What about Nixie's book?

    This is a beautiful meditation, though, despite its grumpiness. Spiritual grumpiness, I guess. The first paragraph is poetry.

    1. Hi Lisabet!

      I confess I'm proud of that first paragraph, the rest is a little iffy.

      In life I'm not as grumpy as I come off sometimes. These days I'm pretty cheerful, which is huge because I used to get really bummed out around Christmas time. Do they have snowmen where you are? When I lived in the tropics they had advertisements of snowmen and Santa Claus in his sleigh and red parka and the whole thing seemed so weird in that context.

      Preparing for death in this case i mean the more Buddhist sense of preparing over time for the great transition. I'm reading a book about Intensive Journaling which is about connecting the unconscious and past and present to gain a more intimate view of yourself and the great Now. Its like mindfulness applied to the whole stretch of your life. We don;t really know how long we'll live. My genetics are good for another en or twenty years, but life is what it is. MEan while I am less ambitious for myself then I used to, I've mellowed out a lot and I'm trying to make sense of the time which has passed and the time that is left. Does that make sense?


  2. Garce:
    The other thing missing from modern digital pictures is depth of field. Remember playing with it and with filters, all of us trying to be Ansell Adams? (Or David Hemmings character in "Blow Up") Can you even get black and white film developed anymore?

    Ecclesiastes is one of the best books in the bible. You don't have to believe in God or Jesus to benefit from the wisdom there, born of Solomon's heartache.

    This is a deeply insightful piece full of mourning and musing. I just read another article the other day saying that most of us get happier as we age. It's been true for me. Perhaps you will pass through this stage and see the world in a different light. Or maybe not. But keep writing reports about your journey. They are good reading.

    1. Hi Spencer!

      I read an article like that in the recent issue of Atlantic which I like to read. We get through that mid life crisis and then life gets mellower and less urgent for us. We have the opportunity to learn wisdom or try. I think there is something to do. I'm trying less for the career and more for the wisdom. Gotta try, but I don;t make any claims for myself.

      I miss depth of field. I miss technology. I miss also playing at Amsel Adams, studying manuels on Zone Photography and wrestling with a light meter and burning and dodging. I miss the physical beauty of the machinery of a camera and its physical adjustments, which though clutzy, invited the feeling of intimacy with the machine that you get from driving with a stick shift and a clutch. I think people experience that with horses also, as I've been told its a very spiritual union between the human being and the animal.

      There is a human thing for this. If you know a guitar player what you always find is that aside from the question of being able to play well, guitarists just really physically love guitars. They love to hold them To press their finger tips on the strings. To noodle around on it. Imagine if guitars only came with one button and you could play them perfectly without knowing anything?


    2. Garce:
      Both of my sons are self taught guitar players. I am so in awe of their talent. #1 plays great rhythm guitar and #2 is a bass player- good enough that he could have a serious musical career. Our basement looks like a guitar shop. Recently they bought drums. I'm delighted to hear the noise. I think the only reason they aren't more accomplished is that I'm just not an abusive enough father. That seems to be the story of all the great guitar heroes-not so with Hendricks though, it was his mother's abandonment that caused his troubles.

  3. Beautifully written, as always. But such a Prufrockian tone! Not that's there's anything wrong with that--I read quite a bit of TS Eiot in my youth (which may be a better time to read Prufrock than when one is older.) Even then, though, I realized that the mermaids were understood to be young and lissome, as opposed to the vapid women "talking of Michelangelo" who might well be of a more mature persuaion.

    I don't think any of us here have been "measuring our lives in coffee spoons," and in some ways the joy of being able to wield words with wit and bite increases with age. I don't remember quite how I felt abut it when I was your age, but the fact that I was just building up steam in the writing world got me over whatever hump there was.

    1. Hi Sacchi!

      My steam is not yet built, but that is mostly my fault. I need to take time to read more and write more. Mermaids! The part about the mermaids not singing to Prufrock has always been my little chorus frm that poem. It's a great line. When I read it I see a man with his white flannel trousers rolled up alking on the beach, seeing the young girls in their tiny suits and sighing. Those mermaids texting on their iPhones aren't going to sing to him if ever they did.

      Id Est Quod Id Est.



  4. Once it was the 'image' that made a photo of significance for a collector. Now, anybody can reproduce a cheapened version for free, but as you say, it lacks the qualities that make it what it is. We experience a watered-down version.

    Even though many goals are the realm of the young, we still need to stay productive from day to day to keep up the momentum. Makes the pains of life worth living.

  5. What I thought of as I read--
    When I was a new mother, I took countless photos of my son. I annotated them, put some in his babybook (they only go up to age 7), and the others into the "general" photo albums for the family. I did the same with each of the subsequent 3. I sat up late many nights, trimming pictures, arranging them, making sure to add names of those who might be forgotten quickly. I have over 30 volumes of pictures. Then one fateful day, the husband (an engineer who loves technology, especially new stuff), told me he was going to replace my old camera, now on its deathbed, with a digital one. "Don't do it," I cautioned. "I'll never use it." He insisted that I'd grow to love the ease of taking pictures, the elimination of the need to take them to get developed, the ability to arrange them before I printed anything. I told him I wouldn't know how to print them. He said he'd teach me.
    Note: his idea of teaching me new technology is to push me out of the way, do it quickly, then turn to me impatiently, "See how easy?"

    Upshot? He bought the digital camera. I opened the gift and put it on a shelf. I never touched it. He used that one until it died then bought another one. The kids were all already older than 7, so I had started each of them their own photo albums. They all stop, abruptly. And no one seems to care, so why should I?

    Re: wanting to be a saint. Husband was raised Catholic, says when he was young he wanted to be flailed to death for Jesus. We raised our kids to be spiritual, with no religion except honoring Mother Earth and the life force within all living things. It's worked well for us all of these years. We're proud to be dirt-worshipping tree-huggers.

    I don't think much about what younger men think about me anymore. In fact I'm shocked if someone close to my age, or older (why is it always older?) tries to flirt with me. I start yakking about my husband and our 4 kids, which usually clues them in that I'm not interested. I always used to like to flirt. I called it the "lubrication for social intercourse." It's a mutual acknowledgment that it could happen, but it probably won't. It's fun when you both know that's what it is. But I don't want to lead anyone on who doesn't know it's harmless.

    And Garce, you DO experience the life-force of everyone you meet. Writers do that. We soak up vibes and impressions from the general populace like sponges. Then when we're crafting a story, those "people" reveal themselves as characters, partially created by our memories, enhanced by our imaginations. The best stories have so much truth in them that we recognize it almost as reality. That's what your stories are like, Garce. Don't be so hard on yourself. You don't have to brag, but hug closely the knowledge that your characters breathe and live with more vibrancy than some actual people ever exhibit.
    Though I must add, I hope never to meet Nixie. I do enjoy reading about her existential angst...from a safe distance!

  6. Hi Daddy X!

    We have to be productive, especially creative. I think our creative energy will be an element that gives us health and mental clarity if not purpose.

    I think we all still have good years ahead of us.


  7. Hi Fiona you sweet thing!

    Your story of the photos reflects a lot my own. My mechanical cameras were my life's companions since I was 15. I even earned my living with them for a while. And now somehow the momentum has stopped. I don;t know how to explain it since its so much easier now to take pictures, archive and preserve them. We can even make videos. HAs life become dull? Or is it the machine itself that became dull?

    I look forward, though I don;t think I'll see it, to the time when love bots are able to take their place in our pantheon of relationships and have written several stories about it, but it does make you think. Sex is such a challenge, seduction, courtship, anticipation. So many hoops and obstacles to find a person to touch and make love with. Yet, if there were a perfect though artificial sex partner always available on demand, always voluptuous, always supremely skillful - how quickly would we get bored and put them on the shelf?

    A dirt worshipping tree hugger? Are ya'll pagans? We have several pagans in my church.

    Late in life I'm discovering the joy of flirting. As you say, its harmless, not the kind of thing anyone is going to ruin their life over. Yet - how nourishing to the soul, male vanity, demale vanity, to know that someone out there thinks we're hot or is at least deliciously willing to be playful about it.

    And don't fear Nixie. She's mellowed out a great deal lately. As do we all. Which brings up an interesting question - do the monstrous have a right to happiness if they can change?


  8. Wow, I loved what you said about cameras, though don't think it's only generational to miss that touch. I get sentimental about things and then am sternly told it isn't worth fixing them, not even when I beg. (I dropped my first Kindle and cried and cried because Amazon would replace it, but not fix it, and I had put a sticker on the back of a cartoon Hamlet holding a cartoon Yorick skull, and I did not think I could ever get another sticker like that.) Of course, you talk of wanting artistic control of your cameras, and I talk about a childish sadness.

    I smiled at Ecclesiastes, and at the wish, when young, to be a saint. (I did as well. Now I wish to be a scarlet saint).

    I did cringe at the meditations on the girl behind the counter at the mall. She could well have been from Poughkeepsie (though perhaps accent made it clear that she wasn't?). But there are many stereotypes about Asian people—that we're inscrutable or emotionless—and I felt some of the meditation played into that. How many times have I read an Asian person described as "like a Buddha"? Maybe, since she was at work, she had cultivated the mask needed by retail workers everywhere. And I fear being looked at the way it sounds like you were looking at her (judged for my prettiness or lack of it, then made into a vessel of someone else's ideas about Asian culture). I'm telling you this because it embittered my experience of reading what was otherwise a transcendent essay.

    I don't think you were too melancholy, but maybe that's because I'm melancholy myself.

  9. Hi Annabeth!

    I found your comment this monring after I thught no one had made any more comments. Sorry to be late, I wasn't ignoring you.

    You're Asian? I didn't know that. Your name is Asian of course, but I never know if a name is a name or a pen name in this world we play in.

    Yes, I guess I was dealing in my own stereotypes a little without policing it. If it helps, my family is very inter-racial. My wife is Carribean-black, my son (adopted) is Japanese-American. And then there's me.

    Like many western men I have a slightly fetishistic fascination with Asian women. I suppose its a kind of racism, but its not a negative one. I find them more beautiful and erotically compelling because they are exotic, consequently when I see them as immigrants I feel something for them. Also I spent most of my youth living with Koreans and Japanese so I have a thing for them too. The expression "Buddha" was trite though, I can't defend that.

    Yes, even at my age, we do instinctively judge young ladies partly for their prettiness or plainness until I remember to slap myself for it. There's no getting away from it. I'm an aging primate. But we don't judge their character for their youth. A young person, the truth is, their character is green. Unripe. No matter what their race or beginnings. Erotic impulses are there, but everything is potential. Mature women have always been more fascinating to me, but yes, haven't you sat day dreaming in a crowd and watched the faces of the young men going by and wondered who they were inside?


    1. Hi! This is quite a slow motion conversation. I'm glad you found my comment. :) Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. Sadly, I always leave them late, then worry that this is the same as not leaving them at all. I don't worry about being ignored, because I can't exactly judge someone for leaving a late reply, given what I do...

      Yup, I'm actually Asian (along with a mix of a few other things, though Asian is how I identify primarily). "Positive" racism can still be plenty disturbing (as I'm sure your family members know). I know the intention is good, but there's a whole genre on the internet of Asian women trying to explain how creepy it is to be fetishized. I've felt it myself. I had a weird conversation once with my mother, who is white, in which I realized she has no idea the sorts of things men have said to me because of that fetish, or the assumptions they've made. (For example, that I will be sexually submissive and accommodating).

      I appreciate the sincere reply to the point.

      As far as judging people's appearance, I think my sense of the stereotype colored it for me. Also my sense of the age difference (I am, due to personal history, powerfully disturbed by age disparities between lovers. I can intellectually recognize that it works for some people, but I truly don't look at significantly younger people myself because the idea bothers me so much.)

      That said, I definitely pick out the most attractive person in any room I'm in. I don't tend to imagine their interiors, though—there are writing exercises about doing that on purpose, and they've always been a struggle for me.

      Again, I feel I'm revealing something odd about myself, but I have a powerful sense of privacy, and I worry about violating that of others. For that reason, I'm uncomfortable fantasizing about people I've met or seen. It makes me feel guilty. My fantasies are populated, for the very most part, with entirely fictional people.

      I suppose I do fetishize the past. I do take out familiar memories and turn them over and over in my mind, wearing them smooth, turning those people I've known into fiction, too.

      It seems to be normal to look at people the way you describe. I'm not sure what it is about it that puts me off so much.


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