Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Who Is This Guy?
Someone recently asked me if I’d introduced myself in the first blog post, & I had to admit that no, I didn’t—I pretty much came in in medias res. Of course, that’s good writing technique (so they say), but not always polite conversation.
So who am I? There are always the facts: Born in Bellows Falls, VT, September 1956; one sister (Naomi) a bit older; mother & father ultimately were married from 1941 to 2005 when my father, (also John) passed away; mother (Bette) now lives in Massachusetts near my sister. Educated in small rural VT town, then as a day student at VT prep school, then UVM—checkered college career due to problems with booze & etc., but finally graduated 84; MFA from University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 86 in poetry; hung around with odd jobs, moved to San Francisco in 89, worked in “consumer service” for a “major US manufacturer” from 89 to present (with lots of twists & turns & a couple of hiatuses— & now ultimately as a telecommuter); wrote poetry for many years; took piano as a kid, gave it up; took up guitar in early middle age, played music in lieu of writing poetry; moved to Idaho to be with my lovely companion & now dear wife, Eberle, in 98; play guitar & other stringed instruments; teach guitar etc.; write blog—may or may not write poetry again. Some significant health problems, not in a desirable income bracket, but overall have been fortunate in life.
So that’s the quick story—& all those “facts” are true. Is that “me?” Lately I’ve thought a lot about the past—a lot about the choices I made & the ones I didn’t make; a lot about the many people I’ve left behind. I didn’t stay in one place, like many of my peers in the small farming community of Westminster, VT; people I was once close to have moved on in their lives, as I’ve moved on in mine. For a long time, I didn’t think about this as it happened; lately, I do….
Off & on all summer I’ve been scanning old photos, some going back well over 20 to 25 years. Sometimes I’m looking for something in the people & places I see—what? Is it the Alice’s Looking Glass I wrote about a few days ago? Is it looking for a doorway to some reality that’s now many many miles behind as time’s freight train highballs ahead? Sometimes I’m reminded of what happened in a given year & marvel that two events—so far apart in my memory—happened in the same calendar year. Of course, time was so much slower—we all know that; time accelerates like the freight train in all those old folk songs going down “a line on a three-mile grade;” eventually with the same result….
& I think about the lives these people may be living now, & hoping that they’ve had some fortune along the way, & knowing I’ll never know. Don’t misunderstand me—I’m very grateful for the friends I have, some of whom probably will read this—they’re (you’re) the biggest reason I can say I’ve been fortunate. But at a certain point one remembers that there was a past, that “I” existed in it not entirely as the “I” I am today, but as a “being” that has moved through some continuum.
I think this is an inkling of the hell so many older people go through as they lose friends & loved ones. Ted Berrigan, who had more than his share of experience with death in a relatively short life, wrote:
“The heart stops briefly when someone dies,
a quick pain as you hear the news, & someone passes
from your outside life to inside. Slowly the heart adjusts
to its new weight, & slowly everything continues, sanely.”
From Things to Do in Providence
Death is the final & irrevocable loss, but there are other losses nearly as final—Kenneth Patchen wrote, “there are so many little dyings that it doesn’t matter which of them is death.” Yes, knowing that someone does, or even may, exist in the world is an enormous difference—but when the people from our past are inaccessible, then they’ve moved—for us—into a certain type of underworld—memory, which is always removed from our physical & diurnal existence.
But Berrigan says they pass “from your outside life to inside.” Is he only talking about the move to memory? I won’t try to read his mind; but as I’ve looked at these old photos & thought of these old friends & lovers & even acquaintances I might have known better given another chance, I’ve realized something. What “I” am today is the result of interacting with everyone I’ve known. Some people have added more to my life, some have added less. Some that I knew for relatively short periods of time added disproportionately large shares; & in turn, wherever they are & whatever they’re doing this fine September day, at daybreak, at whatever hour it may be in their own time zones, something about me has contributed more or less to the “I” they are now.
Yes, there’s loss, & loneliness & the bittersweetness of memory—but for all the pain memory can bring, it also brings joy, & it’s a faculty I couldn’t live without. But from this perspective, I remember the past’s not lost—it’s contained in the “I” I am today….
Pic by Eberle Umbach