Showing posts with label home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label home. Show all posts

16 April, 2019

From Field Notes: Excerpts, 7th-9th April 2019 - Orange Poppy, Long Gone

7 April


view of the Wakarusa River
Spent the early afternoon downtown. Had lunch with the Market Street Irregulars and then had the opportunity to visit my friend, local artist Heather Houzenga, at her shop at the base of Market Street. We mostly hung out in front of her shop, which lends itself to the opportunity of running into other people. At one point there were maybe 5 of us including Heather, Ray, Dave Cuckler, and Jeff Creath, who split time between Carroll County, Waukegan, and parts unknown with his wife and fellow globetrotter, Kat. There were also two dogs, including Heather's new pooch, Handsome, a boxer mix that is still very much a puppy... but a happy one, and Ray's lovely dog Lady.

It felt good just to be able to hang out on the street without anyone wondering whether something illegal is happening -- one of the graces that is still afforded in a place like Mount Carroll, Illinois.

At one point, later in the day, Dave was downstairs playing guitar and singing, and I was listening through the floorboards. There are moments we experience that resonant, repeat, and carry us backwards and forwards in time, embodying all of our sense memories into a distilled, rich, existential bliss. Listening to Dave Cuckler sing through the floorboards is one such moment, and it let me know that I was, if only briefly, at a place where I still have a home.

Music through the floorboards
that long remembered smile.
A congregation of old friends,
dogs, and peaceful passersby.

8 April

The river is high here, like everywhere else. Parts of Savanna are flooding. The power and prestige of the Old River 1 never ceases to amaze me.

The river lays siege to the flood plain
reminding people (again)
these ancient arteries
will wash away
what passes for Empire.

9 April

I was able to take some time yesterday and walk around town a bit. On my way back to where I'm staying, I walked up the Washington Street hill and over to S. West Street, by the house I lived in here with my ex. Inexplicably, the place is still standing and there's a family living there.

I know it seems strange to some people that I like coming back here. One local musician, a friend of a friend, upon figuring out that I was actually me and discovering that I showed up intentionally to visit, asked what I was visiting for. There's a basic assumption among some folks about this place... an assumption I hear more from people who are born and raised from here -- that there is nothing here. Or, at any rate, there's nothing here that would be of any interest to anyone not from here.

But the truth is that I learned a lot here. Mount Carroll is the place I learned to embrace a place and find beauty, poetry, and music -- even when there is a (very) thin veneer of stasis, greed, and ugliness. It was here I learned to live more in the moment and to seek out community rather than expect it to come find me. It was here that I learned what the word home means -- with all those fraught implications.

It was here that I learned what it means to dive deep and follow the currents. What I didn't learn here was not to dive TOO deep. I had to learn that later.

Some things persist
in spite of soft memory.
What is not erased
is a reminder that 
what we carry in the present
we picked up in the past.

Orange Poppy, Long Gone



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16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
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24 September, 2018

At Home Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Part 1

Where we love is home -- home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.



Ohio River at Louisville and Jefferson, IN. 1928
Home has traditionally been a complex issue for me. I've written before about how home is a person, not a place, and that is still very much true. But it also follows that while I have settled down... which is to say, I'm stationary far more than is natural for me... the truth is that the concept of home is one that I continue to struggle with. In particular, other people's notions of home have given me nothing but vexation for decades.

Yes. Decades.

Let me explain.

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. I like it here. Of all the places I've lived, it probably best matches the landscape inside my head. It's both rural and urban, straightforward and urbane, full of possibility and weighed down with deep dark problems that infiltrate nearly every good thing that happens within its borders. Louisville is a small town with a few tall buildings; not because of its size, but because of the way it functions... and sometimes the way it doesn't function. I've lived in other places in Kentucky, from as far East as Menifee County to the rolling hilled-hypocrisy of Lexington. I've travelled the state over, too, from Covington to Corbin, from Morehead to Middlesboro, from Paducah to Pikeville.1 And except for a decade on and off, I've spent most of the last 30 years here. Kentucky is one of the few places where -- for the exception of  Lexington, which I can never quote forgive myself for -- I have always felt at home. Calling Kentucky home brings up all sorts of complications, the second most challenging being that it's the sort of home you're expected to leave and (maybe) eventually return to.

The most challenging part of being at home in Kentucky is that Kentucky is more or less particular about who it claims.

I run into this problem often in literary circles. It's increasingly common enough to NOT be from Louisville, or from Kentucky. But in literary circles... probably because Kentucky writers are once again an exportable commodity... because of or in spite of our Tin Pot Governor's dismissal of the arts... there's even more of the sometimes overt, sometimes covert protectionism of Kentucky culture and geographical identification.2

To be fair, I haven't been EXCLUDED because I'm not from Kentucky. That would be like saying no one reads my shit because I'm just one more cis-gendered white guy in America.3 I haven't been excluded, but living here creates a certain bias on the part of others about what kind of writer I orta be. Literary event organizers here tend to look for that commercially consistent version of "authentic" voices -- authentic but pedigreed, of course -- and while I can claim a lot of experience, many miles traveled, and a regional upbringing, the abstract lines that make Kentucky separate from the other cleaved pieces of geography that make up the Ohio River Valley delineate the cultural boundary, too.

Or, simply put: I'm from Ohio.

True, it's Southern Ohio... Southwest Ohio, to be exact, which is about as culturally divergent from the rest of the state as Paducah is from Pikeville. Ohio, like Kentucky, could be split into (at least) four different states if you look at geography, culture, and other demographic points. Actually, you could cut the Southeast corner of the state and slide it nicely into a larger state called Appalachia... a state that would include not only part of Ohio, but a fair chunk of Kentucky and Pennsylvania too, along with West Virginia.

For me, though, the map as drawn has less to do with the culture of where I live than geography, which transcends... and sometimes confounds... cartography. The dirty scared river's long and storied history as a major commercial artery that eventually opened up the West to the trials, terrors, and seeming inevitability of Manifest Destiny have made permanent imprint on the geography of the nation. And while it's true that the Ohio River isn't as prominent a commercial artery as it used to be, the fact is that without it there would have been no place for wagons, trains, roads, or interstates to be laid. The river, diverted as it is, still runs and still has a say over everything from where people live, how they get back and forth to work, and sometimes, how the weather impacts the area.4 So, I will never be a Kentucky writer. But every breath, drop of blood, and bone in my body is from the river valley.

And there's something to that, too.

________________________________________________

1. I even went to Fancy Farm once. There is no better explanation of the political landscape of this Commonwealth than Fancy Farm.
2. This actually has much deeper roots than Herr Bevin. He's just one more in a long series of yahoos and crankyanks who think they know what's best for Kentucky without ever actually spending any time in the state's underbelly.
3.I recently had coffee with another writer here who made that kind of observation, but I don't agree. There's room for everyone and all the voices need to be heard. I'll keep scribbling in my basement, unabated.
4, Watch a tornado laden storms hit the valley and split in half just to pass over Louisville. It happens. A lot.



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10 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 1: introduction to the off-the-road edition

God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.~ Meister Eckhart

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Lately my goal has been to try and apply the basic rules of the road to my everyday life.

It's not that I'm going to be out and about anytime soon... work and other responsibilities make this impossible... but it occurs to me that I've been living like the things I did out on the road had no relation to how I was living my life now. The problem is that in my most natural state, my mindset is that of a permanent traveler. It's not that I don't love the home I have with Amanda and Stella and Will; but I also know that as much as I love home... home as family, home as a place I'm comfortable... I'm not, in my natural state, much of a homebody. Yes, I like to maintain my space a certain way. When I travel I'm a tediously organized packer, too. So really, it's less about being domesticated and more about the aforementioned particularness ... whether home is on my back or four walls and a roof that needs to be re-shingled.

But I think part of my problem has been that I've still been trying to tackle this domestic bliss stuff the way I was socialized to by small town culture, by television, by mentors and heroes -- none of whom ever suggested, even remotely, that I orta do things the way they do things.**

In trying to figure out how to do this stuff  My Way, the only conclusion I've come to is that I have to live at home the way I live out on the road. Certainly there are some modifications. But overall, it's more about spacial awareness than a shift in awareness. Or, that's what I'm going with now.

My road rules went through multiple drafts and notions, but they boil down to something like this:

  1. Read and write everyday.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Leave things as nice or nicer than you found them.
  4. Etiquette makes society, not the other way around.
  5. Be grateful when things are good. They won't always be.
  6. Keep your head up when things are bad. They will be more often than not.Show appreciation and articulate love. Daily.
This isn't always easy, though I often think it should be. With four adults, three dogs, and two cats living under one roof, sometimes it feels like it's a little hard breathe. And I LOVE these people. But generally, if I keep my art at the center*** and tether myself to being essentially humane and focus on trying to be the best husband, father, and father-in-law that I can be, I believe I'm doing my part in helping maintain our conglomerated family unit.

Even if it's not altogether natural feeling sometimes.


___________________________________________________________________________
* No less than every girlfriend I've ever had and two ex-wives have pointed out/accused that I have an antagonistic relationship with the world. But clearly, the world started it.
**All of them actually said the contrary, on multiple times. A wise mentor will never tell you to do what they do, exactly how they do it. That's how you tell the difference between a mentor who has your best interests at heart and a megalomaniac who's interested in feeding his ego.
*** There's a reason why "Read and write everyday" is the first rule.


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29 September, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace: The solace of certain things / Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Is it possible to become ecstatic amid destruction, rejuvenate oneself through cruelty?” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


My memory palace is one, giant flea market.

Which is to say, it's entirely possible that one of the reasons why I tend towards a certain precision -- what my daughter sometimes calls "picky" and my wife lovingly refers to as "being particular" -- about certain things:  like where I leave my keys, how I organize the house, where I'd prefer things are stored and how, and how clean I try to be, is because a large portion of my mental landscape is an odd mix of old stuff, bric-a-brac, used books, dated movies, music, oddly random and seemingly pointed connections between disparate things, several rabbit holes of useless information, and picture memories... a long with a massive card catalog in which I file every useless piece of datum ranging from historical dates to my chili recipe.

NOTE: the greenscape has long since been ruined by cement.
If it helps you imagine, once upon a time I conjured my memory palace as a large library, not unlike the interior of the Camden-Carroll library at Morehead State University.

Which is to say, my memory palace probably resembles the library in that episode of The Twilight Zone in which the poor bastard that just wanted more time to read after the apocalypse ended up breaking his reading glasses.




But, it's my mess, dammit, and I like it that way. Besides, no one rummages around there besides me.

This mess does bleed out into my life in certain ways. While I am, admittedly, particular about the condition of my living space, that's not to say that I'm much of minimalist. It's true, I've whittled down things to what I think I need. But this includes a lot books, random rocks, various mementos and, yes, bric-a-brac, that helps make our house a home.

Every once in a while The Kid will ask if I've actually read all the books in the house, to which I usually replay something to the effect of " Most of them." Truthfully, I never want to run out of books on hand that I haven't read. That way if I owe the public library too much in late fees (which is as inevitable as the sunrise), I can lean on a few books on our shelves until the drought passes.

So why, you may ask, do I keep the books I've already read?

Well let me ask you: Do you never talk to old friends just because you've already talked to them and only make new friends?

The books I've read are old friends and fine company. And I like being able to go back and read them, revisit, 

My writing area in the basement -- that I affectionately refer to as The Bunker -- is similarly organized. I have hard and digital files and old journals dating back to the early 90's, when I started journaling. I have records -- the kind that go on record players -- cassettes, CD's books, a shiny brass compass that was a gift from my brother, a skull shaped candle I got for Christmas from my niece. There's a little silver bell with no ringer. A pink magic wand that is the only thing left from my teaching -- a prop from a teacher in-service. A beech wood candle stick I turned on a lathe in Menifee County, Kentucky.

All of these things -- and the others I haven't listed here -- I keep because they, in some way, embody an important memory. It's true I can live without most of them. It's true that I still have the memories even if everything is lost, locked up in my cluttered but somehow manageable by me memory flea market.

The solace of certain things helps when the world leaves me feeling daunted. It's important for me to be able to get lost sometimes, maybe even hide. I don't get out and about like I used to -- which is usually what I'd do if I need to get some mental breathing space. Now I either retreat to The Bunker and write or find some other way to tilt at windmills using the weapon I've been granted -- words

And lately, there's a lot that leaves me daunted. If I draw any comfort from these, the days of Trumplandia, the days of the yoke and the bit, the days of democracy's death rattle, it is in the fact that it will go on whether I take notice or not, that change is perpetual and inevitable. I also draw comfort and strength from the faith I have that even if all I'm doing is taking care of my house full of people, books, and animals and writing like a madman in basement, that maybe it does help bring some measure of grace to the world. If that's all I ever do, then at least it's time well-spent. Art is created in such ways. If I'm lucky.

Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

Transitional dreams portend a seasonal shift:
like the tarot, not all is as they appear.
There is wisdom in The Hanged Man.
Escalators and hotel employees suggest
it will be a long autumn.
Train stations do not suggest travel,
but it’s better to be prepared anyway.
There are signs, and rumors of signs.
You will meet a beautiful hitchhiker.
Do not trust her.
The raggedy man will bring you a message.
Offer him beanie weenies and bottled water.
He will ask for wine, but it’s only a test.
There are no wrong answers,
only more appropriate ones.
But they do offer varying degrees of detail.
Do not be afraid to drink beer with the devil.
He wants your soul, but does not know
you have been spoken for.
The Eight of Swords is still your card.
But you are not bound to that narrative.


 











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26 July, 2017

Near where that barn burned, where all those people died, Part 1

You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile.. - Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

I mostly refused to talk myself out of going out of pure, bull-headed stubbornness.

Anyone who knows me moderately well, and a few who don't, are not at all surprised by this statement.

There aren't a lot of things that draw me back to Bethel, Ohio. Other than living there again very briefly in the late 1990's I haven't lived there since I left for college at age 18.  Nostalgia isn't something that creeps in about my old hometown. My childhood wasn't a bad one. My parents loved me. I had a few close friends. I wasn't a wildly popular kid. Quiet. Not a jock. Not an academic star. I excelled at band, but I stayed well below the radar of the guidance counselor, the principal, the majority of girls my age, and any non-familial adult who wanted shape and facilitate my future.

It would be easy to say I feel antagonistic towards my old hometown. But the truth is, I don't. However, it would also be disingenuous to say I have some lingering nostalgia, or some desire to go back.

That's not to say I wasn't nervous. I was. I wasn't worried about former classmates I might see or might not see. I was worried about running into an older self.

This happens from time to time when you embrace change and live your life based on the idea that once you brush a coat of shellac on your life, it's done. I've seen this time and time again. People find the place in their life where they feel the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most THEMSELVES, and they stop. They stop growing. They stop changing. They stop learning. They stop adapting.

When you embrace stagnation as a point of pride, you are in terrible trouble. And so is everyone around you.

I've tried not to stagnate. I've embraced change. When you're a writer, you don't really have a choice. Sharks swim or die. Art adapts or dies. It's as simple as that.

But it's hard to face who you used to be -- or who you perceived yourself to be.

18 year-old me was broken. Broken by a youth spent hiding behind rampant insecurity and social awkwardness. I learned how to hide because hiding was easier. 18 year-old me was devastated by my father's death. It shook my whole world. Before my dad died, it never occurred to me that I would live anywhere else but near where I grew up. After he died, I didn't feel like I could ever live there again. The short time that I did live there again -- renting a bed in someone's laundry room for $80 a month -- reconfirmed it.

That was the first time I ever ran into an older version of myself. Aside from a couple of close friends, people who knew me in high school could not reconcile who I was with who I had become. Still broken -- this time from a blood-letting divorce from my daughter's mother. I dropped out of college and retreated to a laundry room on a back street in a town I knew I didn't belong in anymore.

Me and my shadow. DC, circa 1986ish


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01 March, 2017

Water Gears

For an artist, a good place to be is you have some kind of influence and power to get things done, but in your essence you remain a nomad or a soldier facing a difficulty to be overcome. - Cai Guo-Qiang

This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.- Jack Kerouac


The night before last, my wife asked me if I missed being out on the road more. It's sort of a complicated question to answer because, well, I do miss being out on the road, but when I am out I miss my life here.

Leave it to a Piscean to muddy up the answer to a seemingly simple question.

But, no. Really. Most of the time, I feel like I'm out of my depth as a reasonably domesticated male. I realize that most take to the sedentary life easily. As a matter of fact, I understand that most people are, by nature sedentary. The whole of modern culture has been the result of people moving to a geographic region and staying there. I get it. I really do. And it is for that reason that, most of the time, I feel completely incompetent in the face of what it is I ought to do when my natural inclinations get in the way.

It's entirely possible that the Puritan drive towards self-immolation somehow just broke down in me. I'm not discounting the possibility that some part or another in my brain wore out sometime between the age of 10 and 18. It's entirely possible that somewhere in the multi-verse ... or hell, in multiple multi-verses... there are other variations of Mick Parsons' who have settled down, gotten that regular job, settled into being a more or less content tax-payer and registered Republican (as many of the kids from my little hometown grew up to be, just like their parents before them.) But I can't seem to get the knack of living and walking through this world without feeling like I'm doing it wrong but that to try and do it the way everyone else does would be an absolute fucking disaster.

That's not to say I'm not happy. I am very happy. And on top of that, I'm very aware that of how lucky I am in that Maslow's Hierarchy sort of way.  Amanda knows this. But when she asked me whether I miss being out more, it did give me a little pause.

I do. In some ways I think I'm better when I follow the current. The universe has a funny way of depositing me somewhere that I will see or experience something worth seeing and experiencing. I felt very much at home in my own skin out on the road. That life isn't without peril, and I don't think it's for everyone. Living out isn't like going on vacation. You may have a general direction or destination in mind, but the routes are often circuitous and longer than intended. There are very few straight lines.

That is, I think, part of the appeal. That absence of straight lines.

The thing that makes it such a complicated question is that while I recognize my natural inclination to wander, the fact is I made a conscious decision to ramble less and stay home more. That's a powerful four letter word, there. Home.

And I don't mean Louisville, though I very much like living here. And I don't mean Kentucky, though I have long thought of it as a sort of sacred geography.

Home is people. Home is a person, as a matter of fact. And when she asks me if I miss being out more, I know she asks, not because she's worried about my happiness but because she knows me well enough to know that some part of me in this and undoubtedly many other multi-verses is meant to wander a pathless land.

When I'm very lucky, I get to take her with me. But even when I she isn't with me in person, she is with me, always.

This reminds me of a little of a story I wrote years ago, called, "The Ballad of Itchy Feet." As far as I know, it's never been published anywhere of note, so I might as well publish it here. Enjoy

[More of "Letters from Trumplandia" coming. Don't worry.]

The Ballad of Itchy Feet

Once there was a man without a name.  This didn’t particularly bother him.  He never needed one.  No one ever asked him who he was or what he was called; besides, he never remained in any one place long enough for it to become and issue.  His feet did his thinking for him; he traveled or stayed at their whim. When the urge to move struck him, it came as a small itch on the underside of his heels.  A man can get along in the world without a name, so long as he never lingers anywhere so long that somebody might ask for it.

Around five in the afternoon on a day in early September, he came upon a town.  The sky over the town was filled with smothering clouds that had long drowned the sun out of local memory.  Children in the town forgot what the world looked like beneath a sky full of stars.  Day and night had become topics for uninspired Sunday sermons.  The streets were filled with rusty, useless machines—as if people drove them there, forgot their purpose, then abandoned them to the elements.  The men of the town wore gray suits and stared at the sidewalk; the women struggled with chains around their ankles attached to fifty pound weights.  They only had their hands to cover themselves, and stared at the ground out of shame and the fear of being noticed.
   
The street running through town was walled in with boarded up store fronts and withering trees.  The only open shops were the apothecary and the grocer.  The former was a squinty eyed hawker of cold corn mush, old bananas, and brown bottled water that tore up everyone’s insides.  His brother, the apothecary, pandered bitter remedies that soured the townspeople’s stomachs and rotted out their teeth.
   
The man intended to continue walking through the town and away, just as he had always done.  His feet pushed him forward, and he was content in allowing them to carry him away from the men and their suits, the women and their weights, as well as the street of rusted machines.  He has walked through many such places, and one more would simply be one more.
   
Then he saw her.
   
She wasn’t bound by chains.  Her eyes shine ahead of her like forgotten stars.  She held her head up, unashamed, and was followed by a train of long, red hair.  She was in no particular hurry. As she walked down the street, she hummed a soft lullaby.  The apothecary and grocer squinted, eyed her hungrily, and growled.  They were restless, bored, and tired of being ignored.
   
For the first time, he forced his feet to stop.  She walked toward him on the street, smiling through him, her face full of forgotten sunshine.  Before meeting her on the street, he chose a name.
   
One he would tell only to her.



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