Showing posts with label visitation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label visitation. Show all posts

23 April, 2012

Disappearing Geography, Cont. (Bluegrass Slingshot, Ashland, KY)

and it is possible a great energy / is moving near me. - Rainer Maria Rilke 

The wind that blows /  Is all that any body knows. - Henry David Thoreau

Bunker School, Beartown, Elliot County, KY
Kentucky is a state best understood in terms of gradients and degrees. From east to west, ignoring the more or less arbitrary lines drawn on a map, it's possible to separate Kentucky into several parts, each with a unique sense of culture and self. The eastern range -- part of the Appalachia (that also includes the far eastern part of Ohio, some of Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and all of West Virginia) -- is in many ways as culturally isolated from the far western part of the state as Spain is from the Ukraine.

And when I think about Kentucky -- in reality or in the abstract -- I always think about the mountains. No doubt this is because I spent some formative years going to school at Morehead State University. (I have spend many years since working to undo the damage done to me in the halls of academia, without destroying the little bit of important work that actually went on.)  I think about living in the cabin in Menifee County. I think about climbing Lockegee Rock. I think about the many friends I have here, and about how much I've lived and learned (and unlearned) here. There's so much here that informs the internal geography; but it always comes back to the mountains and the life that hides within and around them.

The life that people rarely see and rarely pay attention to.

And when I get the chance to return, I always take it. Not because it's my home, or because this clay earth is the same clay earth in my bones... but because of the mountains and because of the life and death and history and myth etched into the dust, cut into the hollers, into the back roads, and into the long memory --

the memory of everything, and of everyone of no one.

The Zen Master Bodhidharma is reported to have said in The Bloodstream Sermon that "Life and Death are important. Do not suffer them in vain."  My week back in Ashland with Mike and Liz bring this idea into sharp focus.

When I first arrived, Mike -- greeted me in the parking lot next to their apartment with the news that he and Liz were going to have a kid. Even though I have expressed opinions about whether I ought to have more children -- that opinion being that I ought not -- I think it's a good thing when another life is going to be brought into the world.  Each new life is a potential for something good; and while chances are better than average that the fetus --  if it is carried to term, is born, lives, and grows up -- will become one more cog in an ever growing and self-digesting and excreting machina mori, I choose to hold on to some hope.
Though the machinations that seem to control our lives have, in the process, engineered their own sense of inevitability... that lingering concept of Manifest Destiny*, that all this muckity muck was foreordained and therefore unconquerable... what faith I have left is in the possibility that people will choose, at some point, to ignore the myths they've let themselves believe in.

And as is common with the news of pregnancy -- especially first pregnancies -- the talk focused around baby names. Mostly rejections of names that would mostly serve to amuse adults and torture the child.

One of the best came from friend and fellow writer Misty Skaggs, who suggested -- and then proclaimed that she would never call Baby Frazier anything else but -- Festus.

It became quickly obvious, though, that something was wrong. When Mike and Liz woke up early that Tuesday morning to go to the hospital, it wasn't hard to figure. Mike called me with an update later that day, after the doctor decided to admit her for the night for observation, telling me Liz had miscarriage. He came home eventually --  long enough to shower, change clothes, and have a few stiff drinks -- and then went back to spend the night at the hospital with his wife.

The doctor later informed them that she suffered from pseudocyesis -- a false or what is sometimes referred to as a hysterical pregnancy. According to the doctor... who was too busy trying to get to surgery to explain it well, or to even fake a kind bedside manner... Liz's body lied and TOLD her she was pregnant... which was confirmed by two at home tests and the self same doctor who had no advice for her or Mike other than to use condoms.

If you ever need a reason why I DESPISE the medical profession... count this as one more. 

She went home the day after, and both her and Mike slept for a solid 15 hours. The day after, we ended up spending some quality time in Elliot County with friend, poet, and awesome homemade strawberry pie maker, Misty Skaggs.

Driving out to visit Misty is is like driving into some primordial free space that has existed since the beginning of deep time. The road narrows quickly and it doesn't take long before the cement breaks up altogether and your tires are rolling over gravel. The roads take on familial names. Houses and trailers sprout out of the overgrown foliage. There are small family graveyards where Misty can recount the generations.

This dust is her dust, and she has it in her bones.

Our other option was to sit around Mike and Liz's place, where Liz would have deservedly and rightfully moped. Instead we ended up taking a 12 pack to a quiet cemetery, spreading out a blanket, sitting under tall shade tree, and talking. Not necessarily about what happened, but that came up some too. Mostly we sat, enjoyed simple conversation, and waited as the rain rolled in. When the rain clouds DID roll in, we knew, because the scent in the air changed.

There are those that might not appreciate the peace of mind that comes from sitting on some secluded hill in a forgotten hollar where WiFi and cell service are next to non-existent. It's one of those deep pockets of the world that, as the world moves on, moves on its own time, its own rhythm, and with it's own purpose. The marks of the modern world are still there, of course. And the evidence of poverty, survival, and economic disparity are there too. It's the sort of place you can go and leave a memory and pick up something that will help you down the road on your travels.

It's the sort of place you envy because it's not your home. Because it's not your dust.

It's the sort of place that has healing powers which, in the wrong hands, would cease to exist.

12 April, 2012

The Traveler's Tourist Plight, Virginia Beach, Intermezzo: The Norwegian Lady

Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awful. - Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

I won't leave you drifting down, but it makes me wild,
With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child. - The Grateful Dead, Ship of Fools

This respite, this visit back to Virginia, is an out of sequence slingshot back into territory I've been to recently. But given that I didn't get to spend much time with her when I was here before, and that My Dear Sweet Ma was going to drive out here anyway, and given that other than making sure I catch the right bus, I'm on my own time anyway

I decided, what the hell. 

And, I told myself, Virginia Beach isn't Norfolk.

More importantly, however, I wanted to spend a bit more time with The Kid before I spend some time out west. Now, this slingshot has been on the touristy side... trying to find things to do that keep us all entertained is more challenging than you might think. I'm an aficionado of dive bars, the Kid likes Kid-like stuff and fine food (she wants to be a chef) and My Dear Sweet Ma does what Dear Sweet Ma wants to do... whether it's pedaling a surrey up and down the boardwalk, mini-golfing like  Senior Tour Pro, or sitting around doing nothing. The good news is that I'm fairly reasonable as long as dancing isn't involved, and Stella will do most anything that's legal / moral / ethical to avoid being bored.

She's young. But she is my daughter. It's probably just a matter of time. Or she's become an accomplished liar. I'm opting for the former, since I've seen her try and lie. Let's just say she'll never be a professional gambler

Which is a good thing.

Among the usual touristy bric-a-brac around here to occupy people when the water's too cold and the clubs are too crowded, there are some random statues. One of them is The Norwegian Lady, located at 25th and Oceanfront. The statue stands, facing the ocean, fist held to mouth in mourning ... or defiance.

There's actually two of them... one here at Virginia Beach (pictured above with The Kid standing next to it) an one in Moss, Norway... in honor of the lives lost on Good Friday 1891, when the Norwegian ship Dictator sunk in Chesapeake Bay. The Captain was washed ashore, semi-conscious. His pregnant wife, their four year old son, and seven of the 15 crew members died. The statues were made after the Dictator's female figurehead. The plaque reads:

"I am the Norwegian Lady. I stand here, as my sister before me, to wish all men of the sea safe return home."

It's all very solemn, the statue, the thought behind it. Much of these little tragedies, often forgotten in the larger waves and breakers of history.

When people think about the latter years of the 19th century and sinking ships, they MAY think about the U.S.S Maine and The Spanish-American War. I add the small qualification because the Spanish-American War, it's causes -- the real ones --, as well as it's long term effects are rarely discussed except as a footnote in the myth of American Manifest Destiny.

That image of the waiting lady is one that haunts nautical cities. Another one is the Fisherman's Wives Memorial at Cape Ann in  Gloucester Maine.

There's a haunting romance to the image... that idea that mothers, wives, and daughters will wait on us to return. There's some inherent misogyny too... as if a woman's entire being will evaporate if the man she loves disappears. With respect to both the romantics and the feminists, though, the truth is probably closer to a little of both. What was it Hemingway said? The world breaks everybody?

Well, it does.

And To be fair, though, America didn't invent the trope of the waiting woman. Here's one in Vietnam, called Hòn Vọng Phu (Statue of Husband Waiting). No one knows exactly how the statue got there, but it was often used by locals to tell stories and teach moral lessons to their children.

The haunting romanticism, the lessons in endurance, the example of dedication, however, falls apart at some point. Life moves on. Daughters grow up. Wives learn to live in the absence of their beloved. Some of them get remarried. Mothers learn to let go of their children. Daughters grow up and leave. Sons sometimes don't come back.

And there are always reasons. And there are also good reasons.

When I had the chance to come back and visit Stella, even for a little bit, even though being a tourist drives me a little crazy, it was because I know she's not waiting. Time is moving forward and she's growing up and I'm getting older. A year from now she'll be preparing to graduate from high school. She's already thinking about her future.

For most of Stella's life, I've been haunted by a vision I had of the future when she was around 4 years old. Her mother was living in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. I was living in Lexington. At the time, I was seeing her one night a week and every other weekend... one of those standard divorce decree visitation schedules that screws the non-custodial parent out of real and meaningful time... as if the marriage not working out was somehow a mark against the whole of me instead of just against one role that I have apparently never played very well.

I picked her up, like I always did. We went to Burger King, where she was allowed to get as many ketchup cups as years she was old. The weather was nice that evening, so I took her to the of the parks, her favorite, near the hospital. There was a giant wooden jungle gym there that looked like a castle. She loved it. I had to park on the street, a little bit down from the jungle gym. I got her out of her car seat and set her down on the grass. There was a slight hill that ran down into the park, towards a merry-go-round... the kind that are difficult to find now because the safety fanatics decided they weren't safe.

The minute her feet hit the grass, she started running towards the merry-go-round, laughing. I was scared that she'd get her feet twisted and fall and started going after her. She made it down the hill and to the merry-go-round without falling, wanting me to hurry up so I could spin the merry-go-round for her.

She was still laughing.

Sometimes that image her at four years old flashes through my mind and I get a taste of that old fear... that she will run too fast and fall and that I won't be there in time to catch her. That she will run too fast and I will chase after and not be able to catch her.

But if life has taught me anything --  it's that parents always wait. Always. Whether it makes sense or not. Whether the kids know it or not. Whether it does any good or not. Waiting is the at the core of what defines parenthood. You start out waiting for them to be born. Then you wait for them to crawl, talk, walk. We mark off the inches they grow and we mark the mental checklist of things they need to learn. We wait. We wait for them to learn how to drive. Then we wait for them to come home. We wait to meet their boyfriends or girlfriends. We wait. And wait.

Then at some point, we may notice that we've been waiting so long that they're gone. And the only thing we can do is wait.