The Lonely Winter

Last night I took a drive home. A long, isolated drive through a desolate winter world.
Upon embarking for the drive home I kissed my sister on the cheek and gave her family one last hearty goodbye, turning to make my way down their driveway to my car. It was late evening, and the first flurries of a nasty winter storm were just starting to fall. I had no desire to be caught up in it too far from home.
I turned the key in the ignition and the old beauty coughed herself awake with the vigor of an aged, faithful dog greeting it’s owner at the door after a day of absence.
I eased the car back down the driveway, mounds of shoveled snow towering over my car on either side. The winter had been harsh – record low temperatures and record high snowfalls. With another foot forecast tonight dallying on the drive would be ill-advised. Already the tree line along the road was obscured with white swirls. Snow snakes slithered and swam along the grey road ahead of me.  The riverside parkway drive was almost devoid of other drivers. It was a holiday, there wouldn’t be too many people out on the road with the Nor’easter bearing down over the city.
I drove carefully, watching the deserted streets while taking chance peeks at the void of whiteness to my left stretching out over the river. The sun swam hazily somewhere above the fog of blowing snow casting a warm, lazy glow across what I could make out of the frozen waters. There was something hypnotic about the emptiness of it. The abstract sight of that white nothingness pulled on me – I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it. The snow fell harder now – thin, fast flakes in a furious flurry chaotically darting through my high beams. My distraction was becoming dangerous.
I spied a small driveway off the road and pulled over into it. A river lookout nestled between skeletal trees. As the snow fell stronger I sat for a while and admired the stark vista.
As I watched their was a brief moment where the snow suddenly lifted, and I was struck with awe at the colours sent out through the flurries. The setting sun hung idly above the horizon, an indistinct glowing orb sending out fans of fiery flavor across the vacant waste. The clouds above mirrored the windswept snow dunes across the frozen lake – sharp, jagged angles, illuminated contours whistling of a cold harshness.
The storm closed in again and barred down on me. I knew I should leave, avoid the potential of getting stuck there or sliding into a ditch, but something kept me rooted to the sight of those frozen crags out over the river. I sat and contemplated the construct of winter around me. The dead trees reaching desperately towards an apathetic sun. The bone-like structure of the landscape – the absolutely lonely desolation of it, entranced me. I felt like something was waiting beneath it all, like the whole story wasn’t showing.
I reveled in confined comfort within that car for a long time, watching as the storm abated and night time fell, feeling a part of something larger I didn’t understand.
When I finally put the car in gear and slowly eased back onto the snow coated road darkness had taken over and I had to drive slow and careful to make it back to the city. After an hour the city buildings loomed ahead and I felt at peace with myself and the world.

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you. In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself. Spring, summer, and fall fill us with hope; winter alone reminds us of the human condition.
~ Ruth Stout

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Epitaph

Here lies Jacob Joe.
He lived a life full of woe.
Never knew where to go.
Now he lies down below.

Bought my plot today.
Guess I own it now.
My very own patch of dirt surrounded by dead strangers.
Lovely thought.
I’ll be found by strangers, when I go. Taken to a morgue, by strangers. Prettied up by strangers for a viewing of sorts. Buried by strangers.
Should I even have a viewing? Who would come? Seems kind of pointless.
Dreams of having my own wife, my own kids, are so long abandoned now.
Just another lonely old dead fucker to put in the ground.
Sure, I had friends. Maybe one or two of them will get word and shed a thought for those old fun times we had. Those laughs before they all got on with their real lives and their families and stopped buggering their lives away at menial, meaningless jobs and the same old bars.
Or they’re dead, I guess.
I’ll have a viewing anyway. What the heck.
I suppose I’ll have to buy my own tombstone next. And my own coffin.
How does that work?
Do I bring the tombstone home with me? Stick it on the mantel until it’s time to stick me in the ground? A nice reminder of approaching death?
Do I try out the coffin in the store?
Seems comfy. Roomy.
Does it come in red?
I’m particularly apprehensive about dying.
At this point, it’ll probably be alright.
Gotta write my own epitaph too, I suppose. What’s that supposed to say?
“Here lies so-‘n-so.
Born and died some when and such.
Wasted his entire life.
And now he’s dead.”
Sounds about right.

Here lies Mr Wouldn’t.
Spent his life saying he couldn’t.
For fear of failing he decided he shouldn’t.
And now he’s dead and..

And he can’t even do a silly rhyme right.
Bloody useless.
Sitting alone in this old rickety kitchen, thinking about my epitaph.
Fine Saturday this one turned out to be.
Not that much different than the last thousand mind.
Thousand or so.
Done asking myself where it all went wrong.
That parts easy.
I had dreams. Wanted to be a weather man. Meteorologist. Or a biologist. Journalist. Archaeologist. Even anthropologist. Any gist would have done really.
I wanted to do them all. Ended up doing none.
Sat on my arse for years didn’t I. Putting it off. Drinking at the bar with the lads, hitting on the ladies, slaving away at that bloody call center week after week after week. Years and years of getting by, slowly trading my dreams.
Traded for hangovers and television.
Got fat. Lost my hair. Never did anything. Never went anywhere.
What woman wants that?
Friends all worked hard. Found their dream jobs, moved away.
Family forgot about me.
Cushy boring job got the best of me.
And here I am.

Here lies a lazy slob.
He sat on his couch and became a blob.
Wasted his life at a useless job.
Never made a girls heart throb.

That’s not bad.
Doesn’t need to rhyme, I suppose.
Anyway that’s a lie isn’t it. There was Keri, and Chloe, and Lorraine, and Fiona.
And the rest.
We we laughed didn’t we. Laughed and made love and went for brunches.
And they said common Joe. Get your arse in gear.
And I didn’t, did I.
They all went on to their successful careers didn’t they. In business and music and the government and all that.
With their handsome successful husbands.
What I could never be.
They all left and I wallowed around for it looking for things outside myself to focus the blame.
Deflect the responsibility.
Deny that it was me, all along.
The waste of space.
No one is going to recoil at the announcement of my passing.
No one is even going to know.

Here he lies.
Covered in flies.
Under grey skies.
To no ones surprise.

For real now. Let’s see.
He wanted to do something, but couldn’t quite figure it out.
Na.
Regrets a wasted life.
Would do it all differently had he another go.
Yeah, I suppose I would. Maybe it isn’t too late. I could still give it a go. There’s life in these old bones yet.
Maybe I can still make an epitaph. Something to be proud of.
Here lies Jacob Joe. He died a happy old man.
That would be a nice one.
Anyway it hasn’t been all bad has it. There’s been laughs.
And loves.
Good living, that. Not everyone can say it. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself.

Here lies Jacob Joe.
Had a good run.

Yup, that’ll do.
For now.
Anyway it doesn’t have to be done now does it.
Lot of life left in these bones yet. Few years or so.
Few good years.
To waste.
Well, better get started.

Codswallop, Pop

“You’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
That’s what my father used to say.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”

He would pick me up after school on Tuesdays, the day when it was his turn to have me for an evening. I’d get out of class chatting with my friends and there he’d be, standing by the gate smoking a cigarette looking ragtag and forlorn, like he wasn’t really sure he was in the right place. I suppose that’s how he felt about fatherhood, in a way.

“Hi, Pop.” I would say. He’d ask me how my day was without much interest and we’d begin our walk across town together. I bantered on in that eight year old way to him about what the teachers said and did that day. Together we crossed old streets down through the small old town. We would pass candy shops and old family houses standing inches apart. We would wave at the firemen as we passed the fire station, its red garage doors standing open showing off the gleaming trucks inside. We’d pass the pubs where my father would spend the nights with the lads reminiscing about women and fishing and various other drinking nights. Then we’d start up the steep hills lined with quaint turn-of-the-century houses of various pastel colours until, huffing, we would finally get to the old train station at the top. Passing that we’d walk through the football field on the highest part of town, the slippery mud from evening rains clinging to my black school shoes and trousers. We’d walk and I would look upon this friendly man, this old, tattooed fisherman with long hair and stained jeans, and quiz him with the simple curiosity of childhood.

“Pop” I’d say, “why don’t the robots just send a terminator back to the 1800’s and kill John’s Great Great Great Grandfather?”
“Dunno lad” he’d reply. “I’d watch that movie though!”
“Pop” I’d say, “how come Michael Jackson changed his skin colour? Can I change my skin?”
“He felt like it” he’d reply. “Wanna be a black man lad? You’d be a better dancer that’s for sure.”
“Pop” I’d say, “if Al is so unhappy in his marriage, why doesn’t he just leave Peggy? You left Mum easy enough.”
“I sure did boy” he’d reply. “And I’d do it again!”
My father never had much use for tact.
“Pop” I’d say, “why did you marry in the first place? Did you love her? Why don’t you now?”

My father would just ignore me when a question got too tough. Dissolve the whole thing into silence and hope it goes away. We’d stop at the end of the football pitch beside the square concrete public washrooms. It was where they set off the fireworks on Fireworks Day. Strewn about were triangular patches of dirt I supposed were designed for plants of some kind, but they always remained dirt patches.
We always stopped there on the walk. He liked to look at the view to a bit, do some reflecting, I supposed. He’d light a cigarette and breathe in the air and tell me that was his favourite spot. You could see so far from up there, all across town one way or another. You could see the houses lined up along the steep streets, little squares of yellow or blue or pink with patchwork rooftops. You could see all the way down to the docks and the fish factory and the open ocean beyond, see the big trawlers sitting in the murky waters. Rusted giants caught in nets of steel cables.

Pop hurt his back real bad on the boats a few years before. I didn’t know what happened, think maybe he got impaled by something on rough seas. You could tell he missed the work. His face creased when he looked down on those boats, or when his nose caught a particularly strong whiff of that salty, fishy aroma that never ceased to waft through town. I loved those moments with my father, standing there, waiting for him to break the spell with some inane comment.
“Well, Son, I tell ya – I gotta take a piss.”
Then he’d disappear for five minutes into the concrete block of public toilets, the stench of a hundred piss stains encroaching on my nostrils as the door swung open and closed.

This time, however, I hadn’t given up on getting an answer out of my father. Even to an eight year old “gotta take a piss” seemed like a lackluster reason to leave your wife, so after he finally appeared again and we made our way on, I pressed the question.
“Pop” I’d say, “you didn’t leave Mum to take a piss. I know. Did you love her Pop?”
“Of course I loved her, m’boy” he’d reply. “Married ‘er, didn’t I?”
“Then why did you leave her Pop?”

We turned off the field onto his street. It was a dainty new neighbourhood piled with small pink houses and little front gardens with tiny white fences. I remembered the area being brambles and bushes as far as you could see not too long before. I fell into a stinging nettle patch in there once, probably somewhere close to where my fathers new house sat.

We walked in silence a bit more. I could tell my father was still mulling the question, seeing how he could best dodge it without any follow up. The mud from my shoes left gradually dissipating brown footsteps on the new white pavement. The rainclouds above conspired to wash them away.
Finally, he broke the silence with his usual dose of profound wisdom.
“Son” he’d say, “the truth is, at the end of the day, love ain’t nothin’ but a bunch o’ codswallop. It comes and it goes. ”
He’d slap a meaty hand on my shoulder and guffaw a little. The humour of slaying part of my eight year old innocence with such a blunt statement was apparently not lost to him. The first lines on my own face came from those bitter truths he’d lay upon me when taking a piss wasn’t a good enough distraction.
“Ain’t nothin’ but gibbledigoosh and codswallop an’ you’re best off rememberin’ that.”
As a shadow fell across my young heart so too did a stony wind kick up at that moment, shaking my bones and ruffling my hair. It was one of those winds that foreshadowed the hardships of growing up that lay ahead.
“Does that mean you wont love me anymore sometime too, Pop?”
Looking back now, from across the way of how things ended up being, it’s funny to think how poignant such an innocent question can be.
My father stopped in the street and looked at me. His face was hard, as if he somehow knew the years would soon begin to pull us apart.
“No, Son” he’d say. “I will never stop loving you.”
And he really meant it.
“Why Pop?”
“Because you’re codswallop ain’t ya!”
My fathers usual approach to a difficult talk he just wanted to end.
“Gibbledigoosh and codswallop, y’are! And don’t ya forget it!”
I knew better than to push the topic at that point. Then, affectionately, he’d give me a ‘bloody great clip right round the ear’ as he called it, whipping my head forward. It was just one of those things. If I moaned about it I’d get another one and that would be the end of it. If I bothered to ask why I’d just gotten a clip round the ear after being told how loved I was, I’d usually get some excuse about it being “for later, when ya do something bad.”
It was hard to argue with that logic.

Drops of rain would begin falling on my head at some point around here, just before we’d get to my fathers house. That’s how I remember things from back then. The sky was almost always overcast grey in that small seaside down, the rain always just about to fall, my memories always damp and cold.
I held his hand as we crossed the street.

It’s been fifteen years since I’ve seen my father. Maybe longer. Oh, he’s still alive, in that old small fishing town with it’s smelly public pissers and muddy football fields, it’s rusting trawlers and pretty pastel houses. He sends me a message once in a while asking how I’m doing, telling me he misses his son.
But to me, it’s all a bit of codswallop really.
Gibbledigoosh and codswallop.

There Is No ‘Is’ In God

A friend challenged me to define my belief in God, since he apparently had trouble understanding it during our inebriated back-and-forth slurring at the bar after last call. Here’s my attempt at defining this most controversial of beliefs as objectively as possible.
Additionally I decided to forgo the use of the word ‘is’ for the duration of this writing, as I feel when writing about something such as an unknowable concept like God using definite affirmations seems counter-intuitive. Plus, it may end up being way more fun this way. Certainly more challenging.

I believe in life. In existence. I appear to be perceiving and interacting with the universe, and seeing seems to be believing. I have an idea that everyone else believes in existence too, although I have no way of knowing if anyone else exists consciously other than myself except through word of mouth. Yes, you can tell me you exist, and yes I appear to be able to physically observe your existence, but objectively that cannot be considered anything more than proof of my own ability to observe and interact with the vibrations of reality that intersect my own consciousness and drive my own perception of reality. Therefore I can only trust myself, and not take the word of someone else and what they may believe when considering my own beliefs.

I’m a humanist I suppose, so yes in a sense I do believe in a concept of God. God, from my observations of my own experience of existence, does not appear to be a person or some corporeal entity that exists separately from my own consciousness to watch and govern my actions. I do not believe in a God as creator of the universe or divine father. Rather, God can be observed and appreciated in the way a beautiful woman moves as she dances Flamenco in a flowing red dress, or a radiant golden sunset over a rippling ocean casts diamonds of light across the waves. God could be that first bite of thanksgiving turkey after a day of preparing and fasting for it. God may be kissing and loving your wife or husband, and God can be heard in the first word of your child, and the stars at night and even that bloody nagging itch that wont go away on my calf. God, from my perspective, can be considered to be my conscious perception of these great things and my ability to mentally process and take delight in them. Or sorrow, fear, remorse etc. God is not limited to the positive – any action, any emotion, any experience at all is a derivative of the experience of God itself.

I read once that the word ‘Allah’ originated as an exclamation of sighting God. I find that to be really quite poetic and simple, if it were to be the true meaning. From my understanding one would chant “Allah Allah!” upon observing great things, like an amazing dance or a fantastic feast or a beautiful natural sight. “Allah! A glimpse of God!”
Sadly I have found nothing to back this up, so it seems unlikely to be true. Be that as it may I still like to think of it as such.

It may seem like I am saying I believe that I myself am God, especially since the only intention I can observe to exist in the universe is my own, but I do not mean that only my experience can be God. Yes, I am God, but you are God, too. God can be considered as life itself and the act of existence and observance of existence. We are all God. I’d like to say that God is the human experience, but that would be unfair to dogs and elephants and dolphins and spiders and, well, possibly even trees I suppose. They are God as well. Facets of God, at very least. God as in the conscious observation of reality (defining reality can wait for another day). Since animals do consciously observe and interact with the world it would be unfair to say they are not included. An argument can be made to say that self-awareness should be necessary for the definition but I believe we simply do not know enough about the animal experience to omit them.

So yeah, I guess you could say I do believe in God. Probably not the same way anyone else does though. And that’s the cool thing – our relationships with life are deeply individual (unless you join a religion I suppose, but I have too little experience with religion to comment fairly). Some people put a face to life and call it their God. Others just love life.

In short I’m just using the word God to explain my feelings on the state of active participation with life. Perhaps that can be considered stealing the word and redefining it. That may be so, but that is still my belief on the concept of God, if I must have one.
Ultimately I consider myself a scientist. That is my current profession if not my vocation. But one important facet of science can be defined as the search for the human soul, and that can ultimately be considered the search for God itself from a certain perspective.
It often amuses me that science and faith appear to be so at odds with each other when at the end of the day they appear to be a search for the exact same thing. I find it interesting how much a simple difference in definition, a re-imagining of the words, can divide people so strongly.

Phew. That was more challenging than I expected! Did I slip up? Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments, I love hearing other opinions and perspectives on topics such as these. :)

Translation: Procrastination

No new posts for a while. The writing world is a moving, powerful one, full of immense highs and bottomless lows of emotion. It’s also an unapologetic time hogg, demanding countless hours of hunch-backed concentration with fingers dancing spastically over the keyboard. Or poised, ready and waiting for the elusive muse like leaves holding still for a gust of wind to jolt them into life, which is usually more the case.

Unfortunately I have an affliction – I am addicted to keeping myself far too busy for  the high demands of the writing life during certain periods of time. This is one of them. Whether it’s the extra hours spent whittling away at my high tech career building lasers, or the ceaseless attempts at making beautiful women fall hopelessly in love with me, or the all important, instantly forgotten drunken conversations at the bar late into the night, there is always something to prevent the necessary input of creation. How I love and lament this addiction to busyness!

I am also an expert, nay, professional escapism artist. Or rather, I would be, if I could find someone to create the profession. You see, I have an unquenchable thirst for stories. All stories. Any stories. I believe every single piece of art ever created tells a story – that art in itself is in essence story crafting. Whether your sculpting device is a pen, or a paint brush, or a computer or a guitar or pasta and glue it is all in service of the same end result – we want to show and we want to tell. We want to share with the world something inside of us.

I want to do that. We all do to some degree. But I have a stronger urge, the urge to devour every story by everyone, no matter what it is. And so I’ll find myself standing for 20 minutes in front of a shop window at a particular piece of colorful contemporary modern art envisioning the story, or nose-to-page deep in an old-smelling book of fiction as the sun sets and rises unnoticed. I’ll scour the depths of dungeons in video games immersed fully in the unraveling woven tales, or be mesmerized by the thickening plots of my favourite TV shows and movies. I’ll even sit for hours just listening to the soulful tracks of my favourite artists and greedily lap up every emotion.

I’ll consume it all. Give me your stories. Hell maybe I’ll actually create my own some day. That is, if I ever get over this addiction to mental stimulation. This burning need to be busy, to be social or working or chasing women or lost in fantasy worlds or drinking or dancing or anything, anything it seems, other than giving my time to the writing life.

I just don’t have the time.
And procrastination is -such- a dirty word.