“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.” ~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

Loch Maree, UKby Tobias Richter
Loch Maree, UK
by Tobias Richter

                   

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” ~ Virginia Woolf

Wednesday afternoon. Rainy and cold, 44 degrees.

Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, technology allows us to connect with people all over the world at any given our of any given day. We can share what is going on in a country at war with itself in real time. Consider the Arab Spring. We cam share a sunrise on the other side of the world via real-time posts of photographs on networks like tumblr or Facebook or Twitter.

Isle of Skye: Talisker Bayby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Talisker Bay
by Tobias Richter

Yet for all of its benefits, technology also serves to isolate us. I am speaking, of course, from personal experience.

It is so much easier for me to correspond with people in the various circle of my life via text or e-mail or comments sections than it is to get in the car, drive, and visit someone in person. For isolationists such as myself, this is not a boon. By making it so easy to maintain virtual relationships it has also become so easy to abandon real-life relationships.

What I am contending is not anything new or groundbreaking, but it does help to answer some questions that I’ve been pondering, namely, how is it easy for me to stay in the house for weeks at a time? That, and have I become boring?

Technology answers the first, and probably the second.

“I am infinitely strange to myself.” ~ John Fowles, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Bollhagen, Germanyby Tobias Richter
Bollhagen, Germany
by Tobias Richter

Perhaps I should have prefaced the former by saying that today is a bad day. I am now officially out of my antidepressant; my health insurance is in limbo awaiting reinstatement after we catch up on premiums; Corey is becoming more sullen with each passing day that he is not working or hearing from prospective employers. Granted, he is still officially employed, but he so wants to move to a position that does not take him away for 90 days at a time, so this time his hiatus is quite different from the last time.

Nevertheless, he worries, as do I, and both of us fretting makes for tension. Between my health insurance, the mortgage, and the utilities, our income is being eaten before it materializes. Neither of us wanted to be back in this position. It is far too stress-inducing. The term “financial cliff” is more than a metaphor for the nation’s current solvency, and that is unfortunate. At least we don’t have to have a super majority vote to rectify our personal cliff, which, I suppose, is somewhat of a comfort.

So yes, today is prickly. I’ve had Patty Griffin’s playlist running for the past couple hours, prompted in part by Izaak Mak’s posting of the song on NCIS last night (see below). I love her voice, but granted, her songs are not exactly happy feet music. Of course, I don’t really like happy feet music, do I?

“The unknown is an abstraction; the known, a desert; but what is half-known, half-seen, is the perfect breeding ground for desire and hallucination.” ~ Juan José Saer, from The Witness

I had my military dream last night; the difference was that I was not in the military, but I had been chosen to teach a class to a group of soldiers, all female. The strangeness began when we boarded a bus that then became a boat of sorts. It took us down this waterway that was a graveyard for vessels of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. I was wondering how the bus was maneuvering through all of this without hitting anything when I suddenly saw a pile of skulls out the bus window. The skulls were bleached white from the sun.

Cuckmere Bay, Seven Sisters, UKby Tobias Richter
Cuckmere Bay, Seven Sisters, UK
by Tobias Richter

As the bus continued through the water I saw more piles of skulls, some small and some so massive that they were cascading. I wondered how the military could allow its soldiers to come to their final resting place in wreckage, and it bothered me tremendously.

I realized that I had never seen a real human skull up close, only in film, and the starkness of the piles tore at me, but I could not show weakness in front of these female soldiers. I asked for a cup of strong coffee and tried to shake it off.

I awoke with a massive headache.

“To find is the thing.” ~ Pablo Picasso

So back to my opening statement.

My world has extended far beyond the borders of this house or this yard or this neighborhood. Beyond this city or this region or this country, and that is something I have always sought—to be a child of the universe, per se.

Each day I peruse pictures of nebulae, coastlines, ruins, architecture, pictures taken with satellites and phones. I see things that I wouldn’t have had easy access to even 20 years ago. I find this miraculous really. I mean, I know what’s going on in Namibia, Queensland, and Reykjavik. And if I am honest, I must admit that by expanding my horizons in this way I have also expanded my empathic circle.

Isle of Skye: Neist Pointby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Neist Point
by Tobias Richter

By that I mean, I care so much more. Let me back up for a moment. When I was young, a child only, I saw pictures of the war on the news and in newspapers. I saw suffering as it was presented to me through the filter of editors, publishers and producers. My first glimpse of a crystal blue sea was in a book.

Now, I access such information without anyone on the other side deciding whether or not it’s a good idea to put this image or that story out there for consumption. This is both good and bad. It is good as it allows us—all of us who care to—allows us to see what’s happening, but without the filter of an editor or a producer, we very often encounter those things that are extremely disturbing.

Without an authority figure out there to decide what is best for us, we can literally see everything. Is it too much?

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” ~ Lord Byron, from poem of same name (correction; previously attributed to Jon Krakauer)

I don’t think that this is the kind of discovery that Thoreau had in mind, and part of me yearns for simpler times, but isn’t that always the way that it is?

Regardless of how misguided you think Christopher McCandless was when he went into the wilds of Alaska, there is still something admirable about his vision quest when looked at simply: He wanted to be able to find his own truth without outside influences telling him what he should do or how he should think.

Isle of Skye: Trotternish Highlandsby Tobias Richter
Isle of Skye: Trotternish Highlands
by Tobias Richter

I know that in many, many ways, that is the same thing that I have always wanted. Yet here I sit, allowing so very many outside influences into my life, pouring into my brain images of this or that or the other. I seek this deliberately, and in so doing, I contradict myself.

My friend on Titirangi Storyteller posted a beautiful image of a lighthouse on a craggy island. I was immediately drawn to this image much like the image in the section above, immediately understood what she meant about wanting to live there. But to live there would be, essentially, to live without all of the accoutrement of today’s technology. I am certain there is no wi-fi on that island, no cable, no BBC America, no tumblr, no Internet.

It’s starkness appeals to me, but could I do it? Could I abandon these tethers for that kind of freedom? And if I did something like this, would it actually be freedom?

I have no answers, only more questions.

More later. Peace.

(All images by Tobias Richter, used with permission.)

Music by Patty Griffin, “Not Alone” (from last night’s episode of NCIS)

youtube=http://youtu.be/chU5b7bgls4

                   

The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

~ Margaret Atwood

“People melt, break beneath the fire of an intolerable pain in which they, at the same time, are also regenerated.” ~ Albert Camus, Notebooks: 1951-1959

Tree Tunnel, Aberglasney, Wales by Kev Bailey

                   

“Overhead the geese are a line,
a moving scar. Wavering
like a strand of pollen on the surface of a pond.
Like them, we carry each year in our bodies.
Our blood is time.” ~ Anne Michaels, from “Miner’s Pond”

Wednesday evening. Hazy, hot, and humid.

Llanrwst Bridge, Conwy River, Wales

More bad news. How much bad news can any individual withstand before beginning to shut down? Wondering about that.

The contract that Corey’s employer was so certain was going to come through, the one that would have put him in a supervisory position, the one that would have guaranteed him at least 40 to 48 hours a week, that contract? Not happening. So far this week, Corey has worked 12 hours. Obviously, we cannot survive on so few hours, especially with no promise of more to come.

And Transatlantic, that shipping company to which Corey applied months ago and then forgot about because he hadn’t heard from them, that one? They called today to offer him an AB position on the boat beginning in June. Sounds great, right? Wrong. Corey had to let his MMD and his AB certification expire in April because the renewal cost more than we had, and we had planned to use some of the tax return money to pay for that. No papers, no job.

Things just keep getting better and better.

Did I mention that I have a Sisyphus watch? The second-hand is a stick figure of Sisyphus pushing the boulder around the face of the watch. When I bought it for $5 last year, I felt that it sort of represented my life—a constant uphill battle to gain ground. It was a bit humorous at the time. Now, not so much. I wonder if they make a Prometheus watch, you know, the Titan who was chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains only to have his liver pecked out by a great eagle each day and then have his liver grow back each night.

Obviously my Edith Hamilton Mythology was well read . . .

“This is how my sorrow became visible:
its dust,
piling up for years in my heart,
 finally reached my eyes . . .” ~ Faiz Ahmed Faiz, from “Bangladesh II”

Coastline, Wales

There are other factors at work, here, of course, and I cannot talk about them. And the not talking about it is causing me great internal strife. I can only say that the anger that I did not feel initially has finally risen to the surface, and it is roiling, like a great sea. I have no desire to feel this way. I do not want to own this anger. I want to pretend that it does not exist, be a bigger person. I want to subsume these feelings, to repress them until they disappear, and I wonder if that is possible with a disposition such as mine.

I want . . . such a loaded phrase, one that I use frequently without any real meaning behind it, as in “I want that desk,” or “I want to go on a cruise,” things that I want in passing but know will not happen. But what do I really want? I want not to feel this way. I want not to feel as if I am forever climbing a mountain only to slide back down to the base without ever making any meaningful forward motion.

I want to be happy, I mean really and truly happy, which is quite a statement for me as I know that I do not have a happy soul. I have a deep soul, a thoughtful soul, a searching soul, but a happy, content soul? Can I truly say that I have ever possessed that at any time in my life? No, not if I am to be completely truthful. I mean, I have been happy, and I have felt true happiness at various moments in my life, but I am not that person who walks around with a smile on my face, not the person who walks into a room and makes it brighter just by being there.

I have known people like that. I have envied people like that, but I don’t know that I have ever wanted to be that person. Truth be told—and apparently it is a time for brutal honesty—people who are perpetually cheerful get on my nerves. It’s as if they just put on that freaking happy face and put away any bad thoughts. Bad thoughts, don’t think those, according to the philosophy of my mom. In her words, I dwell too much. Really? Had no idea.

I need . . . almost as loaded as I want. If you were to ask me what I need at this precise moment in my life, I don’t know that I would have an answer for you. So much is unsettled, and so much seems to be out of my control. How does need even fit into that equation?

“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.” ~ T. S. Eliot, from “The Four Quartets”

Green Bridge, Pembrokeshire Coast, Wales

Christopher McCandless fancied himself a modern-day Thoreau. He renamed himself Alexander Supertramp and went into the wilds of Alaska, only to die of starvation in an abandoned school bus that he had called home. But in those months in which he was in the wild, how alive did he feel? How much of himself did he truly explore? What did he experience during his period of forced solitude, in his determined journey away from society.

I do not desire to go into the wilds of Alaska, but I have always thought that at some point in later life, I would live alone. Don’t ask me why I have harbored this belief as I could not possibly answer you. In my mind’s eye, I live in a small cottage by the sea, close enough to smell the salt air. I have my dogs and my books and my cups of tea. And little else.

But in the here and now, I do not have the cottage or the sea. I only have this deep abiding feeling that there has to be more to life than this. That the dreams that I have night after night about my unsuccessful forays back into the workforce are not just some type of Promethean mind-game, my mind’s way of torturing myself, only to awake to the same thing. My liver has regrown, but I know that the great eagle is coming to attack me again.

We have been on hold for nearly three and a half years. That we have survived is, I realize, something that I should acknowledge as something of a feat in and of itself. But surviving is not living. Surviving is existing.

“We may enjoy our room in the tower, with the painted walls and the commodious bookcases, but down in the garden there is a man digging who buried his father this morning, and it is he and his like who live the real life and speak the real language.” ~ Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

Welsh Coastline by SusanAstray (FCC)

Yes, yes. I remind myself that so many more have it so much worse. I try to maintain perspective, but honestly, perspective is not what I want right now. It is hard to wallow with perspective. It is hard to let the heart hurt with perspective. Perspective would tell me to be thankful for what I have because it all could be taken away so easily, in the blink of an eye. Perspective reminds me of the tumultuous weather patterns of the past year and the devastation left in the wake of storms.

But at this moment, right now, perspective is akin to saying that life is a bowl of cherries. In other words, not.

Am I stronger for having endured the last three and a half years? Probably, but I already had to undergo the trials to find my stockpile of inner strength. I did not think that I would have to keep being tested. Is it karma? Joss? Fate? All the same thing, really.

If it’s karma, then what in the hell am I paying for? I am not perfect, never claimed to be, but then too, I am not evil. I do not take pleasure in the harming of others, nor do I take pleasure in the bad fortune of others. So what am I paying for? I am reminded of that movie with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Se7en, in which the killer is making people atone for their sins, going through the seven deadly sins one by one and meting out appropriate punishment (appropriate in his mind). What is my deadly sin? If anything pride, hubris. The killer in the movie attacked a supermodel for her vanity/pride, and if I recall correctly, he made her decide between death and disfigurement.

Anyone who reads me regularly knows that my pride is not vanity, but rather pride over my brain. Is working your whole life to develop your intellect a deadly sin? Who the hell knows. I just know that I would have rather been reborn as a cockroach than to have to atone for something I cannot identify.

Yes, regrets (as the song says), I’ve had a few, maybe more than a few, but not for most of the big things. So what is it, the great big elephant-in-the-room it that I cannot identify? The it in my life that I have done to cause fate to rain down on me with a vengeful wrath? I have no answers. None.

Enough already. The migraine has arrived and some nerve somewhere in my body is pinched causing my right hand to pulsate.

More later. Peace.

                   

Music by Miranda Lee Richards, “Life Boat”

                   

The Archaeology of Childhood 1: House

If the house in a dream
Is how I imagine myself:
room after room
of furniture no one could use;
stairs leading upwards
to nothing; an empty hall
filling with snow
where a door has been left ajar;
then whatever I make
of the one  room high in the roof
where something alive and frantic
is hopelessly  trapped,
whatever I make
of the sweetness it leaves behind
on waking, what I know
and cannot tell
is awkward and dark in my hands
while I stop to remember
the snare of a heart;
the approximate weight of possession.

~ John Burnside