“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” ― E.E. Cummings
I found this image while I was cleaning up some files – it’s from 2008 (I think) – before I started this (version) of my journal. I had no memory of putting this together. The note with it said, “From a magnetic poetry app on my iPod touch,” which means it’s already technologically from the time of the dinosaurs.
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
― Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, September 9, 2002:
Woman in the Dunes
When I was a kid I was fascinated by ant lions. Those are the little bugs that dig pits in the fine, loose sand around the forgotten spots… maybe behind the garage or under the old tree.
They did these perfect conical traps, like a negative volcano, and wait hidden in the bottom ready to snap out with huge pincer jaws and gobble down their unfortunate meal. Dried husks sometimes litter the edges of their lair.
I’d watch an ant or gnat stumble down the slope, slide on the angle of repose, until the ant lion would attack, throwing bits of sand first to confuse and stun, then to grab and eat. I would take a piece of paper or index card and scoop up the sand, the entire area, and blow away the dust until I found the ant lion itself. It was a marvel of tiny death, all jaws and squat, powerful, flicking body.
I would always replace the insect unhurt and watch him begin to construct a new trap, digging the pit by bending and snapping his body – flicking bits of sand away.
I stopped by the video store and rented a Japanese film, Woman in the Dunes. I read the book (by Kobo Abe) decades ago. Actually, I rented the movie once before too, surprised to find in an otherwise pedestrian rental shop. It was a bad copy, though, so bad I could barely make out what was happening.
This time, it has been re-mastered and re-released, clear as a bell. The photography is stunning, incredible black, white, and gray images of sand and human bodies.
It tells the story of a lonely man, wandering the dunes of a forgotten province, looking for insects for his collection. Or maybe, his main purpose is to simply escape the bureaucracy, avoid the avalanche of paperwork, forms, and official stamps that flow across the movie’s credits.
At any rate, he bites off more than he can chew – ends up trapped with a widowed woman in a ramshackle house at the bottom of a wall of sand, trapped, forced to shovel to survive. There is sensuality in the sand, desperation, and resignation.
“That’s what people do when they find a special place that wild and full of life, they trample it to death.” ― Carl Hiaasen, Flush
I have taken to riding my Cannondale vintage touring bike at sunset. The killer Texas sun is down, the heat is bearable, the wind dies, and it is in general – a nice time to be outside. I ride about an hour, about ten miles. I’m trying to do this every evening. I have a new, nice bike light I bought with a gift certificate I won in a local contest – so I don’t have a problem if I stay out a little longer in the dark.
Yesterday I had just crossed Plano and Arapaho roads and was angling down into the creek bottom on the new Duck Creek Trail extension. I try to ride this little bit as much as I can with my Strava on to help make the new trail (which I really like) show up brighter on the Strava heatmap. One of the cool things about riding at this time of day is I get to see some urban wildlife – mostly bunnies – but a few coyotes, a beaver or two, snakes…. Bobcats are out there, though I haven’t seen one yet.
I looked across the creek and saw a red fox looking at me. As I approached he turned and ran into a copse of trees farther back from the creek. It was so cool to see a fox in the middle of the city like that.
My son bought a GoPro Hero 7 Black and didn’t like it so he loaned it to me. I had it on my handlebars and hoped that the fox would show up in the footage. Unfortunately, he was off to the side on the wide-angle lens and only visible as a little dot. Shame.
“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.”
― Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, July 4, 1997:
The Fourth and Fireworks
We left the party early, just as the bar-b-que was being trundled out because we had tickets to the Ranger game. It was a great evening; cool weather, a record sellout crowd, and a good game (the home team won seven to six). The only problem was that Lee was a champion wiggleworm; I missed a lot of the game walking him around. He kept trying to kiss some teenage boys in the row in front of us.
After the game was a fireworks display. I knew from years past that the Rangers always put on a good fireworks show, and this one didn’t disappoint. It was a long, loud, impressive display, with the explosions timed to go along with the music played in the ballpark. We watched from the upper level promenade, an open area around the top of the stadium. It was a perfect vantage point.
Nick and Lee had never stuck it out through a fireworks display before. We’d taken them to a couple, but they cried at the noise and we’d had to leave. Now they are bigger, they were nervous before it started, holding their hands over their ears, but once it got going they really thought it was great.
After the game, the fireworks, and the massive traffic jam leaving the ballpark, it was after one when we finally reached home. That is very late for this particular family unit. Yardwork, pool party, baseball, fireworks – about as traditional a holiday as you’ll see. Not very cool , not very punk , not very postmodern . And I don’t care.
“being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”
― Charles Bukowski, Women
Swallowed by Nostalgia
Craig was never very outgoing, never comfortable around lots of other people. He was surprised when he found himself married with two twin children. Then, all of a sudden, he was alone again, his ex-wife and kids out on the West coast, with a new husband and father.
Still, he had his friends. Not a lot of them, but the ones he had were close. He had his activities, his clubs, his scheduled events. Craig never felt like the center of the crowd, but he was there. He didn’t initiate a lot, but people would contact him, offer up events and activities, and he would go along.
As he grew older, he slowed down a bit, still not outgoing, but not a hermit by any means.
And then the pandemic hit… and it all went to shit.
One day, Craig realized he had not been out of his apartment in almost three weeks. His food was delivered, either cooked or groceries. Every day he’d collect his Amazon boxes – everything he needed and more. It was a reflex to search and click “buy now.” Craig felt like a cave man hunting woolly mammoths with a mouse, keyboard and credit card. After a while he turned the camera off on his work Zoom meetings and would usually nap during the long ones. Nobody seemed to notice.
He ordered blackout curtains for his windows and the highest rated noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes he’d wear the phones without music, even though his place was quiet – simply to kill off any potential interruptions.
This went on, month after month and Craig began to go mad.
The present became more and more gray and blurred, but the past became crystal and colorful. Events from decades before floated up through his memory and wedged themselves into his consciousness. Especially things he regretted – not stuff that he did, but things that he didn’t do. These errors of omission, vacuums of courage, kept flashing in his mind.
The time a girl at a club gave him her number and he didn’t call… the job offer he turned down… the friends that went to an exotic location and he decided not to go with them…. All these and countless more kept coming back to him. In his mind, though, he went ahead and took the plunge. In his imagination he called the girl, took the job, went along. And reaped the reward.
But then, later, he would realize what had really happened, where he was, and who he had become. Sleep became something he feared, not because of nightmares but because of these triumphant dreams where he corrected the mistakes he had made. And this made the morning even more gray, even more useless.
His health provider kept sending him messages about the vaccine, but he ignored them. Why get the shot? He never left his apartment, was at no risk to himself or anyone else. He didn’t care anyway – if it killed him, it killed him.
Then one morning, after a long vivid dream of driving across the country in a sports car that he had decided not to buy once he woke up and scheduled his shot. It might stop the dreams. He left his place for the first time in months and was surprised at how easy it was to negotiate the paperwork and get the jab in the arm. He actually looked forward to the second, couldn’t wait until the three weeks were up.
It was a beautiful day when he got his second shot – the air with a bit of a chilly breeze but the sun out and hot – cutting through the cold. On a whim, he stopped in a park on the way back.
It was full of people, very few wearing masks. They were in groups, grilling, playing volleyball, kids running around, old folks walking, even a keg of beer next to a boom box (he guessed that the park rules were being bent after such a long time away).
He parked and walked the sidewalk on the circular drive looking at all the people. Live people. Noise. The chatter and music rose up. The smell of charcoal lighter and barbecue sauce. The feel of the cool breeze and hot sun.
“She needs a new journal. The one she has is problematic. To get to the present, she needs to page through the past, and when she does, she remembers things, and her new journal entries become, for the most part, reactions to the days she regrets, wants to correct, rewrite.” ― Dave Eggers, How the Water Feels to the Fishes
I have started writing in my physical journal on a daily basis again. For decades, I wrote every day into the computer, and published a lot (most? maybe, maybe not) on my Online Journal (these were days before the appalling word blog was invented). Then, when my kids were in high school, I had to stop the online thing – too many people were reading it and giving me shit.
So I went to the Moleskine. This was about the time my addiction to fountain pens started, so it was a good pair. I wrote every day in my Moleskine, at least a page, sometimes more, sometimes many more. I have a stack of journals I filled and go back and look at them sometimes.
Then I started to blog again (2011) and my daily scribbling fell off. I still wrote in journals, but not on a quotidian basis. I experimented with bullet journalling and planning and other techniques. But something was missing.
The other day, driving home from work, I was listening to a podcast – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Plannerverse – and the guy was talking about how he used his planner for planning… but he kept a hardbound journal to write in every day, to keep a record of what he was doing and how he was feeling.
And that resonated with me. I dug through my Moleskines and found one that was only a third full. The last dates in it were about ten years ago – toward the end they were getting irregular and gaps were appearing – I could tell I was on the way to stopping, only writing on through habit and inertia.
“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup” ― Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings
As I (we) come out of the pandemic nightmare I (we) still grapple with purposelessness, boredom,and loneliness. I struggle for something to do, anything to do.
I have discovered one thing. I get up before dawn, make a thermos of coffee in my Aeropress, and then ride somewhere on my bicycle. I sip the coffee as the sun comes up, then I read a bit, then I ride home.
Unfortunately, I can only do this on the days when I don’t go into work, so it isn’t very often. If I could, I’d do this every day. I find myself looking at maps of my city and finding places to go… places that may look interesting at dawn, places with a place to sit, places just the right distance away.
I think this weekend I’m going to up my game a bit. I think I’ll ride to the DART station and ride the train somewhere, then ride my bike, then drink coffee. I might even take my grinder, Aeropress Go, and a few beans to make fresh coffee. There is a new park in downtown Dallas I’d like to visit.
Or maybe ride to the train station and get on the next train, no matter which direction it’s going in. Get off where I feel and then look for a place to sit.
It isn’t much… but it’s the best I can do for now.
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, July 7, 2001 (exactly 20 years ago):
Half Price Poetry
In keeping with my post-mountain-vacation theme of trying to do some fun big-city stuff I sneaked out last night to go to the monthly First Friday poetry reading at the big main Half-Price book store on Northwest Highway. The crowd was a bit smaller than they were the last time I went, maybe because now it’s summer. I was actually able to get a place to sit.
The poetry, as always, was pretty variable in quality. A lot of it is too traditional, too Moon-June for my tastes. I want to hear something wild, emotional, and witty. Still, though, I enjoy going to the readings.
As a matter of fact – I realize that I can’t even hear most of the poetry. I like to sit there and watch the reader and the crowd – the shuffling of papers, the popping of the microphone, the smell of old books, and the taste of coffee.
One thing I did enjoy was when someone came up and read the from the theme song from “Petticoat Junction.”
Come ride that little train that is rolling down the tracks to the Junction, Petticoat Junction! Forget about your cares, it is time to relax at the Junction, Petticoat Junction! Lots of curves, you bet, even more when you get to the Junction, Petticoat Junction!
Well, we’ll soon be leavin’ town There’s old Charley oilin’ round Can she make it up the hill At least to Hooterville The pressure’s on the rise Floyd is burning railroad ties Everybody get inside Doesn’t cost a cent to ride Come one and come all and we’ll take that Cannonball to the Junction, Petticoat Junction!
“One grave in every graveyard belongs to the ghouls. Wander any graveyard long enough and you will find it – water stained and bulging, with cracked or broken stone, scraggly grass or rank weeds about it, and a feeling, when you reach it, of abandonment. It may be colder than the other gravestones, too, and the name on the stone is all too often impossible to read. If there is a statue on the grave it will be headless or so scabbed with fungus and lichens as to look like fungus itself. If one grave in a graveyard looks like a target for petty vandals, that is the ghoul-gate. If the grave wants to make you be somewhere else, that is the ghoul-gate.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, August 14, 2000
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Triple digits deadly coughing air The full moon is a bloated orange colored by windblown dust I haven’t had a decent breath in weeks
The heat cracks the dried clay cracks the calluses on the bottom of my feet ’til they are bleeding and burn in the morning shower
My gardening – if I did it would consist of gluing brown desiccated leaves back onto stickly branches I finally watered my lawn it smelled of wet hay
I sweat at work so much I’ll change lab coats when it soaks through my shirt and coat the other day I went through four When I drove home I can lick my arm and taste the layer of salt I taste like a giant potato chip