The Lock Just Keeps Spinning

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

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I’ve been watching a lot of cable news lately, but I don’t necessarily think it’s good for me.  I’ve just become addicted to it, as I’ve been known to become addicted to just about anything from time to time.  I suppose it must just be cable news’ turn.  I mean, there is plenty that I like about it.  It really does inform you, and depending on what you’re watching, you usually learn about stuff you might not otherwise be following, like that shit in Iraq.  CNN is the way to go.  Typically they’re gonna tell you about the stuff that’s important, not just the tabloid stuff.  But regardless, most of it is rot.  You’re better off reading newspapers.  Please read newspapers.  They need you, and it’s still the best thing going.

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I’ve recently come across two different poems about turtles that really floored me.  It makes sense that turtles would make such rich poetic subjects: ugly, slow, and capable of withdrawing entirely into themselves.  They’re just begging for the poetic treatment.  The first is “Turtle” by Kay Ryan.  Watch her read it here, and the text of the poem is here.  The other is “To a Box Turtle” by John Updike.  Watch me read it to you!  Right here:

To a Box Turtle
by John Updike

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented,
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome,
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow,
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.

You were making your way through grave distances,
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails
decadent like a Chinese empress’s, and your head
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.

I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws.
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smoker’s teeth.

What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself?
My hand must have a Smell, a killer’s warmth.
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified,
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark.
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?

I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass.
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct;
but nature’s tumults pool to form a giant peace.

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You may have noticed, on various and sundry platforms of social media, that I am losing weight (again!).  There will, of course, be a larger blog entry devoted to the subject once I hit a certain milestone, but I wanted to stop officially ignoring it on the blog.  So yes, I am once again losing weight.  If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall we’ve been down this road once before.    I’ll stop short of saying I’m a chronic “weight bouncer”—I’ve only done the up and down once, now going on twice—and I do think I’m going to be able to maintain it this time, seeing as how I actually do enjoy the “lifestyle” one must switch to in order to stop gaining the weight back.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the first of the “milestone” blogs on the topic should be coming soon.  But if you’ve noticed that I’m a little more energetic, happy as an idiot, and generally manic lately—this is the main cause.

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I don’t like, any more than you do, the way that things in our culture seem to have gotten so divisive.  Everything appears to be very “black and white” or “us vs. them”…either you agree with me, or I hate you.  All issues divided into two sides—usually liberal and conservative—so that most critical thought is now not required; you just have to know what team you’re on.  I don’t like it any more than you do.

But there seems to be, to most people, a thought that this is a terrible deviation from some Golden Era of American discourse.  That, not long ago now, everyone just kind of got along and accepted divergent opinions and engaged in a spirited and lively debate of the issues, before saying, ah, forget it! and heading out back for a barbeque.  This fever dream is made possible by the fact that nobody actually knows anything about our own history, and is cursed with the widely-held human belief that all things have just recently been much better than they are now.

Things have, of course, never been like that.  We’ve always been a country at one-another’s throats.  That’s because the issues that we disagree about are pretty fucking important and are not trifles.  If the biggest debate in America was chocolate vs. vanilla, I’d say some of us might be overreacting, but we debate about matters of deepest morality, life and death, and core philosophy.  If you’re not passionate about these things, get out of the ring.

The division seems more pronounced now that we’re on the internet all the time.  The biggest factor that plays into that is that we routinely interact with many people who we would previously not have been interacting with.  Before the internet, we just naturally and gradually gravitated to people of like-mind.  Now, we, in small ways, interact with dozens of people “on the other side” daily, which can cause little internet skirmishes which then, in turn, feel larger and more intense than real-world interactions, because we can’t gauge how the other is talking, as well as these skirmishes taking place in front of our 300 or so “friends” and remaining to view long after the words have been said.

The ease with which these divisive interactions can occur has given rise to something even worse than the “cultural division” itself: the everything is hunky-dorey crowd.  This “crowd” includes just about everybody.  We’re all so tired of having these online skirmishes with people with opposing views, almost nobody engages the argument anymore.  Nobody wants to appear “divisive”.  Everyone wants to make sure they are “accepting of other people’s views”.

The bottom line I’m trying to get to is this: I keep an open mind about things like calamari, the official naming of snow storms, and the future of the designated hitter in professional baseball.  But I’m an adult now, and I’ve thought a lot about my core beliefs, and I don’t have an open mind about abortion, gay rights, gun control, or even—yes, even the existence of a higher power.  I know what I think about these things.  Not only that, but having an open mind about these things would make me a man of feeble constitution.

Get rid of your open mind.

 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS JOHN SLOAN PAINTING????

sunset-west-twenty-third-street-1906

 

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If you know me (and I think you do) you know that, obviously, I am a man with a ton of opinions.  Well, one of those opinions is that these things that pop up on social media as “photo challenges” are some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.  If you’re not familiar with them: they propose to be “30 day photo challenges” that list a thing you’re supposed to take a picture of once a day for thirty days.  First off, if you need a “challenge” to take interesting pictures of the world around you, you’re not interesting.  Period.  Secondly, the items in these challenges are never even remotely challenging or creative.  It’s like, “Day 1:  Selfie.  Day 2:  Food.  Day 3: Car”.  Really?  You spent time creating this, anonymous internet user?  How dreadful.

So, I thought I’d make an interesting one! Some things here are interpretable, whch, again, makes it interesting.  For instance, “Birth” wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a picture of something being born.  You decide what it means. If anyone actually wants to give this a spin, let me know, I’ll put it into a dedicated blog entry so it’s easier to reference.

Actually Interesting Photo Challenge

Day 1: An animal that you want to take home
Day 2: 
Gum
Day 3:  Something Upside-Down
Day 4:  Paint
Day 5:  How you’d like to be perceived
Day 6:  How you feel inside
Day 7:  Something you hate
Day 8:  Birth
Day 9: A chair
Day 10:  The passage of time
Day 11:  Something you love but can’t have
Day 12:  Space, area, void
Day 13:  Underneath
Day 14:  Scar
Day 15:  Home
Day 16:  Your bathtub.
Day 17:  Work
Day 18:  The ground
Day 19: The sky
Day 20: Between the ground and the sky
Day 21:  What you believe
Day 22:  Utensils
Day 23:  Lights
Day 24:  Transportation
Day 25:  Idealized
Day 26:  Action!
Day 27:  Water
Day 28:  Unattainable
Day 29:  Before you were born
Day 30:  Celebrate

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Life, and all that stuff, is sometimes too interesting to bear.  What I mean is, it can be very cyclical, or circular, or appear to be laden with damned meaning.  See, I’m a man who doesn’t believe in much.  I mean, I believe in science, and form and order amidst the chaos, but not in any Fate or creator or grand design.  Just rules and laws that govern the movements and the heat of things, basically.  So when life seems to have plans, folks like me sit up and take notice.  Not because it’s changing the way I think—I have thrown away my open mind—but because coincidence or happenstance on any large sort of scale is just so unlikely.

Take, for instance, a story from my life.  When I first got sober, I was 25 years old.  This was a little over eleven years ago.  I went to live with my mother and her husband in a small town in New Jersey.  This was the first time I’d lived anywhere outside of Central Pennsylvania.  This small town in New Jersey was relatively close to Philadelphia…maybe an hour, I think?  At any rate, it was certainly the closest I’d ever lived to a big city.

Eleven years may not seem like that long ago, but I was inhabiting a very different world back then, and I was also a very different version of me.  I drove a 1983 Ford Escort, named Earl Grey.  This car was a bona fide piece of shit, and it broke down with an alarming regularity (chronic fuel pump issues).  I had no cell phone.  No GPS.  When I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been, I printed out MapQuest directions and read them as I drove.  If I needed to call someone, I found a payphone and retrieved my list of phone numbers, hand-written on a sheet of paper inside my wallet.  It was interesting.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  I drank a lot of Red Bull and wrote poetry almost every waking moment and listened to Pearl Jam like it was my job.

I had a very close friend who I’d been through the addiction wringer with.  She had a similar problem as I did, and we’d gone to the same rehab, and really just been to Hell and back together.  She had landed in a Recovery House in Harrisburg, PA.  After the tumult of the end of our addictions, we now felt very far apart.  Recovery Houses don’t allow you much leeway with visitors and phone calls.  Remember, this is also before everyone was texting and Facebooking (it’s even before MySpace).  I missed her very much.

She did manage to e-mail on occasion, and, ill-advisedly, we planned for her to sneak out one night.  We would meet in Philadelphia.  We were going to walk South Street.

I drove old rickety Earl Grey the hour to South Street, paging through my MapQuest directions.  I drove right past South Street at one point and just decided to park as soon as I could.  I found a spot and hopped out of my car.  As I walked away, I realized I might later have no idea where I had parked.  I got back into the car and grabbed my journal, the sacred notebook where I wrote all my poetry.  I looked around for a landmark and wrote it down, and put the journal in my backpack.

I met up with her and it was glorious.  I treasured being in her company, if only for a night.  I don’t remember what we did on South Street.  I don’t remember what we did at all.  But it stands as one of the more significant nights of my life, on my long road to becoming the current version of me.

A week or so ago, I decided to go back through some of my old journals and see if I had missed anything of value, any pieces of writing I could turn into something good.  I never did get around to it, but I threw the two oldest ones into my backpack, planning to look at them the next time I came to rest in some park.  I promptly forgot about it.

This evening, I was riding my bike through what is now one of my favorite sections of Old City (technically, the neighborhood known as Society Hill).  I love this section for it’s old houses, churches with expansive, historic graveyards, and shade-dappled side alleys.  I came to one of the more significant landmarks to me, the house that Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived in when he lived in Philadelphia.  Kosciuszko is my favorite revolutionary.  I feel deeply connected to him across the vast gulf of time.  The version of me from eleven years ago wasn’t yet even interested in history.  He would have had zero interest in this Polish freedom fighter’s house.  But I certainly do now.

I recalled, tonight, how the last time I was in the house, the park ranger had told me the woman who owned it and rented it to Kosciuszko was buried in the cemetery across the street.  I have spent some time in that cemetery before (American painter Charles Wilson Peale is buried there, and so is George Dallas, who was Vice President under James K. Polk), but I thought I’d wander through again and look for her grave.

It didn’t take me long in there before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t remember her name, and my iPhone’s power was getting too low to make Googling a wise choice, so I decided to leave and ride my bike elsewhere.  But as I stepped onto the sidewalk, the shade of sense memory hit me.  I’d been here many times these past six months, but perhaps never at this time of evening, in this kind of mid-summer air.  Suddenly I wondered it I’d been here before, long before.

I sat my backpack on the ground an hurriedly opened it, finding the oldest journal.  I looked at many pages before I found it, scrawled in my own unmistakable hand:

4th St., across from St. Peters Church

I craned my neck at the cemetery gate above me, and sure enough:  St. Peters.

Sure, maybe no big deal.  So what, this is where I parked that night?  If I moved to the city, it stands to reason I would pass by the place I parked that night, eleven years ago.

But the way that it came to me out of the blue, the way I had that journal on me, which was extraordinarily unlikely, the way I’d never noticed before that this was the place.  It has been long ago enough now that it’s starting to feel like deep past; I felt my younger self there.  I felt her younger self there.  I saw me getting out of my Escort, completely oblivious to Thad Kosciuszko’s house a half block away, not caring, not caring, not caring.  And life is crammed full of these bizarre cycles, these glances-back, these cosmic happenstances.  Like combination locks clicking into place.  But then the lock, it just keeps on spinning.

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “The Lock Just Keeps Spinning”

  1. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    -I’ve never been a tanner, but lately it seems the more I hear about it the more I hear the word “cancer”. The sun brings a lot of great things to us, but it hates human skin I guess! OK honestly I think tanning is fucking stupid. Pale women are hot!

    -Some time last year Adrian Peterson made a comment that he’s, “Not down” with gay marriage. I posted that he was a fucking idiot and more than one friend chastised me for calling him that when he was just stating his opinion. I’m with you all the way that we absolutely don’t need to be open-minded to everyone’s opinion, but I’ll take it one step further. Some issues, like gay equality, have a distinctive right and wrong. Adrian Peterson’s a black man claiming that he prefers things with gay people to be separate but equal. He’s a fucking idiot.

    I too can’t stand when anyone makes a, “in today’s world” “in this day and age” comment. Bad things have always happened.

    -You should, maybe in a month or so when this post is no longer new, post the 30 day photo challenge but make no mention that you created it. Let your friends believe that you are simply the next person passing on this list from the internet gods. I think there’s a great chance of it catching on!

    -That really is something with the journal and the parking spot. This happens. This is something that happens.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      –I as well love me a pale woman. But “tanning” naturally, ie from spending time outside doing shit, is glorious.

      –I actually had really wanted to make a point in there that, as far as I’m concerned, many issues really are black and white. I don’t just have an OPINION about gay rights…I know the truth about it! Unfortunately, those on the other side of the issues feel the same way.

      –You’re so right! I will create a meme of that photo challenge and release it to the world.

      –It does happen.

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