Archive for the Prose Category

Our Dewey Walk

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2017 by sethdellinger

I just went out for a very late night walk with Benji. The moon was so bright, a brazen beacon up there, like some alternate version of the sun, and it is so warm, like nights I remember from technicolor teenagehood, and the smell of grass, always the smell of grass, and tonight the tiny insects that swarmed Benji and I even seemed pleased, seemed to be telling us their happiest secrets. Barely midnight and already dew droplets leapt from the ground with each step we took, Benji looking for the perfect place to pee, different every time we come out but always perfect.  I was bathing in the moonlight like it was sunlight, turning my face toward it and soaking it in, staring at the gray ball, stunned as I often am by the thought that there’s a world there, that I’m looking at another world and it’s there right now, the surface of the moon, sitting there waiting for something, or maybe not waiting at all but just happy all alone, its craters and mountains just perfect, silent and airless and pockmarked, goddamn what a beautiful night with the insects and Benji looking back over his shoulder at me, his big black eyes pleading something, something I can’t know and can never know , and tucked inside our little air conditioned house my Love sleeps, her of the fine features and deep understanding, she sleeps in there like the surface of the moon and she has chosen me and aint it grand, aint it grand indeed.  Tomorrow we’ll wake up without an alarm and have mango and basmati rice for breakfast, and a pot of coffee, too, and maybe Schubert on the stereo.  Oh, life is probably pointless, ultimately, just atoms and electrons and consciousness happening by accident, the whole damned scene just one ludicrous accident, but who can argue with this, with the moon so serious and luminous and the dog looking over his shoulder and the air conditioning inside and basmati rice tomorrow, who would ever want to call any of it an accident?  Oh Karla I love you so much!

Be a Bright Blue

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2016 by sethdellinger

godspeed

Sound the alarm bells.  The ship, it is sinking.  Our shoes are on fire and our water is a virus.  Good god, sound the alarm–run.  It’s the same old damned thing, the same tired emergency.  It’s the same old lie.

Run the white cloth up the flag pole.  Watch it hang there, limp.  Shut your windows and turn on the AC.  I’m exhausted from defending my lifestyle, and I’m exhausted from checking my phone.  Turn up the static.  Lean back into something.  Grill some putrid items.  Excoriate your neighbor.

A new batch of people have come along now.  They’re old enough now.  They see evidence of lies, control.  Someone has spotted a two party system.  THEY’RE ALL LIARS, they shout.  They sense something not genuine.  They sense they are not in control of this world.  They see they are inside a machine, and they cannot even see who controls the machine, or even the walls or the floor.  It’s a machine, they say, vote for Jill Stein!

As though someone polling at 5% of the national population isn’t part of the damned machine.  Hey listen.  If you’re in a machine, you’re in it.  You think the machine lets you out?

The machine was here long before you and promises to outlive you.

Sound the alarm bells, by golly!  The construct is about to swallow another generation whole.  Like zygotes.  Like plankton.  Like dust.

Of course you can fight things inside the machine and change things.  But until you understand the actual nature of your plight, you’ll attack the wrong parts, the wrong cogs and pulleys.

You have taken the blindfold off without realizing there was a second blindfold overtop the first one.

Recognize the machine.  Feel its rhythm.  Do not doubt its omnipresence.  You speak hushed of the politicians who control you while you sit in a strip mall restaurant.  How did the strip mall get there?  Why is it there, instead of elsewhere?  How many red lights did you wait at to drive there?  Have you registered the car you drove with the government?  The gas you put in the car–where did it come from, and who decided how much it cost?

Welcome to the fucking construct.  Jill Stein will take your order now.

Be a shiny countertop.  Be a chemtrail.  Be a smiling dog.

When I was a kid, I played little league baseball for two years.  I had waited too long to get started though.  Whereas most kids in my town started very young, I waited until I was ten or eleven.  Mostly I waited so long because I had never really wanted to play little league baseball.  I was scared of the ball, and I was scared of organized sports.  I wasn’t pressured to play.  I just wanted to participate in a thing that made the other kids look cool.  They looked like major league ball players to me.  So I did it even though I didn’t want to.

Be a lazy Sunday.  Be Madison, Wisconsin.  Be a suspicious cough.

Since I waited so long to start playing baseball, I was behind kids my age, when it came to skill level.  So the people who ran the little league put me on the teams with the younger boys.  My plan to do something I didn’t want to do to be cooler had backfired.  My friends and classmates were playing on teams I never saw, and I was playing with boy 2 or 3 years younger than me.  And they were still better than me.  I was a very bad baseball player.  My coach–whose son was on the team–was frequently disappointed in me.  He thought since I was older, I’d be his star, when in fact I was the worst player on the team.  It was mortifying.  The little league had a rule that every single player had to get an at-bat every single game.  One game I did not get an at-bat.  I wasn’t very sad, since batting was just another opportunity for me to be embarrassed.  But my parents were quite mad.  Because they are good parents.  After the game they told me to go wait by the concession stand while they spoke to the coach.  I waited.  About five minutes later they came into view, laughing.  They were laughing.  What happened?, I asked.  They informed me they confronted the coach about me not having an at-bat and he had freaked out, screaming at them, somehow finding a reason to rake them over the coals for having the audacity to question him.  They said he had become red in the face with anger.  The next game, he had me bat leadoff, despite being the worst hitter on the team.  My humiliation was complete.

Be a light early-morning mist.  Be a fully-trimmed Christmas tree.  Be a cardinal direction.  Be a traffic-free commute.  Be the paint that dries.  Be a clear radio station.  Be a marching band in the distance.  Be Jimmy Stewart.  Be a sun-dappled cave entrance.  Be a bright blue.  Be your grandmother’s afghan.  Be Connect Four.  Be the olive-skinned belly dancer.  Be a stunning cul-de-sac.  Be an early dismissal.  Be a crescendo.  Be the young girl that stops to help you, when she doesn’t have to, when you’ve dropped all your groceries and the sun is starting kiss the horizon, and she is beautiful, and the air reminds you of perfect childhood, and you don’t have to work the next day.  You, too, are part of the machine.

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Badass Harrisburg, Media vs. Trump, Eraser, Alexander Supertramp

Posted in Prose, Rant/ Rave, real life, Snippet with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2016 by sethdellinger

It has now been over a year and a half since we moved to Harrisburg. Like every time I’ve made a large move, it’s been interesting how at first there is a large amount of culture shock, and then just a few weeks or months later, it’s almost like you’ve always lived there. It’s hard to imagine there was a time that I lived in Philadelphia, or Erie,  or Carlisle.  It’s hard to imagine there was a time when I actually could not imagine moving back to Central Pennsylvania. Did I ever actually move away from here? But also, the first time I lived here, I couldn’t have imagined living in Harrisburg, but now it seems the natural center of this area. Harrisburg gets a bad rap from many people, for those are people who are afraid of it, or have never spent much time in it. Granted, it is a city with its troubles, both financial and otherwise. There are plenty of areas that are downtrodden, poor, and wanting of many of the services that the surrounding areas take for granted. But there is a lot to love here, and plenty of neighborhoods that you can feel safe in, and with nice modern housing. There’s more than enough to do, more than enough beautiful views, and a vibrant arts scene. In fact, there are more things that we have not been able to do than those we have been able to do. And it seems clear to me that the city is still on the move. I know there have been lots of stories over the decades about the revitalization of Harrisburg, but this time it does seem legitimate. The independent music scene, hipster coffee shops, art galleries opening all over the place. Even a vegan coffee shop close to the state capitol building! There’s a lot to love here, and although there are certainly times when I’m riding my bike down a side street here that I miss being right in the middle of traffic on Broad Street in Philadelphia, there’s also something to be said for walking out of my job every night, looking to my right, and seeing the beautiful Capitol Dome less than a mile away, or walking my dog six blocks and being along the Susquehanna River Trail, almost always as the sun sets.

 

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The fact is, the system IS rigged against Trump, in the sense that the media (hold up; did I say the MEDIA?? You hate the media, don’t you? [I’m probably not talking to YOU here, but to about 30 people on my Facebook who bitch more about the media than the atrocities they report on}  But what is it you are talking about, when you say “the media”? It’s an institution with hundreds of thousands of outlets, platforms, and systems, and it’s actually one of the best things about our country–one of the things that really DOES keep us free. But see, you gotta do some work, too. You have to sift through some things, figure out what sources you trust, the nuances of how to best receive information from the media, and where and when you receive it. You have to READ things. Hey, quick–who’s your favorite columnist? Don’t have one? How do you HATE the media when you’ve never really consumed it to begin with? Stop being lazy. The American freedom of press truly does set us apart–and I’m not one for “American Exceptionalism”. But yeah–most of the media operates by making a profit, so be careful, and above all READ things. And it does make a difference if it’s printed on paper; it’s harder to trick your eye into only reading the “interesting” stuff or items you already agree with. Just read the news. Hating and callously dismissing “the media” is just active laziness. And memes are not the media. FYI) are not obligated to report on an aspiring despot who would end the American experiment like it was no big deal. The “media”–contrary to what many seem to think–are not obligated to be neutral observers of facts only at all times. They are to report facts, yes–but also interpret them (again, this is where understanding media nuance will serve you well: there ARE places you can go for just fact, and places you can go for opinion, and places you can go for analysis. If you go to one place expecting it to be something it isn’t, you might think it’s corrupt, when in fact you’re just a novice). So yes, the media are biased against Trump because they are reporting on a man who would destroy our nation–and harm the world. And it is not their DUTY to remain neutral. The media IS biased–but not against Trump; they’re biased against evil.

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I wasn’t ready for Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser, when it came out in 2006.  I was baffled by it, listened to it twice, and put it away–not knowing if it was bad or I was daft.  I put it in on a whim today and it turns out I am ready for it.

 

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Two nights ago, I got to meet Jon Krakauer, an author who is currently among America’s top 3 or 4 nonfiction authors.  I’ve admittedly only read two of Jon’s books–“Into the Wild” being his most famous book and a work that has touched my life very deeply.  In it, Krakauer tells the story of Christopher McCandless, who left a very comfprtable and promising life, wandered the country with little to no money and no contact with anyone for over a year, eventually hiking into the Alaskan wilderness where he would eventually die.  Chris’s story is complex and multi-layered–it can’t be reduced to one single element.  When I was at very low points in my life–still drinking and in deep depressions–Chris’s decision to disappear and walk into the wild until he died appealed to me.  Later, sober and happy, other elements of Chris’s philosophy and his journey resonated with me.  Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to a man he met on his sojourn across the country.  The man–who had been deeply affected by a month or so he spent with Chris–received the postcard after Chris died:

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” –Christopher McCandless

While it was McCandless whose story has so impacted me, Krakauer’s decision to tell it, and the respect he gave the story, resonated.  In the many years since “Into the Wild” was published, Chris’s story has become of major import to a growing legion of people who find something inspiring about him, and Krakauer does not shy away from his role as a steward of the story.  It was an intense honor to meet him.

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The sun goes up, the sun goes down. The wind begins to whistle through branches now bare with late months.  The sky grays, the wind grays, everywhere color mutes, curls into itself.  Even the insects look at you with worry.

 

 

 

Things Sweep You Up

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , on October 17, 2016 by sethdellinger

How did this happen?  How did I become thirty-eight?  How did I get chest hairs, and then bushy gray ones, and then flab all-everywhere, and a 401(k)?  How do I know about local taxes, how do I know how to drive a stick shift?  Many people say something to the effect of, no matter how old I get, inside, I always feel eighteen years old.  I know what they mean but I can’t agree entirely; inside, deep inside, I’m perpetually eight.  Helpless, dewy-eyed, flailing, wiping the eyesnot onto my pillow on sun-dappled mornings as I start to hear the first birds’ chirp through the box fan next to my bed.  How did I get from there to here?  This is an immense amount of life to happen to an eight year old boy.

Things sweep you up.  You get swept up in them.  Time isn’t what we’re told it is–it’s a gel extending in all directions.  You get moving and your momentum just carries you.  You start to age and change and the person you were becomes invisible to you–an unknowable shadow stranger.

How did I become this man?  Decades have passed since I was the first me, the child me.  I’ve known thousands of people; how much did they matter?  I’ve been countless places- were any of them real?  I drank and ate and fell in love and tipped poorly and took advantage of people and swam on perfect summer nights and refused to do things–oh have I ever refused to do things!–and I knew people that died and I sent people mail and I flew on a plane and I lied to people who loved me and I shaved my head and I bought the perfect Christmas gift and then, every now and then, every so often, I go back to the places that things happened, and I look at those places that I stood, that we stood together, and I see myself there, I see those things happening.  It’s like a double-image–the past overlaid on the place, and finally, in those moments, I simply can’t understand any of it.  How can I be here again, when I was already here?  How many times can I be here?  How old can I get?  I’m only eight, after all.

Things sweep you up, they carry you with them, but not like a stream but like a mouse running across a darkened floor and you are the cheese.  Things sweep you up and carry you, they zig and they zag, holy moly do they ever zig and zag.  When you get a moment to breathe you might look back and say, oh my, how did I get from there to here? I’m only eight.  And the answer is simple: you did not get from there to here.  You are still there, you are still here, everything is everything all at once.  I’m just energy, you are energy, this table is energy, the perfect Christmas gift is energy, my eight year old self recycling his electrons into a thirty-eight year old self, all of us unknowable to our future versions, forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever and forever.

Gravity Works

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags , , on July 2, 2016 by sethdellinger

It’s so exciting, watching a baby, a baby on the edge, just into the toddle, the toddler on the edge of everything, getting into everything. He must be watched constantly, and it is exciting and boring at the same time, this monitoring as the child tries, assays, everything over and over. We have developed a restraint. We call it a high chair and bundle the baby off to it. It looks downright medieval, this highchair with its belts and its sliding, lipped tray table that pins her into it. The baby, so encumbered, writhes and wriggles, all ampersands. We have learned to throw things onto the tray, distractions. Often it is cereal. It is almost always Cheerios. Why Cheerios, cheerless Cheerios? But it is, and the baby immediately responds, gasping and grasping, O-ing for the little o’s. They are like little stem-less keys, all thumbs, that he then inserts into any and all holes, tests the fit (nose, ears, eyes even). Even as we begin to remember something about the hazard of choking, choking hazard, the kid has found where the Cheerios work. The mouth, yes, that’s the ticket. And the child will commence to push all these buttons of oats down this open hatch. Then what do we do? We have played the Cheerio card. The baby looks up at us intently, a brown study of crumbs. And then we do it; we do it even though we know we shouldn’t. We dig deep in our pockets and withdraw our keyring. Now here is an authentic choking hazard, but we are at our wit’s end, too tired (and we can’t leave her worming in that high chair) to go look for the oversized toothy teething keys (pastel colored, soft-edged), designed and marketed for this very moment, when we are about to serve up our real keys. The keys spread eagle on the tray. Instantly, the child attempts to unlock this mystery (the empty vessel he is—ears, nose, mouth), scratching the tabula rasa of his still-soft skull. Suddenly, the baby leans over, off to the side of the chair, and drops the keys. They fall, make a confused clatter on the kitchen floor. Then the baby does this: she looks at us. She looks at the keys. She looks at us. She looks at the keys. Us. We know what we are to do, what we will do. We pick up the keys and place them on the tray once more. And immediately they are once more on the floor. Again with the looking. Again with the picking up and the dropping. This can go on, it seems, for hours. “Gravity works,” we cry out. But for the kid it doesn’t. The next release the keys might drop up. The keys are key as they fall. As they fall they open for us, they open us (if we can just get past the tedium) to possibility, that space to wonder about wonder.

No Greater Purpose

Posted in Prose, Rant/ Rave, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 20, 2016 by sethdellinger

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Everything Is the Same Everywhere

Posted in Prose, Uncategorized with tags on June 10, 2016 by sethdellinger

Every few years I seem to move. Not some massive distance jumping continents, but far enough away that you leave the old people behind and find new ones, with new regional slang and different football allegiances. This kind of move is always jarring. For brief moments during and then shortly after the move, tiny realities of life pop into focus, then fizzle away like fireworks. These aren’t life truths that can really be communicated through language—these aren’t things I can necessarily tell you now, although you’ve probably seen them, too, at some point in your life. Realities about people and place, and the general size and scope of the damned universe. So many things feel the same everywhere. Certain barometric qualities of certain mornings remind you of moments from your childhood, but very specific moments, maybe times that happened only for a two week stretch when you were eight years old—you can’t really remember anything that happened on those mornings, what you did or said of course, but more a general sense of people and place, your mother on the side patio in early summer husking corn and everything felt green and dewy—and no matter where you go to live, there are those mornings and times of the year that take you there. It’s in that damn barometric pressure, but in other things, too. It’s the way the light comes through the shade when the Earth is tilted to that exact degree, and the way the hairs stand up on your arms even though you are only barely cold, just the hint of chilly, that very pleasing kind of cold like hotel air conditioning. It’s the way the outside world interacts with your cocoon, your husk—this body that houses you. There’s a universality to this interaction. The light and the dew and the pressure and your clothes just ever-so-lightly rubbing your skin. How old are you now? Now you are twentyfive, now you are eight, now you are sixty. Innumerable things change within you during this process of the body aging but the way these things feel to you doesn’t change. The world is insufferably static. Even the particulars of place have a way of replicating themselves. Say you spend a few years living in an area that feels quite unique. Say this area has a one-of-a-kind geologic feature, a vibrant arts scene, quirky culinary traditions. This area also has a storied local college, a claim to fame as the home of a major manufacturer of some kind of goods, and a very vital part of early history took place there. You bask in the perfectly unique quality of this area you live in. Then suddenly you find yourself moving again, maybe a few hours away, maybe across a continent. You are sad to say goodbye to your unique home but you will love it always, and now you look forward to getting to know the stunningly fresh attributes of your new home. At first things seem dazzlingly new (aside from the barometric pressure) but soon enough an uneasy feeling comes over you. A feeling of looking into a mirror pointed at a mirror, or hearing a constant hum underneath everything that you can’t quite identify. You are pondering this hum and mirror feeling when you are enjoying an introspective moment at the one-of-a-kind geologic feature your new home boasts. It is very one of a kind! You are pondering what this odd feeling is as you tour the world famous factory at your new home—you are so proud to now live in a place that builds such famous products! You wonder about this gnawing sensation as you drive past historical markers, as you chow down on the quirky local fare. You can never, ever put your finger on what exactly it is you are trying to think, what revelation has always bubbled just underneath the surface of your consciousness. But there it is, right in front of you for the taking, all the time. Things are the same everywhere. They have different faces. They sing vastly different alma maters but beneath their masks the world is all one school, one geologic feature, one colossal historical site. You don’t want to feel it. It is an uneasy reality. More uneasy still is the truth about people, which is the same truth of the world just shrunk down to more appropriate size. Every time I make one of these moves, I will be walking down a street somewhere, about to enter some quaint coffee shop or boutique, when, as I reach for the door handle, I freeze because the person coming out the door is my boss—but the boss from the area I just moved away from, 400 miles away. It can’t be! I tell myself, He couldn’t be here! And then a moment later I realize of course it was not them, it couldn’t have been them. But as I walk further into the coffee shop, I am still haunted by the humming sound, the double-mirror feeling. The thought I have trouble forming? What difference does it make, anyway? A boss is a stranger is an uncle is a judge. One big world with tons of masks.

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