Archive for benji

For Benji, Forever Ago

Posted in real life with tags , , , on September 13, 2017 by sethdellinger

I never envisioned it ending that way, Benji.  Not in that small, fluorescent-lit room, on the floor there, by the diagram posters of canine mouths and the end table covered in year-old magazines.  I don’t know how I pictured it, but it wasn’t there.  I’m so happy I was able to be there with you for it though–although truth be told, I’d have liked to have been anywhere else.

So that was how it ended for you.  The culmination of your significant sixteen years of life experience,  all your moves and joys and sadnesses and all the people you knew and everything you smelled–all the stuff that was you drew up into itself and stopped, right then, in that tiny room.

I’ve had thoughts like this before, Benji.  When my grandma died, she was there in a hospital bed (I wasn’t there, I didn’t see her.  I have regret! I have guilt!) surrounded by, I suppose, pillows, blankets, and unending medical gadgets (one of my favorite songwriters put is perfectly in saying that, as we die in hospitals, we are “swathed in inventions”.  How terrible!).  And that is where her story ended, many miles from where it started, after years of toiling away, gasping for it all, forming and nurturing relationships, it petered out right there in that adjustable-back bed, probably drinking through enormous straws.  When it ends, typically, it just fades out, like the last drips through a garden hose, and practically everything you’ve done just blinks out along with you.  We have lots of grandma’s stuff, but the things she thought, or felt, or knew–those stopped right there, swathed in inventions.

It’s difficult for me to imagine that you had a mother, Benji, but I suppose you must have.  A biological mother, of the dog variety.  You were born on an island in Hawaii, which is so, so very far from here.  I’ve typically thought of your story as starting in the animal rescue that Karla found you in when you were about seven months old, but certainly, for you, your story started before then.  I strain to imagine the circumstances of your birth.  Were you born in an alley in a city?  Or as part of a litter that “belonged” to someone, and they gave you away?  Or were you born in a wild part of that tropical paradise, under some sunny palm tree copse, shadow-dappled, to a gorgeous pure-bred Basenji mother who couldn’t take care of you and your nine siblings?  Your genesis will sadly always be hidden from us; it was locked away from us behind the barrier of language.  How terrible, I say!  How terrible.

When someone dies, I picture their life like a long, squiggly line, moving this way and that, to and fro.  Not just geographically, but up and down as fortune favors or frowns on you, as things go good or bad, as you love or hate, are happy or sad, as you move across the globe, or spend all day in the living room, life is long (it aint short, it’s long!) and the line moves all around as you collect all these vivid experiences, and then, suddenly, there’s a big dot where it ends, on the floor next to magazines.

What was it all for, Benji?  Why did you do it all?  Why go through all the immense machinations just to drip out like drops from a hose, like everyone else?  Well, not to be too dramatic, but I gotta tell you, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure out the answer to that question.  Almost everything I’ve written has been an attempt to get to that (I’ve never told anyone this, out of embarrassment, but when I write, I think to myself that I am trying to “crack open the shell of the world and see what’s inside”.  Isn’t that dreadfully pretentious? And now I’ve gone and told everyone), and all my favorite art and media is mostly more sad or deadly serious than most people prefer (my father-in-law and I joke about my predilection for “feel-bad movies”); I am always listening to music and looking for the answer, reading books and looking for the answer, watching films and looking for the answer.  And Benji, I do think I’ve found it, and here’s what I would have told you if I could have, through the barrier of language:

There is legitimately no reason or meaning to life.  Isn’t that awful? But really, it is quite obvious.  How could it not be so?  We are just little squirmy critters scampering over the surface of a fantastic planet.  We are summoned forth from the void by the power of biology, and once summoned, have to complete the maze until the very end.  That’s about it.  Dreadful.

But, Benji, there is good news! In the absence of any “reason” for living from outside of ourselves, we are free to conjure our own.  And that’s what I have really spent all these years trying to figure out.  If there’s no real meaning or reason for all this, what is the right one to create?  And that, too, seems obvious:

Bring joy.  Be joyous.  Spread joy to those around you and find joy for yourself.  We are but squiggly little creatures on this planet just once, and I lied earlier when I said life was long, it’s short, it’s short!  And its hard, my goodness this life we live from beginning to wherever it ends for us is so damn hard, all you can do is try to find some joy, to bring some joy into your house, to spread that large multi-colored burst whenever, wherever you can, as often as you can.  It’s not easy to do, Benji, because life will discourage it, but hey: it’s all we’ve got.

The best news yet, Benji, is that you were terrific at this.  To the last, you smiled, despite all that life had thrown at you.  You smiled your smile and wanted to be right in the middle of the action, all the time, and love us all up, and prance around feeling the carpet or the grass under your paws, angling your head up to the sun like the vaulted Hawaiian king you absolutely were.   So, I say (too little, too late), thank you.  There is never too much joy.  Someday my line will stop at a big dot somewhere, and until I get there, I want to soak up as much of the joy as I can, and I aspire to spread it around like you did.

Joy.  That’s the answer, right Benji?  It has to be.  We can make it be the answer.  Because other than that, there is only one fact in life: it ends.

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!

Valentine’s Dog Dagurreotype

Posted in real life with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2017 by sethdellinger
  1.  I know A LOT of people who hate Valentines Day, so it seems.  And every year, most of them feel a need to unleash an anti-V-Day screed of some kind via social media (almost always involving the word “Hallmark”, “corporate”, or “made-up”.  And hey, I get it.  In fact, I essentially ignore almost all holidays, and I’m quite fortunate that my life partner feels the same.  We don’t really hate any holidays, we just don’t really notice them (with a few exceptions).  But what I’m wondering right now, as I continue to see these same people with these same rants about these same holidays year after year after year…why not just ignore it?  Let it pass with zero comment from you.  There is little more that a holiday hates than a complete lack of attention from you, whatever holiday it happens to be that you hate.  Just a suggestion, of course.  Certainly I have lots I like to bitch about, too, but it just seems to me like bitching about a holiday is some wasted bitching.
  2. I sure love my dog.  Who doesn’t love dogs?? But I feel a very special way about Benji because I’ve been lucky enough to be brought into his life late.  Benji is 15, which is nearing the absolute oldest he can get for his breed (at the absolute most, he might live two more years but that is unlikely).  I spent almost all of my adult life wishing I could have a dog; almost all of that time, I lived alone and worked jobs with long and erratic hours and was hesitant to own a dog under those circumstances.  But, once I found my love Karla, she came not only with Boy, but with Dog, and my time with Benji has been very special.  Now, he is not without his quirks (a truly obsessive-compulsive licking thing that can literally coat an entire couch if no one is watching) but in just about every way, I could not love him more.  I’m sad that I don’t get more years with him, but the time I do have fills my heart.  Almost anyone who has a dog says “They are part of the family”, and never has anyone meant it more than we do.
  3. Here is the earliest known photograph (actually it’s a daguerreotype) taken in the city of Harrisburg.  It is from freakin’ 1860!:
    img_20170214_181755

Have Yourself a Melancholy Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 24, 2016 by sethdellinger

For many years, I have posted the below clip of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to social media around the holidays.  It is far and away my favorite Christmas song.  For the decade-plus that I spent living and mostly being alone, the melancholy twinned with optimism in the song struck a special chord within me.  The song seemed to harken to a nostalgia of lovely, warm, joyous holidays, while acknowledging the fundamental hardship of life–of being alone, of losing track of people, or long, dark, cold winter days and memories that slide through your fingers (please note I refer here solely to the original lyrics made famous in this Judy Garland version, not the bastardized, senselessly happy remakes to come after it).  Today, I played it in the background while passing a lovely lazy day with Karla and I immediately began to choke up; the song was a companion in melancholy with me for so many years, the tears came like a Pavlovian response.  Of course, life is happy beyond my wildest dreams, exquisitely so–but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of melancholy.  My love, the boy, and our dog make life glorious–but there are still long, dark, cold winter days, and friends I’ve lost touch with, and memories that slide through our fingers like the water in the swimming pool on Parsonage Street when my sister saved me from drowning when I was six years old.  Someday soon, we all will be together–if the fates allow.  Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.

Merry Christmas everybody!  Life truly is grand–melancholy is the proof of it!

In Gratitude

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2016 by sethdellinger

Thank you this lifelong tumbling-down
early in this winter that has no age
our window along the street
for the family you led me to
when it was time at last the words
the words coming at me from nowhere
thank you to the words from the air
that carried me through the clear decades
and come even now to me, come still to find me,
for the echoes of old friends, of what used to be,
of mistakes I made so well
heartbreak that guides the ploughshares
from somewhere they have loved before
from somewhere they were buried in the earth
thank you to my body and my hands and my feet
and the places been and moments known
clocks watched, cars started, cats stroked
revisiting me now, only to me revisiting
once again now complete just as they were
just as they were before
and the evening stars I have seen
and the dog who guides me every day,
who trusts me to be the man
who will feed him
and give him the long walks.

Sounds Like a Train. Not a Train.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 16, 2016 by sethdellinger

Everything in life can seem so sudden, even though almost all of it is gradual.  Events can shock you even when you saw them coming.  Maybe you didn’t know you saw them coming, but you saw them coming.

Luckily there is love.  What matters but love?  Towering, epic love.  Basically nothing else.  To snuggle.  To profess eternity, depth of caring.  It’s not an original thought, but, well, there it is.  Love.

It’s dark on the east coast as I write this.  I haven’t done the time zone math but it’s probably dark over all the continental states.  People describe darkness as a “closing in” all the time, but really it’s the opposite.  Light closes us in, as it is an actual presence of a thing, whereas darkness happens when the light leaves.  Darkness opens us up.  Darkness is an absence.  It is a lifting of the lid.

It’s not just that Trump won the election; I could handle that.  It’s that this country isn’t what I thought it was.  It’s that I have to mourn for the uplifting future I had imagined.  I don’t care that “we lost”.  I find myself suddenly terrified of the land I live in.

It’s dark outside my door.  My neighbor across the street, Manny, appears to have gone to bed.  His lights are all off, but now he has Christmas lights on his porch, which I adore.  He has a terrific little dog, Fulton, who sometimes sniffs our Benji.  I imagine Fulton is asleep now, too, somewhere at the foot of Manny’s bed, or maybe in there with him.  The streetlights here are shockingly bright; as I step out into the crisp autumn evening, I can see them dotting the side of the landscape for five, maybe six blocks, until the natural curve of Harrisburg’s grid takes them out of view.  It’s quiet, dark and quiet and still.  The houses seem stuck between holidays, some porches still sporting mushy pumpkins, others feeling tentative strands of colorful lights.  Somewhere in the distance, a car alarm goes off, but just briefly.  I stand here in my pajamas and I imagine the people in their houses.  Most of them asleep, now, but not all.  Some watching television–although increasingly they are somehow watching it after it aired.  Some of them perhaps showering, or cooking a late dinner, or arguing, or having sex.  But most of them sleeping, breathing rhythmically in some sort of shut-down stasis that scientists are hesitant to admit they still don’t really understand.  I stand here and I imagine them.  I really do.  I’m not just writing that I imagine them–I really do it.  What a thing to do, when you really do it!  All those lives behind those doors, drifting like worried sparks, like baffled little flames, breathing in unison, with all their own concerns and private intensities.  What a massive undertaking, life.  Such a long, worrisome climb.  And you can do it anywhere.  Some folks are born as baffled sparks in a tribe in a jungle.  Others in a London flat.  Some people had to do it in the 1600s.  Still others will give it a go in 2190.  To many, my worries about the land I live in would seem a trifle, the luxury of a man who has everything he needs.  They’d probably be right, but still.  I step out all the way onto the sidewalk in front of my house, suddenly wishing all of my neighbors would come outside all at once so we could talk about it.  Mostly we don’t talk to our neighbors, but now, in the still autumn evening, I wish I could.  I wish I could look them in the eyes, I wish I could pat them on the back.  I would tell them, perhaps, one of my secrets. Suddenly as I am standing there, in my pajamas in the autumn evening, a low, distant sound makes itself known.  It starts as a quiet rumble.  I can’t tell where it’s coming from but it grows louder and louder, the rumble becoming a growl; it sounds like a train, but it’s not a train, I have no goddamned idea what it is but it’s getting louder and louder and I don’t think there’s any escaping it.

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