Archive for prose

Feels Like Fire, Isn’t Fire

Posted in Prose with tags , , on October 16, 2017 by sethdellinger

I was born and I’ll die.  This is shit you already know.  All of this—everything after this that I’ve written—is shit you all already know.  So, why bother?  Gotta do something, right?  Gotta do something. Mostly I think life is grand but sometimes I get melancholy.  I think it’s probably good to get melancholy sometimes, it sort of flushes your system out, presses some sort of existential reset button. I used to have a dog but he died recently.  One day he was there and the next day he wasn’t.  We paid a man in a white coat to give him drugs that made him die.  It was awful. I say again: it was awful.  Then we drove him into the country and buried him in a hole in the ground.  At night we used let our dog—Benji– out into the backyard. It wasn’t a very large backyard, but he stayed out there for as long as he could. He’d stay out there for hours if you let him. It looked like he was eating dirt but he was not eating during periods; he pulled at the ground with his paws, then flicked his tongue at it, again and again and again. I’m not sure what he was getting in there, but he was getting something. Some itty-bitty creature that was minding its own business. And probably scared the shit out of them and then killed them. Meanwhile Benji would have run away and never came back probably, if I opened the garage door and let him out. He’d been with us for years and was a member of the family, but still we held him hostage. In order for him to walk around the neighborhood he had to be put on a leash, dragged along behind us when he wasn’t not moving fast enough. What is all this? What’s going on here? Who are these animals, what are these critters, what are these lights blinking in the sky? It seems that everything is so far away from everything else. The things that are really close to you, like that glass on the kitchen counter, the magazine on the coffee table, are such a vanishingly small percentage of all the things in the universe, that technically everything in the universe is very far away from you. So far away from you you couldn’t even imagine it, and if you could imagine it, it would terrify you directly to death. Everything is far away from you and has no idea about you, no idea but your dog in the backyard eating moles or slugs buried underneath the dirt. Here on Earth there are immense caves, caverns deep beyond imagining, miles below the Earth’s surface, right now, as you read this, engulfed in a darkness beyond imagining, little tributaries or streams or even gushing rivers bounding through large hollow openings, intense chambers, drilling though soft limestone, they are there right now, incredibly far away from you. They must, despite their static nature, have some clue of themselves, some sense of awareness, an idea of their singularity. The timelessness, the long drawn-out affair of this plane, is it within them?  They don’t know anything about you though.  Somewhere a fifty-year-old newspaper deliveryman wakes up in the dead of night to put the papers in the bags, look at his new delivery list.  He gets in the car without a sound.  Rough tattooed men working in sewers for great pay light cigarettes.  A fourteen year old girl plays a piano in a suburban house all by herself.  This happens all the time.  Someone stands at the edge of a bridge, looking down, wondering what it would feel like, what it would look like, to leap, to soar, to fall, to end, but they don’t.  They don’t jump.  Elementary school kids stop their bikes in front of soda machines.  Other kids are out past curfew.  The professor imagines sleeping with the student, then on his way home, buys a diet soda at the gas station and pays in exact change.  Quiet dirgelike music plays in darkened living rooms, shades drawn, incense, incense.  Alleverywhere all over the world this is happening, so far from everything else.  The geese are eating the flowers, and why not.  The bills come in the house and flop down on the table. Yesterday I left the gas cap hang open on my car after I filled my tank, what a fool am I! Cosmic tomfoolery! The restauranteur arrives in their cold kitchen, turns the knobs on the flat grill, the pilot clicks, the gas whirrs.  Somewhere, lathes are expertly operated.  Sirens wail with someone behind a distant wheel.  Ships rise and fall in the bay.  The boy is made to mow the grass, he sweats.  A woman is flying an airplane, looks down, she sees a forest, she wishes she was in those trees, smelling it, smelling it all.  When I was young I used to have nightmares. They would repeat themselves, but they weren’t always the same, necessarily. There wasn’t anything inherently scary about these nightmares. In one, it would be me and strange people that I didn’t know, working feverishly to build a spaceship to win some sort of contest. The spaceships that we built were massive structures, disc-like in shape in most of my memories, and we would get up on scaffolding, pouring the cement to make them. That is about all I remember, except that somehow, also, this contest was accompanied by a constant persistent dread and sadness. I would wake up sweatier than you can imagine, lingering in the depth of my little kid’s psyche, not knowing why a dream about building a spaceship should be so sad. I would beckon my parents for what must be their superior insight to come but of course they could tell me nothing. Who could? Who could possibly understand such a thing? Nobody. Nobody could understand such a thing. Everything about us is a mystery, everything about the world around us is a mystery. Time marches on but it doesn’t. Of course time doesn’t march, the smartest people in the world can barely even accurately define time.  Everything lasts forever but it’s over in an instant. Everything is to be celebrated and joyous but ultimately is flat, only dreadfully horrifyingly sad.  Twenty years (or so) ago I thought I was going to die.  I was relentlessly addicted to alcohol and life was a blurred mess of agony, with an oddly high amount of joy thrown in for good measure. So many forgotten nights, so much haze. Some nights, though, I do remember.  Like a night a bunch of us drove to The Duck Pond.  The Duck Pond, the actual name of which is Children’s Lake, is a shallow, man-made lake in the scenic town of Boiling Springs.  It is about fifty feet across, and perhaps four-hundred feet long.  At its deepest point, it is perhaps five feet deep.  Large, multi-colored, boulder-sized rocks line its bottom.  It attracts a wide array of wildlife: ducks, geese, swans, turtles, beavers.  There are manicured walkways all the way around it, red park benches at regular intervals, and little vending machines that dispense corn, in case you may want to feed the ducks.  You are not supposed to go there at night, although I often have.  As my friends and I pull into the gravel parking lot, I make myself a fresh drink in the Super-Size McDonalds cup I always seem to have with me.  Someone retrieves a few beers from the trunk.  We all make sure we have our cigarettes.  We set off, to walk around the Duck Pond.  At night, you can hear the ducks, the geese, out on the water, but you can’t see them.  They aren’t very active at night, but every now and then, you hear a splash, the flap of a wing against the heavy air, a short quick quack.  It is melancholy in that worst way: dreary foreboding.  There is a place where the path kind of ends, and you are left to walk through grass for a bit, and under the canopy of some Willows.  In the sunshine, this part of the lake is the most beautiful.  At night, its majesty is lost.  You can feel the grass, and perhaps the spray of the dew against your shins, but the Willows are lost in the night.  The copse has disappeared.  If you were standing at this spot during the day, you would see that a narrow cement platform has been constructed, extending about fifteen feet into the lake.  This is like a small concrete dock, which serve as a place for the birds to hang out without being in direct contact with human passers-by.  During the day, this concrete dock is covered by birds; squaking, flapping, quacking birds.  During the night, it is abandoned, and is covered only in bird shit.  But it is truly covered in bird shit, like some foul Pollock.  As a group, we stop here.  We are mostly silent.  We are smoking, drinking, thinking.  I start to take my pants off.  Someone asks me, “What are you doing?”  “I’m going to run down that cement dock and jump in.”  They try to tell me not to.  They warn me that the water is very shallow here, and that the concrete dock is awash in bird shit.  I wave off their warnings.  Have these guys stopped wanting to see how far they can go?  I take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, my underwear.  I’m a naked man at the Duck Pond.  The guys have warned me, so they are no longer worried.  They are watching, smiling, ready to laugh and tell me they told me so.  I take a long sip of my drink.  I start running, down through the grass and then suddenly my feet hit concrete.  It is terribly slippery, and even while I am running, I can feel the bird shit sticking to my heels, squishing between my toes.  It is a gross feeling.  In this light, it’s not easy to see where the platform ends.  Just in time, I realize I can see the moon’s reflection in the water; I use this as a guide.  At the end of the platform, I jump hard and high, as if from a diving board.  I pull my legs up under my ass and clasp my hands under my shins: the cannonball position.  And I freeze there; I hover.  Time seemingly stands still.  See me from the back: my shaggy, rarely groomed brown hair, my pimpled back, a bit of flabby belly spilling over into view, my two half-moon ghost-white butt cheeks, and directly below that, the soles of my feet.  And in front of me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me, as if you were a movie camera.  Stop when you are beside me, at my profile.  My mouth, wide like Pac-Man, my ample gut, spilling forth like a sack of oatmeal, the curve of my haunches, my arms flung below me, seeming to hold me in place, to levitate me.  And behind me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me further.  Stop when you are in front of me.  See that look on my face?  That excruciating yawp of desperate living, desperate to feel these moony waters; see that fat, oatmealy belly, my hairy, caveman chest, nipples erect by the night wind, the pale fronts of my wobbly knees.  Now look behind me: look at those guys standing there, their faces frozen in various forms of laughter, disbelief, worry, apathy.  Look at those guys!  Oh, they are probably worried about so many things; I am sure they are worried that I am about to hurt myself.  Also, looking at the set of their mouths and the glint in their eyes, I’m willing to wager they’re worried about drowning in a ferry accident with two-hundred strangers in icy cold water somewhere, or whether they’ll ever get to walk the length of South America, or what they’d do if they found a dead body in a hotel hallway, or if they’ll keep having that dream where they show up to the wrong building for a college final exam, or if they have syphilis, or if they’ll ever be the father they want to be, or marry a woman as great as their mother, and in there somewhere are the realizations, too, the realizations we are having every moment of every day: the lines of morality and sanity we keep drawing and moving and drawing again with everything we observe, and the list of Hopes and Dreams that is under constant revision without us knowing, the importance of breath and bras and bicycles all neatly ordered and the smells we love so much like old books and stale cake and the things we know we’ll never do like fly a jumbo jet or hide in a refrigerator to scare the crap out of somebody and oh look at the list of regrets written all over these guys faces the women they wanted to fuck the cars they wanted to buy the movies they wanted to see as though they were already dead as though their whole story had been told but that’s not the truth now is it we lived, we were burning to live, we were burning to live!  And we did live, at least most of us, although now in our late thirties and early forites, a few of us have started to go. I have a thing like fire, but it isn’t fire.  It’s something I can feel on my skin, in my hair, even see it on my eyelids when I close them.  It flickers like flames and tingles like sparks, it’s love, truest love, and it burns like fire but isn’t fire, and it’s the only reason for anything at all, but I’ll be damned if I know what it actually is, from whence it comes or what it is made out of. But like I said, all those guys did live, even if maybe they were trying to die.  You can die really young, if you try hard enough.  I knew a girl from Chicago once. We met on the internet way back before that was the sort of thing that happened with any regularity. I was up really late at night, drunk of course, smoking cigarettes and using the different chat rooms available on America Online, back when chat rooms were the cutting edge of communication. I can’t remember what chatroom I found her in, but I’m sure it wasn’t anything incredibly respectable. Somehow we hit it off right away, finding a mutual interest in Pearl Jam, smoking cigarettes, and talking filthy. This is even before it was easy to send each other pictures, digital photography was just really something people had heard of, but nothing that regular people were doing on any grand scale. We chatted online quite a bit for a few weeks, then graduated to phone calls, and eventually she boarded a plane and came to see me. I picked her up at BWI and was immediately disappointed with her.  Something about how she wasn’t up to my standards physically. But I was not a cruel man, so I hid my disappointment as much as I could and spent the next few days with her. We had a fling, although I did not threw myself into it wholeheartedly, but almost out of a sense of obligation. I would spend the next few years basically dodging her, until for whatever reason I decided to take a trip to Chicago with another friend of mine, he knew a girl there that he was into, and I could see this girl from Chicago again. We took an over-land trip, he drove and I drank vodka the whole way. I remember almost nothing about the car trip. I remember talking about Stephen King and the band Red Hot Chili Peppers, smoking lots of cigarettes and crawling around in the backseat looking for a bottle that had somehow gotten back there. It was incredibly dangerous, but we did it anyway. Once we got to Chicago, I once again couldn’t really throw myself fully into the fling with this woman, we hung out in a hotel room with her, drank beer that was in the sink filled with ice. We watched the movie “At Close Range”, and talked like Christopher Walken. Then my friend and I drove home. I would talk to her off and on over the next few years, sometimes having phone calls frequently, oftentimes not talking for a year or more. Slowly we drifted into our thirties, becoming very different people as I emerged into addiction recovery and she drifted further into…everything else.  Her depression was immense.  We were very different people, ultimately, but once removed from our false fling we grew close, albeit from afar.  Suddenly in our mid-thirties she was calling me every day; she was falling deep into despair.  I had little advice for her.  After four or five days of phone calls, her Facebook profile lit up with her friends messages about how sad they were at her passing.  I guess she didn’t make it.  I’m too much about me, like to think about me, write about me, do my own thing, yada yada, et cetera et cetera, and on and on. Life is hard enough to figure out as it is, hard enough inside our own heads to figure out what is right, what it means to be a good and nice person who isn’t offensive without reason and who is kind and helpful without losing one’s authentic self, am I right?  Oh geez it’s complicated to even state the problem without creating a run-on sentence.  I mean it’s like, here we are, in our own heads, all alone, wondering what everyone else makes of us, worrying about all kinds of stuff we never say out loud like money and death (especially death) and how our breath smells and if we should cross the street yet or if we have some disease or are going bald or menopause is setting in and while we’re trying to silently figure all this out in our own heads all by ourselves we’ve got to interact with all these other damned people and you never really know (do you?) if you’re being nice or being a prick or hurting people unnecessarily or using guilt just to get your own way or maybe overreacting to other people’s harmless bullshit—and how can you figure all this stuff out?  How can you be nice and helpful without actually being someone else for a bit and observing how you are?  And then maybe it’s just your blood sugar, and you’re having a down day, and you need a nap, but who knows?  Maybe it’s more than that, maybe negativity has infested you, or you are finally and actually and once and for all egotistical—I mean, it happens to some people, right?  Why not you, why not me?  I think maybe it already happened to me, I think maybe I’m lost inside myself.  Once, when I was in rehab for not being able to stop drinking (the second time) the keepers ushered us outside to play kickball.  A bunch of grown or half-grown people who days or weeks before had been sleeping in our own vomit or living drowsy lives in crack houses were now being ushered outside to play kickball.  It was an unusually hot spring morning and I was a very unhappy man—I wasn’t quite done withdrawing yet and I hated everyone—and regardless of my mood, I was in no physical shape to play kickball.  I was quite overweight and hadn’t been eating anything close to a proper diet for years, in addition to smoking two packs a day and drinking a gallon of gin every two days.  My cardiovascular system was fucked, my vision still wasn’t right from all the drink and withdrawal and lack of proper vitamin absorption—that’s a real side effect of alcoholism, look it up— frankly I was having trouble sitting in a chair straight, and here I was being suddenly expected to play kickball.  Oh and one other thing: the woman I was in love with was in this rehab with me, at the same exact time.  I was head-over-heels for her (whatever passed for my head in those days) and despite my intense and fragile emotional and physical condition, I remained unable to extricate myself from those feelings—and from the macho bullshit that I thought was required of me in front of her.  She’d seen me crying almost endlessly for days since we arrived at the rehab (for reasons even I myself didn’t understand) but out here, on this sun-drenched kickball field, I was afraid I might not impress her with my physical prowess while playing a child’s playground game.  Needless to say, I did not excel that day.  Running to first base made me so winded I had to go out of the game.  I couldn’t coordinate my hands with my eyes to catch a lofty, slow-flying red playground ball.  I laid on the outfield grass and heaved breaths, sobbed for no discernible reason, was an unsolveable mess, and had to go back indoors before everyone else.  I thought I had failed as a man, that she would never want me (turned out she never did, but for reasons other than kickball).  There, then, at a moment in which I was almost completely divorced from my body and the pressures of the regular outside world, I remained unable to understand how others might perceive me, was unable to correctly order what was important from what was trivial and ludicrous, was so set in my mind how I viewed myself that I laid in the outfield grass not worried about why I could literally see my heartbeat in my thumb, but about appearing unmanly.  Damned idiot, always a damned idiot even when I’m just inside my head.  Is this what our lot is, as human, to be stuck in this vacuum tube of a skull and never know who or what we are?  Even now, almost two decades removed from that day on the kickball field and any bottle of any type, I don’t know what kind of a person I am. I have made strides toward goodness, oh I have made major strides, but I don’t know, at my core, what kind of person I am.  Do you?  I spend time being grateful for this wonderful little life I have all the time, and yet daily find myself drifting into needless trifles; how much is that magazine I want? Can that person actually park there?  Maybe I should shave this goatee.  What time is Walking Dead on?  Is that even on on Sundays?  I think it’s Mondays this season.  Do you think my high school teachers remember me?  Maybe I don’t make enough of an impression on people.  Or do I try too hard to make a good impression?  Maybe I’m over-bearing.  I need to work on that, start thinking about it more clearly, with more resolve.  Is that black mold over there?  I don’t know much about black mold, I should look it up.  In endless loops.  All that shit in endless loops and at the end of each day (if you measure your life in days) you are no closer to knowing if you are a good person, a good and true person who is true to yourself and doesn’t hurt other people.  How can you know?  How can you know?  I just got home from visiting my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in, in the rural central part of Pennsylvania—all rolling hills, clusters of trees, right at the foot of the Appalachians in the Cumberland Valley.  The house sits on a neat rectangular acre across the street from an expansive Mennonite farm.  It’s calm and still, and the days pass with mostly silence outdoors, the grass growing and the animals making noises in the brush, a car passing every five minutes, fading into the static as quickly as it came.  Dad has hummingbird feeders set up by the porch and we sit out there and watch them, their wings moving as fast as lightning, flitting to and fro, drinking, drinking, then buzzing off to some other urgent affair.  Occasionally one will rest on the pole that holds their feeders, sitting still for a few moments, its head moving up and down and all around, as if to contemplate the surroundings.  But we know better.  It isn’t contemplating a damned thing.  It’s just guarding its territory waiting to eat again, waiting to reproduce again, getting ready to fly again, just simply waiting to respond to impulses.  It’s a beautiful, adorable little creature, but it is not contemplating shit, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think.  What is an abyss?  Is there an abyss, beyond us?  If when we die, nothing happens, what does it look like?  Feel like?  I’ve opened a portal between this world and the next and it looks just like a big red door, a front door, you know, a house door.  What nonsense.  Christ, everything is nonsense.  How can there be meaning?  There is no meaning.  There can be no meaning.  It’s just atoms and electrons buzzing around, and they certainly do not mean a damned thing.  But can we arrange things just so? John Sloan and the ashcan school.  Now there is meaning.  Beautiful, dense paint thrown up on a canvas and arranged just so, just properly.  But if the electrons don’t mean anything how can we paint meaning?  All I know is The Wake of the Ferry makes me feel something, something primal despite not being primal.  I am not primal.  I am a soft man molded by the modern world.  Oh how I have tried not to be so.  I have labored with gusto to not be pampered by the time and place I was born but I don’t have the guts to do what it takes.  Instead I have allowed myself to be carried away by the world like a cow in a cattle chute—the poor thing like that mole my dog so callously eats—and made soft.  No, I am not primal.  I am secondary, and yet somehow The Wake of the Ferry—paint arranged on canvas—awakens something within me from when I was another species.  From when I grunted.  From when I howled.  It might even come from the abyss.  Holy crap where does it come from.  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.  Really, there’s just art.  Immense, wide skies with cumulus clouds to the horizon, the prairie spread out in the foreground.  A poem that makes you tear up, but not really cry.  That toe-tapping song, that movie that makes you feel afraid like you did when you were ten.  Shadows in the corner, a swirling dervish of a dance.  That’s really all there ever really is, just the art and some sort of meaning.  There’s not really a word for the opposite of loneliness, but that’s what I experience, all the time.  Not because there are so many people around me—there are often none.  And it’s not because I don’t feel lonely; that would just be the absence of loneliness.  No, it is the opposite of loneliness, a filling-up of things, a carrying of weight, a total contentedness with the order of things.  I also often feel the desire for time to stop.  I can have sickening longings for the past.  I am not afraid to grow old, nor do I wish to relive past experiences; but I miss eras, phases, periods of my life.  I miss the way your apartment smelled in the summer and I want to smell it again.  I was like a god, those days.  I don’t want you to live in that apartment again.   And then there was that time so many of us lived in like a five block radius of one another, and there were coffee shops and open mic nights and warm summer nights when the noises of different venues mixed on the streets with the smells of coffee beans and rum and cigarette smoke and Liz Claiborne perfume.  I don’t need to live it again.  Good lord, I don’t need to live it again.  Just let’s stop everything and smell it and look at it and grow old in that world, in that place, in that feeling.  Let’s have the rings of Saturn stand still for just an epoch.  Then we can start time again.  I live in the opposite of loneliness and I’d like more of it.  Also I don’t want to die, ever.  moonless dark country nights.  there’s a sound to it.  a cricket sound, a buzzing, a silent sheath.  the sound of the nights of my teenage years, accompanied by the smell of beer, loud talk, and the first Violent Femmes album, the one with Country Death Song.  nowadays I want to take pictures of everything.  I try not to but I do anyway.  I don’t know what the penalty is for allowing a beautiful moment to pass unrecorded but nobody is ever going to levy it upon me.  I wonder about things like the shape of the land, the hills, how much we made to suit our own purposes like roads and drainage and sewage and how much the earth made, how long was it like this, how did it get this way?  eventualities swirl around and around and around, and around yet.  I have very much to say about many things.  mostly I don’t say them.  often I will say two or three sentences but I know it’s more than most people want.  it is just as well.  I’m a prick with my ideas and opinions and there’s no need to spew them out entirely; the big old universe with its Saturn’s rings and open mic nights does not give one fig about what I am saying.  and so on and so on and so on.  dark country nights with their sounds and their memories and time stopping and who couldn’t be lonely in all this immensity, anyway?  it’s all so damned big and careless and spinning with no plan, so I say, so I think, if you really want to know, and the wind blows like a motherfucker and the flags are stretched out at the tops of their poles and we’re all so lonely and the opposite of lonely.  really, there’s just art.  immense, wide skies with cumulus clouds to the horizon, the prairie spread out in the foreground.  a poem that makes you tear up, but not really cry.  that toe-tapping song, that movie that makes you feel afraid like you did when you were ten.  shadows in the corner, a swirling dervish of a dance.  that’s really all there ever really is, just the art and some sort of meaning.

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!

It is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

Posted in Memoir, real life with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2017 by sethdellinger

Our culture is full of tales that suggest there is a prime way to live life; movies, music and books that implore you to chase your dreams, to leave the safe confines of your daily routine, to reach out and grab life by the whatevers, because, you know, you only live once.  It’s a moving, inspiring narrative.  The thing is, you see, in our society, typically when someone does that sort of thing, we all look at them like they’re crazy.  I can’t believe she just up and moved to New York—to be an actress!  She had a pretty good job here, too.  She’s nuts!

And so on.

This is not going to be a piece of writing where I tell you how you should be living.  For the most part, how you are living is between you and, possibly, those closest to you.  It’s got nothing to do with me.  They make so many movies etc suggesting you grab life by the armpits because those kinds of things make money.  People love to be told how they are pissing away their existence.  Why?  Because almost everyone is, in some way, convinced they actually are pissing away their existence.

It’s hard to know how to live your life, right?  By the time you get one thing figured out, one part of you fully colored in, you’ve changed in other ways, and now you’re chasing other ghosts, ironing out new parts of you, nursing new interests.  The songs tell you to chase your dream but very few of us have just one enormous dream.  Most of us are a collection of dozens of itsy bitsy dreams.  I don’t suggest driving your car off a cliff over an itsy bitsy dream.

All I’m personally concerned with is being passionate, living with vigor.  I keep changing, evolving; it’s like I’m in the center of an orchard that is spinning around me and I’m leaping at fruit as they fly past.  Even as I near my fortieth year, I find my changes accelerating: I would be unrecognizable even to my thirty-year-old self.  With so much swirling into and out of my crosshairs, it’s impossible to laser-focus on something.  What I need is passion for everything.  The racing heart, smelling the book, walking outside in the cold to take the photograph, the peach juice running down your chin, holding Her as tight as I can.  I don’t need to move to New York to be an actress to squeeze the juice out—but maybe you do, so maybe you should.

And maybe you’re OK with rote routine, eating your food and drinking your water just to stay alive as long as possible.  That’s fine, too.  Like I said, this isn’t a piece of writing to tell you how to live your life.  That’s got nothing to do with me, because nobody’s paying me to write this.

But me, I need passion.

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For a few years in my early twenties I was passionate about Alcoholics Anonymous.  I mean that’s who I was for a little while.  I thought it was the life for me.  After being tentative and gradually going into that world, I fully immersed myself once comfortable.  I would get phone calls late at night and go talk to a drunk in need.  I gave a talk to troubled teens attending an early intervention class at a local church.  Almost all of my friends were members of AA.  We went to meetings together, then went out for coffee afterward, then sometimes even back to an apartment or house for a movie night after the coffee.  We took road trips together to meetings and seminars.  At the time, I was still considered a “young person in sobriety” (I was 25-26) and my closest AA buddies and I went to the Pennsylvania Convention of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (known as “Pennsypaa”).  We took over a hotel in downtown Baltimore (that’s right, it was in Baltimore–they like to make it a nice trip for everyone no matter where you live in the state) for three whole days.  That’s how passionate I was about Alcoholics Anonymous.  In addition to tons of panels and activities, there was also a room where they had round-the-clock meetings, one an hour, for the whole three days.  I made it my mission to do a stretch of 24 hours straight, but I think I only got 7 or 8 before I had to go sleep.  I had my favorite AA jokes (“They asked me to go to that meeting and give a talk on humility, but I said I’d only do it if enough people showed up”), I had my favorite chapters in the Big Book (“Us Agnostics”), and on and on.  It was my life and I thought it would always be.  It isn’t my life anymore, though.  It hasn’t been for a very long time.  Those guys I went to Baltimore with–there is only one of them I am still in touch with.  But that’s how it is supposed to be, back before social media changed our expectations; people, like passions, are allowed to come and go.  You can let them go.

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Like most of my blog entries lately, I’m just kind of thinking out loud here.  Don’t look too hard for an overarching theme or thesis.  As my birthday approaches I’m doing a little taking stock.  Certainly my life right now is the most amazing it’s ever been–it is not putting on a front to say that.  People think that if you say your life is amazing on the internet that you must be lying, but they think that because their lives are not amazing.  I assure you mine is.

No, I am not taking stock of my life in some way that implies it needs improved, but rather, to discern just how I have changed so much.  This is one of the more massive themes of all the blog entries I’ve ever written: how the old me becomes the new me becomes the old me becomes the new me and on and on and on.  And why do I think you’d want to read about this?  Why, because I assume the same thing is happening to you.

I suppose it’s possible this is not happening to you.  It’s possible the old you became the new you and then you stayed right there, and now you’re just you.  But again, that’s none of my business.

What I want to get at is, how much of those old me’s are still part of me?  Are there fundamental bits of Seth mixed up inside me, that have always been there and shall always remain?  Or do we change, piece by piece, insidiously, until the person we see in the mirror bears no relation to the people we were 10, 20 years ago?

Is there even a way to know the answer?

Sometimes I think the only thing in this world that cuts to any part of the truth of existence is music–music without words–and the only thing I can really create is words, but no music.  So there you have it.  Questions stacked on questions like mirrors looking into mirrors.

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I’ve seen Pearl Jam live 21 times.  Approximately.  It might be 17.  I know it is more than 15.  At some point in my life I knew that number very concretely.  That is how much has changed within me since I gave up the ghost on Pearl Jam.  For a very long stretch, the band was my life.  I bought everything you can possibly imagine–spending thousands of dollars on the band’s merchandise.  When they would tour, I would take vacations from work and follow them up and down the east coast, staying in hotels by myself in places as diverse as Jersey City to Virginia Beach.  I attended about 75% of those Pearl Jam shows all alone, and did not mind one bit.  I used to tell people I had to go to as many shows as possible because Pearl Jam concerts were “my church”.  Especially the long instrumental parts they would play in “Even Flow” and “rearviewmirror”; I would close my eyes during these times and replay my life up to that point, flipping through memory images, whatever came to mind and seemed significant, and then giving immense thanks that I had come through everything to be in a position to be standing there, right then, as this band was creating this music, and I had enough money to buy the poster and a t-shirt and my own hotel room.  When the band cycled back around to the climax of the song, I’d open my eyes, always tear-filled, and they’d pour down my cheeks, and I’d jump like a maniac as the music built to a catharsis, and I’d scream and pump my fists and let out my barbaric yawp.  It was my church.  I did that for a long time.  Seven or eight years.  But I don’t do that anymore.  I didn’t even look at the setlists for Pearl Jam’s last two tours.  I’m more of a Miles Davis kind of man now.

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People talk very poorly of “routine”.  They are afraid of falling into routine.  They think routine will just sap the authenticity directly out of your life.

Here is what they mean: they are afraid of getting old and having responsibilities.

Lord knows I was afraid of those things for a very long time.  I lived by myself for a decade and railed against the breakfast-nook-having, 401k-caring-about, child-rearing snoozevilles.  But guess what?  While I was living alone, bitching about all that, I still had a routine.  I may have been able to take road trips more often, stay out late, what-have-you, but ultimately, if what you fear is routine, then you are fucked, mister, because whoever you are and whatever you do, you are already in a routine.

I have a family now.  I am now living much closer to what some people would call a “normal adult life”, and yes, we have a routine.  Having a routine is how you make sure you get out the door in the morning (if that’s what you have to do), get food in your belly, pay the power company on time.  Having a routine and being in the flow of “normal” adult life doesn’t mean your passion has to be siphoned off.

But you gotta work at it.

The last thing I want, as I near forty and the changes inside me keep accelerating, is to live joylessly, simply existing, from one day to the next, sun up, sun down, alarm beeping, alarm beeping.  Luckily my partner is also a person with no interest in living an ordinary life, even if we do want to have breakfast nooks someday and pay attention to our 401ks.  Intense existence and successful adulthood, I think, are not mutually exclusive.

I want our family to be safe from harm but I don’t want to “be safe”.  I want desperately to reach further and further out of my comfort zones.  I want to do new stuff until the day I die.  I don’t want to only listen to the music I loved in high school.  The world is so damn huge.  We’re only here for a blink.

I have learned that it is possible to grow up and still let the juice run down your chin.

It’s Time to Start Thinking About It

Posted in real life with tags , on January 4, 2017 by sethdellinger

When I was a teenager, I’d often sit in my car in the driveway of our house out in the country and listen to The Beatles, usually Abbey Road.  And usually at night.  I’d smoke cigarettes and pop No Doz and analyze every sound in “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”.  I thought maybe there was some deep stuff hidden in there, especially in regards to the abrupt ending.  In the summer I rolled the windows down and flicked my ashes on the asphalt my father made me help him seal every summer, underneath the basketball hoop I was never any good at using.  Sometimes I put in Sgt. Pepper and tried to suss out the meaning from “A Day in the Life”.  I knew much younger than my friends what Albert Hall was, and where Lancashire was.

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Of course, some teenagers in this world of ours have to worry every day about finding clean drinking water, or whether they’ll be shot by a bullet from an AK-47, or be stolen and raped by Boko Haram.  All told, it’s probably pretty rare to be able to sit by yourself in the front of your Dodge Daytona, smoking Newport Lights and pondering why George didn’t sing more.  Such is life, I suppose.  Not that I’m brushing off the discrepancy; in fact I loathe it.  But what can be done, I wonder?

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Despite living in a very prosperous nation, and being born of the least harassed skin color and gender, many people like myself have still experienced extreme depths of sorrow and deprivation.   I have experienced such a thing.  Between the ages of twenty and twenty-five I developed acute alcoholism, which culminated in “hitting bottom” during a weeklong stay at a true fleabag hotel, in the most deplorable conditions I could have imagined. But listen to this: some of my most distinct memories of that week are watching “Rugrats” on the cable television and listening to a Barenaked Ladies CD on repeat on the boombox I had brought along. The lowest point in my life still involved what others might consider creature comforts.  Naturally, this does not diminish the pain or seriousness of the event for me, but it’s worth pondering.  What does “hitting bottom” look like to a Sudanese refugee?  Perhaps I am simply mistaken about what “hitting bottom” means. Maybe, but probably not.  Probably it’s complicated.

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I have an avid interest in the American Revolution.  I don’t think I could be called a “buff” of this period; despite having read extensively about it and visited many of the main  sites associated with it, I simply cannot remember many of the essential details.  I forget things, which I think automatically discredits me from being a buff.  But I find the Revolution fascinating without end.  I quite often find myself breathlessly declaring, What tremendous courage these men had!!  How could they have committed to this? Would I have had this within me, to risk all for this freedom?

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The Civil War and the World Wars were, no doubt and to varying degrees, important wars that fought for (again, to varying degrees) important freedoms.  But we have fought for nothing approaching the towering consequence of history since our Revolution–and certainly not in the modern era.  No doubt the men and women that go to fight for us now are brave, hardy folks, whom I respect–but they fight for nothing important, and certainly not freedom.  They have courage–but to what end?  To whose end?

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In high school, I worried about fitting in.  Cliche, sure, but there it is.  I wasn’t angst-ridding over it; I began high school somewhat timid and scared–perhaps somewhat worried about what troubles my short height might find for me–but I quickly developed a confidence I’d retain through most of my life, and have gone through most of the rest of my life forgetting I am short.  But still, I was concerned about fitting in, would I be popular?  Would there be girls?  Would I be made fun of?  Gosh, can you imagine–with all the pressing weight of human history behind us, and such shocking decisions ahead of us, we spend our most visceral years worrying about nonsense?  I spent hours trying to roll my pants legs properly.  I never got good at it.

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See, listen here:  what’s happening now isn’t normal.  This is not just a “my party lost” situation where I’m bitter at the incoming president.  I think we all feel it.  There has been a shifting.  There has been a change.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  Now, there’s no way to know, quite yet, what path the future will take.  It’s still possible that everything could be fine.  But with each passing day, that looks less and less likely.  It is painfully easy to see a future where very few American boys sit in their sports cars in their parents’ driveways dissecting Beatles tunes.  It is becoming much easier to imagine other, darker futures.

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I just now, at the age of 38, got myself a family.  I had given up on that notion for awhile, but now I have one.  I have lately begun imagining what we will do if the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.  There is nothing more important than them.  How will we stay safe?  At what point in the news cycle do we decide we need a plan?  I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I also don’t want to be the last one to have a bunker to go to.

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I have spent many years marveling at the courage of John and Samuel Adams, George Washington, Thaddeus Kosciusko, John Trumbull, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson.  They saw what they had to do.  They risked their very lives to steer all of human history.  I have wondered what I would do in their position, never imagining a similar moment could happen in my lifetime.  I am by no means suggesting that moment is here.  But I can imagine it now.  Can you?

You Vanish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2016 by sethdellinger

Grandma was a short, stout woman who made puddings and hoarded swaths of uncut fabric in an upstairs walk-in closet.  Earlier, she had been a farmer’s wife, raising four children and taking on city “Fresh Air” kids in the Sixties.  Her husband came down with Parkinson’s disease and eventually she had to wheel him around the house in a big wheelchair, help him swallow enormous pills.  She tended a garden out back and taught me how to pick peas.  She watched professional wrestling and baseball with the television on mute.  Then one day she vanished.  She’s no longer here.

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Jenny was a girl I met in college–or so I’m told.  I was a very heavy drinker in those days, and I literally do not remember knowing her in college.  She found me on Myspace about ten years later.  She had stories about me from college that I didn’t remember but we knew all the same people.  Her father had been my philosophy professor, and I vaguely remembered that.  We texted a lot for a while; we were toying with the idea of romance but after getting together in person, it just wasn’t there.  She liked horror movies and had lots of tattoos.  She was a fairly big woman but something happened at some point to make her lose a remarkable amount of weight–suddenly she was tiny.  I never asked what was wrong with her and she didn’t seem to want to tell me.  She’s gone now.  She’s not anywhere you might look for her.

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I went to high school with Nate.  We weren’t really friends, but we knew each other.  We ran in mostly different circles.  But we both went on the class trip to England.  We got somewhat close over the two-week trip, even though he thought he was a little cooler than I was, and I didn’t disagree.  We bonded over being heavy smokers and enjoying a good adult beverage.  When we got back home we mostly went our separate ways, aside from a minor power struggle we had over a female, and one time I accidentally set off the alarm in his lowrider truck.  He was a moody guy who liked the bass in his truck and wore backwards baseball caps.  He was really, really funny.  He disappeared in his mid-twenties.

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My first real girlfriend’s father was a nut about World War II aviation.  He’d sit in his chair in the living room and watch History Channel aviation shows all day long.  He was balding in a very adorable way, he didn’t try to hide it but a combover look came to him naturally.  He’d worked most of his prime years for a shoe company that went out of business at just the wrong time.  There was always a dog or a cat in his house that everyone else was mad at but he seemed content to ignore.  He enjoyed “black powder shooting”, which is the hobby of shooting antique firearms.  He never really said much to me–maybe “hi” and “bye” at the appropriate times.  The past seemed to weigh on him.  He has vanished.

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What is it, this business we have of ending?  It’s tempting to say we go somewhere–even if it’s just energy, even if it’s another life, anything, anywhere.  Of course, that’s just the rub of it–there is literally no way of knowing.  There is only the ever-present mystery. Although when you confront the thing head-on, there isn’t really much mystery at all.  We all know, at our core, exactly what it is (or better yet, exactly what it isn’t).

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Someday I, too, will vanish from these daily comings-and-goings, in a poof, like mist, like a lantern you thought you saw in a window.

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.

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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