A Journal of Life Pursued

Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

Things Loved

In Memoir, The Examined Life, Wisdom on May 14, 2013 at 6:00 am

My Maryland Woods

I spent some time over the weekend thinking about my best self as in, when have I realized my best self? I was in Maryland where I am selling some property, much of which consists of several acres of raw old woods, with trees bigger than I can get my arms around. I love these woods.

I do not use the word love lightly.

It was Mother’s Day evening and I was standing in a patch of woods where, four years ago, I scattered my mother’s ashes. The sun was setting. That’s when I started to reflect on those times when I experienced what I call my best self. My mother motivated me in a deep and profound way to seek such things of myself.

Also in these woods I roamed and meditated and worked with my beloved Maggie, a dog that meant more to me than I can talk about. Maggie died three years ago and walking the woods I could see her beautiful sleek athlete’s body fly like an arrow through the undergrowth. And over there, by the brook, is where I buried poor little Oscar, a rust-colored rescue cat that one night had a stroke. When I found him in the morning he did not resist my touch and his eyes no longer held life, though his heart was still beating.

These memories had the capacity to crush me as I walked my woods a last time. I was spared that, fortunately, though my heart was indeed heavy. Rather, I was grateful, a soaring and rare emotion. The animals of my life, my mother, the trees, the capacity for memory, these are things woven together by my aspiration for a better self, a best self. These are things loved and love will, by its very nature, guide a person to such heights.

On My Mind

In Books, Life, Memoir, Reading, The Examined Life on February 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

A few odds & ends, things I’ve been contemplating recently:

I read about 50 books a year. I am 57. Let’s say I live another 30 years. That’s: 30 x 50 = 1500. Fifteen hundred books in front of me, given the assumptions. That’s a focus I need to get my head around.

* * *

There are 196 countries in the world. To the best of my recollection, I’ve been to about thirty-five of them. That’s about 18%. I would like more, but am satisfied. Fifty seems a nice round number, though. If wanderlust is your thing, you might want to check out The Art of Non-Conformity, Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work, and Travel. I met Chris, the unassuming force behind The Art of Non-Conformity, here in Portland a year or two ago as he was passing through on a book tour. He’s on country 193.

* * *

I’m a baby boomer. I was raised in a Mad Men world of: More, Bigger, Faster. That hasn’t worked out all that well. The future is: Less, Smaller, Slower. Not everyone agrees with my assessment and that’s fine. Eventually, however, more people rather than less must embrace the future mantra, Less, Smaller, Slower, or there will be no future to experience–or rather, no species to experience it. This is a hard thing and I worry we’ll not pull it off.  Wm. James:

“The world may be saved, on condition that its parts shall do their best. But shipwreck in detail, or even on the whole, is among the open possibilities.”

There is a blog I follow, Zen Habits, that might be of interest if you want to think more on a Less, Smaller, Slower lifestyle.

* * *

Alan Watts writes that the Zen mind is like a mirror: it reflects everything but absorbs nothing. This image has dogged me since I first encountered it. It seems much of what remains difficult, in politics, in business, in life, is the result of that which has been absorbed–what the Buddha called attachment. What is the cost-value ratio of that which we have “absorbed?”

* * *

Dostoyevsky wrote: “You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home…” Our recent snow storm prompted memories of my fondest childhood experiences: towering snow drifts, King of the Hill battles atop snow mountains, bundled neighborhood friends. I said recently that, as a species, we have no calling to a natal stream, no return to a territory; yet, perhaps the territory of memory is our blessing-curse natal shadowland. There is comfort there, but like a strong drug, memory over-use is addictive and ultimately debilitating.

* * *

The world remains a wonderful–and wonderous–place. There is not so much effort required to make this observation, though it does not come freely. I subscribe to a modest discipline to maintain this perspective: “Develop your legitimate strangeness,” said poet, René Char. The world would rather we not take this course and remain with the herd. You know my thoughts on this.

Thanks for reading and your continued interest in “…the house I live in….”

Thursday Theme day is Postponed.

In Life, Memoir, The Examined Life on February 7, 2013 at 6:00 am

It is Thursday and “theme day” here at “…the house….” I have a topic–the examined life. The post is written, but cracky dry. If it were to have texture I’d propose sandpaper, grade: fine. It’s an important topic, perhaps the most important topic, but I’m not in the mood to get all philosophical and academic today. I trust you understand. If you wish to file a complaint, so be it. You know where the office is. Regardless, Thursday Theme day is officially postponed.

It’s not as if something came along to recast my imagination, to de-rail theme day. I have no excuse, especially with the heavy lifting completed. I’ll lay it on you soon enough, maybe next Thursday, if that day finds me less cantankerous. Simply put, I think being cantankerous is a thing to run with when it hits you, especially if it hits on a day you feel a compulsion to break the rules–which is being coy, really, since the only rules here are the ones I’ve created. Yes, that would be, if not a degree of coyness, then disingenuousness.

And speaking of: Disingenuous–it is word I used to like. (See yesterday’s post for another favored word.) It is a word I tossed accusingly at a person when I was feeling aggressive and lacking in grace, a verbal grenade lobbed over the barricade. I did this once to a young man, branding him as disingenuous, and sadly he didn’t know what the word meant, and, though I did not ridicule him, I made him feel less about himself in a way that brought him close to tears. I look back at this incident and place it solidly in the category of being a jerk, a complete and utter asshole. It brings me no pleasure to think I behaved this way. I was a man competing in the world of business, a combatant, and unfortunately that world occasionally solicited a side of me that I now, upon reflection, find troubling. As I said, it’s a word I used to like.

That is the way of life, isn’t it? Trying on different clothes, going for a new look, you stand in front of the mirror, studying, preening. You turn to the side, trim and expectant, taking high measure of your appearance, only to realize later what the fool you must have looked, what a jerk you were. Yes, Lordy, grant me basic grace.

I’ve given myself free rein here (today is different from any other day how?) and could ramble like this too long but for my temperance with respect to your patience. I’ve already violated my unspoken (unconscious?) rule–yet more rules!–related to transgression and propriety and even the hoped for trust between reader and writer. If this were theater we would consider the forth-wall penetrated. So be it, I stand satisfyingly rambled. A high degree of the cantankerous has been exercised. Too, a bit of examined life revealed. Perhaps we didn’t stray that far from the syllabus, after all.

Thanks for reading–and indulging me. You are most gracious and for that I am grateful.


Will advise for cash.

In Life, Memoir, The Examined Life on June 13, 2012 at 6:00 am

“Yes, coach. Okay, coach.”

A person followed my Twitter feed recently whose profile stated that she was a “life coach” with over ten-thousand followers. Ten thousand! I went to Google and searched the term life coach. In .26 seconds Google responded that it found “about 43,400,000 results.” Forty-three million! (Two exclamation marks might be a record for me.)

Does anyone else find this curious? All these people coached–or coaching–on life? One popular life coaching site advertises: “As more people recognize the need for inspiration and guidance, the more they see coaching as a method of gaining self-confidence and moving towards a higher aspiration. Imagine, finally being in the right place at the right time.”  I’m not sure what they mean by “finally being in the right place at the right time.” Are they suggesting that previous generations were full of self confidence and brimming with aspiration, didn’t need coaching on how to live. Perhaps it’s only the present generation so vacuously lacking? Lucky us. The introduction includes a pop-up quiz the inquirer should take to see if they’ve got the goods or need the goods.

I am (hardly) resisting the temptation to be cynical. Forty-three million hits can’t be wrong. Ten-thousand people in search of a coach. That’s a lot of folks in need. I have to respect that.

The site I quote includes a photograph, in sepia (interesting choice), of a lovely looking not-too-young, not-too-old woman whose title is “Mentor coach, and admission adviser.” I didn’t bother to discover if one applies for coaching needed or, rather, applies for coaching offered. Perhaps that is where the mentor coach comes in: “Sorry, you failed the quiz. You need life coaching. We’re here for you. Please submit your application.” Or maybe, conversely: “Congratulations. You passed. You exhibited knowledge of how to live and we think you’d make a great coach for those who don’t get it.”

Oh, I wasn’t going to be cynical. Sorry.

I have nothing against any of this. Nor do I have anything for it. I suspect in prior generations “the need for inspiration and guidance” was filled by: a) parents, b) school, c) super heroes, d) books (there’s a concept), e) teachers (formal and informal), f) extended family, g) churches, h) friends, and so forth–all old school stuff. Stuff that obviously doesn’t work any more. That is just conjecture on my part.

As best I can reckon, I have been on a similar quest for forty-four years, since my eighth birthday (that story here). Informally, I have been trying to understand how best to live–I guess formally too, if one considers academic study. (An undergraduate concentration in philosophy; a failed attempt at an advanced degree in the highfalutin History of Ideas.)

Regardless, I wish all those folks in pursuit of a good coach the best of luck. Your life depends on it. And to the coaches, I ask that you be gentle and spread your wisdom widely. There are a lot of us–over forty million, I’m told–in need of assistance.

Too much pizza. Too much beer.

In Books, Memoir, Writers, Writing on May 24, 2012 at 6:00 am

I wrote this a month ago, saved it as a draft, thinking it best not to post it, for reasons which will be soon apparent. But I’m nursing a brainwave flatline and like its shallow mellowness. So, rather than get the synaptic camshaft cranking, I’m going to swallow my pride and roll with the post. What the hell.


Carole is out of town and so tonight I eat out. BBQ chicken pizza at Portland Pie Co. Carole does not care for their pizza so this is my place when she’s gone. And beer. I drink beer here too. Copious amounts.

I divide the pizza: eat this half tonight, this half tomorrow lunch. I eat. And drink beer and eat more. The first half is gone and I peel off a piece from the second. I hate myself for doing this. I order another beer. The hate increases.

I eat and drink and read. I read when I eat alone. Often, I read with company for that matter. Once I left a party we were hosting and went upstairs to read, the party being so very something other than what I thought it’d be. I was rude, of course. Just writing that makes me feel like a jerk. But that is a different story. I eat the whole thing. Drink more beer even. I leave loathing myself. My discipline has abondanded me. I am lost.

Tonight I read Joyce Maynard‘s At Home in the World. It is one of the finest, if the finest, memoir I’ve ever read. Maynard was a child literary prodigy–she writes like an angel– and came to the attention of old man J.D. Salinger living as a recluse in Cornish, New Hampshire. She moved in with him. She was nineteen. He was thirty-five years her senior. I was reading the part where he teaches her how to induce vomiting after eating food he deems toxic. There is a reason Salinger was as he was.

Things begin to turn ugly.

I leave, paying the tab, in a state of gastro distress. As I walk home I think about Salinger, two years younger than me, puking. I think about life imitating art. I rush home, miserable more so now that it all has settled and capped off my GI tract. Into the bathroom I go, kneeling in front of the toilet. I look at my middle finger. Is the nail clipped? I think of Brando in Last Tango.

I plunge the finger down my throat, curious at what’s down there. Interesting. I wretch. But no pizza, no beer. Just a little phlegm. Lucy is sitting to my left, looking at me. I reach out and scratch her ear, tell her it’s alright, then plunge the finger down my throat again. Again, nothing. My eyes watering I give in. This is obviously not a solution. I’m not made this way. I must pay my dues, suffer for my sins. I must digest. I ask Lucy if she wants to go for a walk and she tells me that yes, indeed, let’s go for a walk. I get the impression she thinks that to be a better solution to my current trouble than whatever it is I’m doing.

After our walk I come home and recline, the only position that offers up any comfort, and continue reading how a nineteen year old woman came to live with J.D. Salinger.

Of Parrot Fish.

In Adventure, Memoir, Travel, Writing on April 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

I friend wrote asking how I was holding up in light of my pending trip to Nepal. I’ve traveled with this friend and she knows I get jittery before a trip. I confessed I was “getting wiggy.” She matter-of-factly said to drop the wigginess, that it was not becoming. Another friend wrote to wish me well and while doing so told me he admired my commitment to adventure and a life occasionally slanting towards the edge. I expressed appreciation, but confessed that I was growing anxious and beginning to second guess myself. Three weeks in the mountains, much of it at altitude, such distance from home, from wife and dog–I need to get underway and leave all that on the pier, I said. Once you cast off, things start to look better.

This fashion of nerves is not new. As a kid I would get myself screwed up thinking about and dwelling upon whatever vacation adventure awaited. This buck-toothed little Hoosier, supine on the back bench of the Chevy Impala, got vacation nerves. Who would guess I was so high strung?

Once, leaving the mashed-potato comforts of Indiana, we journeyed to the distant and foreign land of Key West. My parents promised to take me deep-sea fishing. That is, my dad was to take me. Mom was scared of the water and sat in the car reading her Science and Health.

I was excited and turned the event over in my head, round and round. The morning of our adventure I was a jumble of nerves, worked up, and at a local breakfast joint threw up at the table, my stomach such a tangle. I am sure it was a most unpleasant morning for the other patrons.

I recall catching a parrot fish. It was a green and yellow flash of wet lightening. Pulled over the gunnel at the end of my line, it flopped at my feet. I was spell-bound, never imagined such a thing so perfectly beautiful. A crew member grabbed it and tossed it into a gaping bucket along with all the other gasping and dying fish. I was wide-eyed, aghast and stricken with pungent and sudden guilt, having delivered such a creature to its end. I mourn still over watching it die, the color leaving it in drips and it’s eye–only one eye visible, the fish being on it’s side–the eye growing milky. There was a life lesson.

That is the honest and current state of things, a blended weight of gag suppression, guilt, and an ache to get rolling.