Archive for November, 2011


Next to Godliness

by mdjb

True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.    –Socrates

Only after the winds finally died down did I realize winter had passed into spring. I no longer notice buds and birdsong. Or I do, but not in the expectant ways I used to. My interest in Eastern studies tells me I am supposed to, but then that interest is a holdover from our time together, and I am no longer certain of its attraction. I am grateful that neither of us were comfortable with the concept of making children as I would now be stumbling around in the debris of another half-finished project, having to answer for my incapability with no one else to blame, and it’s not as if I have role models to go by. On a windless day, I recalled my mother punishing me in a supermarket once for having bit into unbought apples. At first I was mortified in front of two strangers. Then, having put on my best feel-sorry-for-me face, letting tears well without spilling, and expecting at least a tut-tut from one of them, I was doubly disappointed to hear her say, “Children!” in a tone that I knew sided with my mother, while the other woman busied herself with choosing ripe and unbitten apples from the pile in an all too obvious manner. I suppose you were likewise expressing disappointment on that day late in January when you told me you thought it best to remain with your wife, but you waited so long to come to the decision, I wondered if it was a half-assed attempt at a New Year’s resolution, and I had nothing at home to console me other than papers from the office to review and half a bottle of brandy left over from Christmas that would provide a poor stand-in for dinner.

Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome.    –Chinese proverb

Life continues on the ninth floor as if nothing has changed, and truly, for many nothing has. We sit in our tiny cubicles, personalized only to the point allowed by discretion, which means no more than three vacation photos, and no more than five family members preferably contained within two shots, and a small to-do list that is noticed by those authorized to delegate tasks. Good sense tells the singles not to pin up pictures of significant others in order to avoid having to make up stories when those others become insignificant. The marrieds lunch together as they share common problems over which to commiserate. The singles disperse and for forty minutes they are only reachable on their Blackberries, if there is ever any need to do so. Lately, I have been “lunching” at McCann’s alone, and losing my religion in pretty much my own fashion. Why I keep returning to the office expecting major changes have occurred during my absence is beyond me, but I fortify  myself every afternoon for such an occasion, looking at happier days in the privacy of my wallet, and for only minutes at a time. I never could commit to hanging photos on my board.

The great question is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.    –Chinese proverb

Thirty clean executive-types, including twelve women, eating yogurt or salad for lunch, or practicing tai-chi, watched four dirty youths, one of whom was a girl wearing torn jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, beat up what appeared to be a homeless man, also dirty and in need of a shave, who repeatedly called out, “Ayudenme, por favor,” though none of the thirty seemed to be able to break their concentration long enough to go to his aid even as he sat in a crumpled heap rubbing his bruises, and attempting to stop his nose from bleeding while the kids ran off laughing, having taken nothing from him but apparently enjoying the sheer maliciousness of the mayhem they had committed. Admittedly, any of the people on their break might have caused problems for themselves in returning late to work because of the recent sanctions against extended lunch hours during a bad economy.

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.    –Japanese proverb

Thirsty, very thirsty, I made six trips to the cooler, but there did not seem to be enough water in the world to quench my inquietude. Why this day of all days, when I thought I had learned to live my solitary life without feeling concern over the lack of friendly pats on the back or elbow nudges, I could not say at first, but as the afternoon wore on, I became certain it was due to hearing the talk about the man in the park and the tone of the story as it was told at the cooler. I wanted to shout. I wanted to hit somebody and knock the amusement out of them, but I had not been witness to the incident, sitting in McCann’s as I was, and staring at my useless cell phone. I was looking for that feng shui application called Portable Happy Placement, but could not find it. As the sun climbed high in the sky banishing the winter winds, I was sitting under a dusty fan in a darkened bar letting unvented anger fester, knowing I had letters to respond to upon my return to the office and building up a strong grudge against those more than likely happy recipients, clients and customers, who are always right.

In the midst of great joy, do not promise anyone anything. In the midst of great anger, do not answer anyone’s letter.    –Chinese proverb

In my after lunch haze, I stared at what was essentially a blank white screen, but I could have sworn I saw the pixels dancing. Been listening to too much REM after salad-dinners and evening beverages, and taking courage from Michael Stipe’s slashing of the air with lyrics that give no quarter. When shit flies your way, you have nothing to do but duck, scoop up the droppings, and fling a good load back at the source of your disgruntlement. It is unfortunate when innocent bystanders get smeared, but the sounds of laughter I could discern reminded me bystanders are not always innocent. Cleanliness of body and spirit is a virtue, to be sure, but on this passionless spring day I felt about as far from godliness as one can possibly get and still find reasons to proceed with the task at hand. In a haste to cleanse myself, and more likely to preserve the job providing my livelihood, I pulled out my wallet, took one last look at our smiling faces, then, began tearing my anger into insignificance.


Early Morning Dreams

by mdjb

Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
–Edgar Cayce

The radio’s alarm is set for 5:30 A.M. which is about when the sun rises at this time of year, but almost every morning I wake a half-hour before sunrise and have to pee. This prompts the cat, who is sleeping on top of the blanket and whenever I get up she thinks it is time for her to eat. Sometimes I feed her after taking care of my business but the problem there is after she eats she always has to take care of her business and all I want to do is go pee and slip back into bed for another half hour. If the cat uses her litter box, the smell wafts in and keeps me awake. Plus, as clean as she is about herself, there is something unsavory about her coming back into bed with me after that and nuzzling right up near my face.
The gray light coming in the window induces the strangest half-dreams. There’s never enough time to get into the REM stage so I’m not sure the scenarios that play out truly qualify as dreams. I guess it’s more like wishful thinking. Some of my best ideas come during that half hour before sunrise and then, when I finally get out of bed and start to get ready for work, I test their logicality. Much of the time the plots are full of holes and only seemed to make sense through the haze of sleep, but the kernel is there, and it’s usually fixable.
Now, I think all fiction is based on the writer’s life. When writers say, “Oh, this has never happened to me. I made this all up. Why do you think it’s called fiction?” I say, “It’s called fiction so you can express your desire to make things happen the way you want them to and then step back and deny any actual involvement in the situation. The main character is gay because you are or because you’ve thought about what it would be like to be. The same goes for choosing to write about murderers or spies or any other preoccupation or persuasion.”
Dreams that occur during the night, real dreams, hardly ever stand up to analysis because we have so little say in their plots. That’s why they are so open to interpretation. Our subconscious minds are trying to tell us something. We are trying to work out issues we may not have even thought we had. But the little stories that play on the back of our eyelids during that half hour before sunrise–they’re the ones to watch out for. Consciousness has had most of the input.
Catholic children learn that thinking about committing a sin makes one as culpable as actually doing the deed, and you don’t want to see the white light at this stage because it just may be your time and you haven’t had a chance to brush your teeth or comb your hair. Fortunately, you have had a chance to pee before going on the long journey, but it will be of little consolation if you’re not coming back.
So, as you have a little say in the theatrics of that early morning hour, make it count. Read up on lucid dreaming before going to bed, ponder an alternate life and fly if you feel like doing so. Don’t worry about the absence of a net or the strength of cables. You won’t need them. But try not to disturb the cat.