Monday, June 27, 2011

The Work

Yesterday, as I was outside working on my car, a young woman came up to me in the driveway.  She held up a clipboard as she approached, but I began the encounter by shaking my head even before I could hear what she was saying.

She was in her early to mid-teens, I guessed.  Right away, I assumed she was selling magazines, or had a similar sort of scam going, so I was not inclined to even hear her out.  She was undeterred by my negative body language and attitude and kept approaching.  Soon she was close enough and was clear enough in her voice and demeanor to cause me to relent and listen to what she was saying.

She was, in fact, proposing to paint our house number on the curb by the mailbox.  Now, it happens that we have no number there, and it wasn't more than a day ago that I took note of that while getting the mail, thinking to myself that I ought to do that...someday.  This is what I love most about synchronicity, the way that two seeming random incidents are clearly connected.  There's no science here, just feeling, and it's a damn good one.  Click.  Connection made.

I felt the spark, yet still, I was reluctant to go with the flow.  Even as I heard her offer for the first time, I was still in a negative posture and inclination, but in spite of these feelings, I was also somehow opened to her offer.  Sensing this, she persisted and had me look at the images on her clipboard, telling me as she did that her rate was $15 for just the number or $20 with one of the images.

Her images included the Texas flag and a Longhorn, which was my choice.  I offered $15 for the number/image package, and though a bit surprised, she took the counter-offer, saying "Ok, I need the work."

She didn't say 'money'.  She said 'work', like she was proud of the distinction.  She obviously flet that there was difference between what she was doing and merely hustling for money.  As a long-time entrepreneur and worker myself, I really appreciated that attitude.  I said, "Ok, you do your thing and I'll go get the money."

I went inside to get the cash as she set to work, opening her backpack to take out her paints as she knelt at the curb.  She did a great job, painting a black background first, then the white numbers entirely by hand with a little orange Longhorn to the side.  As she worked, I struggled to keep Loki out of her way, and even got her a soda when I saw how hot and thirsty she looked.

It took her all of twenty minutes to finish.  She mopped her brow with the back of her hand as I handed her $20 with a little speech about how she reminded me of myself, trying to sell TV Guide and Fuller Brush door-to-door when I was in my early teens.  She took the cash and listened patiently to the story with a wry smile.  I asked if she'd gotten much work in the neighborhood and she said this was her third job on this street.

As she walked off, I marveled at her courage, strength and attitude toward life.  I believe--and this from my own experience and heart of hearts--that it really is possible to make your way in this world if you are willing to do whatever work it is that it takes to get there.  This young woman has every bit of that.

The Blue Eye

The best scream
is in a snowy meadow
a blinding hailstorm
a hurricane
a tornado
a flood.

Not

in the shower
or the elevator
on its way down
to Hell.

Or is that the Lobby?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Getting Dirty Daily

If I suggested that either of my readers hazard a guess at my most frequent thought, one of you might be forgiven for blushing, but in truth, you would have overreached in your assumptions about my nature.  Only just, however.  That thought is there, and it is frequent to be sure, so despair not in your conclusions.  Just re-order them.

My most frequent thought would have to be about metal.

This is not news to either Reader, nor would it be surprising even if you had just begun reading this journal. References to my Green Ghia project are beginning to figure as prominently here as references to Lynda, Pierre and Death--respectively the impetus, the catalyst and the ongoing inquiry that have driven my writing for almost four frantic years.  A reader recently commented that I write with a sense of urgency, and this is true.  I often feel that my last word will be my last, and that spurs me to write more, and faster.  Time is not waiting for me to get ready to write, though that's all I feel I've ever really done.

But I am not writing about writing today.  I am writing about metal.

I see now that one of the most delicious and satisfying aspects of working on my car is the variety of metal that I encounter.  Metal of different sizes and shapes, to be sure, but also different weights and gauges, textures and surfaces.  Metal is a delight to touch, to hold, to manipulate, to own, and I relish moment with each piece.  Now I am engaged in the particularly satisfying process of cleaning, buffing, painting and priming all the dirty, bent, rusty and ragged pieces that I've been pulling off the car for the past eight months.  This is where the reverie lives.

As I touch each piece, withdrawing it from it's labeled baggie to examine, clean and paint it, I am drawn into an unconscious state of ecstasy.  I am momentarily detached from the ordinary flow of life.  It's as if I've paddled off into an eddy at the river's bank, able to watch it flow by but also able to rest and contemplate the water itself.

With the steel in my hand, head bent to the task, I feel lost in the warmth of the fire that made the metal; I revel in the resistance that it offers to my malicious efforts--scraping, buffing, grinding, sanding; and I take deep satisfaction from rendering it clean, polished and fresh for use.

Use has a lot to do with my motivation and the pleasure I here describe.  I am not a sculptor.  I am not assembling from the raw materials a new creation, but rather I am like a modeler, putting together what is essentially a big kit.  That the kit has a function however, is a fact that really does drive my intentions.  Or is that, my intentions to drive?

My goal with the Ghia is to rebuild it, to bring it back to life and drive it.  My intent is not to restore it to a new-like condition, or to create a show car of any kind.  What I want is a car that I can drive.  This is a particular make and model of a car that I have intensely desired since I was in my early teens, so the goal is to finally have that car I have wanted all these years.

I could, of course, go out and simply buy a fully restored car.  This might even be cheaper than what I am doing, since I could probably get a really good, drivable vehicle for less than say, $7500 (though $10-12K would bring home a real sweet drive) but then I wouldn't get the satisfaction of playing with all that metal.  And, sure, I could have purchased a car with a little less rust, one a little less to do in terms of re-assembly, but the reasons are the same and, quite frankly, the rust and grime just adds to the fun.

Fun?  Is that what it's about?  Perhaps.  I heard Tom Hanks say recently that if he could have another career, it would be as a tour guide at famous historical monument (he didn't say which one).  He meant that he really enjoyed talking to people and helping them.  In one of my jobs, that's pretty much what I get to do, and I love that.

But, when you get right down to it, if I could have had another career, it might have been as a VW mechanic, busting my knuckles and getting dirty on a daily basis with all that metal.  Would that have been fun?  I don't think so.  I have no illusions about the income and/or lifestyle of the typical mechanic, and I would not have been satisfied with that.  Part of what makes it fun (as being a tour guide might be to the wealthy and famous Mr. Hanks) is the fact that it's not what we really do for a living.  I hesitate to call it a hobby, since I just can't lump what I do of the evenings in with the guy who's building birdhouses down the street, but I guess that's what others see it as.

I think of it as a passion, and the metal is calling to me even now.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Life Itself - Matter over Mind

As I struggle to come to terms with yet another impending death, I must apologize for returning to a theme that I have only recently declared too trite to write about.  Furthermore, I have so far chosen to avoid writing about this particular death, involving, as it does, the other Reader of this babbling brook of a journal, my dear and beloved mother-in-law, Billie. So much for the good intentions.

Billie is dying of cancer.  There is no easy way to put it.  Moreover, she is entering what can only euphemistically be called the final stage of her life.  It's not easy to die, and it's even harder to talk about it rationally.  Valery is leaving this Sunday to care for Billie in what surely seems like her last few months and perhaps even weeks.  Valery is true to her name: strong and willing, without guile or mission other than to comfort and care for her mother.

On the other hand, while facing this death, I find myself thinking about life in general and specifically the notion that we should somehow find a way to end it when it gets too bad.

The 'Quality of Life' is a quite naturally considered to be a big end-of-life issue.  But if you really think about it, it's essentially a false one. This is because after receiving one's death sentence, the quality of life seems very much diminished if not completely and forever destroyed.  It doesn't matter how good your attitude was before receiving the news or even how good it seems to be after.  It's simple:  Contemplating the beauty of a flower is easier--possible even--if you know you'll live to see more flowers.  Otherwise it can be but another morbid reminder of the inevitable: Death.

Given that death is inevitable, why not do the reasonable thing and end one's own life oneself?  Why doesn't this happen more often?  I don't mean suicide, generally, but euthanasia specifically.  Suicide is rightly considered irrational, but all the unnecessary and cruel end-of-life suffering that is endured in the name of Life is not.  The question is, why not?

Issues of mess and insurance aside, it seems perfectly logical (or reasonable anyway) to plan the end to one's life.  In theory, at least, ending one's life on one's own terms at a time of one's own choosing seems to be ideal.  Why then, is killing oneself so hard to pull off?  Why do perfectly reasonable and rational people fail to make adequate provisions for their death or worse, fail to execute those plans?  Moreover, why do so many people, good and smart people all, choose to ignore the obvious, choose to wither away and choose to die in misery and in pain?  Why do we choose to wind it down instead of blow it out?

I think it has to do with biology (the body), not psychology (the mind), alas.  For example, I know that Billie would do her best to die quickly and with grace, but in spite of her best wishes and intents, she cannot control the final force of life--her life even--itself.  She cannot just go to bed and fall asleep. I think, that's a good thing, even it it doesn't appear to be the case.  But why?

My feeling is that it's because, as we all know at some level or another, Life is really much more than mere thought.  Life is more than the body, the heart or the nerves or the blood.  Life has its own agenda, largely independent of thought and emotion if not the body itself.  Simply put, Life simply ends with death, and it doesn't make plans for a soft landing.

This is not a cruel joke, even if it appears that way to those who must watch their loved ones perish slowly and painfully.  It's really just the reverse.  The will to Live is an affirmation of what makes us more than mere matter and gives us meaning that transcends death.

Life is so powerful and so relentless that, could it speak (and when it does, of course, it is through us) it would tell us, it would plead with us, it would reason, argue, cajole and finally demand of us that we simply leave it be, let it rot and rust and run down until it breaks and stops altogether.  The force of life, manifest though it may be in thought, lives in the cells.  And Life at the cellular level holds not to the high ideals of the electric impulses coursing around through the brain.  At it's lowest level, Life is determined--it is only determined--to resist its own termination, the very definition of inertia.  And really, is not all Life defined by this common denominator?

Yes it is.  In the contest between the inertia of Nature and the will of Man, the force of Nature trumps the force of Mind every time. It's a simple equation but perhaps only obvious when finally faced with one's own death.  Sadly, being resigned to the inevitability of death is not the same--not even close--as having the will (to say nothing of the ability) to kill oneself.

This force of Life, this desire to beat and pulse and march and move until there is nowhere left to move, until there is nothing left to march to and no reason to beat or pulse on is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  Life is not a moral force, nor is it an invention of the mind, but an actual physical force.

Yes, I know, of course that this is not a new idea.  Knowing this and in spite of Star Wars' decades-long shameless exploitation of this notion, I still think it bears repeating. Life is so powerful and pervasive that it has literally transformed this planet and, I suspect, the whole of the Universe itself. Small though this little sandbox be--as a function of the cosmos--the Earth is also large enough and potentially inhospitable enough to have represented a significant obstacle to the advancement of life.   Yet it did not.

This planet is not suffering from Life.  This planet is Life.

Life is the unmeasured, the unstoppable force in the Universe. Life is an imperative, inevitable and ubiquitous.  Just as the spread of life on of the Earth was inevitable, so is the expansion of life throughout the Universe.

But it is a mistake--a myth, really--to think that Life started here, and that it will spread out from here.  It is natural to imagine that our collective Life--our Earth--will continue to expand, from this planet into the farthest reaches of space, but that is just because the notion of expansion conforms to our own creation myths.  Of course it does.   What else might we conclude?

I think we can conclude that Life has already expanded.  Life is already everywhere it can be, and perhaps even in all the forms that it will be.

The fact that we feel alone, that we feel like Life is here and only here on Earth is evidence only of our own limited and self centered thinking, and that is a frequently forgotten historical lesson.  After all, it felt right--natural even--to think that the Earth was flat, that Sun revolved around the Earth, or that the Four Humors governed our health.

But as we've learned time and again, feeling right is an insufficient test of reality.  So, we return to test reason again.  We throw out some knowledge as false and begin again, knowing, as we do, that reason is a flawed process.  It's all we have, however, and I think it works quite well.  Even if reason will not give us the satisfaction of always knowing everything, the consolation is always knowing that everything is knowable.