A Tortoise on Segmentation

•July 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Lakewood mirror

“Bad faith also results when individuals begin to view their life as made up of distinct past events. By viewing one’s ego as it once was rather than as it currently is, one ends up negating the current self and replacing it with a past self that no longer exists.” —Wikipedia on Sartre, Being and Nothingness

It was good to be back.

On Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1980, the calendar-planner reads: “School starts at Lakewood Fall Quarter.”

Then, not a single entry in any of the remaining calendar days that month.

Strange. I’d just begun one of the most creatively active periods of my young life. Homesickness was a thing of the past; I loved being away from the Family Project. I’d made new friends at college and formed some intellectual partnerships. And, except for a diary or journal, was writing more than I had before.

How could I not look forward to it?

So, to get some focus on that period, absent said journal or diary, we have to revert to the other, smaller calendar-planner. On Wednesday, Sept. 24, I’d noted a meeting with financial aid advisor Marv Cohan at 10:30 a.m. I don’t recall ever getting financial aid at Lakewood. However I was doing a lot of writing in the back notes section of that little planner. The day before my meeting with Mr. Cohan, I wrote:

“Segmentation is the human kindling needed to combust the energy and immediacy of pure life.

War, killing, patriotism, socialism, nationalism, destructiveness are all visible components of segmentation, mankind’s most dangerous aspect.

Segmentation is impatience and, chiefly, ignorance. It is the world’s most diverse (viable) blind force.”

Uhhh… What?

Well, I’d spent the previous year devising a new philosophical system. It had begun as early as April 23, 1980, in the same notebook: “‘Hollow man’ context with ‘segmented emotions.’” Nearly a month later, another note: “We must check Segmentation! See 4-23 analysis only begun!”Segment_CITD

You see, I wanted to be a philosopher. While commuting to summer jobs between school years, I was constantly reading. After returning to Lakewood that fall, I was on fire. I’d planned to write A Treatise on Segmentation:

“Segmentation in Ideology: believed thought, must be expressed…

Segmentation in Communication: expressed only in an apparent ‘non-belief’ situation…

Dreams vs. reality

Segmentation vs. multiplicity…”

I admit all these 30-year-old scribblings are pretty vague, so let me see if I can describe—through the mind of a slow-witted 50-year-old—exactly what I was thinking.

“Segmentation” is duality: the ability we humans have to dice up the world into good-bad, white-black, right-wrong—segmenting something that perhaps cannot be so easily divvied up. I started to call its opposite quality “Oceanic Community.” It flowed all around us. Yet as humans we choose to divide up Oceanic Community so we can consume it in pieces—and, probably more importantly, accept those pieces (or segments) as our “whole reality.”

As I was drafting this post serendipity stepped in, in the form of an essay by Alain de Botton, writing about Jean-Paul Sartre. I was startled to recognize in de Botton’s analysis of Sartre’s philosophy the bare bones of what I was thinking in 1980. And I don’t recall reading Sartre to have even filched a scrap of his philosophical tenets.

For Sartre, rejection of the inherent freedom of human existence was pure and simply “bad faith.” That was the ground I was trying to cover in describing Segmentation. All the artificial roles imposed by humanity on other humans could be discarded by acknowledging their meaninglessness.

Oceanic Community, therefore, was the state of embracing one’s natural freedom.

***

That fall I was renting the back bedroom of a Mahtomedi home owned by a widow named Mrs. Marvel Weisbrod. It was a mere block or two away from the previous year’s rental on 61 Pine Street. I remember college bookstore friend Mark Luebker’s reaction when I told him where I was living: “Mrs. Whitebread?! That’s rich!”

Lakewood 1980The student newspaper, the Lakewood Logue, brought me in with open arms as executive editor under new editor-in-chief Rod Gunsell. I had a desk, typewriter, was clad in my corduroy jean jacket, toting my latest book, and at-the-ready with fresh snarky attitude.

On Sept. 25, a Saturday, I was slowly back at work on the treastise: “Vigorous examination of many perspectives cancel out or at least minimize segmentation.”

By October 1980, old Lakewood friends Jill and Pat, Mark, Warren, along with new people, Rod, Lisa, Ed, and a shy, lanky and bespectacled guy we called Spider, all stopped off for drinks at the local watering hole, Jethro’s. That second year at Lakewood, Jethro’s became our go-to hangout. It was a place to break away from the school paper office, which, in tribute to our favorite TV show at the time, we dubbed “The Swamp.”

I wish I had a detailed journal from this time because it was so fertile and active. What was I really thinking and feeling in my second year of life at community college? Perhaps the only clue lay in a pocket calendar note for Oct. 1, 1980:

“When we are feeling heartfelt pain, or heartfelt joy—then we are true, real; other times we are dangerous.”

On Thursday, Oct. 9, I made one last note to A Treatise on Segmentation:

“Segmentation is riding in a car, gazing out the window at a forest. Affinity is standing in the forest. Creation is being the forest.”

Leaving the Lake

•July 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“The past is a story I tell to forget about the present.”

Yeah, yeah, I know.Bear Lake Michigan 1960s

I wrote that the past is nothing I’m particularly fond of. That the beating heart of this blog lies in the questions that arise out of what I thought my reality was—even when the diaries, journals, calendars, and photographs reveal otherwise.

Maybe it’s more truthful to say I’m not a big fan of the future. If that were true I would’ve gotten through college sooner, would’ve made all the necessary concessions to raising a family of my own—AND I’d probably be way more financially responsible. Well, 20/20 hindsight is … like having no vision at all.

You see, I got four drafts into this post and hated reading it every single time.

It was because I was rationalizing, and I had strong feelings about the Family Project photos I’d discovered. Without documentation, original source material, a journal entry, a letter or note—it was just more thinking about old feelings.

And thoughts about feelings are unreliable.

***

It wasn’t always that way. When I was young all I did was dream about the future.

When I look at the top right photo of my toddler self, tossing a rock near Michigan’s Bear Lake, it makes me happy. It brings together the Best Me with the independent child I once was. I’ve no doubt that by that deep blue lakeside I felt joy all the way down to my tiny toes. And in those sparkling waves I saw worlds of possibility.

MomDad_80sBoatThe photo at left was taken in either 1979 or 1980, probably for my Lakewood Community College Photography class. Casco Point pal Dan Rogers, with moustache newly grown at his university, is to the left of Mom at center, with Dad at the wheel of our boat, heading out into Spring Park Bay. We were taking what would likely be one of our last boating excursions of living nearly a decade on Lake Minnetonka.

By late summer 1980, the old place would be sold.

It’s a great informal shot—rare in that nobody is putting on appearances just because a camera’s pointed at them. But it brings back mixed feelings: where I was at that time in my life, trying college again, living at home for the summer, and hoping to one day escape the orbit of the Family Project.

My foremost feeling is of Dad driving the boat. He was in those days the Type A controlling person, always in charge, always with a plan—or at least a backup plan—and intolerant of people who didn’t share those qualities.

Mom and I were more alike. We were flexible; we shifted with the winds if necessary. But we were also caught in storms of our own making. For years those storms dominated our lives. Likely they will continue to roll through mine, but I no longer give them the power they used to demand.

That is probably the only wish I have—the only vision I have—for the future.

***

Perhaps leaving is too easy.My beautiful picture

Walking away from a bad relationship or failed marriage. Quitting a hateful job. Or abandoning skills and talents out of fear of failure (or success). Maybe it’s not the right thing to do.

Or maybe it is.

Leaving the lake was easier than I thought: a moving van was packed, furniture put in transit, maybe a quick look back, and—poof!—gone. Never to see that person, that place, ever again.

I don’t remember the exact day we left Casco Point. And I’ll probably never know because I didn’t keep a journal that year. Can’t begin to tell you how much I regret that.

But based on other leave-takings: setting out from Maryland to Minnesota, the last year of summer camp, last day of high school, I do know it’s all about distance. The pain of leaving always lies in its reflection, the passage of time after the car door slams and the past quickly fades in the rearview mirror.

Well, here I am now. In the present, sitting at my desk on a beautiful summer’s day. The windows are open. A fan gurgles in a corner. Green leaves burn brightly through windows overlooking backyards and fences. The air is cool and sweet. I’m feeling rested and content.

But that’s where I stop. Because thoughts about feelings are unreliable.

Bear Lake FinalI need to learn how to better trust the future, to dream about how it could be and realize it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bitter continuation of the present.

Perhaps it’s just a muscle that’s grown weak over time. You need a strong imagination to see into the future. And I want to know where I’m going.

Could it be toward a new family (that seems impossible at my age), new people and places?

Mom’s no longer here to comfort me. Dad’s no longer steering the boat. I’m alone in the boat. I’m the one steering the boat.

Maybe I am the boat.

And when that boat comes ashore, will I have truly arrived?

Spaces

•July 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

completelyinthedark:

Happy 4th of July. An oldie but a goodie. New stories next week. Enjoy your independence! Peace, love and joy, Mike

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

Confining, yet cozy. Wide open, and breathtaking.

Inside, standing on my bed’s headboard, looking out the window.

Or outside, watching as the streetlights hummed in crackling blue-white light, then flickered on for the night.

In 2006 I worked as sound guy on a short film submitted to the 48-Hour Film Festival. We made a base camp at a house north of Minneapolis—a house that, from the inside, stepped right out of 1973: Shag carpeting, batik on the walls, framed photos of the family that lived there and seemed like time had stood still when Nixon announced that Haldeman and Erlichman had resigned as White House aides.

It zipped me back to a time I’d lived through but completely forgotten: muted earthtones, floral prints, Jello 1-2-3, and ABBA funkin’ it up to the sound of “Hey Hey Helen.”

So, lately I’ve been thinking about how physical spaces have…

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Walking the Tracks

•June 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

WalkingTracks_CITDGuess you could say my early “career track” was a bit wobbly, if predictable.

Predictable: Show of hands if your first job was “paperboy.” Thought so.

Busboy? Check. Fast-food cook? Yup. Schlepping metal toy parts in a factory? Sure, why not.

But once college started, things got wacky: Paper baler at a Lutheran publishing house? Art department aide? And once the school year was done, looking for a summer job went front and center with the Family Project.

Dad was insistent.

Money was needed to keep us in school—he wasn’t going to do much in the way of subsidizing it. We weren’t allowed to slack, even during the summer. And while I’ve always been half-hearted about working for anybody, I do understand the utility of having a couple bucks in the wallet.

So that summer of 1980 I was probably turning Minnetonka—and even downtown Minneapolis—upside down looking for a job.StribID

The previous summer I’d worked in the Circulation department at the Star Tribune, missing Charlie Kaufman’s similar stint there by a decade or so. My 1979 W-2 reveals total Strib earnings of $221.08, which barely kept me in beer and pencils. Likely it served to keep me in Penguin Classics, which I read between breaks or after shift, or while waiting for the 51 bus home.

Once back at the lake, I tried to reconnect with old high school buddies. Casco Point friend Dan Rogers, a year ahead of me, was likely home from his first year studying aviation at University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. Fellow high school student paper columnist Theron “Terry” Hollingsworth and I had promised to stay in touch while I was in White Bear Lake.

It was probably in the early ’80s that Terry and I came up with “walking the tracks.”

Getting from Navarre to Mound of course went further back to carless junior high school days, when Jeff Taylor and I met in Spring Park, walking the rails to do homework together at the Westonka public library.

But once Terry and I were college-age, we added a new twist to the “walk-and-talk-along-the-railroad-tracks”—popping for a fifth of blackberry brandy at the Navarre liquor store, then passing the bottle on our leisurely trek into Mound.

Now you can see the appeal of walking-and-talking the tracks.

Spring Park tracksTerry and I used the nearly 3-mile walk to catch up on things, analyze girlfriends old and new, and generally muse about our futures. We’d surreptitiously take pulls on the bottle and shuffle past what was then the Advance Machine Co. building in Spring Park. The factory hugged the shoreline and always made that part of town look somewhat post-apocalyptic. Sometimes we’d run into classmates who lived in the ’hood. Sometimes we’d stop for a bite at the A&W, walking on after filling up on chili dogs and root beer.

Although there’s no record in diary, journal or calendar-planner, it was probably in the summer of 1980 that another (now forgotten) high school alum and I landed a machine shop gig in Long Lake, just north of Mound.

From our first day we realized it was going to be dull, dirty, hot and sweaty work. And spotting a dead rat in a corner was all it took for us to go permanently AWOL over lunch break.

So we walked the train tracks behind the building east to Wayzata, afternoon cicadas buzzing in our ears and our nostrils filled with the scent of dusty gravel and the surrounding dank woodlands.

In Wayzata I stopped to phone home.

You quit your job?!” Mom reacted after I gave her the news.

“Yeah, but there’re some jobs in the paper and we’re heading downtown now.” I remember feeling confident that everything would work out in the end, no matter how the Family Project felt about the situation.Tracks into Mound

Once in Minneapolis, we did get a job with a coupon book promoter. Managed by an overweight, baby-faced Southern guy named “Tiny,” we were given call lists and worked the shift dialing phones, selling as many coupon books as possible. Most of my summer was spent in that call room, or sneaking away on breaks to read my latest Penguin: Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Daudet’s Letters From My Windmill or Turgenev’s First Love.

Tiny would stop over to chat, curious about my latest book. I tried to not get flustered when failing to make enough sales, and he seemed to cut me some slack. It was all about my itinerant education: my real job—I felt—was to read, write and learn things.

So when the coupon book gig suddenly folded, a “Closed For Business” sign taped to the door one day, we may’ve been a bit surprised.

But I was still finding a way to get back on track, wherever it was all leading.

The Green House

•June 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

May 1980 must’ve been really exciting.GreenHouse1

While there’s no journal for that year, both calendar-planners from that time are packed with entries nearly every day.

I’d switched to green ink in my favorite calligraphy pen, noting “to do’s,” Lakewood Community College events, such as the annual spring festival (oddly named “Woodduck”), and all my midterm exams and final assignment due dates.

And I’ll never forget the times I walked to school after missing the city bus. I didn’t mind, actually, trekking around the Mahtomedi side of White Bear Lake in the spring. There was a tiny Carbone’s pizzeria on the corner of Juniper Street and Mahtomedi Avenue, a gas station, and houses hugging the shoreline.

One such house was a large two-storey place that I called “The Green House.”

It was actually white with green shutters, but the overall impression was not what the house looked like on the outside, but how I imagined the lives on the inside.

In the Green House was a family with three daughters. That’s all I knew. I was well aware of my inspiration’s source—old love interest Linda Fahlin, who was youngest of three girls in her family. But in the story I focused on the oldest, who remains nameless. I’m fairly certain there’s no draft extant, about which I fantasized blossoming into a novel.

Of course that’s an ass-backward way to approach a story; I can see that now.

But when you’re 20 years old, curious about the world and imagining a bigger life, then an unshakable egotistical foundation comes with the territory. The idea was great in that it took me out of myself for a while: the family was the focus. I was merely an observer from afar—just a lone college kid walking by the Green House on a sunny May morning.

GreenHouseCalIt was a creatively exciting time for me. I was flinging the story net wide. More writing appeared in the Lakewood student newspaper, The Logue. My Second Thoughts column follow-up to “On Life Violently Lived” was a shorter piece titled “On Drinking Milk.” New characters and stories grew out of my experiences back on Lake Minnetonka.

It was almost like living in a parallel world.

That spring, there were back-to-back rock concerts in town: The Who on Friday, May 2, and Fleetwood Mac the following Friday night at the old Met Center. I asked old Shamineau girlfriend Deeann to Fleetwood Mac, but noted on Tuesday, May 6, that she had “called to say [she couldn’t] make [it].” So I turned to high school buddy Geoff Morrison, who bought my other ticket. He came out to White Bear Lake, where we had a brief party at the 61 Pine Street rental before the show. Later that Saturday I went home to the Family Project for the rest of the weekend.

It was my brother’s senior year in high school. The Mound Westonka Class of ’80 prom went down Saturday, May 17. I was back in White Bear Lake gearing up for spring finals and awaiting a “special issue” of The Logue hitting college newsstands. Thinking of summer employment, I called Campbell Mithun ad agency to see about internships. Had that worked out, the course of my life might’ve been entirely different.

At 1:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, the calendar-planner states: “Dr. Gerster: my copy of Creative Evolution.”

You see, that quarter I’d enrolled in Dr. Patrick Gerster’s Introduction to Philosophy course. Gerster was a tall, sardonic and soft-spoken man who bore a striking resemblance to The Who’s Pete Townshend. I recall he’d made a wry comment on my midterm essay exam about my positing God as a “divine Watering Can,” much to his amusement. When he saw me with a copy of Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, he asked if he could borrow it.My beautiful picture

End-of-college-year energy was building as that May wound down. After Memorial Day weekend, it was final exams and packing up things for the journey back to the Little Renovated Summer Cottage on Casco Point.

On the verge of summer 1980, I had no idea the Family Project’s own “Green House” would be up for sale … and we’d be leaving the lake forever.

Grandpa in His Garage

•June 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Grandpa Adams 1962 You see, there’s a photo. I can picture it in my mind’s eye, but I can’t locate the actual print or slide.

It was taken by my maternal grandfather, Ray Adams. Of that I’m fairly certain.

You know how young children often stare meditatively at random things? Well, this photo cast that sort of spell over me. It’s an interior shot, taken in the 1960s, of a huge auditorium, much like the downtown Minneapolis armory. It was snapped from high in the grandstand seats. In the frame is a lone smudged window at the far end of the building.

I don’t know why that image still haunts me, but it does.

***

He was the first modern man.

Ray Adams was born on Oct. 10, 1900. He witnessed nearly a century of change. And he directed the course of the modern world all from a workbench in his Greensburg, Ind., garage.

If I concentrate really hard, I can still recall its smell: oil cans, radiator fluid and gasoline—a dusty yet faintly sweet smell emanating from a crawlspace attic overhead. The workbench shelves were lined with clear plastic organizer trays and used coffee cans.

After he’d retired from the Indiana Gas Company, Grandpa happily embraced his new life. He was all about gadgets, cameras and new toys. And he was a big charmer with all his friends and neighbors, hanging out with the guys down at the corner fire station. Since Mom was an only child, he and Grandma took a strong interest in me and my brother (photo above left, helping with my new car dashboard at Christmas, early 1960s).

Grandpa died on Sept. 9, 1996. But I clearly recall what was probably my last visit with him, thanks to the journal I was keeping at the time.

***

In early May 1993 I went down to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit my University of Iowa college roommate Bud Morris. I’d stood up in his wedding a couple of years before, and I needed to use up some vacation time from my last corporate job.

I love road trips. And this was one of the best I’d ever taken.

The journal entry for Monday, May 3:

“So I go down to Greensburg. I pass signs I recall from babyhood—infancy—adolescence—I’m going through it again down the gullet of all I thought I’d pass (knowing in the back of my head they will all die and I will too and no one will ever know this happened the way it did then AND now!!!) The weather gets better, looks great, and I’m thinking about Loooooouiville and all the champs I know down there with horses and green grass and sweet long talk … I take a leisurely drive and get to Grandpa Adams’ oh, I think about 10am, and I stop in and drop off my stuff and take a shower and change clothes. We visited, then decided to get out and hit garage sales and do lunch.”

So, here’s the man who commandeered the family slide shows, who scoured garage sales with my Dad and likely helped him buy my foot locker.

Here I am at 32 years old, and Grandpa will be 93 that fall:

“We went to three garage sales and had lunch at Frisch’s Big Boy. It was sustenance, the way I took it. I’ve always found it easier to chat with Grandpa Maupin than I have with Grandpa Adams. I think it has everything to do with temperament. That’s probably the formula to an ideal marriage—just a guess. He knows everyone in Greensburg—at 92 I’d guess that is a just reward, but I was quickly bored. We visited with Teresa down at ‘the Beauty Shop,’ and then Grandpa gave me $5 to put down on a horse to win—I helped him pick Storm Tower (which I actually bet on down in Louisville).

Ah, the “Beauty Shop,” aka as “Ruby’s.”

When I was a child, Grandma and Grandpa used to take me down to Ruby’s beauty parlor and prop me up in the stylist chair where I caught all the local gossip. After Ruby passed away, Grandpa befriended its new owner, a young woman named Teresa. After Grandma died in 1981, Mom was forever frustrated by Grandpa’s attentions to Teresa, which was understandable after she learned about his infidelity to Grandma decades before.CITD_Adams

For me, Greensburg, Ind., passed from memory ages ago, only to intrude again in April 2012, when my brother and I finally put our parents to rest. My memories are filled with mourning doves cooing, the radio tower’s blinking red light, the austere, old Victorian mansions with gables and wrought-iron fences, the Methodist church, and “sidewalk cracks—step on one and break your mother’s back.”

The man owned that town. But I couldn’t wait to get out.

Of course, before I left he had to get some photos, which I wrote about in the journal:

“He took some pictures by the blooming tulips and then I hit the road again (FREE!) around 2pm. The sun was shining and I stopped in the Greensburg Liquor store and bought two 12-ounce cans of Coors … and slammed them on the way to Columbus, Indiana, to hook up with the Highway down to Louisville. Wow what a great day that was to do that, two was just enough and made it bright. Life and Freedom are simple things like cold beer and a bright road and hopes ahead. Jesus I love you for that. I don’t really want for more, and if it sounds hokey, well okay. That’s how I felt.”

Yeah. That’s how I felt.

The Promise

•June 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

completelyinthedark:

I still love “the unknowable edges of a story,” 36 years later. Happy last day of school, kids. Enjoy your summer. All-new post next Friday!

Originally posted on Completely in the Dark:

Here’s a story about a story. A short story with a beginning, a middle, and possibly no end.Summer78

It begins with a small, black-haired boy called “Lil’ Eric” who’s standing outside his parents’ house on beautiful summer’s day. He’s filled with wonder about the cottonwoods blowing their seeds, “Fluffs,” as he calls them, creating a sort of “snowstorm in June.”

In just four double-spaced pages, not much seems to happen: He’s summoned by his sister Candy to come inside to get his soda pop. There he learns their mother has been crying. He’s sent back outside where he’s taunted by a couple of girls and two bigger boys. He somehow cuts his foot, which starts to bleed, but no one, even Candy, is sympathetic or helpful.

And that’s pretty much it.

So what’s the story behind this endless story?

I wrote “The Promise” just before graduating high school in 1978…

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