Future Games

“…we are all doomed to being forgotten—that the sum of life is ultimately nothing; that we experience joy and disappointment and aches and delights and loss, make our little mark on the world, and then we vanish, and the mark is erased, and it is as if we never existed. If you gaze into that bleakness even for a moment, the sum of life becomes null and void, because if nothing lasts, nothing matters. It means that everything we experience unfolds without a pattern, and life is just a wild, random, baffling occurrence, a scattering of notes with no melody. But if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.”
Susan Orlean, The Library Book [italics mine]

“So you better take your time
You know there’s no escape
The future sends a sign
Of things we will create
Baby it’s alright
And so have faith
Oh yeah
You invent the future that you want to face.”
Fleetwood Mac, “Future Games”

Just over ten years ago, on Oct. 3, 2010 (published at 1:53 a.m., an early Sunday to be exact), I put up “Let’s Begin Here,” this blog’s debut post. I’d reached an emotional boiling point—two years previously both my parents died, I’d ended a love relationship, and I was in despair over my career.

In short, I thought my life was over.

Somehow a decade ago I pulled out of that nosedive. Now I wonder what it was that gave me the initial lift skyward. I had years of diaries and journals, as well as photographs—and I was curious about what I would discover in all that. So, in a sense, curiosity (or what I call “Stargazing”) saved me.

As my early life was only found in family photos or baby books—maybe even letters received from Mom and Dad or tales I recalled being told over and over again—I used those early posts as sensory-based memory recall: I’d close my eyes and imagine what warm sunlight felt like on my young skin, nostrils filled with chlorine from the local pool, or the jangle of a transistor radio playing nearby. It was intoxicating—it was pleasurable; I was a happy kid!

That was the propellant in the first months of CITD. Readers didn’t arrive until “The Kid Stays in the Picture” published in mid-March 2013—almost three years later. So fellow creators, don’t despair. Play contentedly in your own sandbox (be it song, story, novel, poem, play, movie, canvas, or whatever floats your boat) until other kids show up—seeing what great fun you’re having—and maybe they’ll ask if they can join in.

You see, Completely in the Dark has been my personal “library,” so you’re welcome to linger in it as long as you wish.

***

It was the end of August 1993.

That month I’d just moved into 108 Pierce Street, in St. Paul’s Merriam Park. I loved my quiet new one-bedroom on the top floor, an off-street, back alley end unit. I had cross breezes that wafted in blooming spring lilacs and, well, the scent of hope that late summer with my desktop publishing biz picking up steam. I set up my computer (an Apple Macintosh IIsi with laser printer) in the living room, and I was just getting into this new “information superhighway” thing with AOL and Earthlink (ah, that harum-scarum dial-up modem sound!). I was probably one of the first people to network and job hunt online. The days happily whizzed by.

On the last day of that month, I wrote in the journal:

“I laid in bed this morning thinking a bit about the weeks ahead. Laying off the drinking has given me more energy and I need to stick with that. I also think there is—at least on my part—a perception that relationships with women are moving in a friendlier stance than they have been in a long while. I’m still wary of romance, but know damn well I would enjoy it. Why do people fear what can be so enjoyable? Well, perhaps because it’s not JUST enjoyable, it becomes a part of you, as a person. Some people perhaps weigh the loss as too mighty. Perhaps I had done the same thing.”

Well, yeah, sure I did. But let’s cut to the chase—you still do. You’re forever Mr. Cautious. Would I continue that way into the future?

By early September 1993 I was back to working on a short story I’d teased out earlier. The journal states:

“…the answers you seek to something/anything in this life, I’ve found, usually come by Doing. Theory is the comfy chair of human existence. It’s nice for what it is, but nothing gets at what needs to be done like a direct attack. Most of the time I don’t know what I want until I really see what I don’t want. It gets me in another direction. I’ve often been exasperated by my ability (disability, I’d call it) to sit down like a happy ass to write what I thought I wanted to write only to look at it later and say, ‘What’s this? This isn’t what I wanted to say! How’d that come out?’ So the editor picks up the pen and has at it, and I suppose that’s all for the best.”

Twenty-seven years later I’m happy to report I’m the same way. I will draft and redraft and write and rewrite until the cows come home.

And sometimes the cows never make it back to the barn.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying the first peaceful autumn in a long while. I was independent and planning to travel west that October. I had a new home and was “feathering my nest” again—something my late father always told me he felt confident I would do no matter how my life turned out.

The future games we play these days seem fraught with unknowns. The only antecedent I can think of to COVID-19 was the threat of an escalating nuclear war. That’s the shadow I grew up under in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s—especially when Reagan became president. Of course nuclear conflict is still a thing, but it’s taken a back seat to climate change, racial injustice, economic disparities, and this seemingly endless global pandemic.

“Some time after September 8,” 1993, I wrote in the journal: “Backside of a religious education. Why are some of us raised to think there is a right and a wrong way to living one’s life and that to just DO something is ALL RIGHT in that if it doesn’t work, fix it, improve on it. That’s the secret. Go for a goal and if it didn’t work out, hey, that’s maturity. You tried it, now go on to something that does work for you. That’s what I wanted to say.” Maybe that’s wise and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a past game I no longer need to play. But what interests me is how in my newfound independence I was trying to “parent” myself. I was trying on what’s now called “adulting.” I was making a peace accord, if you will, with myself and my adopted St. Paul neighborhood.

I chose the above Susan Orlean quote because it’s a courageous thing to write. It’s difficult to peer into the future if it seems so bleak and unforgiving. But what turns that around is the assurance that perhaps by learning, observing, imagining (all qualities of Stargazing in my view)—and “believing in the persistence of memory” as a path toward discovering “order and harmony,” we can all bring meaning into our lives.

Maybe, with faith, we do invent the future, knowing we’re part of a larger story.

I sure hope so.

~ by completelyinthedark on October 29, 2020.

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