Atonement

•June 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So much synchronicity lately: 1995, 2008…and the future. Seemed fitting to republish this today. Gearing up the edit slate for new posts in the weeks ahead. Stick around!

Completely in the Dark

I got curious.shoeservice

Not like “curious strange” (although you might think so), but curious like “I’m wondering about…” Always a positive sign of my mental health.

As I was wandering around the locker room where I work, I saw this (a framed St. Paul Pioneer Press article, below left), dated Sunday, Sept. 24, 1995.

Hmmm, I thought. Bet I have an entry from the 1995 journal on that date.

Noting to check it when I got home, I meanwhile tried imagining what I did that day, given the year and season.

atone1In 1995 I was living in a one-bedroom apartment in St. Paul’s Merriam Park, not far from where I am now. I recall I’d had a tough time there by June ’95, three years into freelancing and struggling to get by.

My Sunday ritual then was breakfast, coffee, and a newspaper at home. When I found the entry dated…

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Daytalking, Nightwalking, Stargazing: A Ridiculously Literary Essay

•June 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

“‘When I was little, I used to think—’  She stopped.”
—J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

You can’t revisit teenage diaries and decades-long journal entries, or read old letters, or view photos from the far corners of your life—and then write about all those things for nearly 10 years—without formulating a “General Theory” about yourself.

In my case, it’s a theory I’d considered even before I pulled the Salinger book down from the bookshelf.

When I cracked open the first part, “Franny,” I had no idea it would serve as the perfect metaphor for what I’d been thinking.

So, what is this “General Theory”?

I touched on its three component features in a couple posts already: “Daytalking” was first mentioned in “Up on the Roof,” “Nightwalking” first (somewhat obliquely) in this, and then this. Lastly, “Stargazing” had a similarly wobbly beginning here, and then of course here.

These features aren’t separate, permanent states of being, but rather facets of my personality since birth. So why use these particular terms? (Day, Night, Star…?) Because nowadays I think it’s too easy for “common words” to—well, lose their original robustness. So let’s get creative. Let’s talk about things differently.

And let’s jump into that Salinger story.

If you can get near a copy, it comes highly recommended. It might not seem like much at first (and it’s been years since I first read it, probably back in 1979), but it really repays re-reading.

Briefly, it’s about one day in the 1950s when Franny Glass, youngest member of Salinger’s precocious Glass family, meets up with her boyfriend Lane Coutell for a weekend together, having dinner and taking in a college football game. They haven’t seen each other in a while. Lane waits for Franny (the above photo, from the Getty Archive, of a 1950s Greenwich Village NYC couple, totally encapsulates them for me), on a train platform, furtively re-reading a letter from her.

That letter is where Daytalking begins.

Daytalking is a necessary step toward relationship. It’s optimism, joy, charity, openness —evidenced by Franny’s “I love you I love you I love you” in her letter to Lane. At its core is anticipation, connectedness, community … all with an abiding sense of love and exuberance.

For me it’s one of the greatest joys of being alive.

Then I noticed the interconnectedness of my theory throughout Salinger’s story. You see, after Franny arrives by train, she’s clutching a green book. Lane asks her about it.

“This? Oh, just something,” she says.

I can’t begin to tell you how overjoyed I was to read that. It’s important because it plays out later in the third component of the General Theory—Stargazing.

Meanwhile, Lane and Franny grab cocktails and nosh at a joint called Sickler’s. When I read that I thought about my late father remembering all the “around-the-world pizzas” he enjoyed with my late mother (pictured at left in the late 1950s, probably in Indianapolis). Mom and Dad had their own Daytalking, a way of relating that I’m sure at their beginning was similar to Franny’s joyful letter and Lane patiently expecting her at the station.

…but then comes Nightwalking.

In Salinger’s story, it’s when Franny stands up from the table at Sickler’s, feeling ill, and goes to the ladies’ room. There she takes a sharp detour into a darker, more isolating space. Salinger writes about it with an eloquence that still astounds me:

“She brought her knees together very firmly, as if to make herself a smaller, more compact unit. Then she placed her hands, vertically, over her eyes and pressed the heels hard, as though to paralyze the optic nerve and drown all images into a voidlike black.”

What does Franny do in the ladies room?

“She cried for fully five minutes.”

“When she stopped,” Salinger writes, “it was as though some momentous change of polarity had taken place inside her mind, one that had an immediate, pacifying effect on her body.”

Call it “depression” or “fear” or “anxiety” or “sadness,” Nightwalking happens when you’re feeling disconnected, insecure—or find yourself in a loathsome, small-minded state of mind.

As horrible as Nightwalking seems, Franny is, ironically, getting a psychological jag from it, so I guess it’s not without merit. But it’s merely a pass-through state. Sometimes we forget that. We believe we’re stuck in Nightwalking. It’s a lie Nightwalking wants us to believe. Many of us keep walking in that fog when we can just. Stop.

While Franny’s still in the ladies’ room, the third stage of my General Theory of Being springs to life—almost as a miracle: “…on her lap—on her knees, rather—she looked down at it, gazed down at it, as if that were the best of all places for a small pea-green clothbound book to be.” She raises it to her chest and presses it close.

It’s the book Lane asked her about back on the platform.

And it’s the final stage of my theory. We begin Daytalking, then we pass through Nightwalking.

But what saves us is Stargazing.

This is the part of the story where Salinger (through Franny) “spills the beans.” Her book is a memoir by a nineteenth-century Russian peasant titled, The Way of a Pilgrim.

Now, I have to take a breath here because this concept is so enormous I’m afraid I won’t do it justice.

What, exactly, is Stargazing?

Curiosity, wonderment, imagination, awe.

It’s a yearning toward understanding, another form of belief, like Daytalking. But Stargazing takes stamina. It is unflagging, relentless, and maybe a bit obsessive. It may come naturally to some people, but it’s been undervalued, dismissed, disregarded—and, it seems, getting moreso these days.

Franny lays out her plan for Stargazing:

“…the marvellous thing is,” [she tells Lane,] “when you first start doing it, you don’t even have to have faith in what you’re doing. I mean even if you’re terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it’s perfectly all right. I mean you’re not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe a single thing when you first start out. …All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality by itself.”

Stargazing is a chosen way of life. It’s not a job or career (although it could be). It’s built on years of attentiveness and curiosity. It’s an accumulation of more than knowledge, perhaps a soulful kind of wisdom, such as Franny’s “praying without ceasing”—which, when Lane questions her about it, he’s like, “Well, what’s the point of that?!”

She tells him flatly, “You get to see God.”

Oh, yeah. Riiiiiiiiight.

Hold on, I’m not going batshit. Stay with me here.

Franny tries to explain: “…don’t ask me who or what God is. I mean I don’t even know if he exists. When I was little, I used to think—”

And then she stops.

As I’m stopping now.

We “see God,” I believe, when we strive to see ourselves for who we are and others for who they could be—even when those kaleidoscopic images keep changing, as they always will.

When we’re fully aware of living through Daytalking, Nightwalking, and Stargazing.

A Personal History of Doubt

•June 8, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Here’s my Friday post, early. Republished piece since the one I wanted to put up today isn’t by a long shot ready. Acknowledge your weaknesses and exploit your strengths, I guess. See you next week. MM

Completely in the Dark

Here’s a thought among many: How can you really know anybody? What is the true nature of things? Why are we here?

These questions go back a long time with me. As soon as I could talk, I questioned. Mother said it wore her out; no report on what Dad thought of it. With my brother it was always, “Huh? When’s lunch?” (More about my brother’s tree-climbing misadventures to come.)

After high school I told the folks I wanted to major in Philosophy. Being the God-fearing people they were, their reaction wasn’t a surprise. I assured my mother it was okay. After all, it only got really intense when you had to take the final examination. “What’s that?” she said, unsure. “Suicide!” I laughed.

After that, I could be anything but a Philosophy major. I may have stuffed it for a good couple of years, but I still ask questions…

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No Vacancy

•June 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Even though this is a recent post, oh what a difference 6 months has made. All-new post in draft mode for publishing next Friday. Cheers, MM

Completely in the Dark

“There are far bleaker vistas than this, if you dare/But they lose all their mystery suddenly, once you’ve been there…”
—“Walk You Home” by Marlee MacLeod

Let’s just say I had a “Come to Jesus” moment.

Not your standard Road to Damascus, full-blown revival tent conversion.

Man, I’ve already been there, done that.

Instead, it involved the first draft of this post and sitting with its original lede, which read: “I hate the holidays.”

So I sighed deeply into the “Nada Hail Nada Full of Nada” brewing up within me, twitched nervously in the roaring silence, and stayed with it for two weeks before I realized that it was bullshit.

Truth is, I love the holidays. I’ve just done everything in my power to avoid running into them on the street.

But “the street” happens, whether you like it or not.

Case in point: On Christmas…

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A Few Short Steps Down to Hell

•May 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Dear Mom,

May has always been my golden month, but it suddenly turned sour.

Wasn’t easy that this past week was the ninth anniversary of your death.

Even the previous weekend was difficult. That Sunday I took a bus to my weekend gig. It was a spectacular May day—Mother’s Day, in fact.

—That’s when a crazy man got on the bus.

Another day of shit,” he snarled at the bus driver and plodded toward a seat in the back. All the passengers, about a half dozen of us, were then subjected to his loud self-talk and cursing. When the bus passed the Cathedral of St. Paul, where parishioners were spilling out into the fresh spring air, he started ranting about Mother’s Day.

“Everyone I love is dead,” he howled.

It was then, Mom, that I realized I was in the presence of evil—the kind of evil that boils up in our faulty human brains and radiates out to other brains—which is the modus operandi of evil: to inflict pain and suffering on others.

As an empath, I immediately took on the lunatic’s energy. What he was saying seemed true, Mom—that, since you were dead and I loved you, I was as crazy as that asshole on the bus.

Of course I was thinking about you on Mother’s Day. You see, when I was a kid, I loved talking with you, like, in the kitchen when I got home from school. You were a good listener and I considered you as a friend. Boys don’t often think about their moms that way, but I did.

Then I wondered about how you and my brother, Brian, got along.

For a long time, I was angry about how he treated your illness in the 1980s. He said some nasty, mocking things about it and I hated him for it. When I discovered that you and I shared the same mental illness, I was more accepting of what you were going through, although I still failed you. Maybe it was because I didn’t know—we didn’t understand—the depth of your sadness, inertia, and negativity. I can’t claim to know what Brian’s relationship with you truly was. I only know what I know.

Recently I ran across a journal entry from that time, written on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 1988. It was your birthday. You had just turned 53.

I was then 28, three years into my first “real” job, and getting over a rocky year myself. That day I’d exercised at the corporate track with a buddy, then joined you and Dad for supper, since Pop had intended to take us to Red Lobster for your “special” birthday celebration.

Even Brian was there (pictured at right, hey it could have been on the same night, hard to say).

But you didn’t want to go out. You weren’t “feeling well.”

We all knew why.

Anyway godamnit, here’s what I wrote, since you should know how I failed you miserably, all the while thinking Brian was solely to blame:

“…Mom [isn’t] any better, in fact I believe she’s worse, an emotional sponge. It makes me so angry and disgusted, to go home any more. With her illness, there seems like no hope. It’s like I’m preparing for her to die and I don’t want that—she’s too young to be throwing her life away. I try to put it out of my mind, her depression. She was crying this evening, ‘This is Hell…just Hell…’ God it hurts to see her suffer for no other apparent cause than what’s ever lodged in her brain. I drove home feeling sympathetic towards people with alcoholics, depressives, handicapped, dying, retarded, or otherwise mentally ill. I thought: what is normal? When you come home and someone asks you, ‘How was your day?’ And you reply, ‘Oh, pretty normal, pretty busy. How was your day?’ And they answer, ‘Oh, pretty good, really. I went to the store and picked up your…blah, blah, blah…’ That seems like normal. But it’s a thin line, a few short steps down to Hell.”

So, I wrote that on your birthday, Mom.

The lunatic on the bus reminded me of it, on Mother’s Day. He was in his own Hell. He made me feel as if I were mere steps from my own Hell. And that scared me.

You were in Hell, and it took you down in the end.

Mom, this week was difficult. I miss you and Dad like all get out. Sometimes I think I’m the lunatic on the bus. I don’t want to think that.

I want to be the best person I can possibly be. You were hopeful about that, and I wish we could’ve talked more about it, especially later in life.

But that never happened. It’s my biggest regret.

All I know is that you are always a part of me.

I remember you as a bright, cheerful, strong woman. I loved that about you. You brought me joy.

And I carry that joy into all my artistic projects and oddball playfulness. It’s what you taught me, and I know it can steer me toward a better place if I listen to my heart, as you always urged me to do.

Your loving son and friend, Mike

Curly Toes

•May 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Apologies, but I WILL be back on new posts after winding up Medium 100 Days next Tuesday. Have 2 posts in the hopper. Crazy new schedule. For now, I’m hoping to get in with a podiatrist again since my feet hate me. :-/ cheers MM

Completely in the Dark

Dear Mom and Dad:CurlyToes

How are you enjoying disembodiment?

Good, I hope.

I often think about all your former aches and pains, especially as I’m growing older, too. No longer having a physical body must be a huge relief. Whew, I can only imagine.

And while I’m grateful you gave birth to me, I just gotta say…

Having a body totally sucks.

Take for example my early childhood fevers, those terrible leg aches—I remember you both staying up at night, taking turns rubbing my legs while I cried, and feeding me applesauce laced with aspirin. I thought those nights would never end.

Or my baby tooth, which never had an adult one underneath it, insuring I’d need my first dental bridge.

And while we’re on the face part of things, why couldn’t you have left me the ability to smile, to show teeth? While at a recent checkup…

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Still Life With Father and Seaside

•May 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Republishing this from last January (ahead of normal Friday posting) so I can rest up and finish two all-new posts beginning next week. Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

It’s the type of canvas that demands big, broad brushstrokes.StillLife1

Just like my late father might’ve painted.

It’s the color of warm white sand. The shushing of waves on a beach, seagulls cawing and squawking above, the smell of seaweed, decaying fish, and salty air—this is the picture I have.

“JAN ’68” is date stamped on the photos, although they were taken on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 1967, on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Md.

This was long before I started writing in diaries, so the only record is some scrawled handwriting on the back of the snapshots: Nov 1967 Paul & Boys at Ocean City Md. The photos were taken just weeks before my eighth birthday.

My brother, then around 6 years old, stands next to Dad with lit pipe, blue windbreaker, both hands thrust into the pockets of his chinos. I’m leaning back against a boardwalk…

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