Category Archives: Time

And where do we go from there?

Okay, so we have an idea. Or the seed, or germ, of an idea. Maybe it’s an image that comes to mind, in sleep or reverie or the gods know how. Maybe it’s an idea that we’ve been mulling, in one for or another, for some time. Maybe it’s just a catchy rhythm overheard in a song, or a clatter on a street corner, or a busker’s beat.

Something in that idea, or image, or rhythm catches hold … and begins, as if automatically, the process of pushing us forward. The key at this very early point is not to criticize ourselves or censor or shut off. We must let it flow. Just write down whatever comes,  or gushes, however foolish or unpromising it may seem at first to the conscious mind or the superego or what Twain calls that “yellow dog conscience.” (And didn’t Shakespeare say the conscience “doth make fools of us all”?)

In the case of “Material Girl,” referenced in the last post, the main idea and images too came pretty quickly. I have a friend, Deborah, who is both athletic and gifted in artistic ways, creating and successfully marketing a line of bold and yet delicate jewelry. She has a gift for speculation, too, and lets her mind and imagination rove, often saying things that catch me sideways or unawares, speculations on gender or mortality that might knock me off a bike if we are biking together, totally unexpected and wild and often hilarious venturings.

For example, she and her husband Ken had been watching Transparent, the TV series about a father who undergoes a sex change and becomes a woman. Deborah offered, on the spur of the moment, as we were biking down the trail, that it wouldn’t bother her if that’s what her husband decided. I was appalled, or at least thought I was, and her husband denounced the idea when she told him. “The fuck I would go along with that!” Ken said. Still, this is the kind of thing that flies out of Deborah’s mouth as she’s blazing down the trail.

Image result for john berryman
John Berryman, poet of The Dream Songs, who wrote with the aid of smokes and whiskey … and at night.

I’m amused and bemused by these speculations. Deb seems to be to be one of those poetic spirits who soar rather than fall plump down, as Emerson might say, and stick in the mud and mire of the everyday. Naturally, then, or supernaturally, she would tend to speculate about rising above it all, including the conventional secular sentiments about the end of life.

When I look back at my Catholic boyhood, which took place long ago at a time when Latin was still used in the Mass and when school children learned Latin and English side by side, literally, in the missals and prayer  books, then I can invoke images pretty quickly of yearning for something gone, something spiritual, however improbable, and so I come to the conclusion that I am no longer a believing boy, clutching missal and catechism, and cannot believe in the misty and mystical spirits of the Church … but can believe in such bodies and such spirits as Deborah’s which are before me.

So forgive the long digressions. I haven’t really told you or anyone how to blast past the mere beginnings of a poem. Just stressed that we shouldn’t censor ourselves prematurely. Put down some images or ideas, some jangly or janky thoughts. Then brainstorm, adding images and ideas. Search your past. Speculate on the future. Something surely will come, line by line, and given enough time and enough genius, your own and your contemporaries’, will add up into something.

Birthday boy

Today is my birthday, which comes up like yours, willy nilly, every year.

This particular year, I have to admit to 68 years, which admission is a pleasure and privilege as I haven’t yet appeared in the obits in the morning newspaper. And am still more or less capable of hiking, biking, gardening, reading, writing, and being a good husband, occasionally, to Jennifer Jean, my good wife of all these amazing years.

Nevertheless, I am struck, as you are, by the passing of time, the impermanence of our time here on the green planet Earth. By the loss of our loved ones, the tenuousness of relations and connections.

Chair_ZeckboysI ran across this photo the other day taken in 2005, near Cherokee Village, Arkansas, where my mom and dad were retired for many years. Mom died in 1991, but here, in the big chair in front of the King Catfish restaurant, are (left to right) Gerry, my older brother; Dad, the goateed mini-god; and Greg, the younger, less wrinkled version of me.

Since 2005, Gerry has gotten divorced (from his wife of 40+ years); Dad has died (February 2008); and I have wrinkled and crinkled, acquired a hearing aid but no new wife,  thank the gods; a prostatectomy; a recurring case of bursitis; a number of delightfully smart and lively young Indian-American students (whom I tutor); and a Trek Madone carbon bike that I’ve ridden more than 60 miles at a time.

Next year, the gods willing, I will ride up to 75, then 100 miles at a time; continue to love my wife Jennifer truly, and my son Gabriel, his wife Heidi, and their daughter Ruby Mae, who have returned to Northwest Arkansas, to be with us and give us joy, this last summer; write the Great American Novel; cultivate my garden, in the Voltairean manner; and put off, for the time being anyway, my ascension into heaven.

How about you, friends? Where are you going? Are you seizing the day?


Time, time, time

Went to the doctor’s the other morning for the first time in a year and a half. Medicare allows an annual “wellness” exam, a run-through of the basic physiological systems, and I was scheduled for 8 am. As usual, though I had a very early appointment, I had to wait. It helped to have my Kindle with me, so I could read and so while away the time. (Mostly I read the Washington Post, all sorts of timely articles about the concerns of the day or, more accurately, the horrors of the day — the murders, the wars, the political nastiness.) But as the wait increased, 20 minutes, 30, 40, and so on, I got increasingly impatient. By 60 minutes, I was ready to bolt. In fact, I’d gotten up and was near the door when I heard my name called.

I was still simmering and told the assistant, who was taking vital signs, of my discontent. “We’re doing the best we can,” he kept saying. Your best, I thought, is not nearly good enough. I sat there, the steam rising, as it does from the head of Yosemite Sam in the cartoons, and slowly simmered down.

A nurse came, then, to draw blood and, at last, the doctor. We talked a bit, and he looked at my mouth, ears, and chest, then went out to get instruments to drain fluid from a swollen bursa. When he returned and started the procedure, first giving an anesthetic, then putting a syringe into the elbow and draining a good amount of yellow fluid, I asked if he didn’t wear a watch. (He was wearing none.)

Why do you ask? he said. Because I’m late?

Just curious, I responded.

I used to wear one, the doctor replied, but it simply got in the way. I do so many things with my hands all day that I stopped wearing the watch. I simply work all day till the work is done.

What a marvelous formula: he simply works till the work is done! Time dissolves for him, not because he’s “in a zone,” necessarily, seeing and hitting everything in sight, like a baseball hitter may be, but because in serving his patients he does everything he can, all day, till what he can do is done.

Dr B is a good doctor, voted top family physician in Fayetteville, in fact, in a recent poll. He’s kindly, humorous, concerned, and thorough — just terribly late at times. Times that may matter to some of us a hell of a lot more than they matter to him. For to the good doctor, time is not an important matter but an artificial construct that may steam his impatient patients … but streams over him like so many sparkles in the sun.