Some people seem to have forgotten that sea-ice is dreadfully important, according to Alarmists. The fate of the world is determined by icebergs in the arctic, but instead everyone is in a tizzy about some piffling virus down south that will be here today and gone tomorrow. But fear not, for your courageous correspondent will not allow such distractions to swerve his piercing concentration from what truly matters: Sea-ice.
Or…well…as an ex-smoker with compromised lungs, perhaps I do wonder, just a bit, if the virus might be the end of my world, but, if so, the rest of the world will do just fine without me, and like the old song goes, “there’ll be one child born to carry on.”
In the meantime I refuse to dwell on morbid stuff, and prefer the antidote, which is Truth. I’ve decided the poet John Keats was more right than he could have known, at age twenty-four, when he wrote, “Beauty is truth; truth beauty”.
When I originally entered the discussion, concerning sea-ice, it was due to the fact the wonders of the web allowed me to visit the arctic in July, via the North Pole Camera, and besides making my hot days feel cooler, I was was ravished by the sheer beauty of the vistas revealed. However, clashing with this loveliness was what has come to be called “Fake News.” Back then it was called “The Consensus”, and “they” were outraged whenever I pointed out what the North Pole Camera made quite obvious: The sea-ice was not in a “death spiral”.
Fifteen years have past, and the quivering indignation of the politically-correct has gotten old and stale (to me at least). It is quite obvious that they care, and care deeply, but it is also obvious they do not care about the Truth. Therefore, if the Real does not matter, they must live in an odd state of unreality, swooning over shadows when not running after rainbows. As a poet, I always thought I was the hopeless romantic, but the politically-correct make me look like a rank amateur, when it comes to waltzing about in the wonder-world of an opium eater.
In fact, though I never thought I’d see the day I’d say this, poets and true scientists are brothers, for both are in love with the Truth. And they both have come to recognize they are disliked by the politically-correct.
Considering a virus from China, with an IQ of .00001, might snuff out my brilliance in a matter of 36 hours, if I happened to inhale it, I am not inclined towards being patient any longer with the politically-correct. Fifteen years is long enough. If those bozos don’t get it by now, then I fear their cases are hopeless. In some way, shape or form they are addicts, who would sell their grandmother’s false teeth for their next fix, even if their next fix is not heroin, but rather some politically-correct desire such as power, or money, or fame, or sex, or not having to work a Real Job. They have stepped beyond being merely ignorant, and have become actively opposed to Truth.
I think it is hard on the American psyche to deem any man so opposed to Truth that they are in effect an anti-Christ. Americans respect differing views, and the two-party-system is a way of making differing views work together and to, through compromise, make something better than either side is able to achieve alone. It is like two eyes, on either side of a nose, creating a depth perception neither eye owns. However for such a system to work Truth must rule. Both sides must be honest about what their views are, bring forward honest facts, and treat the loyal opposition with dignity.
“Fake News” involves none of that. Truth is disregarded. Rather than the opposition being treated as loyal, and with dignity, they are wished dead. Rather than principles of love the ruler is, (and there is no way to say this kindly), anti-love, and anti-Truth, and therefore by definition the anti-Christ.
I think the American public has been slow to wake up to the monstrous dishonesty of what they have been dealing with. They have been dealing all along with a cyclops, who cares not at all for any view but his own, and who is only interested in pretending to support “diversity” as a way of gaining power, planning on then crushing diverse views because they are seen as opposing views. But Americans, with kindness and generosity, would never call the person they are debating anything so rude as the anti-Christ. They can’t imagine a neighbor could be opposed to the very foundations of American liberty-of-views. At times they’d deem even a rabid dog a “differing perspective”. Only recently has it started to occur to many, “These people don’t care about my views; they want me gone.” Often this wake-up-call hits home as they realize, when watching Fake News, “These people don’t care a hoot about Truth.”
At the risk of sounding like one of those people who says, “I told you so”, I must remind you that more than a decade and a half ago I told you so. We who like the subject of sea-ice have been dealing with the happy horseshit of politically-correct Alarmists since our hair was still brown. We have been abused, and abused, and abused, on and on and on, and all for what? For telling the Truth.
Therefore, while others are just waking up to the horrid and disgusting falsity involved in “Fake News”, to lovers-of-the-Truth-about-sea-ice, such falsity is old hat. To some degree sea-ice lovers are jaded. If I die in thirty-six hours, strangled by own phlegm, it will be in the knowledge I fought the good fight, and that we would not be in the mess we are in had anyone heeded what I warned about, fifteen years ago. You other folk, who stood idly by as things went from bad to worse, will have to carry on without me.
Big deal. My death will not stop the spring from coming. Truth is almighty. The daffodils will bloom and honking geese will come north without needing my directions as a traffic cop. Truth is infinitely bigger than I am, and also infinitely bigger than the politically-correct, and will overpower and outlast both of us.
The preacher Andy Stanley tells a good tale, imagining what Saint Peter thought as he took his last look around Rome as he was led off to be martyred. He must have wondered if he had made the slightest difference, by standing by Truth. What he couldn’t see was that the Coliseum would someday be in ruins, but a massive cathedral would arise and be called “Saint Peters”, even as “Caesar” became a name given to dogs.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic I’ll say that I sometimes see the skepticism of True Scientists as a sort of modern day martyrdom. It is not as bloody and physically cruel as martyrdom was in the time of Rome, but it may in some ways be more painful, for it tends to be a psychological martyrdom. And at times I’m sure such thinkers look around as Saint Peter once did, and wonder if they have made the slightest difference. I say they have, for if they stand by Truth they stand by That which wins in the end.
However I’m becoming morbid, and I said I wasn’t going to do that.
Therefore, because I may not be dead in thirty-six hours, I’ll just do what I did when I started these sea-ice posts, all those years ago. I’ll just sit back and observe the sea-ice. It is a beautiful part of the world, and observing such beauty is to observe a certain Truth, whether you are a scientist or a poet. The fact the politically-correct get irate when you speak what you see only demonstrates that they are psychologically troubled individuals.
Before I move on from the absurdity of politics to what is actually happening at the Pole, allow me to share an example of a time simply observing-reality got me in trouble.
Years ago there used to be cameras floating about the Pole, sending us pictures of what was actually occurring on the surface. There were also satellites miles overhead estimating conditions at the surface. At some point the satellites were stating temperatures at the surface were well above freezing, but I noticed the cameras showed the melt-water pools on the sea-ice were skimming over with ice, and snow flurries were drifting snow over that skim of ice, and therefore I suggested the satellites might need to be re-calibrated. Lord Oh Lord! Did the politically-correct ever scold me! How dare I!? I must be a “science denier”, to question the satellites!
Now, years later, a bunch of genuine scientists are drifting on a “MOSAiC” ship up by the Pole, and one thing they have “discovered” is that there is an astonishing difference between temperatures at the surface, and temperatures measured by weather balloons only a few meters above the surface. Temperatures at the surface are much colder.
Well, Du-u-uh! I could see that years ago, which was why I suggested satellites should be re-calibrated. But where I earned scorn, the MOSAiC scientists may win a Nobel Prize. Now I ask you: Is that fair?
It does not always pay to be ahead of your time. Ask Alfred Wegener, who suggested continents drifted, fifty years before it became politically and geologically correct to say so. Wegener (and others like him) is (and are) proof the politically-correct are actually backwards, and are therefore silly when they describe themselves as “progressive”. The Truth is: The most progressive thing already exists, and awaits us giving up on our saddles on high horses of status and popularity, and instead dismounting and walking on the grounded firmness of facts, of Truth.
That being said, I will depart from my preachy, high-horse lectern, and instead will practice what I preach by walking the beauty of what actually is going on up there at the Pole.
This time of year is when the daylight breaks on the northernmost sea-ice, and the sun then refuses to set for six solid months. You might think, under such non-stop sunlight, the sea-ice would immediately start to get thinner. People get this impression looking at the “extent” graph beginning its yearly decent in March:
In actual fact the initial decrease in the “extent” occurs far from the Pole, in places off the edge of arctic maps like the Sea of Okhotsk or the Saint Lawrence Seaway. At the Pole the ice keeps right on getting thicker, sometimes even after air temperatures at the upper surface touch freezing.
How is this possible? It occurs because the ice does not thicken at the top (unless you count the meager snowfall) but rather at the bottom. All that is needed to thicken the bottom is for the water against the ice to give up its heat to ice slightly colder than the freezing point of salt water, (which varies depending on the salinity of the water, but tend to be around -1.7º Celsius, or 29º Fahrenheit). And during the coldest part of winter, the ice at the top may be forty below, the ice three feet down twenty below, and the ice next to the water at -1.7º Celsius. In May, just because the surface has warmed does not make the ice three feet down immediately warmer; it still is at twenty below, and therefore the ice beneath it still behaves as if it is winter, and keeps getting thicker.
The process of melting the sea-ice therefore involves warming the core of the ice, which is three feet down. Not only the must the water beneath the ice lose its heat upwards, but the air above the ice must lose its heat downwards. It takes time to erase a sort of memory-of-winter that lives in the ice, and for a long time the sun can shine brilliantly without seeming to have any effect. Even when the snow starts to wilt and the first melt-water appear as slushy darkness on the surface (usually in late May or early June) it can remain well below freezing three feet down.
Another interesting and highly complex dynamic involves the fact that salt has no power to melt ice below temperatures of -21ºC (-6ºF), but increasing power as the temperature increases. At +1ºF a pound of salt will melt 4 pounds of ice; at +20ºF it will melt 6 pounds of ice, and at +30ºF the same pound will melt 46 pounds of ice. This creates fascinating and complex dynamics, first as the ice gets colder and then later as the ice gets warmer. (Don’t ask me to explain it all because I can’t.) In the end the salt tends to be exuded from some of the ice, becoming brine, as temperatures cool. Lots of this brine bores down through the sea-ice, but some at the surface gets stranded and finally exists as a fine powder, as the water sublimates away in the dry atmosphere. Below temperatures of -6ºF salt blows around with drifting snow without having any effect, and when temperatures are a little above -6º the salt melts just enough to make the drifting snow into a crisp, hard surface (which has some name I can’t remember at the moment). In any case there is more salt than one would expect at the surface, (and also in the atmosphere right up to the stratosphere, contributing to ozone holes because the salt holds traces of iodine and bromine.) This salt caused great consternation among early arctic explorers, for they thought their supply of drinking water could come from the sea-ice, but at times the ice was too salty to drink. (They learned to look for “old ice”, which was largely salt free.) But we don’t need to drink the water, so what interests us this time of year is the change between ice at 20ºF and 30ºF, when the salt goes from melting six times its weight in ice to 46 times its weight. And if that isn’t complex enough for you, entertain your mind with the fact that using salt to melt ice makes temperatures colder (think of an old fashioned ice-cream-maker.)
If you look back through my old posts, and especially the comments, you will see the topic of salt discussed as far back as 2012 by people far smarter than I am. You would think Alarmists would be interested, as it seems obvious salt melts ice, and Alarmists are big on the topic of ice melting. A few were indeed interested, but they tended to become Skeptics as they learned the devil is in the details. Other Alarmists didn’t want to hear about the details, for they were only interested in the narrative, “The sea-ice is in a Death Spiral”, and if you brought up details it meant you were a “science denier”, for “the science was settled”. (This is not scientific thought, but it did teach me about how “Fake News” is created.)
Considering we’ve been discussing things like salt, and the time it takes to warm the ice three feet down, for eight years, it is just a little annoying that some of the scientists aboard the MOSAiC expedition are walking about with their index fingers poking up in an Eureka manner, saying stuff we wondered about eight years ago. However the point should be made that, while we were sitting on our duffs squinting at images from a camera on a buoy, they have actually gone up there in the dead of winter, and are gathering actual data. In effect they are the buoy, and they are the camera, and they are gathering all sorts of data I never even considered. I am happy for them, and their excitement.
I thought it would be fun to go through a month worth of maps, (keeping in mind that a bit below the Pole, towards Svalbard, is the MOSAiC crew).
When I last posted maps a very zonal flow had kept cold concentrated at the Pole, as milder air from the south wrapped around the edges of the cold, from west to east. After a single feeder-band brought the Pole its warmest (but still well below freezing) temperatures of the winter, temperatures had crashed to the coldest of the winter. Meanwhile what I called a “spear” of milder temperatures had moved west to east along the Eurasian coast.
What was interesting about the following week was how that “spear” of milder air along the Eurasian coast chilled. In the temperature maps you can see the green isotherm areas fade and turn blue. This demonstrates that even though the sunlight has returned and is pressing towards the Pole, in early March, the days are still too short and the sun is too low to prevent heat from being lost to outer space.
After a week the high pressure at the Pole, a sort of center of the Polar Cell, is being squeezed out and eroded, and we seem to be getting back to a pattern seen earlier in the winter, where low pressure dominates from the North Atlantic to along the Eurasian coast, while high pressure dominates from Bering Strait to the Canadian Archipelago. If the center of the Polar Cell exists at all, it has swung from Bering Strait nearly to Hudson Bay. The low pressure around the periphery has reverted to the Atlantic side, but the lows are shadows of the massive storms we saw earlier in the winter.
Around March 9 we again see the oddity of this winter. Other winters lows seemed to weaken as they left the North Atlantic and were starved for warmth and moisture, but this winter we have seen storms of surprising strength in Barents and Kara Seas. Above we see a weak low probing towards the Pole from the Kara Sea, and following lows entering Kara Sea, bringing up a feeder-band of milder air. The two are about to combine and cause a ruckus. Watch how the isobars tighten over the location of the MOSAiC expedition, intensified by a high pressure being pumped up over the Canadian Archipelago. An Aleutian low gets sucked north over east Siberia to weakly enter the mix.
If you look at how tight the isobars are in the above map, you can understand things might have been less than comfortable for the scientists working in the MOSAiC expedition. Notice how, though the storm (now a borderline “Ralph” (anomalous area of low pressure at the Pole)) has drawn a feeder band north, that milder air isn’t reaching the MOSAiC crew. They have been experiencing extreme cold for a long time, yet the ice around their ship starts cracking up.
For some of the scientists the opening of this lead was a fortuitous event, for they wished to study something I’d never consider: The amount of greenhouse gasses that escape from the ocean into the atmosphere via open water at the Pole. They could measure the amount of CO2 and methane without needing to trudge and tempt hungry polar bears, seeking open water. They didn’t have to even leave their ship. And surely such data is interesting, in it’s way. (Not to me, much, but likely to others.)
However the fact the sea-ice began breaking up around the ship, despite temperatures being below normal, also awoke other scientists to something bumpkins like myself understood years ago: Open water at the Pole can occur even in the coldest conditions, if the winds are right. This was known by Navy captains aboard submarines under the ice way back in the 1950’s. But it is nice to see what was Truth then is still Truth now, and that young whippersnappers are still able to raise an index finger, say Eureka, and see the Truth.
However, as delightful as science is, some aboard the ship must attend to more banal subjects, such as survival, and the stressing and crack-up of the sea-ice did not make life easy for such people. Nor did a thing called, “The Corona Virus”, occurring to the south.
The crack-up of the sea-ice complicated matters, for the next delivery of supplies was planned to be by air, with aircraft landing on a nice blue-ice airstrip on a nice plate of sea-ice, but the stormy weather cracked the ice. So of course those in charge of logistics made plans to fix the airstrip by extending one side of the broken floe’s rump-of-an-airstrip, and they were busily at work when they heard maybe the idea of delivering by air was a bad idea, because some involved in the flights “tested positive”, and it might be a bad idea to introduce the Corona Virus to the Polarstern and MOSAiC expedition. Instead it might be wise to drift down to Fram Strait with the supplies they had, and be helped down there by an icebreaker, if need be. And after that a silence descended, concerning logistics, I suppose because the slightest hint the expedition was being tested or in trouble might result in sensationalist headlines. Such attention would be quite the bother, when you want to gather data about methane escaping through cracks in the Arctic Sea.
I suspect there is very cool story involved, for when you compare the above picture with the picture below, you just know the ice has been through a commotion.
The scientists aboard the ship have seen first hand how, even at very low temperatures, open water can appear. They have also witnessed how swiftly such water freezes over, and how the sides of such leads then can clap together and form pressure ridges. Air temperature matters little, concerning sea-ice, for what is here today can be gone tomorrow. Open water can appear and then disappear in the blink of an eye. (View from MOSAiC radar.)
Of course bumpkins like myself knew about all this years ago, using data gathered by our lying eyes from much, much cheaper cameras on much, much cheaper buoys, but I will confess it is good to get some affirmation from people who have actually gone up there and put their lives on the line, and don’t just sit on fossilized duffs gazing at computer screens like I do (when my wife lets me).
I confess I worry just a bit about those men and women up there, but I am glad I don’t have to set up equipment connected by cables in minus fifty windchill, only to see cables snapped by some dumb lead. Instead I merely concern myself with whether the sea-ice is moving that cast of characters towards escape in Fram Strait, lickity-split. And so far, so good.
(See drift of buoys associated with MOSAiC at end of post.)
Speaking as a poet and not a scientist, one thing I noticed when I was young and foolhardy, and went to sea and found myself in over my head, is that I escaped with my life. At times I could take no credit for my escapes, and had the sense kindly guardian angels watched over me. (Either that, or a man born to be hung cannot drown.) I get the same sense watching the isobars in the maps below. Perhaps it is merely the arctic cooling the North Atlantic as the AMO shifts from a “warm” phase to a “cold” phase, but it is handy if you are in an ice-bound boat up there, and want to be blown down to Fram Strait. I’ve watched the drift of ice up there a lot over the years, and often noticed “wrong way” flows where the sea-ice is bottled up and prevented from moving to Fram Strait, but this year the Trans Polar Drift seems especially accelerated, which may turn out to be good news for the fellows aboard the Polarstern.
I’m not going to comment on the maps much, except to note you can see the storms prefer the Eurasian side, and also see air from the south swirled and cooled as it heads towards the Pole, but the Pole start its yearly warm-up.
The Pole continues to lose more heat than it gains until mid May, roughly a month before the solstice. In the winter it can only gain heat from south winds and the water under the ice, but now the addition of sunshine, riding ever higher in the sky, tips the energy-balance toward a point where, for roughly sixty days, the North Pole actually gives the planet more heat than it loses. (If it were a flat, dry desert it would become baking hot, but fortunately our Creator designed a nifty refrigeration system up there.)
Don’t get April-fooled, and stay tuned.
UPDATE: Below see drift of buoys associated with MOSAiC expedition down towards Fram Strait.
Now we see how fleeting are this world’s hopes And whether we have built on rock or sand, As the smug shrink to but panicky dopes And make their mansions forts. Their final stand Rejects the very people they preened before, And when this plauge is past men won’t forget Who ran, and which ones heard the ill implore For help, and soothed. Just as a red sunset Promises bright tomorrows, the good Will see solace for sorrows, but the bad Will stand exposed. Pretending that you could Will be replaced by what you did, for sad But true is it that from the dirt is panned Pure gold, upon the Creator’s command.
This hike could be my last, and yet the spring Comes blithe and merry, and the birds return And I start smiling. The first whistling Song sparrow bobs a twig, as ducks all yearn To settle north, and crowd the turquoise lake With quacking until, likely only looking For fish, the eagle arrives. The ducks break Ranks and flap in chaos: Curving, hooking, Veering squads of yakking ducks fly crazy Like planes in a dog fight, as the eagle Looks innocent. I must laugh. In hazy Distance I hear thumps. God makes this legal: I may die, but still the partridge is drumming. I may die, but still the spring keeps on coming.
Initially it was reported the corona virus apparently had an odd genetic structure. I read it includes a strand or sequence from the HIV virus, and therefore the corona virus was highly unlikely to be a natural mutation, and very well could have been man-made. When the virus initially appeared there were suggestions it escaped from a Chinese genetics lab in Wuhan. Some suggested its escape may have even been via a laboratory animal which, rather than being properly disposed of, was sold at a meat-market only a few miles from the lab (likely by an under-paid lab technician).
More recently China has worked very hard to repress any and all investigative reporting in this direction. The silence speaks loudly. Rather than Truth, they seemingly prefer a cover-up.
The thing of it is, when you have a Truth to hide, you are like a man susceptible to blackmail. You may think you are the boss, throwing some reporters out of China while paying others to report only the news China wants reported, but still you are paying a invisible blackmailer, to hide the Truth. The invisible blackmailer is actually the boss and in control, and you are but it’s pawn.
It grieves me to think of the leaders of a great land like China being reduced to such a servile state.
Truth is free. Some may want to stone you for speaking it, but Truth itself charges nothing, is all around, and is the fount of life itself. Therefore, if one is to be a pawn, they should be a pawn of Truth, and of no invisible blackmailer.
The leadership of China needs to undergo a Damascus Experience. They need to be knocked off their high horses like Saint Paul was, by this corona virus experience.
Saint Paul was in many ways a good communist, at first. He wished to “purge” all counter-revolutionary influences from Judaism, and when Saint Stephen began exalting about the Truth in Jerusalem Paul held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death. Then he set out to erase what he saw as an counter-revolutionary cult, attempting a sort of societal genocide. He’d put many in prison for daring to speak the Truth, and was on his way to Damascus to jail more, when the Truth hit him like a ton of bricks. A flash of revelation knocked him off his high horse and left him blinded in the dust.
Communists crave the power Truth has to knock the privileged, the “elite”, the “bourgeoisie”, from their Brahman stances, down to the dirt of Proletarian equality. The problem is that a new upper class rises, not like cream but like scum, to the top. The new upper class is like scum because they base their privilege on power rather than love. Their “charity” is not intended to make their personal wallet thinner, but fatter. They hold something back for their personal gain while pretending to give all, while demanding others give all. Truth sees right through such hypocrisy. In the case of Ananais and Sapphira they were not merely knocked from their high horses like Paul for such hipocrisy; they were dropped dead, when they faced Truth. No Stalin enacted this “purge” of the early church; no flawed mortal murdered their brother and sister; it was the blinding revelation of Truth that took their breath away.
Chinese communists seem to be captivated by the erroneous concept which states, “If you control people’s perceptions, then you control Truth”.
Big mistake. Truth is not some dumb beast, some big bull which can be controlled by a ring put through It’s nose. Rather Truth is almighty, the fabric and foundation of all life. Truth is the earth that we walk and the air that we breathe. We do not create Truth; Truth creates us.
Therefore those who think they can twist and torment Truth and make it their beast-of-burden are colossal fools. They may have gifts, (the ability to handle political power is a gift), but, if they fail to recognize and respect the Gift-giver, they are like an ax which thinks it has power all by itself. Then that ax discovers it can be laid aside by the “Ax-wielder”, and has no power at all.
One sad aspect of communism, (and also certain branches of Islam), is that they feel it is OK to lie. Rather than seeing being a liar as behavior which goes against Truth, they justify being liars with some sort of “the ends justify the means” logic.
The problem with such logic is that human nature is prone to Wimpy procrastination, and to promising you to pay next Tuesday for the hamburger wolfed today, and then to not having a nickle when next Tuesday rolls around. Sadly, despite high ideals, the “ends” are Wimpy’s empty wallet, and do not in any way, shape or means justify the wolfing “means”. Over and over we have seen communist governments suggest goodness can come from bad behavior, but have only seen badness result. Therefore it seems more likely that “means” justify the “ends”. Be truthful, and good things will eventually manifest.
People have been embittered by the gangsters of life, and are skeptical about goodness coming from being good, and mutter cynical things such as, “No good deed goes unpunished”. However my own experience is that it is only in the short term that good behavior looks unprofitable. Charity looks like a loss because it actually does make you poorer. However it is like taking a perfectly good potato, a potato you could slice up and make delicious home-fries with, and burying it in the dirt. There is no immediate gain, and in fact there is a measurable loss, in the short term. However if you have the patience to wait ninety days, a pound of potato becomes fifteen.
Patience is obviously a virtue in the world of agriculture, where there is apparently an old Chinese proverb something like, “The plants will not grow faster if you pull at their shoots,” but as one moves away from such earthy reality, doubt creeps in:
ALL hoped-for things will come to you Who have the strength to watch and wait, Our longings spur the steeds of Fate, This has been said by one who knew.
‘Ah, all things come to those who wait,’ (I say these words to make me glad), But something answers soft and sad, ‘They come, but often come too late.’
From “Tout vient a qui sait attendre.,” by “Violet Fane”, (Lady Mary Montgomerie Currie) 1892
To return to the world of agriculture, it is obvious one can’t just plant a potato and then sit back and whistle Dixie; one needs to water and hill and top-dress and deal with gross potato-bugs. “Everything cometh to him who waiteth, providing he worketh like hell while he waiteth”.
The point being, in this world which often seeks immediate gratification, gratification must often be deferred. This often struck me as a terrible compromise, as a young poet. I felt gifted, in terms of poetry, but not gifted at all, in terms of washing dishes, but, because no one would pay for poetry, and they would pay for washing dishes, I compromised.
Compromise involves a different definition of the word “wait”. Waiting doesn’t involve inactivity, when you are waiting tables as a waiter. In fact often, in scriptures, when it says one should “wait on the Lord”, it does not involve twiddling your thumbs, but rather consulting the Truth before you act; “Look before you leap”.
As a young poet I needed to consult my heart before I compromised. I needed to look within to my conscience, to my innermost criterion of Truth and Beauty, and decide whether the compromise was ethical. Sometimes the answer was “No”. As a result I sometimes slept in my car when I could have slept in silk sheets, had I agreed to be a gigolo.
This returns me to the leaders of China, and the compromises they make. They need to honor Truth, and to turn to Truth more. Just as, in the life of a poet, is one thing to say the ends justify the means, when it involves putting down a pen to wash dishes for a square meal, and is quite a different thing when it involves becoming a gigolo to gain silk sheets, in the world of politics there are some lines none should step across; there are some things Truth answers “No” to.
One such thing is murder, whether it takes an obvious form or occurs slyly; whether it involves blatant executions or whether it involves starvation and allowing sickness to run rampant.
The most wicked element of communism is its tendency to see the wholesale slaughter of entire elements of society as a good thing. Basically the world is their garden, to be improved by removing the “weeds”, and large blocks of people are deemed worthy of removal. This slaughter never succeeds in erasing Truth they dislike, the Truth being: Human nature reappears in the survivors. Weeding does not result in roses, but rather in worse weeds.
One humorous, (albeit bitterly so), example of China’s failure involved the attempt to enforce equality by having all wear the same uniform. The result? The rich had uniforms of silk while the poor wore burlap. Same color, same style, but the bourgeois had reappeared. And the communist response? Well, a “counter-revolution” is predicted by the dogma, which justifies a new “purge”, (either by those wearing silk or by those wearing burlap), which justifies yet another slaughter.
The Truth is that equality is not achieved through uniformity. Humans are as different as their fingerprints, and the Truth is we are not “created equal”, because we each have an unique and different gift. The equality enters in because we equally deserve dignity, respect and most of all love. This is what unifies humanity, and if we march in lockstep about any one thing it is that we all march to different drummers. Harmony cannot occur if all notes are all the same.
It is high time for the leadership of China to awake to this fact. For too long they have been the pawns of an invisible blackmailer, and have attempted to “save face” by dressing up tragedy in flowery phrases such as “The Great Leap Forward” and “The Cultural Revolution”. It is high time to called botched experiments what they are: Failures. It actually takes a more courageous man to confess than it does to pay blackmail, avoiding confession. If you want to “save face”, be brave.
Rather than seeking to “reeducate” everyone else, it is high time to set the example in terms of “reeducation”, and to kick the blackmailer out by facing the Truth.
It has seemed fairly obvious that China has seen fit to under-report the actual numbers of people who died in Wuhan province. I fear there are some indications they have not “slightly” under-reported the numbers who have died, but have “grossly” under-reported the failure of their health care system. The actual number of deaths may be in the millions.
I’m not sure why they chose to repress news of the extent of the tragedy, but the American news media chooses to repeat their disinformation, rather than questioning it. I’ve heard various theories as to why this is so. I’ve heard the Chinese don’t want to “lose face”, and that the American media stands to lose financial support if they question China. I have no idea if such speculation is true, and can only share my reasons for skepticism.
First, even when the factories in Wuhan were being closed down there were localized spikes in “carbon emissions”, as seen by satellites. It is suggested this indicates cremations were occurring at full blast. Far more burning was occurring than would occur if only a few thousand died.
Second, people who are dead do not renew their cell phone accounts. The number of people who failed to renew their cell phone accounts in Wuhan did not number a few thousand, but rather numbered up near 20 million.
Third, the initial expectation of what percentage of people who contracted the virus would die was around 3%. Such numbers are not plucked from a hat.
Fourth, the doctors in Wuhan who initially dealt with the virus were extremely alarmed. Their initial comments are preserved, though they were later publicly shamed, jailed, and forced to “confess” that they were “exaggerating” the dangers. Several of these doctors later died of the virus.
Fifth, the responses of President Trump make no sense if you accept the version of what happened in Wuhan now being broadcast by the Chinese media (and parroted by American sycophants). Assuming he gets information from other sources, the death toll being far higher than reported explains why he acted as he acted.
In other words, the news we are getting from Wuhan is “Fake News”. China does not want to admit they badly bungled the initial outbreak of the virus, and that a pandemic was raging before they knew it, and, (like a fire which is far harder to put out if allowed to spread), their healthcare system was unable to handle what it was faced with. Compared to the responses in places like South Korea and Taiwan, they look downright pathetic. I can only suppose their leaders now want to hide their inefficiency, fearing a public outcry, and perhaps even demands they be replaced.
The one good thing about the “Fake News” is that it made people less inclined to panic. Can you imagine how people might have behaved if they knew 20 million died in Wuhan? So many elite would have fled to Nantucket that the island would sink! (As it is, the little airport that flies people out to Nantucket has a parking lot crowded with cars that have New York plates.)
In the end the truth will leak out. China may seek to close the Wuhan internet, or heavily censor all postings, but cell phones will make their way to Hong Kong, and we will see videos from Wuhan, and I fear they will not be pretty.
Audley Bine’s appearance in the sanctity of my home struck me as an imposition, but I also knew it would be futile to protest to my mother. He didn’t have to put on his very-good-student face very much at all to wrap her around his little finger, for he was a man who had graduated from Harvard, and also could speak with a hint of an upper-class accent, and these two things automatically raised a person in my mother’s estimation. It also didn’t hurt that my mother’s grandfather was also a Bine, and she and Audley may have been distantly related. They also may have shared some unspoken common heritage due to the steep decline of the Bine family fortunes. Audley was a go-getter clawing his way out of poverty, and my mother was also a social climber. Though she’d been born poor, I thought my mother saw herself as a sort of Eliza Doolittle. She had cultivated a faux-English accent, and was thrilled at the prospect of moving to England for a year to mingle with the upper classes.
Though facing an unwelcome mandatory retirement from Harvard, my stepfather had accrued sabbatical time which he still could access, and discovered Oxford University didn’t mind that he was over seventy. He was therefore going there as a guest-lecturer, and also to study differences between English and American law. As he, my mother, and my two younger siblings lodged down in England, I was scheduled to be shipped north for a postgraduate year at a boarding school up in the northeast tip of Scotland.
In only six weeks my life as an American suburbanite would come to an abrupt end, and I had a sense there were things I wanted to finish. The last thing I wanted was some old person around the house getting in my way, and Audley struck me as old. Though only twenty-six he struck me as a person-over-thirty who I shouldn’t trust, and perhaps even a “narc”. He wore a sports-coat even in hot weather, which was definitely a bad sign.
I gathered from my mother and oldest brother that Audley needed a no-rent situation to help him through a lean time between his graduation from Harvard and his first paycheck. He had landed a job as a teacher at a boarding school up in New Hampshire. I liked him less for that, for I had an involuntary aversion towards most teachers because, in my opinion, all but a few teachers I’d known in school were unfriendly, unsympathetic, unimaginative, and some were downright nasty. Rather than help me learn teachers seemed an obstruction to my investigations (because much I wanted to investigate was, if not taboo, beyond the bounds of ordinary scholarship.)
It was difficult for me to express exactly what it was I was studying, or what it was I wanted to “finish” before I left for Scotland. Some things were admittedly crude; for example I wanted to “finish” my virginity. But most things were problems I sensed in a largely intuitive manner, involving how my community of suburban teenyboppers might survive in a world that seemingly wanted us extinct.
Suburban towns of that time felt under no compunction to make a place for the children they created. The town expected you to depart, either to college or Vietnam, and the only reason my idea, (that a community of youth might like to remain a community,) was not deemed laughable was because it never crossed most people’s minds.
I felt that such a heartless attitude was part of an old world, but that I was part of a new world which was going to replace such heartlessness with Truth, Love and Understanding. My blithe naivete seems a bit ridiculous, fifty years later, but I honestly believed I was living through a sort of spiritual revolution. Problems might surface, but problems could be solved. One of my favorite occupations was to sit around with my friends and solve all the world’s problems.
One of the world’s problems was pills. Despite my gross ignorance concerning the difference between a drug-high and a natural-high, I had only to look in a mirror to see that pills were not healthy. Admitting this simple fact forced me to admit that the purveyors of pills were liars.
Pushers always gave pills some sort of romantic-sounding nickname such as “strawberry starshine”, and advertised them as being “a real mellow mescaline”, when in fact most often they were amphetamines, barbiturates, or worse: One pill was called “black dot”; it was described as being “peyote”, because it made one vomit (and hallucinate after vomiting); in retrospect I think “black dots” were likely rat poison. Such pills were gobbled by trusting youths at parties, and dealing with the consequences of such indiscriminate trust was part of my life.
Even though I myself very much liked amphetamines, we all knew “speed kills”. We could see how swiftly certain musicians aged from album-cover to album-cover, and I didn’t like seeing similar aging starting to effect my seventeen-year-old face. Around the time Audley moved in I had decided to quit pills, and to stick with smoking leafy herbs, and also to eat more, regain lost weight, and to get back in shape by lifting weights.
A second problem was far more complicated than merely quitting an illegal drug. It was an awareness that sprang out of my enjoyment over hearing others “tell me their story.” I became aware that my community of teenyboppers were predominately from broken homes.
This realization came as something of a shock to me, for when my own parents separated in 1964 divorce was a rarity and I felt ashamed to be from a broken home. That shame became such a part of my life I didn’t notice times changing. In six short years divorce had become so commonplace in wealthy suburbs that less shame was involved. The divorce rate had leapt from 0.5% to nearly 50%, and in some cases divorce was even taken for granted. I heard kids ask other kids, “Your parents divorcing yet?” What was formerly unmentionable could be freely discussed, and being able to talk liberated me from the shackles of shame.
However this is not to say my peers were happy about divorce. Divorce didn’t seem to involve the Peace, Love and Understanding which was our ideal. In a way (which I think few saw) it was our parents who were choosing an “alternative lifestyle” when they renounced traditional marriage, and we supposedly-radical children were actually the reactionary conservatives, in that we wanted to embrace some sort of wholesome fidelity.
Of course the subject was not all that simple. Some, both men and women, very much liked the idea of gaining the pleasures of sex without the responsibility of marriage, while others wanted a love that was true. Some disliked marriage because they saw their parent’s unhappiness as being caused by marriage, while others saw their parent’s unhappiness as being caused by their parent’s failure to behave married. And me? I tended to be wishy-washy, and to see both sides as having their points. To be honest, I was more interested in getting others to “tell me their story” than in standing in judgement.
This landed me in uncomfortable situations, for in “telling their story” people tended to badmouth and backbite others. Then a second person would “tell me their story” and it would involve badmouthing and backbiting the first. I called such situations “triangles”, and they made me very uncomfortable, for I felt a pressure to take sides. Taking sides was not the same thing as the “Understanding” I desired.
In a sense the two sides were like the two sides of an arch, and required the “keystone” called Understanding. Without the keystone the two sides fell to a heap of rubble and made a mess, but with the keystone the two sides held each other up. This was something I could see but could not grasp, yet I was aware that at times I myself could be the keystone, though I wasn’t aware how I did it.
For example, one unpleasant aspect of using drugs was a certain paranoia it involved. This was especially apparent when a person at a party left a room for a while and then returned. There would then be an awkwardness, as if the person had been talked-about-behind-their-back (and fairly often, but not always, they had been.) It was as if a societal ice had formed while they were away, requiring a societal icebreaker. I tended to be the icebreaker, even when I myself was the person who had left the room. Often it involved merely filling the returning person in on what-they-had-missed, thus allowing them to get back into the flow of the conversation, but at the time I had no clue how I did it. I just recognized misunderstanding was occurring, and intuitively ended it.
I also intuitively knew that the strength of a community is based upon building understanding, and felt an urge to strengthen the foundational understanding of my own gang. As the end of the summer approached this urge became akin to desperation, for I knew our teenybopper community would need to be very strong to withstand the challenges presented by a suburb which basically wanted to throw us all out.
Therefore I was pleased to hear my mother and stepfather were leaving for England, to reconnoiter the situation where they’d live and work, in and near Oxford, and after that to tour Scotland. They’d be gone a month, and I was looking forward to being the king of their castle while they were gone. I felt it would be a great opportunity to develop understanding in my community. My mother begged to differ, for where I saw “developing community” she saw “one big party” and envisioned holes burned in her carpets. Therefore she went out of her way to cramp my style.
First, she put her car in the shop and loaned my stepfather’s car to my oldest brother, leaving me without transport. Second, she gave me a list of chores, such as mowing the lawn and packing things away (as the house was to be rented while we were overseas), which seemed unfair to me, as she was burdening me with the chores of a castle while denying me the benefits. She told the live-in maid Margie to keep an eye on me. Lastly, she invited my oldest brother to stay, as well as Audley Bine, which crowded my space.
It did not seem to occur to my mother that I might not be the only one facing a “Senior Summer”, a final time free before plunging into a less-than-appealing future. Audley Bine was also facing an end to liberation, a switch from the company of brilliant minds at Harvard to the company of boring boys at a boarding school. All my mother saw was a very serious-seeming and sensible Audley who nodded at all the right times and only smiled when it was proper. (Where my mother saw great promise in Audley I must admit I didn’t think the fellow looked too promising.)
The first sign my initial impression might be incorrect occurred even before my mother and stepfather left. I’d gone trooping down to my bedroom with a group of my friends late at night, with everyone chattering like a flock of grackles, and once in the room I’d shut the door and opened the windows, to let the songs of summer frogs and owls in, and the smoke out. Just then the person closest to the door made a “hisst!” noise and raised an index finger. There was an instant silence, and then we all heard it: A tapping at the door, as if someone was knocking with a single, pointed finger. Swiftly all illegal substances were removed from view, as I sauntered across the room. After an appraising glance about at my friends all looking guiltily innocent, I opened the door. There stood Audley, wearing his very-good-student smile.
I fully expected some version of, “Could you keep the noise down; I’m trying to sleep”, but what he whispered was, “Could you sell me a nickle bag of Mooner?”
A friend nearest the door laughed, and then turned to explain to the others, “He wants Mooner!” The tension in the air dissolved to palatable relief. Part of 1970 was the experience of seeing many people you thought of as “straight” switching sides and “turning on.” I could hear my friends beginning to exclaim about the phenomenon, and the words, “He wants Mooner”, being repeated, but I was the one who faced going to jail for selling drugs, so I was not so quick to drop my guard. I brusquely asked, “Who said I had Mooner?”
That seemed like a fairly safe recommendation, but I was not about to reveal where I kept my pound hidden (down in a heating duct accessed by removing a grill on the floor). I simply reached in the pocket of my jeans and handed him my personal supply.
Audley looked at the plastic bag. “That’s too much. More like a dime than a nickle. Here. Let me remove some.” He then stepped further into the room and opened the bag on the flat top of a bureau, produced a packet of “Zig-zags” from a pocket of his sports coat, and with impressive speed and deftness rolled three cigarettes, which he handed to me. Having impressed everyone with proof he was no novice, he handed me five wrinkled one-dollar-bills, pocketed the rest of the marijuana, nodded, and left.
Despite this evidence, I still entertained the view that Audley was an intellectual and likely a “dweeb”, (though I deemed a dweeb who smoked pot better than a dweeb who didn’t) but that view also needed to be adjusted, shortly after my parents left for England.
The fact Audley wore a sports-coat in summer weather seemed part of an effort he made to present himself as being more wealthy than he actually was, and put him at odds with my gang. We scoffed at fashion. Around a year later signs began appearing on the doors of restaurants, “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service,” and I always felt that sign was a personal affront. My view was that feet were far more healthy when bare, and that sunshine and dryness killed athlete’s foot, whereas shoes nourished the fungus. Furthermore we often visited Walden Pond, and the readers in my group liked to quote how Thoreau stated a man only needed two pairs of pants: One to wear and one to wash. Audley’s belief that how you “presented” yourself mattered was in direct conflict with our belief that it was what you were on the inside that mattered. Therefore it was with some relief we noticed Audley drove a battered Volkswagen bus that looked like it cost him fifty dollars.
Fifty years later I’ve noted such buses are nearly always portrayed in movies as a form of hippy-transport painted with flowers and peace symbols. Few actually were. (Many hippies couldn’t afford paint.) Hippies coveted the buses because they were very cheap even when brand new, and much cheaper used; they endured for years and could be repaired with a hairpin, so there were a lot of cheap Volkswagens floating about.
They were not a powerful vehicle. Whenever I saw one slowing down to pick me up hitchhiking I always felt a little guilty, for their air-cooled engines were so pathetic that I always felt the added weight of my body would force the driver to downshift, going up hills. Audley’s was especially ancient, and seeing him drive off in the huffing old wreck in the morning made him seem especially mortal and humble. But one afternoon we heard the far-off approach of a roaring car that squealed around distant curves of our country road, getting louder and louder. It was definitely not a Volkswagen. I was lifting weights outside with my older brothers, and we stopped to listen to the approach with interest.
My stepfather’s house had a circular drive with six apple trees in the middle, and the weights we lifted were in a turnaround off the circle by the garage. Abruptly, flashing bright orange against the green summertime background down at entrance, appeared a Lotus sports-car, which swerved sharply in and came around the circle six times faster than I’d even seen a car go on that circle, and then lurched to a halt in front of us. Audley was in the passenger seat, radiant and beside himself with laughter. The driver, a tall, elegant-looking young man with styled blond curls, swung out of the other side and walked over to my brothers, who were standing apart from me. He talked briefly with them, and they both shook their heads and jutted their thumbs over their shoulders at me. The man looked at me, and I thought I detected a trace of incredulity flicker across his face, before he walked over. “I’ve tried some of your Mooner. Excellent stuff. I’d like a lid.” He offered me a very crisp twenty and a very crisp five.
I hesitated, measuring the man. He wore a golf shirt rather than a sports-coat, but something about him oozed wealth and privilege. I decided a narc wouldn’t be so rich, nodded, took the money, and walked off thinking I was committing robbery, for usually I charged only twenty for an ounce.
I did notice one odd thing about the man’s sports-car as I departed. It seemed to have bits of cornstalks stuck in odd places: Behind the side mirrors, and in the grill, and hanging from both the front and rear bumpers.
As I returned with the contraband Audley was finishing a story that explained how the Lotus wound up in a cornfield. Audley seemed very enthusiastic, and appreciative of good driving where I thought bad driving must be involved. Rather than negative about failing to negotiate a curve Audley was extremely positive about avoiding a stonewall and a tractor. The driver inclined his head modestly, and then they hopped back in the Lotus and roared off.
I decided Audley likely wasn’t a dweeb. Dweebs don’t roar about in an orange Lotus.
The third bit of evidence that Audley wasn’t fitting my preconceptions was actually the start of our friendship, though one would think it was a good beginning to enmity, because it sprang oddly from the fact Audley liked to do yoga in silence in the morning, while I liked to bellow songs at the top of my lungs in the shower. As we passed each other in the hall outside the bathroom, me dripping in a towel and he slightly cross-eyed because his yoga involved trances, there seemed to be a gradual recognition that we went to a similar mental landscape, albeit in highly different ways.
As far as I was concerned yoga was a way to make your joints hurt; if I was going to seek such pain, I’d do stretching exercises before I lifted weights. Yet it was obvious Audley did it to get stoned. Not only were his eyes slightly crossed after he did yoga, but he leaned against the wall of the hallway as he walked. I found this intriguing, because getting stoned in any way, shape or form interested me. (I even tried out sitting cross-legged for five whole minutes, one time.)
What intrigued Audley about me involved the fact I seemed gifted, and could apparently do things without any discipline whatsoever. I’m not sure what first caught his attention; perhaps he overheard me improvising words to a song in the shower; in any case he became interested in my scrawls and doodles, and found them theoretically impossible. I wrote poems without any corrections (often with spelling mistakes) which Audley felt should have required six or seven drafts. To Audley my creativity seemed effortless, a fruitful trance that didn’t involve first sitting cross-legged, or controlling my breathing, or twisting my mind into a repetitive mantra, or any such discomfort.
Actually, after thinking about it for fifty years, I think my so-called “gift” involved huge discomfort, a discomfort greater than the contortions of yoga, a discomfort that went on and on and on for twelve years, a suffering which could make even subjects I delighted in become agonizingly dull, called “public schooling”.
Because my home was full of books I learned to read early, and therefore started grade school early, but being younger than others couldn’t make “Dick and Jane” interesting, or make classmates read any faster. Where the text read, “See Dick. See Dick run. Run, Dick, run!” a classmate would stutter and mumble, “Sss-suh-suh. Eee-eee. See. Duh-duh-ih-ih-kuh. Dick.” By that point I was flipping ahead, and when my turn to read came I had no idea what page we were on, so the teacher assumed I couldn’t read at all, and put me in the slow-group. (I don’t really blame the teacher, who was dealing with baby-boom classes of over twenty-five small children.)
In essence I was on the wrong page on the first day of school, and spent the following twelve years on the wrong page. Rather than gifted I think I was lost, but, whatever I was, it was boring as can be. I had to find some way to keep my brains entertained. Therefore I developed my ability to doodle and scrawl rhymes. It was not effortless, for it took twelve years.
After I graduated it might seem that, without the reason to doodle and rhyme, I would stop doodling and rhyming, but at times life itself became as boring as algebra class, and I felt the same need to keep my brains entertained. To some degree I may have done it to also entertain my friends, in the same way I entertained my back-row buddies (who were as bored as I was by algebra class), but it didn’t really matter if anyone liked it. It was a joy in and of itself, and I did it because the person in need of laughter was myself.
Then Audley would wander by, and perhaps see a notebook on the kitchen counter opened to a page like this:
Such doodles stopped Audley in his tracks. He was fascinated, and whenever I was writing (in various places around the house and yard) he often came drifting up behind me, to look over my shoulder casually, and to ask what I was composing. Depending on my mood (or what drug I was on) I might be unwelcoming, or a chatterbox who volunteered far too much information, but Audley always listened with his very-good-student smile.
One time I was looking over a long poem called, “Exercise In Expressing What Hasn’t Made Itself Clear.” It was a mess, moving down one side of a page, sideways along the bottom, and upside-down back to the top, using up ever bit of available space with either writing or garish illuminations:
I was very dissatisfied with my effort, sneering at the page, but Audley wanted me to read it to him. I made various disparaging statements, but he insisted, so I read the entire thing.
It was actually fun to read to him, for he’d interrupt and ask me what I meant by certain statements, and then ask me to read the passage again. Also he’d exclaim or laugh, sometimes even shouting, and then I’d stop and demand he explain what he was making noise about. After I was done on this occasion he said, “Read part twelve again,” so I read,
Take the time To be together Then cry a little Sigh a little Raise a little hell. It will work in in any weather And in every case I know It works out Well. Take some time for understanding. Give a little reassurance to a friend. Protect yourself but leave him standing. He may be the Alka-Seltzer in the end.
Audley commented, “That actually has a unique meter. Dum-de-dum-dum. Dum-dum-dum-dum. But it seems familiar somehow. How did you come up with it?”
I laughed, “It’s from ‘Deck The Halls’. The Christmas Carol. You know, fa-la-la-la-lah fa-la-la-lah”
He looked astonished. “Why’d you chose that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The poem just seemed to be getting too down, too heavy. I thought I’d lighten it up a bit.”
Audley chuckled, “So you stuck in the tempo of ‘Deck The Halls’?”
“Yeah. It’s hard to get too serious when you’re going fa-la-lah”
Audley shouted a laugh and shook his head. “You have no idea how fucking amazing that is. Look here.” He jabbed a finger on the page. “You don’t even correct a word. You just write down a complicated meter like it’s a grocery list.”
I scoffed, “It’s not complicated. It’s practically a nursery rhyme”, and Audley looked at me incredulously, shaking his head.
It is a very nice thing to discover, every now and then in life, that someone thinks you are a genius. But I had mixed feelings about Audley’s admiration, for I didn’t feel I was the genius. What I witnessed when high was the genius, whereas I was the incapacity, the one constantly attempting, and constantly failing, to show what I saw.
Despite being young and naive I did suspect some sort of ulterior motives might be involved in Audley’s praise, however Audley wasn’t the sort who sweet-talked when face to face, and badmouthed behind your back. Word leaked back to me he was going around and telling people he had discovered the next Robert Frost.
This was a bit embarrassing. Also I didn’t much like the concept of being “discovered”, when I was the one doing the exploring. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella might be able to say they “discovered” Columbus, for he couldn’t discover America if they didn’t fund his ships, but my discoveries didn’t need ships. Not that I worried all that much about who got credit for what. Occasionally I might feel a passing wave of drug-induced paranoia, and fret about people “stealing” my ideas, and be hit by the urge to copyright everything in sight, but then I’d remember copyrighting would involve bureaucratic paperwork, and I’d be repelled. In my book paper was for poetry. Lastly, there was something absurd about the idea of copyrighting a poetic vision; it would be like attempting to plant a flag in a sunrise and claim the dawn in the name of a mortal king.
But it was difficult to dampen Audley’s enthusiasm. When he was hit by an impulse one tended to be blindsided and carried away.
For example, one day I had a whim of my own and, because I had no car, was planning to hitchhike to the trolley to go into Boston to its dilapidated waterfront to see my sister, who worked as a secretary in a warehouse on a pier that had an old, sunk, wooden fishing boat tied to it, (which I thought was “really cool”), and also to check out “Andre the seal” at the new Aquarium being built as “urban renewal” a couple of piers down the waterfront. It seemed a simple enough schedule, but then Audley stepped in.
Audley first asked me where I was going, and kindly volunteered to drive me to the trolley, but then decided, before we were halfway there, that he might as well drive me all the way in to Harvard Square, and soon afterwards stated that as long as I was in Harvard Square I should meet a Harvard poet he knew. I found the change to my plans bewildering. One moment I was going to see my sister and a harbor seal named “Andre”, and the next I was going to meet a genuine Harvard poet.
I was a little in awe. I’m not sure what I expected; (perhaps an austere old man who wrote with an eagle’s plume).
Audley’s Volkswagen bus puttered up to a seedy old building and jolted to a halt double-parked, and he flew out the van’s door and trotted up two flights of stairs to a stark apartment with almost no furniture, with me taking two stairs at a time to keep up. He barely paused at the door, banging loudly on it three times before bursting in without waiting.
I was very impressed by the poet, though unfortunately he was too occupied to grant me an interview. He was busy suffering, walking about with the back of his hand pressed to his forehead, striding swiftly yet aimlessly from window to window, looking out and up at the sky with an expression of anguish.
Audley instantly forgot all about me, instead trailing the poet, making sympathetic noises. I stood politely waiting in the stark living-room as they passed to and fro, to the far bedroom window and then to the kitchen window, repetitively. After a while standing hat-in-hand grew tiresome, so I looked around. The couch seemed to be the front bench of a car, and the coffee table in front of it was an old steamer trunk with brass trim. On top of it was a pamphlet of poems, so I sat down to scan the pages.
Much of the poetry seemed to employ gimmicks, such as sheets of pink paper, or the word “I” spelled in the lower case, and much seemed written in the tremendously stoned state wherein the inconsequential seems profound; a butter knife seems as amazing as Shakespeare. For example, one poem was the single typed word “stars” with typed asterisks strewn over the rest of the page. There were also some simple ideas made difficult, when I thought poetry was suppose to be the other way around. However there were also some very nice images, and I was intrigued by the word “Avalon” that appeared here and there, used in a loose and unspecific way.
Suddenly I noticed the footsteps had ceased crossing back and forth in front of me, and glanced up to see the poet looking down with his arms folded and a challenging look in his eyes, almost as if he was daring me to be critical of his poems. Instead I innocently inquired, “What is Avalon?”
A brief, smokey look of respect filled the man’s eyes, and he answered, “It is where you are young.” Then a look of anguish began to fill his face, and his eyes lifted to the far wall and looked through it to some distant space. “Everything is green there.” Then he raised the back of his wrist to his forehead and went staggering off.
I excused myself shortly thereafter, but as I took the trolley over the river and then underground to the Boston waterfront I found my mind had become more fertile, due to this meeting with a genuine Harvard poet. The person seated across from me in the subway might have wondered why I kept mouthing the word “Avalon”, but by that evening I was busily doodling. Soon Audley came by, curious about what I had written. It was a poem about yearning for a lost childhood, and began,
Swim on up the river And Avalon is mine. The water’s moving five miles While I do four point nine.
“Perfect!” shouted Audley, making me jump. Then he looked at me innocently and said, “Proceed.” I ventured on, and several stanzas later read a stanza that stated,
I think I was in Avalon Before my memories end. I wonder if my place was saved By some pre-fetus friend.
Audley gave another shout and burst into delighted laughter, pounding his knee.
I felt a little indignant. That stanza was not suppose to be funny. “What are you laughing at?”
“Pre-fetus”, gasped Audley, “Pre-fetus”.
“What’s wrong with “pre-fetus”?
“There is no such word.”
“No, you made it up. You coined it, but it’s perfect, I tell you; it’s fucking perfect,” and with this Audley vented an odd whoopee, like a cowboy.
I regarded him a bit coldly; my poem was about a significant philosophical question, (whether there was life before birth), and here he was getting all sidetracked by a dumb word. However as I watched his enthusiasm I couldn’t help but smile. At times Audley single-handedly seemed like a congregation of about fifty, all shouting “Amen” at a preacher’s every utterance.
Audley and the Harvard poet and Avalon had coalesced into a thought-form my mind played with, yet it was only one of the many thought-forms drifting through my parent’s house while they were away. My oldest brother Halsey had other friends, and though he himself didn’t talk much he often would improvise elaborately at the piano for hours on end in a way strangely like a sermon, creating thought-forms without words; the piano became the background music of that time.
Also my other older brother Hurley appeared out of the blue, about as opposite Audley as possible, for he was in violent reaction to orthodoxy in all its forms. (He’d been the most practical and “square” member of the family, a pillar of strength midst the ruins of my parent’s divorce, but all that ended in a flash when my mother remarried.) He had a black girlfriend Iris, (which shocked many, both black and white, back in those days), and Iris was warmhearted and had a loving laugh and was kind to me. The keystone of Understanding brought Hurley and Iris together despite a vast gulf, and furthermore the two of them got on well with Audley, which made no sense to me, for the yoga Audley followed was orthodox. Hurley was more in the mood to throw all rules and regulations out the window. However the keystone of Understanding brought the two men together, (perhaps because Hurley didn’t entirely reject discipline; he was disciplined about disliking disciplines). I liked to sit back and watch them debate whether rules were wise, or whether rules were merely an invention the wealthy used to control the poor with.
The only person-over-thirty in the household was Margie, a fifty-year-old live-in cleaning lady and cook from Canada my mother had employed for seven years. She had a ne’er-do-well husband with a “bad back” and six grown children, whom she visited in a poorer part of Boston every weekend, but during the week Margie had become part of my family. With my parents gone she felt an unstated responsibility to keep some semblance of control over the household, and if I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend watching TV I could expect her to be a nuisance, coming through the room with armloads of laundry though it was after dark. She felt it was urgent that she chaperone because she had seen some of her sons forced to marry girls they had gotten pregnant, and she wished to save me from a similar fate. She also wanted to save Hurley and Iris from such a fate, and, when they went arm-in-arm into the woods behind the house with a blanket, Margie promptly trotted to the edge of the woods and began calling Hurley’s name. Hurley tried to ignore her, but when she persisted, calling and calling, on and on and on, he became annoyed and walked out of the woods stark naked and demanded, “What the heck do you want!” Margie ran back into the house as fast as she could.
I felt sorry for Margie and went into the kitchen as she had a cup of tea and four cigarettes. (She actually did this every day at “tea time”.) As we talked the spirit of Understanding walked into the room, and even though she was a person-over-thirty we had an amazing conversation.
Margie was a Catholic, and had a peculiar relationship with my mother, for she had remained faithful to her husband where my mother chose divorce, and she disapproved of birth control and abortion while my mother approved. Before my mother remarried they had been two women attempting to raise their separate families of six children with unhelpful husbands, one in a slum and one in a posh suburb. Neither could have made it without the other. My mother liked to see herself as the charitable one, helping Margie with immigration paperwork, and helping her get false teeth when her entire face swelled up, but there was no way my mother could have worked graveyard shifts as a nurse without Margie watching her children at home.
After four years my mother’s remarriage changed things. My mother had come to dislike Margie, as she became aware Margie didn’t approve of remarrying, and this dislike hardened when she became aware Margie told my Dad what his children were up to, which seemed like “spying” to my mother. As a consequence, at the end of the summer, Margie was going to be out of a job. This gave our chats a certain poignancy. This woman, who had been part of my life since I was ten, was going to vanish.
On this occasion Margie put down her teacup and casually wondered what drug Hurley and Iris were on, and, without anger, began to ask me what being “high” was like. She seemed particularly interested in hallucinations, and I did my best to describe them, whereupon she surprised me by describing similar hallucinations she had experienced without the help of drugs. She took me back to her youth.
She had been living in a London slum in the 1950’s, on a street which still had not been entirely rebuilt after the Blitz, in a house they had to evacuate from time to time as a UEB unit came by looking for an unrecovered and unexploded German bomb under the street. This danger was especially stressful as she had many small children and was pregnant yet again. She was clinging to her faith in her husband’s ability to provide, but he was breaking that faith on a regular basis. Because his back was bad she had signed him up for correspondence courses, but when the lessons came in the mail he scorned them. Finally it hit home to her that her man was not going to step up and be the hero she saw, buried deep inside his bloating beer belly, and that was when the wave of emotions and hallucinations overcame her.
The thing that was surprising to me was that she didn’t find the white walls turning colors and moving particularly unpleasant, nor did she stop caring for her children. Somehow she got the family back home to Canada, where they could at least grow better food than post-war London offered, and then she left her children with relatives and immigrated down to Boston, initially as a green-card worker just for a summer, and then moving her husband and children down when Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” promised better welfare than Canada had. One way or another she “got by”, and now, at long last, even her youngest was grown.
She was going to miss my family, which in a sense was her second set of six kids, but in another way leaving was going to be a relief. She lit another cigarette, and mused that for the first time in many years she’d have some time for herself, cocking her head to listen as Halsey began playing on the piano in the background.
I lit a cigarette of my own, appreciating yet another thought-form drifting through the household, and wondering if there might be a poem in it.
My own gang of teenyboppers like to come by and hang out, slightly in awe of the “old people” (who, besides Margie, were all under twenty-seven), and I never knew what sort of conversational chemistry might occur. I didn’t even know who might be home when I got home. I only knew that something marvelous was occurring. Our household became like no other home I visited. No one got too stoned or too drunk, nothing was ever stolen or broken, dishes were washed and the lawn even got mowed, and the entire time wonderful conversations were occurring. The Understanding I so deeply craved seemed to have moved in, and I yearned that It would feel welcomed and stay.
Even my girlfriend became involved, which seemed impossible because she was so very “straight”. She came from a solid family where her parents were able to argue without divorce being an option, and in some ways I liked keeping her separate from my hippy friends, as a secret serenity I could go to, to escape the turmoil and wildness of non-stop partying. I could depend on her parents to be strict and keep me from getting her in trouble, but suddenly they slackened the reins, and she shocked me by being less “straight” than I ever expected. For example, though she wouldn’t take drugs, one August afternoon we went swimming at a lake, and to my astonishment (and joy) she swam topless. However what shocked me most was an understanding I witnessed occur, which I had deemed utterly impossible.
My best friend, (one of the Three Musketeers I was part of), did not at all like my girlfriend, and she did not at all like him. They were irreconcilably different, part of a “triangle”. He was a “bad influence” and wanted to be free to take any drug and pursue any lust, and wanted me equally free, but she felt such “freedom” was addiction and slavery and would make me sick. The moment they set eyes on each other their eyes narrowed, and I felt sad and helpless because I liked both of them. When they arrived at the house at the same time in separate cars, I’d squirm. Yet so great was the Understanding flooding through the household that August that they decided that they could both like me without glaring so much. They could agree about something after all. Perhaps it was due to the fact I’d very soon be gone, in exile in Scotland. The sight of me packing perhaps prompted them to drop their differences, but to me it was nothing so simple. There was magic in the air.
Not that there were not differences, even with a persistently agreeable person like Audley. He did things I objected to. One was that I felt he tended to over-improve; Audley didn’t know when something was done.
For example, one time he sat down at the sheet of paper I laid out on the living-room table during parties, picked up some pastels, and with about twenty strokes of the chalks produced a beautiful landscape, in only thirty seconds. It was a rainbow over green hills, but what was most marvelous was how he captured the phenomenon of falling rain made silver by sunlight; it was mostly done by leaving the white paper white. I told him, “Stop right there,” but he insisted upon going on. I told him to stop a few more times, and then gave up in despair as he destroyed the picture with additions. He made funny “ick” and “eww” noises as the drawing grew worse and worse, and finally, when the rainbow was brown, he looked up at me sheepishly and admitted, “I should have stopped.” However he then bellowed laughter. (There was something about the atmosphere of the house that escaped recriminations).
Somehow it felt safe-to-be-open in that house, and one way Audley contributed to that that sense was to counter my self-disparaging remarks with affirmative encouragement. I didn’t always like this, for sometimes the origin of the disparagement was a person I respected. Yet, without the critic present, Audley would leap to my defense, indignant any should be so crushing towards a sensitive poet like myself, and he would verbally demolish the other person’s disparagement.
To be honest, I didn’t entirely mind hearing how those who criticized me were insensitive barbarians, especially when the absent people being rebuked were my sometimes-scornful older brothers, but on the other hand I loved my brothers, and felt put in a “triangle” that lacked understanding. However, for the time being, the understanding I was gaining far outweighed the lack-of-understanding I sensed was also present.
Perhaps the most destructive thing Audley did was to tempt me with drugs when I was trying to quit. Not that it took much persuasion; my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I recall at that time I developed a hacking cough, and one day, in disgust, I dramatically shredded a pack of cigarettes in my girlfriend’s back yard, but then, within fifteen minutes, found myself hurrying down the street to buy a fresh pack.
It was easy for Audley to lead me astray; all he needed to do was crook a finger from the doorway of my older sister’s old bedroom, and I’d postpone mowing the lawn. He liked to sit cross-legged on his bed and hold court, as I slouched comfortably in an armchair, looking out through a big picture window at sky and tall white pines reflected in a dark forest frog-pond, only forty yards away.
I recall Audley smoked a water pipe from Nepal that looked like it cost four times as much as his Volkswagen bus. It was made of sterling silver with an ornate, etched design, with inlaid turquoise and red coral. Our conversations went places I greatly enjoyed, no matter what we discussed, and often he would want to see what I’d written that day.
Audley was appreciative of art even when he was straight; when he was stoned he could be downright absurd. For example one time he asked me to read a poem I had decided was far too belaboringly mushy, and was disgusted with. It went like this:
Ah, cry wind. Sigh wind, And people say you blow. And learn, summer sun, To burn someone Before its time to go.
Anger grows, Throws Caution to the wind.
Frustration burns Turns Everything dry.
and we haven’t sinned…..
…Wind sighs Sun fries People catching Butterflies And pinning them down Unsatisfied To have them around. Wanting Control.
The wind cools the sun While the sun Warms The wind.
We haven’t sinned.
Butterflies Beautify Sparkle the land Touch the sky.
Couples lie Blue sky Butterflies Wind sighs Dew cries It’s time for sun to go.
Why is it we want more? When at sea you seek the shore But when on land we yearn for waves again… …Daddy shaves again Removing his animal hair Thinking if it isn’t there No one would dare Ask him to share His world With the wind And sun And he won’t have to run From the natural Animal.
We’d smoked a hefty amount of Mooner before I read the above poem to Audley, and Mooner was strong marijuana (for those days) and Audley was very stoned. He made such a racket as I read the above poem it became ridiculous. I read it slowly, with pauses, and he filled the pauses with yells and whoops, but what seemed like going-too-far to me was that each time I read the word “butterflies” he’d make a cooing noise, all but clasping his hands and prancing about on twinkle toes. I was getting used to his demonstrative behavior, but if I’d had friends around I definitely would have been embarrassed. I blamed the Mooner. (To be honest, Audley wasn’t the only one acting oddly; I was reading with the panache of a rock star on a stage.)
Besides performing poems I also liked to just talk about things, for Audley was a walking encyclopedia of historical trivia, especially when it came to incidents in the lives of famous people. It seemed he hadn’t just read one biography about a man such as Beethoven or Napoleon, but ten about the same man, and therefore he knew scores of factoids about their darkest moments, which made what they overcame all the more thrilling.
I had far less to offer in return, but he seemed fascinated by how my mind worked, how I arrived at conclusions without needing to undergo the bother of researching in any ordinary manner. Audley would ask me questions and get me wondering about things I ordinarily never thought about.
For example, what some called my “creativity” actually seemed a sort of “following”. My mind worked with connections that stated, “If A, and if B, then it ‘follows’ that C will result”. In other words, I was not the creator, I was the follower. This seemed weird, when I thought about it, for what was I following? Something good, or something bad? I had no idea, and if pressed I likely would have been wishy-washy and answered “both”. Sometimes my mind wandered towards hell and I felt queasy in my gut and “heavy”, and then would veer towards heaven and feel uplifted and “high”. But I didn’t feel all that creative, and rather that I was “following” a stream of logic, almost as if I was taking dictation as muses spoke.
Audley would make a great fuss and say what I was doing was impossible, when it seemed like no big deal to me.
For example, Audley would poke fun in a friendly way over how I refused to spell words correctly, even when he told me the correct spelling multiple times. I insisted on spelling “disgust” as “discust”. He got all psychological about it, and stated some bad teacher had stunted my memory-skills, for I was downright mulish when it came to refusing to memorize. I had to agree. I had flunked learning new vocabulary words in French 1 classes for four straight years. Something about learning by rote made my skin crawl. Audley stated I displayed “avoidance” and “resistance” and various other psychological things, due to “trauma”. But a few minutes later I would blow him away with my ability to remember, when I wanted to.
For example, one time we were sitting about on the back patio with my friends, having the sort of wandering, free-association conversation which smoking Mooner generated, and the talk moved from topic to topic until someone burst out laughing, and they wondered how on earth we had begun talking about the cooling power of hats in hot sunshine, and wound up talking about the ability of a Voltswagen bus to climb hills carrying a heavy weight. Everyone was very stoned and suffering amnesia and had no idea, so I explained our progression:
Hats and hot sun had led to the topic of the tops of ears being sunburned, which led to other ear-injuries, which led to deafness, which led to Beethoven, which led to Beethoven playing a piano with all the strings broken, which led to how hard it is to move a piano to a repair shop, which led to describing loading a piano into a Voltswagon bus, which led to describing how an overloaded bus had to downshift to first gear to get over a hill.
After I was done describing our progression I noticed Audley looking at me with his jaw dropped. “How the fuck did you remember all that?” he exclaimed, “You can’t even remember how to spell ‘disgust'”!
I suppose the simple answer is that how to spell ‘disgust’ didn’t interest me, but what-followed-what did. It doesn’t matter if you use the word “follows” or “consequences” or “progressions” or “reaping-what-you-sow” or “Karma”, we are all like meteorologists and want to know what the weather will be tomorrow, and, if possible, we want to control that future. We may not control the weather, but we want to avoid starvation by avoiding planting thistles, if we want to harvest wheat.
Of course it is easy for me to say that now, fifty years after the fact. At the time I was just facing the end of a wonderful summer, and didn’t want it to end. My mind was casting about desperately for ways to keep the teenybopper community and wonderful household I was part of alive.
If you are to have any hope of altering the future, you need to look at “what follows what”. Scientists call this “cause and effect”, and religious people call it “reaping what you sow” or “Karma”, but I just called it “what follows what”. I simply was exploring, seeing where things took me, following some boss called “creativity”. I myself had no idea what might next be produced by my pen, and Audley found my production fascinating, for apparently I was freely accessing subconscious images it was, according to his books, very hard to access. At times the images in my doodles were more interesting than the words, and one time Audley insisted on getting a xerox copy of a illustrated poem containing a surrealistic, quasi-Salvatore-Dali example of “what follows what.”
It made me uncomfortable when Audley desired xerox copies of doodles and became very intense, in his desire to figure me out. He’d want to know why, in my doodles, I had certain things turn into other things, and what my symbolism symbolized, when I had no idea and no answer beyond, “It followed.” However he’d keep questioning, poking and probing with cross-examinations until at times I felt like some sort of laboratory rat. I just wanted to do what I did without thinking about it.
One time an issue involving staying-home-versus-leaving-home was preying on my mind, and I produced a troubled poem which ricocheted around four topics: Staying home; Staying home but preparing to leave; Leaving home intending to bring back a trophy; and Leaving home for keeps to make a new home somewhere else. To me it seemed that no matter what choice you made you would wind up someplace where you had to make the four choices all over again; no home was permanent; no jail could keep you from eventually escaping through the bars by dying, and after death I could see no reason one didn’t face the same four choices all over again in a different sphere, and my poem concluded:
You can never be completely together until you die Because you can’t give up Until you’re completely together.
Audley looked at me with a disbelieving half-smile, and inquired, “Do you really believe that?”
“Um…well…it just seemed to follow…”
“Have you studied any Buddhism?”
“Studied any philosophies involving reincarnation?”
“Um…well…there is that Crosby, Stills and Nash song that goes, ‘We have all been here before.’ What’s it called? Deja Vu?”
Audley laughed. “And that is the extent of your research. And yet here you scribble a poem that traces the concept of Nirvana not being achievable until one gives up on the rounds of dying and dying and dying over and over and over again.”
Sometimes I worried about Audley, and even felt a little guilty about the possibility that my poetry was driving him mad.
However, even when research is aimed at high things, (and Understanding is a high thing), such research can be quelled by a limitation called “time”. And we were running out of time.
Things started to come to a head as the end of August approached and Audley began packing, to head off and teach at the boarding school in New Hampshire. He stopped smoking pot and grew more serious, and even a little sad.
I fought off my own melancholy by planning a final party in the woods, but my gang of teenyboppers all seemed busy shopping for school clothing the day I went out to gather dead branches for the fire, so I spent an August morning in the woods all alone.
It was hot even in the shade, and the paths were dusty and parded by dabs of sunshine. I noticed the dabs moved, though the air was still where I worked, and when I paused and looked up I could hear a slight breeze stirring the treetops. Into my head came the beginning, “Walking through a forest where the wind won’t go…”
It was a beautiful patch of forest, on the divide between the Concord and Charles rivers, and had seen many come and go over the centuries. An old Indian trail crossed the land; Henry Thoreau had hiked the landscape; farmers had made a living there and later failed, and left prehistoric, red-rust-iron tractors with trees as thick as my thigh growing up through their archaic engine blocks, and also left cellar holes and an overgrown corduroy road through a boggy place. All these things seemed part of “my” woods, but when I looked over at our fire-pit I saw dead leaves blown into it, and even a few fresh forest weeds overhanging its edges, and had the sense I too was a fleeting phenomenon, an object to someday be regarded with nostalgia. A louder breeze stirred the treetops, and stirred my creativity, and when I got home I sat on the patio and wrote down what I’d been humming to myself.
When I was done Audley said, “Amazing.” His mouth was around two inches from my right ear, so I jumped a foot. I wasn’t sure how long he’d been watching over my shoulder as I wrote. He continued, “I don’t see how you can do that: Five stanzas with only one correction.”
“Oh, it was pretty much done when I sat down. I wrote it while I was walking.”
“And you remembered it all?”
“But you can’t remember how to spell ‘disgust’.” Audley shook his head, and didn’t give me time to defend myself. “And, by the way, that’s not how you spell ‘corduroy’.”
I responded, “And, by the way, you sound like a teacher at a boarding school.”
He winced, and then replied, “Well, I suppose that is what I now am, or am about to become. And you are about to become a student at a boarding school in Scotland. Are you ready for that?”
“No fucking way. I feel like a coward. I’m only going there because I don’t want to earn a living. What I really need to do is write a hit song. That would earn a living real fast!”
Audley didn’t get much peace and quiet to do his yoga in, the next morning, because I was using up all the hot water writing a hit song in the shower.
If Audley had really wanted to become fabulously wealthy he would have quit his job at the boarding school and dedicated his time to making me fabulously wealthy, as my agent, but instead he lugged his suitcase out to his Volkswagen bus and went puttering off to New Hampshire. Little did I know, but with him went a level of appreciation I have never since received, for my doodles, in fifty years.
Shortly after Audley left Halsey also left, in my stepfather’s car to pick up my parents at Logan Airport. I can’t say I was in a welcoming mood to see them again, though I did my best. After all, it was their house.
I could tell my mother was actually quite pleased to find the house was not only still standing, but quite clean. (We’d used copious amounts of air freshener, and had the windows open all summer, to hide the smell of smoke.) Not only was the lawn mowed, but the first fallen apples of fall were removed before they rotted. However she did not praise, and instead simply had to comment how our weather was inferior to the weather in England, which was weather which was never, ever too hot or too cold.
I found myself quietly grinding my teeth. My mother had a way of saying things in a practiced manner, and I knew she had her comment about the local weather worked out before the jet actually landed and she actually knew what the local weather actually was.
My younger brother and sister arrived home only hours later, after spending a summer at my father’s farm in New Hampshire. My little sister had an uncanny ability to merge into whatever culture she was with, and her accent caused my mother to exclaim, “Whatever has caused you to start speaking in such a ghastly manner?” I writhed, because my sister’s faux-New Hampshire accent was nothing compared to my mother’s faux-English accent.
My mother’s dislike of all things American seemed so extreme that I thought she was something of a traitor. I saw loyalty and patriotism as good things, because Understanding grows through time. The better you know people the more you understand them, but in my mother’s case familiarity seemed to breed contempt. Where I was grieving over the thought of leaving the teenybopper community I’d grown up midst, she was rejoicing over leaving the awful town behind.
Not that I couldn’t understand her wanderlust. I myself had a hunger to hitchhike away from the more sterile aspects of suburbia, but I had also glimpsed a way to end the sterility, with Truth, Love and Understanding. I wanted to stay and work on what I had, but my mother seemed seduced away by people she didn’t even know, but was infatuated into believing were better. Everything English was better, to hear her talk. She was so besotted it seemed useless to even reason with her, and there seemed no way she could understand how I felt about leaving the town I called home.
Therefore I cursed silently when I saw her pausing over my notebook, which I’d foolishly left open on the dining-room table. I had started a new page, and there was nothing but a short poem and some doodles in the upper left-hand corner, but I expected nothing appreciative from her; nothing like Audley’s reactions. When she read my poems there was never any humor over my spelling “disgust” as “discust”, but rather a wincing horror beyond disgust, and she was so troubled by such spelling she never commented on a poem’s passions, even to call them “ghastly”. I was pouting at her as she read, grouchily thinking to myself that no true American ever uses the word “ghastly”, when she utterly astonished me by looking up and stating, “You know, though you spelled ‘evening’ and ‘paradise’ wrong, I rather like the sentiment in this one. This phrase, ‘To be fair to the other side’, is especially good.” As she walked away my jaw hit the floor, and I walked over to the page to remember what the heck I had written.
I scratched my head. It seemed the Understanding still lingered in the house, and perhaps my mother had caught just a whiff of it. But then I heard my younger siblings exclaiming in delight. Rather than taking a jet to England they were learning we were going the old fashioned way, by ship, aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2. This made me feel grouchy, as if we were in some way being seduced, and were selling out. I even felt a little ashamed. It was not that Understanding was deserting us; we were deserting Understanding. We were turning our backs on the most beautiful thing, for gaudy glitter and glamor.
Disgruntled, I slouched off to borrow my stepfather’s car to drive to town for some hotdogs, and then headed out to friends and a campfire in the woods.
Only nine came to our final party in the woods, and only four stayed until dawn. It was a somber affair and a chilly night. I had the strange sense the “underground” had seen it’s summer in the sun, but now had to go underground again. I fear I was not much fun to be with, and bewailed the way people had turned their backs on the most beautiful things.
Most of the young woman in my gang had been strictly forbidden from attending such parties, as parties earlier in the summer had become legendary, but there was was one young woman there who may have been as young as fourteen, yet decided I could use a gentle scolding. She suggested I should count my blessings. After all, a trip aboard a luxury liner wasn’t exactly the end of the world. I sighed and thanked her, but it was the end of my world.
The next few days were a blear of packing. Even my notebook of poems-on-graph-paper got packed away and locked in a storeroom. Even when I thought I was done I was asked to help others. I caught a cold and smoked too much tobacco and was miserable, until, on the afternoon before the dawn I was to depart, two cars arrived, one dropping off my girlfriend, and the other driven by my best friend. They’d both come by for a final farewell, which would have been awkward enough with each all alone, but seemed especially awkward with the three of us together. What can you say? All words seemed stilted.
Just then it occurred to me I had something that would spoil if packed away for a year, and asked them if they would help me use it up. It was a birthday present some ill-advised person gave me when I turned seventeen. Wine improves with age, but champagne does not.
They agreed to help me use it up before it went bad, and I snuck the bottle from the house. (Though the drinking-age had been lowered to eighteen because of Vietnam, I was still too young to legally drink.) We casually and innocently walked around behind the house to a steep slope overlooking the frog-pond, and I shot the cork at the frogs.
I actually didn’t approve of alcohol, seeing it as an obsolete drug used by people-over-thirty, which likely explains why the bottle was passed around as if by soldiers, and became empty so inappropriately swiftly. And then it was like the spirit of Understanding came out of the house and down the hillside to us. The triangle gained three keystones. My girlfriend and best friend, who long had been worst enemies, became utterly charmed by the brilliance of each other, and together we three laughed. Lord, did we laugh.
Somewhere up among the bureaucrats of heaven, the angels in charge of keeping records sat up straight. Something unusual was happening on earth. Three teenagers, who had absolutely no reason to laugh, were rejoicing. Why? Because being what they were in that moment in time, brief though it was, was enough.
And then, it was over. My best friend drove off, and I borrowed my stepfather’s car to drive my girl friend home, and we sat in the car in the night outside her house to say good-bye for ten months, at least.
For teenagers, we’d been very pragmatic about the chances of our relationship surviving being an ocean apart. We’d given each other permission to date others, if interesting prospects appeared, but promised to remain “friends”. All that remained for me to do was to say some baritone adios, hopefully more profound than, “Don’t take any wooden nickles”.
I completely blew it, because all that came out of my mouth was unexpected sobbing. Once I started I couldn’t stop, as my girlfriend regarded me in frozen alarm.
Why did I cry? I think it was because deep down I knew that once you turn your back on beauty, it can be a long haul before you see it again. Turn your back on Understanding, and do not expect reason, or for life to make sense. If I’d had more guts at age seventeen I’d have stayed, but I lacked such guts, and I left.
For years I’ve insisted that to write is Working. My wife has insisted it’s my Form of shirking. I say my insight is Like fine coffee perking. She frees a sigh, As do I. I can’t rhyme when she’s lurking. For years the one thing she’s wished to inspire Is me out the door. Now that way is quirking. Now all of a sudden a new desire Confuses my muses by saying, “Stay!” She now refuses to let me head out Because some dumb virus sees me as prey. My muses are dancing; I hear them shout, “We never thought we’d see this in your life! (Are you quite certain that woman’s your wife?)”
I have noticed a fair amount of people, both on the left and on the right, are losing their minds in the comment-sections of various posts at various sites. I’ll skip repeating their views, except to say they tend to be one-sided. I’d like to counter this tendency by, in my simple way, reminding people that unity is not one-sided. The strength of being united, whether it be in a marriage, or in a two-party-system, comes from Understanding (with a capital “U”) which neither side can have alone. A cyclops has no depth perception. However two eyes, with differing views, gain a third thing neither eye has alone, when they harmonize. This Depth Perception (with a capital “D” and “P”) is lost if and when we panic and retreat into selfishness, which is seen when people hoard, price-gouge, shun, hate, etc., etc., etc.
Not that we shouldn’t have the common sense to make sure we stock up on certain items, but there is a difference between “stocking up” and “hoarding”.
I heard of one person who bought two huge 60-roll packages of toilet paper, when they used about one roll a week. However their greed attracted greed, and someone shattered the back window of their SUV and stole their two-year’s-worth of tissue. To me this is a perfect example of how greed wastes our time and energy and rear windows, whereas generosity takes one down a totally different path.
We are seeing some hoarding here in New Hampshire. Toilet paper can’t be found. But I’m not worried. Brillo pads work.
All our local schools are closed down for at least three weeks. Why couldn’t this have happened back when I was in grade school? I would have been on cloud nine! But now I’m a bitterly disappointed old man, because my grandson’s basketball team had fought its way to the finals for the State Championship, and then the big game was canceled.
The sad shape of my ex-smoker lungs makes me a prime candidate for extinction, but I refuse to be cowed. Any ‘flu could kill me, and while I take more care to dress warmly than I once did, and eat more wisely and drink less, I think one of the worst things for a man’s immune system is to live in dread, while one of the most stimulative things is hope, faith, and bounding about being positive, (or at least huffing and puffing about being positive.)
We couldn’t really close down our Childcare, as the doctors and nurses are going to need someone to watch their kids. If they are going to accept risk for the rest of us, someone should accept risk for them. I don’t want to run away from germy children the way people ran away from my family, when we all had polio during the final outbreak before the vaccine in 1954, so I am pretending to be a Christian Scientist like an old, French nanny who came striding into my overwhelmed Grandmother’s kitchen and saved the day when I was two. I can barely remember her, other than that she looked like the guy on Quaker Oats packages, but apparently she remained nearly a year, and I spoke French before I spoke English. My father was a surgeon and my mother was a nurse, and as a medical family we tended to look down our noses at Christian Scientists, but we made an exception in her case. What a difference she made!
Kindness has consequences we may not live to see. For example my father might not have even been conceived, were it not for a kindness. Two years before my Dad was born my Grandfather was apparently very ill with the Spanish Flu’ in occupied Germany in 1918, but his commanding officer refused to send him to the crowded hospital (where soldiers died in droves) and instead stuck him upstairs in the building they had seized as a headquarters, so his bed looked out the broken window of an airy room in a castle, and in the fresh air he survived. One thing they learned in 1918 was the people forced to sleep out in the elements in tents, rather than in the wards, had a far higher survival rate.
In any case my wife and I have made our Childcare into an all-outside-all-the-time operation, with no indoor activities. I get a big fires going in the pasture, and erected a tent for napping outside, which heavy, wet snow promptly collapsed. Judging from frantic parents we were expecting 25 kids our first day, (and had to get a waiver from the state, allowing us to go over our limit of 17,) but then only 5 kids actually showed up that day. I expect we’ll just have to fly by the seat of our pants until things settle down.
I read an interesting things about how viruses mutate. They tend to become kinder and gentler, because the most vicious mutations kill their hosts too fast to spread much. The “Spanish ‘Flu” apparently passed through the USA, without much ado, but once aboard crowded troop-ships and in crowded camps and trenches the more vicious mutations got going. The new strains were nasty in Europe, but not so bad as they passed back through the USA, as many had already experienced a weaker version of the same virus, which acted like a sort of vaccine. But when the same virus reached Polynesia more than half the population succumbed, on some islands. In any case, I’m hoping the virus mutates in a kinder and gentler way before I get it.
Also I hope they may have chanced on a sort of cure. In Asia they’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this ‘flu, (as well as prior ‘flues), in essence trying out a thousand drugs, and seeing 999 didn’t help much, but have bungled upon a malaria drug, a sort of quinine, that holds great promise.
So we shall see what we shall see. If my time is up, well, so be it. I just hope I show the class I saw my Mother and Father display when considering atomic war, back when I was around three. (People forget there were not all that many A-bombs back then, and some thought destruction might not be “mutual”, and we several times teetered on the brink of a war which would have been horrific.) (Because this memory dates from the Suez Crisis of 1956 when I was only three I was dubious to its authenticity, so I checked with my mother about what I recalled, back around 1980, and she stated my memory was surprisingly accurate,)
They went down in vast cellar of our three story suburban, Victorian house with an MIT student who was living with us and helping with chores my Dad couldn’t do, (because he’d had polio). Each was sipping an Old Fashioned, and Dad and the student were discussing engineering a fallout shelter, talking about how bricks stop radiation, as my mother calculated the spacing for beds and the oxygen needed for a kitchen. My Dad abruptly became impatient, deciding the shelter was a dumb idea, scowling in irritation at the ceiling and envisioning three stories of burning wood collapsing downwards. (I thought a bomb shelter was a great idea for a fort, and likely got a scowl for chirping my opinion.) But what I recall most was that it was decided the engineering student would head for Canada with us four kids (which sounded like great fun) as Mom and Dad stayed in Boston to “treat the burned.” I’ve always thought that was a classy choice, arrived at during those trying times.
Trying times have returned. Currently the doctors and nurses of the world are all being tested, and most are being classy. I pray they get the appreciation and help they deserve.
If you are in the mood to read the poetry of an unknown ancient poet, involving facing “pestilence”, among other things, read Psalm 91. (It’s where the “In God We Trust” on the money of the United States came from.)
All gatherings are cancelled here, including church. But the preacher I currently enjoy, (a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, now working in my mother’s childhood neighborhood,) preaches online, and his very vocal congregation types in their “Amen’s” (and other comments) from keyboards rather than pews. His first out-of-auditorium sermon was a decent look at Psalm 91, and on having hope in an epidemic. (Skip first 6 minutes to skip music, and skip first 29.30 to get to Psalm 91).