Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lost Cause

Yesterday, I bought a computer game about the battle of Gettysburg. Probably a mistake. I have, to begin with, a curious fascination with the battle, which borders on a fixation really. I can't say why. It's just there. Often enough, I will lay awake at night going over the historical details of the battle in my head, with generally a focus on what Lee could have done differently to win the battle. Why do I try to find ways for Lee to win this battle? That I do not know either. 

Someone once theorized that I must have been a participant in the battle in a past life, likely as a Confederate soldier, I suppose. And indeed, I still remember a dream from many years ago wherein I, seemingly a junior officer, was killed whilst leading a charge against a Yankee position. It is the only dream, to my recollection, in which I have died. It was a very vivid dream, and, as I say, it has remained with me all these years. 

Nonetheless, I do not believe in reincarnation, and so I surely could not have died in the battle of Gettysburg (unless, of course, I am wrong about my insistence that there is no such thing as reincarnation). 

More likely, though, this is of a psychological nature, something to do with patterns and struggles deep in the murky soup of my own psyche. Is there within me a deep-seated attachment, a strange bonding to lost causes?  Do I charge over and over against the impregnable hill (as William Faulkner once theorized regarding the character of southern manhood) in hopes that there will be that one time, finally and forevermore, wherein the position is carried and the day is won? 

What is it about lost causes that seems to so capture, urge, torment my soul? I certainly have no affection for the Southern cause, ideologically or historically. In fact, of all the causes in the world, few would seem to have been less worthy, or indeed less reasonable. And so what is affective in the 'complex' would seem not to be its specific application  to history or ideology, but the very essence of its lost-ness, without reference to anything other than lost-ness. 

see how I get when it comes to Gettysburg? Lol. 

Having played the game before going to bed, I proceeded, of course, to dream of the thing all night long, such that I woke this morning in an exhausted state of mind, aware that I had not so much been restfully sleeping as charging up and down dream ridges against the teeth of musket and cannon. 

Too bad, as Lee himself said at the conclusion of the affair. Oh too bad.

Monday, August 13, 2018


Shopping for clothing at the Matahari department store in Denpasar is quite simply and easily accomplished--right up the moment (or rather the hour) when you actually make the payment, at which point you find yourself wishing you had never started. 

Matahari employs a virtual army of young men and women to stand at a distance of perhaps five feet from one another, like a military picket line before the tables and racks of clothing, each one ready to rush forth and assist the shopper. As it happened, I was wanting a pair of jeans, and this, in appropriate size and preferred price range, was found with the utmost speed and alacrity--and off I was sent to the dressing room. 

You do not take this to the cashier for payment, however. You take it to the girl or the boy who found it for you, surrender the item to him or her, and are given a note. This you take to the cashier. 

Notice here the use of the singular: cashier. For whereas you face an army at the beginning of your campaign, you now face a single employee behind a single cash register. Or rather, you don't face her, because you are able to see her only dimly in the distance at the head of an unmoving line of customers, each of whom holds his note in hand--or uses the note to fan himself. 

The cashier, you discover, is apparently using some ancient form of calculation for each purchase--an abacus, perhaps--a time consuming art of calculation that is now lost in the West. There is much manipulation of keys and tagging and untagging and stapling and reams of paper involved in this process. It's quite quaint. 

Upon reaching the front of the line, along about late afternoon or so, I found that no part of the army, formerly so quick and eager, had yet delivered my jeans to the counter. A complicated series of communications proceeded, wherein the cashier summoned a manager via intercom, who then sent another employee to find the employee with the jeans, whom herself could be seen from where we stood at the counter. But everything must be done just so, and I felt it improper, therefore, to muddy up the process by simply waving at the girl. 

My jeans arrived in due time, and after a painfully slow flurry of calculating and cataloging and shuffling and stapling, a receipt about the length of the Constitution and its amendments raveled out of the register and my purchase, praise God, was made! 

I'm hoping that these jeans will last for years. 

A Coincidental Cure

I seem accidentally to have discovered the cure for restless leg syndrome. Perhaps I will soon be recognized by the American Medical Association. Or, then again, perhaps my cure is a matter of coincidence and will be short-lived. All I know at present is that for the last three nights, the RLS has been absent. 

Here's what happened: 

The weather, providing its own sort of coincidence, had been quite chilly for some days--something which had not happened before in my seven years here--such that it actually occurred to me to sleep under a blanket rather than just a sheet. The only blanket in the house happened to be of a quite heavy sort (and why it had even come here with us to Indonesia, I cannot now imagine). 

In any case, being under this heavy blanket, and rather toasty, seems to have ended the nightly dance of RLS throughout my body. What a pleasure it has been to lie down and sleep through the night without suffering the wakeful conniptions of RLS! 

The trouble with this "cure" is that the Bali temperatures will surely return to stifling soon, in which case a heavy blanket will surely be quite as uncomfortable as the RLS itself. 

Moreover, as I have said, the cure may be an illusion to begin with--a product of happy though unsustainable coincidence.

But ah well--even night-long cures are better than no cures at all.  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Our Story

I was thinking last night (although only because I couldn't sleep) about something William Faulkner once said about fitting everything into one sentence, or one paragraph (and most of his sentences are of paragraph length anyway), such that nothing will have been left out, not the slightest shade or nuance of meaning lacking, no question unanswered, no information wanting--nothing partial or incomplete or obscure. Of course it can't be done, and of course Faulkner knew this--although he did try mightily. 

It is like that with the things that we write. They are always partial, only pieces of something much larger, only one angle, one reflection, one shade. We know this perfectly well. We know we have failed to express what we intended to express. Yet he who reads what has been written may well give us more credit than we deserve, or even desire. 

It is like this with living, too. We meant to be complete, comprehensive, accomplished, clear and well composed, yet we have ended up in a chaotic, incomplete, often clumsy, sometimes lamentable narrative that must surely be misinterpreted by those who read us. And we say inwardly No, no--this is not what I meant at all! 

On the other hand, the reader--he who sees and appraises--actually prefers what is partial and incomplete, because the narrative is simpler that way. What appears, divested of the peripheral complications of what was wanted or intended, is good enough. We reduce, simplify, pigeonhole in order that we may have a useful narrative, a general sort of judgment. We end of with reductive caricatures, and we like it that way--though of course would feel the same method applied in summation of ourselves outrageous. 

Well … these are the things I think about at night, rather than sleeping. 

Saturday, August 11, 2018


I realized late yesterday that it was the 2 year anniversary of my neck, shoulder and back pain--not exactly a call for celebration and song, but just something that popped into my mind. 

In fact, however, there is good news (guardedly), in that the pain has of late dramatically decreased generally from what it had been, and certainly very profoundly from what it was two years ago. I look back now and remember just lying on the living room floor in a fetal position, groaning and on the verge of tears, feeling as if there were a Bowie knife stuck in my back just under my right shoulder blade. 

For two years I explored medication options and experimented with stretching exercises. No medicine that I found had an effect on the pain, per se, but merely helped by putting me to sleep (Baclofen and Xanax). My feeling always was that tendons needed to be stretched and muscles re-trained, and so I relied upon intuitive measures to accomplish these goals. 

Ernest Hemingway once said something like this--that when something good or fortuitous comes along, acknowledge it quietly, but don't put your mouth on it. It's a bit of a superstitious thing, I suppose, but I have always kind of identified with the thought. If you leap up and shout that you are healed, fate itself may be offended and decide to give you a poke in order to show you who is (still) boss. 

And, in fact, a new thorn in the side has been provided in order that the retreat of pain should not leave too comfortable a space to rest in. This is in the form of restless leg syndrome--not a new thorn, actually, but a recurring one, showing up and leaving by a whim its own. So while I am now able to lie on my back or on either side without searing pain, and thus to rest much more easily than I've been able to do in a long time, RLS has stepped in to make certain that I do not rest well. 

I must say, too, that the term RLS does not do justice to this nightly electrification of the body. Restless Body Syndrome would be much more accurate. I mean, I'm appropriately tired when I go to bed, but within ten minutes of lying down, my body decides that it is time to break-dance. Most folks who know me in the day really have no idea that I am able to move with such boundless contortionate energy. Too bad this symptom never occurs on the dance floor. In fact, it never occurs at any time other than nighttime when I would prefer to be sleeping. 

Nonetheless, I'll take RLS over the pain any day of the week. 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Mission Accomplished

Another earthquake yesterday afternoon, this around 5.5 on the scale. The curious thing about yesterday's quake is that you could hear the sound of its occurrence in sequence, from house to house, from the end of the street, where my house is located, to the head of the street, rattling each front gate along the way as it proceeded. (Note that nearly every house here has a heavy iron front gate that either slides on a runner or swings on hinges). Whenever this happens, men shout and women and children scream and everyone rushes outside to see what they can see, which is nothing, of course. And happily so, too--for if there were damage to be seen, they had probably best not be outside to begin with! 

So, yesterday I had a lunch date with Louis, my ex-wife (though still not legally so). This actually turned into a dinner date, as she forgot about the appointment till late afternoon. If there is one thing I have learned about myself in this long life, it is that I am nearly perfectly forgettable. 

And as I stood talking to her in the mall before parting, it struck me that she was finally truly gone, that my self-imposed mission to help her along her way had been accomplished, and that I was suddenly in a place where I could experience, with immediacy, with finality, the fact that I am totally alone, that she's not coming home, that I shall see very little of her from this time forward, that silence is not temporary or odd, like an earthquake, but permanent and eternal. It is finished. 

You see, since Louis left, in January of this year, after a two year affair of which I had become only gradually aware, I had committed myself to being a positive influence in the course she had decided upon. I felt that I had done my part in the marriage as best as I was able, I had brought us here to Bali, had set up our household, taken care of and raised her son, Sasha, had seen him on his way back to America a couple of years ago, and had found myself, at last, poor in both health and finances. What had I left to offer but for love? 

And what is marital love other than devotion, regardless of whether devotion is received in kind? 

I was determined to help and also to protect, because I know all too well that Louis is not a stable person. When you live long enough with a woman who suffers from bipolar disorder and know first hand the terror of dealing with an attempted suicide, you understand that you can never relax, you can never be careless. You take into account at all times what might happen (because it has already happened). You stand guard, on yourself and on her. You stand between yourself and otherwise normal, allowable emotions such as anger and remonstrance.  

It seemed that there could hardly have been a more dangerous scenario Louis could have gotten herself into than becoming involved in the stress of an extramarital affair, and with a married man at that, for particular to the disorder itself is the inability to deal with stress in a healthy manner. I committed myself to helping, counseling, advising, encouraging, because I was concerned about her safety, I worried about what she might do. And because I love her. 

I have found myself in the odd situation over the last eight months of refereeing her difficulties with her boyfriend, of befriending him such that he may trust in my good intentions, and in my neutrality, and such that he may benefit from my experience, of talking to them separately and together and of appearing before her friends and peers, our old acquaintances, to reassure that all is well, to deter any unkind judgement that might occur if I seemed broken or angry or anguished. 

This is love: to insist on the happiness of the one you love. 

And so, as I say, it is also, ultimately, isolation. What does the soldier do when the mission is done? What does the general do when the war is over? I see them now beginning to come together, beginning to adjust and commit and become one, whose counsel, from here forth, will be conducted, and rightly so, among themselves. She speaks now of seeing me again in November, and of eventually moving to Holland or Spain. Frantic, tearful calls in the middle of the night will become fewer, and then none. New alliances will be formed, new support systems. What we were will be no longer applicable except as an element of memory.  

The course of love is rocky at  best, and even more so when both parties are coming straight out of a previous marriage, hers of 11 years, his of 40. Indeed, the course of my relationship with Louis was rocky from early on, and love soon changed, as love does, to conform to circumstance and situation. It became what it needed to be, rather than what I may have wanted it to be. 

But I see myself soon removed, and standing alone where we left off--that peak, that end to which we climbed. And indeed we climbed to reach an end, and face now nothing but sky and the old horizons of the past. There alone stand I, with suddenly nothing more to attain. I breathe the restful, untouched air, yet tremble at the vast emptiness all around. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Arthur's Eviction

Most of us have one house, and that is the house we live in. Often, we don't own the house, but are merely renting from the owner, but we think of it, nonetheless, as our house. Generally speaking, we make the rules for the house we live in--who comes and goes, who is welcome and who is not, and so on. I note these conditions as prefatory to the following. 

The big fat brown dog has several houses, though she owns none of them (she is a dog, after all). She lives in one or another according to her whim, and for each residence, she makes the rules. 

For this reason, the skinny little brown dog, whom had visited for a while and whom I had temporarily named "Arthur" (to which he had no objection) has been evicted by the big fat brown dog. From my house, mind you, which, as far as she is concerned, is her house. One of her houses. Her reason? She doesn't like him. 

Oh, she liked him just fine whilst she was in heat, but now that has ended, and so has his welcome. 

Arthur did make some attempt to stand up for his rights (of which he, like she, has none, but that's neither here nor there); but these objections came to a painful end (for poor Arthur), and so he has given up and permanently removed himself. 

I feel badly for Arthur, but I am told by the big fat brown dog that I do not have enough food in the house for both him and her--or rather, that no amount would be quite enough for her but any amount is too much for him. There is also, she says, insufficient space for two dogs in the house (or, I suspect, in the world). 

"Isn't that a bit selfish of you?" I asked. 

"Yes," she said. "Thank you." 

For some days, I saw nothing at all of Arthur, and had begun to fear the worst. Then, just yesterday, I spied him heading around the corner at the intersection of Yeh Aya and Yeh Sungi--in a hurry to get somewhere, so much so that he did not even acknowledge me as I passed. He seemed none the worse for wear, and not without purpose or goal, And so I guess that the big fat brown dog has things just about right. Life goes on. Live and let live--as long as you live somewhere else. 

I'm just hoping she will continue my own contract. 
                                             (happier days)