Monday, June 26, 2017

New Maid(s)

I think that I mentioned Samuel recently, the doorman at the Starbucks in Sanur (yes, Starbucks has doormen here). He's a very friendly guy, originally from Sumba, and always likes to visit. 

Well, he happened to ask the other day whether we had a maid at our house. Coincidentally, we had, but she had just quit the day before to go home for the Lebaran holiday, and then on to Taiwan to work there. 

Turns out that Samuel wondered whether we would want to hire him to work on his day off every week.

"You want to work as a maid?"

"Yes. Samuel and wife."

So, Samuel and wife showed up on Saturday, and did all the work the former maid had done, and much, much more! I mean, the man took down the curtains, washed the windows, he even washed the doors! They swept and mopped and dusted and washed dishes and cleaned out the corners and scrubbed the kitchen one end to the other, and when they were done, he wanted to know whether he should wash the car as well. Absolutely fantastic! (Of course, I told him not to bother with the car). 

All this for the same fee asked by the former maid. 

This is a work ethic that I have often seen in Indonesia. When they say they're going to do a job, that really DO the job! My goodness, he even took the fans apart and put them together again (while I myself am able to take things apart, but not to put them back together). 

So, yeah ... Samuel and his wife have the job as long as they want. 

Two New

I note that two new problems have manifested themselves in my body of late. Both are classically associated with MS. The one is that I will suddenly step down on the side of my foot rather than the sole (shoe or no shoe). This is known as "footdrop", and is an excellent way to either fall down or make a fool of oneself while stumbling and whirling to regain balance. The other is suddenly choking on not much of anything. This is called "dysphagia" and can attract a lot of attention in a restaurant, for instance, as one coughs and gasps for air. In short, both are effective in making a public spectacle of oneself.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


With Patrik's departure, things are rather chillingly silent here in the house tonight, except for the ringing in my ears, by which I know that I am indeed still alive (I ring, therefore I am).

Honestly, I don't know whether I will ever see good 'ol Patrik again. If I were a younger man, I would just assume so; but, as it is, I cannot envision him coming to Bali again nor I going to America anytime in the foreseeable future. But then, I don't suppose that one should assume anything in particular. One ought to know better. At my age, I mean.

My younger stepdaughter recently commented how strange it is that someone (namely, me) could have been so present in her life one day and so completely gone the next. To which I answered, Well, I'm not gone, I'm here, and will be here even after I'm gone.

Nonetheless, I know what she means. To my recollection, I have not seen her in more than eleven years. It seems like both a moment and an eternity, depending on how you tilt the thing. The other night, I found myself telling Patrik stories about Jamila as if they had happened just yesterday. Surely they did. How else would they be so fresh in my mind?

Ah, but anyway, the big fat brown dog is here, having just now stopped by for her nighttime snack. Now there's someone you can count on.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Georgia

In south Georgia, south of Macon, the cotton fields unfold like foamy waves of unfinished white cloth and buzz at the verge of broken roads and snow in the wind against the raw faces of frowning barns. I stop the car. I pluck several coarse tufts from the plant tops and send the tufts to Manitoba, Canada. And your eyes are everywhere watching. From Savannah, I send a pirate's eyepatch and a sword, and they are held three months in the mail by Homeland Security. Tucked into the fields, like an ancient square of hardtack, what's left of the Andersonville prisoncamp sleeps in the grave, dumb stones commemorating a certain pinnacle of pointlessness, whispered in the breeze, and on the wings of flies, and by the files of utility poles and uplifted lines, and your lips are everywhere, speaking. The end is the beginning and the beginning is the end and everything that is reaped is first of all sown.

War is Kind

I'm thinking that I ought to be angry, and yet I'm not angry; or, if I am angry, it's buried somewhere deep inside, which is probably all for the best. There is an awareness in me that my behavior is unusual, and yet unusual seems most suitable. Perhaps I simply don't have the energy to be angry. Or perhaps I have at some point, without even being aware of it, risen above anger. Has my heart grown in love, or has it merely hardened in self defense? I really don't know. Can what I am experiencing be called peace of mind, or is it merely a sense of futility? I weep but once, and then my weeping is done. It seems, on the one hand, proper that more should have been required. And yet one cannot make tears. Tears make themselves.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

I learn this morning via Facebook that today is Father's Day. How else would I, the father of five, have known? Oh well. I will take the opportunity to send best wishes to my own dad, though in the grave these 20 years. I do love you, Dad. I did. You were a cold sort of man, often distant, and, when not distant, stern. But you taught me how to fish, and you taught me well. People said that from a distance, when we were standing in a lake, casting our lines, they couldn't tell us apart. You did your best to teach me how to fix a car, and I obliged by always having a broken car to fix. You bought me my first car, and my second and third, and they were always fixer-uppers. When I went off the road in a snowstorm halfway to the coast, you came and got me. Every year, you forced us to go to the woods and cut a real Christmas tree and every year, you made fun of your sister's fake tree. You took us in the summer to Arizona and Nevada and California, the Redwoods and Yosemeti and Disneyland and the Space Needle, and always to the high cascades, the love of your life and of mine. With your friends, you were quite different. You were a very sociable man and retained friends even from the days of your youth. After your first son died in 1982, the remainder of your life became a parenthetical statement. You never recovered. I'm still working on it. My mother once scolded us for our complaints in these words: Your father is not a perfect man, but he would walk through fire for you. And you would have. I know that. You did. Happy Father's Day, Dad. If you were here now, I would try harder, I would try to understand, I would take the first step, I would kiss your bristly cheek without having to be proded by mom and I would gift you with greater sincerity those lousy licorice candies that you always loved.

Saturday, June 17, 2017


Strangely, I will often find myself ruminating over the Battle of Gettysburg, particularly the third day at the Battle of Gettysburg. It seems, somehow, to have something to do with me, despite the fact that it occurred in 1863. In a similar way, I feel an unusually personal connection with F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, Tender is the Night. It, too, would seem to have something to do with me. Both the battle and the novel, on some foundational, some quintessential level, speak to patterns and shapes that lie at the center of my own life narrative and elicit a sort of personal companionship, a mutual experience and knowledge and sharing not of events (obviously), but a sharing, nonetheless, on some weird, fundamental, indivisible plain.

Some nights, I will lie awake considering the Battle of Gettysburg, replaying its progression, day one, day two, day three. And when I get to day three, I find myself, even as the events and the characters on the field suddenly lose themselves, veer away from their own natural pattern, that which history, character, expertise should have anticipated -- I find myself in that numinous moment.

Day one, I can understand. Though Robert E. Lee's Army of Nothern Virginia had stumbled into the battle quite without intent, the day went well, almost as if it had been planned. Two Federal Corps were swept from the field with the arrival of the larger part of the Confederate Army which, coincidentally, had been instructed to converge on the little town of Gettysburg as a point of consolidation. 

I also understand day two, though questions over the wisdom of fighting here had already begun to arise. Though the Confederates had seen success on day one, a strategic series of hills and ridges had been left securely in Union hands, and the full Union Army was quickly arriving. 

Nonetheless, it seemed reasonable, given the position of the Confederates, that both Union flanks could be hit, the high ground taken, and the matter concluded. Admittedly, and in hindsight, this was a conceit based on faulty intelligence, largely because Lee's cavalry, still distant from the battle, was unable to perform the reconnassance measures it would have otherwise provided. Even so, it was touch and go on this day, with the Rebels very nearly succeeding and the Yankees holding on by their fingertips. 

But as the third day dawned, Lee found himself facing the entirety of the Union Army, entrenched on ridge- and hilltop positions, abundantly supported by superior cannon. In short, it was the closest thing possible to being an impregnible position. 

And Lee's decision, apparently without a moment of serious doubt, was to attack -- and, moreover, to attack the very center, the strongest point of the position. 


That, itself, is the center of the rumination. What could he have been thinking? How could Robert E. Lee, this genius for war, this fox of maneuver, always on the battlefields of the three past years "the fustest with the mostest" (as Nathan Bedford Forrest has been misquoted as saying), who had outsmarted, outmaneuvered and outfought every Union General from McClellen to Hooker -- how could Lee have mistaken the situation before him as anything short of impossible?

Is there something Lee might have done differently on day three, aside from withdraw? I can think of nothing; nor do I know of any historian who has suggested any other alternative.

Facing the impossible, advised by his most trusted commanders to quit the battle, Lee stubbornly insisted on the attack now known as Pickett's Charge, resulting in the destruction of an entire division, and, ultimately, in the defeat of the Confederacy. 

Was it as simple as this -- that knowing on the level of good reasoning, past experience, the advise of tacticians, simple mathematics, the witness of his own eyes, was ultimately inferior to hoping? Was this a Peter Pan moment -- If only you will believe? Did he believe that the course of events could be carried by unassailable faith, that goodness, that purity, that self effacement carried its own swift and magic sword?

That is where we meet, he and I. Nothing to do with Gettysburg, really. Nothing to do with the Civil War, or with struggles in the flesh in any kind. Everything to do with the unquestioning investment of hope, what could be, what might be, what should be. The possibility of defeat is not dismisssed. It has merely been put aside in favor of improbable, though still possible, surely possible, victory. 

In Tender is the Night, we have a man, Dick Diver, who similarlaly banks on the force of good intention that he himself can bring to outcomes that would seem to be entrenched against him; we have a man whose goodness, rather than ultimately victorious, ultimately succumbs to the failures that surround him. It is an ascendency of what is essentially weak that overcomes, degrades and destroys the purity, the love that might have healed. Young Diver's good world of honor and compassion, energy and hope, selflessness and strength of character is gradually eaten by the disease of lesser things, selfishness, carelessness, hatreds, betrayals, lust, money. Diver, like Lee, spends his own third day watching the last glimmer of his unreasonable, unreasoning dreams walk away.

I have read Tender is the Night perhaps five times, start to finish. It speaks to me. I know the story. The story knows me. 

Such are my ruminations. 

What are yours?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Head Full of Ghosts

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay, is a heck of a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Initially, I chose the book for three reasons: 1) Because it had won the Bram Stoker Award, 2) Because Stephen King had praised the novel (though King's recommendations are not always reliable), and 3) Because I didn't see anything that looked more interesting at the time.

The novel starts out as a fairly common story of demonic possession, but with a twist, in that this possession and exorcism will be televised as a reality show. Which injects a number of interesting questions into the narrative, leaving the reader, ultimately, to decide upon the answers. How much of what is going on has been engineered by the filming crew and director? How much has the eye of the camera influenced our impression of what is happening? It is clear, of course, that the viewing audience wants to see a bonafide possession and exorcism, and it is clear that the consumer in general will bring some fairly certain expectations to the subject, familiar as we are with the entire genre of possession literature and film. We expect events to unfold according to the usual plot, to include vomiting, levitating, flying furniture, eerie voices, foul language and so on.

Here is the classic young teenage girl, Marjorie, who definitely has a problem -- but is she possessed, or mentally ill, or merely calculating and manipulative? Who are we to believe -- the religious father and his pastor, who determine, together, that an exorcism is needed; the mother, who does not believe in such things but must admit at the same time that the psychiatric and medicinal approach has been an abject failure; Marjorie herself, who tells her younger sister that the whole thing is a purposeful pretense meant to help her parents, whom, she says, are the truly sick ones; or, indeed, the reality show which purports to merely document what is happening?

Furthermore, what do we, as individuals, want to believe? Does it suit us to accept the possibility of demonic possession, or is the more scientific seeming state of psychosis more comforting somehow? Can we believe that a 14 year-old girl is capable of murderous intent, without suspecting the presence of a supernaturally evil influence?

The story is told throughout from the perspective of the younger sister, injecting yet a further remove, in that the people, events and relationships are being filtered through the comprehension of an 8 year-old.

All-in-all, it's an interesting, complex pyramid of ideas, perplexing, unsettling, engaging.

In short, I rather liked this novel.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Strange. I was talking this morning about a girl I was involved with some 12 years ago, and I said at the time that both she and I were married to other people when we began our relationship. The more I thought about this, however, the more aware I became that I really don't remember whether she was married or not. I remember nothing about a divorce. Was she just living with a guy, or was she married? I don't know. This sort of thing happens to me often enough, but it still surprises me every time. It is as if someone snuck in during the night and gave me a lobotomy. Parts of my brain have been removed! Or, rather, parts of my memory. And I don't get to decide which parts. Multiple sclerosis makes that decision, though, of course, without intelligence or malice or intention. It's just "zap", and it's gone. Moreover, it seems able to touch any part of memory from any time, choosing yesterday, or a decade ago, or a half century ago at random. I actually wish that I could call this girl on the phone and investigate my own past for the sake of overall cohesion. Sadly, however, I don't remember her last name, and even that may have changed by now anyway. This sort of thing always fascinates me, and is part of the "fun" of MS. Where is memory stored? How is it that memory's components, whatever those are, can be located by a physical disease process and erased? When I do remember something distinctly, am I remembering an actual event, or is it an invention that has substituted for authentic memory? How much of what any of us remembers is invention for the sake of narrative direction? 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


I have had, during Patrik's vacation in Bali, the opportunity to talk with him at great length and depth about any number of things. I must say that I do not envy his age - just on the verge of becoming an adult. What a bummer, right? What am I supposed to do? How will I make a living? What am I interested in, that will matter, that is, in 'real life'? One foot is still firmly placed in a fairly carefree world, while the other is stepping into the many cares of adult life. At the same time, I am astounded by his mental apptitude and by the range and depth of his ruminations. He does not know right now that he worries too much. No intelligent 17 year old does. What I want him to know is that things in life will have a way of finding him, rather than him having to search high and low for them, filled with hesitance and anxiety. He will need to learn the wisdom of stillness, and, hopefully, some day, the efficacy of prayer. If it can be said that I had any hand in forming this boy, though not of my own flesh and blood, it will be to me a proud thing indeed.


Funny how one goes through these classic stages. Well, not funny, but you know what I mean. There is disbelief. Then anger. Then denial. Then sorrow. Ultimately acceptance. It doesn't matter how often something occurs - a death, for instance, an affair, a divorce - you go through the same stages every time. You cannot "skip" any of them. I suppose that one gets 'good at it', in a certain sense. Not that the symptoms are less painful or less present, but in the sense that you've been there before, you've come out on the other side, it's not the first time you've seen the maze, and you know which paths definitely lead to dead-ends. "Love is all, it gives all, and it takes all," as Soren Kierkegaard put it. It is, therefore, both joy and sorrow, each in its own time and place. "My love should matter," one says to himself, "and this should be perfectly apparent to all." And it does matter. Yes, indeed, it does. That's why it hurts. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

An End to Ashes

On the slopes of the high cascades in Oregon, rising ever more steeply to the final peak of Mt. Jefferson, there is a bend in a long dirt road, about a mile above Horseshoe Lake and a mile below Brietenbush. At this bend, if you stop and climb up through the trees, you will find a panoramic view from atop a cliff all along the shoulder looking back to the west and north. You will see what seems an unending wilderness, spotted with lakes the size of teardrops and scarred by the lower hills and lesions of stone, deep and vast, both beautiful and terrible, such that you fear you will be sucked in, drawn by sheer gravity, hopelessly non-plussed, undone by insignificance. This is where I left my family; my father, my mother, my brother; part to the wind, part to the earth, part to the gaping spaces between boulders where secret eyes of the lowest things watched on. There they are still, or at least in some pieces, a shred of bone here, a bit of tooth there, and the rest fleeting clouds of ash, scattered to the four corners of heaven and earth, but not gone, never gone. Cannot we start again from the beginning? Cannot we go back to Maple street, in spring let us say when the rains have stopped and the leaves have come out all green and new and bleeding ripe and tender sap and the grass is matted where we had rolled down the bank and the screen door is banging left unlatched and the laundry waves like flags on the clothesline and the lawnmower growls along the curbing strip and the trees and the sky and the birds and the sun all speak first thing in the morning? Where have you gone my love and my heart to be so relentlessly, so eternally near?

Saturday, June 3, 2017


This pup, who lives where Sparky used to live, has now discovered that there's a sucker just down the street who will give him sausage and chicken and let him fly around the house like a whirling dervish. He does not know what "tired" means, or "stop", or "go away". He's a very clumsy dog. He fell in the ditch on the roadside, which was full of brown water, and he has fallen off the porch twice.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Norwegian Wood

Once again, having finished a second novel by Haruki Murakami, called Norwegian Wood, I am astounded and amazed. This is an author of such rare talent, vision and ability that one comes away more fully aware of the meaning in life, in love, in loss. It is a melancholy story of love and remembrance, of the power of love to persist in the face of death, and of the power of death, especially a death outside of the "proper" time, to live on in those who continue in the world.

And here is the great thing about Murakami. Here you have a book with numbered chapters of roughly 40 pages each, and then you get to chapter 6, which runs from page 133 to page 247. - 114 pages! Who does this kind of thing? I'll tell you who. A great writer does this kind of thing, a writer who will not be constricted by artificial conventions or rules. This is the center of the book, the heart of the story, a continuum in time that cannot be broken, that ever persists, wherein what is small in the frame of sequential time becomes large, overflowing, flooding the farthest corners of one's life. Murakami is a writer who is obediant to the story he is telling, not only regarding content, but also contour. The shape of the book mirrors the shape of the story. 

As I try to begin a new book, by another author, the elegant, melancholy rumination of Norwegian Wood remains with me, like someone I know, or someone I knew, gone,  lost, and yet eternally present.