Armchair Peregrinations


March 31, 2000

It was one of those days to try to get a lot done on my day off. Some things I had to do, unexpectedly. That's another story, and springs from a bad experience yesterday. Tomorrow and Sunday are work days.

I did accomplish one major goal, that of getting a haircut. It's never somethimg I look forward to because, unlike in the old days when you always knew it was going to be either of two barbers, now I never know who's going to cut my hair excellently, or mangle it atrociously. There's a lot to mangle, too. Very thick and very hard to cut, I would think.

There are old-fashioned barbershops in Charleston, but believe it or not, I don't frequent them. Instead I usually go to the chain hair cut place out by Barnes & Noble in West Ashley. Usually I can get a good hair cut there. But the other day, I recognized no one, and there was a sense of total lackadaisicalness in the air. I didn't want to wait 30 minutes for some unknown result when the vibes were not good at all. So I left, went to B&N and Office Depot and headed home. No haircut.

A week later, today, I'm off from work, as I said, and have a leisurely afternoon all to myself. So I go to the college garden to sit awhile in luxurious freedom without having to worry about rushing back to work, six blocks away. It was real nice. No one around. A nice breeze. Late afternoon shadows. A Coke and my usual order of Burger King French fries (no Whopper most of the time). I'm passing the time, stewing about the unpleasantness from yesterday that carried over to today from time to time. Angry a bit, but determined to try to let it go. It's such a nice Spring day.

A little while later, I'm heading to the hair cut chain place on King Street. This is the one I've gone to a few times, but it's usually very busy because it's the only place for the college students to go to get a haircut. I usually avoid it. Today there was no avoiding. A haircut was eminent, and necessary. I had reached that stage where I cringed when I looked in the mirrow. Some early 60s throwback with a thick moptop. Can't stand it. No amount of Vitalis can help.

So I'm sitting there (by the way, this is no big story building up to some suspenseful climax) and trying to look like I'm not bored and impatient. I don't have my glasses with me so I can't read the City Paper I've brought. There are two students ahead of me and two in the chair having their hair cut. I feel slightly out of place. I don't care. I need a haircut.

When it's finally my turn, I can tell it's going to be one of those "different" haircuts. You just have a feeling, as soon as the person cutting your hair picks up the electric clippers or scissors and begins snipping away.

First, the nice lady asked my if I was going to be in the Cooper River Bridge Run/Walk, the big event tomorrow in Charleston with 30,000 intrepid runners and walkers making their way over the high span of the bridge. Good view. Foolish waste of time. But it is for a good cause. I reply politely that I take my exercise by less strenuous means. Not much more conversation after that, but she was very pleasant.

I enjoyed listening a while to the buzzing of the electric clippers, reminding me of sitting impatiently as a 12-year-old while Johnny or Mr. Adams methodically buzzed off my 7th grade head of hair.

Now this place I was in somewhat resembles a barber shop, but not too much. The students had strange haircuts -- short still at the bottom, longer around the sides, long sideburns, cropped and even a litte ragged on the top. How observant I was. And what a contrast to my short sideburns, graying hair, older look about the face and eyes. Not bad, though, I thought as I looked at myself in one of those all-knowing barbershop mirrors.

The hair cutter kept cutting and cutting. I had told her not too worry about it being too short, and she didn't. And is it short! Wow. I feel like a kid again.


March 30, 2000

College of Charleston
March 29, 12:30 p.m.


As I was walking over to the garden at the college to my usual spot where I often come during lunch hour to sit and write or daydream under a warm sun, I traversed a veritable wonderland of Spring blooms and colors. Illuminating my trail through the campus were a profusion of white azaleas, bordering every step of the path. Their blossoms, on closer inspection, are of such a pure, milky white color that I had to linger a while in front of some of them, drinking in their fine, lustrous texture. What works of art Nature produces for us to enjoy each Spring.

Now it's getting warmer by the minute, but a cool breeze has just picked up, so I am happy enough sitting here eating my Pepperoni pizza and reading some newspapers. The wisteria on the trellis in front of me is sweet-smelling and pleasing to gaze at, but it will wither on the vine soon enough. Spring rises up out of the winter earth and warms and delights us with this show of colors and fragrance. And for a short while, it is an extravaganza. But it is a passing parade, and will soon fade away into summer.

Now the sun on my bare arm is warm, getting hot, even. I am anticipating late afternoons at the beach with a book and writing pad. Daylight savings time starts this Sunday, so I will have opportunities soon to catch sunsets over the ocean after work. Or else, I can go on weekends at midday and set up my beach umbrella and sit in the shade reading and listening to the surf and beach sounds. That sweet summer music will be playing soon. I can hardly wait.


March 27, 2000

Theoretically, if I am not writing, I am free to read, but actually, I always feel vaguely guilty and so, insted of writing (working) or reading (relaxing) I do neither: I putter around, rearranging my books. Basically I do nothing...In no time, though, I am like Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet,"torn, in a futile, anguished fashion between my disinterest in the landscape and my disinterest in the book which could conceivably distract me."

Geoff Dyer


I was sitting in my extra bedroom/study late last night, tired, but glad I had accomplished the work I needed to do yesterday. I think about this quote occasionally because I am like that. It is easy to sit there looking at the hundreds of books arrayed on the shelves. A kind of quiet and peace comes over me as I contemplate all the writers' minds at work in those books, and all the photographers whose vision of the world I return to again and again, never quite seeing their photographs the same way. (but in all candor, I'm not always sure what I am seeing now on these return visits many months or even years later). I guess it relaxes me just knowing they are there.

I have too many distractions from all my magazines, the Internet, newsletters, coursework -- it all keeps me from the books that I so much want to read. I know if I really wanted to I could stop everything and go to this or that particular book which stares back at me from the shelf, but I usually don't. Instead, I'll go pluck it off the shelf and flip through the pages, imaginging what the book will be like based on the first few paragraphs I might scan quickly. It's like with so many things in life I rush through, not taking the time to exclude everything else but the immediate subject, book, person, object, goal, dream vision at hand. Only when I have to, or, more importantly, and more unfathomably, when I want to.


March 25, 2000

What an incredible place Magnolia Gardens is. I spent part of yesterday morning wandering up and down azalea covered paths, flowers in full bloom, brilliant reds and pure white petals. Transfixed. I never can get enough of this beautiful place in Spring. Each time I go, it's always a humbling experience. There is so much to take in. I particularly enjoyed taking photographs of irises clustering around the bases of cypress trees throughout the garden. And then the wisteria hanging from trees, purple blossoms in clustered blowing in the breeze. There were dogwoods in flower, daffodils, and red buds. It's all be gone in a few days, however, so if I had procrastinated about going out there, I would have missed it, as has happened on other Springs in the past.

Since Drayton Hall and its grounds are nearby, I stopped there on my way way back to Charleston, sitting for awhile on a picnic bench beside the Ashley underneath a live oak. The oaks are all leafing out now, as well as other trees, but none so quickly and with such seeming relish to quickly transform themselves. I had an opportunity to take close-up pictures of wildflowers while there, and do some more walking. It was just wonderful, as earlier, to be out in the fresh air.


There is a clear blue sky out and it's cool on this Saturday moring in late March as I write this. I will not be able to enjoy the day as I will be at work this weekend, but I will be able to revisit the Ashley River and Magnolia Gardens in my imagination and remember as much as I can of yesterday's pleasures while trying to make the most of a day indoors. It will not be easy. Confinement is never easy on one as restless as I am to be doing the things he wants to do. Such is the path of life I am on. I may complain about work as mostly an obligation to be carried out as best I can, but I also enjoy a lot about it, too. Mostly, the people I work with.


March 23, 2000

It was nice to be off from work yesterday afternoon and take a nice walk on the beach. Prior to the walk, I stood awhile on the back deck of my brother's house, overlooking the salt marsh and creek with Morris Island Lighthouse to the right, and savored a brisk, salt-air breeze off the ocean from the north. A little bit cool, but just right. There's something about wind blowing in your face and rustling the Palmetto trees out there that always evokes timeless feelings and emotions deep within me. I don't know. It's very hard to explain. The wind just taps memories for me, it stirs recollections of the briefest, happiest incidents associated with the beach or traveling some open road with the window down. Out there. In the elements.

A short while later, as I was walking north toward the lighthouse, I came upon an unusual sand castle up near the high tide mark, a little temporal kingdom by the sea waiting to be shortly enfolded within an encroaching tide.

It was a curious sight, this turreted castle surrounded by walls and moats. Within the perimeter, one could see where the architects and builders had dug tunnels and what appeared to be caves in the sand. The tunnels seemed to disappear into the sand. A couple of them opened up to the surface of the beach. The interior of the castle was a pit about three feet deep.

But what struck me, though, was a long canal, about three inches wide and deep, that ran for about 50 feet along a slight incline down toward the water and which connected the main castle to an outlying smaller sand structure, like a castle, but probably a satellite or outpost of the larger community. There had obviously been water running down this canal just a short while before, but now it was dried up, and the little outpost seemed more cut off than connected to the larger castle complex up the beach. It was an odd, but moving, sight. I can only imagine how much time was spent on building both castles. And think about the imaginations that were turned loose for awhile on this pre-summer, pre-vaction late March afternoon on a windswept stretch of beach at low tide. I almost expected little miniature soldiers to emerge from one of the tunnels. But all was eerily quiet and deserted, as if the inhabitants had abandoned their fortress ahead of the coming waters which would, in a couple of hours, be lapping at that sturdy wall of packed sand.


March 22, 2000

Driving to work yesterday morning, I saw coming toward me in the other lane a car literally covered in blossoms from a Bradford pear tree, under which it had evidently been parked. It looked slightly unreal. The only way you could tell it was a car was the cleared space on the windshield so that the driver could see out. I thought to myself, "It's really spring."

*****

This past weekend was cool, wet and perfect for staying inside. It gets to be a bit much, however, staying in all day, especially when you have things you should be doing, but don't want to even attempt them.

So, I procrastinated, and by 5 pm, when I just had to get out for awhile, I had a dull headache. The enclosed space I was in made me feel trapped, whereas normally I greatly enjoy being home, away from work and inside.

After torrential rains Monday morning, gusty winds, and a power outage, the sun broke through about noon, and when I stepped out, there was a world transformed from heavy, gray to wide-open, deep, piercing blue skies that looked as clean and pure as any can appear after a vigorous and cleansing storm has passed through.

Later, at the College of Charleston garden, sitting under the pecan tree, I looked up and could see every detail of the bark and branches in bold relief against that intense blue sky. High above where I sat looking up through the branches, a group of four snowy white egrets were transformed by flight and formation into a single unit, gracefully, magestically making their way to other destinations. How I envied them.


March 19, 2000

During my travels deep in southern Alabama years ago, when I was driving from Sumter to New Orleans, or the other way around, I chose the back roads, as always, and there are some very fine and empty ones in that part of the state. I took roads that were not exactly major east-west thoroughfares, but the rewards were plentiful.

One place I remember well, and which I visited on two occasions, was called Blue Springs, and it fed into the the West Fork of the Choctawhatchie River at the state park of the same name. It's on State Route 10 between Abbeville and Brundidge, not far from the chocolate-brown waters of the Pea River.

I can never resist a spring, those mysterious gushers of pure, clear water that rise out of remote locations to form short little rivers and streams. Such is the case with Blue Springs. It is such an anomaly in this region where you don't expect to find springs, especially that size. It's transparent waters, I recall, merged noticably with the much darker, muddier Choctawhatchie, and for some distance down that modest river's banks I walked and followed the course of the spring waters. It was a grand site to behold, these twin rivers flowing side by side.

I remember the afternoon well. It was a bitterly cold day in late December, and I was tighly bundled up in sweater and coat. The spring's waters had a constant temperature, however, signifantly warmer than the cold Choctawhatchie. Where the two met, a gentle mist rose, making the confluence appear even more welcome and mysterious, as if it were a hot springs of some sort. All around me I observed the naked tree limbs and undergrowth of the woods, and the grayness of the landscape, dotted here and there by pine trees which were the only green living things to be seen. If I looked hard enough, those waters of Blue Springs did appear to be a slight turquoise shade, but on that very overcast day, it was hard to tell. With a clear, blue sky above, I'm sure it would have been a different story.

Nevertheless, this spring cheered me on a raw winter day. Springs hold many connotations for me. A weary traveler, I stopped for awhile and rested by those waters, stretching and peering through the rising mists it created when it entered the larger river which would carry it toward its final destination, the Gulf of Mexico. Overall, a very pleasant experience, despite the harsh cold, and I was of a frame of mind to appreciate it and take it all in.

A couple of years later, I discovered another Blue Springs, this time in southern Georgia, north of Tallahassee, in an noted for its springs. There are springs in much of the neighboring areas of northern Florida, extending down toward the central and western parts of the state.

The circumstances were very different when I visited this spring in late summer 1989. I won't go into detail because this particular chapter in my life, or should I say this living nightmare, contains some of the worst memories I am still unfortunate enough to be able to recall. But I will say this much. I had made a profoundly stupid mistake taking a teaching job, out of desperation to be employed, actually, a job that was wrong for me in just about every way possible. I was soon to discover just how wrong a decision it was.

I found myself lost, in a strange place, no friends, and hardly a clue as to how I was to teach the main subject I was to hired to teach. It wrenches and tears at my soul to this day, 11 years later, whenever I think about it. Let me just add this: my mental state barely survived the ordeal of that short period of time in the summer of 1989. I had never felt so completely paralyzed by inaction, expectations, and not having any idea how I was to meet those obligations. And to me, meeting expecations and obligations are something I take very, very seriously. You can imagine what the result was.

Two weeks before classes were to start, I was driving incessantly, just to get out of my apartment, which depressed me no end, being just a few hundred yards from a huge prison complex. I drove and drove and drove. Mindlessly, trying to relieve the anxiety. Nothing about the countryside really appealed to me, or soothed me actually, when normally I would have enjoyed very much driving those same roads, county map in hand, exploring, taking pictures, making a nice day trip out of it.

But not this time. This new Blue Springs I had discovered was circular and the source of a small stream. It was intensely blue, those waters, and the surface rippled and curled and moved about from the action of the huge volume of water pouring upward from deep in the ground. As I stood there in kind of a daze one hot, sunny afternoon in August, I noticed a youth wading out from the edge of the spring until he slipped and fell to his knees. I thought he was going to go into the deep part of the spring, and wondered if he could swim. But he got up quickly and looked over at me with this expression of delight and wonder. It was as if he had never seen a spring before, and this particular one was the most sublime and intoxicating sight he had come across in quite some time. I made a perfunctory remark, such as, "This place is really beautiful, isn't it?" And he agreed. Neither he, nor the other people there could possibly know what kind of turmoil my mind was in.

He was still in the water when I left. I was buoyed and distracted for just a few moments by the enthusiasm of this young man for one of Nature's most engaging and wondrous sights.

But I was headed toward big decisions that week. And time was moving by as if in a dream. There was no real perspective. How fast the days were passing? Agonizingly fast because I didn't want the next day to come. I wanted to remain in the present for that was infinitely better than what was to come. Dread does that to you. It captures time and twists it around so that it means nothing. It mocks you.

It's during times like that week, years ago now, that one's world is riveted, selfishly and piteously, to the spectacle of impending destiny, or a part of it that is about to unfold, and you have no idea what's going to happen. Just that it will be something momentous.

Blue Springs -- I remember both places very well.


March 17, 2000

Spring's buzzing

Wisteria, sweet and heavy,
clinging to the trellis.
Birds singing,
flowering trees blooming.

The air is thick
with the scents of Spring.
At last.
Giddy, happy, profusely -- life, new life,
awakening.

The season's spirit is
in the songs of those birds,
a chorus of happy intent.
They're busy about
the business of life.
It's so apparent, their joy.

Damp, warm earth,
blossom and petal-littered ground I walk on.
I look down at that rich soil,
and then up into
patchy, blue-white, cloudy skies
through which the nicest, cool air pours.
And I feel life well up in me, too,
if I can only stay the course,
and go about my business,
enjoying, feeling, sensing,
all the while,
this miracle called Spring.


March 15, 2000

When I was in high school, I had a lot of time to myself. I wasn't a big socializer. I had a few friends who were also my brother's friends, two years younger than myself. At that age, two years is a rather big difference, but I didn't care. We played a lot of basketball at a neighbor's court, football, and a good bit of ping pong, something I got quite good at. We also played poker, Jeopardy, and went bowling on occasion. All a lot of fun, ways to pass the time, etc. But no close friends -- people I could really do things with on a deeper level. So I made do. I bided my time. It wasn't until I was 22 and had graduated from college that I found that first real friend.

So, I spent a lot of time in my room, weeknights when I was doing homework, and also weekend nights which were pretty much like any other except for the fact that I was free from school for a couple of days. Other than that...

For several years during during high school, I collected stamps. I think it started when a doctor friend of my parents, who was a serious philatelist, sent me some first-day covers, and a selection of old U.S. stamps, many dating to the 19th century. Needless to say, this intrigued me, and next thing I new I was buying stamps and albums to put them in. I was purchasing stamps by mail, and eventually started buying them at mail auctions. Much of my spending money went toward this hobby, which, I must say, seems rather foolish to me now, but back then it could take up hours and hours of my time. And, it was pretty harmless for a teenager. I can't recall anyone exactly criticizing me for spending my money this way (I did save the rest of my lawm mowing money for college), but no-one could quite see the appeal, either. I guess early on I had some eccentric ways.

As I got into it, I found that every country and island nation, or colony or protectorate issued stamps. It was a universal commonality among nations. And as I delved further into it, the stamps that interested me most were commemoratives from the various far-flung British colonies, ranging from Seychelles in the Indian Ocean to remote Pitcairn Island in the Pacific, Ghana in Africa, and the Bahamas near the U.S. They all had produced in the 1950s and 60s, extremely detailed engraved scenes on their stamps, depicting every possible facet of the colony's life and history. Collecting these was an education because I learned about the history and culture of the places, and I thought I also thought I was making an investment and that what I bought would be worth a lot more later. (It turns out I was quite wrong about this).

For a kid who didn't have a lot of other outlets, I could withdraw into travel fantasies, entering with my magnifying glass the worlds portrayed on the stamps

Today, many years after I sold my collection for a considerable loss, I still remember those places, particularly the Leeward and Windward Islands in the Caribbean that I came to know from a distance quite well: Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, Antiqua and the British Virgin Islands. I even subscribe to a magazine, Caribbean Travel and Life, which enables me, these decades later, to revisit the tropical Caribbean islands I was so drawn to as a youth. The splendid mountainous Pitons of St. Lucia were on the cover of the most recent issue, and I could see picture after picture of sandy beaches and pastel towns clinging to hillsides overlooking magnificent harbors, and everywhere that incredible blue/turquoise water. An ad for the U.S. Virgin Islands shows a panoramic sweep of one of the islands, and the caption, "Pristine beaches, year-round sunshine, an average temperature of 82 degrees. And a terrible place for a psychiartrist to make a living."

I read about Antiqua and imagined what it must be like to hike in a rainforest to small waterfalls. Or to lounge awhile on one of those picture-perfect beaches, soaking up the warmth of the sun in a far-off place I have so long wanted to visit.

It's all escapism, of course, but I will go one day. And the palms, and the flowers, the sugar-sand and warm tradewinds, will place me in a world so far apart from my usual reality that I won't want to return. All that, and more.


March 11, 2000

Folly Beach, S.C.,
1:30 p.m.


You'd think it was already summer. I'm sitting out on the beach pretending I don't feel a rather cool and stiff breeze off the Atlantic, where the waters don't know it's Spring and 85 degrees on land. I have a light jacket on, but everyone else seems to think it's May or June: wading in the surf, swimming, surfing (with wetsuits on, mostly), and taking walks with dogs who, as always, delight in the freedom of the beach, almost as much, or even more so, than their fellow creatures.

It really is glorious to be out here, semlling the salt air and listening to the waves crashing against the shore. Someone's flying one of the aerodynamic and acrobatic modern kites nearby, the kind that do all those fierce loop-de-loops and don't in any way resemble the peaceful kites I recall as a child. You know, those delicate, colorful pieces of paper attached to the thinnest, airiest wooden frames, that once inched their way up into the sky until the string ran out, there to stay awhile, stationary and silent, tail flapping, as necessary and delightful a part of the blue firmament in March each Spring as daffodils and clover were inextricably part of the sweet earth below.

This is the beach I've come to know so well over the dacades we've been coming here. I think if I ever got to one of those Caribbean islands I've dreamed of visiting since I was a teenager, I would stretch out on that white, silky sand and swim in the turquoise water that seems to unreal, and relax in the shade of one of those proverbial coconut palm trees, and I'd really think I was on some other planet. I'm so used to this tiny spot on the coast of South Carolina, along a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, and I've become so familiar with the color of th water, the texture of the dark sand, the shape of the beach itself, and so many other details comprising the seascape such as the sea oats and dunes, that I would feel a bit disoriented on any other beach. Or maybe like I was on vacation.

I'll be coming out here more and more now that the days are getting longer. After work, it's rather nice indeed to sit and watch the day retreat into the cool of evening after a magnificent sunset. I'll take a book, tune out the world, relax, and let the sound of the near-distant waves retrieve my memories for me, and then and proceed to drift off to realms of the imagination, or at least to memories of those wonderful summer days past, whichever is beckoning at the moment. It's all nice, and it all leads to a calming of the restless and distracted mind, harried by the urgent demands of daily living -- until I come here once again.


March 9, 2000

Untitled

I awoke to a gentle coo-cooing
each morning; a tender,
though simple sound,
under ordinary circumstances,
but ominous then:
a mourning dove.
A dove, you would think, gentle?

Sunrises with mourning dove
awake with sleep's refuge ended,
trying to stave off the unthinkable;
to pretend in my first moments upon waking
that it's all a dream;
it's okay; everything's normal;
you have a reason for being,
for existing.

I remember it well:
20 degrees outside,
and still this one
live, sad, bird
alone in winter, staying put,
perched on a bare limb
somewhere outside my window.
No other sound but his
breaking the hush
of that tremulously forboding
new day beginning
or maybe it was ending
in one of those short, short evenings.

And I knew I had to get up eventually
and face this new day
that would be like the ones before
with its fearfully intense
nothingness.

The sun would rise,
the skies would be clear.
But I could not appreciate this miracle,
the way I was then.
Nothing much to grasp at;
no dry and brittle little straw
to put between clenched teeth,
even in sleep.
Just numbness.

I couldn't hear a reveille
if it stared me in the face,
But I'd hear that mourning dove.

That black fog turned day into night
as soon as it dawned clear and cold.
What consciousness of this?

Arise, and find the day had nothing to say,
but it waited for me,
an ordinary-seeming day.

I hear the mourning dove again.
There's a different sound about it,
but a somber one, still.
It makes me wistfully sad
until I hear the mockingbird
with it's incautious,
jubilant song of joy
which makes me happy
every time I hear it.

I no longer notice
nor do I care that the innocent dove,
whom someone decided was in mourning,
is perhaps happy, too,
in its native language,
monotonous and joyless;
content, maybe?

I only know there is a difference.
A vast difference
between the sad song I heard then,
and the tender song
I might hear now,
if I tried.


March 7, 2000

It's spring break at the college and all the students are gone. I took one of my more than occasional walks to the campus this afternoon at lunchtime and had the whole place to myself. Completely deserted except for a few people here and there. I walked purposefully to my usual spot in the garden, took a chair, opened my newspaper and sat facing the sun so that its warm rays could soothe and caress me and allow my tensions to depart, my body to relax and my spirits to rise a bit above the ordinary and glimpse at possibilities.

It felt so good out there with that sun shining and those birds singing. I can't tell you how much I luxuriate in this time of year. I take Spring in with little appreciative gulps of wonder and awe. I am continually amazed that such incipient beauty and new life are waiting in buds and trees, and in the ground, moist and warm from rain and rising temperatures the past couple of weeks. I just can't quite believe it's here already, as if I were caught unprepared, althought I wasn't. I've been waiting for a day like this. And today was it. I just knew.

I had my small 3x4 inch notebook but no pen, so I couldn't write this entry out there in the garden today. I fiddled with the notebook for a little while, flipping through pages, frustrated because I wanted to write, but couldn't. I put it back in my pocket, put away the newspaper, and sat there in silent, studied reflection, with the sun and a breeze on my face and not a care in the world for a few precious moments.


March 5, 2000


Ode to Wal-Mart

I yield.
I confess.
Although I love the romanticized,
idealized dream
of a small town Main Street,
with the little guy doing business
in his cozy little fortress,
not much happens these days on Main Street.
I do pine away at times
for a past that maybe once was,
but is no more.
However....

So I join the stream of cars,
and head for the garishly jammed,
well-lit, goods-saturated
modern-day
retail emporium
extraordinaire --
Wal-Mart.

I approach the parking lot
and gaze in awe
at a sea of cars.
Inside, acres and acres of shopping;
reduced-priced goods
and everything you need
for bath and kitchen,
home and hearth,
for the daily affairs of life,
that keep me functioning
efficiently and routinely:

the toothpaste, the floss,
the shaving cream and vitamins;
socks, and shirts
and film for my camera;
pens for my journal;
foot cushions for my feet (thanks, Dr. Scholl);
Doritos and chewing gun;
Kleenex and hand towels;
clothes hangers and clothes pins (plastic);
thermos cups for traveling; envelopes and manilla folders --
everything that makes
my little world of habit and custom,
and of course, necessity,
go smoothly, like a tightly-run ship.

What do have have to show
for this adventure,
this experience,
this fast romp through a veritable hive
of the commonplace, the ordinary,
where are found the comfortingly familiar things
we buy time and time again.
Life as we know it depends on these little things.

And besides, I get to see and hear
the unkempt and loud and urgent
children and parents,
teenagers and old folks,
let loose, free to buy.

I see a young father holding a baby in a carrier in one hand,
and disposable diapers in the other.

In the electronics section,
I brace myself for the boom-boom of stereos,
and squeeze between the aisles of people,
some quiet, most in manic pursuit
of this and that.
My goal, first and foremost,
is to find what I want
and get out, quick, quick as I can.

I have my necessities loaded in my arms
occasionally falling on the floor
because I can never find a hand cart.
(This is deliberate -- they want you to use
a big shopping cart with wheels
so you you can stuff it full
of impulse purchases).

But you know,
even in here
in this retail carnival atmosphere,
if someone walks in front of me,
or seems to block my way,
there's always a polite, "Excuse me."
I'm often surprised to hear it,
for it's harder to be courteous
when in the midst of a shopping melee
and barely controlled chaos.
(The constant announcements
on the raspy PA system don't help, either).

"I wanna go home,"
a child exclaims with impatience.
To which the father calmly replies,
"Sure you want to go now.
Now that you have what YOU want."

This is not a concern to me.
No one to wait
while I dash back up aisle 12
to get that bottle of hair tonic I forgot.

Now I'm standing in the check-out line,
and to my left, a stack of 32-ounze,
plastic Heinze 54 ketchup bottles
on sale for $1.78,
and the two customers in front of me
have snatched up several
at that bargain price.
But I know I'd only waste it.
So I pass.

Soon my cash is forked over,
my purchases paid for,
and I'm out the door
and into the traffic circling the parking lot
and the cool air of an early Spring night,
where I smell only car exhaust
and puffs of Wal-Mart interior air,
which scents the area in front of the store
whenever the automatic sliding glass doors open,
which is often,
and suddenly I can smell popcorn and cheap clothes.

And then I'm gone, and away from it all,
in traffic once again,
fleeing into the night,
seeking quiet,
finding nobody but myself.


March 2, 2000

I'm trying to remember the first time I saw the lighthouse as I walked up the northern end of Folly Beach. At the tip of the island you suddenly get your first glimpse of that proud old structure, built in 1876, weathered, paint fading, its base now submerged 10 feet in the Atlantic at low tide. Once it stood on high ground on Morris Island, across from Folly, and contained a small compound of lightkeeper's house and grounds. Its light guided countless ships into Charleston Harbor. It is a magnificent lighthouse and a symbol of sorts for Folly Beach: independent, sturdy, braving the elements, enduring for the ages to come -- or so we hope.

There has been a lot of concern and anxiety over the years about the ultimate fate of the light, since it had been in private ownership and not maintained. Its submerged based in in danger of weakening further unless it is stabilized. The light could have been lost to enjoyment of future generations were it not for a citizens group, Save the Light, which has purchased it and plans to raise the necessary money to restore and preserve it. The ultimate goal is to donate it to the state of South Carolina for future maintenance and upkeeping.

Save the Light has a nice home page on the Web which you might want to stop by and check out. You can see the view of the ocean from atop the light, read about its history, and see color photographs, some of them taken from the same area where I took the background photo that appears on my journal's index page.

The Morris Island Lighthouse is a structure all of us who love Folly Beach want to see saved and stabilized permanently. As I've said before in this journal, there is no sight on that beach which stirs so much affection for Folly and that whole area than "the light." It's always there, and I hope that's the way it's going to be in the future.

To go to the Save the Light Web page, click here.


March 1, 2000

College of Charleston, 1:30 p.m.


The other day I wrote to someone mentioning that dark chapter in my life 20 years ago when I suffered through months of clinical depression. I noted that April 1979 was the most intensely beautiful spring I could recall up to that time because that was when, during long walks to the Mississippi River levee in New Orleans, I began to notice a slow transformation in my mood, and the depression began to lift. I thought then that I actually understood for the first time what the term "reborn" meant. Every spring now there are little things that remind me of that time of reawakening. For in a way, I was a changed person.

For years I never wrote or talked much, if at all, about that time in my lifef, but since starting this online journal in June 1998, I have for the first time been able to think about it with the aim of recording my thoughts as they come to me, not planning ahead what to write, but letting the words flow out.

So it is Spring once again, 21 years later, and as I reflect on that experience, as well as on a more recent bout with the illness, I feel a kind of strange and objectified disconnect from it all. It was so profoundly stressful to every part of my being that I have blocked out, or thoroughly suppressed, the worst memories. Now, when I allude to the experience, or even haltingly talk about it to someone who also went through something similar, I don't have to say a lot, and yet the essence is communicated. The same with writing about it now. It is not a struggle to think about it, and it is not that terribly painful anymore to do so. And that is largely because of the passage of time, and the fact that I don't "feel" things the way I did prior to those periods of depression. Instead, in frustration, I try to imagine what is missing or different in my emotional makeup and capacity for feeling. Call it what you will, but depression does allow for the most intense feeling and emotion, but it is a destructive, disordered and irrational emotional state. How I wish I could reclaim some of that capacity for deep feeling, without plunging into the dark moods that accompany it.

I have discovered over the past few years, especially as I have grown older, that the repercussions and effects of those periods of grave sickness have unalterably embedded themselves deep within me, in how I think about the world, and in what I have done with my life since. I say to myself, "I am someone who once visited the blackest depths to which I could have thought it possible to descend, and yet I returned to the surface and was restored to light and life." I didn't think I would at one time, or else couldn't imagine a time when I would be healed, or feel "normal" once again.

The depressions left permanent scars, but they're invisible to everyone but me. I'm always aware of them, though, for you can never forget.

Years ago, depression -- "melancholia" or "the black dog" -- was not something one talked about. It was seen as a mark of personal failure rather than as an illness that feeds on life events and circumstances, boiling over into emotional storms and loss of control over one's life. Once in the storm, you are carried along as in riptide trying to take you out to sea.

I can't not think or write about the experience. I'm not ashamed of myself for it. But I am grievously sad whenever I think about how it affected my loved ones, and the distress it caused them.

I often find myself attempting to comprehend some of its complexities and why it happened to me. One of the most disturbing aspects of this reflection and self-examination is the fact that I do, in fact, know a lot about why it happened. I could explain many things about it if I had to, or if there was someone I could talk to. But then, when I run these things through my mind, idly, briefly lighting on little illuminations, wispy and fleeting as they are, they are just as quickly gone and forgotten. My thoughts fall silent, having reached the point I always come to when my still limited understanding fails and mystery begins.

As I write this, it is a beautiful early spring afternoon at the College of Charleston. There's a nice breeze in the garden, a warm sun overhead, and a flawless blue sky above the bare branches of the pecan tree in front of where I'm sitting. This is not originally what I intended to write. I wanted to write about how some people seem to change so much, you hardly think it's the same person you knew, or thought you knew, only months before.

As I said, time and distance from events do tend to render them mute. They can no longer claim as much of my time and energy, as when I was preoccupied with surviving each day, psychically, if not otherwise.

As I write this latest, brief chapter in my online memoir of a journal, once again I am feeling detached and emotionally distant from the very raw and painful reality of that time in the now distant past. I record this from a perspective, and with an understanding, that could only have come to me now, because I've never thought about it in quite this way before. Or if I did, it's lost to my memory.



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