May 30, 2000
"Two butterfly rolls, please."
It was invariably the same. Each morning when I was unemployed and living in New Orleans 10 years ago, I walked to the McKenzie's Pastry Shoppe on Prytannia Street, near Jefferson Avenue, and bought two of those wonderfully fresh cinnamon-raisin buns to take home with the New York Times. It was a comforting and reassuring routine that took the edge off the worst anxiety that greeted me every morning when I woke up -- the cold-sweat, What-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life-today? sort of gut-wrenching anxiety.
Those sweet rolls and that five-block morning walk re-connected me to the world and kept me from languishing in my brother's house all morning, trying to figure out some smart moves that would deliver me from that agony of feeling like an out-of-work nobody.
A couple of days ago my brother showed me the front-page article in The Times-Picayune about the closing of all 49 McKenzie's shops throughout the greater New Orleans area. After 64 years and some bizarre wranging in recent months with the state health department over sanitary code violations at the main baking plant, the 84-year-old Entringer family patriarch decided he had no choice but to shutter all the stores and close down the family business, putting 400 people out of work. What a shock! The glazed donuts, the banana coffee cake, the butterfly rolls, and so much more -- all gone for thousands of New Orleanians for whom McKenzie's was so much a part of their lives. No more bells tinkling as customers entered the shops to make their purchases.
The news saddened me no end. The mayor is trying to find someone to take over the business (he confessed to being a big fan of the glazed donuts). But who knows? It may be the end of another New Orleans institution, similar to when the D.H. Holmes departent store closed on Canal Street. No one thought that would ever happen. Or when the K&B drugstore chain was sold. (That was the store where I got my first fountain cherry Coke when I was 9 years old). It is also similar to the loss I felt when the venerable Ponchartrain Beach Amusement Park at the lakefront closed many years ago and kids took the last ride on the famed Zephyr Roller Coaster.
I don't live in New Orleans anymore, and I haven't been back in about six years, but I'll greatly miss McKenzie's. I didn't visit there much as a child, but I did as an adult, and those later-in-life memories will always stay with me. Something about the sweet aroma of baked pies, cakes and rolls. Wonderful to think about it now.
May 27, 2000
8 pm, 5/26
It's cloudy and overcast, even a bit cool out here this evening. Such a contrast to yesterday's heat and strong wind from the south. There's even a hint of rain in the air on the far horizon, which is dark off in the distance. There are supposed to be thunderstorms rolling this way. But so far, rain is only a tantalizing promise of what could be. How I wish I could see heavy sheets of rain, blowing sideways, and then straight down, pounding the earth, and with it, strong, gusty and cool winds. We need rain so badly.
It's peaceful with just a slight breeze now. I can hear the surf in the distance at low tide. Just now, there was a brief rumble of thnder. Hardly noticeable, but in these drought days one is keen to pick up any far-off trace of thunder in hopes of getting that longed-for rainfall.
How nice to enjoy the beach now, almost empty ahead of the Memorial Day crowds coming this weekend. I'm glad I won't be there. I'll try to avoid those, for sure. I have to work this weekend so I won't be able to come back out until late anyway.
I really seem to have more and more of an aversion to crowds, the older I get. There are times I just don't want to see clusters of people, families, couples, or groups of people and their dogs walking down the beach, talking and laughing. I only care to see the occasional lone walker, looking out to sea, lost in his thoughts as I have been on countless occasions at this beach, over many years.
Not much has fundamentally changed. I'm here in my chair with a book, listening to the ocean. It could be the summer of 1975 just as easily as the approaching summer of 2000. I've lived the single and solitary life. That's all I've ever known. But I take some comfort in the fact that deep down, even the most people-dependant among us are ultimately alone with themsevles to sort out the fundamental questions of life: Who am I? What is my purpose in this life? I just don't have any kindred spirit, or lifelong (or even short-term) companion, or lover, or spouse (or partner or significant other) to deflect my loneliness, which is submerged in a very busy life. No one to share a place with. No one who would try to answer my feeble, half-articulated questions. In the back of my mind, hopeless optimist that I am, I keep hoping that there will come a time...
May 24, 2000
College of Charleston,
2 pm, 5/23
It's hot in the garden in back of the student center. I'm looking at the goldfish pond with these amazingly beautiful yellow flowers sprouting up in the lilly pads. The campus is deserted. A merciful wind is blowing the leaves in the big sycamore tree in front of me. I have merely trivial anxieties wafting about me which could become more problemmatic if I let them.
[A few minutes later; had to leave my usual spot because of construction noise] Now where I am the fountain is making a pleasing sound, but the wind is barely stirring in moss in the live oaks all around me. It's time to decide whether to stay in the sultry heat or leave. I like to sit here and write about what I'm feeling and seeing around me, whether here on campus or at Folly Beach, sitting by the ocean at low tide. These moments in real time as I write are, today, part of a brief interlude in what is turning out to be a not very good day at work. Simmering resentments about work schedules and a rather demeaning incident this morning have put me in an unsettled and not very buoyant mood, to say the least. But I don't care that much, and that sort of worries me.
I'm away from it all now, sitting on a bench under a humid, summer/cloudy sky with just enough relief from a breeze or two to keep me from leaving, which I must do momentarily.
But these brief moments away from the job I do every day, sitting here by myself, are as much a part of my life as anything else, even if they reveal nothing much of significance to me, or anyone else, or offer any special insights. Just a few little details and observations which serve to steady me and help me enjoy, or at least notice for awhile, the normal ebb and flow of life around me. It's quiet mostly, and while I write I am at least prompting, and then watching, my thoughts transfer to paper. I don't have a heavy buden on me, yet I don't feel particuarly glad or happy to be here, particularly since it is now getting hotter and hotter. I'm sweating, but trying to let the moments flow by. It's nothing much, all this that is now tranpiring, but it's all I have and am right now. And there will never be any time quite like this brief afternoon meditation on paper that may be read by some later if I post these thoughts in my online journal. And I'm sure I've said something of value, although not much, and not worth analysis. What has transpired on this bench just IS, and now I must go back to work.
Later: On the way back to the office, walking across Marion Square, the sun was very hot on the back of my cotton, short-sleeved shirt. It was extremely uncomfortable until later when the wind picked up and I could feel some relief. HOT.
May 22, 2000
Yesterday in Sumter, I took a drive down what was once a very rural country road, now a rather busy thoroughfare, though still rural, on the edge of Sumter. I had driven out just beyond the new subdivisions. Just to get out of the house for awhile and take a very short Sunday drive. And I stopped by the side of the road to look at an old abandoned grist mill that has a lot of history behind it, but it's in poor condition, although hanging on. I could see the rather large millpond in back of the structure, but there was no water to speak of, just a trickle, coming over the spillway of the dam into a stagnant pool of black water in front of me. As cars whizzed by behind me, I looked up to the trees surrounding the mill, felt a cool wind in my face, and could imagine I was briefly in another time and place. But the cars kept speeding by me as I stood on the bridge facing the mill and jarred me back into reality each time, so I left.
A short while later, I was parked along the road beside Second Mill Pond, site of another old grist mill, long since gone. But the large pond, really like a little lake, was where many happy memories of my childhood summer vacations resided, and I've written about them in this journal before. I kneeled down to look at the tea-colored water and lilly pads and recalled, as I always do when I come here, the time we used to dive off a platform a little further out from where I was standing, and merge with the much cooler water below the surface. It had a fresh, earthy smell, that tannin-stained water from upstream swamps, and I got a whiff of it yesterday, in a breeze over that pond, and memories came back of that very long time ago when I was a kid, not a carefree kid, but a boy happy to be on vacation and swimming for hours in that old mill pond.
May 18, 2000
6:15 pm, 5/17
I just watered the flowers and newly-planted shrubs at my brother's house here on the beach a little while ago since it's been terribly dry with no rain in recent memory. The wind off the ocean is strong, but not as much as yesterday. It's high tide again, but there's a bit more beach to walk on. It's nice to sit out here again on the third day of my vacation, listening to the ocean, buffeted by winds. Thoughts of work are light years away in some other realm of consciousness. I don't even want to think about it.
I'm in a no-man's land state of mind. A bit numb. Peaceful, but sort of lost and indifferent to everything just now. I'm just thinking about things as I write.
But life marches on. I see more clearly than ever the aging and advance of infirmity among family members I'm closest to. What troubles age inflicts on these clay vessels we inhabit, tough and resilient as they are. My aunt's recent fall and subsequent hospitalization brought me ever closer to the presence of sickness, injury, the helplessness of being in hospitals, and unwilling confrontation with the fact that life has to end.
But I'm not emotional about it. I can even take it at face value, brave soul that I am. Ha! I only have each day that is given to me. I can do what I want for that day. For now. Hospitals slap you upside the head and take away any illusions about this seemingly endless physical life on Earth.
However, life goes on around me everywhere I turn. The throbbing, churning activity-obsessed culture we're part of, heedless of time, is busy consuming it in big restless, agitated gulps. No place for the aged, sick and infirm on the busy, traffic-filled, streaming urban arteries that carry me along to my destinations. Busy, busy. Places to go. Things to do. Planes to catch. Products to buy. Work to do. One thing after another to stave off the void. We look askance at elderly drivers poking along in this madness, turning off the highway with glacial indifference to the speeding cars heading their way in the other lane, avoiding destruction, just barely. Life goes on. A time capsule shooting through space.
Last night late, after midnight, I was staring at the computer as usual, but I also happened to look up at my favorite framed photograph on the wall directly in front of me. I took it in northwest Oregon almost eight years ago. It's a picture of a quiet stream flowing imperceptibly over large and small rocks and boulders through a forest of red alders and firs. The alders are the understory trees and arch over the stream in a most beautiful way. I wrote about this picture and the story behind it in my June 28, 1998 entry.
But a very curious thing occurred, and it was magical it was so strange (or maybe it was the lighting and the late night hour). I kept staring at that scene, so sharp and clear, and looking deep into the grove of alders and I noticed how, as if I had never seen it this way before, the two-dimensional scene was inexplicably transformed into a three-dimensional one. I could hardly believe my eyes, but I could see into that setting as if it was totally lifelike and real. It only lasted a few minutes, but I was startled and happy.
I hadn't been imbibing any reality-altering substance -- never do -- but my senses were definitely making illusions for me to enjoy. It was strangely exciting for someone so grounded in *ordinary* reality as myself.
This morning I looked at the photograph again, and it was its normal, two-dimensional self, a beautiful picture and one I never tire of looking at, but devoid of the depth and startling realness of the night before.
I don't condone it, but I can sometimes understand why people take drugs or mind-altering substances. Why, for instance, Aldous Huxley experimented with hallucinogens and wrote his book "The Doors of Perception." (Extra)ordinary real life is not enough for some people. In their own eagerness to know more about the mind and its infinite complexities, they stimulate their brains with chemicals that alter consciousness in profound and sometimes very disturbing ways. (I saw drugs nearly destroy a close friend of mine, years ago) Often it's because the pain of coping wth life is unbearable, and drugs offer a way out, temporarily, and time being the mysterious and transient thing it is, brief episodes of self-prescribed, enhanced reality change the perception of time and space so that things are no longer as they seem or should be. The world becomes multi-dimensional. New doors are opened to strange and wonderful places, or so they say.
It seems strange to me, however, that drugs and altered states of mind would be so sought after and abused by the young, who have fresh eyes and senses and expanding minds capable of perceiving the newsness and unexpected in those scenes, places, objects, literature, art, media, etc. that older persons such as myself have to struggle at times to be amazed or even moved by. We think we've seen it all before, but we haven't seen that much, really, and sometimes youth has to drag us into the light again. The people who really know what's going on don't say much or give away their secrets easily.
So, sometimes I understand why we age so painfully and so wistfully, filled with recollections and nostalgia for our own youth, no matter how awful a lot of it was. We long to understand how we came to be as we are, and we see youth making all our mistakes and feel helpless as they go about their self-destructive ways. Not that we aren't still doing the same self-destructive types of things. Just that we know better, or should.
I don't know what cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD, today's powerful marijuana, and other drugs make people feel like. And I don't want to know. It's so far out of my realm of experience that I can only read about the effects on others in first person, autobiographical accounts. But the furnaces of those kinds of highs have to be continually stoked with more drugs/fuel for the brain to keep the fires of fevered insights burning.
As I look at pelicans flying over the sea oats now, I have enough hints of what is sublime on this wondrous Earth to keep me guessing and reaching higher for more knowledge and other kinds of experiences that will teach me something and help me further along the road.
I don't have the fiery passions of youth anymore, although my passions can still be good and aroused in anger, I discovered recently. I don't feel that same intensity that young minds feel, the same levels of dread and hostility and cynicism (although I feel cynical enough). I don't have the anxiety and fearfulness I once dragged about with me, worried about what I was to become or what I was to make of my life. I remember at various times when I was younger, say at age 20 or 25, thinking to myself, with some degree of trepidation and unknowable fear, "What I will I be like at 45?" Oh, the very thought of it was enough to send me fleeing back into the present.
Now, more than ever, I'm the observer, the thinker who knows a thousand avenues to explore to gain more knowlege, if he chooses to explore any of them. My experiences with life have led me to this place on a rather lonely stretch of beach on this late May in the year 2000. Innumerable other paths beckon, hinting of mystery and intellectual adventure.
Drugs can allow you to crack open the door or knock it down in a fury. You then become dependant on some outside force, in this case, a mere substance or chemical agent that so often is frighteningly abused by people running from the light, as they desperately seek it.
May 16, 2000
Folly Beach, 7:15 pm
It's high tide, and the wind is pretty strong out of the north. Still cool, and not feeling at all like summer out here on Folly Beach, but it's beautiful, and I am glad to be here. The waves are choppy, and the sound of them crashing on shore is peaceful in its soothing familiarity. I can come and hear these waves and really block out everything else, momentarily.
Quite a contrast to 24 hours ago when I was driving along remote county roads in the far western part of the state near the Georgia line. I found that lake of my dreams I wote about recently and walked beside its shoreline for awhile at Hamilton Branch State Prk. It is a huge lake formed by damming the Savannah River, but there are hundreds of isolated coves and inlets, and that's where I was yesterday afternoon, thinking about how nice it would be to camp out there or rent a cabin, if they were available. I'd stretch out on a lounge chair by the lake after supper while the sun was starting to go down. (Twelve pelicans just flew by about 20 feet overhead with their graceful, six-foot wings outstretched, floating on air, heading to their nighttime destinations).
Shortly after leaving the lake, I was parked at a narrow old iron bridge spanning Stevens Creek. I walked down a path which led to the creek. What a splendid sight awaited me. Down the last steep steps in the embankment, covered with summer vegetation and trees, and I was staring, captivated as always, at tea-colored water, about 6-12 inches deep, flowing by gently in that timeless setting. The creek here was maybe 35 feet wide, and I could picture myself in a canoe drifting along with the current, dipping my paddle in the water occasionally to keep a forward course.
All my life I have been drawn to the idea, and then to the reality, of these streams deep in woods and far out in the country. I could sit by that creek and watch the water flowing by for hours, I think. It has that kind of effect on me. Mesmerizing, calming. It was totally quiet, about 5:30 in the afternnon, and I couldn't even hear the water moving, except perhaps in the near distance downstream as it riffled over a submerged log or branches.
By 6 pm, I was consulting a detailed road map and making my way across Edgefield County, thence to Akien and Highway 78 which would take me home to Charleston.
Town after town passed outside my winidow which was rolled all the way down to let in the fresh air. I drove around the downtown of one of them, photographing an old hotel in ruins which the townspeople are hoping to restore.
The rest of the way, for 60 or 70 miles, I had the road mostly to myself. That's the way I like it. The interstate was just a distant, unpleasant memory during that drive home, as miles of two-lane highway slipped by in the gathering dusk of a late Monday afternoon, on a vacation day form work, and in a state of mind that I can only describe as briefly unencumbered by the usual worries and concerns that beset me.
The sun will be setting soon. The sand dune I'm sitting on looks so clean and pure. Sea oats are waving in the wind.
May 12, 2000
There are two very distinct environs in the immediate physical world I inhabit: the apartment complex where I live, and the surrounding, quintessentially suburban neighborhoods where I take my walks in the evenings and observe closely all the little details of this finely and meticulously kept-up, well-ordered little universe.
About now, the area around the apartment complex, quiet and nice and containing a smattering of oaks and sweet gum trees, is looking a bit weary, grounds-wise, for we haven't had any significant rain for weeks, and the lawn and garden people do not water the grass, there is so much of it. So now, in this ominous drought we are having, the grass is brown and dry and as crisply dessicated as a heat-inspired August dog-day. It really looks like mid-summer. Spring has gone, and in such a hurry, too.
By contrast, as I walked the pleasant streets of the neighborhood just blocks away from me, it was obvious that the sprinklers had been doing their job, for the grass was green and mowed and looked as if an early summer thunderstorm had passed by with a good, soaking shower. In these neighborhoods I've come to know so well over the past five years, the drought is being kept at bay, at least for awhile.
I just got in from a walk a little while ago. I passed some huge wax myrtle trees in the side yard of a house which reminded me of the exact same-size trees in our front yard in New Orleans, just outside the big bay windows. Some of the people living on the streets I walk down have really nice mailboxes. One is propped up on a portion of an old railroad tie; another has a miniature white, wrought-iron fence around the base and inside the fence a little garden of impatiens, marigolds, roses and other brightly colored summer flowers. Yet another mailbox is surrounded by monkey grass, and another is covered with Confederage jasmine, in full bloom for a few more days and producing one of the sweetest scents of spring.
I heard a motorcyclist revving up his monstrous contraption; mockingbirds pure and melodious; and a group of seven or eight teenage boys hanging out in front of one of their houses, honking horns and acting real bored. I kept listening for the telltale swoosh and twick-twack of sprinklers, but heard none.
Things are quiet now at home. It's 9 o'clock and the evening is fast closing in on the midnight hour. I recall the bumper sticker I saw on the back of a car the other day: "If this is too loud, then you're too old." My response, as soon as I saw it: "If it's too loud, then you're deaf, and you'll be deafer still when, or if, you pass out of your never-ending adolescence."
May 10, 2000
College of Charleston
1:30 pm, 5/9
Summer is here! Sitting in the shade in the garden of the College of Charleston, I am spared the direct sun. A nice breeze is blowing. A mockingbird has just landed a few feet from where I'm sitting. I notice the pecan tree in front of me is about fully leafted out now. It is the last tree in our area to come back from winter, so that is another sign of Spring's maturity.
I close my eyes and imagine I am sitting beside a lake out in the county, and there are tall pine trees all around me and the same wind I feel comforting me now is doing the same there. The shade is cool. The sun hot. Ants are tracking across the sand at my feet, just a short distance from the edge of the lake, whose waters are cool, dark and inviting. I'd like to be diving to their cool depths now, and come up to the surface with quick agile movements. It's Summer after all. It's still and peaceful and all I hear are the sound of Nature -- Summer sounds. I wish I was there.
May 9, 2000
There are times when I want to be alone and not see another person or even encounter someone on a walk. I feel removed from others, distant, and even the most innocuous and simple thing like passing someone on the side of the street on my walks is dreaded. I just want the entire street to be empty -- I want it to myself along with the illusion that I'm way out in the country and the street is really a rural road that winds over hills and through dense stands of woods. There would be no mothers walking babies in strollers, no kids on bikes, no couples holding hands as they walk along, lost in their shared world.
At times like these, I don't even want to encounter the solitary walker like myself, who, I imagine, might be feeling exactly as I am, at the exact moment we peer at each other reluctantly, saying hello or giving the other a wave. Yes, the other day I saw the expression on someone's face as she looked up at me, and I just knew she was thinking the same kinds of thoughts I was. "I must acknowledge this person. I can't just walk by and ignore her." So I did. And she acknowledged my presence (I could tell by the expression on her face that she wanted to say something, but like me, just wanted to pretend I wasn't there). I think I sheepishly realized that I was not alone at that moment, and I was glad. I had to admit it. Like I usually do.
May 7, 2000
My aunt, who is 87, is in the hospital in Sumter with a back injury as a result of a fall she suffered two weeks ago. She has been in a lot of pain, which is what happens when a vertebrae is compressed or crushed, and the doctors don't think there's much they can do about it other than give her drugs to ease the pain.
She is the relative I am closest to, and always have been. She is like a second mother to me. Words now are totally ineffectual in describing how much she means to me, how much she has done for me over the years. She has always been there to offer me a place to stay when I was out of work and down on my luck (often very far down) and when I was recovering from my episodes of depression. She saw and endured the very worst of those times and helped me survive them. She welcomed me and my family when I was a child and teenager on many happy vacation trips to Sumter and the beach. All my life she has been there for me. Not having married and having no children of her own, I have been like a son to her. I love her very much. She is so much a part of my life that I cannot bear the thought of her not being here. But in that hospital, I inevitably had to consider the possibility, more real and tangigle now, and awful for me to have to think about.
As I walked out of the hopsital this weekend after each visit and stepped into bright, warm Spring sunshine, I felt strange, like it shouldn't be such a beautiful day. But yet it was, and I was thankful because if it had been gloomy and gray, I just don't know what my feelings would have been. What emotions and feelings I am capable of these days, anyway.
The drive from Charleston to Sumter was filled with a kind of low-level, undefined anxiety and a sense of urgency to get there and see her. There were just a few clouds in the sky here and there, and the woods were bright green and new. There was drought in the air, however, and all the incipient indicators of deepening drought were there to see in the countryside: corn starting to come up in the fields but also beginning to shrivel from lack of moisture, even this early in the growing season; grass along the roadsides drying up and turning brown; and field after field that once might have been planted in corn and soybeans, now left unplanted and fallow. Good for the soil, but not for farmers barely surviving in the business.
How I wish the rain would come and I could see the grass and crops green and flourising in the weeks and months to come. I wish I could see the earth around me sustained by life-giving water. It would make me feel calmer and more at ease, and I could know that Nature, at least, was offering me some assurance that things would be alright.
May 4, 2000
For the first time this Spring, I noticed the change in the atmosphere, in the "feel" of the air. There was a new balminess in the winds yesterday and a haziness in the skies that foretold the summer ahead as surely and as predictably as the change in the lustre of the leaves, which are losing their metallic, new-green sheen. It's not summer yet, of course, but it's close. I can still go out and bask in these moderate and wonderful breezes, which really make me believe that this is what it must feel like on some tropical island year-round. A paradise of perfect temperatures, tradewinds, blue skies, and turquoise seas (You can probably tell the most recent issue of Islands magazine has come in the mail, and I have gone over each picture portfolio with wistful longing).
It was getting to be around 7:15 in the evening yestereday, also, when I realized that if I was going to go to Folly Beach, I needed to go then and there to get in a short walk before nightfall. It takes slightly more than 20 minutes to drive to the beach, so I was soon on my way. Right near where I live is Ellis Creek, and I pass it on the way driving down Folly Road. I always look at the water level in this tidal creek to check on the tide, and yesterday it was high, very high. When I got to the beach for my walk, I knew it would be a short one. The water and waves were coming up almost to the dunes, and there was only a strip of about 10 or 15 feet of beach on which to walk. For a mile in either direction there was not another person that I could see. I started walking just a short distance, my sweatshirt jacket on to keep me warm in the cool wind. The waves crashed on shore very near to where I walked and I tried to find firm sand because at high tide it's sometimes difficult to find a good path of sand that will make for easy walking.
I decided to stop and just look out over the ocean and watch the dusk prevail as I noticed the rapidly darkening waters. It was very peaceful -- only myself and the ocean in front of me, stretching out endlessly. And yet, I didn't feel lonely on this empty stretch of beach yesterday evening. I enjoyed the solitude and pretended those were trade winds buffeting me gently at that magical sunset time of day.
Back at the house, I sat on the lounge chair on the porch and nearly drifted off to sleep. The wind in the palmetto trees was my lullaby.
May 1, 2000
Yesterday afternoon at Folly Beach, I sat for awhile on a flat granite rock embedded in the sand and looked out at the ocean for some time, lost in various troubling thoughts. The ocean's waves and the fresh salt air always work their magic, so after a time I was beginning to feel slightly better, but still, I left in a rather moody state.
I can recall many times over the years walking alone down that long stretch of beach, and sad because of that very fact -- that I was alone. That there wasn't someone to share the beauty of the beach or just to talk to about nothing too much in particular. This seemed at times to gnaw away at me and leave me depressed and discontent. Now, it's strange, but I rarely ever have that same feeling, or at least, the degree or intensity of the feeling. It has become so natural to me that I am by myself that I rarely give it a second thought. I sometimes wonder if perhaps this should be more disturbing -- the fact that I don't care anymore. Or does it mean that I have achieved a sort of truce with myself -- an equilibrium with the two sides of me: the very social and gregarious side and the distant, loner side. It depends on where I am. At work I have nowhere to hide, and besides I enjoy my co-workers, so I am very congenial and social. Away from work I find myself increasingly dependent for social contact on this computer thing I am on right now, the Internet. This disturbs me, too. For it allows a richness and variety of contact I never dreamed possible. Conversations and e-mails with intelligent and gifted writers. I have to pinch myself sometimes, it seems so unreal and so much a departure from the past when my time away from school or work was taken up in the most isolating and solitary of pursuits. That is, walking, thinking and reading.
On the Internet I have contact with others, but not in any real, person-to-person, physical-presence way. It's quite satisfying, but very much missing something, too. I can wile away the time and not be too conscious of that fact, whereas in years past in the quiet of my apartments, I had a bed to lie on and a book to read and a bike to ride around on, and the frequent desire to get out and walk.
I remember well one time in 1986. I was in southern Mississippi and I was not far from leaving the university there for the first time. I was quite miserable and lonely to an extreme degree. My surroundings didn't help much, either. I had almost no belongings at that time. I lived in a bare apartment with a bed and some boxes of books and magazines. I had a lounge chair for a sofa. No other living room furniture. A TV set. A card table, I think. I was not staying in that town, and I knew it. I would be packing up soon and heading west. Why have any material possessions when I was wandering from place to place all during those years of the 1980s?
I lived a simple life, but a depressing life, too. One afternoon, the loneliness, the isolation, the single bed and TV tray for a nightstand -- it all conspired to produce the most anguished feeling of pure aloneness I had just about ever felt up until that time. I remember the episode distinctly after almost exactly 14 years. I felt so deeply empty and cut off from everyone. I taught two writing labs. I attended three classes. That was my life. No social contact whatever.
That was, as I said, 14 years ago. On this deeply quiet, late evening on the first of May in the midst of one of the most beautiful Springs I can recall here in Charleston, I am lost in a different sort of quiet reflection. Writing at the computer, thinking of all of the people out there whom I have never seen but whom I feel I know quite individually and, in some ways, closely, and all the people I've known and worked with for years at my job -- I realize how much I have to fill up my life. And yet, the most intimate type of relationship continues to elude me as I go about my life, busily preoccupied with all the minutia that take precedence, one thing after another in the constancy of my daily routines. I have my pictures on the wall, my papers and articles and books and magazines and a thousand bits and pieces of a collected life of things of the mind and imagination and memory and recall -- but -- here I am writing to myself and others. I'm trying to reach out into the silence and wondering who will be there, and how will I know?
There will likely be no response to this sudden and fervent little outpouring from my soul. My words will take their place as pixilated bits on a computer monitor screen, and I will forget about what I have written here tonight, until such time in the near or distant future when I re-read them and they leave me with a slightly different impression of what my life was once, and has become at that future time.