November 25, 2000
One day's growth of beard
and I fear what I'm becoming;
two days, and I can live with it.
I think I even like
the rough-textured, sandpaper face
that hides any vestigial
signs of aging
on my still-smooth face.
That face that's been called "handsome."
Words, just words.
Saying that doesn't change anything.
What are beards for anyway?
Masks that hide from view
a plain face and hard mouth,
that let the world see you
for what you are?
that fills in the crevices,
that creates mystery,
some would say ugliness,
others genteel mockery.
Yes, professor, your clipped beard
lends you the air
and soul of a scholar.
I've never had a beard.
I think I must be lacking something.
Your noisy, sound and brain-wave pummeling
car stereo pounds out violence
from your face.
You sit there saying,
"Notice me, I am nothing."
Off and on all day
the wind has blown
gray, brown across
a day swept clean by rain,
but dark and dirty-looking,
Such an illusion.
What does it matter?
The air is invisible.
but it's gently swaying
the oak branches,
a lullaby, a caress.
What does it matter?
I'm sitting here now
looking out the window
wondering what on earth
I'm doing with my life,
today, at this moment.
For isn't that what matters?
What is this?
A quiet and polite farce,
I'm appealing now to my better self,
my alter-ego that's not content
to sit and stare at a computer screen
and hope someone notices me, or thinks about me,
although you can't see me.
Some days I can't stand it.
It's too much quiet
and too much alone
and what am I going to do about it?
November 21, 2000
I saw only the noble earth on which I ws born, with the great Star which warms and enlightens it. I saw the clouds that hand their significant drapery over us. It was Day -- that was all Heaven said. The pines glittered with their innumerable green needles in the light, and seemed to challenge me to read their riddle. The drab oak leaves of the last year turned their little somersets and lay still again. And the wind bustled high overhead in the forest tops...
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
from The Journals
At lunch today I was running errands, heedless of my surroundings and the splendor of the day passing in front of me. The air was crisp and cool, not too cold, but so fresh and clean, I imagined, that I wanted to embrace it. The sun's late autumn light lit up the trees with something akin to backlighting. I was pulling out of the post office and looked over to the pines and oak trees in front of me, and for a few precious moments I was bathed in the warmth and radiance of that light. I looked at those trees, the pine needles, the moss, and the sky in back of them, and I saw it all with new eyes instantaneously, and then it was gone. The other vision returned. I only saw what I did because I stopped for a moment to realize and appreciate what was there.
These brief interludes never last for long. I am distracted by something else. Some thought of work, or something I still need to do, or some problem intervenes, and I am always taken out of my reveries.
Later, I joined the streaming traffic over the Connector and headed back to work, not even looking down into the marshes and tidal creeks, or off into the distance where the waters of Charleston Harbor reflected the blue of that same sunlight.
It's cold outside tonight as I write this. But I'm snug and cozy at home and trying to decide what to do next: tackle the bills piled up on my desk in the study, watch some more TV, read a few magazines, continue writing, compose some e-mails, or read a book. I think I have so many choices tonight I won't get much of anything done. But I 've come to think that's not so bad, either, for I'll be doing what I want to do, regardless. It's my own time, and I always wish there was more of it.
November 18, 2000
It has been cold, gray and wintry all day, and I have stayed inside on the computer. In days past, I would say I simply curled up wth a book, or lay in bed reading magazines, but this is a new technological age and I am fixated on the glowing pixels on a computer monitor. Magazine, book, newspaper, scholarly journal, communicatiion device -- all rolled into one. Soon, we'll be watching digital cable TV on our computer screens. I can't say all this is altogether a good thing, but it certainly has changed the way I spend my time at home. I hardly even remember the old ways. I know I never used to walk in and just turn on the TV first thing. I'd putter around and then sooner or later settle down with something in "paper" format to read. Now I hurry in and turn on the computer without a second thought.
It definitely feels like winter today for the first time, and the cloudy skies have a lot to do with that. The oak tree across the way from me is about to shed all of the glorious red leaves that covered it a week ago, the only real show of autumn color in the whole area. The air each night has a nice smoky smell in it from the fireplaces in houses in back of me. Every winter, the clear, cold air and this smoky smell make me feel good to have cold weather here again.
I am hoping that it will be cheerier out tomorrow, sunny and cool, and that I will make the effort to get out and about more, but sometimes, it's just nice to be able to stay indoors. It take a lot of effort to drive across town in city traffic, and it's much more peaceful and relaxing to stay home. Until I just have to get a change of scenery.
November 16, 2000
The wild geese went over early one morning this week. Why this is so moving, I don not know. All of us feel it; in the village store someone says, "I heard the geese go over," and there is a moment of silence. We seldom make much of the swallows or other migratory birds when they leave, altough we are very likely to note the redwings when they come back in March. But the geese -- ah, that is to feel a quickening of the heart.
How quickly winter arrives. This morning I could tell it was cold outside. The heat was on, I was snuggling under my blanket because I keep the heat low enough to need one at night, and there was just that indescribable feeling of the change of seasons taking place, at that moment.
The winds have been blowing...wait, I can't believe it. Just as I am writing these words, I am listening to the unmistakeable sound of geese flying over. That sound that I remember from the earliest days of my youth. That herald of winter. I just went to the window and saw a lone straggler flying off to the south to catch up with the others. They are seeking their winter homes away from the frigid northern reaches where it has already been deep freeze cold in places.
I am still listening to the geese. When I hear them I imagine endless fields of stubble from the previous season's crops, bare patches of leftover cotton plants with balls of white clinging to them like ornaments which the harvesters missed. I see bare woods, and cirrus clouds, intermingled in blue skies, and, always, the deep-down, thoughtful, moody enchantment of autumn, writ large in those skies and fields.
The sound of the geese has faded away now, and it's about time to go to work, but I have had a wonderful experience just now, for I never would have imagined that as I was reading Taber's words, I would be delighting in the sound of geese flying overhead, and, at the same time, transporting myself back in time to every other autumn, that truly timeless season.
November 11, 2000
It's a quiet night --
cool and winter verging
on full moonlight
so bright it seems like a heavenly high beam
lighting up a big pinhole
in the inky blackness of night with stars.
Here I sit having watched
stars being sucked into black holes
on TV's Discovery
And I think I'll dream tonight
of interplanetary dust (that I am)
and let my mind warp into day,
bypassing the time and place
where I usually wake.
"We are stardust, we are golden"
Joni, I heard that tonight
you know, that iron and magnesium
that's come from afar
"trailing clouds of glory"
A scientist who wasn't sure how to be a poet
might have been thinking that.
I'm gravel-edged this clear-eyed smoky evening,
smoothed and polished
by the turbulent flow of days on end,
bruised and sore, I ache slightly in one tooth.
I'm hungry, though,
and alive to possiblity.
See, words stanch the flow;
they stop the loss of something daily,
deeply unsaid and unspoken
and now I cling to the smooth dream of velvet flesh
and youthful sentience
being so close to temporary eternity
that dies by degree,
avoiding the soul's blighted attempt to fly free
with someone to love
and "cherish is the word."
Please hold me
for I am losing even the imaginative warmth
and closeness of someone like you.
November 8, 2000
This entry takes me back to the late 1950s, that slumberous period in American life at the end of the Eisenhower era and just before the 60s were to erupt. I was in third grade, and my family lived on Lauricella Aveune in a small apartment community of identical two-bedroom, wood-frame duplexs called Azalea Gardens, right off Jefferson Highway, in Jefferson Parish, adjacent to New Orleans. It was built right after World War II, and was home to many young families sich as mine, getting their start in the world.
Naturally, there were young children around to play in the backyards and streets, such as my brother, sister and myself. And we had a wonderful time with our friends, as I've written before in this space. Those years contained and absorbed the innocence of childhood for me. I had the boundless energy and mobility of an active, imaginative child who sought freedom from school and homework by playing outdoors in those long, unfenced backyards, riding bikes up and down the street, and running, shouting and laughing, as all children do. And children make noise. They are joyful in their efforts to extract the maximum amount of pleasure out of the minimum amount of time.
Now in that apartment community there were also dwellings that contained mysterious and unfriendly, even unknowable people. Such was the case with our next-door neighbors. As far as I can recall, they were two elderly, retired nurses, sisters, who were, to my childish eyes, mean and fearsome, never smiling, never talking, just seeming apparitions who huddled within the walls of their apartment, but who would show great distaste and displeasure when they heard us children at play.
I recall, and here it is not a vivid memory, but I recall my first incidents of consternation and wonderment over why human beings were sometimes so miserable, unhappy or vengeful, for those larger than life, villainous ladies seemed to like no one. I have a feeling, looking back through the mists of time, that they were not a bad as we imagined them to be, but that they just wanted to be left alone and abhored the incessant noise that groups of children can produce. But still, they left an indelible impression. My younger brother, the family still remembers with great amusement, called out to them one day when one of the elderly sisters shouted out the window for us to be quiet: "God gonna take away all your money." He was only about six at the time, but what indignation he felt that someone would dare to dislike us so much. Or, as we perceived in our innocent way, dislike all of life so much by implication because, what on earth were we doing wrong? We were just playing.
Now, I live in an apartment complex in Charleston. It's 42 years later, and there are children who live near me, and I hear them playing outside my window, and yes, they can make a fearsome racket sometimes. But I hope that as I get older I never become hardened to the sounds of children at play, that I never recoil at their discordant symphonies of shrieks, laughs, nonsense and imagination run wild.
Actually, even although I have no children of my own, and I am a bit of a recluse here, I rather enjoy the sounds they make. I don't hear them often, and they probably are not even aware of me, but their presence outside my window, making up games of nonsense and riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk, is really quite comforting.
I enjoy the quiet and solitude which mostly prevails here, but as I grow older, and as I am increasingly aware of my aloneness, I find myself wanting to hear those comforting sounds of life, young life.
I am not weary of life yet, and I hope I never am. I don't know what I will be like when I am old like those two ancient spinster sisters I remember from my childhood, but I can only hope that I never become so lonely and terribly unhappy as they evidently were, embittered enough to scare me as a child and give me early, foreboding thoughts about the dangers of adulthood.
November 5, 2000
I woke up to gray skies this morning and a sense that November was truly here. It brings the first real harbingers of winter. As I was eating breakfast, I could hear the wind rattling the window panes and bending the branches of the oak tree. There was that moaning and whistling sound, so mood-inducing and atmospheric. It could have been part of a sound track for some move. It was cooler, too. I felt the changes. I could almost seen the geese honking overhead on their annual winter migration.
A couple of hours later the sun had broken through the clouds and the day dawned anew, as if the earlier wind and gloom had never been. The afternoon was full of "October" light -- bright and mellow and clear -- cheering to the soul.
When I went out to the beach about 4:30, I felt surrounded by the warmth of that light, and it drove the chill off the beach until sunset, when the winds picked up a bit and the skies burned gold and then faded out like dying embers. I then walked a little ways down the beach, watching an etraordinary number of pelicans flying south toward Bird Key and their rookery and resting place. So many birds seem to be flying about now, including the migrating birds who are passing by on their way to even warmer climes.
Saturday was a day of endless solitude, every plan I hatched to get out on the road for a drive, delayed and then finally abandoned until it was late in the afternoon and the full starkness of the day spent alone would soon dawn on me. Years ago, I tended to feel quite melancholy and downtrodden on days when I was too much in my own company. It would feed on itself and I would inwardly despise and pity myself. But what was there to take the place of that loneliness? Nothing. Now I am so used to it, and I have so many more distractions, that it doesn't drag me down like it once did. But these distractions are merely soothing diversions and balms. They only let me avoid and not confront the emptiness I often feel. It is nice to be surrounded by more books than you can ever read; more CDs than you have time to listen to; new piles of magazines to flip through and gaze at with their pictures of beautiful homes and country scenes: and, of course, the endless, mind-numbing vastness of the Internet whose novelty is like a banquet that never ends, where there never seems to be any point of satiation.
I realize we are all alone at the existential heart of ourselves, but some of us are more keenly aware of the depths of our solitude. We have more time to indulge ourselves, because no one else will. We get to the point where we think we enjoy our own company more than anyone else's. And to a large extent, that is true.
November 3, 2000
This evening I had to trek out to Folly Beach to water the plants at my brother's house. I had fallen asleep in the recliner chair listening to music prior to that, and so it took a Herculean effort leave my cozy nest and drive ten miles out there just to water the plants. But he was out of town, I knew they would be badly drooping, and so duty and obligation prevailed.
It was around 8 when I got there, long since dark with standard time now in place. I had planned to walk on beach, night or no night and so I did.
I grabbed a jacket out of the car as well as a flashlight and headed for the beach. What a sight it is at night! I never cease to be amazed, first at the beauty, and secondly, at the fact that I never used to do this until this past summer. It's another world.
There was a half moon casting a faint, but noticeable light over the ocean. It was nothing like the full moon nights I am more familiar with where it's almost like being out there in the waning light of early evening. A slight breeze could be felt off the ocean, very pleasant. The sounds of the surf seemed somewhat off in the distance since it was still more low than high tide, although it was coming in fast, as I discovered later. I stared up into the sky and saw many stars out, but they seemed to be caught up in a flow of swirling clouds, almost like ornaments or diadems. It was quite lovely and dreamlike as I continued to gaze heavenward.
In the distance, a couple of miles out at sea, was a bright, lantern-like light from a shrimping boat, sparkling like one of those Christmas tree stars. A huge freighter was steaming rapidly into Charleston Harbor about seven miles distant.
As I walked along the beach, flashlight illuminating the path in front of me, I was alert to ocean sounds, for they can play tricks on your hearing if you listen closely enough. You can imagine all kinds of things. Summer is gone, of course, but at one point I could have sworn I heard the drone and buzz of cicadas; it sounded exactly like that wonderful sound I love to hear, and then it was gone. The breaking surf can do that. It is a mysterious thing.
I shone my flashlight on a mound of small seashells, and in the light was a small crab, busily moving about and feeding, transfixed momentarily by the light. I walked on, not wanting to disturb his evening's activities.
The sand seemed smooth under my feet, the air was mild and pleasant. I was totally alone out there, for most people don't venture out on the beach at night, just as I never did. But I'm glad I went out there. At one point sitting on the granite boulders that help keep the beach from washing away into the ocean, I felt safe and secure from the hazards and perils encountered in the past week, alone and free. No one could say anything or do anything to me out there.
November 1, 2000
Prosaic meanderings on a cold (or at least quite cool) Wednesday night in early November:
It's rather late, 11:20 pm, and I find myself waiting on three loads of laundry to wash at the laudromat. I can't believe I am doggedly sticking to my resolve to wash clothes tonight after falling asleep earlier this evening in sheer exhaustion. But it has been on my mind, and I keep putting it off, so I've got to do it. It's very inconvenient not having a washer/dryer in the apartment, but I am so used to not having one, it really doens't matter.
The laundromat across the way is not conducive to sitting inside and thinking about life while clothes soothingly tumble in the dryer. No, this is a small, harshly lit room whose space is mostly taken up by the machines. It does have a very beautiful and realistic mural on the walls portraying an underwater scene with fish and porpoises, as I've written about before. Quite entrancing if you look at it for a few moments, but unfortunately, I hardly notice it anymore.
Yesterday, I planned to go to Caw Caw Park for a couple of hours and walk along the trails I love to explore and escape along when I need to get away from Charleston. However, I forgot it was closed on Monday, so I drove through all that traffic for half an hour only to be met by a locked gate. I couldn't believe it. It was a gorgeous October afternoon on the last of four consecutive days off from work, so instead of turning around and going back, I kept going on Highway 17 until I came to the town of Hollywood, whereupon I suddenly turned right on Highway 165 which led to Summerville, a picturesque old former resort community 20 miles north of Charleston. In all the years I've been coming to Charleston, and during the time I've lived here, I never took this road, but to my amazement, it was a quite beautiful country highway, very rural, and I enjoyed the 20 miles drive to Summerville. Any country road that has long stretches where the woods cling to the road and trees arch overhead is the kind of road I like. It was a scenic escape and reminded me of my many trips out into the countryside when I lived in southern Mississippi.
In Summerville, I parked downtown and walked around, stopping in stores and looking at the old houses. There's one shop downtown that is kind of an old-fashioned toy store, cluttered and full of every imaginable game and toy. The proprietors were bustling about rearranging tons of new merchantdise for the coming Christmas season, but they welcomes me, alhtough I heard them saying later they thought they should have closed today to work on the inventory.
I heard they carry kaleidoscpes, and I've wanted one of those wondrous contraptions that fascinated me as a child, just to see all the multi-colored patterns. They are really splendid and magical with the effects they creat, but it has been many, many years since I had one. I just dont' know how to describe them. But each time I've gone there looking for them I've been disappointed. They're very hard to find. I'm referring to the illustrated, cardboard, tube-type kaleidoscope, nothing too fancy. Oh, well. I will keep trying.
I spent the rest of my time in town at the small independent bookstore in a block of old buildings downtown, and it is a throwback to another era, too. I really enjoyed browsing for a long time, looking at all the titles and the little odds and ends you find in small, local bookshops. Very friendly people ran the place, who twice asked if I was finding what I was looking for. Somehow, in a bookstore you expact and don't mind this as much as, say, in a clothing or department store. I feel kind of sad about these independent bookstores being able to survive in this age of big chain stores, but I think this one in Summerville has a devoted clientele, and there aren't any other new bookstores to compete with them. Now, that is. But with development and growth in the surrounding area, it is only a matter of time before a Barnes & Nobles come to town. Summerville is practically a suburb of Charleston.
I was amused when a rather deperate parent charged in the store looking for Cliff's Notes for Hemingway's The Son Also Rises. "When do you need it?" the clerk asked. "Well, he just started it. So right away." It was not in stock, but a couple of phone calls to the used bookstore in the shopping center near the Interstate located the book for the grateful mother, who rushed off to salvage her son's English assignment. B&N might not have gone to all the trouble, but who knows these days?