Sunshowers (September 16th)

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the rain is full of ghosts tonight

Had the day off from work, and I’m wondering now if it might’ve been a better idea to go in, just to keep my mind occupied from nine to five, if anything. Instead, I’ve spent this mostly grey day mired in melancholy, haunted by ghosts and watching the strange weather through my window as it shifted back and forth between ominous skies and sunshine. Showers came in fits and starts all day, often even when the sun shone.

There’s an old wives’ tale that claims if it’s raining while the sun is shining, it means the Devil is beating his wife. I made that comment off-hand once at work during a sunshower, and most of my officemates were appalled. Only the oldest person in the room, one of our retired volunteers, had ever heard that expression before– to everyone else, it was arcane. Standing at my kitchen window today, wistful and watching the sun shine through the trees while the rain fell, I remembered that old wives’ tale and I couldn’t help but think how fortunate the Devil is to still have a wife, and how he should probably be treating her better.

I was originally going to post the poem “Neutral Tones” by Thomas Hardy to commemorate my old anniversary, as it’s a perfectly greyish poem for this greyish day, but ironically enough, the tone of the poem wasn’t quite right. Instead, I’m going to share a sonnet from Edna St. Vincent Millay, as it’s much more beautiful and its sentiment seems more appropriate.

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What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

(apologies to Ms. Millay and to Mrs. D.G.S.)

“it was too cold always…”

Stevie Smith, circa 1969

Stevie Smith was a tiny thing.  A diminutive poet of tremendous talent with a truly unique and wonderful voice, her Collected Poems remains one of my favorite volumes of poetry I own in part for its uniqueness (her Thurber-esque line drawings scattered throughout the book are particularly priceless).

Stevie Smith Collected PoemsStevie suffered from depression (as many poets and creative types are want to do) and yet she never seemed to let that depression get the better of her, channeling that sadness into a prolific writing talent whose lighthearted and humorous tone belied the loneliness and melancholy at its roots.  To this day, I never cease to be amazed at how she managed to accomplish that.

Below is perhaps her most famous poem, and also (admittedly) my favorite.  

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Every time I read this poem, I can’t help but recall a family vacation to Ha Ha Tonka when I was a child.  My younger brother Cole, who was about eight or nine years old at the time (and who couldn’t swim), had waded out from the lake shore far enough for my father to take notice.  Seeing that my brother’s head was just above water, my father called out to Cole to stand up.  My brother yelled back, “I AM standing up!”  Dad quickly dived into the water to retrieve my brother before he drowned.  Sometimes family’s good that way, I guess.

Rose Colored Glasses

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Fuckit.  I’m officially going on record as saying that one of the best shows on television right now (or the interwebs, technically) is BoJack Horseman, an animated Netflix original series featuring some downright brilliant writing with a heaping dose of existential subtext and a whole bevy of comedic talent (Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Stanley Tucci, Aaron Paul, Patton Oswalt, Wendie Malick, Alan Arkin, John Krasinski, etc., etc.), and yet, for some reason, apparently NOBODY’S WATCHING THE GODDAMN THING!?!?!

What is wrong with people?  Would we really rather be watching trite, shallow bullshit like Big Brother or The Real Housewives of [Fill-in-the-Blank] than this brilliantly underrated modern existentialist masterpiece?  Honestly, for any ’90s animation fans out there, the show is like The Critic meets Duckman with a healthy dose of The Maxx thrown in for good measure.  This is the show I’ve been missing all my life.

Tonight I caught this gem–an exchange between BoJack (Will Arnett) and his girlfriend Wanda (Lisa Kudrow)–and I felt compelled to share it:
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Wanda:  “Well, I’m sorry that things have been so hard for you, but that doesn’t give you the right to be shitty to me.  I can’t be around someone who’s just fueled by bitterness and negativity.”

BoJack:  “Well, then, what are you doing here?”

Wanda:  “What happened, BoJack?”

BoJack:  “Same thing that always happens.  You didn’t know me.  Then you fell in love with me.  And now you know me.”

Wanda:  “You know, it’s funny… when you look at someone with rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”

Yup.  Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth.

Dancing With the Daffodils

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daffodils and a dilapidated fire hydrant

Well, as is evidenced from the multitude of daffodils in bloom and the stirring in the loins of the twitterpated birds and squirrels in my back yard, Spring has officially sprung.

We had some vicious thunderstorms roll through the Ozarks tonight replete with lightning, hail, and even tornadoes.  As soon as I knew it was coming, I managed to run outside long enough to cut the freshly bloomed daffodils from my yard before their inevitable destruction at the unmerciful hands of Mother Nature.  My living room now resembles the parlor of a funeral home.

Staring at all of these damned daffodils reminds me of William Wordsworth’s most famous poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (aka “the daffodil poem”), and I now feel obligated to put on my proverbial professor’s cap and give everyone a quick poetry lesson.  Accompanying this post are two photographs I took with a point-and-shoot camera a few years back, so please pardon the image quality.  They’re pictures of the daffodils which were once planted around my library.

[putting on professor’s cap]

Wordsworth believed that poetry should be “recollected in tranquility,” meaning that a poet shouldn’t compose a poem until enough time has passed (ideally several years) for the poet to recall the inspiration for the poem with a clean emotional slate.  Personally, I think this artistic philosophy is absolute bullshit because it runs contrary to what I believe to be the nature of art.  As far as I’m concerned, art is not only at its best when it elicits emotion, but also when it’s created with emotion.  Passion is essential to the creation of art, and passion isn’t something that can be “recollected in tranquility.”  But then again, he was William Wordsworth, and I’m not, so I’m in no position to argue with his creative process.

Below you will find Wordsworth’s poem.  It’s a little old fashioned, but it has one of the greatest last stanzas of all time, so I hope you enjoy it.

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**********************************************

          I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

          I wander'd lonely as a cloud
          That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
          When all at once I saw a crowd,
          A host, of golden daffodils;
          Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
          Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

          Continuous as the stars that shine
          And twinkle on the milky way,
          They stretched in never-ending line
          Along the margin of a bay:                                  
          Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
          Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

          The waves beside them danced; but they
          Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
          A poet could not but be gay,
          In such a jocund company:
          I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
          What wealth the show to me had brought:

          For oft, when on my couch I lie
          In vacant or in pensive mood,                               
          They flash upon that inward eye
          Which is the bliss of solitude;
          And then my heart with pleasure fills,
          And dances with the daffodils.

                         -William Wordsworth

The Greatest Comeback Since Lazarus

I don’t keep up with professional football much anymore, what with the shenanigans that have dogged the league for the last several years (no pun intended).  From Vick’s dog fighting to Favre’s dick pics to Randle’s panty raiding to Hernandez’s murder trial, the NFL looks more like the Jerry Springer Show than a legitimate sports organization.  Throw in the recent domestic abuse horseshit (aka the passive-aggressive condoning of violence against women and children) and, well, it’s hard to be a fan nowadays.  But I happened to catch the end of the Seahawks/Packers game on Sunday, and I must admit that it was the single most exciting three minutes of football I have ever witnessed.  Seattle was dead in the water after having been thoroughly outplayed all game, but after converting a fake field goal for a touchdown late in the third quarter and then scoring 15 points in only 44 seconds within the final minutes of regulation, those scrappy bastards put themselves in a position to win in OT.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt I’ll ever see anything quite like it again–I reckon I was fortunate to have been flipping channels at just the right time.  I had a similar experience in 1990, tuning in to HBO just in time to hear, “Down goes Tyson!  Down goes Tyson!” as Buster Douglas knocked out the nigh-invulnerable heavyweight champ:  “Iron” Mike Tyson.  (This was before he went bat-shit crazy and started biting people’s ears off.)

downgoestyson(Tyson vs. Douglas, February 11, 1990)

Of course, the post-game interviews were chock-full of sports clichés including “never give up,” which got me thinking about perseverance and the virtue of sticking with something even when all hope is lost.  When the odds are stacked against you and defeat seems all but certain, that is your time to rise to the occasion and make the impossible possible–that can be your moment of heroic triumph.  But only if you allow it to be.  Sometimes it’s far too easy to give up, to simply fold a lousy hand and concede defeat, or to throw in the towel like Roberto Duran did as he was being humiliated by Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring (“No más, no más,” he famously told the referee).  When what you’re giving up on doesn’t really matter, if it’s of no consequence, then that’s fine–no harm, no foul, I say.  But when you give up on something you truly believe in, something that you feel defines you or is an essential part of who you are or who you aspire to be, then you have effectively given up on yourself and you might as well go ahead and give up on life, too.

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(Leonard vs. Duran II, November 25, 1980)

I once had a friend who found herself blindsided by an unfortunate life event, and she was in such shock and disbelief as to how she’d been mistreated that she didn’t know what to do with herself.  Full of pain and anguish, her first instinct was to lash out and strike back, but she ended up running headlong into a pattern of self-destructive behavior instead.  I remember giving her the following advice:  you’ve got to pick yourself up and dust yourself off before you throw a punch.  The point being that when you suddenly find yourself sucker-punched full in the mouth and knocked flat on your ass, it’s in your best interest to take a moment to compose yourself before you stand up and take a swing.  Otherwise, you’re likely to wind up on your ass again.  And now I find myself in the strange position of having to heed my own advice.  All I want to do is to jump up and hit life back with everything it has dished out to me, like Ralphie did to the yellow-eyed Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story, bloodying the bully’s face with haymakers and all the while cursing like Yosemite Sam.  But I know better than this.  I know that if I were to try such a thing, I would only find myself back in a heap on the ground.

In the spirit of perseverance and boxing metaphors, I’ll leave you with a link to the music video for “Ali in the Jungle,” a song by the English rock band The Hours.  Just by chance, I stumbled upon this video a few years back whilst drinking and looking for the footage of Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” and I have since adopted it as my aphoristic anthem (“Everybody gets knocked down.  How quick are you going to get up?  Just how are you going to get up?”).  In the song are references to famous instances of men and women persevering in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  While I wouldn’t necessarily describe this song as my kind of music, it is somewhat catchy and the video is worth watching for the psychedelic art direction alone.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to read up on some of the folks mentioned in the lyrics if you’re not familiar with their stories.  Learnin’ is fun, dammit.

Root, Hog, or Die

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Here’s your learnin’ for the day, kiddos:

“Root, hog, or die” is an early-American expression whose origins lie in pig farming.  You see, it used to be common practice for farmers to turn their hogs loose in the woods to forage (or “root”) for their own food, thereby saving the farmer the time and trouble of having to feed and fully care for the animals themselves.

The expression has become a Southern idiom for self-reliance, meaning that you must fend for yourself if you want to survive because no one else can (or will) do it for you.  And ain’t that the fuckin’ truth.

I’ve begun this blog because I have recently found myself clinging to this idiom for dear life, and I intend to use this site as a forum to document my journey into (and hopefully out of) the abyss that is the giant gaping hole in my life.  I hope to repair my broken heart and renew my sense of purpose as I take up writing again, and I invite you all to come along.

So let’s call them hogs:  WOOOOOO, PIG!  SOOIE!