A stray piece of quiet

Today I hung my wet laundry out on the line. It was the first time in nearly twenty years I have done this. It was a different line then, just some old cotton clothesline between the slats in a corner of fence at a house we were renting as poor newlyweds. When the wind blew, it would thrash the clothes against the fence, taking splinters and seasons of dirt with it, depositing them back on our wet towels and sheets. We bought a dryer shortly after that, sending us further into debt. Just for the luxury of fluffy towels without needles of wood in them.

Today was a clear and calm day in the mountains. The sky is that shade of blue that you could almost cut yourself on. Just a few whisps of icy clouds drifting through to join thunderheads massing over the mountains to the east. I hung out my towels and sheets, comforters, and quilts on the twisted steel wire line. My grandmother’s old clothesline. Not some amateurish rig, this was a highly functioning, and unless it was raining or snowing, extremely reliable way to get the job done back in the day. Not long ago, every back yard had one. Long before we were being scolded by this generation about the kind of world we were leaving for them. We hung our clothes on the line and let the wind do the rest.

This evening, I felt a sadness, like eyes watching me from across a crowded room. Like someone watching me over the rim of their drink as they sipped at it through a tiny cocktail straw. And every time I tried to look in its direction, it shyly looked away. The house was quiet, the laundry brought in and folded and put away. The last light of the day fading as the sun slipped behind the mountains. The sadness became more pronounced. I recognized it as loneliness, regret, longing. It wasn’t mine, I knew that much. It was more like hearing a conversation through the walls of a house. That warm sound that used to fill the quiet of morning when you wake up in a new place and people are busy making coffee and speaking in that low tone to keep from waking anyone else.

What was this loneliness and why had it found me? Was someone missing me? An old lover who had been flooded with nostalgia and thoughts of what could have been? I wonder sometimes if they still think of me and what might have been. Though I am at peace with it now. I have my own path to walk, and wish them the best on theirs. May they never cross again.

Could it have been a close friend feeling overwhelmed but thinking their problems were a burden and rather than asking for help to carry the load, they just watched it boil over like a pot of noodles. Or was it my kids in some far off place, feeling shut off, but powerless in their world right now to do anything about it? After all, missing their dad would be a betrayal. The weight of growing up is hard and frightening and more than anyone should have to face alone.

Or maybe it was some stray feeling on the wind, caught by the hanging clothes like a net, which I unwittingly dragged in with the rest.

I invited this loneliness in and listened to it and started putting words down on paper. That sadness. That longing. Like the scent of tobacco clinging to old walls. Or the sound of peeper frogs singing in a creek, but are seldom seen. That desire for connection manifested itself into words and ink and expression. And when I was done, it was laid to rest.

Thoughts on Reprisal and stuff

Recently, I finished watching a series on Hulu called “Reprisal.”  It would take too long to explain what it is, but I will sum it up as best as I can.  Doris used to be called Catherine Harlow, and before she became a chef, she was the little sister of the head of a dangerous gang of folks known as the Brawlers.  They dragged her behind a truck and left her for dead and somehow, she survived, because of reasons.  So, Doris, is on a mission of revenge, akin to the Count of Monte Cristo, in which she gets help from a number of different people to infiltrate the Brawlers as well as start a gang war with the Ghouls, while she pulls the strings.

Doris is a massively flawed character and winds up misjudging or screwing up a lot.

But, the reason you watch Reprisal is because of the aesthetic.  It is a rockabilly-fueled world that could exist in some strange alternative-history world.  It is the bastard child of a Tarantino flick (right up to the Red Apple cigarettes) and a David Lynch multiverse.  Throw in some Sons of Anarchy and pretty much this is the world these people inhabit.  Instead of motorcycles, you’ve got rat-rods, glorious fuel guzzling oxidized bodied early model American cars which would make George Miller blush.  You won’t see a Japanese car or anything built after 1983 in the show either.  Just about the newest technology anyone has is a flip phone.

One episode encapsulates exactly why this is not the USA we all know.  It begins with a WW2/Korean War type newsreel about a war over “The Archipelago”.  Nothing much is mentioned about it other than a lot of veterans carry the scars of horrendous fighting and everyone seems to get really silent whenever it is brought up.  This seems to be this world’s Vietnam or even your pick of Gulf War/Afghanistan wars.

The world is such an interesting blend of old and new that I found it mesmerizing.  A group of errand boys known as the 3 River Phoenixes cruise up and down a vast highway known as The River, collecting money for the gang as well as profits from Bang-A-Rangs, which are sorta like the Titty-Twister roadhouse from the Robert Rodriguez movie, “From Dusk Til Dawn.”  The strippers are burlesque girls who pack sub-machine guns and the whole thing could be out of an old grindhouse movie in the 70s.

I was hooked pretty quickly.  The world-building was fascinating. The characters are all endowed with plenty of hubris and there is a magical-realistic element to it that pulls the story along.  The story of Doris/Catherine could be right out of Isabella Allende or Dumas.

I enjoyed the hell out of it.

That being said, I can see that it will be a show that falls victim to a lot of this Wokeness going around.  Because I liked the show, I tried to learn more about it.  The voices of other writers who might be enjoying it the same as I am.  There’s not a lot out there, really.  But the reviews that I have read got my eyes rolling.  What was worse than that were the comments.

One writer complained that the women dress like pinups or flappers and the men dress like they are going bowling.  Only one character “bridges the gap with gender neutrality.”  Fuck.  Really?  We’ve got to bring this up in literally every conversation now?  Other commenters said the Femme Fatale trope was dead and it was 2019 and they just need to let it go.

Well, let’s just write everything by a committee and literally just beat the life out of anything that doesn’t fit someone’s delicate sensibilities.

I guess they missed the whole “noir” part of the show.  The fact that this show has been infused with the vibe of the world 40 or 50 years ago, if not longer.  A world where femme fatales, tough guys, Star-crossed lovers, fast cars, exploitation, and gritty dirt-under-your-nails stories were what people saw in the drive-ins.  It’s a callback to a generation that has just about breathed its last.  Smothered in its bed by obnoxious, disobedient children with stupid haircuts, being offended, and for a surprisingly short time on this Earth, perhaps the most-documented generation of people, who have probably accomplished the least in the history of the world.

This show won’t last, because people don’t want fun. Or they have entirely too much say in what someone else might consider fun.  Why does everyone wear vintage clothes on the show?  How come you never see a Honda or Toyota?  What’s with River Phoenix’s name getting thrown out there?  Who the hell knows!?  Sometimes a writer ought to just be able to create something because it is fun, or cool, or silly.  Not everything has to be a fucking cinematic masterpiece or propaganda tool.

When did we all have to take everything so seriously?  Having morality thrust upon us in the guise of “equity and representation” is as dishonest as the Hays Code of the 20th Century, which demonized the nipple, limited kissing to no longer than three seconds, and damned anyone to hell who used “curse words.”  Ironically enough, not showing sex in movies probably didn’t slow down any of the fucking that was going on, because we still have people.  All this was done at a time when men were watching their buddies get blown to pieces on beaches all over the world.  This is how you go from Louise Brooks to Doris Day in less than a generation.

Today, you can’t smoke, you can’t drink out of a garden hose, you can’t disagree with a little Swedish girl who got to chide the United Nations over an ideology.  Anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a fascist. Or shamed as an “Incel.” Comedians can’t make jokes anymore, and anyone not in the Club can be completely ostracized for voicing their opinions, because the Woke are the gatekeepers. I saw it plenty of times when I used to write fiction for SF/Fantasy magazines. And the moral/intellectual superiority of so many people who buy into this shit just leaves me baffled.  The White Knights of Wokedom.  Little do they know, but they are next on the barbecue once it gets to them.

There is a divide in this country.  Rural/Uban.  Left/Right.  Conservative/Liberal.  Boomer/Millennial. But no one should confuse any of these with Right/Wrong.  I think the reason there is so much contention is rather than just let people live their lives, just like this show, someone always thinks they know better and have any license to speak for them.

I have worked in Higher Ed for over 20 years.  I have seen it evolve from Marxist bullshit they used to jam down our throats in literature class (when it wasn’t Freudian interpretation) and now I have seen it just compound itself into what it is today. A room full of people jabbering in their own echo-chamber about social justice and privilege, when they themselves are enjoying these privileges.  I wonder if a day will come when people start to throw their mortar boards into the reflecting pool like some sort of last gesture of rejecting Thulsa Doom’s Cult of Academia because the whole thing has just gotten completely ridiculous.

I’m not angry.  I’m just disappointed.

This is how we get a game show host in the White House and a woman who literally appropriated a culture to pay for college as the opposing candidate.  The whole world is nothing more than a bunch of competing Children’s Crusades.  What in the actual hell?

 

The Cure for FOMO

I don’t know if it’s a cure, but it has been a remedy.

As I have mentioned a few times here before, for many years, I might as well have been living under a rock.  All my years of wanting to travel were not only blocked with my own personal hesitation, but decisions that were made at home, meant that we would never have enough money to go abroad.

This year, in case you haven’t been following along, I took my first international trip.  (Other than a night in Canadia in 1993).

In the nearly five years that I have been on my own, I have had grand aspirations to travel.  Divorce is nearly as expensive as a bad marriage, however, so my dreams of doing what I wanted to do all those years ago have been on hold.  Until now.

In that time, I have been jealous of those in my life who have gotten to travel.  I’ll admit it.  I’m not proud of it.  Living vicariously was no longer enough.  I wanted to go, but somehow, I still couldn’t get it together.  There was always something to come up that would stop me. Someone once told me, “I don’t know that you actually want to travel, or else you would have done it by now.”  That stung.  When other people were building a legacy while they were married, mine left me with two bankruptcies, drained bank accounts, and almost nothing to my name.

They just didn’t understand. What’s worse, for a moment, I believed them. I was comparing myself to them.

This year’s trip almost didn’t happen.  Due to changes in child support, half of my tax return was claimed by the State.  But by then, I had already bought the tickets and all that needed to be done was to pay for the AirBnB.  I had just enough to do it, in spite of concerns about my budget. Fewer day trips.  No Chunnel train.  Sacrifices.

My writing gigs supplemented the rest.  Putting in some extra work was well worth it.  Those fives and tens add up when you let them.

My destination: London and wherever my whims took me.  I was no longer experiencing the Fear Of Missing Out. I was finally getting to do what I had wanted to do for the last 25 years.  I was immersing myself in a foreign city.  Jumping into the deep end to teach myself how to swim.

I don’t want to sound like I’m crowing about my accomplishments, but considering how far I’ve come in five years, I crow a little bit.

One day on the trip was a little difficult, I must admit.  It came about when I was having a little bit of trip burn out.  All the walking, museums, shops, etc. started to blur together.  I watched young couples sitting on benches in the park, about my age when the travel bug first bit me.  The summer of my seventeenth year.  I was those young couples, in love, sitting on park benches, seeing the world.  This day, however, my legs hurt.  I felt like I hadn’t done enough.  Like I had wasted a day.  The FOMO was beginning to bubble up.

That evening, I messaged a friend back who asked if I was going to go to any clubs.  I was tired.  In pain. Burned out, and a little bluesy.  I said I wouldn’t even know where to find a club.  The conversation went to how to find a club.  I started to feel bad, like I wasn’t trying hard enough.  Like I needed to get out there and get my flirt on.

FOMO.

I’ll be honest, I really don’t like clubs all that much.  I’ve tried them, and for the most part I find myself shouting into someone’s ear half the night and pretending I’m not as deaf as I am while trying to read their lips. Lots of nodding and smiling.

I’m not the kind of guy who goes cruising for hookups either, which a lot of that is what clubs are for.  I like to dance, but there is a difference.  And flying solo as I was, I just wasn’t feeling it.  But, I started to feel that FOMO raising its ugly head.  I didn’t want to go to a club, but shouldn’t I?

So, I went on a walk that night.  I hopped on a double decker bus that took me on a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  I write about it here too.  It was a challenge I needed to overcome.

By the time I got home, I was happy again.  Even though I had a few moments of FOMO, I broke through it all and realized it was MY trip.  I wasn’t there for the clubs, or hookups, or any of that. I wasn’t there to live someone else’s vacation.  I was on a journey of my own discovery.  And that is what I did.  It was a low point of the trip, but I bought a souvenir to commemorate it.  A coffee mug from the place where I realized how ridiculous I was being.

I was tested, and I felt something fall away from myself.  Changed by the experience. In all honesty, I think had I taken the trip with another person, it would have changed the nature of the whole experience.

I was comfortable in my own skin, accepting of my faults, my mistakes, my regrets.  My aging body that wasn’t handling uneven streets the way it would have in 1993.  I wasn’t there to chase women.  I wasn’t there to prove anything to anyone.  I was there to be present in the moment. To drink it all in.

I used to think the expression “Wherever you go, there you are,” just meant you couldn’t run away from yourself.  Really, what I discovered was at some point you are always going to be you.  So, you might as well enjoy their company, because it is some pretty good company.  Wherever you go, you will be content if you can just be comfortable in your own skin, whether you run and see all the sights of a distant city, or if you are at home watching a movie on Netflix with your son.  You can’t run away from your demons (you have to face them at some point), but you shouldn’t run from your joy either.

I wasn’t missing out on anything.  Even all those years I lost when I was married couldn’t make me feel like I was missing out on my own life anymore.  I was living it.  I was right there, in that moment, doing exactly what I wanted to do.

I didn’t have FOMO.  I wasn’t missing out on anything.  Even today, I’m not missing out.  I”m right here.  In good company.

“The pathway to salvation is as narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor’s edge.”  Sometimes I walk it, and sometimes I fall.  From great heights. On fire. Into a pool of piranhas. But, I do get back up and try to walk it again.

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