Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Temptation of the Public Poetry Reading, Issue 1: Who You Are

An old friend of mine once introduced me to the idea of going to an open session for poetry reading.  I'm not a huge fan of the rhymy stuff; I can write it all day, but to have to rhyme is to have to be confined.  So I prefer the prose.  I've never been to one; I may never go to one, but the thought that I might like to read aloud at one gives me a small thrill.  With that sentiment, I start the series of writings that I would actually be willing to read aloud.  To qualify, in my mind, they must be ones that I could read with at least bouts of incredibly emotional emphasis--they must be moving, by my reckoning (and, I hope, they are moving by yours).  So, tonight, I begin.

I don't know exactly who you are, but I know it must be enough.  It can't be any other way.

Who you are--who I am--is defined by what we have been.  And what we have been has been a result of our choices, our genetic bridles,  our interpretation of the world's acts upon us, and the actual acts of the world upon us.

As a kid, I was a natural at baseball, but I lost the love too early.  I was passionately and fanatically in love with football, but I started the effort too late.  My spirit, both the built and the inherent, was the spirit and remains the spirit of William Wallace--of an unquenchable thirst to see the abused vindicated and the abusers punished.  A close friend told me a few years ago that I have a problem with forgiveness.  He's right, and part of what I have trouble forgiving is my past, and I would have that trouble regardless of what my past was.

You are who you are.  You love what you love.  The story that creates the you of right this moment is a story that, fast-forwarded, would look like popcorn in a machine, going from seed to popped, or unpopped and remaining seed, bouncing all around in the machine by various forces that, alone, are specific and detailed but together are fully unpredictable, yet when you look at all the popcorn in the machine after the popping is done, the popcorn and the remaining kernels that are unpopped fell in exactly one way.  One, single, defined way.  That became the you of right now.

I accept the me.  I look at my life, right now, and I see the fluffy popcorn in its cubic arrangement.  I see every kernel that didn't pop and lay dormant, I see every unique shape and position of each piece, and I am not allowed to go into the popcorn and swoosh it about, for it is in the past and that's that.  Time travel wouldn't help, because if I swished it all about, then the present me would have no idea what he had interfered with and resurfaced.

Nobody would argue that you can change this or that starting in this present moment, and, indeed, the world would have it no other way.  Anything being shaped is constantly in a process of leaving its old state.  Nobody would argue that accepting your present state is more peaceful and much easier than fighting it.  And in truth, why would you fight it?  Change all you want starting now, but until starting, you can change nothing, so why not accept your present state?  All that has made you is in the past.

You are, right now, exactly what you absolutely must be.  In the future, go ahead, become anew, but what you are right this moment is and forever will be enough for you, because you have no choice in the matter.  All the toil and panic you can muster will not change it.  Would you dare go as far as to accept it and even celebrate it?  I would.  I celebrate who I am right now because the past will never be re-written.  I am a leaf, half-grown from a tree that will die.  I am information that will pass leisurely into and through your eye.  From your moment of birth, you are falling toward your death, and I'm falling with you, and we will both be entirely satisfied with that, in one way or another.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Into the 59th hour of sleeplessness and other things I wish were fiction

It's entirely true that as I write this, I'm now past 58 hours of sleeplessness.

Being an experimenter, I wanted to see what I could do in this state, yet I don't even know what to test out.  Thinking in preparation or any type of project is hard.  It's exactly like looking into your mind for answers your know are there and they've locked themselves away down in a locked part of your subconscious.  The conscious mind itself is devoid of activity, mostly.  I'm only relatively aware of my immediate surroundings.

None of us are strangers to fatigue--the monopoly on insomnia is not mine--yet this is a level that I have only passed maybe 10 or 15 times before.

Typically, as is the case tonight, the force that keeps me awake is physical pain with some arthritis problems that I have in my spine.  What happens isn't all about pain, though.  For some reason, as my lady would testify, once I've gone 36 hours awake, I often get very nervous about sleeping until after 48 have passed, and then I can (or have to) crash.  It's this odd feeling, like since I'm so exhausted from having been awake for 36 or more hours, I fear I'll sleep so hard I'll die.

Ever heard of anything like that?

Well, might as well try a few experiments here or descriptions.

I'll start with one truth here; the importance of any opinion piece--of any blog, really--is immediately diminished after only being awake for just 24 hours.  One begins to wonder, "Why bother?"  While I can easily wonder that while fresh, I can quickly answer, "Because I like it.  I like to share the experiences of life and get feedback and maybe help to spread understanding in my own little way, through my own little insights; one more flavor of chips in the vending machine, Kevin's mind tries to be."  That's generally the feeling, but right now, it's like I can't even understand what a blog is.  I wonder if I ever really did.

The TV is on; I usually watch stuff on NetFlix because I can get my WWII stuff and science stuff through that, and it's a really cheap subscription of around eight bucks per month through the Wii, added to our meager satellite plan.  I hear and see it, but it's harder to understand not only what I'm looking at, but to figure out what I think I'm looking at while also taking in the auditory information simultaneously.  I find myself watching this Hitler underground caves/roadways special and although the story is well-told and quite factual, I often forget what the documentary is about.  Is it about bread lines?  Wait, that was more of a Russian thing.  Oh, it was his bunker; no, shit, this is about his larger underground factory, transport and hangar systems.  Ok, got it.  Now they are talking about gas penetrating into the shutters  yet before that, they said why it wouldn't work, and I can't remember why that was.  And this was literally stated to me 20 or 30 seconds ago.  Every frame is starting to look the same; rocks, caves, underground with modern-day scientists/flashback to WWII, sometime in early 1945 before they surrendered, those clips mostly come from.  The narrator, who speaks perfect English with only the very slightest English accent, seems to be saying nothing.  I catch words.  "Rejected, empty, nothing, shelters, air raids, humidity, authorities."  In a sentence, this documentary, which I would normally rate about an 8 or high 7 on my need-to-know scale as it applies to my interest in that part of history, isn't making sense, and won't be remembered by me, I suspect.

As I sit here typing, I'm making more mistakes than usual.  My fingers are moving slowly, compared to my normal medium speed.  I often don't look when I'm typing, right now, with my head laying back on my recliner as I type.  To look, as I am again now, makes my neck feel like it's trying to support a pallet of cinder blocks   The typing mistakes, normally limited to one word I have to fix in a paragaph, are popping up every 3rd or 4th word on average.  I'm losing my ability to think and execute the motor functions of the type required to type.

There is a general fuzziness to all I see and hear, like it's not really happening here, but in a recording from a week or two ago.

I'm disturbed more by sensory issues.  While the normal moderate to severe pains of my conditions rule the largest block of my perceptions, still, it is not them that make my skin crawl right now.  It is other things.  It is the feeling of my socks on my skin--I don't like it, they feel like sandpaper and they are actually very nice, padded, Carhart socks, not a month old.  When I put my right hand on my mouse pad, I can feel a cool dampness from where I have sweat on it, and I can't stand it.  I have to get up now.  It has been about twenty minutes, I think, since I started this post.  Time--the accurate perception of time... that's the first thing to go after even 24 hours.  At this point, I nearly have no concept of it.  I just guessed that I had written about six paragraphs, with lots of pauses and mistakes.  (I just counted; it was technically eleven paragraphs, and that tells me a lot).

I'm taking a break now; just for one moment.

While on a break, I tried to remember what the date was and couldn't.  I guess the 21st, and that was only one day off, and that's actually not bad for me.  I also realized on my five minute break that I was writing this whole piece more for me.  It's a reference piece--not just to show my difference in thinking and writing performance but so that I can look at areas of the novels that I have written and possibly recognize when I was writing tired, for better or worse.

If I honestly try to compare this state of mind, right now, to my state of mind when I've had rest and a coffee, I can actually do that pretty well, at least I think.  I realize how broken (I just had to think for at least 15 seconds to decide on the word "broken") my thoughts and the resulting writing is between the two states of alertness.  Not just from paragraph to paragraph (if you asked me to summarize, right now, what I had said in my first few paragraphs, I have no idea and I'm not cheating--I think I introduced the challenge of the fatigue as I saw it and how it would affect my writing, but I don't remember.  I literally cannot remember what I wrote 20 or 30 mins ago in this very post) but from word to word and sentence to sentence.  A regular question that rises in my mind as I write all this tonight is, "Where are you coming from with this sentence from the last, and where are you going to go?"  I have yet to answer it, except on the break, when I sat in a dark room with no stimulus other than cold (an enclosed back porch).

I know I should write more--I know that this could become valuable to me, this knowledge of how the sleepless Kev has written--yet it holds dramatically little importance in my mind.  I need to get the socks off, and stop thinking for a while.  Maybe I'll write another post hours from now.  I know I should.  I know, deep down, there is value in it, however trivial.  But right now, the dominating thought of this state of mind is the constant thought that I don't care.  So, until later.  (I will spell correct; there are many to be done, which is not at all normal for me--I will not move paragraphs around, restructure, or correct for dashes, hyphens, or other silly stuff).

If you bothered reading through this, I hope you don't feel your time was wasted.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Tonight, I May Tell You a Lie

While the true date was January 31st, 2013, I entered a time warp.  And everything I'm about to write must, therefore, be a lie.

I was instantly in WWII, leading a group of four other commandos, like myself.  Our objective was a simple reconnaissance mission, and although we had to leave it earlier than we would have liked to, we did accomplish the mission.

That was secondary to the action, though.

It was 11:00 p.m., and as I rode my super-stealth scooter, muffled and quiet by its inferior engine size, I was late, but had already communicated with the four commandos I would end up leading, even though we all went into the mission as equals.  They forgave me early.  As I sat in a mess hall, before the mission, I had a feeling--a gut feeling, which I always listened to but didn't on this night--that the enemy would spot our transport vehicles and be on our tails soon after we entered their territory.  I kept this feeling in as I rode toward our rendezvous point, where they in a car and I on my scooter turned our motors off and began our deliberate, camouflaged, quiet march directly past enemy guard shacks, as we had before, and into the heart of enemy-held ground.

You never really get used to the nervous feeling of going past those shacks--it's not that you fear they will do anything, per se--you fear that they will notify some larger force that then really has a chance to take out your squad.  That was the real fear.

On this night, that's exactly what happened--that fear had been realized.  A bigger force had been notified, and was hot on our trail.

But we wouldn't know it until the search lights boomed on, shining through the windows of the building we were in.

But well before that, at 11:20 or so, we confidently entered the building, snapping our reconnaissance photos and recording sensitive audio signals.  We ran ultra-high technology tests to see if a certain type of enemy was present--an enemy that had proven extremely elusive in prior missions.  While we were satisfied that we had captured more than enough information to call the mission accomplished, for the operational part, anyway, we weren't satisfied with the amount of data and wanted to stay longer.

That's when one of the commandos, whom I'll call the Scot, said, "Lights."  We immediately dimmed our own sources of lights and stepped into a hallway, out of the range of the lights, between doors and windows, just barely.  Being the oldest among us at 40, I did feel a responsibility and thereby did start advising on what to do.  "Keep perfectly quiet," I said.  "Your camera is still emitting light," said another commando, who I'll call the Black Irish.  I said to her, "Just leave it on but drop it into my bag."  I didn't want her to accidentally snap a photo, setting off a flash, if she tried to turn it off and made a mistake, and the search lights lit up the whole of the building as the patrol moved around it, lighting it from both sides.  They were 15 feet from us at their closest point.

Three lady commandos and two men, we were.  The ladies all seemed very calm, and so did the Scot.  It was me who was the most energized--I suspect because I felt that for our survival, I must come up with the right plan, but I was not the leader.  We were just a group; just a team.  After the lights turned off and the patrol seemed to move away, I knew better--I had seen the tactic used before.  I said, "They're pretending to be gone, to see if we'll come pouring out.  We have to stay here, dead quiet, with no lights, for a while."  They agreed.

As we sat and whispered incredibly quietly, I could not help but tell them what was on my mind.  "I knew it!" I said with as much of an exclamation as you can have in the softest whisper.  "When I was there tonight, in the mess hall, my gut told me that a patrol would come, and would know we were somewhere near.  And I didn't listen to it, and it's always right--I knew it!  I will never ignore that instinct again."

We sat there, silent, in the dark, listening to our own hearts beat in our ears, wishing it wasn't happening so we could hear the outside better.

"Here's what we can do," I suggested.  The Scot and I knew the area already, whereas the Black Irish, Daughter of Elder, and the third woman whom I'll call the Silent Thinker, had seen the area few times before.  "If we go out the way we came in, taking the lane out to the main road, we can just do our normal routine of pretending to be civilians since I still believe the patrol is waiting out there, by the main road we followed in.  Or, we can go out the back way, loop wide around the building, and move through a patch of trees to the beach, which is neutral territory, and then we can re-join the main road some distance up the beach and certainly pass as civilians.  The problem is that if we go and loop around, there is terrible barbed wire that will probably cut us up a little."

Daughter of Elder asked, "What does your gut tell you now?"  She caught me off-guard with the question... I had not yet considered my gut feeling.  I had only just begun weighing the two options.  After a moment, though, that feeling crystallized to some degree and emerged.  "To be honest, my gut says we should loop around and go for the beach."  "If they find us, though, just leaving down the main lane out to the main road, won't we just as easily pass as civilians?  We should hardly be arrested," she said.  "Probably, but civilians on enemy ground are far more suspect than civilians on neutral ground."

We all agreed to go for the beach.  The weightiest factor was probably that my gut feeling had already proven perfectly sharp that night.

I said, "Follow me; we're going to move slow."  I believed that the enemy patrol may still be as close as 20 or 30 feet away, and now we were walking only with small patches of light that the gibbous moon leaked through some of the broken windows, into the hallway that led to our exit--every step on broken plaster or wood fragments worried us... every creak and groan and crack sound was certain to be the one that would give us away.

We moved slowly and deliberately to the exit, looping long around as planned, and then looked as best we could down the lane to see if the patrol was still there.  We could see none, yet we knew that the beach would be the safest bet, even though we would have to pass more guard shacks to get there.  After a brief discussion of options, it was a unanimous vote to continue on the path to the beach.

The guard houses we had to pass were ones we had never even reconned before.  We didn't know if they would have dogs, or if they had automatic trip wire that would illuminate an area where it was activated.  As we moved down a small road toward the beach, between two guard shacks, I stopped them just before we got to the shacks.  My gut was speaking again.  "I have a feeling this area may be rigged with alerts, so I think we should run these last 30 yards to the beach."  There wasn't agreement, but no disagreement.  We ran for it.  The moment we started, I could feel my legs vibrating and going numb as the pain of my conditions shot through my low back and up my right knee.  The truth is that I had been ordered not to run, at all, but if they had known that, I would have been pushing papers in some supply depot somewhere if the word got out... but it went off without a hitch; there were no alerts, no dogs, and no guards saw us.  We were out of harms way for the moment, but deep down, we knew we would face the patrol eventually.  Lady of Elder was attacked by the rare creature on the beach known as the Dock of Prey, but she quickly neutralized it and shook off her pain.  While my own pain was still growing by the second, I masked it with occasional stops in our walk to shift the weight in my body away from the most painful areas.

We came up with a new story since we couldn't use our original cover story due to the area we would be emerging from when the patrol found us.  We batted the details back and forth--discussed what curve balls the patrol might throw our way in any line of questioning.  We molded a plan, whispering as we walked.

After the tension of the previous hour, which included our penetration of enemy lines, strategic reconnaissance  and impromptu escape, I noticed a thing that we had all been ignoring.  "Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers," I said.

The moonlight, so bright then, was just dimmer than a setting sun, casting a wide, white path of ripples on the bay.

We did stop, and look, and admire.  We all know from previous experience that it was these moments that life was made of--these moments, of seeing beauty at a time when the odds wouldn't even have you alive--these moments were the fruit of defying the odds.  The moonlight, on the small waves, was vibrating like a thousand glowing violins moving to the same conductor.  Even in the cold breeze, it was a remarkable and spell-casting sight.  We were stunned by the beauty of the moment in every way.  And then, as commandos do, we marched on to face our fate.

Not two minutes into our walk as civilians down the main road, the patrol spotted and stopped us.  As I saw it approach, I think we all considered finding cover, but I said, "Be calm, and just act normal.  You are entirely within your right to be here right now; you are just civilians, and you know our story."

The pulled near, and questioned us briefly.  We stuck to our story, and while they didn't seem satisfied with it, they didn't have enough reason to waste more time interrogating us.  As we continued on down the road, we told quiet jokes among ourselves, mostly about how ineffective the patrol had been in not finding us, and then in letting us slip right through their hands in plain sight.  It's hard not to joke about it--it's entirely unbelievable.  But it happened.

Those four commandos went on their way in their vehicle and I went mine after some chat about the war and other odds and ends.  While I don't believe in destiny or predetermined futures, I couldn't help but find the strangest irony in this night.  As I rode my super-stealth scooter back down the road to return to my base, I remembered thinking back to when I said, "Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers..." That sentence reverberated in my head, mesmerizing me even as I rode down the road, thinking back to saying it while seeing the moonlight.  "Smell the flowers..." and it was in that instant that I ran over an already dead skunk in the road, which made my scooter smell just like him, even after extensive washing.

Was it a balance?  Was it required that if one got to smell roses one night, he would have to smell a skunk on the same night?  Is the price for moments of beauty simply moments of ugliness?  I don't know, but it seemed like more than chance was at work that night for the five of us.  There seemed to be an unplanned perfection in it.  Those are the nights people remember for a lifetime, where the full range of the senses is employed, the full range of emotions crosses through the heart and mind, and the full meaning of the utter simplicity in existence gongs like a church bell in the highest tower... that night was a symphony of flawless effort and perfect balance that I was happy to have conducted, for a little while, back in WWII.