One Hand Clapping – April 2003
The purpose of this daily journal is to see if I can find a way to unclench my fist and turn it into an open palm — a palm of generosity, understanding, compassion — and to see if I can capture, in words, the thunderous sound of one hand clapping. To put it another way, it is my publicly insane response to a world gone mad. It is also a way of reminding myself, and anyone willing to listen, that the madness will someday end.
— William Michaelian
Note: Each month of One Hand Clapping has been assigned its own page. Links are provided here, and again at the bottom of each journal page. To go to the beginning of Volume 2, click here.
March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003
October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004
April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005
April 1, 2003 — Two or three days ago, I stopped off at Goodwill to check on their supply of sport coats and shirts. I struck out in the shirt department, but I did find a jacket that was in fine condition, except that it was far too bulky for this time of year. Nearby, there was an enormous pile of ties on the floor — a good place for them. I also saw a black fur cap that was in pretty good shape, and half a dozen decent sweater vests. After stepping over several children playing on the floor near the shoe racks, I made my way to the kitchenware. I love this section. A couple of years ago, my wife and I paid three dollars for a round silver serving tray that has proven to be both decorative and useful. Around the same time, I bought half a dozen or so heavy old-fashioned shot glasses for forty-nine cents apiece. Pots and pans, dishes, cups, glasses — it’s all fascinating. Anyway. Next up was the book department. At one end, on the bottom shelf, there were several paperbacks and a bowling ball I didn’t bother to examine. At eye level on the shelf just opposite, I found an interesting book entitled The Best Loved Poems of the American People, published in 1936 — a real find, and, as it turned out, the only one that day. Satisfied with my luck, I paid the desperately bored young woman at the cash register and left the store. But now I’m thinking I should go back and have her read “The Optimist,” a great short poem by an unknown author that I found in the book last night. It goes like this: The optimist fell ten stories. / At each window bar / He shouted to his friends: / “All right so far.” On the other hand, the inspiration might kill her, something she is bound to resent.
April 2, 2003 — I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately, in part because of recently acquired books, and also because it is spring — not that summer, fall, and winter aren’t all excellent times for poetry. But it’s spring now. And being spring, poems are sprouting up everywhere — in sidewalk cracks, along the edges of office buildings, and near doorways where banished smokers linger, nursing their habit. During spring, poems are so plentiful that one can literally go out and gather them up. Summer poems are different. They tend to be larger and lazier. One can walk past a summer poem without even waking it, whereas a spring poem is liable to jump up and bite you on the ankle. Autumn poems, on the other hand, are philosophical, though they also tend toward self-centered verbosity. And winter gives us poems of wisdom, and sadness, but also perspective and hope. Winter poems especially enjoy human company. Another thing I find interesting about poems is that they can remain hidden in books for years without growing resentful. Then when someone finally comes along and turns to the right page, there they are, warm, familiar, and revealing. What they reveal, though, varies from reader to reader. And every poem is not for every person, just as every person is not for every other person. There are even those who, dehumanized by their selfish ignorance, seek to abolish poetry, as we are currently witnessing on the war-torn world stage. These petty minds are threatened by poetry without even knowing what it is. They are threatened by what it represents: real freedom. And so they work hard at keeping the world divided. Yet they cannot kill poetry. Poetry lives.
April 3, 2003 — Several mentally ill crows have been dismantling the maple trees in front of our house because it’s time for them to build their nests. I’ve noticed, however, that the trees always seem to benefit from the extensive pruning. I’ve also heard many times that crows are quite intelligent. But I’m not so sure. If they were, they would charge the city for their work. Still, I’m reminded of a certain crow that frequented the workshop of a well-drilling outfit in a small farming town in central California. For entertainment, the employees would take turns holding a coin up to the light, and then everyone would watch as the crow swooped down out of the rafters, grab the coin with its beak, and fly off. A minute later it would drop the coin and wait for the game to be repeated. Maybe I should try this with the local birds. The only thing I’m afraid of is that they will go after one of my eyes instead of the coin, leaving me with yet another physical defect.
April 4, 2003 — Awhile ago, I saw a sign on a place of business that said “God bless our troops.” Apparently, God is expected to read such signs and act accordingly. Of course the implication is that God should curse “their” troops — unless, perhaps, enough people “over there” counter with signs of their own, in which case God will add up the signs and decide to bless their troops instead of ours, proving once again that war is a complicated business — and a business it is, when you think about the corporate class acts who will benefit from the current spate of destruction. Oddly enough, these same people claim that God is on their side. How convenient. But these are only words — soaked in blood.
April 5, 2003 — It has been a long time since I’ve typed anything on my old two-ton Royal, but I still admire the machine on a daily basis. In fact, I’m even thinking of removing the wool hat and sweater sitting on top of it and typing out a few words just to listen, once again, to its holy racket. My father was a great typist, though his typing “career” had ended by the time he was twenty-three. But when he was in high school, he competed against the state typing champion and came only a word or two shy of beating her, both typing in excess of a hundred words a minute. My mother, meanwhile, was an accomplished secretary, typing her way successfully through many jobs, including one at a small weekly newspaper, a four-page broadsheet called the Alta Advocate. So I guess you could say that typing is in the blood. An interesting thing about my old Royal is that I traded it straight across for an electric model I had but didn’t really care for. The same store sold musical instruments and sheet music. One of the owners used to be a barber. And next door, in a narrow little space, there actually used to be a barber, who also happened to be the father of a nice woman who raised goats not far from where we lived. When my father died in 1995, she stopped by to express her sympathy. A couple of days earlier, I had typed a few grossly insufficient words about my father on my mother’s electric typewriter, and what I wrote appeared in the Fresno Bee along with his obituary. And a few days after that I was driving north again to Oregon, wondering what in the world I was supposed to do without a father, even though I’d been one myself for many years. Such questions are never really answered directly, but in time one realizes that they have been answered. This is the beginning of wisdom. But only the beginning. Real wisdom comes when you don’t have to explain it to yourself anymore. Then you are free to bore others with all you have learned, oblivious of the fact that they know far more than you do.
April 6, 2003 — When I was a kid, I used to dig holes in the shade of the walnut trees growing by our house. My intention was always to live in them; when that didn’t work, I settled for long afternoons. My main occupation was reading old issues of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. One hole, I remember, had a fireplace. The chimney was formed by driving an old metal horseshoe peg into the clay soil. All I had to do was light a few leaves, twigs, or pine needles, and then watch the smoke rise up through the chimney. Paradise. And I’m still quite good with a shovel. But now I usually dig my holes on paper — that is, when I’m not digging them by the stupidity of my actions. Sometimes I succeed in combining the two. This is always cause for celebration. Several years ago, we were told by the landlord of the house we were renting that the holes my children had dug in the backyard would have to be filled in. I said, “But they’re holes. Kids are supposed to dig holes. Didn’t you dig holes when you were that age?” His answer amazed me: “I did, but my father always made me fill them in.” And I thought, What a sad thing.
April 7, 2003 — Yesterday while a young man was trying to sell my wife and me a bed, a quarter fell through a hole in my right pocket and landed on the floor. When I bent down to pick it up, another quarter fell out. “I refuse to give up on these pants,” I said. “They’re old, but they’re comfortable.” The young man smiled, sure he was wasting his breath. To prove we were legitimate customers, we tried several couches, measured one, looked at oak TV stands, and did a lot of nodding and mumbling. Then we actually bought a bed. Shortly after we’d returned home, our daughter pulled into the driveway. She said she’d just seen a girl riding a horse and talking on a cell phone. A great image. On a scrap of paper, I wrote the word Incongruities. Our evening meal included asparagus. My son went to a friend’s house to help him remove a virus from his computer. Someone’s car alarm went off at four in the morning. Today I’m wearing a different pair of pants. They’re old, but not as old as the others. And I still have my quarters, but not my marbles.
April 8, 2003 — I just made the mistake of looking outside. If I don’t do some work in the backyard soon, I might not be able to subdue the jungle in time to plant this year’s tomato crop. It’s warm and dry today, but more rain is predicted. What I should do, what I need to do, is spend the rest of the afternoon with a rake and a shovel. In the open area near the house where the soil is warmest and most manageable, there are mounds of weeds, the most striking of which is henbit, now in full flower. But I don’t really think of these as weeds, because if one were out for a Sunday drive and saw henbit blooming along the road or on a hillside, he would say, “Look at the pretty wildflowers.” Last spring, I didn’t get our tomatoes planted until early May. We started picking in late August, and ended up with a bumper crop that lasted until frost — beyond frost, really, because we also picked two big bagsful that were partially ripe, and were eating those as they ripened well into November. But last year’s glory must yield to this year’s chore. I must ready my “fields” for planting. This reminds me of No Time to Cut My Hair, the ninety-day story-writing project I was immersed in last fall. Each time I finished a story, I had to turn right around and start another one. Come to think of it, I wrote those stories in August, September, and October — right in the middle of tomato-eating season. No wonder I had the strength to keep going.
April 9, 2003 — When there is too much to do, the logical thing is to do what you can and save the rest for later. Not surprisingly, I refuse to follow this advice. Instead, I wear myself out by trying to do everything, even as the list grows. And I usually succeed — at the minor expense of my physical and mental health. I look at it this way: there is no way of knowing how long I’ll be here, so I want to get as much done as possible. Of course, it can be argued that doing a little less actually makes one more effective. My answer to that is, perhaps so, for some people. But for me, doing less usually leads to doing even less. In other words, the more time I have to do something, the less likely I am to get it done. Conversely, when I have too much to do, I become far more efficient and organized, and I usually find out that I don’t have too much to do, but rather just the right amount. This is another way of saying that for me, there is no such thing as having too much to do. When it comes to writing, this is especially the case. While I know I will never finish all the writing I have to do, I still feel I must try, because what I leave unwritten at the end of my life might well be my best work. Therefore while I’m here, I need to write beyond my life — a most futile and enjoyable task.
April 10, 2003 — In today’s mail, I received a sixteen-page four-color glossy brochure “inviting” me and several thousand other writers to a writers conference in Maui. For a mere $1,075, plus the cost of lodging and airfare, I can learn to write in a relaxed, intimate setting while wearing a brightly colored shirt. But the really good news is that registered conference attendees are also eligible to purchase “special event guest badges.” How can one go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you how. A writer goes wrong every time he believes he can learn to write by listening to others talk about writing in a relaxed, intimate setting that also happens to cost the writer a bundle. If the writer has a little money to spare, as in about ten or twenty bucks, said writer would do far better to spend an evening at the local tavern, watching, listening, and paying attention. Then, after sobering up with a cold shower and a pot of scalding coffee, this same writer can sit down at his typewriter or computer keyboard and teach himself how to write. If he doesn’t have a little money to spare, as is quite often the case, the writer can skip the saloon, the shower, and the coffee and go straight to his typewriter. Well, maybe not the coffee. I’ll have to think about that one.
April 11, 2003 — Just before I woke up this morning, I was dreaming that I was trying to coax our son’s young cat, Joe, out of our closet. Somehow he had managed to make himself small enough to fit in the narrow space between a stack of old shoeboxes and the wall. There wasn’t even room for him to turn his head when I called his name. I picked him up, and as he was about to playfully sink his teeth into my hand, my eyes popped open and the dream was over. A few hours later, Joe chased a squirrel up the pine tree in our backyard, then became fascinated with a dove a little beyond his reach. Now he’s in the attic — unless this is another dream, or a continuation of the dream I was having earlier. I certainly seem to be awake, but I’ve been fooled by this kind of seeming before, only to wake up in a highly agitated state because of a dream’s extraordinary, multi-dimensional reality. Another, more likely possibility, is that I am lost somewhere in between — my usual condition. I think. Then again, maybe this is Joe’s dream, and I am only chasing my tail.
April 12, 2003 — The world would be better off without lawnmowers. I say, let the grass grow, or get a goat, or both. I am also against sidewalks, because they are ugly, and because concrete is hard on the feet. Cement is evil. We are meant to walk on uneven ground. It’s good for the muscles and it stimulates circulation. We also need to cut down on the noise. We make far too much of it. And light. Why should it be so hard to see the stars at night? What are we doing up past our bedtimes anyway? No wonder everyone’s so cranky. Case in point: a couple of days ago, while the wife and I were out for a stroll (on that blasted cement), we noticed in front of a certain house that two beautiful trees had been removed and their stumps ground up into little bits. The trees were at least thirty years old and were doing no harm whatsoever. Only a cranky person would chop down a healthy, harmless tree. And yet, all over the neighborhood, we have seen this kind of behavior time and again. Trees come down. More concrete is poured. Lawns are mowed and massaged to the point that yards look like cemeteries. At one house we know of, the grass is afraid to grow. It just sits there. Green. Uniform. As if it had been painted onto the ground. How would you like to be an insect in that man’s lawn, or a weed seed, waiting to germinate? Good luck, is all I can say. We need to relax and breathe. We need to give it a rest. Everything will be okay if the lawn isn’t mowed. And the tree that isn’t chopped down will be home to birds, who know a thing or two about writing songs.
April 13, 2003 — Another strange dream: While lost in an enormous empty building, I was joined by a short, dark-haired young man who was also looking for a way out. We eventually found a door that opened onto a long corridor, which led to yet another building. This second building had a fountain in the center. We heard voices. Frightened, the young man ran to the fountain, then fell to his knees and pretended to pray. I kneeled next to a wall. Suddenly people were milling about everywhere. My view of the young man and the fountain was cut off. A feeling of hostility permeated the air. Trying to go unnoticed, I looked at the floor. It didn’t work. A man came up to me, and with much anger told me he didn’t like my sport coat. And I thought, Is it really that bad? And then I was outside, alone. I awakened soon thereafter. It’s true, I thought in the dark. I have been wearing the same sport coat every day for the past several months. Maybe it’s time for a change. . . . Later, after I’d been up awhile, I made a big panful of string beans with lamb for tonight’s supper. Then I took a shower. I did some writing, had a bite to eat, drank some coffee, and slowly came to my senses. Then I made an important decision: Dream or no dream, I will wear my sport coat later today when I go out. And I will go on wearing it every day until the weather gets warm. Maybe even longer.
April 14, 2003 — This morning on the radio, I heard someone say how important it is for people to give themselves a break from computers and television and to do something that involves some physical activity instead. I believe the word he used was “exercise.” He said our species isn’t really meant to sit in a heap, staring at screens. But I’m sure if we keep working at it, we’ll get used to it in a few million or billion years. For now, though, he’s undoubtedly right. A little more movement would put us in a better mood and keep a lot of us out of the hospital. I know I don’t get enough exercise these days. But I still remember how impatient I was as a kid whenever my two older brothers remained seated for more than five minutes. With baseball and basketball to play, sitting was a crime. I also remember saying to myself that I would never sit unless it was absolutely required. A few years later, though, there I was, sitting. And I’ve been sitting ever since. Now my own children look at me in wonder, probably saying the same thing I said when I was their age: “Not me.” I only hope my poor example will be persuasive enough to keep them on course. But I have my doubts. Like exercise, sitting is addictive. Once you start, it is almost impossible to stop. The well known “runner’s high” gives way to “sitter’s low,” which creates its own set of reasons to go on sitting. Take now, for instance. It’s rainy, it’s windy, I’m tired, I have more work to do, bills to pay, problems to solve, and I’m still too full from lunch. Why, it wears me out just thinking about it. So I guess I’ll sit a little longer. Later, though, I really am going out for a walk — unless something important comes along to prevent it.
April 15, 2003 — You work hard for your money, then you give some of it away. You give it to something called the “government,” which then uses it to kill people, detain and torture others, and give itself more power. Then you work some more, and a year later you do it all over again. As a reward, you are permitted to read government-sponsored propaganda in something the same government calls the “free press.” Most people call this paying taxes. It’s a time-honored practice, even though it doesn’t work. But it might work if the money were used for constructive instead of destructive purposes. Too bad a well-nourished, well-educated population that cares for its poorer and older citizens is such a threat — to the government. Oh, well. Time to put that check in the mail.
April 16, 2003 — Howling at the moon is a satisfying activity, probably as satisfying as going to the moon itself. Besides, how many people actually make it to the moon? How many make it anywhere in terms of impossible or nearly impossible attainment? The answer is, everyone — everyone who survives, who laughs, who eats, drinks, sleeps, and shakes his fist at the absurdly profane-profound natural order of things. And it should be noted that the temporary nature of our survival is what actually makes it survival. On the other hand, if we didn’t die, I wonder how we would survive that knowledge? And before I begin to make sense, I will also say that none of this will matter very much if we ever stop howling. To howl is to survive. To survive is noble. Survival is noble because it leaves the door open to improvement and hope. If we stop howling, we might go on living, but our survival will be reduced to something else, something even more pitiful and embarrassing. . . . The ornamental pink double-blossomed cherry trees scattered throughout the area are now in full bloom. It’s amazing how trees that look so drab in the summer, and are so often ravaged by worms and insects that their trunks are rotten to the core, have the strength to make such a powerful statement. Interesting.
April 17, 2003 — It is often said, “Read the fine print.” This is good advice, because the reason fine print exists at all is to discourage it from being read. If fine print authors wanted their message to be read, they would set it in larger type. This is where advertising comes in. The print in advertising is a visual scream. And it is assumed by ad agencies and attorneys alike that the louder the message, the less likely a person is to read — or even notice — the real message, which is, “Don’t look now, but we’ve got you over a barrel.” That this method is quite effective is proven every day in court, as well as by the continued existence of fine print. The digusting thing about all this is that lying is the accepted business form. People lie, and expect the same in return. For some odd reason, the simple solution, which is not lying, seems too complicated. But is telling the truth really more complicated than cheating one another and having to always cover one’s tracks? Apparently enough of us think so. And apparently it is also easier than consistently striving to offer our best, and letting our work speak for itself. But that would call for personal responsibility, wouldn’t it? And who is responsible anymore? Everything that happens is someone else’s fault. Instead of taking responsibility for our actions, we become victims. We vote and expect our “leaders” to take care of things. We pour oil and anti-freeze into our street drains, but the polluted streams full of deformed frogs and dead fish that result aren’t our fault. A discarded cigarette butt or gum wrapper seems insignificant in itself, but multiply it a few million times and the roadside is littered with some pretty significant-looking trash. The same can be said of rude behavior. How hard is it, really, to smile and say “thank you,” or to let the car ahead of you merge into traffic? The all-too-common answer, unfortunately, is “up yours” — the same message found, coincidentally, in most fine print.
April 18, 2003 — One crucial thing a writer must remember while looking for or waiting for someone to publish his work is that he must keep writing. The moment he stops writing, the petty business side of things grows in importance, and there is the very real danger of forgetting what brought the writer to the point of having anything to publish in the first place. For the writer to remain a writer, he must press on. The sooner he can leave behind his previous work, the better off he will be. The best way to move forward is to let go of the past. What is written is written. What has yet to be written is full of challenge and promise — and also failure, which is a writer’s lifelong friend and companion. Failure is a friend because it is such a good and impartial teacher. It is a companion because it is always present in some form, even if it exists only as doubt. Of course, success is fine too. And so is a little healthy arrogance. For while there is always room for improvement, the writer who is confident is also the writer most likely to forge ahead. Stagnation is the enemy. It’s the same in all walks and aspects of life. And if the simultaneous presence of confidence and failure seems a contradiction, that’s because it is. Everything is a contradiction. That’s why life is such a delightfully harmonious enterprise.
April 19, 2003 — First, the bad news: I haven’t brought home any books for the last several days. The good news? I’ve been reading the ones I have. The Book of Living Verse, a volume I rescued a few weeks ago from a free book bin in West Salem, has turned out to be quite a find. Last night I read some wonderful poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. My favorite was “Dirge Without Music,” which ends like this: . . . Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave / Gently they go, the beautful, the tender, the kind; / Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. / I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. While reading around, I also found Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!,” a favorite of mine since I first learned it in the sixth grade at Grand View School — the same school, incidentally, that my father attended as a boy, and that was situated immediately south of the same Thompson Seedless vineyard, and owned by the same Japanese man, whose name was Kiwano. And then this verse from “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” by Robert Frost: . . . The sun was warm but the wind was chill. / You know how it is with an April day / When the sun is out and the wind is still, / You’re one month on in the middle of May. / But if you so much as dare to speak, / A cloud comes over the sunlit arch, / A wind comes off a frozen peak, / And you’re two months back in the middle of March. . . . As it happens, this is a perfect description of today’s weather, which seems intent on speaking two languages at once.
April 20, 2003 — If my father’s father were still alive, he would be all smiles today because it is Easter. Easter was his favorite holiday because it was his name day in the Armenian Church. My grandfather’s name was Haroutiun, which means “resurrection” in Armenian. For Gramp, Easter meant putting on a nice shirt, tie, and hat and going to church. If the small local church was between parish priests and closed, as was occasionally the case, he would still wear his tie and hat to our house, where he, my grandmother, and the rest of the family were treated to an enormous Armenian meal prepared by my mother. After that, we would have an Easter egg fight, a game my father and grandfather enjoyed immensely. How you held the egg was crucial. The less of it you exposed to your opponent’s sharp taps, the better. After the egg fight, there was plenty of dessert and coffee, plus a minimum of three hours of talk about the “old days.” In fact, while I was growing up, I heard so much about the old days that I felt very much a part of them. I still do. And of course now I am also part of my own old days, which constitute a neverland of growing force and magnitude. Meanwhile, our children are still having to listen to my rendition of the old old days, as well as my mother’s rendition of hers, which includes the old days as they were handed down to her by her mother and father. And so they don’t stand a chance, the lucky brats.
April 21, 2003 — Two days ago, I finally managed to turn over a small portion of our garden space that is nearest the house. Four or five feet away, though, the soil was still too wet to dig. Our other space, where our tomatoes were last year, is even worse. A test shovelful yielded a juicy, worm-filled slab of clay. And now it’s raining again. Assuming we have a warm spell in early May, I expect to be engaged in a furious last-minute bout of digging and preparation. But we still like the rain, having become addicted to blue skies and fresh air soon after our move to Salem in 1987. The funny thing about it is, 1987 was a hot, dry year, and it was ninety-five degrees here this same time in April. Having come from the San Joaquin Valley, the heat that year didn’t bother us a bit. But it did rain an inch on the last day of June, surprising no one but us newcomers. Another funny thing is the childish yammering of television weather people, who are frightened when a single cloud passes overhead. Personally, I don’t feel threatened by rain. I like clouds. The sun is fine, too. In fact, I am grateful there are seasons. I can even figure out what to wear without a meteorologist’s advice. Apparently, though, there are many people who can’t, even though all that’s required is going outside once in awhile and paying attention.
April 22, 2003 — It’s hard to work when you’re hungry, but it’s much harder when you’re weighed down with food. Personally, I prefer working on an empty stomach. Eventually, though, when the bitter acids take over and the stomach lining comes under attack, I know it’s time to eat. The thing I like about working on an empty stomach is that it liberates the brain waves. Brain waves are important. If my stomach is full, my brain waves shut down, except for a few concerned with breathing and so on. Take now, for instance. My stomach is empty, but my brain waves are zipping right along. It feels great. At any moment, I could decide to start work on a new novel. This is something that would never happen after lunch. After lunch I could continue working on a novel, but taking on a new one wouldn’t even occur to me. That would have to wait until much later in the afternoon. Of course, by then it would be too late, because supper would be on the horizon. This is probably why I have written more short stories than novels. Be that as it may, I have been thinking lately that it might be fun to write another novel. In fact, I know it would be fun. That’s why I write in the first place. So why don’t I begin? Because it’s almost lunch time, that’s why.
April 23, 2003 — There are times when this high-tech universe drives me absolutely mad, and I long to be back in the vineyard with my hands gripped around a low-tech pair of pruning shears. When it comes to “hardware,” good old pruning shears, shovels, and hoes can’t be beat. And there is still no greater “software” than one’s own brain. In my case, the brain is really soft, but that is only because I have spent too much time recently grappling with high-tech issues. The matter will be solved, of course. Eventually. But at present I am consumed by details that have absolutely nothing to do with writing and everything to do with frustration. No novel will be started today, no story, no poem. An ulcer, maybe. My prediction, though, is that things will look better by the end of the day. Or worse. Or they might even look the same. Really, how am I supposed to know how things will look? Come to think of it, maybe I will write a story today. It certainly feels like there is one brewing.
April 24, 2003 — I never did buy any tobacco for my uncle’s pipe. But today is his birthday, so maybe I will. I don’t think he’d mind. He hasn’t used it for almost sixty years. And I just had another strange thought. All of my uncles are dead. All of them — my father’s two brothers, one a violinist, the other a mechanic; their uncles, one an artist and poet, another a produce manager and lover of the opera, and still another an “operator,” as clever, ambitious people used to be called. No uncles. What a truly sad state of affairs — although I do have many wonderful aunts in no rush to go anywhere. Thank goodness. Please stay put, ladies. You are desperately needed in these lonely, preposterous times. As for you eternally resting men, what’s the big idea? Why did you take off so soon? . . . Yesterday while driving home from my mother’s house, I heard the most wonderful song in the world — or at least it was the most wonderful song I could have heard at that moment. A soft, melancholy rain was falling when the announcer on the radio introduced “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans,” performed by Louis Armstrong. Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans / And miss it each night and day / I know I’m not wrong . . . this feeling is gettin’ stronger / The longer I stay away / . . . / Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans / When that’s where you left your heart / And there’s one thing more . . . I miss the one I care for / More than I miss New Orleans. Oh, that voice of his. That personality. And then I turned the corner and saw two schoolgirls on their way home, laughing and throwing wet cherry blossoms at each other. The tree they had picked them from hung down over the sidewalk. Do you know what it means? Does anyone know what any of it means?
April 25, 2003 — All is calm, all is serene. In other words, I’m going crazy. But that’s okay. Lunacy runs in the family. We are comfortable being nuts. We like it, and frequently compare notes. All we lack is an annual reunion of demented relatives. Some of us get together on occasion, but we have never organized. But it’s probably for the best. That might really attract attention — although there are those among us whom I suspect would relish being certified, because it would satisfy a sick hunger for notoriety and extra attention. And yet it has never happened. We’re all still at large. . . . Speaking of sanity, the technological nightmare I was complaining about a couple of days ago is now mostly solved. A look in the mirror, however, tells me I have aged at least five years in the last seventy-two hours. So now I look twenty-seven. Oh, well. One can’t expect to get through life without a few battle scars. I just hope I’m still around when the problem is officially laid to rest. Of course if I am, I will have to get rid of our mirrors.
April 26, 2003 — In kindergarten, my good friend Edwin and I were always first to request use of the small building blocks. The big building blocks were okay, but they were rather crude. About all you could do was stack them up and knock them down again. The little blocks, on the other hand, were well suited to the building of fortresses. If stacked properly, it was even possible to remove a block here and there from a wall to form windows. The problem was, our teacher, whose main job was dispensing graham crackers for our morning snack, felt it necessary for some reason to allow other members of the class an opportunity to use our blocks. “Not today,” she would say when we were already halfway to the blocks. “We’ll let someone else have a turn.” And then Edwin and I would stop and look at each other, knowing full well that this meant we were stuck with the big blocks. Talk about a waste of expertise. To get even, we rode our stick horses up and down the corridor during recess, screaming at the top of our lungs. Without a doubt, the teacher didn’t like us. But she was a crabby soul, so I’m not sure she liked anybody. She even made us take a nap every day. I never could understand why we should lie down on a towel for thirty minutes at 11:30 in the morning. What was the point in being five years old if you had to stare out the window in silence, jealous of the dragonflies buzzing around outside? I never did learn the answer. Then summer came, and our nine months of kindergarten were over. Overjoyed, we returned to our backyards and fields, our vineyards and orchards. And freedom.
April 27, 2003 — Today is our youngest son’s sixteenth birthday. To celebrate, we will do all of the things we usually do, only they will be in his honor. There will also be a cake and lots of ice cream, and plenty of other stuff to eat and drink. The sun is even shining today. This means the street will be dry for an afternoon basketball game — great for working up an appetite. It also means that we are still here to admire the sun, and that the world is still here to receive the sun’s warming rays — truly a miracle in light of current events. So we have many reasons to celebrate. Now, if only our simple birthday happiness could become a worldwide epidemic. . . .
April 28, 2003 — Last night I tried using a new pillow. I still haven’t gotten rid of the pain in my shoulders and neck. The old pillow is already back in place. The question is, if I go to bed now, in the middle of the day, will the old pillow help undo the damage? Or maybe I should just try lying down for fifteen minutes and see if that helps. It might. But I don’t have fifteen minutes. If I try to rest now, I’ll just lie there and fidget, and my eyes will dart nervously in my head, because there are too many more things I need to do today. Or, as Robert Frost once said, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” Good old Robert Frost. He knew. And he proved it by going many more miles before he slept — and he wore those miles upon his face, as I am beginning to now, and on his shoulders, as I am now, thanks to that rotten pillow.
April 29, 2003 — This morning I dreamed my wife and I had found a new bike trail in a huge park we had visited many times before, but that was still somehow unfamiliar. The trail was smooth and led past shimmering waters, around which leafy green trees had congregated to give thanks and pay homage. Part of the time we were riding, part of the time we were on foot and the trail was covered with fir needles. I remember realizing a few times that I was dreaming, but each time I managed to fend off the realization and dwell a bit longer in the dream. After our trek, we came to a strange building. I knew our nineteen-year-old son was inside, because there was a familiar noise emanating from within. The noise turned out to be his cat, Joe, trying to knock down the door to our son’s room just a few feet up the hall. Five o’clock. Oh, well. It was time to get up anyway. . . . Now, hours later, I am trying to make sense of another dream: a patch of blue sky being chased by clouds on their way to the hills. Another dream, another park. Both seem more familiar, though they, too, are constantly changing.
April 30, 2003 — Mental Breakthrough: I’ve finally come to the realization that doing one’s work to the best of his ability while constantly seeking to improve isn’t enough. If one isn’t controversial, and controversial in a big way, then he will almost certainly be condemned to live and die in obscurity. In two simple words, controversy sells. That’s why I’ve decided to become controversial. No more Mr. Diligent Reliable Nice Guy. I want to be famous. When I walk down the street, I want to be mobbed by adoring fans and asked for my autograph. I also want my books to be banned and burned. I want to be known as a hell-raiser, a troublemaker, a lunatic, and a threat to society. The only problem is, I haven’t figured out how to accomplish all this. I get up in the morning and drink coffee, have a bite to eat, and go to work. I’ve been following this procedure for so long that I can go halfway through the day without even remembering that I’ve been doing the exact same thing for years and years. And then when I do remember, I don’t have time to think about it, because I am too busy trying to get my work done. It’s a difficult cycle to break. Also, there’s the added burden of knowing that not just any controversy will do. With deviant behavior at an all-time high, it’s getting harder and harder for the first-time controversial person to break in. I could take off all of my clothes and burn the United States flag in downtown Salem while shouting “Give Peace a Chance” and get myself on the evening news, for instance, but then what? Then I’d have to turn right around and find some other controversial thing to do. It just isn’t easy.
Unless . . . unless . . . by not embracing controversy, I can become even more controversial. No, that doesn’t make sense. What am I supposed to do, go around telling people that I’m not controversial? They’d think I’m and idiot — and they’d be right. No, I’ve got to do something really big, really insane. I’ve got to grab for the gusto while I still have the energy, before this lifetime of stable, predictable behavior does me in completely. But what? And how?
March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003
October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004
April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005
Also by William Michaelian
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Another Song I Know
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