Sunday, January 20, 2013

Tide Management and You

More somber thoughts, I'm afraid. 

Wasn't it a beautiful day, here in northern New Jersey?  Sunday is Combat Paper day for me, and I made the trip in good time (no police officers offering to punish me for doing 80 at times, in the 65 mph zone, thank you), with my customary stop at the neighborhood Starbux, for a couple cups of communal coffee for the folks at the Print Center.  I'd brought a nice little Pink Lady apple with me, and ate it as I drove the last few miles, on Rattlesnake Bridge Road.  It was crisp and tart.

The Print Center was bustling, and we had an informal meeting, to look over the Combat Paper-related events coming up between now and April.  Busy, busy, busy.  I have some writing to do, for an upcoming event in Teaneck.  (Me?) (Bizarre)  After soaking up all this data, I turned my attention to signing my three editions, earmarked for the Combat Paper archives.  I'm really pleased with the way the St. Margaret's Dragon prints turned out -- the ink is lush, but not to the point of obscuring the image.  Maybe I should do more dragons?

Then I helped with some of the more devilish details of deconstructing a defunct uniform.  The seams are especially troublesome, so of course I like tackling them.  Talk around the table, as threads were being severed and strips of cloth were being clipped into smaller pieces, turned to Agent Orange, and similar military toxins that continue to leave their marks, long after the skirmish in question has been declared over.  Buried landmines.  Unexploded ordinance.  Depleted uranium.  That sort of thing.

And as we were talking, the customary pizza lunch arrived, and we all took a break, to savor some cheese and/or pepperoni.  I ate two slices, realizing that, aside from that crisp apple, these were my breakfast.  Whatever. 

But through all this, I felt like an actor who was only vaguely familiar with the play he was in.  I felt a kind of low-grade deadness inside, as though I'd swallowed something I thought was innocuous, but which has turned into a lurching, heavy, twisting thing writhing around in my chest cavity.  Grief, I think, is what it is.

And through all this camaraderie, I was unwillingly replaying Friday's weirdly clinical, furtive events, as the contents of a musician's life were hastily boxed up and carted away.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  I think I was so busy at the time, pawing through hastily-gathered papers and scores and CDs, that it didn't really register that these were a human being's possessions, only last week seemingly secure on their shelves, in their drawers.  The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  In this case, the ebbing took maybe an hour and a half, or two at most, and then the apartment was stripped bare.

No internecine squabbling -- perhaps because the police officer was waiting for all the 'funeral necessities' to be removed, perhaps because of the brutally cold wind.  Perhaps because everyone was in a kind of activated shock -- how can you think about what you want, when you don't want to be wanting any of it?  (Well, I did 'adopt' a little volume of short stories by Franz Kafka -- it seemed appropriate)  The back hatch area of our Prius was packed solid with cardboard boxes filled with scores and hymnals.  The U-Haul van, that had left South Jersey at 5 am that morning, heading for what must have been, for the driver, the worst driving adventure on earth, had barely enough materials to fill the rubber floor mats from side to side.  The life of an anchorite of sorts. 

What struck me, not much later, was the rapidity and finality with which this last cleansing had taken place.  (And there weren't even that many hands involved)  Of course, I had to make the inevitable comparison, with my own imponderable accumulation of everything from the blue plastic bags that wrap my daily NYTimes, to tools and art supplies and lavish picture books and...  It continues to horrify me, thinking of the mess I'm liable to leave behind me.

And then I thought, not for the first time, of the notion of living, now, as though I've already died -- the notion of treating my possessions as though I were the stranger in the room, dispassionately tossing this into this bag, that into another, and most of everything else into those heavy-duty black trash sacks, to be hauled away by someone with a nice little pickup truck.

The notion releases an inner store of grief and anger, even though I can clearly see that this purging is absolutely necessary.  For the moment, I can't imagine an increment small enough to allow me to carry out this elimination without having another sobbing breakdown, like the one that overtook me when we were in the midst of our last basement flood of water and raw sewage.

Being dead is the key, I think.  The challenge reminds me of a meditative exercise I found in 'The Book of Secrets' (a surprisingly large and obvious hardbound volume, for something purporting to divulge arcana); the meditator (that would be me) imagines that he has no head.  I used to try this, as I drove back and forth between home and my teaching job in Philadelphia -- I found it hilarious, and it didn't impact my driving at all.  If I can imagine that I have no head, is it such a leap to imagine that I'm already deceased, but that I've been given some odd dispensation, to allow me to straighten things up a bit, before the rigor sets in?

In theory, of course, this sounds relatively easy.  In practice, I shouldn't be surprised to encounter considerable resistance.  If that which does not kill us makes us stronger, what if we're already dead?

©  2013    Walter Zimmerman    

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