The Tin Man: A View from 50

Let us gaze in the mirror alongside the subject as he assesses life on the morning he crosses the half-century point. He needs a helpful, objective view. Thank you for helping.

From the top, the hair. He has a full head of hair, and the ratio of follicles that still produce dark-brown versus white interlopers remains 80-to-20 in favor of dark brown. He has a single white hair visible on his right hand, which he has nicknamed “Memento Mori.” There is white in his beard, so he shaves, but white hairs have not yet appeared on his legs.

The ratio of brown to white is such that a friend asked him several years ago which brand and color dye he uses, which shocked and pleased him at the same time because he does not dye his hair. This is because he is proud of his full head of dark hair as if it is a comment on his positive qualities as an individual rather than an accident of genetic inheritance.
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3000 Days of Somehow

I do not recall July 14, 2010, which was three-thousand and one days ago today. What is more, I left no social media footprint that day, so I do not even have any words or sentences or “Mark is feeling :-)” emoticon that I may have typed that morning on Facebook that could spark a memory.

Of course I looked. I looked just now with a grimace of anticipation on my face in the worry-slash-hope that I would find something I had written that day to someone about anything at all. Nope. (In fact, I do not enjoy looking at anything I typed before July 15, 2010, for reasons that I hope will become clear.) There is no journal entry, no blog post.
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In Memory of a Fallen Friend

Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
 
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise
.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”

* * * *
Six-foot-four. If you asked him, and people often did while gazing up at him, “How tall are you,” he would reply, “6-4,” as if someone had once told him that “6-5” (his obvious actual height) sounded like a brag and he did not want to add a brag to his already imposing height. The man bent his head to pass through door frames. He was tall.

Modesty was the virtue he most cherished. It was not a false modesty or a virtue-signaling; I have learned that you will sometimes meet people in life who radiate modesty because they know that life cuts all of us down and they have learned it in the hardest of ways. Mickey J. was one of those people, and when I went to bed last night, I still thought I lived in a world shared with my friend, but he had died yesterday. I woke to the news on my phone.
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Better and Better

A friend told me about eating out with her “sarcastic” friend—we all have one—when the two of them saw a toddler, bundled up in winter layers, bounce off a closed glass door and fall because the child had not perceived the door.

The sarcastic friend said, sotto voce, “Get used to that, kid.”

Life is a clear, freshly cleaned, plate glass door that I haven’t noticed is a door, even with a shiny metal door handle at every-door-you’ve-ever-seen’s-door-handle-height on it, because I have been too busy thinking about life (or “thinking” “about” “life”) until I bonk into it. Loudly.

When are we too young to learn that? or too old to be reminded?
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Panicky

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
—T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

* * * *
Any room with me in it is a panic room.

“Take my advice—I’m not using it.” Oh, I can tell you to keep calm. At my worst, I might insist that you keep calm. But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even some of the more pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.

In one of my lesser achievements in the field of stress management, I gave myself a black eye while tying my shoes. These were boots with leather laces (I am not a cowboy) and such laces can take a little effort to yank into position. While securing my “half-knot” on my right shoe, the length of lace in my left hand broke and I clocked myself in the right eye. At the time, I was 34 years old, not 11.
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Lush Life

A personal reflection sparked by Olivia Laing’s excellent 2013 book The Trip to Echo Spring.

* * * *
Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
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Snow Falling on Everything

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.—James Joyce, the conclusion of “The Dead,” Dubliners

Cemeteries are cram-packed full with people who had other plans that day. Reservations for dinner, a movie ticket in the pocket. A refrigerator with new groceries. A sink with dirty dishes.

We all know this deep down, but the occasional reminders can nonetheless surprise. “Always wear clean underwear,” a cliché cartoon version of a mother tells a cliché cartoon version of ourselves in a cliché cartoon version of a conversation that never happens in real life. But the end comes in a moment, and it is always dramatic, even when it is mundane.

(I suppose it is never mundane for the person who experiences it, but I have not yet been there, not even been near it, and no one who has had the end moment has made a verifiable report about it. Tsk-tsk. Where are their priorities?)
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Irreplaceable Me

I never fooled myself into believing that I was indispensable, but did I have to prove it so often to the world at large?

* * * *
There is a phrase one hears in recovery circles: “Pulling a geographic.” While sharing their stories about the past and the inebriated life, many addicts and alcoholics learn that they have done similar things, like move across the country because they thought that a change would do them good.

One of the things that many of us did, many times, when we were trying to exert control over life was run from it. Move. Sometimes across town and sometimes cross-country. There was nothing so bad it couldn’t be fixed without filling out a change-of-address card.
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