“If something’s hard to do it’s not worth doing.”

Now, I do not necessarily agree with Homer’s (Simpson that is) attempt at sage advice. That said, it brings up a quandary I have had for many, many years; the value of toil and strife. As I write this I fear the direction it might head so let me start again.

I learned about a fun curling tradition last night at the club. OK, first I have to say that it is both amusing and refreshing to me that I can say “the club” in such a manner. Anyway, I do not know if this is a local tradition or a long standing one. It does have a sort of Scottish flair to it… Right, so the tradition involves taking a break, presumably when things are not going well or the teams are frustrated for one reason or another. As I understand it, at any point mid game it is acceptable for everyone to throw down their brooms, walk purposefully off the sheet, and head upstairs to have a beer. Then everyone returns to their brooms and play resumes. Sometimes you just need a break.

Now this is different than “throwing in the towel”, which is more in line with Homer’s mentality. Actually I guess Homer would suggest never stepping into the ring in the first place. Either way, sometimes it is best to walk away from a situation for a re-evaluation. The question that I am meandering around here is when is it acceptable to walk away all together? The American/Puritan work ethic might say never. We work and struggle and do not give up. But does that Sisyphean mentality have feasible boundaries? When, if ever, is it OK to quit? When is it OK to admit that the boulder is just fine at the bottom of the damn hill?

My father left the family when I was four…or something. Honestly I do not really remember it well. Suffice to say I was young. Did he quit? Hell I don’t know. I do not really want to judge that situation because if I do then I have to judge a lot of other situations. He made a choice to join another family and one that I have been a peripheral part of ever since. There are great people in that family…his family. My family. My mother left her family to join my father and his. My brother left home right after he graduated from High School. I was probably seven. My sister followed him the following year. Not too many years later my Mom and I moved to a new house. We moved in with her new beau; my eventual Step-Father. I left a few years later…a subject that I have discussed previously. We all found our own way and in order to do so we had to make choices. We perhaps had to “quit”; jobs, friends, maybe even family. I am not sure how best to classify this. I do not think that any of us really “threw in the towel”, but neither did any of us simply stop to have a beer and then return to the sheet to see the game through. Rather we all just sort of “jumped the track”; switched to another line as it were. My life has been full of seemingly random comings and goings, a myriad of paths twisting hither and thither through the world. I suppose that is what life is.

I first met Raven when he was probably three. I moved in with him and his mother a year or so later. Maybe I saw something of myself in him, in his situation. Maybe I was trying to undo the first derailment. Either way I do not think it worked. We had some good times. We would ski and hike, play with Legos and color with crayons. I used to read to them and we would watch our favorite movies together. We would eventually practice martial arts together and play Dungeons and Dragons. Years later I would leave. More than once. On the one hand I like to remember the good times and think that I had some positive influence on his life; on their lives. On the other hand, maybe I quit. Maybe I “threw in the towel” and caused more harm than good. To be honest I think that I also threw down my broom a number of times and made the effort to return to the game. It might have been for the wrong reasons though, I might have been misguided.

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We all make mistakes and suffer from errors in judgment. I have to ask myself sometimes if that has been too prevalent in my life the past 13 years; the past 23 years perhaps as that is roughly the timing of my first departure. I left my Chicago home alienating my friends but following the example of those that I had to learn from; in fact seeking out the primary exemplar in the north Maine woods. That undeniably was the beginning of a trend, one that I partially detailed in an earlier post. It took Raven and his family to slow me down for more than a few months, but I never really did stop. That relationship suffered from…well I really do not know, a lot of things I guess. I was not capable of slowing down enough perhaps and so even when I was there with them I was always off somewhere else.  But I think I wanted to stop, or at least to slow down. I guess we all suffered in some ways.

And then I moved on, jumped back into the aimless flow and have since left others in the wake. More experiences, more jobs, more friends, more family. Even when I was not really going anywhere. I have been here in this place for many years now, more than anywhere but my first childhood home; the place where all this began. Pending that I stay, it will soon be longer that I have been here in the ‘banks than anywhere else I have lived. I have this career and am at least pretending to build that house. I joined “the club” and am trying to actively re-establish old friendships and foster new ones. But amidst all that there was another derailment -more than one I guess- the most recent with some pretty heavy fallout. This of course forces me to reflect on my past…to fear for my future and the feelings of those around me. Fear the possibility of attachment and comfort. It is not a morbid fear but more of a reluctance…a hesitation.

When I lived in Maine all those years ago I took to liking a girl I went to school with. I misread a lot of signals and made some awkward decisions. I left Maine and moved to California and she went off to school somewhere. We never did have any sort of relationship, not really even anything close. She never wanted to be more than friends. But I fancied myself a hopeless romantic and thought this could act in my favor. A year after leaving Maine, having sporadically communicated with her, I set off on a hopeless quest; riding my motorcycle back to Maine to try to win this woman over. When I got there she had moved to Florida. It strikes me as very funny now; the whole silly, hopeful, tragic innocence of it. I misplaced my emotions somewhere on that trip. I think I have been trying to gather them up again ever since. Scribbles of poetry and angst ridden essays hoarded in notebooks over the years. Disjointed attempts to cobble together some sense of meaning, of identity, of a coherent set of feelings…until those too would be packed away to be ignored and forgotten.

Life is complicated. There is no roadmap but the one we create as we fumble along. We can look to our past to try to understand our life but can we really use that to try to comprehend our future? Is it even a good idea to base an understanding of our present on that? A person could go a bit crazy trying to make sense of it all. A person could want to just throw in the towel. But if we do not try to learn from our mistakes and our behaviors then what are we doing? What is the point? I know that I have made some bad choices, some awkward choices, and some ill informed choices. I have also made some good choices, or maybe I just got lucky a few times. I do not have any answers. I want to cobble all of those experiences together and make some sense of it all; try to understand the paths that have brought me here. When I really look at it though, read the old notebooks and anguish over the memories and try to understand the hurt as well as the joy none of it makes any sense. But then mark Twain said it best…

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

Today is Halloween, a day where we are encouraged to dress up in a costume and be something other than our self. This morning, in an attempt to be funny I commented to some friends (none of us in costume) that I was -in point of fact- in costume; that I was not myself but rather another person dressed as me and that it was a very good costume… Sometimes I wonder how true that might be. What is the image I am trying to present to others? Who am “I” and who do I want to “be”? Is that twisted, convoluted tangle of Blue Highways stretching out behind me the foundation for that self…that image? Is that the basis of “self”, the culmination of our experience? Perhaps, but not -in my opinion- without some active understanding of that experience. If -as it has been said- the road goes ever on and on, then we continually create and refine the “self” through the continual accretion of experience. This –to me- means then that we also must continually work to understand. Perhaps that is the real boulder.

“Squirrel!”

I have been gunning for that thing. There is no two ways about it, I wanted it dead. It knew it too.

Well the dogface flushed it just now and I got a clean shot…but it wasn’t a clean kill. It is dusky and though I hit it, it struggled. It was a bit traumatizing seeing it trying to climb, but its back end would not work. A second shot brought it down, but I could not watch it thrash. I had to finish it with the butt of the rifle; crushing its neck cutting off the blood and the air. It is in my freezer now.

I initially planned to trap it. I asked a small mammals specialist that I work with. She told me to shoot it. If I trapped it and transplanted it to another patch of woods it would starve and freeze to death because they are very territorial and the locals would not let it get a foothold. So it was kill it or listen to it tear my house apart from the inside out all winter. I will bring it to work and it will get cleaned and stuffed and used for educational purposes.

The whole business makes me feel like shit. It is not easy to take a life. I apologize to every fish, every grouse, every hare, and both of the moose I have taken. I also say thank you for I have “taken” all of those lives to feed myself. I always share with friends and with family when I can. I know that is important.  I return the remains to the woods or to the river. That is also important so that the animal’s spirit can return to its home and if it was treated well it may return to this world and choose to give itself again, to me, or someone like me.

I apologized to the squirrel. But there is nothing to thank it for. That was cold blooded murder…and I am likely to do it again. There are more squirrels that will try to take this one’s place. Maybe another beer will help…but probably not. Shit.

“Does that give you the vapors?”

It is one thing to meet someone you admire. It can be something else altogether to meet such a person, find out that you can relate on various levels and end up chatting about whatever for nearly an hour. The other night I went to a public presentation held in a nearby “hamlet”. The presenter was a local artist/cartoonist known for his Alaska specific witticisms. He had recently returned from a year long adventure in Maine. I have some ties to that area and was curious to see how his particular form of humor would interpret the region. This was Wednesday night. Then, this morning I ran into him in my building; we ended up talking about Maine and music, hiking in Hatcher Pass and Denali State Park and Gates of the Arctic, about museums and history and the value of learning from the locals. Crazy.

By way of introduction, this is one of my favorites of his cartoons…

The experience made me revisit a number of ideas that I was just yesterday discussing with a friend and fellow blogger; ideas relating to the search for identity and belonging, of finding and appreciating familiarity amidst the seeming chaos of life while at the same time admiring the chaos in and of itself. Not really the whole “man’s search for meaning” business but rather the admiration for the ability of the natural world (of which we are of course an integral part) to…for want of a better word –present?, manifest?, create?- order among chaos; fractals and the Fibonacci Sequence, or the poor humble beaver striving to manage the world around him.

I hope she will forgive me unabashedly quoting her here, but I thought this was a particularly astute observation from our chat yesterday:

“I think people are genuinely happy when they unexpectedly find people who are actually like them. It validates our egos a bit. Maybe that’s on a less superficial level though. If everyone ‘acted’ exactly like me but was not, in fact, like me – I might be weirded out a bit.”

…and just for fairness sake, my response (despite the weird-self-servingness of quoting one’s self):

“You make a very good point in that we do all in fact strive for familiarity. But yes, I too would certainly be wary of imitation. That idea of being genuinely happy when finding someone like you is a real and profound emotional response I think. That idea is embedded in the title of my guessing game blog post. It came from a friend of mine when we were discussing the idea of how we genuinely appreciate the event that someone else gets our random references.”

I guess I am just trying to validate –for some reason- my elation at first meeting said artist, but then also finding comfortable, common ground.  You should all go check out his blog… http://inksnow.blogspot.com/

 

Ultimately, I am just marveling at the way sometimes, things seem to fall together. Sometimes things just feel right. You know, sometimes you go shopping for new clothes, or music, or dinner and nothing seems right. You are left wanting, but knowing not what. Other times the perfect thing, or moment, or experience, or person just seems to appear. My new “career” happened that way. I took a class just because it sounded interesting. Literally overnight I changed my major and never looked back. Sometimes you find friends in the most unlikely places…like minded friends that have been right in front of your face but for some reason you never really got to know…until that moment when something just clicks. Sometimes you meet someone new but amazingly when getting to know them it is like looking in a mirror…like you already know them. I know this probably sounds a bit trite, but there you have it.

I love it when a plan comes together.