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.
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.