Saturday, May 14, 2011


Did  you send me a postcard?  A week or so ago I got a postcard that said:  “We are having a great time with our kids.  Wish the weather would warm up more but otherwise all is good.  Hope you are doing well, and we’ll see you in about a week or two.”  It’s signed with a name I don’t recognize.  It has sort of thrown me into limbo.  I don’t live the sort of life where people come to visit, not even just dropping by for coffee.  My relationships are mostly online or on paper now, which is the way I want it.  I don’t keep house, I buy groceries a month at a time and only enough to see me through, and I don’t live close enough to Glacier Park for people to use me as a cheap base for touring scenery.  I only have two chairs worth sitting in, my reading chair and my guest chair which Squibbie believes is her sleeping chair.
This card doesn’t sound like an art dealer wanting to know about Bob, or a couple of boys from Cinematheque on a lark, or an old schoolmate.  Might be Unitarians, who in their blithe liberal uniformity assume that everyone lives like them, because who WOULDN’T??  Or one of my suspicions is that they have me confused with Lorraine Scriver and Valier confused with Browning.  When they realize their mistake will they simply drive off without knocking and never tell me because they are embarrassed, or will they think it’s very funny and spent an hilarious hour telling wild stories?  (I can manage coffee but there is nothing with sugar in it in this house.  I have a small bag of baby carrots I could offer.)
It’s a windy day but warm enough for the windows to be open.  Between the wind and the various construction projects in town, there are a lot of strange noises -- at least not sounds to which I am accustomed and can interpret easily.  I left a stove burner on for an hour after I made coffee yesterday morning -- just forgot it.  This is more serious than leaving the porch light on all day, which I sometimes do.  I also forgot to close and lock and the back door a few nights ago, which isn’t very dangerous in Valier but caused a neighborhood cat to come investigating and let out a squawk when it realized my cats and I were heaped up asleep.  That sound brought all three of us stark awake and there was a lot of scrambling and noise for a while.  Yesterday the window by my computer was open, wedged firmly, and Squibbie was sleeping alongside it when the window sash evidently dried out enough to drop with a whack.  I’ve never seen a cat jump out of her skin before.  Ecorché is the French term.  (They have words for things that make one wonder just what goes on in France.)
At my dawn rising there was a fat (not full) moon and the town was silent as usual.  At my second waking I was veiled in dream for a while.  It’s a familiar one, not threatening.  I’m walking down streets, residential town streets usually, no effort involved, sometimes the low-income (one is supposed to say “modest”) houses of my childhood neighborhood, sometimes the upscale homes of either of my university days, one on the south side of Chicago and one on the north side.  Not Valier, not Browning.  Sometimes Great Falls or Missoula.  I suppose it’s a pretty good metaphor for life.  But it seems not quite explicitly related to education.  I mean, learning.  My self-education.  I’m always alone.
There’s a companion dream, which is indoors and with people.  It’s in churches and convention hotels.  I seem to be welcomed and to expect and be prepared to give a talk, maybe a sermon, but as a guest.  I’m dressed up.  The churches are always beautifully carved and paneled sanctuaries of the sort that have balconies and choir lofts.  The convention rooms are filled with chairs but I’m not the speaker.  No one has the mic, but there is conversation.  I take this to be about teaching and ministry.
Probably I’m at a point of self-evaluation, wondering what has happened in my life and what my choices have meant.  We’re at that point as a town, as a country, and as a world.  Tim posted a quote from Umberto Eco this morning:  “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”  I’ve considered that position now and then and it appeals, maybe influenced by the formative years of my life when I was near-sighted, had no spectacles, and was constantly told I was clumsy and not paying attention.  Now I’m returning to that blurred sight problem because of cataracts.  They say surgery will eventually be needed, and that it will be easy, but how will I drive there? 
Anyway, if the world is an enigma, it is not a harmless one, and it looks to me as though the more people there are in it,  the more suffering there is.  The movies I watch every evening suggest two compensations -- maybe that’s what they think are underlying truths.  One is intimate, protective, accepting love of someone else and the other is doing good for people in the abstract, working for a cause.  There’s a third good thing in Buddhist and some scientific essays:  the ability to take delight in small things, the whole deal about falling over a cliff, plucking a delicious berry in the midst of the descent, and enjoying it before hitting the ground.
It has been my chosen work, much of my life, to point out and encourage the compensations above.  Learning things has been a fine preoccupation but sometimes I think that the world’s knowledge is now transforming so quickly that it’s Penelope’s shroud, unraveling faster than I can knit.  I love this little house.  I love my peace and quiet.  I love the cats. (I do not make them into babies).  I never fail to be surprised and heartened by the Cinematheque crowd.  I love my little kitchen cabinet of peers.  I dearly love my co-writer and I love the writing itself.
But nothing tells me where these long shadowy streets are going or who is living in all these houses I pass.  Maybe the Buddhists are right and I’ll just wake up.  My English students use to end their tales by saying, “And then I woke up.”  I gave them bad grades for that.  Maybe I shouldn’t have.

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