It’s Like Rain

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I like the rain. Always have. I like the way I am completely aware of the here and now when I’m outside, blinking away the dripping wet from my face. One time, just east of Fisterra, Spain, Michael and I walked all morning and afternoon in a steady downpour. We were drenched and walked along muddy trails for miles and miles. Some paths ran through trees and it wasn’t all that bad, and sometimes we found refuge, like under the overhang of a medieval church, another time a pub where we played foosball and had a drink. We had no plans, weren’t going anywhere except farther east on our way back from the end of the earth. And anyway, we knew already that eventually that evening when we changed, our clothes would dry. What’s the big deal.

I like working in the garden in the rain, or swimming in the ocean or in a pool. I especially enjoy swimming when there is obviously no chance of lightning. The steady rain on the water is soothing and eternal, something from Eden, something from sometime before that.

When I was a kid and went for bike rides on Saturday afternoons when it rained, a streak of puddle-wet would whip up my back. And while it was slightly irritating when a pebble took flight with the water, it was also visceral, absolute; the rain drowned out any sense of shadows from earlier or later, allowed only the present to persist. Sometimes my face was so wet my skin softened.

It’s raining now, and I’m doing work in a sandwich shop drinking tea listening to acoustic guitar music. That one sentence is loaded with personal imagery: the rain and my youth and walking once to a clearing in the hills behind the college in the torrents with a friend of mine, the music and how it keeps resurfacing, sometimes pushing me along sometimes pulling me back, and the tea and all the times a cup of tea was all I needed.

It is raining now, and I am aware of how much I can feel it on my skin when I think about how my father no longer can; my father and so many friends we’ve lost by now, some not far from here. Or how my friends so far away might be inside working, looking outside glad they are not out in the rain. I picture the times when I have had to find my way through a small village and it is raining, and I don’t mind at all. It is reassuring when I remember those times. It makes me realize no matter what I will always be fine, always be okay. If I can be completely at peace while walking in the rain, why would I ever let anything else bother me?

Another time in Spain Michael and I walked up a long road in the rain and an elderly man was standing in his doorway and asked us to come inside. He made us coffee and gave us some bread and we sat inside awhile, grateful for the break, more grateful for talking to someone new. The rain often brings people together, sometimes in doorways, sometimes in sandwich shops, and sometimes on grassy paths in some other place.

Once, I remember I was about eight and the rain had just passed and my mother let me go outside our home in Massapequa Park on the Island. The sun was out but everything was wet and puddles had formed everywhere, and steam rose from the pavement, and I can still picture it as if I was standing right there on the avenue, and the grass was soggy under my small feet. At home the pool water was cooler from the rain, but eight-year-old’s don’t care about that.

It seems more and more we are less aware of the here and now, but weather keeps me in the moment. Nature is in control; the wilderness will win eventually. I love standing back to watch it all. I love the way I can still feel the rain on my face, or the sun pressing on my neck on a July afternoon. Or the snow and a cool wind coming down from the north in November, and being outside takes some presence of mind.

                  Let the rain kiss you
                  Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
                  Let the rain sing you a lullaby
                  The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
                  The rain makes running pools in the gutter
                  The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
                  And I love the rain.
                                                                                      April Rain Song
                                                                                                –Langston Hughes

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Saturation

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At Walmart yesterday a man walked from the back to the front of the store cursing loudly. This wasn’t a disease-caused situation; this wasn’t a self-directed tirade. He was clearly pissed at someone in the store, either in customer service, or, for all I know, his boss, since I couldn’t tell if he was an employee or not. But he walked by, yelling, “This is F.ing ridiculous!!” and on and on, stopping when he was near someone who did work there to direct his anger to that unfortunate soul.

From where I stood it sounded like it took him about five minutes to exit. One woman near me raised her eyebrows and commented that she wants to leave in case he comes back with a bomb or a gun or friends. I understand the fear.

I stood also wondering just how far away I was from being that guy.

Everyone is getting angry way to easily these days. Drivers and workers and customers, everyone. You. Me. And not just at Walmart where a little temper-tantrum from time to time is understood. Everywhere. Everyone. From leadership, opposition parties, faculty, students, police, everyone. It is as if we’ve all had way too much caffeine, or are constantly being poked, or aren’t getting enough sleep. I honestly don’t remember another time in my life when so many were so angry so much of the time.

I stopped at a light and noticed a group of people on their cellphones at a few tables at a corner pub. In cars, on the sidewalk, in the restaurant, the stores, the hallways, the offices, the entire population is on their phones. If those phones were all landlines, I thought, we would never be able to navigate the millions of miles of wires set out to trip us up. Every single human would have long telephone wires running from them to poles everywhere they went, and of course since we don’t live in a symmetrical world, the thick intrusion of wires would be like liquid, like air, like soup so thick we couldn’t walk or see or even breathe.

The light turned and I drove on, and eventually I made it to near my home, out in the country, nothing but the bay and the river and some farmland for dozens of miles in three of four directions. I could breathe, I could look out uninterrupted, I could think clearly. I could relax.

Contemplate this: Every single cell phone is searching for frequencies set out from towers, usually trying to find three towers to hook up to. And this is constant from every single active cell phone looking to hook up or already connected to the towers which transmit the information—calls, data, etc—to the destination, all the time. All the time.

Isn’t it possible our immersion in this saturated atmosphere is fucking with our mood, playing games with our attention span and anxiety level? Our blood pressure? It’s as if while sitting at a stoplight I am drowning under an invisible sea of signals and frequencies, and while it keeps me connected it makes it difficult to function. It isn’t that we are being “converted” into technology, or that technology is ruling us. No. I think it is just the mechanisms to make this all function have saturated the air, cutting off our oxygen, making us stupid.

I want to get out of my car at a stoplight and climb on the roof, or, better, climb a telephone pole to the top. But since towers are usually really tall my own refuge is to escape, to drive to where the “pavement turns to sand,” and break free from the tsunami of data.

Perhaps from some mountainside or the vista from a cliff on the bay, if we could somehow bend light to illuminate that which we can’t presently see, down in the city or other busy areas, a haze of black, or deep purple, or dust-like energy would pulsate before our eyes.

The region from central New York State to the Ohio Valley has been determined to have some of the highest levels of oxygen in the air anywhere. It is easier to breathe there, and more than a few times the regions have been rated to have some of the happiest people with the lowest rates of crime and violence.

And the cellphone reception sucks. Go take a good view in the wildness and see how calm you feel.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

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Implosion

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During the election of 2016 the vast majority of anti-Trump citizens were primarily concerned that he’d have access to the “button,” the ability to start a nuclear war with somewhere in the world. It was pretty well agreed upon by rationally-thinking people that the combination of this narcissistic personality with candid illusions of grandeur and the power to annihilate civilizations should not be introduced. Still, that’s what happened.

What irony; what a tragic twist to this pathetic narrative: not only did djt not cause atomic arsenals to rain down upon various “questionable” nations around the world, those same nations somehow managed to gain the support of our allies even as the United States moves dangerously closer to isolation. North and South Korea moved closer to landmark discussions until djt kept pushing with his sensational rhetoric about his being the catalyst behind such talks; he pulled out of the Iran deal which, as a result, will hurt American companies and send Iranian businesses into dealings with our allies, who, despite their hesitation, are more than willing to cover the gap and work with the leaders there.

We live in a world where negotiation trumps threats, and only one person in government doesn’t seem to understand this. It is like the rest of the world moved out of their parents’ home: there is some residual desire to appease and please the folks, but there is an increasing awareness that they’re on their own and it is now in their best interests to do what they want. The United States doesn’t have the political or economic influence it once did, and only djt hasn’t gotten that memo.

The President of the United States did, in fact, drop the bomb, but on his own people. Our country is deteriorating in reputation, influence, and power, and djt is the one pushing all the buttons.

The man keeps pulling out of trade partnerships and other negotiations claiming he can make a better deal, but he still has not got a clue, not a clue, not a freaking clue, that the negotiations and partnerships have less to do with money than they do relationships. Simply put, Free Trade Stops Wars. Trade deals and partnerships are the price we pay for being a powerful country to keep nations from partnering only with each other and ganging up on us. If we think of us as the King and other nations across the Pacific or in the Middle East as fiefdoms, we will all benefit if we build those nations castles in the country and palaces in town instead of sending out our army to destroy them. Nothing is more dangerous than an organized group of people who have nothing to lose by resisting and everything to gain. Add to that the reality that they can become more powerful if they join economic forces, and we’re simply screwed.

All because one man has decided to stir things up. For what? For one, to simply undo anything former President Barack Obama did out of spite and racism and bitterness; for another, to benefit his multiple holdings which somehow seem to make millions every single time he pulls out of a deal, watches the stock market tumble, and then changes his mind, watching his newly purchased stocks skyrocket.

But I know nothing of it. I am not a political expert, I’m not schooled in economics or trade; even my journalistic skills waned decades ago. But I’ve studied human nature for most of my adult life, as a professor and a traveler, and it is painfully obvious that djt has no values or morals which benefit the better good of everyone. We only succeed as individuals and, therefore, as a nation, if everyone benefits.

Anything else is called tyranny.

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Passages

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I walked on the beach last night, then back under the pier and along the water. A heavy fog settled in early and the ships sounded their horns out in the dark. All the pubs along the boardwalk are coming back to life as the season settles back on this tourist town, but it is quiet along the ocean at that hour, nearly a different world, even on the busiest of nights at the hotels.

I stopped at Ocean Eddies for a drink and then kept walking. The air was wet from the weather, but the water is calm, and the further north I walked into the residential area at North Beach, the less I could hear anything at all except the ripples of the water at my feet.

This morning I walked again, this time noting the proverbial line in the sand of my life which divides what has been for three decades and everything that comes next. I’m in that period we all face with a major change: some sort of blending occurs where those whom I’m leaving ask about the future, talk about what’s next, and the inevitable remnants of a thirty-year career in the form of paperwork and some possible unfinished business. But I suspect these two worlds will separate for good sooner rather than later. It reminds me of a song by a New England folk singer, in which she writes, “Getting used to saying ‘let’s keep in touch’ though I know we probably never will; probably never will.”

And the sun came up today; I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. People out on the highway heading to work, rubbing their eyes. People on the sand set up umbrellas, called to kids, and music spilled out from radios, the smell of sunscreen, the taste of salt in the misty rise from the breakers. I find refuge in this routine. I am encouraged by its predictability. City workers planted new flowers along the bike path, and a yoga class positioned themselves right at the water’s edge as they do most mornings.

Eventually I made it to what is known locally as “First Landing”; the spot where John Smith came ashore before settling in Jamestown, ignoring the presumptuousness of being the first when in fact the Spanish trumped the Brit by a century. My mind slipped to the Middle Passage which started nearly a century before Smith’s arrival, but which he helped usher to the mainland. I’ve seen both sides of the Atlantic: obviously from these shores for most of my life, but once, briefly, just over thirty years ago I stood on Goree Island near Dakar, off the coast of Senegal. It was used to hold African men and women before they were chained aboard slave ships for transport through the process until they were enslaved on plantations, some of which still stand not far from my home. There’s Church Hill Plantation standing in all its dark history just across the road from where my son went to elementary school. And River View Plantation dating back to the early 1800s, which grew tobacco slaves harvested and loaded aboard ships in Urbanna just up the Rappahannock River from my house. I am surrounded by history; sometimes on quiet mornings when skulling the Rap I can almost hear history screaming from the fields and foundations.

At lunch yesterday, my friend Tim and I talked about Zora Neal Hurston’s book, Barracoon, in which she interviewed the last surviving slave who came to America on the Middle Passage. History ebbs and flows in our lives, spilling into and sometimes flooding us with emotion, and other times history recedes so far it is hard to remember what it is that connects us to begin with. Until I stand on the sand, not far from the cross which marks that landing four hundred years ago, and look toward the rising sun. It is important to look back carefully.

Our past is always present, swirling around our ankles, pulling us into the wet sand, always the shifting wet sand beneath our feet. And it does this again and again as long as we stand still.

No. It is important to keep moving. Sometimes the only value we can find in looking back is the lesson in not following that path again. It is a difficult balance, knowing which parts of history to remember and which parts to bury as deeply as we can. But the older I get the more I believe we should never ignore history, pretend it didn’t happen, or relegate it to the dusty corners of losing touch. With the right balance of emotion and intellect, history can serve our Institutional Memory so we don’t get caught again falling into the same undertow of time. 

I’m metaphored out. i’m going to go find the beauty of a rose which has not yet bloomed. There is nothing left for that rose to do but to bloom.

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Just Another Day

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I just left my last class at Tidewater Community College. I started here twenty-nine years ago as an adjunct instructor and moved to full-time professor just a couple years later. I taught, traveled, raised a family, built a home, had lunch, and now I just left my last class. It was advanced creative writing and they all read some of their favorite work they produced this semester. I read as well and so did my former office mate Tom Williams. It was fun.

We had pizza and wings and chips and drinks, and we talked about what’s next, now that they’re transferring to four-year schools. Some are going to Virginia Tech, some to Old Dominion, some to William and Mary, and a few aren’t really going anywhere—working full-time and raising children. One is an elementary school teacher here for recertification, and she has her seven-year-olds writing poetry, which she plans to send to them in a few years. We all talked about our favorite pizza toppings.

Afterwards, my son and I sat and had drinks at a boardwalk café. The moon was red just above the horizon, not full, and the light it reflected cast across some vessels on their way north, or south, or waiting to enter the port of Hampton Roads sometime in the next day or two. Venus was setting to the west and Jupiter was just about to appear, not quite visible for its proximity to the moon. I had a rum drink because it felt like the thing to do after all this time. Besides, Michael bought it for me.

It’s hard to imagine the horrors taking place in Syria, Afghanistan, and other places when the water is calm like this and the boardwalk lights illuminate lovers walking quietly, the occasional call of a gull just beyond the shadows on the reach. I tend to look out and think more about the peace that awaits in northern Spain than the hunger that haunts the people in South Sudan, but only because I’ve been so lucky. I mean, sometimes when the Atlantic and I are just hanging out peacefully like this, I can’t help but understand I wasn’t raised in Mosul; I wasn’t born in Beirut.

Humanity is a crazy race, building irrigation systems to help grow food to feed millions while building methods to annihilate those poor souls in seconds. Maybe the greatest irony of education is the stretches of intelligence, research, and application it takes for the human mind to conceive, create, and execute weapons which can evaporate entire cities. The mechanics to build the means by which to destroy someone else wouldn’t cross the mind of an uneducated person. Only educated people can accomplish such a holocaust.

It feels tragically like no one wants to save the world anymore.

There needs to be a new requisite in schools everywhere: Humanity 101. The course could cover the benefits of helping other people, the rewards of sharing not just gains but losses as well. There could be a lesson on compassion and one on being a good Samaritan. A sociologist might talk in one session about how what happens in one section of the globe really does have an impact on the rest, and a psychologist can show the class how to balance the beauty of nature with the evil things people say and do.

A theologian could explain why there are, or at least needs to be, some absolute morals. That person might explain why the belief in postmortem consequences is what can keep evil in check, keep the horrible potential of humanity at bay. Without preaching about salvation in heaven, he or she can certainly drop in a few lectures about earthly responsibility to each other, and if the fear of God is necessary to get it done, so be it; not unlike threatening toddlers who act up with the possibility of Santa skipping their house as a result. The potential of a little supernatural backlash is just what this world could use right now.

Honestly, it seems like no one wants to save the world anymore. I fear for the absence in education of something other than the notion of “career.”

More connections with other people can be made by sharing a meal than college administrators give credit for. Looking back now, I should have taught all my classes over dinner, sitting around a huge table passing the potatoes while talking about social-responsibility and expert sources.  

We might solve more problems by knowing what our neighbors like on their pizza than understanding the treaties that keep us apart.

In any case, it’s time for another round.

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