Saturday, June 23, 2012

Glass Half Full

Perception is a remarkable thing. 

Jack working in his boat.

I am watching an episode of Ancient Aliens.  There is an individual on this show (not Giorgio), an engineer, that I have seen on this series numerous times on previous episodes that I just realized something about.  When I look at this particular person, my mind adjusts who it is that I am seeing so that who I am perceiving I see is Jack Robinson.  Jack was an old man that lived on the sailboat that sat in the slip next to ours at Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove.  His hair was grey and usually uncombed or nestled under a Panama hat and he had big bushy, greying red eyebrows over his shiny, squinted eyes.  Jack had really kind eyes, a quick wit and I was very fond of him.  He designed and built the sailboat himself, a fibreglass, sleek beauty that would eventually end up being the death of him. You see, after spending years inhaling that toxic fibreglass dust, he developed lung cancer and he died one morning on that very vessel, his pride and joy.  I can't remember the name of his boat.  I suppose it's good enough that I remember the name of the one I lived on, my big, cumbersome Morgan Out-Island sailing yacht, Elephant Child.  Yes, that I remember well.

Tonight, perhaps because I'm angry and uncomfortable, I looked up at the television screen to see this man describing the near perfect symmetry of the statue of Ramses II, and instead of seeing Jack Robinson, I saw the actual man himself, Christopher Dunn and was struck by the differences.  This worries me.   Until tonight, I had never thought about the way that I was filling in the parts of him that weren't Jack for him to become Jack.  In other words, it wasn't until I saw the truth that I saw the lie.  Did your head just explode?  This is the type of stuff that makes me question my reality, and then my sanity, and then the capacity of my brain to remember things accurately, if at all.

I'm not as crispy clear as I used to be.  Sometimes I'm barely spongy opaque.  My boss has just entered the third decade of his life and his brain is so lightening fast that it actually astounds me sometimes.  One of the best consequences of that quick firing synapse is how immediately funny a person can be.  But me?  I can still be kind of funny but I'm definitely not connecting quite as well as I used to.  The thought of slipping into Alzheimer's (I know that's a ridiculous way to describe the onset, like your putting on a pair of flip-flops) is absolutely terrifying to me.  Most of the time my mental lapses, that is for me the seeming complete deletion of the dictionary in my head, happens when I am speaking.  That's why I prefer the written word so much more over the spoken one.  There are times when I am having a conversation with someone that I'm pretty sure I sound like, well, Fred Armisen on Saturday Night Live plays Nicholas Fhen, a thirty-something year old pseudo political intellectual that spends 2 minutes talking but saying nothing at all - I feel like I sound like that.  The breaks happen when I write too, though not as often and the beauty here is that the more fired up I get while I'm writing, the better and more fluid the connection becomes.  That makes sense even though I'm not a neurologist.
© Saturday Night Live
What else am I seeing that isn't real?  How can reality be subjective, it's reality?  This is an interesting - I was going to say phenomenon but I'm not sure anything that has to do with the brain can be considered a phenomenon, it's a perfect machine, we just don't understand it, so - strangeness.  What other word is there?  For example, it's strange that when I look at my father, both physically while he was alive and now in memory, that I see someone really different than whom my sister sees.  Yeah, I know that different circumstances caused our perceptions of this one man to evolve differently.  My sister, after all, is eleven years older than me so she saw and experienced eleven extra years of stuff that I wasn't around for.  Even so, sometimes it seems like she knew a completely different rendition of our father.  I guess I answered my question in there somewhere, huh?  Our perception is wholly affected by our personal experiences and by how we are wired to deal with those experiences.  And this perhaps too can explain why I am so disappointed in a certain relationship in my life right now.  Because I see things differently for those aforementioned reasons and because I have walked a different path, we will never see things the same way.  

Well, there's a little food for thought, ey? 

I'm probably not slipping into Alzheimer's; I'm just slipping into fifty.  Right now I've gotten the sparks flying in my brain and it's warmed up enough that I think I can get some uninterrupted writing in with out the mental, Um, But, It's just, You know? Even if, I'll be the first...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Stuff happens and then?

Stuff Happens.  Right?  Sometimes it's small stuff, like an off tune note on one of those recorders we used to play in school.  It's barely noticeable and it hardly makes any difference at all.  But sometimes stuff happens like cymbals slamming together right next to your ear.  Right on time too, no mistaking it.  Obvious.  Obnoxious.  You even saw it coming from the beginning of the frigging song.  And still you are surprised to find that suddenly the sheet music that you were sure you were so familiar with has been irrevocably altered to the point that it barely seems familiar.  That's life, baby.  You turn around in a full circle experiencing amnesia that your basically forcing on yourself because you just can't believe it.  You just can not believe that this has happened.

This lady here is Olga Eugenia Lopez Naranjo.  Pretty?  Yes.  This picture was taken in Cuba where she was born on November 15th, 1933.  I think she's about 15 in this photograph.  At this point, she had probably already known my father for a couple of years.  They met while they were really young and stayed within each other's periphery until I suppose she reached the conclusion that yeah, he was the one.  Can you blame him for falling so madly in love with her?  And he was.  I didn't get to know her very well, but I know, regardless of how complicated relationships get, that he loved her until early last year.  And maybe he still loves her; maybe love really is infinite.  Maybe they spend their nights in a reincarnated Tropicana listening to Celia Cruz serenading her homeland with Salsa, and dancing the night away.  Especially tonight that it's my father's birthday.  Azucar!  I loved watching them dance.  If they were dancing, everything was right in the world.  I know they would have wanted to be back home too.  The home of back then before you know who.

There's very little known about addiction.  I mean, you can read a gazillion books about it and you can attend seminars and you've seen commercials guaranteeing a cure, etc.  But really, no one knows what's going on there.  Some people think you develop it, like breasts, or a cold sore that goes away eventually if you stop picking at it.  I think it's born with you, like an evil twin growing out of the back of your neck.  Well, addiction isn't any more evil than I am...  So there I am, minding my own business in 1989, I have two kids, so far nothing has turned out anywhere near where I would have wanted it to except that my kids are absolutely and incredibly beautiful and healthy.  Nothing is perfect except for them but I am not addicted to anything.  I'm an addict already but I'm not addicted yet.  And here comes the crescendo.  In this particular symphony though, it comes out of left field.  We knew she wasn't feeling well, but there was never any indication that she was departing that night.  None.  We were in a motel room in Virginia for Pete's sake.  We only had like 400 miles to go to get her back to New York.  Here I was, thinking I had plenty of time to get to know this woman in my adulthood.  That she would watch her grand kids turn into men and women.  That she would continue to be that beacon for me, not necessarily physically available but always shining the light in the right direction. 

All of her grand kids were with her the night that she died in that motel room.   She was almost quite literally surrounded by all five, from my 3 year old daughter to my 13 year old nephew, and they are now well into adulthood.   Her two daughters were there, too, who are now well into middle age.   The only person that was not there was my father.  He was on his way there, driving from New York to Virginia to pick her up because she had called him and told him she wasn't feeling well.  

It took 22 years for him to finally get to her. 

Ahhhh, stuff happens.

I didn't pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels that night to start obliterating my senses.  For me it was slow and accumulative.  Sneaky, if you can imagine, like it was okay at first.  Like alcohol was friendly, helpful even.  But eventually...  Well, here I am anyway.  It was all I could do at the time to get through it.  And maybe it did help me a little.  Maybe it did save me a little.  I didn't know what else to do with what I was feeling.

I know, we all die.   Sad, but true.  All sorts of stuff happens, but thankfully now I'm familiar with my doppelganger, and I've learned a few things to keep it... well, to not keep it at all.   Hey, I can do this life thing without having to take any detours.  It's okay.  And if it ain't okay, well guess what?  It is what it is.  Doesn't sound like much to hold on to, I know, but that's faith for you, and I don't even believe in God.  Not that one anyway.  So, those two humans gave me life.  Poof, just like that, there I am.  A part of him, Jose Manuel Naranjo, and a part of her.  To honor that, and them, and the tree that I am a part of, all I need to do is be grateful for my life. And today, I am really, really grateful.

Anyway, I hope that in between the mambo my parents can look in my direction and know that I'm trying really hard to live the life they gave me as best I can. 

Happy Birthday Daddy.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Happy Birthday to me

It was my birthday a few days ago.  I've never been one to get too excited about it, not even, that I can remember, when I was a kid.  I'm pretty sure that I enjoyed Christmas way more than birth day.  Also, I would much rather give a present than receive something, not because I'm a nice person but because being handed a gift embarrasses me.  Christmas was perfect because the presents were snuck into place and I therefore didn't have to interact with anybody.  Santa was my ultimate hero.  I've never been too keen on parties or celebrations either.  Hoopla makes me nervous and uncomfortable.  I'm feeling kind of Woody Allenish right now, except not quite as pedantic and hilarious, which would leave me skinny (I wish), short and neurotic.  Ah, well...  I did buy myself a present.  Were I to be hypnotized and regressed to earlier parts of my life (I have a very bad memory otherwise), I would probably find that I get myself the same thing all the time.  My gift to me was a couple of notebooks.  I LOVE notebooks.  And I also purchased a pen but if you gave me the deserted island scenario were I could only take one thing and had to choose between pen or pencil, I would invariably choose pencil.  Basic, #2.  I'm pretty crafty, I'd figure out a way to get it nice and sharp, probably with the edge of a clam.  I'd also use the clam to make paper out of coconuts.  

I've gone through most every version of the personal computer that one can imagine, from the electric typewriter to an old mac word perfect machine that had a screen smaller than the 5 1/4" floppy that stored the work.  Are you old enough to remember those floppies?  That was around the time that you could take a fork and scrape it against a CD and it literally wouldn't scratch the surface (before the light bulb went off and they decided to make them scratch magnets instead).   Scratch proof CD's?  I know that's hard to believe, but its true.  When I lived in Queens after my son was born, probably late 1984, our cop landlord was interested in new gadgety electronics and he calls us up to his apartment one afternoon extremely excited.  All of a sudden he starts throwing these shiny things against the wall like little metallic frisbees.  He was beside himself with glee about these UFOs.  "It's not an LP, it's a CD!  ITS A CD!"  We found out later he was a bit of a cocaine-head, but CD's were pretty exciting back then, even though all they held was music.      

There was a time later in my twenties that I went through a phase of collecting antique typewriters.  Not to write with, just sort of to look at, or to weigh things down with in case of a hurricane.  I have a feeling 'collection' is not a unique stage for writer's to go through.  For some reason the cool little thrift shops on Washington Avenue down on Miami Beach circa 1989 were filled with these things.  This was back in the day when you could actually find parking on the beach.  Parking on the beach?  I know that's hard to believe, but its true.  Hopefully, fifty years from now these 75 pound relics will become as awe inspiring as pterodactyl bones.  Look at this picture.  Am I dreaming to think they will be so venerated?  My grand kids will probably think I was using them to write my novels on without any real idea of how insanely quickly tools have morphed in the last hundred years.  Wait, I'm blowing my mind...

And all I've ever really needed is a notebook and a pencil anyway.  Well, for thirty years a cigarette was also a requirement.  (conjuring French accent in my head) Vehry Frehnsh, noh! OUI!  Sitting at ze cahfe with ze expressoh in the black chinohs and ze black turtle neck, noh! OUI! OUI! I seyh, S'il vous plait!!  Voila. (ok, that's all I got.)  Actually, I have never written in a cafe or a coffee shop, I get too easily distracted.  I've never heard a french person say ze either, I don't know where that characterization came from or why it stuck... Maybe they do say ze.  I haven't met the majority of French people but my husbands x-wife has a great French accent and I've listened carefully and have not once heard her say ze.  Um... what the hell was I talking about?  Ah, oui, notebook and pencil.  That really is my preference.  Look, I love sitting here writing with my self taught QWERTY choreography, seeing the words magically appearing on the screen, but I don't get that same visceral, artistic connection with a keyboard that I get when I feel and hear the sharp tip of a lead pencil scraping against a nice clean sheet of paper.  It almost makes my mouth water.  But, yeah, a PC is like a frigging Lear Jet.  Imagine how much more prolific POE would have been...  Wait, imagine KING with papyrus?  I'm blowing my mind again...  

Technological wonders aside, writing is a cathartic experience.  When I'm fully connecting with the creative wormhole and ideas are flowing from that place in my head that feels like another planet, directly from there through my fingertips; that first introduction to the place, the time, the character, it just seems so much more natural with simple tools.  Sort of like using a midwife and a bathtub when giving birth.  For complete, uninterrupted, smooth purging in an efficient and quick matter, PC, but for the truth?  Pencil on paper.  Under my bed I have a flat box that holds dozens of notebooks with handwritten first drafts.  I even have the notebook that holds my first novel sketched into its pages.  I've said it before, writing is an art form.  For real.  We are artists.  Words are beautiful and the structure and rhythm that emerges from whatever our individual process is, is as important as anything Mozart translated into music notes or that Michelangelo painted onto the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.  It's our expression.  It's our blood beating out into words.  It's us. 

I'm not comparing myself to Mozart and Michelangelo.  Or to Poe and King.  Those are masters.  But if you divide up who we all are, the common denominator will be that inherent, intense drive for creation. We must do it or we blow apart like dandelions.  Think about how unique art is to humans.  With the human trait of self awareness - which can feel like a curse sometimes - comes, for me, the most defining element that makes us human - the trait of symbolism.  Why are we as humans so driven to record our renditions of things? 

Because we want to say, "I was here."  Yeah.  That's what I think.  There's no difference between me and the humans that painted these images in caves over twelve thousand years ago.  That part of me that craves the pencil over the keyboard is the same primal part of me that gets mesmerized by the colors of the sinking sun and that makes me catch my breath when I see a shooting star.  Its the part that makes me human.  Wow, I'm blowing my mind.  Blowing my own mind?  I know its hard to believe, but its true.

P.S. Knowing how to receive a gift is a form of grace that for some reason I am not familiar with, but it is something that I am learning.  If I am inclined to think of someone and desire to give them something to show my love or simple appreciation, then I need to conform to the fact that other people are going to be inclined to do that too.  Who am I to deny anyone of their thoughtfulness?  It's a big deal to me because I know it's part of how I'm wired incorrectly, so its important that I acknowledge the fact that I'm working on it .  :o)