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Posts Tagged ‘perception’

He gets off the bus and walks through the misty morning air. Here, a glimpse of the mountain tops; even a peek leaves him yearning to chase the vision, to turn heel and move toward them like some magnetic pull- away from ruler straight streets to crooked trails.  Away from organized and orderly to the unpredictable and untouchable forces of nature.   Lately I feel like I’ve been turning my back on the rockies. They have their own way of moving, of displaying personality. They are constantly changing with the sun’s movement and cloud shadows. Every time you look at them, they are different, something new is highlighted; so whenever his eyes peel away he feels as if he is being slighted a chance to understand them more, to witness their beauty.  At the arboretum, he works methodically, following the same tried and true routine he’s become habituated to.  The only thing to distract him from the task that so consumes him, are his deep-seeded criticism for visitors.  Their bad habits, their noise, for their production of plastic and disposable waste. (Ignoring the fact or contradicting the fact that they are out to appreciate nature).  But of course, this criticism exists only in his thoughts.  He would never actually confront someone about this behavior; he’d rather quietly watch and pick up after them when they leave.

Back on the bus, a thin film of dirt along his limbs, he glowers at other passengers and keeps quiet. So consumed by their quest for acceptance and materialism, they are totally unaware of their surroundings!  That man on the phone has no idea there’s a red tailed hawk flying over his head.  That woman reading? Blissfully unaware of the sun glinting off the snow on the mountain peaks.  This is not a new thought.  He returns to it regularly- savoring the pain, much like a tongue running over a cold sore- almost subconscious and helpless.  But, he is right, in a way; as people drive their Hondas and draw money from bank machines, there are whales floating in the vast sea, predators chasing prey, tiny litters of wild dogs being born. They seem like different worlds, impossibly coexisting on one planet.

He steps off the metal steps, thanks the bus driver quietly, and walks to his cabin. He opens the door, pats Makea on the head, they perform their ritual walk in the woods.  Left behind, stoically and quietly waiting in his cabin are books, binoculars, camping gear, boots, and little else. Some photographs of mountains, climbing parties atop a summit. There is a picture of him and his family out camping: all of them sitting in a row along the lake shore line.  A great memory of a trip to the mountains in which everyone bickered and argued and battled the whole drive there, only to be healed, calmed, quieted and shushed by nature’s presence.  He returns to these items, turns on a yellow light, eats a simple supper as he reads a field guide or natural history book.  He cleans his one dish and one fork and one cup.   Afterwards, he walks outside, waters any plants that need it, puts his chickens into their coop for the night and stands for a moment before complete darkness envelops the yard. There’s a moment of gray silence in which everything melds in to the same color at varying shades as tree trunks become backlit by the simple acceptance of the day’s end. The light leaks out of the scene gently; gently but without pause.

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To me, this is the beauty of the united states: the glorious opportunity for a mismatched group of people to find peace together. For diversity and coexistence to come to life. There are so many beliefs, so many interests, so many personal ideals all living under one “roof.” Life is like a record store, Forrest: everyone’s vinyl is a different vintage. Some folks are jazzy, others full of metal rage. There are soft-spoken crooners and exploratory concept bands. And due to luck, fate, alphabetics, they might all be leaning against each other in the “C” box. Coltrane. Claw Finger. Crosby. Cooper. I discuss this concept with one of my favorite housemates, a grad student named Hank who does the New York Times crossword every morning. He disagrees. No man, life is like a fridge with magnetic words all over it. Sometimes they come together and make a sentence, and sometimes it’s just non-sense. But the point is, green and mother and moon are all on the same playing field. It’s just a matter of who will notice and put them together. It’s the divine spirit, the god and goddess writing a giant, ever-changing fridge poem. We contemplate this, as we drink fair trade organic coffee from chipped thrift store ceramic mugs.
“Hank. I know you have all the good mugs in your room, dude. Time to share or prepare for a raid.”
He smiles says, “Ten letters. Tom Cruise Mission.”
Impossible. I laugh as he walks away with a pen, newspaper, and yet another cup to his room. Jen and Lars come down from the attic in their pjs, which consist of a giant Steve Miller band T-shirt and a silk robe, respectively. I ask them what life is like. Lars slides next to me on the bench.He says, “It’s like some modern abstract painting: no one fucking knows what it means. Even the artist makes up some bullshit ethereal contemplation, but he doesn’t know, man. It’s all these colors and lines and shadows. Fucking beautiful.” Jen likes this because she’s the modern abstract artist. She slides onto the bench too, with two steaming cups of tea and honey. They sip gratefully, the warmth wet on their lips. Her eyes wander up and to the left, meaning she’s thinking of something good to say. Hmmmmmmm. Her eyes then close. She purrs, “Life is like a library.” She’s quiet again, as if she will keep her revelation to herself. And incredulous Lars comments that she probably hasn’t been in a library in years. She ignores him and explains: “There’s non-fiction and fiction separated into different rooms. Magazines and movies and newspapers get divided. Allende and Alcott make it so South American spirits sit next to young Victorian heiresses. Homeless men sleep in corners and yuppie kids play chase around bookshelves. Chaos and order in the same place all the time.” As she says this, Adam comes in and asks if she’s talking about our kitchen. And then he sighs because there are no more mugs in the cupboard. I stretch and pass him mine as I stand to face the day.

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My mother had been working in the Sitka Hospital as a nurse. She had a patient come in named Steven James. When he was admitted, he was elderly, and very sad. She spoke with him at the bedside, Uncle why are you so sad? He told her, when I go I have no one to bring me back. No one will carry my name on for me. You see, in our culture there is a certain belief of reincarnation. My mom thought about this for a while. Having recently lost her husband, maybe she was looking for a hole to fill. She asked if she could name her first-born son after him. See, mom and Steven are from the same clan. Of course this made him very happy. He began telling everyone on the recovery floor that he was coming back. He passed away three days later. This was in 1991. I was born in 1993. When I was very young, we took a ferry ride to Haines. I remember being excited, and pointing out all the coves and bays that I thought would make the best fishing spots. We would find out later, through a friend of Steven James, that most of his favorite fishing spots were exactly along that route. It appears that his name was not the only part of him that came back.

A story and a history can change a name. A name for a person or an object is not just a word, a label, but a history. This is what I mean- our culture, our people have a name. You hear it and form an image in your mind about what that word means based on your experiences, what you see in the news, what your friends tell you. But if you never bother to ask the owner of the name, will you ever really know what or who they are?

When people would ask: What superpower would you want to have? I always think about having the ability to see people’s thoughts. Not read minds, I mean literally see the images that form in their heads. Like in a thought bubble floating above them. Imagine asking a theater full of people to think of home. One word- and if given a multiple choice test, everyone would be able to identify the same definition. Yet truly, no one has the same definition of home. Some people picture the houses of their parents at childhood. A man visualizes his family spending time together in the living room. Maybe a girl thinks of her entire hometown- all the streets and people evoke a familiar warm sense she names as home. You see? Words are not just a chain of letters, they don’t just symbolize some objective form of an idea. They do not just have definitions, they have meaning, often specific to the reader, the writer, the speaker, the listener. Do you see? What if you could see my thoughts? When I said my name you could see the history, the meaning, the depth behind the letters? Would that change how you see me?

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Ha, oh millions.  I really would.  Who wouldn’t?  Okay, well what busy adult wouldn’t?  It reminds me of this article I once read in the New Yorker…you know how kids can’t sit still and they fidget and whine about an hour taking f o r e v e r. . . there is a thought about time that explains why every year seems to pass by faster and faster: If you look at one year as a fraction of your life, then the older you get, each year the denominator gets bigger.  Thus, the fraction gets smaller; meaning that year is a smaller length of your relative experience of time.  So truly, time goes by faster as we age.  For example, a toddler feels like waiting for school to end is eternity because a year is 1/4th of his life. So according to his mom’s age, it’s as if one year is nine years.  One hour in waiting room is nine hours, one more day until Disneyland is nine days!  It makes so much sense.  And most people I know would say I would LOVE to have time work out that way for me.  A weekend becomes a week and lunch breaks last all day.   So maybe the question is not so much changing time, but our perception of it.  Or just becoming kids again. Although to be honest, I wouldn’t want to be a kid again.  I’d take an automatic coffee maker and a fresh martini over toys any day.  When I was growing up, my parent’s always said I was too serious.  I didn’t really like playing with other kids on the playground, I would have rather sat on the park bench and talked about books or what I wanted to be when I grew up.  At birthday parties I had an easier time talking with the moms than their children my age.  And it drove my brother and sister wild that I liked to clean my room.  At that point in my life, I couldn’t wait to be an adult, to complain about not having enough time, to say things like Let’s do lunch and I’ll look at my calendar and see if I can fit it in.  And years later, here I am, just as I had hoped and dreamed.  It is one of my biggest strengths- to be able to measure time.  Where others are late or waste the day, I can tell you:  Lunch can be as quick as 14 minutes if you eat something that doesn’t require a spoon, which leaves 36 minutes to run some errands.  Things like this mean I am terrific at quantifying my day- breaking it into squares of minutes and hours and then re-packing it in like tetris blocks stacked solid.  Maybe that’s what this all really comes down to: I always would have rather played tetris than let’s-pretend-to-be-princesses.   Funny, I haven’t thought of my younger self in a long time.  It’s nice to know I gave myself what I wanted.  And you know, I wouldn’t trade it.  I see all those girls I knew; the ones who played dolls and house now really do have babies and make dinner all day.  The ones who dreamed of princes and heart-throb boyfriends do spend all their time gushing and blushing about how beautiful love is, ignoring the idea that there could be anything else in the world besides one person.  No wonder they say “What a small world!”

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