My own body makes its minor key announcements: neck slipped out of alignment recently, nothing unusual in that for some decades; down a few vertebrae lower a slight wrong move results in a sharp stab of pinched-nerve pain. In the right hip area a chronic grinding sound induces a general very low-key pain in the whole area. As for the moment it’s cheap, I went to the university hospital to have it checked and confirmed nothing is really wrong, just normal aging process, the cushioning cartilage and spinal disks shrinking and growing rigid, the youthful padding spent. The doctor examined me a bit, pushed here and there, and then prescribed a few very mild anti-inflammatory pills, which despite a week of same level pain I failed to take any, but knowing I had an appointment in another week I finally took one just to see if they did anything significant. Can’t say it did.
The last years – I can’t quite recall how many, but maybe 10 – with each season’s shift I have often thought to myself that this might be the last spring or autumn I’d be seeing. This wasn’t prompted by any evident medical symptom or problem, but merely the passage of time. One’s number comes up. I don’t imagine at all that I am singular in this thought, only that among those encroaching on life’s last little adventure it seems socially impolitic to speak of such things. It seems most would prefer to blissfully ignore the matter until a funeral imposes it.
Age spots bloom, the muscle tissue grows slack, skin patterns show dried fractal ribbons, the mind plays games of forgetfulness and – as it runs in the family – the specter of Alzheimer’s looms. My father lays on his bedsores deep into it at 96. I have asked Marcella that should this come to me, long before I’d like a jaunt to a deep woods, and a long walk. Let the animals feed on what muscle tissue’s left, clean the bones. Unspoken of, it seems as with adolescence, some inward biologic clock goes “tick” and instead of a burst of pubic hair, rambunctious cells setting off acne, a hard-on that can’t stop, and a delirium of aimless energy, there comes with the other end of life another trigger, that sprouts other hair in ears and nose, leaves off that on head, desiccates the skin, droops the dick, slags the muscles, and if you succumb to these dim messages, surely starts to decimate the spirit. What’s wrong with our culture in its youth-is-all flight from life is that it leaves you unprepared for this, and if you haven’t prepared yourself for it, it’s likely a rude awakening. In my instance I’ve been in preparation since I was a teenager, so it comes as no surprise, but only as the natural and proper end-game, for which one’s life should have provided the experiences to accept that life is a transitory passage, very finite, and to accept as well that there’s nothing “after.” As Michael Jackson was going to have it, in his inimitable spectacular way,
In the last months one friend got himself a new hip, and as seems common enough with such things, the rehab part is a bit more than anticipated or the doctor let on. Invasive surgery on aged bodies is pretty hard. He’ll probably be walking slower and less. Another friend, having spent the summer doing hard labor making himself a new basement, sends a note to say he’s feeling every one of his 70 years, in eyes and ears and laboring functions, and admonishes me I better take that long, slow, cross-country shoot ‘n show trip soon, so he can see me again before he (or, I might add, I) slip into the terminal fist of dust.
The crumpled leaves scattered on the sidewalks pointedly remind us of these things, as do the every day realities of bodily degradation. For myself I’ve been lucky (so far) and aside from a hernia, patched up some years ago with a little slip of some kind of plastic meshing (which, though, now and then bothers when bent tightly, as in my morning yoga), and the minor mangling of my spine incurred by two rear-enders in one year (1977-78), wherein I paid attention to stops signals and the souls behind me didn’t. Otherwise despite a recent scare about pancreatic cancer (thanks to the wizardry of very high-tech medicine misreading a bit of info), and a very recent prescription for some pills to lower the slightly high blood pressure, I hit the floor every other day to do 80 (sometimes 90, once in a long while 100) push-ups, and the alternate day 80 deep-knee squats. Plus the yoga, and going by the nice little exercise things that the Koreans smartly place around public places, and do some in-place running, and some waist back and forth thing that is very like skiing. But each day one feels it. And any day one of mother nature’s denouements could arrive, with the probabilities getting higher with each passing autumn.
From Dissonance, an installation work yet unpresented anywhere
My life-time habit of living here and there, moving from one place to another – New York, Berlin, Rome, Lisbon, London, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Missoula, Butte, Port Hadlock, Paris, and now Seoul – has left me with a spider-web network of friends dispersed around the globe. Their lives are largely focused on a long-time home, on their cluster of friends and family, work and play, which for most people is normal. Their lives center around these places and activities, and I am most often a distant soul in their lives. I write them more or less often, though long ago learning I’m not likely to get a response unless I pester. When I do see them, it’s most often because I was on a trip, somewhere nearby, and came to visit. Not often does it go the other way. But recently, a few weeks ago, a friend dropped by here, from California via some South Pacific Island, New Zealand, Australia, Kathmandu, Kerala and here from whence he moved along to Estonia. He and his lady friend are on a world peace march, due to wrap up in South America in January. (They’ve asked Marcella to make of film of the collected material and if all goes well she’s off to Argentina for some weeks in January.) We hadn’t seen one another in 4 or 5 or maybe 6 years. Long enough that the incremental shifts that normally mask the changes in us were unmasked. While we were both seemingly essentially “the same” – the same humor, the same interests, the same banter between us – and while it did seem as if it were only yesterday, the outward signs of time passed were bluntly visible. We’d moved along on time’s conveyor belt. Thus it may be that my sense of autumnal colors is heightened, as I seem to see most my friends only after long gaps, and the gentle fall of the flesh is not ironed out with familiarity.
Presently in last stages of the final editing of Swimming in Nebraska, something shot some 3 years ago in Lincoln. It’s a work with a lot of technical stuff going on and hence the long editing process. I suppose it is a kind of essay of some sort, with the vague aim to examine a certain kind of provincialism that comes from those large cultural capital cities I’ve listed earlier, places which usually think themselves the center of the universe, or at least their universe, and think places like Nebraska are to flyover or drive through. There’s nothing there, they’d say. Swimming is a gentle retort and a reminder that the same things happen everywhere. I’ve sent it off to festivals and hope one will take it.
Swimming in Nebraska
We’re all where we always were – here.