Nearly Synonymous

Tuesday is my 53rd birthday…

  1. All poetry as echoes, all echoes as poetry
  2. A colleague and I disputed the value of Thoreau’s statement “To regret deeply is to live afresh.” She said living fully meant regretting nothing, and I said I wished that were true.
  3. I once had this fantasy of forming speech bubbles like a comic strip. I’d pluck the best bits from the air and save them for later. But then I thought about what a curse that would be, and isn’t that what I do anyway?
  4. A spacecraft leaves earth orbit aimed for a square of black. Five decades into the journey, its destination is less sure, its origin less than a pinprick, and everything any of the passengers see as vital has been recycled again and again.
  5. A deck of cards plus a joker
  6. The internet promises to give us a thousand answers to every search, but all I find are a thousand different versions, each announcing its own validity.
  7. As photos age they shrink the fractions of life.
  8. The figures I no longer know are a court of statues in memory. They stand in passive attitudes abraded by erosion of wind, water, and time. Depending how long ago I lost them, they might not be human at all, just lumps standing in for someone whose name is gone, someone representative, someone swiftly becoming a thing.
  9. When I want to praise my father, I say that, as a pathologist, he possessed a medical vocabulary as large as my real vocabulary. Only now do I consider how odd that might be, hoarding words to describe a world shared with almost no one else.
  10. An extra week
  11. Mark Twain said that, 20 years hence, “You will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did.” He meant to encourage risks, but the statement baffles me. Do relentlessly, the undone still taunts you.
  12. A window too small to see the whole mast of a passing ship
  13. In mathematics, a permutation is a rearrangement of the elements of an ordered list into a one-to-one correspondence with itself—one set, folded.
  14. In a list of “53 Things That Get Better With Age,” I found #14, “Acuity: When you’ve ‘been through it all,’ you recognize things in life that younger—less keen—people don’t.” There’s so much I’d enjoy overlooking again.
  15. In Feng Shui a mirror represents water that doubles chi by producing reverberations of energy and light. If reflection had such power, I might not find myself sinking instead.
  16. A boat on stilts, its keel matched to the curve of forgotten water.
  17. Socrates’ advice was “To know yourself,” but had he a longer life, I wonder if he’d advise knowing someone else instead.
  18. Isaiah 53 tells of “the suffering servant,” despised and abject, a weed that grew with no beauty and grace, undistinguished and plain, without praise or esteem. He kept silent. He returned no ill-will. God gave him these burdens and, by carrying castigation and punishment to his grave, he redeemed the real sinners’ iniquities. A familiar story—a life like a deep current, answering a hidden order.
  19. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether soiled; none do good, not one.
  20. One way to describe a perpetual motion machine is an engine that needs no fuel.
  21. Sometimes fearsome puppets populate my dreams. They are the people I know behind the faces of people I’d forgotten, and both remind me how little I heed their words, how little I’ve learned.
  22. Shift
  23. Yang Xiong was born in 53 BCE in modern Sichuan. Scholars classify the Chinese poet as a Tao materialist and discuss his opposition to a lavish style of poetry called fu that presented multiple perspectives, consuming subjects in skillful imagery and deftly baroque manipulation of language. What Yang Xiong wanted was personal feeling. He didn’t see why truth had to impress. He believed art needn’t be artificial.
  24. When students ask for synonyms I have two or three to offer, but most only ever want one.
  25. When I picture my father at my present age, he’s in a spare bedroom of our old house, stooped over an art table, painting a watercolor landscape. Rarely did my father initiate conversations with me, but several times he asked me if I’d like to learn to paint. I always turned him down, believing secretly that all his work was the same, that he was painting one picture over and over and that he could only teach me how to paint it. My ambitions were greater then.
  26. The oblique angles of light in an empty room
  27. Transformation.
  28. The summer I was 19 I worked two jobs, lifeguard and movie concession worker. Both, it turns out, were mostly passing time. I talked to coworkers endlessly. All our conversations became one, studded by stories cut as carefully as diamonds, and by September, I couldn’t open my mouth without sighing at what I’d said so many times before.
  29. I can’t understand T-shirts labeling the wearer “Aged to perfection.” Isn’t fermentation just controlled purification?
  30. I’m in my thirtieth year of teaching, and lately I’ve been dropping that fact into conversations. Yet I still sometimes count on my fingers all the graduating classes I’ve taught, just to make sure it’s true.
  31. In a dream last week, I went on a lecture tour exhorting audiences to “Expect surprises.” City after city, crowded hall after crowded hall, that was my solitary message.
  32. Everyone says we should be willing to fail, that failure is the secret to success, but life is heading toward failure so physical it looks like oblivion.
  33. I wonder about fulcrums, the turning points that, after the fact, seem to have reversed your orientation.
  34. The wind turning, its fresh direction another temperature, a new scent.
  35. Growing up, my sister carved deep grooves into a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album that told me, “We are stardust.” Even then, I knew the lyrics to be literally true—our atoms are from exploded stars—but I didn’t feel consoled. Everything we are is elemental, and anything distinctive arises from combinations so complex chance must create them.
  36. I’m told that, if the U.S. were cut into equal sized states, there would be 53.
  37. I remember little about math class, but one indelible lesson remains: Xeno’s paradox. If someone shoots an arrow at someone else, it is only logical that to reach that person the arrow has to travel half-way, and to reach from the half-way point to the person, it has to travel half-way again, and then half-way again, and half-way again. But if this travel by halves is true, the arrow never gets there. It’s still flying in staccato bursts, traveling increasingly invisible distances.
  38. Once, I had a writing teacher who urged me to write a wordless poem, the idea being that, if I could fall into channels of sound or thought already laid, I might utter the truth in the background of everything known.
  39. An overstuffed sock drawer impossible to open
  40. My daughter requires several alarms to wake up. The layered beeping, buzzing, and chimes gather and still she doesn’t stir to silence them. Even when she turns them off, they persist in my mind. Sometimes they go on for hours, faint distress to accompany my day.
  41. “It is not length of Life,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “but depth of life.” So why do I feel like a skipping stone?
  42. Groundhog Day is my favorite movie, and I bet I’ve seen it 20 times. Since the movie is just one day relived endless times, how many days does that make? When do I reach the point I’ve lived more days than Bill Murray?
  43. Modification
  44. I’m just getting comfortable feeling I only have so much to teach.
  45. Miss Stone, my third grade teacher, used to invite me to the front of the room while my classmates completed worksheets. “Smile,” she whispered, “what have you got to be so worried about?” That’s when I discovered language’s limits, its inadequacy describing anything it couldn’t name.
  46. Aside from movies, no one says, “You’ll never amount to anything.” Its dismissal is too complete. But when I say it to myself, it’s different.
  47. My daughter and I sometimes have strange rendezvous in the middle of the night when I find her sitting in front of a glowing computer. I tell her she has to get to sleep and that it’s silly to sabotage the next day and her health for something frivolous. Then I stomp back to bed to toss and turn and ruminate for hours about nothing I remember.
  48. M. C. Escher said, “They who wonder discover that this in itself is wonder,” suggesting that to wonder about his statement is to wonder about wondering about wonder,” which, I think, goes a long way toward explaining his art.
  49.  When I teach The Odyssey, I can’t help picturing the future Odysseus, the one who, after walking inland and appeasing Poseidon by planting an oar the locals call a winnowing fan, still sails through the Pillars of Hercules intent on completing his last futility.
  50. Long-exposure photographs of traffic capture a life I sense and can’t see.
  51. Recently I read some writing advice from Kurt Vonnegut, “It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” I’d love to comply, but what if language is the only handle you hold and all you care for?
  52. The best analogy for my life would have to include an analogy of its own.
  53. Dan Gustav was the first to tell me being an adult was way funner than being our age. I still believe him.


Filed under Aging, Art, Blogging, Doubt, Dreaming, Essays, Experiments, Groundhog Day, Identity, Insomnia, Kurt Vonnegut, Laments, life, Meditations, Memory, Modern Life, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Worry, Writing

6 responses to “Nearly Synonymous

  1. I really liked this post. Thank you, and happy birthday to you David.

    Thanks! I had fun writing this post… though, at times, I thought I’d never reach the end. There’s probably something in that bears examination in that, but I’m too tired to consider it. Thanks for visiting

  2. hhstheater

    Happy early birthday, David! Lots to chew on here. I shared the first part of Groundhog Day with my film students last week and we watch the rest tomorrow.

    Thanks. The dialogue of Groundhog Day has become a sort of shorthand in our household, especially “That first step is a dooozy.”

    This piece was troublesome. After all the writing and editing, the arranging was just as challenging… but a good sort of challenging, I guess.

    Thank you for visiting. It means a great deal to me.

  3. As always, you are the most thoughtful of writers.

    “‘It is not length of Life,’ Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘but depth of life.’ So why do I feel like a skipping stone?”

    I don’t think you’re at all like a skipping stone.

    Perhaps it is a matter of perspective. I’m happy to still find time to write, even if my observations and ideas seem to grow more finite with age. It feels good to complete my blog every week, and it’s always a bonus if I come up with anything worth reading.

    Thank you for reading. I hope all is well with you. I promise an email soon.


  4. Happy Birthday, David, and many more to come. Thanks for sharing this – you are an amazing soul. G

    Wow, what a nice thing to say… thanks and thanks for visiting! —D

  5. Pingback: Walking Around The Year | Signals to Attend

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s