Born to be Addled

Addled sounds a little like wild, doesn’t it? That’s what I was going for. It’s not easy to put a clear title on one’s ruminations on the topic of abject confusion, my least favorite state of mind.

I don’t drink, you know. Very rarely and never if I’m going to be driving. That’s my rule. But the underlying reason is not simply fear of disaster and felony charges. It’s not that I think alcohol is inherently evil, though it  certainly has been the instrument of nearly infinite human suffering. Responsible drinking by healthy adults is OK with me, just not generally OK for me. And not because it’s fattening and expensive, although that’s also true.

I don’t drink because it clouds the mind, obscures the consciousness. One of my main goals on any given day is to go forth seeking clarity. And my poor brain is just about as fuzzy now as I want it to be.

No no no no I don’t … no more. 
I’m tired of waking up on the floor.
Ringo Star (youtube)

Case in pitiful point: A few days ago, I was obliviously shopping in the nearest Trader Joe’s. As I reached up for some cans of tuna, someone behind me spoke my name. I turned and shook hands, exchanged greetings, with a man whose face was very familiar. But I couldn’t place it.

My little brain jumped through the usual lists: work, church, writers’ groups, civic, condo association, etc. Finally I had to give up and admit I needed his help.

It turned out to be a man who has lived with his family across the street and one house down from my parents, for roughly the last 3 decades. I’ve stopped and spoken with him before, and seen him from a distance maybe a thousand times.

I was embarrassed. I blathered some stupid remark about being used to seeing him from a distance, complimented recent improvements to his front yard, etc. He was cordial and did not kick my ass right there amongst the produce, as much as I had it coming. But everyone wants to be recognized. Otherwise, it is far too easy to feel too lightly valued by others.

The thing is, I do value other people. I care and I really want to see people and know them and be friendly and inclusive. And I’ve heard other people over the years say things like, “I’m terrible with names.” This makes no sense to me. You’d think that the ability to recognize faces and identify known individuals would be systemic, universal to the evolution of our species. Otherwise, how would our kind spot enemies and friends and survive in a potentially hostile world?

There is a world of difference between momentary failure to recognize someone – the sin I’m confessing – and forgetting them altogether, which I hope I never do. I mean regarding others with indifference.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel

This past spring, I heard my name called by another person who recognized me. I turned and recognized an old friend, whom I had not heard from in 12 years. I had assumed that she moved away and her life changed and so it goes. But she’d been living here in this very small town, where my number is in the book. She’d never bothered to call, that’s all. But we were glad to see each other, talked for a while, and agreed to email and to meet for coffee. She said she was moving away in a few months.

I emailed her a week or two later, as promised. She replied saying a few weeks later would be better to meet, so let’s connect again. I emailed again in that time, but have heard nothing since. Three more months have come and gone and maybe she’s gone too, maybe not. In any case, that’s indifference.

It’s important that we know the ones we know. They matter. And nobody wants to disappear.

C‘est la vie.

I guess I could Google how to improve your memory for faces or something. I’m sure there are tips and tricks abounding. Not the point. It’s perplexing that I don’t already have a reliable app for that.

Chatting over the bananas in Trader Joe’s, these lines of T.S. Eliot came to mind, as they often have over the years:

Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. 

— Ash Wednesday

Everyman Knows


What shall we say, shall we call it by a name
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin.
– The Grateful Dead

There was a well known and successful writer interviewed on TV the other day. Her name escapes. Suffice to say, her ship is in. She was saying that the writer has to know something in order to write.

I don’t know about that. I tend to throw in with Joseph Campbell, who said

He who thinks he knows does not know. He who knows he does not know, knows.

If he’s right, everyone knows, and nobody does. But see if you think this little piece gets any air among the clouds of unknowing.


Passing Trees

“What time is it?”

Taking one hand from the wheel, he started to push back the sleeve of his jacket to see his watch, then stopped. He glanced over at her. She sat looking out her window through the rain, at the trees.

“There’s a clock on the dashboard in front of you.”

“Is it right?”


“So you won’t tell me?”

“What’s the use of having a clock in the car, if you always ask me anyway?” But now he did push back his sleeve and look. “The clock on the dash says the world is one minute older than the watch on my wrist. So I’m going with the clock. I’m feeling pretty old right now.”

She frowned and watched the trees, a dark wall and a dark road, a grim and rainy day. She did not look at him, or care about the time. It was only something to say, some excuse to conjure his voice out of the distance between them. It was a good voice, solid and deep, a comfort so often, and always in the dead of night. Sometimes she lay awake and whispered I love you, and he would answer in that voice, without waking. Love you too.

As they passed the end of the orchard, a field opened up. It was fallow, the earth broken and turned. Far back from the road was a brick house and a barn. The house was brightly lit, and smoke rose from the chimney. It was a stranger’s life sitting quietly surrounded by death, waiting to be swallowed by time and rain. She could not wait to get home, turn on lights and music, make tea, and pretend, like that house pretended, that the world was safe.

“I hate myself for leaving him there.”

He checked the mirror and said, “It’s a nice place.”

She turned at looked at him. “Nice? I hate us both.”

“Now, now. Yes, it’s a decent place, as …”

“And he hates us too.”

“… as such places go. Pleasant and homey.”


“He’ll come around. It’s very nice. He’ll get used to it, make friends, have activities. You saw they have a piano in the recreation room. And the courtyard will be warm on sunny days. We’ll visit and take him outside. He’ll be fine in no time.”

“He’s never yelled at us like that. Never at anyone, that I can remember. So angry. Like we’re Eskimos, shoving him out on an ice flow.”

“We’ve been over this. Can you really pretend we’ve been thoughtless?”

“Do they even do that, did they ever?”


“The Eskimos.”

“I don’t know.”

“He said we’re going to hell.”

“Oh God. Everyone is on their way someplace, but not there. And we’re only doing our best.”

“No. We could do better. We should bring him back. Fix up the spare bedroom.”


“Rent one of those hospital beds. I could take care of him, I know it. I could quit my job, we’d get by.”

“You couldn’t. You can’t even lift him. Neither can I.”

They passed the end of a narrow road that broke the blur of idle land and disappeared toward the hills. She saw that her hands were resting on her lap palms up, waiting to be filled by something only God could design.

“You know him better than me.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Since the hour of your birth.”


“So I hope you’re right. But he’s already haunting me.”

There was another line of trees close against the road. Almonds, dark and full of rain.


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Passing Trees by J. Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
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My laptop connection to the Internets stopped working tonight; a greasy clog in the tubes. I wasn’t planning to use it much. My plan was to update my iTunes with it, rip a couple of CDs, while doing some writing with the desktop, then watch a movie and go to bed early-ish. But I couldn’t download my podcasts. To make a long story short, after almost an hour on the phone, a gentleman named Vivek at Linksys (Cisco), presumably in India, helped me fix it. For some reason, the router settings stopped working, and had to be changed. But it’s OK now.

What strikes me about the experience is how I feel about it now. I’m relieved, and sad; it troubles me that my laptop has had to go through this brief but bitter sickness. Here is something I’ve been trying to put my finger on for quite a while: I am emotionally connected to the inanimate objects that populate my little life. I derive a consolation from their utility, and a sentimental sustenance from many of them. The laptop was a gift from my Mom & Dad. But I was just as overwhelmed by the near-death of this desktop late last year, and I bought it myself. So it isn’t just sentiment. It’s the more systemic fact that my possessions are part of my personal landscape.

OK, so I have some serious psychic disentangling – detaching – to do, because it’s manifestly obvious that my computers don’t love me back. I’m not so sure about the dishwasher.

in hot water again

Last night, I posted about my hot water heater, and I said there was a point to the whole story which had eluded me. It goes that way sometimes; I probably killed too many brain cells, reading Heidegger in college. But I have good news.

This afternoon, I drove over to my folks’ house, to see whassup and play with Happy. On the way, I stopped at Radio Shack to get a battery for my garage door opener. (I’m sure you can picture my abject disgruntlement at having to get out and open the door last night, in the bitter cold, when the stupid thing died.) And that’s when it hit me. The point, I mean.

See, a few days ago, I wrote up a list of goals and needful things for 2007. And right there at #4, under double pane thermal windows for the condo – you guessed it – new water heater. So now I get to cross that off my list, and it’s not even mid-January yet. Chalk up one for inscrutable fate.