Too Late, Too Soon

I am reminded tonight, adrift as I am again in the horse latitudes of creative inertia, of a line from the writer Anne Lamott.

“Ah! Stuck in the shit! And it’s your fault, you did this…”

Believe me I’m deeply motivated to blame others for the reality that I’m creating nothing out of nothing. Jean-Paul Sartre said “hell is other people” because the judgments of society are always in our minds, so we are never free. Even now as I type this, all alone in my condo — with no impressions of the outside world but the gentle exhalations of the freeway and the whisper of the sprinklers coming on — I am not free.

You are going to judge me, aren’t you? People who know me and people who don’t are going to read this and make calculations, draw conclusions, read between the lines, assume and presume to understand. And brains will have reactions. So you have a claim on my freedom from the future, as I have a claim on your attention from the past.

That is a weird concept: You’re in my head, for better or worse, and I’m in yours. And it seems to be a kind of magic. But if we’re not careful, it’s more disillusion than illusion, less trick than trial.

Sadly, that is the Grand Illusion, that we have the capacity to know each other, or even to know ourselves. Nevertheless, that is the poet’s job: to look out at the world and explore and illuminate moments subjectively, with the self as primary subject.

It’s late – the mind drifts. I leave you with a few ponderables from my Commonplace Book, perhaps to be parsed furtively in a future post, if God wills it:

“No matter how piercing and appalling his insights, the desolation
creeping over his outer world, the lurid lights and shadows of his inner
world, the writer must live with hope, work in faith.”

— J.B. Priestley

“Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”

— Sartre

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”

— John Steinbeck

“No one deserves to know the real you. Let them criticize who they think you are.”

— Unknown



Stalling Death

One wants to tell a story, like Scheherezade, in order not to die. It’s one of the oldest urges in mankind. It’s a way of stalling death.

So said Carlos Fuentes, who failed as do we all, and died in 2012. He was born on November 11, 1928, which is why it’s been brought up now. And you can still read his books, so there’s one way to cheat death if it won’t be deferred.

I confess that when I see the word Scheherezade, I don’t think of the mythical Persian queen. She told stories to the king so he wouldn’t kill her. As much as I’d like a few of my words to live beyond me, I tend to think of Rimsky-Korsakov. He’s dead too, but his music still lives. Well played, Nokolai.

Two Ponderables from Antonio Machado


I love Jesus who told us

the heavens and earth shall pass away.

When the heavens and earth pass away,

my word will remain.

What was your word, Jesus?

Love? Pardon? Affection?

All your words were

one word: Arise.


– Antonio Machado




In my solitude. I have seen things very clearly that were not true. 


– Antonio Machado

Risk Factors

James Gandolfini is dead, says the Internet. He was in Rome with his 13 year old son. That is too young to lose your Dad. My heart goes out to that boy, and to the man’s family and friends. 51 is too young to die.

Gandolfini was born in 1961, as was I. We have more than that in common. Risk factors; I’m sure you understand. So I turned away and looked to my blogs, and found Neil Gaiman writing about the death of his friend Iain Banks, who died of gallbladder cancer recently.

Regular readers of Metaphor may recall my post last month, about my own struggles with the gallbladder. Damnable, bilious little thing. I can’t wait to have it out and gone! But I’m perforce working to lose weight first, to reduce the risks of anesthesia.

By Heaven, it will set a man to pondering.

Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you will be,
Prepare for death and follow me.

But you know what? Death is really hard to look at, straight on. You have to come at it holding a mirror at an angle, or a shard of broken glass, and pretend not to be looking at all. The greatest common denominator, and the real traffic of all writing and most of human creativity, is elusive in daylight.

Here’s a video, a song for those going on ahead. And may the judgment not be too heavy upon us.


OK, here’s another song. This one is for me, maybe for you.


Because the sea is good for doing what it does, for cleaning up and washing all away. But the graveyard accepts and is patient, keeping watch, letting the years pass slowly in silence and in light.

— From my flash fiction piece, A Shadow Or A Dream


How often do you wonder about it? Are you planning ahead for the trip?

Maybe we will cross a Rainbow bridge, where we are greeted by all of our lost and beloved pets. They were always the first to greet us in this life, and the best at doing it, so why not? And we will live there forever with everyone we’ve loved … In the popular image of Heaven, not much is mentioned about God. But isn’t He supposed to be the point?


In today’s Writer’s Almanac, there’s a nice little poem called Heaven, which says that we will live in the past there – that Heaven is the past – and we’ll live there with

“Everyone we ever loved,
and lost, and must remember.”

Sweet. Everybody gathers up and goes back in time, and entry is automatic, based on love, loss and memory. But it doesn’t make much sense, from a theological perspective. What about, you know, Judgment? God will not be mocked.

And if we gather up at a point in time and go back in time, what about everybody who lives on, remembering and missing us? Do they show up on a later bus?

I imagine we are like Billy Pilgrim, stuck in time now but not stuck in time always. So it goes. And heaven exists outside – beyond – the stream of time. It’s not past, present or future, it’s forever.

What Dreams May Come

What do you think?

Good for Something

It’s been 10 days since I posted? Wow. I’ve been overcome by events, I suppose. Other-minded. So tonight we’ll have some thoughts on happiness and a poem not before posted here on Metaphor. Set in motion between my ears by today’s A Word A Day quote:

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much of life. So aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
  – Thoreau

I was talking with friends recently and my friend asked me “Are you happy?” I said yes but the question has stuck with me, largely because my friends seemed so genuinely happy. I tried to joke off the question by paraphrasing the old saying (attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein):

"I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."

My friend pointed out that I had missed – evaded – the point, which I knew was true. So the question continues to ebb and flow in the back of my mind.

beachWe don’t do much existentialism here at sea level. We lack the elevation, the air’s too thick, and ardent introspection clashes with the beach motif. My friends brought it down from greater altitudes. So I’ve had to use my imagination.

I suppose that most days I’m not exactly what you’d call happy; not sad or gloomy, just sloshing back and forth with the tide. I try to catch the first wave to break above unhappiness, at something like being at peace with myself. I try not to hurt other people or animals – or myself – very badly, and there is some contentment there. Happiness seems to be always coming in the next set of breakers; I can feel its portentous swell beneath me even now.

Gladness flows from simply being of use to others from time to time.

If one is only up to his knees in the foam and talking to the sand birds, it’s hard to be swept away.

I am reminded of another quote of Wittgenstein, "Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only." And I wonder whether God might say I’m really very happy after all, but it’s our little secret.

And I am inspired, frequently, profoundly, though mostly by you. And that’s OK, right? To live week to week vicariously steeped in radical amazement? Even the flashing, streaking Perseids will look around at one another, don’t you think? Maybe now and then one shouts, “Boy, is this great!”

Here’s a beautiful little video for you to see, to make the most of the ocean metaphors. It’s a short film about a surf photographer, who has some deep things to say about the sea and creativity.

By the way, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s last words were reportedly, “Tell them I had a wonderful life.” To be contrasted with those of Ludwig Van Beethoven,"Pity, pity—too late!" He was dying, knew it, and someone told him he had just received a gift of a case of wine. (A pretty mean trick, yeah?) By which the blogger reminds his readers tempis fugit, y’all.

What about you, then? Are you happy? I hope so. Here’s the poem.


The winter waves have stripped away
   the sand and left these rocks
   great shifted reefs of jagged black
Raked countless small gray stones
   in somber sheets beneath the bluff

I’ve come to ask a favor of the sea
   hoping she might take away my fear
Embrace it as she would a drowning child
   sweep it fast and deep and forever
   along the Channel to the south

They say that after the panic
   as light from the surface falls away
   it feels like drifting off to sleep
This dread is well accustomed to the cold
It would rest so happily in silence

In springtime a fisherman in Mexico
   will find my fear
Catch it with a snag of kelp
Carry it home for his supper unawares
   with a small string of perch

He will wake up in the night
   worried about something
   he was supposed to be
Clutching his chest in the soaking dark
   and smelling the pitiless sea


Creative Commons License
Light From The Surface by J. Kyle Kimberlin
was first published in 1994 and is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Which means it can be freely copied and shared, with attribution.

Pondering Heaven


Check out this comic (click to enlarge) …


Which set me to pondering:

If we plan go to Heaven, and we subscribe – as I do – to the hope that we will find our departed and much loved pets there … Are there puppies poopin’ on the pearly passageways? And if so, who cleans up the poop?

Sure sure, it’s easy to say that spirits don’t eat and excrete in yon Spiritual Realms; that we are, hereafter, purely consciousness, not corporeal. But it’s just as easy to envision an Afterlife in which I’m wielding a silver pooper scooper for all eternity. If so, is that heaven, or some other place? 

My Work

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
Keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.

– Mary Oliver

I have a resonance with this piece, along with my friend at camera-obscura.

So the question is, how did I allow myself to be astonished today? Well, there was that moment in the afternoon, when I went through the back yard gate to water the flowers, and found the place was a playground for scrub jays. They were wildly happy, darting in circles around each other and around the birdbath with its fountain spouting from a concrete squirrel. It took them a moment to see me coming, and to hear the sound of the gate, and then they darted off.

Would I lie to you?


“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.”

– Nikos Kazantakis

Oh, that’s profound. I think it’s a crock of crapadoo brought to a low boil, but it’s profound. Enlightenment is a process, not a product; a journey without end, not a state of attainable ability.

The student asks the master, “What is the way to enlightenment?”
The master answers, “Humility.”
“And how long is the way, Master?”
“How would I know?”

Moreover (strange word), between darkness and light there can be no agreement. Light makes darkness less so; darkness is changed by the presence of light. So Uncle Kyle says the meaning of enlightenment is to turn one’s back to the darkness, bow one’s head, and humbly pray to see the light … to be shown the next step on the way.

So we have established that the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ is full of hooey, while the author of Finding Oakland is not. That’s convenient for me. Hence, to dispel the shadows.

First, I’ve never cared much for phrases like, “the meaning of enlightenment.” It makes no sense; it’s a non sequitur. So is “the meaning of life.” How can one impart meaning to an abstraction? The only possible answer is, “it depends.” And it depends on an infinite number of things, because it depends on how a life is lived. So I think Nikos meant the function of enlightenment, or the purpose, or the goal. Not the meaning.

How then does the artist spelunk into the sunless caverns in search of the gradient distinctions of shade? By taking a little light along, of course. Most of us, when the day is done – hopefully with pages that weren’t there in the morning – have someone to love. Some memory of loving, loosing, living on. Or someone who loves us, or who has, or who will. Inshallah. That should be light enough.