Rock swirls and moss green
Surrounds chatter and cell phones –
Someone’s missed the point.
Rock swirls and moss green
Surrounds chatter and cell phones –
Someone’s missed the point.
A short post is in order this week. But it’s a good one.
Like most people, I’ve long since tired of the 24-hour news cycle, the depressing tumble of event-reaction-counter-reaction-analysis-argument that surrounds most major news events. (And this from an ex-journalist, too – I should probably just look at less online news.)
There are times, then, when I simply want to go online and see something that lifts me up, that brightens the world for a moment. For a brief 23 minutes this week, I’ve found it.
You’ve likely heard of “Carpool Karaoke“, a series in which late night host James Corden rides around with celebs, singing, quipping and gurning (he’s something of an acquired taste, and I’m not 100 per cent sold).
I’ve enjoyed some segments I’ve seen, but his piece with Paul McCartney, released yesterday, is one of the most heartwarming clips I’ve seen in a long time. It’s simple – McCartney and Corden driving around the former’s old Liverpool haunts, meeting old dears, shaking hands and kissing babies (McCartney mainly), culminating with a great reveal.
Death, ageing, the past – they’re all covered. But, because this is Paul McCartney, it’s all very “get on with it, always look on the bright side”. I could write more – not least about the bit that had me tearing up – but I figure you best watch it for yourself.
I’ve been running regularly for years but I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every day.
The more I think of it – I doubt I enjoy half, or even a quarter, of my outings. Usually there’s something in the way – in the evening I’m tired after the workday, in the morning I’m hungry because I’ve yet to eat. At the weekend I’ve other plans or chores to contend with.
Last weekend I found myself lacing my shoes in Seattle, on a Sunday morning at the end of a weeklong vacation (which involved some late nights and a lot of good food). On screen the night before, a short run around Washington Park looked fine. In reality, it looked hilly.
At 7 a.m. the following morning, if I’m being honest, my heart was sinking. A run in another city, on terrain and in an area I wasn’t familiar with, without feeling too good to begin with – all signs pointed to ‘meh’.
Then I started, straight into a 30-degree incline outside the door of our accommodation. Once I made the top of the hill, instead of my all-too-usual irritable, morning running mood, I felt a strange lightness. And so I continued, around the outskirts of the park, stopping occasionally to check signposts for directions.
After 5 minutes, running alone on a Seattle Sunday morning, skirting a beautiful green space, all my irritation had evaporated, replaced instead by – to quote the “Parklife” lyric – “a sense of enormous well-being”.
Twenty-five minutes later, by the time I descended the hill back to my lodgings, having run through the silent, people-less park, my mind was reset. The lethargy was gone. Even my usual aches and pains – born of years of jogging – seemed to have disappeared.
Yes, of course there’s a moral to this story. Of course it’s always better to get out than stay in – even when every urge is keeping you in your bed, or with your book and coffee, or playing with your puppy. But simple as it is, it’s a lesson I somehow regularly forget. And sometimes it takes a steep hill in an unfamiliar city on a tired morning to remind me.
Every time I tire of the more-faster-newer-now (which is often) I turn to someone like John Prine.
The 71-year-old songwriter has been releasing records for almost half a century and, with 50 years experience, his voice is a sane, even and empathetic one – tinged with just the right mix of reason and sentimentality.
The characters in his songs are not unlike the grace-seekers of Raymond Carver‘s fiction: ordinary people, likely losing more than winning, but more often than not trying. Their hearts are “like washing machines”, their luck’s never boundless, their sons die and their husbands leave and return, they have habits that sometimes they kick and sometimes they can’t.
I wrote about Prine very recently, and this post is an addendum of sorts – an acknowledgement of how one of his new songs stopped me in my tracks this week.
“Summer’s End” is – in the truest country music fashion – a lover’s plea for reconciliation. But not just any lover or any plea – this is an entreaty from a person in their senior years, with a voice of gravelled experience, someone who knows this call might be – in every way – their last shot.
And, weathered, sad and loving – it’s also a beautiful listen.
When I think of L.A. I think of things that are no longer there.
John Fante’s Bunker Hill boarding house,
The crumpled slips between the wooden seats at Santa Anita racetrack,
Where Bukowski cursed his way through another weekday afternoon.
The marble fireplace where Scott Fitzgerald stood,
In the rented Hollywood home where he tried to recharge his life – and where he lost it.
That strange bright emptiness – a great unease – that Joan Didion lived in and wrote about.
The last is still there, high above Eagle Rock Boulevard, where I walk, remembering.
All of these people wrote, and lived and drank and fought, against it. And for what?
The dust, the heat, the dry air, the lure and the promise and the tiredness, are too great to overcome.
Not that we should stop trying.
Spring is in full swing in Oregon, which means more light and heat and greenery.
The greenery is ever-present here, but the high, diffuse May light is not. The bright gray above reminds me of the Irish Midlands, where whole childhood weeks would pass under the off-white dome.
Back then it usually meant dry weather, which meant football outdoors. Now it’s almost oppressive, however, particularly when temperatures warm into the 70s and the heat seems trapped by the uniform sky – or lack of one.
Under the gray this morning my memory – which may or may be accurate – called to mind Thomas Mann’s “Death In Venice”, and the oppressive skies above the Lido that provide a backdrop for the main character, Aschenbach’s, fall.
While the absence, or concealment, of the sun worked as a metaphor for Mann, it’s also what’s most oppressive about ‘May Gray’ (as the Californians call it). Without the sun in the sky, there are no shadows, time seems to slip off schedule, there is no clear dawn or sunset.
Nothing to do but wait, of course. Until the end of the hour, or the day, or the week, when the clouds clear and high blue returns. And with it, hopes and memories of summer.
I’ve just told my wife
That we need to visit Clatskanie, Oregon, your birthplace.
And I often think to myself “I should take a trip to Port Angeles
And see the great, gray light on the Pacific and visit his grave site”.
But then I think “What’s the point?”
Why bother with places, the faint traces of memory on streets and buildings, with plaques on walls?
All we have is the words, you wrote,
And they better be the right ones.
In a black box, glass-faced, placed in a room on the top floor of a Georgian house.
Little sign of the ulcer that killed him, or the stress of the years unpublished in exile,
Or the pain of the eye operations.
It’s not the original death mask – instead the product of revisions and iterations.
But it’s his parting glance to the world.
Smaller than his stature suggests, and gentler,
James Joyce sleeps in a quiet room, four storeys up, between Eccles Street and Nighttown.
Oddly, he looks at home.
We arrived the night after a hurricane’s last winds
Had whipped their way over South Carolina.
The beach and the trees were still and empty – the summer washed away,
A clean slate for Autumn.
We had driven from California, three weeks across the country,
And this driftwood beach and empty tourist town was ‘it’, the moment we reached the other coast.
We had arrived.
In 24 hours we would move on. For now, all was clear and endless.
The years of college were over, ahead lay possibility, calm water, storms, inconceivable events,
We ate by a beach campfire, and slept heavily that night, unburdened.
Grey and wet and cabin feverish – in my memory all the rainy afternoons of my childhood holidays merge into one.
Waking on a wet Saturday morning, usually at a grandmother’s house, we would wait and hope, through breakfast and the drizzly morning, over lunch and on into the afternoon, that the rain would stop. By 3pm, after hours of books and board games, and more than a bit dispirited, we would be dragged from the fireplace and out for a spin in my dad’s car.
If we were lucky, the deluge or drizzle would stop. But often it did not, and so another July weekend would be lost to the vagaries of the Irish weather.
The advent of the internet, and a longer concentration span, and my sheer bloody mindedness nowadays when it comes to getting outside and getting soaked, means that a rainy Saturday isn’t the complete write-off it once was.
After moving from one rainy city (Dublin – 29 inches per annum) to another (Portland, Oregon – 36 inches), I’ve finally got used to rain. It’s only taken 40 years.
Just as well, as my wife and I woke to hail, rain, thunder, lightning, and 55mph gusting winds last Saturday. We were visiting our friends’ beach house in Manzanita, Oregon, a very fine property located all of 200 meters from the (very loud and very windswept) Pacific Ocean.
We were away from home. There were no chores to be done, no emails to be checked, or calls placed. My phone was turned off. For the first time in years, I experienced a rainy Saturday on vacation.
What did we do? Well, the same thing I did with my family 30 years ago. We had breakfast, chatted, ate some more, read a bit, watched the fireplace, and read a little more. And ate a bit more. And then we bundled into the car and headed out to the village for a damp stroll.
Plus ça change, as the French say. And pass the sauvignon blanc. The only difference between a rain-soaked Saturday in 2018 and one in 1988 as the occasional adult refreshment, which eased us into the afternoon and, truth be told, into the early evening as well.
How wonderful it was, to sit and sip and chat and attempt another two pages of the ‘Nighttown’ chapter, and then nibble and sip and chat some more. On occasion, I’d even forget the raging tumult flinging torrents of water on the windows. Until the next thunderclap.
Could I do it every weekend? The 10-year-old me from 1988 would probably give you a short, sharp answer to that – which I’d agree with today. But once in a soggy blue moon? Let it rain.