I've realized recently that the story of my life is really an amalgamation of careful planning and improvisation. Whether I got to this point today by sticking to a plan or going with the flow, who I am now has got me thinking about who I was yesterday. And so in the middle of the night, I stumble into the kitchen and knock down a photo of grandma while fumbling for the light switch. I improvise as though I'm in a strange new place. And in the darkness I reach out for gram's picture guided only by intuition. Our histories are like footprints on a map--a record of our past dotted with a plethora of what ifs. In spite of my best efforts and preparations, much of my life has been a quirksome surprise. So in light of this realization, I will try to lay out a short bio hoping to bridge the gap between planned events and what the hell just happened events.
Well, let's see. I gasped my first breath the Sunday evening of January 20, 19-something. Don't ask me my age unless you're prepared to believe a lie. I was adopted as a baby, am the middle child of 3, grew up in Texas and Indiana where I rode motorcycles through corn fields, paddled canoes over waterfalls, dreamed of being a poet--an expatriate living in a far and distant land. I went to college in Utah and Texas and have a BA in Theatre and another one in English (composition & rhetoric). I lived in New York City for a while and attended the National Shakespeare Conservatory but dropped out after spending all of my student-aid money on 2-months rent, a plate of eggs benedict and a basketball. I know, crazy, right? Why did I buy a basketball?
I worked as a technical editor for a publishing company in NYC. Recently married, we lived in a tiny "artsy" (meaning mouse and roach infested) studio in Gramercy Park. A couple of years later, our beautiful daughter was born and we moved to Texas where I went to work for its democratic governor. And suddenly I discovered that I was a closet socialist and then summarily "fired" when Bush came to town. I spent my early career looking for a career. Spent my mid-career trying to resuscitate my first career and soon thereafter settled into my current career that felt like coming to after falling down the balcony stairs. I love what I do and do it quite well. Initially, however, I wanted to write novels on a beach in Northern Africa or make cheese out of a wagon while traveling with gypsies, but I was pressed into a real job due to the above mentioned child and a delinquent student loan.
Anyway, I married a great girl before I was ready, before I purged myself of those delusions we endured in the early to mid-90's. We had a great kid amidst the fallout of denial, anger, and acceptance that these delusions endowed us with. So it was imminent that divorce would inevitably follow, that this train I was riding was approaching a dark tunnel to oblivion--a wormhole into the cold isolation of insensible space. It was at that moment I was hit with a life brick, as I call it, and knocked from the mystery train to travel a parallel path while my injuries healed themselves over time and distance, a realization that only now can I perceive more fully.
I've always believed that life is a journey as depicted by the tiny rune tattooed on my hand. Some go through life proclaiming no regrets. Whatever. In my view, life is about regret. Without it, where's the growth? How is there self-realization in a context that transcends the here and now, that leads to a greater understanding of the human condition and our place within it? Today I aim to journey on without the pathos of a martyr looking over his shoulder at an image blurred by age and remorse. I try to guide my life by that tiny voice within me struggling each day to sever myself from ego and impetuism...(not sure if that's a word, but...). I hope to obtain someday the wise dignity of an artist or a scholar; always pressing forward like everyman--going to work, paying the bills, feeding the family, reasoning his way through days that go on and on like rain dripping down a mountain.
But, gratefully, I don't spend my days gasping for breath like I did 40-something years ago. I own up to a few regrets like ordering 4 star Duck Pou at Racha down the hill, but the grass is green and the air is fresh and crisp.
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I'll discover a new fragrance coming through the window or from the pile of old books on the nightstand or from the bed sheets recently washed by a quiet stranger still adjusting to her own independence. And then I'll question my own freedom and discover that my dreams have been indentured by change and I've embraced a new choice as though it were a long aspired goal finally reached. By nightfall I will remember what I've lost and realize that my independence was at some point compromised by a lifetime of worry, doubt and ignorance. Experience is my last reward; and time will make from it another memory that I will tuck away inside me until the dream is over and I awake to another day tapping at my window.
When do you reach that point in your life when you realize there's not enough fuel to turn back? Or when you admit that you'd rather plunge into the sea than start over? And if the day comes when you finally see a light at the end of the tunnel, what do you find most compelling? The end of the darkness, or the end of the tunnel? Maybe by the end of the day I'll be able to answer this question. And so today I find myself traveling across the desert, not sure of what lies beneath it, but moving forward nonetheless. Looking ahead I see nothing out of the ordinary. But, it's got me thinking about the journey again, the journey of life I am set upon right now. Browsing this journey's broader landscape, I wonder how I will find my destination if my view of this experience remains the same, and I wonder if the destination really matters anyway. I denounce the assumption that the point of this journey is to reach some specific place where the distance between a and b can only be measured by mathematics. Right now, in the middle of the desert, I consider a different model where the goal of our journey is not reached on the homestretch to paradise, but is met every day, all the time, and with every breath we pull into us.
So I ruminate. I think of this journey as a road to somewhere unimportant where we accumulate experiences that will transform us at its end into individuals with identities that will always be. In ourselves a narrative is formed, a story written, a vessel created to hold this intangible matter we call experience. The earth is as a womb where we discover what we want to be and travel throughout its domain attempting to become it. Our identity becomes the song, and experience, its resounding voice. Humanity has created us in its own image where everything matters, where nothing is trivial, where our identities have defined us as individuals. Humanity was born to transcend normal matter and exist in a context of its own design. This was the moment of creation. We rose up one morning to discover that the mirror had been cleaned and the stranger's face was gone. And today, we are alive, and our journey has begun. And so I wander here in the sand, mile-marker something, trying to put it all together. And yet I fear my vessel may spring a leak and I will have nothing to contribute to the greater realm of humanity. But still, I hope someday to discover that my own experiences of so little matter could, in truth, be so abundant in substance.
Up ahead I see a sign-post, another mile-marker actually, suspended from a cloud as though the earth were groundless, having the depth-of-field of a photograph with a background of hazea veil of schmere and blur. With miles of sand in all directions, I think back to mile-marker 3 and am awash in nostalgia. Ah yes, the good ole days. Happily, in my naiveté, I played in the sun, read poetry, basked in a philosophy of comfort. But it didn't last long. I don't bask in philosophy anymore; nowadays I am mired in it. No longer a child, I have learned to answer for myself. I do my own laundry, pay my own bills, stand on my own two feet, but I wear no medals, hoist no trophies; and looking back I wonder how I missed that soothsayer, that shrewd sorcerer with whom I'd barter for a richer life. Where was my opportunity to trade up, to give up a finger for a little emotional security, or a few toes for a higher IQ, or a front tooth for a tolerance to loneliness or an antidote to apathy?
The landscape was different back then. Not as I perceive it now, but perfect in its foreverness. As a child, I was drawn to this perfection where it held me aloft against its bosom of light and life. And it was warm; so warm and restful. But I held on for so long I was absorbed. My body dried up, and like snow it fell, silently in pieces, and oh so beautifully I disappeared into the dunes. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, my soul was freed and the pieces of my body lay like props on a stage, furniture for some greater attraction still to come. Gone today, for the most part, is my faith. I look for spiritual answers in quantum mechanics, not in theology. I look for guidance in the story of man, not in the promises of doctrine; and I look for comfort in the deity that is nature. We fought a good fight, my ideology and I. And yet in the end, by mile-marker 6, I realized that my faith was close to death, or simply disappearing altogether. I was happy to pick it up again at mile-marker 9, but it was differentskinny, gaunt and old, finally looking like something I could trust. At first I thought it was better having no faith at all, but I reconsidered as it gave me something to talk to in my hours of abject loneliness.
So I talk to my mostly-dead faith, my ugly ideology, as I affectionately call it. It's become my own brand of self-psycho-therapy, or pseudo meditation. We don't talk about promises or commitments or higher understandings, but about simple things, funny and ironic things, human things. We laugh a lot together as though we've become each others' punch lines. I've come to think of my ugly ideology as if it were a part of me, like a mal-formed twin without arms or legs, a stump of gristle and sinew existing on some level inside of me. Part parasite, part side-kick, we've found some common ground somewhere near mile-marker n. And we're okay with that. We are today, at least.
Continuing on to the next mile marker with an ugly, broken ideology was like sparring with an eye out. I believe in some mysterious way it has heightened my other senses and lets me search other perspectives for truth and comfort and permanence. Some folks say that the truth will set you free while everyone knows that a mere belief in something, anything, is a valid path to this mind-freedom, as I call it. But can a sugar pill or a prayer or the laying-on-of-hands truly allow the blind to see or the lame to walk? Let me presuppose that an ugly ideology like mine may doom a life to a level commensurate with its grotesqueness. Or, the uglier the ideology, the more difficult the struggle. The more difficult the struggle, the more substantive the experience. The more substantive the experience, the more knowledgeable the possessor. And the more knowledge one possesses, the less likely he is to accept that a sugar pill, or pleas to a mythical consciousness, will cure the blind or make the lame rise up and walk. I wouldn't say that pretty ideology is better than ugly ideology, and that people with pretty ideology have easier lives. But there are some who insist that, in the end, God will deliver all things to those whose ideology is the prettiest of all. But what exactly is "all things"? All knowledge?! I don't believe that God gives this; life does. So thus I return to my thesis. In any event, sometimes we ugly-faithers feel like we've been left in the lurch as we're told that if we fail, it's because our ideology isn't pretty enough. So it must be true then, my faith just isn't as attractive as I think it is. Phew! That's a relief.
Looking back on it now, I realize it took a lot of life to dirty up my faith. Struggle and doubt has scarred it, maimed it, changed its focus. Its mission statement is different. It's not as arrogant as it used to be. It's more fragile. It's open for discussion. It's wishy-washy. It means well even if it's sometimes misguiding. But that's okay. I no longer trust my ideology so explicitly. Its advise is just that and not revelation.
Leaving my ugly ideology behind for a moment, let me fill you in on this journey I'm rambling about. Finally the sky clears. I come to mile-marker 10, and I'm led to speculate. It is possible that I'll be married again before the year is over. But my psyche is a battlefield. Some days are sunny and bright, but optimism is deceiving. In so many ways my story reads like a memoir of failure, and I worry that my bride may stumble into that pit inside of me and drown in a well of regret. I try not to wonder how long it will be until she's caught in the crossfire or steps on a landmine. So with this in mind, I've created a new grammar where love is not only an emotion that comes and goes with the wind but a decision, a choice not so easily dismissed the next day or the morning after. But if it were just an emotion, I still couldn't tell for sure if my betrothed truly loves me. At least she does through these rose-colored glasses I got at the dollar store. But does it really matter as long as I believe she loves me? Am I her "soul-mate"? Again, I couldn't say. I think the princess and the frog were soul-mates. After the kiss, or before the kiss? Honestly, I don't think it really matters? Anyway, soul-mates are divorced all the time so I question why should I want one.
And so my thoughts turn to Amber (Zhi-zhi). She is the quintessential beauty. She interests me. She captivates me, and I suspect I'll be in her grasp until she decides to release me. She possesses a steadfastness and strength that comforts me, and a feminine domesticity presides over all she does. Everything she touches becomes new and glamorous and invaluable. A cup in her hand is not merely a cup, though nondescript and common, it becomes something greater than its history. Everything is noble around her, every object becomes a relic of the divine, and every person she approaches becomes ablaze with beauty. She is multi-dimensional, and her therapy is profound. And I like her Chinese-i-ness, like the way she eats a croissant with chopsticks, and the way she arranges our footwear in the doorway, like offerings on an alter, where I kowtow before swapping out shoes for slippers. I love her goofy-nastiness too; cute like a 9 year old but with the stage presence of a hooker. She portrays that trashy innocence like a parody for my own amusement. And yeah, I like that. I like watching her flirt with herself while practicing her English in the mirror singing "smell, small, smile" in the most seductive way, panting into her toothbrush and winking into the mirror like a prom queen. She makes fun of my Mandarin, but we always do that together, in harmony. I've stopped referencing her accent a speech impediment, but I'm tempted to make her a t-shirt that reads, "Engrish is my second ranguage". She has a great sense of humor and we spend most of our time together at play. So, at this point in my journey, I will "settle" for friendship. I will approach the ghosts of life's bigger journey in doses. And I will never ask her to fill that dark, gaping hole in my soul, but, if she's willing, to simply decorate around it.
Remembering the person I used to be has me face the man I am today with a bias I can't fully appreciate. In the eye of this bias I fail to recognize who I have become. I am a stranger ageing on an even stranger path, stumbling in the darkness over artifacts in which I no longer see their relevance. The boy I was is clearer to me now than ever before, and his journey, though easy and serene, was a walk through deception. The duality of man was obscured by a turn he didn't take, a sign he couldn't read. And so his path has lead to me. Am I that figure he imagined he'd become? He was a sweet boy, a meek boy, and his innocence and gentle demeanor has sought me out for a purpose lost in time. I miss him but am uninclined to travel his journey backward as it is not the journey, but the carefree, wondrous traveler that I miss instead.
An air of melancholy follows me around, ghosts and monsters are more prolific today than ever. But was it not I who created them and gave them sanctuary in my mind? My fear is their power over me. They haunt me, weigh me down, and now I am bullied by my own imagination. I travel today mile by mile, stepping quietly as not to wake another phantom lurking in my head. Long and dark shadows reach out before me, but from which aspect of my mind they come, I cannot tell. But the boy of my past is untroubled. I can see him riding his bike to the library or swimming laps at the pool or walking his fingers across the piano. His youthful, unspoiled spirit seems so unfamiliar to me as the distance between us grows deeper and darker every year. If life could be as it was back then, would I become him again? Would he come up from the deep to repossess me? I surrender to him. I capitulate like the falling notes of a song, a hymn of peaceful surrender. The sun would be warm, the air fragrant with memories resurfaced from a past too distant to discern. There were no frightening apparitions on his journey. Just hope and joy. Such a pretty ideology he had unchallenged. Now he is asleep like a baby, sunken in a downy plushness that keeps him safe from the outside realities I see on my journey every day. Would he know me? Would he forgive my idiocities? Would he know that I am he? Oh to walk in the path of my past, that I could meet the boy I used to be and collect with him the treasures I lost in his future.
The mile markers in recent history are rubbed out, sand blasted away from hours and hours of boredom I suspect. My vessel feels empty, still. It's as light as a sigh. And I swear if I held it up to my ear, I'd hear it snoring. I try to remember the details of an eventful moment in my past but they are muted, specifics lost in the grayness of history. Sigh, mile-marker 12 and I can tell I've been on this road a while. My bag of collectibles is light; souvenirs of the journey are scant. This is unexpected. I thought the older I got, the more I would know, the more secure I would become in this developed reality. I thought I'd be full of wisdom and insights. I wanted to be that wise old sage, sitting on a hill, smoking his pipe, answering questions with questions, challenging passersby with riddles of wisdom. But the stuff I've learned isn't in my vessel after all. A mosaic of thoughts plays out in my mind like a moviea brave little canary singing in his cage, wondering if his life has meaning, if his individuality will be lost once he is gone, lost in life's bigger picture. It's obscene how I obsess about that "bigger picture", the theme of a movie I can barely understand but believe in with all of my heart. And then I remember. Who believes in anything with all of their heart? Please, don't be silly.
I consider a big picture where each of us is a puzzle piece. There is no box to peek at, no clues or revelations as to what this picture should look like. It simply looks like us. No one knows absolutely what the final outcome of our story will be, but once we are done and the earth is swallowed up by a black whole or obliterated by our sun, or even long before that when our poisoning of the earth is complete, all of these pieces (us) will assemble to reveal (be) the ultimate picture (story) of humanity. Relegate the names of this king or that prophet, for every piece has equally valid information. Every experience matters, every soul matters. We are creating a picture of the human experience, and by extension, we are creating god him/her/it-self. God is in utero as are we. In our desires for love, peace, and happiness, we are creating this god in our own image. And at the end of our story, god will be born. The story of man will look like us with no cosmetics, no reconstructions, no captions or explanations. And if a picture speaks a thousand words and we are each a single word, imagine the story we can write together. Imagine what would be if all these words came together, all of our stories were merged into one account of the human condition. Will all of our questions then be answered? What significance, I wonder, will my own story have?
Were we created by nature only to be forgotten once our piece was written? This is where honest faith lies. And combined with the words of our neighbors' voice, our story has context, our faith has resolution, and our god becomes all knowing, all powerful, all things to all people, unifying and just. And my own faith, my ugly ideology, my wishy-washy, indecisive, somewhat inebriated ideology will be but a small utterance in the broader story of man. But I hope, no matter what, I can always have that to talk to.
There's no telling how many mile-markers are left before I have to land this puppy. The auto-pilot went out eons ago along with steering and communications. I suppose this just makes the journey a little more exciting, more memorable. But it brought on some complications I didn't foresee. Anxiety, often debilitating, has been chronic, showing up at the worst possible times, harassing me with symptoms unrelated to anything rational and specific. My logical self knows that I see things that aren't really there and fail to see the peace and comfort right in front of me. But my illogical self is the one behind the wheel. I search the depths of my being for a calming thought until the moment passes. But, truthfully, I'm not sure I want to know myself that well. I suspect, at the end, my consciousness will evaporate into the ethers when my body exhales its last breath, and return to that other dimension. This is what I'll think of when I approach that last mile-marker. There I'll be, skidding across the tarmac through the curtain of death, like entering a wormhole to my sub-atomic home to reunite with the boy of my past. All my anxiety will fade away, nothing but love and peace will await me. Right? Right, I wonder.
I stood on the balcony the following day and watched the winter birds jump between gargoyles on the parapet. Their dark forms looked like black spheres balled up into tiny fists of feathers. Their songs were low and short, but mostly they kept quiet and flew in small, tight patterns from tree to shrub to fence without making the slightest sound. The garden and adjacent meadow provided sparse cover and made no effort to hide them within its own tawny grasses. Instead, the dark birds took shelter near the ground in leafless brush resembling nests of crumpled wire.
The winter birds held the earth’s spirit. They lived and moved where nothing else would. I stood inside the doorway and watched them twitch and peck at seeds and pieces of cracker that I had dropped for them earlier. They stayed for only a moment. Their eyes moved about searching for predators that I could not imagine against the still landscape. Aside from a neighbor’s cat creeping around a light pole or a hedge of blue-blossom, the dark birds gave the earth its only motion. They told of the earth’s former personality; they declared its compassion, warmth, and color.
The birds flew off and gathered in the nearby meadow. When they were still, I could not distinguish them from the shadowy pieces of turf turned up by the neighbor’s broodmare. The wind was calm and quiet. I could hear nothing, not even the clock from inside the doorway, not even a random scraping of branches from the ash and cypress against the building. Nothing in the garden or in the meadow moved. The sheer absence of sound and motion gave the moment an eerie tension. The dark birds and the pale landscape created a loneliness that wasn’t entire-ly unpleasant. It made me want to sleep, to envision myself stuffed within a warm bed piled with downy quilts and pillows. Time never moved more slowly. Fatigue lingered in the coldness as I fell asleep uncovered in an overstuffed lounge chair in the middle of the room.
I don’t remember dreaming. I only remember waking and feeling frustrated with my own loneliness and isolation. I wanted to feel eager again. I wanted to feel renewed and invigorated. I wanted the artist to be alive, to touch my hand and pull herself into my embrace. I wanted to feel her desire instead of my own. I wanted to feel her passion instead of mine. I wanted her wants to be satisfied in me that I might forget my own wishes and rediscover them anew in her.
In his collection of personal essays entitled, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack, Franklin Burroughs utilizes the genre’s most prevalent rhetorical strategy of identification through story telling. Unlike the formal essay that may appeal to an audience’s specific interests and curiosities, Burroughs’ personal essays often appeal to a general audience’s ambivalence between right and wrong and the environment in which their daily routines are perceived, rationalized and accepted. He envelopes his readers in a milieu of personal secrets, selective histories and keen perceptions of everyday life. Through his candid literary demeanor and his intimate conversational rhetoric, he positions himself as the everyman. Burroughs does not assert or praise his credibility; but instead, he reminds his readers of their universal kinship and the experiences common to everyone. He attempts to communicate a reasoning that will casually blend the entire human race into one heterogenous family. Mainly through stories and anecdotes--the genre’s primary rhetorical devise--Burroughs identifies with a general mass audience through a reverent conversation of life’s minor generalities and a candid disclosure of his own failures and emotional fragility.
According to Holman and Harmon’s A Handbook to Literature, the personal or informal essay is characterized by “the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner)...unconventionality or novelty of theme...and freedom from stiffness and affectation” (Holman 193). In his forward to The Art of the Personal Essay, Philip Lopate writes that “the conversational dynamic--the desire for contact--is ingrained in the form, and serves to establish a quick emotional intimacy with the audience” (Lopate 2). These observations are evidenced throughout Burroughs’ collection as he discusses life’s personality from the perspective of the provincial New Englander. His collection consists of five essays all evaluating and reacting to the complexities of life and death in modern but rural America. He describes a local dimension of life that is free of the world’s abrasive competitiveness, and he involves his readers in his world--a separate reality where he can confess his own fears and inadequacies.
Recollections of boyhood and descriptions of the landscape are inherent in Burroughs’ essays. The innocence of childhood and nature “undefiled” is discussed in a homey, unpretentious rhetoric that appeals to the simple, unrefined, child-like qualities of his audience. He elaborates on the hillside’s weeds and grasses and in a neighborly editorial on the weather, he discusses nature’s routines and his own droll attitudes of home. “Crackers limp as old lettuce,” an expression bordering cliché is placidly expressed by a narrative voice which at times can be equally cliché or banal--simple, unashamed but heroically sincere (Burroughs 5). It is easy for one to imagine the author as a quiet, non-threatening figure draped in loose fitting overalls, standing upon the seat of his tractor, gazing at the valley before him as he describes “our fields,” in the following detail:
The stitchwort, vetch, buttercup, bedstraw and blue-eyed grass...thriving amid the adversities of soil and climate, their inconspicuous beauty seems reflective of rural New England, and it is pleasing to learn that people here once found more than aesthetic solace in them (Burroughs 9).
He further appeals to his and his audience’s commonness in describing his “Southern boyhood” that was filled with “that strange Wordsworthian hunger for landscape” (Burroughs 10). Certainly by the end of the tenth page, readers can identify with Burroughs’ natural, uncomplicated self-portrait.
Throughout most of his book, Burroughs presents himself (as Edmund Waller may have noted 350 years ago) as the self-sequestered man. He is alone and removed from the rest of the world where he can observe man and nature unnoticed. And it is during this seclusion when Burroughs receives these random and quixotic perceptions and insights into everyday life. Lopate again in his forward to The Art of the Personal Essay informs us of the essayist as one who “claims unique access to the small, humble things in life” (Lopate 5). Burroughs certainly attempts to portray this affection early in his collection and it is evidenced throughout the entire book. Lopate also notes that “this taste for the miniature becomes a strong suit of the form: the ability to turn anything close at hand...into a grand meditation adventure” (Lopate 9).
Burroughs is very much attuned to the quiet, ambient side of life, and although he doesn’t embellish as much as other narrative writers may, he more closely scrutinizes the miniature and discusses what most of us would consider unnecessary. This is particularly clear as he describes his activities on the opening day of duck hunting season.
The day faded on into ordinariness; it would regain a little of its special quality only after supper, when I would go out into the barn, pluck the teal and dress them, watched by Mink and Mrs. Pino, our two semi-domestic cats. Then would clean the gun, swabbing out the barrels until they shone like mirrors when I held them to the light and looked through them. Would carefully save a few of the flank feathers and a wing for trout flies; would reward the cats with a visceral morsel; would wrap and label the ducks and put them in the freezer. That would be it, an annual observance completed (Burroughs 103).
By omitting the subject of the final four phrases, Burroughs omits himself to suggest that even he is perhaps too obvious to mention and too ordinary to even care. This is a clear rhetorical strategy that reiterates the event’s repetitive calculation. It also appears from this final sentence that even the author, caught up in the rush of tradition and local patriotism, honors an observance of which he is morally uncertain. He therefore confronts, with some reservation, the moral challenges and social obligations that most people will at some time encounter. But his stories, more than anything, present the author as a regular-kind-of-guy. He is simple, honest and kind. The natural intimacy of his narrative is powerfully inviting to the individual who also perceives himself as a regular-kind-of-guy.
Burroughs is fascinated with milieu and the pace at which he moves his thoughts within it. His rambling stream of consciousness is not specifically a rhetorical treatment but is certainly a rhetorical style that allows him to ponder his own perceptions and color them according to his current mood or voice. Each essay within the collection relates significantly to this milieu and to the author’s place within the natural world. This is particularly evident in the following passage from Burroughs’ third essay.
It always seemed to be somewhere in the middle of a summer afternoon. Floors being cooler than rugs or beds. I would lie on the floor in front of an oscillating fan, its breeze passing over me, going away, hesitating at the end of its arc, returning (Burroughs 47).
Again, Burroughs’ story appeals to our sense of calm-ness--a stagnation in time where he pauses to study the rhythm of an arcing fan to a degree that permits him to reflect on the transience and immediate purpose of his own life. His description of the plain implies that the author is never beyond the common and ordinary, that he is merely a random creation of nature and a victim of its indifference. But his narrative also suggests a balance and proportion for a life that is consumed with business and worldly responsibilities. Consider how his audience might relate or identify with the following passage.
So I would relapse into the Upper Peninsula, making it my refuge for another empty summer afternoon, while the fan hummed and the cicadas outside buzzed their parched, whetstone song, lapping and overlapping itself in slow waves, until at last dusk fell, a faint coolness seeped out from the grass, and the toads and crickets took over (Burroughs 48).
Even if his reader never makes it to the mountains in Wyoming or the backwoods of Kentucky, he has no trouble envisioning the comfort and peace of the places Burroughs describes.
Aside from these hum-drum normalities of life, Burroughs admits his failures and accepts his inadequacies as another facet of life and another dimension of nature. His life and reputation is circumspect. He is bound to provincial exclusion. His rhetoric is plaintive and describes a man bullied by ambition and made common by circumstance and history. This attitude develops as his past is remembered while fishing one morning in a small New England pond.
I was bookish and introverted as a boy, lived more in theory than among facts, and always waited on a time when my circumstances would at last conform to what was prescribed by authors, and deliver me from an identity which, whether measured against my own standards, or against the modest and sensible expectations of my parents, was ignominious. I read all about fishing:...the throwline, the cork, and a cricket or caterpillar on the hook came to seem too much like what I feared my life would be--something local, undistinguished, and limited, beneath the notice of literature and without shape or certification (Burroughs 54-55).
While we are meant to understand Burroughs’ disillusionment with life, we are also intended to relate to his queerish boyhood in order to find a perspective for our queerish natures. Lopate explains it this way. “The trick is to realize that one is not important, except insofar as one’s example can serve to elucidate a more widespread human trait and make readers feel a little less lonely and freakish” (Lopate 6).
Further insight into Burroughs’ audience can be seen in how the author represents himself and in his subtextual description of the reader with whom he attempts to identify. In the previous citation, Burroughs confesses a fear in becoming or remaining “local, undistinguished and limited.” But a more attentive reading suggests that Burroughs, in his effort to identify, may actually alienate or distance himself from his general audience by suggesting that they too are “local, undistinguished and limited.” If we initially accept Burroughs’ appeal to an unsophisticated and general mass audience, we must also accept his reader’s general and unsophisticated identitiy within his respective community. Consider for a moment how the local school principal may perceive himself within his own community and also consider how the local minister, sales clerk or secretary may identify with Burroughs’ “uncertified” classification. Is it unfair for us to assume that his readers have similar perspectives of their own provincial limitations and inadequacies that Burroughs infers?
Perhaps the most accurate analysis of Burroughs’ audience lies in the nature of his confessions itself. Perhaps these personal confessions are intended not exclusively for a general readership but for Burroughs himself. For most personal essayists, writing is therapy--purging, through confession and self-confrontation, the loneliness and despair that they often see in themselves. In this respect, it is reasonable to believe that Burroughs is still reaching within himself for a deeper understanding of the local and undistinguished persona that his essays display. It is equally reasonable to suspect that, Billy Watson’s Croker Sack is a testament of the author’s attempt to identify with himself and not solely with an unsophisticated, unassuming and undistinguished regional audience. Burroughs himself may indeed be the collection’s primary audience.
Burroughs’ rhetoric is free of fancy terms, specialized jargon and gothic analogies and metaphors. Rather his anecdotes and stories become his predominant rhetorical pulse. Within these stories he appeals to his audience’s romantic moods and is able to use their sensitivities to justify their telling. In some instances, his milieu of melancholy and nostalgia is so morose that one reads his confessions with a measure of pity and responsibility for the author’s bad luck and failure to succeed. Perhaps Burroughs is only interested in communicating what Gore Vidal has said about narrative literature. “The true confessors have been aware that not only is life mostly failure, but that in one’s failure or pettiness or wrongness exists the living drama of the self” (Lopate 9).
At times, Burroughs’ dependence upon his readers’ sympathy is excessive. After all, as Donald Harwood puts it, “we all have our little sorrows” and certainly Burroughs, like the rest of us, must deal with his personal traumas alone (Harwood 33). But as Lopate further explains, the personal essayist “is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being” (Lopate 8). And so Burroughs’ stories reflect the complexity of the human character, and the rhetorical treatment he uses to identify with his audience, mainly gentle first-person story telling, reflects the complexities of the poetical character--something that even the most common among us hopes to possess.
Burroughs’ text is rich with simple and plain observations made extraordinary only by the care of their telling. The author elevates his subject through his personal rhetoric and his intuitive vision of the common man. And the common man who becomes acquainted with Billy Watson’s Croker Sack doesn’t necessarily escape in a rhetoric of elevated proportions but is shown how his ordinariness is made grand in the perspective that Burroughs gives it. Irish essayist Hubert Butler explains it this way: “I am more inclined to apologize for writing about great events, which touched me not at all, than for tracing again the tiny snail track which I made myself” (Lopate 10). Great or insignificant events in themselves cannot dictate the types of rhetorical treatments that a writer may employ in achieving his or her purposes. But in the genre of the personal narrative, the primary rhetorical emphasis is placed on the writer’s ability to identify with his audience. And according to Burroughs’ style and subject matter, one cannot overlook his perspective of the little, ubiquitous happenings that many of us no longer notice. For this reason, Burroughs identifies easily with his readers, and his story-telling style assures him of a certain reader loyalty and trust that other writers may not enjoy.
The bay breezes through my room,
and a pen rolls across the bureau
so, so slowly
while a note glides lightly, gently
to the foot of my bed.
Green springs trickle through the bamboo
knocking against the porch
as though it were wrapped
in a pillow.
The bright night illuminates;
and just beyond the tide’s reaching touch
the dunes bow softly into the hillside.
jasmine and willow sway above the pond
where a turtle—
high priest of this garden,
rests like me on a ripple
a meditation, a prayer
a thought not born into speech.
A toad bellows low in the reed beds,
fireflies linger in the air;
and a dandelion ascends
as some do in September
rising into the dark light.
The fat yellow moon pulls his eyelids down,
the warm silver ghost cups me in her hands,
bliss dripping like dew from her fingers
and I succumb to her relentless serenity—
the unsparing comfort of sedation.
Like footsteps on the bare floor,
the clock taps out a beat—
the pulse of nature,
of some divinity
nesting somewhere near;
a mass for the living
blessed in its subjectivity,
mercy and compassion.
And almost like a memory
from a terrace down the hill,
a spanish guitar floats its voices here
unplugged from the dissonance of age
coming humbly, joyfully home—
all of life's perfections
distilled to its finest hour
The wind loosens the drapes
unfolding like wings in the doorway
as the restful turtle hums
and a leaf drifts by
so, so slowly...
I wake up
in the dark house
and without a bump
I find the chair by the window.
Warm rain on the glass
distant train whistle
fields of it.
Nature not asleep;
a tiny spider dashes from beneath the sink
as if he were pulled by a string
in the natural light from which I see no source
and I look away to the farm.
My oak chair creaks
and my feet on the bare tile
can feel the cool crumbs of dust
this quiet night.
Unlit but warm
cooler floor than bone
old oak chair but earnest
sleeping neighbors unaware of evening?s other shadow.
And the warmer air of harvest
begins to taste
or sound like willow or silk
on summer's rainy window.
Ambience like old pajamas
just light enough for sleeping;
a breeze lifts the window veils
and I look away to the farm.
I remember the way I came
walkingstick in hand
booted loosely, lazely
dewdamp grass touching my knees
smelling like jam.
The whole valley was green
preening birds preparing
quick and subtle movements
like wind through a pipe
unseen whistle singing
from baby thrush and wren.
Cold river rocks
vanishing steam from slower currents
cloudy like tea or musk
dicentra at my fingers
sun behind and moist air
like blackberry on my mouth.
all of dawn remembering
the way I came;
I smell the path fresh every morning
always remembering the way.
I am a bubble
I am in a bubble--
a consciousness (aquiring qualia)
rising to the top
of the sea of humanity;
A lifetime of ages pass
atmosphere at last
and I am released into the light
I am a wave
I am in the wave--
a consciousness (qualia aquired)
I am everywhere
at peace with the gods and angels.
After the rain
and under the yellow clouds
I rose to the words
whistling between the leaves of the
and aging blossoms of apples
I came to my home against
where sun lit waterfalls filled
the streams below;
I heard still
as a little boy in his father's hat
and I climbed again
and strode the neighbor's ground
with a lonely pride that only
The summer sounds were brimming
the purpling blooms were
waving to the sea,
and cartooned pastels
robed the grasses
bending in the tide of twilight,
and I rose once more to
the whispering words
a watery font
with the summer scent
Waiting for the late sounds
to blow the leaves and
porch bells slow
I listen to the play of
a far away hound
and my feet crunching stones
as I move;
Yet then will I sit
and feel the evening speak
what the angels sing to God.
Often the drip
falls with the canon--
Largo for the evening
plays the melody away
to the new-made night;
and the sticks that bow
from the hard trunk
make me dance and drift
on the warm brook,
hoping you'll find me
as your voice
and your wish
wakes the music in
to never sink alone,
and I can dance
to the canon's pace
like falling sticks on
a sterile stream.
The early morning waves
lit by the moon a blue-grey hue
glows the gentle sea
as it rolls upon the sand
I stand on.
The air that sounds small
upon the waving grass
moves through my clothes,
and on my face it stills
till my breath returns again
to the sea
the blowing scent of wasted youth
to dive at the foam in the waves
that pound the quiet eve's crabs
as they soak in the wash and loam,
and I breathe in the night moon
that lights me with its white;
too soft to touch
and too brief to kiss
it sends the wind through my hair
like the fingers of a patient girl
and whisps to me the scent of salt and musk
to savor the sand I still on
as the waterwind
and the sweet shoregrass
walks my wish to the deep again.
Popping beached jellyfish
was the favorite summertime game
longer sticks served best
and quicker strides before and the sting
were useful in bragging,
too eager to work or worry
we rode the waves
till our bellies scraped the sand,
and we raced the crabs
back into the sea,
saltwater always filled my mouth
and I'd quit playing
for a while
until another jellyfish
beached himself beside me.
Its texture is compelling
like gathered frost along
the brush bottoms at dawn,
it makes me cool
and I breathe like a dragon
I wake with its alarm so early
and touch the tent top
that its beads may run
down my finger
wanting me to drink,
everything looks new and growing
in the haze and mist
as I walk upon green needles
and mossy smells
and compel with its feeling
my hands and mouth to touch.
And then the pond will warm
and morning's dust will float
beneath the still cold mist
and the smells like summer's dawn
will raise its breath to the
trees that shade you from
to sleep or run
until you wake or rest
and summer's first light
is gone to older kin;
and then the pool will boil
and nature's love for nature
will feed herself on her
as the grasses dry in
and the now noon steam
will make clouds high
to fly with the birds and dust
for a new place to wake
and another you
Strong music plays little for me
in my snoring chair
thick will pillow
heavy with boring stuff:
writing of treason that stains the soul
and warns the wet heart
I stick with my pen;
watery songs encourage the discontent
to cheer at the sky
like a freshly spoiled bride,
"Long live the king!
Kill the umpire!
Hail Mary full of it!"
Offend to be offended
slap the child's hand
and wash his dirty tongue;
and I'll burn the bones in the bedroom
while the nigger next door
trims his desperate snuff
and my memory sings from the alley,
"Don't spill the blood of Gethsemane,
the carpet's still too white."
Founded in 2013, DaDa is the leading online education platform based in China. Since its inception, DaDa’s mission is to be the best online international school in China through one-on-one student-teacher pairing, world-class teaching content, and industry-leading two-way interactive learning platform.
Mission: To ensure every child’s happiness while
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To open their mind to our world
To provide the necessary tools that children will need in order to unlock their full potential in life.
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