Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Prince

I am not the peaceful prince
Who wields the sceptered sun
Who came to clear the clouds and to
Shine light on everyone

I am not the scribe of law
Or font of wisdom pure
Not the king to care for all
Or safety to ensure

I am chaos, fury come
The sword on which will gleam
The blood of wailing peoples run
A steaming, tear-streaked stream

I am not release from sin
I'm vengeance crowned with greed
I am retribution with
An army at my feet

I am fire in the night
Arrived in steel-tipped rage
I am pillage, I am rape
I am Death engaged

I will melt the very ground
In sulfurous tides of flame
I will lift a banner proud
Above your smoking plain

I will take no bribe of gold
My only price is life
A mountain of you, stiff and cold
Will be my sole delight

I am starlight beaten black
A wolf borne of a sheep
What you have made you can't turn back
Nor fly from pay you've reaped

Sunday, March 31, 2019

'Round the Unexpected Turns



I'm a planner. Always have been. That stems, I think, from the fact that I am also a worrier, and that from childhood I've been plagued by these episodes of spiralling what-ifs wherein I envision every dark and nightmarish scenario that could play out in my life. That's why I maintained full auto coverage on a twelve-year-old car everyone told me was a clunker. It's why I insure every single flight I take. It's why I double-check locks, memorize phone numbers, and make those doctor's visits sooner rather than later. It's why I plan. The planning makes me feel better; it provides contingencies and, what's more, it provides purpose.

But I've also learned, amply, that the plans sometimes have a way of falling off as life paves unexpected paths. Who would have ever thought, for instance, that I'd be in Alaska? Certainly not me.

I spent most of the spring semester laying carefully constructed itineraries for a summer spent living and working in a tropical country many miles from here, only to have my hand forced by flaky landlords and evasive prospective employers. Unwilling to book air passage across an ocean with neither housing nor work lined up, I instead paid for a flight headed the other way. 

Home. 

Home, which I miss so much.


"I'm excited to see you," I told my grandmother by phone.

"You are not," she teased.

I laughed, but was surprised to find my eyes misting with tears. I'd been facing the prospect of not seeing her, not seeing my siblings, not seeing any of my family and friends or the land of my birth, until Christmas. I hadn't realized how much I was yearning for all of it until the moment I gave myself permission to go back.

"I'm so glad the trip fell through," I continued. "I didn't even really want to go. It just felt like the right thing for me professionally."

There may yet be another trip, a briefer one, that will replace my aborted equatorial junket, but I'll let you know about that when and if it happens. It, like its predecessor, is planned in the service of a career transition--that may or may not occur. 

I don't know much of what the future holds. But I know that, come May 25, I'm going home. Which is great for me, but will provide the readers of this blog and the followers of my Flickr page with dividends as well, in scenic photography if in nothing else. 

After all: Alaska is beautiful, but there's nothing like Virginia in summertime. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meeting Fate in the Forest


The crack of the branch was just loud enough to alert me that something was there. It's a peculiarity of his; he likes to let you know he's around, but doesn't want to announce his presence. In our previous encounters it's been a creaking floorboard, or an open door, or a window left ajar. Maybe it's just his British understatement--despite his being incontrovertibly not British--at work, or maybe he just wants to imbue these deeply weird visits with some sense of normalcy. Whatever the reason, he always pops up in the most mundane ways.

I had decided to go for a walk because of the unseasonably warm weather--highs nearing 20 degrees had turned the clouds soft and prodded them to release flurries of pillowy white snow--through a favored path near my house, and I spun quickly at the sound of snapping wood, fearing I'd encountered the wolf rumored to be prowling outside the village. My long hair in the falling snow made for a shimmer of gold and white as I turned about--and there he was. The same as he'd ever been.

"Hello, BB," he smiled, his ample stomach covered in a blue cashmere sweater and his grey curls peeking out from beneath a pageboy cap.

I suppressed a gasp as he came into view.

"Fate."


His grin faded but his eyes still twinkled. "It's good to see you."

In all the years we'd known each other, and through meetings at turns teasing, adversarial, even, once, outright violent, he'd never looked at me the way he was looking at me now. Like he was seeing something he hadn't noticed before.

"Fate," I said. "Last time..."

I let the apology hang in the air and he waved it away.

"You were young last time," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. "And in a great deal of pain, most of which was not your doing."

I laughed against the shame that burned beneath my cheeks.

"I think I'll always be young to you," I said.

The smile returned to his face.

"Even so."


"Thank you," I responded, deciding for once to accept compassion when it was offered to me. I resolved to do that more often. And what could I say, anyway?

I'm sorry I fell so far. 

I'm sorry I lost my hope. 

I'm sorry I became someone else for a while. 

I'm sorry I hurt you. 

I'm sorry I hurt myself.

The last time we'd seen each other was five years earlier, in the context of a life-consuming crisis that ended with my attempted suicide in October 2013. Childhood demons had risen to devour me, and in the spiral of despair and rage that followed my fate felt like a black hole of anguish--and he, Fate, the master of that anguish. When he'd appeared in my parents' kitchen in Mountain Town I was drunk and wounded. I spoke in a way that made me recoil to remember. I hit him.

His dark eyes in my present offered understanding, forgiveness, some measure of respect.

"Do you know why I'm here?" he asked.

"Yes," I said, then cocked my head in genuine surprise at my own answer. For once he didn't have a leg up on me. I started laughing. "There's something I never thought I'd say."

He loosed a full-throated guffaw and kept taking me in with those impenetrable eyes. "So you've figured it out."

I nodded. "I'm leaving, aren't I?"


"In time," he responded. "Along a path unique to you. But yes."

He clapped me on the back. "You're not meant to linger, my boy. Not here. Not yet. Too many strands for you. Lives to be lived. In some ways you see and some you don't."

I considered that.

"I think I've always known," I said after a long pause. "That it wasn't going to be the white-picket thing for me. I've been chasing that because I never got to have it as a kid. But I can't ever replace my own childhood. All I can do is build my adult life. And maybe I will have the white-picket thing. Maybe it just looks different for me."

"It looks different for everyone," he offered. "Happiness wears many colors. Sings many songs. Each tune lovely to the ear for which it was made. It's something that gives me comfort in difficult moments."

I gazed at him a while, tried to imagine myself through his eyes.

"I know now why you come," I said. "Well, not why you come. But why you come when you do."

"And why is that?"

Memories, memories. Years floating by.

"When I was getting ready to graduate college," I said. "You came then. When I started working in publishing, with all that opened up. All that taught me. You've visited at touchstones. Moments of realization. Or reckoning." My eyes went hard, and his went cloudy. "Last time..."

"A touchstone," he pronounced, his smile sad. "When you teetered between death and life. Between a closing of all your fates, and the opening of many possible ones." 


Truth hit me like a gust of subzero wind.

"You didn't know," I gasped. "You didn't know what would happen."

"I knew what could happen," he answered, his mouth a thin line. "Not what would. In so many ways I am only a steward. It is easier stewarding for some than for others. Your openness has always made you..." He waved his hand in a circle. "Confounding. All these potentialities spiraling off. And one or two so very black. As I said, it's good to see you."

I pondered the drifting snowflakes, each frozen sparkle unique. Each a possibility, never replicated. Falling all over and dancing on my fair face.

"It's good to see you, too," I said, and realized, again to moderate shock, that I meant it. His past visits had so often portended another milestone on the black road to death along which I raced for the first half of my twenties. Today his presence just confirmed I'd figured out something that needed figuring-out.

"You threw off a measure of fear when you came here," he said. "Continue throwing it off. Follow the voice that calls, even when it doesn't tell you what you think you ought to hear. Your road can encompass so much if only you will embrace it."

I thought back on decisions made, plans laid, e-mails sent, phone calls placed. A friend mourned. All within the space of about a week, last week, when I'd taken stock of things and chosen to pursue an ambition I'd laid aside for timeliness' sake.

"So you do know some things," I said.

"What can be," he answered. "What might be. The balance in many particulars is up to you."

"That's what Good said," I noted. "She appeared in the airport when I first came here. She said I was more tightly bound to you than some, less tightly bound than others."

"She's wise," he mused. "And she likes you."

I snorted. "She should come around more often. Maybe send a few winning lotto tickets my way."

"I'll have to mention it to her," he said dryly. The winter sunset had colored the sky in rapidly fading hues of subdued copper and scarlet. He appraised them like they were an approaching bus. "That'll be me, then. It's been good to chat."

He lifted his hand to wave, but before I could stop myself I'd stepped forward and wrapped him in a hug.

"Thank you for my possibilities."

He surveyed me with genuine surprise. Again, not something I ever thought I'd see.

"You know, given how our other discussions have gone, I expected a somewhat different reception," he pronounced. "I seem to recall your pushing me out a window twice--no, three times. Two of them at a considerable height. In light of all that I'd been keeping my eye out for a wood-chipper or a renegade snow machine. Perhaps a rabid moose."

I laughed. "Two of those times you jumped--" He glared. "--Under duress, fine. Point conceded. And I looked into it, but you need a permit for a wood-chipper, so..."

He stepped back with crinkling eyes.

"Eyes and heart open, my young friend. And mind disciplined."

The last blades of sunlight folded behind the evergreen horizon, and Fate vanished into the twilight.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Suspended Animation


In certain ways I feel like I've been chasing an ideal since I was about twenty-one. From that age, roughly, I've had this fantasy of living in a nice little apartment or townhouse, commuting to a job I at least reasonably enjoy, and doing things as self-indulgent as dating and having friends over on the weekends. Having, in essence, a normal life. And at various moments of my experience, that simple image has seemed in different ways not something I could attain, but more of an exotic apparition in need of being chased down. When I was young I had neither money nor employment, and was surrounded by interpersonal opportunities but constrained by financial dependence on toxic actors. Now I'm in my early thirties, financially and professionally sound (ish), but at the cost of deploying like some sort of academic paratrooper into the frozen wilds of the Arctic.

What gives?

"I don't feel like I'm asking for that much," I vented to my stepmother Marie recently. "Just for things to be settled. Just to be able to sit for a while. For things to be easier."

"I don't know if anyone ever gets to have that," she responded.

"But within reason, yes they do. I just want a house and a job and a social life. Just the basic elements of life. That's not unreasonable."

"You're right. It's not."


I'm not happy in Point Goldlace. And that's hard for me to say, because there are parts of living in Point Goldlace that are absolutely, unambiguously awesome. My students are precocious, hilarious, psychotic goofballs with actual intellectual curiosity. The town itself is gorgeous, and the great majority of the residents are welcoming and warm. The little coffee shop that I fell in love with in the fall is run by a local church, the denizens of which have become a focal point in mine and the village's community. Church Girl and Church Guy, the twentysomething town barista and youth pastor, respectively, got engaged in December. Today, they invited me to their wedding.

The charms of Point Goldlace are real, and not least among them is that going into work tends to actually brighten my mood. But I am so lonely. Lord, am I lonely.


Last weekend I was in the big city--Iceport, the only community in Alaska that can really claim the title of "big city"--for work and I found myself opening up. I organized discussions with colleagues. I got friendly with the local barista and started comparing hair-care tips. I was friendly and witty and fun, and I liked it. God, I thought later. I'd forgotten this side of myself.

I know that I will eventually leave Point Goldlace. The two big questions are when, and to where? The when weights pretty heavily just now. Cutting and running after a single year would make me feel pretty awful, particularly in light of the students who have found, and who would be losing, a supportive and positive adult role model in me. But is that a price I'm willing to pay? Sacrificing my own happiness out of a sense of obligation to these young people who will, one way or another, trudge on regardless of my choice?

And then there's the where. I have no way of knowing what sorts of positions will be available for the fall. Two are currently up, one in an area of Iceport where I'd like to work but carrying with it a gruff principal, the other in a coastal community that would make for much easier living but that is nearly as isolated as the town I'm in now. Why trade one remote dot for another? And why, if I shoot for Iceport and the socially illiterate boss, trade personal dissatisfaction and professional fulfillment for personal fulfillment and professional dissatisfaction? I hate that these decisions always seem to involve impossible trade-offs.


So I don't know if I'm staying or going. And if I'm going, I don't know the destination. That's really frustrating. Sometimes I think I see signs, or think an opportunity sounds absolutely perfect, and then it falls through. The stars don't align. Something just doesn't fall into place, even when it was so obvious that it should. In those moments, it's like God is dangling a vision of a future in front of me only to cruelly pull it away.

Today in church the pastor shared the story of Habakkuk, a prophet who struggled with what he perceived as God's injustice and inconstancy.

"When we first become Christians, it's like we're on a roller coaster," Church Man explained. "We're connected with Jesus, and everything is great, and we keep going up and up and up, and we expect to just continue in that direction. Getting higher and higher. But roller coasters don't work that way. Eventually, Christians reach a point where we go down that hill."

The gist of this sermon was that feeling abandoned by God is normal and all right, a part of the faith life cycle the same as any other.

"Sometimes God gives us hardship so we can develop perseverance," he added. "And come out on the other side of that with a more mature understanding of Him."

It's not all unicorns and rainbows. Not all golden bells and soaring melodies. And I'd kind of been expecting those bells, because that's what it was like when I was young. When I needed it. Maybe He's testing me now. Maybe He's preparing me. All of my other trials, including the one that took me from Gori to Point Goldlace, seemed terrible at the time, and all eventually worked to my benefit, whether that was to improve my material condition or make me into a stronger person.

So I'm trying to believe, even though it's hard. Even though it's scary. Even though sometimes I feel abandoned. My dearest hope is that want now will teach me gratitude later. That will have to be something I send up in a prayer.


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Day


A new day with new choices. Old friends celebrating old achievements. And a present that just keeps flowing along. How quickly the time has gone to 2019.

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve


 

I end 2018 surrounded by people I love, buoyed by a year of professional success, and reveling in the small pleasures of familiarity. The year 2019 will require growth, reflection, honesty, and and map-making. But those things can wait a little bit.

A happy New Year's Eve to you all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Loving Letting-Go


As far as breakups go, it was a little bizarre. No recriminations or yelling. No accusations flung back and forth. No agonizing about what might have been, or what was. Everything we could've done, we did, and while we did it we did it well. But Gavril and I weren't meant to be. At least not forever.

In a thirty-minute telephone conversation filled with tears, mutual compliments, and sincere well-wishes, we confronted the gnawing truth both of us had known for a while and made the decision to end a five-month relationship in which we'd served as each other's first real boyfriends. Maybe it could've worked had we been closer, but romance from 4,000 miles away, however affectionate the treasured in-person visits, presented challenges too daunting to overcome.

And the truth is that I don't think we were right for each other anyway. Even so, we found something good in one another, and it's something I cherish.

"You gave me so much joy when we were together," he said. "That day we got lost in the woods and it started raining...it was a little scary at the time, but that became a beautiful memory for me. You and me wandering through the forest, singing to pass the time."

Gavril gave me the gift of perspective. The gift of knowing. All my future relationships--and, God willing, they will come--will be measured against the standard of a young man who exemplified kindness, decency, respect, patience, and understanding. I know what it is to be treated well. I tried to make sure he did, too.

We hung up after an emotional half-hour, wishing each other good luck and promising, as amicable former lovers always do, to remain friends. Singlehood resumed, I waited for the sadness to envelop me and instead felt something I hadn't expected:

Relief.