Fresh Joys and Unending Tears

I love sitting outside on the screen porch at the intersection of dusk and darkness. I sit listening to the frogs and toads and insects and who-knows-what make a cacophonous racket in the trees and hillside just beyond the deck. If I needed to concentrate, the noise would be deafening, too loud to allow me to focus. But I recognize that, when I sit there, I have no power to control the noise, so my options are to go inside to the television or radio or music or to sit outside in self-silence, experiencing the exceptional volume of nature. Nature has a reputation for quietude. The reputation is undeserved; she is a howling beast, replete with screeches and screams and rumbles and roars that earn their Hollywood reputations for instilling fear and admiration.

When I sit outside, I become part of the cacophony. I’m a piece of the noise. And that’s perfectly okay; I like serving as a silent instrument in an orchestra.

In an ideal world—a world that mirrors my dreams and expectations—I’d sit there and listen to the music of the earth while sipping a glass of cold sauvignon blanc or cabernet sauvignon or Jim Beam whisky. Last night, though, the sauvignon blanc fairy failed to deliver and other wines did not find their way into my house, in spite of the directions I left for them. So, instead, I sipped cold gin, enhanced with a touch of fresh lime juice. There’s nothing wrong or immoral or even offensive about drinking gin. I’m in favor of it.

Aside from the absence of complete darkness—or, if you prefer, the presence of  incomplete light—the early morning differs from night in another way. The discordant orchestral cacophony gives way over night to a gentler, much more quiet, harmonic hum, interrupted on occasion by a bird  call or a dog’s bark or cattle lowing from the pastures below.  Morning beverages differ, too, from those of the evening. I can’t remember the first or the last time I had gin or bourbon or wine of any kind early in the morning, for it has never happened. My beverage of choice in the morning is, usually, strong French roast coffee. When I’m feeling especially energetic (and if I also happen to have the right fresh espresso-grind coffee in the house), I’ll have an espresso or three. But that’s rare. Normally, it’s just coffee.

I was waxing philosophical about sitting outdoors in the evening, listening to the sounds of nature. Somehow, that morphed into an exposition of my evening and morning drinking preferences and habits. Recently, I spoke to someone about how my writing tends to drift from rabbit hole to rabbit hole. That’s not the case (usually) when I’m writing fiction for which I’ve predetermined the story’s general direction or know specifically where it will wander. But when I produce my stream-of-consciousness, journaling-style word dumps, I tend to wander. I think my thoughts ricochet off one another, causing new ones to form and releasing others held captive by others. There’s value to be gained by writing such deviance; somewhere among the millions of pieces of crushed and worthless stone may be found a gem. The effort to unearth it from its rocky grave and then polish it so that it at least reflects light may be enormous. But, I hope, worth the expenditure of mental and physical energy.

The following quote is widely attributed to Franz Kafka, but they actually are the words of Anne Rice, from the preface to a collection of Kafka’s works:

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather,  follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Those words move me beyond my ability to explain why. Some words, experiences, or even images feel like messages from a kindred spirit, or God, which I think is the same thing. No, of course I don’t believe that literally. But figuratively, I’ll take that belief to my grave.

That thought reminds me of an experience I had this afternoon. Among an otherwise decadent day of sight-seeing in the Arkansas capitol and eating lunch at an expensive restaurant, we experienced something that moved me. We went to the Butler Center Galleries in downtown Little Rock, simply to see what was on exhibit; we went to be entertained, I suppose. And we were. And we were delighted by incredible art. And I was crushed by an exhibition called, “The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas.” The exhibition featured art of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, as well as objects from the Arkansas internment camps. My reaction to the exhibition was the same as my reaction to the Border Cantos exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, though not as intense; this was a smaller exhibit. My eyes could not help but fill with tears as I read about and thought about the people who—only because of their ancestry— were imprisoned. This situation is not new of course; it has gone on for centuries. But the idea of this sort of thing happening in the United States rips me apart inside.  Slavery. Japanese-American internment. Mexican and Hispanic mass deportation. Muslim demonization. Shit. Where do I live?

The reason sitting outside, listening to nature’s noise, is so appealing is that it deadens the noise I hear when I hear humans being humans.

One day, when I attempt to expose my writing to the world, I’ll have to have a thicker skin than I have tonight. My skin tonight is as thin as a whisper; a rumor of brutality draws blood.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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