Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ON SILENCED VOICES AND THE PROMISE OF ETERNAL YOUTH

The question would have been strange at any time of the day, but at 4 AM on a week night it was positively surreal. "Is this forever?" The voice on the telephone said. Well, no, of course not. Nothing is forever, ol' chap; didn't anyone ever tell you that?

I wish I had said something along those lines this morning to the man that kept dialing my number in the dead of night, but all I could do was mumble, no, and then ask what number he was trying to call. The line went dead in my hand, though, so I never did find out what the guy meant by "forever" and why he thought he could find it by calling me. I went back to bed and tried in vain to get some sleep. I closed my eyes for what felt like a few seconds and when I opened them it was time to get up. It's been that kind of a week.

It's late Thursday afternoon, and the weather is god-awful. The city is buried under a layer of sand and humid wind, a truly hideous combination that makes walking, driving, and living in general pretty unpleasant. I trudged up to the local mall to meet up with a friend and catch a movie but I pulled the plug early. Walking was so difficult I just wanted to go the hell home. The move to Haiti I keep promising myself is beginning to seem inevitable now.

I've been thinking about the play "Da", a play by the Irish playwright Hugh Leonard, which I saw a couple weeks back at MN's place. The protagonist is a successful playwright who comes back home after his father's death and is haunted by his dad's ghost. It probably wasn't the best choice for me, given my father's recent passing, but I've wanted to see this play for a long time and being only the single most passionate person that I know on all matters of literature, art and politics made MN the perfect candidate to watch it with; nobody is quite the patron as she.

The father character was quite unlike my Dad - far too mild and nowhere near as furious or angry. For me, the most disturbing scenes did not occur between father and son, but between the 40-something hero and a younger version of himself. "I have to tell you," said the young punk to his middle-aged self, "I'm a little disappointed. I thought I would have accomplished more by the time I got to be your age." I felt that one land. I could only imagine what the 20-year-old rendition of me would say to her almost half-century self. I'm not sure how I would answer, except shrug and say something deep like, uh, gosh, I don't know, the time kind of flew by I guess, but by then my doppelganger would have picked up the nearest blunt instrument and chased me over hill and dale screaming ,"Die, die, die!"

I was pretty excitable as a kid and in more ways than one I still am, very much so. I have little or no worry of the future. I live in the now and am easily amused. But as I watched on, I shuddered to think of a life of little meaning when I hit the 50 mark. So, I thought about it. A lot. What translated as giving meaning to life at the time escaped me soon after but the feeling lasted.

In addition to late night wrong numbers, there's that dream I had during the week where I lived my greatest fantasy and decided it wasn't all exciting. In the dream, I felt angry and restless, wanting desperately to be someplace else. Even the insufferably fake sweetness about the checkout lady made me want to smash her face in. This was one of the dreams where, upon waking, I literally thanked God it was only a dream and not real life. I didn't need some loser dialing a wrong number to get me out of this one. My subconscious mind apparently pulled the ripcord and got me back to the land of the (semi) living.

So, clearly I've got a problem letting go of the past and forgiving myself for my mistakes - anger and restlessness are my Scylla and Charybdis, a phrase I've been itching to use for a while. Yeah, I should take more risks while I'm still young, do something more about my dreams than just dream about them. Hell, maybe I could pass the buck back to my younger self when I'm older and grayer. You were younger and stronger than I. Why didn't you do something more than just let the time pass? But buck-passing is never good and when you do it to yourself it's a little wacky.

I was very sorry to learn of Kurt Vonnegut's death this past week. Like my father, he was a war veteran. The similarity pretty much ends there, but it's tough to see another member of that generation fade away.

There was a time in my life when it seemed I was reading nothing but Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, I read them all and wanted more. He had a book of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, which really showed how he evolved as a writer. It's been a long time, but I remember reading a few stories that I would be tempted to call clunkers. There was a story titled "Deer in the Works", which, as I recall, was about a man who works at this huge industrial plant - Vonnegut worked at a GE plant in Upstate New York - and at one point he's watching as a deer runs frantically through this vast, unfriendly place. The story was very simple but the image of that terrified deer was unforgettable.

Sometime in medical school I slowed down on Vonnegut and gradually moved on to other writers. I wonder how he'd write up the current freak show that our society has become. The disaster in Iraq, the Israeli assault on Lebanon - this is great material for a man like Vonnegut. Like a lot of things from years ago, I don't remember his work so much as I remember my obsession for it. He was just so big in my life at one time. Maybe I should dig up some of his old paperbacks and read them again.

I have to confess that one of the first things I felt reading his obituary after sadness, of course, was a strange kind of liberation. I sometimes feel guilty about my father's death, as it happened when I wasn't there. I felt badly for a long time. That feeling slowly faded, but apparently it was still inside my skull someplace, floating around, waiting to come out. I don't know what to make of all that, but I bet Kurt Vonnegut would.

I think of how Billy Pilgrim would move through time and then look at how I carry the past around with me. I still get angry over things that happened years ago, still regret the things I did and the things I didn't do. In a sense I'm unstuck in time, too.

I'm wondering now if that was my younger self on the phone this morning, calling to ask if I - we - would be around forever. No, Younger Me, we won't. We all have to go sometime and, Lord willing, we're not driven by dark forces to hasten the process.

So, a good day to me, to you, to all those reading these words and even those who aren't. Don't fight with the past, don't argue with your youthful ghost, just put on your club's finest and get out there and grab a glass of soda. Here's to a great weekend and remember that nothing lasts forever.

7 comments:

INSPIRE YOUR MIND said...

Ash.. life is a journey, and not a distination.. enjoy every single bit of your unique journey and never think of the final destination because simply it does not exist !!
I know what you're going through, been there.. done that..
You know Ash what's the biggest risk that anyone can really take ? It is the risk of being yourself..just yourself.
Take that risk and find out how your life will unfold differently.. :)
Enjoy the journey
IYM

Amina Khan said...

hey !
dude ur definetly an asum riter i wish u cld go ahad wid ur dream an RITE....neways to gt to da point I HATE UUU "ya il move to AD an den we'll lyk hang out an party an stuf" !!! ...sooo nt tru u said dat lyk 2 moths agoooooo meanoooo...evilxx....neways hope u gt a job so greeting to M..tc cya ciao xx *hugg*
Amina
p.si have 2 new marx on mi hand :D an dere lyk biiiggg

Brittany said...

Interesting post! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment on my blog.

Donna said...

Here's how Kurt felt about Iraq:

http://www.comedycentral.com/sitewide/media_player/play.jhtml?itemId=18090

Such a HUGE loss.

calamity stu said...

I read your post and have only this to say: Amen!

Ash said...

Amina Khan, you're like my hero, like totally. :D

***A*** said...

lolx...an ur jst lyk evil ;)
xx
amina