Have you ever driven off with something on top of your car? If you’ve done this, and had the pleasure of hearing said item slide back and down off the roof at sixty miles-per-hour and counting, realizing too late what was happening, then you know the feeling that drops into your gut like dead weight. The feeling hits, and on its heels is the fear that the item is now, quite possibly, irrecoverable. Well, I was able to find my wife’s keychain. It was in the gravel and dry grass of the median on Saturn Parkway (so named for the former Saturn car factory, not the planet), where I nervously searched as vehicles blew past about ten feet away. Finding the keychain would’ve felt like a victory, except most everything previously attached to it was either missing or obliterated.
That was over a year ago. Yesterday, however, the feeling hit again, this time from a different thing feared irrecoverable: this very blog. Doing a little site maintenance, apparently I deleted a file I shouldn’t have. I knew I had no business tampering with those files, but I figured I’d learned enough that I wouldn’t make any fatal mistakes. Wrong! There’s a reason WordPress offers templates: because people like me have no business tinkering with code. Long story short: whatever it was I did to my website removed access to every single post I’d ever published at alandrue.com. I panicked. So much work lost, I thought. This was a minor tragedy. Since I’ve yet to publish with any outside entities, my blog is essentially my writer’s portfolio, and I’m quite happy with some of the posts. But I thought I’d blown it. I thought I was going to have to start over. Thanks to the friendly, understanding, and level-headed technician at GoDaddy (I wish I remembered his name), my site is running flawlessly now, like I never once got trigger-happy with my sacred files. And as I often do, I learned a lesson the hard way. But at least I learned it.
**Clarification for those who’ve never owned a blog or website: GoDaddy is the service that provides both my web hosting and my domain security (put simply, they provide my virtual real estate); WordPress is the service through which I built and continue to maintain my blog. There are other approaches. This just happens to be the path I took.
People in Nashville don’t expect to see a grown man on a skateboard, at least not in the suburbs. That’s what I deduced on a recent outing with my boys. They had their bikes and I had my longboard (which is exactly what it sounds like, for those unfamiliar with skater lingo), and we pushed and pedaled around the parking lots and walking track of my oldest son’s school for a couple of hours. The clear, cool day brought out other people, too, so we had a little company: walking middle-aged couples (probably close to my age, actually); a teenage kid blasting hip-hop in his headphones and doing basketball moves with no ball; a man giving his daughter a driving lesson. The basketball kid paid us no mind, and the father giving driving lessons checked to make sure we’d be in a different part of the parking lot, but the walking couples stared. Rudely stared. Some said hi, but others had this bemused look, like they thought I was kidding about being a longboard dad, or that any moment I might break into a Rodney Mullen street routine. It got a little awkward.
I’m jealous of two kinds of people: really tall people, and people who don’t care what anyone thinks of them. As hard as I try, when someone outright stares at me, I can’t ignore it. I may not look at them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel their eyes burning whichever side of me happens to be facing them.
The longboard stayed, of course, because thankfully I’m too stubborn to let a little awkwardness deter me. But it would be nice if the stigma of skateboarding being only a thing for kids would go away. I can’t see why it’s any less a legitimate activity than riding a bike.
Anyway, that experience has me thinking about the awkwardness and vulnerability artists undergo for the sake of their work. It’s risky to take something you created and place it in front of others. It’s risky because an artist’s work is built from the raw materials of his own life; to put it simply, it’s intimate. The best artists hold nothing back. It terrifies me to think of holding nothing back. Yet to be honest and to be good, artistically speaking, that stuff has to come out. Like a longboard.
Imagine if we weren’t predisposed to notions of fate or destiny, or if we didn’t inherit beliefs about divinity from our elders. Imagine if our earthly end was truly a matter of chance or likelihood, and we accepted it as such: an accident or freak illness claims us, or we achieve an age correspondent to our life choices and genetics. None of this idea of unfinished business or unmet purpose in life would influence our feelings about death, that is, if we left no room in our brains for fate or destiny or divine intervention.
It’s difficult–unnatural, even–to trust a phrase like “it was just her time” when faced with an early death. Traffic accidents are the worst, because almost everybody drives, and almost everybody’s loved ones drive, so there’s a pervasive feeling it could happen to anyone at any time (like a terrorist attack or a mass shooting). But if we go a few weeks without news of a fatal car accident, we permit ourselves to slip into a false sense that those things definitely do happen but not to people we know. And just as we’ve settled into our comfortable driving routine, it happens. It may not be someone we know, but it could’ve been, and that’s often enough to unnerve us for a week or two.
Lately a new feeling’s crept in: guilt. When I hear of an early death, I eventually reach a vague sort of spiritual non-geography wherein I wonder, fearfully, if I’ve earned the life I continue to live, while so many who seemed so worthy–young victims of accidents; soldiers; cancer patients–have had theirs cut short. Am I worthy of the years my genetics are likely to grant me? Have I stored enough credits to cover the near-misses I’ve racked up on the interstate? Perhaps the answers to these questions are always both yes and no. None of us is qualified to judge whether a person merits his very life; we can’t know the value of that, not in any quantifiable terms. It lies outside our collective jurisdiction; it resides in a nether region, in the place where the forces both compelling and extinguishing life are found–a region off-limits to our conscious yearning, a land outside our control. I suspect life itself to be the biggest mystery I’ll ever contemplate. Imagine having all the answers–would we want them?