A Difference of Opinion

“I heard the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds.”                                                     –from “Araby,” Dubliners. James Joyce


Rainy days are unpopular in many circles. I hesitate to tell people that I exult in them. A close IMG_1897friend once told me I was “just trying to be different,” and so, by the tiniest of degrees, I turned further inward. The rainy day is freighted with a stigma, like introversion, as in, the loudest among us see it as undesirable. The only time a rainy day is undesirable to me is when I am caught without an umbrella, but a lack of preparation is not the fault of the rain, out there puddling the sidewalk, pattering the leaf litter, dispersing its crystalline sheets in the gray dusk.


I suppose rainy days do magnify the melancholy. But, oh! How they magnify the melancholy! A land beset by weather brims with readymade stories—everybody knows this. And not only stories but imaginings. I cannot be the sole dreamer who looks out at the soggy air, the soil rendered as clay, the rain-blackened bark of the sugar maple, and has visions of monsters or shady dealings or doomed romances—hints, even, of the supernatural—all with the creeping fog as backdrop, the mist as backlit scrim. In rain, there is a somber mood (believe me) that delights, ripe with that feature whose signifier has become trite with overuse: ambience.


If “ambience” is overused, then “atmosphere” is vague. Maybe it is better to speak of rain in terms of space, in that it creates its own space. It narrows the field of vision, brings it close. Is not the horizon more intimate when sunlight has been muted? Whether by weather or by setting. I mean “close” as in snug, accessible. Depth perception askew, we guess things closer than they are—a coyote’s bark, a scream that we tell ourselves is a mountain lion, sticks that crack under a moving body’s weight, tires sloughing “softly on wet macadam.”[1]Darkness gathers the horizon at night; rain can do it by day, often dimming the transition from sunlight to moonlight.


Rainy days provide space for the imagination. Everybody knows this.



[1] In Provinces of Night, William Gay describes the sound of a patrol car rolling up behind one of his characters on a rainy night. Macadam is broken stone used to pave roads. “Slough” is a beautiful verb.

Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition

We see these memes come across our Facebook feeds from time to time–snappy-fonted lists of ways to live.  The most famous one I recall begins with “dance like nobody’s watching.”  I guess that’s a nice sentiment, but I know myself well enough to admit that I’m never going to do that.  It seems like advice for a certain personality type.  The anxiety that would accompany such an effort outweighs any potential reward. It’s just not worth it, i.e., it’s not practical (for me, anyway, and probably not for about 49% of the population).  The rest of the aforementioned meme rings equally impractical:  we’ve all been hurt by someone we love and will likely be hurt again; someone is always listening, unless you’re alone in a far wilderness; and life on earth, though sometimes grand, cannot honestly be called “heaven.”


So I made a list.  It’s too long to fit into a snappy-fonted meme, but each point felt necessary.  It was designed with all people in mind, regardless of creed.  I understand that some of these suggestions may not resonate with less individualistic cultures, but my intention was to root it solely in the modern human experience, as I have come to know it in first-world, western civilization.  Please comment.


Alan’s Practical Guide to Daily Existence, Western Edition


1.  Know that there will always be something out of reach.

2.  As often as needed, figure out who you are.  Operate from that place.  This may require courage.

3.  Moments of insecurity will come.  Instead of trying to overcome them, learn to weather them with dignity and grace.

4.  Everybody feels pain and loss.  Weather these also with dignity and grace.

5.  Learn to see the world with imagination.

6.  Search for the explanation; accept that you may never find a satisfactory one.

7.  Enjoy all of your senses.

8.  Realize that the majority of people mean you no harm; they’re trying to get through the day, too.

9.  Give.

10.  If you create things, share them.  Even when it feels like few are interested.  An audience of one is still an audience.

11.  If you do not create things, then nourish a love for the things created by others.

12.  Accept that the thing you’re good at may not appeal to very many people.  Then again, it may.  Either way, your personal satisfaction in doing it should not diminish.

13.  Remember that people who give advice are, like you, trying to figure things out.  Suspect anyone who claims to have all of life’s answers.

14.  Embrace the virtues of the social class* into which you were born.  Social-climbing is soulless.

15.  Let a landscape (or seascape, or cityscape) imprint itself on your psyche.

16.  If you demand space to make up your mind, allow others the same courtesy.  You cannot dictate another’s thoughts.

17.  Travel, as far and as frequently as your circumstances will allow.

18.  Try silence.

19.  Be sure that your words are your own.

20.  Remember that occasional loneliness is the price of individuality.


*explicit lyrics Dance Like...

Hiking up a Mountain, Which Sits atop a Famous Cave

Cardwell CollageHalf-an-hour or so after noting that this particular hike, taken on a chilly early-March morning, may be the quietest one I had yet experienced in Middle Tennessee, a vicious rumbly roar issued from an indefinite distance.  This was not an animal’s roar.  It was manmade–the product of explosives.  The big sound shook me from my reverie, and I searched for its source.  Through an opening in the bare-branched canopy I watched a wide cloud of gray-brown smoke disperse upward off a faraway hillside and take slow flight on the breeze.  A dynamite explosion, perhaps, for some mining or quarrying process, was my first assumption.  Unexpected outbursts often startle, but in this wooded sanctuary, it was plain unnerving.  After a period of bemusement, there was nothing to do but trudge onward.


An ominous air had already insinuated itself upon the morning, beginning when, en route to the trailhead, I turned onto a narrow, shoulderless two-laner named Dark Hollow Road.  It seemed the kind of remote rural backroad that has some grim legend attached, the details of which the locals are familiar but outsiders are regrettably unaware.  Once on the trail, the total absence of other hikers lent its own eerie charm to the labyrinthian limestone, and a fresh, sizable set of canine pawprints, big as my forefoot, was a nice touch.  I measured a print at four-and-a-half inches long, which is well within range of a mature wolf’s.  The tracks may have belonged to a large, friendly dog, but being in a spooky frame of mind, I was picturing a red wolf that had migrated west from the Smoky Mountains, hunting these very woods.  All of this just adds to the enjoyment of a solitary hike, however.  These dangers are mostly imaginary and provide the same brand of innocent thrills one may experience on a trek through a haunted forest during the Halloween season.


Later, having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders, the earlier disruption was becoming a memory.  Peace had been restored.  Buzzards circled overhead, their shadows crossing the ground endlessly before me–yet another spooky element.  But in spite of these things that may seem scary to the imagination, the very real and present danger seemed to be the explosion that had occurred that morning.  It carried a violence that the backroads and rocks and wolves and buzzards did not.  A question came to mind:  Is this progress?  Is this the way to steward the earth’s resources?  It feels like a perversion of stewardship.  It seems that as our kind advances with its technology, the goal should be to come into harmony with nature, not to destroy it in an attempt to take what it does not readily give.


It is naive to think we have reached a place in our collective journey where we are ready to stop taking resources from the earth.  But maybe there is a better way to do it than by blowing up vast tracts of wilderness.  Maybe a mind more technical than mine already has the solutions, and maybe those solutions will plod through the muck of bureaucratic special interests and come to light before our wild places disappear completely.  Maybe.

...having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders...
…having lunch on the mountain, in a sublime natural amphitheater made of enormous boulders…