Life among the Treetops

As a boy I dreamed of living among treetops, whether in elaborate tree houses or simply as some humanoid primate perched on the uppermost branches. As a forty-year-old man, however, the treetops don’t seem quite so high; I now dream of flying above them. Which gets me thinking about the way perspective changes with age. It’s not that some arboreal existence wouldn’t yield its share of amazing sights, but it’s that even the big things seem smaller now. Part of this is geographic in nature, by which I mean that a huge perspective shift occurred when I moved from Union City, Tennessee, to Nashville almost fifteen years ago–two towns only three hours apart, but worlds apart demographically and size-wise. As a child, the drive across Union City felt endless. By contrast, my morning commute these days would encompass at least five of those crosstown drives of yore. Nevertheless, I feel that this shift in perspective has to do with more than just moving to a new address.

Distance and time haven’t changed. My eyes have. And I don’t even know what to attribute the change to other than age and the unavoidable broadening of understanding that accompanies it. So there are no life answers embedded in this post, just observations. Just an excuse to write. It is true that I am writing a book, and it’s what I am most excited about. But I also have a compulsion to maintain this blog. To air out random ideas from time to time. To you who have chosen to read it, bless you. Maybe across the digisphere we can reminisce together about those dusky childhood days of climbing trees and feeling like another world had been entered. I used to climb trees with my friend Bobby. He always seemed to climb a little higher. Perhaps he was more at home in those heights. In the innocent way of children, I admired his tendency to climb higher–jealousy wasn’t a thing back then. Those trees we climbed and the house that stood nearby are all gone now, but when I think of those days, I always picture the trees. No doubt they are taller in my imagination, but so what? The trees and houses of childhood are permitted to loom as large as we need them to. The survival of the memory is what matters, not the accuracy of it.

My boys love being outside. In spite of the allure of televisions and iPads, they are drawn out-of-doors. They seem unable to resist it. I sincerely hope that they are dreaming up their own little worlds in the treetops that they see. Maybe by the time Arthur is of a solid climbing size, one of the trees I’ve planted will support a little weight (I’m counting on those fertilizer stakes I hammered into the ground a few days ago). Perhaps he will imagine elaborate tree houses, or some primordial age of tree-dwelling human life, foraging among the leaves for nuts or raining down death from above on unsuspecting prey, marking out his special place in the great chain of being. Let him imagine these kinds of things.

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...