Friday, February 19, 2010
On His Blindness
A few days ago, I was disabled by a sinus headache — the clear sign of an upcoming change in the weather. And sure enough, our moist air has given way to frosty mornings and dazzling afternoon sunshine. The dawns are spectacular. To the northeast, behind and beyond the neighborhood trees, the Cascade silhouette resembles an ocean wave. Even now, nearly twenty-three years after leaving our family farm, I feel the urge to meet my father behind the house and head out into the field. Still February, our pruning is not yet done. Several rows of wine grapes still wait near their recently sculpted brethren. A new carpet of weeds has already sprouted. To the east, the snowy high Sierra looms clear and cold. The morning will be long: my father stuffs the pockets of his coveralls with just-picked oranges.
The pain was excruciating — the kind that teaches lessons and builds character. For this reason, I like pain. I don’t seek it, necessarily, but when it arrives I try to extend it my best courtesy. But there are limits. Due to his osteoarthritis, my father lived in a great deal of pain. His back was a mess — a skeletal puzzle of disintegration, fusion, and tortured nerves none of his surgeries could resolve, and which drugs only partly relieved. When he died a suicide, the morphine pump in his back went with him.
Recently, prior to the headache, I told my wife that I can no longer remember what it’s like to not have pain. The past several years, especially, have taken quite a toll. The whole time I was taking care of my mother, I was unable to rest and get proper exercise. And that period really began well before the final phase that made it necessary for me to live with her for three years. But I should also clarify: I could have exercised, but I chose to write instead. The result is myriad aches and pains, headaches, neck aches, and a general muscular weakness I find embarrassing and appalling — and yet now, when I hop on my bicycle and take it for a spin, I feel the old energy return, everywhere from my lungs to my fingertips. And so if I live long enough, I just might achieve my second wind.
It’s also important to note that my father could have worked less, and that he also chose to carry on instead — which leads me to this thought: sometimes, loving what you do is the most dangerous, addictive drug of all.
And then there’s this defiance I feel, this unreasonable need to gamble all — not money, or belongings, no, but the very identity I’ve created and upon which I stand. Thinking I am who I think I am is mostly a matter of habit and convenience. It’s a necessary convention, too, for those I love. It’s comforting for all concerned when I wake up in the morning knowing who I am and where.
I call myself a writer and a poet, and I am. But writing and poetry did not bring me here — life did, and so my allegiance must be to that relentless force that has temporarily granted me this human form. Rearrange my molecules, add a little sun and wind and rain, and I just might be that wise old grapevine clinging to your arbor. It would be an honor.
“On His Blindness” is my newest Notebook entry. Old notes are archived here. Also: a link to Zena has been added to the previous Notebook entry, Obituary: Remembering Tim Hinshaw.
In the Forum: shisha according to the Hookahpedia.