Mirrored

Panthertown Valley-3

My wife was under the weather for the past few days, and I took off work on Thursday and Friday to take care of her and the kids.  I cannot describe the satisfaction (and often joy) that I had being the caretaker for a change.  I take care of the family in a panoply of ways, first and foremost making a living at my job, but I lend a hand when I get home, cooking and cleaning and putting the minion to bed; but there was something so satisfying about being the caregiver over the last four days.

I took Nora to her infant swimming lessons, which were hard to watch, and I played with her for most of the day until I picked Kemp up from school.  We played, we laughed, and being a clumsy little thing, she cried every so often when she took a particularly magnificent stumble.  (Note: The only bump she received this weekend was when Anna was watching her, and so I feel pretty good about that.)

All in all, I kept my family fed, clothed, and where they needed to be.  Kemper hit the ball on his first try at t-ball (thought he swung before he was supposed to, and I missed the video), and he seems to be enjoying it.  (If he could remember which hand his glove goes on, he could be an all star…)

This photograph was taken in Panthertown Creek, just outside of Cashiers, North Carolina, close to Brevard.  I gave Kemper my old digital camera, and he thoroughly enjoyed snapping pictures of leaves and sticks and other miscellany.  He especially enjoyed taking pictures of other people, including this one, in which he took a picture of me taking a picture of him.  Something about this photograph struck at my heartstrings, and it is even the background to my phone now.

I work very hard, long hours (I am posting this at 3:15 AM), but it is all worth it when I come home and Nora comes running up to me, arms wide open, and screaming “Dada, up please.”  When she buries her face in my neck, or gives me an unsolicited kiss, my heart melts, and I know that outside of its meaning to the clients, my work has meaning to my family.  Although I am not there as much as I would like, I provide, and I am there as much as I can be.  I was sad to see Anna at less than 100%, but I appreciated the opportunity to pick up the slack and play the role of both parents as Anna often does.  I am so fortunate to have the life I do, and these four days were a welcome reminder of that life.

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Leaves of the Fall

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Beyond any other pursuits, photography included, I am a writer.

I went to Wake Forest on a creative writing scholarship, and even got a full ride to Dartmouth for the same.  (I chose Wake, because in high school I didn’t drink or ski, two prerequisites to attending Dartmouth, I was informed.  I am forever grateful I made that decision, though I do have flights of fancy every so often as to where I would have ended up had I chosen the Ivy League track…)

The first real writing endeavor I undertook was when I was seven and wrote a short story about a kid surviving in the wilds of North Carolina.  It was wholly implausible, but at 15 typed pages (for a seven year old), it was a veritable novella.  When I was sixteen, I began writing what would turn out to be my first novel.  I completed it at Wake, which is to say, I wrote the words “The End” when it seemed appropriate; however, in my mind it remains unfinished and unpublishable in its current form.  Every so often I get a wild hair and re-write sections of it.  Some day, I will dedicate myself to rewriting it, and perhaps I will even submit it for publication.  It’s working title was “The Last of the Romantics,” though this gave way at some point in college to “The Leaves of the Fall,” which is what it remains to this day.  I love that title, and the symbolism that is packed into those five words.

I have gone through phases of dedicating myself to the craft of poetry, and then to drama, and then back to poetry, and then plays about writing poetry, but I always land back at the novel – that unfinished magnum opus that may never be.  I have written a couple of others in the interim, and a number of short stories – some of which I am more proud of than others – but none that I am so proud of as to submit them for any competition or publication.

In the end, I have always written for myself.  It was a release when I most needed it, and like my earlier post on melancholy, this desperation was a bountiful muse.  Now that I am in a happier, softer place, I do not need writing as I once did.  The craft will always draw me.  We are different poles of the same magnet, pulled together at all times, but somehow never quite managing to forever join together and fulfill our attraction to one another.  In some ways it is like a subtle addiction.  I can kick it from time to time, but when I let myself, I relapse into the world where I am consumed by writing.  These little daily epistles satiate me, for now, but they are like methadone to a heroin addict.  Although they replace the visceral need, they are a poor substitute for the real thing, the thing that I crave even when I am not actively thinking about it.

I generally do not stage my photographs.  I take them as they come, as they are presented to me.  In this way, my photographs are documentaries of how I encountered the world, rather than fictional accounts of how perfect I wanted the world to be.  In this case, I gave into my addiction, in part, and posed this water oak leaf on a stone staircase on the property up in North Carolina.  I wanted a shot that corresponded with the title of the novel.  I wanted cover art for a book that may never be bound.  Perhaps this is wishful thinking, or perhaps it is a subconscious recognition that some things I just cannot escape.

Unlike alcohol or any other addiction, I can be consumed with it without being consumed by it.  I am still whole the end of a poem or a chapter, perhaps even more so, having gained a bit more insight into my psyche.  I can live with that.

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On Melancholy

LittleTalbot-5

I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.
-Baudelaire
I stumbled on an article yesterday, entitled “The Benefits of a Blue Period.”  In short, the article posited that periods of melancholy in our lives allow us to more greatly appreciate periods of happiness.  I read the article with great curiosity and enthusiasm, as I wholeheartedly agreed with the hypothesis.  One of my favorite professors at Wake Forest, Eric Wilson, wrote a book to this end entitled Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy.  It is a brilliant little book, and I have read my copy multiple times.
Professor Wilson taught me to love Blake, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and especially Keats, who wrote a beautiful poem entitled Ode on Melancholy, where he observed that pleasure and melancholy are two sides of the same coin (Keats’ metaphors are, of course, far more elegant); one cannot fully appreciate the prior without having first experienced the latter.  A rose is beautiful because it must die, because it is, at its core, ephemeral, as life itself is.
I took this photograph of my son, Kemper, earlier this year at Big Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville, Florida.  It is not the most elegant composition, but it evoked the memory of sitting in Professor Wilson’s class, engrossed as he discussed the wild Blake, and the addled Shelley, and the elder statesman, Wordsworth.  In 2007, I visited Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, and I personally bore witness to the Lake District’s daffodils he was so fond of as I wandered lonely as a cloud.  I would soon thereafter realize, however, that I had not yet experienced true loneliness and solitude.
I have found myself in the depths of melancholy, with a singleness of isolation and anguish.  I was no better (or worse) than Coleridge, whose consumption of laudanum sustained his melancholic madness (that brought us Kubla Khan) until his death at 61.  I often thought I would end up like Coleridge, though with the ignominious distinction of anonymity to all but those who loved me.  Yet I persisted with my own course of self-medication until I was thirty.
I cannot say that I, with a fit of passion and self-realization, quickly emerged from the chasm of melancholy where I had made my home for nearly a decade.  My ascent was gradual, albeit progressive.  At some point along the way, I cannot say when, I gained the perspective of the Romantics – I did not regret the melancholy of my twenties, nor did I wish to shut the door on it.  I had been humanized and humbled by the darkness; because of it, the light shone that much brighter.  I am indebted to Professor Wilson for planting the seed, which, though it lay fallow for years, eventually grew of solid stock.
A rose plucked from a garden is beautiful because it must die, as all beautiful things must, one day, come to an end.  A silk rose in a glass vase is a pale imitation because it possesses no vitality, it is a mere imitation.  I recognize that I am an imitation – not a mimic, but a feigned likeness of a whole human held out to the world – a world, which chooses, most often, to accept me for what I seem rather than peering behind the curtain to who I truly am.
Before I get to afar afield, let me bring us back to melancholy and to a close.  As I am grateful to Professor Wilson, I am grateful for my melancholic past, and, yes, even for the fits of melancholy that I will continue to experience throughout my life.  Emerging from the darkness, the light is all the more vivid.
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Walking On

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I was initially not pleased with how this photograph turned out.  The figures of my mom and Kemper are sharp, but the trees and leaves in the foreground are blurred, as I was fiddling with my settings to take earlier photographs with my wide angle lens and, candidly, I forgot to change them.  When I came back to it after a bit of contemplation, however, it grew on me.  The focus of this photograph is and should be my family, and the other blurred features, which seemed like a distraction at first, repose in a secondary position.

This is, I think, a good lesson learned once again from a photograph that has taken on a life of its own.  Family is, and should be, the focus.

I keep long hours in my job.  When I started, I would get in around 5:30 and leave after 7:00 in the evening.  I saw Nora and Kemper very little during the week, and it took a toll on me.  Nora was young enough that she changed daily, and getting home after she went to sleep meant that she had changed drastically in a week.  Kemper changed, too, but not as quickly.  Still, I missed being able to see them each day.

These days, I get into the office around 4:30 and leave around 5:30 or 6:00, and rarely do I miss either of them before they have to go to bed.  Nora runs to me now (or at least toddles quickly) and throws up her arms when she sees me.  I pick her up and she tells me about her day in her own language that she can only assume I understand.  I hesitate to put her down, even to give Kemp a hug, because this is our time.  When Anna feeds her and puts her to bed, Kemper and I have our time.  We have taken to lying in his bed and talking about both of our days, if for no other reason than to share that my days have their challenges as well.  He cherishes these “long talks.”  I do too.

My days are long, and I am worn out by the end.  I shoulder a lot of responsibilities in the hours that I am in the office, but as this picture attests, family is my focus – even if sometimes I lose sight of this for the blur that is the rest of my life.  Indeed, even when I forget to change the settings, the important things remain tack sharp.

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Quest

LittleTalbot-9

In the end, we are all searching for something.

The quote I chose for my yearbook junior year of high school was “Life’s a journey, not a destination, and I just can’t tell just what tomorrow will bring.”  This was from Aerosmith’s Amazing, which hit so many chords with me even then.  The quote is hackneyed and attributable to dozens of people, most commonly Ralph Waldo Emerson (though he does not appear to have written the exact quote, just the sentiment).  Some days I regret choosing it instead of Faulker’s quote from the Unvanquished: “I realized then the immitigable chasm between life and print – that those who can do, and those who cannot, and suffer enough because they cannot, write about it.”  That, I think, would have been more appropriate for that time in my life.

Kemper has inherited many things from me, but at his core he does not know what it is to deceive.  We often joke that he acts the same for Anna and me as he does for his teachers, and as he would for a stranger; what you see is what you get.  It is a brilliant, albeit foreign, trait to me.  As he has matured, I have waited for the introversion to take over, but he must have received a recessive gene from Anna.  Though he cedes to quietness after a long day of entertaining people – and not as a defense mechanism – he is not like me, like who I was.

In my earlier years, if you saw me, casually, on the street, to you I looked happy.  I was the greatest liar that ever lived.  That did not seem like hyperbole at the time, and when I look back on the years between college and where I am today, I can still say that without any reservation or apprehension (which, perhaps, is a testament to how often I convinced myself of my own deception).  But then I recovered.

I am different now, too.   I remain introverted, but the life I lead is no longer a duality of darkness and feigned brightness.  Hawthorne once wrote “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  I read this quote (from The Scarlett Letter) in high school, and I still remember it to this day.  I lived the quote, not as much then as in my later years, but even at sixteen, I recognized my ability to con and fool others (and even myself) into believing I was capable of feeling joy.  But then I recovered.

I have found that capability, and I experience joy every day.  I am cautious though.  The joy is always tinged at the corners with a fear of free-falling back to a time and place I can now barely remember.  I do not regret my past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it.  Instead, it has made me who I am at this moment, and this moment is all I have until the next one passes.  For now, I have joy and contentment and knowledge and peace that there are things both within and without my control.  Honestly.  Because I recovered.

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Driftwood Core

LittleTalbot-13

At the core, we all have holes.

Some are larger than others, and while most can eventually be filled in, some remain empty.  My paralegal lost her daughter in August just after childbirth.  The sorrow was unimaginable, and we did all that we could for her, but nothing we did or said could fill the hole of the loss of her only child.  Her daughter left behind a husband and three children, five, two, and a newborn.  Our paralegal was out for three months, and our practice slowed in her understandable absence.  More than anything, I missed my friend, and I looked forward to the day that she returned.

She came back at the start of January, less than complete and not totally present, but she was managing better than I could have.  My job (self-appointed) was to keep a smile on her face, to listen when she needed it, and to offer a shoulder to cry on in the moments when she needed to be vulnerable.  I brought her lunch, and we joked with each other, superficially, but still she laughed.  It was a little thing, but it was a bit of normalcy.

On Saturday tragedy struck again.  The baby stopped breathing, and could not be resuscitated.  He was gone, and so too was she once more.  I could not do a thing but tell her that I loved her and that I was here for her – howsoever she needed me.  I cannot imagine the gaping hole that this tragedy tore asunder, ripping the partially healed one of her daughter’s death back open to the elements.  I don’t know if it will ever heal.

My own holes are filled for the most part.  There are still remnants of them, cavities and interstices that remind me of the voids that were once a part of my life.  I do not dwell on them as a practice, but at times like these, I am reminded of the grace and providence that allowed me to see the faintest hint of light peeking through the chasms.

We all have holes at our core.  Some will be filled by time, but the unimaginable others, I just don’t know.

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Growth

Panthertown Valley

Christmas break was supposed to be a reset.

Kemper had begun showing out at school, becoming increasingly obstinate to the teachers.  It had not fully made its way home, but we received emails every night or notes home in his folder that he had refused to do work or told the teacher he did not want to do something she asked.  He was five, and she was a brand new teacher, so we thought he might just be going through a phase and feeling out her boundaries.  Little did we realize that it was just the beginning of a truly rough patch.  But Christmas break was going to be a reset.  We would go to North Carolina, and all of the energy that he longed to let loose could be released in the mountain air.

We started the year with high hopes for Kemper.  We had begun to see a child psychologist before we left for North Carolina, and Kemper seemed to react well to him.  He showed none of the behavior that had been plaguing him at school, and we thought that he might have moved past the obstinance that he had begun to show.  The first day back was a disaster.  He yelled at the teacher, swatted at her, and flatly refused to do his math work.  He was sent to the principal, and Anna was called in to pick him up.  We disciplined him as we then thought appropriate, taking away his beloved stuffed animals, and this seemed to affect a change in his temperament.  The next day was as bad, if not worse.  The day after that he barely made it into the classroom before he had an outburst that sent him to the principal’s office.

We had him tested, and he proved to be off-the-charts gifted (which came as no surprise to us), and we thought he was just bored.  After many tears and gritted words, we walked away with a diagnosis of severe AD/HD.  The poor little guy could not physically sit still long enough to focus on his work, which he was being forced to do and then being scolded for not doing appropriately.  The psychiatrist suggested medication, which we very reticently put him on.  The change was immediate. Saturday was his sixth birthday, and we saw for the first time in a while the true Kemper coming back to us.

I took this photograph of a small patch of crustose lichen growing on the fallen trunk of a large red oak (Quercus Rubrum) in passing while on one of the many hikes that Kemper enjoyed (though he lamented his boredom along the way).  It did not mean much to me at the time, but in context it illustrates to me the rebirth of a new year.  Christmas break was not the reset we expected.  The fallen oak did not immediately sprout new leaves.  But in the darkness, there was a hint of life anew.  I may come upon this tree when we go back to North Carolina in June, and the lichen may cover the trunk by that point…or, it may just remain there in that little patch, growing slowly but steadily.  And that progress, as small as it might be, is enough.

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