Insomnia and Ducks

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Insomnia is awful.  I have been having trouble sleeping, even before I was sent off to self-quarantine upstairs last week (a lovely little coronavirus scare to keep me on my toes), and so I couldn’t employ my go-to coping mechanism of going into work at 2:30 in the morning and writing, whether it be one of these posts—which I know have been few and far between—or any of the panoply of novels, short stories, or legal articles that I begin only to get distracted by another idea or topic like a young racoon chancing upon his first shiny bauble.  (Apologies for the Faulkner-length sentence.)  It sucks.  (There, some Hemingway to balance it out.)

As a consequence of my insomnia, I got out of bed, perfunctorily showered, and dressed for work.  I must have been feeling a bit plucky, because I chose a golf shirt rather than a button down and a tie.  (Mind you, I haven’t seen an actual client in months, but I like to keep up appearances.)  My office is both a greenhouse (on account of all of the plants) and a meat locker (on account of the schizophrenic/bipolar air conditioning in the building).  I throw on a sweatshirt, thinking nothing of the embroidered “University of Florida Law School” emblem just over my heart.   This, it turns out, in hindsight, and with the gift of retrospection, was somewhat of an error in judgment.

I tiptoe out of the bedroom, lest I wake Anna, get in my car, and realize that I still have the ambient music playing that was supposed to lull me to blissful sleep.  (Lies.)  Let me tell you what—if you have never experienced cellos and formerly-soft synthesizers decibel levels higher than front row at a Kiss concert, because the last music you played was Social Distortion unnaturally loudly, because you were at the office until 9:30 working on an appellate brief, because the boss is a procrastinator.  But I digress.

I arrived at the gas station to get my coffee, as I am wont to do.  I always enjoy getting to the gas station before 3:00, because that is, apparently, when the shift change for the sheriff’s office happens.  So here I am, likely with a caked line of drool down my chin, at 2:45 in the morning, in the company of seven large deputies.

“Morning guys,” I say, recognizing some of them from my previous pre-3:00 AM trips.  In unison, almost as if they had trained for this exact moment, they all nod at me slightly, in sort of an acknowledgment that yes, I may pass without incident.

Unfortunately, they were bogarting the coffee station, and I did not feel like further disturbing them (the nods were enough), and so I made my way to my old crutch—the energy drink.  I bought one (read three) and before the door to the cooler even shut, one of the employees, who is a bit slow on the uptick, approaches me, rather sheepishly, I might add.  I think nothing of it until Carl opens his stubbly lips.

“Do I remember you saying you were a lawyer?”

Shit.  Why am I my mother’s son, who must make friends with everyone?  Damn you cordiality.

“That’s right,” I say with a smile on my face, which was 67% genuine, which counts for something.

Carl proceeds to tell me that he inherited a bar from his mother.  (Let me tell you, this context made Carl’s character a whole lot rounder and believable in the pantomime that was my pre-dawn frolic and detour to get coffee.)  We go through the steps of recording of a promissory note (there’s really only one step…you hand it to the clerk and pay $5), and I thank God I took the Virginia Bar as well as Florida’s, because in Virginia, the sadists they are, the Bar examiners test secured transactions.  Without that knowledge, I would have been lost.

Carl shakes my hand, genuinely appreciative, and I feel a bit schmucky for my inner monologue being so glib.  With Carl satisfied I make my way up to the counter with my one (read three) energy drink, and that is where I meet Kyle.  Kyle is about seven and a half feet tall and not narrow.  (I happen to be a subject matter expert in want of narrowness.)  I hand my drinks to Kyle, he scans them, but before the kindly, pasty young ogre hands them back to me, I apparently must pay a toll or solve a riddle.

“You went to UF Law?” he asks, staring at my chest.

I look down and see that this, indeed, is my post-grad sweatshirt.  Shit again.

“Yep.”  Ok, now give me the drink, I think to myself.  Transaction complete.  I don’t need my receipt.  I don’t need to show ID (or empathy).  Give. Me. The. Drink.  And then Kyle says the single most unexpected thing I have heard in some time.

“Is it illegal to steal ducks from the park?”

“What’s that?” I ask genuinely.  Yep, wasn’t ready for that one.  Hell, perhaps the ambient music worked, and I am dreaming.

“Ducks.  From the county park.  Is it illegal to take them?  I mean, they’re just sitting right there.”  They’re just sitting right there.  That sentence will be etched in my brain until I take my last breath.

I crane my neck to look Kyle straight in his duck-thieving eyes, and I tell him that if he has to use the word “steal” it’s probably not a good idea.  In my most judicious voice, I tell him that I would advise against it.

In the back of my mind, though, I’m thinking to myself.  Well, hell, if your lumbering butt can catch a duck, it’s yours.  Abscond with the sucker.  I guarantee you that no one’s going to believe the provenance of that duck when you tell them the story of how you, with agility and aplomb, caught a duck with your bare hands at the park.

And then I think to myself, is it really any less conceivable than what has happened to me in the last seven minutes?

But seriously, insomnia.

The Angry Ibis

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(Yes, this is a beautiful, if not cantankerous crow, but the ibis is skittish and I don’t have a long telephoto anymore…)

Taking up work at home has interesting advantages, as well as obvious drawbacks.  The munchkin, a two-year-old ginger girl with a heart of gold, weeps openly when I go upstairs to the office.  As you might imagine, this rends my heart.  The minion, a seven-year-old, decries the fact that I don’t take him fishing every seven minutes whilst I am home.  As you might imagine, this gets old.  Nevertheless, I love them both, and having the opportunity to see them more often has been a blessing.

My sleep schedule has not changed too radically, as I still wake up in the wee hours of the morning to write.  What has changed, is my company.  Instead of the irritable Vietnamese cleaning lady and the security guard that we all refer to as “Lurch” or the “Parking Nazi,” I have been visited daily by a beautiful, but very skittish, brown ibis that perches in the birch tree outside the office window come about 3:00.  He is either terribly lonely, horny, angry as hell, or schizophrenic.  I haven’t quite figured out which it is.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he is not lonely—though he might just be a racist—because he chased a white ibis away when I was walking Deacon yesterday.

His calls are monotone and shrill.  They sound like, as I imagine, a professional mourner may have sounded in an ancient Roman funeral.  “Aye-e, Aye-e, Aye-e.”  How this hasn’t woken up the minion who is highly sound-sensitive is beyond me.  He let me and the munchkin (duly muzzled for the endeavor) get a bit closer to him the other day while he was on the bank of the lake, and I think that he is more comfortable on dry land than he is perched in a tree.  I never took an ibis, a wading bird, as a tree-mourner, but there you have it.

I think it’s a fairly perfect metaphor, however, for where I am right now.  I am in a whole new roost in the converted “office” upstairs, which doubles as a guest bedroom, a TV room, a hermitage, and an observatory.  Like the ibis, I find myself disgruntled in the morning, and I often wonder whether he has been displaced by the virus, too.  Similarly, like the ibis, I find myself isolated, but not necessarily by anyone’s fault but my own.  I am enjoying this social distancing so far, but even I, an inveterate introvert, miss my people.  Perhaps the ibis is calling to a friend at the other end of the lake, and the two are masters in social distancing.  Lord knows I have the time to figure this out from my perch in the observatory.

 

Social Distancing from an Expert

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It is that brief interval of time at 4:37 AM, between laconically tossing a peanut butter pretzel in my mouth and the first satisfying, ultimately ephemeral crunch, the mysteries of the world unfold themselves to me.  Sadly (for purposes of my own enlightenment), this reflectory period lasts but an instant before I nosh the pretzel into the verisimilitude of mastication and metaphor.

I wrote yesterday about my partner, my wife, an extrovert in exile during this period of revelatory self-distancing.  It is with great patience, a master’s degree in early childhood development and developmental risks, two years of teaching early childhood special ed, five years of teaching elementary ed, and two years of being at home raising the munchkin, that Anna finally reached the point of taking a razor blade to her bumper and the sticker that said “My child is an positive citizen.”  I cannot say that I blame her.

Children, on the whole, are enigmas.  Take for example, my firstborn.  Although I graduated from college, law school, and a post-doctorate program with pomp and circumstance, this little imp is smarter, by measure, then I ever was.  If and when he discovers nuclear fission, I pray that he uses it for good and not to get back at the three-year-old girl who dared to challenge his story that he discovered gold in North Carolina.

Our mayor has issued a conditional lockdown order, that those who could work from home must work from home.  Eager to initiate my obedient, pajama-clad workdays, I was soon informed by the Man that, much to my disappointment, I was not “dispensable” to the team.  Given my history with law firm politics, the fact that I am indispensable  should give me the ultimate reassurance.  Nevertheless, I found myself seeking out the hypochondriacal assistant who works at the other end of the office, in order that I might expectorate (with some gusto and propinquity to her) the post-nasal drip that has developed from all of this damn oak pollen.  Sadly, she had heeded the order, and was working from home.  My throat is tickly, and my spirit is spurred to action—which action, I might add, inevitably culminates (in my mind) victoriously, whilst I am in my pajamas.

Never one to be considered in apparatchik, I find myself in an uncomfortable situation.  On the one hand, I want to continue at work until the City shuts the power off (a threat that the Jacksonville Mayor actually voiced).  Yet, on the other hand, which hand I have carefully and diligently weighed, I want a good, long, peaceful nap.  I am not sure whether I am better served to try to sleep under the hollow in my desk at work, or in the loft at home.  Something, well, two things (children) really, tell me that the hollow was good enough for Mr. Toad and is good enough for me.

I hope everyone here in America and across the pond is doing well and are happy and healthy, albeit malcontent and ever so slightly disgruntled.  (For my Yorkshire readers, I am not quite sure of the kind antonym for “well chuffed,” but I imagine that is where you are right now.)

Good luck, Godspeed, and if you need lessons on social distancing, I am offering a master class tomorrow evening with a concentration on using biting sarcasm to establish a safe personal distance between you and your antagonist.  Attendance, as you may imagine, is severely limited.

Moments

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There is something so genuine about a little boy being outside, skinning his knees, sloshing in mud puddles, and engaging with nature.  I used to be that little boy.  Now I have one.

The week before Father’s Day, I woke Kemper up at midnight and we hopped in the car for a surprise trip up to Brevard, North Carolina, where my parents and sister were on vacation.  It was a spur of the minute surprise for Father’s Day for my dad, and when we walked into the cabin while he was eating his breakfast, it was clear that it had the intended effect.

I had worked a couple of long months (hence the dearth of posts), and I had mentally burned the candle at both ends until it was nearly extinguished.  I needed to check out for a couple of days, and so with Anna’s blessing, and This Side of Paradise and The Great Gatsby on audiobook (I’m on a Fitzgerald kick, what can I say), Kemp and I made the 7.5 hour trek to North Carolina in the dead of night.

Initially, my only thought was that it would be a great surprise for my dad.  Bringing along Kemper was secondary, and my own enjoyment of the trip was a distant tertiary consideration.  My dad was thrilled.  Kemper enjoyed himself.  But the effect the four days I spent with them in North Carolina had on me was more powerful than I could have ever anticipated.

I am, by most metrics, a very good son.  I call my mother often; I have lunch with my dad at least once a month; and we visit (though not as often as we, perhaps, should).  I thought the trip would be a nice surprise, and little more.  My dad had texted me when they arrived the week prior that he really wished that I would have been able to come up.  My mom echoed this sentiment to me on a phone call later that day.  This planted the seed, but I was too busy to even think about pulling myself away from my desk.

I cannot say precisely what it was that made me realize that surprising my dad was more important than two days of billables.  I do not remember the tipping point.  It may have been at 1:00 AM, sitting at my desk at work, having not been able to fall asleep that night because I was thinking about all that needed to be done.  Perhaps.  At some point I had an epiphanic realization that my life over the last two months had been, quite literally, all work and no play.

Fitzgerald always inspires me to imagine that there is more to the world that what I have done so far—whether this is writing the next Gatsby, or simply stepping outside my comfort zone to see what comes of it.  Shipping up to North Carolina on a whim was completely out of character for me, who needs to plan his major life choices with spreadsheets and agony.  I have not made a better personal decision in a very long time.

We are going to California, Anna, the kids, and I, in July before my in-laws sell their house in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I am selling all of my earthly possessions including my trusty Nikon D7100 to buy a new camera so that I can take the best photos of what might be my last trip out there for quite a while.  (The D7100’s still for sale, if you’re interested!)  I have planned out an itinerary to maximize my photographic opportunities.  I am resolute about capturing every sunset while we are there.

The trip to North Carolina helped to readjust my perspective on life.  It is short.  Work is an important part of my life at this point, but providing for my family means more than just a paycheck and a bonus.  I saw that in Kemper as we took the hike along the Davidson River, where he stopped and sat for a minute on a fallen elm tree just looking over the river flowing before him.  For a moment, he understood what it took me 30+ years to understand.  (In fairness, it will have escaped him as quickly as the twigs that he threw in the quickly flowing current…)

Life is about moments, and moments are about what you make of them.

I’m going to try my very best not to forget that.  Maybe I will keep Fitzgerald on repeat to remind me.

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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