Day 273: The Man and the Missing Tree Where the Sidewalk Falls Up in the Attic; ‘Outlier’

Before you ask, no, I am not having a mini-stroke. Today’s post title actually comes from Early Bird.PNGthe amalgamation of poet, writer, screenwriter, author, and illustrator Shel Silvertein’s most notable works. Shel Silverstein will always hold a very special place in my heart as one of my earliest literary idols. His freedom and style with poetry is right up there with Jon Scieszka and his bastardized (read: improved) fairy tales. There was something so cool about reading Shel Silverstein’s poems as a child. You know you go to school and you inevitably learn about poetry but you learn about rhyming couplets and syllable counts for haikus and ABAB rhyme structure and iambic pentamenter and then suddenly you’re reading this adult who’s gone and defied all the rules and teaches you what so many have forgotten. Poetry can be fun. It can be experimental. It can be visual, auditory, tactile, it can be anything you want it to be.

Something Missing

His poems are often short and very simple, but can express in those few, easy to understand words, deeply powerful messages especially for young readers. He is the Dr. Happy Ending.PNGSeuss of ‘explain like I’m 5 years old‘. The drawings he made himself to accompany many of his poems are simple and silly but just perfectly punctuate the poem’s meanings. There was something subtly adult about his poems and pictures. Maybe it was the lack of big bold straight shapes or subject material sometimes of his poems. Me Stew is literally about a chef who, having nothing else to serve in his stew, stews himself! I think he wrote these poems knowing that the children who read them would one day become adults, and would want to revisit them and realize he had hidden so much more to be enjoyed and appreciated even later on in life.

Lazy Jane.jpg

I remember reading one of his books of poetry and having to physically take my book Circularand turn it, twist it, flip it upside down, to follow the long and winding trail of words that he had written across a two-page spread to turn the poem itself into the accompanying image of it. He was the first person to really show me that visually you could play with the wording and spacing and physically you could create a new reading experience by changing the way you held the book. I mean, to a kid, this was like, mind-shattering revelations. We were changing the way people read and held their books. He used as many senses as possible to make poetry fun and interesting. I was moving and manipulating the book to read poems, or looking at poems shaped as other things. He was the great innovator of my youthful literary adventures.

Diving Board

I think nowadays that’s what’s missing in so many aspects of our life. The spirit of fun and adventure and innovation. We spend a good long time learning about the forms of things and trying so hard to capture and perfect that but we forget to learn the essence of these things. And that’s where you get to play the most; when you know you’re true to spirit you can experiment with form. There’s a lot of fun missing in a lot of the things we do. Or did. Or are doing. Fun should not be the outlier in the characteristics of our life.

Day 273

Man: 240 Loneliness: 33

Day 271: The Man and the Dignity of Hotel Dining; ‘Champion’

So I’m on the road again this week, and after a long stint in the office it’s nice to feed the wanderlust again. As is my custom, all last week I was researching the towns and cities I’d be visiting for work and finding the restaurants I’d be dining at for dinner; you know, highlight of each day’s work is a nice meal on the company budget. That’s why I stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Hahah. For today’s trip I found a great seafood shack that served Cajun style seafood boils and fried or blackened seafood as well. I’d be coming off of a two hour drive so without even considering it, I was already planning on spending my entire budget on a few items and ordering them all to go to eat in my hotel room. My brother heard me and said ‘you’re really going to eat $40 worth of food alone in your hotel room at night? Isn’t that kind of, you know, depressing?’

Nostos Octopus

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, grilled octopus starter

And I really had to think about that! After months and months on the road, I don’t really bat an eye anymore at the concept of having a few nights where it’s just me in a dimly lit cheap hotel room with a mountain of food in front of me and just taking bites from one styrofoam container to the next while the umpteenth episode of Law and Order: SVU plays on the TV. The life of a road warrior is very different from that of the leisure traveler. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a very real sense of adventure and glamour in being able to travel at someone else’s expense, and it’s certainly one of the key factors that convinced me to move into this department. But it’s not always the best destinations. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful places in the world aren’t exactly the best for business, and some of the best for business aren’t exactly always beautiful. There’s a lot of Bumble-whatever, USA and remote hotels whose sole sign stands as a beacon along long dead and desolate dark highways. That’s why when I get the opportunity for a nice meal at a nice restaurant and be among civilization, I want to take it. But you really can’t say you’ve lived the road warrior life, or that the road warrior life is for you, until you can reconcile a certain level of love and affection for cheap, greasy Chinese takeout or generic pizza in the same box with the same mustachioed chubby paisano that every small town pizzeria uses. At a certain point the ‘sad’ is elevated to the ‘unique’ and ‘oddly endearing’.

I could be home right now actually, believe it or not. In fact, the hotel I am in right now is no more than an hour away from my actual home. My own bed. My own shower. My family. But when given the option if I wanted to, to stay on the road or to just go back

Seafood Village Crab

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, fried soft shell crab platter

home and then drive back to another store the next day, I decided I’d just keep going on the road. Could I say I would always choose that? No, definitely not. But I really hadn’t had the opportunity to sleep on the road in a while and I was beginning to miss it. I think it’s like when a chef, long out of the kitchen, develops a twitch. A friend of mine was a professional restaurant chef for twenty years and after she left the kitchen…her body, so used to the frantic chaotic pace of the kitchen, developed some twitches to cope with the sudden and uncharacteristic calm. Her fingers constantly drum the desk and she finds herself often times craving the adrenaline of handling ten different dishes on the burner at a time. But she left because she wanted to focus on family and recover from a failed marriage (partly due in fact to the job). She misses the field but when asked, she vehemently says she would not go back at all. In much the same way I know that this chapter of my life, though fun, is not sustainable. The road can get wearisome. The isolation can become comfortingly addicting or painfully alienating. Single, no place of my own yet, no ties or roots to one place, I can continue to enjoy the benefits of the job. But there’s going to be a time when I’ll only be able to reflect back on this unique experience.

This is the sentiment, the complicated love-hate, consistent yet unsustainable, feeling of

Nostos Gyro

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, gyro platter

the road warrior’s life that John Updike’s On the Road so beautifully and somberly portrays. It’s why it speaks so deeply to my own experience and best illustrates why anyone would ever choose the nomadic life of the unique brother/sisterhood of the road warrior. A calling that is answered in the most uncertain of terms. For a good, long time vita can be found on the worn out treads of a tire and the accumulated mileage of a frequent flyer card. It is in finding…maybe not joy, but peace, and fulfillment, and equal parts thrill, in that familiar dusty smell of the hastily vacuumed and cleared hotel room. For someone who is so often times reserved, quiet, and comfortable with his own company, it is a great fit.

On the Road

-poem by John Updike

Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors

while gnawing at a Dunkin Donuts cruller.

Those hotel rooms where the TV remote

waits by the bed like a suicide pistol.

Those hours in the air amid white shirts

whose wearers sleep-read through thick staid thrillers.

Those breakfast buffets in prairie Marriots-

such venues of transit grow dearer than home.

 

The tricycle in the hall, the wife’s hasty kiss,

the dripping faucet, and uncut lawn-this is life?

No, vita thrives via the road, in the laptop

whose silky screen shimmers like a dark queen’s mirror.

In the polished shoe that signified killer intent,

and in the solitary mission, a bumpy glide

down through the cloud cover to a single runway

at whose end a man just like you guards the Grail.

The road warrior’s life is by no means a life for everyone. Nor am I trying to champion it as such. It is a unique occupation that inhabits a niche corner of life, whose best paragons are the long lost traveling salesmen of old, carting their wares through old, marked, hastily folded atlases. And since I imagine a good majority of you will not have

Seafood Village Cajun

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, shrimp and crawfish combo in spicy Cajun sauce

the opportunity, or the desire, to live like this, it is my rare and wonderful opportunity to share a glimpse into it. To try my best to portray why even the supposed ‘saddest’ and most lonely aspects can be so wonderful, when they aren’t not. Maybe one of the best ways to show you some of the highlights is to share with you pictures of my meals the past two days. In the end I did relent and decide to eat at the seafood restaurant. Not out of loneliness or the ‘sadness’ of the alternative, but because I won’t always have that luxury in some of these locations. They’re not half bad looking, and let me tell you, they all tasted incredible. If you know where to look, you’ll find something good every time. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how far removed you may think you are from it. People always appreciate good food. Bad food doesn’t last long.

Day 271

Man: 238 Loneliness: 33

Day 269: The Man and the Two-Thirds Rule; ‘Prudent’

My first selection for National Poetry Month is a poem by American poet Kenneth Koch that I think is very relevant to my current stage in life, and I believe it would be prudent for most people to pay attention to its message as well.

Social Life, With Friends

-poem by Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends.

A passionate love life and as well

to work hard every day. What’s true

is of these three you may have two

and two can pay you dividends.

But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends-

though dawn begins and midnight ends-

to find the time to have love, work, and friends.

Michelangelo had feeling

for Vittoria and the Ceiling

but did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets

wrote all day but had no lockets

bright with pictures of his Girl. 

I know one who loves and parties

and has done so since his thirties

but writes hardly anything at all.

A long long time ago, back in college, my ex and I had a conversation about this poem. She refused to believe or accept it. She wholeheartedly wanted to prove it wrong and tried to hold onto anything and everything. I guess in a way she never outgrew that hopelessly optimistic perspective, for better or for worse. I never had a problem with seeing the world in this way. But I think that’s because, and you should all understand this, this is not a particularly negative or hopeless opinion. It’s a strangely unique perspective I think characteristic of a certain majority that not having it all means not having enough. That to be necessarily ‘missing out’ on one aspect is somehow indicative of a life not lived fully. But having ‘two can pay you dividends’, remember? It’s not about ability, or even capacity. It’s about time and effort and passion. You cannot feasibly be one-hundred percent committed to one hundred things. So rather than focus on what I may not have (as I was wont to do in the beginning of this all), I’ve learned to love what I do. I have no love right now. But I write more than I ever have. And though my friends and I are not as close, I still have a healthy and happy social life, supplemented with social gatherings like this weekend with new groups of new people, taking myself out to do the things I love and meet people along the way, and appreciating the people I do have in my life when they are there. How could I say I am incomplete, unsatisfied, or underachieving?

Not having it all is not the same as having nothing. And instead of focusing on the missing third, we can shift our perspective to understand and appreciate what we do have. In all reality, if or when I find someone, to give her the attention and care and love that we both desire and deserve, I will need to make time for her. Make room for her. And there simply isn’t enough, my friends. Right now I am focused on my career and furthering it and maybe changing or moving it. I am writing and learning and growing. I am socializing and meeting. It is a good fit for who I am and what stage of life I currently am in. These things shift and change, and though we may never have all three at the same time, there is nothing stopping us from happily and enthusiastically pursuing two at a time and feeling the benefit and satisfaction of that pursuit. Take this not as a warning, or even as a negative outlook. If anything, ever since realizing these three major aspects of life and how they work in contrast and comparison, I am much more at ease and find it easier to enjoy what I do have. I’m not trying too hard running around trying to hold onto everything.

Please, enjoy.

Day 269

Man: 236 Loneliness: 33