Sunday, October 23, 2011

Worms, Roxanne, worms!

In the classic film remake of Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne, Chris gets himself into trouble with his paramour, Roxanne, when he mishears -- and thereby misstates -- the whispers from C.D. who is hiding in the bushes behind him, feeding him his lines. "So why did you say those things," Roxanne asks from her open window above. "Tell her you were afraid," C.D. urges from nearby. "Because I was afraid," Chris projects dutifully. "Of me? Afraid of what?" Roxanne is terribly confused.

"Tell her you were afraid of words," C.D. whisper-yells. "What?" Chris can't believe what he is mishearing. "Words!" "Because I was afraid of worms, Roxanne, worms!"

And with Roxanne disastrously disenchanted, C.D. takes over from below and delivers one of the most wonderful speeches of the film... a speech about the power of words, especially when one is in love. "Be careful," C.D. warns Roxanne, "one hard word from you at that height kills me!" And as he continues, he woos her with his moving, heartfelt words. "I love you. I have breathed you in, and I am suffocating." Finally, she is almost at the point of wanting to let Chris/C.D. into her house... and C.D. clinches it, again, by speaking of words. "There will never be another tonight, Roxanne. Why should we sip from a teacup when we can drink from the river? There's a tiny word. It's not a noun, it's not a verb, it's not an adjective. I, I don't know what it is. But if you said it to me tonight, all this blackness would go away, and you and I would be connected by a tunnel of light." And she says it. And the power of 'yes' is stunning in its simplicity.

Shakespeare was right. Words can be sharper than a dagger, can cut deeper, can do more damage. As Emerson once said, "Words are alive; cut them and they bleed." And throw them and they cut us. Whoever said that actions are stronger than words was not cut by the tongue of a lover.

But even those with whom we are not close can cut us. I remember being at summer camp one year. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. This one particular girl chose me for her bullying prey. I have no idea why. Bullying targets often don't make any sense. Sometimes the bully can just sense the sensitivity of another. She bullied me relentlessly, calling me names, making fun of my clothing and my lunch, mocking me when I misfired the kickball into foul territory. It began to weigh on me and one day I came home crying. My parents, not surprisingly, were quite upset. My father's advice was 'an eye for an eye' sort of counsel. "Start calling her 'the whale,'" he urged me, assuring me that this would end my tortuous days. She was a big girl, too big, and certainly this would have embarrassed her, perhaps stopped her from bothering me. At the very least, she would have been surprised at how I stood up to her attacks.

But I couldn't do it. I wasn't afraid. It just felt so ugly in my stomach. I didn't want to throw back the pain she had caused me in her face. I didn't want to cruelly insult and shame her in front of all the other campers. Because there was some truth in the name, it would have cut deeper... and it would have stuck longer. Probably other kids would have taken up the nickname and continued the teasing I had begun. I just didn't want to use words that way. I think, even at that age, I understood how powerful and painful they can be. So I just quietly took the bullying, day in, day out, until one day it stopped. She must have gotten tired of my lack of a response. And I didn't need to be afraid of worms anymore.

At least for a while. No, probably not such a while. We are hurt by words quite often, too often. It is the first tool that someone turns to when he wants to injure a loved one. Words speak louder than actions when you consider the abuse, the violence, the sting and lasting pain they can inflict.

A loved one and I were struggling with a difficult decision. Though I was undecided, I was clearly leaning one way, he another. My direction was a direction in which he didn't want to be pulled. His direction was one that I was sure would traumatize me terribly, perhaps even kill me. His frustration built and built. Finally, he appeared in my apartment one night at 2am, came in and sat on my bed. He sat silently for a while. Then, he explained his position again and quite adamantly. I sat up, curled my knees close to my chest and tried to close myself off into a little ball of protectiveness. Perhaps I knew inwardly what was coming. I began to cry. Many, not all, but many men hate it when the women they love begin to cry. The extreme display of uncontrollable emotion overwhelms them and their ability to respond. Everything becomes muddled. But I needed to cry. I was hurting from the thought of making one decision and from the difficulty of the other road as well. Everything was going to be hard, but was made harder by the fact that we were not on the same page. "Stop crying," he ordered me. I tried. "I just don't know if I can do that," I told him. It was then he couldn't contain his vexation any longer. "I wish I had never met you!" he yelled and left the room, but not before punching the door angrily.

Don't we all have those moments? The ones we can recall as if they were yesterday when someone cut us with their words.... someone we love or loved. The reason those moments are so persistently present is because words are, in fact, so powerful. That single sentence still aches in my heart when I think of it. What a cutting thing to say to someone you love. It suggests the erasure of all of your moments together, all of the beautiful intimacies, all of the tenderness, all of the love. Didn't that matter to him?

I wonder how many times we can be cut by the same person before we are so wounded we cannot love them anymore. Words are indeed physical. They can create distance. You don't understand me = distance to the person who wants to understand. I wish I never met you = distance to the heart that feels so close to another... distance and a wound. Lies can create distance too. A huge distance. Perhaps an insurmountable one. Of couples where one person has an affair, less than 30% continue on to heal and have an enduring relationship.

Ironically, though, it is perhaps the reverse when we speak of love. In the case of compassion and kindness and love, actions may indeed speak louder than words. We have all had someone say "I love you" perhaps even in an attempt to apologize for past missteps or cuts. But it is never enough. That person must DO something to show that love. Then, we can start believing again. A friend of mine posted a beautiful blog entry written by a woman on her 35th birthday. Rather than have a celebration for herself, she went out and celebrated others. And ultimately, these acts of kindness and generosity made her far happier than any present or party could have.

Words combined with action may be the most powerful of all. Sometimes, with the help of another, if we just say something differently, everything changes.

Words to ourselves may be the most powerful of all. I am not a big fan of self-help gurus. But, for some reason last night, I found myself watching Wayne Dyer on PBS. He was talking about the way that we make our own excuses for things and then come to believe that these excuses are facts unto themselves. If we think with possibility, rather than excuses, he suggested, anything can happen and all doors are open to us. I think I enjoyed his presentation because I have long felt the same way.

"All that we are is the result of what we have thought," Wayne tells us by way of Buddha. We are what we think. Events don't determine our destiny, our reaction to events do. Life is just something that happens to us. The way we take what happens, what we do with it, how we approach it, what we choose to think about it, that determines our lives and our meaning. Dyer spoke of how passion for something is not just a feeling, but a vehicle. If you have passion for a job or a cause, for instance, you are driven by the end result you hope to see. And working from the end backwards is a tremendously effective way to run the course of your life. If you see something in the future as having already occurred, all you have to do now is fill in the blanks. What we tell ourselves about our lives, about what happens to us, about our loved ones, about ourselves IS our reality. Truly, we can all be carried forward by the power of our own words. We can make all kinds of excuses, or we can see life as a gift and move forward in our optimistic luckiness. If we live in gratitude, if we act with grace, if we speak with passion and tenderness, if we believe in what's possible, we have all the power in the world.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

the missing sound

PART II of Missing Pieces: Modern-day fables

Once upon a time, there was a sound that came from people's hearts when they were nervous, anxious, insecure, or afraid. It was called your boom-boom because it sounded like an amplified drum beat emanating from a person's left breast. You could be sitting in the audience at the theater when Hamlet enters, stage left, for his first appearance onstage, and then jests, "A little more than kin, and less than kind." In addition to hearing his first line of the play, you would hear his boom-boom echoing out across the sea of theatergoers. Underneath his calm exterior, beneath the confident projection of his voice, despite the fact that he is a famous Shakespearean actor who has performed this role hundreds of times, his boom-boom would make you aware of the edginess of his nerves. Or you might be attending the birth of your first child. When it is discovered last minute that the baby is positioned 'upside-down,' so to speak, the doctor decides a c-section is necessary. You watch from behind a glass partition as his fingers move self-assuredly and the nurses gossip with him about hospital goings-on. He even turns to smile calmly at you mid-procedure, but rhythmically thumping faster than the tempo of the composed scene is his boom-boom, slightly shaking the glass in front of you so that all you love so deeply appears slightly blurred. During the burst and crack of big thunderstorms, it felt as if nature empathized with the plight of the human condition. Just as a house cannot contain the sound of a child practicing the piano, the human body could not contain the announcement of its own fear.

The boom-boom was the resonating backdrop of life. You could hardly go anywhere without encountering someone who was worried about this or that and people were utterly accustomed to the aural pulsation of their world. There were some places that were boom-boom louder than others -- talent shows, hospitals, Wall Street, courtrooms, rollercoasters, the DMW, and pretty much all of Spain during the Inquisition. On the flip side, there were places where the boom-boom was rare -- the beach in summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Buddhist temples, tasting rooms at wineries, or movie theaters after the showing of a romantic comedy. And funerals. For deep sadness was not audible, despite the heart's best efforts, though people felt the weight of silence more profoundly than we do. It was rumored that during the infamous sinking of an unsinkable ocean liner, the boom-boom was louder than people's screams for help. Anyone who had ever driven on a highway in a blizzard or been pressed up against his neighbors in the panicked surge of a crowd towards the exit in a nightclub fire knew as much to be true.

The boom-boom was common, yes, but it made people uncommonly humane. People stopped in the middle of a crowded, gushing city sidewalk during the peak of Monday morning rush hour in order to hold the hand of an especially loud boom-boomer. Actors were rarely booed for their performances after the audience witnessed their unremitting boom-boom throughout the show. Babies cried less because they heard the boom-boom of their parents and intuitively understood. Children teased only rarely because they knew of the boom-boom of the other kids on the playground as well as their own. Wives took husbands in their arms rather than accusing and blaming them when problems arose because they recognized that fear was at the heart of his heart in place of spite, reproach, or unreasonableness.

And so the world was louder -- by quite a few decibels -- but warmer. In fact, the boom-boom seemed to generate a heat of its own -- a heat that did nothing to threaten the polar ice caps, but a heat that melted the icy exterior that people nowadays can so easily assume.

Werner knew the boom-boom well. As a child, he was acutely sensitive in all aspects. As an infant, he was extremely colicky and kept his mother up most nights. As a toddler, he fell often and bled easily. His wounds were slow to heal and, though his parents were worried and arrived at all their appointments, their presence announced long in advance by their blaring boom-booms, the doctors assured them there was nothing unusual about Werner's health. Werner suffered from frequent stomach aches, headaches, and allergies. He was easily heartbroken and thereby especially observant of others. He spent hours as a child sitting on the curb in his town square listening for the boom-boom of passersby and trying to figure out exactly why they were so aggrieved. In his teen years, he was a quiet, moody figure, often dressed in blacks and somber greys, unusual in his tendency and preference to be alone. Yet still, he listened. It had become perhaps his favorite pastime, preferred over games of chess in the park and harvesting honey from his father's bee hives. He paid closer heed to the boom-boom pulse of the world than any other human being alive, and yet, he never once approached another to console him. The boom-boom intrigued him, but it did not move him. For Werner was a biological abnormality, a freak of nature, as they say. He produced no boom-boom of his own. And he resented all boom-boomers as a result of what he lacked within himself.

He still felt fear, though. And the fear of being different was enough to incite him to hide his deviance from the norm. Among other talents, Werner was an exceptionally gifted young engineer. His father was a watchmaker and part-time apiarist. When he was a young child, he loved sitting with his father while he fixed expensive Swiss watches for the well-heeled of their small German town. Werner took pleasure in the slow, methodical nature of the process, but even more, he relished the silence of the workshop, a silence that made him feel more at home than anywhere else, a silence interrupted only by the reserved and, to Werner, well-mannered tick-tick of a watch his father had just mended. Barely into his teens, he stole into his father's workshop late one night and spent the dark hours tinkering with gears and springs. Early the next morning, his ears heavy with the constant night sounds of owls and crickets, he carefully slipped back out of the workshop and up the stairs in their old farmhouse, skipping over the two creaky stairs at the top.

Back in his own room, Werner sat on his fully made bed. From beneath his sweater he pulled out a small device. Dawn reached in through his window with its first rays and shone upon the little invention making Werner blink through weary eyelids. He gave a tentative smile. Slipping the device back under his clothing, he looped a string around his neck so that the small machine was flush with his left breast. Then, with his right hand, he pulled another cord through the left armhole of his sweater and down to his left hand. In this hand, he now held a tiny, almost imperceptible, button. Werner lay back, feeling relaxed for the first time in his entire life, and closed his eyes. But sleep would not touch him for long. In an hour he awoke to the sound of eggs sizzling in a hot pan and coffee dripping into a pot. It was time for the first test.

Despite his exhaustion, Werner made his way down to the kitchen to join his parents for breakfast. As his mother and father sat discussing his father's upcoming trip to Geneva for a watchmaker's exhibition, Werner held his left hand under the table and when he felt the moment was right, he pressed the button. The reaction was immediate. Both his parents stopped talking and turned towards their son.

"Werner, what is it?" his mother inquired. His father merely held his expression of shock. Werner had always been such an unusual child, in health, emotion, habits, and interests, that it had never struck either of them as odd that they had not heard his boom-boom. They figured he only boom-boomed alone or that, corresponding to his other idiosyncrasies, he didn't need to boom-boom. Perhaps, they thought, to balance out his sensitivities God had gifted him with an extremely serene nature, a personality of the sort that cannot be ruffled no matter what the circumstance.

So, the sound of Werner's boom-boom this morning was like the explosion of an atomic bomb in their small, humble kitchen. "Werner?" his mother pressed again. "Are you all right?"

"Oh yes, Mother," Werner responded, trying to contain his glee. "It's just a test this morning on Voltaire's Candide. You know I'm no good at understanding French literature. Their philosophers just do not work with reason."

"Oh yes, indeed," his mother forced a smile, but inside she felt her own boom-boom arising and worked with all her might to suppress it. His father just sat beside him, a look of perplexity mixed with a new sense of distrust that he could not explain.

And so Werner entered the world of normal. And for many years, he was quite grateful for his creative invention. He wore it always under everything. For the first few years, he had to wear long sleeves all the time, but everyone already knew him as a rather curious character and it struck no one as suspicious. After a few years, he reworked the device into a wireless form which made it even easier to blend in.

Werner went off to college a year early to study mechanical engineering in Munich. He was considering taking his talents and what his father had taught him from watchmaking and entering the field of artificial organ making. Amongst engineers, Werner was able to make a few friends. Still, he enjoyed spending much of his time alone walking past the cafes and bars of the Marienplatz. He took walks at night too, luxuriating in the quiet of the city, only broken by the hourly orderly chiming of church bells.

It was a Sunday when Werner made his weekly call home to his parents. "Hello, Mother?" Werner was surprised to hear her boom-boom over the phone before he heard anything else.

"Hello Werner..." Long pause. Too long. "...and how is school?" Werner could barely hear her meek voice over the boom-boom crossing and trembling the wires. "Oh, fine, Mother, fine. But... but what is wrong?" And though she tried, his mother could hold back no longer. She knew he heard her boom-boom so there were no secrets. She explained how his father's watchmaking business was in dire trouble. A huge French conglomerate which now owned two major watchmaking companies had opened a store in town. They offered all manner of watches at discount prices. They even had a home-visiting watch fixing service called the "Techie Troop" that drove the famous Mercedes Silberpfeil (Silver Arrow) up and down the Autobahn. Even worse, his father's bees had been fingered as the origin of a new disease that was killing bees all over Europe. He had been forced by authorities to shut down that business as well, leaving him with no viable occupation. "We are struggling a bit, that is all," his mother attempted to downplay their bad fortune. And they hung up the phone, the boom-boom throbbing in Werner's head.

Despite his mother's assurances, Werner could not let the issue lie. He was angry. He felt wronged, cheated, betrayed. And he wanted to know where to direct the blame. His father's watchmaking business was a true art form. And there was no way his bees were carriers of a new strain of contagion. His first reaction was to be angry at the French. They had destroyed his father's business and then mocked him by parading around in trademark German cars. Werner had always felt a severe dislike for the French. When he was about ten, his parents had taken him on a summer tour of Europe and, of all the countries, the boom-boom thundered the loudest in France. They had no shame. They did not fear the display of fear. And they loved attending to each other's boom-booms. Even from the height at the top of the Eiffel tower, the air shook with the barrage of boom-booms from below, the city quivering slightly as if the buildings themselves throbbed with life.

Werner needed air. He walked the streets and platzes of Munich and continued walking west to the outskirts of the city. Soon, he found himself facing the grandeur of the Nymphenburg Palace. Across a small lake, he stared at its massive Baroque facade. He sat on a stone bench and tried to think. Here was a place of greatness, of power, of history. He could feel the weight of important decisions in the heaviness of the building. Werner was a connoisseur of German history and knew its figures and legends well. He thought about Maximilian I who had been heir to the King of Bavaria and whose parents had built this palace. Maximilian had long sympathized with ideas coming out of the French Enlightenment and had held that nation in great esteem. He had infused Germany with art and music and tried to counter their growing inbred nationality. Werner had always admired stories of Maximilian he heard in school, especially the one of him saving the life of an orphan apprentice when a glassmaker's workshop collapsed. As Werner was picturing that scene in his head, he closed his eyes a bit to relax. It was quiet here where no one lived, where the breadth of the palace extended like outstretched arms shielding him from the incessant boom-boom of life. But his serenity was shortly disturbed when the ground beneath him began to shake.

Werner slowly opened his eyes and turned his head to see a fellow ponderer who had taken his place on a nearby bench. Clearly, he had come here, like Werner, to figure things out. But unlike Werner, his anxiety pumped out of his heart like the detonation of a thousand canons. Damn it all, could Werner never find any peace? And it was then that it struck him. It was not the French he was angry at. It was the boom-boom. It was not he who was abnormal and unnatural. It was all of the boom-boomers with their absurd broadcasting of each and every jitter they ever felt. At that very moment, he reached under his cleanly pressed button-down shirt and ripped his counterfeit boom-boom from his chest. He wrapped the string tightly around the instrument and the button that had previously been hidden in his hand and then propelled his boom-boom high into the air and then down into the depths of the lake before him. He was done with the boom-boom... and now, he understand his mission in life. He was to rid humanity of this debilitating handicap.

He began as always, by delving into books and research. His nights were now spent, not wandering the quiet of his beloved Munich streets, but hunched over piles of dusty old books at the tippity-top of the university's six-story library. He began by perusing biology and anatomy texts, thinking that there must be something there that would enlighten him. All he came across were mountains of explanations and schematic drawings and descriptions and diagrams of the boom-boom. Then he recalled that he had once read a newspaper article about how Buddhist monks were able to suppress their boom-booms after years of diligent training. He knew there was a famous monastery in the south of France and decided to get the word first-hand, hoping knowledge of this technique would be the door to teaching others how to control the sound of their fear.

Taking the train, he traveled down through Germany and Switzerland and then across the width of France. He crossed over the rustling rush of the Rhone and through the purring warble of the Pyrenees before finally arriving at the monastery early in the morning. He walked through the murmuring mist and whispering plum trees towards the monastery. A group of monks dressed in orange robes sat outside meditating. As he passed to their left, Werner heard nothing and smiled.

Once inside the monastery, Werner wandered up and down empty hallways before finally being stopped by an elderly monk who politely asked him what he needed. "I have need of nothing, except knowledge," Werner told him before proceeding to explain how he wanted to understand the secret of the monks' power over the boom-boom.

"Come to my office," the old monk susurrated and as they walked, it seemed the monk was carried by a gentle wind and did not need to move his feet. Once seated in the warmth of his small, sparsely decorated office, the monk addressed Werner. "Young traveler, you say you want to know the 'secret' of why we do not make the boom-boom." "Indeed, yes," Werner assured the monk. "It takes many years of practice. The mind is a powerful agent. There is much that we can control, if we so desire... like our heart rates. If you want to learn..."

"No, I think you misunderstand," Werner interrupted. "I don't want... I don't have the time to spend years learning to do it myself. I just would like to understand the process by which it is done."

"Ahhh," the monk nodded. "Quick, quick," he snapped his fingers. "People want results and they want them now. They do not want to earn them. I do not think you are meant to undertake this challenge. Time is a crucial part of the process. We cannot cheat time because time will always win." He then waved his hand briskly, dismissing Werner from his office.

Werner soon found himself back outside. He felt a bit dazed at his eviction by the monk and further dazed by the intensity of the late morning sun. He turned to take the same path from which he had reached the monastery and was surprised to see the same group of monks sitting beneath a large plum tree, its blossoms a delicate pink and humming with bees. Cautiously, he approached the monks.

"Excuse me, I hate to interrupt but I would like to ask a question." No one moved. The air itself seemed to freeze in spring efflorescent stillness. Werner could not even hear the buzz of the bees. "Please," he continued to speak, breaking the silence like a shatter of glass, and tiptoeing closer as if he did not trust the hush of the ground beneath his feet. "Please, I am begging you just to speak with me."

And just then the monks all stood in unison, their eyes closed. Together, they intoned a brief chant and then bowed towards the green earth below. Standing upright once again, they opened their eyes and quietly recognized the presence of each other. And then, just as easily, they broke their unified circle and went their separate ways... all except one monk who stood facing Werner. "And what is your question?" His voice came out like a song and Werner felt very very small.

"I just want to know why there is no boom-boom here," he whispered timidly. "Ahhhh and have you spoken with Phra Sheng-yu?" "Is he the monk..." and Werner pointed back towards the monastery. "Yes," spoke the petite man beside Werner. "And did he not tell you of his own secret?" "He told me nothing," Werner responded. "Mmmmmm," the little monk pondered. "He fears his own story. But none of us can fear ourselves. It is not safe. And so I will tell you."

And so the monk explained to Werner that Sheng-yu had no boom-boom, had never had one. He had spent many years roaming the earth, feeling a permanent exile from humanity. He practiced the Buddhist faith of his ancestors as a solace. One day, he sat beside a small stream, meditating. Upon finishing his meditation, he opened his eyes to find a young man meditating beside him. "I have heard only stories of you," the young man spoke. "I thought it was all myth and fables. But it is true. You have taught yourself how to dominate your boom-boom."

"And so Sheng-yu realized that he could hide his lack of a boom-boom behind this facade of mastery. And he bought some land and founded this very monastery. The thing is he has taught us, through years of practice, to lessen our boom-booms to the point where most people can't hear them. But one can never be completely rid of it and why would he want to be? It is part of being human."

But Werner hardly heard the last words of the little monk before he was off and running. He was not alone. There was someone else without a boom-boom... and that meant that there were others. Werner spent the next few weeks researching the existence of legendary cities such as Atlantis. It wasn't long before he came across the fabled city, Pluvious, and with his knowledge of ancient Greek and Sanskrit, he read of accounts of a quiet people living far below the ocean. In one account, he read the following: "...and so they hid because they could not make the sound of fear" and then Werner was hooked.

Werner became obsessed. He was sure not only that Pluvious existed, but that it was where he would find the other non-boom-boomers. He dropped out of his engineering program. He moved back in with his parents for a while, but they could not support him and they were disturbed by his new preoccupation. Finally, he moved in with an old, senile grandfather who needed caretaking. In between feeding and walking and bathing him, Werner continued his search. Years passed. Werner, always skinny, grew gaunt and aged rapidly though he was still only in his late twenties. On his thirtieth birthday, he was given the night off by a friend of his grandfather who agreed to take care of him for the night. Werner decided to give himself a break as well. He was exhausted and almost at the point of giving up all hope. That night, he went to a new movie. The film was about a young woman who almost dies in a tragic bike accident and then, with her second chance at life, travels to Venice to open a bakery, following what has always been her dream. The film was cliche and sappy. But in the middle of the film, Werner sat more upright in his seat and began watching with intense interest. It was not the story that interested him, but Venice itself. Venice! Why had he not put the pieces together before? Venice was an entirely unnatural island so something must be holding it up... Pluvious.

Werner went home and packed straight away. His friend agreed to watch his grandfather while he was gone and Werner was on the next train to northern Italy. In all the years that had passed, his only other hobby had been scuba diving. Of course, he had an ulterior motive beyond his love of the quiet of the sea. It was the only way he would ever reach an underwater city. Once in the Veneto, he traveled to a city up the coast to the north of Venice. It was from here he would attempt his dive.

The next morning he arose early and walked from his hotel to the shore. He changed into his wetsuit, checked his oxygen tank, and prepared himself mentally for the dive. Once underwater, he began his long descent. He listened to the iron saturninity of ocean depths, heard the air struggle in and out of his lungs, and then... for the first time, he heard his own boom-boom as the vibrations from his heart coursed out into the aquatic ebony. It was a strange feeling. He felt a foreigner to himself and an alien to the inarticulate dusk of his life. The ocean thickened and darkened. He checked his GPS to make sure he was moving in the direction of Venice. According to his calculations, he was a mere 200 meters from the edges of the island. He kicked harder.

Something blinked in front of him. Then something else shimmered and glinted. It seemed no time at all passed before an entire city appeared before his eyes, quivering in watery reverberation. He had been right. Despite the years he had spent convincing himself, Werner was in shock. Minutes passed before he realized he had stopped swimming altogether, taken in as he was with the glowing structures, the tunnels like incandescent tentacles enabling travelers to walk and travel while breathing oxygen-rich air. Werner felt youthful and vibrant, reborn with the impossible lightness hidden in black.

The people of Pluvious were a gentle, if cautious people. At first, they took Werner in as a prisoner, but after weeks of not hearing his boom-boom, they accepted him as one of their own. They explained to him that they had been able to survive for so long because they had invented a form of underwater farming which was, in fact, highly efficient and environmentally friendly. They were happy, yet lived in constant fear. They knew it was only so long before they were 'discovered' by the rest of the world and then what would become of them?

It was this moment that Werner had been waiting for his whole life. He rose like a general and addressed the Pluvions with charisma and rhetorical virtuoso. He announced his theses and spoke straight from his heart into the silent souls of the Pluvions. He beat the drum of fate with his voice. It vibrated underwater with the power of ten thousand voices. It was time, he told them. It is our time. We are the blood that is pure, the blood that beats and does not sell out its secrets to the masses. He aroused the Pluvions, firing up their courage, turning around their doubt, steeling them against the fear they had clung to for so long.

They came out of the sea like a tsunami, surging over the land with the sheer force of their own sense of righteousness. The last Pluvion stayed behind and caused the first boom that did not come from the human heart. Pluvious was detonated in an instant. Yes, bombs had existed prior to this event, but they had never been used because people had always been able to use the boom-boom a a guide towards accord, even in matters of foreign policy.

They dressed in all black and marched through city after city, their advance trumpeted by the squishy sound of their ever-wet shoes. There were tens of thousands of Pluvions, far more than Werner had ever estimated. No one had ever seen such a sight. The sheer force of their numbers and their apparent fearlessness frightened people. And they quickly obeyed their commands. Boom-boomers were told that scientific evidence proved the boom-boom was a defect, that they were a people scarred and broken, that the only hope left in this world was to cultivate a race of those who produced no such sound. Others, like the old monk, who had been living in hiding for years, came out of the woodwork and joined Werner's cause. And Werner grew in boldness and determination... and arrogance. He seemed huge when he spoke before a large crowd, and the booming nature of his voice convinced all that it alone held more power than the combined boom-boom of their hearts.

It wasn't long before a device the opposite of Werner's had been invented -- this time a tool to muffle the boom-boom. Once someone wore one, he ardently proclaimed the power of the non-boomers and blamed the boom-boomers for all that was wrong with the world: poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, any and all failures of human striving. It became a world of us versus them, the strong versus the weak, the pure race versus the faulted. It was a game of survival and everyone wanted to be a part of the winning team. At first, the remaining boom-boomers were ordered by Werner to be sterilized in order to protect the future of the world. Rapidly, things escalated and those who hadn't hidden their boom-boom were gathered up and sent away to isolated areas. They were barricaded inside and made to work. They were limited food and water and soon they all began to starve. Some Pluvions who had been persuaded of their superiority shot the boom-boomers indiscriminately, cackling with cold indifference, their laughter vibrating across the landscape empty of the warmth of the once so-common boom-boom. In time, the earth became quieter... and colder.

It was a frigid evening in late December when Werner arrived at the world's largest auscultascope, a device similar to a telescope except that the auscultascope amplified sound from hundreds of thousands of miles away. Werner had ordered a day of silence on this day, ostensibly to honor the bright future of their brave quiet world, but really so that Werner could listen without interruption. Like a king, he was led to a throne-like chair at the center of the hearkenatory and seated with much pomp and circumstance upon a red velvet cushion. The roof of the hearkenatory began to open, buzzing in the still night air as all around was utterly silent. Werner forced a plug into his left ear and turned his head so that the small tube of the auscultascope stuck cleanly into his right ear... and he listened. The world had never been so quiet. He heard no wind. He heard no voices. He heard no crying or calling or whistling or singing. He heard no flutter from birds' wings. He heard no lapping of waves upon empty shores. The night was so mute that all he could hear were the particles of light as they journeyed from ancient stars towards the earth. His heart beat firmly inside his chest as all vibrations turned to stone.

Thereafter the sound of the skies was planes, the occasional scream of a hawk circling, and the air itself escaping from this wintry world into the endless infinitude of the universe. This was the sound of the skies above a new humanity rather than the sonic boom-boom shield that had once wrapped itself around the earth, a protective atmosphere from all that threatened.

And so the boom-boom was silenced. And so Venice sinks a little more every year, no longer buoyed by its underwater foundation. And so the human heart sinks into its own quarantine of nerves, arteries, veins, and internality. And so fear was turned inwards away from the generous hand-hold of a stranger, away from the sympathy of one's fellow man. And so audiences mock poor performances. And so children tease and bully relentlessly. And so doctors no longer comfort patients and husbands and wives bicker and yell incessantly. And so fear must be carried alone and a heavy burden it is. And so people were less vulnerable, but more afraid.

There are stories. Many many stories, told only by the courageous, of the world of the boom-boomers. And other stories. Stories told by even fewer of surviving boom-booms hiding in a secret city, or perhaps still walking among us, able to detect the boom-boom of another's heart, stifling their own for fear that their fear will be evident. Sometimes though, at the height of a thunderstorm or during the clamoring finale of a fireworks display or as a storm crashes upon a rocky coast, you just might hear the boom-boom of another's heart that he has dared to bare to all.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

the missing color

PART I of Missing Pieces: Modern-day fables

Once upon a time, there was a color named luma. It had the radiance of the fiery orange in a sunset. It had the richness of slick green leaves wet with misty rain. When too much sunlight blazed down upon the earth, luma-colored objects would blush like the pale pink of an antique rose. When night rolled around and people could not distinguish between their shadows and the darkening pavement, luma items gleamed incandescently as if you were looking at cell division under a flourescent microscope.

Everyone loved the color luma. It gave to cities a gentle glow and to mountain peaks and valleys a rippled majesty. Luma-colored rattles were given to babies because they inevitably made them stop crying. Luma-colored paper was used for students during testing in school because it calmed their nerves and focused their brains. There was no way to see something luma without smiling, even just a little bit at the corner of your mouth.

Henry, of all people, perhaps loved luma the most. Henry's father had been a painter so he had grown up amidst pigments and palettes. He knew about complementary colors by the age of four and was helping his father to mix paints by age six. He understood hue, tertiary colors, and opaqueness vs. transparency. Luma, he was taught by his father, was the only color that never made any of the other colors turn muddy by overmixing.

In time, Henry began to paint himself but, though he had an inherent grasp of color theory, he found he was not the virtuoso his father was at composition and perspective, form and subject matter. Henry's paintings looked like blobs searching for an exit. They were uncomfortable to look at, despite the beauty of their appearing almost illuminated.

Henry could not leave color behind, even though he realized he was not a painter. He double majored in graphic design and interior design, all the while having a unique focus on color schemes and combinations. After college, he worked designing sets for fashion photo shoots before realizing that what he loved was the clothes themselves. He was mesmerized by color as it moved, by the shimmer of a diaphanous seafoam silk chiffon dress or the delicacy that lace brought to white when a woman sat down and carefully crossed her legs. Having made enough connections in the fashion industry, he opened his own design house under the name, Luma, it being forever and always his favorite color.

Luma quickly became a celebrity cult favorite. Movie stars announced, "I'm wearing Luma" and posed un-self-consciously at the Oscars and movie premieres. TV contestants on a clothing design game show wept tears and screamed for joy at the same time when Henry showed up as the special guest judge. When Henry was invited to create a one-time spring line for a big box retailer, a flood of shoppers overwhelmed the stores, grabbing any item they could get their hands on and causing such a furor that the website crashed and the brick-and-mortar stores had to close early in order to clean up the utter chaos of racks on the floor, spilled displays, and hangers strewn and thrown all over the place... one employee even found one stuck in the motor of a lawn mower.

Henry was a huge success. He had more money than he could ever dream of, a beautiful wife, and three lovely and not over-spoiled children. With the help of an architect friend, he had designed and built a stunning four-bedroom home on the western tip of Carmel Point in California. With a wrap-around balcony and views of the ocean from almost every room, Henry often took to staring at the sea for hours in order to unwind.

This particular night, he was sitting, legs outstretched, on a lounge chair on the back brick patio. He had a sketch book on his lap, but it was turned face down. Instead, he peered out across the short expanse of oatgrass and braken ferns to the white sandy beach upon which waves crept cautiously closer and then slipped indifferently away.

Henry was distressed, unhappy in the manner of all things blue. While he could produce elegant clothing of which he was entirely proud, he had not been able to find a way to dye any wearable fiber with the color luma. In fact, nobody had. It had been deemed an utterly impossible feat. Plastics, wood, inks, even canvas... yes, there were items of all these materials that shone luma. But silk, cotton, nylon, spandex, rayon, fur, jute, hemp, soy... no, it just could not be done. Henry knew this better than anyone else. He had spent many too many hours in his detached office experimenting with every trick in the book. He had even tried magic. Nothing worked.

It was okay, really. People did not expect to be able to wear luma. But Henry felt like a failure. Every time he walked down the runway at one of his shows and took a slight bow, he would turn around to face the name of his very company, LUMA, mocking him as he hurried to escape back behind the curtain, glowing and glaring at him through the perversity of its white LED radiance.

So he sat out here alone tonight, having told his wife his stomach was bothering him in order to skip dinner. He couldn't face her now, nor the kids. He couldn't face anyone. A few miles away, his father lay in a hospital bed, days -- perhaps hours -- away from the end. His cancer was everywhere now. It had even infiltrated his throat so that all he could do when Henry came to visit each morning was smile bravely. Henry would not go to the hospital tomorrow. He could not bear to see the wetness in the old man's eyes or let his father see the sadness in his own visage. His own father, whose Luma Series of abstract paintings was now on view in a special exhibit at the MoMA... no, he would not go back until he had a solution. And with the brevity of his father's remaining days something he could see in his opened palm, he knew he had to work fast.

Henry jumped up. He rocketed so quickly out of his chair and down the stairs of the back patio that he created a wind tunnel that knocked over his chaise lounge and a nearby table. But he did not stop, or even turn, when his wife, Nina, opened the sliding doors and called his name, echoing out over the quieting twilight ocean.

He spent the entire night in his office/workshop. He retried old experiments, tested new combinations of tinctures and chemicals, and googled everything he could on luma and its color properties. The hours ticked by and soon the ocean was beginning to glow again under the first beams of morning light. Never had he felt so much pressure from the gentle opening of daybreak.

At this point, Henry was exhausted. He sat for the first time all night in his luma rocker and tried to ease his own pain with the simplicity of repetitive back and forth motion. He closed his eyes for a few seconds. It may have been a minute. Somehow, it felt like hours, though, and when Henry reopened his eyes, he saw the peak of the sun's burning globe beyond the horizon. He saw the pathways of individual rays streaming forth directly towards him in his workshop. He felt the slight warmth of early reborn light as it began to hit the glass front of his little two-room abode.

And then Henry straightened. It was as if one of the rays had shot straight through him, entering his left big toe and sparking everything in his body until it exited the top of his head, leaving only a slight electric tingling in his thinning hair. Dyeing fabric with light! He had heard of it in whispers at a Dolce & Gabbana show. He had read of attempts on the internet. He even had a centuries old book of wool dyeing secrets from the Kamia Indians, originally written by a Spanish conquistador and translated by an American anthropologist. He climbed the ladder to the top of his bookshelf and pulled the book out from its location high above the chair in which he had just rested. He descended the ladder and dusted off the book. He had not consulted it since he was a child and he had gone through a period of obsession with native American blanket making.

Inside, he found reference to just what he was looking for on page 216. With the use of the correct light range, aimed through the right lenses, and filtered through crushed oyster shells, a person could dye any fabric luma, or atahbacha as the natives used to call the color.

Henry locked the door of his workshop behind him, walked to his car, and drove away from his house without saying anything to his wife or children. Nina worried some about not having seen Henry since the previous evening, but it was not an uncommon event. She pushed the worry towards the back of her heart and began making breakfast for the kids.

Henry returned later that morning and went directly to his workshop. It was a calm, temperate coastal California day, wonderful for walking the dogs on the beach or taking the kids for a drive up to their favorite seafood place a few miles up the coast. But not today. Henry had everything he needed now and he went to work single-mindedly with a force of will that bordered on the dangerously obsessive.

All day Nina busied herself with other chores. She took the kids to their Saturday soccer games in the morning. She reorganized the family photo albums in the early afternoon. She got through some email correspondence that was long overdue. Every now and then she would peek out across the hundred feet or so that separated the main house from Henry's workshop. There was nothing to see really, though she could have sworn that a couple times she saw sparks that danced in circles like fireflies escape from beneath the thick redwood door and then fizzle in the salty air.

At 11:30 that night, Nina awoke to Henry's soft shaking of her shoulders. "Nina," he whispered. "Nina, my Nina." She turned on the bedside lamp to see Henry smiling with a brightness that almost blinded her. He stepped back away from the bed as she sat up. He was holding something behind his back. Nina began to open her mouth, but Henry put his index finger from his free hand to his lips to quiet her. And then, slowly, he brought his other arm around to where she could see.

In his hand he held a metal hanger. On the hanger was a gown whose design she recognized as being one that had been lauded by a prominent fashion critic as 'expressing the essence of a modern humankind that dreams nostalgically of the tender intimacy of the once-and-possible shared community of men.' She recognized the dress, yes, but not the color. She thought perhaps it was a trick of the strange shifting light in the room that was deceiving her eyes. It looked at if it was luma, but of course that was not possible. Was it?

"Henry..." she began. He shushed her again and sat beside her on the bed before kissing the top of her forehead just where a couple strands of blond hair had fallen out of her loose bun. He brushed these aside. "I did it," he said and kissed her again, this time on the cheek, and then took her in his arms and held her as if they were parting before a long long trip.

Henry slept like a baby that night. Nina too. And the next morning Henry zipped the dress up in a garment bag and rushed off to the hospital to see his father. Everything happened so quickly after that. It seemed like years sped up into weeks and time compressed rather than expanded. Henry made a new fall line in only three days and was able to debut it at Paris Fashion Week. If his line for the big box store had been a massive success, the sensation over this haute couture line burst with a sonic boom a thousand times louder. They could not keep luma clothing in stock. Everyone who was anyone HAD to have it. Soon, he was making less expensive lines for the masses and the trickle-down began. It didn't take long before luma was everywhere... in every department store, in every window display, on all of the top models and celebrities, on baby bibs and men's silk ties and gleaming bright as the numbers on school soccer team jerseys. And Henry had never been happier.

On his father's birthday, Henry arrived at the hospital with a special cashmere sweater, luma of course, on which he had embroidered his father's initials ever so subtly on the left breast. It was clear that his father's days were limited. The doctor was not even sure he would make it until evening. Henry opened the gift for his father as he had grown too weak and helped him work the sweater over his head and over the IVs and air machines and tubes that entered and exited from every orifice on his weak, bony body. Dressed in the warmth of the luma cashmere, Henry's father looked like a child wearing his father's clothing. The sweater hung over his shrunken limbs and his small head barely found its way out of the huge, ill-fitted costume. But he smiled a smile that warmed Henry's heart. And Henry felt at peace... for a moment.

It was only a moment before Henry furrowed his brow. Was he seeing things? At first he just felt a strange sense of unease and he couldn't figure out why. Then, as seconds passed, he realized that it was not his own unease, but the unease of his father. But how did he know that? His father appeared quite calm and pleased. But the more Henry looked at him, the more the unease became a presence worn on his father's chest. It was as if he could see his father's concern... the concern with the luma sweater... the concern with luma clothing more broadly... a concern he must have had for ages but never needed to express as no one had thought Henry able to turn clothes the color luma. And somewhere deeper, a concern that Henry might lose sight of what was most important to him.

As Henry drove home that night, he shook his head and told himself he must just be overtired. What he thought he saw was not possible. He had been overworking himself and what he needed was some proper rest. He slept for most of the weekend and, late on Sunday, learned of the news of his father's passing. It had happened so quickly that no one had been present to hold his hand... but he had still been wearing the luma sweater.

Henry and his family attended the funeral a week later. They all wore luma, as it was the color of heartfelt empathy and compassion, much more appropriate for funerals than the coldness of black. Henry stood near the grave with Nina by his side after a lovely service commemorating his father where huge crowds of admirers and devotees cascaded down the streets from the church for blocks. As the minister spoke the final words of a prayer, Henry turned his head away from the gaping opening in the ground. Looking had become too much and he needed to see the wind blowing gently through the cypress trees nearby. As he faced his head to the right, he caught the eye of his old girlfriend, Isabelle. He had never really stopped loving her and they had never been on bad terms. Theirs had been a case of constant bad timing. The glance between them caught fire and turned into a long stare. Isabelle smiled with her eyes, those warm pools of ultramarine in which he always became lost. He felt an ache at their unfinished relationship, even though he was happily married and quite in love with Nina. It was just a moment, though, one of those moments that people have and then place back in the past as we all can. One of those moments of the impossible that we know is better off gleaming in non-existence.

He turned back towards the grave... and felt Nina's eyes upon him. Or rather, felt her eyes upon his chest. It was peculiar really, to have her looking down at his cleanly pressed luma shirt and not sympathetically into his eyes. He felt the most distant he had ever felt from his dear love, Nina... until she raised her eyes to look into his. And the distance lengthened. What he saw in her face was knowledge, an impossible comprehension of what he had just felt for Isabelle, an exact vision of all the past moments that he had seen in those mere seconds in which he had caught Isabelle's momentary glimpse. And he could see Nina's heart breaking.

He tried to speak wordlessly with his eyes, but his eyes could not compete with his heart. He looked back down at the grave and recalled the moment with his father in the hospital that last time he had seen him alive... and what he had thought he had seen inside his own father's heart. And then it struck him. Luma. He began to panic inside his composed exterior as he looked around at his fellow mourners. Each person wore luma. And each time he tried to peer inside of one of their hearts to know their true feelings, he found he was successful. He could see exactly what each person was feeling. One was worried about an upcoming job interview. Another was pondering his own mortality. Yet another mourned the pure art of Henry's father but felt Henry himself had sold out.

What was this? It was luma. It was a color that held too much power. There were reasons that no one had been able to dye clothing in its color... reasons beyond the difficulty of the process. The ancients must have known of its potency. When they used it in their blankets, it was only as a border caressing the edge of the material. And when they tucked their babies in at night, they wrapped these edges safely beneath the sweet-smelling newborn skin, keeping the revealing well hidden.

Henry fainted. It was more than he could take. And it was more than anyone could take. It was not long before all luma clothing was pulled off the shelves. Dumps were full of luma skirts and blouses and jackets and belts. Even luma bracelets and necklaces, some costing into the thousands of dollars, were tossed like yesterday's newspaper for fear that they too might illuminate the inside of one's soul. And then the fear spread to all things luma. No one wanted to be so exposed, so naked, so transparent. No one wanted the burden of knowing so much about all the others. Luma chairs and bureaus pressed down on top of the clothing in landfills. Luma cars were quickly repainted. Luma wallpaper was torn down and replaced with honey-colored paint or paper with the impenetrability of damask. Luma lampshades were crumpled and stomped upon and luma streamers no longer brightened birthday parties or welcome home celebrations. The world was colder, more sterile, not nearly as bright. There was less smiling when people passed each other on city sidewalks and handshakes became detached and brief.

So is the tale of the death of luma, the most beautiful color ever to grace the earth. A color of love, a color of empathy, the color of the soul really. No trace of it exists in the man-made world and people have begun to forget its name altogether. Perhaps your grandparents may remember. But perhaps not.

But man cannot undo everything. He cannot erase what he wants from the world even with all the might of his mighty will. He cannot take luma out of nature altogether. And so it remains... in glimpses, slants, and impressions. In certain lights, at certain times of day, the world shines under luma skies. And perhaps you are one of the people that can still see luma in the afterglow, or in the misty air, or under the shifting shadows of a maple tree. Perhaps you are one of the people who looks into another's eyes and can feel their soul. Perhaps you have the gift of empathy and so also possess the magic of seeing those momentary flashes of luma across a blackened night sky or in the single tear that wells up and falls from the face of your lover. If so, then you are one of the lucky ones. If so, then there is still a little bit of magic in the world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

only the lonely

Loneliness is one of the more common themes in literature. Perhaps this has to do with the communion of author and readers, reader and characters, or readers and readers. Reading about a lonely character is like listening to songs about heartbreak right after yours has been broken... there is a fellowship of pain and it can be consoling to realize you are not the only one to feel like you are feeling, especially when that feeling involves intense isolation.

Of Mice and Men is a classic tale of loneliness. The men are forced, by the nature of their position in the society in which they live, to live lives that exacerbate loneliness. In their world, they are migrants, never having an established home, never holding a permanent job, always on the move, always having to rely on only one thing -- themselves. In fact, though they all long for the intimacy of a spouse or the listening ear of a constant companion, it is a risk to trust another. During times of societal recession, fear increases. When everyone is afraid of everyone else, being different becomes a handicap and trust becomes a weakness. At times in the novella, the loneliness becomes palpable enough to act as another character. When Candy's dog (his only companion) is taken out to be shot because the other ranchers view it as old and useless, the men lie on their bunks and the silence that is full of pain and loneliness arrives to keep them company.
It was silent outside. Carlson's footsteps trailed off. The silence came into the room. And the silence lasted.

George chuckled, "I bet Lennie's right out there in the barn with his pup. He won't want to come in here no more now he's got a pup."

Slim said, "Candy, you can have any one of them pups you want."

Candy did not answer. The silence fell on the room again. It came out of the night and invaded the room.
I've always felt this depiction to be quite true to life. There is silence that opens and seems full of promise. And there is silence that 'invades' and sits there with complete existential indifference.

Why are some people lonelier than others? In his review of the literature of college students, James Ponzetti reports that lonely students attribute their loneliness to character deficits. Whether or not this is true, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy as they then continue to spend more time alone and become perceived by others as less likeable overall. But why did they become lonely in the first place? Was it stress, fear, insecurity?

Loneliness, so familiar to us all, remains rather hard to explain. There have been many times in my life when I've been quite alone, but not lonely at all. And then others when loneliness has inexplicably entered my body like a sickness. I think, in part, my own loneliness stems from times when I am not sure where my life is going. Instability makes me feel lonely and isolated.

Does modern society provoke increased loneliness? In an article about the loneliness of widows, Helena Lopata writes about how there has been a fracturing of family in modern society. Extended family now means only a handful of people, and each nuclear family is expected to grow and exist as an independent unit. I was taking a walk around my parents' neighborhood the other evening. It was a warm early fall night and many kids were out on their lawns playing baseball or soccer or tag. I smelled several cookouts and walked by parents with strollers or young couples walking the dog. It was quite a nice picture, but something seemed off. I couldn't figure out what it was until I was home later and began thinking about my own childhood. Growing up, there lived two sets of older couples across the street from us -- the Williams and the Parks. Next door, there was a couple who weren't quite as old, but their kids were mostly grown up and moved out so they seemed to me to be in a different stage of life too. The Williams and the Parks were quite involved in the neighborhood. We knew them, could go ask for an extra egg for baking, and often played in their lawns and on their driveways. They lived in these houses most of their lives, until the very end, I think, when they couldn't take care of themselves anymore.

And this is what struck me. Where are the old people? There are not any older couples living in my parents' neighborhood anymore, except perhaps them. But they do not bring cookies to the kids down the street or really know any of them. Whereas retirement homes used to be places to go to die, they are now places of community and events, often tied in to universities such as Kendal at Hanover which gives residents access to Dartmouth College resources. This is all well and good, but it makes neighborhoods more sterile, less interesting places to live... and lonelier in some ways. I can attest to a feeling of comfort at knowing that the Williams and the Parks lived across the street when I was a child. I don't know why I felt this way. Perhaps it had to do with the sense that there existed a broad and long-lived community -- from birth to death. I also had this feeling that they knew things that my parents didn't and could answer different questions for me.

People sometimes say we are alone at birth and we die alone. Isn't this completely incorrect, though? Tell me, who is alone at birth? Even if the father is not present at delivery, the mother will most certainly be. That is far from being alone. The first thing that babies experience is being placed in their mother's waiting arms. Technically, they were more alone in the womb. Dying alone... well that seems fairly common. And even if one has friends and family present, he is entering a place of complete loneliness or utter nothingness... well, I guess that depends on what you believe. The unknown certainly seems lonelier than the familiar, though.

I find it to be a sad truth that many people are lonely in the midst of what seem to be intimate relationships. Couples who have either grown apart or stopped trying. Younger couples who feel isolated when conflict arises and they markedly and uncompromisingly disagree. This is the most painful loneliness of all. This is supposed to be the person who knows you the best, or at least tries to understand you more than others. The person who feels empathy for you. The person who shares with you and with whom you share in return. The person who expresses interest in your interests, even when they are quite foreign to him. But he makes an effort, because he loves you.

Loneliness is not about being alone. It is about feeling misunderstood. It is about feeling confused. It is about feeling unwanted. It is to feel that not even your shadow makes an observable mark in the world. It is the quiet that invades rather than reassures. And it is about feeling these things amidst a world in which there is no place to turn for help or support. And then there is regret...
Again a Solstice
by Jennifer Chang

It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then

I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:

I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.

That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,

is faith in self. My instinct, a poor polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!

We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children

testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.

It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.

I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion

I'll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.

What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I'm correcting my mistakes.

It means I don't want to be lonely.