Monday, October 27, 2014

breaking down change, four: Chaos

Even though I have learned that life is better when focusing on one thing at a time, it is appropriate that now at five o’clock this morning I am writing while watching Game 5 of the World Series. Bumgarner is throwing strikes; I am looking up “channel” in the dictionary. The camera lingers on James Shields—I can’t help but wonder if when he was a baby his mother didn’t pick him up by his ears.

When one moves of course things can be unsettled for a bit.

But chaos is a different matter.


Using the word “chaos” may be a bit of hyperbole, but to say my time so far here in California has been a bit chaotic is not.

All is relative. Trying to break down the change, the differences, the chaos by elements and events was a good idea; then elements and events took over. In their midst it was nearly impossible to see anything clearly. Things just swirled.

This is the first World Series I have watched in a number of years. I watch each game the morning after, skip the commercials and maybe an inning or two here and there. I may be rooting for Kansas City, but I have no allegiance to the team. If KC does not win, San Francisco will, and that will be fine. It is each game that interests me.

Hunter Pence is at bat. He is a bit scary. The bat flies out of his hands, sails across the infield. In an instant it flies, lands, rolls, stops. Pence has struck out. The next batter comes to the plate.

Kansas City came to the Series with a blinding streak of wins. They had what is called momentum.


What I am finding this morning is that I cannot do these two things at once. Cannot do either well. In California there is something that feels near a demand that you pay attention to me, to it, to whatever it is, and respond and respond appropriately now and this minute and there are always a number of these demanding things, these things demanding your attention, your attention all at once, and there are a lot of people talking and, seriously, so little being said. To cut through it all, to pay attention to that which is important, to discern what is important, to focus on that one thing that might most need or benefit from your attention … well, that is the challenge.

It is not like a bat flying through the air and coming to rest peacefully on the infield and the game carrying on without a hitch.

It is more like a wave on the ocean catching you up in it, grabbing you, pulling you under. I started thinking that yesterday morning—or maybe it was Saturday. The thing about the wave. When you are caught by a wave, when you are being tumbled head over heels by tons of crashing water, you don’t fight it. You can’t fight it. But you must get out of it. If you don’t get out of it you drown. You know this, you feel this, and it is damn scary.

A couple of nights ago the ocean’s waves were crashing so loudly I could not sleep. This was the same night I was being pummeled by a wave that had, I guess, finally broken, crashed down on me, was just tossing me about like I was just so much seaweed or, better yet, a limp dead fish. I had been searching for a way clear of this huge wave—it had been building and coming right at me for weeks—but now it was tumbling me about and I was still searching for a way clear and the real ocean was crashing and it was all so loud. So I wrote.
I sit here alone tonight after a long day and think there has to be something, someone, with more meaning. More meaning than the noise of “be happy” and “be joyous.” And I know there is. I know there is. One of the raps against southern California is that the people here are shallow, and the fact is some of the people are. Some of the people are. I have landed in such a noisy place. Such a noisy place. And I am having trouble finding quiet. The only place I might find quiet tonight is right here, in the act of writing. Please, do not mistake what I am doing. This is not “journaling.” “Journaling” is noise. Writing is quiet. But I will write nonsense because I am tired. It feels as tired as I have ever been. My mother might say “This too shall pass” as I said to her one day, a day or two ago, but then she answered with something like “I don’t know … ” What is it about southern California that just makes me want to run screaming … ? Head for the hills. Run quiet. It is the kind of place that makes me think I could live quite happily all alone out there in the woods somewhere … maybe far away somewhere. What I really want to know is: What makes me think I can live here? Because something did make me think I could live here. Now I’m just not so sure. Yes, here I am, but have you ever felt like you were being squeezed out? Drowned out? And all you really want is to be able to hear yourself think without someone telling you to be … Pile on the noise. Just pile on the noise. I can’t discern any meaning.
The next day I gave up.

Late in the afternoon the wind picked up and I realized the noise the night before had been the wind rustling the stiff dry leaves of the palm trees. It is not the soft rustling of autumns past. It is the harsh rustling of palms.

So you stop fighting, you let the wave pass, you come up for air. I liked the analogy.


Yesterday I visited my mom in her new room at the place where she has lived in one level of care or another for nearly eight years. She started out quite independently with her own apartment. Now she is, for the time being, in the wing with the most intensive care. She spent most of the week in the hospital, had a rod placed in her hip to hold the broken pieces together, could not move without pain, pain which, when it was at its worst, was so apparent in her face, the way her face crumpled. But yesterday there was no crumpling. There was a smile or too. There was something akin to idle conversation. There was an admonition to get Josie off the bed because maybe we didn’t want to get started on that. And when an aide needed to re-position her and warned there might be pain my mom simply said, “Oh. Well. This too shall pass.” And unlike the hospital, where there was near constant noise and where people seemed to come and go on no apparent schedule and there would be little or no familiarity and sometimes people even came in the room with erroneous information and things got tense … well. Yesterday was different. Yesterday was better. Yesterday was quieter.

Being here on the southern coast of California, I wanted there to be a perfect analogy between getting caught up in chaos and being tumbled about by a wave, and I wanted it to be true this idea that to get out of either one should not fight but go with it, let it pass. So on the way home I stopped at Rincon, a curve of shore and ocean well-known for surfing that is about halfway between where I am living now and where my mom is living now. To get to Rincon you pull off the highway, park, walk down a path of dirt and sand, a long slope that hugs the highway, the ever-present freeway, and then suddenly leaves it behind. You turn and step down and enter this world of what seems like Gidget and Moondoggie but it’s real life and there’s ocean and sun and sky and kids and old folks and families and couples and singles and surfers and surfers and surfers and dogs and music and gulls and pelicans and funky shacks and rocks and sand and water. Sea water and waves. We walk along, Josie and I. Surfers wear wet suits—are clad mostly in what looks like black rubber—and carry big boards. I stop one and ask what it is like to get wiped out by a wave, and then how do you get out of it? I anticipated an answer that would give me exactly what I needed, but what I got was surfer lingo. Say what? We worked on understanding one another. He kept talking about getting to “the channel,” saying that after the wave tumbles you (yeah, you have to go with it) and then something about letting the second wave pass (there is always a second wave), then you have to “get to the channel.” My mind was grasping for what the heck he meant. I thought of the Channel Islands which you can see most days right out there in the ocean and for some reason I can’t fathom I thought of this pier out there in the distance. Neither made sense. Finally, I asked: What do you mean by “channel”? It is the part of the wave, he says, that is not breaking.


And now in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series San Francisco is leading KC 5-0. I have hoped that the Series would go its full seven games. So I would have all these games to watch. No matter what else is happening.

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