Excerpt from my Letter to Clio, 27 December 2005


And yet, in my own way, I can with some pride closely identify with the ancients when they say, 'et in Arcadia ego.' I often feel as though I wander in a kind of wilderness, quietly delighting in the deliciousness of bewilderment, a willing exile, as it were. The treasury of the imagination thrives on the small things, the simple crumbs of inspiration become feasts on a barren table, and it is through this vein that I've come to love the soft, endless hills that illuminate the interstate.

In this context, restlessness has become something of a blessing.

Beyond this, the rest of my life can simply be taken to be a matter of detail. Names and places, dates and ambitions become like so many objects, so many curious little things to be gingerly inspected with insatiable fingers, and maybe all of these little things might stand up to scrutiny, and maybe not. They are important to me, yes, and they exercise a great deal of influence upon my course, but yet on a deeper level I am quite gratified to survey my surroundings with a serene interest, like how I would imagine the gas giant Jupiter surveys its many little moons. Isn't that cute...


I've never known how to manage graciousness.

In recent days, a lot of people in my life have been extraordinarily generous with me. Generous with their time, their forgiveness, their love. Thoughtful things like care packages stuffed with clif bars and emergen-c, or the lending of a Christmas tree stand, or the gift of a massive thing of caramel corn, or indulgent forgiveness.

As many diligent polyform readers will well know by now, I've been somnolent and sloppy lately, seldom updating, and that's the least of my faults. Too often I've been bogged down by details, paralyzed by guilt and self-righteousness (surprising how the two are so closely linked), plain exhausted. In many ways, nothing short of large-heartedness can possibly tolerate this monster during this season.

(My nose has been bleeding a lot again. It runs in the family; this time of year, a number of male Susi's are expected to be bleeding every time we sneeze. There was a time when I was diagnosed as borderline anaemic, but that was back when I was donating blood regularly. Now, I think it's simply my body clamoring for a spot of quiet. Spots and spots of it, as a matter of fact.)

So I little know how to say Thank You. It's a problem.

I'm pitiably awful at graciousness. I tend to shift and squirm uncomfortably under the attention of gift-giving. I wring my hands and stare at objects. I change the subject with less than deft poise.

But I am Deeply Grateful.

* * * *

I was driving home the other day, lost in thought. Snow and ice had suddenly pounced on Portland on Sunday, but by Tuesday the ice was gone, leaving torrents of slush and gravel in its glacial wake. Stopped behind a pizza delivery car, I glimpsed a pedestrian making to dash across the street. To my left, cars were accelerating from a stop light behind me, but she was looking in the wrong direction, thinking to make it across before the oncoming traffic could cut her off. It's an awful place to be, where one can see the imminence of disaster and be utterly bereft of the means to avert it.

I saw her shoes go flying, and her hair thrown by the impact. I heard, (though I could not have heard,) the collective gasp of everyone around me, the sharp intake of breath that signifies collective incredulity. I think I might even have said something, as though the potency of an event could be mitigated by the earnestness in my voice.

I flew out of my van and into the street, stabilizing her head as I was trained to do. I asked others in the growing crowd to direct traffic around us. She had not lost consciousness, which is a very good sign. I would guess that the car that struck her was traveling at less than 25 mph, which is also a very good sign. No immediate fractures were visible, no blood or other evidence of physical trauma. We could see that she was lucid and aware of what had happened. The driver of the car was at her side, as well, and she, too, was quite shaken.

That day there were three off-duty EMT's at this crash site, myself being one of them, and the driver of the car was herself a Firefighter-Paramedic. The victim was taken to the hospital, but as far as we could tell, she'd gotten off very lightly, with only a few nasty bruises. Moments after the ambulance pulled away, life on my street returned to normal.

* * * *

It's so strange how everything can change so quickly, so profoundly. The kaleidoscope turns, and lives and buildings are dust carried off in the wind, lost in the thrum of traffic, halted by stoplights and chance.

* * * *

Our last school show this year was in Salem, the state capitol. Our show was brought into a large, relatively new school with a substantial Latino population, courtesy of a wonderful organization known as the Salem Assistance League, who sponsored us.

These were the most excited, the most enthusiastic kids we'd ever seen. They were loud, they were antsy, they squealed and giggled and talked to our puppets, they jumped and hollered and wouldn't stop carrying on. It was wonderful. Half of them wore DARE shirts, which made it difficult to distinguish between kids who were trying to ask us questions.

At the end of the show, we took our time taking things apart. It is the custom of the Red Mare cast to take stock after each show, noting what needs to be repaired or restored, going over details or developments in the performance, preparing for the next show. In this case, our next performance will not be until the New Year, and so we felt we could afford to relax a bit. A gentle and proper way to end this first half of our tour.

One of the teachers caught my sleeve on the way back from the bathroom;

Teacher: "Great show, the kids are talking nonstop about this, we really hope you can come back next year, would you like a Christmas tree?"

Me: :blink: "What?"

T: "It was a great show. Would you like a tree?"

Me: "Um."

T: "We really need to give away our last Christmas tree. A local non-profit gave us a bunch of trees to give to our kids, and we got one left that no one can take. Can you help?"

We drove back from Salem with a ten-foot spruce stuffed into the puppet van.

* * * *

So I have my own Christmas Tree, for the very first time since I was 12. I borrowed a Christmas Tree stand from my girlfriend's grandmother. I strung some lights. Sadly, I can't even find the one tree ornament I know I have somewhere, but that's alright. I've got my own tree now. Surely this is the point in the computer game where I gain crucial immunities and proceed to the next level of play.


This NY Times Article tells of the discovery of an ancient Maya mural, much older than they expected to find. "[I]t's like knowing only modern art and then stumbling on a Michelangelo," one of the experts says.

My purely Secular Humanist side takes great faith, ironically enough, from discoveries such as these. There have been recent breakthroughs with technology that can actually read burnt papyrus from ancient Egyptian trashheaps, or the quasi-petrified remains of Roman libraries in and around Herculaneum. In the October 20th edition of the NY Review of Books, Anne Carson published a new translation of a Sappho fragment, whose nearly complete text had been recovered, in all seriousness, from the scrap paper used to wrap a mummy.

To me, it is heartening because of how quietly reassuring the great company of humanity can be. Nothing can be truly immortal, but echoes and ripples endure even when all of their original energy was long since spent. My actions and my accomplishments today reflect the impact of Diomedes and Seneca, just as the tiniest drop of residual cream will influence the strongest coffee poured in a cup.

To me all of these old voices are painstakingly making their tortuous ways to us to say, "Yes, I've been where you are now, and yes, it's hard. This is how we managed. Hold on. It gets better."



Cold fog and rimes of ice frame my city, mist whispers out of chapped lips, mountains in the distance resolve into cloud like dreams fading in the memory.