In the early days…and by that I mean the days when one could dream of being an artist and not laugh ridiculously at oneself for muttering that after a fifth beer or a fifth of something else. The early days when one could still have distain for those in suits and collars and health insurance. Those early days when we were all the grasshoppers hanging out watching the ants work and thinking fuck man, what’s wrong with the ants? Why are they preparing for doomsday? Why can’t they sniff what ever they are carrying on their heads and savor it a bit first? Why can’t they listen to the music, really listen to the music? Why can’t the day’s work be a drawing, or a paragraph, or a thought?
I never know which side of this I’m on.
I got the master’s degree and the jobs and the debt and the kids and the marriage and some of the things you are supposed to get. I have health insurance. But I’m not really an ant. I’ve too much debt to be the ant. I have too much resentment on a Friday morning where the sun is creeping in my windows and there’s still enough fire in hearth and one of my favorite records is playing too loudly in the living room like a soundtrack for this melancholy thing called harvest season, called letting it die to let it live. I’m a poser ant. Ants are at work right now. They are antennae to the grindstone. I wrote a poem in the carport , letting my car idle a bit longer than necessary after I dropped the kids off at school and before the plumber showed up. I cried while I wrote it. I let my coffee get cold and I stood there outside the car leaned against the icy hood staring out at the forest. This is not the work of industrious ants or worker bees.
It’s the Day of the Dead. Grasshoppers and crickets are gone by now, taking their good luck with them. I put on dark eyeliner and eyeshadow this morning and I’m almost positive it was just so it could streak my face. So I could be my own maudlin entertainment— a contrast to this forest of orange and yellow and crackling and dry.
I know what I really want to say. I AM MISSING YOU. I AM MISSING ALL OF YOU. All of my dead were artists. All of them looked at the world askew. Is that what aging really is? That year when you realize the numbers are too even? That there’s just as many dead as alive? I think of my friends and they are there walking the spirit world, or they are half gone.
I woke up this morning thinking of Howard C. Equitz. He was a writer and a patron and the first stranger to say anything about my words that sounded like encouragement. Then I thought of Margaret Phelps, also a writer, cut down by cancer at the age of 40. I thought of both my grandfather who gave me a love of bluegrass, Nortenos, Patsy Cline, and Eydie Gorme. Of Mariachis and Hank Williams. They taught me that problems can never be solved, but for the moment the music is playing, you can escape them. I thought of both of them always asking me to sing. Sing with them, for them.
I thought of the ones that died before I was me. Who didn’t get to see me turn into me. The ones who saw hints of it all when I was 8 ,9, 10, almost there. Would you be happy with me? Would you be shaking your head?
I thought of Chad Elliot whose suicide remains roughly underneath my surface for years now. Ten years now. Rejection notices taped to his walls. Trash not taken out for days. A reminder, if ever there was one of the delicate balance between not listening to the voices and listening to the voices. I wonder always—was he about to make it? Was there anyone about to say anything good about his work? I still have his common place book in my office. I’m still afraid to open it.
And then more recently, there’s Farrell. I cannot even begin to say what it means for him to be gone and the guilt of not being a perfect human being in response to him. I can barely look at his paintings. I can’t look at his photograph and his words remain in their journals, my hand afraid to touch them lest I disturb their alchemy and his scent.
But it’s the days of the dead, my dead, yours. They are closer to us today and tomorrow. They are just beyond our reach. The invisible guides. I am sitting on the back deck and the sun is bearing hot on my face even while the temperature is dropping.— a living in both worlds, hot and cold, light and dark. Mine have known me, both saintly and wretched. Both ant and grasshopper. I am hoping they loved me at both. They were both as well, though leaning feverishly towards grasshopper. I wish them well. I offer up our favorite things–the things that make us stop our industry and take notice for a moment. Of the beauty, of the music, of the painting, of the word. Peace to us. Peace to all.