The harbor has frozen solid in the bleak, squat days of January. Geese trot along in formation where water rippled just last week. The thin sheets of ice have formed fissures, cracks that divide the harbor into tectonic plates of distinct islands with amoebic coastlines. I think of the Leonard Cohen song: there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.
I think of Leonard Cohen, the last time I saw him perform, late in his life. His smooth rapport with his audience and with his bandmates. Understated, pithy, casually eloquent. I learned later that Cohen carefully scripted every single word that he said during his stage performances, and he repeated that same script at every show for an entire tour. Every word of that seemingly casual banter had been laid out, edited, rehearsed, repeated. I felt cheated at first, when I learned this. Betrayed by the knowledge that he said the exact same things to us, this audience that he seemed so genuinely enchanted by. His vintage sports coat and natty fedora beautifully mirroring the magnificently restored theatre that he was performing in, he had said these identical things to countless others. And then it hit me. He wasn’t a dick; he was a writer. A lifelong believer in the power of words. While studying Zen teachings, he took a vow of silence to see what could be learned from a lack of words. His entire life was centered on words – their presence or their absence — arranging them to reflect our dreams and our agonies.
The harbor is what I see out my window now. Beyond the harbor lies the vast lake, stretching to, well, stretching to forever. To the horizon and to the idea of the horizon. I am well above the treetops, well above my old view where I looked out my windows to the street, to the earth. It grounded me, being at the same level as lives lived, just outside my old window, people rooted to the earth in their comings and goings.
The ground vs. the sky. The near at hand vs. the boundless. I think about how my view – the world in front of my eyes each time I glance up – affects the things that go on inside of me. How am I changed by being high up, far away, by having a vastness before my eyes?
My dog is old now. It was a hard thing to ask of her, the magnitude of a major move at this point in her life. Plagued by joint problems from an early age, the dog’s elbows have eroded in some places and sprouted the unwanted growth of severe arthritis in other places. Her walk has slowed. Her limp is often pronounced.
Her spirit remains undaunted. Each day, I ask her if she wants to see “the ducks,” our catch-all term for the sundry waterfowl that populate the lakefront. I am asking if she is feeling well enough to make the two-block journey to the lake. When we cross the street and reach the ramp that leads down to the underpass, the old girl breaks into a trot. She has figured out that, on the downward incline of the ramp, gravity will do enough of the work that she can feel as if she is running. It thrills her; the lift in her entire being shines out. She is able to run, just as she did for so many years in her youth.
Perspective is everything. On a downward slope, you can feel as if you are flying. From a birds eye view, the scope makes it possible to see a larger slice of one’s own world.
I had always thought of it as the worst year of my life. The year that I was robbed three times. The year that I had a stalker, before we had the word or the concept of such a thing. The year I flirted with the temptation of drowning my sorrows in alcohol as a possible future plan. The year I finally acknowledged that my father did not abandon my mother and me, not in the way she had always said, anyway. The year I acknowledged that my father had committed suicide. The year I finally told my mother that I knew, that I had always known.
And then, a million years later, someone comes to a book reading and tells me that I changed the course of his life that year. That same year. That worst-year-of-my-life year.
Perspective is everything. Perhaps it’s worth going back there, to revisit the story. You’re thinking: but wait, you’ve already given it away. You’ve told us everything that happened that year. Ah, but stories are never about the events. Never.
My fourth novel, A Rocky Orchard, will release on June 2 (Amika Press)! Watch for lots more news as launch events unfold. In the meantime, I am grappling with book #5. The sample above is a recent excerpt.