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Just Dive In, They Say

Not me!

                                 [3-minute read]

I don’t want to just dive into the water, and I don’t care if I’m a rotten egg. I don’t dive into much, actually.

Which is strange, because I love beginnings, the freshness of unstained hope not yet wracked by reality.¹ I think it reminds me of a future that I deny. Go jump in the lake can mean, in the wrong mind, I hope you die soon. Some of my resistance to jumping into water I can’t see the bottom of, I begin to glumly theorize, arises from my diffidence about death. It doesn’t feel like dread, not quite, but I do sense my unpreparedness. Strange waters or familiar, they feel like a presentiment of extinction. This explains a lot of things.

¹ Except for writing. The terror of the start is not quite matched by the eventual, fitful flow of production and the relieved delight of having written. So swimming is like writing, too, except that I don’t imagine ever being competent in water.

Some of this nervous distaste is less abstract. It comes from my blasted confidence in water, stoked by a childhood failure at lessons in my small town’s cracked outdoor pool. Simple stuff, but I couldn’t do it. Ever since, a lake or pool or pond is above all a glorious thing to get out of, to put sand or clay or concrete underfoot again, to gaze from solid ground on the seductive beauty of water in motion, water still, water frozen and forever. I stare at it, fascinated, confirmed to find it in front of me, not over my head.

Diving in, on my preferred footing of metaphor, is letting go of my dried-out conventions and certainties, which is hard to do. I can admit to the occasional thrill when literally doing so, in Actual Water. When hot, even if unbothered, crashing into coolness is a lively shock, and I don’t flounder right away. I just hang there, most of me under the surface. From the hindsight of a desk, I wonder why a man with more than sufficient body fat won’t float with more ease. But suspended in a cold, thought-stunning brew, I always play dead for a while,

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Where’s We At Then, Buddy? JH.com Wonders!

It’s not an anniversary, but it’s close. About mid-July 2014 my wife and son and I made our summer trip back to Canada from China, but for the first time in five years we were coming to stay. So. <Cleansing breath.> Alrighty, then. We’ve been back nearly a year. <Another breath, deeper. Shakes the tension out of his hands, drama-class style.> We’re looking at each other and thinking, This is where we are. How’re we doing? What’s up with you/me/him? Are we who we thought we were? And so on.

I study. I teach, coach, plan. Dishes, floors and laundry loads get done. The garden is weeded and I’d better pick more lettuce and funkygreens. (Note to co-habitants: belly up to the salad bar, hombres!) I am reading about: boys and young men and what might be holding them back; James Baldwin; the NBA draft and free agency; a wonderfully eccentric view of the Bible; Reading Lolita in Tehran. I’m not reading much fiction, again, but Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain and Atwood’s Maddadam are shouting at me.

I don’t write much. I’m borrowing a concept from The Year of the Flood, the second in Margaret Atwood’s vivid futureDoom trilogy. There, in a “God’s Gardeners” community, people who are lethargic, dispirited, depressed or otherwise dysfunctional are said to be in a “fallow” state, as fields are left uncultivated by wise farmers so that the soil might not be depleted. June was a fallow field for my writing, and after about mid-month I accepted that. It gave my days-ends greater contentment, which is almost always a good thing. I wrote this, however tentative and diffident it is as a spasm of seed-planting, just so that you and I know where we are. (Hello!)

Before I abandoned my writing desk, I was writing feelingly and hard (not sure how well; haven’t gone back to look), striving to better know and appreciate seven prisoners of exquisite conscience. These “friends” of the oppressed Iranian Baha’i community, a group of leaders who tried to encourage their fellow believers once all their institutions and most of their rights had been removed, are now well into the eighth year of their incredible sentences. (Maybe I went fallow then because of futility — daily, tapping my uncalloused fingers against prison walls in a strange and distant country. Or I just got lazy; as a matter of principle, I don’t believe in futility, though I practise it with astonishing persistence.) Maybe you would like to read about the “Yaran”. My personal (possibly meandering) responses to their captivity helped them become more real to me.

It’s time for a quick update, reminders, and some sense of where you are, electronically speaking:

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Smokers Get All the Breaks

Remember matches?

Remember matches?

For various reasons, including some good ones, I have moved in mainly smoke-free circles for most of my life. Every once in a while, seeing someone with that fiery little tube between lips or fingers can startle me to attention, as if I’d just seen a rare bird or a quaint way of dressing. But I’ve also noticed enough workplace smoking areas to be convinced that smokers may be smarter than the rest of us. Really.

It was Wanda that got me thinking about it first. She was the professeur de français, a precise and careful woman who was also a dedicated smoker. It seemed incongruous to me, given her fastidious habits of diet and dress. After all, I was the “healthy” one, the school’s basketball coach, a guy who tried to keep an ex-athletic body in some kind of tune. We worked in a sparkling new high school with a total climate-control system, not an open window in the place.

“Time for a fix,” I’d smirk as Wanda left for the parking lot. Like the men on staff who smoked, she sat in her car, or drove around town if there were likely to be giggling grade nines or over-confident seniors lurking about. Sometimes I felt sorry for her. But then I’d find myself leaving school after practice, maybe even after the community house league games ended at 10 p.m., and I’d realize that I had breathed only recycled oxygen since early that morning. I’d barely seen the sun all day.

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Sixty-Sixty. Pass it on. Tell the rich. Tell each other.

We need more signs.

[UPDATE: This first appeared about a year ago, Jan. 9, 2013. I’d nearly forgotten what this piece was, exactly, until a reader included it on her “best of Howdy ’13”. This was a little embarrassing, since when I wrote it I’d been very moved by a dream and vainly hoped this inspiration might affect many more minds than just mine. (I can still find traces of this resolution-from-another-January in my attempts at mindfulness, but I’d lost the main thread. Pretty characteristic, I’m afraid!) It’s a short piece, and it contains an idea for you alongside my own reflections. It is on the long-ish short list for “Best Of JH.com”, which is coming soon.]

I had a dream last night, and it’s still with me this morning. Maybe it’s because I’m starting a holiday, and I have no plans. Maybe it’s because I went to bed early and slept almost as long as I wanted. Maybe it’s just time. This is for sure: I want to do a little something with what seemed to be uncovered to me in my sleep, and in the moved but unmoving minutes just after. Maybe you will, too.

Who knows where dreams come from? My wife travelled today, and among other adventures will retreat for an intensive period of Vipassana meditation. There will be no talk for nearly 10 days, just action of an extremely still kind. There’s that. Friends back home in Canada are paying more and more attention, the whole country is, to a grassroots movement of Aboriginal people called “Idle No More”, whose purpose (as I understand it from afar) is to mobilize the hopes and capacities of Native Canadians and those who respect them. Many Aboriginal communities live in shameful conditions, especially in the country’s vast north, and the prosperous wider society is being called to account. That’s been on my mind, too, though it may hold little interest for you.

The famous Sao Paulo disparity. How about your place?

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