Post 30: The invisible world


You can’t put out a fire —

—‘til you figure out where all that smoke is coming from.

It’s been another surprisingly full week here in Lake World-be-gone, my new home.

Got the stitches taken out of my left index finger on Monday—no wait, Thursday. I went in on Monday, but they couldn’t do it then because I’d been wearing a plastic band-aid over the wound to keep my bristly stitches from catching on things as I used my hand. That had kept the skin “too moist and soft to heal properly.” (Who knew?) So I spent a few more days with the blue nylon ‘vegetable-brush’ on the end of my finger exposed and snagging on everything until it was dried out and hardened enough to pull out. Now I have a patch of scar tissue there that feels ‘pins-and-needles’ numb—kind of like a permanent nettle-burn. Makes me even clumsier than I already was—which is saying something. :] Watching me drop things gets almost comical these days. …Almost.

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Tuesday we arranged to have the giant Yellow Jacket nest growing like an alien pod inside the ceiling of our front-room window box taken care of. You could hear them up there from clear across the room—tapping and chewing away in their hundreds—as if someone were drizzling fine gravel onto the plaster up there. They’re all dead now. :]

Jarrod, our friendly, knowledgeable and very effective exterminator, drilled a few small holes—inside the house and out—and made quick work of them by spraying a lethal powder into their hidden sanctum. The thing with Yellow Jackets, you see, is that not only can their nests become as big as cars, but toward the end of summer, when they’re finished obsessing on keeping the queen’s countless progeny fed, they become obsessed instead with defending the nest—attacking anything that moves too close—to our front porch, in this case. What makes that even more unsettling is that when a Yellow Jacket stings you, the venom doesn’t just pack a wallop of pain; it leaves a chemical ‘scent marker’ on your skin that speeds through the air to inform other Yellow Jackets nearby that you are a monstrous threat. Within seconds, others are racing toward that scent marker to reinforce the attack. The more often you’re stung, the stronger the scent trail becomes between you and a nest of hundreds, if not thousands of wasps…with potentially lethal results within minutes. … FYI: don’t play with Yellow Jackets. Even briefly.

Jarrod’s helping us address the rats as well. The bird feeders that have kept our yard so beautifully a-swirl with colorful birds all spring and summer have, alas, been discovered by the island’s legion of mammalian interlopers. Last week, we sat down to a delicious meal with guests in our lovely ‘surround-view’ dining room—and watched several large black and gray rats wriggle across the bird feeders just outside the windows. Nothing says ‘classy joint’ or ‘enjoy your lovely meal’ like that kind of display, I can tell you. I could see those sleek, well-fed little buggers laughing at me. …But they’re not laughing anymore. :]

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On Wednesday, I spent a really enjoyable morning in conversation with Herb Crowe, our local sheriff’s deputy, down at the Orcas Island substation. (No, not about the rats. That kind of mass murder is smiled upon here.) He was kind enough to offer me a lot of incredibly valuable reconnaissance about how a couple of beat cops, a city police detective, and a private investigator might deal with each other while investigating an apparently ‘supernatural’ kidnapping. (No, there hasn’t been one of those here either—yet.) Herb was an incredibly good sport about taking time to help me treat this in-credible topic as credibly as possible—in some upcoming episodes of TWICE. And, wow, did I come away from that conversation with a lot of unexpectedly useful new info and insights! Thanks again Herb!

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Wednesday was also when our latest house guest flew in—from the high Arctic! That’s right, our improbably fabulous and adventurous friend, painter and photographer, Elizabeth Bourne, came to Seattle this week for her son’s wedding, then flew up to spend a few lovely and interesting days with us—watching the wasps die and the rats gasp their last on the bird feeders, while catching us up on her new life on a small archipelago of ice, stone, and sky far north of Norway, where she is not legally allowed to enter certain parts of town without a gun because of the burgeoning Polar Bear problem. Oh, the stories she’s accumulating! All the things we can’t tell you! Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was discovering how much life on her new island and life on ours have in common—despite the radical differences in climate, landscape, and daylight distribution. There is just no substitute for interesting friends!

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During Elizabeth’s visit, I also got all the printer drivers reinstalled on my new and newly repaired work computers—none of which, I’m pleased to report, seem poised to die suddenly again anytime soon. And Shannon and I even helped our oldest Orcas Island friends, Carol and Bogdan Kulminski, move the last of their furnishings out of the Blue Heron Inn in West Sound, where Shannon and I used to help out as substitute innkeepers during the winters, where I proposed to Shannon, and where she and I honeymooned. That place is where we came to love this island so deeply, and leaves a large and lovely footprint in our lives as Carol and Bogdan turn it over to a new innkeeper and close that chapter in their own lives at last. What can I say, you guys, except thanks for bringing such a special place into existence for so many years. And best of luck to Shawn—the inn’s new owner and proprietor! I cannot recommend the place too highly to anyone out there wishing to visit. No more beautiful spot on all of Orcas. :]

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And, on top of all this, I even still managed to get the latest episode of TWICE, and this blog post, out again on time—in spite of a very nasty last-minute trick from my dear website host, Squarespace, whose extremely sloppy and misleading ‘monthly plan’ descriptions made it suddenly and unexpectedly necessary to upgrade Friday afternoon just to get this week’s episode mailed out. This week’s episode cost me over $130 to mail you. Very tricky, slime-balls. (Otherwise, of course, I love their services. :])

There’s more, of course, but I’m too exhausted to tell you now. The big takeaway for me? Cessations of panic and pandemonium—should they occur—are likely just the trough between one big wave and the next. Take a big breath while you can! :D

Now,  last week’s post…where were we…?

Oh yes.

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So, cyber-pals, it looks like the Tunnel of Love ride has malfunctioned. Having been hoisted from our little boat and escorted apologetically out through a side door, we must decide whether to check out another attraction here at the Cirque, or just leave this jungle carnival at last and head toward some entirely new region of the vast dark wood. I need a moment to think about that, so I’m going to go easy and short on you this week.

Right now, I’d like to pause for reflection upon what seems—to me, at least—an important observation about our time so far here at the Cirque, and the mysterious notion of ‘invisible train wreck’ that this whole journey has returned to again and again since its beginning (if any of you remember that far back). If you’ve spent the past few weeks waiting for the ‘big reveal’ of some dramatic tragedy that altered the course of my life: the crippling injury or illness, the drug addiction, the unplanned teen pregnancy, the divorce—or death—of my parents, the instance of physical or sexual abuse by some relative, classmate, priest, or stranger that led to and explains the rest of my ‘bewildering’ journey, the gasping shock that all these ‘dropping shoes’ were supposed to lead to…I imagine you must have begun scratching your head by the end of last week’s post—if not even earlier.

On the surface of this journey, I just went to school, struggled with the usual adolescent identity issues, got a little more popular, but not popular enough to join the social elite, stumbled into sexual awakening with typically considerable confusion and angst, experienced some not very remarkable anxieties and arrived at some perhaps laughably mistaken conclusions about who I was and where things were going. And anyone paying attention at the time would not have seen even most of that. On the surface, that’s not much different than a lot of other people’s very normal lives. On the surface—virtually nothing visibly unusual happened in my life. So…why all the fuss? There was ‘nothing to see,’ really, was there?

And that is one of the ‘open secrets’ of any vast dark wood—whether the one I’m lost in, or the ones you’re lost in. Viewed from the air, most of our dark woods are just miles and miles and miles of unremarkable, homogenous tree tops. Nearly all of the traumas and victories of anyone’s life happen in small, isolated spots far beneath the canopy where no one watching from any distance can see even hints of their passage.

In other words, the substantial bulk of most lives happens inside, not ‘outside’ of ourselves. And if I’m lost in some wood today, that’s less because of what happened ‘to’ me, than because of what I didinside—with whatever ‘happened.’ Inside is where this wood exists. Where most woods exist, I think. Virtually nothing I have attempted to illuminate for you here these past few months was ‘visible’ to anyone but me while it was happening. Almost nothing happened ‘out there’ to explain it. The long train wreck I am still struggling to unravel and resolve happened almost entirely inside me—not out where anyone could have watched—and it’s still far from over. During the past few weeks, I’ve attempted to describe the random little ‘gophers’ that ran almost haphazardly across my tracks, and ended up bouncing the leading wheels of my adolescent train off of its rails. The real pile-up—the cascade of jackknifing passenger cars, the bodies thrown about as wreckage piles off the tracks entirely and plummets from the bridge—is all still coming. But virtually ALL of that too will have happened inside of me—not outside where you’d have have seen it.

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Any psychologist or social worker will tell you that LOTS of people who have been subjected to objectively visible, tangible and horrific trauma come out the other side not lost at all, just resilient, strikingly functional, even ‘happy.’ Yet, I am more and more struck by the fact that America—perhaps the wealthiest, most comfortable and secure nation in human history for many generations now—seems a land of strangely insecure and strikingly unequipped, uninformed and credulous, rampantly nihilistic and depressed, unhealthy, divorced, drug-addicted, helpless and angry, tantrum-throwing, overgrown adolescents with no clue how to raise or educate a child because so many of us ourselves were never really raised or educated—just shamed into superficial conformity and shelved to minimize further demand on our already over-stressed parents and mentors.

Why is that?

Not for lack of objective resources, certainly. Our resources may be senselessly distributed these days, but they still exist in abundance. Not for some objective preponderance of insurmountable daily hardships or obstacles either—compared to other nations, anyway. Just a few generations back, we were ruggedly self-reliant, if not always very enlightened or compassionate, pioneers forging lives out of wilderness by determined, if sometimes brutish and violent, grit and knowhow. Now we seem a vast herd of domestic barnyard animals, unable to distinguish between a presidential election and a season of American Idol, waddling back and forth from cubicle to TV to feeding trough, without apparent imagination for much else. How’d that happen?

Of course, any one of these questions would require its own post—or series of posts—just to begin discussing. But it seems to me that such questions are reaching a level of intensity—everywhere these days—that makes clearer, better answers really important—on the ground—and soon. This ain’t just navel gazing anymore. Am I the only one who thinks our nation’s gigantic, yet still strangely unfocused and elusive train wreck looks more and more poised to end us—tangibly—one of these days?

So, who’s addressing this gigantic existential threat?

Not the Washington Post. I read it, nearly every day. They’re reporting it—very clearly, sometimes even courageously, I suppose—which is certainly valuable and helpful. But that’s not addressing it. ‘Government’ sure isn’t. The destructive incompetence and criminality in our halls of power has never been more blatantly visible, yet no one with ‘political authority and power’ seems able even to clearly name or assess it, much less address it. You and I aren’t addressing it either, that I can see. We talk about it these days, incessantly. We accuse and complain and quarrel, but does that address it—at all?  Many of the angriest among us just shout about why they’re not even going to participate in ‘such a farce’ anymore. Like that addresses anything? Why can everyone see, yet no one define, much less address such a massive, omnipresent, potentially catastrophic threat?

Perhaps because they don’t really see, or even guess, where it’s actually happening. No matter how much smoke is in the air, you can’t put out a fire if you don’t know where it is or what’s actually burning. Maybe we’re all looking obsessively for a visible train wreck ‘out there’ somewhere—and not finding one we can define or grapple with directly and tangibly enough to fix. And maybe that’s because the real train wrecks are all happening—have been happening for some time now—individually and communally—inside us—not ‘over there’ somewhere at all.

We’re a ‘scientific’ culture—superficially, at least. We like ‘hard’ evidence, ‘empirical’ phenomena, ‘objective’ information—at least, we did before the age of ‘fake news.’ For all its new touchy-feely, narcissistic, pop-psychological enthusiasms, our superficially scientific culture still doesn’t like to go ‘inside’ for serious answers to serious problems. What happens inside is just ‘subjective’—which seems to have become synonymous with ‘invalid’ and ‘illegitimate.’ Everything ‘real’ happens outside. And only ‘real’ things matter. Any serious, well-adjusted and respectable person knows that. Don’t they?

So, if the fire that’s consuming us these days—individually and as a nation—were mostly raging inside us—we might have some difficulty even locating it, much less responding effectively, hmmm?

Just a thought.

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Washington’s not taking my calls these days either. So, for now, I’ll continue trying to better understand and address the one fire I have unfettered access to, and any real influence over. The one inside me. I have come to realize that the ‘accidental memoir’ this series of blog posts has become is part of that effort, and so, I will see it through, however self-indulgent, meandering, potentially boring and boorish, and possibly irrelevant to anyone but me it may turn out to be. It’s a thing to try that I have never tried before. And if, in the end, it leaves me better able to encompass my own path here, and figure out how to address that—now, on the ground, at home—maybe I’ll be of more help to others who are burning invisibly, inside, and looking everywhere else for the source of all that smoke.

I have also come to understand that I would never have started any such serious exploration of my own ‘dark wood,’ much less kept at it long enough to achieve the momentum required to finish it, without your company at the beginning. And for that, I am genuinely grateful. I’m in this for the duration now, and, in time, still hope to answer the questions I held up way back in January, when I started what I had no idea would become such a long, long wander through my past. I have not forgotten those questions, though. Nor do I intend to.

Come on back next Sunday to see where we go next, or, if you’ve got better things to do, come back in six or seven months to find out what those answers turned out to be. But either way, thanks again for being there to keep me in the harness long enough to make this journey stick.

Mark Ferrari1 Comment