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Falling Up The Mountain

September 11, 2012

There’s still this wild-eyed restless spirit in me that wants out. Out of all the constructs I’ve so carefully carved over the past 25 years. Out of Brooklyn, the city, everything. Out of a life full of other people’s expectations of me.

I have a fantasy of one day walking away from it all, with nothing much more than the shirt on my back, a few bucks and some virgin notebooks, leaving my cell behind and letting my feet roam. And if anyone tried to find me, well, they couldn’t, and finally they’d give up, and that would be the day. 

I always felt more or less like an outsider. For decades I needed to learn how to live on my own, be my own best and most reliable companion.

But when I found the loves of my life (a good woman; a worthy profession), that solo artist didn’t just go away. He still hangs around, living out a parallel life, without stuff or money, strivings or obligations. Empty, free. All dressed and restless and nowhere to go. And deliciously malcontent, like some horny mountain cat howlin’ at the moon. 

But this is the problem with getting older: Along with the arteries, all the clay starts to harden. Oh it gets easier to relish what you’ve got, but harder to change it. Easier to enjoy the structures and strictures of your life. As well as all the protocols and comforts that were invited in as guests; became the hosts; and then the masters.

“Condemned to drift

                  Or else be kept from drifting.” – Dylan

And just what have I gained, and what have I given up, as a result of the dictates of ageing, and the choices I’ve made?

Found                                                 Lost

Safety                                                   Adventure

Cleanliness                                           Pungence

Sanity                                                   Gorgeous shards

Balance/equanimity                           Wildness; mountain peaks; and peaks into heaven

Commitment                                       Freedom

Acceptance                                          Seeking

Order/predictability                          Experimentation/Possibility

Fulfillment                                           The fertile void

Wholesomeness                                  The Power of Darkness

Calm/serenity                                     Excitement

The time I felt most alive in my early years was when I visited my friend Jeff in Pittsburgh in 1968. I’d grown up with him. He was a charismatic, cynical and hungry explorer and we became fast friends when his family moved onto my block in 1964. By ’68 we were both 19 and he was at a junior college in Pittsburgh while I was at one here in Queens. And it was, like I said, 1968.

So I got my school newspaper to cover my expenses, packed my Kodak, called him up and grabbed a Greyhound out there. And there he was, living at this flat he shared with a constantly shifting cast of characters, in a building they called “Stanley’s Nut House” in Shady Side. It seemed as if the entire local hippie community was stuffed into one or two buildings. During the first day I went to the ghetto to take pictures of where the blacks had just firebombed some stores. (Pop quiz: It was April. Understand?) That night I returned to Jeff’s pad and we sat around the kitchen table and I told them what I’d seen. Somebody was capping the Blue Cheer. Georgia made some spaghetti with a sauce that seemed pretty crunchy to me, and Jeff told me of how, just last year, when the Airplane was in town, they’d crashed with them, and Grace Slick took one of his friends right into that room over there.

I started feeling funny in a way I never felt before.

“Georgia? Did you put something in that spaghetti sauce?” She just blushed.

In the morning, after a very strange night in a room off the kitchen filled with nothing but a stereo and a bare, wall-to-wall mattress, whereupon Georgia spent the night, fully clothed, humping me, I awake alone. And I start to think: Here I am in this rusty old steel town, with a bunch of radical maniacs, and Georgia may want me again — and for real — tonight, and Jeff warned me that the pigs might come in at any moment and bust the place – again. And I realize: I have never felt so alive.

So what am I getting at here?

Just that I’ve lost a lot. But it’s not as simple as that.

On the one hand I feel myself ageing as if sliding inexorably like a slow landslide into The Valley. At times I panic, and lurch towards tree branches to break the fall (sexual fantasy; substances; rock and roll), or to possibly give me the sensation of hopping back up the mountain a moment.

But at the same time I notice I’ve actually been falling up; the view has afforded me 6.3 decades of scenery; the perspective of pinnacles; the sighting of heretofore unseen connections; the hues of experience decorating the landscape like so many illuminated clouds at sunset.

And I notice I have begun to warm to this new, strange and serene terrain: the calm, the hum and purr of silence where there’d only been hormonal static. The slow shock of peace.

“Something’s lost

        But something’s gained

   In living every day”. — Mitchell

Time In A Bottle: I open some Pinot Grigio and take out some of my long-packed-away records and drink them in. I notice how I grew up in an analogue world, one that, like vinyl, required your attention. We related to time then like it was a lazy friend who just wanted to hang out. These ripened grapes help my slowing body reconnect with a slower time. They beckon me to return to the rhythms of a savoring world.

As I listen to John (or is it Paul?)…

I will return

Yes I will return.

       I’ll come back

            For the honey

                    And you.

Ah, the uses of nostalgia, which the fermented facilitates!

And although I still eye the wild-eyed spirit still alive within me, sometimes I find myself going with the flow of falling up the mountain.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2012 3:28 am

    The world you describe in the Pittsburgh of your youth was genuinely utopian. It was a world in which all your desires could be fulfilled—or at least it was one which *promised* to fulfill all your desires. But it didn’t fade away just because you all grew older, did it? Didn’t it fade away long before you and your friends were old? For myself, coming a decade after you and being less adventurous, it was already largely gone by the time I arrived. And then I completely lost it when I had to take a 9-5 job. At that point I ceased being a bohemian and became a working stiff. Once I retire in old age I expect to return to a more bohemian lifestyle. So for me it’s middle age that killed the bohemian paradise, not old age.

    • September 20, 2012 5:30 am

      Ed, your comment alarms me. Living for tomorrow (which is what I’m reading into your comments) is a very risky lifestyle choice. Tomorrow may come for you…or not.

  2. September 15, 2012 4:05 pm

    “I have a fantasy of one day walking away from it all, with nothing much more than the shirt on my back”–I recommend pants as well.

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