Oh, but the injustice of it all…

Let it be known that today, the first Monday of November 2011 (November 7th, to be precise) I was, at the vigorous yet tender age of 56 years, diagnosed with and began treatment for gout.

When I expressed to both my physician and my pharmacist my perplexity at such a seeming injustice, I assured them that I was quite knowledgeable about gout, having read Franklin’s wonderful dialogue with Madam Gout.

Both my physician and my pharmacist laughed outright, although M., my pharmacist, told me in her kind manner to go home, put my foot up, and re-read Mr. Franklin.

So I did. And for those of you who haven’t read (or haven’t in some time), here is the conclusion of Benjamin Franklin’s conversation with Madame Gout.

Up to this point, Madame Gout has been berating him for his sedentary life. Her crowning piece of medical advice–which is for Franklin the final straw–is that he take his fine carriage and burn it:  He will now have to walk everywhere he goes and he can use the heat of the fire to a salutary effect on his gouty being.

From there:

GOUT.  Well, then, to my office; it should not be forgotten that I am your physician. There.

FRANKLIN.  Ohhh! what a devil of a physician!

GOUT.  How ungrateful you are to say so! Is it not I who, in the character of your physician, have saved you from the palsy, dropsy, and apoplexy? one or other of which would have done for you long ago, but for me.  

FRANKLIN.  I submit, and thank you for the past, but entreat the discontinuance of your visits for the future; for, in my mind, one had better die than be cured so dolefully. Permit me just to hint, that I have also not been unfriendly to you. I never feed physician or quack of any kind, to enter the list against you; if then you do not leave me to my repose, it may be said you are ungrateful too.

GOUT.  I can scarcely acknowledge that as any objection. As to quacks, I despise them; they may kill you indeed, but cannot injure me. And, as to regular physicians, they are at last convinced that the gout, in such a subject as you are, is no disease, but a remedy; and wherefore cure a remedy?—but to our business,—there.

FRANKLIN.  Oh! oh!—for Heaven’s sake leave me! and I promise faithfully never more to play at chess, but to take exercise daily, and live temperately.

GOUT.  I know you too well. You promise fair; but, after a few months of good health, you will return to your old habits; your fine promises will be forgotten like the forms of the last year’s clouds. Let us then finish the account, and I will go. But I leave you with an assurance of visiting you again at a proper time and place; for my object is your good, and you are sensible now that I am your real friend.

–As of today, I promise to keep my truck, but burn my carriage. While I will never be a better man than Franklin, I will, I swear, burn my carriage and, like Franklin, avow “never more to play at chess.”

Mister Gouty, to those of us swimming in the same ken.

From My Journal–Four Years Ago Today

October 29, 2007—Sitting at around 32,000 feet somewhere over the middle of this vast land, both strange and familiar. Should be in Newark in about four hours. Five hour layover, then board a big Continental jet—something so large should never leave the ground, it seems to me, and, I think, to the small children who, inevitably shriek when the wheels part from the tarmac on every flight I’ve ever taken—for Delhi, where I should touch down at around 8 pm IST on Halloween eve.

Spent the past 2 days in Queen Anne with Adrienne. Watched “In the Shadow of the Moon” on Sunday night, a fine, fine movie. Couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, then couldn’t stop thinking about it. To think that there are men walking on the Earth today who have walked on the Moon and to think that in just over 24 hours I’ll be walking in the popping blinking flurry of noisy dirty bright explosively alive Delhi.

At the end of “In the Shadow of the Moon,” each astronaut interviewed who’d visited the Moon described his complete transformation as a result of that experience and the sight of lovely, fragile Earth, their home, our home, hanging in the blackness of it all.

In short, they described the experience of the traveler: transformation, spiritual enlargement, a new view of an old home, beauty beyond words.

Brought with me on this trip, my second to Rajasthan in just over a year, “The Adventures of Augie March.” Last year’s trip, I read Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood,” which I found at Twice Sold Tales in Queen Anne, and which I’d never before read. I wanted a uniquely American book to read on the plane and on the trains slamming and clambering their way across the Great Bikaner Desert and “Deadwood” proved to be just that.

I thought that “Augie” would serve the same function. The flight from Seattle—where I’m writing this—is sparely peopled, and I’m able to have 3 seats to myself, to stretch out, nest, a feeling I won’t have (if my limited experience from last year’s trip is any indication) on the 14-plus hour flight from Newark to Delhi.

But right now, lots of room, cold water to drink, snacks, Sonny Rollins and Brian Eno on the tunes (from Gary’s collection) and a near cloudless sky below me.

How sad I am at leaving my wife, and how sad sometimes I get when I look at her and know that there will one day be a time when one of us—most likely me—will not be alive to share one more moment together. I don’t know that I fear death…most of the time I don’t, but I fear the idea that should I die first—again, the most likely scenario—I will leave behind the woman I love most dear with a grief I will not be there to share.

I have my pocket journal and hope to keep something approximating useful notes. I thought, when I first began carrying a notebook years ago, that it would not only serve as a record of my days but also provide both the forum and the impetus to recall and write of those things that lurk just beneath the shallow, turbulent, utterly-selfish surface of my most pedestrian thoughts and which are keys to the self I am at this moment right now. Things like the fact that the sight of pale crimson persimmons at Blossom the other day reminded me of the skinny persimmon tree that perched on the house side of the ditch paralleling Lillian Highway between the Mackeys’ and our house, a tree that had a single, substantial limb perched out over the middle of the ditch and offering a drop that was just higher than any fall I would normally be comfortable taking, even as a small boy.

But I would take it anyway. How many times did I unclasp my hands and fall from that limb and why would I think of it now, at least 45 years later and more miles away than I can contemplate with any meaning?

What I do contemplate most often is my own narrow self, whether it’s my often and insistent need to pee or the contentions I bring against so many, whether a nameless stranger passing casually after tailgating me on I-5 or my boss. And am I open to what I’m getting out my job right now, a chance to be in the mauling packs of the beautifully exotic streets of Jaipur? Do I not fear that with my personality of emptiness, of mimicry, that I will someday—and possibly even someday very soon—wake up to find that I have become the nightmare that is _______________ (Boss’s name deleted from this entry.)? Of course I do!

But I am in a life right now with a beautiful, witty wife who loves me, people who seem to enjoy my company, and a home under the drooping cedars in a crowd of low salal, overrun with squirrels and deer and chipmunks and towhees and chickadees and nuthatches and crows and ravens and eagles.

And I am on my way to India again, to see, once again, dear friends and another world here on this lovely and fragile planet we all call home.

The other side of the world

James Barron, Peter Matthiessen, Florida, and more

This episode of Average Mortal Radio is rated R, for Rain, like the rain which is, at this moment, lashing icy and hard as a swung plank out of the north and west. In our latest episode we talk about Peter Matthiessen and artist James Barron, and their connection with us here on our gray and silver windblown island home, as well as an earlier incarnation of ourselves, a one-point-oh version, if you will, a version raised in Florida and who lived there many, many years, many, many years ago.

This is not about the Florida of condominium-stuttered coasts or drive-through Margarita palaces or even the Florida of the Mouse Who Ate Orlando or old people fitness stepping around the malls every morning. It is the Florida that inspired Peter Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy, which culminated in The Shadow Country, his single volume retelling of the tough people who inhabited the swamps, riverbanks, and boggy mosquitoy mangrove thickets.

I sent James a copy of The Shadow Country last week when I learned he was living in an old river house on the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe figures prominently in Matthiessen’s Watson novels and here is Matthiessen himself, in a passage that might serve as an introduction to James’ art: Color can threaten, overwhelm, whirling like that – an ant in a kaleidoscope might sense the problem.

James Barron, my cousin, my friend, for too brief a time my neighbor here on Lopez Island, can easily overwhelm with his whirling colors. To see what I mean, go to his website and look at his paintings, drawings, sculpture, and furniture.

And read Peter Matthiessen, look at the colors swirling around you, be drawn into the kaleidoscope, yes, like an ant.

There is much to be learned from a river.

Because of unresolved technical difficulties, this (once more) belated episode of Average Mortal Radio is being brought to you by Cloud Islands Design and is rated R, for rivers.

Hermann Hesse has Siddhartha saying, shortly after his enlightenment, that “…there is much to be learned from a river.” T. S. Eliot says that “I think the river/Is a strong brown god,” one that dwells “within us.”

I’ve been thinking of rivers a great deal lately, for several reasons. One is that Adrienne and I have been helping our friend, Hank Meacham – a river guide on the Methow River on the east side of the North Cascades – get a blog activated in which he will be able to apprise potential clients of river conditions, as well as discuss his love of rafting, rivers, flyfishing, and antique cars. Another is that we were able to go rafting with Hank twice last year, once when the river was racing high and fast from the late spring melt and the other time when the water was lower, but, in its own way more exciting because the rapids were at their full, frothing power, roaring as if wild to be contained in deep canyons and between sage covered sloping hills. Both trips were unique and memorable in their own ways and for their own reasons.

Finally, I’ve been thinking of rivers as the metaphor for and literal method of journeys. In the past 2 weeks 2 dear Lopezians have died: David Fisher of a skiing accident and Leta Currie-Marshall of a failed heart. Both have left gaping emptiness in our small community; both have become part of the great river in which we all flow and which carries us all eventually.

I’ll be bringing you more information on Hank Meacham, on how you can visit his blog and how you can arrange a raft trip with him this season, but I hear now the words of a hymn with which I grew up:

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, beautiful river;
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
That flows by the throne of God.

Whoever God is to you, if there is or isn’t such a Being in your life or system of beliefs, go stand by a river. There is much to be learned.

Simone: Tottering into Decrepitude

Study for Travels in Hell

When I went to Blossom, our local organic grocery this morning, to buy 2 Jongolds and granola for my breakfast the next few days, Simone was on duty, and the only other person in the store.

Simone is a young woman—mid 20’s—slender with bobbed dark hair and dark eyes, a small, pierced nose, and a fiercely acerbic mouth atop a cupped chin. Her wit can be painful, it is so sharp, but, she is unfailingly funny and she has a mind that dances with a self-effacing brilliance.

When she tallied my purchases this morning, she asked me if I needed a bag and I said, yes, please, I didn’t want to have the apples end up rolling around under the accelerator or brake pedals on my brief drive home.

When my caution registered, I began laughing, and told her that I remembered how, 20 years ago, when I was teaching high school English in the Florida Panhandle, I would get off work in the afternoon and drive straight to the beach most days. On the way, while steering my way through 4 lanes of what was usually heavy traffic, I would remove my entire school teacher’s uniform, from necktie to underwear and re-attire myself in cut-offs and a T-shirt, often while drinking a beer.

And now, she said, you’re afraid you’ll kill yourself if you don’t bag your apples.

Yup, I told her, and she and I laughed together, although, I suspect, for different reasons, and I took my bagged apples and drove, safely, back to the cabin.