Friday, May 12, 2006

Refractory Reflections

Last night, Michelle and I were up late making initial preparations for a trek across Ohio to visit her mother (and the rest of her family) for Mother’s Day. Michelle wrapped presents, did a load of laundry, and packed an overnight bag for the two of us, while I unloaded then loaded the dishwasher and tried for a few moments to write. I wondered into my office around eleven and tried desperately to write. Normally, as midnight approaches, when the lights at the gas station that flickers through the rear window of my office have gone dark, time is completely mine. Michelle is typically asleep upstairs and the puppies are curled, resting their muzzles on their hind legs, asleep. But last night was not typical.

Instead, Archie, the beloved Italian Greyhound who is currently twitching asleep against my abdomen, kept wondering into my office looking for a quick fix of people food, an escort outside, or a playmate for a moment. He simply would not leave me alone. Sadly, I relented and moved my laptop into the living room, facing the TV. Archie begged his way up onto the sofa, and Dixie lounged on a throw, looking in my direction once in a while with her sad, red eyes. At last, with the mere fact of my presence, the dogs were happy. They could relax and drift off to sleep. Michelle finished tying the last violet bow to a box covered in soft pink crepe paper, and then walked over the sofa to join us.

Nearly two hours after her normal bedtime, Michelle settled into these black cushions that are now supporting my back and gazed into the television. VH1 was broadcasting a variety of videos from the 80s. Videos we both recognized almost instantaneously.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were nowhere near the VH1 demographic. They were the MTV-light—the channel for those who couldn’t stomach electronic music or loud, fuzzy guitars. Now, however, 20 years after “alternative” music became a marketing phrase, we recognized every one of the songs they played and, even with leaden eyelids, caught ourselves humming along to one melody or another. We also found ourselves laughing at the silliness of some of the videos—amazed that such an “artful” concept might have seemed a good idea at one point.

But these were songs from the 80s—an era of skinny ties, tax cuts and deficit spending, liberal bashing, coke-fueled clubbers in Bill Blass suits, E. Coli outbreaks, Atari addictions, personal computers, skater kids grinding the paint off of every painted curb, teen movies that took teen emotions seriously, and the ever-looming Cold War. This is where we spent our formative years.

Nostalgia, I suppose, is a bit like cancer. It’s something that spreads slowly at first, but accelerates as time progresses. Cancer, ironically, is the result of numerous cells refusing to die. Their existence continues on, past their natural endpoint, disrupting the endless renewal of tissue that is life. I imagine that, sometimes, for some people, nostalgia functions in such a way. The memories persist—no longer sustaining or simply reminding, but rather taunting with what might have been. Now, as I approach middle age, I recognize more and more that a buffer of a few years between an event and a memory colors each memory—it grows more and more attractive—as though a memory, by spending time in the dust and sod of one’s mind, might spread its roots and blossom into something that only resembles what it once was.

To me, this is a beautiful and awe-inspiring process. I recognize my own frailty in this phenomenon, as months or years that once knotted my stomach and forced me to reach for tablet after tablet of antacid suddenly becomes suffused—like honeysuckle in spring—with its own soothing perfume.

Yet, such near-delusion of the senses, this longing for an 80s that never truly existed also strikes me as dangerous. It is as dangerous as simple, unexamined contentment. After all, one who does not learn history….

As a poet, however, I’m delighted by nostalgia. It is the junkyard I scour for bits of tin or aluminum to sculpt into tiny mobiles for a yet-to-be-born child. My material emerges, sort of, among such ruminations. In fact, I wonder if that might be why—even at my age—I’d still be considered a young poet. After all, you see, poetry can engender nostalgia, examine it, and in those blessed moments when you come across a truly great poem, poetry can belie nostalgia.


Post a Comment

<< Home