A Few Chapters from My Novel
(c) 2003 David Lee Lang
All Rights Reserved
Travel Unexpected Places
Guided Tours Inc.
First I have to confess about Grandma. She is dead. She died before I was born, I think. I am not too sure about this; I wasn't there. I always wanted a grandma. My friends all had them and they were great. High on the toy and candy scale, low on the strictness scale. I definitely felt cheated in the grandparent department. The Grandpas were all dead too. Still are.
This, of course, means that there are no family pictures of Nixon breaking into the Watergate Hotel. I have seen a video that someone had captured from a live news-feed of Nixon practicing his resignation speech. He didn't know that the camera was on and he was all joking, jovial, and goofing off with the reporters. Then it was lights, camera, "My fellow Americans . . .". The contrast was striking. This same video tape had another live feed where some lady in a tube-top blouse was called from the audience to be a contestant on the "Price is Right". She was so excited that she jumped up and down until her blouse fell off. There she was, jumping up and down, turning circles in front of the entire studio audience, bare breasted. Both events on the same video tape. The contrast was striking. She stayed and played the game though. Covered. I didn't see what she won.
Nope, no Grandma. But we did have lots of heavy photo albums and I know that Grandma would have been a world class photographer. She was lots of amazing things as far as I was concerned. And don't think that this is the last that Grandma will help out in this trip report. Just because she's dead doesn't mean that she has to stay at home.
[In this spot goes Drawing #9 <not yet finished> of a sacred grove of trees]
When you are traveling without maps then it really doesn't matter which direction you walk. I've learned an important things about maps. As Korzybski said, maps are not the same as the territory. Standard philosophy 101 stuff there. What I learned about maps came from a time I was late for an appointment, my car was very low on gas, my tires were down to phantom rubber and I decided to take a Short Cut. I got lost (of course). Within two minutes I was out in the back-woods country, in the days when cell phones weren't, and miles from my appointment. I felt genuine panic. Now, I knew that all I had to do was turn around and retrace my steps, but what if a tire blew or I ran out of gas or alien UFO's abducted me with no way for ET or Elvis to phone home (no cell phone, remember?). I did turn around, I didn't run out of gas or meet Elvis on a space ship and I was late for my appointment. What I learned about maps, however, is how comfortable and small my personal map was. Travel a few miles off my charted territory and I panic. Eye-opening stuff this is. If I can map it, in whatever sense I choose to use that word, then it becomes familiar and safe and I stop seeing the territory and travel instead through my map. Maps offer nothing new. Maps offer no adventure. Maps are a morgue of a territory. Besides, map makers deliberately put fake streets on their maps to catch those other map makers (those evil map makers) who steal maps and sell them as their own (a whole branch of evil I never knew existed until I talked to a map librarian....another small map). So maps also lie. Or maybe those fake roads are really the roads that lead to the Twilight Zone.
The more I thought about the problems of where I was going to go and how to find my guide, the more I thought about my experience of maps. All my maps were taking me into the territory of incurable disease; a life sentence. I had to travel uncharted countries.
Best cross off compass from my essentials list, even though I have this really beautiful old compass with a brass case and fine engraved design on the back. This was made back when people cared about their craft. Back when people wanted other people to own and hold beautiful objects. Even objects for every day use. No Tupperware ¨ for those folks, no Rubbermaid ¨ either. I have a fine old pocket watch too. It has crystals on both sides (both cracked, by my son, who, when he was two, was so eager to hold it that I cautiously let him..... zip-zop he broke both crystals faster than I could say 'eat your peas'). The one face shows a standard watch face, except that the 3 is at the top where the 12 would normally be. This was done on purpose. Somewhere there is a place, a time zone not in any Yellow Pages I have, where people get up at eleven, lunch at three, dine at eight and J. J. Cale's song After Midnight just doesn't have the same feel to it. And what does daylight savings time look like to these people? I love this watch because it proves that time is more tricky than most people imagine. Time is not trickier than I imagine, however. I know that time is very tricky. I learned the tricky nature of time in grade school. That hour before lunch was definitely a longer hour than the hours playing hide and seek. And that 3 minutes in front of the piano in a recital, where you have frozen up, can't remember which finger to move and wish that either you had practiced more or that you were on the Moon; those 3 minutes, well, most weeks are shorter than that. This led to formulations of my theories about time, which I have embellished considerably since grade school. It all has to do with the personal, plastic and relative nature of time. I have pages and pages in my notebooks about time. I could go on a long time about time.
The other thing about time, according to my ex-wife ("My son's mother" is how we have decided to introduce her. I am, of course, "My son's father", or "the Boy's father", depending on if we are talking to the Law and if blame needs to be affixed to the real responsible party. This way of introduction really solves the emotionally loaded problem of the words 'ex-wife' and 'ex-husband'. Those words always cause people to ask in hushed tones, "Do you get along OK with .......her?". We are best friends and we have great families.). That other thing about time, specifically time and me, is that I am Time Impaired. So says my son's mother and my wife agrees with her. I am not sure that I agree with either of them. I have, in my crankier moments, referred to them as being Anal Retentive around time. This whole discussion really centers around what it means to arrive at some party or play or plane trip or ..... on time. I won't go into the details here. There are strong and occasionally loud cases to be made on both sides.
Other "proof" of my time impaired condition comes from how my personal history appears to me.
[In this spot goes Drawing #10 <not yet finished> watches and clocks]
Questions like, "How old were you when ....?" really have no meaning for me. Annah can give you time and date information worthy of a DayTimer design specialist. "Well, lets see, that happened when I was 4 weeks, 3 days, 12 minutes old and 6 weeks after the first Lunar Lander lunar landed", would be her response. My response would be, "I really don't have a clue" about when something happened. The Mount St. Helens' eruption feels to me to have happened maybe 3 or 5 years ago. My son is 18. Mount St. Helens blew up in honor of his birth.
I prefer not to consider myself as Time Impaired. I am, rather, "really in the moment", and "in tune with the Now". This cuts no mustard when we are late for the play but does slow down those therapists who are convinced that I must have had a traumatic childhood that I am trying to block out. My childhood was just fine, thank you, and occasionally wonderful, like all healthy childhoods. It just hasn't lasted long enough, so I am on a personal campaign to extend mine. Annah is extending hers, too, so we have lots of fun together.
The other side of my watch is the really cool side. In addition to letting me watch all these cool gears move, P. S. Bartlett of Waltham Mass. took the time to engrave scroll designs and fancy grid work (and his name) into the back plate that the gears are mounted onto (Watch makers I am sure have a word for this part. After all, there is a word for that part of a shoe the shoe lace threads through.) I wonder if P. S. Bartlett eats lunch at 3:00? I also wonder if he is any relation to the pear.
Given my special relationship with time, the word "clock" never made it to my "Maybe-essentials" list. This is part of the job description for my guide; The person who will get us to the station in sync with the arrival of the coal-powered chicken train.
I confess that I am an artist. I hope that the illustrations of this book demonstrate this. By way of a little subliminal advertising, my original drawings and several large (3 feet x 4 feet and larger) canvases are for sale. (No really! Contact me through my publisher and I will send you prices.) I believe that there are no laws against subliminal advertising in books. Amazing isn't it. This country sure has some weird laws. For instance, they just passed a law in Mississippi that prohibits indoor furniture from being used outside. This law originally started out as a ban against the private use of razor concertina wire, this is the stuff that they use to keep bad guys and gals out, or in, depending on if you are at war or in a prison. (Not a lot of difference, in my leather bound book, between wars and prisons). This Anti-concertina Wire Ordinance got modified to drop the razor wire clause and exchange it for 'misplaced', or misnamed, indoor furniture. I expect to puzzle on this for the next several years trying to determine exactly how a person or even a politician, can make the mental leap from razor wire to indoor furniture-that-has-managed- to-get-lost-in-the-great-outdoors. Except wicker furniture. Now there is an object worthy of hanging out with concertina razor wire. Ever sit on a wicker chair while you are wearing shorts? Eats chunks of leg and your leg hairs quicker than you can order a mint julep. And I don't even like mint juleps.
Social anthropologists of the future are going to have lots of fun with us.
Being an artist was a conscious choice as the result of another unexpected trip. It was in the early 70's, by way of helping you gather an image of the kind of traveling I was doing. Now, this doesn't seem like the sort of thing a time impaired person would say, does it? Well, the truth is I had to do a bit of calculating to get into the correct decade. Saying this trip happened in the 60's would really give you the picture of the kind of trip I might have been doing. But you have to remember that I am from Wyoming, a state with almost as many silly laws as Mississippi and somewhat easier to spell. Wyoming is approximately 10 years behind the rest of the country in terms of social trends. So, I knew that this stuff happened after I was out on my own, which means that I was out of high school. I was born in '52, which put me out of high school in '71 so, voila, in the early 70's I was being a nude model for the art school. This is a job that pays well for not a lot of work but really doesn't help get you dates. I guess it sort of steals the mystery out of getting to know someone.
It was Valentines Day, a day for which I had no one to date, and, lo and behold, there was an anonymous valentine in my mail box. This is almost as good as the mysterious letter of Destiny and was the beginning of a magical day filled with sychronicities, adventure and an ending that completely rearranged my perception of the world. As the result of that day, I realized that all things are possible. That it is possible to do anything at all, if you choose to do it. Like all magical and transformative experiences there is no effective way to communicate the reality and truth of this experience for me except to say that I remain convinced, even today, that nothing is impossible. Period. It is possible for me to levitate. I just need to choose to do it and then figure out how to make it happen. Now, I am not going to step off a ten story building to test my solution. One needs to be prudent. It is best not to imitate the Russian psychic who became convinced that he could, by the power of his mind, stop large objects in their tracks. He tested his track-stopping abilities by standing in front of an oncoming train. He stopped it too, just not soon enough. Not every hypothesis is the real solution.
I don't levitate. I haven't chosen to figure out how to do so. It seems like a lot of work when most of the time I can get there by walking or, if I really need to fly, there is always United Airlines. But I do paint, I do compose and play music, I do write, after a fashion, and I even ponder imponderables like transfinite mathematics. Annah is very generous and tolerant when I talk about my transfinite mathematics. I usually think about such things (transfinite math is the study of numbers that are bigger than infinity. Cool huh! There really are such numbers and they are really big) late at night, when she is sleepy. Annah is a really great person to tell jokes to. She usually forgets the punch lines within 2 or 3 months. This keeps my repertoire of different jokes at a manageable minimum. However, she is not a great person with whom to have late-night mathematical conversation. It always seems like she is right there with me, but if I lose eye contact, even for a sneeze,... well she's gone. Better to finish up with a joke that she has forgotten. I have theories about numbers, division by zero, and transfinite numbers. They, too, cover pages of several notebooks.
I did all these things because I chose to do them and then taught myself how to do them. As the result of that amazing Valentines Day, I sat down and said to myself, "If all things are possible, if I really can do any thing that I choose to do, what should I choose, what should I do.....I know!, I'll become an artist.". Being an artist cuts you a lot of slack in the world of banker socks and weird politics and laws. I really get to explore all kinds of different ways of thinking and doing and being that most people can't because it wouldn't look professional or right or......
My choice to be an artist allows me to meet and hang out with all sorts of nifty beings. Even dead Grandmas for that matter. Life becomes an opportunity for artistic exploration and expression. Art, in the truest sense of the word, is really a lifestyle more than an occupation.
My guide turned out to be one of these nifty beings that I already knew.
[In this spot goes Drawing #11 <not yet finished> woman, deep in the shadows, hint of a dragon design on the wall]
"What you are looking for is a powerful bit of magic in your life", she said when I told her my news. This was before I learned that she was my guide. I actually thought that I was looking for an alternative healer, probably in some far away and horse-free country. "Nope". She clarified what I was really looking for, right away. "Any time you step out of a culture's dominant paradigm, in our case the paradigm of the Rational, Scientific, All-will-be-revealed-through-Logic universe, any movement outside this boundary is magic with a capital M". I had always considered art and music to be outside this paradigm. "That's Magic too.", was her reply. I liked this friend of mine even more: I have met the wizard and he is me.
I still didn't know where I was going. My essentials list was still disconcertingly short. "Just take a drum," she said, "and be sure to get one of those really neat leather bound journals. You know, the kind with the magic symbols tooled into the cover." I knew just exactly the kind.
"I should get some of those really great pens that write in outer space, under water and upside down, too, I'll bet".
"No, you don't need one of those. You're not going to outer space."
Actually, I really did need one of those pens so I bought one anyway. I only used it once on this journey, however. The tip got all gummed up and made a big Rorschach test blob on one of my journal pages. Never one to leave a blob alone, I embellished it for your viewing enjoyment. Now, study it carefully and tell me what you see. Careful now, your answer could be a ticket to travel unexpected places.
[In this spot goes Drawing #12 <not yet finished> Rorschach design that looks like fractal dragon.]
Within my circles of strange, interesting, unusual and artistic friends, there are circles within circles that overlap other circles of circles that are other circles of friends of mine whom I didn't know knew each other. The usual way people refer to this is, "It's a small world isn't it.". It wouldn't surprise me that some of these circles know my dead Grandma. I have such interesting friends that many of them probably have Grandma over for tea and photo albums at least once a month.
Friends are a kind of map. Depending on how you met them, and who you were being in that moment of your life created the map of who you are to them and who they are to you. I have work friends and occasional beer friends and coffee friends and poetry friends and art friends and music friends. And Annah's friends, which, as near as I can tell, are about 3/4 of this town. They are nice to me though, Annah's friends, because Annah is so great I must be OK and possibly great too.
As with all maps, friend maps are more like a weird kind of photograph of that friendship. Really good friends are constantly updating their maps, always ready to revise a town name, redraw a river channel and, if necessary, completely overhaul the topography, especially if a volcano explodes. Cartography among friends, unfortunately, is an all too rare trait. Most friends really don't want you to change, grow and be any different than who you were when they first mapped you. Get just a few miles outside their charted territory and they feel genuine panic.
I have been working for years on refining my map making process. An ex-marriage can really get you in touch with just exactly how unreasonable expectations, yours and theirs, can be. Almost any ex-anything will do this. And you get in touch with how limiting maps are in the paradigm of life.
I have been less rigorous in helping others revise their maps of me. Sometimes it seems easier to take your new map self and find new friends to have a map bonding experience with. This sounds like a recycle bin for old friendships, like I abandon friends on some kind of regular basis. This isn't the case at all. I really value my friends deeply and seldom give up on any relationship I have mapped as friend no matter how weird the territory might become. My real flaw is that I imagine people to be smaller than they really are and often don't take the time and energy to send them the latest satellite reconnaissance of me so that they can update their maps. I am working on this part too.
Naturally there was a circle of friends that I was more comfortable sharing my new "life style" with. I was surprised to discover the circles within circles of friends who knew each other and knew me. Several circles of friends reformed into a new and different circle. "Just bring a drum and meet us at Lightning-tree Grove. We will leave from there." I have a new circle of old friends that meet and travel together frequently.