Radio Tower

May 24

Writing in my blog I’ve endeavored to be honest, even when it’s painful, embarrassing. The revelations of personal weakness and failure along with bewilderment, fear, the emotions we all feel but would rather not admit to. I’d like to try and say it’s cathartic, but really, I get a secret wonder when I receive emails from others that have undergone similar rites of passage.  I try to write relevant things-that is, matters that are worth writing about. More often than not I fail to really get to the pith of the moment. The words on the page occasionally get close, but so many more times after I’ve written a post I feel that I came short somehow. My fiction even more so. Brilliant tales unwind in reels before my eyes, but when I sit down to make a commitment, to promise the story to memory for others to read, it fails to achieve the ideal formation that I feel it deserves. The story has iterations before its done-different versions of itself, alternate endings, evolutions of character. For reasons that I can’t understand I seem to be able to write memoir reasonably well-well enough that people will actually read it. But when it comes to fiction, I can’t seem to render the mundane and always have my heart in the fantastic. But life is fantastic-even though it’s mundane.

Case in point: A story came to me once, to write about two young men growing up in a small town. There is an intimacy and an oppression that comes with village life. Everyone knows you-but that’s the problem, you have an identity you can’t escape from. You always are who you once were, not who you are today and with that sort of binding you will never be who you really want to. I’ll admit it’s a little autobiographical, and its nuances strike home all the more for me since Facebook seems to have brought all the dramatis personae from my hometown back into my life, even if I’m not friends with all of them on FB, I see their profiles on other people’s lists and remember the weird and now poorly understood conflicts and drama from so long ago. The boys grow up in fractured families-the sort that would have been solidly middle class if their parents had stayed together, and in the confused daze of adolescence find their parents apart and sliding down the scale economically at the precise age when status and identity become so entwined. Like most youth, they take it at face value and with little reflection. Perhaps a little nihilistic self-destructive behavior like bad grades and mild substance abuse finds expression. That and raucous music and outrageous personal style.

Eventually, of course, the two boys go their separate ways upon adulthood. One leaves town. The other stays. During the course of their coming of age, they live together in a borderline bad part of town, living demented bachelor lives that feel more like those of feral lost boys than how young men were in times now past when people seemed to know themselves better and have more control. The borderline part of town abuts an industrial area, and a feature of the story that was to figure prominently was the flashing red beacon of a radio tower in the distance. A light like an all-seeing eye, a part of the landscape even though it was mand-made, the thing is somehow a silent witness, mute in its testimony it observes everything but does not judge. They’d wonder at it occasionally on late nights when they were out of their head. When they were younger and everything had to be funny, idiot joke stories encompassed its meaning, but as years pressed on, it became something more profound. All the more because no one else seemed to notice it but them.

Years later, the young man who left returns. Visits. They go out together and talk about old friends who are dead, or what happened to other friends-where they were and how they were. The women they were interested in once and what they looked like, who they wound up with or were without. Some of it is happy, a lot of it is sad and both have their own parts of melancholy regardless. Stories about school plays, the eclipses of the sun they remember over the years. The past is strange and familiar, the present strange and anonymous. It’s not all that bad for it being so. There is a sense that with the passing of time, things have flattened out, and even if we aren’t who we thought or hoped we would be, nonetheless, it was alright for what it was. It was, it was just being. That night, after carousing and the quasi guilt that accompanies it, he sees the light in the distance. Still there after all these years.

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