You needed me
I was looking at myself
I was blind, I could not see.
A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by the hand
If he stops to think, he starts to cry
from the old U2 song, "I will follow"
A few miles from our home, the sleek DART trains run along the surface tracks, conveying passengers to the glass office buildings of downtown Dallas, or fun places like the Fort Worth Zoo. Although I'm a huge fan of mass transit, I've not yet ridden this particular train system. Today my father turns seventy years old, and I imagine myself hopping into a yellow train which then speeds on the track to self-definition.
I used to go to a fair number of concerts by "new folkies". These are not the 60s types parodied
in the film "A Mighty Wind", but instead people trying to find meaning in a genre in more 1990s/2000s terms. I like the Christine Lavins, Patty Larkins, John Gorkas and other non-retro folkies of the world, who assail small heights and rappel them with acoustic guitars and mildly pithy, smiling lyrics. They don't worry that they aren't dreadfully "with it", or that some songs are more aphoristic than perhaps genuine profundity would permit. To me, sometimes, you just have to stop worrying that you're not anybody great, and ask yourself what you choose to think and do, given who you really are. Then you do what you are.
One feature of much folk music is relentless introspection. Introspection, I must admit, is one of my favorite "song themes", whether in rock or in folk music. I also find myself attracted to art rock, for example, because lyrically, the problems of living in a too modern world appeal to some mock-grandiose misplaced Edwardian inner self-image (in reality, of course, I would not live in any pre-anti-biotics era by choice).
I think most men of my generation are like Bryan Ferry, only without the wonderful voice, the two torch-singers in the background, and the endless adulation of fans. I've read that in real life, the suave Mr. Ferry is in fact an entirely shy man, who scorns much contact with the general public. I'm always intrigued by the fact that Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno began their rise to fame in the same band, which they have become such very different icons in pop culture. To me, Eno rather embraces the Otherness, the aloneness and the spirit of adventure, while Ferry's lyrics so often address the problems of romanticism in such a cynical world.
But perhaps Ferry sums the differences up better than I do, when he says about Eno: "He loves to talk! He has to talk the talk. And I tend to rather sit and watch more. That's where the main difference is. But we're both self-centered. I think we both think the world revolves around us".
Maybe the appeal of folkies and glam rockers for me is that they all think the world revolves around them, just as I do. I love that scientists find several new planets a month, but I must admit that I do wonder when they will discover me. Alien life--right here on Earth.
The problem, of course, with introspection, is that truly "finding oneself" seems to involve so much of "losing oneself". Like many people I know, I find myself a curious sort of tourist attraction, to which I return over and over, year after year. In Arkansas, I had a boyhood friend who got to go every year to cabins at "Caddo Gap", where one crosses the tiny Caddo River on a rope suspension bridge, and takes leisurely float trips from noplace to nowhere. In general, in other words, one goes to a remote place with cabins, sits down, and looks out at the world.
I remember April a couple of years ago, when I managed to get my car stuck in the mud at a tract home development in the near-literal middle of nowhere. I had to wait hours for AAA to come pull me from the mud, because a recent storm cycle made lots of people get stuck in their own, individual mud. I watched the rain fall on rich green new Spring grass, sheltered by a porch awning, mud caked on my shoes. Amid my frustration at having stranded myself, I somehow felt a sort of spirit-lifting from the sheer exhiliration of sitting in the middle of nowhere and thinking.
In my metaphor, I'd like to run myself through one of those car washes with the large brushes, scraping off the mud and just moving on.
My father worked over forty years of his life doing country doctor stuff. My childhood memory is that of the telephone incessantly ringing. In this era when only the very wealthy had mobile phones (a marked improvement over our own era, by the way), family outings were less a celebration than a rush to escape the house before the phone rang to summon my father to the hospital emergency room. When I was 15, we moved to a larger small country town, and his life materially improved. He had other doctors as partners to cover call, and the phone became only an irritant, and not our fifth family member. I always swore to myself that I would never work incessantly like my father, and yet today I find it is August 2, and I spent my entire Summer so far preparing for the five days of hearings I just completed, and the three days of hearings next month, as well as a dozen other work-related things.
I've not gone to any lazy rivers, to sit on cabin porches. I've lost weight, not through virtuous eating, but because I am often too busy to eat.
My father turned 70 today, and I remember how much I admired and admire that he spent his whole work career helping sick people, showing up at the emergency room at 2 in the morning when required, watching an endless procession of the ill march in, appointment after appointment after appointment.
I feel badly sometimes on this "what do you like about your job?" issue. Our friend the young vet is the most lovely girl. I asked her, "What do you like best about your job?". Her answer was "When I can do something easy and small for an animal, and save the animal's life so easily, and yet that makes such a big difference". She loves that feeling of making such a sweeping difference, in just a moment.
Here, though, I wonder if my career warps me a bit. What is my favorite work moment? It's a bit less nurturing, I'm afraid. My very favorite work moment of all is when an opposing witness is on the witness stand, and says something demonstrably false or wrong, and I have the documents in my hand to completely disprove what the witness has just said. That thrill of sheer adrenaline as I begin the "lay the foundational questions" to roll the witness inexorably to the point in which I pull out and demolish him or her with the document is a rare thrill for me, a kind of sighting of some obscure Belizean bird after far too long hiking in deep jungles, a gaze of revelation through 20 x 80 binoculars, a flash of color and insight, a lifetime's peak experience. I'd like to say something which defines me as better than that sounds, like the experience being some restoration of the cosmic order through the revelation of truth, but actually, I just love that feeling when the witness has just been discredited, and I did it. I am ignoble enough to call this experience "ramming the document down the witness' throat". It's not quite a vet-saintly feeling, but it is my own feeling.
I wonder, sometimes, if these parental birthdays aren't more self-defining than one's own birthday.
My parents both turned 70 this year. This, more than my own ascent to forty nearly four years ago,
defines me as truly middle-age. It's now been 19 years since I got out of law school. Who knows how long I will work? How long I will live? I only know that I am here, today, typing this entry.
I'm not planning any big changes in my life right now. I think that my life is particularly blessed, as I sit in my tract home with the postage stamp yard, a wife I love asleep in the other part of the house, undisturbed by the snores of our older Lhasa Apso, and my first free Saturday since June stretching before me like the beckoning gates of Heaven.
I don't think I'll ride the surface rail today. But I'm eager to leave the stations of self-doubt, and ride on to the places where the people all gather.