. . . when you have lived your individual life in your own adventurous way and then look back upon its course, you will find that you have lived a model human life after all.”
~From Thou Art That by Joseph Campbell
I have an ongoing and interesting — let’s call it a discussion— with a friend I have known since our childhood. He is an atheist. I have no idea how to label myself with regard to “theist.” It confounds him that I am neither an atheist or have a theism. There are only two camps I think for him.
Someone once said that what I had was a cosmology. I’ll buy that.
I think I was 10 when I had a dream about heaven. Two men sat on thrones, one slightly lower than the other. One had a long white beard, the other — well, I don’t remember much about what he looked like. But I did know that it was God and Jesus. They were surrounded on either side by piles of flat, oval shaped objects. Those were souls.
It was at that point that I realized the stories I had been told about God and Jesus and heaven were as flat for me as those ovals piled high on either side of the thrones. That idea of heaven no longer had any pull for me.
But, I still yearned for stories. I wanted stories that would make sense out of it for me. I don’t know that I even knew what “it” was or the sense that I was looking for. Perhaps it was Eddie English, a regular patron of the Wishing Well, where I tended bar from 1978 to 1980, who defined “sense” to me.
Eddie was a retired Muni conductor. He piloted the N-Judah line, which ran right outside the bar on Irving Street. Let’s just say it was a different era when he was in charge—legend had it that he would disembark if there was a red light and run into the bar to get his shot of whiskey, then run back to the streetcar and send it merrily on its way to Ocean Beach.
I only knew him in retirement. He always came in impeccably dressed, a dashing figure with sparkly blue eyes. He would order his drink and begin telling me stories. It was always at least three stories that were randomly intertwined. He would start with one, then insert the middle of his next story while in midsentence, maybe return to the first or start another, eventually come back to the beginning of the second story, or maybe not.
Listening to him was like reading Finnegan’s Wake, or at least I think that’s what Finnegan’s Wake is like—I’ve never had the ovarios to read it.
At any rate, I had learned that if you didn’t try and follow him, you could follow his stories. But the minute I tried to make sense of what he was saying, I got lost in the jumble.
One time I asked him, “Eddie. Have you ever made sense?”
“What’s sense without love?” he asked me, engaging me with those blue eyes. He sipped his drink, answered his own question: “Nonsense,” then started a whole new series of stories.
I have been attempting to make sense of my life recently. I am in awe of younger women acting with such determination in their lives. I see it and think if only I had known that. I am in even greater awe of women my age and older who acted with determination. How did they know that? Or, more to the point, why didn’t I have the ovarios to do that?
There are no do-overs for a life. One just does what one does, making the best decision, making the best choices, calling on whatever information one has at the moment of decision or choice.
Much of my earlier life was spent trying to please two mistresses: the voice of the matriarch and my actual voice. The matriarchal voice was all about getting married. That was the goal, the brass ring, the what-the-point-of-my-life-was-to-be.
I married twice to try and please the matriarchal voice. But I made choices that gave me an escape hatch. Neither really fulfilled the role of the brass-ring husband, so that made it okay for me to walk out on a marriage. I was the victim. Had I married someone who was the brass ring (good provider and so on), I would have been trapped because marriage was about finding the good husband—the one that could make you the top dog in the matriarchal hierarchy. Forget any notion of having a life of one’s own.
I never really followed a “career.” I didn’t make choices about relationships based on whether or not it interfered with my “career.” A career was never my life. I never considered that. But at some point I decided that my career was the life I was living and wanted to live.
Which is probably why I’m a writer. It’s more avocation than vocation.
If I had had more determination, I very well might be more financially endowed at this point in my life. I have been imagining what my life might have been like if instead of flying under the radar of the one mistress I had spoken with my actual voice. Frankly, I can’t imagine it. Because I only know what I know now because of the decisions and choices I made based on the information I had at the time.
I think it’s Isabelle Allende who said experience is what you get right after you need it.
Work is finally done on our new home. I finished directing and acting in Love, Loss, and What I Wore, transplanted the Unusual Evening series from Livermore to Sequim, and am finally unpacking the boxes and boxes of books and files and various icons that were in Writing Shed 1.0. I am finally getting my books in alphabetical order so I know how to find the one I’m looking for. I have a separate set of shelves for women writers; a set of shelves for my printer and writing reference books; a separate set for poetry and theater; and I will probably separate out anthologies from the rest of the books.
It’s a bit overwhelming. My floor is once again strewn with books. I stop when it becomes too much, take a break, knowing I will come back to it tomorrow—and that I don’t have to rush into anything.
And, that’s the glory of this new adventure in my life—my move to Sequim. I don’t have to know by tomorrow. I can give myself the time to reflect, to draw on a life that I have lived in my own adventurous way—tending bar, for example; working at a topless bar as a secretary as another example; being a hospice volunteer as yet another example—to make decisions and choices.
One never knows how much time one has. I think the trick is to make sure that whatever time you have, that it is time enough.
The question of heaven is rather moot. Who needs heaven if you had time enough?
I love that last phrase Karen ‘who needs heaven if you had time enough’. I’ve spent too much time trying to please one voice or another which means I’ve regretted some of the things I haven’t done. But in a way, I think I’ve come full circle – at the moment, I’m not worried about achievement or doing things – if I have time enough to create and to enjoy the small things in life, then that’s all I need.
I just realized I never responded to your comment. Yeah, that thing of regretting what we haven’t done. Much worse than the regrets for what we did usually. I read somewhere that abundance isn’t about how much you have, but about how little you need. I say yes to that.