I had a death in my family two weeks ago, completely unexpected. It took me by surprise even though he was pushing ninety and had become weak and depressed after his wife died four years ago. He crossed over to the other side to be with her and two of his sons, and he's happy now. I know he's happy. In his casket, he looked like he was going to sit up and say, "just kidding!" and then probably "you betcha" and "how about dat." I remember him only as someone who was so alive.
After the funeral we all went to Chili's, and I ordered an entire rack of ribs. While also downing a beer, I turned the whole rack into a graveyard on my plate, partially just to show off, but also because I was hungry after refusing to eat all day. My meal became just a slack pile of bones. And I thought about death like I always think about death, but this time death was apparent, present, and perhaps thinking about me, too.
I had just come from the cemetery, and there I sat in my black dress turning a family-friendly restaurant into a valley of dry bones all dropped in a pile one at a time until it looked like a fallen tower of Jenga. At least Warren lived while he was alive. I already feel dead like the pig bones in front of me. Deader than Warren in the casket.
Loneliness can literally kill you. That's what happened to him in those last few years after Gladys was gone. When I was in the army, a chaplain told us that loneliness was more deadly than smoking and drinking, and that you needed a minimum of four hugs a day. Loneliness is like walking around with a backpack full of bricks, except that it doesn't make you stronger, it just makes you weaker a little at a time. We had been having a problem with suicides in our battalion.
So there at Chili's I was acutely aware of not just death and its mysterious prowling about, but also of loneliness and what it can do. I imagine death and loneliness probably stroll around together looking for hell to raise. .
One week later, my friend sent me a picture of him and his newborn. I looked at it and broke. I realized how alone I am, and that something was definitely missing. Not a baby, but something that could take the place of being too independent, too self-sufficient, and totally alone. So I looked at that picture and started to cry. Just going out and finding a boyfriend wouldn't cure the loneliness; plenty of people share a bed and still wake up alone. And empty sex only numbs you for however long it lasts.
Being alone means you're dead while you're alive. I'm just one of those piles of bones in the book of Ezekiel that got up and started to walk, had flesh that grew over them, but did not start breathing. They missed out on the breath of life.
I deleted the picture of my friend and his newborn from my phone. I felt pretty stupid at that point about all my goals, ambitions and ideas. The things I wanted to do with my life, and all the things I wanted to learn and make happen. I felt stupid about my pipedream monkeying around with some pathetic graffiti and street art photography.
I'll keep doing it, though, because of the inner voice telling me to keep doing it even when I don't want to. Because I haven't seen the forest when I just planted the seed yesterday. Because I probably won't feel alone like this forever. And because sometimes you have to pick yourself up by the bra straps and keep barreling forward. Despite what I think, I will live. I usually do.
I went to Detroit for a short getaway to see a friend; we'll call him Bob. I did not go with the intention of collecting graffiti shots, but I thought there would be time for it in the crevices of our Detroit experience between the Henry Ford Museum, a Tigers game, Canada, a pig roast, and eating literally everything that came within a one mile radius of my face, including Derek. I'll get to Derek in a second. Bob informed me on Friday night that just across the river was Canada. I had no idea it was there, which proves how much attention I paid in eighth grade geography. So we decided that Saturday morning (late morning) we'd drive over to Windsor, Ontario because I happened to bring my passport and I had never been to Canada before. I've been a Minnesotan for 27 years, and I'd been all the way to Namibia in southern Africa, but I'd never been to Canada.
Canada was just as I expected it. The streets were paved in slippery maple syrup, hockey pucks rained down from the sky and Mounties patrolled the city on stallions. We had burgers and Canadian maple beer, and we happened to walk by some street art painted over a brick apartment complex. I saw a few of them and took some shots. I felt bad for not getting anything in the city of Detroit where some really great graffiti can be found, but Bob wasn't willing to take me to the parts where we might find some of the best stuff. At least not that time around. Next time I'll make him take me there.
That night was the night of Derek. Derek was a pig slowly roasting in Bob's neighbor's backyard, named after the one hated resident of the subdivision. And after a mountain of hors d oeuvres (mountains I can move, you know) and drinks and seconds and thirds and fourths of Derek the pig, I was deeply entrenched in a food coma and my insides were a war-zone. I lost all hope for doing any graffiti hunting the next day, and thought I might not even wake up the next morning. Bob and I both wanted to kill ourselves.
We got a slow start to Ann Arbor the next morning. Derek was satisfying when he first went in, but after our relationship took off, he became a parasite, and so ensued an abusive relationship. But Bob and I made it to Ann Arbor and lunched at a vegan organic restaurant and drank fresh-squeezed vegetable juice from a vegan organic juice bar, and I felt that soon Derek would be out of my life.
We happened to wander past a dumpster in an alley that was spray painted by some amateur artists, and I took a picture of it. It was the kind of thing that says something incoherent and vague in poorly chosen colors and drips down like blood running out of a deep cut. Not great, but I like the chaos. I kept walking down the alley and turned the corner and found where all those vegan organic college hippies have thrown up all over the brick walls with their paint. It was an explosion of colors, images, tags, sayings and hashtags. (Note, everyone should #prayforJason).
I wish I had spent more time taking better pictures at better angles and zooming in on better images. I could have spent an hour in that alley strip, but the green juice was getting in a fight with Derek, and I had to make it to a bathroom and then rush to the airport to make my flight. So I did what I could at the time. So far Ann Arbor has been my favorite site, and I have a good reason to go back there and get Detroit. I'll make my next trip out more purposeful instead of drinking and eating all the food in Mish (does anybody call it that?) and going to Canada to see the Mounties.
Next time I'm in the Detroit greater area, I'll be more intent on graffiti hunting. It'll be way more gooder, as a good friend of mine would say. Don't try to be more gooder than anyone else. Just try to be more gooder than yourself last time you were in Detroit. My titbit of great and infallible wisdom today.
I usually just get a new phone when I drop mine in the toilet. I felt like this time around, I should skip the bathroom and go straight to the carrier. I just got the spanking new Samsung Galaxy S9+ in lavender purple (I'm not getting paid to tell you that; I wish I was). They conned me into the bigger, beefier phone with the high tech camera that I could use for my graffiti photography. You'll see the difference between the photos from Ann Arbor, MI and the photos I've taken around Minneapolis and St. Paul. These' new ones are much better.
The tall, strapping young ginger who helped me at At&T was amused by how little I understood phones and technology and databites and gigs and caches and storage. When he asked me how good I am with technology, I looked at him and said, "I met kids in Africa who grew up in mud huts that know more about technology than I do." I knew dazzled him with my technological illiteracy when he said, "If you have any questions, ask them now."
My new phone, Phoney as I call it while I'm throwing things around my apartment looking for it and Keysies, has 64 gigs instead of the 8 that my old phone had, so I can use things like Instagram and Lyft, and I can listen to music without running out of those databites so fast. Tall Strapping Ginger just looked at my old LG and said, "If you made that thing last three years, then this Samsung will probably outlast you." And I said, "Well that's a long time because I'm going skydiving for my 105th birthday."
I'm not trying to brag about my snazzy new thing; I'm still trying to grasp how it all works, and I think that if I recount the information to you that I'll understand it better. At first, it was an overload of notifications and information that pissed me off the day I brought it home, laid on my bed, and took high-tech pictures of my foot to test it out. It's hard to focus on my toes when I'm getting notifications about Facebook.
I don't have a Facebook.
At first I hated not the phone, but the necessity of the phone. Within days I realized how much of my own intelligence I could outsource, how much I could rely on it and mentally check out. I hardly have to open my laptop, and I never have to fidget with a Tom Tom. I don't have to worry about using up data, and I can finally use those stupid apps. Sometimes it makes me want to go back to those African mud huts for a long time. Eventually I figured out how to turn most of that garbage off and focus on what I want to use it for. Documenting graffiti and taking pictures of my ginormous cat, Pajamas.
Let me know what you think of the new photos.
Catfish in the Mud
I went to Namibia and took a tour of Sossusvlei, where it hasn't rained in 6 years. The river is completely dried up. My guide told me that even in the six-year drought, catfish are hibernating deep down in the mud and will surface again when the rains come back and restore life to the desert. I didn't believe him at first, like I didn't believe in the mysterious fairy circles on the dunes. But now the idea of catfish in the mud has become a metaphor for the things trapped on the inside and down below that wait for the rains to give them some vigor and life. Catfish in the Mud is a pretty standard millennial blog in which I say mostly nothing in about 300 words.