26 May 2010

Take My Breath Away

So I was standing in my kitchen naked, sipping Crystal Light through a bendy straw and listening to Berlin...when I realized that I was standing in my kitchen naked, sipping Crystal Light through a bendy straw and listening to Berlin.

This happens to me a lot. More than the average person? I can't really say, but experience and conversations lead me to believe that I experience my own personal brand of introspective jamais vu more often and perhaps more intensely than most.

When it strikes, it strikes like Thor's Hammer. I'm blown out of my body with the force of a hurricane, dumbstruck by the sensation of being outside of myself, observing my actions with embarrassment and awe.

FYI-out of body experiences aren't all astral fun and games. In my estimation, they really end up muddying the existential waters. When it's all over (and yes, we're talking a matter of seconds), and I'm back inside my naked body, which is now singing along to "Take My Breath Away", I try to reintegrate completely, to no avail.

It doesn't feel right. Which implies that seconds before it did feel right. Which only confuses me further. And makes me wonder about all of the other things I do during the day that go unnoticed by my astral self. Which makes me wonder if my astral self isn't just a little too critical of the bodily me. Which confuses me again. Why haven't I put pants on yet? And how much is too much Crystal Light? Surely 40 ounces is too much.

Eventually I stop all of this mental chatter. I forget about it. I make a few phone calls. I make another quart of Crystal Light. I don't put any pants on.

14 May 2010

Heart of a Dog

It's been just over two months since I left my full time job and entered Limbo. Unfortunately, unbaptized babies don't make good company, and the literal landscape is as desolate as the social one. This does not bode well for a shapeshifter like me.

I should explain. Since a very early age, I convinced myself that I was a changeling; that elves or gnomes or goblins or fairies had stolen the real Seth from my parents and replaced it with me. According to many stories about polymorphic replacements (like myself), at some point the changeling reverts to its original form. A log, a lump of clay, or an animal of some kind are the most common examples.

But I was determined to maintain the ruse and live out a long and healthy life as Seth Stewart. So, in turn, as suddenly as I became aware of my true nature, I strove to hide it by becoming an observer of behavior, and cultivated the skills of a subtle and accomplished mimic. The way my mother held her head in her hands when she watched tv, the way my sister stood on tiptoe when she threw a tantrum, the way my father chopped the air with his hand when he was yelling at us-all of these minute details were the currency I used to mortgage my time amongst "the humans".

Growing up did not necessarily mean growing out of this habit. No, I don't really think I'm a changeling now, but there's always a voice, a persistence, in my head that reminds me to be alert and aware. "Imposter. Faker. They can see you." So I watch. How they look at me. When they smile. When they don't. Where they put their hands. When they touch their hair or fidget in their seats. I make an inventory, and deposit it all into my secret bank.

Back to the present: Me, today, almost jobless and alone much more than I've ever been. And my little friend talking to me "Imposter. Faker. You're losing it. Pretty soon, you're going to turn into a log. Or a chunk of mud. Or a mouse." I stare at myself in the mirror and forget who I am. I wonder what to do. I take pictures of myself, record videos over and over again, if only to be able to watch and mimic myself in some strange, narcissistic attempt to hold onto my facade. But this doesn't quite do the trick.

Quite by accident, while making one of my many throwaway recordings, I saw what has obviously been happening, slowly but surely, for weeks. I'm still watching, still taking in every scrap I can from the only constant source of living, breathing stimulation I have around me. My one companion is helping me maintain my sanity, but at the price of a new kind of transformation.

How much longer before Seth has disappeared and joined the pack?


02 May 2010

Retiring to the Garden of Eternity

Very little is clear to me with regards to the future except a handful of what I believe to be modest expectations. One of these is having a backyard by the time I am fifty. Though I am not sure why, I have strong reason to believe that a yard will be key in maintaining sanity and keeping the doldrums of my golden years at bay.

This comes from recent observations of my parents and their neighbors. Don and Eileen Stewart still live in the two-story colonial that housed all eight members of my immediate family from the time I was seven until my hasty departure at eighteen. The backyard, though massive by my standards after years of apartment living, is average for the neighborhood.

For most of my upbringing, it was dominated by an above-ground swimming pool; a fact that I refuse to be ashamed of despite the guarded (and slightly snarky) reactions of some of the less tactful of my friends. I will always have fond memories of the neighborhood kids coming over and pretending to like us for three months out of the year, and the handful of occasions we managed to get our parents to drink enough to go swimming after dinner on a hot summer evening.

And so it was that for many years I thought of our backyard as a vehicle for the pool and little else. Recently, when my parents got rid of the pool altogether, I began to suspect that the yard was being re-purposed. However, it was only in the past few days that the pieces finally came together.

Theories abounded in the interim-the planting of shrubbery and a tree in the area where the pool once stood indicated that my father was pursuing a new hobby. Ultimately, though, the burst of landscaping enthusiasm subsided, proving to be yet another one of Don's "neurotic hemorrhages".

My next thought went to the dogs. Three now live at the house-two cocker spaniels (Maggie and Oliver), and an ancient, desiccated chihuahua (Candy-not named by my parents). The problem is that all three are decidedly uninterested in a large yard to explore, and my parents have relegated their canine adventures in the backyard to a small area my mother refers to as "shit alley". There went that theory.

Then, just the other day, I was in the kitchen reading about Laura Branigan (I had entered one of those Wikipedia chains that start with an entry on the history of numerology and lead to a dead 80's pop star), when my mother flew past me and straight out of the back door. I didn't immediately check on her until I realized that I had moved from Laura Branigan to Norse mythology and had not seen her come back into the house.

I strolled over to the screen door and peered outside at my mother standing in the middle of the yard, one hand resting on her chest, the other at her side gripping a can of Bud Light. She was stock still, the only movement being the fluttering of her sundress (May heralds the donning of this particular warm weather staple for her) in the breeze.

Her gaze was fixed but unfocused. She just stood there. And I just stood there in the doorway watching her. The word "communing" kept popping into my head; though Eileen, with her can of beer and acrylic nails, seemed an unlikely candidate for this transcendent moment I appeared to be witnessing. Still, a wave of embarrassment came over me, as if I had intruded on something private, special. So I turned away and pretended not to have seen anything when she finally came back into the house ten minutes later.

The very next day I was taking a walk with my sister and her dog, Maya, an energetic and slightly nervous pit bull/lab mix. We were hoping to tire the dog out with a long meandering through the neighborhood, and spent a lot of time reminiscing and telling stories about the various houses and families surrounding us.

About halfway through the walk, I was momentarily startled by a man standing on his front lawn. He surprised me because as we had approached, he'd been possessed by that same stillness I'd witnessed in my mother the evening before. I didn't register his presence until we were mere feet away, when he softly cleared his throat. I was taken aback for an instant, but kept walking, and watched him shift his weight slightly, his painfully white sneakers squeaking on the waxy grass, his eyes as empty and mysterious as my mother's.

In subsequent days, whether it be while walking the dog, driving my siblings to work, or staring out of the living room window, I witnessed this suburban zombification no less than four times (in addition to the aforementioned instances). In all cases, the victims were 55+, alone, and standing in THEIR YARDS. Caught in a sublime and horrific trance. A paralyzed dervish in a temple garden of hanging planters, manicured shrubbery, and oscillating sprinklers.

The older the devotee, the more intense and lasting the episode. One particular woman of about seventy was taken away in the middle of watering her roses. So arresting was the scene that I almost intervened...then thought better of it.

For me, all of these episodes coalesce into a convincing, albeit incomplete body of evidence that implicates a connection between one's yard, latter life, and a...contemplative? Meditative? Transitional? Larval? state of being. Think a combination of Cocoon, Night of the Living Dead, and Weekend at Bernie's.

This discovery is, I am sure, only the tip of the iceberg. The laundry list of questions it raises unsettles me, and yet; I feel as if I've been gifted with a glimpse of my own future. Running on intuition, I stepped out onto my front lawn this afternoon, ready for...nothing. Which is what I got. That and the side eye from the nosy old crow next door, whose attention eventually moved away from me and into that elderly otherworld bounded by a patch of grass, a slate walkway, and a gravel driveway.