Rocket’s Red Glare

On the eve of the 4th of July, when families gather for fireworks displays, when piles of flavoured shaved ice become snowcones, where am I?

Standing in line for a sugar high in front of a community college math, science and CIS building, waiting for the US Space & Rocket Center to host a fireworks celebration of a new nation’s independence.

On a planet, what is national independence?

Don’t we breathe the same air?

How many blogs? How many Facebook accounts?

How many social media entities does it take to spread one out over our species?

I am limited, having just five main email addresses I use actively, and maybe half a dozen blogs I maintain, only three Facebook profiles I update, not to forget the Pinterest and other social media sites that are updated automagically.

In the midst of that, I live and breathe.

What makes a greenhouse a living space or vice versa?

Can the word “punk” and the phrase “Waffle House” exist together? Yes, at Aretha Frankenstein’s in Chattanooga.

I say I want to be a hermit but I easily let a friend (well, not just any friend (the friend (she knows who she is))) get me back on social media with the only hesitation a five-hour daytime sleeping period to keep me on schedule with my night shift job, even on summer holiday.

I look down at my hands, observing the thinning skin, the early knotted knuckle signs of arthritis, the freckles and sunspots, wondering: will I live to 6th May 2050?

My thought structure passes through many phase shifts and subsets, pausing in Venn diagrams of interconnectedness, looking in all directions, asking myself: why am I asking myself questions, as if I’m not here with myself seeing me ask questions for which I already know the answers or already know I don’t know the answers?

Why do I pretend there is an Other/Not-Me which needs to see I already know the answers or already know I don’t know the answers?

Who am I? Who are we?

No, really.

When we know everything is grounded in reality but believe in magic/miracles/the unexplainable anyway…

Why?

We carry forward the successful thought patterns of our ancestors, regardless of its practical application today.

Sometimes as history (lest we forget the lessons our ancestors learned), sometimes as fairy tales/fantasy (as entertainment), sometimes as integral parts of our thought sets (because what worked in the past still works in the present/near future).

And if we could prove that thoughts do not exist in a vacuum, then what?

How do we extinguish the illusion of an independent person having independent thoughts?

How do we show that every one of us is just/miraculously a localised spinoff of stardust in motion?

How often should we tell, rather than show?

How long will it take for everyone to see the obvious?

And for/to what purpose?

Saving the species from/for itself, even if species is a concept that should lose it illusion powers?

What does a benign universe provide itself in the localised forms taken in our shapes?

Other than randomness?

We are random, no worries, there, because we also do not exist, despite ancestral teaching to the contrary.

It is here that a good joke is inserted to take our thought trails in a lighthearted direction:

Charles Schulz — “My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?”

Wisdom is what wisdom gives, often takes

In a world of humour — working with, hanging out with younger people — I want my jokes within blog posts and my likes within social media to prevent them from repeating what I’ve done if they can learn it faster some other way.

[Instead of telling them what to do or preaching to them…]

My nephew’s accomplishments are a prime example — figuring out international relations without working in business for 25 years — excerpt below:

“This was my first time to visit the UN. Actually, my first time in New York City.  Working with the United Nations has been a dream of mine since I was a young boy. 

. . .

“Now I understand people, not documents, protect human rights.  International governance works when purveyor of rights–people–are vigilant and unrelenting in the protection of their dignity.  For those who may not have the opportunity to self-advocate, such as persons with disabilities, we must not put words in their mouths or patronizingly speak for them.  They can speak for themselves. We, the able-bodied population, must offer our louder megaphones to them to ensure their voices find expression.  The UN works when we, the global community, work with institutions of all levels–local, regional, national, and international–to ensure “no one is left behind” in the pursuit of a world enshrining human dignity and respect.  The UN is indeed an ideal but people have the real power.  Realistic idealism, in this regard, may be the optimal method to promote and protect human rights.  We, the people, owe it to all members of society to remain vigilant, purposeful, and passionate in our advocacy. The tireless self-advocacy of persons with disabilities at the 10th anniversary of the CRPD is a poignant reminder that apathy and indifference has no home in even the most marginalized populations.  As a student of human rights and a global citizen at large, this experience changed me for the better.”

Too repetitious?

“Certain subjects begin to repeat themselves: dogs chase the Google Street View car in Peru and Russia, while a dog in Chile just stares as the car goes by; workers by the side of the road wear bright orange uniforms in one country, bright orange ones in another.” [ from the New Yorker, An Agoraphobic Photographer’s Virtual Travels, on Google Street View, by Andrea Denhoed]

What is peace?

Once again, I have made peace with the world.

What is peace?

Peace, of course, is a concept, a label, a symbol, all of that.

I do not exist, therefore a nonexistent entity making something called “peace” is all imaginary.

The world is easy enough to grasp as both an entity and a concept.

At a multicellular level, I am not at peace, my body always fighting entropy, battling bacteria and viruses floating around in my system, breathed in and pooped out on a regular basis.

So what, then, is peace?

It means I have let go of the parts of me that in my youth wanted to explore the universe off of this planet.

I am no longer 5, 15, 25, 35 or even 50.

To be sure, age is just a number and more than one person my age or older has traveled to the International Space Station orbiting Earth but I am not them.

I am me.

It is in my personal best interest, healthwise, to fold up the circus tent under which I was entertaining people around me and return to the meditation platform in the woods where I can rest during the day whilst quietly spending half of the night shift working alone preparing blood product inventory for delivery to hospitals.

I am contented, not necessarily happy, but able to enjoy myself and no longer fill my thoughts with the lives of others who, although they gave me a level of exuberant happiness, also left me feeling old, unable to keep up with their busy lives, as busy as I was when I was their age 25-30 years ago.

I unattach myself from the surface of others whose lives I mimicked as a chameleon.

I am happiest here, writing, wherever my butt is seated and my hands have a keyboard or pen and paper on which I compose these ditties.

Peace is simplicity and frugality.

Peace is my thought set devoid of a running commentary justifying its existence, shouting for attention, and seeking quick thrills.

Delta, Dawn, Dune

Connections.

Networking.

Talking Sister Rosetta Tharpe with one friend, capacitors with another, and how to properly brew Piper & Leaf branded tea with a third.

All within the greater community connection that is dancing.

Yes, dancing has connected me to the following, at the least:

  • Cosplay/Dragon*Con
  • Oil change discounts
  • Barcode readers
  • Weekly social gatherings
  • Outdoor photography with friends
  • LGBT rights
  • Rocket/missile engineering/engineering in general
  • Juggling multiple jobs
  • Local Maker movements
  • Online roleplaying/multiplayer gaming
  • Massage/physical therapy
  • Haunted buildings/locations
  • Multiple emotional/mental conditions (depression/bipolar/dissociative/schizophrenic, etc.)
  • Traveling for weekend dance competitions (not unlike car racing, gymnastics, tennis, etc.)
  • Recruiting
  • Promoting/marketing
  • Local art communities
  • Municipal growth planning
  • Extraterrestrial exploration/colonisation
  • Greater exposure to different music genres
  • Polyamorous relationship management skills
  • Watching young people expand their talents into other fields
  • Watching people 40 and older rediscover the simple joys of living
  • The international language of dance overcoming all socioeconomic sub/cultural barriers
  • Myself

In times past, I spent Sunday mornings meditating on a subject or two, often asking more questions than reaching conclusions, setting up thought trails to explore the rest of the artificial seven-day block we call a week (trying living without a watch or calendar and see if you recognise a week; you might tune yourself into periods of a day and a lunar month but will you feel a week go by if there are no specific days you need to do anything?).

My latest electronic project has turned into the next evolution of the personal care chair, a seating device that senses your posture, wrapping itself around your torso and gently correcting your posture, working pressure points to ease muscle/ligament/tendon pain, keeping you alert when you need it and reminding you to relax occasionally, as well as push you up to exercise your body, tied as it is to your fitness tracking device (smartwatch, phone, wristworn activity tracker, etc.).

I started physical therapy recently to work my upper body, hoping to build muscle and bone mass in an effort to stop the bouts of vertigo my general practitioner/primary care physician believes is caused by pinched nerves in my neck/spinal column.

One of the physical therapists I also met through dancing.

Is there anything anymore in my life that isn’t related to dancing?

We live on a small planet, third cooling molten rock mass from the Sun, so I know better than to feel or act shocked that we humans connect through common interests.

Yet the child in me enjoys amazement and awe.

The teenage boy in me enjoys his own amazement and awe that is kept at bay for no other reason than I am what I am, an awkward nerd whose looks, age and ability to deflect people away from the real me through the art of conversation gets tiring after a while.

Sometimes I wonder why I carry an eclectic set of social data in my thoughts from which I can parse sentence structure and make sense in general conversation whether I know what I’m talking about or just am interesting enough that people ignore my ignorance, inferring from the few words I blurt/write that I know more than I do.

The wisdom of aging has its advantages.

Time was when I wished I was wise enough to seek wealth.

Then the training of my youth kicked in, driving me back to the monkhood for which I was destined.

I don’t know how to live in two worlds and the confusion has clouded my weekly meditative writing.

Two worlds, one which is the monkhood with my marriage that I gladly enjoyed for ten years, the second is the sexual attraction infused in dancing that counteracts my celibate marriage and draws me to see human bodies in a way that constantly confuses me since the nerd in me has no experience seeking out sexual relationships with others.

The denial of sex with others has fueled my creativity for decades, including writing and electronic gadget construction.

Dancing fuels my writing but takes away from my laboratory time.

At my age, 55+ years, and in semi-retirement, working for a local nonprofit, what or who am I?

Does anything matter anymore — labels, symbols, philosophical stances, subcultural beliefs?

The child in me and the future geriatric self wait for an answer that may not exist.

I return to the mantra that I do not exist, therefore I am not important.

I am at peace in my thoughts.

That much I know.

At my age, that’s all that matters.

I spend the day with my wife, give her the attention she seeks from her life partner, a person who lets me be me as long as she feels important (the primary person in my life), a person who feeds me and clothes me, for the most part taking care of me and my health.

What else am I to do because I don’t know how to care for myself?

I sit here and write, that much I know about feeling peaceful.

Everything else is just random interaction in the connectedness of the dance world.

I need not find patterns where they don’t exist.

I need not project the future in hopes of saving our species from global destruction.

I will die soon enough, might as well remain as peaceful as I have in the past, enjoy the ride and not question the beneficial/detrimental effects of the transportation device.

I no longer struggle with who I am.

My actions speak louder than words.

No need to be confused.

Breathe, eat, sleep.

A set of states of energy in motion which needs no overlay of symbols to justify its existence; i.e., the secret to happiness.

Live and let others live/die as they please, interference from me unnecessary.

[On a side note, I wonder if the Meclizine and ondansetron, combined with physical therapy easing decades of pain, have led to this new calmness in my thoughts…certainly, uncertainty about my vertigo and the piercing pain in my neck for 40 years have made me feel like I’ve always been running away from something; now that I have a solution, I don’t need to run away anymore, no need to pretend to be someone else in order to hide the real physical pain that has defined me since high school, from which I used to think there was no escape.]

If I am dying…

If I am dying, and at this point I have no idea what has been causing a myriad of medical conditions that grow worse (or deteriorate faster?) so, since we’re all dying, then I am dying, perhaps faster, perhaps slower than others but slowing down all the same, I have a confession to make.

Compared to billions of us, very few get to live a life that makes headline news.

Even fewer live that life.

Some of us don’t want to make headline news.

What we’ve done, what we’ve become, what we can’t undo or take away from, I am that person.

I want to live on Mars with Guin, no doubt about that.

But if she knew who I was, would she ever want to live on Mars with me?

For you see, I was once a drug dealer.

I am a fictional character so please don’t compare what I’m about to tell you to the person writing this.  This is my confession, not his.

I lived in the Fort Sanders area of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the early 1980s.  I imagined myself a future James Agee or Cormac McCarthy.  I wanted to be a writer of fame and fortune but settled with writing for writing’s sake, meeting people who could transform the written page into a carnival freak show.

The freaks accepted me into their groups but more than one called me a poser.

They saw me as suburban subcultural vanilla ice cream, pretending to rebel.

Of course they were right.

I’ve never rebelled.  I, like them, am part of the system.

Rebels do not exist.

But that doesn’t stop us from acting out the us-vs-them age-old nonsense.

A friend of many decades now had lived the life of the rebel since high school but grew up in the suburban subculture of Oak Ridge, a/k/a Atomic City.

He and I quickly became lifelong friends for reasons he’s never fully understood and I’ll never convince him.

I should give him a name but I won’t.  He doesn’t have to have a name, he exists here and in real life with or without a fictional label.

I wanted my writing to have some oomph so I let our friendship play out, taking personal risks of my own, getting to know so-called shady characters who were colleagues of colleagues well outside the circle of friends my lifelong friend thought we both knew.

In any organisation, well-formed or ad hoc, someone assumes control of the legitimacy of the organisation, protecting the rules, circling the wagons when the organisation’s rules or members are threatened.

In the new world I wandered, often alone at night, across the old railroad yard that would become the 1984 World’s Fair, I encountered protectors.

You wouldn’t recognise them as such.

Sometimes they were just old bums, hobos, homeless people, strangers who had chosen the outcast role through decisions they made in the middle of life we all live.

The railroad wanderers were instant friends.

They knew I, too, was lost, never fully buying into the bullshit that society dished out, trying to convince us it was precious caviar.

In the summertime, one can sleep against a tree, on the concrete shelf of a highway underpass but rarely in the confines of a sweltering hot, rusted-out storage warehouse.

I wanted to disappear.

I was ready to abandon all hope that I would ever belong and sat with a few guys down on their luck.

We all have stories to tell but not always the brain structure that allows us to rationally convey our stories.

Such was the case with the guys I met on the railroad.

“Down on their luck” sounds like if they just had been offered a helping hand at the right moment they would live in better socioeconomic conditions.

Not so.

Many of them would have enjoyed a social safety net that put these guys in a mental institution with regular beds, nutritious meals and activities to occupy them while doped up by Big Pharma.

Instead, they had guys like me, guys who carried a little extra weed, happy pills and needles to distribute, guys who wanted to ease the pain they saw in fellow wanderers.

My lifelong friend thought that I just tagged along with him as a quasibodyguard when meeting with dealers higher up the distribution network.

So that’s what I gave him, and still do.

He didn’t know I was the perfect mark for some of the dealers, an expendable person who could carry out tasks unafraid to die, perfectly paranoid enough to smell narcs and clean-looking enough to avoid suspicion by government authorities hellbent on squashing the illegal drug epidemic while promoting the legal drug epidemic enthusiastically.

I’m not idealistic.

I’m not realistic.

I just am.

I became a rule enforcer for people whose names I’ve conveniently forgotten and whose faces I choose rarely to verify I know them with a nod in large crowds.

I enforced rules in various ways, keeping up-to-date with technology to know what the fuzz was using to track dealers, giving them a few smalltime dealers as sacrifices to protect the integrity of the organisation with no name.

The distributors gave me extra product on the side as a thank you, hinting at people to watch for on both sides of the law, including local politicians who were part of government contracts involving transactions that didn’t need to make headline news.

Of course, the names of lawyers and cops in times of need.

I quickly learned the names of all dispatchers, including ones working for the University of Tennessee police department — getting to know them was like owning my own goldmine, collecting information at informal gatherings in bars or at offcampus parties, knowing in advance when a raid was going to happen, earning a lot of extra product when I passed along tips to the right people.

If that was all I did, I would live today with a clear conscience.

If I am dying, I would like to make a confession.

Some people are not alive today because of me.

And no, I’m not just talking about sweatshop factory workers in a tropical climate dying because they were exposed to toxic chemicals all day.

I’m talking about the ones I had to take care of myself.

Ones whose lives and deaths were not going to make headline news.

People who could disappear without a trace and no investigators would snoop around to solve a crime.

In the pre-Internet days, it was easy.

Not a lot of closed-circuit television in the student slums.

No inadvertent audio or video feed from a smartphone.

Just strangers passing through town on empty boxcars looking to make a dollar or two, get a free bottle of cheap booze (or mouthwash) and maybe score some weed or heavyduty upper/downer.

Unreliable as can be.

But more expendable than me.

Hey, self-preservation is the name of the game, after all.

If they messed up, and, say, I got a little angry, their disappearance was a small price to pay to make me happy again, finding another mark down the food chain to complete a task assigned to me or I had dreamed up myself to protect the organisation that didn’t exist.

My problem is and was my writing.

If I don’t “confess” to myself in my writing, then thoughts will fester and grow cancerous, eating away at my insides like spiders that enter your nose every night, feeding on microorganisms living in your mucous membranes.

For decades I have hinted at my years of drug dealing, working as an enforcer, a snitch, a hitman.

I wanted to wait until I knew I was dying before confessing here to you as a fictional character.

I’ve let my paranoia get the best of me sometimes, sure that I’m being followed by guys from the old neighbourhood, seeing them pop up unexpectedly in my world travels, or reading headlines on websites I frequent that make me sure my phone is being bugged.

It comes with being successful, afraid that someone wants to steal my success from me, turn me in, or take me out as revenge for someone I never got to know before his demise because of me.

In those days, I should have carried a black book but learned quickly, as I think I’ve told you, to quit being a student and clear my brain to store information and connections in relation to my real “job.”

I’m filled with more guilt than I want and less than I should have.

I know I shouldn’t say I take pride in what I did but it made me who I am, carrying over just a few of the connections to help me succeed while hiding under the cover of a normally depressed intellectual.

I also hid under cover of a childhood friendship that turned into a marriage of 30 years, something I wasn’t expecting to happen but accepted I don’t always get what I want when I’m hiding incognito in plain sight.

If I’m dying, I don’t need to hide anymore.

I can just move into a van down by the river and hang out with my kind again, the seriously unreliable, unpredictable wanderers, living out my days in bliss, maybe helping out the organisation again because I sure don’t need to worry about my life getting cut short now.

I still want to go to Mars or whatever the fantasy of Mars means in a life with Guin.

But I don’t know if Guin can handle who I was and might still be, needing to quench my thirst as an enforcer every now and then when I wander off for hours or days, out of touch with the always-on, fully-connected tech that I don’t want tracking my paranoid self.

I am not who people think I am.

I am connected to people you probably don’t want to know because if they need to have a reason to get to know you, it’s not for your own good, possibly for your sudden, unfortunate demise, disappearing in ways that investigators won’t question — car accidents, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, heart attacks, rapid cancer, accidental overdoses, etc. — perfectly natural in today’s world (in fact, fully aligned with actuarial predictions).  Untraceable becomes a lot easier when there’s no suspicion.

That’s one advantage of being fully immersed in computer modeling.  Not only can I be a fictional character, I can act out test scenarios for the real me before he carefully carries out the trash himself.

If I’m dying, I’ve fully confessed.

I feel a lot better.

I can go back to imagining a life with Guin, go back to looking up jobs in other cities, find a flat that someone is letting, move on, get away from the local organisation that’s putting pressure on me again to get back to work with/for them.

I’m a wanderer.

Sometimes I’m even a happy wanderer.

If I’m dying, I want to wander happily to the end.