something’s staring at me

Joshua Clark Orkin

something’s not right
princess and the pea
keeps me up nights
something’s bothering me

please turn off the lights
please close your eyes
find me with your hands
& we’ll climb the night sky

i don’t care if it’s real
i got to love you
but sometimes it feels
nothing human is true

something’s not right right
it’s not what it seems
this life in the light
is too pretty to be

in the weight of each day
waking up to the dread
all my awful mistakes
i’m alone in my head

in this beautiful world
i only want to be kind
you can lean on me girl
i’m not losing my mind

but something’s not right
princess and the pea
keeps me up nights
something’s staring at me

please turn off the lights
please close your eyes
find me with your hands
& we’ll climb the night sky.

Fade in, Fade out

We fade in reading books.  My parents were former hippies who had gone legit: a Jewish father who had just opened a small-town matrimonial law practice, and an Irish-Catholic mother who taught Math and Earth Science at an alternative education high school.  By the time I hit my mid-20s she had moved on to district administration, his practice had exploded, and they were making a very good living with money to spare.  But as a child, in that house out in the country, we lived mortgage payment to mortgage payment.  It was a comfortably middle-class American upbringing — a fundamentally happy childhood.  I was kind, the people around me were kind, and life consisted only of playing outside, video games, sports, school, and books.  Mostly I fade out reading books.

Christmases we spent with the Clarks, my mother’s parents in Parsippany, New Jersey.  If we were maybe middle to upper-middle class, they were very clearly middle to lower-middle.  My grandfather at this point was a full-blown alcoholic, glued to his recliner in the living room, while my grandmother, Alice, was, I dunno, some sort of saint.  This was the Catholic side, and though my mother is basically an atheist, the holidays were important to Grandma, so we always went down there in December when school was out.  First Hannukah in Ithaca, then Christmas in New Jersey.  I was the envy of all my single-religion friends.

Alice Clark, as I said, was some sort of saint.  She had lived through both World War II and a life-long marriage to a hyper-intelligent, underachieving alcoholic.  Tom Clark had been an aerial photographer, scouting forward positions on the western front, then turned so hard to bitter when he came home that it was impossible to see what had once made him happy.  My clearest memory of him is bare-foot, hippie-child Joshua trying to give him a hug, and him pushing me back and extending a hand.  Men shake.

Alice though, must have spent half her tiny pension on junk for me and my brother.  All the useless plastic crap that my parents refused to buy us somehow ended up under that Christmas tree.  A plastic bow and arrows with suction cups, which – so unlike the cartoons – fell only a few limp inches when fired; an elaborate black Lego castle that must have cost 100 bucks, and which my parents had dubbed: The Castle That Cost Too Much; that sort of thing.  She spoiled us rotten and loved us to pieces.  They lived in what was basically a one-story trailer, built up on a foundation, and chain-smoked incessantly when we weren’t around.  It wasn’t until years later that I identified the smell in that place.  I loved it there.

What I really loved, of course, was fading in on Christmas morning.  Every year, me and Alice, we played a game:  it was a race to see who could get up first.  Every year I woke up in my tiny Mighty-Mouse pajamas, in the blue-black morning, thinking this would be the year.  And every year I raced out into the living room and there she was, sitting calmly at the table, drinking her coffee with a quiet smile.  Not a smug smile, just a sort of, maybe next year kiddo, don’t give up smile.  Then we fade out waiting together, shaking presents, eating sugary crumb-buns from the local bakery, until around ten or eleven when my uncle finally came out of his room in their house, bleary-eyed and hung-over, and Christmas day could begin.

Then I fade in on the Christmas morning when things changed.  As always, I hopped out of bed in my pajamas, the whole family still asleep, and went racing out into the living room.  There, for the first time, all the lights were off; pre-dawn darkness ruled with equal indifference outside and in.  I learned something then in that dark room about getting what you want.  Unsure of what to do, I sat down in her seat at the table and crossed my legs like a grown-up.  What I know now is that Alice was still in bed because she had a malignant tumor growing inside of her.  She refused to admit it, never went to a doctor, and by next Christmas she was dead.

That same year both our golden retriever and our german shepherd had to be put down, and Grandpa checked out almost 6 months to the day after Grandma shocked us all and disappeared forever.  I fade back in later that year walking into my mom’s room and finding her crying.  She told me our cat was missing.  I said, well heck, let’s get some fliers together, go paper the neighborhood, get off our butts and go find Tigger!  She said oh, dear, no.

I sat down next to her, she put her arm around me, and she explained that Tigger wasn’t really missing.  She was old.  Cats sometimes have a way of going off alone to lie down with dignity.  I think we both cried, or maybe just she did.  The last time I know I cried, for sure, was at Alice Clark’s funeral.  I must’ve been 10 years old.  The next year I started having panic attacks during health class and passing out in the coat room.

There’s so much to feel, and taste, and smell, and do, all at once, it’s overwhelming.  Life is difficult for everyone, everywhere, and existence on this planet can get way, way worse than death.  But right now it’s here, just here, and in this moment it’s all sort of okay.  You’re here, I’m here; just stop for a minute and be here with me.  Notice all the little sounds hiding in this silence.  There’s so god damn much to experience before the darkness comes back for us.  Taste every flavor of ice cream, feel every emotion, laugh at the sheer absurd unlikelihood of any of this.  Laugh just to hear the sound.  Then let it go.  You gotta let it go.  Fade in, fade out.

handsome molly

“Come morning I found the day
as I have found every other day:
without relief or explanation.”

-Mark Danielwski, House of Leaves

a Doc Watson song

in the pines

Would’st thou shape a noble life?
Then cast no backward glances
towards the past, and though
somewhat be lost and gone, yet
do thou act as one newborn.”

-Goethe

a Leadbelly joint

princess and the pea

“Upward, but not
northward.”

-Edwin Abbot, Flatland

something’s not right
princess and the pea
it keeps me up nights
something’s bothering me

please turn off the lights
please close your eyes
find me with your hands
we’ll climb the night sky

i don’t care if it’s real
’cause i got to love you
but sometimes it feels
nothing human is true

something’s not right
it’s not what it seems
this life in the light
is too pretty to be

 the weight of each day
waking up to the dread
all my awful mistakes
i’m alone in my head

in this beautiful world
i only want to be kind
you can lean on me girl
i’m not losing my mind

but something’s not right
princess and the pea
it keeps me up nights
something’s staring at me

please turn off the lights
please close your eyes
find me with your hands
we’ll climb the night sky.

i had been happy, and i was happy still

Comme si cette grande colère m’avait purgé du mal, vidé d’espoir, devant cette nuit chargée de signes et d’étoiles, je m’ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifférence du monde. De l’éprouver si pareil à moi, si fraternel enfin, j’ai senti que j’avais été heureux, et que je l’étais encore.   Pour que tout soit consommé, pour que je me sente moins seul, il me restait à souhaiter qu’il y ait beaucoup de spectateurs le jour de mon exécution et qu’ils m’accueillent avec des cris de haine.

“As if this great anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, before that night sky full of signs and stars, I opened myself for the first time to the tender indifference of the world.  To feel it so like myself, finally, so brotherly, I felt that I had been happy, and that I was happy still. For everything to be consumed, for me to feel less alone, all that remained to wish was that there would be many spectators on the day of my execution and that they would greet me with cries of hatred.”

-Albert Camus, L’Étranger

a Dave Van Ronk song

on remembering to look up

So the bindle is two years old today.  How about that?  When it was born I was living on wasabi peas, drinking myself to sleep every night on a mattress on the floor of a bare room.  These words and sounds and images were a desperate attempt to communicate with a world that didn’t particularly care.

But life is a wild thing.  Perpetually shifting and uncertain, each fading sunset could be replaced by literally anything.  It’s so god damn beautiful — casually, constantly, like it’s nothing.  Whenever I remember to pick my head up out of myself, there it is:  so vivid, so bright, so saturated with light and sound and sensation.

Sandwiched between billions of years of darkness and endless nothing, this tiny riot of existence is unbelievable.  Some days it’s so much I can’t stand it.

Some days it’s hard to be a cynic.

Joshua Clark Orkin

the undertow

Joshua Clark Orkin

it’s always there the signs were clear
there’s no lifeguard on duty here
my mother said you mustn’t fear
the ocean but respect it, dear
for if you swim you have to know
that some go down with the undertow

the fields are waiting gold and fair
they’d cradle my head and play with my hair
but i have got the longing stare
and what i seek is way out there
you’ll never reap if you don’t sow
though some go down with the undertow

i know it’s all some bright disease
the crazy lust for shining seas
i’ll miss your laughter in the trees
but i won’t miss begging from my knees
the skies will rend and a wind will blow
when i go down with the undertow

so if one day it comes for me
just let me go i’ll be fine you’ll see
the end at last will set me free
and peace compose me gracefully
the stars will shine and a wind will blow
when i go down with the undertow.

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