Impermanence Revisited

Tulips and Bluebells
Tulips and Bluebells

Here in Pennsylvania the tulips are in various stages of maturity. The beautiful yellow ones in front of my house dried up and blew away, while the others are somewhere near the end of their life cycle.

I found these in a local park and they seem to be in their prime, but in a few weeks they will be gone forever-dust to dust. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older or maybe I just notice it more, but things seem to move a lot faster now.

Watching the flowers come and go is also watching the days speed by, and I know I’m running out of time. Of course this is how life works; we’re here for a while and then we’re gone. And whether we acknowledge it or not, suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are.

W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge has a great perspective on impermanence: “Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”

Along the way, take time to smell the flowers, in as many ways as you can for as long as you can.

No Easy Way to be Free

No Easy Way to be Free
No Easy Way to be Free

I wrote this for a creative writing class in 2008, a couple of years after my third rehab. It’s about making new friends in a place known as The Ranch House on the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital. The guests call it what it is, a looney bin.

Peggy, the oldest, forever in her tattered robe, hopscotching down the hall when she’s not talking to herself or crying.

Adrian, the young, spoiled wannabe junkie, whining about not getting strong enough meds.

Stacy, fresh from the pizza shop, smiling and stumbling around on Seroquel.

Steve, the happy criminal, acting like he’s at summer camp.

Victor, a child in a forty year old body, slipping into schizophrenic rants about hidden cameras in the vents.

Donna, the large breasted, healthy looking nurse, explaining her addiction to Vicodin.

Sara, the stuck up prostitute, waltzing through the cafeteria like a queen.

Susan, the tough, freckled, career alcoholic trying to play bouncer.

Carl, his laces taken away, flapping down the hall all night in oversized shoes, driving everyone crazy.

Lucas, the seasoned gang member with the bitten off ear, bragging about his tragic childhood.

Tom, lanky and pale, trying to beat himself to death after a half-assed hanging attempt.

And me, a paragon of sanity, here with my friends.

Maybe Tomorrow, Maybe Someday

I'll quit tomorrow
I’ll quit tomorrow

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.

But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.” Lauren Oliver-Before I Fall

We Would Rather be Ruined than Changed

Change machine
Change machine

I was discussing change with my friend Debra the other day, and mentioned this quote by Sheldon B Kopp from his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him:

“It is not astonishing that, though the patient enters therapy insisting that he wants to change, more often than not, what he really wants is to remain the same and to get the therapist to make him feel better.

His goal is to become a more effective neurotic, so that he may have what he wants without risking getting into anything new. He prefers the security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity.”

To my own astonishment, she had never heard that, and while I understand that she’s not a Buddhist, she is a therapist. So I threw out another one I would have bet my last Xanax that she knew.

From W.H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety: “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread, than climb the cross of the moment, and let our illusions die.”

She never heard that one either, which completely blew me away. I mean, I’m open to change and I’m willing to listen to her point of view, but what I really want is to remain the same and get her to make me feel better. Wait a minute, I think I’ve heard that somewhere before…

Note: if you walk into a Laundromat to photograph a change machine, make sure you adjust the white balance, because changing things later can be hard.

Narcissus Tristitia

Narcissus Tristitia
Narcissus Tristitia

It happens at almost the same time each year here in Lancaster, one day it’s sunny and warm enough for the beach, and the next day it’s almost too cold to stand outside and fill your gas tank.

Recently, after weeks of record setting warmth, we had a cold snap with temperatures well below freezing. Although all I had to do was wear an extra sweatshirt, many plants, trees and flowers took a beating.

Some managed to hold on while others were not so fortunate. For them, it’s the end of the road. The ones that made it, the lucky ones, know that many of their friends are gone, and they seem depressed.

But this is nature, survival of the fittest and all that. Lions eat gazelles, giant tuna end up in cans, and photographers remember that it’s hard to adjust camera settings with frozen fingers.

Geraldo Rivera, best know for opening Al Capone’s vault, said: “Mother Nature may be forgiving this year, or next year, but eventually she’s going to come around and whack you. You’ve got to be prepared.” Touché.

Photographic Memories

Circa 1962
Circa 1962

This is a photograph of my mother in her early thirties on a trip we took to Taconic State Park in 1962. She is not that person now at 86, and in a way she is.

In her dining room there is another old photo of me at age 2 and a half. I’m sitting with my favorite teddy bear, wearing a sailor suit, and look as happy as a clam, and I ask myself who that person is.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh addressed this in his book No Death, No fear: “I have a photograph of myself when I was a boy of sixteen. Is it a photograph of me? I am not really sure. Who is this boy in the photograph? Is it the same person as me or is it another person?”

“The body of the boy in the photograph is not the same as my body, now that I am in my seventies. The feelings are different, and the perceptions are very different. It is just as if I am a completely different person from that boy, but if the boy in the photograph did not exist, then I would not exist either.”

He goes on to say: “You would not cry if you knew that by looking deeply into the rain you would still see the cloud.”

Note to self: reread this book and get a new rain jacket.