Friday, August 8, 2014

August 08, 2014
Writers note: Decided tonight that I would release the rest of the first chapter of the book. Rather than just that piece, here is the first chapter in its entirety.

Chapter I

In the middle of nothing is everything. In the middle of everything is nothing. Memories of the past are fuzzy, but the past is clear. Thoughts of my future are clear, but the path is fuzzy.

The simplistic will refer to what I see as duality by the all too easy zodiac sign; the Gemini. Sadly, it is far too complicated a life to look to some meaningless alignment of stars as the sole basis for the conflicted mess that has become the mind of man today. Would we assume that these alignments are to blame for all duality? Are only those born under the sign of Gemini conflicted? If not, then signs of the zodiac cannot begin to explain our daily duality. No. That explanation lay considerably deeper. This is simply my story of conflicted development.

As all stories have a beginning, so too does mine. Reality, though, says that the beginning is no different than any beginning. The beginning is not the story, but the story only exists because of the beginning. I was unaware of where the story began until this moment as I reflected on the events which brought me to this place.

Several years earlier, I began this journey. At the time, I had only the knowledge that I was moving somewhere. Forward, I assumed; or should I say hoped?

I found myself, after several years of rapid development, without work looking for the next step in the ladder I had been climbing. After several weeks of what felt like disregard, I took to the road. This was not a vacation, it was a soul discovery road trip under the guise of a mind clearing drive to the coast.

I had spoken frequently to the young mothers I counseled about the importance of goal setting. “Begin with the end in mind,” I taught.

Choosing to ignore my own words, I simply set to the road. Driving South, I thought the answers would arrive within minutes. I had been fortunate enough to save well during the five years that had passed since graduation. Though no one would confuse me with Bill Gates, money, it would seem, would not be a deterrent on this trip. Deterrents would arise, though, and more swiftly than I had imagined.

As I backtracked towards middle America, I found myself in Boise.

“What'll it be,” asked the attendant.

“Fill it with regular.”

“Where you headed?”

“You know, I'm not sure. Taking a trip, but just not sure where I am going or how I am going to get there, other than by car.” I did know, though. I was going away. Fear of the known was driving the Lexus, I was merely along for the ride.

“Really? Always wanted to do something like that, just never had the balls to go on the road without a plan.”

“Not sure that balls is what it takes. This started because I had nowhere to go, and no one with whom to make the trip. I simply got behind the wheel of my car and started driving,” I confided. Not even sure I was confiding in this man. I was unsure of myself and talking about this only exaggerated those doubts. Nonetheless, there I was, practically baring my soul to some stranger in a gas station.

I could have gone on for hours, but certainly the thick man with deep-set brown eyes and jet black hair had no desire to listen to the ramblings of a man who had no real knowledge to pass along. It really exemplified the state of my mind. I was headed east; I was driving, but the truth is, I was headed to the middle. But which middle I did not yet know.

It was a bright, sunny August afternoon. I had left Seattle early in the morning thinking I was taking a scenic trip to the Oregon coast. The jagged rocks and crashing waves always gave me a sense of comfort. Though it seemed that August days were nothing but misty haze along that particular stretch of beach, the truth of the rocks and waves were always something to behold. When I reached Portland, though, I turned east.

At home were many of the regular creature comforts that many had grown accustomed to; nice furniture, flat screen television, an apartment full of that which I thought proved my successes. I had graduated from Lewis & Clark College, a small private college in Portland five years earlier. In those aforementioned five years, I had rapidly developed in a career working with underprivileged families. This was not the typical underpaid social worker environment. I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before earning a law degree. As an advocate employed by a division of the Walters Foundation, I worked with underprivileged families scarred by mental health trauma. Many of the families I had worked with suffered from various forms of mental and physical abuse.

I was unsure exactly why I chose to confide in this attendant. I guess I needed someone other than myself with whom to speak. On these long trips, I frequently turn the music up very loud if for no other reason than to temporarily drown out my continuous thoughts. I was quite familiar with controlling topics of conversation and guiding conversations along a pre-defined path.

As I headed out of the store front towards my gleaming silver Lexus convertible, I turned back and asked the man, “Is there anywhere peaceful that I could stay?”

“Idaho Falls isn't too far, but it will be another 300 miles or so.”

“Yuck. I've been on the road all day. Maybe I'll head up there tomorrow. Know any good places to eat nearby?”

“Depends on what you're looking for. Most people don't know this, but Boise has one of the largest Basque populations around. There's a really cool little Basque restaurant over on Capitol. If you want more traditional, there's a place over on Protest or an awesome old-fashioned drive in restaurant that serves prime-rib over on State Street.”

“Basque, you say? You know, it always seems easier to go with what I know. Think I'll go a different direction. Guess I am on an adventure. How far is it?”

“It's just up the road a bit. Get back on the 84 take the 184 towards downtown, at the end, you'll be downtown just a couple blocks away,” said the attendant.

Feeling up to a new experience after a long day on the road, I asked for the name of the restaurant.

“Easy. Bar Elkano. I remember that because I love elk meat and the name of the place was real close to that. They have lots of different lamb stuff on the menu,” he said.

“Thank you,” I replied. Wanting to show a friendlier side, I scoured for a name tag. Just as I was walking out, I caught a glimpse of the name; Todd. “Thank you Todd. I appreciate all your help.”

As I got into the Lexus, I called information to get the address. Plugging in the address to my GPS, I headed right to the heart of downtown Boise.

As I approached the door, I saw that they were open until one o'clock. I was thankful as I had not eaten much. So consumed with driving, I had only stopped for gas and snacks. I was desperate for some good food. Maybe, too, I was looking forward to being in the company of others. It had been a long day of lonesome driving. Though I kept the music loud, the thoughts still crept out and invaded my consciousness.

I had taken quite the circuitous route from Seattle. Almost ten hours on the road had taken its toll on my eyes and my body. The Lexus was comfortable; but ten hours is a long time to sit in a car grinding along long stretches of nothingness.

Driving through the Columbia Gorge, I saw plenty of National Scenic area signs, but most of it was vast stretches of brown fields running alongside the Columbia River. While a student at Lewis & Clark, I had explored much of the West end of the gorge, near the Portland metro area, but had rarely gone past Cascade Locks. On a sunny day, it was a peaceful drive, but not much on the scenery. Once I headed up the mountains, though, that changed. The Blue Mountains were quite picturesque. Not in the way that say Mt. Hood or Crater Lake would have been on a warm clear afternoon. More so how any pine tree lined stretch of highway would have been. There was a small river along much of the stretch.

I pondered as I moved from the bleakness of the fields in the Columbia Gorge to the wondrous mountains just how it had been so long since I had truly noticed what surrounded me daily. Far too often, when in work mode, the mind switches to auto-pilot. We are conscious of everything we pass, but are not conscious of our consciousness. It baffled me that I could be so close to such vastly varied landscape without even considering any of it for more than a moment.

I couldn't, though, as there was always somewhere to be; always working; always in meetings, it seemed.

Surely everyone who loses a job goes through this same thing, I thought to myself. Suddenly aware of everything around them. Suddenly cognizant of their own lack of consciousness.

All this passed through my mind as I worked my way towards Bar Elkano.

As I entered, it occurred to me that the crowd was diverse to a degree I was not accustomed. I had taken to eating only in fine restaurants. From the outside, this tiny corner bar seemed to be a place less suited to a man in his early thirties wearing a dress shirt with jeans and driving shoes. Look around, though, there were older people dressed similar and younger people considerably more casual.

I sat alone, in a corner booth.

Noticing that I appeared to be somewhat lost in my mind, an older man with short gray hair and dark colored glasses asked from another table if I needed help.

“Not really. Just trying to figure out what's up with this place. Just in town for the night and needed a place to eat. Guy at the gas station said this was a pretty good place. Said Boise had one of the largest Basque populations in the country?”

“Not 'one of;' the largest Basque population in America,” said the man with a weird sense of pride.

“Really? Tell me how that happened?” I was always a little curious about the smaller stories of the American migration. The history books could not do justice to the reality of what transpired throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

“Pretty much like any migration,” the man began. “You see, a Basque is an ethnic group, not a nationality. In fact, the Basques have never had a country of their own. There are only about two million world-wide. Originally, the Basques inhabited a small corner along the borders of Spain and France near the Pyrennes mountains.

“John Adams used the form of government practiced by the Basques as his inspiration for his Defense of the Constitution of the United States.

“In the late 1800's, large groups arrived here as gold miners, but quickly turned to sheep herding to make money. Liking their success, they wrote home to family and friends, encouraging them to move West and join them. Just like that, between 1900 and 1920, the Basque population in Boise began to grow.”

“What is it that differentiates the Basques from the French or Spaniards,” I asked?

“For one, the Basques have their own unique language. It is not an Indo-European language and many speculate that the Basques are the inhabitants of Europe prior to the spread of this language. We take great pride in being what we consider the 'true' inhabitants of Europe.”

“Ah, so you are a Basque descendant, then,” I interrupted.

“Sure am. Paulino Agire. I am the curator of the local Basque Museum. Pleased to meet you. I come here every Saturday for dinner. Have to support Basque businesses and this is one of the best. People call me Paul. Food is like the center of what the Basque culture is all about.”

“Smells pretty good in here,” I responded. “Anything you recommend?”

“Absolutely. Try the Solomo which is a pork sandwich with peppers. Incredible here. And, if you want to expand a little, try the Isastegi Basque Cider,” Paul said.

“Cider? Really? Is that like the hard ciders that have popped up all over the markets?” I asked.

“Not even close. This comes from the Basque cider-making tradition, which eschews the addition of sugar or carbonation. The result is a true expression of the fruit, and the processes of fermentation,” Paul assured me.

And, so began my first night. Unsure, I ordered the sandwich and the cider. I had heard of many friends who spent summers in Europe while in college. This is how they lived; exploration for several months at a time. They would wander about the continent and find out of the way places, enter and become like one group of traveling friends. Friends for just the night before each individual or couple moved on to the next adventure.

This is what it felt like for me this first night. I had never taken part in that summer ritual so many of my classmates had in Portland. Most of them were schooled on their parent’s income while I worked and paid my way. Such is the life of a man who was born without the same privileges. I had envisioned myself a self-made version of “Pip” from Great Expectations. While he had a benefactor, I was making this upward move on my own accord. Cognizant of my past, I forged ahead with blinders ignoring a past that I had put in a rear view mirror lodged deep within my mind.

Here I was, though, with memories of inadequacy flooding back. Paul need not know. He saw a man before him who, though dressed casually, had clearly some advantage and comfort in the company of men of character.

Paul seemed a pleasant man at ease with where he was in life. But I began to wonder about his culture. He spoke proudly of the Basque culture and his heritage. There was no secret shame in his dark eyes. He showed no signed of trepidation when he mentioned the shepherd past of culture. Yet I had some knowledge that the culture must have changed over the last ninety years. After all, sheep herding is not exactly in high demand these days. Surely the Great Depression changed the culture of the Basque sheep herding just as the Dust Bowl migrants had their entire lives turned upside down.

Yet, here was a strong vibrant group considered the largest Basque population in the nation right here in Boise.

Had the small ethnic group truly maintained their culture? It was difficult for me to know for sure. Without knowledge of Paul's ethnic heritage, one might never know much about his culture. He seemed perfectly assimilated into American culture.

As I was pondering these thoughts, Paul startled me back to reality.

“I didn't get your name,” he said.

“Sorry. Brian. Brian Jefferson.”

“Brian let me ask you a question. You say you're just in town for the night. Which way are you headed?”

Still a little lost in my thoughts, I simply responded “Not sure. Might head out to Idaho Falls for a while. Just taking a break from home for a while.”

At that thought, I began to eat my sandwich. I was starting to feel self-conscious about where the conversation would head with Paul. He had a great sense of pride in his heritage and I feared that a longer conversation may lead to my questioning what it all really meant. His ethnic pride seemed almost a mirage to me. Here was this man, talking fondly of the past; a curator of the local museum. But something struck me. There was a glint in his eye when talking about his culture and heritage, but there was a shallow tone. Discontent.

Paul thought himself a preservationist. Here he was, speaking to anyone who would listen with great pride about the history of his small ethnic group. But all his words came out in a past tense. There was no mention of what his people were doing now; no pride in current accomplishments.

I understood this feeling. I had some knowledge of my own ancestral glory; but for me, it just just that; ancestral. A part of my past history that had little effect on my daily life. We reminisce about the glory of our past, but it is a shallow pool of remembrance. Nothing of consequence about my ancestral history had any impact on my daily life. Like many, I watched Braveheart. I had great pride in the accomplishments and bravery of my own origins.

Now, that soul; that heritage. It wasn't even a memory. It was simply images flashing on a screen or words printed on paper. Somewhere along the line, my heritage became nothing more than history book fodder.

I imagined if I had continued too deep into conversation with Paul, I may have gone to a dark place that he did not want. The reality is more that I did not want to get too deep into conversation with myself. To do so might require forming a relationship that seemed far too fleeting for intimate conversation about my own history and my own past. Yes, I knew a little of my history, but I had no relation to that history.

A life lacking in the ability to be intimate had led me to many inconsistencies. One of these was an inability to allow my thoughts overcome fears. The only intimacy I knew were brief encounters. A life of brief encounters seemed easier. I had no intimacy with women and felt ill-at-east with myself in their presence. Paul's seeming self-confidence only reminded me of something missing from my mind. Sure I had relationships that many consider intimate which were, in reality, nothing more than short bursts of fear masked in dominance.

Superficially, I could relate to everyone. And that is where intimacy ended. I could have bored Paul all night with my knowledge of my own family history. Having traced our family genealogy back over a thousand years, I knew that we had descended from the Clan Gregor of ancient Scotland on my mother's side. Recitation of Scottish facts; of my Highlands ancestry may mesmerize many. Nonetheless, I was quite aware of my surroundings and felt it inappropriate to get to such intimate levels with strangers. I was but a stranger and did not wish to become an encumbrance.

Knowing the easiest way to fend off intimate conversation was to engross myself in an act that could truly only be individual, I finished my sandwich and drank the cider. The sandwich was quite unique; the pork was marinated in a special pepper sauce with pimentos on a fresh made baguette. AS the tender meat melded with the sweetness of the sauce, the textures and smells took me to a simpler state of mind. For such a simple sandwich, this was exquisite. The cider was still a little too sweet for my taste, but I got the appeal. This was real cider. The meal made me almost feel like I had traveled back in time to an earlier European restaurant.

I noticed as I was finishing the sandwich that Paul had begun to leave. As he was walking out the door, he offered a polite wave. His hand barely to shoulder level, he seemed disappointed, almost, that I had cut off his talk with dinner.

I had noticed a motel just a block away; nice looking place. Good enough for the night. The clerk was tall and slender, a tern yet polite face greeted me and offered his assistance. He appeared to be in his early forties with thinning hair. His greeting was as genuine as you could imagine that of any man who spent eight hours a day being cheerful in the face of weary travelers. It must have been somewhat easier working in such a place with painted with soft hues and finely furnished to present the upscale image of a modern country club sitting room. He looked tired, though. Through the cheerful looking smile, his eyes had deep dark circles and the corners were worn.

I checked in and parked the Lexus. After heading to my room, it dawned on me that I only had a duffel bag with enough clothes for one overnight stay. No matter. I put my bag on the bed and decided I wanted to take a walk. I needed time to really think and nothing did that better for me than a walk alone.

As I walked out, the daylight had barely begun to fade. Boise was warm and I enjoyed the feel of a cool breeze gently blowing as I strolled on to the paved sidewalk. While I had originally set out to spend my night at the coast, I felt a comfort near water. Close by in the downtown area was a river in the midst of lush green parks. Downtown Boise was vibrant in its appearance and I enjoyed a long stroll along the river as I contemplated so many things that I really could not focus on any one specific. I wandered by the river. This was not a rapid heavy river, or at least not this section. It was gently meandering through the city. A river has no friends, only the random touching of objects along the way.

I felt much like this river. Perhaps in large part that I was a stranger in a city where no only one man even knew my name, but this place seemed no different than any other place I have called home over the years. If you looked from the sky with no knowledge, Boise is like an oasis in a vast brown wilderness. Outside the city, long stretches of brown and nothing. In the city, though, you would never know just what lay beyond. A metaphor, I pondered; or maybe a parable. The river flowed through Boise like I flow through life; in contact with many, friends with none.

And there it was, that thought that kept creeping in my head. In the middle of nothing is everything. In the middle of everything is nothing. The former seems illogical while the latter is logical. Memories of the past are fuzzy, but the past is clear. Thoughts of my future are clear, but the path is fuzzy. It was like an intruder planted this seed in my soul. What did it mean?

Like this river, I had shared the banks of my life with many. Pleasantries and drinks shared informally with like-minded people. Just like a river, though, I could be gone in an instant and be but momentarily missed as the next band of water rolled through.

I had entered law and began working for the Knight Foundation in an effort to help others overcome. Along the way, I always thought I had been helping. So convincingly friendly to all, yet without friends. Just clusters of acquaintances with whom I shared nothing past superficial conversations.

As the thoughts became more convoluted and less pleasant, I decided that the time for introspection was not at hand. It is difficult to understand your own relevance without first understanding what it means to be relevant in the first place. To understand the self, I felt I must understand what the self is in the mind of others.

I had done well with school which made me believe that my mind was strong enough to overcome any and all adversity. Lacking, though, was the recognition that if the mind does not have control of the body, it is easy to succumb to the pleasures of the body. Thoughts of past pleasure tricked the mind into a false state of happiness.

While this is something I understood extrinsically, I had never been able to internalize the knowledge. To understand inadequacy, I had to allow myself to be intellectually intimate with others. This thought scared me as it seemed far too difficult. With that in mind, I simply wanted to escape the haunting thought that to be less dissatisfied with my station, I needed to enter uncomfortable territory. It seemed simpler to forget the problem for the time being and move on to a vibrant club in the downtown area.

Strolling through this strange yet familiar city, the scents attacked my mind more so than the sights. Oftentimes, cities seem almost homogeneous in their appearance. The shrubs and trees that lined the river, though, created its own unique identity. The pleasant smell briefly took those thoughts away as I walked only to create more as they took me to a different time.

With many people the sense of smell brings only the pleasant memories. For me, however, pleasantness would frequently be short-lived. Being beside the river, though it was far from childhood took me back. A time that should be nothing but innocence and all I could seem to remember was loss. Not the kind of abject loss that happens. No, this was the abstract loss of long-forgotten dreams.


Post a Comment