Drifting Through Depression

There is no atmosphere, no fluid medium out here in outer space to carry away your screaming, it simply reverberates inside your helmet. Your space pen is running out of ink, so you can’t even commit your experience to the page, but you scratch away anyway. You’ll run out of oxygen before you run out of things to say, and future scientists may thank you for your effort if they ever recover your body.

Your tether snapped on a routine excursion, so now you’re just floating away from the hatch at a contemplative one and a half meters per second. There’s plenty of time to consider everything you did wrong. You’ve got hours for your life to flash before your eyes in slow motion.

The radio crackles. They’re going to do everything they can to save you. Just sit tight and stay calm. They’ll tell you the plan once they have one. No ETA on that yet. Over and out.

The capsule is getting smaller, quickly overwhelmed by the dark side of the earth. Its tiny blinking lights are becoming harder to distinguish from the twinkling cities on the surface. They mean well, those tiny faraway people of Mission Control, but they can’t do anything to help you all the way out here.

You’re adrift, too far gone for anyone to help you, and you have so much time to examine the rest of your life. At best, you will keep breathing until the end, but that could be days from now with your redundant oxygen tanks. Days of slowly drifting deeper into the blackness of empty space, weightless in the void that surrounds you.

There were a lot of ways that it all could end, but they all came down to this, eventually. Just you, slowly running out of air, thinking about your short, meaningless life and how very far away from you everything and everybody on earth really is. There are two kinds of people in the known universe: there’s everyone else, and then there’s you. As the planet shrinks before you, you realize that all of humanity is encapsulated in that one pale blue dot, everyone except for you.

You are alone.

You will never again read a book on a crowded bus, never share a brief moment of awkward eye contact with a stranger in the bathroom, never feel that first flutter of attraction with someone you’re just getting to know, never wave somebody in on the highway at rush hour because you were having a pretty good day. All you will ever see is blackness, all you will ever hear is silence, all you will ever feel is cold, all you will ever write is nothing.

You’ve nearly bled your second pen dry trying in vain to describe the experience, and for whom? Finding you out here would be like finding a needle in a haystack if the needle were three hydrogen atoms and the haystack were the whole African continent. You are an ever-diminishing speck in an infinite darkness, lost in thought and lost in space.

Even silence has a sound, once you strip away all of the others. It starts as a light ringing, like pink noise from a television in the other room, but tinnitus turns to tintinnabulations with nothing else to contextualize its sonic scale, or maybe it’s just the perpetually decaying overtones of your last desperate cry for help, all those hours ago. The roar of nothingness is deafening when there’s nothing left to temper it, and you want to scream again if only to disturb the monotony of having nothing else to dwell on but your fate and the slow, sad end of your short, pitiful life.

Now your home planet is nothing more than the black absence of stars, a perfect circle of negative space the size of a quarter if you held it at arm’s length. Soon, you’ll lose track of it altogether, and your one tangible point of reference will be lost and gone forever. You will never touch anything but the inside of your spacesuit, never smell anything but the fear in your own recirculated sweat, never taste anything but the dull brown musk of the roof of your mouth.

You’re almost out of ink entirely when the radio squawks you out of your stupor. It’s Mission Control and they have a plan to bring you home. They just need you to sit tight and remain calm for about six more hours while they test the equipment and run preflight checks.

Only six more hours of this, and maybe it’ll all be over.

A Wave of Anxiety

I can see it coming, like a roiling thunderstorm on the horizon. There’s a rumbling in the distance and darkness swells from the corner of the sky, billowing through the blue like ink in water. The wind turns sharply in my direction, blowing my breath back into my lungs. It’s like I’m breathing nothing at all.

There’s an electricity in the air, but I know it’s not rain. Neither thunder nor lightning announces the tempest that approaches. Below my feet, the tide recedes with impossible speed, leaving fish and mollusks on the sea floor, rudely exposed, flapping their gills or their shells in vain. It’s not a storm, but a giant wave that comes racing in at me from the surf.

An arching wall of water seems to move in slow motion, curving in and up as it grows toward me. As it gets higher, it blocks out the sun itself, allowing me to see illuminated in the water the silhouettes of great sea beasts, unaware of the impending destruction of their medium.

I’m alone on the beach, there is no shelter that could withstand the impact. I don’t know how it is in other worlds, but in mine there are two choices. Stand and maybe live or die here on the ground with my head between my knees and the stink of my own armpits in my nostrils.

So I stand. I remember my form and plant my feet like anchors, bracing my legs to absorb the force and transfer it downward, into the sandy earth. It’s the front stance, which has some Japanese name I’ve long since forgotten. I try to remember its name while I wait for the tidal wave, idly biding whatever time I have left. Like enormous jaws of curved glass, the sea itself opens up to devour me, but I will not be destroyed.

Then the towering wave crashes into me and everything is chaos. My stance holds for the initial impact. A solid wall of water smacks into my braced forearms and I settle deeper into the stance, sand rising past my ankles as my feet sink into the continental shelf. I can hear nothing but the low-frequency roar as water fills my ears and swirls around me. The force is incredible, but my stance is strong and I am not obliterated.

Surviving initial impact is only half the battle. Now I am under water with the rushing current threatening to tear me asunder. Shells, fish, and floating sea foliage strike my body, tearing my flesh in a thousand different places, but I refuse to break my stance. It’s the only thing keeping me from being swept away into the watery darkness.

One good thing about being planted at the bottom is you know which way is up. Swallowed whole, I am surrounded by black. No light can reach me at this depth. Although my muscles burn from the strain and the swirling sand is now up to my knees, I hold my position and wait for the riptide to subside.

The cool water soothes my straining frame. I’m completely submerged, patiently holding my breath, trying to stave off the panic that I might run out of air before I can reach the surface. My ears pop to adjust to the pressure and I can slooshy the amniotic swish of my surroundings.

Slowly, the current loses speed. What feels like the pull of an undertow is really just a return to still water. Easing my stance, I push down on the ocean floor so I can lift my legs out of the sand. Time is running out. I need to reach the surface, I need to breathe. The sun is still nowhere to be seen.

Like a cat ready to pounce, I squat down as low as I can. I raise my arms above my head and press my palms together, fingers stretched toward the sky. With what strength I have left, I kick off from the ground to begin my ascension.

I am weightless, but still so deep. Everything around me is silent and dark. The air in my lungs has gone stale, swelling in my chest like a toxic cloud, screaming at me to replace it with clean oxygen. I bring my arms around and kick my feet, sweeping the water behind me in an upward breast stroke. When my ears pop again and my lungs feel like they’re going to burst, I exhale to relieve the pressure.

There’s only so much left, but I breathe out bubbles in a slow steady stream. I can see them rise in front of me, so I look up and there, impossibly far away, I see the twinkling light of day peering down at me from the surface. My hands are flippers and my feet are propellers and my mouth is a chugging exhaust pipe, sending word to the sky to prepare my arrival. The water is blue now, not black, but my lungs are almost empty.

It’s slow work, swimming to the surface. My arms and legs grow weary. With the last of my oxygen turning to carbon dioxide in my blood stream, the blue begins to turn black at the edges even though it brightens in the center. I am looking into the eye of God, blinding at the center of an otherwise impenetrable void, the only sign of warmth in the frigid water. My lungs are empty, so I seal my throat to prevent the panicky breath that would end my life. I flail my rubbery appendages in desperate determination. This is not how I die, I think to myself, even as the darkness threatens to overtake my vision.

At last, my head emerges from the waves and I gasp for breath. The panic in my mind almost makes me hyperventilate, but I force myself to remain calm, float on my back, and take slow, deep breaths. I’m still alone on the water, but the sun feels warm on my skin, red on the inside of my eyelids.

All that’s left is to swim the few miles back to shore.

It’s in the Details

The Photography of Heather Fulton

Bare Bones Cafe & Bar
Bare Bones Cafe & Bar

It was Friday, and even though I had to be at work at 8:00 the next morning, my fiancée and I decided to stop by Bare Bones on Belmont to see a small photography show featuring photos by Heather Fulton. One thing I love about Portland is that there are so many places willing to display local art, in an intimate setting, with alcohol. Bare Bones presents three artists every month. We ordered beers and walked over to the wall to inspect the prints.

There’s been a rise in mobile photography lately. The smartphone boom has put a high resolution camera in everybody’s pocket, but few take advantage of the opportunities they afford, choosing to shoot selfies, food, and their feet instead of to create art. Social media exists to serve the human need for external validation, so most of the photos in our newsfeeds are preoccupied with the photographers themselves, the subject only secondary.

Image by Heather Fulton
Image by Heather Fulton

This is not the case with Fulton’s photography. She sees the same world you and I do, but reveals it to be full of beauty and small delights. Her prints are small, just larger than a standard Polaroid, and they maintain the same simple 1:1 aspect ratio, but this tight frame means I have to step back or look closer to uncover the commonplace scenes they represent.

I was lost in a spattering of stars, a galactic rainbow of colors, when my keen-eyed fiancée told me I was actually looking at an oil slick on asphalt. The outline of a warrior mask stood stark against the sky, and I didn’t realize until I left that it was made of power lines. There’s another piece that looked almost like some dark mirrored hallway, except the ground was an impossible intersection of polygons. I never figured that one out.

Image by Heather Fulton
Image by Heather Fulton

Not all of her work is metaphorical, some are gorgeous studies of balance and symmetry, simplicity and quietude. Two pieces come to mind that demonstrate the patience that must have gone into the creation of this series. In one, a free-falling pendulum is rendered perfectly still in the perfect center of the circular structure around it. Another lines up the base and roof of a skyscraper so precisely that a straight line completely bisects the center of the photograph.

It being opening night, Heather Fulton was available for questions, standing to one side with a smile on her face and a drink in her hand. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise of any of the pieces I hadn’t figured out yet, but I appreciated the opportunity to thank her in person for her work. She let out a hearty laugh when I thought one depicted the imprint of a bird taking flight, embedded in concrete.

Image by Heather Fulton
Image by Heather Fulton

Her photos will be on display at Bare Bones Cafe & Bar until May 31st, 2017, and she’s selling prints if you want one for yourself.

20 Years a Cat

NiteLite at seven years
NiteLite at seven years

Twenty years ago, two classmates of mine had a joint birthday party where they gave out kittens. Our family had two cats already, one was an orange tabby named Miso that my mom had in college. The other was my sister’s, a tiny calico shorthair named Milo. Our cats were indoor/outdoor cats, allowed to come and go as they pleased, and we fed them on a regular schedule: a quarter cup of cat food each, twice a day.

Generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to give out baby cats as party favors. It foists new responsibilities on the recipient that they may or not be prepared for, on a much larger timeframe than any ten-year-old at a birthday party can comprehend. There were pets in my family before I was born, so I understood the implicit feeding and litter-box cleaning, checking to make sure no one was left outside overnight, and the eventual vet visits. I wanted a cat for my own, and my parents saw no problem with that. How could we know she was going to be with us for twenty more years? How could a ten-year-old earnestly engage in a twenty-year commitment?

She was such a tiny kitten. I know all kittens are tiny, but compared to the cat she would become, it’s astonishing to remember just how small she started out. She would fit in one hand, even though I was only a fifth-grader, a tiny tufty tawny black and white tuxedo cat with a tail almost as long as her body. I was going to name her “Socks” after the First Cat at the time, just to piss off my Republican-leaning elementary school teacher, but instead I called her “NiteLite,” for the way her white chest seemed to glow against the rest of her black fur at night.

Since she was my cat, I was tasked with training her to use the litter box. Since she was so small, I poured kitty litter into an empty tissue box with the top and two sides cut off. My parents were very clear in their direction: if she peed or pooped on the floor, I was to hiss at her, spank her, and take her to her litter box. I was to repeat this process until she no longer needed to be reminded.

I hated spanking her. When she piddled, I would scoop her up and cup my hand to slap her bottom, hissing with each strike. When I put her down in her litter box, she would tuck her tail between her legs and shiver at me, squeaking at me in fear. I would want to comfort her, but I understood that this training was necessary. If she didn’t learn to use the litter box, she would have to become an outdoor cat. Fortunately, she was a fast learner, and I was grateful.

After an hour or two, when I was certain she wouldn’t get confused, I would find her again and pick her up. NiteLite was a good hugger, right from the beginning. She would brace her hind legs in my hand and reach up with her cotton ball paws to grip my shoulder, smelling my face with her tiny black nose. I wanted her to ride on my shoulder like I’ve seen other cats do, but she was never interested in that.

Once she was litter trained, she began to present new challenges. NiteLite was a playful cat, we used to play with dancing dangling cat toys on strings and little plush stuffed animals. I would bat them across the floor and she would chase after them, wrapping them in a death embrace with her arms while she kicked at them with her hind claws and bit them ferociously. At night, she found endless entertainment in my toes while I tried to sleep.

We were living in Virginia at the time, in a large colonial house without air conditioning. It was almost too much cover for me to sleep with a sheet on, and that meant that the only thing between my feet and the needle-sharp pinpricks of her teeth was a thin layer of 200-count cotton. NiteLite would climb up the foot of my bed and attack my sleeping feet, waking me up dozens of times in the night to play her own version of footsie.

I loved that cat, and I loved playing with her, but I had school in the morning and needed to sleep. After a few nights trying to get her to play nice and respect my sleep schedule, I decided I had to close my door and let her sleep someplace else. Undeterred, she simply wandered into my parents’ room and started clawing at their feet instead. She got away with it for one night, and then their door was shut to her too.

NiteLite was a very vocal cat, right from the beginning. She had a beautiful, inquisitive voice, and would answer whenever you spoke to her. When I kicked her out and my parents and sister closed their doors, she prowled the halls all night yowling her discontent at the situation. Her cries were disruptive enough that I eventually opened my door to her again and she eventually learned to let me sleep in peace.

She grew larger and more expressive, her tail curling at the tip to indicate curiosity, contentment, or distaste. Her purr was loud and constant. When I picked her up, she could reach my shoulders all on her own and dug her hind feet into my hip to hold on while I walked around the house. Her claws were long and curved like a velociraptor’s and we played games of speed and dexterity. If I won, I got to scratch her quickly behind the ears, and when she won, I felt the pain of my slowness in thin bright lines across the backs of my hands.

We grew apart when I went off to boarding school and then to college, but my sister took her in and she got to move more than most house cats do, living in four states. I got to see her during summer vacations and winter holidays. She always had bright eyes, recognizing me instantly, and hopped into my lap while she still could.

In later years, she developed arthritis and could no longer climb the stairs to the second story of my parents’ house, but still enjoyed being held, like a child, on hips or in arms. Cats age like people do, getting slower and more methodical with their actions over time, conserving energy, minimizing risk. She was rarely ill, if ever, and loved feeding time more than any other.

I got to see her for what I thought was the last time when I visited my parents during the holidays in 2015. She was hunched and creaky, with bony shoulders and hips poking out beneath her fur. I knew she wasn’t long for this world, so on Christmas Day I picked her up, scratched her behind the ears, and tried to tell her what she meant to me, how she had taught me about responsibility and joy, and reminded her that she had a much more comfortable life than many other cats. The fur on her back was stiff and matted where she couldn’t reach to lick it anymore. I cried with her and said goodbye. I loved that cat.

NiteLite at nineteen years
NiteLite at nineteen years

And then she lived another year! I went back to Alabama this past December to make peace with my grandfather before his passing, and she was still alive and fairly cogent. Sometimes she would look at me with the misty eyes of elderly forgetfulness, but other times she would stare at me as bright and as sharp as ever. I had to be careful picking her up, her joints were causing her more pain by the day, but she still dug her claws into my shoulder and purred with loving ferocity.

All life must end in death, and NiteLite’s was no different. I wish she could be spared, but to wish she never died would be to wish she was never alive, and I think her life was worth living, however small and insignificant it may have been. She lived an extraordinarily long time for a cat, was happier and more comfortable than most, and died in the peaceful arms of my mother.

Today is NiteLite’s deathday, and I love her as much in death.

New Blog

Here’s me, trying to get started.

I can’t figure out what to do first, and each idea I have sends me spiraling off in a different direction. Even writing this felt like it belonged in DayOne, but I still don’t have the Mac app (cause it’s still $40) and even though I just got a gift card from work that would let me afford it, I don’t want to spend the money. I just wanted to write down what I was doing and how it wasn’t working so far.

This app needs more space between paragraphs. I’m listening to a Miles Davis playlist and trying to figure out my needs for a book stand that could preferably be made with materials I have in the house. Like cardboard. If I have cardboard. I wanted it to flex outward so it would hold a book open while I took notes on it.

I opened Paper before realizing it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as Apple’s Notes for the sketching I’m about to do, then opened Notes to discover that I had a bunch of poorly organized folders I didn’t use anymore.

Now, I’m finally getting into design mode, but not before creating a gridwork template. You know, in case I need it.

Okay, so that’s out of the way. There are a couple of problems with the design as it stands, but until I build a prototype, I won’t know exactly what they are. I’ll probably start with a little one, for the Field Notes, and see where it goes from there.

In the meantime, I should write up my thoughts on Tin House while they’re fresh. I really liked that mag.

An Excerpt

I remember reading a story about the stretching of time at the end of life, but I can’t remember who wrote it. In it, one wrongfully-imprisoned character found himself counted among the number of a group of prisoners sentenced to die by firing squad. The sentence was quite sudden; it was announced to him that in thirty minutes he would be taken out to the prison yard with a group of several other individuals. After half an hour of uncertainty, he entered the yard as the sixth in line for execution. Given the efficiency of the guards at the time, he was able to figure that these were his last five minutes alive.
Time began to unfold for him in a way it never had before. He took stock of his life remaining and divided it into manageable chunks. He would take two minutes to say goodbye to his companions. Though they had only shared a small section of the world and a small chunk of time, that was a whole lifetime ago. Now that they were to die together, they were decidedly brethren and he found that he loved them as his family. Two minutes would be ample time to express his feelings to them.
Two minutes he allotted to himself, for personal reflection. He would take stock of his life, address some pressing philosophical and metaphysical questions, and make his own peace with God. There was more than enough time in two minutes to find himself and prepare to meet his end. Two minutes was twice as much time.
The last minute would be reserved for a final look around. Though it was only the outer courtyard of a Russian prison, there was so much beauty to behold that he wanted to dedicate an entire minute to enjoy its splendor and marvel at this spectacle of creation. 
He began to say his goodbyes. Turning to his fellow prisoners, he spoke in admiration and praise of them, even though their time together had been short. He lauded the men who were meeting their end with high heads and confidence. He consoled those who were weeping in despair, and shared his sympathies that fate had brought them to this end. His expression of love was sincere, he had never before loved any people with the depth of feeling he felt for these. With a whole thirty seconds left, he embraced each one of his kin and told him that he need not be afraid.
He turned inward to consider the kind of man he had been and the life he had lived. In his youth, he was prone to the common mistakes of that age, but he couldn’t say he regretted them. Those experiences made him the person he was today. The faces from his past rose to the front of his mind, and he recollected each of them fondly. He was filled with gratitude for having known them, though he would never see any of them again. He thought of his parents, now deceased, and was glad they made it to the end of their own lives before seeing him wrongfully imprisoned and sentenced to die himself.
“What a strange thing it is to die,” he thought, in this last minute allotted for personal reflection. “Just now, I am a man, living, breathing and thinking, yet in two minutes I will be nothing.” It was an unfathomable prospect; living was all he had ever known. He tried to console himself with the catechism, but found its reassurances dry and trite. So, piteously, he wept.
He wept, now third in line, and thought to himself, “oh, but if I should not die now, how I would live my life to its fullest! I would count myself the luckiest of all men and stretch the length of each minute so that none should be wasted! If I could have but five more minutes, it would be a blessing and I would live my life all over again! Why, O God, have you shown me the glory of this world only to take me from it?” In this last lament, he had a change of heart. He heard the selfishness of his words and recanted at the onset of his last minute. In the distance, beyond the prison walls, he caught the gleam of a church steeple and decided that all these emotions he felt, all of his life before these moments, all of existence itself was a testament to the greatness and mystery of God, and he, merely a man, was in no position to question the wisdom of it.
With an open heart and tearful eyes, he looked around him as if seeing everything for the first time. The garden presented itself in lustrous green displaying the miracle of life on this one tiny rock in all the universe. How many millions of years had conspired to bring about a single blade of grass, and here was a whole field! He saw specks of mica and quartz gleaming from the stone of the prison wall and marveled at this spectacle of man. From little more than grass, man had grown not only to survive, but to thrive and gain mastery over his surroundings, so much so that he could rearrange the elements themselves to fashion creations that sprung only from ideas in a mind composed of much the same matter! 
A bluebird flitted down from the wall’s edge, and the spectacle was too much for him. He laughed through his tears, in spite of himself, unable to find words for the joy this little surprise had brought him. This bird thought nothing of him, maybe even now did not know he existed, and would fly away with the next rifle shot to light upon some other bough or stone. Life, which had gotten along perfectly well without him for the millennia before his birth, would continue uninterrupted and unhindered by his death. As the next prisoner in line was sent to the clearing at the end of the path, the bird was off and he smiled to himself. Yes, the world would be quite all right without him.

A New And Improved New York Visit

Today I had a much better time in Manhattan than the last time I visited, putting into practice all the things I learned from my past experience. Here’s what I learned:
1. Wear the right shoes
I was in tennis shoes during my last visit and it tore my feet ragged. True, no one told me to walk from LaGuardia airport to Columbus Circle, but the shoes make the difference. Today, I laced up my Vasque hiking boots to prepare for lengthy ambulations, and it was a very comfortable walkabout.
2. Bring the right bag
Everybody in New York has a bag, because you need one. It holds your things. My bag requirements are very minimal: I need a place for my iPad, a place for my chargers, room for my laptop if need be, and a couple other pockets for pens, keys and my wallet. [This] (http://store.apple.com/us/product/H6308ZM/A?fnode=50&fs=m.manufacturer%3Dhex) bag by Hex did the trick, with the added bonus of letting me use my iPad without having to actually remove it from the bag. It’s small-profile, rugged and very solid, with no openings to lose things or flaps to get snagged.
3. Be comfortable with getting close
The subway at 4:00 is a very crowded place, and I was pushed up against from all sides. There was no elegant way to excuse myself from the car when I reached my stop, so I had to politely push myself through several other bodies. The good news is that we’re all in it together, and everybody understands that we’re sharing space.
4. Take advantage of scene changes
It’s exhausting to travel through the city, so having little changes of scenery can be very refreshing when used appropriately. Take the opportunity when getting off the subway to embrace the street life and relax a little bit since you’re out in the open air. Plan little stops here and there to go inside and reset yourself before reentering the hubbub. Don’t over-exert yourself by staying too long in one place, or hurrying too much on the way there.
5. Be open and flexible
This is probably the most important thing that set this trip apart from the last one. In New York, nearly every resource is limitless except time, and time has to be treated with respect. That being said, trying to stick to too rigid a schedule or itinerary will only end in frustration because there are just too many variables to manage. It is better to keep an open mind and react quickly to new opportunities than to get upset when things don’t go exactly as planned.
I’m sure I would have a very different set of rules if I actually lived and worked in Manhattan, because then everything would have more rigidity to it, but I had a great time romping around the city today. Tonight I will sleep with the fatigue and satisfaction of time well spent, and tomorrow the soreness I feel will be both earned and warranted. I can’t wait to go back.