Thursday, September 25, 2008

The many lives of Dawn

My name has a more exciting life than I have. It is true. For proof, just google my name and see what you find. Melissa Ursula Dawn Goldsmith speaks at symposiums concerning music in a way I can't begin to understand. There's a grad student who shares my name and surveys natural springs. I mostly talk to my cats and stare out at the lagoon behind our house.

Lyra Dawn Goldsmith is new to the world. The blog where I found her is more than a year old, so I suspect she's beginning to do some serious exploring about this time. Another Dawn lives in Twickenham, Middlesex, United Kingdom. Ahhhhh, man, I wish I could visit her! My idea of exploring is finding my way home from the town ten miles north of here. Thanks to whomever invented Map Quest!

There is a Dawn Goldsmith on Face Book. I have yet to figure out what Face Book is, so it isn't me hiding behind something in that photo. Apparently this Dawn has several friends. That's always nice to have. If any of you remember Gilligan's Island -- MaryAnn was played by Dawn Wells, shown here in a mug shot taken in Idaho.

Another Dawn has a listing with Amazon for her reviews. I admit that I have written several reviews for Amazon, but the one that pops up is most definitely not mine. It is a review of Rick Steve's travel book to England -- see above about my 'explorations.' And besides I would hope to never mistake Whales for Wales as this reviewer did. Makes me shiver to think that one of my editors might see that goof. She's from St. Louis, but I don't think that should be an excuse for not knowing the difference between a mammal and a country. Good thing she isn't going to Whales, she'd be so disappointed!

Melissa Ursula pops up quite often between the listings for my writings. She probably isn't as excited to see my contributions under a name much like her own. Mine definitely do not weigh as heavily as her academic contributions. She even writes about the Doors musician Jim Morrison.

My nephew is studying to become a nurse anesthetist. I found a Dawn who has already graduated and is hard at work. Not sure I would want to trade places with her -- blood and bodily fluids and all that yuk. But a part of me feels more connected to health care, just knowing my doppelganger works there. Another Dawn is a biology student. It isn't quite fair -- me being so weak in math and science and so many Dawns excelling in those fields. I guess that shows there is a balance to the universe.

I've always enjoyed sharing my last name with Olivia and Oliver Goldsmith. Sadly both are dead, but their contributions to literature gave me hope that maybe there would be room for a Dawn on the list of published authors. Maybe Melissa feels that way about Jerry Goldsmith when it comes to music....

And then I see Dawn and James Goldsmith are married. I think of young love and new beginnings and sigh, having been married to the love of my life for decades. I wish them well.

Dawn Marie Goldsmith worries me. She's a young poet -- everyone who knows me, knows I do NOT do poetry. But yet, I cringe to think an editor might run across her poem, a spin on a John Lennon song. I think I heard a shriek from the other side when I read her poem. But we all must start somewhere. I send her my best reqards, but still wish she would use another name.

At one time I googled and found that a Dawn Goldsmith wrote for the Hong Kong news or something like that. It sounded so exotic and adventurous and so NOT me, but maybe it could have been me in another life. Another Dawn offered testimony in an assault case. I don't know if her side one. But I wish her well.

And then another site predicts: "Dawn Goldsmith: At age 60 you will be hunted by a strange apparition resembling Andy Griffith, and subsequently commit suicide after the stress proves to be too much." Oh my!

And then there is the wedding announcement David and Dawn Goldsmith's son Rhett is getting married. Obviously someone was a Gone With the Wind fan, so they must be lovely folk.

Then I find Dawn Goldsmith, the contact person for Poppit Sands Holiday Cottages in Wales (not Whales). I wonder if I could put together a tour and visit the various Dawns? Wouldn't that be fun? I could spice up my life at the same time. And maybe I'd have more to write about than just a google search for my own name.

Now if you get into different versions of my name, it turns up some interesting and shocking people including a porno queen with an amazing bosom. Sorry, no link provided for that one!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Where are you David Foster Wallace? Why?


I liked that song about suicide -- the theme song to the M.A.S.H. movie -- Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes....Mike Altman was 14 when he wrote the lyrics. Who better than a 14-year-old to know about angst and wishing oneself dead? It bothered my parents to hear the words -- I don't think hearing the word, discussing the topic or even romanticizing the afterlife will convince someone to participate. Suicide is, in my opinion, a get-even act. But, when I 'get even' I really like to be around to see it. Suicide, so far, has not appealed to me.

I also know too many who have chosen that as an exit strategy when life threw too much at them. It is if you will, a 'get even and goodbye' act. I can perhaps understand that a bit more.

If nothing else, my parents and I enjoyed the tune, written by Johnny Mandel.

I checked on Wikipedia, choosing that medium for lack of knowing where else to look, and found 50 other songs that refer to suicide. Euro Puppy Blog lists only 24 songs about dogs. Perhaps if more people had the love of a good dog, there would be less songs about suicide.

I wonder if David Foster Wallace had a dog.

He's dead you know. Wallace, not the dog. That sounds flip and I suppose it is because the moment I let myself feel the loss, I get angry.

How could he be so selfish to take himself, his truths, his words, his angst, his needs, his contributions, his self-loathing and insecurities and smile and potential out of this world? How dare he give up on being human?

He was in pain.

Well, aren't we all?

Didn't he know his words helped me deal better with the pain, at least to better understand what I was feeling? I didn't know him or his work, his story, his life, nothing until someone on the Internet Writing Workshop announced that he had died. I did a search for the name and found a voice that resonated with me, helped clarify the human condition, and shared the growth pangs as I strive for maturity.

He told a graduating class at Kenyon:
"The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day."

Or was he just tired of us? Maybe he was ready for the next plateau and he couldn't handle the mundane, mediocrity of this life? The lack of stimulation and interesting fellow humans?

His interview with Charlie Rose certainly gives insight into some of the pain and frustration he was feeling.

I'm not a member of his generation, at least chronologically, but I recognize truth when I see it and in an interview with Salon, he said this about living in America around the time of the millennium:
"There's something particularly sad about it, something that doesn't have very much to do with physical circumstances, or the economy, or any of the stuff that gets talked about in the news. It's more like a stomach-level sadness. I see it in myself and my friends in different ways. It manifests itself as a kind of lostness. Whether it's unique to our generation I really don't know."

We are all diminished by the loss of each life. Whether it is a child who has turned to terrorism and is killed in the streets of his hometown, a soldier killed by the terrorists, a woman dying in childbirth in Africa, a child dying of malnutrition or AIDS or drugs, or abuse, a child lost to abortion, or even if my 96 year old mother closes her eyes and doesn't awaken. We are diminished by the loss of each life. A life cut short, whether by his own hand, by accident, or by violence of some kind -- we all suffer the loss. Needless loss makes me furious.

I'm angry at David Foster Wallace and mourn him, regret not knowing him, and hope that his life and even his death will help others find their way -- a better way-- to living life fully and with joy and with understanding and yes, with self-forgiveness.

P.S. According to quotes in a New York Times article from his father, Wallace had been on heavy medication to fight depression and nothing was working. His father was quoted as saying, “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

That kind of hopelessness -- soul killing hopelessness. I pray you've found a better place David Foster Wallace -- and peace.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stuff defines you?

Feeling tired? Inertia got you stuck in your chair? Procrastination rules your life?

It isn't your fault.

Blame it on the junk mail, the fast food condiment packets, the orphan socks. The skinny clothes hanging in your closet and aunt Isabel's china that you inherited when she downsized and moved into her little apartment. These are sapping your strength.

Stuff. That's the problem. Bob Graham, essayist and computer programmer, suggests:
"A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting."
Getting rid of 'stuff' is exhausting, too. And almost heart wrenching until it is gone. Then our brains and bodies adjust, block out the memories of the stuff, now gone, and expands to fill the space with pleasant relaxing appreciation of the simplified landscape.

For a full week I devoted every waking hour to eradicating my house of clutter and 'stuff.' If you ever watch these 'get organized' programs on television, they begin by emptying the room of everything and then just bring back what fits, what is needed.
Knowing my pragmatic nature of less is more when it comes to work and house cleaning, I needed to trick myself into taking this first step. An object at rest should stay at rest if you ask me. Why move it if you're just going to bring it back in and put it in nearly the same place? The answer of course was right under my feet. Carpet. I needed to steam clean the carpet. To do that, aha! I was forced to remove everything from the room. I felt vindicated as I hefted chairs and coffee tables, piano and love seat, filing cabinets and book shelves.

There is something quite promising about an empty room. Hope perhaps of a new beginning? In the bedroom I took the opportunity to paint the walls as well as clean the carpet. What was once green is now blue. What was basic white undercoat, now a clean and comforting tan. If a person ever needs a new beginning, a get-out-of-jail free card, a freshly painted room shouts 'overs' and lets its occupant start anew.

Like the master of ceremonies of a HGTV program, I walked through the house and pulled from every room to decorate my bedroom. The overstuffed chair from the family room. The bookshelves from my office, the flower arrangement from the bathroom and the assorted books and nick knacks from the fireplace mantle. By the end of the day I had created a retreat. My little haven from the world soothed my frazzled nerves and invited me in to sit back in the overstuffed chair and put my feet on the matching stool.

While contemplating the day's work, my thoughts wondered to why people surround themselves with stuff. I came up to the conclusion that if a person lives in the moment, he needs no 'stuff.' If he lives in the past, he surrounds himself with history, either his own or the history that interests him. And if he lives for tomorrow, then he organizes 'things' so that he can find and use them in upcoming projects and events. And, if a person just exists, blown by the winds of chance and circumstances then he basically lives in chaos. Every inch of his environment filled with odds and ends, so overwhelmed that when he needs something, he cannot find it.

My brother told of a co-worker who dragged leftovers, cast offs and unused bits and pieces home from the electrical jobs they worked on. He stored them in a barn next to his house. I had the chance to see that barn. It was literally so full that to walk from one end to the other, we walked on boxes of items he'd collected. When he set to remodeling his home and needed the very things he'd dragged home -- he couldn't find them. Instead he went to the hardware or supply store and bought new. Eventually he or a member of his family brought a fork lift and other equipment and took all of his accumulation to the dump.

That's pretty much what I've been doing this week, taking out the trash. Maybe I subconsciously made a life choice -- I choose to live in the moment and prepare for tomorrow, organizing the things I need, the things I truly want, so that I can use and enjoy them.

The house is almost Zen-like in comparison to the clutter from before. I still hold on to just about every book, fabric, and family-related ephemera. But we have jettisoned old clothes, even those with memories of our youth. We finally donated that old computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse. Threw out papers, papers and more papers, a collection of plastic ware for which I can never find the right lid and lids for which I can never find the right container, assorted fast-food condiments, an unopened bag of flour that expired in 2006. Oh yes, and a pair of tennis shoes so old and worn that the rubber had crumbled.

Two rooms, well, one if you don't count the garage, still need to be sorted out. The garage and my 'craft' or as I currently refer to it as 'crap' room. The books I can't part with. I need to invest in shelves so I can organize and use them. The fabric -- I'm looking for a good home for several pieces. And the items saved when Mom gave up housekeeping -- those I still cling to. So, I admit, I am a person who lives in the past -- but I'm moving into the moment with my face turning toward the future.

My motto, taken from a book I found in my diggings is one simple Latin irregular verb: abicio. It means simply: to throw away. Interesting that this particular verb is second in an alphabetical listing under the heading "Principal Parts of Common Irregular Verbs beginning with the verb abdo, which means to put aside or hide. As I read down the list I see resolve grow with each word: abigo (drive away), abripio (tear away) and accendo (set on fire).

Perhaps those ancients, creators of the Latin language, suffered from the accumulation of 'stuff,' too, and it shows in their 'irregular' verbs. What is at the end of their list? Volo -- be willing, wish; volvo -- roll; and last of all voveo -- vow.

(Photo: Our cat, Mal, sitting in the 'crap' room. Yes, I still have a lot of work to do!)