Saturday, November 16, 2013

An Ineluctable Modality: Chapter 16

An Ineluctable Modality is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo's 2013 Challenge where the goal was to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This year, I wrote a novel-in-blog-posts: you can read the previous chapter, here.

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It was too chilly this morning for much of a walk and so I didn't go very far before turning around. If it had been sunny, I might have given it more of an effort but I lacked the energy and before long I felt that twinge in my back that meant it would not be a good idea to continue much further: I still had to make it back to the house. I also overcompensated with the sweatshirt under the jacket and started working up a sweat before I turned around.

Either I'm getting used to the cooler weather – I know I can't really call it "cold" weather, yet – or I can only tolerate so much physical activity before it begins to show. Even when I first moved here, I could walk further and feel less tired, but of course it was a long time ago that I could walk a couple of miles and not take any notice.

When Stephen was a small boy, maybe five or six years old, we would go for walks in the park along the river north of town and walk through these paths under the canopies of oaks or maples for what seemed like hours – at least on days when I didn't have any classes until later in the day.

The idea was to energize me and tire him out but even then, it usually worked in the opposite direction, though we both enjoyed ourselves. He was fascinated by the leaves in the fall, watching them swing down gradually to the ground.

He said he would call me later in the week, once he got back from – Seattle, was it? He worked for an IT firm, and engineer who traveled around to various clients, troubleshooting problems they had with major installations. There were always people who had trouble following the instructions no matter how simply you worded them. It never failed to amuse him but it kept him busy, all the same.

It seemed ironic to be going to Seattle, he implied, the home of Microsoft, but you go where your clients work. Sometimes that might be Los Angeles or Vegas and other times it could be Billings or El Paso. I gathered he thought less of the latter. Other engineers got the clients in Paris or Hong Kong.

There was nothing simple about the programs he was working on. It never made any sense to me and usually I became so confused when he'd explain this to me, he could tell my brain had glazed over long ago.

But then the same thing would happen when I would start talking about the latest piece I was working on. It was unkind to bore him, so normally I said very little about it.

That was probably at the root of what I hated to think of as "our estrangement." It had started happening years earlier, even before he was in college, but we passed it off – his mother and I – as standard teenage rebelliousness, though more distancing from us than rebelling against us.

He felt disappointed that I could not appreciate what he was doing with his life, going into computers, not that I was ever unsupportive of his dreams. We didn't have to "understand" what he did, just verify it was the right choice for him.

At times, it didn't seem like much of a dream to me, more just a way to keep playing computer games past the point of childhood. But the details became more sophisticated and the goals he reached were tangible as well as financially rewarding.

If everything kept going this well, Madeleine said, he'll be making more than me as a college professor in no time: he was already making more than I ever made as a composer.

It's not that I felt jealous he was making more money than I because I'd told him, even when he was a child, you never choose what you want to do in your life solely on the basis of the salary.

Besides, as an artist, we don't do it for the money, do we? At least that's what people keep telling us, using it as an excuse not to pay us very much (if at all) for the art they want. We do it for the exposure, right? That's good for us, right?

But there was always a twinge with Stephen telling us about the latest events in his life, the new toys he would buy. He was trying not to brag; I was trying to feel happy for him.

Meanwhile, I've started moving on to the next phase of my life, A Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Has-Been.

There's a point in the past – at least one – we'd like to go back to, in order to change things. Correct things, make it right, take the other path to see what happens. Time travel, turning the minute hand back, hour by hour, day by day (tock tick) and eventually we would arrive there.

But once there, do we know what we would do? Observers of the past or its participants? If I become the "me" who acted then, would I know to change this and not doom myself to repeating history?

Shrugging off my sweaty sweatshirt, I felt uncomfortable dampness and grabbed a towel. If I knew tomorrow I would wake up with a cold – it's still an old wives' tale – I would go back to an hour ago and leave the sweatshirt in the drawer.

Is it all so easy as that? Couldn't I still catch my death of cold from something totally unrelated to working up a sweat? Or a heart attack from over-exerting?

Is there one point in the past where I could apply one small stroke to fix this relationship with my son, or perhaps to fix the relationship I had with my father? Certainly one that needed fixing was his relationship with my grandfather.

But fixing that might undo something else: would my father have met my mother? If Adam Kadmon had not left the family nest, the answer is quite likely no.

Would I have been born? Perhaps but to someone else: my father and his other, parallel wife or my mother and her other, parallel husband? Let the dead marry the dead.

Do I do my best, if not changing it, by remembering it wrong, making it the way I would prefer it? But that way, delusion lies.

Breakfast and walk, reprobate clouds still hanging on, then lunch and soon, now, dinner. I putter back and forth between the past and present. A new composition, barely begun, lies etherized upon my desk, as the spirits of long-dead women come and go with thoughts of Michelangelo or otherwise.

A title – that's what Henry Jordan says I need, and this poor composition of mine has no title. Should it have a story? Something to jump-start the creativity: a ritual, some amulet?

I often think of embedding a story then write the music over it, ignoring it once the piece is done. (If ever.)

Pentimento. "That's it," I think, the word coming to me from the back of my head somewhere, in some distant not quite recognizable voice. Pentimento. I like that.

The idea of something from the past peeking through, a commentary behind what's being overlaid, not quite succeeding in obliterating it. Like Stephen and I: then, now. Would it help, this organizing the past?

The phone rings, jolting me into the present. I had expected Stephen to call by now. Perhaps?

As the message clicks on, I check the clock. What time is it in California? Lunchtime, most likely: close enough.

No, a wrong number. Idiot. Does no one listen to the out-going message to notice?

* * ** *** ***** ******** ***** *** ** * * be continued...

Dick Strawser

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