Unfolding the Map
This post is a companion to my previous post, but at the same time it isn't. While it deals with time and the past, it's a more personal reflection on how past and present intersect in my life. When one pokes at the unseen on a trip, they may want the unseen to poke back. Sometimes, however, you don't want to know about the unseen, especially that which you've tucked away for a reason. That's why I have the symbolic picture of West Virginia's state reptile, the timber rattlesnake, to the right. If you want to know where Spencer sits on the map...just go to it!
"I hunched over the steering wheel as if to peer under the clouds, to see beyond. I couldn't shake the sense I was driving in another era. Maybe it was the place or maybe a slow turning in the mind about how a man cannot entirely disconnect from the past. To try to is the American impulse, but to look at the steady continuance of the past is to watch time get emptied of its bluster because time bears down less on the continuum than on the components. To be only a nub in the eternal temporary is still to have a chance to see, a chance to pry at the mystery. What is the blue road anyway but an opportunity to poke at the unseen and a hoping the unseen will poke back?
"At Spencer, I turned west onto U.S. 33. The Appalachians flattened themselves to hills, and barnsides again gave the Midwest imperative: CHEW MAIL POUCH."
Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 3
Spencer, West Virginia
I suppose that this post will be an extension of the last post given LHM's quote, above, further reflects on the past and time. And yet, I think the content will be different because the quote touches on something deeper. As of late, my thoughts have also been enmeshed in that deeper reflection on past and present as well, and so that's where I will try to go also in this post.
As I write my thoughts are jumbling all over the place. The week started with a realization that my job is going to expand, perhaps with greater compensation but perhaps not. Then came news that a close family member may have a serious disease. These pieces of the present pile on to the ongoing task of identifying and buying a house - a fun but also stressful time as we prepare to make a decision on whether to put up a bid for a house that we like but which we have some concerns about. We are also trying to decide whether we should make a yearly trip to New Orleans and the Mardi Gras, which we haven't missed since we left in 2004 and which has become very important to us.
All of these present events, however, get placed with the "continuum of the past," as LHM puts it. The past year has been, for me, a long look at the context of my life, both the good and bad. Everywhere I look upon the blue highway of my past, I can poke the "nub in the eternal temporary." My perceived failures are there to see, like billboards on a dusty plain. Stop here and have kids. Choose your career wisely. Do what YOU want sometimes, not what you think others want. No outlet down this road. Well, since you've done it anyway, you'll get burned but learn from it.
I notice these billboards because, like highway billboards, I've painted them in bright colors, outfitted them in lighting and put them, repeatedly, in the most conspicuous places. My successes and the things I've done right are less gaudy, and set back farther from the highway. They are little handwritten signs that stand back inconspicuously from the road and which don't draw attention unless I really look for them. They are life's difficulties that I've overcome. They are my marriage which I often and sadly take for granted when I shouldn't. They are the friends that I've also taken for granted but who have been there for me. They are the professional successes that maybe didn't measure up to the ideal image I had of my life but which have enabled me to live a comfortable life and have earned the respect of my peers. They are the moments when I have been satisfied and happy.
If I look back over the continuum of my past, and I don't take time to look carefully, I only see the billboards, and those points could make my past seem overwhelmingly full of failure, regret, wrong turns and mistakes. But once I truly drive into my past, and look for the things that I've pushed to the margins, once I look for the hand-lettered signs, my life's continuum looks different. I want to stop and poke around, and relearn who I really am.
For "what is the blue road anyway but an opportunity to poke at the unseen and a hoping the unseen will poke back?" In my life, I have been more than willing to take those chances in the real, physical world in the hopes of learning something I don't know, and of experiencing something that I've never experienced before. In my early adulthood, on car trips, I made a determination well before ever reading Blue Highways that I would take what I called the scenic routes as much as possible and as time allowed. I loved traveling through the small downtowns and stopping at the local markets or the diners. My poking at the unseen gave me a better appreciation for America than the interstate ever could. I've been enriched by those experiences.
But in my inner life, poking at the unseen has been much more scary. Even though it is a road I've traveled, to retrace my route, or to stop in at places, both good and bad, that I've been before has seemed fraught with peril. While I travel forward through my life in time, those experiences have built up the edifice of what I present to myself and to the rest of the world. To go back and disturb the foundations might reveal something else, something more complex than the image I've constructed. I would have to rearrange my understanding. I would have to turn some billboards into hand-lettered signs and make some hand-lettered signs into billboards. I might discover some billboards that have faded or decayed and fix them up, and write some new hand-lettered signs.
"A man cannot entirely disconnect from the past..." but "to try to is the American impulse." I won't say that I've failed, but I've tried and it doesn't work. Everything that happens now must be put in the context of what has gone before, the continuum of the past, just as the events of a journey add up into an overall impression of the whole endeavor. As I move forward on my life's journey from this point in the present, my new goal is not to disconnect, but to assimilate and embrace, all of the points on my eternal temporary.
If you want to know more about Spencer
Next up: Gallipolis, Ohio