Saturday, April 8, 2017


Interlude One: Reflection in Blue

When I was still working with Julie, she once asked me, “What was the last happy memory you have?”

There have been several, but they are often tainted by some form of heartache, so I reached for one from my childhood.

I said to her, “I remember being eight years old, and seeing the moon at dusk. I was standing on a neighbor’s lawn, and my parents walked across the street to come get me. My parents and I went to the mall that night. I bought a Ghostbuster’s action figure (it was Peter Venkman!) Then we went home.”

Julie smiled a little, and even laughed. She wondered why I chose that memory. I explained to her that it was because of the mood associated with it. The sky was a perfect shade of azure (a color word I often overuse in my writing). The moon looked as if it were made of chalk. The idea that I could see the moon in day time fascinated me as a child. It still does fascinate me. I can’t get over that something that symbolizes night is visible in the day. The stars are always out as well. It’s just that the Earth reflects so much of the sun’s rays during the daytime, that one cannot see them. They are always there, even though we don’t think of them.

After my mother’s death, I got into the habit of finding a secluded spot to see the stars. This was difficult where I was living at the time, as there was so much light pollution about. The black canvas of the night sky was drowned out by the nearby city. Even the porchlights of nearby houses, which glittered like jewels in the hills, competed with the stars, and won. Still, I found a place and I’d look at them. I could even see a faint gossamer strand of The Milky Way, which is hard to do where I lived then.

As a child, I’d sometimes look at the stars, and be slightly frightened. Though I pressed on, and would try to identify each constellation. The fear was from the thought of “The Heavens,” which I associated with heaven, the afterlife, and death. I had this vision of souls wandering among the clouds above, as if they were harvested from death. The heavens were where God dwelt, along with the dead.

That’s how a child thinks, imaginative, and yet concrete. Yet, I couldn’t see gods or the dead in the sky, I felt they were there. It wasn’t until I put aside that kind of horror show thinking that I realized it isn’t the dead in the heavens; it’s us. We are among the stars, twenty-four-seven. The heavens are a place for the living, for we can wonder, and wander about them. From that point on the skies took on a new meaning. They became a garden in the night, where one could gaze on the light of distant suns, as if they were flowers in bloom, eternally. Distant planets were like continents on distant shores, across a black void of an ocean.

On a spring day like this, as the sun sets, I see the blue light again. It was that same blue light that would filter through the front windows of my childhood house. It tinted everything, and everyone in the living room a fine shade of, you guessed it, azure. It was the only time the house looked beautiful to me. The place was always messy; crammed with my toys, and my mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch decorations. But with that blue wallpaper, with the little roses on it, reflecting the rays of the setting sun…there was a somber beauty to it all.

I see that blue tint, and I’m transported back. I’m an eight-year-old boy again, with a Member’s Only jacket. I’m wearing a Miami Vice t-shirt. I have camouflage sneakers, with red socks! But mostly, I’m just there. I’m in the moment, and not thinking ten steps ahead. You lose that when you’re an adult. You must think ahead, because one needs to plan, and make sure there’s nothing to worry about. That’s a good thing, in a way. But one needs to find a balance between in the moment, and looking to the future.

The future seemed so distant then. Instead, it came toward me like a rushing wave. Then, it engulfed me. Here I am now, thirty-odd years later, and it feels like it all passed in a blink. Funny, I don’t feel older. Yet, I can hear it in my voice. I’ll see a gray hair, and think, I’m still a kid. I’m not old enough to have gray hair. I guess time moves on, regardless of where you are in life…mentally or physically. That being said, I do live in the now. I still reflect, but I don’t reminisce as much as I used to.

This is a musing about time, place, and sensation. Not a lament over that lost time, or place. The sensation is still there. Whatever I find in the future, and where I go, will be better than where I came from. I just know it.    

I once painted the walls of my old bedroom blue. It’s a room that no longer exists, as the house was torn down. But it was such a dark shade of electric blue. I was bathed in that blue light every day. I once wrote on the wall next to the bedroom door, “Is this the end?” But someone, I knew it wasn’t. It’s never the end, because there is always more to see.

Now, the sky over the city is turning black. Clair de Lune is playing, and I’m losing all sensation of time and place. I’m in another time, another place. It’s one that I haven’t experienced yet. The moon is full. Its light shines through the windows of the kitchen, and casts its blue light on everything. There’s a gentle summer breeze that makes the curtains dance. There’s someone waiting for me at the table. She smiles at me. Then I know, I’m home.

Text Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Photo of the moon in daylight: Openclipart.com. 


             


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Meditations on London

Meditations on London




            London is big, boisterous, and vibrant. My first impression was, “It feels smaller than I thought, but looks bigger than I imagined.” The air was perfumed by petrol. The sound of cabs and busses provided a chorus to the conversations on the streets; provided by people just going about their daily routines.

            Behind all of this is a splendor that is both urban, and organic. St. James Park is a green oasis, just mere meters away from Buckingham Palace. Yet, the city seems to disappear once you’re among the trees.

           
Then of course there’s The Great Westminster Clock Tower (better known as Big Ben) and the Houses of Parliament. The first time I saw these was as child, when Nickelodeon (an American cable network) would show Danger Mouse, and Count Duckula. I wondered, “What is Thames?” The network logo would present itself with fanfare, and mirror images of London landmarks reflected onto the surface of that iconic river. It swerves through London like a big serpent, and then empties out into the North Sea.

            As I stood on Westminster Bridge, and took photos, I tried to recreate the Thames logo. I discovered that you can’t exactly recreate it. I got close though. Still, The Thames is very impressive. It’s the vein that flows through London, and brings it life.

            When I heard of the terror attack on March 22nd I was shocked. I was on my way to class, when I saw a BBC news report on a telly in the media center window. The sound was off, but the crestfallen face of the bobby, and the news ticker below, told me everything. I had stood in the exact spot where that attack happened. I visited for the first time in August of 2016. To me, Westminster is the image of grandeur. I couldn’t think of it as anything less than regal. So much so, that I felt I was a bit under-dressed to even be walking there. I wore a red, short-sleeved dress shirt, with navy blue trousers. I looked very patriotic, indeed (for both sides of the Atlantic.) Peggy Carter would have approved.



            I wasn’t the only one that mulled about in short sleeves that day. It was a hot day in London! The city was alive with people everywhere. It wasn’t just tourists either. Even everyday people were about the major landmarks. The monument to Victoria was occupied by Londoners having their lunches. People just sat there to get some air. Not one person was glued to their mobile. Everyone was either talking to a person that was there, or they were observing the world around them. Why wouldn’t they? How could one go to London, and not see it with both eyes open?


            While I found the country town and smaller cities charming. I still found London impressive. Big, loud, but very impressive. It looked how I thought I major city should look. So, when I saw that report about the attack, I honestly did feel heartbroken. I couldn’t picture something like that happening in that area of London. Crime can happen anywhere, but still, it seemed out of place.

            London is a city that can survive anything. It has endured plague, fire, the Blitz, Thatcher (okay, that last one may have been a cheap dig), and now this. It will always endure. I have this funny feeling that even if the rest of the world melted, Britain would be okay. It would just lift off the surface of the Earth, and continue to exist as its own planet. London would just rebuild itself into some sort of space-age capitol. It sort of has done that already. It hasn’t away, and never will. It’s the city that cannot fall, because the people who love that city will not let it fall. An attack like the recent one can’t break the spirit of Londoners. If Nazi bombs in WWII couldn’t do it, nothing can. The resolve of the British public has always been one of, “We don’t know how to quit.” It’s one of the things I love about England. Surrender just isn’t an option.

            If Londinium could be translated accurately, it would mean, “resilient.” At least I like to think so. It’s a city that breaths. It wakes up each morning, and faces the day—good or bad—and then does it all over again the next day. It can’t stop, and no one can stop it.
            There’s a lesson in there for all of us.

            Hold fast.

Text and Photos: copyright Riley Joyce 2017


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Guinness Isn't Green!

Guinness Isn’t Green!



“I don’t go out on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s when the amateurs come out.” My uncle Tom used to say.

St. Patrick’s Day was once a celebration of Irish heritage. Now, it’s just an excuse to drink green-colored American beer. Well, at least that’s what it is in America, in some places. To me, it was this day where being Irish meant something to the rest of the world. I never bought into the idea that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, any more than everyone is a bunny on Easter Sunday. But, growing up in a household with Irish heritage, it was always a big deal.

Growing up with an Irish last name means that you’re aware of your ancestry from a very young age.

When you ask, “What are we?”  

The answer is always the same, “We’re Irish.”

It was never, “Irish-American,” just, “Irish.”

None of my living relatives have been to Ireland (except one of my nephews from one of my half-sisters). None of us speak Irish (though I knew a few words and phrases). Mom had this thing about corned beef. I’ve read James Joyce (don’t know if we’re related. Knowing would put too much pressure on me) and yet there’s this chain that stretches back to Ireland.

I run the risk of sounding contradictory here. While I’m proud of my heritage, I’ve always had an affinity for Britain. Why not love both islands? I certainly do. I don’t begrudge any race or nation. Though the relations between the two haven’t been stellar over the centuries, I think things have settled down in recent years. Had I been born in Ireland, maybe my views would be different. I could have been fiercely nationalistic. Then again, I may have adopted the pragmatic view of making friends with one’s neighbors, especially if they have a better chocolate.

When I was a teenager, I did some massive research in Irish history, and my family tree. It turns out that there’s this legend about a William De Jorce, who came over the Channel with William The Conqueror. After they took England, De Jorce pushed west into Ireland. He went so far west that he almost fell off the map! He settled in Galway, located on the coast, and then had a massive brood of kids. This then became the ancestral home of the Joyce family.

Centuries later, my paternal grandfather fought at D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. He was either fighting Nazis, or just trying to get back home. The jury is still out on that one. For the record, no on in my family speaks French.

There is also a story about a Richard Joyce, a master metalsmith. With insufficient funds to afford a proper wedding, Joyce went overseas to make his fortune. But before he left, he gave his beloved a very special ring. She was to wear it as an engagement ring until her hubby-to-be returned to the shores of Ireland. There was a bit of a delay on that. Richard was on a ship attacked by pirates. His life hung in the balance, when he convinced the salty seadog captain to spare his life.

His reason, “True love.”

The pirate captain showed empathy, and then took Richard under his wing. In time, Richard himself became a pirate. He made more than enough money to go back to Ireland, and marry his beloved.

Typing it out now I realize that this is the plot The Princess Bride. I have no doubt the pirate was named Roberts, and was indeed dread.

But what about that special ring Richard gave to his girlfriend?

It was a very special design; featuring two hands holding either side of a heart. Above the heart is a crown. Yes, it’s the Claddagh ring. It doesn’t get any more Irish than that. Properly, the crown faces the floor is one is single. It faces toward upward, toward oneself, if spoken for. My mother always wore her ring the wrong way, because she preferred how it looked. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until after my parents’ divorce that she started to wear one.

                        Then of course are the exploits of James Joyce, which I frankly don’t have enough room to recount here. Again, I’m not sure I’m related to any of these guys. I have this funny feeling that when I eventually go to Ireland, people’s eyes will bug out when they hear my last name, after hearing my accent.

            “Wha’ they done ta youse? Ya talk like them Americans!”

            Which brings me to a point that’s always bothered me. How Irish is someone that wasn’t born in Ireland? What claim do I have to say I’m Irish? I know several Italians that weren’t born in Italy, yet they feel just as Italian as I do Irish. This then brings up the whole concept of ethnicity, and how we define it.

            If ethnicity is simply defined as people with a common heritage, language, customs and history…then it’s sort of all over the map. Millions of Irish people emigrated to the Commonwealth nations; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Of course, there’s millions more that came to America. After that point the waters get a bit muddy. There’s this genetic link, so to speak, but the language and accents change after that point. Not all the Irish immigrants spoke English, but a lot of them did. As for a shared history and heritage…well, the heritage is there. But how many people of Irish descent know the history?

            In this case, does one’s ethnicity hinge entirely on where they were born? Perhaps it hinges on something beyond geography. Maybe it’s where one’s heart lies? The strange thing about America is that everyone who is here came from somewhere else. Or at least their ancestors did. The only true Native Americans were those that descended from the indigenous peoples that were here centuries before Jamestown. In that case, Geronimo is more of an American than I ever will be. I’m just sort of squatting on his turf.

            There’s also the concept of heritage being mixed.

            As we say in Pittsburgh, “You’re a Heinz 57.” But as Bill Murray remarked in Stripes, “There is no dog more lovable, more loyal, than a mutt.”

            I’m of Irish, Welsh, Austrian, Czech, and God-knows-what-else ancestry. Yet, I’ve always identified as Irish. It’s easier to say Irish, than it is to drag out everything. But also, it’s heritage that was always reinforced.


            I wasn’t raised Catholic, so that tends to confuse people as well. You don’t have to be Catholic to be Irish, but it does help. There is certain element of Catholicism I like, and others that I don’t share. I don’t believe I’d raise my children Catholic, if I ever have any. I’m perfectly content to be secular, and yet have a spiritual side. Though, I think to many Irish-Americans (there’s that phrase again) the majority are Catholic-lite. Though at one time you were more likely to see photos of John F. Kennedy in the home, than you were The Pope. My paternal grandparents had both The Last Supper, and a commemorative plate of JFK mounted on their dining room walls. That speaks volumes, I think. Kennedy was our guy, and he still is. You learn that from a young age as well.

            But for me, the real Irish heroes were the people who came before Kennedy. They were the ones that fled from famine with nothing to their names. They went to places they hadn’t been before, and made lives for themselves. That, to me at least, is what makes me Irish. It’s that strong stubbornness to not give up. That goes beyond language, geography, and the ages. A race of people that were dying, refused to die. They fought back, and survived. Their descendants are in every corner of the globe. That’s Biblical, in a way. It’s also proof that a shamrock can grow anywhere.

            Speaking of shamrocks. There’s this plastic sun catcher that belonged to my mother. It’s in decent shape, but a bit old. Yet, I hung it up when I moved into my new place. It hangs in the front window, and is always illuminated during daylight hours. It was hung in our kitchen window, even when it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. It will hang in that window no matter what day it is. It only comes down again when I move. It hung it up for a great many reasons; honoring my mother’s memory was one of them. Showing that I survived her death is another.

            So, Charlie Brown. That’s what St. Patrick’s Day means to me.

            Now, cue up some Loreena McKennitt, Dropkick Murphys, Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Van Morrison, and House of Pain. U2? Feck no! You put that CD on, and it goes out the bloody window! You still haven’t found what you’re looking for? Well, you’ve had thirty years to find it, Bono, ya pretentious jackeen!

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017




  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hiraeth


Hiraeth

            Leviathan used to be my favorite word. I think that was partly because of how it sounded, but also because it described a sea monster. I first heard the word when I was about eight. That was because of the sci-fi flick of the same title, starring Peter Weller and Ernie Hudson. You can’t beat the pairing of Robocop and a Ghostbuster tackling a sea monster.

            In recent years, I’ve come to know a new favorite word. Perhaps I should just make a list of favorite words, as it difficult to choose just one.

            This word is different. There’s a beauty in the sound of it; as if it should be the name of a fair-haired girl, with blue eyes and a mournful look. It’s a word that speaks of serene landscapes, that are in perpetual overcast dawn. It is a word of mourning, and yet it carries great love.

            Hiraeth.

            It’s a word known by experience, not definition. I felt this word before I knew it’s meaning. It never fully goes away, as the wounds on one’s heart don’t fully heal; they just form emotional scar tissue. It doesn’t mean one can never love again. It just means that one must be careful how they love.

            Hiraeth is a Welsh word, meaning, “The pain of longing, and loss; coupled with homesickness.” It can be homesickness. It can be the feeling of loss of a loved one. It can be both. It also carries nostalgia; which itself means, “pain from an old wound.” Yet, people pay good money for nostalgia these days. Just look at all the old Atari and Nintendo systems on EBay. However, no one has to pay for hiraeth; as it comes for free.

            I first felt this word on the day I flew back from England to the U.S. I’d just visited the U.K. for the first time. I was only able to spend a week, yet I didn’t want to leave. I’d dreamed of the U.K., specifically England, since I was a child. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I couldn’t stop smiling when I entered the airport at Birmingham, and saw the Union Flag flying overhead. I couldn’t stop smiling that entire first day. There were so many firsts that day. There were so many things I experienced that week. It rained on the last day, which felt appropriate for a number of reasons. I carrying a longing to return to a place, and its people.

            My mother once said, “Men don’t get attached to places.”

            I disagree. I feel that everyone leaves a part of their essence in a place they love, or that had significance to them. Though some terrible things happened in the house where I grew up, I still felt it was home. Though the last time I saw it, it didn’t feel like home anymore. It seemed foreign to me. It’s as if the place only exists in memory now. I have no desire to return to the actual building. Nor, would I return to the flat where my mother died.

            There are places I do get attached to, and couldn’t picture life without. But, there are also places that I don’t miss, and am ready to move on from, and not experience again.

            Then there are the places I’ve only touched, but not fully explored. Like a lover giving up their secrets, there’s always more to find. You could spend a lifetime searching, and still not know everything. Those are the places I love the most.

            I’m in a period now where I have lost much. Yet, I have not given up hope; as it is all that drives me forward. I find myself in another place where things seemed to be stabilizing, and then became unstable again. There is much uncertainty, and little I can control. Yet, I have not lost hope. Maybe that’s a side of hiraeth that few have explored; the hope of return?

            Hiraeth also carries with it an element of love. We feel hiraeth most toward the ones that we love, because we know time is short. We need to make every moment with them count. I’ve written before that even a hundred years is a blink in the eye of God. As such, we are all on limited time frames on, what Carl Sagan called, “The pale blue dot.” We can’t afford to waste a second.

            So, that is why I sometimes jump the gun in life. I want to take in everything that matters to me, and not let it go. I want to experience this world, and share it with someone. I want them, and everyone else to know that it all mattered, and that my life wasn’t just wasted time. So, I’ve found another aspect of hiraeth; mourning over lost time. Yet, I still look to the future, as I know the lost time can’t be regained. Only the future can be acquired.

            One can feel hiraeth over a person. No matter how many people one loves, that is always someone that gives us a sense of hope, or even a sense of purpose. Perhaps that hope and purpose cannot be lost? Even with all the upsets and confusion that goes on in the heart, those dual senses can still exist. Yes, I speak of someone that I love dearly. Someone who is in pain. Because of that pain, they have drawn away from me. Yet, again, I hold onto the hope they will return. Whether my love for them takes the form of romance (which is the trajectory it’s headed on) or, if it remains something else, I can’t say. I know what I want, and I know what they are ready to experience. It’s just a matter of synchronizing the two. You just can’t experience someone that you feel is part of you, and not feel you belong with them. It’s impossible to look at them, and not see the missing half you’ve searched for your entire life, up to this point. I’ve not given up on this person, even if they are unsure of their future.

That’s another example of hiraeth to me.

The words to She Moved Through the Fair come to mind when I think of this emotion. If there ever was an example of hiraeth over love of a person, it’s in that song. But, I must confess, that my love of place is great. Is it greater than my love for a person? I don’t know. Both carry great opportunities, and many adventures for the future.

That’s it, the future.

Perhaps hope and the future, when concocted, form an antidote to hiraeth. Not, a cure, mind you, but a treatment, that allows one to function, and to love.  
I don’t know, but I intend to find out.


            Text and photo: Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Truth is Out There


The Truth is Out There

            I’ve been revisiting The X-Files lately. With each episode, I am reminded of why I gravitated toward this show in the first place. It wasn’t just the interplay between Mulder and Scully, though that was a big part of it. It was also the concept that one must search for answers.

            As the old adage goes, “People do not seek the truth because it is lost, but because they are lost.”

            Some seek the “truth” through a religious system, and feel they have found it. Others, seek the truth internally. Still, there are others who seek truths by going into the world, and exploring it. I’m into two of those categories. I explore the world, and then I reflect inwards on what it all means. Religious systems brought up more questions than they did answers. The majority seemed to cast the world into shades of black and white; a view that I’ve fought against for ages. Though, I will admit, not all faith-based systems are like that. Still, one must find their own path.

            So, that brings me to the concept of truth, and how we are taught “truths.” There is no “post truth.” Nor, is there “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert used to say. There’s reality, and unreality. What appears to be either depends on what you were taught was the truth.

            This brings me to Mr. Kort, and our discussions about The X-Files.

            Mr. Kort was the traditional eccentric science teacher. He taught biology, and earth and space science. He had a way of smiling at you that suggested great humor, warmth, and a possible eureka moment. I can picture him now in his aviator glasses, and monotone shirts. He kind of looked like Keir Dullea in 2001, if Dr. Bowman weren’t as tall. Mr. Kort had more of a robust build.  

His frequent comment about lichens, “The more you lick’em, the more you like’em,” also comes to mind. 

Somehow, we’d gotten to talk about the The X-Files. I seem to recall that it aired during the infamous “Friday night death slot,” and yet it became a hit, along with Millennium, and the short-lived Brimstone. When the X-Files premiered a few years prior, it was expected to be a flop. Fox had little faith in it, and assumed that the Bruce Campbell-staring show The Adventures of Briscoe Country Jr. would be their big Friday night hit. I like Bruce as much as the next nerd, but Brisco County ran for little less than a season, whereas The X-Files became a cultural landmark.

This was at a time when interest in the paranormal was flourishing. This was largely tied to the New Age movement, which gained it’s second (and last wind) around this time. Shows like the classic In Search Of… (which I also watched) made a comeback, albeit in reruns. As did the eponymous trilogy of shows hosted by Sir Arthur C. Clarke; Mysterious World, Universe, and Strange Powers. This was also during the era of the Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown book series, which I’m still putting together a full set of. Just before The X-Files premiered, a showed called Sightings made its debut. Much like its predecessors, Sightings was a paranormal show, though it was presented in the form of a news magazine, rather than a docudrama. As the title would suggest it focused on UFO sightings, as did I at the time. To me, the idea of life on other planets was incredibly probably at the time. My faith in things such as ghosts, for example, were already on the wane. Though it was still fun to think of such things, though I put little stock in them now.

This commercial ran incessantly late at night. 
It features Julianne Moore before she was famous! 


            The beginning of the skepticism started with my conversations with Mr. Kort. We’d talk about The X-Files either before, or after class. I took the Mulder “pro” side of things, while Mr. Kort took the Scully “con” side of things. We debated such episodes as the one about the giant alligator, the one about the Fluke Man, and yes, the infamous episode titled Home. That requires a stiff drink to talk about now. It’s the one episode that was seldom repeated. I still can’t listen to the Johnny Mathis song Wonderful Wonderful without thinking about that episode. Though my favorite episode is still Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. That’s the one where the Air Force is faking an abduction, right when a real alien abduction happens!

During these conversations, I learned a lot. I learned that while faith isn’t a bad thing, it must be tempered with reason. I don’t mean religious faith, but instead a faith in the world around oneself. It was then that I realized that belief in such things as UFOs or ghosts are cultural phenomena. They are not something one must believe. We are often taught to believe them because the friend of a friend of a cousin, or someone’s brother’s uncle’s nephew’s sister’s aunt swears they saw them! That’s not meant to ridicule anyone that has seen such things, but we must start with the null hypothesis. We must ask, “Did anything actually happen?” Then, we go onto, “What actually occurred?” The X-Files was about the truth, and this is how we get to the truth; investigation, and testing the evidence. In the words of Feynman.

“If a theory doesn’t hold up to experience, or experiment…it’s wrong!”

Speaking of theories…

            This was also the era of the conspiracy theory. Well, that deserves a post unto itself. As it stands now I can’t stand conspiracy theories. The convoluted path they take on one could best be shaved away by Occam’s Razor. The sad thing is that most conspiracy theorists are content to grow beards, or have hairy legs. When you try to gift them shaving cream, they assume you are part of the conspiracy. It was at that time that I began to question all the right-wing rhetoric that I heard at the time. Where these stories about the Clinton’s true? Was there a secret plot to take our guns away? Did a UFO crash land in Roswell, and was the government doing a really piss poor job of covering it up? I mean the fact it was covered in the news meant they failed to keep it a secret, right?

            It was then that I started to think, “Well, did anything crash in Roswell at all?”

            I also found Mr. Kort challenging. At the time, I attended a VERY right-wing church with my father. So, attending a secular science class would inevitably bring up conflict. I wasn’t raised with a religion My father wasn’t opposed to my interest in astronomy when I was a child. But then he went through a conversion experience after the divorce from my mother. That’s another story; one in which my father made one last ditch effort to get my mother back, by pretending to be extremely religious. It failed, as she saw through it. I began to see through it as well. I don’t want to belittle anyone’s faith, but I don’t know anyone who can walk on water, so it’s a longshot that it’s even possible. I think I was content to grow up secular. Being told that I was someone wrong-headed for it, and needed to change, was a bit more than I could handle. This was one of the causes of my depression, which lasted for about seven years. 

            There I was in a biology class, where I learned about evolution. That deserves a blog post unto itself, entitled How I Learned to Stop Fearing Darwin, and Love My Inner Monkey.

            Mr. Kort said, “For some people ‘evolution’ is a dirty word. For me, it just means, ‘change.’”

            He was right.

            It wasn’t until I was at university that evolution finally made sense. I don’t know if that was because I was finally mature enough to understand it, or because it was explained in a way that I could grasp. But I finally understood that one’s environment changes on physically. The Earth influences all its species, just as we influence it. You don’t know what a revelation that was, if you’ll pardon the pun. It meant that whether God made the universe, or not, was beside the point. The point was, we were figured out how the universe works. Evolution is just another mechanism, that’s all it is. So, stop freaking out about evolution, people! Don’t be a baboon about it!

            I will always be well-versed in the paranormal, and the macabre. Though, I will admit, my skepticism is firmly rooted in reason. Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t speculate on some things. I'm still free to believe, or not believe. I believe humans have souls. I believe we all carry a divine spark inside of us. I believe that it’s possible that my mother tried to get some message to me from beyond the veil. It doesn’t mean I’m off my rocker, but it means I’m open to contemplating such things. But, as the saying goes, “It’s good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.” One must guard against that.

            Ultimately, what The X-Files teaches us is to question authority. Don’t just accept the answers we are given. Instead, search for the answers, and follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Then, you will know the truth.  
 
             Yes, the truth is out there…it’s also in all of us.




Copyright Riley Joyce 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yesterday

Yesterday


            “I’m too aggressive.” My mother said. “She won’t come out for me.”

           “Let me give it a try.” I said.

            It was May of 2005, and my mother had just brought home our new cat. She came in a vented box, which was designed to look like a house with a red-shingled roof. On the side was written I’m going home. Yet, I hadn’t seen the occupant of the box. She was in hiding under a bed we had in a spare room. Mom had brought her home while I was at work, and so I wouldn’t be able to see her until that evening.

My mother had informed me that, “She looks like Oscar the Grouch.”

To which I replied, “You didn’t bring home a Muppet, did you? She doesn’t have green fur, does she?”

Thankfully, she did not.

I was twenty-five years old at the time, and couldn’t resist getting it on it video. I set up my camera on a tripod, and then knelt in front of the bed. I then reached out with my left hand. I didn’t dare put it under the bed, as I assumed a large clawed paw would strike forth, and pull me under. I had way too many horror films to know that this is a bad idea. The underside of the bed was like a cavern, and a beast lurked within. That must I knew. Whether she be friend or foe was unknown at this point.

“Call to her.” Mom said.

“Yesterday.” I said gently. “Come get my scent.”

Then, I saw a small, flat nose emerge from under the bed. Two golden eyes rested above it, framed by elegant eyelashes. She stepped forward, and was ladylike in her walk. She has a stocky build, and the most beautiful coat—tortoise markings, which were perfectly proportioned. She looked as if she’d been painted that way, or designed in a lab. She reminded me of a teddy bear, or some other plush toy.

My mother said, “She looks like an owl.”

Yesterday walked up to me, and then said, “Mowe.”

She sniffed my fingers, and then I gently petted her back. Yesterday then started to walk circles around me, and rub against me. From that point on, she followed me through the entire house. There wasn’t a moment she wasn’t with me, except when I took a shower. That would have been weird. Though she did seem to enjoy the scent of Lynx. I can’t imagine why.

Those were Yesterday’s first steps into my life. She took her last steps on Sunday, February 12th, 2017. She was my cat for thirteen years, her entire lifespan. Life without her feels both odd, and a little empty. This comes on the heels of my mother’s death in July of 2017. Losing two loved ones so soon was both unexpected, and incredibly painful. I figured she’d live another year or two, seeing as how she was thirteen. For her to die so soon after Mom…it was a bit of a shock.

Pets, especially cats or dogs, become family to us. People who don’t have pets, or have never had them, will not understand. Yesterday was like my kid. Mom used to call her my sister, which I always thought was a bit odd, but that was my mother’s sense of humor. I cared for Yesterday, and all our cats, the way I would for a child. I fed her, bathed her, held her, and played on the living room floor with her. After Mom died, I became her only caregiver. It used to be that I was there to give the cats affection, and Mom was their cook. Then I assumed both roles last year.

Cats aren’t driven by purpose the way we are. We exist to get affection from us, while giving us affection in return. They are the ultimate givers of unconditional love. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

I can’t put Yesterday’s life into a single narrative, so I’ll just give some highlights of it. I should also point out that at one point my mother and I had three cats; Yesterday, July, and Roxanne. Roxanne was the first to pass away in 2015. July is now with the family of a friend, as she was too feral for a smaller apartment (after Mom died I moved around a bit). Yesterday was always my cat, as I was her human. So, she went with me no matter where I lived. The only time I was away from her for an extended period is when I lived in the Bay Area. These past four days are the longest I’ve gone without a cat in my life. Even since childhood I’ve either had cats or dogs. Though, I admit, I do prefer cats. No offense to the bow-wows out there.

Memory Number One: Yesterday Goes to the Morrison Hotel

            The same week we adopted Yesterday, I picked up a 
Morrison Hotel t-shirt. It’s my favorite Doors album. I still have the shirt, which features the album cover for that iconic record. I listen to that album every summer. The only exception was this past summer, when my mother died. Outside of that it’s been a yearly ritual since…well, for a long time. 

            I put on a Morrison Hotel in the living room. Then, something peculiar happened. I was worried the music might freak Yesterday out, and was surprised when it didn’t. Instead, she sat on her haunches at my feet. She had this big grin on her face, like the Cheshire cat. I petted her, and thought, “Was Yesterday a groupie in a previous life?” Wait, she couldn’t have been…nah, not the Lizard King. I think she looks more like a Tudor monarch, given her regal bearing. She could easily have been a member of the Henry VIII’s court. She was build a Tudor.

            My mother poked her head into the living room, and said, “Riley and Yesterday groovin’ to the music.”

            I then had a wicked thought.

            I gave Yesterday some cat nip.

            I held her for a bit, and made sure she had a nice, mellow high. I then put on some Bob Marley music. She crawled into her kitty tube, and laid on her back. She had the biggest Cheshire grin on her furry face. She was high as a kite on Stinson Beach. I turned the music down, and then had some nachos.

            No, I wasn’t stoned.

            Mildly drunk, perhaps, but not stoned. This was my twenties after all.
           
Memory Two: Yesterday’s Chair

            I still have this as well. It was my mother’s favorite chair. But at the time when Yesterday was young, it was a chair I often sat in while watching shows like Kyle XY or Deadwood. Without fail, Yesterday would jump up onto my lap. She’d situate herself, and then start to purr. She’d sit there until either the show was over, or until I got up to use the loo.

            Then, one day, Yesterday jumped up onto the chair without me.
            I swear to God that this part is true.

            I found her sitting upright! Her front paws hung limp like a zombie, and her eyes were closed. Her tongue protruded from the side of her mouth, like Bill the Cat in Bloom County. I eyed her suspiciously, and then wondered, “Is she alright?”

            My mother, who sat on the living room sofa at the time, didn’t seem to notice.

            “Look at Yesterday.” I said.

            Mom looked at her, and then said, “Well, just make sure she’s not dead.”

            This may sound cavalier to you all, but you should understand, my mother had a very dark sense of humor. Now you know where I get it from. Just remind me to tell you about the time we cleared out my grandmother’s shoeboxes. On second thought, don’t ask. It correlates to something that happened after my mother died.
            Yet, I digress.

            So, I did as Mom asked. I very gently roused Yesterday by touching her left shoulder. She instantly woke up. Yesterday looked at me, as if to say, “What’s a matter with you, human? What the hell you wake me up for? Quit looking at me like that.”

            She then cleaned herself as normal, and I backed away slowly.

Memory Three: Claire De Lune

            More than just one of my favorite pieces of music. I used to hold Yesterday, and show her the moon. My parents did that for me when I was an infant, which would explain why I’m a lunatic. I mean, why I’m interested in astronomy. It also explains why the moon plays such a vital role in my life.

            It would always somewhat late at night; eight after nine or ten. Mom would be in her bedroom, watching TV. The rest of the house would be silent. I would then pick up Yesterday, who’d purr loudly. She had the loudest purr of any cat I’ve ever known. It would reverberate inside my chest when I held her. Then I’d walk her to the dining room window, which faced the back of the house. 

            The moonlight outlined her profile, and reflected off her golden eyes. She’d look at it in fascination. Did she wonder, as Newton did, “Why does it not fall from the sky?” Did she have the capacity to wonder about such things?

            I’d then set Yesterday on her window seat, which Mom called, “Her throne.” I’d then make tea.

Memory Four: Cat Dance if You Want to

            Yesterday had this habit of tap dancing. Again, I’m not making this up. When she was practically orgasmic from the petting, she’d tap dance from side to side with her hind legs. Her tail would then wag upright in a jittery fashion. This meant that she was REALLY happy, and couldn’t get any more satisfied than in that moment. She did this often, but had lapsed from it in her later years. I’m not sure why, but it may have had to do with her difficulty walking toward the end of her life.

            You’d have to see her dance to believe it. I think I have video of it somewhere. There are many more memories, but I can't recount them all in one blog post. This will suffice, until more surface. 


            In the end, Yesterday had survived a lot. She an abuse case, that was rehabilitated by a local animal shelter. She was taken in by a grieving mother, and her son, both of whom had lost a cat earlier that summer. She was a companion to both humans; but she adopted me as her favorite. Yesterday was also a loving sister to a tabby (July) and a marmalade (Roxanne), and showed kindness to them both. Though she sparred a bit with them, it was only play fighting. No one ever got hurt, except for the humans that tried to break it up.

            Yesterday also survive watching the death of my mother. She knew something was up when Mom didn’t come home that night. She wasn’t herself after that. She seemed a little less joyful, and purr-full. She also, wasn’t as active. She didn’t play as much, nor, explore the apartment as much. Her death is all the sadder because of the upheaval we’d both gone through because of our mother’s death. I’m still feeling the shockwaves of it. She was a little kitten, even in old age. She missed her mommy, as do I.

            The day Yesterday died, I held her paw. I petted her, and kept her warm. I covered her with a warm track jacket that once belonged to me, and then belonged to my mother. I couldn’t put her to sleep the night before. I had to take her home, so she could die peacefully, and with me next to her. I didn’t want her last memories to be of a pet casualty unit, with smelling blankets covering her.

            I slept next to her the night before. When she still breathed the next morning, I was in shock. The vet thought she would have gone within an hour or two. My little girl wouldn’t give up that easy. She fought one hell of a fight to stay alive. I’m proud of her. She was more like me than I thought.

            I continued to pet her, and talk to her. I told her that I regretted not spending as much time with her as I used to do. I talked to her the way I did my mother, when she was on her deathbed.

            I then said to Yesterday, “I don’t want you to go. But you have to go to Mom now. She’s waiting for you. She’s lonely without you. I’ll be lonely without you too. But she needs you now.”

            Around 3:20 in the afternoon, Yesterday breathed her last. I heard her exhale, and recognized the sound. It was like the one my mother made when she expelled her terminal breath.

            I called some friends, the same ones I did when Mom died. I confessed to one of them, Kethry, that, “I promised Mom I’d take care of her. I think I failed in that.”

            “You did take care of her.” She said. “Now it’s your mother’s turn.”

            I believe she’s with her now.

            I’ve performed three cat funerals now. I knew what to do.

            I wrapped Yesterday in her favorite towel. Much like me, she always knew where her towel was. I bound it gently with the twine she used to play with. I then placed her in a small box, along with a can of cat food, and two of her toy mice. I then placed her in a suitcase, and made the long trek back to her kingdom.

            This may sound morbid to some, but I had to do this for her. I traveled by bus, with Yesterday’s body all boxed up, and in a suitcase. It was our final adventure together. I caught the bus back to our old neighborhood, just in time as well. It was on a Sunday, so the buses run a bit wonky. I then took her to where the old house stood. It was bulldozed a few years ago. In the back woods, under the proverbial cloak of darkness (I was wearing a flight jacket) I dug her grave. The ground was soft enough from a warm up, that I could do it. I said a few words, and then made the long trek back to the city.  

            It doesn’t get easy losing a pet.

            I’m sentimental, as you all know. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. What I am sure of is that I couldn’t have asked for a better cat. No matter how many cats I have in the future, Yesterday will always be the best. She was unique in so many ways.

            There’s a strange postscript to all of this.

            That night, the clouds parted, and I saw the full moon. It was tinted gold, like Yesterday’s eyes. The black clouds parted, and framed the moon in such a way that it looked like the markings on Yesterday’s fur.

            I then said, “Yesterday, I know you’re up there with Mom.”

            The next morning, something interesting also happened.

            I was on my way to class, when I heard Elton John’s Tiny Dancer playing in a local pharmacy. It’s one of my favorites, and was also the first song I’d heard when I first entered San Francisco, about ten years ago. Then, I heard Prince’s 1999 being blasted across the street from a local shop. Mom loved Prince. Then I entered another shop, and heard Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Mom loved Neil Diamond. I then heard Prince again later that afternoon, as a co-worker was listening to him on her iPhone. The song was again 1999.

            I took all of this as some sort of sign. The dead don’t talk to us with rattling cabinets, or floating objects. They communicate in other, more subtle ways. I took this as meaning that Yesterday was with Mom, and that all was forgiven. I had taken care of her, and now, it truly was Mom’s turn.



            

Copyright Riley Joyce 2017