Have no fear, Underdog is here; or Neverwhere Everywhere; or The Trick of Living Alive

I have finally “discovered” Neil Gaiman. Wow. I just finished Neverwhere, which I’d picked up on a whim, long after a friend told me that I should read him. Why the book was in the YA section of my library, I have no idea. I guess adults aren’t supposed to read works of fantasy? Oh, but the world is too much with us.

In Neverwhere, an ordinary bloke helps out a stranger who turns out to be a VIP with the London underground. Not the metropolitan transit system, but the world under the Underground, where people from aboveground have fallen through the cracks and time is a funny thing. There are all sorts of good and evil doings down there and our unlikely hero gets involved and comports himself admirably, all the while only wanting to go home to his normal life.

SPOILER ALERT here: His normal life turns out to be not all that, and he chooses to go back down to life underground.

This is a dangerous ending, it occurs to me. He chooses life underground because he had a purpose there, he could be of service, and things were exciting. This is why soldiers sign up for another tour of duty. This is why people join extremist groups. This is why I am, a year into my unemployment, beginning to feel desperate enough to consider taking a real job or some other insane thing that will just shake me out of the humdrum of this lovely life I have and purportedly give me purpose.

Our hero could have sought a better job, could have NOT settled for the girl in Accounting, could have shaken his normal life up in some normal way, rather than choosing to throw his lot in with the fantasyland of below. I’ll bet you that life didn’t turn out to be all that either.

This desire to live in a hyperaware moment can be dangerous. It is one of the things that makes homecoming so difficult for people who have been in combat. But it’s not so dissimilar to that living-wide-awake notion that Buddhists talk about. Is there some way to bring that alertness, without the fear-based edge, to daily life — that seems to be the challenge.

 

 

No, Mary, YOU tell ME; or Life in the World

Mary Oliver in Upstream wrote in the eponymous essay, “In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” I feel like I’m still in this state, that I’m still rediscovering, redefining.

I admire the way she is so attuned to her environment, noting the shifts with each phase of the passing seasons, how she daily consumes that notice and transforms it into her work in poetry. I react to the world in similar ways as when I was young. I think I have long paid attention to details, both out of an interest in the natural, and out of a watchfulness born of fear of what is scary and uncontrollable in the world. But it’s what I am to do with those reactions that I continue to find puzzling. How to live a life.

As Oliver said in “Summer Day,” “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild, precious life?”

There are many hours in the day in which to live out an answer to this question, but an unknown number of years to figure it out. I am grateful for the question and how it haunts me. She writes, “May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.”

Pema Chodron wrote, “The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment.” I am grateful for the possibilities that crack wide open with that quote, but also daunted by the responsibility. Blue sky today and a breeze bobbles the rhododendron already unpinched from the cold night temperatures to the warming air.

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