Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sail Away, Sweet Sister

K.C. died.

I found out from my Mom in the form of, ‟Didn’t you used to know this girl. I saw her obituary a couple of weeks ago.”

It has probably been thirty-five years since I’ve seen K.C. I occasionally run into her older brother and ask about both her and her sister. But I haven’t had any real contact with her since right after high school. The last time I saw her she introduced me to her boyfriend, who I know she married not long after. After that, I don’t have any real idea what happened in her life. I think the first marriage didn’t last. I think she remarried.

I think, but I don’t really know.

She’s been gone from my life for a very long time.

But in high school she was among that first group of friends who I ever considered to be family. She was someone I felt a bond with. Someone I loved in the intense ways of friendship that in the years since I have felt for many people (and I am thankful and blessed to be able to say that).

We didn’t date. I never kissed her or held her hand. For a time she dated my friend, G.I., and along with our friend B.K. (who I sometimes thought I was dating but I don’t think she ever perceived it that way), the four of us had many adventures. At the time I couldn’t imagine my life without any of them.  They were Forever Friends. Some of the first.

I lost track of all of them, and it happened very quickly. Our lives simply went in different directions and it seems that high school and proximity were all that really held us together.

There was a time when G.I.’s family made me part of theirs. I spent hours at his house, went on family vacations with them, was the object of his little sister’s first major crush. I have nothing but warm feelings and memories of all of them. G.I. moved and the last time I saw him felt awkward. We just didn’t have anything in common to talk about. I’m friends with some of his family on Facebook, so I could find him easily. But I haven’t.

B.K. met a guy at work and got married. She moved into the house she grew up in and settled into her life. I ran into her in the early 90s. I went to her house and had dinner and a great time getting caught up. I haven’t seen her since. No hard feelings between us. We just live in different universes.

I missed K.C.’s wedding. I sent her a card. In it, in addition to wishing her luck and congratulations, I wrote some lyrics from the song, Sail Away, Sweet Sister, from the Queen album The Game. At the time they seemed to say the things I wanted to say to her.

She was 52 when she died. In my brain she's still 18.

Time. Lost companions. People I loved who loved me back, even though none of us are those people anymore. Chapters and moments that make us who we are. Never lost entirely, just faded pieces of the puzzle of our lives.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Time is a Ghost Town

Part One: The other side of Time

Did I ever tell you I grew up just outside of Time? You had to travel through Time to get to my house? Well, actually there were several ways to go around Time if you knew where to look.

Seriously, it’s the name of the small (I mean like five houses small), village I grew up near. A friend from back home is writing an article about it and just last week sent me some questions, so that set off a cascade of thoughts on the topic of Time.

Time isn’t on a lot of Pennsylvania maps these days. I found the following images online.

Time actually appearing on an old map.
I grew up at the intersection right under
where it says Simpsons Store.

An old map listing the land owners.
J. Wise is my grandfather, James.
This is a tin type picture of my
grandfather, James Wise. He died two
years before I was born. He was born in
the early 1880s. Yes, you read that right.
Thanks to both my father and I coming
later in our parent's lives two generations
ago for me is close to 140 years.

No one who lived there actually called it Time. It was always ‟Dogtown” to the natives, even though there was a now long-gone Village of Time sign on both ends of town. It’s rumored to have had a post office at one time, but no I know remembers it (including my parents who have both lived there for over 90 years). They do remember a school. I vaguely remember a country store run by George McNeely and a barbershop run by my great uncle Clark. In talking with the folks I know there was another school, a couple of lumber mills, another store, and a grain mill with a water wheel on the creek in the immediate vicinity as well. Part of the stone foundation of the grain mill is still there if you know where to look under the vegetation.

That’s all gone now. Most of it has been for decades. The store and the barbershop were still there when I was little, but both were gone by the mid 60s at the latest. It has been a slow process, but at this moment in Time, everything is gone.

That whole area, Union Valley, is in the middle of coal mines and gas wells. Fracking has come to Time and most people who lived there have been bought out and have moved. My parents are two of the only people left in the valley. Every time I have gone home for the last several years something was missing. Houses are abandoned, their windows either knocked out or boarded up. Driving through Time two weeks ago it reminded me of several old abandoned towns I saw in the dry hinterlands of New Mexico.

Time is a ghost town.

There has never been a written history of Time. Why would there be? The only thing that remains of it are the memories of the people who lived there. My parents are the oldest and they only have fragments of what came before. I have even less. Even memories die eventually, and sometimes they don’t leave even a ghost behind. Some things are just gone.

I’m witnessing the slow passage of Time.

Part Two: Time Passages

I recently was asked to participate in a gallery show at Most WantedFine Art in the Garfield section of Pittsburgh. The show was called The Art of Blogging and featured art work by people who are more well known for blogging than for drawing or painting (that’s an oversimplification). It was great to be asked to participate. I identify as a writer much more than an artist these days, so having some focus on my art was gratifying.

As part of the info for the exhibit I was asked to write a brief, one hundred words or less, description of what my blog was about. That proved more difficult than writing the blog.

My friend Leigh Anne also blogs (go read her at You’ll thank me). In addition to being a superb friend in many way she is also one of the people I frequently talk about writing and blogging with and I value and trust her insights more than most. So, when faced with describing my blog I asked her, ‟What’s my blog about?”

Her answer?


I asked her to elaborate and part of what she said was, ‟You treat time as if it were something tangible and malleable to work with... though you do seem to focus on the past and present rather than the future... you don't take anything for granted. You treat everything as if it’s important without coming off like a pompous ass, which is no mean feat.”

Hmmm... I hadn’t thought of it that way but she’s right. I often talk about memory and how it changes, about the past and nostalgia, with a focus on how these things impact our present and future. I’m very aware of the stories we all tell, and how they differ due to perspective and the passage of time. Our memories are ghosts and we can never be sure they’re real.

Part Three: I remember doing the Time Warp

Okay, I’m going to talk about Doctor Who.

Like a lot of people I’m a fairly new convert to the Doctor. Because my hobbies included comics and science fiction I think I was always vaguely aware of the show without ever getting a chance to see it. Though I know episodes aired on PBS in the 70s, television reception wasn’t very good in Time. I was pretty much limited to NBC and CBS affiliates when I was little and ABC as a teen when we moved a whole hundred yards up the road closer to Time. I saw photos in magazines and drawings of the character in comics form, but I don’t think I ever really understood the concept back then.

This was primarily the Tom Baker era Doctor Who. Even then, not knowing anything, I liked the look. I never really cosplayed back then, but in the 80s I took to wearing a trench coat, an Indiana Jones fedora, and a long scarf. I don’t think this was a completely conscious attempt to look like the Doctor, but I can’t say I was totally unaware of it either.

At some point I saw an episode or two, too late for it to really hook me. Slow stories, cheap looking special effects... It just didn’t grab me. I have known many friends who were huge fans though, friends who tried many times to get me to try it. I’m pretty sure it was Steve Segal who finally convinced me to start with the reboot featuring Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. Okay Steve... You were right.

Steve edited and wrote a lot of the entries for a book called Geek Wisdom a few years ago. I know he wrote the entry about Doctor Who. In it he makes the point that some time in the last ten years the Doctor replaced Star Trek as the cultural touchstone for those of us involved in the geek lifestyle. He refers to Doctor Who as ‟a grown-up Peter Pan, always collecting new young friends and teaching them to fight the good fight on Earth rather than in Neverland,” someone who has an ‟unsullied, childlike vision of a universe where all things ought to be possible.” In the same article he quoted Craig Ferguson as saying the Doctor represented, ‟the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.”

I happen to think those are remarkable qualities for a role model.

I’ve been accused of being something of a Peter Pan myself. There are good and bad things about that. There is a difference between being child-like and being childish. I think I still have child-like wonder about many things, and a youthful spirit. I value humor and play (the title of my blog isn’t an accident after all). I don’t think I’m an immature brat who needs others to take care of me. I’m pretty good at living in the moment and could be a little better at planning for the future. I do seem to have an ever-changing cast of young companions who look to me for guidance of some sort, many of whom become genuine friends because I know I learn as much from them as they do from me.

Remaining youthful in outlook while getting older in wisdom is an act of internal time travel.

I’m really enjoying the current, Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who. After two young-looking incarnations of the Doctor (David Tennent and Matt Smith), they skewed older with Capaldi. I thought this was a good move, just for the show in general, but also because oddly enough I skew older than I used to. I knew it would change the dynamics of the show and it did. Doctors 10 and 11 could easily be seen as romantic interests for the companions, and this plot line played out to some degree with both of them. With Capaldi being older it more firmly moved into the role of mentor than romantic leading man.

The 12th Doctor began as a little rougher around the edges than his immediate predecessors. Matt Smith was just over the top cuddly and lovable. Capaldi was crankier, didn’t suffer fools gladly, and seemed to have an arrogant disdain for humans. As I watched his first season unfold I started to see this not so much as a disdain for people than a way of emotionally distancing himself from them. I believe all of the Doctor’s regenerations, the new person they become, have roots in who they were before. If this is true then his need for emotional distance was something of a learned response from his last years as the 11th Doctor.

This became clear to me this season in his interactions with Ashildr, played by Maisie Williams, a character he made immortal. She refers to him as the ‟man who runs away.” As an immortal he spends time with humans, but leaves when things get too tough for him. Ashildr had lived for 800 years and simply couldn’t remember everyone she had known, even those who had been close to her. She was wounded by the passage of time and the things she had lost to it. To survive she had stopped allowing herself to get attached to people who were just going to die and leave her.

It was her mention of 800 years that did it for me. The 11th Doctor, in his last season, spent more than 800 years living on the planet Trenzalore while it was in a constant state of siege and warfare. In this case he wasn’t the ‟man who runs away,” but the man who stayed. In that time he watched generations of people live their entire lives and die while he continued on. By the time he regenerated into the 12th Doctor he had become used to losing people and out of the habit of caring for the mayflies, as he called them in conversation with Ashildr.

The ability to care is something he had to relearn. The ability to care, even when you know something may be short-lived, even when you know you may lose it, is the essence of being human. I think that is the central theme for Capaldi’s Doctor.

As a quick aside, I think his growth as a character can be seen through his clothes. When he first appeared he wore a frock coat and a severe white shirt buttoned up to his throat. Very formal. He still wears the frock coat, though it looks a little frayed and worse for wear this season, but he is wearing beat up t-shirts and a hoodie under it. His appearance has become less formal to mirror his attitude. I confess that I like this look a lot, partially because I’ve been wearing a frock coat/hoodie combo in fall and spring for years now. I feel like I’m participating in stealth cosplay every time I leave the house, much more so than when I wore the trench coat, hat, and scarf many years ago.

Part Four: It’s astounding, Time is fleeting

So I’m losing Time: my home town and the moments of my life. There are people and relationships I have lost. I relate to the current Doctor because of this. Some days I feel old and look at the enthusiasm of youth with the painful wisdom of knowing they don’t know what awaits them. The painful wisdom of knowing neither do I. It is more difficult to pursue and create meaningful relationships because I know many of them will not last. People go away, not because of failed friendships or relationships but because of Time. Many of the dearest are still out there. We have the metaphorical Tardis of shared space on social media (much bigger on the inside), and the occasional reunion where we reminisce about old adventures but rarely actually share a new one. There will be new companions I love, but the old ones are always just the ghost of a memory away.

But Time isn’t a ghost town. It’s filled with people, just waiting to come into your life and change it. People who are waiting for you to appear like magic and bring them new adventures.

That’s the point of living with a child-like wonder. You never know what people will prove to be the best companions. Live in the moment, enjoy them now, dance with them in the playground of your life. Create the best future you can because the future is just nostalgia that hasn’t happened yet.