Tag Archives: beauty

Proper Autumn

So much for my plans to keep up with my writing on my days off. Between falling ill, and desperately needing days of zombie trances, I seem to have let my passion fall to the wayside. But I’m in the middle of four days off from work, and I figure that now is as good a time as any to get back to it.

The other day I saw my Facebook post announcing my retirement from the Food Service Industry, and today marks the one year anniversary (kind of) of my final day at Blondie’s Pizza. I’ll be doing a proper column about the year in review in the first week of December, but even now I am thinking back over the past twelve months and seeing how patterns from my apathy colored my failures (and successes I did make tens of dollars from my writing!). And now here I am, about to embark upon my latest endeavor, dreading tax time and the need to file three places of employment for this past year. Of course, I still seem to be getting ahead of myself. There’s always something about Autumn that puts me in an introspective (and retrospective) mood, not that we’ve really seen all that many proper Autumns here in California for the past few years. Any time you’ve got 100 degree days in the early weeks of December, you’re pretty much disqualified from knowing what the Fall is all about. I imagine children, now in Kindergarten, who are frightened and terrified by the recent streak of 40 degree mornings, having never in their lives been subject to them. Hailing from the Northwest, of course, I merely chuckle to myself and silently judge them for their provincial attitudes.

I myself am thoroughly enjoying the crisp air, with its promises of snow (which will, of course, never be kept), and nearly collapsing in pile of hyperventilation as I misjudge the plumes of smoke I’m blowing out as I smoke in the early morning. This time of year has always been my favorite, at least, that is, since I hit puberty. I mean, sure: when you’re in school, nothing beats the summer and its proffered freedom from the drudgery of learning. But with that comes rising temperatures and tons of pretty girls who seemed only to exist to remind me that I was so terribly alone. Once the weather begins to change, however, and temperatures start sliding down toward more tolerable conditions, something magical happens. The very quality of light begins to change, and the whole world itself seems nothing more than a warm and soft reality contained within a moderately priced frame hanging on the mantel. Perhaps I tend to enjoy this time of year because it is like so many sunsets: soft, vibrant, and life-affirming.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am not a morning person. Sure, I’ve been working mornings for several years now, but that has had more to do with transportation than any other factor. And while many have written volumes on the beauty of a sunrise, I myself have never had much use for them. They are jarring, and, though beautiful at times, often leave the world painted in migraine colors on either side of their appearance. They’ve taken something primal and necessary, and made it into something less, a shambling, weakened beast which marches up and down the world until it is finally put down a little earlier each day. But sunsets are amazing. They are the lullabies by which the beast is soothed, the dreamscape for the weary, a rainbow for the beaten down. And as they erupt into their brilliance, they are made even more precious by the darkness which soon overtakes them and draws them back down again. Sunsets quietly fade into the night, whereas sunrises are consumed entirely by the coming day, burned away by the insistence of the sun.

I should probably revise my previous statement about Autumn days. I was, of course, referring to those afternoons when the heavens have opened and the rain begins to fall, yet the sunlight somehow sneaks in sideways to make everything not gun-metal grey begin to glow. The browns of ruined vegetation, moistened by the falling rain begin to shine in prodded rejuvenation, and the blues and scattered greens take on a darker, richer shade, and though one might find himself shivering and damp, he feels safe and warmed, all the same. But on the clear days, as the sun arcs across the sky at a slightly off-putting angle, everything looks washed out and somewhat frozen, like a faded photograph, somehow spared from sepia tonality, but with an ancient appearance all the same. It’s a quality of light which lends itself to quiet, an invitation, if not outright commandment to be still and quiet, for fear of shattering the fragile peace which holds the day. I miss the Great Northwest, and feel guilty that I have sentenced my son to experience but two and a half seasons (at best) which we are granted here in Northern California.

A vision of Proper Autumn
… and Fed told me I couldn’t capture a picture of the rain, even during a proper Autumn…

Can you see the vibrancy of the fallen leaves as they are bombarded by the falling rain? Even in the throes of entropy, they proudly announce to the world, that they are not finished, that they will return some day, that there is still a little fight left in them. And now I see that I have made these leaves the metaphor for me and for my writing, placing upon them my growing burden of failing courage, pinning my hopes that this is not a foolish dream upon their cycle of renewal. Time will tell, of course, if I am meant to fade away, washed away and left to rot in some hidden gutter, or if I am spared instead to fertilize the soil in which my dreams once grew. I’m hoping for the latter, obviously, although I hear that the gutters are quite nice this time of year.



I’ve thinking of how best to describe how I’ve been feeling lately, and that’s been leading me to think back to one of my favorite movies of young adulthood: American Beauty. I remember the first time I watched it, and how it resonated with me then, how Annette Bening managed to capture the frustrations and drives which I could see in my girlfriend, and Kevin Spacey became my personal hero, the embodiment of a man who truly no longer cares, which was something that I had been desperately attempting for at least the past half-decade. And then there was Ricky Fitts. I never sold drugs in High School, nor did I have to worry about a father such as his (or, for that matter, any father at all), but I got the whole photography thing, albeit in a more static format, and the scene when he’s describing the magic of the plastic bag managed to define my artistic sentiment for years to come.

“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.”

-Ricky Fitts, American Beauty

Maybe it was a side effect of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, but I felt such a connection to the beauty all around me, and since I had taken up photography, I’d learned to try to focus all that beauty through frame of the viewfinder. And maybe it was just a common sentiment among disaffected youth, desperate to find some meaning, any meaning, for the pain they couldn’t help but feel each and every day. All I know is that in the moment that I saw that plastic bag dancing in the wind, I knew that, despite the pain, and despite the seeming hopelessness of the mundanity of the world around me, there was something that made all of this worth it, and I just had to find out what that was.

Even today, encased, as I may be, inside my concrete tomb, I try to hang on to that ideal, to strive to see the beauty just behind the meaningless atrocities of trying to get by. And even though it’s hard to see it through the smog-filtered sunlight of the San Francisco Bay Area, and in the actions of a populace worn down by the iniquities of life, every now and then I can see it poking through, like an overeager child who wants nothing more than to play peek-a-boo with you. And then I blink, and the joy has gone; the vibrancy of life has been replaced by a Polaroid from the 70’s, where everyone is washed out by ennui and yet still manages to look ridiculous upon proper retrospection.

“Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser and they’re right, I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

-Lester Burnham, American Beauty

I’m not sure where I lost that special something which defined me in my youth, whether it was being beaten down by poor decisions, or simply the inevitable outcome of growing older. One of the reasons why I quit my job and set out to make myself write every day was because I knew that I had lost something- something visceral and vital within me- and I knew that if I didn’t do something, I’d never get it back. I had been worried about the things that other people cared about, running after money, selling pieces of my soul one hour at a time just to pay the rent and keep up with the Joneses. Since I was a little boy, the only future which I ever sought involved me changing the world with the words which only I could write. And yet, here I was, almost three decades later, doing everything except anything I enjoyed. There are necessities which must be attended, but the world the would be a poorer place if no one tried to live their dreams. I knew that I couldn’t afford to let my son grow up in a world where all the magic had been lost, and so I took a chance, and changed my life completely.

“It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. Makes you wonder what else you can do that you’ve forgotten about.”

-Lester Burnham, American Beauty

Of course, the afterglow has long since faded, and I now face the future with more uncertainty than I think that I can bear. Despite the fact that I’ve been writing almost every day, and even gotten back to where I now feel comfortable in doing it, I’m not writing anything of value, at least not by the standards which I have set for myself. I thought, back in December, that I would have until Mid-January to find some form of gainful employment. I thought that, knowing myself, it would mean that I wouldn’t begin to write my masterpiece until the night before my interview, or worse: first shift in the morning at my new place of employment. But neither of those moments has arrived, and so the desperation for lasting glory has now all but completely faded. I’m still doing something similar to what I’ve always dreamed of, but I know that I need more. There are stories in me, just begging to be freed, and I’m an idiot if, through fear and my own inaction, I allow them to just fade away.

“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time… For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars… And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street… Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird… And Janie… And Janie… And… Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.”

Lester Burnham, American Beauty

And there it is: the philosophy which snuck its way inside me when I began to cry. Beyond the plastic bag, and the beauty which it hides within, there is the knowledge that the only thing which stands between myself and perfect happiness is only myself. I wish that I could step back a little from the nonsense of my life, if only to just let the moments stretch into infinity, so that I might stand a chance to feel just one more moment of unbridled wonder. Somewhere within the pain, both physical and spiritual, there is something which I cannot see which will make everything seem worth it. The look of contentment on my son’s face as he figures out the world. The way my wife is so full of life that it radiates out from her, threatens to consume her from within. How my grandson laughs as we share a private giggle at the jokes that only toddlers and elderly can hope to understand. The fierceness of my daughter as she rages at the world just as I once did, when I was younger. The joy of setting words to paper which once existed only in my mind. I am spoiled for happy moments from which to choose; I just wish that I could see them.