Will it go round in spirals? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Will it go round in spirals?

A literary first for me today. A Robert Frost inspired brain worm. Digging up potatoes today (Orla gave the best yield this year) on my allotment, “Something there is that doesn’t like my back, that wants it sore, that sends the tatties deep …” were lines I could not shift out of my head.

Lifting potatoes at the end of another season. Another time to lift potatoes, like the one last year. Around in a kind of circle, almost. In T.C. McLuhan’s book “Touch the Earth” there is a marvelous quote from Nicholas Black Elk,

Nothing like an organic potato. These aren’t from my garden, but you get the picture.

“Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tepees were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop.”

But life isn’t like a circle. (That’s the answer Billy Preston perhaps needed to know in his Circles’ song.) It is more like a spiral. Sure, familiar things like seasons come round at similar times each year, but we are always a year older, with another years experiences added to the lens of our perception.

My dad moved away from the house where I was born and my mother died. Twenty-five-odd years later he moved into another one barely a hundred yards from it. It was the one he died in.

When my mother had been dying of cancer, for an hour each week I found some escape in watching a television series called, “The Ascent of Man” by Jacob Bronowski. The same quarter of a century plus later, it was shown again while I was caring for my father. Same program, same viewer, but same person? No. How would that be possible with a gap of almost 30 years? I had been a teenager when my mother passed, now as a man in his 40s – shaped by the many events of the intervening period – I was aware of a cyclic aspect to events, but it was not entirely circular.

There are regular cycles to life for sure. Every couple of years some whiney female singer songwriter who wants to be Joni Mitchell comes to prominence as surely as every so often you meet some harebrained nincompoop who claims to have “a Native American Spirit guide” as if First nation people had nothing more important to do in the afterlife than show idiotic shite people how to live their lives.

Certain moods and feelings come around in spirals too, especially when one uses the appropriate emotional triggers. The friends I have had come visit lately have acted as such triggers. If not always reminding me of who and how I was when last we spent time in each other’s company, then at the very least emphasizing the changes the intervening years have wrought, and giving rise to more than the odd backward glance at the person I once was.

I was once a big fan of this series. (Publicity photo)

Being a somewhat self-absorbed and by nature melancholic person born into the television age, my reaction in this Internet age was to download a television series I had remembered enjoying tremendously back when I was this other person. The series is “Northern Exposure” and I have spent a good deal of the last fortnight watching episodes between Olympic events as an observational exercise to look for clues of the person I was when first I watched it, over 20 years ago, searching for the spiral of movement that has brought me to here, today.

Then, I was living in Wales, not Scotland, working in a different arena to the one I do today, to my eyes at least an almost entirely different person, involved in different relationships to those I enjoy today, largely unable to enjoy them as fully then as I do now, and I remember enjoying Northern Exposure tremendously.

Before I got around to noting anything about myself, I noted somewhat disturbingly, that Rob Morrow’s portrayal of Dr. Joel Fleischman – far from being the endearingly lost New Yorker I remembered – was in fact an irritatingly hyperactive pastiche of Woody Allen that I simply wanted to slap repeatedly. Jesus, I hope I wasn’t like that back then, but perhaps …

Rob Morrow? I wanted to slap him. (Publicity photo)

The main character for me was and is John Corbett aka “Chris in the morning on KBHR” whose charmingly eclectic philosophical ramblings were the counterpoint to the neuroses of Dr. Joel, Maggie O Connell, et al. as well as being a source of many further avenues of reading on manifold subjects.

As I got further into the series I began to remember some of his ramblings in greater detail, and when I reached the halfway point of the third season I was finding large chunks of dialogue familiar to me, as I had lifted them and used them in making tapes for friends I knew during the period I was attempting to look back on. Friends that my emotional well-being did not allow me to communicate with in more conventional and direct ways.

If I had been surer of my writing back then it might have made an interesting fore-runner to Nick Hornby’s novel “High Fidelity” but mine has always been a “nearly” list of achievements. Proof? In 1984 I lived in Provence working on a goat farm, about 10 kilometers from where Peter Mayle ended up living and writing about in 1989. If only. That much at least has changed a bit since then.

These are the usual ingredients of my weekly mental stew. Add to it another line of poetry: “So ordinary a thing as loss comes now and touches me” from Brian Patten’s “Song for last year’s wife” and you just might get the idea of how powerful an effect nostalgia can have on a guy. Even if it isn’t what it used to be.

I wonder if in another 20 years’ time (Insha-allah) I shall have the same backward wonderings regarding, “Breaking Bad”? I guess only time will tell and the visits from friends might once again be the trigger for it. I can only hope to be better equipped to evaluate what I might find than I was way back then, and a better person for it I suppose, as I gaze backward at the spiral nebulae of cloud memory.

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