Posted tagged ‘sonder’

sonder, out yonder

January 17, 2018

I once found a stubbed-out cigarette on one of the blocks of the retaining wall behind my cabin.

My first reaction was alarm. The back of the cabin is where dried out fallen leaves collect against the wooden wall. Cigarettes require a flame and themselves burn. But it seemed that the smoker was fastidious about his habit (I assume it was a “he” though I have no reason to think that) and snuffed it safely, though packing out his trash was apparently beyond the range of his perceived responsibilities.

But after my initial alarm, I began to imagine my interloper and his visit. Had he arrived by car or had he walked the considerable distance from anywhere to reach my end-of-the-road little cabin? Did he come down my road or hike cross country? Did he walk around the cabin and appreciate the setting? Or did he sit on the retaining wall as he enjoyed his cigarette? If so, why at the back of the cabin and not on the porch where he could look down on the glinting lake? Though perhaps he started there and merely sauntered. Did he try the door to see if it was open? Peer in the windows? Did he sit in one of the chairs? On the porch or around the fire ring? Did he heft the round rocks all around? Did he come with intent, to see the cabin in its place? Had he heard of it? Or was he just wandering the woods that day and come upon it? How long did he stay? And what did he think while he was there? Did he imagine for the time that the place was his own? Imagine throwing a line in the water? Throwing a steak on the grill? Telling stories around a fire? Or did he scoff at its humble setting? What was his name? Was he tired when he arrived and rested when he left? Was he alone? Did he meet someone there? Has he ever been back? Does this happen often?

I sometimes find the spoor of interlopers in my woods: beer cans, candy wrappers, footprints, emptied shotgun shells. Once, a horse shoe.

I have no illusions about the concept of private property, especially in isolated places infrequently visited. I also think it’s presumptuous in a way to think of “owning” a piece of land, at least on the time scale of land. I sometimes think of myself as more of a tenant of the 80 acres than an owner. A caretaker, maybe. A steward. Transitory. I can point to my influences, the changes I’ve made, both successful and not, and speak of the emotional connection I have to the place. But in a century, my connection won’t really be known to the next tenant in the woods. It seems unlikely that anyone will ponder who I was in my time and tenancy.

Maybe that’s why I write stories. To live beyond myself.

subtle jolts

December 26, 2017

Profound shifts in my life often come in subtle, unexpected ways. And, I’ve found, sometimes the most obvious thoughts or understandings just don’t come to me in the fundamental ways they should (though perhaps they do come to others) until I am jolted into “receiving” them.

For example, and tangentially related to the point of this self-indulgent post, Iris Murdoch has a statement in one of her philosophical works* that goes like this: “Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.” My understanding of this is that other people actually exist and are whole human beings with lives and dreams and frustrations just as valid — and apart from — my own. They are no more “walk-on” characters in the story of my life than I am a “walk-on” character in their lives.** (And that we can’t truly love another person until we acknowledge that they exist apart from us. And until we do, we only love our fabrication of this other person and not the actual other person.) Doesn’t this seem like the most obvious thing in the world? That other people really exist? And yet it is not my first thought when I see someone walking down the street, that this person I glance at briefly has a life beyond me, a life that doesn’t include me at all. Maybe I’m more self contained (or selfish) than other people who grasp this understanding — and live it — readily.

But onto*** the point of this self-indulgent post. I recently had one of these subtle jolts. It was about something that should have been the most obvious thing in the world to me, especially since I’ve written so many stories about fathers and sons, but the point had never occurred to me. I was in Seattle for the Thanksgiving holiday with my son, his wife, and their daughter, Ela. Ela is fussy. She is willful (which I think is a good quality for a future woman in our culture!) and often won’t willingly do what is requested/required of her. One example is bath time. My son must cajole her into taking her nightly bath if she is not in the mood for it. I first observed this when he began walking about the house singing “It’s bath time for Dad and Ela. It’s bath time for Dad and Ela” (to the Popeye tune).

My first thought when I heard this was that I was not going to take a bath with my granddaughter. And here is the big revelation: He was using the name “Dad” in reference to himself! I, who defined myself as “Dad,” was not “Dad” any longer; I was now Grandpa. And the jolt wasn’t that he was “stealing” my identity from me but that it has passed to him. I had to stop seeing myself as this person and start seeing him as this person.

And, of course, I had known all along — intellectually — that my son was a dad in the lower case. But seeing this fundamental yet profound quality in another person — as another person — was something I had not grasped, had not given myself motivation to see and accept or even consider.

I’m not sure that I’m making my point very well. It isn’t that my son is a Dad in the upper case. It’s my realization of it in more than just an intellectual, abstracted way. The world has shifted and it took a jolt for me to see/accept/understand/be at peace with it.

And, further of course, I’m going to incorporate this into one of my stories. My father character David will be a grandfather and will hear his son use the word “Dad.” David will automatically think it’s a reference to himself and then have his own jolt when he realizes it’s a reference to his son, his boy, his child who is now a parent. As it should be. Right on time. Part of the natural, wholesome order of things. Yet hard to internalize for him.


At this point you might be saying to yourself, “But I thought One-Match Fire was finished.” And you’d be right. I’m now working on stories for the inevitable sequel, which I’m calling Nature Always Wins.


*”The Sublime and the Good” – I don’t profess to grasp her philosophical writings very well.

**The recently coined word “sonder” seems to be just what I’m attempting to define here.

*** or should that be “on to”?