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Train time

A couple of posts ago I was looking at the mental photographs from the train wreck that was my life in the 1970s. When I think of the boxcars and gondolas strewn on their sides along the twisted rails, I zero in on the years 1975 and 1976. I had dropped out of college after posting a 1.54 GPA for the fall 1974 semester—a semester that was highlighted (lowlighted?) by my walking into a final exam and having the professor ask who I was.

But it wasn’t really the academics that KO’d me. You see, in the fall, I had taken my college loan money—the money to pay for the spring 1975 semester—and bought some really, really fine stereo equipment with it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I figured I’d get a job and continue living in Big Pink, the house I shared with five other guys, but inasmuch as Western New York is pretty much in a perpetual recession, the job never materialized. Then again, it might not have been the economy; I wasn’t exactly walking around with a sign around my neck that said “Potential Model Employee.”

Anyway, in 1975 and 1976 I lived back at my parents’ home and worked in the mailroom of my hometown’s largest employer, a company that manufactures compressors that move oil and gas through long-distance pipelines. As a mail clerk, I regularly visited every part of the place, from the executive offices on Mahogany Row to the grittiest desk-and-telephone set-up in the foundry. For a guy who didn’t have a steady girlfriend, this might have seemed to be an ideal gig, given that every department had at least one secretary. But the secretaries didn’t seem too keen on the idea of dating the mail boy—and yeah, there were people there who called me “boy.”

So: Combine a lack of success on the dating scene with low self-esteem and disposable income, and you have a recipe for a train wreck. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but it’s fair to say that I cheated death a few times during those two years as I tried a William Blake strategy: “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” Fortunately, I finally figured out what “enough” is. The lament in my recent post was that I had met too, too many people as I was derailing and wished they could have seen me putting the train cars back on the tracks.

As she often does, my friend nodressrehersal put it all in better perspective with one of her comments in response to that post, and she did it with four words: “And here we are.” At first I read it as just a quick ending to her comments, but later I realized there was real meaning to her word choice. Yeah. Here we are. We’re not back there anymore.

And then I had a dream last night that, for once, made sense to me in its symbolism. In the dream, I was back in the factory, and a giant overhead crane was moving a huge steel platform, setting it into place on the shop floor. It was a very true-to-life image, a scene I actually had seen many times 35 years ago. In the dream, I was under the platform and couldn’t quite get away before the crane set it down. The platform, though, cleared the ground just enough to keep from crushing me, although it pinned me beneath it until the crane operator lifted it again and I could wiggle free.

When I awoke, I immediately understood that the platform symbolized the weight of all the regrets I’ve always carried around from those years. And I understood that I no longer have to live under that weight. I’ve wiggled out from under it.

I still live by a Blake quotation, but it’s different than those old ones about “more than enough,” and the doors of perception, and excess and wisdom. Now, when I do something that I know is good, I remember these words: “I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me.”

And here we are.

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Wish I'd Said It

Nota bene: “Fear has governed my life, if I think about it. ... I always feel like I’m not good enough for some reason. I wish that wasn’t the case, but left to my own devices, that voice starts speaking up.” – Trent Reznor

“I hate to say this, but not many people care what you do. They care about what you do as much as you care about what they do. Think about it. Just exactly that much. You are not the center of the universe.” — Laurie Anderson

"The path's not yours till you've gone it alone a time." – William Carlos Williams

“Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.” – Twyla Tharp

"My definition of peace is having no noise in my head." – Eric Clapton

"The wreckage of the sky serves to confirm us in delicious error." – John Ashbery

"We are all here by the grace of the big bang. We are all literally the stuff of the stars." – Dwight Owsley

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream." – Vincent van Gogh

"It is only with the heart that one can see right; what is essential is invisible to the eye." — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"Forget about being a perfectionist, because entropy always wins out in the end." – Darren Kaufman.

"Impermanence. Impermanence. Impermanence." – Garry Shandling

"Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion." – Mark Twain

"There is no realm wherein we have the truth." – Gordon Lish

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere." – E.M. Forster

“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe." – Frank Zappa

“I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard

“The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” – Voltaire

• Journal title and subtitle: Ian Hunter, “Man Overboard”

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