Familiar, deep breaths through the nose. Holding the memory in your mind, while making the new one as you gaze into the last bits of sun over on the edge of the tree line. That truck that just drove past, was the driver, could have been, he is that guy to somebody at least, why not pretend he is looking at you with the pride you hope they would all have in you by now.
Today I reached back out, found someone still there, found the tail of a conversation that started next to a beach a decade and half ago. It is very nice to feel familiar. It is very important to make new memories with long friends. Too much dirt under my nails. I know I am real by the people around me, I know I am real by the walls I lean on, the stones in my hands, by the dirt under my nails. I was outside a gallery filled with a good bit of work tonight, and a two year old girl who looks exactly like her mother, which seems to please her father, who she was with, rather than the mother who made the child who looks exactly like her. This child was picking up handfuls of stones from the courtyard and placing them in my hand. My hands would fill up and I would throw them one by one back across the courtyard into the planters under the trees. Rough broken granite chunks, and she would hold up her empty hands and tell me how sharp they were. Her father had her say my name before they left. She got it right in the way people learning to speak say your name, all hard K’s and spit. But to be fair she is learning at least three languages at home, Portuguese, Spanish, and English, so I mostly appreciated her giving my name a shot. I also appreciated the handfuls of rocks, because it occurred to me I would never have picked them up if not for her, and that is a terrible thing not to pick up interesting rocks when you find them.
The idea of familiar is built on those rocks and the weight in your palm. The roughness of each edge, the sarp as she said. The brick walls warmth from the mid day sun, the sand in the bike corral where I locked my bike. That is how unfamiliar loses its un. One thousand bottles thrown into the bushes behind the old fire pit as if blackberry bushes can decompose beer bottles. One thousand versions of the same argument. The same dreams retold, re-shared, re-familiarized. The way he leans on a shovel handle or the way she hangs that t-shirt on the back of the door or just in a pile on the floor. We are all aware, on the various levels of consciousness in which we traverse our days, but feeling rocks in your hands or the grips of your handlebar or the tug of the laces in your shoes as you retie the loose knot is where we grow our familiars. All of it is just smalls built up to make a bigs. But the quantity of your big can be a thousand sharp wonderful colorful bits of familiar or it can be faded cloudy murk around a TV show or email you once looked at for a second more than a minute. I don’t want my digital bits to go away, you are reading one right now, but I do want more pebbles piled into my hands by new friends, and I really very much want more arguments with old ones.
Raymond said one day while we were standing on the corner of Figueroa and Chapala, next to a bus stop filled with people… that there was a moment in time, sometime hundreds of years ago when the next book was printed which created a library so large that no one person could read all the books in the world. A moment when we as a people had too much potential, a moment when one person could read every minute of their life and still not read everything currently available.
That thought was amazing to me, that there was a time before that moment and then a new era with the production of one book. In the morning of that day, there were enough books to keep a person busy for almost their entire life and then snap, all of a sudden there was too much. The infinite potential of human knowledge and understanding. Maybe this created a requirement of choice. It placed us in the position of decision maker. We passed through into a world of anxiety and option, we suddenly needed, without denial, to work together to understand all the knowledge we were all experiencing. That is why we stand in circles outside an art gallery, next to a new sculpture park, or in the backyard of your mother’s house pitching bottles into the bushes. We are processing ideas, and becoming more familiar with ourselves and our own ideas and thoughts.
There is a place for the familiar. There is a place for the innovation. There is a place for mystery. I travel my world struggling to pick the right arrow from the quiver. Often, familiar, mystery, innovation, or all three sneak up on me and I find myself drenched in the appeal of letting each feeling run its course, without direction from me. In my slightly older than I was age, I find it easier to sit still and listen. This is newer than most things for me as I have been known to talk too much in crowds or even to show off out of fear or need, the anxiousness of approval or desire for competence. Mostly now, I just watch the young dance around nervously, and I think how my mentors must have observed me. I think how watching someone go through a similar experience is wonderful. Good or bad or ugly, it is their time to go through it, “fair” is not stepping in and guarding them from the freedom to make their own decisions. My memories of mistakes are some of the most vivid and helpful memories, what I rarely remember is when someone tried to warn me off the precipice and back into the safety of the shallows. I remember the crazy swings out over the edge. So I sit and listen and watch them maneuver into the line of fire, deep into the danger zone. And good for them, good for them to run out over the edge of the cliff chasing the roadrunner, and then free falling before they even know the cliff is gone. I applaud every new mistake, I cherish the chance to watch from the "slightly further down the road position." I am not done with my mistakes but they are becoming more familiar. Those mistakes are becoming bigger and better than they used to be. I have become less cavalier with my heart and more risky with dreams for the second half of my life. Because to be honest no-one under thirty thinks they are going to make it to thirty and no-one in their thirties can see past their fortieth birthday because that seems like the end of familiar and the start of a whole new idea, but that is probably not even remotely true, so it’s fun to write it here, to then get the feedback from the post forty and the pre-forty. The real joy will come in two years when I re-read this and reflect on how wrong or right I always seem to be.
Familiar is that coffee cup, full to the brim and carefully clutched and traveling across the room, shuffling steps, precious liquid cargo, the familiar as pattern, as life, as root, as skeleton, as pillar, as permission, we do all these marvelous things because we know where we came from and we know who we want to be when we get there, familiar is the way we walk, the direction is the innovation, and the people we meet are the mystery. Go make someone familiar.