“…how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave…”

Dia na perasome tin ora… to pass the time…’ How often this phrase crops up in Greece! It is the password to hours of enchantment like this morning or to long doldrums of tedium; it poses the whole problem of how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave.

griechenland.net

“Often, from its inception, one is able to predict the whole course of a village conversation, what topic will unleash another, where the sighs and the laughter will come, the signs of the cross and the right hand displayed palm outwards and fingers extended in anathema; where heads will be shaken or the edge of the table struck in indignation with an index-finger doubled up. They unfold with the inevitability of ritual.

“Old jokes are best and even at their hundredth repetition the laughter than salutes them is gay and unjaded.”

From “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese” by Patrick Leigh Fermor

There is no one left, not of my age…

This is a complaint, a cry, with no one of my age and of certain shared experiences to listen.

If the three in this picture, other than I, were alive I could share this link, then reminisce with Diane, or Patricia, or Fred; then, we probably would make odious comparisons between the innocent and truly funny comedy of yesteryear and the expletive-laden and coarse, or relentlessly political ‘humor’ of today.

Old friends gather at the home of Andrea Pavellas Slosarik and Ken Slosarik, 2007: (L to R) Diane Pavellas, Patricia Larsen, Ron Pavellas, Fred Pape.

The first link, above takes you to one of Johnny Carson’s shows in 1992 when he had as guest performers the Smothers Brothers, Dick and Tommy, who are at and within two years of my age. Johnny Carson, now dead, was 12 years older. I saw the Smothers Brothers perform, gratis, at San Francisco City College where I was attending, 1958-1960. They were just starting out and became very popular within a short time. They were Californians, as I was, and when they became wealthy, they bought and developed wineries in the wine region of Northern California.

There is much to say about them and Johnny Carson, but I can’t, not with those who would understand the underlying nature of the times and places we then lived in.

I struggle to find words to describe the feelings that this recorded performance and these memories evoke, that wash over me and thrust me onto a barren beach. A kind of emptiness, a hollowness, an ancientness.

I cannot go further.

I don’t cry, for I have already accepted my circumstance. But I do, deeply, miss my friends,

… and truly funny comedians.

What to do with the rest of my life?

My father lived until a few days past his eighty-seventh birthday.

I am now 84, but actuarial tables suggest that, barring accident and reversion to past bad behavior, I could possibly achieve age 97.

I feel perfectly well. I am quite fit and healthy.
But I am a serious fellow, always have been,
And it seems time to set a general course for my remaining years.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are going.
I am too much aware of all the ills and distresses of the world.
These have always been with us, but now we have countless sources,
Filling unlimited, unavoidable spaces and pages
With all the terrors and injustices in the world,
And perorations on how things should otherwise be,
And what you and I should do about them.

Among his many admirable and a few frightening ways,
My father was someone who drank in all the injustices of the world,
Spewing vitriol around his home about the evil perpetrators.
But he tried to do something to ease his Weltschmerz,
A word his family often heard.

He did some creditable, palpable things in pursuit of Justice,
Something the gods of the Ancient Greeks reckoned was of paramount importance.
And Dad was, in essence, an Ancient Greek.
It was his mother’s desire and plan for him.

Conrad Pavellas Cleaning up the front yard Nepo Drive, San Jose Around 1995

Conrad Pavellas
Cleaning up the front yard
Nepo Drive, San Jose, 1995

But, in his final years, he turned to his garden, and to music, which was always with him for as long as his failing hearing would allow. Ludvig van Beethoven was his lifelong hero. There was always a picture of Beethoven’s scowling visage in his home.

I, too, now find the garden a place where a great Nothing happens. But, musically, I am more in tune with Johannes Brahms.

I am, in many ways, my father’s heir,
As Brahms was Beethoven’s heir.
But Johannes didn’t try to change the world;
He described it, poignantly.

Brahms was serious, and he was melancholy.
It was not a hopeless melancholy, for there is much joy
And power throughout his works.

Beethoven fought the Fates;
Brahms accepted them.

I spent much of my working life trying to make things right,
Sometimes succeeding.
But as time progressed, these efforts became exercises
In personal survival.

I have survived well into the years designated for Senior Citizens.
Some years before this attainment
I began writing about the world that I saw,
In poems and essays, and writings such as this.

I began reading all the books my father wished I had read, and more.
I began collecting and listening to all the music my father and I listened to,
And more.

I joined a book circle and remain with it, our meetings now ‘online’.
I started weblogs in which I discussed fiction and non-fiction books.
I was accepted into a writing group and retain many friends from this association.
I started to write memoirs, and stories, and novels, as well as poems and essays,
Many of which I published in my weblogs.
I self-published small volumes of short writings, mostly poems.

Now I am here.

One paragraph in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has stayed with me since 1975, an edited version of which is:

If we are going to make the world a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do.  Programs of a political nature can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right.  The social values are right only if individual values are right.  The place to improve the world is first within one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.  Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind.  I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.  This has more lasting value.

Here is what I will do:

  • I will avoid “The News” as much as is possible.
  • I will let poetry and other short creative writings happen.
  • I now release myself from expectations regarding my two-and-a-half novels which are “in the drawer.”
  • I will continue, during the seasons which allow it, to work in the garden with Eva, a place where everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, is good.
  • I will continue to be with family and friends, as much as the current pandemic will allow, for without them, well…
  • Finally, I will continue to obey, as I have since reaching real adulthood, the universal imperative: “Clean up your own mess!”

Easter Sweets

I recently met with three writing colleagues to discuss the anthology we are working on. This, of course, was not a face-to-face meeting; we used Skype, and it was good see and be with each other. After the meeting’s work was done we reverted to socializing,  catching up on things since we last were physically present to each other before sequestering ourselves to avoid the COVID-19 virus.

The subject of Easter arose, and one writer reminisced about the chocolate bunnies her grandma provided. I responded that I felt the bunnies were a fraud because they were hollow inside.

I can’t remember when, or if, I ever believed in the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus (who sometimes posed as Kris Kringle for obscure reasons). I think my parents were aware of my being on to the ruse, but I acted out my expected role for the sake of maintaining family solidarity and for my younger sister who was deep into fairies. My reward was a chance at all the goodies.

I love jelly beans in all their wonderful varieties, especially the big ones with shells that crumble deliciously on my tongue. Chocolate was good, but not a top favorite. Soft, chewy sugar bunnies and chicks with a slight glaze on their surface were right up there, almost at jelly bean level. The same for sugar foam bananas.

I tried to get excited about coloring Easter eggs, but one was enough for me to eat. They took up too much room in my stomach, which room could otherwise be available for the sugary treats.

I thought to search for eggs and candies in backyard bushes or obscure places in the house was pretty stupid and a waste of time, but I went along with this too.

I was greedy with the jelly beans. I attempted to hoard them for later enjoyment, but I am addicted and just don’t have the discipline to keep them longer than 24 hours.

I liked having the relatives and other adults focused on me and my sister during the time the fairies were real for her.

It all faded when my sister had reached age nine and the family couldn’t maintain the fictions anymore.

I still look forward to those jelly beans at Easter time.