this liquid present
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
My dad wants to write a book with me.
My dad is a writer.
My dad was diagnosed with dementia 5 years ago.
He wants to make light of it, make fun of it.
“I want to laugh before I die” he says.
“Don’t make the book about dementia though” he adds, “it can be in there, because it is, but its not the story.”
“What is the story” I ask.
“What’s the story?” He takes a deep breath and his hands start to wave around.
That’s how I know he is preparing something important.
“What’s the story? The Sto-ry” he repeats.
“The Story is….Reality” he says with finality.
“Re-al-ity, reality, re-ality” he keeps saying it, tasting the word.
“You want me to write a book about reality…???!!!”
“That’s kind of a tall order” I say. He doesn’t know what that means anymore. He doesn't notice me rolling my eyes.
Isn’t that what every philosopher, writer, artist and scholar has been trying to do since the beginning of time?
"I want to leave something behind when i croak" he says with a sad, definitive nod of his head, sunken eyes still smiling .
How could I refuse?
On my drive home, over the slushy pass and around the horn.
The road is just a narrow, cut-out plateau in an almost vertical drop into the bottomless black lake.
The cliff towers to the left of me, dripping ice spears, becoming frozen waterfalls.
Chunks of fallen ice and rock litter the road. Every time I drive this way, especially in winter, I have to steer my imagination away from the edge. I see the slope beyond the cliff starting to slump. I see the trees leaning and curved, as if the ground that their roots cling to is slowly flowing downhill.
I'm sure a great crack will suddenly emerge in the rock, that there will be a slow-motion, unavoidable, tumbling descent into the freezing depths below. I feel the cold water, I feel the claustrophobia of the sinking car. I wonder if it is better to have windows open or closed when a car is drowning.
My body responds to these thoughts with a persistent, fast and vibrating attentiveness. Will the thought itself create the reality? My vision trembles at the edges, I’m afraid of being trapped, afraid of suffocation, of pain and of fear itself. It is not the death part that scares me, but the anticipation, discomfort and potential pain of the process.
My sense is that death is much like those moments when you can't feel your edges because the air is touching your skin as an equal, matching the body's inner temperature so that there is no boundary, only molecules mixing across the thin blurry border between self and place, atoms floating amongst each other in a microscopic dance that decides the shape of things.
To me death means dissolving, surrendering your form, to the landscape, to the current, or the wind.
The closest places to spirit for me are moments like these, when certainty falls away, when you can’t count on truth and can’t believe anything you think.
Then the heart steps in with its constant beat. And you can only feel.
The rhythm we dance to, lifelong, knows only movement and exchange of energy, in and out with the world.
The heart tells truth through the 5 senses, becoming the 6th sense with the way it fills the body, coursing information to the outermost reaches of the limbs.
The heart is the first organ to form during development of the body.
The heart reaches out into the environment with an electromagnetic field the size of an arm compared to the single finger with which the brain points at the world.
That spectral arm reaching out, holds the frequency of our heart-centre, it carries information about emotions to the reality outside itself. When we dance, arms in the air, our heart-space expands.
When we dance close to others we are enmeshed in the waving limbs of many hearts, and the wind makes a symphony amongst the branches.
What is the boundary between imagination and reality?
What is just there, and what is changed by our attention?
What is truth and how can we describe it, as individuals, in mere words?
If a tree falls in the forest….
if a man dies alone….
if nobody is there
Who hears it?
Who is (t)here to hear it?
Reality, re-a-li-ty, rea-lity.
A song that creates us.
A performance called life.
A stage full of actors, naming themselves. With words and actions they describe the world to each other and it becomes “what is going on”
What makes something worth writing down? I ask him.
“Worth it to who?” He asks, his dementia barely perceptible in that moment.
“Who is asking?” He responds, as he does often, with a question:
“The “I” who thinks or the “I” who feels?
As I watch my feet step one ahead of the other, I wonder for the millionth time why it is that I can feel this body right now, but not that one, or one in another time. As a child, some days I felt trapped in my body, a servant to my senses, the messages from my nerves like a reoccurring dream that my brain could not fully interpret.
I fumbled daily through the stories co-created by my faculties, that meeting of experts residing in my flesh and bones that seemed more at home in the world than the tangled and saturated can of worms in my head, all watery with questions.
The brain is too crowded for real answers, it is fat with responsibility, gathering and transmitting like breath.
Response-ability, it comes and goes like energy.
There is never an answer, or there are many, which is almost the same thing.
There are no conclusions, only the birth of new questions, the next layer, the uncovering of swollen meanings and matter.
“You always have a choice” he would say “You never HaveTo do anything.”
“You have to eat!” I would argue, my 6 year old brain trying to wrap around that huge space with no borders.
“You don’t have to” he answered, “you could just die.”
Matter is the result of many small decisions.
What “matters” is where the attention goes and so energy flows (as they say), in that direction. And so we have made a choice about where to go, what to focus on, what to become.
Whether its a strand of dna responding to invisible environmental factor, deciding the fate of an entire human body, or whether its a mind catching the thread of a story and attending to it, or if it is cells dividing to create new life….a particular shape forms from these many, minute decisions and new matter is made. A new story, a universe we create and respond to.
Truth is fluid, fairness is fluid, but there are things we agree on, that could be called “the truth between us”.
Where we meet, standing under the fair weather of our agreement.
Understanding each other means questions, lots of questions, ones that matter, and so become the shape of a life.
It dawns on me slowly over decades, that I might be doing this forever.
Pretty anti-climactic but also pretty relaxing, knowing it is just a discovery, there is no end-product except death.
He created a world for me with his descriptions of things, what he invited me to notice, what he encouraged me to imagine. Dad’s know everything” he would say.
The rocks have stories to tell - the moon is always following you - the plants have names, they reach out to you when you walk by, wanting to be known. The wind speaks, the water shapes the land, the animals have language that is not words, they know something we don’t. We are always trying to find it again, and describe it.
“Everything has a soul” He would tell me, the van parked beside a creek on one of our many road trips.
“Even that rock?”
“Yes, even that rock, look at the lines running through it and how it is made of different kinds of stone?
It has been places, become something it wasn’t before, it has a story.”
Then he would ask me what I thought the story was…and I would see faces forming in the stone, and I would believe them, because it wasn’t weird yet, being asked these kinds of questions.
He would listen, and ask more questions, sending me into a maze through my brain, pressing me to create a whole world and describe it all to him.
He needed me to be able to tell him where I was, in mind, heart and spirit.
Was it for his story or mine? Or for ours together? This place he started and we continue together.
This lake that in my memories is linked to him, the mountains our bare-feet climbed, the streams we cupped our hands in to drink. This is what our place looks like, where our memories are - and we live here now, in the midst of it - and we can still look at the lake even though he can’t navigate the rocky beach anymore. He made this road, in his way, it is there, and we can walk it together - that is reality right now.
“Speaking to myself through you” is the other working title for this blog.
I visit him every week in the nursing home, he’s been there now 2 months and will be staying.
We go for walks and we look at the shapes of the mountains and the sky, the light dancing over the lake, and we talk about this project, which he hopes will be a book about Reality, Real-i-ty, Re-a-li-ty….like doing something over and over again. Some days our minds click and I read his keywords like sentences.
I follow his threads and we agree on the importance of things, what matters.
Things that unravel and are restitched.
over and over.
Paring down a life, into keywords:
Keys that keep the main doors open, the ones he still knows the way to, and remembers what can be found there.
I recognize it when he speaks in keywords.
Thoughts could circle around these for lifetimes,
trying to capture in words what is in the body
What has been put there,
to keep us moving.
to make a home.
When I search his files for old poems of his from my childhood they are full of loose sheets of paper, journal entries scrawled on napkins, pages typed on his old type writer, some of them still stitched together with fragile, perforated lines. Sometimes there's just a sentence, sometimes a life-story.
Now he has a wire-bound notebooks with lined pages, a pile of ballpoint pens and a drawer full of scrap paper, printed on one side with old crossed-out essays.
He shows me his recent ideas.
I recognize the pages from my last visit, and the one before that, and the one before that.
A series of scribbled, slanted words half fill the page. Some are circled, some words he has written three times before getting the spelling right. He holds it out and jokes that he can't read his own hand-writing anymore.
I can read his writing more easily now. When he was younger, still writing about society, philosophy, culture and ideals, his sentences were graceful and rounded, mountainous... An unbroken series of angles like a landscape.
Now the letters don't join, the spaces between words are not uniform. Great rifts open with every thought he tries to hold. Each one a universe in a word or two, every letter an epic journey towards meaning.
I take the page he is holding.
"The mountains discovered me" "The mountains created me, they talk to me - Rea-li-ty"
"Can you use that?" he asks "For the book?"
He smiles and pats the back of my hand.
"You're going to go places you know...." he says with milky, crinkling eyes.
We go for a walk in the campground where we spent many summers.
"Boy, you sure know your way around here!" he exclaims.
I am becoming increasingly and uncomfortably superhuman to him.
He calls me an angel for finding the way, calls me superwoman when I help him choose the right clothes to wear for our walks. He is amazed that I can balance on the rocky beach, that I swim in the lake, “just like that”, that I can drive our big truck, he is amazed when I know what road to take to get home.
Some days, when life with kids and land and work are demanding my presence, and I am struggling just to find time and space for my own creative projects, I get a little irate that, because of him, now I am also writing a book.
A book about "So-Called Reality" no less.
He calls me Daughter, Spirit, my heart, my life.
"I want to leave something for the kids" he adds, suddenly like his old self, with a serious and intense tone.
I reassure him that he has shown them a way to see reality, one that is linked to the land, made of stories and connection.
I tell him over and over what he has done.
“You compelled me to speak aloud things I dismissed as mere imagination.”
You are inviting me to open my mouth and speak, but also we communicate what cannot be spoken.
I tell him: “Your edges have softened” he smiles.
All that is left is the roundness of belonging, the language of love.
I am so grateful to be with him in this liquid present.
Even though he is asking the world of me.
"Reality is: The place you are in, who you are with and what you are doing together in that place.
You create the place by being in it - with the "Doings"
The place is the reality - you are creating reality by being in that place. " - Norbert Ruebsaat
all the art in this blog by sonjarue
poems and words by norbert ruebsaat and sonjarue