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Avalon

by on May 3, 2015

                                                                           Avalon

                                                                 by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments.

“Better to live with never finding.

Like the homeless, lost wind, ever-moving,

Than to find one’s place of fulfillment of dreams,

To be a success with screams inside.”

Tim Mills. Closing stanza, untitled poem, 8 August 1990. In Michael A. Susko, ed., City of the Invisible: Writings from the Homeless and Survivors of Psychiatric Hospitals, 2, “Tim Mills’ Story,” 1991

I have done some traveling.  When that arises in conversation people often ask, “Where would be your favorite place to live?” I reflexively withdraw from this question.  I have never been comfortable with the inherent confinement of favorites of any kind.  I avoid traps.  And, in those times when I felt myself easing into the comfort of thinking I had exactly what I wanted, those things were taken from me.  As if the universe were saying, “Don’t get too confident, too comfortable.”  Okay, I recognize the ontological thinking therein.  But how many times must you burn your fingers to learn the stove is hot?

As a child I enjoyed looking through books with pictures of various places.  And, Leonard Bernstein’s recorded narration of Peter and the Wolf had me appreciating the forests of Russia, the Ural mountains more than the accompanying music.  Comic strips such as The Phantom and Tarzan appealed to some inner solidarity with the forests, the jungles, and the many non-human companions who lived there.  And for me that was also the difference between photographs and paintings: the camera captures, the brush invites.  The camera locks me in, the brush sets me free.

In school I looked forward to my geography classes, more for the escape and wonder than the plodding enumeration of similarities and differences. I read, almost to the point of memorization every survival manual I could find, matching them to the world areas I learned of.  That turned well in my favor in later years. And I loved early mornings when I could gaze at the Moon and imagine living there.  Not a general anywhere but here feeling, but an inner sense that living in cities, living with people was not where I naturally belonged. I had a longing sense of elsewhere, but never a solid and final destination except, for years, Italy or England. But travels to and stays in both places, albeit comforting, did not bring inner inertia, a sense of final arrival.

The same holds true for imagining living in different times.  Readers of historical works, fiction or factual, viewers of historically set dramas tend to forget they are as thrilled and engaged as they are precisely because it is different for them.  For the characters among whom they imagine themselves life is not different; it is the plodding everyday reality of being in a fixed place in a fixed time.  For the reader or viewer, it is easy to enjoy it when you can leave at any time.  

So the question of a favorite place to live carries within it a deeper danger; “You mean permanently?” was my most common response.  “DANGER, Will Robinson!” Trap.  Much as I like this planet I cannot reconcile myself to permanence in any one locale.  I can more easily answer to, Where do I least want to live. The American southeast is high on the list.  That may seem odd for a person who has lived here since 1990 and is now retired here.  But life has its ways.  I left college teaching in 1981, did some traveling, and bought an antique/art/rare book store to have a “visible source of income” and my partner, Marta, managed the store when she could.  Although I dodged an assignment to Central America in the early 80’s, the agency for which I worked delivered me a Mobility Agreement: with 30 days notice, I could be assigned anywhere in the world they deemed appropriate.  Off and running, ultimately assigned to Atlanta while still traveling constantly.  I had hoped to use the agency provided moving support to take a last duty station in Olympia, Washington, then retire.  But, I outranked all the positions there by several grades making that impossible. 

While assigned to Southern California I did go to Avalon, the quaint town on the very southeast edge of Catalina Island.  The harbor and the town were great walkabouts, but my wistful vision lay on the hills surrounding them.  Although I had found them a good home some years previously, I thought of my horses and how, particularly my English Hunter Quarterhorse would enjoy flying across those hills – no bit, no reins, no saddle, just me in what the Japanese call jinba ittai – rider and horse one-ness.  Great image.  Now picture the day to day feeding, grooming, vaccinations, shodding, stabling and watching for illness.  They were always understanding as I slathered Hooflex on their hooves, “painting their nails” to ensure against cracks and splitting.  And they loved their sweetfeed, prevention against sand colic in sparse pasture season.

The search for Avalon, the misty isle, seems to have a cultural if not a pan-human basis, more visible in some places than in others.  And, there can be humorous examples.  In the early ’80’s there was a song that got a lot of play on the radio.  Every time I heard it I was transported back to Amsterdam, floating peacefully down the canals, looking at the tall adjoined houses with their permanent cranes for moving furniture in and out of the windows. So peaceful.  So timeless.  Then Marta told me it was the theme song to the movie, Ben, about a boy and his pet rat.  We did not watch much American television, but we knew of a medical drama called St. Elsewhere.  Elsewhere.  Personified.  Canonized.  How true. 

In the late ’90’s I had occasion to revisit a small town I had lived in very briefly in the late 1950’s.  During my walkabout I saw at least two people I remembered.  We have all heard of people who live their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born. How do they do that?  Do they have an Avalon, an elsewhere they visit in quiet moments?

One thing I learned rather early on is captured in Thomas Wolfe’s title, You Can Never Go Home Again, 1929.  Or, “The stranger who comes home does not make himself at home but makes home itself strange.” — Rainer Maria Rilke.

Is there ever a home, an Avalon?  Is “wander lust” a blessing or a curse?  We crawl all over this Big Blue Marble like inchworms, unmindful that we are moving to the waltz in the grand ballroom outside of which there is space not measured in inches, time not measured in minutes.  We carry within us some vague and misty Avalon, certain it exists but sensing that the arrival will reduce it to the Here and Now, the very dimensions from which Avalon frees us.   

Do we want a painting, or a photograph?

 

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10 Comments
  1. Forgive my naivety if present, but I feel as though this idea that you describe is similar, not the same, as I can appreciate the “variety” aspect of it to present the feeling I am about to describe, but similar to the cliche statement made often about time off… You finally get the time off and you’re scratching your head wondering what the heck you’re going to do today? And, more often than not, the natural feelings begin to take over that tell you its un-humanly to sit around with nothing to do… Even though its what we all ask for (at some point until we realize it sucks), when it actually happens its an undesirable state. Maybe we naturally need things to do, otherwise we lose our minds. Having a full to-do list is a life well fulfilled right? It would be nice if there were things on the to-do list that were unique such as, “visit a nearby state that you have never been to.” But usually it’s filled with fillers like wash and clean your car. And although time off is on our list, so are extraordinary things that we would like to do (I guess I am kind of referring to a bucket list), but it doesn’t necessarily mean we would like to do that particular thing for the rest of our lives right? Thus the point of the list, scratch it off and move to the next.

    • Thank you, Pourya. You rightly point out the “horror” of having nothing to do. So many of us then turn to our televisions, radios, and other electronic environments. “Anywhere but here”.

      Studies done with chimps years ago showed they would knowingly cross an electrified grid just to get a look outside a window – which opened on a blank wall. Yet, they kept doing it over and over.

  2. Marco, I’ve read this several times over, and to say that I sympathize with you completely is an understatement. I’ve done a little traveling myself, but not nearly enough; there is no place on this planet that I do not want to visit at least once. So far, while I do have my favorites, there is no place I can imagine myself living forever.

    Unfortunately, this house is it for the foreseeable future. Despite this, it has never felt like home. My home is either in an alternate reality, or at least someplace in this one where I have yet to go. My fantasy is to move from place to place, living there only so long as it makes me happy to do so. I can’t imagine this ever happening, but a girl can dream.

    • Thank you, Rose. First, May your dreams come true – but not disappoint you. I do enjoy the vicarious travels I have through you, and I look forward to more. As I read your desire to travel everywhere, I think of your safety. But then, knowing you, I realize you know and understand the world’s realities and, even though you may not like them, you understand their place in the order of things. My wish for you is that your alternate reality never become just another reality.

  3. I have a new tv show. I’ve only seen the first episode but if the rest come close to being as good I’m hooked. “Happyish”. A middle-aged man is quiting his job because he isn’t happy. He is given a wonderful lecture on how no one is happy. The best you can hope for is happyish. And maybe that is what wander lust is. The search for that place that is going to make you happy. I have found my happy place. Home with my dogs. But life and people keep making me leave. No one believes me when I say I would be happy to just stay home and never leave. I should at least be given the chance to test the theory.

    • Thank you, Mary. I haven’t watched the show, but I can empathize with your feelings. Of course, you are already living in what many people would see as Avalon.

      Sounds like an interesting show to watch when I’m in a dark mood.

  4. Splendid description of the response to the question we all ponder from time to time. I believe we all must ponder that subject throughout our life, as changes occur leading us to question our happiness. I always lived with wings on my feet always wanting to see the other side of the mountain. Maturity taught me to wish for less being happy by enriching my life in ways travel would never impact.

    As trite as it sounds, I developed a trust in the platitude saying happiness was a way to travel and not a destination. It fails to perfectly sate the need to see the other side of the mountain, but freedom is only an illusion found in the hearts of young people seeking pleasures beyond their reach.

    • Thank you, Jerry. I had never heard the platitude you cite, but it is a valuable one. I seem to go on learning from you, and that is both a great joy in knowing you and a great advantage I have in posting these thoughts.

      As we age, and our horizons draw closer I, like you, look for ways to enrich my life as I live it now. Thanks, Marco

  5. Marco, I recently have been writing to an aunt in Vancouver; we reconnected after many years. I told her that as a young teenager (prior to Louisiana), if anyone had told me I would be trapped for decades in the American southeast, I would have thought them absolutely bonkers. It is one of my least favorite places to live as well.

    I think I could settle quite contentedly in the Pacific Northwest, whether Canada or the U.S. To have the ocean AND mountains nearby? Utopia…

    • Thanks, Dana. I have always felt quite comfortable in the Pacific Northwest, and that struck me as odd here in North America. I do hope you can one day move there.

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