Turtle On a Rock
One of my co-workers, in the tone of a joke, said that he was going to write a book. “A children’s book, if you can believe it. For my daughter, and who knows?”
We were in the work truck going out towards the noise and the rust and the stink. All three of those things industrial grade.
There’s a part of the river that runs next to the oil refinery, and in the river there’s a flat rock that we sometimes see birds or turtles sitting on, sunning themselves or resting.
“I’m gonna write a book about some turtles hanging on that rock …”
“You should,” I said.
“I can’t write no fucking book.”
“Why you say that? Any dumbass can write a book.”
He didn’t say anything. But I could hear what he was thinking or guess close to it, that’s stupid. Or: I didn’t go to college. Or: Nobody went out of their way to tell me I have a voice and that I have something to say.
“I’ve got a friend who wrote a children’s book,” I said. “He’s from New Jersey too. I could introduce you to him. His was about a baseball player who made friends with a walrus.”
My coworker said, “For real, from Jersey?”
“Maybe in my book, I’ll have those deer we saw swimming out towards the rock become friends with the turtles.”
“What’ll they say?”
He thought about it for a minute. Here was the conclusion … “How the hell do we get out of this oil refinery?”
You don’t need anybody’s permission to write. You don’t have to be smarter than anybody else on the school bus. You don’t even have to be on the school bus.
You don’t need anybody’s permission to draw pictures or paint paintings. Technical proficiency is not what we cherish most anyway. If I wanted to see lifelike, I’d look at a photograph. Don’t feel bad if you are the kind of human with the shaky hands.
You don’t need permission to make a documentary with the little fish eye on the back of your cellphone. You don’t need permission to record an album that’s better than Pet Sounds on your answering machine. Acappello or accompanied by barking dogs and windowsill cats. Do your beautiful thing. We don’t judge people who seek beauty in the dirt, we make fun of those who lay down in the dirt and do not dream.
Yesterday I saw a friend post a comment online that said he quit drawing pictures when he was fifteen years old and he does not know why. He says he wishes he had never stopped. I guess he’s 32 now. Strange how we stop, usually unconsciously.
The other day I unpacked a box of some of my wife’s things. We have a new house, and so some forgotten junk-drawer-objects are being resurrected. I reached down in this box and pulled my hand up like there was a snake in the box. Little drops of blood rolled off my index finger.
There was a red and brown knit ‘something’ with hundreds of sewing needles sticking out of it.
“Goddamn it, what is this?”
My wife came over and looked down in the box … “Oh, man. That’s a project from college. I was in fashion and I got an D.”
She carefully pulled the knit weapon out of the box, showed me how it was going to warm like leg warmers or on the firearms. “The teacher said it wasn’t functional as clothing. We can throw it away.”
“Absolutely not,” I said, “I want to hang these on the wall by my desk after we paint. These are the coolest things I’ve seen in forever.”
I carefully flipped the weaponized something over and saw on the back how all the needles were secured in place in a nest of glue like a jellyfish’s bell hood.
This thing was alien and dangerous and I am so happy that an instructor at a prestigious art school did not get it.
I used to draw pictures too, I probably also stopped when I was fifteen or so. Mostly I used to draw monsters. I used to play guitar too, but I don’t really do that anymore. Mostly I used to just play monsters. Here and there things are changing and the art becomes one thing rather than another thing. Soon, I’ll probably be exclusively making stop action films of beer bottles filling up my recycling can and then the beer bottles disappearing when the trash goes out. Like the ebb and flow of the ocean. Tide moving out taking sand with it, tide coming in pushing sand back up on the beach. Who knows how much longer I’ll keep writing. How much longer I’ll have things to say. It doesn’t matter one bit. All art is, is a way to comfort yourself and accidentally connect with other people who are searching out comfort they can relate to from a heartbeat alien to their own.
At the end of the day, I was in the passenger side and watching the deer walk alongside the refinery road that eventually gets to the guard shack where the watchman sits with his crossword puzzle and I guess, his gun. There is a cemetery there midway down the road, through the barbed wire fence (That we often say, “Imagine living your whole life and then getting buried next to this shithole?” and the kicker is that in heavy rain, the cemetery floods).
We have to be careful as we drive, dusk to dawn. The deer get in here by wading across the river and they can only get out again by wading across the same river. They can’t always figure that out, so they walk along the cemetery fence and push their snouts towards the flowers sticking up out of the graves. There are of course, other deer in the cemetery, looking through the fence at the trapped ones, like “I can’t help you, but I feel your pain.”
My co-worker turned his head and looked out at the flat rock and the river, where the last of the sun was hitting. There wasn’t a turtle. There wasn’t a bird.
I said, “Watch out!”
One of the deer leapt across the road and almost kissed the front of the truck. Brakes squealed. The truck came to a stop. The deer launched into the water.
My coworker laughed and said something about Jesus and then continued to drive along.
He’s started going to church recently, he doesn’t talk about it but it did come up in conversation once or twice as osmosis.
And so here I am in a new home, and all my talk about how art can save a person from self-imposed dusty doom. And here I am telling someone to write a children’s book for their daughter and that there is no way to go about doing it wrong if it makes him happy/her happy. And here we are with the turtles on the rock and the birds on the rock and the deer leaping away from the barbed wire cemetery and our lives strange alien weaponized misunderstood glorious things. And here we all are, no permission necessary.
Two weeks ago my wife and I moved out of New York City. Today on the way home from work I stopped at the inspection station and I had the emissions checked in my car. The window is broken (doesn’t roll down). The windshield is cracked. The brakes shudder. There are no windshield wipers. The radio doesn’t work. But, I’m good to go for another year.
After the inspection station I stopped at Home Depot and I got a sample pint of four colors: pink, orange, teal, spring green. This place will be a funhouse, just like the old place. A funhouse.
The wall behind my desk will be pink tomorrow and it will have a blood red and brown knit something hanging on a hook with one thousand sharp pins jutting out in case things get too comfortable here. Who knows what is right and wrong, probably whoever tells you with certainty what something is, is not worth listening to.
I found a parking spot for my car across the street from the firehouse, whose fire engine sirens we hear throughout the night (never mind the day) (but somehow are comforting and soon more than comforting—like the most sacred music).
Carrying my paint cans, walking down my new street with the cherry blossoms alternating between kill-ya pink and kill-ya white, I saw that the door to the Episcopal church was open and so I hesitated at the edge of the brick walk and thought about what my co-worker said about how God had something to say and it might be a surprise to listen because you won’t know what the truth is until you actually here it.
I paused there, about to walk in with all my bright paint, but instead I turned on my heels and continued down the slanted sidewalk, towards this chair, towards this keyboard, towards you.