- Harry Jensen
June 21, 2020
Yesterday, I went on a hike with Lucas at Powell Butte, a scrubby volcanic cone with a bit of rainforest and a visitor center devoted to the many widths of pipe that snake from the aquifers beneath to the faucets of Portlandese everywhere. We saw two deer, a lot of birds — a bluebird and a cardinal and a cedar waxwing and a hummingbird and a bleeding-heart dove — and I saw a slug munching another slug. Poor chap; it was a good change of perspective.
Today is Father’s Day. It’s been four years since my Dad poked a girl with his cane at Milkjam Creamery, it’s been three years since I accidentally poisoned my freshly deceased dad’s dog with dark chocolate covered espresso beans, it’s been two years since I Googled “can I bring human remains to a restaurant,” and it’s been one year since I politely sat by as a 90-year-old hippy had a screaming match with her socially challenged son.
Each Father’s Day since Maude just barely avoided death by pooping has been better than the holiday one year earlier, and last year’s was no exception, mostly sort of. After I extricated myself from the emotional typhoon whipping between Granny Annie and Ohm Shanti, I got to tell dead Dad jokes at a gay pride booth by the waterfront. At the end of the evening, on my way to the bus, I was reveling in the glory of all things, throwing up hosannas because I had been offered one of those free jobs, the kind that doesn’t pay, but an exciting one, and I saw a lot of colorful things, none of them coming out of a dog.
But when I got home, taking off my shoes and my heart-shaped glasses as I watched my roommates watch Batman, I began to crash, to feel sunken like a fire caved in. I fritzed; over the next few days I bristled and became angry, drank aggressively, and spat words at those around me which embarrass me now as they did then, cheeks flushed and spitting.
In anticipation of this weekend, I have kept myself busy, and today I had a fine enough time, having narrowly avoided skyrocketing into a manic frenzy of dishwashing and counter scrubbing, desperate flights of pre-creativity, and headthumpingly earnest self-reflection. It has taken me years to realize that this is one of my particular psychological adaptations, the ability to drive myself to a fervor to counterbalance or even circumnavigate the all-too inevitable pitfalls and stumbles thereto. I imagine a world where I am streaking light and helping everyone, not just espousing the sweet Jesus sauce of inherited lofty ideas and prideful possessions, and —
Zap! My ambition hits its solstice, and I start to snowball down into darkness again. In the legend of Sisyphus, the titular titan is forced for eternity to push a massive boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back each and every time he reaches the top. In itself, this can be seen as human existence, an endless striving with no real culmination to be attained and settled upon. What to do?
This year, I have had a lot more to think about than my father, about the world and the country and my home of Minneapolis. These are the same reasons that I have felt so very lost for words as of late, and I can only watch the world change and, somehow, my memories with them, all tumbling together. Looking back, now, to the last Father’s Day I spent with my flesh and blood father, the landscape of that Minnesota has changed and been filtered post-hoc, like layered strips of film: buildings cater-corner to Milkjam Creamery have been burned and looted, a dozen people were shot and a young father killed last night, and a seventeen year-old-boy was found dead in the streets a few blocks away from where my mother lived. He was alone.
Today, with all this in my mind milieu, I managed to shepherd myself into a healthy perspective and temper my desires to make something grand out of all my suffering so immediately and forcibly. I can only do so much accelerated fretting about how magnanimous my thoughts on all this pain have to be before I just have to go ahead and make a sloppy, fumbly go of it. It can be a hard world to live in, and a quick look at history, personal or political, tells us that freedom from suffering of any kind is carried through with unimaginable persistence, and that earthly progress is not a linear shot but a process unpredictable and painfully slow like the march of the slug. Our world may not ooze along at the pace we need it, but we persevere nonetheless, pushing the rock up the hill again and again, committing ourselves to the belief that we and others matter, because we’re better than slugs, damn it. If we weren’t, we would have ate one another a long time ago.