Tag Archives: raymond carver

Down But Not Out

communicatorsinset

“We’ve sustained damage, but we’re still able
to maneuver.” Spock to Captain Kirk.
– Raymond Carver¹

I didn’t get all the cool toys growing up as a relatively poor kid in the 1970s, but I was the proud owner of a set of Star Trek Communicators (pictured above).  Those handy-dandy devices possessed a walkie-talkie feature that kids loved along with a piercing distress siren that brought special joy to the parents.  I credit these walkie-talkies with my natural coolness during the Flip Phone Craze at the end of the twentieth century.

The primary challenge with my Star Trek Communicators was that I had no childhood friends living nearby since we lived on a block primarily populated by widows, and lack of friends tends to lower the value of walkie-talkies.  I mean, there is a certain measure of fun in speaking into a device held in your right hand and hearing your crackly voice come out of a separate device held in your left hand, but to be honest, that level of fun is actually pretty low.

So despite my parents’ financial sacrifice and super cool gift, I am not a Trekkie.

But I think Mr. Spock’s statement to Captain Kirk that Ray Carver thought worth writing down on a scrap piece of paper and sticking in his bathrobe pocket is possibly one of the best life quotes ever: “We’ve sustained damage, but we’re still able to maneuver.”

The last few weeks have been rough for many people I know with death and disease landing severe body blows in this championship bout called life, not to mention an entire nation already a little punch-drunk pausing to remember the awful attacks by al-Qaeda fifteen years ago.  That we have sustained damage is sometimes more obvious than others.  But are we still able to maneuver?

Life is a teensy bit unpredictable, but the potential for damage is not, so the outstanding question is what to do afterward.  I suggest hiring a pointy-eared, human-Vulcan first officer to do a little once-over to determine what is still functional and then carry on your captivating adventure into the great unknown.  To live long and prosper, as best you can.

Or, if you want, give me a shout on the walkie-talkie.

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¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).

Work Ethic

Remember Haydn’s 104 symphonies.  Not all of them
were great.  But there were 104 of them.
– Raymond Carver¹

Americans have a reputation for being workaholics.  This makes me feel patriotic.  It is Labor Day, presumably a day off from work in honor of work, yet I am eager to get some work completed today free from meetings and the steady onslaught of email.  I may have a problem.

The term “work ethic” implies that there is some moral element to work, a right and a wrong if you will, and I’m not exactly sure who has cornered the market on figuring that out.  I’m pretty sure that it isn’t me.

A couple years back Pepperdine Law hosted a lunchtime presentation featuring Lieutenant General Flora D. Darpino, the thirty-ninth Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) of the United States Army, and the first female to hold that prestigious post.  From her impressive presentation, what stuck with me most was her dislike for the phrase “work-life balance”—an implication that (a) work and life are mutually exclusive; and (b) navigating the two involves walking a precarious tightrope.  Lt. Gen. Darpino argued that we just have “life” and that work is simply one of its many components.  I liked that a lot.

I like work.  So much that I do too much of it sometimes.  The idea of retirement, with no disrespect for those who enjoy it nor to those who long for it, never has appealed to me.  I want to keep contributing to this old world as long as possible.  To be productive.  To create.

I’ll write about the need to rest on some other day, but today, in honor of Labor Day, I celebrate work.  May those of us blessed to have it do it well.


¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).

Step Back In

I doubt many tune into my blog to read a cool poem and reflect on its deep meaning, but just in case anyone else in this station wagon has ever messed up, reflected on an irretrievable life, and decided that the opportunity to carry on is too precious to stay away, this Raymond Carver poem is worth it.

Locking Yourself Out,
Then Trying to Get Back In

By Raymond Carver

You simply go out and shut the door
without thinking. And when you look back
at what you’ve done
it’s too late. If this sounds
like the story of a life, okay.

It was raining. The neighbors who had
a key were away. I tried and tried
the lower windows. Stared
inside the sofa, plants, the table
and chairs, the stereo set-up.
My coffee cup and ashtrays waited for me
on the glass-topped table, and my heart
went out to them. I said, Hello, friends,
or something like that. After all,
this wasn’t so bad.
Worse things had happened. This
was even a little funny. I found the ladder.
Took that and leaned it against the house.
Then climbed in the rain to the deck,
swung myself over the railing
and tried the door. Which was locked,
of course. But I looked in just the same
at my desk, some papers, and my chair.
This was the window on the other side
of the desk where I’d raise my eyes
and stare out when I sat at that desk.
This is not like downstairs, I thought.
This is something else.

And it was something to look in like that, unseen,
from the deck. To be there, inside, and not be there.
I don’t even think I can talk about it.
I brought my face close to the glass
and imagined myself inside,
sitting at the desk. Looking up
from my work now and again.
Thinking about some other place
and some other time.
The people I had loved then.

I stood there for a minute in the rain.
Considering myself to be the luckiest of men.
Even though a wave of grief passed through me.
Even though I felt violently ashamed
of the injury I’d done back then.
I bashed that beautiful window.
And stepped back in.

“Locking Yourself Out, Then Trying to Get Back In,” by Raymond Carver, from Where Water Comes Together With Other Water (Vintage Books).

One More Day to Discover

Today, I share my favorite poem of all time, “At Least” by Raymond Carver. It is a poem filled with life, thankfulness, and anticipation.

At Least – by Raymond Carver
I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Straits from every
seafaring country in the world –
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy – I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.