Life in Relation – Our Cabinet of Wonders

“Be patient with yourself and the things you discover.  This isn’t a test.”

-Verlyn Klinkenborg-

Life in Relation : Our Cabinet of Wonders

I am telling you a simple story.  A simple story of simple things and full of details.  I will be telling it the rest of my life.



Take time.

It takes time to develop the details, these simple stories.  Bear with me.

This year I stopped smoking.  I began “vaping” e-cigarettes on Father’s Day, a reciprocal gift from my family, ostensibly FOR my family: my health – their comfort and security.

I had thought of my habit as an addiction and pleasure – it’s satisfactions including (but not limited to) the occupation of my body and sense so my mind might generate more freely – an item in the hand and oral fixative, the beautiful tedium of packing and rolling, the scents of tobaccos and sweet crackling of flame to thin paper, the distinctive clink of a Zippo.  And there was the intake – that onrush of Other-air against the back of the throat, the lung’s recognition that breath is substantial – has meaning and purpose.  A matter of routine, comfort, psychophysiology and control.  Among other things.  Fine insofar as it goes.  Pieces of detail.  Replacement sufficed.

Last week I contracted a version of the flu [please be patient – the process goes roughly as follows: details accumulate but require time to coalesce and organize toward a meaning – our lives as cabinets of curiosities].  Out of character for me – this was the real deal – an incapacitating sick.  Associated with it was the scent and flavor, the electric verve of the nicotine-drop-oils that crackle and pop when my ecig works its vaporous magic.  Compounding the problem (if illness is a “problem” per se – perhaps more appropriately “discomfort”) – my comfort no good to me.

In early October, due to an oversight in my timing (hang on – gather ingredients, let them simmer and stew, the feast is ahead), I depleted my store of these essential oils without backup, amidst a time of unusual stress.  As a stop-gap measure and to avoid hurt or offense (a grouchiness and malaise isolating those around me) I purchased a package of “all-natural” tobacco cigarettes to get me by until my liquids were refilled.  The cigarette had changed – no, it was I who now found it insufficient and distasteful – acrid and smelly – inconvenient and inferior to my system.  So I squirreled them away – in case of emergency.

Emergency! (well, hardly, but still): slowly recovering from flu, sore and exhausted, wife away on a ten-day journey to faraway climes, two naughty puppies causing trouble, and tending and taxiing four active, hungry children, one of them herself quite ill – at day two without nicotine (happy pill / support / community / God / alcohol / touch / solitude / nature / music / food – whatever one’s personal representation/manifestation of “comfort” might be)…details…

while  my daughter lay napping, the others at school, in a moment of relative quiet…I ferreted out one of those “Natural American Cigarettes,” by now all dried up and crispy, months opened and old, and slipped out to the porch…


Except not, really.

Not a sudden revelation – but an accumulation of details taking particular shape.

Not an enlightenment – but light swollen and fractured to specific degrees.

Not momentous insight – but a lens crafted and ground, melted and curved to a singular clarity.

Bic schicks.  A flame.  A crackle.  I inhale.  Nothing special to the taste, nothing tremendous for throat or lung.  Just a smoky draft of air – as from the belchings of a campfire in the mountains, or a compound conflagration of a family reunion bonfire in the late of night (but it isn’t!) when the kids are down and the adults unwind (but I’m not)…

A detail I’d overlooked about smoking (amassed over more than two decades – stay with me now) was precisely that.  Looking things over.  Smoking drove me outside and it stopped me.  For the length of a cancer stick’s burn in this anti-smoking campaign of a culture, I would be isolated from friends and family, house or home, commerce or eatery, and would be situated somewhere where all there was to do was look over and listen.  My hands and mouth, neck and torso occupied – eyes and ears thus freed, for a few minutes, to simply wander and attend.  Caught by details.

Like these:

a Jetstream, held in a pale sky, contrasted by solid starkly swaying Winter branches, juxtaposed with the sturdy steel of a streetlight.  And the dirtying yellow of late Autumn’s surprise bloomings held in some final tangled stubborn greens among deceasing leaves and grasses.  Cracking boards, peeling paints and muted hues of dust in sunlight’s shadows – a vibrant puppy, warm and dark – our lives – amassing details – collating and collecting.

[Cigarettes are unnecessary for this] (a mere detail).

When my wife/partner/spouse/friend/coworking companion and lover is away, a part of me gets excited – when the children are busy with school or their moms – it portends to offer me a kind of working solitude – a something I’m forever whining about – idealizing, anticipating, “requiring,” in its absence.  A chance to be temporally isolated with my brain, my body, and language – to think (ostensibly) without limit, read or write to my little heart’s content, to create or conspire with no active consciousnesses to account for but mine – no schedules to sync, no dinners to heed, the only limitations my own (and those sweet blasted puppies – a significant detail!), but still: abnormally free to dig and delve, explore and enjoinder, experiment and invoke reveries without feeling selfish…

but, the details, amassed in this way, exposed something quite different…

Jetstream, streetlamp, sky and tree.  Angle of roof, discolored paint, fragmenting light – the nature of materials.

I’m at a loss for what to search or explore, discover, uncover…from what vantage point or perspective?  Me? – in relation to – Me?  Set out from an entire illusive fabrication?  An emptiness without basis?

A point as a map is a nowhere unless there’s something surrounding.  Unless there’s another point…somewhere.  Me pushing through (the details profess) is a movement nowhere, without reference to something or someone outside, different, Other.

My wife is my primary referent (and “wife” is too small, as grand as it is).  My person, my artist, my human.  The being attached to me – not really mine at all, but for her purposings toward me.  Our children, our puppies, our things.  Habitat.  “Econiche.” World.  What I “relate” to equals me, enables me, crafts me into someONE, someWHERE, doing someTHINGS…which otherwise would NOT be…

Co-dependence?  Inter-dependence?  I like IN.  IN-dependence – in depending, attaching, choosing and evaluating ourselves in our Others – we ARE.

Jetstream, streetlamp, color and line

background, foreground, texture, time

space and matter, energy, form


The details accrue and accrue, and with time…combine, reformulate, convene – which can feel new and curious and true, but simply go on gathering more, detailing to no end, as they relate, interact, recombine – can feel revelatory, enlightening, even profound – perhaps they all are – but they all are and ongoing…

amass and revise, amass and renew, accumulation and attention, awareness and incremental adjustments of relation…

Without Life in Relation (both the active reality, and the her that makes, with me, an us), I have little where or whom to set out from or toward

I is a nowhere point – without you.

A simple story I’ll be telling forever.

N Filbert 2012