“…how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave…”

Dia na perasome tin ora… to pass the time…’ How often this phrase crops up in Greece! It is the password to hours of enchantment like this morning or to long doldrums of tedium; it poses the whole problem of how to fill in the long gap between now and the grave.


“Often, from its inception, one is able to predict the whole course of a village conversation, what topic will unleash another, where the sighs and the laughter will come, the signs of the cross and the right hand displayed palm outwards and fingers extended in anathema; where heads will be shaken or the edge of the table struck in indignation with an index-finger doubled up. They unfold with the inevitability of ritual.

“Old jokes are best and even at their hundredth repetition the laughter than salutes them is gay and unjaded.”

From “Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese” by Patrick Leigh Fermor

What to do with the rest of my life?

My father lived until a few days past his eighty-seventh birthday.

I am now 84, but actuarial tables suggest that, barring accident and reversion to past bad behavior, I could possibly achieve age 97.

I feel perfectly well. I am quite fit and healthy.
But I am a serious fellow, always have been,
And it seems time to set a general course for my remaining years.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are going.
I am too much aware of all the ills and distresses of the world.
These have always been with us, but now we have countless sources,
Filling unlimited, unavoidable spaces and pages
With all the terrors and injustices in the world,
And perorations on how things should otherwise be,
And what you and I should do about them.

Among his many admirable and a few frightening ways,
My father was someone who drank in all the injustices of the world,
Spewing vitriol around his home about the evil perpetrators.
But he tried to do something to ease his Weltschmerz,
A word his family often heard.

He did some creditable, palpable things in pursuit of Justice,
Something the gods of the Ancient Greeks reckoned was of paramount importance.
And Dad was, in essence, an Ancient Greek.
It was his mother’s desire and plan for him.

Conrad Pavellas Cleaning up the front yard Nepo Drive, San Jose Around 1995

Conrad Pavellas
Cleaning up the front yard
Nepo Drive, San Jose, 1995

But, in his final years, he turned to his garden, and to music, which was always with him for as long as his failing hearing would allow. Ludvig van Beethoven was his lifelong hero. There was always a picture of Beethoven’s scowling visage in his home.

I, too, now find the garden a place where a great Nothing happens. But, musically, I am more in tune with Johannes Brahms.

I am, in many ways, my father’s heir,
As Brahms was Beethoven’s heir.
But Johannes didn’t try to change the world;
He described it, poignantly.

Brahms was serious, and he was melancholy.
It was not a hopeless melancholy, for there is much joy
And power throughout his works.

Beethoven fought the Fates;
Brahms accepted them.

I spent much of my working life trying to make things right,
Sometimes succeeding.
But as time progressed, these efforts became exercises
In personal survival.

I have survived well into the years designated for Senior Citizens.
Some years before this attainment
I began writing about the world that I saw,
In poems and essays, and writings such as this.

I began reading all the books my father wished I had read, and more.
I began collecting and listening to all the music my father and I listened to,
And more.

I joined a book circle and remain with it, our meetings now ‘online’.
I started weblogs in which I discussed fiction and non-fiction books.
I was accepted into a writing group and retain many friends from this association.
I started to write memoirs, and stories, and novels, as well as poems and essays,
Many of which I published in my weblogs.
I self-published small volumes of short writings, mostly poems.

Now I am here.

One paragraph in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has stayed with me since 1975, an edited version of which is:

If we are going to make the world a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do.  Programs of a political nature can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right.  The social values are right only if individual values are right.  The place to improve the world is first within one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.  Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind.  I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.  This has more lasting value.

Here is what I will do:

  • I will avoid “The News” as much as is possible.
  • I will let poetry and other short creative writings happen.
  • I now release myself from expectations regarding my two-and-a-half novels which are “in the drawer.”
  • I will continue, during the seasons which allow it, to work in the garden with Eva, a place where everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, is good.
  • I will continue to be with family and friends, as much as the current pandemic will allow, for without them, well…
  • Finally, I will continue to obey, as I have since reaching real adulthood, the universal imperative: “Clean up your own mess!”

Memories of an Old Man

I was reading an article which referred me to a post on Youtube. On the right side of the screen were the usual suggestions for other videos to watch. Immediately, my eye was drawn to a clip from “Picnic”, a movie released in 1955, starring William Holden and Kim Novak. I was 18 years old when I first saw it, in a movie house in San Diego.

I was in the US Navy, recently having completed training as an electronics technician at the (now defunct) Naval Training Base on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. I had been assigned to a ship, USS Bon Homme Richard, CVA-31 (‘Attack Aircraft Carrier’, now scrapped) which was then being upgraded at the (now defunct) Naval Shipyard at Hunter’s Point, San Francisco.

To prepare us landlubbers for real sea duty, we had to undergo reasonably rigorous ‘sea training’ in San Diego.

When given liberty to leave the base and explore San Diego, several of us bought some whisky and went to movie to sip on the bottle while watching it.

I remember the foregoing well. What happened as I entered an alcoholic haze is less well-remembered, but I do remember falling in love with Kim Novak.

As I see her in profile from the above screen-capture I am struck by how much she resembles the woman I was to marry four years later.

Patricia and I parted from each other after twelve years of marriage and after having produced two children, both of whom are now over 50 years old. Patricia’s gone now, having died an early death in Tennessee.

Hers was a troubled and often sad life. I prefer to remember her as above.

It may be instructive to read of her life and last days, here.