Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Many Faces of Mark

I look back on my life -- all fifty-three some-odd years of it -- and I see the different selves, who lived those vague memories. There is the painfully shy high-schooler, who should have been out "banging beaver" and testing his mortality. There is the teenage serviceman, who joined the air force on a whim. A whim that lasted four entire years in the desolate landscape of North Dakota. Then this entity known as Mark left the service with a bitter taste for the U.S.A, came home immediately started a relationship with the woman, who was to become his first wife. She was escaping an alcoholic mother and sexually creepy father, and I was trying to escape childhood. At some point, in our mutual efforts to run away from things, my wife and I set our sights on the Pacific Northwest. We soon ended up in Seattle, where we ended our marriage. Then I began another set of events, soon to become memories.

Life goes on, and memories get formed, or they do not. Events are terrible enough to be unforgotten or wonderful enough to be brought out often and burnished to a golden glow. Memories are entirely false. They are recreated from fragments, every time we search through our dusty brain cells in search of special moments. Yet, we are our past. We are the culmination of those past experiences -- or selves -- and it's those previous events and our connections to them, that make us who we are. The light that shines in our eyes is there due the electro-chemical events in our mushy brain matter, that composes our lives.

I have a wonderful son in my life, who would not be there had I not posted a personal ad in The Stranger, that the woman, who would become my second wife would answer. I posted some honest words about myself and threw out there, like a message in a bottle. We quickly became friends, moved back to the east coast to be closer to our families and got married to seal the deal. Years later, here we are, back in Seattle, sharing custody of the most wonderful, brilliant boy on earth. Yes, I'm biased. What of it?

Differences being what they are, and time being at a minimum, just after my son turned three years old, I found myself living in a basement apartment, a few blocks from Aurora Avenue. You know, old route 99. The strip, where the junky prostitutes ply their trade. That's not to say that my apartment wasn't nice, because it was. Underground parking. Private entrance. It was while I was dwelling in this semi-subterranean abode, that I met the woman, who was to become my third and present wife. They say the third time is the charm, and my wife certainly is a charmer. She's smart, which is always what attracts me first, and then I notice the eyes, and curves ad infinitum.

Time flies and I've never met anyone, who has been able to find out where it has gone. Hell, most of the time we cannot even find downed jumbo jets. How do we expect to find all those years of our lives that have just seemed to disappear like smoke on the wind? That's a rhetorical question, but if you do happen to know where all the time has gone, by all means please send me a note as quickly as possible. I'm willing drive out of my way to find some extra time. How many lives can I have left? I know for sure that I do not have enough time to read all of the books in my library. I also don't have enough time to measure the love I feel for my son. I just hope I have enough time to establish some form of equanimity and contentment my own life.

For instance, I have about 25 minutes, until I must zip up my jacket, and head down the hill to put in my shift at the bookstore. I realize full-well that life could be much different. At one point in history, I could have been working the death shift at a tannery in the back country of Maine. Or I might have stayed in the air force (god forbid) and become a lifer. I would have been out by now, with a full pension, a belly hanging over my belt and tired alcoholic eyes. Instead, I'm a ofttimes frustrated bookseller, who most of the time would rather be rambling through the wilderness, not being bothered by all this man-made distraction we call society. I'd rather go in search of that precious time, so I can finish some of these books, make love and stargaze until my eyelid met permanently. And certainly not necessarily in that order.

So, while I'm writing about time -- which I often am -- I should give a brief shout-out to the new year, or New Year. Many folks still like to guzzle champagne, make rude noises, and generally do their best to forget 2014, as they stumble into 2015. No more Dick Clark, but plenty of dicks to go around. Many people will have their eyes to their phones at midnight tomorrow night, as they text their friends and relatives a "Happy New Year." May all the movies you see be blockbusters and all your upcoming doctor reports be positive, er, negative! Whichever makes you healthy. May your car run without troubles, and the same goes for your relationships. Let's make 2015 a banner year, by forgetting about the whole New Year's thing, and just do our best to be our best every waking moment. Believe me, that takes more effort than just trying to make it to the gym every Monday in 2015, or promising to cut back on salt, fat, gluten and electro-magnetic activity in the New Year. Let's just be our best to the best or our ability every day. I've been trying to tell my son that the idea of perfection is a human construct. One can only reach toward perfection, and we must always strive, but also realize that we are not perfect, and neither is our neighbor.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ode to Monday

I might as well face it; Monday will be here tomorrow and there is nothing I can do about it. Well, I suppose I could turn my clocks back in the morning and play make-believe; sleep in and have a late breakfast. But I'm quite sure that some semblance of authority at the bookstore would call me, before I could really start to enjoy the illegal day off. I would be asked if I was coming in and why I hadn't called. In other words, I would be acting like a sociopath; not obeying rules set forth by society, so that everything runs smoothly...which it never does anyway.

It sure would be nice to have a Monday off, especially the Monday after Christmas, but his week brings with it New Year's Eve and the New Year's Day sale (20% off everything in the store!) I'm two books behind my reading goal for the year. I had set a goal of 42 books, and I've read 39. I'll most likely finish William Gass's In the Heart of the Heart of the Country tomorrow evening, but then again, I thought I'd have it finished on Christmas day. I've just been afflicted with this malady called post-Christmas exhaustion.

There are no more holidays off for the foreseeable future -- paid or unpaid. I haven't heard a word about it, but our bookstore and it's parent Lake Forest Park branch, usually hold a holiday party, after the holidays. There is no time for a celebratory evening when all the the clerks are counting money. Free food and beer can wait until after the our busiest season. Last year we met at The Garage on Capitol Hill. Free food and beer, and the most boring party games you could possibly imagine. We did get a free hour of bowling though. I've been wanting to go bowling. Really!

So, my Sunday evening is winding down. I just realized that I no longer have the stamina to continue reading, but making up bullshit for my blog post seems to take less mental energy. Go figure. It was a perfect grey winter day in Seattle, and if you live in Seattle, you know what I mean. Sometimes there is just something comforting about that blanket of grey hanging over the neighborhoods. The cold misty skies also give one an easy excuse to laze about, take naps and long baths, and just generally enjoy the fact that Sunday is not yet Monday. I don't think Sunday will ever become Monday. Well, not until 12:01 tonight, and then Sunday becomes Monday. At that point I'll most likely still be trying to find a comfortable position in bed, and the right music to send me into restful sleep. The somnolent stratosphere, so to speak. 

Monday morning will officially arrive when my phone chimes at 8:30 tomorrow morning and at 8:31 I'll feel the entire weight of my 53 years on my shoulders, as I drag my tired ass out of bed, and begin another week of work. One of the highlights of my day is my walk to work. The twenty minute trek gives me time to listen to music, and space to let my thoughts drift a little, before walking into the world of retail. And then it's eight hours of books, books, books, until I make that twenty minute walk back home...uphill this time!

I still have enough time to snack, step outside to imbibe, and then check all my web presences before turning in, and so I shall...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Giddyup Rudolph!

It is Christmas Eve. The neighborhood is peacefully quiet. Some friends are at midnight mass. Some are fast asleep, resting up for a day of activities tomorrow. I am relaxing after a very busy day at the bookstore. I spent the evening eating chocolates, doing a crossword puzzle, and taking a nice hot bath. Just now I finished watching the first episode of a British television show called "Black Mirror" that was pretty impressive. In fact I was riveted throughout. I'll get back to that.

I closed the bookstore last night after one of the busiest days of the year, and today we did just as much revenue, and that was with us locking the doors at 5pm, five hours earlier than usual. We had a hardworking crew today, with none of us taking a lunch break. The management bought three pizzas, and we each took turns munching on the cheesy triangles, while standing behind the used book counter. Many books (and scarves) were gift wrapped, and the rain abated, even allowing the sun to shine through in the afternoon, and turning the trees to the east a glowing gold, against a darkening sky. We all took a few moments to appreciate the natural artwork outside the bustling store, reminding us (or me anyway) of the beauty that surrounds me every moment of my life. I just need to take the moment to be aware of the beauty, and breathe it in fully.

We sold out of a few titles just before closing today. Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, Lily King's Euphoria, and Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which has had renewed sales thanks to the film, starring Reese Withering Soon. All successful books are "soon to be a major motion picture." You never see an honest exclamation, such as "Soon to be a Minor Movie Not Worth Your Time." The paperback copies of Unbroken -- which had been in hardcover for four years -- were also flying out the door, along with the local favorite, The Boys in the Boat.

So, all in all, a very successful holiday season at Ravenna Third Place. It's not really over, since children are out of school for another week, and to encourage customers even further, we have our annual 20% off everything in the store sale on New Year's Day. I have tomorrow to sleep in, but I expect another crazy business day (in a pleasant non-medication kind of way) on Friday.

My son arrives tomorrow at 5 pm, after spending Christmas day with his mother. She is more into the material celebratory aspect of the holiday, so I let her run that show. He'll come over here to detox from his video games, and maybe even get a little reading done. I know I'm going to get some reading done tomorrow, that's for sure. At least until Justin arrives, and then I become a full-time dad again, which means watching three point shots (rolled up socks into wastebasket), or checking out his latest drawing of NBA team logos. Whatever we do, we'll have fun, and I'll never tire of hearing him say "I'll love you forever daddy" or saying back to him how my love for him will also never end. Even after my last earthly breath, my molecules will transform into other objects, but they will carry with them into the universe, my infinite love for my son.

I'm sounding a mite sentimental tonight, but it is Christmas Eve, in some parts of this country anyway. I have also unabashedly showed my pride in the bookstore, where I have worked since they opened back in 2003 (except for a three stint when I was a stay-at-home dad. I worked at the late great Bailey-Coy Books during Justin's infancy.) I love turning fellow readers onto good books and new authors, and I feel like I have a personal stake in the sales of my staff picks. My current pick, Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, is quickly becoming one of my bestselling staff picks yet.



Netflix is usually a source of great frustration for me, as I usually struggle to get the streaming service to work properly every night, but tonight everything popped right up as it should. After browsing titles for at least twenty minutes, I plunged into a British show called "Black Mirror." This show is immediately compelling, and -- as the title implies -- reflects back to us some of the most horrible aspects of our fancy technological age. I don't know if the following episodes will live up to the impact of the initial chapter, but I'm guaranteed to tune in again.

Well, I have gone on enough. I obviously had some time to kill tonight, and enough finger strength to put down an assemblage of words that express my state of mind on this day, December 24th, 2014. Now it's time to sink into our new contour form-fitting mattress pad. My wife just put it on top of the existing mattress and box spring, so she has to use a step stool to get in bed now. I'm still able to lift a leg up, and turn in successfully, but it's almost like having to jump into the saddle before being able to get a good night's sleep. That shouldn't be a problem tonight though.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

To Write or Not to Write

There really is no question. I must write. But I must also censor myself. Yes, this is technically an online journal, but one must be conscious of one's readers. I don't want to offend or push anybody farther away from me. This is a blog, not a diary. I'm not going to describe the source of my tears at this time.

So, it's Tuesday, December 23rd. I work the two to ten shift today. Every day feels like a crazy Saturday at this point. Kids are out of school and their rich parents have taken off the school break too. The bookstore and cafe have been bustling for weeks, but these last few days are going to be just a consumerist blur. The days fly by, but I can tell I have been at work by my aching feet and the pain in my back.

I've complained many times about the fact that we don't get paid for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I must be at least a little thankful to my boss though, for giving me a $100 gift card to spend in the bookstore. Of course, half of it is gone already. I purchased a few hardcovers that have been sitting in my cabinet for month.

I will do my best for the next few days and weeks, to push back against this dark emotional cloud that keeps drifting over my mental neighborhood. I'm trying my best not to just push my angst back inside, because sooner or later it's going to burst out like an Alien baby. Instead I must be gentle with my angst and anger. I'm trying to understand the source of my intense loneliness and angst. I'm trying to examine my emotional history without getting attached to it. I must forgive myself and realize that my sadness is not my fault. It's just genetics and environment, put into a massive blender and spitting out the entity known as Mark Bonney; ex-air force, thrice married, and father of a 8-year-old superstar.

This mass of molecules known as the Markster is honestly trying to do his best. The emptiness I feel inside can sometimes be overwhelming. "Nobody said life was going to be easy. At least nobody ever told me that." (from "The Big Chill.") Some of the things I feel most passionate about are exactly some of the things that make me feel like an outsider in my own house. I just want some equanimity...in bunches!

All of you out there who celebrate Christmas, have a good one. I will be sleeping in on Thursday, catching up on some reading, and imbibing some evergreen.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Just Asking For It

I feel as if I've been blithely walking through life, missing some of the most vital aspects of my waking hours. Like most humans, I am too busy thinking inanities and paying bills. Recently I have attempted to return to awareness. It's easier at 53 ("You're going to be 54 this year daddy!") to be aware of your upcoming demise. Any healthy 22-year-old can walk in front of a bus, while texting, and that's it -- game over -- but age brings with it actual decay. I never wore glasses until I turned forty, and now I need a stronger pair. Remember the days when you could eat or drink anything? Yeah. I remember those days too. Now I feel as if I should just eat plain yogurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner and be done with it.

Today I have some time and space to myself (although I believe there is a 21-year-old male and two fat cats, asleep downstairs.) and I usually utilize that time by writing, reading a few chapters in whatever book I'm in the middle of, and listening to daddy's music. Daddy's music means the music that my family will put up with, but it's more enjoyable to listen to it (loudly) when they're out of the house. My twenty-one year old stepson is pretty much okay with whatever I play, but I don't welcome his presence if I'm bopping around like a 53-year-old, regressing to his punk days.

I heard this morning that my dad is back in the emergency room. He's got a frequent visitor card there now that gets him free coffee. I guess he woke up with a fever, but he was out last night, partying with the family, and by partying I mean driving around gazing at holiday lights through the passenger window and finishing that up with a steak and shake. Hang in there dad. Maybe you should switch to yogurt. At least I like rice and yogurt. My father has ethical reasons for not eating those foods. ("Have you seen how they grow rice?")

So, for all of you out there, bustling around in that crazy consumerist haze, take a break. Listen the rain tapping on the car roof. Think about warmer climes. Wiggle your toes and realize that this thing called life continues on whether we shop or drop. Let's enjoy these moments to their fullest, and be nice to the clerks this season. They are the wage slaves of America; many without holiday pay or health insurance, but doing their best to give you a smile as they hand you your bags of economic prosperity.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

No Time to Lose...

...and certainly no time to be found. Some folks are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. No, I don't mean that people are spinning about with blood spurting from their neck stumps and their wings flapping wildly, but I do mean that they are bustling about confusedly and seemingly without direction. Thankfully, their consumerist compass brings then into our bookstore this time of year. I get to recommend some of my favorite titles to customers and thank my self-control that I am able to bite my tongue when they insist on purchasing brain-eating crap. (Yes, I do judge you by what you read.)

Even though I miss some of the red and green celebratory craziness of this season, by being on the other side of the retail counter, I have enough on my metaphorical plate to keep my stress up enough without adding debt to it. I know Debt. Debt is not a friend of mine. If you see Debt, tell him I'm coming for him. Living in such a varied society brings its own stress, I don't need to add last minute fevered shopping to that list of life's ups and downs. I'm still trying to find equanimity. You know: balance.

I hope I was never naive enough to think that by my age I would have everything figured out, but I did think I would be a little more settled and content. I didn't think I'd still be dealing with some of that same decades old detritus that I've been dealing with for years. I'm still on my quest for enlightenment, or at least a good meal at a decent price. One must learn to be satisfied by the little things in life. In fact, I'm trying to be better about stopping to smell the roses -- as they say -- or searching the night sky for stars. I'm trying to be better about pulling my camera out for photo ops on my walks to and from work. Why bother to carry my camera with me all the time if I don't stop to snap a digital representation of life at that moment?

Stopping to take pictures is just part of my effort to stop and take stock. We all need to pause once in a while and think about the bigger picture and then distill that down to the minutest ideas. Sometime a pause is what is needed to allow those everyday stresses -- fractures in our emotional make-up -- to whither away and drift off with the breeze. The next time you're outside on a cold day, look up into the tops of the trees. See if you can spot a squirrel's nest, composed of sticks and leaves. Think of that little creature, bundled up and napping through the worst of winter....Now think of your shopping list, and how much there is still to be done before Christmas and New Year's. Who's better off? Rocky J. Squirrel or you?

So, time to put on my other shoe and head on down the street to Ye Olde Third Place. Thanks for reading. Comments and questions are welcome, but spelling and politeness count.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Open Letter to Santa Claus

Dear Santa (aka Herr Klaus):

Let me state right off that I do not believe in you. The truth was revealed to me when I was about the age that my son is now (eight) and my mom asked me to help gather the trash together from the basement. There among the detritus was the packaging from all of the toys, which had just been unwrapped just days before as part of the Christmas Day festivities. I remember pausing, and my mother looked up at me, exasperated for having to deal with the trash in the first place, and said, "You knew that Santa was mommy and daddy. Now help me get this trash together." I don't know if I had actually put much thought into it, but it wasn't surprising. The ruse was fun though -- including leaving cookies and milk for your midnight snack -- and I sometimes miss participating in these holiday rituals with my own son.

Santa, for me you went the way of God, Jesus, the tooth fairy, unicorns and nice republicans. One day I just realized that those aforementioned entities and deities just do not exist, and once that curtain is pulled back, and the conman, working the levers is revealed...well, there's just no going back to what some call faith. As Mark Twain once wrote: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." I know that you ain't so Santa, even though I still tear up watching "It's a Wonderful Life," or listening to Linus' speech about the true meaning of Christmas in the Charlie Brown special. I grew up with you Santa, even after I knew that there was no castle at the North Pole, with elves toiling through the months to get all the toys ready for the well-behaved children. Imagine the time it takes these elves to painstakingly paint on to each toy "Made in China." That takes a lot of imagination, or faith.

I used to maintain online Christmas wish lists, and some of my tech savvy relatives and friends would sometimes even purchase gifts for me from these lists. These days I'm too busy to maintain those kinds of lists, and I hang with a different circle of people now, who do not buy into the Christmas shopping madness, never mind buying the presents that go along with it.

That being said, here is my Christmas wish list for the year of our lord Santa, 2014:
  • Two recent films on DVD: "Lucy" and "Under the Skin" both starring the inimitable Scarlett Johansson.
  • A new pair of running shoes, and/or moccasins (Minnetonka brand)
  • A new pipe, grinder, and pipe pouch. Maybe even a little bud. I realize that this is a lot to ask, but a.) it's legal here, plus b.) Santa is a stoner. I have definitely faith in that.
  •  A gift card for the Stetson shop in downtown Seattle. I need to replace my grampa's old fedora.
  • And last, but never least, a gift card to my favorite bookstore and semi-favorite place to work, Ravenna Third Place. Buy Independent!
So, Make-Believe Santa, I'm not going to sit on your lap and produce a list this year. I probably will not even enter the Northgate Mall, which seems to be your local hangout at this time of year. I'll wrap enough gifts in the next few weeks to give us both carpal tunnel syndrome.  The Christmas music, spilling over from cafe at work, is starting to fray my already tenuous nerves. And Christmas, like Thanksgiving before it, is an unpaid holiday. So, even though I will have worked hard to keep my boss supplied in golf clubs to put into the trunk of his Tesla (or his vintage Porsche), I will be receiving a short paycheck the day after Christmas. Ho, ho, fucking ho....

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beats Working

Okay. I think I'm pretty safe in assuming that none of my co-workers ever peruse this blog. Hell, I don't even have co-workers as Facebook friends. I like to keep work and life separate, even though they sometimes seem parasitically entwined. So...I'm sitting here at work, and killing precious time by writing little inanities.

I was going to entitle this post "50 Varieties of Exhaustion," but I'm too exhausted to come up with fifty. Let's explore just a few. There is -- of course -- physical exhaustion. Most folks I know actually feel somewhat refreshed after working a physical task all day, and feeling the ache to the marrow of their bones. Of course, it helps to be able to come home and shower, eat well and then retire to a nice comfortable bed. Without those after effects, the physical exhaustion part might not feel so satisfying.

Most of us are also probably familiar with mental exhaustion. This occurs often in the types of careers most of us find ourselves in. It's not easy to be on all day, as in any job that requires some aspect of customer service. The customer is not always right, but we have to make them feel as if they are, and massage their egos, just so they will engage our services. And come back again! And tell your friends!

Here I am in the beginning the most important of American holidays: Christmas. It's time to drink too much, go in debt, put the mistletoe in the wrong place, and generally fuck up enough so that you have a list a mile long at New Year's for which to repent. Christmas. Your business can pant like a dog all year long, but when the winter holidays arrive the money is expected to roll in. Profit is king in America and it's also out of reach of most citizens. Christmas.

It's time to forget about Ferguson, and Syria, and yes, even Dick Cheney...and time to concentrate on the false idea of spreading happiness and joy for basically about a month and a half. About February the Christmas decorations start to look trashy, and by then the credit card bills have arrived. From healthline.com:  "While it's true that suicide attempts tend to drop off just before and during the holidays, there is a significant uptick in suicide rates following Christmas—a 40 percent uptick, according to one large Danish study." So, all this seasonal cheer is usually followed by an emotional crash until the next federally mandated holiday arrives; hopefully something involving cards and chocolates.

Among all these varieties of exhaustion lies a type that can be quite trying and that is being tired of the same old same old. Do you know what I mean? We go to work, eat pretty much the same meals every week, and talk with the same people all the time. It's rare that we step outside of our comfort zone, and -- as John Lennon famously said -- "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." One of these days I'm going to go to that lake again. One of these days I'm going to finish this novel. One of these days I'm going to live for the moment and forget the endless piling up of days that turn into daze. 

"One of these days" is a fiction. There is only today, and it's finishing quickly, only to be followed by another today. "One of these days" is too far off to even be seen clearly, never mind planning for it. So, I sit here in the moment. Emotions flow over me, sometimes dark, sometimes partly dark. Life seems to be a struggle to keep my head emotionally above water. Considering that most of us are not grounded in any type of reality, the artificial life that covers our fragile egos is unsatisfying, so the search goes on. One thing I know though, the answer is not wrapped in pretty paper, and sitting under a fragrant evergreen tree, just waiting for you to unwrap it.

So, I pretty much killed that hour dead.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sometimes Isn't Always

Sometimes I tell myself, "You just have to make it through the day." Rain or shine, I have to make it through the day. What would it mean for me not to make it through the day? I'm not sure....maybe a total withdrawal into madness? I'm not sure. The truth is that I'm strong enough to make it through most days, but sometimes it doesn't feel that way.

I've never been one who has been bothered by the Christmas holidays, like some I know. Usually, I just ignore the hustle and bustle. Christmas these days means buying gifts for those you love and care for, but my bank account is spoken for, before my check even reaches me. Last year, I started to feel a little melancholy during the winter holidays, but this year the sense of sadness related to this season seems to be increasing. I live with a family, who believe that Thanksgiving and Christmas are pagan holidays and therefore cannot bring themselves to recognize those days. The problem seems to be though, that I am a pagan. If a pot-smoking anarchist, who doesn't believe in God (or Jehovah, or Yahweh or....) doesn't qualify as a pagan, then I don't know who does. But what does it mean to be a pagan? Well, since I'm a non-believer, it doesn't mean anything to me. It's just another label that is floating out there, and can sometimes be attached to me. I believe in non-attachment though, so labels can fly off into the wild blue yonder, never to land on my shoulders again.

It's a lonely life out here in humanity. There are a lot of choices to be made in this life, but not enough opportunities to make them. A lot of love to be shared, but not enough peaceful space to allow that love to flourish.