Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Grass is Always Greener


They say that the grass is always greener in the next universe. The groove is always funkier. The water is sweeter and the sun is warmer. The tears are not as salty and don’t fall as swiftly. Maybe the multiverse theory is just a way for cosmic theorists to mathematically validate their fantasies. In the past we had Walter Mitty, the Land of Oz and other fantastical escapes. Now we have actual numerical theories which posit the possibility of an infinite number of universes, where every possibility is a reality.

Religious believers employ this “grass is always greener” concept when they put all their hopes in the idea of a heaven, whether that heaven is lined with gold streets and dead relatives or has ninety-nine virgins waiting for the next crazy suicide bomber. You don’t need to be a member of a church to feel spiritual and you don’t need to be a monk to find enlightenment. False hopes lead to dead ends and a lifeless existence. Stop and look around you. The beauty of life is astounding, from the colors and scents of flowers to the bird songs of robins, chickadees and the common flicker. Breathe it all in and savor the universe we find ourselves in.

Robert Fulghum, author of that classic book "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" put it this way: "The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are."

If the theoretical physicists are correct then there very well may be another universe, where I am rich and famous, but not nearly as good looking as I am here and now. If we all hunker down here in this world, obeying archaic patriarchal laws, we’ll die old and unfilled. Sometimes reality feels like a foot on our face, not allowing us to get on with our deepest desires. This is my path and those Marks in the multiple universes, like bubbles in soapy water, have their own paths with their own ups and downs.

We all have a bit of Walter Mitty in us, imagining ourselves in some bigger and shinier reality. Here I barely have time to write trivial blog posts, never mind fantasize about what other Marks are doing in the multiverse. Those Marks need to take of their own problems, cash their own checks and marry or divorce as they see fit. I can only attempt to control my own destiny and that’s a futile task. Control is out of my hands. The sooner I realize that the better off I’ll be.

Mindfulness is all the rage these days and it teaches that there is only this moment. We might as well all agree that there is also only this universe. All other universes are theoretical at this point and even if there were evidence for their existence, we have no way to take a vacation in a parallel universe. We have this moment in this space in time, and we all have to make the best of it.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Two Book Reviews

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown UniverseWe Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not a physicist or a mathematician, but I've always been drawn to the Big Questions. This book is just filled with Big Questions and lots of humor. Whiteson and Cham explain in layman's terms and with cute comics, the five percent about the universe that we do know, while opening up the readers' minds to the 95 percent of the universe that we are still stumped by. They explain how we might tackle these still unanswered questions and give us hope with the fact that we have managed to learn so much about our universe in just the last few hundred years. I admit that I read a few chapters more than once in attempt to absorb the heavy stuff, but that's because I really want to learn. Some of this stuff is downright mind boggling! and who could have guessed that footnotes could be so funny?

* * * *

Goodbye, VitaminGoodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ruth is visiting her parents for Christmas, her mother asks her to stay for a year to help care for her father, who is starting to suffer the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, Ruth is trying to find her own footing, after her fiancĂ©e left her for another woman. "Goodbye, Vitamin" is narrated by Ruth in short diary-like entries that are often very funny, but by the end of the book these vignettes add up to a moving chronicle of familial love, as Ruth finds meaning and connection in some unexpected places. "Goodbye, Vitamin" sneaks up on you and may have you laughing out loud and then bring you to tears on the same page!

Rachel Khong was the managing editor then executive editor of Lucky Peach magazine from 2011 to 2016. "Goodbye, Vitamin" is her first novel.


View all my reviews

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rival Sons- Good Things (Live at the Compound)

Damn! I love this band. 
 
"Enjoy it right now
Because you never know
When it's gonna end"


Rival Sons - "Good Things"

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Old Man Walking

Man Walking
by Paul Gavarni
I have always loved walking. Some people call it hiking. I guess it depends on the location, whether you call it a hike or a walk in the park. I grew up in the country – two barns, ponies, dogs, etc. – and there was rarely a day after school when I didn’t take a walk in the woods. On the map the area is called the Great Cedar Swamp and was once part of the great Wampanoag Nation. I walked with the ghosts of Indians, the original people, who walked those same paths. I never felt lonely in the woods. I felt part of the spirit that moves in all things. I do not feel that same connection when I walk among the tall concrete and glass buildings in the city.

I have lived in Seattle for over twenty years and it has always felt like a nice compromise. It’s a city with quaint neighborhoods, tree-lined streets and the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead, but the face of the city is changing. Every so often I see a tree in the neighborhood marked for destruction. They post a notice, so those opposed to the removal of the tree can fight city hall if they so desire, but they will be laughed right out of court. Damn tree huggers! The powers-that-be have no qualms removing a tree that has graced the neighborhood for a few hundred years, providing housing for a variety of creatures, from lowly insects to majestic eagles. They remove them because they are buckling the sidewalk, or blocking some homeowner’s view. I guess only the Lorax speaks for the trees.

Lately my walks have been filled with the colors of spring, as a variety of flowers are now in bloom. I remind myself that colors are electromagnetic waves of various lengths, entering my eyes and being interpreted by my old man brain as glorious signs of spring. Spring, when a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love and an old man’s thoughts turn to his past. I am only old in comparison to those younger than myself and in another week I’ll add another digit to my age, making me fifty-six. There are days when I feel like I’m twenty-six and then there are days when I feel the weight of that first handful of dirt tossed upon my casket. I must count the dark days among the sunny ones to make a whole life.

I was at work last week, when a customer asked me about my weight loss. “How did you do it? Was it intentional?” My ex-wife asked me recently if she needed to worry about my health due to my weight loss. My weight loss was not intentional, but my walking always is. I used to disdain umbrellas like most true Seattleites, but in order to walk every day, sometimes I need take cover under a University Village complementary umbrella. It’s big, it’s yellow and it keeps me dry, so that I can be of service to the bookstore customers without raining on their parade. Nobody likes a wet bookseller or a wet book cellar.

Walking is my way of progressing down my path. I can feel the sun warm my face when I’m outside. I can feel the breeze as the weather turns, and the rains move in. I walk through the aisles of the bookstore, where I work, shelving books and helping the odd customer along the way. There’s always that one odd customer. My legs move me through the world and give me a more realistic view of my surroundings. Sometimes I stumble, but I pick myself back up, dust myself off and amble on down the road, towards the next adventure. Will I choose the path less traveled or will I take the path of least resistance?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Singularity

"The Bothersome Man"
I am unique. I have all the requisite body parts like other mammals, but my thoughts are uniquely my own. The experiences that shaped me were processed by my particular biochemical makeup and no other. I was six months old when I was adopted by a young couple from Rehoboth, Massachusetts. They gave up their horses in order to start a family. They adopted four children: boy – girl – boy – girl. I am the oldest and the rest are all a year or two apart. We were a rambunctious brood and probably more problems than their farm animals had been. They did not come from privilege. Not by any means. They worked hard just to see the world strip it all away.

Alone in the world, at home in the wilderness. I was not sports inclined, nor a book worm, preferring instead to spend time in the woods behind our house. It was my refuge. When at home, I would fill sketchbooks with imaginary characters, giving them names and back stories. I took piano lessons from the church organist and performed in recitals, sometimes playing duets with my sister. I took trumpet lessons for a short time, when they offered them through the elementary school. I no longer play a musical instrument, but music is still an integral part of my being. It soothes the savage breast and makes me feel pretty good, too.

When I was six-years-old, my chores included feeding my father’s hunting beagles. One overcast evening, I went upstairs in the barn to my dad’s workshop to feed a beagle that had been separated from the others, because she was “in heat.” The dusty shop was very quiet and I saw the rope, which had been tied to the dog’s collar, leading out the hayloft door. The weight of the dead beagle was very heavy to my young hands. I left her at the end of the taut rope and went to the house to tell my parents, stopping to pick up my father’s pen, which I found on the dusty workshop floor. I found it quite difficult to put into words that the beagle was now hanging from a rope at the back of the barn, its claws flecked with the red paint, as it scratched in panic during those last moments of life.

In July of 1973, our family piled into our Dodge van and took I-95 south to Washington, D.C. for a vacation. One evening, arriving too late to visit the wax museum, we found a nearby pizzeria. I had been riveted by the Watergate hearings on television, so it wasn’t too surprising when I glanced over and recognized Fred Thompson, then serving as minority counsel to the Republican senators. My parents encouraged me to go over and introduce myself and the next thing you know, Fred Thompson was putting my family on his guest list to attend the hearings the next day. My siblings slept through it, but I was too excited. They were questioning Attorney General John Mitchell that morning. I also spotted Daniel Schorr and the courtroom sketch artist.

I did not enjoy high school, so instead of dropping out, I earned enough credits to graduate in three years. I then found myself with nowhere to go and nothing to do, making me the ideal candidate for military recruitment. I met with the local Air Force recruiter in Taunton and – with my parents written permission – I agreed to serve four years. I was the only seventeen-year-old from Rehoboth, Massachusetts on that Eastern Airlines flight from Boston to San Antonio in December of 1978. After training, I spent my remaining years in North Dakota, working on the Minuteman III missile systems, getting drunk on Southern Comfort and cursing the prairie winters.

I was the only Mark in that adoption agency office in Alpharetta, Georgia, on that February morning in 2006, holding my son Justin for the first time. I may have made some mistakes in my day, but becoming Justin's father is not one of them. Justin is compassionate and kind. He’s funny and gregarious. He will also challenge anyone to a game of PIG on the basketball court. Anyone. He was once my little Buddha baby, but very soon he will be taller than me. Being a parent is not easy. I have a hard enough trying to guide myself through this treacherous world, never mind trying to light the way for others. But if I can lead by example than that’s a start.

I have been married three times and that is certainly not a singular achievement. More like three strikes and you’re out. Time to sit on the bench for a couple of games and observe from the sidelines. Get back to the basics. I do hope for the sake of all atheists that I was the only one to marry a Jehovah's Witness. I wasn't thinking critically, I can assure you of that. For someone, who claims to enjoy solitude, I never took much of a breather in between relationships. I was letting fear control my heart rather than being open to bigger possibilities. It’s that whole fear of abandonment shit.

It’s time to strip away all unnecessary distractions and attachments. The news, my to-read list, the queue at the library, the remnants of a failed marriage. When I let the daily strife drop away, I can feel the sun on my face and the earth beneath my feet. When I let go of my anger and resentment, I can walk taller and a smile forms on my original face without any effort. I am happy to be alive and breathing in the air that is allotted me in this lifetime. There is tragedy enough to go around, but love seems to be lacking lately. I’ve got some extra, so I’ll send it out into the world today. Postage paid.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

You're All Winners!

I am nearly done with my latest blog post, which is titled "The Singularity." Until then, let's funk it up with Hot Chocolate and their hit, "Every 1's a Winner" from way back in 1978. I was seventeen in 1978 and a fresh air force recruit. What were you doing in 1978?



Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Great Struggle

My wife once said to me that if she had been "living her faith" she never would have met me. The funny thing is that after she met me and we married, she decided to throw herself headfirst back into her faith. It has now been over a month since my wife shunned me and banned me from what was our residence. She went through my pockets as I was getting dressed and took my house keys off of my key ring. Within a week I found out that she changed the locks on the house and the garage, where my most of my belongings still remain. Over the last month and a half, if I wanted any of my possessions, I was told to provide a list and a time when I would be by to pick up the items on the list. If the time was convenient and someone was available to observe me then I was given permission to come by.

Faith is a funny thing and I don't mean funny ha ha either. It's funny peculiar and evidently my current wife has faith that she has done the right thing by ousting me with just the clothes on my back, which I was barely given the time to put on by the way. She must think of me as a thief or worse to feel compelled to change the locks and have a bouncer observe me when I pick up any items. She has not attempted to see me or contact me in a month and a half and at this point I'm ready for forever. I have never burned down a Vietnamese village. John Walsh never mentioned me by name on "America's Most Wanted." The fact that the locks were changed and I was never given easy access to my rightful possessions is the kind of personal insult that I wouldn't expect from a loved one. So...

Love is a many-splendored thing, as we have been told, but hate, especially when fueled by religious fundamentalism, goes right to the bone like a cancer. Religious fundamentalists will blow themselves up in a town square, taking many innocent lives with them, as they foolishly believe in 99 virgins, awaiting on their ugly ass in heaven. Some fundamentalists have caused the deaths of their own children through medical negligence disguised as religious faith. And then some fundamentalists just decide to throw the atheist out with the bath water and act as if his presence was never an actual fact.

We all must do what we can do survive as human beings. For some of us that means erecting a tent by I-90 and sharing space with other homeless people, battling their own demons. For others it means starting anew and leaving the ugly past behind. It is better to be without possessions than to be possessed. It is better to walk through the fire than to keep smelling smoke and assuming that someone else is going to douse the flames. They say that the wealthy have problems too, but their problems obviously have nothing to do with a lack of funds.

My own struggle now is to face each day with honesty and openness. Doors have been closed behind me, and locks have been changed, but new doors open up every day, and I just have to be mindful and observant to see where my path now leads. I have been entertained by too many distractions in the past. I tout the saying that a wise man welcomes problems, because they give him a chance to grow and yet I have avoided my own problems like the plague. Time to face life head on and faith be damned.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Snail Alert

Sometimes you just have to look to your right.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lindsey Buckingham - "Soul Drifter"

I am in the process of getting reacquainted with my soul. I'm trying to feed it well, take it for walks and such. One must care for one's soul, because no one else is going to do it for you. I've got a blog post in progress, but until then here is a song I really love.

"Soul Drifter" by Lindsey Buckingham from The Late Show way back when.


"It has been said that religion is for those afraid to go to Hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there." -- James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life

Monday, May 1, 2017

Early Imprints

The person who doesn’t learn from their own sordid and painful history is doomed to repeat it, inflicting repeat performances on their loved ones until everyone is exhausted and at their wit’s end. The end of wit is the beginning of dystopia. The past is never past. In fact these days it’s right next to me, tapping me on the shoulder. Normally I would shrug it off and continue blithely on my way to wit’s end, but this time I’m going to strive be awake and live larger. Every moment is a teachable moment, but I’ve been playing hooky.

First I was whisked away from the woman who had just given birth to me. Hey! I was just getting to know her! Then I served six months in an orphanage run by Boston Children’s Services. Just before Christmas I was adopted by a couple with a farmstead in southeast Massachusetts. They decided to give up their riding horses and hunting dogs in exchange for a brood of rowdy kids – two boys and two girls. I was adopted first and was and still am the oldest. Never the boldest and more wizened than wise at this point in my life.

The leather razor strop.
Discipline was hardcore during my upbringing and – being the oldest – I received the brunt of the punishment. By the time my younger brother and sister started acting up my parents were too old and tired to swing the razor strop anymore. Besides, at some point I found the razor strop in its hiding place and I tossed it into the woods. Being leather, I’m sure it was broken down by the forces of nature and eaten by microbes. Who knows…maybe there was still some my ass DNA on it, composting along with the leather instrument of torture itself.

I was an obvious disappointment to my father for failing to be manlier. I gave hunting and fishing my best effort, but I only saw those activities as means towards survival and not as sport. Catch and release this motherfucker! His workshop remained untouched by me and the gardening was seen as a thankless chore, especially since I wasn’t fond of vegetables. Mom tended to boil the hell out vegetables until they were drooping off the fork and entirely unpalatable, to me anyway. Weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, feeding the animals were all just chores to me.

I was born a bastard and I’m still a bastard, in more ways than one. Mean old bastard is an appellation I’d like to try to avoid as an epitaph. I’m trying my damnedest to avoid repeating my father’s behavior, while at the same time creating my own version of the angry father, who is never happy. I’m still trying to right those wrongs. My heart still cries out in pain at the lack of love and understanding between my father and me. He is still alive – he turned 96 last January – but the distance in miles and years is verging on the infinite at this point.

Fathers and sons. Husbands and wives. Love and hate. It’s all a one big emotional cluster-fuck and finding clarity may be the most difficult task that I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been avoiding this dark wood for years now and now that I’m in the midst of it I have to be very mindful of the usual pitfalls, usually of my own creation. I’m a master at sabotaging my own well-being and those around me. Misery loves company unless Misery is killed by Kathy Bates. Then Misery becomes the bacon on the dish with the good eggs.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Silver Lining in the Lemonade

One of my favorite bookstore customers called today. She has some romance books on hold, and will be coming in tomorrow to pick them up. She told me that she had been going through some tough stuff; real emotional stuff and that she had to do a lot of praying. I was struck by her recent plight. This sweet woman is always so full of joy. Last month she gave us all chocolates. I decided she needed something beside books. I walked over the our box of stuffed animals, reached towards the bottom, and got the last little plush hamster. He's portable, requires no feeding (no messy clean-up), and he's 100 percent lovable. He'll be on the hold shelf with her romance novels, ready to be loved.

Later in the afternoon I received a text from a friend, stating how life really sucks sometimes. First off, I immediately agreed, and then I asked her if she was okay. It's important to listen when someone reaches out, across miles by text or call. My friend's husband has been battling brain cancer for some years now, and his most recent treatments have not produced the results that they had hoped for, being tumor shrinkage, of course. Hope. Sometimes it's the most important element in treating the sick and needy and even then it is often not enough. I sent her all I could.

I am going through a pretty big life change at the moment myself, but my little crisis does not compare to trying to shrink brain tumors, or being so distraught that I had to pray my way through it. I'm currently looking for a living space for myself and my son and once that is found, the path that I find myself on will not be quite as bumpy as it's been for the last week. Well, let's be honest, it's been a bumpy ride for a while now, but this change is a chance for me to feel more like myself again. I've been a pale impostor of myself for too long now, so a little bit of a suffering and a spoonful of sugar, and we'll all be spit-spot; good as new.


I'm always looking for the silver lining in the lemonade, and I keep getting glimmers. Whether I'm watching the hummingbird fledgling or spotting a double rainbow, as I did today, I keep my eyes open for those special moments. My son fills my life with special moments, but when he is not around, I need to be mindful of the inherent beauty within life's own tragic path. We all know where this road ends, so we might as well enjoy the ride to the best of our ability, and help others when we can, so all of us can ride a little more smoothly on this crazy journey we're on. Capiche?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Waiting for Godot

I suppose that I myself, have been have been waiting for Godot much too long now. I mean...it should have dawned on me years ago, but I've always been a bit slow on the uptake though.

Shakes head and then looks to the grey sky above. Exit stage left.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Unaltered States

Life makes an honest attempt to kick my ass on a daily basis. Many may scoff at that statement, since – at age 55 – I still have all my limbs and I’m fairly healthy. I don’t even need to knock on wood. I walk a half hour to and from work every day, pretty much rain or shine and that keeps me fit – the fittest I’ve been in probably a dozen years. Those walks also help me to release the stress of daily life, as I amble to and from the bookstore.

Some may say, “How does life kick your skinny white ass, when you’ve avoided major illness; both of your parents are still alive. Your only major period of unemployment was by choice and that was to take on the role as stay-at-home parent. You even have two separate internet routers! One for the house and one for your man cave in the garage.” Okay. It’s not a “man cave.” Once it warms up enough, the space in the garage will be this cynic’s sanctuary. It is true though, that I’ve led a relatively tragedy-free life, but unfortunately, depression doesn’t check our social media status, before checking into our life.

I started taking anti-depressants almost ten years ago. I had been seeing a counselor and she had gently suggested I might try medication. I would get into these ruts, not want to leave the house. I’d blow off concerts, wasting expensive seats. I felt as if I didn’t even know how to interact with my friends and neighbors. My continuing battle with depression was taxing on my marriage, and now I had a young son. After a stressful visit from my parents (“Why don’t you do something with this yard?”) and the death of my cat, I acquiesced and decided to try medication. I needed to climb out of my dark hole, so that I could be a healthy functioning parent for my son and so I could also enjoy life, like humans sometimes do.

Initially, I felt much better on citalopram (brand name Celexa®). This drug works cumulatively, so it took a little while and the internal changes were subtle. As other patients have said, I felt more like myself after using serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Unfortunately, my marriage did not endure and we now share custody of our beautiful son. Like some kind of Richard Burton wannabe, I got remarried soon after my separation. I continued to battle depression and after a few rage episodes, and a general feeling of malaise, I decided that the citalopram may no longer be working as it initially had. Upon consulting with a doctor, I decided to try Wellbutrin®, which is also used for smoking cessation. The initial idea was to wean off of the citalopram, and solely use the bupropion (brand name Wellbutrin®,) but at some point it seemed safer not to back off the meds any further.

These are not miracle drugs, and results may vary; hence the variety of anti-depressants, I suppose. Citalopram and bupropion are also not without their side effects, which include seizures, constipation, nausea, headache, tremors, confusion, anxiety, sinusitis, insomnia, night sweats and those old favorites: ejaculatory disorder and a general a loss of interest in sex. In fact, taking citalopram can actually cause thoughts of suicide! Seriously? Yeah. Seriously. Just ask the widow of Del Shannon. How are these medications supposed to be helping me, again? I think I deserve a break today.

I stopped taking my anti-depressants a couple of weeks ago. Usually, any pause is caused by a lack of funds – running out of my prescriptions before payday – but I have wanted to wean off my anti-depressants for a few years now, if only to find out who I am without them. I talked to my doctor about this on my last visit and had one of the prescriptions drastically reduced, with the intent of dropping it entirely. I had never intended to be on two anti-depressants! That’s depressing right there! I do need to restart taking my blood pressure medication, especially if I’m trying to survive without ingesting selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on a daily basis.

Like anything else in this world worth saving, I’m a work in progress. Yes, it’s about the journey. There is no winner’s tape to break through victoriously between now and my last breath. The only victory will be in living a good life, being kind to others and myself and then moving on to make room. Strip away the corporate medication and I’m left with my unaltered mind. Well, unaltered except for daily doses of chocolate, marijuana and fresh air. Being mindful is all the rage, but despite being trendy, it works. Besides being a terrible thing to waste, our mind is basically who we are. Take it or leave it. I think therefore I have drama in my life. Otherwise I’d be a rock. I’d be an island. And no man is an island.

****
Just a song before I go

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey! That's Funny!

Some humor is timeless. Charlie Chaplin, Bug Bunny, the Three Stooges and, if I may, Gilbert Gottfried. This particular routine is from a Cinemax special Gilbert did in 1987. It was taped at the American Place Theatre in New York City, as part of the "Cinemax Comedy Experiment" series.This is one of those guaranteed-to-make-me-laugh pieces, and with the world crumbling around me, and those closest to me, playing their violins, I need to laugh, because it takes a train to cry.







Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Chartley Pond

Chartley Pond
I have always felt most at home amidst natural surroundings. When I lived in Massachusetts there were places I would go to escape the daily grind and reconnect with the rhythms of nature. I spent many days and even some nights at these places and I knew their paths like the back of my hand. There was Hemlock Island, which was a short hike from my backdoor, and where I spent most of my youth. When I began driving, I would often go to the Easton Conservation Area, which has over 4,000 acres of protected land. Situated pretty much halfway between those two destinations is Chartley Pond.

My earliest memories of Chartley Pond are of my dad and me, fishing by the railroad crossing, and catching hornpout, which is a species of bullhead catfish. My dad warned me that their whiskers, of which they have eight, will sting if they touch you. Actually, it’s not the whiskers, but three fins — two pectoral and one dorsal – that have a poisonous sting. Hornpout also have a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth and slimy skin rather than scales like other fish. They are odd. Many folks eat catfish, but my dad would throw them back. We sometimes caught small carp and sunfish at Chartley pond, but it wasn’t the greatest spot for fishing.


Through most of my youth there was a Bristol Farms ice cream stand on the hill overlooking Chartley Pond. They had a to-go window, where they sold ice cream in waffle cones, and frappes. Also, around the corner from Chartley Pond was the Wetherell Paint Store, where my dad would stop to buy paint and socialize. Next door was the fire station, where I was sometimes able to climb up on the fire engines. The Wetherell Paint Store was actually opened by former fire chief Hank Wetherell. Across the street was the Chartley Country Store, where one could buy specialty meats, American cheese and to-die-for marinated mushrooms.

A stone’s throw from the deli sat the Chartley Methodist Church, with whom we, at the North Rehoboth Methodist church, had always shared our pastor. Two churches, one minister. There were always these underlying jealousies, especially since the parsonage was on the property adjoining the Chartley church, and our church was way the hell up in North Rehoboth. I barely remember ever stepping foot in the Chartley Church. It always just felt like there was some bad juju there. (That’s Methodist humor right there, which is a contradiction in terms.)

Back in the 1980’s, my first wife and I would sometimes go canoeing at Chartley Pond. We’d haul our heavy green Coleman canoe to the water’s edge, and set out onto the placid water with lunch, and a few wine coolers. Since most sections of the pond were fairly secluded, my wife would sometimes remove her shirt to soak up the sun. In fact, we had precarious canoe sex out there on Chartley Pond. Caution was a must, because not only are there slimy hornpout with stinging dorsal fins in those murky depths, but it’s also populated with snapping turtles! Good reasons to keep any dangling appendages in the boat.


I haven’t found a secluded pond to dip my paddle in out here in Seattle, but I do have my moments of connecting with nature, whether it’s communing with the hummingbird hovering over my head, while taking my lunch break behind a nearby church; or sitting in my front yard, between two steadfast evergreen trees, catching glimpses of the orbiting moon through the foliage. Those moments are like life preservers in these tumultuous times, and I cherish each one.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Conundrum


Light it up!

Open-minded: having or showing a mind receptive to new ideas or arguments. 2. Unprejudiced; unbigoted; impartial.

Close-minded: not willing to consider different ideas or opinions: having or showing a closed mind.

Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, just before he was sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth with his radical ideas. When I examine life, I end up with more questions than answers, which I guess means that I’m doing it right. I don't trust anyone, who claims to have all the answers. I’ve searched through many of the same caverns and mountaintops and I’m still left with a bag of questions. One question in particular has been gnawing my consciousness since the election: How does one, who is open-minded, stay open-minded with a close-minded individual?

Being nonjudgmental is a difficult task for the best of us. We judge other drivers on the road. We judge co-workers and customers. We judge other parents for the deeds of their children. We judge judges, juries and lawyers. We all make judgments. It’s part of being human. We try and discern danger and stupidity. Is this a good apple or a bad apple? Is this a good person or a bad person? Should I be on guard for my safety? Profiling is considering a prejudicial police tactic, but we all do it every day. One of the great paradoxes in our world is sharing so many similarities with our fellow humans, while simultaneously seeing our differences so starkly, and through so many filters. Objectivity is a near impossibility.

Nazis. I find of difficult to be sympathetic with Nazis. Climate change deniers and those, who say that evolution is “just a theory” obviously got a hold of some bad science at some point, and nobody of authority has bothered to straighten them out. There are viewpoints and then there is right and wrong. Facts and falsehoods. Facts and falsehoods are not about opinion. A fact means that it's undisputed. It's been gone at from many different directions by many different experts and this is their result. Peer reviewed, you might say. If changing data alters the initial result, they will then change their findings to reflect the truth. It’s not your truth and my truth. If that's how you label it then we’re not talking about truth. We’ve entered the territory of beliefs, and believing in something does not necessarily make it true. Oh, if only that were true!

At the end of the day, it’s more about my ego being bruised then it is about close-mindedness. I feel emasculated and disrespected when universally accepted truths are not also accepted as household truths. For my part though, much of it is about my desire to be right. I do not deny that. My ego needs crushing as much as the next guy’s, if not more so. Otherwise, I’d just chill-out. Live and let live. Let it be, and let it free. If you love someone, you set them free. Free to make the same mistakes you have made and even some new ones. In the meantime, I need to learn to eliminate desire. “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.” – Tao Te Ching, verse 37



Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a scene from "Shall We Dance" (1937)

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thanks for Waiting

It's time to post a music video, because I am still knee-deep in my current blog post, trying to write my way out. I picked a tough topic, with unanswerable questions, but that doesn't mean that the piece is unwritable. Here is a beautiful song to pass the time, while I go into editor mode.



"Fly High" - Anders Parker, Jim James, Jay Farrar, Will Johnson (New Multitudes)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cruel to be Kind

Last weekend my son asked, “Dad, what’s your mission in life.” I told him that I wanted to be a good person, and the best father I can be. Being an awesome kid, Justin said, “Well, dad you’ve already achieved those.” Pure sweetness. I suppose that if I had already achieved those goals, I could sit back on my laurels. (Laurels are not like poison ivy, are they?) I’ve always striven to be good; sometimes to avoid the razor strap and sometimes to be more Christ-like. Now I don’t need any physical threat or divine inspiration. Treating others as you would want to be treated is just altruistic good sense. The maxim of reciprocity is common in nearly every ethical tradition, although it’s often claimed by Christianity as its own.
To me, being a “good person” means being kind to others. Be kind is one of the twelve points of Boy Scout Law, along with be clean and obedient đŸ˜Č. I’m as kind as I can be to our customers; even the customers that raise the wrath of my co-workers. There is one little old French lady, who will only deal with me at the used book counter. She’ll call ahead to ensure that I’m working that day. It’s a lot of pressure on me to carry on conversations that I have no interest in. It causes stress in my internal organs when I am nice to others, but cruel to myself. [Excuse me, while I tighten the barbed wire cilice around my chest.] I am my harshest critic. My worst enemy.

What does it mean to be kind to others? I’m a pretty angry person. I’ve had friends tell me that I carry my anger with me. Like the plague, I guess. I’ve cut communication with members of my family over the Frumpf debacle. I get angry when all my son wants to do is play hoops or video games instead of study. He’d rather make the effort on the basketball court than in the classroom. (Duh!) I get angry, because my wife’s religion keeps her from voting or celebrating holidays. She feels no stress or anxiety about our current political atmosphere, and societal breakdown. I get angry, but mostly with myself for not being the perfect human I had hoped to be. For not being the perfect human that I expect everybody else to be. And I’m the one that told my son that perfection is not possible, just a goal to aim at.

Yesterday we woke up to four inches of snow in our neighborhood. I was determined to walk to work, even though I don’t have snow boots. I was enjoying my walk, when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black and white dog headed for me with teeth bared. He chomped right into my calf, before his owner could call him off and apologize. I said, “He bit me. He bites.” And then I continued to work. I know, I know. I should have gotten a phone number, and other information, but I walk by there every day. I just need keep the wound from getting infected. It’s not like I have a lawyer on retainer, and I’m going to sue for pain and suffering. I experience pain and suffering every goddamn day, so a dog bite is just a little variation on the everyday torture.

In other news: a pedestrian was killed on the crosswalk by our bookstore last weekend. An oversized diesel pick-up truck was barreling around the corner and took her down. The driver was distraught and inconsolable. I was not there, but the accident shook up quite a few people, as it should. I got enough of a visual when my co-worker told me about the blood surrounding her body, and her hat off to the side. It was only a week ago that a pedestrian was hit about five blocks west of there, but not critically. Death is not pretty, but it’s pretty consistent. So, let’s all be careful out there. We need to be extra vigilant. We need to be aware of the dangers that surround us and be prepared to fight. Complacency is lethal.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965)

The documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" opened here in Seattle and in many other cities on Friday. I have been looking forward to this film after first seeing the trailer. We need to emulate great men like James Baldwin and speak truth to power - get up, stand up - and grab the reins of our society back from the moneygrabbing flim-flam man and his flunkies.

Here is a wonderful debate from Cambridge (1965), which discusses the notion that the American Dream was attained at the "expense of the negro." You might wonder why bother listening to Buckley's response to Baldwin, but it's worth it just to view -- once again -- the pathetic white man's defense of his horrendous treatment of human beings, based solely on skin color.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Doldrums


Time flies, except when you’re stuck in the doldrums. There is a dead calm and any motivating winds seem to be a world away. Where are the winds of change when you need them? If we’re stuck here much longer, we’ll have crazy Billy Zane, climbing aboard the otherwise peaceful vessel with Nicole and Sam. Two’s company, but three is a cheesy TV series. MĂ©nage Ă  terror. Stuck in a boat with b-list actors and then Ralph Furley and Tallulah Bankhead show up with a life raft and you just want to drown. Not even a laugh track can save this fiasco.

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it can feel as if one is stuck in the horse latitudes. Legend has it that when the sailors became stuck in subtropical ridges, thinking that they would run out of fresh drinking water, they threw their horses overboard. One would think, with all that horsepower, they could have high-tailed it out of there, but evidently not. "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?" Well, I don’t think I’d throw my horses overboard, but that’s just me.

The days are getting longer now – they have been ever since the winter solstice – but it’s subtle. With the holidays over, most of the festive lights have come down, so now dark is just dark. Some folks leave their lights up quite a while – possibly in an attempt to battle SAD. I know that the extra illumination helps to cheer me and alleviate my winter doldrums, as I walk through the neighborhood at night. I don’t consider it white trash at all. Now, if you leave the faded plastic Santa and his eight tiny reindeer on your roof throughout the year, that is white trash.

You should always be careful what you wish for. Calm is good, but the opposite of calm is chaos. Sometimes the winds of change come and they’re not a spring breeze at all. Instead of just enough wind to get us going in the right direction, we end up in the middle of a shit-storm. Babies don’t wash up ashore due to calm seas. The remaining family members – once on land – are often given a hostile reception and turned away. Anne Frank and her family were denied entry into the United States due to restrictive immigration policies at the time.

If you think that’s bad, we now have a maniac at the helm. He’s never captained a vessel as big as a country before and yet the ship’s wheel is now in his tiny hands. If you think the Titanic was a disaster, just wait until you see the iceberg we’re headed towards. First Mate Bannon keeps saying, “Full speed ahead!” but who was lynched and left him in charge? Pastor Pence is in the chapel on the ‘tween deck, conducting church for all the young boys onboard. We’re going to hit and we’re going to hit hard and there are not enough life rafts onboard the U.S.S. Fascist. This ship wasn’t equipped with life rafts. Just pro-life rafts

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Settle Down Now

Well, the first thing you know, our landlord gives us notice to vacate. Seems she’s ill, and it’s time to sell. So we loaded up the truck and we headed easterly...Wedgwood, that is. Fancy schools. Prius cars. Now that I'm a grandma* it’s time to settle down. I've traversed the country more than a few times. I’ve lived in New England, North Dakota, and Washington, where I make my home. When the time comes, my ashes will be scattered at Kalaloch or used as garden fertilizer. Ashes to ashes and all that.

The Jeffersons
We are now nestled in the woods, up on a hill. It’s a new way of life akin to the Waltons…or maybe it’s closer to the Jeffersons. It’s upstairs downstairs with a shared kitchen. Competition is fierce for baked goods that are pulled from the oven. All animals are relegated to the basement. It’s a matter of hierarchy. The neighborhood is full of dogs and their walkers, always with a friendly hello for fellow dog walkers, which makes me think that having a dog would be a perfect cover for a serial killer; but then again psychopaths usually torture their pets, so that wouldn’t work.

Settling down also means getting used to the what’s and wherefores of my new surroundings. It means finding a space and making it my own. In our last house, I was lucky enough to have an office. Here I am in the process of converting part of the garage into a Cynic’s Sanctuary. Sounds better than man cave, doesn’t it? There’s music, movies, reading space and a comfy chair to torture the unsuspecting that stumble into my lair. I’ve done all the necessary acoustic tests and I can without a doubt, turn the volume to 11 without fear of offending the neighbors.

I haven’t really addressed the third word in the title: Now. Mindfulness is very trendy these days, so most folks are aware of the fact that there is only the present moment. The past is gone (if it ever existed) and the future is yet to happen. (“What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”) The time to settle down is now, not someday. Moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone and grass don’t grow on a busy street. Fish don't fry in the kitchen. Beans don't burn on the grill. That being said, if you kids don’t settle down back there, I will turn this car around right now!!


 *My grandson calls me grandma, because he calls my wife, who is -- of course -- his grandmother the Japanese term for grandma, which sounds like "Byjon." He's bilingual, but gender confused.