Saturday, January 30, 2016
The gate fell open. Having forgotten what it felt like to wander, he stood there for a moment, not sure whether he should step through or wait for his breath to come back, his confidence to return. But then, just as suddenly as the gate fell open, he burst forward, surprising even himself. Before his mind could catch up with his body, he was running. The breath came in fast gasps and he coughed. He had to slow down. But he kept moving away from his previous confinement. Before him lay mountains of work undone, trips to take, dragons to meet, dilemmas to consider, quandaries to wade into. No matter. He was moving, finally, again. He had some time. Not much, but a moment or two at least. The air was crisp, the light sharp. There was a storm on the wind. That much he knew. It was time aim his intention and to marshal his agreements. The only obstacle in front of him was his fear, his self-inflicted limitation. He let the cool air of dawn fill his lungs, let the oxygen feed and fuel his brain, let his body re-ignite his sleeping desires. It was time, and movement was a luxury given only to the living.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Comes a time in a life when the brain has to recalibrate.
When I began to play adult soccer in my mid forties, for example, I was shocked at the discrepancy between what my brain "thought" I could do -- sprint to the ball -- and what I could "actually" do -- lumber like some immense herbivorous dinosaur to where the younger guys had already gathered around the ball.
This is what I called the mid-life performance shock. Between the time I had been playing as a young man and the post child-rearing mid-life man, things had changed. It doesn't seem possible to me that they had changed so much, but the decline was undeniable.
So, the current form of this re-calibration comes as a bout of pneumonia. Yes, I have succumbed to a serious bacterial infection that has shaken the foundations of my strength and health. I have to watch as muscles earned over years of training on the bike atrophy, how conditioning fades like last years rose, how I have no power over the body trying to purge itself of infection.
Of course my over-active brain has this illness over, history, long-done by now.
Here's an example: A week after I first felt sick, I was scheduled to do a bike race. I actually told people that I would be well enough (mind you, this is pneumonia) to race within a week. I was going to do a time trial, an all-out effort requiring full function of heart, lungs, and muscles, a few days after coughing up blood from a pneumonia infection. Ha!
Yes, I know, a bit irrational, but it's how my brain still operates.
I am upset that I still cannot sleep because of the fever and pain. I "should" be able to get over this thing.
The reality, the sharp, irrefutable reality, is that healing, again, will happen on its own time. My urge to cough is going to continue until it runs its course. The fever cycles and the pain are going to hang around until my immune system fights them off.
They whole process is going to go slower than I think it should progress.
Dems just the facts, sorry to say.
Incremental: it's what for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Monday, January 25, 2016
More than sex, coffee, new bike parts, or a day off, I just wanted to take a breath. I just wanted one deep breath that I could relish without scissoring into a coughing fit.
In my infected state, if I drew more than even the slightest bit of air, my reflexes set into motion a honking hacking round of coughing. I had lost my voice from the involuntary whooping on the inhale. This cycle had kept me awake for the past seven nights. The usual ratio was four short breaths to a coughing spasm. I had strained muscles in my back and abdomen trying to get the fluids out of my bronchial tubes and lungs.
I was beyond broken and wept openly at the pain and helplessness and lack of rest.
Then came the antibiotics. The glorious antibiotics.
Last night, the cough reflex took a break, and I was able to breath. One breath. Another. I fell into sleep and even began to dream, a simple thing, but when one has been deprived of it for more than a few nights, more precious than anything that passes for ambition in the world of the healthy.
So, I take in breath today. I will pass for normal in the world of work and hustle. But I remember still, the desire that comes when it is not available, the desire for a simple breath of life sustaining air.
Friday, January 22, 2016
It has been almost two weeks. This fever, chills, hacking cough, and resulting lack of sleep have made life more than a bit surreal. Every fourth breath or so sends me into a spasm of honking coughs. My head and stomach muscles ache with the strain.
But that's all just the physical sensations. The things I see in my head are what really disturb me.
You won't believe it, but I think I dreamed that Sarah Palin made it a point to endorse Donald Trump for president. I can hear you snickering. I know. That is pretty bizarre, even for someone wracked with fever, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.
But this vision was so real. She was standing at a lectern in a sparkly outfit and she spouted characteristic Palinisms like "We need to quit footing the bill for the sqirmishes of oil rich nations," and even stranger rants like "Well, and then, funny, ha ha, not funny, but now, what they’re doing is wailing, 'Well, Trump and his Trumpeters, they’re not conservative enough.' " Whatever that means. Then there was the "He’s got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debate on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and club hide. They didn’t want to talk about these issues until he brought ’em up. In fact, they’ve been wearing a, this, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest." Political correctness as a suicide vest?
I know, crazy. Only a fever-wracked mind could make this up. There is no way it would float out there in the grounded world of health and rational consciousness. This fever-driven vision persisted and got even more bizarre. Palin went on to really unify her audience with its characterization as "Right-winging, bitter-clinging, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religion, and our Constitution." Wow.
In my delirium, people actually seemed to understand what she was saying, to eat it up even. It must have the psyche working something out, some toxin leaving the body. It was trying to get rid of something so I could begin the long haul back to health.
When I finally made it to morning, I couldn't shake the strangeness of it all.
Thank God this fever will expire eventually and I can get to a world that makes some sense.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The semester was just lifting off, and I was hanging on by my fingernails as it gained momentum, when the bug struck.
Now, this is no ordinary bug. This is the kick-your-butt-around-the-block-for-warm-up bug. It's the fever/body ache/lung/throat/head/stomach/sinus bug, the phlegm/nausea/can't sleep or breathe bug.
That's all what it is, but the worst part of it is that it also robs its sufferers of their brains.
I honestly cannot think to remember what it is I am supposed to be doing for work, house, bills, personal hygiene or any kind of daily function.
Of course, as I sit here still in the throws of the bug's effects, the semester has left the station and me behind it. This is not a question of willingness, but of ability.
For the first time in my thirty years of teaching I may be incapable of running my classes.
I guess this time comes eventually for everyone. Up until now, bugs like this come and go. This one seems to here for a long haul. It shows no signs of giving up as the days and nights pass.
I can only hope that I find my brain before it is too late to repair the damage.
Friday, January 15, 2016
My mental wheels have been falling into ruts lately. Crisis has a way of forcing either/or, unilateral thinking, I guess, because I feel the need to decide, to act, to get moving.
For example, a friend of mine recently went on the lam, or, as his PO said, "absconded."
Now, that is what it is, for better or worse. He has his reasons I guess.
But can't help but wonder why.
On the one hand, he had the personal autonomy to "decide," to "get his shit together," to "pull himself up by his bootstraps." We all know this explanation of poverty as a choice not to work, as being the poor person's "fault" for not having the gumption to get out there and start a business to break the cycle of poverty by force of will.
Let's call this the "personal responsibility" camp.
On the other hand, my friend had social forces and inertia aligned against him. As a convicted felon, doors closed to him. Resumes and applications went unanswered, conversations died when people learned of his status as ex-con; he had lost the support of his family. In general, he wore a scarlet letter that earned him hard knocks.
In short, this guy, and others in his situation, or anyone coming from a socially marginalized position, faces an uphill climb against lack of opportunity, proximity to crime, difficult family relationships, and low expectations. This group does not share the entitlement that goes along with being a privileged member of society. Anyone who thinks they know what this is like who hasn't been there is full of caca.
Let's call this the "social product" camp.
Now, the problem here is that both of these camps contain germs of validity, and it is pointless to argue that only one is the sole cause of his actions. This man is a complex mix of both.
Throw in struggle with addictions, mental and physical illness, fear of returning to prison, and being fed up with trying to live within the system, and you may be approaching a more realistic understanding of why he did what he did.
In order to do that though, one has to skip the track of either/or thinking, of not being able to have cake and eat it too, of admitting that truth travels within both liberal and conservative lines of reasoning.
Such a leap means that one has to venture beyond the camps of easy answers and begin to listen to others with whom one disagrees.
One has to get off the belief that cake only comes to those who have it.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
The ice on the windshield is like sandpaper as I run the scraper from side to side, laying my weight into the stokes. The ice is thick and doesn't want to surrender its grip on my windshield.
I don't blame it. Ice doesn't get much opportunity here in southern Arizona. It's January, the short taste of cold here. The air is pristine, having been rinsed by recent rains. It's clear enough to make out details of mountain ranges fifty miles distant.
So, yes, the ice is stubborn, but it's a fair trade for the sweet air, crisp with frost.
I have to confess that I like the dark. When the cat wakes me at 4:30, I am more than ready to get up and moving. The chill helps. It does not reward lingering. For introverts, a world where everyone else is home sleeping is paradise.
I go down to a coffee shop where I have the place to myself until the sun comes up. Once there, I entertain the rare glimpses of an inner life. I hear a heart still hungry for love, a desire to be free to express what bubbles up inside, see a path to happiness that I might follow. These days are rare and sweet and will soon come to an end. The light and heat are coming back, and that is happening earlier and earlier.
Soon, the air will warm enough to prevent frost, the sky will lighten enough to wake the others, and the air will again take on the warmth of desert spring. For now, though, it's quiet, dark, and mine. Conditions are right for a moment of quiet before the noise of a new semester drowns out even the strongest of inner hopes.
I need to harvest these nuggets, to gather them together, and then to remember when the heat presses me to forget.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
For hire: one aging teacher. A bit long in the tooth, but young at heart. Will write tirelessly in search of the just the right phrase. Too much experience for most cookie-cutter curricula. Romantic to distress. Tends to love language and teaching too much for his own good. Can record sunrises, but will conk out right after sunset. Tends to brood on his demons. Has nasty habit of riding bikes early and often. Trainable in technology, but prefers face-to-face workshopping as a way to improve student expression. Won't impress many with his fashion statements. Is hopeless when it comes to marketing or self-promotion or branding anything. Can be found driving a salvaged pick-up truck down by the dry river. Might be playing guitar or drawing a lizard. You'll know him by his lack of political prowess, graying beard, and inability to get with the program. He will likely be at some fork in the path or need to decide something, paused, considering all the options. He's the introvert who stammers when asked a question or provoked to return a greeting. He is more at home with coyotes and conversations with God than a computer, but he is still capable, stronger than most his age, can wax philosophical. He will work for cheap and try to make whatever he does beautiful.
Monday, January 11, 2016
It is coming to me even if I hesitate moving toward it.
The new semester advances on legs of thunder and inevitability. Like an approaching storm front or a hungry dinosaur, it will arrive soon whether I am prepared or not.
Time to gird the loins, pack the book bag, load my lessons, hoist the clip-board, and tighten the straps on my sandals. The unwashed hoards of the hungry and semi-literate are storming the gates of my castle of calm, privacy, reflection, unstructured time, and will soon shatter the luxury of living with my own thoughts. The world doesn't care about my interior life, which, to me, is more real than this work life.
So pick up your pen, reluctant warrior, and stand up. It's time to head to the trenches to earn your keep, your livelihood. What you want matters less right now than what you have agreed to do for The Man. Yes, you want time to stop, right here; you want to reside in this magic moment of being left alone, of the peace between things. Only you can know its secret life. It is your curse and your gift and is the key to the thrumming pulse of the Universe. Yes, you feel it will kill you to leave it, but you have no choice. Your love is strong and takes no prisoners, but you are chained to passing time and the labors that come with that. The Man runs this show. He is the one who holds the cards, the power, the ways of doing things. Until you buy your freedom, you are beholden to Him.
The current of time has me in its grip and I am swept to the falls.
As I enter the final flow, I take a breath, and swear allegiance to my beloved peace, joy, and happiness.
To the fray! To the fray!
If I live to tell the tale, I will once again resume this account dear readers.
If not, well, it has been a pleasure. Thanks for listening.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Having been spit out the other end of the Holiday Season, I feel reluctant, embarrassed, lethargic. It's a prison Saturday though and I need to get my butt moving to put together supplies, copies of writing, and an exercise. The "play" that often accompanies the workshops is absent today, so far. I have lost contact with the men in the workshops. The combined effects of lockdowns, being out of town, and the distractions and overstimulation of the holidays leaves me dazed.
Oh well, and so what.
It's time to move and get stuff together. The biggest ingredient, though, is rekindling the enthusiasm for working on the writing. The magazine is coming together and I need to get revisions to the typist so we can include the latest iterations in next issue.
So, yes, there is snow on the mountains. I am still swirling in the leftover inertia of time off and out of sync. I am hung over in a way. But it's my Monday morning and I need to get moving.
I need to quiet the petulant voices, gather up my stuff, and load the car. It's time to plug back in to what it is the best part of me wants to do.
Friday, January 8, 2016
Solid. I guess that's the best overall word I can come with at the moment.
I want to be true to my word, dependable, trustworthy. I want to know what I am doing when I wake up in the morning. I want my book project to take shape because I have put in the time, thought, and effort to reveal what it wants to be.
I want to surrender my ephemeral and flighty confusions for clarity of purpose and direction. I want to work on what I value, what I love. I want to engage and feel passion for my day. I want to love my life and what it calls me to do.
I want to jettison superfluous, distracting shit.
I want to help friends, to enjoy giving things away to people who need them. I want to quit worrying. I want to exercise, write, paint, play music, sing, meditate, eat just enough to stay healthy, and to get my finances together.
I want to hand my gifts over when the time comes for each -- strength, sight, hearing, cognition, balance, fear, sadness, anger, all that didn't go the way I wanted it to. I want to cut the strings that have held me tight for too long and float down the river of the rest of my days. If I lose my sense of humor though, I want out. I want the courage and the smarts to be able to see it and act when the time comes.
Specifically though, I want to clean out my sock drawer, get the boxes out of my office, toss out the old jeans, get down to two (or three) pairs of bike shoes. I want to re-charge all of my bike lights so they don't die on my dark commutes. I want to plan out my lessons rather than go to classes cold and clueless. I want to get used to young people calling me "sir," or at least stop taking offense.
I want to grow into the role of elder gracefully, to be generous, open, a good listener, and, if asked, to give seasoned counsel.
I want to give up the need to be anything other than what I am, to let go of needing to be special, to live my own damned life.
But mostly I want to send those holey socks off to their next incarnation before it's my turn to move on.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
It has been a bumpy start to the new year.
My truck was stolen an deemed a total loss; a friend is homeless and staying with me; work requires that I assemble new curriculum; my butt is sagging; the stock market is tanking; everything is more expensive; my wages are stagnant. And on and on.
Once I get past the pity party, it looks like I'll have quite a ride.
I get to let things go this year. I plan to leave my job, get rid of stuff, and start living the next chapter of my life, whatever that is.
All of this will be easier if I am stripped of the old, familiar stuff early on.
Truck, money, work, and all the identity that goes with being the gainfully employed teacher commuter all will soon be gone.
It looks like it's time to make up a new identity, one that doesn't see or hear as well, is a bit fuzzy mentally, and has to get creative with income.
Ah, the price of freedom.
Buckle up, Spike. It's going to get interesting.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
The broken fingernails seem distant now. At the time, I swore I would never forget. I swore I would never forget what it was like to drive my body to exhaustion for a wage. I swore I would never forget the humiliation ladled by bosses who were cruel idiots. I swore I would exact revenge in writing when the time came and I was free from the yoke of a paycheck. I swore I would shed light on the crippling inequity that sits like the giant elephant in the American living room.
But here I am, trained in the craft of words, able, to some degree, to wreak my revenge on the hypocrisies of the leisure classes, the investment classes, the tea-sipping foodies in their comfortable foothills living rooms looking down on life of the streets. And the memory has the faded; the fire died down. I am tired, beaten.
Too many classes, too many bills to pay, too many duties to fulfill. It is easy now to cave in, let go, turn it over to some younger writer. The trail I was following has gone cold.
Life did not turn out how I planned. The stories now weigh me down. Voices remind me that I am not good enough, not focused enough, not well-connected enough to publish an account that would hold a reader's interest. I have become boring, passe, and out-of-touch. I have become a teacher-nerd. My edges have been trimmed, ground down, softened.
The lines between the hypocritical haves and the miserable have nots have not blurred, but the easy victim and villain roles have become more complex. I see the roundness, humanity, and defiance of stereotyping at work on both sides of the divide. We're all caught in brutal, vile, overfed system that runs on its own inertia.
My mind has gone fuzzy, memories less sharp, motivation muffled, urgency undone. I can't seem to lift my hand to wave away the flies of mental decline that buzz around me, taunt me.
I hope it returns, that my energy recharges once the resignation of too many hours teaching lifts. This is a new year, after all. Things are possible. I have a chance still, even though money will be tight. This is about will now. If it's going to happen, I have to will myself to do it, to overcome the burden of comfort, of ennui, of padding given to those who have the power to lift the veil of the ugly, grinding machine that is robbing so many of opportunity, of a chance to add a line to the story about the difference between what is possible and what we put up with. I see that my actions will have to align with my visions, dreams, and goals. Somehow, action and thought disconnected.
Ahead of me rises the wall I built myself.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
"I pawned it," he said, matter-of-factly. "You catch me at an embarrassing moment." He looked away and shrugged.
"I want that saw," I said.
I had just spent a hundred some dollars repairing the chain saw that I used for fire wood up in New Mexico. Before I had taken it to the shop, I had spent hours dismantling the fuel line, carburetor, and gas tank. The saw had become an intimate, a companion of long hard hours trimming trees and stacking stove-length wood.
But more than that, I needed that tool. When I went out back, weeks before this conversation, where I stored it, it was gone.
When I asked about it, he told me he was using it to "cut up a stump to make a table."
That was alright with me. I had previously loaned him a mitre saw, a table saw, a sabre saw, a paint sprayer, and I had bought him a cordless hammer drill and impact driver. All of them were in hock.
He needed tools to get on his feet after 25 years in prison. I wanted to help. The list goes on. I helped find him a place to live, recommended him for jobs, loaned him money to repair his van.
He was family and a friend.
But this was too much. I couldn't live with him stealing from me.
The pilfering from my change jar was bad enough, but putting my tools into hock with no plan of recovery pushed me over the edge.
"I need you to be gone when I get home," I told him when I dropped him off at my house, the place he was staying.
Yes, he is broke, homeless, not well, and addicted to his own misery.
He is the broken part of me and reflects that back to me in his complaints about how hard life is.
Life is hard. No argument there. Money is hard to come by.
But you don't steal from friends.
Even I, the conflict-aversive softie, can see that and have to draw the line.
I hoped he wouldn't take anything else as I pointed the car toward the city. Rain gathered around the mountains, darkened the sky, and began to fall as the car accelerated.
I need to look ahead, get my work done, try to live with all that is lost, all that is broken.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Money was a problem, and there wouldn't be any relief until Monday, three days away. He didn't have enough for food, or smokes, or brew. The smokes were the worst of it right now. He didn't know what to do with his hands when the craving grew like a winding serpent in his gut. He knew he could beg, and people were still surprisingly generous when it came to that. But begging gnawed at him almost as much as the craving for cigarettes. What had happened and how did he get here he wondered. That one followed him around like a hungry dog that made him mad enough to profane the sky. He woke himself in the dead of night shouting at God. It got to be too much sometimes and he knew that he was done, done with all of it. This world was just too full of misery to keep on. Apologies, rationalizing, lies only made it worse. Advice he could give, but wouldn't listen to. At least it was warm enough in the sun on this loveliest of days. Yeah right. But rain was coming. Cold too. He had no idea what would happen next. If only he had a smoke. That would help dull the cutting edge of this harsh moment.
Saturday, January 2, 2016
They are a controlled substance, but he has ways to get them. The instructions state clearly that they should not be crushed or compromised in any way because doing so will dangerously delete the timed release.
He cuts them in half before pulverizing them for release in a mind-numbing, skin-tingling, all-at-once, limb-warming rush.
The surge is what he lives for. Only then does he find the courage to chase after words that elude him otherwise.
He doesn't do well with life. It's a chore, a duty, an unenthused obligation that he had stamped on his forehead when he came wailing into this weary world.
He often wonders why he is not like other people, people who seem to delight in simple pleasures, who can get their asses to work without being propped up by neurological stimulants. They can putter away in front of their incessant LCD screens, crunch numbers, fill out spreadsheets, find meaning in columns of numbers, statistical subtleties. They are chipper in meetings, shovel down sugar donuts like they are ambrosia, and put in their hours before heading home to marvel at the ongoing disaster that is the news.
He just doesn't get it.
His life hurts. All the frickin time. He drags around his leaden flesh with all the hope of Sisyphus.
The pills, though, they help, even if the price he has to pay is dropping off a cliff when the rush recedes.
Ah, but those few moments being pain free, wanting to rally the words on a page in a way that might somehow liberate him, at least for a fleeting moment. They point to an appreciation of what his life promises. It has given him health, some people, and a livelihood of sorts. He knows that there is joy there somewhere, if he can only lasso it with the right words, the right frame, the right code that might break the walls between him and it.
The only thing worse than the frustration of words that don't come is the despair of not trying or being given the chance to muse. If he doesn't at least make a feeble attempt, time gouges chips of flesh from his soul. It is a cruel conscience that won't leave him alone until he gets his ass out of bed and finds his way to the cabinet that holds the key, his little helper, the dragon that breathes fire onto his sleeping and bruised heart.