Monday, December 26, 2016
The bubbling words just won't shut up. They are pushing me forward, not so much bullies as friends who care enough not to let me slide into oblivion without having at least tried to add my voice to the mix. I just want to step up to the mic and say my piece, even though doing so is the most terrifying thing I can imagine. Both terrifying and passionately necessary. This is not just an ego thing. It's a human thing. The words have to be about being human, about what I want people to remember about the particular configuration of traits, of genetic lottery and accident, that I was here, that I took my shot at making beauty, that I surrendered and failed, that I was unique, that I was just like you.
Every once in a while, when the smoke clears, and a bolt of clarity pierces the fog that is the habit of no way never again, a tendril of hope sprouts from your little aching heart. It defies all odds and pushes up between the cracks in your armor, the reinforced concrete of your decision to stand alone, frozen, free from the pain of love. It creeps forward, toward some unseen light, knowing full well what it is getting into, in spite of your fear. It may be tender, but it is not weak. Given the slightest sliver of courage it will split the walls that keep you from the beloved, will send you tumbling forward into your deepest most secretly held desire. It knows no quit, and persists as long as you continue to draw breath, even in the deepest, most obscure, midnight of no moon.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
In the beginning, they say, was the capital W Word. And the Word was made flesh. It went from sound to action, from idea to life out here in the actual dog-shit world. On this, the eve of Christmas, I wonder what the hell this might mean in terms of how and why we use language. One way to look it is 1), that talk is cheap, and 2.), words matter. Both of these are true. The difference lies in how language is used. Is it being used to confuse, distract, fill empty spaces with babble, or to pave the way onto one's story? For day-to-day business or spiritual direction? Not that one is bad or good, but that they are different. The point is not to confuse the two. And to live the two. Fun and frivolity (beer) plus direction and significance (psycho-spiritual vitamins). When one is short supply, the other can suffer. Nihilism grows out too much empty blather; not everything that happens in life is "significant." An overdose of meaning can strand one in a dreamland of disconnected purpose, of seeing symbolism in Big Gulp cups blowing along the highway. (Now, one might say that there is no inherent meaning in anything in this crazy world. Got that, but it's another conversation.) So, time to drink in the spirits with the vitamins, is all I'm saying. In the service of what remains the question.
Friday, December 23, 2016
OK, the time has come. I want to know. My mother died of early-onset Alzheimer's, my father of Parkinson's and Lewy body dementia. I need to know if I'm carrying the markers that indicate sources and symptoms of my future decline. I have decisions to make that will take genetics into account. The prospect of testing has lit a fire of terror. This is all for real and for keeps. Testing positive will raise questions that I don't want to answer, but will have to, pushed, as I will be, against the wall of my cognitive fate. Illusions of invincibility die hard. There aint no way around it. Might as well face the monster, one way or the other.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
A diamond file cuts into the backside of an amonite fossil that he will install in a mosaic. The fossil spirals out from a center, an origin set in mystery, followed by a life expanding outward to a clear, finite end. While ruminating on this, he hears rain. It's raining in the desert, on this the shortest day of the year. The clouds mute what light does make it under the roof over his porch. Fine dust from the amonite drifts down onto his blue jeans, one of two pair that are still presentable enough for wearing to work. The acrylic mastic has left a white stain already. It won't come out, even after washing. The pants are likely toast anyway. That, he will worry about later. All that matters now is today, this task at hand, the movement of his hands in which he holds the file, applying the sharp teeth to the back of a once living thing made stone. That monument to what once was will hang on his wall, testifying to a life caught in a snapshot. The powder of it drifts down settling on his leg, piling up there like a fine dusting of snow. The rain will likely turn to snow tonight. He takes a break to sip his egg nog, and the glutinous texture reminds him of the flesh long gone of the little cephalopoda now framed in a stone grid, a narrative, held, for now, frozen, for anyone with eyes to see.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
They were as thick and continuous as beads on a string, showered him like a streaming cascade, accompanied him wherever he went. From them he derived his sense of self. All significance grew out of them. He built castles to justify them, let and lost blood in their name. He pasted them, fated labels, on all the objects of his world, the ten thousand things that he got to touch and turn in his hand, like polished marbles. What he thought was that world was really his thoughts about the world. He lived in a prison of words, erected by his hurts and losses. When he tried to touch the world, the words yanked on the leash that held him. Only with another set of words could he fashion the means of his liberation. So he crawled under the tables in the darkness to find the ones he had lost. Those were scattered in a far corner of his imagination, and would only show themselves if he began to remember, remember the way he had lost, his grip on the reason he was here.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Somewhere between here and there it got lost or sidetracked or forgotten. The intention was usually noble, if not always practical. He would make that call, answer that email, submit that article, follow up with gratitude, make an amend, sink his teeth into the circumstances of his life. But in translation, usually about the time the sun came up, the fears began to bind and paralyze him. Where did they come from? Years, he thought. Years of habit, default, inertia. As the sky lightened in the east, he felt them extending their tendrils, the first inklings of inaction that would become steel cables if he let them. He sharpened a blade, one he had been carrying for a while, but was reluctant to wield. He threw some fuel into the furnace of his imagination and began to form an image of another possibility that might grow in place of the same old same old. It was hard to focus on his work, felt like a betrayal. But no one was there anymore to leave behind or to answer to. He began to hone the blade on a stone. The edge he put on it made shaving easy, the strop, lined as it was, with diamonds.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
It is not the crouching Toyota, nor the hidden Durango, but it is poised to enter the pantheon of epic chariots. It is the color of midnight, nibbles on plain kibble, and scoots along with the race horses on Interstate 10 without breaking a sweat. It's the first new car in this long and clunker-filled life. We are getting to know each other, and, so far, things look pretty good. It is homespun in a world of glitz and cyber fanciness. The windows work with a crank; the locks between thumb and finger; and the key is plain old metal: no chip, no dip. It's a machine to carry me into old age. With any luck I'll cross the line before Sapo does. When he goes, he will match the ethereal depth of a night gone bonkers with stars.
* Sapo is Spanish for toad, in this case a blue toad, like a poison dart tree frog, only with wheels.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
At the risk of sounding ungrateful, he turned his gaze on the year winding down and saw a smoking wreck, but one lit with the glow of possibility. On the one hand he had "the list," the reasons to be whimpering with woe: his truck had been stolen, he got pneumonia, he ruptured an Achilles tendon, he watched his father die. On the other hand, he visited his son in Panama, was awarded a sabbatical, got to scribble away on a book manuscript, and saw families divided share drinks in the same room. His heart opened wider than it had been in his adult life. He felt the pain and joy of love, was assaulted by beauty. He dreamed. Of course, his limitations persisted, but he began to massage them into being more allies than drawbacks. He listened to the Muses and sometimes heard them, followed them, gave into them. Metaphors, images, surprises, turns of phrase leaped out from the shadows and flowed onto the screen in front of him. He tasted coherence, saw the outline of a life's work. The wounds of loss broke the shell that bound him. He sang away the grief, found peace in giving to others the best of him.
With The Bear buried, the funeral finished, the winter gone white with wonder, it's time to plot my next moves. Square one, blank canvas, open door all wait for some movement, some indication of intent. Even Simone the cat looks at me with her feline expectation of " 'sup dude?" I'm still heavy with sadness and I cry at the end of "Call the Midwife." What good is that? Time to shake off the lead, boil away the mental mush, drain the colander of excess drama and get my sorry ass off the chair and into motion. It doesn't matter so much what I do as it does that I do something. This whole create-out-of-whole-cloth living is new. I don't quite know how to do it, especially the strange prospect of being happy. How does somebody do that? One step at a time, Glasshoppah, one step at a time.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
It was the river that did him in. Always the river, the one running through his dreams, filling the hallways, the living room, submerging his file cabinet, all the precious appliances of his householding tidiness. That river broke into foaming thunder as it washed him downstream, tumbling through the hydraulics, barrel rolls, and bubbling holes. He found that he kept his head above water enough to catch a breath once in a while, but that there was no hope of ever getting back to the way things were. So he stuck his feet out front to push off the incessant series of boulders and laid his back out enough to both stay afloat and to see the stars that shone between overhanging trees. It was the river, rolling with the river, not so much the places, that mattered. Yes, his love wanted more, wanted to know and to hold it all, but it swept through his fingers, all this running water. The facts of things spoke to him: Let it go. Feel it. It's always and forever moving. This was it, he thought, or rather knew, his new home.
Friday, December 9, 2016
He made the mistake that all fathers make: he was born human. He had work to do, wars to fight, didn't know what I needed him to know. He loved cars, so I went whole hog into bicycles. He was a spit and polish military man, crew-cut and rigid. I went to the university, grew my hair, and fell into a vortex of confusion and indecision. I was Hamlet playing off of his Fortinbras. He radiated life force in a blinding dose, like a siren, and drew people to him. He acted before thinking things through. I pressed the pause button and never turned it off. He was a big fish in small pond, City Council, School Board, Norwegian Dancers, fancy cars. I shopped at Goodwill and blended into the background. He marched to war. I marched to survival gatherings. We were both addicted to sex. He wore shoes that did not fit because they were a good deal. I spent two weeks wages on cycling shoes made of Italian leather. He drank hot water. I drown in coffee. More than anything he loved his family, immediate and extended. I ran away from familiars and craved solitude. We found common ground on skis, hiking Long's Peak. I wake to being human and make the mistakes that all fathers make. I accept what he was able to give, what he had to withhold. I wish he were here to tell how full I have become because of him and all he could and could not say. I inherit his demons and keep them close to my own blind and stumbling secrets.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
It's the first day with no parent. Orphaned at sixty. Such a thing to be alone in this world, with no one to displease anymore. For so long I wanted to fail out of spite, to prove how wrong they had been by tripping over my own shoe laces. But there is no longer anyone to underwhelm with my defects. Only snow, vast expanses of blinding, white stretches of corn stubble and naked oak trees. The last of my parents, Norm, The Bear, is gone, and he leaves a yawning hole in my psyche. With no one to push against, I am suddenly devoid of purpose, or, rather, free to fulfill my own purpose, robbed now of excuses. I know it is bad form to blame one's parents after the age of twenty-five or so, but I have been a slow learner. I admit it. I'm pretty fucked up. But that is only part of the story. The rest of the story is the terrifying emptiness racing away in all directions. I can forgive them now, have to begin the process of forgiving myself, petulant son I have been. The world is frozen, expectant. The chill is a cold slap, a cold, but welcome slap.
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Dedicated to my father, Norm, The Bear, and his surrender to a life of love. He would have wanted it this way for me.
When death comes, may it open my heart to the life that was. May it find in me a peace that comes from having given so much that I lost everything to a world in need. When death comes, I hope it finds me used-up, spent, bereft of material trappings, but filthy rich in stories of unreasonable risks, audacious generosity, and leaps off of cliffs into freezing pools. May I be found guilty of having said "I love you" too often. When death comes, may my body be bent from having walked too many miles, been in too many bike crashes. May my face be tanned and wind burned. May my friends get drunk and fall into bed with each other. When death comes, I hope it finds something beautiful that I left behind, something that makes children think, laugh, and cry with tears of understanding. May the words I spoke ring true for years after I am gone. May the love I gave lift my ashes and spread them over the hungry mountains.
Monday, December 5, 2016
Now, before the sun rises, the breath comes easy and the heart is at peace. It knows what it wants. The day sits, alert, waiting to be composed, listening for the incantation. The cat stretches. An owl perches nearby. Everything is possible. Pull out your brush. Paint the day in the colors you have imagined in the cold obscurity of night. One stroke at a time. Patience. Care. A devotion to mastery. You practice. You are fearless, unrelenting, possessed. Eros burns, flesh and bone are lit by the electricity of longing. That sweet hunger guides the muscles to bring the dream to canvas. You carry the pulsing desire from deep inside and smuggle it across the threshold between you and the beloved. With each pulse, the blood drives you forward. Do not be afraid. More than anything, you want to act from love. And you must. You will be carried into the day by light that is born of darkness, lit by a listening heart. All that it needs is for you to remember and to swing your legs out of sleep and into a day swollen with the ache of want. It waits, ripe, engorged, for you, the lover.
Sunday, December 4, 2016
A coyote met me in the yard this morning. He crossed in front of me with only a glance in my direction and what I took to be a sardonic grin as he slipped behind the curtain of creosote that is the border of wild desert. His was not the leash of the pet, nor the deference of domestication. He had no jacket to keep off the chill of December. He colored outside the lines of highways and borders of behavior. How he lived immersed in a city I have no idea. The sight of him stirred something sleeping in me. That part wanted to drop my book bag and follow him into the scrub of survival in the desert. I envied how he could live by only the gifts of claw, fur, and wit. He, I felt, was closer to God than I: no barriers of comfort or complacency. No matter how ravenous the hungry ghost of want, it will never taste freedom the way a lean coyote does. Coyote descendants will still be wandering here long after the towers of pride have collapsed in ruin. The thought gave me comfort as I dialed up the heat in a car running on the rot of trees long dead, of life on its way to the next big thing.
Friday, December 2, 2016
I won't whitewash it. He was a hard father to have in many ways, and we clashed. Sparks flew. We threw punches at each other more than once. He had his hands full with me, and I simmered with rage at him for years. Spit and polish did their best to keep war demons at bay. He was rigid in his rules and harsh with consequences. One time I defied his order that I wash the car. He shaved my head. I was in seventh grade. Everybody had long hair. My girlfriend dumped me. He was also generous to a fault and loving beyond measure. His best friend was a black officer in the sixties. He loved children. He loved to sing. He loved sex and was married twice, six kids of his own and four step children. His biceps were as big as a tree branch. He let me use his credit card when my car broke down in a Montana blizzard. He drove two and a half thousand miles to nurse me when I was crippled and poisoned after a snakebite. He wanted me to be more like him. I am trying.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Frost has colored the bike white and it bites my bare hand when I lower it off the hook. It is still dark and I am going for a ride on this first day of December. Fingers already numb punch the buttons that engage the lights front and rear. I need those lights, both to see and to telegraph my presence in the skinny bike lane to drivers still half asleep but speeding along at 50 mph. I don't think about the cold but lean into the climb up to the road. It's what I do. With a laptop and a window of time, I wait for words as I pedal south over the river. The bridge has been sprayed with de-icing solution. Good thing too. I don't want a car fishtailing into the bike lane. I pedal toward the light, the warmth, the prospect of something good in a cup. There I will wait for the words that come from a somewhere I still don't quite know. I will let them undo what has been wound into a knot in my neck, my shoulders, my heart. This must be done before the sun rises and chases away the secrets that crouch in the cold, in the dark. I hold a light that woos them forward, out of shadow.