Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Downtime


Whew! This body feels light. It also feels sore, stiff, tired, and beat. But all of those are the good versions of discomfort. The stress levels have dropped back down from red extreme to green mild. It's good to get your butt out of Dodge once in a while, to cut back on the email, the meetings, the web nonsense, and digital multi-tasking myths that are making us all crazy. Better to watch ravens and jack-rabbits and to feel the wind and sun. Time to drink it in. Time to fall into the openness of less, the possibility in nothing better than the here and now. Balm. Tonic. Fresh air. Remember this when it is gone.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Rending the Fabric


So he was tormented to the point where he shot himself in the garden while his fiance went for a walk down the road and up to the barn. That was a few days ago. She heard the shot and thought he had seen a rattlesnake or some other vermin. At the time it wasn't a concern. It was only when she found him lying there in the garden that the shock set in. He had a beautiful, big home, a new Subaru, a comfortable retirement, great health, a beautiful woman, opportunity to do whatever he wanted, and some nasty demons. In that latter trait, the two of us had things in common. I don't know how much he  knew my proximity to darkness though. The demons, in his case, won out. The ripples of his sudden exit rolled out down the road, a nuclear blast of incomprehension. News like that travels fast, and we neighbors went into overdrive to answer the question of why. Truth is we'll never really know the answer to that one. No one can be in the heart and head of someone who has to check out leaving the rest of us to mend a tear in the fabric so frayed it will never close.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Don't Know Jack


He wanders over at dawn and then again at dusk. He is handsome with long ears and a black tail. His long-legged dignity and fine black trim along the edge of his ears set him apart from the other bunnies that hop through the 'hood. He is the first jack-rabbit to inhabit the territory of the New Mexico digs. Yes, there have been many cotton tails, but no honest-to-God jack rabbits. I like him, but have not yet gotten to know him. He's an enigma that keeps his distance, so far anyway. I am going to get some rabbit food and set it out on his rounds. Then I will sit on the deck and wait. My hope is that he'll pause for a bite and maybe open up to some visiting, a chat of sorts, between one jack and another.  I am, after all, not much of a real whatever, instead wander into life in some alternative, dabbling, peripheral approach: jack teacher, jack writer, jack jock, jack-of-all-trades, and on and on. Maybe he can help me figure things out, give me some insight into how I might enter this next, odd, unknown chapter of my life. We jacks have to stick together you know.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hardscrabble


The place is dry, windy, sun-baked, and subject to frigid, long winters. Harsh, you might say. But it is also wide open, empty, mostly quiet, except for the wind, and full of nothing. That's just what I need, I guess. It's what is here. In this big empty, I have been working. Hard. My legs, back, and arms are beat tired. I am sunburned, covered with fine mortar dust. I have grout under my finger nails, blisters on my knees. The moon is waning and it peers into the window right before dawn with its sharp scythe coldness. This life is about work. Why has it taken me so long to figure that out?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Up the Ladder, Over the Railing, and Through the Window


Well, the best way to do things sometimes is the hard way. Actually, some people say there is only the hard way and the wrong way. I don't know about that, but I do know that I am tiled into a corner and the only way out is through the small window, over the railing on the deck, and then down the ladder to the tile saw and the mortar mixer. What a sixty-something is doing in this situation is something of a mystery. Can't wait for quitting time and a cold beer. Someone will get to enjoy the fruits of my labor if I don't make it out of this predicament. Neck deep in it . Neck deep. Lift your leg out the window and keep moving. It will be over soon enough.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Walking the Dog


It pulls to the left, sometimes. But then you change the sheet of sandpaper and it pulls to the right. Whichever way it pulls, it's better not to fight it. You have to go with it if you want to make it through the day. The rasping roar of the thing makes talk impossible, so you just think as you dance around the floor with the hundred-pound power sander. It pushes a fine mound of dust as it moves across the floor. You want that dust to fill in the cracks. The wood has gotten hard from so many years in the sun, so the going is slow. You will be at this most of the day, and your arms, back, legs will be exhausted when you finally fall into bed tonight. You should be wearing ear plugs, eye protection, and using a respirator, but you are not. You don't really care about your body, but try to do a good job on the floor. The grain that rises from beneath the degraded and abused wood is beautiful, fresh and young. You like that. You keep going just to see more of it. You can't help it and don't really know why you are here or what you are doing. Lean into it, friend, lean into it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Klutz


You are leaving the cafe when your book bag snags a chair and sends it clanking to the floor. Faces look up at you in alarm. You bend over to pick up the chair and your glasses fall from your pocket. You reach for them as the bag rolls off your back, opens, and dumps your papers, phone, planner, and books into a pile on the floor. All eyes are on you. Which to fix first? Glasses, chair, pile? You decide to do the chair, but drop it in your hurry. Faces form pity mixed with contempt. Who is this yahoo? You smile and try to get things right. Chair up. Books back in bag. Glasses in pocket. You turn to walk out only to knock over your bike as you try to unlock it. Guess we're not in Kansas anymore.

One Thing at a Time


Truck springs sag with the weight of a cargo well over the little pickup's capacity. Then the trailer gets hitched, and it sags even more. It and I are alike in that way: too much to carry around. Three hundred and fifty miles from here, the truck will be done, unloaded, sent off to the pasture to rest. My load will hang there with me, invisible to all but you know who. It threatens to break me. I can't think about it, but do one thing at a time. Just one more thing. Then the next thing. If it cracks, it cracks, and I'll deal with it. But that will be then; this is here now. In some other life you might sleep, you say.

Flowing Hair Sunrise


Water drains from the pots hanging up there on big hooks fastened to the roof beam over the porch. You are standing tip-toe on the top step of a ladder too short for the job. Precarious errand for which the plants thank you. You move so unimpeded that I marvel at the ease of it. I wish that I could travel through the day with such grace. I drag my cinder block mood into the smallest undertaking, snarling and pissing the whole way. The sun breaks over the horizon behind you, blinding but for the shadow of you. It promises to be a rare and cool day here in the soon-to-be simmering desert. So much to do: packing, people, plans, multi-modal juggling. I don't know if I can do it all, but from right here, it's all just a prospect waiting to be composed as it occurs. All is waiting in the arms of grace. The blessing begins.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stars

You lie there on your back looking up at the stars, music wafting from the stage, swirling around you, a feather massage. Oh, your eyes go elsewhere too, of course, but you close them so you can protect yourself a bit. You will be traveling in the dark soon, no light to penetrate the night. It will seem like a long trip, and, surprisingly, you will feel fear. Not to worry, you will keep moving and get there eventually, but now, right now, you take what you can, eyes and ears having to be enough in the face of a hunger that knows no boundary. At least the stars understand, distant, churning with fusion, across so much dead and frozen space.

Even the Choice Is Going


You can always choose, you told yourself. That is, you have the opportunity to engage, say yes, do the right thing, because you can, or not. But what happens when you can't? Then, even the choice goes away. It doesn't matter anymore what you decide because you don't have what it takes to follow through. Now, with all the time in the world to write or paint or sing your sad effin' songs, you can't come up with two brain cells to rub together enough to do the deed. What you get is fog: bland, sometimes angry, banks of fog. And tiredness. It's a slow slide at first and you can see that you are going down, but even that will fade soon enough. Then you will just be sitting there, nothing going on, not even the memories of days when you said no.

Steeper Pitches


You fear that you will have to dismount and walk as you struggle up the last steep pitch of the South Mountain hill climb. This time trial you have done before, but with far better speed if not less pain. You have dug as deep as you can dig, and it is not enough. Or is it? Standing on the pedals, you realize, makes it possible to eat up the last yards of the incline. Your heart rate is not as high as it used to go, and it seems that blood just doesn't carry the oxygen that is used to. You have been fighting up this mountain for the last half hour. You lost count of how many have passed you, younger riders, for sure, but a few older ones too. The loss is undeniable now. You see it again in the numbers. But you show up. Yes you show up until you no longer can. Lean into it, you old bull. You've done your thing. Time to let it go. If you have to walk it, you will throw it in. You bought one last ticket. Soak it up. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Passing Ships


One horizon shrinks while another expands, takes hold of the All of you. You want so much to possess the gift just as it is being pulled from your grasp. No amount of grip or strength of you can keep this from happening. All you can do is watch, stare, drill into the moment with every fiber of you, and then grieve. Howl for what will never be, for the golden blessing of having found your moment, having won the bet that could never be won, for stumbling onto the mother lode. Only it's not yours to own. It asks of you what you no longer have to offer. Tough luck that one.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Thought You Had a Bad Case of It


Leaning up against the door of your broken-down pickup truck minding your own business one evening, you got slapped silly by the rising moon, made kindling for heat you could never understand. Exactly why this happened you couldn't say, but nothing, and I mean nothing, after that was the same. Your insides got pulled up out your throat leaving you all upside out, exposed for the world to see. Well, that was just the beginning. You were a nova in the deep and frigid darkness of space. Life went from a bland gray to screaming technicolor brilliance. The phases of the moon only fanned the flames of your madness.There was no remedy, no cure, no hope for this terminal condition, so you wandered and wondered and scribbled, fire blazing away down there, the walls of your safety reduced to ashes. Then, one day, you got dropped on the corner, spit out the other side, cold as a clinker. Truck still there, sun coming up, moon gone over the horizon. You pulled down your hat as if nothing had happened, the story burning your insides, a thing between you and you. As if. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Earthshine

Shadows sometimes fill with light, bounced as it were, off an otherwise dark body. Last December, for example, light from the earth shone on a setting moon. The moon's shadow side was light against the dark backdrop of stars. One could see the spherical fact of it, learn the impossibility of it, up there, round lunacy suspended in space, half in light, half in earth-lit shadow -- just like you. So just being where you are, you might redirect light into a place that would otherwise miss the possibility of you, the un-alloyed occurrence and chance of you, the dropped chain of the wonder of you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Back to the Work


Well, you finished one. It sits there on display, but nobody wants it, even as a gift. It is what you thought you wanted to do, felt compelled to make. And there, in the flesh, panting, covered with afterbirth, it rests, the best you have, but less than what you hoped it might be. You wanted it to speak so beautifully that others would find in it what drove you to write it. Well, it looks like that isn't going to happen, right now anyway. So where do you go? What do you do? I'll tell you what. You can't leave, so you go back in, listen some more, and do it again. And again. You keep sharpening that stone until you can shave with it. You will work up the point where you collapse, or that place where you're done, that point where they find in your work a touch so true and cruel that they weep with joy. After all, there is nowhere to go but where you have to be.

Snow in May


Two days ago we broke a hundred degrees for the first time this year. Last night it snowed on the mountain. We got cold rain down here in the valley. Clouds trailed fringes of rain as the sun shone in beneath them on our way to Phoenix. The light, clouds, shadows and wet roads made for beautiful vistas and dangerous driving. Kyle rested in the passenger seat as we made our way up to his graduation from the Advanced Course. He seemed better to me. It was hard to believe that just a few days ago he was dead set against taking this next step. He maintained that his life was over, that he had nothing to look forward to or to live for. Now he has finished another chapter in the book of getting his life moving, making it something that he loves. I don't know where it will take him or what he will do with his life, but the weather can change from summer to winter in a day. Maybe Kyle is off on a new tangent. His adult life is just beginning.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Puttin' It Out There


Dear Deputy Wardens --

As directors of separate units at the Arizona State Prison Complex -- Tucson Unit, you know the importance of providing inmates with meaningful opportunities to learn and to improve their prospects of success after they are released. One of the foundations of success outside prison walls is the ability to understand emotions and to be able to communicate effectively. This is a life-long undertaking for all of us, but is especially important for inmates, who, very likely, have been the victims of some form of trauma: physical, emotional, psychological, or economic. Inmates over-represent marginalized Americans in that they are more likely to be black, brown, poor, drug-addicted, victims of violence, or mentally ill. Simply put, they need work on expressing themselves more than most. In the creative writing workshops, inmates follow the need to express themselves into some dark places. You might be surprised how many of them write about parents and the need to understand what went wrong with how they were raised. Beyond parents, there are the gangs, the failures at school, work, love, and, of course, the stupid mistakes and bad decisions. Most of them want, deeply, to better themselves. I see them wanting to get "complete," to move on into a future that might be different from the past that landed them in prison. Writing with a group of other men can be a powerful catalyst to become aware of both where they are and where they want to go. While not overtly a therapeutic practice, writing can be a vehicle to help inmates imagine a life beyond the one they have lived so far. Yes, it's highly unlikely that inmates will become professional creative writers. That said, the skills they develop can make the likelihood that they will be able to focus, learn, and persevere in other vocational training. Now, the men have to want to do this, and not many, in a larger context, do. The men who show up are rare in that way. It takes real courage to face one's demons, but the benefits might be beyond measure. It is for these reasons that I ask for your support in opening new workshops in other units at the Tucson Complex.

Sincerely,

A Volunteer

Too Smart


She saw things others didn't. When she spoke about what she saw, people laughed and then looked away. She felt wounded and lonely. People don't like to hear from others about their conscience. Their sense of fairness and doing the noble thing was buried long ago, and they did not want to remember or to think about it. Her sense of right and wrong was a bit too developed for the rules of compromise. Her life was a walking bruise. She wanted so much to be like them: apathetic, jaded, smug. Some lifetimes are like that, I guess, and those who suffer are only admired after they die.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Exactly an Ode


His copper-top chop doo would cost most of his electorate a week's wage, but he's all about the look, all about Narcissus, Thanatos, ignorance, and hostility to fact. He has his hand in your pocket and a gun to your back. Better not fight because he might pull the trigger and you won't be able to afford the hospital bill. He wants your sons to fight his sandbox spats with Kim Jong, your daughters to be comfort women for winners. But don't fret, his effect is good for investors, even if you never see a dime of their profits re-invested in your rust belt town. He's a capital guy. His mask is bombast and hyperbole. You fell for it. Gotta do something with being pissed off at the billionaires who have been fleecing you since Reagan. Grab 'em by the you-know-what and keep the coloreds from climbing over the wall he says with crocodile tears for the poor-black-dispossessed. He shovels resentments into the furnace of fear as he grins with the other dead white guys while he slides another lie onto the plate that you keep eating off of. Sooner or later you're going to realize he's serving you shit, that his words are dipped in it. But, hey, he calls it greatness, the kind that never was. He's the one you thought you wanted.

Testimony


Yes, I swear to tell the truth, the whole of it, and nothing but. I am here to stand and deliver what it was I was supposed to deliver. Now, what that is has been something of an unknown until I began to listen. It was a moving target and was behind some kind of curtain, but there as certainly as death. I knew it better when I was a kid. Back when I was silly full of fun and life, I knew. But then I forgot. I became shy and serious and a know-it-all. I did not want to be hurt, so pulled back from love and pain. I did. I admit it. I wanted out more than a few times. I still do, but for different reasons. I will not be a burden. Of that I am certain. But back to what is true. If I am honest, I am not all that honest. I adapt and get by. But lately I can't seem to keep up. It's time to put what I need to say together before it's too late.Then, I guess, it won't matter so much anymore. It was the words, I say. The words. If I leave anything, it's a plea to watch your words. Don't use them as weapons or to cover up the truth. Use them to shine light, to dissolve barriers, to reveal love. With that, I'm good.

How To Get Stuff Done


First you have to figure out where the hell you are when you open your eyes. After careful reconnoitering, the next thing is to identify what day it is. You'll have to remember, if you can, what you did yesterday. Focus. Think. Maybe check your list that you made and left on the kitchen counter or stuck to the fridge. By now, you're up, so you can make a cup of Joe and wipe the sleep from your eyes. Try to prioritize. No, sex is not the only thing to think about today. You still have a job, you know. But what is it that you are supposed to be doing? That is the ninety-five dollar question that just can't seem to find an answer. Thank God classes are over and you don't have to meet them. Now that would be a stretch. What you do have to do is enter all the scores for the papers students have written. Then you need to submit all that. Yes, that's what you have to do today. Grades! The other stuff -- booking flights for the memorial service in Wisconsin, getting prison work typed up, packing for the New Mexico construction projects, cleaning up the house, can all wait for now. So get your mind out of the gutter and pull on your pants. Get out the door and cover your ass so they don't fire you, yet anyway.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fading


You are at your limit, breathing so hard you are gasping. Oh, but you are slow, so slow. The road creeps by beneath the wheels of your racing bike on this climb up a mountain you know so well you could trace it in your dreams -- every curve, rise, sign-post, and pothole. You know this road like the body of your lover. Better, maybe, but... something. Yes, you say, you have been here many times. You know this. You tell yourself again that it's OK. And today is different. There is something off, not right. For one, you can't seem to breathe, but it's more than being out of shape. You look at the familiar handlebar tape, the computer, the wheel, the stem, and, they are different.  They are less there. You can't seem to grasp what is happening. You go in and out, and, suddenly, it is new, like you just got there, even though you know you have been riding for over an hour. You rely on habit to keep you going. It is a blessing that you have done this so often you don't have to really adapt, learn, or think much about it. You are not completely the pilot here. It bugs you, this sense that you are losing something, like a grip on things. You ignore it and keep going, hoping the sensation will pass, which it does, sort of. You have to admit that you feel lost more often than not.

Dry Wind


Curtains of powdery dust race across the complex. I'm waiting for the bus, and have to keep a grip on the tub so the cover doesn't blow off, suddenly cargo of the sprinting veils dancing in the big, open field between the yards. The ground has been scraped bare for decades, and the dryness of early summer makes the fine particles light enough to be picked up by this stiff wind. A high cloud of it has blocked the mountains from view. From here it looks orange, but to someone looking through it toward the sun, it will be heavy, sinister umber. Drifts of the floury dust have formed in the corners of the entry way. A fine film has filled the sink, the counters, the inside and tops of the urinals. The floor of the visitor area is covered with mini dunes that grow as I watch. I leave tracks as I cross through the metal detector on my way to the car. The wind buffets the little car as veils of dust trail across the highway. Ahead of me, I can see that a fire has started somewhere in the mountains to the south. I can taste and feel the grit of particulate on my teeth. Inmate cells will collect and hold the dust until this hot blizzard passes. I can't wait to get away from the boiling, dirty clouds.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Lunatics, Lay-Abouts, and Malcontents


Nobody wants to do the dishes or fix the septic system but they are quick to throw a party or blather on about art. If you fit in with the slacker vibe, you are golden. But if you push the river by calling a bum a bum you better watch out. That laid-back hippie will stab you in the back. He'll call you a bully and tell you that he's going to put a stop to your telling it the way it is. Of course, this doesn't apply just to hippies and slackers but to the high-flying "winners" out there too. Not many are strong enough to look at bad behavior, hypocritical thinking, or bogus mean-spirited sniping. No, they won't come right out and tell you they are going to get you. Instead they go behind closed doors, build their grenades, lob them when you aren't watching, and then go back into hiding. Until the next time.

Friday, May 5, 2017

What People Say When I Am Gone


Yeah, I know. It's a bit morbid, but I guess it's worth considering while I can still think. Contrary to what some of you might predict, I want to be remembered for little things, like that I smelled like soap and hard work. Whether or not I actually smell like soap is only part of the hope. I want to be remembered that way. I also want to be remembered for doing what I said I would do. Now, I have a lot of work still to complete in this area if people might actually say that. I guess I have to start now. I want people to say that I was an animal, not as in "he was an extreme athlete," though that would be nice, but as in he had hair, was warm blooded, liked to mate (a lot), and ate when he was hungry. As an animal, I didn't see myself as somehow "higher" than other animals -- like cats, dogs, bears, and guinea pigs. I pooped and farted and peed and probably took more away from the world than I needed to take. For that I am sorry. I hope they say, correctly, that I was a fool. I hope they say, because they got something, that I was wise. I don't want them to say I knew what I was doing, but I do hope they say I knew what I wanted, even if I messed up. Time to get to work and to buy some soap. Time's a wasting.

Humans Are a Work in Progress


When you embraced the error that you, and others, are solid, immutable, and locked into a story written when you were afraid, you forgot that you and they are really a river of stars. That error becomes like iron, when, in fact, you are motion, energy, light, and full of space waiting to be occupied with love. Because you composed the fallacy when you didn't know better, you believe it will be that way always, that others, too, are bound up in a moment of inference and conclusion. You believe you are wrong, unworthy, imperfect, that you don't matter. That what you do doesn't matter. Remember neither you nor they are that slip of weakness. Do you have to be responsible for your actions? Absolutely. Should the consequences of mistakes be permanent? The flowing river of the past has moved on. You really have only the fluid motion of a passing now. Do not make the mistake then of fixing a moment that was as what will forever be. But turn your eyes instead to your next step, your next word. It is here that you can rewrite the script of who you are, how you might live. Deliberate; focus; choose how you will place your foot; and point your actions toward the imagined possibility of who you really are, who you are already becoming. You will know the way when all you see is wide open nothing that it is up to you fill with all that you were afraid to give away. When you dissolve into a joy born of generosity, you will touch peace, find forgiveness.But you still have to write it down and then put it into motion.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Forward


The wreckage of the last couple of years recedes in the rear view mirror as you motor out of town, bike on the rack, gas in the tank. Yes, it has been a rough one, with the criminal case and all. It would have been better if he hadn't attacked someone. Christ! Why did he have to do that? And then there is the question of how to make a living in this digitized world. You are more of an analog kind of guy. And the heart... don't even go there. The days are getting thinner, with less light. They barely feed you enough to keep you alive. But that's all then. This is now and soon. We're talking future here. Now that's scary. If only those ghosts hanging onto the bumper would let go and go get a life somewhere else. You know the only thing they listen to is having balls big enough to forgive. Well, for now, anyway, you guess you'd rather not. They smile at the prospect of that and find the strength to get a tighter grip. They're making their up along the side of the truck. They'll be in with you soon, drinking your beer, grinding up your bones. Faster. Faster. You jam the pedal to the floor hoping to outrun them. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

In the Dark


Three o'clock in the morning and I'm wide awake sitting here in the dark again. This morning it is the meanness in the world that keeps me from sleep. The need to push others down so that you can feel safe or have more or rise higher is a way of being that I have lost, or fallen out of, or... something. It's that something again too, the one that has replaced the right word for things. A vise is closing on my mind. That is a hard one to accept, to witness, without running off into the desert, screaming. That said, the little thing that is me will pass. It is the meanness I'm really worried about. Seems like that has no trouble going on and on whether I can recognize it or not. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Almost Done


Last day of class. Can't believe it. It has been a bumpy ride, but not without its pleasures: Panama, for instance, was a kick in the old pantalones. I wanted to keep going, to learn to surf, speak a lot more Spanish, dream big. In this, the downhill of mid-life, I am learning that the particulars matter less than the will to love it all. In the work world, it's go big or go home. I might end up going home because I went big. In all honesty, I don't think I can continue to teach first-year courses. The prison work has consumed the all of me. Or, more precisely, writing about what I love has consumed my attention. I am not sure what that means in terms of work next year. I have signed up, but there are forces at work that are beyond my control. What's that sound? Waves crashing?