Friday, March 27, 2015

What Was Revealed


You know, boys, there is a lot I am sorry for. I guess that is sort of a sweeping statement, isn't it? I don't mean for anything I've done to you or that sort of thing. No, it's just that, well, I wish things were different.

For instance, I am sorry that you get music in such an generic and soulless format. You hear it on the internet and through the airwaves on radio stations at the pool and in the car, distant, tinny, filtered, compressed. But, you don't hold it in your hands, see it, own it.

When I was a boy everyone, I mean everyone, had records. Pop music was on affordable 45s and long-playing albums, often in stereo, were what our parents and siblings all played. The music came in paper sleeves and you had to carefully pull out the disc of vinyl and put it on something called a "turntable" and drop a needle on to it and give it a listen on speakers that knew how to make some noise, most bigger than breadboxes. You had to actively do all this... and, that made all the difference in the world.

I remember getting the new Bob Dylan album - Blood on The Tracks - like it was yesterday. I remember eagerly tearing off the cellophane around it, throwing that aside and pulling the inner sleeve out, hoping for "liner notes" so I could learn as much about the music as I could. I bought the songbook to the album along with it and sat on my bed and listened to it on a portable turntable that sounded better than the speakers on a laptop or tablet today. I searched the words for meaning, looked up references to Romantic French Poets in the World Book Encyclopedia just down the hall, in the den. I met Hurricane Carter and fell in love with Lily and Rosemary and probably the Jack of Hearts as well. I sat and learned, with a shiny new guitar in my lap, the truth about love songs, their structure and the sheer weight of their necessity.

As I reflect on it, I was probably a couple of years older than you, maybe three - and that's a lot in boy years - but that's not my point. I was gifted to grow up in an era where music was so prevalent and good. No, I am not making a judgment on the music of the era, that is not for me to do, and, well, I have eclectic (read questionable) taste in these things. It's just that it was such a common experience for us. Everyone sat and listened to 45s and the newest John Denver or Jim Croce album. We played, and got to know, even chose, the soundtrack of our lives. We weren't forced to look for it underneath a new car commercial or search for good music on the internet or radio through a barrage of commercials and crap. The music was right there, always.

We tripped over stacks of music, we packed album after album into apple crates, or, even better, peach crates - I don't know why. Our tables and desks and beds were strewn with liner notes, the faces of the artists we loved peered up at us and psychedelic covers of rock band albums, the twisting words of the lyrics and notes, made us wonder and hope for a day when we understood them.

I remember playing the song American Pie over and over on my little portable player. My friend JB and I had it in our head to figure out the words. The song is so damn long it took both sides of the 45 just to get through it. We'd stop and start the needle over and over again, finally getting all the words down. I cannot begin to impress upon you how very wrong we got those words. We didn't know who Jumping Jack Flash was let alone James Dean; we knew nothing of plane crashes or Buddy Holly or Jagger or Woodstock. I played that song wrong for a dozen years I'd say, until people grew tired of hearing it.

Maybe ten years ago I found the real lyrics online and decided I'd try to play it again. Once again I struggled with the words, understanding them for the first time took me back to when I sat, spiral-bound notebook in hand, writing down the wrong words as JB stopped and started the turntable. We were happy and young and naive and singing about Chevys and whiskey and rye and a generation lost in space, oblivious to the context, happy in the moment. That was in late in 1971 and I was ten.

The world back then was so sensual - I mean involving the senses. I fear we aren't giving our sons that so much anymore. I was never so happy, for years and years, as I was when I opened that new album, the smell and look and feel of it was everything right then and there. It had a wholeness to it, a wholeness that I think is fragmented these days. The boys listen to a song here, watch a video there, but - and this is why I am sorry for it is my fault - but they never experience that music through time and space, through taste and feel, that was so common when I was younger.

I should work to change that.

It's funny, this all started out as a list of things I wanted to apologize for to the boys. Mostly technologies, sensibilities. Simple things like, I'm sorry the bats aren't wood anymore, or, sorry there is so very little KoolAid. Stuff both silly and profound, funny and deep, sad and, well, sadder.

You see, when I started thinking about this all, outlined it, made notes, thought of how I might structure and format it I looked at all those "sorrys" and saw them all as one thing, they distilled down to one thought.

I'm gonna pause briefly here before I tell you what was revealed. I believe that life must be examined. We are obligated as humans to think deeply, profoundly. The very basics of our lives exist because someone thought about language and justice and wheels and fire and love and suffering and war and peace and literally everything else. We owe it to our heritage as people to consider our lives.

We think, therefore we are is...

I truly believe this. The thing is... sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it takes us places we would rather not go - sadness, inadequacy, loneliness, pointlessness. That's alright. Joy and faith and tenderness and purpose all balance it out.

I'm sorry I am your father.

It's alright... really. I understand why I thought this. I'm old and grumpy and borderline misanthropic and afraid and, well, a little weird. But, do I believe it. I'll let you be the judge of that. But, I wasn't afraid of the thought. That's what's important.

Fatherhood is big - thematically. I am willing to think about it.

Listen, I know saying I'm sorry that I am Nick and Zack's dad is stupid. Words don't exist to explain the joy a father feels in having children. Long paragraph short: I'm not sorry.

But, I thought about it. I thought about regrets and opportunities lost. I thought about providing and being available and paternity leave and money and heart and hearth and the future and the past. I flipped through memories and afterthoughts and moments lost and time and now.

I'm glad I did. That one moment of doubt, that one thought of hopelessness, well, has, is, making me a better father.

Anyway, I did this so...


...how sorry can I be.

Remember, we get to think about stuff.  Zack's bear also made this helpful graphic:


"think mOAr thotS"  Nick must've helped him with the spelling.

Think more thoughts.

Zack went down to feed the cats the other morning.  He had his bear, Bear-Bear, under his arm and set him down to get the food and then left him there.  Face down on the cement.  It looked like a crime scene and, sadly, my first thought was to orange chalk a circle around the poor guy and tell Z there's been an incident.  I picked the old fellow up and was trying to console him as best one can an inanimate object.  I looked at his face.

I little piece of foil, a wrapper or tinsel or something, stuck to his face like a tear.  And I wondered if I'd feel as sad when someday I realized that the boys might forget me for a moment.  It was an overwhelming notion and I let my thoughts go with it.  Fathers and sons, sons and fathers.

Thanks for coming 'round again.  I suppose you'll flit off to some other cyberstop.  Cool.  Hey, don't forget to think.  Look deep into yourself.  You're allowed.

You're supposed to.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Of What Were We Thinking?


I try to come up with different ways to open here.  Different ways to frame the stories and thoughts I want to share.  As I pondered what I might try today an interesting thought came into my head, what if I wrote a piece...

Good God, get to the point.

... in the form of a list and illustrate each one with a silly image.  I wouldn't number them, so then it's not really a list.  Bullets maybe...

Listen to yourself.

Screw you other-one-me, I'm the one who has to get this all done.  You sit over there in dreamland and tease me while you stare out the window weeping and thinking.  You stay up late watching baseball or Disney movies or The American Experience, cavalierly drinking hard ciders oblivious to the fact that I have to get up a six in the morning.

Somebody's got to think about stuff.  You're all uptight and worried about the next thing.  This is supposed to be fun.  Who the hell uses "cavalierly," anyway?

Think hard on this for a second: this goes unrewarded.  My moral obligation is to do the job I need to do for my family, it is not to dream up lines of nonsense based on hours of quiet reflection, there's simply not time for that.

I suppose not...

See?  Thank you.

But I'm not gonna stop.

I know...  Now what?

You go on ahead, I'm sure your non-numbered listicle idea will be great.

You don't sound convinced.

Well...

What would you do?

I dunno, I haven't had time to think about it.  Whaddya got so far?

It's all right there on the SanDisk you just watched me load from the camera.  In a file called "3.23temp."

How very clever of you.

You don't give one measly single fuck, do you?

Surprisingly, I do.  I'll take it from here...

You don't even know what the pictures are.  You probably barely remember us taking them.  I've given this some thought and I think I can make this work.

The "List," right.  Cute...

You know what?  Have at, dude.

Alright... where's the folder?

Oh for the love of God, on the memory stick.

I knew that.  Let's see...  Alright, I'll randomly load this one:


Oh, I remember this one, I was considering writing something about transitions and was going to use a toaster image, in fact this was a "before" of what was to be two images.  I clean up the toaster, write a bit about taking care of your things and memories and stuff.  That'd've been a good piece.

What's next?


Yes, pulled this out of Z's pocket.  He did not draw it, I know his style.  It's sorta creepy, and why would someone hold up a placard with "ballon" on it with a balloon in the other hand?  Weird.  (I have evidence that this was given to him by a girl, I will not submit it.)

This is easy:


Aww, Snickers, our loaner dog.  Keep them coming.

Um... excuse me.

What!?  Don't sneak up like that.

Well, sorry... uh, it's just, well, is that all your going to say about the dog.  I mean, at the very least you could tell the story of what a "loaner dog" actually is.  Maybe a bit about friendship and mutual respect between people of different socio-...

Go away, the only reason you wanted this here is so you'd be sure there was a picture of the dog on your blog which is really a scrapbook which is really a memoir.  That's what all this is, just a way to get some images in here that you don't want to forget but you don't feel like you have the time to write the whole story so you use me, a cheap device, to get through it all hoping they don't notice.

DON'T TELL THEM THAT!

Already did.  What do you want me to gloss over next?

Ghaaaaaaaa!


Nick made this in the fall, why are you just now getting to this?  I mean you could google "fire prevention week" and do it then.  Well, it is cute and he did spell extinquisher right.

No, no he didn't...

Stop pestering me, at least I'm getting something done.


 






 









What the hell is this?  I've never seen this before in my life.

Well, that was sort of the point.  Remember, we found it in among the stuff the boys keep up on the shelves downstairs.

These shelves?


Yes, nicely played.  And this is the stuff that is usually up there on the ground forming the foundation of the fort they most recently made.


 Yes, nicely played on your part.  Let's see what's left...

But...

Yes?

What about the stories that go along with these pictures? You know, the shelves as a place where imaginations run wild - oh, remember, just the other day they were pretending they were...

Ahem...

Oh right, we decided that might be a little too personal.  That it might be time to stop telling their secrets.  Crap... But, at least you could tell how I wondered if that might be their last fort.  You know, all wistful and pretty about "endings" and the inherent sadness in it all.

We've been all through that.  Let's move on.

But what about the poster?  How we figure it was Marci's and how she must have had it up in a lot of different places and how I'd guess it brought her comfort and happiness and...

Isn't that her story?

Right.  I'm sorry, I keep interrupting, it's just that, well, I think we can keep telling them if we...



















Well, that was rude.

Whatever, lets get through these.  N made a "leprechun" trap.  He baited it green yarn "pretending to be clover" and, get this, fake gold coins.  Just a few more to go.  

And, that's all your going to say about that.  It's cute, all misspelled and haphazardly covered with foil and all hopeless and strange and... oh, right.  I guess that could sound mean.  Go ahead.




An oakleaf the boys thought looked like a dancing angel.

And...

And... you took a picture of it.

What about angels and dancing and leaves and the book you, uh... we, wrote and the Christmas card and all of that?

Humblebrag much?

But...

Yes.

I don't get it, you're the storyteller, you go on and on.  You go deep.  You tell the stories I can't... or won't.  You know when to do it and...

... when not to?



















This is a "when not to" isn't it?

It didn't use to be, I am afraid it might be now...

Wow, that's rough.

Yep.


A note that says "read" and a 'no' sign over kindle.  They boys are in a contest between their classes, whichever class reads the most total minutes gets a pizza party.  The other class doesn't.  We've not pointed out to them that if they read the same amount it sort of nulls their contribution.  Nick's figured it out though.  He's trying to outread his, well, oblivious brother.

Well, that's good.  So, there's only one more.  Throw it on here and we're golden.  Nice job, dude, this would've taken me forever.  I guess you are right, I need to think a bit more about what we are doing here.

Yeah, about that.

What?

This is the one.

The one what?

The one that needs a story.

Naw, it's just an image of a boy with his hair pushed back, looking pretty cool, anyway the image is blurred and... oh.  Go ahead.

Recently, I took a bunch of blurry pictures of the boys playing basketball.  It got me to thinking about how our own perceptions of the past are fuzzy as well.  I took these pictures basically so I could show Marci how cool N looked with his hair all pushed back, I mean he looked seventeen.  I kept getting bad pics and I didn't have time to delete them on the spot so I kept them.  I got a good one of him finally, but when I went to look at them, this one stood out.




There are many reasons why.  I know I must start blurring the stories I tell about the boys here.  The time for revelations and personal bits and pieces of them is coming to a sad end.  It was easy at first, telling the stories of take-home folders and camping trips and vacations and simple hopes and dreams.  Not so much anymore.  I fear that something I say, although lovingly crafted and considered, might come back to haunt them.  It is a struggle for me, us, bloggers in general, parents, memoirists, storytellers.  Who does the story serve?

It's tough.

The coincidental blurriness is not the main reason this image sings to me.  Truth is my immediate and gut reaction to this was 'why am I staring back at myself?'  I can't look at it without feeling like I am at both ends of the lens.  I am the boy, blurred and a bit confused, coming into my own as much as I am the archivist trying to look at the boy and hoping that I can understand what's good for him.  It is the duality of fatherhood - for me at least - this feeling that I am both the son and the father, the future and the past, the what-I know-has-been and the what-I-hope-to-be. All at the same damn time.

That's nice.

It is tough.  I'm glad you came by today other-one-me.  Thanks.  You usually annoy me more.

Hey, we're in this together and it's gonna take both of us to move it all forward, right?

Yeah...

Say goo'bye to the nice people and don't forget the backseat thingee.  I gonna watch some trees grow.

Right, you do that.  I'm gonna do some chores and run to the store.  Hey, how 'bout a cider tonight?

We'll see...


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Pants. They are one of the most important things."



Oh, you say that now, you don't really mean it...


I hope you didn't mind him coming around today, I think he was a particularly civil this time.

I'm standin' right here, man.

Sorry, you can see more of our exchanges in the label just below here called "other-one-me" if you'd care to.  Nice of you to come around today and flip through some pictures with us, thanks.

Can I have the last word?

Sure.

poop...


Of course you did.



Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Window Weeping


Sometimes I stand at a window and feel the weight of time and I weep.

Sometimes I watch the pines or maples grow, the cars or people go by, the sun and moon setting to my east and rising in my west, or another way around, and I weep.

Sometimes I marvel at my faith, sometimes I wallow in my deep faithlessness, and I weep.

Sometimes I see boys that will be men and men once boys play and dance and sing and fight and pray, and I weep.

Sometimes I think of fathers and sons and can think of only how big and heavy it all seems, and I weep.

Sometimes I remember the lightness of joy, and I weep.

***

The boys are in the back yard - the muddy, mucky, brown and sad green of it all colors my mood and I watch them, and, as always, I am watching myself.  They are improvising something, which is only a grown-up, somehow more defensible way of saying, they are playing "make believe."

I think of those words, "make believe," as I watch them stickfight and run unaimlessly - though it seems otherwise - across the yard, mud splattering and flying, sticks unsafely brandished.  They make each other believe, they collectively agree on a different now.  Curiously, this "now" requires two old remnants of the ferns that hung on the porch last summer and a gnarly root of pine unearthed when the water pipe came through.

I watch as they they carry the potless roots of the ferns across the yard, holding them high, chanting or screaming - mine is a silent trip today, only my own memories score the scene - and I laugh at the beautiful absurdity of it all.  They place them on a table under their playset, like offerings on the a red-stained cedar altar.  Minutes later I look out again and one boy, the bigger, is dragging the rootstock over the grass, opening molehills like a plow and laughing manically into a wind that seems to keep his voice from me, capturing it for its own.

Once destined for fire and dirt, they have become alive, necessary again, to the imaginings of two nearly ten year old boys.  Is the pine root a gate, are the ferns lamps?  What story is this?  I wish I knew.  I wonder if it is one I told, of forest elves and brave boys and hard-fought victory and mud and musty caves.  I am sure it is.

I watch as they huddle in close together against the cold that is the wind even on the most beautiful of March days.  I watch them talk together, seriously.  They nod at one another and run off to their corner, a place of calm and peace and put down their swords and hug.

Sometimes I watch them make believe and weep.




***

I have stared out so many windows in my life.  I cannot think of place I've ever lived from which I could not look out upon some scene and wonder at it.  I recall the squirrels in the backyard of a home in the country.  I remember girls from the window of a college dorm.  My view has been simply a bush fill of chickadees or the story of a street two stories below.  Always through a window, as I think back on these times, do these memories come - the frame, the glass, the curtains or grime - I see it through something.

It's as though, even as I watch the thing play out in the now, I know it is already in the past.  And yet, when I bring it back again it plays as though it is in the present.  Is the future simply the past made now again?


From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..."

"Don't lick me, little moose."

I don't even know...


I appreciate the time you took away from your own to give me some, I recognize that as the gift it is, I really do.  Also, I don't want you to imagine me as an beyond-middle-aged, gray-bearded, overweight and overwrought man standing at a window and sobbing uncontrollably.  Listen, I like to weep, sometimes a tear rolls down, sure, but mostly, it's just a feeling.  A feeling that is not sadness or even melancholy, not hope or joy, no, it is merely an awareness of it all.  I weep for the now, whenever it might be.

Peace to you.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Purposefully Blurred, A Birthday Post


I sometimes wonder about the perceptions and memories of my own childhood.  I can't say they are very accurate, or chronological or even...

I call "do over."

Folks'll tell you to know what you are writing before you begin, or, if you don't, do not intend to publish it.  Well, I know what I want to say, but writing is admission sometimes, and sometimes that is hard.

It is hard to admit you are scared.  Hard to admit that as you get older you seem further and further away from the person you think you are, or were, or even intend to be... it's complicated.

It is hard to admit that time, once so seemingly endless, now beats down down on you like a forever storm, never offering the reprise it once did.

It's hard to admit that your heart can be so heavy when there is such joy surrounding you, me.

Yes, me.

It's hard to admit to the selfishness that this whole big thing is, admit that I do this mostly because I - I, I, I - want to have a place for my newer memories to live.  A place I can look back and remember that school project, a full craft-box, a camping trip, a vacation.  I say that this is for the boys, I frame it in that gilded wish but, truly, childhood memories are, for me, so vague and arbitrary and odd and, although that is a frustration to me, perhaps it is how it should be.


I am on a bus, a school bus, 1976 maybe '77.  I do not remember the circumstances, but sitting here it seems like everyone was wearing tracksuits and there were girls on board - one does not forget Jan M. in a a pair of track shorts - so I'd say we were traveling to a meet.  I could fill in the faces if I felt like it, but, they are not in the memory, really.  I know it was a sunburst big box Fender guitar I was playing and the song was "Country Roads" by John Denver.  I sense people singing along as the bus bounces along the country road heading to another rural school.

You see, the memory is a feeling mostly, and feelings are fuzzy - blurred on the edges and sometimes right down the middle like a smear on your glasses.  I am happy in this moment.  I am happy now in it.  I may be happier now because there is not the weight of detail.  The vagueness, those blurred edges, focus my attention to the emotion.  Maybe that's how it is supposed to be.  We cannot spend a lifetime piling detail after detail on to the delicate strands of emotional memory.  The very gossamer strings of something as sweet and ethereal as happiness cannot tolerate the weight of focus, the weight of precision, the weight of implication.


I caught an interception in a high school football game my junior year and walked it into the end-zone for the touchdown that won the game.  All I remember is the mud on my cleats and a tuft of grass on a teammate's white helmet.  Everything else is a blur.  I could fill it in with conjecture and this little bit and that one.  Mostly, though, I was a hero that one time.


I can't remember all the songs from "Man of La Mancha" but I remember what a massively good time it was, me and Dave and Bruce and so many others.  I remember the moment I entered as some knight or something and Lisa winked at me and I forget everything I was supposed to do for a second.  I remember the choir room and suddenly it all starts piling on, Mr. D. trying to get us to focus, a violin in my hands for the first time - or was that "Fiddler" - a dance that I never got quite right, a rainbow Fender off in a corner while the girls practiced.


Bits, pieces, fragments like the broken glass that rolls in the tide and becomes something softer, less edged, easier to handle.


And I have to know that is how it's supposed to go for me.  I must trust that.  Perhaps I am weighing down the memories the boys will have of their growing up.  I hope not, but I fear I may be.

Maybe these will help obfuscate things.  The boys finished their basketball season as runners-up this year.  I thought to take some pictures of their winning season.  Images to remind them of joy and accomplishment and commitment and being, for a moment, champions, warriors, winners.  I hope someday they will look at these and be struck by the details and the faces and ...




Yeah, I took some crappy photos didn't I.  But, when I imagine my childhood it somehow looks like this, unclear yet reassuring, indefatigable excitement blurred by the whims of light, the speed of apertures and my old foe and friend, time.

(In our defense, we got some good pictures of the team and all that.  And some good ones of them with their trophies.)



That's Nick, of course, getting his trophy shoved down his throat... at his request.  And this is Zack, walking away from me as I try to get a picture of him and his trophy.


I mentioned earlier that I think writing is an act of admission.

It is hard to admit that you are overwhelmed.  Not by the little decisions about glasses and musical instruments and sugar and vocabulary tests and romance and puberty and all that.  No, not one of those things overwhelms me, but, they do collectively.

Life seems too much, too often.

When you - and by you I mean I - are growing up I think the opposite of a blurred childhood also happens.  It is not clarity, no, that is not a word I use with much frequency.  I guess it is more a juxtaposition, although a boy would never know to call it that.  You see, when you are a boy - remember you is I - you see adulthood with the same blur and vagueness you may later see your past. 

For instance I thought being a grownup had to be easier than being a kid.  I thought, seriously, I thought adults knew what they were doing.  Through the myopic lenses of youth I thought the edges of the portrait of adulthood were soft, the scope of parenting narrow, the yoke of life's burden light.  I was, clearly, wrong.  We all know how difficult being a damn grownup can be.  But, as a child you think it looks so good, so free, so unburdened, so, well, desirable.

It is hard to admit that you I am ungrateful at times.

It is hard to admit that you dammit I forget the Grace that surrounds me.


Today is my birthday.  That can't possibly be important... except when it is.  I got to thinking about that place between the blur of childhood and the wispy hope of adulthood and remembered that it is here, now.  Your there, your now.  Wherever, whenever that may be.  This is the only moment that seems clear and honest.  It's funny, I feel a bit of sadness for now, without the future hope of what is to come or the bittersweet smoke of what has been, it seems a little flat.  Clarity can seem garish, focus too sharp.  The past and the future soften and round the toughness that is the now.


Will you give me a couple of more minutes, it sort of goes to my point today... and it is my birthday.  I wrote this song before I was married and ever imagined I would have kids, let alone ten year old twin boys.  A line in the chorus is "In this little boy's soul beats the heart of a man."  I always felt I was just a boy wrapped in mans clothing, all of my adult life I felt this.  Now, some sixteen or more years later, I understand what I was getting at.

We are always boys.

We are always men.

We are forever boys, forever men.

The line between is so blurred we fail to recognize it... except when we do


Thanks for coming around and celebrating with me.  I appreciate it.  I admit that I like having a few eyes see this silly stuff, it makes a difference... you make a difference, whenever, wherever you are.




Monday, March 9, 2015

Clutching at the Bits


I wish there were pictures and recordings and ticket stubs and liner notes still smelling of vinyl.   I wish there were love notes and scented envelopes and diaries and term papers and essays.  I wish there were recipes and poems and the words to every damn song I've ever written - and the chords, too.

There aren't.

Usually, I don't envy my boys their childhood but I do envy how so much will be available to them to remember.  I liked mine, childhood that is, it was textured, even, pastoral, sweet - but it was not well-documented.  Not to say there aren't photo albums and such, no, not that at all.

The fault is mine.  I neglected to document my life as I blustered and crashed through it.  I was at a famous Who concert, I saw The Dead more than once in small venues.  I served Jimmy Buffet a cheeseburger in a restaurant in the early nineties in downtown Cincinnati, in a restaurant that I have no evidence ever existed.  I'd served a lot of celebrities and he was pleased to just chat with another good ole boy.  He gave me a note and told me to take it to will-call out at Riverbend the next night.  "Bring three of your friends, too," I remember him saying in those long vowels and twangy pitch.  They were third row center seats and he said hello to us and shouted-out our restaurant.

I lost the note for the tickets.  He signed a menu that was framed in that restaurant for years afterwards, a note that began "Hey, Bill, it sure was nice to meetcha..."  It was probably thrown in a dumpster when the building was gutted for a new set of occupants.  Sad.

I didn't save the ticket stubs.  Box of love letters? - misplaced in a move, thrown out in tears, I don't know.  I've forgotten more songs than I probably play now.  I long ago was unburdened the weight of a couple hundred long-playing records.

And, and... There's not a damn picture of any of this.

You see, there wasn't a camera in everyone's pocket.  There was a lighter, some loose change, a telephone number with an illegible name scribbled below it and some lint with seeds in it - but no phone with a lens.

I guess that seems impossible now.  I see folks taking pictures as they go through life.  Often daily.

I envy them those memories, especially when they are younger.  Nick and Zack will have a richer history of their life than I mine... or will they.

I am not bound by the limits and details in a picture or in a recording, I am free to remember differently, sort of sideways I think. 


I don't really remember what was in it.  Trinkets - a piece of chalcopyrite, a marble or two, some rose quartz, a non-working Zippo lighter, feathers, a fragmented robin's egg.  I could be making some or all of this up... or none of it.  I remember all those things.  I remember the cigar box, still slightly scented of tobacco and somewhere else, somewhere exotic.  I had the box into college where it held other things, things still exotic, still scented but the lighter worked.

It's funny to think back on it, it seems like all the boys I knew had a "treasure box" of some sort.  They were different sizes and shapes but they all contains the little bits and pieces that seemed important to an eight, ten, twelve, sixteen, twenty year old boy - for we are always boys.

The other night Nick decided to get out a box of these little yarn poofs he likes to make and in it was a Crown Royal bag, the nice tan one with a golden crown on it.  He snatched the bag out from among the googly-eyed yarnballs and dumped it in delight.  This is what spilled out:


Bits and pieces of a little boys mind.

"Oh, I've been missing this stuff..." he said.

It made him happy to see the junk spread on the table.  He wasn't happy to have these pieces of junk - arguably - to play with, though he did make some sort of MacGyver device featuring mainly the broken red heart, the plastic fork and the yo-yo, I think it was some sort of memory inducer... or not.

I don't think he was even so pleased because these things had come back to him.  No.  I think deep down he felt that surge we all get when lost ideas, notions, loves, hopes and fears come down on us out of the magical blue.

Like the way I felt as these things splashed out on the table and the green ball looked like an aggie I had once, the same tone of green.  His squirt gun became my cap gun, his glow light parts were my flashlight parts - bulbs and leaky batteries in a tarnished tube.  His Pokemon coin morphed in my mind into a triangle Fender guitar pick I had for years in various boxes but never used because it was so thick.  And, somehow, his little blue box became my little transistor radio - nine volt, FM/AM - I had for so many years.  Blue plastic with clear acrylic dials.

So we both sat and laughed at the arbitrariness of it all.  I told him about my own boxes and Crown Royal bags and guitar picks and the future that was a transistor radio in nineteen-seventy.

"Do you ever wish you had that stuff, Dad," Zack asked from across the room where he'd been engrossed in a game on his tablet, and listening apparently.

I suddenly imagined a room full of all the stuff, all the bits and pieces out of every box I'd ever owned, and it was too much.  I shut the room's door afraid to go in but glad to know it was there.

I think that may be what it is all about.  We can only hold so much dear at one time.  A box of treasures isn't so much about the trinkets and stubs and pebbles and batteries.  More, it is the acknowledgement that there exists a need to treasure things.  A need to hold on to an arbitrary thing as the thoughts gets wilder, up and down, sideways.  We are left clutching at the bits as they fall away but also we are left embraced by the notion of hope that is inherent when we hold something dear.

Cherish is the word that comes to mind.


(Sometimes, life tells better stories than we would ever even attempt.)


I got to thinking a little more about this and it occurred to me that I still do have a place where I keep a few bits of my heart.  It is ostensibly my tie and belt drawer, but I put cards and thises and thats in it.  But there, in the very back is a red box nestled in with the braces and bowties, Father's Day cards and handmade beaded necklaces and watches I can't quit.

It's funny, I thought I'd just get a picture of it, so I opened it and was engulfed by the rush of memory that came at me.  I just couldn't go in and look at everything in it, I knew that would overwhelm me.  I just wanted to show you that even quickly aging men still harbor in their hearts the relentless hope that we can clutch at the bits and maybe hold on to the moments in so doing.


I laughed aloud at the lighter in there, and old butane Colibri given to me as a gift.  I was going to label more stuff but once again got overwhelmed so I won't.

Is there more to this story?  Yes, I'm afraid there is, bear with me.

Do you see what I've done there in that picture above?  I balanced that box right there on the side of the drawer... what's the word?  Precariously.  Truthfully, I was trying to get a picture but I didn't want to go through the box figuring that was a story for another time, a time when there is more time, a time I can reflect and wallow in the old bits and pieces...


Yes, it fell.  Hard.  And those memories and ghosts and bits and pieces flew out and slapped at me as I gasped at it all.  Strewn like Nick's treasures on the floor of the bedroom I was struck with how similar it all seemed.  Oh, my very soul said, I've been missing this stuff.

It was too much.  I sat and looked through it, handling each talisman, letting the hope or sadness it held envelope me briefly as I placed each back in that old beat up red box.  I thought, briefly, I should tell each of their stories, that piece of paper, that coin, those beads.  I cannot.  I will not.

I am not ready, yet... But I smiled as I realized how rich is our journey, how sweet the past that builds to the now, how good it is to clutch at the bits and realize they are enough - the stories lie between them.

Finally, I grabbed the lighter, there was a receipt from nineteen-seventy-nine, the year I graduated high school, there clipped in the top of the box.  I don't remember all of its story, I am sad to say.  I can, however, remember the faces it shone on over the years - Kirby's, Kevin's, Mark's... my Dad's - and I clutched it in my hand and let the tears come.


I hope you are not sorry you stopped by today.  I tend to ramble on and I know that you are busy.  I appreciate your support and kindness, now, and perhaps some time yet to come, a time when there is more time.


From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."
 

"Interfere like you mean it."


And I'm the one supposedly offering them advice...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Honey, Salt 'n' Butter


In my last foolish post I promised to "get back to my regular programming."

I wonder what that is?

Is it these silly drawings the boys made the other day, finally putting away their tablets, feet warming in the fire, sketching away?



Nick drew the inexplicable light-bulb demon and Zack the swirly-scaled-bull-nosed-flying-rising-dragon thing - in green.  I could say how proud I was, so pleased, to see them crafting and taking their time working on these.

Is that what I do around here?

Is "regular programming" a couple of images like this.



Is this the part where I tell the story that while I was away the boys and Marci went out and, as she shoveled away the heavy wet snow, Z made this snowman and N the foundations for this fort, or couch, I'm not sure which?  Should I say that this was the first time they'd been out in the right kind of snow for this sort of thing?  How I am sad I wasn't there to shape the snowballs and shore the foundations?  They are pretty sad little things, aren't they?  Should I tease and poke and then take it all back remembering the tender heart of ten-year-old?

Would it be what I usually do around here to post a link to a song I recorded and put out on the web?



Would that seem as selfish as it always does?  Would I back up my selfishness with a long paragraph about sorrow and hope and pain and journey's end and faith questioned?

Or would I just say Oren died... and leave it at that?

Is it regular programming around here to tell the story of the day Nick wore a hat all day.  Just a silly prop hat that lives in a chest downstairs most of the time?  He really embraced it, we played That Game for half an hour or so and he had it on the whole time, wondering whether it was a "good luck" hat or just a "regular, plain luck hat."  Do I wrap the banal in the essential, throw a picture on for verisimilitude and call it another day?


I sometimes post a picture I don't understand, like this one, a selfie I don't remember taking:


Do I admit that it is not a picture of me but it is a picture of a sweatshirt?  The sweatshirt Zacky wore while I was gone, that Marci wore so the boys could give me hugs, the sweatshirt I wear every-almost-morning as I make the lunches, snacks, pancakes and omelets?  The sweatshirt that I wear when I weep in the dark nights for families broken and cuss at God gone mad?  The sweatshirt that my sons may find, long after I am gone, tattered and stained in the back of an old rag drawer in the cold basement of a now quiet ranch house?

Often my regular programming entails elaborate, nonsensical tangents in which I tell the rest of the story because I do not fundamentally understand how where when why a story ends.  So, I should probably tell the story of the two paintings Marci did with the boys while I was gone.  They taped out geometric shapes and painted the areas.  The boys had a lot of fun and she put them in the "frames of honor" (I think Nick called them that) in the dining room.


That's N's on the left and Z's on the, uh... not left.

If I were to continue on that same tangent I'd go ahead and show you these:



















I have forever been drawn to dropcloths.  When I was younger, as a kid and into my college days, painters used canvas ones, not the plastic folks use today.  Every family had one, theaters and workshops had them everywhere, schools and churches had them folded in utility closets and stuffed here and there.  I always thought they were pretty - no, actually, it wasn't until well after I'd been initially drawn to them that I saw a Jackson Pollack painting.

It is hard to explain why I always have liked them.  Maybe it is the wildness of it, maybe the Presbyterian practicality of it, maybe what struck me was the honesty of them - or, probably, I like that they seemed to tell a story.  This light blue was the babies room, this cream the family room, a yellow bathroom, the black of a high backed table chair, the rungs still distinct.  The edges of a poster there, the spill that ruined the science project you'd worked so hard to make perfect, an unfortunate red that makes the cloth look like it was used in a crime scene, though blood usually fades to a brown, like that stain right there from when we did that chest of drawers.

These paper towels are like that, I am sure.  They could, and do, really, tell me the story of that snowy winter day when dad was in San Francisco and I missed them and Marci distracted them with love and understanding.

Yeah, that feels like what I usually do around here.

Another foundation of my regular programming is stuff that comes home from school, my beloved "take-home folder."

I often show things like this, a page from Nick's math test on which both boys got 105%.  Amy's struggling with decimals:


Nick struggles with spelling:


If this were my typical stuff, I'd start to fret right about now, worried that this is growing too long, that the flow is gone because I've had to do it in two sittings.  I'd start feeling the weight of time and responsibility, knowing the laundry needs starting, the dinner needs considering and the boys will be home early as a preemptive strike against a snowstorm that may or may not happen.

And then I'd realize I had more to say and that I'd never really gotten to my point... and wonder if I really ever had one.

Oh, yeah, I'd say, I think a lot about straying from my formula - formulas - here, about what I maybe should be doing.  So many of the good guys are posting about important things, like this campaign to get Amazon to stop doing something hurtful to dads.  These are the "dadvocates," the men in this community who, unlike me, are making a difference.

I should go on about this, but I won't.  Right now my voice is unheard, without Twitter and social media skills and a big audience, none of it would mean much.  I don't think the few dozen folks I reach who don't already know of these campaigns and such really care much about the state of things in the dadvocation community.

So, I'll move on.

I'll try to finish.

But, why do stories end?  Where does this one end?  When?  How?

Wait, I remember how:


With this note I pulled out of my pocket just before I started this a couple of days ago.

Nick was having an early breakfast by himself, a nice chunk of bread I'd made the day before and some fruit and yogurt.  "There's nuthin' better on bread than honey, salt 'n' butter."  It is important to note that I add just a pinch of salt in the butter we use on the table, he's seen me do it many times.

I smiled and told him that I thought it was a nice turn of a phrase.  He was pleased and asked me why I liked it.

"Well," I told him, "Everyone likes butter.  It's fat and we humans crave and find comfort in fat."

"Why?" he asked.

"I dunno how to explain it, I guess if we are eating fat, like butter, we are safe and taken care of... the hunt was good and successful.  Does that make sense?"

"Yeah.  Man this is good!" is said, his mouth too full.  "Whaddabout salt?"

"Salt has long been used as a metaphor, as a symbol.  Bible references, knights and round tables, lots of times it comes up in books and in chemistry and, well, it is pretty important stuff."

"I get that," he said, "What about honey?"

"Well that's a no-brainer, Nick.  It's probably the first sweet thing humans ever found.  Sweetness speaks to us like fat - butter in this case.  Honey makes us happy, sweet things make us happy, sometimes we use it as a nickname for someone, a "term of endearment" it's called..."

I choked back a sob at the realization, a wave of sadness hit me as I remembered.

"Oh, Dad, what's wrong?"  A look of concern and sadness reflected mine on his little, dear face.

"You know my friend died."

"Yes, Oren.  I'm sorry, Dad."

"When Oren's wife posted that he had passed away she said something like: "Today my sweet Honey lost his long and grueling battle with cancer."  I told him, trying to make him understand a sorrow no one can understand.

"Her Sweet Honey..." he paused.  "That's sad, but kinda sweet.  Will you think of Oren every time you think of honey now, Dad?"

"I hope so, son, I hope so..."


Regular programming is hard.  Thanks for coming around today.  Life is rich like butter, spiced with salt and incredibly, sadly, sweet.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

If You Give a Boy a Pencil...



If you give a boy a pencil, he's going to ask for a piece of paper.

When you give him the piece of paper, he'll probably ask you for some consonants and vowels.

When he's figured the letters out, he'll ask for a story to tell.

Then you will have to tell him that he has to write his own stories.

So, he'll probably ask you where to find the stories to tell.

And then you'll have to show him the big, big world where all the stories are being told.

When you do that he'll start looking at things differently. He'll look around him and see the hearts of those he's with. He'll look down and see those who need a hand up. He'll look up and wonder what could be beyond those stars.

And, if he looks into the stars, he might get carried away.

He might not tell his own stories all the time.

He might begin to make some up.

Or, he might begin to tell the truth which can hurt a lot.

When he hurts a lot he might want to say more things, tell longer stories, until he finds himself all grown up with little boys all his own.

Because he's all grown up, he'll probably ask you for a computer.

If you give a dad a computer, he'll probably want to start a blog.

If you give a dad a blog he will come to know wonderful people in a land called Cyberspace.

When he finds those wonderful people he might want to figure out how to meet them and be a part of something really big.

So, he'll probably look for a place where he could meet them.

Then he will hear of a place called Dad 2.0 Summit and he will want to go there.

If he wants to go to Dad 2.0 Summit he might have to ask for help.

If he does ask for help, he'll probably begin by saying:

“If you give a boy a pencil...”


Apologies to Laura Numeroff. The Dad Blogging community did give me my pencil, as it were. It gives me a place to tell my story. It gives me the encouragement and courage to continue when there seems so little point. It gave me my voice. I would like to thank all those who have showed me kindness and encouragement on my journey - I'll see you all in 2016... I'll bring the cookies.

Or a heart-shaped meatloaf...


I am glad you could take a look today, I'll be back to my regular programming soon.  Peace to you and yours.