Friday, August 26, 2016

Silence Seekers and Over Thinkers


Marci sent me this quote a few days ago.


I like Prince Ea, I like his positivity and urgency, he seems like a really cool dude - quotable and all.  But, this isn't about the words you see above.

I took that picture of a cold winter's night somewhere close to three in the morning.  That's a nice dry piece of ash lighting up in the fireplace and a candle above it illuminating a corner of the Ansel Adams print above.  In the foreground, a glass of scotch on rocks.  I took the picture for reasons I can't recall.  But this isn't about the picture either.

This is about her, my wife, Marci.  She sent me that quote because she wanted me to know that she knows.  She understands the late nights, the seeking silence.  She understands that I need to sit and listen to the stories the fire will tell, the songs the wind will bring, the poem night offers.

I am so grateful for that.

I love you faithful friend, understander, noticer, wife.


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

"That arrow is not the arrow of destiny."

Or is it?  I never can tell...


Peace.

(It's funny, I think this quote helped me find the courage to finish and publish Doubting the Minutes which I'd been struggling with.)






Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Doubting the Minutes

(These are the minutes from our recent all-staff meeting.)

Hey, Bill, can you step into my office this morning for a meeting?

You don't have an office.

Yeah well, meet me in the basement.

The basement is a mess and I don't work well down there anymore.

Alright then, right here at the dining room table.   Bring your coffee.

So... you haven't really written or posted anything for a while.   Are you about ready to get started again?

Dude, I've been busy and the boys are always underfoot and I can't find any big chunks of time to get anything done and it just seems like it doesn't matter and my faith is slipping and I'm full of doubt and...

Deep breath, Bill.   Don't be so defensive.

It's just that I'm afraid you're gonna give me a hard time and use that damn stick and...

What stick!?

The one you poke and prod me with.   The metaphorical one.  The one that's worse than a real stick, the "guilt stick" I call it.

Ah, yeah, it is leaning up against the wall there within arm's reach.  How about I "metaphorically" throw it out the window.   Ooh, I know, I'll fling it through the glass door, that'll liven things up.

You'd be willing to do that?   Then what's this meeting about?

Don't narrow your eyes in suspicion at me, you already look grumpy as fuck all the time anyway.

Screw you and...

And, yes, yes I am willing to do that.

Why?

Listen, do you feel guilty about not writing practically the whole summer?

I guess, I mean, I feel like I'm supposed to.   I really didn't have the time, sure, I had a couple hours here and a couple there, I guess I shoulda written then, but, it never seems like I can finish a thought and, this may sound weird, but the constant threat that I might be interrupted really nags on me.  There's nothing worse than having a thought whisper out of your head and be lost forever.

Nothing's lost forever.  If it's a good thought, it'll come back.

I don't have time for that!

Don't shout. What did you do this summer when you weren't writing? Remember, I threw the "guilt stick" out the window. (Don't forget to clean up that glass.)

I dunno, I, uh, cleaned and mowed, cooked and watched the boys and went to the pool and...  stuff.

Yeah, I know that.  It still sounds like you're trying to defend yourself.

Well, you do have a history of being sort of judgmental.

Not today.

Isn't it true that you watched movies late into the night?  Isn't it true that you looked at Facebook a lot?  You spent a lot of time reading pieces on Medium and Aeon and in The Atlantic.   I noticed you playing your guitar more, often late at night on the porch.  I watched you watching baseball games and talking to the one you call Kirby late into the nights, beer in hand, laughing and arguing loudly into the quiet night.   I saw you watching people at the pool and church, wondering about them, figuring them.  I heard you thinking, trying stories out, wishing, questioning, hoping, despairing.

Yeah, I guess you're saying I could have been writing all those times, using my time better.

Actually, Bill, I'm not saying that at all.

You see, I think you were writing.  Watching a movie shows you structure and timing.  Looking at Facebook and people-watching helps you invent characters and learn more about human nature.  Reading, as you know, is absolutely essential to writing.  Baseball games are poetry to you and a late night beer and a long conversation with an old friend is fuel for the soul.  And playing music and singing, well, I can't think of a better teacher, as you've come to understand the music is for you and God and Space and Time and not for others, I've seen you grow and get better, learn.

And trying and wishing and hoping and questioning and despairing?  Is there a better definition of writing, of creating, of being an artist?

Why are you being nice to me?

I was afraid you'd ask that.

Why?

Because you know I have to always be honest with you, there's no sense in lying to your other self.

So...

Alright, here's the truth.  I think you're a pretty damn fine writer.   I think you've been writing since you were twelve or so, well before you took pen to paper.  I think the pauses you take from it are essential and I think it is essential that you write.

Yeah, that and a buck-thirty-nine will get me a crappy cup of coffee down the street.

Don't...

Don't what?

Don't... everything... don't interrupt, don't self-deprecate, don't deny or dilute, don't forget, don't not listen, don't doubt, especially that, don't doubt.

I've heard you on many occasions talk about looking at yourself in the mirror and looking back and being comfortable with your reflection.   Lately, I've seen you looking away, looking down, looking out.  Why do you think that is? 

I'm fat?

You know that's not it.  That's a symptom, a symptom of doubt.

Alright, I'll try harder.   I'm not living up to my potential

What're you in high school?   Again, just doubt.

I'm afraid I'm running out of time.  The gray and the wrinkles and the ticking of the clock make me look away from myself.  How's that?

Better.  But, it's doubt again.

How'd'ya figure?

You're doubting what is yet to come. We're not aloud to do that.

Why not?

Because that's the business of Faith.

Oh...

Dude, doubt is the absence of Hope.  You know that, and, frankly, you're better than that.   I know your hope.  I know that, through the grumpiness and shoulder pain, through the abysmal state of politics, through the hurt and violence that seems unending, through all of that, you have hope.  You've just forgotten it, no, misplaced it.

One of the things I admire most about what you've done with your writing here, is that you've tried to keep the focus on that hope.  Sure, you've gone astray at times, who doesn't?  But, the words we chose so long ago to echo through these pages - Hope, Faith, Integrity, Honor, Cherish, Love - have - echoed that is.

You've done right by your hope, you've honored and cherished it.  Do you know why?

'cause I had to.

Why?

For them.

Who?

Nick and Zack.

Are you ready to get back to work now?

Yes, I think so.

I'm gonna go get the stick...


Wait, before you do, can I ask you something, since you're being nice and all?

Alright, what?

What should I do about the time thing?  You know, how time feels like an enemy, how not only do there not seem to be enough hours but how quickly they seem to go?  How I'm afraid of it?  How, well, how it feels like closing time?  And I've seen a lot of those.

Well, I guess it time to "start livin' like Summer's over".

Boy that's a good tune, isn't it?

It sure is, and good advice, too.

But, what of the things I was going to do today.  The cleaning and tending and errands and, the homemaking and all.  I mean, really, I've got a bunch of shit to do...

Screw it.

But when will I do it, how'll it get done?   This is what you never seem to understand.   I have responsibilities.  Fridges don't fill themselves, I don't have a goat for the lawn, laundry is not a self-fulfilling prophecy, these things take time!

You're responsibility is to your hope.

That doesn't even mean anything!

Don't get all riled up.  Is there milk?

Yes.

Well done.  Is the lawn mowed now?

Yes, but...

Good on you.  Is the laundry done?  Is the floor relatively free of debris?  Are the plants watered?

Well, yes...

So, you're good.  So what've you done this morning?  You've been working on this and you played a couple of tunes on the old Alvarez and drank too much coffee.   That speaks more to your hope than housework and errands.   Are you willing to say that running the old Dyson is more important than leaving some words about doubt and fear and faith and, well, hope, here?  For Nick and Zack and Marci and Mom and a few others and potentially many more?

Well, no, I guess not. It's just that I feel like I've wasted and squandered and dreamed away so many hours that now Time is making me pay, speeding up, shortening, pounding... winning.

This is not time wasted:
Dude, Time is not the enemy.   It is not your nemesis, your rival.  It is not the black to your white nor is it the wrong to your right.

Time is your ally.  Time is your friend.  Time nurtured your talents and fruited your hope.  You rode the turtle back of time to get to this place you are now.  None of it is or has been wasted.   Time doesn't waste itself. It doesn't wish it was other than it is.  It doesn't hurry or dawdle.  It is with you.

"...the turtle back of time...?"

Yeah, sorry.  You’re the wordsmith, fix it.

I secretly like it.

You see, everything right now was given you by time.  Every sentence, every word.

You, really, given to you.  You do all the heavy thinking, you walk all the long paths I don't think there's time for, you willingly let go, or worse, hold onto, thoughts that scare me or make me doubt, knowing, as you said, that the good ones will come back or maybe just did.  You're the one who cries on the porch because a song was so perfect, a thought so joyful, a memory so hard.

Yes, that's true.

But you said I was the wordsmith, that the words and sentences were given to me.

Yes.

I don't get it...

Well, I'm not very good with words, and all, but... I'll try.

The dreaming and the crying and the shouting; the wildness, the tenderness, the memories; the feelings and the intensity of it all; the sweetness and the bitterness of memory and hope, well, they are enough for me.  But, you, you put it down somewhere.  I am not brave enough to do that, I haven't the will, my hope is not strong enough.

To put the feelings I have down, to put words to them, to write row after row of letters and punctuation marks, to codify it, make sense of it... it just seems, impossible.  It's like alchemy to me, shaping my scattered and battered mess of a mind into something that makes sense.  How, well, brave you are.

Brave?

Yes, that's what you said, "brave."

I didn't say it, you did.

Dude, we all know you do it all, every damn word, including these.  I'm just flattered that you think to give me a voice now and again, a lot of folks wouldn't.

For what it's worth... well, your job is harder.

Will you look at the time?

Really, after all this...

Yep, time to wrap it up. You said you wanted this by this afternoon and, well, is fifteen after noon, so...

Just turn it in when it's done.

Right, thanks.

There's one more thing.

What?

Why don't you go look in the mirror.  I'll wait...

...

Better?

Yes, better.  Thanks, Other-one-me.

Thank you, Bill.   I'm just gonna go get my stick out of the yard.

Why don't you just leave it in the yard?

It's the only power I have.   Don't forget to clean up the glass.  Peace out.

Jerk... 

Idiot... 

Peace to you too, let's meet on the porch soon.

Don't forget the beer.

***
And thanks to you for sitting with me on the porch today.  I hope to get into a better rhythm around here, but, I've promised that before.

Peace.


(Should you wonder more about "Other-one-me" there is a label up towards the top that will direct you to some of our previous, uh, conversations.  The most recent is first so you'll need to jump back to see the first time he interrupted me.  Make sense?  He also admins the "ihiwat" FB page.)


Thursday, July 7, 2016

“Oh, Thank God, We’re Home”


This piece first appeared on the website City Dads Group and I have permission to post it here.

***

The light lingers over the lake, the boat bobs, tubing is done for today. My twin boys and their new friend from school are using towels as capes. The sun has kept us out later than we should be, and we have a 45-minute drive home. It’s time.

“Let’s get going, boys, it’s late and you’ll have to get up in the morning,” I shout down the hill from the deck we’ve been enjoying. They are done, sunburnt and weary. They head our way.
 
“Watcha gotta do in the morning, dude?” the new friend asks.
 
“We have to go to Mass.”
 
A blank stare from the boy.
 
“You know, church.”
 
“Wait, you guys go to church?” the new boy asks.
 
Without missing a beat, my other son says, “Wait, you don’t?”
 
I grew up going to the Heritage Presbyterian Church, on, you guessed it, Church Street in the great Midwest. I’ve never not gone to church, even in my groggiest college days. I’m not talking every week, just as often as I could.
 
My wife grew up attending Catholic schools, sang in choirs and was one of the first girl altar servers her church allowed at the time. She was a youth minister for a number of years and works in ministry still. She’s gone to Mass regularly for as long as she remembers.
 
There was no doubt our kids were going to church. You’d probably guess there was some difficult decision making that had to be done. Nope, not really. We went with the one with incense and water and coded garments and saints.
 
It’s time for me to be a bit more honest. I’m not a good Christian. The dogma borders on myth to me. I’m uncomfortable with some of it, unsure. Religion asks a lot of a man, in my opinion, and sets him up for failure, doubt, pain. So, why do we go to church?
 
The sunset is spectacular out my rear­view; high cirrus clouds take the red light and bend them pink here and orange there in stripes across the sky. The familiar, comforting voice of Marty Brennaman calls the Reds game on the radio, three to two in the seventh. The country road cuts through cornfields, forgotten little towns with unnecessary stoplights and down a long hill that leads us home. It is pastoral, serene, simple, right.
 
A boy sighs audibly, the scent is grape Jolly Rancher. The other boy says in a quiet voice, “Thank you, God, for this beautiful day.”
 
I whisper, Amen. They doze off and I am left to contemplate in the quiet, now sacred, cab of an old F-150.
 
You see, if you set the theology aside, forgo the dogma, there is great simplicity in faith. In seven words, my son pretty much summed up where 50 years of hard thinking got me. Prayer, thanksgiving, beauty.
 
I want my sons to pray, not this specific prayer or that one, no, their own prayer. I hardly believe prayers are answered — people die, lotteries are lost, tests failed­ — and I learned long ago not to ask for things. But prayer makes you listen. When you ask Yahweh or Mary or Buddha or Ra for answers, you have to find them. They’re between your heartbeats, behind a setting sun, between the stars. They are there in the moment between the breaths of two dozing man-­cubs in the backseat of a red Ford truck.
 
I want my sons to give thanks. My question for those unfaithed ­– for lack of a better word –­ has always been, “To whom do you give thanks?” In this crazy, selfish world, it is easy to become the center of everything.
 
Giving thanks changes that. It is an admission of vulnerability, of need, of humility. The joy of giving thanks, outwardly, overwhelms the vague smugness of self-praise. It’s never mattered where the thanks go –­ upward, downward, inward –­ what matters is the search for thankfulness in the rooms of the heart marked “Love and Kindness” and “Truth and Beauty.”
 
I want my sons to see beauty. Sunsets, trees, cathedrals, oceans, faces, eyes, hearts ­– it is everywhere. In beauty, one sees the mask of, well, I’ve tried to avoid it, but, God, and behind the mask is … I dunno, truth? Somethingelseness?
 
One of my sweet boys, 3-years-old at the time, thought a dethorned rose was so beautiful he carried it around like a touchstone for a whole day. The next morning it was wilted and he was sad but thought it was “still sorta beautiful,” I’m still not sure if he meant the rose or the rose’s story. Another time, we sat on a soccer pitch on a warm fall evening and watched the sunset. The other boy, then 8 years of age, said it was “glorious,” which it was. He knew the science of it all, but he still offered the question, “Why would God do this for us?” Grace, I whispered.
 
Children are ill-prepared for theology and dogma. Without the benefit of experience, the tales of commandments and compassion and resurrection and redemption are jumbled in detail and mystery. What a child learns from these stories­ — common across the cultures — ­ is that there are rules and justice, that love is way important, that renewal and do­-overs are possible. It is not the “redeemed one” that’s important, it’s that there is a redemption song.
 
I don’t know, then, if I can teach faith to my sons.
 
I can show them mine, though.
 
And, they can show me theirs.
 
It is dark in the driveway. I open the back door. My breath catches as the soft light shines on two slumbering, sweatshirted, rosy little boys, and I offer up a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for these beautiful, beautiful boys, and, before my breath starts again, I know it has been heard.
 
One little boys stirs, “Oh, thank God, we’re Home.”
 
And yes, he did capitalize “Home.”

***
 If this seems better than what I usually throw down, it's because it was expertly and tenderly edited.  Yeah, it's sort of noticeable isn't it?


It's important to remember that I am trying - trying, mind you - to use this space as basically a long love letter to these boys and, I hope, a few others.  I'm having fun, most of the time, and hopefully I'm archiving some memories for the boys but...  well, I want them to know, really know, I loved them.  Love is a damned verb, folks forget that.  It takes action, effort and deliberation.


I need a image...  let's see.


I always refer to my  spirituality as a journey.  A path behind, a path ahead.  I just don't always have someone to hold hands with... I'm glad they do.


Peace on your journey and thanks for walking with me on mine.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Foreshadows of Dawn



I've been carrying a note I wrote to myself in my purse for the last several weeks. (I've included a capture of it as an attachment.)



The top line says, "What dif can I make," and there is a downward arrow which points to the bottom line, "...is there a difference to be made?"



The arrow is the key. You see, it represents the passage of time. When I was younger I used to ask myself what a difference I could make. Not in some altruistic, giving sort of way, but also in the differences I could make every day and, also, perhaps sadly, about the difference I might make as an actor or singer or famous guitarist - pipedreams, fantasies, wishes on fishes.



And then the arrow.



"Is there a difference to be made?" is a question I ask of myself frequently. I usually answer yes, the yes that is in action - to love, to cherish, to honor, and sometimes, to hold on. However, from somewhere deep in me, sometimes I hear a 'no.' I heard that no a while back, a month I'd guess, when I was struggling on a piece of prose, working and listening to it, spending hours on it, reflecting deeply and profoundly and... 'no'.  I was overwhelmed by the truth of it.



Short story, long, I listened to it. I thought about that sense of truth I'd felt. I realized, late night, lager in hand, that it was a tired voice, firm, but raspy, weathered, worn out, weakened. A voice whispering retreat, not defeat. A voice, somehow defiant in its despondency. A voice which was weary.



I reached for my vintage Alvarez and played John Prine's "Paradise" and haven't really written much since.



I've been learning new songs, including this one by Guy Clark (which is a must-listen if you had a father, or are one)



"The Randall Knife"





and I've been trying to memorize and rehearse my more popular songs.



"Is that really gonna make a difference?"



A raspy voice from the cellar of my soul calls up, "Yes!"



I can't say how it's making a difference. The boys are home and underfoot most of the time so I play when they are on their laptops playing Wizards101 or Slither.io or whatever. They hear me, though, and know I am practicing and I suppose that's a good thing.



I play in the late evenings to the frogs and fireflies and hooting owls and cicadas. I sing to the stars and the racing, ebbing summer moon. I sing to my god and your god and my neighbor's god and the gods of our ancestors and the gods yet to come and a harmonic comes back to me that seems, well, right, pure... eternal.



I play sometimes to my technologies but they intimidate me and I don't play well with them. I've tried dozens of times now to record some originals from my CD on my phone so there is a visual archive, a physicality to the memories I am laying down.



The difference being made is, more than likely, that I am learning so much. Just as writing and the dad bloggers scene and crafting a novel and writing bad poems taught me so much about myself, singing and playing is doing it as well, if not better. Honestly, the guitar was my first teacher - besides books - to take me aside and whisper, "There's more, you know." I'd sort of forgotten how much the stories that only music can tell meant and mean to me.



So, short of one post, This Raised Sword, which I wrote in anger and profound sadness, I've been away from the keyboard, which I am sure is evident by the previous several paragraphs. There are a lot of pieces I've ideas for and one just needs to be done but, I keep shying away from it. Hell, before I started this I ironed six shirts just to avoid it. I'm weird like that. I know the voice is getting better, maybe this is a trial run, maybe...





I am well. Thanks for asking. I've been, as I suppose is evident, introspective, which always leads people to ask if I'm alright. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. I just want to sit in the yard and drink and watch the years go by." Folks think that's a weird answer, I doubt you will.



I see your son is doing well and your attitude remains positive. Congrats on the temporary work, sometimes shrugging and saying "what the fuck" isn't the worst plan.





Peace to you, I'm still looking for mine, but, it's a great journey.





With best regards,



Bill



It's that damned arrow, that's where the stories are... and, I'm glad I finally figured out what that note was for.

*** 

I wrote the above in an email to my friend Brian Sorrell.  Ya'll know I don't usually use real names here, especially for the ancillary characters, except when I do.  Brian is a writer and a teacher and philosopher, he is a repairer of bikes and a changer of diapers - or nappies as he might say.  He is a weaver of intricate tales and an unraveler of simple ones.  He's smart and witty and fresh and, first and foremost for me, he is my friend.  He has a beautiful and compelling web presence on his blog, Write On.  Go there someday when you have some time and give it to him, his words are worthy of it, I promise.

So...

Why am I sharing this private note with you all?  Well, not to say I am beginning a late-life career as a singer/songwriter, although part of me wishes for that.  And not to say I'm quitting this gig, although for a while that seemed to be the course I wanted.  Also, I'm not sharing all this to say I'm going to become a major presence in the writing community, dazzling you with premier posts - topical clever and important pieces bound for virality, although it'd be nice to have more than forty people stop by my little corner here any given day.

No...

You know, when I first heard that voice say 'no', I was, honestly, I little scared, a little ashamed and a lot sad.  I thought it was another "ending" and I am very weary of endings.  But, the important lesson that they teach alludes me - they are always false.  When something ends it has time to rest, get stronger and tell you what can be learned.  I can't seem to remember that.

What seem like endings are often just rest stops, a pause to refresh and reflect, and... prepare for the journey - not a new journey, but the same one that trails behind you and winds and wanders ahead of you.


Alright then.  I'm back, I guess, for now.  I've a pile of obscure notes - not unlike the on that started all this today - full of ideas and stories.  I've pictures in the camera, baseball tales to tell.  I've words of advice for you and you and, always, always... me.

I'll try to get back on schedule and post on Fridays, and perhaps more often.  I'll get "other-one-me" to start things up again on the FB page and I'll rustle up some "... from the backseat..." offerings.   I fear you've forgotten my little porch here, forgotten the times you've been before, forgotten the conversations and hopes and dreams past.  Well, I'll tell ya what, come back at the end of the week.  My voice feels strong again, the heaviness that I perceived as an ending is lifting, and I see sunsets for what they are, a precursor to sunrises, the foreshadows of dawn.


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

"Lightening can be both pretty and dangerous ... like Minnie Mouse."



I've always found Minnie a little creepy...


Thanks for coming around again, remember the porch door is always unlocked, come by anytime, poke around, you might find something you left, or thought was over.


I've written on endings before in "Bottle Buddies and Roses or There's Always Another Door" and "Two Images, Two Hours (or Three Images, Five Hours)" and "I'm Afraid I'll Forget" and, finally, "The Elements of a Post."


As always, peace.  See ya real soon, alright?