Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Matches


It flares with a sizzle, a sound fresh and new which echoes back old and frail.  The sulfur scent lingers on my fingers and still hides in the corners of the room.  The curious looking folded piece of thick paper filled with red-tipped paperboard sticks, its black, sandy stripe ominous, sits on the table.  Curious, yes, yet also comforting.  I can almost taste the vaguely familiar smell, fresher and greener than the acrid smokey scent that wafts up from them.

Matches.

They were everywhere when I was a kid.  I can't look around the memory rooms of my childhood and not see them.  In someone's kitchen, maybe Earl Wayne's, there was a blue trimmed ceramic bowl of them.  Jack's Auto Parts, The Grange, The Whippy Dip, The Bigtop Diner, John Deere, exotic hotel and motel packs, The Mason Bowl, Kings Island, an always rotating supply.  I remember even at ten or eleven taking a pack and shoving them into my worn out Levi's.

They were the business cards of tradespeople.  Plumbers had them, car shops had them, clubs and civic groups got them printed.  Gas stations, architects, the eye doctor, honest, and every bar and restaurant ever.  I can't imagine how many packs I handled in more than thirty years of tending bar and waiting tables.  Ashtrays always had a pack in them, there were plates or bowls or baskets of them at the hostess stand and on that funny half door at the coat check.

I had for years a matchbook from every restaurant I worked at, but, I guess I sorta used them. 

 
There were basically two types of business matches back then, the paper ones I mentioned earlier and boxed ones, the matches wood, which were highly coveted and more expensive.  My mom had a collection of matches, in books as I recall.  I only vaguely remember looking at them as a kid, but a tornado ruined our house when I was thirteen and those matches were everywhere in a back bedroom where they'd been in a closet.  I can see them now, a crazy variety of colors and shapes and styles, like wildflowers blooming in a room with no ceiling, no roof.

My dad bought them, a white paper box of, maybe, fifty.  He'd rip just a bit of the paper away to get at them one at a time.  That box of matches sat on a shelf next to his carton of Camels in a closet just inside the kitchen so that when I stole a pack of cigarettes from him I could easily grab a light, twenty smokes, twenty matches.  I remember buying a box of those matches when I lived in Queens and a lighter wasn't in the budget some years later.  I opened them just as he had and put them in a closet, next to my Marlboro Lights.  The covers were an odd almost Tiffany blue, I remember.  A color I'd only just learned from a girl named Holly Golightly, who I loved.

There was a third kind of matches, "strike-anywhere" the were called.  We kept a box in the camper when I was a kid and I've always had a box of them sealed up in my own camping box.  They were the coolest, really.  You could strike them on a log or the rusted burner of a white gas Coleman stove, anywhere really, hence the name.  In chemistry class in high school, Mr. Hendricks did a lab where we learned how they worked and made some.  I can still see and smell the smoke of them all hanging in the air under the stained acoustic tiles of the ceiling.

You know the cowboy who lit his match on his pants?  I could do that by the time I was twelve with the stike-anywheres.  By sixteen or seventeen I'd learned to snap one to flame with my thumbnail.  By the time I was in college, I'd learned all the tricks and dangers and etiquette matches required.  I spent a month figuring out how to light a paper book match with one hand... 'cause sometimes your other hand is otherwise occupied.

There is a way to sort of fling a match by holding its head against the striker and shooting it off with one finger.  You can get it five, six, feet... or it sticks to your finger.  This is a useful skill when one is lighting a gasoline soaked bonfire and needs a few feet of safety.  It's also a good skill for a match fight - think five or six young men shooting matches at each other on outdoor patio at the student center, or anywhere really - the safety of which was always questioned by campus police and dorm reps and forest rangers.  One time a lit match landed in my friend Bob's pant cuff and, because one tends to move around a lot in a match fight, the air lit it into flames.  We just stared at it as though it had never occurred to us that someone might catch fire in our insanely ill-conceived game.

It's funny, we grew up being told "Don't play with matches!"  Seems like for twenty or so years that was one of my favorite entertainments.

But, we'd also grown up watching people use matches.  In our homes, on television, in novels and movies, rock concerts and campgrounds we saw them in use all the time.  I mean, who among us hadn't stood next to their dad in a bewilderingly dark basement as he lit a match and waved it slowly down then up the rows of round fuses?  We'd all seen candle and lamps lit in a scene in a movie - darkness, a match flares and the light is but a small circle around it, it moves deliberately to a candle, the wick catches, in the broadening light faces are revealed - to the point it was really a trope, an overworked device. 

My friend Don dropped a his Zippo - which I have and shall always loathe - at a a J Geils concert in maybe '77 or '78.  It had been his dad's or his uncle's and... Zippos always had stories behind them, drove me nuts.  Anyway, we were down on our hands and knees, on the sticky, littered floor of a concrete stadium looking for that brass, bragging lighter by lighting matches and hoping to see it shine in the flare as they were lit.  I remember, even then, noting the irony was rich in that.  Of course the band was rocking and the crowd was rolling.  I don't remember if we found it.  I still don't care. 

In a dark cabin I watched a drunken friend strike a Diamond Blue Tip on the box, he lit his cigarette and casually threw the whole box into the fire instead of the spent match which was his intent.  We watched those matches spit and sizzle for a good five minutes.  It was something.

So matches were ubiquitous and in nearly constant use.  Easily, dozens of times a day we saw them.  We saw the utility and power of them, recognized their importance and, well, we saw the romance in them.

Here's where I falter.  You see, the most frequent thing we saw matches used for was, lighting cigarettes.  I don't want to seem as if I am condoning smoking, but there was a romance around it that simply cannot be denied, and lighting a cigarette, yours or another's, was a practiced art.

She asks for a light in a crowded bar and steadies your hand with hers as the music plays and hearts pound. 

A beach walk in November, Belmar, the wind wet, wild, cold.  A girl, a breakup, a match lit against the wind.  Her bending in to light her Benson and Hedges, cupping my already cupped hands.  Her face close.  A tear.

A party, a couch, six friends, one match, seven cigarettes.  Laughter.

A band of boys, warriors all, lighting matches for each other, smoking and posing, outside Mason High.

I best stop there.  I could write endless essays and stories around my love affair with cigarettes and smoking, they're good stories, good memories.  I will someday.

Fortunately, cigarettes, aren't the point today.  Neither, really, are the matches.

By the mid '70s, disposable butane lighters came into the market.  My dad was an early adopter, we still had those matches in the cupboard, but dad's pack of Camels now lay on the table with an adjustable "Bic Click."  I went to college at the end of the decade and my welcome box in the dorm contained, along with razors and shaving cream, pizza coupons and a condom, a "Cricket" lighter.  We ran them out real fast and when we discovered they were, like, a buck-fifty at Woolworths where the cigarettes were six bits, we just used the free matches, for a while.

Within a couple of years, the price of the disposables came down and we were learning how convenient and versatile they were, and, well, the matches ended up in the back of a drawer, waiting for the lighter to run out or for a pilot light needing a re-light.  By the last decade of the century, matches were essentially, replaced.

It is easy to look back at the ways and things of the past and see them as arcane, or quaint, if not inferior or even ridiculous. But, you know what? - matches worked, and they did with style, we used them with style.  Matches were never broken, dysfunctional... things just changed.

The avocado kitchen phone with the twisted, twenty-foot cord, still made my plans and got me talking to the girls.  The carburetor in my VW bug regulated the airflow just fine, no injection needed.  Gas stoves had pilot lights or you just used a match every time you fired one up, no electrostatic starters around for decades.  It wasn't hard, before the remote, to walk to the television and change stations, the channel still got switched.  We wrote letters with photographs in them and sent them on a arduous journey and waited for a response, same as today just in the time-frame of days or weeks, not minutes or seconds.  A cone filter in a pour-thru coffee maker or an old stove-top peculator still gave us a hot cup of Joe and took up less room and money than the behometh that sits on my counter today.

We didn't know all these things were coming.  That's so important to understand when we look back.  We didn't think getting up to change the channel sucked, we needed to change the channel, we needed to light the lamps.


Nick said something interesting a few years ago.  I thought it funny at the time, but, today it seems relevant.  He said: "Didn't you miss the internet when you were a kid, Dad?"


Thanks for coming along with me today, I appreciate it.

Peace


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Stone Broken Heart and Wildflower


It's been a while.  I hope you've been well.

I've been having nightmares, dreams of loss and separation.  In one, Nick and Zack are on one side of a tunnel busy with traffic and I, on the other side, am unable to cross and am so afraid they will try to get to me.  I scream and scream but the roar of the traffic renders me mute and I'm left wondering if I still can make a sound.  In another, Marci is waving to me from a tower, a tall parapet, I'd say.  She looks happy and yet the stone of the tower is shifting to sand and it begins to tilt towards its inevitable destruction.

There are others, some in which I am searching, sometimes for the  boys, often for Marci.  In some the search seems almost like a chase scene, I get to where I am sure I should be and the thing I so desperately need is no longer there but I sense again where it is and am frantically off to where I know I will get it next time.

Some of the dreams are scarier, underscored in a tone of violence, where loss and searching yield to darker themes.  I'd rather not think of them.


There is a part of me that wonders why I am telling you this.  Why am I telling me this, why am I telling the boys this?

Well, the first part is easy.  I think of "you" as the audience I have that might see this in real time, like, today or later in the week, and, honestly, your numbers are only a few dozen and you are all kind and sympathetic folks who I don't feel will be to judgy.

Why am I telling me this?  Frankly, I'm hoping voicing them might help them go away.

And the boys?  Yeah, that's the hard one.  I'd like to say that, perhaps some day, when they might be confused and laid vulnerable to life's confusion and uncertainty, they might come upon this here and my honesty will touch them.  Wishful thinking is my specialty.


"You don't just throw away someone else's broken heart," I said as Zack headed into the kitchen.

You see, the cat got up on the fireplace mantel and was heading towards the Nativity scene.  Z went to get her off before any further mischief could begin.  As he pulled her into his arms, Marci's little carved flat stone heart, marble I think, got pulled off and fell to the only tile in the room, the small area in front of the fireplace.  It landed with a thwack and a skitter, skitter.  I knew without looking it was in pieces.

Zack gathered them up.  He felt bad for breaking it.  He knew it wasn't his fault.  He went to throw it away, eager to get rid of the evidence.

"Whaddya gonna do with 'em," Nick asked from the couch where he'd been watching.

"I think I can fix it.  Just put them back on the mantel, Zack, I'll look at it later," I was fairly confident I could.


It's been an hour or more and, well, it turns out I can't.


The day after the election we were waiting for the bus out front and we noticed this:


It's a little wildflower blooming in the ditch in front of our house.  I don't like that ditch.  I can't get in to mow it, its sides are too sharp and I don't own - nor can I use - a string-trimmer, so the ditch gets full of weeds and tall grass.  Earlier in the year the township had come through and trimmed all the culverts and such on our road.  I raked the tall grass trimmings out and, on a whim, Marci planted a packet of mixed wildflower seeds.  I think we both imagined a ditch bouquet of blooms and blossoms, transforming the unsightly scar in the front yard into a colorful carpet of whimsy.

That didn't happen.  The grass and weeds came back and the ditch remained, well, unsightly.  And yet, so very late in the year, we see this brave little flower, variety unbeknownst, reaching out over the wilting grass and withering weeds.


Recently, I've been trying to find the meaning in more things.  I am not one to regret - which pleases me... which I regret - and I've often wondered why.  It turns out that pretty soon after something happens, say I make a bad decision, say the wrong thing, fuck up, I see what I am supposed to learn from it.  These are, historically, not revelations to be celebrated.  Conversely, when I make the right move, make a good decision, say the right thing, not fuck up, I also try to see what I should learn there.  Oddly, these are not celebratory moments either, more a reminder that I should always do the right thing and not be a dick.  Somehow, these sometimes painful insights have led to an understanding that leads to a lack of regret.  But, I have a secret to tell you, I have, my whole life, felt, well, guided.

So what sort of Guide wishes me bad dreams or broken hearts?  Who would frighten me so manifestly that I wake up in sweat and tears, a silent scream in my throat?  Who would have the audacity to remind me that sometimes hearts go unmended?

The same one that puts a wildflower in a ditch.  And that one flower is the whole carpet we dreamed of, the whole ditch abloom, it is our hope fulfilled because the joy was in the hoping, not in what we were hoping for.

Well, wish me a dream where I find my sons, where I rescue my love, where I mend hearts.
Wish me the hope of future fields of fresh flowers.

I wish you peace.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Post Election Post


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

 
My 11-year-old sons will be home from school soon. We discussed the presidential election this morning. They seemed a little stunned, but I was glad to see they weren’t frightened. They may come home that way, though.

I imagine different scenarios. What I might say to a kid who asks if everything will be OK; who asks if a president can really deport people or ban a religion? What’ll I say to the other when he asks if Mom will still have a job, or if we are going to have to move somewhere?

I will answer them gracefully, I will say important things like, “Your life shines brighter than all of this. Decency, courage, honor, truth, love never go away, they are steadfast. Things will change, a darkness may descend, but the light of hope cannot be extinguished.”

We will hug in the driveway. I will weep for and with them. I will lift their quivering chins and look them in the eyes and tell them they are safe and cherished. I will apologize for my naivete. I will choke back a sob as I tell them I was wrong, very wrong.

I will watch as they throw a backpack down in disgust at the injustice of it all. I will tell them I understand, that injustice cracks hearts and weighs heavy on the soul. I will tell them to stick up for themselves and advocate for others. I will tell them hope is never lost.

Because no matter what side of this whole thing you are on, you can do this: Volunteer. Find a place you can help and call them, go there. This new administration is going to change things, and it may add more misery to millions of lives.

You can donate food or money, support LGBT causes, make sure children are safe and fed, walk a friend home after dark, embrace the homeless, advocate for others. One thing, even one little thing, could help. Helping others is just that, helping others, but, you see, you are an “other.” You need to give that frightened man, that widowed mother, that shivering child, your warm hands, for they are you. Fuck that “there but for the grace of God go I.” No, it is more like “There goes I.” Shining hope into the broken corners of society shows you your own light.

Do the important things — love, give hope, lift others. Let this not be the end of decency. Let this not be the end of honor. Let this not be the end of courtesy. It’s up to us now, let us not be afraid, let our light shine.

Never relinquish hope.

+  +  +

The boys came home a few minutes ago. I wait in the driveway as I always do, the bigger boy tosses me his backpack as he often does. The other boy is quiet, as he usually is.

“Hey, Dad, I need to ask you something …”

Here we go, I’m ready. I steel myself, and wait for the scene I practiced all afternoon to begin.
“… what’s for dinner?”

What?

“Oh, and Dad.”

Here it comes.

“I think we are going to start basketball practice next week, the coach’s son is in math with me and he said something about it.”

And they walk into the garage and on into the house.

You see, they didn’t lose hope. They can’t. They are hope. To them it is dinner and practices and friends and difficult math homework and books. It is the good yet to come. They are not innocent and selfish, I don’t mean to say that. No. They are confident and sure in that good yet to come. And, isn’t that hope at its purest? They can’t be distracted away from hope, it is designed into them.

I’ve come a long way from the volunteering thing I mentioned.

Or have I?

The truth is, I am the trembling boy in the driveway, just as sure as I am the homeless, the forgotten, the disenfranchised and broken who have and will need my, your hope.

Remember, we are all each others hope and that hope has a home in the heart. Let it shine. Do not place it under the bushels of fear, cynicism or despair. Let it shine bright in you, from you, aim it toward the others, particularly the children, and see theirs lighting you as well.




pssssssst...


Hey boys, head on over to this post if you want to know how I really felt and still feel, about the events of this past week.  In other words, wait, there's more, there's always more.

Unofficial Post Election Post


Hey, you're here.

Listen, I'm gonna drop character here for a sec.  The results of this election have stymied me, gobsmacked me, bewildered me, stunned me.  I feel, well, roughed up a bit.  I may have hit my head so hard with my own hand that I'm not sure who I am anymore.

Am I that boy who grew up in the country with grass-stained knees and yellow hair?  Surrounded by good country folks whose opinions about others were questionable?  Where there was a sameness as dull as milk but not nearly as refreshing?

Am I a teenage football player ogling cheerleaders and saying off-color things, bullshit things, things as untrue as the mustache I tried to sport?

Am I that same teenage boy playing Peter in a fall production of "The Diary of Ann Frank"?  Crying real tears as the despair hit me at the end of the second act that cold opening night?

Perhaps I'm that same boy, a senior now, standing in a field, leaning against a beat-to-hell, piss yellow VW Beatle, Rolling Rock in hand screaming "It's only teenage wasteland" to The Who and any Gods that might have been listening?

Am I a college freshman leading a posse of man-boys out into the cold Athens streets into bars and trouble and legend?  Or, wait, am I that same kid getting his mind blown by Sartre and Kafka, Ionesco, Williams and that Shakespeare guy?

Am I a lonesome waiter, a boozesome bartender, surrounded by a busyness I'd never known in a city I'd no business being in?  Am I taking in every face, every gesture; feeling every emotion, weeping through them; listening to every story, remembering every sorrow?

Am I a fresh start, different place, different faces, the same stories - the only stories, essentials.  Am I a thirty year lifer of tables and barstools, winekeys and tablecloths?

Am I suddenly a husband?

Am I improbably a father to twins, to boys?

Yes, yes I am.

But who am I right now, at this moment of confusion?

I'm all those dudes, and scores of others.  When emotion and memory entwine, tense is suspended.  I can taste that skunky Rolling Rock right now.  Every table I've ever waited on, every person I ever laid a bev-nap in front of, are right here.  A moment in a wedding, white and good.  Two babies laughing.  All in present tense.

But what of the real present.

Ah, that's the problem.  I've not had time to understand who I am this time.  

Should I spew my emotions out here?  Get on board the vitriol train which runs both ways these days?  It's tempting, but that yellow-haired boy doesn't understand why we have to be so mean.

Should I be more sympathetic to the locker room talk, try to understand the back room racism, be more understanding of the xenophobe because once - now, you see - I was like that?  No, because the teenage boy and the college would-be Lothario and the wily bartender will all tell you it is bullshit and we know it.

Should I be the Pollyanna I play so often on my blog?  You know, when I speak on love and honor and charity and capitalize them for affect?  When I look forward for and with the boys with faith in humanity, with dignity, with hope. Do I mean it?  The father looks back at me in the mirror and says "every damn word."

Should I put on my warrior hat, tarnished with years of disuse, and charge into the injustices so many tell me won't come, but will?  No, because the me typing these words in not up for the fight, although "Teenage Wasteland" boy says he is.

Should I run towards my gay friends, arms outreaching, only to have them run away as I scream, "No, don't run, it's a happy, hippy, philosopher's beard not a redneck beard!"?

Should I wear a safety pin on my sweatshirt and point myself out as a "helper"?  Will any one believe it?  Do we need blue and red stars on out foreheads like some dystopian Sneetches so we know who to trust?

Do I stop drinking Yuengling because the owner's a dick?  Is that the distribution team's fault, or the truck driver's, or the men and women who designed the logo, or the bartender that pulls the draft?

Does that place with the burgers I like so much not get my business anymore 'cause I heard the investors are Republicans?  What of the servers there, the mom with two daughters, the college girl at X?  What of their vote? 

What if the fireman thinks I'm a Liberal, will he let my house burn down?  Will the cop be leery of my old Ford truck.

Do I go back to church where most disagree with the choice I made?

What the actual fuck?!?

I'm scared, boys, because I am unsure of the path ahead.

But, this is the hard part to understand, all those others are.  They've defined me so well, shown me who I am so thoroughly that their collective soul, here, alive in me right now is sure of the path.

I can't imagine this makes much sense.

Boys, it's hard to be an adult.  Choices are never very clear and there is a lot, a lot, of improvisation and questioning along with every one we encounter.

You know what?  I was willing to give myself a place to rant here tonight.  I wanted to but my rant confused and contradicted me.  I've typed twice as much tonight as you see here.  But, I deleted it because it made me uncomfortable.  Some of it was hateful, some was violent, some was laced with more expletives than even I am comfortable with.  Most of it was a betrayal of myself, myselfs, all that I was and have come to be.

Peace.

In the middle of one of my more rantier moments here tonight, I lifted my steaming head and looked out into the backyard and saw this.


There is not a one of me that wouldn't stop to look at that.

 Yeah, maybe I'll just stick with the Pollyanna thing.

It's late, I've no time to really edit this, which it obviously needs, and the boys will be home from the Xavier basketball game they went to tonight.


Peace, we'll get back to our regular programming next week.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A Faithuality Post


This was on the grocery list a few days ago:



It's cute, isn't it?

There's more, of course.  When we were first married, Marci used to put little love notes and smiley faces and such on the list that hangs on the side of the refrigerator, she still does.  When I asked Z to put cookies on the list, this is what he did.  I don't think he ever saw Marci do it, or saw it on a list before, it just occurred to him.

I'm glad it did.


I've decided to do a thirty-four week "retreat for Everyday Life."  It is presented by the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University and is founded in Ignation thought and the tenets of the Jesuits - The Brothers of Christ.  It suggests a theme and a path for prayer and reflection and...

...blah, blah, blah...

It's not complicated.  I won't be wearing holes in my jeans knees or thrice whumping my chest above my heart or fasting or proselytizing  - all laudable - but, I will give it some thought.  

One of the bible dudes said something like "pray  without ceasing."  Yeah, that's a tall order.  But, what if our very thoughts are like prayers, every action a folding of the hands, every breath a celebration?  If I welcome an idea into my heart with the hope that it will bring me deeper in Faith, wouldn't then every subsequent thought and revelation and fear be but a prayer?

This week tells us to prepare for the journey.  This week asks us to be honest and joyous and free.  Mostly though, this week asks us to go back in our lives, to think about our young childhood, our adolescence and our young adult life.


"Let's let the Lord show us our lives."

That's some radical thinking, right there.  I always look back at my life as a self-guided tour.  I feel my own sorrows, I rejoice in myself, I brave the memory of bad times, I celebrate myself for my victories.  All, bolstered and lifted by my own damn self.

But what if someone else led the tour?  What if God led the tour?

I've been all through my life, honestly.  If nothing else, I've always been introspective.  My timeline is pretty solid.  I've felt the feelings, all that.  In my arrogance and sheer smugness, I figured their wasn't much for God to show me.  And you know what?  I was right.  

Except... the light was wrong, or the perspective was off or something.  I wasn't the hero or antagonist in this writing.  I was not the main character in this narrative, I was in the chorus at best.

This time through, my attention was called to what others - what God, for God is always in others - were doing for me.  This kindness, that help, that understanding.  Beautiful things and powerful wisdom, enormous love.  From parents and friends and family, strangers, lovers, enemies.  So much I've missed in my story, or forgotten, really.

It's a great exercise, but I think we are doomed to be tragic heroes of our own stories, I know I am.  But...

I was looking at some old photographs from my childhood days, hoping maybe to see something new.  Something profound or heart skipping, looking for what God was trying to show me, which one shouldn't really try.

 As I flipped around pages, looking at pictures I know well, I didn't see just the trapped moment, this time.


A picture of a boy in a football uniform beside my old school isn't just about me.  It's about the dirty split uniforms and scrapes my mother cleaned and mended.  It's about trips to and from practice.  It's about coaches and community and place.  A picture of little Billy Peebles, posing with a football on a fall day in rural Ohio, is, lastly, about me.  It is about the respect and honor put - sometimes undeservedly, I might add - towards me.  The picture is just a culmination of countless acts of love bestowed on me by others.  Sound familiar?

I think I knew all this.  Especially now as a parent.  It's good to remember that we are lifted along the journey by others.  I think I fulfilled the basic intent of this weeks theme, don't you?

But there was something else, something I couldn't grab.  I kept, in selfishness, looking at my face in picture after picture.  Yes, even when I was trying to see something different I kept searching my own face.  Now, remember, I am trying to take the tour, not lead it.  Then, why do I keep scrutinizing each expression, trying to read a boy's mind decades ago?

There is a series of pictures taken on an old Instamatic in seventy-two.  Black and whites of a shed JB and I built one summer.  The shed from this story about Mr. Barnes and us.  JB is in some of them.  In one he's petting our old dog, Deputy.  There is a blurry one of me peering from a window - the window - of our shack, but this is the one that caught my eye:


I flipped back to a few others and it suddenly occurred to me, I wasn't looking at the boy, the boy was watching me.  I looked at other pictures and in many I am watching something.  Candles on a cake, a brother, my dad, nowhere.  Even when I am looking at the camera, I seem to be looking at the person behind it, or even through them and on to the future, my now, now.

Watching.

I've spent my whole life watching and it all probably started as a kid.  I've never thought of that really.  That as a boy, as the last of three sons, there was a lot to watch.  I grew up in the late sixties and seventies, there was a lot to watch.  I grew up around fields and woods and gravel pits and ponds, there was a lot to watch.

I think though, all I did was watch.  I wasn't trying to understand, infer, learn.  I was just taking it all in, knowing somehow, that I'd have time for that later.  And, that has served me well over the course of a lifetime.  I didn't then, and I may still not, know the importance of all that watching, but it occurs to me that it might now be that "later" I've been waiting for.

I look at that boy sitting in a shed and see him watching me, a pleasant, expectant look on his face and I hear him say, "You're turn."


I'd like to tell you about a long term plan that has me publishing something here on Fridays about this retreat, each post framed around the theme of the week, you know, sort of as a writing prompt.  I won't though, I am really not good at long range things, I can think of a few other ideas I had like this which now lay fallow in the back pages here.

I will tell you this, though.  I can't give an honest account of myself without including my journey through Faith.  I can't not use words like God and Spirit and, if it's fitting, even Jesus.  And, to be honest, I'm tired of trying to work around them, trying to be vague in the hope of not offending those who aren't walking this road.  I don't want to be didactic or condescending or disingenuous, although some might see it as such.  And, most certainly, I don't want to offend or insult.  If I have, or do, let me apologize now.


Peace to you all.  So few come around anymore, I appreciate your time, I really do.

It's funny, it pretty much just "occurred" to me to write this today.  I was going to write on cuteness.

 


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Four-Hundred-and-Fifty-Three


I don't look under my foot and find crazily curious or seriously silly drawings and the like much anymore.  But, every now and then something does come to my attention.  I've had this stack on my desk for a while now.  Do you mind looking at them so I can tenderly archive them into the fabric get them off my desk.

Let's see...


This was in one of Nick's notebooks for school.  That dino is too damn cute to intimidate any thing bigger 'n a bush, in my opinion.

There's this from Zack:



This is, clearly, a Ninja fight.  There are a lot of questions one could ask here.  Which direction is the carefully rendered "death star" headed?  Is Ninja Dude on the right executing a fatal death kick, ducking the star, or falling dead onto his face?  Do these dudes know each other?  Why are they blind folded, seems hard to duck something with a blindfold on?  Why is my favorite part of all this the shadow underneath horizontal dude?  What is the damn context here!?

Lets move on to this top-hatted turtle from Nick:


Again, more questions than answers.  Is that his natural shell or is it giant checkerboard Jamberry of some sort?  Why is he going uphill?  Is that a monocle?  Why is he hoofed and how can he be holding his cane?  Was he finalist in the Monopoly piece competition?  Is that Lincoln's Hat?  Again, I need context!

Let's try something that makes more sense, like this Maze from Z-man:


Yeah... well, that didn't work

Perhaps this lesson Nick did to study for a test a while back:



Well now, see.  This all makes sense, doesn't it... ?

Both of the boys worked on these, the fianl renderings are all, I think, Zack's, but I heard them talking about names and such together.  In a perfect world of my own design - fiction, that is - these are names for some as-yet-realized punk-pop-heavy metal-post-apocalyptic-fusion bands.  The truth is, they are names for clans - or guilds is it? - they lead or are a part of in a couple of on-line kids games they play.  I like the fiction better:



REMiup.  A bad REM cover band?


XTOXiC A good XTC cover band?


 BiO ToXiC  Aren't they a basketball team?



I hate to say it but XContaminated just doesn't work for me... for anything.



I think this is the final logo, XToxicon.  I think it's a mash up of all of them...  I love that, "The Toxic Keepers".

They did mock up something for a glam rock tribute band.



Sorta just speaks for itself, doesn't it.


So, that's what I found, thanks for taking a look.  It's been fun.


I've been doing this a long time now, it'll be five years around Thanksgiving.  Four-hundred-and-fifty-two posts, not too far off from my hope of a hundred a year.  Sometimes I poke around in the archives.  I wince a bit at some, laugh at many, and, even this short ways away from them, I feel the weight of melancholy that hangs on them.

Writing this post, I decided to try to recapture what I did earlier on in this trip, I hope you don't mind.  If you write or paint or sing or whatever, I think it's important to look at how you used to do things.  It can offer insight, that's true, but it can do more - it can offer a sort of validation.  You can say to your former self, "hey, that was good" or "you were right about that" or "I cried again, just as you did when you did this."  It can feel good, but there's more:  If you recognize and validate the thoughts you once had as good and right, you can rest assured that your future self will probably feel the same about what you're doing now.

Make sense?

As always, peace.


If you are interested, there's tons more of this stuff in the Archives.  Try the labels "silly" or "take-home folder" or "paper arts" or my personal favorite, "hairbrainage".






Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dwellings


A while back...

What does that even mean?

I think it means that the writer is uncertain of the time frame, or, is unwilling to face the consequences of putting a thought or memory onto the time-line of a lifetime.

I almost started with "a couple years back..." but I realized the incident only happened, like, four months ago.  And yet, it seems like much longer ago.  I guess we've done a lot since then, but, honestly, we don't actually do a lot.  Maybe it's the seasonal change here, a change that relegates the previous season to a long list of Summer memories, Winter dreams and Fall melancholy.


We were several days into a fine beach vacation with the boys and Marci's parents.  There were excursions and laziness and body surfing and dining and the like.  The boys shared a room with twin beds and they were snuggled down in them.  The sand was washed from them and the smell of soap masked the smell of the ocean, although that salty sea scent lingered deep in their still wet hair.

Nick lay quietly as Zack was falling slowly to sleep.  He seemed sad so I asked him what the matter was.

He hesitated a moment and then said to the quiet, "I miss our family home."

I knew then what it meant, I know right know what it means, and, I will know it in the years to come.  Was he homesick?  Yes.  Was he lonely?  I'd say yes.  Was he - I guess there's a better word somewhere, but not handy - discombobulated?  Out-of-sorts?  Yes, I know I was.

There's another part to what he was feeling, a primal, tribal part, the sense of place.  When I miss a part of my life, past or present, it is with a geographical precision.  Memories come wrapped in the place of them, like little shoe-box dioramas of owls or paper models of places to pray.  The memory of learning John Prine's "Paradise" is set in a kitchen and I still play it best in one.  A fire of driftwood in the mountains can be pinpointed to a place called "Lonesome Lake" on the Mogollon Ridge.  The lake was dry, and the wood was as well, and the smoke hung under an indigo blanket of stars.  My childhood is in places - the middle and junior high school, built early in  a century I've seen end, wax floors and lacquered gymnasium; a home in the country, the floor plan a map of memories; a pine wood there, a creek, the railroad tracks, the Glasses Eating Pond, here, here, here and here; my next door neighbor friend JB's room the summer he cut his leg and we learned to play chess - all of these places open my mind to what has been.

And, that's just the thing- the place of a memory is its door, and we alternately long and are loathe to open it.  That door of place illuminates, once opened, the cloud where the memory dwells - our conscience, our heart, our soul, our electrically fired gooey brains - which displaces the latitude and and longitude of it with all that transcends place.

I have, on more than one occasion, walked the length of the rural road I grew up on.  I wrote about one such excursion in a piece called "The Man in the Green Reds Hat."  I wondered unapologetically down that lane in search of a spot that might show me the lost things of my boyhood.  It worked.  But then something else happened, I was inundated with detail and emotion all at once.  I saw my own self walking toward me.  I was both there and here, both past and present.  It wasn't the dot of dirty road on the map I was was feeling, it was the dust that had blown up from it and settled in my soul.


We all know that a word has a definition, its denotation, and a connotation, it's... what?  Younger kids don't really have an understanding of that.  The boys get the concept, but, without an accumulated canon of knowledge, that understanding falls short.  I tried to explain it once to Z as "the story of a word."  Another time to Nick I said that connotation is the way a word echoes through time.

Think about what Nick said, "I miss our family home."  It drips with connotation.  Longing for a 'home' places us somewhere we loved, were loved, still love.  Home is more than a dwelling, it is a stack of chipped bowls, a sunset in the backyard, a beloved tree, a pet.  It is fire and wind up and down the same chimney, it is coziness and comfort, tears and talismans, hearth and hope.  The word itself - Home - tells you its story, which is actually your story.

'Family' is different, though, harder.  I am older now and understand that it doesn't invoke the same feeling in me as it may in others.  I've read the novels, seen the plays, shaken my head at the memoirs, biopics and documentaries.  I've heard the word echo through corridors of my life and I can't quite derive what it is always saying to me.  But, you see, it's only echoed in the short halls of their life, Nick and Zack that is.

Short of dysfunctional Disney families or a rough, sad family in a book - Harry Potter and the like - they haven't seen that harder side of the word.  They've heard it echo softly, sweetly, never a bombastic shout or muffled sob which they've yet to hear.  They will though, sadly.  I guess a word echoes differently for all of us, each of us hearing our own.

I guess I've been dwelling on this place and memory, family and home thing for a while.  It is simple, I think, conceptually to see the associations, the idea of it, but then the words start shouting and the place tells a story and... 



Dwelling is a noun and a tense of the verb dwell, the past tense of which is dwelt.  A dweller is one who dwells.  Dwellings is plural but, if one who dwells on something and writes it down is the result a dwelling?  And more than one of these things would be dwellings, correct?

There is also a technical use for the word, I'd forgotten all about that.  Do you see how mixed up a word can get?

So, when I use a word, when I speak on family and place in this instance, what does it do to you?  I think you can discern my use of a word from someone else's, but I trust you to bring your stories and echos of it along with you.  In fact, I count on it.


Autumn is quiet this year, the maples in back are a muted yellow bordering on beige.  The woods are dry and crispy and the pine trees are dropping tan needles which carpet the front yard.  My mood is muted as well.  Life seems heavier than usual, somehow dire.  I hope it is the election cycle, which I've already addressed here.  It's not, probably, the election, it's more about courage and faith.  No, that's not it either.  It's about fear and doubt... mine.

In a bunch of years, I might look back on this election and remember being sad and looking out of my family home, dwelling on place and doors and stories and echoes and...

I was, am and will be, sitting right here at 39°16'54.1"N 84°17'34.1"WI reckon I always will be.




Thanks for coming 'round.  I've not been posting as often here, I can't say why, really, I'll only offer a vague "it's getting harder."  Peace, as always, oh, and hey, vote.

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


Nick: "I'm playing a game that I am raging at."


Dad: "That's my boy!"



Give that boy a hat to throw down and stomp on... not that anyone does that, I mean, who would, right?