Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Cake Post

A while back, Marci and Zack went to a movie and Nick and I made a cake.  It was sloppy and lopsided and messy and... perfect in every way.  Nick did almost all the work by himself including lopping off the dome of the bottom layer - the ultimate "Scoobie snack" -  and icing it.  And, licking the beaters - I know, horrors, raw eggs, whatever.

I took a picture of it and after I did he said:  "You gonna put that in your blog?"

"I might," I told him.

"Well... I'd sure like to remember this forever," he said.

So would I buddy, so would I...

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

"I'm sad I'm not going to be a child forever.  

Parents have no imagination." 


I know this is short today, but, well... truth is I was just going to add the cake to another post but I looked at the blog today and noticed only three posts this month, which would be the fewest ever.  I didn't like that and tomorrow is the first and, so, here ya go.

Peace to you, thanks for sharing our cake.  It was fun.

(You really should check out the post "Scoobiesnacks" I linked above, it's extra cute.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Before This Post

I've heard James Taylor songs for as long as I can remember and I've played them for just a little bit less than that.  Just a couple of nights ago I was sad, there have been shootings and deaths in the news of late, and when I am sad and afraid I like to sing and play the songs that have long comforted me - Dylan and Croce and Taylor and Denver.  So, I sat on the porch and tried to sing away my sorrow.  I sang to the lightning bugs as the frogs and toads joined me in the choruses.

It was late, later than I should have probably been playing outside with so many homes so close, but the humid air trapped the words and melodies and kept them close, just me and the guitar and the words and the stillness.  I sang "Sweet Baby James" and the strings jangled sweetly, and the words, resting in the heavy air, hung even sweeter in the still night.  I wondered, as I finished, how many times I've played that song.  I wondered how many times it has given me its gift of calm and peace.  I wondered why it felt like a prayer to me.

JT has just released a new album of original music called Before This World.  It is not my place to say whether it is good or not.  I decided thirty or forty years ago that it would be, if that makes any sense.  I just finished listening to it.

In the song "Before This World / Jolly Springtime" James sings

Who can pretend to understand at all
No one can both inside and outside be
Who can suppose he knows the way this goes

(There is no punctuation in any of the official lyrics I can find for this song... I like that.)

I'd been looking forward to hearing the new album for a while.  Like, more than I should, like, goody-goody-goody excitement. Like hopeful anticipation.  Like I needed to hear it... now I know why.

I have been pretending, and still pretend, most likely, that I understand, that I have a deep understanding of the whys and hows of this existence, that I understand the very nature of love and sorrow and all those vague poetic words I cast about, arbitrarily capitalizing as though that were an act of holiness in itself.  I know, I've gotta lot of goddam nerve, right?

But, just as knowing a song well enough to sing it in the night to the stars and fireflies, pretending I understand comforts me, makes me feel less alone underneath those stars, less inferior to the perfection of that ancient bioluminescence.  I pretend to understand because it hurts less.  However, if I sing a song I know in the dark, I don't learn another.  If I pretend to understand, I stop trying to.

"Who can suppose he knows the way this goes?"  Not me.  But, I can box up every "if this" with a "then this" as pretty as you please.  'This is this way this had to happen because this had to happen next' is easy and, frankly, sophomoric thinking.  And yet, I fall into it.  Again, because it is easy and comforting.  If this painful ordeal, whatever it may be, will lead to something redemptive, then I will suffer it.  But that just makes me acquiescent, doesn't it?  Reactive, not proactive or even preactive.  It shrouds the necessity of change in the linens of my protestant predestination.  I accept and forget that I am the change I want to see.

 No one can both inside and outside be

As Taylor sang those lines, the cello of Yo-Yo Ma and the harmonies of Sting lifted them out of the song and hung them on a hook in my mind.

You see, I try, I try to "both inside and outside be."  It is an unwieldy and heavy weight I burden myself with.  And, "no one can."

I can't presume to tell you your inside or outside.  The metaphor is broad-shouldered and will take whatever you can give it.  For me, my inside is where things are right.  It is the place I understand those lofty words, the place where purity and decency and integrity and honor wait in white rooms to show their very brightness.  It is where my library of understanding houses faith and resurrection and redemption.  Ironically, "inside" is where I assume to understand understanding.

But "outside" I am flawed hopelessly.  Not physically - that would be an endless litany - mind you, but in my perception of what is outside and how it can so purposefully besiege what I know is right inside.  From every angle it seems, I suffer a barrage of hatred and suffering and injustice that buckles me and scares me and makes me forget what is in the white rooms.  I know, inside my very soul, that there is decency and honor everywhere even as hearts are broken and lives destroyed.

I just can't seem to believe both at the same time.

This inside and outside dichotomy is at the very soul of my discontent.  There is an "insideness," if you will, that I see in some people - ordinary people, not monks and Dalai Lamas, philosophers or poets - no, in you, in my sons, that I admire and wish for.  There is also an "outsideness" that I see in ordinary people - not industrialists or world leaders, marketers or CEOs - as well.  Again in you, in Nick and Zack.  And again, I envy it.

This is, of course, a tired and probably pedestrian point.  It is ying and yang, good and bad, white and black.  It could be argued that this is all simply about balance and finding the place between my inside and my outside.  But that dilutes both.  I need to dwell in both places, I think we all do.

Boys do it well.


Nick is standing at the plate down a couple of strikes.  There are two outs and on every bag a runner stands.  He reaches for an outside pitch and sends a soft line drive over the second baseman's head and the center fielder rushes in and one-hops it.  He sends it quickly over to first for what looks like will be an easy out.  The first baseman, however, is watching Nick thunder towards him and is oblivious to the throw.  Barely missing his head the ball rolls lamely towards the fence but stays in play.

The first base coach sends Nick on, in fact the dust from all the runners is drifting toward the outfield.  One runner scores and another is about to.  The first baseman comes to his senses, grabs the ball and sends it, too quickly, to second where a boy eagerly awaits the opportunity to tag Nick out.  The ball misses his glove and ends up in the hands of the shortstop backing up the play.  He bumbles it in classic Little League fashion and Nick rounds second and heads for third.

The shortstop shoots for third and the ball hits and bounces toward the third baseman, another sure out.  But the ball somehow gets away from him now.  Nick is still up having ignored the slide sign from his coach who can tell that there is no stopping Nick now even though the ball is only a foot or two from the third baseman.

Nick races for home.  Three boys are plated and wait for the play.  There is no way he will score, the ball is in the hand of the third baseman now and Nick is still a good twenty feet from the plate.  The crowd is cheering and laughing, mostly laughing, caught up as only baseball can catch one, the boys are jumping up and down, Nick barrels onward in dusty determination.  The throw comes in, the catcher waits for it and...

... it hits Nick in the back of the helmet.

A Grand Slam.


From the outside this was a glorious moment, the crowd was cheering, the boys were screaming.  Everyone agreed that it had been "heads-up" base-running on Nick's part, four runs were marked on the diamond in the playbook.

But inside, inside, he knew it wasn't a grand slam.  He didn't want that credit, he didn't feel he deserved it and, God love him, amidst the cheering and high-fives and laughter and dust I heard him say, "I just got lucky," though he was smiling.  He continued to just say he got lucky as the congratulations continued both after the game and in subsequent conversations.  In fact, he calls it an "error slam" to this day.  Inside, in a place that is honesty, where integrity and character are waiting to come of age, he found himself denying what, on the outside, he could have taken as a moment of glory.  He understood both places.

I admire that.

Later in that same game, Zack had hit a solid grounder to short, and since he is fast, beat the throw to first.  At least that's what I saw - what everyone but the ump saw.  He shouted "Y'er out!"

I watched Zack's face.  He sort of grimaced, shook his head a little, and turned and walked back to the dugout.  I could tell that he knew he was safe, I could tell that he knew it was not something he could change.  I could see the resolve to go a little faster next time, to try harder.

Inside he made the outside thing better.

I admire that.

They won the game.. and the championship of their bracket.

They won more though.  They won my admiration.  They are good boys, good champions, good sports.

But beyond that, I think, they taught me, as they always do, that one can "both inside and outside be," ya just gotta not think about it.

Thanks for being here today, with us, with me.  I must go.

Marci heard this:

According to Z:

"SCUBA actually stands for 'Someone Come Under, Bring Air'."

Seems reasonable...

Peace to you all.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Silence Between

There has been so little silence for the past couple of weeks. The boys are off school and the background din that is a ten year old boy idling has filled the house... and the pool and the car and the backyard and the baseball diamonds.

Summer is louder than the cold quiet winter here in our corner of Ohio.

When I was a boy that was because of the crickets and the frogs and the wild wind that comes up before the wilder storm and the impotent by comparison ten o'clock fireworks at the local amusement park. I still hear those calls today as I sit on the screened-in porch of an evening, the same conversations between the frogs, and toads I suppose, mingle with the courting crickets into a maddeningly loud chorus, the snare-drum of the wind through the trees holds the noise high and long.

The very same park rumbles its evening fireworks, though I cannot see them climbing up over the trees and cornflower hills as I could as a kid, they somehow now are welcome echoes of those I watched so many times so many years ago.

Of course, here, now - this here, this now, not the one that will come or the one that has been, right now - in this burgeoning twenty-first century the noise is twofold. The crickets and frogs and storms are still shouting their ancient thanksgiving but so few hear their song of praise. The fans in our homes - the box fan that helps a boy sleep, the fan at the bottom of the stairs that brings up air into a humid and hot kitchen from the cool basement, the other fans that circulate that cool air and dehumidify it; the fans that whir in our lap and desktops not quite as imperceptible as we would like them to be; the ceiling fans in every room, the fan that vents the steamy air from the bathroom, the fan that runs in the toaster oven after the waffles are done, the fan that blows on my feet as I watch the pasta boil - create a constant hum, a somehow modern disharmonic chord that replaces natural ancient notes that will forever ring in our very souls.

There is indeed more than just the fans that feed that damned noisiness. Now of course there is the beeping and dinging and buzzing and creaking noise of our devices. Televisions are on, ear-buds are in but not unheard, timers set, water heaters whistling as only they do, the washer and dryer, the AC compressor, the numbing buzz of the flourescents above the workbench. The work on the street, constant so far this summer, even through the closed windows and doors.

I miss the solace of silence.

So I've turned off the dehumidifier. There is no laundry sloshing or thunking in the washer or dryer. The AC is quiet waiting for the morning to swelter, as it will. No bulbs are buzzing, few fans are whirring. The birds are quiet as is the wind. No storms roll in the western sky. The street is quiet right out front. The phone is silenced.

And yet, I have not found the silence I seek. It would seem that the outside noise was just covering up the inside din.

But, what is all this noise?

What is all this disharmony if it is not the outside modernity I wish to blame it on?

Why didn't this experiment work? Why can I not find the Silence which I know will soothe me?

It's me, isn't it?

I'm letting the noise in. I am arguing over things in my head, shouting at myself, doubting myself, hurting my own feelings. I feel like there is some loud, mad dash I should be entering in and if I don't all will be lost but I am afraid and intimidated by the madness of the dash and the conversation rolls and rolls through my mind, a giant boulder rumbling 'round like thunder.

And all the other ideas and thoughts and dreams and hopes chasing and screaming like a wild game of mind tag, hoping to win attention, in the din that is, inescapably, of my own making...


Look above three paragraphs there, that last question, I gave myself a hint at my answer. I arbitrarally capitalized Silence (on purpose perhaps, that’s up to you gentle reader) and that is indeed the silence that will soothe me.

The Silence that is Prayer. The Silence that is Thanksgiving.

The Silence that is everywhere, that has always been, that lingers between wind and the frogs and crickets, between the fanblades, between the backyard shouts and cracking bats. The Silence that is between the moments of noise, however fleeting, but always, always, there.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, I could only devote a couple of hours to this today so I set the timer on the humidifier, you know, that deal you make with it where it stays silent for a couple hours and then you let it do its thing when it comes back on.

It just came on, just as I finished that last sentence

The heat has indeed sweltered up and the compressor and fan came on just a few seconds later.

The work crews heavy equipment lumber closer, within hearing range.

I must start the washer now.

The stormclouds gray the western sky
And yet, somehow, I feel a pervasive solace, I hear a profound Silence, a deep Silence. Now that I am listening for it...  Do you hear it, too?

I keep walking by this little guy, who sits silently waiting for his boy to come home, and I keep thinking he should somehow be part of this today.  Perhaps long sentences about the quiet that is faithfulness.  The solace of duty, the silence that is honor, the whiteness of love.

I keep walking by this guy and he is so damn cute I took a picture:

I am always glad to have you stop by, sorry it was so noisy at first.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bottle Buddies and Roses or There's Always Another Door

When the boys were given this assignment, they said they needed a "bottle buddy," all I could think was, well, don't we all...

As it turns out, a bottle buddy is not your drinkin' friend from college, no, it is the end result of a weeks long project on an inventor.  They researched and made informative posters and presented things and, well, they also made these:

Obviously that is Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun there on the left and flanking him is his polar and profound opposite, Satoshi Tajiri.  Yes, the the pioneers and inventors of modern rocketry and, uh, Pokemon... respectively.

I am tempted to scan the whole project of each boy and share it with you.  The messy cuteness - cute messiness - of it all.  They were working on different writing styles - informative, directional, descriptive, the like - and some of the sentences are very endearing.  They made little sort of placecards on the computers at school with cut and paste images and chosen fonts and curlicues and fireworks and smiley faces.  

The whole project is a funny mix of cluelessness and purpose.  It will be a long while, I'd guess, before Nick really learns the whole story of his "V-2 dude" (yes, Nick did call him that as he was describing his project to a parent at their class presentation), from Nazi to NASA.  It's a helluva story, but one he wouldn't fully grasp right now.

It's also funny to note that Zack has really only a passing interest in Pokemon.  He has some cards and they battle each other, but, it's hardly obsessive or important to him.  They are more likely to battle with their own cards than play with the Pokemon cards.  Really, and I am hesitant to say this for fear it might embarrass him someday, I think he chose Tajiri because he thinks the creatures and such on the cards are "cute."  He likes cute things like stuffies and kittens and puppies and dragons.

I won't though, scan it all that is, and I'll tell you why - the pages are all laminated and won't freaking scan because of the shininess.  Either that, or I'm trying to do less of that sort of thing.  I dunno...

In a post a while back called Scrapel Guy, I showed this image of the last two roses of last summer that had been sitting in a window sill buried under, what?, stuff... I know, that's a terrible descriptor, but for this moment, it'll have to do.  The odd stamp had fallen out of a book I'd not opened in years.  At the time I felt the compelled to take a picture, probably because I didn't know how to tell the story.

Just a couple of days ago, I felt again compelled to take this picture of the first two roses of summer this year:

Beginnings.  Endings.  I struggle with both.  Maybe we all do.  Maybe we all like the safety and security, false perhaps, of the middle.  I know two boys, about ten, heading to a new school next year who are struggling with an ending and worried about a beginning yet to come.

Just a moment ago I said I didn't know how to tell this story, I am realizing right now that I perhaps didn't have all the story.  Maybe I do now.


The game had been lost, as have many this season, and only a few games remain.  Two days of school are all that sit now on the docket of fourth grade.  The boys are tired, sweetly so, sadly so, not mopey or whiny or weepy so, just tasting the rich fruit that is melancholy.

"Are you a little sad because things are coming to a close this year?" I ask Nick, on whose bed I sit, though Zack is listening from above.

"Yeah.  It's just that I'll miss my friends so much this summer.  That's it really, I know I did the work this year so I'll be ready when it starts again," his voice is little in the darkened, quiet room.

"They say that when one door closes another one opens," I lamely offer the tired aphorism.

A voice from the upper bunk asks, "What's that even supposed to mean?"

"Well, I guess it supposed to point out that even as one time or event ends, naturally another thing begins, it, uh... has to," I say. 

"Like seeds," Nick says.

"What's that supposed to mean?" The top bunk seems irritated tonight.

"Shush, Zack.  How so, Nick?'

"Well, like flowers turn to seeds and seeds turn to fruit and fruit turns to poop and then the seeds grow into a tree that grows more flowers again.  "Blossoms", is it?"

"What's that got to with doors?"  The cranky kid again.

"He's extending the metaphor, Zack.  Although I got a little lost at the poop part," I point out.  We may be getting off track.

"I guess I was thinking that before one thing can happen another thing has to happen before that," Nick adds.

"Right," I tell him, "Causality, it's called.  It's important in science and is basically what a plot is in writing."

"What if there isn't another door?"  Zack seems literally caught in a room with one door and it's closed behind him and he's tired.

"There's always another door, Zack," I tell him.  The phrase hangs heavy in the room for a moment.

"Yeah, I guess you just gotta look for it."  He pauses, thinking I'd guess.  I stand and put my hand on his shoulder as he continues.  "So, like, when the door closes behind us, when we leave school Wednesday - well, the door doesn't really close because they keep them open so we all don't have to open and close it out to where the buses are - we'll be done there.  And, like, at the end of the summer, when we go on to LIS, and walk through those doors for the first time - not really the first time, I mean, we had our tour there and the sports pictures are in the cafeteria there most times, unless we go outside, if it's nice - but, when we go through those doors, we'll be starting more learning and doing harder stuff - next year I think we start algebra and we need to type most of our homework and..."

Nick, who really must interrupt him sometimes, says:  "It's like we are seeds looking for a new place to blossom."

Nick has abandoned the doors and room metaphor and is going with his own.  Perhaps, he doesn't like the room between the doors, or that moment when both seem closed and the room is dark as is the room we are in now.

Seed.  Blossom.  Fruit.  A good blueprint for childhood.

Corridor.  Door.  Room.  Door.  Corridor.  A good map for childhood.

"Maybe we like carry a little bag of seeds with us as we go through the doors."  Nick's eyes are closed.

"Yeah, that makes sense."  Zack's are, too.

"Yes, Nick, that makes a lot of sense.  Good night, boys."


It does make a lot of sense.  We carry the seeds we've accumulated through every door we pass.  It's a good mixed metaphor, one I may extend someday.  But endings and beginnings are not my point here today.  Sure we are doing that, but, what I've noticed this year is that they seem to understand it more.  

We are foolish as parents to think our children don't feel and experience life with great depth.  They do.  Sometimes, though, they need to find the vocabulary to describe it and as time passes they begin to.

And it is a beautiful thing to see this as we watch the children blossom.

Today is their last day.  Marci took a picture of us all (I guess it is a "selfie" but I hate that word, so self-indulgent and showoffy, so I'll not call it that) just before the doors of that elementary school bus opened, only to close again one last time in a few hours.

Thanks for opening the door today and planting yourself for a while.  I am glad you did.  Summer is busy and such here so I might not be around as much for the next few months.  I'll holler when I do.  Peace to you, as always.

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

(as a hymn kicks in at Mass)

Boy: "This is my Jam!"