Friday, March 25, 2016

If You Look Carefully Enough

I wasted a bunch of my time this week, and I almost wasted some of yours' as well.  You see, all week I've been working on a piece that I was fired up about.  I was going to break character a little, write in a more urgent tone, be passionate, make a difference.  Something made me angry, hurt my feelings, gave me low self-esteem and, well, I wanted you to know it.  I wanted my blogger buddies to get excited about it, feel my pain, rally around my cause.

This morning I read it aloud as I often do in my quiet dining room, ready to make some final edits and 'wow' you and...

"Do you really want the boys to read this someday?"  Maybe the voice of reason or caution or God or that irritating other-one-me or just a whisper in the wind.  It got my attention.

"No," I said aloud to all of them - just to be sure.

I deleted it. 

Oh, I considered leaving it as a draft, the theme is solid and there is great emotion and such, but... no, if I want to approach it again I'll try a different angle.  As I looked it over it that last time, I noticed it was riddled with pop references and social media jabs and television references, dripping with political overtones and, well, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but, none of them will matter in a couple of decades, hell, even just a couple years, really.

What will matter is this aged shamrock that grows on the shelves in the dining-room.  It's a very dynamic plant, drooping dramatically when it needs water and opening and closing its little three leaf clusters with the sun.  Sporadically, and with little evidence of pattern, it blooms these little white bells.

Next to it, one shelf up a spider plants sits.  It, on a different but just as inconsistent rhythm, too, blooms on long tendrils that dance in the heat from the air-vent, nearly in the middle of the room sometimes.  It'll matter, too.

Can you see them there, hanging down on the right?  They make these pretty little white flowers with yellow stamens that eventually wither and produce another plant ready to carry on, elsewhere.

Not to be outdone our Easter Lily thing (I am not a botanist) has just today begun to unfurl it's flowers.  It should blossom by Sunday, showing off its timeliness, to its erratic friends.

All of this happening at eye level and under my very nose and I, well, I hammer away bitter and ugly words, divisive and mean-spirited words.  Even now, as I look around here I hang my head in shame.

How did I miss this?  How much more have I been missing?

I look outside and... words fail as I try to describe to you my own bewilderment in my own short sight.

Off in the distance, beyond the red shed and giving shadow to the boys' lean-to, a row of ornamental pears trees, saplings - sticks, really - thirteen years ago, towers in bloom above that corner of the yard.  I don't know if you can see it right.

I'll head out there so I can get a better picture.

Yes, thousands of these on three trees not sixty yards away and I am writing about how hurt I am.  What a stupid thing to do.

I remember something I've noticed over the years on the sunset side of the house.  I head over there, across the greening lawn, underneath the red buds of the maples, soon to transform into the helicopters that delight five and fifty-five year old boys and men.

The first spring we were in this house, the spring I planted the pear trees and screened the porch, the first year I had to mow the lawn a noticed a row of familiar looking long-leafed plants.  One butter yellow daffodil, the little ones I've heard called "paper" or "pin" daffodils, bloomed there by the air conditioner.

None have bloomed since, but, I tend them, fold down their leaves and string them up when they get tired and let them take another rest to try again the coming Spring.  Every fall I wonder if I should dig up the bulbs and replant them on the sunrise side of the house.  I never do, I like how hopeful and timeless they are, never getting the sun they need, but looking again each year.  It is a good story.

I stand up from the awkward position I'm in and saw this n the side of the neighbor's house.

I walk around the front of the house.  The dogwoods are waking up, the red "burning" bushes I trimmed way back and have been concerned about are showing some life, and...

A miniature lilac bush I, honestly, had little hope for when I planted it eight or ten years ago.  It's thrived to my surprise.  Here it is budding, if you look carefully you can see the structure of the blossoms yet to come.  I took a sniff of one and, yes, there was a hint of the perfume that will fill the garage in a few weeks, that will fill the dining-room when I cut some and put them in a Mason jar and that will fill me of memories a lilac tree just outside the windows of the house I grew up in.

 All this I missed because of my anger.

I know that the renewal of Spring, the "new life" theme, the awakenings message, is clichéd at best pedestrian at the worst.  I'm gonna stick with it today, though.  Being blind to this perennial beauty is more my sin this year.  I blame my anger, I blame the funk that winter puts me in, I blame everything but myself it seems...

... I just wasn't looking carefully enough.

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

"Man. I am awesome today."

I'll let time and tide determine who said that...

I understand that the final irony here is that this is, of course, Holy Week.  Perhaps, that is where my angst stems from.  I dunno.  It's funny, those words still echo, "Do you really want the boys to read this someday?" I am glad I heard it.  These words today, up above there

God's Peace this weekend, thanks for stopping by.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Two Images, Two Hours (or Three Images, Five Hours)

It might surprise you that I actually consider what I'm doing here... well, sorta, um, sometimes.

That being said, I forgot I published on Monday and don't have anything for today.  My plan was to really hone and craft the bully piece I last presented.  I'd really make it perfect.  I'd polish the metaphors and shine the similes; I'd expertly balance each juxtaposition; I'd add the detail that makes the story sing; I'd show off.  I'd design a post perfectly in sync with the zeitgeist of the nation; I'd pull heartstrings and call for action and, finally, make a damn difference.

And then, I accidentally hit "publish."

I coulda pulled it back, but, it's remarkable how quickly things happen in this internet ether.  It took me a while to figure what I'd done and by that time several kind readers had already seen it.  I took another look and realized I was done with it.  I let Fate or Karma or the Cosmos or God or Dumb Damn Luck have its way.

So now I've two images and an hour and a half...


Well that's a full four-letter word, ain't it?  I've long argued that nothing is ever "done."  I'd say that it's not a particularly valid or defensible argument.  Sure, things get done - laundry, meals, diapers, long walks on the beach, errands, romances, books.  Things end, I've written a lot about "endings," I've seen the boys finish so many things.  I see an image of a handful of soothies or or a couple of paper mache cats on a top shelf or a tooth-marked wooden screwdriver toolbox or a Hotwheels Camero on the desk or a forgotten and discarded drawing under the back seat of my truck and think, I guess they're done with that.

One could argue that every time I write about an event here or archive a drawing or capture an image, what I am doing is admitting its finality, its "doneness."

I was looking for baseball pants and/or cups in a massive pile off to a corner of the folding shelf I made for, well, folding.  All the pants are decidedly too small but I kept looking for the cups.  I set stuff on the ping-pong table, stuff I didn't know what to do with - toddler-sized beach towels we don't use, a pair of Lee jeans I look ridiculous in, pair upon pair of soccer and baseball socks, rarely needed long underwear, shirts stained to the point of embarrassment, now too small, never-worn pants too stiff and new for a then nine year old - the castaways.

Besides the self-replicating socks, the most common thing was jerseys, lots of jerseys...

Yeah, were done with these.  They're too small, the seasons are long over.  They're not really donateable - if you know what I mean - what with the names and stains on them and all.

But, you know what?  They came in second in a big soccer tourney in those light blue jerseys, and had a fun, average season in those orange ones.  In the basketball uniforms - which are the same each year just getting bigger as the boys do - the learned fundamentals and humility and teamwork from a disarmingly giant coach who cared very much about them.  Nick hit a home-run in the Dodgers number 20 shirt and Zack designed the Superman Dodgeball logo and there on the bottom left.  That number 2 Red Sox Jersey there, Z wore it the year he found a home at first and N hit his first triple in his.

So, I take pictures of things and put them on here, things we are done with, but, of course I realize that we aren't.  It used to be that when I reflected back on my childhood, it was just that, singular, childhood, and a way long time ago; done.  But now, as I watch the boys in the middle of theirs I remember mine so vividly.  I hope archiving theirs will do the same for them.

Speaking of baseball - well, I was a paragraph or two ago - our season is beginning here.  The boys are playing under the hats of the Yankees.  Our local league decided that rather than have the players in uniforms that have the actual logo for the pro team on them they'd use a sort of pixellated camouflage in the colors of the home team and they all say "Loveland Youth Baseball."  Someday, they'll probably be in among an even bigger pile of socks and bigger outgrown pants and jeans.  I'll find them and remember back to this year...

Oh what the hell, I might as well take a picture now, shouldn't I?  Save us all this prattle next time.

We had some batting practice the other night in the very wet and muddy back yard.  Fly balls were coming down and landing in the mud with a comical and somehow satisfying "schmolck."  The were covered in mud, like, all of them, so I took it upon myself to wipe them all down.  Z was out on the porch with me and lined them up to dry on the inside rail - the "beer rail" I think it's called.  We just put the "game balls" up there, not the cheap plasticky practice balls that don't hit for crap and slip out of your hands.

When we were done is said they looked pretty cool.  I agreed and took a photo of them the next day.

There's optimism here, I think.  All ready for the new season, with a knowledge of the past and hope for the future.

The Reds are in Spring Training in Arizona these days.  A couple of games have been on TV and at the end of nine innings the other day the coaches gave each others the "cut" sign across their necks and that was it.

"Aw, how cute," I said, "Just like little league."

I'd texted a friend that this one looked done and he texted back "The Reds were done before Spring Training even started," alluding the miserable season everyone is expecting - the dreaded "building year."

I think we put unfair expectations on our favorite teams, sometimes.  The boys and I won't stop watching baseball games because the team won't have a championship season, that, well, doesn't seem fair.  I hate fair-weather fans, it seems so shallow to me.  We'll watch Cozart, who's back after a season ending injury last year.  We'll watch to see if Billy can bunt better this year.  We'll watch to see the double plays turned by Phillips and Votto.

We'll watch new pitchers live their dreams.  We'll see the beauty in a single win, a great catch, a night game under the stars.  We watch rookies and old-timers and rookies and remember it's a game, a game for boys and boys-at-heart.

We're not done with baseball, in fact, the whole season, theirs and the Reds, is just beginning to unfold.

I like that.

Crap, my time is up and I used an extra image and...

Peace out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Voting Day

There's a new bully at the boys' school.  He's been there all year but, at first, he seemed nice enough, funny, sort of silly really, although vaguely creepy.  He talked too much and got upset easily.  Most of the kids forgave that because he was new and different.  Kids are pretty forgiving like that.

Recently, though, he's changed, seems scary, threatening.  He's made friends - no, more, formed a posse - a strange group, people you'd not expect to align with a burgeoning bully, good kids, smart kids.  He's started to pick on other kids, different kids, kids that aren't like him.  (My sons think this is funny because he was the one who seemed so different to them when he showed up but they all accepted him.)

Al, whose mother is from Mexico, has seemed afraid and withdrawn lately.  He's heard the bully talk about a wall between him and his family, his history, his heritage.  A big wall of mortar, stone and hate.

Little Janine, who has Muscular Dystrophy, has been crying in the restroom because her crutches make her vulnerable to the bully, who may lash out at her at any moment and make fun at her because of her disability.  She cries because she's worked so hard to be just another little girl with a quick wit, an enormous heart and emerald-green eyes.

A Jewish boy stopped wearing his yarmulke because someone in the bully's gang called it a "stupid beanie."  A boy he'd played ball with, had laughed with, a boy who once handed him his skullcap after practice, a boy he thought understood.  He sits in class now, afraid and angry.

Anyone of different coloring - that boy from Pakistan, those twins from Iran, a Chinese girl whose family has lived here for three generations, an African-American boy who never felt different but now sees how things can change - is running a little scared because the bully's gang looks and talks and acts the same, mean and confrontational.

The teachers and administrators have been talking about him, but no one singles him out.  They seem to think they need to be fair to him, respect his opinions and his right to hang out with whoever he wants.  They know he is doing wrong, but no one will confront him.  Even though he makes the other children cry. Even though they tell the children to report the bullying, which they've done.  Even though he hurts those around him.  Even though he is very dangerous, he is allowed to parade down the halls as everyone looks away hoping he will go back to where he was.

My son Nick recoils at the sight of him, covers his ears when the bully spews his simple-minded words, dripping with hate and an undertone of violence.  He and some of the other children are not afraid for themselves, they appear very much like the bully and the bully only hates those who are different, vulnerable.  It is these children, these friends and fellow classmates, that he is afraid for.

Nick has known Alex since Kindergarten.  His locker is next to Janine's - she once helped him when he was upset because his lock wouldn't open.  He had a long conversation about the yarmulke on a ride home from practice one day as we took the boy home.  He knows the others from preschool at a local Lutheran church and was the first to greet the twins and showed them around their new and insanely different school - he was funny and gracious.

Zack grows quiet when he sees him but looks him straight in the eye.  He doesn't like what he sees there, I know that. I don't like what I see in Z's face, a new set of feelings.  I see contempt. I see distrust.  I see him understanding deeper feelings than he should have to.  I see innocence losing.

As a parent, I don't know what to do about the bully.  I try to say that things won't change even if he gets stronger, but I know meanness changes everything.  I promise that he won't come and get us, but wonder if his supporters might. I stress that no harm will come to us or their friends, but know the punches have already been thrown.

You see, I fear the bully, too.

I think his name is Donald...

Listen, I'm not trying to get politically embroiled in anything here, y'all know that. I understand that opinions and priorities all differ, I get that.  But I also understand that we are all the same.  All the clichés are correct, deep down we're all simply, human.  Nowhere do I see this so obvious and dear as when I see parents and their children, when I see teachers honoring the children, when I see how the children trust us to show them their way, when I see how we all so cherish them.

The children are watching all of this, hearing all of it; and many are afraid.

That ain't right.

I feel obliged to remind you that the above is mostly allegory - names, circumstances, all that, changed - and should not be taken at face value... or not?

Peace to you, voting's not optional.  Thanks for comin' 'round.

Friday, March 11, 2016

On Brokenness

Just this Monday I was sitting here, looking over the backyard scattered with broken branches and sticks.  The old playset, new so few years ago, is sagging, the tree behind it dying, and all around the neglect of winter and time is showing its power, its might.

I flipped on Spotify and went to a Bob Dylan playlist that usually pleases me.  A song I hadn't heard in a very long time, from a mediocre, at best, album released in 1989, Oh Mercy, came up.

This song:

Everything Is Broken

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin'
Everything is broken

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken 

(You needn't listen to it, but, if you care to, here's a link.)

I got to thinkin' about the song, about the words.  "Everything is broken."

There is a literal truth in the statement.  All around me are things that are broken.  There's the closet door in the boys' room that falls off the track and I can't figure out what the hell is wrong with.  A clock I made with silly numerals on the face, sits stuck at 12:08.  A drawer here, a shed door there, the flip-down console in my truck, the damn hinges on the kitchen cabinets, a dehumidifier, a fan, the outdoor shelf for the camper, even my damn shoes...


But, if I look around the brokenness, just beyond it, there.  A fixed lamp that Marci was sad to lose, which I rewired to the utter amazement of the boys.  The closet track in our room.  A tractor.  Porch screens and swings.

A doorway...

We have only been living in this house a few months.  Spring is here and I've screened in the porch to my satisfaction and today I am fixing the screen door which I had to trim to fit but is still to tight, although I know how to measure.  I can see that it is barely sticking in one place, I'd tried to get some WD40 to smooth it over.  It just seemed tighter this morning.

I have a plane and a coping saw and some coarse sandpaper, a screwdriver and a hammer.  I try to plane a bit off but the angle is bad.  I get a little off with the coping saw and still it seems tighter than yesterday.  It is obvious that I'll have to get the door down and on the sawhorses and use the circular saw again.

I grab the screwdriver and the hammer and, in frustration I smack the door frame with it.  The door isn't too big, I've not measured wrong, the frame had popped out a little and that little hit gets it back true.

I tried to sand over the damage done by the coping saw and plane, but, the scars are still there, what?, fourteen years later.  I chuckle when I see them, amused at how oblivious I'd been to the obvious, how blind to a simple solution - seems like I shoulda noticed that gap there between the door frame and the bricks:

There are so many lessons, skills, techniques, more, I've learned from fixing the broken things.  I need to remember that.

Beyond these physically broken things, there is a whole world of metaphorical brokenness.

An internet friend of mine complained on Facebook that a website that published his very good work had deleted all his pieces or gone defunct or something.  Many fellow blogger commiserated.

In fit of anger and pain, for me and my friend, mostly me, I wrote:  "The entirety of the publishing/writer model is broken. No. One. Cares. Every time I get an agent or publishers attention the absolute first thing they ask is about my FB and blog metrics, never, ever, ever about the words I write or the kind of man I am. Content is NOT King, it's a fucking commodity."


Someone suggested that the model wasn't broken.

In a flight of righteous indignation I wrote back:  "Everyone who is deeply enmeshed in the social media world is so quick to defend it, but it don't work for the rest of us.  As a writer, as, dare I say it, an artist, the onus should not be on me, or Brian or so many others, to build some digital dust empire to be seen.  We've got work to do, creating art.  If the model takes time, effort and money away from the creator, if the model accepts false metrics, ill-gotten likes and "exposure" as collateral, it's broken.  If the model looks at fashion and pretty design and sensationalist, current affair, designed-to-go-viral microposts as an indicator of skill or talent, it's broken. If, as I have heard over and over, the model wants me to write less, dumber and insists that I play SM reindeer games, yeah, it's fucking broken."

Yeah... pretty.

I am not proud that I lashed out in anger at someone I actually respect a great deal.

That night I finished a book by Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal award-winning children's novelist, Sharon Creech.  In the last month or so I'd read six of her books previous to this one, Castle Corona, and had enjoyed them all.  Her stories rely on deep emotion and simple, compelling plot-lines.  In this book she used medieval archetypes - a bumbling king, a vain princess, honest peasant children, a wise and wizened hermit, a wiser crone, a poet prince.  It is a redemptive, allegorical story that is still with me.

I set the book aside on the nightstand and a thought came up in my mind that I couldn't shake - the words aren't broken.

I knew what that meant.  Storytelling isn't broken.  Sentences still work.  A period ends one, a capital begins the next.  Tenderness still works, love ain't broken.  Simple works.  Metaphor and voice and tone, devices and tenses and meter, connotation, denotation, alliteration, assonance, inner rhyme - none broken.  Redemption, renewal, power, love, duty, fame, honor all are themes that shall forever remain unbroken as we build story upon story on their immutable foundations.

If words like Ms. Creech's reach me in the quiet of my family home and trace tears down my face, well, maybe the model isn't "fucking broken."

Maybe something else is.

Maybe... I'm broken.

It is difficult to not feel broken when one will turn fifty-five in a few days.  55.  "Double nickles."  Five years from 60.  Not possible.  I hurt.  My shoulders and knees hurt from thirty-some years of slinging drinks and hash.  My hands hurt from forty-some years of pickin' guitars.  My back spazzes out when I twist funny.  My gut hurts from three full open abdominal surgeries.

And, though it's hard to admit, my heart hurts sometimes, too.  The world looks broken to me.  Perhaps, I've just mislaid my rose-colored glasses.  I don't know.

I was trying to find something I'd seen a while back on FB and clicked an old link and this came up:

Yep, broken Facebook.

The next screen, which I failed to screencap, suggested I may have a "bad connection."

Yeah, if every thing and person and institution and soul and heart seems broken to you, well, maybe you're the broken thing.  Maybe, you have a bad connection.

Listen, there's a little more to this story.  I started this last week and wrote the bulk of it Monday and Tuesday morning.  I'd been fighting a bad cough for a couple of weeks figuring it was just a bad cold I couldn't shake.  I had a very bad coughing spell early Tuesday morning that left me breathless, sore and, frankly, a little afraid.  Because of the wonderful thing that is healthcare in the US, my primary care doctor couldn't see me until St. Patrick's Day, but I could go to a "priority care" facility nearby.  I went and waited there - for an hour.

After a nurse checked vitals, I sat for another half hour.  Finally, the doctor came in, asked a few questions and after listening to my chest and all looked at me and said:  "You're a real sick dude."

I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and GERD induced asthma, a common side dish to chest infections.  He gave me an antibiotic, steroids, Prilosec and an inhaler.

Turns out I was broken.

The other day I was looking for a post to put up for that "Throw Back Thursday" thing folks do.  I found this piece, A Prayer For You, and was reminded that I've felt - been - broken before.

Without Brokenness there is no redemption.

Broken dream lead to better ones.

Broken hearts strengthen that same heart as it heals.

Broken ideas transform into deeper, new understanding.

A broken body on a cross, forsaken, wounded, ultimately healing all.

Brokenness is simply a chance at renewal, at Redemption.

Well, that's enough for now.  There's one last thing I'd like to say.  In my opinion, Facebook is broken.  I know many of you have liked the "ihopeiwinatoaster" FB page, I appreciate that, but many of you say you aren't seeing my posts.  Rumor has it that if you check both "See First" in "In your news feed," and "On (All Posts)" in "Notifications," you'll see all I post there.  Remember, I long ago promised I would annoy you with a lot of links and shares to things you've probably already seen, I still won't.

Or you can sign up for email notifications with the, uh, RSS feed thingee gidget up there to the right of the top of this post.

I have to learn to accept my brokenness.

Telling you about it helped.

God's Peace to you all.  Thanks for sittin' a while, did you notice the daffodils and crocuses coming up over where the construction crew ripped that old oak out last summer and I thought nothing'd ever grow there again?  There's a sapling come up as well.