Friday, August 31, 2018

On Other First Days

Okay, so... how's everyone doing?  Good.  It's back to school season and the parent bloggers and memeists (one who memes) are out in full force with their "first day of school" posts and such and well...  WTF!?

I googled "back to school memes+parents" and I just, well, can't.  This is the very first one that popped up:

Here's another from an article in the bastion of enlightenment and truth, The Huffington Post - you know, the folks who don't pay for content.  Apparently, a blogger mommy posted this on her FB page:

(I think I'm supposed to give her credit or something...)  ((The more I look at this the angrier I become - "Favorite Summer memory: Today!"  What?!  It's just, well, disrespectful...))

There are hundreds more, most involve wine and celebrating, one said all the women in Target on the first day of school had wine in their baskets, ha-ha.  If you don't know what I'm talking about just google it, but, I'd guess you've seen a million of them this last week.

That vast majority of them are basically this, I couldn't wait to get rid of my kids because the were driving me nuts and/or I am so glad they are gone so I can daydrink again.  They're supposed be funny and light-hearted but I don't think they are.  I don't think they are even clever, or well-rendered or... worthy.  Plainly stated they are tropes, which MW defines as "a common or overused theme or device," you know, like the bumbling idiot dad - a trope used often by the same kind of bloggers.

I've called folks on them and complained about them on their FB pages but everyone's britches get in a bind because they were "only kidding" or "it's just a joke" and "like you don't feel the same way."  Yeah... well, I don't.

And even if I did, I wouldn't let my boys know that.

Listen, I get it, truth be told, at thirteen, twin boys can be, well... a lot.  Their friends come over quite a bit and they are loud and obnoxious and messy and big.  They crack couch frames and stain carpets and the socks, my God, the socks.  There is taking them to the pool and driving them to this and that and feeding them all the time and... yes, it's difficult and consuming. But, it's what I signed up for, it's my damn job.

I am about to paint myself in a corner here and, well, I shouldn't.  I am sure many parents are glad their kids are back in school - dual income parents, single moms and dads and others.  Frankly, I look forward to the silence and time to myself.

As parents we are constantly sending our kids away, ushering them into the future, showing them what's next.  Perhaps, this is what all the celebrating is, or should be, them going into another year of the adventure that is life.

And, even though it may seem contradictory, right now, our kids need to know they are safe and secure and, well, wanted at home.  That's what I meant before when I said 'worthy.'  Our sons and daughters are better than a trope about how happy we are to have them gone, better than the notion that we have to drink to get over them, or that they cast undo hardship on us, that they are a burden.

What are the children of all these memists going to think - what do they think - when they encounter, now or in the future, these images, often of them, which seem only too mock them, to make them the butt of a joke?  I think it's something to think about.

Here's a back to school meme I made:

Sorry, that noise was me putting my soapbox away...

I took a look back at my first day of school posts over the years to make sure I wasn't guilty of this thinking and I thought I'd share them.
My first attempt was in 2012 and featured the two handwritten notes the boys wrote for their teachers that year.  It's called "I'm Varey Icesited To Meat You" and it's really quite adorable.

In 2013, I wrote this lackluster post out of a feeling of necessity.  I probably shouldn't of but, and this might be important, I do not go back and edit any of the old post around here - short of a grammatical error here and there.  It's titled "Post Gaps" and I don't actually hate it, I mean its pretty honest.

I'd say this one, "What to do on the First Day of School" from 2014, is my favorite.

I wrote "Touched Stones and Penciled Lines" in 2015.  It's sort of odd.  I start with a story about three different boys in three different times and the things they carried and cherished and then I share some love notes and sage wisdom (I wish).  It's funny, I like the post but very few have ever seen it... not that it matters.

In 2016, I wrote "The Loud Stuff" about a young scared and excited boy, me, heading to his first day of school and another nervous and anxious boy, Nick, whose worries get a bit loud in his head.  You've been there I'd guess, but I found N's awareness of it interesting and, well, good.  You need to listen to the loud stuff, and to the quiet between.

I didn't post much last year, hardly at all, truth be told, so there's not one for 2017.  I guess this piece, "Forward Looking Back", from December is about as close as I got.

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

"Bacon heals."

Subject, verb.  Show me a better sentence.

Thanks for stopping by, sorry I got all riled up there for a second... ya'll know how I get.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On Letting Go and Holding Tight

Well, on this first day of Eighth grade, that's about all I've got.

As parents, we must walk that line.

We must let the hand go at the preschool, let go the hug that is the first day of First.  Let go the young man handshakes, and my hand shouldered in love.  Let go the long look as that enormous bus drives somberly away.  Let go of knowing exactly where they are.

Let go of, simply, of them.

But we must also hold tight.  Hold tight to their love for us and ours for them.  Hold them tight in a hug, our backs to the storms of this world, protecting them, for now.  Hold tight to our intuition, our sureness, that their road has been safe and their journey happy.  Hold tight our hearts as they burst daily at the slights and hurts only teenagers think they know but we parents remember.

Hold tight, simply, your sons and daughters.

Can I show you a picture I took just this morning?

That's them, ahead of us, looking down the road at what is about to be - prepared, nervous, excited... hopeful.

This image could be, perhaps, our job description, we parents.  Actually, any image of children facing away from the lens, looking out towards what is to come, not looking back at us, morphs into metaphor for me, if that makes sense.  This is one that's been framed and I see it every day:

We may not see their faces, but, they're facing the right way.

Love them, hold them tight.  Make sure they're prepared, let them go, and wish them godspeed.

Peace to you.

Monday, August 20, 2018

On Being Time

Nick’s had a lot of watches, I think seven, maybe eight.  Here’s the first I think he had, a cute, sporty analog job and a digital one:

Here are some of the rest, both digital and analog, all are worn and weathered, some have broken crystals – though none of them are glass.  He chose them all himself.  The gold one down near the bottom is the one he wears now, unless he’s doing something sporty then he wears the “ref-watch” they both have to ref soccer.

He still looks at watches.  He likes to stop at the counters in department stores and I see him looking online at them from time to time.  He was once with me when I went into a high-end jewelry store to get my dad’s vintage Citizen cleaned and batteried, he couldn’t take his eyes off those thousand-dollar timepieces and the store owner - recognizing, perhaps in the glint of N’s eyes, a future customer - showed him some and let him try on a beautiful gold and silver Rolex.

He’s annoyed when he’s forgotten to wear one.  He was the first of the boys to conceptualize the complicated ‘half pasts’ and ‘quarter-ofs’ and transitioned from digital to analog with little effort.

I, too, have long worn watches, in fact I just went to look in my drawer of memories and found four forgotten ones.  Here they are with the two I currently use, the Citizen, which needs a battery again, and the Casio, which is built like a brick:

If this were a different post, and I had few day’s more hours, I’d tell you the why and when of each of them.  It’d be a good one, too, cherished things harbor beautiful stories.  But, I must continue on the road I started, which is about to get convoluted and complicated and may make little sense.

I wonder what is N’s fascination with watches?  Timepieces really, because he once chose this off a table in his Nana’s basement of things to be given away or donated:

I wonder what is mine, fascination that is?  Anyone who’s been around these pages for a while will know that I’ve cast Time as my nemesis, my rival, my Moriarty if you will.  But, you know what?, if I think about it, that’s only been in the past decade or so.  Up until then I think we were friends, Time and I.  Perhaps ‘friendly rivals’ might be better.

But, what of Nick?  I don’t think he’s had time to personify time, to capitalize it as I have come to do.  So what is his interest.  Well, it’s not like he has a lot of appointments or meetings or dates, he relies on us to make sure he gets somewhere on time.  He does ask about how long it takes to get places and always seems to know when we need to leave for church or games and such.  He seems happy with time, understands it.

So what links he and I, why a dozen or more watches between us?

It seems to me that there are three approaches people have towards time.  (No, no, I am not a theoretical timeologist nor a theolosopher or philosologian, hell, I’m not even a social anthropologist.  I’m just a guy looking out the window and thinking about time.)  I see them as marking time, passing time, and taking time.

What links Nick and I is that we are time markers.  I never don’t know what time it is.  Nick is the same way.  We know when we have to leave a for a meeting, we know when to start dinner, when to go to bed and get the right amount of sleep (a lot for both growing boys and aging men), when to wake.  We anticipate seasons, notice the days shortening.  I always know the lunar schedule as well and I’m sure he will someday as well.

It’s a good way to go, but, honestly, it gets a little stressful.  Whenever I am writing, I am constantly aware of how long I have to do it.  I’ve heard Nick lament the shortness of a practice or the time he has to get his homework done or watch yet another video.  Sometimes, late night, as I’m listening to music on the porch or watching a ballgame or the evening fire die down, I, too, lament the passing of time and the coming dawn, just as he does when time is running short when he and his brother and friends are building forts down by the creek or playing video-games of an afternoon.

I find myself envious of those I call the time passers like Nick’s twin brother, Zack, and my wife.  For them, time can go unmarked.  Z can go for hours just learning algorithms for his many Rubik’s cubes and solving them.  Marci can immerse herself in a book for endless hours, caught in that timeline, unconcerned with this one.   Back in olden times, BSP (before smart phones), people all over did silly, time-passing things like knitting and model-building and quilting and whittling – all things that I’d love to do.  Those all seem so arcane today, but many folks still do them and I admire that.

Time passers seem less stressed and more patient with time, less worried about the next thing on the timeline and can stay much more focused on the task at hand.  I am always afraid of running out of time, while they seem unfettered by the kind of constraints I put on it all.  I actually put things off because I don’t feel I have enough time to do a thing, a task or such.  The passers don’t do that, they figure it’ll all work out and, for them, it usually does.

Finally, there are the time takers - the schedulers, the calendar keepers, the preparers.  They seize time, putting it into boxes and checking the hours off as they get their tasks done.  I truly admire these people… but, I’d hate to be one, honestly, I’d suck at it.  The time takers I’ve known are, most commonly, successful go-getters.  They are the bosses, the CEOs, the administrators and politicians, the lawyers and physicians – all of whom need to vet their time with great care.

I’ve known a few in my life and, actually, they’ve always intimidated me to some degree.  Those of us who generally mark or pass time stand, often, in awe of these folks.  These are the people that always know what’s next, where they are going.  These are the individuals who work between things to do, who listen to podcasts as they exercise at five in the morning and check their schedules as they get out of bed.  I knew by the age of ten that I was not one.

Now, to be fair, I think we all do some of all three.  There are times when I, as a marker of time, can truly let myself pass some time, like when I play guitar or get engrossed in a good book.  Also, we all at times, must take time – busy weeks, busy lives, important events - all must be scheduled, and time must be accounted for.  I get that these categories may seem stereotypical, but, hey, it’s just my observation as I mark my time watching all of you other folks passing and taking it as you will.

One final thought and then I’ll let you go:  There’s a lot of time in a lifetime.  There are hours in childhood where the clock seems to literally stand still.  Even as an adult I notice how long a day can seem.  Sometimes I marvel at the number of books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen.  In my life I bet I’ve learned to sing and play five, six hundred songs, most forgotten.

So, you've got to do something with all that time.  I guess maybe it’s a matter of choice or, perhaps, just a fated sort of thing.  Maybe, it is determined by personality or circumstance, upbringing or…

Hell, I dunno, it was just something I was thinking about as I marked my time.

Tomorrow, school begins here in our corner of the Ohio Valley, and time will need stronger reigns and I’ll, more than likely, start cursing it more, evil-eyeing the whiteboard calendar we keep and marking the time before bed and soccer practice and homework and…  I’m gonna need a bigger watch.

I’ve taken up too much of your time today, or possibly, I’ve given you the opportunity to pass some of your time.  Any way it goes, I’m glad you stopped by.


Thursday, August 9, 2018

On Writing Without Words

I’ve always liked it when writers call their audience “kind readers.”  I’d say if you have to have readers, it’s always nice when they are kind.

So, in that spirit, welcome back kind readers.  I’ve been busy, which is good and fine and all, and I’ve not had the yearning to write I often have.  Well, honestly, that’s not as true a statement as it could be…  I’ve really not been busy – no busier than you or anyone else – nor have I lacked the desire to write, in fact I’ve been writing all these last few months, I’ve just not been using words so much.

I doubt that last paragraph will end up in the books as a perfect example of the form, but, that’s okay.

I should probably start over, but you know I won’t.
How, you may be wondering, does one write without using words?

Watching, dreaming, hoping, drinking, thinking, listening, praying.  All are excellent ways to get words to end up lined across a screen or paper.  Sometimes, words and sentences, along with all the weight of punctuation and paragraphication and pagination, just seem impossible to conjure from that amorphous clay-like gray mass in our minds so it helps to have a few tools.

If you want to write, you simply must watch.  Watch what?  I dunno… everything, nothing - birds at the feeder, firetrucks flying by, stars or a reluctant moon.  Faces maybe.  The way that feller walks.  The architecture of a building, the chairs, a window up high that frames a certain pew in church then moves on to the next, and the next, a plodding spotlight illuminating family after family.  You can watch hands or wonder about clothing choices or why those boots.

A couple of Thursdays a month, I end up at a local beer and music venue out a ways in the country.  It is in an old schoolhouse and sits right next to a Holstein farm, it’s sort of a hippie hillbilly place.  I go on that day because they host an “open mic” night, where folks play a few songs and move on to the next person.  I play sometimes but that’s a story for a different time. 

There’s a guy who comes in every time I’m there.  He knows everyone, and he comes in with his two sons, probably in their twenties, one of whom has a mental and physical malady, the nature of which remains unknown to me, a palsy of some sort, I’d guess.  He greets everyone, shakes hands, thanks the performers and always has something nice to say.  He’s usually in business attire and seems to have come straight from work.  I asked him once if he comes in often.  Usually just Thursdays, he told me, my son really likes the music.

You write a better story than that.

Dreaming is a great writer’s habit.  I had, as a younger man, the notion that at some point in a life you stop dreaming – I guess I figured once your dreams came true there was no need for more.  I couldn’t have been wronger.  I still dream of a backyard chapel I once conjured (you can read about that here).  I dream other things, too - lottery winning, long forest campouts, a Jesuit retreat.  The truth is dreaming is imagining and I think writing is as well.  As we dream of things we describe them, often offering deep detail and emotion.  I can’t think of a better exercise for the creative mind.

Hoping, I guess, might seem the same as dreaming, but we often hope for others.  I hope for N and Z with complete earnestness, bordering on naivete.   I hope for my wife and friends and you, perhaps.  Hope ensures empathy and empathy serves writing well.  Hope, it seems to me, is also simple and frank, characteristics that also serve prose well.

I guess thinking is obviously a way to work on writing without using words.  Less obviously, and more controversially, I think drinking can be a useful tool in the hallway between the gray place of mind and the black and white of words on paper.  I’m not talking Hemingway’s Whiskey or booze as muse.  I understand – and have seen – that alcohol takes down a lot of very good people.  It can destroy relationships, break hearts, provide false courage, embarrass, cajole, hurt… you know the list. 

I get that, but…

Listen, I know that as a parent of thirteen-year-old twin boys the last thing I should do is sing the praises of drinking.  In my defense, they rarely see me drink, perhaps a beer or two late night watching a baseball game and I’ve never been, what’s the word?, blotto, around them.  I have also not condemned it as much as many parent peers seem to, nor condoned as the other half does.  I suppose I don’t want to demonize it, that’d make me look hypocritical, nor glorify it, which would be hypocritical as well in a different way.

I am digging a hole here I should get out of, but, I’ll shovel a little more.

I’ve witnessed a lot of drinking in my lifetime, both my own hand in front of me and in the hands of so many others.  I was a bartender for twenty-five or more years, also a waiter.  I’ve seen it all, man: fights, shouting, flung beer bottles, broken pool cues, parking lot brawls, called cops, robbers.  Bad stuff.

But, right now, as I look back over the long arc of my relationship with all of it, I think it swings towards the good times: gut-busting laughter, backslaps and manly hugs, nervous new relationships, a wiffle-ball game in August in Athens, campouts and even late nights alone by a fire watching a ballgame, arguments and, especially, ideas.  Songs and poems and deep friendships, integrity, courage, honor, brotherhood - all understood, considered, conceived in the forge of intemperance.

Whoa, this is a deep hole… I’m out.

Listening and praying are, sometimes, one and the same.  Folks get oddly uncomfortable when I speak of prayer, which I often do.  I think people have a curious perception of what prayer looks like – kneeling in a church, hands folded like a cliché, a chanted blessing before a meal, the tears in a Eucharistic chapel, all of which I do.  But, prayer is also listening.  Not just listening in solitude, discerning a path in faith, but also listening to others.  Dialogue, conversation, banter, joking, even fights and spats, can lead to deep understanding and empathy just as prayer can. 

I hear a prayer in the hopes and dreams of my sons.  I hear a prayer in the cheers at a summer rec baseball game or the applause for a middle school musical.  I hear a prayer in a whispered ‘I love you’ and in the sobs of an injured boy.  I hear the same prayer in uncontrolled laughter and hushed giggles as I hear in shouts and rage hurled at injustice, unfairness and just plain evil.  I hear a prayer in the sleet hitting the windows or the wind rustling the red maples, in a screen door slamming of a summer night or in a kite tail in March’s lion wind.  For me, a prayer runs through it all.  Much of what I write here is simply and unabashedly, a prayer.

Do you have time for a story?  I almost wrote short story, but that’d been a lie.


It is overcast here this morning.  The boys are counselors at a camp at the school this week, so I am alone.  It is quiet.  I open my computer and open this draft and remember where I was – transitioning from drinking to prayer – and, well, I close the damn thing.

I listen to the silence and then I stand up and drive my truck to TheTwo-and-a Half Acre Woods.  I walk to the bench I like and sit and say some prayers, mostly thanksgiving because, well, Grace overwhelms me.  And then I listen and watch and look around and I hope and dream and remember.  All at once, for I am now in Kairos, God’s time. 

For some reason a feeling of loneliness sweeps over me as I look around this little forest, this trail I’ve come to know and call my own.  It curves on my left side and begins to descend towards the creek.  On my right it is fairly straight and gently slopes upward.  Beech and maples, oaks and honeysuckle, brambles and those woody vines that climb up and up and scream for some boy to swing on them, line both sides.  I think of paths and trails and wonder how many times I’ve sat at this very juncture.  Up or down?  Stay put?

I consider the loneliness of decision.

A flood of images races through my memory.  Paths and country lanes and city blocks and ridge walks and red rocks and streams and rivers and endless eddies – all in an instant.  I notice the greens of these woods, from fresh almost mint green to deep olives bordering on brown.  I look out across the path where the ground edges downward towards the stream.  I smile at the notion that one can see both the forest and the trees.  I think of waves on an ocean, the majesty of mountains and cliffs, the solitude of deserts and wonder if these woods don’t share that sort of epic beauty.

I ponder why I’m here, what’s drawn me out, what’s compelled me to this spot, this time, these memories, this now, that past.

A quick brown flicker draws my gaze and there she stands, looking at me.  A doe the size of a pony not more than twenty feet away.  Her big brown eyes are on me, her ears twitch, her white tail waggles.  I stare back, astonished not at her proximity, not at her tawny beauty, not at the surprise of it all but because I realize…

 I am not alone.


And so, that’s what I’ve been up to, writing without words.  Today, however I’ve used up a lot them and I’ve used up a lot of your time as well.

Peace, as always, and thanks for stopping by… kind readers, indeed.  Hopefully you’ll hear more from me in the coming weeks and months.  I know, I know, I’ve said that before and haven’t followed through, but I’ve been doing a lot of writing these last few months, I think I’m ready to start using words again.