Wednesday, December 26, 2018

On Baseballs, Dirt and Shorts

This essay was originally published by the kind folks at City Dads Group a couple months back under the title "Backyard Baseball Field Fading Fast, Memories Staying Strong."  Over the years I've been very good about keeping all the stuff I write - pertaining to the boys and/or childhood - on this page.  I hope you don't mind.

I know where it is. I see it pretty frequently, but, unless you knew it was there, you’d probably miss it. I picked it up, rescued it really, from the lawn mower a couple of years back and put it in a fairly strange place.

It was hiding in the tall grass, all the way back in the yard, just this side of the home-run fence. It was what we always called a “game ball” to differentiate it from a “practice ball.” Game balls come off the bat hotter than the smooshy practice balls, so it was worthy of a rescue.

If you’ve ever been around wooden fences, you know that sometimes the posts begin to rot at the top where they are vulnerable to the rain and snow. After many years, thirty-some I’d guess in this case, this can create a divot at the top, a little bowl that, I know now, is the exact size of a baseball.

So, there it sits, rotting itself I am sure, just a little grey dome now, silent, unhit, uncaught, unmuddied for a couple or more years now.

+  +  +

I threw away a pair of shorts just yesterday. Those ubiquitous cargo shorts dads like so much and everyone else seems to hate. They were fraying at the bottom and the seams for the side pockets were torn and open. I shouldn’t have been wearing them anymore, honestly. I purchased them probably eight or so years ago.

As I looked at them, sitting on top of the trash bin, I got to thinking. I had worn them so frequently when our twin boys were little. I’d stuffed those pockets with handkerchiefs and juice boxes, Jolly Ranchers and jelly beans, smooth stones and acorns, peanut butter crackers, kazoos and, once, a cute little pink teddy bear in one and a blue one in the other – parting gifts from a birthday party if memory serves.

+  +  +

I know where it’s supposed to be and sometimes I think I see it. Once, it was so worn I had to move the plate back, closer to the house, making the home-run fence even farther away. The old spot grew back, but the new one became just as worn as the old one had been by the time a couple of seasons has passed.

Even though a rubber practice home plate covered part of the area, the grass stopped growing and it had became just a dirt patch. Often we forgot the plate and the boys pounded away at the bare ground, waiting for my pitch. It’s just under the edge of one of the old twin maples that shade and grace the backyard. More than once I had to get my loppers out to trim back a branch or two that were blocking the trajectory of that hopeful home-run ball.

+  +  +

I look out at the backyard and see them, us, really. In the strange timelessness, the weird immediacy of memory, the scene unfolds.

The graying, heavyset, man stands next to a bucket of balls. A boy stands and smacks his bat on a cracked and dirty home plate. Another boy, glove on, in “ready position” waits in the back of the yard not far from the fence line flanked by a couple of pine trees.

They are maybe seven.

The man, a dad, me, grabs a ball and inexpertly throws a pitch. A swing, the red Easton bat misses – boys don’t miss pitches, bats do. Another pitch, another swing. He connects but it is a practice ball and it falls easily into the hand of the boy in the outfield.

“Stupid practice balls,” the batter complains.

“Here’s a game ball, dude, see if you can get it,” the dad says.

“Save it for later, for after I’m warmed up.”

“All right.”

Not knowing what to do with the ball, he doesn’t want it mixed back in with the others, he tries to stick it in the front pocket but it’s too tight in there. About to throw it back in the bucket he notices the side pocket, the cargo pocket, of his new shorts and settles the ball in there.

As the at-bat continues and he finds three more good balls, the pockets accommodate all four comfortably. He uses the first one he found last. The bucket is empty and the other boy will be up soon, after the balls are collected, the hits recalled and the diving catches bragged about. Backyard tradition has it that the last hit requires a run around the bases.

The pressure is on.

A soft throw, low and outside, just where he likes them. A red swoosh of bat. Ding! Loud and hard. The ball soars, the outfielder has a good jump on it, but comes up short. The ball sails on, it might go over …

Thwack, right into the top rail, it drops into the pine needles and tall grass of the neglected fence line.
“I can’t find it, Dad,” the fielder shouts in frustration, “He’s coming around third, you gotta get him at home!”

He pretend throws a pretend ball. The dad pretend catches it, runs toward home. The batter, now base runner, slides into home for real. His left foot catches the base, sends it flying and then his shoe tears into the grass underneath, skidding out a divot and the bare, brown dirt is exposed. The tag misses.


In the excitement, the ball is forgotten.

The next batter is up.

+  +  +

A misplaced, forlorn baseball. A worn out, thrown-away pair of shorts. A grown back batter’s box.

Endings all.

It is easy to spot beginnings. They are anticipated and celebrated. First steps, first spicy salsa, first T-ball practice, first school this, first church that, you know them. They go down in our memories. They are photographed and posted and bragged upon – as well they should.

But the lasts … man, the lasts you don’t see them coming sometimes.

We haven’t had batting practice in the backyard for a couple of years now, it occurs to me. I think we got tired of climbing the fence. I can only think of one time we even had a toss back there this year. I’d have liked to have known that they were the last, I’d have savored them more, remembered them better.

Right now, though, as I sit here at the dining room table looking back on our little field of dreams, I think I did savor them. Maybe, every time we played was just practice for the last time. Maybe every moment is a last. Maybe every pitch is a first. Maybe every moment is simply a now – a now held in the leather of a glove, in the dirt of a backyard, in the pine needles and tall grass of a fence line, in the frayed and worn pockets of a pair of shorts, in the strong branches of a maple tree, in these tears as I look back there as I write.

But, new beginnings await. New nows, new lasts. Don’t they?

Excuse me, I’m going to go fish a pair of shorts out of the trash. My heart’s not done with them yet.

Thanks for stopping by.  These days I am never quite sure when you might hear from me again.



Friday, October 26, 2018

On the Conundrum of Faith

This piece originally published on CityDadsGroup a while back.  I am adding it here, because, well... I like all these words in one place.


I am paying attention, although sometimes that just means that I am aware of my inattention. 
Words are floating around in the high space above.  Sunlight through stained glass lights the pews across from us.  The scent of perfumed parishioners and powdered babies mingles with incense past and, oddly, Old Spice.  All is familiar, routine.

The words drop from above, and I focus on them, or try to.
“… let us give thanks to the Lord.”

Two boys of the same age are standing in the row with me, my wife beyond them.  I look down at the closest one as he says, “It is right and just.”  He doesn’t just mumble or mouth the words, he enunciates them and slightly juts his head and chin forward and up as he says “right” and “just.”

He is six.  He knows these words and has a sweet, beginner’s understanding of the depth and power of concepts like righteousness and justice.

The celebrant continues, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.”  The same boy, mouthing silently now, recites the sentence, his cadence and commas in perfect order.

Of course, since we are in this holy place, all I can think is, ‘holy crap, he knows all the words to the Mass.’  That may seem, well, frankly, be sacrilegious.  And that may be my point, but I’ll come back to it.

A few years later a story of those same two boys, coming out of their religious ed. class, and…

You know what?  I can’t, at least I can’t very well.  You see, I had this all planned out with notes and quotes and heartfelt stories, but I don’t think that’s going to work.  I had every hope of defending my Faith, an unpopular one these days, and explaining why we continue to go every Sunday.  The problem is, I’m not sure.

Is “because I always have” a good enough answer?  Is the memory of those Sundays of my childhood, spent with family and friends in a small, protestant church in small town middle America enough to explain my presence now in in a bigger, Catholic church in a bigger town not far from that old, white steepled church of my youth?

Is “our sons have been nearly every Sunday and Holy Day of their entire lives” any kind of real reason to keep showing up?  Has it just become habit?  Routine that perhaps needs to be reexamined?  Has it become a thing we do because we simply think we should?

Sometimes I look around in our church and wonder why row after row of families make the effort to be there week after week and wonder if the effort is still worth it.  Are they all – are we all – crazy for our faith and ardent in our belief?  Are we pious and good and righteous and full of the fire of the Holy Spirit?  I know these people… many of them are not. I’m not, particularly.

Then, again, I ask: why are we all here, what’s to be gained?  We can teach these morals to our sons without the stained-glass structure, without the ritual and rules.  “Love thy neighbor as thyself” isn’t too difficult a concept, is it?  Why those doors? Why this pew? Why that altar?

From just beyond that altar the words float into the high clerestory on a melody both ancient and modern, chanted both by monks centuries ago and on the vinyl recording of Godspell I played in the seventies.  I focus on the words: “For all things living, You have made good.  Harvest of sown fields, Fruits of the orchard.  Hay from the mown fields, Blossom and wood.”  Such poetry – good, wood, sown, mown - such serenity, such simplicity.

Later, a story from a book-marked Mark.  The main character heals a man’s deafness and speech impediment by sticking his finger in his ear and spitting on his tongue as he “groans” toward heaven saying “Ephphatha!” the Greek form of the Aramiac word meaning “Be opened.”  What a beautiful word, what an important command, be opened.

Sometimes there is fragrant incense or the scent of the Baptismal oil chrism. There is the taste of wine and bread.  A high school boy sings a “Hallelujah” and cantors a psalm with growing confidence, his modern style counterpointing the sonorous tones of the celebrant.

Just this Sunday, I looked over at my sons, engaged, attentive, comfortable.  My wife, beyond them, smiled at me as a boy – a mancub, really – leaned against her, peaceful, as he has been for as long as he remembers.  I thought of how, well, how damn beautiful it all was, this inundation of senses.  But, that wasn’t all of it. I knew I was missing something.

I know that, for me, my religion is just a frame around my spirituality, more within, I’d say.  I don’t mean this the wrong way, but, I don’t really care if the boys become followers of Christ, per se.  Buddhism seems cool.  Judaism is so long and rich.  Islam so stunningly visual and respectful.  Nihilism is nice and hedonism has its place.  But I can’t teach all those ideas. I don’t know the languages.

Christianity is the picture frame I know and grew up with. I know the stories and the words and the songs of redemption and creation within this place, at this altar.  Shouldn’t I want to pass that faith tradition on?  No, really, I just want to show it to them.

And, perhaps in so doing, I am showing them beauty.

Maybe, someday far from now, they will sit in a concert hall or they will stand in an art gallery or they will overlook a great canyon.  And they’ll remember.  Maybe, they will feel the love of sons and daughters, wives and husbands, or hear the cries of lament and longing, and think back.  A melody.  A fountain.  A wafer.  A glass of madeira, incense on the wind.

My hope is that the sacred and beauty will become one for them.  That Faith will be Hope; Love will be Beauty.  God; Good.  Peace a Goodbye.

Am I being sacrilegious?  Probably. Is this all bad theology?  Yes.  Is this piss poor apologetics, indeed.  I did, however, answer why we will be there next Sunday.

Please don’t tell my pastor I wrote this.  Peace.


Thanks for taking a look if you'd not seen this before.


Friday, September 14, 2018

On Maths and Misspellings

For nearly seven years I've maintained this page.  It is hard to say why - although I have tried, over and over and over - I have composed nearly five-hundred posts.  I suppose that is because of the quicksilver quality of intent.  Early on it was quirky and fun, bordering on silly, towards the middle it was about storytelling and these days, well, the mercury has slipped from my hand.

For instance, there was a time when I teased a lot about Nick's spelling mistakes - don't get me wrong, I still think they are hilarious - but, as I look at this now, today, a different perspective presents.  He tried. He didn't care if he couldn't spell a word, he used it anyway.  If he spelled "seconds" "cecants" or tried "explanishion" for "explaination," who cares? 

Here's the thing, he's still trying on words.  He has a wonderful, clever and almost playful relationship with words these days.  Sometimes, still, he may use a word incorrectly, but, often, there is a sort of loveliness in his mistakes.  The other day he used a mashup that still echoes in my mind, "aloneliness" for "you know, when you are by yourself in your room and missing your friends."

Indeed, Nick, I do know that feeling.

More than once over the years, I poked a little fun at Zack's weird math problems and charts and such.  There were a lot of numbers in the, well, stuff he crafted and drew and noted.  There are a couple of examples in this post, The Quirky Little Math Piece (or Move Over Einstein) (no, your title's too long).  In it he did a strange backwards equation, and another, stranger, algebraic-like thing.  When he handed it to me he asked, "Is it right?"

I told him it was.

He still likes to get things right and the math has gotten much more accurate.

Here, I'll show you:

This is on the opposite side:

Finally, he got out the graph paper to present his final answer, showing his work:

I don't really get what it is, something to do with the total possible permutations on a Rubik's cube.  He says it's right, I don't doubt it.

I spoke earlier of intent.  Boy, that's a rabbit hole of a word - but it comes down to purpose, reason.  'Intentionality' is actually a philosophical concept.  Although it all seems clear in the definition, my intentions have been anything but - they've shifted, morphed, evolved, wavered.  They've at times been pure and true and at other times they have been misguided, mismanaged, muddled.

I guess when I started out, I wanted to show you them.  Then I sort of got the notion that I was showing them them.  I think that may have changed into me wanting to show you me showing them them.  At times, more recently I've been trying to show them me.  Add wanting, at times, to impress or agitate or endear or cajole, well... you.  Confused?  You get used to it.

This is the part where I conclude with one all-encompassing theory of intent.  I shone a light on the misspellings and maths way back when because I thought it was cute and fun, which they were.  Today though, I see what they are doing now, who they are becoming, with such deeper clarity because of those very things.

So, here's my theory:  We can't know intent, we can only guess at it.

You're welcome.


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

Sunday morning breakfast humor:

Yes, indeed you are correct, Nick said it...

Thanks for stopping by, quite a "sellabrashin" wouldn't you say?

(If you were to view my blog in a real web browser, in other words, not the lame mobile mode, you'd see that there are "random" posts, and an archive and a whole bunch of "topics" off to the left of the posts.  One of them is "misspellings" and another is "take-home folder."  Some of them are really sweet and cute... just thought I'd let you know.)

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.