Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Pass It On

End one day with the knowledge that a colleague died last week, Christmas Eve, in a car accident. You heard his name, didn't know it, couldn't place him. You told someone else about it. The person that you told called you back within a couple of hours to say he had to leave work due to the sudden and tragic death of his sister. Weird day. Your girl, who feels like she is not your girl at all again, agrees to see you, suggests dinner. At some point after the meal the conversation gets tense. She's got a lot on her mind, big decisions to make, and she gets out of your car in silence and disappears into the darkness. Sleep isn't in your bed when you get there and you wait for it until 2:00 am when they call you to go and see a suicidal former Marine.

Begin the next day with him who is here because his friend - who saved his life in Afghanistan - killed himself without a word. This is the third suicide he's been too close to since he joined the Marines. He said suicide has been so much a part of him that it wouldn't even be an event, just an unremarkable way to put an end to stress and anxiety. He is grateful for the hospital. When you leave there, the roads have turned to shit with the first snow-ice mix falling all around. You worry a little for the girl who's not speaking to you now, hoping she will take it slow and leave herself enough time to get to work without having to rush, but you know she won't.

You go by her house intent on helping, scraping her windshield and cleaning her car off, but it must be in the garage, so you feel useless and go for a coffee and then on to the next response where you find yourself at 7 am spitting mouthwash on the slippery parking lot then addressing a room of more than 50 machine operators, whose co-worker was torn apart by one of the machines on Christmas Eve just before they broke for the holiday, about the effects of traumatic events on a person and how to take care of yourself and of each other in the aftermath. Some come and talk to you after, one at a time, and they tell you what they saw and how they can't stop seeing it still - five days later. They don't know how to get back to normal. They don't know if normal is ever coming back.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Olive Oasis

After fish tacos and a margarita that tried to choke me

Saturday night alone save the bookstore clerk
maple tree outside strung in white light and warm
winter yet to hit the young man with the backpack 
waiting for Peter Pan which was me before and now 
it feels like a good night to keep walking but I have 
a car and a job and people who need me to do things.

I want to walk to a quieter place inside myself
come to rest in cool shade and be made welcome
by the inhabitants there.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Laundry Night

Andy finds himself in the laundromat waiting for the Speed Queen. There's a din of washers,  dryers, and three televisions on different channels. A Christmas special, Monday Night Football, Miss Universe - it all seems garish and terrifying. He watches the minutes tick away on the washer until he can load the dryers. There are only three other people in the laundromat and fifty-six dryers. Every dryer appears to be in use. How is this possible?

Andy begins to feel like he should be looking for a hidden camera. It's either an absurdist prank or all the forces are aligning against him. It's the winter solstice. On the other side of tonight, the days will start getting longer. Yay.

He finds two empty dryers on opposite ends of the place and loads his clothes into them. He's got himself 40 minutes of free drying time, and there's an Applebee's with a bar across the street. Hot damn.

He orders a tall-sized beer there and looks around the bar. He's in that place in his head where every one looks foreign to him and either hostile or contemptible. It was a mistake coming in here. When his beer arrives, Andy slides a credit card at the bartender.

One and done?
Yeah, clothes in the dryer across the street.
I get that a lot.

The bar is boring and loud.
 I have loved, Andy asserts,  and I love now... 
What the hell am I doing in here?

There is no good answer, but nowhere else seems accessible.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Not as it should be, but as it is

The sunlight entering the bedroom through the glass of the sliding door seems out of place.
You are sleepy and numb. Christmas is less than a week away. None of it is making sense.
Sunlight, your self, Christmas. This is called disorientation. Not the best place to begin.

Before falling asleep last night, an article appeared on Facebook - oracle to the psychotic -
about how you can identify if you are in a relationship with an EU (Emotionally Unavailable) person.
The list of symptoms loop in your head this morning.

Almost all of them are present. This is what you have been trying not to know.

Meanwhile, the bird feeder is abandoned again and the phone is silent. The article's author recommends letting go of what is not meant for you. This advice seems to be everywhere.

Where are the bells of Christmas? Why can't you see her face?

And when they say "meant" who exactly is doing the meaning? Is it her Fate? It's predetermined, she said. This thing lasts for as long as it does regardless of our hopes, desires, mistakes or misdeeds. What a great alibi for what is wasted, neglected or murdered. What a great consolation for what is lost, what cannot be held.

Is God the author of our story?  Are we instruments of some higher purpose? Characters in a divine plot line - a couple seeking shelter to birth a baby, children thrown into flames, Judas in despair suspended in the garden.

Or are we writing this as we speak - ultimately responsible for its life continuing, and for its slow or sudden death. My fingertips are on the keys, so are yours. But you never let me read what you write.

Then of course there is the possibility that the author tends to romanticize the ordinary, and that the true answer is simply - dude, she's just not that into you. 

The place you are writing from is not a good one, but it's still coming.

There's a story about an Eskimo healer, Maniilaq, you heard a long time ago. He said all he ever learned came out of suffering and solitude. Consider this an education. Amen.

Eat your heart...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Andy Starts To Put It Together

And in short order, Andy is here and Sunny is not. This is somehow true even though just last night they enjoyed dinner together, laughed together, and made plans together. He told her how good it felt to be near her again and how he'd like to stay that way. He dropped her off at home, and all seemed well.

This morning, he texted her a greeting. Her response was slow in coming and brief. He read into it. Something had shifted. They had developed an ability between them over time to detect emotional changes in the span of a few words in this electronic format. He believed he could feel her relative closeness/distance through her text messages, and there was something stiff about this one. His mind went to work trying to interpret the wide spaces between the few words. She didn't make him wait very long.

I need to tell you something that's probably going to make you mad, she texted. Andy is at work trying to juggle several neglected job-related priorities. His guts turn to water, and he responds quickly. Don't, I'm working - can't handle it now. But she's faster and her silent reply comes across as if blurted out.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hobo Seeks Travel Writer Position With Salary and Benefits

As a man, you would like to venture far and transmit stories home about your encounters with the world and with your self. Descriptions of ordinary lonely places, and the extraordinary things that sometimes transpire there, especially when you're only passing through. These are the places most people don't notice, and you can't seem to stop staring into. As a boy, it was like that too.

You would like to write long letters home, but you don't remember the address. So you write them in fragments, folding the pages, leaving them under rocks, in bus shelters, slipping them into the pockets of unattended coats.

Waiting in bus stations thirty years ago like some undiscovered prince. The girl in the white short- shorts and cowboy hat. A vivid story from a middle-aged man of easy living in Guadalajara. Another girl, sleeping on your shoulder, her sailor boyfriend just having shipped out on West Pac. You went into a Casper, Wyoming bar with her, and all the patrons started laughing, so you bought a pint of tequila to go.

Mostly there were no girls beside you, no stories told, except for the ones in your head about the people and the scenery going by. There was just the miles, the frequent stops, leaking time and your hurting ass.

Near Christmas, groggy, you opened the doors to the one in downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night to find a sea of black and brown faces waiting miserably and staring back at you. "Look, Mama, a white boy!"

You drank wine on the bus somewhere with a long-timer, just paroled, hoping to spend Christmas with his daughter estranged now 20 years. He was holding your bottle when the two of you dozed off. It hit the floor with a tell-tale clank and slid into the aisle. The driver pulled off the road in the middle of the winterized American West and told him to get off the bus. You both pleaded with the driver.

It's Christmas, man. He's just trying to get home!

But there are rules, and the driver put him off in accordance with those rules. The ex-con shook your hand, wished you well, and got off into the darkness with a particular sort of resignation that suggested he'd always been told he couldn't stay.

There were a lot of people like that. There still are. And their stories get into you and they change you a little bit.  You thought about some of them today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer...

Cardinal, Blue Jay, Red Bellied Woodpecker

She is sleeping in his bed now, radiating warmth and snoring quietly, a most unlikely outcome. He watches her face closely, feeling love without trust. Having accomplished its work, St. Jude's candle stands unlit on the night stand..

Today they texted back and forth for more than half the work day, laying this thing they have between them twice in its grave. From nostalgia to yearning to hurt to anger to remorse and back again - two full cycles. Neither can be other than who they are, and each wants something other than that. Simple then, right? You walk.

Yet she sleeps beside him now in this softness. She must feel safe. must trust in it,  how serene her face seems. He tries to arrange himself in such a way that trust is no longer relevant. He knows that closing his doors would be evidence of common sense and sanity, but he can feel her again and doesn't want to lose that ability. In the morning, she will look at him tenderly with the smile in her eyes he can't forget. The brightly colored birds will return - angels really, when she's here.

Today, while they argued about whether their love is practical or not, good enough or not, twenty people were gunned down at a holiday party in California. The particulates in the polluted air  crossed over some irreversible tipping point. Greenland's ice melted a little more at an ever compounding rate of speed. Soon the hot seas will be lapping at their feet. Embrace this night.

Sunday, on the car radio, Garrison Keillor said something about people being islands whose peripheries seldom touch. He thinks the occupants of this room are more like hurricanes whose peripheries frequently overlap. Like battling tops - attracted then repelled then attracted then repelled.

She rolls toward him in her sleep, lays her head upon his chest, he gently brushes her black hair from her face. The night is dark and still and holy. He allows himself to hear again the music she put inside him, to feel the warmth of this new sun. He cradles her body with his, breathes her in, holds her closer than it is safe or wise to do. He will suffer for this later, but he is not suffering now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When I look around my heart, I could wish for another year with you...


They've had a lot of practice breaking up these last (nearly) two years. Every couple of weeks, on average. His nerves are shot. He keeps thinking of an old Three Stooges episode in which Moe, in a similar condition, chugs noive tonic and retreats to a country cabin to try to recuperate.

Andy can't remember the last time he saw her. Was it one week ago or two? It feels like months ago or yesterday.

He is wide awake at 4:30 am drifting between angry resignation and despair.  He lights the St. Jude votive candle. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and hopeless cases - the saint of last resort, and the one he respects the most. He writes a few lines to the Saint, to her, no longer trying to argue his case. He asks for one more day with her.

It's very quiet, still dark, the flame flickers. The world seems empty but listening.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

I'm not here to forget you, I'm here to recall...

Red Bird Return - Excerpt from a Draft at 10,000 words.

Andy got up to pee around dawn and, without his glasses, noticed a red smudge on the platform feeder outside. It was a male Northern Cardinal. This was the first sighting since late August when he'd boarded this roller-coaster with Sunny and stopped refilling the feeder. He had noticed the absence of the cardinals many times since then. He felt keenly the shame of his neglect. It was as though by not feeding the Cardinals he'd failed in his proper observance of, and service to, the magic of this place made manifest in a bounty of colorful birds. Andy felt relief at the red bird's return, and he vowed to feed him and his mate through the coming winter. 

Returning to bed, he used the Cardinal's reappearance to make the case that the magic is not Sunny-dependent. The bird's return in her absence in fact demonstrated that the magic had nothing to do with Sunny at all. Andy's argument was intended to make him feel stronger, to bolster his resolve, but it only made him sadder. He remembered when the arrival of birds meant something to them here together, how they watched in delight from the bed like children, how it felt, at least to him, like this moment was meant only for them and that they were meant only for each other. Andy checked his phone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Alone Alone


Love has decided not to go your way today. If you want a taste, you'll have to pay . Did you think it would welcome you with open arms? Provide you with a home? Nope, just another bill to pay.

The world has gone a step madder it seems (listen to it howl), and mine is just a tiny contribution. My garden is untended (I can't claim to be on top of things). It's a tangled jungle teeming with vermin, harboring viruses (against which mankind has no immunity), sheltering terrible predators and fearsome cannibals devoid of  mercy or compassion. I'm listening to the Earth's ragged breathing. My head is on the ground.

I'm braced for something.  Aren't you?
Why? Who wants us this way? (Manufacturers of dread).

Most of what I take in is toxic. Most of what I think, I inflict upon myself. So what am I capable of generating? Yesterday I caught myself in corrosive thoughts, and an internal voice intervened :


I took heed and have been listening to the ugly music in my head ever since. There's work to do.
The world burns while I am here struggling with my own body and mind. All these years and I am still just trying to clean my room.

Friday, November 20, 2015

I'll talk to your eyes, that I love so much...

Thwarted Belongingness

Habituation is a term used in the field of suicidology. It is the gradual process of overcoming the fear of pain and death - a necessary condition for suicide - by repeated exposure. The theory says that a higher pain tolerance and lower fear of death, acquired through practice, are conditions that increase the likelihood of a completed suicide. This makes intuitive sense.

There is something generalizable here to rejection in a romantic relationship. Repeated exposure to  the threat of the loss of love gradually increases the Rejected's ability to accept the ultimate loss. The loss of love, or of the Beloved, is as abhorent as self-inflicted death.  Acceptance of that loss is equally unnatural. However, perhaps not logically or emotionally, but physically- the perceived loss is accomodated. The body comes to believe. The pain becomes less exquisite. The connection, rooted in the heart, is severed or uprooted. There is a numbness where there had so recently been every variety of sensation. All music stops.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Is Heaven Just In My Mind?

Lows and Highs - Excerpt from a Draft

Morning arrives. Andy wakes and faces the day. He marvels for a moment at the difference in his physical being. He can feel his feet on the floor, the pulse of his heart in his body, the air temperature on his skin. The internal hollowed-out feeling he'd known for most of the last two weeks has gone away completely. He feels solid. Real. Why?

I miss you...

Three words double-thumb-typed, transmitted, and displayed on a tiny screen had the effect of an Automated External Defibrillator on his diseased heart. He finds himself once again returned to life. This new lease comes with sobriety and awareness, this time,  rather than bliss and soaring strings. She likes you again, he thinks, but for today. Nothing is promised. She doesn't stay.

Facebook delivers a quote on love from acclaimed Hollywood Buddhist, Richard Gere, who, come to think of it, has been out of the limelight these last several years or, more likely, Andy simply hasn't been paying attention. The officer and gentleman reportedly said,

Everyone says love hurts, but that is not true. Loneliness hurts. Rejection hurts. Losing someone hurts. Envy hurts. Everyone gets these things confused with love, but in reality love is the only thing in the world that covers up all the pain and makes someone feel wonderful again. Love is the only thing in this world that does not hurt.”

Andy hands it to Mr. Gere - when he’s right, he’s right. We’ve both got small brown eyes and the softening of the features that comes upon men in middle age. How has it gone for you, Richie? Have you managed it with style and grace? 

Loneliness, rejection, loss and envy - love side-effects, nocebos, voodoo, and allergic reactions. You picked four real deadlies, there Dickie, and I've tasted them all.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Self Help - An installment from a draft of the first five thousand words of an attempt at a novel

The telephone rings. It’s a police department looking for help for their first responders exposed to the death of a child in a car accident. One of them can’t stop cleaning his house since he left the scene. The sights, sounds, smells play in a loop. Andrew gathers the relevant information, makes a call, establishes the proper connections and is finished with his work.

She doesn’t want you, he tells himself, swallow it. And then he starts into the hating - all the ways she took him for granted, stepped in his face, thought he wasn’t good enough for her. But he loves her, and he can’t stay here long. Soon he’ll start making excuses for her. Rationalizing. 

The dead kid incident, and the burden now carried by those involved in trying to save him, should provide some perspective, but they don’t. It’s a private room.

Finally, the work day ends. Andrew goes to the gym, changes clothes in his car. It’s time for his last individual session with Coach Maria. Her dark eyes, patience and encouragement have helped a little. She tries to teach him overhead squats, and several clean variations that are just not in his neuromuscular arsenal. She smiles patiently and tells him he’s not a total train wreck. He is further humbled. 

The work makes him sweat and focus and fight for breath and balance. For the first time all day he is not thinking about her, and he can breathe.

The Workout of the Day is called Fight Gone Bad . It's  three five minute rounds of five exercises done for a minute each - wall balls, push press, box jumps, sumo-deadlift high-pulls and rowing for calories. The name, Coach Maria tells him, came from a boxer who undertook the workout and got his ass kicked. He paces himself and manages not to collapse through the first two rounds. On the rower, during the final minute, he closes his eyes and finds himself getting into the loud metal song playing overhead, he pulls with everything he has until Coach Maria calls time

She says good job, and he starts to cry uncontrollably. His chest is heaving, his eyes are closed, and he’s pouring sweat so he just turns his face away from the coach and gets a grip thinking she probably didn't notice. She thinks maybe the workout was too much for him and asks if he’s okay. He tells her he needed it, will be back tomorrow, and leaves the gym quickly. 

Driving home, his sweat dries. Motion helps a little. He thinks of the firefighter cleaning and cleaning trying not to see again what he has already seen. He thinks of her being gone from him. He is empty. At home, he eats, showers, lays in his bed. Sleep won’t come.


I can’t sleep again. Your silence, now, seems cruel. Is it necessary? Maybe it is, because if you weren’t silent, what would you say? Probably something I wouldn’t want to hear. 

Everything hurts. I think something in me is dying. I cry lately - daily. That’s new. I’m starting to spill my guts to people about you - my boss, my chiropractor, a grandmother on Halloween. They seem to think you’re doing me a favor by leaving me alone. My chiropractor says it’s trauma that you’re putting me through. A therapist I know says, where there’s passion, there’s almost always pathology. I am most certainly sick with this.

Sunny, I remember the sweetness of the moment when I watched you see a hummingbird for the first time, It was at the feeder on my kitchen window. I see it now like it’s happening again. I see you and the hummingbird staring, riveted, at each other not more than two feet apart. The undisguised, spontaneous delight and wonder in your face just broke me, I felt as though I’d seen an angel. If my time with you was reduced to only that moment, I’d have no choice but to love you forever. And that was only our beginning. 

When someone is detoxing - dope sick - you tell that person confidently that this end-of-the world, absolute-shit feeling will pass, and that all the poor bastard really has to do is keep going on his way through it. That’s trite and totally unhelpful in my situation too, but it’s essentially true. I will pass through. I will pass through this pain, this love, this world, this life. But I want to stay here, Sunny, with you.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

I... I... I...

National Novel Writing Month

I'm dropping the fortune cookie writing prompts for now and taking up the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November. The goal is 50,000 words by the end of the month. I'll post something right around each 5,000 word mark. I tried this in years past and dried up pretty fast. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

34. Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur.

Start again your starting over. This attempt is over, or so it appears, but the bigger "it" keeps coming.
 Play until the whistle. You have to move forward, like it or not. Keep going. Where there's life, there's ho....

Well, there's life.

He started in at a new gym last night. The coaches called him "sir". He performed a closely directed, scaled-down, Crossfit workout that left him shaking,gasping, and soaked; helped him to rage appropriately; got him home late and made him sleep for a couple of hours. When he woke up, she was there but not really, and he started sinking. Thankfully, the pager went off and kept him moving for the next few hours until it was time to leave for his day job.

Today, someone started talking about something he did not want to listen to. He watched himself retreat to her inside himself, as he so often does, but found her gone. There was startlingly nothing in that space. He feels that emptiness still. There aren't good words for how bad that is.

An article posted on Facebook reports withdrawing and detoxing from love activates the same parts of the brain as withdrawing and detoxing from drugs. But drugs don't have your face. They don't have your touch.

A significant age difference, the sudden need to start a family, an unsatisfactory income - twitching legs pulled from a spider. Meanwhile, he tries hard to not see this part of her. But he does.

He can find there in the darkness no partnership, no soul mate, only idolatry.

Desolate. Drone. Done.

She said, I want to walk away and start all over again...


Saturday, October 17, 2015

33. If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.

Sitting in the dark now, the music is Spanish, the temperature outside the door steadily plunges down to freezing and below. There's a yellow carpet of leaves on the lawn that wasn't there 24 hours ago. It's that stage of Autumn where things are at their most acute.

I saw it along the wooded hillsides Saturday morning - yellow mostly,  some orange,  a little brilliant red contrasted by dark evergreen. The leaves fell faster than they had been, and I felt a building panic. Definitely a noticeable increase in the tempo of decline. Any minute now and it will realize it's dying and start to thrash and bellow and fight with all the wild it has left. If we are going to pick apples, today is the day.

We ended up doing so later, the three children and I. We arrived ten minutes before the orchard closed for the day, purchased a five pound bag, and set out. The apples were all spotted, some were pitted and misshapen - organic and unappealing to the eyes of the kids. The eldest will graduate high school in June, so any seasonal activities like apple picking or Thanksgiving have taken on a sentimental significance for her. The last time.

Next year, apparently, she will be gone out into the world making a life of her own. I smirk a little, internally, but still have to fight off vertigo.

In short order we fill the bag, share some laughs, pay the boy, and jump back in the car. Just like that, it's over.

That night, the temperature drops below 25 degrees. The first killing frost. The next day the first snowflakes fall.  I'm not ready for this.

Monday, October 12, 2015

32. Benefit by doing the things that others give up on.

Praying to the patron saint of things left behind. Picking up litter from school yards, playgrounds and parks after midnight. Storing found pennies. Scrutinizing discarded lottery tickets. Collecting rain in barrels for dry seasons. Tending to the upkeep of roadside traffic fatality memorials. Keeping vigil. Bearing witness. Lighting candles. Handling the pressure. Making adult arguments inaudible to children. Cushioning the Santa Claus realization. Transmitting blessings through a hand on the shoulder of the aged, a wink and a nod to the lonely and untouched. Over watching small children crossing streets and riding bikes. Singing silent praises to otherwise unnoticed moments of beauty, and then telling that story to others, or at least writing it down. Always picking up the check, even though eating alone mostly, being at least willing to pick up the check. Walking through dark passages to show it can, it must, be done. Remembering all of your best moments - those times when you did the right thing. Doing this for everyone on Earth. Averting one's gaze when you are in not-your-proudest-moment. Making sandwiches with care. Keeping in touch. Keeping tabs. Not keeping score. Keeping keepsakes and memories coherent and chronological. Making order and meaning out of chaos. Listening to and obeying the heart. Walking this hard road.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31. Fear is just excitement in need of an attitude adjustment.

I like this one a little bit. It fits - in a certain context. It fits if your life can be classified as Hunky-Dory, if you have first world benefits and first world problems. The rest of you have plenty to be afraid of so please disregard this fortune. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This morning I sat in a contentious meeting trying to address a flaw in communication protocol in one small (wealthy) corner of the mental health care delivery system. The chief psychiatrist interrupted. She said she knew each of us had a long, angry book inside us about the broken system which we could write later, but right now we needed to get beyond just saying the system is broken. That's about the best thing I've ever heard a psychiatrist say.

That's what I'm doing here, writing down fragments of my long, angry book. That's all I've ever written.

Each day marks the beginning of a new world, a different life, peppered with memory-flashes of past lives and the sudden weight of an anchor. The sun is rising now. The clear, starlit October sky is giving way. A crow caws, trying again to speak to me, as it does every Fall. I fail to understand, again.

Last night, I watched through a window a rising star author signing copies of her new book. She was smiling and completely looked the part. The scene was absolutely right, and I am glad to have seen it.

About twenty-five years, more than half my life, has gone since then. We each had a rope tied around our respective ankles. That's how we recognized each other. For a short while, we wore opposite ends of the same rope.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

L'ombre de ton l'ombre, l'ombre de ta main, l'ombre de ton chien...

30. Two things to aim for in life - to get what you want and to enjoy it.

Bukowski reportedly said something like that too - find what you love and let it kill you. 

Me, I'm sick from seeing all these appetites, this relentless drive, consumption without end. Devouring hordes colliding. Maybe I'm frail or something, but I just don't want any. I'm staying in -got myself to eat.

Tonight the Harvest Moon appears, a Super Moon and lunar eclipse combination. Tell it what you want. Imbue it with significance. Surrender to its mystery. I can enjoy a moment thoroughly - disappear in it. It's like a gun to my head. But give me more time than that, and I will certainly find a way to fuck it up.

The feeling is a treasure when you have it - something you will always keep, something you would never change. But change it will, change it does, and you find yourself unrecognizable and cold. You do not know where to set the next foot.

I interviewed a candidate for a roommate tonight - a man in his 50s with an old dog. Change is happening.

Two things to swallow in life - what is happening and accepting it.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

We sit at the gate and scratch...

29. Happiness will bring you good luck.

"When are you going to start enjoying your life?", she asked frustratedly.

He had been talking automatically about his day. She heard pessimism and negativity. He thought he was just reporting.

He looked out the window feeling ridiculous, knowing she was right. Sitting next to her though, he was enjoying life. He felt alive. It was easy. It was the rest of the time that was troublesome. Everything else.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

I'll say it one more time...

28. Every action has a counter action. Just if you can see it or not.

The Poet Laureate instructed me through the radio to join the parade and find poetry there.
 I knew I should, but couldn't, because I'd been stuffed and sealed inside a rain barrel
 upside down, calorically deprived, despairing of discovery.

 I saw pictures of myself accidentally locked in a basement, standing in my underwear,
 holding a basket of freshly dried clothes as the parade proceeded along the street above.
 The cheers and shadows of marching legs passed over me.

 Maybe I was high in the power lines, too afraid to look down, the
 sound of bass drums and tubas below. Sweat dripped from my nose -
 a straining apprentice, with one end of a heavy cable in each hand.
 The journeyman, having climbed down to retrieve a forgotten tool
 quite some time ago, told me not to let go no matter what happened.

Meanwhile, the parade passes away, the crowd leaves, night falls, sweat drips.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

27. Broke is only temporary, poor is a state of mind.

Yes, poor is a state of mind. Temporary is also another way of saying semi-permanent, or up to and including semi-permanent. You know, like you are. Actual results may vary.

Tally the time spent on jobs, in transition between day jobs and night jobs, the hours sleeping in cars for a few minutes at a time, the sleepless and exhausted time worrying about money thinking you should be working not sleeping. The totals are impressive. It's not encouraging.

This thing is really just an attitude problem, right? I'm in defiance of the law of attraction. Something about my vibes, a dirty soul, some hang up with wealth. Success. That fucking word.

Friday, August 28, 2015

26. Enthusiasm is infectious, stimulating and attractive to others. People will love you for it.

Of course there was  a company pecking order and the dock-workers were on the heavily pecked end of that  spectrum. Shit rolls down hill.

It started somewhere up in corporate, rolled down to management, who passed it off to the foreman, (Jim, an American Indian, who loved acid back in the day), who delivered fair but firm expectations to the amphetamine driven truck drivers, who gave no respect whatsoever to the dock-workers, who did the heavy lifting and pranked Al, the janitor/ hostler-in-training, to recover some self-worth. Al had dreams of becoming a driver, but for now he served as low man.

Ben was broke, fresh out of the military, new to the crew and glad to be employed. The other dock workers went easy on him, feeling him out, occasionally sending him off to the foreman's office for a can of skid mark remover. He mostly played along, kept quiet, had a sense of humor, worked hard, seemed at least half crazy - so he got along pretty well.

Months passed breaking freight - loading and unloading trailers with an occasional tipped load, forklift accident, bad lift and strained back or blown stack.  It paid pretty well for unskilled, non-union labor, and the company paid for your CDL if you stuck around long enough. Ben felt stuck, but he was paying bills. He drove a six hundred dollar van which he often slept in. He never really planned to make it past twenty-two, and now he really didn't know what the hell he was going to do. So much for live fast , die young.

It was the routine that made him feel stuck - drudgery. It was the same thing day in and day out -crude, predictable jokes; sports talk; theories on who's banging the secretary - the only female in the building; baseless claims of banging the secretary; and non-stop sporting humiliation of each other.  He'd race with Salvatore now and again, to see who could break their respective trailer out faster or try to find a reason to get into the office to catch a glimpse of Brianna. That was it. Life on the dock.

"Keep scribbling, Hemingway", that's what his squad leader said to him the day he got out. He wanted to be a writer. He was in a required basic writing class at the community college, worked two jobs, slept in the van for an hour or two between shifts, and sold plasma for gas money. He frequently thought Sgt, Evans was right, and there really was no place for him out here in the civilian world. He wasn't writing anything now. There was nothing to write about. Southern California - a soft, hazy grind;  a pleasant nothingness; apartment complex court yards; huevos rancheros at I-Hop if there's enough left after bills. He was just trying to keep everything floating, and it was doing its best to pull him down.

One night in the break room, Alvin and Sal were taking verbal shots at each other back and forth, back and forth. It was escalating. The other dock workers fanned the flames. The two men wore smiles, but their faces were reddening, Soon they were on their feet, anger was rising. Ben had had one too many cups of coffee. He stood up on a bench.

"This is exactly what they want us to do!"  Ben yelled,  "You're doing their dirty work for them".

The men looked toward him in surprise.

"It's not enough for you to get shit on every day by management and drivers? You have to come in here every goddamn night and tear each other down during the few minutes of rest and peace we get? In fact, we're worse to each other than they are to us! This, my friends is bullshit!"

There was laughter.
Salvatore said, "Right on!"
George, out of curiosity and with sarcasm asked, "What then should we do, Ben"?

"Say something positive!"
They all laughed.

"I'm serious. The kind of shit you say causes damage. We've got enough damage to deal with. Say something good to each other instead of something bad, build each other up not tear each other down. We've got to organize. If we don't, THEY win".

"YEAH!" someone yelled.
"That's gay"
"You're a crazy Jarhead", said another
"He's on to something", Wendell- the quiet one - said.

"Show us what you mean, Ben" George said, still curious and mildly sarcastic.
Break was almost over, they were getting up up from the tables, Wendell was putting on his back brace.

"Well... alright, it's like this",  Ben looked George in the eye and said, "George, You're a hell of a freight-breaker, and I'm proud to know you".

They all laughed and started moving out to the dock.

"Damn, that felt pretty good", said George, " I see what you're saying.  Then I say something back like - Ben, you're one HELL of a man, right?"

"That's all I'm trying to say", Ben answered.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

25. Curiosity kills boredom. Nothing can kill curiosity.

But curiosity can damn sure kill you.

Learning to be still when sleep won't come. The crickets, the humidity, the night. Summer's ending, and I joke that I haven't made my plans for last summer yet. The bills keep rolling in. I guess that gives me a place to put it, something to struggle against, purpose. You know yourself there was just too much anxiety, too much dread, and it only got worse the higher you flew. But I can't tell you how badly I wanted to keep it, even knowing what I know.

Somewhere, remembering, you drift off - 4:30 or 5:00 am. She finds her way in, undoes your defenses, and you wake for work an hour later in a puddle of your own blood with a hole in you at center mass. You never gets used to that sinking-in-your-chest feeling.

It takes time, you say.

Now the West is burning, as are your immediate surroundings, and you are looking for some way out of the smoke and flames. You wanted to feel alive again, didn't you? Well, your prayer was heard and answered. Now you burn.

She calls. Talks about you in the past tense. Maybe this weekend, she says later in the conversation. Hope and Despair rise to standing at the same time. They don't even bother to grapple, just stand wearily in front of each other looking at the floor.

A friend told you recently she thought the world was crumbling. So busy fretting about yours, you'd forgotten. You looked around. Of course it was, and there was solace in that.

Nine Eastern Blue Birds appeared in a sub-zero February blizzard right outside your bedroom slider. They sang until you looked out. Neither of you had ever seen this kind of bird before, and they seemed impossible in conditions such as these. You felt her delight, watched her marvel, and knew then that you would never recover.

Nine Blue Birds. Angels of your death.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

24. Faith is knowing there is an ocean when you can only see the stream.

"Just wait until your life starts going backwards".

Some things people say stay with you.

Maybe for me the ocean was where I embarked upon this walk. Starting along the edge of a bay, up the bank of a mighty river, climb the falls and cascading mountain streams, find myself later in the high desert sniffing for any trace of water in a dry creek bed. Another day of this and the ocean in my mind transforms from a memory - a certainty - to a question. One day more in this heat without water, and it's a myth. Beyond that, if I survive, the ocean becomes a cruel lie that never was.

A trace of it now at 2:30 in the morning. The smell of ocean. Cool water. How happy I was walking with her in New York City. What a sport she was at the concert, not used to having to stand to see a show, a foot shorter than the fans in front of her, wearing the wrong shoes for standing or city walking, never once complaining. I was as high as I could be with her, smiling from everywhere.

Parched again now, surveying this landscape. Here and now. The memory of water is pain, delight, tragedy- reason enough to go on or to quit.

Irish whiskey in a coffee cup calling you a superhero - the cup, not the whiskey. You look away.

Crickets. Humidity. Silence.

She's passed through now. Gone. You'll say it was worthwhile when you can. I am sure of it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

23. The man who has no imagination has no wings.

Ain't it the truth though?

Wings of feather or wings of fire - imagination transports alright, but you may not get to pick the destination.

What if you could get back all the time your imagination made you serve in hell? The Buddha, or someone writing in his name, said something like, "the mind is a wonderful servant and a terrible master".

"Wrong perceptions" the Buddha says calmly.

"Or maybe more right than you want to understand" it whispers.

You starved it, poisoned it, blunted it; hated, humiliated and disowned it; ran it down and beat it back routinely. You deprived its senses, nearly drowned it. clapped it into black-site-solitary-confinement. But it continues there. Its whisper persists.

Sometimes it's a howling tornado of demons, a Yakuza tattoo. It's a pair of wings commanded by its own will. You will go where it takes you, and you will not be able to close your eyes or stop your ears. What it shows you will ravage you, what it tells you will shred your sanity into cole slaw.

Then there are other times, there, just on the other side of sleep - all that activity. It shows you a glimpse of another world in full swing, a world you cannot hold or remain in long enough to comprehend. There's a trick to it, you know that, but you haven't mastered it yet. That world is happening right now.

And at other times it brings sweetness. Like slowly waking  to a warm soft voice, gentle kisses. It's as as though your very self is blossoming into love. And then you are on this side again, awake, and it slips slowly out of  reach, then out of sight,  and the memory of the feeling is vivid enough to make you ache for days after.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

22. The best are not only the happiest, but the happiest are usually the best.

That's rubbing it in.

I guess it's a sign of diminished expectations, but I don't use either of those words very often.

Thich writes about watering the seeds of suffering and watering the seeds of happiness. I don't have to do much self-assessing there.

I don't care what you believe or what you call yourself, it's what you do. I'm cranky today thinking about "Christians".

"Mess with the best, die like the rest."

"Best" and "Happy" are children's words, aren't they? They cause a lot of problems for adults too. I can tell you that I see signs of petty aggression and disregard for others on the turnpike every day, and most of them seem to be initiated by people in Audis, BMWs and Mercedes. I'm quite sure they believe in Happy and Best, and you'd better not get between them and it.

Trump and the fanfare around him. Circus performer, ring master, fully-formed Narcissist.  We, the audience. Winners and losers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

21. Energy spent now preparing for tomorrow is sure to bear tasty fruit.

And I've been doing like Jeb says, working more hours, me and many others - overwhelmed, over worked, and heavily policed. I'll have to take the tasty fruit part on faith, because what if I don't? Here among those living on the second hand sweet of rinds and cores, pits and peels. Left-over-well-used tiny pleasures. This is the good time prescribed by the greater to the lesser. Content yourself with this or burn unabated forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Everything's all messed up and wrong now...

Thanks to the artist, Craig Miner, for introducing me to this song.

20. Jewels are the gift of fortune while character comes from within.

Her dispatch comes in after a period of silence. The prognosis is not good. She's got things to sort out. You stiffen a little but really you've known for weeks. Still, the pronouncement of the sentence.

You happen to be standing in front of the kitchen window. It's dusk, and in front of you is a ruby throated hummingbird at the feeder she stuck on there and, a few feet beyond, a male cardinal perched on the platform feeder. Like motherless children in my care now. We'll manage, you say, we'll go on. But you don't want to. Not at all.

On the ride home they talked about depression and denial among climate scientists on the radio and how what they know and what they say to others is not the same sometimes. Howling Cassandra covering her mouth with her hand. Not mad, just clear, so clear we cannot hear.

It's been a heavy week, beginning with the young man you assessed in the Emergency Department. He came to you after having the eight lacerations of his inner arm stitched up. Earlier he called an ambulance, waited a little while, then started cutting with a razor blade. Calculus. He wasn't trying to die.

Last month, he did something similar, and wound up with 40 stitches in his lower leg. This happens after he smokes crack cocaine - feels helpless, hopeless, broke and ashamed - so he cuts himself, he says, to feel something else. He's spent nearly the entire last two months in psychiatric hospitals over four admissions. He doesn't feel safe with himself, he says, and he wants to go back. This has been happening for two years.

I challenge him on that - illustrate the small circle of his life - as though he is unaware of it. Then I back off a little because his helplessness is frustrating me and I feel it rising.

"Hospitalization doesn't seem to have been much help before, why will it be this time? "
No answer.

"What's it going to take to get you off of this wheel?"
He stares back, flat and steady.

Another car radio tidbit revealed this week: the suicide rate of white men in Bristol County increased 72% from the year before. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

19. You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you.

Empty platitudes. I'm losing faith. Then this morning coming out the front door I noticed a wild turkey on the roof of my car. Find significance or absurdity where you like.

In other news, I've been keeping a tighter leash on my runaway thoughts. It helps.

That is until today...

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

18. A judgment will rule in your favor.

Imagine the worst and then consider every possible variation. You do this well. Don't sleep much for a week and replay those variations in a continuous loop. Live with it in darkness and silence. Visit with madness nightly. See the end clearly. Recite the litany of doom yet again but write a new verse this time. Press on a little further than ever before.

Use this scorched Earth vision to get back to your self. Your shell. It's nearly uninhabitable now, but start shoveling out the muck because there is nowhere else to go. This is where you live. Face it. Fix it.

After a few days of that kind of thinking, you are able to hear the birds and take care to feed them. A mating pair of cardinals, a pair of hummingbirds. You watch one of the later perched on a branch for a long time. Sometimes even they are still.

You cook food for yourself, washing the pans slowly and mindfully after eating. The quiet isn't death-like now, could it be peaceful? You sit in the chair looking out at the trees, without suffering, thinking you just have to get leaner, quiet this thing, stay grounded, avoid poison. You think you should take better care of your love.

Inside, the tone has changed again. Your love is your own. You are the source and the agent of its transmission. You send the message out - a simple statement.

If found, please return. Someone cares. 

She receives it, responds, and within hours your are looking into her eyes again. You are not necessary here, but she has invited you anyway. There isn't much time left. Don't waste it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

17. A new venture will be a success

That night she treated him to dinner. It was his birthday. She was annoyed with him despite her best efforts at proper observance. He tried humor once or twice but to no effect. She wanted him to be lighter than he was, wanted him to be other than he was. He would have liked to be that way too. He struggled to not get any heavier.

There was a full moon shining that night, a Blue Moon - hazy yellow -which refused to let him sleep until nearly dawn. It forced him to survey the space between them. He couldn't calculate an exact measure, but the gap was vast, and the feeling of great distance caused him pain. Just days ago there had been none. He felt so close. Now, he could not feel her at all.

He waited all night for the feeling to shift, but it didn't.

He wanted to dress and leave. He didn't want to dress and leave. He wanted to tell her he could feel the death of it, the sudden absence of life where it had been so vivid before. He didn't want to say it aloud for fear of suggesting it into reality. He tried to resist the full formation of the thought for the same reason. He only wanted to find his way back to her, to keep it breathing.

In her sleep, she moved toward him. Her foot came into contact with his leg.

He held his breath and waited for the relief that would come with the catalyst that would turn the whole thing around and get them back to where they should be. From there it would become a funny story about how you can really twist things up in your head. Don't trip, she'd say. They'd laugh, he'd pull her in close, she'd tell him he's a little bit crazy, and they'd be okay.

As soon as her foot came into contact with him, she drew it back. In a few minutes, the alarm on his phone will sound and a different day will begin still in darkness.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

16. Regenerate your system through diet and exercise. Save the cookies!

Says the Fortune Cookie writer.

I haven't been eating much or exercising at all lately. Riding a roller coaster, currently feeling low. Like it or not, I'm tied to the sun. But tonight I take the advice, go outside and walk a trail through a bouldered woodland for half an hour. Every five minutes I stop to do some push ups. There are no people about. I hear only birds and distant cars. I see a single deer track on the trail and the light filtering down through the leaves. It smells good here. This is far superior to being tortured by Katy Perry in a crowded gym.

Monday, June 15, 2015

15. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

No shit, Sherlock

I see that fortune cookie writers run dry and fall back on cliches too
How about something punchy like Hey, Sunshine! Your world is on fire

You make me wonder, Universe,
if I can write myself out of this rut,
if I can right myself

Wake with mild nausea and annoyance at 11:39 PM
to go and meet a man in the ER
reportedly suicidal without a plan
for a moment, in your delirium,
you think they want you to help him make one

Return to bed at 3 AM
having assisted with an anti-suicide plan
something the insurance company will pay for
you opened the gate

Calculate in your head what the trip will net you:
a few dollars to throw in the hole

She's been quiet today, and you feel the distance lying here
trying to interpret it across the miles through the darkness

There's a chill in the air with the slider open
and you fall asleep wrapped in an unwashed sheet
preparing to be alone, feeling your own pulse,
setting your alarm for three hours out


There's no shortage of these young men
in the middle of the night
lying in ER beds
hopeless, helpless, homeless,
not much to say
opioid addicted, mid to late 20s.
thinking of ending it

Catch a whiff of their desert
feel the pull of their vacuum
spiraling down through
the late Spring of their lives

This time we have presses down
with all this not knowing
what to do with ourselves,
frighteningly short
and impossibly long

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

14. A goal is a dream with a deadline.

I. At first glance, I read the fortune as "a goal is a dream in decline".  I assure you that mis-read is no reflection of my state of mind. Not at all related to my inner landscape, my worldview, my soul's visage.

You don't really look assured. You're not buying it? No, huh? Okay, fine.

Well, we are who we are and we pack it and unpack it and drag it and hump it from one stop to the next. Sore feet. Aching shoulders, hips, low back, kness. Some of us are in light and some in darkness but most are too busy or terrorized or confused or distracted or oblivious to know or to care much either way.

I'm this kind of guy, kind of hairpin, kind of fellow: the jealous type. That's what she said. I try to explain. but no matter how I slice it,  I got it. I'm infected.

Sprayed paint. Tainted saint. I'm a green-striped Pepe Le Pew. Sacre bleu!
Make it seem silly rather than what it is - the annihilation of all that is good.

What were you thinking earlier? Oh right, that you are split between two basic archetypes - shrine builder and besmircher. Build your temple to the object of worship then smear its ornate, sacred walls with feces. Conflicted boy. What is the nature of your conflict, boy? Nature boy.

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy, and he wandered very far, very far, over land and sea,
and then one day, a magic day he came my way, and we spoke of many things, fools and kings, and this he said to me, "the greatest thing, you'll ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return".

Those lines are from memory, but I might be scrambled and or condensed. My memory is a stew, a sludge, a screw. Have you ever listened to Nat "King" Cole? Now that's a voice, right? Takes someone else's heart's song and sells it like he owns it. Do you know there was a time when I imagined he was my Dad? You should check him out or whatever.

She told me not to be afraid to fall. But what else is there to be afraid of? What the songwriter is getting at, getting back to the Nat song, is that you've got to get out of the way, dummy. Let love do it's work.

A bumbling bumble bee careens between flowers.
A lover lost, keening away hours
in the mist on wet stones.
Do what Love says not what you say.
Let it play.  Let it stay.  It's okay.

You bring madness.
 Bring something better for your host.

II. What if you didn't allow yourself to color and shade everything? What if you just let it all be? That's a nice dream. Begin now.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

All these things, you dream, you see...

13. All the news you receive will be positive and uplifting.

I'll assume then that no news is good news and imagine myself uplifted.

The air is cooling, and it's dark now. The superstition regarding the outside light seems ridiculous tonight so it's off. She's had her fill of me for the week.

Squinting at the screen, listening to the toilet run eternally- a bad seal - probably responsible for parching California. A friend told me today that I deserve good things. Deserve is not a word I use. Superstition.

In other news, my daughter is a young woman now, She's having a good year. She looks confident in her skin and beautiful. I'm grateful, and anxious, and thankful, with my fingers crossed.

Medicated, what would seem real?

I try to stay asleep to hold onto a particularly good dream keeping at bay the realization that I can't. Try to minimize force and struggle in order to slow my waking. It's already over, but there's a moment there of willful dreaming.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

If I forgot to eat, and sleep and pray....

12. A clean conscience is a good pillow

Walking this morning, I saw a worried man's eyes. Alone in there, like me in the white room with that bland, recently painted smell. Pale people strolled in the sun wearing all manner of sun-protective headgear. I was just as pale, hatless, maybe closer to cancer and a necessary changing of the watch.

In the bookstore, cool, church-like peace, found lines of a short poem spoken in a young girl's secret Pashtun.

You're eyes aren't eyes. They're bees. 
I can find no cure for their sting. 

So I remembered your eyes and their particular warmth, and how inside me things change when I look into them. I thought of the sleep of children. I bowed to the power of this.

Monday, May 18, 2015

11. Anyone can memorize things, but the important thing is to understand it.

But you don't. Walking this wheel again, aware of each misstep, of history repeating. Self awareness is not insight. It is not prevention. This is a loop. This is a lonely mile.

You are a man walking in the sunshine. This time in the sun is a gift not a given, and you know it well. You also understand that it is the sun who decides how long you remain here, not you. An unexpected stretch of joy punctuated by terror. Sun worship. Slavery. Willingly.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Because they can't get up...

10. Don't be afraid to take a chance when the opportunity of a lifetime appears.


Someone - probably jacked up on Crossfit and caffeine - said, "fear is the mind killer" and then put it on a tee shirt. It's a bad ass line from a manifesto about self-overcoming or something like that. It's one of those slogans you write when you're feeling strong, confident and vital; when you're ready for war and tasting victory. Something I once believed, in one form or another, and said right on to. Now I lack energy and belief, and those words just look silly and trite. Frankly, I over-think, over-worry, over-analyze. I spin my wheels. I wait too long.

Someone else said, "it's a terrible thing in life, I think, to wait until you're ready".
It is.

The embedded teaching of the 5th General Order: I will not quit my post until properly relieved. 
Stand fast, the voice says, steady...

She is a few years from 40 and newly free. She is going places. He's closing on 50 fast, saddled with debt and a negative worldview with a reflex for negation. He has children growing somewhere else. He feels them.

I've always been afraid that I wouldn't recognize it when the opportunity of a lifetime appears. Or worse, that I didn't recognize it. There were so many days when I couldn't see clearly or couldn't move.

1:48 am:  Awake between naps. Anxiety has been the predominant flavor of these last years. Heartburn and restless dreams. Inadequacy. Falling asleep in a strange place while waiting for a train. When I wake up, I don't t know if I am on the right side of the tracks or not. I cannot ascertain the direction of travel.

One might say that what's happening now is the direct result of taking my chance on the opportunity of a lifetime. Don't misunderstand, I'd do it again, but it's not pat or simple or happily ever after. Taking a chance on one's own opportunity of a lifetime can trigger the opportunity of a lifetime for another leaving one directly in its' path. Hers approaches like a bullet train. I'm standing on the tracks.

On a cold, snowy February morning we watched nine blue birds outside the window together. We'd never seen blue birds before, and we were delighted. Someone said they signified major life events coming. Change.

Another voice says, the hell with this. You make your own opportunity or you don't and keep waiting.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Your Funeral, My Trial

9. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

The voices in his head have always been unkind. Over the course of his life, he devised various temporary systems of distraction to more or less keep them at bay. Mostly they're like static, a fading conservative talk show on a car radio, frequently nonsensical, most often hateful. They are clearer and louder during quiet times. There have been more of those times lately.

He usually wakes exhausted like he's defended himself through an all-night assault. Such is his state upon waking this morning in the pre-dawn on the baked-hard dirt of the roadside. His clothes are damp, and he is shivering. As he becomes aware of himself, the harsh night voices and the context they are speaking from fade into oblivion. He opens his eyes.

At first he cannot comprehend what he sees. He is looking into brown eyes, curious and surprised. Then he registers a coyote with its nose not an inch from his, ears back, tentative. The man's eyes widen involuntarily and the spell is broken. Without sound the coyote disappears into the high dry grass.

The man struggles to his feet. He cannot be sure of the reality of the situation. The top of the sun has broken the horizon. He is five feet from a deserted, two-lane paved road. The context has shifted again. Last night in the darkness the black land to the left and right of the pavement seemed inviting, deep and soft. He left the road, laid down involuntarily and was fast asleep. It was a sacred feeling - safe. Now in the daylight he must appear insane rising from the ground a few feet from the highway as if dumped from a truck.

There is no one to see. His mouth is dry and tastes foul. The voices begin their work day, and he starts walking.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

How do you measure progress? A song from 1970.

8. Never make the mistake of thinking that you know everything about anything.


Kermit The Frog sipping tea quips, I don't see the welfare office on fire, but that's none of my business.

What's happening right now?
What's slipping away?
What's already gone?
What's worth fighting for?
Who do we fight?
Who are we?
Is there a we?

The permanent underclass is expanding. Coal for the furnace. It's more than Marxist theory, more than a pool of surplus labor. Systems for managing them (helping them aka protecting us from them) profit from the transaction. Everyone takes a piece. Churches, prisons, health care, social services, banks, neighborhood liquor stores, Rent-A-Center, pay day lender, and the government too. We lean heavily on the most needy and then mock them. Kick them.

Some people call this a Christian nation.
Some people call this a nation indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.

What facts do I have? What proof?
What network do you get your news from? Are there facts anymore?
The proof is in the editing, made factual by repetition.
The truth is in the living, which some of us never see, while the rest are never heard.

There is a rising stench. There is a building scream. I feel sick. Many do.

It's Spring though. Here comes the sun.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

7. Apply yourself to the basics and progress will follow.

You wake up if the necessary conditions of oxygen, water, nutrients, normal body temperature and atmospheric pressure have been met overnight and remain in place. You're already working - maintaining boundaries between inner and outer worlds; moving smooth and cardiac muscle; sensing and responding to stimuli; digesting; metabolizing; excreting; reproducing; and growing. You don't have to think about this work, and if you do, it only becomes more difficult.

You struggle immediately with the desire to go back to sleep and barely shake it off.

Next, the first negative thought dive-bombs in before you can open your eyes, and then more - hot summer horseflies - and the fight begins.

Inhale and exhale. Don't forget to breathe.

Push back on the voices - the critic, the heckler, the doubter.
Recite your affirmation.

You reach for something brave like whatever it takes but it rings hollow - doesn't pertain to you in this moment.

Now prop yourself up, swing the legs out, plant your feet on the floor. Breathe.

Remember to breathe.
Take control of the narrative.
Take responsibility for every aspect of your life -
every thought, every action, every moment.

Yeah? Get bent.

But you force your arms open wide, in greeting and acceptance,
hold them out toward the new rising day
while simultaneously tensing your abdomen,
not so much out of vanity
but as if to take a punch,
and then you stumble forward.

You meet her at the gym. It is very early. She is doing shoulders, biceps and triceps.
She is younger than you are. Fitter. She's positive. Her progress is visible and hard to believe.

You are warming up on a treadmill focusing on your ragged breathing wanting to stop.
Soon you are distracted by the men grunting, banging weights, their eyes creeping toward her.
They are younger than you too, and able.

You realize you are occupying time and space in advancing middle age, right now, right here,
fully engaged in a battle to stave off cardiac arrest. She is serious about her workout, earbuds in, seeming not to notice the men. You look away trying not to let your thoughts go sour.

Overhead the speakers play:
Finished with my woman cuz she couldn't help me with my mind.
People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time...

You're a little bit paranoid she says, grinning, her eyes searching your face.

Despite feeling like you might collapse, you want to smile at the strangeness of it all.
The synchronicity. The ridiculous timing of events.
There is nothing to do here but go along. To continue.
Breathe. Inhale and let it go.

Step under the pads, assume the weight, raise your heels off the floor, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

6. The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.

1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
2. Strength in the face of pain or grief.

April is many things, but it is certainly a month of suicides. We don't speak of it. Only of the thaw, the showers that bring May flowers, the new sun and the returning birds, the first buds, forsythia. Tender green life is breaking through the hardened crust. We speak of promise and hope.

April is also a sudden harsh light that interrupts a long sleep. Some wake disoriented, lethargic, stiff, with weak limbs and a cold heavy dread at the prospect of how much it's going to take to rise and shine. With just enough energy to act.


What is courage in love?
The courage to accept you exactly as you are.
Work on that.
The courage to let go of the outcome and do what your heart says.
To fall...
Bahala Na!
Fuck it.

Let go.

Ready to fight, ready to kill, ready to die but never will. 

Eighteen years old. Seventy-two of us chanted this in our boxer shorts before retiring for the night for three months and a week. A courage maker. A horror buster. It wasn't one hundred percent effective. Some of us died later.

Then, courage manifested in visible spontaneous ways. The drill instructors frequently "thrashed" us individually and in groups of various sizes on the quarter deck. To be thrashed was to be engaged in intensively supervised, enthusiastically directed, vigorous physical exercise until one collapsed in a state of temporary muscle failure and a lake  of sweat. Make-a-lake was actually one of the short-hand commands they used. We made plenty of them.

Often, a recruit would be having a very bad time of it - maybe he vomited, or couldn't continue, but the drill instructors kept dogging him, maybe he was breaking down. Once in a while, another recruit would run up there uninvited and start getting down with him - doing the same exercises, suffering the same treatment - trying to transfuse his friend with motivation and energy.

Mountain climbers, push-ups (down, up, down, up, down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up), bends and thrusts, sit-ups, Oh! Oh! THAT'S RIGHT - TAKE YOUR TIME, KEEP TAKING YOUR DOGGONE TIME,  mountain climbers, bends and thrusts, FASTER, side straddle hops,  on your back, run in place, on your stomach, push-ups (down-up, down-up, down-up), HURRY UP!  mountain climbers (one-two, one-two, one-two) FASTER...

This phenomenon virtually never occurred in the beginning of recruit training, but by the end it was common place. That spark - both in the giving and in the receiving - was courage. It was clear and something you could feel in your body.

Courage seems now a lonely thing, a strange thing. It's practiced in solitude. Some continue on and some stop. Some open their hearts and some wall them off. Mostly, there's ambivalence. We are sometimes judged by others as cowards or heroes, but most of the time our struggle, our courage, goes unseen and unsung.

April is a hard and beautiful month. It gives gently, and it takes.

Friday, April 10, 2015

5. The time has come to allow your heart to guide you.

The people of the village know him as El Perro, Corazon. The dog is old, blind and scarred and is said to have been born with an exceptionally keen nose that the years, and his travails, have not diminished. Day by day he survives among the open sewers, steep slopes, craggy cliffs, armed and wanton adolescents with facial tattoos, insane automobile traffic, tar pits, poisoners, quicksand, corrupt officials, quagmires, starved coyotes, and the cruelty and indifference of both time and men. Constantly in motion, they say to watch him is to witness purpose in action, but exactly what purpose cannot be readily deciphered. The story of the dog is what brought me here.

I arrived in the village by bus after settling my affairs and erasing my outward existence in another country to the North. I have in my possession three sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, a jug of water, stiff new hiking boots, my entire net worth in American currency stored precariously in an inside pocket, a letter opener with its point ground dagger-sharp strapped to my arm, and a variety 12-pack of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy.

I ask numerous people, both humble and affluent, about El Perro and where I might find him. I ask the question again and again across weeks.  Perdoname Senor/Senora, pero adonde es El Perro, Corazon? I ask drunk and I ask sober, and the answer is silence, Spanish ridicule, dismissal.

Borrachco. Loco.

The air smells of burning tires, it is very hot and incredibly dry. I have completely transformed from pale gringo spectacle to invisible man. I have learned the words for food, bed and drink, and I am drinking more than regularly now. My net worth no longer fills my pocket. I am coming to accept the fact that I have made a fatal mistake - a backpack full of canned goods in place of a parachute at 10,000 feet.

This morning, dawn, leaving a cantina in no condition to stay or to go, I ran into a very small boy with a cleft palet selling chiclets. The boy of 5 or 6 helped me to my feet, and at a point in the process of trying to stand, we came eye to eye with each other. His brown eyes had a depth that shamed me, that made me ask him, mijo, adonde es El Perro, Corazon? 

The boy smiled and pointed to the East. My sore eye followed his arm and finger squinting into the painful rising sun. There on the ridgeline was the silhouette of an upright-sitting dog. He appeared to be facing us. He appeared to be waiting for me.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

4. It's all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.

In your mercy 
keep us free from sin and
protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our savior  
_________   _________

Last night, beloved, and today, cast out. Pierced by jagged snow in the biting wind, stomach-punched, the last days of March. Staggered.

I felt close to her.
Don't worry, you will feel that again.
I might feel close to her again.
Then again, you might not...
I will probably never feel close to her again.

It's over. You think this thought in another black moment, symptomatic of a common, ordinary madness. Nothing new under your new sun.

Stop the spinning. Look out at the horizon. Quiet your mind. Find the constant in your self, the part of you that doesn't waiver, the part unmoved by outside forces. You knew that place once, or was it just a story?

The bright Blood Moon sets as Easter begins it's ascent. My eyes want only to close - an act of mercy, large enough.