Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Pier Glass

Over the years, my visage has changed. Grown longer... wider. The hair whiter... coarser. The eyes wiser. Or perhaps more jaded. It is difficult to separate those two things some days. I have fallen and gotten up too many times to count, the scars on my knees hidden by the scabs of my latest debacle. The face that looks back from the glass is no longer quite as full of potential as it once was. The edges are worn off and what remains is tilted with a rueful smile. It was never, what I would call, handsome. But there are moments when the look is pleasing, usually following some triumph where all is right. At other times it is best not to look too carefully, because the lines and creases have begun to deepen and the imperfections are all too... visible. But the physical features matter less as the sand shifts. It is the eyes that matter. At what point did the eyes change? When they look back on me now, the knowledge of the miles they have seen makes it hard for them to be as convincing of the things that are around the next bend.

A pier glass is a large mirror... hung high on a wall often between two windows. Its silver extends and reflects the room upon itself, giving the illusion of large space. It hides nothing and as I stand there looking... it is not the preened self that reflects in the mirror of the bathroom. The one in which I stand up straighter, and lower my jawline, in a futile attempt at vanity. No... the pier glass shows me as I am, unaware of the need for vanity. Stooped and gray and weighted by the years and the worries. I catch the glimpse of this stranger and feel the shock of recognition... as if seeing a long lost mate, suddenly coming in to a focus of memories. They flood through me. The memories.

But the mirror hangs between windows... the windows are not for reflection, but to allow others to see in. All of us... everyone of us... wonders how the world views us. Wonders what they see... and what they miss. The scars are never as noticeable to others as they are to yourself. But I am struck by the dichotomy of these two views... self view... and the view of others. How harsh we are on ourselves. How we learn to focus on the cuts and bruises that we know so well, instead of the beauty that radiates. At a certain point the mirrors become useless. It only reflects the eyes that either lie... or tell too much truth. Neither is fair. Neither is accurate.

But the jaded eyes also know that those looking through the windows allow their views to be colored, skewed by the imperfections of the glass, which perhaps reflects themselves back a bit as they stare through to you. These views are colored by jealousy. Colored by hatred. Colored by bigotry. Colored by desire. Colored by envy. Colored by grief. Colored... it would seem... by their own eye that have walked their own path and thus have formed their own distorted view.

So who to trust? We read often of unconditional love. The skeptic in me wonders if the idea is simply fantasy. The romantic in me wonders if this is the real answer to the question of trust. Unconditional love sees all... the bruises... the scabs... the jaded eyes... and loves anyway without distortion. And what we wish for is that... someone in the pier glass, or someone in the window that can view us that way.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pieces of Eight (repost)

From a few years back... something that resonated with me that I had forgotten that I wrote.

The air is still. The world is quiet. It is an odd pause in the bustle of the busy street. The constant flow of jets overhead stops for a moment. The stream of red lights going and white lights coming over the far away hill show that the arterial vessels of civilization still pump. It is just my little world here that has gone quiet.

The dog sniffs the air expectantly. I listen too. Listen to the quiet. Smell the cool air. A bird sings somewhere. The frozen grass crunches underfoot. We are caught in between, it seems. Caught in that waiting. Waiting for the cold to end and the new growth to begin.

There is the temptation in this world to fear the quiet. We grow nervous by the waiting. The expectation. It is worse than bad news. Bad news can be dealt with. Handled. Faced. Worked on. Gotten over. But quiet is harder. In it lurks our worst fears or our greatest wishes... or perhaps even the disappointment that when the quiet is gone again, all will be just the same.

A new sound emerges. Low and distant. Growing louder. The dog and I turn toward it. It comes from the sky. High up. But not the dull constant whine of a jet engine. The jagged honking of an enormous vee of geese. Hundreds of them. They follow the leader, the vee breaking and reforming in an organic, and cosmically mathematically way. They are returning. Coming home. The scales of the quiet are broken and despite the crunching of the grass, and the wispy breath in the cold air... the change is coming.

I have been through these times often enough to know that the quiet isn't to be dreaded any longer. Change comes regardless. And on its own terms. I am merely a passenger. I can look back at my life and see those crossroads that came before me. Some were happy. Some not. But they were all valuable to who I am now.

The quiet spaces are like silver coins in my hand. Some are worn and dirty. Some are small. Some large. But all valuable in their own way. And together they add up to a lifetime. Am I worth more now than I was then? Maybe. Or maybe not. Worth rises and falls on the whims of strangers. And those that count their coins constantly have buried their heads in the past. Trying to control what is uncontrollable. They will not buy future happiness. They are only tokens. Reminders.

And so I pocket the coins. They settle there, a comforting weight. And I tell myself that they are worthless to anyone but me. And I watch the geese coming. I watch the change coming. Without fear. Without expectation. But with a rueful smile.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On Edge

I am sore today. And tired. And cranky. I feel old. I feel suspended in time. Late August does that. It always feels like the world conspires and all parts of life begin acting alike. Awaiting the shoe to fall. It is a conveyor belt of sameness. Until it isn't. Then it turns shockingly to one side or another. Most people I know are the same. They complain about the sameness. They complain about the sudden changes. We all ride the same rides. We pretend that they are different rides from everyone else. But really they are the same ride. Mine isn't more important than yours. Yours... not more important than mine. But we like to pretend that we are the first to ride this particular ride.

What I really want is a little break from the monotony. But not too much. Something unexpected and good. Not necessarily great. Just good. Definitely not bad. God... even the music that plays on my iPod is repeating itself despite having four weeks of music loaded on it.

This way of living is indicative of our time, I suppose. A media frenzy erupts until they kill the story. Then they are bored because they know we are bored until something else traumatic happens to rouse us all again.

But I'm tired of the roller coaster. I'm tired of writing the same things. I'm tired of reading the same things.

So I'm cranky. That will have to do until something comes along to make me smile.

So go on... entertain me. **fires shots at your feet to make you dance**.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Death Panels? Really? That is the Best They Can Come Up With?

I ask myself on a daily basis if I am biased. I just can't grasp the nonsensical rants being spewed against the need to change health care in this country. Am I alone?

Don't get me wrong. I have attempted not to dismiss the rants out of hand. I have honestly tried to stop and listen to find out if I missing something that these people have gleaned that I have somehow missed.

From what I understand... these people seem to believe that we are all complicit in a government plan to kill people. I've read the offending passage... which I'm sure many of them haven't. It reads as such.

From the infamous Page 425 of the Health Care Bill
Advance Care Planning Consultation
Subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), the term ‘advance care planning consultation’ means a consultation between the individual and a practitioner described in paragraph (2) regarding advance care planning, if, subject to paragraph (3), the individual involved has not had such a consultation within the last 5 years. Such consultation shall include the following: ‘‘(A) An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to. ‘‘(B) An explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses. ‘‘(C) An explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy. ‘‘(D) The provision by the practitioner of a list of national and State-specific resources to assist consumers and their families with advance care planning, including the national toll-free hotline, the advance care planning clearinghouses, and State legal service organizations (including those funded through the Older Americans Act of 1965). ‘‘(E) An explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.

So... what I can try to see when I scrunch my eyes up tight and pretend to be them is that they see that doctors will be forced to provide consultation every five years in which they will be forced to explain living wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney, such insidious things called "end of life" services... **dramatic music** which include palliative care and hospice.

Could be as simple as that the people ranting don't understand that many doctors and social workers do this today? And that end-of-life services are not death squads? But wonderful and helpful services for the very, very sad fact that we ALL die eventually... some of us in long drawn out and painful ways that make it extremely difficult on those close to us... and so palliative care and hospice comes to help us? Having lived with and around nurses, social workers, and palliative care professionals most of my life... I realize from the stories I hear what happens when you DON'T have living wills and health care proxies designated. You have situations where your loved ones are forced to make decisions on your life or death without your input. And the guilt of making these decisions can last the rest of their lives. So why in the world would I NOT want a doctor helping me to understand this paperwork and my choices while I am still able to understand and help guide those around me with the decisions that most effect me?

And how in God's name do we get from that paragraph above to accusing Obama of being a Nazi? That is absurd. And yet people continue to jump on that bandwagon. "Well... the liberals called Bush a Nazi." This is the excuse I've heard. So that's what this is? Payback? And comparing someone who ordered the unprovoked attack on another country... to someone who is taking on the largest and most powerful example of what is wrong with the free-market system. Fascists were for free market, capitalist societies, as I recall. The ranters can't even get their analogies right. At the least, they should be calling him Stalin.

Where is the reasoned discourse? Where are the pro and con arguments that are what makes this country great? I'm not saying that the bill is perfect... none of them are. But if the best they can come up with is death squads... I fear for our society. Not because the liberals will ruin it. But because the opposition is apparently too stupid to argue the edges off the liberal agenda. And the real danger comes when you get the boat so out of balance that we all sink.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reverse Adaptation

I was complaining to a friend of mine about the heat the past few days and he related an anecdote about his brother in the army in Iraq. The brother came home and was constantly cold, despite the mid 80s temperatures. He told him that before he came home, he went out of his bunker to have a smoke with a friend. They commented how beautiful and cool the night was. One of them had a thermometer on their watch. It was 98 degrees out.

The term for this is "acclimatization"... the adaptation of an organism of adjusting to its environment.

I was thinking about this again as I was watching an interview last night on The Daily Show. The author being interviewed had written a book called Born to Run regarding a hidden group of Indians in the canyons of Mexico who can run hundred of miles... in sandals. The tribe is immune to many of the sicknesses that we struggle with... among them cancer and heart disease. They are pacifists and don't know the ways of war. But like Forrest Gump... they simply run. For hundred of miles. One older man profiled in the book had just run a race that would equal about four marathons.

We are fascinated as a culture with adaptability. Our reality television is rife with it... Survivor, Amazing Race, The 1900 House, and of course, I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. All of these shows focus on living without the things we take for granted. Darwinism at its best.

When I think of adaptation, I think of adapting to more difficult environments, like my friend's brother who thought that 98 degrees was "cool". I don't often think of the invisible, and possibly more isidious, adaptation that we all are making every day. The adapation of the lazy... of the entitled. We sit on cushioned couches in air-conditioned ease buying food pre-packaged in stores while gathering information from tiny boxes that sit in our laps. We have adapted to a world of ease... as easily as sliding into a hot tub. It feels good. And we collectively say... "ahhhh" when something comes along that makes our world even easier.

You can put positive and negative spins on either side of the coin of course... we are enlightened... and specialized... and working together in a great concert of society. And those that live in the canyons of Mexico are backwards, and ignorant. It is all about perspective, I suppose. What is it that is important right now? For me... getting off this sofa to make myself a sandwich. Tomorrow... I might have to go hunt my own food. But I will cross the Darwin Bridge when I have to. I just hope the toll isn't too high. Because at a certain point I wonder if the entitlement that we all seek has made us the weak that will get weeded out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Playing the Line

I've watched my son play sports for five or six years. Soccer... baseball... basketball... football. Whatever sport was seasonal. He is sinewy as a whip, fast in short bursts... but he is twitchy. I don't mean he has a twitch. I mean that the energy bursts from him like a hummingbird which doesn't serve you well in sports where long graceful motions are often necessary. Where the other boys were out gracefully scooping grounders and dancing toward first base, throwing in one smooth flow... my son was bouncing around like he had to pee... diving on balls and whipping them around with questionable accuracy. He hated soccer because it was all running all the time. He can only run in short bursts. We didn't make it past the second practice for basketball because jerky motions don't fit with the smooth jump shots. In football, his jerky motions helped him elude some tackles... but his heart wasn't really in it.

Don't get me wrong... he was never the worst at anything he did. In fact, he had natural ability in nearly everything he tried. Just not enough to make him excel. He was a "second group" kid. You can categorize the kids in three groups... the kids who are naturals... the big, kids, with the right genes whose parents were the stars of their respective sports and push their kids from birth to be good at what the parents think they should be good at, until such time as the kids come to their senses and go off to find there own way in the world. Group two... are the kids that aren't terrible... but aren't great either. These "B" players will luck into making the star play from time to time... but as time and talent separates the level A from the B... the gap becomes apparent to everyone... the kid included, and so they hang up their cleats. Group three... are the kids the have no ability at all. Every team has at least two. The crowds roar for them if they happen to stop the ball with their stomach... or in sheer blind luck the ball finds their bat once during the season. At the beginning they think the cheers are cool, but after a few years, even THEY roll their eyes at themselves and hope that their parents will give up the whole ruse.

For years, my son lobbied us to let him play hockey. My wife and I were both firm with our negative answer. "Too rough... too costly... too much travel..." We had heard it all before. Rolling our eyes at those parents that spent time and money driving hither and yon at all hours of the morning to get their kids to practice. But my resolve weakened one day and we signed him up for a no-checking in-line hockey league. For several practices and several games, I watched him... as I have for all the other sports...twitching away with nervous energy. Except that this twitchyness was on wheels. Unless he was on his back, which he frequently was. He scored a goal or two mostly on lucky rebounds. His twitchy, jerky legs standing in contrast to the better skaters and their long fluid glides. I was ready for the inevitable "group two" status.

Then before game three the coach asked if anyone wanted to play goalie. And my son's little hand shot up like a rocket.

Hockey goalies are a different breed of person, I have found out. They are loners in a team sport. They are a little "off" as one of the coaches said. You have to be, I suppose, to subject yourself to hard pucks coming at your head at speeds up to a hundred miles an hour. They are the last line of defense... the ones that lose the game, not the ones that win them. And never in his short life have I ever seen my son embrace something so whole-heartedly. His quirky little movements and hummingbird motions suddenly gelled... like a fuzzy picture that suddenly snaps into crystal clear focus. When he strapped the pads on and went to "play the line" as they call it... he was at home. He knew the angles, and the motions, and the strategy even though he hadn't had a teacher. They were hard wired into this skeleton. And all I could do was stand behind the boards and hold my breath.

He embraced the "offness" that was expected of him. He began wearing mismatched socks... red and yellow... garrulously contrasting with his blue uniform. His games consisted of long periods of boredom punctuated by moment of flurrying terror. To overcome the boredom, he sings to himself. And his jerky movements have fine tuned themselves into catlike reflexes... with the vision to track and follow a three inch puck in the middle of eight crashing bodies.

In his first game... his team won... in overtime. In his first season... his team made the league finals... only to lose by a goal. In his second season... his team returned to the championship... and this time won by a goal... in overtime. In the stands... we would hear once a game..."Who is that goalie?" When I started coaching, the opposing coaches would seek me out to talk about what I had done to create this prodigy. And I laughed and admitted that I had done absolutely nothing. What else can you do?

The lesson is there. Loud and clear. There are things that all of us are wired for. You are. I am. Often times we get lost in the shuffle of life doing what others expect of us, rather than doing what we are good at. And when you find those things, they pull you in unforeseen directions. It is best to follow that path... for however long it lasts. "Follow your bliss," as the great Joseph Campbell would say.

He might quit next week for all I care. It will take care of itself. And there are many other discoveries ahead of him, I hope. Things that he falls into that are as natural as putting on a glove... a hockey glove. Parenting isn't about working them in to something that you want them to do. It is getting up and driving them places to try new things until something clicks... and then holding your breath while you watch them do it. And maybe... just maybe... learning from them, and taking the risk again to play your own line.

It is never too late.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Clearing the Deck

My approach to home projects is to think about them for several years and then suddenly burst forth with a flurry of work, seemingly out of no-where. Such is the case with my arch nemesis, my back deck. I think about it... sizing it up... figuring out the scope... the hurdles.. the necessary equipment. And then without warning I stormed the beaches and began ripping the old one apart. "When did you decide to do that?" my daughter asked. "2006" I answered truthfully.

The problem with fix it projects is that they never take the course that you think they will. In my mind, it was a simple process of replacing the decking. A weekend project, at best. Up it comes, down it goes... and voila. A new deck on which to drink my Mojitos.

But when I ripped down the railing.. I realized how bad the wood was. Rotten. The hardware rusted almost throughout. So that would need to be redone as well adding an extra week the timeline.

Then came the footers... which were now in the wrong place to do what I needed to do with the new railing. So now I'm digging three foot holes in my backyard to pull the current cement footers out to be replaced and swearing under my breathe.

The wife comes by to tell me that the backyard looks like "White Trash Ville" and suggests that maybe we should get an old car on blocks back there to complete the set.

All fix it projects are the same. Even self-fix-it programs. You start in one place... with one goal... but as you pull out the roots and memories and past transgressions in one area... you realize that whole other pieces of you are rotten through as well. And so we leave it all well enough alone, knowing that someday it could all collapse, the rotten wood and rusted hardware finally giving up the ghost. It takes enormous effort to undertake any of these projects. They are physically and emotionally wearing. There is a risk that I will get caught in a never ending process of tearing down and rebuilding... and will become a permanent Casa De la Basura Blanca. On the other hand... the reverse is also a risk... leaving well enough alone will result in a shaggier, rotten version of myself that will eventually collapse.

I suppose we all collapse in the end. But the process of taking down and rebuilding better than before is rewarding. Yes... it is exhausting. But the longer you wait the more there is to work on.

For now... I will finish my deck. Then I will sit on it and drink my drinks... and ponder what to work on next. The list of possibilities is endless.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Dog is David Carradine

It was so hot outside yesterday the dog threw up. He's not very sage and tends to push the limits. He runs back and forth in the yard chasing cars and people and babies and rabbits and birds and whatever else comes into his line of sight, without a second thought that "gee... I'm wearing a fur coat." I read somewhere recently that the average dog is about as smart as the average two year old. If this is true then it must be one horny two year old. Because my dog thinks about sex. A lot. His walks aren't really walks. They are "dog on a mission" romps through the neighborhood. He leaves pee-mail at every sign, bush, and leg, marking his territory with rabid need for recognition. He smells the responses with equal fierceness, gleaning... I assume... the threats from the male dogs, and the come-ons from the bitches. I can almost read the responses by watching him. Wary and bristling when it is a male. Torqued out of his mind when it is a female. I usually narrate with an X-rated version of Doug, the dog from "Up!".

We bought him a special collar so he wouldn't crush his own larynx during his walks. Regular choker collars have one band the constricts when the dog pulls. The special one was invented by some dog guy near us that has two bands, and thus spreads the choking out over his entire neck, not just his windpipe. But we have the auto-erotic asphyxiation dog from hell. When he is chasing tale, he pulls without letting up until he is literally laying in the middle of the street gasping for air. People give us the "you are a bad person" look, like we are abusing him. I cheerfully wave. They slam their doors and dead bolt them. But I know they have closets hidden away with whips and chains in them.

Having never actually caught up with the bitch that left him the pee-mail... the horny dog turns to other sources of entertainment. My youngest daughter was the easiest target for awhile until he got the message loud and clear from the alpha dog that this was not kosher. Thus he transferred his lust to what we refer to as his "humpy blanket". It is soft and blue and when you play tug of war he gets aroused. "What is that red thing sticking out?" my daughter asked. Much amusement followed. For a few days. Now it just grosses the women of the house out to no end. The men still find it funny, of course.

Dogs are incapable of growing past this phase. They are unapologetic about their boners and sex toys, even if the women find it gross.

And while I realize that many men are equally unapologetic and incapable of growing out of this phase, I am not one of them. I am overly apologetic, if that is possible. But I wonder at times if the reason I like the dog so much is because of that unapologetic attitude. That go for broke until you are left panting and wheezing in the middle of the street chasing after someone. The higher brain tells me that this is gross and base. But there is some part of all of us that recognizes it for what it is. Primal lust. We want to lust. We want to be lusted after. But instead we slam the doors and hide away our needs in closets filled with whips and chains, pretending that it is all some vial practice that is below us.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Emperor's New Blog

I’ve lost track of how many blogs I’ve started and stopped. I sort of like the nomadic existence of writing in this way. Reinventing. Being rediscovered by those of you who haven’t grown weary of re-book-marking me. I know. It takes much effort. “bookmark>bookmark this page”. Ow. I’m tired just writing it.

It is like Where’s Waldo, except that I don’t wear striped shirts and hats. Mobius, Julia, Tripping, etc. etc. Wearing stripes everyday is boring.

And besides, I read things almost daily and think, “what a GREAT blog name”. Then I run out and see if it is available. I haven’t changed my haircut since senior high. So I have to change something.

I feel disembodied if I don’t have someplace to post. And yet, there are many days that I have nothing to post. But still it is nice to have someplace to call home.

And so… it begins.