Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Every sailboat is different. Each has its own signature, its own nuance, its best point of sailing. This fact is lost in a crude world of motorboats who plow the oceans and lakes with dogged monotony, in a rush to get from here to there by the straightest line. Sailing is not a game for the hurried. You zig and zag, back and forth, from tack to tack, crawling your way up wind and down. Mastering a ship requires patience and a concert master's ear for the wind in the rigging... tweaking, tightening, loosening, adding sail and taking away sail.

Those who know no better assume the fastest way to travel is directly opposite of the wind with as much sail as possible. But these sailors are barbarians with little sense. The true masters know a ship's best point of sailing is several points off the direct line of the wind... and in strong breezes, more sail can actually slow you down rather than speeding you along. This is true of life as well, where turning yourself directly into the wind will eventually leave your sails fluttering... and it is best to keep your options open by following the direction, but not too closely.

The winds do not obey you or I. They simply blow, or not. We created steamships and motorboats for this very reason. And so we plow forward now on strict time tables on direct lines. We forget the power of patience that are necessary when dealing with the doldrums. The power of listening to the wind in the rigging to hear the subtle changes that we must make to get from A to B. And we forget the white knuckled terror that strikes us when the winds and storms catch us, when all there is to do is pull down the sails, and turn into the waves and hold on.

But it is the doldrums that I think about now. For that is where I am. Sitting and waiting for the gusts to blow on my cheek to tell me that the waiting is over and it is time again to move. But sitting still and waiting is not the only option in sailing. There is a technique called "kedging". In large sailing ships, a small rowboat is sent out carrying the ship's anchor. The men row ahead of the ship and push the anchor overboard. Then the men on the main ship turn a crank to slowly pull the ship forward a few feet. The anchor is then pulled out again and the process is repeated. It is ridiculously hard work. But it keeps us from slipping backward, and keeps us moving forward, however slowly, until the winds pick up again.

Knowing what to do at sea does not come from an owner's manual. Certainly there is training, and basic skills necessary. But at the end of training comes instinct. A finely tuned ability to understand the subtle reactions that a ship takes based on your actions. Being in the doldrums can suck the instinct from you. It can pull you into a lull, addling your brain into contentment. And pulling one self out of this requires a ridiculous amount of labor.

Perhaps it is time to get out the kedge and start rowing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lyrical Memories

Thanks to blog friend Vic I've been singing the theme song from "Up with People" since yesterday.

Up, up with people!
You meet them where ever you go!
Up, up with people!
They're the best kind of folks you know!

That's really all I remember, but that's fine because if I remembered anymore my teeth would fall out. My sister had dreams of touring with them like 30 years ago, and this is the remnent that remains.

My mind is filled with lyrical reminders of times past. For instance... there is the alternative version of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song that I learned from my counselor at church camp that went like this...

Here's a story about a man name Jed
Threw old granny down on the bed.
Down came the zipper, out came the worm.
Out of the worm came a bubbling sperm.

Ah... church camp. My sister, who was also a counselor that year, had a total crush on my surfer dude counselor whose name... at least in my memory... was Jay Gatsby, but now I wonder if memories have blurred. But he was pretty "Great"... at least in teaching us how to avoid "Flat On Back" time and teaching us inappropriate lyrics.

And I am wont to break into song when things are tense. I have an odd munge of show lyrics from long ago, to rock songs, to rap music, to made up lyrics that are spurred by mood and a scrap of conversation. The audience is always my kids. I won't sing for anyone else, so don't ask. But they are safe, and somewhat humored (at least for now) by my musical offerings.

I'm terrible at learning lyrics now. I will listen to a song for years, and still be hazy on the exact lyrics. I'm too busy or not interested enough to concentrate and listen over and over until I have it down verbatim. But songs from years ago are locked in to my brain like my social security number. I wonder what lyrics will form the base of my kids lyrical foundation. I listen as my daughter sings religiously along with the latest pop candy song. Or my son will suddenly start singing along with some old song that I'm listening to in the car that I didn't even think he knew.

I mentioned yesterday that my father was not a big fan of anything past Brahms... which pretty much rules out lyrics. So for him, the rock revolution and the silly songs we sing are pointless. Yet that is a ridiculous notion. The lyrics of life wrap up our collective memories. They provide connective tissue and conversations that last for years and spur memories that would have been long forgotten otherwise. I remember the song that was playing at important events in my life... at the first first kiss (Journey's Open Arms)... wedding... (Aaron and Linda's Don't Know Much)... first kid's birth in the car on the way to the hospital... (REM's The End of the World As We Know It).

Some are cheesy. Some not so much. Some invoke bad memories. Many of them invoke good. But they are tied to times and places forever.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adventure Wingman

When I picked up the phone he said... "What are you doing on Friday." Not hello. Just right to the dramatic setup. We are a lot alike he and I. I suppose I derive a lot of my dramatic timing from him. But after 41 years I've learned that it is better just to humor him and bite on the setup.

"Nothing that can't be changed. Why?"

"Want to drive to Ohio with me?"

I could have thought of a few things I would rather have done. Scrubbing the toilet came to mind.


"Because I just bought a motor home. I need to pick it up on Friday."

Now, I have to admit... this was not what I had thought he was going to say. I didn't really know what he was going to say, but "I bought a motor home" was not at the top of the list. My father is 77, and while he is in pretty good health generally speaking, he hates to travel. He didn't used to hate to travel but I suppose this is one of those things that begins to fade along with... ahem... other abilities. "It was on my bucket list," was all he really offered by way of explanation. I understood. He was there a few days before when we buried my father in law who was 15 years his junior. My father thinks a lot about the sands that are sliding out of his hourglass, but mostly in the background. Funerals tend to bring those thoughts to the foreground. And in point of fact, this dream of buying a motor home was a dream of a much younger him... one about my age. So really... how could I say no. I took a breath... "Sounds like an adventure."

It was a two hour drive to the place which doesn't seem that bad. But considering that my father and I rarely talk anymore, it could just as well have been a week. My father writes books on being open minded and has spent years cultivating a following around the world of fellow travelers who share his open minded thoughts on a website that I keep up for him. The problem is that his open mindedness is contained to certain topics. Like after death recall, and reincarnation, and the like. Not so much on things like the cultural significance of any music past Brahms... or the concept that other people might have some ability to raise my children better than him. Or... well, I could go on, but those are topics for another day. My sister tries to intervene with us from time to time to clear things up, but even she has grudging come around to the idea that I am right... and it is best to let sleeping fathers lie. He is unlikely to change his ways.

It is better simply to celebrate the things that he still gets excited about. And I had honestly not seen him so excited about anything for a long time. We found the place and went inside. They were waiting for him. Like most things, he overdoes it, and he had been on the phone and talking to them for weeks about every detail of this day. So they all knew him by name.

A man that reminded me of Paul Williams was assigned to tech us out on the new purchase. Paul began by showing us the septic system and proceeded to demonstrate how to clean it out by pulling a hose out of the side and splashing the bilge water all over the ground around us as we attempted to jump out of the way. I raised an eyebrow and my father shrugged. It was part of the adventure. It continued with an hour and half tour where we went over ever pump, gauge, button, flange, and battery on the entire structure. I realize that his purpose for bringing me was twofold... first it was a "guy adventure" of which I am the only significant "guy" left for him. And secondly, because there was a lot of stuff to learn, and he was worried that he wouldn't remember it all. And so I watched him and was happy for him and his crazy impulsive need to live his life. Damn the torpedoes... full speed ahead.

I wonder at times what kind of father I will be to my children later in life. How I will interact with my own son. And when, in the course of things, my quirks will begin to annoy and my open mindedness will close in around certain topics to the exclusion of new thought... if he will still come on an adventure or two... just for old times sake. The lives we live with those that are closest to us are often filled with slights, and hurts, and wounds that fester over time. Despite our best attempts to the contrary, those things can build up like bilge water that we carry around with us in our mobile homes. Those wounds can't really be forgotten... the scar tissue runs too deep. But we can say yes to the adventure when it comes our way. And in the end, it is the adventure... and not the petty bickering... which create the epic poems of our life.

And so he drove out of the parking lot, and I followed behind for the two hour drive home... wingman on what might be his last adventure.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Stormchaser

There is a tempest that grows off the shore, spurned by the deep heated wetness. The waves swell, pushed by winds and rains, which turn and turn, gaining momentum, and seeking a foothold on land where its massive potential energy can be unleashed into a howling maelstrom. The wind cycles, cascading over the eye's center, down... down... and then violently back up again. Repeating over and over, growing stronger and faster each time, so fast and so high that the rain flashes to ice in a second before crashing down into the center again.

In the distance, the sirens wail and the flags rigidly point inland, foretelling the inevitable coming. The beaches are quiet, no one to watch the willows bend low in sublimation. There is a relentlessness that is frightening, and yet it is simultaneously exciting and mesmerizing. This wall of energy. This mass of motion. This fury of nature.

Most will flee, hiding behind closed doors and boarded windows. Some will leave completely, moving inland to calmer ports where the rain falls straight down and the wind gusts are caresses. But a few will try to weather the tempest standing before them, longing for its landfall to take them and press its wind and rain and power against them. Some call them brave... others call them foolhardy.

I remember storms like this. Of being the foolhardy one.

But now I live inland.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Night Off

My seven year old looked at the calendar this morning before school and asked me what day it was. I told her and she found it and exclaimed "HEY!! Look! We don't have anything scheduled for today." Then to her brother... "There are only a few days where we have nothing... and today is one of them! We don't have to do anything today, which means we can do whatever we want!"

I think that might qualify us as being officially over committed. Despite attempts to the contrary, with three kids... it is hard not to be over committed. Being the ages they are... and the sexes they are, it is hard to double up on events. Thus, even though we limit what they do... those things are always at the same time and in opposite directions. I don't remember it being this way when I was a kid... but maybe I don't remember because I was a kid.

Being a kid involves being completely oblivious to the consequences on other people regarding your decisions. "I want to..." translates into endless trips squeezed into endless other trips. But failing to listen to the "I want to"s makes one a bad parent. WHAT! Your child wants to play piano and you said NO? **Gasp** It is peer pressure that makes high school look like child's play.

Every parent I know complains about this fact. The pressure of running hither and yon. The desire to be a "good" parent... even though that often means letting them stay up until all hours of the night at musical practice when they have a project due tomorrow. And while we complain about being the taxi driver, we just as often worry about what it is doing to our kids... is there too much pressure? Do seven year olds really need to be looking at calendars and being happy when one of the blocks remains empty?

There is... according to many anthropologists... an evolution in process between my generation and the next. A video is being shown to adults and to teens. The video is a split screen with two different things happening on either side of the screen... with one side having people dressed in blue, and one side with people dressed in blue. Both groups are asked to count the number of times the blue side bounces a basketball. When the video is completed both groups gives their answer to the simple question. Then the person running the test asks the group if they saw the gorilla. 90% of the teens saw the gorilla, which comes on to the red side of the frame dressed in a basketball uniform and dribbles the ball. Less than 20% of the adults saw it... and they were completely stunned when the tape was reversed and they saw just how obvious it was. Not only that, the teens reported a much higher accuracy on the correct number of times the blue side bounced the ball... and were also able to report how many times the red side bounced the ball as well.

There is, I believe, a fundamental change happening in the brains of this next generation. One that involves a much higher level of multitasking and the ability to utilize more of our brains to process it. A change in which the parents of today are unequipped to handle because we are not evolved enough to handle it. But our kids are. Which is a long way around to saying that having them take music and dance and art... letting them play sports... letting them be in musicals and plays... and any number of the other activities that are now available... is okay. Because humanity is evolving to help them process what we could not. Change always happens. And my cro magnon brain is good for driving them here and there, even if it can't process all that they process. And that... my friends... is how evolution happens.

This does NOT change the fact, however, that it is still nice to have a night off every once in a while.