30 October 2014

Dinner Instead of Reality

Truth is stranger than fiction, isn't that how the saying goes? These days it seems true. A few minutes absorbing the daily news illuminates it. To write fiction these days, for myself at least, is an increasingly difficult task. Any ideas I have are trumped in an instant by the world beyond my shoulders. Ferguson, Ebola and politics have taken the starch out of the imagination.

This entry, case in point. I don't know what to say. Living with all this noise in my head slugging it out with the noise outside my head, the best that can be said is that it is a draw. The weirdness on both sides cancels out. 

I wanted to tell you about a man searching for meaning and truth at the top of a mountain range. I was going to illuminate why a middle-aged concrete finisher named Harley Mossman sat in the road crying for half an hour before the police showed up. With any luck, I might have been able to pound out a short story or a poem or a silly essay about my cat and his eating habits. But, no.

Somewhere between the car door and the desk chair, all that noise overwhelmed me. Too much fatigue and low-grade anxiety for me to process. So instead I made dinner. All I can say about that is that it was my attempt at making a Spanish style fabada, a bean stew, based only on my memory and the ingredients I happened to have on hand. To my delight, it turned out tasting quite good.

It was not, as I discovered in my post-meal reading, exactly a classic  fabada. It shared some common ingredients, but somewhat different technique. I had the paprika, the beans, blood sausage and ham shanks. Garlic, too. But I added bell peppers, celery and onion. A little thyme and oregano. I guess you could say it was a Kansas City fabada by way of New Orleans.

I suppose you could call it a distant cousin. Same name, some similar looks, but definitely different. You could also call it delicious. A full belly on a cool fall night is a blessing indeed.


08 October 2014

Dead Presidents Make My Teeth Hurt

It was somewhere east of Topeka and west of Kansas City that dead presidents made my jaw clench so hard I thought my teeth might shatter. Billboard big as day showing the latest lottery numbers somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 million. Jesus key-rist, the stab of angst and disappointment that went through my chest nearly made me drive off the road. Nothing like an unavoidable reminder of what you do not have to put a smudge on an otherwise good day. Fuck that. I don't need the hassle.

I was driving back from a work assignment. The sky, it was blue like the heart of the best day ever. I was feeling good, then this billboard shows up in my field of vision. 70 million in the pot, ladies and gentlemen. All I had to do was play.

The problem, as I see it, is that I need to win.

But I probably won't. That is the odds, especially if I don't play. Here's the thing: I don't need or want four vacation homes, a couple of yachts or a private jet. All I want is to make sure I can take care of my parents now the way they took care of me when I was young. All I want is to make sure that I can provide for my daughter, give her some help to send her on her way when she decides what she wants out of her future. All I want is to make sure I close the gap between more and enough.

All that, and some left over to help Syrian refugees, Ebola victims, and those who have no idea if they even get a next meal. What that billboard did was to make me realize that I am not a rich man. Not even close. I do not live in dire poverty, but seeing those numbers up there in broad daylight brought it all home that I am in a constant race between 'just enough' and 'more needed'. Nothing like a stark reminder of the money economy to smack your head, and your ego, up against the wall as if to remind you who is in charge here.

In broad daylight, the hot sting of tears and gritted teeth, and I am painfully aware of how inadequate I feel due to lack of money. The hot wire wrapped around my heart telling me there is so much more I could do, so many people I could help, if only I was was rich. If only I had money.

They say it is the root of all evil, this shared hallucination of what is valuable, of what we supposedly deem important. I say, it is really the root of all anxiety, and worthlessness, because without it we feel like we cannot accomplish anything. One of my favorite writers, John Thorne, once wrote of the paradox of living in the wetlands and marshes of Cajun country, "Survival is almost always possible; prosperity, almost never."* His succinct phrasing sums up the anxiety of living in the land of not-quite-enough.

Never enough. Never smart enough, fast enough, cunning enough. It is a feeling I wish I could shake, because I know better. I do. Still, the ghosts of dead presidents haunt my waking hours.




*From "Bayou Odyssey", a poignant, scintillating essay in John Thorne's excellent 1996 book, Serious Pig.

07 October 2014

Magpie Tales 240: Dawes County Meditation


Photo by Tom Chambers via Tess at Magpie Tales

Wide open here in God's country
That means hearts as well as range
Loneliness not the sole province of cowboys

Rim of her world defined by stone
Scratching its defiance of the sky
She knew the legend of star-crossed love

Romeo and Juliet of a different hue
Whispers of their mad leap from the butte
But all she wanted was to escape

the barbed wire of her heart

29 September 2014

Magpie Tales 239: Meditations Before the Slaughter


Autumn in Madeira by Jacek Yerka, via Tess at Magpie Tales

He belches softly, there in the wood
cider chewy-sweet on the tongue
heavy boots oppress a nation of leaves
with yet a smile to be home

Time overseas burnishes the edges
he thinks, of memories and soil
but the mind heart and belly
never forgot, truly forgot their nest

Winter stirs, bares its teeth in the wind
bringing the chuffing of the hogs
reminding the soldier of the butcher's calling:
In this work, Death begets living, not more dying