28 February 2010

Songs of Myself

Fell through the door,
running to the light
I was always wanting more
than a man like me might
be able to carry

Desperation was the fuel
that filled the tank of my ambition
But somewhere between the tank and the pedal
I lost my transmission
Or was the foot too weak to press?

Fell through the door and onto the porch
Watery sunlight burning like a torch
As the sun diffracted in tears
cast up from learning the truth

Ambition without courage is 
as good as buying failure
And running only makes you tired
It was too bad for me that
tired was what I wanted
because I mistook it for success.

Talk all you want,
think yourself a fine fellow,
and loathe yourself
for lack of spine.

---June 16, 2008
In the car at Ft. McHenry

27 February 2010

Alternative Energy Takes a Strange Twist

I was toy-shopping in a big box store, watching my Wee Lass devolve into 'paralysis-by-analysis' while trying to decide on what to spend her Valentine's Day greenbacks (courtesy of grand-mère et grand-père), and came across this most curious sign:

Can I get a green energy tax credit if I use it power my house? Although, I'm not sure how I would hook it up...

26 February 2010

Return of The Ba-Donka-Donk

As many of you may recall, I chronicled my first street encounter with 'ba-donka-donk' HERE. More precisely, my first encounter with the term outside of a television show. That has officially changed.

Ladies and gentlemen, last week, I had my first remote encounter with a real live ba-donka-donk. Right there in front of my car. It was while waiting at a stop light, a major intersection on my daily commute. It is a busy intersection, one with significant foot traffic in addition to the cars. I have seen a lot of derrieres cross the road at that intersection, fodder for idle observation whilst wasting time waiting on the light to change. Derrieres of all shapes and sizes, some very nice, some spectacular, even. I wouldn't say that any approached 'ba-donka-donk'-ness, however, at least as I am familiar with the term.

This one was different. 

It was...big, but not outrageously so.
It was...round, but not abnormally so.
It was...encased in jeans that approached the level of paint rather than fabric. It appeared to meet all the criteria for classification as a ba-donka-donk.

She, as the kids say, had it goin' on.

The road was still littered with snow and slush, the median piled with snow. This young lady was even wearing low heels, and doing a commendable job of navigating the hazards, with skill and grace and...workin' that ba-donka-donk. Wow.

To my credit, I did not start singing "Baby Got Back" by Sir-Mix-A-Lot*. Also, bumper sticker exhortations notwithstanding, I did not honk at the ba-donka-donk**. Perhaps next time, when I am not so gobsmacked by the sight of a ba-donka-donk in the wild.

I leave you now with a bonus video that never fails to make me laugh like a hyena. Turn it up loud and shout it proud:

*Who knighted him anyway? And for what?
**'I Did Not Honk At The Ba-Donka-Donk' - a hitherto unpublished story from the vaults of Dr. Seuss.

25 February 2010

Laughing 'Til It Hurts: The Lighter Side of Heart Trouble

It has been 6 months since my Big Bro passed away suddenly, last August. It took my breath away to face that realization, amazed and saddened that it seems like such a long time and no time at all. Six months and the brother-shaped void in my heart is nowhere near to filling up.

I think about him, in some way, nearly every day. It most often happens when I am listening to music. Recently I was shutting out the world with my iPod, headphones on and air guitar amped and ready to rock. As often happens, a song will come on and Big Bro is right behind it. This particular day it was "Sheer Heart Attack" by Queen. Not exactly what you would call 'easy listening' music, more like 'six-Mountain-Dews-and-a-head-full-of-teenage-angst' music. It's fast, it's aggressive and it kicks ass. In the context of my brother's death, it is also funny as hell.

Funny to us, anyway.

Big Bro most likely died of a massive heart attack. When I think about it, I'm not sure he could have gone very many other ways. His was a life and an attitude that invited the quick, the sudden dramatic event. Do I wish I could have said goodbye before he slipped away? Hell, yes. But he knew and I knew, deep down, he didn't want a long drawn out and ultimately futile fight. So perhaps it was better for him this way.

I also know this: his sense of humor was deep, sharp and wicked. He more than most people I have known could enjoy tremendously the bittersweet joy of rockin' out to a song named after 'what done 'im in'. And when I hear Freddie Mercury snarl "DoyaknowDoyaknowDoyaknow just how I feeel!", I can hear my my Big Bro saying "Yes...yes, I do."

(drum solo!)

Hey, heyheyhey, it was the DNA!
That made me this way!
Hey, heyheyhey...

24 February 2010

Life, In Volumes

That it was winter seemed cliche, but there was no escaping that it happened now. The winter of a life, the cold getting incrementally deeper, to match the chill outside the pearly gray windows. The room, a life in microcosm.

It is said that clothes make the man, but in the case of some men it is words that mold and shape. Words, printed, scrawled, tucked away on notes and sticky paper. Books, some worn, some aged, most bearing marks of the man that they in part had made. Underlinings the trail of a mind on the hunt.

A mind descending into winter. The books, or most of them, can not follow. Failing hands could not carry what a fading mind will not be able to read. So those remaining in the fall make do, gathering what they can to hold on to memory and its progenitor.

In the light of the winter window, loving hands carefully sort and arrange the papers, the books, the verbosity of a mind that sought mastery in the depths of language. Loving hands made slow by the finality of a task they never wanted to perform. Knowing it must be done does not lessen the sting, but perhaps increases the power of the bittersweet. Collecting the books while wiping away the tears...

Slowly, carefully, the books are stacked and put away, some destined to follow the mind they helped make. Not all could or would make the journey; this is not possible. But the loving hands that caress the covers as they reminisce, also know that they can save some books for another. A noble fate? That is for posterity to decide. It is, however, a good one. While one mind may lose knowledge through the inevitable erosions of time...there are other minds who willingly and with great honor accept the gift of memory and presence.

With a faint smile through a veil of tears, loving hands lift a life in books, and hand the memories to other hearts grateful for the knowledge. Tribute is paid in acceptance.

23 February 2010

Scent of a Whoa, Man!!!

This winter, it has been harsh, yes?

Tragedies abroad, tragedies at home, severe weather, dogs and cats living together...

Well, maybe not dogs and cats living together. But the other stuff, yes. Collectively, the weather and the woe having been getting me down, more so than usual. I'm about ready to pack it in and head south. Or maybe I'll just crawl under my bed and hide until spring. I've been told some light therapy may help, and I have to admit I'm a little curious as to the cost of one of those lights that mimics the effects of the sun.

Bad attitudes abound in situations such as this, and the mind seeks relief along many avenues. A cloudless sky, a fine glass of beer, a good book can all do wonders for tired eyes and thin blood, as can good food. Tonics for the heart and soul, they are.

I found such a thing last week, in the form of cumin seeds. I have quite an abundance of them, the result of not understanding that four ounces of cumin seeds is a buttload of seeds by volume. They have been hanging around my kitchen for a long time, while I have been ruminating on ways to use them. Cumin is very tasty, and very easy to overdo. The opportunities to use cumin quickly are not often in my self-generated cuisine; if I were in Mexico or India the story would likely be different. 

Now and again, inspiration strikes and memory returns upon itself. I had a hankering for cumin, a craving that wouldn't go away, and while not knowing exactly what I would make, I decided I would grind up some seeds just for the heck of it. In the grinder they went, whizzed them around, then took the lid off to pour the powder into a waiting jar. That is when the aroma hit me full force.

That was the smack in the face for which I had been waiting. Oh, sweet baby jay-zus, did it ever smell good!* In that instant with my nose in the jar as I inhaled deeply** I felt the blahs disappear, blown away on a wind of spicy-sweet rust. I started salivating a little, and my pulse quickened. I felt rejuvenated and calm, and like spring is just around the corner. Life was good, there in my humble kitchen.

What scent finds your bliss?

*Like tango music for the nose.
**When it comes to fresh spices, Bill Clinton I am not.

22 February 2010

Music To Warm The Heart

Last Friday was the south end of a north bound donkey. It sucked. I hadn't slept well the night before, and traffic was horrendous on the way to work (40 minutes late because of another accident), the workday was bumpy, I was dealing with a leaking roof, dealing with some stressful family news, and I got stuck in traffic AGAIN on the way home from work to pick up my daughter for the weekend.

So, yeah, it was a 5-gallon bucket of homemade suck. Hot, bitter and irritating. 

But...remember I said I was picking up my daughter? Well, I did, after an hours' drive to get there. Being too tired to deal with cooking, we stopped at a local beans-and-cheese-and-rice place (rhymes with "Skiboat-lay") for some, well, beans and cheese and rice. Oh, and chips.

A nice dinner with the Wee Lass definitely smoothed some of the edges off the day, but what really put me in the happy zone occurred on the drive home. I had the radio on, and "Rock The Casbah" by The Clash came on. I was singing (badly) and trying to get her to join in on the chorus. She thought it was funny, but I could tell she wasn't exactly seeing the light about The Only Band That Matters. Not to worry, I'm sure she will come around...

After asking me what a 'casbah' was, she says "Daddy, do you know what song we haven't heard in a while?"
"What's that, sweetie?"
"The wearing purple song."
"The start wearing purple song. Can we please listen to it?"

My jaw dropped a few inches. My daughter, the light o' my life, apple of my jaundiced eye, just asked to hear "Start Wearing Purple" by Gogol Bordello. I was stunned. And proud! *sniff* My little alt-rocker *sniff*.

How she remembered it I'll never know. I had played it in her presence a grand total of once, in the car, and at the time I was singing loudly (and of course, badly) and was cajoling her to sing the chorus with me. No dice. Not even copping a pirate voice and singing it with a few "arrrrs!" could do it. She just kept saying "Dadd-eee, stop singing!". Good thing I don't have an ego about my singing ability.

I did the only thing I could do: at the next stoplight, I grabbed the iPod and iTrip from my briefcase and queued up "Start Wearing Purple". This time, she started laughing and clapping some in time to the beat. She even joined in on a chorus or two, with me and my faux Eastern European or maybe its a weird pirate voice.

Somehow, driving home with food in the belly, a song in the throat and good company made all of that nonsense from the day just disappear. It was beauty, it was just what I needed. 

In honor of our songfest, I leave you with this live performance. Ladies and gentlemen, put on your best purple finery and sing with us now...

21 February 2010

Wheel of the Potter

If I am but clay
in the hands of the Potter,
what vessel is He trying to shape?

The void, says Lao Tzu,
is useful in its non-being,
I am not. I am hollow.

So, tell me, Potter,
I spin on your wheel,
Clay rises between palms

Shapeless gathers form
around the useful nothing,
while you spatter the glaze.

Throw me gently, Potter,
I am in your hands,
Yet fear that I may break.

20 February 2010

From The STFU Files: Tiger Woods Edition

Alright, folks, time for a short rant:

Tiger Woods doesn't need to apologize to his 'fans'. He doesn't need to call a press conference to tell the world that not keeping his dog in the right yard is "unacceptable". In fact, apologizing in such a manner doesn't seem much like an apology at all. It just seems like a page torn from the Plastic Persona Media Guide to Reputation Damage Control: Spin. The apology reeks of nothing more than a transparent attempt to avoid losing the endorsement deals because of public 'outrage'. That is obscene, just like the sickening amounts of money that companies dole out to "superstars". As if blinding talent and ability in an extremely specific skill set automatically translates into good judgment and discerning intellect when it comes to choice of soft drink, fast food, wristwatch, cell phone, or any other ephemera of modern life.

It's a sham, it's arrogant and it makes me want to invoke the Right To Privacy From Celebrities Personal Lives. Frankly, this falls in the category of things I don't want or need to know. Another incredibly talented athlete, awash in money and adulation, free from the daily grind of having to truly work for a living* gets found out on his infidelity?

Someone needs to explain to me why this is important.

Mr. Woods is correct in that what he did was unacceptable. What he did, however, is not new or different. It has been going on since men and women have been men and women. That he did it makes it no worse and no different than any other schmuck who committed adultery. It certainly does not make it more interesting.

How many people really know Tiger Woods? How many people are really his friends? You can be a fan, you can be interested in what he does as a golfer** but if you let it influence your life to the point where you feel you need an apology because of his bad behavior, it is time to reconsider your own values. Why are you looking to Tiger to be your moral compass?

The only people Tiger should be apologizing to is the wife, the friends and the family. In  private. Press conferences do not count. 

Go home, Mr. Woods, sit down and STFU for a while. Then look your loved ones in the eye and tell them you are sorry. That is the only way it will truly be meaningful.

*Please, spare me the crap about how much practice and travel and oh how hard it is to get that ball in the little cup. Boo hoo. Golf is not hard work, no matter how much time you spend in the sun. My father was an auto mechanic for 45 years, and a good one. Did he get a multi-million dollar endorsement deal because he could change a head gasket? No. That's difficult and dirty work, to do it every day for that long. Dad had the calluses and the grime under the nails to prove it. No one carried my father's tool chest for him.

**For the record, I think Tiger Woods is astounding at what he does. So is Michael Phelps. I can't do what they do, nor do I judge my self-worth by what others are good at doing. However, I don't know them, I'm not their family or friends. Whether dipping a wick or taking ill-advised hits from a bong, it really has no bearing on how I live my life. I don't look to them for validation or support. Why would I? That is what friends and family do. Friends and family also call you on your bad behavior, and forgive you if you sincerely admit to your transgressions.

19 February 2010

Winter Skank

February can suck it.

Time to show that bee-yotch the door.


18 February 2010

Can I Be a Part of the Rebel Alliance Without Being a Traitor?

At the age of 44, I have crossed the lines and become a rebel. I have been growing a beard.

While this does not make me a bomb-throwing Bolshevik, in the matrix in which I am embedded some may view it at best as slightly odd, at worst somewhat suspect. I hadn't set out to grow a beard, it just crept up on me. During this recent spate of snowverkill weather I was so busy during the Blizzard of '10, trying to keep my daughter entertained, my sanity intact and my car from being completely buried under snow and ice. Between all those activities I was "plumb wrung out" as we used to say back in the 'hood.

Typically I would have shaved Sunday night to crop a weekend worth of stubble. I was tired, see. So tired I could barely keep my eyes open if I stopped to sit still for any length of time. By bedtime my arms and back were so sore that I felt no desire to lift them. So no shaving for me.

Then I had my daughter for an extra day (which was nice) which wore me out even further (which was not so nice). So again, no to the shaving. Subsequent to that...there was more snow. I was shoveling again and the office was closed for two days. With only me in the apartment and no agenda, no one to look pretty for, what was the point of shaving? Nyet to the razor, says me! Then the next weekend rolled around, and I typically don't shave anyway, so there was zero reason and incentive to get to it.

Which led me to thinking: was there ever really a reason for me to be shaving every single flippin' day since I graduated from college? Even in college I rarely went more than one or two days* without the razor routine. Truth be known, when I first started growing whiskers way back when...it didn't look good. At all. With a little bit of stubble, I always had this faint feeling I looked like a well-heeled derelict. Plus it seemed some sort of unspoken requirement that I be clean shaven, especially after I joined the working world. So I did it dutifully, day after day, month after month, year after year...

Until now. Now I wonder why I did it all that time. With or without a five o'clock shadow, a soul patch, goatee or full-blown crazy-hermit-down-to-the-waist style beard, whatever...I am the same person. The same person, that is, without the resentment that springs from doing something sort of useful but sort of pointless at the same time, just because other people think you should do it. 

Why is this significant? I hear you muttering to yourselves. And I wonder that as well. Perhaps because, at the age of 44, for the first time in my life ever, the beard grows from purpose and not exists due to laziness. That is correct, ladies and gentlemen: I have never grown a Beard. Seems odd for a male my age to have not do so before now.

Now I'm letting it go from curiosity. Honestly, it does not look so bad. Kinda 'friendly roguish', I think. Well, maybe it looks more like those old school G.I. 'Action Figures' like I used to have as a boy, the ones with the perpetual 'fiver' on those chiseled plastic cheeks. Be that as it may, I'll probably let it go through the weekend, see what happens.

I'm a rebel that way. Viva la Beard-olucion!

*There was a 22-day stretch one summer, while home from school, that I let the whiskers grow. But that wasn't from vanity or a feeble attempt at seeming more masculine. I was just a lazy sod with a summer job painting windows and cutting grass.

17 February 2010

Sea of Love

"Out here the river, meets the sea
And in the sticky heat I feel ya' open up to me
Love comes outta nowhere, baby...
Like a hurricane
And it feels like rain,
And it feels like rain..."

A seagull shrieked, razor on glass. The sleeping man jerked awake in the beach chair, the lyrics leaking from the radio at his feet sounding tinny. A dream of a different life wavered before his eyes to dissolve into the syrupy undulations of the Atlantic Ocean. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision, feeling a wispy sadness clinging to the branches of his mind. Wiping his eyes with the back of a salt-rimed hand, Ross Mercer wondered again how he had ended up in this emotional Sargasso Sea.

Down by the waterline, his wife Maura and son Nathan splashed about in the spumy edges of the surf. The boy was digging around in the soggy sand, presenting shells to his mother like jewels to the queen. She was smiling and patting her son on the head; he grinned gleefully and continued his hunt for treasure. Ross sighed, feeling guilty over the stab of envy that had lanced through his heart. It had been too long since she had smiled at him like she meant it. There was something else, an undertone of oily regret, that the boy may have been the only thing Ross had ever really done right.

Maura looked up suddenly, caught him staring. Her smile faded slightly, almost imperceptibly, but it was enough for Ross to catch. His heart twinged again, and he waved to her, trying to cover up his discomfort. She raised her hand briefly, tentatively, and turned her cool gray eyes back to Nathan. Nathan had seen nothing, knew nothing. Ross was more than happy to keep it that way.

Ross leaned back in the chair, trying to ease the sting of sand on his sunburned back. Just as he settled into a semi-comfortable position, another shriek erupted from the nearby gull. Ross jumped, turning to look.

The plump bird was a few feet away, standing on one leg atop a small mound of sand. Seeing Ross move, the gull cocked its head to gaze at the man with nacreous eyes. The orangey beak parted slightly with a low, guttural squawk leaking out. It had the sound of a dying engine, and Ross chuckled. Scruffy and looking world-weary, the bird looked at Ross expectantly.

"Sorry, bro, all I have is some cheese puffs." He held up the bag in his lap, as if the gull would know enough about snack foods to have an opinion. "Woops, looks more like crumbs" Ross opened the bag wider to check. "Wait, there's one left". Ross extracted the dessicated lump of corn dough and yellow flavor from the bag, holding it up to the bird; it perked up and took a step closer. Ross tossed the puff and the gull expertly snatched it from the air. The sudden motion and the prospect of a free meal caught the attention of two other gulls behind the first. They charged Ross' new friend, which took off running. Ross chuckled as the birds hustled down the beach, tussling over the snack.

"Daddy, daddy, look!"

Nathan was calling excitedly from down by the waterline. He was holding a small, white disc in his dripping hand.

"What is it, kiddo?" Ross called out.
"A sand dollar, dad! I'm gonna be rich!" Nathan's enthusiasm  was infectious, making Ross grin.
"We'll have to get you a sand bank!" 

The boy hiccuped with laughter at the silly joke. He skipped over to Maura, holding out his prize. She had been standing with her back to them, hugging her sides in the cool ocean breeze. Her head was down, making absent-minded trails in the wet sand with the toes of her right foot. Ross could tell she was distracted, but she perked up at the sight of her son.

The waves were rolling up the shingle slowly, and Ross felt every single one inside. The sun was painting Maura in bright gold and peach, a swan he used to know elegantly poised over the sand. A swan that loved him once, in a different chapter of his life. There were twinges, faint sparks, but now they stopped short of full ignition. Ross doubted he could feel any more than the ghost of a trace of a faded memory of what they used to have between them. It wasn't love, it wasn't loathing, it was cold ashes. His head fell to his chest. Dizziness overwhelmed him, wrapping him up in a coat of fatigue. The heat and the whisper of the waves lulled him into a doze.

No answer.
"Ross, wake up."

Ross snapped awake again, embarrassed to find he was slumped over. A thin string of drool was creeping down his cheek. Maura was sitting on the towel next to his chair, a look of mild concern on her heart-shaped face. He wiped his cheek hurriedly. "Hey, hon."

"Where did you go, Sleepy?" she asked, smiling slightly.
"Not far" Ross answered, his voice squeaking with far more cheer than he truly felt, "Just a quick trip to La-La land, thinking too much." He regretted that remark instantly. 
"Thinking about what?" she said, trying to sound light, but Ross sensed some tension in her voice. She absent-mindedly had placed a hand on his arm. He found himself trying not to flinch.
"Everything and nothing, love. Just...nothing, really." She sighed but didn't look at him, focusing instead on Nathan, who was stalking a seagull along the tide line.

Ross dropped his gaze to the tanned fingers resting lightly on his arm, saddened to feel that taking those fingers into his own hand would be akin to trying to cross a burning bridge. Ross willed himself to move. He watched as a hand that did not feel like own crept up to hold Maura's lightly with the the tips of its fingers. She turned to him, startled, and he swallowed hard as he looked into her cool, grey eyes.

"Just..." he hesitated. She held her breath, expectantly. "Just...happy Valentine's Day, dear...happy Valentine's Day." She started to smile, then stopped, then continued on into a faint upturning of the corners of her mouth. "Happy Valentine's Day to you, too" she replied, but Ross could hear the effort she was putting into not sounding surprised. A brief pause, and Ross felt her fingers slipping out of his. Two sets of wary eyes looked for solace in the frolicking form of Nathan. The boy sensed he was being watched, and he looked back to his parents, waving and grinning. They waved back, two ice sculptures come to life.

Behind him, the pewter-jade ocean swelled and rippled, carrying on a restless conversation with the shore.

Opening lines are lyrics used without permission, from "Feels Like Rain" by John Hiatt. One of the best damn love songs ever written.

16 February 2010


It is almost ten months since I had a daily newspaper subscription. I occasionally skim the newspaper at work, one that is on the office account. It is placed on the file cabinet adjacent to my cubicle, and I pass it frequently during the work day. I haven't read a current events magazine in even longer than I hadn't the newspaper. I watched television news for the first time in about three months, during the Snow Event from Hell. Even then I was more interested in the weather information than anything else. Even the ubiquity of news streams on the internet has failed to reel me in with any regularity. Some would say that I am really disconnected, when the Winter Olympics was a surprise.

I truly did not know that the Olympics were opening until I read about the torch, courtesy of Captain Dumbass over at Us and Them. I was bemused, to say the least.

I do get my daily dosage of news through radio, on my way to and from work. Usually its NPR News, and the local DJ's (shout out to WTMD! Woot!) reading off local headlines type-stuff. This allows me to have some small knowledge of what is going on in the world beyond my shoulders. I was deeply affected by the earthquakes in Haiti, and continue to be concerned about our military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In general, though, "news" as such...holds little interest for me. Most current events make me weary, like I want to crawl into a cave and wait for things to go away. Consequently, I make little effort to seek out the information. On one level, this troubles me. I used to be a news junkie. I read the paper first thing in the morning, would make sure to read the weekly magazine from cover to cover, I watched CNN off and on after having seen a little of the evening news. I made sure to catch some news on the radio on my daily commutes, beyond just traffic and weather.

Not anymore. Now I typically perk up only for traffic and weather. If I listen, really listen to anything anymore, it is music. As an example, as I write this I am tuned into a station that plays only guitar, classical guitar with heavy Spanish influence. Last night it was Persian classical. Why? I cannot put my finger on it.

What happened? Where did the interest go? My brain has gone in circles pondering this question. 

Somewhere in the fog of the last year or so I pulled over onto the shoulder of the Highway of Life. I put on the blinkers and stepped from the car and onto the grassy verge. While watching the cars and trucks speed by, it dawned on me that I was tired, so tired, of the constant gogogorushrushrush of modern life and its dependence on the 24-hour news cycle. A cycle that really isn't that important as the purveyors of it would have us believe, because a lot of it is just recycling the same news over and over with minor variations of information. Seriously, if you were in a situation that required minute-to-minute updates, you wouldn't be watching the damn news, you would be involved in the activity itself. At that point, you don't need any current events beyond that which directly affect the decisions you have to make.

Really, who may or may not be able to play in the Big Game is just not important enough for me to plug in 24/7. It isn't. And it finally dawned on me that I was investing too much time, energy and misplaced righteous indignation in far too many events that truly would have no meaningful effects on my general welfare.

The consequences of this were subtle but far-reaching. Feeding the Info Monkey on my back was diverting my non-infinite energy and attention from people and things in life that really made me happy. I gave short shrift to the true interests of my heart and mind, trying to be an Informed Citizen. Or at least be able to hold a water cooler discussion about anything and everything. This was a mistake.

Trivia has its place, but much of what passes for news or 'infotainment' is just that: trivial.

That which nourishes my soul is not to be found in the 24/7/52 mentality. It can't be gained by parsing out the obnoxious bloviators who call themselves "reporters" and "talk-show hosts". Constant attention to every little twitch in the flow of current events is exhausting and ultimately futile. I have no patience for it anymore.

Information has its place. Knowing what is going on in the world is important, if only to make it possible for truly informed decisions to be made in our lives. This modern world, though, is too often about Shiny Noises instead of Considered Thoughts.

I check in every so often. I'll seek out the information that is critical for wise decision making, but I'm tired of chasing tornadoes. What puts the juice in life for me is the sound of water over rocks or my daughter's laughter in the air. A beautiful guitar passage, light shining through the leaves, pen scratching over paper, the heft of a good book in my hands; by those events and moments contentment is revealed and balance restored to a mind shorting out under the pressure of unwanted overstimulation.

"You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?"*

I have been asking myself those very questions. I do not have all the answers yet, and maybe never will. That isn't the point, and I finally figured that out. These days I want to be on the side roads, the scenic routes, the byways where I can go at my own pace. I see myself on that curvy mountain road high above the straight line wonder down on the valley floor, sometimes I'm walking, other times I'm driving a slow car. Every so often I pause in my stride, or look at the window at the frantic antmobiles whizzing back and forth on the road down there. Its nice I suppose, and if I ever do need to get somewhere fast, I know where to go.

These days, though, there is no place I want to be in so great a hurry, if I'm exhausted and drained by the time I arrive. Somewhere, there are leaves falling into a picture for me to take, and my camera is at the ready. The cars they hurry down there, but up here, I'll take my time. I'd rather know ten miles of byway than forget a thousand miles of highway.

*Do I really have to say what song this is from? It's "Once In A Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. You should know that by now. Shame on you.

15 February 2010


Alone in his cell, the Prisoner rubbed his face with chapped hands and adjusted the wires taped to a quivering chest. The wires, long black umbilicals that led to a thick metal spike embedded in the cool stone floor, took the movement in stride and made no comment. Along the wall opposite him a golden parallelogram of sun inched its way over the pebbly leather that lined the surface. the light was streaming in from a small square window set high up above the Prisoner's head. He vented a heavy sigh. Even if could reach the window, he would never be able to fit through it.

Escape from this cell had become a fantasy to keep himself occupied in the small hours of the mornings, those times when he most often allowed himself the luxury of not tending the machines and computers that hummed and clicked in the corners of the space. There was a cot, a desk and some metal file cabinets, the contents of which he had lost interest in, and mostly forgotten. On the desk lay a number of thickish, leather-bound journals. Neatly arranged alongside were three fountain pens watched over by three jars of different colored ink: black, blue-black and sepia. A brass banker's lamp complete the diorama.

The Prisoner sat in a padded office chair, surprisingly ergonomic for the spartan surroundings. The chair was the closest thing to a luxury he had been allowed to keep. He spent many hours in the chair every day, recording data and making notes. His eyes were watching the paper slowly scrolling out of the machine on the table next to the desk. The pen heads twitched slowly over the paper, the lines undulating in a languid sine wave with low peaks and valleys. As it had for many, many days. The Prisoner closed his eyes, intending to rest, and fell asleep in the chair.

On the other side of the world, the Queen collapses in anguish, overwhelmed by grief and sorrow as chaos ate away at the edges of her empire. Forces beyond control had worn her down to the point where the pressure outside overcame the pressure inside. Levees broke, walls toppled and the barbarian hordes poured in over the borders, unstoppable, implacable in their appetite for destruction. 

The Queen howled, cursing the gods that the magnificent edifice of her life's work was unraveled by darkness. She cursed the sky. The ladies-in-waiting looked on in stunned helplessness, shocked to see the pillar of their strength dissolving into a sea of tears. The Queen fell to her knees in her private garden, pounding the earth and begging to be absolved of her loneliness. Her fists slammed into the pathway again and again, and the ground beneath her hands began to shake and quiver. Shock waves spread out from the furious onslaught of Queen, and the core of the earth rang like a temple bell.


The Prisoner awoke from a fever dream of pursuit, red eyes and slavering fangs close behind with hot breath on his heels. In his dream, he had stumbled over rocks, and it was the sensation of falling and impact that had awakened him. He gasped, trying to slow his rapidly pulsating heart. There was dust in the air, shiny little motes glowing like brass in the shaft of the sunlight. Something had happened, the Prisoner could tell...then his eyes fell on the graph spilling out of the machine. It was blackened with a surge of spikes, a sudden jump trailing off into a thicket of ink. The earth had moved.

The Prisoner was so surprised by this, the second shock wave caught him completely off guard. There was a dull grinding under the floor beneath his feet, and the needle jumped again. His heart surged to bang against his sternum, and he was stunned to see a crack appear in the outer wall of the cell. It split open like a the shell of an oyster, a shocking cerulean streak of sky appearing before his eyes. He leaped from the chair, the tape ripping off his chest as he pulled hard against the wires. He could feel the electricity surging up the tethers. He laughed at the pain.

The earth shook again, and wrapped up in the dull bass roar of shifting rock the Prisoner could hear a faint sound, a wail that sent shivers up his spine. It was the sound of a soul in anguish, and it coiled around his heart and squeezed. It was love, calling him home.

The Prisoner wept, half in joy, half in sorrow. Escape was possible now. He scrambled over the machines towards the widening gap in the wall. The sky was a bowl of blue steel overhead and the ground dropped away from the walls towards a line of jagged mountains off in the distance. The Prisoner wiped tears from his eyes, and the fear in his heart disappeared under a wave of joy. He heard that voice whispering in his heart, a call to prayer beckoning him home as he jumped from the ledge.

Behind him, the prison continued its slow collapse. A plaintive beep sounded from a machine, cutting off abruptly as falling stones crushed the housing. The Prisoner did not look back.

14 February 2010

On Not Knowing What I am Doing

Okay, ten minutes...go!

I gave myself a little push, said "Take ten minutes and just write something, then stop!" I have avoided those types of exercises in the past, because I hated the idea of having to stop on an artificial deadline. Then I thought "Yeah, but isn't all of life on some kind of deadline?"

Totally derailed my train of thought. No, not derailed, wrong word, let us say redirected onto a different track. I avoided this stuff in the past because it seems to me in the past so much of the angst I feel about getting things done is predicated on deadlines, because I have always been a firm believer in the "work on it until it is finished" approach, not the "work on it until the timer says to stop working on it".

I once worked with a gentleman who often joked that "There's never time to do it right, but there is always time to do it over!". At which point everyone laughs heartily and says stuff like "Good one!" or "What a kidder!" The real problem was that he believed it, and acted accordingly. The slapdash approach to doing anything drives me nuts, and that was a particularly bad example. Wait, it is a good example of what is a bad example. It always frustrated me that if we just took the time to do it right the first time, which may take a little bit longer than rushing through something, we wouldn't have to waste time doing something over, and thereby wasting more time and resources.

It still gets on my nerves. I have struggled mightily with this problem, in the workaday world. Everything is linked to efficiency, which is tied to productvity which (you saw this coming) is linked to money.

Yeah, okay, we all want to make money. This is an unavoidable fact of immersion in a money economy. The catch to that is it ends up being about pursuing the money to keep making money, which repeats ad nauseaum.

Earlier tonight (the night I am writing this) I saw a short video called "The Resolution Will Not Be Televised" by Jay Smooth*. In it, he says "My eighth resolution would be, Spend as much time as possible doing one thing at a time". Hells to the yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about! I would love to do that because it fits in with my natural inclination. It fits in with what makes me focused and comfortable: being able to do one thing at a time, and do it well. Therein lies my greatest calm, my inner peace. Inner peace: a beautiful butterfly which has yet to alight on my soul.

And that, dear readers, is my ten minutes. Fifteen, actually, because I had to fix the links, but still...

*It's on his blog, illdoctrine.com, a 'hip-hop video blog' hosted by the aforementioned Mr. Smooth (grin). I found quite good. A special thanks to the lurvely Anndi at transition, for bringing Jay to my attention. Word, Anndi!

13 February 2010

Rogues Gallery

Just a few of the interesting characters keeping me company in the kitchen these days...who's visiting with you this winter?

12 February 2010

Some People Need Practical Advice

 "Don't get run over by a bus!" 
- George Carlin

My daughter is nothing if not observant. She is very quick to pick up on the wrongs of others (witness the recent "language incident" involving a deity and an exclamation) and she is a keen student of what people and animals can do. She gets a lot of conversational mileage out of commenting on birds flying, squirrels and chipmunks eating nuts, and all sorts of animals running. She will very often mime the actions she has seen or compare herself to whatever furry or feathered beastie happens to be the topic du jour. In turn, I get to hear some unique commentary from the mouth of the princess. To wit, on the way to school earlier this week:

"Those birds are fast, daddy."
"Yes, they are."
"You know who is fast, daddy?"
"Who, sweetpea?"
"Bongo. (Bongo is her cat) He runs really fast!"
"Yep, he's speedy sometimes."
"I am too! I'm fast, but not as fast as Bongo. He's good at running up the stairs, daddy. That's because he has four legs. But I don't run up the stairs."
"No, sweetie, you should be careful going up the stairs."
"Daddy, you should be careful going down the stairs, too. Don't run, so you don't crash your face into the rail."

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, your Wee Lass safety tip of the day. No one wants to crash their face, into rails or anything else!

11 February 2010

Blizzard is a Four-letter Word. It's Like, the F-Bomb of Winter Weather Reporting

Roads: terrible.
Temperatures: Cold enough to freeze the testes off copper-zinc alloy replicas of simians.
Winds: The unenjoyable kind of blowing.
Skies: Gray. Gray. Gray.

The blizzard arrived just as predicted. All schools closed, some through the end of the week. Baltimore is essentially shut down, and where I'm at is just as quiet. I went outside once today, for a grand total of two minutes. What I did was shovel off my patio, for the sake of something to do. And to flip the bird a little to to the weather. I was home all day because my office was closed. Smart move, even though I had decided long before that I was not going to go to work. One look out the window this morning convinced me of that real quick.

I spent the day catching up on nagging chores and tasks. Rolled up a significant amount of my to-do list, working online and chasing information. Made things happen, I did. Was on a roll. That is, until I tried to install the tax software I bought and downloaded. I ran setup 4 times, and that POS still didn't load. Even the artful ministrations of a gung-ho service tech failed to make it work. He apologized profusely, and said he was going to "escalate" the problem to another department. I should expect a phone call within the next 24 hours. Wheeee.

Oh, and another thing: about that same time, my heat went out. Perfect. Fortunately for me, the maintenance guys were on the ball, and had it fixed in a little under a half-hour. Yay, me!

This weather, its the pits. It sucks donkeys. And I'm not sure, but I thought I heard there may be another storm on the way next Monday.

Can I come to your house? I mean, As long as its far away from the snow? I'm quiet, and I don't take up much room. Pretty please?

10 February 2010

Write What You Don't Know

A conundrum for your lazy Wednesday...

Conventional wisdom, in the world of writing, says that one should write "what you know". I suppose that is a good place to start. Use the familiar as a springboard, a catalyst, a way to get the journey started. I understand that approach, and I suppose it does work.

To put that into relief, I'll quote one of my favorite passages in any work I have read, fiction or non-fiction, by English author Michael Moorcock:

"Man would always rather invent the miraculous, than investigate the ordinary (and discover the miraculous within)".

I find myself nodding my head every time I read that sentence. It has a lot of evidence to back it up, and I know that in my own work, I am often seduced by the glittery Invention which distracts me from the Ordinary.

But what if all you know is the ordinary? Is it possible, really, to extract the miraculous from therein if you do not have a good grasp of what constitutes 'miraculous'? What if you cannot escape the strictures of the Ordinary? Worse yet, what if...you don't really know anything?

Could it be that, if you don't know anything, your only recourse is pure Invention? What then? 

I can only hope that my Inventions are born of the Ordinary and informed by the Miraculous; that seems to me the core of good writing.

What's in your cranium?

09 February 2010

Their Sauce Is Hunger

The wolves are exceeding hungry this winter, as they have lost their manners. The pack that  shadows me is normally polite, or as polite as wolves can be, always granting the sporting chance. Not on this day of which I write. The weather, you see, has been rather extreme in its feathery precipitation. Blizzard and storm of late have emboldened them and weakened me.

Today, they barely allowed me to shut the door to the car before commencing to howl. Unnerving, that. Especially while driving on slushy roads narrowed by a superabundance of snow. To my credit I did not lose my grip on the wheel upon hearing that supernatural wail.

They are perceptive creatures with an uncanny ability to sense weakness in others. Hence their superlative skill in bringing down prey. Some may, and some have, regarded this practice of feeding on the weak as one of cowardice; to hunt in packs and pick off the slow or enfeebled or inattentive as a sign  of unwillingness to 'stand and fight' on level ground, as it were. This belief is incorrect and overlooks the core truth that wolves are far from cowards.

Wolves, like any predators, are smart.

Cold winters in unforgiving terrain do not allow the cowardly and stupid to survive, at least not for very long. Wolves know implicitly that energy and time cannot be wasted. They do not write books on the topic of 'Minimum effort, Maximum gain', but they could if they possessed the 'civilized' gifts of writing and institutional knowledge. So wolves understand that to increase the odds of success, weaknesses and drawbacks must be exploited. This is the so-called Law Of Nature in a nutshell.

I understand this, too, if through the filter of being the prey. The weather calamities have reduced my ability to run, to hold at bay, these wolves that prowl the mixed forest of my mind. I am weakened, I am becoming inattentive. The energy to fight back is waning fast.

So it was this past Monday, when I dropped my daughter off after spending an extra day with her, due to that superabundance of snow I alluded to earlier. It was her presence that gave me balance on what was a difficult weekend, mentally. I found myself increasingly sad the closer we were to the destination, and when I leaned over to hug her goodbye I thought my heart was going to fall out of my chest. I murmured 'I love you', she responded in kind, and I quickly returned to the car. As I pulled out of the slush and into the narrowed road, that unearthly howl went up in my mind, followed by the hairs on my neck. The road diffracted in a hot prism of tears and I choked back as hard as I could. 

The wolves, they moved fast...they were hungry.

08 February 2010

Iridescent Inefficiency

It is around 9:15 in the evening. I am perched on a bar seat, nursing an aching back and neck as I set out to put these thoughts down on electrons. In the quiet of my apartment, the refrigerator hums softly, quiescently freezing the ice cubes and keeping my food supply safe. I am grateful for that refrigerator, it makes many things less difficult and more convenient.

One thing it does not do, is shovel snow. I hold no grudge on that account; the fridge is only fulfilling that which it was made to do. It embodies its "fridge-ness", which is all I can expect or demand from this non-ambulatory artifact of a technologically advanced civilization.

The computer sits on the kitchen counter, another quiet artifact at my beck and call. Well, sort of. I know it is not sentient, even if sometimes it acts as if it is operating under the inscrutable exhortations of its silicon chip soul. I type, the words appear, and things are well enough.

In the second bedroom of my humble apartment, a cherub lies sleeping. The whispers of her angel breathing do not reach my ears, the computer and refrigerator conspire to drown out that lovely, soothing sound. It pleases me to know that the cherub is my daughter, safe and cavorting in the playground of dreams. Earlier today she and I were outside in the snow, with two very different agendas.

Hers: to play and laugh as much as possible, and maybe move some clods of snow from one place to another under the guise of "helping" Daddy.

Mine: to move as much snow as possible as efficiently as possible while trying not to destroy an ailing back and using as little profanity as possible (and out of earshot of the Wee Lass), and maybe have a little fun with a snowball or three.

These agendas, while not mutually exclusive, certainly do not lend themselves to an easy integration. I am concentrating on conservation of effort, maximum dispersal with minimum effort, grim as Death while I bend, hoist and sling the bastard snow. She is running back and forth, alternating between carrying snow (and spilling it right back where I just removed it) proclaiming "I'm a good helper!", and climbing the preposterously high hillocks of snow and ice like a mountain goat. She slides, she dives, she tumbles to land at my feet giggling like a daft elf with rosy cheeks and impossibly blue eyes. Every so often, our arcs of intent intersect  with me flinging a shovel full of white stuff that lands on her head as she is scampering across the pile.

She laughs, that silver bell that makes my heart leap, and I shed my mask of somberness, if only for an instant. I use the opportunity to pause in my Herculean labors, thankful (slightly) that I am shoveling frozen water and not horse manure. Leaning on my shovel, sucking wind and cursing the spirits of the air, the truth of this blossoms inside my skull.

Her innocent mind knows nothing of the strictures of adulthood, that quiet desperation that comes from entanglement in responsibility, efficiency and time management. She cares nothing for a disruption in the work schedule. She does not concern herself with the soul-sucking knowledge that lost time must be made up, because contracts and clients don't care that the snow fell and you had to miss work.

I watch her gambol about, and know that I am jealous. Long ago, under the guise of adulthood, I largely gave up on play for the sake of it; I renounced the gift of living in the moment. The knowledge makes me sad, but I am thankful to have been granted a chance to revisit that iridescent inefficiency of youth.

07 February 2010

Let It Snow, Let Snow, Let It Snow...Somewhere Else, Da&%#t!

It was a lovely party...

...full of grace and beauty...

...but as with many parties...

...there is a morning after.

Uh, snow? You're cool and all...but would you just go home now? Please?

06 February 2010

Snow Falling on Weenies

6:45 PM, Friday, 5 February 2010 --- Deadline: Snowmageddon.

As I write this, the snow has only fallen in a hint of the White Terror that has been predicted. A hint of upwards of 20, 24 maybe even 30 inches of snow. I am not pleased.

The snow is pretty, and right now it is only fine flakes, drifting gently down to coat the trees and the sidewalk, a fine coating of the 'powdered sugar of the Universe'. Peering from my windows, it is quite lovely, gossamer halos spinning out around the outside lights. The wind isn't high, not yet, so one can almost believe it will leave as quietly as it came. I am even contemplating taking some pictures, experimenting with exposures and tints to try and capture the ethereal 'otherness' that is snowfall. I am almost succeeding at being okay with it all.

Alas, I am not.

I admit, I am a Snow Weenie. This year, anyway. I've lost my stamina and my youthful enthusiasm for a good snow, an inevitable consequence of Growing Up and Being Responsible. This loss does not account for the sheer weight of my ennui, as I would pretend it would. No...the combined stresses and fatigues of this last, tumultuous year of mine have caught up to me. They had been contained behind a thin fence of willpower and concentration on walking the "sunny side of the street". No longer.

The winds this storm upon us now has brought, blow not only around the building in which I reside; they howl across the sere plain that is my interior to lash with full force on that fence I had built. It vibrates and cracks, the slats and posts bending in the onslaught. The sharp twang of broken mesh makes an odd sound of tortured banjos and I watch the fence curl up and blow away. The stresses that had been penned up burst forth, free to roam. They gambol and buck, snorting in my face with whinnies of glee that sound too much like demons to me.

Demons that enjoy the cold, and laugh as they drain the life force from my shivering carcass. The snow...it is kicking my mental ass. Under ordinary circumstances I could laugh and shake it off. Tonight, I am not so sure. I breathe deep, I try...

...I watch Spongebob Squarepants with my daughter, and I focus on her laughter. We make silly faces at each other, and read the dictionary looking for pictures of animals. She snuggels up to me on the couch and tells me she is a puppy...

...and I can begin to let go of the inner grouch, knowing that I truly cannot control the weather. I cannot make it stop snowing, and it is fruitless to waste energy and time on such pursuits. The snow will be what it is, will fall where it may, and this is inescapable. It is also true that I am warm, I am well-fed, and even through the fog of malaise I know that I am loved. It is this realization that becomes the lantern in the window, guiding me home through the snow and mist.

I am still tired. I still curse the bloody weather. Still, I know I can fix that fence. Her laugh tells me so.