29 July 2010

The Only Bargain That Matters

Taking a cue from Schmutzie's "Grace In Small Things", how about this: I was wandering a local branch of a well-known chain bookstore as I am wont to do when seeking free or low-cost entertainment ('cause that's how I roll sometimes), and what do I spy with my little eye? Behold:

Pretty cool, no? Well, to make it an even bigger jar o' awesomesauce, this tome was on the BARGAIN BOOK table. So I snagged it, for less than the cost of a burrito at Chipotle. Grace in small things, indeed!

This post dedicated to Dawn B., who reminded me of this book, a little while ago. Word!

28 July 2010

Cattle Dislike It, Too

Branding. Brand yourself. What is the brand that is "you"?

It is a simple question, on the surface. It gave me pause, but only after the seminar was over. The afternoon was spent in consultation with 49 of my peers, trying to define our individual brands. When I say peers, I mean other people "between employments", as the current language calls our joblessness.

As an aside, I feel the same way about that phrase as I do about calling a used car "previously owned": plus ungood.

Anyway, it was a group of us professionals who are unemployed or between jobs or making career transitions, and we were each a mini-corporation trying to define an image. Just like Nike, Coca-Cola or any other company that has some sort of iconic touchstone.

There was a lot of creative energy in the room, tinged a bit with puzzlement and the faintest whiff of cynicism. I managed to set aside most of my weariness and skepticism to dive in to the best of my ability. Believe it or not, I even engaged in some public speaking. Most of the time I avoid public speaking like I would avoid an aerosolized tankful of medical waste. Which is to say, I would run away as quickly as possible while holding my breath.

There was the typical small group exercise, which I did enjoy. It was fun to connect with people, tap into their ideas and energy and share thoughts on what we think we are, what we want to be. We all made lists of descriptive words and then tried to come up with a tag line* whereby potential employers or clients would recognize us and what we can do for them. It was to be along the lines of "Good to the last drop" or "Just Do It", but connecting the Brand (me) with the Client (employer) base. Fun and games, folks, but something happened to me on the drive home that really threw me into the weeds. As usual, it involved music.

I became aware that I don't know me.**

The trigger was "The Sweet Part of the City" by The Hold Steady. The song came on, I was daydreaming a little, and the slide guitar in the song is killer. Craig Finn isn't singing about being unemployed, but the lyrics combined with that guitar really hit me hard. I suddenly felt terribly alone, and weightless. I saw myself sitting on a derelict dock down at harbor, sunlight glinting on railroad tracks behind me. Just me and the gulls and gravel, and I'm crooning to the ocean. The sun is going down, as it should be. For reasons unknown, I started thinking about my brother, and how much I miss him. I wept.

The weight of worthlessness and isolation came crashing down on me. Trying to drive while figuring out who I am, or who I was, or who I am supposed to be...I couldn't do it. If I had been on a road trip, that would have been the time to pull the car over, kill the engine and go to sleep in the back seat. I was very close to home, as it was, so I did the next best thing. I parked the car at the curb, wiped my face and headed inside to collapse on the couch. My hands could barely support the weight of my head.

The essence of Me made marketable, employable...and I don't really know it anymore. Maybe I never did. The things that I was may not be the things I am, or need to be. Reconciliation of all the threads in this frayed rope of a life is slipping through some weary fingers. I can call myself all sorts of names, pile on the keywords and the adjectives...but now? None of it seems to fit, and that hurts.

Branding. Ask the cattle how they feel about being marked with a red-hot iron. Ask them if it is necessary.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am in no way affiliated with mp3bounce(dot)com, no compensation or endorsement was received, given or implied. Typical YouTube shenanigans...it was the best I could get for the song, the name just happened to be on the video. I am also not a paid spokesman for The Hold Steady...but I can say THS makes some awesome music.

*I won't reveal mine...yet. I'm too self-conscious, and I'm still working on it.
**Yes, its been said before. Yes, its a cliche. It also happens to be the Truth.

26 July 2010

Real World is Hungry

"When you start to doubt yourself, the real world will eat you alive" - Henry Rollins, "Shine"

I understand the hunger of the real world. It paces me, follows me like my own shadow. I have had many a conversation with it, in grimy diners and noisy machine rooms. The hunger never seems to be rattled, and never seems to sit still. Even motionless, the edges of it blur. I gave up long ago on rubbing my eyes, or focusing. But that makes my head hurt, and now I have no idea what to do.

No. No. That isn't quite true. The back of my mind knows what to do. The front of my mind has so far resisted making the adjustments necessary to sharpen the picture.

Then, today, I heard something I really needed to hear, but no one who could say it to me.

It's hero time.

24 July 2010

Irrelevancy in the New World Order

Recently, it was suggested to me that perhaps a 'sans serif' font may be better for certain types of correspondence.  The implication was that, in certain fields of endeavor, suspicions will be aroused by a slight whiff of creativity.


My inward response was a mental yawn and a 'Screw you', albeit with little malice.  I had the same feeling as the time I was told by a job recruiter that having too great a breadth of experience made it harder to get hired.  I didn't feel as pissed off this time.  Tired, yes.

By a chance encounter on the internet tonight, I was reduced to tears at the sight of prayer flags flapping in the wind, up on what appeared to be a mountain.  These flags appeared in a video accompanied by a Buddhist prayer set to music. I couldn't tell you the translation in English, because I do not know it.  I can tell you that when I saw those flags, they were so beautiful and calming that I immediately relaxed.  It was this relaxation that made me weep, I suppose, from joy and peace and beauty.  

In turn, I meditated on the current state of my place in the universe.  I considered all that I am, all that I want to be, all the things that interest me and bring me joy.  At this point, I realized that I am flirting with irrelevancy.

In an age of 'blobitecture' buildings of high-tech glass and polymers, I want to build stone cathedrals.  I yearn for a typewriter, and maybe even a ditto machine.  The global appetite for flash and dazzle, for shiny things that curse or explode: this I do not feel in my belly. LeBron and Lindsay, I wish them well, but I won't lose sleep over not knowing the latest ego-born debacle, nor will I care.

I'm not wired for snark or trash, but I do know it sells.  Some who know me may think I am a hard-hearted man, but I lack a true killer instinct. Alas it seems the world is more interested in giving money to thuggery and mayhem, and I have no desire to be a gangsta.

Technology has given me access to things and people I may not have otherwise experienced, this is true.  I treasure much of what I have found and many whom I have met in this way.  There is a lot that leaves me cold, however, and wondering just what it is I am expected to do to survive in this culture of competition.  I most likely may always be behind the curve of the latest gadget, the latest app, the slickest new media platform.  I try sometimes to be as interested as societal pressure seems to demand of me...but I struggle to keep focus.  The amount of energy expended to be the loudest, biggest, brashest (and therefore the most relevant and profitable) astounds me.  This expenditure has an unnerving tendency to reduce people to sound bites, becoming parodies of themselves in a bizarre effort to be 'winners' who drown out the reflective quiet that might actually bring peace of mind.

I don't know how to feel, exactly, in this new world order: it wants fluency in programming language and rapid-prototyping; I want to illuminate manuscripts and be a blacksmith.  

The issue as I see it:  become relevant or fade away.  If I can create the digital equivalent of the Book of Kells and a horseshoe, perhaps relevancy won't be far behind.  Fading away, well, the thought of it makes me weary.

It makes me want to sit on a mountaintop, watching the flags, praying until the stars go out.

22 July 2010

Trash Trees

The damn trees or overgrown vines or what have you, they are going to die.

Ordinarily, I'm not so bloodthirsty (sapthirsty?) when it comes to flora and foliage. This time, its different. This time, it is almost personal. I do have a conscience about it, I have apologized to the vines. As I cut and pulled, tugged and strained, I felt bad that I was ripping them off the shrubs and trees around my yard.

But they wouldn't stop growing. Not when I asked nicely. Not when there wasn't much rain. They just kept growing. The electric lines, out in the alley alongside the house, began to disappear under a shaggy filigree of leaves and tendrils. Maybe I was just wigged out by all those leaves, advancing by the inch day after day (or so it seemed), but weren't the lines beginning to sag from the weight?

Maybe. I did see where the vines were beginning to choke out the trees. I could stand it no longer. Last night I broke down and bought a pair of heavy duty pruning shears, small ones, because that is all I could afford. I had to buy some bug spray, too, but that is a subject for another post.

So I have the shears in my hands, feeling all badass because Ima get medieval on them vines. The heat and the humidity were stifling as I plunged into the greenery up against the fence. No stopping now, I had the vine in my hands. It was about twice as big as the recommended maximum size noted on the shear pack.

No matter. I was unlocked and ready to cut. Gnaw, actually. I had to make repeated cuts to make it all the way through, but sever the vine I did. I grabbed more vines, cutting and gnawing like a crazed rodent. Leaves fell, curses were muttered, things snapped.

Regrettably, it felt good. 

Soon, I had a big pile of severed vines at my feet. Leaf bits fluttered languidly to earth in the thick air. Birds scolded me for disturbing their evening activities. I wiped the sweat from my brow and closed the clippers. I was soaked, tired and a wee bit sad.

Those vines left tangled in the trees and wrapped around the wires will wither and die. That will make it easier for me to remove them once they are brown and dry. This troubled me. I know they should be removed so other things don't get messed up...but they were just leaves and tendrils, green and growing. Vines fulfilling their 'vineness'. And I had to destroy them.

I was sad because it wasn't just a safety and convenience rationale that justified cutting them down. The reason in the shadows, the subconscious drive, was I felt I needed to control something. I needed to exert control over something in my environment to gain some measure of control over my life.

Because its been a lot of weeds lately. I feel like if I stand still, they will grow over me. It's terribly difficult to cut what you cannot see, so the vines in my yard became the stand-ins. I take no real pleasure in destruction, but the weeds, they are too thick.

I do not want to be overgrown. 

19 July 2010

Parable of the Stonecutter

Strong hands and hard head,
he took up the hammer
years before the man he became
understood implications of choice.

The hammer swung slow but sure.
Muscles fired by alien expectations
that demanded perfection, true, square,
and never acknowledged 'good enough'.

Years passed, stones piling up like leaves
fallen from the trees around him.
Obscuring his vision, hiding the truth
and that hammer coming down, infinite.

'The next stone will be the best one yet'
A desperate declaration through clenched teeth.
But the next stone just led to the next stone,
slipping from hands scarred and bloody.

Winters passed, stones at eye level.
He looks up through the fog of his breath
to see the trap, a fortress inverted
with his heart at the center, in silence.

Sinking, falling, scoured knees in the grit
with air rushing from his lungs trying
to breathe in a world devoid of oxygen,
forehead pressing cold steel hard to the bone.

Spring, unnoticed, awaking suddenly
in a haze of heat and sweat and dull panic,
blinking hard against crystalline sunlight
as he stares at the hammer in his hand.

Baking heat in the unintentional furnace
arisen around him, with stones uncaring,
he raises the hammer with trembling arms.
Stones shatter, and his true choices begin.

17 July 2010

On The Floor of the Precious Commodities Exchange

She sat there, across the table, with that heart-stopping smile outlined in a ragged smear of chocolate ice cream. She was giggling at the same time, and there is no defense against that combination. I was lost.

Not the lost I usually feel nowadays, that fellintoadeepdarkhole kind of lost. No, let's not talk about it.

The lost I was feeling was more like ambling through wildflowers in the park on a bright, breezy day. A day with no agenda. A day with no real demands on my time. A day where I could feel free to not think and give myself up to love. Her smile and her laugh can do that, you know. She is a superhero in that regard.

I sat in my chair, blueberry ice cream settling in my belly. The ice cream had been laced with flakes of dark chocolate. Quite tasty on a warm summer eve. Watching her spoon up her chocolate ice cream, feeling the breeze in my hair, I was blessed with a feeling of grace. It was a reprieve from anxiety and fear. The antidote was right there on front of me, complete with that silver bell laugh and rose window eyes.

I would give a lot to be able to bottle that feeling, or turn it into something like incense. Or maybe a Glade plug in. One striking feature of that moment was not that I had been suddenly overwhelmed with happiness. There were no golden shafts of light, no choirs of angels. None were necessary. I had something perhaps more important than blatant happiness. I was content.

If contentedness were a commodity it would be at the top of my own personal precious metals exchange. The stock ticker would read CTNT and I'd have market feeds sent directly to my personal phone.

Not that such a thing exists, and it shouldn't. This feeling is a currency all its own, minted only by our hearts and backed up by our full credit and faith that things do go right and feel good all by themselves...as long as we let them.

I sat in that chair across from my Wee Lass, full of her grace and blueberry ice cream, and gave thanks for them both. It felt good.

This post was inspired by two very different sources: my daughter and the ever-intriguing Adam P. Knave, perpetrator of Stop Motion Verbosity and other assorted hijinks associated with the written word. Why? you may ask. Well, hearing my daughter laugh and reading Adam's post "Accentuate The Positive" pretty much knocked me into a new orbit tonight. A higher orbit, and one to be shared.

16 July 2010


The evening air was wet and heavy, spiked with the scent of dry grass and flowers. As walking weather goes, it left something to be desired. The walls were creeping in, the silence after the television turned off was far too deafening. It was time to move, so damn the humidity. Out the door I went, camera in hand.

The sun was going down, swaddled in billows of clouds. A ruff of trees along the river reached up to scratch the belly of pearly gray and white fluff in the western sky. I reached the cross street just down the slope from my house and headed east along the main drag in this part of my new town. I was of a mind to walk a little further this night. Instead of taking the first right past the post office, I was going to keep going straight, heading up to Cemetery Lane.

I have driven by the lane many times, past the trim white clapboard-sheathed church on the corner, but not once had I turned onto it to see where it went. It was only a week or so ago that I saw that there is indeed, a cemetery on Cemetery Lane. Imagine that. I have also counted at least three churches withing a half-mile radius of house, one right around the corner. For some reason, the churches and the cemetery comfort me, in a way that I cannot explain.

Tonight, it was not churches on my mind, it was the cemetery. The light was beginning to lower, and I wanted to get a look before it was too dark. I hurried past the brick church, the post office, and turned left at the clapboard church. The cemetery is on small hill behind the church and continues back toward a stand of trees. The cemetery has been there a long time, at least since the 1800's. It is still in use as I could tell by the occasional modern looking polished granite headstone standing out in a scattering of old marble and other, unknown rock types. Along the road and by the church are a number of old trees, cedars and sycamores I think. Their outlines were stark black against the deepening blue of the sky. All that was needed to complete the scene were some crows, but I spotted none.

As I strolled up the lane, the traffic hum started to fade, to be replaced by crickets and katydids and bird noises. The older monuments followed the dips and terraces of the ground in a classic graveyard tableau. Patches of stark white glared out against ragged birthmarks of grime and lichen on the stones. Most of the names and dates were still legible, but some had begun to blur under the weight of so many summers under the sun. One of the death dates I saw read '1895'. I blinked and rubbed my eyes to make sure I had it right. It was 1895.

I'm not sure if it was me that drew in my breath, or a sudden breeze through the trees on the far side of the cemetery; either way, it sounded like someone was breathing in preparation to speak. There was a hush on the cemetery, disturbed only by the faint sound of a car passing by the church at the bottom of the hill.

I felt like someone was watching me.

I stepped back and looked around. There was no one in sight. The headstone in front of me was faintly radiant in the evening light. It was beautiful. I raised my camera. The click of the shutter was astoundingly loud in that moment. It brought me back to earth. For a precious few moments a calm had descended upon me. Surrounded by hallowed ground, guarded by the sentinel trees, I felt no anxiety or sadness. I felt peace.

A field of memorial stones, traces of lives before mine, unknown to me...yet they made me feel at home.

13 July 2010

Prayer: Plume, Redux

I don't pray much, anymore, at least not intentionally. Only so many times I can listen to the phone ring before I hang up from waiting. I tend to pray by reflex, when I'm exhausted or overstressed.

Funny...I should be praying 24/7, these days.

Sometimes, in rare quiet moments, I'll find myself trying to pray but don't know what to say. Even rarer than that are those times when I find someone voicing the prayer just right and in a way I could not articulate. Like finding another diamond in the mud. Tonight was a diamond night:

Faults have weighed on my confidence
The years have stolen my innocence
It's hard to pay the price for this
Tonight could be the last to spend

Just see me through the night
Just see me through the fight

Somehow, ooohhh

Now I'm, I'm looking for ways to hide
from the walls between every voice inside
I'm caught in something I can't describe
So I, I wait just for you tonight

Just see me through the night
Just see me through the fight

Maybe hope will buy us another day
and time will fix what I can't erase
But it all feels millions of miles away
and I don't think I'll get there anyway

Can you change my thoughts around?
And I pray you'll stay for now
Can you save what's breaking down?

Just see me through the fight

Just see me through the night
Just see me through the fight

Lyrics above are by Mutemath, are unofficial and used without permission. But they sure are beautiful, aren't they?

12 July 2010


On the horns, yeah? You know how that feels, I'm sure. A human condition, although the struggle to feel human can be long and difficult. This I know; hopefully, you do not. I generate intense heat and smoke in the effort, yet not enough light.

I am in combat with myself. A declaration of war wrought by the hole punched in my heart.

The struggle is to contain that which spews forth, this dark and viscous matter congealed inside the soft pressure vessel I call my soul. Icy tendrils of panic curl around an overheated brain as the implications rear their ugly heads. Thoughts and questions and doubts tainting the water.  Racing to cover it, contain it, before it spreads and befouls the beautiful and the innocent who should not suffer the consequences of my internal strife.

Writing from what I know...but what if all I know appears to be sadness and melancholy? Why would anyone want to be near this broken well? I lay on my couch this morning, staring at the ceiling and thinking "What would happen if I wrote that which was truly in my heart?" How much life would be choked out, how much sand on the rim of my ocean would be stained near to ruin? My heart, pouring out the liquid memory of flora and fauna crushed long ago and in a different time.

Useful, perhaps, if contained and directed with focused intelligence. Poisonous if left to its own devices, with no control over its flow and heading.

What can I make of this, my heart? A broken and bleeding vessel I occasionally show to the world and hope that it is received with respect, if not affection; hoping to be shown without being abused, at least. This time, it is different. This time, I am afraid of something I cannot articulate. I am afraid of what would happen if I were to let loose the things that reside in my heart, because there is no guarantee of reestablishing control. I'm not even sure why I am writing this at this moment, other than to state that I feel I must. The analogy of the relief well comes to mind, and I can only hope this reduces the pressure until I figure it out.

I closed my eyes this morning, laying on the couch. Behind the lids, in the dark, I could see the plume curling like a taloned fist. A color-enhanced photograph shot from space and used as a prop in a video warning of the damages caused by pollution...but in this case, the ocean is shaped like me.

06 July 2010

In Search of Mangos

"Never get out of the boat." Absolutely goddamn right! Unless you were goin' all the way...
-Capt. Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) in 'Apocalypse Now'

Apocalypse Now is one of my three favorite movies of all time. Tonight, I watched it again on DVD, the original version, not the 'Redux'. I'll save 'Redux' for another time, when I have time. Seeing it tonight was...accidental.

I wasn't intending to watch it. I was intending to do something else entirely, which will have to wait until tomorrow. Eating dinner, I was mulling some things over, trying hard not to to think too much but all these jumbled thoughts and ruminations were seething in my head. Have you ever seen a fish pond or fish farm where the fish seem to know when they are about to be fed? An outstretched hand flings some bread or meal pellets over the water and the surface turns into this roiling mass of fish bodies, tumbling and jumping over one another in a frantic, greedy rush to get food. Picture that.

See? That's what it feels like to me sometimes when I think.

Sound. Color. A snippet of conversation overheard. Thoughts rise to the surface of my mind, mouths agape and grasping at the data. And I can rarely stop them. Something I saw or overheard while at dinner threw the feed into the pond. For whatever reason, I kept recalling movie quotes, mostly stuff from Pulp Fiction and the aforementioned Francis Coppola opus.  The DVD was home in a box, so I took it out to skim through it. I ended up watching the whole thing.

The prompt for that quote was inspired by Willard and a companion being attacked by a tiger, after having gotten off the boat, in search of mangos. I know that comedy wasn't the intent of the scene, but I couldn't stifle a laugh when I saw it. It bore too much resemblance to my life at the moment. All I wanted was some mangos, so I had to get out of the boat. That's when the tiger attacked me.

Captain Willard finishes by saying "Kurtz got off the boat. He split from the whole fuckin' program." This Year of My Unsettlement, the tiger chasing me, breathing down my neck...it makes me want to split from the program. So I keep running, looking, hoping...

Never get off the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. What happens now, having been pushed or thrown off the boat? I have nowhere else to go...

...unless it's going all the way.

05 July 2010

An Alien Sky

It was a simple folding camp chair, the same camp chair in which I sat many summers, wearing my shirt of peachy-salmon cotton, in that time before the universe folded in upon itself.  The shorts, the grass-stained shoes which need replacing...we know each other well, but the sky above became a stranger's face I strained to recall having seen before.

The sun has set behind the trees far away across the field, bathing the sky in shades that match my shirt, fading into indigo and wine. 'This is perfect' I say to myself as we await the fireworks. Relaxation has slowly spread from the pit of my belly and into my legs and arms and mind. For the first time in months the feeling of being human has come back, and the effect is so soothing I lean my head back and slump down in the camp chair. Briefly, so slowly, my eyes close upon the gently brightening stars above. Listening to my daughter and the murmurs and chatter of the people around us, I drift into a reverie.

The stars above resolve themselves into familiar patterns at first. They start to snap into focus as I recall the nights spent outdoors with my G-maw, binoculars to the eyes and her outstretched hand pointing as she named the points of light and the constellations. Orion. Cygnus. Betelgeuse. Sirius. I remember them well. She turns to me and I see the smile on her face in the silvery half-light. My eyes are shut.

I blink, and spasm slightly, fingers gripping the armrests as I try and figure out where I am. Had I fallen asleep? If so, it was only for a very brief moment. I felt as if I had suddenly moved a great distance and at great speed. My eyes fluttered rapidly as I tried to shake off the disorientation. I was staring upwards, but at stars I could not name. Nothing was where I remembered it to be. It flashed before me that I was on another planet, one tremendously far from Earth, and the constellations I had known were nowhere to be found.

My daughter laughed again, chasing after a light stick flung over my shoulder and into the grass behind the chair. I gasped and squeezed my eyes shut and then opened them. The stars, they made sense again. I called over to her, feeling myself back on Earth or someplace like it.

I do not need to read science fiction to imagine having to navigate unfamiliar skies at night. I know, already. My life has tumbled violently in the past few years, flinging me far out of my familiar orbits and into space unknown. Standing in the soil of an alien planet, alone and panicked, Orion and Canis Major cannot find me no matter how expertly they hunt. Rather, I cannot find them. By the light of foreign suns, I'll have to forge a path anew, seeking home across any distance no matter how great. My sensors are up. They sort through the static and hiss, locking on to the only beacon by which I can navigate.

"Catch, daddy! 1, 2, 3...!"

She throws a glowing loop, and my hands rise reflexively to grasp it. We laugh together, and I set my course for home.