31 May 2011

There May Be No Crying In Baseball, but There Sure Is A Lot of Cursing

TIME: Approximately 4:30, on a Sunday afternoon in May.

PLACE: Casa Del Gumbo, the living room.  Beneath our feet, a bare hardwood floor (Remember that; it matters later in the story).

CAST:  Wee Lass and yours truly.  I'm shod in a pair of slightly worn Dearfoams slippers. (Also remember that; it too becomes important).

We had been home from our road trip about an hour, and the darlin' daughter was of a mind to throw down on some Wii sports, an activity I was (at first) of my own mind to avoid.  She wanted to play some baseball, which held little appeal for me as I was 1) Tired and 2) Still irked I hadn't mastered the art of the swing with the controller.  At first, I said no.

She booted up the sports, and decided to play baseball against the machine.  Watching her, I was surprised and delighted to note that she was actually getting good (digital) contact on the (digital) ball.  She asked me again to play.  A few flashes of those baby blues, and I relented.

So there I was, crouched in front of the TV, feeling a little foolish trying to get the bat to hang right by fidgeting with the controller, waving it back and forth to get the haft of the thing out of my avatar's head.  Wee Lass is off to the side waiting to throw the first pitch, which she does with more enthusiasm than form.

As is my habit, I swung at the pitch.  I always do, it's a reflex.  But remember I said I was standing on a hardwood floor?  Wearing slightly worn Dearfoam slippers?

Well, apparently Dearfoams has discovered a new material for slipper bottoms.  One that has almost zero coefficient of friction.  I had swung at that pitch pretty hard, and the momentum of the swing combined with the lack of grip on the floor caused my feet to slide completely out from underneath me.  I crashed down to the floor hard, like the proverbial ton of bricks.  I landed on my right side, bruising my hip, skinning my knee and bruising my upper right arm in the process.

That s**t hurt.

So I'm laying there on the floor in a haze of pain, trying not to curse.  It was then I heard two things.  First, the chirpy little Wii stadium announcer saying in a cheerful voice "You're OUT!"

Second, laughter.  That's right.  LAUGHTER.  I look up at my precious daughter, the apple o' my eye, light o' my life...and she's laughing at me and hopping up and down in uncontained glee. She looks right at me and says:

"DADDY! DADDY! I got you! I got you!  ON A 71 MILE-PER-HOUR FASTBALL!!!"

Gee, thanks, kiddo.  Now, could you please call the paramedics?

30 May 2011

This Tree

We are on the road again, my daughter and I, heading back to my house after an all too short stay at the ancestral homestead.  A hazy Sunday afternoon somewhere in the Middle Peninsula region, with the Rappahannock River whispering to us from beyond the trees and fields to the east.  The trees are in full leaf now.  It is a very different scene from that of the winter, of the Februaries I wish to leave behind.

It was an occasion to celebrate life and a growing of the good green things in our souls, rather than assemble in the woods to mourn the falling of yet another mighty oak.  It was the first time in many years that I had the blessing of being among extended family for the sole purpose of being in one another's company because we could.  I saw some cousins I had not seen in too long, and met the next generation of the family.  Wee Lass was able to meet some kin she had not seen before, and I...well, I had the honor of basking in her glow, while she played in the pool with the other young ones.

I had forgotten how good that felt.  Back in the day, we used to have these gatherings all the time.  As you may have guessed, I didn't fully get how cool that was when I was right in the middle of it as a boy.

But I know now, yes, I do.  I knew it with each hug given, each kiss on the cheek and every laugh shared.  I felt in in my core as I watched the kids playing in the pool.  I live too much in my own head most of the time, which is really no true home; there in that backyard and for a few precious hours, I was home.

I had the singular gift of holding a four-month old baby, the beautiful daughter of of her equally beautiful mother (a second cousin of mine), and when that baby snuggled her face into my shoulder I felt a circuit trip somewhere in the earth.  The current I could feel flowing through my veins and into my heart.  It was still humming along when we had to leave the next day on our road trip home.

The corn and soybeans are beginning to sprout in the fields.  The crows and the hawks watch over everything, and the trees stand green and proud and harboring deer and rabbits among the undergrowth.  I could see those stands of trees across the green-gold of the planted acres, and it was then I felt another circuit close in the blood of my blood, the laughter in my ears, and the arms across my shoulders.

In the white gold sunshine of the eastern Virginia countryside, I had a revelation. I know how the tree feels to sink its roots deep into the soil from which it sprung.  I know how the tree feels when it becomes aware of the forest, and knows that it is home.

It is Memorial Day, and a time conducive to meditation amongst the cookouts and the sales, and the hoopla of modern American life.  I had plenty of time to think while driving home on Sunday, about what we are supposed to remember, and what we seem to actually do.  I've never been one prone to overt displays of patriotism, but neither have I totally lost sight of what this day is about.  Regardless of where we stand on the subject of the wars and aggressions America has initiated or been drawn into, it is certainly true that quite a few have given so much, including their lives, in the service of an ideal that does represent the best of our desires and intentions.  That service, in part, has made it possible for me to live the life that I do, and for me to enjoy being with my family.  For that, I am truly grateful. 

29 May 2011

Travelling Medicine Show

Road into my heart
Coyote grins, "Follow me!"
Crow laughs in my ear

28 May 2011

Cherry Blossom Dream

Memory chamber
Shadows of cherry blossoms
Petals in her hair

27 May 2011

(Un)Control Freak

Conventional wisdom holds that some of the best creative activity takes place only when a measure of control is relinquished.  I suppose that is true, even though it runs counter to that which drives many who do what I do for a living.  An architect, I am, and the whole notion of what architects do is driven by control.  Over materials.  Gravity.  Behaviors.  People.  Only through the diligent application of control can most projects of any size make it from conception to actualization.

Some of the most famous architects in history were or are masters of control, and control freaks of some stripe.  Think Frank Lloyd Wright, designing the house and every damn thing in it.  Think Mies van der Rohe and all those variations on the elegance of a straight piece of steel.  Think Frank Gehry and every bizarre building he seems to have produced in the last 25 years or so.

The Bilbao, you say?  All those twisty shapes and non-linear forms?  Surely, those look like they are about to fall over or explode or whirl into fragments!  Ha!

Control.  Pure and simple.  It takes tremendous effort and maniacal attention to detail and purity of idea to build structures such as those.  It takes control with a capital 'C' to create usable chaos.  Billionaires don't keep spending money on something that won't stand up.  And obsessive architects don't want their buildings, however bloblike or non-Euclidean, to fall apart.

Control.  Bah.  They can have it.  Me?   I sick of it.

Control like that can make you brittle.  I've felt dangerously close to not being able to bend without breaking over the past two years, and it all comes back to control.  I was trying so hard to control everything that I gained control over almost nothing.  Diminishing returns, people.  Tired of pouring so much energy into seeing around corners and through walls.  Of working to avoid surprises, so diligently that the life was choked out of life.  Control is overrated.

Does this mean I want to live a life of abandon?  Hell, no.  I've seen too many people do it, in varying degrees.  Sure, it can be a lot of fun for the individual, but not so much for the people who care for that individual.  Chaos, I don't need.

What I do want, and need, is better balance.  I want to shed the anxiety of always trying to anticipate what comes next, that anxiety that makes it difficult to impossible to enjoy the here and now.  It can be done.  It has to be done.  I've managed the trick on a few occasions in recent weeks.  I must say, I have enjoyed it.  It has helped me start peeking out from the shell.  To that end, the view...is good.

Control.  Enough is enough.  I can't live my life if I won't let life live.

26 May 2011

Banquo, Is That You?

Image courtesy of Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

Pardon me, good sir, I meant no harm
yet your stare tells you think otherwise
Please, my apologies for disturbing
what must be plaisirs ├ępicuriens

What? Why do they not see, not hear?
The gentleman espies a fascination,
while the ladies perhaps think him mad,
or full of the luthier's ministrations

But, you, mon ami loup,you miss naught
Yes, I know, the blade at my hip gives you pause,
too big to be at table, the roast is but wee!
Ha, ha! A joke, but the road is full of rogues

And the way here was fraught with peril
Men such as ourselves must protect our persons
No, no, my friend! Eat, drink, get your fill!
Relax in the company of your peers!

I would not get between a man and his meat
This traveling stomach knows scarcity of feast,
and surfeit of famine, the body needs it trencher,
While my blade and I await you, in the garden

25 May 2011

Slamdunk In The Fields Of The Lord

Chewing slowly, savoring a fast-food meal (if one can be said to savor such a thing) and looking out the window, I watched a young kid dribbling a basketball as he gamboled down the street.  He was leaping like a colt and switching the ball back and forth, hand to hand, looking for all the world like someone who wanted to be Kobe or LeBron.  The energy and vigor of his movements could only be demonstrated by someone who does not know the limits of their own physicality.  Someone who is not yet old in mind, whose American heart believes the fuel will never run out.

This is not me.  But I am glad I got to see it.  I thought of myself when I was younger, when I wished for the ability to throw a tight spiral or smack a home run every third trip to the plate.  Those ignorant halcyon days when I believed that if I just kept running faster and kicking harder I too would bury the ball in the back of the ol' "onion bag."

Those days haven't come true, quite.  I'm older, supposedly wiser.  I don't burn white-hot from sunup to sundown anymore.  Kicking off the covers, putting feet on the floor every day is more like firing up the wood stove to bake some biscuits.  It can't be done too fast, it won't get you there in a hurry.  Things take time to catch.  The flames have their moments but what is needed is the slow burn and coals under the ash.

Any sporting heroics I indulge in anymore lie primarily in the fields of my mind., where I am soccer lightning and "running in his seven league boots" to quote from Eduardo Galeano*.  Maybe, maybe that sort of confidence and bravado shows up in these pages now and again.  But the real world leaves me worn out, and I have learned to conserve my energy, saving it for the right time and right place.

This is as it was meant to be, caught up as we are in the turning of the wheels.

I downed the last of the meal, jaw working slow like a cow in the grass.  The young superstar hustled up the street, driving the lane in the court of his mind and I'm sure he was thinking what an awesome dunk he was going to deliver after shaming the defenders with a master class move.  For a brief moment, superimposed over my vision, was a collage of images from the news.  Earthquakes, nuclear disasters, floods and tornadoes...thousand dead and wounded, places unlivable, homes flattened...they ghosted themselves over the kid and the ordinary street in the suburbs.  It was seeing life through old glass negatives of disaster.

I shook my head.  The kid knew nothing of this.  I closed my eyes to make the images go away.  I sent up a prayer, a wish, that that kid would have his slam dunk and the roar of the crowd, that maybe that could be his normal.

I wished and I prayed for all those who have lost so much, their homes and loved ones, that they would get their normal back.

*From "Soccer in Sun and Shadow", his essays on soccer published in 1998. If you want to understand the Beautiful Game, or even Life, read this book.

24 May 2011

Prayer to the Wind

Roots clutching the earth,
lily shakes its head
to banish dark horizons

23 May 2011

Echoes of the Madness

As I had a window of opportunity this morning, I set aside some chores in favor of a combination walk and photo safari through an abandoned factory building down by the Patapsco River.  The occasion was to experiment with a roll of very fast film (3200 speed for you photogeeks out there), black and white, which I could not resist purchasing yesterday while at the film lab.  The weather was warm, but decent sun, and to paraphrase, no one ever dies wishing they had weedwhacked a little more.

It was the call of the camera, and an intense need for some stress management.  It would not be denied.

I had my backpack, my digital camera, and my film camera.  Plus a flashlight and a hard hat.  Contrary to what my Ma and Da might tell you, my head isn't so hard it could resist a falling brick or shard of metal.  I'm getting smarter about that stuff these days.

So I am in the abandoned building, trying a different route than the one I have taken in the past.  There are some places in there I had not seen yet, and I was getting tantalizing glimpses through broken windows, of graffiti and industrial decay.  I was alone, or at least I thought so.  

I went down a flight of rusty metal stairs (very "Half-Life" in appearance) and was standing in a pool of light streaming through a large opening in the concrete slab overhead.  The path on both sides led into gloominess punctuated by shafts of light and the spectral outlines of ruined tanks, pipes and decaying machines.

It was while standing there adjusting the camera, that I heard it.  A voice, drifting from somewhere in the darkness of the warehouse beyond.  I had been about to walk in that direction, but the voice made me freeze.  It was garbled, muffled, but occasionally I could make out individual words.  Then, quite clearly it said "Oh, why, why, why!" followed by a faint sigh or groan that trailed off into nothingness.

At that moment, I felt the Fear.  An icy trickle in my gut.  I didn't start running, but I changed my mind about which way I was going to go.  I knew very well that this particular set of buildings is frequented by all sorts of people, hikers, photographers, homeless folks and those with less than noble intentions.  It was probably just someone hanging out or looking for scrap.

But I went the other way.  The hair on my neck was up, and I wasn't sure I really wanted to run the risk of finding out why the voice was asking "why, why, why".

I did get some good pictures, though, without needing a change of underwear.

22 May 2011


On the morning of the Rapture
I was in the woods, among the birds
with leaves around my ankles

Sunlit pools on the forest floor
through the rose window trees,
from a stained glass sky

In the afternoon of the Rapture
I was working at the lunch table,
counting blessings (sandwich was one)

Cardinal on the feeder shelling seeds
while my hands were making notes,
Shared a knowing glance, then gone

In the evening of the Rapture
At a window seat, with arroz y frijoles,
Her walk a casual flamenco

I could not turn away, eyes like magnets,
I sat up straight and smiled as she neared,
Those mahogany pools smiled back

and said hello, on the evening of the Rapture.

21 May 2011

Friday Night Is All Right For...What?

One of the smartest things I have ever done is set down the glass before it is too late.  Years bring wisdom, of sorts, to them that cares to pay attention.  And I do.  Most of the time.  But I wonder, yes I do, what I would be if I didn't listen to the voice of reason as much as I think I do.

Ahhh...it's not reason, perhaps?  Cowardice, maybe?  I cannot say for sure.  It is dangerous to listen too closely to the ego.  Ego wants what it wants, and it can talk itself into anything in pursuit of its own gratifications.  Or delusions.  The ego is ruthless.

I am learning that sometimes I should not listen to myself.  This goes against the very fiber of my mind, because I have long believed that my mind was Me, and the only thing I could trust.  Ha.  I was wrong.

So I sit here, on a Friday night, quietly and at home with the television as company.  And I know this is not a bad thing, not for now.  Better than flogging my brain cells with barley pops, surrounded by people I am afraid to talk to or with...and believing my ego when it tells me I'm a boss.

Trust me, I'm smarter now.

20 May 2011

Rain Song

The sound of silver drops caressing the leaves nearly undid me.  A mostly quiet night, resting at the little table on the porch.  I was enjoying the breeze and the scent of pansies when I noticed  the horizon turning nightshade, a "wine-dark sea" overhead.

And me without my bireme.

No matter, I was captaining a patio chair, with cookies as boon companions and rations for the trip I wanted to take.  My body stayed put, but the heart and mind were off the leash.  I closed my eyes.  I drew in a deep breath and the scent of good green things flowed into my lungs, along with the fresh scent of the rain beginning to fall to starboard of my porch rail.  The patter of water rose to my ears, the tears of Tlaloc uncoiling the spring in the pit of my stomach.

Time stopped.  In that slice of infinity, I recalled home and love, and hands the touch of which I miss.  But the rain was falling, and the good green things will grow.

They will grow.

19 May 2011

Before The Flood

How much can be said
in seven minutes,
under cover of blackout?

Whispers the rainfall
outside open windows,
beckoning to weary soul

Rain is the slow life,
blood to nourish the earth
and fill the limbs

Laying still, straining to catch
voices out of the mist
pattering on sills and glass

Green verge laps up the silver,
Rose hips swell with honeydew
under hands that ache with longing

It is dreamtime, a walkabout
in the outback of the heart,
'round an axis, bold as love

18 May 2011

On Not Writing Fiction

Looking back over the last two months or so, I see that I have not been writing much fiction on this here Post-it pad of my mind.  I mused on that today during some idle moments without a firm conclusion to explain the data.

The poetry, I think, does not count.  Insofar as I have a theory of poetry, it is my belief that it in its own way is always speaking truths or seeking to illuminate truths.  Or even facts about our overlapping realities.  I agree the language can be elliptical, even solipsistic, but the goal seems to always be a 'Truth'.

Fiction, on the other hand, illuminates truths through plausible lies we as readers want to be told.  Some of the fiction I have written has been very thinly disguised examinations of real life situations or happenings.  Other examples of my fiction, well, they are just plain made up.  Pure unreality.  But prose fiction for me has often been a simple matter of exercise for the mind, the joy of running through a mental forest and up cerebral mountains for the sheer hell or joy of it.

I have to say I enjoy it all.  Yet, lately, the fiction has been scarce.  The reasons elude me.  Vague notions and suppositions seek to fill the void, but none seem satisfactory.  Some of this may stem from my recent reawakened interest in reading fiction.  You read that correctly: reading.  Amazing, innit?

Work and personal matters have me so tied up that I've struggled to keep up the blog writing, the blog reading (sorry, my lovelies; if only I had a time distortion device...) and correspondence.  This vexes me.  I have been advised by more than one source, though, that I need to make sure I set aside some personal time to engage in things that give me juice.  This, as a matter of personal preservation.  Reading is one of those things, and good fiction is the cats' PJ's as far as I am concerned.  So I've made it a point to spend at least a few minutes each night, no matter what, reading something I truly enjoy or something new, that isn't fodder for my geek-based information sensorium.  Maybe it is a reawakened desire to imbibe fiction without the worry of having to produce it.

A side effect has been, as you see, that I am writing less of it.  Which may be a good thing, maybe this is the time to recharge and revive.  After all, conventional writing wisdom says that to be a good writer, one must above all, be a good reader...

17 May 2011

Magpie Tales 66: Bibliosopher

 Photo: Courtesy of Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

His hands trembled slightly, this old man who shuffled close to peer at the shelves laden with treasure.  He resented the small failure of nerves and muscle, these erosions of time abrading the strength he used to be.  He resented in silence.

The old man was never one to waste energy on zero sum games that failed to advance the cause of the mind.

In the middle of the row of bookcases hung an antique lamp.  A cage of copper bars riveted to a curved sheet acting as reflector, perched on the end of a burnished walnut handle.  A cord wrapped in cotton the shade of emeralds trailed away to a porcelain receptacle recessed in the saddle-colored walnut baseboard along the floor.

The old man gripped the lamp handle and flicked the switch.  Warm, golden light flared out over the spines of the books facing the man, eager faces of linen and leather adorned with tattoos of gold and silver turning to the sun.  He allowed himself a smile.  The metaphor never ceased to amuse him; he took great pleasure in imagining the library to be his personal garden, watered with attention and interest, bursting with blooms of words, glorious words written on petals of muslin and rag, linen and vellum.  He drew a deep breath inhaling the deep scent of old paper and eternal contentment.

Today, the old man was unsure of what for which he searched.  He stepped slowly, softly to were he last recalled seeing his old friend Borges.  There was a volume there, clad in black leather with the name inscribed in letters of fading silver.  His eyes were unsure, even with the light, but his hands never failed him.  His fingers came to rest, and they knew.  Gripping the spine ever so carefully, the old man pulled the book from the soft embrace of its lovers, and held it to his heart.  Today, he would know if briefly, what it meant to live forever.

16 May 2011

Adventure in the Metawebs

It is a long-held belief of mine that the internet is an exercise in recursion, a collective echo chamber with infinitely overlapping inputs.  To put it another way, its a never-ending Grand Canyon with an infinite number of people surrounding it and shouting into it to hear the words reflected back, gently fading.  No doubt this creates an environment where one can never be sure if one heard what one thought one heard.  Was it your voice? was it someone else?  Was is it a synergistic hybrid of who knows how many different voices?  In effect, much of what comes back is noise.  Noise, with a tinge of signal.

It is not all like this.  There are nuggets, gems cast up on the electronic shore like pearls among the gravel.  It will always be mathematically possible, if highly improbable, that something significant we cast off into the cybervoid will slowly make its way back to the home system.  Ladies and gentlemen, this has happened to me.

I have been quoted in an online magazine with some exposure.

What makes this weird (for me, at least) is that I was quoted from a comment I left on one of the articles some weeks ago.  So it wasn't from a direct question, or an interview or sound bite.  It was from an off-the-cuff leisure time activity of mine.

I received an email notifying me that I had been quoted, and thought it was spam.  Imagine my (mild) surprise when it turned out to be legit.  Imagine, little ol' me laid down some verbiage that someone felt noteworthy enough to quote in an article.  Strange and nice at the same time.

For those who are curious, here's the link:  THE GOOD MEN PROJECT.  My two cents is the fourth one down under responses.  I'd appreciate you giving it, and TGMP, a read; they have a good thing going.

15 May 2011

Wild Roses and the Savage Beast

Thursday evening I arrived back at Casa Del Gumbo wrung out like a old dishrag.  I was beat.  I was hungry.  I was ornery.  In short, I was fit company for neither man nor beast.  During my commute I was at a mild simmer, replaying some vexations from the day in the theater of my cranium.  Stress and fatigue had ganged up on me.  

When I stepped through the door I already had a few ideas for what I would post.  All of them were heavy on the angst and Sturm und Drang of the typical metropolitan life as manifested in a nebbishy 40-something with too much time to think and not enough time to do.  I was hoisting a big ol' steaming mug of cynicism topped off with the sprinkles of unfocused dissatisfaction.  I was loaded for bear.

Good thing I looked outside my kitchen window.  The side yard slopes down to a wooden gate to the backyard, and tucked into the corner of the fences is a wild rose bush.  I pruned it earlier this year before it could put on too much new growth, and that must have inspired the bush to make the most of this spring.

It is blossoming, in a manner most enjoyable.  I could see the bush frosted with pink roses.  I immediately went back outside and down to the rosebush.  The fragrance was faint but enticing.  I leaned into a particularly showy flower and drew deep of breath.  Oh, the aroma...the stress, the anxiety, the jaded fog in my head disappeared.  It was...well, see for yourself, courtesy of my phone camera:

Happy Sunday, y'all.

14 May 2011

Baseball Been Berry Berry Good To Me

Tonight, I went to a baseball game for the first time in years.  It was in the company of my darling Wee Lass and her mother.  The featured match up was the Bowie Baysox (a double-A farm team for the Baltimore Orioles) versus the Akron Aeros. Her Royal Cuteness had received a free ticket for participation in a reading excellence program at her school.

I lost interest in baseball back during the '96 ALCS Playoffs, when the hated Yankees beat the O's (damn that kid and his interference!) and that sort of broke my (admittedly) lukewarm sports fan heart.  The Wee Lass really wanted to go to this game, and who was I to say no?  We snagged two more tickets and made an evening of it.  Good times were had by all.

It was minor league, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but something wonderful happened.  I found myself explaining to Wee Lass how the game worked, the meaning of 'bunt', and how to steal a base.  No one will ever confuse me with an expert on baseball, but it felt good to explain things to someone curious to learn.  I felt as if I actually knew something.  I relaxed into the Now.

We chatted, we goofed off, we laughed.  Things felt right...I can only describe the time with my daughter as contentment.   This is a rare state even in the best of times.  There were no corn fields from which the ghosts or spirits would amble, to teach me a life lesson.  In its own humble way, however, it was a field of dreams.

13 May 2011

River God is Back!

Woo-hoo!  I found it!  It was in my reader after all!  here it 'tis, for your edification and delight, "River God":

It sleeps as you fear,
there below the darkness,
wavelets and silt
to awaken when gorged
on the tears of the sky
but it is blind, and senseless
it does not love you
even though it feeds you,
nor does it hate you
drowned homes to the contrary
it simply exists, as it has
forever and a day,
as it will when you do not.
It cannot aim for you
as blindness does not allow.
It cannot demand your blood,
there is no tongue to taste.
The river god is hungry,
an implacable sloth
moving at speeds outside
of time until stirring violently,
flowing as it must,
Gaia demands it so.
So take heart, survivors
and future victims:
Rage is not the fuel,
hatred is not the fire
That is impossible.
The river god is senseless,
yet that it is awake
is beyond any human doubt.
That it will forget you,
when it returns to sleep,
is knowledge eternal.

11 May 2011

River God

It sleeps as you fear,
there below the darkness,
wavelets and silt
to awaken when gorged
on the tears of the sky
but it is blind, and senseless
it does not love you
even though it feeds you,
nor does it hate you
drowned homes to the contrary
it simply exists, as it has
forever and a day,
as it will when you do not.
It cannot aim for you
as blindness does not allow.
It cannot demand your blood,
there is no tongue to taste.
The river god is hungry,
an implacable sloth
moving at speeds outside
of time until stirring violently,
flowing as it must,
Gaia demands it so.
So take heart, survivors
and future victims:
Rage is not the fuel,
hatred is not the fire
That is impossible.
The river god is senseless,
yet that it is awake
is beyond any human doubt.
That it will forget you,
when it returns to sleep,
is knowledge eternal.

Dream of Sambalpuri Shankha

Strings drone, tabla booms,
Sari unwinds, silk on hands,
Taste of masala

10 May 2011

Ad Hoc Industries, LLC

Caleb Stine has a fine song called "I Wasn't Built For A Life Like This", off of the album of the same name.  It's sad, but beautiful, and it just about hit my frame of mind tonight.  It knocked me off my pins, what with the great weather and the gainful employment I have been experiencing.  So it was disorienting to find myself watering the flowers on the porch, shoulders slumping, and asking myself "What's wrong with this picture?".

A puzzle, really. There was no obvious reason for melancholy.  I was home from work, safe and dry, with a full belly to boot.  The cool quiet evening was just the thing for a tired mind.  But...

There is a hanging basket on my porch, the plant it contains is surely dead.  The shriveled blossoms hang limp over the sides and looking uncomfortably like hair.  It used to be a pansy.  It is dead because I haven't watered it in about two weeks.  I'm slightly uneasy about that, but it didn't get watered because a robin built a nest in the pot and promptly laid four eggs in it.  I know that because I peeked in it once when the mother bird was absent.

Fatigue surely played a role here.  Maybe it was the faint music on the air, too.  I stood and watered the flowers, peering at the bird perched on her nest when something coalesced out of the air and wrapped my heart in a faint, cool hug.

Like that bird nest suddenly appearing, things in my life have this tendency to take me by surprise.  And this past year, especially this past winter and now spring, feels like it has been full of surprises (some good, some bad).  The net result is frequent change of course, reconsideration of options, sudden outbursts of epithets.  The daily fabric of existence gets woven out of living "on the fly", and I've never been too good at living an ad hoc life.

Or maybe its all been ad hoc to this point, and I've been laboring under the misconception that there was a plan, an order to the unfolding of my life.

I'm rambling now, aren't I?  Is this now ad hoc, in and of itself?  Should I cease and desist on this idea of an order to everything, all the time and embrace my inner Rube Goldberg?

It makes me wonder if I was built for a life like this. If not, I need to rebuild or reconfigure.  But how?

09 May 2011

What A Long, Strange (Shopping) Trip It's Been

Even I am at a loss to totally explain this intersection of items; this has to rate as one of the strangest shopping lists I have ever compiled:

Penny for your thoughts...

08 May 2011

I Like To Sing-a, About The Spring-a...

For the first time in too long I managed a solo photo outing today, in the morning.  The weather here was uncommonly beautiful.  The sun shining and breeze blowing guaranteed I would be out of the house for a while.  So I flipped a mental coin: cut grass vs. walk through the park by the river.

The river won.

The coin must have known what I needed.  I arrived at the park relatively early, so there were fewer people than usual for such a good weather day.  Aside from a few gaggles of bikers and some rather attractive female runners (another Ponytail Files report, perhaps) I had the trail mostly to myself.  It was wonderful.

I found myself taking fewer pictures than I normally do.  The light, the sounds of birds and water were so entrancing there was little pressure to get that perfect shot.  I let it go and existed in the moment. To my mind, that is a fine definition of a great day, no matter how one views it.  Spring, tonic for the soul.

Something else that is tonic for the soul: moms. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. Making the world go 'round since forever...

07 May 2011

Kissing the Ocean

Thunder cracked the sky along the coast, stirring Colin from a fitful nap in the palm shade over the veranda.  The sweet smell of rain mixed with the mineral tang of ocean breeze.  Colin breathed deep and thought once more of the taste of her mouth.

Rain.  His memories of Lily always seemed to coalesce around rain.  Thunderstorms were always bittersweet, having met her in one and lost her in another.  The weather in his self-imposed place of exile whipsawed his heart like the wind abused the palm trees.  Still, it was where his heart wanted to take root in sand and sea.

Colin stood up from the rickety chair in which he had been napping.  He shuffled across the porch overlooking the bay below.  The horizon to the south was stained with bruise-colored clouds on a fast clip towards the village.  He tilted his head back as the first fat drops began to fall.  He close his eyes and swayed in the wind, mouth open to catch the rain.

Her lips, he recalled, had always tasted like rain.  The first kiss she had bestowed upon him had happened in a sudden storm that had caught them walking up the avenue away from the harbor.  He had been talking on some forgotten subject when the wind gusted and the sky went form azure to pewter in seconds.  They had drawn close together in a vain attempt to share the newspaper he held over their heads as a shield.

Suddenly, she leaned in and kissed him.  They had ended up braced against the ochre-colored wall of a bodeguita, liplocked amongst crates of mangoes and tamarinds.  They shop keeper looked on bemusedly, then shrugged and went back to tidying up.

Colin remembered gasping and in his dazed state asking Lily if she wanted to share some fruit.  He had picked up the first thing he could find, which to their shared humor turned out to be passion fruit.

He smiled at the memory, rain trickling down his face to mix with the slow tears leaking from eyes he feared to open.  The roar of thunder mixed with the hiss of rain and surf.  Colin brought his head down, dizzy, and opened his eyes.  The sea lay before him, a grand sheet of liquid jade sprinkled with silver.  The water swelled and rolled in the wind, and his heart seized up to see it.

Thunder brought rain, and the taste of her mouth.  She was gone, he knew, watching the sea in its restless glory become a mirror of her soul.

06 May 2011


Midnight, silver rain
caresses silken petals,
dreaming of her hands

05 May 2011

The Quiet

The life, it is not so bad
sitting here in the quiet
of the night breeze

Windows open to faint traffic
Cars slow rush down the street
lulling the body to sleep

Not so bad in the quiet
here on the couch, content,
far away from guns and blood

04 May 2011

The Ponytail Files, Volume 3: The Sap is Doomed

This will probably cement my reputation as a sap.  What happened was significant enough that, as a writerly chap, I knew I'd probably pen something about it even before it was over.

As usual, it involved a member of the fairer sex*.  It involves a question I had to ask myself:  Do women, in general, know the true power they seem to have over dopes like myself?

The afternoon was gorgeous, great weather, and I was in pursuit of sandwich at a local cafe-bakery.  Sitting down to tuck in, I was facing the door where I had a good angle for people watching.  People watching is one of my favorite things to do while noshing.

So, I was sitting at the table when she came in.  She was a blond, 'the kind of blond that would make a bishop want to kick a hole in a stained glass window'**. She was walking towards the direction of my table, so I had a great line of sight. She was quite attractive, but it wasn't that in specific that grabbed my attention.  It was The Gesture.

She reached up with a well-turned hand, and tucked her hair behind her right ear...and I almost fell out of my chair.  How did she do that?  In that moment, I felt like a goofy teenager again, thoroughly entranced by such a simple but amazingly feminine gesture, one that almost never has failed to gobsmack me.  I found it hard to take my eyes off of her for almost the entire time I was eating.

These gestures have been and continue to be an Achilles' heel of mine.  And I cannot explain it.  All I know is that women in general seem to have these somewhat unique ways of moving, of existing in space-time, that are my kryptonite.  These ways are to my mind innately feminine in the deepest, most mysterious sense.  They are motions or looks that I think of as 'sacred feminine' in some way, and in most cases they reduce me to the level of a awestruck puppy.  This has the unfortunate side effect of making me too foggy-headed to have the presence of mind to actually try talking to some of the ladies who have had that power over me.  I'm afraid I'd open my mouth and I'd sound like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Or just stand there, slack-jawed and saying "You pretty."

Longtime readers know I have written of this phenomena before (HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).  So you can see the history.

I think I'm doomed.

So, if you see me staring?  Please know its because I'm stunned, and at least you'll know why: it's because I'm a sap.

*The use of that phrase, in and of itself, is enough to brand me a sap.
**I heard that line on a radio comedy bit years ago.  Loved it ever since.

03 May 2011

On Not Celebrating Death

I thought I would be able to scrape by without commenting on the most significant current event to hit the news this week.  I speak, of course, of the death of Osama bin Laden.  I thought I could wait for it to pass, but then I realized I can't do the dance of joy, like so many others seem to be overjoyed to do.

I had and have no sympathy whatsoever for bin Laden and his partners-in-crime in Al Qaeda. What he planned and what they implemented ranks among the all-time most heinous crimes in the history of the human race.  By all but the most pacifistic of viewpoints, it is hard to say he did not get what he deserved.  If there is any truth to claims that abhorrent criminals will be dealt with appropriately in an afterlife, then he is a prime candidate for an eternity in hell.  Ultimately, his life ended in the only way that seemed possible given the circumstances in which the termination of it originated.

One problem:  accounts of the afterlife differ, in generalities and specifics.  It is those differences that underpin some of the most violent disagreements ever experienced in human relations.  While many would like to believe he is now in for never-ending torment, by his lights (and those of many others) he may be receiving a hero's welcome.

I think it would be most fitting if his soul (assuming such a thing existed) simply faded away into nothingness, no torment, no reward.  Then it would be as if he had never been.  This is perhaps the best that could be hoped for in the case of someone who deliberately put themselves so far outside the realm of human empathy and human kindness.

Terrorism did not originate with bin Laden, and it will not end with his death.  The circumstances that allowed him and his ideology to flourish still exist, and nearly 10 years of American empire-building and backhanded fence-mending have done not nearly enough to mitigate them.  That mitigation is perhaps ultimately an impossible task.  The change has to happen in the hearts and minds of all citizens of the world.  Al Qaeda may wither away, dying like a snake with its head cut off.  But the ideas that drove bin Laden and his ilk will not.  The ideas will mutate, like a virus, and the people who take them to heart will find new and terrible ways to slaughter innocents in the name of fanaticism.

Extremist will not forget.  Even without a body, or a fixed landmark around which to gather, the circumstances of bin Laden's death will give fuel to the myth-making machinery of both sides in this conflict.  That he died in a battle with U.S. forces only serves to increase his status as a warrior hero.

It would have been much better to have captured him alive and put him on trial.  Ultimately, his fate would almost certainly have been the same, but it is the rule of law we supposedly subscribe to as Americans, and justice is what the law demands.  In this case, what was served was vengeance, not necessarily justice.  Vengeance usually breeds more violence, and that seems a likely outcome in this case.

Our military has shown themselves to be tough, perseverant and capable of incredible accomplishments in the worst of situations.  I think the reward for them now should be our gratitude, but more importantly, I think they should come home.  This is a "Mission Accomplished" in truth, far removed from the farce of that perpetrated under the same name in Iraq.  There is no longer any sense in keeping them in harm's way, with the goal achieved.

Surely a great evil has been removed from the world.  Truly this is the only way the story could have ended.  Still, I cannot bring myself to celebrate death.  This whole terrible mess originated in death, nearly 3,000 innocent people.  Since 2001, American casualties in Afghanistan have amounted to about 1,465 deaths.  Total coalition deaths are around 2,340.  Total wounded estimates are in the tens of thousands.

In the name of the pursuit of one man, we have lost:
Nearly 10 years.
Over $400,000,000,000 estimated cost (and rising) of the war to date.
1,465 Americans killed.

That is why I cannot bring myself to dance and clap my hands with glee.

His was a death that had to be, but celebrating it makes me feel too much like the very killers we claim to abhor. The best that I can manage is a certain grim satisfaction, and a hope that his like doesn't plague the human race ever again.

02 May 2011

Sonic Truth

If you ever want to know the truth about life, the universe or simply what is in your heart, take heed of the sounds all around you.  Shut your mouth, open your ears and listen.

I have heard the truth, my friends, oh yes I have.  The swish of wipers on a windshield and the sizzle of tires on rain-slick pavement.  A train horn in the cool of the night has shouted gospel to me across the river, this I know, because I have heard it, heard it speak.  I have heard it in that pause in the music when switching from station to another.  I have heard it the music itself, fast or slow, loud or soft.

Truth has whispered to me.

The truth, ladies and gentlemen, has been delivered in the buzz and tweet of the lawnmower and weed eater.  Maybe sometimes not what I want to hear, but consider this: pushing and toting those machines means that I can walk, freely, and the sound means I have ears to hear.

Small wonders, you know.  Ordinary miracles we should be grateful to witness.

The truth is definitely out there, as the X-Files would have us believe.  And it is.  The wind has ruffled the leaves outside my window; it has sighed around the eaves of my house.  This is truth, loud and clear.

It will be Monday when your eyes fall upon this page.  Mondays, for many of us, bring their own truth, that many of us have a hard time swallowing.  It is Monday and that which has us by the short and curlies pushes us out of the sanctuary of our homes and back into Real Life.  Be that as it may, I ask you to wrap your head around this:

Mondays sometimes get me. Life sometimes gets me, by the throat.  This I know.  But...I have heard the truth and have wrapped my heart around it.  The truth...

I have heard it from my daughter, dear ones, in her laughter pure and strong like a brace of silver bells.  

It makes me stronger than the beast. I hope it can do the same for you.

01 May 2011

On Reading Together

If ever I needed any reminder that I am a lucky man in some ways, it would be this:  I learned to read at an early age, and I still love it.

If I had not received a glowing reinforcement of that reminder, it was tonight.  Her Royal Cuteness wanted to see some funny animal videos before bedtime, so I indulged her.  When I informed her that we would have to cut it short if she wanted to read some books before lights out, I was expecting a little of the ol' "whine and jeez" party.  Much to my delight, she didn't fuss.  She said straight away that she wanted to read, and she leapt off the couch to pick out some books.

Tonight, we had time for two.  Wee Lass said I should read the first one, but that she was going to read the second one, to me.  So she did, in its entirety, with minimal input from myself.

I can unequivocally say that this was one of the greatest gifts I have received as a father.  I can't quite put into words the pride and joy I felt listening to my daughter read.  She did a great job, with some flair, and we had some giggles along the way.

Voices are powerful instruments, and I was blessed to hear a concerto of words.  This is the stuff of life.