30 September 2011

Ask and Ye Shall Receive, One Hopes

What would it be like, to not ask questions?  To not be curious?  There is no time in my life after puberty that I can recall not being inquisitive.  I don't mean questioning of the rapid-fire "daddywhyistheskyblue?" type questioning.  I've always been a quieter, observe-and-research type asker of questions.

Why do birds do that?
Why do leaves turn red?
How does an eddy form in the water behind a rock?
What do people hear in the music of Kesha that makes them want to listen to it?

Why is the sky blue?  (I do known the answer to that one.  Now.)

Being a questioner is strongly correlated with being a thinker.  And so it is with me.  I am wont to think.  Lately, I have been thinking a lot about love.  Love always brings up questions, does it not?  One question that I've been ruminating on a lot is this:  Why love?

I'm sure this is a question that we can attempt to answer, we may think we have an answer, but ultimately cannot really be answered.  I entertain the notion that rather than try to answer it, it is best to just live it.

Is that enough?  Will that do?  Tell me, for you: Why love?

29 September 2011

Cool Room

Rooms with a bed or a couch,
I like them cool,
especially on summer nights
that feel like fall nights
because I can open the windows
turn off the air conditioning
listen to the music of the night
feel the breeze on my skin
and imagine it to be the hands of a lover
a lover for me
who likes the cool room
where we can stay together
building that cool room
in the center of our hearts

28 September 2011

Petals of Silver Halide

There are fragments, shards,
emulsified drifts and stacks of paper
opalescent eyes in black/white,
smile an eclipse of the sun

Across the room, not daring to sit,
his gaze an offering of loyalty
upon an altar sacrificed,
his love ambered in silver halide

27 September 2011

Little Mirrors, Big Reflections

September 13, 2011, 8:20 p.m.  Home.  Drinking tea and thinking.

Living alone, as I do now, has not been easy.  It is easier than it was when I first was thrown into it, yes, but some days it grates.  No, not grates.  That isn't quite the word I sought.  Let me rephrase it:  Some days, it exhausts.  It wears down.  Today was like that.  The weariness started, as it often does, at work.  One too many repetitive questions over things I had considered settled, another iteration of not being allowed to do my job without undue interference.  Sparing the details, it is difficult to manage when the second guessing and redirection starts.

Anyway.  That is not exactly the topic at hand.

I left work feeling quite drained, a physical state that induces in me a tendency to ponder.  True to form, the wheels in my head were turning almost as fast as the wheels on the car taking me home.  I considered what I do, and my reactions to things, and how I ended up where I am in life.  And I wondered how much was fated and how much would be different had I just paid more attention and stood up for myself more often.

I thought about this, because I wondered about the incredible creature who is my daughter, and what she will be like when she gets older and has to make increasingly difficult choices in her life.  Choices that will have material effects on the person she will become and the life she will lead.  This led me to saying out loud to myself "I hope she doesn't turn out like me".

The hardness of the truth in that whopper was matched only by its utter absurdity.  I then laughed at myself, because why on earth would I say such a thing?  More importantly, why would I believe such a thing?

The truth of it is, I do hope that my daughter doesn't turn out like me.  I don't want her held in thrall to a sometimes crippling lack of self-confidence, or gripped by the sudden bouts of social awkwardness that occasionally sink their claws in to me.  I hope she doesn't fail at standing up for herself, as much as I have on some occasions in the past.

I don't want her to be steamrolled by doubt.

I know by objective measures my life and the way I live it isn't so bad.  My sense of self is in much better shape than it has been in a long time.  I hope I am being successful at showing my daughter how to be strong, how to be balanced in life.  I can't say I'm perfect, but I do hope I'm good.

That way, maybe my daughter will grow up to be better than me.  I have all confidence in her...but it's me that still has things to learn, too.

26 September 2011

Ruben Finally Gets It

Raised blade against stubble
for the last time, he thought,
just like last time
agates of his eyes tracking
a leather mask, the map
of himself marked by rivers
in canyons carved by her

Blade scrapes the land
flattening hills and opening wells,
tungsten glare illuminating
the broken heart behind the eyes
that realized in all those years
of wanting to shave for her
she never once deigned to ask

25 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #7: On The Vibrance of Sweet Pea Vines

Saturday morning, September 10th, 2011.  Yard work.

Did not shower this morn before heading out to do yard work.  The promise of a warm day and hard work meant being dirty and sweaty before 10:00, a prophecy that came true.  High grass in the back yard, glazed with dew that turned my boots dark after a few steps.  Little droplets of cool silver fleck my ankles and calves.  The sensation brought back memories of summer mornings long ago, when I was a boy.  Those first few glorious minutes outside when the air was still just cool enough, with a hint of the heat to come.  There were birds, too.

This morning the birds were singing an alternating chorus, the warbles and trills rotating from bush to tree to bush to tree, ringing the backyard with a rotating flight of sound.  Bees among the hibiscus, I heard their low hum as I passed on my way to the shed.  Large bees, ravishing the snowy flowers in pursuit of pollen.  They seemed too large to be average honeybees, their fuzzy bodies dusted with the fruits of their labors.  The activity made me smile.

Toolshed.  Faint aroma of cool, wet wood.  I gathered up the saws and clippers I'd need, and the wheelbarrow.  The little chain saw purchased earlier in the spring rode in the wheelbarrow.  An electric battery-powered model, it isn't big or fierce, but suits my needs for now.  It was on the way back to the house that I saw the sweet pea vines twining in the fences at the corners.  They were bright, deep blue, little pools of indigo splashed on the aged silvery wood, blue eyes peeping from amongst the electric green leaves.  I stopped, and caught my breath.

Flowers graced my fences.  These things happen, and we explain by biology and cellular chemistry, of the cycles of growth and death and growth outlined in textbooks.  Our heads accept that flowers come from plants come from seeds come from soil come from weather and geological processes.  But none of those really matter, not when faced with such beauty and small graces.  This I know.  I went out to work in the sun and shade, and found my favorite color daubed on the fences I had taken for granted.  I was humbled and pleased.  That beauty exists, for us all, is the lesson I learned.

24 September 2011

Living In The Synapse

An odd phenomenon here on the People's Republic of Gumbolia.  I had approached the computer with vigor and purpose, certain I had a gem of story to tell, and when I sat down to write it, it disappeared.  This pleases me not.  I felt no need to reach for a notebook, because I was convinced the story would make it to the page.

I was wrong.  I should have known better.

This happens to me on a regular basis, that I have a great idea, only to have it vanish.  Well, who knows if it was great, if I can't write it down for all to see.  Not to worry, I suppose.  It's Saturday, the weekend is in full swing.  Perhaps I'll live a little...then come back to tell the tale.

23 September 2011

Puzzle Box

The crickets an orchestra
whilst hands flutter and wave
turning the idea of the heart
over and over in figures
the mind ticks and grinds,
overheated gears and cogs
churning to spit answers
it never quite has, so,
dry coughs, ermms and uhs
and Huh! What to do?
Puzzle box holds true  life
but the mind can't get it open

22 September 2011

They Found A Body

I turned on the news for the first time in a fortnight, to catch myself up on happenings and doings in the world, at home and abroad.  I guess I learned something, but it took very little time for me to regret the decision, just a bit.  They found a body, you see, another lost soul in the woods.

I realize this type of news is not really a surprise.  I should not be taken aback by that which is so commonplace as to be near background chatter.  At least, when the body in question does not appear to be rich and famous, or involved in a scandal, or running a government.  Or all of those.  The reporters droned on in a near monotone, inflection hardly changing as they went through the copy on the teleprompter.  Was that boredom I heard?  Ennui?  A hint of exasperation at having to read yet another story about yet another apparent victim of foul play?  Maybe.  It sure sounded like it.

So they read the story, and I'm waiting for the...punch line?...tag line?...the thing that is going to tell me why this is significant enough that it must be reported on the evening news.  Just like that, they are done.  Then it was "Sports, up next!".  I stopped what I was doing and stared at the television.  They had just reported on a dead body found in the woods, and all they said, in essence, was 'dead body found in woods'.

No name.  No circumstances.  Nothing.  Even the police hadn't released a name.  Next-of-kin notification came into play, yes, but why not tell the kin before putting it out there on the evening news?  The report was remarkably information-free.  If the point was to make people aware so they could come forward if they knew something, the attempt was a failure.

I feel a little diminished that a human being has perished through violence; barbarism of that sort diminishes us all.  At the same time, the blandness and anonymity of the story makes me think there are times where it isn't worth reporting at all, at least not until more is known.  I no longer wish to have little pieces of me eroded by a corporate approach to life, that reduces the death of a person to mere data.

Body found in woods.  But they didn't find a name, and I still wonder who knows it.

21 September 2011

The Tao of Harrison

I owe a very special thanks to my good friend Rich, who writes a column called 'Popular Forensics' over at Open Case .com, for giving me directions that lead to the following quote:
Shortly after Dave killed himself, I reread “How Men Pray,” and I remember wondering whether, in the midst of Dave’s torment, he might have found consoling Harrison’s belief that a writer is someone who “consciously or unconsciously takes a vow of obedience to awareness.” Perhaps he would have smiled at Harrison’s belief that the writer’s gift, and curse, is one of “excessive consciousness.”
It is from an article in OutsideOnline, written by Tom Bissell about one of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison.  The article is longish for online material, but its very good.  I recommend it for the curious.  I don't often buy into coincidence, but that last phrase of "excessive consciousness" made my jaw drop.

I read that, and for a few moments, I truly believed that I might, after all, truly be a writer.

20 September 2011

Another Train Song

A busy day for moi, le President-For-Life of the People's Republic of Gumbolia, and I am winding down.  It feels good to stop, sometimes, and just rest or let the heart have its lead.  A hurried dinner of reheated last night's fettucine Genovese (from a local eatery), then it was out the door to cut the grass before it was too dark to see.  I finished my grass cutting adventures tout de suite, and then indulged in the luxury in a little websurfing time wasting.  I really hadn't wanted anything more.

I skimmed a lot of stuff, some fluff and some weightier material.  It was while reading that I became aware of just how tired I felt, and how quiet the house seemed.  The quiet was not unexpected, the weather has been mild enough the past four or so days that the air conditioning has been off the entire time.  Open windows and comfortable night air, along with a serenade of crickets.  Very serene.

For some reason I began to wonder about an issue that has been nagging me for quite some time, and that in the form of a question:

Why are so much of human relations tied up in the exercise of power?

It deflated me.  I felt wearier than before.  The deluge of information I had been absorbing, reading the news and op-ed pundits and lifestyle snippets...and it all seems to go back to power.  Who has power over whom.  Whom is getting power.  Exercising power over others as a form of social climbing and ego gratification.  Even who has power in that most basic of human relationships: that of being in love.

From those struggling against the ruling power structure, both malignant and benevolent (benevolent, at least, from outward appearances) all the way down to who is trying to leverage whom in bed,  the majority of the world seems to be addicted to power: acquiring, enhancing, wielding, amassing.

It never seems to stop.  The subtle corrosions of it seem to have infiltrated all levels of human interaction.  Some forms of it I can understand and accept, but much of it just makes me sad.  I have very little interest in power, and even that is primarily limited to the effort I have to take in order to keep others from exerting too much power over me.  And I am ever alert to keeping the taint of it out of the love in my heart.

I feel myself winding down.  I'm wearier, in the good way of effort making itself known in the muscles I used to cut my grass.  I stopped reading stuff on the web a while ago, just so I could think and listen.  Cool night air and sounds soothe me.  Off in the distance, across the river, the low hoot of a train horn carries wistfully in the suburban blackness outside my windows.  The thrum of the engine backed it up and I closed my eyes, rubbing my temples.  I feel my heart begin to lift, carried away on the wheels of steel and the bittersweet promise of another train song, one that lets me know there are places in this universe where Love triumphs over Power.  It is a dear wish of mine that one of those places is my heart.

19 September 2011

Magpie Tales 82: Consequence

Image via Tess at Magpie Tales

After the storm,
dream-time mirage
walkabout in garden primeval
to awake, shaking his head

wondering if the pleasure
of sin
is really as good
as it sounds

His eyes open to music,
serpents hiss and drip
taste of agave in his mouth
and regrets in his heart

18 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #6: Buddha In The Grass

Mowing the grass on a weeknight, about two weeks ago and feeling astonished to find some enlightenment amongst the noise and the mulch.  But there it was, Buddha smiling at me in the fading green of the clippings.  This sort of thing seems to occur often these days, for reasons unknown to me.  Am I ready for enlightenment, or am I simply noticing more by choice?  Enlightenment.  Perhaps that is incorrect.  Maybe calm clarity is the better phrase.  Settlement. Zen? Satori?

If it is satori, it is a quiet one.  No flashes of light, no sudden awakening from deep sleep to cry and shout "Of course!".  No, this occurrence was much more modest.  I was cutting grass, that was all, making my way around the yard in the cooling light of the evening.  It was when I was almost done in the back yard that this feeling of serenity descended upon me.  Peace.  A bliss that extended into my muscles and belly.  Bearing down on a particularly high patch of grass, I smiled for no reason other than the calm within.  I saw the Buddha.

I finished cutting the grass, bemused and without bursting the bubble of peace.  I was in a groove.  I wanted to stay there.  This gave me pause to ponder it the rest of the night.  I asked myself why I hadn't seen God, or Jesus Christ.  After all, I was raised in the Christian tradition, so the face of the Almighty would have been more expected.  And there was no clear picture of Buddha.  More like a fleeting image that came into being just long enough for the pattern recognition centers of my brain to find something known, into which it could fit the thing it saw.

But he did smile.

I wondered about that up until I went to sleep that night.  I decided that it did not matter who or what I think I saw.  What mattered is that for a few wonderful minutes, on an ordinary summer evening, I was at peace.  I had that which I wished.  Simple problems, measurable results, and the joy of being present, there and then.

17 September 2011

Bag of Hammers

If in a big box store
you are compelled
to buy a t-shirt
emblazoned "McStud"
because you think
its funny and hipster
there is the proof
that you are a tool
in service to tools

16 September 2011


Wind holding its breath
white cowl trembling so gently ---
hibiscus cups bee

15 September 2011

Into The Styptic

It is a curiosity of my existence that in my medicine cabinet I have a half-stick of a styptic pencil.  The ordinary kind one might find in the average drug store or pharmacy.  It has been useful over the years, being a product that certainly lived up to its announced purpose: to stop bleeding from minor nicks and scrapes.  I rarely use it anymore, having switched to an electric razor many years ago.  What makes this remnant curious is that I have had the thing for about twenty-five years.  Twenty-five years is over half my life.

Who holds on to such a thing, for so long?  What am I clinging to that makes me keep it?

That pencil was purchased at the drug store on the main street in the downtown of the small town where I went to college.  I still remember the day I bought, although I cannot tell you why that was significant.

My head is full of such things.  Good thing my head is big, I wish it weren't so damn heavy sometimes.

I thought about that pencil tonight as I ruminated on a swirl of personal issues, things about my past, my present, my future.  The chalk-white stub a totem for the spirits of memory.  I see it there in the cabinet and it makes me wonder what I will stanch the flood of thoughts and memories that have clustered around me.

There is some anxiety, there is some bliss.  I put the pencil back in the cabinet and wonder at the things I can let go, so that I may have room inside to embrace that which I want to welcome into my life.

14 September 2011

Falling Water

September 5th, 2011, 7:01 p.m.

Rain falling from the sky as I arrive home with full belly and half-empty heart.  The sky was pewter-white, the drops pregnantly silver.  They fell soft in an aqueous sibilance that I've yet to decide reminds me of the sound of frying bacon or a crowd of people whispering all at once.

I looked up once to gauge the heaviness of the clouds.  A fat drop on my glasses caused me to flinch a little.  I hurried down my front steps to enter the house.  My first thought was that I wanted to sit at my little table on the porch, and listen to the rain.

The crickets and birds were striking up the band.  In the tree just in front I could hear something rustling around and squawking.  At me or the cats across the street, I don't know.  There are enough trees and shrubs near my house that being outside in the evenings the acoustics almost sound like being in the woods.  I enjoy that timbre, that pitch.  I often fantasize that I have my own little writing studio, surrounded by or near to a substantial grove of trees.  There are two windows I can open, right in front of my desk, and the sound and the breeze please me when I write.

In my fantasy, of course.  For now, I make do with a console in my dining room and the occasional stint in the wire mesh chairs at the slate tile covered table on the porch.  It is my hope that it will not be that way for much longer, that someday my computer and my notebooks and my pens will have a permanent eyrie in which to nest.  Portability has its charms, but I crave that special place for them to rest.  To know that I won't essentially be restarting every time I sit down to write.

I must rephrase.  This wasn't intended to be quite so much about writing.  Wait...a cicada is chirruping loudly, and it has distracted me.  Ah.  There.  It has stopped.

No, this wasn't supposed to be so much about writing.  It was supposed to be about the profundity of rainfall, the knowledge and calm to be found in listening to its journey to the earth.  It is a sound I had forgotten on my way to becoming a man in his 40's, sitting in a chair and trying to make sense of the clamor in his head.  It is a sound I heard in my youth, but didn't listen to when I should.

The rain falls now, my head and my heart sit up and take notice.  Rain, silver from blue into green, giving gloss and depth to the world.  This is what rain does: it has spoken the secrets in my heart.  I do not bemoan that I cannot fall from the sky to do the same; instead, I fall into the page, seeking gloss and depth, and secrets.

13 September 2011

Notes From The Desk of Gumbo

September 4th, 2011, 9:25 p.m.

Watching the light fade from the sky, the color of a light bruise deepening into indigo ink, with head in hands as I try to think of writing.  Writing fiction.  Having another one of those days where feel the weight of a story in my head but lacking ability to get it onto the page.  Haven't written much fiction lately, but the need is strong.  Problem?  I can't figure out what that story is supposed to be.  It's like having ghosts in the head, whispering in a quiet conversation from across the room, I strain to hear what they are telling me...but it never comes clear.

Crow mind before the shards of the mirror.  I don't know which broken piece to grab first.

The story is the thing.  It could be fiction, it could be non-fiction, as long as it is true.  So I need to find that truth that caresses my ear, holds my heart, so that I may give it a voice.  At the pub that is my brain, the characters are bellying up to the bar.

My pen hovers over the page. I'm struggling to buy them all a pint.

12 September 2011

Magpie Tales 82: White Zombie

Image courtesy of Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

Awoke laughing at the sight
either that, or risk losing sanity,
because you were dead
the mirror held over your mouth
was unfogged, we all saw it
yet should have known
you would come back
memories like you, well,
they don't stay put, do they,
bad pennies to broken hearts
someone we wished to stay there,
in the sepulcher of lost life
but you were always good
too good, at digging your
way back out to daylight
wrinkled, unstained, voracious

11 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #5: On Unfathomable Violence

It crept up on me, this tenth anniversary of the day that changed the world.  Ten years gone since the twin towers fell, and we all felt as if we would never be safe again.  I made no plans to commemorate the events, as even memorials however well-intentioned will always carry the taint of the things that made memorials necessary in the first place.  A lot has been said since September 11, 2001 and a lot of people have been hurt or killed in pursuit of trying to make things right.  All of this, the totality of the thread that binds together horrendous evil and spectacular good, saddens me.

I will not, cannot, let it rule my life. It will not do to forget what happened, of course, but I can no longer live my life under a cloud or in fear.  Such a state of affairs would be a repudiation of all that we claim to stand for, that the terrorists so misguidedly thought they could dissuade us from practicing: the freedom to pursue our lives navigated by the pole star of our conscience, free from tyranny and fear.

This thread has been spun by the hearts of humans, filled with good and evil, to create a fabric we cannot unravel.  This, because we are human beings.  But because I am a human being I will no longer spend this day wallowing in fear and sadness.  I hope that my morning of sipping tea and quiet meditation on the notion of being human serves as a rejection of evil and hate in the world.  Because I no longer hate the terrorists.  I do not subscribe, and never will subscribe, to their warped notions of what this world should be.  It is those ideas I would hate, if I could find the energy to continue hating.

I will not hate them, any longer, because hating them only validates their view of us.  But hate is what they brought.  Hate is the food they wished us to swallow. I, for one, have had my fill of hate.

I am a hungry man, to be sure, but it is love upon which I must feed.

10 September 2011

In The Morning, I Carry Water; In The Evening, I Chop Wood

There is a peculiar silence in the mornings now that I don't turn on the radio when I'm making breakfast.  It is not a hermetic silence.  There are noises, the myriad ticks and whispers of an old house coming to life, with the birds awakening outside the windows.  In the corner of the cloister called the kitchen, the refrigerator hums its offices while I make tea.

The non-silent silence anchors me in the day.  Music is a love of mine, but lately it has begun to wear on my ears.  This is a sure sign I have been listening to it too much and I am in need of a break.  Hence the true silence of the radio I usually stream through my computer.

What else has this silence given me?  Mental breathing space.  A chance to ease slower into the day.  I believe I needed it long ago but stubbornness and a fear of the noise in my head kept me from the silence.  The change came abruptly, yet I cannot recall when I stopped turning on the radio.  It must have been sometime in the spring.  Spring, yes, that was it.  A season of change, with the growth of things coming on strong.

I feared the silence, beginning long ago, and was unaware that was the case.  Separation and divorce brought me face to face with it, sharply focused.  I even remember the event that caused me to recoil in a spasm of anxiety over the whole matter.  It was dinner, in the apartment I moved into when I moved out of the house two years ago.  It was the sound of my chewing that made me stop eating and place my hands on my stomach to calm the churning that threatened a reversal in the flow of things.

I had no desire to get ill on my own cooking, alone at the table.  But I could barely finish what I had made.

Two weeks ago, it seemed a reverse revelation when I sat down to my cereal, toast and egg that sunny summer morning.  I was in my bath robe.  A mug of fresh tea by my right hand, plate in the middle and book to the left.  I even managed to not check my email first thing, and was looking through the blinds to enjoy the soft gold of the morning sky.

My chewing and slurping seemed as loud as ever within the confines of my skull.  I didn't run from it.  Rather, I found myself meditating on it.  It seemed familiar, an old hand, boon companion at the breakfast board...and I felt no anxiety, no sense of loneliness to have enough silence to hear my corporeal self going about the business of living.  It felt good to be there, in the morning, having breakfast.  Just me, the book and the silence.

In the mornings, now I carry water.  In the evenings, I chop wood.  Those are the good days, and I am living more of them here in the monastery of my Self.

09 September 2011

Things I Cannot Eat

Leafing through a spices catalog, one of my favorites, and I come across a recipe featuring some of the spices available from said catalog.  A nice picture of a slice of cake, with some sort of lemony icing or sauce on it.  Looked good, I thought.

Then I saw the byline under the caption.  This dessert, I was assured, is "decadent".

If there is one adjective that is almost certainly guaranteed to put me off my feed (if I may borrow from Jim Harrison), it is decadent.  It makes me not want to eat whatever was being called decadent. Seriously, cake, yogurt, I think even sauce or cheese I may have heard described this way.

Have none of the copywriters and ad folks even looked up the word in a dictionary?  I have.  And I couldn't find a single definition I would characterize as positive.  Most of them touch on some form of decay or decline.

I know the ads pitch these things as mostly in the sense of self-indulgent...but are we as a culture so focused on unmitigated gratification we are willing to look past the deeper meanings of things, to cherry-pick the one thing that will satisfy our undisciplined appetites?

I don't know.  Maybe I'm just being grumpy.  But when chocolate cake is described as decadent as if that is the only reason one would choose to make and eat such a simple pleasure, something is lost.  It's like the quiet act of eating cannot be made worthwhile unless there is a hint of sin or indulgence.  What, I wonder, is wrong with us?

"We are all pigs," Roald Dahl wrote in one of his books, "but we are, I hope, discerning pigs..." [Italics mine]

I continue to hold out hope that this is true, and that we can achieve balance with our appetites, rather than pander to their baser instincts, their childish fascination with too much not being enough.  I know I have been working to make my appetites work for me, rather than command me.

For that reason, I want my cake to simply be good, not decadent.  There is enough decay and decline in this universe that I do not need to eat it.

08 September 2011

I'll Not Be A Pr*ck

September 2, 2011 - Mind akimbo.

Mind wandering, careening back and forth across the pavement like a wheel that fell off a bus.  All because I was directed to do something that would have made me seem like a prick.

What I was directed to do was not illegal, immoral or unethical.  It did not go against the tenets of my profession.  It was nothing major, but just the same...it would have made me seem like a prick.  All because someone else was acting like one, but was "too busy" to do the thing itself.  I was acting on earlier directions, following instructions and exercising my professional discretion to get things done.  When I relayed the news that the information we sought would probably not be available in time to get it into the project, I was directed to give an ultimatum to the person providing the information: get it to us by X, or have your name removed from consideration.

An ultimatum given for no other reason than it could be, flexing muscles for the sake of flexing.  I asked if that was really necessary, given that the issue in question would not delay the project, could easily be added after it went out (when it was apparent that other, bigger things will have to be added), and was it worth it?

I was rewarded with spite, pissiness and dismissal.  I was told "never mind, I'll do it myself".

On a late afternoon in September, I was directed to do something unnecessary, that would have made me look like a prick.  All in the service to another's apparent insecurities.

I didn't do it.  I'll not be a prick as a surrogate for someone else.  Never again.

07 September 2011

Yeah, Okay, So I Need A Little Assistance With This

Happy Wednesday, dear readers!  I know this is Hump Day for many, but I'd like to beg ask of you all a favor.

A penny for your thoughts?  A nickel, perhaps, what with inflation and all?

I recently received in the good old snail mail, a flier for a writing competition wherein they are looking for short stories of 1,500 words or less.  Being a man of many words (written, at least) I have been toying with the idea of submitting an entry.  Safe as milk, right?  Should be no problem.

Well, here's where you come in.  See, I have a big blind spot, often, for my own stuff.  Sometimes I can read the same piece over and over again and still not quite get why others might find it interesting, scintillating or otherwise worthy of comment.  Or editorial consideration, for that matter.  So if I may, can I get a little sugar from you all?

If there is a story or piece of mine that you can recommend, one that you really enjoyed, doesn't have to be recent, please tell me which one.  I'm of a mind to maybe give this competition a go, take it on a lark, as it were.  I haven't done it in a while, and I feel the need to flex a little and maybe join the party.

Or...wait, maybe this is even better...

You can certainly recommend a significant piece I've already done OR you can send me a writing prompt and maybe I'll just write a fresh piece around that, for the competition.  How about that?

So if you don't mind, and you have a moment to throw a coin or two into my mental cup, drop me a line in the comments.  I welcome the feedback, and it could be just the ticket to freshen up my brain space!

The deadline for entry is November 15th, so I reckon I can take ideas from now until the end of September.  That, too, is a milestone, and probably a good cutoff point because at this rate I am very close to having posted an entry to this blog every day for one full year.   I hadn't intended to do that, but somehow fell into it.  I'd like to see if I can carry it off, at which point I'll probably take a hiatus to recharge.  But I don't think I'll stop writing altogether, so the short story idea could be the sabbatical I need.

Thank you all again for your readership and attention.  I look forward to hearing some interesting things!

06 September 2011

Magpie Tales 81: Up To The Hubs

Image courtesy of Tess at Magpie Tales

Clayton Renfro had been around long enough to know swearing would do no good.  Most folks thought him laconic, but really, he was just tired of swearing.  Too much work, and out here too much unnecessary work meant less energy for something that did need doing.  The old farmer stamped his feet in the cold, smacking his gloved hands together.  He was well shut of this life, and the sight of the truck rusting away in the gravel pit made him sad and amused at the same time.  It was a long time since he drove that truck.

It was quiet out there, now that the family was gone.  Clayton didn't blame them.  The land they owned had never been overly generous.  As Poppa used to say, they could always survive here, but they probably wouldn't prosper.  Poppa, Clayton mused, was right.  The day they buried him down near the river, among the rocks he used to curse to the heavens, had been an odd one.  Clayton had been heartsick to see him go, but the old man knew it was time.  The weathered husk he called a body looked more like an animate walnut shell, wrinkled and burnished by time and weather.  As much as Poppa had cursed the land he was tethered to, Clayton knew the old man had no desire to be somewhere else.  At least now his bones could return to their spiritual home.

The wind was picking up.  The tang of wood smoke and cold water filled the farmer's lungs.  He shivered, more from memory than pure cold.  He stared at the carcass of the truck, up to its hubs in gravel the color of chaos and mud that aspired to be iron.   Once again, there was a flutter in his chest, old memories shaking their bones and rattling him.  He wanted to pull that truck out, take it back to his new place in town, and fix it.  Just fix it.  Maybe drive it back to when life had been a little sweeter, if a little harder.

A burst of icy wind stung his eyes, little drops of salt water forming in the wrinkles in the corners.  Behind him, still in the pickup he owned, his grandson Carl sat at the wheel.  He was warming his hands over the heater vent and watching his grandfather.  Clayton could tell.  The back of his skull tingled a bit, like it always did when he sensed someone watching him.
 Carl coughed.  Clayton turned, saw the concerned look on the young man's face looking out the driver's side window, which was rolled down.  Carl called out.

"You okay, Paw-Paw?"

Clayton considered that for a moment.  Of all the possible answers, fractured in their myriad nuances, Clayton blurted out "Yes" before he could think about it too much.

The look on Carl's face told Clayton the answer wasn't very convincing.  Clayton mustered up a grin and tried again.

"Yes, I am, boy.  Too hard headed to be anything else.  We'll go in a minute"

Carl smiled. Clayton felt a warmth emerge in his heart, radiating outward into his limbs.  He realized that he was alright, even if the past was not.  He turned to look at the old truck one last time.  It was silent, frozen.  It offered no further counsel.  Clayton turned to walk back to the waiting pickup.

Yeah, he was okay.  It would all be okay.  The past was where it was, up to its hubs in rock and mud, and there was no going back to try a different road.  The one in front of him would do just fine.

05 September 2011

The Grace of Flowers

September 3, 2011, 9:23 am. Pearly light through northern windows:

In honor of a reminder I received, from someone whom I adore, I have to mention the white flowers that are blooming along the fence in my backyard.

The bees visit them, the birds flutter amongst the leaves, and I learned something of grace.

There are flowers.  For them I am grateful.  It is enough.

04 September 2011

Sunday Meditation #4: On Giving Up What Is Wanted To Get What Is Wanted

How I wonder how it is we can do all that we think we can!  This consumer culture, this unrelenting atmosphere in which we are raised to compete, to always win, win, win and thereby be validated in the eyes of all the others who wish to win.  The pressure is intense, and it leads us to believe there is nothing we cannot do, nothing we should not do, and that we will always be able to do all, have all.

This troubles me to no end.  Personally, I could do without the constant pressure of competition.  This is not to say I think we should never compete at anything or for anything; rather, it is that ultimately competition for the sake of winning alone interests me very little.  In reality, it bores me and turns me away.  It tends to bring out the bad in people, when the cornerstone of their validation is to "win", whatever that means.

It leads me to believe that in the end, if we buy into the do all/have all/win all myth too heavily we will always end up frustrated, sad and wracked with stress.  Because to believe you can have it all is a false promise.  No one person can do all things, have all things and expect to do them all well and have all the best.  There are limits to human endurance, attention and propriety.

I read somewhere recently that to have a tranquil life, one must limit ones interests.  That phrase struck a gong deep in my head, and I was entranced by the reverberations.  It crystallized a core idea I have been struggling with the past few months, this idea of limiting my involvements so that I may gain peace of mind.  This will matter in the near future, as I consider my life's path and the manner and direction in which it seems to be unfolding now.  I will have choices to make, and interests to consider.  Not all interests will be equally served, as this is an impossibility.  I will have to look deep within my heart and soul, and decide just how much peace and tranquility mean to me, and to my life.

Would that we all do this.

03 September 2011

Afternoon Outside The Cathedral

Chirr of the crickets
Calling out over church bells
Nap restored the soul

02 September 2011

Bloating Down The Stream

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and cats, big news: Irish Gumbo is expanding.

Is it a web portal of my own?  Is it the burgeoning of a publishing empire?  Is it the long awaited launch to fulfill my dream of owning a company that corners the market on t-shirts with snarky or ironic or just plain odd slogans and fake advertisements?

Sadly, no.  What is expanding...is mah belleh.

I have noticed more than once in the past two weeks, that some of my shirts and some of my pants are now bit more taut than usual when I put them on.  One of the shirts, a sort of shiny wine-colored number that I've been wearing for a few years, now gaps out at the buttonhole closest to my waist when I sit.  This perturbs me.

I am fortunate to have a metabolism and body type that, while not exactly svelte, I have not had to fight to keep from becoming too heavy for my own good.  In general my health has been pretty good considering that I do not get enough proper exercise* to stay toned up and fit.  So in general, I've managed to squeak by on the maintenance side of things.

But, now?  Perhaps I need to reconsider.  Exercise will have to brought on board.  Diet and nutrition will have to be improved**.  I will have to find a way to tame the cravings for le cuisine junque to go away, as my appetite for the salty-chippy-cheesy snacks has been fierce lately, and I think it is beginning to take its toll.  Also (and this could be really tough) I need to cut back on my indulgence in sandwiches of the Italian cold-cut variety.  I loves me a hoagie, no doubt.

I have also been possessed of an increased appetite in recent weeks, something I don't have a good explanation for at the moment.  I feel most days like I may not be eating enough, as my trade deficit with the company snack box would seem to indicate.  I need to get a handle on this soon, though, or there will definitely be handles on me...love handles.

And I'm not convinced anyone wants to see that on the Gumbo!

*Unless you count running around the office like my hair was on fire.
**Try as I might, I cannot figure out a way to get Doritos and potato chips to be defined as 'pasta or grain'.  Damnit.

01 September 2011

On The Cusp Of Fall

So here it is, September.  How about that, dear readers?  A lot of water has passed under the bridge since last September, some of it fresh and sweet, some of it sour and poison.  I'm just glad to still be standing on the bridge, watching the water flow.  Perhaps playing the adult version of "Pooh Sticks", tossing the twigs in the water and seeing which one comes out the other side first.

Yet it doesn't matter all that much, which comes out first.  All the twigs are in the same water, the same river, the same flow toward the ocean.  The analogy holds for me.  I have been swept along by the current and finally learning to relax into it.  I fear the river less than I used to, these days.  It is the journey, after all, that counts.  The currents of the past year have been strong and unpredictable, but never could be said to be boring.

September.  Summer on the cusp of fall.  Having raised my head to the wind, I can smell something in the air.  Something crisp and clean, hinting of fall and the harvest.  Good green things are growing, and I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into their savor.