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Friday, February 25, 2011

Weeds and warts.

So, if you read yesterday's post, you may very well be wondering, "what the flux was that?" And if you haven't read yesterday's post and you continue to read today's, you will definitely be wondering, "what the hole is this???" For those of you who read it though and are sticking with me, i doubt your sanity but i appreciate the company. It is my sincere but dubious desire that this be of some benefit to y'all and not just gratuitous introspection on my part.

For me, it's not enough to identify bad habits and catalog undesirable personality quirks. i have to dig at the reasons for them, the roots if you will. There's an element of compulsion to this that i get from my mother (a topic for another day, foreshadowing!) but there is also a rationality to it. Weeds and warts don't die if you just lop off the tops. They just sprout up again and again. You have to get down to the ugly and the painful. True change don't come easy or without dirt and blood under the fingernails. So roll up the sleeves and cauterize the razor knife, we're going in!

It's well documented, add some nauseum here, about how i hate my work. Many of my frequent bouts of despair come from the pointless toil i find myself about day after day. i don't think i'm unique in this, only in the fell depths of desperation, the dank, dark dungeon of depression over this topic do i find myself often the lone, barely animated corpse chained to the wall. Others seem more adapted to it. More able to cope, to self medicate, to find relief in American Idol, solace in video games, palliation in pubs and live more or less contented lives. Again, the diagnosis of "thinking too much" rears its head. Is this the solution? Do i somehow learn how to turn off my mind? Put a bottle in my head and pull the trigger? (foreshadow again) Are those my only choices, thunkard or drunkard? Is self destruction the only road and the only true choice the mode of transport?

Yes, yes it is. That, in a nutshell, is life as i see it.

But. The shell is a peanut shell. There are two nuts in it. A bleak nut AND a "but" nut. We'll get to the butnut later. i think an explanation for yesterday is in order. That description of my childhood is not all encompassing. i have plenty more of sizzling summer days on the front porch, playing quietly in my room, saturday morning cartoons in feety pajamas that i could cough up upon a cross examiner's pinstripes should the need arise. My life is not a sorry tale of misery and woe, i just play Woe in the upcoming teevee series. i showed you that exhibit because it flashes before my mind often. A smell, a sound or a distinct lack of sound will dredge it up and i'm there again. Trapped. Stifled. Able to see home but not touch it.

That, i think, is a large part of why i hate my existence as i know it. So much of my time is spent in places i don't wanna be, doing things i don't wanna do because i have to, putting off who i want to be because other's expect it, because society as a whole says this is how it is. It may be why i prefer to work outside. It may be why i have to have a radio on while i'm working. Why i love books, fiction only please. Why i can't concentrate on my job. Why i won't concentrate on my job. Why i get so violently angry when someone or something reminds me of it when i'm not there. Why i feel so powerless. Why i love motorcycles and backpacking. Why i love open spaces but my art is confined and small. There are so many sprouts coming out of this one root that i dunno where to begin.

Which brings us back to the butnut. See, left to my own devices, in a world without a loving God who desires not just life for me but fuller life; in a world devoid of the Spirit living and working in me, i would collapse. i would eat a bullet or a bottle because i can see no point to any of this. If all life is, is doing what you have to do to survive and finding a suitable coping mechanism to forget about it afterwards and on weekends, looking forward to the next meal, next drink, next party, next vacation to get you through then thanks but no thanks, check please, forget my coat, i'm out of here. It's all meaningless, vapor, a chasing after the wind.

But. But there is grace. Grace is what unties my stomach. Grace says God don't make no junk. That He will not waste my life. i may waste some time in gratuitous introspection but He'll get me back on track if i let Him. He'll turn my ingrown love and infected gifts, my weeds and warts, into a garden. i don't know how, i just know it's true. Yes, Virginia, there is a resurrection but the Living Water is flowing now. The seed is already in you. God will make it grow. All He asks of you is that you believe.

And many days, that's pretty much all i can handle.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A moment in the museum of my muddled mind.

i gave it a week and got only one comment that said i think too much. i tried to ponder what that meant and how i could respond and then i just decided that was a little too ironic even for me. So i'm flipping last week the bird and driving on into the metaphorical sunrise of a new day. Today is all about today. New beginnings. A new gift. The present. Full of promise and vigor and clear, cold sunshine.

And that's all i got to say about that. Now lemme tell you what i thought yesterday. Well, you don't actually have to lemme. With one click of the mouse you could be somewhere constructive, like facebook or the New York Times or checking your bank statement or buying something you didn't know you couldn't live without until you saw it on Amazon. For those masochists who chose to stay with the tour group however, gird your loins and follow me into the yesterday exhibit... if you dare.

The light is filtered and faded shades of yellow like an old photograph. Or maybe it's just reflected from all the avocado green, harvest gold and burnt orange. The air is still. The dust and smoke from a cigarette in the ashtray don't seem to move. They hang, heavy and listless and their only ambition is to penetrate your nose and make you sneeze. Somewhere there is music. Low, slow and maudlin. It could be a radio or it could be the melodramatic tension of a soap opera. It's not the only sound but you wish it was for the only other thing to be heard is the ticking of a clock. It chimes every fifteen minutes but it never seems to get any later. There are no friends here. No family. Just a stranger who is paid to keep you alive until your mother gets home tonight. And that is as much as they care about you. They may offer some dry crackers or a little juice but it's only out of obligation. There may be toys but they're mostly broken ones that the stranger's brat will deign to allow you to touch. Or worse, the stranger may have all girls. If there's a window not covered with leaden draperies, you can almost see your house. You certainly know you could walk there but you are forbidden. A prisoner awaiting release. Waiting.
To go home.
To do something fun.
To be allowed to make noise.
Or play.
Or watch something happy on the television.
For an overworked mother who still has to make dinner.
But at least she loves you.

Having trouble breathing yet? Yeah, me too, let's get the flock out of the yesterday exhibit.

Whew! Okay, everyone's respiration returning to normal? Good. You may be asking, with good reason, "What the fact was that about?" i will try to explain. That was a composite memory of mine. i had many babysitters and a daycare growing up and time and distance have not dulled the experience but it has blended much of them into this exhibit i describe. The daycare differed only in that it was like being in school for three or four more hours everyday, right down to the flickering fluorescents. One with a fence around it. But i could still look through the chainlink at my house and neighborhood and the field where my friends and i used to play army and hope that mom came to get me before the sun went down but my brother and i were often the last ones to be picked up. So what does this have to do with anything?

i'll tell you later.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Egg the Coop

Late March is putting in a cameo here in February and i got a window open to the world. Just a crack but it's enough to let in the flavor and the music. i can only process information in small doses anyhow before my sense-it breakers start popping. There's an hour before my wife expects me to start working on something that someone's willing to pay me for and the Coop is open for business.

Now if only the hens would get to work. Hens here being a euphemism for brain function and inspiration. A pretty good one actually for if you could picture me standing in a poorly lit fricken coop surrounded by wide eyed hens; all of us staring at each other in awkward anticipation, you would have a darn accurate visual interpretation of my thought process. Waiting, juuuuuuust waiting for a squawk.

And then there's... not a squawk, but a cluck. A pebble sized egg. Then another. And another and another until there's nothing left to do but turn it into the dreaded, cue dramatic, tympanic laden music of doom: Bullet List. But one with a point and maybe, just maybe, there's a squawk in that:
  • One man goes to work at work he hates, does not pursue and yet is constantly handed while another longs for work, works hard at finding work and is foiled at every attempt. Both pray for deliverance from the same God. What is this madness?
  • Are teenagers good indicators of whether or not we are successful parents?
  • On a related topic, is society as a whole, American or global, really in decline? Sort of the Are-the-old-geezers-right? kind of question.
  • What am i teaching my kids about love, church, faith, career really?
  • Some days i wake up and i'm just in love, it flows naturally and mysteriously. Other days i wake up and choose to be loving, despite how i may feel. Which is the truer love?
  • Where is the space, what is the role of the artist/poet in these economically Hunter/Gatherer times?
  • Is an adult who builds with Lego indulging in a creative hobby and artform or are they just sick?
  • Do online social networks represent real community or are they an unhealthy illusion and distraction from real communities?
  • Are we doomed to become our parents?
  • Does anyone care?
This last one will be the first one answered. For i'm opening it up to you, oh seven followers and unknown number of lurkers, to choose the next blog post. Pick one, pick several, introduce your own, tell me to shut up. The hens and i are open to suggestion. And we're waiting. Juuuuuuuuust waiting. Staring.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Woeful Tale of the Tailless Cat

One may go through life without a tail but that doesn't mean one has to enter death without one. Over the years i've made multiple references, most of them derogatory, about the tailless grimalkin that has haunted the Coop. Her given name was Tabitha, about the most unimaginative name i can imagine someone can give a cat. i can say that because i didn't name her. We just called her Tabby. Which always struck me as wrong because she was not a Tabby. She was a Manx. A breed from the Isle of Mann that for one reason or another do not have tails. And that's that. Which is why this is the Woeful Tale of the Tailless Cat and not the Woeful Tale of Tabitha's Tail. She was born without one and never knew no different. A fact which might, i think, have contributed to her legendary clumsiness. She tripped, fell and missed more jumps than a drunk gymnast. The only thing funnier than her athletic disasters were her attempts to regain her dignity afterwards. Which might explain why those crazy Manx Islanders bred cats without tails in the first place. Not a lot to do there i understand.

Tabby was a refugee. i don't remember how she lost her first home but we rescued her from a second party who couldn't keep her either. Tabby never played nice with other cats. She didn't fight with them, that wasn't her style. She was far too subtle for that. She just made her presence so unbearable and repugnant that the other cat retreated under a bed and wouldn't come out until Tabby was gone. i imagine her making snide comments about the other cat's breeding and socio-economic status until they cried. Kinda like an alpha cheerleader.

So she came to live with us here at the Coop and with the possible exception of her bedding down ritual (she couldn't lay down without first placidly, ripping apart whatever surface she had deemed worthy for her recline: sofa, carpet, clothing, bare leg...) she was a pleasing companion. And so the years passed like sands in the litterbox, no one sat with idle hands without a fuzzy poke in the arm...until...

Tabby's catapult from grace was almost greek in it's tragedy. Her one character flaw; her inability to suffer another cat's presence; brought about her final catastrophe. When we took in a stray kitten and nursed it back to proper intestinal function, Tabby, true to form, went about attempting to shun the kitten into submission. The kitten however was blessed with a kind of stupidity that wasn't aware of breeding and socio-economic status and was delightfully interested in playing with old cats that didn't want to play. Her tried and true strategies stymied, Tabby would have nothing to do with it... or anywhere that it had relieved itself. As the kitten was polite enough to use the litterbox, Tabby would not. Not when we provided her with her own litterbox, not when we placed a litterbox in the new areas of the Coop that she had chosen, not even after she served a disciplinary period out of doors. Tabby was incorrigible and unrepentant. So after a long heart to heart talk with her one evening, we both decided that it would be best for everyone if she chose to live outside. She also chose shot put ejection as her best exit strategy and so, with fleeting regret, i heaved her as far as i could.

She adapted quickly. Supplementing her diet of cat food with rodents, fowl and amphibians from the local watering holes. When once the boys tied a large rubber spider to a fishing pole to tease the kitten with, we got the idea to go outside on the deck and see what Tabby would do with it. It was a wild kingdom episode. As soon as the rubber spider hit the ground forty feet in front of Tabby she went into a predatory crouch. i twitched the spider once or twice and before i could react, she had crossed the span and pounced! We were properly awed. She became the bus stop companion, following the Ballyhoo down every morning and making use of idle hands. She frequented our picnics and patio sits where she would enthrone herself on the chair next to you and poke your arm to remind you what it was for.

The only thing she couldn't handle were the winters. Turns out the Isle of Mann rarely, if ever, drops below freezing and it almost never snows there. She spent them cussing the cold in Manx and making sure everyone within the sound of her Roseanne Barritone knew of her displeasure. More years passed. She lost her hearing and didn't hunt so much but cussed year round. She learned to hang just outside a window and make metronomic miau until she was fed. If we slept in on a weekend, she might even come to the deck door of our bedroom. She earned the title, Most Annoying Cat in the World and wore it proudly.

i thought, perhaps, in death she had finally deigned to be gracious and kind. i found her on a winter's day where the sun was shining and the temps were well above freezing. She appeared to be sleeping in the open with a tarp pulled up like a blanket. She could very easily have died under the brand new deck where i never would have been able to reach her but would remember she was there until the day she finished decomposing. i thought, could it be? Had she made her passing as easy as possible?

Then i started digging. The pile of stone i pulled from her grave grew larger than the pile of sloppy, wet clay i had to shake off the shovel. Dignified and subtly cruel to the end. Touché my old nemesis, touché.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Cat in a Cast Iron Tub

(Author's note: It's pretty dubious to call me an 'author' but "Writer's note" doesn't have the same ring to it.)

(Author's second and more pertinent and less pert note: This post is a reprint of an old one i wrote some years ago, back before i had a blog. Just reread it for other reasons but felt i'd like to share it with this new audience cause it still rings true. And cuz, i'm just not this random and funny anymore.)

It is without a doubt a mark of genius to be mistaken for a madman by the magazine-perusing populace. Stay your hands, dear friends! Afore you snap off that snappy snippet of snide rebuke for my assumed arrogance; allow me to elaborate. i, of the lowercase first person, am in no ways referring to my own insignificant mortal wisdom.

i refer, instead, to God. If you disagree, take it up with Him, i'm sure He'd love to hear from you.

But perhaps Messieurs, Mesdames and Mesdemoiselles you are wondering, what does this mean? What is he talking about? Why in the wild, wild world of sports is he referring to us in French titles? i assure you I have no idea. Unlike a genius, my madness is genuine. i shall endeavor to persevere however and leave you with more than a cryptic voorlooper. Life, i think some of you may agree, is tough. It is not a sport for
pansies. As a matter of fact, it's the most extreme sport there is boasting a near one hundred percent fatality rate among the participants. It's a cat in a bathtub and with each birth another mouse is pushed from the ledge and slides bum first into the fray. Yes,
i am focusing on one aspect of it, to be sure now. There are lighter moments to it. Lego’s come to mind...MnM's are good, as are in-ground pools that are someone else’s responsibility to maintain. This is by no means a complete list but more just to show you, gut Herren, Frauen und Fraulein, that i am not one sided on this issue. i am merely trying to convey, in hyperbolic metaphor that Life, as an entity, is capable of a certain peevishness that would relegate Cinderella’s stepmother, Lady Tremaine to the same category as Mrs. June Cleaver.

Granted you say, get on with it. So i shall. Into this atrium of attrition, this cauldron of corruption, this Tupperware of testiness I brought a son. Well, two actually: Churchmouse, my eldest and Rascal his carbon copy. For now, let us concern ourselves with the first.

As i gazed upon our proud little jumble of boy, a red faced, screaming, little lizard of
love, “How could i?” i asked of myself. How could i have pushed another mouse from the ledge? How could i in good conscience be responsible for another panic-stricken innocent clawing and scratching at the cold, enamel encrusted cast iron of the physical realm!? Well, in my defense it wasn't intentional, it just sort of happened. But here he
was! Kicking and screaming and clearly none too pleased with life as he found it so far! What could i do now? How could i undo the damage I had done?

By the way, for those of you still wondering what a voorlooper is, it's a Dutch term meaning a precursor or something that goes before. Are you with us now? Can the class move on? Good, now pay attention.

i have, in my infernal wisdom, tried to raise Churchmouse to be tough. The cat's got claws so the mice gotta have teeth and the wherewithal to use them. i have not tried to shelter him. i punch holes in his umbrella. i hid one card of his solitaire deck. i made him walk the two miles from our way station to his Grandparent's house, through the
woods and over a stream and across busy highways, when he was three, bearing his own diapers and spare clothes in a backpack. Life is tough, i had to make him tougher. If he hurts himself, i check for blood, no wound, no sympathy. Get back in there and bite that Cat in the rump! Yeah, so your arm’s broken? Does that mean you can't do your chores?
We'll get it set tomorrow, right now keep digging that foundation! Are you crying? There's no crying in Baseball?! i've pulled no punches. If he asks a question, i don't sugarcoat the answer. There's nothing at the end of the rainbow, the closer you get the further back it retreats. You want to go to college? Keep crushing those recyclables. No, there is no Sea monkey heaven, their out in the septic field. Sorry, women are a
mystery to me too, son.

Here's where God's wisdom departs from men's. Or more specifically this

Churchmouse, my son, is perhaps the most empathic, caring, gentle soul it has ever been my fortune to meet.

Imagine if you will, a bramble patch. Raspberries abundant. Thorns prevalent. A picture of life, offering a sweet, succulent, ripe, red reward and placing it firmly within the sharp tendrils of prickly punctures a'plenty. Imagine Rascal, an almost three-year-old who has a phobia of plants. “Floraphobia? Never heard of it. Just push your way through, Rascal, fercryinoutloud! And for the love of Mike! Will you quit that

"Would like me to hold your hand, Rascal?" my eldest says. And there in a shaded forest floor were two struggling, almost helpless mice, fighting feisty flora and fickle father alike, hand in hand. Proving to all who would bear witness that weakness born by two in love can go where ever strength may struggle to. And it doesn't go there alone.

Churchmouse noted to me the other day that he has never seen me cry. Someday i'll tell him it's because i'm not as strong as he is.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What would David Lee Roth do?

i got a question for ya. How do you know when to jump? i just got done reading a post by one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller. This one, in case you don't already read him. If you don't, you should, you apparently already read blogs and his is much better than mine. Don's been like a jumpmaster in my life since Ballisticat turned me on to him a few years ago now. When i read Don, i can feel the aluminum hull of the plane, the thrum of the engines, feel the wind whipping through the open door. i can see him standing there, goggled and dimpled, smiling at me, one gloved hand gripping the frame and the other patting my shoulder and yelling, "Time to go!" i can see the ground, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar below and most of all, i can feel the weight of the parachute on my back. With Don, this is a scheduled event. i didn't exactly know what i was getting myself into when i started reading him but i figured it out pretty quick. For a long time now, i knew this moment was going to come. And, more importantly, i wanted it to.

Don's latest is about making a list of your Likes and Dislikes over the past year. He says to use this as a tool for making better choices in the coming years. Wise. Not particularly helpful for me, since i can't remember last year but ... wise.

i won't bore you with my list, (collective sigh of relief) even as short as it is but i will tell you that the first item on the Dislike side would be, "being a carpenter." This is particularly bothersome to me. It means i've spent the vast majority of the last year and indeed, my adult life, doing something i hate. No wonder i'm a grumpy, bitter person. So, you say, simple, just figure out what you want to do and do it instead. Problem solved, post over, back to Facebook and some serious literature.

Not so fast, Mr. Motor-mouse! We never answered the original question. How do you know when to jump? For you see, leaving a career in which you know how to make money and can even make money when you've been laid off in this economy is not a hop off the curb. It's a leap of faith of biblical proportions. You mistime this jump and you don't break a leg, you splatter like a watermelon dropped from the Empire State Building. And mama melon has to pay the mortgage on the melon farm and raise the two little melonheads all on her own. When i think about actually stopping carpentry and working full time on a book, Don, the plane and the parachute all disappear and i'm standing on the rim of a skinny concrete detail, with rounded edges, no handholds, the wind tearing at my clothes and carrying the sound of laughter and the really solid looking, unforgiving city street faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar below. i got two choices, climb back in through the open window and the shuffle back to the suffocating safety of my cubicle....

or Jump.

Quit yer pushin', i'm thinkin' here!