Friday, April 18, 2008

The Search Continues

Still looking for the train engine that I saw whilst riding the A.C.E. train several weeks ago... I've since found several other things. So a short post to show some pictures I've collected (and may I at this time reserve the right to edit/add/delete at a later date...)


Saturday, April 12, 2008

There Is No Greater Love

Continuing with the "found stuff" theme... A scrap of paper found its way into my attention the other day-- something I'd seen before, and so maybe that's why it caught my eye and held it a bit this time around. I don't know. It was a flier for some sort of Bible study or sermon, titled "No Greater Love Was Ever Shown." It talked about the words of Jesus Christ, that the greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. (John 15:13) I didn't read further than the title, however, until now. I was struck by the words in the title and found myself ruminating on potential interpretations. That's what we humans do, afterall, particularly when it comes the Bible. Perhaps we are constantly interpreting words, images, feelings, etc., though rarely are we consciously aware of it.

A few days earlier I had been riding in the car with my wife. A song was introduced that reminded me of the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The discjockey took some time to commemorate the occasion, noting it had been 40 years as of this particular weekend. Then the song started-- it was a version of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" that was sung acoustically by Shawn Colvin. The gravity of the occasion, coupled with the tender singing and accompanying guitar, and the lyrics of this inspiring song moved me to tears. I sat, stone faced, listening to the lyrics as tears welled up and crept over my cheeks.

My wife noticed me crying and checked to make sure I was okay. I explained it was the song. "I love this song," I said, my voice cracking. But being asked to vocalize what I was feeling made me realize it was more than just the song, or the anniversary, or the lyrics, or the performance... And it was more than I could talk about in the moment.

I wept, but not just because I was sad. Not just because I was moved emotionally. There was an overwhelming amount of profundity going on, much of it escaping any vocabulary labels I tried to stick to any of it. But I tried to talk through it anyway-- much like I'm trying to write through it now. I will keep trying, keep reaching for the perfect words, knowing that the words fail. But I will not give up. To try is to walk with God.

So I've heard.

Anyway. Levity-- deal with it. I thought about the amazement that this American brother of mine brought to us. The Dream. And so much more. What an orator. A hero. A martyr. A leader. The lyrics in the song, although they "fudge" the historical data a bit, capture the moment of Dr. King's death like so:

Early morning
April 4
Shots ring out in the Memphis sky

Free at last
They took your life
They could not take your pride

In the name of Love
One more in the name of Love

Even now I am writing this with a lump in my throat. Such great strength of character it takes to speak one's truth, and to sustain one's message of hope under the strain of great adversity-- all the while protesting non-violently. He was struck down by a violent act. His message-- The Dream-- lives on.

More than that-- if there can be more-- is that this was another incident in a string of graphic, horrific assassinations that brought the 60's to a close-- JFK, MLK, RFK... so much trauma, it left our nation deformed by the ill effects of post traumatic stress disorder. This is the world I was born into.

More specifically, in the spring of 1968, our country was embroiled in a very unpopular war in Viet Nam. The war was something that MLK had spoken out against very robustly and adamantly. And after he was struck down, my parents were faced with the real life possibility that their lives and their love might be surrendered to the fray of this conflict as well.

My dad was enlisted with the Navy at the time, and it was looking more and more like his ship would be setting sail to engage in the conflict. In the face of this, my mom and dad decided to try and start a family so that, in the event that my dad was called upon to serve for his country, if he were to give the ultimate sacrifice and die for his country, at least my mother would have a child by which to remember him. Out of this love and sacrifice, I was born.

There is no greater Love.

To rethink the decision, it would be easy to label it as foolish, if not naive. How would a single mother survive without her spouse in their fledgling marriage, their nascent family? How could she provide for their child if father were to perish? It was still early in the women's movement of the time, and there weren't numerous career opportunities for women, let alone those with children and without a spouse. So although the decision to have a child in the face of this great danger was a beautiful, hopeful, faithful act, it flew in the face of reason.

As luck and fate would have it, my father would have his ship decommissioned from engaging in the war at the eleventh hour, and so there was never any threat to his life or the struggles of his family due to his untimely demise in the service of his country. For this I am very grateful. But I'm also very grateful for the decision to have faith in something greater than oneself that both of my parents displayed in bringing me into existence. Under the duress and uncertainty of their situation, they chose to hope for something better-- a child to live on through the impossible.

That was me.

Mere months after MLK was brutally killed, a decision was made to try and bring another life forward into this world. And for that I am thankful.

There's no greater love.

No greater love was ever shown... what did this mean, I pondered. Was it the epitome of all love, that which Jesus showed in giving of his life for his friends? Or-- could it be-- that there is no greater Love? There is that which is Love, and then there is everything else. In showing love, one shows the greatest gift that there is to be given. Is that the greatest lesson of Love?

Not that the example spelled out in the Bible is less than perfect. Or that any other display of love is greater. Could it be that Love is the ultimate, perfect, all-encompassing answer? Reminds me of another song lyric, only this time John Lennon's: "Love is the answer. I know it is. For sure." Could it be that what the Lord almighty teaches is Love, in any shape or form, is what we are all meant to do? And that nothing is Greater? Could this be the message, the answer, for which all humanity seeks?

Again. I'm just sayin'.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Kermit to the Rescue

I found a ring a few years ago... long enough ago that I don't remember where. I find a lot of things cast aside, either on purpose or by accident, as I walk these streets in my home town, doing the job I do. Or, should I say, jobs. There could be any number of things I'm working on at any given time. But I digress.

I have started to think that I am part crow. My eyes are keen to shiny things. A quick glean or sparkle and my attention seeks out the position of that which is emitting it. As I walk along the sidewalk, through parking lots, along the gutters of residential streets, I catch glimpses of lights a shinin' and I stop to investigate. Many times something much too small to pick up and analyze closer is shining brighter than it ever imagined it could, just long enough to make itself bigger and brighter and noticeable to my peripheral vision. A speck of dust reflects the sun at just such an angle that a shooting star seems to dance right through my imagination, and is gone before I can figure out what happened.

But sometimes, I stop, stoop closer, and I find something interesting. And so I pick it up, look at it a bit, and if it continues to be of interest, I put it in my pocket. And at the end of the day, when I empty my pockets, I rediscover what's been secreted there and find it yet another resting place. I've been collecting small scraps of metal-- bottle caps, wire, etc.-- as part of some idealistic art project that I have yet to fully comprehend for several years now. And that's a story for another day. So, for now-- the ring.

Found it a long while ago. Initially looked at it and determined that it wasn't worth much, but I held on to it for some other reason. It found its way into a dusty corner in a small jewelry box that I got as a gift a few decades ago. And I forgot about it.

But then I had that trip to Santa Cruz, and I wasn't sleeping very well, and I was transitioning to a new set of medications for my Bipolar disorder, and I had another manic episode that landed me in the hospital for a week... so there was a tendency for me to look back, rethink, retool. I started looking for clues as to what may have brought on this latest episode, but also looked for things that could ground me where I was at the moment, kind of like setting a spike in the mountain as a foothold, so that I could manage the climb up and not fall back farther.

Part of this tendency brought me to action; I started sorting through things-- not just in my mind, but actual things, possessions of mine. I sorted through boxes and shelves and piles of this and that-- opened drawers that hadn't been opened in so long that I'd forgotten their contents. I moved furniture around, dusted things off, took stock of my things, tallied and prioritized importance and value. And this action brought me to the ring I had found.

I looked at it as if for the first time. I remembered I had found it while working, somewhere in the city... I remembered its design, its tattered finish, its bent-out-of-round shape that made it sort of difficult to wear... but I put it on my right pinky finger, and it seemed to feel... well, right.

Many years ago, at a Weight Watcher's meeting, I learned about a thing called "anchoring." It's the skill of reframing a tendency, a "nervous tick" of sorts, into a reminder of the behavior that you're trying to change. It's also referred to as "grounding" by some. I had identified my unconscious tendency to fiddle with my wedding band, and associated my focus on my weight loss/health goals with it. So after a few conscious efforts at noticing when I was playing with my ring, and immediately thinking about my weight loss goals, I soon "anchored" my ring and my tendency to toy with it as a device to refocus my attention on the new behaviors I was working on in hopes of attaining my weight loss goals.

Now I am wearing this other ring, and it has anchored me in the moment. When I fiddle with it, I am reminded to be mindful and relax. And it has led me in some interesting directions.

For instance, I've contemplated its design. The face of the ring is blue with globules of green mixed in. These colors are metaphors to what I've been going through. Sometimes I'm feeling kinda blue, while other times I'm feeling green. Little down, little sick. Little raunchy, or a little jealous or envious. But even when I'm blue, I'm still a little green. It's kinda hip these days, anyway, trying to be green. Go green, save the world. Or at least, save life as we know it.

And that's where Kermit came back to me. It's not easy being green. Kermit T. Frog has been a part of my life as long as I remember. I grew up with him-- I loved Sesame Street as a child, and again when I rediscovered it during my college years. One of my college roommates and I were strongly sobered by the early death of Jim Henson. I always loved the Muppet Show. My sister and I sang every song from the Muppet Movie soundtrack long after it was "cool" to do so. The Muppet Christmas album with John Denver still moves me. For whatever reason, I've always felt a kindred spirit with Kermit. Never met him, but I've got a lot of respect for him. Again. For whatever reason, and for what it's worth. I like Kermit the Frog.

And now, Kermit's with me, anchored in my right hand, to assist me with living.

Interestingly enough, I received a book from my sister and her family last year by Kermit, called "Before You Leap: A Frog's-Eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons." I've moved it to the front of my reading queue.

I don't think Kermit has been in the running for any Nobel's or Pulitzer's. But I think I'm going to enjoy this read nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mindful on a Train

I recently had the occasion to ride the Altamont Commuter Express (A.C.E.) train from Santa Clara to Manteca/Lathrop. It was an incredibly enriching experience. I rode with my mom, who had packed us a lunch of ham sandwiches, apples, and bottled water. My Aunt Laura Jean assisted in the lunch packing, it should be noted.

Anyway, we spent the trip sharing thoughts, and me in hypo-chatty mode (it feels like a conversation, but I'm predominantly doing most of the talking...), noticing the things so easily taken for granted. We left the driving to the engineer and were free to notice the scenery as we leisurely sauntered across the rails, snaking through the "back country" of the Bay Area. We started off going through Alviso and the desalinization plants along the bay/delta that flows into San Francisco Bay. We noted large white mounds, guessed and hypothesized as to what they were and what sort of manufacturing was occurring there, and then we saw a water tower with "Leslie Salt" painted on it. We snaked along with a river through the towns (cities?) of Newark, Union City, Sunol, and Pleasanton-- all the while noticing things that outdated much of what we see in our everyday lives in the bustle of urban living. Somewhere between Newark and Livermore, I noticed an old railroad engine-- possibly a steam engine-- that had been sitting dormant for many years. It is now a decomposing heap of hazardous waste; rusting metal entwined with weeds and vines and surely other wildlife. Noticing it made my mind reel with possibility. And oh, the questions! How long had it been parked there? How old was it? When did it make its last run? Were there any plans of renovation? How many people, places, and things had this engine assisted with its service?

I talked and talked with my mom, inspired by our surroundings and the unique perspective with which the train rider is provided. With no distraction from other drivers, safety concerns, controlling a vehicle, etc., one is allowed to pay more attention and notice more about the scenery, and more time is allowed for undistracted reflection. We rode the train for about an hour and forty-five minutes. It took me almost that long to eat my lunch, I was so embedded in the experience.

So I was inspired to drive the backroads, in order that I might find some subjects for my photography and writing. Suzy and I embarked on a little jaunt that attempted to recreate the experience I had on the train. We drove on paths less taken than the freeways and highways, my intention being to find that steam engine and take some photos.

We drove through Niles Canyon, but stuck to the "main" roads due to time constraints (and because we needed gas...), so I didn't locate my steam engine. But we did see many a wildflower, including countless California Poppies, and found gas in a side of Pleasanton that we had never realized existed-- it felt so small town friendly, we almost couldn't believe it was Pleasanton. But then, when you take Interstate 580 through it most of the time, that's what you miss. You see the big ticket, fast this-and-that, cookie cutter stuff that has homogenized the American sense of place. Mass corporate culture masks reality, placing products and brand names in front of the soul of small town America, all in the name of "progress." But I think I've typed about that before (see last entry. I know I'll be going back to re-read).

What I did get to see instead of the good ol' steam engine, was some good old-fashioned train crossing signals. We pulled off the road so I could snap a few quick shots of poppies and the guardrails and signals. (Suzy sat quite patiently in the car while I indulged my muse. She even took a couple photos. But that's for her blog, not this one...) I'm reminded of the importance of trains in general-- from my experiences in Grinnell, to childhood memories of trains on Lake Shasta and in Escalon, to my mom's memories of the train ride that brought her and her mom and sister from a small town in Georgia to California when she was five years old.

But that's for mom's blog.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Catching Up with Mike

We went to Santa Cruz a few weeks ago, even though there was a storm brewin'. One of Suzy's co-workers had said he would be there because it was the best time to go-- you can watch the waves roll in and pound the pier, and there's hardly any people there. All the weather wimps stay home. So we went, packing lots of layers of clothing and raingear, for an overnight stay in the city where we like to spend a lot of our leisure time-- a place where we're comfortable, and where we've considered living, if we could find some way to make it work.

We headed over on a Saturday, early afternoon, well before the storm was to start to hit. We took Saratoga Avenue, which turns into Hwy 9, through the Los Gatos/Saratoga hills, passing through small towns like Felton and Ben Lomond, places that still have businesses with names like "Dottie's Diner" and "Jim's Bar," and not a fast food restaurant to be seen. Nary a Starbuck's or Jamba Juice, either.

We paused to snap some pictures of the beautiful moss covered forestation. We even grabbed a couple of fliers advertising some of the properties on the market, which included a log cabin, built in 1920, that had been reduced to a bargain basement asking price of $469,000. Mature landscaping included.When we arrived in Santa Cruz, we checked into our hotel and got dressed in layers so we could walk into downtown and have lunch at one of our favorite hangouts, 99 Bottles, a beer haven with pub grub that touts, literally, 99 bottles of beer on the wall, several of which are offered on tap. Suzy and I have both completed our first tour through the beer menu, consuming 99 different beers and earning our free t-shirt and our names & short quotes added to the Wall of Fame. I finished first, having started several years before I had even met Suzy; and incidentally, when Suzy finished about two years after I had, her name was added to the wall-- in the same booth as mine, so that we are just a few name plates away from each other. We couldn't have planned it better if we had tried.

Lunch was good, and we talked with some of the locals who patronized the pub on that day about some of the goings on around town. It's these sorts of conversations that Suzy and I treasure; it's a favorite sport of ours to frequent establishments and "serve and volley semantics" with the patronage. Some of the most interesting conversations and people have happened into our lives as we have bellied up to the bar. And although we arrived at a time when all stools at the bar were occupied, we sat at a table in the southwest corner of the front dining area and spoke to a mother and her son about the clam chowder cook-off that was occurring that weekend down at the wharf, and had gone on despite the foul weather. Yet another reason for us to return on another day and experience a festival of fun and food. Like we need reasons...

After lunch, we did some shopping and then headed back to the hotel to make plans for dinner. As we were walking up Soquel Avenue towards Water Street, I saw the following scene and paused to take a picture:But as I first looked to take the above picture, Suzy remarked that there was someone on the porch. I looked closer and asked if I could take a picture, but couldn't hear the response of the individual talking back to me. So I moved closer. And I met Mike. Here's the first picture I snapped:

Mike, Suzy and I talked for awhile about this and that, and he told us some stories about how this was his campsite, that he was just gonna hang out here, out of the rain, until the storm had passed.

He told us how he tried to live his life, always cleaning up after himself, using garbage cans how they're supposed to be used. He spoke of how he had some sleeping bags that were on their way, as promised by some earlier folks that he'd visited with. I took another picture of him, at his request, as he said-- "How about another one without the hat?"

I asked if he was here at this particular location often (not as a pick-up line, by the way), and that was when he talked about how this was his campsite. We exchanged some life stories, and he extolled the virtue that is life. "Life is great!" he preached, playfully and yet somberly. No joke. He wasn't being flip. He was being honest. And we honestly believed him.

I thanked him for his time and his stories, and asked him if he'd like a copy of the pictures I'd taken. He said that would be really nice. So I said I'd print them out and bring them by to him the next time we were passing through town. He thanked us, and we bid him well. Suzy gave him some money and he thanked her and said "God Bless You." All the while, with a smile.

We made it back to the hotel (after I paused to take the picture I had initially intended) and farted around, somewhat literally, until it was time to make a decision about dinner. By this time the storm was starting to whip up quite a ruckus, and so our plan to walk down to the wharf was receiving some serious 2nd and 3rd reconsiderations. Ultimately, we opted to gear up, bundle up, and walk on down to see what we'd find down at the wharf. Of course, this took a bit of time due to the fact that I was in Chatty Kathy mode, blathering about like some talk-radio personality that had miraculously awaken from a coma just minutes before "going live"... So we made it down to the wharf, decided on a restaurant, and proceeded to have a wonderful, peaceful, fulfilling meal and conversation. I took my leftovers to go, and after opting out of dessert and finishing a stellar after dinner cup of coffee, we began our walk back to our hotel.

To our surprise, the rain had stopped; Any wind left had been tamed to a whispering breeze. We had a very pleasant saunter back to the hotel. We happened upon the "Alto house" on our way, and so I decided to stop in again and see how Mike was holding up. He spoke much more slowly than he had earlier, his speech quite slurred, and I wondered if he had spent the money Suzy had given him on a bottle of medication of some sort. I asked him if he liked seafood, and handed him my leftover halibut when he said that he did. I told him what it was, and that he should probably eat it slowly or it might make him sick. He thanked us with a few simple words, but said them in a way that seemed to gather all the warmth in his heart and shower it gently over us. He spoke of his Guardian Angels that kept watch over him, and helped him through the rough patches in his life. And he said that he always tried to do right and that he had five dollars in his pocket and it was ours if we wanted it. I thanked him and said that we didn't need it.

I think it may have been the five dollars Suzy had given to him earlier.

He snuggled up to the leftovers, adjusting the welcome mat draped over his lap to keep his legs warm, and settled into eating. As we left him to his meal, he blessed us again. And we felt it.

The night was calm and soothing. I felt almost as if we were in the eye of the storm, so to speak. We got back to our hotel and peeled off our layers of clothing and prepared for sleep. Within minutes of returning to the sanctuary of our room, the wind kicked up, and the rain returned, and the storm once again began its assault upon the night. It was like we had been sheltered from it for our walk back from the wharf, and upon securing ourselves in our hotel room, the hounds had again been released.

I would not sleep much that night, thinking of all things poetic, symbolic, and monolithic. And inspirational.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Plenty to Talk About

I've been a veritable Chatty Kathy doll lately. Lotsa brain activity coupled with an enhanced interface with my vocalization and communication skills. But still I be pausing short of writing things down. Beyond the dry erase board by the phone, at least...

Every now and then, things catch up with you. You're going along, thinking things are just fine. You're driving down the road at a comfortable speed, feeling good and adequate about your driving skills, trusting in your ability to make the journey even though you can't see beyond what is being lit by your headlights (how about a little shout out to E.L. Doctorow for that spicy metaphor?)... you keep driving, even though you're tired, even though things seem to be getting increasingly "hairy" and your self doubt, or your "spidey sense," is tingling... You think you see, in slow motion, something in your peripheral vision darting around and jutting in and out of your headlights, and so you kinda swerve a little, and the back end fishtails, but you're still in control-- right? Still barreling down the poorly lit road... Nevermind that you've long since driven through several warning signs-- you turn on your windshield wipers to clear the debris from the countless barriers you've plowed your vehicle into and beyond, splinters and sparks exploading like fireworks--road closure and other numerous signs to slow down, turn around, or just stop and check your road map...

Uh, I sure can obliquely rant and rave through extended metaphor. God forbid I get to the meat and potatoes of where the rubber hits the road-- Er, get to the bare-naked facts of my story. Okay, so it's not God's doing-- it's mine.

Long story short? I've been parked for awhile here, doin' some routine maintenance. Long overdue tuneup. Change the oil, check the plugs, bleed the break lines... rotate the tires... adjust the mirrors... renew registra-- Okay, enough already.

What happened is that I had another episode. Mania strikes again.

Got me some new support classes, new meds, new options. And a new outlook, new perspective. Optimistic, dare I type.

Lots of thought crystalization. Things making sense. Enjoying everyday experiences and noticing the beauty that life seems to effortlessly eek into existence everyday, everywhere... or should I say anywhere? So many things that have been right here in my back yard that I've taken for granted, or not allowed myself to see, or maybe just forgot how to look outside myself to be able to notice...

So I gots me some writin' to do, mmm--hmm. Lots.

But I must take my time, do it well, and do it healthfully; Nurture the nascent, budding blooms inside my imagination by mindfully attending to their needs without ignoring needs of my own.

Hence the hiatus. "Down for maintenance" for unknown time period. And this is O. K.

I'm good with it. Hope you are, too.

Again, enjoy the ride-- maybe you should take the wheel for a bit? Lemme know what you think.

I promise to return the favor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Note To Self

I don't know how to do this.

Let me be clear. Not transparent and fragile like a window, per se. But explicit. Direct. Unambiguous.

I am not qualified to write the story of my life.

I've had little official or professional training. My college experience was littered with good intentions and unfulfilled yearning for courses of intense study, practice, and development of the art of writing. I've had a few stints here and there-- my "record"-- of assignments, accomplishments, if you will. I did not work at the college newspaper or on the yearbook staff. I've held a number of jobs with variegated duties, but none of which should be listed on a resume as writing experience. Sure, I wrote a few articles for the Davis Food Co-op News, sprinkled in a letter to the editor here and there, wrote for my current employer's employee newsletter (and experienced that glorious ecstasy that only a severe scrubbing by an editor can provide; followed by the whittling of my content down to the bare vanilla bones, removal of any independent or creative thought in a hypersensitive attempt to avoid controversy (gasp!) or allow un-homogenized thinking to be encouraged (nay, condoned?) to the drones of the hive... Uh... there I go again. Where am I? Am I still in a parenthetical phrase? Is there anybody else here with me? Let's see... blah blah blah... oh yeah-- press "shift-zero"), but never have I held the title of writer. Not even in a qualified manner, like "technical writer," or "grant writer;" "travel writer," "copy writer," ... type-writer...

Anyway. I cannot prove my worthiness of your trust as you join me on this journey to the center of "me" (and back, hopefully...). But I can tell you this: I am the only one that has been here, with "me," every day of my life. I've even been paying attention a fair amount of the time. I don't think anybody else can make that claim. Okay, so they could, but not with any degree of veracity.

Read on, if you must. I know I must write.


I was going to explore some parallels that I've noticed between the current presidential campaign and my own personal campaign to transform my life into more of what I desire it to be... But after that bowel movement of a paragraph above nearly split me like a rack of mutton (to borrow from Tom Robbins), and upon further contemplation of the subject of politics, I realize the wiser path to take, either holding hands with Robert Frost or playfully riding piggy-back, is the one less taken. I think America's media conglomerate has got the politics angle, if not fully covered, at least buried under tons of something. So. Dietary fiber, and onward...

A friend mentioned a word during a discussion of writing the other day that usually has the effect of me breaking out in some sort of highly disturbing rash-- Research. (Sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.) But what better way to build a set for one's play, to breathe life into a place and transfuse it with life, movement, and culture, than to flesh out some details (um, facts?) from the collective literary perception?

Ew, I do so resist the act of being scholarly. The cheeks of my backside start to cramp as I imagine my pedantic march to the library (yikes! the "L" word!) to wrestle with Dewey Decimal. But she's right (oooooo-- I hate that!), and my tendency to want to sit at my comfy writing station and just open the tap and let all that life-knowledge flow freely onto the page, and leave all that, er, work for another time... well, it's just not enough. Even to this point in this particular entry, I've requited the assistance of my dictionary to make sure I'm typing the words that display the intention of the meaning at which I've aimed. But there is so much more to be added...

So I've plucked some other books from the stacks in my personal libr-- uh, collection, that I hope to utilize. In it's current state, it's as if my story is a large, simmering cauldron of stew, and looking down into the surface I see a bubble here, a carrot there... if I take a large spoon and give it a stir, there's no telling what's gonna reveal itself on the surface.

And that's what keeps me writing-- the mystery.

And (hopefully) keeps you reading...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Peace Be With Him

Heard from my mom today that my Uncle Hardy passed away yesterday. He'd been plagued by illness most of his life, and as my mom said had always been sickly or frail. She told me that at one point he hadn't been expected to live past the age of 20. Well, he wasn't called "Hardy" by accident. He entered into rest in the early morning last Friday. He was 82.

I remember his unique colloquialisms, and being mesmerized by the story telling on the rare occasion when he and his brothers and sisters were able to get together and talk about growing up in rural Georgia in severe poverty. My mom is writing her recollections, trying to capture the honor and grace of family, of kin, of blood. Like her father, who evidently was a good farmer, she is working the soil and planting seeds and tending to the sprouting, nascent essence of life, chronicling the memories of her siblings and ancestors, fertilizing with her own perspective and nourishing her reminiscence. God's speed, I wish for her.

I recall Uncle Hardy once saying "I've never been wrong. I thought I was once, but I wasn't. I was mistaken." Upon the completion of the last few syllables, his face would ease into a warm, playful grin that seemed to time-travel, if not slow the moment down to a calm, relaxed hum.

Last year, Suzy and I traveled back to the Southeastern states, visiting both Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The trip was designed around seeing the San Francisco Giants play at Turner Field in "Hot-lanta" and again at Pro-Player Stadium in Miami, FL. But the main impetus was getting back to see relatives of mine that Suzy had never had the pleasure of meeting. I'm so glad we were able to get back and visit Hardy and his wife Jane in Springfield, GA. We first drove to my Uncle Sandy and Aunt Kathie's house in Rincon, GA, and then went to Hardy and Jane's, picked them up and the six of us went out to dinner at Love's Seafood in Savannah (picture above, Hardy is on the rear right). It was a very short visit, but it was long in quality. When we took Hardy and Jane back home after dinner, we stayed to visit awhile. Then as we were leaving, Uncle Hardy pointed out his BBQ grill to me, and said he wanted to have us over for a grand cookout.

I said I looked forward to it. But I couldn't stop the prescient thoughts which forecast that this moment would be last time I would see him. He'd nearly died a few years back from infection in his life-wracked knees after surgery to repair or replace them-- I'm not sure of all the details. (I invite my mom to fill in the cracks, correct mistakes I've made, etc.-- I'll even provide the correction tape...) And his doctors had ruled out any further procedures because they didn't feel he could survive the taxing effects of surgery, so he struggled with pain and had limited ability to get himself around.

A number of days ago, he had a bad fall, which broke his hip and injured his shoulder. Soon he was transferred to Hospice. So when I heard the phone message from my mom today, I sensed that she was weighed down with something. And when I called her back and she told me, I wasn't surprised. But as she said, even though we expect it, it's still hard. It's natural to resist the suffering, the grief, the inevitability of death; But we all get there.

It's part of life.

God's speed, Uncle Hardy.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Rock onward with more bedrock memories...

It's so much fun being my own editor-- I enjoy all my puns and word play, and nothing ever gets cut. Even when it should be.

I had forgotten about my childhood rock collection. Thanks, Dad, for reminding me. Now I realize why you haven't forgotten-- all those times we moved from house to house, you lugged that overstuffed box of rocks, like a ball and chain. Perhaps there's even a Sisyphus analogy to be made. That would be for your blog, I'm afraid.

I STILL have some of those rocks. There's a piece of limestone, for instance, that I remember finding up at our "Cabin in the Sky" on Lake Shasta. Actually, I found about three pieces of limestone around there, and later realized they were once all the same piece of rock-- they fit together like a puzzle. Currently, two pieces are displayed in my backyard "moss" garden... the baby's tears keeps growing up and over them, so I chop it back every so often.

Anyway. Back to getting my "rocks in place," so to speak. Or write, that is.

Not sure if I have the energy to get through this all today. So I write around it, starting with second thoughts, doubts, this and that... procrastination, all. Truth be told, I'm not sure I want to tell this story. It's been with me so long, developing with me throughout my twenty plus years of post-adolescent consciousness...

I have described the ritual of placing a stone, as if moving a chess piece, affecting my perception, my universe, my perspective. A singular, simple act occurring outside of the realm of words, existing within the brief moment of the act. But the result has been significant. It's as if I am setting an anchor, digging in my toes to a foothold from which I can gather myself and leap onward.


On the island of Samos, where Pythagorus once lived, I was living out a dream. I hadn't imagined myself traveling so far away from California, where I had first read and learned about this ancient culture. My buddy Armand, who served as our host, tour guide, and activity coordinator, was sort of honeymooning, sort of vacationing, sort of visiting family, returning to Samos where his father had grown up. On this particular day he had arranged for a group of us to hike to a secluded beach for a swim "social" of sorts.

It was not an easy hike. There was a trail, sure enough, but parts were craggy, rough, and steep. But with a little patience, care, and perseverance, we made it to the beach, after about 40 minutes of navigation. Once there, I had no regrets-- it was a beautiful setting, crystal clear water, large rock "mini-cliffs" that the waves sprayed over... we swam, checked out depths and clearances, and even jumped off some of the rocks into the sea, once we'd assured our safety.

The beach was covered with rocks-- pebbles, small stones, etc. Some of the kids in our group arranged some of the larger, white stones into a love message for Armand and Melissa, the two whose marriage we were celebrating.

At some point I found myself with a quiet moment when the rest of the group was engaged in assorted activities and conversations. I had been revisiting many issues in my head, as this was a particularly active transitional period in my life-- I was in between jobs, having had my last day in the Engineering Department before leaving on this vacation. I would be returning to a "new" job after vacation-- a different job, but one I had already done as a "part-time" employee. I had really enjoyed the job, but grew frustrated with the hiring processes as time went by, as I was unable to be considered for permanent position openings in the department, even though I was already trained and performing the job at a "very satisfactory" level (to speak like management)... Also, Suzy and I had been struggling to start a family, and had received numerous predictions and well wishes from friends, family, and perfect strangers-- the consensus was that we would go to Greece, relax, get swept up in the Romance of it all, and return home to find that we were pregnant. I knew that returning home would be ushering in a "new era" of sorts in our lives.

So upon finding myself temporarily separate from the group, I revisited the ritual. I reached down, picked up a pebble, inspected it, looked at the large rock that rose in front of me, and placed the pebble in a hole that had evidently been hollowed out over time by the erosive forces of the wind and sea. But this time, the ritual was noticeably different; this time, I was filled with positive energy and an intense, vibrant, and optimistic outlook on my future. I wasn't at odds with myself or my place in life; I wasn't struggling with the great unknown, and how I was going to make my life work in the near future, or how I was going to avert disaster or failure. I was looking forward and appreciating the opportunities afforded me. It was like I had been driving down the football field to this point in my life, fighting for yardage, first downs, and further opportunities to keep the drive alive, and finally, I had crossed the goal line and scored. I was spiking the ball. I was doing my touchdown celebration.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Growing Healthy Roots

So my wife has left me.

Oooo, don't that get your attention. She left for a week in Anaheim for business. And she'll get to spend time with her sister and her family who lives down there. And some of her other sisters and her mom are going down to visit as well. So that will be fun. For them.

Me? I get a week of self-perpetuation. It's a struggle living with me. I don't know how Suzy does it. But she does it a whole lot better than I do.

Nonetheless. Life is good. Always remember that.

Had a nice weekend, as my parents came to visit, and they brought the latest addition to the family-- Blue, a Steffordshire Terrier that my dad adopted from the pound. She's a real sweetie. So well behaved, just wants to be loved... if you're sitting on the couch, she'll trot up and try to ease as close to you as possible, so that you will pet her. And if you pet her a few times and then stop, she raises a paw and places it on your lap, and gets this pleading look on her face like "C'mon, PLEASE! More petting!" She's very mellow, rarely barks, and is very loving. Nice dog.

Anyway, Mom and Dad came down Friday night and stayed with us-- we had dinner and then visited into the night. Saturday, after we went to breakfast, Mom and Suzy went to a Stampin' Up! event and Dad and Blue and I hung out at home. Had a really great discussion with Dad about permaculture and sustainability, inspired by the book we're reading together-- Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. Dad hasn't been one to get out and "mosh" with nature, but now that he's retired, and he has a large back yard to work with, he's been researching and planning just how best to interface with it all. I've always enjoyed "working in the yard" for some reason, and the opportunity to share my experiences and discoveries with him is exciting. Kudos to you, Poppy, for being willing to explore new terrain with me.

The book was recommended to me by a Grinnell colleague that I reconnected with last summer. Suzy and I had a wonderful conversation with some other Grinnellians, one of whom was recounting a conversation she had had with Mary Lou, the woman who ended up recommending the book to me. It reminds me-- going back to Grinnell and interacting with all of those wonderful, thoughtful, caring people really, really replenished me. Inspired me anew to have faith in the transformative power of wisdom and education. Even though we weren't able to find the time in those few days of Reunion '07 to "catch up" or fully discuss our common interests, we exchanged contact info and found a way to open the channels of communication. And now I've extended that opening to my Dad, and it's great to know that he's right there engaging in the benefits with me.

Gardening, Landscaping, working outside with the "natural elements"... I'm spiritually inspired by the act of engaging Nature... There just seems to be so much to be learned from observing the "primitive" life-forms that survive in such harsh conditions from day to day. From plants to insects to rodents and birds... the grand interaction of all creatures and organisms is an epic symphony of glorious, inspiring perfection. Whereas we humans struggle with what to do with our waste, there exists no such entity in nature-- detriment is recycled into nutrients for other organisms that convert "unusables" into "usables." There seems to exist a natural balance that the human race is in constant struggle with.

But so is all other life, I guess. Surely it's not easy marching through the environment as an ant, especially when a sudden down pour of rain erupts... However, although there follows some tense moments of frantic activity in dealing with the sudden onslaught of the forces of nature, stability seems to be approached and maintained in a much more efficient way by the "primitive" culture of the ant colony than by the more contentious human element in the throes of the same predicament. So much more drama, disdain, and suffering is calibrated in catastrophe on the human level.

And so, to this point in time, it seems to me that our capacities for judgement and calibration of the daily struggle to make sense of the natural progression of life are challenged at the very least; and to attempt to surmise a preliminary scenario that explains the variegated permutations that would purport to characterize a "meaning of life" or a grand theory of explanation would be not only under-representative and inherently limiting, but insufficient and wrong.

In my humble opinion.

Uh, I dozed off there-- what were we talking about?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Long Overdue

What in the world has been going on that could justify such a lengthy absence from contributing to my blog? Well, truth be told... nothing. There is no sufficient justification for my non-production.

I opted for other projects, I guess. Somewhat, anyway. I mean, yes I am alive and doing things... but my most common chore of late has been avoidance. Lots of video games, naps, watching sporting events or movies... All part of avoiding the work that I supposedly have such passion for...

But enough already of the self critical and self mutilation. Onward!

I had approached this blogging endeavor as a means for regularly developing my "story." My book. My memoir.

But as much as I enjoy the act of writing and recounting events and thoughts in my life, I resist the regular practice. Routine is just so confining, unnatural, bland.

Whatever. Excuses, elaborate or not, they all amass and conspire to allow my procrastination.

Again. ONWARD!

I'm overwhelmed by the project of recounting my experiences in Greece. Where to start? What to include from my background-- the shared background of my college friend and myself; the experimentation and exploration of developing world views and maturations that we shared.

Again. More non-specific superficial speculation that avoids the task at hand. Good gravy, it's such a pervasive habit!!!

To recollect... I can remember considering the trip to Greece as a "once in a lifetime" sort of experience. And now, I only hope that it's true, at least on the subject of manic episodes... But so many things converged at that point in my life that I think my recollection and the diagnosis of what happened is a watered-down, simplified "theory" of the truth.

Going back to a time when I was living in Sacramento with my college roommate, in the early 90's, I can remember a time where I was struggling with my future direction, my focus, and feeling the stress of impending debts that I had no income for. I sunk deeply inside myself, searching for a course of action. I had experienced a similar situation soon after leaving college and relocating to Sacramento with a friend from high school. I was groping around in the dark with my eyes closed, so to speak, trying to find my calling, my passion. I did a lot of writing then; writing for writing's sake. And I started to build some confidence. But the chink in my armor was that I didn't have a steady income.

I had the opportunity to spend some time at a Squaw Valley resort around this time, and did so enthusiastically. Among some of the things we did while there was hiking some of the surrounding nature trails. I can remember going out by myself, retracing some of the hike that we had been guided along earlier, my mind filled with deliberation and quandary about what I was going to do with my life when I returned to "reality," mainly how was I going to find a job to pay my bills. I stopped along one of the trails and found a rock about the size of my fist. I picked it up, without words analyzing my actions or surroundings. There was just a feeling of purpose, of something more profound than the sum of the parts-- my mind, the rock, the trail, nature, life, economic forces, etc. I crouched and placed the stone at the edge of the trail, in a little cranny that seemed to have been waiting for exactly that size rock to be placed there. There were still no words of significance dancing in my mind; only a significant feeling of purpose, of meaning, of righteousness.

It was soon after returning to "reality" that my life changed significantly-- I got a job through a temp agency which led to a permanent position, and I was off and running.

So later, after I had been laid off from the job, my unemployment benefits were running out, and I took a job that I soon realized caused me more distress that I could handle, I got in my truck and drove. I had no destination; I was just searching for direction. I drove for hours, ending up in a remote area east of Yosemite Valley. I pulled over and got out of the truck. The lack of noise was significant. No vehicles on the road, no planes in the air, no distant highway noise or urban landscape machinations.

On the side of the road, there sat a large boulder, roughly the size of a conventional washing machine. It's surface was pocked with divots from years of erosion. I knelt down and picked up a pebble and placed it in one of the small pockets at the top of the boulder, in much the same way I had done on the trail back in Squaw Valley. Again, it was all action and no conscious thought, at least in terms of verbal commands or premeditated and vocalized actions inside my head before acting. The pebble fit nicely into the pocket, and I felt a peaceful justification in having placed it there. I then returned to my truck and drove back home.

Soon after, I would change my life dramatically by moving back to the Bay Area to live with my parents, and found a job with the City of Santa Clara.

So. As you may have already guessed, I had a similar, unrehearsed, and unconscious but significant "ritualistic" occurrence while visiting Greece.

About this I will write more soon.