Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving Thanks: Serving Thistle


The more you try, try to organize, the more that you come up with problems. But eventually, you can find a path. Find that path. There exists a path. A repetitious cycle running, running through your head. And you can sing it, or you can write it, or you can fight it until it’s dead. But death ain’t so bad sometimes, cuz birth happens too.
Birth happens. Sh*t happens. Death happens.
Jazz. It happens. Moments of brilliant strokes. Spontaneous art occurring at the point of combustion. One man’s conception is recontact. Giant Steps. Constant yearn, burn, want of the path. Wearing out the soles of their shoes, their souls, walking the path. A religious pilgrimage to the Sound.
Art. Many forms, many shapes. Many ways to approach it’s formation, it’s conception, it’s organization. One man’s way is to liberate the masterpiece that already exists deep within the block of marble. Not to organize the block to a pre-conceived notion of beauty in his head, but to illicit and liberate as the beauty makes itself evident to him. His job is to ease its passage into existence. The great Life/Death transcendence into existence. Creation.
Thistle once wrote a poem about the human need to organize. He wrote it on a credit card receipt as he was trying to drive. Steadying the keel with one hand, creating with the other. Many other drivers sounded their distracting disapproval of his somewhat meanderous driving. But he kept going, down the road, on with his writing. Following his path.
Fiction. It happens. People don’t believe it like they do their reality, but trust me. It happens. Sometimes an author writes of a completely unfounded, unbelievable, and very fictional experience, and the next day, it happens. Cosmic convergence. Extremely interesting.
Sometimes an artist can sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper, take a pen, and just start openly scribbling and fervently scratching ink all over the page, and after some time, a window is opened up to creation, and an image is brought to life. It happens. Very Interesting.
And sometimes a saxophone player can pick up his horn, prepare his lips, close his eyes, and blow. And what you hear is unrelenting, unprecedented, and unique beauty. Created at the moment, experienced within its moment of conception. Again. Interesting.
Is this a place where God resides? Is he present in the questing practices of the artist? Is he the One, the awareness, the beauty that the artist liberates from the marble, from the blank page, from the mind?
Man. Where do I start?
Nevermind that. Just talk.
Major breakthroughs tonight. I realized that I still can’t really type, but I also realized that that will come, is a transient reality. That I can push through it and recreate beyond it, in spite of it. The skill will come. With practice. Much practice.
Like Coltrane. You actually think that he just picked up the horn one day, set his fingers on the keys, and just blew out a solo faster than a train through Detroit?
No. I am pushin. Pushin. Pushin forward back.
The Muse. The Music. It intertwines. The infinity knot. A crossover. Cycllical. circular. Tape loop. Cliche. “Oh, that’s all been said before.” Yes, but for a reason.
Truth. Get to know it. Pass it on.
Coltrane’s Sound. An album I own. A path that I research. A sound that inspires a visual imagery, a colored picture in my mind. I look inside and see what I’m hearing. What’s John saying? Can words keep up?
Sound is fast. Express. Much more efficient. You hear several sounds at once. Soundscapes. Landscapes. You can only hear one word at a time. And understand. Understanding is slow. Takes more time. If you try to listen to more than one word at a time, you can get confused really easily. But harmony is sweet.
Thanks to my friend, a new acquaintance in my life, I have found a path that connects a segment of my improvisational writings to the core of my being, the core of my projects as a writer. It’s within the cover of Coltrane’s Sound.
“When Ernest Hemingway died, Nelson Algren in a moving tribute from one great novelist to another assessed Hemingway’s importance, saying, ‘No American writer since Walt Whitman has assumed such risks in forging a style…they were the kind of chances by which, should they fail, the taker fails alone; yet, should they succeed, succeed for everyone.’
“That is–from where I stand–a perfect description of precisely what is going on with the tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.
“Coltrane personifies the young jazz musician who, in searching for personal style, in striving to establish his art as valid and individual and real, takes chances in forging a style which, by definition, challenges the form of tradition while remaining loyal to its essence, and assaults the conventional and the orthodox.
“Jazz musicians like Coltrane are linked inexorably with those creative artists such as Joseph Heller, Ken Kesey, Lenny Bruce, and others who are searching for what Kesey (in a recent issue of Genesis West) referred to as ‘a new way to look at the world, an attempt to locate a better reality.’
“And it ought to be noted about such jazzmen that they not only represent the improvisatory aspect of our society, but by the very nature of what they do, take more chances, even, than Hemingway. For the jazz musician such as John Coltrane is improvising, making it up right now, creating, instant art in the supermarket of the jazz club, which is like writing poetry in the men’s room at Grand Central Station.
“And they perform this improvisation without the chance of revision, with the knowledge beforehand that what comes out may be good or may be bad; it depends. But in any case they can’t change it, it must rest where it is and be judged as it came out.
“In the process of this striving, a creative jazzman such as John Coltrane may very well annoy and antagonize in exactly the same way as Joyce and Stravinsky and Bartol, in their times, have annoyed and antagonized.
“Coltrane plays long solos in which he frequently eschews the melody of the tune and embarks on a long volatile series of flagging improvisations. He plays with a hard tone in a rushing, dynamically aggressive style that sounds as if he might be angry.
“For this he has been criticized as ‘an angry young tenor.’ Coltrane’s reply is interesting. ‘The only one I’m angry at is myself,’ he says, ‘when I don’t make what I’m trying to play.’
“What is he trying to do?” is the question frequently asked about Coltrane and constantly hurled at musicians and critics by irritated listeners who feel their good will toward jazz frustrated by what they find to be the inexplicability of Coltrane’s playing.
“He has a simple answer. ‘The main thing a musician would like to do is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe.’
“Once he remarked on his fascination with harmony. ‘When I was with Miles, I didn’t have anything to think about but myself, so I stayed at the piano and chords! chords! chords! I ended up playing them on my horn!’
“From his association with some of the most famous and most individual performers in jazz, such as Miles and Monk and Dizzy, Coltrane finds a similarity underlying their work. There’s just ‘one thing…remains constant.’ he says. ‘That’s the tension of it, that electricity, that kind of feeling. No matter where it happens, you get that feeling and you know. It’s a happy feelin,’ he adds.
“Coltrane, a mild, soft spoken and highly introspective man, says of his own music, ‘Sometimes I let technical things surround me so often and so much that I kind of lose sight…basically all I want to do would be to play music that would make people happy.’
“The long solos, the unorthodox ‘cries’ and the sheets of sound, the hard tone, the swift changes of mood from the lyric to the turbulent urgency of his modal improvisations, indicate a restless nature. And Coltrane is still unsatisfied with his own playing. He is searching. ‘I don’t know what I’m looking for,’ he has said, ‘something that hasn’t been played before. I don’t know what it is. I know I’ll have that feeling when I get it and I’ll just keep on searching.’
“There’s a story told by Cannonball Adderley who worked with Coltrane in the Miles Davis group. ‘Once in a while,’ Cannonball says, ‘Miles might say, ‘Why you play so long, man?’ and John would say, ‘It took that long to get it all in.’
That’s a pretty good summary of what motivates and inspires and directs the life of this jazz man. His music is all-encompassing; his vision of life so packed, that he does, indeed, sometimes have trouble ‘getting it all in.”
Ralph J. Gleason wrote that. There’s a little more, but I don’t think I need it repeated here.
Just extra notes.
So. The path. Yeah– find that path. Improvise and explore and discover the way. I hear it, see it, attempt to write it. Still, I need practice. I pound and pound as if a blacksmith, shaping my thoughts into a functional machine. But it takes more than brute strength. Afterall, I’m not making horseshoes. It takes finesse. Patience. Mindfulness. Perseverance. Open-mindfulness. Resolve.
My path crossed that Of John Coltrane’s tonight. I also ran into Arrested Devlelopment. Fishing for religion and just preaching a beautiful message. What a good. Plenty more quotes to come.
Made me think. I have mentioned Sinead O’Connor in past writings. Why did I connect with her so? I think that I heard her where a lot of others did not. Maybe her message was a little too ambiguous and easily misinterpreted, but I felt that at the base of it was not hatred, but love. A similar message to Speech’s. There are lies that we must push through, dismantle, tear up on national television. The better reality is there– it has to exist, or how could we think of it? If it doesn’t exist, then what is it?
Do you follow? The path leads to science. Michael Chrichton. Chaos Theory. The stability of science– it’s predominance in our time. Science as religion. Science as a lacking description of reality. Science as myth. Robert Pirsig’s scientific “ghosts.”
The scientific orientation of the twentieth century mind creates our reality. What doesn’t connect with the theory is said to be invalid, wrong, unreal, etc. So these things don’t exist? Even though by the powers of our observation, the same powers we trust in formulating our scientific theories, we are able to sense and feel and experience things unexplainable by scientific postulation– is this a limitation of the observed event, or the observer/observer’s tools?
It’s all bottled up in the stew. Somewhere in there, Thistle’s digging in the dirt, throwing up little shards of glass and petrified wood, trying to communicate his story.
It is obvious to me that Thistle exists. If only in my mind, as a thought, He still exists. I flesh him out more and more as I write and talk about him. His dream is to bridge the gap between scientifically defined non-existence and existence. He’s played the gig of predicting the future. He’s looked through walls in bus stations, restaurants, theaters. He looked through walls put up by people to protect them from things. He’s seen through walls constructed by theory. He’s watched infinity pass by hundreds of times. He imagined living in my body. He’s imagined being one with me and sitting down at the computer and writing out his life’s story. But he can’t seem to bridge the gap between the stew and the Elsewhere. He can’t pass through the cauldron intact.
He exists as a thought, swimming in the stew of the unconscious, or the sub-conscious. He exists as much as an invention exists in the mind of the inventor before he materializes it and creates it from the raw materials at his disposal. And the cauldron which holds the stew, keeps the stew from running all over the place, holds the stew in place, static, restricts him from moving outside of the stew, the subconscious, into the Elsewhere, the open air of the cabin, out into the fire which burns below, cooking the stew. The cook does not stop to think of Thistle as he stirs the stew every hour. Even when Thistle imagines himself crawling up the cook’s spoon, peeling back the food stained cuff of the sleeve and biting the stirring cook’s wrist, the cook goes on, not noticing.
But the writer notices. Somehow, we are projected to the same space. We see through enough of the same walls and connect on another plane.
It all starts with a belief. I believe in Thistle Penn, and he is born.
Voila. Bon appetit.
Dinner is served.
Turkey anyone? And with your mashed potatoes– some philosophy, perhaps?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Driving Me Crazy (Rhymes with Miss Daisy)

Friday I had a training class for the volunteer position I’m doing for Relay next year. I had to go to Oakland. I chose to go to the afternoon class, not realizing what lay ahead for me after the class was through.

That’s foreshadowing, my friend.

Got up to Oakland earlier than need be, but that was okay– I was hungry for lunch. Parked at a garage where they shift the cars all over the place like a puzzle or life size game of chess. Found the place I was to go for the class. Equals less anxiety, more time to enjoy lunch. That I did, at a place called Spice Monkey. I had The Best Turkey Burger, and it lived up to its name. Nice place, next time you’re in Oakland (!)…

Class was good, learned a lot, didn’t take ANY notes, cuz it’s not like I’m getting paid for this… And then, it was time to go home. So I wandered around between Oakland and Alameda for awhile, trying to find the onramp to the freeway, before I finally did “luck into it” (not before a double tunnel ride that was cool– didn’t honk–) and landed right in the middle of my circumstance.

Interstate 880. A beast at best. One of the most overused, underfunded, undulating surfaces known to man. And I had come upon it willfully.

My folly started to slowly present itself. Very slowly. As in “crawling, stop and go traffic.” And it was 4:00 pm, the earliest of beginnings for the commuting adventure. Add to that– it was Friday. Getaway day. People leaving work early, jockeying for position in the classic hurry-up-and-wait ritual. AND… it was raining. So now we’re dealing with advanced math– exponents, anyone? Accidents by the rainbarrel-full.

I started to tense up. More than I would have had someone stuck an exacto knife in the nape of my neck. Rashes and other side effects, for sure. I was riding a hyperbolic wagon in a handbasket on its way to Hell.

As the situation revealed itself to me like the layered linens of a homeless wanderer’s psychosis, I felt a bit deranged. I was actually enjoying this! And with the realization that indeed, this could be worse– I hacked up a maniacal chuckle that echoed in the padded cell of a truck cab. The water, coming down– tears of someone’s sarcastic joy–pooled on my windshield like the fluids pressing against the walls of my bloated bladder.. Yes– the watery imagery was suggesting that soon, I would need to pee. My conscious addition of the number of sodas I’d had in my immediate past seemed to have a compressing effect on said bladder. But I was already in the matrix of commuters– there was no getting cute now. No exit turnoffs for me. I was committed to the travel. The bladder would have to wait.

So I adjusted my attention to the road savvy driver in my mental makeup and pressed ever so lightly onward.

As I was saying, the water had begun pooling on my windshield, and as the sky was dark, my vision diffracted off the droplets in a kaleidoscope of headlamps and brake lights.

And here, we have the denouement.

The darndest thing– my windshield wipers stopped working. AT ALL. Like an unplugged radio. Turn on, turn off– nothing. No movement. No clearing of the lens to ensure my safe passage. Dead. Again, possible foreshadowing.

But no. Being proactive, I heartily laughed. Laughed until I almost saw stars. Hysterically. Afterall, why should I wait for a time for the “someday” when I could look back at this and laaaaugh? I did it NOW. I concentrated on driving with what I had. It was a godsend, actually, that it was stop and go traffic. I couldn’t imagine traveling at the speed of highway in the rain without properly operational windshield wipers. I did get a chance to try it, though, as the traffic picked up at times. But there was no stopping this. A juggernaut was I. I used my peripheral vision to help steer around the hazards mounted before me.

And I laughed. This may have been the most important part of the adventure. I laughed to stay alive.

And so, after about a half hour, as I reached the San Mateo Bridge turnoff, I tried the wipers again, and they started working. An ovation erupted in the soundtrack of my life. I cheered them on as the images de-blurred and I stopped having to drive into a Cubism painting. My bladder renewed its pleas for my attention.

No way, San Jose. Or bust.

Not literally, bladder.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Misplaced October

Where did it go?

I missed October due to illness. I was absent. And the dog didn't even eat my homework.

I was hospitalized at the end of September for a couple weeks, then went into Intensive Outpatient Treatment for a few weeks. So, after a promising year of writing, I missed a month. And I've been putting off writing at all for most of November.

But no more.

I'm back.

And I'm writing. I'm even better now than I was before. All around. I'm making strides to come in for a landing. I've been up in the skies for a while, and it's time I get grounded. In a good way.

This time, I was psychotic. A psychotic episode, to place neatly on my medical mantle, next to the McDonald's Student of the Week Awards. Yes, psychotic. I imagined myself a driver, a taxi cab sort of driver, like the beloved Robert DeNiro in his Taxi Cab movie. "You lookin' at me?"

Luckily. I have no access to weaponry. Guns kinda scare me. As they should everyone. Especially if you're on the wrong side of one.

I drove my wife's car to the gas station, and went to put in some gas, fill up a tank that was running on empty, on vapors. The low fuel light had come on, meaning-- you guessed-- I should get some gas before I found myself walking. So I went to a gas station. But I pulled in the wrong way, so that the gas cap on the car was on the opposite side of the gas pump.

So I looked around a bit, then got in the car and left.

I did this twice.

I envisioned myself as an undercover, secretive agent of something or other. I'm so creative when I go mad! I made it to the airport, picked up my wife and sister-in-law, and drove us all home.

Some time after that, the needle on the turntable of my mind started skipping.

My mind was skipping around like a waterbug. Things made sense to me, somehow. I couldn't explain it then, nor can I explain it now. But I was in the know, had it all figured out.

My wife noticed fairly quickly that I was awry in the head. That the chickens had flown the coop and the eggs they left behind were all hard-boiled. So she negotiated with me to go to the ER.

While in the ER, I thought we were there to get me better, which we were. But we hadn't just come from the Super Bowl, where the Raiders had won. (See? Really crazy thoughts!) Everybody in treatment at the ER I figured had been hurt somehow by the hazards of gathering 70-thousand people together, adding alcohol and stirring. So they hooked me up to numerous contraptions to try and figure what was going on with me.

Problems began for me when I had decided that I'd had my fill of my psychiatrist's plot to treat me for bipolar disorder. I was so frustrated with her that I took things into my own hands and stopped taking all of my medication. In the short term, this improved my life greatly. Suddenly, I was on top of my thoughts and dreams and was doing everything right. Life was a breeze, or a river that I was calmly floating in, not noticing the rapid changes in the current, as if I were headed towards a large waterfall.

We thwarted the fall and got me into treatment before things really fell apart. But as these things go, it was only the start of tweaked reality for me, as they tried to figure out what was wrong with me and started me on a new set of medications.

Also-- it should be noted that it wasn't just my decision to stop my meds. The doctor had said that I had to go to CDRP (Chemical Dependence Recovery Program) because I had started drinking again. I asked her what I should do about my medication, and she said she couldn't treat me if I was drinking, and that stopping drinking was my first priority. So I had gone to CDRP and started the program. I think my last couple blog entries alluded, if not explained that course of action. Well, it didn't go as smoothly as we would have liked, and I got bad advise on what to do. So I ended up in the psych hospital.

Funny how it makes so much sense in recollection. Hindsight highlights the road to recovery. We have to live in the other direction, though.

It took some time, but I got out of the psych ward and started IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program), something I'm all too familiar with. It tests the patients of a rational being. If you're not crazy going in, you're sure to be crazy by the time IOP is done with you.

Okay, so that's a bit of hyperbole. But it makes you laugh. And a sense of humor is a strong, important tool to carry with you on these sort of journeys.

So I'm back home now, and I "graduated" for IOP last Friday. We had the "cap and straitjacket" pomp and circumstance and they gave me my release papers. My mother was so proud she couldn't stop sobbing. Again, hyperbole. But had she been there, I'm sure there would have been tears. Okay, so I'm not so sure. Now that I think about it, it was kinda goofy. The class clapped for me (most of them, anyway) and sent me off into the "Real World" with a lot of hope and glory.

But even I know that the real test is yet to come. I'm still unemployed, have limited responsibility, am fighting new side effects of the new medications I'm on that are still being titrated to get the most out of them for me, and I'm still sleeping way too much. I slept 17 hours last night/this morning.

The sleep thing has got to stop. I gotta get busy again, with my hopes and goals and possibilities.

So here's a first step. This is my blog. May you read it and hear my call. ACTION! Let's ride this wacky roller coaster!

I've got books to write. Lawns to mow. Theories to test. Wives-- er-- a wonderful wife to love and support anyway that I can. She certainly supports me. She has earned her sainthood. Again. She's the real deal. I am truly lucky and blessed. She makes me believe that there really is a God. Or Goddess. Something greater than ourselves, anyway.

So get a cookie, or some popcorn. Maybe a drink. This should be entertaining.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another Bite

Sunken into the cracks, there is possibility.

You glance inside the refrigerator, and for a moment your eyes catch a mixture of words… for a moment, you think you see him. His name. There, under the crisper.

Thistle.

He’s a hint. A mirage. A mere shadow of himself. Or is it a clear shadow? He exists in the possibility to exist. In between the space. Of proton and electron. Of known and unknown. Of black and white.

You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. It’s personal. A one to one relationship.

Peace is an inside job.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Aspiring Thistle

Ah, the smell of a fresh, white, blank page. Onward.

Looked up from my perch this early morning to receive my latest message.

MILK THIS.

Yesterday, I received in the mail an offer for a magazine. In the offer... no wait, it was a solicitation to go back to school. University of Phoenix, earn your degree, so on and so forth. I cut out the part I liked best and taped it to my desk. Another message, on yellow background.

ASPIRE.

I’m aspiring to milk this for all it’s worth.

But what is THIS?

This is what I aspire to find out.

The bottle of pills has sat on the small shelf upon which my monitor sits for years now. I’ve written about it before. (Please see "Milk Thistle") It’s a message, an inspiration, a mystery. Coded knowledge, whispering wisdom.

Tonight, or should I say, this morning (it’s 3am) I am drinking. Even though I told the guy at CDRP that I did not intend to drink tonight.

Now, don’t go off the deep end on me. I’ll explain what CDRP is later. Honest. Sheesh.

Also. Don’t make any assumptions. Fact is, I’m not drinking.

The bottle of pills sitting on the shelf that also supports the computer monitor that I stare into as I type now has a Buddha perched atop its lid. Been there for a week or so. Got the Buddha in Santa Cruz, along with a wooden ring that I call a symbolism ring. Got them a couple months ago. When I was still employed with the City.

Back to the drinking. I’m drinking Dr. Pepper. We have a 2-liter of it, and I’m working my way through it. Straight up. No chaser. It has quite a bite, but I’m handling it. These aren’t flaming Dr. Peppers, now. Don’t get confused. This is the real sh*t. And I’m drinking it, even though I did not intend to drink tonight.

Okay, so some explanation. I am trying to be an alcoholic. I pledging on the wishes of my current psychiatrist to go to the Chemical Dependency Rehabilitation Program (CDRP) and become sober. Even though I am sober right now.

Do not assume that I have been drinking in the sense that I have taken in alcoholic beverages. I am drinking Dr. Pepper, a beverage that can be purchased 24-hours a day here in California, unlike the alcoholic beverages that have restricted purchase edicts.

I have now poured the final drippings of Dr. Pepper from the 2-liter into my pint glass. I slurp and gulp and notice the patterns on the glass. I suppose it should be noted at this time that I have not completed the 2-liter in a single sitting—I had opened it before, a few days ago in fact. But as long as I’m doing the CDRP thing, I assume I should be precise and explicit. Exacting. Because we want to get to the bottom of this. No pun intended.

The bottle of standardized extract with the Buddha on top is a container. It contains a mystery. Magic. Messages.

Thistle Penn is a man in his mid to late forties. He’s coming to meet me.

The bottle of extract with the Buddha on top contains a substance called Milk Thistle. But the other day, my wife gave me some lip balm, and the message changed.

Is this starting to make sense, or is it just starting to confuse? Sorry, I can’t be bothered with such arbitrary entitlement as to make sense. Too much of a burden at this point. Thistle shall explain.

The lip balm was purchased by my wife because the name caught her eye. It’s called Tuscan Earth Lip Balm, “from the women at Thistle Farms™”. My wife has met Thistle, briefly.

But nobody knows him like I do.

I placed the lip balm on the shelf that holds up my computer monitor, in front of the bottle of standardized extract with the Buddha on top. Unconsciously, I changed the message.

I had stood up the lip balm on end. In front of the bottle with the Buddha. And the balm blocked the letters on the label. So that the bottle, when I looked at it a couple days later, read, among other things, “MILK THIS.”

Also appeared to say 175 n, “helps heal fun,” and “herbal sup.” Duly noted.

So today, I take myself to CDRP and have an evaluation. Because my psychiatrist doesn’t feel she can treat me successfully if I drink even a drop. Of alcohol, I’m assuming. That’s why I’m drinking the Dr. Pepper and writing about it so openly. I think I’m in the clear here.

I ASPIRE to be a writer. And yet, I am a writer. I’ve written many a page, many a blog.

I guess that means I’m successful, eh?

Page three. While aspiring to write, I have written about a certain person by the name of Thistle Penn. He’s wise beyond wisdom, smarter than dirt. Clean as a whistle or a polished cliché. He’s interesting beyond the fathoming mind. So I will talk about him more.

Some might consider him as “homeless” because he wanders around without a postal address. Ah, but remember, not all who wander are lost. (Who said that, anyway?)

Thistle is at home in this universe. On this earth. In this country. On the street, in the alley, by the tracks. He comfortable. At ease.

I stop to scratch my head and little particles of dust are lifted from my scalp and launched into the atmosphere, each an individual. Each individually significant. In a relative sense, anyway.

I’m almost done. With my Dr. Pepper, that is. Thistle? I’m thinking we’re just getting started. Felt that way for years now.

But are we going somewhere or just spinning wheels? Well, yes. We’re cycling through this thing we know as life.

And part of that is death.

Please, resist being frightened by the word.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Looking Under the Hood


This morning I made the trek up to Fremont, CA on a self-imposed recon mission to photograph the engine. The old locomotive that I’d seen on previous train trips and then pinpointed its location through Google Earth. (For more details see The Engine Is Found, from June of this year). I hoped to be able to document in greater detail the engine that had captivated my consciousness for so many moments.

I looked again at Google Earth to map out my directions, wrote them down, and then, after breakfast, set out for my destination. I was familiar with this part of Fremont because it is where we usually catch the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), either to go to the Oakland Coliseum for sporting events (mainly Oakland Raider games, although not so much recently) or continue on into San Francisco for an assortment of activities (sporting events, fireworks, plays, concerts, etc.). So I’d taken this exit off the freeway a number of times. And the directions were simple enough, and I knew that the tracks were accessible from a nearby cross-road.

I arrived and scoped the location, surveying for a parking spot. Then I parked, and proceeded, with my camera, to where the engine was supposed to be. Sure enough, it was there, and most likely still is. I mean, it’s only been a couple hours since I was there– and seeing how it hasn’t moved in more than three years since I’ve been tracking it down…

Anyway. It’s there alright. Completely neglected, it’s been tagged by disrespectful types who’ve no capacity for honoring history. Rust erosion has eaten holes in many of its surfaces. And it is entwined with some sort of bush/weed that effectively blocks it from sight. Had I rode the train for the first time only a couple months ago, I may never have even seen it.

So I snapped a few pics, and I’ll include them here, but know that the mission was far from a success. It was a disappointment. But maybe there’s somebody out there with an idea for me or for the engine and what could be done to save it from neglect and ultimate destruction…

I’m all ears.

Thanks for reading, commenting, thinking, honoring. May you be blessed in your journeys.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thistle Start

It was all episodic; all coincidental. It didn't matter what choices were made; all actions were in the flow, and you did them and just forgot them because you couldn't change them, you couldn't do it differently. The moment had past.

Begin at the beginning. That's what logic says. Commence. Embark. Meaning begins with a single thought. The Big Bang. Pow. The cogito: I think therefore I am. Voila.

But one finds that with anything one begins, there is an inevitable turn back to view what you have accomplished. Along with this craning of the neck and refocusing on recollection come hopes of acquiring more inspiration to continue and foreclose the ideal. Bang! You're here, and you're doing, shaping, thinking. You formulate goals and ideals towards which you strive. Then those are measured, noted, and thrown back into the grinder to be broken down further into even finer bits. One inevitably begins again and again, each time at a different ground zero, refining the original vision into another. The ultimate is re-evaluated, the infinite redefined. In turn, a dream is resuscitated, reborn; it steers clear of the stale, static square box and blooms into yet another circle. The whole experience of "reaching for the stars" (as Kasey Kasem would have put it) can be likened to dropping a pebble in a puddle. The waves reach out in all directions, ripple upon ripple, circle upon circle, expanding the sphere of existence to encompass more of the imagined. One circle is created, and another pops up right behind it, from the same point of origin, moving the same speed as the bigger circle in front of it, and the smaller one that jumps up behind it. Eventually, the ripple spreads the length of the water's surface to encompass the experience, bank to bank. Or the ripple reaches a point where it starts to wonder if there are any limits that it can reach...

"What?" said the man, folding his newspaper down to reveal a frown of disbelief.

Thistle inventoried his recollection. He wasn't sure what he had been saying, exactly. He was just trying to make conversation, make the task of sharing a table with a stranger a little less cumbersome. He often had experienced an uncomfortable reception that he likened to his slovenly appearance. But this was usually dismantled with a little practice of social skills. "Well, I was just asking if you were done with the sports section," he said, guessing.

The newspaper was folded and set down, no longer the first priority of attention. "You say that you can see into the future?" The man who asked the question seemed to have, deep below his rough, razor-burned and pocked complexion, a desire to believe Thistle.

"I don't want to frighten you," said Thistle, recovering his thoughts. "I just kinda talk. Like to. Don't do too much. But talk."

"That's mm-nice," said the restaurant patron. There was a sense of discomfort in his expression. Thistle empathized with him, not only because of the known discomfort of the average restaurant nook, but because of the hints being forecast in his own mind that his vertical hold on the reality channel was slipping. He could barely grasp the remote with the feeble fingers in his mind. Yet he summoned the strength to point his sights directly at his subject and continued searching for the button that would enable a connection between the minds involved in this conversation.

Thistle’s mind crackled with potential. He sensed that a well told story could be of great worth at this exact point in time, if only he could find the right hook that would enable his audience to suspend their disbelief beyond the greatest unknowns that the collective imaginative universe withholds.

“You see," Thistle said, "I've had a lot of pain. Rejection. Ridicule. I've lived through much persecution to continue talking. And so I should, in accordance with all national and state regulatory policies, exclaim all appropriate disclaimers and require my listener's consent. It's against my nature, but it seems to save a lot of trouble."

"I'm listening," said the restaurant patron, settling into the orange vinyl nook with sounds of amplified flatulence.

"First," said Thistle, "I need a glass of water."

Thistle could take the past and move it forward. He could see the trends of the now, study the trends of the past, and advise for the trends of the future. He held the ability to make a killing on the stock market, if he desired. But he didn't, as you might have guessed.

He wasn't like anyone that you might know for the assertion of one’s individuality. He wasn't a Kurt Cobain or a Jack Kerouac.

He was not as much of a storyteller as he was a talker. He was not as much of a drifter as he was a wanderer. He was not as much of a philosopher as he was a thinker.

He was not Gayatri Spivak. He wasn't a Feminist Marxist Deconstructivist. Oh No. Thistle was more like the guy that they used to let pump your gas for you until it became more economical to do it yourself. Not someone you would expect to be able to map the future.

But the fire that burned in the belly of the body that encompassed a self concept identified to other self concepts as Thistle Penn was not a raging, acre scorching blaze; it was more of a pilot light. Hard to blow out, some of those pilot lights. And they just keep burnin' right along at an even, balanced pace, getting the job done, stepping ever closer to their destiny, ever closer to the doorstep of fate, where all becomes evident, and everything makes sense.

At this point in his life, Thistle didn't concern himself with his ultimate fate. He wasn't too worried about making sense. He was more worried about Speed. He had memories of a time in his past when Speed was very important to him. Not the speed that you ingest for its narcotic effect, but the concept of Speed. Take the Type A personality. Speed is important to this type of person. He lives life very fast. Efficiency means getting a lot of things done in as little amount of time possible.

There was a time when Thistle was very adamant about being efficient. Obsessively. As I said, Speed was very important to him. He wanted to learn and solve and create and construct. To experience the lifetimes of centuries into his own, to transfer the work of thousands of theorists and philosophers and scientists and wise men from all the cultures and societies of the world to the clay tablet of his mind and sculpt something even more dynamic, more controversial, more innovative, more genius than had ever existed before him-- that he could call Thistle Penn. That he would be known for and identified with.

The Thistle Penn Universe.

But that was in the past. That was years ago. That time was lost. Thistle now thought mostly about the moment just before the water in the glass that he tipped towards his lips touched his tongue, and then the feelings as it swished in his mouth. He didn't analyze why it swished or how it swished or even if it was a good or bad feeling. He just swallowed the water. Then he would set the glass down on the table.

It used to be coffee. Espresso. The name even implies speed. Express. Fast. He used to have a coffee maker that could have a piping hot pot of coffee ready in five minutes. And the rush-- caffeine was much more motivating than beer. Or water. Just a cup or two and he was out of his seat and doing things. Mailing letters, typing resumes for friends, making lists of book ideas. With coffee, sleep became a secondary need.

He used to be able, on one pot of coffee, to type a twelve page research paper in one day-- composing as he did the research. And that was after a night of drinking beer and wine and smoking pot until two thirty in the morning. He'd get up at ten or eleven and start the coffee, and by the time he had his books set up, the first cup was ready. Top of the mornin' to ya. Better than Cornflakes.

Now he liked to mellow more. He didn't think quite as much as he used to. He quit drinking coffee. It was important, he felt, that he had drank coffee for that period in his life (ah, youth!). And as far as drug use goes, from what he’d heard, it was a lot easier habit to break than cigarettes.

So water and the non-smoking section for Thistle. He didn't want to chance getting roped into that vice. He had wondered at the plight of the smoker a lot when he was pounding mugs of java. Now, he saw the smoke, and sometimes he watched it trail up around the ceiling fans and out restaurant windows, filtered slightly by the dusty screens in the summer. Other times he smelled it and tasted it along with his wheat toast or the first drink of water. But rarely, anymore, did he really think about it.

Once Thistle had his water, he sipped and swallowed, and then began breathing slowly. In through his nose...out through his mouth. Repeatedly. He found that if he tried to talk without relaxing, the words tended to fight with each other over who should come out of the mouth first.

Synthetic creaking rose from the nook as the restaurant patron adjusted himself in it. His right eyebrow arched high into his brow while the left one was stabbing at the bridge of his nose. But he was focused, interested. Listening.

"There was a house," said Thistle. " It was a simple house; two story, late 19th century construction, painted all-purpose white, perched on the hint of a slope in the middle of a pocked and gopher-infested one acre lot. It had come under general misuse in the past twenty years. Downstairs held as its tenant a Vietnam war veteran who had to drive out of town in order to go drinking, because all the local bars had thrown him out one too many times and, as he put it, "don't deserve shit." The upstairs was rented out to college students, and sustained the life of at least two and as many as six people over the course of a semester, depending on the quality of the drugs. It was a very metaphysical, psychologically transcendent location, and so it had a grand effect on the minds that played there."

The restaurant patron watched Thistle pause and sip his water. The glass was half-full. (Or half-empty, depending on your perspective.) The patron was fixed in his condition; same perplexed expression, arms propping up his head, elbows matted in with his placemat. He thought about stopping the old man to clarify things, make sure they were understanding each other. Who could know where he might go with all this? Maybe the answers to the questions would come without them having to be solicited. His breathing was slow and continuous; circular.

The more than empty and quite less than full glass of water settled down into the meniscus of condensation waiting like a primered gasket on the waxy finish of the restaurant nook's table. Thistle wiped the dampness transferred from the glass to his fingertips onto the tips of his mustache and spread it down along the sides of his face; thumb, finger, and excess moisture converging at his chin.

"It was at this house that I learned just about everything I'd ever wanted to learn one day," he continued. "I had arranged for the day off from work so that I could spend it with my friends. They wanted to do some LSD."

The restaurant patron leaned back. "LSD, huh?" he offered, intimating his discomfort, eyebrows spreading wide. His breathing became tensed.

"One more time."

Yet another one more time.

Thistle's mind began to reel with remembrance and formulation.

Just once more, Just once more. Just one more hit. This time it'll be different. Just one more little puff. Then I'll stop.

Ah, what the hell. What difference is one more gonna make?

Just once. I'll go to the bar one more time, and then that's it.

Just once. All it takes to rock the world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pulling an Adventure

Here's the latest from the world of Thistle Penn...

And just like that, he disappeared under the surface. Like a thought trailing off into oblivion... like a raindrop into the ocean. Blip. He was gone.

The mind is a magical place, that’s for sure. One moment you can be cooking up something spectacular, and the next moment, the phone rings, and you are redirected to another track. Multi-tasking doesn’t solve the problem—you just end up doing several things at seventy percent completion. Seventy percent of quality. And that’s if you’re good at it.

Thistle could disappear, like a homeless character can. Nobody would stop and ask him for any spare change he might offer, even though a few minutes with him could greatly change one’s life. He’d drift off, under a bridge or overpass, find a crack in reality, and be gone. And no one would miss him.

At least, so it seemed.

One day, while alone with himself, near the tracks on the east side of town, he gazed for hours at a weed as it danced in the wind and arched and stretched in the sun. He watched for hours as the conditions changed from cool and overcast to warm and sunny, but breezy, as was so common for this climate in which he found himself.

The weed eked out its existence without assistance. It didn’t have a cardboard sign with a list of qualifications and requests: Vietnam Veteran. Hungry. Anything Helps. God Bless.

Sure, the sun assisted with energy to grow and process things, and the rains when they came assisted with the living of the weed. And the soil provided nutrition and anchored the weed’s roots.

But there wasn’t a kilowatt hour being metered and a bill being administered. There wasn’t a rain gauge measuring the weed’s “consumption” of elements that had been in existence long, long before societies were organized and structured.

Thistle knew in his heart that he was a weed to his society. Something that the greater populace would rather pluck from the ground and toss in the garbage, thus beautifying the societal landscape.

But no amount of Round-Up would extinguish the burning hope in his soul.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The Big Sure

So I signed up to go to the Children's Book Writing Conference in December this year. It's in Big Sur, a magical place, no doubt. (For Sur(e)...)

I will go whether or not I am gainfully employed by then.

I am really looking forward to it. Been working on my children/young adult's book quite a lot this year. Really launched into "making it real" after a writer's conference in Big Sur this past January with SARK. That was a great time, and I think I even wrote about it on this blog... ah, yes. SARK Retreat For easy reference purposes...

I'm afraid that my book is a category buster. It's like a fairy tale, but it's not poetry and it is more than a 1000 words. I'm illustrating it myself, although I recently solicited the assistance of a friend who brings a different, "engineer's" focus to the project. Together, I hope we can produce a good mock-up for me to take with me to the conference.

I realize that the piece is non-conforming to industry standards, and that is why I'm leaning more towards self-publishing anyway. But the conference is a great opportunity to learn more about the industry first hand, with writers, publishers, illustrators, agents, candlestick makers-- all right there. No joke about the candlestick maker-- there's a great candle shop down the road from where the conference will be held. In fact, my wife and I got our Unity candle there more than 12 years ago, before we were married.

But anyway. Big Sur is a magical place. And I plan on letting it magic away at me this next December. And at that time, there will be another reporting of inspiration and love and all things writing. I just know that I will meet some amazing folks and will have new directions to explore. And I might even have a near-to-finished product/project.

Meantime, I wanna get back to my other two books. Recounting Greece, my memoir of discovery of my bipolar illness; and my work of fiction, Primordial Stewage, featuring my main character, Thistle Penn. I will be asking any and all of you to prod me along and be co-contributors in the development of these projects.

Thistle was created while I was still in college, some twenty years ago. He's been following me around, making himself known to me, at times less subtle than others... He's gonna get his story written, and it's gonna be written by me. That has been made plain. He's a patient one, yes, but he's hell-bent and heaven sent when it comes to telling stories. And he's gonna be heard, if it's the last act I complete on this earth.

So he says.

So I don't know why I have to do things this way-- draw everything out over years and years, spreading project upon project like layers of tracing paper in the animator's hand. I guess I'm just a multi-tasker after all.

So stay tuned, stay involved, help if you can. It should be an interesting year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If You Can Read This…

When was the first time you realized that you could read?

Another installment inspired by the Journal Jar.

I can’t remember the first time I realized that I could read. Maybe that’s because my mother had started me on books so early in my life that I don’t remember learning to read. I just remember always reading. Perhaps I hadn’t learned how to remember at the time that I learned to read.

No joke. My mom enrolled me in a book club when I was a toddler. What does that word mean, age wise? Toddler equals preschool, right? Pre-preschool, in fact, am I right? Anyway, Mom got me a mail order book once a week or once a month, (again, I don’t remember) for a few years. We may still have a handful of them somewhere.

What are your memories about learning to read? Do you have them? I’d love to hear about them.

Pan to here and now– my once voracious appetite for reading has really subsided in recent years. I’ve heard that it’s attributable to my bipolar disorder. That it’s common for those with bipolar to have difficulty reading, that attention and comprehension suffer. This has been my experience, that I have difficulty starting, continuing, and completing books. It’s been a long time since I found a book that made me read it as fast as I could. I miss having a book grab me and drag me through it, needing to know how it all plays out.

But I still love books. I have a ton to choose from. I continue to find more. I have them on my wishlists. Heck, I’m even writing a couple of them!

I realize right here, right now, that I can still read. And I have more time on my hands these days… perhaps I will work on my reading skills.

I go to the library tomorrow, perhaps. Will work on my “kids” book. And will get closer to making it real.

As any of you fine people can do, and will do once you make up your mind to do so. Don’t let excuses defer you– you can do it! So do it!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Comfy Seat

Gotta write something. Keep the pump primed. Keep the momentum positive.

Take flight.

Got new tires for my truck today. Gonna take flight. Gonna ride over the grade, go valley to valley. And I’m taking the technicolor loveseat.

Got the shakes pretty bad tonight. Making typing really difficult. My thumb bats at the other one repeatedly, spasming over the spacebar. It’s quite distracting. Is it the Lithium? The Zoloft? The Buspirone? The Abilify? All of the above?

This life as a medicated bipolar ain’t so super. Sure, it beats being hospitalized. But I am constantly feeling around in myself, for my sense of “normalcy”. What can I expect on a regular basis when it comes to my behavior, my moods, my perspective on life as we know it?

Hard to say. Haven’t got an answer for that yet. Gonna have to paddle the best you can. Don’t know if you wanna fight the current or let it take you where it will… I guess it’s up to you. As long you take your medicine, that is.

They don’t have answers, these “experts” that we consult. They have maybe’s and perhaps’s, suggestions to try like new clothing. So far, nothing fits, and what does is uncomfortable.

So. I’m writing because it’s what I do. I am a writer. I leave notes wherever I go. Or I take notes wherever I go.

I’ve gotten away from who I am as I have gained experience in this circus we call “life”. I have tried to “make a living” and put my writing on hold because that was the advice that was predominantly given to me– get a job, a good-paying job, and then you’ll have time to work on whatever you want. Financial security breeds success.

But it didn’t quite work that way. Somewhere, on my way to happy retirement, I got pregnant with the idea that I need to write and write hard. I had to drop out and take care of this nascent life. It needs my undivided attention.

So anyway. I’m writing my way through the next several moments in my life, where I’m writing about what I’m planning on writing about. I need to get back to describing the technicolor loveseat.

Okay. So. My great-Uncle Tony was a music aficionado. He had a room in his house devoted entirely to listening to his record collection. His collection was so large that even with him listening to it daily, for a few hours on average, it would take him almost two and a half years to get through the entire collection.

In his music room he had an early edition pair of BOSE 901 speakers, along with some state of the art stereo equipment, and the technicolor loveseat. The loveseat has a pattern that defies description; It’s psychedelic on the one hand, but its color scheme is conservative– red, white, black & blue. But to sit on this beckoning piece of furniture is sweet symphony… So peaceful, so comforting, so soft.

When my Dad’s uncle passed away, I inherited the loveseat, and have had it with me ever since. I don’t know how many years Uncle Tony had it, although by looks it was probably born in the sixties or early seventies. I took it with me to college my sophomore year, and introduced it to a greater cross-section of the world.

That was more than 2o years ago that I packed it up and drove halfway cross-country to go to school in Grinnell, Iowa. And now it’s time to pass the mantle.

I’m going to take it to Escalon, for my nephews to get use of it as they move into their “new” place. I’ll be helping them move the bulk of their stuff from Riverbank.

Time for the loveseat adventure to expand to another generation. So long, soft friend.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Now What?

So I finally did it.

Today, I quit my job. I was struggling with it this morning, and I just couldn't see my way around it. I don't understand it, I can't explain it. But it felt right to type up my resignation and take it in to my supervisor.

He was in with his supervisor when I found him. I presented him with the letter, and after he read it, he suggested that I shut the door to the office that we were in. He handed the letter to his boss and she read it. And then we talked for a bit, about the same stuff, all the avenues I've tried and been helped by but none have corrected the problem. The problem is bigger than me, bigger than the City, bigger than my illness. Bigger than all that.

The problem is me.

So I got out from under the rock I've been stuck at, next to the hard place I'm well accustomed to, and I got on top of reality for a bit. I see what I need to fix. And it's me. And the rest of all that-- the job that stresses, demands, polarizes, and irritates; my bipolar disorder that scrambles, tars, slows and degrades my self confidence and my very thinking; the world that churns out lipstick and toilet paper and chewing gum and romance novels but can't get food to the starving... I can't fix any of it unless I fix myself.

So I'm going under the knife.

Time to get fixed.

No, no. Well. Maybe. I don't know. Truth is, I need to see my medical doctor and get checked out. It's time that I have an examination to make sure that I don't have early onset prostate cancer, like my father did. But I also need to get real about my weight, my diet, my exercising. Because I'm not getting any younger.

Or richer.

There's got to be a way, here. I'm taking a leap of faith. Tama Kieves, author of "This Time I Dance," responded to my comment on her post on Facebook earlier today, and it was positive. And that's how it feels. It's exhilarating, really. Not in a sunshine, smiley face, singin' in the rain sort of happy-- I'm grieving the loss of many things because of my decision to quit-- but in a confidence building, get back to basics, first steps on the right path sort of way. Spiritually. With wisdom.

I don't know what else to say. There is hope that I will write more. Hope that I will find a way to do the things that I enjoy and make a living doing it. But I don't know.

The security blanket is gone.

This time, I want to dance.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Relay Wrap-Up

There was ambulating. There was somnambulating. There was decorating, donating, and masticating. We walked. We cried. We made our goals.

We endured.

The Relay For Life of Cupertino, 2010, was a great success. I received another donation today (thank you very much!). The books don’t close until August 31, 2010, so check your couch cushions– there’s still time to donate.

As a team, ETC, ETC (Embracing The Challenge, Enabling The Cure) made Gold level, raising over $5000. As a Relay, we met fundraising goals, participation level goals, number of team goals… we achieved “Trail Blazer” qualification and may have even accomplished “Purple Pace Setter”, when the dust settles. Overall, a great success.

And yet…

We catch our breath, and begin to plan for the next one.

My wife will be the Event Chair next year. I’ll most likely do the Offline Donations Verification Chair again, and be the unofficial co-chair, filling in where I’m needed. I seem to do a lot of signage for these events. And schlepping everything from water to pizzas. No complaints– I do it because I can and I actually enjoy it, at the end of the day.

We still need to iron out some details. I think we need a cheer-leading sort of speaker, if any speaker at all, at the launch of Opening Ceremonies and the start of the Survivor lap. We get the energy up, along with the excitement, initiating the event, and then get bogged down with speakers. There’s the Mayor, then the council members… actually only the Mayor spoke this year. Then there was a speaker who went too long– with everybody standing around, waiting for the start of the Relay. It snuffed the energy.

But we finally got started, just well behind schedule. There was some unrest in many of my team members, not knowing how this would affect the schedule, when they would be asked to walk. But once we got started walking, things settled in.

My sister-in-law was our team’s representative Survivor. Her husband came by and walked with her in the Survivor’s lap. He summed up the goings on with the speaker before the commencement of the Survivor’s lap as being “a chick flick from Hell.” But if you knew him, you’d expect some such quip.

We set up camp– pop-tent and pop-chairs; card tables and coolers, pup-tent and sleeping air mattress. We set out our on-site fundraisers, as they arrived– scarves that my mom crocheted, Chex-mix individually wrapped by yet another sister-in-law, brownies, and cupcakes made by my mother-in-law.

I soon had to make a run to Park Place restaurant to pick up several tons of breakfast burritos (the bags were heavy, but maybe not that heavy…) for the Survivor breakfast. Although they smelled very good, and I was sure there would be plenty enough for everyone, I did not partake.

The day consisted of a lot of directing traffic, mainly towards my wife. Or at least where I thought she might be. Bands played, kids tossed frisbees, I even saw a couple guys playing catch with a baseball and gloves. It had the feel of an outdoor festival. Because it was!

As dusk fell, the bagpipes player began walking the track, playing Amazing Grace. This is always the most moving and emotional time for me. All along, as we prepared our individual team camps, honored our Survivors, and played catch and the like, the luminaria team was fastidiously working on the setting of the luminaria around the track and surrounding bleachers.

This year, a new theme was introduced. “A world without cancer is a world with more birthdays.” This is especially true of Survivors who typically count the date of their remission as a birthday. My dad considers the day of his successful prostatectomy to be another birthday. He celebrated 11 years cancer free earlier this year.

It was fascinating to see the luminaria team work. First they spelled out Hope. Then they changed it to Cure. They did it so quickly and masterfully that I didn’t get a picture of it. Well, that’s part of the reason. The fact that they pulled off spelling out “More Birthdays”– with real candles– truly distracted me. It was quite a show-stopper. It makes a nice marquis on my blog, don’t you think?

Next came the speaker, who was quite succinct and effective. Then, the reading of the names. My brother-in-law read the names for our team. It’s unfortunate that the list was incomplete, and so several of our team’s names were not read. But hopefully that will be rectified next year.

Soon it was time to go on a pizza run. How I made it back to Relay with all six pizzas intact, I don’t know. I guess I had gotten enough to eat at dinner– a Mo-Go short-rib burrito and a spicy pork quesadilla filled me up, thank you very much.

Another brother-in-law brought his telescope and set up in the middle of the football field to hold an impromptu astronomy lesson. It was a popular activity that we hadn’t planned on. The college kids really liked it.

Then it was time to try and sleep. I used my iPod to drown out the noise of our neighboring camp, who have rambunctious discussions about work into the wee hours of the morning (well, they usually crawl off to bed around “closing time” as if they are being kicked out of the bars…) Because I hadn’t slept much the night before, it was imperative that I get some sleep. And it also affected me when I did finally fall asleep– I “crashed” and was snoring loud enough that the neighboring camps made note.

I woke up and got up when it started getting light. I got some walking in with my mom and aunt and watched as the camps woke up and “stirred”.

I was happy that my family could participate, although I wished they could have stayed longer. I wished that there was a way to have my dad participate, especially in the Survivor ceremonies. I wished that there had been more time to take photos. I wished for a lot of things– more cooperation, better and stronger community.

But really, what I most wish for is a world without cancer.

And that’d be a world with more birthdays. (That’s my nephew, celebrating.) It’s a wonderful dream. Hope it manifests from our hope and our effort.

Thanks for reading. Blessings to you all.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Update: We're Beating


Just an update, now that I've completed both batons and have pictures to share... To the right, the Team ETC, ETC Sharpie. It's over 13" long and features a functioning cap. Purple is the color that identifies the Relay For Life and cancer in general. (Other specific types of cancer have their own specific colors.)
Detail of Team ETC, ETC Baton
To the left you can see some of the detail in this mock Sharpie. I used my new set of inking pens to draw these out. Now I'm thinking I should have used a Sharpie :) The base color for the pen is a "dove gray" poster paint that made it easier to write on (less bleeding than the raw wood...)
The Energizer award baton to the right is just under a foot long. It does not transmit any energy. But I think it looks pretty snazzy, or "electric." (groan) The blank space to the right of the Energizer logo is reserved for our participant's name and other geographical info.
In other news, we made it up to Scotts Valley for their Relay last Saturday. We were impressed. Nice turnout and organization from this group of first-timers. They had plenty of activities for kids and adults alike, even though they were unable to use the football field (they were restricted to the track and outlying areas of dirt and weed alike).
Keep off the grass
There were bean bag tossing games, a "jumpy" for the kids, and lots of live music-- a soulful Blues/Rock band played while we were there, meeting with Jennifer and her husband Steve. Jennifer was the event chair and had met my wife, Suzy, not only at an earlier Relay training event, but also during events with Special Olympics, where they both coach. And they both have full time jobs to boot, sandal, or loafer. If you know what I mean.
A little shoe humor never hurt anyone, right? It's not like I threw them at the president or anything.
They had also fashioned their own balloon arch out of raw materials from the hardware store and fastidiously hand-blown balloons-- no helium-- that they festooned to two 20-foot lengths of PVC pipe. The result was impressive, not only in practice and visual but as a cost-saving measure. A professionally constructed and deployed balloon arch with helium balloons usually costs a couple hundred dollars. They supplied the labor, invested about 50 bucks, and really hit a home-run.
Nice work, Relay For Life of Scotts Valley!
Now let's hope that we can pull of a great event as well. Let the count down begin-- less than a week now, we'll be full on, in the throes.
My colorful wife Suzy
What do you say, Suzy?
I say bring it on.
Should be a lot of fun. Maybe we'll see some of you there. It's a great party-- lots of food, fun, music, and magic.
And we clean up after ourselves.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We Endure to Beat It

I'm making a "model" pen out of doweling and paint and stuff... It will be our baton for the upcoming Relay For Life of Cupertino (see banner at top of blog). Whoever is walking the track during the 24-hour event will be carrying our team baton.


Baton in Training

I chose the pen metaphor because it's slick-- and I hadn't even thought of the whole "pen is mightier than the sword" angle. The pen will be a model of a Sharpie, but instead of the word "Sharpie", ours will have our team name: ETC, ETC (which stands for Embracing the Challenge, Enabling the Cure). Also, instead of "FINE POINT", ours will say "FINE CAUSE". And instead of it being a "Permanent Marker" it will be a "Permanent Difference Maker".

I originally was thinking along the lines of "Making our mark on cancer," but it continues to morph. Taking into account our team name, I like the idea that "We Endure," that we endure to beat cancer.

Tomorrow, we check out Relay For Life of Scotts Valley, a brand new infant of a relay. It's their first year in existence and we're gonna go and see if we can help out a bit. Maybe we'll learn a thing or two. Besides, it's beautiful country up there. And close enough that we might be able to work in a trip to Santa Cruz for some clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and maybe some communal meditation with the ocean.

But then we'll be back to preparing for our own relay next weekend. I like to think of myself as one who is doing the little things to make a difference. My team is the etc., etc. that keeps going and going, like the Ener

gizer bunny. (Incidentally, I'm making another baton of an Energizer battery as a prize for the relay participant who has pledged to run for the entire 24-hours of the event. And we know he can do it-- he did it last year. Amazing.)

I suppose there will be pictures. After all, they endur

e too. Memories. They add up to be larger and farther and greater than cancer. We endure to make a permanent mark on cancer, make the next step towards its eradication. And our memories of our loved ones who battle this disease live on in our hearts and minds.

Feel free to check out my fundraising page and make a pledge if you're so inclined. I'm in 4th place right now, only $30 from "the bronze", so I'd appreciate any consideration. We can do luminaria bags to honor somebody you know who is battling cancer right now, or in memory of somebody dear who has passed. Or you can donate a gift in someone's name. Please help us in this struggle, if you can. Thank you.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Return to the Journal Jar

A bit of a respite from revisiting Greece, we’ll be traveling at the speed of dreams today, thanks to our prompt from the jarful– a gift from my mother of a jar full of prompts to get you writing about something, no matter what. Thanks again, Mom!

PROMPT: Did you dream last night? What do you remember?

I remember that yes, I did dream last night, as I do most nights. But that’s about it. If the dream isn’t thought about consciously, right after I awake, then it is lost to the subconscious again. Most of it slips back into the soup anyway, but if I am feeling remarkable when I wake up, I usually remember quite a bit about the dream, at least for the first few moments of being awake again.

Dreams have always been very powerful in affecting my waking life. As I’ve gained intellect and vocabulary and explored my physical world, it’s gotten more complicated, but I still have a regular experience of wordless emotion and euphoric realization while dreaming, about once a month or so. Some are more prominent than others, but the emotions are very real and exhilarating. I wrote about one recently, in my blog entry called “The Dream of Life,” that I felt was a strong source of clarity and cleansing. I had the experience of being fully awake in the dream, fully aware that I was dreaming. But the awareness was fleeting; I remember questioning if I was alive or dead or dying, if this was my moment of truth where my life flashes before my eyes just before I am taken from life as I think I know it. It was exponentially intense.

One time I was dreaming that I had been a “bad boy” and was being chased by my Dad. He was about to break the door down, so I went to climb out the window. This coincided with me lunging out of bed and slamming my forehead into the bronze bust of a young man’s head that sat on the nightstand beside my bed. I head-butted the over 20 lb. bust clear off the

Haig Patigian, 1912

nightstand. In the dream, I thought that I had put my head through the old-fashioned plate-glass window and was surrounded by broken glass shards that could slice my jugular if I moved even a little bit. My wife was awake by then and turned on the light, allowing “reality” to settle in on me. I had to ice my head to get the swelling down on the knot– it was the size of a racquetball.

Not all of my dreams are that exciting, thank goodness.

I hope that I dream tonight so that I can expound on this topic. I’ll try and remember to get up immediately and write down at least some notes. Sounds like a fun assignment for the subconscious, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greece: BBQ Bliss


The day after the blessing ceremony was set aside for rest and rehabilitation. After all, we were to be dancing Greek and breaking plates into the morning hours... So we slept in, hung out by the pool a bit, and explored the area.

We took a cab ride around a bit as well. Our cab driver was a real character. Coke bottle glasses, he looked to be googly-eyed, like a squid. He drove a brown Mercedes sedan-- I think it was a diesel-- and it appeared that the horn was broken, because he drove with the windows down and yelled "Beep Beep!" in a high pitched voice when traffic needed to pay him some attention. We thought him quite entertaining. He knew a limited amount of English-- "George Bush!" he said, making conversation, with a thumbs up. Remember, this was before 9/11 and opinions about political leaders weren't quite so polarized. So we had a kindly exchange of limited communication. He was cheerful and smiling, very friendly, despite the difficulties communicating.

Later we would take another cab ride with him-- to a small village where Armand's uncle lives. In the sedan were Mr. Beep-beep (driving), Armand (navigating), and in the backseat there was me, Suzy, Melissa, and Maria. So it was cozy, to say the least. And Mr. Beep-beep led us on a long, arduous drive through the country, without street lights, without street signs, and with fading, dim headlights.

Adventure makes experience more vivid, and soon we would reach our destination and be treated to a meal most exquisite.

We pulled up to what looked to be a vacated gas station. Several tables were arranged together to form a long banquet table, and tablecloths were spread across. We were told to sit back, relax, and have some wine. Several carafes of table wine were ushered in, and socializing commenced.

Soon, food was brought to the table. It just seemed to appear out of nowhere. I never saw a kitchen. Yet here come tomatoes, tzatsiki, and-- fresh french fries, not frozen, that were so delectable the memory of them makes me salivate. Crunchy and crispy, yet moist and a little gooey in the middle... yummy, to put it one way.

I don't remember all that we were served that night, not because it wasn't good enough to be remembered, but because everything-- just about everything-- was outshined by the BBQ lamb. It had a similar consistency to the french fries-- crunchy, moist, and gooey goodness. But it was meaty, salty, tangy. Just downright good.

We took turns linking arms and toasting each other. First it was two people, then three, then the groups got big. Armand and Kiki got us started, displaying the proper technique. We toasted the dinner, the wedded couple, the lamb, the hosts and hostesses, George Bush, those little round things, the tablecloths, the ocean, and life itself. We toasted to wine, and to toasting. We drank a toast to innocence, we drank a toast to now... Well, you get the idea.

We piled all the empties around Dave and made it look like he was the one who had partaken of it all. I'm not sure if this was the incident that earned him the moniker "Captain Morgan", but it was nonetheless his nickname for the latter part of the trip. This all may have given birth to the Captain Morgan advertising campaign of around 2007 or so. But we're not sniveling.

The cab drivers stayed and ate (and drank) with us, and then we made the long trip back to the hotel in Eretria. Armand again navigated through the dark and at one point identified some areas where some significant battles had been waged by the Spartan Army. I'd love to learn more about what he spoke about so eloquently. He's got an ability for doing that-- assessing a situation and poignantly painting a verbal picture that not only pleases, but endures.

After I had had thoughts of eternal wandering in the backlands of Greece, of being lost forever in a brown sedan-- the same color of the dirt and brush that surrounded us-- we made it back to our destination. Those who hadn't fallen asleep in the cab woke those who had and we all headed back to our hotel rooms. We promptly got some rest in anticipation of another taxing day in paradise.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Greece: Blessing Ceremony

The blessing ceremony was to be held at sundown in the town where Armand’s mother had grown up. It was a humble, but beautiful place. And it was a very warm evening.

There was a lot of talk among the group of travelers about what was expected of us at the ceremony. This was a strict, classic, Greek Orthodox Church, and there were rules that needed to be respected. We needed to dress appropriately. There were to be no photographs inside the church. And we were to be respectful and proper at all times. You know, as if we were in church.

Some of these provisions proved to be assumptions, if not unfounded rumors, once we arrived and filed into the church. There was joking, laughter, people passing cameras all around, posing for pictures… It was a downright farce compared to what image I had in my mind, what I had been prepared for. Even during the ceremony, photographers (the professionals) were frantically jockeying for position, placing light standards amongst the church artifacts and priests. Sacred garments and chandeliers were shuffled and rattled by these fastidious photographers, foraging for the right shot. It wasn’t long before everyone in our party felt comfortable with taking whatever picture they wanted.

In the image to the right, you can see the elaborate chandeliers, as well as the temporary light standards glaring through the place, unceremoniously.

The ceremony was undaunted, however, by the paparazzi and Hollywood media. The couple circled the gifts that had been assembled and placed at the altar– the most prominent a large ring of bread, with lots of symbolism baked right in. As they circled, the congregation threw rice, showering them in good luck. The rice symbolized fertility, someone said. A grain of rice slid across Melissa’s face and got stuck in her lipstick. She started to motion with her hand to knock it free, but Armand, schooled in the traditions, caught her arm and eased it back down.

After the ceremony, most of us filed out into the night outside the church and waited as the wedding party took pictures. For some reason, as I watched them pose, the whole Hollywood scenario got a bit more play in my mind. Maybe a bit of jealousy, with a touch of envy, and just a pinch of disgust. Not at the bridal party, per se, but at the image of Hollywood in my mind; a superficial, plastic, overindulged bastard in my head.

When I learned that the family friend, Susie Buffet, was in the church, being photographed, my mind and its haughty bastard idea got more justification. Susie was the estranged wife of Warren Buffet, and was a billionaire herself. She had befriended Armand’s mother, Kiki, when Kiki was a hairstylist. The families were longtime friends, and Susie had been involved with Armand’s schooling and looked after him, especially when he did his residency in San Francisco. In fact, my college roommate and best buddy Tom and me visited the city and actually met up with Susie at her townhouse, had a delightful conversation and then went to see a friend of hers who was performing– Vice Grip. I shared a cab with Susie Buffet. Armand met up with us at Susie’s and went down to the show with us. We had a great time. Anyway.

One other thing– inside the church, after the ceremony (before the paparazzi and full fledged “Eat the Rich” tirade in my head) there was a typical procession of congratulatory guests by the family and married couple. As I made it around, I met with Kiki. She apparently didn’t recognize me at first because she started holding my face and speaking Greek to me. I’m sure she was still rattled and sleep deprived and worried about Milt. Next I congratulated Melissa, and then I went to give Armand the traditional European left cheek, right cheek kiss, as everyone else was doing. But I zigged and so did Armand and so we accidentally met in the middle, full-on lips kiss.

“Oh ho!” exclaimed Armand. “You’ve been wanting to do that for a long time, haven’t you!”

I laughed it off, but I did feel a bit embarrassed. Just because I hadn’t intended to do that. But whatever, right? No harm, no foul.

Later I would feel some guilt, because I had a cold, and wouldn’t you know it– Armand caught it too. And it wasn’t even an open-mouthed kiss…

After a bit of a wait (the paparazzi had a lot of equipment to pack up) we finally loaded up the bus and went to the reception. They had traditional dancers and line dancing, lots of traditional Greek foods, and more dancing. This was where the “plate breaking” used to occur, but in this world full of lawyers and litigation, that was no longer a good idea.

I got a chance to go up to Susie Buffet’s table and talk with her for awhile. I reminisced about Vice Grip’s show, and she lamented his current day struggles. She seemed distressed a bit, and she mentioned that she was mourning the death of a friend in the previous couple weeks or so (I say it that way because I don’t remember how recently it had been. She certainly remembered when her friend had died.) I later felt like I hadn’t been consoling enough, like I hadn’t expressed enough sympathy, and for that I am still regretful. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’ll never see her again– she passed away a few years ago. Strange, the things this mind will hold onto and work like a crossword puzzle with faded clues.

Susie Buffet, Me, Carole Coulter, and Eliyana Garcia

We partied into the night. I had quite a few beers and was feeling good. When the reception party had been described to me, it was to last into the morning. ‘Til the sun comes up. I did a fair amount of schmoozing, drinking, dancing, and laughing. It was a really nice party– plenty to eat, too. And no thoughts about Hollywood disgusting bastards.

I was feeling good, but I wasn’t rip-roaring drunk. We started to file back on the bus because some of the guests were ready to head back to the hotel. As usually happens in these situations, certain people are identified as party-poopers, while others are called die-hard overdoers, and others try to smooth the rough edges and find some sort of consensus. So even though the sun of the morning had yet to shine, we packed it in and headed for the hotel. We sang a couple songs, but that petered out because nobody could remember the words of a whole song. So the evening kind of fizzled and went out like a wet campfire.

I would later self consciously recount that evening, thinking I had been out of control, drunk, loud, and that I had blacked out. Even though I didn’t have any evidence as to such. Such self-deprecating thinking patterns would start to build massive theoretical matrices that would crystallize into mystical delusions once I was manic. These delusions would have no differentiating qualities from reality in my mind.

But that would come later.

NEXT: BBQ Lamb and Toasting Wine

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Greece: Theatre of the Mind

There have been a lot of starts and stops, a lot of attempts, a lot of notes taken, a lot of outlines made. And it has all added up to something, but that something is far short of the definitive meaning or the whole story. So I shall attempt again. I shall keep trying.

The near death experience of Armand’s dad rattled me.

One moment I’m just starting to re-connect with my college “brother” Armand (not to be construed as a “frat” reference– no such organizations exist at Grinnell), just starting to let my hair down, so to speak, and really enjoy myself… And we go out on the ocean on a “Banana Boat”- this inflated tube with handles for a group of about 6 people to straddle and try to stay on top of as it is towed behind a motorboat. We find that all it takes is one good bump over a slight wake, and if one person falls off, the rest are sure to follow, because the banana just goes bonkers… Anyway, so my wife Suzy, Armand, his wife Melissa, and me along with a couple others enjoy the first round, then are returned to the pier and we hang out as another group takes on the Banana. Armand, Suzy, and I are joking, catching up, and what not– conversing, reacquainting… and then the unthinkable happens. Armand’s father, while out with the second group on the Banana, falls off the ride, along with the others, and hits his head on something or someone– I mean, one second, we’re laughing, joking, living it up, and the next second, one of Armand’s friends comes walking slowly by, assisting Milt (Armand’s Dad), and says,” Armand, I think your Dad might have fractured his skull.”

This initiated a sequence of events that led to Armand and his dad being stuffed into a car and driven to the hospital. The rest of us were left to worry and wait. Armand would later recount how he realized that his dad would probably be alright as more time passed. Because the situation became less dire as minutes went by and his dad’s symptoms didn’t worsen. We, however, were left to a wider range of speculation.

We had been hanging out at the beach. They had those stackable white resin chairs at the beach, and people would walk them down into a couple feet of water and plop down on them, lounging in the cool water.

We watched others try to navigate the banana boat for a while, then decided to go for it ourselves. And we had fun. Suzy lost her shoe. But it was a load of laughs.

And then we stood on the pier, Armand, Suzy, Melissa and I, talking, joking, getting to know one another—really just starting to relax into the idea of actually really being on vacation. And then Milt has his accident.

Armand’s mother Kiki was back at the hotel when all of this went down. After Armand and Milt were shuttled away by the banana boat owner in his personal vehicle, we felt lost. What were we supposed to do now? Go to the hospital?

We ended up going back to the hotel and we ran into Kiki in the stairwell. We had to tell her what had happened. We tried to reassure her that everything was being taken care of and that it was going to be okay, but she was shaken and a bit panicked. I think somebody offered to drive her to the hospital and they ended up going from there. Two of the other couples, Mark and Julie and Dave and Laurie, went to the hospital to check on Armand, Melissa, Milt and Kiki. Those who stayed behind changed and went to dinner because it was the only thing we could think to do. We went to the restaurant at the hotel and worried. We chatted and tried to comfort one another. Although we didn’t know each other it was somehow comforting to have this connection. Anyone from the group that came in would wonder how Milt was doing and if anyone had heard anything.

It wasn’t until the next morning when word finally did get back to us. It was good news. Milt was going to be fine. The fracture had occurred in a spot such that it hadn’t put pressure on his brain, so there was no brain swelling. He had missed a severe and dire injury by mere centimeters. So Milt would be ok but would have to remain in the hospital overnight and would miss the blessing ceremony. Being relieved that he was going to be all right we carried on and spent the day at the pool, then got ready for the ceremony. We had a set time to meet at the bus, and it would take us to the church.

Armand, Marc, and the others that had been on the banana boat at the time of the incident spent the next day being deposed by the authorities. The Greek Tourism Bureau doesn’t take too kindly to accidents, and they wanted to get to the bottom of this one.

NEXT: The Blessing Ceremony and the Media