Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thistle's Chapter Two

Continuing with Thistle's journey.  Chapter Two.

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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Thistle's Beginning

This is the first part of a work of fiction I started about 20 years ago that features a main character by the name of Thistle Penn.  I have a huge file of gobbledygook and nuggets to be mined in the next phase of editing, but this open is pretty good.  Well, at least, I think it is.  You tell me what you think.


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."

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Magic, You Know

Another Journal Jar entry, coming right up!

Do you have a favorite author?  Who?  Why?

I think one of my favorite authors is Tom Robbins, because he makes me laugh, and brings a sense of wonder and awe to the curious exploration of our universe.  I also love Anne Lamott, for much the same reason-- she makes me laugh and she identifies the heart and grit in life's lessons.  Both can describe things in unique ways that tug at emotions and make the words elicit a reality to be experienced.

I most recently read Tom Robbins' "B is For Beer" and enjoyed it.  Wouldn't call it my favorite Tom Robbins book, by any means, but still very entertaining.  The only thing of Tom Robbins' that I haven't yet finished is his book of short works, "Wild Ducks Flying Backwards."  Don't know why I haven't gobbled that up-- perhaps because it's a collection of short works, so there isn't the nagging suspense to pull me through to the end of it all.  Or perhaps I'm savoring it because it's the last virgin snow to navigate or consume...  I think it also has to do with the fact that I'm just now getting back into reading again.  Up until a few months ago, my reading comprehension sucked, I think mostly due to the meds that I'm on.  Lithium creates a dulling of the intellect and kind of mashes experiences together with the same mundane emotion so that everything is just kind of blah in recollection.  But I'm doing better now, on the cocktail I'm on, so yipee.  Oh, I mean, Yipee!

I still think Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions" is my favorite book of hers.  Although I really enjoyed "Bird by Bird" as well, especially from a writer's perspective.  But the rawness that she captures of skilled navigation-- inspired, really-- of life through crisis and transformation is astounding and somehow comforting.  She finds her way through the unknown path that is motherhood, and she does it by herself, at the same time she is building sobriety and getting through /life.  Her words bring laughter and tears and no hollow emotions. 

It's been many years since I've read any of these books, and still they are with me.  And still, I would like to read them again.  That's pretty cool.

I can't decide on my favorite Tom Robbins book, but it's between "Jitterbug Perfume," the first of his that I ever read, and "Skinny Legs and All."  Both are what I aspire to do with my writing.  Tickle, taunt, ravage, repair.  Educate.  Entertain.  Love.  Learn.  Lavish.

There are trillions of things at work here.  Connections to be made and undone.  And yet, we are all connected.  We are all one.  It's magic.  Enjoy it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish or Buy a Violin

My Uncle Joe is ninety years old.  He came over with his wife today, and we talked about our ailing backs.  Then he gave us this little nugget, talking about his haircut;  he said he had to get a haircut or get a violin.

He said it was an "old" saying, and when we said we'd never heard of it he said, "I know, I know." 

So I googled it.  Seems that FDR said something like that, a while back.  As one site attributed, "It got to a point where I had to get a haircut or a violin." -F.D.Roosevelt  So that's the origin.  But what does it mean?

Is it that there's absurdity in the decision between the two things?  Either get a hair cut or get a violin?  Or is there a pun I'm not seeing here?  Can somebody help me out here?

Has anybody under the age of forty ever used this saying?  Can you explain it to me?  I'm totally intruigued.  I just don't know how to make sense of it. 

I need a haircut.  But I also need a violin.  Hmm.  Which should I ask Santa for?

I wonder if my dad's heard of it.  Or my mom.  Or my mother-in-law-- she's 87.  She might know what FDR was getting at.

I'm usually inspired and in awe of FDR's quotes, but this one has got me a bit differently.  I want to know more, but the internet is lacking.  I might have to go to a library or something.  Imagine! 

Eventually, I guess, the internet catches up and makes a place for all this wisdom.  But what if it misses something (no, really.  It could happen...)  What if we don't actually catch everything in words and pictures from our iPhones and texting ad infinitum?  What if there are little nuggets of truth out there, not being captured by the masses madly frothing their way through this world as if we were racing? 

What if we slowed down and noticed the bloom opening to reveal vibrant color? 

There are choices that we have to make in this life, yes.  But are we really seeing all that we have to see?  Is the news telling us the whole story?  Are we getting unbiased information?  Are we seeing what's really there, or is everything imagined?

I imagined a person,  say, a "homeless" person who lives under a bridge somewhere, going along, existing but totally outside of society's "reality, and I don't mean a mental illness per se, but just think about it-- if you're not plugged in, you don't have to decide whether or not you think Kim Kardashian's boobs are real.  You don't tweet about your most recent bowel movement.  You still exist, as does the rain and the sun, and the trees.  Or do you?  Are you just a violin?

I don't have any answers here.  I'm just putting it out there.  Tell me what you think.  Let's write this story together.  We're on the crest of a creative wave, riding it like the wind.  These words gather around and net a structure for remembrance.  But what will last once the wave has crashed?  What endures?

Not even meaning is crystal.  But now I'm paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes.  "Word is not crystal, transparent, and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used."  There, I quoted him even.  We try to act authoritarian, like we know what we're talking about and have all our ducks in a row.  But I'm sorry, my friend.  It's not exactly like that.  You're not in control.  And all attempts to capture a signature "reality" come up short.  Because you can't be neutral on a moving train, to quote Howard Zinn.  This thing we call life is dynamic, moving, ebbing and flowing.  It's a mixture of paradox and truth.  It's a conundrum cocktail, with ingredients both massive and minute.  And if you try to stop it and figure it out, it leaves you right where you were.  Without "it."

"It" slips through the cracks, evades the spotlights.  "It" escapes to live again another day.  We clutch at the water, cupped in our hands, and still, it slips away.  Whether seapage or evaporation we don't rightly know.  But it moves, along, as does life.

So how do we keep on creating this world?  With more thought?  Or less?  Has it all been done already?  Or did we really miss the good parts?  I don't know.  But I do know that I'll more likely visit the barber than the instrument craftsman.

But that's just me.  You're entitled to your own opinion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There Was No Downtown When I Was Young

From the journal jar, we have:

Describe the downtown of your childhood at Christmas time.

This is not one that I can do.  We didn't really have a downtown that we even visited when I was young.  I'm trying to think of what we did do... but there wasn't a town square or centralized part of town that we'd frequent in San Jose or Santa Clara.  Now there is some stuff in downtown San Jose, like the outdoor ice skating rink.  But when I was young, we visited family and friends but not a downtown area. 

What about you all?  Do you remember something that I'm missing?  What were the surroundings like back then?  And the decorations?  What made the season?

We went to the mall to see Santa Claus.  There were a few malls to choose from.  There was Westgate, which is still there... Eastridge, and Valley Fair...  Vintage Fair in Modesto... or am I getting those mixed up again?  Now there's Santana Row with huge Christmas trees and snow machines and music and decorations-- it's like Disneyland, as a visiting friend said.

The places I recall spending time in for Christmas were department stores.  My mom and my aunt would take us shopping.  We'd go to K-mart and Mervyn's, sometimes several different locations of the same store just to get the good deals.  There was a department store called MacDonlad's over on the El Camino Real at Lawrence Expressway that they liked to shop at.  We'd hit a fair amount of Walgreen's too.  But I remember K=mart being the main staple of our shopping endeavors.

Now it's Target.  We go at least once a week.  Do most of our grocery shopping there too.  Soon, we'll have one right across the street from our house, pretty much.  I wonder if we'll drive.  I wonder if we'll have shopping carts in our yard most of the time.

I wonder what Christmas will be like in 20 years...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree and Burnt Chocolate

Suzy's been baking... some of her brownies overflowed the pan and dropped onto the oven "floor" so the house now smells like burnt chocolate.  Not the most pleasing thing, but it did get rid of the bacon smell from Sunday morning's breakfast...

Nice weekend with the boys.  My sister's three boys, David, Timothy, and Michael came over and we went up into the Santa Cruz mountains to a tree farm to get our Christmas tree.  A tradition that we'll continue as long as the boys want to keep doing it... David is now a freshman in high school, so we're expecting him to be finding other things more important to him soon.  But we savored the time with him this weekend.  And his brothers.  Things are a lot more sedate now that they are "older".  No pillow fights or wrestling-- just verbal disagreements, if any.  They really do get along quite well.  Michael and Timothy still play with the toys that we have, and that's nice to see.  They still have imaginations separate from the XBOX's and Play Stations of the world. 

David stringed the lights on the tree this year.  This is something I usually do, but I got him to do it.  He did a fine job.  Then all the boys took part in hanging the ornaments.  The tree really does look wonderful.  As that guy on the A-Team used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Then today I met with an old friend from my high school days.  It had been about 15 years since I saw him last.  It was cool to sit and talk with him and show him my book.  He's an artist that works in Hollywood with set design and special effects.  He's done very well for himself and keeps very busy, so it was a treat to have him visit.  I hope to see him more often.  At least more often than every 15 years...

So it was nice to have him compliment my drawings in the book.  I had thought about asking him if he'd be interested in reworking them, making them better, working his magic with the story... but I had asked him awhile back if he'd like to work on it with me and he was unable to commit to it.  He's busy doing his business and my project just didn't ring his bell or anything at the time.  But he said that he liked how it turned out. 

So we're winding up the year...  and I've fallen behind on the journal jar entries.  I'll have to go like gangbusters to get those done by the end of this year.  So I'll give it a try, but I don't know if I can make it. 

For now, this will have to do.  I hope you enjoy our tree.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dreaming is Easy

Just have time for a little Journal Jar entry, so let's get going...

Describe a recurring dream you had as a child, a teen or an adult.

I have a couple recurring dreams to choose from here, but my thought is to instead recite one of my earliest recollections of a dream.  When I was very young, probably about 5 or so, I remember having a dream that my dad was featured on a family sit com on television.  The show was in black and white, and my dad was some sort of robot that kept falling apart to a laugh track.  Various parts would fall off and scurry around on the hard wood floors and people would laugh hysterically.  Don't know why I remember this.  I always meant to ask my parents about that time, and if there was a similar tv show that they recalled being on when I was that age.  But I could never remember to ask them.  So maybe they'll read this and have an answer for me and I can finally put that memory to rest...

Other recurring thoughts or dreams include the dream where I can't wake up.  I think I wrote about it here before, where I feel like I'm trapped in a comatose body that I can't control, but I try to wake up and can only muster little bits of activity...  The more recent recurring dream that I have is about being back in college, finishing up my degree, or just being back in school (be it high school or college) and reliving those experiences with my broader perspective that I've gained by living my life the past twenty plus years. 

The settings in my dreams are almost always elaborate and labyrinthine at times.  I dream in great detail, with lush surfaces and finely decorated structures.  Most of my dreams are filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity, of inspiration and nurturing.  I usually enjoy dreaming, even when the dreams startle me.  There is usually some sort of lesson.  It isn't always spelled out in plain language.  In fact it rarely translates to words.  But there is emotion that is real and exhilarating.  My dreams make me hopeful.  They recharge my imagination.

I think that's why I like to sleep so much.  There is so much more possible in the dream world, or so it seems.  In reality, it's all possible.  Imagining it into existence is what it takes to make it real.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Activities Enjoyed By Young and Old

How about we has us some Journal Jar about now?

What activities do you enjoy doing today that you also enjoyed as a child?  Describe them.

Well, I enjoy writing, we know that.  And I really enjoyed writing a story in the fourth grade about riding a BMX bike with my friend.  I'll have to put that up, if I can find it.  I'm sure I still have it somewhere.  Along with an illustration.

I really enjoy naps, although I don't think I enjoyed them as much when I was a child.  I very much enjoy eating, as my belly extolls.  But I don't know that I really enjoyed eating as much when I was a child as I do now.  Now it's a sporting event.  Now I eat for pleasure, not just for necessity.

But anyway.  What else...  I always enjoyed drawing when I was a kid.  Got pretty good at it.  And I still like to doodle now and then.  Sometimes I break out the pastels or the magic markers and let it all rip loose.  But not very often anymore.  There was a period, back in the early 1990's, where I made a habit of drawing in most of my free time.  And it produced a lot of interesting stuff, much of what I've displayed on this site.  In fact, most of my favorite works are from that time.  I had a makeshift easel set up next to my bed, with an adjustable desklamp for instant lighting.  The pastels and other assorted markers were right there too.  I could spend time laying on my bed and staring into whatever I was working on, get perspective, work out ideas in my head before attempting them on the paper.  It was a productive time for me and my art.

I was also writing quite a bit back then.  I was limited in that I was a slow typist, but I made time to try and write.  A lot of Thistle Penn was developed during that time, although he was and remains an enigma, a conundrum.  The mystery is what was so much fun to explore. 

Curiosity.  I've always enjoyed that.  That's part of what made me a reader of books as a child and continues to get me turning pages, or writing them.  Is curiosity really an activity?  I believe it is.  It can be.  After all, what killed the cat?

Other activities... I mentioned reading.  It's something that I really do enjoy and have written about before.  But since having to deal with my bipolar illness, reading has become more difficult.  If I'm struggling, for example, with a medication change or adjustment, reading can be near impossible.  I'm really happy that right now I'm in a place where reading is again enjoyable and that I get a lot out of it.  For a while there, I'd try to read and have little recollection or comprehension.  But that may have been the drug side effects or the illness or both.  I'm celebrating being able to read by using my local library more, going through my personal library, and trading books with friends.  The last few months I've read more books than I have in years.  It's a wonderful thing.

Kind of funny that I enjoyed math so much when I was a kid and now I don't even balance my checkbook.  I was really good at math, too.  But I just got away from it.  I chose to do other things-- me and math kind of had a falling out by the end of high school.  I got burned out with it, lost interest.  The "deeper" math of calculus and trigonometry kinda killed my interest.  I lost my curiosity for finding the answer to math problems, and turned instead toward finding "truth" or answers like it.  That's what I began to grope for-- something spiritual.  Art and writing and reading seemed more appropriate endeavors toward spiritual practice than math did, so I set to doing them instead.  But I realize now the value of mathematics, and the ability for it to address spirituality.  Someday I hope to read the book I got for Christmas many years ago, The Physics of Immortality, which purports to mathematically prove the existence of God.  All in due time.

Not sure I could even locate that book in my personal library right now...  But who has to now, in the age of the internet?  Just look up the reviews...  There are plenty.  But I think I should read it for myself (if I can...) and make up my own mind.  Slow process, but that is how things work.

So.  Another activity that I've done all my life: Thinking.  I do so enjoy it.  Most of the time.  But I do so much of it sometimes that it just gets in the way.  It's addictive.  So you have to do "thinking fasts" now and then, where you rid yourself of thinking for a spell.  Keeps one healthy.  There's an art to it.

Alrightythen.  Lunch time.  You know what that means!  Gotta run!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So This Is Christmas

Me got the bahum bug.  Bluesy, funky cock-eyed shit.  I don't wanna have a blue Christmas, but that's how it seems to be shaping up.  Don't know why.  Not sure there's a reason.  Definitely not a single answer.  It's complicated.  Such is life.

I don't want anything for Christmas.  I don't want new socks or underwear.  I don't want a warm pair of pajamas.  I don't want the latest video game or blue-ray movies.  I don't want a place to play canasta.  I don't even want pizza.  Now you know it's serious, right?

I want a great new Christmas song, to rival the classics.  To become a classic in it's own right.  I want people to embrace each other.  Find our common ground.  Give til it hurts.  Soothe the pain.  Abandon hate.  Find a cure for hatred, cancer, AIDS, ignorance.  Santa needs to get his shit together this year and make some things happen.  This Christmas has got to make a difference. 

Find a home for every orphan that wants one.  And make it a good home.  Find homes for the homeless that want them, that need them.  Feed the hungry.  Visit the lonely.  Cure the sick.  Sing to the frightened. 

I'm wanting something different this year.  I don't want the Hallmark specials with fake people and fake premises making fake happiness and fake promises.  I want hands outreached and real connections.  I want an end to the violence.  Goodbye to hate.  I want acceptance.  I want dreams.  I want solace.  I want peace.

There's got to be a morning after, as the song goes.  There's got to be a way.  We can do this.  We can make the earth that we dream about.  We have the power, and the resources.  Let's celebrate life and make it happen.  What are we waiting for?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Will Be Next?

As November draws to a close, I am left to wonder what the coming month and new year will bring.  I wonder where I will set my sights, on what projects I will work.

There is still the Journal Jar to complete, hopefully by the end of this year.  I have been making progress to that end and will continue to aim to do that.  My sort of children's book is finished and I have a copy in my hands, in print and binded.  I've ordered a couple more to be distributed to the selected few.  I might still look into another publishing option, but that is for next year, I believe, at this point.  I made my goal of getting the book published to send to the Hatzidakis Family for Christmas, so that is a job well done.

I wonder if I will be compelled to work on my other book projects now that the children's book is done, at least for the moment.  I would like to work more on getting the story out and organizing what I've already done into a more, well, organized format.  I've got a lot of blog entries, word documents, and some journal entries that can be reworked and compliled into a book of some sort.  Don't know if it will be of any interest to a publisher, but I can cross that bridge later.  In the meantime, I think it's a project that will garner a lot of my interest in the coming year.  Especially if I continue to do as well as I've been doing, healthwise.

There's also Thistle Penn.  He's out there, still sending me hints about who he is and how to bring him into this world.  I've got lots of scribble and mispelled typing about him throughout my writing experience.  A little organizing would do wonders for him and that whole project of a book of fiction.  So there is that to look forward to from me as well.

I am also looking to continue efforts to improve my health by eating better and finding a way to get some exercise in my life.  And I'll be looking to secure employment in the coming year.  A job of some sort to help with expenses of living.  We're finding a way to make it work. 

There is always more to read.  I've got gardening books and projects to work on.  I want to make more friends.  I would like to clean and organize the garage and office, and my clothing collection.  Organize my books.  Organize my photos.  So much to be organized.  Art to be done.

When I'm feeling well, there isn't such a worry about what to do.  I can find projects everywhere it seems.  It's good feeling healthy.  It makes the world more healthy.

Here's to good health.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dog-sitting with Elvis

So I'm on location this week.  Back home, sort of.  I'm dog-sitting in Escalon, in the house where my sister and her family usually live.  The same house where I grew up, since I was in the 7th grade.  My parents have owned this house long enough to pay it off, I think.  Since 1981, I believe.  And there have been several different living arrangements in that amount of time.  Several different house projects, too.  Right now, the Megenney's live here, with Elvis, the biggest chocolate lab I know.  So it's me and Elvis for this week, although Suzy will be joining me come Wednesday for the Thanksgiving celebration with my parents.

For a while, my parents rented out the house to a family that included a pastor.  They lived here, evidently quite happily, for a few years.  Then my sister got a teaching job here in Escalon and the pastor's and his family's tenure ended.  Since then, my parents have added on two bedrooms and a bathroom above the garage.  And they moved back in for awhile, living with the Megenney's (before they had Elvis).  Then the Megenney's moved out and into their own house, and lived there in Riverbank for awhile. 

My parents then had the opportunity to purchase another house-- a short-sale foreclosure-- just around the corner from here.  The Megenney's moved back in to the place here, renting back from my parents.  Mom and Dad have a very nice 2-story place on a court/cul-de-sac.  They're very happy with their house, and they feel they got a really good deal on it.

The Megenney's are very happy with this place, I assume-- it's bigger than their place in Riverbank, and much closer to the schools where they work and attend.  Each boy has his own bedroom, and they have a large back yard. 

I got to spend the night in my old room for the first time in many years.  It hasn't been my room since I went away to college in the fall of '87.  Since then I've lived in different places in Iowa, Sacramento, and Santa Clara.

During that time, we've owned two houses in Santa Clara.  Well, owned the mortgages, anyway.  But we just live and own the one mortgage now, where my wife is right now, in Santa Clara.  And that's just okay with me.  I mean, I liked our other Santa Clara house much better-- it had more room, more back yard, nicer/more updated kitchen, quieter street... but I don't mind being where I am now.  I am willing to give up for what I need to be.  And I gave up that lifestyle fit, that way of living, so that I could live without the job that was killing me a little bit (or a lot) every day.  I wonder sometimes if it was my job or my mindset.  But I did what I had to do.  I made the changes.  And I'm better off today, with my health.  I'm much better off with my health today.  I can say that with confidence.  Last year at this time I had just been hospitalized a month earlier, and I would be hospitalized again in a few weeks.  I really feel good, and confident, and strong, and stable, such that I really feel that that won't be happening this year.  I feel like I am behind the wheel, and I've got a new car that is performing at its peak, and there's plenty gas, and I can just steer and drive and be aware and I'm going along safely.  And I have somewhere to go.  I'm doing what I have to do.  And the rest is gonna work out.  Somehow, it will all work out.  I can't explain how, but it will.  I have hope and faith and confidence, and I'm not in denial.  I know what I need to be working on, and I am working on it.  I am doing what I need to do.  I am put together. 

I am dog-sitting with Elvis.  Put that on the resume.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Recommendations For Movies Worth Seeing

Been watchin' movies.  First recommendation is Waste Land, a documentary about an artist who collaborates with several trash "pickers" at a Rio De Jenaro landfill.  Interesting survey of the role of art, the definition of art, and lots of other things, including self-esteem and value.  I really liked it.  Shows how art can transform lives, worlds, perspectives.  Very well done.

Second recommendation is for Alice Neel, another documentary, about another artist and her struggle to paint and live.  This one is posthumous, but includes much archive footage of the artist, including some Tonight Show with Johnny Carson moments.  Ms. Neel's work is distinctive and impressive.  She painted portraits at a time when portraiture was deemed to be out of vogue with the art world.  She captures distinct character from her subjects.  I really enjoyed this one as well.

I saw a third movie today, Sirens.  It was also about art, but of a different way (not a documentary, for one).  I has seen it before, but a while ago.  And actually, I think I only rented it to fast forward to the nude scenes (I was much younger then... and who didn't want to see Elle Macpherson naked, anyway?)  I must say that I think I enjoyed the movie much more when I actually watched it (with my wife, by the way) than when I "used" it for self-indulgence, so to speak.  Still, I enjoyed the documentaries better.

Overall, three movies to see, especially if you like art. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Suzy's Surprise Birthday Party

Do you remember a special birthday party you've had, given or attended?

Why yes, of course.  I've attended more than I've had.  This means of course that I'm a very popular and well liked person.  Or something like that.

I attended a surprise party for my wife that I had a lot to do with.  Did most of the planning and all of the last minute lying to try and keep the secret alive.  We went to Dave and Buster's where I had reserved a party room.  I thought we could kill time and watch the Giants game, but I was already panicked because of all the events that had led us to be there early.  It was not a typical day.

I had left work early in a rush to make sure I got home before Suzy did-- I couldn't remember if I'd left some stuff out for her to find or not.  And she had been laid off that day--  and sent home-- completely flubbing plans.  So I consoled her when she got home and frantically thought about what we could do to get back on track.  We ended up going to see a movie-- Bruce Allmighty-- and during that time I took a phone call from my mom about how things were progressing.  I lied and told Suzy that my sister had gone into labor and that that's why my mom had called.  I even pretended that the call was breaking up and moved away from Suzy to try and get some privacy under the guise of trying to get a better signal.  Sheesh!

In the end, we arrived a few minutes too early and saw Suzy's parents coming in to the restaurant/party room.  So she knew something was up.  And that's when she saw the marquee with her name on it.  It was still surprising, even if we didn't all get to yell "Surprise!" at the same time.  And it was a bit of a fun party, even with the dour news of the day.  I think she had a good time.  I arranged for us to stay at a hotel there that night so we could pamper ourselves and not have to drink and drive.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who Is Like God, May God Add

Nutha frum the Journal Jar.  Take One.

What is your full name?  Who were you named for?  How do you feel about your name?

My full name is Michael Joseph Andrade.  My middle name was my father's father's name.  I don't think I was named after anybody else.  I was just named because my parents liked the name Michael.

For many years I existed under the name "Mike" but have more recently become "Michael."  Although I answer to both and don't really have a distinct preference.  I feel good about my name.  I am proud of it.  I more than once have looked up the origin of the name and found that it means "Who is like God, May God Add."

Not this little anymore
I have a nephew who was named after me.  He so far is going by "Michael" too.  Although many call him "Little Michael," but that shouldn't last long.  He's eight now, and soon will be growing out of the "Little" part, I reckon.

I like using my middle initial.  "Michael J. Andrade" is nicely balanced to the eye.  And to be like God-- that's powerful stuff.

Again I find myself looking for a resource in my books and not being able to locate it.  Man, does my library need a librarian.  When I was growing up, we had a set of World Book encyclopedias that included a two-volume dictionary.  The dictionary is what I can't seem to find right now.  It's all that's left of the collection-- we sold the encyclopedias, or gave them away, but kept the dictionary.  Or so that is my recollection.  This office of ours needs some attention.  Books to organize, filing cabinets to go through and organize, papers to be sorted and filed and recycled.  I think I may have found my next project.  A great indoor winter project.  Working the work room.

Again, I beg of you.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Creativity is what I do.  It's what I am.  But it's not only what I am.  It's a glimpse of divinity.  Creativity is a path to another world, another spirit.  It acts on its own accord.  It's beyond logic, beyond rationality.  It doesn't always make sense.  But it inspires, rejuvenates, and astounds nonetheless.

Being creative brings forth the power of creation.  It brings forth the power of God.  Divinity is in the moment.  It bobs and weaves between the past and present.  And our attention.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What Is Special About Learning

Gonna have to keep after it, this jar of journal, if I am to finish by year's end.  So.  Onward.

What special skills did you learn as a child?  Who taught you?

Nothing immediately jumps to mind on those questions.  I could talk about reading, but I've already blogged about that here.  And I wouldn't classify that as a special skill, necessarily.  I mean, reading is widely taught to almost all individuals throughout the world.  Getting at a more specialized skill that I learned is going to be difficult.

And don't misunderstand me-- I believe reading is a very special skill that is so very important.  But my feeling here is to try and focus on a skill or skills that were unique to my experience.  That's how I'm interpreting the word special, in this case, anyway.

For some reason one of the first things I thought of was fishing with my dad.  He taught me how to bait a hook, cast the line, "troll", and even clean fish.  Not everybody knows how to do such things.  In fact, I know people who shy away from such things, are squeamish of cleaning fish.  I guess I can understand that, but it's something I think one can overcome with a little care and patience.

We used to fish off the bank of the lake at Lake Shasta, back when we had a cabin up there.  Some years the drought was such that there wasn't any water in the part of the lake closest to our cabin.  But other years were better.  There was one day that we fished out there about the entire day.  I think that was the time that I ended up with about forty mosquito bites around my neck and shoulders, as we fished into the evening and as the sun went down, the bugs came out in full force.  And I was wearing a tank-top, so a lot of skin was exposed.  Very itchy.

Let's see.  I learned how to ride a bike... how to do yardwork... how to fire a rifle... Still, I just am not coming up with something that satisfies my feeling for the unique, special skill that I'm looking for here.  I learned things when I went to YMCA camps-- that's where I fired the .22 rifle.  I learned arts and crafts there too, carving a little something out of a piece of sandstone, weaving vinyl strands into a lanyard/key chain... making "godseyes" out of yarn and popsicle sticks... I learned to cook fairly early in my childhood, cooking with my mom and in the 3rd grade, when my babysitter took a group of kids out of the classroom and cooked each week in the school cafeteria.  We then made up recipe books for Mother's Day out of all the recipes we had done.

I learned a lot about tools and craftsmanship from my dad.  Dad had a lot of tools and was very crafty and industrious, designing and building things all the time.  From him I learned about channel locks, socket sets (both metric and standard), vise grips and other pliers, wire cutters, soldering irons, measuring squares, drills, saws, hammers, screwdrivers, allen wrenches, tin snips, electricity meters, stud finders, mollies, woodscrews, finishing nails, and many other special things.  I learned to have an attention for details and safety when dealing with such things.  I learned to respect tools and take care of them.  Although I don't think I ever did as good a job of it as Dad did.

I guess I could say that I learned a lot of special skills from my mom and dad that I use to this day and into the future.  Thanks for all that, mom and dad.  You guys rock.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What's a Little Trying Between Friends?

No journal jar tonight.  Just the journal.

I'm a writer, and sometimes I just gotta write.

When did I learn to be so hard on myself?  Why must I self inflict such damage?  Why am I doing it now?

I can be going along just fine, and then wham, I'm inside my head, second guessing my thoughts, judging myself inferior or stupid or unfit to opine or transmit.  I wish I could just be.  I wish I could just be who I am.  Who am I? 

I am a writer.  And sometimes I just have to write.  About whatever it is.  Whether it makes sense or not.  Whether it flows or not.  Whether it is spelled correctly or not.  Whether it is knowledgeable or not.  Whether it matters or not.

I would like that my every word that I type came floating over the horizon with a flurry of fanfare and philharmonic symphony.  But it don't go like that.  I try to write and have a soundtrack, and sometimes that works, but not always. 

Checking with my muse puts a skip in the music.  I've got long-playing records on the turntable that crackle and pop when they sing and dance.  There's a warm ambient sound to them.  They don't have the precision of the digital age.  Sure, CD's brought clarity and exciting highs and lows to the ear.  But they don't have the warmth, the burn.  And they still skip, too.

I'm just practicing.  Trying to get my chops back.  Doing the scales, up and down.  Methodically typing them out.  Knowing that practice makes perfecter.  Because there is no perfect, only for the moment and the moment is gone.  As soon as you try to grab it, it's gone.  Past baby.  Fleeting.  Sands through the hourglass.  There's some old technology.

I wanna write big.  I wanna wrap my words around some big things.  I wanna wrap my words around the world.  And I wanna do it with style and panache and love.  I wanna love my way through this.  Love is the answer.

I wanna chase the fire again.  I want to eat the flame.  I want to sip the sparks and boil the elixir.  I want to find my way.  I wish to gain access.  I want to make the plate clean.  I want to keep the feelings flowing to the righteous river.  I want to wear pants.

There will be a victory.  There will be a time of honor and respect.  There will be a finish line.  There will be a triumph.  There will be rejoicing.  There will be dancing.  There will be embracing.  There will be love.

I will push through the walls.  I will push through the blocks.  I will find a path that I can lead my way.  I will take the steps and make the journey.  I will sing the song.  I will swim with the current.  I can make my way.  I will cooperate with the river.  I can float downstream.  I can be the writer that I want to be.  I can make the effort.  I can make the art.  I can make the love.  I will make a difference.

There is nutrition in this life.  To be had, to digest.  To be conquered as a little sprite.  I will digest my gruel.  I will eat of the forbidden fruit.  I will find my true distinction.  I will make a meaning out of it. 

Know that this too shall pass.  Know that this too shall remain.  Know that this too shall be gloriously understood all too late.  Know that this too shall pass.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Just Some Favorite Things

What is your favorite movie, book, poem and song?

My favorite movie is His Girl Friday.  That or It's a Wonderful Life.  And I really liked Running On Empty.

My favorite book is Skinny Legs and All.  Among others.  Hard for me to choose favorites, but that one's up there.  So is Ishmael.  And Writing Down the Bones.

Favorite poem?  Hmm.  Something by Maya Angelou?  I'm not really keen on poetry.  But I like a lot of African American Literature, there are some great works there.  Hard to name a favorite though.

My favorite song is "As" by Stevie Wonder.  Beautiful.  Amazing lyrics and masterfully sung by my favorite artist.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Journal Jar Runeth Over

You guessed it!  Here comes the prompt:

What was the best birthday you ever had?  Why?

It's kinda hard to outdo your original birthday.  The moment when you officially became "of this world" is a miraculous, emotional event.  All other birthdays just pale in comparison.  That being said, I don't know that I really had a standout birthday.

There are lots of memories, though.  I had a rough go of it early on, as I kept getting ear aches when I was supposed to be having birthday parties.  But around the time I was five, we had a party at McDonald Land, and several friends and their moms came and it was a blast.  Ronald MeDonald was there.  I think.  But I do remember the food was good.  And we had fun playing on the jungle gym type thingy stuff.

It was also fun going to O'Farrell's for an insane amount of ice cream.  Hoy vey!

But lately, I've just been thankful to have a birthday.  Because someday they're gonna stop.  Don't know how those celebrations will be, once that happens... but until then, I'm thankful to have what I have.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Goat Lives!

Been working a lot lately on my picture book.  It's my book and I can cry if I want to.  I've got the story down to about the way that I want it, I just need to get the illustrations done and plugged in to the software that the online publishing company gives you so you can make your own book.  Thanks to the people at for the nifty interface.  It's kinda clumsy at times, but that might just be my computer (not enough memory).  So I'm making progress.  Added several new drawings tonight and I'm slowly making my way through the narrative.  For those who don't know, I've written a story based on an old legend about the Wild Cat of Samos.  My story focuses in on the life and self-transformation of the Wild Cat's friend, a goat.  See what I've written about it all before here .  The story has changed a bit since going to the Children's Book Writer's Conference in Big Sur last December (more about that here).  But at it's heart is a genuinely wonderful moment in time that I will treasure forever.

We were traveling in a car on the island of Samos with my good friend from college, Armand.  His dad is from the island, and we were there visiting because Armand had gotten married and had a blessing ceremony for the relatives in Greece who hadn't been able to make the ceremony in the US.  So we had jumped at the opportunity to go to Greece and have an authentic traveling experience with a built in translator and tour guide.

As we toured the island, there were several jokes that cropped up and repeated themselves, as happens in groups where the people are fun-loving and have a sense of humor.  It may even happen in groups that don't have a sense of humor and they just don't notice.  But anyway.  Under circulation was a story that one of the tourists had run across in a book about the natural history of the island.  Armand and a couple others in the car had shared some laughs about the Wild Cat of Samos (see link above for story).  But for my wife and I, it wasn't until this moment in the car that we came to know of the Wild Cat.

It seems to me that Armand was driving, but I don't know if that's so because we didn't rent cars on the island.  But anyway.  More than ten years ago and I just can't remember all the specifics.  But someone in the back seat noticed some lights glowing on the hill off in the distance.  They asked Armand, "What's that up there?  Do you know?"  To which Armand replied, "Why, that's the Raging Flaming Goat of Samos."

The car erupted in laughter and we did some other joke-bit tid-bits, including "Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!" and "$21.95 pays for the whole seat-- but you'll only need THE EDGE!!!"  We laughed long and hard, though we weren't exactly sure why.  Later, Suzy and I learned the story of the Wild Cat of Samos, and we laughed some more.  The story became a running gag.  I embellished it each time I told it, like a growing tall tale.  I had the Wild Cat working out on a stairmaster while trapped in the cave.  I must have told the Wild Cat of Samos story a dozen times to different people we were traveling with.  What I don't know is why or how Armand came up with a goat?  Just more for the humor, I guess.

So now I've created a story for the Raging Flaming Goat of Samos, with a cameo appearance by the Wild Cat of Samos, as well as the Gilarmis brothers.  Hope to have it illustrated and printed in time for Christmas this year.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gardening for the Future

To the Journal Jar, once again!

Have you ever planted a garden?  What was in it, and why?

I have planted several gardens.  One year we had tomatoes and peppers planted, but the peppers didn't really produce very well.  But we had good tomatoes that year.  A few years back we had an artichoke plant that produced a few meals for us.  And some pretty flowers. We had tomatoes again that year, along with a couple strawberries and a jalepeno bush.  The strawberries were good when we could get them before the critters did.  Same with the tomatoes.  Jalepenos didn't fare so well.  But that artichoke produced for a couple years-- might even still be there.  But we moved away.

I also tried planting asparagus one year, but it never produced anything.  Not even a asparagus weed of some sort.  Just dead dirt.  I've planted a few trees in my time, too.  Got a few seedlings from the City on their Arbor Day celebration, where they hand out seedlings to the kids.  They always seemed to have leftovers, and I'd get a couple of different things-- one year my mom, my aunt, and I got Japanese maple tree saplings.  I ended up with them all-- six trees.  I nursed them along through heatwaves during the summer and ended up keeping a few of them alive long enough to plant in the ground.  One, I know, is doing really well in the back yard at our former house, unless the new owners chopped it down.  But it was so healthy, growing so nicely, I don't see why they would have done that.  We had also planted a 5 in 1 fruit tree in that same back yard.  I wonder how it's doing.  It had two varieties of peach, a nectarine, a plum, and an apricot all grafted to one trunk.  Probably finally producing some nice fruit this most recent season.

We've yet to get things going here at our new homestead.  I'm in the planning stages still.  I don't tinker around in the yard like I used to.  Not sure why.  Mostly because I was so depressed that I just couldn't do it.  Didn't feel like it.  Now, I want to redo the whole yard.  Take out the lawn and put in crops.  Or berries and grapes.  No more of this lawn crap.  I want food.  If I'm going to have to work in the yard, it should produce something for me.

Where we're at now, we have more front yard square footage than in the back yard.  And we have a few trees planted already.  We have a Navajo ash and a crepe myrtle that are "City trees" and then an Oregon ash that I planted over a year ago that I don't know for sure if it's going to make it, but it's trying.  There's also some sort of pine tree that I'm not sure what to do with...  In back we have an orange tree, a tangelo tree, and a lemon tree, plus another shade tree that I planted to help keep our bedroom cool in the summer.  (I forget the name of the shade tree or I'd put it down).  I want to utilize the philosophy of permacultre when designing my landscapes.  And I've misplaced my permaculture books.  So until the time when I organize my house so that I can actually find books that I want to read... the yard must wait.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dreaming Face Fractals

Do I dare do two Journal Jar entries in the same day?

Here goes something--

What is the weirdest dream you've ever had?

Well now, that's just impossible.  I have too many weird dreams to choose from.  They're all extremely weird.  Dreams can be that way.
Face Fraction

One of the weirdest sensations I've had while dreaming was the feeling that I can't wake up completely.  This has happened several times.  In the dream, I realize that I'm asleep and I'll start trying to wake up, trying to move, but I'm separate from my body.  I'm just thinking, detached from the physical body.  I try to move, to slap myself in the face to wake me up, but nothing works.  I usually end up trying to yell something, screaming.  Sustained straining and screaming starts to move my body away from the deep slumber, and I'll whimper or moan as a connection starts to establish itself.  After what seems like a long and drawn out struggle, I awake to myself yelling and sit up with a start.  I usually still feel drugged, heavy, drowsed, but I'm rattled and anxious now.

This dream led to my central struggle in the plot of my short story that I wrote in high school, called "Death of a Nerd."  Someday I'll have to post it.  I have to unearth it from all the writing stuff I have amassed.  It's in here somewhere.

I have a lot of writing that I've already done that hasn't seen another person's eyes.  And a lot of it might just stay that way.  I wrote a lot of journals when I was younger.  It was therapy before I could afford regular therapy.  Writing is powerful like that.  It gets the stuff out of your head and into your hands so you can work with it, like clay.  Once it's out, you can organize it, shape it, work it into something.  And it clears space for the origination of greater thought.

I worked today on my sort of children's book.  I'm thinking more and more that I just need to get on with it and make some dumb ass drawings for it and get it done so that I can publish it myself and give it away to Armand and Melissa before their kids are in college already.  The book was born over ten years ago already.  Ten years.  That's a lot of reading time.  A children's book takes only minutes to read.  How long do they take to write and illustrate?  A little longer, I'm guessing.  A little longer.

Anyway.  Back to the weird dreams... I've blogged about them before: see the Dream of Life and Goals Work to Make Dreams Reality.  Also Return to the Journal Jar.  Do check them out.  I don't recall having much weirdness happen in my dreams as of late.  So I'm due.  Maybe tomorrow I'll have a real doosie.  Or is that Duzy?  Douxie.  You get the idea.  Something major.  Until then, then.

More Christmas in October

I think the Journal Jar would like it to be Christmas all year round.  Look what it has to say today (in October, no less...)

What is the best Christmas present you received?  What is the best one you gave?

I talked about the jacket I got that was the perfect gift at the perfect time in Christmas in February (and there's a great photo of it, too).  I still think that was the best gift I have received, because it was exactly what I wanted and it was still such a surprise that I got it.  That's hard to pull off.  But mom and dad did it.  Hooray for mom and dad!  Hooray for me!

Another great gift I received was a bit more unconventional.  It happened last year, when Suzy allowed me to attend the Children's Book Writer's Conference in Big Sur.  It was a magical experience, and I got so much of what I'd been looking for in critique, suggestion, and advice for several years.  I met some wonderful people from all over the country and bonded with them-- told stories, laughed-- it was a whirlwind of activities and learning and cheerful growth-- like getting the right medicine and finally getting a chance to be well after years of suffering...  Thank you, Suzy, for trusting that I could handle such a thing by myself at a pivotal time in my recovery-- and even though I ended up back in the hospital, I think it made me a better person, a better man.  I became in tune with my heart and really felt whole for the first time in a very long time.  And coming out of the hospital, afterward, I think I was the most put together that I've been since the diagnosis.  I received very good care at the Kaiser facility and made strides toward wellness that I haven't made in years.  So I got a gift from Suzy in allowing us to splurge on Big Sur, which led to more gifts from my caregivers and fellow "students" at the hospital.  And all well before Christmas!

The Kolbs

Shifting gears to try and talk about gifts given instead of received... wow.  That's hard.  I don't remember anything standout right off the bat.  Come to think of it... I think the year that I framed up the Kolb family portrait and gave one to each of the siblings (and their offspring, and others that requested one) was a good one.  It was the first Christmas without "Daddy" and the family was grieving the loss of him earlier in the year.  Years earlier, we had gathered under the Kolb Place street sign for a photo session while all of the kids happened to be in town, and I had snapped a few shots and eventually settled on one that I liked of all the kids and mom and dad.  Then that Christmas, Suzy and I found a stack (a large stack) of picture frames at a store on sale.  I think we counted out 15 of them and set to work.  I got the prints enlarged to fit the frames and we assembled each one with care.  When the time came to open the gifts, we handed them all out and had everyone open them at the same time.  It was a very quiet room, filled with the emotion.  And love.  A few tears were shed, and we embraced the memory of Daddy and longed to have him there, passing out the gifts and running the show.  We quietly resumed the celebration with him on our minds and in our hearts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

What?  Like you haven't noticed it yet?  I've been humming Christmas tunes already, dreaming in egg nog and pine scented happiness.  So why not just roll with it?  Screw Halloween.  And like Lewis Black says, Thanksgiving is just Christmas Halftime.

So speaketh the Journal Jar.

Describe getting a Christmas tree as a child, when did you put it up and decorate it?

I think I've already blogged about our jaunts to the hills to visit the Christmas tree farms.  We even passed the tradition on to our nephews, driving them up there several different Christmas seasons to select a tree and bring it home for decorating.  See Christmas in February for some o' dat.  For now, though, how about a picture?  To the left, to the left...

We've borrowed my dad's truck and driven up into the Santa Cruz mountains with the boys, playing the Beatles and singing as we snaked through the hills on the winding roads.  The weather hasn't always been very kind to us, but we got out there and got a tree, nothing stopped us.  One year it was windy and raining and we took a wrong turn and ended up in the back access road, kind of four-wheeling our way until we could find our way back to the tree lot.  We made it back, and little Michael exclaimed "That was COOL!"  And you know what, it really was.

Once we'd get home I'd set to work cutting the bottom of the tree to prep it for the stand, and Suzy would get the boys started unpacking the tree decorations and such.  Christmas music would be played on the stereo, and once I got the lights on it was a decorating free-for-all.  Pretty much ended up with all the decorations hanging on the front of the tree, but that was fine.  It was perfect that way.

We even had fun having the nephews overnight before we'd go to get the tree in the morning.  There's always great food on our get-togethers-- monkey bread, Psycho Donuts, mac-and-cheese, and of course, grapes.  Suzy can elaborate on the food angle better than I can.  Maybe she will.  All I know is, we don't go hungry.

And we do hot chocolate.  I think we've even made coffee for them (decaf), with lots of cream and sugar, of course.

But none of this would have happened, potentially, if it hadn't been for my parents taking my sister and I to the hills to cut down our own Christmas tree when we were young.  I remember getting the tree about a week before Christmas and listening to Christmas music while we untangled the lights, drank hot chocolate, and hung all the decorations with care.  Each decoration brought back a memory, and we came to look forward to unearthing each one from the tissue paper and boxes of all our prized Christmas stuff.  My aunt Bernice used to make lovely bread dough ornaments that she sculpted and hand painted.  They were some of our favorite things and we treasured them as if they were worth more than their weight in gold.  Many of them came to an untimely end because we stored them in the attic of our garage, and during the summer in the Central Valley everything was cooked at well over one-hundred degrees.  We lost a lot of keepsakes to the summer heat, discovering the melted mess when we went to decorate for Christmas that year.  It was sad, but we didn't fret for long.  But I think I'm still grieving the loss of some of the things.  Like the marshmallow ball I had made as a kid.  What a sticky mess it became.  But it had been beautiful, and I had made it.  It's often hard to say goodbye...

Anyway, I now have an even greater appreciation for my parents taking us out like they did.  As a kid it was great fun to hike around in the hills, looking at all the trees, breathing the brisk air.  As an adult-- it's a lot of work!  But so worth it.  The kids love it, and hopefully they'll have fond memories of it when they are adults, just like I do.  And maybe they'll even want to take me up into the hills and run me around in my old age.

Maybe.  Better get in shape just in case.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupy San Jose and Other Acts of Activism

There's been a flurry of activity in my life this last week.  I've had appointments, impromptu acts of activism and altruism, and I've had a bunch of caffeinated beverages.  And a few beers.  But what else is new.

I went downtown to San Jose where the Occupy protest was being staged last Friday.  I helped out, met some folks, bought a few supplies, and talked at length with one of the participants.  He was very interesting.  Probably in his sixties, he's a wanderer of sorts, networking for people and getting things done.  He said that he was fired from his job just the other day, and that he'd been spending too much time down at the occupation.  He asked me what my story was.  I told him that I'm unemployed, that I quit my job to deal with my life as a citizen diagnosed with a mental illness.  He asked if he could pray for me, so I said sure.  We bonded and shook hands.  He seemed to be a genuine and nurturing individual.  He told me he might have some leads on a job for me.  So I'll keep him in mind.

We went back on Saturday and dropped off some water that we had left over from Suzy's high school reunion.  They were appreciative, even though I gave it to them in a red fabric Wells Fargo bag.  Suzy pointed this out to me as not the best move.  Still makes me giggle a bit.

I also attended, sort of, a conference via webcast over last weekend.  It was the Bioneers conference that I had hoped to attend, but it was just too expensive.  So I watched it online for free!  Do check out the video presentations at the Bioneers site, while they have them up for free (Go to and click on the video archives to get a list of the presentations).  Lots of amazing work being done out there in the world, and these are some of the purveyors of activism and ingenuity.  I highly recommend Paul Stamets, Gloria Steinem, and many others.  It's a mind expanding experience.

Also, I went with my buddy Mary to Berkeley to visit a couple salvage companies.  The first was Urban Ore, a huge warehouse filled with recycled parts and parcel for redoing your home kitchen, bathroom, or back yard.  It was really overwhelming.  There were so many parts and pieces, it was kind of like a thrift store crossed with a junkyard.  They had record albums and books, doorknobs and cabinet pulls, lampshades and electrical boxes, doors and windows and toilets and sinks.  The second place we went to was  Ohmega Salvage.  It was a bit more organized, a lot smaller scale, and a lot more expensive.  One of the most interesting things that they had was a stack of chunks of what appeared to be a gymnasium floor.  You could get 17 square feet of floor, finished on the top with the clear, shiny polymer, for about $320.00.

What you would do with that, I don't know.  Maybe a nice coffee table?

This weekend takes us to Relay Committee Academy in Gilroy.  In fact, I need to be up in about six hours to get going to that.  So I shan't be long here.  But it should prove to be fun.  We'll be honing our skills in fundraising, motivating, and just plain having fun.  And there will be bagels, I'm told.  I foresee no downside.

We'll be in touch, blog friends.  Onward to the euphoria of life!  Bring forth the learning and the change that you wish to have in this life.  You must be the change.  Bring it.

Best of luck to y'all.  Mighty changes.