360. 1461 [Days]

In case you were wondering, the title is not a phone number I found; it’s 4 years of days plus one day for leap year. That’s how long I’ve been at this blog business. Averaging 90 posts per year or one every 4 days. Whoa! If this wound up on paper, I could be sued for wasting trees and contributing to global warming. I could also be charged for corrupting miners, except I have never written for or about miners– coal, gold, salt, silver, copper, nada. Internet loitering is not a crime yet. But I plead guilty, my honorable blognoids. I have loitered in cyberland and wasted over a thousand hours in the passionate pursuit of purposelessness.  Yet, never has posting felt like forced duty at the gym or reluctant treadmill time. No, I find it therapeutic to blather into the blogisphere as my life sputters by.

It feels like I’ve been at this a lot longer, but my trusty WordPress stats confirm it– four years. Over 300,000 words easily since most of my posts come in around 1,000 words, my self imposed limit. Along  the way I learned how to import pictures that I scammed off the internet. What a difference that made. I’m a fairly visual guy and love finding images that seem to connect with my eccentric words. Some folks go about with metal detectors and find metallic treasures in fields and stream beds. I go about with my image detectors, my eyes, in search of connective visual tissue. But for me a tiny 8 watt bulb lights up when I find a picture that adds energy to my impoverished, eccentric words, caged in horizontal lines.

Centric means to be in the center or central. Ec & centric means to be off center or outside the circle of centeredness, often taken to mean ‘unconventional and slightly strange’. Outside the box, over the top, in one’s own orbit, marching to the beat of a different drum, etc. Yeah, no argument from me. Looking at my body of work, or is it play?, I’d have to conclude that it constitutes a strange stream of consciousness that sometimes flows uphill, backwards, nowhere, and everywhere; spiraling inward and outward across the limits of time and space. I have written about penguins, vodka, birds, flowers, dogs, gila monsters, coyotes, hitchhiking, God, prison, health, age, youth, music, art, innocence and experience, coffee nation, immigration, politics, love, faith, forgiveness, death, plumbing and the list goes on and on. Why?  Many reasons. I like language. I enjoy writing. I like to entertain, maybe even educate, folks

When I worked as a construction laborer in the early 70’s, I felt there was more to life than shoveling dirt and gravel all day long. I remember reading The Brothers Karamazov that dark winter and feeling deep intellectual and spiritual pings on my soul’s sonar. The messages were not acutely articulated. It was more like whales barking across the ocean. That was the same year I took my trip to England and Scotland, ’73-74, without a plan. I simply followed magnetic fields that drew me elsewhere. At the time I attributed my spontaneity to freedom and nonconformity. Looking back I give God credit for protecting me from my own arrogant stupidity.

Later on I went to college because my closest friends were going. I fell in love with learning and with my future wife, who had odd concepts like goals and structure and discipline. Whew!! I am still amazed and grateful that we continue to travel life’s path together. And still those sonar pings keep hitting my soul, telling me to be elsewhere, beyond this moment that I usually enjoy. Not alone necessarily but elsewhere. I guess it’s the same old wanderlust that led me away from safety and routine in the first place, deep into wooded acres and far across forbidden perimeter roads. Hearing my mother say, “Don’t….” often led to a desire to inhabit the prohibition, unsupervised by adults.

The Gravel Pit was fenced off from our ball field and elementary school yard. Of course older boys had created openings for us to pass through. When The Pit was operating, we’d sit on the surrounding banks and watch the big machines load dump trucks with orange sand and bank run gravel. Duly impressed by the diesel smoke, the loud thuds of a load, and the rumble in the earth as overloaded trucks ground gears across dusty roads. We’d ride out bikes across hillocks of hard clay and jump gullies eroded by years of heavy rains. Days had no numbers then, no end was imaginable beyond one setting sun. Watches and calendars were for adults to worry with. We pursued lizards and turtles and snakes, squirrels and possums, along with the secrets of becoming a young man. After the last employee left the Gravel Pit, we’d inch down like forest creatures and explore their vehicles and sit in backhoes and bull dozers. We were  in awe of the raw power they possessed. Yes, we trespassed but did not vandalize. It was more like going to a museum or an amusement park. We displayed boyish reverence for these enormous clanking monsters.

 They were huge and powerful, and we weren’t… yet.

Richard Cooper had a Suzuki 90 cc motorcycle that he’d ride like a bat out of hell up Dorset Drive and across the school grounds, down into the Gravel  Pit. No helmet. No license. No tags. It was the 60’s, man. I was often on the back of the overloaded machine, hanging on for dear life or any life at all. I have a vivid memory of chasing down a ground hog that was too far from its hole. I caught it under a basket and had no idea what to do next, so I let it go. The outcome did not matter so much. The wild chase, the breathless hunt, the exultant thrill were all that counted. We weren’t huge and powerful, yet.

At nearly 60 years of age I can roughly calculate how many more days I am likely to experience in this life. 7305 if I live to see 80. I’ve never calculated my expiration date before, but I can’t say that any more. So, happy anniversary to me, Burrito Man. Live big but practice humility. It’s easier to carry than shame.

 

314. the silent man

He doesn’t say much, so it’s hard to tell if he’s thinking or what he’s feeling. His is not so much a poker face as it is a deflated basketball face. It seems that he used to have more substance on the inside that pushed his chin out and cocked his mouth into a confident smile. More bounce. Back then his warm eyes promised more to come. Now he spends an inordinate amount of time staring into his phone, barely tethered to family and friends, like an absent minded astronaut doing a space walk in the zero oxygen environment of black space.

“I’m going to eat in the bedroom tonight.”

“I’m going to bed now.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night.” And he disappears into that black void beyond gravity’s pull. It’s a weightless but joyless place he goes, and it chips my heart every time he does.”

She is left with behaviors as the evidence of what lies within her almost champion’s heart and head.

“He’s kind and caring… my anchor, but I need him to be the captain of the ship. It’s easy to take an anchor for granted, you know. It’s out of sight and just barely attached. You don’t realize it’s even there when it does its job. In a crisis you pray that it will hold firm… but it’s hard to love an anchor.”

“He’s in chronic pain, tired, and deflated. Yeah, there’s that deflated idea again, where you have to slam the ball down to get it to come back up half as high. Underinflated, hmmmm, like depressed. But let’s not fix anything, no.  I don’t want to be a nag, but I won’t be a doormat either. I’ve done both before and neither worked out. I love who he is; I just don’t get to see much of his who. All the whats bog us down.”

“I’m all over the place with emotions and words and actions. I’m the pilot, the cook, the look out, the medic, the mechanic, fire police, security, accountant, and I swab the ship’s deck. I need him to step into the captaincy, you know, assert some authority.

“Sometimes it’s like playing with my old Mr. Potato Head. I start with a blank slate and give him arms to hold me, cuz I need hugs and touch. I’m a feely kind of girl, you know. Hugs are my drugs.

“Then I’d snap in those smoky eyes I long to fall into. It used to be automatic that I’d see his soul jumping like a pair of dolphins in those deep waters. I can’t find that accessory today, only sad or tired or glazed over eyes in today’s toy box. Mr. Potato Head, I need your soft hands to hold me. I need your strong arms to draw me into that cove where dolphins leap in tandem.

“You’re gonna need more tissues. Honk!!! Sniff. Sigh. I have a buy one get one free coupon for tissues.”

“No thanks. I get a perverse pleasure out of paying full price for things.”

“I’ll give it to your wife. I’m sure she loves a bargain.”

“Oh Yeah.”

“I have three fathers. You know my birth dad left when I was two. He went back to his native country and the familiar world where he was someone of notice. For over forty years I had nothing but radio silence, not even a pop or static on the line, as his blood flowed through my veins. However, my adopted dad showed up big in my life, and I couldn’t have asked for more. I think about that often. When I felt the empty space pull on my soul, I leaned into my Father God. He never left. He’s always held me together when I felt my seams breaking. He sent my adopted father to stand in the huge scarring gap my birth dad left behind.

“Funny thing is I’ve had three husbands also. My adolescent husband abandoned me along with the truth, dignity and the American Way. He chose the past also, where he was someone special. He burned the truth as a sacrifice on the altar of his self-indulgence. He grew like a pimple on my butt. So incredibly annoying and demanding.  Just like with my dad dilemma, I fell into God’s loving arms, exhausted and shattered. Again, My God Jesus walked as a husband with me, filling in the abyss until Chuck and I started the sequels to our first marriages.

“Chuck is the good sheriff who shows up and brings order in the bad cowboy town. I was so hopeful that he’d keep growing, sharing in my life, and not just settle for safe streets. That old song plays in my head about standing by me. I need that so much.

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
Oh darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Oh stand now by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah
Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me
And that’s where I am today, with that old song playing in my exhausted heart. I know God held me in His hands till my True Dad showed up and made it all work. In faith I have to believe He is doing the same with my True Love.

228. thirty five years of bliss and blisters

It must be said, blog sparrows, from every hill and dale: my bride and I are celebrating 35 years of continuous, uninterrupted, matrimonious existence together this July, (next month for the calendar challenged). Let it be written; let it be done.  In our present day and age it’s approaching the nearly unimaginable that ordinary married people can survive the institution of marriage for three and a half decades. Consider this:  Jimmy Carter was president in 1979 when we wed. For political junkies that’s pre-Reagan 1 & 2, Bush the first solo, Clinton 1 & 2, Bush the second 1 & 2, and Obama 1 & 1/2. Over these decades our fearless leaders told us, “Just say no.” “Just don’t ask.” “Just don’t ask me. Ask Dick Cheney or my dad.” “Just do it but don’t tell me about it.”  But along our private path my wife and I had three kids. Two and a half foreign exchange students. A mortgage, refinanced three times. Two undergraduate degrees and two masters degrees. Four distinctly different jobs. Hair loss. Weight gain. Ten cars. Two dogs, two cats, a pile of lizards, a clutch of birds, fish, bunnies, guinea pigs, and an albino frog. Yes, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

It has not been easy. Anyone who has tried to just be a sibling or a friend for most of a life can tell you that. But add on marriage partner and parent to that load, and it’s entirely in another league, like flying a jet off an aircraft carrier is to flying a kite from a sandy beach. Complicated, scary, dangerous, thrilling, burdensome, rewarding, and much more. But we have plodded along the slow and steady path of delayed gratification. Yep. We have read books on communication and marriage, purpose and meaning, novels, psych books, and spiritual books together. We’ve listened to speakers on the radio and cd’s. Went to church together and prayed together.  Did small groups together. We did a marriage retreat or two.

Counseling helped also when it didn’t suck. Mostly it sucked, which is how I got into the business. I think my bride told me once, “You could do a better job than that.” Hey, ringing endorsement or not; I ran with it into my second career. Now that I think about it, my wife’s advice also started me in my first career of teaching. She told me I was a people person not a paper person back when I was a proofreader for a Big 8 accounting firm in D.C. She saved my eternal soul if not my mortal life. I quit the proofreading job that very day and left this note behind…

“How do you get a one-armed proofreader out of a tree? Wave at him. Goodbye.” I was home before the rush hour, unemployed but invigorated.  Rather than setting up like concrete, Life became an adventure again.

Over our forty year relationship we have argued and resolved hundreds of issues. Okay, my wife has and I later agreed with her wisdom. But it comes out to the same thing a few years down the road if you don’t overanalyze everything, alright? I have learned how not to pack a suitcase. How not to do laundry. How not to eat. As a single guy I could just throw my wrinkled clothes into any old bag and be on my way. Likewise I could wash shirts, gym shorts, socks and sneakers in the same load. No worries there. I could also wolf, gobble, slurp, gorge, smack, lick whatever I chose. Life was simple if crude, like a coyote in its natural habitat eating feral cats. Now I am more like a collie dog who occasionally sleeps on the couch but gets wheat free, all natural dog food twice daily. Domestication is not so bad. Shed no tears for me. I could be this homeless guy living on the street. Single and desperate.

I am a fairly classic extrovert married, of course, to a fairly classic introvert. I used to think this was a good thing until I recently read Quiet, by Susan Cain, which elevates the tortoise introverts to hallowed heroes and deflates extroverted hares like me to zeroes. The problem I have with her book is that it’s true and resonates through me on every page. I look over my shoulder now as I shower. It’s creepy how she seems to know my faults.  Slow, methodical approaches to problems win the day in science or buying and selling stocks, she asserts. Extroverts are impatient risk takers. Okay, true. More scholars and researchers are introverts, which makes sense, but it does not make for much of a party. Remember the Far Side cartoon scientists? There’s a dormant party looking to go viral. Just add fun and personality.  I would take offense to her claim that the 1% sexy extroverts get credit for the efforts of the 99% hard working introverts, except I have no ground to stand on there. Dang it!

My bride and I met 40 years ago. I was instantly attracted to her, but that alone is not unusual for 18 year old males who are just larger versions of mosquitoes, I’m afraid, seeking pleasing females doused in clouds of cloying pheromones. What was unusual was that she was attracted to me. My record with attracting girls was pretty weak to that point, and then I retired from that field early on. We struggled in our dating. We struggled as married partners. We struggled as parents. And somehow we survived it all. We are not 51% married and 49% other. It’s not like that. Overall, victory has its share of losses and failures. Ours is not a fantasy marriage. She still hates how I drive and I can’t stand how she drives. She has gotten better at making coffee, however.

No matter the exposition of flaws and disappointments in one another. That is just negative space that enhances all the good and great qualities that remain, like a statue that is exquisitely carved from a clumsy block of stone.  I know my wife thoroughly yet still incompletely after 40 years of intimate life. I like the wonder of love that is never exhausted or fully known. Joy-filled summer breezes still blow through our relationship, scented with honeysuckle and lilacs, roses and peonies, and promises of more years ahead. All my loving… I will give to you.