325. Going through the Motions

At dance class Colonel Frank tells us over and over that we have to keep going through the motions of new dance steps in order to develop muscle memory. I understand that. It’s just awkward to do something wrong over and over. It seems like we are practicing the incorrect moves and committing errors to muscle memory instead of perfected dance code. He reassures us that we are repeating near approximations of the desired goal. Our imperfect dancing is getting closer to the target, he says. I hope so. I know that the few dances my eternally youthful bride and I have learned were not there, and not there, and then inexplicably… there. Chick-a- chick-a-boom-boom!!  How’s does that work? One night at the winery I recognized that Santana’s song (actually all Santana songs) was a cha-cha. I just suddenly knew and my wife joined the cha-cha steps in open mouthed wonder at my Astaireness. I was a flaming comet musical dance genius for about 15 seconds.

My road to success went as follows.

1. I don’t know. I’m stupid. Duh.

2. I still don’t know. I’m still stupid. Duh, duh.

3. I know. I don’t know how I know, but I now know. I’m brilliant. Or maybe, I’m incrementally less stupid. Whazzup wiff dat?

It’s not a sexy mantra or a good high school cheer, but it’s true. I suppose I could funk it up and make it more rhythmic…

“I’m dumb, I’m dumb, I dance like a drunken bum.

Still pathetic, pathetic, I aint so copasetic.

I’m better, I’m better, I’m sharper than your cheddar.”

Maybe not. [Movie trailer voice] ‘In a world of reverse limbo dancing, you start with the quality limbo bar on the ground and dance over it until, suddenly,  it becomes embarrassing, criminal, or just anatomically impossible.’And yet we have mastered the Foxtrot, a dance that tied us in silken knots when we first tried to step, touch, feet together, step, touch, feet together. Now we can actually turn the girl and promenade like a pair of Austro-Hungarian royal milk chocolatiers, like trotting foxes come to think of it.

A gym teacher I once worked with used to say, “Fake it till you make it”. I always liked that expression. It simultaneously acknowledges the incompleteness of the now and gives hope for future competence.  It’s not a deceitful proposition. It’s encouraging instead. “Throw the horseshoes till you get a ringer.” “Roll up on that polena” ( in bocce). I like games where imperfection counts for something, i.e., getting near the target is acknowledged and encouraged.

On the other hand there is the self defeating pirate message, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”  The smart aleck in me likes that impossible situation, at least the dark humor in it. Cyclical dilemmas are fascinating– “We’ll have fun when the work is done…but the work is never done.”

“You’ll be released from prison when you have a fixed address on the outside. But you can’t get a fixed address on the outside till you’re out of prison.”

“You can have credit as soon as you prove you are credit worthy by paying off a loan, for which you need credit.”

“You can have a puppy as soon as you can prove you can raise a dog. But you can’t have a dog unless you start with a puppy. How about a kitten?”

These are no motion processes.  The game is over before it starts. In this world of dilemmas you have to hit the bull’s eye the first and only time you throw with your arms duct taped behind your back. It’s about being perfect. “Hey, just grab the bull by the horns and wrestle him into submission.”

To continue going through the motions of a no motion game is mind numbing. It can break the human mind and spirit, like digging holes and moving dirt only to move the dirt back to fill the original hole for no apparent reason. A one piece checker game, a stalemate, kickball with no ball, frozen mimes– what’s the point?  Humans demand meaning and purpose somewhere after oxygen, water and food, shelter and safety, security and love. Often times suicides are driven by perceived purposelessness and meaningless in one’s life. (Especially troubling is the suicide rate of mimes and circus clowns, estimated at 53%.)

Without water I am thirsty. Without food I am hungry. Without oxygen I’m getting pretty jacked up for my next breath. But all these needs drive me toward survival, the mad thrashing and grasping for life. Without meaning, however, it’s easier for thinking people to let go, to override the survival instinct because they can’t keep simply going through the motions, i.e., the near approximation of life. Just ask a mime, but you’ll never get an answer. He’ll take it to the grave.

Freud said there was a life urge and a death urge, Eros and Thanatos, and I believe this is true. The life urge pulls us to sex and creativity and heaven; the death urge pulls us to depression, defeat, and finally the grave. Sometimes, I guess, the tires of life get deflated and we can hit a flat spot in self esteem, marriage, career, family or faith. Going through the motions may help jumpstart the old energy for life’s zest. Going to the no motion one swing at the piñata mindset will corkscrew you into an early grave. It comes down to a choice of frames around life. Do you go with something hopeful and promising or something desperate and toxic? Imagine framing a baby picture with a thick black frame featuring gargoyles sneering. On the other hand, try framing dear departed Uncle Fred in a cheery pink rosebud frame. The same holds true with how you frame your own life.

So here is the take away nugget: keep going through the motions with faith in the unseen goal. Fake it till you make it, Carlos. Believing in the no motion option is deader than a dead mime.

252. “Call the doctor or I’ll kill you!”

I tend to exaggerate, but my wife did say something like this to me this morning. You see  a month ago she’d written on a piece of gray cardstock that my doctor’s office had called me for a follow up appointment … because she does not want to be a widow at 58, especially since I have finally learned to dance with her and show some promise for retirement. I had faithfully used that reminder card as my bookmark for the past month. She bugged me a few times and I said that I would call the office to schedule, but here I am thirty days later, senseless and defenseless. She’s worried that I may have some hidden cancer that is eating me up, metastasizing as I am fantasizing about being younger and buffer than I am. I told you that I tend to exaggerate. Now keep in mind, my blogstas, this is the same woman who once told me to unloosen my belt and unthaw the frozen roast beef. To which I replied, “You want me to tighten the belt and refreeze the meat?” The current threat is ironic, I think.  It boils down to this paraphrase, ‘Prolong your life or I’ll end it now!’ In some strange way I think I still have to unthaw that meat and I am it, and I am scared.

So this  got me thinking about other ironic communications in my life. Years ago in Sunday School class our then single gun-toting cowboy Josh was famous for saying off the wall things that would occasionally make sense. His favorite color was/is camo. His favorite shoe?  Tony Lamas boots. Favorite truck?  Dodge Ram. I don’t recall the exact conversation, but Josh offered that the devil comes on like sheep in wolves’ clothing. He meant the opposite; however, he had such a history of twisted clauses and phrases that it was anyone’s guess which way he wanted it to roll. The imagery is weird either way, but I’d never heard of herbivores skinning out a carnivore for a new suit.

That is the beauty of irony; it’s completely opposite of your expectations. Shame on you for thinking that way! Incomplete communication is the heart of many trick questions. Here’s one that occurred to me. “Which one of the following months has 30 days in it– June, July or August?”  Well, they all have thirty days, but if you push and pull a bit, you can imply that the answer ought to be June alone. And that vague gap is what lawyers drive wedges into to end contracts or nullify agreements or just to be mean.
At the coffee shop this morning the Nation was meeting in earnest. Two games of chess were played satisfactorily. (I dominated.) However, Joel, the consigliere exchequer of the Nation, was making noises behind us, two tables thither. It’s cold this morning, which got me to bust out the Eddie Bauer down jacket, affectionately known as Mr. Fluffy. Joel has a bizarre attraction to my fluffy jacket like the old Charmin toilet paper commercials proclaimed, “It’s squeezably soft.”  He has heard me say that it’s $2.00 a squeeze if I’m in the jacket, and $1.00 a squeeze if I’m not.  Anyway, we bantered back and forth about his predilection and how it meets a primal mammalian need to suckle. I offered to clip a binky on my jacket for next week so that he could have the full experience. He declined saying it was too weird. To which I responded, “Why is it okay for lawyers to pinch and squeeze their customers, but when their customers want a piece of the action, it’s a no squeeze zone?”
Ah, the suckling irony of it all!
Earlier this week, Tuesday night to be exact, I worked until 8:30 p.m. and then checked my cell phone– three texts and three voicemails. I could quickly guess that Danny’s Garage meant my car was ready, so I began walking the two blocks to pick it up, hoping that the keys were under the mat as usual. Two texts were from my wife reminding me to pick up our daughter at 8:30. One voice mail was, I was sure, her attempt to confirm why I had not responded to either text message. I’d been fully engaged with clients since 2:00 pm without any break, that’s why. I hustled to pick up the car, then the daughter, and answered another voice mail with a live phone call. It was exhausting. Guess what? My wife was upset with me that I had not texted her back a simple “ok” to confirm that I’d received her three reminders. At 9 p.m. when I was finally eating supper, I did not have room in my brain to store her complaint. So I just stared at her like the substitute village idiot.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon. As I was leaving my office to pick up the dry cleaning and go by the bank, I noticed a reminder text from my bride to pick up our daughter after her work day. Though I already knew this and had it on my calendar, I panicked and fumbled with my phone. I quickly typed “k” to acknowledge her text and avoid future pain. But my phone would not let me send that. No, technology was using me not vice versa. I tried again as I was driving, which I think is a crime unless you have just picked up 30 pounds of dry cleaning.  I missed the k key and typed “LLL”. I was screwed. The phone tried to edit me and refused to send that also. Finally I typed blindly “PLO” and sent it by mistake.  Uh, what’s the deal here? I pondered how she would interpret this error… “Are you comparing me to a terrorist organization?”
Sure enough, an hour later she called to inquire about the PLO. I told her that’s how you spell “ok” when you are driving a five speed SUV and you are scared of your wife’s retribution. Okay, I guess sometimes the truth is the best policy. She chuckled and gave me three points for the effort. “You know you could have just waited till  you got home to safely text me.”
“I know, I know, but I needed to unloosen my belt and unthaw the meat before you kill me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

205. Something about turtles, soda machines and ducks

Unless it’s a snapping turtle, they aren’t intimidating. They are slow and almost helplessly defensive; they retreat into their shells when danger approaches. They close up like an elevator door with a low whoosh as they exhale. In come the legs and tail. Nothing hangs out for a predator to nibble on. They are reptiles, as I’m sure you know. So there is no mammalian warmth possible from even the cutest of turtles. Nor can  you get milk from a healthy pregnant female. I like most turtles, especially the small ones that you can pick up and investigate closely. Big tortoises are cool, as are mature sea turtles, but you can’t easily get next to these creatures. Something about turtles is prehistoric, dinosauric if I may say so.Juvenile Blanding's turtle

No matter, you can’t get milk from a turtle. I tell some of my stuck clients this odd advice. It’s up there with “You are not a duck”. Quite often I have clients who want what they cannot get from another person– spouse, parent, child, friend, boss, employee, etc. They try and try to get what it is they want or believe they need– a compliment, deep intimacy, respect, a promotion, work ethic, or something else that is not present… but should be. These folks get so hung up on what should be, i.e., their expectations of the other person, that they can’t see the forest for the trees. They lose perspective. To grab their attention and burn an image into their brains, I ask, “When are you gonna stop trying to get milk from a turtle?”

“What do you mean?” is the usual response. So I explain.

“Turtles don’t give milk, no matter how hard you try.”

“I know that.”

“Okay, but if your partner were a turtle, you’d send him cards or feed him grass or play nice music or clean his cage… all in the hope of getting him to give you milk.  You can moo and graze and watch videos about cows, but that turtle is never gonna give you milk, even if you strap on a set of artificial udders.”

“Uh, but he should meet my honorable, reasonable requests. It’s just common sense and common decency here.”

“Right, and he’s had six years or is it sixteen to figure out how to give milk. How much milk have you gained?”

“None. He’s a reptile. I just don’t  want to admit it.”

“You just did.”

“I know and I  hate you for making me see this truth.”

“Oh well, Irvin Yalom called therapy ‘Love’s Executioner’. I like that title. Attachment assassin.”

“Thanks for peeing in my corn flakes, doc.”

“No additional charge, my friend. It’s just what I do.”

And so it goes time and again. Insight comes from sharp pain. Wisdom comes from cords of splinters under your skin.

When soda machines and public phone booths were common sights, I used to allude to the guy in the alley at the Coke machine. I approached him one night as he kicked and punched the soda machine while cursing it and calling it everything but a Coke machine. I said, “Whoa, Buddy, what’s going on here?”

He replied, “Dang stupid possum scum took my dollar and didn’t give me a Coke.”

I inquired further, “When did this happen?”

He said, “About six months ago.”

At which point I noticed the machine was not even plugged in.

Naturally my clients ask, “Did that really happen?” My conscience compels me to be honest. “No, but you get the point, right? If you’re still kicking the Coke machine, after a while the problem is not the machine’s.”

“Okay, doc. I don’t want to be that stupid guy. You know, for a minute, you had me going.”

Then there are my feathered friends. Once I had a lovely young lady client who was so confounded and disillusioned that she made bad choices that brought her into my office. She seemed determined in her belief that she was unlovable, doomed, and irredeemable. Despite some impressive achievements in academics and sports, she felt no real value for herself. It was a hard sell for me to reflect her beauty, truth, and worth back to her. I suspect she feared a landslide or an avalanche of crushing consequences if she accepted the first grain of my truth.

We got along quite well. I sensed she needed more fathering and endorsement in her young life. One day I told her, “You know what your problem is?”

“No. What?”

“You are not a duck.”

“Say what?”

“Nope, not a duck.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well, do you know the story of the Ugly Duckling?”  Shockingly she did not. “Oh my gosh. Uh, this bird is picked at, ridiculed even, and develops low duck esteem because it is not as pretty and developed as the ducks around it, you see. It is cast off and has to eat alone, full of little bird angst and pain. Until one day it sees these glorious big birds gracefully glide onto the pond’s surface. These regal birds come to the Ugly Duckling and recognize it as one of their own. Turns out that this bird was not a duck but a baby swan. A cygnet. And that is your problem: you are a swan who is trying to be a duck.”

A funny half smile/ half sob developed on her lovely young face. Tears mixed with honey and vinegar welled in her rims. Something in that childhood story touched the child in her. “I’m a swan,” she whispered to herself.

“Yup. In so many ways. Stop trying to be a duck.”

“I will try.”

“Good. Now get out of here.”

Over the next few months we had a few emails back and forth. I knew she was healed when she signed off, “The Swan”.swan couple portrait in the marsh at sunset -

182. The Great White Hunter Cometh

Tomorrow night I return to the woods in pursuit of the venison I did not shoot last year due to a pair of small oversights– no bullet in the chamber and no doe tag. This year I am fully ready to slay a buck and a doe. I have ammo and will load in the light. I have had a year to ponder my errors, like the St. Louis Cardinals. I have my doe tag and I will not be denied again. It’s time to detach from the modern clock-driven world and re-attach to nature. So I’m packing my boots and socks and sweater and gloves. Bullets. Coffee. Okay, I’m good. A book to read in the evenings. And an attitude of reverence.

My buddy Clark got me into this business. I had been perfectly content not to hunt all my life. Then he got on me like a used vacuum cleaner salesman on an aborigine cave dweller. He persuaded me that I had to hunt or die missing one of the wonders of life. So I had to have this experience that had evaded me for 55 years. I ran the sweeper in my mental cave and had to have one. After I was successful and killed a fat doe two years ago, I became drunk with success.

Now I’m a drunk hunter with a vacuum cleaner salesman in a cabin, figuratively speaking. I have venison visions– deer approach furtively while I scope them from a tree stand 300 yards away. I site in the 10 point buck and KABOOOOOM, the 270 rifle report echoes across the hills as the buck drops. I run over the scrub and fences into the field to claim my fallen stag. Adrenaline pumps through every pore of my being as the animal’s heart ceases beating. It’s a strangely spiritual experience watching the life force leave one animal so that another may live. It’s brutal, grisly, and messy. And then it gets worse with the gutting and butchering that comes later. Through it all I want to honor the animal that has been slain. I think of the Indians and how they used all of a deer out of reverence and need. That’s not practical today. Besides, what do you do with a deer leg? My dog did enjoy the last one I gave him. But four legs? I could give them as Christmas presents to folks with dogs. “Something small and funky for your dog, Marilyn.”
“Ewww!!!!”

We leave the carcass for the coyotes to fight over. It must be like winning the lottery for them when a huge unearned meal drops mysteriously out of the blue in the middle of their woods. Other animals that winter outside will take what they need from the carrion we leave. The life cycle continues and death plays a critical part. Birds, bears, rats, or bobcats can all drop in for a bite. I don’t think they take turns like humans at a deli counter. No, for animals it’s the quick and the dead in the woods. For humans it’s the patient and armed who survive to blog about it all.

And blog I will. Compared to killing wild animals, it’s so much more civilized to hygienically write about hunting. Like the cave men who scribbled on walls before zealous vacuum cleaner salesmen converted them to new religions. Those were the forerunners of hunting blogs. I know smart aleck archeologists claim that the artists tried to gain power over the spirit of their prey by drawing pictures on cave walls, but how silly an idea is that. Some of the scrawlings have recently been translated by hip anthropologists. One such sketch was found to translate, “Thad miss bison. He suck.” Another seemed to say simply, “OOps” as a hunter was gored by a rhinogiraffeasaurus. It has been theorized that the cave scribe was not actually a hunter. Careful handwriting analysis determined that he was one armed, apparently, and had a seizure disorder that caused him to fall into the fire pit frequently, which is how he discovered the medium of charcoal. He was half shaman, half artist, and half ambidextrously mad. Don’t you believe a word of this.

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Two days later… I have returned from the cabin in the mountains where Clark resides sometimes. Day one was not a good time for the GWH. I saw only one deer the entire day, and I was out from 5:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. with a break for lunch. As dusk was coming over the ridge, a large doe dashed across the dirt road I was walking down. I drew up on her but decided not to pull the trigger since I could not get a good angle on her left shoulder. Twelve hours of nothing does not prepare you for the five second rush that is rifle hunting. I was cold, surprised, and on foot. Not the best combination for success.

Meanwhile Clark was farther down the road, deeper in the woods. He had only seen three deer all day, and those were in the last hour. He showed me his tree stand and suggested that I sit in it come the next morning.

So this morning I did just that. I watched the woods come to light again, like watching a very slow Polaroid picture develop from nearly total black into rusty leaves below India ink tree silhouettes that rise up to a pale blue sky streaked with early morning orange cloudstreams. The squirrels got busy in the dry leaves and made a ruckus, enough thrashing noise to be confused with the approach of deer. After a while I heard the stronger, longer thrashing that signified several deer were behind me. Unfortunately they were directly behind me, and I could not turn with my gun without spooking them. So I sat and waited for them to come to me. They played little reindeer games and left before I could get one of them in my scope.

Now I began to wonder if these would be the only deer I’d see today. I determined to take my next shot, even if it was not an ideal angle. Maybe twenty minutes later I heard a single deer treading slowly through the leaves about 50 yards over to my right. It appeared to be a decent sized single doe weaving between trees in no particular hurry. I scoped her and then waited for her to walk from behind an oak tree and into my crosshairs. When she did, I fired and down she went. ‘Well that was easy’, I thought to myself. I jumped down from the stand, reloaded just in case, and walked over to the fallen animal.

I called Clark to let him know I had one. He said I should sit tight and he’d bring the truck over at 8:00 a.m. Great.
After I hung up my phone, I began dragging the deer over for a cell phone picture, when horrors, two spindly spikes appeared between her ears!!! She was a he, a spike buck. I had an illegal deer on my hands and Lou Reed singing “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” in my brain. “Doot doot doot, dootadoot doot doot doot dootadoot doot…”

Whatever shall I do? I know, I’ll continue this blog post to #183.