Archive | May 2008

Domestication and irritation

Spent the weekend up at a friend’s house for Memorial Day. She’s that old Army friend of mine that came down the week prior, whom I talked about two posts ago.

Maggie lives out in “Where the hell?” Ohio, nestled in the south east corner, adjacent to just about nowhere.

“Takes 20 minutes to get to any place,” she joked with me when I finally arrived.

She had to escort me in from the highway and, Lord knows, I’d probably not have found the place. County routes, twisting roads, turn offs, and tiny hamlets to weave through did away with any semblance of “third left past the light” sorts of directions I was used to. Beautiful house, though; definitely remote. Cell phone was useless, so I was out of contact.

I got in Friday, the day before the rest of the gang was supposed to be in. Her boyfriend worked at the local steel mill, had another friend who was a country sheriff, an Army friend I’d never met and two single girls (which she gave me winks about), all of whom were slated to drive out for the cookout Saturday night.

She warned me to bring some work clothes—said she had some man’s work for me to get done around the property. She gave me a cowboy hat and a chainsaw and I took to the forest to find suitable wood for the bonfire. I fell two trees, chopped them up and lugged the wood in.

“Think that will be enough?” she asked, in that rhetorical sort of way.

“Guess not,” I said, and headed back out after lunch.

The other Army friend was supposed to be in around noon, but showed up just as I was hauling in the last truckload of timber. I had a hell of a pile of bark, twigs, sticks and logs. Since her house was heated by a wood stove, I figured any extra would just go to keeping her and the little one warm for the winter.

There was food to be cooked. The grill to be prepped, firstly, and the sun was already kind enough to be on its way out, which gave us our cue for when to start cooking. I let the other Army friend tend to the grill since he was bummed out about playing in the woods with the saw. I figured playing with fire would make up for it.

Boyfriend and sheriff were still at work, but the other ladies arrived, each with their dogs and daughters in tow. There was queso dip and beer to tide us over until the deer meat and hot dogs were thoroughly cooked. Definitely a country cook out.

I watched the little one quite a bit to give Maggie a chance to relax—well, a chance to tend to the hundred other things that needed to get done.

Nothing but complaints from her two “single” lady friends, though. The food wasn’t being cooked fast enough. The bonfire wasn’t lighting fast enough. They were cold. Why wouldn’t someone move a truck up and play some music? Why wasn’t someone mixing them drinks? Why wasn’t someone making them a plate?

On and on. They weren’t unattractive, but were definitely living up the fact that they were the only show in town (tiny as it is).

The dogs were also damaging my calm. Maggie’s dog is a saint, but the others….It was a fight to get food in our mouths and the S’mores project was nearly canceled when they got into the graham crackers.

“You’re going to cook all of our marshmallows, right?” one of Maggie’s girl friends asked.

“Um, probably not,” I said back.

“Well, you need to at least make my daughter’s” she snipped.

I proceeded to give a little speech, which probably did not endear me to her, describing how, in the great scheme of the cosmos, I was under about no obligation to cook her any more than I already had. There were stares from her and the other girl friend—whispers, then giggles.

Eventually, Maggie’s little one went to bed, which eased the stress a little (fire+grill+dogs+baby=eek). Boyfriend and sheriff rolled in after dark, and we had ourselves an evening.

The next morning started with Maggie’s little one waking up at his normal time. I rolled out of bed to help with breakfast while the other guests slept. The girl friends’ daughters were up too, hungry, watching TV. Maggie and I cooked some eggs and bacon for the kids and ourselves. Ran out of eggs—oh well, sleep would suffice the others.

Four hours later, the rest of the gang got up, including the women.

Where’s our breakfast? Why aren’t there any eggs? Why won’t someone make me a biscuit? I’m hungry. I need to wash my clothes. I smell like smoke. You guys are going to the lake? What are we supposed to do?

“You can always help clean house,” I said from the kitchen. Again, probably didn’t earn any points.

Sheriff and boyfriend had left before dawn to go to work, leaving other Army friend, Maggie and I to clean up since girl friends were too tired. At least they watched the kids while we scrubbed—or at least sat in the living room and watched TV in proximity of the kids.

The rest of the day was great. Other Army friend, Maggie, the little one and I went to her family’s spot on a nearby lake. I got to take the little guy out swimming, which he loved. Kept waddling back into the water each time I tried to set him out. I let him to his thing until he started shiver and turn blue. Loved that water, though.

Thus endeth my stint at being a quasi-dad for the weekend. Maggie asked if I was interested in her friends. Had to say no thanks, more’s the pity.

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Passing in hallways

A friend of mine who teaches photography was walking by me the other day in our schoolhouse.

“Don’t you just love empty hallways?” she asked. We were in one of the tucked-away spans of quiet linoleum.

“Is that a hint for me to duck into this door?” I asked back, smiling. She laughed.

“No, ha ha! I just love the quiet. I don’t know, it feels like…well…I don’t know. You know, with all of the pictures of past leaders here on the walls. It’s like…”

“A sense of hushed majesty?”

She looked at me for a second and smiled. “Wow, you writers. You’re dangerous.”

Disarmingly. Words are picture frames, housing ideas that touch off flash fires in the mind. A properly primed set of words can take a man to his knees, or adjoin a woman’s mind with her soul. Poetry is the swordplay of of the mind. Deft strokes and purposed cuts can winnow away the thickest skin

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Sounds and silence

This past weekend, an old friend of mine was in town. “Old” as in we’d known each other from a few years back, yet not “old” as in known that well.

We spent a month together, attending an asinine Army school known now as Warrior Leadership Training, but back then as Primary Leadership Development Course.

The idea is that troops need to know how to be noncomissioned officers. And they (we) do. There’s a lot to cover, going from just another dude to someone who is part parent/disciplinarian/mentor.

So this course was the Army’s answer to that. There were some good tidbits among the month of random cleaning details, uniform inspections and hour upon hour of monotone lectures; but, by and large, PLDC or WLC (depending on how old school you are) is something that is endured. And this friend of mine and I, did just that.

We laughed, we laughed more and we cried from laughing. Apart from the course itself, we had a pretty good time.

Anyways. She was in town visiting a clutch of friends of hers that still hang out in the area and wanted to catch up. She also had her 17-month-old son, who was a cute kid. Many of her friends also had young children. So I spent my weekend in the bosom of young parenthood, among the fights, poopy diapers and frequent screeches.

Which, as you might know, is a very different atmosphere than I’m used to.

Apart from my family, whom I am blessed to be loved by and love wholeheartedly, I have been alone for my whole life. As a military child, I learned to start over every couple of years. There is no home. There is no childhood friendship. There really is nothing consistent other than change.

This is good in that it can make a person very self-sufficient, but it also teaches someone to remain very emotionally distant.

I’ve also been completely alone in my “adult” life—not for lack of trying. Call it bad luck, call it awkwardness, who knows, I swing and miss with the whole relationship thing.

It folds in with the motif of the street urchin looking in someones window to a family enjoying warmth and laughter. It’s just a different world.

So the weekend was a little jarring, to be honest—a good jarring, though.

In little bits, I had someone in my life for a few hours a day. I watched the little guy play. I kept him from falling. I carried him around. It was nice.

I also was completely exhausted after she put him to sleep. Hats off to parents—especially single parents. I knew it was excruciating, but wow, yeah. Still, it was only my first day-ish. I imagine it’s just like running, I’ll have to work up to the longer-distance thing.

So now, back at house, no kids, alone is more alone than ever. Quiet is more quiet. My thoughts resonate too much. There’s no one else to bounce ideas off of. There’s no one to share in things.

Alone has always sucked, to be honest. Sure, there’s freedom in aloneness, which I’m sure is missed by those tied down, but there’s also a cold emptiness, a pins-and-needles numbness from standing in a snowy evening too long. Things are stiff. Laughing at a movie screen feels weird. Sitting by the kitchen at a restaurant never gets fun.

I know God has a plan, and, ultimately, I do trust in it. I throw impatient spats now and again. I just didn’t expect the winter to be so long.

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Quarter past 12

The murmur of the trees mention rain.

In the dark, the paved lanes glisten lines of light in rippling pools.

From far, a cricketing, then gone to calm murmur.

Small orange suns cast cones of dappled gloom on shining metal steeds.

A light of distant dull gray drapes its arms atop the trees.

In staggered groups, drops, distinct splashes of sound in the constant conversation, add effect to the script of misty evening. Pause. Suspense. And then a rolling wave of shaken leaves as breeze arrives.

Leaves in shadows one and two play upon the layered glass—a flattened forest in reach, upon the layered glass.

In the chair, across from open screen, bathed in the scent of rain, there, at last, is sleep.

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Day after day after day

Friday we had our latest graduation. Forty six new journalists were fired off to the field and fleet, ready to start their careers.

Apart from the royal FUBAR of the actual ceremony, on which I’ve been forbidden to blog, afterward there was enough small talk and well-wishes to make the remainder of the day as amicable as we had originally planned.

One of my students came up, thanked me for not being a total bastard and asked, “When do you pick up your new class?”

“Two weeks,” I said.

“Wow, how do you do it? How do you keep teaching the same thing over and over?”

“New class. New people. New experience.”

“Seems like it would get boring.”

I shrugged.

Boring? Naw. Every day is new. Every day is unique. Honestly, there will never be another evening like this one—not ever another breeze, or another rain like this one. The clouds will never align and sparkle in the fading day light as they are now, nor will ever there be that hue of green or purple or red in that pattern across the sky in the history of man.

It’s the same with work. It’s the same with most matters in our lives. Every day is new. Every conversation is a completely new experience. Every talk is a chance to learn something about someone and thus increase awareness about those we love.

Part of it all is the will to find enjoyment in things. For as insurmountable of a task as it might seem to be, honestly, a lot of it is in simple will. I will myself to enjoy things. I will myself to find happiness in smiles and the in betweens. Sure I have a mountain of things that keep me busy, but ultimately, I can choose to dread the day or find satisfaction in my work.

I’m not talking about going hippy and hugging every blasted thing around, but there comes a moment where you or I can choose to get up on the board and ride the wave. It’s a joining with life, rather than trying to redirect it.

I know so many people who spend so much time decrying every moment they’ve lived. Such-n-such didn’t work out, who-n-who turned out to be a prick. There’s a healthy time to reflect and learn, but the world is full of a million reasons to stay miserable and never get up out of bed. In my corner of the universe, I can choose to complain at the drudgery of everything, or I can adapt to a new perspective that sees the beauty in nearly everything.

I know, still hippy-ish, right?

Okay, look at a kid. A kid can experience the same story, read a thousand times, and scream with glee each and every time. A child can hold on to the wonder of life. A child can kick her legs and enjoy the breeze on the swing, then kick her legs for an hour more and love each time. Again! Again! Again!

But as we grow up, we forget. We forget how to hold on to happiness. We’re worn down from reality. We abandon happiness for realism. We convince ourselves that there is nothing to smile about, only the doldrums of the never ending cycle of life.

Meh.

Some say that the universe is a cold and dead machine, spinning and gyrating with predictable forces and mechanisms that force the same pattern. The sun rises; the sun sets. Surely, some say, God does not exist, because, otherwise, why the boring pattern?

Ah, but what if God has never given up his child-likeness? What if he sees the magic of a sunrise and yells “Again!” each and every day? Is it such a crime to value the beauty of every day?

So, two weeks, new class. I’m stoked.

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Crazy ideas

I may have talked about this before. After two-plus years of blogging, many perspectives change, but a few stay the same. I remember realizing his particular number back in college—now some six years ago. Wow. Long time.

Anyway.

Do you ever get the feeling like you’re nuts? I mean, like your ideas are just way too far out there? Like you’re weird for thinking or feeling something?

I felt that way all through high school and into college. Part of it was the typical teenage angst, but I had some serious spiritual concerns and unsettling issues.

For the longest time, I just ignored the lingering questions or initial reactions to situations or circumstances—preferring to go along with the immediate group, thinking that my ideas were just crazy.

Whether it concerned sexuality or God or even friendship, I had my own flavor of things—my own faith or my own outlook on life. When it vibed with others, it was cool; but more times than naught, people would bring up points of view or political dispositions that I was flatly expected to espouse.

And I’d resist, sometimes internally, sometimes being outspoken. Whenever I did argue for a new perspective, it never ended well. I had some blow ups at church, some arguments with friends. I was different, and it was unsettling.

Then I started meeting people. One or two in high school, then a few in college, more beyond, who were wired in the exact way I was. We’d finish each others’ sentences. We’d be passionate about the same areas, approach problems in the same way, and feel the same general unease about the larger world.

I came to realize that I was not completely crazy, but that God had wired me and dozens like me for a reason. I don’t think any of us really know what that reason is. And I don’t think that it’s some sort of club or exclusive thing.

The Christian Scriptures talk about how followers are the body of Christ—that we are the mechanism that expresses God to the world. Love, charity, compassion, justice, truth, beauty, humility—the essence of God, is transmitted to the world through believers.

The Scriptures talk about how, like a human body, there are parts that serve different functions. The eyes do things the ears can’t. The arms and joints work in ways the feet and hands don’t. Each serves a purpose. Each supports each other.

There’s a notion I hear sometimes from people that describe a general malaise with the current times. “I was born in the wrong century,” or, “If only I lived back then.”

You and I were born to live now. Fully present. Aware. Now. Not just to dream of yesterday or what may come, but to be here.

And you and I were wired with personality and disposition to mirror our purpose. Our passions are aligned with a focused determination of the creator to minister in a specific function to a purposed segment of the sh*tstorm of life.

Alone this is hard to see. With others, especially others with whom we share a certain connection, this becomes easier to perceive.

Who am I? Why do I think or feel this way? Where are my passions? What need I create? Where should I go?

It’s terribly exciting to explore our part in the revolution—the restoration of humanity. Every second makes you and I who we are and who we will become. With the proper perspectives, every second grows us, every second pushes us closer to our purpose.

It helps to find others, to build relationships. It’s tremendously encouraging when you can find others of like minds. Helps us realize we’re not so close to crazy as we thought.

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Life’s in the betweens

Controversial, I know, but I usually put schoolwork second while I was in college.

Uber peep Seth and I had traditions. We’d often head out in the evenings to a convenience store (not necessarily convenient as it was a bit far, as I recall) to get a Jones soda. Jones makes those quirky-flavored sodas with the unique photos…

Anyway, we’d put aside our schoolwork to spend some time together, talking about life, liberty, whatever.

A lot of people stopped by my room back then too. I’d make it a habit to put down my books and talk. Usually it was girl-related, sometimes God stuff. But, regardless, I’d make time to talk things through. Sometimes the talks would last well in to the night. There was still mountains of classwork to do, but I got to know a lot of people during those talks.

For me, life experience was much more important than GPAs. Not to say I didn’t do well, got a little “with honors” sticker on the ol’ diploma, thank you; but I was zealous in not letting tedium take me away from the genuine moments of humanity that grow in between the stuff we consume ourselves with.

In the West, we focus on the destination—the end state of things. College equals diploma, which equals job, which equals money, which equals stability. Religion equals beliefs, which equals salvation, which equals a ticket to paradise.

But what is missing is the journey. To the Eastern mind, the trek is far, far more important than the destination. It is much better to experience and endure the race than to simply cross the finish line.

And I agree. What’s the point of anything without the journey? Might as well skip to the credits of every movie we watch if we just want the ending. It’s the struggle—the minute by minute drama that inspires us.

For some, being rich is the end goal. They just want money and to hell with how getting there will grow or change them. For some, it’s getting married, or getting divorced, or getting a degree, or a type of car.

Often when a person runs out and gets that new car, or runs headlong into marriage, the unhappiness is still there. I think that’s because the person is in love with the idea—in love with the concept of “arriving.”

There’s a scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt is talking to Edward Norton about a conversations he had with his father, growing up. He graduated high school and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Go to college.” He graduated from college and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get a job.” He got a job and asked his dad, “Now what?” Dad said, “Get married.”

Like that’s all there was, a careful series of steps that led to fulfillment. Like happiness would just automatically come.

What’s missing was the process—the sting of life; how we are altered by each day and grown by the people we meet.

I love conversation. Each time I ever talk with anyone, I grow. Each time I ever spend any time with anyone, I grow. After 10 or 12 years of careful introspection, I’ve noticed that there’s never an end to the race. Life always has another hill to climb.

That’s what’s so tragic about people who focus on the destination—the race goes on forever. There is no finish—no magic line that makes everything perfect.

It can be discouraging and daunting if a person focuses on the distance and the unending miles; but if, instead, the company kept was the focus, the journey itself was the joy rather than the promise of some ideal destination, then the sh*t of life stepped in isn’t so bad, ’cause it’s on all of our shoes.

And that’s the secret. That’s where life is, I think. It’s in those magic in between moments that let us discover who we’re in this struggle with. That’s why I never sacrifice conversation for “productivity.” That’s why I’d much rather spend time talking than go out on “a date.”

It may seem trivial, but one is the pursuit of a goal, the other is a careful cultivation of relationship and understanding. And the latter is more meaningful, I think, more genuine.

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