Clarity

You can’t count it love until you’ve lost
If you love someone this is what it costs.
-Switchfoot

I went camping the other day. It was right after a grueling four day trip to the east coast then on to Denver. I was physically run down and emotionally strung out. Defeated and drained in every way. I needed a recharge.

Now going out into the middle of effing nowhere, alone, when you’re depressed is the moral equivalent of saying “hold my beer and watch this.” You just know it won’t end well. I made two concessions to my friends. Leave the hand gun at home. No alcohol. I did leave the gun, but snuck in a flask. I didn’t drink any though.

Camping for me is therapy. Being in “the nature” clears my mind. Being alone in open spaces heightens the senses and forces you to be aware of things other than the demons in your own head. My demons have been quite busy lately. They’ve also been drinking a lot then accessing my phone to drunk post on Facebook in the middle of the night. (Bastards!)

While I love camping, I despise campgrounds. If I wanted to be around that many people I’d go to Disney. They have fun  rides and cleaner bathrooms. I prefer remote camping where I can take a whiz outside my tent in the middle of the night or go dig a hole if I need to do anything else. I realize this is not for everyone, but for me it’s liberating.

In the summer I’ll go to the Arizona high country on the Mogollon Rim. In the winter I’ll go the Aqua Fria and camp among the ruins and petroglyphs. The high country is amongst the Ponderosa Pines and I find a spot overlooking the rim. The Agua Fria is much lower in elevation and is high desert, but pre-Columbian cultures called it home for centuries. It’s a deeply spiritual place to me and I’ve never ever seen another soul where I camp, which might have something to do with being 17 miles off a paved road and needing 4 Lo in a couple spots to get there. More than once I’ve thought “if i break a tie rod out here I’m totally fucked.”

This particular trip I needed the clarity that only the nature and nature’s God can provide. It was a new moon so the stars were especially brilliant. I turned off the lantern, let the fire die and sat drinking coffee, smoking a Dominican cigar whilst listening to the silence and admiring the universe. Sadie the curvy cavalier was unimpressed so waddled into the tent and put herself to bed.

While the night was silent, the universe, scientists tell us, is far from it. With the right equipment the universe is noisier than a Nine Inch Nails concert, only more musical. Pulsars, quasars, various forms of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum. The Voice of God. When you’re alone and the Voice of God speaks the best thing to do is shut the hell up and listen.

Life has been troublesome lately. The dissolution of our marriage has been especially painful to my whole family, although Sandy and I, even divorced, get along better than some married couples. I’m at a career crossroads and my newly single personal life (at 54) requires navigational skills I don’t possess. Apparently, I’m piloting the Exxon Valdez. So I went seeking calming clarity not to mention learning how to read navigational charts.

Life is made up of multiple moving parts, often moving so fast that it’s impossible to assign attribution to any one thing. Clarity can come when you slow the ride down enough to see life in single frames. Then you can get out of the ride and watch. Until that time, you best keep your hands and feet inside at all times.

What clarity did I find that night? Sometimes the specific resolution is that there is none. So much is outside our control. We can only steer our own vessel. No one else can steer ours.

Of course the ocean is full of vessels and sometimes you end up on a collision course with one. Such has happened to me and circumstances prevented the vessels of our lives from traveling in tandem. The clarity is I can’t change her course, although I dearly hope she chooses to. I’m willing to change mine to meet hers.

Until then I will live with the loss. For this is what Love costs. A night under a starry desert sky cleared that up for me.

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Writer’s Block: Glorious mediocrity

For those of you who have asked – and I quote – “Where’s your next lousy blog post?”, I have a confession. I have writers block. I had resolved to write about the 4th of July.   But, I got nothing. My resolution has gone the way of all my New Year’s resolutions, upon which if I had followed through would have resulted in David (now apparently referring to himself only in the third person ) would be 185 lbs with six pack abs and biceps that make LL Cool J jealous. Instead I am around 210, I have abs the size of a six pack, and my biceps wouldn’t strike fear into the heart of Richard Simmons.

So, it’s no surprise my resolution to write about the 4th of July can’t even be aided by a 5th of Jack Daniels.

I’m sure this even happened to the greats. I’m sure Shakespeare had trouble…. “To be or…. what? To be…. or… that is the question”.

Or even Mel Brooks. Young Frankenstein “what door bells!?… no that doesn’t work… what hooters! That doesn’t even make sense in the scene. What knockers! That’s it!”

At least I am in good company.

Truth is, I’ve not written much in a month or more. I could never make a living this way. Writing requires creativity. Even writing an article for a dry scientific journal requires the brain to be firing on all cylinders. Mine clearly is not. Why this is, is as simple as water yet as complex as a nuclear submarine[1].

The simple part is I haven’t cared much about writing. The complexity is in the why. Might have something to do with my marriage ending, the rest of my personal life in the crapper, my career sputtering, and my “give a shit factor” (aka “GAS Factor”) being at zero. That actually describes the past month pretty well.

But it’s getting better. I’m me again. In all my glorious mediocrity, I am me. Even if I am idling a little rough and in desperate need of a “valve” job.

Please don’t think I am cutting myself down by calling myself mediocre. Statistically speaking, if “normal” lays (lies?) within two standard deviations of the mean, then 95% of us are normal. I’ll accept that I am somewhere in that 95%. Only 2.5% of us suck and only 2.5% of us are truly extraordinary. I don’t believe I am really extraordinary. I might suck, but I don’t swallow, so I got that going for me.

This 4th, I wanted to write funny things about our nation’s independence. Like how our national anthem is basically unsingable. The fact that the tune is an old drinking song doesn’t help. If we want to use a famous drinking song as our national anthem, Free Bird remains available. We already stand when it’s sung and every southern boy already knows the words. Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw is another fine option. I bet the current president has sung it a time or three.

I thought about songs that could define our last election and the three campaigns .

Gary Johnson: One Toke Over The Line (Brewer and Shipley)

Hillary: Evil Woman (ELO)

Trump: Crazy Train (Ozzy) or maybe just Crazy by Patsy Cline.

I wanted to write about how Andrew Jackson was really the Donald Trump of his age: Faux common man who wasn’t a “politician”.

I wanted to say something about how America remains a great experiment in government by and for the People. About how the Founders devised the Senate to be a chastity belt restraining the passions of the House. Today the senate tends to inflame those passions.

These are all things I wanted to write about. Nope. Not happening. Even so, here are a few things that make me proud to be an American.

For example, Donald Trump, who proves any vulgar, misogynistic, lying, grab-em-by-the-Putin, paste eating moron can become president. Means there’s hope for even the worst of us.

Also for television commercials with dogs driving Suburus and a subtitle to make sure we know it’s a really just a dramatization.

For Costco where I can by a pack of 48 condoms or a box of 48 diapers in case one of the condoms breaks.

Speaking of which…. I’m glad to see young people today so educated about condoms. We weren’t. Through undergrad and vet school not a single woman asked me to wear one nor did I offer. We were either ignorant or willfully foolish. To us, condoms were a means of birth control. HIV was regarded – wrongly – as a gay disease. Other STDs were (we thought) rare and/or treatable.  I can’t speak for anyone else with certainty but I know they never came up. It may have taken a generation, but it seems the concept of safe sex has finally sunk in. Even for Neanderthals like me.

Perhaps that’s emblematic of America. We fuck up. We learn. We move on. Sometimes our mistakes are deadly. But we generally learn from them, even at other’s expense. It’s true, we are always preparing for the last war, the last epidemic. But we survive; sometimes in spite of ourselves.

That’s America. And because it is, in all our glorious mediocrity, not just us, but tens of millions more are free.

 

[1] I’m not even sure I like that sentence, but I have nothing better.

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Demons

 

It’s 1:30AM. The middle of the night. That’s when the demons are their loudest. In my mind, they appear as a medieval stone relief, fanciful shapes from 13th century imaginations. The demons dance and mock me. They tell me my life has been a mistake. A waste. A lifelong masterbatory exercise with no purpose, meaning, or impact. They even quote scripture, from Ecclesiastes, “Meaningless! It’s all meaningless!”

In a sea of positive voices, I hear the lone dissenter. The demon telling me I’m not good enough. I don’t make the cut, past actions or attitudes irredeemable, future actions of no value. I am a stained garment that cannot be bleached clean.

Depression hears the dissenting voice. Sometimes it *is* the dissenting voice, a demon if its own. Either way, it tells me – all too effectively- I am nothing and as nothing, descending into the nothingness of death is not only a viable option, it is even desirable.

Demons come in all forms. To quote Kenny Chesney,

“Sometimes they’re in a bottle,

Sometimes in high heeled shoes….

When I’m not chasing demons,

there’s demons chasing me.”

 

I’ve spent most of my life dancing with or fighting my own demons. Insecurity taunts me, the idea that I am not good enough to be loved. I may choose to fight it with alcohol. Or I may choose to fight it by simply “proving” it wrong, if you catch my meaning.

The greatest demon I face is my depression. It’s the largest gargoyle on the cathedral. It is the great liar. It takes every good thing and tells me it was unearned. Depression takes every personal rejection and reminds me I am unloved and unlovable, incapable and undeserving.

I wish I didn’t have this damn disease. Of course, I recognize it now. I didn’t until i was 50. I am a late bloomer I guess. But it’s never too late to change your life and seek a new beginning. No treatment is perfect and while I have been generally well controlled, these past 3 months have been, in a word, “shit”. It’s affected my marriage (I’m not sure whether the dissolution came first, which made the depression worse or the severe depression caused the dissolution of the marriage. Doesn’t matter.)

Someone said the opposite of depression is not happiness, it’s vitality. It’s possible to be happy “in the moment” and be depressed as hell. Most people with depression can hide it very well. I am no different. I know it’s there, like a computer program running in the background. Every now and then it announces itself. “Hey moron. If people knew who you really were, no one would like you.” You ignore the voice for now, but keep coming back to it often enough it becomes almost hard wired.

It’s not possible to pray it away. It’s not possible to think it, wish it, screw it, drink it (lord, no), will it, or cry it away. It just laughs. It will come and go seemingly of its own volition, usually without warning and at the worst possible time. Sometimes it brings its BFF, anxiety, over for a visit and you’re outnumbered.

Medication helps fight the demons. They make it a much more even fight. But there are no magic bullets. Medication helps normalize neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. I’m still me. They just allow me to maintain me. Sometimes I feel great and truly alive. Others in a funk, unable or unwilling to move beyond a snail’s pace. Even so, there is no doubting the benefit of my meds. I’d like to be off them, but I doubt that will ever happen. Maybe I can get down to one?

The other thing that helps is music. Fast and loud, mostly; but also songs to make you cry and release the pent up emotions that we hide from others. Sometimes it’s AC/DC, others it’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Music moves the emotions in a way the demons can’t touch. It’s not magic, but it is the strongest weapon in the arsenal.

Fighting demons is a constant battle. It’s the original insurgent fight and long before Iraq, the battle against this insurgency was and is for the heart and mind. Losing is not an option. You hold at all costs.

“Some come rolled in paper,

Some have six strings and only play the Blues.

Once you’ve met the devil

There’s no way he’ll let you be.

When I’m not chasing demons,

There’s demons chasing me.”

 

 

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The sun is the same in a relative way…

The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older

Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Time, Pink Floyd

 

The trouble is, you think you have time.

Buddha

 

Every morning the sun illuminates my office through east-facing windows, filtering through the rather robust creosote bush directly opposite my desk. Depending upon the season, the sun may be angled more from the north or south, but it rises on schedule each morning, casting its light upon the ever so subtly pale blue walls, giving the room a glow that reminds me of Coastal Carolina. Warm and inviting.

Such has occurred more than 19,000 times since I have been on this earth. We measure time by the sun’s rising and setting and it adds up to weeks, months, and years. By any measure, seeing anything close to 20,000 times is a lot. You probably have it kind of figured out by then.

Time, however, is different. It slips through our hands like water, at best staying long enough to yield a small taste. It moves quickly yet can stand still. Ask any child waiting for Christmas and they will swear the clock is running backwards.

In your youth, you swear time is an inexhaustible resource.

As a young adult, you plan your life as if the days are promised.

At middle age, you begin to look back and wonder whether your life has amounted to shit,

even whilst planning the rest of it so you don’t become a burden.

In your seniority, you look back with wonder; asking “where did it all go?”; the once inexhaustible resource now spent, “shorter of breath and one day closer to death”.

The problem with time, said the Buddha, is we think we have more of it. Life is short, for some very short. Having had both my biological parents die of cancer causes me to wonder how short mine will be. Not that I can influence it a whole lot.

One piece of advice almost all seniors will give young people is to care for how you use time. Many wish they’d used theirs differently. I’ve never met anyone who wished they’d spent more time at work and less time with family.

All the world’s religions are full of advice or requirements on how we are to live our lives – spend our time. In fact, there’s a fascinating term: “spend our time”. Time is finite, like money. Some seem to have it in excess, but it exists only in specific quantities. The difference for most of us is, we know how much money we have. We can budget, earning and spending accordingly. Time is different. Unless we have a terminal illness, we don’t know how long it will be until our time account is emptied. And you can’t borrow any more.

What is the end of the matter? What matters most? How we answer that largely depends upon one’s world view and/or religion. I’ll answer with my own thoughts, but since life and faith are a journey that answer may change over, well, time.

I think the answer is both ancient and modern; universal and personal. A prophet to Judah told the people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” I love the fact that this rendering of Micah 6:8 from the King James Version published 406 years ago makes justice a noun, rather than the adverb “justly”, as do some modern renderings. Justice and mercy flow together. There can be no justice without the other, only mindless adherence to law. (Then, as now, that seems to have been a problem). I also appreciate the metaphor, cliched as it is in some religious circles, of “walking” with God. This is a journey, not a static adherence to a set of beliefs devised by men to explain things written down long ago or to force certain behavioral conduct. Walking is active and it takes, wait for it, time. Finally, the personal pronoun “your” is used; I think with great effect. You go for a walk with a friend, an individual, a lover. You may hold hands, kiss. You may take a detour and make love in the grass, warmed by the sun, yet moist with the admixture of passion and the remaining morning dew. That’s personal and intimate. That is love actuated. It is a journey in which the joy is in the travel, not merely the destination. At the end of the day, love is the best way to spend your time.

 

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The Purpose of the Struggle

Life, I have found, often doesn’t give us much say. We are born to parents we don’t choose, in a place we don’t know, in a time we don’t comprehend and the first thing someone does is smack us on the ass. Welcome to life, kid. And, if you’re a boy, odds are they’ll snip off the end of your dick. No wonder so many men have anger issues.

Other times, life does present us with options, which then begat decisions. While many of my decisions may be filed under “well, that seemed like a good idea at the time”, in truth many of our decisions are based upon bad options from which are simply trying make the best.

The movie Argo recounted the heretofore largely unknown story of how a group of Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy during the Iran hostage crisis were rescued by CIA operatives posing as a Canadian film crew. Among a host of famous lines is one where Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck were attempting to sell their idea to the Director of the CIA. The Director asked them, “Is this the best bad option you have?” “Yes, this is the best bad option.” This seems to sum up my life.

The options we have and the choices we make help direct us, but they don’t define us. We are still the same people and if we make the hard choice it can make us stronger (so goes the cliché). Frankly, I think a lot of that is off the stable floor. If a single choice makes or breaks you, odds are you’re fucked. Good decisions usually need to be strung together for their cumulative weight to make a difference. When they do, they can be powerful and change your life. However, a single bad decision can kill you.

Sometimes the right decisions are the most painful. Just because you made the best call doesn’t mean it doesn’t truly suck.  When I was thirteen I was sent to a boarding school in Frederick County Maryland. It was against my will and I did not want to be there. This is the story of one decision, once chance encounter, that changed my life.

I had returned the previous summer from Southern California where I had lived with my aunt and uncle and their two high school children. There I lived for most of the second semester of my eighth grade year. The circumstances which led me to be there I have never shared.

In what was then called junior high I was bullied, somewhat mercilessly. To this day I don’t know why, other than I was an easy target. I was raised by a sometime single mom who was between marriages at the time. I didn’t fight back. I was painfully shy, too tall and rail thin. I did however, have a winning smile, bright eyes, and was a willing student popular with my teachers. (Yeah, like that helped.)

By the middle of eighth grade, I had had enough and I simply refused to go to school. My mom wasn’t sure how to handle me. I wasn’t defiant. I never gave my mom a lick of trouble. I’m not certain whether I told her I was bullied, but I don’t believe I did. I was too embarrassed. This went on for weeks and at different times she brought in my dad, whom I rarely saw in those years, and then my step dad, with whom I had been fairly close when he and my mom were married. Finally, she took me to a child psychiatrist who decided on the first visit that I needed inpatient psychiatric care. The issue, however, was there would not be an opening in the facility for probably a month.

I am not sure who thought of this first, but my mom asked her oldest sister and brother in law whether they could take me for a month. My aunt didn’t work outside the home and I would have a safe place to stay. It was quickly decided that I would fly to Los Angeles – alone – and stay with my aunt, uncle and cousins.

On the appointed day, my father took me to Dulles airport to board a United DC8 for LAX. I had never been on a plane and, in fact, had always been deathly afraid of flying (I was scared of a lot of things, back then, as I think of it). Procedures for unaccompanied minors must have been rather lax because I was neither escorted on or off the plane. I was to fly to LAX, gather my bags then find the bus to the Disneyland hotel where I was supposed to meet my Aunt who lived in Southern LA County. Somehow, I managed to pull this off with no adult supervision whatsoever. Maybe being a latch key kid had increased my level of resourcefulness.

I lived with my aunt, uncle and cousins for a few weeks and it was quickly decided that I seemed stable enough to stay with them and go to school. I was keen on the idea – anything was better than where I was. They enrolled me in a parochial school run by a Baptist Church in Whittier. It was the most welcoming place I had known. I came in the middle of the year into a place where most of the kids had known each other for years and I was treated like a long lost relative. I got back on track academically and finished my eighth-grade year and returned home in June.

By then my mom had met the man who would become husband number three. Chuck was younger than my mom by roughly a decade, had never been married, and had no idea about teens. Frankly, he was a little peculiar. This man whom I had never met was to be my new step dad in a week. Welcome home, son.

As an aside, Chuck and my mom remained married until my mom’s death in 2007. He has since remarried and is happy. We keep in touch.

Fast forward to August. We had moved to Severn, Maryland where Chuck owned a townhouse. I of course had no friends there. I did, however, find some porn magazines Chuck apparently had forgotten were stashed under the mattress in what became my room; so at least I had something to do. Even with that nightly entertainment, I was dreading the upcoming school year and we toured a collection of schools including a small protestant school down in Rockville. That of course was nowhere near Severn, but it was near enough to my grandmother’s that maybe I could live there, I thought.

As the school year started and I was yet to be enrolled anywhere, mom and Chuck decided I would go to a catholic school outside Baltimore. I decided otherwise and it became a standoff. I wanted to go down to the school in Rockville and they wanted me to go to the Catholic school near them. Chuck decided I needed good old fashioned discipline and wanted me to go to a military school.

I’m not sure how we ended up at Highland Academy in western Maryland, but it was an Adventist Boarding School. It was in an idyllic location, I will grant you that, but I didn’t want to be there either. I had one single minded goal, and in the elastic mind of a 13 year old it was achievable: to go to school at Temple Christian School in Rockville, MD. The people seemed friendly, it was small, and it didn’t look like I was going to get beat up.

When I arrived at Highland Academy I was already plotting my escape. The school was only a mile or two off I-70 and just down I-70 was a rest area. I would go to the rest area and hitch a ride with a trucker headed to the DC area. Easy peasy.

My first night at Highland academy I put my plan in motion. I made it down to the main road and a short way down to the highway before the headmaster found me. I should have waited until their guard was down. I’m not sure whether I tried again the next day or waited a day or two, but I tried again, this time in the day when everyone was in class. I made it down to the main road undetected. So far so good. I walked briskly down to the interstate. I carried no belongings. I didn’t even have any water on me.

Here is where the story takes a strange twist of fate. I suppose life is full of improbable moments. Life itself is so improbable as to be laughable. But here we are. There was obviously a giant flaw in my plan. It was during the work week, in the middle of the day, and I was clearly a runaway. There was no other explanation, obvious or otherwise. Yet to me, this plan was foolproof.

I made it to the I-70 interchange and saw the rest area maybe a half mile away. However, between myself and my ride to freedom was a young couple changing a tire; right at the interchange where I was going to enter the shoulder to walk to the rest area. I came up and said hello. I don’t recall whether we spoke much at that point, but I did continue walking toward the rest area. As they were just putting the flat tire in the trunk when I left them, they caught up to me before I had gone far.

“Where are you heading?”

“I’m heading to the DC area. I attend school up here and I want to get home for the weekend and my folks don’t have a way to come get me. I was going to see if I could hitch a ride down here at the rest area.”

“Well we are headed to Virginia. We can take you down there.”

I got in the backseat and breathed the biggest sigh of relief I have breathed then or sense. They asked me a few questions and we made small talk. I could think fast and answered their questions in a manner that suggested that, if I wasn’t telling the truth, I has at least worked really hard on the lie.

We drove to Bethesda, MD just north of DC and since they were headed to Virginia I asked them to drop me off at River Road and 495. Which they did. I thanked them kindly and began walking up River Road toward the Congressional Country Club.

Looking back and with the benefit of google maps, I see my walking route was rather circuitous, but I knew the street names so that’s how I went. My walk, it appears was 7.8 miles. No wonder I was tired when I got to my grandmother’s house. Her next door neighbor, Mrs. Miller, was there visiting and was just preparing to go when I knocked on the door. “Oh, it’s David. Will you go let the dog in?” I did as requested and walked toward the back door of my grandmother’s small cape, as Mrs.  Miller said her good byes out the front. I returned to my grandmother in the living room and looked at her and she at me, as it dawned on her. So far as she know, I was sixty miles away.

“Wait. What are you doing here?” I told her the whole story, which was beginning to take on the character of Alice’s Restaurant, complete with full orchestration and four-part harmony. Grandma called my mom who then called the school. Her next call was to the school in Rockville. I was to be enrolled there. I would live with my grandmother. I had won.

Rarely in life does a single good decision bear lifelong fruit; especially one that was inherently a foolish act of an impetuous teenager. But somehow or Someone protected me. The school I attended was nothing special. In fact, it was quite fundamentalist, the science education was non-existent, and it was by today’s standards rather racist. But we were full of the vigor of the newly formed Religious Right who was going to “take back America”. We were insanely – willfully – foolish and if we had bothered to read the Bible we preached we would have seen that.

I cover this topic elsewhere in an essay called “Religion in America- part two” and the nature of the school and the education I received is really irrelevant to this story. What is critical to understand is I found friends. Good friends. I found a girlfriend who even though I was skinny thought I was special. Eventually she became my first lover. I will never forget her or the time. This was a big step for kids who had been taught God would send us to hell without a swamp cooler if we fornicated. Well, we fornicated like rabbits for three or four years and enjoyed every minute of it.  Over time the relationship became dysfunctional. I developed anger issues, I presume the bullying and uncertain home life had taken an unknown toll. She developed an enjoyment for drugs, not just marijuana. We broke up, but we both survived.

Garth Brooks sings about unanswered prayers and I am so glad mine in those days were. In retrospect, I had developed depression that I see quite clearly now, but was unknown then. Someday I may write about the intervening years, but what continually amazes me are the circumstances that led me to my high school. And the one aspect I will never forget is the couple changing the tire. To me they are angels, sent by God to protect a 13 year old boy. That may be a fanciful interpretation and those events merely a series of amazing coincidences. The universe was built upon those – and physics. Who drives them is ultimately a matter of faith and I’ll leave it to you to decide.

I only know this. A troubled teen, with an unstable home life, was bullied and scared. He had few friends and was to be sent for inpatient treatment, where this being the mid 70’s who knows what would have happened. As it turned out, he just needed a change of scenery. He also needed acceptance. He found it, or at least enough of it, to be happy. And even thrive. Never mind that the acceptance was based in large measure on conformity. I at least wasn’t threatened and I found two men, Larry Scites and Fred Shope, who were real and genuine and loving mentors. I finally had a vision of the man I could grow up to be. My friends Tim, Tim, Merl, Chris and others shared adventures with me I will never forget. We have for the most part lost touch, but we were there for one another when it mattered. If any of them needed me I would be there in a heartbeat.

As I write this, I am going through a struggle that consumes me almost as much as the one recounted above. Someone asked me yesterday what I was looking for and I articulated it for the first time: acceptance. I see I am back to where I was forty years ago. Looking to be free and be me whether I conform to you or not. Free to love as powerfully and recklessly as I wish, based upon the grace extended to me. I finally understand the purpose of my struggle: acceptance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cashew Chicken Half Off

When I was growing up in the 70’s, body art was generally limited to bikers, hippies, and those in prison. Somewhere along the line that changed. Now, even Republicans (at least those not previously in prison – see “break in, Watergate”) are getting tattoos. I think this is an excellent phenomenon, one in which I just participated.

As an aside – and this does have something to do with this essay – I am continually amazed how many people find Jesus in prison. If they had found him before their particular crime, perhaps their ass wouldn’t have ended up in the can in the first place. The reasons for this, may end up the subject of another essay at some point.

grace tat 2017.05.06

This rather hairless and skinny left ankle is mine. I’m small boned.  The symbol is the Mandarin character for “grace”, as in God’s grace or the grace and forgiveness we extend, all too rarely, to others.  Philip Yancey has written it’s “the last, best word”. Fellow Oxford professors once asked CS Lewis what separated Christianity from other belief systems. He answered, “that’s easy; grace.” Grace means giving up your right to punish, to seek revenge, to become bitter. Grace, most assuredly, does not mean weakness. To the contrary, it requires amazing strength of character. I wish I had more of that strength.

When I decided to get my first ink, something over which I have been quietly ruminating for several years, I knew I wanted it to be something about grace. When I found this symbol, I knew it was the one. I looked for other options and kept coming back to this one. Like taking an exam, go with your first answer.

There is always a risk in tattooing a foreign word on your person. I attempted to verify online the authenticity of this character by checking multiple websites and it all checked out. Of course, there is always the nagging fear that it actually means “cashew chicken half off”. Should I travel to China, where a shitload of actual Chinese people live, I shall keep it covered. I could not stand the laughter if I am wrong.

People can tattoo whatever they wish, but the best ones seem to me to be those which are personal and carry deep meaning for the individual. My nineteen year old daughter, Livia, has “Blessed” tattooed inside her left forearm. She says it means she is blessed her birth parents gave her life back in Romania and to have been adopted by us. I love that girl.

Tattooing this message was my version of a “semi colon” tattoo, which I also considered. I also considered a tattoo on my penis. Part of the time it would read “Wendy”. At others it would be, “Welcome to Arizona. Have a nice day.”

Grace is indeed an amazing word and you need not accept the religious connotation to appreciate it. To appreciate grace, you need to consider “gracelessness”. Without grace for one another, we become ISIS, immolating our enemies, at least metaphorically. Too many followers of history’s leading purveyor of grace completely lack it, missing the essence of his message. Like the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal, we reduce life and faith to a business arrangement, wherein we simply must keep up our end of the Contract, or else. That’s not love. That’s employment. No relationship can long survive under those conditions.

As difficult as it is to demonstrate grace for others, it is harder still to give grace to oneself. At least for me. I’ve never given myself “two thumbs up” for anything and my own sins and failings I find hard to let go. It’s not that I advocate ignoring one’s failings (how would we ever mature and grow?) It is more a matter of keeping things in proper perspective. My new tattoo reminds me to live my life consistently showing grace to others and treating myself the same. It reminds me Someone believes I am worthy of grace and who am I to argue? Of course, the phrase, “worthy of grace” is an oxymoron of global proportions. By definition, one can’t ever be “worthy” of grace, only retribution. Our whole criminal justice system is based upon that, with retribution supposedly proportional to the offense. Of course, if you’re Black, your offenses must be worse.

Grace…. The best word. It frees us to love. To hope. To have faith in the Ultimate Good. In a truly fucked up world, grace is the only hope for peace. Presidents and prime ministers, popes and princes can’t bring it. Admirals and armies can’t protect it. Only grace can. It’s what Gandhi preached. It’s what King learned from Gandhi and is the ultimate irony. Only with grace can we have justice. Only with grace can there be reconciliation. Someone has to be the first to say, “enough”. Without it, there is no justice; only law.

Thus, I chose grace as my first tattoo. It is pregnant with meaning and a reminder that if I am to be strong, if I am to be a lover, if I am to live in faith and hope, then it all starts with grace. Grace is a circle. Only by giving it away can it be fully received and only by receiving it can it be given away.

 

 

 

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An intimate act

Writing is an intimate act. Like sex it can be a great deal of work for sometimes little reward, or it can flow and build to a flood that would make both Noah and John Holmes proud.

In my writing I attempt to learn more about myself while revealing it to others; sort of thinking out loud and publishing it on the internet. Some days I am successful beyond my wildest expectations and there are essays a wrote years ago that I will go back and read and think, “Damn, Bledsoe (I’ve decided to go by one name, like Bono or Sting), that was pretty good.” Others I will read and think, “Seriously. You need to start drinking a better brand of bourbon.”

At its best, writing should be comfortable, like an old denim shirt frayed around the collar and cuffs. I have shirts like that, which I refuse to get rid of. I still wear them. Even in public. I had a homeless person try to give *me* money once. He was like, “dude, you obviously need this more than I do.”

Good writing of the type to which I aspire should draw you in and elicit an emotional response, involuntary, but comforting. I’m not going to change the world with my little essays, but in writing them I change myself and that’s a start.

Maybe the reader will laugh out loud and wake up their spouse. I’m ok with an angry husband under those circumstances. Maybe the reader will think anew about a matter and begin to ponder. Either way, if someone responds in some way then I am content.

When one has to form thoughts and commit them to a screen they must be sufficiently coherent to at least fit within the confines of some sort of reason. That’s how writing changes the writer. Thoughts left in the brain- at least my thoughts- are rarely organized. They look like my daughters’ playroom when they were small. My brain is full of naked Barbies, strewn about with various articles of clothing in piles on the floor. One of my daughters, whose initials are Courtney, used to join them in their nakedidity. I figured she would either grow out of it or get really good at it and make a lot of money. (For the record, she grew out of it.)

Unorganized thoughts must queue up to exit my mind and make it to my hands to be typed onto a page. Sometimes they come out and collide into one another, occasionally yielding inter-word road rage. That’s where f bombs come from. They are debris left over from a word wreck, like bits of windshield in an intersection.

Writing is not always pretty, but the act of producing the finished product, the journey, is what changes me. In ruminating on matters large and small I am forced to confront sacred cows and sometimes slaughter them. That’s as it should be. There is no value in merely repeating the same mantras while not considering their consequence. It should be like travel in the mind where you experience new thoughts and opportunities to see your world differently.

In that sense, writing is both arrogant, assuming one would want to read it, and humble, approaching the blank screen with a mindset that allows for a wandering across hill and hollow perhaps to find a small gemstone in an unexpected place.

Life is like that in general. Or should be. Travel should change us. Our experiences should change us. Our preconceived notions should be held up to scrutiny and discarded if found wanting. I believe that’s called growth.

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