It's been a long time since I posted a new blog entry, and a great deal has happened since then. Most importantly, my best friend and I have moved to a small, rural town in Missouri. It's not quite as isolated as my hometown was, because one can drive a few minutes either north or south and arrive in a bigger town, but it's a dinky little town in the middle of nowhere nonetheless, and it's been a bit of a culture shock to move here.
First and foremost, there isn't a Starbucks for miles around. The closest one is way up in KC, an hour's drive or more away. That is something I am slowly recovering from but still reeling a bit. Second, there aren't any sidewalks in this town and no shoulders on the roads so I can't ride my bike safely. That is a real bummer. Third, the people in this town think that Italian food is 'exotic.' I haven't even seen a thai food place since I left the NW a year ago.
But, on the upside: We have room to raise chickens and other poultry here. We have a horse that is like a best friend - would you try to saddle and ride your best friend? I hope not! - and who keeps our pasture trimmed. We have room for a garden, which is very cool. Robert has all the home improvement work he can handle and then some, so he's a happy guy. Now if we could just get him some friends....
Anyway, we're living on a little farm and we're slowly working up to having livestock of one variety or another, which involves repairing the very neglected barn and refurbishing it to make shelters for the animals we will one day have. We have run through a number of workmen in our quest to find good and reliable help, but we think we've finally located someone who will be able to help us at a reasonable rate, so that has been a huge relief. We'd like to have a dairy goat and some wool bearing goats (angora goats). We'll see where we end up with all that. But before we do goats, we'll get some chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. I think it would be a good place to start.
I dreamt of flying again, last night. I was in a WWI bi-plane, roaring over the fields of NW Washington in a Stearman Cloudboy; the wind was cold on my cheeks below my goggles and and a lambs wool scarf fluttered behind me. I looked down and read the name of the town I was flying over on the top of the water tower: Sedro-Wooley. The fields below were all barren for the winter, and rivers drew random lines across the geometric landscape of fences, pastures and stubbled cornfields. I don't know where I was going... Maybe Bellingham, or Vancouver? I just remember the almost intoxicated feeling of being able to go anywhere I wanted.
As Joanie said "I have a dream to fly." I've been interested in bi-planes and learning to fly for many years. Recently that yearning has become stronger, and I think that someday, perhaps when (or if) we move to MO, I'll do something about it. I can't imagine that flying lessons are all that expensive, and maybe I could have some additional income if I became an agricultural flyer, dusting fields. But that's just incidental to the fact that I want to learn to fly.
When I woke up from this dream, I got online and did some research about bi-planes in general, and the kinds of planes that were flown back then. I started with looking at a Sopwith Camel of Peanuts fame. I'd always thought that Snoopy's comment that "If you can fly a Sopwith Camel, you can fly anything," was hype, but it turns out that he's correct. The Sopwith Camel was notoriously difficult to fly, with extremely sensitive responses to the controls. Part of the reason for this was that the plane had a rotary engine, but get this: the crankshaft remained stationary and the rest of the engine rotated around it. Amazing, and it produced a gyroscopic sort of effect on the airplane, and revved the torque of the engine through the ceiling, at least by the standards of the day. The other fact that I found amazing? I'd always wondered how the gun mounted on the plane above the engine and in front of the pilot could fire and not shred the propellor.... it turns out that the gun was synchronized to fire at such intervals that the bullets passed through the propellor arc and missed the blades of the propellor. That's astonishing.
I don't really know what it is that makes me want to fly. I only know that someday that will be me up there, roaring along over the fields and rivers, looking down on everything.
I can't wait.
Yesterday evening I was at work, and one of my med techs came into my office and asked me about some abdominal cramping she was having. She's in her late twenties/early thirties, and has had at least one child, so I didn't insult her intelligence by asking about menstrual cramps... I figured she knew all about those. Instead, I started asking questions and assessing what was going on.
We went back and forth for awhile, me asking questions and her explaining details, until we'd ruled out gas pains and uterine spasms, and finally settled on the likelihood of bladder spasms. As we talked about this, I made the comment that I was not really very conversant with 'women's issues' because the only place I really knew any women was at work... outside of my mother and my sister, there aren't any women in my private life. The med tech looked puzzled and said "But what about your girlfriend or wife?"
I said, "I don't have either of those."
"But why not?"
I laughed and said "Because I prefer men, you goose. You didn't know that? I thought everybody knew that."
"No," she said, obviously confused. "No, I didn't know that."
And that was all that was said that night. However...
Most of the folks I work with at my job are ethiopian, and most of them speak amharic, one of the native languages of that country. One of the words I have become familiar with from that language - among others - is "Gosh." It's an honorific, and means something along the lines of "Mister." It denotes respect, and a certain amount of affection. For quite some time, I have been "Gosh" to some of my co-workers, and especially to this particular young woman. I don't pretend to know why I was given that appelation, but it seems that my days of that particular gesture of respect from that particular person are over. Tonight, no smile as there has been every night before, and no "Gosh" designation - just plain ol' me.
I don't begrudge my co-worker the right to apply or remove any honorifics she deems appropriate. I know that this young woman is, like many of her countrymen, deeply devout and quite conservative. I would not presume to dictate to her what her reaction to my revealing statement is or will be: to do so would be to violate my own ethics of noninterference and benevolence. And yet, I miss her smile with her brilliantly white teeth against her lovely cinnamon skin and I miss her obvious affection when she referred to me as 'gosh.' It's a hard thing, to suffer those losses for so small a thing, for a thing that can not possibly make any difference between us, and yet still does.
Still, despite such losses over the years, clarity is better than confusion. Transparency is better than obfuscation. Honesty is better than lying. So I keep emerging, coming out of my chrysalis, transforming myself with knowledge. It's the only road I can imagine taking, frankly. I cannot imagine myself hiding who I am, what I am, despite the fact that most don't wish to know. Their ease with ignorance is not my issue. My responsibility is to myself, to live as I need to live to remain true to myself. I trembled and cried at the back of the closet for too many years to even imagine ever living there again.
The road of coming out is a very long one. I have no doubt that I shall be walking it all my life. When I leave this life I will be gay and proud... not proud that I'm gay, but proud that I lived my life unapologetically, that I was honest about who I was in every situation that did not threaten physical violence if I self-revealed, and that I was able, at the end of my life, to look back and say that I lived my life the way I had to in order to remain completely myself. It's a long road, and sometimes it's lonely and sometimes there are losses along the way, but I'd rather walk it than not.
When I was a child, my father worked two jobs. As I have related before, he was a manager at a local hardware and homebuilding supply business, but he also had a second job for years and years: he drove the school bus that ran from my little hometown up the highway towards Canada, and drove it every school day during the school year, forty five miles or so in each direction. There were kids living all the way along the route with their parents, small houses next to the highway with their own generators for electricity and their own sewage and water supplies, because the town didn't supply electricity more than a couple miles outside the city limit.
As the bus driver for the highway, he had to know all the road conditions at all times. He had to know what part of the highway was more likely to develop black ice because it was sheltered in shadow, or where there was likely to be standing water on top of the ice as the sunshine melted it.
But this story is not about my father driving a school bus. It was while he was driving a school bus that he spotted a little place on the side of the mountain where there was a shelf, a flat spot on the steep side of the mountain. It was located just about 13 miles outside of town, in an odd little part of the highway that was a little dryer than most of the rest of the road.
So one weekend, he grabbed up my older brother and me and took off for a walk in the woods to see what was up there on that shelf. I have to give him this: His eye was sharp when he saw that shelf, because it wasn't very much. He was right though... it was a flat spot on the side of the mountain that probably covered an acre or two, and there were some larger than average trees growing there. It should be noted that most of the trees growing on the sides of the mountains in my old hometown area are either spruce or hemlock, because it's a damp and maritime environment. Pine trees don't usually grow around there very much, but in this one spot there was a pocket of pine trees. I remember my father walking around that flat spot, that shelf on the side of the mountain and looking at all the trees up there with a speculative air. And he spent a lot of time looking out across the valley towards the mountains on the other side, which I have to admit was a very fine view.
Very little was said for the next month or so, following that trip up there. I was too young to think much about it, being busy with school work, worrying about acne, not looking like a dork and the like.
Then, one night in the early spring, my father made an announcement at the dinner table: The family was going to undertake a project. We were going to build a log cabin on that shelf on the mountain side, a solid mile's hike from the highway and about 1500 feet of rise, from just above sea level to almost halfway up the mountain. We all thought he was crazy, but we soon found that we would be joining him in his craziness. So, he borrowed some surveying equipment from an old family friend and we hiked up there again, and started to build our log cabin. We felled the trees up there, and cut saddles in the ends so they would fit together like Linkin Logs, and we shaved down the top and the bottom of each log so it would lie one flat surface on another, and laid a narrow strip of fiberglass insulation between the logs and then spiked them together. We hauled sections of chimney pipe and a 55 gallon barrel that had been converted into a wood stove. We hauled aluminum roofing, we hauled up premade curtains, we hauled up oil and kerosene lamps, a big wooden recliner, and a kitchen table; we made beds out of logs and ropes and foamrubber, It was an amazing thing, and a terrible lot of hard work. I remember that certain parts of the trail up to the cabin were so steep that we nailed skinny timbers between the trees like hand rails so that we could pull ourselves up, and we strung ropes between the trees for the same purpose. Often as we walked the trail up to the cabin, our dogs would take off running into the woods and we would see them chasing bears away - mostly small black bears, but once or twice big grizzlies. Luckily, there was a creek that ran for a few hundred yards only a short distance from the cabin, so we always had a water source.
One of the best times I can remember at the cabin came a couple years after we built it. My father and I had a day off together in the middle of the winter, so we (ok, he) decided that we would stroll up to the cabin and see what it was like in midwinter. After a hard hike up the hill, we reached the cabin in the midmorning. Being that the cabin was 13 miles inland, it got less of the maritime influence, and it was about 15 degrees below zero at the cabin. Both of us had icicles in our moustaches when we finally made it, got the door unlocked and stepped inside. The first thing we did was build a little fire in the barrel stove, and then we sat down and looked around.
Then suddenly my dad sat up and said "Wait a minute! I think I have just the thing." And he got up and went over to one of the corner cubbies and started digging around for something. A minute later he stood up, smiling in triumph. You'd have thought he'd won a Nobel the way he was carrying on. And what had he found? A bottle of blackberry brandy we'd left up there the summer before. So he grabbed a couple of the jam jars that we used for drinking glasses up there, and he poured each of us a couple fingers worth.
Now remember, it was minus fifteen degrees up there, and that's not even talking wind factor. So the fact that the brandy was not frozen solid was only because it 50 proof. Nonetheless, if it had been much colder, it would have started freezing, because already there were ice crystals in the brandy. It went down like liquid fire, man! It was the best thing I'd ever had, after that long hard hike up there and sitting in that ice cold little cabin and drinking that... pure, unadulterated heaven.
I think that happiness and joy are made of these kinds of memories and experiences. It isn't the big things that matter... it's those little moments, those snippets of time and snapshots of experience that really tell the tale. I hope for you that they are profuse and thick upon the ground... an embarrassment of riches.
When I was a kid, my father was the single most important factor in my life. He was an alcoholic, very controlling and sometimes abusive.
Man, that was a hard sentence to write. After all these years, the social training particular to our family is still with me: "Never talk about family business outside the family!" "You're a Swift, and that means you're a little better than everyone else, so act like it!" The oldest sc
My father's family was very messed up when he was a child, and the sins of his father spilled over onto he and his siblings. His father was an orphan, adopted by a family called the Basins when he was quite young. I don't know what his life with them was like... by the time I might have asked, he was deep into alcohol and pretty out of touch. To my shame, however, I lived one entire summer with he and his wife, my grandmother, and I never asked a single question about his early life, or what it was like raising my father, or anything really. I should have sat with him and heard his versions of the family folklore, all the stories that he would have known about my father. I can only say in my defense that I was quite young at the time, and still not very smart.
I know that he attempted or succeeded in molesting both of my twin aunts, my father's sisters. They are small, fierce women these days, and I can't even picture someone trying to touch them against their will now, but I know they were more tender as teens, and it was the fifties, and who was there to help them? I mean hell, I got batted around by my father in the 70's and there was no one there to help me, so what chance did they have twenty years earlier?
In the traditional way that the elderly were cared for before we put them all in nursing homes and assisted living communities where they can't inconvenience us, my great grandmother ( my grandmother's mother) lived with my father and his family for nearly 20 years. When she moved in, everyone thought she was on her last legs, but she recovered and lived another twenty years in my grandfather's house, and she tormented him every day that she was there, if the family folklore I learned was even close to accurate. My grandmother came from an upper middle class family in Washington D.C., the Cain family. They had ambitions about joining the elite... My great grandfather was the lead attorney in the corporate law division of the IRS for many years, though he was self taught and had only an 8th grade education. I suppose, though I have no proof, that this station in life led his family to assume that as a leading bureaucrat, his family was somehow elevated. So when their beautiful daughter met and married a penniless adopted orphan, her family was quite disappointed, and her mother never forgave my grandfather for his successful courtship. She made his life hell in whatever way she could as long as she lived. Knowing all that, and knowing how it would be if he allowed her to move into his home, he did it anyway... and that is the power of social conditioning.
His oldest son, my father, was very much like he was: hard headed, determined to have his own way, very much aware of and complicit in the elitist beliefs of his mother, but stubbornly defiant of his father's edicts and directions. My Grandfather would say to him "If you go off with your friends, I will have to punish you when you return." and my father would reply "Ok. I'll see you when I get back." He wouldn't back down, he would not obey, and it drove his father to distraction. And when he got back he would take his beating, and then he would do it again the next time. One can't help but admire such bull-headed, stubborn idiocy in some ways, but it's still idiocy... on both their parts.
When my father turned 18, he broke his mother's heart by refusing to attend college and instead went to work for the US government as a surveyor of rural land, working for the teams that surveyed the whole country and made it possible to make accurate maps, back in the days before there was GPS and Google Earth, o best beloved. I know that maps are a thing largely of the past anymore, but that is a sadness in its own way, because maps are a thing of beauty on their own merits, quite outside their utility. Many things that were beautiful and useful long ago have faded from use and fallen away, and it's hard to watch: non-chain bookstores, for instance. How long do you suppose it will be before there aren't anymore paper books, and everyone reads e-books? Does anyone in the current generation even know how to open and condition a new hardbound book, the ritual of first one leaf and then the other and then hanks of pages until the book lies open and ready to be used, like a drugged sorority girl (wow, where did that come from? lol)?
But I'm digressing. I was talking about my father, wasn't I? So he took a job as a surveyor, and his first job was clear across the country on the upper west coast area, in little Cle Elum, Washington. And there he stayed in a boarding house that belonged to my great grandmother, who happened to have a certain lovely young grand-daughter working for her in the kitchen at the boardinghouse, where my father met her and, well... though it almost didn't happen because my father's younger brother had driven out with him, and when he was carrying my father's gear into his new room, he hefted a steamer trunk up on his shoulder and walked into the front hall and promptly cleaned the light fixture right off the ceiling. The lady of the house was incensed and immediately ordered both of these burly young men out, and right now! But my father pulled out some extra cash and payed her for the damages right then and there, and that mollified the old lady. She decided to let them stay.
So he ended up marrying this very rural, very innocent young girl, who even so had already been married once and had an infant daughter to prove it. He courted her and won her and she was his, and the two of them stuck together for almost 40 years before calling it quits. 4 more children resulted, the second to the youngest of which was none other than your writer.
Time to quit and go to bed. More to come later.
I started working on a new story yesterday. It's going to be another tale from the 'Red Circle Boys" arc (if you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, go to Awesomedude.com, look under the list of Authors, choose AJ and read the tales there: afterhours, Cultural Differences and Heart & Hooves. Or you can go to Amazon and pick up your very own paperback version of all three of the tales in one volume), and it's going to be about a rather thorny problem that pops up: human mages. Human magic doesn't work like elven magic, or that of any of the other elder races. It's different because it requires two people to make it work, a generator and a channel, also called a Gen-Chan team. This ability is not something that one chooses - one is born to it, or not. For more details, you'll have to read the story, which I will eventually post. I can't tell if this is going to be a long short story, a novelette or a full blown novel at this point. I have the basic premise down, but I'm not sure what all the twists and turns in the plot line will be as yet.
On another topic, I'm thinking I need to start looking for another job. I've been at this job for about a year, and I really don't like working in Assisted Living. I much prefer nursing home levels of care, and I'm a lot more comfortable in that environment. I'd like to work my same position, but at a nursing home. Working in an assisted living is like working in a nursing home and being underpaid and understaffed all the time. Add to that the fact that my boss has been very cool and distant to me for the last 3 weeks or so and I think the writing is on the walls: I need to find something new.
When I was in the third grade, I remember going with my sister and older brother to watch one of those abysmal Disney films that were all the rage in the 70's. This one was a live action film about a white duck that laid golden eggs.
From the time I got home from that movie until much later that spring, I bothered my parents about getting a duck. That movie had made a very big impression on me, and nothing would do but I get a duck for a pet. I had to have one, and the sooner the better.
This was not as impossible as it would be for the average city kid, raised in an apartment somewhere, or some little townhouse with a postage stamp yard. We lived on a full acre of property, with a large garden and lots of lawn. Our house was far enough outside of town to be only a five minute walk away from ancient forest, and to have a separate water system from that of the town, which serviced only our own little neighborhood. In the middle of the summer, I can remember lying on my back in the yard and staring up into the sky and counting the eagles circling on the thermals rising against the tall mountain ridge behind our house.
So that spring, my mother surprised me by giving me a pair of white peking ducks, who looked just like the duck in the film. It was love at first sight. I named them Lucky and Alexander, and they were the best pals a somewhat lonely little boy could have asked for.
When they first arrived, they were past the stage of being tiny little balls of fluff that they would have been when first hatched. These were already lanky and a little awkward, though still covered with yellow down. They weren't terribly friendly at such a young age, but I fed them snacks and gave them their one regular meal each day, a mash of ground corn mixed with hot water, and soon they got to know who I was.
When one is a child, the urgency of passing time does not exist. It must be how it is to be a dog, living in the eternal now, with each day stretching out before one in the morning, and only the thought that another day was coming tomorrow, and an endless procession of days following that one, to think about before falling asleep. No worries about the future, no regrets about the past, nothing mars the perfection of those long ago days, those beautiful summers that stretched out from here to eternity. The sky was always blue, even when it rained (as it did a LOT in my home town) and it was always warm.
The ducks slowly grew up. In a couple weeks, their feathers were growing in, and their voices took on the quality they would have as adults: for Lucky, the slightly hoarse, deeper voice of a drake, and for Alexander the clear, clarion voice of a hen. We didn't have a pond on our property, so my father bought a blue plastic children's wading pool moulded in the shape of a rowboat for them to swim and splash in. I would drag it out on the front lawn, and pull the hose down to fill it with water. As they got more accustomed to this little instant pond, they would see me pulling out the wading pool and come running across the lawn, flapping their wings to help them along and their yellow, webbed feet slapping the ground. They would stand around like football fans waiting to get into the stadium, grumbling about how long it was taking and walking back and forth until it was time to hop in and go crazy in the water. They loved the water - it was their natural home, and they couldn't have been any happier than when they got to duck their heads under the water and splash it across their wings and backs, flapping their wings and slashing water all over the place all the while.
When I first got the pair of them, there had been a couple of doghouses around the two sheds that had been on the property when we moved in. I had dragged one out to the side of the second shed, and put up an eight year old boy's version of a fence around the front of the doghouse to make it a duckhouse. I got a half bale of hay from a friend of ours who had a regular farm, and used that to pad the floor. The ducks loved it. By the time they were fully fledged, they could easily jump/fly over the fence, and they spent their days walking about our nearly one acre of lawn, eating weeds and bugs and about as satisfied with life as two ducks could be.
I learned a lot, watching those two ducks. For instance, they had a sense of humor. At the same time that we had these two ducks, we had a dog named Nicky. He was a Norwegian Elkhound, and an inveterate runaway and trouble maker. The moment he was allowed to run free, he would be off like a shot, vanishing into the neighborhood for hours. I remember my father talking to irate neighbors about how our dog had attacked and killed a pet rabbit, and how he had attacked someone's much larger dog and reduced it to a wreck. So Nicky spent most of his days on a chain in the backyard, sleeping and contemplating his future sins. It wasn't long before he come to the attention of the ducks.
I think what first attracted their attention was all the hair he was constantly shedding. Alexander had reached an age where she was building nests, and all that dog hair was the perfect fuzz to use for a very soft and warm nest. So she started collecting dog hair. But, after awhile, all the dog hair they could reach safely was picked up and squirreled away in their several nests. In order to get more, they were going to have to take some risks. They started getting closer and closer to where nicky lay sleeping, sneaking in close and trying to be ready to scurry back to safety - past where the end of the chain reached - at a moment's notice. The dog knew they were there, but he never attacked them. I can only imagine what he was thinking, but perhaps he knew that the ducks were part of his property, so they were to be protected, not attacked. I know that this was the case for the cats that we owned, but that's another story.
Eventually, they had picked up all the dog hair on the ground, even that inside Nicky's doghouse. And still they wanted more. But there wasn't any more... except what was still attached to the dog. So they started sneaking in even closer. For a couple days, they were just working up their courage to get in close, but eventually Alexander got in really close and reached in with her bill, and snagged a solid beak full. Well, that was it! Nicky leapt to his feet, spun around and lunged at the ducks, barking furiously. They scattered, running as fast as they could waddle, wings flapping furiously and quacking in panic, to reach the safety of the end of the chain. Nicky watched their panicked flight for a moment, his tail wagging, and then turned around and settled back down to his interrupted nap.
The two ducks joined back up, talking to each other about their near escape, nervously grooming each other's wing feathers and re-oiling, as they were prone to doing when they were nervous or scared. They walked about a bit, ate a few bugs in the garden, checked all their nests, and then it was time to try again. They tried the same approach, with the same result... sneak, sneak, discovery and chaos! This went on for a couple days, and then I began to notice something about the whole thing... it was beginning to look a little more ritualized, more like a game. The ducks weren't trying for dog hair anymore, they were just going for the reaction. They would sneak up close and grab Nicky's tail and yank it, and he would leap up and bark and snarl and they would go scurrying away, quacking and cackling. The dog would watch 'em run away with his tail wagging and then settle back down and wait for 'em to come back. Sometime he would get down on his front paws like dogs do when they want to play, and the ducks would put their heads down low to the ground and make little rushes at him, all the while staying just outside the range of the chain. It was the first time, but not the last, that I would see cross species games and humor.
The point I made with that incredibly meandering and off topic last post is that many thing that we think are just givens... the way that life is supposed to be... are, in fact, nothing but the way we've been told that life should be and not at all inevitable.
Here's a story for you: in my sophomore year of college, I missed the fall semester. The reason why is a long story which I may tell someday, but is not apropo for this discussion. Instead, I want to tell you about the living situation I had for my sophomore January and Spring semesters.
I have always had an easier time relating to women than men, and that was especially true when I was a boy. I was always surrounded by female friends. When I dragged myself back to school in January of 1985, there weren't any spare rooms in the dorms, so I lived for a month with a very entitled, very pissed off ba
One of the women I danced ballet with had a friend who was looking for people to rent a little tiny house off campus with. I really didn't know her at all. She had a stunning red hair, long and thick. I was very impressed. So I agreed to move in. There was a third guy named Dan, and I met him for the first time at the house.
I was a very christian young man having a serious doubt crisis at that point. I had recently come out to my family but not to anyone else. I had suffered the slings and arrows of pentecostal faith towards someone of my persuasion, but I was essentially a very narrow minded boy with a very narrow angle view of how the world worked. But, even back then, I had a curious and engaged mind and was ready to consider a new idea.
Within a week of moving in, I had discovered that Dan was a communist, and that our female roommate was a new age mystic. I learned what a 'wobbly' was, and I learned that there are many different ways to look at the world and see the problems. I learned class struggle rhetoric, I learned how to cast a circle, and I learned to lighten the hell up.
But the most important lesson that i learned was that all my hard set beliefs about the world and how it worked were not truths at all... they were a matter of other people's opinions, presented to a particularly young and gullible boy as truths, and accepted by him as such in the absence of any opposing points of view. But when two other people started explaining other world views that made every bit as much sense, though later I decided they were as limited as the earlier views I had held, it blew the doors off of my close shuttered mind, and this was really how I came out: not the earlier event where I very ashamedly admitted to my parents that I preferred boys. It was this, the moment when I suddenly realized that the world was a very big and diverse place, that my true coming out happened. I came out as a curious, intelligent, open minded man and that, dear friends is far more important than who I tend to fall in love with.
It amazes me how deeply the social programming goes. It permeates all the way down to the way that we get upset when we color outside the lines, or if we wear wrinkled clothes, or don't wash our hair every day. We get all wigged out when someone faces the wrong way in the elevator, or if someone sings or dances in public. Try this sometime: lace your shoes with a different kind of lace in each shoe... one black and one red, or one black and one brown. Then see how many people look at you strangely over the course of the day, and how many go so far as to comment on it.
And gods help you if you're really odd, eccentric or singular. It's the kiss of death for most of us who can't summon up the confidence to flaunt our difference. We live lives of desperation, trying to be enough like those who are 'normal' to be able to make it but generally just revealing, in our mad struggle, how different we are.
Finally, some of us make it to a place where we learn that the only people we really have to satisfy is ourselves, that all those pointing fingers and formidable scowls aimed our way don't matter, that those people who don't like us 'cause we're different don't matter. So we begin to wear our difference on display and put it in people's faces: "Fuck you if you don't like me 'cause of who I am!" And that, friends, is where our lives as individuals begins. When we can flip the world and it's opinions off and go on about our ways, we've nearly made it.
i said, in 'Late Nite,' my entry for 12/10, that I would talk about reality vs social programming. This is, of course, all my own observations and opinions... so don't take it as gospel till you vet it through your own perceptual lenses.
One of the hardest things that we will ever have to do in this life is step outside ourselves and critique our own ways of being, the things that we've learned from the time we had enough intelligence to imprint things we saw and heard and experienced. That means that it is almost from the very first moment, because as newborns and toddlers, we're nothing but little experience sponges. We soak up what we see and hear, and we don't apply any kind of filtering or explanation to any of it, because we're not capable of it at that age and intelligence level. It's far more powerful stuff than most people realize: it forms the basis of what we 'know' in our adult lives and informs our attitudes henceforth and forward. We can overcome this early training with great effort and work, but even when we think "well, that's all right then, I've managed that old bias," it comes popping up in places we never might have expected it to. But not all the attitudes we adopt this way are negative... this can be a good and helpful influence as well.
My father was, in many ways, not a very good man. One thing he taught me, though, and by far the most valuable lesson I ever learned from my father, was not to judge people who are different from yourself until you've had a chance to know them... not just casually, but until you've worked beside them and really gotten sweaty and dusty with them. The particular example that springs to mind immediately is the way that my father treated the Tlingits, the native american tribe that lived in the place where I grew up. Most of the caucasians in town, when they paid any attention to them at all, saw a bunch of people living in squalor in their village outside town, with dead cars left to rust and molder under devil's club brush and alder trees on the edges of the road, and houses in disrepair. There were a million dogs running around, barking at everything, and mud everywhere.
My father didn't grow up in that town. We moved there when he was 33 or so, and he'd already developed a lot of life experience. He'd traveled and lived in foreign lands and see that other people's ways of being were not necessarily wrong, just different. So when he moved to my little home town and he met the native americans, the descendants of the proud Tlingit tribes and septs, he was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait to see if the way that they managed their lives was effective or not: were they able to solve the basic problems that life throws at all of us and manage to keep it all rolling despite the issues? He didn't say much about it... I remember when we first lived in my hometown and we lived with the rest of the surveying crew in a little complex of houses way outside of town, right across from the beach, and after the men would go fishing they would drink beer and play cards while the fish smoked over an alderwood fire, and they would talk about every subject, as men will when so occupied. Sometimes the subject of the native americans would come up and my father would go very quiet. He didn't protest when the other men made fun of their strange ways or called them stupid and primitive. He just stayed very quiet and then changed the subject at the first good opportunity. He probably didn't think I was paying much attention, playing with rocks and twigs in the dust near where the men played cards and laughed, but I was soaking up his attitude with hardly a thought about it.
A few years on, my father was hired to manage a home building supply company, one of only two in our little town. Everyone knew that you could go to our hardware store to buy what you needed to build whatever you were working on, get a great cup of coffee and get some great advice on how to do what you were working on. In the winter, the men of the town would come in and sit in front of the woodstove to gossip a bit, and it was here that I began to understand that my father was different from most of the people in my town. I remember so clearly how it was when they bought the original property where they built the warehouse for the business, how it was just a bulldozed lot and torn, dead trees and scrub brush; how we worked so hard to level the property and get it ready to build on. And how many of the men who came to help us were native americans, because my father insisted that they were dependable and good men, and how hard they worked right alongside my father and his sons to get the lot ready for building on. And when the forms were built and the footings and slabs poured, the men who worked and sweated in the sun were. again, many of native americans. It was one of the few places where they could get a good paying job and a promise of an honest deal, and it built my father's ties with that community every day.
Finally, when the warehouse was built and stocked and the grand opening happened, I remembered looking around and thinking, 'Huh. Not too many of the town elders here, are there?' The hippie crowd was there, all in tiedie and cutoff shorts and baggie old pants and sneakers, and the Tlingits were there, some looking like the hippies and others dressed in their sunday best. It was an odd crowd, but we had a wonderful time and didn't miss the 'mainstream' folks at all.
It wasn't until years later that I understood that my father was building a coalition of folks that he thought would be dynamic supporters of his business. I think he looked around and saw where the building in town was happening: the alternative crowd, the hippies, were always building new additions and sheds and houses and such, and the native americans... every year, they got a large, lump sum payment from the US government. They payed off all the debt they'd incurred over the last year with it, bought themselves a new car if they needed one (remember all those 'old' cars rotting away in their village?) and then put the rest into building on their houses, or building a whole new house. And they bought the supplies from my father's store, not the other one in town. And they bought a lot of their groceries from the little caselots store in the back, behind the warehouse with all the lumber and sheetrock and plumbing. My father once told me, in one of his rare talkative moments, that the native americans were like money in the bank: didn't matter how much they owed, as long as you kept extending 'em credit and only charged a reasonable interest rate, when the big checks came in they would pay the whole thing off, interest and all. I think it was one of the few times I really heard him talk about it, but his attitude infused his son, and I was always amazed and dismayed when i heard the other boys in school talking down the native american kids.
What was I talking about before I go so distracted? Oh yeah... social training vs. reality. Hmm... I think I'll wait for another night to explore that topic. I wouldn't be surprised in the least to read some more stories from my childhood here, though. I grew up in an amazing place, and a lot of very odd and unusual things happened there.
I was thinking about what I really believe today as I read some of the stories in the group. I noticed that many of the people posting stories in the group seemed to have decided to be agnostic as sort of a safe default, kind of like the way those who are gay but don't really want to commit to it because they're so new to it and it scares them, often say "I'm bi!" until they come to a place of comfort with being gay, at which they come out of the shadows and stand forth in all their fabulous selfness. Well, ok, not all of them are fabulous, but it's a bit like getting married: On the day you come out, your get to be the most fabulous thing on the block for the whole day. Then you go back to being just plain, ol' me, the guy with a chronic case of athlete's foot and a little dick.
But as I was thinking about all this, I was also asking myself a question I actually rather rarely ask myself: 'what do I believe, and has it made any major transitions lately?' As I thought about this a bit, I realized that the answer is yes and no (as it so often is for those of us who see ambiguity as a life principle). I suppose I'd better expostulate what I DO believe to begin with, so that you have some beginning place to follow along from.
All right, here it is: I think the quantum physicists are right. I think that everything, and I mean everything, is energy, which is expressed in incalculably complex networks of varying degrees of frequency and amplitude. There is no such thing as solid matter, there are only networks of energy that have characteristics that make them impervious to each other: my skin is much 'softer' and 'less dense' than the steel blade of a knife, and therefore my finger cannot penetrate a knife blade. When I say 'softer' and 'less dense,' what I really mean is that the energy field that is my finger is composed of energy of a frequency and amplitude that interfaces with the corresponding energy network in the knife blade in such a way that my finger cannot interact with the energy making up the knife blade in a way that we would term 'penetrate.'
We are, all of us and everything, nothing but energy. When Yoda talked about 'The Force' being in everything, he was almost right: it isn't 'in' everything, it is everything. Our particular pattern of energy, this little network that I think of as my body, requires the intake of energy to maintain it. Some networks of energy, composed in very specific patterns, can act as fuel, and others can't. Enough about all of that. It's important, but I wanted to talk about the larger implications.
If everything is energy, if I am exactly the same stuff as that squirrel that is right now digging in the pot out on my widow's walk, the one with the blueberry bushes in it, then that doesn't make me very special, does it? Our patterns vary a little, but it's all just the particular variations in the energy matrix that makes it a squirrel snooping about on the porch and me a human being typing on a computer. It puts paid to all the theories about humans being 'special,' or somehow better than the rest of the inhabitants of the earth. They have their survival tactics, we have ours.
When I was a kid, growing up in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere, my father was the town's corpse dresser. When someone died, the family would give my father the clothes they wanted that person buried in, and he would dress the body and place it in whatever casket the family had chosen. When the death was a peaceful one that didn't involve disfigurement, my father would take me along to assist with this job. Thus, I had the experience of seeing dead bodies at an early age. Ever since I was a child, then, I have wondered: what is the difference between a living body and a dead one? What is the ephemeral fire that infuses a living body, and is missing in a corpse? I do not know that science has been able to offer us an answer, yet, to that mystery. Why is that one little blob of perfectly balanced and chemically correct molecules 'alive,' and this one over here is not? Energy. It's all about energy flow and patterns, and the extremely subtle changes that make the difference between living and not.
Of course, it's not all about us. It never was, actually... we just didn't know it. We are the same stuff that the entire universe is made of. We are not discrete little units sitting around on the sidelines and observing our own little tiny part of the universe. No, we are an intrinsic part of the universe. Every time we change, we change the universe; granted, in an infinitesimally small way, but change nonetheless. Those stars out there in the night sky, and I, are exactly the same stuff.
The one thing that religion/spirituality has going for it that makes it so important in most societies, is that it answers the question of what happens to us after we die. The terrible anxiety and fear that surrounds that question has given any number of religions a terrible grip on so many people's minds. It's painful to see people so worried about this problem that they hand over their lives to someone, anyone, who can give them a palatable answer to that question.
The law of the conservation of energy states that no energy is ever wasted or destroyed, it just changes form. Highly complex systems tend to break down into states of lower energy and less complexity. I take comfort in the knowledge that all the people I care about, my little four legged brothers and sisters, all of them, will one day change form and blend back into the larger matrix of energy that is this particular planet. Their energy will be subsumed into some other pattern,,, perhaps that of a squirrel poking about in a flowerpot, or maybe some guy sitting at a computer and producing ludicrous theories about the nature of existence, or perhaps some raging hot newborn star on the edge of the universe, so unimaginably distant from our existence that the light from those stars won't reach us for millenia. Who was I before this body was birthed from the larger network of my mother's energy? Many people, many things, stars, solar dust... who knows?
Don't have a lot of time to write tonite... it's getting late and I have to work tomorrow. Still, I think a few words on here might be useful... or fun... or not. Anyway.
I think i've been working in gereatrics for too long. The other day, was interviewing a young woman for a Med Tech position, and I got this sudden flash of what she was going to look like when she was really old. I mean, this girl was like 25 or so, and I can see in my mind what she's going to look like at 80. It was highly disturbing... not really something I wanted to see. All I can say is, she was gonna be one wrinkled, old sow. Ouch.
I've really only become conscious of this sort of thing since about 4 years ago. I hit my midlife crisis when my sister had her third relapse of cancer, and there was a very real chance that it could have been fatal. It shocked me, because despite the fact that I have dealt with death and endings as a part of my job for a very long time, I haven't really lost anybody that was all that close to me. And now, here was my much loved sister telling me that there was a high likelihood that metastatic cancer was going to take her out. It was an incredible shock, and even worse (I'm faintly ashamed to say) was the implication that if she could die, so could I.
I'd like to say that I thought about this in a calm and rational fashion and made some good, solid decisions about how I wanted the rest of my life to look like, but that was be SUCH a lie. Actually, I got really sad for awhile, and then I decided that it was time for me to grow up a little and try to behave like a real, genuine person. So I stopped with all the stupidity I was engaging in with meaningless sex - lots of it, before this epiphany. And I decided to make my life count for something.
Well, I don't know how well that has worked out. I did manage to write one of the novels that I have floating around in my head, and contracted with a small time publisher to get it published and available to the public, That was a major goal for me, so I'm happy about that. But other than that, I have to tell you that not all that much has changed.
Except my attitude. I have become, I think, a much more patient guy, and much less inclined to whininess. Understanding that life doesn't go on forever has clarified for me the things that are important and worth getting worked up about and the things that are not. I've come to some conclusions about real right vs. wrong as opposed to the things that we've been socially programmed to believe.
More about this later.
A former friend asked me, a while back, if I was really happy with my life. I glanced over at her from where I was dj-ing soundtracks from Youtube for us to listen to, and I thought about what she'd ask. I'm pretty sure that she thought I was going to ignore her question, but after thinking about it for a little while, I was able to answer.
"That's it? Nope? you made me wait ten minutes for your answer and that's all I get?"
"Yep." I loved driving her crazy like this.
"So you're not happy with your life? Are you going to do something about it?"
You know what's coming next, right? Wait for it...wait for it...
"Why not?" she almost wailed.
I shrugged. Thought about it for a few more minutes, and then said "Too busy for happiness."
"What? You're too busy? What's that supposed to mean? Do you even know what that means?"
I do know what that means. Of course, I didn't give her an explanation at the time... it was much too fun making her crazy with the typical male non-communication routine. Of course, she was smiling and laughing all the way through, 'cause she knew exactly what i was up to.
But all silliness aside (and that's a biggie for me...I love being silly and playful), I have found that as I grow older and learn a bit more, I have come to look differently at this most prized and most elusive of qualities. So many people work so hard to find happiness, and never realize that it is all the work they are doing that is keeping them from finding happiness.
And quite frankly, 'happiness' is not really a word I like all that much. Happiness is sort of a fleeting, momentary flash experience. It comes, it floods across your heart and mind like the first day of monsoon in India, with all the little kids dancing in the streets and getting soaked in the rain, and then it's gone; when it's gone, the barren heart hears about it in some distant way...a myth, a made-up story and not to be believed.
No, happiness is not a goal for me. It's way to unreliable and unpredictable. So, I will trade the riptide current of happiness for contentment... sweet contentment, like a favorite old rocking chair that squeaks in just the same degree of arc each time you rock back in it. It's a fire in the hearth, your feet in your favorite old slippers, your good ol' dog curled up on the floor next to your chair and sipping hot, rich cofee while you read the New York Times on Sunday morning.
Contentment is a warmth that you can turn to when the world goes cold. It comes from knowing who you are and knowing what you want, and how far you're willing to go to get it. It comes from being able to do the things you want to do, and from accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself, and the knowledge that you have set further goals for yourself and you're going to pursue them.
There is a trap here for the unwary, though. It is a small step from contentment to complaisance, and that is the kiss of death. One must never fall into that pit where the mud keeps sucking you down into a drowning bath of muck.
Previous PostsLiving in MO, posted April 12th, 2013
Someday, I will fly, posted December 11th, 2011
I keep emerging..., posted April 5th, 2011
Late night musing, posted March 13th, 2011
Peering back, posted February 2nd, 2011, 1 comment
Working on a new story, and thinking about finding a new job, posted January 17th, 2011
A story from when I was a boy, posted December 29th, 2010, 4 comments
Back on topic, posted December 14th, 2010
Continuing comments, posted December 14th, 2010
I joined the group "I am Agnostic" today... but then I had doubts., posted December 12th, 2010, 1 comment
Late night, posted December 10th, 2010
A lot of sad people, posted December 2nd, 2010, 2 comments
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