When You Can’t Run, You Crawl

October 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

Summer refuses to go gently into that good night. We’re well into October now, and the mercury keeps climbing into the upper 60s, 70s, and even the 80s. And then plummets, as Fall rallies, only to be routed again by another surprise attack from my favorite season.

Today was sunny, warm, and beautiful, and yet I couldn’t lift my eyes from my shoes long enough to appreciate it. I have stones on these shoulders, and just about the time I get used to the weight, another one gets added. Just this week, a boulder dropped on top of the other rocks already sitting there. So I’m sagging a bit.

I just went up on the roof to clean the gutters and took a few minutes to think and watch the sun nestle down behind the horizon. I took stock of what’s wrong and what’s right, what’s good and bad in my life.

There’s a lot going wrong in my life. There’s also a lot going right to prop me up when the stones push me down. When a new weight drops on the wrong side, the stanchions bend and slip. This week really tested them.

But up on the roof, with the world going dark and silent around me, I did find some perspective. Unfortunately, what’s going on around me is reality, and it isn’t going to change. I want the rocks and boulders to fall off or be lifted away, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

All I can do is lean into the supports—my wife, my family, my friends, and the too-brief moments of joy they bring into my life. And remember to thank them, and try to bring joy to them when they need it. Try not to be a rock on their shoulders, but rather a support for them, even if it’s a weak one. Toothpicks can support bowling balls, if you have enough of them.

There’s a quote from my favorite television show, Firefly. It’s kind of cheesy, but it contains a good sentiment:

When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.

Find someone to carry you. Lean into your supports. We’ll all get through this together.

“Stack on Balance” (Sculpture and photo by Peter Juhl)


Before Coffee: A Toast

October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

The weather is starting to turn cool. We’re still in the 80s during the day, but the nights have the crisp edge that tells you frosty mornings are just around the corner. The trees’ hold on summer green began to slip over the past few days; I noticed a hint of color in the leaves today.

The maple nearest my house began dropping its leaves weeks ago: brown-spotted pages of waxy yellow clogging the gutters, brittle curls littering the deck. The rest of the towering maples and hickories and oaks in my yard will lose their fight soon, too, letting fly the summer stories contained in their leaves.

Autumn, to me, is a season of loss. We celebrate the dead in October, as the color drains from the face of the Northern Hemisphere. We pull into our houses and ourselves, bury our bodies in layers and blankets. Dark claims more of the day.

I know I’m in the minority; most people love the colors of the fall. The crunch of the dead leaves. Mulled wine around the fire pit. Pumpkin fucking spice in everything. Halloween.

Those are all nice things, and I enjoy them. (Well, not the pumpkin spice.) But they don’t distract from the slow withering of my world. I live for the months of green trees and blue skies, bare skin under a hot sun, long days of pools and grilled meat and driving with the wind in my hair.

I am a summer creature, and not myself in any other season. Although this summer had it’s awful side, it also had good days and better nights, full of moments and memories that scorched themselves into the flesh of me.

So here’s a toast with the good bourbon: To summer. Come back soon.

Photo credit: Fork & Stave 



Of Biplanes and Buckets and Lists

October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

I don’t have much of a bucket list. Things I once wanted to do before I die—skydive, fly a hang glider, see Machu Picchu, etc.—have fallen away due to age or geopolitics or a plain fading of interest in them.

But one thing stuck. Ever since reading Richard Bach’s novel, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, I’ve wanted to fly in a biplane.

Seeing a biplane flying overhead always makes me stop and watch until it’s out of sight, a dumb grin on my face the entire time. At airshows, biplanes always draw me over to stare and smile and wish I could go up in one.

This weekend, I finally took that flight.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Before Coffee: Restorative

September 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

It’s windy this morning. Fall is blowing the last vestiges of summer through the cemetery gate. It will rain later; the clouds are already gathering outside. Inside, my personal clouds are clearing and I’m starting to feel like me again.

I slept a full night without aid—no Benadryl, no melatonin. “Sleep is for the weak” is something my friends and I say when we don’t get enough, but it really is vital to our health and mental well-being. Sleep makes us stronger, helps us keep our defenses up against the storm clouds and brain weasels.

My appetite is slowly coming back, too. Nourishment goes hand-in-hand with sleep. When I don’t sleep, my Crohn’s disease kicks up, and when that happens, I don’t eat much. I’ve lost 10 pounds in the last month or so. While I’d like to keep it off, I also need to fuel my defenses against illness.

So, sleeping and eating. And also creating. I wrote a poem Saturday night, sitting in a quiet attic library with black cat flirting with me. I’d slipped away from the party downstairs for a few minutes alone, and discovered a book of Charles Bukowski’s poems and short stories about cats. Buck is one of my favorite poets, and I thought I shared his poem “tough company” here before, but now I can’t find it. Reading his words made me want to jot down a little drabble of my own. It’s short and it’s terrible, but it’s a seedling pushing up through newly moistened soil. I am feeling the old itch to start writing again.

The party I temporarily escaped from was restorative. Aaron and Anneliese were the hosts, and their parties are always a mix of familiar faces and new ones. They know fascinating people. I met interesting new friends, talked to old friends, and heard the kind of bawdy stories only a former sailor can tell of the Banana Lady and the Bottoms Up Club and Korean sex shows. There was a fire out back and good food inside and joy everywhere.

I drank a little, but not too much. I ate too many of the fantastic egg rolls my friend Travis conjures up, as well as more than my share of my wife’s delicious monkey bread. I watched my friends’ faces in the firelight, and listened to their stories.

But I kept slipping upstairs to the cat and the book and the quiet, just for a few minutes each time, whenever I felt the jittery devil’s hand upon my spine. I read half that small book over the course of the night. Sometimes, I found a friend or two up there, escaping like me, and we had quiet chats.

Toward the end of the festivities, my friend Julieanne said she’d “eddied through the party,” which I thought was just a lovely turn of phrase that perfectly captured the feel of the night: the slow swirl of conversations and people, moving through the house or out into the back yard, seeking the fire or the shadows or the quiet places filled with books and cats.

There are worse ways to spend a night, but if you ask me, there are few better.

This is the cat who kept me company. His name is Tom Servo. (Photo credit: Anneliese Knoff)




Before Coffee: Soothe the Savage Breast

September 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

I’ve said much here that is dark and sad and full of storm clouds. Ironically, my last missive was my attempt to counter that with something upbeat; seems it didn’t come off that way.

Sorry about that. Here’s attempt number two. I’ll try to keep it short and light. « Read the rest of this entry »

Me, I’m Counting

September 20, 2016 § 2 Comments

It’s been difficult for me to see anything but endings lately, and to fear those endings. It’s certainly taken a toll on my sleep (I’m not getting much), my appetite (I’ve lost five-plus pounds in the last month, without trying), my ability to focus on work and conversations and even mindless TV shows.

But there’s a freight train full of good barreling through my life right now, too. Sometimes, I have to stop and remind myself of that. Count my blessings, as it were. So to that end, I’m counting. « Read the rest of this entry »

Before Coffee: Dare. Risk. Dream.

September 7, 2016 § 1 Comment

Random thoughts that have been ricocheting of the insides of my skull, ringing it like a polyphonic bell. This morning, staring at an empty beer bottle from last night and grinning like an idiot at the memories contained therein, the various tones merged into a chorus.

Around the neck of the bottle, it said, “Dare. Risk. Dream.”

I’ve been a little worried about how people perceive me lately. It’s a constant susurration, but lately the volume has increased. Partly, it’s because I’ve put some personal shit out into the world, on this blog and elsewhere. It’s also due in part to my dad’s illness—liver cancer—which has me traveling down dark corridors I’d avoided for the past ten years.

It’s not often I share what’s hidden in the cobwebbed nooks and bottomless chasms. The thoughts and memories I bury in those places are there precisely because they scare me, and I’m afraid they’ll frighten off those close to me. At the very least, I don’t want to worry anyone.

Keeping them locked up wasn’t working. Not this time. For a few weeks, I was in a state of constant panic. I figured sharing couldn’t possible make things worse, so I decided to vent here, on this supposed writing blog, because it’s my only long-form outlet anymore. I can let my fingers dribble thoughts longer than 140-character tweets or whatever the limit is for the Book of Faces.

I dared to share. I risked what people would think. At the very least, I hoped it would help someone who had similar thoughts, feelings, fears.

So far, no one’s run screaming, at least not that I know. And I’ve been reminded of how truly loving and supportive my friends are.

My life right now is very much yin-yang. The dark side is my dad’s cancer, and the looming shadow the C-word always brings with it. But there’s a very bright side, too, driving back the gloom. It took a little daring and risk—and more than a little dreaming—to get to the light. It’s a fragile puzzle made up of fragile pieces. But it’s beautiful, and it shields my soul.

I worry the light won’t last long. I worry it will go out and leave me in the dark with the monsters. Nothing gold can stay, as Robert Frost wrote.

It’s a risk to stay in this dream of light, but I dare to do so for as long as it lasts. I’ll deal with the monsters as they come.

They better come swinging, because this is ground I’ll fight for.

The bottle in question. The beer inside was good; the company was better. (And ha, I just noticed it’s called the Right Hand of Doom. That’s not ominous or anything.)