Childish Things

Flexible Flyer Sled_by John Hussey

I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds.  I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings.  Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer.  Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906.  The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one bedroom apartment.  I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee.  If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and killer Mexican restaurants.  In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress.  Why this winter snow and sled proclivity?  I’m guessing it is a subconcious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.  

Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.  No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to.   In the early nineteen something-or-others we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over.  The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it.  Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.

Peter Pan would have liked sledding.  Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fuck-up that many equate with the “not willing to work” type.  From what I read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued.  He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys.  Courage, rather than immaturity may be a fine way to define Mr. Pan.  Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?  

As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders?  Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be confused by the term “blinders.”  Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through the busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities.  They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation.  Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus.  I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus.  Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum.  It is the way we get from standing still to full speed.  Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another.  Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.

Some people loved sledding when they were children.  Some people did not.  Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up.  Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd).  Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value.  You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you?  Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot.  Are they the better for it?  Probably.  Have they become the Dalai Lama?  Ehh!

Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things?  Do we gain Money?  Security?  Power?  Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means?  Most likely yes.  What do we lose in exchange?  The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable.  It can bring great things, but at what cost?  Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults?  If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children?  If not their’s then who’s? 

Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904.  He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise.  He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging.  It was to be his most celebrated work.  It overshadowed all others in his career.  Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.  

Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor.  If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset.  If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind.  Why the hell not? 

Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us.  On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date.  I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensueing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide.   Sometimes its the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.

Christmas Spirit

Christmas Spirit 2017_by John Hussey

 

I love Christmas time.  Peace on earth, good will toward men, etc..  Who could argue with that?  One doesn’t have to adhere in any particular faith, denomination or horoscope reading to find those concepts at least somewhat reasonable.  

The Christmas tree, which I love, was not likely on the scene manger side in Bethlehem those many years ago, nor at any of Dr. J’s following birthday parties in the first century AD.  It’s not a symbol of Christmas biblically, yet every December, or late November given one’s proclivity regarding such things, most of us pile ourselves, our families, or our friends and/or loved ones into the car and set out to find the perfect tree.  The perfect dead tree that is, to procure, lash to the top of our car, and position in a place of prominence in our homes.  Why?

The indoor tree as I understand it has its roots, pun-ish, in pagan ritual.  It is meant to be symbolic of the fact that even during the darkest, most barren times endured in the northern hemisphere life will eventually spring anew.  It is a reminder to be patient; to respect the way of things.  To be clear, I’m not talking about the kind of patience seen on the Black Friday evening news during which local affiliates and their national counterparts recount the mob scenes, in-store fist fights of the day, etc.  Wink!   It’s more of a Christ-like, or buddha-ish if you will, patience that the pagans hinted at with there indoor arboreal relocation ritual.  Coincidence?

Christmas spirit is, in my opinion, a safe place, an opportunity to reset, to reconsider one’s perspective in the midst of a dark, cold, and often trying time of the year.  Candles glow, firelight dances across the room, the smell of pine permeates the house.  These are all choices to which we can give life unless one is in lack of a fireplace.  Even those who have no built-in way of burning yet other dead tree and thereby contributing in their own way to global warming can burn the yule log through the convenience of Netflix, or a discount DVD.  No, It’s not the things or the smells per se, but the opportunity, the idea, of having the choice to create the experience; something different that shines an inner light on the darkness. That’s what fuels my Christmas spirit.

Christmas giving is or can be a two-way street.  Some give to be appreciated.  Some give to give.  Christmas time allows a perennial look at who we are and why we do what we do; if only we might take the time to decipher our motives.  It’s likely that most of us appreciate Christmas in theory.  However, have you heard someone utter the words, “I just have to make it through the holidays?”  It’s likely that those folks have fallen under the western interpretation of the season that involves hosting, presenting, performing…ugh, exhausting right?  The greatest gift of Christmas spirit I can give is the gift given to me by the pagan rituals…patience.  Loving more than I usually do.  Letting mishaps pass as though they were nothing because let’s face it, in the ultimate scheme of things they often are just that.   A dropped ornament, someone who will remain nameless licking the baking spoon before we have finished laying cookie dough on the tray, anxious children acting out due to excitement are all part of the experience, and of course the impatient driver, shopper, clerk, etc. 

Christmas spirit comes upon me, overtakes me and empowers me.  Christmas time fills me with the hope that I can choose to be my best me.  To be more giving, more hopeful, more patient than I might otherwise choose to be.  That is the best gift of all.  And so with joy in my heart, I wish you a very Merry Christmas time!

Grateful

Thankful for you

I am but a tiny grain of sand on an infinite beach, or desert maybe.  The “infinite” makes it difficult to know for sure because the old metaphor never specifically defines the roll of “an ocean” in the mix.  If we are just talking about “sand” it could be an endless Sahara Desert; makes me thirsty just thinking about it.  A beach as seen by some is the most amazing strip of Real estate in the universe.  We’ve all heard, “I could never live without the ocean nearby!”  For others it’s sand in the crack, sunburn and “It’s cool, but I’ll take the mountains!”  As for the desert, I’ve never met someone who saw this geographically threatening environment as the be all and end all of permanent residences, so for the purpose of out metaphor above I’m going with desert, ha!

Anyway, (The use of the non-word “anyways” is one of my only grammatical pet peeves. Not sure why that one stuck in my craw but when I hear it said out loud my fists involuntarily clench and I taste metal in my mouth)…So anyway, maybe we are grains of sand, whatever.  I love the fact that in that light neither we nor the things we do hold much importance.  Puts things in a humility based perspective framework right?  The funniest part about that is that if your ego is anything like mine the first words out of its loudmouth are “Bull Shit!”  Well “Whatever” to that crap too!  Despite it’s best intentions the ego is often the “desert,” wishing it were a “beach.”  

We are complex vessels of potentially self-torture inducing duality hurtling through a desert or a beach or a glass factory for all we know, and soon enough we suddenly find ourselves lacking the consciousness to wrestle with the beach/desert conundrum.  We are gone, in the blink of an eye, the same length of a blink we rode in on, and 99.9% percent of the sand grains in the universe will never even knew we had crystallized.  

Opening the cosmic door, reaching into the void and pulling back a handful of “meaning” is the greatest adventure, balancing act, magic trick, win around.  We construct lives made out of our individual interpretations of “meaning,” pure and simple.  We make them up.  Are they real?  Does any of this matter?  Prove that it doesn’t, and I’ll give you some silica.

This holiday weekend I’ve had a lot of time to think about the problems in my life.  I’ve also spent time wrapping my consciousness around my many blessings.  Life is spectacular even as I struggle with some massively disconcerting and potentially life-changing issues that are beyond my control.  Welcome back to the cosmic door, which it turns out is not unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  We never know what we are going to get, but I do know this.  I am here now, today, stretching to stand tall in my little sand suit.  I am so grateful for my family and friends, teachers,  past loves, the grocery clerk who always smiles when I come in, the homeless man singing on his usual corner at the 2nd Ave overpass, and you my reader friends for being kind enough to accompany me on this greatest of adventures.  xo

Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving fast approaches.  Bringing with it all the joy, or discomfort that our memories allow.  Gratitude for what we have, or eating all we can hold depending on one’s persuasion, define the day.  Such disparate perspectives all find their way to some moment between noon and 6:00pm-ish on this most American holiday, (unless you are Canadian, they have one too you know, different day though) when we sit down with people we love, or tolerate, or loathe to “give thanks.”

Growing up I remember seeing paintings of the pilgrims (bless their sexually repressed hearts) sharing a meal with the native Americans whose kindness and wisdom made that very moment, the very survival of the colonists possible.  I have no idea if the scenes depicted actually happened, but I do know that from the native perspective things definitely went downhill from there.  Not until the advent of reservation land casinos did that cultural nose dive take a turn.  Finally, something for which the true North Americans can be thankful.  Too little, too late?  Probably.

I usually spend Thanksgiving morning in the woods, either hiking or mountain biking, most often I make this “pilgrimage” alone.  During this holiday opportunity for reflection, I will pause to take in the majesty of this world that we are so fortunate to call home.  I am truly grateful for my one chance here on earth.  Grateful for my wonderful family, my dear friends, a roof over my head and the unlikely outcome that is me, or you and every being issuing a breath even for a moment on this planet.

On this day some will share laughter with loved ones, others will issue volatile political challenges, purposefully foisting discord on innocents who only wish to celebrate the moment.  Thanksgiving political discussions are the shit, right?  Ha!  On the other side of the relational tracks many will be alone; of those, some will be so by choice, others by unfortunate circumstance.  For the solitary, it can be a challenging day to endure without a place to find welcome.  Holidays are societally bipolar, no?

Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving I wish you peace, joy and most importantly a window in your world through which you can see with crystal clear clarity, something worth being thankful for.  

Namaste my friends.

Winning, Losing, and How You Play the Game

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game!”  Uh huh.  Ten out to ten people polled have heard that expression.  Zero out of ten believe it!  The expression makes sense existentially, but it doesn’t jive with the western yardstick.  Winners take the trophy, the ring, the money.  Losers take the agony of defeat, the shame, and the debt.  No one hits the singles scene on a Saturday night looking for a loser.  No one interviews candidates for a job position hoping for less than a “winning” hire.  Stats are easy to digest, easy to access and to use in the making of decisions about a person’s value.  Is judging a life really that simple?

Winning is glamorous, glorious, and more importantly ephemeral.  Losing too has no set anchor in perpetuity.  How many “rags to riches” stories have we heard?  How many “lost it all” stories follow?  If we’ve spent time on top, we know it feels good.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our position threatened by time, rising challengers, or failing health, we know the true essence of being a “winner.” That essence is fleeting.  

Losing is ass!  It feels like the world is crashing in around us and that as the weight bears down our strength wanes.  If we’ve spent time on the bottom, we know it is the shits.  We feel trapped, desperate, and we question our self-worth.  The human spirit, however, is a resilient force, and so most often we lift, we reach, we find the strength to rise.  Most of us have had our time of doubt, our time of loss, and somehow we’ve overcome.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our circumstance changed by effort, patience and time, we know the true essence of being a “loser.”  That essence is one of painful, but passing misery.  

So it is that the measure of a life well lived may ultimately comes down to “how we play the game.”  Of the three concepts, it is the only one that escapes the temporal trap of the ephemeral.  How we play the game isn’t about moments, win or lose.  It is an ethos.  No one can truly count on a continuing steady state of outcome from either a “winner” or a “loser”.   We can only count on those for whom we have respect based on their philosophy concerning “how to play the game.”  I’ve been on top, which is fantastic.  I’ve bottomed out, which is the shits.  I’ve stood on the podium, then fallen to the poor house, only to rise again.  The same ethics and approach lead to each more and less desirable destination.  Why?  Because, and I’m guessing here, that’s the game!  

Trophies often become paperweights or doorstops.  Failures many times lead to stories of the rise of a phoenix. These are moments in time of victory or loss are fleeting states in a short, though sometimes seemingly endless tale that will ultimately vanish with our passing.  So it is that the wisdom of “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” comes into focus.  Unlike winning or losing, consistency of mind, fortitude, and focus on a life well lived escape the transitory black hole of “results.”  And unlike titles, these qualities cannot be taken from us.  More importantly, they are ever-present, awake and alive, truly defining each of us as the people we are every moment of our lives.

The First Day of Autumn

Autum by John Hussey

Where we live, September 22 is a placeholder. An astronomically inspired bit of mathematics that has been used to define the turn of the season, and for our purposes here the first day of Autumn since the time of Julius Caesar. While September 22 is technically the first day of Autumn, at our house, we reserve the right to proclaim Autumn’s arrival based on temperature and/or the first turning of leaves. Every season has its splendor, but in my mind, Autumn offers the most effusive display of change in the world. Many Autumns I’ve been fortunate to see, and each year I find the magic of this turning in the world breathtaking.

A peculiar mix of warm color, cold air, brilliance across the landscape and the coming of darkness adorn this time with an intoxicating sense of denouement. So much has happened across the present year that will soon be relegated to memory. The garden falls to slumber and things once so bright green and forthcoming with sustenance find their way into withered repose. The canopy that shrouds our humble home dons regiment fit for royalty on high holiday. The heavy clothing that had long ago been stowed away at the last breath of spring again finds purpose as the morning dew turns to frost; the warm days trading their humid gravity for chilling wind.

During these days of true Autumn on the dark early mornings in our household, Vince Guaraldi can be heard playing Peanuts jazz from “Linus and Lucy” to the “Great Pumpkin Waltz,” the soundtrack to the season. The boys and I dance, and laugh, and remember all the Falls we’ve lived in the past; leaf pile diving, pumpkin carving parties,  Halloweens, and Thanksgivings that this breathtaking season has afforded us. The end of daylight savings, soon upon us, will bring a new brightness, but no respite from the biting chill of these Fall mornings. Somehow this precursor to Winter has become our most memory-laden season; both beautiful and heart-wrenching in that time moves so quickly, and so beautifully. We have only so many Autumns left to relish.

Harvest time, the work is to be done, but the rest and reflection are soon to follow. It is a time for the celebration of another year lived and hopefully made the most of.  May your Autumn as our’s be full of friendship and family, bountiful harvest, appreciation, and gratitude for the sheer miracle of our ability to know we are alive here and now surrounded by the spectacular transformation that is Autumn.

Lester McClain and the Bear – IV

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For more on that which lead to this, see Lester McClain and the Bear I, II, & III.

On Saturday, October 5th Lester awoke to the golden shimmer of autumn sunlight sparkling on the turning Aspen leaves. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he focused on a scene that secured in his still foggy mind the notion that he was indeed still asleep. Dillon, the barkeep, stood just outside the picture window smoking a morning cigarette. Shash stood towering over the kitchen counter pouring himself a cup of steaming hot coffee, and the enormous Grizzly bear sat in the corner of the kitchen. The bear appeared to be deep in thought.

“Coffee bear?” Shash asked, lifting his cup to pantomime the offer. The bear blinked then nodded his head to the affirmative. Lester watched still uncertain of the whole situation as Shash carefully held out the cup. The sweet scent of Dillon’s cigarette made it’s way through the slightly open kitchen door, sharpening Lester’s foggy morning senses. The bear, not having opposable thumbs reached for the steaming cup with both paws. As the mug hit his pads, he growled disapprovingly. Shash held up a finger, “try this,” he pulled a short stool close and set the mug on it. “Give it a minute to cool down; it’s hot!” The bear leaned in and assessed the steam rising from the mug. Shash raised his hand, “hold on.” He crossed the kitchen, floorboard creaking desperately under his weight. He opened the ancient Frigidaire and removed two glistening ice cubes. He returned to bear who sat transfixed, mesmerized by the swirling mist emanating from the coffee. “Let this sit for a second,” he said gently releasing the cubes into the cup. The bear watched as the cubes slowly disintegrated in the black liquid. Once Shash gave him the nod he lapped at the coffee. Lester was sure that he saw the bear’s eyes widen followed by what appeared to be a rarely seen Ursa grin.

Dillon entered from the deck in a hallow of smoke just in time to hear Lester’s first words of the day which were, “What the fuck is going on? How’d you get in here?” And finally with to tone of near hysterical exasperation, “Is that a real bear?”

“Hey Les,” said Dillon, “top o’ the morning!”

“Yes,” said Shash, apparently taking the questions in reverse order. “He is a real bear. As to how we go in, I used the keep you keep under the fake rock by the garage. As to what’s going on…let’s say that we are friends here to lend a hand.”

“Is there any more coffee?” Dillon asked.

“Plenty,” Shash offered. “Grab a mug.”

As Dillon made his way across the worn pine board floor to the cupboard, Lester sat upright on his couch-bed-thing and once again rubbed his eyes to ensure that they were not playing tricks on him.

“Lend a hand?” Lester grunted, his tone both indignant and curious.

The bear eyed him for a moment the lapped at his coffee.

“Yes Lester, we are here to lend a hand. Coffee?” Shash motioned to the pot.

“Please,” said Les slowly swinging his legs to the floor and making to stand. The bear watched him closely and again appeared to be smiling, which was an odd, almost disconcerting look for a bear.

“We’ve been paying attention to your situation,” said Shash. “Dillon brought you up to me back in the Spring after seeing you at the bar every night. He mentioned that…”

“Dillon seemed terrified of you that night!” Lester interrupted. “Now you’re in cahoots?”

Shash and the bear growled in unison. “Dillon seamed ‘terrified’ because he had taken something of mine without asking and was concerned that I would grape-squash his head over it. Needless to say, we settled that matter with his melon intact. He is my nephew after all, and blood is thicker than…stuff.”

“Oh,” Les wrapped his index and middle finger around the handle of a chipped white porcelain mug in the cupboard and turned to the coffee pot. “And the bear? Is he your kin too?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Shash said raising his cup and taking a long pull. He looked over at the bear who was wrestling his mug with both paws licking the last drops of coffee with his long bear tongue.

“And what manner of speaking would that be?” Lester barked.

“He’s my brother.” Shash offered matter of factly.

“From another mother?” Les chuckled, clearly proud of himself for knowing something the kids might-maybe say when presented with a similar situation.

“Same mother,” Dillon offered, “Do you have any breakfast food? Bread, eggs, bacon perhaps?

Les was not feeling okay about this situation. Unlike in the movies where weird shit happens, and the protagonist somehow assimilates it and takes it in stride, he was clear on the fact that this, the bear, in particular, was not normal.

“Ah, yes.”  He groaned.  Rubbed his throbbing forehead, he stammered, “Bread is in the cupboard to the right of the sink. Bacon and eggs in the left bottom drawer in the Fridge.”

“Lester,” Shash began, “It’s time we had a chat.”

The bear looked up from his coffee, locked eyes with Les and nodded in agreement.

To be continued

#fiction