Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Broken Things

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Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.  A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”  Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence, some sort of brokenness.  A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side. If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.  What of broken people?  As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch.   He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.

Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.  The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.  Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.  I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.  I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.  The sleds aren’t broken.  However, their usefulness is but a memory.  Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.

I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.  Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.  It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.  It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.  So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day. 

I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.  He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.  

Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.  Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”  Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.  That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.  Love to you my dearest friend.  My heart is with you all the way.

The Subtext Of A Sigh

The Subtext Of A Sigh

Walking through the woods the other day I found myself thinking.  Thinking it turns out is an activity which, meditation practice notwithstanding, I’m incapable of not doing.  Perhaps that’s why my novice monk robes have been held up in Nepalese customs for these many years.  As I made my way toward the top of the ridge thoughts wandered and morphed spinning my brain into a somnambulistic drift.  

A deep sigh brought me out of my reverie.  “Was that me?” I wondered.  The complete lack of anything but trees and a whitetail deer lead me to believe that it was in fact, me, releasing the somewhat dramatic, perhaps even melodramatic sigh.  A sigh of release I thought, as all sighs are, a near verbalization of the letting go, or forcible jettisoning of something the mind or body no longer wished to hold.

Hmm, the sigh had caught me off guard.  “What had I been carrying?” I wondered.  “What had I released?”  As lives go mine has been a walk in the park, current circumstances made that expression a pun of course, but whatever.  I crested the ridge taking in the endless canopy of brilliant green late summer majesty and paused.  Then it dawned on me.  It was a simple thing really; nothing more than a deep sigh releasing a lifetime of making things harder than they had to be.

Sailing Upwind

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Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.  Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.  The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.  The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.  All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.  “Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.  “Perhaps.”

The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it.  For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums.  Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them.  Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.  It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.  

Night Light

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Absolute darkness is hard to come by in this modern world.  Light leaks through nighttime windows from streetlights, headlights, searchlights, the moon, lightning storms and even fireworks on the occasional holiday.  Electric clocks, power strips, TV and stereo power lamps come to life in a ghostly glow once the sun has gone down.  For some such lights are a nuisance, for others these dim reminders of day are insufficient.  There are those who are uncomfortable in the dark and those for whom the realm of sleep cannot be deep black enough.  Which are you?

I believe, and say “believe” because I cannot remember for sure, that as a boy I favored the company of a night light.  Things that go bump in the dark might have been, at that time in my life more manageable when seen rather than merely heard.  Now I find that the best sort of night is one in which I can find nothing; no shapes, no glimmer, no semblance of the living world.  Perhaps the days are now so full of goings on that the only way to achieve true respite is in the nothingness of absolute black.  Odd because nothingness is a constant topic of internal dialogue that I bandy about in the face of the ceaseless onslaught of is-ness that has become the definition of this modern life.  

Fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of the dark, fear of anything, all, in my opinion, are the children of the fear of death; fear of that which we cannot avoid no matter how we twist and turn.  I like the dark, I actually like snakes, but I have a dizzying visceral breakdown when faced with heights.  That last issue must be the reason I learned to skydive.  Interestingly when one falls from umpteen thousand feet the prep time between plane and landing allows for some free will and planning.  As I write this I’m happy to say, though clearly it needn’t be said since here I am, that the process has been survivable.  Its been amazing actually.  I like-ish facing fears; it’s fascinating, life-affirming and potentially boundary, if not leg breaking.  But what if I were afraid of something as unavoidable as the dark.  

A power outage leads the prepared household to a closet stocked with flashlights and candles, perhaps even a battery powered radio.  For the well-to-do who’ve prepared for The Purge, it may even lead to a generator or a full-on panic room.  I like a good power outage, except for the havoc it may wreak on whatever frozen food I’m hoarding at the time in my ancient fridge.  I even have a few decent flashlights and a couple candles hidden away just in case.  I still have kids at the house, so I have to be ready to turn whatever happens into an adventure that isn’t entirely lived out in abject what-the-fuck blackness.  

But back to night lights for a sec.  They do serve a purpose, for some, for a time.  They may alleviate fear; affording calm to those needing a tinge of day in their night.  The also can make it possible for a nearly comatose person to reach the fridge for that super unnecessary midnight snack, without breaking a toe.  Not my thing, but to each his or her own.  Have your night lights if you will, and may they bring peace and restful sleep. I’ll be the one dancing with my vertigo, dizzy and sweating on the ladder in broad daylight cleaning a gutter, hoping I’m able to make it back to earth alive.

Dog People and Cat People

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Democrat, Republican. Morning person, night person. Dog person, cat person. Stereotypes exist some say because of at least a shred of truth at their core. I don’t want to make this a political rant so let’s go with doors two and three.

I’m a morning chap. Give me daybreak and a pot of coffee and all is right with the world. Walking across the dew-laden lawn with steaming coffee cup in hand I take my place in the garden side Adirondack chair. From there I watch the butterflies and hummingbirds do their important work on the blossoms while I formulate my strategy for the adventures of the day. So yeah, morning person, not that I can’t be enticed to stay up until 3AM bing watching Netflix or drinking tequila with the right person, but generally speaking I am AM.

As for the dog and cat bit, I am fond of both species. Of course, some folks swing both ways on this issue, live and let live, say I.  However, with regard to cohabitation, I’m a feline guy. Cats have a natural self-satisfaction that works wonderfully with my busy, dare I say hectic, and admittedly low-maintenance loving lifestyle. What does that say about me, cat loving that is? I suppose it highlights my appreciation of self-directed partners in crime, which is probably why I’m single, ha.

My last girlfriend was a dog person. In that relationship, I found that no matter how much effort I put forth I was incapable of directing an adequate amount of attention her way.  Could this have been in some way related to the fact that I’m a cat person? Perhaps?  Looking back on the experience it’s become clear to me that we had different ideas of what a companion “should” provide. As it happens, I’m comfortable meeting the needs of the average cat; perhaps that is because they reflect my own, very few. Hmmm.

Parents

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Parents!  If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent!   If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking.  If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.  

For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.  Humanity, consisting primarily of me.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.  Ugh, so embarrassing!  Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.  

We all do our best right?  No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.  However, if we do our best, well done us!  That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.  To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.  Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole?  You decide.

These days I am a parent.  Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.  I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”  Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.  Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”  I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.  Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.  Attitude is everything!

Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.  Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.  I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.  Ego talk? Probably.   Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.  Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.  As for my misread on the choice of life partners?  Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.

I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.  All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.  What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?  Could we have done better?  Certainly.  The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.  No blaming or finger pointing here.

Back to my parents.  They worked hard, or at least my pops did.  On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included.  Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect.  To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics.  Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps.  My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life.  The intensity must have been nearly unbearable.  Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure.  No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.  

My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs.  We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood.  It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled.  In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt.  We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together.  So it goes.

In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown.  I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.  With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.  “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.  My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.  Phew!  

By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.  Distance allows perspective.  Perspective provides the chance for healing.  Healing allows courage to blossom.  Courage creates the possibility of change.  Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a universal gift.  

Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.  It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.  Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.  

I love you, mom and dad!  I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.  Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

The Raindrop Theory

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Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.

As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.

As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.

The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.

The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.

So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end.  Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation.  I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Searchlights

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Night fell hours ago.  As dusk settled over the barren desert landscape, I switched on the headlights.  The hum of the engine seems to drum in rhythm with the broken white lines that define the two sides of this strip of desolate highway.  Darkness envelopes the world leaving only that which is directly before me to consider.  The interior lighting of the console wraps me in a soft amber glow.  The high beams offer about one hundred yards of insight into my future; my immediate future to be specific.  I drive on in what I believe to be relative safety; confident in the precept that, though I cannot see my destination I will, in ever forward moving hundred yard increments, ultimately reach it.

In truth, though night fell years ago, decades ago, a lifetime ago, metaphorically speaking.  The droning of the engine is comforting here in the desert, a white noise lullaby.  One of my favorite memories from childhood, prior to the wise institution of seatbelt laws, was be to curled up on the bench back seat of my parents’ station wagon on the way home from some night time gathering.  There in the darkness, I’d find comfort in the purr of the Dodge Polara engine and the gentle pitch and sway the given roadway afforded.  The gatherings themselves were sometimes fun, sometimes awkward, these were my parents’ friends, who often happened to have children around my age.  Regardless of how the evening went, whether I enjoyed it or simply endured it; I always looked forward to the comfort of the slow strobe of street lights reflecting off the vinyl upholstery. I would bury my face in the seam between the seat and backrest, welcoming the warm decent into dream state.

The white lines whip past me, ticking my journey off in nanoseconds.  I see little more than these in my given hundred yards of illumination.  An occasional signage alerts me to a coming lonely intersection, or town if one could call a desert gas station and closed motel a town, but that is about all I know of my next few minutes.  So it has been with the daylight of my life as well.  Many of us take life day by day, week by week or month by month.  I count myself among that number.  I drive through life using the throw of metaphorical headlights to see just far enough down the road to keep my foot on the accelerator.  This approach has gotten me here, now, halfway across the southern border Joshua Tree National Park eastbound on U.S. Interstate 10 in the dead of night; speeding I might add, 95 in a 70mph zone.  

What if instead of headlights I had searchlights?  Of course, mounting searchlights to the roof of my car and plowing through the night might be perceived as incredibly inconsiderate by oncoming drivers, and likely more illegal than my 95 in a 70.  But I think as I fly by another desolate rest stop, what would my life be like if I used searchlights to illuminate the future?  How would my understanding of this present moment change?  Hundreds of miles of possibilities, opportunities and choices would suddenly be illuminated in the space that was once a desert of impenetrable darkness.  Some have done so, or we wouldn’t have electric lights at all.  

The Crushing

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Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out.  Other times things feel so fucked!  Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go.  Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan.  You’ve had a bad day right?  You’ve had some good ones too?  I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness.  It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain.  It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.

Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking.  We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point.  We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness.  I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way.  Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment.  History tells me it will pass.  And thank god!  A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine.  Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith.  Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!”  The “It” that binds us all together in this life.

How are your dark days?  Mine are daunting.  Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude.  Afraid that I will fail those I love.  Worried that I will fail me!  Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former?  How will I fail?  By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?

Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape.  For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with.  Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard.  I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression.  The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.

It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?”  Who has time for the real answer right?  To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks.  You?”  Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA.  Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with!  Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe.  Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.

Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield.  Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk.  As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy.  I bring this up because his words struck me hard.  Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer.  Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep.  Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again.  This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room.  Futon?  What am I, a college student?  Whatever!

Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply.  It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight.  The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish.  Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism.  It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles.  Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.”  The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.

If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden.  You have options.  Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below.  Write a comment.  Please share your story.  Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness.  Together we can create brilliance!

Tim Ferriss Show: Jack Kornfield episode: