Contentment is a bore. Our precious human drama finds no safe harbor in the realm of enlightenment. Not surprisingly its mindfulness that somehow slips our minds.
Imagine the tedium of mindfully avoiding the endless stream of dross that greets us daily, masquerading as meaningful. Delicious, sensational, insidiously addictive Drama! Social media supported, and family approved. Oh, how I love to pretend I don’t crave its corrosive company. I disavow it with my words then hold it close when I think no one is looking.
“Mindfulness practice,” two words that won’t mean much until I stop checking my damn phone every ninety seconds. Ugh!
The rains came at the end of December and have since called this place home.It is not the countryside, rather a despondency that blooms in the midst of this cold winter downpour. Those in the parts of the world where such weather is commonplace probably bare it away silently, knowing year after year that such is their fate. Here in southern North America, this bleak, relentless drenching has transformed myriad normal men and women into so many agitated, forlorn creatures.
The wearing down of the spirit by natural means such as continuous dark, damp days is in no way sinister.In that light, this indifferent water torture shows a modicum of kindness. The spirit breaking inventions used by one human on another cut more profoundly, with much greater precision. Cruelty is intentional, and therefore personal. Such malevolent behavior, like the weather, is sometimes predictable, sometimes not.
Confronting darkness in any form, be it natural or man-made presents each of us with the opportunity to choose a response.With rare exception, we can decide whether to reflect or reject the shadows cast upon us.Reacting on impulse is natural, but void of the benefit of circumspection.Stepping back, taking stock, digging deep and choosing a way forward that lies outside readily ostensible options, a path that leads us back to the light, that is the work of living.
It is a luxury to clack these keys; to form these sentences. I rarely think about illiteracy then remember that many cannot read these random thoughts or the instructions on a bottle of aspirin. How easily, absentmindedly and accidentally I take good fortune for granted. With a roof, rations, and relationships in my treasure trove, how is it that at times darkness comes as a thief in the night, stealing my perspective?
Misery makes quick partnership with any who invite it, including those who do so unwittingly. It stays as long as it is welcome. Many of us attempt to keep up with, or surpass the “Joneses.” Reaching the goal of a cup running over seems at first a sure defense, but more often than not discord infiltrates, souring the wellspring of contentment.
The void within a heart can be ignored, obscured, disavowed, but not transformed. Dancing with it, sitting in silence, pouring buckets of unrequited gratitude into the vastness of unknowability are the exercises I perform during the very few moments I remember to truly live.
January 9th. The Christmas tree, or should I say fire hazard now long in the tooth droops in the corner of the living room. Brittle needles find their way to the hardwood floor, forming a circular colony of tinder. Surprisingly, the scent of pine has been growing stronger, filling the front rooms of our small cape cod style home. Holiday postpartum has descended upon this place. Andy Williams is not singing of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Festive open houses are closed. The last of the baked goods have fossilized and so been shown out to the frozen garden plot for the birds to beak. The heat runs near constantly as the days of subfreezing temperatures depress the mercury in this part of the world.
I miss the holidays, the anticipation, the many opportunities to raise a glass with old friends and make new ones. Over the years Christmas time has always managed to deliver joy, optimism, and magic. I found myself this season thinking for the first time about the fact that I have only so many Holiday celebrations left. It may sound morose, indeed but this recognition of reality is also a useful reminder. Living fully, openly, and with the intent to make the most of each moment is a choice…just that, a choice. We only have so long to become our best, then we rest. Have you made strides in this quest over this last year?
When the twinkling lights go dark, and the long nights unrelentingly hold the world, we may turn inward, we may be saddened, or we may take no notice. To each his own. I for one find myself a bit saddened, a bit grateful, and a bit nostalgic. Every day is not Christmas, though as Charles Dickens suggested we might do our best to keep it in our hearts throughout the year.
Barring an untimely demise, I will find myself eleven months from now decking the halls, raising a glass, wrapping treasures for those I love, and feeling that twinge of the childlike excitement that the holidays bring. I know not all share my opinion of the magic of Christmas time, and to those who struggle during the season, I wish you strength and love. May your days be merry and bright, long after the twinkle lights have faded.
Can we change or can’t we?Sometimes I believe I’ve changed for the better, my usual goal.It’s just then that I catch a glimpse of my old self and I feel the specter of immutability giggling at me through the looking glass.I like to think change is possible.For some people, metamorphosis may be the only path to freedom; freedom from an existing legacy, they are reluctant to leave behind.I count myself among those who feel life has its length for the purpose of growth.I want to be a bit better at the end than I am today.Better at what?All of it!
Each year I engage in the hopeful ritual of making new year’s resolutions.They symbolize the hope of change.Against all odds and history, I write down a few bits that I’d like to bring to fruition in the coming year, fold them up and seal them in an envelope bearing the calendar year scrawled in ink on the front.
I recently opened my “2018” envelope and found that my resolution success rate for the past year was a meager twenty percent.A failing grade to say the least, though I suppose twenty is better than zero.Perhaps I set my sights too high.Or it could be that I’d merely forgotten my goals, as some of those I’d written came as a bit of a surprise when revisited.At first, I thought I’d failed. Indeed by some standards, I have failed miserably.
However, if I were to achieve a twenty percent annual increase in an investment opportunity, I’d call that same percentage a smashing success.Its all relative I suppose.Getting somewhere is better than getting nowhere, if one is in the mood to get going at all, and I am.So for the sake of momentum, I’ll choose to view the outcome of my 2018 resolutions from an investor’s point of view.
This year I will again take out the paper and pen, pour a cup of coffee and sit by the desperately dry and brittle Christmas tree.The cold winter light will spill in across the weathered wooden sashes of the living room windows and cross my page.Then and there I will again challenge the concept of immutability.Goals will be set that may not if history is any indication, be reached.I will laugh in the face of past failure on the eve of a new year.Once again, without any reason for confidence in the matter, I will choose to find resolve.
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.
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 got in, I used the key 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.