Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coming out of my shell


"Stay clam."
Ivar Haglund, (owner of Ivar's Acres of Clams restaurant,
Seattle)


As I monitor my blog stats, the limited number of people I note wandering in through various search engines seem to be fixated on the topic of whether clams are really happy (Dizgraceland, August 2006). This confirms my theory that most people would prefer to dive into a river looking for deep thoughts than search the ocean.

Not that I profess to be a purveyor of deep thoughts. I ,after all, wrote the post questioning whether clams were really happy. It stemmed more from my own curiosity as to where the saying came from than a intellectual thirst to know how clams really felt

I am baffled, however, why of the close to 800 posts I've written, that one gets the most hits. As mildly amusing as it is, it isn't even one of my favorites. I thought my post about whale puke was more meaty. But trying to explain human behavior on the Web is nearly impossible. Actually trying to explain human behavior is nearly impossible anywhere.

It's not like I'm slamming out much new stuff these days anyway. So I should be grateful a few tortured souls are finding solace in diatribes about mollusks emotions. It is better than them being glued to the set watching Dancing with the Stars to see which washed up celebrity will twist an ankle.

Lately, I just haven't felt like sharing my profound thoughts. I'm just keeping my profundity to myself and chuckling to myself an my own inner enlightenment.

The problem is when I do write these days I catch myself regurgitating old material (not unlike ambergris) and not even realizing it. Or I try to recapture the glory and write the same stuff but mix it up a little to fool myself into thinking it is new (like perhaps a post called, "Are mussels really strong" or "Are crabs really grumpy?"

BTW, speaking of grumpy, my daughter thinks the seven dwarves are called the "Hi-Hos" because that is the song I sing when I get to that part of the Snow White and Seven Dwarves story. When my son is being cranky she says, "Stop being a hi-ho, Ronin." His name is Roan, but she can't pronounce it, so she calls him Ronin, or Prince Dude.

But I digress on my digression. That is a new low for me. A double digression. And technically this is a digression on my digression about a digression. So it is a whopping triple digression!

Oh well. See why I keep my profoundness to myself these days?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Just a bit shy of sideways

I don't know why I go through these cranky phases in my posts where I rant out an open window like Peter Finch in the 1976 movie, Network, screaming "I am as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

I don't suppose that reference means much to anyone under 50.

The problem with taking an extreme stand about anything is that people just punch in the mental mute button and shut you out. No one (including me) wants to listen or read ranting tirades. But I have to admit they are a bit therapeutic even if they are self-indulgent.

Ironic thing is that it doesn't really matter who is right or who is wrong about many things. Having "I told you I was right" engraved on my gravestone wouldn't make me feel any better. So I wish I could just let things go.

Believe it or not, I am better than I used to be at biting my tongue (or using the delete button in the case of electronic communications). My mouth has gotten me in more trouble than I care to elaborate on in the past. Aging has helped. You tend to want to conserve energy as you get older and not get sucked into meaningless debates. Learning to accept the inevitable has been a survival tactic in the workplace. I've learned to shortcircuit heated e-mail exchanges simply by not responding.

But I have to say, in my own blog, I shouldn't really have to care about offending people or engaging in debates. This isn't an open forum. I believe people have the right to disagree with me, but I don't feel any obligation to provide them with the platform to do so. Thus my moderated comments section.

And thus the lack of comments on my blog. Being a benevolent dictator gets lonely at times.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A matter of fact

I have come to the conclusion, and this is just my own opinion, that everything is just opinion. My own radical opinion is that there is no such thing as "fact." And all of the crap bouncing about on the Internet is just one big hairball that people keep coughing up on your living room floor.

I'll wait while you savor that visual image.

There used to be a time when I could read a newspaper (when there still were newspapers) or watch television news (when it was actually news) and trust that it was factual or at least factual in nature. But as the former president once said, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and you have fooled me again." He was such an idiot.

Point is, that digital report, social media, blogs, Facebook and Twitter have rendered fact a fossil of the dying world of print journalism. I feel stuck in a bizarro dimension of editorial writers spouting their opinions about everything. And the mindless masses pick up this drivel, place it on a pedestal and begin bowing to it.

I am sick of opinions about the economy. I am sick of the stock market. I am sick of the debate over socialized medicine. And I am sick of the war on terrorism. I am sick of lies in general. I don't want to hear the latest cause for cancer or seven ways I can drop 10-pounds in 10 minutes. I don't care if your mop picks up more dust per minute than the old mop. I don't want a leopard print snuggie or snuggle or whatever you call the moronic blanket with a hood they are hawking on television and at finer stores like WalMart. It looks like a freakin' monks habit.

I don't trust your tips on safeguarding my retirement or looking for mold spores under my refrigerator. I don't want to turn an empty toilet paper tube into a convenient way to store computer cables. I don't want any more of your useless information.

Ironic isn't it?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Notes in bottles

Years ago, when I was probably about 11 or 12 years old, I was fascinated by the concept of notes being placed in bottles and cast in the ocean to be read by someone thousands of miles away. Since Boise was about as landlocked of a place that you could find, I was in a quandary about how to fulfill my burning desire to cast my words upon the currents of the world.

I settled for tossing an old Gallo wine bottle with a note into Lucky Peak Reservoir, the largest body of water in Ada County. It was more of a childish prank actually then a real effort to connect with the world at large. I traced a copy of Thomas Jefferson's signature on a piece of brown paper and soaked it in oil, thinking it would look like aged parchament. Then I wrote out this convoluted note saying that I was a dying old man and wanted to leave this valuable signature to whoever found it in the bottle.

My friend Dave Little and I paddled out into the middle of the reservoir on inner tubes, chucked the bottle, and paddled back to shore. Within minutes, we watched as a Sheriff's patrol boat that cruised the reservoir monitoring the activities of drunk water skiers, whizzed by, stopped and retrieved the bottle. I'm sure they were just removing it as a potential hazard to the above mentioned drunk water skiers (who I am sure they blamed for tossing a wine bottle into the main boat channel of the reservoir). But Dave and I hightailed it out of there, sure that cops would be showing up at our door any day having traced fingerprints from the Gallo wine bottle.

For some reason they never traced the prank to us.

Still, the concept of casting messages to unpredictable currents in hopes that someone would eventual find them stayed with me. I think this is why I have blogged for five years now. And I have to admit that throwing a bottle with a note in it, although not very acceptable from an environmental standpoint, is probably more reliable of a way to get your message out there. Although I have had a few readers over the years, most have just put the note back in the bottle and tossed it back.

Not that this has stopped me from writing notes and plopping them into the void. It is a harmless and inexpensive way to get published. It is also kind of a neat way to write down all the random things I remember from growing up. Some day my kids can read my blog archives and get some key insights into my life and personality. God knows I won't remember any of the crap by the time they are old enough to appreciate my stories.

At this point, I would expect the wittier amongst my non-existent readers to tell me to put a cork in it. So I will.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ch-ch-changes

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strain)
Ch-ch-Changes
Pretty soon you're gonna get a little older
Time may change me
But I can't trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can't trace time
--Changes, David Bowie


One of the big differences between youth and middle age is that when you have aged significantly, you finally recognize that the only constant is change.

I laugh at the motivational speakers who make money off from corporations teaching seminars in "Managing Change." How can you manage change? By it's very nature it is unpredictable. You don't manage change, you ride it out like a gnarly wave and hope you don't fall off and get whacked in the head by your surf board.

People talk about change a great deal and many songs are written about it "oh the times they are a changing...don't go changing, just to please me...you've got to change your evil ways, baby...."

I suppose change is good. They say it is good. But I can't help believing that that is just a survival tactic. Change simply is. And if you don't adapt, you disappear. End of story.

I have always adapted pretty well to change. People who know me may laugh at this statement. I am sometimes perceived as a rigid person. I don't think that is true, but we rarely see ourselves the way others do. But since I also believe we create our own realities, I'm going with my self-perception.

Regardless, I have weathered many changes in my life and still have a sense of humor (others may not agree, but see proceeding paragraph). I truly do perceive change as coming in waves. You ride one to the beach and the next one will be along shortly. If you aren't expecting it, you'll get knocked down.

The ironic thing about change is that you can't make it happen. Or at least you can't make things outside of yourself change. Sometimes I have my doubts about changing things within yourself as well, but I haven't fully discounted that theory. I think you can change your mind, but not other people's minds. If someone tells you they changed your mind based on something you said, I believe they really changed it because they were on the fence waiting for some justification to topple them off on one side or the other.

What kills me about change in general is that it so often creeps up on you like mold instead of exploding in your face like gunpowder. Throw a sharp rock in a river and it will eventually get smooth, but I'll be damned if you can see it happen. Think of the sharp rock as youth and the worn river rock as old age.

All I can think of at this point is the saying, "That boy is as sharp as a river rock."

But I digress.

Everything changes. I have railed in many past posts about the inexplicable disappearances from my life of friends (or people I thought were my friends). As I accept the proposition that life is basically about change, I understand it better that people come and go out of my life like waves. It is a bittersweet truth. As change flows over people it alters our paths. It doesn't necessarily mean people stop being our friends because they decide they don't like us any more (though that can happen). I believe more often than not people merely flow with the current of their changing lives. Sometimes rivers flow together and sometimes they branch off never to meet again.

I am sure I would become terribly bored if nothing ever changed. Bill Murray demonstrated in his movie Groundhogs Day that when faced with a day that endlessly repeats we will eventually go to great lengths to escape the hell of monotony through change...good or bad.

I guess I am fixated on change because I am facing the realities of aging. I look into the mirror and am baffled as to when the river of time wore me down. I drive through neighborhoods I have known for years and wonder when the great little restaurant I used to go to turned into a Dollar Store or a parking lot. I grasp at names for the foggy faces that once were co-workers, friends or acquaintances. I scroll through lists of former classmates on Facebook and furrow my brow wondering why I none of them look familiar.

Or perhaps I fixated on change because I have two young children and they seem to change between the time I leave in the morning and walk in the door at night. Only moments ago it seems I was rocking my daughter to sleep while she sucked contentedly on a bottle. When did she start dressing herself, jumping into bed and pointing out books she wants me to read? When did she make the leap to do things "all by self, daddy, all by self!"

The problem with accepting change is knowing that it will continue no matter how much I want it to take a vacation. No matter how much I long to linger on moments of contentment, it will send the next wave to break over me. Maybe a moratorium on change would be nice for a change. But I am sure I would probably change my mind if it happened.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Remember me

I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
--Dave Merenda; Seamus Egan; Sarah Ann Mclachlan

We watched The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke the other night. It is the story of a big time wrestler (Rourke) whose career peaks in 1985. By 2009 he is living in a trailer working weekend wrestling shows at small time venues and supplementing his meager income by working at the loading dock at a local grocery store.

I think it was a great movie because it examines how fleeting fame is, especially if you build it around even more fleeting youth. And it seemed a bit autobiographical for Rourke whose own acting career careened off the superstar path after 9 1/2 weeks and a brief career as a professional boxer. Marisa Tomei also stars in the movie as a stripper just on the downward spiral from being able to work the customers. There is an affinity between Rourke's character grasping at his lost fame as a wrestler and Tomei's character deal with the realities of an aging stripper's money making potential.

The movie made me think about fame in general. Most people long to somehow, some way be remembered. Some break records and are remembered until someone else breaks their records. Others exploit their talents and are remembered for their voice or their dancing or their acting...until their talent reaches its peak and someone more talented comes along. Still others rocket to fame by being evil and shocking people with their unthinkable crimes.

But in the end, very few are remembered. And I have to wonder, is it better never to be recognized than to taste fame and then slip into obscurity? Because after all, if you are never recognized, than you can't be forgotten.

The world is filled with crumbling pyramids and fallen statues that were intended as tributes to forgotten famous people seeking to be remembered. Walk through a cemetery and you see attempts to keep loved one's memories alive in stone. But the dead can only be remembered as long as there is someone living who indeed can remember them.

It is so easy to be forgotten. In our digitally overstimulated world everyone is ADD. YouTube sensations blip through the universe of the Internet competing with PlayStation's and Wii. We can no longer digest any information that requires us to scroll down a screen. Twitter is even reducing that to 180 or fewer characters.

Is it any wonder that vampire programs are sweeping through popular psyches now. Vampires offer immortality. They are permanent rock stars who never age. And unlike the castrated vampire characters of the past who could only penetrate by biting, this generations fantasy vampire sucks blood and has sex (just watch a few episodes of HBO's True Blood if you don't believe me). I bet you Bram Stoker's Dracula, Dark Shadow's Barnabas Collins and Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat are renting the first episode of True Blood on DVD through Netflix and saying to themselves "Well, this sucks...all this time we could have been having sex like kings and instead we pranced around like queens."

But I digress.

I used to think that if I wrote a novel and got it published that I would be remembered. My name would always be on the spine of that book sitting on a shelf in a library. But now, even books are down loadable and quickly becoming obsolete. So I am resigned to the fact that my life will likely always be flying under the radar. I prefer to be cremated so there will never be a headstone with my name on it.

But I suppose I should take solace in the fact that since I was never remembered, I won't be forgotten. That would make me immortal, right?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Getting to know you



Getting to know you, getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me.
Getting to know you, putting it my way,
But nicely, You are precisely,
My cup of tea.
--Oscar Hammerstein, The King and I

Ever notice how many meetings, parties or retreats include "ice breakers" so that people can get to know you and feel more comfortable. In theory people will be more willing to talk to you if they know the answer to burning questions like, "if you could be any animal, what animal would that be," or "if you were stuck on a deserted island with only three books, what books would those be."

Oh, every one's fine as long as your inner animal is a puppy and your three books are the Bible, Miss Manners Book of Ettequette and Down by the Bay, the David Hasslehoff Story, but suggest anything out of the ordinary like a Horned African Viper as the animal you most admire and the Unibomber's Manifesto as one of your books and people start giving you some distance.

Hmmm...it just dawned on me that Facebook is one big giant annoying ice breaker. But I digress.

My experience has taught me that the more people really know about you, the less they wish they knew. This is counter intuitive to what most people seem to believe. Because it never ceases to amaze me what people will share with strangers (case in point, Facebook and Twitter). Perhaps it is this lemming like drive to be famous by sharing.

Ironically, we know everything about famous people and they'd just as soon we didn't know anything about them. I have been watching the E network while I workout lately because the cheap ass club owners switched cable providers and I lost any channel worth watching. It's a choice between watching the E and watching government access and I'm not going there on a bet.

The E network sole reason for existing is to dish dirt on poor (rich) celebrities and celebrity wannabees. It is scab picking journalism at its worst. Yesterday I watched a program about the 20 best and worst Hollywood plastic surgeries. When you are on an elliptical machine or a treadmill, you are pretty much a captive audience.

Anyway, the show consisted of several renowned plastic surgeons watching clips of celebrities who had obviously undergone lots of alterations and critiquing the results. I'm telling you, that Kenny Rogers should have dropped in to see what condition his condition was in before going under the knife. Apparently he had liposuction and a tummy tuck because the press was giving him a bad time for having a middle aged belly. That helped him drop 25 pounds. He apparently was so pleased he went in for a face lift. He should have known when to hold and known when to fold. Now it looks like an alien slipped into his skin.

Don't get me started on Priscilla Presley, either.

So regardless of the hypocritical nature of me criticizing people who create or watch such shows, I have to wonder now why we are fascinated with knowing every minute dirty little detail about people. Nobody wants to know how great someone is. They just want to know about their botched plastic surgeries, addictions and sexual quirks. Meow.

And what is it about humans that makes them want to be understood by others so they expose everything? The Internet has really made this easy for millions of people. I noted that the nut job who opened fire in an aerobics class a couple of weeks ago talked all about doing it on his blog. But it proves my point about blogging, there are so many blogs out there, that people have just stopped trying to read other people's blogs and focused on writing their own. And their most loyal readers are themselves.

Who knows, with all of this self-retrospection going on, maybe people will actually discover something about themselves and stop looking for dirt in other people's lives.

Nawww.....

Friday, July 31, 2009

Fading memories

I have always taken pride in having a pretty decent memory. I am convinced that I made it through grammar school, junior high, high school and college without doing a great deal of studying because I could rely on my memory when test time came. Because knowledge is closely tied with rote memorization.

I remember odd little details about interactions that other people don't seem to remember. It is a mixed blessing. There are some things in life that it would be better if they slid off the cracker of my synapses.

Now that I am in my 50s however, I find my memory is getting a bit fuzzy around the edges. Part of it is because of the amount of experience you have by the time you reach 50. All of it may be etched somewhere in a brain wrinkle, but sometimes it just takes too much effort to sort through the piles of memory to find.

I am not sure why we remember some things well and others things flit off the radar screen seconds after you experience them. I drive myself crazy sometimes trying to remember if I actually shut the garage door after driving away or left it wide open (something I've never done). Sometimes I actually have to turn around and drive back to confirm that I indeed shut the garage door.

I imagine, however, that we would go mad if we remembered every thing. Our brains would be like the houses of those people who horde things and move about little trails through their living rooms between stacks of newspapers and magazines. There would be so much minutia to sift through that we couldn't ever finish a thought because it would be tucked away in the corner under a pile childhood memories of what you ate at McDonald's for the first time.

Speaking of hoarders, I remember years ago being asked to take photographs of an old transient hotel my agency had purchased and was going to demolish to make way for a construction project. All of the low-income tenants had been relocated. Our real estate people wanted photos of each room for documentation purposes and I was kind of the resident photographer, writer, editor, gopher.

This cranky older right of way agent led me from room to room in the abandoned hotel snapping photos of what until recently been the homes of many disenfranchised people whose next step would have been the street if they hadn't had this sorry shelter to land in. One of the rooms had been occupied by a bonafide hoarder. I was horrified when the agent unlocked the door and I was faced with stacks and stacks of newspapers, flyers, and other scraps of papers. Narrow trails led from room to room. Even the bathtub and toilet were buried in magazines and newspapers. The kitchen was stacked to the ceiling with empty McDonald's coffee cups. I snapped photo after photo. I noted a handwritten note tacked to a door jam. Someone, presumebly the former tenant had written, "God loves you if no one else does." A twinge of saddness hit me. And it dawned on me that whoever this poor tortured soul was who had lived in uninhabitable apartment was, they'd been forced to leave without any of their beloved accumulation of trash. The right of way agent event joked how the person had been pulled away trying to pack stacks of the paper into a suitcase.

But I digress.

And I still wonder why we remember certain things and not others.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Feeling the love


"....I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now,
you like me!"


-Sally Field (accepting an Oscar for Places in the
Heart)

Like anyone, deep down, I have always wanted to be liked. I suppose it is survival instinct that makes us strive to be liked. It starts when you are a baby and realize that you are defenseless and need to rely on the big people around you to take care of you. So you begin picking up clues as to what behaviour triggers people to smile and want to do things for you...because they like you.

Now granted, it is easier to be liked when you are a cute little baby and can evoke oohs and aahhs by simply spitting up spaghetti. But as you grow and embrace your true personality, being liked becomes more and more of a challenge. By the time you are 50-something you probably have learned that very few people actually do like you. Or at least very few people like you unconditionally. Even a dog's devotion is based on the level of food in his bowl.

I've grown to believe that people's affection for each other is measured more in tolerance levels than in love. This is not to say people don't like or love other people. It is just that the old adage about familiarity breeding contempt has some merit to it.

I try not to be annoying, but I think it is a lost cause. Because unless you are totally without personality and mannerisms, you can't help but do something that annoys someone. It can be the inflection of your voice or an oft repeated gesture or phrase. Most things that annoy people are unconscious things that other people do. So the only way to make them aware of how annoying something they are doing is, is to tell them. That of course makes them self-conscious and they will be annoyed at you for bringing it to their attention.

It's a viscious circle.

Subconsciously, I think I make comments about people not liking me just so they will reassure me that that is not the case. As with any attempt to assuage self-pity, this ploy seldom works. People either like you or they don't (or you are likable or you aren't). You can't make people like you.

Which comes to my annual reflection on my lack of friends. I wouldn't say I have no friends. I'd say I lack close friends. And I would have to qualify that by defining a close friend as someone who gives a rat's ass about what is going on in your life as opposed to being totally absorbed with their own life.

Facebook friends don't count. Having friends on Facebook is more akin to collecting trading cards.

If I bemoan my lack of friends too loudly, someone will eventually say something about me "having to be a good friend to have a good friend." I will admit that I am not the best at flipping through my virtual roledex and keeping in touch with everyone I know (though Facebook does kind of work like that). But I have had people in my life over the years who I did care about and did make efforts to stay in touch with. And inevitably they would drift off into their worlds leaving me to believe that I had done something wrong or offended them or didn't use the right deoderant. So I was right back at that not so happy place of wondering why I'm not likeable.

I was thinking about my lack of friends the other night and I came to the conclusion that I don't really care. Frankly, with work and my family, I don't have a lot of energy left over for friends anyway. Having friends just obligates you to help people move or give them rides to the airport. And you have to listen to them. Who needs that?

I think I may be able to put my finger on why I don't have many friends.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Death warmed over...

There is nothing like the death of a celebrity to cause the preemption of normal programming to make way for tribute after mind numbing tribute as the media rehashes every detail of fallen icons. I experienced the phenomenon for the first time in 1963 when I was five years old and John Kennedy was assassinated. Back then, my hometown only had two television stations to preempt. Now at least I have 300 or so satellite channels to surf through in a vain attempt to avoid seeing another report about the death of the king of pop.

I don't really have much to say about Michael Jackson's death. I appreciated his music and shook my head in weary disbelief at the circus that his life became. I think it is sad that he died so young. What makes it even more surreal for me is that Michael Jackson was almost the same age as I am (then again, so are Donnie Osmond and Madonna).

I am struck by the sad parallel between the reaction when Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll died and Michael Jackson the King of Pop died. Elvis didn't have the brush fire speed of the Internet to broadcast his passing, however. Nor did Elvis have to put up with cell video shots of his ambulance being broadcast on television within a few hours of his death.

It wasn't more than an hour or two after Michael Jackson's death was announced that the conjecture began about the cause. It couldn't just be left at cardiac arrest the way it would be if John Doe died. The voyeuristic nature of our society these days is to have to pin the cause of celebrity death on something more sinister like drugs or foul play.


I was struck by the sad coincidence of Farrah Fawcett dying in the morning and having her memory eclipsed by Michael Jackson dying in the afternoon. If there is an afterlife, I have to think she is there complaining to whoever is in charge about the unfairness of the timing.


But death doesn't seem to follow any rules of decorum. It meanders through life randomly striking down the just and the unjust with as much forethought as someone afflicted with ADD. More and more I realize that death, like shit, just happens.

A fleeting practical side of myself can't help but wonder why humans make such a big deal about death. It is that one universal truth we all encounter eventually. I suppose the shock of having someone die is that most of us are in denial most of the time about our own deaths.

I am also a bit put out at the outpouring of love and respect for Michael Jackson now that he is dead. The media for one acts as if they were in his camp all along even when they were roasting him alive when he was being paraded through our court systems for alleged crimes against children.

If we focused on everyone we love or admire as much when they were alive as after they have died, at least they would have the benefit of enjoying it. And then maybe they would engage in the self-destructive behaviour that drove them to an early grave.

Oh well, as Michael Jackson once sang, "Beat it, beat it, beat it..."

Monday, June 08, 2009

Religious views


Nothing tweaks people's fuzzy meter like a discussion of religion. Oh sure, politics are yapping at the heels of religion when you want to ruffle feathers, but politics still dabbles in the intellectual realm of debate. Religion sings emotional "shake, rattle roll" at a high volume.

I don't have strong religious beliefs. I have no religious beliefs. This is akin to wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt to Christmas Mass to many people.

Those of you who read my blog (both of you) know that I was raised Christian Scientist. It is a religion based in the belief that people need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, trust in god and heal themselves without the aide of medicine or doctors. It is an often maligned and misunderstood religion because of the whole "no doctor" thing. As a child growing up Christian Scientist, it was difficult to explain to other children and it made me stick out like a sore thumb when other kids were getting hearing and eye tests by the school nurse and I was excused for religious reasons.

It was an age I didn't want to stick out like a sore thumb. It was also an age when I didn't want to get up on Sunday's and go to Sunday school. Nor did I want to sit around on a sunny summer's day reading the Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy and corresponding bible passages. But I reluctantly accepted my mother's belief system and stayed a Christian Scientist until I was 16. I think hormones prompted my break from the church.

I was exposed to other religions growing up. Southern Idaho is essentially part of Utah when it comes to the influence of the Mormon Church. You couldn't swing a proverbial dead cat in Boise without hitting a Mormon or a Mormon missionary. Most Boise schools had a Mormon seminary right next door where all of the Mormon kids had to head after public school to continue their spiritual education.

Despite the Mormon influence, there were still some die hard Catholics in Boise. There was even a Catholic High School. One of my best friends in grade school, Robert Tullis, was a Catholic. I remember my mom telling me that all Catholics were taught that it was okay to lie because they could then go confess to their priest and be forgiven. I told my friend Robert about this and he (understandably) got pretty upset.

In school I also encountered a smattering of Jehovah's Witnesses and a few Seventh Day Adventists. I felt a kind of camaraderie with them because they were lumped together with Christian Scientist's as being one of those weird religions. I felt a bit superior to the Jehovah's Witness kids, though because they couldn't participate in school parties for Halloween and such. I thought that sucked. At least Christian Scientist's only boycotted medicine (which included shots). And thank god we didn't have to go door to door handing out Watchtower's to haggard women surrounded by six screaming kids.

Believe it or not, Boise also had the occasional Hare Krishna and Moonie who tried to sell you incense in shopping center parking lots. I didn't encounter very many Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists or Muslims in Boise. And I only knew one Jewish family in Boise.

When I finally left Boise, I had no religious inclinations whatsoever. Ironically I ended up at a Jesuit university in Seattle living in a dorm with a bunch of Catholic kids who had grown up in Catholic private schools and were whooping it up being away from home for the first time. I attended Seattle University right around the time the mini-series Shogun was airing on national television. It depicts the Jesuits as a pretty radical fringe of the Catholic church who were pretty militant in their methods of proselytizing and recruiting new Catholics around the world. That and they wore orange robes when the other orders were wearing basic black. Regardless of how you feel about the Jesuits, you've got to love that.

I found most of my Jesuit instructors to be pretty cool guys. And despite my mother's worst fears, I was never pressured to become Catholic or go to church while I was at Seattle University. I did attend a few masses and was neither repulsed nor intrigued.

After college, I went through the metaphysical searching phase of my life. It kind of coincided with the search for love in my life. I went to astrologers, psychics, palm readers, Tarot card readers, aura readers and past life regression gurus. I meditated, burnt incense (not provided by Hare Krishna's or Moonies), wore crystals and chanted. I became a genuine, head bonked by a priest Buddhist (when you become a Buddhist in the particular sect I joined, a Buddhist priest taps you on the head with a scroll). I quit being a Buddhist because I got tired of going to meetings and chanting hurt my knees.

I read self-help books out the ying yang. I spent a fortune on therapists and counselors. I read philosophy books and books about Quantum Physics. I took aerobics, Tai Chi, and meditation classes. I went to a vitamin therapist who placed bottles of vitamins on my body and squeezed my hand to determine what supplements I needed. I wore copper wrist bands and pierced my ears. I bungee jumped and learned how to swing dance. I even talked to a drunk expatriate in St. Thomas who told me that the truth could be summed up in seven words: Never forget how great you really are. I then bought him another beer and he proceeded to get into a fight with the bar tender (but that is and was another story).

I did all of this hoping that I would know when I finally found "the truth." If I made the mistake of talking about my search for truth within anyone remotely religious they would try to get me to come to their "one true church" and follow the one "true path."

But the only truth I could seem to find is that there isn't one truth or one true path. There may be truths and there may be paths, but I don't believe there is any "one" true one. I've concluded that the belief that there is one true path is the part of the problem with the world. Everybody thinks their path, method, belief and religion is the only one (remember those who know, don't say and those who say, don't know).

Which brings me back to my original point. The reason people don't like to hear about different religious views is that it shakes their belief that they are on that non-existent right path. But if you think about it, if there is no "right" path then that opens up the option that any path gets you where you are going.

The trick now is figuring out where you want to be.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Show me the face you had before you were born?

More than ever, I hate looking in mirrors. Because I swear to god it is not my face looking back at me. It is nothing like the face that is in my mind, the face I had before I was born.

Oh sure, part of it is the denial of aging. I do not accept the gray hair or the flabby skin and dark circles under my eyes. That middle aged face and flabby body can't be mine. My mind's eye doesn't recognize this decaying mockery of my self.

Seriously, that reflection can't be me. But all of our vision is filtered through chemistry and our brains, right? We literally create the image of reality in our heads. The brain is supposed to be a virtual minister of propaganda for our psyche filtering self-image to match expectations (which would explain why some people think plaid is a good fashion choice). So what is wrong with my brain that it doesn't filter out that mirror image of time slipping away?

It is not that I so much want to be in denial about the reality of aging. I have been campaigning against self-delusion for some time now. But why does reality have to be so harsh?

It is not just me. I see people I have known for 20 years or so and gasp at how they have changed. It is particularly hard when you haven't seen someone for a long time and you have this image of what they looked like a decade or so ago. And then wham, you are confronted with their aging self. I pity poor movie stars who are taunted with permanent records of the beauty of their youth and then paraded around in the media after the bloom has gone.

I am not sure why I feel guilty when confronted with my aging. Oh, I suppose it is this thought that I would look better if I had taken better care of myself...ate less, ate better, drank less, slept more, exercised more. But at what point do you give up living just to try and stave off the inevitable.

I suppose aging is what drives many people on spiritual quests. When the body betrays us we look to the soul champion our cause of perpetual youth.. Ironically most of my spiritual quests took place when I was young and naive. I really don't have patience any more for religion or metaphysics. You can only burn incense and stare at a crystal for so long before you realize you don't like the smell and you are just holding a pretty rock.

I marvel at born agains who are so certain that they are on the right path through Jesus. But that takes me right back to my last post about "those who know" and "those who don't know." Stupid people hold fast to their convictions and smart people always have doubts.

Well, I think I've chased my own tail enough on this topic. It's time to face the music and move on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Knowing

Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do not know.
-Lao Tzu

This quote from Lao Tzu is a paradox to me. If it is indeed true (and what is truth), then by speaking it, Lao Tzu admits he doesn't know and therefore the statement can't be true. And if you understand it and say so, you are really admitting you don't understand it.

So maybe I don't understand the statement, but I agree with it. Most people I hear speaking with authority on topics don't know squat about the topics. I have often railed on "experts" who, when asked their sources point vaguely at some article they read in People magazine or some page they Googled on the Web.

A vast majority of what experts spout seems to me to simply be opinion. And there is a vast difference between fact and opinion. It is the difference between thinking something and knowing something.

Of course, this is my opinion. It has taken me a long time to learn that my opinion is just an opinion. The problem is, I no longer know when I know something. Because too often I have discovered that my absolutely knowing something turned out that I absolutely knew nothing.

The hardest part about my learning about my self-delusion has been accepting I am not who I thought I was. And I am definitely not who I thought people thought I was. I am not as witty as I thought people thought I was and I am not as charming as I thought people thought I was. And I am not as talented as I thought people thought I was.

I am not sure who I am. But that is a good thing. If you think you know who you are, I don't think you can know who you are.

Maybe Lao Tzu did know what he was talking about after all. You know?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Family matters...


I spent last week in Boise, the city I grew up in in Idaho. When I returned to work, everyone asked me how my vacation was.

It was not a vacation. I was there to deal with family matters.

I should define family here. One of the schisms I have discovered about having a wife and children of your own who have become your "family," is dealing with the other family -- the ones you grew up with. I left my family at home in Washington to go deal with my other family in Idaho.

I feel bad putting my other "family" in the category of something to deal with. But once I left Boise, I entered a psychological witness protection program of my own creation that in essence reinvented me for me. I could, on the surface anyway, unload all of that baggage of childhood and teenage angst that hold us chained to the bottom of the lake drowning if we plant ourselves in the place we grow up in.

It's not that I had a terrible childhood. But I always felt out of place in Idaho, smothered by a conservative mindset that frowned on liberal thinking or creativity (despite what the Idaho Tourism Board would have you believe).

Idaho to me is a place of farms, deserts, pseudo cowboys and trailer parks. Boise is a strip mall of urban sprawl laced with every known chain restaurant known to man. For some reason, the only forms of recreation in the city seem to be drinking, eating and going to movies. The city didn't even have a shopping mall until after I left in the early 1980s.

Boise depresses me. Maybe that is because I felt depressed there growing up. Maybe it is the legacy of my roots. My great, great grandfather moved there with his family in the late 1800s. My genealogy work show he spent time in a mental institution as a young man in Ohio. He recovered enough to fight in the Civil War, get married and raise six kids and then my grandmother (after her mother died during childbirth giving birth two her second child who also died).

My grandmother married a field hand at aged 17 and had 13 children. My mother has nothing good to say about my grandfather. My research shows he was in the army during World War I but never left the United States. My grandmother divorced him once mid-stream of having the 13 kids and then remarried him in a weak moment (or was it just survival). I have never been able to confirm what he did for a living other than work around farms and ranches and beat his wife and children. He died in his early 40s.

My father was adopted by a childless couple in Portland when he was 5 years old. They moved to Boise in the mid-1920s. My grandfather worked at the Idaho Statesman newspaper in the print shop. My grandmother was a self-proclaimed Belgium princess and the bane of her daughter-in-law's (my mother) existence. After marrying my mother in the early 1950s he accepted property that was right next to my grandparents as a gift to build his tiny suburban castle one.

My mother still lives in the castle. It has had many additions over the years, and is surrounded by various forms of development that would be a land-use planners worst case scenario for suburban growth. Rows of multi-family "skinny" townhouse structures have replaced many of the single-family houses that used to skirt my childhood home. My grandmother's house still stands next door but has suffered renovation by a Salvidor Dali inspired nitwit who added a pond in the backyard, a plant shed, a hot tub and other out of place additions before going bankrupt. My mother is unclear who, if anyone, lives in the house now. Neighbors I grew up with have since died or moved out and been replaced by foul mouthed white trash drinking beer while racing their riding lawn mowers.

My mother still parcels out her day with gardening, chopping wood, breaking rocks with a 10 pound sledge hammer and babying a mangy mutt named Duchess who is three times her size. I went to Boise concerned about her health and hoping to get her to put aside her Christian Scientist leanings to get a check up and left, unsuccessful, but mildly comforted that my mother is amazingly vital for an 84-year old woman. I am grateful that she is able to stay in her house for now rather than wasting away in an assisted care facility.

The bright side of the trip was that all three of my mother's sons were with her on Mother's Day. I don't think that has happened once in at least two decades if ever. We gathered the day before and took my mother to a Chili's restaurant for dinner. My oldest brother groused a bit about going to a Chili's on a Friday night. He was sure we would have to wait for a table. It is something he inherited from my father. My father would panic if there was any kind of a wait to get into a restaurant and would immediately think of alternatives. Because God knows waiting 20-minutes to be seated is worth driving 30-minutes across town to find a restaurant with a table that is ready right now.

There was no waiting at the Chile's. Mom sat across from me intimidated by the glossy, multi-paged menu and the din of Chili's Saturday modest and basically young evening crowd (does Chili's have a senior citizen clientele at all).

My oldest brother ordered for my mother. I am not sure why there is ever any confusion about what she should order. She always orders cheeseburgers and then looks baffled at how big they are and how to eat them when they arrive. When this one arrived, my mother sat there staring at it and I encouraged her to dive in. She motioned towards my brother and his wife and I realized that, being born again Christians, they were saying grace. I shook my head and muttered, "Oh Lord," a little too loudly. No one heard me. My brothers have never heard me.

Mother's Day, everyone met at my middle brother's house to go out for breakfast. He wanted to go to some "Everything Egg's" restaurant that had opened up in a strip mall near where they live. I asked him what they served and he answered, "Eggs." My brothers never hear my humor either. The restaurant had a wait so we immediately all left and drove to an IHOP where there was also a wait. I resisted asking my brother what they served at the IHOP.

My mother sat staring baffled at the multi-paged, colorful IHOP menu. I am sure she would have ordered a cheese burger off from their lunch menu, but my oldest brother stepped in and ordered for again. As the oldest brother, I believe he thinks he has to step up to the plate for such major decisions (the ones about trying to get my mother to a doctor are left to me). My mother looked even more baffled when the french toast with a side of pancakes arrived. I just hunkered down to my chicken fried steak and eggs and drank bad IHOP coffee. After breakfast, we all went back to my middle brother's house. My oldest brother and his wife were driving back to Oregon, so they said their goodbyes and transferred my mother to me to get her home.

As I drove my mother home, I began to feel the signs of the bad cold my children and wife had had in the couple of weeks before my trip working their way through my body. I left my mother happily feeding her dog a Milkbone dog biscuit, retreated to my room at the Airport Comfort Inn, hunkered down and pretended the sounds of the freeway next door was the ocean.

Each day for the rest of the week I would get up, go to the pitiful little workout room with a treadmill and a stationary bike and work out. Then I'd drive to my mother's house, watch her do laundry or chop wood and ask her if she needed anything at the store. She'd tell me that she had plenty of frozen waffles and how she didn't like the chocolate Pop-Tarts she'd got at the grocery store when my oldest brother and his wife took her shopping on Saturday. I wasn't able to confirm until Wednesday that she did need to go the grocery store where we stocked up on dog treats and banquet frozen dinners.

After a couple of hours of watching my mom engaged happily in household chores, I would drive around the city on auto-pilot. I didn't really have any destination in mind. One day I went to the mall. Another I stopped at an antique mall. The next I ended up at the cemetery and visited a few relatives (including my great, great grandfather veteran of the lunatic asylum and the Civil War). I felt like a familiar stranger everywhere I went. Although I grew up in Boise, I have lived in Washington for more years than I did in Idaho.

A couple of nights I went out to dinner with my middle brother and the bulk of his family (wife and son home from college). Both nights were filled with political debates. He if far right and I am middle left in the political arena. Despite my best efforts to change the subject we always ended up slapping each other up side the head with our beliefs. His wife and son sat for the most part in uncomfortable silence. It was a familiar scenario for us all.

My last day in Boise, I checked out of my non-descript room at the Comfort Inn, packed up my leftover chips and sodas to give to my mom and drove over to take her out to one last lunch before I dropped off the rental car and checked in at the airport. My head still throbbed from inflamed sinuses aggravated by my cold and the stale air conditioning at the hotel. We settled on Red Robin where I was pretty sure mom would order yet another cheeseburger that I was pretty sure at this point would end up in a doggie bag that really would be for the dog.

Since my oldest brother wasn't there, I ordered a cheeseburger for my mom and watched her baffled look when it arrived and she pondered how to bite into it. My painful headache made it difficult to stifle my impatience as she turned it around and around.

"Just squish it down and cut it in two, mom," I snapped impatiently. She began giggling and I felt terrible since I know my mother laughs when she is uncomfortable and embarrassed. She began telling me a story about the neighbor named Misty and her husband Jesse. Misty was nicknamed Misty because she always got emotional at family visits and misted up. Mom asked Misty's husband Jesse if he had a sister named Layle since mom brother had once dated a woman named Lois who had had two children named Jesse and Layle. It was, of course a different Jesse, but once my mother's synapses fire in a particular direction, they don't change course easily.

It was the third or forth time I'd heard about Jesse and Misty that week. I wanted to scream that I didn't care about Jesse and Misty. They were renters in a monstrosity that had been plopped down next to my childhood home years after I had left the land of Famous Potatoes and the City of Trees (which really doesn't have that many trees). I told my mother that she had already told me this story. She stopped, blinked a few times, and began telling me about them again, from the beginning as if that would help. I sucked down the rest of my diet Coke to drown the scream of impatience.

I feel like a terrible son and a terrible person because I wanted to be anywhere else at that moment. If I had to be there, I wanted to be talking to my mother about how important it would be to go to the doctor and develop health care plan for her that didn't involve prayer, the Bible or simply ignoring any problems she had. I wanted to be talking to her about how I wanted my children to know their grandmother. I wanted to talk to her about how I wasn't ready to lose my mother even though people keep telling me that she is 84 years old and she has lived a good life.

But I had said those things at the beginning of the trip and been met with a look of betrayal and fear that told me my mother would never go to see a doctor and I was foolish to have taken this trip and tried to convince her otherwise. Now all I could do was sit there and listen to my mother talk about Jesse and his wife Misty and the Poinsettia they had given her for Christmas.

The check mercifully came and I paid it. Mom packed up her cheeseburger for the dog and we drove back to her house. I wandered from room to room looking at fade photos of my childhood mixed in with photos of nieces, nephews and unknown people that I imaged may have been Jesse and Misty. There was still about five hours until I needed to be at the airport, but I told my mother I needed to drop off the car and go. She hugged me and thanked me for everything I did. I hugged her and told her how much I loved her and that she had nothing to thank me for. I hadn't done anything.

The dog danced around her legs as I closed the gate and stepped into the rental car. My mother waved as I drove off. She's happy I told myself. She has her dog. She has her house and her garden and the neighbors who like her. I drove past the grade school I'd attended and headed toward the airport where I dropped off my rental car and then lucked out by getting on an early flight to my home and my wife and children.

The airplane lifted off and Boise settled back into the past.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Skinning a cat

"There is more than one way to skin a cat."
-Unknown
Regardless of the various and sundry ways to skin a cat, I bet you the cat doesn't think much of any of them. I have to ask the burning question here: why would anyone want to skin a cat? Unless you are a pimp, cat fur isn't exactly in vogue. And if you get down to it, it is really kind of a gross concept.

But I digress.

As there is more than one way to skin a cat, there may be many paths to enlightenment. But I imagine the one that involves sitting on a mountain top and suddenly figuring it out a few seconds before a skinned cat claws out my eyes would be my least favorite.

Don't you love how I worked a skinned cat into another totally unrelated saying? I'm a firm believer in the interconnectivity of everything (whether it makes any sense or not). Now if the buddah meets you on the road swinging a skinned cat with one paw clapping, I think we could get the world's record for combining the most fortune cookie phrases into a single trite yet odd philosophical phrase.

Or I could just be mixing metaphors (with a Cusineart).

In a twisted kind of way, this post was supposed to be about truths. Or it was supposed to be about methods. Or true methods. Or maybe it really was about skinning cats. Okay, I admit that I didn't really have a purpose. I was just sitting around thinking about the saying, "There is more than one way to skin a cat," and then I wondered how cats felt about that.

I don't really think that there has to be a point to everything or many things wouldn't exist (nor would many people). Sometimes it is just kind of nice to sit around and think about things.

Like skinning cats.

Or leading a horse to water.

And speaking of leading a horse to water, it seems logical that the horse probably could have found the water on his own if he was really thirsty and leading to the water was kind of pointless. Now leading a horse to water and asking him to skin a cat would have been really pointless.

Get my point?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Digital Curtain

I read another one of those pap journalism stories today about how everything we put online is now sifted through by these companies that create profiles of us for voyeuristic employers and presumably stalkers to digitally track us. The author was going on about having too much information now about his lawyer's hair implants, or photos of his child's fifth grade teacher pregnant. Our desire to express ourselves or be ourselves online is now being used to judge us, categorize us and ridicule us.

So the answer would seem to be that we need to button down our digital lives in the Puritan manner our society seems to require. We can't be professional or reliable employees if we have a human side or quirky side.

Wasn't the point of blogging to be able to share something about ourselves? Isn't a social network of "friends" supposed to be where you talk about hobbies, share photos and "be ourselves?"

The irony of this all is that it is more often than not the professional self that is not real yet that is what we would seem to be demanding of people now on the Internet. At what point do we stop sterilizing our personalities?

Unfortunately, I believe many employers are now exploiting the economy to frighten employees into submission. People are tucking their heads down and skulking around their jobs, afraid of the bogeyman the media has turned the recession into.

If only FDR could remind people that we really have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Layers

I have formed my own theory about the creation of the universe and all that we know. I think everything we know, have experienced and will experience has its foundation in layers. Everything builds on what has been before. Life is simply one big onion.

In my theory, if an archaeologist digs deep enough at a site he will eventually discover not only the past, but the present and eventually the future. I mean this literally as well as symbolically.

In my own experience, I have frequent flashes of the past as if it was occurring now. I assume this is because the chemical reactions in my brain are dusting off the memory synapses of past events and making them seem as though they are happening concurrently with the present. Or, perhaps all of my experience is happening at once in a microcosmic mirror of the multiple realities theory of Quantum Physics (I am not going to explain this theory to you...use Google like everyone else and sift through the bull shit to find something that seems reasonable).

I touched on the concept of human knowledge building on the layers of knowledge left by the generations before in my post Shoulder of giants back in September 2008. Layering on that post (ha, ha, ha...), I firmly believe our own lives are forged by layer after layer of experience that collects like silt on our consciousness. We are who we are based on who we have been.

At times, though, I get very weary of the sifting through the murkier layers trying to recall when a layer happened (or if it is happening now). When I was 13 or 14 and there were quite a bit less layers, I remember wondering what my life would be like at the turn of the century and I was a feeble old man of 42. At 42, after the layers had really piled up, I didn't so much wonder what my life would be at 50 as wish I was 13 or 14 again with less layers. Now, at 51, I just feel the layers piling on. I'm too weary most of the time to think about being 60 or 70.

Occasionally, the layers merge. I play with my children and find myself in the layer where I was a boy who climbed the apple tree in our back yard and stared at the clouds dreaming of great adventures and marveling at how blue the sky could be. But the fragile thread that holds me in that layers breaks when I glimpse myself in the reflection in a mirror. Then I find myself back in my middle aged man layer.

Okay, the layer theory isn't perfect. But it is interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blank stare

I don't know what to write about anymore. I never thought I was one of those "writer's block" kind of people. Once I got rid of my typewriter, I thought I'd gotten over this terror of a blank page.

Fortunately, computers provide so much distraction that even a constipated writer has plenty to do while he or she is trying to draw on their muse. There is no such thing as a blank computer screen. Something is always blinking at you.

I bought my first computer back in 1986. It was an IBM clone made by a company called Leading Edge. I believe they were manufactured in Korea. I paid $2500 back then. And that was considered pretty cheap. When IBM came out with the personal computer a few years earlier they were in the $5000 range. So the clones opened up the cheaper computer market for those of us who couldn't drop five grand on what was considered a glorified typewriter.

My first PC used floppy drives and pretty much had the computing capability of today's cell phones. It came with a word processing program, a spreadsheet program and the ability to play crude video games. I thought my PC would be my ticket to fame as a writer. I figured it would pry the words out of my head and quickly multiply them into a major best seller. I ended up writing a few short stories and playing a lot of the crude video games.

The word processors have become super sophisticated compared to the one I had on my clone and the video games have become pretty darn realistic. But computers still just give you something to do while you are waiting for your writers block to unblock. Though I couldn't imagine going back to a typewriter and I can't even read my own handwriting.

But I digress. Because I don't know what to write about. I'm going to go play a video game or see if anyone has sent me a stupid list to fill out on Facebook.

God I love technological improvements.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Kindness of strangers

"Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. "
Blanche Dubois, Streetcar Named Desire

There is something strangely comforting about talking to strangers on the Web through your blog. And I use the term strangers in the sense that I have never met most people who read my blog. They are really not so much strangers as friends I have never met.

Odd concept.

The people I have never met seem to be less judgemental. Perhaps it is because they have no expectations or preconceived notions about who I am or how I should be. People I know often can't get past the me they think I am.

That has its limitations.

This is the reason I like to blog, but Facebook bothers me. Either the people who are my friends on Facebook aren't open to the quirkier side of Tim or they don't really want to see it. And it lacks the protection of really being anonymous that blogging can offer. In most cases, the blogging community has been very open to my quirky side. I have rarely had to be guarded.

I wish that the people who know me in the real world could accept the me in the virtual world. Because that is the me that I feel the most comfortable with. And ironically, I think the virtual me is more the real me than the me that is virtually there in the real world (I couldn't resist the play on words).

It's not that I don't think I am real on a day to day basis. It's just that, who can really be themselves at work, at the store, or even interacting socially. You have to act in certain ways to avoid offending people or creating conflict or losing your job. You can't always have deep conversations about sensitive subjects because most people can't function on a deep level or they just don't want to hear anything deeper than the weather.

I suppose that is what keeps the fabric of society from flapping in the wind. Walking a normal path is easier because it is well worn. Every now and then I catch myself deviating from the path in meetings or hallway conversations at work and I see the panicked looks of the people I'm with. More often than not I jump back on the normal path or slink away to my office chastising myself for not just maintaining the status quo.

But I wonder a great deal about purpose in life as I slog along the beaten path staring at my feet. Once again, I think it is a middle aged thing. Because I have finally accepted that we are all going to die, it is just a matter of when. So I wonder what that will be like and whether or not I will panic at the time because I stayed on the safe path for too long and didn't really accomplish anything great other than help raise my family.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that is enough. I hold my children or watch them play and marvel at what is ahead of them and what they will experience on the journey. And I encourage them meander off the path now and then.

I know all of this sounds odd (which is why I don't write it on Facebook). But you are all my friendly strangers, right (or my strange friends) and you will understand that I am just being me, right?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Punching yourself

I was watching the film, The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington over the weekend. In the film, debate coach Denzel Washington tells one of his students who had made a joke at his own expense, "You wouldn't punch yourself in a street fight so don't punch yourself in a word fight. Use humor against your opponent, not yourself."

The quote resonated with me. I have always used humor as a defense mechanism with the rationale that if I could get someone to laugh with me, they wouldn't be laughing at me. And if I could point out all of my faults before someone else could, I somehow would be ahead of the game. The problem is, no matter how many faults you point out to someone, they can always find more. And what really is the point in trashing yourself to beat someone to the punch?

Though I'm not into singing my own praises. I may be able to control insulting myself, but I can't imagine ever feeling comfortable praising myself, either. I know how I react to people who perform a contortionist act as they pat themselves on the back. So where is the happy medium?

And can I really break a pattern I've had since I was a kid? I think I learned how to be self-depreciating from my mother. She was always apologizing for the house not being clean enough, us not having enough money, our car not being as nice as other people's and for us not being of the "right" class of people. I honed in on it as a child, wondering why I never felt quite good enough.

My mother is still that way. A good percentage of any conversation I have with her is filled up with her apologizing for repeating herself, not having any interesting to say or for just being her. I kick myself (see) for not comforting her and reassuring her that she is just fine the way she is. But it has become so part of our interaction that I just sit there on the phone zoning out her chipping away at herself.

In the cockiness of my youth, I blustered about, feigning self-confidence that was often interpreted as arrogance or conceit. But so often, I felt like I was a little boy play acting at the situations I found myself in. I heard my mother repeating "you don't belong in nice restaurants...you shouldn't be in this store...you don't belong in college...our family doesn't become managers."

Not that she ever said things like that, but it is what I heard.

Now that I am middle aged, I have lost the that youthful facade that helped cushion the blows I inflicted on myself. I find myself questioning everything about me. And whereas in youth I figured time would eventually smooth out my faults and leave a polished person, I have discovered instead that time simply erodes self-delusion to a point that you must face the cold mirror and watch the future descending from the shadows behind you.

Ouch.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cobwebs


I find it ironic that I write about ghost towns in the physical and symbolic sense and don't realize I'm also writing about my own blog(s). You can practically see a tumbleweed rolling down the digital streets of my online home. So it drives home the point to me how easy it is to "fade away."
Fading away is not a new topic for me. I've written two posts in the past with that same title. It wasn't intentional. Your memory kind of fades when you do, too.

Regardless, in some circles, I would now be considered a expert on the topic of fading away. I'm pretty up on being invisible as well. I've written a couple of posts on that topic as well. Middle aged angst does that to you.

I skipped the mid-life crisis, though. It seemed too cliche. I never really had any desire to own a little red sports car anyway. In retrospect, I think I went through my mid-life crisis when I was 19 and have been emotionally aging in reverse the way that Brad Pitt is aging in reverse in his latest movie. This would explain my being a bachelor for 47 years and then becoming a family man.

But I digress.

I have let the cobwebs accumulate on my blogs for various reasons. The obvious has been my daddy duties. I have maybe two hours a night to do anything but play puppet, read "Wheels on the Bus" or change diapers.

The less obvious reasons for my dusty blogs are a disillusionment with Blogger.com and the challenges of dragging virtual branches over my tracks to hide my trail on the Web from unwanted eyes. My enthusiasm for blogging waned a bit when I determined I really didn't want to share all of my weaknesses, phobias and neuroses with just anybody, especially someone who is looking for them.

This greatly reduced my fodder for blog post topics. I also didn't want to succumb to the desire to write about the the economy, plane crashes in the Hudson, unemployment, how stupid Grey's Anatomy has become or how lost I am watching Lost.
You can see only having two hours of free time a night hasn't reduced my desire to watch bad television.

Anyway, I feel like I am a caretaker like my father was in my last blog post. I stop by here every few days or weeks to make sure the pipes aren't frozen and the toilets still flush. Then I check all the doors and windows and lock up. And like all of those abandoned buildings in a ghost town, my blog sits with currents fluttering and waiting for the sounds of life to return and drive out the cobwebs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ghost Towns

There was a house down the street when I was growing up that I only knew as the Nye's place. As long as I remembered, no one lived there. I didn't know the details, but at some time the owner of the house had died and his widow had left to go live with family back in the Midwest. The family had asked my father to act as the part time caretaker for the place, tending to the yard and checking on the house occasionally.

The odd thing about the house was that it had been left full of furniture and frozen in time when the owner left. I remember my mom took me with her once to retrieve something from the house for Mrs. Nye. We stepped inside and it was as if someone had just stepped out for a few minutes instead of a few years. A plate of crackers sat opened on the kitchen table. An envelope sat on the table with "Paper boy" written on it, obviously a long over due payment for a paper that had stopped being delivered years ago.

It seemed strange to me as a child. I knew little about grief and the decisions people make to pick up and leave when under the influence of emotions. Now I assume Mrs. Nye just couldn't stay in the house where her husband died and live with memories.

Or ghosts.

We played in the Nye's yard when my father tended the yard. Every few weeks he would open the flood gates on the irrigation ditch that ran down the alley and would flood the yard (this was how people in rural Idaho watered the grass back in those days). We'd sail our wooden boats in the flooded yard and play hide and seek in stands of wild asparagus while my father trudged around in rubber boots.

It could have been our young imaginations but on more than one occasion, either I or one of my brothers would swear we saw a curtain flutter inside the locked house as if someone had pulled it aside to watch the strangers playing in the yard. But still we played at the Nye house. Occasionally we even would go to the Nye's yard at night to hunt for night crawlers (earthworms) to use for weekly fishing trips at Lucky Peak Reservoir during the summer. I could never get over the feeling that someone was behind me while I crawled around that yard on my knees with a flashlight with red celephane over the lense looking for worms.

Eventually Mrs. Nye passed on as well and her family sold the house. We lost our boat yard and night crawler hunting grounds. I assume whoever bought the house either dealt with the ghost or laid it to rest.

The memory of the Nye place surfaced when I was reading An Angel on My Shoulder's recent post about her fascination with abandoned buildings and places. I reminded me of my similar fascination with places that people seem to have just walked away from and left to the elements. I spend many summer weekends with my father (an amateur treasure hunter) tramping around ghosts towns and abandoned mining camps in Idaho as he searched with his metal detector for hidden treasure left by the former occupants.

It occurred to me then that if the occupants had had any treasure to hide they could have afforded to save their homes. But I kept that opinion to myself for my father's sake. He did so want to believe he was going to find a treasure trove in some old outhouse and retire early.

While my father scanned the earth with his metal detector listening to it's high pitched whine, I scanned the abandoned structures for the hints at the people who had lived there and then left, either by choice or by necessity. There is a sadness in abandoned places. A sense of loss permeates the walls. Because too often when one gives up on a place, they give up on themselves or their souls. And perhaps it is the souls that remain staring out the broken out windows, pulling aside curtains that have long since crumbled to dust.

They don't call them ghost towns for nothing.