The Return Journey - I am always somewhat fearful in the circumstance of returning to a place that I love after an absence, even if it is a short one. As I begin to draw close...
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Maine Beer Company combined two of my favorite things: beer and poetry. More specifically, really good beer and an iconic poem by one of my heavies, my all-time favorite writers, William Carlos Williams. Red Wheelbarrow Ale has climbed among the leaders in my favorite beer crew.
Beer and poetry are two things that I like to imbibe daily that spin my mind and soul a bit. They can reshuffle the deck, and spin the compass in myriad directions. "Red Wheelbarrow" the poem is short, simple and confounding. Check the technique:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
I've written about Williams here before. He was a physician, who had a lifelong medical practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. He was not an ivory tower academic. He didn't much dig T.S. Eliot, who he felt was too stock in Europe--history, culture, tradition, allusion--and Williams looked to dial poetry back to more common, everyday language, and write about things and people that were more everyday life.
Some of his poetry, "Red Wheelbarrow" included is about the image it creates, like a still life painting. You can just sit with it, like you would a good beer on a deck in the sun on a spring evening, sun going down behind tall pine trees. It's a scene. You can also play with the Zen idea of the interconnectedness of the Universe. Hell, you can do just about anything you want--the thing about poetry, like beer, is not all tastes are the same, not all interpretations are the same, and you can sit and ponder that shit for a while.
I found good poetry before I found good beer. I'm not sure what the first "good" beer I drank was. But I do know that it was Carl Sandburg that slammed down the strong man mallet and lit the poetry neon sign up for me, when I was 15.
Sandburg dug and wrote about Chicago. So that became the first city I thought about when I thought about poetry. Dude, Chicago has their own poet; a cat that writes all about them and their people, the blue collar folks. Sandburg and Williams had that in common, the common.
Sandburg made his point for me, especially, in a poem called "Happiness:"
I ASKED professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an
Thank you, Carl. It's not the academics or philosophers who know happiness. It's not the business people, who are too clever to get caught in that game. It's the families, sitting along the river, with a keg and music.
When I think of Chicago today, I think of happiness. Not that Chicago is a happy city, but that image resonates. I think of a trip I took there and running along the lake, to Navy Point, going to the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium. I think about Wrigley Field and Soldier Field and digging the Bears after the Colts left Baltimore. But those are details, memories.
Today, it's beer, poetry and happiness.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
I wonder if life happens in acts, like a play. It is all one continuous whole, but you've got set changes, the cast of characters moves through, apparent themes. Each act builds on those previous, but is also distinct.
Some acts are easy to discern--move to a new town or state, go to a new school, get a job, have kids. Things that alter the direction that things were moving in your life. I would say in many cases, one act ending and another beginning is easiest to see in retrospect.
Life's many-acted play is funny though; it seems a whole lot more ad-libbed, impromptu than scripted. Or maybe like Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show," we are the only ones without the script in our lives.
I don't think Carl Jung listened to The Police. But he and Sting might have had some kickass conversations. Maybe they do, both dialed into the collective unconscious. I remember buying the cassette tape of the band's "Synchronicity" album, like everyone else in and around 1983. They had two songs that riffed off of Jung's concept of synchronicity. The first:
A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,
A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Logic so inflexible
Yet nothing invincible.
...If you act, as you think,
The missing link,
Jung expounded synchronicity as the notion that two or more events can be meaningfully related, but not causally related. He dug the term "meaningful coincidences."
It can be simple, silly things like two people randomly listening to Men at Work in two different places in 2015. Experiencing similar events on a timeline--like acts in two separate plays carrying out their action and then coming together in unexpected ways. A job you wonder if you should have taken coming back open when you are looking for a job. Events in lives seeming to be randomly, but repeatedly in synch.
I wouldn't mind having a pint with Jung and Sting at the bar of the collective unconscious. For marveling at the ways synchronicity can seem to manifest itself at certain times, like the Universe is driving and you're just along for the ride. Don't touch the radio.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
There were sheep in the woods. Right next to the road on Baileys Neck on Christmas Eve. Big Foot might have been there as well, but daughter Anna couldn't catch him in the photo. We stopped along the road and did a double-take. This particular stretch of woods, I run by on three sides on one of my running routes and drive by everyday. I haven't seen them there before or since. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle.
The first weekend of the New Year has been a reclusive one for me. I got out of my truck with groceries on Thursday and won't get back in a vehicle until Monday morning, to take the girls to school. It has been me, running, lifting, yoga, reading, coffee, a couple meals, reading, writing, cooking out with my dad for the Ravens game, and binge-watching Sons of Anarchy.
Sunday (this) afternoon, I wanted to stretch the legs and the soul, so through on running shoes and went for a back road 6-mile run, running by the sheep hallucination woods along the way.
Running clears my mind as much as it does anything for my body. There is a stillwater pond at the corner of the sheep woods, more tranquil and likely more stagnant than my mind on a run. I was feeling good, but still slowed to take it in. Up the road 50 yards or so was a hawk feeding on a deer carcass in a ditch. I know hawks and buzzards--the buzzard came in after I startled the hawk. I stopped again, this time playing chess with the hawk in the trees--he made one hop as I moved closer, I tried to keep from spooking him, just to watch him.
I got back to normal running pace, focused back in on my music, zoned out scanning the woods for sheep or hawks, when I scared a heron out of the ditch just ahead. If you've read along just a little here, you know I have a thing for herons. Spirit animal typed thing. Nothing major. But I took my cue from the Universe here to slow down and walk a stretch, not be in so much of a hurry, even though everything felt good. Heart rate was up, back covered in sweat, slowed down to walk the road along open fields and listen.
I got thinking about Sons of Anarchy, storytelling and Jungian archetypes, and life.
I've written about SOA here before. Among other things, Sons is the story of Jax Teller, the son of one of the founders and former Presidents of the Samcro Motorcycle Club. It's the story of him as Vice President, struggling with his father's legacy and the man who has helped raise him since Jax's father's death. This stepfather figure is the President of the club, who took over after Jack's father died. I give you all this to say that part of the storyline is the story of the prince becoming the king. I dig Carl Jung. Archetypes and myths factor into my thinking and the way I view storytelling.
To some degree, I think the story of every man's coming of age is dealing with, the struggle with that transformation of going from prince to king. Jungian psychologist Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette say that there are four archetypal male energies that are in all of us XY folk: king, warrior, lover, magician. They wrote a book about it that a lot of people seem to dig. The king archetype is the most important and generally the last to develop in the personality.
When you hit 42 years old, lose a job that was the result of 15 years of moving in a solid career direction, and wonder about work, vocation, passion, what direction you want your life to go, there is no shortage of shit that can occupy space in your head. I don't have ready answers, but occasional vacancy in my head, you bet.
It seems to me the struggle, to become and embody the king, that isn't something that happens like childbirth and there you are. Perhaps more often than each day, the boulder rolls back down the hill and you have to go get that fu**er and roll it back up again. It's not just given to you, you have to manifest it. You've got to own that shit.
Father and son relationships are some of the coolest, strangest things on the planet. I've been asked more than once why I am not an accountant like my father. In my mind it's a bit like asking why I am not an NFL offensive lineman: because I am not, it's not how I am wired or built. But the two of us can sit around a family dinner table and spin stories with the same humor and the same outlook on life, and we can watch the Ravens play and scream the same profanities at the television.
Life, visions, the Universe, archetypes, they are spinning through my head like a slot machine. I speed up, get back to running. I come back by the deer carcass and the stagnant pond. Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" comes on. I drop the hammer coming up Locust Grove, decide to run hard through the end of the song. I pass a blue Volvo, the drive waves, I wave back, but I have to think he is wondering what the vagabond in the red ski hat and green shorts is running so fast for--likely running from the cops.
I hang on redlining as the song comes to an end, looking forward to a slower interval. But it's Damian Marley's "Move" that cues up next. Another song I can't run slowly to. I shake my head, laugh out loud, mumble, "Motherfu**er!" and try to hold the pace. "Exodus" was the first Bob Marley song I ever heard. Still one of my favorites. "Move" is Damian reworking the chorus of his father's song, but making it his own. I get thinking about that as way of building on a father's legacy. As much as I dig the song for running, it also can't touch "Exodus" as a song, so what does that mean for a legacy? All Bob's musician sons will be forever in his shadow.
I don't give it much thought because I am trying to follow Damian's advice and move. I wind around a couple of bends. Maybe Junior Gong has a set of stones to dare to try to follow in his father's musical footsteps. He is wired for it. He is not a pioneer, but I listen to him all the time.
Generally, the home stretch of the run is where I run hardest. I like to finish spent. Today's run has been different--there were stops, walking stretches, intervals. As I get to where I can see the driveway, Katastro's "That Place You Know" comes on. I have no idea why, but this song makes me unreasonably happy and at peace. It makes me smile. Today it puts my mind to park benches, Newman and Redford in "The Sting," mix tapes and kindness. I ease the throttle, to run in light. Katastro aren't the deepest dudes, and the song isn't memorable so much for its lyrics, but its vibe. But still I hear this:
Back to the place you know
where all you have to do is come this way
Back to the way you run,
And I'm just gonna let you know
that I'ma be here and do my thing
that's just the way I know.
That's just the way I know.
Friday, January 2, 2015
Yeah, I know, this list is sssooooo 2014. But it's a top 10 list, a retrospective, so that's cool, right? What I'm thinking about here are the things I enjoyed the most in 2014, and how they can help look forward to 2015. It's not definitive, but it's fun to remember sometimes. So in no particular order:
1. Music - When I look at the music I listened to in 2014, I am looking at what is different than other years. An artist that came onto the radar screen, or back on, who wasn't there as much in years past. There are two that standout: D'Angelo and Stevie Wonder. This has been a year where I have been in the habit of putting music on and just leaving it on, bollocks to the TV. D'Angelo's "Voodoo" and newly released "Black Messiah," I can just put on and let roll. And Stevie. Well shit. I don't even know where to begin. "Songs in the Key of Life" is like an emotional autobiography that can just float me around the house. And "The Definitive Collection" is a greatest hits where you know every song, you can nod your head doing dishes at the kitchen sink, or slow it down and just, well, wonder. I know, sorry :)
2. Bocce - I think I have been threatening to play bocce on a regular basis since I worked at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and we were kicking around the idea of playing at lunch. Moving to a new house at the end of the summer, one with an expansive outdoors, pushed the envelope, and younger daughter Ava has picked up on it. We prefer bocce through the woods. Other friends have picked it up as well, and it is a great way to walk around outside, catch up, drink beer, and just imbibe life while pretending to work on your eye-hand coordination.
3. Stand-Up Paddleboarding - I had been digging the occasional SUP adventure in previous years. And older daughter Anna has keyed in on the same thing. 2014 was the year I pulled the trigger and bought a used board and paddle from a friend who is a front of the pack SUP'er always upgrading. Paddleboarding, as much as, or maybe more than other things this past year has created a number of adventures, both with the girls, who have both picked it up, or with friends--from a 9-mile Father's Day paddle, to around the cove shenanigans, to epic and windy Deepwater Point and Trippe Creek throwdowns. I hope to make 2015 even more a year of the SUP.
4. Reading/books - In terms of number of books read, 2014 was a non-starter. But it was big for reading, especially in terms of re-reading. I've talked about Robert Hass on here, ad infinitum, but even reading a book like "Sun Under Wood," for the umpteenth time, I am struck by how books change with your life experience. Until you have gone through something, you don't get what the writer is really saying. In 2014, I discovered Kenneth Rexroth, who is huge for me. I also made it a point to cross a book off my to-read list that I have wanted to read for years, in Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian." I would like to hope that 2015 is the year I will finally cross "Ulysses" off that list, but right now I am caught up in non-fiction and in Borges.
5. Tribe/Carpe Diem/Stupidity/Adventures - In life, you have your family and you have your tribe. Sometimes those two overlap. Your tribe are those folks that get you, who are like you in some ways, who resonate. I've said it before, but I am fortunate to have a tribe who will read Blood Meridian, drink beer together, and sign on and show up for endurance adventures in stupidity. I have maintained that one of the reasons I want to keep in decent shape is because I don't want to miss out on any adventure that sounds fun. I love that I have fallen in with a bunch of 40-somethings, or soon to be 40-somethings, who refuse to grow up; who are moved to move, to get outside; and who want to carpe every single diem.
6. Trust the Universe and Louis Goldstein - I have definitely had some fog or haze over my eyes at various points in 2014. I've lost my way, been manic, and tried to claw my way back to where I thought I was supposed to go. I think it took me until the fall to step back and trust the Universe a bit more. But this isn't a passive trust I am talking about. When I graduated from Washington College, the longtime Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein was one of the speakers. His words of wisdom to the graduates was his mantra, his guiding philosophy in life: "If it's to be, it's up to me." I think that is an equal part in trusting the Universe. Trust, yes, don't feel like you need every answer or a road map ahead of time, but if you want something, and you want to make something happen, then it is up to you. If you are more religious, it's the same thing as saying "God helps those who help themselves." Trust the Universe, And get off your ass.
7. (Cold) Beverages - 2014 has definitely been the year of Dale's Pale Ale for me. I've enjoyed it before, but it became a staple like bread, eggs, bacon. My refrigerator is rarely without some waiting to be imbibed. 2014 was also the year of Irish Whiskey, whether Jameson's or Bushmills. And that has been a taste I didn't know I had acquired, generally preferring bourbon for my sipping.
8. Graphic Novels - This has been the year that pictures and art commingled themselves again with the words I am always searching and searching for. From Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker with Iron Fist, Hawkeye, or Captain America, or Neil Gaiman with The Sandman, or Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis with Daredevil, storytelling for me regained some of its vital visual nature, which informs how I think about writing and telling stories. Even Ava and Anna have taken to graphic novels, Ava more so.
9. Outings/Adventures - I have always been one for outings. If the girls and I are sitting around bored, and the weather is decent, we have always had the mindset to jump in the truck and go explore. That became even more important in 2014. The girls are interacting with the world differently month by month; the language they use to understand things; their quirky senses of humor; their curiosity; their experiences, both shared and unique. I hope our outings and adventures continue to be a big part of how they engage the world.
10. Slowing down - I've been a runner on and off since I was 15. Since 2005, I've been running marathons, trail races, ultra marathons, what have you. A funny thing happened this year. I started hiking, whether in group adventures like our Mason Dixon expeditions, or hiking in the Virginia mountains, or making time to wander the maritime museum where I used to work, or a couple recent strolls around Oxford. Not being in a hurry. Allowing the sites to sink in. Sharing stories, imbibing the history behind buildings, rocks, parks, benches, an unmapped stop in a tavern. There is something to catching your breath, only to have it taken away by something you didn't expect and wouldn't have caught if you were in too big of a hurry.
That's my top ten list from 2014, ten things that helped define some of the good parts of the year. And ten things I hope to build on as we begin 2015.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Firefighter and archaeologist were the first two jobs I wanted to have. Firefighter goes back to my obsession with the show "Emergency!" Roy and John were cool for me long before I knew who Ponch and John or Bo and Luke were. Archaeologist came from seeing "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in the then Avalon movie theater.
Yes Harrison Ford/Indiana Jones oozed cool. But it wasn't the whip, or being shot at, or the fights or chases that pulled me in; it was the idea that the planet, its history, was a mystery, a puzzle to be solved, put back together. It was the notion of digging in the earth and uncovering and being able to physically touch and come in contact with history.
It's funny the things in life we let ourselves drift away from when our minds take on more practical matters.
Clearly, science hasn't been the direction I've taken my life. But the gap between a field like science and a pursuit such as poetry aren't too far afield:
On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly than others, the poetry of their subjects... Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. - Herbert Spenser
Geology, archaeology, philosophy, poetry, they all begin in curiosity, in wonder. They all look to gain or attain some form of mastery, an in-depth attempt at understanding their subject and their world. They all dig in some way, shape, or form.
My mind of late has been on rocks. I am terrible with names, whether people's or things'. I can be bowled over by the magnificence of something I encounter on a hike or trail run, but not try to learn more about it or understand it better. That's one of the things I'm taking into the new year: I want to dig deeper.
Geology, as much as archaeology, can be the study and solving of puzzles. I've had recent conversations with my nine-year-old daughter about continental drift and with friends about Pangaea. Without geological study, there is no mystery, no jaw-dropping wonder about the world on which we find ourselves standing. One of my favorite non-fiction writers in John McPhee. In his "Annals of the Former World," he condenses geology, mystery and poetry into a single sentence:
When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as 20,000 feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.
Summitting Mt. Everest is a supreme physical accomplishment. But knowing what you are standing on, and being able to reel in that absurdity should be a part of that sense of both achievement and mystery.
That is a depth I am looking to add to my own adventures. To dig deeper. To recognize and celebrate the wonder of the geologist, as well as the poet and the philosopher. To go back to the mystery and the puzzles of history that grabbed my attention via Harrison Ford and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
I wonder if I need a new hat?
Monday, December 22, 2014
I take stock on a reading rock, in the town where I grew up. It's a rock bulkheaded riverbank, looking onto a glassy December river. It's too cold to have to worry about snakes.
I came down to Oxford to take a particular photograph, which I have. Now I am in the gravy. Sitting along a river I have swum across on a bet; looking at a dock we jumped and swam off of as kids.
I am 42. At this time last year I was married and working as a government contracted technical writer in Washington, D.C. This year I am separated and between jobs. And I am happier than I have been in a long time. There are reasons for that, one of which is knowing myself and learning my heart. Another is returning to activities that make me feel alive. Last year I was sleepwalking through life; this year, I am awake.
Today I am a tourist in the town my father's family has lived for centuries. A backpack with books, a notebook, ski cap, snacks and water; taking pictures of things that catch my eye; walking streets and sidewalks and sitting cold to scrawl a note or contemplate a color. No two people would describe "brackish" in the same way.
This has been a difficult year in places. In March, I went on Zoloft to help me through the worst of it. I was worried it would change me, sap my creativity, hollow me out. It didn't. But I stopped taking it in October when I found myself too numb to life around me; not feeling enough. I don't regret either decision.
I have connected with new people and reconnected with others. Adversity can lead you to a clearer understanding of friendship, of family, and of who those folks are. I am finding, I think, that my way forward in life has rarely ever been a straight line; maybe a series of cutbacks and switchbacks and circling spirals, ultimately leading up the mountain.
I have too many blessings to count. Health, my own and my family's, and two honor roll student athlete daughters to whom I want to give the best life possible.
Tourist. Maybe that's my problem. I have been a tourist in my own life. I have not recognized enough the things, people, places that I love and committed to them. But that's changing.
Work. Passion. Love. Family. Art. Self reliance. Home. Pablo Neruda's epic autobiographical book/poem, written over the course of 20 years, is called "Residence on Earth." There is something to that notion: residing, inhabiting. But it sounds too passive. For me, I need the idea of engaging with others, activity. Maybe beyond engaging, it's actually embracing. Yeah, I think that's it.
Last year I was residing. This year I have started living. Now it is time to embrace.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
On paper, my last semester at N.C. State was a failure. Ultimately it left me on the street, back in Maryland, getting in shape with designs of going into the Army and jumping out of planes. It got me back to running. Made me change my life's direction. That is the good.
Not a lot of time was spent in classrooms. But I think I learned a lot that fall. The curriculum was organic, unstructured, self-guided. It included Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. It included chess and whiskey. It included Whitman and Emerson. It included Paul Newman and Robert Redford; Charlie Chaplan and Robert Downey Jr.; daily episodes of Northern Exposure reruns; and deep discussions with a good friend, Lindsay Loflin, who was the only other English Literature (and in his case film) student that I knew well at a textiles and engineering school.
Northern Exposure is my favorite TV series of all time. It was made and aired within the parameters of prime time network television, before HBO changed the TV series rules forever (for the better) with shows such as The Wire, Sopranos, Game of Thrones, etc. Point being Northern Exposure had to play by the network rules. Let's be honest, Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) could have been a fun character to have playing by HBO/Showtime standards :)
For me, the series is full of life lessons, philosophy, humor, etc. It is a study on how life sometimes goes in directions you had no idea were coming, not directions you necessarily would want, but directions you need to get where you are going. Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is a Jewish physician from NYC whose medical school at Columbia was financed by the state of Alaska. He is a city cat, but winds up in Cicely, Alaska, as part of a contract to repay/pay back the state for his education. It's in the middle of nowhere, he hates it, is a salmon out of water, but starts to change. The place and people teach him, even when he doesn't want them to or expect it. We get what we need, and what needs us.
Alaskan/Indian Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows), film critic and aspiring director is a brilliantly conceived, quirky character. Adam Arkin's "Adam," the paranoid recluse who is a gourmet chef and wired into the inner-workings of global counter-intelligence is phenomenal. And Chris Stevens (John Corbett), radio DJ host of "Chris in the Morning" is perhaps my favorite character of all time, possibly in any media. Chris is an air waves philosopher, reading Walt Whitman to his listeners; sharing personal stories, groping life. The piano fling scene and speech is one of the all-time great moments in television. To me that sums up art, philosophy, fun, being eccentric, being different, being alive. YouTube won't let me embed it, but I highly recommend you check it out with the link.
Because it's how I roll, I'll also give you the text of Chris's speech:
I've been here now for some days, groping my way along, trying to realize my vision here. I started concentrating so hard on my vision that I lost sight. I've come to find out that it's not the vision, it's not the vision at all. It's the groping. It's the groping, it's the yearning, it's the moving forward. I was so fixated on that flying cow that when Ed told me Monty Python already painted that picture, I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see all the other possibilities. Anyway, I want to thank Maurice for helping me to let go of that cow. Thank you Maurice for playing Apollo to my Dionysus in art's Cartesian dialectic. And thanks to you, Ed, cause the truth shall set us free! And Maggie, thank you for sharing in the destruction of your house so that today we could have something to fling. I think Kierkegaard said it oh so well, "The self is only that which it's in the process of becoming." Art? Same thing. James Joyce had something to say about it too. "Welcome, Oh Life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge the smythe of my soul the uncreated conscious of my race." We're here today to fling something that bubbled up from the collective unconsciousness of our community. Ed, you about ready? The thing I learned folks, this is absolutely key: It's not the thing you fling. It's the fling itself. Let's fling something, Cicely!
I am at such a loss for words here. Philosophy, art, existentialism, Monty Python, breaking shit, the collective unconscious, James Joyce, Kierkegaard, catharsis, groping: these are a few of my favorite things.
A couple years ago, I scarfed up seasons one and two of Northern Exposure on DVD. I put it on this morning at 4-ish a.m., with a cup of coffee and began the series again from the pilot episode. There is so much there. It inspires me, makes me laugh, makes me think. And though it is a TV show about a place that doesn't really exist, it rekindles my urge to go stand in Alaska, to hike there, to trail run there, to stay in a cabin, to drink beer in a tavern, to imbibe the spirit of the place.
It's the groping. It's the fling itself. Let's fling something!