Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Winter Break

The coolest Christmas gift I ever got was the Star Wars Death Star. It was put together, set up in front of the Christmas tree when I came downstairs.

Watching our girls open and get excited about Christmas--the season and presents-- I don't know what their best gift will be. The Star Wars trilogy and all that came with it defined our childhood. I'm not sure this generation has that singular zeitgeist for its collective youth imagination. The narrative is pluralistic now, splintered. Maybe it's not a narrative...


The thing besides Christmas and family that connects our winters to the girls' is snow. Anna tries to ambush me blind with snowballs. We belly-laugh after I counterattack with a sidewinder that SPLATS, imprinted to the earflap of her peace sign fleece hat.

The next day our family will be frozen grinned and smoke breathing at night, at the bottom of a sledding hill, and I'm thinking this is a winter memory, a life memory that we will each remember forever...


The week between Christmas and New Years has become sacred. Family time, with no plans, no schedule, only impromptu places to go or things to do. It's a sanctuary week to recharge before going into the long, cold stretch of January and February. The cool of Christmas gives way to the dark droll of winter proper. Quiet like ice...


From the bathroom I can hear the phone ringing, just barely, over the sweeper running downstairs. Technology is a mouthy bitch, discontent to leave the quiet still.

My latest tech indulgence is the opposite--it cultivates quiet. My dad surprised me and my sister's husband with Kindles. I'm a book guy, I like being surrounded by them, to have stacks on the coffee table and shelves (much to my wife's chagrin ;), waiting by the bed and next to the couch. I wouldn't have thought of a Kindle. But I dig it. I'm more than halfway through Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad in just a few days and I'm a slow reader.

Goon Squad squats with Charles Simic's Master of Disguises and Robert Hass's The Apple Trees at Olema in a flat easily taken for a day planner.

As smitten as I am with Egan's Goon Squad (and I am smitten), with its stories and style and characters and connected threads, it's not until I dig into Simic and Matthew Lippman that I have to pick up a pen and start to write...


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wherefore art thou, fairy tale?

I'm not sure how the fairy tale goes now. Or if there even is one. Maybe we've outgrown them.

Over Thanksgiving, Robin and I stayed up watching Pretty Woman. Julia Roberts wanted the fairy tale. In that case, it was: hooker meets emotionally damaged billionaire, buys clothes, makes him emotionally whole, he punches Jason Alexander, and they ride off in a limo together. We're not sure about the happily ever after part; there hasn't been a sequel.

This story ran in The New York Times wedding section this past Sunday. It's caused a ruckus of sorts. Typical story: boy meets girl, they get married and have kids, hang with a couple like them with kids, boy and girl from the disparate marriages dig each other, fall in love, tell their spouses, move out, get divorced, get re-married to each other. Much bigger family. Brady style.

They did it for love. There has to be something for following your heart, right? You only live once and the kids will get over it. Half of their friends will have something like that happen, so they'll fit in anyway.

Maybe one marriage and/or kids isn't what people want, or should expect out of life, out of a relationship anymore. We trade cars in, we move from house to house, town to city, job to job. Change and transition is the new foundation.

For the past several years we've watched a number of friends, with or without kids, split up. It's rough. People whose weddings you attended, that you remember, that you thought were rock solid.

I'm not judging, just riffing. We live our lives trying to make what we think are the best decisions. The ones that will bring us the most happiness. Life isn't simple, or even linear. If you are "meant" to be with someone, maybe it's not the person you married and had kids with. It happens. Repeatedly. People change. Or they don't.

Maybe marriage as a bond, as a vow, isn't relevant. But it makes you worried to be married.

I write this having been married 11+ years and having been with my wife for 15+ years, each of which include my best and happiest days and experiences. Not all of these experiences--say finishing my first marathon as a touchstone--have happened with Robin, but all have happened because of, or in connection with, or with us being together as the foundation, condition, backdrop to whatever experience.

What we have together, including our girls, makes us happier than not being together. There are rough days or stretches, which we have worked through. Our intentions are to be happy, stay together, raise the girls, surprise each other, deepen our relationship and our friendships, find new ways to make ourselves and each other happy. Love, explore, live, together.

We want that to work. I hope it will. I like to think we both have a say in that being the case.

Funny, looking at different things that happened to bring us together: me failing out of college, Robin looking for a teaching job and having a friend from Penn State who was teaching in Tilghman Island, our circles of friends connecting via Tom and Nan and that we live in a small town, the fact that I had seen Blue Miracle in Raleigh and dug them and that all involved decided to go see them at the Avalon, meeting each other, being intrigued by Robin, different dates, staying up all night talking, moving beyond talking (but still talking).

We were Christmas shopping this past Saturday, without the kids. It was December 18 and it was a chaotic vortex of holiday shopping in Annapolis. Amidst the chaos and Christmas spirit, Robin remembered one of the first nights we spent together, as a new couple, looking for any and all time we could spend together, be together, get together (cue 70s-80s porn soundtrack music ;), then she asked, "Did you ever think it would lead to this?"

We laughed. I thought back to that time, those early days, the thoughts I had in my head about us, about myself, about being together. Did you ever think it would lead to this? "This" being us making each other laugh, together but better than then, still wanting her and looking forward to our time spent, our girls and watching them do their things--sports, playing with dolls, building forts, spilling drinks, asking questions, giving hugs--Did you ever think it would lead to this?

"Yeah," I said. "Actually, I kind of did. Or at least I hoped."

[I was going to end there (you can stop reading if you prefer that as a stopping point). But I realize that our case is just our case. It's probably not the norm. It's not everyone's story. It's just ours. It's a work in progress. But it's my frame of reference. And that's what you get on a blog that I write :). Add your thoughts to the mix if you are of the mind.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Huey Lewis nods his head

Maybe the muscles in his face were frozen. He walked brisk with his bags from 7-Eleven, smiling down the side of the road. Thirty degrees of cold and wind on a Sunday morning. Maybe he was wearing a Santa hat. People making that walk rarely smile, even when it's warmer. His frozen smile was all you could see. 'Tis the season.

Today we light the fourth candle--the candle of love. With this flame we signify the love of God that surrounds us and fills us at all times, but that we recognize in a special way in the Christmas story. There is no greater power than love.

Huey Lewis didn't write that, but you can see him nodding his head.

"I'm going to put my head down and pretend to tie my shoe so nobody can see me." Anna wasn't big on our family reading and lighting the Advent candles at church. Her shoes didn't have laces. Nobody in our family is big on public speaking. But it's Christmas.

Loving God, we open ourselves to you this Christmas season.
As these candles are lit, light our lives with your imagination.
Show us the creative power of hope.
Fill us with the kind of joy that cannot be contained, but must be shared.
Prepare our hearts to be transformed by you

A prayer. I want to write that down to remember any time we light candles in the house.

Dale talks to the kids about birthdays and whose is coming up. Kevin says we don't have to go to timeout for fighting over Jesus's love--there is enough to go around. And he asks a question. A big one.

"What would God look like, among us?"

Hhhmm. I think if he walked along the side of Washington Street, carrying his groceries in the cold, he'd be smiling.

And Huey Lewis nods his head.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Green Monster

I've been to Boston once, but it doesn't really count. I was 15 or 16. We went as a family, stayed at a sweet hotel for a conference my dad was attending. I didn't want to be there, wanted instead to be on my Boston Whaler on the river, or on the phone with my girlfriend or in a semi-trance listening to Pink Floyd.

We hit Cheers and went around the city a bit, but I wasn't there, really. My dad wanted the two of us to hit Fenway Park and size up the Green Monster. Nah, I'm gonna hang at the hotel. What a shit.

It would have served us both better if he had punched me in the gut and kneed me in the face as a wake-the-fu%& up call, but that kind of thing is frowned up, and my dad didn't roll like that. He went by himself.

I have hated talking on the phone since that summer--a kind of existential response to wasting so much time tethered to a wall that could have been spent exploring, living. We did our share of living that summer also, but still.

Perspective seems to smooth out the rough wake we've kicked out. Or maybe perspective is just distance mixed with common sense and maybe we don't feel things as strongly now as when we were earlier versions of ourselves. I don't know.

I can tell you that if I go back to Boston, I'm going to Fenway Park. I'm gonna check out the Green Monster.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Riffing off Matthew Lippman's title: monkey bars

The monkey bars are gone from the Oxford Park. I'm not surprised. I've never seen anyone get brained there, or break an arm. Or even fall. But it could happen. And we don't like hard surfaces or steel bars around our kids. Childhood is now brought to you by Nerf.

I might posit that the monkey bars were stolen by the cast of the board game Clue. I could completely see Colonel Mustard wacking the monkey bars in the billiard room with the wrench.

At one point the Oxford Police Department had two unmarked cop cars. One was maroon, one was French's yellow. Our friend Siachos deemed them "Professor Plum" and "Colonel Mustard." You can guess that stuck like long hair to flypaper.

So maybe Clue becomes an extended metaphor for small town cops and our tendency to want to protect ourselves to boredom or some form of numbness. I'm guilty too. Nobody wants their kids to get hurt. I probably wouldn't let our girls on the monkey bars (the photo above shows the exact set up the Oxford Park rocked), as much as I dug them and as much as they conjure up my childhood, of which I am also a fan.

I haven't read Matthew Lippman's book Monkey Bars yet. It might not even get its name from the archetypal public playground apparatus. But you can bet that after reading The Rumpus's interview with Lippman and review of the book, that I ordered that shit directly. As has been established, I dig monkey bars.

And I am happy to riff off of Lippman's title to let my mind wander back to the days of 20-inch BMX bike transportation, to a time of sharp edges and jumping high and far off of wooden swings out toward the water; of running in the air like fucking Carl Lewis and hitting the ground and rolling to lessen the impact; of grass-stained knees and skinned elbows and open-mouthed smiles; of laughing and not worrying.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A few of my favorite things

There are things you know you love before you know they exist or before you know they have names or to name them. For me these things are frequently mongrels--mixed breeds of pursuits, activities or passions that when combined reach beyond what the disparate parts can do on their own.

I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see, and what it means. --Joan Didion.

I never thought of trail running as something different from distance running, just the best/coolest part of what running is. When I rekindled my running a few years back, I saw an issue of Trail Runner Magazine on the newsstand and it was instant and immersive epiphany. The first time I hit a trail with that intention in my crawl, I basically floated above the trails. I read and thought about it when I wasn't doing it. It provides an aesthetic, a rush, a peace, a calm, a connection that other ways of being don't and maybe can't. Trail running is the reduction, the distillation of what I dig most about running, kind of like fast-forwarding through the boring parts of an action movie.

Cruising the streets, surveying concrete and asphalt for hills, tools, angles, transitions, this was/is the organic, responsive part of skateboarding that tractor-beamed me into it as a teenager. A sort of nomadic zen that seemed to be created with/by the hum of polyurethane wheels in motion. When I stepped back into skating at age 35 on a 7x27 Element board with thin wheels not meant for rolling, something was amiss. Ollying objects was fun, but nothing soulful.

When a friend brought his Subsonic Pulse 40-inch longboard over and we took turns surfing the street and learned long distance pumping, the mutt offspring of long distance skateboarding took root in me. Just going out cruising, seeing what you encounter, but also pushing your own boundaries or limits.

Most recently it was the naming of the lyric essay while reading David Shields. The lyric essay is a label-shunning literary hybrid that describes what I have looked for in reading and strive to create in writing. I'm not sure when or where or who coined the genre, but the Seneca Review outed it in a 1997 issue. The editors, John D'Agata and Deborah Tall talk about it like this:

"The lyric essay partakes of the poem in its density and shapeliness, its distillation of ideas and musicality of language. It partakes of the essay in its weight, in its overt desire to engage with facts, melding its allegiance to the actual with its passion for imaginative form... As Helen Vendler says of the lyric poem, "It depends on gaps. . . . It is suggestive rather than exhaustive." ... it may meander, making use of other genres when they serve its purpose: recombinant, it samples the techniques of fiction, drama, journalism, song, and film.

"Given its genre mingling, the lyric essay often accretes by fragments, taking shape mosaically - its import visible only when one stands back and sees it whole... It elucidates through the dance of its own delving... Loyal to that original sense of essay as a test or a quest, an attempt at making sense, the lyric essay sets off on an uncharted course through interlocking webs of idea, circumstance, and language - a pursuit with no foreknown conclusion, an arrival that might still leave the writer questioning... We turn to the lyric essay - with its malleability, ingenuity, immediacy, complexity, and use of poetic language - to give us a fresh way to make music of the world."

Yeah, that's the ticket. A test, a quest, an attempt at making sense, questioning, trying to figure the world and myself out as part of the process. Trying to learn something via writing that I didn't and wouldn't have known otherwise. That's what writing has always been about for me and why in school and outside of school, philosophy and literature and writing have always been connected, there have never been clear lines between them and the best writers, the ones that I come back to again and again, are the ones who fuse all these things together and speak them, combine them in ways that you never forget. Ways that make you see. Differently.

* image by Robert Rauschenberg

Friday, December 10, 2010

And one

Nobody orders nachos without cheese. And no one writes about their pets without dwarfing the amount of cheese found on 7-11 or Oriole Park nachos. Therefore, writing about pets is ill advised unless you are writing a script for Lifetime television. I'm not.

And yet, I'm still going to sail the seas of cheese (props to Primus) and venture into the land of pets. But you've been warned.

A shade over ten years ago we brought home a Golden Retriever. Ivan. He is dark/red enough to have been taken for an Irish Setter more than once. Ivan the Red. Yes, we should have seen it coming. Ivan is my second run-in with Goldens. The first came when I was nine and the crotchety black cocker spaniel-based mutt we had (Lucy) died. It was around my birthday and I was told I could pick the next dog and even name it. I went Golden Retriever. And named her Morgan after King Arthur's twisted sister, Morgan Le Fay (people then suspected Morgan Fairchild as the namesake, but come on, I was nine, into medieval and Arthurian shit and besides, Heather Thomas and Bo Derek were more in at the time anyway).

Morgan was a good dog and Ivan is a stalwart family member as well. I don't think I have taken to any of the family dogs between Morgan and Ivan in the way I have to them--just something about a breed that sticks with you, I reckon (mmm-hhmm, props to Slingblade).

Despite his various issues (I have come home to him having decimated a full box of Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets all over a white rug), Ivan has earned respect and love. He has seen us bring home one baby girl (Anna), move to a new house, bring home a second baby (Ava), seen a cat come home one year (Sesame), another cat the next (Carlos), and he has been pulled on, dressed up, bopped in the nose, the list continues. And as Goldens are, he couldn't be more thrilled to see you when you roll in. He's been on trail runs to Tuckahoe (almost railroading me into a tree coming down a steep hill at one time) and almost always has to be on leash when out of the yard to keep from re-enacting the scene from the movie Funny Farm, where the dog takes off running in a straight line and is never seen again.

For a couple months now, we've been thinking about rescuing a Golden. We weren't nuts enough to think about a puppy, more along the one to three year mark. We've started and stopped and thought and looked online, but not gone any further.

And then Robin gets an e-mail forwarded to her: a family with a baby, who needs to find a home for their three-year old Golden Doodle. Now, it's never been a life goal of mine to have a dog with the word "Doodle" in the breed [scene: lifting weights or at the tattoo joint, doing something tough, 'yeah, y'all got a dog?' 'yeah, man, we have a Golden Doodle.' Muffled laughter, end of conversation]. But I'm a sucker.

I remember catching a glimpse of our first Doodle maybe ten-ish years ago, in Ocean City. And we have friends with two Doodles. They are great dogs, seemingly just curlier lighter Goldens.

Last night, Lucia came home. Ava, our five-year old said, "Dad, they have the same eyes." They do. And mannerisms, the same paw that comes up, high-five-like to ask for loving.

And one. Our family now has a second dog. Ava points out that we now have two of each species: parents, daughters, dogs, cats, birds. Don't get me started on the birds. But welcome, Lucia!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Trout fishing. Or found along the way

There's a Safeway receipt tucked between pages of my copy of Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America. I didn't buy the book at Safeway and, odder, it's not really a book about trout fishing. I did go shopping at Safeway though, and the receipt seemed like it could be useful as a bookmark. So "cream cheese" and "Shake n Bake" are extra words hiding between book covers.

Spontaneity is a groove I have stepped inside for notebook scrawl and for this blog. A week ago when I sat down to write I wasn't planning on writing the Christmas post; I had vague, half-formed ideas of writing something else entirely. But as I got writing I followed the strand and that's where it led.

I am a strand follower. Sometimes to the detriment of depth. I'll get following a new strand like a string around the corner, up the stairs, out the window, across the river and up a mountain. Hopefully I'll remember to look around on the trek (and to bring coffee and clean underwear) to see where I've gone, but frequently said trek can get re-routed by another strand found along the way.

Not just any strand will do. Like trout, I am prone to certain kinds of bait, eschewing others, and I will go after them repeatedly. Right now the strands, the bait that has me hooked includes: Charles Simic, Delta blues music, Richard Brautigan, David Shields' book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, The White Stripes, Terrance Hayes, Christmas trees, the urge to go for a long, grueling trail run on new terrain, co-reading books out loud with our eight-year-old. the lyric essay, C.D. Wright, Skip James, stout beer, found objects, collage and how about "list making" for 200, Alex.

Anyone who stops by here frequently or on Facebook or Twitter is likely already hip to some of these strands. I tend to display the bait I've taken, like a transparent trout inside whom you can clearly make out the swallowed bait.

These strands repeat themselves, they loop over one another, crisscross and actually change and inform each other. They are indicative of the kinds of things that grab me over time and at a given time.

So in the mornings I sit down in the bottom of a lake, river, stream and I try to let the splash settle. I grab on to the chosen bait without any real idea where it will lead. I'm off. And that's pretty cool.

Unless I were a real trout.

Monday, December 6, 2010

At the laundromat

The laundromat reeks of being backstage, actors with hair tucked up but not yet wigged, make-up foundation layered, waiting for further building. Costumes are removed for the next show. This is not a place to impress.

I sit reading about Jeff Bridges' band and his childhood, about how he uses the word "dude" incessantly in real life. As I look up the dryer has kaleidoscoped our costumes--each a memory of what we were doing while wearing a particular shirt or skirt--one covering up another, shoved aside by another. A mosh pit of memory, which is maybe an apt metaphor--one memory skanking and high-stepping in front of the others.

I think back to yesterday, sitting behind our dryer, with its insides spread around me, an inexperienced paramedic unsure which piece to resuscitate.

My mind moves forward to the Ravens game, which I don't yet know that they'll lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Steelers, but man what a game.

Back to the laundromat - I look up at a woman pushing a cart by and we both laugh for no real reason. A few words to the mom in Uggs and a Ray Rice jersey and her daughter in Ray Lewis jersey. We're trying to predict a future different  than what will happen--maybe one where Flacco hits Dickson for the first down and the dryer, the drive rather doesn't stall.

I read Terrance Hayes "Mystic Bounce"--maybe that's what's going on in the dryer--and Hayes says:

If I were in charge, I would know how to fix
the world: free health care or free physicals,
at least and an abiding love of the abstract.

Fast forward to this morning and Hayes says the same thing when I read it again.

The abstract, the laundromat, the Ravens game, the Hayes line, they're all new colors swirling, new articles of clothing moshing with no real rhythm around the dryer, one circling in front of the next.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Art and family

I am not a black Delta blues and reggae phenom. But maybe I am Corey Harris. I don't have his talent or guitars or dreads or cap, but I found out how I am like Corey Harris on Friday at the NightCat, when his five year-old daughter was there with him.

He ordered her a bagel, got her set up with a movie on a laptop and proceeded to transform the house into some club on the Mississippi Delta with a timeless voice and virtuoso finger picking. He is a singular talent. But like those of us with young kids, before every song his eyes found her and made sure she was okay, then he closed them and transformed himself and all of us.

Funny I've been thinking about art and family of late. And how some people who take themselves to be serious artists or writers or musicians will spurn the idea of family or kids in order to focus on/dedicate themselves to their art. Their is some validity to the idea that when you own (or don't have to share) the hours in your day, you can devote more time to studying, creating. Sometimes a quiet evening, free of homework, or a Saturday morning with no soccer or field hockey, where you can go sit in a coffee house or museum, or people watch on a street, would be pretty sweet.

But for me, art or creativity springs from the messy parts, the jumble, the connections, which are sometimes tangled, sometimes free-flowing. My perception and perspective are re-shaped through how our girls see the world and how their words, their ideas and concepts, their humor changes. And how I react to it all.

The discipline to make sure creative time doesn't simply live on the edges of the day, but has it's time to percolate and time to drink deeply off of it, there's a challenge there. For me the answer is often get up early; make that time when everyone is sleeping. With a 90-minute drive to and from work, I often have ideas gel or start from a lyric from The Roots or The White Stripes, or a riff, or a nugget from NPR, or the improvisation of a Robert Glasper.

There isn't a choice between art and family because they are both co-mingling, swirling through the funnel of my experience to hopefully turn into something worthwhile, creatively speaking. Then again, that existential creativity of having a hand in the people the girls are becoming, the person Robin is, the dingbat that I am and am becoming; there is something to be said for that kind of fruitful creativity as well.

I can't speak for Corey Harris, whose music and vibe and daughter are all beautiful and seem interconnected. But I can relate when I see her come up to him on stage to be with her dad and how I feel when Anna or Ava bring notebook or art pad and crayons and spark their own creativity, and how they feed mine.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Merry Fu$%ing Christmas!

I am frequently under the influence. Especially this time of year. Sometimes to the point of stumbling. It starts with Christmas lights.

This morning the outside of the window is being pelted with rain and the wind is ripping around so much that the motion-tripped light has been shining all night. But the white Christmas lights next to the window inside, each their own sun of Christmas fu#%ing spirit, makes the weather irrelevant. On Saturday, we'll go to Hutchison Brothers Tree Farm and Griswold a Christmas tree and I will plug it in and stare at it with coffee in the morning or in the evening or before bed and my smile will begin in the gut.

I am under the influence of Dylan Thomas, having found a pocket-sized edition of his A Child's Christmas in Wales, with stellar woodcut illustrations--the only Christmas story that begins with two boys waiting to throw snowballs at cats and a house catching fire.

I am under the influence of Charles Schulz and Vince Guaraldi, who are the undisputed tag team champions of the holidays and whose Charlie Brown Christmas will be screened a minimum of a dozen times this month--the zombie-walking holiday dance, Linus's "that's what Christmas is all about" monologue and Charlie Brown's blockheaded Christmas tree.

Tis the season, motherfu%&ers! And while I lack Clark Griswold's drive to light the neighborhood and tax the power grid with Christmas lights, I frequently feel lit up, just the same.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Views from the stoop

Your body and soul will sit on separate stoops
chewing the same piece of gum. --Charles Simic

Yes, I know those stoops. Each of them.

The one where the body sits trying to draw out the last bit of flavor from a stick of gum that gave it up yesterday. But it's peppermint and she might walk by, so it pays to be prepared.

Meanwhile, the soul gave up on the gum a while back. It doesn't even know the jaw is still chewing. The soul instead traces the edge of the building, from the trash cans, past the hanging laundry, up to where the rooftop meets the gray-lit evening and wants to shake hands, has its arm outstretched, but the skyline puts forth a fist to say, 'pound it, dawg.'

Skylines have always been more hip than rooftops. Especially seen from the stoop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


First, the facts: 1) he kept meticulous fishing logs. 2) equaled only by his business ledgers. 3) These logs and ledgers and some photographs are all the proof we have of his existence.

Aaahh, but there's more, you say. There's a house, where his family still lives. True. But a house is not a life.

There's the businesses and property he owned-- wait. Not so much. The names are changed and those who remember are dieing or forgetting. We all forget. You don't get that one.

Boat? Nope. Plaques, certificates... no, sir. Redirect, please.

[pause] [closes eyes] [deep breath]

He walks the sidewalk with quick steps, hands in coat pockets, hat pulled down, glasses on. He laughs at the dinner table. He pours a drink and settles back into an armchair during the holidays.

He was born again! Not a religious conversion, actually reborn, in the 1940s, the 1970s, the 2000s. You can see his smile, his gait, his mannerisms in each. I swear to you with a voice that contains his and look at you with eyes that include his, that he walks with us, and through us and in us.

And when we are gathered, and telling stories, he sits with us, and if you took the various smiles from among us, you could reconstruct his, but you don't need to, because he is there. He did live. He does live. We are his proof.

[smiles] [turns] [walks back to table]

I have nothing further.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seat yourself

The reality of the cat right now is a curled sleep, perched by the window so that if he were to wake he could turn his head and see both inside and out.

I think we're all looking for that seat, the one that let's us see everything, all at once, without having to move. If said perch comes with a remote control, so much the better.

For me, that seat is never enough. It may be the best view and I'll take it in, dig it, breathe it, taste it, but then wonder about the view from somewhere else. I'm always wondering what's behind door number two, or 22 or 222.

I might get up and move to the kitchen because there's coffee there. I might go to the back door to check out the squirrels pilfering acorns in the back yard or see what abstract art the trees and leaves have wrought.

I'm not happy with any single view or vantage point. Restless and curious is a roughshod combination.

But if the sun beams through the front window and brightens the room and warms my face and illuminates the book or notebook page, I might, like the cat, close my eyes and sit for a while.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

From the cosmos to the common

I pour lukewarm coffee, thick and black and still and deep as ink. As it hits my tongue, not as hot as I like it, I am moved.

I am moved by Gary Snyder and his advice for children.

I am moved thinking about astronomers watching a baby black hole and the changing, transient consequent universe, that still seems to us fixed.

I am moved by family, the girls getting awards at school, and reading together; Ava falling asleep in leotard and tights on the top bunk bed; the tone in Robin's laugh and the open wonder in her questions; and Anna asking who were Merlin and Charles "Dicksen" and Shakespeare from her book.

I am moved by gratitude and how whenever I hear or see that word, gratitude, I hear the Beastie Boys in my head.

I sip room temperature coffee in the afternoon and I am moved by all of it, from the cosmos to the common, and what to do with it all and then I hear Gary Snyder:

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

Stay together
learn the flowers
go light.

Hey, Gary. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Lord, you sometimes speak" *

"Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders," the book said. The kind of jaw-dropping in the world yet otherworldly stuff that words can't wrangle onto the page, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in whispers," the book said. Ssshhhh, pay attention. The kind of revelation you could drive past or miss from flipping channels when it's sitting next to you, quietly singing the questions and answers you're looking for, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in silence," the book said. Aaah yes, when you're waiting for the thunderclap or the banging gong, but that's not the thing at all. A game show answer where you buzz in and go all John Cage on 'em, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in scripture," the book said. The written word, alive in so many places--a receipt, a brick wall tagged in graffiti, napkin scratching, scripture, those sacred words that find you and speak directly, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you always speak in Jesus," the book said. And Buddha, and Mohammad, and the Dalai Lama, and a beggar, and a bartender, a homeless man singing a song he thought he'd forgotten, a barista, a charitable act, a smile. How would God speak, after all, if not through people, I'm guessing.

Then again, it's not my hymn. I'm just reading and trying to sing along. I can't even carry a tune. I'm just guessing.

* Title and quotes from a hymn of the same title, sung at Easton Church of the Brethren, Nov. 14, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ink story

I have a two-pronged tattoo policy: first prong, I have to sit on an idea for a tattoo for a year and still dig the idea. Second prong, tattoos have to be positioned as to be covered by a short-sleeve shirt.

The second prong is the white collar workplace clause. I worked for a museum for two or three years before my bosses knew I had ink, which didn't and probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

I got my first tattoo when I was 25. The idea came from a British Romanticism class at Washington College. I was bowled over by William Blake (especially after suffering through Neoclassicism the semester before), his free-form, wild-eyed flow and his artwork. Flipping through books in the stacks in the college library, I saw it and knew:

I had several friends who started their ink affairs in high school. I always dug it, but never had anything I wanted to get. I didn't want a tattoo just to have one; it had to say something. About me.

So Blake was first. The second came via a Catholic priest who brought in a rune of St. Patrick and recited and discussed its inscription and the piece with a group of us. I don't think he figured it would wind up in ink on my right shoulder. I tabled the idea for a year and kept coming back to it. I took it to Jon in Salisbury, discussed, changed it up to fit a shoulder and there it sits.

The third came from Chogyam Trungpa's book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. It is the symbol he gives for the dawn of the Great Eastern Sun, a worldview of "seeing life as a natural process and tuning in to the uncontrived order that exists in the world.... seeing that there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance in the world--which is the innate wakefulness of human beings."

Each of my tattoos are a sort of personal symbol or icon that have revealed themselves to me at pivotal points in my life; points that have warranted, for me, remembering, have inspired me and which I carry with me. As well as being artwork that I really dig...

Taken together, they are symbols of reason, passion and understanding. They are literally and aesthetically a part of who I am: a walking (sometimes running), thinking, breathing work-in-progress, built upon certain building blocks.

Another trip to Salisbury may be coming soon. I've had a number of ideas tabled over the past couple years. Ideas that may become the next symbol(s) in/on my mobile lexicon. Either that, or I may just roll in and get Yosemite Sam with "Back Off" written under him or Woody Woodpecker...

Friday, November 12, 2010

All in accordance with

Would the naked emperor take out the messenger who showed up with a mirror? Yeah, I think so.

We like to realize our flaws on our own, even the emperors among us, or to go on oblivious, thinking more highly of ourselves than we should.

Humility is a dish best prepared alone, or maybe prepared with others and then eaten alone, with enough spirits to numb it going down.


That was this morning. In the meantime, I've had a day full of work and conversations with the girls, and dinner out at Chili's and the grocery store and a heart-in-the-throat win that turned into a heart-on-the-floor-stomped-on-by-combat-boot loss by the Ravens. My mind no longer inhabits rarefied space of the morning.

Sometimes philosophy and poetry are where my mind wanders. Not when the heart is pounding or I'm making lunch or I'm walking down the store aisle looking for canned pumpkin.

Che Guevara wrote that, "In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup--in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach."

Never take a hungry Che to an Andy Warhol exhibit and expect a conversation... I agree with Che's stomach sutra. I would add to it the hangover/sickness clause because deep, free thoughts don't flow when you're hanging over the toilet bargaining with whoever will listen to make it stop, make it go away.


It's morning again. Beans are ground and new coffee going down and Charles Simic and the day ahead. The mind is atop its perch. The emperor is still naked. Maybe we'll leave him his pride.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The New Room

Dear philosophers, I get sad when I think.
Is it the same with you? --Charles Simic

The office in our house is largely second-hand, cast-off or leftover. It's my favorite room in the house.

Our girls call it "The New Room," because it's been assembled and arranged more recently than the rest of the house.

Maybe our lives are the same--overlapping circles of being cast off or jettisoning parts and people and coming together with new-to-us stories and people who are their own cast-offs. But the way we come together, the intersection of it all makes it, us, new.

We watched Toy Story 3 last night. We'd seen it in the theater but the girls wanted to see it again. There's a montage in the beginning, home movies that show Andy and his toys growing from elementary school to college age. Aside: despite getting older, I often feel like the toys who stay the same over time, I rarely feel like I've grown up.

I'm a sucker for storylines or songs or photos that show kids growing older or father-daughter relationships. My heart swells to the point where I'm 2.4 seconds from sobbing over that shit.

Anna is eight and cares about brand names, while Ava at five is concerned only with colors and cuteness. Their vocabulary and expressions, body movements seem to change daily. It's awesome. It's gut-wrenching.

This passage of time stuff. Most of the time I am cool with it. I can embrace it. I love my life more at 38 than I did at 28 or 18, and I dug it then.

It makes my existence to watch and be a part of the girls growing and laughing and beaming happy. At the same time I follow the thread to us being kids and my parents going through this and my parents being kids and their parents going through this and I know/knew their parents and three out of four of them are dead now and... Fuck!!

I'm not often taken in that direction, but that's where thinking leads sometimes. Logical-emotional-existential thinking when you're sitting in "the New Room," looking at your bookshelf that once held your Betamax tapes of Star Wars and your old little league games.

Dear philosophers, I get sad when I think.
Is it the same with you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

An as$ pocket of wonder *

Sometimes I want one book. One book that fits into a pocket (ass pocket, or thigh or even jacket) that I can carry with me and pull out in case of boredom or stagnation; a book that will deliver instant wonder, instant inspiration; a book that induces reverie, reflections on beauty and time; turns me on; and provides both telescope and microscope into existence.

I have a few candidates for the position of carry-all pocket book: Robert Hass's Praise, W.S. Merwin's Shadow of Sirius, will be auditioning Charles Simic's The World Doesn't End.

It's like carrying an aesthetic Swiss Army knife, including a bottle opener because sometimes twist off inspiration just doesn't cut it.

This is a book that you have to be able to get something out of from just reading a page or two. Like with two girls napping in the back seat while wife (or husband) runs into a store. Like just stopped through the coffee shop and have 10-15 minutes to yourself.

It has to be dense, exploratory, experimental, funny, demand and reward re-reading and pondering and memorizing and maybe even reading out loud (though probably not in a mall).

Yeah, to have one book like that. One ass pocket of wonder and inspiration. A Linus Van Pelt security blanket of a book. Sometimes I think that would be pretty cool.

* Title with a nod to R.L. Burnside, whose "A*s pocket of whiskey" remains one of my all-time favorite album titles

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The day after Andy Irons died

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, the day after the election when all the world wants to talk about is who won, who lost, what it all means.

Funny how government is now a competition with clear-cut winners and losers when really it's just a volleyball rotation of the same players with different names; no longer about doing something together.

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, when all the country wants to talk about is what a bonehead Randy Moss is and the nerve, and what team will he end up on.

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, the day after Andy Irons died. But nobody is really talking about it. He was 32. One of the very best in the world, living a life, doing a job that most people, that for 25 years I have thought would kick ass.

He walked on water around the world. I only knew him from video, through interviews, articles, photos. And yet it seems like a bigger deal to me than a concession speech or a new helmet. One of the few who lived his dream in the world.

And while nobody really talks about Andy Irons, who died in a hotel room in Dallas, not known as a surfing town, I learned something today.

I had never heard of Dengue Fever.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The book question

Write from a place of truth. Or write from your own truth, since "truth" is swayed heavily by perspective, depending on what part of the bicycle you've got your hands around (the seat is not the same as the handlebars is not the same as the wheel, but they're all the bike).

Even if you're inventing, it better come from your truth or no one will take that walk with you.

Seems like every writer, or anyone who has thought about or tried to write has pondered the book question. Can I write a book? I should write a book. You know what would make a great book?

In some cases a writer's self-worth is tied to the book question. It's the marathon of the writing life. Can I do it? As if a runner who doesn't run a marathon is less of a runner, untested, unproven. And yet, I think a lot of runners are pulled by the marathon question. I was. And then that question morphed to 50 miles, different courses, and a re-evaluation of what I want to do with running.

The Rumpus's advice sweetheart, Sugar, has an unbelievable, moving, probing take on the book question here, which culminates with one of the single greatest closings of any advice ever doled out, especially for writing, but applicable for life in general, I think.

For a lot of writers, the "book" in the book question is a novel. I'm currently reading and digging TWM's mind-fu&* of a first novel, KnoWare Man. He's somebody who should be writing novels--it's a form that lets his imagination spread out and inhabit the corners of the ceilings of the universe.

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo in the Twitter, acronym, abbreviation-minded world. Everybody wants to write a novel. I'm not sure I do. Not that there's anything wrong with it (said in Seinfeld voice), it's just not a form that has wrapped itself around my aesthetic soul thus far.

When I think about the books and writers who have shaped or reshaped how I see writing, it's the aphoristic, genre-benders--William Blake, Nietzshe in college, Thoreau/Emerson/Whitman, William Carlos Williams, C.D. Wright's Cooling Time, Studs Terkel's Working. Books whose truths didn't fit nicely into categorization, so they bend or break a form to fit. Though Mark Twain is among my all-time favorite writers, I more frequently read something from Merwin or Robert Hass and think, man, I want to do that.

I like narrative, mixed with the episodic, with its armed wrapped around some glimpsed universal.

So I'm wrestling with my book question. I know I have one in me. But I haven't settled on what or how. But ultimately, I have a feeling Sugar at the Rumpus is right. That's what it's gonna take.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A game inherited

'How come you never played pro football?' I asked my dad. I was maybe seven. I knew he played in high school.

'I was never really big enough,' he said, standing 6-feet tall and weighing 180.

I nodded my head and went back to organizing my football cards. I could comb through football or baseball cards, memorize statistics and plot the players I still needed to round out the full roster of the Baltimore Colts. It could have been a month after that exchange when I was reading the card for the Colts middle linebacker Ed Simonini. He was listed at 6-feet tall. Remarkable.

I went to dad to let him know there was still hope. 'Dad, you're the same size as Ed Simonini. You could play for the Colts!' Simonini was listed between 210 and 220, but weight was irrelevant for a seven-year-old (Funny how Ed would be a defensive back now at that size).

Dad didn't change careers, but that story is indicative of the place sports held in our house growing up and the family bond it engendered. We routed for Baltimore, the Colts and the Orioles. My mom's father attended every single home game the Colts ever played and my grandmother missed only one,  pregnant at the time, with my mom. We routed against the Redskins and the Yankees and still do to this day.

My dad went to college at the University of Virginia, who had Ralph Sampson playing basketball when I was younger and we watched the Wahoos and routed against Maryland.

I remember my first Orioles baseball games at Memorial Stadium and being there with my dad for Game 1 against the Phillies in the 1983 World Series and being there a few years later for Mike Mussina's first game as an Oriole at home. I remember going to a Colts vs. Redskins pre-season game with my dad and my grandfather (mom's father) in Washington wearing my Bert Jones Colts jersey. I remember getting a fractured skull during Sunday School (another story) and being excited that I got to wear my Colts helmet to nursery school during the week.

I remember watching TV and seeing the Colts leaving town in the middle of the night in Mayflower moving trucks and being teamless, but still loving football and hating the Redskins. I remember talking with my dad about our excitement when the Ravens came to Baltimore and them drafting tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis in their first draft as Baltimore's team. And in 2000, when the Ravens won the Superbowl, and how I was 27 years old when our football team won their first championship during my sports watching days.

We were on hand for the Ravens vs. Colts Baltimore home playoff game and at the Ravens stadium this past Sunday for the return of safety Ed Reed and the 10-year anniversary of the Super Bowl championship team.

Sports has been and continues to be a bond between my father and me and my grandfather when he was alive and a dinner table conversation. It's still one of the subjects we talk most easily about.

And for our girls now, with a Baltimore fan father and a Pittsburgh fan mother--our eight-year-old has Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Steelers QB Ben somebody or other jerseys in her drawer)--our girls are also growing up in a sports household.

Anna's Ravens Flacco jersey was a gift, after all. From my dad.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The same color as the hour"

"The same color as the hour," Merwin says in The Folding Cliffs and that stops me, who notes the color of hours.

Getting up to run in the dark, over the summer, when the sun makes the sky look like mismatched pages out of a Pantone book, each shade graduating to a higher brilliance.

And noting the star-moon shade of midnight, the clear hour, the black separated a bit so it stands out as a backdrop.

The pink hour of sunset, which is the reason to live near or be on the water, the sunset showing off for the horizon, but not cocky, just calm, smiling, sharing its news of hues and saturation and saying fuck separation, I'm just gonna blur/smear them across the sky and let you drink it in. Discuss.

Yes, I note the color of hours. I should maybe keep a notebook of them. My memory is full of these colors: Boone Creek seen through Budweiser pony bottles; the blurring of the Choptank and the sky; the white-yellow licking the greens out of breath along the trails at Tuckahoe; the pink-red-orange of of the hour of sunset on the Tred Avon on our wedding night that carried collective hearts and smiles.

And this morning, as the color of the hour can't be said, can't be pinned down because the color of the minute isn't constant, elusive, slippery--I blame you, Merwin, for pointing out that hours have colors.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

I wore a flimsy rubber Igor mask and jumped up and down in a makeshift cage. I was probably nine.

On most nights my father was Frankenstein's monster. He would lay prone on a stretcher while a mad scientist tried to give him life, then restrain him. Dad would snap the restraints and groan and roar and lurch at the onlookers, who screamed and ran out of the room while my dad wrestled with the mad scientist. That's how I remember Halloween.

That was the first of many Kiwanis Club haunted houses we were a part of creating. My dad moved on to chainsaw duty while my my friends and I would eventually set our own scenes in a haunted woods.

If I go back further, Halloween was about the kick-ass costumes my mom would make my sister and me, trick-or-treating around Oxford, and the coveted silver dollar we won every year in the best costume contest at the town fire department. I was an exact replica of a Jawa from Star Wars, with lighted eyes behind a black cloth mask; the next year I was one of the Sand People with a perfectly-shaped paper mache head; then the ultimate cool costume, bounty hunter Boba Fett, with a modified motorcycle helmet and jet pack; and finally I ditched Star Wars for rock and roll and rocked Ace Frehley, guitarist for KISS, with silver cape, boots and spot on make up.

If I fast-forward through the Rolodex of Halloweens past, KISS resurfaces on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, N.C., during my college years at N.C. State, with a KISS-obsessed friend who channels Gene Simmons, carrying airplane bottles of Everclear grain alcohol and a lighter and blows flames in the air upon request. Chicks dig dudes who breathe fire.

KISS even made a come back last year as the artwork on the cake for a day-before-Halloween celebration forever known as Joelloween, where costumes included Nacho Libre, Billy Mays and Patrick Swayze and "Baby" from Dirty Dancing. There is ample reasons why my wife cites Halloween as on par with Christmas as being the holiday she most looks forward to, seasonally speaking.

As a (semi) grown up, Halloween also means marathon season and the scores of costumed runners in the Baltimore Marathon (and certainly Marine Corps, though I've never run it). Try being spent and staggering at mile 21 of 26.2 and having Batgirl speed past you on an uphill. I can see how she makes it as a superhero.

And trail running and haunted houses came together a few years ago when two of us ran the Tuckahoe State Park 10-mile loop, starting in the pitch black of 5am October, running by headlamp and coming across dead bodies and aliens, unaware that the Adkins Arboretum haunted hayride was still set up. That may get the silver dollar for oddest, most surreal Halloween memory.

While Chaucer and Eliot have immortalized April, for reasons October might covet, October is a month I champion. For its cool temperatures, for its fall colors, for its creativity, for its costumes and for the memories created and those still to come. For KISS and Star Wars and running and Joelloween and family and friends.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Before Work, Thursday

6:20am - standing in Giant looking for unbeaten Honeycrisp apples. I recognize the lyrics from Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child of Mine," and realize it is Sheryl Crow singing. I'm not big on covers/remakes but oddly I don't hate it.

On the commute I can't get the word REDACTED out of my head from reading hebrewcat41 over coffee this morning. Until a circa 1970 white Dodge former Seattle Police car cruises by on Rt. 50. It looks like a cool vintage car until you see the badge stamped on the side, which propels it to Bluesmobile cool.

Driving over the Bay Bridge the rain and clouds and headlights have a cinematic commingling, making it seem like a movie pursuit scene with a Tahoe bearing down on me.

Kristin Hersh's album "Crooked" owns the drive. Hersh has got it and whatever it is, you want it. Inspiring, enchanting, provoking, possessing, her voice and lyrics, guitar riffs, tempos, melodies register beyond audibly to where after a single listening the album may be forever imprinted in your subconscious. I hope so. I never listened to Throwing Muses, but can certainly see her as a muse.

As I hit DC it's legitimately raining. Not cats and dogs or cliches, but maybe rat terriers since they don't fully count as dogs. It's raining enough that cars kick skimboardable wake and you've got to be sidewalk weary not to get drenched by a bus or car.

Cresting the Frederick Douglas Bridge, the Washington Monument is camouflaged into the sky, an odd color for sky, so I barely notice it getting uprooted as Optimus Prime clotheslines Megatron on top of it. The budget just went up for Transformers 3, being filmed now in the nation's capitol.

Monday, October 11, 2010

My grandfather slept in his truck

It's an allusive world. Or maybe only if you have an allusive mind. And mine cross-references like a one-armed bandit, pulling cherries or bars at random depending on who or what pulled the lever.

And if that doesn't turn a straight road, linear worldview into a greased go-cart slick track, my attention span is a shuttlecock smacked around by writers, friends, music, media. If someone whose take I jibe with points me at something cool, I'm off and after it.

This is a good thing, as long as I give myself a chance to catch up. Example: between The Rumpus, Twitter and TWM, over the course of a week my reading list has expanded to include Saul Williams's Dead Emcee Scrolls, Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries, and John Fowles's The Tree, let alone just learning about and wanting to read everything Benjamin Percy has written. It's f-ing hard to keep pace...

Twitter is a dangerous thing for me in its ability to reflect like a prism at the hands of writers and poets and thinkers and cool people. Sometimes I'm too plugged in--restless leg syndrome for the brain.

Sometimes I've got to meditate or run--detatch from it all to cultivate silence and stillness.

My grandfather used to sleep in his truck. Nothing unusual. He drove a truck pre-Bay Bridge when you took a ferry across the Chesapeake Bay. If you didn't time it right, you sat. And waited. And slept if you were tired.

That's a lesson learned, there. A message he left me, without knowing--just by living and working. He wouldn't have meant it as an example.

But that's where the allusive mind kicks in, as I sit in my truck, with the radio off, listening to cars cruise by, waiting.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On fall & the space between rungs

There is an energy that comes with fall, a cool that wakes up the brain, the body, the soul more fully than summer. Not unlike existential jumper cables.

For running it's banked that cooler temperatures lead to better runs--lighter legs, a curiosity to push a few more miles. But it's an aesthetic experience as well. On the trails in tidal marsh country, the bugs start to slack, poison ivy and damnable trail overgrowth pull back, leaves let go to open up the trail and give a view of what's around. Mid-Atlantic trail runs in the fall hold their own cool.

Fall means football, which has made me happy from the Bert Jones years of the Baltimore Colts, through the teamless vagabond years, into the purple Poe-inspired madness of the Ravens. Fall football is a shared passion in our house (even if for different teams).

From elementary school days, summer has been a time for letting the mind swing easily in a hammock or skip stones with its feet in the river. Relax and recharge. I think that continues into adultdom, whether or not we are conscious of it.

We're in the land of imperfect metaphors here, but fall is the time when the mind gets pull-started and has the leaves raked off it, in turn.

Ellen McGirt is a writer I dig. She writes about people, companies and ideas that move the word for Fast Company magazine. She was recently covering the Idea Festival through live tweets and was pouring forth listening to Phillipe Petit (high wire artist who walked between Twin Towers in the 70s).

McGirt's direct words summarizing Petit were "a ladder is two posts that has a 'festival of holes'--think space not rungs." This thought latched on to me, thinking not of rungs, but the space between. What is a ladder, after all, with no space between rungs, but a wall? And walls are much tougher to climb than ladders.

As I think about this fall and the busy-ness of it with kids in sports and dance and back to school and my wife back to teaching, I am going to cultivate the space between the rungs--those times like now, on a Saturday afternoon, as I sit barefoot on the back deck, scribbling in a notebook, alongside our dog who breathes heavily of the fall cool, nose in the breeze.

And I send thanks and props to fall, for hooking up the cables and giving my soul a jump.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thoughts on Icarus

We've all flown too close to the sun. Pushed beyond intellect and above reason to grab that wave, slide a rail, make a peak--whatever your wax-lined wings soar towards.

Maybe yours come apart differently--accelerator, drink, joint, line, bottle, fling--to each their own undoing, not spirit soaring, but crashing hard to the sea.

Some get lucky. Maybe the wings held, kept the boundary. A gift, earned or chanced to somehow follow where Blake found, "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

What do we do with that life returned? What did we find or learn? How did it change us? How is the world different or we different in it? What will we do or say or live that Icarus couldn't?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall afternoon

Fall afternoon. Warm breeze rustles across the yard.
I sit reading Seamus Heaney's Field Work,
hoping, like Heaney,
"to get back in my own head."

Ava's legs are crossed on my lap,
she is reclined, writing in my notebook--
her name, over again,
each with a new hand.

And I think, it's not so much my own
head I need to get back in, as it is
to keep my head in the world.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maybe I read

Maybe I read to think differently than I do. To introduce some thought or phrase or poem or character that wasn't there and becomes a catalyst to view the world other than it was.

Maybe I read to find someone else out there who thinks like I do. To connect or confirm that the shit transmigrating from my brain to soul and back isn't completely cracked.

Maybe I read for inspiration. To get smacked in the face or kissed or surprised by that one line or passage that seems seamlessly conceived and stretches the bar for me.

Maybe I read for diversion. To forget the bills, the trash, the commute, mortality, poverty, suffering. To escape. Temporarily

Maybe I read out of compulsion. Because I couldn't not. Because it seems like something is missing or awry if I don't have a book going or I'm not percolating with a magazine article.

Maybe it's all those things. Or maybe I just read.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Relics: not just a Pink Floyd album

Relics. They are more than the title of a Pink Floyd album or a left-over word from a fantasy novel. Our houses today are filled with our own personal relics, which may or may not convey our stories to a future anthropologist.

Our relics are those sacred or semi-sacred objects that hold meaning; that show our lives. Relics in our house include:

- worn road or trail running shoes that know what my mind, body and soul have seen over miles.
- A plain white gold ring band that calls up a June day 11 years ago riding in boats up the Tred Avon River to celebrate with friends and family.
- A soft-bound black Moleskine notebook full of scrawl that few people could read.
- A red, orange and white fleece blanket that Robin folded and sewed seams on that Anna has slept with for eight years now.
- A blue, green and white Rise Up Runners mug, cracks running inside and out of which I have tasted coffee before almost every morning run for the past two plus years.
- A weathered "Oxford, MD" boat sign found on a beach while canoeing at age 10
- A framed watercolor painting of a Chesapeake Bay workboat motoring along the Maine coast, painted by a friend during a week on Deer Isle

These are some of the objects imbued with an almost sacred significance and which we come across daily. They send my mind back to recall past and ponder future experiences. Our relics are reminders, they are inspiration... but maybe let's not get carried away. They are just stuff...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A brand world

I'm a brand nerd. But only for cool companies if that wins me back any hip points.

I dig companies and people who put themselves out into the world and say, "Check me out, this is who and what  I am."

When I read Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's book, "Let My People Go Surfing," I immediately wished I could work somewhere with that vibe.

Watching the Element Skateboards documentary, "Make it Count," on Fuel TV makes me wish I could have married my long-professed love of skateboarding with writing and communications; being a part of  a grassroots up, socially conscious skateboard brand would be the sh$%. Original Skateboards is a company I love seeing what they do next.

I get charged up watching friends at Rise Up Coffee and Evolution Craft Brewing Co. growing their companies and brands--double bonus that they make tasty forms of my favorite beverages...

I think it comes down to putting yourself out there in the world. Of guys and girls having an incredible passion and compelling vision and working like mad and having a blast building that vision and surrounding themselves with people who want to do the same.

It's creating a community as well as a company. It's creating a vibe and groove to bring folks into.

I'm a sucker for a story. And when brands tell a story that I feel includes how I see myself, it's easy to end up a loyalist.

For me, that's a skateboarding, trail running, free form writing, water loving, football/baseball following, coffee and beer drinking, music devouring, manically reading 30-something husband and father of curious girls. Not sure the size of that demographic.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Have a Coke and a...

Can't say I know much about God. And I guess that tracks since He/She/It is most known for being unknowable and all-knowing. My homespun, threadbare tapestry of Christian-Buddhist-Gaiast-Existentialist-agnosticism changes colors and shapes by the year, month, week, or day.

So I claim no specialized knowledge (about anything, really). But one thing that seems semi-solid is that if we are going to come to know God in any way, we meet Him (implied She/It) in the world and/or through people.

Smiles are instances, at times, that seem to me to be as direct an encounter as you can have. Our nephew Samuel, who has been through three heart surgeries at age two, has a truly transcendental smile. It can levitate the soles of your feet.

There are touchstone smiles in the congregation at the Easton Church of the Brethren--folks whose way and whose smiles light me up inside-out. One of the smiles guaranteed to transfer itself onto your face belonged to a man who passed away recently, it's one I miss seeing on Sundays. Another belongs to a man on crutches, who has taken some hard knocks but whose smile reveals love, humility, humor, and genuine joy to see and be with you, in about 1.6 seconds. A third to a man who gets out a pack of gum as soon as he sees our girls approaching, but who always waits for a nod from Robin or me before offering it to them. There are others,  but those are some standout smiles.

Divine smiles dwell at the Farmer's Market in Easton; at the Oxford Park and at the Scottish Highland Creamery; on the faces of the folks at Rise Up Coffee. This isn't a plug, mind you, more of a mental checklist of the places those kind of smiles seem to recur.

As has been documented here and elsewhere, I also have the annoying, small-town habit of saying hello or good morning to people I encounter while running. Folks who are out for a walk, run, bike, dog walk, or sitting on a bench. And the smiles that are returned often add energy to continue or finish a tough run.

There are those with smiles and laughs that reveal God, I think. I run into them almost daily and sometimes feel like I pinball bounce energy from them until I bounce into the next smile that takes my attention from the every day to some higher mode of feeling and being. It just requires me to look and be open and see it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sublurbs

"The future of the book is the blurb," if you ask Marshall McLuhan. I get that. I've got a slide-show attention span, always panning to what's next. I'm always reading a stack of books, rather than one and if the book isn't rocking, there's a reasonable chance it doesn't get finished.

I've been a magazine devourer for some time. Outside Magazine, Concrete Wave, Fast Company, Men's Journal, Surfer's Journal, sometimes Yoga Journal, Zoetrope All-Story, the occasional New Yorker--I light up going into Borders or the Newscenter in Easton. I dig reading about Nike's CEO who started out as a shoe designer, or about eco-skater Bob Burnquist, or what pushes mega ramp skater Danny Way, or Malcolm Gladwell's latest cultural dissection.

And my ("SQUIRREL!"--if you've scoped the movie "Up") oscillating attention span is certainly part of poetry's appeal as well--to strip down, slough off all the excess and record only the core.

I've been reading Franz Wright of late. Wright is not a curveball poet. He throws straight and hard and has a slider whose bottom drops out and leaves you wondering what to do with that bat in your hand. He has an unrelenting honesty that suits his delivery and an ear I don't have.

Wright was recently diagnosed and been undergoing treatment for cancer and has been posting lyric, honest, crushing, uplifting prose notes on his Facebook page. It strikes me that someone who is so honest contemplating death and looking at God, has always been that honest on the page. He's simply continuing the conversation.

I appreciate Wright's talent and his candor as a guide, reminding me to lay myself bare on the page and wrestle with the big shit. If you are going to be in the conversation, be all in.

On the conversation and short attention span front, I've also decided in a sort of thought experiment way to drop into Twitter. Not something I thought I'd do, but as someone who works in media and communications, it seemed like I couldn't ignore that conversation, driven by a whole new medium, and how it requires a punchy, direct voice, something koan-like, to have an impact. I am a fan of the sound bite.

I also dig how a few times a day you get some great blurbs (the new book, remember) directly from Seth MacFarlane (creator of The Family Guy), hip hop pioneers Eric B. and Rakim, novelist William Gibson or writer/graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, photos and video from skate icon Tony Hawk, not to mention news from Evolution Craft Brewing Company and Rise Up Coffee.

So I've thrown myself into the world of the blurb for a time. Join in or follow along if you are of the mind, @valliant306.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My name is...

It's not easy having a horse head. If I was back in ancient Greece, the centaurs would have felt me. Egyptian gods had animal heads. I could have been revered, fu%#ing worshiped.

Instead I'm a freak. My shirts have to button or zip up. I can't find shades or hats that fit. But I make it work.

I am the party. I'm all people talk about. I can walk up behind a chick and mack the shrimp kabob off her plate over her shoulder before she's wise.

I drink Carlsberg because it has an elephant on it. I dig products with large mammals on the labels.

If you sport a horse head on a human body you only need one name. I'm level with Madonna, Prince and Silver.

I'm coming to your neighborhood. Your backyard cookouts, poetry readings, off track betting, laser tag tournaments. I have mad DJ abilities; like my boy MCA, "I've got the skills to pay the bills."

I don't buy Vanilla Ice re-making himself as a hardcore rocker, though I do rock the convertible Mustang.

Photo by AFP.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Mode 1

He sits on precisely the same spot on the couch each morning. Not because he has to. Just out of habit. Not a big deal. Except that you can still make out his ass at midday.

He scoops five leveled scoops to make coffee. That's how it should taste. And measures the tap water to the line of ten cups on the decanter. The mug is hand-washed and left sitting next to the coffee pot on a Viva paper towel.

The world swims, no it drowns in chaos beyond our control. A reliable routine is the only safeguard we can afford ourselves. It's what we have.

Mode 2

He opens the front door still unsure where he's going. The coffee smell that filled the house fades and dew takes over, the smell of dew on the truck, mailbox, grass blades. Dew and coffee must have a similar taste.

The sun is smiling across the horizon. He walks away from it so it has to follow him.

A steel thermos full of coffee tucked in a pack with a simple camera, a light blue exam book full of blank lined pages and two #2 pencils. This is how you take tests now.

Mode 3

Sitting at the table in low light. Can't sleep coming on 1 a.m. Crickets and fire sirens own the night soundtrack for late summer. Would play music, but it's loud enough for thinking. Maybe.

Thinking about modes we get in and OCD tendencies and things taken to one extreme or the other and what we do to impose our own order, deal with the world outside our door. And thinking back on how daunting the blank light blue exam book was until you started to fill it and how, on the flip, each day is that exam book and you're strapped with your #2's and you can fill it with whatever the hell you want.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Time, family, beach

Following a dump truck. Brushes are tied off the back, bouncing a 50 mph dangled dance that brings a sidelong wave of deja vu. The kind that makes you question whether maybe you have lived that moment before. Maybe there are streams and tangents of time crossing over and under each other all the time and occasionally we hit a cross thread. Then again, that could be a remnant of too many Lost episodes or pondering the lesser considered aspects of time travel from TWM.

I'm out of sorts with regards to routines. Up early, but not productive with that time, save a couple runs a week.

I think about those who make the most of their margins. The free space we have around the edges of our lives. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club largely under cars while working in a garage. Stieg Larsson penned his Millennium trilogy of novels while working as a journalist. No time is no excuse.

If the main page of your day and life is family and work, what do you do, what can you make of your margins?

Our girls, like most kids, don't differentiate--it's all a blank page to color, draw, write on, add stickers and glitter.

This next week is our sojourn to Ocean City. Anna woke up this morning at 5am and has been remembering snippets of the past several years of beach trips. Amped does not describe her fondness for running and digging for sand crabs and flying kites on the beach; for Sunsations and the Candy Kitchen; for the Ferris Wheel at Jolly Roger and for Jungle or Dinosaur golf.

For Anna, time and memory are starting to resemble the grown-up concept. For Ava, at five years old, yesterday and two years ago are still often called simply "yesterday." It's a much more fluid, less linear sense of time. It's awesome.

The beach, for us, is also about family, extended. We make the trip each summer, with a mess of us. It's generations creating a new shared experience, one that already sticks for the girls, the way they did for me as a kid heading to Ocean City.

This sense of family and time folds back on to last weekend, when we had the 60th Parsons (on my father's side of the) family reunion and thought back on the houses and people and times (and how at 38 I still feel like I am one of the kids at these things). And my mind calls up a Wendell Berry poem that makes me think about being together with family and time:

I tremble with gratitude
for my children and their children
who take pleasure in one another.

At our dinners together, the dead
enter and pass among us
in living love and in memory.

And so the young are taught.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evening run, post storm

Clouds rode horses or maybe they were tumbled bowling pins. They brought wind and obstinate thunder and flung branches and leaves down the street.

Luckily I left the truck windows down so I stood on the street, face to the wind, rain starting to fall, watching the circus arrive.


I don't run in the evenings, but it worked out that way. The storm pushed the heat from the ledge and the townspeople were coming out to identify the body of their former oppressor.

I say hello to everyone I pass by on a run. The shared smiles lighten the legs, I'm convinced, but that's not the reason.

J Dilla's "Donuts" is loud on the iPod, but not to block out sound, rather to stoke a shared journey. It's Dilla's opus--an album released three days before his death and that he worked to perfect, even from his hospital bed. It's a musical, spiritual journey, whose beats, rhythms, samples accompany and inhabit and send you. Each song may be like pulling a different donut from a box.

Dilla's vibes, the cool air, the puddles along the rail trail, the families and kids and dogs, all blend together as the heart rate climbs and sweat rolls.

Coming across Goldsborough Street, I think of sitting in the car as a kid and watching freight trains click by on this same path. I'm not that fast going by, or noisy, and cars don't generally stop.

My best runs are negative splits--I speed up as the run goes on, but that's been tougher with the heat and a lack of solid runs this summer. Today, thanks to storm, thanks to Dilla, thanks to trail greetings it all works and I finish spent but strong.

I walk inside, smiling and sweat covered, looking for coconut water, and Robin asks, "how was your run?"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Skate to Create

"Skateboarding is not a crime." That was one of many bumper stickers on the blue Ford LTD station wagon that was my first car. From Tony Hawk to Powell Perelta, Alva, they were all skate-related, but that was the sticker that seemed to snag a worldview and spoke my truth 22 years ago. Funny how I've thought about putting that same sticker on my truck today.

I just read an article about pro skateboarder Danny Way in Men's Journal by a writer and skateboarder named Bret Anthony Johnston. As he's wrapping up the article, he throws this out there:

"Think Picasso, Hemingway, Dvorak. Think Laird Hamilton, Chuck Yeager... Consider the likelihood that these men don't possess qualities the rest of us lack, but instead have within them intense voids, empty and expansive chambers of possibility. Maybe these voids--which the men fill with what can only be called art--are innate, or maybe they're the result of damage or sacrifice or failures the artists have endured. The origin doesn't matter. Nor does the medium."

Johnston was talking about Danny Way's approach to skateboarding and life and expanding that approach to other artists; other practitioners of life who become great, distinguish themselves, separate themselves in some way through a sustained effort and focus; seeing something in their field that the rest of us haven't.

I've never given myself over to skateboarding in that way, nor have I ever been good enough to justify doing so. But skateboarding has, from the beginning at age 13, represented a worldview for me. It has been one of the few experiences, still today, where the rest of the world melts away when simply cruising or carving or pumping atop asphalt. Like trail running or writing or meditation, where I can be completely in the moment without realizing it.

At age 15 I remember thinking to myself and saying to a few others that skateboarding would be a lifelong passion and activity for me--whether skating or writing about it, etc. I doubt I would have thought about longboarding then, or  long distance longboarding, but that has been the co-evolution of the sport/art and me and where I find my stoke. In addition to writing about skating and skateboarding a few times a week, Bret Anthony Johnston is the director of the creative writing program at Harvard. He's got a book of short stories set in and around Corpus Christi, Texas, and another on creative writing. Someone who gets and shares the stoke.