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.