Saturday, December 31, 2011

Twelve for 2012

Hello 2012. I can see you. Walking up to the door with the insulated pizza box. Or is that a candygram?

2011 is on its way out. But I don't care to look back on a year that had me hobbled with a messed up ankle for almost half of it. I want to look forward.

What do I want from 2012? What do I hope to accomplish? This is all subject to change. But here are some thoughts. I put these out there with/as intent...

- Complete/compete in an event I've never done before. Maybe this is a new trail race, or distance I haven't run before. Or maybe it is a stand-up paddleboard or kayak race. Throwing something new into the physical challenges.

- Read James Joyce's "Ulysses" before I turn 40 (on April 8). This has been one of those reads that feels like it has been missing, as a college English major, where we read "Dubliners" and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." It has been sitting on my bookshelf, beckoning. I've thought about it. It is time to listen.

- Read books that are currently on my bookshelf vs. buying more. I have amassed a prized collection of books I'd like to read (and some I actually have). But too many of them fall to rainy day status as I get pulled in by something new. This is a year I want to cultivate what is here vs. acquire what is not.

- Get out on the water/go fishing more. I don't hunt. I don't play golf. I dig fishing, but don't do it nearly enough. I'm not talking about going offshore fishing. I mean to get out fishing on the Bay, in the rivers. Local.

- Go to more Nationals games, take the girls to their first Major League Baseball game. I've got my Memorial Park/Camden Yards memories with my dad. That's part of what pulled me to the Nationals when I started working next door. Now our household, my Pittsburgh wife included, are Nationals fans. This will be a fun year to indoctrinate the girls beyond evening Comcast TV.

- Finish 2012 in better shape than I start it, both physically and financially. This is a big one. This year was too sedentary for me in terms of physical activity. And it was another year of wanting to accomplish more, sock more away in terms of finances. Though these two things aren't related, I want to go at them both with abandon. Restrained abandon :)

- Spend less money on stuff, shit I don't need, either save it, or spend it on experiences. Forgo stuff for life.

- Take better care of my temper. It generally stays indoors, doesn't venture out. But the girls see it in the mornings, or around homework time. It doesn't seem like me. And I need to be mindful of it. Perhaps starting the majority of the days with meditation or yoga--Sun Salutations first thing most mornings...

- Plan and take more trips. Of the day variety, of the overnight variety, of the weekend variety. Let's go places we haven't been. Let's take the girls sometimes and just grown-ups and/or friends.

- Walk the dogs more. They dig it. I dig it. We don't do it enough. We should.

- Complete a project I haven't done before. Not sure if this is going to be an around the house or yard project, a creative writing/research project. It is a way of expanding horizons and comfort zones.

- Take care of my house (Protect this house!). In this case literally. The house, the yard, the garage. I'm not one that comes home and tinkers. I'm not going to be, not going to try to be. But I do derive some peace of mind from working in the yard, or when I friend and I re-floored the downstairs. There is some stuff that needs doing. Let's gitterdun.

Well, there is 12 to do's for 2012. That seems like a good number. The key is in the follow-through. That's how the doors get open. And this isn't so much a to do list as it is a mode or way of being for 2012. Direct the intent.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Boxes of Yule, or blank slatedness

2011 has phoned it in. You can't expect much. Its last few days are torn between a Christmas hangover and new year build up. Pull the covers up and hit snoooze.

But wait. Maybe because of low/no expectations, we should expect more. We can do with these days what we want. A week given to us by teachers and school administrators since we were in kindergarten. This week is ours, Fu$% yeah!

Having said that, it still feels like recharging time. A few Fat Tire ales. Some Woodford Reserve. Listening to the Roots "undun." Listening to Ambrose Akinmusire's "When the Heart Emerges Glistening." Reading Walker Percy. Reading Kabir. Contemplating Lewis Carroll. Readying my mind for David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Morning coffee. Deciding what way to try to direct my body/fitness in 2012.

I'm not sure 2011 has a discernible theme for me. For that matter, I'm not sure any year has, aside from the year I got married (1999) or the years the girls were born (2002 and 2005). The attempt, I suppose, is to wrap a neat little bow around 2011 with these last few days. Or maybe it is to set it out on the curb with the Christmas tree, and boxes of Yule.

I'm not sure I can pull that off. I think I'd rather enjoy each one, in its blank slatedness. Its carefree aura. Happy week between Christmas and New Year's. May it be the best of the season.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas light-tinted glasses

Let's say there are two types of consciousness: Christmas morning consciousness and the other 364 mornings a year consciousness. There is something about Christmas morning that is different. That takes you back to being a kid. It is full of hope, anticipation. You can't wait to get out of bed.

So what's up with the rest of the year? Why can't that Dec. 25 feeling be the norm? What the hell are you asking me for? Why don't you ask yourself?

It seems like that is maybe the one morning a year we give ourselves permission to not think about work, not to think about bills, or the everyday, mundane quality that days can quickly take on. We allow ourselves to dwell in a sort of awe. To see the world through Christmas-light-tinted glasses.

It's easy to blame the rest of the world for the fact that we don't feel or see the world this way everyday. But ultimately that's bullshit. How I look at the world is up to me, not just as an abstract responsibility, but every morning.

I'm not saying I've mastered it. Far from it. There are plenty of days I struggle to get the day going. I'm pissed at the girls for not getting ready for school. I'm having a mental/spiritual 38 degrees and rainy day going on in my head.

But I'm the one who has to fix that. I've got to work that through and get back to that Christmas morning consciousness. What William Blake identified as "twofold consciousness." What Colin Wilson tried to convey in his book "The Outsider."

What are the ways I can cultivate that feeling? For some people, it is solace/faith/hope through religion (Christmas is Jesus's birthday, after all). For some people meditation (I've got to do a lot more of this). For some people maybe a morning run (I need to get back to that). Maybe there is a mantra to chant to bring it all back.

Personally, I like the idea of leaving the Christmas tree up all year long. Maybe change the decorations to reflect the current season--flowers in the spring, Red Stripe and flip-flops and fishing rods in the summer, football in the fall. Oh to see the world everyday through Christmas light-tinted glasses.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homegrown, home team

I read everything I can lay eyes on when it comes to the Ravens and the Nationals. I frequently cruise by The Washington Post's Nationals Journal and The Baltimore Sun's Ravens pages. I spin the radio dial by 105.7 The Fan on the commute during football season. I have text alerts come to my phone from The Sun and MASN.

I don't frequently call in and don't think I've ever commented online--does anyone set out to be a wave in an ocean?--but can and do discuss with friends, family, fans in person. We have a 13-year-old nephew who reminds me of me in his encyclopedic fervor for sports statistics and theories. I've said and been told before that sports reporter is a road I should have taken with a full tank of gas. I read the Nats reports by Adam Kilgore at the Post and think, man, how cool would it be to write about that stuff all day...

I recently caught up with a former philosophy professor/mentor, who is a baseball fanatic. He had the following comment, "I have been a Branch Rickey man since my childhood. This means adopting failed teams that are engaged in rebuilding through their farm system... The Nationals are very exciting and I can't wait for Bryce Harper." He made another comment that he envied my work location (next to the Nationals stadium in DC) because, "You get to see the best fielding third baseman since Brooks Robinson." I, too, am a Ryan Zimmerman fan.

There is something to this home-grown thing he mentions. A born and raised Baltimore fan, localizes me. We watched Cal Ripken come through the ranks. But the Ravens have given us that since coming to Baltimore as well: Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Todd Heap, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Torrey Smith. These are all players we've watch get drafted and step onto the playing field as "our" guys. And then you add the Anquan Boldins and Vonta Leachs, the right players to round out what you've got.

The Nationals are vibing the same way: Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, then you add a Jayson Werth and a Gio Gonzales and see where things go. You get in on the ground floor and hope to take the elevator on up. If you've been or listened to a game and seen Zimm hit a game-winning home run or make a phenomenal play at third, or seen Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen shut down an offense, you can feel something deeper going on.

Watching an Ozzie Newsome/John Harbaugh or Mike Rizzo/Davey Johnson combination is akin to a chess match on top of the actual games and seasons. It's a game within or on top of a game and when they both work together it's the complexity and simplicity of a symphony.

I'm not sure what sent me down the sports path this morning. The football season is gearing up for the playoffs. And the Nationals just made a big off-season splash, which we've been waiting for. Maybe that's it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Maybe the soul looks like snow

When someone old dies, the question gets asked: what does the soul/spirit look like? This is positing that you believe there is a soul/spirit, something more than the breath in the body.

If someone 92 dies, what does their soul look like apart from the body? 92? 70? 30? The time in their life when they were the happiest? Or is it that essence that connects all these ages? That look in the eyes that you can trace from baby pictures on through old age. Or is it a color or smell unique to a soul?

Hard to wrap your brain around a soul. The concept gets credence even in science, per the theory that energy isn't created or destroyed, it is just transferred and transformed. Certainly there is an energy in someone alive that is absent when they are dead.

If you connect that concept to Jung's collective unconscious--that we can tap back into history, that we are connected to it, the soul will swim through your head, buoyant and sticky like a magnetic is sticky, pulling the mind along.

These are heady conceits, appetizers for uncertainty.

I don't know what the soul looks like. Maybe it looks like snow, which is why I get light-hearted when it snows. And maybe Dylan Thomas is also describing the soul when he writes:

"Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Remembering Shirley Miller

Remarks given at memorial service, 12/17/11.

Frank Sinatra had nothing on Shirley Miller. More than a mantra, “My Way,” was likely Shirley’s theme song. It practically played on loud speakers in any room she walked into.

Shirley was my grandmother. She decided when I was born that she didn’t want to be called “grandma” or “granny,” or anything of the sort. She decided to let me try to say her name and go with whatever that effort produced. “Shuey” was what came out and it is how she has been known by our family ever since.

Shuey was fiercely independent, yet never drove. In fact, never even got a driver’s license. But it never slowed her down. She could always get where she wanted to go. If her late husband Bob Miller’s autobiography had a sub-title, it might be “Driving Miss Shirley.” But he never minded. He always seemed to be having a good time and you could find him reading a newspaper with a cup of coffee at about any antique or gem show.

If you ever rode in a car with Shuey around Easton, or Towson, or Baltimore, you know that she could, and did, turn every building, or home, or store into a personal landmark. “Where Dr. Detrich’s office is, that’s the house we grew up in.” “That’s the house where Cousin Nellie lived.” That’s where mother moved.” “That’s where we got Berger’s cakes…” She was a walking oral history of a place, which was put to good use when she worked with curators, archivists and volunteers with historic photographs at the Historical Society of Talbot County.

Shuey was resourceful. She collected, as she liked to say, “anything there is more than two of.” Dolls, jewelry, Christmas tree pins, Cameos, books—we’d be here a while if I tried to list everything. When she found something at an antique show, she would figure out how to get it. She might trade for it. She might go down to the basement of their Towson house and make slipcovers or curtains to make extra money.

Shuey was not one for sitting around, there were too many things she wanted to do. At Londonderry, she planned trips and social events, helped with movie nights. She was big on movies. I love the story she would tell about her mother, who went to just about every movie they showed at the Avalon Theatre. She figured out which seat was the very center seat in the theater. And that’s where she sat. If someone was in her seat, she asked them to move. You can see where Shuey got parts of her personality.

Because of her tenacious collecting and shopping personality, around Christmas time, she was the secret weapon. She was given a list of whatever the must-have hot gift was for my sister or me. And she was there when Toys ‘R Us opened, throwing elbows and acquiring the gift, by all means necessary. I think she got them all.

Christmas time has always made me think of Bob and Shirley. They were really the best part of the holiday. On Christmas Eve, they drove to Oxford from Towson. We waited to see them turn the corner onto our street. We helped them unload the car of presents and suitcases. We had dinner and they were there the next morning when we woke up—Shuey with her tea and Pop with his coffee. This time of year will always make me think of them.

This past Sunday, I went over to her house. She wasn't doing well. Wanted company. We watched the Ravens game and they happened to be playing the Colts. Shirley and Bob were big Baltimore Colts fans and they attended almost every Colts home game together. She could tell you all about the old Colts and this past Sunday was talking about Art Donovan.

I asked her if she ever, after all those years of cheering for the Colts, ever thought she'd be pulling for Baltimore to beat the Colts. She said, "Yep. As soon as they left town."

That's a statement that encapsulates Shuey well. She didn’t dwell on things. She moved on to what was next. She let you know what she thought and didn’t add any words or soften a sentiment that she meant to be hard. I will always love, and learn from, her directness. She’d probably tell me I’ve already said too much.

On Monday night I watched a documentary about the writer/philosopher Walker Percy. He is the kind of writer she and I would have talked about—she would bring me book reviews cut out of the Baltimore Sun. Percy’s first novel was called “The Moviegoer,” which instantly made me think of Shuey and her mom. She stayed in my head and thoughts for the rest of the film, very clearly. It was later that night that she died.

I’ve since picked up the book and been reading it, thinking of her. There is this idea in “The Moviegoer,” which says we all have a search, that is the thing that “anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

My sense of Shuey is that she was never sunk in the everydayness of life. She lived, daily, on her own terms. She did and said the things that she wanted to do and say. She spent time with the people she loved and enjoyed. And she truly lived the life that she set out to live.

Tomorrow is her husband’s birthday. While I am sad that we don’t get to spend Christmas with Shuey, I am happy to think that she gets to spend it with Pop. I will always picture them together. Probably reading the Sun, drinking coffee and tea, wearing festive sweaters. I like to picture them in their house in Towson, where they spent 62 years. It was the first house I knew with a green house. I’m pretty sure she’s got one now, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I got Walker Percy confused with Walker Evans. I recorded a documentary on PBS thinking I'd learn more about "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," which is a touchstone for me. What I got instead was what I needed.

"It has to do with a view of man, a theory of man. Man as more than an organism, as more than a consumer. Man the wayfarer. Man the pilgrim. Man in transit, on a journey." -Walker Percy

If I am like Walker Percy, it is in that Wayfarers are maybe my favorite sunglasses of all time. Wait, different "wayfarer?" Okay. If I'm like Walker Percy, it is in that I am stuck posing the big, meaty existential questions. I am not comfortable, not content to not ask them. I love the word "wayfarer" (and the glasses, in large part for the name). Pilgrim is a word far richer than the Mayflower. Life as pilgrimage, as a journey for answers. A spiritual, a soul quest.

When they started talking about Percy's first, and maybe most influential novel, "The Moviegoer," it made me think of my grandmother. And of her mother, who watched movies at The Avalon Theatre in Easton. I knew her mother, my great-grandmother, as Muddy. Muddy figured out which seat in the Avalon was the very center seat, and sat in it for every movie. If someone was in her seat, she moved them. My grandmother, who our family calls Shuey, also watched movies in that theatre. So did my father, who I call Dad, and so did I, who I call me. I watched "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in the Avalon, and met my wife there (at a concert, not a movie).

But "moviegoer" made me think of my grandmother, Shuey, and of her mother, and movies. And I want to read it. Shuey and I talked about books and movies. I went over to her house on Sunday. She wasn't doing well. Wanted company. She had the Ravens game on, which we watched. They were playing the Colts, whose games, when the Colts were in Baltimore, she and my grandfather didn't miss many of. I asked her if she ever thought she'd be pulling for Baltimore to beat the Colts. She said, "Yep. As soon as they left town."

That's a statement that encapsulates Shuey well. She lets you know what she thinks and doesn't add any words or soften a sentiment that she means to be hard.

The Ravens won the game. We talked a bit more.

The phone rang this morning, at 1:45 a.m., or so. Shuey died around midnight. Her journey moved on. I'll have a lot more to say about that. I've been awake since and haven't had a chance to put those thoughts in order. For now it's man the wayfarer, The Moviegoer and thinking about Shuey.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Frost-breathed inspiration

Frost-breathed inspiration. Ice on the windshields, the kind that begs the scraper. Walking out front to frost on the bones seems to wake my soul more quickly.

Vince Guaraldi and watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Dylan Thomas's treasure, "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Cutting down our tree in 60 degree rain then swilling hot chocolate from Styrofoam cups.

The storytelling of John Jeremiah Sullivan. The power of William Carlos Williams's words. The Roots's new album, "undun," which may rewrite expectations for all hip-hop albums to follow. The buoyant beats and lyrics of TV on the Radio. Listening to this Black Keys song in the truck with our girls dancing along...

The unconsciously quotable, tears in your eyes laughter at Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in Christmas Vacation.

Any chance to savor Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.

And the lights on the Christmas tree. Plugging in the tree lights first thing in the morning, still dark outside. Standing in the dark room in front of the kaleidoscope that resides amongst glass balls and fir branches, I have no definite age.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Is it really real?

We rock around a real Christmas tree. It was a holiday tradition for my sister and I to go out with our parents and help pick out and cut down a tree. It has become the same thing for our girls. Full disclosure, my sister's husband's family owns a Christmas tree farm, and you don't want to be the ones caught with the fake tree.

There is no shortage of places to get a real tree, mind you. The Lions Club, the Optimist Club, community organizations with lots around town, Lowes, Wal Mart, etc. Sometimes I'm asked, why don't you get a tree that's already cut? I could go with the Tevye/Fiddler on the Roof answer...TRADITION! (tradition)! And that's part of it. But there is something more basic, that cuts to how I roll.

I'd rather put money in the hands/pockets of friends or family. This is an across the board philosophy. I've got nothing against Starbucks--they have perhaps improved the quality of coffee, nationwide. But I'd rather give my money to Tim Cureton and Rise Up Coffee (plus the coffee is better). Dogfish and Fat Tire are fine beers, which I enjoy drinking. But Geoff DeBisschop and Evolution Craft Brewing Co. are making the best stuff around and they are friends.

I applaud and try to go with the buy local approach as best I can. But supporting friends goes much deeper. Especially when you have talented friends who are doing cool things.

Plato offered up as one possible definition of justice, helping your friends and thwarting your enemies. It would be hard to argue that as a universal principle for mankind (unless you can do so without having any enemies), but in my limited, personal world, I like it. Particularly the first part.

When I can further a tradition and give a fun, meaningful experience to my family and help my friends at the same time... well, that's tinsel on the tree. A real tree.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Lunch break

The window is too public for a voyeur. The seat in the coffee shop requires you to be a part of the scene, not apart from. Would never do. That's okay, I'm not into voyeurism.

Plain sight hiding places. Flannel shirt, jeans, boots or running shoes--coffee shop camouflage. In view, but unnoticed. An espresso-sipping notebook scribbler, like the rest. Easier to find than cream.

Used to be, I stopped in here before work or at lunch. Knew most of the people. Worked in town and was dailed in to what was going on. Now my work world is across the bridge, inside the beltway. When I look at downtown Easton, I can't see it as a place where I can work. Where I've grown up, where I live, where I will live, but not as a place where I can find a job doing what I do.

The rain outside isn't cold. But makes inside the better option, makes you have to want to go out. The coffee shop is comfortable, but feels almost sterile. Nothing of note. It's also not why I am downtown. Pull up hood, pick up coffee, jet. Rain letting up. Walk down Goldsborough.

I hear the soundtrack for Frogger, waiting for cars to go by, hop through the opening, up the sidewalk, around the corner.

I left Easton to make a living. We stay in Easton to live. The last time I hit the coffee shop was Waterfowl Festival weekend. Nine-year-old daughter Anna and I were downtown to hear Chester River Runoff. It was hands-in-pockets cold. No idea how you pluck a banjo with cold hands. Between sets, Anna and I grabbed hot chocolate and coffee. The band was there, too.

This time Anna is the band. 4th and 5th grade chorus. Christmas concert at the Festival of Trees at the Tidewater Inn. As I get to the Tidewater, her class is is stretched around the building like Christmas garland, filing their way in. I see her before she sees me; a friend points me out to her, and at nine years old it's still cool to acknowledge me.

As we all go in, Easton High School's chorus is performing. We had friends who were in Mr. Thomas's chorus. I flash-forward in my head and wonder if Anna will still be singing when she gets to high school. I knock that shit off, because picturing our girls growing up too quickly wrecks me and dudes don't ask for tissues at Christmas concerts.

The Easton Elementary chorus goes on. There is a full slew of kids, and Anna is in about the middle. We find each other and she smiles every time I hold up the camera. Flashes glances over while singing. They sing "Winter Wonderland," which is a favorite of mine.

They finish to applause and file off stage. I head out, back to the rain, but Anna catches me from behind, to say thanks for coming and see you after school. These life moments keep coming: concerts, field hockey games, field trips, award ceremonies. As kids, we had our first dances in the same room at the Tidewater. Easton reaches back across generations of my family, and reaches forward.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Intersecting Egg McMuffins

I spent much of geometry class at McDonalds, full disclosure. The classroom was located next to the student parking lot and I had a friend that thought highly of Egg McMuffins.

Let's put that out there as we measure a theory in existential geometry: I am likely wrong. But here goes anyway. Two lines intersect at a point. I'm thinking that any given person/individual is a unique collection of points--the intersections of various lines. These lines not only meet at points, but these points actually create us.

Lines come from everywhere. Our parents are two lines. Where you grow up is at least one line. Family members, friends, teachers, what books you read, what sports you play, imbibing a memorable sunrise on the river or in the mountains--all the various experiences we have are all lines, intersecting at you/me.

Each person is a different collection of points, of intersecting lines. And the funny thing is, in as much as we are a collection of these lines, these points, we are interconnected and not individuals alone.

William Carlos Williams busts this line/thought out in Paterson, pulling the disparate together to clarify/ and compress.

To think of that pulling the disparate together as the role of the artist or poet is spot on. But I also think each of our existences is the same concept--the pulling together of the disparate lines, which meet in points, which points are us. Intersecting Egg McMuffins.

* Sculpture is "Tracks," by Gene Kangas, 1983.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"I got the trees on my mirror"

The smell was from one of the earlier haunted houses. The one that was at the old Idlewild school. I must have been in elementary school. I don't like the abuse/bastardization of the word epic, but those haunted houses were. There were illusions, hydraulic floors, swinging bridges, chainsaws, then flame-throwers. All volunteer, put on by the Kiwanis Club, work done in the evenings. They were community events, and scarier than any haunted houses I've seen since.

The smell was from the room my father's crew haunted, set up like a swamp, with brush and cattail cuttings, or the one next door, which was a woods scene. It was something that had been cut. But the smell this time wasn't from elementary school, or Idlewild, but this past Sunday, during a run along Rails to Trails. It was instant recognition as the same smell, it conjured it up precisely, to the sea creature mask my dad wore.

My wife has mentioned a smell--something like honeysuckle maybe, but I can't recall--that she knows as her grandfather. Something that was in his house. When she smells it, she knows it is him saying hello.

I am sight-oriented. For learning, for memorizing, I have always been a visual person. Smell would probably rank among my least go-to senses. Which made the haunted house flashback, while out for a 5-mile rise up run Sunday morning, stand out more.

It's a season of smells. The smell of Thanksgiving in Butler, Pa., and the smell of a soon-to-be-cut Christmas tree in the living room. It's likely my nose getting ready. Nose in training. Amping up performance for the evergreen smell that smells like childhood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Running with Axl

I don't think Axl Rose is much of a runner. At least not back in his Appetite for Destruction and Lies days. But I've been hearing the song "Patience" in my head a good bit lately, particularly while running.

Patience is one of those songs that has forever stamped its tune on the word/concept of patience for me. I can't hear or think the word without seeing the video or hearing the melody. And patience is a virtue I've been lacking on runs since easing my way back into things post-ankle injury.

I used to be able to settle into whatever distance run and know I was going to be out there for a while, what my pace should be, and just drop into a groove. At this point of the comeback, my runs are three to five miles and I feel out of sorts. Not resigned to a distance and running without rhythm.

And that's generally when Axl chimes in. Ah yes, patience. Funny how no running at all for almost a half a year will set you back. Throw you off.

But I'm running without pain. Endurance is coming back. Speed is inching up. No distance or pace is taken for granted. It's a beginner's mind mentality. It's a gift. Like patience.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As the bush shakes; I'm shaking it, boss

Early fall's rented orange has begun its move to brown. Brown holds the hue, but can't keep the space, lets go and, relieved of the weight, branches shake in the wind.

"I'm shaking it, boss!"

We track the leaves, our arcs are the same, dropping to the grass, leaves, bushes. It's not the real estate we picked out, but here we are. Now what?

"I'm shaking it, boss!"

Keep shaking. Don't know what else to do. We're not ready, don't want the barrel delivery at the end, that comes when we go still.

No, not still--we're shaking it, boss. Every day, when still prevails, we shake the bush, we show we're here, accounted for. We're here, boss...

all of a piece, alone
in a wind that does not move the others--
in that way: a way to spend
a Sunday afternoon while the green bush shakes.

* italics from "Cool Hand Luke" and William Carlos Williams's "Paterson"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Three Bridges

The river was dry at that point. The foot bridge no longer necessary, but cool. It used to shush trains across, through town, now the girls like to bike to it. A new job, a new life, re-imagined.

Not like the bridge at lunch, which never stops vomiting cars across. Near that bridge, the waterfowl is primarily helicopters and commercial jets, which you can't shoot at. There are no duck blinds along the river. No one works the water, except to give tours.

Near both these bridges, a third, but not geographically. In Paterson, N.J., but in this case held in the mind, lit there by the pages of Williams' words. I've never seen it, but, sitting next to the lunch bridge,  the sound of Paterson's falls drowns out the whup-whup-whup call of the bird about to touch down and the one taking off.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Refined by the fire"

Three lines have stuck with me. They are renting space in my mind, probably deeper. The first is from John Harbaugh during a Sunday night press conference.

"That's what being refined by the fire is all about," he said it about wide receiver Torrey Smith, who dropped a game-winning touchdown before catching the game-winner a couple plays later to beat the Steelers. Refined by the fire, learning and being changed by doing it, real-time, on the stage. The bigger the stage, the bigger the fire, the greater the refining.

The second line is from TV on the Radio and pumped through my headphones while on a four-mile run last week, the longest so far of my return to running.

"There is hardly a method you know," which I thought about in terms of getting back to something. It's not about method, or technique, it's about the attempt. It's about getting out there and learning. And the going changes you. It refines you by action.

Sport isn't just about form, or study, or preparation, though all those things are a part. It's about being on the playing field. In that context, for me it's about getting out the door and running, or in the gym, or on the rock climbing wall.

I've also been diving back into William Carlos Williams, who supplies the third line for us.

"There are no ideas, but in things," from his epic and awesome Paterson, which is a constant source of inspiration and motivation for me. Tied into the first two lines, the first two ideas, you don't have "perseverance" as an abstract concept, you have Torrey Smith catching a game-winning touchdown after making a couple mistakes earlier in the game. You don't have "endurance" as an idea apart from the runner pushing him/herself beyond their limits into that reserve. You don't have "art" aside from the painting or poem or play.

Three lines, over the course of the week, each of which has stuck to me. A post-game press conference, a lyric heard during a run, a heady, memorable line from Williams. But even the lines don't exist in the abstract, they are tied to people and particular points in time. Maybe they point somewhere. Maybe it's back to the sources.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing, life

Anna ditched her scooter and followed on foot. "Not riding your scooter?" "I'm the writer, dad," she flashed her notebook and pen.

She does this frequently. She writes articles, newspaper articles--extended questions, descriptions, observations--some she gives to me, some she keeps.

This is a big deal in daddy-daughter relations. I never pretended to be an accountant, per my father, growing up. There is something about writing, being a writer, that holds sway for her. For Christmas she wants a pocket notebook and a camera.

She knows I am a writer. That I do it for a job. But she also knows that I carry a notebook in my pocket wherever I go and get up early to read and write, and that that is something beyond a job.

If I won the lottery, I'd write more than I do now. I'd flush out that big project that is waiting, buried, that I haven't made the time or effort to unearth. The statement. Testament.

Watching Pearl Jam 20, reading Roberto Bolano and Franz Wright, and thinking about legacy, that's when I struggle that I haven't unearthed it. Haven't found it and committed. That I need to start digging deep and make the time.

But I look at our girls, Robin, our life. I look at Anna and her eyes as she makes her thoughts words. And I know commitment

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sleeping under ramps

We slept under skateboard ramps. Two quarter-pipes, six- to eight-feet tall, pushed up against either side of Arcadia Street. It wasn't just the skateboarding or the hardcore music, it was also a chance to do something different, to milk all the day had.

Twenty-five years later and I'm still looking for skateboard ramps to sleep under. Not actual skateboard ramps, mind you--though I wouldn't rule out the right opportunity--but experiences like that. Doing something different and extending the day.

I watched Cameron Crowe's documentary "Pearl Jam 20" Saturday night/Sunday morning. It made me think of the ramps, trail running and the activities that hone the edge for me; that pull what's inside out and manifest it, use it to color a black and white life. Maybe our lives are given to us black and white and it is up to us to add the color.

I got thinking about creativity and art and being able to tap those sources that feel primal, first-hand, unfiltered. Pearl Jam has created albums for 20 years, no two of which sound the same. A bit like Zeppelin in that respect.

It made me think of how I want/try to weave creativity into my life.

First is family. Seeing what our life as a family becomes. To actively help shape or guide or keep it open to possibilities, not have it handed to us already prepared, pre-heated like cafeteria food. To watch and enjoy what our girls do, what Robin does, how we all live.

Second is my own life. Life as a work of art, something we create, where choices are like brushstrokes, painting on an existential canvas.

With family and life first as active, creative works unto themselves, writing as art then comes in as a way to record, document, translate, to give back to it all. This third aspect of creativity, writing in particular, that creating art, that is the part that got stirred up for me watching Pearl Jam 20. Stay tuned for an expanded riff on that subject.

* image above - Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament built a skatepark in his hometown.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Two photos

It's probably a good thing I never met Laura Dern. At least not before meeting Robin. There are those famous or glimpsed people you've never met whose look, mannerisms and roles just captivate you.

Her legs in Jurassic Park held equal billing with the dinosaurs. Her character in Wild at Heart (she and David Lynch are practically unstoppable when teamed) swirls you.

Those untouchables--the actresses, rock stars, authors, whoever--that draw you in. Maybe they say something about who we are, what we want, what we are after. Or maybe we just like what we like.

It's the eyes in a photo. Maybe they are windows to the soul. Or maybe they are just crystals unto themselves that don't have to go deeper.

Elizabeth Smart knows something we don't. She knows what she's looking at, sure, but maybe what she is looking for. To go singly after the man she wanted to be with. To have kids (four), raise them and support them, on her own. To embrace art and family and support both. To hold on to and hold up the idea of true love, both in your mind and with your life. To write as she lived--

Is it all there, in the eyes?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bob Wiley

My body is a disguise. A shell I've put on for the last five months. It's me, but it's not. It hasn't moved like me, done the things I do, it's changed, grown.

This disguise has claimed a share of my mind/spirit. By the we-are-what-we-do-repeatedly standard, it has made me someone other than who I've been. I've felt it. It has tunneled away, a depression, an anger that has taken me over at times, though I've tried to own myself most of the time.

Yesterday, mind/spirit began the work to reclaim itself and the body. Maybe it started on Saturday, when Anna and I raced each other to the truck at Ava's soccer game. When I sped up and kept pace, she said, "Dad, I didn't think you could run?"

Yesterday, there was no runnerly pretenses or garb--an Element skateboard shirt, lacrosse shorts, Nationals hat on backwards and Brooks trail shoes. I doubt I struck anyone as a runner, except for the fact that I was running. Slowly. Not sure how my ankle would respond.

Two miles, my first run in months. I wouldn't say that I'm back, but the real work, the reclaiming has begun. It will be done with running. It will be done with push-ups and pull-ups (Herschel Walker-style). It will be done with planks and mountain climbers and dead lifts and squats. The reclaiming will take place on roads, grass, trails, track and at the gym. It will be early morning, lunch breaks and evening when it has to.

It's the Bob Wiley reclamation program. Baby steps. Baby steps to the door. Baby steps out the door.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The "barbarism of reflection," or "it takes a second to wreck it"

"The barbarism of reflection" -Giambattista Vico, The New Science

If the past made one mistake, throw out the baby. What could they know of architecture if they thought the earth was flat AND the center of the universe. Idiots.

Why should we listen to them? What could they possibly teach?

Upon closer inspection, upon further reflection, it all falls down, London Bridge. The center never holds. What a bunch of dolts, we scoff, reading a morning paper we couldn't print, or a computer we couldn't build, drinking coffee we wouldn't know how to make without instruction from someone before us.

Imagine what flaws, what faults, they will find of us. Upon further reflection, we stop creating, and begin to tear down.

If you've got no time for the past, and Vico has nothing to say to you, dig the Beastie Boys, "It takes a second to wreck it, it takes time to build."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beware the Buddy Pass

The Buddy Pass: wherein one lacrosse teammate lobs the ball easily to another, seemingly giving him an easy pass to catch. Seemingly. Because simultaneously, a defender on the opposing team is drooling, smiling, teeing up, as the latter "buddy" eyes the lob pass into his stick, he gets de-cleated, concussed into 2.5 weeks from the present. To borrow from the bumper sticker, friends don't throw friends buddy passes.

Driving home yesterday, I got to thinking about the fact that buddy passes are not relegated to the lacrosse field. We get lobbed shit all the time. "Spoon-fed" is the kissing cousin of the buddy pass, if not its equivalent.

Think fast food. Think pop music. Think produce section of a grocery store. Think Walmart. Anytime we are given something--food, art, gas, music, information--too easily for our own good or appreciation, maybe what is happening seems awesome, "Sweet, how convenient," when in reality, it's the lob of the buddy pass, coming down into our stick, and when we look up in front of us, we are getting ready to be de-cleated, slammed to the ground into the reality of complacency of being spoon-fed everything, all the time.

Maybe we'd be better served catching the quick, line-drive pass, in full stride, heart-pounding, with field awareness, that we've got to work for, but that gives us an open shot at the goal.

There's your sports metaphor meets current culture for this Tuesday. Beware the buddy pass.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mosaic vs. map

It's like a map, the story. If I take out the narrative thread, I will probably lose myself. You will probably get lost at sea--how else would you find your way? The story is the GPS, it gives you directions for which way to go.

And yet, we don't work by story alone. We improvise, intuit, fly by impressions. We don't have to understand something to like it.

Impressionist paintings make shitty road maps. You aren't likely to arrive at your destination. You are getting the feeling, the take of the artist. There are writers or musicians who do likewise. They string together impressions, ending up with a mosaic, not a map. Fragments that don't equal a story, but reveal the intersection of reality and one particular soul. And if it works, our soul recognizes both the artist, the impression, and itself--our soul regarding another and itself.

Our daughter's impression of cool. Jeff Tweedy as musician. Joe Flacco or Hines Ward as football player. Ryan Zimmerman as baseball player. Living on a farm, with her friend and collecting eggs from their chickens to eat, as adulthood, self-sustaining. Working at a bank, because that's where money is. That's their plan for when they turn 18.

Childhood seems to oscillate between impressions, the mosaic, and coherent narrative, the map. Come to think of it, so does adulthood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Source materials

I'm always digging for source materials. The foundation that holds someone or something up, or the clothespins that hang them/it on a line.

If a writer, musician, artist or athlete I am a fan of sheds light on inspirational source materials, I'm taking that walk. If it resonates, I'm starting the dig. So when I read that Jeff Tweedy pulled some fire from William Gass's "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country," I reached onto my bookshelf to dip back into a book I hadn't picked up in a while (Gass's "On Being Blue" occupies one of the strangest, but most coveted places on my bookshelf)

And when poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi cited Robert Pogue Harrison's "Forests," and then followed up by warning me, "it's so good it will melt your brain," well, I've gotta take that chance. That's the tangential nature of my reading, writing, music, etc. I'm frequently following a thread.

For a few years now, Wilco has been one of those source materials, artistically speaking, for me. A band I can't get enough of. And as mentioned last week, our nine-year-old daughter and I went to see them this past Sunday.

A no-duh-cartoon-brick-to-the-side-of-the-head realization is that, for me, the building blocks of my source materials are first-hand experience, more than books or music. And our girls are some of the source of the source materials. So here is a concert from a main band, with oldest daughter for her first concert. When you cross the streams of that many sources, what you have is a life moment. And it was. And Wilco delivered. And Anna and I both ate it up and levitated at the same time.

So for the moment, I'm soaking in and re-sorting the source materials. Listening to Wilco, reading Forests and Gass, and laughing and remembering with Anna.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wilco, Little Boy Blue & the Man in the Moon

I've said recently and frequently that the two bands I'd most dig seeing live are Wilco and The Black Keys. I've been in a listening frenzy. And then I go and win tickets to Wilco this Sunday through a WRNR 103.1 Twitter contest. Color me stoked in vibrant, groovy colors.

It's a Sunday evening concert and Robin bows out, so I am roledexing my friends for big Wilco fans. Meanwhile the band played on Letterman on Wednesday night and I am watching the performance Thursday morning. Anna, our nine-year-old is next to me watching and I mention to her that I am going to see these guys on Sunday.

"Can I go, dad? Please, please, please???"

SOLD! Instantly I hear Cat Stevens singing, "The cat's in the cradle with the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon...," and think about five to seven years when she won't want anything to do with dad at a concert, unless it's transportation. I think about how she digs the music I listen to, always asking to hear Black Keys, going to Pre-K asking for The Raconteurs and Jack Johnson.

She wants to go to a concert, with dad, and it doesn't involve sitting through Britney Spears or Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber. Color me amped, in a cool daughter way, who will get to hear real music performed live, by an awesome, challenging band. I have said before, there is hope for her musical soul. And to boot, we get to go up a little early for a private performance by the band, for WRNR contest winners.

So Sunday will be a time to see a great concert; a time to spend daddy-daughter time; a time to build the kind of memory, that if you don't start early, will likely go the direction of little boy blue and the man in the moon.

Color me a heavy metal drummer.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alma Mater

My alma mater is a dirt road around a field on a Hagerstown farm, the first place I ran three miles.

My alma mater is a 13-foot Boston Whaler and a gray 1984 Honda Accord I learned to drive stick on.

My alma mater is the Holy Trinity church lot in Oxford where we met after school to play football and the marsh across the street from my house growing up.

My alma mater is a painted parking curb we commandeered for rail slides and 50-50 grinds and a loading dock behind Peebles.

My alma mater is Alternate Worlds comic book store and backyard wiffle ball.

There is a sign about Edgar Allan Poe at the University of Virginia, a school where he spent one semester. Always struck me as odd.

There are people and places, schools and books that taught me how to learn, or sparked something and whose sum total I count as my education. My alma mater is a series of imprints, scars, tattoos and impressions, which decorate and define my soul.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Forgive me Father (Creator), it's been 16 weeks since my last confession (run). And with cooler temperatures, it hurts not to be out there.

For the past seven plus years, running 10 miles has felt like running around the block. And that has been a point of pride for me. I've run long trail runs, a handful of marathons, a few ultras, and more half-marathons and 10-milers than I can recall. It's been a kind of confession from my feet, legs, lungs and soul to the earth.

Now tis the season of jeans, sweatshirts, football and the Ravens, bonfires and Octoberfest beer. It's the season where morning coffee warms as well as wakens. It's the season of trips to the pumpkin patch and the girls thinking about Halloween costumes.

It's the return to Tuckahoe State Park trail runs and the cool morning runs that remind me why I run, when I am able. It's the heyday of the Rise Up Runner group runs, where sunrises are met with conversations about kids and the cosmos, elevated heart rates and the sprint at the end of the run.

Forgive me Father, it's been 16 weeks since my last confession. Likely I've taken those confessions for granted. And I miss them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Benched, almost

That lapping sound. The one that water makes as it swims under a dock and into rip-rap or a concrete wall.

I'd like to write that sound and have you be able to hear it. Transport you onto the bench next to the river to listen, when the helicopters and harbor tour boats are quiet enough to let you.

Maybe it isn't that sound I want you to hear, but to give you my flawed ears to hear it not quite right, the way I do. So you'll just miss it, but won't stop trying to get it right.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Butterfield's Lullaby

I lose it when I hear Taps. It has to be performed by a single, live bugler, unaccompanied. It is the most poignant, somber, reflective song I have ever heard. If you can hear it and not be stopped in place, you may want to make sure you have a soul installed.

It's kind of like that for all the Honor Guard ceremonies for me. It is deeply resonant stuff. A good friend's father served in the Army in the Korean War and the Honor Guard came down to the Oxford Fire Company for the funeral and folded and presented his sons with an American flag. I had very little composure left. It rips me open. I think that is the point.

Author Jim Harrison, who has been compared to Hemingway, said about the literary Big Papa that his work was a "woodstove that didn't give off much heat." I have had that feeling about a number of works of art deemed classics; sometimes I just don't connect directly to them.

Taps was written in 1862, at Berkeley Plantation on the James River, after the Seven Days Battles. Union General Daniel Butterfield scribbled the notes on the back of an envelope and Oliver Wilcox Norton was the first to play it. The Confederates heard it and adopted it as well. The adage goes that it was one of the first things the two sides agreed on.

I'd go so far to call Taps a classic. It is one classic that strikes my soul vertically, connecting me to both the ground and the sky.

I don't have anything to add to the many voices and words written about September 11. But sitting down to watch the Ravens on Saturday, when the NFL tribute went out to Pennsylvania and the bugler played Taps, I remembered. Not just 9/11, but loss, sacrifice, Skeets Abell's life and funeral, mortality, and the fact that fucked up shit happens, over which we have little or no influence. And that there are times that we/I need to stop, reflect and remember. Taps is a universal doorway for that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Out for Delivery"

I probably became enamored of the UPS truck waiting for some skateboard or another to arrive from Skates on Haight in San Francisco. I wasn't alone. We would have a crew sitting on Farmar's front porch or skating in the street, waiting for the brown truck to turn the corner from High Street to South. Christmas morning had nothing on the UPS truck, pregnant with a skateboard we would tag-team and help put together for whoever the luck recipient was.

Back then it was a best guess, when the truck would show up. That feeling really hasn't gone away. I've talked with some other "grown ups" (though I'd bet most of us still feel like kids most of the time), who are equally excited when they click on "track package" and see the phrase "Out for delivery." That's the day. Whatever it is will either be there when you get home or shortly after.

I'm not overly materialistic, but I do dig new toys (as a generic term). It was skateboards for a time, has been new running gear or shoes, and books. Ah yes, books. What got me thinking about the UPS truck this particular time was waiting for Franz Wright's new book, "Kindertotenwald," which was published earlier this week. Seeing that it was "out for delivery" yesterday stirred up the same feelings that my Powell Peralta Steve Caballero or Tony Hawk, the Dogtown Micke Alba, Zorlac John Gibson, or Alva Street Fire did in the teenage years (to be honest, I'd be just as tickled to have any of those show up now).

I've been waiting for Wright's book through the summer, when he mentioned that it would be coming out. A new book from him is cause for excitement and celebration. Reading this morning, he has made the morning more alive, my soul more expansive and the coffee more electric.

I'm not sure when or what I'll be waiting for next from the UPS truck. And whether it will be loaded with goodness from Skates on Haight or Amazon or where, but I know the brown truck and the phrase "out for delivery" will have me sitting on Farmar's porch with a couple socket wrenches, 3/8 and 1/2 if I recall correctly.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ned Kelly's Head

If I had a band I'd name it "Ned Kelly's Head." It would have to be a punk band. There is something cool and notable that the Australian Jesse James/Robin Hood's head eludes posterity, though they've pegged his body. Perhaps an M.I.A. skull adds to his immortality.

Speaking of immortality, a novel I hope to start digging into this weekend is Drew Magary's "The Postmortal." I missed a reading/signing by Drew at Politics and Prose, but my D.C. cubemate was kind enough to snag me a signed copy.

We've been Magary fans for a while, for his work with Deadspin, his blog Kissing Suzy Kolber, his irreverence, humor and joie de vivre. His cultural critique of the Charlie Brown Christmas special had a whirlwind of a cool discussion going around our office and as far as NYC. Please take the time to read it and weigh in...

Magary's writing got me to thinking about the writing I like and that humor has to be a part of it. Not just out loud laughing funny (but yes, please), but an existential laugh that lights up and connects your soul and mind to the rest of the universe in its head-scratching strangeness. That kind of humor. Tom Robbins, Tony Hoagland, Matthew Lippman funny. Funny with a magnifying glass on absurdity, including, but not limited to shopping at Wal-Mart.

The kind of funny where an infamous international outlaw's head goes missing. The kind of thing you would name an imaginary band after, if you were to have one.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Raison d'etre

That thought or line that you wake up with in your head and fumble around in the dark for pen and paper so you don't lose it.

The phrase or string of thinking that you repeat over in your head while driving until you get somewhere when you can pull over and jot it down.

Sometimes it comes down to that: how badly does it need to exist?

It has to start that way, maybe. But it has to move beyond just the beginning, make the turn around the track from inspiration to perspiration and back to inspire.

There are those things made--in art, music, architecture, writing--that when you see, hear, walk into or read, you say, Yeah. That had to exist. The world would be less, not the same without it.

That's the kind of stuff I want to experience. To be bowled over by. To create, myself.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Diamond-shaped temple: Borges, Ripken, Flanagan

Perhaps he was a god, breathing life into, animating, his various worlds and people.

"He sought a soul which would merit participation in the universe."

Wednesday was Jorge Luis Borges's birthday. He would have been 112 years old. He earned himself a Google Doodle with his worlds and people, his lifetime of creation. It was also Cal Ripken, Jr.'s birthday. He was 51. He's earned himself a household name that more people in America know than know Borges's. No Google Doodle, but Cal could run for and win any elected office in Maryland.

Reading Borges's story, "The Circular Ruins," all I can picture is a diamond shape. A baseball field. He says "the circle was a temple..., whose god no longer received the homage of men."

When I was seven, eight, ten, I breathed life into my baseball cards. Murray, Singleton, Bumbry, Dempsey, Palmer, Flanagan. I could recite statistics and characteristics and when I would watch them on TV, the Orioles and their diamond-shaped temple were more than images on a screen and somehow more than people--athletes--when we would go worship at Memorial Stadium.

I wasn't the only life-breather when it came to baseball and the Orioles. The diamond-shaped temple was full. And the breathing was dialectical: they, in turn, filled us with life, via home runs, strikeouts, a hometown pride and a cartoon bird.

Ripken earned himself a demigod status in Baltimore, perhaps in the wider baseball world. He was and still is baseball in Baltimore. The city's chosen son.

Flanagan was my favorite pitcher, and behind Murray, my favorite Oriole. 1979 was one of the first years I was quoting Orioles statistics and he went 23-9 and won the American League Cy Young Award, named the best pitcher for that year. Flanny and the O's went to the World Series, losing a heart-breaker to the Pirates. Perhaps we didn't pray hard enough at the temple until 1983.

Flanagan wore number 46. He was the only 46 I could think of my sophomore year of high school at Easton High, when I grabbed my jersey and became another number 46. The same black and orange colors, though I didn't have the cool mustache or long hair, and wasn't left-handed.

Wednesday, with Borges's Google Doodle and Ripken's birthday, the Orioles played baseball at a diamond-shaped temple. The Orioles have not been a good team for some time, and you might say their god, the cartoon bird no longer receives the homage of men, though the town wants to pray there. On Wednesday night, #46 was on the mound for the O's and pitched them to victory, not unlike Flanagan did so frequently in the 1970s and 80s. Maybe the temple was alive for a night.

But as Jim Palmer spoke after, the game faded into the background. We were no longer breathing life into Flanagan. At least not in a real sense.

But yesterday, driving to work and listening to people call into 105.7 The Fan, and tell Flanagan stories, there was no doubt: he was still breathing life into us.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Something about the duality of man, sir"

I'm a dog with my nose in the wind. And I sit with my back to the wind, watching water flow by, un-doglike. Seems I sometimes have a view that sees flip-sides of a coin.

I'm not much of a walker, but I am worse at sitting on my ass. With more than 13 weeks of no running now, walking at lunch offers at least some mobility. I can see why Frank O'Hara dug his lunch walks and writing. Stretch the legs and the mind, together.

Sitting on a bench along the Ft. McNair waterfront, the tide runs the way my legs want to. Jets land and take off from Reagan, a marvel of science every minute. This D.C. moves at a different pace. Clouds are the only traffic.

I walk back in front of the National War College, and it strikes me, having and watching kids, that they don't need to be taught to fight. Maybe taught how to win? Taught to resolve?

"I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir."

Private Joker (Matthew Modine) in Full Metal Jacket is one of the movie characters I have most strongly identified with. It comes down to his ability, his willingness, to be neck-deep in a situation and stand outside it, observing, at the same time. His "Born to Kill" helmet with the peace sign pin speaks before and after his suggest something about the duality of man, sir, line.

"Basic Military Journalism. You gotta be shittin' me, Joker. You think you're Mickey Spillane? You think you're some kind of a fuckin' writer?"

"I wrote for my high school newspaper, sir."

As sensible an answer as you could give. A killer and a writer. A neck-deep participant and an observer. I'm not sure whether I first saw Jacket in 1987 or 1988, but beyond being one of the most quotable movies of all time, that has always stuck with me.

And Private Joker's suggest something about the duality of man, sir, line and character is what pops into my head walking by the National War College, on a pristine summer day, with the rivers flowing and the breeze both in my face and at my back.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Adrift, akimbo, a capella

Don't expect musical accompaniment. That would denote rhythm. And this summer, for me, has had none.

Summer is a raft on the river, sans rudder or paddle. Everything is adrift. And I dig it. With the girls out of school, the sun staying up late, and most the house sleeping in, days are blank slates when I get home.

Go with the flow... but this flow is unaccompanied. It has no soundtrack. If it did, it would be the sound of cornhole bags smacking wood or flopping on pavement. It would be the sound of kids cannonballing in the deep end or laughing on rides at small town carnivals.

It's the summer of the cornhole.


Woken by the dogs, my watch says 2:20 a.m. "A few weeks ago we'd have just been going to bed."


I stand with my hands on my hips wondering what "arms akimbo" means. Sometimes you like the sound of a word before you catch its drift.

Drift and flow, silence, and summer, all spin in a tumble dry low dream cycle, and when I open the door...

It's morning. I'm making coffee. And fall is looking in the window, holding a paddle for me.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Great Visceral

It was like being next to a burn barrel. All over town. Smoke from a Virginia swamp fire. That's what I've smelled the past couple days. And seen a haze from the dissipated smoke.

Reading someone from another country and generation, reading them describe the stars the same way I think about them.

Writing and reading and talking about Nationals closer Drew Storen's slider the other night against the Phillies, the one he fleeced by Ryan Howard and realizing we were all seeing the same thing.

Growing up in a small town, you realize how closely connected everyone is. There may be six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, but there is rarely more than one or two degrees on the Eastern Shore. Even with folks who aren't from here.

But being connected to people is different, almost expected in some ways. Being connected geographically, olfactory and visually connected, to a place you haven't seen or thought of like the Great Dismal Swamp is one of those visceral experiences where I just shake my head, breathe in wafting swamp fire smoke and think... "Man."

* AP Photo/Stephen M. Katz

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thoughts walking through Ft. McNair

A walk around Ft. McNair. Not an exercise walk. A clear my head and stretch my legs walk.

The Black Keys are in my ears and wind in my face. The walk, for lunch on a beautiful D.C. afternoon, is a solid call. I needed this. The breeze and voices of the Keys breathe air and energy through my lungs.

Without running or any workout routine going, I've been a passenger in my body and through the weeks. A new school schedule for Robin and the girls will likely make lunch runs and workouts the norm. I'm ready for that change, though I'll try to keep some early morning runs, when I get back to running.

Seeing an American flag in the wind at Ft. McNair carries its own awesome meaning, especially this week with the SEAL helicopter going down in Afghanistan. I walk past soldiers and sailors and Marines and I wonder--how can I serve? What is my part? I frequently have that feeling that I am someone who should have been in the military.

Philip Levine was named U.S. Poet Laureate this week. He's been one of my favorite writers for some time. One of the things that moved him further into poetry was reading a book by Wilfred Owen, given to him by a high school English teacher. Owen was a lieutenant in World War I. He wrote about his experiences in the trenches, the literal and figurative casualties of war.

Levine graduated from high school in 1946. He had figured he'd be drafted out of school, but World War II had just ended. He knew his calling was to write poetry. To know your calling.

He worked in automobile plants, a Detroit factory worker, and wrote grease-stained poetry on the side. We need more grease-stained poets and writers, like Levine and Palahniuk. That's how you arrive at Levine's "The Simple Truth:"

                                                           Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light fathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.

Maybe that's it. Maybe that's my part, my calling, but more to the point, maybe that's any of our parts: for our lives, for our selves to be "simple and true," "laid on the table beside the salt shaker," and standing for ourselves.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"And her marvelous stars expand"

I was floating on a raft with a half-full beer can in my hand. When I leaned my head back the tree branches and leaves mimicked the expanse of the stars. It was like they shared a set of opening wings. Of course, it could have been the beer...

"And her marvelous stars expand."

That's a line from Pablo Neruda. It opens itself up from within, "Residence on Earth," a book/extended meditation/extended poem that he wrote over the course of 20 years (1925-1945). He stopped writing it the year my mom was born.

But the night stars expanded this morning, when I read it, 65-plus years later. And they expanded back to last week, floating in the pool, thinking that same thing, but without giving it words, just awe, and a mental note.

Maybe Neruda is a time traveler, knowing that it might take him 20 years to let go of his poem, but that with it, its utterance, he might travel across decades or centuries.

Maybe it's just a service of the stars, flinging themselves out across the sky each night, like so much sand from a child's plastic shovel,

And by realizing that the stars are so much shovel-flung sand, and giving ourselves that scale in the scheme of things, we see that, smaller than sand, we can stand shoulder to shoulder with Neruda, separated by only a half-century, which is what, really?

Yeah, Neruda is a time traveler. He uses the stars, which he steps on, as they expand. But maybe it's the beer...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Every, each

More pages every day. More miles, traveled. More breaths, breathed.

More coffee, more food, more information, processed: computer screen, Droid, radio, conversations, TV, books.

More hormones. More daydreams. More fantasies. More indulgence. More restraint.

The sameness. The routine. But there is beauty there. I like knowing that the sun is coming up. I like knowing where I live, where I'll sleep, which truck is mine in the parking lot.

Who wants a day of nothing but novelty? Nothing but surprises? Can you even have a surprise without an expectation of something, well, expected?

But in all these things there are differences. One breath from another. Which words to use. What to listen to, what's on the next page...

What questions will the girls ask? What will they discover in the sameness, that they never noticed before? And can I do the... same?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Skeeball and other snippets over 16 years

Master of Puppets is playing while Lester Kasai takes his run on the half-pipe at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach. It's the first skateboard contest I've been to and the first Metallica song I've heard. I am 13.

Two of us are stuck about 15 feet up, pitch black but for head lamps in John Brown's Cave in Harpers Ferry. We sure ourselves against shaft-shaped rock and ease down to the others. I am 15.

I am standing in an arcade on the boardwalk in Ocean City with friends, laughing beyond our sides hurting, watching a bonehead in a g-string ram his fist down the 50-hole in skeeball while tickets spew out onto the floor. I am 19.

We are sitting in a bar in Raleigh and the remnants of a shot of Jagermeister are burning my throat and shaking my head. After the walk home, I roll two port-a-johns down a hill. The night I turned 21.

I have just run 11 miles, from Oxford to Easton, just because I hadn't before and because I've gotten myself into shape. The miles are a sanctuary for big thoughts and no thoughts. I am 23.

I am standing with my father, for a picture, having just graduated magna cum-laude from Washington College. The picture has taken seven years to take. It matches the one of he and his father when he graduated from the University of Virginia. I am 26.

I am wearing a suit, writing a press release with a pen and paper, during a job interview at the Academy of the Arts. I've decided against graduate school in favor of a tie job. I am in the Academy's library at a desk, surrounded by books. Still 26.

We had our first sonogram and found out we are having a girl. I am out for a run on Rails to Trails and my head is running ahead of and above my body when the various names we've talked about and like stop swirling and two stop in place, like a slot machine: Anna Louise. I am 29.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not to be confused with Colt Seavers

My mind is stuck on fall and it's only August 1. Maybe it's because I live with a teacher and summer vacation is on its last legs. Maybe it's because football season is upon us with training camps and free agent signings, and if you are a Baltimore fan, fall and football season have been the only sport to look forward to for more than a decade.

Either way, I'm a fall guy. Not THE Fall Guy, aka Colt Seavers, mind you. And hopefully not a fall guy, as in set up to take the blame. I just dig autumn. Jeans and sweatshirt evenings. Cooler running temps. NFL Sundays. Despite the leaves falling, autumn has always felt like a time of rebirth and energy for me. Of beginnings.

We'll have a fourth-grader and a first-grader in the house. Robin will be at a new school, in a new county, teaching a new grade. Field hockey and soccer for the girls. Hopefully a return to running for me, after now nine weeks off due to injury.

As much as I dig fall though, I'm not about to let go of summer. It's still on-the-water season. We've still got Nationals games on the calendar. And our house is still in vacation mode.

So I'll try to dwell, breathing summer deeply in. And at the same time, smile toward fall.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two concerts

I was a born-again freshman sitting in the St. James dining hall when the hippie-chick librarian raised her hand. "I'm getting tickets to see Stevie Ray Vaughn in concert if anyone is interested in going." I knew who Stevie Ray was, but hadn't really listened to him. He didn't fit my lexicon of hardcore/punk-reggae-and-heavy metal that I had dialed in at the time.

It would be a few years later that I couldn't hear his songs enough. That "Pride and Joy" would be a shared song for Robin and I (by virtue of just digging it and dancing when Bad Influence or Tino Martinez would play it at Pope's Tavern in Oxford).

The librarian, who was also new at St. James that fall, went to see Stevie Ray. It's one of two concerts I wish I had a do-over, that something had spoken to me and said, fu%^ it, you aren't doing anything, do yourself a favor and go to that show. Now I'm not talking about a concert like saying you should have gone to see Bob Marley or Jimi Hendrix--your dream concert--rather a concert you had opportunity and offer to go see, but opted not to. Just because. And then you don't get another chance to.

Stevie Ray was dead before I really started rocking to him. It goes to the carpe the diem theory. Sometimes you've got to jump at the opportunity. Because you never know.

The second concert came probably seven years later. Sitting in a fraternity house at N.C. State. Kretzer and Murphy and a few friends were heading over to Chapel Hill to the Dean-Dome to see Blind Melon and Lenny Kravitz. Everybody knew Blind Melon's "No Rain" and Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way," but the show didn't seem that epic. There would be other chances.

And then there weren't. And it was only after the fact that I started burning up Blind Melon's first album and looking for more music from them. That I realized how cool it would have been to check them out that night. A night I did really nothing in particular.

I try to remind myself that I had opportunity and offer to see Stevie Ray and Blind Melon. And I didn't. I try to look at opportunities now and make sure I carpe the diem when opportunity and offer come together. Or I try to bring the two together.

What are your (two) concerts? Those things offered up that you wish you had jumped at. I'm not one to go back and rearrange shit--I think that your decisions and opportunities, etc. ultimately lead you to where you are and who you are? But man those would have been fun shows.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Dispatch from Ocean City

Thunder and lightning. Dark-colored wifebeater t-shirts. William Carlos Williams. Abita Amber. Sipping rum. Donavon Frankenreiter. Bob Burnquist. Bucky Lasek. Green machines. Captain America. Washington Nationals. Ink jones. Plastic cupping the beach. Morning bike rides to the inlet.

Ocean City in the morning smells like deep-fried food and breakfast meat. I can smell powdered sugar clinging to funnel cake. My morning bike rides to the skatepark and the inlet are an olfactory pilgrimage through tightly-packed miniature golf courses, Sunsations and Candy Kitchens.

My family has been making our summer trip to Ocean City since my sister and I (now in our 30s) were the same ages as our kids (oldest is 9, youngest is 3). It is a rite of summer. And this summer, we've had bonus fun as Seth Pettersen and Donavon Frankenreiter played at Seacrets here and the Dew Tour, skateboard, BMX and surfing has just gotten underway at the beach. It makes me think of our frequent runs to Atlantic Skates and the Ocean Bowl and seeing Mike Vallely jump off the top of a construction trailer, landing on his board to start his run for an amateur street skating contest probably 24 years ago.

I read and write less at the beach than at home. Maybe that's part of the vacation mindset, a physical and mental break. I look around at everyone else reading and sometimes want to, but my mind is vibrating and/or crashing and receding on the sand with the waves. It won't sit still. And then when the kids get up ready to walk on the beach, or go swimming and jump in the waves, or play Jungle Golf or hit Jolly Rogers.

And that's mostly what the trip is about. Building shared memories with our girls, our larger family, their cousins/our nephews. They talk about the trip year-round--at first remembering the things they just did, then mixing those in with what we are going to do next year, or counting down to the coming trip. I like that the ocean is a part of their collective memory. I like that their feet are partly made up of burning beach sand and that their is wet sand beneath their fingernails from digging for sand crabs. And I celebrate the fact that we haven't brought home a hermit crab...