Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Contentment and wanderlust

When my head is still, I can smile. The kind of smile where your whole body curls up at the edges. We've all been around that kind of smile, whether it's our own or not. It's addictive. I dig smiling like that and I dig being around people that rock the whole-soul/whole-body smile.

Contentment is inherent in that kind of smile. A contentment that comes with not wanting to be anywhere else in the world; with being cool, happy, and in tune with where you are, the people around you and the vibe and activity of the moment.

I like to cultivate that contentment, though I'm not always particularly good at it.

The flip-side of that feeling, let's call wanderlust. Restless leg syndrome for the soul. That feeling that you gotta move, gotta go, gotta see, gotta do. I sometimes chug down a fat cup of wanderlust as well.

I think a little wanderlust is probably a good thing. If it is harnessed toward your career and the George Jeffersonian moving on up. If it motivates you to travel and see the world. If it keeps you from complacency.

The problem with wanderlust is forgetting the contentment side of the coin. Forgetting how to bust out the whole-body smile. Forgetting to dig what's going on around you. If you're always looking toward the next thing, you don't even take in the cool shit from the here and now.

A handful of us at work where thinking on commuting. Our friend TWM shared stories of his DC Metro commute days, about how sometimes he would just take the Metro to random stops, listening to his tunes for whole albums and letting that be the soundtrack for whatever he was writing or his afternoon, and would find someplace new to grab a coffee and write. Man, I dig that.

It reminded me of a house painter in Oxford, Bruce Mills, who I've talked about on here before, who generally commutes from town to town by bike. He said how he hates to travel by car because he gets there too fast and can't take in the sights, sounds and smells and get his head together.

There's something to that, something in that for me. Whether it is reading E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web" aloud to the girls; whether it is our new neighborhood games of stadium-lit cornhole; whether it is a sunset cruise on the Choptank; whether it is the feeling of jumping in the pool on a hot afternoon and timing how long the girls can hold their breath for; whether it is being at a Nationals game and watching them win a pitcher's duel in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Contentment. That whole-body/whole-soul smile. I gotta get me some of that.

* Illustration at top of Huck Finn by E.W. Kemble

Sunday, June 26, 2011

12 Years: Looking Forward

I've walked down docks since I was able to walk--a force of habit growing up in a town surrounded by water on three sides. Walking, or sitting or chicken-necking, or dipping crabs, or drinking a beer or watching a sunset (or sunrise) on a dock with the river flowing, or standing still has always been one of the simple pleasures that fills my soul.

Twelve years ago today, my wife Robin and I walked down a dock next to Holy Trinity Church in Oxford and onto the waiting boats of friends Mike Siachos and Eric Abell. Mike's mom and family were waiting and cheering across mouth of Pier Street's marina. It was the first time Robin and I walked down a dock as a married couple. It added a new depth and memory and smile to my dock vibe.

Last year at this time is the first time I really wrote out loud about our anniversary. I was thinking back on the wedding and our lives together. Funny though, looking at the picture above, which I dig for its perspective of looking forward, is also how and where my thoughts are at the moment. Looking forward. Enjoying the right now and looking forward to those things we haven't done together yet.

It's unfortunate and a misnomer that marriage gets a rap of being no fun. A killjoy. I think that sucks if that is the case. I look back at the last 12 years and could not have had any more fun, starting with the wedding day itself. And I look around at some of the married couples we frequently run with, many of whom have kids, and the same seems to hold true. Having a blast.

Today, celebrating our 12-year anniversary, we're planning a boat ride to Oxford with great friends. One of those friends, who sang at our wedding, will be singing and playing with a band at Pier Street. There's a more than probable chance that Robin and I will walk up a dock together. And there is a more than definite chance that I'll be thinking about our first walk up the dock together, 12 years ago in Oxford. The way I think about it just about any time I'm on a dock, looking at, or swimming in the river.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

God and numbers (sung like "God of Thunder")

I don't generally ponder God and numbers at the same time. That's why I majored in English and Philosophy. But I've kicked around a notion for several years, an analogy really.

Let's say God is the number seven (Why seven? Why Otter? Why not?). And you go to church and kick it with your Christian friends, who are all saying, "four plus three." And then you scoot down to synagogue to hang with your Jewish friends, and what they're saying is "five plus two." You mosey on over to the Buddhist temple, "six plus one." Muslims are rapping, "seven plus zero."

They're all describing the same thing, the number seven, with their own words, in their own way. And that's how I've generally looked at various religions, who often seem to be dancing around the same number/revelations/teachings at their core.

On the one hand, why the hell would you go to the land of five plus two and try to jam four plus three down their throat, when from where they are sitting, it's five plus two all the way. And from a math teacher's perspective, you're a bonehead anyway, because five plus two is as correct as you are.

Maybe what we've needed for some time is an existential math teacher, to show us we're all saying the same thing and to chill the fu$% out. The Crusades and religious violence could have been avoided with a parent-teacher conference.

So there's a Tuesday morning serving of God and numbers. Which should be sung to the tune of KISS's "God of Thunder."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The road of excess

If you've ever been hungover, you get William Blake. At least what he meant when he wrote, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." The morning after, when your head is pounding, your stomach wants to hurl and life cannot progress as it should, you experientially understand "excess," or too much, and why you should avoid it.

That doesn't mean you won't do it again, but you've learned where that behavior leads, in a way that you wouldn't by someone telling you.

I know the road of excess. And I hope I've been able to glean a couple of its palaces. I think it's as solid a piece of advice as you'll find scribbled out there, in memorable, bumper-sticker form. The way I see it, there are two problems we have as a culture with following Blake's adage:

1) We master "excess" and never get around to the wisdom part. For example: debt. obesity. pollution. All those ad nauseum buzz words that plaster newspapers and politispeak and talk shows. All things whose excess should be able to lead us directly the wisdom of how to let go, ease off, scale back, etc. We just keep plowing down the road of excess, probably until we run out of gas and never reach the palace.

2) We try to claim the palace without having tread the road. This seems especially problematic to me. Here's why. The teenage and early 20s especially should almost be known as the road to excess years. If we don't make mistakes by way of excess, trying shit, falling down, and storing away the lessons learned (a.k.a. "wisdom), we'll also call this "living life," then it seems to me that come 40s, 50s, whatever, we are walking mid-life crises waiting to happen.

And by the time that phase of life comes around, there are frequently those pesky things like families, kids, mortgages, etc., that get royally bent over when we go out to learn the excess road.

The equally interesting thing, to me, as a parent, and as someone who certainly used those years for excess (for better and worse), is how we try so hard to plop our kids directly into the palace of wisdom, without ever having them find it on their own via the road. We don't want them to fuck up or fall down or hurt or embarrass themselves. We put them in bubbles that don't allow them to glean wisdom or life lessons that might help or shape them.

I'm sure I'll be no different. I'm sizing the girls up for protective bubbles even now. But there is something to be said for Blake's advice. On a far-too-preachy Thursday morning.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On the shelf

I hope to wear real shoes this week. That's after being on the shelf for more than two weeks now with an ego-induced ankle injury. One of those things, like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, that you knew wasn't going to have a favorable outcome.

I don't take well to being injured. And semi-hobbling on a fat ankle, almost doubling-over in pain to hot-foot it across the Giant parking lot or turning sharp while cutting the grass, well... sucks.

This past Saturday I got in about a half-mile open water swim, while we were beached, hanging out on Jamaica Point, out on the boat. That accounts for the only real physical activity I've logged since the snap-crackle-pop of the ankle.

The hope is that it's a learning experience. The hope is that this time on the shelf reminds me not to try to kick the football. Charlie Brown had trouble with that lesson. But no one really wants to be Charlie Brown. And no one really wants a gimpy ankle, particularly when their (my) motivation for running, for longboarding, for biking, was just starting to crank with possibilities this summer.

Note to self: learn, motherfuc#$r.

Timing is an wily bastage. While I bide my shelf time, I've been reading Chuck Palahniuk's "Rant." In my reading encounters Palahniuk and maybe Tom Robbins each have a way of making you think about how you experience your life and what some alternatives are to how the rest of society accepts a shared reality by assumption.

I'm pretty well with Palahniuk and Robbins. I tend to be someone who likes to experience things for myself, even prior to shelf time. But taking a seat on the sideline hammers that point home.

I gotta watch out for kicking footballs. Next time it's held out there, I'm kicking Lucy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Riffs for a Tuesday morning

Language is a monkey wrench. -Charles Simic

If I'm wondering what I think, what I have to say, I can always turn to Simic to ask me the right questions. To make pronouncements that remind me both that: 1) language is just a tool, not an end in itself, and 2) I don't like the Foo Fighters.

Being a man among words, it's sometimes easy to get so hung up on finding just the right word, that I am left sitting, silently, with something to say.

Employ the right tool. You could try to cut down a Christmas tree with a monkey wrench, but you better have a lot of time and a big tree skirt.

Sometimes, a smile is the right word.

Philosophers who seek those moments in which the senses, the mind, and the emotions are experienced together. -CS

There is no instruction manual for that kind of integration. Or if you find one, let me know. Maybe just sitting for long stretches in front of a bowl of gumbo at the dinner table, pausing between spoonfuls to look at my wife and daughters. Eating and being, mindfully in love.

Laughter undermines discipline and leads to anarchy. -CS

Some of my favorite memories are filled with fall-on-the-ground/spit-take laughter. Playing wiffleball in our back yard with my godfather, Doug Hanks, Jr., who could break up a game at any minute with a pronouncement at the plate. That's something he could do, and did, throughout his life.

If philosophy, cosmology, poetry, life--if the big, noble pursuits don't include, seek out, or make room for laughter, then I'm not playing. That's maybe why I'm drawn to those folks who think, who write, who live, or try to, with a smile.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hey, beer man!

I'm not prone to hallucinate about baseball beer guys. So I'm pretty sure I saw him. He wasn't carrying, or hawking beer. And he was in the wrong city. He might be a two-timer, like me.

Yesterday, walking down Half Street from work, there was Howard the beer guy from Camden Yards. In D.C.

Howard's probably the only beer guy I can identify by sight, anywhere in the world. He's got a timeless mullet, pulled into a ponytail. And for a while, he had a shtick that no one could touch.

Whenever he poured your beer, he would ask you a baseball trivia question. If you got it right, he gave you your beer, for free. He was a walking baseball encyclopedia. It was awesome.

Howard stopped asking my dad questions when he got his second answer right during one game. He shut dad down, smartly. My dad can hang on the baseball trivia.

My crowning beer-buying accomplishment was the time I knew "Walter Johnson" was the right answer to Howard's question about a fantastic pitcher who pitched for sub-par teams near Baltimore, but the Nationals hadn't moved to D.C. yet. He probably thought I was too young to remember that the Senators were a team in D.C. (I am too young, but my baseball knowledge runs historical at times). I got my free beer from Howard.

So yesterday, Howard was walking in D.C., in a red shirt, carrying a bag to the Nationals vs. Phillies game (the Nats won 10-2, by the way). I'm not sure whether he was going just to catch the game, or if he is two-timing Camden Yards with Nationals Stadium. I don't blame him if he is. I do that too.

But I hope he was just going to enjoy the game. Reading the Baltimore Style Magazine piece on the people at Camden Yards (link above, look for Howard Hart), you can tell he still digs baseball and taking in a live game. He's a guy I'd like to buy a beer.

I'd bet he's walked more steps at Camden Yards than anyone could count. He probably turns to "hey beer man!" anywhere, at any time, purely on reflex. But there are those of us that know his name is Howard. And he knows his baseball.