Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Family, hometowns and the collective unconscious, sort of

I am not related to Carl Jung. But his July 26 birthday coincides with our family reunion, which has happened for 62 years in a row. So maybe he is an honorary cousin. Or at least, for me, a kindred cousin.

I like to look at Jung and family through a kind of prism that reflects each back on the other. This idiosyncratic lens extends Jung's idea of the collective unconscious and the genes/DNA that is passed through generations by your family and then adds a dash of Native American shamanism. What I end up with is this in-the-bones in-the-soul connection to family that you can both know and feel the presence of your ancestors.

Now, I'm not a new age guy. Not trying to go woo-woo on you. But when we are at a family reunion and I see our girls running and playing, swimming, it takes me back to being their ages and doing the same thing off World Farms Road at my Great Aunt Harriett McCord's house. I can see my grandfather and his generation in the same way Anna and Ava see my father. They call him "Grandaddy," the same name we used for his dad.

It's a little more than that. On Sunday the girls and I were at the Oxford (Md.) Park. I played at that park when I was little (and older), as did my dad. His father attended school on that same ground. If I sit there quietly and let my mind drift, I get caught in thinking how many generations of our family have walked that same ground. The small town of Oxford feels like sacred ground, when I frame it that way.

After a weekend that included our Parson's family reunion and a shoreline-exploring, ice cream-eating trip to the Oxford Park, I asked the girls if they wanted to swing by the Oxford Cemetery, so see where my Grandaddy and his wife, and others in our family were buried. They did. They hadn't been there before and I hadn't been there in some time.

We found and read my grandparents', the girls' great grandparents, who they never met, head stones. My grandmother died a couple months before I turned four, but I can see her clear as day--when I would walk in their house, she would pretend to be "The Terrible Tickler," a favorite character from a Sesame Street book I liked. I called her "Me-me." She was my dad's and aunt's mother, my grandfather's second wife, after he lost his first wife and baby during childbirth. Though he was a good bit older than Me-me, he lived almost 20 years longer and is who I think of when I think of fishing or being on a boat on the Chesapeake Bay. These were/are pictures and thoughts in my head just upon seeing their graves.

The girls and I walked further. We saw another relative, Doug Hanks, Sr., who I knew as "Pop," my cousin Dougie's grandfather and an otherworldly log canoe sailor. As we walked the cemetery, as when we played in the park, I had the real sense that I was comprised of these people, this place, our girls. That is, until the girls started to moan about how hot it was.

But they thought it was cool. On our way out of the cemetery, we saw a heron on the shore, which is another story. When we got home, they ran in and told Robin about the cemetery, the park, the Scottish Highland Creamery. The reunion still swam through all our heads. They don't need Jung or his collective unconscious to understand family and place. I guess I don't either. But I'm always trying to frame or get my head around the things that excite me. The things I'm made of.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ocean Size or Admiring the Sand Jesus

"I want to be more like the ocean, no talking, man - all action." - Perry Farrell

When I am in the ocean, I am 12. I haven't heard Perry Farrell's supreme longing to be ocean size. I'm just diving through waves, body surfing, occasionally victimized by shorebreak.

I'm buying my first skateboard, a Sims Flagship from the Sunshine House, the small skate shop they had behind the yellow beacon of a surf shop on 62nd Street along Coastal Highway.

I'm riding the Tidal Wave roller coaster and the Zipper on the boardwalk or admiring the sand Jesus, the ultimate in weather-dependent ephemeral art.

We're skating the old Ocean Bowl, watching Mike Vallely jump off the top of a construction trailer and land on his skateboard on the basketball court below to start his run at the Ocean City street contest.

Ocean City has seen us grow up, from wide-eyed kids, to beer and girl-hungry teens and 20-somethings, to parents bringing our own kids to the beach to make their own memories.

The ocean doesn't care that I'm older now. It doesn't care that it transports me through time with each swell, curl, crashing wave. It doesn't care that my seven-year-old daughter and six-year-old nephew are alongside me, body surfing with racing hearts and salt water smiles, the first summer they've got it down.

I've frequently felt Perry Farrell's longing to be like the ocean. But not today.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bearditude, a list of influential beards

I have had a beard for longer than our girls have been alive (they are ten and seven). A good many of our friends haven't known me without one. And my wife digs it (so why change?). But self-reflection can be a worthwhile venture and I have certainly been influenced by famous beards, past and present.

So who are those role model beards out there? Let's take a look.

1. Plato. You are talking to an English/Philosophy graduate who just about had his bags packed to go to philosophy graduate school at Duquesne University en route to teaching college philosophy. But the existential jones goes back further, as long as I can recall. A way of being wired. And I still remember being lost in thought and excited like Christmas when we were going to discuss Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" in class.

2. Santa Claus. Alright, let's be honest. Religion aside, most American kids see Santa as the most recognizable beard. White-bearded dude, lives in the snow, flying reindeer, all the toys in the world. All the beard qualifications necessary.

3. Jesus Christ. While we're on the subject of Christmas... I was baptized and grew up in the Episcopal church. Water into wine, working miracles. Dr. J has to go on any beard list.

4. Chuck Norris. If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you've seen Chuck Norris kick ass. You've been simultaneously scared and awed by his beard. And why did Chuck lose to Bruce Lee in "Way of the Dragon" in one of the most epic martial arts screen battles ever? No beard.

5. Abe Lincoln. He is more than just a Racing President for the Washington Nationals. He's the first iconic U.S. President I can remember, even before George Washington. And a role model for unkempt skinny cerebral kids growing up anywhere.

6. Walt Whitman. Please remember the second half of the above English/Philosophy value meal. I've written poetry since I sat in the back of Mr. Springer's world history class, a 14-year-old skate punk who scribbled in notebook margins rather than pay attention in class. Hemingway and Whitman are a toss-up for bearded writers, but I have to go with Whitman on a personal preference. Just being earnest.

7. ZZ Top. Did you see the video for "Sharp Dressed Man," as a young man? Did you own ZZ Top "Eliminator?" Have you heard "La Grange?" The greatest rock and roll beards of all time. And we live in a rock and roll world.

8. Jayson Werth. If you live in our house, chances are your favorite beard belongs to the Washington Nationals Jayson Werth. Our girls ask how he is doing every time the Nats are on (which is almost every game), they love seeing him in the dugout during home games, and none of us can wait for his return to the lineup. If you want to talk famous beards, Jayson Werth's Beard even has its own Twitter account.

There's my list of influential beards. Those beards that come to mind when talking famous facial hair. Feel free to add your own.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Existentialists in shorts," creating meaning on the run

"Running wasn't just exercise or a hobby, or even necessarily competition, for them. Basically they were existentialists is shorts. I wanted to be one, too." -Scott Jurek, "Eat & Run."

Sometimes you create meaning with each step of a run. Sometimes with none. Mostly it's a happy medium.

I start out noticing every step. The impact on landing, the effort to move my legs. The first part of a run is an in-body experience. Everyday mind.

Each step moves further into consciousness. The body starts to fade into the background. The mind wanders. Wanders with the music. Wanders, thoughts flitting like birds out of mind. The breath is still there, and the movement. The body doesn't hurt, yet. I don't notice the miles or effort.

Then it comes back, the body. The breath reconnects, the legs are pumping, the arms, everything is in sync, connected, but different from when I started.

On long runs I can drift between these states--in body, out. On those, exhilaration can meet delirium.

I am running right behind some deep revelation, something life changing, if I can only run a little faster, reach out and catch it, grab it, tackle it.

But it's rarely about that revelation. I'm not generally fast enough to catch it. It's then that I get that it's the first step where we create meaning in a run, and every step after, not just some elusive magical step.

It's the knowledge that two, four, 10, 20, 50 miles are underfoot, logged by will, effort, discipline. I've put some order on one small part of the day, in my own way. I've seen things that no one sitting inside got to see. I've lived. I've reminded my mind-body-soul that we are free and mobile, sometimes. When we ask.