Saturday, January 31, 2015

Notes to Anna on her 13th Birthday

Of the different life moments you picture, I'm not sure the day you have a teenager is one of them. Your oldest child's 13th birthday. I mean, really it's an odd birthday to get sentimental about. It ends in a 3, how big can it be? But as a parent it feels pretty effing big. You now have a teenager.

Today is older daughter Anna's 13th birthday. I can remember turning 13, going to the same middle school she goes to, This is one of those days that I didn't see coming, but I live for. I am writing this preamble, drinking from a coffee mug that she painted me two days after I turned 40 and had wrenched my back and landed in the ER. As a writer, it's never a good thing when I am at a loss for words. But let me try to get it together here and shift gears.

Notes to Anna on her 13th Birthday

On your 13th birthday, I feel like I should have some sort of profound or fatherly advice. I don't. But you are so much like me when I was 13, that I know you wouldn't listen to it if I did :) What I have instead are memories, stories, dreams, and love. I hope some of them will be of use to you.

I promise to dig for sand crabs for you and with you until I can't. There was a time at the beach where I did all the digging, and you would study and parade around with the findings. Now you are the queen of sand crab excavation. Where you watched me, your sister and cousins now watch you. When did that happen?

I have never cared much about raking leaves. Until you were old enough to love jumping in a leaf pile. I hope I can continue to make leaf piles, both real and metaphorical, for you to jump into. Life is too short to rake leaves without jumping in the leaf pile.

You and are both the oldest child. Don't tell anyone, but parents make all their mistakes with/on the first kid. How can they not? There is no guidebook. It's trial by fire. But if you bring this up, and call me out on it, you're still grounded ;)

I will race or chase you anytime. Standing challenge. Even though you now cut better than I do and I can no longer take it easy and speed up at the end to try to catch you. Whether for field hockey, lacrosse, or running away from your sister, watching you run is one of my life's great joys.

There is never a time that I don't want to throw the lacrosse ball. I didn't play field hockey growing up. But I did play lacrosse, which seems it will be the one sport that connects us, that we've both played, and I can't describe really the feeling of watching you use your off hand or watching you run up the field on a fast break. Don't move off of midfield--you are too fast to play defense :)

You are so much better at being a kid then I was; at least at doing the right thing. I think my loudest moments getting to age 13, and then for a few years after, were the ways I messed up or fell down. I watch you act as a good friend and peacemaker among your friends; I see your full years of perfect attendance and honor roll report cards without effort, and I realize you have this growing up game figured out so much better than I did. We do, however, need to talk about how you treat your sister...

Sing. There are things you have done, that I never had the nerve for at your age. Like singing in chorus. And I guess even if I did have the nerve, I've never had the voice. You have both. Find those things like singing, that you can do, and do them. Those are things worth doing.

Stay goofy and profound. Think the thoughts and ask the questions that make your brain tingle. You wrote the following in second grade. It came home in your weekly folder, it has since been thrown away, but I wrote it down because I loved it:

Go play baseball right now!
Do not tuch that fish.
The frog is green.
How heave is that rock?
The hen is laying eggs.

There are Zen masters who might randomly recite that to students. Keep in touch with that part of yourself and allow yourself to be loose, silly, observant and deep all at the same time.

Remember, you are brackish. You are growing up around the water. It's a part of you. You are centuries connected to the place you live. Sometimes it can feel suffocating, many more times it can feel deeper than oceans.

As you turn 13 today, you don't need my advice. I'll still give it to you when I have something to say, and maybe sometimes you'll listen. I won't hold my breath ;) But on this day and every other, you know the one thing you have of mine, that you always will, is my heart. I can't wait to see where life takes you, actually, scratch that--where you take life. I will do everything I can to help you drive it. I love you Anna Louise, and happy birthday!

And I guess one quick question: how the hell did you get to be a teenager already???

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beer, Poetry & Happiness

Maine Beer Company combined two of my favorite things: beer and poetry. More specifically, really good beer and an iconic poem by one of my heavies, my all-time favorite writers, William Carlos Williams. Red Wheelbarrow Ale has climbed among the leaders in my favorite beer crew.

Beer and poetry are two things that I like to imbibe daily that spin my mind and soul a bit. They can reshuffle the deck, and spin the compass in myriad directions. "Red Wheelbarrow" the poem is short, simple and confounding. Check the technique:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I've written about Williams here before. He was a physician, who had a lifelong medical practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. He was not an ivory tower academic. He didn't much dig T.S. Eliot, who he felt was too stock in Europe--history, culture, tradition, allusion--and Williams looked to dial poetry back to more common, everyday language, and write about things and people that were more everyday life.

Some of his poetry, "Red Wheelbarrow" included is about the image it creates, like a still life painting. You can just sit with it, like you would a good beer on a deck in the sun on a spring evening, sun going down behind tall pine trees. It's a scene. You can also play with the Zen idea of the interconnectedness of the Universe. Hell, you can do just about anything you want--the thing about poetry, like beer, is not all tastes are the same, not all interpretations are the same, and you can sit and ponder that shit for a while.

I found good poetry before I found good beer. I'm not sure what the first "good" beer I drank was. But I do know that it was Carl Sandburg that slammed down the strong man mallet and lit the poetry neon sign up for me, when I was 15.

Sandburg dug and wrote about Chicago. So that became the first city I thought about when I thought about poetry. Dude, Chicago has their own poet; a cat that writes all about them and their people, the blue collar folks. Sandburg and Williams had that in common, the common.

Sandburg made his point for me, especially, in a poem called "Happiness:"

I ASKED professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
      me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
      thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
      I was trying to fool with them.
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
      the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
      their women and children and a keg of beer and an

Thank you, Carl. It's not the academics or philosophers who know happiness. It's not the business people, who are too clever to get caught in that game. It's the families, sitting along the river, with a keg and music.

When I think of Chicago today, I think of happiness. Not that Chicago is a happy city, but that image resonates. I think of a trip I took there and running along the lake, to Navy Point, going to the Field Museum, the Art Institute, the Adler Planetarium. I think about Wrigley Field and Soldier Field and digging the Bears after the Colts left Baltimore. But those are details, memories.

Today, it's beer, poetry and happiness.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Synchronicity: From Jung to Sting

I wonder if life happens in acts, like a play. It is all one continuous whole, but you've got set changes, the cast of characters moves through, apparent themes. Each act builds on those previous, but is also distinct.

Some acts are easy to discern--move to a new town or state, go to a new school, get a job, have kids. Things that alter the direction that things were moving in your life. I would say in many cases, one act ending and another beginning is easiest to see in retrospect.

Life's many-acted play is funny though; it seems a whole lot more ad-libbed, impromptu than scripted. Or maybe like Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show," we are the only ones without the script in our lives.

I don't think Carl Jung listened to The Police. But he and Sting might have had some kickass conversations. Maybe they do, both dialed into the collective unconscious. I remember buying the cassette tape of the band's "Synchronicity" album, like everyone else in and around 1983. They had two songs that riffed off of Jung's concept of synchronicity. The first:

A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,

A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible

Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Casually connectible
Yet nothing invincible.

...If you act, as you think,
The missing link,

Jung expounded synchronicity as the notion that two or more events can be meaningfully related, but not causally related. He dug the term "meaningful coincidences."

It can be simple, silly things like two people randomly listening to Men at Work in two different places in 2015. Experiencing similar events on a timeline--like acts in two separate plays carrying out their action and then coming together in unexpected ways. A job you wonder if you should have taken coming back open when you are looking for a job. Events in lives seeming to be randomly, but repeatedly in synch.

I wouldn't mind having a pint with Jung and Sting at the bar of the collective unconscious. For marveling at the ways synchronicity can seem to manifest itself at certain times, like the Universe is driving and you're just along for the ride. Don't touch the radio.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Woods, Visions, Sons, Kings, Runs

There were sheep in the woods. Right next to the road on Baileys Neck on Christmas Eve. Big Foot might have been there as well, but daughter Anna couldn't catch him in the photo. We stopped along the road and did a double-take. This particular stretch of woods, I run by on three sides on one of my running routes and drive by everyday. I haven't seen them there before or since. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle.

The first weekend of the New Year has been a reclusive one for me. I got out of my truck with groceries on Thursday and won't get back in a vehicle until Monday morning, to take the girls to school. It has been me, running, lifting, yoga, reading, coffee, a couple meals, reading, writing, cooking out with my dad for the Ravens game, and binge-watching Sons of Anarchy.

Sunday (this) afternoon, I wanted to stretch the legs and the soul, so through on running shoes and went for a back road 6-mile run, running by the sheep hallucination woods along the way.

Running clears my mind as much as it does anything for my body. There is a stillwater pond at the corner of the sheep woods, more tranquil and likely more stagnant than my mind on a run. I was feeling good, but still slowed to take it in. Up the road 50 yards or so was a hawk feeding on a deer carcass in a ditch. I know hawks and buzzards--the buzzard came in after I startled the hawk. I stopped again, this time playing chess with the hawk in the trees--he made one hop as I moved closer, I tried to keep from spooking him, just to watch him.

I got back to normal running pace, focused back in on my music, zoned out scanning the woods for sheep or hawks, when I scared a heron out of the ditch just ahead. If you've read along just a little here, you know I have a thing for herons. Spirit animal typed thing. Nothing major. But I took my cue from the Universe here to slow down and walk a stretch, not be in so much of a hurry, even though everything felt good. Heart rate was up, back covered in sweat, slowed down to walk the road along open fields and listen.

I got thinking about Sons of Anarchy, storytelling and Jungian archetypes, and life.

I've written about SOA here before. Among other things, Sons is the story of Jax Teller, the son of one of the founders and former Presidents of the Samcro Motorcycle Club. It's the story of him as Vice President, struggling with his father's legacy and the man who has helped raise him since Jax's father's death. This stepfather figure is the President of the club, who took over after Jack's father died. I give you all this to say that part of the storyline is the story of the prince becoming the king. I dig Carl Jung. Archetypes and myths factor into my thinking and the way I view storytelling.

To some degree, I think the story of every man's coming of age is dealing with, the struggle with that transformation of going from prince to king. Jungian psychologist Robert Moore and mythologist Douglas Gillette say that there are four archetypal male energies that are in all of us XY folk: king, warrior, lover, magician. They wrote a book about it that a lot of people seem to dig. The king archetype is the most important and generally the last to develop in the personality.

When you hit 42 years old, lose a job that was the result of 15 years of moving in a solid career direction, and wonder about work, vocation, passion, what direction you want your life to go, there is no shortage of shit that can occupy space in your head. I don't have ready answers, but occasional vacancy in my head, you bet.

It seems to me the struggle, to become and embody the king, that isn't something that happens like childbirth and there you are. Perhaps more often than each day, the boulder rolls back down the hill and you have to go get that fu**er and roll it back up again. It's not just given to you, you have to manifest it. You've got to own that shit.

Father and son relationships are some of the coolest, strangest things on the planet. I've been asked more than once why I am not an accountant like my father. In my mind it's a bit like asking why I am not an NFL offensive lineman: because I am not, it's not how I am wired or built. But the two of us can sit around a family dinner table and spin stories with the same humor and the same outlook on life, and we can watch the Ravens play and scream the same profanities at the television.

Life, visions, the Universe, archetypes, they are spinning through my head like a slot machine. I speed up, get back to running. I come back by the deer carcass and the stagnant pond. Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" comes on. I drop the hammer coming up Locust Grove, decide to run hard through the end of the song. I pass a blue Volvo, the drive waves, I wave back, but I have to think he is wondering what the vagabond in the red ski hat and green shorts is running so fast for--likely running from the cops.

I hang on redlining as the song comes to an end, looking forward to a slower interval. But it's Damian Marley's "Move" that cues up next. Another song I can't run slowly to. I shake my head, laugh out loud, mumble, "Motherfu**er!" and try to hold the pace. "Exodus" was the first Bob Marley song I ever heard. Still one of my favorites. "Move" is Damian reworking the chorus of his father's song, but making it his own. I get thinking about that as way of building on a father's legacy. As much as I dig the song for running, it also can't touch "Exodus" as a song, so what does that mean for a legacy? All Bob's musician sons will be forever in his shadow.

I don't give it much thought because I am trying to follow Damian's advice and move. I wind around a couple of bends. Maybe Junior Gong has a set of stones to dare to try to follow in his father's musical footsteps. He is wired for it. He is not a pioneer, but I listen to him all the time.

Generally, the home stretch of the run is where I run hardest. I like to finish spent. Today's run has been different--there were stops, walking stretches, intervals. As I get to where I can see the driveway, Katastro's "That Place You Know" comes on. I have no idea why, but this song makes me unreasonably happy and at peace. It makes me smile. Today it puts my mind to park benches, Newman and Redford in "The Sting," mix tapes and kindness. I ease the throttle, to run in light. Katastro aren't the deepest dudes, and the song isn't memorable so much for its lyrics, but its vibe. But still I hear this:

Back to the place you know
where all you have to do is come this way
Back to the way you run,
And I'm just gonna let you know
that I'ma be here and do my thing
that's just the way I know.

That's just the way I know.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Carryovers: Ten Things from 2014 to Build on for 2015

Yeah, I know, this list is sssooooo 2014. But it's a top 10 list, a retrospective, so that's cool, right? What I'm thinking about here are the things I enjoyed the most in 2014, and how they can help look forward to 2015. It's not definitive, but it's fun to remember sometimes. So in no particular order:

1. Music - When I look at the music I listened to in 2014, I am looking at what is different than other years. An artist that came onto the radar screen, or back on, who wasn't there as much in years past. There are two that standout: D'Angelo and Stevie Wonder. This has been a year where I have been in the habit of putting music on and just leaving it on, bollocks to the TV. D'Angelo's "Voodoo" and newly released "Black Messiah," I can just put on and let roll. And Stevie. Well shit. I don't even know where to begin. "Songs in the Key of Life" is like an emotional autobiography that can just float me around the house. And "The Definitive Collection" is a greatest hits where you know every song, you can nod your head doing dishes at the kitchen sink, or slow it down and just, well, wonder. I know, sorry :)

2. Bocce - I think I have been threatening to play bocce on a regular basis since I worked at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and we were kicking around the idea of playing at lunch. Moving to a new house at the end of the summer, one with an expansive outdoors, pushed the envelope, and younger daughter Ava has picked up on it. We prefer bocce through the woods. Other friends have picked it up as well, and it is a great way to walk around outside, catch up, drink beer, and just imbibe life while pretending to work on your eye-hand coordination.

3. Stand-Up Paddleboarding - I had been digging the occasional SUP adventure in previous years. And older daughter Anna has keyed in on the same thing. 2014 was the year I pulled the trigger and bought a used board and paddle from a friend who is a front of the pack SUP'er always upgrading. Paddleboarding, as much as, or maybe more than other things this past year has created a number of adventures, both with the girls, who have both picked it up, or with friends--from a 9-mile Father's Day paddle, to around the cove shenanigans, to epic and windy Deepwater Point and Trippe Creek throwdowns. I hope to make 2015 even more a year of the SUP.

4. Reading/books - In terms of number of books read, 2014 was a non-starter. But it was big for reading, especially in terms of re-reading. I've talked about Robert Hass on here, ad infinitum, but even reading a book like "Sun Under Wood," for the umpteenth time, I am struck by how books change with your life experience. Until you have gone through something, you don't get what the writer is really saying. In 2014, I discovered Kenneth Rexroth, who is huge for me. I also made it a point to cross a book off my to-read list that I have wanted to read for years, in Cormac McCarthy's "Blood Meridian." I would like to hope that 2015 is the year I will finally cross "Ulysses" off that list, but right now I am caught up in non-fiction and in Borges.

5. Tribe/Carpe Diem/Stupidity/Adventures - In life, you have your family and you have your tribe. Sometimes those two overlap. Your tribe are those folks that get you, who are like you in some ways, who resonate. I've said it before, but I am fortunate to have a tribe who will read Blood Meridian, drink beer together, and sign on and show up for endurance adventures in stupidity. I have maintained that one of the reasons I want to keep in decent shape is because I don't want to miss out on any adventure that sounds fun. I love that I have fallen in with a bunch of 40-somethings, or soon to be 40-somethings, who refuse to grow up; who are moved to move, to get outside; and who want to carpe every single diem.

6. Trust the Universe and Louis Goldstein - I have definitely had some fog or haze over my eyes at various points in 2014. I've lost my way, been manic, and tried to claw my way back to where I thought I was supposed to go. I think it took me until the fall to step back and trust the Universe a bit more. But this isn't a passive trust I am talking about. When I graduated from Washington College, the longtime Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein was one of the speakers. His words of wisdom to the graduates was his mantra, his guiding philosophy in life: "If it's to be, it's up to me." I think that is an equal part in trusting the Universe. Trust, yes, don't feel like you need every answer or a road map ahead of time, but if you want something, and you want to make something happen, then it is up to you. If you are more religious, it's the same thing as saying "God helps those who help themselves." Trust the Universe, And get off your ass.

7. (Cold) Beverages - 2014 has definitely been the year of Dale's Pale Ale for me. I've enjoyed it before, but it became a staple like bread, eggs, bacon. My refrigerator is rarely without some waiting to be imbibed. 2014 was also the year of Irish Whiskey, whether Jameson's or Bushmills. And that has been a taste I didn't know I had acquired, generally preferring bourbon for my sipping.

8. Graphic Novels - This has been the year that pictures and art commingled themselves again with the words I am always searching and searching for. From Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker with Iron Fist, Hawkeye, or Captain America, or Neil Gaiman with The Sandman, or Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis with Daredevil, storytelling for me regained some of its vital visual nature, which informs how I think about writing and telling stories. Even Ava and Anna have taken to graphic novels, Ava more so.

9. Outings/Adventures - I have always been one for outings. If the girls and I are sitting around bored, and the weather is decent, we have always had the mindset to jump in the truck and go explore. That became even more important in 2014. The girls are interacting with the world differently month by month; the language they use to understand things; their quirky senses of humor; their curiosity; their experiences, both shared and unique. I hope our outings and adventures continue to be a big part of how they engage the world.

10. Slowing down - I've been a runner on and off since I was 15. Since 2005, I've been running marathons, trail races, ultra marathons, what have you. A funny thing happened this year. I started hiking, whether in group adventures like our Mason Dixon expeditions, or hiking in the Virginia mountains, or making time to wander the maritime museum where I used to work, or a couple recent strolls around Oxford. Not being in a hurry. Allowing the sites to sink in. Sharing stories, imbibing the history behind buildings, rocks, parks, benches, an unmapped stop in a tavern. There is something to catching your breath, only to have it taken away by something you didn't expect and wouldn't have caught if you were in too big of a hurry.

That's my top ten list from 2014, ten things that helped define some of the good parts of the year. And ten things I hope to build on as we begin 2015.