Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As the Year Turns

How many writers are sitting with their writing tools today trying to squeeze out a ruby? I would guess that most of us have our butt in the chair and are attempting to make something profound happen. Very few of us will be successful. All of us will produce something, even if it never sees the light of day. And that is perfectly okay. People ask me “how do I become a writer?” My answer is always the same: Write. That’s what writers do. It doesn’t particularly matter if you become a good writer. That’s not really for you to determine. Good writing is in the ears and mind of the reader. Some writers never find a readership that passes judgment. Myself, for example. This bloggy thing is read by only a handful of people, but I have earned my living as a writer for most of the last twenty-seven years, so I have developed some kind of competence over that time. My fiction has been published and so have some of my poems. My songs as well. Some of that stuff is pretty good, most of it is meaningful only to me. But that’s okay. It is the work and the working that counts.

My being able to make a difference is extremely important to me, as it is to most people. I think most people want to affect their environment in meaningful and positive ways. I wish I could say that we all want peace, and maybe we do, but we want it on our own terms. From that comes conflict and that is the nature of Nature. Conflict happens. It is intrinsic to our condition. We are isolated by skin and sinew.

What we learn to do to approximate peace is negotiate. I am willing to cede this to gain that. When the balance comes we call it win-win. But we still must all live with the facts of natural selection. Darwin was mostly right. Does a puma negotiate with a fawn? Only in the most esoteric of ways. Predation as part of the symbiotic energy cycle is not war, it is The Way It Is. War is a Human thing, obviously, and it comes when negotiation and compromise are cast aside.

Welcome to History. I don’t think the world will look back at 2008 and notice much. They will notice that a person of color, of both Caucasian and African heritage, was elected as President of the United States. Will that be a big deal in a hundred years? Hard to say. It depends a lot on what happens in 2009.

My challenge to myself is to make a difference, in some small way, every day in 2009. How that manifests itself could be any number of small things: a smile, a courteous gesture, a good deed, a profound use of imagination, whatever. That old bumper-sticker comes to mind: practice random acts of kindness. Focus on the good stuff. It’s been proven again and again that focusing on the negative calls more of it in. Stop that!

We must accept Nature for what it is. We can change that only by our behavior as a species. The only way to accomplish any change at all is through our individual behavior. When it multiplies in a positive way, we’re golden. The reverse is also true, which is why I make the choice to stay positive and count my many blessings. Down that road lies a negotiated peace.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy New Fear

I’ve had blank-page syndrome for weeks now. I sit down to write for this blog and all I find are excuses to do something else. Apparently, I haven’t been willing to do the work so that the voice shakes off its shackles. There’s been a lot going on too, it’s not like there is nothing to opine about. All sorts of amazing things have happened since October 17, the date of the last entry.

We have a new President-elect and he has potential. He certainly knows how to say the right things, the things that a huge audience wants to hear. He offers hope and a willingness to talk and work together with people of all faiths and of all nations. But is he for real? We shall see. His opponents are already making fun of him and the muckrakers are in full swing, attempting to link him to the sordid details of the Illinois Governor scandal. It always amazes me that we are so amazed when a politician is caught with his hand in the till. C’mon people, don’t be surprised. Wake up and smell the grifters. You should be more amazed when a politician turns out to be a caring humanitarian and who thinks first of service to constituency and to country. Now, THAT would be news.

Let’s see … what else? Oh yeah, the ten murderers who descended upon Mumbai and slaughtered almost two hundred people, ostensibly in the name of god or some other absolutely absurd notion. How easy was that to pull off? Pretty easy, I reckon. One of the most disgusting terms made popular in the last ten years is “soft targets.” I can’t quite wrap my head around the notion that exercising the will of some tinpot god involves automatic weapons and defenseless people. In my opinion, any fool who even gives a moment’s credence to any such act needs to completely reevaluate his or her concept of what it means to be fully human. Yeah, I know … humans are a cruel bunch and self-defense is a movable concept … but at some point don’t you have to put your foot down and just stop accepting that kind of behavior as a “fact of life?” The police can’t stop it, the government can’t stop it, so what it comes down to is that it is up to us, the every day citizens. It doesn’t matter if we’re Indian, Pakistani, Egyptian, American, or Armenian. It is up to us. It is the responsibility of each individual to stand up and say no. Vengeance does not work, it just escalates violence and anger. Any time fear is slathered on to the great toast of humanity, anger soon follows. They are inextricably related.

Here we are back to that righteous thing. Unfettered righteousness is like unfettered capitalism in that given free rein, it will gallop all over most everyone to the delight of a very few. I don’t want hoof prints up my back.

The holidays are almost over. The Christians celebrate the birth of The Holy Kid. My understanding of this timing is that the early faithful chose this time of year to celebrate the Virgin Birth because there were lots of other pagan celebrations going on and they wouldn’t stand out. Apparently, if you reconstruct all of the clues, Jesus (or Joshua, if you will) was born in the Spring, not the beginning of Winter. So the whole thing is kind of a sham. But I’m all for it, actually. People do set aside differences and offer themselves as beacons of hope, tolerance, and buy all kinds of stuff to give away. Not a bad set of sentiments.

Another new word has entered the lexicon of the last couple of months: BAILOUT.

I mean, jeez. This is another fabulous money-laundering scheme brought to us by The Guys with the Big Purse. What a great time to be a professional money person. The government gives you so much money that just trying to comprehend how much makes me dizzy and, because it’s Christmas, I guess, they don’t require any oversight concerning how you spend it. So guess what? It goes to nice hefty bonuses for the guys who created the crisis in the first place. Is anybody outraged about this? Well, yes, but we are not outraged enough. We are passively sitting around worrying about Other Stuff brought on by the crisis. Doesn’t anybody get it?

Thomas Jefferson must be choking on his own moldering face. This is another point that we citizens must stand up and make. But … but … but …

All these buts. Man. We should be ashamed. I don’t know what to do any more than anybody else does. If everyone in this country … and I mean ALL OF US … just didn’t pay taxes next April 15 … would all of us be thrown in jail? I believe in taxes, just as I believe in Fire Departments, Police, and city/county infrastructure. We need that stuff. I don’t mind paying for it. It is my duty and my honor to help pay for it. But I’m also paying for some incompetent bozo to fly in to Dana Point and sit in a luxury suite hot tub and laugh at me. Why is that? What can we do to wake people up?

And the car guys. Hokey Smoke, Bullwinkle. You drove your own business into the ground, misled everyone, and now want, yes, another bailout. GMAC has declared itself a bank so that it can cash in on the financial-sector bailout. It just goes on and on.

How stupid are we? Evidently, pretty stupid. And we're also deathly afraid of something, so afraid that we're, pretty much, paralyzed.

I don’t think I’m done for the week, but I’m done for now. I’m going to go try to wake myself up. Wish me luck.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Where Did He Go?

John McCain's experience in Vietnam isn't everything about him. He was captured thirty-one years ago and released about six years later in 1973. That was a long time ago. He still carries the scars of that captivity, on both his body and his psyche. How could he not? He learned more about himself in those painful brutal years that anyone ever should. I'm wondering how much of that he's forgotten. He has used his Vietnam experience to bludgeon his opposition when it comes to foreign policy. He, apparently, still believes that Vietnam was a noble cause and that the US could have won that conflict had it not been for the "senseless" and "illogical" actions of the civilian leader at that time. It's no wonder that he wants to stay in Iraq until a "victory" can be constructed. Unfortunately, the situation in the Middle East is more complex that it was in Vietnam. They are different animals. Applying Vietnam logic to Iraq and Afghanistan is like translating a suicide squeeze to a game of tennis. No, Vietnam isn't everything about John McCain, but it is a resounding seventy percent of him.

This, for me, pretty much dispels any notion that Senator McCain would be a better option in "wartime" than Senator Obama. If the tactics he claims to embrace, increase troop numbers, get more aggressive in the streets, and broaden the base of operations, are examined carefully, they just don't hold water. What they hold is blood, of American and Iraqi youngsters both. The successful combatants in a protracted war almost always win by attrition. They spend more than the other side. It is not particle physics. It is continuing to fight until the other side runs out of blood. I'm not sure than can be done in our current national quest. I don't think convening negotiations across a table is a cowardly endeavor. I think it takes more guts to open the mind and negotiate from a position of strength. I'm not sure Senator McCain embraces that notion.

This is not to say that the Iraqis and other Arabs who want us all dead will negotiate in good faith, but there should be some kind of dialog, not just chest pounding and bomb throwing. Our enemies in this conflict are not all bloodthirsty child killers and neither, obviously, are we. Leadership is key. Without it we are all doomed.

I read "Faith of Our Fathers" and was deeply moved by it. But the humility presented in that work seems to have evaporated. The honor of it has been tarnished over the years by his unfortunate involvement in the Keating Five scandal. Every human makes mistakes and forgiveness and understanding should be our watchwords when we find ourselves sitting in judgment. But the man I wanted to be President as early as twenty years ago and as recently as five years ago seems to have disappeared.

And that, for me, is a very sad thing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Politics, Palin, and Planning,

I'm not a political guy. Can't stand it. But sometimes a guy's gotta write what a guy's gotta write.

Sarah Palin is an interesting American phenomenon. She is sharp enough to shave with and is as ambitious as anyone has ever been. She has risen from nowhere in American politics to become the lead attack dog in a very contentious and controversial election. She is a very good-looking human and uses that to her advantage, as she should because in our society women are still immediately and irreversibly judged on how they look. Men are too, but not to the extent that women are.

So why does my skin crawl when I see her or hear her voice? Is it that she is an obvious phony, that she has studied disingenuousness and is perfectly capable of writing the definitive treatise on it, that she can't pronounce Iraq, Iran, or nuclear?

Well, yes. But there's more.

She talks down to me. She calls me "Joe Six-pack" and she's not talking about my abs. Palin has an act that was worn thin twenty-five years ago. She's like Don Rickles but better looking and not as funny. I keep waiting to hear the phrase "doncha know" come out of her but have been, thus far, disappointed. But there have been enough "by gollys" and "darn its" and "you betchas" to last me until the end of my days. This is a person who wants desperately to be one heartbeat away from becoming the most powerful Commander-in-Chief in the history of the world. She will say anything to cajole, mislead, or smear anybody. Her handling of the firing of her ex brother-in-law is being investigated in her home state. We will see if her vindictiveness is justified or if she is truly a good-ol' girl with a misguided sense of her own power.

All that being said, she is formidable and is certainly worthy of some respect. She's tough. But I don't care. So was G. Gordon Liddy. Craig Ryan, a good friend and wonderful writer (do a search on him at noted that her name can be used to form the acronym "I Plan." With her in the Presidential race and, at this point in October, it's still anybody's guess who will come out ahead, I think that is very apropos. Those of us in Middle Ground should do some very serious planning on how to live with ourselves should a "pit-bull in lipstick" become Vice President of our country when her president is older than Ronald Reagan was. Right now, she's doing her darndest to be nice and well-liked. My six-pack gut is telling me that is just an artifice, a sham. Ask her ex brother-in-law.

We'll see, by golly. We sure will, doncha know.

Come back soon. The next installment will examine my tortured thoughts and opinions regarding John McCain, a man whose history is disturbingly dichotomous. Ten years ago I would have followed him into Hell because I trusted his vision. Today I wouldn't follow him into a 7-11.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Tooth Fairy Bites

I have a new goal in life. This is a good, positive thing and I’m glad to have this goal. Well, to be honest there are two goals, now that I think about it. The first goal is to enjoy a good steak again some day. That would be stellar. The second goal is to simply yawn with abandon and let it be a relaxing thing, rather than a touchy painfully embarrassing thing.

Why, you may ask, are these simple goals at the forefront of my thinking? Because I had the dreaded teeth thing happen a couple weeks ago. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll never take a good comfortable chew for granted ever again.

I’d had multiple teeth removed a few years back, but I don’t recall it being a really big deal. Maybe it was, I don’t know. Maybe my memory has become selective. I know we don’t remember pain. What we remember is the fear the pain brought. I do remember some fear during the last go-round. But this time I said good-bye to nine teeth in one sitting, or reclining, if you will. I have to hand it to my dentist. She stayed with it and stayed calm, even when it became apparent that these teeth would not go gentle into that good night. It was exhausting for me, I know that.

To complicate matters, I developed an serious infection a few days later and am still taking some killer antibiotics. I believe that I’ve had this infection for a year or more and the trauma to my gums, jaw, and psyche gave it an opportunity to explode. Not fun. But it’s well-in-hand as I type and a low-level irritation in my right ear that I’ve been suspicious of is clearing up too. I had two docs look in there with the standard ear-canal-viewing tool and tell me there was nothing going on. I didn’t really believe them then and now I’m positive they just overlooked a low-grade infection.

What I’m experiencing here is a rite-of-passage into, um, mature life. I’ll just go with that euphemism I think. I don’t feel like an old guy. And really I’m not. I’m only 58. If this were 1908 I’d be old, I guess, but this is 2008 and people are starting to commonly live into their 90s and beyond. My dad just turned 91 and he and my mom are still living on their own, taking care of themselves and are enjoying their friends and neighbors. I’m sure they don’t feel particularly ancient. Oh sure, sometimes we all do, but the cliché is really true: You Are Only As Old As You Feel. How you treat yourself and your genetic make-up collaborate to give you what you get.

I find this transition fascinating, watching my body change, watching myself develop patience I didn’t know I had. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll even learn to cut myself some slack. I’m also beginning to see my children look at me with newly-realized respect and also with a trace of worry because I am changing. I am showing signs of aging. But I’m learning so much. The engine is still running like a champ and I learn something cool every day.

I am a blessed man. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

That's Righteous, Brother ...

Went out this evening and walked two miles, mostly in the rain. This was a very good thing. I enjoy walking and my neighborhood is a great mix of flat and hills. I haven’t been walking like I wish I would. This shirkage is probably a function of laziness, but it’s all tied up in my seeming inability to properly manage my time. I like the physicality of walking and I like the results of walking. Since I quit smoking, my wind, even when nonexistent (like tonight), isn’t terribly painful like it used to be. I motored up the steep hill, Broadleaf, and was pretty winded when I got to the top. But if I keep it together and walk again tomorrow, it will be a little better and will keep improving so that I’m barely breathing hard after a couple weeks of it. Without the consistent destruction of smoking cigarettes, gaining a measure of aerobic fitness isn’t really that difficult. It just takes some diligence.

So if all these good things come of walking, why do I get into these periods where I don’t do it? Hmm. An answer might be some kind of depression. I’ve read that a common symptom of depression is the avoidance of things enjoyed. That might have something to do with it. But somehow, for me, not walking regularly is a function of working full time. I haven’t really figured it out yet. I seem to simply forget that I should go out and work up a sweat. Tonight I remembered and am glad of it.
One of the things I love about walking is that it occupies my body so that my imagination can fly out of the ruts that everyday creates. Tonight I got to thinking about righteousness and how addictive it is to feel righteous anger. Oh yeah. We all do it.

But what is being righteous? Is the story of the Christ throwing the moneygrubbers out of the temple righteous? Almost certainly. Is the history of the world coming together to dismantle Adolf Hitler’s outrageous designs righteous? Definitely. Is Pat Robertson saying that New Orleans somehow deserved Katrina righteous? Certainly not. Is anything having to do with this Great American Farce Administration righteous? Emphatically no. Are our military citizens who are dying every week righteous? Now, there’s a sticky question. Any time there are people dying for a cause … and this current conflict has people on all sides giving their full measure … the notion of righteousness becomes almost completely subjective. It depends on which view you assume.

This righteous anger that is leading all manner of humanity to bloody mayhem and death does not seem to have common roots. On one side it is a war of duty and a war of liberation. It is a war to protect the homeland. It is a war to secure a continuous flow of petrochemical goo for some already very rich men. Righteousness doesn’t seem to fit everywhere. On the other side we would be led to believe that it is a holy war and that the god du jour is directing the violence.

Pardon me, but does anybody see a decided lack of righteousness in any of this? But the emotions behind it all and the emotions perpetuating the conflict are more addictive than any opiate, any crystal meth, or any nicotine. People have been addicted to the rush of righteousness since the dawn of human thought.

Personally, I think that the whole notion of finding god, the great separation that the religions of the world would have us close and defend with our lives is simply a longing brought on by the physical act of being born. But that is a can of worms for another day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Name Change Blues

Should malicious hacking be a capital offense? When I started this blog, I called it something else and sent the URL out to many of my friends. Along the way, I stumbled upon a new, catchier name and that’s where we are now. The old name “Narble Falls Apart,” was just abandoned. I, in my naiveté, thought that people coming in to read would just be automatically redirected to my new title, “Life O’Wryly.” So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call from my wife informing me that when she tried to access my blog she got directed to a page with a list of porn sites. Now, I don’t really have anything against porn sites, but it was a little disconcerting. I tried it and, sure enough, it was there, something called “PornTube” and other listings, complete with graphic graphics and the whole nine yards.

Hokey Smoke! I really enjoyed it when my mom sent me an email informing me of the same thing. I was (and am) embarrassed by the situation. So I sent some emails and warned people not to go to that URL and updating them about the new path.

At least one of my friends clicked on one of the sites and was immediately infected with a myriad of Trojans, malware, and all manner of viruses. I apologized and shared his pain. A couple days later I got another email that castigated me for not informing him of the URL change and that he was now out a couple hundred bucks and it was all my fault.

Okay, okay. I accept some blame here. I was naïve. But nobody told this guy to click on a porn site link. That’s what let the cooties in. He was naïve too, I guess. I’m hopeful that he eventually forgives me, but if he doesn’t it’s a loss for us both, I reckon. Just another American lose-lose situation. This kind of snit is just part of the ups and downs of friendship. I hope so anyway.

My question is: how do these jerks pick up on discarded blog paths? I suppose a tougher question is: why do these people want to spread virtual violence and pain? Because they can? I’m not web-savvy enough to really know the answers. I believe in the basic goodness of my fellow meat-puppets and am always surprised when I encounter mean people. I guess I don’t get it. The bumpersticker is right on: “Mean People Suck.” These people are cowards.

I’m not sure how we, as an online community, police this kind of thing. It’s a virtual mugging. It’s crime. Anybody have any ideas? Do we just have to get used to this horseshit or is there something we can actually do?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Healthy Chubdogs. Yay!

I just read an Associated Press story telling me that 51 percent of overweight people are basically healthy. “Healthy,” in this case, means that half of us fat people have “normal” levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood-fat content (triglycerides). I fall into this category. My last round of blood work was textbook normal and my resting blood pressure is 118/74. My resting heart rate is 62. Does this mean that I won’t fall over this afternoon writhing in agony with crushing chest pain? No, not really. But it isn’t necessarily indicated by my “numbers.” To obfuscate things, I can say it’s contra-indicated. Boy, I do enjoy sounding smart.

Okay. I’m tired of using quote marks. I am curious as to why this fat-can-be-healthy is such a surprise. Of course chubby humans can be healthy. Duh. But we’re bombarded every hour of every day with images of what we’re supposed to look like. We’re inundated with the general pity and/or distain of the less-than-25-percent-body-fat population because we are proportionally-challenged. Like, wow, we’re gross or something.

Some of that is understandable and I suffer from it myself. Last Sunday in the San Diego airport I saw a woman about my age dressed in a short nightgown bend over to attend her luggage. She was wearing a thong, I think. I couldn’t really tell because there were wrinkly rolls of stuff obscuring most of it. It was a remarkable display. So yes, I understand why a large part of our culture considers us ugly and that they equate an overabundance of subcutaneous non-muscle with health problems and a selfish inability to control destructive behavior. We are branded as lazy and undisciplined.

This is probably tied into our unconscious recognition of proportional patterns. There have been studies in every generation attempting to understand what humans find attractive and why we respond the way we do to the visual cues we receive. It’s all knotted up in the Gordian Wad of The Urge to Merge. We have standards. Our bodies want to procreate with other bodies that offer images of strength, swiftness, and beauty. Hello Mr. Darwin. Natural Selection is a powerful force.

Personally, I am embarking (again) on a quest to reduce my shadow. My motivation is almost purely superficial because I really am healthy. I am going to change my lifestyle some for reasons that include (of course) ego and pride, but I’m also trying to pay attention to reducing my carbon footprint, and have a strong desire to follow some of the advice offered in Michael Pollan’s books, most notably: “Eat Food. Not a lot. Mostly Plants.” I just think that make a whole ton of sense. Oh, and did I mention that I'm tired of being lazy and undisciplined?

Because I am compulsively expressive, I will let you know how it’s going. I am hopeful that a chuckle or two will ensue.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Miles of Smiles

As I watched the opening Olympic ceremonies from Beijing last night I was struck by a comment either Costas or Lauer made about the participants being reminded to smile because it made the experience "less intimidating" to the world-wide audience. While it's true that most smiles are less intimidating than scowls and leers, I have personally experienced smiles that were darn near terrifying in their intimidation. For example, when I was a kid I was up in an apple tree eating an apple. Okay, the apple wasn't "mine" and it was, I suppose, stealing. I was really enjoying the apple and heard a sound that I came to identify later as the cocking of the hammers on a double-barreled shotgun. I turned to look into the eyes of Mr. Rogers, the owner of the apple tree and the apple. He was smiling. It was intimidating. So was the rock salt he blasted in my direction. (I don't think he tried very hard to hit me.) Over the next few years we developed an interesting friendship after that decidedly inauspicious beginning.

But I digress. Smiles are, indeed, magical. I have smiled at myself in the mirror and felt a load lifted from my psyche. I have smiled at my kids and watched their behavior and attitudes change in an instant from sullen and withdrawn to attentive and curious. I've smiled at strangers and seen their blank stares become smiles in milliseconds. It's almost automatic.

So when the drummers and the dancers and the Tai Chi people smiled as they performed in Beijing last night I was transported by the joy in their faces and in their actions and in the way they carried themselves. They weren't acting. They were truly having the times of their lives. It was cathartic in a most fundamental way. I felt connected to the people of China in a way I'd never before experienced. Isn't that the point of having an Olympics? No matter what happens now, no matter what the competition brings, these 2008 Olympics are already a success for me.

What is it in a smile that does that for us? If you smile at a dog, the dog worries a little because you are baring your teeth. Smile at a cat and the cat yawns and pays no attention. Smile at a cop and you may be asking for trouble because he or she may wonder how many whacks on the pipe or bottle you've had. But smile without an agenda at another person, even if it's at yourself in a mirror, a strange chemistry ensues. Your mood lightens and your heart relaxes. I'm fairly certain endorphins are involved in some way, but don't ask me any specifics. If you are interested in the whole phenomonae of smiling and what it means to us humans, you can access the following, which might lead you on a wonderful wild goose chase.

The next time you find yourself grumpy, out-of-sorts, or just generally listless, go find a mirror and smile at yourself. It can be a cynical this-is-silly smile. That's okay. But keep it up. I'd be willing to bet that if you persist the real response will wind up being a genuine smile and you'll be in a better place within seconds of looking in the mirror.

Try it. If it works or not, I'd be interested in your reaction. Just drop me a line via this blog.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hometown happening

A plane crashed into a house today in what I consider to be my hometown. I didn’t grow up there. Most people who know me are adamant that I never really accomplished growing up … I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but the term Grown-up carries some kind of responsible baggage with it. I’ve embraced responsibility, I guess, but I’m still resisting the grown-up thing. Obviously, I’ve never seriously embraced it.

My hometown, Gearhart, Oregon, is in the throes of an ongoing tragedy. People have died, most of them, I think, are most certainly not grown-up. We have dead kids there. This is wrong. Kids are not supposed to go before their parents. Not in this country. Not Now.

But kids die all over the world. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. They starve. They get blown up. This is common elsewhere. In Gearhart, Oregon, it is most rare, indeed.
It's curious why I think of Gearhart as my home town. I’ve lived in Portland since 1979 (you do the math), but I still think of the North Oregon coast as home. Why is that?

I think it’s because the love of my life grew up there. I kind of pinballed around until I caromed into her in Gearhart, of all places. Our eldest was born in Seaside because that’s where the hospital was. It was a good time and a good place to be born. It was before Reagan and the whole Bush-fueled descent into our Twenty-first Century hell. Life was easy in a lot of ways. It was hard to make ends meet, but we were working people and it’s always been hard on working people. We carry the load. We shoulder the debt incurred by all those nice folks who make the proverbial killing at the expense of everything else, the planet, the economy, the working people.

Am I bitter? Hell, no. It is what it is. I’m having a great ride. I have wonderful people who think I’m wonderful (mostly, anyway). Life is too short to take it too seriously. If there are angels, I think their best advice would be: Lighten up. Have some fun. Share your joy. In the end, it’s who loves you and who you love. That's the important stuff. Next time you start going sideways, let that pop into your head and see if it doesn't smooth things a bit.

Abidee, abidee, abidee, that’s all folks!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Scary Business ...

I saw a photograph the other day of one of my favorite musicians. He looked like a bloated caricature of a cartoon monster. He’s a few years older than me, but has been a music icon in this country for forty-plus years. We kind of grew up together, he in the public eye and me in total obscurity. We’ve never really met, but have rubbed elbows a couple times. After looking at the picture I just want to go slap him and yell “What’re you doing? Is this what forty million dollars does for a guy? Go look in a mirror! Have some respect for yourself.”

Okay, so it’s one picture and it could’ve been a bad angle and my reaction might be over the top. But I am horrified and I wonder why. After examining my reaction I realize that what the picture really does is scare the hell out of me. That could be me looking like a melted meat-and-cheese sandwich. I don’t ever want to look like that and any notion that it might be inevitable is terrifying. The notion of aging gracefully and the photograph of my clay-footed hero are diametrically opposed.

What I’ve taken from this little experience is some very strong motivation to slow down on my bad habits and put some more oomph into the few good ones that I’ve managed to develop over the years. In that sense, the cartoon guy is still working as a role model. Sure, it’s a reverse kind of role model, but he’s still doing some good, in my life anyway. Maybe I should tell him that instead of yelling at him. Just because he’s got forty million bucks doesn’t mean he’s a really happy kind of guy.

That’s a fundamental truth, I think. Developing and maintaining a positive attitude about most everything really works to ensure a clear head and a healthy outlook. Think healthy, be healthy. Or something like that. It seems very simplistic, but maybe that’s part of the life lesson we should all pay attention to and learn from. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean limited. It also doesn’t always mean easy.

I think what I’ll do this evening is go find a recording my reverse role model made years ago, put it on, and listen carefully. I’ll contemplate the vagaries brought on by time on the planet and how they manifest differently for different people. Fate, whether real or not, is an interesting concept. Where were we when this music was recorded and how different are our lives now? Who’s to say if there’s a “better” to be understood? All I know is that I really don’t want to end up looking like that photograph. My ego won’t stand for it and has fueled a positive response that might serve me well for years to come. Wisdom is learned and, more importantly, invariably earned.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Life of Wryly

A wry smile has come to live on my face over the past couple days. Some buddies and I split and moved somewhere in the neighborhood of three cords of wood last Sunday. The wry smile came because without ibuprofen, I’d probably be a crippled wreck. Even with a bloodstream full of anti-inflammatory drug I can feel the lactic acid begging for release in my tight hamstrings. I can feel the tight pain along both triceps and my goofy left elbow burns white-hot if I move just wrong.

And speaking of neighborhood, I’m guessing my neighbors weren’t too pleased with the constant roar of the hydraulic splitter going on from ten until three-thirty or so. None of us intrepid workmen even wanted to consider what it might have been like had we not had the modern marvel of that splitter with a Honda engine. These were big rounds of Doug Fir and a splitting maul just bounced off. It would’ve been a half-hour’s work to split just one of the rounds, and brutal work at that. Well, at least for us city boys. Okay. At least for me. Even twenty years ago I might have been more inclined to swing the maul. But this time. No way, Jose. If you figure the cost of renting the splitter and the gas it took to run it, we still came out ahead on the firewood.

Now I get to remember what it is like to be physically sore from exertion. I, as do (I assume) many men my age, like to think that I am still at least mildly athletic, with some muscle memory of past prowess. Is it true, or am I in absolute denial? And do I really want that question answered?

I don’t know. I’m beginning to recognize myself in those advertisements about the typical American gut. You know the ones, some faceless tummy waddles by and a serious voice intones something about how Americans are hopelessly obese. Shocking! Hey, I might be one of the poster boys. But I’ve never thought of myself as obese. Am I a fat guy? Yeah. I gained thirty pounds when I quit smoking and haven’t jettisoned it yet (two years later). I keep talking about it, but , so far, I’ve left it where it is. I’m probably waiting for somebody to lose if for me. What an interesting delusion.

Americans use 25% of the current fuel resources on this planet. That’s where we’re truly obese. The bellies are just a symptom (mine included). If you haven’t yet, go Google T. Boone Pickens, or check out The guy’s a pretty smart guy and he’s got a bee in his bonnet about how we can make a difference. If we just sit on our fat asses and keep the denial working overtime, we will deserve whatever ignominious fate that comes. I believe it’s high time we all started paying a little more attention to ourselves and our immediate environment. As good things happen, one will rub off on the other.

See you next time.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Ah, the Fourth of July. Rather than creating a rant, I'll just offer this poem. I'll get back to the goofy stuff after a while. But now, the real world intrudes.

Reminders in Early July

Who wants to remember
the stench of the dead,
smoking skeletons of bushes
festooned with body pieces.
Dali meets Bosch.
This bod’s for you.

Who can forget
our most uncivil war,
atoms and flash burns blinding a generation.
A minuteman, cocked hat askew,
plays big cop on the corner of the world.
The freedom to revel in
politically correct enmity.

Desert sand to glass and
a million spent rounds of depleted uranium.
This rad’s for you.
The blood spoils and the children
are eaten by god who praises their hatred.

We celebrate a history of war,
mimicry of small arms and cannon,
young eyes alight with power,
smoke and flame in the streets.
Dangerous delight.
Living on Old Glory.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Not Food? Not Good

I read through a recipe book last night and put on about four pounds. Maybe I should start reading “Cooking Light,” or something like that.

I think Michael Pollan is right: “Eat food. Not a lot. Mostly plants.” His book, “In Defense of Food,” is an entertaining and quick read. I think he’s hit the nail right square on the head as he hammers the notions of how what we eat went from food and, through some corporate, government-sanctioned slight-of-hand, became what we have come to call nutrients. It really does need to come full-circle back to food. What is food? If a grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, it’s probably not actual food, but is probably a food-like substance that has been refined by some multi-national conglomerate and marketed as something that your body absolutely cannot do without. “And, boy does it taste swell!”

Mr. Pollan wonders if this slow insidious shift from food to nutrients is one of the fundamental causes of America’s obesity epidemic. Hey. I’m not an expert or a particularly learned food maven, but I don’t have to be quite so cautious. In my opinion I don’t think there’s any question about it. When we got away from real food is when we started to get fat. That’s when we started to see an incredible increase in heart-disease, diabetes, and people wearing Levis. Of those three things, only one is positive. If more people wore Levis, I think, the world would be a more relaxed place.

But I digress. Happily. Let’s leave at this: go read Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food.” It’s worth every minute you spend. And while you’re at it go find his other work and read that too. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to become educated in the realm of where our food comes from, what it takes to sustain its growth and delivery, and how it should be looked at in the whole of human society.

Here’s a link to discover more about Michael Pollan’s work:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shhh! Don't Talk About That Stuff

Among people who know me, I am simply a remarkably dilapidated seventeen year-old. How am I doing at fifty-eight? Not too bad. My health care system tells me that my “numbers” are good, mostly within range, and that my blood pressure is fine. I had the dreaded Sigmoidoscopy and asked if I could keep the video. The answer was no. Then, last year I had the even more dreaded knock-yourself-out-full-meal-deal colonoscopy. I got to sleep through that, which was just fine with me.

This stuff is important. I had a very good friend who woke up one morning, went into the bathroom to study the constitution for a while (I just do a crossword puzzle) only to discover he was seriously bleeding. He drove up to the hospital and was told he had cancer of the colon and was dead six weeks later. He’d had no symptoms until he happened to look down before he flushed the toilet that morning.

Now, really, does anybody really want to talk about this stuff? Hell, no. Apparently, it’s not politically correct. It’s not genteel to discuss bodily functions, fluids, and solid wastes. To quote a good friend: “Erpie pew-pew.” I mean, if you’re in an elevator somewhere and either you or the darling administrative assistant next to you cuts the cheese, drops a Cobalt bomb, or however you want to euphemize passing gas, and the result triggers your gag reflex, you can’t just smile and say: “Whoa. That’s awful!” or “Jeez. Stick a cork in that superfund site!” No. It’s not polite. You can comment on a friend’s gas, but not a stranger’s. I guess it has something to do with embarrassment, yours and the stranger’s. This same reluctance transfers to open discussions about the health and performance of your guts, or anything that involves gooey physical detritus.

I propose that we have a national Talk-About-Your-Guts Day. We would all benefit. If we can save one life by encouraging frank and honest dialog about how to educate people to pay attention to their what-goes-in-and-what-comes-out system, wouldn’t it be worth it?

And the next time you catch yourself idly thinking about a friendship, I think you can be enlightened by answering the following question: are farts funny? If your answer is yes, most likely you have yourself a good friend.

Next time, let’s riff some more on this Political Correctness theme. It’s one of my pet peeves. If you’re going to keep a pet, it’s best to keep it fed, eh?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Recovery Time

In the dim and misty past I was something of an athlete and party animal. Both of these activities placed large amounts of stress on my physical person, the protoplasmic envelope in which I exist. I like this envelope. It is certainly limiting and slow compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, but I derive a great deal of pleasure from simply living inside it. I am blessed with a strong and decent machine. I don’t have movie-star looks, but I pass muster and have also been blessed with a confident nature that helps others look past my obvious faults. When I was a young man I was fairly invincible and enjoyed working out with weights and walking long distances. My knees have thanked me to this very day for nurturing an intense loathing of any kind of distance running. I prided myself on being darn near unbeatable in a fifteen yard sprint. At sixteen yards I went from first to last. So I learned to stay with what I was good at.

I remember all of this very well. My wife thinks that I use my prodigious creative talent to enhance my memory, but that’s a story for another day. I went along gracefully through life, thinking that it was perfectly normal to work all day and party all night and then get up and do it again. What’s the big deal? Sure, I might feel a little tiredness as day after a short nap began, but that passed and I grew stronger as the time went on. Serious hangovers were a different matter, of course, but again, those stories are for a different day.

This was life. It went on for years. The future was forever and the past was just the past. No thoughts of old Glory Days came up because I was living the Glory Days and I knew it. Money was scarce, but so what. We were having fun and the future was a bright glow at the start of each day.

Then something strange happened. Intense physical activity had always brought stiffness and the ache of lactic acid in the large muscles, but all you needed to do was stretch, get some blood flowing to those sore muscles and it went away. Nothing to it. But one morning, I don’t remember which one, exactly, but it was there ... yes, one morning the stretching didn’t work. The second stretch didn’t work either. It wasn’t until the third or fourth stretch that things went back to fluid normal. I would imagine that I just shrugged and paid this anomaly no more heed.
Until, of course, this anomaly became a regular occurrence. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I needed to limp a little bit even AFTER a shower. All of a sudden I had to pay attention (always a challenge for me). I started to ask the real athletes I knew about this. Those my age all nodded and shared my puzzlement. Those older just sighed. “Welcome to the real world, kid,” they’d say.

Hmm. Real world? What the hell were they talking about?

It became apparent all too soon. I began to learn about something called Recovery Time. I was a Pitcher on the baseball team in school, a reliever mostly. I threw hard every day. I kept playing Ball after school. My arm was made of steel. Recovery time meant a good night’s sleep. Now, like the professional players, it meant four days of resting it. That made sense because of the enormous stress put on it. But the rest of me was good to go. Wasn’t it? Suddenly, it wasn’t. I started noticing soreness that lasted a full day. Then it became two days. I actually had to work out more carefully and move the target group of muscles around each day. Hell. Nowadays my body goes into shock and I don’t even GET sore for two days and it lasts a week.

Welcome to the real world, kid. This decline leveled off to a plateau that slowly descended as I gained weight and lost muscle mass. I became a working writer, which put my expanding butt in a chair for hours every day and I lost my wind and, slowly, my desire to compete. I “retired” from playing Ball at what is now the frisky age of forty-eight. Things kept popping and straining and ripping loose. These were actual injuries that required medical attention and extended healing periods. My machine had become an adversary instead of a trusted friend. I even had to quit smoking, which is something I will write about in the future.

Waitaminnit! The realization hit me like the hot slap of a flabby forearm. I was getting OLD! How could this be?

Stay tuned for more on this insane revelation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Eyes Have It. Or Not.

The eyes have it. Or not, in my case. Of all the issues I’ve had to learn to deal with as I experience this aging thing, losing my ability to see things clearly, close up, has caused me the most grief. It started out innocently enough. I’d be at a restaurant and suddenly the light would be insufficient and my arms were just not long enough for me to comfortably read the menu. And the typeset … why was the type so small? Unbelievable.

It slowly dawned on me, much to my wife’s delight, that I needed reading glasses, that I was succumbing to the condition called presbyopia, which is a Latin word meaning What Does That Say? At first, I liked the fact that I needed to fish glasses out of my pocket to read what was in my hand. It made me feel studious and smart. It advertised that I knew how to read. Hey look! This stuff is so important that I need to apply extra effort just to read it. Wow. It must be important. It made me feel like I’d joined some exclusive club. Yeah. The Can’t See Shit club is always groping for new members.

In some cases, it is very important to read things, operating instructions on a nuclear submarine, for example. Your restaurant bill too, because what you point to on the menu might be poisonous or worse, like cost over thirty dollars. I mean, how would you know? If you’ve ever been to a fancy joint that publishes no prices on the menu, you know what I’m talking about. If you can’t read the price, it might as well not be there. So I am relieved to fumble for the glasses, put them on, and knowingly study. You can’t be pulling a fast one on me. Nope. I know stuff.

Without the need for glasses to defeat this presbyopia thing, none of this entertaining drama happens. But I tire of drama. Reading isn’t the only thing that goes away with aging eyes. I love working on my motorcycle. I like to feel connected to my Flaming Engine of Death and when I’m trying to ascertain if, say, a gasket is properly aligned, I need to be able to see the sharp edges of the surfaces involved. If I’m in the electrical system, I need to see connections and deal with small screws. Without my glasses I’m helpless.

Okay. Now, I’m starting to lose my patience. It’s one thing to look studious and engage those fantasies of brilliant professorship. It’s entirely another to be completely at a loss while looking sideways at a tiny screw hole as your glasses slip down your nose and you Can’t See Shit. That damn club keeps demanding dues.

I'm learning to compensate. I have glasses in every room in the house, including the bathrooms. I have glasses in my tool chest. I have glasses in my saddlebags, my jackets, all of my vehicles. I’m starting to feel pretty smug. But that only lasts until I experience the unthinkable. I put on my pair of glasses and I slowly realize that I still Can’t See Shit. How can this be? What happened to my glasses? They worked great yesterday. Dread clutches at my heart as I slowly realize that my eyes have decayed beyond the capabilities of the glasses I’ve so meticulously stocked everywhere. What? I need NEW glasses? Sometimes, irony is not pretty or even particularly entertaining. Off to the store I go, looking for glasses that advertise a bigger number. +1.25 just doesn't cut it anymore. Fortunately, I've discovered that there is a great way to recycle glasses that don't work anymore. Just leave them in restaurants, or the library, or the counter at the supermarket. Believe me, some aging boomer will really appreciate it when he or she discovers that their own glasses have mysteriously vanished.

More dues to pay. This Can’t See Shit club is really getting on my nerves now. This impatience with my condition ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s just a pain. Light is certainly a key factor. If I can shine enough light on what I’m trying to see, I almost don’t need the glasses. Some days are better than others. But the bottom line is that I have resigned myself to this dance of augmenting the ability of my meat machine to function at peak performance. So far, as I creep toward sixty, my eyes are the friction point of my aging process. I have yet to experience much of what is supposed to come as I slide out to pasture. My parents, who are vastly amused when they hear me whine about this stuff, have assured me, with no small measure of satisfaction, that my "time is coming." My mother says: "Getting old is not for the squeamish." Oh boy. I wish this felt like Christmas did when I was little.

Next time, I’ll bring up physical recovery time and see what happens. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin Died Yesterday

George Carlin died yesterday. He was not a baby-boomer, but I think he spoke for a lot of boomers. He came of professional age in the Sixties, when things pretended to be wide-open and ripe for change. I think he bagged quite a few of his early riffs from Lenny Bruce, but I don't see that as a bad thing. I see it as standard artistic behavior. Find me a guitar player who says he doesn't steal from everybody and I'll show you a liar, or at the very least, an airhead in denial.

All artists borrow. They (we) can't help it. It's the nature of learning and knowing. Instincts are true and original, usually, but we are all influenced by what we see, hear, and feel. It can be something we want to emulate or something we want to avoid like cats avoid baths. So, George learned from Lenny Bruce and all the other comics of his early times and he applied that knowledge to his own work, his schtick, his life that was all there for his audience to see. Stand-up, more than any other artform, is being naked on stage. It's the ultimate in wanting to be liked and being nearly psychotic to make it happen. This is why comics "kill" and why they "die."

Carlin made me laugh at myself and that is a rare gift. His humor pointed out the weaknesses and the foibles of a broad range of people, but he managed to direct that clarity of view to each individual in his audience. We didn't laugh at another person, we laughed at our own blunders and recognized those same blunders in others. If we paid attention, we learned something.

I'm sad that George Carlin died at 71. He was going to teach me a lot about aging. He was a generation, or so, ahead of me and I was going to pay attention as he developed material that depreciated his own slow falling-apart. I'm really sorry that it fell apart for him too soon. Well, too soon for my taste, anyway. Maybe he welcomed it. I don’t know. I wonder if he passed with that wry, knowing smile on his face.

I guess this means that I'll have to start writing more in this space and attempt to chronicle my own slow entropy into dotage. Stay tuned. Perhaps I will learn something myself. If I do, I’ll be sure to share.