Friday, September 4, 2009

Letting Go of Barnyard Flotsam

What the hell happened? It’s not supposed to be September already. Is it? Didn’t I just put up that last blog unit last week? Wow. If time keeps accelerating for me like it has been and global warming keeps pace, we’ll be under water by the end of the year. Maybe it has something to do with Relativity. Perspective is everything. Am I on the train, or am I watching it go by?

On Sunday I decided to let go of a lifelong fantasy. I declared that I will no longer strive to become a famous musician, that I will no longer spend time working on a “career” in music. I declared it to be a “stupid” fantasy and went to bed curled up in the fetal position.

I always knew I would be a famous musician. I always had a deep faith that it would come to pass. If I just stayed true to the craft and the art of it, things would magically conspire to call an audience and a following to my door. I’d known this since I was four years old. There were times it would seem assured. Intellectually, I recognized the folly of such a fantasy, but I stayed true to it nonetheless. It felt exactly right. It was who I wanted to be. It was who I was going to be. It was who I was.

But you know what? It was complete horseshit. Reality bites. I am not nearly as competent as I pretended to be and needed to be. I’m not even half the player I want to be. I’ve been playing the guitar for forty-seven years, but did I ever really work at it? I’d like to think I did, but if I’d worked harder, I’d be a more accomplished player. This whole aspect of my life needed a good bath and a solid dose of humility. I’d been seduced by the fantasy of it for so long that I was, literally, living in a fantasy world, which, no matter how you slice it, is not a good thing. As Sharon Olds so elegantly said in one of her poems: “I wanted to be some one.” It skewed my entire self image and put me in a house of mirrors where each reflection became farther from the truth of What Is.

Sunday evening Laura and I went to see the Freak Mountain Ramblers and had a blast. They had fun and, therefore, the room did too. Even today it makes me happy just to think about sitting there awash in Happy Feet Music. They are, when I’m in their “room,” my favorite musical ensemble, maybe ever. I love the fact that they can pull it all off, from Jug-band music to Western Swing, to Rock’n Roll, to well, let’s just call it “Modern Jazz.” It is Americana at its absolute best. We are so lucky to live in Portland. It is an undeniably stellar musical town.

So, we’re on the way home and I’m bubbling on about wishing I could just get up in the morning and plug myself into my studio (which doesn’t exist) and work on songs and stuff. Laura asked a very simple question about where the songs would sell and I immediately became defensive and then IT hit me like a ton of copyright forms. It was all crap. My whole notion of what I was going to do someday was a load of malarkey. It was based on a complete fallacy. I had this moment of brilliant clarity, an epiphany of stunning proportion. Poor Laura thought I was mad at her. It had nothing at all to do with her, it was me finally realizing, seeing it without my little rosy haze, that the fantasy I’d held about myself and my place in the musical pantheon I’d created in my mind, was just egregiously wrong. I was absolutely devastated. I had no idea who I was and I was angry with myself for allowing such a twisted vision to become something I’d accepted as a reality.

I have no idea how this will all shake out as things settle. I have let the fantasy go and accepted What Is. Now, What Is, is pretty darn okay, if you ask me. I am a relentlessly adequate guitarist and I will continue my lifelong aspiration to learn as much about playing it as I possibly can. I will embrace the ukulele and, by golly, learn to play “Little Wing” on it (probably on a baritone). I will continue to play out and sing and make people happy with my versions of music, my own and other songwriters. I will do this with an undying love of it, but I will NOT be concerned with anything at all about the “career” side of it. That is dead and gone. I do not require that carrot-on-a-stick to keep me going (donut on a stick?). Good riddance, I say. I had my fifteen minutes of fame a long long time ago and I sure don’t need the ego feed. Mine’s big enough already. I will just sustain myself with the best music I can make. If you happen to hear it someday, I hope you like it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Productive, Profound, and Profane

There’s just something memorable about the men in an audience singing, with gusto, “my vagina is eight miles wide, absolutely everyone can come inside …” Sure, it’s probably the most memorable song in Storm Large’s tour-de-force “Crazy Enough,” but it’s definitely not the only highlight. She is a special niche artist, what I would call a superstar, who has taken the sting of “not fitting in” to the heart-on-her-sleeve absolutely open-faced Storm sandwich method of method acting. I found her performance riveting, beautiful, joyous, immeasurably sad, and get-the-dictionary-out-for-every-adjective smart. Her mind is mercurial and her on-board editor is a tad slow. That makes for great theater. The more people who experience “Crazy Enough,” the better. It is literature. It shines a very bright light on what it means to be a human being. Here I am. Here we are. Deal with it. The show runs in Portland, at Portland Center Stage, through August 16. After it closes, I really hope it finds it’s way to DVD and makes Storm Large a household name (and a couple tons of money). The world can certainly use a big dose of her. She could make both Richard Pryor and George Carlin blush, but I see that as a good thing. Hello. Deal with it. Let’s start THINKING about what it means to be human. Let’s get rid of a lot of the bullshit that has been slathered on the experience like some kind of weird concrete glue. The potential we share as humans has never needed such a boost as it does now. Let’s smash the dogma with our kharma.

In other news, the golfing world is entirely unaware that I am actually receiving instruction in this ancient craft. This is probably a good thing because if golfers knew that I was aggressively focused on continuing my relationship with the game, they might hurt themselves. At the very least, they might succumb to despair and slit their egos. Heaven forbid! But yes, it’s true. I have decided that I need to stop whining about being a lousy golfer and move on up to relentlessly mediocre. I take so much pleasure from the few good shots that I hit that I fear I have become a tad greedy and want to experience that joy more often. Maybe I can even get to the point where I have to use my other hand to count my good shots. That would be stellar and an improvement, certainly.

I am also taking up the ukulele. Jake Shimabukuro ( I’ll never be, but there is just too much fun to be had with this much-maligned little instrument.

Stay tuned. I’ll check in here with more wry observance in the near future. I’m kind of on a roll with my writing and this is a nice voice to relax into sometimes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ramblin' Jack Cass

It’s been a long time since I last sat here in this venue and wrote something. I’ve been very musical during this time, but not very writerly. In this interim, we’ve lost Billy Hults, perhaps the greatest washboard player ever and certainly one of the most profound and funny men in the history of profound and funny men. Now, I’m not sure what “cockles” are, but the outpouring of affection from so many people at Billy’s passing has warmed the ones that allegedly have something to do with my heart. It’s an interesting idiom “the cockles of my heart.” I guess it comes from the folds and wrinkles down there in the depths of my emotions.

I’m so glad that I was able to go see Billy when he was still pretty strong and feisty. He looked me in the eye and said “I’m the healthiest man in Hospice.” He was really happy about his beautiful herb garden and was amused at the irony of dying and having more living ease than he’d experienced for most of his life. So many people have said their public goodbyes to Billy in brilliant ways. I think my favorite was Turtle Vandemarr singing “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away” at the first church night following Billy’s death. It was poignant and funny and, oh, so Turtle and right-on. For those of you who don’t know what a “church night” is, it’s most Sundays from 6:00 to 8:00 when the Freak Mountain Ramblers play at the Laurelthirst Public House. It’s on NE Glisan at 30th. I think it’s the coolest gig in Portland, bar none.

We’ve also lost Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Robert McNamara, Billy Mays, Bob Bogle, Koko Taylor, and a whole host of other folks. We lost one of my heroes, Walter Cronkite, who was an icon all through my growing up years. What all this death means is that life goes on. I didn’t know any of those people. Their passing has been interpreted for me by other writers and reporters. I never had the connection to bone and sinew. I never knew the sound of a gentle and genuine laugh with any of these celebrities. But I did know that with Billy Hults and I shall miss his wise and gentle spirit.

I’m starting to think about poker again, specifically Texas Hold’em tournaments. I’m sure that I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts about that in the future. If I have any real thoughts about it, of course. As nobody ever said: "Vapid is as vapid does."

A couple months ago I decided to sign up for the first guitar lesson I’ve taken since 1964. Mary Flower, the renowned Blues finger-stylist and consummate musician, has graciously consented to put up with me for some lessons. I’m just beginning to get a little bit of comfort with the Piedmont finger-style syncopation. I’ve been playing the guitar all of my life and have had some success with it and more enjoyment than anyone could possibly know. I’ve played in front of thousands of people and have a small, but very gratifying following of people who enjoy my music. I just got tired of feeling like a sham every time I played the Blues. Sure, I knew the notes, sort of, and could play leads, sometimes riveting leads, in the traditional I-IV-V format. But I've always felt like I was just faking it. So, I’m trying to establish a little credibility, even if it’s only with myself. Ultimately, it may just mean that I get to understand a little bit of my vast ignorance, but hey, that would be some progress. If nothing else, I’m all about that.

See you next time. I’ve been thinking a lot about golf. Maybe we’ll go there.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Life O'Star Trek

Part of the $112 Million that the new Star Trek movie made last weekend came out of my pocket. I popped for the IMAX version, which is probably twice as much as a regular theater ticket, so from a marketing standpoint I guess you could say I’ve seen it twice. I went with two great pals, with whom I’ve seen many an opening-day Star Trek flick. As it turns out, I enjoyed myself thoroughly and would even consider seeing it a “third” time.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the show debuted in the Sixties. I’ve seen most of the movies. I’ve seen all of the movies with the original cast. I like Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard and Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi is stunning, but I don’t think I went to the theater more than once. I don’t have the emotional attachment to the Next Generation stuff that I do to the original characters. So, that being said, I loved this new movie with the new cast. I think Chris Pine is a completely believable Kirk who burns with competence and emotion. I think he’s taken the role in a much-needed different direction than William Shatner found himself going. Shatner was almost a caricature of himself as Kirk. But of all of the original cast, he is the only one who created a completely different memorable character. Boston Legal’s Denny Crane is a classic TV character and Shatner has to take enormous credit for creating him and putting him into the lexicon. As an actor, Shatner will not always be thought of as Captain Kirk. Even though Shatner defined the role, Chris Pine has created an equal character with all of the contradictions, but without the almost campy wryness that was threatening to overcome the entire franchise.

The trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Bones McCoy is in good hands. Zach Quinto and Karl Urban are true to their characters and bring humor and the needed energy to their younger versions. You can believe these guys when they respond to dire circumstance.

The secondary characters played by Zoe Saldana, Simon Peg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin are also excellent. Like I said, the campy stuff is gone. These are vital young characters that have somehow arrived and continued without some of the baggage the older versions had developed over the years. The plot vehicle of time travel and parallel universes helped with this too, but it is truly a character-driven series and they pulled it off. It would have been easy to screw it all up, but the production values and the writing did not allow it.

Gene Roddenberry created a series of fables, if you will, that examined a multitude of ethical questions and philosophies. These were presented obviously and the outcomes were almost never in doubt or ambiguous. The new actors have imbued the franchise with a new energy and subtle character changes, which has ignited the potential to create sweeping epics, whose stories may enlighten the human experience in ways that transcend what Star Trek has previously given us. Philosophy and ethics may be artfully revealed rather than simply stated. There is room for darkness and a deeper examination of the human spirit. Villains and heroes alike are complete beings and not just cardboard cutouts. The intrinsic friendships that carry much of the emotional weight throughout the series have new potential for growth and increased depth.

It’s a lot to hope for, but after the first episode in this incarnation, it certainly seems possible.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good Friend Gone

I lost a very good friend this week. Bob passed on last Sunday of a nasty, aggressive, and virulent cancer. He was diagnosed at the end of January and he died at the end of March. That is the fast track to oblivion. From what I’ve been told, his pain was immense. It must have been absolutely astonishing because the man I knew was single-minded when the chips were down. He was a winner and he was a fighter. The onslaught he experienced must have been completely overwhelming.

He and I had not been in close contact for many years. I thought of him often, but don’t know if he thought of me with the same regularity. I’ve never met his children. I knew his first wife, but not his beloved new widow. We talked a few times over those years. I called him when he had cancer the first time because mortality was suddenly a very real thing. He survived that and was able to recover his robust life, resuming his love of the culture of competitive ocean canoe paddling. When we spoke it was like we’d talked the day before, like I was calling to borrow a hammer, or something.

We were very close in high school. There was a group of us who became like brothers, but without the sibling rivalry. We hung out together, we dated together, we smoked together, we tripped together, and grew into young men together. I can honestly say that I would not have survived the 60s had it not been for those guys.

Bob was a huge part of that. He was never intimidated by my sheer force of personality. He tolerated it, enjoying it most of the time, but was always the first to call bullshit when I went too far. He helped me define the limits I needed to function properly in the world. He helped me learn how to share feelings in constructive ways. But when I lost it, when I went off the cliff and got angry and crazy and destructive he always forgave me. Every. Single. Time. He figured out how to prevent me from tearing myself up with guilt. He was a Very Good Friend.

Bob, too, had his own destructive streak in those days. We were all barely in control. What saved us was that we loved each other and supported each other. We called Bob “Wildman.” He was a very skilled driver. He had to be. Some of those rides down to San Clemente High School, through Dana Point, still raise the hair on the back of my neck. In those days, Dana Point was just a sleepy little beach town. There was no giant marina. Before the jetty was built there was a kelp bed, a pier, and, when it was breaking, some of the most amazing waves on the planet. “Killer Dana.” In reality, they were big soft pillows, but they were really fun to ride. And speaking of rides, I’m sure there are people who still remember Bob’s yellow Karmann Ghia and the strange places it would appear doing sixty miles-per-hour, with passengers whose hair stood straight up and whose eyes were as big as stop signs. Like so many things, though, when the jetty was built, all that disappeared. A way of life quietly snuck off to be pushed aside somewhere else.

I’m going to miss knowing that Bob is in the world. He lives on, of course, in the stories I have, the stories his tight-knit family has, the stories his kids will remember and share. His mother is still alive. This is the second son she’s lost to that cancer. My heart goes out to her and to his wife and children. And to all of his paddling buddies and to everybody who will miss his quick laugh and his gently sardonic view of the world.

This is when I realize that life is, indeed, too short. Welcome to the birth of philosophy. How can I reconcile my own mortality with a very close friend’s death? I’ll play guitar, write, and discover, maybe, how I feel by running these sentences together.

I can only hope.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

No Humans, No Nothing

A deep, almost unbearable sadness has transfixed me this evening. It came over me as I played with Toulouse, games we play every day. It started with me thinking of how I’ll miss him when he’s grown old and gone, or when Jessica moves away into another phase of her life. Toulouse was doing his predictable dog things, keeping the toy from me, growling as if to warn me away but watching me with hope to continue the game. I was filled with affection for him in particular and for dogs and all non-human creatures in general. And then I thought, what if there were no humans to feel and show that affection? What if we were gone from the earth? There would be no poetry. There would be no ears to interpret sound patterns as music. There would be nobody to stare out over a grand vista and feel the power of it, to rise to touch the face of wonder and to feel profoundly grateful for the privilege of being able to simply breathe the miracle of air. There would be no imagination.

This human experience has certainly put the planet’s ability to sustain warm-blooded life in jeopardy. Greed and rapacious human behavior have put everything at risk. The dark side of human nature is producing endless war as the dangerous hybrid of corporate economics and exclusionary ideology grope toward some kind of have and have-not world order. That’s been around forever. It is upon the Dark Side that poetry, music, and enlightened thought crash like waves against an impossible cliff.

If humans were not here, the Dark Side would vanish, as would all that stands against it. There would be no need to uplift the human spirit. The rest of Life would go about it’s business without the slightest hint of worry. We are the creators of Art and the only appreciators of it. If we were gone wolves would live in symbiosis with the deer and elk. Salmon would still have a heck of a time getting around the dams, but they wouldn’t be fished to near extinction. The oceans would heal, as would every thing else. Plastic would become part of evolution. Climate would shift and dance like it has since the dawn of time. And there would be no time, none whatsoever. There would only be cycles of vast complex relationships. There would be nothing to define, categorize, or understand them. Things would just be. Events would never be analyzed.

This made me profoundly sad. Both cruelty and kindness would be gone from the world. All we bring to the moveable feast is our ability to interpret it to express it to each other. We are unique in that regard and our passing would still be insignificant to the rest of the creatures here. We would not be missed. Dogs would still be dogs for as long as they could survive. Perhaps we have taken a path that is doomed to ultimate loneliness. Perhaps we could have nurtured better relationships with the other species. That is one of the reasons that I will always pay attention to dogs and believe they are worth spending time with. Through relationships with animals I can understand my own animalistic nature. Even if it becomes simply wondering about my relationship with Everything Else. It is difficult to understand a world where we are not here to attempt to understand it.

Good night.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Freedom Anniversary

Just to close a thread from the last blog, this screen adaptation of “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead” does not include Clete Purcel. And it just struck me that the name ‘Clete’ can be construed, in a high-school American Lit sort of way, as a place our hero Dave can tie himself to so that he doesn’t fall off the world.

Yesterday marked the end of the third year since I’ve had a cigarette. I celebrated with the usual two-mile run/walk through my neighborhood. I’m still packing more than 230 pounds around and last night my left knee area let me know about it. I’m not feeling pain in the joint itself, but I’m feeling a general weakness in that area. So this morning I didn’t run at all, I just walked the two miles. So far today, my knee feels darned okay.

Three years of no cigarettes is an event for me. The hard parts of the whole ongoing effort seem to come in at multiples of three. I was ravenous at three days, vulnerable at three weeks, and very wary at three months, eighteen months, and so on. At this anniversary I just warned myself to be careful and to remember that cigarettes are insidious little bastards that would like nothing better than to sleaze their way back into my life with false promises of ease and enhanced contemplation skills. They’ve done their best to kill me and would leap at the opportunity to continue that slow, measured destruction.

I have learned to separate my cigar experience from my cigarette experience. I can smoke a cigar, not inhale the smoke, and not have another for weeks, even months. It has become a nice, if infrequent, hobby. There is no craving involved. I like that.

But it is still very true that I am a recovering nicotine addict and I always will be. I smoked multiple cigarettes every day for many years. I started inhaling the smoke on the first day of trout season when I was sixteen and didn’t stop, really, until three years ago. That is forty years (do the arithmetic). That is a long, long time. I’m just extremely fortunate that I’m healing well. So far, I have no lung or system issues from my lifetime of smoking. I’ve heard that it takes seven years for all of your cells to replace themselves, so I’m not quite half-way to that blessed milestone. One day at a time. I will continue to count my blessings each and every day. The only real issue I face now is that after I quit, I put on thirty-five pounds and it’s still hanging (literally) around. That’s why I’ve added jogging to my daily routine. Hopefully, it will help me jettison some of this load and my knees will abide more easily.

It’s time to put an egg in my shoe (and beat it). Until next time, so long.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rambling Through Friday the 13th

Ah, Friday the Thirteenth. I find it remarkable that there is an actual phobia name for fear of this day: paraskavedekatriaphobia. It’s kind of an Italian superstition that Friday is an unlucky day and that 13 is an unlucky number. Put them together and it’s a double-whammy. My favorite myth for this superstition comes from the old Norse. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“The actual origin of the superstition, though, appears also to be a tale in Norse mythology. Friday is named for Frigga, the free-spirited goddess of love and fertility. When Norse and Germanic tribes converted to Christianity, Frigga was banished in shame to a mountaintop and labeled a witch. It was believed that every Friday, the spiteful goddess convened a meeting with eleven other witches, plus the devil - a gathering of thirteen - and plotted ill turns of fate for the coming week. For many centuries in Scandinavia, Friday was known as "Witches' Sabbath."”

Personally, I’ve always liked memories of free-spirited goddesses of love and fertility. They remind me of my youth. But Friday falls on the thirteenth of the month three times this year: today, coming again next month, and then in November. I cannot recall any grim incidents in my life that landed on a Friday the 13th, but maybe my memory has become selective. I can’t say one way or the other. I do remember that during my sailing days, we never initiated a long trip on a Friday. Sailors are notoriously superstitious and I guess we were no exception.

We went and saw a play last night at the Artist’s Repertory Theater: “The Seafarer.” (How’s that for a segue?) An ensemble cast created an Irish working-class drama with some nice comedy relief. It had quite a few hallmarks of that world. The devil himself was a character. He’d come to collect the soul of another character. It was also a play about alcoholics. Every character was a drunk. In that sense it was very bleak, but the overall slice-of-life look at humanity offered some hope and the devil became, almost, a sympathetic character. God was definitely in control and his love for us “insects” came through on that Christmas morning.

The cast was good. I thought that the first act was a little stiff, but they really got the rhythm right in Act II. I was able to completely suspend my disbelief for almost the entire second act. I mean, it was all good, but those guys really nailed it in the second half. Not that I really know anything at all about play-acting, but I was impressed.

In the last eight months I’ve seen three plays: “Sometimes a Great Notion” (with a couple of the same actors from last night), “Bucky” (about Buckminster Fuller), and “The Seafarer.” I’m very open to seeing more. I think I like plays better than I like movies. That’s a general statement, really. There are movies I will really enjoy, but I don’t go just out-of-hand. The hype has to capture my imagination. I really enjoyed the Tolkien adaptations, once I convinced myself to let go of the books and keep them completely separate from the cinema experience. I loved Will Smith in “Ali.” And I will certainly go see “In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead” It’s an adaptation of the very first James Lee Burke novel I read. Since then, I’ve read everything by Mr. Burke that I can get my hands on. He is the best writer of Place that I’ve ever encountered. His Dave Robicheaux novels are living entities. You can smell that Bayou Teche country. His recent novel “The Tin Roof Blowdown,” is a visceral account of what happened to that country when the double-shotgun blast of Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast.

I’m very interested in who’s been cast to play Dave’s best pal Clete Purcel, who is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. Tommy Lee Jones has been cast to play Dave, which works for me. But the only guy we can come up with to play Clete is John Goodman and that’s not exactly right. I don’t know. If I was an actor, I would eat broken glass to get to play Clete Purcel. Both Clete and Dave are guys whose lives are redemption-in-progress affairs. They are two people whom I would very much like to have on my side in any kind of trouble. Every James Lee Burke novel I’ve read has been a moveable feast. I’m just really glad that he continues to write. He’s taken the Hard-Boiled genre and created literature with it. It makes me very glad, indeed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Changing My Focus

I have decided that I will no longer write about Wall Street, or Banking, or the Economic Downturn. When I think about the unbelievable untrustworthiness and glorified greed that has been evident in those circles I just want to go stand in the shower and scrub myself until I’m raw. I’m going to avoid politics too. I’m pretty sick of that after a two-year campaign, a contentious election, and a fat bi-polar misogynistic pill freak selling advertising. There have been stirring moments of hope, yes. Those moments have buoyed the moments of fear and despair nicely. But now we’re back to day-to-day spin management, obfuscation, and bluster. Business as usual, I reckon.

Will I continue to pay attention? Yes, it’s my nature. I will monitor my perceptions, seek counsel when I’m confused, and if something egregious happens I’ll have to break with my intent and write about it. I suppose something really good could inspire me too, like Cheney shooting his lawyer. So, until it becomes necessary to regress, I will write about fun and interesting stuff, like colonoscopies, bags under my eyes, golf, baseball, maybe hockey, managing my girth, and maybe even sex. That would really creep out my kids.

I feel terrible for Michael Phelps and his family. I think all of the people who have written diatribes about how he’s “defiled” America should go stand under the next booster that launches a space shuttle. Come on, people. Were you ever twenty-three? The same people who wrote despicable things about Michael probably went home and muttered into their cocktails about their kids being on Ritalin. That is the epitome of hypocrisy. For those of you so inclined, go read Terry Southern’s “Red Dirt Marijuana” to get an idea of why powerful elements in our society are dead-set against smoking the weed. It has nothing to do with taxes, morals, or health.

A really bright (or as a good friend would say, “shiny”) spot during the past month is the seemingly miraculous ditching of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River. I’m glad the media have picked this up and run with it, but I feel for the crew who would love to just fade back into the mainstream and get on with their lives. They were, in fact, just “doing their jobs to the best of their abilities” and I salute them for their professionalism, their bravery under duress, and their quiet acknowledgment of the outpouring of interest and affection by a grateful world population. They are truly role models. We’ve had little to cheer about that isn’t partisan and this story has been a blessing. But, as usual, the media will beat this horse long after it has ceased to breathe.

Time to get on with the rest of my day. I’ll be back.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A City Morning

This morning illustrated perfectly why I have chosen to live where I live. There is a word for a frozen fog that forms in the mountain valleys of the western United States: pogonip. Allegedly, its origins are traced to the Shoshone language, which makes sense since they populated that kind of country. As it turns out, I do too and this morning I watched ridge after ridge march to Mt. Hood, our very own Cascade volcano. These local ridges were separated by a dense white pogonip, row upon row. It was spectacular. The sun was still hidden, but the horizon was falling away rapidly to reveal it. It was a study in grayscale, with a hint of pale rose as a promise of the blazing to come. For an moment, there was absolutely no evidence of anything manmade. It was utterly wild and it was just me looking with an open heart. I would not trade that for anything. It happens, here in this city, several times a year.

All through my working day those images stayed with me. Even now, as the day fades into tomorrow, I am compelled to describe what I saw and to, somehow, cast meaning to it. Why can’t I just recall the view and love it for what it was, a nice visual on the way to work? I think I want to give it added meaning because it is, almost always, a profound and rare experience to feel the presence of wilderness in a major metropolitan area. I feel something similar when I see a coyote in the woods behind my house, or a deer walk through my front yard. I feel something like it most every day when I see hummingbirds and other birds come to the feeders I have out. I see Redtail Hawks and Bald Eagles fly over the house. These are events that inform me directly that I am probably not the crown of creation, that I must share space with fauna and flora very different from myself.

I find this incredibly important. It humbles me in ways that I’m sure I don’t entirely understand. These creatures have just as much stake in this planet, perhaps more, than I do. They remind me that my daily actions can either harm or enhance their very chances of survival. And my own as well.

Most likely, I will get up tomorrow with the sun or slightly before, build a fire, and go out for a morning walk to watch the sky change colors. I’ll try and slip through the neighborhoods like a ghost, leaving no trace of my passing. I’ll climb a couple of formidable hills to heat my blood and give my body the work it craves. While I’m at it I will keep my eyes moving, trying to catch a glimpse of wilderness as it hides from an ever-encroaching city, always hopeful that I will be blessed with that vision. Yes, always hopeful.

Friday, January 9, 2009

So Long, Mr. Cow Chips

It’s a brand-new shiny, right out-of-the-box new year. This may be the year that we sheep are shown (shorn?) new horizons (shearing sheds?). We just might have a leader instead of a what-me-worry rich boy. As Ronald Reagan said in his diary “… George’s ne’er-do-well son …” You know, the guy the late great Molly Ivins referred to as “Shrub.” Yes, our soon-to-be-out-of-work Prez, Mr. George W. Bush. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the worst president in the history of the United States of America. And considering some of the turkeys we’ve had, that’s really saying something.

I’m loving the media right now, talking about Mr. Bush’s legacy. Legacy? Huh? Mr. Bush’s legacy is being a phony cardboard cutout. I suspect that he’s never had an original thought in his life. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying he’s a dumb guy. Nope. He’s an uncomfortable speaker, socially inept, and he chooses friends poorly. Dumb, he’s not. He’s clever, opportunistic, wealthy, and devious. He’s been labeled as a conservative, a neo-con, but his record in the Oval Office has shown him as anything but a true conservative. This is why the far right will never forgive him. He was elected (well, sort of) on an ideological way-right platform and got into office and behaved like a centrist Republican. He made a few wealthy people a whole lot of money, but he did not carry out the far-right’s ideologue agenda. Roe vs. Wade is still intact. The Supreme Court is still balanced enough to create justice of a kind and may very well become more balanced under the Obama administration.

I fear a far-left Supreme Court as much as I fear a far-right Supreme Court. As an old hippie, I’d much rather see a far-out Supreme Court. (Like, wow …)

There’s a whole bunch of scary stuff looming, not the least of which is the inauguration itself. There is going to a crowd in Washington the likes of which may never before have been seen. It is a time of immense hope, a resurgence of American pride that has not happened in my lifetime. Our enemies (and thanks to Bush, Inc. we have countless more) are very well aware of this and would like nothing better than to destroy our hope, our rising as a unified people. I am creating positive thoughts and emotions around this event because that is the best and truest counteraction I can make against the violence and mayhem our enemies would love to perpetrate upon us.

Americans have proven, time and time again, that a united people can overcome anything. We have proven that enlightened, dedicated, and motivated leadership can bring not only America together, but the world as well. Are we on the cusp of another resurgence of community?

I have no idea. Who do you think I am, the Mayor?

Where we have been for the last several years is in the dark. We have lost our faith. We have allowed cynicism free rein and it shows in our inability to muster anything other than a dispirited nod to what should be. I think we all know what that should be, but we have become used to letting somebody else care, letting others carry the torch of enlightened philosophy, watching our lives go by as if we were watching some disjointed movie without connection to ourselves.

It’s not a dress rehearsal. This is our life. We have things to accomplish. We need to acknowledge our neighbors, both up the street and across the world. We’re all in this together. The days of isolation and self-centered unilateral policies are rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. The world is going to change physically and demographically in the next several years. I can’t help but feel there are immense challenges ahead. I think we will be sorely tested. While it may get very uncomfortable, I’m convinced that the overall outcome will be positive. Balance happens and it’s up to us to deal with it. If we can manage chaos with clear hearts, humor, and a strong resolve, we’ll be okay. All we have to do is survive as a species. It’s up to all of us to keep the flame lit.

It’s an old cliché, but it works: Think globally and act locally. It seems simple and it is. That doesn’t make it easy, but it’s not too tough to understand.

Now that I’ve blathered on for too long (again), let me leave this with some advice for our departing President.

Go back to your ranch, hook your thumbs in your belt, chew a piece of dry-land wheat, and don’t move your lips. Stay out of Baseball. And one more thing: the notion of a library with your name on it just makes me laugh.