04 June, 2018

It's all casual along the dirty, sacred river

Mick Parsons, writing, Louisville, violence
I spied the end of a sex transaction while walking to the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner from my street to the main artery, I saw a young man trying to simultaneously pull up and snap his jeans while walking nonchalantly. He did neither of them very well. The girl he was with was short, blond, and far less concerned about being seen than he was. Then again, her clothes were in place and walking seemed far less of an issue.
The young man noticed me and tried even harder to look like nothing was happening... at one point, even trying to put his arm around the girl, who, to her credit, could have cared less about the appearance of things. They continued to walk together, but it was hard to imagine them being a couple. He was very tall and dressed like an extra from a late-90's gang movie. She was very short by comparison.
And except for his failed attempt to look like she hadn't just serviced him near a busy street corner in between acts of the torrential downpour, I probably wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that, at a distance, she looked underage and it was a little early for the street walkers in my part of town to be out and about. 
I'm being unfair, I know. They COULD be in a relationship. But the fact is she was far more interested in her sucker than she was in him -- and in my experience, even a quick oral cop in the late morning between consenting adults will most likely include just a little post-glottal tenderness. 
This wasn't the blog I intended to write today. I had something else in mind, something having to do with this dog issue on my street. One of the houses on my street had a husky tied out without shelter all day yesterday -- a day with weather ranging from hot and sunny to torrential downpour. After trying unsuccessfully to find anyone home --or, at any rate, anyone who was willing to answer the door -- I called the city, which, with its usual bureaucratic ineffectiveness, did not come.  At points the husky was pulling on the VERY short tie out she was on and making that high pitched whine that only Huskies and German Shepards seem to make. 
Casual cruelty and abuse offend me more deeply maybe than intentional cruelty and abuse. At least when someone is intentionally evil, deliberately cruel and abusive, the direct action to correct it seems just. There is an intelligence -- albeit a disturbed one -- at work when cruelty is committed in a deliberate manner. I could even make the case that cruelty in the name of passion -- maybe not deliberate, but focused and full of evil purpose all the same -- is at least understandable, even though it is abhorrent. 
But casual cruelty is not deliberate. It's rooted in ignorance, and the educator in me still likes to think that ignorance can be educated and eradicated. And I know enough about this neighbor in particular to know that there is nothing deliberate in the aforementioned cruel behavior. Some people just don't see dogs -- big dogs especially -- as anything other than a soulless animal, something maybe pretty to look at, but in the end, not human and therefore not entitled to being treated with love and dignity.
At some point in the afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids checked on the Husky. Not long after, she disappeared -- and so I thought maybe either the city came and picked her up -- she would have found a home in no time -- or maybe the owner thought better of his or her cruelty.
The husky was back out early this morning. At an appropriate time I once again walked over to try and talk to someone at the house. Once again, no one was home - or no one answered.  I once again called the city. Sometime later the husky was gone again. And I hope to God that someone came and retrieved her.
There's no accounting for the humanity or lack thereof here along the dirty, sacred river -- or anywhere, really. One of the things I love about living in Louisville is that when you strip it to the bare bones and look at how it functions -- and in some cases, doesn't function -- this town is just that. It's a small town with some tall buildings and the growing pains of a mid-sized Midwestern City in the process of redefining itself. 
But when you look at the bare bones of a place like this, it's hard not to notice that while many of the things that make it a small town still exist, there's a malignancy growing there, too.  Live here long enough and you start to find odd connections between the seemingly disparate people you know because they either went to the same high school or grew up in the same part of town but never knew one another because they were bussed to different schools. Locals give directions based on non-existent landmarks.
But that casual cruelty -- which isn't absent from small towns, either -- grows on the bones and spreads with startling innocuousness. 

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25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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20 April, 2018

Kintsukuroi: Or, Being Humpty Dumpty

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~ Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Mick Parsons Dirty Sacred River
Check out more of Beth's work on Instagram
or buy it at AA Clay Studio & Gallery
When I broke the bowl I was pissed. Maybe more pissed than the situation merited, but that probably isn't for me to decide.  

Keep in mind, I'm not one to lose my temper and I'm not inordinately attached to stuff... as a concept. Certain things among the stuff I have has intrinsic meaning, though. And while the bowl hasn't been mine long, it quickly gained the status of useful artifact.

The bowl, along with a sturdy little cup, was a gift from my wife. And if that wasn't enough, both were made by my friend Beth -- one of my oldest friends and one of the few remaining people from the ether of my undergraduate college years who I still talk to.

People trapped in an avoidance culture full of disposable everything dismiss the importance of artifacts. But I've long maintained the importance of certain things of the various stuff I've had over the years. At one point in my life, when all of my earthly possessions could fit in one smallish suitcase and one milk crate (for books... what else) I still had this red coffee mug from Bybee Pottery... a mug I still have and still use.

The glaze has a crack, but I can't let it go. And yes. That's my fidget spinner.

I don't know if the bowl can be repaired, but I hope it can. Amanda reminded me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing bowls and cups with silver or gold. 

In other words, as my wife succinctly pointed out:

If you can't hide it, paint it red.

At the core of her statement is an idea that runs counter to the avoidance culture we live in. We're not supposed to look like we've been through anything. Entire industries have grown that encourage us to hide everything from our age to our relative poverty (thanks to the usury perpetrated by credit card companies and the stupid amount of importance people put on their FICO Score).  Every truly human thing we experience, ranging from absolute happiness to the darkest of grief, is supposed to be tempered, homogenized, and run through a cultural meat grinder that either reduces it something just one person feels or -- maybe worse -- dilutes it into something that needs to be healed by the latest version of New Age hokum.

Living in the midst of an avoidance culture means every experience we have should be neither too happy, too hard, too sad, or too disastrous as to leave a mark. And when it does leave a mark, we should feel shame and hide them accordingly.

Well... to hell with all that.

The Hemingway quote I used is a pretty popular one. You see it in a lot of inspirational memes that are supposed to make people feel better about going through the meat grinder. But it's also cherry-picked... which is the curse of all great writing and proof that there is some truth buried in it that people want to overlook. Here's the rest of the quote:

But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

The truth here, as I see it, is that we really have two options. We live and suffer breakage -- which means, at some point, we have to find a way to repair the broken spots -- or we die. Finding a way to fix the broken spots doesn't mean we need to cover it up to make other people feel better, though. On the contrary. It is the things that have broken us that we have worked to repair that make us beautiful. It is these things that make us human. And moreover, it is these things that bring out the divinity buried in every person. Our broken points bring us closer to oneness with God.

The beauty of artifacts and of people... especially the broken ones... is that they bear the mark of our having lived through the moment when the break happened.  It means we survived. 







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