11 September, 2020

Notes on "the running back" (Anthology of Days)



My dad loved football.  When I tell my story -- the heretofore still short and unfinished long form -- I sometimes begin, in the style of Tristram Shandy, prior to my conception.  If it wasn't for family in-fighting and Paul Brown's bromance-style break up with Art Modell, I wouldn't have been born.

When the team debuted in 1968, the Bengals' uniforms were modeled after the Cleveland Browns. When Paul Brown was fired by Art Modell, Brown still owned the equipment used by Cleveland so, after the firing, Paul Brown packed up all his equipment which he then used for his new team in Cincinnati. The Cleveland Browns' team colors were brown, orange, and white, and their helmets were solid orange with a white dorsal stripe over the crest.  (Wikipedia)

When I tell the story, I mention as an aside that Paul Brown lit out of Cleveland in the middle of night with a truck full of Cleveland uniforms -- which has more flourish than saying he actually owned them and carried them off as much out of legal right as spite. Most people don't remember, and even more don't care, and there's only so much back story I'm willing to give in this the Age of "The Internet of Things."

I was never great at sports, though I did try. But I did grow up loving football, if for no other reason than my dad did. And even after he died, I found that watching football was a way to maintain my connection to him in some, almost ritualistic way.  And when I started hearing stories of former players with neurological issues, saw the doping scandals, starting with the death of Lyle Alzado, I started to wonder what it was all about. Recently, the neurological impact of the sport on its players has gotten more attention.  In both cases, someone points out at some point that the players made the choice to enter the sport; and while I think that's true, I think it ignores the socialization of athletes starting in junior high and up into college, as well as the economic urgency athletes from poor families have to "make good" on their talent.  

And today is 9/11, and I'm supposed to mention it because that's what we do. We rehash the day, talk about where we were, what we were doing. This 9/11 happens during a pandemic in which nearly 190,000 people have died, millions are infected, and every single one of them is erased as a statistical blip, or worse, a lie under some heretofore unfounded "conspiracy." Today, we honor 2,977 dead while whitewashing the suffering of those who survived -- all while we shrug our shoulders at not only the death and suffering in this pandemic, but using it as an excuse to ignore the suffering that happens everyday. My brother-in-law, who runs a 5K everyday and keeps a go bag packed, calls this "compassion burnout."  

A better word for it is "powerlessness."

The running back is just one more sufferer whose suffering is being largely ignored today. He asked me to help read his letter from the Metro Housing Authority because he had trouble finishing it. He needs glasses, he told me. The letter informed him that while he qualified for housing, because of the extreme need for available housing, he would have to wait. I tried to pitch this more optimistically by saying it meant he was further ahead in the que.  I think we both knew that was probably more for my benefit than his; but he accepted it graciously.  That, a temporary chair, and kind optimism was all I had to offer him. And true, I don't know his full story... there's no Wikipedia page link for that. And even if I did, I don't know that I'd tell it here, if only because maybe once upon a time he did decide to play a sport that breaks people and puts them back together like a badly glued ceramic mug. Maybe he wasn't poor and had few options. Maybe he wasn't puffed up his whole childhood to "make good" on his talent. Maybe.

Or maybe a better word for it is "Capitalism."

Read "the running back" here.

Working in the medieval imagination: Notes from August


Thunder and rain blot out the odd symphony

of airplanes and commerce trains –


this baptism not a redemption

but a mnemonic.


quaint conversations of the apocalypse over coffee,

weather patterns and the overall 

normal feel of August in an age

when very little feels

                                   normal.

Where are we now? This mess

they call middle age. This yard stick

shows up again and into the diatribe

of expectations, the list of boxes

needing ticked to prove


beyond the evidence 

that we

“Made it.”


Renoir's “Woman with a Parasol in the Garden” 

The “Ava Maria” in my ear

no focus

every thing swims in the currents

between Christ Crucified 

and Christ Ascended


and I wonder

did Mary bury her son

before he died?

Before Pilate

before the tree

before Gethsemane

before the Marriage at Cana

or was it then 

when she first saw the world

pull and his failure

to avoid drowning?

Getting there


That insistence to rush

a permanent prepubescent state

wanting to grow

up wanting to grow

a mustache wanting to grow

six inches wanting to grow

a man-sized prick only

to find all the hurry

waiting at the end

Every archway an echo of immortality.

Each piece of stained glass an eye of the divine. 

Christ Crucified in the west / Christ Ascending in the east

and even the damned play a role: the mad

wander the streets and every brick to the face

is a call.

airplanes take flight

crickets symphonize

fading moonlight.


The sun will be later today

than yesterday.


The air is thick with the coming storm.

14 August, 2020

Debriefing of a (failed) marketing campaign: Notes from April 2020


Rain today and tomorrow. Some wind now. I don't mind rain or the raggedy yard. I'm making peace with the hole in the roof until the rain ends and the roof is repaired. My ankle is healing, though my hip still aches from stepping in the sump pit, especially during the wetter winds.

Like today.

***

Was a time I'd make myself see

the positive – that maybe

our capacity to learn will overtake

our need to make the world burn –


that we can rebuild out of these ashes

some ( ) thing.

***

Looks more like a rerun than a reboot

I'm still a fugitive from too many apocalypses. Burning oil fields and floods and mountains on fire. Swine Flu. SARS. MERSA. West Nile carrying mosquitoes.

The first End Times galloped after me when I was four, tried to choke me in the night. The world was burning then, too. And it has been trying to kill me ever since.

***

It's difficult to tell whether the marketing campaign failed because the consuming public never accepted the death of the Kennedy Brothers. Or something deeper. Something more congenital. Something bred in the bones that, as the Bard says, must will out in the flesh.

***

Pale fuzzy globs born to be men but too fragile and sugar-based schlep and schmooze through the streets, dinosaur death reenactors, trying to conjure that hobble into being yet again, with new cheap packaging wrapped around the the same necrotic flesh.

***

Blame Nixon                  Blame LBJ

Blame Hoover               Blame the bomb


The true accounting won't make the final report

and what remains will be illegible

until unborn readers learn

the language scribbled

on bone dust.

***

Now's no time to retreat

to some fabricated notion of civility –

some Eisenhower inspired dream carried

forward by forgetful bureaucrats

who still copy Nixon on rain-soaked memos

and send them to the capitol of Arkansas.

03 August, 2020

I keep me in a drawer - Notes from the month of June



I keep me 
in a drawer: 
saved for 
special occasions  
when I can't be 
spared the 
indignity 
of proving, 
by some 
bureaucratic 
standard
that I exist.


For the sake of argument, 
assume you are lying
to yourself with  the
best of intentions and with
the worst possible
outcome.


Often I'm told
I'm wrong     but
to be fair
after so many
years believing
it's a hard lie
to let go.

After “The Arsonist's Lullaby”

There is no keeping your demon
on a leash – but you should
on the regular, give it a hug.


So
me 
ti
me
s

I

for
get

what the

co
lor
or
an
ge
ta
ste

s
li
ke.


The best form of flattery

None of this interests me. The scrambling. The Fear. Sometimes, for the sake of others, I talk myself into anxieties. I learned this trick when I was very young and mistook it for compassion. The mistake people make is assuming that deeply emotional people are naturally compassionate. This wasn't the case for me. My emotions rang out so loud that other people's were drowned out. It's like being born without skin, but being asked to hug everyone so they feel better. Every touch feels like 3rd degree sunburns. 

It took me decades to figure out that nearly everyone else is a mimic, too. They just don't always know it.

Mockingbirds sing
and everywhere
people look for sparrows.



Down by the cleansing waters (after Oppenheimer)

No one is baptized only once.
Every day we dip into the water
diving to avoid 
the unanswering currents.



After Brodsky –

People act as if
burning governors
in effigy's a new
thing. Politics
has never been
civilized, no
matter what
Ms. Sue tried 
teaching us
in Social Studies.

Tools for tyrants
never fear history
because they never
learned it
in the first place.

The thing about them
(tyrants) is you
never know how
successful they
will be until after

the fact when we've
misplaced all the bodies.


Memorial Day (After America Died)

All of this has happened before.

I've done the social media outrage. 
Sort of feels like masturbation 
with 40 grit sandpaper. Sometimes 
I envy people's ability to just get angry, 
like I sometimes envy people's ability 
to drink just one cocktail. How in the hell 
do they DO that? Because I can't

have just one shot of bourbon and I can't
just lose my temper and let it splooge
like so much flotsam on the internet
with so much satisfaction. I'll just 
keep writing poetry and assume

the fascists are en route.



15 June, 2020

bones in the ground, blog edition


More about Thomas Morris... and the twisted ironies of the place... here.


"My nature comes of itself." -T'ao Ch'ien

I'm the round peg
denied by the square hole.
I'm the rusty cog
that revels in being rusty. (from Field Journal)

So there was a BLM protest march in Bethel, Ohio this past Sunday.  Some of the more yokely locals decided to attack a peaceful protest, yell, cuss, steal signs, and generally embarrass themselves -- sort of like the high school varsity football team did my Junior year when they celebrated finally scoring a safety (That's 2 points) at the end of a scoreless and winless season like they'd won a state championship.

It's times like this I remind myself that "Bethel" is a biblical term meaning "A Holy Place." I also remind myself of the short list of points I tell people on the rare occasion I talk about where I grew up:

  • the afore mentioned celebration over a safety;
  • the fact that Bethel, Ohio wasn't on a map until 1998; and
  • the fact that Bethel only ever makes the news when bad things happen like that time a kid got off the school bus to find his parents murdered (never solved), or the time the barned burned and people died (never solved), or the time an alumni from my graduating class tried to rob a gas station with a pocket knife (got caught).


I remind myself that it's the same place where some of the "good and faithful" people collected money to buy a billboard proclaiming Satan had taken over the school board because the high school biology teachers continued... as they did when I was a student... to teach the Theory of Evolution. In a biology class. 

Bethel has never been a holy place -- not for me, anyway.  I can't even say that I hated it that much when I was a kid; I just always knew I was going to leave. The things I hated about it had mostly to do with the fact that I was socially awkward, which presented in all the usual ways. I didn't really connect with most of the kids I grew up, though I had a circle of friends. Looking back, it wasn't really anyone's fault that I didn't connect with most people. Even though we all grew up in within the same geographic boundaries, I had very little in common with most of them, and most of them had very little in common with me. Probably the only thing we had collectively in common is that none of us knew a damn thing and we were all wandering around lost, hormonal, and generally confused by the mixed messages we were getting from the adults around us and from television. 

I've mention before that until I turned 16 and got my driver's license, I never saw a black person except on television. Think about that minute. Then think about the depictions of the black community on television in the 1980's.  I know for a fact that there wasn't a non-white student in the schools there until after I graduated. So, 1991. I remember asking an adult -- an elder in my church, no less -- once why there weren't any black kids in my school and why there wasn't a single black family in town. He leaned in, smiled, and answered "What's out here for them?" He went on to tell me in a tone that suggested official, though not necessarily heartfelt, regret that there HAD been a black family that moved into town sometime in the 70's and that "someone" burned a cross in their yard. 

Local police did nothing about it. The family moved not long after that.

This is where I grew up, but it's not my home. And maybe it never was. My mother hasn't lived there in almost 30 years. My dad is buried there, but I'm not the victim of that sort of sentimentality that feels rooted to dead bones. The last of my father's family that lived in Bethel, my Uncle Bill, died recently. My cousins on my mother's side have scattered. My Uncle Jack, my mother's brother, still keeps his house there, but he and his wife Kathy travel a lot and also have a house somewhere in Florida. What little connection I ever had to where I grew up grows more feint by the year. I'm good with this, though growing up in a small town does leave it's mark no matter how long ago you left.

The absence of that sentiment in my make-up doesn't mean I don't love my father's memory, because I do. But attachment to dead bones is memorialization, not memory, and certainly not history. Maybe that's why I could care less about Confederate statues or the confederate flag. The Outlaw Josey Wales may be a good movie, but it doesn't ennoble the confederate cause.  I could probably suss out the delusional nostalgia and faulty logic that would compel a Bethelite to attack peaceful protesters. But to be honest, I don't want to spend the energy on them. They're not worth it; they weren't when I was a kid and they're even less worth it now.

No one there cares what I think. They never did, and that's fine. But I love that there are people there who will march in support of Black Lives. If there is hope in these Byzantine times, it's rooted in the fact that positive change is knocking on the door of a place that, while it's not as holy as it's name, it damn well should try.

12 June, 2020

Days of the goat, blog edition: Boone

The goats. Boone is the white one. Photo by AHay.

It's earlier than I normally write this, but I've got a day ahead of me and I wanted to get this down. I started working this week -- my first "job" of any sort outside my writing for about a year. Freelancing has gradually dried up, for all the reasons that freelancing does.  But let me tell you about the job. I work at a day shelter for homeless men -- the same place I volunteered once a week before the pandemic hit. When the severity of COVI-19 became clear, the shelter decided to cut volunteers, for both their safety and the safety of the clients. I'm unusually young for a volunteer; many are retired and fall within an endangered class.  And try as I did to get them to make an exception for me, they didn't.  

I can't say I blame them.  Shelters, even the good ones, end up with an institutional hair or two; it's about managing limited resources for the greatest possible use, and I have to admit that St. John's Center for Homeless Men does this better than most. 

At the same time, at home we've borrowed four goats to clear out the overgrowth in our backyard. This wasn't necessarily my idea; it was my wife's. But she works at the shelter as well, in the housing program, and she, along with the rest of the regular staff, have also been picking up the work that was done entirely by volunteers pre-pandemic. Everything from answering phones to passing out soap for the showers was done entirely by volunteers. 18 a day. So it's fair to say that everyone on staff has been overwhelmed and handling the best they can since early March. 

So my wife locked on the idea of goats. There's a logic to it. Goats clear pasture with frightening speed, and we have A LOT of undergrowth that's impeded our forward progress on some plans we've had for the back yard (Check out the Abandoned Garden Project for more on that.)  Also... well... the idea of goats is kind of cool. And my wife is really good finding things. Being a mostly lifelong resident of Louisville and something of a people person and natural networker, she's highly effective at finding things. 

God bless her for that, and for marrying a misanthrope saved only by grace and a lingering social conscience.

Of course, goats in the actual aren't the same as goats in the ideal. Goats do graze, and do it quickly, especially for of them.  They eat, they shit pellets like a broken bb gun, and they sleep. It's taken most of the first week to get them to warm up to us, especially Betty, the lone female. The other three are castrated males: Wally, Merlin (the brains of the outfit) and Boone. 

There are challenges, of course. And a learning curve. I grew up agriculturally adjacent and Amanda is from Louisville. It's true we have neighbors with chickens, and geese, and -- yes -- goats. But "domesticated" livestock are different than, say, domesticated dogs and cats. They just are.  

And we're learning. It's mostly going well. I'll report on more of it later on. I do, probably out of habit, connect these two situations -- the goats in my backyard and my new position as Temporary Shelter Staff... because it IS a temporary position. And I don't mind that, either. Domesticated goats in our backyard and me as a paid staff member anywhere, even a place I have missed and am really happy to be back in and able to help both have a FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY sort of feel.  I'm peripatetic and stubborn by nature. I can be both affectionate and taciturn. Some people think I have a personality that has horns. I'm good with that.

Another reason why I think the goats, my new job, and me are all somehow connected by more than coincidence -- one of them is named Boone... which has been the name of my fictional narrator in more than two dozen stories, one novel and two novellas ... over the past 20 years.

More later. Gotta go.

05 June, 2020

27: It's not about us


Today would have been Breonna Taylor's 27th birthday. It seems appropriate then, to state unequivocally my support for BLM and the protesters nation wide in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis PD.  My support  has been from the sidelines; nursing a twisted ankle and a case of bronchitis makes me a liability -- and while my ego would like for me to be out there, now is not the time for ego. Especially mine.

Activism, on any level, is challenging and dangerous work. Our country has has a history of
attacking activists:
  •  Dakota Pipeline activists 
  • Leonard Peltier.  
  • Medgar Evers
  • Carl Braden
  • Cripple Creek miners (the first ever instance of the military firing on American citizens with a Gatling Gun. 
  • Eugene V. Debs. 
  • Joe Hill. 
  • Albert and Lucy Parsons.  
This is an incredibly short list. The actual list is much, much  longer. 

Another list that's also incredibly long... too long to list here... is the number Black men, women , and children murdered by systemic racism. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Dave McAtee are just the most recent. 

I rarely call out a specific audience in my posts, but in this case I believe it's necessary. I have no interest in trying to explain the context of the protests to the victims of systemic racism. So this is for everyone else: the ones who don't understand. The ones whose face is like my face and hasn't had to worry about being Murdered While Black.  

You don't have to embrace the Democratic Party to support the protests. You don't have to change your religious beliefs. You don't have give up calling for peaceful resolutions; but you do need to identify your biases. You do need to understand: this isn't about you. Check your ego. Demand transparency from all government officials. Demand that Free Speech not be penalized because it calls out truth to power.   Demand that police brutality and murder by cop be treated like the crimes they are.  

During the pandemic (Remember the pandemic?) we were treated to scared white men with guns trying to bully the government because they believed in acceptable losses to "re-start" the economy (that didn't really stop). Freedom for them means sacrificing others. 

The activists in the streets who endure red pepper bombs and rubber bullets, who get blamed for the violence perpetrated by police, by opportunists, and by provocateurs, are defining freedom through personal sacrifice. Their bodies are their ballots.  

Like me, you may have good reasons not to be out there. But there are other ways to offer support. Remember: it's not about us.

28 May, 2020

Consarn it! Figuring out life in the post pre-pandemic world



If I were (still) a betting man, my money would be on the terra firma. 

Now that people can get a hair cut and angry anti-maskers feel like they can bully anyone wearing a mask like a roided up Alpha Beta,  it's past the time when we need to start figuring out what life in the wake of this pandemic will look like.

I suppose the first thing to keep in mind is that there is going to be a learning curve. Our national myth is built on a double-foundation that absolutely works against us: exceptionalism and rugged individualism. 
Revenge of the Nerds (1985)

And what this gets translated to now is some Gabby Hayes caricature of the backwards '49er nursed on amphetamines and instant gratification.   So we're going to have to figure some new things out, like respecting personal space and adjusting (temporarily) to some different social norms in regards to eating out and interpersonal greetings. 

George "Gabby" Hayes (RIP)


This will be hardest on the huggers, I think... though not on those of us who are selective huggers, and certainly not for the non-huggers out there. 

In these areas, though, I have a lot of confidence in our ability to make a shift. The Karens and Stans of the world will take longer to adjust, but they will when it's made obvious to them that being a spoiled brat will keep them out of the salon chair longer and their roots will be as much of an indication of their selfishness as it will be their vanity. 

There are, of course, the gun-toting anti-maskers... these bastions of Muricanism, that have less of an understanding of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights than the average 7 year old.  They have the 3 Percenters to protect them -- jackboots that represent the bully base of the Trump regime, who have managed to infiltrate state and local police departments while Karen and Stan were too busy complaining about the number of sprinkles on their FroYo because, you know, YOLO, right?  I have less confidence that they will eventually embrace any kind of true social responsibility because life to them is nothing more than a remake of a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie.  Fully swaddled in a nostalgia for Something that Never Was, they, along with their low rent buddies in various white power militias that take Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as gospel will take it upon themselves to bully, to frighten, and to do whatever it takes to turn the world -- or what they decide is their corner of it -- into a whites only dystopian nightmare.  



They feel pretty confident in their ability to do all this because their figurehead has given them permission. Trump is a carnival barker at heart. He knows how rile people up and he knows -- just like corporate hacks and powermongers know -- that getting one half of the country to murder the other half is just good business.  The murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Lousiville are not isolated incidents.  The increase in racially motivated crimes against people of Asian descent are not isolated incidents. There's been an increase in these crimes since Trump took office; but it would be a mistake to pin it all on him like he created it.

That would be giving him too much credit.

I've said before that Trump only stood up in front of a tide that was already rolling. My assertions of this were dismissed in 2015 by highly educated and well-intended liberals who honestly still had faith in the system... or, if not faith, a sort of strangled hope that while the system is completely fucked, it's "the system we have." I told them then that Trump was probably going to win. Not because I wanted him to win (I didn't) but because of something else that I had difficulty articulating.  

Now I understand what I meant to say five years ago.

Tyrants are not dynamic people. Dictators CAN be. But, like Brodsky wrote, "To be a tyrant, one had better be dull."  Tyrants are not game changers, swamp drainers, or bringers of change. Tyrants are bureaucrats of their own hearts that want order ... order that cements the status quo in place ... at all costs.  And make no mistake... Trump isn't a tyrant just YET. 

But he's in the running. 

And, so, as we try to figure out how to live in this pandemic stamped world, I have to be honest. My money is on the dirt. Any conventional wisdom suggests that we're not done with COVID yet, no matter how much people want it to be done.  And there will be those who will continue to exploit the situation in the name of profit or power. And the system will tighten its hold, unless we examine the possibility that all these little fires might be fueled from a single source. And it's not so much about the election, but about making changes to the system itself that will make it more humane. 

They're not going to make it easy, though. 

19 May, 2020

Special Patreon Podcast Episode: The day I should have let go of capitalism but missed the metaphor

Episode 21: a Patreon​ Special!


I'm working on a couple of new regular podcast episodes as well as two new PATRONS ONLY episodes, but I thought I'd share this one through my Patreon page. This episode is set for the PUBLIC... that's you! Feel free to share! And if you want to hear those PATRON ONLY episodes... there's usually 2 of those a month... all you have to do is be a Patron. Starting at $1/ month, you will get new Patron Only Podcasts delivered to your email. 

18 May, 2020

Social Distance Diary: Remembering your first (quarantine)

Your humble narrator (L)  age almost 3. 

This is one of the few digitally archived photos available that prove I ever had a childhood. There are others, but this, like those, is a picture of a picture... which means someone, probably not me, either scanned in or took a picture of the original with their phone.  It's an especially telling picture; one that explains not only a lot about me, but about some of the dynamics that helped forge most of my childhood. You'll notice that it's a birthday party. My brother's actually. And that's me, wanting my piece of the spotlight like only an almost 3 year old can.  (Sorry, Brian.) That's me, on the left and my older brother on the right. We're sitting on our dad's lap. He was still fixing airplanes at Lunken Airport, where Proctor & Gamble executives used to fly in and out on their corporate jets.

Wasn't I a cute little duffer? I always thought so. It was quite the shock to my system when I learned that not everyone thought so. Of course, one of the reasons that maybe a pitiful few didn't like me was because it took a while for me to get socialized to the point that I realized I wasn't the center of the friggin' universe.

If you're paying attention to the picture, you might notice that I look on the pale side. I'd been sick when the picture was taken.  I was sick a lot.  A cold/ flu that never seemed to end, that kept me (and my parents) awake at night; hacking coughs, trouble breathing, a come and go high temperature.  Doctor after doctor misdiagnosing it. At one point they took out my tonsils just in case that was the problem. (It wasn't.)  I wasn't breathing well, but it never occurred to me that I was sick because no one TOLD me I was sick and I hadn't been around other kids enough to know that not everyone was experiencing life the way I was. 

By the time I was 5, I'd been sick for most of my life.  I almost didn't get into kindergarten on time because I was small for my age.  I was in Kindergarten when I was finally diagnosed correctly, and was sick so much of the academic year that I was nearly held back because of how much I missed. (I was ultimately allowed to make up everything and went on to 1st grade, which just goes to show that kindergarten teachers have infinitely more faith than say, grad school administrators who insist on making me finish late when the delay wasn't my fault but I was well able to catch up. But that's another story.

The diagnosis: chronic asthma, made worse by allergies. These words are far more common now, as are the treatments. But in the late 1970's chronic asthma was considered rare. I was pretty much allergic to the entire outside world. I was started on an aggressive treatment of allergy shots, daily inhaler use, and some other medicines.  I was sent to camps and workshops to learn breathing techniques and strategies that were designed to maybe reduce the amount of medicine I was taking. (It worked.)

My parents were also told to limit my exposure to dust and pollen as much as possible. They pulled the carpet out of my bedroom. I had to give up my stuffed animals. My mom mopped my room, floor to ceiling, every single day. If anyone in a 5 yard radius was mowing in the summer, I wasn't allowed outside. And since we had a next door neighbor who couldn't help but mow his grass, whether it needed it or not, I was always inside. 

Always. 

When I was 8, the doctors finally gave my parents the green light to let me outside other than school or church.  I had a lot to catch up on, and mostly I didn't. I've never been great at sports; years of having to stay inside and inactive made it that much harder for me to pick up everything from swimming to riding my bicycle. I didn't know it then, but I had picked up a Fear of the World. After all, it was trying to kill me, right?

It took me a long time to figure out that I'd developed not so much a fear of dying as much as a fear of living. I knew it what it felt like to almost die. Seriously.  The body's panic center goes into hyper drive when, for example, you're unable to breathe, and working harder at it only makes it worse. A full blown asthma attack feels like drowning on the absence of air. 

I've been thinking about that time a lot over the last almost three months. I returned from San Antonio on in early March and I've been under some kind of social distancing/quarantine regiment ever since. Not because I was told to, or because I'm sick, other than the garden variety Ohio Valley Funk that nearly everyone living in Louisville gets in the Spring. But because it's been the right thing to do.  I was accused early on of not taking it seriously when I voiced concerns that mass shut downs without a plan in place was a form of economic warfare. I have been accused of being manipulated by one grand conspiracy or another because I wear a mask when I go out and I support social distancing as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

The economic warfare has gone on anyway, just in macro. The grifters in charge of the country have used the stimulus bills to rob the country blind while throwing pennies at some of the rest of us.   

But I come back to this picture. Not because I was a cute little duffer, or because it's a good picture. But because at this point, I hadn't learned to be afraid of life yet.  And it does make me wonder, what will come out of the pandemic. What will we learn? Will we learn? I'm not enough of an optimist to believe that this apocalypse, like the others before, will be the grand turning point. This isn't even my first apocalypse; and if you're reading, it's not yours either.  Even if you're too young to remember 9/11, it was an apocalypse that has impacted us for the worse. So learn some breathing exercises. Adopt some strategies... ones that keep you calm. We may be "re-opening" whatever the hell that means, but this apocalypse is far from done. And it won't be the last one. 


05 May, 2020

Ohio Valley Funk /adelic; or SUPPORT LIVING ARTISTS (#GIVINGTUESDAYNOW)


Yes, it could be worse. My ankle is on the mend, and we were able to get the roof fixed. Springtime in Kentucky means that my allergies, like most people's, have kicked into high gear.  That's the reason I'm not posting a new episode of  Record of a Well-Worn Pair of Traveling Boots; I'm coughing a little too much and my voice isn't its usual, harmonious self.   I'm looking forward to getting back out on the road and having new stories to tell, and I'm hopeful that maybe sometime in this summer I'll be able to do just that.  

Don't worry, though. I'm just taking a break this week from my regular episode and the Patron Only Episodes available on my Patreon Page.  I'm planning on being back in a week or two with another story from my recent or not-so-recent travels for both the regular episodes and the Patron Only Episodes for the month of May.

The pandemic has brought a lot things to the surface: sheer stupidity on the part of protests with dubious ties to right wing gun's rights and ultra-conservative groups; the best in human love and compassion for one another; and the worst, selfish behavior from hording of everything from toilet paper to tofu and a total disregard for health care workers and the people who really do create the wealth in this country. (NOTE: not anyone represented on the President's "re-opening council.")

But one thing that's actually been happening for a while is that well established independent literary presses are in trouble. Late last year, one of the larger independent presses that I very much admire used a GoFundMe to publish collection of poetry.  In today's mail, I received a letter from another independent press of goodly size, inviting me to a monthly membership:



I get it. I really do. It's the same thing I'm trying to do over on my Patreon Page, with my podcast, and with various other writing projects over the years. From what I can tell, there are quite a few people who believe my work is pretty good.  They visit my blog, they visit my Instagram, they download my podcast. True, it started out as my circle of friends, but people are catching on. 

So why do I ask for support? Why don't I just publish a book with some established press? 

Well, I hope to. I really do. Although I'm a massive proponent of self-publishing, I also think the established publishing paths have their worth. Where I tend to differ from a lot of writers and artists is that I don't reject one in the name of the other. This does present some problems since pretty much any poem I publish digitally or in a pamphlet won't even be considered by most other journals, magazines, or online publishers. Some of that is a copyright issue. Most of it has to do with a hold over attitude dating at least to the 1920's about who will be able to claim to have "discovered" someone who might someday be famous... as famous as poets get, anyway. 

And yes. If editors are being honest, their bias against republishing already
self-published work boils down to an unseemly one-upmanship and outdated 
 ideas about the "vetting" process of publishing.

This bias has kept most of the traditional publishing lanes open, with the help of that same snobbery being adopted by most of the grant and fellowship foundations that offer some kind of stipend for doing the work. 

And yet, I find myself wondering what the difference is between a press that uses a GoFundMe, another that offers a monthly membership, and me?

Nothing. There isn't a difference at all. 

But the larger question then becomes not just about me being able to pay my mortgage. I'm one of many upon many of artistic voices. And I believe all the voices should be heard.  Who's job is to support the work of being done now? And what is the nature of that support?

The reason I post so often... on Instagram, on this blog, and in other 
forums... is because I believe  my work, like me, lives mostly on the currents. 

This isn't to say that I think it lacks "value," or that I even think of my work as something that needs to be defined in terms of  "value,"  I put my work out on the wind because that's where all words go, whether they're Art or not. Might as well give the meaningful words a chance to breathe, too. 

About 10 years back, when I was passing around the manuscript of a novel that's never seen daylight... a crime noir-ish thing called Toxicity ...  an agent who wrote me a very nice, personal rejection letter pointed out to me that in any given year more than ONE MILLION books are published and that less than 1% of those are new, still living authors. This was before epublishing, of course. I'm sure that taking into account the number of writers who publish ebooks exclusively on Amazon, for example,  there are significantly more new writers publishing every year. 

But making it easier to publish a book doesn't make it any easier to be able to pay the electric bill, or to fix a leaky roof. 

Most writers I know hustle to sell their own work, just like most of the musicians I know. As a matter of fact, there are more artists hustling for themselves now than ever before because the tools to do so are easy to use, generally accessible, and (for the most part) available at no cost. 

That also means that 

the time we spend hustling, we aren't making art .. a situation that, over the long term, can be self-defeating.

So I hope you'll take that into consideration. Living artists need to live. That includes me, of course. But there's a lot of us. After you've wandered over to my Patreon Page, take a look around on Patreon and wherever you spend your internet time. There's good work being done. Please support it.

 

24 April, 2020

Social Distance Diary: transmitting the dharma


Today is one of those days when I feel the world shrinking, when the the mountain range of things I can't control (always there in distance, like the Rocky Mountains) just laughs at me and my approaching level of incompetence. 

I think of myself as a river pebble. Sometimes I get knocked around by the current. Sometimes I bump up against other pebbles, bigger rocks, a fish, a cricket, a tadpole, or a plant. Sometimes the current lodges me somewhere: I get stuck in the mud, or between a couple of other pieces of detached sediment.  But water is as caustic as it is refreshing. And the current is always in flux. Being, as I am, a river pebble, I pick things up as I go. But I continue to struggle against what wasn't passed on to me to begin with. 

I really like the house my wife and I live in. It's an old house, and has old house problems. A good many of those problem are things I'm able to fix. Most simple repairs, for example. I've changed power outlets, hung shelves, patched and painted walls.   Replaced toilet seats.  These are things I've picked up over the years: like changing a tire, a battery, or the oil. I know a little about a lot of things, actually, which makes me at least moderately useful maybe 80% of the time. 

But the things I do know stand in relief against all that I don't.  And while I try not to dwell on the reasons why, since the slim difference between a reason and an excuse is a dollop of self-pity,  the fact is it's difficult not to track it back.  

My grandfather, my mother's dad, was a carpenter. He smelled of saw dust, coffee, and nicotine.  He used to scribble little projects on scraps of paper, pieces of paper towel. I used to sneak into his workshop just to smell the smells. My old man ran a jet repair crew in the Air Force; he knew how to work with his hands.  There was a wealth of knowledge there that wasn't passed on. I don't know if any of it would have interested me, but I wasn't given the chance to reject it, either. I was a sickly kid and protecting me meant keeping me away from certain things. 

The things I HAVE learned, I sought. And I do think there's something to be said for being the active seeker of knowledge.  But there's something else about the heritage of knowledge.   I've had a lot of teachers over the years, but it's difficult to trace what I know down to a single heritage.  

In the Chinese tradition of Zen, heritage matters. It's how teachers become teachers; the monastic certificate program.  The master discovers who the next in line is and, through a ceremony , the dharma is transmitted and a new master in invested. And depending on what school you look at, the issue of heritage matters.   Heritage gets a bad wrap in America because it's been all wrapped up in nationalism and narrow views of patriotism.  Heritage and tradition have become tropes, and our culture chases them like they matter.  Whether it's being a Harvard Legacy, a third generation Teamster, a fourth generation military volunteer, or a trust fund baby, we chase heritage like it matters more than the life right in front of us. 

Maybe it's because we're a country of mutts. Those inbred Aryans -- the Proud Boy incel types who think blood heritage matters at the expense of common sense and history -- chase heritage like merchant social climbers Jane Austen is still read for writing about.  Our need for a royalty formed out an imaginary meritocracy makes us chase celebrities and social media "influencers." Maybe we do this because we're more than a dozen generations past the place where most Americans  can easily trace where they come from and we're stuck with 23 and Me.

The good thing is I'm still not scared to learn.  And that's a kind of dharma, too.

17 April, 2020

Social Distance Diary: Gimped

I can't complain. 

It'd be easy to. But complaining might jinx it and if I'm being honest, a twisted ankle isn't the worst thing that can happen during the plague year.  

And now with talk of "reopening the economy"... as if the economy has really closed... the only thing I seem to be able to focus on is what to carry forward. 

I keep thinking of my maternal grandmother, Lonnabelle Dunn, and what she carried. She lived through the Great Depression. She saved lidded plastic containers -- the kind that cottage cheese, sour cream, and margarine were packaged in. She washed them and saved them "just in case." She grew up in Crystal Lake, Wisconsin.  She taught me to play Gin Rummy, which she enjoyed because her father, a deeply religious man of an temperance bent, wouldn't let her play any card games that used face cards since face cards were used in gambling.  She would save barely used sheets of paper towel.  She could, in turns, be pragmatic and then  pollyanna.  Her world had clearly defined roles and expectations and she spent her later years watching all of that unravel. It must have seemed unfair. 

Some frugality was already set before all of this mess with COVID-19.  It's not that I'm especially good with money ... it tends to burn a hole in my pocket ... but I've been pretty good over the years at keeping reasonable, shelf stable supplies.  I've learned to be a decent cook. I'm fortunate to be married to someone who is an amazing cook. We're decent planners and not particularly scared of new things. I'm content to carry that forward, along with a renewed conviction that life is suffering and connections matter, and that people are still more important than profit.

The thing I don't want to carry forward is some expectation of normalcy. Normal is an unfortunate nostalgia. People infected with it simultaneously have a very specific, concrete notion of what it looks like but can't really seem to agree on what it means. We group together based on having similar pictures of normal in our minds.  We pass these cement abstractions on to out children, and within two generations normal becomes tradition, which is sacrosanct... until it isn't. 

A year after the 1918 flu, the Rev. Francis E. Tourscher was concerned that people were starting to forget, which is why he recorded the stories of nurses in Philadelphia for preservation in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia . He wanted the facts on record from people who experienced the pandemic because memory has a way of giving way to nostalgia. 

I both derive some comfort and am deeply horrified that our tendency to embrace nostalgia isn't tied to something as new to the world as technology.



Normal -- that infective kind of nostalgia -- often ends up running contrary to fact. And in these, the days of Trumplandia, where facts are under erasure more than ever, normal is a nostalgia we can't afford if we're to carry anything forward that will keep us alive.  So I'm going to let my ankle heal. I will need it to carry things forward. Things that matter.

10 April, 2020

Social Distance Diary: Check-in checklist


Yes. There's what you'd call a typo.

It's not the social distancing that bothers me, or staying home. I've worked from home for several years now, and though I miss being able to haunt my favorite coffee shops and miss seeing some friends in person, I actually feel like I'm doing ok. I was seriously under-employed to the point of not really working before the outbreak; and I don't mind poverty, exactly. I wish there was more money around for emergencies but thanks to a few thoughtful supporters, I've been able to help us eek out a few solutions on the home front. Which is to say, feel free to check out the tabs about being a Patron or offering one time support via Venmo or Cash.me... 

...but these are tough times, tougher than many have had to experience. Not everyone does poverty well, and I have to confess it's something I've learned on my own over the past couple of decades rather than something I was raised with. My parents worked hard and we lived what used to be called a more or less middle class lifestyle; but my attempts... mostly feeble, always well-intended, but ultimately doomed to failure... have always been short. So if you can't toss some money in the hat, believe me, I get it. There's a few projects I'd love to support but I don't have money and I can't put in sweat equity right now. 

But that's not to say I don't keep busy. I do. 

I count things. A lot. Being a list maker of long repute, I am one who likes ticking off boxes. This what serves as routine for me, I suppose. I have a daily practice -- my writing, reading, and spiritual practice is all tied together. I make coffee. I've been doing more cooking lately, and have only really had one catastrophe. (It involved burned oatmeal.) My podcast takes up a significant amount of time... not only the writing and recording (which is honestly the easy part) but the networking and trying to grow it. I'm fully engaged in my creative work... but this was a pre-COVID state, so, like being under-employed. 

That's not to say I'm not noticing some issues. It's difficult for me to focus on long writing tasks, for example, so even if I had paying clients right now, I'm certain it would move like sludge.  I'm forgetting what is (for me) fairly simple language. ( I couldn't remember the word "superfluous" a few days ago.)  

And I thought my email was hacked 
when in reality I changed the password 
and then promptly FORGOT what it was.

As an alcoholic working on just a little over 2 years of sobriety (infant!) I have had to come to terms with the fact that my brain sometimes works against me. It's not a fault in the programming. It's not crossed wires. I'm allergic to booze like I'm allergic to pollen. That's how the ol' electric thinking box was built. But unlike pollen, which immediately creates a negative reaction, I LIKE what booze does to me. At first, anyway. It is, in a way, an intellectual and even spiritual lubricant. There was a reason why Li Po would write 100 poems for every gallon of wine. Believe me,  I get it.

But my brain makes it near impossible for me to stop once I've gotten started. I chase that feeling... but like anything ephemeral, that dragon is impossible to chase. 

So I make lists. I tick boxes. I am getting better at living in the moment because... well ... anything else is not being present. And if I've learned anything over the years, it is that being present matter more the amount of money I make, more than any socially constructed abstraction of my success or my failure. 

My wife, who is a far better human than I am, said it like this: "What we have works for us."

One of my readings, today, though, did, at least, make me feel better about my need to make lists. Early in  Run to the Mountains, the first volume of Thomas Merton's journals, he made lists. These journals were written before he went to Gethsemani, when he was still a student. A
among the lists he made, one was of things he couldn't believe existed. Two items on this list stand out:

The New Belgium Fascist Party
Evanston, IL

Tom, I get it. I don't understand fascists, either. I've been to Evanston, Illinois and know for certain it exists. But I can't say the same about Coalinga Junction, California. And I've been there, too. 




03 April, 2020

deadmachine retread: Thus Spake the Congregation


I knew something was wrong when Twila gave me the stink eye outside the student union. Divorces are difficult enough. Being young – too young, I remember my grandmother saying – made it that much more difficult. Having a three-month-old daughter made it even more so. Getting divorced while being married with a three-month-old daughter on a small college campus in Eastern Kentucky pretty much guaranteed that only Sisyphus had a more difficult load to bear.

Perverting common wisdom, a divorce has more than two sides to the story. There’s the usual… what one partner says and what the other partner says. Then there’s what really happened, which tends to be somewhere in the middle. And then there’s what everyone else says. And depending on who it is, where their loyalties lie, what their predilections are, and what their own (inevitably skewed) views on marriage are, there are any number of stories, all of which sound true enough to pass the gossip test regardless of how close to the truth it happens to be.

The usual unofficial morning kaffeeklatch of what was then called the Non-traditional Student Union was congregated in it usual corner spot in the upstairs student cafeteria. Woody, Shyla, Tammy, Jack, Ernie, Barb, Babs, and Shane were all in their usual spots drinking their usual coffee and having the usual conversations – all of which can be boiled down to how most college students have it easy. Marie and I gained entry to this group not so much because of our age, as our ages fell within what is (still) considered the traditional age, but because of our marital and parental status. Young marriages were increasingly less common in the 90’s, even in Eastern Kentucky with its sometimes self-proclaimed penchant for the traditional and the morally unambiguous. Both Barb and Babs, both of whom were products of failed marriages forced by cultural shotgun, applauded our decision not to resort to sin by partaking of marital fruits outside the sanctity of the marriage bed. Tammy, Shyla, and Twila didn’t say that in so many words, but Twila – who was a grandmother with granddaughters who hadn’t headed the words of Jesus since being baptized Old Regular Baptist style in a coal sludge dirty creek at the age of seven – demonstrated her clear approval by speaking often about how she wished her Becky and Sue had inherited some stiffer moral fiber like me and Marie.

Ernie, Shane, and Jack had no opinions on the topic. Or at any rate they didn’t express any openly. Woody asked me once when none of the others were within earshot – with no small amount of incredulity, I might add – how I could saddle myself so young when there was a campus full of beautiful young girls to occupy my time. Jack kept his own counsel about anything that didn’t involve the NCAA and Ernie, who was trying to be a writer, mostly talked politics.

Shane never said anything at all. But since I knew he was the guy Marie was currently fucking, I felt like I knew what his opinion was on the subject of marriage.

The group fell silent when I approached. When I sat down everyone but Ernie and Jack moved their chairs back a little… not like they were making more room but like they were afraid that whatever was wrong with me might rub off.

Ernie eyeballed the women carefully before uttering a neutral welcome.

What’s going on, he asked.

Not a thing. Just waiting between class.

Barb made a harrumphing sound and Babs just shook her head. Jack nodded at me, the way men sometimes do to show solidarity right before the bombs fall and its every man for himself.

I tried making conversation, though I didn’t much feel like it. I wasn’t sleeping and even the copious amount of drinking I was doing wasn’t helping.  Going to class was more an exercise of habit than purpose at that point and my professors treated me with increasing levels of shock, annoyance, or unsympathetic pity. I wasn’t doing anything. But I still made it to class. I was still working, if for no other reason so I could give money to Marie for Rhea. After we split up she moved out of the trailer we shared and in with a friend to help defray expenses. I was staying with friends who would ensure that, if nothing else, there would be beer and tater tots to eat and who could give me a ride to campus.

Barb made another harrumphing sound. You don’t need to be here drinking coffee like you have friends here, she said. You need to go and take care of your daughter.

Babs, Tammy, and Shyla all nodded and vocalized their agreement with Barb. Ernie and Woody shrank back into their chairs. Jack shook his head and kept his eyes on his coffee. Shane sat there rubbernecking and waiting for the actual carnage. It didn’t take long.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Barb went on, thoroughly encouraged by the congregation present. Your wife and daughter are living up in some shack with no electricity because you threw them away. And here you sit like you deserve to be around civilized people.

That wasn’t what happened. I knew that. Marie knew that. I’m pretty sure Shane, as amused as he was with the show, knew, too. The only thing that was true was that I left. The arguments and accusations, the yelling and recriminations by both Marie and me weren’t anyone’s business. The misery we’d inflicted on another wasn’t anyone’s business. And it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether Marie or I were screwing anyone else. I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t change the fact that the marriage was over, that my daughter would grow up never knowing her parents as being a married couple. It didn’t matter that nothing in my experience had prepared me for that level of failure – not that anything does, really. But I didn’t even know any kids with divorced parents when I was a kid. My parents were happy. My friends’ parents seemed happy. That was what I expected when I got married, for all of the right reasons. And in spite of what Twila thought, it wasn’t to stave of immoral carnal lust. I was in love… or I thought I was, anyway.

But none of that mattered. Just like it didn’t matter that I had just seen Marie and given her money and asked if she needed anything. No, she said, like I insulted her dignity. We don’t need anything from you.

If there was any real justice in this evil world, Barb intoned, someone would take you out to a deserted holler and show you how we treat men that abandon their babies.

The congregation was silent. So was the entire cafeteria. Ernie and Woody refused to look at me. Jack met my eyes briefly and I knew he knew what was what. But he also knew, like I did, that no amount of words would change anything. Sometimes you take your beatings whether you think you deserve it or not.

27 March, 2020

Social Distance Diary: A Walk in the Park

This near hollow tree is still standing. I take a lot of comfort from that.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. - Herman Hesse

We went on a walk in Iroquois Park last weekend, along the horse trail a bit. Just to get some air. Just to get a little daylight together.  We picked the horse trail because there were fewer people there; not that there were a lot of people, because there weren't. But with the outbreak and my wife's work, we're being super diligent about social distancing and have been... even before Andy asked us to.

I love being out in nature, and I count it among my blessings to live where I have access to a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. He, like John Muir, had an inkling of humanity's relationship with nature, and of our need for it.  More people know that Olmsted helped design Central Park in New York than know he designed "The Big Three" parks in Louisville.  At the core of his design philosophy was an idea that may have come to him when he was traveling in secret across the Pre-Civil War south and writing the articles that would eventually become The Cotton Kingdom: that it nature should be left to be nature because that's how it best serves people. (Never let it be thought that he was some prescient eco-warrior, because he wasn't.) He was very much opposed to manicured landscapes that were very much in vogue... a manicured look that was meant to suggest mankind's dominance over nature.  

Iroquois Park was originally designed with this in mind; and even though some very unOlmsted-like things have been added over the years, the amphitheater is a boon to the south end and to the city, the playground is well maintained, and while I'm terrible at basketball, I don't begrudge anyone a pick-up game in non-outbreak conditions. A large part of the park is still maintained much like Olmsted imagined it. Fallen trees are allowed to rot where they fall as long as trails aren't blocked. During our walk, I noticed where a tree that had fallen across the horse trail was simply cut in the place that blocked the way but left on both sides.

As humans -- as monkey not long from the trees -- we sometimes can't help ourselves but to leave a mark. Amanda asked me on our walk if I ever carved my initials into a tree. No, I told her. I always felt bad for the tree.

This expression of hypersensitivity didn't surprise her; she knows me too well.  She pointed out, though, that as long as the carving doesn't go all the way around the circumference of the truck, that it will simply grow and expand with the tree.

She wasn't asking because she wanted to carve our initials into some poor tree; but she did notice I was taking pictures of some carvings that attracted my attention:




While I can't bring myself to make such marks, I do appreciate that the tree carries on in spite of it for the most part. I suppose if I felt like I had permission to carve into a tree, I'd consider it. But I'm not one that the trees have decided to talk to. Not yet, at any rate.


I was talking to an old friend recently who takes stunning photographs of far flung places. He told me  that a person gets some perspective when he stubs his toe on a 5000 year old tree. This tree may not be that old, and I (surprisingly) didn't tub my toe on it. But I derive a great deal of comfort from it, and the others being there.