Lest we ever forget


I was eight years old in 1970, which was the first time I ever heard Take me Home, Country roads.  I had heard lots of music before then but I guess I just hadn’t made the emotional shift that would allow a piece of music to really get inside of me. That changed everything. Music wasn’t just entertainment anymore. It was love and pain and joy and it was something real.

I was thirty six the morning, twenty years ago today, NPR announced that he had died. I felt something real on that day. Though we never met and he never knew, I lost a friend and the world along with me.

For all this, I’m not too precious about John or his memory. Like myself and everyone else I have ever known, John is not to be defined only by his failings or his triumphs, but  by his spirit .

And the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens

It fills the endless yearning of the soul

It lives within a star too far to dream of

It lives within each part and is the whole

It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home

Joe Henry

Thank you John, I will never forget.


Planning for the Future, or, A Man is Known by the Company he Keeps


I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately, especially the part of the future that doesn’t have me in it any more. I think I will be more at ease, more capable of being comfortable in the now, when I have better provided for the security of my family.
So off I go to the place where these plans are made. I won’t say exactly where because that’s not how I play. I’m feeling pretty good as I go inside, kind of the way I hope to feel after I finish writing this.
The lady I had come to meet had actually approached me first, happening upon my email address from a stray business card. After a few months of phone and email tag, explanations of my basic situation and my non-status as an industrialist (Business card), countered with assertions that she and her company could help me and that we should form a relationship, I gave in and made an appointment.
Ten o’clock in the morning on a rainy Wednesday and I’m heading for the office. The elevator made some unnerving sounds while carrying me to the third floor. One sound, similar to the one made by stretching steel cables, seemed a bit premature for a building so recently renovated. In the end it was just a sound and our moment arrived, right on schedule.
She looked to be forty five but could have been quite a bit younger, her careless gray hair drained the color from her face in the badly lit four person conference room. My skin goes green under that kind of light, so I am sure I wasn’t exactly Steve Stunning either.
She wore a suit, navy single breasted with a striped shirt. It looked to be of good quality but it wasn’t sharp. There were accordion creases inside the elbows and other signs it was a bit overdue for a trip to the cleaners. Not that I was one to talk, wearing Levi’s, a t-shirt and a twenty year old Land’s End rain jacket.
We shook hands and she smiled in the way people do when they don’t know what to say. I have seen this before and it’s usually a red flag, but I try to acknowledge the flags at this point without acting on them. I mean, people have a right and a responsibility to look out for their safety, so no harm, no foul, right?
The receptionist helped me to a cup of coffee while my nervous new friend excused herself for a moment, returning with a colleague, a diminutive older lady in a yellow (More for fall than spring) suit. I’m trying not to think it’s too bad she couldn’t find anyone bigger.
The atmosphere seemed to calm itself for about the first five minutes or so, with the obligatory exchange of pleasantries and statements of the obvious: “It’s important to look after your financial security, especially in your retirement years” Thank you.
Once we passed that and the rest of the small talk we were almost comfortable until I mentioned the word “Psychiatrist”. Things started happening really fast after that. Anything that might be construed as an attempt to secure my business stopped. I got instead an offer of a budgeting form in my email (Still waiting on that) and the meeting was over. My new friends ended our relationship without shaking my hand or looking at my face.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: There are a lot of crazy people in the world. I’m one, so are some of you, probably more than are willing to admit it. Some of us like to take the high ground and say “I’m not the one who’s crazy, it’s you.”. In fact, that’s what I am doing right now with regard to my former friends and I really should just come off of it. The truth is I AM crazy and, crazy as they may be, odds are good that they’re not as crazy as me. Like it or not, intentional or not, I just plain scared the hell out of those two ladies.
I get it, honest I do. I have it in mind to say that I am not the cause of their fear but, if I am the trigger of their fearful reactions, is that not as bad? It’s like peeling an onion. Each layer reveals a new argument, or the reminder of an old one. The conflict never ends. There is no center, there is no sense, there are only two frightened women and the man they fear. Could I rail against the injustice, as I might against the irrational fear of white women who might cross the street to avoid a black man, knowing nothing else about him? Should I support the argument that we should all be allowed to feel safe, or is it deeper than that? It takes work for me to feel safe in the world and the work is never done. My mood swings, depression and manic episodes keep me in a constant cycle of self prosecution and speculation. “What have I done? Was I justified? Will anyone care if I am justified or will they only care that they were offended?”. Should I care if others don’t and, if I should, why?
I’m afraid,you bet. I’m afraid someone might hear me talking to myself (it gets intense sometimes) and start making with the whole irrational fear thing I mentioned earlier. I worry that this fear might lead to a confrontation that I won’t be able to defuse or flee and I will end up being arrested or shot down for going to the grocery store (one of the places I fear the most).
If this seems a bit irrational, I offer this: It will never happen until it does, just like a thousand other things people said would never happen, and when they do, there it is. No un-ringing the bell.
I’m still working on financial plans for the future through my bank. I’ve been a customer there for twenty years and none of the ladies there are scared of me at all. Small favors.

Not so nice


I’m not all that fond of the world. It’s populated largely by people who would rather be dead than wrong, who see being persuaded to see the other side of an issue as a sign of weakness. This, however, seems to be the tip of the iceberg. People who move obliviously through public spaces, as if their business was the only thing that bore any importance, just make me want to scream “PAY ATTENTION!”.
The only thing that gives me a shred of hope is the nearly unlimited opportunity to try to turn it around.
There are times when I feel really lousy. My strategy for dealing with this is to go out and find a chance to show some kindness. It’s usually something small like taking someone’s grocery cart back in the store when they are parked way back in the parking lot. If it brings a smile to their face, mission accomplished. I try to make it the thing I stand for and my challenge to my fellow humans.
Last Sunday I fell short, really short. I didn’t want to go to the store but I had to. It was crowded and annoying but I made it out OK. Then an old lady in a Crown Victoria had the whole aisle blocked and that helped. Two hipsters stepping out from between cars on the way home got me swearing pretty well and then the guy with his Yorkshire terriers in the middle of my street just blew my mind. Things got loud and he turned to look at me like I was from another planet.
I drove the rest of the way home, thinking hard. Who the Hell did that? It couldn’t have been me, I’m the nicest guy around. Is there forgiveness for this, for me? Or, for that matter, is there forgiveness from me.
More as I work this out…

Which way is out?

Leave a comment

I got my guitar fixed yesterday. The thing could have been a voodoo doll. The nut had come unglued, causing all kinds of inappropriate sounds, tuning problems and general frustration. I wonder if my moods will become more stable, my thoughts more clear, now that my instrument is singing with its usual bright, clear voice.

I can’t say I truly believe that or that I even would want it. I think that magic, regardless of your grasp of it, would one day let you down, and probably on the day you had most need of it.

I woke up screaming at 3AM Thursday. I dreamt I was in Hell. It wasn’t a very long dream and there wasn’t a lot of detail, just a small, unassuming sign, about the size of a one you might see stuck in the lawn of a house that was for sale. It read, simply, “Welcome to HELL”. When I looked up the landscape had changed from green grass and trees to smoldering black desolation in all directions. I started to scream, which woke my wife, who also started to scream. I was afraid to go to sleep after that.

There’s a lot going on here these days, with Cathy going to school and such. I help her with her homework as much as I am able and try to do a bit more housework. I want to be the man she fell in love with, the one she thought would help her make all her dreams come true. I also want some things just for me, because I think that’s part of who that guy is. Time and hard knocks have a way of turning bright-eyed dreamers into hard-eyed realists if you let them. That guy was never much for realism.

Things are starting to change in my life. I’m driving some of the changes, some of them are driving me. I’ve heard it said that the only way out is through, so that’s the way to go, I guess. There is, after all, no going back. It would be good if the signs were clearer, or less terrifying.