#4

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language.” William Cullen Bryant

“America has always been a country of beautiful ideas and horrible behaviors.” Steven Almond

This post is the culmination of many influences. It started several days ago with a walk on a hot summer day. It’s been assaulted with intellectual thoughts brought by podcasts and YouTube videos. The words were given their genesis in my upbringing and that specific part that has allowed me love music without being able to play a note. And finally, my commentary represents a minor bit of writing suffering to get them written.

David Goggins is a man who has served in the toughest branches of the military. He also is a badass when it comes to fitness. I’ve only recently been introduced to his particular philosophies regarding exercise, but I think his ideas about getting in shape are less about the physical and more about an emotional/mental fitness. Goggins suggests that we experience “suffering” to understand what we are capable of. The suffering is a sign that we are strong, that we have the ability to persevere, and if we are able to survive those moments of dread, fear, or dropping confidence, we can achieve our personal greatness.

I share that because I am writing this post under those ideas. I am using Flowstate a program that forces the writer to keep going for if I take too long of a break between words, I will lose everything. I set the time for thirty-minutes, a time that I have never attempted. I will be suffering, I’m sure, but hopefully, the post reflects a true accounting of my walk the other day. My suffering due to the whims of forgetful software is hyperbole, but real enough that I am hoping to capture the emotion I felt this week as these social influences conspired to stoke the fires of my stagnant and all too settled moral convictions.

About the walk. I’ve been involved with sports and fitness my entire life, as an athlete, recreationally, and professionally within the sports and fitness industry spectrum. Lately, and I am guessing over the last ten years, I have been less committed to working out and it shows. I’m taking on a middle-aged paunch and feeling the effects of a lack of exercise when I walk up the stairs around my office. I have fought the exercise laze from time to time, but I’ve never been able to commit to keeping things regular.

The walk was day one.

I left my neighborhood with a goal of three to five miles of a comfortable pace. I plugged into a podcast featuring Jamelle Hill, an ESPN writer/commentator and hit the road. Ms. Hill is an exceptional writer. She is also a person who is unafraid to call things as she sees them. With her candor, she has been caught in some controversies that have not necessarily worked out in her favor, but each revolved around important issues, so she is at peace with the consequences.

My walk took me through my modest middle-class condo neighborhood, up a hill into a higher middle-class single-family home neighborhood, through a fifty-five and older community that is spotted with plenty of Mercedes of various classes, and ultimately onto the main drag the leads from my small, socially confused town.

Standing at the intersection of the roads leading into and out of town, had me thinking about the path through affluence I had taken. It had me thinking about the marginal path of comfort I had lived. It got me thinking that not everyone had the same opportunities that I have been afforded simply due to the color of our skin at birth.

With that, I made a hard left onto Ways Lane to see if I could work my way up to five miles. The podcast was over and one of my favorite singers came on, Bruce Hornsby, The Way it Is, and as you are reading this you’re thinking, “no way,” but rest assured that’s how it went. I’ll add that this song has been with me from vinyl to cassette twice, CD, and now digital. The message of social intolerance and how it does not have to be the way is one that has been burned into my soul through the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song and a lifetime of appreciating the gifts that all people have to offer. I believe, “good people are good, bad is bad.” Skin color does not define either.

With the sweat flowing, I took in what was before me. There are two buildings at the top of the long hill that is Ways Lane. On the right side is a Boy’s Scout’s hall. It looks like an old school or church. There are three large windows on each side, a sagging roof over the addition in the back, and one of the most industrial doors I had seen in some time. It’s a place for people to come together, to learn service, and at times an example of intolerance and exclusionary practices.

On the left is the stone Italian American Social Club. There is a spacious parking lot and a fine picnic space behind the main building with its covered porch and a cabana separated by nearly twenty-five picnic tables. I’m not Italian and I’ve never been to such a social club, so the inside of the building is foreign to me, but I bet it does not reflect the important contributions of the Latino community to the prosperity that allowed the Italian settlers of this community to move up the agri-business pecking order and erect such a permanent structure to their community.

Curiously, I noticed that through a thin line of trees behind the cabana, there is a financial management company that is full of cash. I’ve heard of this firm and I know that it often contributes to causes it deems worthy, but the parking lot, with its high-end cars, was hidden very well behind a wall of trees. As I passed the first two buildings, the scenery began to change.

Next on the tour was a barely functioning tractor trailer repair shop. On this day, all of the bays were closed and all of the junker tractors in the lot where open and rusting. Next, was a hovel of old houses packed onto a clean lot. Some of the houses were repurposed mushroom houses and the biggest house was in the greatest disrepair. Its glassed-in front porch sported cracks and missing panes, while the front door had cardboard taped over its window.

Again, curiously, directly across the street was a new mushroom growing facility. The clean cinder block, shiny HVAC units, and giant electrical converters showed that this farm was state of the art and it seemed to be an insult to the people living in the ramshackle that was across the street. At this point, the asphalt of the road began to crumble and degenerated into nothing more than a dirt road located just a half mile or so from million dollar homes in one direction and the center of town in the other.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of the hill and saw where all of the old mattresses and couches go when the sanitation companies won’t pick them up. They next to the railroad tracks that once brought people to town. Now, it’s just freight trains passing through.

I turned and made the walk back home. I talked to my voice memo app with anger as I became more aware of the differences in the classes on this particular walk. I got angry thinking that this one street is marginalized because of the people who live there, because of the work they do, because of the location of their homes. My angst didn’t pass as I passed through the affluence back to my house. It has carried with me for many days and today was the first day that I could put capture my thoughts in what has hopefully been a meaningful way.

The walk was an exercise of suffering, a suffering of realizing that “me” is the prevailing attitude everywhere, yet, there are so many who don’t really have a chance for no reason on than they are not able to have communion with the rest of nature. It’s shameful that in an area with such abundance, there can be such different life opportunities for people.

We can do better.

#3

“Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.” William Cullen Bryant

This is the story of a man who only knew how to say, “yes.” Whenever he was asked to do something, “yes,” was his answer. No matter how awful the job, he was agreeable. No matter how much he had going on, he would accommodate the person asking for a favor. In some circles, he was seen as a patsy. Others thought he was the next coming.

The problem was that the Yes-man was having a hard time figuring out what was the best for him. He wanted to be able to say “No,” but each time he tried, all that came out his mouth was, “yes.” He would feel angry at himself for always contradicting his urge to say “no” and the anger built inside him to a point where he could no longer stand himself.

He made a decision to drive to the wilderness. He parked at the bottom of a mountain at the end of a long-forgotten logging road. The bumps had jarred him endlessly and made him more angry at himself. His car was one dusty mess, much like his constitution.

He grabbed a backpack, which had water, food, a copy of “The Art of the Deal,” and he headed for the mountain. He walked all day. When the trail ended, he was only half the way up the mountain, so he took a drink of water and continued his climb. Early the next morning, he reached the peak. The sun was rising in the east and the orange rays had yet to reach his thrown.

He sat on an exposed piece of rock that jutted out from the mountain like a diving board. He took out his copy of the treatise of a man who would be President and began reading. He figured that with all of the behaviors that had been on display for the last year and a half that he might be able to glean a “no” from this text on how to swindle the world.

The Yes-man read and read. The pages did their job as far as being entertaining, but they had the opposite effect on the Yes-man. Instead of thinking about saying, “no,” he began to say “yes” to his negative thoughts. He thought about how easy it would be to simply give in to those thoughts and start treating people like shit instead of trying to help them. He realized that it is easier to be an uncaring dick than it is to treat people with respect and dignity. Being nice required sacrifice and that never came up in the book.

Just when the Yes-man was going to settle for the negative yes approach, he had another thought, “If I jump, I don’t have to worry about either.” He stood, waited for a nice gust, and then jumped. Somehow he defied gravity and caught one of the rising sun’s rays. He rode it like a surfer all the way back to his office.

“George, can you get me five hundred copies of these in an hour?”

“Yes, sir. I can,” said the Yes-man.

And his affirmative life continued…

#2

“Eloquence is the poetry of prose.” William Cullen Bryant

I should be confident, self-assured, and unafraid. I should not be projecting those, but instead, I should be living them. I think about my coding, the random collisions of DNA that have made who I am, and it’s easy to see from where I have come. There are the hardscrabble lives of northern and southern grandparents who fought bottles and poverty to contribute to who I am. There are parents who have cared deeply and allowed me to absorb the best and worst of who they are so that I might become something.

I’m not sure where I came from, grandparents, parents, or both. Isn’t DNA nothing but a set of words, instructions, or some kind of code that sort of lets us go on being what was? Some would argue that somewhere in that genetic manual of life, there is a different set of instructions, something mystical, divine, or magical that allows us to interpret our blueprint in the way that we see fit, perhaps that is free will.

Free will is our behaviors, the things we do and no matter what the genes say we are supposed to be. I hesitate, criticize myself, and act without conviction on so many levels. Those are my choices. Submit an idea…maybe tomorrow. Here’s a post…I suck as a writer. I’m going to lose weight…after I eat this carton of donuts. It’s wrong and I have only my DNA to blame, right?

No.

I should recognize that DNA is simply poetry. A combination of stanzas that describe the beauty of who I can be. I should emphasize the mysticism, divinity, and magic of the unknown by applying each to me. I am a mystic, able to perceive the world in a way that no one else can understand. I have been touched by divinity, knowing that higher powers exist than those seen in our present way. I am a magician free to create illusions while knowing that they are not real.

The truth is that I am an idea. One that is constantly being refined, evolving, and hopefully turning out improved versions. Damn the DNA. Thanks for the DNA. Damn free will. Thanks for free will.

Figuring it out…

#1

He said, “It’s all about the questions.”

I knew he was right, but I had my doubts about whether I wanted to answer the questions or not. Sometimes honesty has a hard time for those with a lack of confidence in personal matters.

“It’s the rabbit holes, that’s where the oil is, black gold, Beverly Hillbillies kind of stuff. You’ve got to go there to know.”

I was lost. The days of getting by with a simple throwaway line where gone. Twenty-four hours after being verbally assaulted by a kid I knew from long ago as to whether people can truly, “just survive,” or are they destined to greatness by the role they play in society and I could feel those insecure feelings coming on again.

I went for some distraction, “Come on, let’s go to Pet Value and see if we can relive life circa ’08. Little did I know, that answers happen with a randomness that cannot be explained.

The walk from one outrageously priced department store proved an event. We stopped with our feet surrounding a large, green beetle. It didn’t move, but my son and I knelt next to it. He said, “That’s a big beetle.”

“You’re damn right, I AM a damn-big, green beetle,” said the damn-big, green beetle.

It rubbed its hind legs together and a soft sound rose into the air. The hymn wasn’t really coming from the rubbing of his legs, but rather from the whirr of mosquito wings buzzing. The little bloodsuckers accepted the beetle’s orders, flew in formation, and took aim at my ankle. As they each set to the task of biting where I could barely reach, my ankle began to swell. I was hobbling along with a tomato above my foot. Finally, we were out of range of the mosquitos.

The store was uneventful. The cats made for inappropriate humor that might play well in Nevada, but nowhere else. In fact, I prayed that no one heard our joke lest we are brought up on charges by the social media hit squads that troll the world looking for ways to make everything more miserable than it already is.

We left Pet Value and walked straight across the parking lot without any care for the conventions normally associated with safe parking lot locomotion. Instead of using the sidewalk, we crossed horizontally, ignoring the aisles. More importantly, we protected ourselves from the damn-big, green beetle and his air force of marauding mosquitos. The truck offered us refuge and transportation.

The day ended with some Grateful Dead, Marcus King, and Marshall Tucker talk. What is it about music that keeps things going? The songs, the notes, and the creative energy must tap into a basic life dimension that we somehow miss out on when we are left to the sounds of our own voices. We use music to venture into other places, silencing self-talk and quieting all of our silly personal inquiry. Maybe, today was my first attempt at answering my questions. Music is a part of what I am.

Peace.