24 December, 2012

(Another Year) When The World Didn't End

“If a man has talent and can't use it, he's failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know.” - Thomas Wolfe

Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. - Rumi

You'd think that after spending nearly a year ruminating that I'd prefer to spend the holiday season doing something else. Alas, the season and all it's insidious psychological programming have such a deep toe hold in my brain -- even still - that I find myself pondering all that's occurred since December 24, 2011.

This time last year I was hurdling blind and in denial towards the end of decade long relationship , and I was living in Mount Carroll, Illinois, a place for which I carry a deep love and affection and which, I like to think, carries some fond feelings for me (the Scrooges, Grinches, and snotty-nosed bitches not withstanding). A year ago today in particular, I was buried under what had become an annual/perpetual dark mood that even Cindy Loo Who couldn't have broken through. Following what had become something of a tradition the then eventually-to-be-exwife (now ex-wife in full standing), we neither put up a tree nor spent much on celebrating Christmas. The Kid was spending the holiday on the East Coast; thanks to a series of financial setbacks, we had neither the money nor transportation reliable enough to visit family. And that had always been a sticking point anyway, since it was always a toss between which set of eventually to be ex-laws we were going to grace with our presence.

[Our last holiday sojourn happened in December 2009, right after moving from the Valley of the Sun to The Northern Tundra. Not only did we almost die between blizzard conditions and a random automotive problem that made the car die if it dropped below 60 mph, but the now ex-wife in full standing had to bear an intense interrogation from my brother's wife regarding her [my ex's] feelings about being married to a man (me) who wasn't earning a regular Ward Cleaver style paycheck. Both events, in varying degrees, inclined us both to stay away in order to avoid the eventual argument.]

This year, I've done a lot of traveling, a lot of looking and ruminating and writing. I've started playing guitar again. I've grown out my beard. I'm happy to say that I'm happy and seeing someone who is also, for the most part, happy. I've tried to do some good this year; I've also made mistakes, and if I have... either intentionally or unintentionally hurt anyone or myself, I ask your pardon and hope there's enough forgiveness to go around. I rediscovered my faith in people and occasionally caught a hint of the inner workings of the universe.

Maybe it's because I'm going to be turning 40 in a few months, or maybe I've realized just how much of ... well... EVERYTHING... is a luxury, but I finally figured out that I have spent nearly every Christmas of my adult life focusing on what is absent rather than what is present. I mourned my father's death for over a decade. I stewed over my daughter not being with me. I made the people around me miserable, made people feel like less when I should have made them feel like more, and dressed up my misery as cynical insight.

I ask pardon for that, too.

Merry Whatever the Hell You Call This Holiday. Be happy. Be thankful, since chances are good that if you're able to read this, you have shelter, and warmth. I hope you're around people who love you and who you love.



Location:Cincinnati, OH

20 December, 2012

Worthy Acres (Draft 1)

With such a name, your birth surely
carried a promise that could only
have been formed by a mother’s love
and by a father’s hope for the future. Or,

were you named after some long lauded dead ancestor:
some uncle of a moonshining grandfather,
the good son that raised tobacco,
that went bald fretting over the price of corn?

Whether you came to manhood behind the woodshed
With some precious preacher’s daughter
or in a Paris Brothel waiting for a deployment order
that never came, there may be no left alive who can recall; but

it will have to be enough that,
with such a prodigious name,
yours is listed in marble among others
that are also not yet all that too far from memory.

Location:Cincinnati, OH

12 December, 2012

Habitat For Humanity, Part 2

The church sanctuary reminded me of my old middle school gymnasium: high ceiling, stage, backboards at the long ends of the space, hardwood floor. Rows of chairs instead of pews. Also on the walls -- banners depicting preferred values like Compassion, Faith, Devotion rather than celebrating past years of sports championships. In fact, the word "sanctuary" was never used to describe the space. My Dear Sweet Ma called it a "multi-purpose room."

[This is the younger face of the old Protestant church, of course... the non-Catholic version of Buddy Christ (for those of you who are Dogma fans.) The move towards the attempt to be tragically hip started in the early 1990's when it suddenly occurred to churchy folk that their grandkids weren't connecting with that Old Time Religion and were, instead, plugging into video games and other technological demons... probably because of those Satanic role playing games their older cousins played in the 1980's, or the back-masked subliminal messages on heavy metal records in the 1970's.]

And while I don't buy into the new packaging, or into the central premise of Christianity, I have come to understand that while I reject the metaphor that religion... with it's many political foibles, flaws, and unnecessary tragedies... is humanity's attempt to explain things we don't yet understand, and to describe subjective experiences that cannot be empirically studied and smacks of something more than coincidence.

I also believe that the good work of the world can happen where ever the intention to do good exists along with the will to take action.

So I can tolerate a little religiosity. Right?

I showed up the second day because the first day had gone fairly well. Eight or ten of us cut, piled, and organized the lumber to build to house frames.

[Ok. I hauled lumber and let other, more experienced people handle the power tools. But still... I did sweat some. Really.

The morning of the build I showed up not knowing what to expect. The church had advertised the Habitat project for anyone in the area to come help, so I figured there would be anywhere from eight or ten people to maybe 100 or so. There ended up being around 160 people... an increase from the previous year. After I signed up and filled out a brief and scantily worded medical release, I wandered into the sanctuary, -- I mean the multi-purpose room -- where I was to wait for further instructions.

As people gathered I thought about the last time I sat in a church. More specifically, I thought about going to church when I was a kid, and how seriously I took the whole endeavor. There had been a time when the move towards tragic coolness would have appealed to me. That, in part, is the reason I'm skeptical of such marketing attempts. But I am willing to accept that while I am not especially religious, that there are people who are that have good intentions and want to do good things. Every mindset has it's kooks, crazies, and wingnuts. And there's very little to confuse about helping to build a house for people who don't have one.


At some point the minister, Bart, took to the stage. In his opening remarks, he told us that while the purpose of our being there was to build two house frames, that our focus should be to bring glory to God.

I tend to ignore the rhetoric, but it I have to confess that similar statements have vexed me for some time. Christians glorify their god because that, along with baptism, is how you prove your faith. And while there's quite the division over whether faith requires works ... and for some sects, whether the humanity of Jesus is even important... it always struck me that whatever the metaphysical nature of the thing referred to as God, Allah, Zeus, Shiva as well as a thousand other names from as many cultural constructs) happens to be, I find it hard to believe that it/he/she/they NEED us to adulate all over it/him/her/them.

Then again,I have to remember that the only intentions I can control are my own. And even that is a struggle at times.

What I liked about the experience was that at the end of the day, the frames for two houses were built. Whether this winter proves to be a cold one, a wet one, or a warm and mild one, the fact remains that two families have homes to protect them from it. And while I may not have wielded any power tools....and while I may be the most ineffectual mock carpenter around... I felt like I was doing a little of the good work of the world.

And so I'll close the blog with a question that sums up not only my views on Christianity, but organized religion in general:

Do you think that Jesus, ever once, would have rather someone ask him the proper way to build a door jam?

Location:Willow Creek, KY United States

05 December, 2012

Repeal Day Landscape

The world is seen best with natural light.
All the lines are crisp and clean first thing
in the morning: blue winter sky seeping in
through half open blinds, all sleepy houses,
the outstretched limbs of trees stripped naked,
leaving no protection for the squirrels scurrying
for winter stores in the lingering autumn.
Yuletide is coming. Christmas decorations adorn
the more festive houses on the block,
and the mall Santas are checking their beards
against altars to Rockwellian archetypes.
The garbage men have not yet arrived.
Possums and office workers have scurried
underground and away. It’s still too early
for all but the most dedicated daytime drunks
and commerce continues unhindered
in spite of the unemployment rate.
Crumbling blue collar houses cast deep shadows
in relief against the December blue sky,
etching themselves between the cracks in the street
the city never has the political will to repair.
All the starlings have gathered, taken final counts
and are waiting for the first real northern wind
so they can stretch their wings out
and be carried away the way children are told
all prophets and holy men are carried away
in the whoosh of a wind before the arrival
of the cold dark days in which every errant ray
of sunshine is a savior, Spring is a freshly planted messiah
rooted deep in the moist earth
and fed by homeless saints at midnight
when all the good folk are tucked safe
and dreaming of permanent sunshine.

*Image by Amanda L. Hay

Location:Louisville, KY