Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Waka Waka Waka…

A short while back I had a conversation with a friend about dreams vs. reality...the limitless sky vs. gravity's hold on everything, eventually pulling all that we know back to earth.

I confess that I'm a hopeless romantic. What I wonder is: does the hopeless trump the romantic or does the romantic trump the hopeless? I want everything...there, I said it; I want everything good...for everyone. Now I can either give up trying, submit to the inevitable power of gravity, or continue to believe that somehow, someway in this crazy place we call Earth that it can work out.

Why can't I have it all? Why can't everyone have it all? It may seem absurd to even pose the question...and maybe I'm just not smart enough or wise enough to accept the truth - when I jump from the plane, the sky will not catch me and protect me from gravity's hold...falling, falling, falling...Not a scientific study by any means but I would say that almost everyone I know can search their past or present and find events or seasons that have reduced, or sometimes completely eliminated, their ability to enjoy play and run and dance and laugh...

But if that forever defines us, why do we not just give up? I see people - friends, neighbors, strangers - wake up in circumstances owned by the gravity of difficult realities. I see physical, emotional, spiritual diseases ravaging lives like an out of control California fire. Men, women, and even children without and safety. Relationships dissolving, dreams dissipating and, in general, entropy (moving from order to disorder) pushing out the heavens that once seemed near enough to touch. Why do we choose to continue?

Here’s one reason I don’t give up: if I give up on the dreams and the visions of my neighbors and friends, and even my enemies, then I have to give up on my dreams and visions as well…give up on the very idea of dreams and hopes and visions. It either matters or it doesn’t; it’s either real or it’s not. And if it’s real, if it matters, then it applies universally.

I’m looking out the second story window from my apartment. I see the damp streets, gently washed from a night’s rain. I see several large and strong and proud evergreens that seem to say, “long after your gone, Mark, we’ll still be here.” Sunday brings a quiet, a peace, an emptying of the crazy basket. Sunday carves out a place for me to see what I don’t usually see.

In the middle of the greenery and the low hanging cloud cover and the tired-looking apartments and the cars and power poles and wires and ravens, there’s one tree – spectacular yellow/orange coloring aligning with the season change. This one tree, sprouting long before I sprouted, grew unhindered toward the sky, for years and years and years…until early this year.

Someone in some important office at some important location determined that more than a third of it, a huge chunk, should be cut away making room for 2” wires of some sort. Some guys in white construction hats reduced this breathtaking ages-old image of beauty reaching toward the heavens to a…a PacMan look-a-like.

Here’s another reason I don’t give up. Several months later I’m sitting on my sofa writing this note and staring at the tree. From what I can tell, the butchering of the tree’s appendages deterred its dreams and visions in no way whatsoever. Bizarre looking? Yes. Deformed? Yes. Deterred? Nope…hopes and dreams and visions intact, it just stretches onward and upward like its rhetorically asking, “I’m a tree; what else would I do?”

“waka, waka, waka…”

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Workoutage Meets the Donut Woman

For the past several months, I’ve studied several different workout regimens. My analysis, finally rescued from my emotions and delivered to my brain, required no PHD or Masters in Physiology to understand – workout is good for Mark; not workout is bad. Six or seven weeks ago, I decided to listen to my inner caveman/personal trainer and engage in workoutage (a technical term invented quite recently by some experts from some university who studied something quite significant for a substantial number of years)…

Sorry, “simply having a wonderful christmas time” keeps running through my mind. “Sim…ply having a wonderful christmas time. Sim…ply having a wonder…” How do the synapses come up with such creative expressions of my internal workings? We’ll cover that exact topic in a future episode of On the Way – a one way technical journey into my mind.

So this morning I head to a little place that we exercise fanatics like to call “the workout room.” I’d just returned from the Juice Shack with a colossal size veggie drink in my left hand and a fruit drink in my right, feeling pretty good…pretty, pretty good (nod to Larry David). In order to not lose you lay people, let’s just say after doing a little of this and a little of that, I bounced/stumbled over to the leg press (oops, probably lost a few of you there). Suffice it to say, a leg press requires a complex combination of power, speed, precision, sophistication, beauty, and finesse…oh yeah, and legs.

Some of the machines, including the leg press, face a wall of windows allowing the regular folks to walk or drive by and marvel at the workout experts in action. About half way through my second set (I call each and every movement of any body part, including breathing, a set), I saw this red-headed woman sporting a light beige jacket stroll across the alley. Her right hand tightly gripped a white bag of donuts; her left hand surrounded a large cup of coffee. She looked happy and content.

I smiled at her; she smiled back. Knowing that she came by just to get a glimpse of a real workout specialist engaging in workoutage, I executed another perfect (my definition of any movement where I don’t end up on the ground) press for my audience of one. Without a moment’s hesitation, she shrugged, executed a perfect lift of her donut bag, followed by her cup of coffee, and then repeated the exercise…

Touché, donut woman. Touché.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Friend

When I outlined my 2009 goals, making a new friend somehow found its way onto the list. I don't know if living in a new area provided the impetus for that addition or whether I just felt that intentionally making a new friend would be good for me. In any case, it seemed important at the time so I added it to the list. And I had no interest in just another acquaintance. A friend, by my loose definition, is someone I can call in time of need and someone who would call me in time of need. Either that or anyone who would buy me a beer (or a glass of wine) from time to time, and vice-versa.

A couple of days ago I received some news that both shocked and deeply saddened me. A friend of mine from Florida, who I worked closely with for 5 years, passed away. Most of you have lost a friend or family member, making my loss of words to adequately describe my feelings probably understandable to you. I really liked this guy...this husband and father. He died before he reached 50. I enjoyed his company and his friendship. God only made one of him.

I wanted to cuss, but none of the cuss words I know (and I'm intimately acquainted with plenty of them) come even close to saying what I wanted to say...what I needed to say. I'm still angry and hurt and shocked and angry...and ANGRY! Paul, the Apostle, once asked the question: Death where is your sting? I'll tell you where the hell Death's sting is: right here with the ones who grieve and struggle and are left behind. My friend may very well be in a better place, but we're not...I'm not. I used to have a room in the house of my life where this friend lived and breathed and had the keys to, and I don't. I do have the memories…and healing will come, but no matter where the logic train begins and ends my heart will never be the same, this side of heaven. He's gone and no matter how hard I try I will never, ever make contact with him until I pass on as well.

In some ways what disturbs me most only incidentally connects with my friend's death. I despise how his departure reminds me that I too will pass loved ones as well. I hate knowing that I have very little to say about when or how I, or the ones I love, move on from this world...and I hate not actually knowing when or how. To put it bluntly, this whole death thing just creeps me out. I don't agree with it and I don't like it. I'm anti-death. Blame it on God, blame it on the Devil, blame it on man, blame it on doesn't change anything...theology doesn't fix it...explanations don't make the tears and the hurt cease.

When I look at the flip side of the I-don't-know-when/how-death coin, it motivates me to engage life more fully. Much of what I hope to accomplish in this world has yet to be started in earnest, and I don’t want to end my days in that same predicament. Each moment seems a bit more precious, more important…just more. I want to savor it and then drink it in deeply, without reservation. I want to see my fiction writing career become more reality and less of a dream. I want my writing platform to provide the foundation for connecting with others. I want that connection to result in change, and joy, and healing for all of us…forever and for good.

Others feel my friend’s loss more fully and more intimately than I - his wife and children, other long-term friends. All of us who knew him have memories, and mine are all good. He always treated me with respect and kindness. We laughed together...often. He made me feel special...important...significant. None of those times disappear, but the next times with him have vanished from the realm of life here on Earth.

I don’t think I’ll ever really understand or accept the whole now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t routine. The stages of grief according to some experts consist of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I kind of get that but part of me will always be in denial about this death thing. I mean, it’s not like I’ve experienced death and lived to tell about it like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (one of my favorite movies). How can I not be in denial at some level regarding something I haven’t experienced or couldn’t possibly relate to another life event? Loss sucks but Death sucks big time.

In any case, I raise the glass to my friend. A man who made my life better...a man who made me better. Maybe achieving my goal of adding a new friend to my world will help soothe the pain, and bring some healing. Maybe. Knowing that the possibility of a deep hurt like losing a friend could await me down the road dampers the excitement a bit. I know this much: if I could spend one more moment with my recently departed friend, even if I knew it to be our last, I would want that opportunity…and I would spend that one more moment with him…with my friend.


Sunday, May 3, 2009


This morning, I sat down on our red living room sofa. My wife showed me the sports section of the Press Democrat, our local paper. The results of the Kentucky Derby along with a half-page picture of Mine That Bird, a 3 year-old gelding, filled the front page. I don't follow horse racing, although I occasionally stumble onto one on TV. Interested in the underdog story, I decided to find a replay of the race on the Internet.

Watching the contest between these animals running at full gallop…well, poetry in motion falls terribly short of an adequate description. It seems like the physics alone would make their incredible pace impossible. And yet their four legs move in perfect timing and precision while carrying the remainder of their muscular bodies along with a jockey, altogether totaling several hundreds of pound.

This horse had no chance to win. During the race, he found himself in last place…LAST PLACE!!! Why does a horse, 50-to-1 shot, running in last place against horses with more pedigree and raw talent than he, all the sudden decide not only to compete but to win the Kentucky Derby by 6 3/4 lengths – the largest margin of victory in over 60 years? It's like he couldn't even read. The horse didn't realize that the odds of him winning and the odds of me winning the same race without a horse were fairly even.

A couple of things questions/issues into my mind: 1) how can I be that horse (a reverse of the Mr. Ed show) and 2) what drove this whole venture? My response to the first issue would be to walk right up to Mine That Bird, look him straight in the eye, and tell him that he’s my hero…that he single-handedly blew away all my excuses for not succeeding in anything…and that forever more I will remember this race (along with the first Rocky movie) whenever I need a shot of encouragement or incentive to get off my butt and engage my dreams…

Having processed the first, my mind swiftly pounced upon the second issue/question. When I think of horse racing, I think of years of lineage and work along with millions of dollars invested from sheiks and other persons with funny hats. I think of generations of horse love and expertise and training. I think of someone who would trade their soul to breed a derby winner. Expecting something along those lines, I read further into the article trying to discover the impetus for the miracle. Instead, I found this quote, hidden on page C3, from one of the owners:

“This just shows what can be done with two buddies who have fun together and like to go to the races and dream a little bit.”

I assume he spoke of himself and another male human, but he could have been talking about himself and the horse for all I know. And it seemed like if the horse could have spoken English or any other language we could understand, he might very well have responded with the same quote. From where I sat, the horse and the owners looked to be on the same page. They loved what they were doing…it was fun.

Here’s to Mine That Bird: thanks for reminding me that pursing what I love makes everything possible.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Not Thinking, the Grateful Dead, and God

This week I've been thinking about stuff...yeah, I know what you're thinking, but this is different. I've been thinking about not much. Thinking about rest and sleep and other activities where thinking drifts out of gear and into neutral, at least in theory.

Have you ever tried to not think? Try it. Right now, stop thinking. I heard that. Stop thinking!

I don't know about you, but the more I try to not think, the more thoughts crowd into the vacated space I just cleared out. Like throwing a huge bucket of water on some nice innocent gremlins to settle them down - the two become five, and then twenty something, and then thousands of them are taking over a small town, watching movies, and marching in sync...what was I trying to do again?

So today, I decided to stop thinking for a while. Just give myself, my mind, a short vacation on a nice tropical island in the South Pacific. It could have been a couple seconds, but probably more like a couple milliseconds before my mind drifted into a memory from days gone by...

Once upon a time, my wife and I lived life from toke to toke...and did pretty much whatever the hell we felt like doing. For example, one day we loaded up the car and headed toward a town a couple hours away to catch the all important Grateful Dead concert. We heard an ice storm might be heading our way, but a couple of joints later and the ice storm didn't seem near as dangerous or scary...almost seemed an appropriate accompaniment to our grand adventure - turn the music up and all will be well.

We made our way onto the interstate heading North into the darkness, feeling pretty relaxed…pretty darned relaxed. Thirty minutes later I commented about how few cars there were on the road, and what’s that stuff that keeps making a tick, tick, tick sound as it hit our windshield. And then it started really coming down. I had trouble seeing more than a couple car lengths in front of me. Finding myself behind an 18-wheeler spewing even more frozenness at me, I moved into the passing lane and almost ended up in the median. Sweating my way through getting around the truck, things only got worse.

A few hundred swerves later, and a little late, we pulled into the parking lot at the concert. Noticing a group of police affectionately welcoming each concert goer with a nice pat up and down their bodies, we decided on the most strategic hiding locations for our bags of pot. I mean, come on, no self-respecting deadhead would even consider not bringing something to share with the crowd. Seriously! Surviving, and even enjoying, the physical attention I received from the cute female cop, we headed to our seats…which of course were taken by someone else who had no idea what planet they were on much less where their seats might be.

We didn’t care. Nobody cared. It was all one happy family - “hey maaan”, “have a hit, dude”, “this is awesome”, “I think I’m in heaven”, “don’t bogart that”, “I know you”, “sorry about that, I thought my hand was in my pocket, not yours” etc. We squeezed in like a group of brothers and sisters, a stoned out of our mind family. I looked up at the stage, through the smoke-filled haze. I could see Jerry singing like he was in his living room and forgot that the rest of us were there. I loved it, we all loved it…even the cops loved it…a pretty docile crowd…yeah, that’s it, docile.

I still remember thinking it was special. Everyone there had fought through dangerous conditions just to be there. The Grateful Dead tourist didn’t even try…only the hardcore fans…the real brotherhood. And when they started singing, “I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive" everyone perked up…well, perked is probably too strong a word, but most of us stopped passing joints long enough to join in on the chorus, “We will get by, We will get by, We will get by, We will survive…”

The concert ended much too early for everyone who hadn’t yet passed out. We filed out of the building and onto a solid lake of ice. People fell down left and right. Everyone laughed and then smoked some more. Every car without chains waited its turn to be pushed out of the parking lot by the few trucks with chains. And I’m not exaggerating. Maybe 45 minutes later our turn came and the truck pushed us a hundred yards or so out of the parking lot and into the street…also made of ice…and we headed back to wherever we came from.

Which, of course, brings me back to my main point: we did get by, we did get by, we did get by, we did survive…somehow. The miraculous evening ended with no serious injuries or deaths recorded in next day’s newspaper, which did record that the freeways and all the major roads had been officially closed down by the highway patrol several hours before the concert began. Think about it: thousands of stoned, at the very minimum, fans make their way through deadly conditions to hang out together for hours on end while becoming even more stoned than when we started. Then that super-stoned, and now exhausted, group of barely functional individuals headed out to our cars, started them up, realized they were in the wrong car and had someone else’s keys, found the person whose keys they had somehow accidentally ended up with, entered the right car, spun their tires for ten minutes, waited for the truck with the chains, were pushed a hundred yards on a solid sheet of ice which eventually shoved them out onto another huge solid sheet of ice, and made it home or to somebody’s home…in one piece.

That fated night, the Grateful Dead, under the leadership of the amazing Jerry Garcia proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that God does exist and that he cares about a bunch of complete idiots who wanted nothing more than to risk their lives and the lives of others to see a concert.

Nice job, Jerry. Nice job, God.

See what happens when I stop thinking?

Friday, April 3, 2009

The In-Loves

In the late 70s, I met Stacy. Alive, vibrant, sweet to the core, beautiful, funny, smart…I never knew what hit me. The next thing I realize we had just finished our walk down an aisle together and committed ourselves to one another…for life.

In the early 80s, I met Jesus. Not church, not religion, not moral fiber, not doing the right thing, not being the right person, not anything even resembling anything else...and I gotta tell you, I fell for him - hook, line, and sinker.

I've been in love, for real, only twice in my entire life. When I met my wife (technically she wasn't my wife at the time...and yet in some other reality I think she already was), and then the second time when this guy, out of nowhere, invaded my hurting world, my brutal emotions, my vacillating conscience, my fear of life and death, my thinking - good, bad, and ugly...and said, "I want that one…the one cowering in the dark corner."

As I write this, I’m listening to a bit of musical melancholy entitled Circle (Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians)…over and over. I’m not in love with her, although I’ll admit to a small crush. She’s singing, “…I quit; I give up. Nothing’s good enough for anybody else, it seems…Being alone is the best way to be. When I’m by myself, it’s the best way to be…when I’m by myself, nobody else can say goodbye…everything is temporary, it seems…”

If I spent the rest of my days on this planet working full-time at expressing what the In-Loves have meant to me, I’d finish my time here a mere few feet into the marathon of that work. When Edie sings about the circle of change and loss and starting over and hope and disappointment, it strikes a chord with me – philosophically and experientially.

For me, this coming Sunday, April 12, is all about the rarest of the rare, the purest of the pure…that which doesn’t change…the non-temporary, the eternal. Profound personal days rarely come my way, or I rarely notice them. I grew up in a tough world where profound personal days meant profound and personal hurt, loss, and pain. I eventually chose to be by myself…it was “the best way to be…it seems.”

Healing came, and comes, in all sorts of different flavors and seasons and avenues - the looked for, prayed for, begged for, the dream…the unexpected, the unrealized, and even the nightmare. But it comes. Even though the count of vessels bringing mercy into my life may have reached the thousands or millions, the In-Loves stand apart. She and He never left, never departed…never looked in distain at the wreckage. He and She somehow knew that more than anything else in all of creation, I needed someone, anyone, to stay with me…walk with me…believe for me…hold onto to me…always…no matter what.

I’m not a big believer in serendipity…let me correct that: I’m a huge believer in serendipity, I just don’t believe it happens, ever…okay, rarely. But 2 days from now the major celebrations of my In-Loves happen on the same day – Easter is my wedding anniversary. I can’t help but think that somehow this day, these very moments, were arranged many, many, many years ago. That one day I would wake up, the stars and the celebrations aligned, and truly appreciate how the aroma, the texture, the color, the flavor, the sound, the reality of true friendship chased me, embraced me, sustained me, and held me…day after day after day…

Happy Resurrection Day, friend. I love you.

Happy Anniversary, Stacy…my friend. I love you.

P.S. After reading this, it occurred to me that I did fall in love 3 other times. Maybe not the traditional sense, but from the first moment when I discovered that each of my precious children swam around in Stacy’s growing tummy, I fell in awe and in love with each of them…and remain forever so.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Seasons

Winter: I went to work. It was hard. I left in the dark and came home in the dark. Is it always dark? I looked dazed. Someone joked, "These are not the droids you're looking for." Finally hearing the words, I responded, "Okay." Everything felt heavy - my body, my mind, my emotions, even orange juice felt heavy. Why in the world would orange juice feel heavy? The work day ended, but the night never ended. Grey, grey, and more grey. Cold seeped into my bones...never quite warm - more clothes, more layers, more covers. Laughter diminished, sensitivity to hurt increased. My bones ached. Hope quit. Creation groaned. Blah, blah, blah...sleep.

Spring: A tiny green blade comes up through the crack in the sidewalk, spreads its arms and stretches after its long slumber. Blossoms from a thousand different trees and flora fill my senses - the aromas of oranges, the spectacular light greens, yellows, oranges, and blues of plants who I know intimately but not by name, softness of new born leaves and toddler flowers. People smile; I reason in particular, just smiling to be smiling. As Elf said, "I like smiling. It's my favorite." or something like that. I love it that someone thought up such zaniness as Elf.

God awakens from his slumber.

The light returns - blinding, penetrating, warming, uplifting. Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy - I agree with John Denver. I agree with everyone...everyone is right, and nice, and beautiful, and we will all "live happily ever after in springfield of meadows" (quote from an early Jessy Lauren Smith work). Springtime proves Jessy has a bit of prophet in her and proves something good in every single person on the face of the planet.

Sun dresses, surfer shorts, flip-flops, t-shirts. People run and jump and dance and act goofy...and smile some more. The young couple on the bench flirt – poking, joking, jostling, holding hands. I pass an old guy on my walk downtown and he's grinning from ear-to-ear...he's not stoned...he just likes the day and the day likes him. I do believe it really likes him. It likes all of us. It bends down to kiss our brow with love and pat our forehead with kindness.

Gentle breeze embraces me, swirling around my body, lifting me up higher and higher and higher. My muscles relax and my mind stops spinning. The sunlight washes the scales from my eyes, my mind, my body, my emotions...even the orange juice. I don't care that the whole orange-juice-scale metaphor breaks down on hundreds of levels…because it doesn’t matter…nothing matters but the new moment overflowing with love and freedom and joy and light and music and goodness…and smiles.

I believe again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You Should Have Seen Us

Late yesterday morning, my wife and I talked ourselves into a visit to our building's fitness center. The small exercise room boasts a bit of everything - a good representation of Nautilus lifting equipment, treadmills, elliptical machines, and the all important mirrored walls to help us take in the majestic view of our bodies building before our very eyes. Oh yeah, and windows to the outside world so they too can watch in shock and awe.

Historically, I've been more of a swimmer than a fitness room junkie, but time waits for no man/woman and the convenience of an exercise workout mere minutes away never fails to draw me to its bright and shiny environs. So we head down there, almost skipping with excitement, ready to attack and engage and sweat and raise our heart rate and other tough things like that...knowing full well that if we lasted 20 minutes including 10 minutes of rest time, we would consider it a newspaper-worthy accomplishment.

Upon entering the miraculous, body-transforming world of fitness we encountered almost no one. Rarely do we see more than a few other future Mr./Ms. Universes...which I’m sure has something to do with our intimidating physical prowess and reputation. The young twenty-something couple working out on the 2 elliptical machines barely acknowledged our arrival. Decked out in their latest attire - grunge meets Apple Computer - their IPods filled their ears with their favorite playlist.

After recovering from the disappointment of a broken routine that usually started with the elliptical, we decide to tackle some of the weight machines. A few technical adjustments and several conversations later, I press forward with my arms on the bench press. I don't remember the exact weight, but suffice it to say double-digit weights and I are no strangers. The placement of the machine points me directly at our competition - the young couple. Even though their music blasted to the point that I could hear it through their earphones, they somehow manage to interact with each other – talking, planning, laughing. Bring it on – we can do that, no problem.

We pull out our mp3 players. I crank up my LG cell phone/mp3 player. Mick Jagger belts out “I’ll never be your beast of burden…all I want is you to make love to me…am I hot enough; am I rough enough…put me out, put me out, put me out of misery…” My head bobs, shoulder dips, foot level rises as if to say, “I could do this all day.” The couple picks up the pace. Their walk becomes a run, their laughs become borderline hysterical, and then the girl turns to face the guy. She continues to work out, listen to music, and talk/laugh with her buddy while running full speed SIDEWAYS on the elliptical! I shake my head in disbelief. I almost stand up and applaud…seriously!

A few minutes later the guy gets a phone call. He says something about being late to meet someone and heads out the door. The girl spends another 10 minutes running like gravity doesn’t exist – no struggling for air, no perspiring, nothing but smiles…and then she gathers up her stuff and dances out of the room.

All alone, already tired and sore, Stacy and I move on to the vacated machines, and begin the end of our workout. We enter our routine into the equipment – a full 10 minutes. At one tenth the pace of our predecessors, our legs start stepping and our arms pull back and push forth. She says something; I say “what”; she ignores me; I realize she’s singing softly. I crank up my player as Tracy Chapman sings out, “If you saw the face of God and love, would you change…” My head bobs, shoulder dips, and I start singing. Stacy smiles; I smile. She sings louder; I sing louder. I laugh; she laughs …you should have seen us.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Walking in Rhythm

I just completed my second week, and my first full week, in a new job writing software and stuff. It's not my first choice in terms of how I like to spend my days (i.e., it's not writing) but it brings good things into my life that I need. Historically, it has taken me a while to establish any sort of rhythm in new life situations. The first week or two I'm usually so overwhelmed that I honestly don't know what I'm doing most of the time, much less how to do it. I manage to go through some motions but I have no real rhythm, if you know what I mean. There’s new people, new working space, new equipment, new routes to the restroom, new lunch breaks, new hours, new expectations, new organizations, new interpretations…and at best, I walk with a serious hitch in my giddyup.

My simple goal during those incubatory periods is to survive – not impress, or even be productive…just survive. Well, I did it! I survived, and in the process I worked my way into a level 1 comfort zone (out of 5 or 10 of 1000). Why do major life transitions such as moving to a new town or starting a new job generate loads of gobblygook in my mental and emotional systems?

In my new situation, I’ve run into several people who have lived their entire lives within an hour of their current home. Their roots grow deep, and I can see the resulting life reflected in their eyes. They know something I don’t know. They have something deep within them that I do not. It’s like a deep subterranean stream running with cool grace. They walk in a rhythm that attracts me to them...I envy them. Strangely enough, many of them envy me. When I tell of my travels to distant lands, various living locales, unusual job experiences, scattered family members (geographically and psychologically), and life risks that I’ve taken, they look at me like I’m from another planet – Planet Brave. Not knowing whether my history reveals bravery or avoidance I usually do not comment on their observation…although at some level, I probably enjoy the awestruck responses from those who learn of my risk-friendly approach to life.

In any case, I have discovered something in the past couple of weeks: I like living within walking distance to my work and to my town. Now, I travel by foot quite a bit, and it settles my soul. Maybe it’s my way of trying to follow those substantial souls down their well worn life paths. Maybe I’m making a fresh start of traveling deep instead of long. Maybe someday, for the first time in a very long time, I’ll find myself walking in rhythm.

Friday, February 20, 2009


An old counselor friend of mine once postulated that the true rhythm in life looks more like transition-transition-transition-transition-transition than living-living-living-transition-living-living-living-living-transition. I've spent much of my life trying to find a living-living-living-transition type no avail. I have fought it and yet I think somewhere deep down inside I have always known that he was right. The harder I try to manage my life into a placid lake with merely a rare and gentle ripple, the more I find myself tossed to and fro in a sovereign sea of transition much bigger and stronger and smarter than I am.

Now, I don't mind conceding the philosophical argument or even the reality of transition-transition-transition, under one condition: my new life outlook must be accompanied by a huge, friggin can of WD40. My father used to jest that life and WD40 were inseparable…and that WD40 could cure anything. My wife and I have lived transition-transition-transition for some time now and I feel like my emotional surface has been too sticky or clingy or Velcro-y. It occurred to me that if I could get access to my soul or spirit or emotional being and spray a large can of WD40 right there on the surface where life interacts with my personhood, that living on the slippery slopes of transition-transition-transition might be less traumatic and more fun.

For example, we just moved to an apartment in downtown Santa Rosa, CA. It’s great! Really, it’s way cool, but still it’s a bit sticky or clingy or Velcro-y to move into a new place and meet new neighbors and start a new job and not accidentally pee in the kitchen in the middle of the night because the bathroom used to be where the kitchen now stands…or whatever a kitchen does. You know? I’m really thrilled, as is my wife, that we ended up here…I’ve wanted to move to NorCal for many years. And yet the waves of different and sometimes unpleasant emotions come and go, often without the courtesy of any notice whatsoever. What’s up with that?

So, as we venture into our latest transition, I have but one plan…a daring, bold maneuver that must, that will prevail. I’m heading to Costco to purchase the 48-pack of WD40. Of course, I will also purchase the especially tiny straw (make that 3000 especially tiny straws) specifically designed to allow the miraculous liquid to seep deep down into my emotional makeup. If that doesn’t work (perish the thought) I may need to replace the kitchen trash can with a fancy new toilet.

Obviously, I can’t leave you with that less-than-pleasant picture and I’m running out of time, so let me throw out one last question: could trust and faith be the WD40 for our spirit or emotions...what about relationships...or humor? Wow, that really needed a better segue, didn’t it?


Monday, February 2, 2009

Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe

My wife and I have managed to hang out in motels for the better part of the last 5 months. I don't know if you've ever done such a thing, but it's weird...way weird. Instead of neighbors, you have guests. Instead of a bedroom, a living room, a dining room, a den, a patio, a have A room - one small, bedroom-sized room. Instead of privacy, you have serious/forced bonding. Instead of an address, you have a P.O. Box. Instead of a kitchen, you have nearby restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, Ukiah, a small town of 15,000 in Northern California, hosts several unusual-in-a-good-way eating establishments. They each showcase their unique take on the world without apology...I like that. They are what they are. Among their one-of-a-kind offerings, Ukiah boasts the first certified organic brewpub, a bakery adjacent to the courthouse with tasty sandwiches including the ever popular "The Verdict" and the ever tasty "Grand Jury", and possibly the world's most market-challenged restaurant, Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe.

If you're like me, and you probably aren't, your first guess at Ellie's specialization might be something like a vegetarian cafe that is dog or pet friendly...think Northern Colorado. Well, that would be a nice guess, but incorrect. Actually, Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe (thank God for Copy-And-Paste functionality) supplies the locals with 2 very different and yet delicious items - hot dogs and vegetarian sandwiches. Yes, I'm serious. Really, I mean it. I am not kidding, not pulling your leg, not tugging on Superman's cape, not spittin...sorry, wrong list. Ellie's specializes in the areas best hot dogs and vegetarian dishes.

Work with me here. Imagine this: you wake up after a good night's rest, wipe the sleep from your eyes, stretch out a bit, mix in a few yawns, and then the light goes on. "I've got it! I'm going to start a new restaurant that will make the most amazing hot dogs (with or without chili and cheese) and...hmmm...what else...that won't be enough to make a living from...if only I could...wait, another dogs and vegetarian sandwiches and meals...IT'S PERFECT!!!!!"

But wait, there's more: "All that's left is to come up with a name...something that demands their attention and makes their salivary glands run like the Mississippi River...but that's too much to can I, a small town girl named Ellie come up with the perfect name for such a perfect's impossible...unless...unless...I've got it: Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Restaurant!!!!! It's perfect! They will line up to get in!"

And they do! They line up to get in! How does that happen? How did that happen? Furthermore, how does anyone encounter such a place and not believe in God? Come on! I love Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe. Their hotdogs are pretty darn good and their vegetarian offerings are even better, in my opinion. They also serve some delightful and "healthy" pancakes identified on the menu as Johnny Cakes. My wife and I frequent the place, not only for the food but also for the steady stream of local personalities that make a habit of hanging out at Ellie's.

A couple of days ago, my wife and I grabbed one of the 2-person tables at Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian cafe. We ordered a couple of Johnny Cakes and 2 scrambled eggs to split between us. Quick aside: after splitting meals for many years, we've discovered that you don't tell the waiter you're splitting, because they charge you a split fee, knowing that only a professional should attempt such a feat. So, we're finishing up our meal and the couple seated at the table directly behind my wife stood up to leave. Their 3-year-old (I'm guessing the age) daughter sporting blondish-brown curls stood up as well. We waved at her and she waved back. In support, her parents instructed her to say goodbye. Wearing a serious expression, as if tasked with a national security mission, she took their orders to heart and began her task.

Surveying the field, she started with those who are closest, and said "goodbye" to my wife and me, followed by a sort-of-wave-kind-of-a-thing. Riding on the waves of her initial success, she began making the rounds. She worked her way up to the front of the restaurant tossing her goodbyes and waves to each and every person, including the ones behind the counter working at the restaurant. Her confidence and panache grew with each successful attempt. Finishing up, a smile of satisfaction and accomplishment glowing from her tiny face, she headed toward the exit where her parents waited patiently and proudly. In a matter of 2 minutes she had affected or infected everyone there with her fearless and focused exit performance. I hadn’t seen that many smiles in one place in a long, long time. Out of the corner of her eye she spied the one last and quite oblivious couple seated in the far corner near the other exit. Still heading toward her parents across the way, she added a final, well-projected goodbye aimed straight toward the preoccupied couple.

Here’s where it gets funny. They completely ignore her. From where I sat, it looked like they were discussing something of great interest to both of them and they simply didn’t notice her, at all.

So the little girl set her feet and tried it again. This time a little louder. “Goodbye!”

No response.

Leaning forward up on her toes, she shouted one more time. “GOODBYE!”


Now, at this point, I’m thinking of getting out of my chair and interrupting the couple in the corner. I’d become emotionally attached to this little girl and her goodbye mission. I wanted 100% success for her. An A+. A perfect score. And then she surprises me. She turns on her heels, nods her head slightly, and marches toward her parents. The 3 of them exit together, happy as clams. The only thing that disturbed more than her not making her last conquest was the realization that I had been out-matured (just made that up) by a 3-year-old. Without flinching she gave it her best shot. When she finished, she walked away, satisfied with her efforts, and never looked back. Dang! If only life were that simple…

Anyway, “cheers” to Ellie’s Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Café for doing the impossible – terrible marketing name plus the most ridiculous combination of food specializations imaginable, and yet succeeding in a big way. And “cheers” to the 3-year-old girl who taught me more about life in 2 minutes than I’d learned in many a day.


P.S. On a couple of my visits to Ellie’s fine eatery, I noticed a few people eating carrot cake for breakfast…or dessert of breakfast. I wonder how the What is Breakfast Committee would rule on that dish.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What I thought; What I said

I admit it: more often than not, I don't say exactly what I least not initially. My interview, two days ago, exemplifies that personality fault...feature...trait. Here's the highlights from that meeting (my thoughts in italics):

"Hello, Mark. Nice to meet you. How are you today?"

Why are there three of you and only one of me? That water looks good. I’m thirsty, but I need to pee, again. I hope at least one of these guys would be a good character in a book.
"I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

"First of all, let me tell you about our organization. Most of the IT you have any questions about that?"

It's really nice outside. If I lean to the right just a little, I can see 2 clouds in the sky. The one on the left sort of looks like a giraffe tearing off leaves from a tall tree (the cloud on the right). I like giraffes...and elephants...probably elephants better.
"No thank you. That was very helpful."

"Mark, let me ask you a technical question: if you had a SQL Server would you do that?"

In the big scheme of things, do you really think that your question has any relevance? Database, schmatabase. Wouldn't a better question be something like: why are we sitting around here doing this when we could be out changing the world for good or at least enjoying ourselves?
"That's an excellent question, Ted. I can think of at least 2 possible solutions to the question you posed. My first choice would be to create a stored procedure that mimics..."

"Good answer, Mark. Let's move onto something more complex. What if the application and database layers were merged by a programmer who was in a hurry and you needed to..."

M e r g e, merge...merge...that's a weird word...the more I think about it, the weirder it gets. Maybe a good name for a book where aliens intermarry with humans - THE MERGED. Nah, that's just stupid. Wait, if everyone lived under water, it could be called THE SUBMERGED…stupid on steroids. Stop smiling!
“Interesting problem. I would probably reverse engineer the processes back into their original…”

“Just one last question, Mark. With all your years of experience, why do you want to work on these projects with us?”

Question Mark…that’s funny. Honestly, I would rather be a best-selling author who makes his living writing and connecting with readers. I like people and I like you, but let’s face it: I’m just a mercenary who needs money to pay bills. I put up with software development and it puts up with me. If there was any way to not work here, I would definitely choose that. But since it seems to be the only feasible option available to me that meets my requirements (i.e., 40 hour week, technology I’m comfortable with, the probability that I can do this job and still have some time and energy to do other things), I think I should man-up and do what I need to do.
“I was hoping that you would ask that question. From what I can tell your technology platform and needs fit perfectly with my many years of experience and expertise. I think I would be a great addition to your staff… Also, I have a full life outside of work – I write fiction, I’m married, etc. – and the work here seems like something I could apply myself to during the day, be productive, and when 5:00 comes around still have some mind and energy left to engage the other important areas of my life.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Mark. You are more than qualified for this position. Thank you for being so upfront and forthcoming with us. We have other interviews this week and will probably make a decision this Friday. You should hear from us no later than next Monday.”

I wish I would have been more forthcoming. “More than qualified” = overqualified. I really, really need to pee. Yay, we’re finished! They seem a bit tired. I wish they were happier…I wish everyone could be happy. All things being equal, I actually would like to work here…I like them…I feel for them. It was a pleasure meeting them.
“Thank you for your time. I know you have plenty of work to attend to and this cuts into your day. It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks again...oh, one more thing: can you tell me where the restroom is?”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Local and Organic

Yesterday, my wife and I visited a local diner. In every sense of the word it fit the description of a diner - fake blue leather booths a bit too tight to squeeze into comfortably, service both prompt and friendly, more food choices than they could possibly execute effectively including four or five specials, and an unusual smell which I've yet to identify. I enjoyed the entire experience.

As I studied the computer printed signs hanging in several locations inviting patrons to bring their laptops and enjoy the free Wi-Fi, the server handed each of us a menu. The moist aftereffects from the quick wipe down on both the seats and the menu brought a small smile to my face. Expecting to see the usual diner fare, a small graphic caught my attention - Local and Organic. Immediately I thought "that's my favorite" not yet knowing what it was that was both Local and Organic.

Now I could go on and on about the significance of a local and organic economy and worldview…everything from helping the environment to stronger communities and healthier people, not to mention the evils of the alternative – good all around. And someday I’m sure I’ll do just that, but last night I had a dream or a scenario about an up-and-coming job interview that just must be told. In order to frame this properly I should mention that I’m in a job hunting process and state of mind. Having fallen short of convincing the collective bill-collecting populous that I am indeed a pre-NY Bestselling author whose lottery-like fortune sits just around the corner, I’ve resorted to pursuing (that may be too strong a word) a position in a fine organization who could benefit from my substantial expertise, experience, and wit…or something to that effect.

Along those lines, last week I interviewed at a company that was rather fond of itself. Don’t get me wrong, everyone I met seemed intelligent, articulate, and highly credentialed. They did have a right to be proud, it just seemed like their good self-impressions may have exceeded the reality they exposed me to. They set me up on a full day of interviews with various people in their organization. I started at 8:30 in the morning and went non-stop until dinner finished up a little after 7PM, meeting with no less than 15 people during the day! Is it just me or does that seem over the top? Putting someone through a process of 11 grueling hours with only 2 brief respites to the restroom, impressed little and exhausted much…although the bathrooms were very shiny.

My next foray into the job-hunting market begins next Tuesday at 3:00PM. A nearby City government needs a software guy/girl to do something or other. Instead of 11 hours of the gauntlet they require a mere hour and a half of my time to determine whether or not I meet their standards and fit best in their group. Which brings me to my dream/scenario thing. In the half-awake, half-asleep moments of my morning today I rehearsed my interview process with the City and it went something (embellished to make more interesting) like this:

A panel of 3 people sat around a table that looked like it was stolen from a middle school cafeteria and dragged top down over Highway 101 for a few hundred miles. Introductions all around and I tried to remember each of their names so I could address them personally during the interview, and especially when I would say goodbye at the end. I took my seat in the middle – an elderly grandmotherly type on my left, a young, energetic buck across from me, and a person on my right who might have been either male or female sporting a nice smile for someone missing most of their teeth.

Like a tennis match, the young buck served a complex technical question with both velocity and precision placement, hoping to catch me off balance and score a point. I returned a quick, strong answer and I was up 15-Love. The guy/girl smiled at me as I heard Van Morrison singing Someone Like You in the background. The crowd roared, which turned out to be the elderly lady snoring. So far, so good.

Almost three sets later, we had each won a set and the tie-breaker would decide the outcome…everything in the entire universe depended on the next question and answer. The elderly lady sat up straight in her chair like an ancient and yet powerful queen on her throne. She turned to the young buck and began asking her question. He interrupted her and pointed her in my direction. She nodded, turned to face me, and tossed the question ball high into the air delivering what looked like the perfect ace:

“Gerald, why do you WANT to work for the City?”

My palms sprung leaks; my mind spun in circles – why did she call me Gerald? do I WANT to work for the City? what were their names? i think my left leg is asleep. The male/female stopped smiling and Eric Clapton stopped singing Hello, Old Friend. Ready to concede game, set, and match to my most worthy opponents, I closed my folio. I stood up, shook their hands, and thanked them for their time, forgetting their names. Heading to the door, a barely perceptible hum caught my attention. All three City employees joined in and their humming became a song. I turned just in time to see them join hands and begin a macabre dance of the zombies. As I opened the door to leave, the deafening scream/song We are the Champions rung in my ears.

In my struggle to stay the tears, I desperately searched for something good to think on…anything that might ease the pain of defeat. Working backwards from my interview, I reviewed my day and came up with nothing pleasant…nothing to stem the tide of depression. At my wit’s end, ready to bow to loss as the rightful king of my life, a picture floated through my mind. A bit fuzzy at first. I strained to see it, to remember it. Finally, my mind’s eye focused and the small phrase beamed brightly in the darkness.

Like a soldier on a critical mission, I about-faced and re-entered the interrogation/interview room. With a yell I smashed my return into the corner of the court, silencing the terrible din of dancing and singing:


Him/Her smiled as Silly Love Songs played through the loud speakers. Elderly Lady nodded off, mumbling something that sounded like, “Good for you, Gerald.” Young Buck nodded his head respectfully, stretched forth his racquet-shaped hand, and announced, “Good match. Welcome aboard. You’ll fit in just fine.”

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rah Rah Rah Be True to Your School

I'll just come out and say it: I'm a fan of the University of Oklahoma (OU). There, I said it. If I remember correctly, I missed only 1 game this year that the OU Sooners football team played. In addition to the many locally televised games, I saw 2 live in Norman, Oklahoma and a couple at a sports bar an hour away because nobody around here thought it worthwhile to broadcast those games.

The Sooners fought hard to make it to the national championship game against the Florida Gators, only to lose in the last quarter (heartbreaking). A few weeks before that, Sam Bradford, OU's staring quarterback, received the Heisman Trophy for the best player in college football. Only a sophomore, Sam had proved his worth as the best at the collegiate level.

Projected as a top 10 draft pick, he had a big decision to make - return to OU as one of the many poverty-stricken students or make an estimated $75,000,000 in contract money with the pros. Think about that: 75 million dollars to play football! He would be set for life; his family would be set for life. Heck, he could help everyone in the town of Norman. And, he gets to play football!

All the experts knew that Sam couldn't and wouldn't resist the fame and fortune of the NFL. If I was in his position, I can't imagine saying 'no' to all that, could you? January 15 (yesterday) was the last day for undergraduate college players to declare eligibility for the draft. Sam, hair unkempt and wearing a red jacket, looking like he just rolled out of bed, made a short statement (paraphrased):

I love OU. I grew up dreaming about attending the University and playing football here. I like my teammates and I want to be with them again. I see no reason to cut this wonderful experience short. I'm coming back next year. (He smiled from ear-to-ear and the crowd applauded.)

What? He could be a multi, multi, multi-millionaire in a matter of a few in a fancy house with servants, drive a fancy car or have a limo, help out family and friends, have his people contact their people, etc...and he wants to stay at OU with his friends. The stunned reporter asked the obvious question: what do you like so much about being here?

His answer: Everything.

I've thought a great deal over the years about happiness, fulfillment, and success. I've spent countless hours and more energy than I could afford trying to change circumstances to fit into my this-would-make-me-happy no avail, really. And then I see this unassuming, humble, happy, content, young man choose that which makes him happy and content over and against the bright lights beckoning him to mega-stardom. In this day of shortcuts, I'm stunned...and proud of him for taking the road less traveled.

We all make choices, don't we? We all have a framework or a decision-tree for making those choices...sometimes healthy, sometimes not. Mine seems quite complicated at times, although over the last few years it has simplified and become healthier. It really helps me when I run into someone who knows who they are and has enough faith to believe that there is a time for everything under heaven. Not only having permission to enjoy the moment or the season, but also a sense of calling to do so.

According to everyone who knows him, Sam has great parents and he enjoyed a wonderful and love-filled childhood. Many others, including me...not so much. And I can tell it - his roots grow deep into rich, dark soil. He knows how to make choices that sprinkle good, clear water on that soil, eventually seeping down and bringing life to those roots in his spirit. They say the most important decision you can make in life is who you choose as your parents. Sam chose well. : )

When I heard him say "everything" my soul responded with a huge YES! What a place to be in life where someone asks you what do you like about your present situation and you answer, "everything." I imagine Slingin' Sam Bradford's life is not perfect, but there seems little doubt that he thoroughly enjoys it, and embraces it. And he has the good sense and the trust to bask in that good place while he can.

I want more of that.

Thanks Sam. Rah, rah, rah be true to your school...Boomer Sooner!