The State of Things

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The only sovereign I can allow to rule me is reason. The first law of reason is this: what exists, exists; what is, is. From this irreducible, bedrock principle, all knowledge is built… Reason is a choice. Reason is our only way of grasping reality – it’s our basic tool of survival. We are free to evade the effort of thinking, to reject reason, but we are not free to avoid the penalty of the abyss we refuse to see.”

-Terry Goodkind, Faith of the Fallen.

Today was the release day of the report on the CIA’s techniques used against prisoners in order to extract information, techniques that have been called torture. It was also the day I read an article titled Today I Stopped Caring (http://nycfirewire.com/today-i-stopped-caring/), a post by Lt. Daniel Furseth about his frustration of America’s perception of its police force.

Furseth speaks of the trials of working in a profession where you are feared and hated for enforcing rule, by both sides of the fence. He goes on to talk about how when someone in his profession does something wrong, it creates a firestorm of public outcry and inspires an “internet of lynch-mob cop haters even though 99% of us work twice as hard not to end up in the news and to still be ‘the good guys’.” Furseth brings up a valid point, about how the world at large can stereotype all police based on the actions of “a cop six states away, from a department that you never heard of, [who] screws up and forgets his oath of honor.” And I can understand and sympathize on this point. My father was a police officer and has been in some form of law enforcement for a great deal of his life. When people say things like “Fuck the police” with honest vehemence, it makes me want to take them by the shoulders and shake them until their heads fall off because that doesn’t fucking help.

Yet, even with my sympathy for his frustrations somewhat intact, I cannot help but disagree with Lt. Furseth. The outcry and anger aimed at the police is a result of the lack of being held accountable. The law that police work so hard to enforce and uphold should apply to everyone, equally. That is the basic precept that so many tout as the reason America is so great. In a country that preports to be so morally righteous as ours, it is shameful that some are given special dispensation in the application of those laws.

From 2010-2013, there were a total of 554 police deaths in the United States. These are not all attributed to being related to crime specifically, but for the sake of argument let us say that all of them were. Using data from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (http://www.nleomf.org/facts/enforcement/), that means that of the over 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers, 0.06% of them have died in the past four years. If you do a search of death related to occupation, law enforcement doesn’t even make it onto most charts. Does that sound like one of the “countless deaths”, Lieutenant Furseth? Do you know how many black men were killed by police in that same amount of time? I don’t. Actually, no one does. And why is that?

Propublica did a report on the number of blacks killed by police, information that also took into account same-race shootings (black police officers shooting black suspects). They found that between 2010-2012, black males 14 years old and younger were 21 times more likely to be shot. Twenty. One. Times. More. Likely. That is a stunning percentage. And while the arguments against the report (which can be found here: http://www.propublica.org/article/deadly-force-in-black-and-white) usually rely on the basis that the evidence it gathers is very limited, I find that statement fairly damning as well. The report itself clearly states that the data collected is incredibly incomplete. All of the numbers of fatal shootings are self-submitted by police forces across the nation. There is no regulatory body or committee that oversees the collection of such data. And rather than weakening the argument against the police, it strikes me as a vastly incompetent strategy for a nation so hell-bent on equal rights and freedom and justice for all.

The Torture Report (as it’s being called) is really just the icing on the cake. I have yet to read all 524 pages of it (here:http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/world/cia-torture-report-document.html), seeing as how it just hit the stands, but I’m fairly certain that it will be a grim read. So we find out the CIA has been torturing prisoners, engaging in acts that probably put us on equal footing with the people that we’re trying to demonize… and people aren’t surprised. Everyone I’ve talked to about it today has responded with varying levels of sickened resignation. So what does that say about our country, that it’s citizens practically expect such things from its government?

I wish I could meet Lt. Furseth. I wish I could look him in the eye and shake his hand and thank him for all of his hard work in protecting the lives of the American people. I wish I could tell him that there will always be people who are assholes, who will yell “FUCK THE POLICE!” and get on social media and bad-mouth his profession and his livelihood. And I wish I could quietly and calmly describe to him that his anger at those people, while understandable, is misplaced. Because the actions of officers like Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson are the things that are fucking it up for all the guys who are getting it right. The only way to change is to recognize that there is a problem in the first place. To use our faculties of reason to see and be honest that there’s a problem and an abyss ahead of us as a nation. And the problem is that the guys who are fucking it up are getting away with it. Is it really so much to ask that everyone be held accountable to the same standard, the same laws, regardless of race, sex, income, and creed? Wouldn’t that be an example of the “hard work and dedication” you call out for in your letter? Wouldn’t you be proud to be a part of the creation of such a nation?

I know I would.

The Name of God

**As a necessary aside, there have been a number of recent developments in my life that also bear reflecting and mentioning that will not be written about in this post. I have been bouncing this idea around in my head for quite a while and despite recent (and rather important) developments, I wanted to clear a space for this idea to be made manifest in its own right.**

In the story Kushiel’s Avatar, courtesan and spy Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève goes in search of the Name of God, in order to break a curse laid upon her closest friend. The journey takes her from where we consider to be France to the depths of South Africa, in a time when horse was the fastest method of overland travel. She and her companions spend the most of a year in a single direction, following rumor and a slender measure of hope, to a lost civilization that holds the key to rescuing her friend.

To fully appreciate this tale, you must have a little background knowledge, dear Reader. The premise of this story begins in the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The spear that pierces the body of Christ (known in this realm as Yeshua ben Joseph) and the subsequent spilled blood upon the earth mixed with the Magdeline’s tears produces a child – a child born of the flesh of the One God Adonai and Mother Earth, the like of which this world has never seen. This child is Elua, who wanders the earth and flowers grow in his footsteps. A number of angels who originally owe allegiance to the One God choose instead to follow His grandson and protect him from the dangers and trials of this world. In time, they choose a land and populate. The decedents of Elua and his Companions are D’Angelines, those born of angelic blood. They carry the stamp of their heritage on their faces, possess exceptional physical beauty, and live by the tenant that Elua laid upon them: Love as thou wilt.

This is the religious backdrop of the story that unfolds in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar. Fast forward from Elua about a thousand or so years and you have the beginning of Phedre’s story. Phedre’s friend is condemned to spend eternity on an island, bound by a geis, the folly of the angel Rahab, the Prince of the Deep, also known as Pride. Phedre learns that she might banish Rahab and dispel the curse if she invokes the true name of Adonai in Rahab’s presence, thus breaking the geis laid upon her friend. To do so, she follows rumor and secret to the depths of what we know as Africa, to find a people lost to the pages of history who hold the Name as part of the sacred Covenant that Moses brought down from Sinai. She finds these people and through much sacrifice, gains knowledge of the Name.

I read this story for the first time a number of years ago. I was struck by the level of inventiveness the author had displayed and was impressed by the twists and turns of the plot. Only recently have my thoughts turned to a deeper question that is posed by this story – what would it be like to have the Name of God in your head? The story describes the wonder for all of creation that Phedre experiences as a result of this. But what does that actually DO for us?

I have been going about the past few months turning over these questions in my head: What would it be like to go about life with the Name always on the tip of your tongue, spilling over your thoughts, waiting at the beginning of every exhale to shout itself to the world? How would your perspective shift if you had to look at the world with the Creator’s Name emblazoned in your thoughts?

The conclusions I have reached have led me to realize how short I fall in my day-to-day interactions with people. Could I see the vast interconnections of all of creation, the beautiful and tragic twists and turns life takes for each of us on this long road… I would be more patient. I would be more kind. I would be more honest, and gentle, and forgiving. I would hold my tongue when it could cause harm and I would loosen it when it would become a strength for others. I would do less out of spite. I would laugh more out of joy, and less at the misfortune of others. I would be an oak, as large as the sky, providing shade and rest and support for the weary. I would not shy away from the chance to bleed. Most importantly, I would love. Always, and fully.

In the aftermath of Phedre summoning and banishing Rahab, a Yeshuite priest sits with her to speak of the ordeal.

“You have earned your rest, Phedre no Delaunay.”

I opened my eyes to see Eleazar ben Enokh seated before me, beaming as if he knew he had answered my unspoken thoughts. I smiled at him. “Eleazar. Are you pleased with this day’s adventure?”

“To behold a servant of Adonai Himself in the immortal flesh? To hear the Sacred Name tolling across the waters, such as no one has heard in a thousand generations?” He laughed with delight. “Yes, Phedre no Delaunay. I am well pleased.”

“You heard it, then.” Curious, I sat upright. “Tell me, father. What did you hear when I spoke the Name of God?”

“Ah.” Eleazar tugged at his unkempt beard, eyes sparkling. “I heard a Word, of such potent syllables as I could not fathom, sounds I have never heard shaped by mortal lips. Even at a distance, they buffeted my ears with great blows, and my bones felt weak, my knees like water, until I must fall to kneeling upon these boards, while my spirit grew too great for my body to contain, fanned like a mighty fire, and I cried out for joy at it. And yet…”

“Yes?” I prompted when his pause lengthened.

“And yet it seemed to me, Phedre no Delaunay, that beneath the incomprehensible Word was a root-word which echoed in every syllable, the foundation upon which the Sacred Name was built. And that word, I knew.” He folded his hands in his lap, radiating joy. “Can you not guess it?”

After a moment, I shook my head. The Name of God was too vast.

Awhab was the word I heard, but…” Eleazar lifted one finger, “…only I. I have spoken to others. Kristof of the Tsingani heard the echo of a word too, but that word was madahn, and the Cruinthe who accompanied Lady Sibeal heard the word gradh. You speak many tongues, Phedre no Delaunay.” His smile broaded to a grin. “Can you guess what word the D’Angeline sailors heard?”

“Love,” I whispered.

“Love!” Eleazar laughed aloud, his beard quivering with mirth. “Love!” His bony knees cracked as his levered himself to his feet, then stooped to kiss my brow with unexpected tenderness. “Though He is slow to acknowledge it, I believe Adonai Himself is proud of His son Elua, misbegotten or no,” he said. “Perhaps it took one very stubborn mortal woman to prompt Him to show it.”

Would that I could embody such grace and capacity for love. And I think I can. I think we all can. I know I will at least try.

Close To The Heart

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Some people have to sit and think about the things that happen in their lives to come to emotional conclusions. They contemplate, weigh pros and cons, make lists, talk it out… a variety of techniques for them to process and work through issues that come up as a natural course of living. Contrary to what most people might believe by the amount of talking I do, I engage in almost none of those things. I sleep. Really – if there’s something heavily emotionally or mentally taxing that I have to deal with, I just go to bed. Apparently without having to expend the energy to keep my conscious self moving throughout the day, my brain has free reign to explore all of the “what ifs” and “maybes” and “buts” that normally plague you when you’re awake. As a result of this, I tend to know exactly how I feel about a situation and how to articulate it the next morning. I have come across very few instances in my life where I have to follow up this process with deliberate conscious thought.

I recently went to lunch with my father to talk about some pretty heavy things. His doctor has informed him that he needs to have open-heart surgery to replace his tricuspid valve, which has partially fused together. He discovered this during the incident a year ago where he had an episode of angina and needed to be rushed to the hospital. Since then his doctor has monitored him and even with a dietary and exercise change (my father has always been in pretty good shape anyway), the cardiologist said it needs to happen. My father also recently bought a Victory Vision Tour – a huge motorcycle that weighs almost 900 lbs dry (meaning without any oil, gas, or other necessary liquids in the engine). He took it down to Florida a couple weeks ago to attend a bike rally and had an incredible time. He’s been talking about taking longer and longer trips, building up to a cross-country trip in August. This decision has been tempered by the cardiologist’s urging to have the surgery sooner rather than later. My father said he wanted to have the surgery in September, in order to do these last few trips.

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I have talked a number of times about how much my father and I are alike. We like the same books and movies, we think alike… we look at the world through very similar lenses. I know the reasoning behind his desire to put it off – partially through fear, but primarily because he is thinking of the very real possibility that when he recovers from the surgery, a long road-trip might no longer be in the cards for him. There would be some pretty intense recovery associated with his surgery and while he would hope for the best, he has always been a realist. And the reality is, something could go incredibly wrong – either with the surgery itself or a complication as a result of being cut open – and his quality of life could be drastically reduced. Facing that possibility… I can see why he wants to put it off.

This is the surface of a number of complicated interactions that have begun between me and my parents, as well as them with each other. This is something that develops daily and is constantly in the back of my mind, the light that you can never remember if you’ve turned off before leaving your house. For one of the first times in my life, I have to consciously work to provide what I can for both of these people who have given me so much – to be a willing ear and attentive son, unlike so many times in the past where I have been less than present. I have to build an emotional foundation, brick by brick, to provide shelter and understanding during a time of trial that could define our lives… or be the end of one. So, friends and readers, forgive me in the coming months if I seem a bit distant at times, if I seem less than connected to the moment. I am trying to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.

Salt and Soil

“I’ve built such a fanciful kingdom in my head…. Why would you not want to go there?”

“The salt in the earth is the salt in the sea is the salt in you is the salt in me…”

-Hoots & Hellmouth

I have been thinking lately of the circular nature of our lessons.

The night of the turning of the calendar, I went dancing at Warren Wilson college. It had been decorated to reflect thematic elements from the movie Midnight In Paris and was largely illuminated with soft, warm lights and deep colors. Most of the people who arrived had heard about the theme and per suggestion, were dressed appropriately in 1920’s fashion. I had purchased a suit from Goodwill that day, scoring not just one but three coats and matching pairs of trousers in an effort to look convincingly retro and dapper. During my hunt I also ran across a number of people I knew would be at the dance – Taylor included. Seeing as how the whole bundle of clothes would cost me minimum stress to my wallet, I took all three home. I had also purchased a bowtie (my first!) which I was determined to make the pièce de résistance of my attire for the evening. Also seeing as how I had no clue how to tie said bowtie, I scrambled through YouTube (my generation’s equivalent of an atlas-cum-life-instruction-manual) to find the easiest way to tie a sufficient knot. Boy Scouts had not prepared me for this one.

Once I actually got to the dance (not fashionably late, since I tend to be somewhat punctual), I mainly stood around and took it all in. The first hour was waltzing, which I spent in equal amounts dancing, goofing off in the photo booth, and munching on a variety of finger foods that had been graciously provided. I did manage to get a few good pictures with Jordy in the booth that reminded me of older pictures of gentlemen together.

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I mention this not only because I enjoy telling a story in a rather meandering style, but because I have often found it difficult to cultivate lasting friendships with other males. It has been a continual lesson in my life to try and find a balance between the feminine energy which I am always eager to surround myself with and the comfortably masculine which I feel is viewed with an amount of disdain in our culture. One of my earliest memories is being the only boy sitting at a table full of girls in the first grade, before I had ever dipped my toes into the complicated sea of sexuality. I have always felt more comfortable around women – and it has made my male relationships suffer as a result. It has constantly proved to be a lesson I have to learn over and over again – to reach beyond the comfort of (mostly) feminine zone and connect with a like-minded male, as difficult as that sometimes is for me.

As the new year had approached, I asked Taylor to think of several things she would like for me to work on in the next six months or so. I had a general idea of what she would say and she certainly didn’t disappoint. She prefaced her suggestion regarding responsibility with the statement of “You’re really emotionally responsible…” I’ve been thinking about the evolution through my life towards that point of responsibility. It took a lot of fumbling and hard lessons to get to the point of being able to see the common pitfalls in relationships and how to avoid them, as well as laying groundwork to keep myself and others healthy through detailed and introspective conversation. But I also know that I have my flaws and despite my self-awareness, I recently hurt someone as a result of self-weakness. Sometimes a person shows you a piece of their past that is still aching and in an effort to show them how much greater the positivity of the world is, you create an emotional bond between the two of you that you cannot sustain. I have done this before and it has rarely worked well. The desire to be a savior is undermined by not being able to fulfill the spirit of the bond created, and you leave that person just as raw (or more) as you found them. If I speak in vague generalities, it is only to protect the privacy of the party involved. I am more than willing to expose myself to the scrutiny of those I care about, as such a process has only proven beneficial in the past – chipping away at my ego, piece by piece. Even so, it is hard to admit that well-intentioned actions have wronged others. No one likes to be wrong.

When I was an adolescent and well into my teenage years, I daydreamed a lot. Most of it was pretty whimsical and impossible (inserting myself into the storyline of my favorite books and meeting the characters, being some god-like character in an alternate reality that revolved around me, etc.) but every now and again it was contemplating the path my life would take and what I wanted for myself. I built a kingdom in my head that was perfect, because it reflected the things I thought were perfect about myself and the possibility for life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve done this less and less. I think that somewhere along the way, the ruler of that kingdom in my head learned that no matter how benevolent intentions may be, sometimes they are still selfish and cause more harm than good. The universe will continually present me with opportunities to learn this lesson – unfortunately every time it creates hurt as well.

To take a piece from another blogger I follow – soil is the base for growth of all living things. But soil itself is made of dead things. To grow ourselves, we must leave behind the things that hold us back and move forward, like shoots of grass from the earth.

On Sickness

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When you’re sick, the best thing for your body to do is rest. Ignore the world, lie down, stay hydrated, and sleep as long as possible. After all, it’s not your conscious mind that does the healing – it’s all the unconscious processes that are churning overtime to get you back to working condition. Unfortunately for me, I can’t always do that.

I started out last week feeling slightly off on Monday morning. By early afternoon, I knew I was getting sick. I grabbed some lemon water and gatorade and burrowed under my blankets. Chills wracked my body and I shook and trembled under three blankets and a layer of pajamas, even as I pulled a fever of 103. Taylor was kind enough to come over and bring me some soup and more immune boosting supplies before going to class. I could feel the ache of my muscles in my back, one of the flu symptoms that always seems to hit me the hardest, so acute that no position felt comfortable for more than a few minutes and I tossed and turned through the night. Precious sleep, the one thing I knew would heal me best, was out of my reach.

Throughout all of this, my mind was like a drunken gerbil on a squeaky wheel. Thoughts would come, slowly and fuzzily, then continuously repeat themselves to the point where I couldn’t get it to stop. It was like a terrible mantra that I had no conscious control over. I heard a snatch of a song lyric on the radio Tuesday and it must have played a thousand times like the world’s shittiest skipping record as I tried to sleep. After a few days and numerous fluids, my body reached a tentative truce with the sickness trying to make me miserable and I decided to leave the house.

I met my friend Heather downtown at 5 Walnut after a solitary dinner. This was my first real food in four days and as such, I wanted to have something prepared for me as cooking was pretty low on my priority list. An odd mental side effect of being sick for me was that dealing with people was much more anxiety-inducing than I am used to – I began to sympathize with Autistics. So many people breathing and masticating and talking all over each other and how can you stand how LOUD it is in here (even though it’s actually not)? Perhaps I coped best as a young child by always reading at the dinner table, both at home and out at restaurants with my parents. It’s still something I do to this day.

The wine bar was the other end of the scale: a band was setting up, consisting of a trumpeter, a bassist, a pianist, a drummer, and a guitar player. People were jammed everywhere trying to get a drink or find a place to sit or yell in the ear of the person next to them because fuck it was so loud you couldn’t just talk in a normal voice to anyone. I ordered by silently enunciating to the bartender and once I claimed my glass I dove into the corner as quickly as I could, Heather in tow.

Heather is the perfect companion for such moods – on a word fast herself, she has to communicate with her pad and paper, which she is sometimes not inclined to do. Even so, I appreciate individuals who can share space beyond words and Heather is perfectly content for silence to speak for itself. We sipped our wine and watched the band set up and ease into their first set. One of my peeves with the wine bar is they always book bands that plays fantastic dance tunes, yet there’s never anywhere to dance that wouldn’t knock a glass out of someone’s hand. The one couple I saw that tried did almost exactly that, and promptly sat back down.

A gentleman beside us struck up a conversation and when he found out Heather was choosing not to speak, I encouraged him to tell us some stories. He spoke of growing up in South Africa – living on hundreds of acres of land and how all of his friends were black until he was eight, when it became illegal to have interracial friendships. How he was required by his country to serve in a war against Russia that took 20 years of his life, three months at a time. How men he fought beside and bled beside became his brothers-in-arms until they set foot on their home soil again… when they would be arrested for associating with each other. How a failed marriage and two children later, he still cannot break the habit of emotional distance learned from a war claiming half his life. How his respect for Nelson Mandela was eclipsed by Jesus, who said “There are no Jews. There are no Muslims. There are no men, no women. There are only people.” (his quote) How America has no fucking CLUE how spoiled we are and how he wants to tell people to shut the fuck up when they complain about their problems. His stories were fascinating and we listened to him talk for almost an hour. In the way that conversations do, it ended before I expected it to and after I had any right to expect of it. He left us with, “I like America. Good people, but it needs a better government.” Having spent a good portion of my day reading about the NSA and Edward Snowden, I was hard-pressed to disagree with him.

Some sicknesses need rest and to leave well enough alone and they will die away. But some will dig in and fester and unless they are rooted out and actively expunged, they will kill us as surely as night follows day. Societies, built by people, are sometimes susceptible to the same disease processes as our bodies. Human culture is sick in a way that has never happened before. The acceleration of technology and the push for unlimited capitalism in first world countries has created a monster akin to sociological cancer – something that feeds and feeds and cannot have enough. The next ipad or the next Facebook meme or the next celebrity scandal (I’m looking at you, Duck Dynasty) is a distraction from the fact that we’re letting our governments do things behind our backs that are KILLING this planet. If everything stopped tomorrow, as soon as we woke up – if we all lived like Tyler Durten from Fight Club and let the forests reclaim the cities and hunted for our food from the skeletons of skyscrapers…. we’d still have to deal with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And the fallout from Fukushima. And the oil dumped into rivers and streams from fracking. And the innumerable chemical-associated environment problems created by China’s poor industrial standards. And probably a hundred other things I don’t even know about because I CAN’T KEEP TRACK OF THE WAY WE’RE KILLING OURSELVES. It’s frustrating and terrible and it’s all the worse because so many people seem to get it, but there’s so many more who actively don’t give a shit because damnit, they’re going shopping on Black Friday because it’s the American thing to do….. purchasing goods made in China designed to keep us sitting on couches and inactive so we can become even FATTER and enter early into a health-care system that’s already vastly unbalanced despite not having health insurance because public healthcare is socialism and I didn’t vote for no fucking SOCIALIST President, can ya gimme an amen?

The first day of feeling normal after being sick, is a revitalizing relief – like you can take on the world. Today, for me, felt like that day. I woke up, stretched, coughed once, and felt the strength back in my bones. But sometimes I wonder – is the world ever going to feel that way again?

Giving Thanks

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I spent most of thanksgiving day in my pajamas. Actually, I spent the three preceding days in my pajamas as well so that’s not anything unusual. I woke up, made myself some coffee, fed the cat and mainly puttered around the house. In the back of my mind I tried making a mental list of the things I was thankful for, starting with some basics: food, coffee, comfy bed, hot water (this was especially high on the list as the hot water heater wasn’t working and I couldn’t take my normal morning shower), etc. The list could expand (and will, before this post is over) but then I started thinking about what it actually means to be thankful. Sure, I could say “I’m thankful for cheese and beer because I really like them”, but somehow that’s not at the heart of what I think Thanksgiving is about. So then I started thinking of all the things that I had now that I had lost at some point in my life and it really shortened this list. These are not in an order of importance, but I feel like they flow together.

I am thankful for my home. Before I lived where I do now, I had been homeless for a few months. I was living partially in the woods near Warren Wilson, partially on friends’ couches when the weather looked like it had a good chance of giving me hypothermia, with almost everything I owned in a storage unit. This lasted for about three months during one of the colder winters in my time here in NC. Few things will make you appreciate heated floors and indoor plumbing like waking up at 4am out in the woods when it’s below freezing and having to vacate your bowels. Beyond even that, the people that I live with have become my second family and have helped me with their kindness and perspective and generosity more than I have any right to expect.

I am thankful for my job. I have usually been blessed to have jobs that I enjoyed and few have given me the freedom of flexibility with my schedule like this one does. In November 2011 I was arrested for driving under the influence, which subsequently caused me to lose my drivers license and my job as a paramedic. I had paid for my schooling out-of-pocket, only relying on grant money for my last semester. I loved helping people and having a job that challenged me and I was crushed when I could no longer maintain employment doing that. It took me a few months to get back on my feet and be mobile again and once things led me to my current employer, I felt confident about my future again. I know food service is not the thing I will spend the rest of my life doing, but in the meantime this company has been my favorite to work for. They are good people and they care about their employees and that is a hard thing to find in this world.

I am thankful for my parents. Last year my father had some heart trouble and for a few terrible hours I thought I had lost one half of the two most defining people in my life. I have in recent years become much more grateful to my parents for everything they have done in raising me – the opportunities to grow into an adult and feel confident in my capacity to navigate through life. Mostly, now I see my parents more like people and less as the moniker of “Father” and “Mother” that we ascribe them as children. I can sympathize with their headaches and heartaches and joys because I have entered into the realm of the adult… somehow, without noticing the bridge I crossed to get there.

I am thankful for my friends – my chosen family. The support system that has evolved, fluctuated, shrank and grew and shrank and changed completely. A few have stood the passage of time but there are others to whom I would give anything, despite not even a year being under our collective belts. Sometimes I imagine a web with each person being a different strand, being connected by arms stretched out to others. I cannot hold all of the strands in my arms, but I don’t have to – we do it together. And the weather can pound and the wind can blow and sometimes a strand breaks or falls away, but the web rarely dissolves entirely; we support one another and that support has helped me more times than I can count.

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell is facing an existential crisis. (As an aside, if you haven’t seen this movie, I cannot recommend it enough). He is speaking with a literary professor played by Dustin Hoffman who advises Ferrell to live his life as he sees fit:

Hoffman: You know, I mean, [Will], you could use it to have an adventure. You know, invent something, or just finish reading Crime and Punishment. Hell, [Will], you could just eat nothing but pancakes if you wanted.
Ferrell: What’s wrong with you? Hey. I don’t wanna eat nothing but pancakes. I wanna live. Who in their right mind in a choice between pancakes and living chooses pancakes?
Hoffman: [Will], if you’d pause to think, I believe you’d realize that that answer’s inextricably contingent upon the type of life being led and, of course, the quality of the pancakes.

While a little tongue-in-cheek, Hoffman illustrates an interesting point that made me reflect on perspective. What type of life are we living? One that gives thanks to the simple things that some, if not most, take for granted, and therefore leading simpler and happier lives? There isn’t really an “either-or” here for me, since it seems closer to a continuum; you slide back and forth between the two extremes at times and hopefully you don’t linger too long on one side.

To sum up, I’m going to again use the words of someone who said it before me and better than me. To give thanks, not just once a year, but always, in the little things.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” – G.K. Chesterton

Quiet Love

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November has been an odd month for love. Recently (and within a few days of one another) two of my coworkers have split with their significant others. While I don’t know the details of either situation or the conversations that lead to this development, I can guess from their general behavior that it was unwelcome. They have been walking around work with brave faces and guarded body language, trying to fit themselves into a mold of “the person who is friendly and brings you food and beer”. This is a hard thing to do when you are raw, an emotional wound that keeps feeling abrasive to every interaction with people and the struggle to be in control can be seen in your eyes.

It reminded me of the day I bought the Striver’s Row slam poetry CD and listened to the whole thing before work. I was mesmerized by these people’s incredible gift with words and I ended up crying on the way to work. When I got there, I was struck by how silly and absurd a task I had to accomplish – who the fuck cares about your fries not being hot when there’s poetry being spoken that will tear down your walls and break your heart and make you thank them for it? It is an amazing feat of psychological strength that we sometimes take for granted – the ability to partition our emotions and block off the whirlwind of thoughts that sometimes threaten to consume us, all in order to punch in a timecard and be on point because your job says you have to.

Someone recently told me that she begins to fear the mundane and day-to-day of relationships and craves the excitement of something new. The thought of routine rubs her raw and lights a fire under her seat to wander and break away, escape. And while I can see her point, because monotony is something we should avoid and tends to be the deathblow of most relationships, I cannot help but see it from a different point of view. I think it is best summed up in one of Joshua Bennett’s poems:

“How do I say that I feel closest to you, Eve, when we buy groceries together? When we watch Netflix for hours or do homework at the kitchen table, the one that you got from Goodwill and I say, you can build an entire home around that thing.”

There is an expectation of huge, big love to happen to each of us. Our culture propagates it through our songs, our movies, our Twilight books, our rom-com TV shows. Whether or not we believe in ourselves as princesses and princes, the fairy-tale magical excitement of new adventures and experiences that bonds two people together is thoroughly enmeshed in our cultural psyche. But to me, it screams of flash-in-the-pan. The 10AM conversations of waking up naked next to someone and talking about your dreams and what you want for yourself for the day, the evenings of cooking for one another and listening to This American Life on the radio while it snows outside, the date night when you go out with your mutual friends and dance to that same house band that can’t seem to consistently play blues but you get up and dance anyway because your partner has that look in their eyes that you know so well and it doesn’t tug at your heartstrings it fucking YANKS them down into your belly and makes you stand up and ask them to dance for the thousandth time because it still feels so good to be so close…. THAT is the quiet, solid love that endures storms and wears down mountains. The steadfast friend who is always there for you to laugh with, the person you can call any time of the day or night because you know they want your company for a Goodwill run or because you just broke up with your girlfriend or boyfriend and you need human heat to cry on, the lover who has that private smile that they don’t even know they do but YOU do because you’ve memorized their face and know that toothy grin out of a crowd of a million. That is the love that I seek – the love that never seems to be found in all the examples of popular culture that constantly pounds at us (or at me, anyway). It is quiet, steady, subtle, strong love. The love that fills every moment. Again, Joshua Bennett:

“You make me feel legendary… all the time.”

Aside

Shift the Climate

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Thursday night after I got off work, I stuck around to watch the 10 o’clock movie. It was called Shift, a small documentary about climate change. The makers of the film were there to promote awareness about it and talk with people about how climate change is actively affecting our society right now. The film has a brother-and-sister team going to a number of different states and talking with people who live in communities that have been altered by some kind of catastrophic event, usually man-made. The full movie is linked below:

http://www.shifttheclimate.org/film/

The things that are described and shown in this movie leave one with a sick feeling in the gut. And truthfully, it makes me feel a little ashamed. It has never been my passion to be an advocate for greener procedures and approaches to energy. I incorporate small things into my daily routine and try to cut down on the waste I produce, but that’s really about it. I drive all over the place and I’ve never planted a tree to make up for it. Ultimately, I know I’m not that much better than the majority of Americans who don’t give a shit about their effect on the environment. Watching this gave me a glimpse of the scope of things I am completely uneducated about. And even though this is just about the biggest fight there can be (the health and life of the PLANET), I still cannot envision myself participating to the extent of the people in this film.

In 1997, Final Fantasy 7 was created and released. It has since been hailed as one of the greatest video games ever made. Part of it was the jump in processing power and potential of the system that it was created for, from its predecessor. But mainly it was the first of its kind in being chock-full of characters that were worth caring about. The basic premise is a let’s-band-together-and-save-the-planet-from-the-evil-powerful-force-about-to-destroy-it. Nine characters create a group to oppose a being (Sephiroth) that has managed to use the most powerful black magic in existence to summon a meteor that will crash into the planet and destroy all life. Towards the end of this journey, our band of heroes manage to use the ultimate white magic, Holy, to stop the meteor from its catastrophic path. Within the mythos of this game, the force of magic is the consciousness of all the life that has existed on the planet. So when Holy is summoned, its mission is to make a decision to eradicate anything that threatens the life of the planet – including humans. The finale of the game actually shows a major metropolis overgrown with forest and animal life, with no humans in sight. At the end of the day, the message is pretty clear – barring any calamitous space events, humans are the single worst threat to everything living.

When I walked out of the theater after watching Shift, I thought a lot about sacrifice. The sacrifice of one’s personal time and energy to try and make a difference for the greater good, the sacrifice of the resources of the Earth for our short term pleasures and lack of foresight, the sacrifice of a small community’s health because of a procedure to bright wealth to a corporation, the sacrifice of oneself for the benefit of others. The glimpse I was shown of how immense the struggle these people are fighting to make others aware enough to enact a lasting change makes me wonder – if we are to eradicate the Sephiroths of our world, would that not include the complete destruction of humankind as well? We are the source of the greatest darkness and the only hope if there is to be life in the next millennium. What will we do with such power?

What Dreams May Come

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I had a dream the other night. We were sitting in my car and began talking. You became sad and placed your hands on your ribs. You pulled and your chest cracked open. Your heart beat there, fluttering like a sparrow. I slowly reached out and cupped it in my hands, closed my eyes, whispered prayers and truths and poured my love for you through them. Your heart began beating harder and stronger, filling you, until it flowed out your eyes as tears. They fell onto my skin and soaked into my flesh, creating a circle between us. We embraced in a hug and I kissed your face. In the way dreams go, we were laying in your bed – my hands traced circles on your back and our lips melded. We breathed in circles, you exhaling with my inhale. Our breath grew hotter in our bodies and under the blankets so we shed our clothes. I looked into your eyes and answered the question in them with a look from my own. Your burning wetness enveloped me and we sighed. Every breath was love, every touch and arch and thrust said YES. I loved you and you loved me and we filled each other’s cups with the other, both full to running over. Our climax came and worlds spawned and died in that moment between our bodies, between our breaths. You said “this is where I want my love to come from” and I tried to tell you that this is where my love for you has always been – in every breath, between us. But even I had no words for a moment so large… so I just nodded.

Superhero 5K

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I ran my first 5k on Saturday. It took place downtown, making a loop that began and ended at APBC. I got there about an hour before it started and changed into the costume I had borrowed from one of my coworkers – since I was running the Superhero 5K, I had to show up in SOMETHING. Ironically, the quickest (ha!) costume I was able to come up with that also (somewhat) fit was The Flash.

A little tidbit of trivia for you, Reader – I have always hated running. It sucks. I think it’s probably the worst form of exercise that humans have come up with since we decided we needed to do such things. Granted, I realize it’s not only the simplest form of cardiovascular exercise, it’s also probably the oldest. When humans were tracking and following prey back before the agricultural revolution, we certainly weren’t strolling along at a leisurely pace to catch our food. As a species, we’ve probably pounded out our fair shares of miles over the millennia. I also know I’m doing my part of that great race in relative comfort – padded shoes, an even track, and doing it in a way that is not directly related to my survival. But man… running sucks.

Thankfully the organizers for this event (my employers) posted the route that we would be running about a month before the actual event. I spent about two weeks preparing for the 5K… by running the 5K. The first time I walked a little more than half of it, just to make sure I was on the right route. I got lost at one point where the directions weren’t entirely clear and ended up backtracking a good 15 minutes before I found the correct way to go. All in all, the first time ended up taking me about 40-50 minutes. The second time I met my friends Melissa and Jeff at nine in the morning and we ran the whole thing together in a little under 29 minutes. After that I ran it pretty much on my own – but every time I did it, I kept telling myself I couldn’t stop. I had already ran the entire thing without stopping, so I knew if I did stop, I was just being a wuss.

The day of the race, I got to Coxe Ave about an hour before the start. I changed into my Flash costume and checked in to get my number. Holy crap, did I feel awkward. This thing was riding up my front like I couldn’t believe and there was nothing I could do to make it loosen up and not prominently show the definition of my crotch to EVERYONE. I ended up keeping my back to the majority of the crowd to avoid causing awkward conversations, with children pointing and sawing “Mommy, why does that man have a moose knuckle?” Thankfully Melissa, Abbey, and Jordy showed up and provided a safe space for me to stand in front of… until the call went out for all the runner to make their way to the starting line. We had to walk about a block and a half to get there and I was getting really excited. I’m normally the sort of person who doesn’t get test anxiety, or any kind of public nervousness at all. But it was contagious – every one of us were like dogs straining at our leashes. We wanted to run, be free, and fly. When the starting shout came, we surged forward as one body, pushing forward in excitement.

I tried my best to keep from spending myself all in the beginning from the adrenaline. It felt so different, running with so many other people beside and around me. People in cars honked their horns in (I’m assuming) encouragement as we pounded the pavement. I was about a quarter of the way behind the leaders of the pack and there was no time that my body didn’t absolutely hate every second of what I was doing. I had my music to distract me, I had the will to drive me, I had people all around inspiring me to go just a little bit faster, a little farther… but every single moment, my body said “What the FUCK are you DOING?!” Runner’s high must come at a place past five kilometers because it never showed up for me. The only clear memory I have of the entire experience is the last leg – four streets from the finish line, I saw my friends cheering me on and I tapped into something MORE in myself and lengthened my stride and my pace. At two, I knew it was all downhill and I bucked up and sprinted. My lungs burned, a stitch in my side told me I was going to pay for it later, but I did it anyway. Approaching the finish line, I hear my uncle call out to me and glimpsed him yelling encouragements. I pounded out the last few yards and crossed and was never so happy to stop moving and just breathe. My uncle Brad came over and congratulated me on completing my first 5K. He and my father had driven an hour to come up and watch me for 30 seconds as I achieved something that felt amazing. He and my dad hugged me and I joined my friends for more celebratory hugs – and then I had to cut things short to go to work.

 

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(this is my father and I)

Originally, I had hoped that Taylor would be able to watch me cross the finish line. Circumstances conspired against that hope but I kept that image in my mind as motivation – thinking of her cheering me on made me take a longer step, a faster pace. When I got to work, I found that a card had been dropped off for me. She had stopped by before her shift at work and dropped off something she had made – a cute encouraging card with my face poking through as a cut-out to a Flash drawing. It instantly made my night. To top it off, Melissa showed up about 40 minutes later and told me I had placed second in my age group (20-29yo) behind the overall top racers. I felt like I was on cloud nine.

Thinking back on the time I put into preparing for this and the subsequent feeling of completion, I recognize why people choose to run. Despite the body ache, there were occasional moments of pure motion, when I was at the apex of movement and momentum and I felt like I was flying. Perhaps another race will happen in the future…. but really, where was that runner’s high? I call bullshit.