47 years and counting…

A few years ago, I wrote a post on my birthday called Reflections on 44. It remains one the most popular posts I’ve ever written.

I know that many, if not most posts I write are dark. I don’t know why that is, other than for some strange reason, the darkness rouses the Muse and words flow more freely. In case you were wondering, I don’t spend my days in some sort of gothic state of depression. Quite the contrary, I am happy most of the time. But it isn’t those moments when I am driven to the keyboard.

So today, on this auspicious 47th anniversary of my entering this world, I decided to reflect on the good in my life.

The first thing that I want to mention is you. Knowing that you take precious time out of your day to scan these words brings me hope…hope that one day, I might turn this habit of verbal doodling might become my life’s work. That’s there still value in these thoughts that bubble up in my brain. That one day, I may truly become a writer, complete with paycheck. Thank you for your presence, the words of encouragement that you leave me and for the gift of your time.

I thank the gods for my friends. You know who you are. The trials of the past year would have been unbearable without you.

Happiness is not a state of being, I’ve come to realize. Happiness is in enjoying the moments that fill our every day and being fully present within them. My own are the simplest: that first cup of coffee in the morning quiet of my front porch, smoking and watching the hummingbirds zip and dive around my neighbor’s feeder. When my newly adopted cat jumps up on the couch and onto my lap, hesitantly craning her neck out to touch her nose to mine. When I have my kids on the couch next to me, their presence (even though they are enraptured by their phones/tablets) brings me peace and joy.
Singing along (badly) with a favorite song while I drive. Flopping down and watching an episode of “Longmire” at the end of a long day. An unexpected message from someone. Watching the sun go down. Listening to the night sounds while I smoke the last cigarette of the day before bed.

That is happiness to me. And my days are filled with those moments.

Surprisingly, these days I have an abundance of hope. I can’t explain why, but I have a concrete sense that no matter what, everything will turn out ok.

Cheers to 47 years. I don’t know if I have 47 more, but I will make the most of those I do have. I plan on making changes for the better in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Thank you for your birthday wishes. Thank you for continuing to read. Thank you for being you. My wish for you is health, happiness and hope in the coming year.

What you think about, you bring about. Never forget that.

“Walk tall, kick ass and take no guff from those swine.” – HST

Will you celebrate with me?

Tomorrow is a momentous day… for me at least.

One year ago tomorrow, I launched this blog, with the purpose of amazing, entertaining and astounding you.

I may have fallen a little short. I re-read some of those early posts, full of the green sap of hope and enthusiasm. I even placed an expectation of “3 writings a week” in one of them.

Can you hear the manic laughter? That’s my Muse. Saying something along the lines of “Bitch, please.”

But I stuck with it, submitting 30 or so writings for consumption (and/or regurgitation).

Some obviously resonated more than others. I saw lots of hits at first, then slowly tapering off to the occasional hiccup bump. My band member friends call empty rooms “playing to the crickets.” It seems as though I’ve been writing for the crickets.

Hey, I get it. Life gets in the way. Many things vie for our attention these days, especially things like assertive offspring who somehow feel entitled to my free time.

Who am I kidding? I have very little “free time” and even less time to write.

But I feel like a success. I maintained some steady output of words despite long separations from the Muse. Sometimes, I wrung the words out of whatever life happened to be handing me at that moment.

And some of you read them. A few of you even read them all. Fewer still were exceptionally kind enough to comment, like or share them via Facebook, et al.

For that, you have my undying gratitude. I got just enough feedback to keep me going during those barren days at the keyboard.

One year. 30-odd posts. Hundreds of views. Thousands of words.

Finally, those gibbering spirits of my long-dead writing coaches (Bukowski, Papa Hemingway, the good Dr. Thompson) have abated some. And I can look in the mirror with confidence and say,

I am a writer. A writer who stuck to something for an entire year.

So I will celebrate Bloggerelstl’s birthday tomorrow. With a toast, and perhaps a cigarette or three.

And I will celebrate all of you, who continue to stick with me.

I thank you. I. Thank. You!

Stand By Me…

I was fifteen years old when I saw my first dead human being… outside of the sterile environment of a funeral home casket, that is. Just like the slightly younger main character of the movie Stand By Me, which was based on a story by Stephen King.

Due to my profession, I have not only seen but handled hundreds of dead bodies. Young and old. Male and female. Rich and dirt poor. Clean, warm deaths in beds at home with family close and medicated comfort. Cold, nasty deaths with no warning on dirty pavement and fluttering yellow police tape.

In short, I’ve seen a lot.

But you never forget the first. I remember the sights, the smells, the temperature. Everything.

A bit of backstory: As a teen, I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, which is the civilian branch of the Air Force. One of CAP’s main missions is search and rescue. In fact, they run about 90% of domestic aircraft search and rescue operations in the country.

Several times during my time in, I was called away from home in the middle of the night to go find an aircraft that went missing, or chase the ghost of a distress signal from an aircraft’s ELT (emergency locator transmitter).

On my first time out, we found a plane. And a body.

I got the call around 8pm. Our team picked me up and off we went into the hills of Southern Missouri.

We drove up and down backcountry washboard roads chasing the ELT signal with our equipment.

But the damn signals bounce off the hills, diverting us off on several wild ghost hunts.

We drove and searched for about 10 hours, listening carefully for the signal to get stronger or weaker. I had the harsh smell of our search vehicle’s burning clutch stuck in my nose all night.

Just as we thought we might have triangulated the location, the signal would get weak or disappear completely.

You always have the hope that the planes occupants might just be sitting on the ground waiting for you to show up, maybe a little beat up or hurt. I could almost see the relieved look on their faces when they see us walking up.

As we bounced through the dark backroads and one hour vanished into the next, my hope faded.

Just after sunrise, the State Highway Patrol sent up a helicopter to the area that our signals were the strongest. Within an hour, they had located possible debris on a hillside a short distance from where we were searching. The chopper pilot had radioed in the location of a dirt road that would get us to within 100 yards of the site.

We flew down the highway until we found the road. A battered metal trash can lay discarded along the highway. We stopped so we could mark the road for the other teams and rescue personnel. I righted the can and tied my orange safety vest to it. I wasn’t moving as fast as I should have, dreading what was waiting for us down the road. A fellow team member hollered from the vehicle for me to hurry up, that people could be dying.

But I knew, somehow, that there was no grateful pilot waiting for us. I just knew it, but I can’t explain how.

We pulled down as far as we could. We humped our packs down to a clearing and started seeing pieces of metal. Not big pieces, but suitcase-sized.

And then I saw the fuselage with the full accordion treatment. I glanced up at the trees. There was no swath of broken branches or decapitated trees in any direction. So the plane didn’t glide into the trees, it nosedived right into the hillside.

My eyes scoured the terrain, looking for a victim. But I noticed that no one else was looking.

“Does anyone have eyes on the pilot?” I asked.

He’s about three feet to your left, under the fuselage, came the reply.

I had almost kicked him while I was walking past the wreckage. I knelt down in the dirt to look closer.

The impact had folded him up and driven him into the dirt. Only the back of his light blue nylon warmup jacket was visible. And the back of his head and neck. A single dried rivulet of blood had made its way from his hairline down to the jacket.

An instant death for a young pilot, 18 years old, with a freshly-minted pilot’s license that was doubtless somewhere in the mangled mess.

No matter how quickly we would have found him, the end result would have been the same.

And just like that, a life snuffed out like a candle. No more Christmas. No more birthdays. No more dreaming of the love of his life. No more hope for the future.

I was thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.

The next day, I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents, eating and watching the local evening news.

The pilot’s parents were being interviewed. They expressed their disgust at the length of time that it took to find their son’s body. Why wasn’t he found sooner, the mother asked.

I felt both of my parents looking at me, wide-eyed and silent.

I snapped the television knob to off and growled something about them not knowing what the hell they were talking about and how it wouldn’t have made a goddam bit of difference when he was found.

Strong language that I rarely if ever would have used in the presence of my folks.

They said nothing.

I stewed on it for a couple of days and then thankfully, my mind let the anger go.

But the memory remains.

And I am still thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.

A heartfelt apology to you…

When I started this blog last year, I had visions of regaling you with endless tales of whimsy and fascination. I’ve spent the last months trying to wring some worthy fiction from this brain o’ mine. I’ve tried to to force this square peg of a blog into the round hole of my dreams and expectations to no avail.

Apparently my writing roots run deeper in the Charles Bukowski soil than I thought. Somewhere in that ethereal subsurface, the taproot has found tasty vintage in a deep, sometimes melancholic aquifer. Fortunately, the other roots keep feeding me the occasional tale or memory that provides diversion.

It isn’t what I had in mind. I wanted this to be a fun escape, not a baring of souls…

So that seems to be the highway we are hurtling down with occasional trips down the washboard backroads. And now, as Hunter said many years ago, I’ve bought the ticket. I might as well take the ride.

And you’re all coming with me. For that, I apologize. The advantage you have over me is this: you can jump off the train at anytime. I, however, am buckled in tightly with no knowledge of when or where the ride goes but with the belief that I will be gratefully exhilarated when it ends.

A little background to (hopefully) clarify today’s musing:

My own spirituality is a unique hybrid. If your gaze fell upon the shelf that I keep the books that I find the deepest solace and guidance in, you’d see a mix of Buddhist, Christian, Pagan and Native American spirituality.
The man-made elements of religion have done more to drive me away than to draw me closer to God. As a result, I’ve pushed myself further into seeking wisdom down different paths. In my spiritual travels, I’ve learned to note things such as today: the Vernal Equinox, combined with a New Moon and an eclipse.
My Druidic forebears would have seen great significance in this, and would have altered their usual rituals accordingly.

My own ritual? I will light a candle to mark the equinox and put my intention out there to keep writing and belief for it to grow, just as the farmer pushes the pumpkin seed into the cold spring soil in the belief that a strong healthy, fruitful vine will come forth even though he has no idea which direction the plant will go.

So today I will do a little equinox dance for you. I intend that the magnified power of today’s welcoming of the growing season will feed and sustain this virtual, verbal garden that I tend here. I will shed the doldrums and sluggishness of my Winter’s hibernation and keep priming the pump with these posts until it fills up and allows words to start flowing into a longer stream.

And I encourage you to the same in your life. Whatever it is that has been your passion and desire to do, and you have been sitting there waiting for the light to change from red to green, I encourage you to put more pressure on the gas pedal. As I have said before, my line of work reminds me daily of the short and unpredictable nature of this life. The power of today’s equinox also signals a change for your own growth. It is a sign for you to make the first move.

Take action. Till the soil. Turn last year’s regrets and hesitation under the earth to compost and fertilize this year’s adventures. The sun will warm the ground for you and the rains will fall to nourish whatever it is you should choose to plant.

Plant something and take care of it. An untended dream is like an unkept garden. If you just stick something and leave it to its own, it will most likely fall victim to pests and decay. The fruit will be bitter or rotten before you have a chance to enjoy it.

And that, dear reader, is a plain waste of your life and dreams. I will close this with some great motivation from “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.

It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself,. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

See you down the trail.

This one’s for the girls…

This will tie in nicely with my previous post, affirming without a doubt my weirdness.

There is a lot of hullaballo about this latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and the advertisement for “Swimsuits For All.”

Let me go on record as saying that I am an ardent admirer of women. All shapes, all sizes, skin colors, hair colors, etc.

I have preached (to anyone who will listen) that a woman’s beauty, value and sexiness has NOTHING to do with a number on a scale.

Not a damned thing.

Let me tell you a quick story from my teen years: Being a dork, I spent a few weeks one summer at a Journalism Camp. Shocking, I know.
It was co-ed, and my first real unsupervised experience with the opposite sex. Me being me, no supervision was needed. As with the most of my years, the fairer sex pretty well ignored me at this camp. That’s beside the point. I have a memory of an incident at the pool that was my first vivid impression of the unhealthy view that a lot of women have towards themselves. A view that the media and certain male types have conjured up and inflicted upon them.

There were a number of girls at the pool, and one girl (who had a beautiful face and a willowy, model-type figure) came to sit on the edge of the pool. She was wearing a relatively modest one-piece suit, but you could almost physically feel her shame and discomfort. She sat for about ten minutes, and then fled back into the locker room in tears.

Because she had convinced herself in her mind that she was fat/looked fat.

There was another girl who went in to check on her reported that information to us. She was a redhead, lots of freckles and a thicker (but certainly not fat) build then the other girl. And while her face was pleasant enough, she wasn’t in the same class as the girl now weeping in the locker room.

But hot damn, she was so much sexier than the model-type.

I have never been able to put a tangible criteria on sexiness or whatever qualifies someone as sexy in my mind. But I have been fortunate enough to know a good number of sexy women who don’t fall into the archetype from magazines/movies, etc.

I think that it’s mostly due to confidence and attitude. The second girl was very comfortable in her own skin and with her own appearance. The first girl had everything a girl is/was supposed to have (in all the appropriate places, best as I could tell) but lacked that major piece of a belief in her own beauty or sense of self.

I still feel bad for her, and I hope that these many years later that she has come to peace with herself. As I feel bad for any woman who doesn’t believe that she is beautiful. I am amazed at the callousness that exists among other women with remarks like “She doesn’t belong in a bikini” or “Why is she wearing THAT?”

Such drivel. Who gave them the right to decide who is fit to be in a bikini and who is not? I’d like to know, because they deserve a kick in the ass…

That’s why I am SO pleased to see the #Swimsuitsforall campaign in that bastion of potential body-shaming, the Swimsuit Issue.

Ladies, you don’t need my permission to wear what you want during swimsuit season. Or anyone else’s for that matter. Wear whatever makes you feel the way you want to feel.

But it never hurts to hear from another source that you can be sexy. You can wear the swimsuit you desire. You are beautiful. And none of those depend on what your scale said this morning.

That being said, allow me to also say “I get it.” I’m sure that I am not the only guy to feel that way, but men get “fat-shamed” as well.

My own weight has fluctuated hither and yon. I have never felt really good about what my body looks like. Even when I weighed whatever I was supposed to weigh.

I have recently embarked on a exercise plan. Been at it about three weeks. I am cutting back on soda and other unhealthy foods.

All with one goal: this summer I will be frolicking on the beach in Jamaica. And I want to feel okay with being on the beach with my shirt off. I know that I won’t look like Jax Teller or Matt McConaughey, but I want to feel okay.

Just okay. Maybe sexy if I am REALLY lucky. (Or really drunk!)

Out of respect for your breakfast, I have decided not to post any “Before” selfie. But if I feel okay, I might post an “After.” I make no promises.

But I do promise this: I am determined to feel better about myself. I am determined to walk on the beach shirtless (it helps that I will be in another country where people who know me won’t be able to see).

And I promise to be an unwavering supporter of women who wear what they want and women who choose to be sexy.

Be who you are. Wear what you want. Be happy. Be confident. Be brave. The sexy will follow.

#nofatshamingofyourselvesallowed

A View of the Sunset

Pardon this attempt at a Tony Robbins moment… Chicken Blogsoup for the Soul, if you will.

My careers have all shared one common thread…working with older adults in their transitions in life.  Life to death.  Independent and spry to debilitated under nursing care.

It has been a blessing.  I have learned a tremendous amount about life, and how to live it.

No matter how lovingly and painstakingly you build the house of cards of your life, a single gust from the right angle will scatter it to the winds.  And you are left with nothing except a decision.

Rebuild it.  Or give up.

That great font of wisdom, American Cinema, summed this beautifully in a single line from Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

When the bank account drops to a level that makes you suck in a breath, remember those words.

No matter how shitty your life seems at the moment, there are people who will (Right at this moment) gladly trade lives with you.

It’s hard to believe this sometimes.  Even I am living one of those situations right now.

When I do allow myself the luxury of self-pity, the waters don’t go very deep.

Because Ed always pops into my mind.

Ed was a resident of one of the retirement communities I worked at.  He was well off, financially, but his life was not without its heavy burdens.

He and his wife moved in together when he could no longer care for her at home.  He himself had been debilitated by strokes, which moved him slowly but surely down the path to incapacitation.

His gait was unsteady.  He progressively lost his ability to speak.  His health was failing.  The epicenter of his life, his wife, died with he at her bedside.

But he never lost his spirit.  Or his ability to laugh.

When I first met him, he could say a few words to me  like “Dan”, “hi”, “good.”

But his signature was a thumbs up.

He would toddle down to the pool to swim laps in the morning in his big, white robe.  His demeanor might make you think he was on vacation at Club Med.

“Mornin’ Ed!  How are you today?”

Thumbs up and a crooked smile.

During his tenure there, he lived in every part of the community.  Independent apartment,  patio home, Assisted Living, and lastly, our skilled nursing home.

When I would need a morale boost, I would visit Ed.

His children would apoligize to me for the amount of time I had to spend with him on transferring him from one area to the next.

But I loved it.  And him.

He’d throw an arm around me when we walked in the hall.  I’d pour drinks for him at Happy Hour (he did enjoy his wine, regardless of doctor’s orders).

His laugh was infectious.  I remember when he was in our Assisted Living neighborhood, and he really, REALLY wanted a 2 bedroom apartment.  His children warned me (with mock severity) to not tell him of any coming available.

But he found out anyway.  He was a smart man.

His daughters showed up at my office door, defeated.  “Come on,” they said.  “Let’s show it to him.”

It was just down the hall from his one bedroom apartment.  I was standing in the empty 2 bedroom with his daughters when I heard the door to his apartment open.  Actually I heard him giggling before his door opened, and it became a full laugh as he scooted his walker up the hallway.  He was getting what he wanted, and he knew it.

Hearing him laugh made his daughters and I start laughing and shaking our heads.

This was pure Ed.  Living life on his terms, and his only.  Always seeking out the little things that made him happy.

Later, before I left that job, I visited Ed in the skilled nursing center.  He had a private room (of course) and he was watching our new skilled care expansion being built from his window.

By this time, he could not speak at all, but utilized a small computer to speak for him.  His daughters were there with him.

He pointed out the window and typed.

“When” said the computer.

“A few more months, Ed.”

“I want to be there,” said the computer.

His girls were clearly tired of the nearly half dozen moves that he had made in the past couple of years.

“Why, Dad?”  With more than a little edge of irritation.

He typed. And the computer said,

“a view of the sunset.”

That got me.  When his life had nearly seeped away, he still had enough spark to request the simple beauty of a sunset in his life.

I don’t know if he ever made it.  I left that job shortly thereafter and he died soon after that.

My heart is full of little holes that were made by people I have lost through the years.  Ed is one of those holes.

Because he taught me.  He taught me that your life is what you choose to make of it, no matter what the circumstances.  He taught me that you can laugh, even in the face of adversity.  He taught me the power of a smile (even a crooked one) and the effect it can have.  He taught me not to be afraid of a good, old fashioned Arm-around-the shoulder hug.

He taught me to constantly seek out my own view of the sunset.

And you should, too.