Thursday, December 31, 2009

For Auld Lang Syne, My Dears

New Year's Eve, 2009. The last blue moon of the year happens this very night. Somehow that seems apropos. This has been a remarkable year for me. A year of transition and metamorphosis. I moved from the subtropics to the subarctic. I left behind the family I created from among friends over the last 26 years to return to the family that ancestry and DNA connect me to. I'm having to reinvent myself all over again. It's an opportunity to attach the 'New and Improved' label to my resume.

How do I feel? I haven't the slightest idea how to put the swirling emotions into any kind of order let alone into words.

I am sad not to be among the people who gifted so much of themselves to me in Texas. At the same time I am glad to be among people who want me to be a part of their lives here. As I look back at this past year and ahead to the one coming, I feel like a poster child for the definition of oxymoron. I want to have what I had and want what I've got. I am a walking dichotomy. Anyone who's known me would tell you that that's nothing new. I guess I'm just more conscious of it tonight than usual.

I take comfort in a passage from Jonathan Livingston Seagull that seized my heart all those long years ago when I read it for the first time. It has come to mind every time there's been a parting of one sort or another in my life. Please forgive the inaccurate paraphrasing that follows.

Jonathan says to Sully:

".....Take away space and all we have is here. Take away time and all we have is now. And somewhere between here and now we shall surely see one another again......."

I've heard the strains of Auld Lang Syne throughout the day on various TV programs. Auld Lang Syne--Old Long Since. I've always taken it to mean 'for old times sake'. I will indeed raise a cup of kindness yet to all that's gone before. And raise it again to toast what's to come. In the end it's all one and the same. It is life. And it will draw breath for as long as it is remembered.

I lift my cup, overflowing with optimism, to all humanity and especially to you, my Gentle Readers. May we always be as close and never farther apart.

Happy New Year and may all your dichotomies find happy resolutions!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fire Up The Brass Monkey

For the benefit of my Gentle Readers, what follows is Lord Wellbourne's Temperature/Comfort Equivalence Guide. It may come in handy for comprehending future posts.

95 & up degrees----------Just Freakin' Shoot Me
85 t0 94 degrees----------Hot
75 to 84 degrees----------Balmy
50 to 74 degrees----------Perfection
35 to 49 degrees----------Brisk
25 to 34 degrees----------Cold
00 to 24 degrees----------What The Hell!?
Below 0 degrees----------Just Freakin' Shoot Me

It is currently 22 degrees below zero outside with the wind chill factored in. So while I am waiting for some compassionate soul to come along and shoot me I have been beading yet another table linen and reveling in a primordial daydream beside the fire.

In this daydream I am hunting woolly mammoth up, down, and all around the glacier I call home. Eventually the critter I've been pursuing slips on the ice and fatally impales himself on an icicle stalagmite. Very fortuitous since I had forgotten to bring a spear. I then proceed to free him of his woolliness and a few hundred pounds of tenderloin and pot roast and return to my grand but tasteful cathedral ceilinged stone condo. After a meal of steak done to perfection with some veggies from the Hunter-Gatherer market I whip out my bone needle and sinew thread and sew that mammoth hide into an A-1 sleeping bag--woolly side in. I snuggle down with my four saber-toothed kitties for the next three months or until the day comes when there's at least 10 hours of daylight--whichever comes first.

The wind is moaning through the snow-laden pines around the house and it has become apparent that no one is going to drop by to render a mercy shooting tonight. Figures. In the meantime I am typing away in my studio which resembles a medieval knight-crusader's long hall adorned with his plunder of the Middle East. A fire in the hearth casts a glow on the tapestries and the mother-of-pearl inlaid chess set, the air filled with the scent of sandalwood incense, and a quadrillion beads glittering in their containers.

Now that I consider it, it's really too nice a night to be shot. Cancel my order.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Ghosts of Christmas' Past

I wasn't thinking about Christmas when I was packing and loading the truck for my return to Maine this past May. I did give a passing thought to what I would do with the prize money from the Guinness Book of World Records for the amount one can put into a 24 foot Budget rental truck. I could easily see myself hosting my own show on HGTV demonstrating how you CAN take it with you.

But Christmas came, and it found me far less enthusiastic than in years past. Even though the outdoor world looked like something Currier and Ives dreamed up for a collector plate I was not inspired. For many of the years I was gone from home my mother had done Christmas sparingly. The manger, an angel figurine here and there. and the hand-crafted holiday kitsch. I surprised myself by being content with letting it go at that. Then my 91 year-old mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and would be facing hospitalization and surgery over the holiday week. The idea that this could be our last Christmas together gripped my heart and stomach like a frozen iron claw. The claw released my innards and reached up to slap me out of complacency and into action. Up went the tree, out came the ornaments--hers and mine--collected from everywhere for generations. Out of the boxes sprang Father Yules and nutcrackers, reindeer and snowflakes. They all gathered on the tree vying for prime real estate amidst the glittering garland and icicles. While the cats viewed it as a smorgasbord of opportunity my mother and I were patiently waiting for dusk to plug it in and have that 'oooh-ahhh' moment together. You only get to experience that once per season and it had taken on such a poignant urgency for both of us. We shared that moment--each of us knowing that the other was thinking the same thing--this could be the last time. Nothing was said--everything was understood.

Since 1994 I had hosted what came to be known as the Annual Christmas Refugee Party--hereafter the ACRP. I was a single person without family living in Texas. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by choosing to spend the holiday with one friend over another so I declined all of the invitations. After their respective observances came to an end, several friends came to my home to bring gifts and samplings of their culinary offerings and to bring cheer into what they considered my lonely existence. I ended up having a houseful of people and a veritable feast spread upon the table. It was the most fun any of us had had at Christmas. That's how the ACRP was born. The mission statement was simple: if you don't have anywhere to spend the holiday-come here. If you do have somewhere you HAVE to be, then after you've done the obligatory 'family stuff' and are yearning for the freedom of fun--come here. No one will ask you when you're going to settle down, provide grand children, get a better job, finish school, cut your hair etc... The primary rule was "It ain't about the gifts". Year after year they came back and year after year it was the best part of anyone's holiday. Traditions of food, games, and enduring friendships were spawned. I got to be the uber-host and see to it that no one left empty handed (I have never been good at following my own edicts)--or empty bellied. This would have been the 15th annual gathering and I was 1800 miles away--a lonesome little refugee on the tundra. I was feeling pretty cheated. I really needed a good swift kick to the pants to get over my cheap, imported self. Cue the frozen iron claw.

Standing in front of the most beautiful tree I've ever decorated, next to my mother-- arm around her frail little shoulder--the one I used to cry on, I flip the switch and have the oooh-ahhh moment with her again. In Texas I was blessed with the love of some extraordinary people. In the here and now of Maine I am equally blessed by the love of this extraordinary woman. Her presence in my life before I went away made what came after more priceless to me now. And an old tradition is precious anew. May you all have abundant oooh-ahhh moments.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Different Kind of Gift

Becoming a parent at my age isn't something I would have put on a top 10 "Things I Hope To Achieve" list. Becoming a parent to my own parent, however, has forced the issue and I am skeptical as to how it will play out against the panoply of previous successes.

Perhaps a wee bit of background would be in order. December 23, 2008: my 90 year-old mother stumbles over her considerable pile of knitting projects. Hits her head against a venerable piece of furniture on the way down to the floor. Result: fractured skull and hip. Surgery to insert 'pin' into hip. In the course of dealing with skull fracture it is discovered that she is completely blind in one eye and macular degeneration is claiming the other. Her son, living in Texas (and his brother living in Illinois), are not informed of the event until weeks later--at her command.

Easter 2009: Mom, now 91, elects to have her right knee replaced to counteract painful arthritis. Son living in Texas decides to return to hearth and home in the land of his birth. Liquidates thriving antiques business and prepares to say goodbye to 26 years of life well lived in the Lone Star State.

May 2009: Son returns to the still-frozen North with an extended truckload of treasures from around the world and the unable-to-part-with merchandise from his antiques shop. Thus begins the legendary meeting between the immovable object and the irresistible force.

To say that my mother is a force of nature to be reckoned with would be a gross understatement. Every drop of her Austrian blood is called into play whatever the occasion. This is a woman who endured the Nazi occupation of Paris so my 'coming home to put things in order' objective was a minor blip on her radar. I will willingly and proudly admit that she and I are cut from the same cloth. A blend of burlap and silk. The weft: independent, headstrong, determined, and stubborn. The warp: sentimental, compassionate, empathetic, and generous of spirit. In my experience, two people who are so completely alike will either really like one another or really dislike one another. My mother and I are navigating the choppy waters between those two shores. Love is our lighthouse beacon and we rely on it to guide us.

I should say at this juncture that there is positively nothing amiss with her cognitive powers or her ability to communicate. Her mind and her tongue are as sharp as ever. Our difficulty stems mostly from her inability to recognize me as a fully functioning and capable middle-aged man. In her mind I am still 12 years old. She has a prodigious talent for telling me what, when, where, and how to do anything and everything as though I just fell off the turnip truck.

The past seven months have been a mixed bag to say the least. I am truly glad to be back in Maine. It is an amazingly beautiful place no matter what the season. I am awed by the house I grew up in now replete with my bric-a-brac and furnishings. My mother and I have dynamics to work through. She is finding it hard to accept that her body isn't living up to the demands of her willpower. I am having trouble grasping the concept that she has been my age but I have never been hers. Several times a day I repeat to myself the line from 'Desiderata': "Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth." In a home where two industrial-grade individualists live under the same roof, it can only be considered 'graceful' if you believe alligator wrestling to be a form of ballet.

This Christmas finds my mother in the hospital yet again. Two weeks ago she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery the day before yesterday to remove the greater part of that organ. It has been a sobering experience for both of us and has played a major role in reorganizing our priorities. When she is able to return home there's going to be a significant realignment of our daily routines. We both know it and yet are exceedingly grateful that her surgery did not result in a colostomy. Hers is a positive prognosis and her recovery will be slow and steady moving forward.

I believe that between an immovable object and an irresistible force there is adequate room for immeasurable admiration, and boundless love.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Winter Recipe For Warmth

Half package of graham crackers
Lemon or orange frosting

Separate each graham cracker into four quarters
Spread the frosting on two of the quarters
Place remaining two quarters on top of iced quarters
Repeat until all quarters are accounted for.
Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

(Other icings can be used according to preference. The flavour of citrus when it's below freezing outside gives my taste buds the will to go on living.)

Earlier today a very dear friend of the family called to ask if we might like a bit of company. We were very pleased to say yes. She is a very busy lady--a CEO, wife, and mother so this was a rare occasion indeed. She indicated she'd come by a couple of hours from the time she called. There was the usual flurry of putting things where they belonged and a gingerly sprucing up. My mother made the remark she wished we had some nibbles to offer her when she arrived. My mind went into immediate 'host' mode.

As much as I would have loved turning on the oven if for no other reason than heat, I just wasn't in the mood to conjure up a figgy pudding or flaky pastry. I looked in the pantry and saw the graham crackers and the frosting. Voila!! Instant 'poor man's lady fingers'. I made a pot of tea the old fashioned way--loose leaf in a 'Brown Betty'. While waiting for the kettle to boil I brought out the pretty, delicate hand painted English bone china cups and saucers I brought home from Texas. Bright happy flowers inside the cup and out. The Austrian porcelain cookie plate, equally resplendent in florals, came out of exile. I poured the water from the kettle into the Brown Betty and added the leaves to let them steep. I prepared the 'lady fingers' and arranged them on the cookie plate. A mis-matched German lustreware cream pitcher and sugar bowl joined the botanical United Nations on the table. There are distinct benefits to having been an antiques dealer!!

The tea I chose to serve is my own blend of Earl Grey (for body) and Summer Berry (for crispness). After it had steeped adequately I poured the tea into a pre-warmed English pot--yes, decorated with cabbage roses--through a strainer. A quick wipe and the sterling tea spoons and sugar tongs were gleaming. Our friend arrived a few moments after the final flourish and we all sat down and lost ourselves in conversation and reminiscences.

Just a little aside for anyone hosting a tea or get-together over coffee: Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people. Make of that what you will.

When the time for her departure came she thanked us for going to so much trouble to recreate Springtime and for taking the chill out of a bitterly cold day. For the time she was here I'd forgotten it was Winter and 20 degrees outside. It was no trouble I assured her. It was a pleasure. A warm and welcome pleasure. All gold-rimmed and cheery. No, no trouble at all. It was the least we could do for giving us pause to appreciate her warmth, too.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Things We Do For Snow

Last night, the meteorologist said that snow was imminent. I went to bed repeating the mantra 'tomorrow I will be industrious' the subtext being: 'I will get off my lazy butt and do what I've been putting off'. Apparently I am my own best subliminal motivation technique because I woke up uncharacteristically rarin' to go. I gathered all the trash and recycling, bagged and canned it, and had it on the curb by 8 am.-- a good twenty minutes before my industrious neighbour. That was a very satisfying feat.

I finished my morning coffee and moved on to turning last night's scrumptious pot roast extravaganza into a delectable soup perfectly suited to the observation of this evenings snowflake ballet. Then it was off to the litter box to play archeologist sifting through the sands of ancient civilizations. This was followed by a thorough spa experience for each of my four felines--combing, brushing, new flea collars and pedicures. Divinity is hard to maintain without proper grooming.

Then I moved on to the vacuuming which included doing over the doorways (thanks, Mom) and the stairway down to my studio. Swept the porch, the garage, and the walkways. While out of doors I gathered up branches that had fallen, mulched flower beds, replaced fallen rocks from the stone wall and stacked a few more bits of firewood.

Came back in and did the dishes, the laundry, and some needlework. I stirred the pot o' soup and answered emails and finally got around to voting for the next happy California cow. It has been a full day and the soup was worthy of the appetite I developed.

I wish to thank the Gentle Readers who have sent me very gratifying emails regarding my syntactic virtuosity. I owe it all to my education in England, my years on the stage, and all the authors who've invited me into their books.

Now I must ascend the stairs to the card table where I will ignore my mother's skill at stacking the deck and allow her to kick my butt at a few games of Spite and Malice. It's an old family tradition. My grandmother's daily routine revolved around cleaning everything in sight and devotions to her bible and rosary. At night she cheated at cards like a pagan. I adored that woman!!

I believe that certain traditions should be maintained for the preservation of contentment. Besides, if Mom wins big at cards tonight, she's less likely to insist on replacing the shelf liners tomorrow. A home should be clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy. I'm shooting for bliss.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Bears Repeating

It is never to late to be what you might have been.---George Eliot

Why I Like Housework

I like housework. I probably don't do it as often as I should and certainly not as often as my mom would like. It's not that I take any particular pride in having an immaculately spotless home or I am hyper-allergic to dust or cat hair. I have always considered dust to be a natural protective covering. No, I do it for purely selfish reasons. Housework is a spiritual journey for me--an exercise in humility and gratitude.

While washing up after company leaves I look at every plate, utensil, and cup as a representation of people who like me and enjoy my company enough to take time out of their hectic schedules.

Whenever I dust I think how fortunate I am to have so many beautiful things to move. Some are heirlooms and some are souvenirs. They remind me of where I come from, where I've been, and who I met along the way.

When I go from room to room with the vacuum cleaner over those beautiful, old hard wood floors and carpets, I think how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head and walls to keep out the cold. There are multitudes who don't. And more will lose what they have.

When I feed the washer and dryer with load after load of winter woolies and flannel, linens and towels, I think about the folks who are chilled to the bone in threadbare clothing. They don't have a bed let alone linens.

When I reorganize the pantry after grocery shopping I think how lucky I am that I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. A lot of folks can't remember when they ate last.

When I'm outside in the bracing Maine air picking up branches that have snapped in the latest wind storm I think about the folks who'll be sleeping tonight in far colder air than this and wishing they had these bits of wood to burn.

Housework for me is an inventory of everything I have to be thankful for. I am a chronic pack-rat. I often find it necessary to rein myself in and survey the accumulation with a subjective eye. Then I get out the boxes and start a clean-sweep from one end of the house to the other, upstairs and down. Drawers, closets,--no cubbyhole is exempted. That includes the cream corn and cream-of-whatever soups from the pantry as well. It all goes where it will gain new life and meaning in someone else's inventory of gratitude. I purge the house of all that doesn't need to be here or isn't part of what makes this 'home' for me. In the process I purge my heart of ambivalence. The house gets roomier and my soul becomes fuller. It is an alchemy that is its' own reward.

You don't have to 'give til it hurts'--just til it makes a difference. It doesn't take much.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Thought on December Eve

There comes a time when
being the crest upon the wave-
restlessly dashing to and fro-
is no longer enough.

There comes a call from deep within
to seek meanings
and, in time,
to understand them.

Then all at once you realize
that the careless, fleeting crest
has now become the deep, calm water
that gives the tide its' course.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hand Me An Eraser........

Over the past several days I have willingly inundated myself with information gathered from a number of cable channels. I enjoy participating in athletic displays but am not so keen on watching others making millions of dollars while 'playing'. Being a holiday period my choices of non-sports oriented viewing was somewhat limited. But I can say that after three days of visiting the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, and A&E--I have come to some postulations that are going to take me some time to work through. I mean, besides the obvious conclusion that we live in a very screwed-up hedonistic world. Just the advertising alone tells you that.

Here are some crudely distilled, admittedly unrefined conjectures that are being processed in my head:

1) It is asinine for humans to dislike and/or hate other humans because of their ethnicity or skin colour. It is asinine for humans to be prejudiced towards other humans for matters they had absolutely no choice in or control over. Humans are stupid.

2) Oceans, rivers, mountain ranges etc...are geological formations. Nature created them after billions of years of aesthetic consideration. Humans turned them into 'borders' then pissed territory. Humans are stupid.

3) When you look at photos of the Earth from space or look down from an airplane there are no coloured lines denoting where one county, state, province, country ends and another begins. Mother Nature didn't go around with a big box of markers. Humans drew the lines. called them borders and pissed territory. Humans are stupid.

4) There is only one race--the Human race. They have different ethnic origins but are still only one race. The human race once inhabited a single pan-geologic continent. Therefore we all lived together in one place at the same time. Eventually the tectonic plates shifted. Part of that aesthetic consideration. Humans went from being neighbours sharing a common experience to drawing lines and pissing territory. Humans are stupid.

5) With the exception of indigenous Native Americans, none of us are 'from' here. Our ancestors came from beyond these shores for whatever reasons motivated them to leave where they came from. Now a great deal of time and energy is devoted to the debate of whether we should allow other members of our race to live amongst us or not. For the very same reasons that brought our ancestors here in the first place. And to do to them what our forebears did to the people who were here before them. Humans are still pissing territory. Humans are stupid.

Well, that's what I've been able to sift from all the media saturation I've undergone while digesting the Thanks Giving revels. Political posturing, xenophobia, economic self-interest, and territorial urination are very much alive and thriving between all the pretty coloured lines traversing the planet that humans call Earth. Humans are stupid.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hairballs and Humility

I made an amazing discovery. While pouring cat food from the industrial size bag of kibble to the more manageable decorative container, I saw something written on the back of the bag that got my attention. "Different food choices for different lifestyles." I wasn't aware that my cats--or any of my friends' cats for that matter--had any other lifestyle beyond sleep, eat, redecorate, poop, repeat.

There's all kinds of information on the back of that bag. I'm wondering if it's the equivalent to reading the back of the box while eating your morning cereal. Should I leave the bag out for my fur-children so they can be better informed about their lifestyles? Do I even want them to know they have lifestyles? I mean, really, when you're that bloody close to divinity to begin with what more do you need to know?

They've already figured out how to subjugate their human servants to fulfill their every whim. They lie around in cat-nip induced stupors on the best furniture like imperial potentates holding court in opium dens. Surrounded by dozens of the latest toys designed for their amusement--most of which must be manipulated by their bipedal, opposable-thumbed lackeys.

I have had many friends tell me that in their next life they want to come back as one of my cats. Okey-dokey with me as long as they understand they will be spayed or neutered and declawed. Most of the guys rethink the idea. They really shouldn't. Most of the trouble they've gotten themselves into was due to not being neutered. Bless their hearts.

My cats have undergone a major transition moving from the sub-tropics of the gulf coast of Texas to behind the back woods of Maine. We lived in the urban sprawl of Houston and they were accustomed to asphalt and concrete. Now they are coming to terms with grass (which they've discovered is edible), trees (which are not edible), and arctic climate. Gentle Readers of this blog have already read about their first experience with snow (Winter Wake-Up Call) and predatory nature (Windex vs The Environment). Cats have amazing coping skills when it comes to change. Keep the bowls full and the litter box clean. That's about it. Oh, yes, and keep right on loving the heck out of them when they redecorate. You really don't need a complete set of anything anyway. Being the caretaker of divinity is an exacting job but when a cat chooses you to be its' equal you know you've arrived.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Zen Truism: Poop Happens

Oh, the memories that spring forth unsummoned! And this isn't even a personal memory but an indirect one. I will not mention a name because the person this happened to is a Gentle Reader of this blog and I do not wish to embarrass or offend. I was revisited by this memory after visiting her blog and felt compelled to share it with my vast following.

This Gentle Reader is also a very dear friend of long standing. We have traveled a great distance together down life's shifting panoramic pathways. She is an immensely gifted and talented artist. Hers is a natural gift that was merely fine-tuned by higher education. She is gainfully employed putting those talents and skills to good use. I will not say that she is a perfectionist but rather she has an exacting keen eye for detail and her follow-through is next to none. Being a person abundantly blessed with creative ability as well as an energetic work ethic, it is true to say she doesn't suffer ineptitude or slackers very well. This will inevitably lead to frustration and stress.

When she graduated from college about seven years ago her mom hosted a party to which I and other of our friends were invited. Among the cards and gifts she received was a table-top rendition of a Zen garden. It came complete with sand, stones, and a teeny little rake as well as a few other odds and ends. She thanked the giver and the party went on. It sat unopened for a couple of days in her apartment. She is not given to 'New Age' flights of fancy or to fall victim to the latest fad in self-enlightenment. At some point she decided to set it up. As I said earlier she has a keen eye for detail and she laboured on her little garden getting the look just right and all the accessories placed just so. I have no doubt she poured herself into it and when it was completed she felt satisfied--because that's the way she is.

Somewhere over the next day or so and in her absence, her handsome tiger cat happened upon the Zen garden. But instead of seeing a well-executed exercise in serenity he saw an uptown single-serve litter box. He contributed to the project. I have no doubt he poured himself into it and when it was completed he felt satisfied--because that's the way he is.

What does it say about one's search for spiritual oneness when your cat craps in the middle of your tranquility garden? I suppose there are a myriad of inferences one can make but for the life of me I can never get past the laughter. It is the one memory I call forth whenever I'm having a particularly difficult day. And it always cheers me up. Perhaps that's the real lesson in all this: Don't take yourself so bloody seriously; poop happens--get over it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


While running my usual mid-week round robin of errands something occurred to me. I am now convinced that the Roman Catholic Church has bequeathed a legacy upon our culture that has, until now, gone unnoticed. I mean a legacy other than the obvious theological fabrications. Having been born and raised RC, spent time in a cloistered Benedictine monastery and served time in a seminary, I think I can speak with some authority. They may not be directly behind this development but their history backs up my supposition: the monasticizing of America.

Depending on the order and the 'mission' of the monastery, each individual is on his own to serve God in his unique way or 'calling'. As a group they pray, work, and eat together but are still pretty much encapsulated within their own singular spiritual solitude. And, generally speaking, so are we. It's merely a question of focus, motivation, and priority.

Look around at our daily lives. Today you can do your banking online or in the drive-thru. Other types of drive-thrus will present you with a variety of foods or you can phone in or click to order the aforementioned feast and get it brought to you. You can fill your tank at the pay-at-the-pump gas station, you can shop for almost anything online and get it delivered, you can check yourself out at the grocery store. Today I got a message from the post office telling me I can now get stamps delivered to my mailbox by filling out the attached form. In other words, I can get almost all of my needs met without the inconvenience of dealing with another human being. I no longer have to be bothered with meaningful communication or remembering to use good manners and common courtesy. I can pack those away in my ambivalence closet. Isn't automation miraculous?

Now that I am relieved of having to interact with others of my species I am free to pursue a religion far older than Christianity, Judaism, or even Buddhism. It's a religion that millions of fervent devotees pursue each and every day and perhaps twice on Sundays. The all-embracing Church of Self. It worships one deity--ME--and has a holy trinity of its' own: ME, MYSELF, and I. The Universe revolves around ME. The church is Self-Centered and Self-Contained. It is everywhere and anything I want it to be. It doesn't require a congregation because no one else matters except ME. It's all about ME. In ME I trust.

As much as I like the pleasure of my own company, I'm afraid that where the Church of Self is concerned I have to declare my agnosticism. The computer keyboard is not my altar so there will be no pointing and clicking my way out of human interaction. I want to see (and personally thank) the person handling my money and my food. I will certainly utilize some of the blessings of the Technologod but not to the exclusion of sentient experience. The interior of the car--though lovely-- isn't all that conducive to a fulfilling dining experience. No room for a buffet, the flower vase tips over when I make a turn, and the AC blows the candle out.

Having been born and raised Roman Catholic, done the monastery and seminary thing, I am cured of chronic religionitis. I am now guilt-free to explore my own innate spirituality and to be a congregant in the Church of Life which has many novices worshiping together at the altar of WE, US, and OUR.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"You Need A Couch"

I thought I would share a slender slice of life with you that happened to me just the other day. After which I will rant for a moment or two. It's always helpful to have an itinerary so one knows the best place to disembark.

My mother and I were sitting in the living room each in our respective chairs and in our own worlds. She was knitting some slipper socks and I was beading my way into the hearts of millions. I heard the porch door close and a knock at the back door. Without a word of prompting the door opened and in walked a married couple around my age and friends of long standing to my mother. After the exchange of greetings the next words out of the mouth of the husband were "You need to get a couch."

Thus begins the ranting portion of our story. Feel free to safeguard any dairy products residing in your fridge from curdling.

Somewhere in the shifting sands of my five top pet peeves is any conversation that starts with or contains the question "You know what you need?" or the imperative "You need to......." That ranks up there with "It's not fair." Let's be clear about this for future reference. The only thing I NEED to do is breathe. And even that is optional. I confess I prefer it to not breathing.

Of course the next logical move in this intellectually stimulating exchange was for me to ask why I needed a couch. I so wanted to be illogical for once but it had been a very uneventful day and the snow had made me kinda antsy. "Why do I need a couch?" I queried ever so benignly. The poor man gave me that look that says he is stunned and baffled by my ignorance on so obvious a topic. "Because everyone has a couch." he chimed (in the key of d'uh).

I should tell you that there are four wing-back chairs beside my mother's electric orthopedic recliner and my famous throne chair in the living room. We rarely have more than two guests at any given time and they usually make themselves at home around the kitchen table. I believe there is more than adequate seating in any room of the house where anyone would be inclined to sit.

I gave this insightful observation on his part enough time to sink in--or rather down--amongst the tumble-weeds of cat hair migrating across the hardwood floor. Seemed to be the most logical place to archive it. I then shared with him my views on the impracticality of couches, sofas, and love seats. First of all, most pieces of furniture that size are meant to seat at least three people. When was the last time you had that many people parked side-by-side in your living room? Especially if there were other seating options available? Generally, people sit at either end leaving the middle empty--effectively turning a multiple seating unit into two one-seat units--otherwise known as chairs. By not having a couch I have eliminated three feet of wasted space thus reducing my carbon footprint on the home decor portion of the planet. Besides, as I again benignly pointed out to him, a couch or sofa encourages the lolling about when there's work to be done and only inspires lethargy. If you're that bloody tired, go to bed. Taking up space and selfishly inconveniencing other members of the household was not a practice MY family was prone to. And people that can't bare to be separated from one another in someone else's living room should stay at home. I did concede that having a couch did come in handy when one had more guests than beds. And even then only in an unforeseen emergency--blizzards, shipwrecks, telling your spouse they DO look fat in that outfit etc...

Seamlessly, the conversation segued to coffee and baked goods and everyone emigrated from the couchless living room to the warm delights of the kitchen. Where there are plenty of chairs to go around.

After making Juan Valdez and Betty Crocker proud they departed. While clearing away, my mother chided me by saying I 'needed' to be more diplomatic when guests come. I suppose it was the nano-second it took for my head to spin 180 degrees and the fear of projectile pea soup in her direction that prompted her to modify her reproach before I could draw breath. "I mean, you SHOULD try to be more diplomatic....." She's right of course. It's ungenerous of me to treat a guest like the couch-hugging slug he is when he comes uninvited to our home and offers unsolicited advice. After all, he was only stating the obvious and trying to improve the quality of my life. If and when I ever pay them a courtesy call I will make it a point to leave a generous contribution of kind words at their altar to obligatory good taste and conformity. While wasting five feet of it by sitting smack in the middle. Hey, it's their footprint--not mine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Winter Wake-Up Call

It has finally happened. I knew it was coming. I just didn't think it would come this early. I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for 'Currier and Ives' season. I am speaking, of course, about snow. Yesterday morning I grabbed my first cup of coffee and went out onto the chilly enclosed porch with my entourage of fur-children. I was confused by the amount of time it was taking for my eyes to focus and for the morning fuzzies to dissipate. Then it hit me. They weren't fuzzies they were snowflakes! Big suckers! I had the same 'deer-in-the-headlights' look on my face as the cats did. I was the only one who knew what it was. These felines had never seen snow before. They stared out with wide-eyed wonder at this falling phenomena and simultaneously all four turned to look at me.

It is a supremely sublime experience when a cat looks at you with awe and admiration for what they believe is your doing. Their respect is the ultimate compliment and ego booster for at least the time it takes them to realize you had nothing to do with it. I opened the back door so Jezebel could experience this magical moment first-hand. She stepped onto the wet stuff with a wee bit of trepidation, sniffed the air and the white thingys. Then at least two extra-large flakes landed on her forehead just above her eyes and the spell was broken. She zipped back inside, jumped up onto the table where the other three were waiting for her. There was a short debriefing session and then all eyes were turned accusingly on me. Apparently one of them had read "Call of the Wild" and believed this was some sort of conspiracy to torment and torture them into revealing the secret Feline handshake. Or perhaps it was all part of a nefarious plot to turn them into a cat-sled team. They wanted no part of that--or me at that point. Fortunately, the sound of popping open a cat food can has the effect of amnesia on a cat.

Just the day before yesterday I had worked up a sweat preparing the flower beds for winter. I assume that was my first mistake. Kinda like washing the car before it pours. Yesterday was dark, dreary, and cold. I felt as though I were in a Bronte novel. I swear I could hear wolves out on the timberline. I had a compelling urge to inventory the pantry to assure myself we could survive the deprivations of winter. I hope the cats like cream corn.

Today the sun came up and glinted off the diamond crystals outlining every branch of every tree. I had a feline moment of awe and wonder. It's all beginning to melt away and I'm experiencing separation anxiety. I not only survived my first 'dusting' in 26 years but found myself looking forward to the next one. I know it's coming and this time I'll be ready. In the meantime I'm going down into town to get something to go with the cream corn. And some cat nip. Being harnessed to a sled is going to take some serious inducement.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The Road To Nirvana Is Paved With Asphalt

I love back roads. Fortunately, here in Maine, that's pretty much all we have. We have I-95 of course--also known as the Maine Turnpike--and it's basically a multi-lane back road with incredible scenery. I live some distance from it and make do with the two-lane variety whenever I'm compelled to take the car out of its' cocoon also known as the garage. I don't go out much but I look forward to every opportunity of getting behind the wheel.

My return to Maine after 33 years of living elsewhere has been a total mental make-over for me. For 24 of the last 26 years I lived in Texas, I lived within the city limits of Houston. I traveled every one of its freeways, highways, and byways all of them congested with self-absorbed borderline psychotic drivers and their crappy attitudes. In the 1970's the Texas Highway Department spent a great deal of money putting up signs state-wide that gave motorists the admonition to "Drive Friendly". If they hadn't coupled that statement with the warning that bridges may freeze before the rest of the road does it would have been a laughable total waste of money. Kinda like putting up signs around Washington telling senators not to overspend. Hostility became routine and road rage became an epidemic. Now, back in Maine, I am discovering road rapture.

I'll probably get over it when the snows come. I imagine I'll get over a lot of things at that point. But for the moment I revel in driving through gauntlets of fire. Much of the Fall foliage is on its way out but there are still many places along my customary routes that positively dazzle. I hope I never again take the beauty of this place for granted the way I did before I left for warmer climates. Driving along the rising and falling hills, winding and twisting first left then right. Whoever planned these routes missed the class on shortest distance between two points and straight lines. Which makes it all the more wonderful. Maybe that was the point. If all the roads were straight people would go faster and never see how amazing it is.

We don't have signs here telling us how to behave when we drive. Maine folks don't like anyone telling them what to do. Friendliness and courtesy is a natural occurrence. People actually wait for you to go through the intersection before pulling out. Instead of making every effort to cut you off, they just cheerfully wait for you to go by. Amazing. It's the equivalent to holding a door open for someone. And everyone waves at you on the back roads. People in their yards and on-coming drivers wave at you as you go by. I guess they figure if we're sharing the same road we must be friends. Works for me. I see speed limit signs as warnings--'don't go any faster than this or you're going to miss something'--and it's true.

My favourite thing about any of the roads in Maine is that there are no billboards--anywhere. There is nothing to block your view of the trees, the mountains, lakes, ocean, or pastures and farmhouses. Except for more trees of course. Now that most of them are shedding their leaves you can see through them and beyond to what they were concealing. Every excursion is a journey of discovery and I know that I react like a kid on Christmas morning. And I admit I privately like that about myself. It's always good to find out you're not as jaded as you thought you were. At least until the snows come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yoda and the Woodpile

Little House Behind the Backwoods part 2----Lessons From the Woodpile.

After doing all of the things I wrote about yesterday in part 1, it occurred to me that at no point during the day did I have a worrisome or negative thought. I didn't fret about getting older and having no hair, teeth or health insurance, I didn't stress about my bank balances, and I didn't give the socio-economic-political condition of the planet a second thought. All that passed through my mind over the last couple of days was doing each task efficiently through to its' completion and then moving on to the next chore. And when I went to bed I was happy and content with myself and the world around me. Which made me wonder......did our grandparents and great-grandparents have time to be depressed? What did they do in a world before anti-depressants were advertised as regularly as shampoo and modes of transportation?

Except for four population centers, Maine is about 95% rural and has been since long before it became a state in 1820. Up until the outbreak of WWII most of Maine's economy was based on agriculture and sea harvesting. A typical day for the average man of the house would begin by getting up while it was still dark, feeding the livestock, milking the cows if he had any and they almost always did, go into the fields and work 'til lunchtime after which he returned to the fields until the sun began to set and he headed home for a hardy supper. Once he'd eaten he go out to feed the livestock and milk the cows again before turning in for the night. During and between the planting and harvesting seasons he was also responsible for cutting wood for heating and cooking, building and repairing anything that needed it, maintaining all tools and 'machinery' if he were fortunate enough to own any, and when time allowed, be a husband, father, and child of God. A typical day for the average woman of the house began pretty much the same way. Up before the sun to load and light the stove to cook the breakfast that would sustain the menfolk until lunchtime. After washing the pots and dishes and before gathering the eggs and separating the cream from the milk, she'd begin the arduous process of laundry--hauling water--cold for work clothes and nearly boiled for under garments, bed linens, and 'store bought for Sunday' items. Soaking and boiling, agitating over a wash board in lye soap, rinsing and wringing, then hung out to dry. Since this took a great deal of time to accomplish she usually did it in shifts so she could also prepare lunch and dinner--cleaning and peeling vegetables from the garden she tended herself, roasting, baking, seasoning, and stirring. Pots and dishes scrubbed it's back to the next phase of the laundry--but not before giving the house an overall sweeping and tidying. A wee bit of ironing some of the clothes that have dried with a two-pound pyramid shaped wood stove heated chunk of metal and a lot of elbow grease. Somewhere in the midst of all this activity was the occasional need to play referee or nurse to squabbling children. Depending on the time of year she may be busy canning, pickling, and putting up preserves. A well stocked larder and root cellar was the pride and measuring stick of every woman. In the evenings after clearing away and scouring pots and dishes from supper, she took up her needle and thread and attended to the never-empty mending basket while listening to her husband's account of his day and plans for tomorrow. It's getting late and kerosene is dear so off to bed they went.

Everything was done by hand then. There were no washers and dryers, no electric stoves or microwaves, no dishwashers, no coffee makers or food processors. No refrigerators or freezers. Indoor plumbing was a luxury that city folk had. Few people could afford tractors so they either hitched up a horse or pulled the plow and carts themselves. They also harvested produce by hand and the sweat of their brows. They used scythes and rakes to mow and bail hay for the cattle and other livestock for the winter. The 'simple life' was never simple, it was a lot of hard, back breaking, muscle ripping work. They didn't give much thought to wondering who they were or why they were there. They were who they were where they were. It was called life and they lived it the best they could. Some made out better than others but the cycle of life kept on turning and everyone had a shot at being a success at least once in a while. These were our ancestors of only a few generations back and they are worthy of our remembrance and appreciation. Not to mention our respect for what they endured and achieved.

Somehow I just can't imagine that anyone had time to be depressed. And even if they were they didn't have the time to dwell on it. I'm sure they had their share of alcoholism, domestic violence, and suicide. I've read plenty of historical novels and biographic accounts. What I'm discovering about me-myself lately is that when I'm in the thick of physically involved labour outside in the brisk Autumn air, I feel completely disinclined to inventory grievances or problems--real or hypothetical. Could be the air, could be exhaustion. Whoever said a job well done need never be done again didn't work with nature or much of anything else come to think of it.

I've finished all the clearing, pruning, chopping and stacking I needed to. I kind of dread not having more to do for fear I'll go back to being a curmudgeon. Then again, next to skiing and ice-fishing, being a curmudgeon is one of Maine's favourite winter past-times. If there's a prize, I'm a contender.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Earning a Good Night's Sleep

What follows is the first installment from my "Little House Behind the Back Woods" series.

Nothing compares to going to bed after a long and productive day of intense physical labour in the great wide open Maine outdoors. I have been diligently striving to reclaim parts of the yard that 26 years of my absence has allowed to 'go native'. For those of you who know me personally the concept of my doing ANYTHING physically taxing is cause for mild amusement if not an outright guffaw. Now picture me dressed in beat-up jeans, a long sleeved undershirt layered beneath a flannel over shirt. Completing the ensemble are a pair of above-the-ankle work boots, a pair of heavy leather work gloves and to top it all off......wait for it............a baseball cap! Returning to Maine has completely changed my life---and lifestyle. If anyone had shown me a picture of what I'd look like in October back in May while I was still in Texas I'd probably have canceled the moving van. Once I'd stopped laughing that is.

As it happens, I am back on the land of my birth and the American roots of my family history and find that I am embracing it far more and far faster than I thought I would. The past two days have been devoted to clearing under brush, trimming dead branches from the immediate forest surrounding the house and the fine art of firewood. Yes, firewood. Along with the clearing and pruning there were several trees that needed to come down having long since died. I have laid them to rest, dismembered their limbs, chopped up the trunks and then split the chunks into hearth sized morsels. From about 8am to dusk (around 6 pm). The undergrowth must first be cut, then hauled into the open, gathered, secured, and hauled again to its final resting place in a field beyond the tree line. Same goes for the pruned branches. The metric ass-load of leaves found their way there last week. When it becomes too dark for me to see what I'm doing I go inside, eat a hearty dinner (which I put into the crock pot at 7 am that morning) followed by some needlework and then off to bed. Oh, the absolute bliss of laying down in a bed with line-dried linens and falling into a deep, restful sleep having ruminated about all that had been accomplished and planning out tomorrows itinerary. Up the next morning at 6 am--after a cup of coffee, a few cigarettes. and two Alleve I'm good to go.

There's an art to stacking firewood. I now have a stack that is four feet high and fifteen feet long. That's a lot of chopping, splitting, and stacking. If anyone has ever seen the PBS series "Colonial House" you have a good idea what I'm talking about. I would like to think I've done something extraordinary but the truth is it's what everyone here does to keep warm and survive the winter. Heating oil is a very dear commodity in these parts so it has to be supplemented with alternative fuel ie wood. I am really appreciating what all of our forebears had to do before someone invented flipping a switch. I am also appreciating what hard physical work does for one's mind and self esteem. I have several thoughts on that subject which I'll share tomorrow. It's amazing what one can learn from a wood pile.

Until tomorrow I leave you with a blessing--may your axe hold its' edge til the last tree's felled.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Keep Your Mud To Yourself--Free the Rainbow

I have been avoiding this blog installment for several weeks. A couple of my Gentle Readers asked for more information about some things I said in my very first installment. Specifically about my comment that I support 'civil unions' and oppose 'gay marriage'. The other question was about my Celtic/Buddhist spiritual leanings. I have avoided responding to these queries because I'd prefer to leave politics and religion out of my blog--there are plenty of them that cover nothing but. However, since I asked folks for subject topics it is only appropriate that I honour their requests.

Let me state here and now that what follows are MY opinions and I do not expect anyone to agree or advocate what I think. I'll try to clarify my viewpoint on the whole 'gay marriage' issue today. Religion will have to wait for another time--after I install the bullet-proof glass in all the exterior windows.

What do I have against 'gay marriage'? In a word: semantics. Any time you throw a defining word in front of a subject it dispels the entire notion of equality--which is the whole point of the drive for recognition. Marriage is marriage regardless of who comprises the couple. Perhaps we should begin with my definitions of the subjects. Civil unions are comprised of any two people of whatever gender combination entering into a committed relationship that is recognized by local, state, and federal laws. It includes all the rights, responsibilities, and benefits of conventional marriage. This means that either spouse has the right of survivorship to inherit an estate, have binding input where healthcare and custodial decisions are concerned, and receive compensation from insurance companies and retirement funds. Yes, 'civil union' sounds very much like conventional 'marriage'. The difference between the two is that 'gay marriage' really frightens and pisses off Conservatives, Hard-Line Christians, and Conservative Hard-Line Christians. Apparently they believe that 'marriage' belongs to them exclusively on religious and moral grounds and to allow their fellow citizens who happen to be gay (many of them equally religious) the right to marry will just muddy the water and turn 'marriage' into a farce. Sorry, but a 50% divorce rate and multiple marriages punctuated by infidelity within the heterosexual population pretty much takes care of the 'farce' department. I am not opposed to the institution--just the term. If you put the word gay in front of marriage it automatically negates the equality just as putting the word 'mixed' in front of marriage did 40 years ago. Somehow 'mixed marriage' just wasn't on the same level as 'same-race' marriage. And yet, today, married people of differing ethnicities are equally protected under the law in this country provided they are of opposite genders. I believe that any two people of legal age who truly love one another and think they have a shot at making their relationship work should be allowed to join in a legally recognized commitment. Regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. To badly paraphrase our most cherished national documents: All men (human beings) are created equal and have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No one or group has the right to deny their fellow humans privileges that they freely enjoy themselves. It's not about religion or religious beliefs. It's about equality and civil rights. Separation of Church and State. Call it whatever you want to, it comes down to fairness and common decency between all law-abiding tax paying citizens of this nation.

Gay people have come a long way since Stonewall. Soap operas, prime-time television, even their own cable networks have brought them into the mainstream. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear. We always fear what we don't understand. Or choose not to understand. Rather than spending millions on campaign ads for and against the issue, marching and protesting pro and con the subject, we'd all be better off focusing our resources and energy on dispelling fear of the unknown by working toward understanding what's truly at stake here. The equal right to love.

Perhaps then the waters would begin to clear when everyone stopped throwing mud into it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Windex vs The Environment

It's my mother's fault. I am not attempting to shirk responsibility or point the finger unjustly. I unabashedly declare that it is my mother's fault for two reasons that were beyond my control. The first reason is that at a very early age she taught me how to wash windows correctly and thoroughly; initiating me into the mysteries of all the ways and means of achieving a streak-free shine. I cannot reveal them here because I'd have to kill you--thus eliminating at least one precious gentle reader. The second reason is that my mother is an obsessive creature of habits and traditions that date back to the Garden of Eden when Eve installed the first thermal paned window giving her an ideal view down the garden path to her apple orchard. Apparently it is an unwritten Maine tradition to wash one's windows (at the very least) twice a year. Once in the Spring sometime around Easter as part of the annual Spring Cleaning Ritual--which lasts throughout summer. The second is in the Autumn sometime after Labor Day and before Thanksgiving. Today was that day. Unfortunately my mother doesn't subscribe to my theory that less than perfectly clean windows is actually a good thing. It cuts down on harmful ultra-violet radiation and serves as a natural sunscreen. She points out that since the sun's rays are now slanting away from us it's important to clean the windows to extract the most amount of light possible in order to continue cleaning everything else. So, with all appropriate utensils in hand I proceeded into the afternoon sunshine (43 degrees) and set to work. After I had completed all the outside surfaces I came inside to finish the job. Once completed I sat and marveled at my accomplishment and accepted my mother's praise humbly. To reward myself I picked up the novel I'm reading--the biography of Bess of Hardwicke--and settled into my comfy chair.

At one point--and I don't know why--eye strain or butt numbness--I looked up and out of the window. Something in the air outside over the clearing behind the house was getting larger and seemed to be approaching quickly. I was transfixed. After a second or so I began to think it was a single engine aircraft skimming over the tree tops. Then I saw the ever-so-slight twitch of the wing tips. From then on it was all in slow motion. This perfectly formed flying machine coming directly at me at 60 miles an hour. The intent golden beady eyes fixed on it's prey. The landing gear consisting of two sets of three inch talons. And the incredible thud resounding both inside and outside of the house. Scarlet, my Bastet look-alike black cat, had been sleeping unseen (at least by me) on the windowsill behind the buffet and in front of the window. She was now ascending straight up to become one with the ceiling. My mother exclaimed from another room and I jumped up to extricate Scarlet from the curtain rod she had attached herself to. I told mother what had happened and went outside to investigate. There on the ground beneath the window was the largest goshawk I'd ever seen. OK, it was the only goshawk I'd ever seen that close. And he was still alive. And he didn't look as though he was in any way amused or impressed with my window cleaning abilities. He'd been denied Scarlet for lunch and he was giving me the once over as a suitable menu substitute. It became apparent he had injured one of his wings and one of his legs. How it is he didn't break his neck is beyond me. I went back inside and called the wild animal rescue people. They're more accustomed to rescuing moose who've wandered into bogs or bear that have wandered into homes. They came within the hour because I told them it was a bald eagle. I lied to them and I'm sorry but I really didn't want this fabulous creature to fall victim to the bobcats or coyotes that regularly patrol the area of our house. The rescue people were very sympathetic to the goshawk and to my 'ignorance'. They patiently pointed out (in the dulcet tones one employs in speaking to a four-year-old) that the colouring was all wrong and that an eagle's wingspan is much wider than this birds four foot spread. Hey, when this thing is coming at you that fast and has lunch in his eyes and ginsu knives for feet it's a bloody Boeing 747 alright, buddy?

I will give my mother credit for selecting shatter-proof glass when she had the new windows installed three years ago. Otherwise I'd still be picking shards out of the carpet. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to pay for Scarlet's PTSD therapy. I am so tempted to go outside and throw dirt at the windows and reaffirm my case for being less aggressive on this whole cleanliness issue in consideration of wildlife conservation. That will have to wait until after I've hung out the next load of laundry and finish raking leaves. Maine is gorgeous the year round but especially in the Autumn. The fun never stops. Between falling leaves and descending pterodactyls life is an endless adventure.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Autumnal Rapture and a Poem

Maine is at the zenith of her beauty during this time of year. During the day she's wrapped in a cloak covered in amber and ruby, citrine and topaz, garnet and gold. The landscape dazzles against a sapphire sky. At night she's all black velvet and diamonds. It is good to be home again.

What follows is a little something that came to me after taking a star-studded stroll last night. I can't say I had anything particular in mind as I wrote it down. I certainly didn't feel as dark as the poem turned out. Must be the Stephen King effect on Maine in October. I think it's in the water.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Irony

The stars
are made of all
we wish for--
the wants, desires
from all nations, faiths,
and generations--
that are beyond our owning.

They glitter,
shine and sparkle--leading us on
teasing, taunting,
reminding us what it is
to be human.

we gaze skyward
seeking fulfillment from
their pulsing indifference--
like them, bright and burning.

No empathy emanates from the stars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Think I Need A Dog

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I have been away from my blog for over a week now and I have truly missed it. Recently I was given the opportunity to watch my quiet, serene world get totally turned upside down and inside out by the arrival of my older brother and his family--wife, two sons ages 9 and 10 and last, but certainly not least, his Golden Lab/Pointer mix, Dash. They drove in from Illinois last Sunday to spend four days in the golden Autumn of Maine. The only thing I imagine worse than their visit was being in their van coming here. I get a rather twisted sense of retribution with that image. Anyway, all the cleaning, sprucing and tidying up that went into preparing for their arrival was both pointless and time wasted. All my efforts were annihilated within the first ten minutes. As well as any goodwill I may have been nurturing. But enough about that................

Among the usual things that people forget when traveling to visit family members--shampoo, toothbrushes, good manners, courtesy, respect for personal space and belongings--there was one thing my brother sort of neglected for which I am truly grateful. And that was Dash the dog. I say sort of neglected only because he did take care to feed and water him, took him out for potty breaks and gave him token play time. My brother loves that dog more than anything else ( with the possible exception of cable television) but he wasn't enjoying this trip and Dash was the loser. One early afternoon my brother took the boys and made yet another trek to Walmart for yet another must-have item that could easily have been obtained locally. Whatever. Dash was desolate that his "daddy" and playmates had gone off and left him. I decided to give my Mom and sister-in-law (who I truly adore) some girl time together and took Dash for a nice long walk. OK--he took me for a walk. We walked up the road which is very rural and scenic with little to no traffic. We came upon a knoll where a large abandoned Victorian farmhouse, barn, and out buildings had once stood and where I had played among the ruins as a child. Dash and I walked the old lane that wound past what used to be there and deep into the surrounding fields. Apparently it's a favourite location for ATV's and dirt bikes as well. It made for smooth travel through the brambles and under brush in the woods. We walked and walked but my mind traveled much further and in the opposite direction. I began thinking about all the places I'd been since the last time I walked here and all the people I'd known and loved since then. It was indeed a sentimental journey. Dash was a perfect traveling companion. He never interrupted my inner monologue and whenever I was at risk of falling into deep, dark introspection he obligingly attempted to dislocate my shoulder by yanking on the leash (already extended to the maximum) in pursuit of yet another squirrel, bird, butterfly, or unicorn.

On the way back to where we'd started I found a patch of ancient rhubarb plants I'd missed initially. Goodness, the memories that overtook me at that moment!! I'm going to go back and pick them when they've matured a bit more. Dash and I got back on the road and headed for home. I had the whole panoramic valley in front of me and it took my breath away. It's amazing how one can overlook the beauty that surrounds him every day. I looked at some of the trees next to the brook and thought how much they resembled the background landscape in many of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings. Wow--I'm living in a da Vinci landscape--awesome!! If it had not been for Dash I would probably not have taken that walk and remembered so much of who I used to be. I may not have taken an accounting of how all that contributed to who I am now. I made sure he got a generous portion of milk bones when we got back to the house. I loved on him as much as I could to express my gratitude for his companionship.

Here's an opportunity for some entrepeneurial type person who has land and love to spare. How about "Rent-A-Dog"?. You think you want to take a walk but don't really have the motivation--rent a dog. You want someone to love you unconditionally even though you're a jerk--rent a dog. You have the spontaneous need to love something but people are too complicated--rent a dog. You need to feel appreciated and adored and no one cares--rent a dog. Hourly or for the week-end. If a dog can make me feel like a whole new person in just one walk imagine what I'd be like if I had one full-time. My cats keep me humble--that's their job. But I think I may need a dog--to distract the cats and take me for walks.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Friendship vs Keeping Score

There is no score keeping in friendship. Period. I thought I'd get right to the point without my usual preamble this time. So, if you're on a tight schedule you can go now.

We have all been there--someone gets their knickers in a twist and plays the guilt card. It usually starts with "after all I've done for you" or words to that effect and goes down hill from there. I say right here, right now, that that is the lowest level a person can sink to and still call themselves a friend. There is no score keeping in friendship. Why would anyone think that a grocery list of good deeds and sacrifices would make the listener any more inclined to cave in to the designs of the list maker? Guilt is not a weapon--it's a crutch to prop up an already losing situation. In an esoteric self-serving relationship that kind of tactic is to be expected because the list makers' accounting is as shallow as he is. But in a real friendship there's no need for a litany of generous acts because that's what friendship is--generosity of time and spirit.

No two friends give equally to the relationship. But they both give what they can when they can and it isn't entered into a ledger. There's no debit and no balance due. Short of giving up a kidney or some other life-saving organ you are doing what is expected of a friend. Sharing the highs and lows of life, listening beyond hearing, being a shoulder, being there--good, bad, and ugly. Being a good friend means you have to allow your friend to do all this for you as well. Friendship doesn't require martyrdom. It is easier to give than to receive. That's because we've lost the talent for gratitude. It takes real courage to be the recipient of kindness. It requires a grace that is seriously lacking in our present world.

Look at all the people you think of as friends. I mean really look at them and think "Would I give them a kidney to save their lives?" "Would I push them out of the way of a bus knowing I could die?" "Would they do it for me?" Or perhaps more important and less dramatic: "Do I really want to listen to yet another how unfair life is story?" "How much do you need?". I don't have the answers. But there's a thousand scenarios and as many ways to play them. Friendship isn't scripted. In life some of us are stars, some of us are supporting cast and some of us are walk-ons. The roles are always changing because we are always changing. That's the beauty of being and having a friend. Todays walk-on is tomorrows star. We are never type-cast because every day presents a new scene to develop our character.

All gifts bright and beautiful,
All efforts great and small,
All advice both wise and wonderful-
A true friend gives them all.

My apologies to the original author of that verse for taking poetic license. There is no score keeping in true friendship. All that's required is giving and receiving whatever is possible and doing so gracefully.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yes, You Can Go Home Again

Nearly thirty years ago I wrote this in a notebook:

Dear Spirit of the Universe-
Give us strength
to do our best
to use our strength
for what is best.

I don't remember if I was writing that for my sake or if I had the country or even the world in mind. A little prayer written in the margins of a notebook. Today as I see, read, and listen to what's happening around the planet I can't help but repeat that naive little verse over and over in my mind. I wish we could all return to the earnest optimism of our youth. I believe the world would be a much different and better place.

In another notebook I wrote:

What bothers us are
those things we let
bother us.
What's needed is the
courage to let what
gives us strength
strengthen us.

Apparently I was preoccupied with "strength"--its uses and abuses--back then. Now I am more interested in the person who wrote those lines--trying to reacquaint myself with myself. I am in the right place. Autumn in Maine is an ideal time to rediscover ones optimism and hopes. I am reminded of the words of George Eliot--"It is never to late to be what you might have been". I certainly hope that's true.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009


When I was 16 my parents sent me to spend the summer with my older brother in Anchorage, Alaska. He was in the Air Force and he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB. He'd only been married for a few years and he and his wife had one child and were expecting their second. There was a great deal of tension between them which was palpable and made for a rather uncomfortable living arrangement. Alaska is an amazing place, however, and I found respite in the great outdoors and in the new friends I was making. I was 16 and had all the optimism anyone could have in a new place. I wasn't allowed to leave the base--my brother had a fear of drunk 'natives' doing me bodily harm or of my getting Shanghaied. After a few weeks with them in their tiny apartment, I began considering the concept. In any event, one afternoon my brother decided that we should all go and see the city. It was exciting to be off the base and walking around a place surrounded by the lurking dangers my brother had warned me about. All in all it was a pretty tame outing but a welcome change nevertheless.

One happenstance of that day--so innocuous, so commonplace--had the most profound effect on my life that I will ever experience. On the street were several young people handing out fliers to passers-by. It was an 8 x 10 sheet of goldenrod coloured paper with a rather wordy text printed on it. I took one because it was handed to me and I didn't want to be rude. I folded it and put it in my pocket thinking, 'Hey, a free souvenir'. I had every intention of reading it sometime later when we'd returned to base. By the time we got back I'd completely forgotten about it. In August I returned home to Maine and when I unpacked my suitcase there it was--that goldenrod sheet of paper--a little the worse for having been shuffled around so much. Curiosity returned and I sat on my bed and unfolded it. What I read was the closest thing I have ever had to an out-of-body experience. The words were simple, the phrasing was gentle and the message reached down inside of me and embraced my soul. I could feel, hear, smell, taste. and see the purest light surrounding me. For a few moments I was not in my little bedroom behind the backwoods of rural Maine. I was nowhere and everywhere all at once. Time had absolutely no bearing on my being. As cliche as it may sound, I believe that in that brief span of time I was truly one with the cosmos.

That little piece of prose is called "Desiderata" ('things desired') and it was written my an American philosopher-poet named Max Ehrmann in the 1920's as a response to the horrors of World War I. I have never read anything as timeless as this. It still guides my actions to this day 35 years later. Today was 9/11 and it was a day of reflection for all of us. I urge all visitors to this blog to read this simple message. No matter how busy or stressful your life may be, no matter how much pain and suffering you may be experiencing, no matter how jaded you may have become, some part of this will touch your heart and perhaps reach down and embrace your soul, too. It is the polestar by which I try to live my life. It takes about three minutes to read. Invest the time--your soul is worth it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sooner Than Later

In my first installment written yesterday, I alluded to my dislike of people who victimize themselves and said that it would very likely become subject material for a future 'monologue'. Ta-Da! The future is now. And I have two very attractive young ladies who stood behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store to thank for the nudge.

They were very pretty and soft spoken. They may have been sisters but they were definitely friends. When I had completed my transaction and was gathering up the bags I heard the one directly behind me ask the cashier for a job application. She replied that they were out of them but to come in the next day when there would be more copies available. They smiled sweetly, thanked the cashier and were right behind me as I exited the store. I heard her say "Let's come in earlier in the day tomorrow and get one hot off the press." I was impressed for two reasons. First--they used a phrase that for them was archaic. These girls were born long after the demise of the mimeograph. It amused me to hear them use a term I thought belonged to my generation and the ones before mine. Second--they were taking initiative. Rather than blowing it off and uttering the 'om' of generation next--"whatever"--she was taking the approach that the early bird gets the worm. I wish her all the luck in the world.

One of my top 5 pet peeves is people who own no responsibility for their self-willed actions, reactions and overreactions. And nothing sets my neck hair to standing faster than the phrase 'it's not fair'. I am very much aware that there are some things that cannot be helped or avoided and that things happen that are beyond our control. A disheartening diagnosis, a negative prognosis, the loss of a job due to downsizing or closure, getting hit by a meteor and so forth. But why does it seem that almost everyone I encounter passes the blame on to someone else for all the petty little incidents that happen to them? Let me just come out with it--life is neither fair or unfair. Life just is and that's all. Stuff happens. All the finger-pointing, excuse-making, whining and kvetching in the world is not going to make it one iota more fair. Good God, if the world actually revolved around as many people who actually believe it does the Big Bang theory would have nothing on the cataclysmic devastation of the universe and all life forms therein. I have the greatest respect for the 'bootstrap' people. Those folks who, like the saying suggests, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, dust themselves off and get on with fixing the problem. We all have friends that are forever singing the same song of how unfair their lives are and how so-and-so did this or that to them and that's why they can't do this or that. Enough already!! I would like to petition Congress to enact a bill that says no one is allowed to complain about anything unless they have at least three viable solutions to the problem. The penalty for violating this statute would be for the complainer to listen to a recording of himself whining for 24 hours a day for seven days--at least.

I get disgusted when I hear the over-inflated sense of entitlement people seem to have anymore. I came to a realization a few years back which truly liberated me. No one deserves to be happy. Happiness isn't a guarantee. You have to work for it and earn it. In the same vein, no one deserves to suffer--no matter what they've done. You do something wrong and there are consequences and everyone knows it. It started with 'look both ways before you cross the street' and 'don't touch--it's hot'. I truly think that everyone except the most mentally challenged knows the difference between right and wrong. Doing right may not always be well rewarded but at least you maintain dignity and self respect. Doing wrong knowingly and willingly eats your soul eventually and you are sentenced to live with yourself without parole. Prison and the death chamber are incidental to the greater punishment of knowing that with all the potential you possess this is where you ended up. Some people might be ok with that but it would destroy me.

In a nutshell I feel that if you don't like something the way it is, than change it. If you don't know how to change it, seek appropriate help. If you don't want to take the initiative, than shut up. That young lady at the grocery store today was the poster-child for taking initiative in her own small way. She inspired this installment and gives me hope for the future.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Auspicious Beginning

It is the 9th day of the 9th month in the 9th year of the 3rd millennium. In many cultures and from a numerological perspective it is an auspicious day. From my own perspective it is particularly auspicious because this is my first post on a blog. This is truly amazing when you consider that I have been trying to master the technology of the toaster for many years now. I was also the one who refused every offer of a computer until very determined strong-willed women infiltrated my apartment and set one up in my absence. For the first couple of days I ignored it and mourned the loss of my desk from which I had written so many letters worthy of Jane Austen's approval. Eventually I relented and began my personal journey down the information superhighway to hell. I have recovered from my addiction to solitaire sufficiently enough that I can now bring myself, not without some trepidation, to the portal of the blogosphere.

I have no idea just where I want or expect this to go. I have a great deal to say about a lot of things of no particular importance. Part of me would like this to be a noble experience where I share my insights collected over the years from all the places I've been and the people I've met. Another part of me just wants to have fun and say outrageous things. I have the feeling it will turn out to be both with a bunch of other stuff thrown in. I will warn you ahead of time that this will probably never be one of those fancy-shmancy uber-tech blogs. I haven't the computer savvy to work the pyrotechnics I've seen on other blogs. Then again I might surprise you and myself if and when I get the hang of all this.

In the meantime I'm just going to rabbit-trail about various issues and ideas, thoughts and opinions. If anyone out there should happen upon this and have topic suggestions I would be very pleased to hear them. Perhaps it would be helpful if you knew a little more about me. What follows is just that--a little more to get acquainted--because as I continue to get comfortable with this medium you will learn more of what I'm about.

I live in the western mountains of Maine. Before returning to my home state I lived for 26 years in the Houston area of Texas. I was born and raised Catholic but have found solace in my Celtic/Buddhist journey. I am a huge proponent of nature conservation but not a radical, sign-carrying screamer. I am either a conservative liberal or a liberal conservative. I am pro-choice but my preference is for life. I am against gay marriage but am for civil union. I like democracy when it works but I also believe strongly in meritocracy. I prefer whole milk and non-diet food and drink. I prefer sitting at the kitchen table playing cards or board games to going to the movies or concerts. I enjoy the company of others but I also enjoy being alone in my own company. I like animals more than I like people except I'd rather spend time in a room with a person who bores me than being in a room with a spider. I am a smoker with good manners but no apologies. I am tolerant of ignorance and have no patience for stupidity. I hate people who victimize themselves--there's a subject for a future monologue, I can assure you.

I think that's probably enough for the first installment. I rather like having to think about who I am and what I think. I look forward to sharing more of it in detail as time goes on. I hope others may feel the excitement I'm feeling as I begin this sojourn. Until next time.......