Category Archives: Identity

Where Dad Is

The wind blows sticks off trees to be picked up

This is my dad. He is almost 90 years old. Doctors often tell him now that he doesn’t need routine medical tests that older people get, because of his age.

It is a strange thing if you live to be old.

My dad grew up in Kansas during the Great Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. He was very poor. He had a brother and two sisters. I remember when his mom died.

When he was a kid, there were no jobs. People were starving. My dad says most kids were very skinny and had those big bellies like you see on kinds in starving African pictures.

When he was 10 he managed to get some work at a farm where they paid him with some food. He said that as he worked on the farm he started to fill out.

He said that Republicans took surplus farm food, bought it up, and dumped it in the ocean in an effort to raise prices so that profits could come back from scarcity. He also became a Republican later.

Dad’s family

He was happy when Roosevelt became President because the extra food that got bought up was instead sent to warehouses in cities instead of being thrown away in the ocean, and that food was distributed to starving people.

It was nice when you could get pork belly fat for meat. It spoiled quickly though. Nobody had refrigerators. But you could melt the fat into lard and it would keep longer and then you could eat the lard.

Trains came through town all the time loaded with men who left their homes looking for work. A man would hear a story about there being work in some town, and people would start flocking there, only to find nothing.

Eventually he started getting paid money for working on a farm in addition to food.

All the dirt roads that the farmers needed to use were never maintained by the rich farmers. They were too busy. It was the poor people who kept up and fixed the roads for no pay. Sometimes a poorer farmer might bring out a mule to help.

When the New Deal happened from Roosevelt, the roads really started to get fixed and so did the railroad.

My dad got married to my mom when they were teenagers in Dodge City, Kansas. He joined up with the Army. When his stint was done he got a job on the railroad between Kansas and New Mexico.

Mom and dad in Dodge City in the 50’s

They wanted to get out of Dodge. They heard rumors about a place called Seattle. They came here with a friend who had got a job at a military base.

My dad saw an ad in the Seattle paper from a company called Boeing who built airplanes. The ad said you didn’t need know anything, just come on down if you want a job.

Dad got hired and they taught him math and trigonometry. He wasn’t used to learning anything, but they were paying him a lot of money and he didn’t want to mess that up. He worked for Boeing the rest of his life until retiring.

He and my mom found some property here for a good price out away from the city. He could buy it with his wages and a bank loan. There was only one store nearby out here. You could take things from the store, and when you got your paycheck, you could cash it at that store and they would just take out what you owed for the things you took.

He built a house here with the help of friends from work. He also helped them build their houses. He sold a lot of his property to friends from work over the years. All of them are gone now and their property has been resold.

I came into the picture much later as an adopted child when they were in their 40’s.

My dad is lucky because he gets a pension that the aerospace union got for him and that gets added to his social security payments. This lets him buy food and pay property tax and his mortgage. He would have lost everything at his age, if he was back in the US of his childhood.

But property taxes go up and the prices of food and utilities keep going up. And he has lived longer than most people do. So his pension and social security could no longer easily cover the expenses.

When my mom was dying over several days I promised her that I would take care of him. She died that night.

I paid off his mortgage and bought the property and house from him and now he has extra money each month. But he insists on being the one to buy the food.

He tells me stories a lot. Most of the time I have heard the story already. He also shares ideas for inventions he’s imagined. I try to get him to write them down so I can help him follow through. But there are always sticks in the yard needing picked up. Or the jittery birds fed.

It’s a peculiar thing, a life. Just a single one. How and where a life starts. What you do and learn. And how the world changes around you.

The ego. The humility. The happenstance and the design.

My dad always wanted me to learn. And my mom, even more so. Our whole country has learned. So many things during all those years he’s been alive. The whole world.

He’d like some fried potatoes and onions right now. I get to make it. It’s comfort food on a cold day. Only for him, now, a still peculiar luxury: an olive oil base and hint of rosemary seasoning.

The Pope, You and I. And Gadgets!

In recognition of an event that has not happened in more than half a millennium, the Bishop of Rome abdicating, here is a piece of music composed by Bach and played on a cathedral organ.

I am not a religious person in any traditional sense. However, I do recognize history. As much harm has been done in the name of God, so too has much benefit come.

Cathedral organs were, for centuries, the pinnacle of human technological achievement. The complexity, scale, craftsmanship, art and engineering was a major milestone. Cathedrals themselves are astonishing achievements.

While browsing through YouTube for a good video example, I ran across several submissions where the person taking the video within the cathedral could not help but continue panning around the vista continuously. Even today these structures manage to fill us with a sense of awe, whether we believe in any god or not.

The West has Christianity because of the Catholic Church. They brought education. And even today the Catholic Church strongly advocates academic achievement, even in deference to science, particularly amongst the Jesuit order.

I have never been Catholic. But if you are aware of our history in the West, you realize the significance – the impact the Catholic Church has had upon our most fundamental thought processes. It is our legacy, in many ways.

It was the first multinational organization, at a time, much like today, when all people were ruled by a very few individuals who held nearly all the resources and power. The Catholic Church brought a common sense of ethics and morality, and a respect for written law, that all Western nations, despite language differences, share in common. They became a force that dictators and rulers had to heed. And this helped bind Europe with a common identity that eventually transcended the notion of earthly rulers.

And that’s the key here. Transcendence. Moving beyond where we find ourselves. And this can be sad, painful and exhilarating. We look for a rebirth into something new. As individuals, and as nations. A rebirth into something kinder. Something better. Something wiser.

The Pontiff has abdicated his position, calling for someone who will be, perhaps, more open. But perhaps not caught up so much as us in all the fast-paced, momentary and superficial trappings we lap up. Perhaps while even being more open, he will still remind us of the importance – to look within ourselves.

God knows we need some good and big changes for the better. Or perhaps there is no being to know this. Perhaps we have to do this on our own. The harder route. The route where we must take responsibility for all that we say and do. And all that we do not say – and all that we do not do.

It is worth a prayer to something larger than ourselves. If only to our better selves that we aspire. May we all make wise choices in the time to come. And may we find peace and comfort in that.

Welcome Home

Remember, it is the ubiquitous things we seldom notice, even when they are fundamental to our life. Every day we travel to another world through a radical transition of our consciousness, where the real and the unreal intermix, creating who we are.

Each morning we pass through a transition, ancient as our species, when our mind, and our body, leaves its sleep, coalescing into wakefulness. This is, nearly always, the most radical occurrence of our day, yet we pay it no heed. For eight hours we live a life of pure imagination. For eight hours our body relaxes its form, completely. For eight hours we lay, trusting and vulnerable to all things. And then we wake, where the imagined life is closed.

Academics will tell you, the three greatest minds shaping the modern canon are Darwin, Freud and Marx. Darwin gives us our position in the world and defines for us many of our struggles within it, as a natural evolution. Freud creates a vocabulary for our mind, so that it might make sense, of itself, and other minds. And Marx lays bare our participation within the societies we inhabit.

If we are alive, then our lives are always in transition. Darwin’s ideas have, mostly, settled into our collective psyche; even into those people who rail against “Darwinism”. That apple has been eaten, and we create what gardens we can. Freud, also, is absorbed into our lives, if only “subconsciously”. Despite our ego. And Marx lit the fire that fuels our ongoing struggle for social justice and equality, against a tyranny of the few.

We see religions evolving, fighting to survive truths. We begin allowing ourselves to believe that caring for our sick and injured is more important than monetary profit, and that an injured Earth must also have care. We become aware that an incessant struggle to obtain money only creates more wealth for those who already have it, and the disparity becomes apparent. We wage a war of uncertainty, discontent, and a promise of hope within ourselves. We begin learning the lessons we already knew, were true. We begin to inhabit that disassociation, to resolve it. We evolve.

Through the scary things, and the confusing things. Through what we care about, and what we hate. Through our obsessions and our distractions, and our enjoyment. We evolve through our shame and guilt. Our obligations to each other. Our attention and expression. Hard and soft. And that which does not evolve, dies many slow deaths, one after the other. While here, it is our nature to become. Some would say, to be. We are, each of us, in this together.

The other day, I was listening to Grace Lee Boggs, a 92 year old woman who devoted her life to improving everyone’s life. She was nearly ecstatic about the urban community gardens she helped create in a decaying Detroit so many years ago; a movement that spread to other cities. Not for herself, but for the gardens; growing fresh food within communities on land reclaimed from the fall of misguided edifice. It was people, neighbors, shaping their own destiny independently. It was people, looking to each other, instead of waiting for direction from on-high. These gardens represented the cornerstone of what we are becoming. Excruciatingly slowly.

wecomehomeThe world is rising, outside our borders. It has smacked us hard, saying, that is enough. We, beyond your borders, are not you. And the West, staring aloof, even amongst themselves, ratchets up its machinery. The grim countenance of bankers staring down upon these unruly children, who must be taught.

And the other day I watched Africans dancing, and singing in that rhythm which grips inside the gut, lifting up through the heart and skull, then bursts into a primal happiness. Children climbed the stage to dance, and fat women in wildly colored clothing, young and old, joined in the spell. This outpouring dwarfed the reach of our machines. But before this, I heard a story, of the mother, carrying her baby across a land, for so long, so tired. The vulture arriving through the air with its great wings, offering to lift her child home so she might rest, then join them at home. The vulture, who fulfilled his promise by returning her child with his heart pulled from his chest, consumed, and his eyes plucked out, explained himself: stupid woman, you deserve your grief, for trusting a stranger with your child.

Even our own stories, within our borders, tell of the bearers of the rings of Power, wielding them in the name of good. The great lady, who, when freely offered the One Ring that rules and binds them all, admits her desire to take it, using it only for good. But in her wisdom and restraint, she refuses. I pass the test, she says. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.

To be alive is to live transition. I heard President Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly. It was a beautifully-shaped formula, pompous and condescending to the nations of the world, yet laced with some truly good things. He spoke as if the United States was always the peaceful negotiator in a world whose nations held intractable positions. And now we, the United States, will bring the world together in the name of good.

The few of the Security Council, donning their rings of power, to bend the world toward good. But no good can come from them, nor any nation’s leaders. Good will only arise from those crazy children who walked onto the stage, simply to dance, and the large women who joined them, flowing across the field of view in bright, colorful boubous, simply for the joy of life’s rhythm.

Such a power in their dance, of raw life. Of a good, that is more than Good. This cannot be injected into people’s arms from points on-high. Good rises from the earth to gather in the chest, traveling out, only through our eyes. To each other. The world knows where we must go. We are in transition, in the garden. And our opportunity for good is to diminish, into each other’s midst.

Dimmer

It took a man dying, but I joined Facebook. His memorial stuff was there. I’m in no condition to write. I received a message back from his wife after the last piece, saying Chris had died.

We all have friends. We all have lovers, both past and present. We have family. Yet even with friends, lovers and family members, some jagged bits of the universe conspire somehow to remind us, we are each of us, alone within our most personal experience.

For those of us unafraid to plumb the depths of the implications, or those of us who, perhaps by our very nature, are unable to quell the fierce drive to reach into those lonely and so common places, simply to say, “hello!”… For those of us, well, it is a difficult time right now.

It is possible, no matter who, or where you are, that you might be fortunate enough to find a soul mate. This is not friendship. It is not being lovers. It is when you can see another fully, and they, in turn, can see you. Time or space or matter in between you effects nothing. For when you know the soul of another, any change is insignificant. Our core always remains us; who we truly are.

But right now, I’m find that the death of a soul mate, who I am so lucky to have encountered, may be a distance that is too far away. It’s no longer just another shore. Now, it may not be a shore at all. I hope it is a lack of faith.

The last time I prayed was when Jeff’s aunt was having surgery, and I said that I would. Last night, I decided to on my own. I wanted him to be okay. And I wanted him to be happy. But he was dead, and I didn’t know what else to do.

I had a hard time even concentrating enough to pray. But eventually I managed. It turned out to be a threat: “you better let him in”.

Some petty god. Chris’ enormous heart and spirit. Wanting there to be a spirit, so that he might not truly be gone. I suppose I won’t know with certainty for a while.

This is what Chris would want me to tell you. Be good to each other. Pay the closest attention you can to each other, listen, even past what is being said, to what their heart is saying. Put yourself there. Let them pound on you for it. And only pound back when you should.

Don’t be afraid, question and explore everything. Be suspicious of the easy path. Take off your shoes, and wander into the woods. Stop. And listen. Feel what’s really there. Live the stories that you would tell! And even the ones you wouldn’t… Sacrifice anything, if it is the right thing to do.

Call people out on their bullshit, for the good of us all. Stand your ground, only when you know, without a doubt, that you are right. And if so, be willing to fight. He would not want you to be happy, unless you were happy. Or sad. He would give you a hug in your foolishness, and laugh, and soon you would be laughing, too. He would accept the same, and be honored, and embarrassed that you cared enough.

I can’t write any more of this. Everything is only half there and feeble right now. But if you are lucky enough to have a soul mate, from whatever time or place, call them up and say hi, and just that it’s good knowing they are there.

Chris at the Pool Table

In the Shadow of Science

The FoolThis is The Fool. He lives within us all. He is card zero, the first card in the Major Arcana. The Minor Arcana are various smaller cards, in four suits, from Ace to King. This is the origin of our playing cards.

Generally, people consider Tarot cards to be steeped in the occult. I consider them to be like poetry. Each speaks a world of a story in very little space. These stories line up, they juxtapose, and their meanings take on dimensionality.

Here is The Fool, the first card after the minor leagues. He is leaving home with his traveling bag over his shoulder, having passed through the minor leagues and eager to discover what awaits him in the world. He is the first card in the Major Arcana, the first step into the wider world — the step that only a fool would dare make.

Everybody loves The Fool, even the little dog. They are in many ways kindred spirits. He is brightly dressed, enjoying the beauty of a flower in his hand, walking away from familiar places under the sun, completely unperturbed by the cliff he is about to willingly step off. Like I said, he is the first card in the majors, after the minor leagues. Doesn’t it take a fool to trust in fate enough to step off that cliff?

There are a couple stores nearby I frequent. One is the Jack In the Box, with my love of spicy chicken sandwiches and breakfast jacks. The other is the gas station with cigarettes. It began with the gas station, and the young, burly, tattooed, no-nonsense man who works behind the counter. He always calls me “sir”, and that irritates me. A few months ago I told him, “you will address me as Your Majesty.” I had never seen his eyes go wide before, from his dull, habitual movements. He looked at me and laughed. But I didn’t waiver. “I am not sir,” I said. “It is Your Majesty.” He gave me a mischievous grin and said, “well, thank you Your Majesty.” And I graciously answered, “you’re welcome,” and left.

The next time I came in, he called me “sir” again, and I just stood there unmoving, staring at him until he looked up at me in the eye. “Peasant!” I said. He stomped his feet while taking a couple steps back, laughing and bowed with his arms outstretched. “Forgive me… Your Majesty.” I nodded my head slightly to him, smiling, saying “that’s better. Thank you.”

Now, whenever I enter the store, before I even get to the counter, no matter what customers might be present, I am greeted with a loud “hello Your Majesty!” and a grin. Sometimes when the customers stare at me afterward I tell them, “yes, it’s true.”

The same is true now at Jack in the Box, where big woman and a scrawny man both greet me with my more appropriate title. Once I was even bowed to and addressed properly at Fred Meyer by someone who must have been a customer of the gas station and had learned their lessons well. Perhaps it is only a matter of time until I ascend to my rightful throne atop Covington City Hall from which my beneficence might reign upon all. Or maybe a few people will have some grins over their dinner. I hope it is the latter.

towerThis is The Tower. It sits atop a mountain and reaches up into the clouds. The tower is strong, with foundations rooted and strong as the rock upon which it rises. It is crowned in gold, the symbols of wealth and power.

The Tower is unreachable by most. The Tower exists at our very foundations. It is the place that nobody else knows about. It is the place so deep within us that we often don’t know about it. And from that foundation, we build up all things about ourselves. We create our own regalia; our own nobility.

The Tower is the 16th card of the Major Arcana, long down the journey which began with The Fool. And here, the very foundations we have built, are struck from out of the sky, crumbling in ruin.

All that we have laid down for ourselves and all the definitions we have adopted are laid waste by a bolt from above. It does not matter who you are, or what you believe. It does not matter how powerful or weak you are, how high, or how low. The very foundations have been destroyed.

I think words are different from our bodies, but I don’t want them to be. I wish I could write a love poem but half of me fell out somewhere. I think it might have evaporated and went up into rainclouds that make people stay home or bites their face with cold drops that make your eyes feel more awake.

I think you are just curious and will let me dig my own grave so you can leave flowers on it and then I can pull them down one at a time when I need to eat. I was hoping if you do that you would come back every few months to jab me with a shovel but I think I would have fell to the center of the earth by then and got crushed and burnt and came back as a blade of grass every mile or so. And you could blame yourself but I would be happier and try to tell you even though grass can’t talk. But you would suspect.

Or I could just pound you until you felt like everything that wasn’t there was, because every time you looked I’d be there pounding on you again and again until you knew you were just me pounding on you like you need. And then we could get pizza. And you could cry I would tell you that you are safe and loved and you could hate me so I can pound you some more until the night is done and in the morning we can go to the store and buy Captain Crunch with the people in line.

I am feeling like there is nothing left inside me. I wish I could give it to you. I want you to tell me how stupid I am because I might believe you and then I would feel free. I am full of myself for no good reason.

If you were a stranger on the street who told me you could make me feel better I would know who you are and I would not run away but I would feel bad for you because I would love your socks more than you do and it would eventually kill you. but really I don’t know.

I would cry if you punched me a few times in the face and not because it hurt. Then maybe you could put me on a couch somewhere and let me sleep even through a fire. I would want you to rub my ashes on your body like talcum powder and maybe when you closed your eyes you would find yourself everywhere.

DeathMost people think that death is bad. But it isn’t always. Some people suffer a lot and death might be good. Other people may cause a lot of suffering to other people and death would be a welcome ally.

Death does not care who we are. It doesn’t matter if you are a king, a pope, a virgin or a child. It doesn’t matter if you are just you. Death does not discriminate. Death cannot be bargained with. Death comes when he comes, and he make everyone and everything equal.

Sometimes Death does not kill us, though. Sometimes Death just kills some part of us. Maybe it is a lie we made up for ourselves. Maybe it is something we hold dear. Death will take what it will, when it wants it.

But if we manage to live on, what has died has left a large, empty space. It is an emptiness within us that has made room for something else. Perhaps it will be something more, or something better. Perhaps it will just remain empty. That is more up to us, once Death has come. Death is the end. And sometimes, Death is the beginning. Of just a part of ourselves, or sometimes, even, the beginning of an entirely new life.

I never was able to tell you, because we had both been driven mad by tiny sounds, just how much your scribbles, left for me on the kitchen counter each morning, shaped what thoughtfulness meant. The little crumbs you left, and your subsequent returns, expecting everything.

I had not realized that love, devoted to some, merely draws out nutriment, to feed what can never be sated. A drain, that pulls forth in the most beautiful ways, exactly what is expected, until all that is left is expectation. And then, no longer even knowing.

You would be happy knowing I still have your scribbles. I still have all the promises and dreams, tucked in a footlocker, under the stairs. They are a reminder, not of you, but of the real and the unreal. Like your paintings in the strange blue hues that remind me how wide imagination can penetrate.

Four of CupsThis is the Four of Cups. It is part of the Minor Arcana. The four suits are cups, swords, pentacles and wands. Pentacles represent earthly things, like money, endeavors, family and stability. Wands represent power or energy, direction and purpose. Swords represent intellect, reason clarity, and things of the mind. Cups represent the heart, or emotion and fulfillment.

Three is a very stable number and contented almost to boredom. Four is much the same, but the extra one brings something almost hidden or unforeseen.

Here, from out of the blue, is not a lightning bolt, but rather a cup, being handed to the dreamer. You have to wonder, will he see it, on such a lazy day. Will it be something he takes, for his own?

Perhaps it might make us wonder, out there in the world, what cups might be there, just floating in the air. Or what cups we might conjure, in all such sleepiness. He hasn’t gone along far enough yet to be The Fool. Or maybe he has. And this is exactly what he needed.

I’ll leave it to you, to decide. Along with The Magician. And The Sun.

The Magician The Sun