Category Archives : Front Page


Going Places: Probably Closing Up Shop Soon

Hey Readers,

Well, I’ve had some good times with MNiC, had a couple viral articles, experimented with various ideas, and so on. Made some neat friends, angered scores of random people, and just a had an all around great time. Really, it’s been a blast, but I’ve got some other projects in mind, and I don’t have time to focus on this blog. Something similar will come along, I promise.

In fact, that’s why this blog is going on (probably permanent) hiatus: I have new goals that I need to focus on.

My writing site will still be up, and I’m hoping to make real headway with that in the next couple months, while I gather up a bit of headway on my new site. I’m not just going to fold this site up and go home, mind you. Some of the articles are going to move, and the whole site should stay up for a bit.

Why am I moving on? Well, this place never really found a particular reason for existing. It was my place to try stuff out, and I’ve tried that stuff. I want to try new things.

What sort of new things?

Well, that’s a surprise, but I will give you hint: We’re going places, you and I.

And, just by the way, thanks to everyone who’s made this site worth doing over the past couple years. You’re awesome!


6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President 2

6 Reasons Why Hillary Clinton Won’t Be President

Hillary Clinton will never be President. There, I said it. In twenty months we’ll know if I’m right. But I am. Look, I’m not going to be making the case that Hillary isn’t formidable; she is an unusually capable person by most standards. If she weren’t, she wouldn’t be in a position of practically locking a nomination a year in advance. Hillary is a lot of things. Things like smart, driven, ruthless, political, and, yes, courageous, certainly determined. One thing Hillary will never be, though, is President.

There are a lot of very good reasons for this. No one of these would sink her, but any two or three by themselves would do it–and there’s two or three times that many to choose from. I’m not even going to bother adding “baggage” to the list as its own category.

 

1. She Can’t Believably Run as a Populist

money-hillary-clinton-flag

Dolla, dolla Hills ye’all!

It’s pretty clear that’s what she’s aiming for out the gate. It’s ridiculous. Hillary Clinton is not Elizabeth Warren. She’s a former Walmart Board of Directors member, and AIG donated more than a quarter million dollars to her foundation last year. Sure, Hillary Clinton honestly can say she’s not neck deep in big business connections–but only until she needs to come up for air.

Hillary Clinton, in person or through her foundation, has taken more money from big businesses and foreign governments in the past few years than any hundred of us combined will see this year. Listening to someone talking about how she understands the plight of the common man when she gets paid about three hundred grand an hour to talk is a little bit beyond absurd. For some people the fact that she donates the money to her foundation will mitigate the price–but it’s hard to charge that much to give a canned speech then turn around and run on being just folks, ya know?

 

2. She Can’t Believably Run as a Business Friendly Candidate

MNic Clinton BizFriend 2

But wait, she’s clearly in bed with big business and rich folks . . . so she can hit back at the Republicans by taking some their, “Yes, but what if you’re not poor and don’t want to become poor?” thunder. Right?

Maybe, if she hadn’t been part of the last administration. Barack Obama burned this bridge. Not actually, mind you–no candidate in history has accepted more money from large donors that him–but in public perception. He campaigned against Romney by suggesting the closing of tax loopholes for the ultra rich. Then didn’t even try to do so. Strange, that. Still, there’s just not anything a Democrat can do for an election or two that will make them seem like they’re pro-business, pro-job. Personally, I think even a small dip in the market running towards the election would sink Hillary.

She knows this, or she wouldn’t have jumped towards populism out the gate. Her plan may be to squeeze out the populists early so that she pivot towards the moderates as soon as possible–that’s probably smart, since the populists will mostly pick her over a Republican, if those are their only choices–but she’s not going to fool the folks she needs to fool to make that happen, any more than Romney did.

 

3. She Can’t Believably Run on Foreign Policy

Hillary FP 2

One thing that I think most everyone (myself included) expected would be a Hillary strength, as a rather hawkish Democrat and former SoD, was foreign policy. Up until a year ago, it looked like her only foreign policy legacy challenge would be Benghazi, and that was nearly put to rest. Now, her signature overtures are in tatters. China is aggressively building bases and challenging its neighbors. The Russian Reset apparently reset us a little too far back, all the way to when Russia invaded neighboring countries at will. And her Arab Spring and Middle East peace initiatives leave a legacy of genocide, razed global heritage sites, and rampant sexual slavery.

Worse still, for Hillary and the people suffering for her hard work, none of these problems appear likely to resolve themselves before the election. Even Benghazi is getting another look, now that it turns out she used a private email server during her tenure and deleted it all.

 

4. She Can’t Believably Run as a Symbol of Female Empowerment

MNiC Clinton GP

Hillary Clinton is a name everyone in the US, and most folks in Siberia, for that matter, knows. However, in an alternate universe Hillary Rodham is probably a state senator, maybe a Congresswoman, in Arkansas. Sans Bill, Hillary wouldn’t be running for President. What’s more, she knows it: Why else would she stick with him while he banged his way to, through, and out of the White House? Maybe she was fine with it in private, some people work that way, but to stick with him after it all came out is another story entirely.

Susana Martinez, Elizabeth Warren, even, yes, Sarah Palin could all run on the principle of, “A Woman Can Be President!” and they’d be right. Hillary’s theme starts the same way, and continues ” . . . If she marries a man who becomes President, ignores his infidelities, then rides his coattails to an uncontested safe Senate seat, and no one charismatic with a penis runs against her in the primary.”

Not exactly, “I am woman, hear me roar.”

One theme I’ve repeatedly run into, from people all over the political spectrum is that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really deserve to be the first female president. Is that sexist? Absolutely. However, it is only by running on the (also sexist) First Woman platform that Hillary opens herself up to this line of attack. The only thing she can do, really, is not open that door at all.

 

5. She Can’t Believably Claim to Grab The Other Clinton’s Voters

Bill Clinton appealed to white working class voters, minorities, and blue collar across the board. Granted, Obama proved that isn’t necessary to winning the Presidency–provided you can grab most Hispanics, and motivate the hell out the black community. Look at the states Bill won in 1992:

Who here likes Hillary’s chances of taking Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, or Kentucky? Yes, democrats have gained in new areas, but this doesn’t change the hard truth that the coalition that elected her husband is gone, and the coalition that elected Barack Obama is going to be hard to motivate to come and support her, thanks to the aforementioned points.

 

6. Hillary Clinton Can’t Believably Run as Anything

MNiC Clinton human person

I try to follow politics fairly closely. Not religiously, but a fair bit. The fact of the matter is I’m almost thirty, which means a lot of the problems I mistakenly thought my parents’ generation would solve are about to become my problems. I have absolutely no idea which policy opinions of Clinton I agree with. Because I have no freaking clue what she actually thinks about anything.

She changes her opinions on everything to whatever this year’s focus group says is polling well. She’s hardly alone in this among politicians on either side of the aisle, but she’s been in politics for a very long time, and she clearly cares about nothing as much as winning.

She wants to be President, because she wants to be President. If she ever had an actual reason to want to be President, she seems to have forgotten it a dozen or so policy changes ago.

The Upshot

Now, I might bite the bullet on that, if she seemed competent. The Reagan-Bush-Clinton trifecta was twenty years of very good times for the most part, because, while the three men were not entirely of the same political opinions, they were all, particularly the first and last, pretty good at the job of presidenting. On the other hand, the Bush2-Obama duo demonstrates rather forcefully that two nice incompetent guys with entirely different views on everything can screw things up in amazing and exciting ways. I suspect George W. Bush and Barack Obama are probably the nicest guys we’ve had in office in a fair while, but they simply suck at the job.

Will Hillary be competent? She’s tacked her name onto a number of successful initiatives, and shown a willingness to reach across the aisle. Both of these things are important in a leader. She has very few initiatives of her own, however, and her one semi-leadership role in Obama’s administration was, as we’ve already discussed. . . less than impressive.

Moreover, she’s proven that she’s pretty bad at actually running a campaign against a competent opponent. If Ted Cruz or a similar dunce wins the Republican primary, Hillary will almost certainly be President–assuming she makes it that far. Her campaigns tend to be one gaff after another–despite a top notch campaign staff. On the other hand, we all know that’s not happening. Anyone much good at threading the needle and grabbing moderates is going to win the presidency.

So, either Hillary loses primary, and another democrat takes a swing at it, or a republican takes her down in November. Either way, Hillary Clinton will never be President.


Shatter

Shatter.

I don’t know if everyone has favorite words, or that’s a writer thing, or a me thing, but I that’s one of mine. It’s been since sometime in my teen years, floating around in my head, rearing up in odd moments.

I love the way it sounds, I love what it means; it encapsulates more than breaking. Violent, presumably irrevocable destruction is implied, yet, also, a breaking out of proportion with the act from which it sprang.

Shatter has so many possibilities.

When I was young, I loved LEGOs. I built spaceships with them. They had stories. They had personalities, histories, and, as a child, I was invested in them. They were precious things to be protected. They were also, periodically, knocked to the floor.

A crash, and the pieces would scatter across our wood floors, clattering as they slid improbably far. Even then, some part of my mind was caught up in the fact that a fall of three feet could send something ten feet across the floor and under a bed.

Shatter was the beginning.

Reaching beneath the furniture, consulting with the encyclopedic memory of youth, the process would begin of tracking down every broken piece and returning them to their position.

Shatter is irrevocable, though, and the ships never came back together quite the same way. Instead, they evolved. The destruction opened up new possibilities. In this way their stories moved forward. These ships with names, and their crews. From alien worlds they rose, different than before. Sometimes two ships became one. Sometimes one became several. Either way, in destruction there was rebirth.

One trip back from college I took one of those shatterproof bowls from my car, and demonstrated to my dad how unbreakable it was by dropping onto the concrete.

To my chagrin, when it hit the ground, it shattered.

It broke energetically, pieces flying out every which way, in long, curving shards, nearly a series of concentric circles. I kept the largest piece for half a decade before it broke again. I still have a piece of it somewhere. It’s still one of the most oddly beautiful things I’ve ever encountered. See, it broke in concentric rings, shattered along the lines of the resonance within it; destroyed by its own strength. The largest piece looked like nothing so much as a crown, high and spiked, austere and lovely. If Aris had a crown, it would have been made from this broken bowl.

It’s a process that repeats today. I finish a story, even a book, and I drop it. . . to see if it shatters. I rebuild it from the pieces, some words lost, some kept. . . some of the best stories I’ve ever written were lost. I’d remember them, and go back to find them, only to realize they died with a site membership or a hard drive.

Diving into the crevices of my memory in search of all the little scattered words I go. Little-by-little the story comes back together, different, better, more than it was. Sometimes they crash together, combine, sometimes they split. Everything I’ve ever written has been broken and rebuilt over and over.

And we, we’re the same. Sooner or later we all shatter. No matter how strong we are, something is too much, and all the pieces go everywhere. So much of our lives, our happiness, is not determined by any events but by how adept we are into finding all the best pieces of ourselves and building them into something new.

I like it, it’s a good word, shatter. 


Good News and Random Thoughts on Writing 3

Good News and Random Thoughts on Writing

I guess I might be doing paid blogging under my own name soon. How about that? I’m excited! And maybe a bit introspective.

I’m not going to lie, it all still weirds me out sometimes.

I write. I don’t make new words, I don’t, generally, make new thoughts. I just take old ideas and old words and add new packaging. Sometimes it seems absurd to be paid for this. Not in the least because I did it for free, for years. Hell, most the writing I do is still for free. Everything, the paid, the free, it can be compressed into a few gigabytes, and be stored, transmitted, or duplicated as quickly and often as you please. Everyone who reads this gets their own copy delivered straight to their screens.

DING! ORDER UP!

It’s not art, though. Really, it’s not. Writing is not art. Sometimes I feel like I’m the guy in the Emperor’s New Clothes who’s convinced everyone he’s making something wonderful, and they just can’t see it because they’re not clever enough. “Oh yeah, I write things, professionally. You should totally pay me, because you couldn’t do this.”

I guess what I do for money is more like the Pied Piper, though, isn’t? I make my money by taking people’s minds in a direction. And you know what? That is a serious skill (and you should always pay the Pied Piper) but it’s all a bit intangible. I say intangible, but there’s a science to it. There are ways to craft sentences, present blogs and writing, times and places to present it to get certain responses and reactions. I don’t always do them, mind you, but there is a reason for what you see on the internet, what you like, and so on. It follows relatively predictable patterns. That’s what you have to remember about it all.

If everyone’s a writer, I suppose the good ones are professionals at looking through other peoples’ eyes. If that’s true then, of all the careers I ever could have picked, this might be the one I’m least suited for. Genes made me smart, genes made me big and strong–I, and the people who raised me, have put considerable effort into amplifying and encouraging those predispositions, but I had just about finished college before other people really worked their way into me. It happened a little at a time. There wasn’t a moment of epiphany, it was a slow process, and at the end of it I had a lot friends I cared about, a lot of people who actually cared about me. I moved from a world of black boxes to a world of relationships.

That’s what I have to tap into when I write. Even the mundane things. That understanding that all of us–though I do not even believe in God–God are we lights in the darkness. We are just this mess of fiery want and need and hope. Hopes and dreams and love . . . many people, maybe most people, are small, but there is an intensity to people nothing in the world truly matches.

I have been wrong so many times, and failed in so many different ways . . . and yet here I am. It’s easy to forget that the people we meet, though they exist in that instant for us, each have an existence like ours, different in length and path, direction, but it’s there, ahead and behind. But, if you want to influence the direction they’re headed, you have to remember that.

It’s the difference between good fiction writers and bad fiction writers, too. Good ones get that the fake people they’ve created are creatures in motion, confused, overwhelmed, unsure of their fates, and presented by the same choice we are: Die, or keep going.

There’s the other side of writing, mind you. The flow of words to build, create, push and change. Creating worlds that never were to change the way people see the world that is. That’s beauty, and power, and, maybe, art. The greatest moments, though, are in describing the world as it is, in a new way. Sometimes–maybe most of the time–changing perception does more than changing the reality. I suppose that’s a nonsensical idea, that changing the perception of reality changes reality more than actual changes to reality. Better to say that perception is the fulcrum which we move to change our reality . . . the strength to change reality from its course outright is largely beyond us.

There is frustration in it, too. Seeing the shape of something, almost there, and yet not. There is no greater curse than nearly the right words. Creation is a hungry thing, though. Living is a hungry thing. Life devours. The act of devouring is living, and nothing lives like us.

And nothing shapes our lives like the words which determine our perceptions of the world.

I think that’s enough babbling for now. There will be more, later, of course.

Regards,

Connor


Life Less Than 30

MNIC Feat Less Than 30

“Less than thirty.”

“It can’t be that small,” she said. Technically, since we were talking about length, it wasn’t small, it was short. Oh, the insecurities of youth, right?

Normally, letting that pass without comment would have been about as possible for me as licking my own elbow or singing opera. This time it went by without a word or even a snigger, because I was concentrating on something.

I’d just done the math in my head, so I was seriously entertaining the thought that I’d made a rounding error; I was checking it by doing an easier problem:

“One hundred times three-sixty-five-point-two-five is . . . thirty-six-five-twenty-five. It’s right. Less than thirty.”

Twenty-seven is an important year, though we don’t really notice. That wasn’t the bit she was commenting on, though—and no, it wasn’t that bit, either. She was commenting on what I’d said moments prior, “Less than thirty.”

The math there wasn’t really too hard to do: Twenty-four thousand, plus four thousand eight hundred, plus four hundred, plus twenty, equals twenty-nine thousand two hundred twenty. Less than thirty.

It can’t be that short.

And it does seem short, doesn’t it?

Most things, they seem smallest when lumped together into a few large aggregates, but eighty years seems so . . . vast. There’s a lot of time in eighty years. Time to change, time to do the things you’ve been putting off, time to go back, time to go forward, time to dream and to fail, and fail, until you succeed, and time still then to enjoy that success. Time to recline and bask in a life well-lived, even though we haven’t yet found time for the living.

27

Like I said, twenty-seven is an important year. I’m twenty-seven. Twenty-seven is young. Old enough to have watched friends die and watched friends have children of their own, but young. Twenty-seven is the year you turn ten thousand, and ten thousand days, that’s old, when you probably won’t see thirty.

Somehow, thirty thousand is less than eighty. It works by months, too; you probably won’t see a thousand months pass you by. Suddenly each month is a tenth of a percent of your life ticked off with each turn of the calendar page.

Like most people my age, I think, I see myself as independent, adventurous. I take risks, and I’m willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of future goals. I move a lot. I mean, I’m the guy who dropped out of chemistry grad school to live in his car, travel, and write. Wanderlust is my defining feature.

On the second day after I left, I stopped at a waterfall—well, actually, I drove past a waterfall—in the Rockies. Then I turned around on the shoulder of the road, stopped to talk briefly to a guy who was rollerblading across the United States (he’s still the only person I’ve ever seen with calves bigger than his quads), and drove about a mile back to the fall. I parked in between an army of RVs, most with little Jeeps being towed behind, like remoras. I walked down the trail through a sea of retirees, and stood for a moment at the barricade with them. Then I walked past it, up a narrow trail, mossy and slick from the mist, and climbed up along the side of it. The roar was defining, the rocks were sharp, the water everywhere, and so cold I was sure it wasn’t water at all; it was just ice that needed to be somewhere in a hurry.

I looked back, and I saw them down there, little white heads behind the barricade. People who had worked their whole lives so they could afford to view life from a distance someday, safely behind the railing. That was the last time I had a single doubt about whether leaving grad school was the right choice.

That was then. It’s harder to justify that view staring at 10,205 days, gone. I . . . what have I done worth noting, really? Here I am, probably staring at a third of my life in the rear view, and do I actually know who I am, or where I’m going?

Stop.

I just stopped writing this to talk to a college friend who walked into this random Starbucks—small world—and he’s doing physical rehab now. He was another chem guy back when we were in school together. As he put it, “I know what I want to do, it just took me six extra effing years.”

Serendipity is the best part of life. I was going to write about the difficulty of plotting a path. That was stupid, and my friend reminded me why.

See, I’ve got that much figured out. We’re lots of people, each of us, and we’re going lots of places. It’s not a lack of paths which besets us, it’s a lack of inner certainty. Our lives are nothing but paths tangled all over one another.

Life is a buffet where they serve everything but you only get one plate; it’s easy to be paralyzed by the decision.

Let’s be clear, here, it’s not about fear of where we’re headed, for most of us, it’s about fear of missing what’s on the other path. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that standing there, staring at the fork in the road sign costs us both paths. There’s a you down both paths; the question is, Which you would you rather be?

Most of life is not finding answers, it’s finding the right questions, and I think that’s the right one.

Is the me who stays here the me I want to be? Or is it the me who goes there?

The truth is any one path can get you almost anywhere. They overlap, over and over. You can scale cliffs and slide down slopes, cut across trails, and duck under railings. Pick a direction you like, and take whatever trail will take you there. If don’t know which direction to go, go see what this one or the other looks like, you can always work your way around.

There’s that stupid old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, screw that. Wherever you go, there you’re going.

You’ll get where you’re going. Just—you know—walk, because you’ve only got thirty thousand days to spend getting there. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean it’s small.

At the end of the days, it’s not really about how many days you lived, it’s about how many days you loved.

 

MNIC paths


Fruits and Veggies Incoming!

Fruits and Veggies And Site Details

I hope you like how this site is looking. I recently switched over to the Customizr theme, and I really like what can be done with it. Still, since this is my “fun site” I don’t have time to really do to much fancy stuff on here. Still, I think it looks sort of earthy and pretty.

I use the Moesia theme over on my professional site, and I like that one, too. I’m using different themes mostly for the sake of experience and such, and because I think I’ve created something both flashy and functional with Moesia. I’ve created a sort of “Blog Hub” circular navigation system on there, supplementing the linear branched menu design, so that it’s easier to find your way to specific interests.

I’ve also been looking for guest posters to help round out Cities of the Mind. I’ve been doing videos over there, too, and it’s going well enough that I’m seriously considering doing a few over here too!

Not that I’ll stop writing. Not that I could stop writing. I never stop writing. At best, I can modify slightly what I’m writing for awhile. Actually, I’m better at that than sticking with it, but so far this current system of throwing lots of variety into my blogs has been helping me out. I don’t think I’ve missed a post date on my 5-days-a-week schedule yet in 2015.

I can’t remember off the top of my head when I decided to start it, but I’ve stuck with it that long.

Life is Good

I’m having a really good time, lately. I’m making enough money that I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I didn’t even really notice I was stressed, to be honest. It’s like there’s been a fat kid standing on my chest, and I’d just gotten used to it.

The training is going really well. There’s the minor aches and pains which I fear are just part of pushing a body on the downslope of its third decade, but nothing unendurable, and the results have been great so far. I’m almost back to 180, and it’s a good thing I’m making more money, because I cannot shove food into my face fast enough.

I still haven’t started training with the weighted pack, because I’m lazy, and all that, but it’s coming.

Planting Things

Spring is here: We had our first thundershower of the year this week, and we now have three buckets of rainwater for our plants. Lauren and I bought some minor veggies. I bought peas and tomato plants. The tomatoes are already in hanging buckets, and the peas will soon join them. The grape vine is planted where the rain water runs of the patio. I’m all kinds of excited about it all, truth told. Apparently, I have a soft spot for vines. Fresh fruits and veggies incoming! I’ll take pictures of the garden as it develops.

Have a great week,

Connor


Corporate Identity 3

The Corporate Identity

“Why don’t you have a Starbucks card?” she asks. The question has a layered quality in my mind, because it’s played simultaneously in my memory with about a dozen tracks other men and women asking the same question, with the same words, and even the same intonation. That I’m-not-being-pushy-I-just-want-to-nudge-you tone. It’s just a really small pledge of allegiance to a corporate identity.

“I should, shouldn’t I?” I answer, because people have trouble responding to question-non-questions–it breaks the script–and it’s always fun to see where it goes from there.

Why don’t I, though? I mean, financially, it would make sense. The inconvenience of another thin rectangle of plastic in my wallet would be negligible. There’s already credit cards in there with my name on them, business cards, supermarket discount cards, my ID (actually every ID I’ve ever had, except for my first one, which was snapped in half while opening a door). And so on.

I’ve made an effort, though, to make those cards useless. I never filled out the little application that goes with the supermarket cards, so there’s no name, phone number, or address associated with them. This has the added bonus of being slightly amusing in the places where the cashiers are obligated to thank you by name when you shop there. It must be pretty common, though, because everyone but the newbie cashiers transition very smoothly to, “Thank you . . . for shopping with us.” It’s just a quick glance to where the name is supposed to be, and then an instant recovery when it’s not there.

I’ve made an effort online, too. I’ve lied about my personal details on just about every field I’m not legally obligated not to from the very beginning. New Years for me means a sudden influx of emails with subjects like,  “Happy Birthday  Youdon Tneedtoknowthat!” and, “Happy New Year Nunya Bidnez!”

Tribal

Anyway, back to the cards; I guess I’ve never been able to shake the association of cards in my wallet with IDs. Yes, my name is Connor, but also, if I’m carrying that Starbucks card around, then I’m a little bit Starbucks, too. Somewhere in my brain. That’s what all those cards are about. They’re a club, and they want you to be a member, right? Humans are, at a very basic level, tribal. You only have to look at children to know that much.

Fry’s gives you a card because they want you to carry a badge that says you’re part of Tribe Fry’s. Basha’s gives you one for the same reason, and they do it for the same reason. You could make a pretty good case, I think, that corporate structure is the replacement for the feudal structures of eras past, but that’s an article for another day.

I’m not taking some hipster stance that, “Blah, blah blah, corporate, blahblahblah, less than human, blah, machine, blah, per se, blah, etc.” Even though I take a little joy in tossing the occasional apple of discord to a marketing firm, I don’t think it really matters at the end of the day.

The honest source of my reticence is . . .  I just have this horrible picture in my head of meeting some traveler from a distant space or time, and them going through my wallet and saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Costco Visa of Clan Starbucks.”

But that’s just really hard to explain to the Starbucks girl in the time it takes to fill a cup with 16oz of coffee.

 


Stone River Walker: Good Boots 12

Stone River Walker Header SmallerThe sole of my right shoe was threatening to detach from the bulk of it when I got to the rest stop. It was a little old stone building, store in front, house connected to the back.

I walked through the door. If anything, it was hotter in there than the desert air outside. The old man looked up from his Louis L’Amour novel and said, “Son, you’ve got the look of someone who’s been walkin’ a long time.” He stretched the word long out like it’s a rubber band, his voice sounding like it got run over at the corner of Cigarette Road and Whiskey Ave. I nodded. I waited for him to go back to his reading, but he just kept on looking at me. It was a bit uncomfortable, so I decided to have a look around.

I wiped the sweat from my eyes while they adjusted to the dim light. There was no one else in the store, but there were footprints in the faded lime carpet he probably laid with his own hands half a century ago. It was worn to the floorboards down the center of each aisle.

I set my pack down by the door and walked through around each of them, pretending to care about the Route 66 bumper stickers and preserved rattlesnake heads. Doubt he was fooled, but I needed the respite. The old man was still watching me, so I asked, “You got any duct tape for sale?”

“Naw. Got some masking tape.”

“Won’t work, I need it for my shoes. I’ve got a long way to walk.”

He didn’t look down, just gave me a nod, “Yeah, noticed. Want a glass of ice water?”

I nodded and he walked into the back, coming back out with two glasses and a pitcher full of water, condensation already beading on it, and, thankfully, a roll of duct tape. I leaned against the table and poured the glasses while he sat down. After taking a drink, he asked, “Remembered I had the tape in a drawer. Where you going?”

My mouth felt like the cracks on a dry lake bed until the cold water hit it. I sighed, and answered, “Not sure yet.”

He nodded.

“Where you coming from?”

“Not sure yet.”

He nodded, took a long drink, while I start tearing off pieces of duct tape.

“I left home when I was fifteen,” He tells me, “Hit the road in February 1937 after the Ohio river flooded. Was just me and my dad on the farm before that. Flood took the farm, pneumonia took him. He always used to say, before he died, ‘Boy, when you don’t know where to go, follow the sun; least that way you ain’t walkin’ in circles.’ So I took five dollars, a pot, and a good pair of boots–can’t go nowhere without good boots–and I headed West.”

“Where’d you go?”

“Well, that was right during the Depression,  back a bit  before the Great War. My feet and the rails took me from town to town looking for jobs. Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, California, Utah, Colorado, Nevada. Spent some time in LA when it was all orange groves and empty hills. I worked odd jobs. Then, end of ’41, December 7th rolls around, and I find myself wearing Marine boots in the Pacific killing men I never met.”

I poured another glass of water, “What was that like?”

“Hell. Slogged my way through coral sand and mud soaked red with blood, over the bodies of friends and enemies, spilled guts and bits of brains. Never could get the stains out.” He doesn’t say out of  what. “Used my shoe strings to tie a tourniquet when my buddy got shot in the leg on Iwo Jima. He died anyway.”

I’ve cited the crumbling of my body as the main reason I don’t want to get old; truth is, I’m terrified of the sorrow I see in old eyes from time to time. You can see the weight of pain and regret tugging their souls like a tow-ropeto Hell. Still wrapped in the optimism of youth, I find myself wondering, how can one lifetime weigh so heavy on a human heart?

“Sorry.” As if my sympathy is supposed to mean something. “How’d you end up here?”

“That buddy who died, well, I had something from his girl and he wanted her to get it back. So when the fightin’ was done, I came back to the States, and I walked to the address. Could have mailed it, I suppose, but it didn’t seem right. Plus, I didn’t really plan to ever stop walking, you know?” He looked at me and nodded. “Yeah, you know.”

He took a long drink, “Walked through the desert heat, out onto the reservation Phil was born on. Delivered it to the girl, put it right in her hand, and held her while she cried, told her how he died. Not the truth of it, crying while we watch the blood leak out and I screamed for a medic. The glory and courage part. Bought a new pair of boots, took off the boots the Marines gave me, never wore them again. Bought some land fronting Route 66, and built this place on it.”

“So you married the girl?”

He laughed. “She didn’t want anything to do with any damned Anglo.”

“So you didn’t marry her?”

“Damn straight I married her. Just not right away. I spent two whole years convincing her I was alright, then another year convincing her I was alright enough to marry. See, my buddy had told her dad about me in letters. Don’t know what he said, but the man liked me well enough. Told me I could come eat with them any time. Walked ten miles from here to her house every Sunday evening for two years to the day. In the end, though, she came to me. Em always had things own her own terms.” The sadness in his eyes, well, it would have broken a different man’s heart. He spent a long moment lost in some memory I wasn’t privy to, then smiled.

“See, I gave up. Two years running she’d said no, and I was throwing in the towel. Said goodbye to her pa, couldn’t bear to say it to her. Sunday evening rolled around and instead of walking to her place, I started packing my things, I had my boots on and I was heading for the door when Emily comes running in yelling. She figured something bad had happened since I hadn’t shown up, and she’d skipped dinner to come rescue me or something.”

“What happened?”

 


Let’s Talk About Death 4

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. ~William Shakespeare 

The Boxer

Death has kept creeping up on my mind this week, in one form or another. Did you hear about Omar Henry? He was a boxer, and a damned good one with a big career ahead of him. He was twenty-five, my age. Four months ago he was diagnosed with gall bladder cancer, and he died just days before his twenty-sixth birthday. Maybe it’s because I was just recently contemplating my own mortality, but it hit home for me. His last few tweets to the world were more visceral than they normally would have been, perhaps. I think the sort of death he faced is probably the hardest. With age, we come to expect it. In youth, if death comes for us, it’s usual brutal and sudden, no time for contemplation. He had time to face death, but not enough time to fight it. How can you prepare for that?

I had a friend who died a few years back, more of an acquaintance, but a nice guy who was close to several of my friends, nonetheless. He fell from a canyon wall while stargazing, and died. I was farther down what might have been the same canyon shooting fire arrows at bottles of gasoline, and I came through fine. It was an object lesson in just how ridiculously unfair life can be. It was also an introduction to another lesson I wouldn’t fully learn for several years.

Napkins and Jackets

This next bit is about a crinkled up napkin I found in the pocket of my leather jacket. You need some background, first.

Once upon a time, I knew a man named Bryce Gillies. Bryce was not a handsome man. He was short, and well on his way to bald at twenty, and his face was a bit asymmetrical. He was born with complications of some sort or another, I think, and I later learned from his father–who I wish I’d met under any other circumstances–that doctors thought he would never be able to walk for any long distance. I guess Bryce never got that memo. Bryce was an avid hiker and outdoorsman, an Eagle scout, a crazy good rock climber–basically everything people ever said he couldn’t be.

He was a quiet man, who kept his own counsel, but spoke up, and spoke well, when the situation called for it. In 2009 he went with me and a few other people to Ghana, where he oversaw the construction of nurse quarters for a clinic in the small village of Yua. He was an engineering student, and a smart one; he combined good sense with raw intelligence in a way few people manage. He was just along to build an irrigation system, but then the guy who knew how the building was supposed to come together caught malaria and had to be medevaced. Bryce took over, and got it done anyway. Though they spoke English, many Ghanians had trouble with our names. They called me “Corner” and Bryce “Bright”. My nickname was funny, his was, honestly, an accurate reflection of his character.

We were not the closest of friends when we left, although on friendly terms, but the two of us shared a hut (with each other and one very fast scorpion we named Gonzales) while we were there. We shared goals and quarters and terrible food, a light that we turned on and off by touching live wires together in the dark, and I think I knew him pretty well by the end.

Among other things, his good sense probably saved my life, when we were installing solar panels. He had the sense to disconnect the panels from the wiring, which is the only reason my heart didn’t stop thirty miles down a dirt road from the nearest hospital, when I grabbed exposed terminals of the positive and negative wires at the same time with sweat-soaked fingers while I was wiring the lights.

 

Good

What Bryce really was, however, was a good man. One of the best I have ever known.

Some people, like me, actively work to be good, some people are just naturally predisposed to kindness, generosity, and a gentle nature. Bryce was both, and it showed. You knew it when you met him, and he never did anything in the entire time I knew him to make me question that for a moment.That’s not to say he was a stick-in-the-mud, either, he was always down for fun, or some good-natured trouble. He covered for me in Africa when I was puking my guts out from whatever tropical nastiness I had, but didn’t want to be sent home. By the end of the Ghana trip, I was determined to get to know him better and stay friends. Three weeks after we got back from Ghana, on July 18, 2009, when I was still fighting off the lingering effects of Africa (dysentery, some sort of recurring fever, and 35 pounds of weight loss) he was already feeling up to a birthday hike in the Grand Canyon back country. A bunch of people were supposed to go along, but somehow everyone backed out, and none of us realized he was on his own.

We figured it out pretty quickly when the 21st rolled around, and no one had heard from him. Search and Rescue went out. As did many people who knew him, and a lot who didn’t. I wouldn’t have been any damned help, so I spent time trying to figure out where he might have gone off the trail on USGS maps.

It was clear fairly early on in the search that he had left the trail somewhere. What all of us who were experienced hikers carefully didn’t talk about was that people don’t live four days in the Canyon without water in July. I think we held out hope that he had found a spring, or a way down to the river, and was holed up there waiting for rescue. They didn’t find him until the 25th, and I don’t think any of us really thought he was going to be alive at that point. Still, Bryce had defied expectation his whole life, and he knew what he was doing–if anyone had been able to make it, it would have been him.

When he realized he was going to die, Bryce typed out a final note to his parents, his friends, and the Ghana team on his phone. I don’t really want to go into what was said, but I will say it was true to form; light, funny, insightful, and more concerned about others than himself. His parents gave me a copy, and whenever I shuffle off this mortal coil, whoever sorts through my belongings will find it tucked away with some of my most treasured possessions.

A lot changed in my life that year. By the anniversary of Bryce’s death I had left grad school, decided to pursue a career in writing, and was living in my car traveling the country. There were many things that factored into that decision, but Bryce’s death played a role.

I remember sitting in the Starbucks at NAU, not long after Bryce died, trying to write a letter on a napkin. It was to Bryce’s parents, and it was a mess. I wanted to say so many things, and did not know how. I just knew I had to say something. These past few years have bought enough wisdom that I know now that I didn’t have to write anything, that Bryce’s parents knew everything I wanted to say more completely than I ever could. At the time, though, it seemed crucial. In the end, after sketching the building, and rambling about this and that, I decided I was at a loss. I stuffed the napkin in the outside right pocket of the jacket. It was probably early August, but it can get chilly in Flagstaff any evening of the year.

That was a confusing time. I had never suffered any illusion of my own invincibility. I’d like to think I’m pretty hard to kill, but I’ve always known I am going to die someday. But Bryce was good, and kind, about as good as people come. . . and he died a hard death, alone, on his twentieth birthday. What crystallized for me was not my own mortality, but the mortality of the people around me. All these people who matter more than life, I am going to lose, and the world is not going to give a second thought to how much they deserve to go on.

I don’t believe in a life after this one. It makes it easier to be strong, easier to be good, and more determined to leave a mark, but it leaves me painfully certain that every moment with these people is something I can’t trade back. So each moment has to be one I don’t want to trade back.

That jacket is my favorite, it’s worn and torn now, but it was fairly new at the time. When I traveled, it went with me. It’s been to dozens of states, and all over each of them. It’s not waterproof, and it’s been soaked through at least thirty times. I’ve probably worn it more days than not, all told.

The other day, when I should have been worrying about other things, I reached in that pocket. It’s something I have done thousands and thousands of times since that day, and felt a wadded up paper, I pulled it out, expecting a used Kleenex or something I had stuffed in there for lack of a better place. I almost threw it away. Instead, of course, it was the letter on that flimsy Starbucks napkin, somehow not torn and not washed out.

Without knowing it, I carried it every place I’d ever gone, for four years, somehow unnoticed in a place where I keep things all the time. Maybe there’s a metaphor in that.

 

Timeless

Sometimes I have moments where things seem to be going poorly. It seems like the world is unfair. Then something reminds me of the people who are gone now, who deserve to be here far more than a man like me, and I am humbled. I am not humbled that I have lived when better people have died, because that’s the nature of existence. I am humbled because these better people have at various points given some of their very limited time to me, and helped me become the sort of person I want to be.

If someone put a gun to my head and asked me if I could die without regrets right this moment, I could shrug and say, “Pretty much.” And I could mean it enough that I’d make a grab for that gun, too. That’s the legacy of Bryce and good people like him I have known.

There is a truth, one that I think most people know, and one that is easier to ignore: We are, each and every one of us, Small Gods. Our time may be limited by nature, but our ability to effect change upon the world is just shy of infinite. That’s a lot of pressure, to accept that you can and do and should matter. I still think of Bryce, from time to time, and people like him I’ve known in my life–people who were kinder and better than me–often when I’m fighting between something that is good, and something that is easy. Every time I think of them, and do the right thing when otherwise I would not, Bryce is living on. It turns out if you’re a strong enough force for good to the people around you, you keep right on being a force for good. Not even death can stop you.

I think Bryce might have understood that already, when he wrote his last words: “Life is good, whether it’s long or short.”

May we all be so lucky.

For what it’s worth, I thought this song captured the feeling perfectly.


Let’s Talk About Love 8

It has been, in many respects, an objectively bad week.

Normally, I don’t talk about anything too personal. Ironic, I know, given that this is a personal blog, specifically separated from my business one. However, circumstances limit other forms of communication, so here it is, an actual look under the hood of normally self-contained person. This is about a break up–well, sort of.

 

Here’s the Scenario

A couple weeks ago I moved up to Flagstaff, to pick up with my girlfriend where we left off. It, uh, hasn’t gone too well. She’s not the girl I fell in love with anymore, it turns out, no matter how close I move to her. For her part, she needs time to figure herself out. So neither of us was happy together, and now we get to be unhappy separately. Or we’re supposed to be, which is rather the problem that is haunting me.

I really did want things to work out. We made each other genuinely and effortlessly happy for a long time, and things were as they are supposed to be in a good relationship. I’m a cold person by nature, and she made me feel things I normally don’t. My dad has suggested to me that unstable women are attracted to me because I am a very emotionally stable person. In defense of my legion of crazy exes (and the cool ones too) it would probably be fair to say that’s a two way street.

When you really think about it, getting someone to move to a city hundreds of miles from their friends and family where they have no friends, and then being so difficult that the whole thing is over before the fellow’s even finished unpacking is approximately as awful a thing as one person can to do another without causing physical damage. It’s the sort of situation that people are supposed to struggle with, and walk away from just wanting to be whole again.

What I really want to be, though, is upset. Angry, sad, confused, tortured, take your pick, but some bloody kind of upset!

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Something on here should be ringing a bell right now. Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Right?

I should be furious, right? I mean, that’s how people react to break ups, even mutual ones, even ones that aren’t under such ridiculous circumstances. I should be sad, right? Heartbroken? To her credit, she was equally fine with me not wanting to deal with it. Even our breakups come easily, I guess. But why am I so damned reasonable about it? I love this girl more than I’ve ever romantically loved anyone, and it’s over. Done. Through. I could suppose one reason I’m okay is because she’s messed up, and she’s trying to get better, and, you know what, whatever helps her do that is fine with me, but I don’t really think I’m that damned saintly.

I’m not even upset, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Where’s this turmoil and loss I should be feeling? Here I am, miles from my social support network, no emotional crutches, surrounded by strangers in my studio apartment above a bar, and I should be broken, but I’m good. I tell people and myself that I am good at compartmentalizing, but the truth is I’m not. I’m terrible at it, and the few times in my life stress has really gotten the better of me it was all I could do to keep the wheels from spinning off. What I’m good at is doing a passable imitation of a statue. I’m not deflecting it, or burying it, or whatever, I’m feeling the full emotional brunt of everything I’m ever going to feel about this, and I’ve felt stronger emotional reaction to sunsets and thunderstorms. It worries me.

 

Love is Risk?

I saw this coming. I would have bet on things falling out this way, if I were inclined towards betting. And I came up here anyway, because if you’re not will to risk some time and money in hopes of happiness you’re going to have a pointless and empty life. What’s more, in the end, even if it fails, showing someone who has trouble loving  herself that someone thinks she’s worth the risk is worth it, win or lose.

But risk implies the possibility of loss. What does love even mean when losing it doesn’t seem to affect you? If, the moment you decide it doesn’t work, it ceases to exist? Love is this binding trust between two people to count on one another in any storm, to whatever end. If one person can just pick up and walk away fine, does it even count? I guess all you can do is the best you can, and that’s true of all of us, but I confess I want my best to be better than that.

Maybe it’s just maturity, but even my very first break up, when all those feelings were fresh, new, and unexpected (and the girl lived directly across the hall so I couldn’t not know when she didn’t come home) was almost a side note next to the stresses of insomnia and grappling with a ridiculous class load, and hating the town I was living in. Thinking back, if it hadn’t been part of an enormous pile of bullshit, I don’t think it even would have slowed me down. It certainly didn’t cause me to miss a step once I was out of there.

 

A Question of Maturity

There’s a time in your life when all you really want is to get laid. Depending on who you are, you may indulge that a little, a lot, or not at all, but we’re all hardwired for it. Then, somewhere along the way, you’re still pretty okay with the idea of getting laid, but you’re looking for something else. You look at someone and think, “Is this the sort of person I could count on to spend at least eighteen years with dedicated to making at least one child grow up into a happy, healthy, person?” I mean, it’s not exactly the foremost question on my mind at this point in life, but it’s something that’s on the radar. Now, you can’t point out that biologically humans are quite monogamous–almost, but not quite–and indeed the spate of relationships we go through in our youth, and the number of fairly solid relationships that fall over the course of years bears that out.

However, there’s a bit more to humans than biology. I’m not talking about anything spiritual or religious here. I’m talking about pure complexity. Humans live a long time, we change perceptively during that time, and we have an almost infinite motivations, trials, tribulations, and depth. What’s more, we change, and knowing someone, even really well, at any given moment in time means nothing. The derivative of a personality is useful, but it’s the slope of the line that really counts. Simply put, as you get to know someone better and better, you’ll often find you don’t want to spend a lifetime with them, but to get to know someone completely–if that’s what love is, then it’s a project of decades, of not one lifetime, but two.

 

Deserving What You Get

Here is what I’ve figured out, for what it’s worth. I think I did right, in most respects this time, and that means something, because I have royally messed up before. I always try to do the right thing, but I often find myself lost as to what that is. This time I did the best I could to create the relationship I wanted to be in, and it didn’t work. So, when I decided how to react to this, how to handle the break up, I picked the course I thought would be best for her. Not the easiest one, or the least complicated one, or the one that most reflected my own desires.

If love is not risk for me, it can at least be me trying to be the sort of person who deserves to have a risk taken on their own behalf. There is no guarantee that anyone, good or bad, will get what they deserve, but we can at least try to deserve what we get. The only truth about love I am confident in is that the first step is being the sort of person who deserves the sort of love they want to find. I’m not sure I can be that, but I’m sure I can try.

After all, we are not our victories, we are not our defeats, we are how we handle them. Every tiny piece of grace and understanding, and every stumbling step toward the person we want to be has purpose. And maybe that’s it, I hope that’s it. That I know exactly what I am looking for, and I as soon as I know I haven’t found it, well, I can still be the best person I know how to be. . . but I can’t be bothered to feel like I’ve lost; I’m just that much closer to where I’m going to end up.

Enhanced by Zemanta