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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Back to School

Have you ever signed up for something and had massive regret as the “thing” approached?  Maybe a luncheon or seminar?  This is me.  I cannot remember the last time I signed up for something that I did not have reservations about.  Yet, I strive not to be a hermit all the time, so in sporadic moments of weakness I make commitments certain that regret will not follow.

I signed up for a writing class.

Yeah, don’t ask.  

My writing is somewhere in a deep canyon between who gives a crap about the typos and this is garbage, full of mistakes and no way can I share this.  More or less I needed of a little kick in the pants to get past this.

I think the theme of the workshop was Finding Your Voice.  Sort of how-to in writing to reflect the inner person telling the story.  I was hoping to find out who the guy is within me while ruling out multiple personality disorders once and for all.

Please let there be an ice storm, I pleaded the night before the class.  By the next morning no ice storm materialized, but wonderful fortune came none the less.  The instructor was ill and needed to reschedule.  At that point I could request a refund (oh yes, I paid for this) or attend make-up class.  I hesitated for a moment and then left my chips on the table.  Twice the remorse for the price of one!

The rescheduled date came around and I had a conflict (or manufactured one) on that Saturday morning and could not possibly make it in time.  Not to worry, they say, I can join via webcast.  This would sound crazy in the pre-Covid world, but I’m guessing you’ve had your fill of Zoom by now.

Once I worked up the courage to dial in, they informed me that I could see and hear the class, but they could not see or hear me.  I could send my questions via text directly to the instructor.  Fat chance of me asking a question, but fine.  Let’s get this over with!

This writing class experience was nothing like I expected.  I was so distracted by the dialogue from the other “students” that I doubt I learned much of anything about writing.  This is unfair to our instructor.  She was a trip and scattered and well…goofy in a professor sort of way.  

My observations are further unfair because I attended via video instead of sitting around an enormous conference table.  The faces of the students were not visible because of the camera angle.  This enhanced my fascination with them because I could manufacture their appearance based on their voices.

The class got off to a slow start with some technical difficulties and handouts.  Then the dreaded, “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and why we’re here”.  At that point, I was calculating how much these introductions cost me.  $50 for 3 hours is $.28 per minute.  There goes $12 down the tube.  It’s a 3 hour workshop by gosh…do we really need to know any of this?

Yes, we did!  This is when the fun began.  10-12 students.  Four of whom had already been published.  Though three of the four were quick to point out their books were product manuals, training guides, or work related.  I think one guy said a website.  Really?  Another lady told us the third book of her trilogy was set to be “released”.  I find this next to impossible to believe.  Released?  How so?  And you're just now taking a class on Voice?  But the instructor was too kind to ask a single question.  I suppose with self-publishing anything is possible.

I was not out of place, however, as there were people like me who weren’t exactly sure what they were doing there, but enjoyed writing and thought…why not?  One guy was there because his son bought him a gift certificate for a class and this one sounded interesting.  I liked that guy.  That’s how I normally get roped into stuff.

The star of the show was a very outspoken evangelical Christian who hates Trump, believes the world needs to hear her voice for Jesus Christ, and knows she needs to be part of the cultural conversation.  (This almost verbatim from introducing herself).  Let’s call her Pam.

Why Pam?  I don’t know.  That’s the first name that popped into my head.  It’s my Voice dammit.  If your name is Pam or you know someone named Pam who is not irritating and over the top, I apologize.

I should also point out I am considered a hardy Christian by most (the above swear word not withstanding) and agree with Pam that the so-called Religious Right are not Trump supporters regardless of what FOX or CNN or the rest of those bozos would have you believe.

Pam’s most irritating trait was acting like this was a one-on-one tutoring session between her and the instructor.  You know how people give a knowing “uh huh” “sure” or “I follow” during a conversation?  Pam did that with the instructor the entire class.  Audible enough to hear 30 miles away (via web cast).  I wanted to call the host and say, “Tell Pam she’s not the only one in the room.”  Yes, Pam, we know you are paying attention.

We read excerpts from famous authors as one of our exercises.  The instructor asked the students to take turns reading.  Pam had to pass because her assigned passage was “much too vulgar”.  I must concede that there was a lot of salty language in most of the pieces the instructor asked us to read in advance.  But these were classic works.  Don’t they get a pass…Pam?  

After reading the passage we (they) would discuss the tone, rhythm, feeling, etc. of the author and the instructor would point out subtle and not-so-subtle characteristics that is consistent in most of that author's works.  Sort of fascinating.

I about fell over when Pam chimed in stating that “feeling” something when reading was much too feminine a term.  Well, well, well, I didn’t see that coming.  A feminist too?  Of course.  But a religious zealot feminist?  Say it ain’t so.  Since when did one of those exist.

Okay, I’ve picked on Pam long enough.  Let’s try some others!

There was the older gentleman who seemed to have a one-liner or dad joke for every situation.  The awkward laughter (if you can call it that) was only pleasant from afar….via webcast, for example. 

Then there was the lady who had never written in the first person before.  This was confusing since she was working on a memoir.  How do you tell your personal story without I’s and My’s?  Unless it was about someone else, at which point it would be a biography. Just weird.  Stranger yet is the gal who asked if memoir needed to be true.  What?  Where was she during the Million Little Pieces controversy in 2003?  Yes, yes, yes.  Next?

As the clock wound down, the instructor asked if we could stay late since she didn’t get to all the material (because she was unfocused, distracted by Pam’s “u-huh’s” every minute or two and the 40 minutes of introductions).  One guy must have had better things to do because he immediately packed up and walked out.  He showed up 20 minutes late, so it is hard to say what his deal was.  Maybe he stumbled into the wrong class and weathered the Pam storm as long as he could.

I hung around, but the river ran dry within ten minutes.

In all fairness, I am glad I took the class.  It was motivating, even though I haven’t been writing regularly (or at all).  It turns out Finding Your Voice is as simple as this:

Say what you want to say; not what you think someone else smarter or wittier than you would say or how they would say it.

This was helpful because I am stranded between the guy I once was and the guy I am today.  At one time, I wrote from the hip with little regard for, well, much of anything.  Now, more reserved, I recognize I have thoughts and opinions that the world is far better off without.  

But again, it was worth $50.  This piece represents more of my Voice than I’ve let flow in some time.  Good or bad, it’s just the guy in my head.  Not me at all.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Ever Want to be a Ski Bum?

As I prepare for a quick weekend of skiing, I am reminded of the many wonderful trips with family and friends in recent years.  It has been such a blessing to return to skiing after several decades away from the mountains.

One thing I have always found interesting is talking to people on the ski lift.  I am not one to start conversations with strangers, but ski lifts are fairly intimate and silence sometimes screams at me.  Plus, I have a certain fascination with skiers and what they do for a living.  Here is a sample of things I’ve jotted down.

Many were there on vacation with family.  No surprise there.  The most interesting people by far were locals that took the day off work to ski.  Just what types of careers allow people to head out on a random Tuesday for fresh powder?  

Now, I need to point out that my sample size is small.  If you take out all the Texans I’ve ridden with, it cuts the field in half.  What these folks do I don’t recall.  Vacation apparently.

But back to the locals.  There was the young programmer who told me he works when he feels like it.  Was he on skis or a snowboard?  Board, of course.  I mean, if you are under 35 years old you are on a board.  Once you’re older, the skis are a lot easier so long as you stay upright.

There was a substitute teacher who told me he never answers his phone when the snow falls.  It is all about priorties people.  Priorities!  I mean seriously?  Would you?

The winner, by a measurable margin, was the fruit tree trimmer.  Who knew there was such a job?  It makes sense I guess.  I just didn’t know the subtleties  to the arborist career path.  Though I never gave it much thought.

He was fascinating.  Work is slow for tree trimming in the early part of winter.  So, he does a lot of reading and skiing November through January.  I asked him how he became a fruit tree trimmer.  It turns out he got on a work crew as one of his many random jobs and had a gift for it.  Before long, the head arborist at the tree company had him leading his own crew.  It is very physical work as you might imagine so he got a degree “just in case I get tired of climbing trees or ski into one up here.”

This past trip I met a former part-time ski bum who retired from work at Los Alamos.  He said once he could ski everyday he no longer enjoyed it.  So, he became an instructor and guide for the disabled skiers unit (Adaptive Ski Program) there at Ski Santa Fe.  He takes a shift every third day and fills in when others are sick or out of town.  His plan that afternoon was to ski with a young girl who had cerebral palsy.  “She doesn’t like to get up, but once she does she can really go, go go.” 

On days off he skis with friends.  Most of whom appear to be a close reflection of this man.

The joy in his voice was clear and I regret that I always held a fairly negative view of the “ski bum” (although it might just be jealousy).  Regardless, it is cool that he is doing something he loves and helping bring joy to people with disabilities. 

“When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.” - Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Spontaneous Joy

Writing this might be risky.  If I say something maybe this feeling will disappear.  Maybe it will leave as mysteriously as it arrived.  Maybe…

This morning I was overcome with joy.  I was just going about my day like any other and I realized I was extremely happy.  The pessimist in me began to ask why.  What was the source?  But digging for reason just revealed contentment from all angles.

Post-Holiday Blues is a real thing from what I can read and goes by many names.  This is the opposite of that.  Am I joyful that the holidays are over?  Am I happy for the start of a new year so I can hit the reset button?  Maybe and Sure.

Who cares?

Don’t question it.  Embrace it.  

Don’t balance it against how you normally feel.  Don’t put it on a scale at all.  Just realize that God is shinning on you and for the first time in some time you recognized it.

Blessed.  I am blessed indeed.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

True Pain

Some things do not need a commentary.  This is one of them.  No need for me to butcher it.  Jeff was the son of a friend of mine.  He was thirty-three.

This written memorial is one of a kind.  I have read nothing like it.  It screams with pain and open-hearted honesty.  Here is a brief excerpt:

“Jeff didn’t give himself much credit.  He didn’t allow himself to see himself like anyone who knew him saw him.  He couldn’t fathom that anyone could see him differently than how he viewed himself.  He was funny, he was smart, and he was caring.  Jeff loved hard and with everything he had.  He sees it now: in our memories we share, in our tears, in our laughter.  He sees what he couldn’t here on Earth.”

My friend’s brother gave the eulogy.  I can’t remember it all, but I remember two things vividly.  First, speaking to his brother and family, “You did all you could”.  A little later he told everyone that they were burying our regrets with Jeff.  No second guessing or living in the past.  “We are not taking those away from here.”

This is a family of immense faith.  They told Jeff’s story directly.  They chose to be honest.  Their faith allowed them to share in a way that might help another family.

Mental illness is beyond real and has finally entered the public conversation.  Unfortunately, we frame the dialogue in our country as a battle over who can buy a gun.  Maybe that is part of the solution albeit a small one.  I don’t have the answer.  I do know that there are many people hurting and in need of help that are not plotting to injure someone else.  Let’s not forget those people.  How do we reach those people?

Jeff received help, but as is too often the case it didn’t measure up to the inner darkness.  Standing on the outside, one can’t know that.  Not a parent.  Not a professional.  Depression is the bottom of a well.  A spark of light reveals hope.  If only one could have ignited.

Losing a child is beyond painful.  Impossible.  There will always be the time before and a time after.  It is not supposed to happen this way.  I feel idiotic even commenting.  How can I grasp the hurt?  

I pray for this family daily.  We each know someone who could use the same.  A prayer, unsolicited, from a far.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace

Friday, June 14, 2019

So Wrong & So Right

“Give my granddaughter a kiss for me.”

These were my words from a recent telephone conversation with my daughter.  Normal by all standards of measure, except mine.  For the first 10 months of our granddaughter’s life, our house was her home.  There was no need to ask how she was doing or anything else.  She was there.

It was such a blessing.  One I took for granted now that she has moved across town.

The plan was always for my daughter and son-in-law to establish their own home.  I even encouraged it.  Often.  A friend of mine suggested that living with us was “robbing them of their joy.”  I immediately saw this as an honest and accurate description.

You never really know what you have in a marriage until you’re dirt poor, exhausted, and have a crying baby to take care of.  That may not sound like JOY, but the satisfaction of calling a place your own and working as a team to figure it all out is wonderful.  It might not feel all that wonderful when living it, but no doubt it is.

In the first few days after they left, the air was uneasy and too quiet.  My wife and I were empty nesters once before, but this differed from when our youngest went off to college.  This time we lost a family of three.

Yet, I am thrilled for the kids and our grandbaby.  While it seems wrong to get home from a day at the office and not be able to love on the little one, life is as it should be.  And we are blessed that they moved just 10 minutes away.  Most grandparents can only dream of such proximity.

So, what felt wrong has proven to be right no matter whose lens we peer through.  The kids have taken their joy back.  May the relish in the exhaustion of such JOY.

Run in Peace, Rest in Grace