Dawn Moon (An Invitation to Appreciation)

The man sat down at his desk, feeling harried with the business of the new day. He logged on to the open computer, but before losing himself in the contents that appeared on its screen, he glanced up through the open blinds and immediately noticed the full moon hanging torpid and pregnant in the dawn sky. Pink-tinged, vanilla cotton clouds veiled it against a sky so blue it didn’t look real. Such a scene as this always made him hold his breath and linger, trying with all his might to apprehend and infuse the splendor into his memory the way a connoisseur of wine might taste a rare vintage and embrace it on his tongue. Who else in all the world is looking at this same sight right now, He asked himself, and thanked God in heaven for such a lovely portent of the day, if no eyes but his own beheld and appreciated it.

He recalled a passage read long ago suggesting that the deepest yearning of the spiritual man is not just to behold beauty in nature, but to be one with it. Gazing again upon such a masterpiece of perfection, he felt the ache and longing for such a union.

In the few moments he spent meditating on these things, the moon gave way to the greater light and was visible no more. He considered that this was all the better as such loveliness is always passing by, and not a thing to be caged and captured. He gave thanks again and rose from his desk richer in soul and spirit, having gilded them in a beauty rare, and secure in the knowledge that He who so ordered the relations of sun. moon, and clouds to create such magnificence could yet make something beautiful of his life.

Five Years

Today marks five years since my ex-wife and I went to a local bank to have a separation agreement notarized, and I moved out of the house away from her and six of our seven children. When I mentioned this to my eighteen year-old daughter earlier, she couldn’t believe it had only been five years. ”It seems like forever,” she said.

She’s right. It does seem like much longer than five years. The marriage lasted twenty-two and a half years, the last two and a half of which were pure hell on everyone involved. Having done all that was humanly possible to preserve my marriage and keep my family intact, when I finally succumbed to the inevitable, it was time.

I am such a different person than the one who drove away from the family home with a borrowed pick up truck full of personal belongings. I am a man again, whole and complete, not the shell of a man I allowed myself to become; eviscerated in my efforts to hold onto an unfaithful woman, letting myself believe that I somehow deserved her treatment. I accepted the labels and derision that she heaped upon me, and I felt every bit a failure.

In leaving my family and giving up on my marriage, I was also leaving behind and giving up on my entire conception of myself, my identity, my being and meaning in the world. As a practicing Christian, I had somehow contorted the truth that a married man and woman become ”one flesh” into meaning they become ”one being.” I gave up my identity as an individual apart from my role as husband and father. As a result, I had not made a single decision of any consequence in over twenty-two years without considering its impact on my wife and my children; usually in consultation with them; from what to eat for dinner, to what type of toilet paper to buy, to whether or not we should paint a room, to where and when we should go on vacation, or even whether it was okay to take a few minutes alone to quietly read my bible. I can see my married readers nodding in recognition.

In the beginning of our dating relationship, and perhaps even early in our marriage, these mutual, shared decisions about all the various minutiae of life were a source of bonding and delight. Over the course of time, especially in the midst of a marriage gone bad, these same decisions provided instant feedback in the form of criticism, derision, and ridicule, even when a decision was supposedly agreed upon. Because I was the ”head of the household”, I shouldered the blame for every mistake, mishap, accident, unforeseen consequence, hurt feeling, and dollar spent. So much so that my oldest son now jokes with me when anything goes wrong and says, ”must be your fault dad!” I realize now that being the head of a family doesn’t mean being the family scapegoat.

I’m not sure why many if not most relationships devolve into this kind of acrimony and resentment. I only know mine did. Living on my own, alone and in my own rented house, was a brave new world for me. Even going to the grocery store was an adventure as I chose foods strictly because I might like them whether any one else in the household did or not. I watched what I wanted on television. I read the books and articles I wanted. I bought furniture I liked and decorated how it pleased me. Not once did I consult my ex.

This is the most wonderful thing about divorce. I found myself again. This is so important that I will likely spend the rest of my life trying to write about how crucial and rare this is. The greatest commandment it is said is to love God with all one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second greatest is, ”you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Having lost myself in a bad marriage, and then being told in the most brutal way (the unfaithfulness of a spouse) how inadequate I was as a husband, I certainly had no love for myself to even know how I ought to love my neighbor. If you don’t know yourself, how can you love yourself? If you can’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor?

But I do know myself again. I am able to make decisions with an appropriate regard for my own pleasure and live with the blessings or consequences, taking full responsibility for either. I care about the people around me in a way that is no longer a feeble attempt at self-validation. I know both how to receive love and how to give it. I have an amazing girlfriend who has shared these five years with me without either of us trying to stifle or undermine the other’s individuality, and who has made me feel good about myself again as a man worthy of love and of faithfulness.

Divorce has left me very jaded and cynical about marriage, but it has made me very optimistic about life. I think that’s why today’s anniversary seems like too short a time: the living has been so condensed and concentrated in these five years that it has more than made up for the bad years at the end of my marriage and the initial faltering steps out on my own.

Here’s to many happy returns!

To Thine Own Self Be True

I can’t trust myself to do the right thing all the time.

What do I mean by that?

For instance, last year, I spent the weeks from early August thru Thanksgiving at the end of November on a diet and exercise regimen during which I lost forty-five pounds. In the four months since Christmas, I have put twenty pounds back on.

For instance, I wrote at least five hundred words each day for almost a month recently, then I stopped altogether for almost a month. This is something I tell myself is extremely important to me, but I do not consistently make myself do the writing.

For instance, I downloaded a ”free” game on my iPad of the sort of quasi-historical, strategy types that I love. The game absorbed all my free time, and in two weeks, I spent nearly $500 on ”in-app” purchases to upgrade my ”free” game experience before finally realizing the stupidity of my actions and deleting the entire game.

For instance, I started in March on an ambitious goal to read at least one book per week. I made it through five books, which is not bad, but got sidetracked by the aforementioned game and the NHL playoffs. (I am admittedly a little bogged down in a William Faulkner novel that I’m still reading).

For instance, I set a goal to make at least sixty telephone calls each workday. This number of calls virtually assures me the income I need from my sales job. Some days I make fewer than ten!

I could go on. My personal history is unfortunately replete with instances of abortive performances like the few mentioned above. I am (and have always been) a great starter! I have not been a great finisher. I am determined to change that.

Toward that end I make resolutions and set goals. I use apps. I track. I update. I analyze. But all of those are intellectual pursuits that happen mostly in my head. In this respect, I’m like the habitual sinner who goes to church on Sundays to soothe his conscience, but who never repents and changes his life.

The things that I need to do, I need to DO!. I don’t need to just think about doing them.

I am not interested in ”self-improvement” except as a mine from which to dig out ideas. Yes, I subscribe to the ‘LifeHacker” RSS feed.

I am, however, very interested in self-actuation. I need to empower and feed my true self and stop wasting resources on the lazy, distracted, flabby-assed quitter, afraid of failure, who I allow to parade around as me.

I think each of us already has a self that we imagine we could be, but we seldom have the courage, conviction, and discipline to get that self off the bench and put that self into the game. That self doesn’t need improvement so much as it just needs a consistent opportunity.

I want to be true to that self! With the help of God Almighty, I am going to be true to that self! Why not? We only get one ride on the merry-go-round…

Words (or, the thing vs. the description of the thing)

I sell used tractor-trailers for a living. Often, I can sell trailers to my customers via photos that a seller forwards to me and I never have to leave my desk or dirty my hands. Sometimes, if the trailers are near enough, I go inspect them and take my own marketing photos. There are times I’ve inspected a unit “in the flesh”, and even done a write-up of its flaws, blemishes, and strong points; and then I get home to my computer and pull up the photos, and they don’t do justice to the trailer, or, on a more regular basis, they look better than the actual piece of equipment they visually represent.

Words are like that. They are oral or written abstractions of actual ideas, or of real world things, events, people, and places. Words are symbolic only and are not the thing described. Sometimes the words used are better than the actual thing (that would be descriptive of most advertising hype; which is short for hyperbole, by the way). Other times, the words don’t do the thing justice. Take the phrase, “What a beautiful sunset,” to convey the sight of a panoramic skyscape of surreal colors and lights so intense it can almost be tasted.

A common phrase you hear is: “Words mean things.”  And this is without a doubt true. But what exactly do words mean?  A skillful rhetorician (or thirteen-year-old drama queen) can torture words so that they become the literary equivalent of abstract painting compared to “real life?” On the other hand, Hemingway wrote in short, simple five word sentences and painted masterpieces his readers can vividly see and feel. In my attempt to sound intelligent and articulate, does my use of polysyllabic words in sentences cobbled together with commas and semi-colons conceal the “real thing” thing from my readers?

When I write, the whole point of the exercise is to strive to find the words and phrases that reveal the essence of whatever it is I’m narrating. I am sometimes frustrated that there are no better choices to describe a particular event or emotion. (Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize the word “skyscape” I used a couple of paragraphs above, for instance) I can imagine how aggravating this is for a genuine wordsmith or poet! I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since it is obvious that words, whether oral or written, evolved sequentially after the thing or idea for which they were created to represent. Trees existed way before the word “tree”, or “arbre”, or even before the letters were first scratched out that are needed to craft these written words together…

The specialist, it is said, uses language that confuses, rather than enlightens, his hearers. The doctor’s use of jargon, for instance, creates a fog of mystification between the unwashed layman and the highly-trained-and-rigorously-educated physician that is himself. Thus a bruise becomes a subdural contusion exhibiting epidural edema. For fuck’s sake, it’s a bruise with some swelling, alright!? Other doctor’s may understand, but to the patient he is speaking in tongues. As St. Paul so eloquently said, “Unless the trumpet sounds a clear tone, who will prepare himself for battle?” The patient hearing the above diagnosis may think he’s facing an amputation when all he really needs to do is hold a bag of frozen peas on his injury.

A shared language, employed thoughtfully, is the most common framework we have for building understanding, establishing relationships, and convening cooperation…and vice versa, its misuse can create chasms of separation. I want to use words that capture the subject in the clearest most universal light. I want my word pictures to look like the real trailers, to the best of my ability. I want to engage my reader’s mind with my own to the degree that he never has to “leave his desk and dirty his hands” to figure out what the hell it is I’m trying to say. Such a goal will be worth keeping in mind as I continue to record my thoughts for whomever may eventually read them.

3-19-86, 28 years ago tonight, revisited…

Tapers Section 8 October 1989 | Grateful Dead as The Warlocks at The Hampton Coliseum

 

It always felt a little like being underwater down on the floor at one of the shows; underwater in an aquarium. The atmosphere was thick with people pressed close together and milling around trying to burn off nervous energy. Microphones sprouted in the center of the floor, the taper’s section, until there was a veritable garden of masts and mics about ten rows deep in front of the raised mixing board. The smell of cloves, patchouli, and pot hung in the air like fog in a river bottom. An occasional scream punctuated the chatter and drowned out the strange music playing over the PA. To a newcomer, they could be terrifying, but these were not screams of horror, rather of pent up psychic energy that had to be released lest the screamer burst. They were soul screams that sent chills down your spine. He took note that glow sticks were the new thing this year; Everywhere, the fluorescent rings and wands of light weaved and waived and wandered throughout the restless crowd. All the movement and energy made him think about the bubbles that first appear sparsely and slowly at the bottom of a pot of water that’s been set on to boil. As they heat, they multiply and move quicker and quicker until the whole pot is heaving bubbles. The crowd before a show always put that image in his mind. There was never a warm-up band. There was simply no need for one.

All of the sights and sounds and smells were familiar to him, everything on the outside that is. He had been to almost fifty of these. But something felt odd tonight; some gnawing on the inside that he couldn’t quite identify.

A head walked past and silently mouthed ”Doses”, only briefly catching his eye. He just smiled at him and shook him off. Doses, he had. Instinctively, he reached into the pocket of his jeans and fingered the shreds of paper; page trimmings from a sheet of blotter soaked in Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, probably three doses worth. These “scrap pieces” weren’t marked with little blue ”Earths” like the 100 hits on the sheet he’d scored earlier that day. These were just strips of paper like you’d tear off a ring binder. He went ahead and pulled out a slender shred and non-chalantly placed it under his tongue. Tasteless, he let the paper dissolve into mush, chewed it a couple times and swallowed. ”Around-The-World” it was called; only three days old, the length of time it had taken his connection to drive it from Berkley to Hampton. Maybe this will do the trick he thought, stifling the unspoken warning in his gut.

 

At a dollar apiece wholesale, the hundred-hit sheet would fund the rest of the thirteen-show tour. He knew he could easily sell it for minimum ten bucks a hit at the concerts. The investment of a hundred bucks would gross a grand and net him and Om nine-hundred. Plenty for the gas and cheap hotels they’d be staying in up the east coast. A large mark-up, sure, but this was the freshest acid he’d run across since the liquid they’d scored on the previous summer’s tour. Back home, he could have doubled the sale price. Om was also bringing some bumper stickers he’d printed up that they’d trade for food and pot. Plus, Om said he had nabbed some plain, white t-shirts from the gymnastics academy he worked for. For a little extra money, they could dye those and sell them to the locals who always came to the shows. So he figured that the finances for the 1986 Spring Tour were all set. First stop right here in Hampton, VA for three nights. The same venue where he’d come to his first shows almost four years earlier. He let his mind drift back to that first show…

He’d started with his buds from UNC up in the mezzanine seats, but by shows end had wandered down onto the floor somehow. From up top it just looked like the crowd on the floor was having more fun. The Dead never made the house set up individual chairs. It was all General Admission, so the floor provided lots of space for the all out dance-a-thon that most of the four-hour shows morphed into. Close to the end of the concert, he was dancing like crazy, sweating profusely, and smiling so hard his face hurt when the band broke into ”Good Love”,

Well, I was feeling, Oh so bad

So I asked my family doctor ‘bout what I had

I said now Doctor, (Doctor?)

Mr. MD, (Doctor?)

oh can you tell me?, (Doctor?)

what’s ailing me?, (Doctor?)

And he said Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH)

All you need, All you REALLY NEED

is GOOD LOVE,

GOT TO HAVE LOVE (Good Love)

GOT TO HAVE LOVE (Good Love)

Each time the chorus came around to ”good love”, the crowd on the floor screamed ”GOOD DRUGS!” as a substitute, and wildly flung their hands in the air like so many tentacles on one enormous greedy being ready to grab and gobble every illegal pharmaceutical known to man.

He was high and grinning at the crowd when out of the corner of his eye he noticed a bearded, shirtless hippy wearing a long necklace with one of those little tie-dyed knit stash bags fastened to it like you see hippies wear. And it was flopping and bouncing around as he danced. The guy was wearing nothing else but an American flag around his waist like a long, patriotic skirt. His face and long hair and beard looked like the pictures of Jesus you see everywhere.

”Whoa! Cool!” he thought to himself in his drugged state, ”Jesus is here!”

He was about to find out he couldn’t have been more right.

 

Thinking about his first shows helped ease his tension for a little while until suddenly the dose started kicking in. ”Damn, that’s quick! This is fresh,” he thought, ”better buckle up! We’re fixing to leave Kansas, Dorothy!” He hadn’t eaten all day; too keyed-up about the concert. That accelerated the acid racing through his nervous system and hi-jacking every neuron and dendrite in his brain. He tried to relax and look cool and realize that people really couldn’t hear his mind working, but soon he couldn’t get control of his thoughts. Within just a few minutes he couldn’t remember how long he’d been standing in that spot; hours it seemed. Nor could he recall exactly why he should still be standing there? He looked around at all the foolish people so stoned out of their gourds they were still acting like the concert was about to start, but surely after that much time it was already over wasn’t it? I mean, the house lights were up, and that weird music was coming out of the PA. He tried to remember what the band had played, but came up empty. His legs and body were tired, and he was sweating like he’d been dancing, but he looked around and noticed that the tapers still had their booms up. They’d be breaking down their gear if the show was over, wouldn’t they? Onstage, there were just a couple of the road crew tapping microphones and tearing duct tape to hold down cables, so it seemed there was still going to be a show.

He shook his head and blinked several times, trying to clear his mind and get reoriented in time. ”Shit!” he thought to himself, ”I’m plastered!” He dared not look anyone in the eyes anymore, (you never know who’s a NARC), and he knew his eyes must be as big as freaking saucers. Looking down, he saw that his red tie-dyed shirt was moving like he was under a big unseen fan. He even looked up, but all he saw was a latticework of catwalks and what looked like tiny stars a million miles up in the dome overhead. He had the thought that he was going to need to find somebody with pot to stand near so he could try to tone this down a notch.

He closed his eyes and was back in the room in the little beater motel with the guys from Berkley. He remembered pulling the five twenties out of his pocket and the one dude, TJ, taking the sheet out of its little greeting card envelope and shaking the trimmings into his hand. ”Here man, you take this, on the house.” He took the strips into his outstretched palm and after looking at all the one hundred little earths on what felt like perforated card stock, he slid the sheet back into the envelope and stood to stuff it into the front of his shorts. He put the shreds in his pocket. Replaying the scene in his mind, he remembered the big picture window looking out of the shabby motel room on the ground floor. ”Damn it!” he thought, “they never closed the freaking blinds!” How could he have been so stupid! Shit! SHIT! All at once he couldn’t escape the idea that he’d been set up. He could picture the whole parking lot from where he’d sat on the bed in the motel, and how he’d stood right up and tucked that envelope right into the front of his shorts like he was on a freaking movie screen or something. If he could see out, he knew they (the NARCS) could see in. They were probably in a van or something. How could he not have noticed? How could he have been so freaking stupid?!?

Coming back to himself on the concrete floor of the coliseum, these thoughts raced through his mind producing total panic. Why hadn’t they arrested him yet? He turned that over for a while, slowly turning in circles and checking out the people around him on the floor, looking for NARCs who couldn’t possibly fit in down on the floor. He tried to come up with an escape plan, but he couldn’t finish an idea. And his damn shirt was waving like a flag by now. I mean it was MOVING! That’s a dead give-away, he thought to himself. I gotta get rid of this. He tore it off and flung it into the crowd in front of him. Instantaneously, the lights went down. ”Did I do that?” he thought, ”just by taking off my shirt?” Somebody let out a blood-curdling soul scream.

 

Wild cheering erupted from the front now. The bubbles were crashing into each other, and the pot was going to boil! As if in a dream, he watched Jerry, very far away pick up Tiger and turn his back to hunch over his amp stack. ”BOOM!” ”BOOM!” ”rat-a-tat-tat”, pierced the air as Mickey and Bill tested their drum mics. Phil’s bass belched out a few notes he could feel. ”Whew,” he let himself breathe, ”finally”.

But then, his mind went off on it’s own again. That gnawing was back, worse than ever. He remembered the motel, the imminent bust. There was just no getting past the fact that he’d screwed up and been way to casual and trusting at the buy. Where would the cops catch him? Wait a minute! Suddenly it dawned on him. He had nothing on him but the few remaining trimmings in his pocket! They didn’t have anything to bust him with except that. He thrust his hand in and pinched the remaining slivers between his fingers. He shoved them in his mouth but he had no saliva to moisten the paper with. The previous dose coupled with his anxiety had completely dried his mouth. He closed his eyes and held the wadded up paper behind his clenched teeth. He pushed it around with his tongue and tried chewing from side to side, but there was nothing to give it any taste at all and his mouth remained dry. He finally bit down on it as hard as he could and pushed the little dry wad to the back of his throat with his finger. He looked up at the million mile high dome again and gulped hard.

The band was tuning still, taking forever. ”Jerry and the Tune-Ups” he thought. But he felt like his troubles were over when a joint was passed to him from a couple on his left. Holding it up, he arched his eyebrows, nodded a little bow of gratitude and took a long draw. He looked over to hand it back, but they were gone. (Had they really been there?) He held the vapor in his lungs as long as he could, but he didn’t want to be standing there with a lit joint in his hands. Not when he had just eaten the last incriminating evidence the NARCs could pin on him. He thought about stubbing it out on the concrete to save for a little later, but he was still too paranoid to be holding anything. So he took a step to his right, found the wildest looking deadhead he could see and bumped his elbow, the joint pinched between his fingers. When the guy looked around he offered it to him, ”Here man, take it! Enjoy!” Huge grin, bobble-head nodding, bony hand snaking out to snatch the smoldering joint, and it was no longer his to worry about.

”Alright,” he almost said out loud, ”let’s get on with the show!” A smile even crossed his face.

 

Rick and Ron are going to give you up, his mind told him then. He saw it clearly now. They had the sheet. He’d brought it back to their room after the buy, and they had told him they’d ”test” it tonight, and maybe sell a couple hits at the concert. The idea they were considering was buying the whole sheet from him for a thousand and then bring it back to Charlotte to sell for more than he could get on tour. They weren’t going to any more shows after the three in Hampton so if they bought it, he and Om would have the cash they needed and nothing in hand at the other cities. But these guys were new to the whole Dead scene. In his mind, he knew they were going to get popped, and he knew they’d squeal when that happened. The NARCs would cut them a deal to drop a dime on their connection for the sheet, which was him. Oh Shit!

”Sons-of-bitches!” he thought to himself, but now he was really afraid. Like he could ever have really trusted them. Like he could really trust anybody in this whole stinking world. His shirt was gone and with it the rippling hallucinations he’d been having. What else could he do to disguise himself? He pulled the bandana off his head and shook his hair out. Had he been wearing it during the buy in the motel? He thought so but couldn’t remember straight. What would they do to him? His friend and travel partner Bas_ had pulled 25 years in Richmond for just 25 doses. He was tied up with four times that much.

Just then, a wall of sound enveloped him and Bobby growled,

Well, I was drinking last night with a biker

And I showed him a picture of you

I said, “Pal, get to know her. You’ll like her.”

Seemed like the least I could do…

…and those crazy, eerie dark chords were playing, and Phil’s bass was thundering, and those two drum sets were crashing, and he was listening as hard as he could for some message to come through the music; a message to help him escape his coming doom. And everything was one big soup of frantic motion. The pot had boiled over! Everybody was dancing like mad, his favorite thing to do in the whole world, but he was glued to the spot where he stood. Around him a sea of color, a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, and he felt a little dizzy and a little sick when he gazed up at that dome again. But it had somehow receded and was much farther away, or else he’d gotten very small, and somehow he knew that the world outside of this kettle no longer existed, whatever and whoever was trapped inside it was all that remained, and he couldn’t quite get his mind around that when the chorus came,

I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe,

But at least I’m enjoying the ride.

At least I’m enjoying the ride!

At least I’m enjoying the ride!

And a thousand voices all around him screamed in unison:

“Ride! Ride! Ride!”

Then, all the commotion ceased for a brief moment, and there was total silence in his head except for the One Voice that would change his life forever. A simple, reasonable question was all It asked,

”Are you having that much fun?”

And at that moment, from the depths of his very soul, he knew that the Voice was God, and that he was condemned. He was going to die and he was going to hell and God was completely just to send him there. All of the actions of his selfish existence had paid the price of the ticket for this last carnival ride and it wasn’t going to stop until it reached the one destination it could stop…the gates of hell.

His life started flashing before him, not like in a movie, with scenes and such, but glimpses and remembrance of opportunities he’d squandered, wrongs he’d done, and the singular, insipid foolishness that his lifestyle had harmed no one but himself. And then his words attacked his memory; all his many, many, endless foolish words. The way he could talk and bend logic, and reason away faith and God, and all the stuff he’d labeled myth and nonsense. And how he’d made fun of the preachers on campus, and on tv, and how he’d gone to Christmas Eve services this past year with the guy he’d lived with high on cocaine, and how they’d come home to do more coke and laugh at Jim Bakker and PTL, and how even that night with his heart beating out of his chest, he’d mumbled a false promise to God that if he kept him alive he’d stop doing coke, but that wasn’t true either. He’d laughed and mocked and considered himself so damn smart and above it all, and now the last laugh was going to be on him.

He thought about lying to his grandparents, and not paying for the car they’d bought him. Leaving town and going clear across the country on his hippy pilgrimage, and driving it north into Wyoming to evade them when they’d flown out to Denver the summer before to reclaim it when they’d learned he was on tour following the Grateful Dead, a “cult”, around the country.

And he thought about that trip out west and Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons, and the double-rainbow in the Idaho sky, and Coos Bay, Oregon, and Donner Pass, and the river in Truckee, and camping in the Redwood Forest, and the two weeks in Mt. Shasta, and the concert on the side of the ski-slope and all the amazing things he’d seen, and people he’d met, and the times he’d had, high times, good times, fun times, but…that question was haunting him.

”No!” he screamed, ”There’s not that much fun in the whole world to go to hell for! You can’t have that much fun!”

 

He found himself in the bathroom somehow, sweaty hippies crammed in on all sides. No music was playing so it must have been the break between sets. He didn’t know if he’d blacked out after the opening song. He was just amazed to be conscious that he was still alive; one heartbeat away from hell, but still alive, nonetheless. He looked up into a mirror and saw a complete stranger. It was as if he was looking at someone else’s form. He couldn’t even look at this person in the eyes, whoever it was; chest panting, ribs showing, sunken cheeks and hollow, blood-rimmed eyes, wild, wavy hair all over the place, with a matching red beard that was soaked with sweat. He leaned over and splashed cold water onto the strangers face. When he straightened up there was still no spark. He knew it was his body, but he knew that person was under judgment and the sentence of death, of death and hell.

Back out in the hall, carried along by the current of faceless, nameless people, he could feel that they knew it too. He no longer belonged. He no longer fit. He was no longer ”enjoying the ride.”

By the time the second set started, he’d somehow made it upstairs, drifting like so much human flotsam on the tide of beaded, bearded hippies. The current deposited him at a vantage point above the mass of swirling deadheads on the floor. He was miserable. All he could think of was his guilt. He was condemned and guilty as charged, and he’d somehow thought that God was okay with all of this. ”How deceived could I have been?” he thought to himself.

When the band opened the second set with China Cat Sunflower, he wasn’t surprised. In October of the previous year, he’d gone out of his body and nearly od’d when they’d opened the second set with this same song in Charlotte, his hometown. He felt like the same thing was going to happen now. The only thing that kept him from giving in to that feeling was how terrible it all sounded. It was like the band were all playing the same song but each one of the six at a slightly different rhythm or a slightly different key than the other five. It was sheer cacophony! It was painful to listen to it and to have to watch the people around him and on the floor below, jerking and twitching and gyrating and waving their skinny arms with the bracelets sliding all up and down their skinny wrists, and whirling in circles with their skirts spinning out like a child’s top, and the glow sticks splashing dabs of moving color everywhere. He hated every bit of it. He no longer belonged.

Just then he looked up to see a scrawny guy with a little goatee, grinning like an imp with rivulets of straggly hair cascading over his shoulders, hopping towards him. He positively glowed when he shouted in absolute glee, ”There’s that China Cat!”

And the little imp glided over to where the condemned man stood as if they’d have one last bone dance before the execution. And he looked vaguely familiar, and he realized it was Don Bas_ who had travelled with him that entire summer when they’d gone everywhere from Boulder to San Francisco to Houston together; but no, he faintly remembered, Don was in federal prison in Virginia for selling acid to an undercover cop at the Richmond show the day after Halloween and biting the cop’s thumb in the back seat of the car. So who the hell was this??? And he was more confused now than ever.

”I feel like the devil,” he finally admitted to himself. And as soon as he’d thought it, magic dust fell through the air, like an invisible fairy godmother had emptied her wand onto everything. He could see the air shimmering and glimmering with the magic particles. And in one beat the band was perfect, and the lights shone out from the top of the stage, and he could feel it again, I mean REALLY FEEL IT! And this weird beared creature was bouncing up and down in front of him, smiling his head off like it was the greatest possible climax of joy. And he smiled a little, and let himself start to sway and rock with the syncopated rhythm for one brief moment, and then an eruption from somewhere deep inside him, ”NO! NO! I WANT THE TRUTH! I WANT THE TRUTH!” Was he shouting? Could Don’s twin hear this outburst? He didn’t know, but in that moment, the band sucked again! Like they’d never rehearsed the song before. And the air was cloudy with somebody’s cigarette, not magic dust. And the smell of the smoke was acrid in his nostrils, and made his stomach nauseous, and he would have given anything for a drink of water.

 

The next thing he knew, he found himself outside. There was still an outside! He was on an incline heading down. It was the ramp from the coliseum down to the parking lot. He could hear the muffled song playing from behind him inside,

”Go! Go Johnny Go, Go

Go! Go Johnny Go, Go

Johnny B. Goode…”

The concert was over because he knew they only ever played that as an encore. What now? He started to shiver because it was drizzling rain and he’d thrown his favorite shirt away. It was only a few degrees above freezing. Even though he’d managed to escape from the ”bucket”, he had absolutely no illusions that he had escaped from hell. He was being pressed down the incline that would spill them four abreast across the sidewalk and out into the parking lot in a few dozen yards. Some headlights were already on, and some speakers were already blaring more dead tunes. The circus was going to go into it’s next act right out here he knew full well. He couldn’t remember where the hell they’d parked. He’d pushed everybody to get there early and indeed they had. There’s had been the first damn car in the lot early in the afternoon. Then they’d all freaked out, figuring they were sitting ducks to park so close to the front, so they’d circled the place about a hundred times (that wasn’t conspicuous!), before blending in with other early arrivers. But he didn’t’ really want to find the car, fearing he’d die in a car crash. Maybe his heart was finally going to give out, it was certainly beating hard and fast enough

He stumbled ahead. His mind was numb and devoid of every thought except the certainty that he was going to die and that he was going to hell. Probably tonight, but definitely soon, he knew. He was supposed to rendezvous with Om and Rich and Deb after the show and they had talked about drinking Becks in the parking lot and then grabbing something late to eat at The Jewish Mother before heading to the hotel on the other side of the bay-bridge.

He didn’t want to drink, didn’t want to eat, and didn’t want to see his friends. He was cold and alone and disenchanted with his whole life as a deadhead and small-time dealer he’d spent three and a half years cultivating. Every single choice he’d made on that journey was going to land him in an inescapable hell.

 

When he first saw her, he was repulsed. ”Another hippie chick,” he thought, ”just what I need.” But she was unavoidably in his path standing at the bottom of the ramp. She held a lime green Day-Glo flier aloft in her hand. He shuffled a little sideways to avoid her but she anticipated his movement and stopped him dead in his tracks. She pushed the folded paper into his hands and stood there in the drizzle. She looked up at him as he focused on the words written on the fluorescent paper,

”How Much Are You Worth?”

Lovely, now the cosmos was taunting him, he thought, what a sick joke! He rolled his eyes and almost threw it on the ground, disgusted with himself, with the girl, the parking lot scene, with the idea of his own complete and utter worthlessness.

And then he unfolded the paper and saw the picture.

It was a bleeding hand, pierced by a nail, fastened to a piece of wood.

The caption beneath the picture read,

”God thinks you’re worth the death of His Son”

He doesn’t know how long he stood there staring at that picture and bathing in the radiance of the most beautiful words he’d ever seen. He wasn’t cold anymore, or high, or scared. He was incredulous that at that moment, at that place, at his most broken and destitute, his life was forever changed.

”Do you want to be saved?” the girl asked.

”Oh yes!” he said without hesitation, ”Yes I do!”

And they bowed their heads while she led him in a prayer of salvation, to the God of Love, Father of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Who, even though this story happened 28 years ago, today, still seeks and saves that which is lost.

Perspective

I slept in this morning. I didn’t wake up and drag myself out of bed until 8:30. That’s highly unusual for me. I usually wake up before my iPhone alarm goes off at 6. Last Sunday I slept until 8 but that was only because I was up late with my girlfriend and we lost an hour due to the onset of Daylight Savings Time.

Anyway, this morning I was just tired…not so much physically as emotionally. I went to bed a little defeated and a little deflated from a shitty Friday. I made a bad decision to drive 3-and-a-half hours one way, 7 hours round trip, to look at a single trailer that turned out to have 6 bad tires and a bent up ICC bumper. Not only was I not going to be able to buy and re-sell this piece of crap, to make matters worse, I missed out on a good trailer that I could have sold and made a thousand dollars, but because I was on the road chasing this bad one, I failed to make the necessary calls to quote and promote the good. My boss ended up selling it instead. When that happens, I make zero.

Learning of this driving home, I was so pissed off that I couldn’t even enjoy the fact that I was burning up miles in my relatively new Mini Cooper S. Although I’ve had it 4 months, this was the first trip I decided to drive it that was over a hundred miles. The car did fine and I could have turned my attention to the enjoyment of tooling along on a secluded country highway in my little sports car. This car is one of those rare purchases that continue to provide value in terms of the experience gained; but I was numb to it because of my bad attitude. All I could think of was fifty-five dollars of wasted premium fuel, the lost thousand, and the money I wouldn’t be making on the trailer mired in Podunk, South Carolina.

Today I can look back and see that I let the perception of what I’d lost in time and money overcome my gratitude for what I still had. That simple matter of perspective ruined my day, my attitude, my diet, and my sleep. I was snippy and bellicose with my boss; and he noticed. I was moribund and disinterested on the phone with my girlfriend, and she noticed. I didn’t spend any quality time with my children. Whether they noticed or cared I don’t know, I was too busy eating half a bag of potato chips and half a tub of sour cream and onion chip dip, and veg’ing on a basketball game I didn’t care about.

Looking back this morning, I realize afresh how stupid and costly wrong thinking is. I compounded my loss of quantifiable time and income by getting angry and depressed and expending emotional capital. By being an ass to my boss, indifferent to my girlfriend, and emotionally unavailable to my kids, I expended relational capital. Binging on chips and dip expended physical capital and wasted hours of jogging I’d put in earlier in the week. Sleeping on all that turmoil burned up a few hours of the most valuable capital, time.

Although it is more difficult to keep account of the running balance of emotional, relational, and physical capital, those are still finite resources that are easy to deplete. For me, yesterday was a day of deficit spending in every resource category I could tap.

I made the mistake, all in my head, of focusing on the negative rather than the positive. I refused to stop thinking about what I wanted that I’d somehow been denied instead of remembering what I had then (and still have) that could not be taken from me because it is immaterial and doesn’t fluctuate with a trailer sale. I’m ordinarily an optimist because I consistently choose to do this one thing.

I’m not optimistic because I pretend things are great when they aren’t. I’m optimistic because I’m grateful for the good things that are.

I preach these truisms to my kids all the time;

“Be grateful!”

“Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have!”

“Count your blessings!”

“Let go of things you cannot change by your own actions!”

This morning, I’m still out a thousand and fifty-five bucks. I still don’t have a trailer to try to sell Monday morning, and my scale was up by a pound, but choosing to practice what I preach, I am conscious that I am also:

Sitting out in the warm, spring sunshine on my back deck;

Loved by a God Who Is Love,

Listening to the happy warble of birds singing,

Enjoying American Beauty playing on my old, faithful iPod,

Fortified with a cup of my favorite coffee in my favorite mug,

Writing this with a MacBook Pro on my lap,

Armed with both an iPad Air and iPhone 5s on the table beside me,

Filled from an empty Chobani Peach Yogurt cup keeled over beside them,

Secure in the knowledge that my kids are still snug in their beds upstairs,

Warmed and fulfilled by a great conversation with my wonderful girlfriend,

Counting these blessings, which are only a sample of all the blessings I could enumerate, I can exhale and proclaim, “Life is Good!”

Nothing has changed from yesterday’s disappointments except my perspective, and thus, everything has changed.

Pre-shot tracker

I watched the final round of the World Golf Championships on Sunday. I like to play golf, although my game bears little resemblance to that of the pros who make a living playing it. While I have a 14 handicap and have only broken 90 on rare occasions, these guys seem to rarely make a bad shot. This week’s tournament was a little different because it was played on a newly redesigned golf course near Miami where both the field’s lack of familiarity with the design changes and the winds from the Atlantic Ocean proved to be major factors in the high scoring of the competitors.

On a course nicknamed ”The Blue Monster”, there were more balls errantly hit in the water over the course of the 4 days than at any time in the tournament’s history. I suppose it was to be expected given the proximity of water to many of the fairways and greens after the major re-design. Still, in many years of being a golf fan, I’ve never seen a tournament where every single player took at least one penalty stroke for a hitting a ball out-of-bounds, in the water, or in one case, up a palm tree.

Watching these guys grind out their mistake prone rounds in unfamiliar territory and tough conditions got me to thinking. Hell, that looks a lot like the way most of us live our lives, much less the way we duffers play golf.

shot_tracker

Sometimes during the telecast, a ”shot tracker” is used to show a replay of the ball flight from the time of impact off the player’s clubface until the ball lands. The bright red stripe of the ball’s path is a visual treat allowing the viewer to see the shot shapes these pros can produce, or, as was the case this weekend, how far off course a 30 mile per hour wind can push a golf ball. I remember one such ”shot tracker” sequence as a player took a hard swing at a ball buried in scrub grass behind a palm tree, that had to be played under some branches with a right to left slicing path to try to get the ball to land on the green for a chance at putting. In the best of conditions, it would have taken a perfect, near miraculous shot. The pro made solid contact, but with the poor lie, he failed to impart the correct spin on the ball that was also being pushed by a gusting breeze and it didn’t curve towards the green. Instead it crashed into the grandstand behind his intended target. The replay of the shot using the ”shot tracker’ looked like a laser guided missile from under the trees at the right hand of the fairway on an intentional line into the gallery. The red line on the television screen couldn’t have been drawn straighter by hand with a sharpie and a ruler. If the golfer had wanted to hit the ball at the spectators, he could not have done so any better. Fortunately, no one was injured. The person the ball bounced off of got an autographed glove. The player was awarded a ”free drop” out of the stands because his ball was unplayable from the box seats under a lady’s purse, and he luckily went on to salvage his par. His attempt at a miracle shot could just have easily resulted in a double-bogey.

Like Will Smith’s classic line on his first date with Eva Mendes in the movie “Hitch” when he says, “I didn’t see it going that way in my mind,” the golfer couldn’t have seen his shot happen the way it did in his mind during his pre shot routine. These guys are masters of visualization. Yes, they take several practice swings with their club to “feel” the shot before they take their real one, but mostly they are imagining exactly what shape and trajectory is needed to land the ball at a specific target. This ability to imagine and ”see” the shot that’s required, and then the physical skills and talent to make that vision a reality is what sets them apart and makes many of them multi-millionaires as the reward for playing the world’s most frustrating game. Knowing firsthand the inherent difficulties of playing golf well, it fascinates me that the pros have this exceptional combination of imagination, focus, and talent to consistently produce incredible golf shots…except when it doesn’t turn out that way…like the shot into the grandstand.

Which brings me back to the way I figure you and I live our lives. Most of the time, when faced with a decision or difficult situation, we probably have no “pre shot” routine. We just step up to a decision and ”hit it!” I know that’s too frequently been the case with myself. When making everyday decisions, I foolishly trust my instincts in spite of the fact that too often my instincts are driven by emotions like frustration, anxiety, fear, or pride.

For times like that, times when I’m in a hurry, or responding to an unforeseen crisis, or just don’t give a damn at the moment, I wish there was something that would go off in my head and give me a “pre-shot tracker”. I wish I could see beforehand what the ramifications of my decisions were going to be. If the golfer on Sunday had known he was about to fire a rifle shot into the stands, he would likely have stepped away from the ball, considered his alternatives, and maybe found a better place to “miss”.

I intend to learn from this. It’s not always possible to slow down enough to effectively calculate the consequences of words and actions. Some days, life comes very fast and feels very unfamiliar; leaving me ill prepared to respond well. It feels a lot more like a hockey game than a leisurely round of golf. I’ve hit enough “bad shots” playing golf to know what can happen to my score if I don’t take my time, see the shot, line up, and keep my head down through the swing. If you’re like me, you’ve probably hit your share of “bad shots” in life as well. I am gradually learning to stop trusting my “gut” when faced with a crisis. My gut reactions are almost 100% of the time patterned emotional responses deeply ingrained from past traumas, and are therefore defensive and shortsighted. In such cases, I might successfully blow off steam, protect myself, state my case, or “give someone a piece of my mind”, but rarely do I achieve the results I desire without serious, conscientious intention. So, I’m learning to try to relax and breathe and give my self permission to look one more time at the real result I want my words or actions to accomplish, and not just to “swing hard”, and results be damned!

As Sunday proved for a fabulous field of very talented golfers, sometimes knowing where to safely miss a shot is just as important as trying to pull off a perfect swing in imperfect conditions. As much as possible, I am going to think more on the front end. I’m going to try to see what my actions are going to produce and where the “ball” might end up. At least, I want to learn to miss in a safe place and not take as many penalty strokes in life. And I’m hoping that in my mind I’ll see a “pre-shot” tracker that will cause me to hesitate and take one more look rather than flailing away mindlessly.

The Scale and The Pendulum, or Bad Libra

So, at the moment, it feels pretty much like I am giving free rein to the “serendipity” half of the equation in my life. Since I am also engaged in high school algebra (helping my oldest son who is in the 9th grade), it occurs to me that whatever I add to one half of my “serendipitymastery” equation, I must also add to the other side to keep it balanced. In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, I am a Libra. The significance of this is only that the Libra “sign” is a set of scales. LOL! I am a BAD Libra! I don’t balance well. Not to say that I’m imbalanced in general, but in life, the day to day kind, I’m just not balanced on a daily meter.

That is likely true for most people. We function much more like the swing of a pendulum. We all vacillate between extremes. Granted, they are subjective, personal, individualistic, and therefore relative, extremes, but extremes none-the-less. I am reminded of a phrase Mal Reynolds used in the television series Firefly, “out here on the raggedy edge.” In the series, which is one of my all-time favorites, but being a strange brew of science fiction and spaghetti western, when the fearless leader Mal said it, he was usually referring to their current physical environs. It was synonymous with, “out here in no man’s land”, or, “out on the edge of the known mapped region of space”. But I like the simplified, “raggedy edge”. That is where I live internally. I’m usually near the raggedy edge of the pendulum swing of my Bad Libra’s scale. I live pretty near to one extreme of “happy-go-lucky”, “take it as you find it”, “fly by the seat of my pants” Serendipity, or the focused, driven, “conquer this right now!” mindset of my obsessive Mastery alter-ego.

An example is my recent discovery of Hazel for Mac. Hazel is a cool, no, wicked cool, app that runs as a system preference in the OS X operating system. You can find it at www.noodlesoft.com/hazel.php. I forget exactly what manner of mental foraging I was engaged in when I stumbled upon it, but once i read about its cool ass capabilities, I had to install it on my system. (The pendulum had reached the raggedy edge of Serendipity and was about to swing wildly in the direction of Mastery’s raggedy edge.) Go ahead, intrepid Mac geek, get you some! They offer a free 14 day trial. What are you waiting for?

Hazel monitors a folder in your file system and then performs actions on the files it contains or that show up there. It comes loaded with some example folder/action pairs to try out. An obvious folder is the Downloads folder where all the cruft that you and I download from the world wide web (Serendipity Nirvana) gets dumped. This folder of digital shit is like my house. Stuff just accumulates there and gets left where it sits. Enter Hazel. This app can sort all the files by type (and even create sub-folders of that type), delete the files that have been there for an amount of time I determine, move the files to appropriate other folders, etc.. Very cool indeed! But wait, that’s not all…

While grokking out on all of its basic functionality, I started looking at all of the links on the Noodlesoft “Buzz” web page (www.noodlesoft/buzz.php)  for ideas and examples of what other geek types were doing with Hazel. I found an amazing, though not exactly cheap, video tutorial by a guy with a great German accent named Andreas Zeitel. If you’re interested you can find the tutorial here: www.macosxscreencasts.com/tutorial/hazel-tutorial. Anyways, midways thru the tutorial, Andreas has shown an example action that Hazel can perform which invokes an imbedded AppleScript to grab any file with file extension .PDF living in a folder called toEvernote and auto-magically opens the Evernote desktop app and send said file to Evernote as a new note. Cool, eh? I had to do that of course because by now, I’ve…just…got …to …tackle …all…Hazel…can…possibly…do!

I’m engrossed. No, addicted! I’m like the guy that has had a jones for coke for a month and then when he finds some he can’t possibly spread it out over say, a weekend, rather, he snorts all of it, ALL of it by the end of the first damn night.

At the end of Andreas’ tutorial, he gives an example of how one can set up Hazel to automatically open web pages you’ve been browsing on your iOS device. That way, when you get home to your mothership Mac, it will be displaying the very web page(s) your were browsing while your significant other was in the dressing room at Marshalls.

It involves Dropbox (www.dropbox.com/home), and creating a “Send to Dropbox” account (https://sendtodropbox.com), and creating a new user in your AddressBook with that handle so you can email files with web page URLs to a new folder created in your Dropbox account, and finally, a wicked cool, imbedded ruby script.

Keep up with me, now. I’m comfortable with Unix. I can write some basic shell scripts. The word “metadata” doesn’t scare me. I can even bullshit my way around a conversation involving Apache, or Postgresql, or php. I’ve installed Ruby and Rails on my system, but I’m not that guy that just uses ruby every day like typing a text message. And this damn action in Hazel using the ruby script just won’t work! I’m stymied. Do I give up? Do I count my blessings? Do I thank the coding gods out there who have created such Hazel and Dropbox goodness for me to enjoy? NO! Hell to the NO! I have to FIX it!

I get so engrossed on something at the raggedy edge of Mastery (I have to keep calling it that to avoid the obvious truth that really I have major OCD tendencies) that I even dream about whatever it is I’m captivated by. So yes, I dreamed of Hazel, and /usr/bin/ruby, and folder actions, until the next morning I woke up and just emailed Andreas Zeitel to tell him how much I’d enjoyed his video tutorial and how much I’d learned, but there was the one little, bitsy problem with my ruby script, and if he would be so kind, and if he had the time, could he possibly take…a…look?

I’ll be damned. Andreas is good people! He sent two different replies detailing possible problems with my script. One involved ruby’s reluctance, er, refusal to recognize “smart quotes” in any script. When that didn’t work, he just sent me a link to a page where I could just freaking copy and paste that mother of a script into my own little Hazel action world. Joy! It all worked! And it was the seventh day, and I could rest from my labors. Ha!

On to the next discovery…the pendulum is swinging back.