Monday, December 29, 2008

Mountains Crossed

The shock of visiting my parents was more a glacial freeze, I think, than a tumultuous emotional blow. Upon my return, my movements are thick and slow, ponderous with a sludge of uncertainty, and my thoughts heavy with fog.

My son and I made another quick road trip to Pennsylvania for Christmas, a grounding with family to enliven us with a little of the holiday spirit, a touch upon our heritage amidst all the transformations of this past year.

On the surface and deep into the heart, there was such pleasure and satisfaction to spend time with my father in his little apartment. He gave us open views into his daily habits, the struggles that an 85 year old nearly deaf and blind encounters in every direction. I could appreciate the strength it takes to maintain independence against the growing urge to simply pass on and be done with it all.

Although he speaks clearly and regularly of his readiness to die, in fact, there were several paintings, fresh in frames, I had not seen, and yet another on the easel. Nearly as often as I in my home, he would lumber into the other room to check his email, a large screen TV magnifying words 10” tall to keep him connected to friends and family in the world. Unable to follow the movement in most sports, he has switched to baseball and celebrates it being the year his home team wins the World Series.

Breakfast out to a small place nearby is an adventure enough to him who has eaten in exotic cafes on all continents. We accomplished several simple errands for clothing and items that had caused him worry. I could provide some relief to my sisters who tend to him lovingly, but constantly, in the midst of their own busy lives.

The fact that he has been somewhat of a stranger to us most of our years—interpreted through my mother—evaporates when hearing him manage his catheter two or three times in the night. It is so humbling to help the man who has been so strong in my life from car to curb to cart ever so slowly, carefully, and patiently. He complains with a shrug and apologizes as he accepts my shoulder to lean upon.

Deep into a world unknown, my mother spends her day in a wheelchair, teeth gnashing with a painful sound that causes her no visible discomfort, surrounded by others—mostly women—mouths open and eyes closed in their own strange worlds. The staff banters amongst themselves, good-spirited but worn weary by the daunting task of keeping their charges safe and fed.

Warned to have no expectations, I am pleased and amazed to see her pulse quicken each time she turns her head towards me. She utters some guttural piece of thought I cannot recognize, still we nod, eyes locked, as if understanding. Her hand explores mine as if surprised and wondering, something she knew once, but just cannot explain.

I cherished this time with my Dad and was unabashedly teary-eyed sitting with my Mom. My energy poured toward them unreservedly as if I could somehow replenish all that they have given me.

Alas, they are at this place in their journeys and our best efforts are to keep them company and ease the details where we can. Two sisters living nearby are much more practiced than I—both more burdened and blessed. To an outsider, it is a lonely and dwindling road they wander, but the dignity and peace with which they carry themselves is a heart-wrenching inspiration.

My son stayed behind with his mother, allowing me the long drive home alone to contemplate past and futures, interrupted by miles of scenery I have traveled many times with numerous companions enroute or awaiting. This time, I had the sense of leaving my parents behind, their hugs still available, but our relationship forever changed, what once was now petrified in that glacier of shock under which flows a stream that is my own life moving onwards.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How Kipper Gets His Turns Back

Eighteen inches of snow have fallen on Burlington this weekend, twice that at Sugarbush. I was there for first run Saturday morning, taking three down double diamond Stein’s Run before I went to work with my four year olds.

More runs in the afternoon and more on Sunday begins to show me that perhaps something special is happening here afterall. I purposefully took the runs by myself, consciously looking for the smooth line that could bring me down the mountain.

For weeks, now, I have been describing the struggle to learn a new style, writing that the change from exuberant dance and battle through moguls to a smooth instructor's turn, although uncomfortable and alien, serves as a good metaphor for the changes needed in my life in general. So weary of the tumult and scarcity, the strained and screaming muscles forcing their way, I have vowed to hold the concepts of prosperity and abundance close to me as I point my skis downhill and push off.

In similar periods of distress (and, lo, there have been too many!), I have taken deposits for the next construction job and applied them to bills from the last, straining to keep from crashing face first into another bump. Begging and pleading with creditors for just a little more time, breathing room has always been just out of reach.

When the truck broke down last week, I was clearly out of options and, without any internal discussion, I knew to the center of my soul, I had to react a different way, make that new style of turn.

Two days earlier, I had met with someone about a book-keeping job for a bio-energy consulting firm. Although the product was unknown to me and the money by the hour was far less than could be made as a carpenter, it was not frought with risk and challenge, but consistently earned hour by hour.

Having crossed that line to embrace the concept that less money with more reliability gains so much more peace of mind, I studied my expenses in the last months of this new life and saw how this, combined with some other incomes, could work. Developing a plan, organizing a budget, cleaning house settles the anxiety of the unknown into manageable bites to swallow.

Although few are hiring, I dropped off applications and resumes at numerous larger construction companies, stressing that I wanted office work, no nail belt in sight. One smaller company, very similar to mine at its best, needs a part-time office manager. Against fierce competition, I emphasize my unique qualifications of expertise in the business and contentment to just count numbers 20-30 hours a week, and they seem to agree. I pray that our needs align, for it seems the perfect balance of solutions to me.

It all began with a determination to write in a journal, no matter the prying eyes that might judge me unfairly. When I started this blog, it felt like a diseased patient, diagnosed as terminal, moving from bed to sofa, wrapped in a comforting blanket, turning eyes from internal struggle outwards to view the rest of the world, and making a choice to live.

The move to my space at Riverside I made to hear my own voice, long contaminated by the clatter and clamor of demands and duties, no longer clear, but strained and ineffectual. In moments of stillness, music arose to celebrate steps small and large. My fingers itching were able to stretch and caress, my voice returned, strengthening old phrases with new timber and pitch, and finding new songs.

So, alone on that trail in the soft quiet of the raging storm, warm and clear-sighted, I pushed off and soared through a field of moguls, skis carving turns as pretty as an instructor and dancing out and into the air with punctuations of personality completely my own. My heart sings with fresh life, so much glistening powder untracked and seductive spread out before me.

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Friday, December 19, 2008


Fear knocks at my chest, beating my heart. At three in the morning, I lie awake, eyes wide to the terror of the looming unknown.

In my 35 years as an adult, the ultimate irony is that when I finally “grow up” and commit emotionally to getting a Real Job, it is at a time of massive layoffs and profound uncertainty. Worldwide, there seems to be a shift of energies, tidal changes. But as we reach the Solstice, the metaphor is never clearer that we must go through some serious darkness before we begin to see more light.

People agree there is a compulsion, like driving past an accident, to stare at the bloody mess (perhaps why, Dear Reader, you return to this blog?!). My chosen perspective is NPR where the economic crisis is reported in gory, heart-wrenching, and sometimes inspirational, detail. I should turn away, listen to my own songs of joy or the glory of others, but the stories of doom and glimmers of transformations similar to mine keep me company on the road or installing doors.

As my truck rolled to a stop on the shoulder last week, it felt as if all remaining options of salvation raced out of view like so many cars, shuddering mine as they passed and heading to some distant future I would never see. Always reliant on myself and my unbounded resources to find a solution, I knew this time I had to place myself completely in the merciful hands of others, and ask for help.

So broke no plastic could help me, I had to plead for a break to get the truck towed, and rely on a friend to change direction to take me home. This week, I have appealed to the kindness of others as diverse as my estranged wife, my landlord, and the cell phone operator to stretch their needs for another week as I regain control and formulate better, more reliable resources.

In the past, I have been at this point regularly and promised myself, and others, that my next endeavor would pay us all back with interest and bonuses. Tonight, I know I can scheme and create miracles no more. Refusing to consider any shadow of a project or handyman work dangling in front of me, acting as if one more deposit will save the day, this time I filter the Trickster's voice and hand out resumes instead of business cards.

To reach any stabilization of this freefall to disaster, I need to work regular hours for a regular check, a concept that has been anathema to my Trickster friend. In this last year, I have radically trimmed my budget, expenditures and, most importantly, my expectations so that I can live with less in hopes of gaining so very much more.

Fear beats at my chest, awakening me in the middle of the night because not only am I unable to promise my landlord his check, I cannot tonight describe what my day will be like after the holidays. The unknown is terrifying, but 35 years in the comfort of the known has ruined marriages, alienated children, challenged my father’s love, and left me exhausted.

Who wouldn’t want change?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kipster the Trickster

The loss of my truck has cracked a solid blow to my optimism and good cheer. So deeply weary of the struggle to thrive, I ache to awake, and wander through my day wondering how and in which direction do I take another step.

Firstly, I blame myself for this newest failure, expensive and inconvenient. Changes of oil are the minimum requirement of maintenance which I—in my constant state of hurry and paucity—have neglected. Foolish enough to put off and put off, the engine seizure is the reward.

This is the perfect example of the natural consequence of living in the belief of scarcity. If I live as if there is not enough money or time to take care of such basics, I create a world of problems that need to be fixed. As if this is not big enough, I take this opportunity to confront the very core of my being, the constant, prolonged struggle to reach a place of financial comfort in my life. The broken rods in the engine are like the bonds holding me to the habits that have driven my life. Something has snapped, and I am broken down on the side of the road.

Last night, in my group of men, we set up two chairs to ponder two voices that resonate within me. In the one, sat the healthy Kip who recognizes that Life is not working and wants to make changes. The other chair represented Kipster the Trickster who plots and schemes and wallops his skis through mogul fields of trouble so forcefully, he invites whoops and hollers of appreciation, but is still well back from the medal stand at the end of the day.

This little devil slouches comfortably, arms crossed, the cool cat, joking and jibing, a gleam in his eye, and the best intentions in all the world to juggle the many needs of himself and others to a glorious conclusion. He means no harm, but is really like a little boy, excited by what lies before us.

“Oooh, look at this glitter, look at that shine! You know you could really do this, or even better, really do that. If you just squeeze a little here, tuck a little there…”

All day long, throughout my entire life, this little trickster has whispered tempting distractions in my ear: easy shortcuts, big plans for glorious results, and convincing arguments to think if one such task is easily accomplished, why not three? Shirking on the details to actually complete any motion, he steers the eyes ahead to the infinite possibilities that lie just beyond our sight.

My trusty brothers forced me to run an exercise where first I spoke as the trickster, ogling and inveigling. Then I sat and spoke as the healthy Kip, the man who was tired of working so hard through so many obstacles, mistakes and misfortunes, always jumping right back to the task with a smile and encouraging cheers of bravado.

It is time to stand up to him, to put the trickster in his place, to say “no, let’s do it sensibly.” Not to diminish the spirit, or belittle the efforts, the time has come to tame the rebellious, rambunctious trickster, to invite him to rest and observe how moving with the flow of others, harnessing the mind which currently leaps six steps ahead, could better simplify and create a world of calm cooperation and successful endeavors.

Sometimes the wheel does not have to be reinvented, but can spin productively just the way it is.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Slopeside 101

A fresh start Sunday morning, with the blessing of a car loaned to me, I drove carefully to the mountain, petrified and paranoid that I would do something to harm myself or my friend’s car.
But I was there and ready with plenty of time at the ski school meeting place. It felt like a long wait, then suddenly I was surrounded by knee-high little ones and their parents introducing themselves, filling me in on their child’s habits and needs.

Four teenage helpers also appeared in our crowd. Everyone was bundled tight and hidden by goggles and scarves. I desperately tried to associate names with helmets and skis. A bitter wind and blinding snow gusts stole our voices.

Within minutes, my entourage was on the Magic Carpet, literally a very slow conveyor belt running 100 yards up a very mild slope. Immediately at the top, I could see we had five year olds who could turn easily and did not want to stop, and two kids who could not move at all.

Admittedly at a loss how to balance the diversity, I assigned pairs to the helpers and let them go ahead, while I tried to unfreeze little Max from his petrified grip on my leg. Unable to stand on his own, much less slide, we proceeded to shuffle sideways across the slope, one long, slow turn after another.

The rest of my kids and helpers were up and down, sliding by like so many leaves on a bubbly stream. By the time we finally made bottom, one experienced helper reported graduating the most advanced to other classes and her charges were ready for a bit more of a challenge. A voice from training cautioned me that protocol required we stay together, but I thought the next lift was just a little bigger and gave them permission to go.

At potty-break time, I sent my remaining helper and three youngest inside for hot chocolate and went to find the others. At the base of the lift, my supervisor asked politely for status, but got quickly stern hearing that helpers were up the mountain alone with kids. I raced up and down, but could not find them.

In the lodge, I realized all names were forgotten or confused, and I had no clue what anyone looked like out of goggles and jackets.

I was fired for sure!

The staff wants no reports of missing children over the radios, so the code phrase is “foraging bears”. Running circles from lift to lodge to lift, my panic broke out in a furious sweat as I reported my losses. They remained amazingly calm when asking how many.

“All of them!” I shrugged plaintively, “And my helpers too.”

I truly felt incompetent and completely disgraced, but as sure as snow comes each winter, they made it to the bottom, and we all circled round a table for hot chocolate and stories. As if no tension had choked me mute moments before, I asked about their kindergartens and teachers’ names, making better plans in my head for next week’s class.

I barely got to ski with most of these kids, for little Max needed my entire focus for our last run again. They all skied in line down between us and waved from the Magic Carpet on their ways back up. Pulling him to his feet every three feet, I counted the dollars, subtracted the gas, and wondered how I could possibly muster the energy to return.

At last, I was able to get Max to only hold one finger and make turns around (and over) my skis. When he saw his dad beckoning near the bottom, he let go and made three entire turns completely on his own.

As their parents blessed me for my patience and cleverness (having no idea that I had lost their children), three of the little ones gave me big hugs, and one a high five, counting on returning next week to ski with me again, winning me over with sweet satisfaction and distraction from all my troubles at home.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Gift in the Face

Saturday morning, with some trepidation, I awoke for my first day of ski instructing with real kids.

Throughout the set-up and training, the understanding had been that I would be working with 8-12 year olds, an age group I felt I could really teach well. Disappointment, therefore, was hard to hide when my assignment actually was for kids aged 4-5, visions of glorified daycare.

In my new stance of empowered individual, I expressed my preference for older kids and accepted my assignment with the willingness to be a team player. In the pre-dawn mist of fresh snow, I prepared myself mentally for the task ahead.

To the DVD of Louise Hay affirmations (adding my own assertion that music and writing will sustain me financially), I bent, twisted and stretched to my own flow of Yoga postures. Three weeks without coffee, I meditated with a cup of tea, steeling myself to face the sub-zero temperatures outside and the kids ahead.

My truck started grudgingly in the cold, and I knew enough to let it warm a little as I loaded skis and extra sweaters. By the time I was on the road, the motor was producing heat enough in the cab, I could loosen my hat.

Apparently the oil stayed sluggish and frozen, however, for as I drove a mile on the highway, a strange ticking sound overtook the radio and I considered pulling over to let it all warm a little more. Too late! A soft bang and the truck rolled to rest, broken and unable to start again.

All week in reaction to an outrageous cell phone bill, I had been ranting about how few emergencies actually occur to require a call, but I was grateful for the tool on this morning. I was very stuck with few resources at that early hour to deal with towing to an unknown mechanic and getting back to my own house. The bitter cold crept quickly back inside to numb my brain already shutting down by the dizzying estimates of the impending costs to repair this damage done.

What message is the Universe sending me now, I wondered in exasperation. An exhausted Job-like disciple, I tried to hold faithful to my belief, but it felt like I am working so hard to change bad habits and choices, this cruel blow was not needed to drive me further back.

So tired of living a life of scarcity, I applied for a job this week and made other choices to surrender the habits that keep me unbalanced on the edge of disaster. I need no more trials, troubles or torture; I am searching for solutions.

The tow truck driver dropped me at the only diner, a warm haven, in the commercial district where I left my truck. Amazingly, at the counter, devouring a stack of French toast, was the very friend who had gotten me to my warrior workshop and offered a large embrace in other moments of desperation. Deep conversation, open-hearted advice and compassionate listening warmed the sluggish oil in my soul and gave me hope to continue the day.

Another dear friend gave me rides, companionship to distract me from disparaging thoughts, and bountiful food to nourish my fearful and despairing voice into song. The second hit on her computer turned up a job prospect that could be the perfect transition to a more sustainable future. Another great friend can loan me a truck for the week.

The Universe does, in fact, reward hard lessons with gifts of love and abundance.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Polishing the Apple

Although it took 20 years, declaring myself a Writer proves actually to be the easy part. How terribly daunting it is to sit quietly before this empty yellow pad, considering what string of words might surface worthy of your, dear readers, attention. There is nothing for it, but to plunge in and follow the ink where it may lead.

Last week, in my men’s group, I asked hard questions about the fear that keeps me distracted from commitment to pursuing a creative life more in tune with the energy and passion so revitalized in my belly. Disguised as the noble need to support my family, I keep running from here to job sites, returning at night too tired to scribble with any coherence, much less profundity.

I have finally grasped the message in the Universe that doing something just because one should, but without the heart singing, is not necessarily lucrative or even productive. It can be an impediment, in fact. Without embracing our true passions, we are liable to waste away in miss-directions and inefficiencies, bleeding slowly and oh so painfully, to death.

A fear beyond finances, then, has kept me from spending my days with pen in hand, computer in lap, and guitar strung and strapped. This fear cannot be around production because whenever I have taken the time, words have flowed like so many blessings. It is a delight to rediscover so many songs and stories of the past then allow myself the luxury of an afternoon and fill more pages quickly.

In a fit of organizational determination this week (I still have unpacked clutter jammed in every corner), I uncovered files of stories complete with every rejection slip from countless submissions years ago. So many were devoid of personality of any kind, but a few were actually scrawled notes of encouragement, golden nuggets reminding me that though I had only a few articles actually in print, my stories had opened eyes, separated themselves somehow from the endless slush that wearies an editor’s intern.

One from Sy Safransky of The Sun was written as if we were friends and the next submission (that never came) would have all the right ingredients to finally make it to print. As two stories came back today with impersonal forms, I tacked this wonderful rejection to the wall just over my laptop where my eyes roam first, pausing for the right word, and considering if all this effort could ever possibly add up to anything positive, reassured that it might.

Also last week, I was gifted a LifeLine treatment, kinesthetic energy balancing at the cellular level, a form of natural healing. I asked about this fear and we worked on the idea that it would be OK if my creative endeavors could sustain me financially, an attempt to dispel the ever present sarcastic voice that judges “Yeah, right” when thinking about a career in the creative arts.

In so many lives, it would seem, the more we want to do something passionate, resonating from deep within our souls, the louder our voices claim that such an apple of temptation could never be grasped firmly. It describes the fall of Adam and Eve, after all, and takes such an inner strength and determination to overcome, to break these bonds that hold us back from re-entering the gardens of our dreams.

At the end of the session, the sarcasm had completely disappeared and I was filled with a sense of profound understanding. The same words presented with a completely different attitude, an embrace of love, confidence, understanding and gratitude, an emblem of the natural order of the Universe, full of breath:

“Yeah! Right!”

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Swingin The Blues

Swingin Blues
Thanks alot for teaching me this lesson
Though I learned things I didn't want to know.
I know you didn't mean to ask the question,
Still the bruises on my heart have to answer, "No".
I know you didn't want the pain to add up to anything,
But when the rope goes around our neck
The Hanged Man invites us to swing.

Twice I've been invited to linger,'
And twice I've decided to stay.
Twice I've had a ring on my finger
And twice I've had to throw it all away.
We can't fix it all with just another ring.
It's like a rope around our neck
And the Hanged Man invites us to swing.

Time will tell if there was any wrong or right.
I know I just had to step out of the fight.
I still believe in Love, I'll probably take another chance
But most of all I've had to learn when to sit out of the last dance.

So thanks for your help in this lesson
But the scars are too deep no matter the sweet things you do.
If I didn't ask this tough question,
I might never heal the black and the blue.
Now we can both move on to better songs we sing.
Without a rope around our neck
the Hanged Man still makes us swing.

In tarot readings, the Hanged Man is actually a good card, providing a new perspective on a very stuck situation. "After the crisis of seeing what you have made of your life comes the peace of acceptance...Where other people believe themselves to be free, but are actually pushed from one thing to another by forces they do not understand, you will achieve true freedom by understanding and embracing those forces." I think instead of somber, this is actually a very positive song about choice and moving on into the unknown.

Click here to hear this new song

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Embracing the Authentic

Bleak news around the global economy, an empty bank account, and weeks of working in cold, cold weather takes its toll on my creativity.

Day after weary day, I have been outside and on the move. On the roof in Northfield, or on the slopes at Sugarbush, my body works so hard against the winter bone-chilling air, heavy eyelids and huge yawns in the evening make it hard to do anything else, much less compose an essay. Once invigorating, the long days outside are now exhausting. Where I usually roam the computer until after midnight, in these last weeks, I have been snoring by 10.

The tension between writing and carpentry is a surface more slippery and fatiguing than the ice formed in the bitter temperatures. At least, the 20 years of creative silence and buzz of skilsaws and cell phone offered a respite from the dilemma. This year of transition, however, makes it apparent—especially with the example of a few friends and neighbors--that no matter the uncertainty of a career as a freelance writer and musician, in actuality, it can be no worse than this I have made for myself as a carpenter.

It is impossible not to pay attention to the struggle I feel every dawn pushing myself to load the truck and head for another long day of hard physical work. Many times I could justify the effort in sight of a happy client, or dropping a big check in the bank, but once again, clients are fearful and reluctant to appreciate the value gained parting with their hard-earned money. For me, their checks usually just cover ones I have already written, or at least promised—gone again in a flash.

Construction is a noble avocation, putting a roof over someone’s head a clear contribution to society. My spirit, however, has always resonated to a different beat. All these years, I have largely viewed my work as what has been necessary to get bills paid, while my true interest has been yearning to articulate rather than construct.

Saturday morning before last, I set old skis on the mountain, determined to prove yet again I could rip through moguls explosively, one of the best on the slopes, bouncing one to the next in dramatic flair of skis tossed to one side and jammed back into line. I quickly discovered I had joined a club who expected and appreciated a different, more classical, style. The next two weekends, I received intensive coaching, gently turning me into a smooth skier, conforming the wild energy into pretty turns.

Living this last year in my cave, I have had plenty of time to study my determination to twist the world to my own shape, conquering projects, clients, employees and deficits like so many moguls, bumps in the way of a pretty line. Forcing my way over and around each challenge, absorbing shocks in the knees transferred to my chest, and pounding turns out of nearly disastrous falls, I have forced my way through the construction business, trying to turn out dollars from sheer will to work hard and do a good job, all the while with my eye less on the trenches and more in the misty clouds above.

Yesterday, I learned turns are easier with shaped skis and the willingness to listen to others before leaping.

No longer does it make sense, in my life, to bundle up and slog with hammer to the task. Better to cut my expenses, hunker down, shape some part-time work that suits me, and focus on the creative work that makes it easier to awake each morning with my heart singing.

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