Sunday, January 23, 2011


This week, I drove to Boston in a thick snowstorm to re-start the surgery to be scheduled for April or May. Today, I skied a few hours in bitter cold with my Skatter Monkeys and took one hard run on my own, then rested all afternoon for the drive home.

Tonight, I sit on the sofa full of vicodan, eyes blurred, back muscles aching and stomach upset, not sure I want to eat. With every movement my groin yelps, I groan, and the temperature tomorrow is not supposed to get over zero. Still, I will do it all again anyway.

Considering such pain and effort, it makes no sense to go to the Mountain every weekend. The gas, miles on the car and all the time spent are not even reimbursed, but like a certain credit card advertisement, I know the time with my son is priceless.

It starts with lights on and Ipod alarms jingling, but unlike school days, he rises quickly and soon sits in the kitchen darkness waiting for me to be ready. The fact is acknowledged that there is no talking to him in the early morning, but we can banter with the young Bosnian woman buying our cup of coffee, donuts and gas at the entrance to the highway.

Along those fifty miles of commute, we commune, watching the dawn as silently as the sun rising, the light expanding like the warmth in our heart, in awe of the beauty, sometimes sharing just a word or two to acknowledge we both really see it. Fresh snow makes it a wonderland and sparks the desire to make first tracks like a log stirred on the fire.

At the Mountain, he moves into the day at his own pace, marching up the hill ahead of his still-weak Dad laboring with huffs and puffs. I might not see him again until after a run or two, squeezing in a hot chocolate before class, or in the line-up collecting our kids.

Focused on my Skatter Monkeys, I hear his voice joking or his kids and other kids calling for his attention. He is usually more organized than I and on the lift, up and out of sight. We pass him over-head, calling down from the lift good-natured taunts to his group all in a line, or they (on the next run) to mine, scattered across the slope.

At break, his six rambunctious boys contort around my eight sweet girls, red faces exuberant with the fresh air and activity. The lodge is abuzz with energy, helmets, gloves and jackets strewn, thrown and kicked about. French fries full of ketchup smeared over the tables.

He gets help in the afternoon with his group, while my half-day go back to their parents and I wander up to a private place near the locker-room for a nap. If he is lucky, the snow and weather hold and no hot plans are developing in town, he gets a few free runs at the end of the day.

Our drive home, again, is silent with darkness falling. Often he sleeps. Soon he will be driving. I have known few other such moments of utter content, physical exhaustion totally spent and perfect satisfaction with the state of life and being than after a day of skiing.

As I struggle to come to terms with the pluses and minuses of my relationship with my own father and how it has affected my life entire, these seasons on snow feel like a gift. In consideration that he has already witnessed so much emotional fighting, financial turmoil, reckless determination and luckless health in his short life, the routine of getting to the Mountain each weekend morning for simple fun is pure bliss, going a long way to balance and heal the innocence that was lost.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wolf Moon

On some days my frustration with work, love, music or writing creates as much blockage in my heart as the scars in my urethra. Like the tube out of my belly into a plastic bag strapped to my leg, I can usually divert the energy by focusing elsewhere, shifting my mood, returning to productivity.

Last night, it felt like all the areas of my life were stagnant and rotting, my insides held together by a carcass of fowl flesh that might not survive to the light of day. Bone weary and soul in pain, crying out with actual tears, the spirit escaped me to move one foot in front of the other.

Parts of three essays were begun and abandoned. Small tasks that normally revive and provide feelings of accomplishment loomed too large to undertake. Each pile on my desk was too thick with complications to sift. Exhausted without even having done much in the day, I collapsed into a struggled sleep.

Early this morning, still shrouded in darkness, I awake to scribble one word after another, like footsteps out of bed toward my door to get my life going again. Less worried about coherence than movement, I push this pen as if the ink can relieve the worry that my life is leading nowhere, overwhelmed by the flurry of others passing me by.

I would like to blame this malaise on the full moon, the wolf moon, that is apparently behind the storm clouds these last two nights. Separated from the pack, I howl with frustration and loneliness, fully cognizant of being loved and held by family and friends, but yearning to physically feel arms enfolding me in comfort.

For now, it is my path to walk alone, my own meadow to hunt and forage.

The day before, doggedly alone, I pushed mile after snowy mile through a storm towards Boston and back for a meeting with the doctor who will perform the surgery this spring that will free my body. A simple flow of pee, so taken for granted by most of us standing at the urinal, will be restored. The flow of sacred sexual vitality will be unplugged and released.

Back on the slopes with my Skatter Monkeys and able to walk a mile or more without finding exhaustion, energetic and excited most days to work and play, the reality of hospital and recuperation slammed into me in the parking lot at the entry as hard as any one of those skidding cars I had avoided on the highway. Soon I will come through those doors feeling fine and leave with numbed slow steps and a second catheter temporarily re-installed.

No matter how clear the picture, it is hard to see this as a step forward.

Since undergoing my New Warrior Training three and a half years ago, the Hero’s Journey which separated me from the comfort of my family unit (no matter how uncomfortable it was), I have been watching for the little boy within. I think the effort to play music these days is finding the voice and honoring that spirit, being playful and harmonic in the way that childhood—no matter the age—reminds us.

When I was that little boy, even as he pushed so hard and expected me to carry such heavy loads, my father drew many portraits of us on dreadful Sunday afternoons for whoever of us was picked to pose. Some of those I have framed and sitting out on the bookcase I built to display the few things I had remaining and brought with me to my cave.

Rummaging past last night, I bumped the case and one crashed to the floor, splintering glass like the broken mirror in my breakaway song. I have set it now more safely on the wall, framed in the broken glass, accompanied by the gift of strength from the one who teaches me now about both unconditional and daily love.

In the face of the boy is the concentration and wonder I know so well. Deep in contemplation, he witnesses, observes, tries to make sense of it all before him. The mystery of life is just there, bewildering, but he is calm, full of inner strength and unbeknownst to others (except maybe his mother) joy to be expressed in music and words.

I know too well the sad story of this boy and how he tried to leap into life so confident and eager, embracing a wife and children before taking many steps of his own. Raised to accept challenge and responsibility, to lead boldly where others might hesitate, his heart fully exposed and strong enough, he always pushed forward where prudence might have better cautioned restraint and patience.

Today, I hold that little boy who howled so loudly in the night, enfold my own arms gently and lovingly around him. Slowly, even as snowflakes settle downwards in the gray dark dawn, the light returns and he is comforted. The glass can be replaced, the heart remains intact.

It is time for me to go to work.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

wind in the Willow

Pressing “submit” on my blog page the other night in a stupor of creativity mixed with influenza, I collapsed into bed, a deep, deep sleep, and awoke clear-headed for the first time in days. As if the return to scribbled words somehow clarified my dilemma, I wandered the back-roads of my job with barely a cough and my soul fully content.

Of course, I know my problems and concerns were not miraculously cured. My bank account is not magically replenished. Still, my spirit could better cope with the challenges lying before me as if I had drunk a concoction that could alleviate my circumstances as easily as my physical symptoms.

The belief that physical ailments, even disease, are not an act of bad luck but a manifestation of inner turmoil makes no sniffle light and easy. I knew my energy was bad this week because of my discouragement over the long, slow process of cleaning up the messes in my past. Some days, it feels like the mistakes made in the last twenty years was my one, best effort and the whole is just too deep to climb out of in this short lifetime.

Next one I will do better, no matter how much I want to do better now.

Words scribbled, a song sung and thoughts polished provide a new perspective on the world. Balance, for the moment, is reached and after ten days of suffering, my symptoms recede.

Unfortunately, the day was not constructive in a measurable way. I slogged the many miles for only two appointments and the due diligence of knocking on the doors of those who had never answered my phone calls was an effort of turns, missed turns and reversals just to leave a card on the door to prove I was there.

The first man had five years left before he could retire from the National Guard. Twice, he has served in Afghanistan and will return next year. His first-hand experience was a rare glimpse beyond the news reports we glance over in the middle of our busy lives. He could provide real insight on the challenges our country has agreed to accept.

It is a confusing tale, according to him, a clash of cultures with entirely different perspectives and motivations. He actually met villagers who were surprised to meet an American, thinking the Soviets were still in control of the main road in the valleys. In a half hour, I learned a great deal before we ever said a word about insurance.

The second man has turned into a friend. Now and then, the energy between two people clicks so naturally, no matter their different backgrounds, and the banter can be immediately as relaxed and open as if they have known each other forever.

This was our third visit and only the first was about insurance and the deal I had for him, a conversation that lasted nearly three hours as we kept getting side-tracked by his stories or mine. The second was taking a look at my Redster which had nearly suffocated me on the way with a serious exhaust problem. This time, he had to unexpectedly meet up with his wife, but we still talked forty-five minutes about the car repair, the economy and the love in each other’s lives, more time than it would have taken to actually seal the deal.

One has to step back on a day like this and ignore the lack of dollars not adding up to the hours spent in pursuit. Clearly, more was going on. Along those back roads, my mind wandered over these many years and looked forward to the different scenarios that could be yet to come.

There was gas in my car, food in my belly. The scenery was outstanding and the snow white brilliant. "The sky was yellow and the sun was blue..."

My children are all healthy and wise at least, if not wealthy. Even if I am living modestly off the support of my father, I am not idle, but working hard to shift the mantle onto my own square shoulders so that I can care and give in the ways that I want.

On my travels, I step into homes so much draftier and more humble than my own. As I contemplate my surgery impending, I meet people who will never heal from wounds or whose lives will be tragically cut short by disease. An incorrigible optimist, I can never hold long to feeling sorrier for myself than for others I see around me who cheerfully suffer their own worse misfortunes and are still sympathetic to mine.

There are lessons in life that seem too tough to bear, yet bear them we must, holding our heads high and extending our reach to others we think are half as lucky as we. I witness stories far worse than mine which I now quietly stuff back down in my throat like so much dirty laundry that no one needs to hear. Some of us have so much, but still so many more work very hard to maintain life with so much less.

I am impressed by the spirit of people who do not have much, but recognize they do have each other and are grateful for it. Too often, we grow weary with our lives and, seeing the fortune of others, wish we could be on their path. Instead of disappointment with lack, how much better we feel when we pause to appreciate just how much we really have.

Over all those many miles yesterday, my mind floated among these droplets of thought and finally at home, the endless episodes of “24” and other escapist dramas that I have been watching lately seemed just so much a waste of time. In the silence, unable to sit still, I took pen in hand and scribbled these many words. For better or worse, I put ink to my thoughts and feel accomplished now, successful in a way money cannot buy.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

In transit

A good friend, wise and true, has recently suggested I rethink my commitment to selling insurance. Easily, I exhaust sixty hours and 500 miles in a week, but the money that was promised to be as easy as fruit is not falling from the vine. Further, although I show up regularly for shows, my fingers are not practicing music on their own. Perhaps a reader has noticed how much time has passed since my last essay.

Today, I am at the Mountain and have struggled intently to pay attention to the tired voice of my body over my disciplined and compulsive mind. Fever battles an infection and aches ravage my spirit.

I have been hacking, coughing and wheezing, moaning and groaning all week. The prudent response is to not skatter with the monkeys this morning, but short of instructors and long on the ability to rise to the need, my typical response is to suit up and tough it out anyway.

Today, however, I listen. I take a transition run to introduce my kids to another coach and head inside to a corner of the lodge to care for myself. I will be incapable, I am sure, of not meeting them at the break for hot chocolate, but in a rare moment of self-preservation, I bow to my own needs.

For twenty years, I lived in a marriage of two people determined to maintain the family at any cost, bullishly optimistic against the long-shot odds that each set-back would be the last. We both tried so hard, but it became evident ultimately that the kids were actually not better for the effort and there are some problems that all love just cannot conquer.

Still, situations—no matter how disorderly—somehow appear far better, much more comfortable, and safer than venturing out into the huge and mysterious unknown. In fact, what may be clearly unhealthy and inappropriate to all bystanders, can seem absolutely normal to the one stuck in the vortex. If nothing else, I proved I can obstinately stick to a plan, regardless of the hardship.

Like persevering to find a substitute on the ski slope this morning, it took all of my remaining strength to remove myself from the home and family I had worked so hard to build. Accustomed to living in light and remarkable houses, I settled into a dark and dreary basement apartment some would describe as “slummy”, all the better to represent my man-cave for soulful healing.

The changes have been huge in these last three years, but so necessary. Making light of his bi-weekly need to uproot and switch homes, my son quips that at least he can sleep peacefully now and no longer feels the need to shut himself into his room. The creative burst of writing and music serves as consolation at least, if not proof enough.

So I question my commitment to the insurance business, wondering if I am settling into another puddle of quicksand. After these sweet years of creative prosperity, it terrifies me to withdraw from something so passionate to become consumed by the dots and tees of making an income.

As much as I want to write and play music, however, even with encouragement from so many corners, the money from that still remains elusive. I want a better car and a nicer home. It would be unhealthy for me in so many ways to continue to rely on my father's support. That fund of trust he has been providing is adequate but not substantial enough to attract the kind of woman who wants a strong and independent man. My own two feet, even as shakey as they are with this bag attached to my leg, must stand on their own.

However much this line of insurance promises to fill my pockets, I have been unable thus far to release the flow. Instead of rising to meet my dreams after months of hard work, I continue to languish in the realm of possibilities. The vocabulary is still strange in my mouth and the subtle techniques to overcome obstacles are not yet immediately available.

My heart and mind consider the many junctures approaching and quickly passing to make a decision. Whether ‘tis nobler to embrace the beast and wrestle good fortune, or quit again entirely, and with snowflakes on my fevered brow, retire to the corner of the lodge, watching other families joyous in their lives, I truly am at a loss to know.

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