Friday, January 30, 2009

Mountain Music

I was going to work. He was going to school. We really were!

Plentiful snow had fallen around Burlington, but I awoke with the best of intentions to continue on my weary search for work. When the report from the Mountain came in at 21”, my son did not have to twist my arm very hard to convince me. I mustered a lecture about the impropriety of regularly playing hookie, then allowed that this could be a special day.

I still remember the wonder turned to thrill the morning my Mom announced she was taking me and a few friends skiing instead of to school. Such a surprise, it was one of the best feelings of a holiday ever.

My son has been working hard at school and successfully raised his grades. He has adapted stoically to a life in two homes. He works to cheer his mother and entertain his Dad. Life has been hard and will get tougher again soon enough. He has missed all the snowy days so far. He deserved to enjoy this one.

Whoops and hollers cascaded like yodels all over the Mountain as skiers raced to find their favorite patches of untracked fluff. Smiles were broad and vast. Hearts soared. A bond connected all on the slopes and in the woods, sharing the exhilaration and glory of deep snow.
By the time we stopped for breath, the snow was sliced and settled, but still soft powder that whispered and sprayed with each turn. We floated down the trails like a lazy day in summer. We stopped long enough to capture some of the sweetness on a little camera. At home, my son spliced the clips together and added raucous music to commemorate the day, too much memory, I guess to be supported here, so just a couple of clips will have to do.

On the chairlift rides we alternately were giddy with satisfaction or deep as the snow. At one point, he exclaimed that skiing was IT for him, the ultimate moment. It was completely his own, this time that was all for himself, his place of pure passion where problems disappeared and assignments did not exist. He could just ski.

On a different ride, he confided that maintaining the balance between separated parents is a burdensome task. No matter how we decide between ourselves, he still works hard to ensure equal time with each, quality and quantity. I assured him I am not counting, and I know he is. He divides his attention day to day, night to night, dinner after dinner.

Grown up so fast, I was glad to help him get his day of snow.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Time, Patience & Trust

Just as I began to scan newspapers and websites, learning $2,000 would get me adequate but well-used transportation with 200,000 miles under its wheels, a surprise message offered me a car with almost half the miles for half the price.

It seems a recent graduate moving to Chicago needed quick cash for a deposit on his apartment more than he needed a car, so he was willing to pass it on for half its value. Originally his uncle’s, he received it during his high school years. He added a racing stripe, mag wheels, a thumping stereo (it’s all about the tunes!) and it got him through college. With a mechanic in common between us to recommend it, I paid cash at first sight without even a test drive.

Certainly not my style of vehicle, but between insurance and payments, it knocks $500 off my monthly budget and ignites the eyes of my son to imagine it might be his in a year once my life is more stable. Although the kid alluded to the peculiar noise it roared at a certain RPM, I was mortified to actually hear it as I drove away, considering myself once again duped into a foolish decision by my desperate circumstances.

“The Redster” sat a week in my drive as I scrounged for title and taxes, making its maiden voyage today, a trip to work at the Mountain. Completing the roundtrip of 90 miles on highway and twice over a pass, I learned to shift creatively to minimize the embarrassing rumble. The economic argument constantly reminded me that this served such a practical purpose. I got comfortable in the seat and reminded myself once again that I was responsible for making the choices and over-looking the signals that had lead me down this road, it is up to me to drive myself out.

On the slopes yesterday, our group of eight was rambunctious and needy. Sub-zero wind chill gave a good reason for tears that froze on their faces. An exploration of a new trail terrified a few into regressions of snow-plow wedges between our legs. In the lodge after hot chocolate, sorting through the pile of clothing to reunite each with their proper helmet, goggles, scarves, jackets and mittens, I really questioned plaintively (under my facemask) why I ever wanted this job.

Today started even colder, so half stayed home, but the sun shone warmly and the snow was powder soft. The most intransigent in our group was miraculously confident and excited, agreeing to take the lift that yesterday had frightened her to tears. Instead of two meager, painful and exhaustive runs, we managed six, the kids loosened their "pizza's" (wedge turns) to make “French fries” (legs parallel) and “milkshakes” (shaking their bodies to relax) non-stop in a wiggly line, asking to go up once more again and again.

My son has become a master of the teaching clown, leading the pack or picking up the stragglers, entertaining them with a game of “I spy” at trailside, or wiping faces after hot chocolate. The kids each want to ride up with him just as much as they beg to go with me, and wonder how he can actually be my son when he is 3 inches taller. At one point, as they all raced to the bottom, he flew past, smacking my glove in exhilaration, shouting with glee as loud as theirs, “Best day EVER! I get paid to ski backwards!”

The gloomy reports shadow the news, hurdles of economic challenges darken my daily efforts. The job I wanted goes to someone else and the horizon shows little promise and lots of doubts. Spirits are difficult to keep raised with my head down walking forward against the bitter cold. But these precious moments when life goes well, the car runs and the skis turn, these afternoons of careless satisfaction that lessons are well learned and hard work is applauded, make it just a little easier to awake to face the next day.
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Friday, January 23, 2009

Career Counseling

At my interview for the job as bookkeeper of a construction company, they said it was a real testament to the gloom of the times to review the quality of people applying for this humble position.

In my transition to a new and more stable life, this seems like the perfect job, the Universe supporting me with some modest abundance at last. The company is larger, but very similar to the one I once ran. The drop off the plank would feel more like a step than a leap with an orientation period so simple, nearly unnecessary.

I advocated strongly that my experience would gain them so much more than a book keeper. Assurances were emphasized that the details of the part-time duties were not at all a danger of boredom, but a meditation, in fact; a satisfying routine to keep my feet on the ground while my head played in the cloudy visions of writing and music during the rest of the week. I stressed a steady paycheck, no matter how modest, would win the day.

They, in turn, agreed that while the overwhelming number of applications was full of highly qualified counters, I was unique in my skills, intriguing in potential, and alone in gender. The first of four candidates to be actually interviewed, I was ready to close the deal, and allowed myself two weeks to envision myself settled in this new work.

Alas, now it has been three, and one week since they ran their recommendations before their board for approval. I fear someone else already sits in that chair I thought was mine.

My disappointment is larger than just missing out on a good opportunity. So unused to the concept of being unemployed, my bones rattle with the fear of how to survive. While a few small jobs hover before me, my will to hammer and saw is so tattered and strained, I can hardly move out the door. Conversely, the few listings that merit any reaction require such a stretch of understanding to consider me qualified, it is a leap of faith far less likely than the one I just attempted.

So I have “Let go, let God” in such a huge way in this last year, transforming nearly every aspect of my life. I have embraced total responsibility for the pain my chaotic decisions had been inflicting on myself and those who depended upon me. I have relinquished nearly all I have not earned and make restitution for the rest as best I can. My heart remains open, my spirit, though faltering at times, stands ready.

What does the Universe have in mind?

This job seemed such a great solution. The fog of uncertainty that lies beyond appears so terrifying and impossible to penetrate. There is little comfort in being told we are not challenged beyond our capacity, so like the Biblical Job, I wail.

Then I get to work.

Today, I emailed four new applications for jobs completely out of my comfort level, but within my sphere of confidence that I could manage projects of any kind and communicate skillfully. I contacted numerous clubs presenting musicians for paying gigs. I studied the world to uncover possibilities I cannot imagine.

And finally, I opened the door to our local newspaper and spoke to editors there. Given the context of the digital world of instant information that has overtaken their business, they understand the finality of the days upon them, but we also recognize that there are still those who were raised to start their day with a cup and a paper alive in their hand. For now, I will be a featured blogger on their website, and the door remains open that essays might soon be translated to print for a paycheck.

Small steps forward into the fog.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Land of the Brave

In the way of teenagers, my son confidently asserted recently that theirs is the most awesome generation. To them, he said, raised in a culture of diversification, race makes no difference.

As we ponder the inauguration of our first President of color, this perspective strikes smartly. For so many of us, the event is a culmination of a centuries long effort to right a dastardly wrong in our history. We can tearfully celebrate some hard fought progress. My son fortunately lives in a community of tolerance, mixing peacefully with priviledged and refugees and all sorts in between on a daily basis, so he sees it differently.

In truth, no sooner was the milestone acknowledged in the days after the election, then it is immediately muted by the sobering challenges to be faced by our new President, not to mention each and every one of us individually. Some of the problems we face have little to do with race, even less with nationality.

To think misery is delighted with all this good company actually helps me traverse my days. Although this crisis seemed a blitzkrieg in October, like a snowfall, it seems to have settled on nearly everyone. Fat cats of Wall Street and Carpenter Joes are equally unemployed.

Risk takers are scared and the cautious are worried. The days of giddy confidence and robust spending have vanished, possibly never to return.

There are some who have predicted this day for a long time. Most of us did not want to hear; many nodded our heads in agreement, but continued along, promising to make changes to our lifestyle sometime soon. Our rivers have been growing cleaner, technology advances create community in the world, a black man and a woman are serious contenders for the White House. It seemed we were doing enough.

In 1973, our assumptions were disrupted by a few oil-rich nations who recognized the power a strangle-hold on our nation could leverage. We implemented a rationing system, reduced speed limits, embraced the concept of alternative energies, but soon resumed our consumptive habits.

The last decade has proven to be an orgy of debt miss-management, a gorging of immediate gratifications with large houses, comfortable vacations and lavish entertainment. Celebrities have been our heroes. Athletes have inspired our worship. Twin Towers imploding sobered us, but did not stop the party.

With change comes opportunity.

That a black man will lead us as president is no accident, and is very worthy of celebration. My son, however, is correct in pointing out that the Man is just a man afterall, human and vulnerable like the rest of us, who has used his talent, intelligence and morals to elevate himself to his success. A true leader sets an example we can all follow.

We have the opportunity to make real change in our lives today, and each and every day that follows after. On January 20th, we once again demonstrate to the world that regime change can happen peacefully by the will of the People. Anyone with courage, fortitude and moral integrity, living their lives authentically, can attain their dreams.

Obama’s humility seems to be one of his greatest traits, his recognition that he has not climbed this mountain alone, but with the help, hard work and sacrifice of countless others. We have the opportunity to join hands around the world and create an economy that unites our cultures instead of a race to accumulate riches at the expense of our neighbors.

We can learn to live within our means, pay for what we want with what we have earned, free to live in peace, sharing our emotional wealth, the fund that grows as the stress recedes.

A life sustained is a fortune gained.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To Bail or Not to Bail

There is an irony that those giant corporations receiving help from our government are not so willing to help me, a lowly citizen. However, taking full responsibility for my dilemma, I can see deeper reasons for the loss of my truck and the consequences I am about to suffer.

Last month, with temperatures below zero and in a hurry to my new job, I drove off without properly warming the engine. Two miles onto the highway, an unusual rattle exploded quietly and the truck rolled to a stop dead. The sluggish oil had caused the engine to seize.

With no cash to spare for the expensive repair, I relied on the wondrous help of friends and family to borrow another truck and eventually rent a little car while my Trickster resorted to old habits of creative financing schemes to buy repairs and the truck itself. Failing all that, he bought some plain old time, relishing the holidays and the snow conditions, half-pretending the problem did not exist.

My credit and resources are completely squandered. As the auto-maker in question and the various banks have appealed and received help from us to bail them out of their past behaviors, they are not willing to take further risks on me. Today, it seems, I have no alternative but to let them take the broken truck and all parties suffer the cost (me emotional, them financial) of further litigation.

It is easy to point a wagging finger at large corporations and blame the faceless rich executives who run them. A long rant against Big Business stomping on the Little Joe seems entirely in order, except that it is actually less important (certainly less productive) than turning that finger around to point straight at me.

I am the man who, for so many complicated, justifiable, and sometimes commendable reasons, day in and day out made the decisions that squandered those resources and integrity. Time and again, at a crossroad between taking a job or leading my own crew, unbounded optimism always chose the riskier venture. Even having taken four jobs over the years, three ended in bankruptcies, providing “golden” opportunities for me to leap again.

All I wanted was to provide a modest healthy lifestyle for my family, but my downfall has been a complicated confusion of cart and horse, prioritizing lunch dates over site inspections, or making dinner instead of a phone call, never finding the proper balance that could accomplish both without harming either.

Years ago, I paid for and ignored advice to cut my losses, ski out of the bumps and take a smoother line. At that time, bankruptcy was anathema, an idea as inconceivable as harming a child. Today, I hand over my truck with a final shrug of acceptance that my mistakes have a terrible cost, but that redemption may be found by making the changes truly necessary to avoid repeating the pattern of those mistakes.

So I “let go, let God,” as my sister keeps advising. The truck is the final salvo on a business that has not served me well. I await word on several applications for office jobs in and out of construction, and invite work and play more suited to the passions that burn at the center of my core.

My father has faithfully and optimistically given me more bailouts than I deserved as I blindly continued on my path of (de)construction. As we talk more openly these days, we slowly learn that love has less to do with the dollars, or imitating his successes, than with sharing our hearts, our hopes, and facing our fears, living honestly and authentically, a lesson I pray I now model better for my own children.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Peace that Passath

In the predawn darkness this morning, I awoke fearful that my creativity and drive depend on stress. The high level of uncertainty and crisis that has pervaded most of my adult life may actually be necessary to motivate me forward: the suffering artiste.

Long recognizing that my struggle with money is at the core of my existence, a reason, perhaps The Reason, to be here, it is frightening to imagine I continually create problems to maintain a stimulating edge. Trouble possibly provides the pressure to really cook.

A week of relative calm coincides with no blog entry nor other session of writing words on a pad or in my journal. As if a comfortable routine breeds stagnation, I rise up in a sweat of horror to think I might need to be so out of balance in order to walk a productive line.

No doubt, my heart beats faster in crisis, my mind leaps forward with creative solutions to ugly problems, bending rules or persevering against all odds. Adrenalin can certainly be addicting.

Still in the dark, my son and I loaded the car for a day of work on the Mountain, and the CD ignited with the new song, reminding me that perhaps the phrases wrapped in melody counted for creativity enough to satisfy my internal demand. Lack of a blog entry beyond that could possibly be forgiven.

We are, typically, our own worst critics, passing negative judgments where others might bestow accolades. In all my years as a contractor, constantly entering strange homes to consider a job, no matter the condition, rarely has the owner not apologized for the mess. For every achievement we attain, we see three ways we could have (should have) done it better.

But as we rolled down the road, the mellow tune embracing my ear with pride and satisfaction, we enjoyed a dim to bright sunrise over purple snow-covered mountains. Cold mist hovered over the frozen rivers. Frost clung to trees. Smoke curled from chimneys cozy with warmth, and the world seemed right.

My group at ski school has settled into eight four year olds just learning to turn and very distractable, contrary and lively. They all want to hold my hand, and they are equally in love with my son who does a wonderful job as teacher and entertainer.

Such a treat it is to work side by side! I can focus on the one who in this 15 minutes has reverted to helplessness, counting on him to herd the others up and down, or to the potty, in all good humor and patience.

Afterwards, we rode to the top of the mountain, bitter wind blowing and ice on the trail, but enough snow to make the bumps very skiable. Three runs we took on one of the toughest diamonds. In one fell swoop, my son really mastered the steep and treacherous, skiing the slope aggressively and confidently, making his father so proud.

Side by side or one after the other, I had no worry for his safety, but just thrilled to the turns or laughed heartily when one of us plunged and fell. My own legs recaptured the flow and twist, the airborne dance of so long ago now refined by my instructor’s style. A sweet hour we skied as if there were none before or after this, just happy to be alive as the mountain tops were lit in golden sunset.

On the way home, a magnificent moon, full, huge, bright, and orange, rose over those same purple mountains still covered with snow. All was right with our world, father and son united and bonded, all problems shrouded by the peace of heavenly satisfaction, a moment so clean, clear and undramatic, but so perfectly wonderous to write about.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Perpetual Motion

Around the excitement for the Inauguration next week, A burst of hope and optimism has inspired a new song to come out into the light of day.

Perpetual Motion

Climb any mountain
Look down from above
All looks peaceful and serene
But down in the valleys
It’s all push and shove
Actions brave and false, and mostly in between
All together it flows
As down the river we go
Perpetual Motion in the Ocean of Life

Water Breaks
On the long rocky shore
Grinds stones to sand upon the beach
Storms blow waves
Sailors pray no more
Dry land seems so far out of reach
But the sunshine returns
The flooding tide turns
Perpetual motion in the ocean of life

How many generations will it take to learn this song,
How many fights to make the Peace?
Leaders come and go
Some are right and some so very wrong
And some sing sweet lullabies of release

The wind blows strong
Rain waters the seeds
Life goes on its merry way
Give as much as we might
A loving heart still bleeds
And we live on to love another day
The seeds we sow
Take hold and grow
Perpetual motion in the ocean of life

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Collision of Mars and Venus

On a day way too bitterly cold to ski more than a run or two, and in the sublime spirit of celebrating a brand new year, I stopped on the way home to visit an old friend.

A surprise, being unannounced, and probably a year since seeing each other, we sat comfortably in their kitchen, his family and my son, sharing tales as if the days between visits were as few as the miles between our homes. True friendship is a blessing revealed when pieces can be so easily picked up as if never dropped.

Focused for so many years on the attempt to save my marriage, several strong bonds were tested by such neglect, friendships withered to near silence. In the process of reconnection, powerful lessons intensify the differences of the masculine and feminine energies in my soul.

Four sisters and a strong mother influenced my childhood deeply. No matter the rough and tumble world I juked and jabbed outside the home, my mother was always present to listen and advise, encourage and stimulate. My sisters shared their lives openly around the table. I learned to emote more than wrestle.

Despite adopting two brothers for balance, I have been most comfortable emotionally in friendships with women, hanging in dorm rooms, visiting with neighbors, standing in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV. With no girlfriend in high school and one sporadic relationship in college, when I became involved, I quickly married emotionally.

It is significant that I am turning from an uncompromising need to please to a more self-centered life, paying attention to the things that make my spirit soar. So willing to defer to the choices of others in my past, I begin now to choose for myself, accepting companionship or solitude, but following my own special needs.

In this process, I begin to notice that my gifts to others are actually stronger, more heartfelt and true.

Perhaps this has little to do with masculine or feminine influences, but it feels to be a likely categorization, given the evidence of activities supporting my observations. My dependence on social relationship and interaction (largely female) gives way to action-directed movement and problem-solving concentration.

Nearly a decade ago, on walks through the park with my family, I discovered a soccer game regularly occurring which stirred my desire to run and kick. The next summer, I interrupted the family weekend, playing a few times and returning home exhilarated and satisfied. Over the years, the game became important to my week, so difficult to leave the home, but wonderful to get sweaty and dirty shoving other men. My return home in better spirit would not always ease the interruption, but my heart was better for the exercise.

In my adult life, I have adopted another brother, a man who invites me to help with projects on his home. Over the years, we began to meet for lunches, talking furtively at first about our relationships and our other dreams for life. Creating tension at home where I was wanted for more lunches, I discreetly continued this affair of friendship because it served me well.

Joining the Mankind Project, it was enlightening to find so many men willing to take emotional risk to elevate their lives to authentic passion. Looking hard at the confusing shadows that hinder us from attaining our dreams, we support each other to lead ourselves forward without compromise, to love and be in relationship with all our hearts, not just our fearful or dutiful hearts.

So today, I visited my friend, a man I have known since we were little, little boys. Over so many years, we have played so much together, shared wonders hysterical and mischievous, and learned lessons of life profound. It is a shame that I allowed distance to settle between us, and others as well, as marriages and busyness grew complicated. Had I maintained a better balance in these years, perhaps I might have been more true to my marriage and career.

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