Thursday, June 25, 2009

Goin' Down the Road

On a Vermont two lane byway, green mountains rolled out, a sky full of thunder clouds and patches of brilliant blue, the Grateful Dead singing along, some times it feels like no time has passed at all and some things never change. It could be 35 years ago and me heading to a swimming hole, my heart bouncing along in time to the music.

Life has changed, though; so many things for the better, even as I contemplate my share of disasters. I am blessed with three children and another I claim as my own just because I love her so much. True friends I can count on many more than my own ten fingers, all of which, thankfully, are still in place after so many years of power tools. My health is good. I can play soccer and ski better than I ever did in my youth (I don’t run so fast now or fall so far). Love illuminates most of my corners.

This week, I started a new job. I have effectively ended my life in construction by beginning work as an office administrator. It may seem like an unfortunate fall to some to move from running my own company to making copies and answering phones, but in this first week it is no less thoughtful than painting trim and possibly has more variety. It is certainly less rain dependent.

In addition to the loss of responsibility and stress, I get to wear clean clothes and suffer an occasional paper cut instead of inch long splinters. I might drink more coffee, but I will not breathe so much dust.

This small partnership is involved in very exciting projects to keep it interesting: book writing and film production. On top of the half-time regular duties, we expect that I will be handed independent assignments to involve my revitalized creative skills, several steps towards the kind of work I always imagined I might be doing.

My mind is just beginning to absorb the concept that, living frugally, this income should support us decently, possibly enough to pay all the normal bills regularly, an enormous change in and of itself, a welcome relief of pressure. In the other hours, I can pursue my writing and music with the passion they deserve, mind free to explore creatively with less worry and more hope. At long last, I am daring to move in the directions that excite my soul.

Ironically, this also is the week I signed the papers to end my second marriage. The depth and need for this severance—so clear to so many for so long—has become apparent to me only in the separation over these many months and the internal contentment that has been nurtured and now blossoms. Still, the legal jargon describing an even split leaves me with nothing material and a heart aching for something that was glimpsed only in the best of times, no matter how good it feels to no longer be fighting.

Since leaving, I have embraced joys which had been set aside: ski, play soccer and music, write whenever the fancy strikes. My son has become a great friend after so many years neglected behind the closed door of his neutral corner. I have grown closer to the daughter of my first marriage after moving away from her to marry again. Old friends recognize the smile of a man they used to know and new ones seem to like the happy man they meet.

As necessary as it was to do, it is sad to be finished with something that began with such blissful hope. No matter the struggle that stretched over so many years, I miss the dear friend I once loved. We both tried so hard to find the dream once shared. In the end, the most loving act was to recognize it would kill us sooner than later, and our children also were suffocating.

Now we can both move on to better songs we sing. For me today, it happens to be driving alone down an old Vermont road, accompanied by my good ol’ pals, the Grateful Dead.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009


Several times this week I have stared at this yellow pad, pen in hand, patiently awaiting inspiration only to move on to do something else. After eighteen months of regular entries, it feels bad to go a week without a new post to this blog.

True to form, my body is split with pros and cons. I am aware of a compulsion to account for my production, a need to sum up, at the end of the day, what has been done and judge if I deserve the rest on a late evening, or do I just sleep to re-energize for a run farther and faster in the morning.

In my I-group the other night, a man who parallels much of my transformational story admitted to a similar struggle these last weeks. His own production is way off, accountability to himself is challenged. In the process of feeling the deeper emotions behind this lull, he resorted to a primal scream and collapsing on the floor, safe and nurtured by the men around him to let go for a few precious moments the burden of the responsibilities and self-expectations he dutifully shoulders.

As witness to his process, I recognized so much of myself and felt relief, a kind of permission, that I too could rest and rejuvenate. We talked about the cycle of creativity that generates so much, but needs a certain period of inactivity to allow for the next set of ideas to properly percolate. One cannot just turn out material ad infinitum without time to settle inwards to discover new light behind old shadows.

So I have relaxed a bit, awoken several mornings without considering the next words or rushing (even bothering at all) to check the reader stats. My guitars have largely stayed in their cases, and if playing at all, I plunk a few piano keys, hearing the same old songs differently.

Curiously, there is a distinct (and sobering) familiarity to some of this. The lack of money to put gas in the car has forced me to focus on a remodeling project, fingers absorbing splinters instead of aching with scribbles. Instead of leisurely tea and lingering over words, I jump into scruffy clothes and transform a living space. Nights and weekends, I have been painting the interiors of a friend, talking and talking, re-absorbing female energy almost as if in a relationship again.

There has been plenty of production, but more like those many years so recently passed, I am quick to observe, when the realities of living life distracted and denied the urgency to write and sing about it all. So many years ago, I used carpentry as a way to pay bills while I got my creative work going, and it eventually consumed me. No wonder in these last months I have felt a physical revulsion to taking my hammer in hand. Once again, my own journal has grown full of scribbles in these days, ramblings and half-thoughts too obtuse and personal to show well here, but this time they will not be burned out of fear and shame that they were written at all.

Lessons have been learned. Life can be lived differently once we understand ourselves a little better. Since they may be such a part of our nature, we can dabble our toes into some of the same old behaviors with more clarity and purpose, but ever vigilant and understanding , modify ourselves at the first signs of giving over completely and losing ourselves.

At the very least, my car is grateful for the gas.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Money on Trees

A friend and I bantered the other day about the fact that what lies in our back pocket is more important than the size of what we hide in the front of our pants. We both adore women in general and ones in particular, and even though it was all in clever jest, there rang a note of exasperated truth.

In this day and age when women can hold their own, or even better us financially, these light-hearted pokes described our own confused insecurities more than the fear of any actual judgment from the opposite sex. There is no doubt that—like having a car door opened—women can feel loved when their man picks up the check, but their independence has made it more of a gift than an expectation or demand.

The hunter/gathering blood still courses boldly through us men, however, who whip out our cards like so many swords of old, establishing our territory. With every tip to the bill, there is a note of confidence, a swagger, a punctuating statement that we are okay, holding our own in the world, and able to give that gift to the woman in our focus.

Last week, it was fascinating to me (only in retrospect) to start out with only twenty dollars in my pocket, nothing in the bank, and no prospect of any more arriving like cavalry before the weekend. Survival required careful attention, prudent mileage, and lots of peanut butter and jelly.

No consolation was found in reminding myself this poverty was a direct result of the choice to pursue creativity over carpentry. I accepted the challenge of it soberly last week, not happily, and vowed that I must do things differently to not be here again. My mood—full of bright equanimity on the surface—grew as bleak as the rainy day outside.

No matter the source of the dollars that enliven my bank account, my mood often reflects the balance: forlorn and unproductive when empty; bold, brave and resourceful when there is money to back it up. It is easier to write and play music happily when the financial help from my father obscures the fact that at 55, I have to run to him each month for help. Once depleted, it takes days to conjure the energy to ask for more, but as soon as it is deposited, my production and confidence are fueled like gas in a car.

The quality and success of the work is secondary to the sheer fact that I am working at all. Far better, I say, than lying comatose on the sofa, staring at soundless walls and blank pages, I can accept this help with the justification that I am pursuing my passion. Never mind that no editor has personally written encouragement of any kind when returning a manuscript (my mark of success 25 years ago), I write and submit, believing that alone is success enough at this nascent point of my revised career.

When the account is empty, however, no amount of fancy words or moving music can help to soften the pain. Hours of productive music or the pile of the next submissions packaged to mail do not alleviate my soul. The urgency to express is diverted to despair. I pace the small rooms too weary to find optimism. My heart aches with fear and worry, inertia of the worst kind. The fear of plummeting further awakes the man who seeks solutions.

And since there is a woman I would like to take to dinner, I evaluate the balance of production, results, energy and money, deciding that some carpentry is not at all a bad thing compared to the threat to my self-esteem, sitting alone in my room, continuing to ask for help from my father at the end of his life, when editors are not accepting my creative efforts. Perhaps when I truly earn the time to write, the right words will flow to catch their attention.

In the meantime, I feed my soul with companionship of a dear kind in daily life, sharing the sunset over a wonderful dinner on a back porch, enjoying the mix of ache and satisfaction of another door hung and painted, taking solace that after a week of silence and frustration, I am finally able to contribute a little something to this blog as well.

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