Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fresh Air

"Breathe...reeeeelax...let it go." I used to chant to one of my soccer kids sprawled on the ground contorted in agony and fear.

"Breeeeeathe," I used to say to my own little kids sucking on a pinched finger or vomiting into the toilet bowl in the middle of the night.

"Easy for you to say," they can sulk today, "You never get sick."

It used to be true. Or if I did, I did my best to act like I was fine, as if by pretending to be normal, I would be. Symptoms disappeared if I gave them no attention. Standing straight and tall made my breath much more full and my back ache go away. A simple smile can cure so many ailments.

So just days out of the hospital, I asked a friend to drive me to the venue and I mustered all of the energy I could to sing one song, following through on my commitment to participate in the contest I had waited a year to enter (I did not win, nor even made the finals). As quickly as I could, I dropped the splint off my wrist and scribbled words until the ache screamed, then scribbled some more after a rest.

This past week, I have been grumpy and ornery, wanting to do more, alternately optimistic and discouraged. My intention to regain normality in my life is constantly thwarted by the reality of a daunting fatigue and the irritating pinch from the catheters. I feel like I can do so much and just as soon as I try, I have to collapse on the couch no matter the will to continue.

"What's the matter with me?" I wonder, watching out my window as everyone else goes to work.

The week started with Kip'n'Co playing two hours in a club to a tiny audience, but streamed across the internet by a local entrepreneur, the music reached hundreds of people around the world (the program kept track of number and location). My elation to feel so stimulated by the good sound was tempered by a long rest the next day, but not drained enough to cancel a rehearsal and audition to add another lead player.

Each morning, I perused the classifieds, imagining many different ways my varied construction management, book-keeping, and counseling skills could be translated to a different sort of work. I sent out resumes with excitement, intoxicated to think I could recharge my life in a completely different context than by wearing a nailbelt.

Expecting to have one catheter removed at our appointment, however, the doctor decided another two weeks with both would maximize the opportunity for healing without further surgery. My best friend doctor buddy came with me to ask pertinent questions and we got a sobering picture that while I will continue to recover, it will be long and slow, even without the surgery that looms as fifty percent likely.

Amazingly, he predicts I can ski soon (even with the one catheter still in my belly), says I am free to drive now and could return to carpentry whenever I want. I just have to be careful, moderate my energy and rest whenever tired. All that seems pretty far-fetched to me today, But I will myself to trust him.

The assessment hit me hard. Despite the fact I know people who have not, or will not, recover from their particular challenges, my own story seemed bound for the happily-ever ending. The Kool Kat was determined not to lose his slick demeanor, but this news finally brought on the depression I have feared since the scaffold collapsed. I wallowed on my couch in a stupor, talked miserably and full of self-pity to friends on the phone and Facebook. I understood at last with tears in my throat how people could feel the best was all behind them.

Looking in the mirror, my skin has grown flabby and stretched limp, dried and scaley. My hair is unkempt, half the time my cheeks are scratchy. I am afraid this is the event that people say makes a man suddenly grow old. One day I was playing soccer against 20 year olds (hardly bothered by five stitches), anticipating for the first time in 20 years a winter full of skiing, and the next I am supine in misery on my couch, making a slow effort just to wash dishes or get up the bank to my little rumbling redster.

And then I drank more Jack Daniels than I had in college days when I thought (mistakenly) that it would be fun.

Thirty-six hours (and one hang-over) later, I sit writing these words from the seat of my car halfway out onto a beach in Massachussets. The seat is pushed back and bolstered with a cushion. My window is open to breathe fresh air. The sun shines warmly and bright into my little red cocoon. An expanse of Boston Bay shimmers before me, crowded with long boats and stroking oars.

I have brought my son to a rowing regatta, the beach pulsing with the shrill energy of high school students competing. His team is doing very well, a fine example of synchronistic behavior well focused. Parents roam about proudly.

I am surrounded by life and loving it!

Alternately, I put down this pen to rest my aching wrist. I wrap myself under my heavy suede jacket, like a calf against his mother, closing my eyes as comfortably as if I sit at home on my couch or am still buried under the heated blankets and cushioned by pillows in the hospital, tended by a soothing nurse's hand.

Only here the view is much more inspirational. As easily, I dial my phone and connect with friends and family around the country, weighing my energy and considering options for the next few days of this Thanksgiving adventure and how far I might have the strength and stamina to wander before returning to Vermont to recover in the isolation of my home.

"Breathe," I keep chanting to myself, "Breeeeathe!"

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Under My Skin

I don't mind admitting that the chorus to this new song came to me in the driveway of my dear friend who has shown me that love does not always come in the package we want, and seeming less, can somehow be so very much more.

The bulk of the music and many of the words came to me on the morning of my accident when I wanted to continue with the creativity and, against my intuition, forced myself to get off the piano stool and onto that cursed scaffold. Getting it to the point of this very rough cut has been a focus of healing over the last month, one small session after another until I was satisfied to record and mix it on my computer yesterday to hear how it sounds. In my excitement, I want to share it with you, all my other dear friends.

Under My Skin
(Passage of Time)
Sunday footbll, drinking beer, cutting firewood
Doing what I want, not what I think I should
Sailboat, running shoes, a season's pass to ski
I've got my dawg, Life's what it ought to be
Then you come along to show me what I've been missing
Singing your song, giving me all of your kissing
And now you're so deep under my skin
(Though I didn't want to let you in)
Every day I love you more
(Though I didn't want to open that door)
Feels like life can finally begin
Now you're so-oh-oh-oooohh under my skin
I've been here before, I didn't like the pain
Sun so bright usually turns to rain
What looks like love is something worse
What seems like a blessing turns into a curse
But here we are still friends after so much time gone by
Wishing on a star has never kept me this high
And now you're so deep under my skin
(Though I didn't want to let you in)
Every day I love you more
(Though I didn't want to open that door)
Feels like life can finally begin
Now you're so-oh-oh-ooohhh under my skin
What's done is done, the future lies unknown
We've got to stand strong in the here and now
On our smiles shines the sun, warms our souls to the very bone
There's no need to fear, it'll all come clear
If we just stand still in the passage of time
A smile so sweet surely wins the day
A steady heartbeat chases the blues away
Eyes so soft, and hot enough to melt the ice
Carry me aloft without thinking twice
And now you're so deep under my skin
(And I'm so glad you let yourself in)
Every day I love you more
(And I'm so glad you opened that door)
Every day we get to begin again
Now you're so-oh-oh-ooohhh under my skin
Please share with your friends

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The first shower in a month has got to be one of the sweetest moments! Witness to others but never hurt myself like this before, I had not imagined life could be reduced to such a simple pleasure, celebrating the accomplishment of such a basic need.

A month after my accident, I am doing much better, thank you all so very much, and yet am still plagued by a fatigue that brings tears to my eyes, poised just on the verge of a total release of a lifetime of pain and suffering, but still refusing to finally overflow. I started to drive again this week, and like breathing, the ability to get myself to the store for groceries gives me a wholly new sense of purpose.

The sight of tubes protruding from my belly and penis hardly surprises me today. The slow limp that avoids pinching seems nearly natural. I empty my bags as regularly as checking email, and I can imagine a day when this will all be behind me, a tale barely worth mentioning to a new friend.

Last weekend, a friend encouraged me to attend an earth spirit conference with her, presented at a gorgeous sanctuary on the grounds of an estate overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondak Mountains beyond. Sunshine came through the window, a rainbow of color circled magically on the ceiling overhead, and the talk was of the energy of earth and spirit connecting us together in this mysterious life.

I could easily have (and probably should have) remained at home, bundled, secluded and recovering, one soul pondering alone. Instead, there was a built-in cushioned bench, nearly as comfortable, where I could lounge and listen, whisper to my friend, or nod off, leaning into the corner when it became too much.

The topics were inspirational. The mysteries of crop circles were discussed to open our minds to the unexplainable, pictures displayed to ignite a sense of awe. Also, there was a talk on sacred spaces, a startling discovery that there are many little Stonehenge type sanctuaries 5000 years old scattered throughout the woods of Vermont, and their similarities to others in the world, demonstrating just how long and faithful is our search for meaning in this life.

As my intuition to these sorts of connections grows stronger, it was the second speaker who made it clear to me why I had stretched my body to attend this conference. Bradfield is an artist and musician who lately has been motivated to speak at events like this. His topic was all about intuition, faith and trust, listening to the subtle messages all around within and without us that can guide us to our true purpose in life.

From where I sit so long and listlessly on my couch, it feels clear the struggle in my life has been like a fish upstream, a determined swim against a strong current for a reason and to a destination far beyond my comprehension. Listening to others and imitating strokes has made a few moments easier, but more lately it seems, the more I try to follow--do the "right" thing--the harder it gets.

My greatest fear today is that an answer lies directly in front of me and I am too blind to see. I feel open, vulnerable and willing. Unable to write or strum, often too weary to talk, I have alternately prayed, meditated, listened and dreamed, but the silence only seems to loom louder.

Yet internally, as subtly as the cells coagulating around the tube in my urethra, there seems to be an energy growing, a vague but powerful voice getting louder.

My tale is nothing special, my injury no more or less than what has been suffered by so many others at some time or other in each life. That it is mine is all that matters to me; that I humbly accept the pain and the gift that is my mortality and use it to benefit my brief time in this world connecting with others seems more than purpose enough for me.

Though carpentry is an honorable trade and sometimes has served me well, the progression of disasters makes me fear it might kill me the next time a hammer is in my hand to pound for my daily bread. My only clarity in this time is my fear to return to my usual path, one that has been so full of struggle, hardship and disappointment to myself and others, but has enabled me to live thus far.

If new waters must be discovered, I will explore them with faith and determination. In the roaring silence of this recovery, I ask for guidance. Immersed, I try to catch a sustaining breath. No further clarity embraces me, nor comforts, except that I must still and always go forward one precious stroke after another, open-hearted and excited, greeting the sunrise with joy and witness its setting with gratitude.

I am alive, and most importantly, I am not alone.

Please share with your friends

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Distant Shores

The doctor made a quick assessment of the repair and subsequent healing, determining nothing for sure, but satisfied there was progression. He pressed hard on a particular spot to ensure last week’s infection was truly gone. Continuing to improve at this rate, he surmised, the first catheter might be removed in two weeks.

To my complaint that sleep erections have returned and are quite painful with that tube stuck in me, he replied, “Congratulations!” An injury like this can destroy nerve tissue and render impotence, a prospect I had not imagined, but was in the minds apparently of many family and friends.

“You should be back to work in a couple of weeks,” he predicted.

This should be wonderful news, a relief, but it fills me with terror.

If I was happy in my work, or could just show up Monday morning with my tools and be set on a task, perhaps I would be eager, ready at least. Instead, I have to find work, hunt down a job, and most likely it will be of a completely different sort.

The roof from which I fell has been finished by the owner’s son and they, in fact, want money back, having gained the perception in my absence I had not been focused enough even before the fall. The few other jobs I had lined up I had to pass on to others, needing to be done. The only one left is a few squares of shingles on another roof and I am afraid this time it might kill me.

All of these years, I have been building additions with the heart and purpose of a man determined to provide for my family. Although I have an impressive portfolio of finished projects, there is also a trail of wreckage behind me, countless bad debts, broken contracts and failed promises, having taken too much on and operating usually on an empty bank account.

This has always been about practicality and never about true purpose. My soul has not been invested and it has shown up regularly in the struggle to stay afloat. The Universe has delivered warnings through hardship, and then, not getting it, forced bankruptcy. Still, I was determined to overcome the obstacles. When the engine of my truck was blown, I got the message and celebrated the burned bridge with a year of the writing and music I have always longed to explore.

Impoverished and confused, however, I returned once again to the trade that has always put food on the table. Just getting comfortable with that choice and enjoying the positive balance in my bank account, the scaffold collapses under me and I come crashing down.

At fifty-five and in the middle of a recession, this is not a good time to embrace such a radical change. Practicality dictates that I collect my tools and get back to work, but my terror spreads through my thoughts as rapidly as the flames in my dream last night burning down my home and consuming a lifetime of possessions.

Carpentry is the known quantity, the simple solution of one nail after another, following a sheet of instructions, a blueprint that shows me with every board placed here I can have food, clothing and shelter there. Even in recession, people need their home repaired, their walls painted a new color of hope.

Turning way from that certainty is the most frightening step ever taken. In panic, I keep running back. This accident has stopped me cold, dumped me on the couch, aching, exhausted and numb. For three long weeks, I have contemplated the plastic tubes coming out of my body, religiously emptied the bags of waste and wondered at the guiding force sending its message with such clarity and mystery.

I am terrified because the only real clarity seems to be not to do what I have always known. The time has come to embrace true purpose, but what comes to heart—creativity through writing and music—secures precious few pennies on my plate. A castaway desperate to get home, I must leave my island on a rickety raft, likely to sink, but determined to float, yearning for what might lie beyond the horizon.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I am raised in a family of achievers.

Before the age of five and entering kindergarten, I knew well it was my German ancestor, a century earlier, who had “invented” the concept that children, like flowers, should be raised in a garden of opportunities to discover, whose hand carved pony in our living room I could rock so fast. Long before a picture surfaced on the internet as proof, I believed without wonder that my grandfather had worked with Einstein, Roosevelt and others, an industrialist “responsible” for sending tanks to England and rebuilding Austria after the War.

My mother constantly identified all the incredible accomplishments of my father, tales remarkable enough embellished with such awe I was impressed and proud on the surface but hopelessly intimidated deeply underneath. Not only could he master any task he tried, I was constantly told by relatives and teachers that I too had the gifts that would create success for myself wherever I might choose to wander.

My two older sisters were such organizers and so popular, when my name was recognized entering high school, the expectations were made clear that I should make important contributions in and out of the classrooms. It seemed easy to become officer of so many clubs, the class and student council. It was no surprise to win the scholarship to be a foreign exchange student and the day I wanted the individual soccer trophy, I simply played my best and took it home.

My mother’s love and faith in me was rarely tested and never faltered. Even at twenty-three when I married a recently widowed, now pregnant, older woman with two other children, my mother took them in and made them her own. She read every story I wrote and listened to every song, convinced far more than I that I had things important to say and my passion to create was the purpose of my life.

As I narrowed my choices and construction was more and more required to pay my bills, she rarely showed disappointment, but reminded me that even without an architect's license I was still designing homes for families. As my business was in trouble, she contributed money and after declaring bankruptcy, she offered no judgment, but total support to pick up the pieces and keep on working. The strife in my marriage growing ever more apparent (still, I hid the worst from her), she never suggested I end it, but advised always to keep my children in mind to do the best for them.

All of my life, I believed anything was possible. Hard work, open heart and determination could overcome any obstacle. If what I wanted was not working out, I just had to want it a little more, work a little harder. There was nothing I could not do.

Yet, today I lie on my couch with a limited view of trees, sky and a neon carwash out my window, in the basement apartment of the crumbling home on the “wrong” side of town, smelling the sewer treatment plant next door. My body is broken. My second marriage is well-ended in failure, my business in ruins. A daughter will not acknowledge my existence in her life. I rely on my father for money and have no idea what my work might be a month from now whether my body has healed or not.

It is my upbringing to remember I have other children who love me, call me regularly and stop by everyday to play Parcheesi. I have renovated my apartment into a comfortable space with beautiful hardwood floors and I have the skills to build new cabinets in the kitchen when I am better. My father, though from a very different generation, still has faith I will find my way whatever I do. My mother, though uncomprehending, still tears up with distant memory when I play her a song. I have more friends than ever who invite me to share my life no matter how humble.

The challenge for me today is to remain on my couch for now and do nothing. Between each sentence written on this yellow pad, minutes float by as I stare out the window, search for meaning, understanding and awareness, and pray for reassurances from deep within. After 55 years of pushing forward with unabashed determination to conquer the shrill voice of unworthiness that has plagued my every effort, this accident has forced me to finally surrender. It has facilitated a complete giving over to God and the universe, a submission to faith which I have never been able to accomplish on my own.

For this I am grateful.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Let Go, Let Love

For a lifetime, I have had my mother to talk over the joys and pains in my world. Even with four other sisters vying for her attention, she always had an ear for me.

There was the usual and customary place at the end of the kitchen counter where I stood on a little foot stool—no matter the age—and shared my stories while she cooked dinner. A great marble table was the energetic center of the house and she held court around it for fifty years, listening with heart and doling out wisdom I rarely had reason to question.

When I lived on the other coast, the phone line became a lifeline as I described the little steps of her grandchildren and the bigger strides that led to the dissolution of a marriage. In her final years of awareness, I called her daily from a cell phone to remind her of the roads, towns and views of Vermont she had loved so much, until she could no longer remember how to answer the phone.

Next door neighbors in Oregon, my oldest sister Lane absorbed the role. She witnessed first hand my desperate leap into a ready-made family at the ripe age of twenty-three, when it was too scary for me to look out on the horizon of the vast open world alone. She was at my daughter’s home birth. Tom and Lane offered me shelter in Oregon and encouraged me to explore the world, open my heart and reach for the divine.

As my mother’s perception closed down, I burdened Lane more and more with binding the wounds that kept opening in the bosom of my second marriage. For twenty years, she listened to tales of my compulsive behavior to win love at any cost, driving my business to ruin to support dysfunction in the family. Despite her struggle with no perceptible progress in her little brother’s maturity, she valiantly prayed in myriad voices that I would “Let go, Let Love”, get out of my own way and ultimately accept the energy of God and Spirit so available and surrounding me.

Over the years, I have developed other lines of support, like octopus tentacles, utilizing deep friendships and total strangers to hear my stories, confirming my justifications and rationalizations. My great pal, the Doctor, has been like a brother to me and many more sisters have been added to the original four.

Two years ago, after twenty (or forty) years of being so stuck, so compulsively determined, I finally understood I had to shift my energy or die.

The relief of family and friends that my emotional tales have movement at last is immense. This burst of creative energy in song and words is joyfully celebrated, supported and encouraged. Letting go of the struggle to solve it all on my own allows for brilliant colors to be painted on horizons that are much more inviting.

Curiously, I have attracted into my life a woman who challenges me to confront so many of my old compulsions and inspires me to rise spiritually into a kind of friendship I have never known before. At my best, my stories to her are less about myself and my perceived suffering and more about our common blood, our journey of spirits trying to be soulfully human in the body.

This accident provides the opportunity for me to stop telling stories entirely…well, almost. Lane and I decided I did not need her to cross the country to be at my couch-side. The good Doctor is recovering from surgery of his own. My dear friend has had a broken car, a full work schedule, and other serendipitous events to make visits too short and sweet. For long, long, long hours in the darkness and the light, I am largely alone.

Although able and encouraged to walk across the room or out into the yard, I am mostly confined to the couch. Sharp bites in my wrist renders making music virtually impossible and every sentence written here is a labor of mind and body.

“Let go, let Love,” I repeat over and over to myself, head supported by cushions, eyes half closed looking heavenward, hands dropped and listless at my side. There is nothing for it but to let the voice grow quiet and the heart strong.

Please share with your friends