Archive

Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

up early again

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Woke up about 3:00, forced myself to stay in bed until 5:00. Had a long and strange dream. I had gone back to Amsterdam but it seemed more like Austin. I was following up on some mystery from my last visit but it was more like a detective show then the actual mysteries I encountered in my eventful Amsterdam trip. There was political intrigue. I remember being in the situation where I knew I couldn’t remember most of what had happened in the last trip so people knew me but I didn’t know them. I remember someone taking my car. Eventually I encounter these business guys who did it and they think it is a pretty funny bit of hazing and I remember grabbing this heavyset bald guy in a suit and telling him that he just committed a felony and that if this shit doesn’t end right now I am having him prosecuted. I remember walking around with people I know through long tenement type apartment buildings and walking through people’s apartments and introducing ourselves. Flea markets with a big radio station promotion.

“Are you awake now?” I ask myself lying in bed allowing the details of the dream to come back in my mind. Dreams are cool and well worth cultivating. They’re just thoughts that we experience differently. The visual acuity, the sense of emotion, the heavy emotive content and lack of logic and social norms. The overall feeling (really the only thing that matters in dream interpretation) was one of discovery and adventure. A challenged sense of purpose that bounces back strong. Only a touch of confusion and that tempered by acceptance. I must be in a good place. Fido too, he slept in his own room last night.

Might take him for a walk even though I just did yesterday. I’ve got the time. All the house really needs is dishes done. Too rainy for laundry and it will force me to delve into my second tier dress clothes. All the walking and Marcus Aurelius is getting me more fit and trim. Wouldn’t mind growing down into some of my older dress shirts for example. My brown pants are fitting nice where I used to not be able to wear them with a shirt tucked in and they had fallen into the only to be worn in a pinch category.

Glad to have a tough week behind me at work. Closing or transferring all my cases has been grueling. A lot of details and good documentation essential for the hand off. Saying goodbye. “Mike, sorry I missed our appt. can I reschedule” “Well actually no you can’t, sorry I didn’t get to see you…good luck with the next guy”. I’m the only one who really meets people where they’re at all the time without exception. Some clients need that, everyone likes it. Everyone gets a step down in service.

The advantage of being a human being who talks to other human beings instead of the dis-empowering counselor to client relationship is they all care about me as a person too. Even though it sucks for them, none of them like people stepping out of their lives, they are happy for me and want me to be happy. They are proud to see me looking good and stepping into the spotlight. They know what I can do and can imagine that in the City Council. But its sad nonetheless.

I had a driver for my doors last night. Ann is a pilot and an interesting character who had some good tips and some things I hadn’t thought about. We hit the scattered houses in the precinct in the brand new neighborhood. All this generic America development. It was rainy and we saw the construction sites running with water mud pouring into the feeder creeks. In one site we saw the barrier material still in its rolls while the red mud pours into the creek. Everyone has a security system. The few people at home are content with the city. My picture and quotations are in that days paper and no one knows who I am.

Sarah is driving me today, might try her hand at door knocking. I am afraid its a little early for a surrogate. It definitely bombed when I tried having some help with signature gathering. If Sarah wants to do it we’ll give it a shot. Mostly she wants to hang out and be supportive which I appreciate. I got caught up on my follow up calls but it seemed late to be calling my assigned political contacts I need to reach out to. That’ll be today, Lord Willing and the creek don’t rise. Its supposed to be a rainy one. Need to figure out better plastic for my clipboard. Tried a comicbook bag cut in half which has the right size but was to flimsy.

The garage is flooded. I’ll need to get the subpump outflow extension back on track I suspect. Should have left well enough alone when I was messing in there. Dad usually had a reason for doing stuff. I miss him this morning. His wisdom, his unabashed self interest, which I always seem to run a little short on and causes me trouble.

Ordered beans yesterday. Will run short and probably have to pick up half a pound. Don’t even know if Z-Best is still at the market been roasting my own for so long. I’ll chat ’em up if they’re there. I hope the bread lady has some sliced. I ate the last of Jeff’s last night. I’d make myself some eggs but no bread. Eggs have been around awhile and will probably hard boil them. That or get the bacon out of the freezer. A pound of bacon is a big commitment for a household of one. (Sorry Fido no salt and nitrates for you buddy, I want you to live to be 20 so you’ll stay on dog cereal.)

Guess I’ll get my second cup of coffee, made it stronger today as this Guat is not that flavorful, hope the next is better. Got a Guat, Sumatran, Ethiopian and a Rwandan for the next round. Was going to treat myself to a pound of Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain, damn the expense but they’re both out of season.

its all downhill from here

February 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Good morning faithful reader. At least for now that’s all that gets to see these words as we travel down the campaign road largely in privateblogstealthmode. I had the Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum yesterday afternoon. I wasn’t as prepared I would have liked. I got my intro and closing written but didn’t put together any notes to refer to in the general questions section. All in all it wasn’t terrible. If I picked a winner I would have said Bill Pauls. He seemed pretty comfortable, hit on his experience and came off as an affable insider with majority views. In the newspaper coverage I got tagged for supporting the hotel tax increase to expand the airport. A candidate in the other race got the line about bringing in partners which I was advised to take.

I still feel like spending my time talking to voters, getting organized and mounting a serious door to door to effort is better then the meeting with city officials and working on your sound bites approach of the other candidates which seem to be some of the other candidates approach. I suspect I won more votes in my 1/2 hour of furious door knocking then anyone did in the Chamber Forum or the newspaper coverage after. We shall see in April.

I am getting better at this being furiously busy. Was up a little early so made dinner in the crock pot before work. I took a pork loin and rolled in whole wheat flour and browned in a little olive oil. Rubbed it down in the spice mix my sister Betty made for Christmas presents and threw in with some black eyed peas I’d soaked, a couple carrots, garlic, a green and a yellow bell pepper, and some onion powder (my last onion was rotten). Put in a pint of water (less would have been better, I thought the beans would absorb more) and some “better then bullion”. It was good in my post door knocking rest break.

After that I went to a Legislative Forum by the League of Women Voters. Met a few folks and renewed relationships with some Democrats I had chatted up at the Chili Supper. Took grief for my muted tie from the same guy who gave me grief for my loud tie at the Chili Supper. I told him at least I bought this one new. How long before people notice I really only have one nice dress shirt? I’ve got a number of short sleeves but my Anarchist “A” on my forearm might give some of the electorate pause.

The forum was pretty fun. We have a funny and smart state house legislative delegation. I even like the Republican Kurt Schafer and Chris Kelly our house guy is really hilarious. They cross the aisle and get shit done which I appreciate why Stills and Weber make the lonely good fight in near supermajority Republican state which I also appreciate.

Came home and slept the sleep of the just. Continuing to read some Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, my political hero. Was considering using a piece of his for my final Ed Group this morning. Its been hitting me hard and challenging me to be less of a slave to passion. I am working on new piece based on his ideas, let me see if I remember the opening stanza I wrote yesterday morning. Living alone gives the great pleasure of being able to walk around house singing nonsense to yourself. If you haven’t tried it, please do.

“Anything done without intention

Can do damage to the soul

From the harsh word said when you are angry

To eating a doughnut when you’re full”

Tough words to live by, but the promise is freedom and serenity. Well worth having bouncing around my head. Might keep me from swinging through the Taco Bell drive through when I feel entitled.

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I put in a movie, more to see if my DVD player works then wanting to watch a movie. Mostly I am tired of being productive and not tired enough to go to sleep and for such was invented television. Cancelling my satellite and having my housemates move out has made for something akin to if not loneliness then certainly a satiation with being with my own thoughts. A rarity as I’m rather into it. Watching a horror movie Harry loaned me. I think I’ve seen it before, HP Lovecraft’s From Beyond, pretty good as I recall for what it is.

Its been a pretty relaxing evening. Took advantage of Olive keeping Fido company all day and got some dinner at Wendy’s and did a little shopping. Got some of the things on my list a nice can opener with big teeth and a cork screw at Macy’s. I also picked up a few cardigans at a good price. Struck out on a few things too, no rain jacket, garlic press or even a spatula like what I was looking for. I’m not a fan of shopping but it was tolerable.

Glad to have wrapped up another week. Getting busier but I was thankful it was OK for a while. I did my education group on some selections from the Enchiridion. It was well received. I call stoicism the only evidence based philosophy because of its heavy influence on cognitive behavioral therapy. I had given a lot of the Dover Thrift Editions away and been speaking him up to some of the smart dudes in treatment so I think that paved the way for greater acceptance.

Yesterday I walked dogs and made soup. Walking a dog is a joy walking two dogs is a bit of a chore. Olive is definitely a hound as she likes to stop and sniff at pretty much everything except when she is pulling on the leash trying to smell something ahead. She also has a pit bull stubbornness and some pull. We got into a little test of wills when I finally made her sit. Ultimately we made it to the dog park, started making the rounds, lots of big dogs so both of them were a little timid and then Olive jumped up on a picnic table full of regulars, mostly older. There was this general look of disdain and I grabbed Olive by the collar and pulled her off the table a little to roughly for the general sensibilities and it was a bit embarrassing. Closest thing I’ve been to losing my cool for a while. Made me glad I never had kids. I am known for being calm, gentle even, but if I had to deal with kids at odd times I suspect I would grab ’em up, maybe even bop ’em like I did to Fido and Olive summer before last when they were going after Remi the neighbors little purse dog. Glad I’ve done batterer intervention for a long time. Makes me look past the bullshit of easy excuses and own up my behavior and work on changing it. Don’t think I’ll get short with Olive again.

Soup was a better experience. I looked up a recipe just to make sure there weren’t any  celeriac tricks I needed to know. There aren’t but I got a pretty good recipe which I only slightly modified. I cooked three shallots in a teaspoon of bacon grease, added the peeled and chopped celeriac and three yukon golds also chopped. Then a quart of homemade chicken stock, a Michigan apple (the rest I think left at Brenda’s), and a bit more then a 1/2 tsp of thyme. Also added a kielbasa and a half (Kowalski’s holiday kielbasa from Danny’s in Monroe) and cooked it til it was done about a half hour. Added some of Kevin’s rue when it wasn’t thick enough. It was good and different. I like making soup cooking for one. Everything is in one pot but you still get your veggies.

Tomorrow, market, shopping, laundry (60 & sunny definitely using the clothesline), hiking with the dogs (patiently), and cleaning house. Wouldn’t mind doing some yard work. I still have tulips to put in and haven’t finished raking even the front yard. Glad real winter has stayed her hand. With the beautiful day putting off some house cleaning to Sunday is not a bad idea. Not having people over until 3 and a 3 day weekend. sweet.

Krampus Day Eve

December 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Happy Krampus Day Eve. Krampus, if your unfamiliar with him is the Swedish anti-Santa. He beats bad girls and boys with birch twigs and has kind of a demonic cast to him. I have been wishing people Happy Krampus Day Eve and telling folks about him all day.

I have done mine up in style making my biggest splash into the spirit of the holidays yet so far. Kevin and I went and got a tree from the Optimists. I got a longleaf pine this year. I like firs and don’t mind paying a little bit more but I got one last year and thought I would mix it up. Its not my first but we never got them when I was a kid because Mom thought the short needle ones were less of a mess. I like it because it has a shaggy look like something out of Dr Seuss.

I didn’t have it bagged because the truck was close and I thought waste the plastic and that was the right move because it was pretty easy. The Optimists cut off the bottom for you too. I have two tree stands, struggling with crappy stands is not worth the trouble. I used the big plastic one because it will hold like a gallon and a half of water so I usually only have to water every other day to stay out of trouble.

I am going to have a New Years Day party so I will want it looking fresh through that long at least. It has scented up the whole house, much more than the fir I got last year. I considered going to a cut your own place but the Optimists are close and it goes to a good cause. I have the angel on top but haven’t put up lights or anything yet. I still may do that tonight. I will also decorate Mom’s ficus and moved it to the other side of the living room instead of the corner next to the tree so it should be more prominent.

I also went to the Odd Fellow’s Christmas banquet. It was fun. I played door man and wished people  a good afternoon. It seems early to wish people a Merry Christmas and the fellahs who go to meetings I’ll see twice more before the day. Tomorrow is the meeting and I didn’t walk the dog today, maybe I’ll do that instead of decorating the tree. Getting some dinner and a walk would be a struggle.

After the dinner I went to Amy and Michael’s so Fido could play with Olive. They had a good time and Fido is sacked out. He’ll get up for a walk though. Although since he got a good play in he’s probably fine to wait until Tuesday for his walk. I worked pretty much a full day on Saturday so with the abbreviated weekend it might not be a bad idea to just chill. Curl up with a She Hulk comic and relax. I’ve been reading a stretch of hers lately starting at the beginning. Pretty crappy but they’re getting better in the second year, the character is fleshing out and becoming a little more interesting. Watching this growth process has been interesting, certainly a lot more to it that I didn’t get when I was reading them as they came out.

I’m also continuing to read Foucalt’s archaeology of modern thought. I’ve been reading the book off and on for like seven years now so I am certainly savoring it. Currently reading about the dualism of man with the Cogito no longer proving existence because what we know rests on this foundation of the unknown and we know enough about thought to know a lot of it is unknown to us. I’ve been reading 2-4 pages a couple times a week and taking time to let it settle in.

I’ve also been talking about dreams. I did two groups on them Saturday, what they are and how they work and am working it into conversation so I learn the stuff. PET scans have shown which parts of the brain are active, visual and feeling motion, deep centers of emotion with a deactivated volition, propriety, and logic centers. Explains a lot about dreams. To sum it up dreams are thinking but they feel different because of chemical changes in the sleeping brain. We think in dreams about the same stuff we think when we’re awake. You need dreams to solidify memory and they can be used to problem solve, hence the old saw, ‘let me sleep on it’.

What does all this mean and have to do with Krampus anyways? I don’t know, let me sleep on it.

The Salamander Dance

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Fido is restless wanting to go in and out. He’s been by himself most of the day. He is not a fan of being home all day when I work, even though I come home for lunch but he deals. Tonight I went out immediately after work just stopping by to let him out and pick up the car. I had hoped to leave work early because my lunch got mangled but the day was too difficult to disengage from gracefully except a mere 5 minutes early.

I was rushing because I decided to squeeze a little Occupy Como before my beer and a movie I had planned. Elise was in town and saw her there but I didn’t see the “You Are Awesome” sign which is my favorite. I settled with “There’s Nothing Wrong With You” after passing over a lot of other signs. Even the “We Are the 99%” didn’t resonate today. I am part of the 100%.

I didn’t stay long and headed over to RagTag and had a Cuban and a Schlafley APA, which were both familiar favorites that performed as expected. I also picked up a loaf of Ancient Grains bread and caught a flick with Trevor. We saw Urbanized which was pretty good but dragged a bit and felt like school. Would’ve been a nice break from a boring professor in a class on urban development. But it was visually interesting and showed stuff I did not know. Copenhagen and Stuttgart are smaller then I thought. A human’s visual field is 100 meters by 100 meters and classic cities make their central square that big probably the most interesting thing. I’d never thought of that seems obvious in retrospect. I love stuff that’s like that.

So after unsuccessfully trying to extort a piece of desiccated liver Fido is settling into some tug-o-frog interspersed with some fetch so my post drags out in spits and spurts. its good though he needs the attention and the fun. He’s my buddy.

I was walking him the other day at the Bear Creek Park out past the little lakes and met an old vet walking with a cane. Fido was a little skittish but we struck a conversation and he said “dogs are pretty good partners” and they are. After having been married, lived with folks, siblings, political cooperatives, unintentional communities, roommates, and road trip buddies Fido is enthused, low maintenance, and can make me smile just thinking about him. Its supposed to be nice tomorrow and we’ll go on a long walk. Even if I never get my shit shoveled. Actually should finish that Saturday weather permitting or Sunday for sure. Seems to take all my energy to do much more then tread water.

So once again I am mostly posting to get more poetry up. My hits have been up and I’ve been picking up subscribers as I put out more stuff. I guess at some point I’ll have to start writing some new stuff. I keep singing “Black Iron Prison” hoping to get more but I haven’t added anything I want to keep. But I bet I got at least another 100 floating around in my head and 50 more on scraps of paper and old books and notebooks and probably another 50 floating in the world. So maybe I can keep up the production.

I might share a poem in my ed group tomorrow. I was covering Feelings Management and somehow our ultimate nature came up. I had stated I am not my feelings, I am not my thoughts, and when asked what I was I thought my truest self was my will. That was called my actions but that doesn’t sit right but I couldn’t really explain how the will was different any better then Epictetus’s “moving towards a thing” or a sense of purpose. I also suggested a narrative or a story. There’s a couple of really smart dudes in treatment so it makes me want to take it up a notch and I may share my: i-believe-i-am-a-pattern I posted a couple posts back.

Well tonight’s offering goes back to the ill fated Appalachian Trail hike of 2000. I found it pretty challenging physically and it was an emotional low point but it was also filled with a sense of accomplishment intrinsic in climbing mountains every day and there was poignancy that makes that era very memorable. I had a tangible sense of intense nostalgia when I visited in September. I want to go back and hike more this Spring if I can get motivated on a few projects to make it happen. But anyway the biggest thing I remember was being cold and wet all time. It rained a lot, there was frequent heavy dew, and seemed times we lived in clouds, and sometimes above.

One night we (I hiked it with my wife at the time Amee) got a trail side shelter on the side of a mountain. The clouds came up below us and the other mountain peaks poked up and it was like being on an island in the clouds. But it was hard sometimes to keep spirits up in the rain and wet. But I noticed that that was when the salamanders and such would leave the little springs and streams and you could spot a lot of them out on the trail if your eyes open. I sparked this one and sang it as I wrote it hoping to cheer Amee up (and truthfully myself as well) when it started to rain for the umpteenth day in a row. I called all four of the pieces on the trip Appalachian Spring and a number. This one is number 4 so likely the last, but I can’t be sure of that without looking at a map. I went through a fairly intense non-linear period that I am still not completely over. Have to warn you its more then a bit silly, nonetheless “Appalachian Spring #4 (The Salamander Dance)”:

If it starts to rain by chance

The salamanders do their dance

They do their dance

The salamander dance

And if it starts to rain some more

Then the frogs begin to soar

There’s flying frogs all over the place

There’s flying frogs flying into your face

And if it starts to rain in pails

Then out will come the snails

With their slimy trails

Of snail entrails

And when the rain is finally done

Then out will come the sun

and the hikers will smile

For another mile

But if it starts to rain by chance

Then the salamanders do their dance

They do their dance

The salamander dance

i believe i am a pattern

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I have been working on a poetry archive on my blog with links to each of the poems I have posted. You should definitely check it out if you’re into that sort of thing. One of the bonuses is it gives me a definitive list of what I’ve got up on the blog. This one I could have sworn I put up as I recall posting different versions as it came together but the the most recent version I came across in the poetry category was incomplete. This one I’m quite proud of as it says what I believe in a pretty tight and succinct way. Hope you like it.

I believe I am a pattern

A pattern of information

Built from millions and millions of simplicities,

Organized through emergence

I arise up from the bottom,

I am many but still I am me.

And I believe I am a pattern

A consciousness construction

Will, sense, imagination, memory

And though I surely rise up from my body

I am much more a story

Told in the hearts of everyone who knows me.

And I believe I am a pattern

A pattern set in motion

In oscillation with the tides

Not just the ocean

But the Universe besides.

In every mind’s eye there is a cup

Its not the one from which I drink

But its close enough

Occam’s Razor cuts simplest is the best

Is my idea of cup unique from the rest?

Or do we all drink

From the same cup

After all?

For I believe I am a pattern

A process not an object

Like pendulums swing together

When they’re on the same wall

My heart beats to the rhythem

Of the One and the All

And I am subsumed in

The One.

And I believe there is a pattern.

self esteem

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been talking about self esteem in my Friday education group. It used to be a four week presentation but this iteration is looking like six. Its a really important topic in recovery because there is an inordinate amount of self sabotage amongst folks in substance abuse treatment. Intellectually the topic appeals to me because its so difficult to do anything productive on the topic. In general attitudes and beliefs are hard to shift and our sense of self is the oldest and most solid piece of who we are. It takes years of concerted effort to make serious headway and pointing people in that direction, laying it out and providing the tools feels like activism. “You Are Awesome” my favorite Occupation sign says. Its animated my thoughts.

I also like teaching on self esteem because it excuses me a chance to explore just exactly what we are and where we have emerged from. I discuss the mirror test, an ability to recognize yourself in a mirror requires self awareness. “Hey that’s me in there.” 6 month olds, dogs, cats, and monkeys they can’t do it. 18 month olds, chimps and other great apes, elephants, grey parrots, and dolphins can. What were we doing around that age, toddling around getting into shit. At some point we all went to touch the stove, that’s how babies explore the world and someone who loved us smacked our hand and said, “bad baby, don’t touch the stove”. What’d we learn besides don’t touch the stove. “I’m the bad baby who tries to touch the stove”. We are learning who we are.

How we view ourselves is so vital because of confirmation bias, the tendency to see evidence to support what we already believe. We like to believe we look out on the world in an objective way but really we only perceive what is in line with our existing beliefs. Now what is the risk if you believe you are a piece of shit? That is why it is so vital. The thesis I try to make is to pick a concrete strategy and stick with it for years even. When you achieve mastery pick another. I learned about self esteem and started to work on it around 16 probably in my high school psychology class. I’ve been at it ever sense. I’ve made some significant progress but my journey is not yet done.

I have been working on eliminating the word “should” out of my self talk for five years. I still catch myself thinking it. (the re-frame for “should” is “could”). I pretty much ferreted out “can’t” (the re-frame for “can’t” is “I’ve struggled with this in the past but I’m getting better on it because I’m working on it”  [not as pithy as “could” but memorable in its absurdity]). “Always” and “never” have had their place.

I teach a 2 step of do the right thing and give yourself credit. Challenging the inner critic instead of hiding from it or tuning it out. Ask it questions; “is this true?”, “does this preserve my life?”, “get me what I want?”, “keep what I don’t want from happening?”, “improve my relationships?”.

I told the story of getting shit canned at Food Town after 29 days when I was 17. Not because I wasn’t a hard worker but because I was to insecure to ask questions and didn’t know how to stay busy. Felt intimidated by the customers, not knowing where stuff was, and the bosses, easier to putter around the bottle room. I had always wanted to be a bag boy too. Mom wanted a kid to go to the store, you got to pick out the cereal and get a comic book at Crairie’s Drugs. When I was a little kid I looked up to the bag boys who brought our groceries out to the car back then. (You know when there were jobs for people to do.)

The bag boys seemed like gods. Kids who did what adults did, that’s what I wanted to be and I told my mom I wanted to be a bag boy and she said “You can’t because we’re not Lutheran and Francis Foods only hires Lutherans”. I told the story pretty matter of factly and a brother in the second row just looked dumb f0unded and said “You’re shitting me”. He couldn’t wrap his mind around a world where you couldn’t get a job because you were the wrong denomination. With all the growing problems of modernity, maybe things are getting better.

Meaningless, Meaningless, all is Meaningless

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day…. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t…. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.” – David Foster Wallace

I wish I was  artsy and I would put it in graphics and maybe it would become a facebook meme. I was looking at Amazon recommendations and kept coming across his name and looked him up on Wikipedia. Probably recommended because I always pre-order anything by Pynchon and I’ve already crushed his oeuvre (a cool word I can’t spell or pronounce).’

I think Wallace nails it here though and makes a couple of important points that I kind of hammer on myself, if you know me. One is that its the little day to day things that are most significant in our lives. The small little courtesies and shared experiences that let people who are struggling a bit know that we are all in this together.

I also think he makes a great point about meaning and how it is a created thing. That I think is one of the fundamental truths. We know meaningful work is one of the few correlations with happiness. Knowing meaning is within your power to create is powerfully empowering. There are things about work or other life situations that have some relationship but there is a lot of freedom in interpretation. Researchers define meaningful work as having three qualities: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose. Sometimes a shift in focus can help move things into the meaningful category.

I always use working in a fast food restaurant (another word i can never spell) as my example. Its routinized, of dubious social value, low paying with little autonomy. But when you see someone working there with a developmental disability, pleased as punch to be wiping tables and picking up trays. Proudly in their uniform being out with the people and having a purpose you can see that even McDonalds offers an opportunity for some pretty intense meaning, as long as your bringing it.

I’ve touched on it in verse with a stanza out of “Untitled #1”:

Spring can be as cold as winter

For the mind without purpose

The heart without love

New life is inevitable

But not your life

Not our lives

Our Acts of Being

Are as meaningful

Or as meaningless

As we allow them to be.

Spring can be as cold as winter

When we refuse to allow

The Life Force to shine out

Brilliantly and forcefully

Categories: books, feelings, philosophy, poetry, work

eulogy for my father

September 27, 2011 1 comment

Its coming up on six months ago since Dad passed away. I’ve been missing him as baseball season winds down. He  would have been so happy seeing his Tigers winning the division and playing so strong going into the playoffs. He admitted to me that it was a bigger deal the Tigers winning the World Series then me being born back in 1968. They hadn’t won since 1947 and he had other kids. He denied it when I teased him about it later but I didn’t take offense. There was no competition in his love for baseball, it was welcoming and  I knew it didn’t mean he didn’t love me a lot, he just really loved baseball. Watching it with him taught me some of its nuance. I’m still not really patient enough for baseball but its coming.

I wrote the first half the night that Dad died. It opens very strident and I guess I was mustering gumption to do something different, defy convention. The second I wrote the weekend after and put most of a week into feeling my grief full time. And walking the dog. It was time well spent and Dad had an easy story to tell and I was blessed to be privy to the details.

These words brought me a lot of comfort and I am indeed blessed to have been raised in such away to cultivate them. Dad was really a poet. One of the last things really hit his lyricism, “I’m so tired of holding my eyes closed”. He could be sparse like that, spare I guess is a better word. Well its already a long piece so I shouldn’t put in too much of a prologue, except to say I hope it makes you think and if it brings you comfort I’m glad.

“Eulogy For My Father”

3780 words or so

 

“This above all, to thine own self be true. “ I am not really a minister and I don’t really want to be doing this. I am a grieving son and I want to be sitting next to my brothers and sisters, crying some, laughing some, squeezing an arm in reassurance, an arm across my back in love and support. I want to hear words of beauty and consolation in celebration of a life well lived by someone who knows and loves my Dad and will tell his story with truth, compassion, and respect, in accord with what my dad believed in a way that resonates with what I believe, with what we all believe. That was simply not going to happen. There is a narrow band of belief that dominates most discourse on matters of the spiritual. If you adhere to one of its dominant strains you might not have even noticed, or only noticed the slight difference when you hear someone talk from another dominant strain. But many of us are outside of that, un-believers or simply un-churched. We patiently sit through funerals, weddings and the like and listen to stuff that is irrelevant at best and often frankly offensive. So if I talk about some stuff that church people feel uncomfortable with just hang in there and bear with me, hold on to what is good. Believe it or not, I’m trying to be a uniter not a divider. Take what you need and leave the rest. But for a half hour at least these words are mostly, for the rest of us.

Mr. John Paul Trapp Senior has a story that is long and complicated. It spans generations, a continent, and is in small part outside the bounds of what the masses of men believe perhaps, at least what men say they believe. Funerals are fundamentally an act of the sacred and need touch upon the ineffable, the spiritual wonder of the transition to the next great adventure, or how else are loved ones to be comforted?

John was never comfortable about talking about spiritual things. When asked what he believed I always described his spiritual orientation as backslidden Christian. He believed in that whole thing, sort of, but wanted to do what he wanted to do. Mostly drink beer and smoke cigarettes work hard and raise his kids right. So how does a backslidden Christian raise his children? He exposes them to church, lots of them, if they want. Doesn’t encourage it or discourage it, but makes it clear he is not really into talking about it. He’d heard enough about it already, he would say.  Enough to feel judged, unworthy perhaps; but also defiant, resilient, and able to stand on his own two feet.

About a year ago Dad solemnly informed me that he had become an atheist. What???? An atheist at 73? Who does that? There are no atheists in foxholes the liars say who preach a spirituality of cowardice, of toadyism for rank gain, a theology of threats and bribes.

Dad had been watching the Discovery Channel and had heard about the Big Bang and it seemed a lot more reasonable, he informed me.  And the Big Bang is a beautiful and wondrous way to understand where we all come from. Condensed to a single point, a place with no dimension, only location. Containing all the matter in the universe. And then bam, everything there is flying apart in all directions, hundreds of millions of years pass and the uniform layer of hydrogen has ripples and perturbations and clumps coalesce and begin burning through nuclear fusion and stars are born and grow the heavy elements and die and explode and the star stuff keeps flying apart. Bigger and bigger.

12 billion years pass and dirt and such collects and spins around a midsized yellow sun on the spiral arm of a typical galaxy that we like to call the Milky Way, and so is born the planet Earth.

It is a beautiful story in its stark simplicity, and the lesson it teaches is the truly grand scope of creation. It has all the more power for being factually undeniably true. You can generate testable hypotheses and learn more about its nature, that is how science advances. In all the creation stories of all the peoples the Actual Truth turned out to be far more vast and far more wonderful. For when John declared his independence from the belief in god he was not rejecting the God Who Made the Universe. He was rejecting some weird little cartoon god he had heard about when he was a kid. A god who rejected all that was fun and demanded the humorless life of a drudge. A god who judged and made one feel small and unworthy.

I took John’s atheism as a step in the right direction. A rejection of something that should be rejected. And the universe is a vast and wondrous place. Currently in my day job I am a substance abuse counselor and I wrestle with helping addicts find a source of spiritual support when drugs and alcohol have taken control of their life. It is no accident that a chapter in the AA Big Book is called “We Agnostics”. Recovery is developing a way of life that is so positive, healthy and fulfilling there is no longer any room for nonsense, and so it becomes an exercise in serenity. And so they say: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But what of atheists and agnostics, is sobriety denied to them?  Not by any means. I have heard a number of workarounds, Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.), the program, door knobs and file cabinets, anything to reject the toxic selfishness inherent in addiction.  I, a little from the outside, as a treatment person not a recovery person, humbly propose the Universe. The universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer and has the advantage of being self-evident to all. ‘For I believe the universe exists for I have seen and heard parts of it. I have tasted of the summer fruit and smelled the coming rain; felt the gentle breeze as it rolls across the plain.”

The serenity prayer neatly divides the universe into two categories and gives us advice on how to deal with both. First, there is everything under our control. And what is under our control? Only our own actions and those we meet with bravery. Everything else, literally everything that is not our own actions are outside of our control, and so we meet everything with acceptance. The intersection of bravery and acceptance is where we find wisdom. And the universe is sufficient for the serenity prayer. It will hold the things we must accept, it is sufficient for serenity. It offers peace in a time of loss. You can say it with me if you want to try it on for size. “Universe grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

So does a belief in the Universe as science understands it preclude a belief in God? Absolutely not. 96% of Americans believe in God and that included Einstein and most scientists. The universe doesn’t compete with God as creator but is the fundamental proof of the scope of creation and that its source must be vast and mighty. For this message is not one of atheism or agnosticism for I am fact am a believer, a passionate dedicated believer in the God Who Made the Universe.  This universe, the real one. Personally I believe that like my body has a spirit which animates me the physical universe has a spirit which animates it. But I know what I believe is not what everyone believes and for today I want us all to reach for common ground in which to lift up the spirit of John Trapp in communion and love for remembrance, celebration, and comfort.

For even though he called himself atheist once, Dad told me that Mom was waiting for him. Dad was on a ventilator toward the end and when they took him off and brought him out of sedation, he told me, he had died, and he told me, with assurance, that Mom was waiting for him. I believe him. It is in her character. It is about all I ever saw my mom do. And so it begs the question if Mom was waiting for him where exactly was that? I can honestly say that dad didn’t care and didn’t put much thought into it. I already said he was uncomfortable on matters of the spirit. He was not uncomfortable in contradiction. And neither am I. The truth is too vast the universe too big to not contain many contradictions.  I like to believe in a personal god who cares about me. I like to believe in a universe governed by immutable natural laws that can be known and predicted and depended upon. I like to believe in miracles. I like to believe that Mom and Dad still live still love me and care about me, still speak to me with their wisdom. I know they still live in my heart if nowhere else.

John Trapp was a simple man and when I asked him how he wanted to be remembered it was as a Working Man. He worked hard growing up on an organic farm, though in those days they just called them farms. He was born in the heart of the Great Depression and the war years were lean ones on the home front. But the Trapp family was self-sufficient in a way that now we can scarcely understand. He had to churn the butter, pluck the hens, weed the row crops, feed the animals, there are others here who know these stories better than I so I will leave it at that he worked hard even as a small boy. But he played hard too. Fondly remembered tales of hijinks and adventure, messing around with the dogs, sledding, skating, hunting, how he earned his switchings, his sister Alice and her friends holding him down and kissing him.

But mostly he talked about working. Mowing grass, being the first to get a chain saw and cutting down trees. Hiring out as a farm hand, eventually for his sister Norma and her husband Joe. When the season ended he moved to the kill floor, slaughtering beef, hogs, and veal. It was a short trip from there to being a meat cutter. A dollar an hour until the union came and then he moved up to $2.65 cents an hour. Good money in the 50s and he still played hard. Drinking, dancing, roller skating, shuffle board and pool leagues, convertibles and drag racing; mishaps and near escape. Some reckless driving in Monroe that inexplicably ends with him joining the army. Trained as a mechanic he was stationed in Germany when the Berlin Wall was doing its Berlin Wall thing. There he developed a lifelong love affair with trucks. Most of his army stories though are about baseball or drinking beer. Good local beers with each town its own.

After his time in the service he returned home and to meat cutting, bought himself a brand new 1963 Ford Falcon Convertible, courted and married Frances Eileen Allen. He didn’t care that she had three kids he loved kids and promised to raise them as his own. John still had a little growing up to do but rose to the occasion with his readymade family and tried to be a good father to Bob, Betty and Brenda and three more boys when they came. Dad worked hard and we camped in Lake City in the summers.

Tragedy struck early and hard on this little family when John’s youngest son Dennis drowned in the swimming pool in the backyard. Dad blamed himself as the army had only taught him adult CPR and he later learned it was different for little kids. He drank beer and pitched horseshoes, all four by himself. Eddie Trapp came over and walked with him, no one had anything to say. Dad couldn’t handle family life anymore. He was broken in a way that luckily few of us will ever get to really understand. It was only 7 or 8 years ago that he told me he had finally gotten over Dennis dying. He went on a six month drunk from what I understand I am too young to remember.

He couldn’t stay home and didn’t believe in leaving, John was no coward, so all there was to do was to become a truck driver. He bought a straight truck and started hauling furniture for Beakins Van Lines. He would always point out the parking lot where he learned to drive when we drove through Circle City, as he liked to call it. North America became his home.

He took his first trip and was frightfully lonely. I had the great pleasure of finding and reading some of his letters home to Mom, before moth and rust destroyed, and they were heartfelt and touching. A demonstrative loving side of John I had never seen.  On his second trip he threw me up in the cab with him and we were off to see the country. I was three years old. I would stay up all night to help keep him awake and we would talk about everything. I was his confidant, sounding board, and in many ways the repository of his hopes and fears. What an incredible gift to give to a child, your total attention, sharing from your heart. Showing him the country. I am so incredibly blessed I cannot describe. Having such an enriching early childhood in large part shaped who I am today. I was able to learn that people live all kinds of different ways and you can go to places and see stuff.

Dad was a character on the road. He knew this country comprehensively. Everywhere. He gave his own names to the flowers he saw. He knew the phases of the moon and how the stars change overhead with time and distance. He grew to be wise. He learned to instantly make friends. To make the most of a chance encounter. To be real with people. He stayed true to Fran though she had her doubts as she had seen him flirt, a lot. But he stayed true to her in death as he did in life and as easy and convenient it would have been to find another woman to take care of him. Instead he struggled on alone learning how to take care of himself for the first time in his life.

Hauling furniture was hard work. He would work hard all day and drive all night, running hard after the elusive dollar. But he also learned the culture of the truck driver and prided himself on acting as a Professional Driver. Driving safely and courteously, safeguarding fellow travellers, and caring for shared spaces. Looking for opportunities to do someone a good turn. Flashing in trucks when they passed with his running lights a quick flash of thank you when another truck did the same. He was also a friend to hitchhikers and transients, scooping them up giving them honest work and a chance to see the country, starting many in a career.

He helped many a stranded motorist or someone just down on their luck. Early in his career he was the first on the scene when a truck had smashed into a pick up full of migrant workers. There were bodies all over the road the truck driver who caused the accident was weeping and doing nothing. Dad began pulling bodies off the road, living or dead he could not always tell but he had no assurance traffic would stop and it needed to be done. He was a brave man who acted with honor whatever the cost.

Once after he was done with furniture and hauling freight for BJ McAdams he picked up a hitchhiker in spite of the company rule against it because the kid wasn’t wearing shoes. He drove him somewhere, bought him a meal and gave him some money, and didn’t think much of it. Some months later he was tracked down by a private investigator from a fuel slip. The kid had remembered his handle, Trapper John in those days and John was flown in as a surprise witness in a Perry Mason kind of way and exonerated the kid from a bogus charge of armed robbery. Dad did a lot of heroic shit. Stopped rapes, beat men down for disrespecting women and was pulling out his deer rifle out of his truck when the police gunned down a mass killer in a bar he was drinking in. If the cops had been three minutes later John would have taken care of it himself.

He ended his long career, 37 years and well over five million miles driven without a major accident with Anderson Trucking, ATS. Dad loved Harold Anderson, a war hero, truck driver who parlayed his truck and a granite contract into a billion dollar company. He treated John square. They recognized Dad’s excellence and made him a trainer. As racist and sexist as John could be they tried to give him all the women and black folks because he treated people decent and gave everyone a fair shot.

John hauled freight and ATS specialized in specialty loads. A lot of granite and all kinds of big stuff, mining equipment, giant machines, and cranes. It allowed him to be a piece of history. He hauled in granite for the FDR memorial. He hauled scaffolding for crowd control for presidential inaugurations. He hauled a fair chunk of our industrial capacity to the Mexico border and brought back the things we used to make here. He hauled pieces of the space shuttle. He hauled the Disney Parade and towed the Goofy Car in the parade when it wouldn’t start. At the end of his career he specialized in Wind Mills. Technically difficult blades being 150’ long the rear wheels of the trailer were steered by an escort driver. He also loved being part of something good, something for the future. He drove truck until he was 70 about as old a driver as I have ever seen.

Retirement brought some new challenges but also some new joys. He got a little dog he named Myrtle. He had always called his trucks Bessie and his trailers Myrtle and Myrtle followed him around like a little trailer and was a faithful friend when he suddenly for the first time in his life had time on his hands. She was a little dog a chow mix with a leaky heart valve that left her short winded and easily tired. John could relate he was as well by this time. He struggled to pay the bills on a fixed income and could not work his way out of his spending problem like he always could in the past. I made him a deal, I would buy a house if he would come and live with me and help me with the upkeep.

It was a beautiful arrangement that renewed his sense of meaning to his life. Work, that could be done but didn’t need to be done. Perfect for a working man winding down. As my friend Lisa said in a consolation message: “Mike, I’m so sorry about your dad. I know that he has been a huge part of your life these past few years and you will feel his absence every day. You made such a difference to him during these past few years. I could tell that being part of your bustling, friendly household made him feel connected and loved. You took such good care of him.”

As Dad began to decline he began to lose interest in things. It’s a process I’ve seen over and over as people prepare for death. The Tao Te Ching 16th chapter speaks to this and has been a source of strength and guidance for me since my mom was dying:

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Path,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

If you wonder why we had John cremated it’s because he’d be spinning in his coffin as I have decided to end with a song. John had to abandon music when he married a woman who not only was tone deaf but could only make tone deaf children.  I sing this not only because it is the only song I have written about John but I wrote it when Mom was dying and it speaks to what I believe about these things.

When your wife is dying in the summer time

The ministers go on vacation

The road workers do their excavation

But the truck driver stays at home

Alone with his regrets

He drinks cheap beer and he frets

About his dying wife and his debts

And if he should have stayed on the road so long.

And when your mom is dying in the summer time

The birds still sing in the morning

The red skies give the sailors warning

But the sad boy does not sail on

Alone with his worst fears

He stifles back his tears

He tries to bring his family cheer

As he writes another sad sad song.

And when someone’s dying in the summer time

People still go to the beach

But happiness is so far out of reach

We just all stay home

And we sit alone together

And talk about the weather

And what’s going to happen to Heather

When her grandma dies before too long.

But the birds still sing when we mourn

And with every death new life is born

We’re all just part of the Goddess anyway

So I’ll wipe away my tears

And learn to face my fears

And know there’s a new part of God to hear me pray

I know there’s a new part of God to hear me pray.

a little knowledge…

Eschatology fascinated me as a teenager. It suited my imaginative fantasy driven outlook on life from reading a lot of science fiction, fantasy, mythology, all that stuff. end of times just faded right in. i was rooted in all kinds of books 666, hal lindsey, that weird anti-catholic guy who did the Chic Tracts and bunches more. Then I plunged into the original sources. i had read it all when i plowed through the bible in eighth grade but i went back to the prophets and tried to make since of all that stuff. revelations it was mind blowing. It was also all a little bit scary. i remember in middle school during gym there was a fire drill and there was an impending storm with black roiling clouds and the feeling of electricity in the air. I wondered if if was the end. I don’t have to tell you it wasn’t, it was a storm.

I read more and more for a few more years and was always scrounging books at garage sales. i read some of the older ones and they were dated and the world was supposed to have ended. i found them all the way back to the fifties decade by decade wrong after wrong. i found one in the library from the fourties. it seemed more real, more to fit. I read some history and the millenialists of the year 1000, of the 19th century, in fact every generation has thought they were likely the last generation.

I thought the restoration of the state of israel and man’s new power to destroy the earth made our generation special. israel has been here for 63 years and the ability of man to destroy the earth 66 and it hasn’t happened yet. i looked into one of the books and checked back to their scripture on the israel thing. its a verse about figs. Vague fear mongering seems more likely to sell books, draw attention, and baffle the young and gullible and perhaps the mentally ill. and yet the prophets mean something don’t they?

In some sense they serve as a warning to make the most of every day. to treat it like it could be your last even if you are young and healthy. the promise of the return is part of what makes jesus jesus. but if i know jesus at all the return won’t be like anything anyone in the established church is saying, or how else will they all miss it, and i guarantee they will. they always do or we wouldn’t need divine intervention.

i think talk of an antichrist and a mark and such reminds us of the continual threat of totalitarianism. when one man controls all power to buy and sell there is total control and it is indeed time to flee to the mountains and prepare for the rivers to run with blood. i believe there will be a narrowing and consequences for our misbehavior, my god we’ve broken the weather. spurned the gift of a functioning biosphere and poisoned what we’ve given. katrina, might have been a warning, did we heed its warning. not some simplistic anti voodoo and drunkenness nonsense, i am talking about the sin of destruction. i can see seeds of the apocalypse, but also seeds of the beauty that is to come when we come to our senses and start living right. we’ll get sustainable or we will die by definition. my vote is for life and i choose every day to look for the signs of hope so that i can nurture them. that i can light a fire or provide a little air, a little fuel so it burns brighter and it spreads and throws its light and its warmth and its cleansing.