Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year...

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called Yesterday and the other is called Tomorrow. Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do and mostly Live. --14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

Sunday, December 24, 2017

May the blessing of light be on you—light without and light within...

'Hope' is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

-Emily Dickinson

Happy holidays: 
There is always light to show the way. Especially on the darkest nights, stars in the heavens shine their brightest. 
May the sun shine warmly for you this coming year, and on those cold crisp nights, when the moon is new, may the stars about you light your way. 
We wish you peace, compassion, and loving kindness... 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

You can make your own conclusions about what I think about New Neutrality...

"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.":  I have mixed thoughts about the video media connected to my post this week. It is a corporate ploy. It is seemingly not an "honest" documentary of an event; rather, it is edited for emotional effect and charged with bias...

"Fairness is what justice really is.": But, the message is one I agree with. It deals with access to resources (in this case, digital ones). I am a supporter of open access to the internet in the public school I teach in. I praise the 1 to 1 initiative that has placed Chrome Books in every student's hand in our school. I support finding funding options to bring reliable internet to our more rural and financially strapped families. I believe the internet has enabled such a paradigm shift in the ways we tap information and knowledge that the benefits will propel the dreamers, and inventors, and curious learners to spaces we have not even begun to imagine. I realize we will face new obstacles, but it is as we deal with them them that we will continue to grow as a species.  Our capacity to learn, record, and share what we have learned with others—and even the future—has always been what moves us forward. The digital revolution is just that, a revolution that must be allowed to reach its full potential just like our students and... for ALL learners...

"Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.": Equity (not equality) is central to what I believe needs to be practiced in our public schools. One size does not fit all, and yet, when we dedicate money in the public sphere, we so often try to offer equality in order to "be fair." It is when we try to do what I believe to be truly right by our populations in the movement of funds, other resources, and access, that the public debate becomes so mired in jealousy and anger which is often focused on groups traditionally marginalized in the public sphere...

"Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.": While it may be a little contrived, watch the next video and imagine yourself as an eager learner, or your children as such. Imagine that these learners trustingly show up to life eager to succeed, mindful of their own interests, but always aware of "the others" around them. Ignore the corporate sponsorship (Sprint) and just imagine what might feel "true" about the story they present. Our schools should be places that level the playing fields, not by holding some learners back, but by propelling each to reach their full potential...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

"Abuelita: Tonight is about family."

A holiday trip to the movies: I recently went to the movies to see Coco, Pixar's newest animated film and holiday release. I wish to offer a positive recommendation without overselling it, nor do I wish to fail in giving it proper lip service. Here is a story on NPR (audio version of the story available as well). NPR: Coco. And here are the numbers: Metacritic Metascore: 81%, Metacritic User Score 8.4/10, Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96%, Rotten Tomatoes User Score: 96%. 94% of Google users liked this film and the IMDB User Score is a 8.9/10. I give it a thumbs up.

Bias?: Before I proceed further (and perhaps as part of my efforts) I should declare my bias and my loose criteria. I love animated film. I look to be delighted and moved by drawings in the same way I expect to be by real images of real-people action. The wonder of animation that is value added to "real" looking movies is that a teapot can dance, a broom can have malicious intent, a house can be floated across the world with helium balloons... and the path from the living to the dead can by traversed on a bridge of illuminated marigold petals.

There are 7 million animated lights in the computer model of the city of the dead.

And because it is animated, it is somehow more believable than some of our best CGI moments in "real" looking films. The suspension of disbelief is easier when the subject matter is cartoon. BUT the characters, whether a  gimpy-fined fish, a non-verbal robot, or the personification of the emotion "fear", must be believable; and when they are believable, then the magic happens. We are moved deeply by good writing and narrative delivery, but can still immerse ourselves in a world that can only be imagined in "the real."

Bias cont.: Although I loved Shrek by DreamWorks, their other animated films have almost universally failed me. And while I have animated favorites (which includes stop-animation like The Nightmare Before Christmas, old classics like Watership Down, and animation newcomers like Cartoon Saloon's The Secret of Kells), the bulk of my favorites come from the Disney empire. I place the works of Pixar Studios over those of Disney Annimation (The Lion King, Frozen, etc.), and at the top of my hierarchy are the films by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited away, Naussica, etc.). [It should be noted that if it were not for Disney buying Pixar and getting John Lassiter back into its fold, Miyazaki's works would not have been brought over in any quality for English speaking audiences. Lassiter may be king of the hill in the animation world. Dare I say "Thank you Disney?"]

The List: So that said, the following list is sorted with a combination of initial wonder and repeat watchability in mind. It was a hard task for me and I may shift it around if asked again tomorrow:

Haven’t Seen
Haven’t Seen
Haven’t Seen

So Coco falls at the top of the second grouping for me. The first group represents films that changed how I watched animated films as a whole, and which for various reasons I have watched many times. The bottom third speaks for itself, sequels for the most part. In the middle are films that I enjoyed but may not wish to see more than a few times each.

Last words: Coco may not have legs for repeat views (time will tell), but on first viewing I was delighted. It is visually gorgeous, musically catchy, culturally appropriate and sensitive to its setting and spiritual theme; and it was emotionally powerful in real and difficult ways that Pixar seems unafraid to approach. I smiled, laughed, cried (in more than a few places), and said more than a once to my date "I am really liking this film..."

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Seven black and white photos that represent your life. No people. No pets. No explanation."

So I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and the role it serves in society and my life. But a recent "challenge" offered me what I do like about it. "Seven black and white photos that represent your life. No people. No pets. No explanation." I had fun taking photos each day and looking at the ones my friends were posting. The lack of commentary made me look at the photos are differently than I would have expected. Now that I am finished the seven days, I offer a little ditty on my uploads:

11/24/17: C.H.U.D.: When I was in middle school I participated in a winter sport called the Hardy Project. It was a combination fitness/outward-bound run-in-the-woods, rope-course, team-building, adventure-style athletics. One day on a run through a local green space park that hugged a stream that ran through northern Baltimore we explored a storm drain tunnel that had an oval entrance about 3 feet high and run under suburban homes with stone walls and green lawns. I processed quite a bit of claustrophobia and fear when at least 30 feet in one of my schoolmates began muttering "chud" under his breath like the little boy in The Shining muttered "redrum." Long before I had read Steven King's It (1986) which would have given me more reason to fear storm drains and tunnels, I knew of Douglas Cheek's movie C.H.U.D. (1984) which stood for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. I read that it could also stand for Contamination Hazard Urban Disposal; both spoke of a danger that could lie in the storm drains and tunnels in northern Baltimore. If one were brave enough—and I was—to proceed about forty feet in, past a bend, in the dark, one would find a small room dimly lit by small holes from the man-hole cover above. Proceed beyond this little room required belly crawling which I was not brave enough to do...

11/25/17: Lightrail: I have always loved trains. And I have always loved Thanksgiving. And I have always loved my brothers (even when at times we did cruel things to each other). So for the last two years I have engaged in what feels like a new tradition; hitch a ride to Baltimore with my older brother and his family to have Thanksgiving with my family, take the light rail downtown with both my brothers and the kids (laughing and making jokes the whole time), walk the harbor to the edge of Little Italy, and order a bowl of seafood bisque (not the Maryland chowder) from Moe's Diner. There is lots of walking, and taking, and walking on rails, and harmless shenanigans. I love the holiday because it is with family. I love the holiday because there is no membership requirement to participate fully; it is not nationalistic nor "club" specific. It's about gratitude. That simple. I am grateful for my family, the love they offer me no matter what, my good fortune, and well... trains...

11/26/17: Mullican: I spend a lot of time at my desk, writing, grading, surfing, creating. I have a double monitor and a high performing mac, several hard drives and fans, a scanner and a printer, optical drives and other peripherals. I am surrounded by technology and gadgets that I suspect chomp more kilowatt hours than I care to admit. But just beyond the field of technology is my bulletin board. It holds reminders of appointments and the usual fare, but it also serves to remind me of my inspirations and motivations. It is an eclectic array but has served me well love the years with little change. Contained within are spirt animals and philosophical anchors, aesthetics infused with relationship, and small trinkets of friendship. There are so many stories and positive forces I continue to celebrate my gratitudes...

11/27/17: The Ghost Train: I live by the tracks. Actually, I live on the other side of the tracks, whatever that means. I drive alongside them when I go to shop for food. When my children were small we would race ahead to a crossing where the train had not yet reached, get out and stand right next to the tracks, and feel the rumble of the Norfolk Southern engines shake our insides; then we would stay and listen to all the cars click and clack past. Occasionally the coming of night brings a fog, and a train passing through just then with it's three bright headlights lit, light up the air in front of the engines, and we declare it "The Ghost Train." [It's a carryover from the Thomas The Tank Engine story days.] On the 27th I was fortunate enough to catch such a ghost train lighting up the crossing bar just before it dropped. I snapped my shot, placed my phone back in my pocket, closed my eyes, and felt the rumble in the depth of my childhood come to life...    

11/28/17: 81,500 pounds of force: I teach for work: I keep toys on hand, and oddities, and little gifts; i'm like so many others who value the personal space of a cubical at work; but I work in a classroom and therefore my cubical is large and filled with visitors and is full of life and strife and purpose. In the corner is my desk where I can often be found during the time I am not dancing about in front of my students. The dashboard buddha can be pulled up and released to do a spastic dance that no dashboard moment could ever manufacture. The firedog cup holder was a gift from the now passed-away secretary who always had my back, especially when I race out of work to go to a fire. Origami, binary teaching flashcards, and a host of cables that link me to my teaching tools add to my beloved clutter. And at the heart of this still life is the cup from the brother who was the engineer who worked on thrust for engines and taught me that propulsion works with a suck, squeeze, bang, and blow...

11/29/17: Holiday Walk: The first Saturday of December marks the day of a holiday walk in my little town, The Village Beautiful. It's a college town with an old congregational church (among many other churches) near the center, and a side street about two blocks long that has shops; barber shop, the liquor store, several restaurants and a few art galleries. But there is also a small movie theater with marquee and a book store and cafe. A coffee shop a few other stores that make the whole scene feel like a moment out of a Norman Rockwell painting. And the light posts that run the length of the street are adorned with greens and stars and little lights, all in preparation for the walk and the holiday season to follow. I love little twinkling lights in the dark afternoons of winter. The icicle lights are my favorite; incandescent and low watt, casting an amber warmth into the chill of winter. And on the day of the walk we arrive on the street to watch a '"reign-dog" parade (with an occasional interloping goat or two), and put raffle tickets in boxes for dozens of prizes at a penny social, and get hot cocoas, and visit with friends promenading up and down the street, and we just breath a little slower and take an afternoon to do nothing in particular than doing the things we have done each year before. College groups sing a-capella in a variety of spots, and the model trains go in loops and loops in the window of the sports shop where there are cookies and crackers...

11/30/17: Joe: Two Christmases ago I bought a motorcycle who I named Joe. It is to be a learning vehicle and has been on the road a few times with issues. So have I. There are so many stories to be told about my journey in repairing Joe, while slowly reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This bike in no way defines me, just as each of the other photos do not either, but each in their own way tell a part of my story. The bike is a metaphor for  me. It is a dream that is in process. It is a 40+ year old piece of beautiful manufacture that needs a little attention to fulfill its purpose. The battery is tended, the rubber is new, the engine just needs a little work to go really fast. Spring will bring new life for sure...

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A little Rumi...

And the call went out...
Something Sang

The lute began...
My heart snapped its chains.

Something sang
from the strings—

"Wounded crazy one... come!"


And spoke of forgiveness...
Come, Come Whoever You Are

Come, come, whoever you are—Wanderer; worshiper; lover of leaving—What does it matter?
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a hundred times—Come, come gain, come.


And opened the door...
The beauty of the heart
is the lasting beauty:

its lips give to drink

of the water of life.

Truly it is the water,

that which pours,

and the one who drinks.

All three become one
your talisman is shattered.
That oneness you can't know

by reasoning.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

"A little overflowing word"...

A little overflowing word
by Emily Dickinson

A little overflowing word
That any, hearing, had inferred
For Ardor or for Tears,
Though Generations pass away,
Traditions ripen and decay,
As eloquent appears --

winter has arrived...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Buddhist Still Life... mirrors

what is, simply is...

"The mirror is thoroughly egoless and mindless. If a flower comes it reflects a flower, if a bird comes it reflects a bird. It shows a beautiful object as beautiful, an ugly object as ugly. Everything is revealed as it is. There is no discriminating mind or self­consciousness on the part of the mirror. If something comes, the mirror reflects; if it disappears the mirror just lets it disappear ... no traces of anything are left behind. Such non-attachment, the state of no-mind, or the truly free working of a mirror is compared here to the pure and lucid wisdom of Buddha."

(Zenkei Shibayma, On Zazen Wason, Kyoto, 1967, p. 28) 
[Found in Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton]

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Buddhist Still Life... weeding

"Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to the plant. We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant to give nourishment."
The weeds of our lives entangle, starve, and choke-out the flowers we are striving to be. We are the weeds; we are the flower; we are the choking-out, and we are growing. As we tend our gardens and pull our weeds, we need to remember that the weeds should not be rejected, just as we should not reject ourselves, but rather we should bury our weeds near our flower selves so that they might continue to serve each other...

"When we see a part of the moon covered by a cloud, or a tree, or a weed, we feel how round the moon is. But when we see the clear moon without anything covering it, we do not feel that roundness the same way we do when we see it through something else."
The weeds of our selves can offer us perspective of the whole. We are so round, so whole, and the weeds and clouds of our lives only serve to show us that...

"For Zen students a weed, which for most people is worthless, is a treasure. With this attitude, whatever you do, life becomes art."
Accepting the weeds of our selves along with the fullness of the whole is the work of every day, of every moment, while walking, while sitting, while working. We practice this that we might rediscover our beginner selves, to be, and to love, and to be loved...

"But we must not be attached... We must have beginner's mind, free from possessing anything, a mind that knows everything is in flowing change. Nothing exists but momentarily in its present form and color. One thing flows into another and cannot be grasped. Before the rain stops we hear a bird. Even under the heavy snow we see snowdrops and some new growth. In the East I saw rhubarb already. In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers." 

Quotes from Zen Mind Beginner's Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"A perfect falcon, for no reason, has landed on your shoulder, and become yours."

“The Seed Market” --by Rumi.
Translated by Coleman Barks

Can you find another market like this?

with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?

for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?

For one weak breath,
the divine wind?

You’ve been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.

Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.

It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.

This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.

When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God’s sake!

Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.

No amount of searching
will find this.

A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
and become yours.

Back in 1992 I went to India at the suggestion of my mentor Royal Rhodes, a wise man who sent me on a journey where I found much of myself:
Royal W.F. Rhodes, who joined the Kenyon faculty in 1979, teaches primarily the history of Christianity. His other interests include liberation theology, third world religious experience, monasticism (East and West), and religion and the arts.

In 1994 he was presented with the Trustees Award for Distinguished Teaching. In 2002 he became the first incumbent of the Donald L. Rogan Professorship in Religious Studies. (
I went to study Buddhism in a Burmese monastery affiliated with Antioch College. I knew almost nothing about India nor Buddhism; it seemed like a cool thing to do while in college. While on this journey I met Chokyi Nima Rinpoche, another wise man who seemed to know I needed to "not belong" while still being accepted:
Born in 1951, in Nakchukha Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche is the eldest son of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who was considered to be one of the greatest Dzogchen masters of our time. When he was only eighteen months of age, Rinpoche was recognized as the seventh incarnation of Drikung Kagyu lama Gar Drubchen. Not long after being recognized as the tulku, Rinpoche was enthroned at Drong Gon Tubten Dargye Ling, in Nakchukha. Rinpoche also studied under Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

Rinpoche and his family fled Tibet shortly before the Chinese invasion of Tibet.Rinpoche and his younger brother, Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche soon enrolled at the Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie, India. At age thirteen, Rinpoche entered Rumtek Monastery and spent eleven years studying the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Nyingma traditions.

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche left Rumtek in 1974, and established Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Chokyi Nima Rinpoche allowed me to be a guest, allowed me frequent access to his time and space, treated me with tremendous respect, and served as the capstone experience for my time in Asia. (He also had a great sense of humor.) He taught me more through his behavior and affect than through direct teaching, and he gave me a name, of which's meaning I have tried to "be" ever since. It is a constant act of engaging in humility and confidence simultaneously. What a gift he gave me. One of his students is Lama Tenzin Sangpo:
Lama Tenzin Sangpo was born in the Tingle region of Tibet in 1967. Following his escape from Tibet in 1976, he received ordination and a traditional monastic education at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s monastery, in Boudhanath, Nepal. He successfully completed a traditional three-year retreat and served for many years as the recitation master of the monastery’s extensive Buddhist ritual practices. He is one of the most knowledgeable and respected lamas at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling.

Lama Tenzin Sangpo is thoroughly versed in the various Buddhist philosophical systems and is a highly skilled meditation practitioner. Presently, Lama Tenzin Sangpo serves as the resident Lama of Gomde Germany-Austria and travels to teach at many Gomde centers around the world.
I listened to Lama Tenzin Sangpo this past weekend in Shelburne Falls, MA. It was a Friday night, a perfect fall day, warm in the sun and cool after dusk, an intimate room with cushions and incense, and me, trying to sit still and learn. Much of what was offered was lost on me, Tibetan specific lessons mixed in with practical wisdom. I keyed in when Lama Tenzin began speaking about taking advantage of the moment one is in, rather than looking off to a possible future. He was humorous (much like his teacher) and patiently, humbly wise. His lesson reminded me a bit of Rumi's poem, The Seed Market...

So there it is, my reflection for this Sunday morning, "A perfect falcon, for no reason, has landed on your shoulder, and become yours." What ever shall I do with it?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"This is not going to go the way you think!"

Luke Skywalker: "Breathe. Just breathe. Now reach out. What do you see?"
When I was five my worldview changed dramatically (just as any five year old's life can change in response to a dramatic event). I saw Star Wars for the first of many times... Now, I was raised Episcopalian; I believed in God; I went to Sunday school; later, I recall, I would walk to school (downhill, both ways, by the way) and have debates in my head about whether I was a good person or not, chiding myself that my "good" behaviors were only done to try to impress an all-seeing deity, not because I was inherently "good"; I had irreverent thoughts that I was uniquely special, at times "chosen"; and I had a solid belief that there were things unseen that could be real...

Rey: "Light. Darkness. A balance."
So when I was five I saw Star Wars. I was not alone in how it affected me. There is an entire subset of people my age who know their childhood timeline by the experiences of each successive Star Wars release, and the revelations that each held for us. [1977: There is a Force; 1980: Evil has a way of messing with your mind, you need friends to get through the dark times; 1983: The Dark Side is powerful, but good prevails, and there is redemption for all of us.] And back then there was no straight-to-VCR a few months after a film's release in order to capitalize on revenues (we waited five years for Episode IV to be released, and yes, I watched it a gazillion times after that)...

Rey: "I need someone to show me my place in all of this."
I have a strong memory of trying to use the force on small objects in my back yard soon after the film came out. My best friend and I decided we would have the best chance of success if we worked together, because, perhaps we only had a little force—being so removed from the galaxy that was so long ago and so far away from our time and space. And yet, we believed wholeheartedly that it was real. It, the Force. It played into a deist model of the universe that suggested "everything you see might not be as it seems" and thus "anything you think can be reality." I mean, the space between particles that make up atoms is far more vast than the space those particles take up; why couldn't one simple pass through a wall, allowing the molecules of our "selves" to shuffle right by the molecules of the wall,  if we just believed hard enough? We had been taught that Tinker Bell's life could be restored with collective clapping; why couldn't the "real" science of mind over matter, that Buddhist concept of iddci, "psychic powers", not be real?

Luke Skywalker: "It's so much bigger."
And so we tried to move small objects. And when one moved ever so slightly (perhaps it was a pencil placed on end on top of an old stump that toppled over), I was crazy with the possibilities, the implications, the revelation!; my friend Jonathan pointed out that there had been a slight breeze. I never stopped believing (I am not sure he did either.)...

A short digression through high school:
Jonathan and I edited the school literary magazine together our senior year. He is an amazing doer, and ever so smart. The school literary magazine had become defunct, and I had been in line to be the editor. We petitioned the administration to restore the budget and give us a tiny office on the third floor of the school (having been kicked out of the much nicer and larger, second floor, shared office with the school newspaper). We revived the dead literary magazine that had been Vantage, renaming it Paragon (Jonathan's choice, or maybe Allen's), and created a supplementary "zine" called Advantage. Those were the days of wax galleys and typesetting (after sending ascii text files to the typesetter on 3.5 floppy disks via horse-riding curriers). Allen and Jonathan did much of the heavy lifting in our first issue, and so Jonathan—then assistant editor—became my co-editor in chief (and Allen was promoted to associate editor) for our second and final issue. Allen was another one of us. We were artsy, punky, sci-fi-geeky types leading a staff that was much similar. I think we liked to see ourselves as the dreamers and creators who were slightly off the main path of our reasonably straight-laced prep school. I can't say for sure that is how my staff thought, but I know I did, for sure. The piece I placed on the inside of the back cover (editor's prerogative) of our last work together was the following:

what can i do to make you see
that anything you think can be reality?

And so, despite being the doubter and skeptic I know I am, I continued deep down... to believe...

Luke Skywalker: "I only know one truth: It's time for the Jedi... to end."
George Lucas' prequels (Episodes I, II, & III) make me feel violent. I will not dwell on how he took a simple story about deep truths and morphed it into a CGI effect-driven complicated piece of terrible acting, derivatively offensive species, and weak motivation. Episodes IV though VI will remain core to my identity, and I can choose to leave Episodes I, II, & III behind...

And then in 2012 Disney bought Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars and rumors of new Star Wars movies began to circulate. I foolishly and pre-judgingly asserted that I would never watch a Disney-made Star Wars movie. And then Episode VII's trailer came out and I was in love once again. My goodness, it made me so excited at an acute time in my life when I was struggling to find hope. I was clearly thirsty for joy.. and so, I take it all back, the horrible promises to boycott Disney's control of my childhood franchise...

My father took me to see the film on a very emotionally dark Christmas (for me). I was excited, but preoccupied with my own "reality". And the opening notes played, and the scrolling text arrived, and I bounced in my seat quietly clapping my hands with a smile as wide as any young child's filled with pure joy. I left my troubles behind for two hours while I found my five year old self once again. And now two years later, I have found much more joy, I have hope in my heart, a balance has been restored to my worldview and Episode VIII is ready...

I cannot wait for Christmas to arrive fast enough...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

and then some…

Fiery flower in Shelbourn Falls.
and then some…

a flower…
its simplicity astounding

and a flower…
complexity deceiving

life and all…
assuredly worth living
but death…
passively comforting

and a river 
it flows over
hills and under 

swirls around 
boulders and through 

always changing
eternally cycling 

Mercury Cavern. Credit: Guy Tal
we - the tunnelers that we are -
work to passing 
above --
through -- 
in --
when down and 
when not… 


when we could live simply and die cyclicly 

and like 
quicksilver flow inwardly and
glisten changingly 
and move where 
nature leads us… 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"As long as you can breathe you can survive"...

Opening shot from David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986)
He smelled like Captain Black: There is a story that goes like this: A little boy had a kind old grandfather who brought him gifts and smelled of pipe tobacco. The boy's name is inconsequential, his grandfather was Fred, but the boy called him Gran-pa...

Yellow-green skies and brown-grey pipe smoke: The boy has a memory of running into the yellow-green-skied tropical winds of his backyard during Hurricane David's run up the east coast while Gran-pa watched on from the shelter of a side porch. It's a strange memory to have and might be corrupt*, but in it the sky was so weird, the wind powerful enough to knock the boy down, and the pipe-smoking kind-smiling leather-skinned Gran-pa, so calm. It's a suspicious memory that might be a hybrid with ties to two or more separate side porch moments, perhaps even spanning two homes and multiple days in the late 70s; but it is a powerful recollection, nonetheless, for a seven year-old contrasting exciting yellow-green danger with calm brown-grey pipe smoke...

He was a great man: Gran-pa, at one point in his life, had been a mayor of a small town that surely had white picket fenced houses, a candy store on the corner, and a gazebo/band-stand at the center of town across from the soda fountain/diner. He was married to a woman who was elegant and had one child who fit right-in on the fall-harvest float in the town parade. Gran-pa had also been a volunteer firefighter in his time; and he had a kind smile. Gran-pa died when the boy was seven of emphysema. Everytime anyone spoke to the boy about his grandfather, they said things like, "He was a great man. He was a firefighter, you know." The little boy always heard, "Your grandfather was a great man, BECAUSE he was a firefighter." And so he always thought firefighters were great men (and women)...

Life imitating fiction imitating life: The boy visited the local firehouse in North Baltimore throughout his youth, and eagerly watched any movie or show that featured firefighting as he grew older:
  • Emergency (1972-1977) - TV
  • Towering Inferno (1974) - Movie
  • Code Red (1981-1982) - TV
  • Backdraft (1991) - Movie
  • Firestorm (1998) - Movie
  • Third Watch (1999-2005) - TV
  • 9/11 (2002) - Movie
  • Ladder 49 (2004) - Movie
  • Rescue Me (2004-2011) - TV
  • Chicago Fire (2012-present) - TV
The quality of some of these cinematic depictions of firefighting is suspect, as is the acting and plot in places. Director of Backdraft Ron Howard has commented on how hard it is to film fire well, but makes it exciting in Backdraft, and the fire in Jay Russell's Ladder 49 is near perfect. What is captured consistently in each of these shows and films is the camaraderie of the firefighters themselves as they do the work they are trained to do and rely on each other as soldiers must in any conflict...

And so the boy decided one day to be a firefighter and perhaps be a great man like Gran-pa...

"If this ain’t the greatest job in the world, I don’t know what is.": Many events from my childhood, along with relocation to my own small town with picket fences and volunteer firefighters, and ultimately the events of 9/11 (2001) moved me to join the local fire department and train to be a firefighter. God, I love my jobs! Both interior firefighting and wildland firefighting are a mix of exciting yellow-green danger with calm brown-grey pipe smoke... We don't run into buildings or forests on fire, spazzy and uncontrolled; we walk in, find the beast, look it in the eye, and kick its ass. The chaos of an interior fire and limitations of equipment on light-hearted communication makes fighting structure-fires acute and exciting, but lacks the slow buddy-building that fighting a fire in the woods might. Wildland firefighting is its own beast, and requires different gear and training than interior work; it yields a different sort of camaraderie, not better or worse, just different. Walking into the woods at dawn with your crew to resume battle on a fire that has been resting all night but ready to spring back to life is an amazing feeling...

2013 events fictionalized in 2017: On October 20, Columbia Pictures will release Only the Brave, a movie based upon the story of hotshots battling the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire of Arizona. Although the director, Joseph Kosinski, is reasonably unproven, the trailer for this film has me very excited nonetheless. "We’re only seconds away, it’s going to feel like the end of the world. As long as you can breathe you can survive"...

* I called my mother after writing this and found some facts. Oh, how memories can be corrupted by time. We lived on Midherst until Summer '78. The porch there had steps leading into the back yard. Fred loved that porch. He visited Overhill before he died and loved the porch there as well, but it does not have stairs leading to the back yard. Hurricane David did not land in Maryland until Fall '79, several months after Fred had died. Memories of green skies and brown grey pipe smoke are just the mind of a boy grasping at wisps of his beginnings it seems...