Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Frankly speaking

Well, my friends, I'm in the thick of it.

[Note: I wrote all but the last of this yesterday, and decided not to post it because I was too tired, and I recognized that it reads like a page out of the journal of a slightly deranged woman-child. Which, of course, is what it is.]

There are many trains of thought I might choose to hop, this evening, but I'm not sure which direction I wish to go...

This morning I sent an email, a response to a response to a letter I'd sent, which touched upon some things I've been thinking, and feeling, about my current circumstances. I don't care to go into detail, but it felt true to me, and I'm not really sure how it was received. I do know that it was received; however, my copy somehow got lost in transit, and wasn't stored in my sent items. It was as if I'd written an old-fashioned letter, sealed and stamped it at a point in time, and sent it off in the hands of a postman I would never meet, to be delivered into Fate's mailbox. I can't re-read what I wrote, and it makes me wonder if I could have said something differently, or if I should have. In the past, without any difficulty, I probably would have remembered the entirety of it, word for word. Not so these days. I was committed to my words, in any case, but for some reason, not having the possibility of revisiting them seemed to bestow upon them some significance they might not otherwise have had, to me. They are gone, as if spoken, into the wind...

I've not been well, lately, for a number of reasons. I can't call what I'm in a "funk" because that makes it sound like a groovalicious pity-party, when it has been anything but. This has been creeping up on me for a while now, I suppose, but has come to a head recently. I'm depressed beyond my ability to explain it to someone who has not experienced such a thing. I have learned how to remain relatively objective about it, to the extent that I can, which allows me at least to observe what is happening, and why. Many of the reasons are without question or doubt, and others are hidden in plain sight, while others are a complete mystery. Such is life. 

Last week happened to be the time I had set aside for a beachy vacation with a good friend, but that got postponed until another season. No matter; I could reclaim that time for a trip to the mountains to visit my "s.o." then--but no, I pre-empted that potential Spring break by jumping  into a long weekend in February that ended up getting flushed down the toilet by a stomach bug, which kick-started my recent decline...I really needed a break, badly. I still do.

Work was forgiving today; few emails, no fire drills, little of import, or not. Happy Hour with two dear former colleagues was cancelled due to someone else's fuck-up for a change, which was a minor disappointment but more of a relief, after another night of little rest. I listened to some Buddhist teachers during the afternoon, giving teachings about fear, guilt, shame or, really, not those things, but instead forgiveness and love. I've been burdened with a strong resurgence of regret lately, and it's been a real drag. I can forgive myself, up to a point, but then there's that place where you hit a wall. And behind that wall is your heart. I don't mean to sound trite, but there is no way around it. There's even some scientific evidence that, over time, blocking joy from your life will prevent you from being capable of experiencing it. I am now experiencing that. It is not an experiment. It's my life.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I read a lot of stuff on the internet. A lot of it, especially when you boil it down, is about how to solve problems originating in the body, or mind, both of which we have some--or a very large--degree of control over, depending on what angle you're coming from. I dig for scientific studies, experiential evidence, personal anecdotes, sage advice, unfounded assertions, radical ideas, revolutionary possibilities, passionate hope. And I've actually found a lot of those things, and learned an enormous amount about how human bodies work, according to what science has pieced together so far, but there's something kind of really fucking important that gets missed in that picture. It's the heart of the matter, the spirit, the soul. Everyone you know has a certain energy that is more than just the output of their mitochondria...or do they? Don't they?

Bodies are extremely complex, but the heart, the soul, the spirit, much less the psyche... where to begin? Or maybe a better question would be, where to end? (No, not this post; sorry. Not done quite yet...) Where to end the patterns of behavior that trap our minds, and our bodies, in cages of our own making?

When I was going through a pretty rough spell a while back, maybe a few months or years after moving into my house, I started paying attention to the first words that came out of my mouth every morning. (Apologies if I've told you this before; my memory is somewhat impaired these days.) It started because there were a few occasions where I was actually shocked at how horrible some of the things I said were. It wasn't always bad; some days were hilarious, in my book. But by being conscious of it, I started to retrain myself not to think the things that I didn't say, and to replace those words with something sarcastic, at worst, or something beautiful, at best. It worked. It still does, if I remember it. When I wake up every morning, there are some things I can't change...but I can change my mind.

Years ago, when I was in a different life, my ex's mom gave me a book for Christmas, that I sort of fell in love with for a while... It was about a woman who had her own farm, and did all sorts of crafty things on it, mostly frou-frou Martha Stewart type crap but some cool, beautiful, charming, and smart things, too. It was a fitting gift; I thought I might create something similar out of my life, one day. Of course, I have not done anything of the sort, but I remembered that book the other day, when I was out for a walk and crying for no reason at all, in the twilight. I miss the life I wanted to build. I miss wanting to build a life. I miss who I was and will never be, again. I miss who I might have been. And I have, at this particular point in time, very little interest in who I yet will be. This is where I am, at the moment. It's all temporary, of course--and maybe I will be awesome, full of life and joy again at some point--but the past can feel very permanent, at times.

Which brings me back to Buddhism. I can see how there is a way to change things, by practice. I have done so, quite profoundly, both for better, and--more frequently--for worse. There is a point in the process of forgiveness where the walls around the heart dissolve. 

I hope. I think.

Anyway, all of that was just to frame--rather un-handily--just one last ramble, here, tonight. So today was OK.. Small windows opened and some light came in, thanks in part to a talking visit from a friend yesterday evening, which reminded me that I can change my mind, as I have done before. And so I did, and I chose to listen, today, the best I could, and be a little more open. At the end of the day, after everyone else had left for home, I sat at my desk, alone, trying to stave off the fear and sadness about going home, again... My stress response is on a hair trigger these days, and the tears come before I know it. I took a moment to reconsider not just the evening before me but all this time I have, right now, alone. Try to think of it as an opportunity, not a life sentence... I recovered what senses I have left, and headed downstairs. I noticed my head was hanging low, facing the ground--very unlike me, normally--as I walked down the hall and got on the elevator. At the bottom, I nearly crossed paths with a fat old gentleman who was headed for the same exit I was, so I picked up my pace and cut ahead of him through the turnstyle, and with my head a little higher I decided, halfway through the lobby, to take a different door, and walk outside. I passed a woman who was sitting on a bench, wearing open-toed high heels and no stockings, and a fake-fur-collared coat. I am sure her legs are cold, and is she a call-girl? I was thinking as I walked by, noting that the stumpy-legged young woman down the sidewalk was wearing black tights and boots, a much more appropriate choice for this city, at this time of year. As I passed the restauarant next door, a familiar song came at me through the airwaves above the empty patio...and my heart felt a twinge, or maybe I winced. "Hallelujah", in triplicate...the Wailin' Jennys, one of my favorite trios for singing along with. I felt my heels hitting the sidewalk. I had all this energy, unutilized; all this love, ungiven; all this joy, unshared; all this life, unlived. All the people who say it's a choice you make, well, they're right. It's a choice, and all your choices, but within the context of a mind that is lost within a body that doesn't work, or vice versa, some of our choices are limited.

That dream I had, where I ran my own children out of their home and deep into the woods, fleeing me in fear and crying my name, I can't forget. They're gone, and they're never coming back.

Neither are my dead friends.

For some reason, on my way home--maybe I was musing on some of the teachings about loving yourself as a friend would, and forgiveness, and revealing your hidden faults, and facing the pain of shame--I recalled a sweet memory, from a few years back. I was visiting my "s.o." in the Garden Peninsula of Michigan, where he was working for a time. He was staying in a small log cabin owned by an older couple, situated just down the road from a big bay of the Lake, and a few miles outside of a very, very small town in which there happened to be an ice cream shop. I think they sold pizzas, too. We were on our way to or from somewhere in the area, perhaps coming back from a work-related mission, and decided to stop in for a scoop. I don't remember what flavors we each got, but I remember sitting in the truck, eating our ice cream cones, as if it was the first time I'd ever tasted ice cream. And then suddenly, that simple, innocent, wonderful moment of pleasure turned to fear, and some kind of anxiety, some kind of shame, some kind of worry came over me--as if to exist purely in joy, in ice-cream induced bliss, for even a few moments, just wasn't something that could be allowed. Silly wabbit, happiness is for kids! 

(Speaking of, have you ever heard the song "Run Rabbit Run"? mesmerisingly bizarre...)

Some time ago, when someone asked me about my childhood, I recall responding that I was never a "carefree" child. My mother has concurred with this. It's not that I was never happy or exuberant, but I really can't remember a time in my life where I didn't feel self-conscious to the point of self-destruction, on some minor, major, or augmented scale...

But then-again, my memory isn't what it used to be. One thing I do know is, is that I used to be able to make other people believe in things, like compassion and empathy and poetry and daring and love. And themselves.

So let's hope this is just some kind of low-carb flu b.s. that's going on right now. Whatever it is, I've got a bunch of better ideas brewing, and I'm headed up north again this weekend to work on them, and some other things. In the meantime, thanks for your continued, voyeuristic, and/or heartfelt support.

Yours truly.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Life can get steep.

The thing about a stick shift is knowing how to drive it in the low gears...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hashing It Out

I've been eating hash for breakfast lately (of the meat/veg kind). There's no reason not to, but I've been doing so mainly because I've cut eggs out of my diet recently, as part of my endeavor to get down to the bottom of what's going on with my health issues. I highly doubt I'm actually allergic to eggs--they have been a staple of my diet forever--but they are a common allergen, and aside from that they can be problematic for lots of folks due to something called lysozyme, which can cross the human gut barrier and mess with our cells. For a better explanation of how it works, look here, or here.

So, I'm off the eggs for now. I'm also cutting out dairy, nuts, seeds, and grains, for the most part, and I'm not eating any nightshades, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. This leaves the question of what to eat for breakfast... Until recentlyI would often (5+ days a week) eat frittatas which contained some or all of the foods I am now excluding. With all those things off the list, meat, veg, and fruit is about all I have to work with, so... hash.

My version from last Sunday used ground turkey, leftover ground mild italian sausage, sweet potato, and arugula. Pretty tasty, but yesterday's variation, using lamb, rutabagas and kale, was by far superior... Savory, satisfying, energizing, nourishing, and super tasty to boot!

Disclaimer: Part of the reason this dish turned out so well was that I used a cast iron skillet that had a little bit of seasoned pork fat left in it, which added a depth of yummy brown flavor. (Tip of the day: When cooking meat, strain and save any good fat skimmings, and leftover juices, and put them in the fridge or freezer in small containers (or make ice cubes). Pork roasts and chops are great for this, but beef roasts are good, too. Use the seasoned fat to add some pizzazz to fried potatoes, meat or fish, and use the juices to add depth to soups, stews, stocks, casseroles, roasts, etc. Don't waste the goodness!) 

Ground Lamb and Rutabaga Hash with Kale
1 tsp fat of your choice - lard, bacon fat, beef tallow, butter, olive oil, canola if you must
1 c diced yellow onion
1 lb rutabaga, diced into 1/2 cubes
1 lb ground lamb
2 c chopped kale (I used dino, but any other kale or leafy green of choice would work)
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley (optional, but good)
garlic powder (I was out of fresh garlic, but powder was fine here if not better)
Tony's Creole seasoning (if you don't have this, you can substitute some chili powder, paprika, cayenne, plus more garlic, salt and pepper, but I would recommend picking up a can. It's cheap and very handy.)
curry powder
freshly ground black pepper
dried thyme

In a 12" cast iron skillet, heat your fat. Add the onions, saute until just translucent and then add the rutabaga. Sprinkle with garlic powder, Tony's, curry powder, salt and pepper--just eyeball it, you've done this before!--and stir to combine. Cook the rutabagies over medium-high heat to brown them a little on the edges, turning occasionally. Once they've started to soften slightly, make a space in the middle of the pan, add the lamb, and season with garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Let the meat brown on the bottom, then use your spatula to break it into smaller pieces as it cooks, while mixing it into the rutabaga. Cook until the meat has mostly browned, then add the kale and parsley and stir to combine. Let cook over medium heat for a few more minutes, until the meat is cooked through and the kale is tender. 

I'm not telling you that you shouldn't put an over-easy egg on top of this, but I do know you won't be missing it if you don't. Serve with a side of tangerine slices, and fresh black (decaf) coffee sweetened with homemade maple syrup. 

What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Home Free

I worked a little too late today, trying to wrap my head around some data that I no longer care to think about....It's complicated.

After that, I made a little salad for lunch tomorrow, out of some fresh things I have on hand at the moment: local arugula, thin half moons of zucchini and radish, slices of mango and avocado, small quarters of cucumber, accompanied by a dressing of tangerine juice, red and sherry vinegars, and olive oil. I was assembling this while frying plaintains in a little coconut oil and beef tallow, not realizing how quickly the starchy sweet fruits would brown--or nearly blacken--but they turned out all right. After they came out of the skillet, in went two pork chops, to be nicely browned before going into the oven.

With this all squared away, I decided to run over to the thrift store near my house, which was closing in about 20 minutes, to see if I could find a few supplies for soap-making. Yes, I know, it's trite hobby, if that's an appropriate way to characterize it, but on the other hand, we all use soap on a daily basis. Making cold-process soap is an easy and satisfying endeavor, involving a minimal amount of effort, materials, and know-how, and it incorporates some things I enjoy dabbling with, like herbs and essential oils, and also fats.

Anyway, I was on a mission for a few things, namely a stainless steel pot and a stick blender, and possibly some spoons and spatulas, things to use as molds, etc. I found just the pot, and a stick blender too, which I put back on the shelf, initially, for various reasons, and walked back into the next aisle over, to look for some things that weren't there. What was there--or rather who--was an elderly gentleman who began to explain to me that he thought he was "home free", I believe were the words he used, in reference to an object which he pointed to, on the shelf below. It was a silverware box, a fairly large wooden one, nothing terribly fancy but sturdy-looking enough. He went on to tell me that he was 90, and just getting his house organized, and he had seen the box the day before but not bought it, and when he came back had thought it was gone, but then there it was, in the next aisle over. He'd thought he was "home free", with it no longer there, and I misunderstood him as trying to say that he lucked out, by finding it wasn't gone. Since I clearly was missing his point, he continued to explain that there are times when you feel a certain sort of relief, knowing that something is no longer available to you, no longer an option, and haven't I ever felt that way, he asked.

He was wearing a turquoise ski jacket that was quite dirty on the front, over a turtleneck and flannel shirt which were both blaze orange. His hat was a little hard to describe, sort of a modern fedora, off-white fabric trimmed with dark green piping. He looked, but did not smell, like a homeless man, and he was clearly a little bit out there...It had been at least 2 minutes I suppose, at this point, and I was feeling anxious to go back and get that stick blender before the store closed, and I regretted it for the rest of my life (or not).

He went on, telling me about his son in California, and his four children born between the years of 1957-1961, and about the woman at the other store earlier that day who had given him five dollars, and when he asked her why, said it was because she missed her dad. He told me about the little concertina that he found there, with ivory keys, which he knew how to play because he survived the war in the Bavarian Alps, where he learned the folk music. When he went back to the store later, he said, the woman had left a bag for him, and told the clerk he'd left it behind. It wasn't entirely clear if the concertina was in it, and with my attention level wavering between compassion and the urge to remove myself from the situation, I didn't pepper him with questions.

It was probably worth $75 dollars new, though.

He looked me straight in the eye as he spoke, in the way that some people still do. I stepped back a little, to keep my distance, and better prepare to round the corner and leave him behind. She missed her father, and he knows what that's like because his own died when he was very young--4, no, 1--and talking of blessings and God and what-not and the usual slightly crazy talk that you get from old lonely people. He finally introduced himself as Gabriel, of course (I think?), and said that he is close to God and he would talk to God, about me, if that's all right with me. I said that was fine, thanked him, and wished him well. 

It was a brief conversation--though perhaps longer than a typical one with a random stranger--and he was neither offensive nor completely nutters (believe me, I've met a few.) but actually rather kind, in a very peculiar way. His face is memorable to me, oddly, the color and shape of his pale blue eyes, the dark age spots on his cheeks. He did not speak with hesitation, or with haste.

I wrangled myself away at this point, and tried to keep my distance, as I browsed for a few more things. I stopped to check my phone on my way toward the checkout and he passed me in a bit of a hurry, with his hat in one hand and his hair disheveled, saying that his [phone] said it's 9:01... I said yes, I noticed that as well, and asked if they were closing. It's nice to [have someone let you] know how much time you have, he said. It was something to that effect.

I paid for my things: a pot, a blender, and the rolling pin which I'd just picked up and was considering, when the old man had approached me. I'm sure there are those who would judge, or misconstrue both his meaning and mine, in telling this story, but there was something oddly moving to me, about this brief encounter, almost as if I'd been the sole audience to a theatrical performance of an existential conversation between Life and Death... I looked over at him and his wooden chest with a little sadness, as I left the store. Did he have a home? Did he really live through the war learning Bavarian folk songs? When did he last see his children? Do any of us know how much time we have?

I miss my dad, too, sometimes, even though he's still alive.

Back in my wagon and not entirely satisfied with my own take, I decided to try my luck at the dollar store next door, where I found a couple silicone spatulas and plastic stirring spoons--an imported waste of resources, admittedly--which, after an extended period of deliberation and wandering, seemed to be just what I was looking for... I paid my $2.19 in cash and left, while the cashier talked to the teenager behind me about the time her own daughter's pacifier went missing and by the time she found it in the bassinet a week later, her daughter no longer needed it, and she was so mad... Have a good rest of your night... 

There was a small metal bell taped by its handle to the middle of the door.

But wait. I forgot to get a bottle of vinegar. Do I go back? No going back. Do I go to that awful red place where everything seems wrong, somehow? Ugh, not now. The little grocery down the street probably isn't open this late, the drugstore is too expensive, the hardware store is surely closed by now, but if I'm making soap tonight--as I had intended to--it would just be stupid not to have vinegar on hand, in case of an accident involving lye. Not worth risking burns or blindness.

My last best option, at this hour, is the big grocery store. I pull in to park and have this passing sentimental feeling, about seeing that old man, whatever his name is... I walk in through the out door and make a bee line for the vinegar, grab a jug and head back to check out, when I glance to my left.

There, near the cigarette counter, reading a newspaper, is Gabriel.

Chance is a strange companion. 

I found my missing earring tonight, too. 

Here I go.

I haven't been well, physically. Every morning as my consciousness bludgeons my cells into a waking state, my body pleads: don't go to work today. Please do not make me spend another day in close contact with a computer, sitting at a desk, forcing all my thoughts through a corporate funnel. The desk, the lights, the sound, the smells, the pain in my arms and wrists, my hips and neck, my guts. My eyesight, my vision. My imagination, my well being, my health. I'm used up. 

I'm not going to try to tell you it's as bad as working on an oil rig or a garbage truck; that would be absurd, and stupid. You can make a joke about a tiny violin, and I can tell you to go fuck yourself. Millions of people in this country and around the world work in environments like mine, which are essentially human holding pens, the homo sapien equivalent of rows upon rows of chickens and turkeys in cages, beaks removed, shut away from sunlight and fresh air, force fed toxic shit until they no longer have any vitality, and are consumed. 

I'm tired of telling myself or being told to be grateful, that it's really a good job, that it affords me all sorts of flexibility and benefits, it pays the bills, yadda blah blah. That's all true, but it doesn't matter, when the real bottom line is that there are not enough hours in a day for me to make up for what I lose each day I go to work. I'm tired of hearing myself or someone else tell me that if I don't like it, I should just change it, as if it's just that easy to come up with a whole new occupation of your own volition, or build an entirely new career in your mid-40s, on your own. Yes, this is my fault, for not knowing better, for not finishing college, for not being more ambitious and smart and creative, for not being braver, for not choosing something better for myself, and I can't deny that I am almost entirely responsible for the circumstances I now find myself in. I can and do accept that and I am living with it, every day. But just barely.

Ironically, the song stuck in my head this morning goes something like "every morning there's a halo hanging from the corner of my girlfriend's four-post bed"...Argh, thanks alot, sub-consciousness! That's really cute. And yeah, I still have a few fragments of hope and some ideas left, some of which I am developing. Attitude adjustment in progress...

Monday, March 6, 2017


Passing thunderstorms here today, and an as yet unconfirmed tornado--a record for the earliest to touch down in the state, in any year.

It's strange to think about how things have changed, are changing. We've turned a deaf ear to the voices of islanders from places where water levels have already risen high enough to push them out of existence--or at least, out of the existence they have always known--while we are, in fact, all of us, facing such prospects. It's not just that we have become accustomed to the seasons of our lives; we are them, and they are us. We know when to wake and sleep, when to plant and harvest, how to hunt and where to forage, what to build and to tend to, to survive. We are informed of all these things by the places in which we live. We have learned where there is water that is safe to drink, what it means when the clouds move in a certain way, the language of the animals and all living things with whom we share the land, the air, the water. We know these things, by heart, by stories, by generation, by evolution. 

Yes, change is constant, but these changes that are happening now, are happening too quickly for us to respond, before the next consequence. Suddenly another river goes dry, a mountain disappears, a species is driven to extinction, a new poison is spilled. 

It's not just tragic; it's idiotic, really, that all of this nonsensical destruction--ALL OF IT.--has been driven by greed, and what liars and fools like to refer to as "economic growth". It's pathetic, disgusting, disturbing, disorienting, inhuman, unkind, degenerate, and, truly, insane. It's a shame, that humans are so supremely adaptable, that we can eat our own shit and poison our own children, and call it "progress". Progress toward what?

On our tiny islands, in this vast sea of life...where on Earth can we sail? How will we get there? And what will we know?

Sunday, March 5, 2017


I wanted snow. I needed it, as much as the trees do, as much as rivers and soils do, as mushrooms and flowers, as seeds and the birds that eat them...As the night does. As a poem, the whisper of an icy sunrise, a hoofed snort of awakening. I ache to be alive in the cold, protected by blankets of white. Winter, my love, didn't come to me this year.

I'm homesick here, in my own home. I long for another soul, a shared meal, a conversation started by another voice, the look of another's eyes, a walk together to nowhere in a hurry, an idea not my own, a cup poured for me, a hand. It's not cabin fever. I'm not stir crazy. It's not seasonal affective disorder. I'm just plain old lonesome today. I woke up with a hole in my heart, made of worry, and dreams...

After puttering around the house and getting little accomplished, I went out for a walk this afternoon, in the warm windy grey. An old man of about my father's age approached, walking a dog of similar years, both of them wearing little white beards. The man looked at me as I passed, and offered a kind "hello". The first words spoken to me all day.

The next came from a couple of adolescent girls who stood in the parking lot of a small apartment building. As I passed them, one was squatting, looking at the ground, and talking to someone on the phone, oddly. They seemed somewhat childish, but old enough to mind their own business, and I passed them without making any contact as I turned away to cross the street. It's a quiet part of town, and I assumed that when I heard one of them ask "Are you a soccer mom?" she was talking to someone else. "Hey, are you a soccer mom?". I turned back as I kept walking. The tone wasn't unkind, but the question itself was questionable. No, I said, I'm not a mom at all, sorry...and walked off. 

I wish I'd had a better answer, but my head is in a fog today. Instead of having something smart and friendly to offer in return, I carried on the next leg of my walkabout with a heart just slightly heavier, wondering how a woman old enough to be a soccer mom (and look like one, apparently) could feel put down by a a twelve year old--and pondering why, on a day like this one, these were the words the Universe had to offer to my lonely ears. 

Of all the things I would have liked to hear today, that I cannot say to myself...

"Hey, are you a soccer mom?"  

Nope, I'm not, thankfully, but I do appreciate the fashion advice. 

So it goes...Yesterday was pleasant, serendipitous, even sweet; perhaps tomorrow will be, too. Perhaps.