Sunday, October 29, 2006

Point of Departure

The opening lines to the movie The Departed are given to Jack Nicholson. It’s something along the order of “I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want the environment to be a product of me.”
Watching the movie I am given the impression the viewer is expected to absorb the message in a sinister manner. I got hung up on these lines. Given that these are the first spoken words of the movie meant I lost my place a couple of times as I mulled the thought through.
Somewhere in the front third of the movie came another honey of a line. Replying to another actor that has stated that he feels like he is dying, Nicholson deadpans “We all are, act accordingly.”
Now I have two memorable lines running through my brain and my concentration on the movie began to develop slow leaks. I’m betting the director and writers were not expecting the audience might get hung up on contemplation over a couple of lines, but they are memorable lines aren’t they?
Can this first remarkable phrase about the environment be considered sinister? The actions, thoughts and behavior of Hitler or Bin Laden could prove this case in my reasoning. Could it be used in white ways? It sounds like the working philosophy of Jesus, Gandhi or Mother Teresa as well. This is truly a double edged sword of a phrase.
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want the environment to be a product of me.” We could all spend some time with that phrase. I thank the writers of The Departed for sharing it with me. Maybe it has an historical origin and my lack of literacy limits me having known this phrase before.
The second line that confirms we are all dying and therefore should ‘act accordingly’ carries equal paradox to the careful listener. We can turn that phrase inside out and re-write it as “We are all living, act accordingly” and then we might still wonder if we have the same meaning in place?
The movie itself is a twisting tale of violence and double-cross, the sort of Hollywood brew that turns back on itself so many times it is easy to get lost. There are lots of bullets through brains and folks leaving life in violent and improbable ways. And of course the main characters are inevitably united in a mano v mano scene where all other cops and criminals are mysteriously absent even though the scene began with their presence.
I’m taking away these two memorable lines to work with:
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment; I want the environment to be a product of me.”….and….“We all are, act accordingly” in reference to dying.
For some reason I am reminded of another very memorable line given to Nicholson in the movie Chinatown. The principal actress in the movie telephones Nicholson and asks him if he is alone….the reply from Nicholson was “Aren’t we all?”
These are three remarkable phrases to think about on Monday. I’m twisting them inside out and standing them upside down. I’m going to shake their pockets toward gravity later. I want to see if I can get a little more out of them.

For now, TTYL.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Seven Leaves of Autumn



If I could catch the now I would place it in a jar,
I would watch it and come to know it;
I would cling tightly to the hope of understanding what I see.

When I open the window of the car on an October morning,
I feel the cool breeze and smell the clean air.
I hear the children play on the school playground,
Their laughter resonates against, and then mixes with the fall breeze.
I feel the now; and then it is gone again.

My mind ricochets around the past, and then bounds toward the future.
The present is left to wait.
The children play but I no longer hear.
I wait in expectation for the future; I wish yesterday had not disappeared without warning.
If I could catch the now I would place it in a jar,
I would screw the lid down tight.

To see the world as it wants to be.
To know now is enough.
To understand today’s now becomes tomorrow’s memory in a blink.
To know that tomorrow is not yet earned.

To feel the tear on the cheek as though it were the first one ever.
To hear the birds sing as if it was all new.
To smell the autumn; the smell of a fireplace burning as it moves across the evening air.
To feel the leaves under my feet, and the rain on my head.

To see a friend’s smile and comprehend it as a golden gift.
To feel as if I were dreaming with my eyes open wide.
To see the world as it wishes to be for me.
To know now is enough.
If I could catch the now I would place it in a jar,
I would give it to you; and laugh when you laugh.

If I could catch the now I would place it in a jar,
I would try with all that is inside me to embrace it.
And if I did hold it long enough,
I would give you seven leaves of autumn, of different colors each.
I would do it right now,
And smile when you smile.

If I could catch the now.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Man With A Crooked Smile

I was raised in the kind of poverty that wasn’t oppressive enough to make an emotional dent. It was the type of want that prevented new clothes. I wore my older brother’s clothes as he grew larger. Often the pants had patches on the knees. We didn’t go to restaurants. If we went on a vacation it consisted of visiting the local lake for a weekend of camping out and cooking over an outdoor grille. Genuine world travelers were we.

I was loved back then and the same people that loved me then love me still. Some are gone of course, but I trust they still come around and accept me despite their graduate status.

One thing that was not available to me was dental care beyond the basics. It hasn’t turned out so bad really; I have a handful of fillings now later in life. But the word orthodontics was unknown in our house, at least I had never heard of the word until many years later. I have paid for orthodontics, writing check after check for my kids. Tomorrow my day comes. At 55 years of age I will have a set of braces placed on my teeth. It happens tomorrow morning (Wednesday). Our blog friend Leonard Leonard said I should write about this. I was hesitant. I am a little modest about my teeth I suppose. They are well taken care of, clean and white. The bottom ones are more crooked than the top. Most of the time when I smile and show only top teeth it looks normal for a baby boomer I suppose.

Still writing about something so personal seemed difficult for me so I decided not to do so.

I changed my mind this morning.

Isn’t it interesting the way that small things we say to one another can have such a dramatic impact? We talk a lot of nonsense to one another, particularly bloggers, but every now and then someone will say something to you that makes a bullseye. Not the type bullseye that Warren Buffett describes. He says too often we shoot the arrow and then walk up and draw a circle around the arrow, then draw great comfort in our shooting accuracy. Instead I am talking about a true bullseye, a comment that hits the mark of our consciousness and strikes deep, sometimes good and sometimes ill.

That happened to me this morning and it created the springboard for me to be able to write about this experience in my life. The comment came from my little brown eyed girl here at home. We were talking about the details of the event; sore mouth, sore teeth and pain killers. She stood looking at me for a second longer than my instincts might expect her to and then she said, “You know, I think I am going to miss that crooked little smile of yours.”

The power of this statement didn’t hit me for a while, but when it did I knew I needed to write about it. For me it meant unconditional love was surrounding me. Isn’t this what we all seek? To know that we are loved despite our imperfections? To know that someone loves us so much that our imperfections are not only forgiven, but possibly even incorporated into the base equation for that acceptance and love? For me it turned into a spiritual signal moment

To feel her love despite my imperfections, and to have it expressed in such a disarming and simple fashion, this was my gift from the brown eyed girl today. It’s priceless to me.

Someone said grown men don’t cry?

Sometimes the man with the crooked smile does.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Waiting for Tomorrow

I’m always waiting.

I’m not sure what it is that I am waiting for.

Staring at the clock. It’s 2pm and I wonder if 3pm will be different.

Watching the rain and waiting for the sun.

Watching the sun and waiting for the rain.

Waiting.

Wishing for the things upon which I wait.

Waiting for the thing upon which I wish.

Waiting to see who loves me at the end.

Wishing that my wait for the end is not near.

Waiting.

What is around my corners?

What is contained in the day known as tomorrow?

Waiting to find out.

Waiting for the night, then the darkness causes me to await the light.

Waiting. I’m always waiting.

When will now be enough?

The fatigue of waiting makes me want change.

Waiting on the change from waiting all the time.

When will now be enough?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bucket of Balls

The first cool evening of fall blew through North Texas last night. It reached the remarkable low of 54 degrees F.

This morning I am watching leaves as they bid goodbye to their host of many months. Brown with age, they are being lifted on the wind to a new home on the surface of the grass, their greener friends still in place and seeming to wave at the aged ones below. The freed leaves tumble along with a steady north wind, their ultimate destination subject to the directional whim of the wind, much like all parts of nature, including our own lives at times. The leaves and their fall ritual reminds me that I don’t much care for ritual. I never have really been one to revel in doing things just because we always have. But wait, now that I have actually typed that thought I realize it is inaccurate to a fault. I should have said I dislike particular traditions. Others I enjoy.

I really do like watching the World Series each year and have no quarrel with it, only joy and contentment, except for the incredibly annoying and hyper-self important commentary of Joe Morgan.

I really don’t like Christmas. I really don’t, and I think many others don’t like it as well. I’m not talking about religious significance. I’m talking about the travel to relatives; travel that is expected of you, or you land in the family dog house. My mom’s dog house is a big one. She can fit lots of wayward in there and I understand she is considering adding a couple of rooms. I’m talking about the sister-in-law’s that are amazingly shallow. The ones that think clever conversation is to discuss Oprah’s best shows, followed by expressing genuine reflections about life and Oprah. Or, seeing the same green jello thing with sliced bananas in it that some damn body makes; now 27 years in a row. I never asked who is making this stuff, but it appears that it is a family member that hasn’t passed yet. Or, having to listen to my mom’s second husband who appears to believe that evil is committed and the world is unsafe unless he is talking non-stop about himself, all the while mistakenly assuming that I am the very best listener in the family.

I really do enjoy new green grass in the spring. The scent of the green never fails to remind me of baseball. I go into my garage and stare at the two very large plastic buckets of new baseballs. These are the seldom used balls that survived my years of coaching. I always take one out and carry it in the house with me. I imagine them all raising their hands and saying “take me this time, take me!” Only one gets to go into the house each spring. I love that tradition.

I don’t like praying in public. For all of you that read here, you know that I own a strong spirituality, and still this one gives me the ‘heebies’. I think it began in my youth, listening to male relatives pray before meals using the same worn phrases and prayer clichés. At some point in my youth I ran across the bible quote about always praying in a closet and not making a public spectacle of praying. I like this idea better than the overreaching and bizarre prayers that come out of some people’s consciousness. Now as a family male elder, I am called on for the Christmas or Thanksgiving prayer and I tell you I detest having to do this. Bear in mind that refusing the task results in permanent dog house status with 2 padlocks on the door, a bowl of water and no food. I think of public praying much like I think about public dancing. The amateurs should very definitely leave this task to a professional. At all times.

There you have it; 2 ‘dislikes’ and 2 ‘likes’ about traditions, anyone see a pattern?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Singing at Midnight

A bird sang at midnight last night.

Outside my open bedroom window its incessant happiness worked its way inside the window and pried my eyes gently open.

Was it happiness? I suppose that’s my interpretation of a birds call.

What causes a bird to sing at midnight?

The clock on the wall worked its rhythmic beat in one ear as I lay still in the night.

The bird in the tree wove her song through the remainder of quiet the clock left behind, the vibrancy of her sound mocking the stillness.

I blinked and watched my ceiling fan rotate. The fan cascaded a pattern of nighttime urban light against a dark ceiling, the type visual pattern that owns its own rhythm.

The clock ticked and the fan rotated with the steady beat of electric impulse. A faint cough came from a distant bedroom and a happy bird sang its song at midnight.

My mind skipped from thought to thought like a smooth rock across the surface of water, never sinking into a specific knowing, just skipping along without time to stop; defying the gravity of serious immersion.

In time, like the rock that must ultimately succumb to gravity, my thoughts slowed as well.

I thought about the steady beat of the clock and compared it to the unexpected song of the bird.

The bird sang with consciousness, while the clock worked from electric impulse.

I thought about the steady beat of life, the day to day slog through convention.

I thought about the iconoclasts of our world, the figures that have dared to march out of step.

I thought about Gandhi. I thought about Martin Luther King.

I thought about running full speed down a track at 55 years of age, training as though I were 20, all for the simple joy of running fast.

I thought about the world’s inventors and explorers, those that defied convention and took risks despite the warnings of conventional wisdom, owning the courage to sing at midnight.

A distinct cooling breeze pushed its way through the window and across the sheets of the bed. The clock ticked its steady mechanical rhythm. The fan twirled along in chorus.

The bird sang in counterpoint, a happy melody of defiance to the birds that sing only in the morning.

The rock skipped across more water and I thought about how happy my life has become as I have grown older. I was wide awake when the rock succumbed to gravity. I finally knew, beneath my sheets and in the company of a solitary defiant singer of happy songs, I knew why we must learn to sing at unconventional times.

I felt gratitude for the knowing, and gratitude for all the birds that sing at midnight.

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Photo Credit: The baby photo was shot this weekend in the studio by my pro photographer wife (AKA Brown Eyed Girl)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Copycat Is Born

In Las Vegas and Bailey, Colorado and also Quarryville, Pennsylvania the madness of irrational murder of the innocent was played out in dramas that bombarded our consciousness in horrifying repetition.

We wrote about sadness. Who would not feel this sadness? Those who are raising or have raised children feel it keenly. We wrote about our outrage. We talked in disparaging terms about the madmen. We flashed their images, their history and their methods from coast to coast on network and cable news programs and news web sites. As a nation we asked why.

My fear today is for those that did not feel the sadness or outrage. Across our world lie many shattered souls, individuals holding with shaking hands to a glimmer of sanity. Waking in the morning they see visions of killing and revenge. They reflect on their lives spent in pain and humiliation. Maybe the humiliation is self generated and maybe it is exogenous in its origin. Whatever its source it is an adumbrant presence in their consciousness. Our friend Enemy of the Republic wrote recently about our love affair with the sociopath. I encourage you to read her thoughts and the thoughts of her readers. If we did not ask ourselves how to protect our children it would be both ignorant and slovenly. Some wish the police were better equipped to deal with the emergencies. Some hope for total school security. Many, as they always do, entertain notions of banning guns, as though it were as simple as buttering toast in the morning. Those that see the folly of banning guns as an impossible process wish for an armed community that guns down the madmen before they kill us, raising the specter of role reversal in the tick of a clock.

For my part this morning I am focused on the communication aspect of this problem, though I freely admit to its being akin to studying water molecules at the ocean’s surface. Still, when I read the cable news network web sites I was met time after time with the photo of the killers. Below the photo was the story of the crime, complete with mental history or lack thereof, the modus of operation for the crime, the speculation of the experts, the count of the dead and all of the other details with which we are emotionally broadsided. Predominant in all the stories is the outline of the killer and his life. It is a virtual news celebration of the sociopath.

Somewhere in our world the individuals I described above, the ones that cling with tenacity to their sanity while simultaneously staying in touch with their anger read also. They read and internalize it with their own struggle. A copy cat is born.

Have we glamorized these madmen to the point that those that walk the edge make the mistake of confusing ill-gained notoriety with self importance? The question poised at the edge of the frontal lobe of the disturbed turned crisply into the answer, “I can do it better than that, and I will prove it.”

I have no idea if this is correct or blind wandering. I am an architect by training, not a brain examiner with skills. However, I am normally rational to the point of hoping that some solutions do not require certified brain sleuths. Is it not simple enough to understand that it just might be irresponsible to paste the madman’s photo and life story across every broadcast and news web page in America? Would it would not be more helpful to use the communications to point toward sources that can help the shadowy insane find help? Watching everywhere in America and even around the world are the shadow killers. The mind of man that awakes in the morning and packs the tools they read about the day before, uncertain if they will use them that day.

Could we spend more communication resources more responsibly on preventing the madman from walking into the trap of ill-gained notoriety? I believe that if they were not celebrated, we might make a start. I know the opposing argument already. It goes something like this, “We are only reporting the news, it was someone else that did these horrible things, and we are only reporting the news.” It’s a decent argument.

It falls short for me however. The fact is that FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ABC and all the other acronyms are competing for our dollars and viewer ratings.

We reward them by pulling our chair up closer to learn all about the mystery madman that killed innocent children, falsely believing that this is the only injured and angry human with this capability and thank goodness now they are gone. Perhaps we should pull our chairs back in an act of defiance, bringing the power of the dollar to bear on the corner executive that silently hopes for yet another killing on this day because the news is slow?

I am not tardy in taking my own limited action. I have written letters and emails to the broadcasters asking them to please quit glorifying madmen for a national audience. I encourage the same of all Americans. Let’s use our communication resources to reach out to the shadowy figures of mayhem, the sociopath that is confused about personal glory and how to best achieve it. Can we help the sociopaths that express their anger and harbor a desire to kill become less confused about the concept of personal honor and glory? They walk among us all and they listen to the news. They surface on some of the blogs we read, expressing statements of death and murder. They are asking for help. Can we give help in both a personal and national way? I believe we can, but we must first begin to purge from our society the brewing confusion between what honor and glory mean and what murder of the innocent and insanity mean. It is too fine a distinction for the many that struggle with their madness. Is it because we have moved the ends of the yardstick of definitions too close together?