a bit of some untangled truth

a bit of some untangled truth:
that’s all she needs to set her free —
a word of love that’s really meant;
some kindness, and some honesty —

a touch of some unvarnished hope,
a chance to be, a place to grow —
a bit of some untangled truth:
to have, and hold, and really

know

The trains don’t run…

The trains don’t run, but her stampeding mind
Goes endlessly in circles. So she sits
Out on the tracks, past words untrue, unkind,
Surrounded by a buzz that never quits —

To live, and then relive, the same few days;
To hear, and then re-hear, the same old words —
She can’t escape a world grown out of phase,
Even among the birches, and the birds.

That’s how a haunting works: within the head.
External ghosts can always be ignored,
But inner spirits go where we have fled,
A cargo that we always have aboard.

And love’s not coming back, not coming back —
The trains don’t run, but she’s still on
    the track

{… time stopped …}

time stopped that day
and it has never really started moving since

it was like
part of him broke, and
he’s just been kind of…
drifting

desire
is the yearning to have;
love
is the yearning
to be worthy of

and there is no more desperate hopelessness
than genuine love felt by
an unworthy

man

The Flower That Once

At lunchtime, I see her sitting down by the river. Who she is, I do not know, nor will I ever.

I’m not really a “people watcher”, at least as that term is typically used where I live. People watchers around here are a very judgmental group.

I do wonder about people, though; what stories they could tell me. Among people I actually do meet, I have something of an ability to draw stories out of them, I think mostly because, I’m interested.

I finish my lunch and go. I’ll never know what her story is.

As I’m driving away, a stanza from the Rubaiyat comes to mind:

“Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.”

Where I Come From…

I grew up in Florida, in a flat country near the Gulf of Mexico, spending most of that time near or on the bayous that feed the bay that then feeds into the Gulf. Because we were on the far side of the bay for most of that time, trips to the beach were common, but not frequent. The bayous, on the other hand, were every day things; we drove over them, past them, walked by them, swam in them.

On the map linked to above, the bayous are the little fingers reaching inland from the bay. You can see them around Fort Walton Beach (where I lived when I was very little, then again in my 20’s) and Niceville (where I lived near the rest of the time, and went to high school), in a tiny town called Valparaiso.

I was not, as a child, renowned for my cheerfulness. I loved the water, though; swimming, skiing, diving — whatever there was to do in water, or on water, I liked it. Given the climate, those pursuits were usually available something like 6 months per year.


My parents had very strong and definite views on ethics and morality. They hated racism, or any other type of “superiorism” of any kind. My father’s family was from the branch of the Republican party whose main purpose had been the elimination of slavery, and then the fight for equality under the law for the entire citizenry. My mom had grown up in abject poverty, and her sympathies always lay with the downtrodden. She was (and is) a Democrat, and while she and my father joked that they cancelled out each other’s vote every election, they came from much the same moral view, which was why it worked.

Again, and for entirely different reasons, neither of my parents drank alcohol, smoked, or used profanities or obscenities of any kind. For my mom, it was her reaction to having grown up with an alcoholic father and abusive uncles; she was the only one of of her family (fifteen children in all!) who didn’t drink or cuss. 50% of my father’s family turned out to be either ministers or missionaries, so they approached teetotalism from a different angle; nevertheless, it was another area of compatibility between my parents.

It wasn’t until high school that I realized there was anything “different” about my parents. Since most of my friends (already) drank alcohol by age sixteen, and since their parents all did, and since no one had parents who didn’t swear on occasion, I realized my parents were unusual in this regard. My father’s career as an Air Force officer had suffered (considerably) due to his not being “one of the boys”. But he did what he thought was right and took the consequences.


At the age of about seven, I came home from school and repeated an ethnic joke I’d heard at school. I’d never seen my parents so angry. I’ve never told or countenanced another once since.

To my mother and father, making ethnic distinctions of any kind, for any reason, made you no better than the Nazis. And millions upon millions of people had died, horribly, to defeat them.

“There is no difference between anyone and anyone else,” my mother told me. “Same God, same worth. No difference.”


Just in case you think this turns into a tale about my parents’ ultimate hypocrisy — it does not. My sister, who was the oldest of my parents’ three kids, dated boys of every race and creed, and my parents welcomed every one of them. They lived exactly the way they talked, and they treated everyone the same.


If you go back to the map linked to, above, you can find Eglin Air Force Base, in between Fort Walton Beach and Niceville. That had been my father’s last duty station before retiring from military service. We lived on the base for 5 years, on a street called Bens Lane, which is actually on the map. We would have been in that house between the ages of 5 and 10 for me.

One of the most common experiences I have heard people relate in my lifetime is how small things seem once you grow up and go back to where you came from. You know, small trees, small backyard — things that seemed huge when you were a kid.

I myself, however, have not had that experience. Things seem pretty much like I remember them being.

The main difference I have noticed is the difference things like Google Maps has made. Geography to me, as a kid, was one of the most fascinating and mysterious things in the world; I always thought there might be another street, another hill, another creek I didn’t know about, because there frequently was. Satellite mapping has removed all the mystery from geography in a way I find very sad. No countryside I travel through seems as exotic as it once was.

Discovery is one of the things we are built for; the modern world is one where discovery is difficult, as everywhere we go, we find the signs of others who’ve been there before us, and who’ve left little for us to explain or understand anew.

Writers, artists, and musicians struggle with this, of course; the feeling that things you might want to say have already been said is an oppressive (and depressing) one.


If you were to ask me where I come from, how would I answer?

I could answer my describing the geography of the part of Florida I grew up in.

I could answer with stories about my parents: either their ideas, or the way those ideas worked out in practice.

I could answer with stories about how the world I came from is no more; something true for all of us, even if we were born yesterday.

But the fact is, where we come from is only part of our story; it is our interactions with our surroundings and circumstances that make us who we are.

And Google has yet to map human souls.

A Beautiful Failure

And then, there are those days when clarity arrives; when you realize that what-you-really-want and what-you-thought-you-wanted are two totally different things… divergent things, really.

There are those days. “Epiphanies” they are sometimes called.


For almost the entirety of this last year, I have been battling insomnia. My own particular form works like this: I go to bed and I fall asleep; however, far earlier that might seem healthy, I wake with a start and am unable to get back to sleep.

So I get up, go to the gym, come home, and write… like I am doing right now. This particular morning, my “wake-up time” was 2:45 am. (I am writing this three days before it is scheduled to post.)

It’s not hard to figure out what it is that wakes me up at night, because it is (almost) always the same thing: thoughts about work. In real life, I work in a little place called “Corporate America”, and where my job responsibilities directly effect thousands of employees, millions of customers, and millions of shareholders. A short description would be that I am the person at my company responsible for knowing everything that is going to happen before it actually happens.

So, no stress there.

A couple of days ago, I was approached about going back into the area I started out in with the company. It would mean leaving the “futile attempt to be omniscient” division, instead working in the “actually helping human beings” department.

You might think, by those descriptions, I would have immediately jumped at the opportunity when it was raised, but I did not. My honest initial reaction was to try to figure out first whether or not I had failed at the job I’m actually in.

As I proceeded then to discuss this with my wife, two of my co-workers, and one of my best online (blog) friends, their reactions were virtually unanimous: take the new job, it’s a godsend, this job is killing you.

This job is killing me?

“Yes,” says one of my coworkers. “I’ve seen what it’s done to you this last year. I hate seeing you like this.”

I won’t belabor the point here, it is my intention to take the new job. What’s interesting to me is how much my obsessive desire to be “good at” whatever I happen to be doing has resulted in unhealthy or even warped thinking. I didn’t seek out the job I happen to have now; I was chosen for it. I’ve been aware of having some shortcomings in the position. I should have immediately jumped at a chance to do something I know I love doing, but I hesitated because I hate to think I “failed” at anything.

And yet, by normal standards, I’ve “failed” at a lot of things. My first marriage. Being a father. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.


My first really large failure — at least, in my mind — was at age eight when I realized I was never going to be a great painter.

I was taking painting lessons from a tiny woman who had an art studio and taught something like 30 students. I had it all worked out in my head: I was going to be a world famous painter. So I listened carefully to all her instructions, and applied myself diligently. Only…

I have no eye, and I notice almost nothing, visually. I was horrible, really, but it took awhile to dawn on me. However, dawn on me, it did.

I loved paintings. My father was an artist, and I wanted to be like him; I just didn’t have it in me.

After a year of lessons, my art teacher had an “awards ceremony” (this was 1970, in case you think such things are only a recent phenomenon) where they gave out awards like “best still life” “best human figure” “best use of color” and so on. Eventually, everyone in the studio had an award, except me.

Oh, but she had thought of one. I received the “Most Original Style” award, which was a polite way of saying “what the hell is that you just painted”?

So right after the ceremony, I quit. I told my parents I didn’t want to take art lessons any more.

They argued, as some of you no doubt may try to do, that having an “original style” is what all artists strive for. Yeah, well, I wasn’t striving for it: I wanted people to be able to tell what it was I painted.

My parents asked me to reconsider and stay at it. I was obdurate: I wasn’t going back. They relented.

I did regret it, later, but in a weirdly ambiguous way. I regretted the loss of my dream of being an artist. I couldn’t really regret quitting lessons, because, I was a horrible painter.

Epiphanies don’t always make you happier at first.

A year or so after that, I started piano lessons, and that was much more my thing. So then I was happier.


The Beautiful One, who is peacefully sleeping right now on our bed, wants me to take this new job and find some peace of mind. It is my intention to take the job; as to peace of mind, that remains to be seen.

In this very room is one of the paintings I painted at eight years old. It’s not a great painting, but it’s a beautiful kind of failure: a still life painted with that combination of dreams and illusions that make up human hope.

So here’s to beautiful failure: for while failure is inevitable, in many ways, the desire and search for beauty, truth, and goodness are what really matters.

What I’ll Never Know

I saw you at the coffee shop,
As beautiful as you were when I met you,
And though it’s years since last we met,
There was no way that I would e’er forget you

We spoke of all the things we love:
The people and the places and their glories;
Just two old friends who chanced to meet
And spent a happy hour swapping stories

So many things that we tried to recall

It might have felt like we had said it all —

But what I’ll never say is that
I really was a fool,
And what I’ll never talk about
Were all the times, in school,
I had the chance to tell you, but
I never gave a clue —
Now, what I’ll never know is how
It would have been, with you

The rain was falling, outside, and
You said that you had better get on moving;
And all of it came back to me,
The days I wasted, posturing and proving

To no one in particular,
That I was all that any girl could want;
And watched the good one slip away,
In secret dreams, a specter there to haunt

It isn’t that I want to change the world

It’s just – I knew a boy who loved a girl –

Now, what I’ll never say is that
I really was a fool,
And what I’ll never talk about
Were all those times, in school,
I had the chance to tell you, but
I never had a clue —
Now, what I’ll never know is how
It would have been, with you

I had the chance to say or ask,
Or maybe, just — to do —

Now, what I’ll never know is how

It would have been

With you