An Old Hope

John Warner (@biblioracle) tweeted this (and more):

I understand what he is saying.  But for me, hope is not a feeling.  It is not an emotion. Hope is action.  Hope is found in motion.

In Rogue One, when Jyn Erso says, “Rebellions are built on hope,” there is a sense that, yes, hope comes first.  But I say no, hope comes from action. Hope begins the moment that somebody stands up and says, “Let’s roll.”

I’ve spent large chunks of my life in situations where it was easier to give up than to keep going.  Raising a schizophrenic child that continued to be resistant to treatment of any kind was an ongoing nightmare. Hope for him did not exist without action. I’ve  also been in a handful of life or death situations where there was no time for hope, only action.

Looking back, it was six years ago today that I learned I had a brain tumor.  I had gone to the hospital at 7:00 am on New Year’s Eve for a 7:30 am MRI. I remember clearly the face of the radiologist when he came into the locker room while I was dressing. He wanted to tell me that they did find a tumor and my doctor would likely want to see me that day or on Monday. He was clearly upset. I did not assume it had anything to do with me.  Monday evening I learned how serious my situation was.

From my initial appointment with ENT I had expected a small tumor the size of a pencil lead causing my deafness.  Instead, my tumor was the size of a golf ball and compressing my brainstem into a loss of functionality.  I was told I had three to six months before an inevitable coma and death. Without action, there was no hope.

It is clear to me though that hopelessness and despair often lead to an inability to act. When that happens, we must rely on others to act. Anyone that was gone through trauma and faced extended periods of indecisiveness can understand this. This is why a sense of community is so important, and that we share in our action by relying on others to back us up.

In the aftermath of the Joplin tornado in 2011, random acts of art occurred throughout the city.  Carvings, murals,  and most an especially, an “H” and an “E” made of duct tape bracketing the remaining “OP” in the JOPLIN HIGH SCHOOL sign, creating HOPE HIGH SCHOOL. Action creating, and inspiring, hope by someone who had not given up.

In Rogue One, Captain Cassian was not much of a hero until well into the middle of the movie. He didn’t become a hero until Jyn Erso took action; not by speaking her mind, but by planning to make the effort to obtain the plans for the Death Star anyway. Cassian found hope and the ability to be a hero, along with others.  We must be our own heroes, inspired by our own actions or that of others.

Four weeks ago I was in a dark place. The constant challenges of caregiving, work, and dealing with loss, had gotten to be too much. I was worn down.  For the first time in 54 years I felt completely beaten, far worse even than the time I literally crawled a quarter-mile up a mountain to finish a race. I knew that sense of being beaten would pass.  I was given some advice by a person I trusted, and made the decision to accept that advice.  I took the actions to match that advice and hope returned. Almost immediately.

For me, hope will always come from action.

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets

Well now, I ain’t no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey, what else can we do now?

-Bruce Springsteen,  “Thunder Road”

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What’d you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day

– David Bowie, “Heroes”

 

Running Away

Have you ever gotten the urge to just up and leave? I like to joke about my demonstrably Anasazi heritage – every day I think about just disappearing without a trace. However, when I first read John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run” I was mortally offended by the main character running away from his family based on what I would consider to be very mild dysfunction. We were going through some serious shit at the time. We were only months away from putting out oldest into a residential treatment facility for 14 months. A treatment which failed. But it gave us some breathing space and time and attention for our youngest son.

I think I’m going to Katmandu
That’s really, really where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here
That’s what I’m gonna do
K-k-k-k-k-k Katmandu
I think that’s really where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here
I’m going to Katmandu

 – Bob Seger, Katmandu

I would have liked to have left. Except my family needed me. And I wasn’t raised that way. It was just the opposite. I was raised to fight it out, not to give up. To get up and work each day. So that’s what I did.

It’s easy to consider running way. It’s easy enough to do even. But what does it solve? What new problems does it create?

And if the people capable of doing the work run away, who’s left? What’s left?

Running away is not the answer. Getting up each day. Going to work. Fighting for the things you believe in. Fighting for love.  These are the answers.

This is what matters. Not comfort. Not easy.

In concert, Harry Chapin would relate this:

My grandfather was a painter. He died at age eighty-eight, he illustrated Robert Frost’s first two books of poetry, and he was looking at me and he said, “Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad tired.” He said, “Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy. It’s that good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away’”

I’m mostly there, but there’s a few things missing. I am trying to round out my life so that every part of it is my fight. That fight may be part of larger war (and I hope it is) but will still be mine. So, despite any urges, I will not be running away. Not only am I really not wired that way, I’m just not interested.

Redefinition, the 4th

Previously I have written about counting to one. This is pretty much the focal point of my intellectual life (hmm, that sounds kind of sad). The distance between zero and one is profound, especially if you think about it in terms of the distance between undefined and defined. The fact is that I don’t know how to take action, or even if action is needed, if I don’t know what one is. So, in the absence of one being defined, I start attempting definition because then I can move on.

It is often an iterative process, this business of defining things. This is especially true of real, but to my mind, very abstract, things like relationships. There may be a feature of these things such that creating definition actually changes the thing. Perhaps this is the Observer Effect in action – by the simple act of observation the observer interacts with the observed and thus creates change. In the same way, I suspect definition creates change, intentional and otherwise, in abstract and non-abstract things. “What?” you say. “If something is non-abstract how does defining it change it? ”

Simple. It changes how we think about it. It changes how we think about it. It changes our perception of the thing and the context in which we find it. It constructs a new reality. Music does this too when it is associated with a person or event. It adds context easily tied to memory.

I listen to music when I work. I have yet to have a song be associated with a given project, or even just a definition. I don’t know if it is question of density or iteration – there’s often just too much going on. We almost never time to celebrate the completion of one project before returning to work on another.

I wonder though, what I might be working on that I might associate with:

The drunken politician leaps
Upon the street where mothers weep
And the saviors who are fast asleep, they wait for you
And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup
And ask me to
Open up the gate for you

Bob Dylan – I Want You

On the other hand, I spend a lot of days listening to First Wave on SiriusXM.

Seven seas
Swimming them so well
Glad to see
My face among them
Kissing the tortoise shell
A longing for
Some fresher feeling
Belonging
Or just forever kneeling
Where is the sense in stealing
Without the grace to be it
I think Classic Vinyl on SiriusXM had a better playlist instead of the basic “classic rock 200” I could easily imagine some Meat Loaf.
There’s always something magic
There’s always something new
And when you really really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through
The beat is yours forever
The beat is always true
And when you really need it the most
That’s when rock and roll dreams come through….for you…
I think this has drifted from where I started out and where I thought it was going. Well, actually, I know it has, because I went through a number of iterations of writing stuff and chopping it out. So sadly, this is what stopped with. Kind of randomly.

 

 

Born to Run

I’ve been thinking about muscle cars. My wife might start driving again soon, and it might be convenient to have a second car. I grew up in the seventies cruising Main Street in Joplin when gas was 51 cents a gallon. I might have occasionally raced another car or two. So sometimes I like the idea of going fast, or at least the ability to go fast. The Explorer doesn’t give quite the same experience.

Sometimes I like to go fast. It’s that simple.

In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line
H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Born to Run

It’s a nice fantasy. But alas, I am not in the midst of midlife crisis. As my wife said, “YOU are NOT midlife – you are not going to live to 108. Face it, you’re old.” (“Yeah, if I am that old, let me tell you just why,” I said to myself.)  Since I typically drive Fords, I sat in a Mustang recently while getting an oil change. Disappointingly small. No room to move with steering wheel between my knees. No visibility either for a tall person. Muscle cars used to have some size as well as power. The specs on the Camaro are even worse. Sigh.

Size matters. I’m a big guy and when I was running ultramarathons, I was generally the largest person out there…way over any Clydesdale division. I was certainly the biggest finisher in those I finished. I was also one of the slowest finishers, if not the slowest finisher. Plodding from start to finish like many hikes and forced marches. Or crawling. I crawled a quarter-mile uphill to finish one race. That sucked.

The first time I ran a marathon, before the race we were waiting in an elementary school to keep warm. A local reporter was working the crowd, looking for personal-interest stories. He saw me and came over.

“Excuse me, sir, may I ask why you are here? You , uh, ahh, don’t really look like the other runners.”

“Do you mean because I’m big?” (Big grin on my face. I did that more often when my face was symmetrical.)

“Yes, but I didn’t want to say that.”

Yeah. Big and slow most of my life. Not always heavy side, but rarely on the skinny side. Always slow. So the idea of going fast sometimes appeals to me.

And then there’s this.

Oddball (Donald Sutherland) in Kelly’s Heroes (1970):

Oddball: This engine’s been modified by our mechanical genius here, Moriarty. Right?
Moriarty: Whatever you say, babe.
[giggles]
Oddball: These engines are the fastest in any tanks in the European Theater of Operations, forwards or backwards. You see, man, we like to feel we can get out of trouble, quicker than we got into it.

Yep. I want to feel like I can get out of trouble quicker than I got into it.In part, it’s my Anasazi heritage. If I ever decide to disappear without a trace, I want to be able to do it quickly.

Finally though, I’m kind of utilitarian. I can’t quite remember seeing a muscle car with a trailer hitch. Or kayak racks. Hmm.

Paying Attention

I spent this evening going through a tub of photos to put together  an album for my son who will be moving up to the north country to be with the woman he loves.

Our life as a family can be defined in three phases. This is best done by geography – Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The timelines are a bit uneven, and we’ve been in Virginia longer than Illinois and Oregon combined. The photos I was going through to tonight were primarily the Oregon phase of our lives. The time when he was preschool through fourth grade.

In many ways, these were some of the worst, toughest years because of the mental and emotional problems of the oldest (which have evolved into full-blown schizophrenia). On the other hand, there were some really good times and adventures for a young family. Moments in photographs where the oldest looked like a normal, well-adjusted boy.

I look at these photos and some events are clearly Christmas or birthdays. Scouting pictures are obvious – the uniforms help. Others, the memories are pretty clear: teeball, baseball, Zach’s first golf tournament, hiking Silver Creek Falls when my mom visited us in the “Great Northwet” or the “Great Gray Damp” (she wasn’t a fan). Pictures from our Great American Roadtrip – 3,500 miles from Oregon to Joplin, MO and then north to Minnesota and across with stops in Yellowstone, Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, Grand Coulee, Crater Lake, Dinosaur, and Santa Fe (not in that order).

There were also photos I had no clue about. None. Zilch. Some I can assume I wasn’t there and my wife took the pictures. Others, I can only assume I was tuned out. The sad fact is that I wasn’t always paying attention. I was either too focused on work or various projects. Or just not tuned in and inside my own head. I suppose it is possible that I just don’t remember events from 20 years ago, but it seems I should remember more.

I worry much more about paying attention these days. I’m much more present than I used to be, I know this. I spend time noticing things I don’t recall noticing before. Of course, maybe I just don’t remember doing these things before. I don’t know. I just hate the fact that I wasn’t always present.

But.

Lots of pictures, clearly not taken by me, show me walking with the boys. Holding the youngest’s hand, pointing things out, and generally engaged. These are the pictures I hope mean the most to him. Looking at digital photos in the Virginia phase, 14 years of Scouting and outdoor activities have left a great history of adventure and comradeship for the two of us. Lots of stories to remind each other over the coming years.

Reconstructing Self

Late night thoughts.

How does one really re-create theirself?

What is identity?

If it takes three weeks of repetitive behavior to create a habit, is that enough to create a new personality trait?

Is there a desired order to doing these things that works better than others?

How many things should one attempt to change at once?

Who should be aware of these efforts?

I’m almost 55 and I am thinking about what my future holds. It seems I have time for a little personal reconstruction and have a different perspective and impact. Of course, our shared future seems tremendously uncertain, and it might be a waste of time and effort. I prefer to be a bit more optimistic and engage in a few changes.

I learned last week that a dear friend thinks of me as a constructivist. I pretty much wasn’t aware there really other options. At least not for me. So I wonder if that might give me a leg up on a defining a new reality for myself.

There is ever-growing list of people I want to know, or know better, and a much shorter, but growing, list of things I want to do. In the case of both lists, I want to do better than I have done in the past.

what would you choose?

Every day we are confronted with choices, big and small. I’ve made a lot of choices in almost 55 years. A few were pretty darn good. Most were pretty ho-hum and I gave little thought to them and I often wonder if some of those were huge mistakes after all. Some choices were pretty clearly huge mistakes. Clearly huge.

Choices between two or more options. Choices for good or ill. Choices for yourself and/or others. How does one make truly difficult choices?

In the Peter Straub novel, “Shadowland” the antagonist, an aging magician tells a story to the boy he hopes will be his successor. It is a fable as to why frogs jump and croak. The gist of  the story is that sparrows of a kingdom make a deal with a wizard to save a sleeping princess and the rest of the kingdom. The wizard exacts a trade from the sparrows to save the princess. He offers them the choice of their wings or their song. After discussion, the sparrows offer up their song.

When the wizard fulfills his end of the bargain, and the sparrows see the princess and the people of the kingdom begin to awaken, the sparrows change into frogs. Clearly, the wizard has tricked them. Perhaps. The author seems to suggest this. It seems to me though, that without their song, the sparrows have lost the one thing that is at the core of their identity that sets them apart.

The magician stood, put his hands in the small of his back, and stretched from the balls of his feet. “Think about one thing, Tom. What would you give to save a life? Your wings, or your song? Would you be a sparrow…or a frog?”

Choices.

Loss of one’s wings. Perhaps making this choice does little more than nail you down where you are at in life. Or perhaps nails you to a personal cross.  It’s kind of hard to know. Giving up your song may or may not be worse. It seems to me that the choices frame nicely as a choice between your freedom and your passion. Choose one.

Aren’t these two things inextricably tied together? Can you give up your freedom and still have your song or passion? I keep thinking you can’t. The sparrows were going to become frogs either way (after all, you can’t really trust wizards, they are subtle and quick to anger). Such choices are a bum deal. But we make them all the time.

I consider choices ahead of me. Will I choose my wings, my song, or refuse the deal? If it comes down to choices, I do know this, I will always consider the Badger’s question in “The Once and Future King” by T. H. White.

“He would go to war, if King Uther declared one. Do you know that Homo sapiens is almost
the only animal which wages war?”

“Ants do.”

“Don’t say ‘Ants do’ in that sweeping way, dear boy. There are more than four thousand
different sorts of them, and from all those kinds I can only think of five which are belligerent.
There are the five ants, one termite that I know of, and Man.”

“But the packs of wolves from the Forest Sauvage attack our flocks of sheep every winter.”

“Wolves and sheep belong to different species, my friend. True warfare is what happens
between bands of the same species. Out of the hundreds of thousands of species, I can only
think of seven which are belligerent. Even Man has a few varieties like the Esquimaux and
the Gypsies and the Lapps and certain Nomads in Arabia, who do not do it, because they do
not claim boundaries. True warfare is rarer in Nature than cannibalism. Don’t you think that is
a little unfortunate?”

“Personally,” said the Wart, “I should have liked to go to war, if I could have been made a
knight. I should have liked the banners and the trumpets, the flashing armour and the glorious
charges. And oh, I should have liked to do great deeds, and be brave, and conquer my own
fears. Don’t you have courage in warfare, Badger, and endurance, and comrades whom you
love?”

The learned animal thought for a long time, gazing into the fire.

In the end, he seemed to change the subject.

“Which did you like best,” he asked, “the ants or the wild geese?”

****

“But don’t they fight each other for the pasture?” (Wart asked Lyo-lyok, the wild goose.)

“Dear me, you are a silly,” she said. “There are no boundaries among the geese.”

“What are boundaries, please?”

“Imaginary lines on the earth, I suppose. How can you have boundaries if you fly? THose ants of yours – and the humans too- would have to fighting in the en, if they took to the air.”

“I like fighting,” said the Wart. “It is knightly.”

“Because you’re a baby.”

I’m old, not a baby. I don’t want to be with the ants, but with the geese.