Put away for safe-keeping

That first night
you turned your back
and my arm fell off
in bed, we
were made statues
then like brittle, precious
things put away for
safe-keeping, hard
to move.

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When the sun came through my window

The backs of the butterfly wings caught fire and it was a deep-blooded copper glow when the sun came through my window, the backs, and it has come to represent so much more, the stained glass pane my mom and dad made because of course it would, they do, as symbols: the symbols are no different than any other detail in our days, by virtue of themselves they’re inseparable, the same as the divine we never notice but sometimes in dreams.

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Putting the man in project management

"God is in the Details"

“God is in the Details”

The weather has been like a Greek play and I don’t understand what’s going on, one moment it’s calm and there’s singing, the next it’s like the world will end.

And you would have thought with all this fussiness I inherited on my mom’s side, this need for constant circling around the house to keep things in order, I would have made for a better project manager. Like, if you’ve got that compulsive need to keep things in order and you’re well-organized, you could be good as a PM, you could sort of like it.

But something went afoul in me or the state of Denmark, and now here I am folding my kids’ laundry and learning how to handle bleach, taking notes and then blogging about it.

The one thing about being unemployed the past few months is getting to really know my kids. Before (this is a confession), the kids kind of got in the way of my work, that’s how it felt. Like they were on the outside of this cocoon I’d spun around myself. It was this Point A to Point B thing, skipping from task to task hoping I’ll get across and not go under.

And with Lily small for her age but a couple years older than Charlotte and Charlotte pretty much normal-sized, their clothes are like indistinguishable to me, a blur of ponies and cartoon characters and ice cream cones.

So to hunker down and actually wash, dry, fold, and start to identify each garment as unique to each girl, that’s new to me. To hold a shirt up and picture one of them inside it for a second makes me smile and gets me through any begrudging or crappy feelings I might otherwise have as a stay-at-home dad.

For our wedding anniversary, I gave the house a deep clean and realized the scent of bleach triggers a special place in my brain that brings pleasure and comfort, a natural relaxant, and not bad for huffing.

And like a lot of our friends and people we know, we had professional cleaners before I quit my job. Despite what any therapist or financial planner will say to convince you why it makes sense to hire help, it’s still a kind of leap to pay someone else to clean your house, it feels unusual. It violated some code I had in me, some discomfort I was now part of a class I didn’t picture myself in or necessarily like. I thought I was too down to earth, but I soon got over that.

So you would think the compulsive fussiness, the constant up and down around the house picking things up and putting things away, that would incline me to project management, a paid gig for endless woes and miscalculations and shit not put away or broken or just about so, stains that will never come out however hard you try, socks missing their mates and reappearing in the wrong places, ants getting in under the door sweeps and like talking shit about you, the ants: nothing ever quite right again after you see them, the ants.

I got outed as a project manager, or passed the litmus test, with a business owner who all but puked on a piece of paper she put on my chair, bullet pointing everything she thought we needed to manage it with an almost Beat irreverence, off-the-cuffness.

And when we sat down to have a proper discussion about it and she sensed my unease, my tightening jaw, she grinned a bit behind her glasses and said, What’s the matter, you don’t like it because it’s not organized?

And I nodded yeah, of course: and it was like I’d advanced a rung with her, to reinforce why I was the right guy for the project, even though I wasn’t. You think you can do anything until you stop thinking you can, which is true of just about everything.

So it’s ironic that after quitting my job to redefine myself now, at the end of the day the task before us, to relocate our family to Europe for a year, really just requires a solid project plan.

I bought a white board and last week, Dawn and I had a status meeting where I facilitated and drew columns, color-coded things by priority and even used some acronyms.

And like they will jam down your throat in the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the need to reiterate, to go back and refine plans once you’ve completed them, is the most important thing to effectively manage a project. Because the plans are never done. Plans change. But planning…is still important.

We had this foolish assumption it would be a lot easier to live in Europe for a year. We’d never heard of the Schengen, underestimated the complexity in shopping for health insurance or how long it would take to get the paperwork to fly with pets.

And that’s why companies hire project managers, to find people who get off prodding all these little details out and fitting them together, like drawing a map, complete with the mythical dragons in the water because they really are out there and do have multiple heads, they’re uglier than the drawings, impossible to imagine, but know how to sink you on email and pretend like it never happened when you see them in the hallways.

The good project managers I knew I didn’t like. They had qualities I admired because I knew how hard it was, but because they were true PMs, it’s like I never really saw them without their costumes. They didn’t seem like happy-go-lucky people, because they’d looked inside the ass of the world and seen it for what it is, infinitely dark and untenable.

And I knew I couldn’t worry about being a nice guy but I never stopped worrying. There was a guy, a mentor of mine who is the reason I got into it all, who had an eye-twitch, a recovering alcoholic and brilliant PM who said I really don’t give a damn if you don’t like me, if you don’t think I’m nice. It’s not my job for you to like me.

You really have to get over that, or not even know what I’m talking about when I say it, if you want to be a good PM. And it was my Achilles heel to be nice, to want to be liked.

Because like parenting, you teach people how to treat you. And people are like kids, they will push to see how far they can go, how little they have to do or how much they can get away with; they will define your level of authority unless you do because it’s all just words until you act on it, how much you really mean it when you warn there’ll be consequences.

No, at the end of the day when I was leaving the best comments about me spoke of my integrity and having a good heart.

You can be a good PM and be all of these things, just not me.

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The handlebar mustache sequence

The English professor looked like a smaller version of David Crosby. Like if you let the air out of David Crosby, that’s what he’d look like. Except they let too much out of his face, to where the cheekbones looked jagged and taut. But the eyes were the same: soulful, deep and far away. Crazy cat’s eye marbles. And it was a handlebar mustache that must have been the same he’d started in the 1960s and kept all that time, a good 25 years, graying but still the same — wiry and tough like a brush you’d use on a grill.

And we were there to learn poetry two times a week which was ridiculous the professor said: he strode into class with a western style hat, a suede leather jacket that was frilly with designs on it and chocolate-colored, southwest jewelry on his belt buckle, around the wrists.

I think about him at this time of year because there’s always that first really nice spring day it gets into the 70s, when everyone rolls their car windows down and turns their car stereos up. It was like that in his class one afternoon, when all the dorm windows opened and the blankets came out on the lawns and people started sunning themselves and fanning their hair out.

We were just starting class when a rock song came by from a nearby car and the music was so loud it became like this new reality, like a black hole where gravity goes backwards or something and everything bends to some new, immutable force. The professor was talking but visibly distracted by it, getting pulled away by the song, to where he just broke out of character at once and threw his hands up and said, Oh how can I compete…with the masters?

He was fumbling for the name, fingering the air for it, and one of my classmates blurted Led Zeppelin!, and he said, of course: Led Zeppelin.

And he cocked one of his hips out like Jimmy Page and threw his head back and said we should all just go home now, there’s no need for any of us to be here today. And that seemed right somehow: yes! This class we’d paid for (or our parents had), we don’t need on such a day as this. The real poetry is out there, people: Go, Be.

We up and left and went about our days and he gathered his things, put his hat on and gave me a smirk that said I get you. 

And I don’t remember his name but I imagine him on days like this when I play Led Zeppelin in my car with the sun roof open, when I’m removed for a moment and my senses return with the season and it all just happens like that, one day.

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I don’t know what I like, but I know art

pinklightsabre:

If for some odd reason you’re not following Ross, you should. Have a snort at his latest, here. The world needs more clowns.

Originally posted on Drinking Tips for Teens:

art $10,000 please.

Gallery Parsnippy is delighted and positively damp with pleasure as we present new artistic works in our spring show.

“Zoltan’s Anvil” by Trevor Sproud – mixed media
Free at last, free at last, peanut-free at last. This is the visionary future conveyed in Sproud’s triumphant embrace via meta-whimsical nuance of a mixed retrovision, encapsulated in this stunning new piece: a jar of Planters dry-roasted peanuts embedded in an ant farm. The jar itself is filled with the shredded bits of vintage hockey cards, reminding the viewer of a more innocent time, now lost, or perhaps tossed in the trash during an impulsive basement purge, regrettably so, because those cards would be worth a fortune now. But can the past or the future truly be monetized? Obviously. The ants-as-community-as-proletariat are reminders that all those television extras one sees in restaurant scenes are talking to each other about their plans…

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Implied rooms

There is no part of me I can leave without seeing myself still,
as I get smaller on the shore.
I move about my space wondering at the edges as a toddler fans the border,
at what keeps us inside.

And it is in the dreams I sometimes feel what it must be
to fly, when there is no outside to my body
but the air that gives the balloon its shape,
the air that makes a lifeless thing expand to become wondrous,
that can find the least hospitable place to bed down
and call home, anywhere not taken,
a hiding place where we can settle in and come out
each day before it’s night,
that we can close our eyes, forget ourselves, fly.

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The adolescent love scene

My 10-year-old daughter has her first crush. It’s not her first, and it’s not a crush she’s quick to correct, but her face changes and a flurry of filters go up when she talks about him, which inclines me to think it really is a crush.

I realize I’ve snatched the note from him when she agrees to let me read it, to see what this William has to say, and I’m first taken by his penmanship which is expert, unusual, the handwriting of an artist you can tell by the joy taken in making the simple somehow beautiful: the intricacy and precision in the characters, how he wraps the lower case y’s in broad swoops and long tails, how it’s interesting to read just by how it’s presented. He has a crush on my daughter by how he writes her name, I think.

And I won’t violate the privacy of their exchange completely, but will include this excerpt:

Thank you for being a nice, fantastic, cool, awsome (sic), respectful friend.

It’s signed From William, and the font size goes down when he writes his name, as if he’s made himself smaller in relation to her.

So we talk about this, because now I am establishing trust with my daughter, in how we discuss intimate matters (even though I blog about it on the Internet), and she insists it’s not a crush, she just likes him. She likes that he draws dragons and he’s funny and smart.

And it’s not a crush because she still has feelings for Jack and that feels wrong — another category of emotion she will have to confront and reconcile some day, soon.

What’s unexpected in all this for me is how I felt about it. I did snatch the note because that was instinct, a kind of protective thing, but I felt a real eagerness for her to experience true love, too. And as a 10-year-old it may be truer in some ways than it will her whole life, when other things come into play.

William wrote the note for her because it was my daughter’s turn to be the featured student in class, something they call Star of the Week, when the classmates write a note with something nice, what they like about the featured one, and it gets compiled in a small ring of index cards from each student.

On the cover of the note, on the other side, he writes her name at the base of a snow-covered mountain with some lenticular clouds hovering where they should, as lenticular clouds, and a large petaled flower rising up in the foreground to meet the top of the mountains.

Today, my wife and I celebrate our 11-year wedding anniversary and there’s a sun for each day spread out over the five-day weather forecast.

Here’s to spring and Friday, wherever it finds you.

Nature imitating art

Nature imitating art

 

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Life is in the margins

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People go to blogger conferences for about as many reasons as people blog. I went to the first one hosted by WordPress in Portland a few weeks ago with the simple goal of being inspired, and learning how to navigate Portland by bus, without a phone.

I had to leave early, but knew I’d gotten my money’s worth. On the drive back to Seattle I stopped twice at Rest Areas to write, to remind myself why I blog here, and the question of What’s Beyond.

On the first night, they had a mixer at the hotel in downtown Portland. I stopped at a bar beforehand and met a librarian who asked what I was doing there: I told her a blogger conference and she laughed, and asked what do they talk about at blogger conferences: blogging?

She was there for a librarian’s conference, on Day 3 with another day to go, so I asked what do they talk about at librarian conferences? They talk about the future.

At the mixer, they had four writers read from their works or talk about how they got to where they are. I sat in the front row and met one of the writers, who asked what it is I do. I said I write and she said for who, and I said for my readers — and she said that’s a good answer.

And it’s probably not anything like Coming Out — going to a blogger conference to talk about why you blog — but it was awkward for me, who hasn’t got the elevator speech down: and when the librarian asked me as a kind of warm-up, she said let’s rehearse so you’re ready to talk about it at the conference, it came out of my mouth like uncooked eggs: I’m a writer with a writer’s blog blogging about writing.

At the mixer, people clumped up as people do in these settings, and I overheard some of them exchange names of professors at Columbia, of MFA’s, and I immediately resented them and went to a dark place on the edge of the room. It’s good, because on the drive home I recognized that feeling for what it was, envy and insecurity, and knew were it me, I’d love to talk about my MFA, my professors at Columbia.

But there is something to sitting in an audience and watching people on stage who are just like you, but have done something remarkable that maybe you’d like to do yourself. And there was a great variety of writers and business people who’d found a way to make it, or a route where they will, by way of the blog.

I started this blog up again in 2012 after reading my step-dad’s Wiki page. He’d been dead a few years and I didn’t know the page existed, and stumbled upon it, with references to me and my mom.

And I felt such an emptiness after reading it because like all of us, our lives can be reduced down to a few paragraphs, a 60 second read. But there was so much more to him I knew, because real life happens outside of the milestones and major events. And it was that realization that made me want to pick up my own life and start looking at it differently, to think every day could be noteworthy and interesting, and if it’s not…well, that would be too bad.

I’m 10,000 words into the first draft of my memoir with 40,000 more to go to meet my goal. And whether it really happened at the blogger conference or not, I credit those stops I made at the Rest Areas off I-5, the feeling of energy and belief I had, of knowing what I need to do and doing it.


The blogger’s conference is a brilliant idea, quite affordable and worth it. It was well organized in a laid-back but dialed-in fashion which isn’t easy, although they made it appear so. You can read more about it at the Press Publish site here, with an upcoming event in Phoenix this weekend.

 

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Lying on life insurance applications

I don’t like to lie, I’m not good at it. But there are times it’s expected, even when they insist you tell the truth, like on life insurance applications. Lying is expected but never out in the open, never outright, not unless you’re in politics or border control.

I did my best to answer the questions in the life insurance phone interview truthfully and comprehensively, but I also had plans to make dinner.

And on the forms — the addenda to the original packet of forms that come piecemeal and require scans and back and forth and so on — there’s a supplement asking for more details on your drug and alcohol history, and very small comment fields to elaborate on times when maybe you exceeded the amount you checked off in the previous question, to please explain. And this could be the basis for a 50,000 word memoir, were I telling the truth.

No: the truth is not absolute, it runs on a sliding scale. Like when I applied for my project management professional certification, to just take the entry exam you had to spend about eight hours on an application detailing out the number of hours you’d spent within each of the five phases of project management, from Initiation to Close-out, and then within the seven subject matter areas of project management, sign and attest you are telling the truth and then get three people you’ve worked with who can also vouch for you and sign and return the sealed envelope for you to mail: they sign and seal and return to you for you to mail so there’s no way you can forge their signature, sacrosanct: they have flow charts documenting how all this works, the process to apply.

I’m in the Petco giving them my Loyalty Number but it turns out my number only works at the PetSmart because I’ve confused the two, which is easy since they both have the word Pet in them and they’re about a mile from one another in some anonymous strip mall, both with red and blue in their logo and a little dog and cat, and they look the same because they’re fucking pet stores, there’s not much room to distinguish yourself, and so the girl says there’s no one with that name in our system but there is a Cecilia Pierce, should I just ring you up under her name?

And my instinct is of course not, that would be lying so I say no. But she does it anyway and just looks beyond me as she scans my things because she’s got a line and is making that face like I’m a retard, because I am: I’ve gotten to that age I can’t tell the difference between chain pet stores in the suburbs, can’t remember where I’m a member. I’m unemployed, flustered by small tasks.

I call the auto glass place to have my windshield repaired and they ask what date they should report for the claim and I say it was at least two years ago, I can’t remember. She says it has to be within the last year otherwise they get nervous and you don’t want them to investigate trust me, so I say fine: March 17. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, a day I can remember and she says great. There’s nothing to see here, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

We’re coming back through the airport from Germany and on the landing card I put down yes, we are in fact transporting soft cheese. And so they politely gesture us to a different line and a specialist comes out from Customs who looks a bit bothered: she says we’re just not used to people telling the truth about this so let’s go ahead and see what you’ve got.

And then when they ask if we’ve been to a farm I say, why yes! We were at Eberhard’s mother’s farm where the kids were petting the cows, weren’t we honey? And they all look nervous with their uniforms now and maybe some eye-rolling even: they ask if I can specify how long ago it was, how many days, and start half-heartedly inspecting the bottoms of our shoes, and was it even these shoes we were wearing or the ones we’ve packed?

And finally it gets to where the truth is too hard to manage and they just wave us on.

Lying is an important skill in child development and necessary once you reach the teen years, necessary for both the child and the parent. Do I really want to know if she’s been smoking pot or would I feel better if she said no dad, it’s just allergies?

It’s a white lie if you can defend the logic of the lie for its non-threatening impact or for some altruistic purpose, like pretending you love the dress your husband got you when really you don’t, you’ll find an excuse to return it. Telling the truth would hurt his feelings.

Or complimenting someone by saying nice house even when it’s not, but you’ve just met them and don’t know what else to say and it’s expected to say that, everyone does.

For our first house, the bank made a mistake and processed a large check I wrote but never took the funds out of my account. After some time I called them because it was the right thing to do, and I didn’t want it to come back to haunt me after I’d spent the money.

But the woman was short with me and implied maybe I needed help balancing my check book, and her tone changed with me just like that woman at PetSmart or Petco, it went to a mechanical processing place like I was a child, so no, there’s nothing else I’ll be needing help with today fuckyouverymuch.

Our friend Laurent discovered a brick of French Francs renovating his kitchen in France, reported it to the people who sold him the house, whose aged mother had stashed it during the war in a moment of forgetful paranoia, and then the family seemed put out they had to make arrangements to come meet him to retrieve the money, asked he not say anything so they wouldn’t have to report taxes on it, and didn’t offer to give him any.

I’m still waiting for the underwriter to finish with my policy. I’m betting I’ll die and they’re betting I won’t, that it will work out better for them based on my risk level. The joke is on them and the truth is unknown; it’s on a sliding scale and no one really wants to know the answer, it would take too long to get there.

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A slurry of scraps and symbols

A Day Within A Day, by Loren Chasse

We drink the blood of Christ from plastic cups and it turns our tongues red, seals us in our symbols and the art of make believe that is faith, belief without proof. And as I enter you I forget myself, the dark corners of my heart where doubt makes shapes and shadows to mimic the living, the shades of ourselves we sometimes see when we’re not looking, they appear.

I am 44 going on 45 and find myself back on a dead end road I made special one night in the 80s with a girl; we went there to park and pet each other and it was the first time I confused love with lust and not the last, it’s hard to tell which was which.

I came back to the road to brood as a teen, to pace and feel the memory of it, the hurt after she left, for it held the promise of something greater I would one day use but could not name.

The same road I first noticed the nearby hills had the color of yarn in an autumn sweater when the leaves turn and I felt this stirring I would one day write, it’s here that dream began and I came back for it with a camera around my neck and a rental car with out of state plates convinced I was still here somewhere in these streets and the cracks in the pavement, the houses I did not remember and could not recognize but like me, they were still the same, they were still there.

I take notes with my family, scraps of what they remember, postcards from the past, a farm out in the sticks of central Pennsylvania:

My uncle cleaning out the concrete cistern, lowering him down in the dark to remove the dead rats and other things that didn’t belong in drinking water.

My dad went back to feed the table scraps to the dogs and gave them the bones from pork chops mixed in with a slurry; they ate the bones like cookies until there was nothing left, just snapped them up.

And Sterl sold sewing machines but they were used ones he sold for new because he was crooked — and they had to leave town in the middle of the night one night: he said to the kids get up, we’re going.

A woman named Sprau who looked like a witch and wore her hair up and Sterl called her Furnace because she smoked Camels one right after the other; she looked after mom. No one knew her first name, she was just Mrs. Sprau. Or Furnace.

A picture of the Last Supper by my uncle’s kitchen table: it has some psychedelic effect that makes it look 3D, gives it the illusion of added depth if you come at it sideways. There’s a checkered floor that looks like a chessboard and they are all sitting on the same side of the table facing the camera, Jesus in the middle with his head bent listening, the disciples leaning in with their beards and stern looks, the paneled ceiling stretching back to a point of infinity that disappears in the darkness of space, that place where souls go when they are done here on earth, if you believe the story.

He bought the picture from a guy who sold nuts and bolts out of the back of his car, a ’57 Chevy Bel Air that got stolen at a wedding, they could have sworn they parked here but it was gone, all the nuts and bolts and pictures of Christ in the trunk, a slurry of table scraps for dogs barking to be let out and follow their scents, no past or future just this: to bed down in the darkness with their breed and circle in the same spot, to hunt.

There’s no point taking photos because it’s not the same, something’s missing in the pictures. My camera goes back in the bag. I drag my daughter through this too and she says she remembers places by how they make her feel, and she’s right. You don’t see that in the pictures, it’s what hangs there in our hearts and draws us back like ghosts, our time here on earth.

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