When the saints go marching in

Softly the deer who live behind our house burrow down in a patch of green at night, and in the morning appear outside the abandoned house next door like figurines. The house has been abandoned for three years since it went to auction and the new owners now want to tear it down and put three new ones in its place. But it’s tied up with the city and architect, all the greed and bureaucracy that comes with large projects.

In the morning I walk to the lake to shake off what patterns I can’t undo from home, the four or five topics my mind returns to—outside the world is so much bigger on foot, without the distraction of a phone—and I come back revived, reminded of the natural world and the feel of the wind, the scent of fallen branches, what’s in bloom.

Charlotte’s a Purple Belt now with her musical recorder, having passed the latest test, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” She was at the kitchen island when I got home from work, said she wanted to play it for me—I said I need to get settled first, and when I did she demonstrated each of the notes, the fingering, the F-sharp, the A, the G: and how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.

Photo by Loren Chasse, Portland: song reference by Louis Armstrong, New Orleans.


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The first of the 7 o’clock sunsetso

Sunday, the first day +60 degrees in a long time. In the morning under the trees it sounds like the birds are filling into the auditorium, taking their seats. They all know when to come back and they all know when it’s time to go. I make a wish on my walk to the lake and return: today I’ll get the grill out, hang the hammock, open the windows in the bedroom. And on the lawn chair at the corner of our yard, all those spring memories come back, the shuffling of the cards.

Got the bikes out for the kids, took my shirt off, felt the soft burn of it in the light. All those small peeping, tweeting sounds in the trees, my kind of notification. And the first flies set upon my bare feet, I could be Walt Whitman with my beer, on a suburban Sunday. They were just common flies, but I let them check me out. All the hair on my legs stopped growing, fell out, displaced to other parts of my body in random swirls: but the legs now baby smooth, translucent-white. And the flies reminded me of the fish I let nibble my skin in one of those southeast Asian tanks you put your feet in; it’s supposed to be relaxing or restorative but it was neither when I did it in Prague and one of them drew blood, and they had to clean the tank out.

And I didn’t play jazz or classical music but listened to the birds instead, couldn’t identify a single one of them but each played their own tune and together, it all worked.

At the Whole Foods I got in line behind a girl with Pippi Longstocking hair, two bags of jalapeño chips, a San Pellegrino: and the Madonna song “Crazy for You” came on, put us in a spell, and rather than stand there facing forward she spun around and seemed to move on cue to some inner dialogue, and smiled/looked back at me as she left, and I wondered, was she touched? Like, in the Irish sense? And aren’t we all come spring, the opposite manic from fall, from winter? The light’s its own intoxicant.

Photo by Loren Chasse, Waitts Lake, eastern Washington (March, 2015)

This post a near opposite of one here.

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The self-confining myth of inspiration by routine

Call it superstition, that ritual for good luck before you perform. I go to the same spot in our den, put on a record, light a stick of incense, hope that magic happens on the keyboard. After a time you put so much faith in your routine you start to think it can’t happen otherwise. But the mind needs tricked, the idea of inspiration needs trained, and really, whatever works for you, works.

Like our dog, I circled counter-clockwise before I sat, realized the lighter was upstairs, couldn’t light the incense. But I felt the spark of routine, whatever got released in me, that’s triggered by the muscle memory of something I’ve done a thousand times, my writing habit.

And the idea of inspiration like so many other things, that’s both a gift and a place to hide.

I used to think I needed a hook, an opening or phrase, before I could write. Like the hook was the tip of something under water and once I described the top, the rest would reveal itself.

And then for a long time it worked for me to take a short walk to get that hook. Just the act of letting go and being aware of small details allowed for whatever would come, to come. I could walk for 30 minutes and then write for 60, get a good thousand words.

I did it long hand for maybe 20 years, then dabbled in doing the same on my phone. Could I make something equally interesting by stabbing it out with my thumbs and then sending it from my cell? My routine for what I wrote with my thumbs was a lot less “art” though, my mind was used to writing text messages that way, or fast emails. Maybe it wasn’t seasoned to think I could create at a higher level, so I couldn’t.

I think we humans are really good at saying who we are and what we do, and how we do it because it’s frightening to not know: but the truth is, we don’t. It’s all for us to make up and then once we get it right, that trick has limited charges: you’ll need to find a new entry point, the passwords change every six weeks.

Or, maybe you can run your routine down and never change it, but you’ll likely create the same thing, or a copy of the last version, until you sound like you’re doing covers of your own material.

The idea that inspiration is outside of us, something we wait on to visit, won’t yield consistent results. Unfortunately, the idea that inspiration comes from within makes it even harder.

This post written in the style of one of my favorite blogger/writers Seth Godin, whom I’ve been following since 2009.

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Last night on 29th place, SE

We really lived in that house,
if it was the wrapping we
were the candy, the present,
and inside there stirred our
souls and the house bore
and the calendar
pages flipped,
the seasons
passed, our photos
on the walls
faded, the trees grew
and when
it was time to go,
we emptied the house
but couldn’t look back,
it looked so small
without us.

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The importance of first impressions and personal grooming

The top of my head, my scalp, felt dry like I imagined snake skin would feel, and I took to it with the perverse interest of dried glue. I was in the tub trying to relax. I had a high-grade cooking oil the doctor suggested for the webbing behind my knees that got eczema, best to put on when the skin is wet and do in the shower, he said. But I poured too much out and used some on my scalp, thought what the heck. It’s almond oil, not cheap. I smelled like an asian dish when I got out, and it made me hungry.

For about two days my hair stood up straight and I refused to wear a hat, even when I walked my kids in public, to the bus stop or park & ride. I wanted to be like that boogie woogie singer Cadillac Kolstad we met in Germany. He always carried a comb and made a big deal out of brushing his hair. Maybe there was a part of being a guy I was missing out on, by taking active interest in my hair. This could be the start, with products: pomade, hair grease, tonics, oil.

I didn’t have to go into the office and that was good. They were going to renovate the building (tear it down), and I was coming up on the mandatory six months you have to go off-network if you’re a contractor with Microsoft. About once a year I update my resume and scatter it around (seed metaphor), and this week got some takers for informational interviews.

But I’m at the far end of my eight-week hair cut cycle, with silvery tufts starting to bloom around my ears. I did what I could on my own, had Lily shave my neck. She kept going down my back and shoulders and I thought I looked pretty good, for once.

I got to my appointment 45 minutes early and ate a hard-boiled egg in the car. Those corporate office parking lots are pretty bleak, not much to look at. I got out and walked, tried to look natural, but most people I saw were shuttling back and forth in vanpools or branded buses. The rain was a winter rain though the landscape was trending spring.

I’ll take walks like that before interviews if I’ve got gas or strange stomach sounds because neither are good in small rooms with strangers. I like to blow everything out and come in fresh, ready to be filled up.

The first thing about job interviews is you’re trying to figure out if you like one another, that’s it. You get the time because you appear to meet the qualifications, but the arguably harder, more important part, is the match made between you and the workgroup. I feel like I could do just about any kind of work, provided I like the people. And in this case I really did.

I went back to the other office, left after lunch so I could let the dog out, set my alarm and turned my phone to do-not-disturb, dozed, walked the dog, got Charlotte from the nurse’s office at school (headache, sickish), did the same with Lily at Starbucks, worked all the while in between.

At the end of the day I came down to the den and turned the lights off, watched the pendulum swing on the wall clock, reflected in the house lights across the street. If there was a moon outside it was smothered in clouds.

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Stones and bones [cemetery song]

Once you make a major purchase (house, car, major appliances) things invariably start breaking down and costing more money. Things break in multiples, the same with bad omens (in 3’s, 5’s, 7’s, like the number of days you can expect a wind storm in France). The shower head started to leak and I put a bucket under it. The dripping hit the soap caddy and ricocheted a few degrees forward. A halo of black mold bloomed there and I sprayed it with fast-acting foam, did 30 push-ups, vacuumed: anything to work through the stress and pressure I felt at work. The problem is I gravitate toward things that cause me stress, kind of need to, to work through the energy in me I can’t reconcile. Maybe it’s why I drink, write, walk, project-manage: things that require pattern-based routine to burn an inner fuel. I don’t know how the fuel got there but if I don’t use it it tends to damage me.

Lily needed a ride to the mall with a new friend, Finn. Finn has a new wave haircut, English accent, Irish mom and German dad. They live in a big green house on the side of a cliff near Tiger Mountain. The GPS on my phone got us close to Finn but not close enough. He came walking up the hill and I watched in the rear view mirror. I liked him right away.

We picked Lily up by the Blue C sushi at the Bellevue mall around 3 and she had a stuffed animal or something, which is odd, because she now looks like a teenager. It’s a weird look, with the stuffed animal.

Lily said Finn got it for her and Charlotte chimed in BECAUSE HE LIKES YOU, and there was a pause before Lily acknowledged yes perhaps, but no—she didn’t tell Finn that, a.) she has a girlfriend, or b.) that she’s “bi.” And we discussed some ways she might do that but didn’t land on anything concrete. And so I just thought about Finn at home thinking about Lily, and about me at the same age: my first girlfriend Melinda LeCount, this same time of year in 1985, making out with her on a cold park bench near Eastertime, trying to keep our noses from running all over each other while we kissed: she with her eyes closed the whole time and me watching her for a bit, then closing mine.

Charlotte and her team placed second in an academic competition related to science and creativity and teamwork, loosely sponsored by the Project Management Institute and DaVinci center. By about a half a percentage they qualified for the next round, state-level competition, and we all went to a Red Robin-type place to celebrate: something like 20 kids and parents, all separate checks, a lot of soda refills and fries, some crying and running around, lots of shit dropped on the floor. I told Charlotte how I won a speech contest when I was about her age, won the first round, then the second, but ‘choked’ at the state-level because I didn’t think I could do it. We’d all gone out to celebrate too, to a place they call The Brass Rail.

The deer and rabbits emerge like woodland creatures now in the mornings, chewing on the edges of our yard. I wrote a bleak poem about death, as winter has its grip on me still, and it goes like this:

Stones and bones [cemetery song]

If it was the last day and you knew it was, what would you do differently?
Would you kiss your kids and hold them and play your favorite songs and drive
a long drive?
And what joy would you find there, knowing it was the last.
And how can we live that way, to enjoy it fully.
And to not know. And squander so much.
And is it that, which makes us so sad
at the end,
how much we didn’t live?

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One in the same

When the rain came back it was like an old friend we’d become dependent upon who’s not good for your health but at least you know what to expect from them. It triggered the sameness of gray, of winter in the Pacific Northwest: how the moss hangs on the trees and blurs in the fog, the rhythmic drumming of it in the gutters, the roofs, the look of it pooling on the patio, the mantra of rain, to sooth or madden.

Dawn and I got up and lay in bed reading on our phones. I brewed the coffee and put the dog out, sat in the den with a low lamp on and some music, watched the light come on slowly outside, faster/earlier now, coming on spring.

I dropped Lily off at school and cooked the oatmeal, kissed Charlotte goodbye, drove to work, had to IM/text a number of people to let me in, white-boarded, sat through a status meeting, drew a process flow on graph paper, hurried my way through a salad-bar lunch, returned to my squatting area in the Microsoft office set aside for transient types (people without desks who need a place to sit and work), fired off emails, answered IM’s, talked to some people, left, stopped at the Whole Foods for a Belgian beer and liquid fish oil, came home, walked the dog.

I tried to drum up something to care or feel about on my walk, to let go. I wrote in my head as I sometimes do, but it’s always better using my hands. I put on a record and regarded the rain, popped a pizza in for the kids, reconstituted soup for Dawn and me.

The rain is really like that, a dull salve for the pain, perhaps the source of it, they’re one in the same.

After dinner I cleaned up and returned to the den, flipped the record, moved the dog bed by the fire. The bistro lights are on out back and there’s still some light in the sky, nearly 6, about the same color as it was in the morning.

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