Monday, September 24, 2018

Day Three Thousand Nine Hundred and Nineteen . . . Only the living.

What makes this life exciting?

Do you know? Does it really matter?

I don't know about you, but I often have to check myself and make sure I'm still living here in the present tense--seeing, feeling, thinking, doing . . . being here. 

So much of my brain has been portioned off over the last few years to process the news coming at it at light speed. I need to remind myself that "the news" in any format has to pay the bills. And if people aren't paying attention to it in one way shape or form then the lights will eventually get turned off. So while I appreciate keeping up-to-date on what's going on in the world I know that the news is a business and I am a consumer. 

Consuming anything in too large a quantity will eventually lead to bloating. And that's never a good look. 

So it's time for a rest . . . 




I love the autumn in New England and today was (and still is) a perfect specimen. 

Just last week I had to break out the wool-lined slippers that had enjoyed a comfortable couple of seasons in the back of the closet. They take the place of my blue, suede, made-for-the-Japanese-market Birkenstock sandals that take me from the bedroom door to the mud room and back again hundreds if not a thousand or more times from sometime in May until the middle of September. I used to walk through the bedroom across the white carpet (came with the house) but my very smart and very patient wife, Jodi, has gently convinced me that that is not in the white carpet's best interest. So they stay just outside the door like a well-behaved black lab ready for action at a moment's notice. 

The Birks can eventually commiserate with my boxer pajama bottoms that are in semi-retirement. My flannel PJs have sent the equipment truck to the ball park in wait for opening day. That'll be sometime in the first week of October. 

And my precious wool blazers are starting to feel a little less conspicuous. They fit in better with the shorter and colder days.

Tee shirts will always be in season, but my black (almost always black) crewneck sweaters usually get the lead story in my wardrobe this time of year. They ask so little while providing such a solid base of sartorial confidence.

But I love any season, really. Because I love this life. And I don't mean my life, necessarily. I don't mean what I do for a living or even what I do for enjoyment. 

I just mean life. 


I can only speak for myself, of course. After all it is the story that I can see from my two eyes bouncing around the ether and interweaving with other people's--hopefully for the better of both. The people and the places and the events that transpire--even if it's just holding the door for somebody or a smile exchanged while passing by in the supermarket. These are the things that only the living can do. 

On so many occasions in past years I would lament having to get up early and go to work, or have to meet somebody who I didn't really know--having to make small talk and hoping I didn't come off as shallow or uninterested or worse . . . uninteresting. But that almost always goes both ways. 

These are things we all do. These are all bullet points in the social contract we sign as we grow and mature into a person. It can take all our time worrying that we might have said the wrong thing or should have said something when we left an awkward pause. Conversely we can feel such joy in sharing a laugh over something that connects us. We can feel proud that we did well on a test after working so hard and pushing ourselves into a place we're uncomfortable with. 

Sometimes just walking into a building is a test in itself. We have so many interactions out and about on any given day that fall somewhere in between a pass and a fail. I can look back on ten of them in the last hour of running errands and give myself a grade: a solid B+.

But I don't normally do that. And I definitely am being generous with that B+ . . . but this is my life and I hold the black pen as well as the red one. I correct my own tests.



There is love and life and happiness everywhere I look. I see it in the faces of the people who live in my town. I saw it last night when we gathered on the lawn of the local library to sing some songs together. Some songs we all knew and some were learned on the spot. But the breath of two hundred or more people under the light of the harvest moon made magic out of an otherwise uneventful September Sunday. 

Only the living can do that. 

I have begun to learn another language that doesn't use the Roman alphabet. Finally I have a chance to learn how to write with a pen so that it is actually readable, even if only by a few hundred million people. This language uses straight and curved lines, yes, but they make shapes that most Americans only associate with ethnic foods and action movies. I'm learning how to combine them to make whole and cogent thoughts. Soon they will become longer sentences with verbs and adjectives and some day they will become actual paragraphs just like this one you are reading in English. Each time I attach a new meaning to these letters and words it helps me realize that all I know isn't all there is. 

Only the living can do that. 

I still procrastinate and put things off that I should do today. I'll never fully outgrow that. But the lifestyle I have allows me to at least pull away from time to time and assess where I am now in relation to where I want to be. I have a long ways to go in a few aspects and there are life tasks that I have to get done with however many years I have left on this earth. 

I get distracted.

I get excited.

I feel overwhelmed.

I let emotions get the better of me.

I overstep.

I make corrections. 

I feel regret.

I feel whole.

I feel less than.

I fear the dark.

I find a dollar on the ground.

I smile and nod and feel a wave of acceptance.

I think I'm twenty one again. 

I see a new wrinkle.

I see it go away when I smile. 

I turn out the light.

I wake up with love in my heart. 

Only the living can do that. 





Thanks for reading,

~FAJ




Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Day Three Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty Eight . . . Odd jobs.

There's a corner of my house I look at every time I go out to the back yard.

It's right next to the outdoor faucet which has a long garden hose connected to it so it gets a lot of use. I mean, nothing gets "done" in that corner right outside the perimeter of the deck, but it gets looked at every time we water the plants which is pretty often these days.

"Man, those leaves have been there since the fall", I'll often say to myself. "I need to clean that up." And then I move on and do three or four other things and it gets left and forgotten about until the next time I fill up the watering can or roll the hose back up.

In fact, now that I think about it I did clean that corner up this spring. But I guess not well enough, because up until just this past weekend there was a fine matted and thick layer of maple tree leaves c. November of 2017.

The job never fully got done.

But this weekend was a beautiful one indeed. The five day heatwave finally broke and we had temps in the high 70s and low 80s. Some nights it got downright chilly. And so I found myself outside a good deal of the time.

One of these days I did a bunch of weeding and Jodi did a bunch of watering and planting. As I was headed over to turn on the hose faucet for her I saw--as I had twenty times at least since the springtime kicked in--this very high profile corner with the matted carpet of leaves . . . and I began to put handfuls of them into one of the the many trusty Wegman's bags Jodi's mom had given us. It took all of four minutes for me to clear out this corner. And when I say clear out I mean I actually did a "good" job as opposed to my lifetime history of providing the barest of bare minimums in most situations that involve any kind of manual labor.

Upon putting the last brown brittle leaf in the bag I walked over to the side of the yard and emptied the contents onto one of the many piles of garden refuse amassed there, and then I returned to see the grand renovation I had spearheaded.

It was glorious.

This 5' x 5' area that I had overlooked for so many weeks if not months seemed like it was actually smiling at me. The landscape rocks that had spent the entire springtime in darkness were finally seeing the brilliant sunshine of July. The deck's damp lower corner's lattice work was finally breathing the same cool dry air I was. And the lines of the red bricks connecting with the foundation seemed to be showing off their pristine and prominent right angles.

Everything made sense again. 

And all because I took four minutes to throw a few handfuls of leaves in a bag.

It's really incredible to me to look at something like this and think how such a small amount of effort can pay off in such rich visual and emotional dividends. And I know that not everyone gets a thrill from cleaning and organizing as I do. My mom, God bless her soul, was a "pack rat" as they used to call them. And there weren't too many corners of her house which didn't have something taking up space. Whether it was a life-sized ceramic baby lamb wearing a straw hat, or a Sterlite tub of gifts--still with their tags attached--purchased at a going-out-of-business sale earmarked for somebody who she hadn't yet met, the space she called her own was seemingly always filled to the max. I don't know if she could have lived in a house devoid of some sort of clutter without feeling the need for change. All I know is that an simple minimal life is one I hope to someday achieve. And each day I work towards that goal bit by bit, selling things on eBay, giving to the Good Will or making hard decision of what to throw away.



I have lots of areas in my life that are covered with a thin but stubborn layer of old leaves. Places where I meant to keep up with something or stay in touch with someone, but somehow every time I think about it my attention is either thrown overboard or gets dragged away by someone or something beyond my control. I know that this is a combination of intentional avoidance and legitimate overstimulation. But neither is an excuse for at least not addressing it.

I have learned over these ten years and counting that this life I'm trying to live--a sober life--isn't something that is achieved with the decision to stop putting specific things into my body.

Of course that is the big one.

It's the all-encompassing goal.

It's the house.

But it's the little things that pop up on a daily basis that help this dream become a reality.

It's the little piles of mental leaves that nag and taunt from an often used corner of my mind. An issue in my world that I keep meaning to address but never seem to "find" the time.

It's the weeds that pop up in the driveway--the ones that found life from the cracks that a long winter's thaw made--these are the places that need attending.

The loose boards in the deck that I walk over day after day after day and I keep saying "I need to really put a nail in that thing" and then I remember I never checked on the mail.

If I put a nail in the board it will fix it for a long time. But takes finding a hammer and, of course, a nail and putting the effort into it. It's not easy but it's not hard. It's just something I would rather put off. Most days I'm not expecting anything special in the mail, but it's easier to walk down the driveway and check it mindlessly, and then look at my phone and feel it is my duty to comment on something that someone said on some stupid social media site.

The next day I'll walk out on the deck and the board will still be broken and I'll have nobody to blame but myself.

The weird thing is, when you fix something, or clean something, or deal with something, for the most part that's it. It's done. It's done and you don't notice it again. I can fix the board in the deck today (and maybe I will) and the next time I walk on it I might notice it's not broken anymore. But that detail fades away pretty quickly and the stimulation is absorbed into the ether. Maybe part of me liked the constant reminder. Maybe part of me enjoyed knowing that that area to the right of the faucet needed to be cleaned. I don't really know, because I don't really notice that corner anymore.

I have some corners in my life that need attending to. They're mainly areas that I've put off for years because things have been going well. I don't feel like they've been growing from neglect like a patch of weeds. They're more like a thick rug of brown leaves that have amazingly kept in some moisture from a couple of seasons ago. There may be a mushroom or two underneath, who knows?

I've grown accustomed to the way that part of my world looks and feels, but I know inside that there is work to be done.

I realize that if I peel away these layers--and this job will take longer than the four minute bagging that I did to the right of the faucet in my tangible world--but if I peel away these layers, or put a nail in the stubborn loose board that I keep walking over, that this will keep my own house healthy and this will keep my relationships with others strong.

The payoff for all of this is different than just stepping back and being able to look at a corner of the yard you've just weeded and saying, "Wow, that looks so much better!"

In fact, there is no guarantee that there will actually be any noticeable difference.

There's no promise that the path one takes to mend a broken fencepost will lead to lasting change.

This life--I'm learning--doesn't get any easier the more days that go by.

Because a fence is more than one post, a house is more than one brick, a garden is more than one weed and a tree's leaves will always fall.

The job never fully gets done.

But there's a moment to strive for when one can hopefully lay back in bed and see a lifetime of little accomplishments and smile.

And sleep.

And wake.

And see the beauty in the job itself.


Thanks for reading,

~FAJ








Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Day Three Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty Six . . . Birds Of Prey

Something happened yesterday that affected me more deeply than I thought.

A couple of years ago my wife and I installed a birdhouse in our back yard. We got it specifically for the bluebirds who spend time here seemingly all throughout the year. They are so sublime in their coloring and they seem to just enjoy sitting, eating, and sleeping. They aren't too big and they aren't tiny. They are round and fluffy and they almost seem to smile from time to time. When I see them I can't help singing "Mr Bluebird's on my shoulder . . . "

In short, they make us happy.

We were told that the best place for the birdhouse is on a tall pole in the middle of the most wide open area in the yard. It seems that the bluebirds enjoy not only the inside of the house but also sitting on top and being able to survey what's going on around them. So we bought a pole that screws into the ground--it's about 6' tall--and it has a podium to screw the birdhouse onto.

We have a couple of pairs of binoculars which we use to watch all manner of wildlife that enjoy what we call our backyard to go about their lives. We call it ours but it's really just an area that abuts a sizable parcel of conservation land. So really it's for any non-human who cares to walk, hop, crawl of fly into its boundaries. My mom and aunt would love it.

So these bluebirds--there seem to be three or four of them--enjoy this birdhouse very much. Every time either Jodi or I see one we get so happy. My eyesight isn't as great as it used to be but I can still spot the bright blue tufts on the birds head and back. I say out loud "blue-bird" to her and we both get the binoculars and check them out for a minute or so.

I had to clean the birdhouse out last year. It was incredible how thick, neat and well made their nest was. I rather hated to remove it. But we were instructed that this is something that needs to be done every year so that the following spring the bluebirds can start afresh and build a new nest, lay their eggs and raise their family.

We have a good friend who is well versed in birds, plants and gardening. She is somewhat of an oracle. She had warned us recently that if we saw sparrows going in and out of the birdhouse then that is a sign of trouble, as sparrows typically end up invading the birdhouse, killing the inhabitants and taking over. They eventually mark their territory by adding onto the well-made and meticulous bluebird-made nest with their own haphazard and indiscriminate scraps. They pile it on top and use what was there as a foundation.

Yesterday she was over and we decided to have a look.

We turned the lock on the back door of the bird house and lifted it open. To our shock we were greeted with a bright blue feather sticking out from the middle of the cross section of nest. But this feather was connected. It was connected to the rest of a once-beautiful bluebird. The poor thing had been killed sitting on its own nest, and it seemed that the sparrow that did it had begun piling onto it a mess of twigs and grass.

Our friend immediately pulled the nest out and angrily threw it on the ground.

"This is just horrible!", she said. "Those sparrows are so brutal."

I proceeded to dust out what I could from the bottom of the house and we decided to put it back up in case the bluebirds who were left needed a home. I had said if I saw any sparrows in it I'd take it down and we'd put it away for a while.

Today I saw exactly that and went to check the house. Sure enough there was a mess of straw and grass and twigs inside it--the start of a sparrow house--so I shook it out and brought it inside.

We will have to see if the bluebirds return and, if so, whether it is safe to put the house back up. I don't really want to feel responsible for any more preventable bird deaths. Once again, I have too much of my mom and aunt inside me to let this happen.


But this all was very much unsettling.

We are living in increasingly unstable times, and many mornings I wake up in a bit of a panic. This feeling subsides as I my consciousness settles in and my day gets rolling. But some days it's enough to make me just want to just stay in bed until it gets dark again.

I know I'm not alone in this.

I feel like the world is so fractious and unpredictable that sometimes when I make it through to the end of the day and I'm brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed I get so excited that I get to sleep and turn off for seven hours.

It used to be that I hated to go to sleep because there was so much to do--so much to live for in the waking world.

I'd call this a byproduct of getting older (today is my 48th birthday) but I think it's a combination of many things.

I think the reason seeing the bluebird's lifeless body trapped between two disparate nests affected me so deeply is that it is a significant analogy to the way my life used to be. And I see how every day I am faced with uncertain dangers from most directions.

I try and keep my life orderly and organized. And while I'm far from perfect I'm happy to say that the streams of responsibility--bills, meetings, rehearsals, gigs, life events, etc--they all seem to flow pretty smoothly into the ocean that is existence in my world today.

I like to keep an eye on what's going on around me--not in a paranoid sense, but more so just to try and stay aware in case I need to make a sudden decision.

But I like to also be able to crawl inside my box and peer out from within, while sitting atop the nest that I created--my everyday version of sticks, grass, stone and mud. But, of course, this perspective only allows for so much in ones view. They say "don't look back" but reflection is important, and awareness is even more essential.

And I admittedly show off a little bit--fluffing my plumage here and there (I am a performer after all)--but I try to keep things in check and realize that life isn't all about attention. This is extremely difficult for me to remember being the only child of an overly doting mother.

I enjoy making the bed every morning and smoothing out the wrinkles in the sheets and preparing for the coming sleep in a matter of thirteen hours of conscious living. It's my way of sweeping out the nest for the next cycle of slumber.

But the sparrows are everywhere. Some are very much real and some are self-made. They exist in every city in every state in every country all around the world. And they are not content to live life on life's terms. They exist to take what they want and smother anyone who gets in their way. They see a doorway to a sanctuary and decide that this is what they want and they come in and take it without warning.

I don't struggle with temptation often, but it happens from time to time. And when it does I feel like a sparrow is staring at me square in the face waiting for just the right moment to pounce. I see people all around me who are dealing with their demons (or, rather, not dealing with) and I wish I could help. I have reached out to many but it is often not easy to accept help until help is the only option.

And all that said, I will try to live like the bluebird today.

I will enjoy my surroundings and the neat little nest I have built--a personal ecosystem created with rational, healthy, and conscious decisions.

I will attempt to live in the moment and not look too far ahead or too far behind.

I will fluff my feathers just the tiniest little bit at how far I've come, while at the same time remaining humble and grateful for what I have.

And I will accept love from those who care to show it to me.

I was raised by a family of bluebirds. They are gone now but the joy they brought to this world remains unchanged and unparalleled.

I may be the last of my kind but my time here is hopefully far from done. And I have many smiles to bring out.

Like the bluebird, I will try to make others happy, even if it is from far, far away.

The animal kingdom extends farther than the eye can see.

We are all capable of great and beautiful things before we fly away.

Thanks for reading,

~FAJ