Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and eighty four . . . Flowering

I've been doing it so wrong for longer than I'd care to admit.

"Don't cut them with scissors," the lady at the flower shop told me. "Use a knife. If you use scissors it squeezes the stem together and ends up strangling the flower. If you cut it with a knife it's cleaner and it lets the flower breathe and drink and last longer."

And I just stood there and let the knowledge and understanding soak in like a mist of fresh spring rain.

Gardeners, to me, are like bakers. They hold a special bit of magic in their hands that people not in the know just can't touch. I wish I could bake a croissant or a baguette but I really don't have the stamina or the patience. If I want fantastic bread I have a great bakery just down the street I can visit. Simple as that.

I have a beautiful garden outside my house, but I've been working with a guy who is a master landscaper and he really knows his stuff. It was (and is) and investment in my house and every year he comes and makes things nice again. It's hard to believe it to look outside today but in a month this place will be a thriving botanical feast for the eyes and nose.

But I do other things that are special to me--playing music and writing these blogs--and I like to think I know a thing or two about them. It's not just because I was drawn to the world of the musician from a very young age or the fact that my mother and father were both excellent writers, though that does help. But if someone asked me a question about what's the best way to get a gig or how to hold a reader's attention I think I may just be able to give them a useful pointer or two.

So, when the lady at the flower shop shared her little tidbit with me it really made a difference.

See, these are the kind of lessons one learns in life that doesn't just help with the situation at hand; it adds to the understanding of a greater way to be.

I have many pairs of scissors in my house. My mom sort of collected them throughout her life. I have little ones, big ones, stainless steel ones, light aluminum ones, heavy iron ones, tiny sewing scissors, alligator-like pinking shears, blue-handled, orange-handled, red-handled, black-handled, and green-handled scissors. Some are sharp and some are dull and some are somewhere in between. I may even have a pair or two of left-handed ones lying around somewhere, as my aunt was a southpaw.

Something else I have a lot of in my house is pencil holders. And in each pencil holder there sits a pair of scissors (along with pens, pencils, and a letter opener, of course). I just like to be ready for anything. If there's one thing I can't stand is to be running around my house looking for a pair of scissors when something needs cutting. It's taken almost forty years but I've finally gotten to the point where I can abstain from pulling an errant thread on my or someone else's clothes. I now cut that sucker right at the root. It hasn't been easy, but the trail of open seams and missing buttons lies behind me now and stops somewhere around the 2009 spring/summer season. I feel that having a pair of scissors in each room may extend the life of untold numbers of pockets, collars and cuffs and it is part of my recovery process. But I digress . . . .

I also have letter openers. Because if there's one thing I wish I didn't do was open mail with my fingers. No matter how good of an intention I have when I start, I end up with an envelope that is ragged and torn and just about useless except that I can put my mail back in it and add it to the others in the filing cabinet that are also poster children for haste and impatience. But I keep a letter opener in every room (and one in my car, even) because I seem to get mail on a pretty regular basis. And I don't always make it to the office with said mail and something comes over me when I get something even semi-important and if I don't have a letter opener handy guess what: I use my fingers.


So, getting back to the matter at hand. I've been preparing the flowers I put around my house wrong for longer than I'd care to admit. I buy them at the store or cut them from my garden and then I bring them over to the sink. I put lukewarm water in the vase or vases and I take the closest pair of scissors and "snip" I cut the end off at an angle and stick them in the water. But, of course, doing so is wrecking the delicate system of nutrient delivery for the flowers which end up putting on a brave face and "living" for as long as they can.

But now I have learned a better way to do this. I was taught a way to make this process cleaner and more efficient. Instead of bringing two semi-sharp blades together I now take one very sharp one and put it to the stem lying on a block of wood. I slice across from one edge through to the other rather than from each side inwards towards the center.

It's these type of changes in process that can help me live my life better. Because living a more peaceful and robust life is not about just getting things done. It's about learning from others and realizing that there are paths that are proven to lead to a better outcome. I may have a pair of scissors in every room but that doesn't mean that they should be used when there's a better tool right near the sink.

As spring approaches and the buds on the bulbs start to poke their heads up from the desolate ground I get a little bit nervous. I've always liked the winter because it makes life simpler. When it's dangerous to drive it's easy to stay home. When it's cold outside there's not much chance I'm going to want to do much manual labor in the yard. And so for years I've enjoyed the months between the falling leaves and the new flowers for those special reasons. This winter was especially rough around here. The snow was brutal, roofs collapsed, the temps were much colder than I can recall and it's seemed to drag on forever. In fact we are supposed to get another snowstorm tonight and tomorrow that's going to drop a half a foot on the ground. I would love to believe that the weathermen are all in kahoots as it is all predicted for April Fool's Day. We shall see.

But somehow the coming spring has all the makings of a great and memorable season. I'm finally at a weight that I haven't been at since high school and my original music is starting take form. Jodi has taken steps to further her career in ways that she had only dreamed of and is about to leave a world of stress behind her. Our time spent together equals no other experience either one of us has ever imagined and I still can't believe it's really happening.

And these are the days when I have to remember to not pull that string on my button.

This is the time when I need to make sure that I open that important envelope cleanly because I may need to read the posted date in a hurry next year.

And these are the moments when I have to take the stem of the flower into consideration. Because though it is separated from its roots and will surely die I have the opportunity to make its time in bloom as pleasant as can be.

And it looks at me and smiles and says "you didn't have to do that."

And I know that it's right.

I smell the petals and close my eyes.

And sure enough the winter comes again.

And I have less to do.

Or so it seems.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Day one thousand one hundred and fifty five . . . This just in.

This is why people leave and don't come back.

I don't know about you but I can't read the news anymore. And as I say that, if I look back at my internet browsing history I'll find that I was just on CNN four minutes ago.

It's awful. It's addictive. It's almost always depressing, and it is, by nature, endless. But it's the reason I opened this blog up and started writing again. So, perhaps, just for today it's a little bit productive. I'll know in about 1,500 words.

I really don't know what to make of it all--this whole process of deciding what should be shared with the world--between the dangerous position of the reporters on the ground or in the office building, the reactions to the stories, the comments posted by what often seem to be mostly uneducated, vitriolic, lunatics and the slow dissolve and retreat of the aforementioned headlines to semi or full obscurity, leaving behind at the most a match in a Google search and at the least a new pet's fetid cage liner. It just seems like something is driving the people of this world to the brink of insanity or worse.

I guess the small bit of solace I can glean from it all is that I, for now, am not personally involved in any of the stories currently climbing the charts. And a disturbing facet of online news is that there absolutely is a "chart" system. By showing on a sidebar which stories are being viewed the most we are essentially turning our newspaper into a popularity contest where we just have to see what everybody thinks is worth knowing more about. It used to be the headline that grabbed a reader (or viewer, as it were). We once judged a story by the first few words and a picture or two. Now, it's an online poll with absolutely no explanation for accuracy or results.

If this red ledger line is longer than that red ledger line then this event must mean more regardless of what it's about.


Could it be that we see insanity spreading far and wide and so we feel it's becoming more acceptable? Have we arrived at a point where what is essentially intended to evoke empathy has instead led to mass indoctrination? Or is it just that when we see something unthinkable that has happened to someone else it allows us to grab ahold of that little bit of sanity which we do still possess and show it once and for all that we love it unconditionally and would do anything to keep it safe?

I feel like I am the one obese person in a ice cream eating competition that sees something is horribly, horribly wrong.

But that's just me and my metaphors. God, I wish I could stop.

I don't know. I know there's good stuff going on all over the place. I know that bad news travels faster and it usually travels cheaper (or even free and with a police escort). But I also know that I often get a distinct feeling from even some of the good news stories that makes me wonder if there's some insipid angle that's not being brought to light--that there's an underlying evil which has yet to surface. And I unfortunately feel like there's some quota of public interest stories that must be fulfilled daily. And that, to me, is the worst part of it all.

There's a certain joy I take in reading the local paper. It's not just the fact that our newspaper has been around since the eighteenth century. It's not just the pleasing fonts they use or the colors that are chosen to accompany the headlines. But I really like knowing that there is only five sections and thirty or so pages to today's newspaper (with a few extra allowed for the weekend section). I can take in only a set number of words and sentences with my eyes and there are only so many pictures to accompany those finite number of stories.

I'm not going to find any videos in the newspaper. I'm not going to set out on an endless succession of links and open windows. And I'm not going to see that thirty of my "friends" have shown their approval of any of the noteworthy pieces.

It's comforting, even though the headlines more often than not report the terror, sadness, and loss that the citizens of this world seem to dish out to each other on a minute by minute basis. It has a duty to report those issues and incidents as it is a newspaper and its focus is contained in its title. But it has a sense of scope that I feel we have lost today. It is flawed by design, but this flaw is what makes it work so well. Our brains can only take in so many items in a day and this finite form facilitates our limitations. Of course the methods of printing and the cost of production are the main culprits in its incapacity for endless advancement. But I find there to be a supreme beauty in this failing.

I wonder why doesn't include a page for comic strips? But I guess if you're using a computer then you have a world of entertainment at your disposal. Lucky us.

I'm a little concerned that someday there won't be any newspapers left for us to pick up and read. It pains me to think of a time when we will be forced to utilize such a malleable and inconsistent platform such as a web page for all of our information--something that, by design, encourages us to keep turning page after page after page after page until we are so far away from the initial story that all we can remember is that at some point we woke up, then we went to our terminal, and then we fell asleep again.

I'm worried that someday there won't be anything to ball up and stuff inside packages to send away; there won't be anything to line the cages for our animals that doesn't come from a pet store; there won't be anything to cut out for a scrapbook that hasn't come out of a home printer; and just like there are no more phone booths left in the country there will be no more newspaper boxes to squat and read the top half of the headlines. For some Americans it's our only exercise.

I suppose that there is a certain amount of irony that right now anyone who is reading this is most likely doing it on a computer. While I'm not anywhere close to a deal with Simon and Schuster I am in the process of having a certain amount of my posts put into book form with the hopes of someday having it published--at least in this language, and perhaps a few others. And when that happens I will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. Because any book has a first page and a last page. It may contain pictures and it may urge the reader to delve deeper into it's back catalog or look forward to an upcoming publication. But it has only so many chances on so many sheets of paper in which to tell its story.

And the story I have to tell--the story of my take on life and how I managed to stop trying to slowly end it--will hopefully resonate with its readers. It has a certain continuity, albeit fraught with contradictions. It has its moments of enlightenment and it has its periods of great sorrow. It has frilly, fluffy soliloquies and it has its intense bouts of self-consciousness. It has no real end as of yet but it will have a thoughtful pause as the first volume comes to a close.

All this is a dream still, but it's closer to happening than not.

My aunt, Lynda, lived to see the first nine months of entries. In fact, she helped edit many of them, the English teacher that she was.

One day when I was visiting her I saw a set of notebooks each with a picture of me and my mom on the cover--a picture from many years ago after a musical performance which moved her to tears. They were labeled "Fearless By Default Vols. 1, 2, and 3." I picked one up and flipped through it. Sure enough my aunt had printed out and compiled all of the entries I had written up to that point. I was floored. I asked her about them and she told me matter-of-factly that "One day years from now when all the computers stop working and the internet breaks down, all that will be left is what we have on paper . . . and I want your words to survive because they are important."

Of course this was something incredible to see and to hear. My aunt was always a bit of a cynic and had had many bouts of regret over some of my decisions be them musically or personally. But here was this woman who knew me better than anyone telling me she valued what I was doing with my life. She believed my cause was true. She had limitless hope for my future. And when all was said and done and the world was starting to crumble . . . when our information infrastructure has failed us and all we had was our senses and the printed page she wanted what I had to say to live on.

I will never forget that moment.

So I'll keep on plugging away with this "project" of mine. I realize these days I mostly write when an anniversary or special event has happened in my life. I've gone from twenty or more entries in a month back in 2008 to just a few now if that. But I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I've said so much already and I realize that not every story needs to be shared.

I only wish the news agencies would take a similar approach.

Today I basically had to snap out of my doldrums and put fingers to the keys and say something--anything.

It kept me off of

It kept me from turning on the radio.

It gave me a chance to clear out some of my frustrations and let off some steam.

And I hope in the 1,600 plus words you've just consumed there's a reason to come back for the next story. I'll try not to let it be three weeks from now but I'm not going to make any promises.

As soon as I press the "publish post" button at the bottom of my template right here my name will pop up in my Google Alert that someone has used my name for something--that someone, of course, being me.

Thanks for reading my news.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress . . .