Dear Diary…

11:37 p.m. Wide awake in a hotel in Los Angeles, California, USA. Tired, but not sleepy. Had to present at a conference regarding student success. Went ok, but didn’t have my usual rhythm. Felt off and a bit disconnected with the attendees who were all professors or professionals in higher education. My mind was not in sync with my mouth – kind of like lyrics that are forced into a melody. Oh well. 

Just finished a book about Andy Griffith and Don Knotts of American television and film fame.  Their show The Andy Griffith Show was a big part of our younger lives and views of small town America.  As I read it, I kept reflecting on my life and mortality. Nagging thoughts about things I have yet to learn – not knowledge, but wisdom. 

At the conference, I said goodbye to a young colleague who worked under my supervision for the past three years and is leaving for greater challenges and rewards. She is stoic by nature, but had tears in her eyes as we said goodbye. As I turned away, my eyes teared up too…totally unexpected. I wondered, “Where did that come from?”  But, I knew. I cared. If so, why didn’t I show it more often? And, how many other things and people do I care about, but don’t acknowledge it? And, instead of admitting that deep concern … instead do I demonstrate frustration, anxiety, anger in the place of what I really feel?

In wrapping myself up, what have I missed out on? What have I kept to myself that should have been shared, at least with those closest to me?  Have I passed that terrible trait on to my children? 

My father…not one for showing much emotion even in the saddest of moments… was once given a puppy by my younger brother. When we grew up, dogs were never clean enough to be allowed in our house, regardless of how clean they were. However, my father was about the age I am now when he got the puppy named Dee Oh Gee (dog). My father embraced Dee Oh Gee as if the dog was human. We were shocked at the kindness and tenderness displayed between the two. My father had an outlet for all that wrapped up emotion. Dad’s reaction was not the first time I had noticed this interaction between dog and master. I see it all the time – even with college students who can’t stop texting long enough to acknowledge someone is in their presence. Strangers, who wouldn’t dare stop to talk to you, will come right to you if you are walking a puppy and chat away as if long lost friends.

Maybe we are all holding back. Me think this not good thing…except for the dogs. Sleepless nights in L.A. make you think about such things. 

So Long Old Friend

From Day One, there was one chick that was bolder and more curious than the rest.  I would play my guitar or mandolin and that chick would come running over. It got handled the most by everyone too.  It was hands-down my favorite.  However, I was noticing changes.  This chick grew the fastest and got a comb much faster and much bigger than the others.  It also started “taking care” of the other chicks.  In other words, it started looking like a rooster.

When we got the 8 chicks, the feed store said the “sexing” was 98% accurate.  I was hoping with 8 chicks, we might stay under the “pushing it” limit, but that also explains why I did poorly in my college probability course.  Getting all female chicks is important because our town has an ordinance against roosters.  Your dogs can bark all night, the trucks can make all sorts of noise, and people can scream at one another in a drunken rage – but we draw the line with a crowing rooster.  We are, after all, civilized folks. (That is American sarcasm for my readers outside of the USA.)

I kept trying to tell myself that this favorite chick was not a rooster.  She was just a big, strong girl who liked to be the boss of … everyone.  “She” still would come up to me and eat out of my hand.  We still had our conversations, but something was coming between us. I thought maybe it was me.

This morning, however, “she” started crowing.  Well, not really crowing, more like a cross between a scream and someone gargling. It was over.  She was a he.  Now I know that many, many people would look at him as dinner.  Me, I stopped eating chicken 10 weeks ago when I was wiping the chicks butts so they would not get pasty butt…something I never envisioned myself doing prior to 10 weeks ago.

So, through an informal network of chicken owners, I found a kind couple who raise roosters and allow them to live out their lives under the cliffs of Butte Creek canyon.  We brought the young cockerel to the people along with a bag of feed.  They remarked on how pretty he was and healthy looking and that he would have a fine life among the  hens once he gets a little older.  They asked his name and I said, “Clint.” He was named after the greatest male actor of all time, including the early Greeks.  Clint Eastwood, yes.  I did ask them if they played the mandolin or guitar?   They said “No,” but they do like and play Country Western music.  I said, “That’ll do.”

As I drove away, leaving Clint in the arms of his new owners, I felt sad. Who in the hell gets attached to a chicken!!!  I need to go watch a Clint Eastwood movie and toughen up.

I laugh, you cry…I cry, you laugh

(My  German friend wrote a wonderful comment on one of my blog postings and it jarred  a memory for me…)

Funerals are, well, they are funerals.  Something very odd happens when the living intersects with the dead.  It is a very odd invite list.  At this intersection the rules of engagement can be in conflict.  We laugh with joyful memories, we cry at our loss.

For some people, their religion steps in and clears up the muddled mess with ceremony, tradition, and an additional cost of dying.  Sometimes two or more sacred ceremonies are combined for the sendoff.

My mother had  many cousins, but one of my favorites was a joyful man who enjoyed beer, women, hard work in the outdoors, and had an absolute devotion to his family.  He had money, but he wouldn’t spend it on fancy cars or home improvement projects.  He lived in a small town outside of Yosemite National Park where he spent his youth living in a Native American (Indian)  village along with my mother and many others..  My wonderful great grandmother was his wonderful grandmother.  (I’ll blog about her later.)

As often happens, this favorite cousin died.  His graveyard ceremony was a mixture of Miwok (his tribe) and Catholic burial traditions.  The cemetery was 50 yards from his house which does make dying a little more convenient.  The cemetery is old with bare dirt and small trees on an arid hillside. It is also right in the middle of the so-called California Mother Lode, a rich deposit of gold that ended up not being kind to the original inhabitants, the Miwoks.

Being a very popular, ‘favorite son’ of the area, many people were standing on that hillside for the grave site ceremony. The old people were in cheap, plastic chairs sitting about 5 feet from the casket.  Miwok passages songs were sung and the priest followed his script.  The pallbearers stood at attention in their denim jeans and cowboy boots.  The time came to lower the casket into the just dug out ground. It was lowered with some contraption that had two straps around the casket to slowly lower our cousin to his final resting place. It was a very nice ceremony until…

… one of the straps broke and the casket suddenly jumped up and tilted, like the Titanic sinking into the ocean, with my cousin’s casket going headfirst into the hole.  For the first time in my life, I heard what a collective gasp sounded like.  It was like everyone sucked in all the available air into their lungs.  I can only describe it as the opposite  sound of the wind.  The old people’s eyes got huge, but they didn’t seem to move, even keeping their heads still…a combination of shock and stoicism.

Well, the next thing that happened, and it happen very quickly, was that the pallbearers all jumped into the grave to try to level the casket out with their arms, shoulders, legs…whatever.  Soon there were at least six boots sticking up in the air as if their wearers were doing handstands.  The boots almost looked like flowers at the graveyard, all different styles and colors.

I was standing about ten yards away, by my myself, and at my great grandmother’s grave site.  I thought, “Shit, you don’t see this everyday.” I even considered taking out my smartphone and taking a picture, but decided perhaps I shouldn’t. Now I kind of wish I had.  Fortunately, someone had taken the time before the ceremony to make sure the casket lid  was secured..or this story would have included the deceased tumbling out of his new dwelling.

The boys in the grave got everything fixed and climbed out covered with fresh dirt and the ceremony continued with nobody acknowledging what had just taken place. We put rose petals on the lowered casket and walked back through the graveyard to my cousin’s nearby house for food and conversation.  Still, nobody said a thing as we snaked our way around the graveyard.  I was walking next to my 90 year-old grandmother, who loved her nephew as a son. This grandmother was not your prototypical grandmother.  She still loved to get drunk and she cussed like a sailor.  She was also very, very smart. I finally said to her as we were still making our way down the graveyard hill, “Well, that was something.” My grandmother replied, ” I am sure he was saying, what the hell’s  going on up there? I am headfirst here! Can’t you do anything right?” I asked her, “What do you think he would have done if he was here?” She replied, “He would have laughed his fucking ass off.”  And, with that, we started laughing our asses off as we headed for the afterparty.

Five years later, I once again was at that same cemetery with the same priest and the same people except for one… it was time for my grandmother’s graveyard service.  Toward the end of it, the kindly priest slid over and quietly asked me if I wanted to lower the casket while everyone was present or do it after we all left (back to my same cousin’s house for the afterparty)?  I said, “Father, I’ve seen what can happen. Maybe we should have everyone leave first.” He nodded that wise nod of holy men as if to say, “Good answer,my son.”

 

A Great, Tiny World

Want to hear something really wierd…well, wierd to me anyways?

A few months ago, I decided to take a great, big, bold step and share a small piece of me with total strangers.  I started posting my songs on a website called Soundcloud.  The site keeps ‘play statistics’ for you, if you care about such things. I am closing in on 4,000 plays, but that is no big deal because some people get their songs played that much in a single day.  At 62, my musical niche is pretty slim – but I have no control over what inspires my songs – so slim niche it will be.  What is a big deal to me is that my songs have been heard by people in 120 countries and I have barely left the little shed where we record them!   A few of these people, in a few of these countries, have become very supportive – I would say almost at the friend level.  They are all musicians who understand the vulnerability required to write songs worth listening to… in any country.

Now on top of that, I started this little blog site to see if I might like to write. Here, right where you are now, on the world wide web, people from 50 different countries have read something that I wrote.  I am not a world traveler. I don’t even have a passport. Still between the two websites, I have probably reached people in 150 countries.

A few days ago, a Soundcloud buddy wrote me with absolute joy to tell me that he just became a grandfather for the first time.  He wanted to share it with me, the me who lived on another continent.  Others have shared their personal life struggles because we share in this thing – this thing of creating music. Some have even cared enough that they basically told me to get my head out of my ass and stop caring so much about the opinions of others. I very much appreciated the courage it took  to be so honest with me. It was a wonderful gift. (I have tried to get my head out of my ass, but I sometimes revert to that, oh so, unfortunate position.) With another person, I ended up co-writing one of my most favorite songs and we have shared some wonderful life stories.  All these kind people, I have never shook hands with or looked them in the eye.  Yet, they have added interest and meaning to my life.  In the truest sense of the word… it has been a metaphysical experience for me.

So to them, and to all the others in this great, tiny world – thank you. This has been a blast and I highly recommend it.

This song I wrote from looking at a friend’s photography website ten years ago or so.  I wanted to see if I could write, not from personal experiences or imagination, but through someone else’s life experiences. Her name was indeed Rochelle.

 

Saturday Morning Sights and Sounds

We live in a relatively small town in Northern California.  For many things we head “down the hill” to Chico where there are much larger stores.  On Saturday mornings, folks often head to the Farmer’s Martket in downtown Chico where the sights, sounds, and fragrances are wonderful. You walk around and see so many people loving life.

Not knowing how to do such a thing, I recorded and edited this video of today’s journey to Chico on my iphone.    By the way, the chickens seem to be loving life too right now as we got their chicken-run done and they are free to roam the great outdoors.

Wisdom from the ‘tache

I remember when I was younger and I would get the “giggles.”  Something would strike me as so funny that I couldn’t stop laughing, particularly if I was with a friend. We’d try to stop, but then look at one another and begin laughing again.  I think most people remember those moments.

The last time I can remember doing it, I was in a Psychology of Perception university course.  After a 45 minute, extremely boring lecture on how human eyesight works, the professor said, “And to summarize, during the day we use our cones and at night we use our rods.”  I immediately thought, “Well, hell, I could have told you all that 45 minutes ago,” and I started to giggle and then the harder I tried to stop the more the spit came out between my lips and snorting noises out of my nose. Nobody else found it that funny and that even made it worse for me.

Another time, I was in the midst of a very serious religious group of people while someone was asking for the group to pray for them due to their allergies.  As she kept describing the dust mites and their affect on her health, I started laughing under my breath and the more I tried to suppress it, the worse it got. I almost wet my pants.  Meanwhile I kept getting angry glares from the serious ones in the group which made it even harder to control.  I never got the chance to pray for that poor soul’s allergies because I had to get out of the room for her to continue with the long description of her “illness.”  I didn’t last much longer as a member of that group…nor did my giggling partner.

Things that I would get the uncontrollable giggles over weren’t necessarily hilarious in themselves, but it did feel good to laugh so hard I would lose my breath and my side would ache.  Those days seem long ago for me and others my age…and even for somewhat younger people too.  My favorite sound at work is when I hear some young adults out in the common area get laughing really hard about some silliness. I would like to bottle up that laughter and tell them to keep it with them for the rest of their lives…and mine too.

Things can get pretty serious for us as we lose our silliness, but once in awhile the silliness pops up unexpectedly.  Once I was in an important meeting with very serious people.  I have a very, very short attention span. I get bored very easy in very boring meetings which makes me fidget nervously.  In this particular meeting,  I took off my watch with the metal, elastic wrist band …like this one.

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I started to twist it around and I absentmindedly brought it up to my face where it got stuck on some whiskers from my mustache. It was dangling over my upper lip while the serious people around the conference table kept talking without noticing my situation. I knew I had to think fast. If I tried to untangle the whiskers from the band, I was certain I would draw attention to myself. That would not be a good career move. My solution was going to cause some pain, but I pulled very quickly and very hard. Tears filled my eyes from the sensitivity of the area.  Several newly removed whiskers were in the wrist band as I slipped it back on to a more acceptable location for a wrist watch…my wrist. Nobody seemed to notice as my eyes continued to tear for a minute or so. If I was able to watch that whole situation happen, instead of being so deeply involved, I would have laughed very hard.

I have decided – since this is my blog – I need to be silly from time to time.  If I am lucky, maybe someday I will get the giggles again.

Introducing a new self help series called Wisdom from the ‘tache.

 

Dear Lord

Dear Lord,

Thank you for this day.

This day is filled with blossoming trees and fields of wild flowers.  No painting could capture the glory of it all.

This day is filled with kind and supporting notes from kind and supporting people from all over the world.

This day is filled with the love of family and friends…a love that is not dependent on my actions or behaviors…a love that exists forever.

This day is filled with colleagues who care more about others than they do about themselves.

This day is filled with a little rooster trying protect the little hens…putting their safety in front of his own…an amazing lesson to watch.

This day is filled with a warming earth ready to accept the young tomato plants and flowers and the paws of a bouncing puppy.

This day is filled with new music, new poems, and joyful prayers.

This day is filled with miracles…of healing, love, and life.

Thank you for this day.

 

 

Some photos of our yard…..

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The coop, the front door, the yard, grandson (with son) getting his yellow belt in Karate

 

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