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Words are hard!


A few days ago, a good friend introduced me to Haibun poetry. Haibun has its origins in Japan where haiku also comes from. I confess, even after writing haiku for a few years now, and even publishing a haiku book, I have never heard of Haibun. I must be kind of sheltered, I guess. So I looked into it and I find it fascinating. There are some loose rules to writing haibun, and here is a link to an article about it. Here is another link with guidelines for writing haibun.

After a few attempts, I came up with this:

An Off Spring

On a stone step, in front of the green painted wooden door of an ancient crofters cottage sit a pair of old, worn work boots flecked with brown dirt. Irish brogue voices drifting from an open window framed with shutters of the same color, reflect the somber mood within. An elderly woman speaks of the garden, her voice parched with age, telling a young boy that the planting has gone badly. With the earth as dry as dust she suggests they may not have a good harvest in the autumn. With an “aye” here and there, the boy’s voice, reminiscent of many long forgotten summers agrees, but tells the woman to be patient, a rare quality in one so young. Suddenly, the door creaks open and the old woman appears, gray hair tied in a bun with fly-away wisps at her temples. The smell of a peat fire drifts outward into the air. Deliberately lifting each foot slowly, she places them into the old, cracked leather boots as a car drives by on the road, the occupant tooting its horn. Lifting her hand in greeting she tells the boy over her shoulder, to take money from the jar and walk to the village for some eggs, the last of which they had for breakfast. As she reaches for her hoe, the boy, red haired and blue eyed, now in the doorway, looks across the open fields. Dark clouds with sheets of rain above the mountains to the west, move toward them. The woman’s boots clump on the flagstones of the walk, laid down years ago by her long dead husband, as she moves for a closer look. As the first rain drops fall, they turn their faces to the sky, feeling the warm wetness trickle down their cheeks and praise the gods of wind and rain for their good fortune.

in darkness they wait
placed by old and caring hands
to sprout into life

I showed it to my friend and she liked it. I’m always interested in learning something new so I’m grateful for the opportunity she gave me. Haibun, from what I’ve learned is a combination of prose and poetry. The prose part should be very descriptive; telling a story or presenting an idea in such a way that the reader can really see what the writer is saying. You can see the cottage, and smell the peat fire. (If you’ve never smelled burning peat, you’re in for a real treat.) The haiku portion usually comes after the prose and should have something to do with the story line in the prose section. It can sum up what was said, or add to it, directly or vaguely. Haibun can be a single paragraph with one haiku or two or more paragraphs with a haiku between each. I broke a rule of haiku here by implying that seeds wait. Seeds cannot wait but hey, Western haiku, right? So this is my first attempt at haibun and I had fun with it so I think I’ll try some more.


Ramblings about nothing, or maybe…

Today, is one of those days. There are times when I can go for days, weeks or even months without having any desire to write. I go about my life, doing whatever I choose (a benefit of being retired) and have no need or desire to write about anything. I like to write because it’s expressive. Normally I have myriad thoughts rambling through my head and suddenly one will set off an alarm and it becomes like putting out a fire. I have to write about it. I have to get that thought out and record it and share it. It’s an urgency. But not always. Some times I don’t have that. Thoughts pop in and out, going along their merry way and I don’t give a hoot about writing any of them down. Today however, the bells are clanging like a four alarm fire but they’re not connected to a thought. It’s maddening because I really want to write, really want to express myself in this way but there’s nothing to express. There’s no world shaking theory, no life or death idea screaming at me from inside my head. And yet something is telling me to write. “Write, damn you! Write now,” it screams! So I’m writing. But I have nothing to say.

It’s a strange world inside my head. Loads of ideas all hanging out, expressing themselves to me, to each other, as if they have a life of their own. Sometimes one idea will give a sideways glance at another idea and yell, “Sod off, you!” And that’s it, the second idea will slink off to sulk by itself and lick it’s wounds. And the first idea, now crowned Kind of Ideas, will scream, “Get to your computer fool! Write me down!” And so, impulsively, I rush do just that, before it gets tired of waiting and disappears around a corner. And then other times, all the ideas get together and have a party all by themselves, leaving me completely out of it. Ignoring my pleading for something witty and wise to write about. “Look at that fool,” they say. “Begging us to present ourselves to him so he can have his way, twisting us into his idea of something we are not. Nuts to him! You’re not getting us!” And they shake their tiny fists at me in defiance. Then they set off the alarm. “Write, Write, Write!!! clang the bells, and then the ideas hide and snicker to themselves as I search in vain for what drove me to the keyboard. It’s a wonder I don’t drink. Is this normal, I ask? Do other writers suffer so? And what does one do, when you have a desire to write but nothing presents itself? Make up farcical crap about the inside of my head, I suppose.

I was never a brilliant child. Never had great or lofty ideas about life or love or anything, for that matter. I played with toys and friends when I was young. Got interested in music and girls as a teenager and basically frittered most of my life away, looking for a good time. It’s only been in the last twenty years or so that I have become interested in the world at large. But that having a good time thing, keeps pulling at me like a long lost lover, wanting me back. I guess I’m kind of selfish. I do things I like, I have fun. I do what I enjoy and avoid what I don’t. I stick my nose into the real world long enough to write some crass crap because I like to pretend I know what I’m talking about and then fade back into my cloistered rendition of reality. (Wow, I’m starting to open up here and I’m not sure I like that.) What the hell? Where is this coming from? Guilt, perhaps? My age creeping up on me? Am I thinking I should have done more with my life? Or maybe I should do more now? I don’t like where this is going. So I’ll stop. You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the post office….

I Dare You

I started reading George Carlin’s book, “Last Words” this week. He starts out talking about his childhood, growing up in New York city. It reminded me of my own childhood and the crazy things me and the neighborhood kids did together. Growing up in New York, Carlin had ready made entertainment all around him with no lack of great things to see and do. Growing up in a small mid-western town like I did, we had to come up with our own entertainment. And we had no lack of imagination to do it with. I was born in 1956, so my formative years were the Sixties and early Seventies. I grew up with Rock N Roll and the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Woodstock and the first man on the moon. It was an exciting time to be alive. Of course none of us kids understood the cultural significance of the things happening in our world. We were too young. We just wanted to have fun.

The entire town was our Kingdom. But the park, only a block away from my house, was the center of a lot of our activity. One day I hopped on my bike and rode to the park shelter to see if anyone was around. A couple of friends were there and we were soon in the thick of planning our exploits. One of my buddies had an old lipstick tube he had found and the other had a pocket full of firecrackers. I’m not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but we decided to make a bomb. Why, you ask? Well, to blow shit up, that’s why. There was no harm or malice aforethought in what we did. We just wanted to make an explosion. And we, well, you’ll see.

Back in my day, (an expression used when talking to my grandkids) back in my day, lipstick tubes were made of metal. One of my friends pulled out his pocket knife and cleaned the old lipstick out of the tube. Every kid had a pocket knife back then. It wasn’t a weapon, it was a tool. He soon had a nice little glob of sticky, oily red lipstick on the picnic table. And a knife blade and fingers full as well. I set to work with my own knife on the firecrackers. First you pull the fuse out and then slice the firecracker length wise until you reach the center which is filled with gunpowder. I opened up about 15 firecrackers. The lipstick tube now being about half full of gunpowder was then packed with the paper from the cut open firecrackers. The science behind why firecrackers explode is this: The gunpowder is wrapped tightly with several layers of paper. The fuse is lit and when the sparks reach the gunpowder, the gunpowder ignites. The force of the ignition is tightly bound with the layers of paper, and it has to go somewhere. Boom. A few twists with the pointy end of your blade made a nice hole for the fuse, and we were ready.

The picnic tables at the park were made of heavy planks of wood, each two inches thick. We jammed the lipstick tube between two of them and lit the fuse. We ran like hell. That was one of the most exciting days of my entire young life. The explosion was HUGE. The whistle on a freight train was not as loud. The siren on the cop station roof was not as loud. The explosion made my head ring and my hearing was probably permanently damaged that day. Wood splinters from the thick and heavy two inch planks of the picnic table flew in all directions. Some were embedded in the wood posts that held up the shelter roof. The heavy screws that held the planks in place were twisted out of shape. We couldn’t even find any metal from the lipstick tube although we didn’t stick around long because we knew someone would call the cops. On our bikes we flew in three different directions, laughing and cheering all the way down the street.

Needless to say, I had a great childhood. Yes, there was some vandalism involved. And some stealing. There was some fighting and cursing and smoking and there was some alcohol. There was fishing in the river. There were a lot of dares. Like the time we rode our bikes screaming through Carleton College’s underground tunnels scaring the hell out of College students because somebody dared us to do it. You didn’t pass up a dare. I regret none of it. Think of the stories we gave other people to tell. “Remember when those kids…” Your welcome.

Tell The Truth

A friend said the other day, that truth was becoming the most important thing in his life. (A quick note to my friend; sorry, but everything is ammo for the writers gun.) Anyway, it got me thinking. What is truth? You might think it’s obvious, but it’s not. Here’s a quote from an unremembered source: “We all see the world through our own eyes.” Think about that. Have you ever read “eyewitness accounts” from an event that has taken place? A car accident, perhaps? Several people can see the same accident and yet give differing accounts about what happened. Depending on where the observer was, what was on their mind at the time, what they were doing at the time, how much of the accident they were able to see, etc. And yet each person believes they gave a true account of what happened. When you go to court and you’re sworn in. “Do you swear to tell the truth…” what does that mean? You swear to tell your truth. But your truth can be vastly different from someone else’s truth. Does that make everyone else’s truth wrong, because you see yours as right?

Are there things that are true, that everyone can agree on? Like, “The Earth revolves around the Sun.” Does everyone agree? Science, we say, has proved this so there’s no argument, but there may be people who don’t believe it. Flat Earthers believe in a flat Earth even though most people don’t. You might look outside and notice that it’s cloudy and yet on the other side of town, only a few blocks away the sun is out. So when you say, “It’s cloudy today,” is it really cloudy? For you, at that moment, yes. But for someone else, only a few blocks away, it’s sunny. Which is true? Take politics. The Right and the Left see things very differently at times. One side is for immigration reform, the other side is not. Some support Israel while others support Palestine. Each make points supporting their cause that they believe are valid and true, and yet their opponents believe the opposite is true. So which is it? How do we discern what is true? Or can we?

Truth is subjective. Even that statement is subjective. So was that one. Truth can be and almost always is, different for each person. What you believe as truth today is subject to an entire lifetime of experiences, accumulated knowledge, beliefs, and opinions. And since no two people are alike, not even siblings, the truth is different for everyone. We might agree on many things and consider those things to be true but that is just an agreement. Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book, The Four Agreements, shows that we make multiple agreements everyday about what we think is true or false. That doesn’t make those things true or false, we just believe they are. So is there such a thing as truth? A Universal truth that no one can dispute? Some believe that religion, belief in a God is Universal truth. But considering that there have been about 3000 gods that people have believed in throughout human history, each with its own unique perspective, how can that be true? Some consider law to be the truth. The Constitution etc. Many would disagree. So how do we discover truth? How do we finally uncover what real truth is?

We don’t. And we do. What does that mean? As long as there are two people left on Earth who can think and reason, truth will be subjective. Truth will be based on the individual’s experiences, beliefs, opinions, etc. And there will be an argument about what truth is. Remove all people from the Earth and there will be no truth. Truth comes from your mind. I read a conversation on line where one person used a really obscure, strange word. The other person said, “That’s a made up word.” The first person replied, “All words are made up.” And that, was the truth.

I Smell Brains!!!

Before I walked outside this morning, I checked the temperature. It was thirty seven degrees Fahrenheit. Warm, for this cloudy December day. Here in the Northland we expect colder air at this time of year. As I went out, I noticed my mailman down the street, heading toward my house. I haven’t seen him for several months. His name is Matt. Other people have been delivering my mail since July. I’d wondered what happened to Matt. Maybe he retired, although he doesn’t appear old enough, maybe they switched his route. My dog Sophie hates him and will charge to the end of her tie out cable in an attempt to rip him limb from limb. I don’t know why she does that. He’s a nice man and always speaks to her in a pleasant voice. Dogs are funny. I waited for him at the end of my driveway. As it happens, he brought me an offer for a credit card. That was all. It went straight into the recycle bin. So much paper, time, effort, and money go into things that are just thrown away. We should be able to do better than that.

As we talked, Matt told me he had been run over by a car as he delivered mail. That’s why I hadn’t seen him. He’s been in a body cast. And yet here he was, back on the job, as happy and pleasant as ever. Some may have been scared to go back to it. Having been involved in such a horrific accident, many people would not be pleased about jumping right back in. But Matt is different. He’s a lover of life, and he knows his purpose. He took it all in stride, as they say, not letting the accident get him down.

When I was sixteen, I was involved in a serious car accident. I broke my back and received fifty-two stiches in my head. I was out of school for more than two months recuperating. It scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to drive or even ride in a car for a long time after that. It’s interesting how things affect us. And I wonder what things in my life made me scared of cars for so long while Matt, actually being run over, simply picked up where he left off, seemingly unaffected by the accident. What goes on in those little brains of ours that make us so different? And what, if anything, can we learn from each other to help us along our way? I wonder how I have changed over the years. I’ve been involved in car accidents since then and have not been affected nearly as badly as the first time. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I realized that I survived the first one, so as long as I survive others, I’ll be alright. I don’t know.

The mind is an amazing world. We know less about our own brains than we know about the universe. We carry this thing around in our heads every day, and without it, we wouldn’t be able to carry it around. And yet we know very little about it. We can’t explain consciousness. What is it? How does it happen? We have no idea. And yet we live in it every day. We are conscious, and we can’t explain what that is. We know what it means. To be awake and aware. But what IS it? How does it arise? No idea. Science keeps working on it but without much success. Maybe it is our fate to know what’s going on outside of ourselves but not inside out own brains. We can know, but we don’t know how we know. Isn’t that strange?

Often, I am content with not knowing how things work. Do we really need to know all about consciousness in order to enjoy it? I suppose the need to know is a good idea in the realm of healthcare. The more we know about the brain, the better able we’ll be to fix it when it breaks down. But in our daily lives, do we need to know? Many people drive cars everyday without being able to explain how that car works. Does it matter? As long as the mechanic knows, do I need to know? I guess I’m inadvertently campaigning for a simpler life. The less I know, the happier I am.

I suppose if people had decided not to improve their brains, decided not to get smarter, not to ask why or how, we’d all still be living in caves. Some awfully smart people invented this computer I’m using to shoot off my mouth with, so I suppose I should be happy about that. Or should I? Does it really make me happy to write nonsense for others to read, or am I happier taking a walk through the woods? And what exactly is happiness, anyway? Can you explain it? We know what makes us happy, but what is happy? What is happiness? And why the hell do these things keep popping into my brain? Wow!

The Meaning Of Life

What is the meaning of life? Here is a question that has kept sages and clerics and ordinary people busy for most of human history. What is the meaning of life? It is a question that has kept me busy as well. Why? Because I want to know. Just like millions and probably billions of other people, I too want to know if there is any meaning to life. There are lots of opinions as to the answer, but has anyone really come up with it? Douglas Adams, one of my favorite writers, has his characters in the classic, “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” ask the question, “What is the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything?” A super computer, built for the sole purpose of finding that out, took 10 million years and came up with the answer, “42”. Everyone was quite disappointed, having waited 10 million years to get an answer they didn’t understand. When they consulted the computer about the answer it said, the answer to the question of Life, the Universe and Everything is 42. The problem being, they didn’t actually know the question. This sent them on another, millions of years quest to find out what the question was. I think Adams was trying to tell us, that there’s no answer to that question. Not that that has stopped anyone from asking, however. Inquiring minds want to know. What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Is there any meaning to anything we do? Lots of people have theories. Lots of others claim outright that they know the answer. But do they? How do we find out?

You can ask anyone the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and you’ll get answers from, “I don’t know, to “The meaning of life is to love God” and just about anything in between. I’m going to postulate a theory here. This is it: There is no such thing as life. Now, before you go banging your head on the computer, or cussing me out, stop and think about this. What is the “life” that we’re wondering about. If we can ask the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” then “life” must be something tangible, that we all belong to or are a part of in some way, right? It’s like asking, “What is the meaning of a NASCAR race. Before asking that question, we should know what a NASCAR race is. Once we know that, we can fathom the meaning. Like “The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy”, we won’t understand the answer if we don’t know the question.

So what is life? I’m postulating that life, as we think of it, doesn’t exist. Now some of you are probably thinking I’m going to get all metaphysical on you. That’s not it. But I’m going to show you why I think “LIFE” as we have come to think of it, doesn’t exist. Here goes. Consider all life on Earth. Human, plant and animal, right? Since science tells us that humans are the only life form capable of reasoning the question of life, we really don’t need to think much about animals or plants. Like this: Does a Fox question the meaning of life as she hunts her prey? Does a Bee wonder why it’s attracted to flowers? Science tells us, it’s only humans who ask those kinds of questions. So let’s concentrate on them.

Say for a moment that we could remove all humans from the Earth. Snap! Like Thanos, except 100% of all humanity is gone. Right before the snap happened, someone was contemplating the question, “What is the meaning of Life?” Now that all the people are gone, where is the “LIFE” that this person was wondering about? If we are all part of life, and we can contemplate its existence and meaning, is it not then, tangible? Can we not then, so to say, put our hands on it? Or, and here comes the messy part, Does life only exist because we think it does? Now I know what you’re going to say. Of course life exists, because I’m alive, you are alive, my dog is alive. That however, is not what I’m talking about. Yes, life exists. Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefor I am.” Proving that life is tangible and real. But, is that the same as “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t believe it is. Now if we make one small change to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” to “What is the meaning of MY Life?” Now were getting somewhere.

Each individual has a life. There is my life, there is your life. That is how life exists. There is not, an entity called life. So there is no answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life.” Because there is no “life”, there is no meaning. But there is, MY life. There is, YOUR life. And those things have meaning. People have searched for the meaning of life since life first began. Finding an answer to that question has given birth to religion and philosophy and consumed people, some people for their entire lives. But really, shouldn’t we be asking, what is the meaning of my life? And why aren’t we asking that question? Why aren’t we looking deeper into our own lives as opposed to looking for the answer to a question that’s unanswerable? If we turn the question of meaning to our own lives, then we have to start taking personal responsibility for their meaning. We must be in charge. We must decide what, if any, meaning there is to the things we think, do, and say. And that can be hard.

To take conscious responsibility for every aspect of our lives isn’t easy to do. We have to constantly monitor ourselves and look deeper into the meaning behind every thing we think, do, or say. Rather than thinking of “life” as something “out there” that we can’t control, asking the question, “what is the meaning of my life” puts the responsibility of answering that, squarely in our own laps. And it’s a big responsibility. Watch the news on television or read the paper. Look closely at all the horrible things people do each and every day. What is the meaning of their lives? Is it to screw people over? Is it to take as much as they can? Is it to hate, or is it to love? The only way to improve “life” in this world is for each of us to ask ourselves, what is the meaning of my life? What am I meant for? What am I here to do? They are much smaller questions than asking, what is the meaning of life, and yet the answers put upon us much greater responsibility. We are now faced with answering that question and then acting upon it if our lives are not meaningful. If we can answer these questions for ourselves then we have found the meaning of life.

Quality and Intelligence

I read an article today that informed me that Donald J Trump refuses to believe that climate change is real. Government climatologists have issued him reports and he chooses to ignore them. The president of the United States has at his disposal, the top minds in every scientific field there is, and he chooses to disbelieve them when they tell him we must do something about climate change. He doesn’t believe them because there are snow storms. He reasons, (if you want to call it that) that our atmosphere can’t be warming if we’re having snow storms.

One measure of the intelligence of a person is when they know, that there are lots of things they don’t know. I have a high school education and a two year Associate of Applied Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science. No Bachelors, no PhD, no Masters degree. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I don’t know everything. I know that there are experts in thousands of fields of study who know infinitely more than I do. I know that virtually all climate scientists agree that climate change is real. How is it, that an average guy like me knows that climate change is real and we must do something about it, and our president doesn’t?

Jesse Venture, ex professional wrestler, was Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003. I voted for him. I got a lot of crap from quite a few people for admitting to that. The reasons I voted for him are many, but the single most important reason was this: He knew he didn’t know everything. He was smart enough to surround himself with really intelligent people who could help him get things done. Yes, he was a loud mouth. Yes, he said publicly, things he shouldn’t have said. But he was there, in the office, doing the job and listening to his advisors. It turns out, he wasn’t a bad governor. This is the difference between intelligence and non intelligence. Knowing you’re not the smartest person in the room.

But Donald J Trump is not really the problem. The problem is two fold. The first part of the problem is this: How could so many millions of people think that Trump would make a good president. The second part of the problem is having a Congress that has defended him and willingly aided and abetted everything he’s done. Many people I have talked to have said education is the answer. We must do a better job at educating people so they understand these things better. I agree that education is sorely lacking in the U.S. No doubt about it. But that in itself is not going to fix things. Many, if not all of our Congress people are highly educated. Trump himself has a college degree. Intelligence alone will not fix what’s wrong. Character, is what’s wrong with those who aid and abet President Trump. Simply, quality of character.

Robert M Pirsig, in his 1974 book, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, wrote about quality. Quality for him, was the single most important issue of life. Quality in our words and deeds. When I read that book so many years ago, it really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. It made me realize that the quality of what we do, think, and say is as important that the things themselves. Striving for quality in our lives, even in something as simple as washing dishes or something very important like dealing with climate change should be a top priority. Unfortunately, we don’t have quality in our government, or our country. Tear gassing children, closing the borders to asylum seekers, doing nothing about climate change and the many, many other things our president and congress have done, or not done shows us all the low level of quality and intelligence that runs rampant through the halls of our government today. We need a higher standard. Every one of us needs to look at our lives, our words and deeds and do our best to improve their quality. And we need to use the intelligence and reason and common sense we have been given to make this country better for us all.

A Fine Day To Mourn

Yesterday, I went to the memorial service for a man that I knew who died of cancer. I didn’t know him well. He attended the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship that I frequent, and he always seemed to me to be a very nice person. Always friendly and warm, always a smile on his face. My wife’s service, sixteen months ago now, was held in the same church. I hadn’t been there since. This church, The United Church of Christ, is the very church I attended as a child. It is a very liberal leaning church, an open and affirming church, meaning, they don’t judge you for being Gay, or for being anything else. It’s sanctuary has a sweeping arched ceiling, beautiful stained glass windows, and lots of dark woodwork. And rows of old wooden pews, the same pews I reluctantly sat in as a captive of my parents, being forced to sit still (stop fidgeting!) with hands in lap (don’t touch that!) and listen to a man talk about things I had no interest in. Of what use was any of this to a child who’s head was in the sky and who’s body could hardly be kept still (don’t they know what it’s like to be a kid?) Little did I know that I would be sitting there so many years later, mourning the loss of my wife. Or a friend.

I don’t like funerals. I don’t care how much they say that this is a celebration of the person’s life. When you sit, in rows, with a coffin or an urn full of ashes and people are weeping, it’s not a celebration. And yes, we should mourn. We should cry, for our loss. But it’s not a celebration. I remember vividly, the day of my wife’s funeral. I went through the motions, shook hands, hugged, said thank you hundreds of times, wept tears. I was not celebrating.

My mother died the same month as my wife. 27 days before her. We had her funeral there, also. 2017 was a lousy year. The United Church of Christ in Northfield Minnesota started Carleton College (actually it was the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches) in 1866 and my Grandfather and my mother spent their careers working for the college. So I guess it seemed natural to them to attend the church so closely connected to it. I am thankful that they chose a liberal church to attend. It is the basis for my liberal outlook today.

While I’m not comfortable with labels, (liberal, conservative, etc.) Liberal most closely explains how I feel about things. I don’t believe you should be judged for who you are. The content of your character (Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr.) should be the basis of another’s judgement of you. What kind of human being are you? That is what should matter.

As I sat, mourning the loss of my friend from the fellowship, I thought about his character. Our pastor told of his kindness, his generosity, his smile and quick wit. He had a wonderful wife, and a loving family. And nothing else matters. Just that. He was a good human being. A good man. And we mourned his loss. And we will continue to do so. Nothing else matters.

Breaking Words Episode 5

Again, I apologize for the mix up in episode numbers. With that being said, Episode 5 is out today! Even though when you listen to it I say it’s episode 4. Here are the pieces you’ll hear:

Breakthrough Story

I made spaghetti today. When I finished, it looked like a bomb had exploded on the stove. Sauce sprayed in a blood splatter pattern, noodles and bits of hamburger like scenes from a horror movie. Unfortunately, it often looks like this when I cook. I think of children in countries where they don’t have enough to eat and feel guilty writing about my food exploits. But I do it anyway. We do a lot of things we shouldn’t, and justify them in various ways to feel better about ourselves. Just another day in the life.

What if being human is a mental illness? What if all of us so called “normal” people who go to our jobs, raise families, and cook our dinners are mentally ill? Maybe we were shipped here from some distant planet, some place where they decided to rid their society of their less than desirable people. Like the British did when they sent boat loads of people to Australia. Maybe we are the descendants of the worst of an alien society that now enjoys life without people who routinely blow up their stoves at mealtime. Are they watching us, do you suppose? Are they wondering how long it will be before they have to intervene to keep their refuse from infecting the universe?

I scanned the radio dial this morning. I heard conservatives screaming about liberals. I heard Nirvana songs. Lots of talk about the environment and children in cages. I heard Hip-Hop music. I turned the radio off and went out and stood in the rain. But the radio still played. Lots of sounds and voices and screams. And music. Country and Rock and Rap. And more voices telling me what I didn’t want to hear. I longed for the sweet sounds of water lapping at a shore and the calls of loons across the lake. Life is like a radio that never shuts off. And half the time there’s too much static to discern what I’m hearing.

So I cleaned up the stove, and ate my spaghetti. I used fresh Basil from my little herb garden. Turned out pretty good. As all these words started swirling around in my mind I knew I was on the edge of a breakthrough book or at least a prize winning article. I sat down at the keyboard, electricity tingling my fingertips. I felt like Edward R. Murrow about to break an earth shattering story and then what came out was this. A story about exploding my stove and the guilt of writing about eating. Who are we, anyway?

The First Time

There has never been anything
quite like a boy’s first slow dance
with a girl. The feeling of her breasts,
pressed against your chest.
The warmth of her body, held close.
Her breath, tickling the hairs on your neck.
And the lovely smell of her freshly washed hair
filling your teenaged senses
with indescribable feelings.
The song you danced to didn’t matter,
and it was over way too soon.
And the only thing you could
think at that moment was that
you wanted to do that again.
And again, and again.
No, there has never been a feeling
quite like that.
And there never will.


The cat, in the field, concentrating ever so diligently on the small mouse hiding under leaves and dry grass, is annoyed by my footsteps in gravel on the side of the road. As I stop to watch this Scottish version of the common house pet, her ears pitched forward toward the mouse, I notice that she doesn’t look Scottish at all. Not that I would know what a Scottish cat is supposed to look like, but when you’re in Scotland well, everything is Scottish. Her right ear, the one closest to me, suddenly pivots toward me as I take a step and the sparse gravel beneath my foot crunches loudly in the still, evening air. I stand still, and just as suddenly, the ear twitches again and returns to it’s former attentive position. Her body tenses, her head lowers and, I take another step. This time her head turns, she focuses on my face and I am the recipient of an evil glare that seems to say, “I know where your hotel is. Later I will find you there, and I will kill you in your sleep.”

Watching Life

I cut my finger on the
dulled and stained
edge on the blade of my
pocket knife.
The blood runs quickly,
bright red as gravity
pulls it to the white sheet
of paper that lies on the
table, dark, almost black
as it is absorbed into
the carpet beneath my feet.

Thickly flowing from my
finger, I stand mesmerized
as drops splatter on my shoe,
the carpet, and the kitchen
floor as I finally move to
the sink to let the blood
drops mix with water on
the bottom of the sink fresh
from the tap that I ran
moments before cutting myself.

The blood joins water droplets
and begins to flow toward
the drain mimicking a river
who’s water finds the easiest
path. I stand and watch as
my life seeps out through
the hole I created at the end
of my finger. Platelets rush
through my blood stream and
work to stop the flow, keep
the life inside.

And I do nothing but watch.

Just Breathe

Random crystal snowflakes fell through the yellow
sodium light of a pathway lamp and on into shadow.
The breeze was light as ducks on the river voiced
their displeasure at the interruption of my passing.

My breath counting came into unison with my footsteps
and suddenly everything slowed as I slowed and the
snow and the ducks and my breath and the air and
my thoughts all came into perfect harmony and

I, for the first time in my life experienced what
Buddhist nuns and monks have spent centuries
seeking, perfect enlightenment. A feeling of such
beauty and peace as to be indescribable.

Harmony of body and soul, and of mind were mine
and in one split second were gone and I felt
such a profound sense of loss, an ache of heart
that I fell to my knees and wept.

Why, I asked, would the universe come together
for me to experience, just to have it ripped away
and leave a truck sized hole in my middle?
Why should I, a random person, be given this?

Only to have it taken away again so that even
moments later I could hardly remember what it was
like at all. Breathing as if I were punched in
the stomach, I stayed on my knees and felt emptiness.

And now, hours later I have to ask myself, did I
really find enlightenment on the path, in the park
of a small mid-western town in Winter or did I
just imagine what my mind told me it might be like?

Imagine, the unimaginable? Did I tell myself this
is what you’ve been seeking, you and everyone who’s
ever went down this path and you’ve hardly begun
your journey but here’s a taste of it, so here ya go?

And now I sit with the feeling of loss for something
I’ve not even gained, the loss of something I can’t
explain, or describe. All I can do it seems is, sit
and breathe and not think about it. Just breathe.


I just finished recording the 6th episode of Breaking Words. Breaking Words is a weekly podcast where I read my poetry and prose pieces, sometimes with a music background and sometimes without. This has been a fun experiment and for the foreseeable future, I plan to continue. For those of you that have listened, I hope you have enjoyed it. Here is the link to Breaking Words: breakingwords.libsyn.com

Unfortunately, I am not a professional at this. My hope is, that I get better with time. Podcasting has become huge over the last ten years and the really great thing I realized, is that anyone can do it. It takes a minimal amount of equipment and a short learning period to get the basics down. What I mean by “minimal equipment” is this: You need a computer with an internet connection, a pair of headphones and a microphone. That’s it! That’s all you need to start a podcast that can be heard the world over. Simple, isn’t it?

The first thing I did, was read a lot of information. I got a couple of books on podcasting, and I read a lot of online articles and watched a lot of You Tube videos. There’s tons of information about podcasting out there, and it’s all free. You will learn about the technical side like how to use a DAW or, Digital Audio Workstation. That’s a fancy name for a recording program. You’ll learn about the different podcast hosting platforms, which are websites that you upload your podcast to for distribution. You’ll learn about microphones for podcasting and about lots of other equipment you can use (but don’t really need) at least to get started. And again, anyone can do this!

One of the first questions I had was, what does it cost? Being newly retired, my income is somewhat limited. I’m not hurting for money but I can’t go out and drop hundreds on new equipment. So that’s an important consideration. Thankfully there is a lot of free stuff for you to take advantage of. Computers and microphones are usually not free of course, but you can certainly find used equipment for a good price. There are some recording programs that are free, like Audacity, which is what I use. It’s a free download and is a really good program. There are also free podcast hosting platforms to upload your podcasts to. Here is the link to the Audacity website.

Next, I needed to figure out what my podcast was going to be about. I had lots of ideas, but the bottom line is this: Your podcast needs to be about something you know well. If you’re going to gain an audience and keep them entertained, you need to talk about something you know and are well informed on. Otherwise listeners won’t stay. A podcast is for entertainment or for information. If you don’t have one of those aspects, you won’t have listeners. Now, as I said earlier, I’m not an expert at this. That only comes with time and practice. My podcast doesn’t have a lot of listeners yet, but it’s growing. Slowly. It can be frustrating at times to see that no one has downloaded an episode for a few days. But what I have learned is that I really enjoy doing this, so I’m going to keep doing it. I can’t expect to be the next world wide phenomena and don’t necessarily want to be. But with time and perseverance I hope to attract more listeners.

Sounds like fun, right? Well it is. One of the advantages in starting to podcast is being a good speaker. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone stumbling over their words, or mispronouncing them, or not being comfortable with speaking. But if you’re not a good speaker, don’t let that stop you. It’s a skill that can be learned! Just like getting comfortable with the equipment, you can learn to speak well too. And the advantage to learning to speak well for podcasting is that you don’t have an audience staring at you. You’re alone! And not only that, but you will learn how to edit your recorded program. You can take out most of the ums and ahs, and all the other filler words we use when we hesitate while speaking. You’re not doing anything live. Although some podcasters do live shows, that is a choice you can make.

So why not start a podcast? It’s a fun hobby that I have found I really enjoy. And it’s a new vehicle for getting my poetry out to people. As any of you who write poetry know, it’s not the most popular form of writing. So any way of getting more people interested is a good thing, right? Listening to podcasts has become very popular over the last few years. Mainly I think, because you can do it while you’re doing something else. People listen to podcasts while driving, or working out. They listen while they’re taking a walk. When you read, you have to invest the time to reading. That’s not always easy in today’s busy world. But if you can listen to a podcast while cooking or commuting or whatever, that’s a real advantage. So people are doing it. There are literally thousands of podcasts on any subject you can think of. Politics, religion, business, comedy, drama, poetry, and anything and everything. the list is endless. So why not start a podcast? That’s a good question.

Breaking Words Episode 4

Hey! Episode 4 is out there baby! Careful listeners will find there is a mix up between what the podcast player says and what I say the episode number is on the podcast. Just ignore it. It is episode 4 even though I say it’s episode 3. I don’t always know what I’m talking about! As most people know, the gun debate, the debate over 2nd amendment rights is a huge thing in then country today. So this first poem, “What if…” is in response to that. Here it is:

What if I was sleeping in my bed,
and you broke into my house?
What if you had a drug problem
and needed to steal for money?

What if I woke up and shot you
with my gun?
My legally acquired, paid for
conceal and carry gun.

Is your life worth less than mine?
What if you have a mother?
Would she cry and say no mother
should have to bury her son?

Do you deserve to die
because you did something foolish?
Do I have the right
to take your life away?

Maybe you have children.
What if I had to face them
and tell them why
I took their daddy away.

What if I believe in God?
And I stand before God on my judgement day.
And God says “You killed one of my children.”
And I say “Yes Lord, but he was trying to steal my T.V.

Yeah, so that’s my commentary on that. This next one, “Steam Was Almost Gone,” has to do with trains, which I have loved since I was little. Northfield has a train yard with 3 or 4 sidings to it right in town. Late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping I could here the switcher engine roaring in the yard, moving box cars around. Northfield had it’s own railroad called, The Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern. That was pretty exciting for me as a kid because I loved trains. So I would listen to them at night in the summer with the windows wide open because it was hot, and even in the Winter you can’t keep the sound out. Here is, “Steam Was Almost Gone:

And the music came through the open window
as I would lie, not sleeping,
as my mother intended.

The screech and squeal of steel on steel.
The engine rumbling up to a roar,
the cars, banging together.

A bill of lading for each
connected together and bound for
well, who knows where?

Carrying what? I didn’t know.
Circus animals? Bombs for the war?
My 11 year old mind full of wonder.

And who drove those trains?
What kind of men were they?
As men they would have to be.

Bib overalls, engineer caps, boots.
Those weren’t things for girls.
They were big, strong, men.

They would shovel that coal,
stoke that boiler and
the steam would pour out the stack.

For maybe, the last time.
The Diesel’s were taking over.
Steam, was almost gone.

As sleep overcame I heard the whistle
and the rumble as the train pulled out.
And I prayed that steam, wasn’t gone.

And this last one, “Minnesota.” All these names were taken right off a Minnesota map. They’re all alphabetized, and that’s why I mention that there are no lakes or towns beginning with “X.” Now I could be wrong about that so if anyone knows of some, please let me know. There are over 11,000 lakes in Minnesota and some don’t even have names or roads to get there! It’s a great place to live. Here is, Minnesota:

I love this state. Conifer and Hardwood forests, rolling hills, farmland and prairie.
There is enough pink and black and white granite to make 10 billion headstones,
but we’re not the Granite state. That’s New Hampshire. We are the land of 10,000 lakes.
More like 15,000. Some don’t have names. For those that do, there are,
Angleworm Lake,
Bad Axe Lake,
Calamity Lake,
Dead Fish Lake,
East Four Legged Lake,
First Dog Lake,
Gibibwisher Lake,
Hanging Horn Lake,
Ice Cracking Lake,
Jock Mock Lake,
Kaapoo Lake,
Little Dead Horse Lake,
Magnetic Lake,
Nameless Lake,
Ox Hide Lake,
Pea Soup lake,
Quick Lake,
Rain Barrel Lake,
Skeleton Lake,
Thirty One Lake,
Unknown Lake,
Vegetable Lake,
Wawa Lake,
No lakes beginning with X,
Yodeler Lake,
and Zig Zag Lake.
And little towns scattered all across the state like,
Antlers Park,
Ball Club,
Ideal Corners,
Key West,
Pigeon Center,
Rattlesnake Point,
Toad Lake,
No towns beginning with X,
and Zerkel.
The town of Rice is not in Rice county, it’s in Benton County.
The town of Faribault is not in Faribault County, It’s in Rice County.
The town of Blue Earth is not in Blue Earth County, It’s in Faribault County.
The town of Becker is not in Becker County, it’s in Sherburne County.
The town of Cook is not in Cook County, it’s in St. Louis County.
The town of St. Louis is not in St. Louis County, it’s in Missouri.
The town of Cottonwood is not in Cottonwood County, it’s in Lyon County.
The town of Grant is not in Grant County, it’s in Ramsey County.
The town of Marshall is not in Marshall County, it’s in Lyon County.
As far as I know, there are no Lions in Lyon County.
And, The Mississippi River does not begin in Mississippi,
it begins in… Minnesota! in Itasca State Park, which by the way, is not in Itasca County.
And last but not least, I hear there is great fishing on Alcohol Creek!

So that’s it for Episode 4! As always, The music for each episode is from the Free Music Archives and the sound effects are from Zapsplat! Thanks for listening.

She Doesn’t Know

Talking about car tires
in line at the grocery store
with the woman behind me,
our lives so different.
Her skin so brown,
mine so pale,
and yet,
we have car tires to worry about.
I wonder about her
when I’ve gone.
When I’ve left the store.
Wonder why our lives crossed
at that moment,
in that place.
She doesn’t know
that I will use her
as fodder for the cannon
that is my keyboard.
Doesn’t know
that I will think of her
and wonder
if we could be friends,
or lovers,
or enemies.
She doesn’t know
that my mind twists
in a hundred different directions
at once
trying to decipher
all the sensory input.
Trying to make sense
of war, politics, pain.
Of love.
Trying to understand
something as simple
as a conversation
in the grocery store.
She doesn’t know.

Breaking Words Episode 3

Episode three has been released and you can find it here: The first piece is a prose commentary on the state of fear we find in the US today. The second is about war and death (happy subjects) and the final is about missing my wife, Ann. With so much garbage in the news today I felt I had to make some kind of response and that’s why I wrote “Fear” just a couple days ago. Here are the words to episode 3’s three pieces. I hope they help you to think hard about the state of our world.


Today’s political climate in the United States has me thinking about fear. There seems to be a lot of it these days. Fear of the “other.” Meaning, fear of others. Other people, to be exact. Fear of what we don’t understand. We seem to be in an iron fisted grip of fear. And if you look back in history, I’m sure you’ll find that every generation had their fears. Your parents, and their parents back to the beginning, had fears. Fears that drove them to survive, to protect what was theirs. Because they feared losing it. Whatever “it” was. Their lives, their property, their freedom. Fear drove them to survive. As it drives us. Science tells us that modern humans have existed on this planet for about 200,000 years. And yet with all our science and technological advancement, we still it seems, have not advanced very far. We are still basically fearful creatures hiding in our caves. Afraid that others will come and take what we have.

Early humans were afraid of natural phenomena. Earthquakes, lightening, wind and flood. They had no science or history to look back on to tell them what these things were. There was no known cause. And yet humans are driven to find reasons for everything. And so, Gods were invented. Roman Gods, Greek Gods, Norse Gods. Having angry Gods gave people answers to the questions of why things happened. When I was a kid I remember being told that thunder was the sound of God bowling in heaven. It made me less afraid. Now I had an answer for what this noise was that shook the house and scared me. And I knew that God had my best interest at heart, so I needn’t fear thunder. And now of course, I understand the science that explains thunder, so there’s no more fear associated with it. But what became of that fear? Did it just disappear? Or did I find something else to fear instead?

All throughout history, people have risen up and claimed that they were the answer to your fears. They were the ones who could save you from the things that go bump in the night. “Follow me” they say, And I’ll make things right. “Elect me” and I’ll save our country. I’ll chase away the “others.” Some of them were good leaders. Some of them were charlatans. But if you look back at all our past history you’ll find that no matter how many demons have been chased away, no matter how much science explains why natural things happen, we still find something to fear. Unfortunately, there have always been those who understand this and take full advantage of it. First, they manufacture something to fear. And then tell you that they are the only ones who can save you from it.

And fear, I don’t think, is our basic problem. Fear, keeps you from sticking a fork in a light socket. Fear, keeps you from putting your hand in a fire. The fear of dying or at least, great bodily harm, keeps you from stepping out into traffic. In those examples, fear is a good thing. Our primitive instinct tells us we need fear to survive. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. And yet we see fear working in many harmful ways. As I write this, there are thousands of people walking through Mexico, presumably heading to the United States. Our news agencies are ripe with stories as to why this is happening. Our government is telling us we need to fear these people. They are coming for our jobs. They are coming for free money. They are harboring terrorists. They are the “other.” And they blame those that they want us to fear. Democrats. Liberals. Migrants walking across Mexico. If you fear something long enough, you will begin to hate it. You hate it for making you afraid. This is the dark side of fear. What’s happening right now in the U S is a prime example of how people manipulate our fears and use them to control us. A good healthy fear of stepping into traffic, will keep us alive. A manufactured fear of others will destroy us.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if I have a good answer to the problem. I’m certainly not going to shout, “Follow Me,” and I’ll show you the way. One bit of advice I could give is a quote from the Dalai Lama: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” I think there are many people in the world who don’t have any interest in helping others. And too many times I have seen people deliberately hurt others to make themselves feel better. It seems it is it common for people to look for others that are worse off than themselves, thus boosting their own confidence And if they can’t find them, they’ll manufacture them by treating them badly to see them suffer. President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

This, it seems to me, is what’s happening in the U S today. We are being fed fear. A steady diet of which will eventually cause us to hate. And hate always manifests itself in negative ways. Fear can be a good thing. Something to help us to survive and even thrive. But the fear that causes us to hate others is destructive will eventually tear us apart.

The Sword Of Freedom

As hands are brushed together, dead bodies fall like dust
and a girl in a dress called freedom whirls and twirls
but makes no sound but the sound of a mothers cry.

With the constitution in one hand and a bible in the other,
flames suddenly leap and turn them to ash and
they blow away on the wind called justice.

Crowds leave the synagogue, cathedral and mosque and file
into the furnace while factories make more furnaces
and governments send more children to burn.

The minds eye is blind and feeling it’s way to find
emptiness and sorrow where love once lived.
Time turns backward to other wars with the same stench.

Liberty’s crack grows wider and the clapper has
disappeared to be replaced by the
sword of freedom, and a mother cries again.

And do we watch with hands folded in laps and on
our knees pray to a god who doesn’t listen? And do
we tell our children that this is righteousness?

As our world disappears in flame and ash do
we wish we had done the right thing? Do we say the
words that will set all to right, or collect our pay?

As the wars rage on and refugees muliply we go to our
jobs with blinders in place and plugs in our ears and
pretend we do not see the girl dancing. And bleeding.

And as she falls to the ground her wounds ooze into
the sand and she reaches out to be picked up but
we turn away, not wanting to get our clothes dirty.

With clean hands and clothes some walk away, but
some stoop to carry away the hurt and their
voices are being heard. Quietly now, but getting louder.

Waking Dreams

Like a cricket I can’t find
in my bedroom at night,
your memory haunts me.
Insistent, yet melodic,
you are there,
robbing me of sleep.

Floating through
my waking dreams
you stand on the other
side of a darkened glass.
I reach out to you
but you do not reach back.

You watch me with
placid face as I move
about my day, I, always
reaching. I cannot see your
smile, from where you are,
from where I am.

I long to be released
from this dream of you,
this dream of not you,
and yet, it is the only
way I see you anymore,
except in pictures.

Why Not Now?

Remember that night that you drank too much
and then you went outside and threw up on
your shoes
and then the world turned upside down
because you fell over in your puke
and saw the trees from the bottom up
and everything suddenly made sense?
Remember that time you were walking on
the dock and you tripped and fell in the
water and watched a fish swim past as
you thought you were drowning
and suddenly everything just seemed so right?
And that other time you were driving and
a car swerved into your lane and you thought
you were going to die and everything
suddenly became so clear?
You can’t keep having times like that because
you’re not going to make it through one of them
and you’re going to find out what the other
side looks like unless that’s what you’re after.
Those things that we grasp that we think we
just got to have aren’t so important when
you’re facing not coming back from something
you’ve done and you think, damn that was
stupid but hey, I made it all those other times
So why not now?
Yeah, I mean, why not now?