If (is_true), or why I stopped coding…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

The New Colossus


“Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”

Sen Jason Chaffetz (R)Utah


Lately I’m having a difficult time simply keep my outrages properly cataloged. So for today I’ll focus on just a couple- and we’ll come back to the others later…
--- --- ---
If (is_true)

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education states that-

1. The quality of teachers working in low-income schools is about the same as the quality of teachers working in high-income schools.

2. Schools in low-income neighborhoods serving children from low-income families perform at a level below schools in high-income neighborhoods serving children from high-income families.

3. The performance of the students in high-income districts on the ‘PISA’ exam is on par with cohorts worldwide and has been for at least the last five years.


4. Many (most?) charter and private schools nationwide are waived from meeting basic educational quality assurances, and in the case of religious schools are free to offer alternate science and history educations.

5. Students from poor families who move to private schools lose significant ground on overall educational achievement and at best suffer no loss in reading comprehension and fluency.

(then) Poverty negatively affects the educational experience
(and) Private schools do not inherently improve the educational experience of low-income students


1. Are we going to use the power of the US Department of Education to purposely siphon tax dollars away from the area of greatest need and transfer it predominately to schools that show unequivocally that they do a worse job at serving at-risk, low-income students than local public schools?

2. Do we continue to subject or children to onerous and inappropriate tests in an effort to legitimize a hypothetical educational crisis of “bad teaching”?

3. Would we choose to diminish the value of public educators by eliminating basic job securities and benefits and lowering salaries through Right to Work legislation, and significantly shrink the pool of qualified teaching candidates for the foreseeable future.

4. Would we empower HUD to purposely not focus more attention on eliminating the root causes of poor student performance such as chronic food and shelter insecurities, familial stability issues, and basic health issues?

5. Are we going to make basic health care more expensive to buy while allowing it to cover fewer needs?

6. Would we allow the EPA to roll back or eliminate conerstone environmental regulations which protect our fresh water and land from contaminants and our air from pollutants?

7. Would we choose to down-regulate business and up-regulate women?


I first asked myself, “To what end?” and then understood that there is no end- in politics, the “thing” is the goal, an end in and of itself and connected to no other "thing".

And so I will continue to focus on those things that carry the heaviest personal weight, the things I am prepared to and capable of fighting.

And my appeal to my beloved sisters and brothers – continue to make your calls and write your letters, and continue to show up when showing up is all we have.

One bee can change the hive…




An Open Letter to Former Governor Mitt Romney on His Endorsement of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

“The nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education has reignited the age-old battle over education policy.”

 Yes, former Governor Mitt Romney, that is true. But not because, as you said, “a lot of money is at stake”, but rather because our children are. You see Mitt, and I hope it’s okay that I call you Mitt, it’s not really about the money, and it’s never been about the money. Until you got involved.

For the rest of us it’s always kinda been about the children. Yes, we see an unprecedented threat to our public schools, and the corruption of a once revered public education system. We see public resources given, with sanctioned preference, to private and for-profit schools. We see a clannish group of politically and financially motivated actors, drooling over a pot of cash.

But day to day, we see books and desks and supplies- and children, while you see only donors and dollars.

Recently you’ve concocted some grand charade in which billions and billions of American children are being inflicted harm upon by a corrupt, money-grubbing, union-bullied, public education system. Which is sort of how you see the world.


But it’s not the way I see the world, not the way we see the world.


You see- I came into teaching as a second career, a second incarnation of self, and because of that I have a slightly different perspective on education than you do. I left the auto industry- the same industry you said in 2008 would be better served by being allowed to become bankrupt- in 1989, when the first tidal wave of American self-doubt swept through the heart of heavy industry. We were an industry shaken, and you blamed it all on us- the guys in the coveralls, the union guys.

You said we were dinosaurs, you said we were obstructionists. But you never once set foot on the factory floor in the building I worked in, the building erected proudly in 1933 that was somehow now supposed to house the future of American manufacturing. In my factory we made rear axles- for Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Trans Ams, and a myriad of other midsize GM vehicles which were then sold to hard working Americans like you and me. And we built good axles at our factory, despite the fact that we were working on machines that were 50 years old.


We were good until suddenly we weren’t.


The change was epic- fast, sweeping, all-encompassing. We walked into work one day and were told that everything we knew was wrong. The Japanese had this different way of seeing, and as a result their cars were different, their whole world was different. You said they were better than we were and everything had to change. You told us it was the fault of the guys in the coveralls for not seeing this coming, for not being prepared.

Then one day you gathered us all together in a big room, a room that oddly didn’t smell like fermented grease and soured coolant and a half century of rot, a room most of us had never been invited into before, a room I didn’t even know existed- a room where plans were made and thinking occurred, and you told us we needed to be “reeducated.”






My reeducation was a pink slip and a vague lecture about tuition reimbursement. “Good luck, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Truck driving schools are looking for people. Or try computer programming.”

When you’ve spent twenty years of your life building things, it’s hard to suddenly reimagine yourself as a computer programmer. In 1989 who knew what that even meant? Program what to do what? Who even owned a computer in 1989?

I was one of the lucky ones. I was still young enough and single enough to be able pinch an unemployment check hard enough to allow me to pay a mortgage and enroll in college and start all over again. Most of the others were not so fortunate.

I said goodbye to a good paying, middle class, semi-skilled job through no fault of my own, and I was told that it was my fault.  I was told that jobs like mine were a dying breed. But in all honesty is was all about the money, about cutting losses.

I was one of the lucky ones. I got a shot at a Bachelors Degree and a new job that paid half what I was earning before, with the promise that I could keep my job if I got a Masters degree too. And I learned a life lesson…

 It’s NOT about the money, it’s about being prepared and protected.

When I left high school I had studied Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, World History, American History, English, English, English, English, German, Spanish- and guitar, sculpture, painting, welding, woodworking, some electricianing, along with swimming, tennis, flag football, and all the various blood sports allowed at the time.

My schools made do with what we had, and what we didn’t get at school my parents tried their best to cover. School prepared and my parents protected. It was kind of the American way. In my factory job we were always a bit behind the curve because preparation cost money, but I was able to land on my feet because the UAW protected me.

But Mitt, you don’t seem to see any of this picture. All you see is the pot of money. You don’t see the schools erected proudly in 1933, trying to house the future of American civilization under leaky ceilings and walls too thick to accomodate wifi. Or the dearth of internet access in homes and the defacto loss of connection to a stable present, let alone a promising future. You don’t see deep, debilitating hunger or the scourge of drugs. You don't see how a community’s protections taken away creates an inability to prepare and protect their children.

You don’t see the creeping neglect that is the lasting legacy of walled expressways dug thirty feet deep through the middle of thriving neighborhoods that forever divided white from black, money from poverty, life from life.

You don’t see the desiccation of purpose that resulted from a devastated community. You see money. Lots of money. Wasted on kids who will never be able to scale the thirty foot walls that keep them from getting to the other side. Lives wasted because they have no art, no music, no welding or woodshop in their lives. No connection to the world they inhabit. No footholds, no ladders, no wings. No hope. No purpose.

And you principally blame us, the teachers, and the teacher unions. You call us dinosaurs, obstructionists. But neither you nor Betsy DeVos have ever set foot in one of our schools or our communities, you’ve never seen what we’ve seen, or heard what we’ve heard. (It would break your heart) You haven’t watched us try to teach 30 kids in a room with twenty-five desks using twenty books with pages missing. You haven’t seen us feed the hungry or clothe the poorly clothed, quietly and without notice.

But boy did you spot that pile of cash quickly enough. Just sitting there. Wasted.

So Mitt, please don’t feed me that stale slice of pie that smells like promise but tastes like lies. That pie filled with low wage, at-will workers, a pie without after school programs, or adequate supplies. A pie offering neither flavor nor sustenance. If you want to help the kids and fix the system, I’ll help you.  But I won’t let you just give everything away and call it reform.

You see Mitt, education isn’t about who gets the money. And who doesn’t.

Education is about hope, about possibility, about learning to climb- and learning to fly. It’s all about the children and schools and families and neighborhoods.

And it occurs to me that there is one message missing from your endorsement- any mention of children. Yes, you quote some tired old statistic about class size that some underpaid staffer dug up for you, but you never really mention how you, or Betsy DeVos, are going to help children succeed.

It’s clear that neither you nor she have any regard for public education. It is also entirely too clear that all you see is a big pot of dollars being wasted on schools that still use coal to heat in the winter, and swelter in the Chicago (or your name here) summers. You neither believe in nor show any encouragement for a resurgent public education system, just as you didn’t believe in or encourage the resurgent American auto industry in 2008.

You saw a pot of money. Money not yours. Money wasted. And people who, for whatever reason, didn’t deserve to have it.

But sorry Mitt, you can’t have this pot. Not yet. Not if we have any say in the matter. Because, (and this is the gorilla, the elephant..) It’s actually our children’s money- it’s their hope, their possibility. It’s their money and their schools, some of which will be proudly erected in 2017, and 2018 and beyond.

It’s their money to use for thirty foot ladders, and child-sized wings. It’s their money to use to build a bridge to an American ideal, fostered by a universal public education, free of commerce or corporation, free from outside influence or coercion. It’s both their preparedness and their protection.

And Mitt, you simply don’t get it.



Eight Hundred and Sixty-Six Words on the Power of the Still Photograph (an apology)


Last month, as a midterm assignment, I gave my advanced photography students an essay assignment; one thousand words on the power of the still photograph. It made me sound important. At first they thought I meant a thousand characters. They're so cute. A thousand words isn't that much, I told them- its a blog post.  Within ten minutes they had me bargained down to 500 words. Okay, fine, I don't mind.  Most were thoughtful, a few actually engaging. One was intentionally contrary to the point of the assignment, a finger in the eye of my grandeur. The last line was " Please don't fail me."

I'm sorry. I did. Fail you I mean. I mean, I failed. This is my apology...

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I've been a photographer longer than I've been anything else in this life, with the exception of a son, and maybe a compulsive eater. Longer than I've been a husband. Longer than I was a Catholic. Or a smoker. Longer than I've been a teacher, a writer, or a computer nerd. Longer than I've been a licensed driver if I stretch the thread really tight.

A long time.

At least since the age of 19, which I reached in 1977, a camera has defined me in some form. But even before that, with my first 'serious' camera, a Mercury Satellite 127 which I still own, I have been a taker of pictures. When I turned pro it was with an Olympus OM-1n. I loved that camera. Everything about it was perfect. It had perfect weight and perfect size. The shutter speed dial was on the lens mount. Everything about it was perfect. After that came an Olympus OM-2n. I loved that camera. It too was perfect. I used those cameras until they were just plain wore out. We were inseparable. It would be odd to see any one of us without the other. Simpatico.

When I close my eyes I can see them, the the dents and dings, the corners worn down to the brass beneath the chrome. If I try really hard, I can feel them.


Next came a string of Canons, and with them came a slow separation from the truth. None of the Canon's were particularly noteworthy, none possessed any real magic. Each succession only moved to isolate the act of photography further and further from the moment. Automation trumped artistry. Auto focus. Auto bracketing. Motion dampening. Feature creep insured that a three-thousand dollar camera would be obsolete within a year's time. Then digital killed film, like video killed the radio star, and with it the true therapeutic and redemptive powers of picture making began to fade.

And so it goes, until it goes around...

I'm back on the film. Seeking redemption. And a powerful fix. Last week I scored a brick of Tri-X from a guy behind the dry cleaners. Came at a bundle, but that's the price of addiction. The price of truth. For it turns out film is a far more important player in the creative process than I gave it credit for. And here's why- film makes a photographer think. Film makes a photographer work. When you walk out the door with only thirty-six photos in hand, you pay attention. You acknowledge the unyielding physical limit you've placed on your creativity and you work with it. Limits are what make progress possible.


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It begins with putting the camera up to your eye. Feeling the cool of the metal against the skin. Deep breath in. Looking through the viewfinder. Seeing through the viewfinder. Just you, in charge, a god-like eye; you and whatever you choose to share your consciousness with. Pick a focal point, find the edges of the frame. Stay quiet, stay focused. That satisfying geared resistance of the thumb against the film advance lever. Pushing it slowly but firmly until it can move no more. The tentative but perceptible pressure against the shutter release. Squeeze the trigger, don't force. The quick slap of the mirror, the snap of the shutter. Breathe out.

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The magic lives in the limits. And in the breath. It's in the focus, and in the consciousness. Its where the power hides. In the sensual beauty of the dance.

stop. everything.





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The still image. Still. What else can claim to represent a slice of time. Capture time. Make time stop. Forever. I have a picture of my Dad. He's twenty-four years old.


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In 1839 Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre finds the method to make Joseph Nicephore Niepce's "retina" images permanent. No one will believe they are real. In 1968 Eddie Adams took a picture of a Vietnamese Chief of Police preparing to execute a vietcong prisoner with a pistol. Everyone knew it was real. Forty-five years later, the boy begs for mercy.


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Photography is the dictionary for defining a moment. It is the thesaurus of vision. It is bone, and sinew, and flesh. When mine own bone, and sinew, and flesh is nothing more than dusty dust, a small child will race after another, under a scribbled message on a concrete wall.

Hey mister! God loves you.

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Addemdum: I've moved all the old Bodhicyclist posts over to the new SETT server. The blog address is  simple. The new blog has a community section where you'll find cool news and noteworthy tidbits...



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Its there, toward the end of the low road that traces the southeastern end of the lake, in the perpetually dank, swampy area near the outlet. Its tiny, hiding in the cottonwoods, more shed than anything else. It's been there forever. Everyone knows about it. Its a piece of local lore. The sign out front reads...


Left unvarnished its a beautiful chicken and egg conundrum. Was it, "Hmmm, besides bait, what else do fishermen really like? I know, adult videos!" Or was it more like, "When I'm not watching adult videos, what else do I really like to do? I know- fish!" Either way, its a fantastically freakish conglomeration of commerce. And a perfect illustration of a truly vexing quandary. Why must simple things become more complicated over time? Its a principle known as creep, wherein one simple thing slowly morphs into a more complex thing, and complex in a way no one ever projected or proposed. And once that "cavity fighting, enamel restoring, improved whitening, for sensitive teeth, freshmint flavored" tooth paste is out of the "60% post consumer recycled material" tube, well, you get what I driving at.

In the military its called mission creep. In electronics, its referred to as feature creep. In the educational field we have responsibility creep. And in our lives is called- I don't know what its called exactly. But we're all subject to its laws. In my Buddhist studies one of the first principles I learned, I mean really learned, was mindfulness. Mindfulness is about simplicity. About putting step one first, and step two second. Mindfulness is about thinking only of the mechanical act of completing step one whilst completing step one. And nothing else. Its about separating ourselves from the daily chaos we seem to so actively embrace. Mindfulness is about being in the moment. And we all know how that can suck.

And its really hard to do everyday.

When I'm riding my bike, I try really hard to be in the moment throughout the ride. Its impossible of course, because at some point the wandering monkey brain inevitably takes over. But its easy to beat it back because cycling is about that one thing and nothing else for two or three hours. It requires mental discipline. And maybe thats the problem with life-creep, or activity-creep, or whatever it is that makes a day so complicated. There are so many demands that fight for preeminence we try to attend to them all at once. We call it "multitasking". And we all, to certain degrees, suck at it.

I'm training myself to slow down, to be a unitasker. I used to listen to music while I wrote. Then I realized once that I was writing song lyrics instead of my thoughts. So now I turn everything off, and work in the quiet. Quiet is nice. But it is scary too. The lack of physical distraction leaves only the internal conversation to knock us off task. And knock it will. But if I write, and do nothing else until I'm done writing, my writing is so much better. When I'm at school, planning for classes, I dislike answering the phone. It puts me off my game. It gives me a string of excuses to not continue. But If I can just sit and plan my day, the planning takes half as long and is twice as good.

P and I eat dinner, in the kitchen, at the table. When we eat we converse, but often about dinner. About the food, about it's taste. The squash is sweet. The brussels sprouts are tender. The salmon skin is really crunchy. It enhances the experience. It makes it meaningful. And memorable.

The punchline? I don't know- "Be in the moment" "Pay attention" No- that's not it...

I think its simply "When its time for fishing; fish..."


Addendum: I'm in the process of moving the blog to a new server. The new address is For the next month or so I'll keep the blog active here but you will want to reestablish any feeds through the sett server. 

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"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli..." PETER CLEMENZA The Godfather

A couple weeks ago I suffered an inevitable WordPress Blog Failure (WPBF). I logged into the blog and- everything was gone- everything. Posts, pictures, comments; all gone. It took two weeks to get it back, and I'm still looking for the photos to add back in. But at least its back. When I found the blog missing though, my first reaction was to want to puke. I fought it off but it was in my throat. Six months work disappeared in an instant, like Paulie in The Godfather. I could taste the cannoli.

My second reaction was relief. Maybe now is a good time to stop. Frankly, I was surprised I had six months' worth of posts in me. (A friend who edited some early drafts thought I had far less than that.) But merrily I rode along, spouting vast theories based on half-vast premises. And I loved every word I wrote. And every comment I received. I especially loved the single comment I received on my second post, wherein the commenter called me everything from just plain stupid to truly psychologically damaged. It was in itself a work of art. It made the blog- great, and fun, and important.

But after my dad died I just lost steam. After The Vigil I had myself convinced that I had moved past it all, but in all honesty I hadn't really even begun to work through any of it. I left Florida for home on a Friday morning. My dad died a few hours later. When I left for the airport the original plan was for a memorial service sometime in "the future", but by the time I arrived home that evening everything had changed. The reality was that less than a week later I was the only one of my siblings who was not in attendance for my dad's funeral mass. I was at the gym, eleven hundred miles away. It really pissed me off.

Shortly after that, I wrote about Ahab, and what a tool he was. I wrote about my dad, and how much I miss him. And after that I couldn't think of anything decent to write about.

So I just stopped.

And all that time I missed it so. The truth is that I love writing, and I love working against my self-imposed deadlines, and scheduling the drafts at 11 pm to post at 5:01 am the following morning. So I'm taking another shot at it. A shot at momentum. As it stands right now, I don't feel comfortable writing about Buddhist ethics, and I have been counseled not to delve into topics relating to education. So that leaves me with cycling, and photography. And nutrition. And possibly big pharma. (Did you read the story about the pesticide resistant "super-weeds"? The subtext of the story is that over 70% of all corn and soy grown in this country is genetically engineered by Monsanto to resist Monsanto's Roundup®. The sub-subtext is that 100% of the 70% genetically engineered corn and soy is, at some point in its life, soaked in Monsanto's Roundup®. yum.)

I'm also taking this opportunity to start a public registry to replace my aging camera equipment. You can sponsor a lens or a body or an accessory or two. Right now I have my eye set on a Fuji X-Pro1 or X-E1. Don't be shy.

Truly tho- the short of it all is that I think I'm back- I think.

That, and-  I've really missed my friends.

brother mark

(psst; click the quote for a special treat...)




"Well they blew up the chicken man in philly last night, and they they blew up his house, too..."     BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN    Atlantic City

Over the Christmas/New Year holiday I was introduced to some new music. Music taste is like food taste. And cartoons. Just because two people like everything they ever shared together before, it does not translate that the next thing will be relished equally. So when a friend with which I have no real musical history said "You have to listen to this..." I was skeptical. Until I was hooked. Everything- the trio format, the melancholy meter, the purposefully off-tempo nature of the call and response- in essence the precision unruliness of the whole, made me, in an instant, a life-long fan of Esbjörn Svensson.

Then the punch line-

"yeah; too bad he's dead..."

So, anyway, in one breath I'm given this great music and in the next the weight of the knowledge that they'll never be any more. It makes me sad to love it so much. Really, go out on the googles and search for "Elevation of Love", the live performance from Berghausen, Germany. You'll understand...

Damn kids...

--- --- ---

Death has been the theme of late, this year's black. I've had to experience too much of it, viscerally and peripherally. I'll let you in on a little secret. Both suck. When death comes close you grieve. And grief lingers long after you think it should have known it was time to go. Grief is like a bad house guest who missed the cue that its time to strip the bed, pack the bags, and take your coffee in a travel mug. For cryin' out loud I just want to read the paper...

And when death comes to a friend its just as hard because there is nothing to be done. Be available, be open, be a good listener. But don't try to 'help' because there is no help you can offer that a true friend wouldn't have already extended.

--- --- ---

Everything dies, baby, that's a fact...


Its true for people, pets, plants, jazz musicians, even well-intended-but-poorly-conceived-blogs. Everything has a lifespan. My dad's death was sudden but not unexpected. When a body nears ninety years old all bets are off. You say 'he had a good life' and thank the lord the end was quick and relatively painless. But when death comes sooner you begin to question the point of it all. So young, so much left to do, so much- so much...


When my brother Skip died I was mad. Mad that he didn't try harder, mad that I try at all. To this day I don't think I've really cried for him. I cried on and off for days after our cat Gabriel died. P and I talked about what a good soul he was, and how he enriched our lives. And we buried him in the garden and placed an angel on his grave. But for my brother there was only anger. No, that wasn't it. There was mad. Concocted from a pound of frustration and seasoned with a healthy pinch of guilt. Mad. That it made no sense.

--- --- ---

But maybe everything that dies some day comes back...

That days are getting longer. Dinner comes at twilight now, and not early evening. Looking out the kitchen window, the sky is streaked pink and purple. A pillow of dusk. It is a time of looking torward, not whence. Gabriel's angel holds a handful of seed for the finches. They do not linger and wonder at the nature of tender cherub cupping her hands for them to feed from. Lingering is careless and fraught with danger. Smart animals...


I'm listening to e.s.t. Live from Hamburg. It is such beautiful music. It makes my brain smile whilst I write. And I realize as I listen, it never ends. As long as I listen the music is real. Every time a song ends, the audience applauds. Every time. And then another song begins. Over and over. And so it goes.


It occurred to me tonight that when I left Florida, after I said goodbye to my dad, I took only one souvenir- honest to God- a travel mug, full of coffee. How'd I miss that one?


Its time-to move forward, or if not forward, at least toward. Toward the coming spring, coming opportunity, toward the future,  And bring a travel mug full of memories, and stories, and good music...


--- --- ---


"Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies some day comes back. Put your makeup on and fix your hair up pretty, and meet me tonight in Atlantic City..."





Abbey Road

"Do or Do Not. There is No Try"   YODA   Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

In 1969 the Beatles released the album Abbey Road. The album was recorded almost six months after the album released as Let It Be, which is seen historically as their final album, but because of quarrels over L.I.B. it was released a year earlier. The culmination of the second side of the album is a sixteen minute medley of first-take recordings of half-finished compositions never meant to be released as a finished product. It kicks ass. And in there lies a message...

Do or Do Not.  (or)  Leave that, I'll clean it up later. I'm not entirely sure yet.

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I don't know where it goes, or why it suddenly comes back. I love winter, but every winter gets a little harder. Even 20,000 I.U.'s of vitamin D daily can't keep the beast at bay. I'm become better at fighting it, and the sullenness lasts only days now, or a week, but it wearies me, the struggle.

This year the big gift among the boys at the high school was headphones. Big-ass, full-on, cover-the-ears, active-noise-cancelling headphones. It took a while for me to figure it all out. They just want to retreat as far as they can into their own heads. 

I bought a set of headphones today. They are International Distress orange. 

--- --- ---

I made a few resolutions this year. I should have announced them with all due pomp and bother last week, but I didn't. They are...

1] Drink more water. at least four liters a day.

2] Find that yoga DVD I couldn't live without two years ago. 

3] Use it.

4] Plan ahead. At least once.

5] ........ I forgot. [damn] It was really good too.

--- --- ---

When Abraham Lincoln was conflicted he would put his thoughts to paper. Thoughts to paper. Tell me that's not a great line.  Anyway, he would write these letters, chastising Generals or admonishing underlings for misdeeds. But upon finishing, he placed them in a folder, and noted them as "Never sent, or signed"  The point was not to confront, but to confront the anger and frustration of a scenario outside the realm of his control. 

I just dismissed the entire second half of this post into the ether. We'll all be better off for that. It is my sincere hope that by doing so it will help reduce the occurrences of my talking to my self out loud whilst walking around the Walmart.  It's becoming really embarrassing. 

--- --- ---

I remember now. I'm going to learn Spanish...

--- --- ---

There is a new camera on the market. It's called the Lytro. It is a "light field" camera. You point it in the direction of the scene you want to photograph. Click. Later, in the comfort of your own home, you zoom, or not, focus close, or far away. Change the viewing angle. Its crazy. I predict it will change photography the way that the Segway changed transportation. 

Remember, you heard it here first. 

--- --- ---

I've begun reading fiction again. For almost twenty years I've read only non-fiction, except for some Kurt Vonnegut, so that really doesn't count. I just bought Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway. I can't seem to find anything new by John Updike, tho...

--- --- ---

By now, shouldn't I be smarter?



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"It's coming on Christmas, they're cuttin down trees. They're puttin up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace. Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on..." JONI MITCHELL   River

Its been such a hard week. I'm digging to find something, anything,  positive to hang my hat on. On the television are a bunch of ass-hats actually saying, out loud, that if all teachers were strapped, our babies would be safe. Why can't you just keep that to yourself?  Then you could at least pretend you have an ounce of understanding.

--- --- ---

My head is spinning. I can't string two cogent thoughts together that don't contradict each other. I've been listening to Joni Mitchell's Blue album. Its about running away. Not all of it, but enough of it to make it worth listening to. It was a mainstay of my college days, when life was full of seminal events and defining moments and philosophy classes. Joni Mitchell always told such great stories. About being sad, or  just tired and alone, or wanting. My first album was Hejira. The title means "journey". The songs are about traveling or being on the road or wanting to be home. But they are also about knowing what you want and what you have. They are about choice and the consequence of choice. And isn't everything...

--- --- ---

As an educator I'm not at liberty to write about education. That would be a conflict of interest. But I can say that anyone outside of the field of education hasn't a clue about what the inside looks like. At least at the K-12 end of the rainbow. You should change that. Soon.

--- --- ---

Ever since my dad died I've felt adrift. We lived very separate lives eleven hundred miles away from one another. I didn't see him or my mom nearly often enough. But it never mattered. We always made up for time and distance when we were together. During their penultimate trip north P and I took my parents to Buffalo so my dad could photograph the Kirsch Saloon building on Niagara Street. We scoured Black Rock all afternoon looking for lost neighborhoods and lumberyards that served as playgrounds. We found most of them. We think.

It was a great day...

--- --- ---

I bought extra Christmas cards this year. They Have the word Christmas in them. As of this writing I think I've made out seven. That leaves, um, a lot left to do.

--- --- ---

I miss writing. I thought I had it back last week. I think I did, briefly. But then I got lost again. I know it will come back. Until then I'll keep stabbing at whatever words are too slow to escape my focus, and stick them here. And i'll listen to Joni mitchell sing, about blue, and green, and skating away. And i'll find solace in the love of my lover. And turn the F'n television off again.

At least until the NHL comes to its senses.


addendum: I apologize for the ass-hat remark I made earlier (but not really)

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Moby Dick

Why the f*** should I have to press "1" for English?  STATEMENT ON A BUMPER STICKER

Captain Ahab, the mythic, God-like ship's captain in Moby Dick, the man-hero wholly consumed with rage against a Godless beast which cost him his leg, rejects outright all things which do not fortify his fevered vengeance quest. Deep within his soul Ahab believes that the white whale is the embodiment of evil, and acts accordingly against it. From the pages which recount Ahab's odyssey comes one of the greatest exultations of the total consumption of rage ever written in modern literature, American or other.

"He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam on down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."

Dude could write.

My friend the Colonel once shared this book to a former Iraqi army officer he worked with. Days later the book was returned with a courteous but confused thank you.

"I'm sorry," he said, "But I just don't understand. All this because he lost his leg."

"Um- yeah, that's the point."

"But bad things happen to people every day. Where I come from we have learned to just move on."

--- --- ---

The world is changing. (...duh)

Look, what I don't know about the world could almost fill the Hollywood Bowl. But I do know this- all living things change. And when I refer to change I'm not referring to climate or population, although if half the world's population were wiped out today, there would still be more people inhabiting the earth than did in 1990. What I mean is the day to day of change, the "Yes, the ATM is asking me to choose a language" change. I mean, really, I'm supposed to adopt this as my white whale?

There's a big disagreement over solar and wind energy. Windmills are ugly, solar takes a long time to pay out. Both are seriously flawed technologies. But the NFL didn't look anything like the NFL when Jim Thorpe was running around in a scratchy woolen sweater and a leather hat. But football, like everything else, evolved. Setting aside the obvious value judgements to be made and focusing solely on the thing, football is what it is because it followed a sequence of change. And the same goes for solar power and wind power and biofuels and microwave popcorn and Southern Tier 2Xmas. What it is is only what it is, not what it was, or what it will be. Why is that so difficult a thing to wrap a head around?

--- --- ---

Resistance to change is what drives most business and all government.  It's what creates brand identity and a two-party system. If we wanted change we would change. But instead we let the same banks that tanked the global economy pay a 'fine' of one point nine BILLION dollars for laundering Mexican drug money and then loaning that money to countries we don't loan money to. And no one says a word. Or goes to jail. Or cares.

George Carlin once wrote that we placate ourselves by marveling at the fact that we have thirty-seven kinds of mustard to choose from on the grocery store shelf, but we ignore the fact we have no real choice over who our leaders are. Because that's the way we want it.

--- --- ---

My father's grandfather came from the Alsace. His grandmother from County Cork. Growing up we ate cabbage and pork and beef cooked in vinegar and more cabbage. My dad drank beer. Two doors down my friend's family ate chopped liver and boiled eggs and chicken and drank sweet wine. Further down the block were dinners of mutton and pasta and veal and wine that didn't come from a store. We were neighbors. And friends. And we were who we were. And we weren't afraid of who the others were either. I learned to speak Hebrew from Sam and Italian from Chuck's dad. I ate gefilte fish. And tripe. And now years later my students bring me mofongo and pani puri to try. And I eat that.

And we are friends.

--- --- ---

And none of this makes me angry, or scared, or makes me lash out at a world out of control or a world that isn't the same as it was when I was young, even though it isn't the same. I don't want it the same. I like my iPad, and Kindle books, and I like my digital camera. And I like a world that offers me a venue to write my thoughts out, and lets me put them out there...

And if it means that I have to press "1" then I'll press "1" and I won't shoot my heart upon some feigned foe. No, instead I'll press "1" and acknowledge the fact that my world is filled with colors and smells and favors I never knew as a boy. I'll remember Kodachrome fondly, but I won't romanticize it.

And I will ask myself why I would want it any other way.

--- --- ---




Shelf Space

20121128-220814.jpgThis is my twenty-fourth post since launching The Bodhicyclist. It might not seem like a lot. It probably isn't. But already I find myself at a crossroads. Honestly, I thought I knew what I wanted to do with this when I started. I planned thoroughly. I followed the advice of the experts. I wrote fifteen posts before I even launched. And then I found out on that what I thought I was, wasn't.

And the blog has been better for it.

I found out that if I focused on my place in my small corner of the of the small blue dot we call home I could, if nothing else, teach myself something about me I didn't know. And reveal a thousand other questions I didn't know I had.


What the hell was I thinking when I started this? If I don't believe in God, why do I always write about God? Why do I end up a disappointment to so many people? How does Paula put up with me day after day?

Anyway- I'm running out of shelf space for all my questions. And I need to consider them better. So I may go to one-a-week for a couple weeks. The last thing I want is to make writing a chore. It turns out that after thirty-five years of being a visual guy, I like being a word guy. And for the six regular readers of the blog I don't want reading to be a chore.

And honestly, I miss my dad and I haven't had much time to think about it.

I have a really good horse in the barn for Monday. I promise. I've been mulling it for a bit over a week and its just now making sense. I promise it will be worth the wait.

I'll even put a bow on it...




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[No] Reservations

I'm remembering back to an episode of the Travel Channel show No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, when Tony is in Japan. He is watching a man make soba noodles. This is what the man does- he makes soba noodles. His entire life he has made soba noodles. Every day of his life. And nothing else. As a matter of fact, in all his Asian travels, so many stops include a person who makes this one thing or does this one thing.

What is a life like that is at once so simple and so wholly purposeful? What it is like to just... be?

I have this memory from when I was young, of visiting the Carmelite monastery in Pittsford NY. The Carmelites are monastic nuns who live a cloistered existence, wholly abandoned to the worship of God. Their life consists of prayer, penance, manual labor, and spiritual contemplation. Out of context it is a beautiful, serene, and I suppose, rewarding life. In some paradigms it might seem a copout. In any, it is an act of renunciation of the tribulations of modern living, with a devotion instead to this one thing- worship; prayer. Every day is purposeful, every life, examined.

--- --- ---

I remembering taking my first picture at the age of ten, a picture of the janitor at my elementary school, with a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera (which I still own). It was a child's pursuit, more curiosity than interest. But it was when I was nineteen that I made my first real photograph. I was working my first full-time job. I had been thrown into this crazy work cycle for which nothing in my life had prepared me. I worked eighteen twelve-hour days (3:30 pm to 3:30 am), with one day off between cycles. I followed this schedule for my first six months of employment. It was miserable, but it made me pretty wealthy. Especially for a teen who had been invited to not come back for a second year of junior college.

One of the first things I bought with my riches was a camera; an Olympus OM-1n. My friend Chuck and I were utilizing one of my off days, and we went to Akron Falls State Park. It was a crisp fall day. The leaves were turning, and the park was ablaze with color. Chuck worked in a camera store and was testing a new arrival from Olympus for the weekend. I was there because it was a Sunday and my only day off that month, and I wasn't about to spend it at home watching football. He handed the camera to me to try. I took one picture. The next day he called me from the store, and said I should meet him for lunch. When I arrived he handed me a print of the photo I had taken. I skipped lunch and bought the Olympus instead.

Its hard to convey what I felt when I saw that photo, but it was a combination of "that's so beautiful" and "I made that?" To that point, my adult life had been a combination of failing out of school, and working a meaningless second-shift maintenance job at an auto assembly plant. My uniform was greasy blue-black overalls, my hands perpetually soiled and scarred. Even my pillow case had a permanent yellow stain from where my head had laid upon it. I hated that job because it was not me. It was foreign and and fostered a contemptuous relationship for over a decade.

And then there was that photograph. From it I can trace a convoluted line that led me to where I am now, in my home with my wife and lover of twenty-plus years, a cat asleep on my lap, reaping the simple rewards of a career in teaching.

I teach about photography. And why photography is important. I teach in what is considered a small rural high school, and I teach evening classes at our local community college. I love teaching. I can think of few more rewarding professions. I make no allusions about what I do- at the high school level my job is to create connections- to open a door or two where none existed before, to point out the window and say "look", "see". Some students go on to study photography in college, most don't. But I think most leave changed for the better.

And this is my life. It is what I have done for my entire adult life. For almost twenty-five years. Every day. I never gave it much thought, but I can't imagine doing anything, or being anything, else. Being a teacher allows me to just be myself, to live a life that speaks honestly to me.

I get it now, the soba noodle guy, the Carmelite nun. Its all the same- none of it is about the "what." Nothing happens out of context. It's only ever about the "Why." My story is longer because its mine and I know it better. It is no more, or less, compelling than deciding to be the soba noodle guy, no more, or less, voluntary than choosing a vocation to the Carmelite order. It's about finding a personal water level. Soba guy still has bills to pay and children to raise, the nuns still feel the bone-cold of a New York winter. Life is life no matter how much certain aspects are romanticized. Every day I return home to the unconditional love of my beloved wife and lover. Every night a cat curls up on my lap. And they make me whole. And centered. And though I still carry scars from days as a laborer, they are but reminders of the journey here. About finding peace.

About learning to just...



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I am afraid I am a very poor example of Buddhist detachment... LAMA NORBU Little Buddha

I knew it would be difficult. And it was.


It wasn't difficult because I didn't want him to go. Going or not going wasn't my decision to make. It was his. And he made his decision. It was his time, he knew it was his time, he made his decision, and he embraced it. It was difficult because I was powerless to do anything.


By the time I reached their Florida home he was already very weak. My sisters had been tending to him for a week by then, dutiful and doting daughters, expressing true unabashed love. He had stopped eating, and drank only to lubricate his throat. Twenty-four hours later he was in a dream state. In another twenty-four he was gone. Its forty-eight hours later as I write this.

And I'm in a good place.

It's not that I don't miss him. Every time I think I'm near the end of my list I find new reasons to miss him. I'm in a good place because I found a parachute.

--- --- ---

It felt like jumping from an airplane, like falling. An event uncertain except for the certainty of the pain to come. But it wasn't falling. What I was feeling was actually the sensation of clinging. Of holding on. In short, grief. Grief is the inability to let go of emotion, and the initial emotional freefall that comes thereafter. Thing is- the deed is done, the die cast. And wanting it to be different = Grief. With the capital "G".

And grieve I did. With the capital "G". It began almost as soon as I arrived, and never really stopped until I had said my goodbye and headed home.

I had to go partly because it was time for me to go. I had to get back home to my life, to my family. And partly because there was nothing I could do, except continue to grieve. Worse, my grief was beginning to feed on itself, and was becoming destructive. It was time to go. And let go. But what I didn't know was that hidden inside letting go was a parachute- a big gossamer veil to slow the fall. And within that veil of letting go was the comfort and healing.

I wrote about this not too long ago, about letting go, although it reads now like ancient text. What I wrote about then was slightly different. I wrote about letting go in one's personal life, of not being driven by goals or decisions. Of being the water, and not the rock in the water. Of giving over to inevitability. This is different. And the same.

One immediate acknowledgement was in the needs of mine own family. Life goes on whether we are prepared to go on with it. Or not. But normalcy made me feel normal again. People in the supermarket laughed and discussed weekend plans. The cats at the feed store gave their usual disinterested greeting. Gasoline still cost too much.  Normal. It felt "let go."

--- --- ---

From this point forward it will always be "after dad died." And yet life goes on. And will go on. In the way that life must. And I will miss him, like my brothers and sisters will, and like my mother will, though none of us as deeply as my mother will. And I will cry, at unexpected times, for unexpected reasons. And I will carry with me the memories, of his smile, his amazing piercing whistle, his mechanical genius, and his love- his unending, inexhaustible love. And from these I will build my parachute, and keep it tucked firmly under my arm in case of emergency.


I am afraid I am a very poor example of Buddhist detachment...






Go rest high on that mountainSon, your work on earth is done Go to heaven ashouting Love for the Father and the Son

VINCE GILL Go Rest High on that Mountain



Phyllis amd Kathleen have been singing to him since 4am. He sleeps, wakes and looks around, and seems to be in little pain. We kept a quiet and tearful vigil ovenight, stirring everyone at 3:30 when the end appeared close at hand. It's 6:20 now.

A few are back to sleep, quietly snuffling in uncomfortable chairs. After twelve hours any chair is uncomfortable.

Kathleen found some of Grandma's holy cards. We talked about Skip. Before dinner last night the son of old dear friends stopped to visit. Dad woke and mouthed "Oh- Larry!" He's been quiet since then. We had a brief moment later in the evening during the window of time when the morphine blocks pain but doesn't rob lucidity. We talked- well, more I talked and imagined his answers. I said goodbye, and so did he.

...8 am

Nothing has changed. Phyllis is still singing her lullabyes. Everyone else is sound asleep.

It seems wrong that the television isn't on...

...11 am

Hospice nurse is here. She tied off the drainage tube which hadn't drained anything in over a day. Dad is a bit more comfortable, but the disease process is making his blood toxic. I'm beginning to understand how tentative a word like comfort is.

Kathleen and Phyllis have been tireless attendants. Kathleen has the uneviable task of trying to balance a career in nursing with being a daughter. Phyllis pets and coos and reassures. Kathleen is a saint, Phyllis an angel. Its really a question of semantics...

My mother is prepared to let him go, as are we all. Her only concern is that he feel no pain. She prays to take it on herself.

Everyone is fed, a thousand cups of coffee poured and left undrunk. Mother is praying to Saint Anthony to ease the pain.

...12 pm

The hospital bed has just arrived...

Dad is more comfortable in the bed, but he's completely unresponsive now. The hospice nurse told mom she could get into bed with him. You should warn people before you say things like that....

Throughout this entire process my dad made only a single demand- he made it clear that he wants someone to hold his hand.

... 6 pm

It was a good aftenoon. It turns out that food and sleep are essentials, and brownies and coffee. regardless of their virtues, arent enough. Karl, Kevin, Phyllis, and I went to the store in search of a three-way lightbulb. It took an hour. And a half. I finally realized that I'm in Florida. They have palm trees here.

The end will come when it comes, whether I'm here or not. So tomorrow I head home. I miss Paula so much it aches. I've said my goodnight. Dad is gone. Only this breathing machine remains. It looks just like my dad.

Karl is cooking again tonite. Pork. Cooked in pork. I love German food.

I think we're done. Kathleen is holding his hand...


Death will come, and will end life as I imagine most life begins. With some small complaint but no real objection. And never according to any schedule other than its own. My mother will kiss her lover on the forehead and whisper something to him that no one else will hear. Nor was meant to hear.

I will not argue with inevitability...



death did come, at 1:53 pm.  Good night Dad...



Waiting to Exhale...

20121112-182124.jpg We received word just over a week ago that my dad had cancer. No one really needed to say anything more. My dad is eighty-seven years old. He hasn't been in robust health for some time now, so the news wasn't completely unexpected.


I'm on my way down to Florida to see him one last time. To say goodnight. Believe me, I am not unaware of what a gift I've been given. That gift of one last time.

He is prepared, as is my mom, and he is at peace.

Tomorrow will be a strange day...




The Squirrel and the Goldfinch

I was looking out the kitchen window the other morning, watching the birds at the feeder. As I sat a beautiful goldfinch flew in for a meal. At the same time a large grey squirrel charged up the pole, deftly stepping around the super-impenetrable squirrel blocking device I had painstakingly crafted and chased the current diners from their perch. The finch sort of hopped up into the air about a foot or two above the feeder, fluttered momentarily to get its bearings, and landed on the tip of an Astilbe frond. If you don't know Astilbe, it's a delicate, fern-like plant with pretty white or purple-ish flowers in summer. Its kind of a garden nuisance around here, but that's a different story. Astilbe is a featherweight plant, and I was surprised at how easily the finch was able to light itself upon the tip of that tender little stem and not even bend it. It sat patiently awaiting intervention on its behalf while the squirrel was busy gnawing a larger access hole in the feeder's tough plastic shell. I shooed the squirrel with a thump on the window. The goldfinch sat, unperturbed by it all, left its astilbe perch and set back down, this time at the smaller thistle feeder. It stayed only a minute ate a few seeds, and was gone.

The faint scenario played out by the finch was in such great contrast to the clumsy, blunt approach to living that the squirrel embraced, it was impossible, even for me, to miss. Squirrels leave little question as to their presence. Their loud chatter, copious litter, their damage to trees, eaves, and bird feeders alike, are an inherent part of squirrel-ness. Meanwhile the goldfinch, adorned in its fading lemon yellow, black and white raiment, floats in on the wind, sings a light and happy song, takes his seed, and is gone. The contrariety seems so profound. The squirrel, for better or worse, is not purposefully injurious but its actions are consequential in an immediate sense. The goldfinch in contrast leaves no echo of its actions. It touches lightly and refers the memory of its cheery song and beautiful plumage as the only lasting legacy of its visit.

The lessons of the squirrel and goldfinch

Events in the last week have put me in mind of considering legacy. When all is gone but for the memory,  by what gauge are we measured? I am much closer to the end of my teaching career than I am to even the middle. As such I am become more aware of what comes after, or more precisely, what remains. When I walk out of my classroom for the final time it will be without regret of any kind.  Though teaching was never something I aspired to do initially, I embraced it and it nourished me. Teaching gave me a new life, a beautiful wife, some prestige, and a living wage. When my teaching days are through my legacy will likely not be found in the room or building in which I taught, but more likely in the students that I taught.They are what remains. If I were to choose how I am remembered it would be fostering a love of learning, with laughter and fraternity, and random moments of inspiration. A Legacy would be that some of my students carry a love of art still, and make art, and teach others about art. It would be be that I cared enough to try, and tried enough to make some positive impact. It would be that I gave better than I got.

But that choice is not mine to make. Nor should it be. Because a legacy is defined by those who come after, by those who remain. Because while I look at the big grey squirrel and see only its littersome trace, others see a legacy of food left for smaller less robust animals to eat, and seeds cast for new trees to grow from, and nuts buried and long forgotten, feeding the soil and its creepy-crawly cast. Squirrel as provider. I see only my deconstructed feeder, and not the marvelous curiosity and tenacious persistence that this animal possess as it asks only to survive another day in the chilling fall air.

And therefore if my legacy decided is that I was a good teacher, or a good husband or friend, and doesn't extend beyond that -that's okay. And any memory of me need be nothing more than the faint tickle of a light touch or the echo of a laugh. In the interim I continue to be who I am, to do what I do.

And what remains, remains to be seen.

peace, and love to all



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I'm Paper, You're Glue...

Last Friday I was invited to speak at a conference for artists, educators, and workers in the social services. It was a two day conference focused on balancing life, work, and art, and how to stay vital in fields which will bleed you dry if you are not properly prepared. There were two morning sessions this day, and two more in the afternoon. I was scheduled as the final afternoon speaker. The morning sessions were really pleasant; a plein air painter and a yoga instructor. During the yoga talk were were to be led through some basic asanas while we meditated on famous artworks. Following instructions I took off my shoes- and discovered I had a hole in my sock. "Hello toe, what brings you out today?" But so it goes. Lunch was really pleasant, if a bit too long. I had a peaceful conversation with a few colleagues. We talked shop talk and gossiped about mutual friends. The speaker scheduled before me was a colleague and friend. She is a paper artist, an installation artist, a book binder. A visionary. She simply blew me away with her talk. Most public speakers, if they are anything like me, have a habit of telling you what they know that you don't and what they've done that you haven't. But this talk was different. It began with a brief and humorous biography, followed by some introductions to her approach to art making. And then she said it. She said the most profound thing I've heard in a long time. She said, "In my classes I tell my students that all materials have inherent properties which have to be respected." What she meant was that you have to understand how paper reacts to pencil or paint or pen. You have to realize that pencils make dust, and ink smears. What she meant was "Acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the things and people you encounter in life." Intuitively I think I've always known that, but I never heard it put quite that way. We all have inherent properties. I'm quiet, he's not, she sings really well, he can fish... These qualities make us who we are, they make us the individuals that we are. And we have to respect these qualities in ourselves and in others.

We have a tendency to want to make things conform to our standards. Van? Ick. Sport Utility Vehicle? Sweetness. It's not wrong, but makes everything unnecessicarily complicated. The military calls it mission creep, the software industry calls it feature creep. What makes something work for a specific situation limits its usability in others. So we tack something else on or accept a bit less utility overall. Occasionally it's nice to just back off a bit and relish in the simplicity of simple things. Savor in that one great thing that small business do, or that people offer. Focus on your strengths. That one thing you do better than anyone else. Find a way to apply it, find others who share your passions.

P has found twitter to be great for that- for sharing that one thing. Twitter conversations tend to be long in nature, because the tweets are short in nature. There is a sort of conversational semaphore that takes place. Short, punch, punch, punch conversations. I makes the conversation open to anyone. Focus on one idea at a time. Move on. Not everyone likes it, or is good at navigating through it. P is the best I know. A pro. She has met the most fascinating people and learned the most fascinating things through twitter. But it, like everything else, requires an understanding of what it can, and can't do. It's not a public square like Facebook. It's a roundtable discussion. Everyone gets to say their piece, and everyone is given equal weight. And it works because of brevity and the clarity that brevity offers. But their are some who want the tweet length expanded, or have photos inline. But the purists balk- it would change the nature, begin a feature creep that most don't want. So it's stays short. One hundred forrty-four characters. Period. In its own way it's perfect.

My talk that day was not profound. I'm not sure it even rated 'good'. It was characteristiclly random and all over the place. It was about me, and what I know. It was forgettable. I'm trying to learn, to acknowledge the inherent qualities of the people I know, the things I encounter. I've found blogging to help, if only because it makes me write things down. And I'm learning to listen, because when I do I hear the most amazing things...



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All Saints Day

Tony, Tony,
look around.
Something's lost
and must be found!


Today is a special day in the Catholic church. This first day of November is All Saints Day. For the uninitiated, All Saints Day is not a typical feast day in the tradition of the individual Saints and their fetes. It is more a day of observance and solemn recognition of all who have passed before. Deeply rooted in the western european tradition, All Saints Day was instituted sometime after 700 A.D. as a sort of papal Veteran's Day to "honour all the saints, both known and unknown." Such a profound and simple principle- "honor all, known and unknown." Its very existence makes manifest the true binding force of any religion or fellowship or tribe; the heartfelt communion of a congregation of souls, past, present, and future. And it underscores the very principle of connectedness with a thick line, indelible to time or whimsey. It says, "We all are one."

I remember as far back as far back goes watching my father's mother sitting after Sunday dinner, occasionally on our living room sofa, but more often on the stiff wooden chair near the big front window, sorting through her holy cards. Every Sunday she recited prayers so long-ago ingrained that the cards, worn thin by the years and crudely laminated with scotch tape, acted merely as orisonal placeholders. Half whispering, half meditating, her charm bracelet making it's grandmotherly clink, clink, clink, she offered recitations of petition and gratitude. She would shuffle through her deck of saints, meticulously assembled like the batting rotation in some fantasy invocation team, with positions secured through years of tough negotiation. "Now on deck, Francis of Assisi. Assisi..."

My grandmother's saints were real to her. They were friends. Each had a special conversation to be spoken, and a special time and place to be spoken to. Each had a job, full with the expectations that jobs bring. The saints were concrete, they were flesh and blood. And really, that's what saints are. Real. Because before the saints were saints they were people. With lives. And stories. And each had earned through due diligence their place in my grandmother's starting lineup. She never played favorites, nor would she brook some trendy upstart with an aggressive PR agenda. They earned their spot in the rotation through hard work and by providing consistent results. And they told great stories.

Always batting first was the perennial fan favorite, Saint Anthony. Before Anthony became the patron saint of lost car keys, he was a simple country doctor and preacher. Born Fernando Martins de Bulhões in Lisbon Portugal, he became Brother Anthony of the Franciscan order after finding himself tasked by a visiting monk with tending to the bodies of five Franciscan friars who had been martyred for their evangelism in Morocco. "They were willing to die for their belief" he wrote, "and I prayed that my own death should have such weight." Anthony, at the time a foundering novice longed for connectedness to something greater, for the calling. He became an evangelical, traveling extensively, preaching to everyone, and when there were none, to no one. Preaching to spread his word. Preaching to find his way. Through it he found solace, and a voice. There are many stories as to why Anthony is connected to lost things, but the most compelling stories are those that have to do with his utter humility in aiding those in need, and restoring their faith in God and fellow man. Which makes him, along with the finder of lost trinkets, also the finder of lost souls.

Francis, our friend from Assisi, the founder of Anthony's Franciscan order, himself tells a story of casting off riches and the excesses of youth and position, and adopting a life of humble service. It is said that he slept outdoors, on the ground, and that all who knew him considered him a friend. His official team photo depicts him with a bird on his shoulder, cupping his hands to hold food, or water. Service to the smallest among us. Service to the weakest. Service that matters. Indeed it is what ties the saints together, the subjugation of personal desire for a life of service and advocacy.  Its the tie that binds them together, and them to us.

Agnes, the virgin saint, the patron of both couples in love and victims of abuse, was killed for refusing to be forcibly married to the son of a wealthy nobleman. Jeanne D'Arc, a simple farmer's daughter, led a criminally small French army battalion to victory against invading English forces. Later captured and tried by a British tribunal, she endured fourteen months of incarceration and interrogation before being burned at the stake. And all before her twentieth birthday. For God? Perhaps yes, or perhaps instead through God. But certainly for their sisters and brothers, and by extension, for us. Because nothing is anything if its not done for someone, or for something.

And now to address the subtext, the second stringers, the unknowns. While the knowns will always find their herald, there remain so many more unknown's out there, forever unheralded. And now, like then, they are still feeding the birds, fighting an overwhelming force, tending to the battered bodies of the abused. They don't seek recognition, they don't act for redemption or indulgence, they seek only to heal, to help, to soften the blow or even take a blow. For justice, or righteousness, or just for a friend. They'll never make the starting rotation, or make it out of the minors. Hell, they'll never even have a rookie card. But its not because they don't make saints like they used to. It's because true saints don't think of themselves that way. It's because sainthood, like politics, is local.

 In the Buffalo region we have our favorites- like Father Baker, Tim Russert, Constance B. Eve, or Anne and Milton Rogovin... By light of day they looked and sounded like ordinary people, but now, through the filter of time and a light sanding by history, they shine like the beacons we knew they would be. To a person they would say they were just doing their job, just doing what was right, or needed, or wanted. And it's not just that we miss them now that they're gone, though we do, it's that we find in their absence all the things that still need doing. And for the most part it's still pretty grimy work.

 So today I make a special request- leave the name of a known or unknown in the comments box, with a word or two of why, or send it along in an email if you prefer. Share this post with a friend or colleague, and celebrate what the day is about - service...

And save those rookie cards!




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Water Moves

Since I gave up hope I feel much better...   ANONYMOUS

 I remember a story from long ago, from a source I no longer recall. The story is one of competitive sailing, on big, fast, ocean-going boats.  It seems that during a regatta the skipper noticed a piece of seaweed clinging to the keel of the boat. These boats are so finely tuned that even a length of kelp could cause a noticeable slowing of the boats pace. A member of the crew was dispatched to remove the kelp with a pike pole, a long pole with a hook on the end. He stabbed furiously at it, trying in vane to dislodge it. The skipper screamed in anger, as his action only further slowed their pace, the stabbing in the water caused more friction than the seaweed itself. Another crew member grabbed the pike, and punched it into the water just forward of the mass, letting the water move it along, catching and freeing the kelp at the pole moved past, swept by only the current. The secret was to let the water go and move with it rather than resist it.

We live in a rural location, with streams and runs crisscrossing our county. Recently P and I were out on one of our beloved day trips, stopping to photograph when inspiration presented itself. It was one of those perfect fall days that is neither warm nor cold, with air so clear and a sky so azure it hurts just to look at it. I found myself perched at the edge of a stream watching the water move past, swirling around some rocks as it moved by. Occasionally a leaf would happen by, carried by the current, and slip past the rocks with a little twist to and fro, and an undulation of acknowledgement of the rock as it meandered along. And then it was gone. And it struck me- if water is the passing of time, the passing of life, then we are either the leaf or the rock. Water moves, and we either give in to it, move with it, and go where it takes us, or stand fast, in defiance of the current and endure its relentless sanction.

When we are rock, our entire existence becomes one of obstruction,  countlessly bombarded by life as it moves around, and past. We cling to our hopes, our dreams, We cling to our problems. The spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle believes we create and maintain problems because they help give us a sense of identity. We define our self by our circumstance. To change the circumstance is to change our identity.

But life for the leaf is relatively calm in comparison.  Granted, leaf life is a state of constant flux with an uncertain future, but from moment to moment the flow is smooth and transitional. If this, then that. For the rock it is one crushing blow after another. The constant friction wears in subtle and unsubtle ways. Until ultimately the rock is worn down, worn out, and worn away. The leaf just gives in. At first blush, giving in looks and feels like giving up. It feels like giving away- of power, of control, of authority. It feels like quitting. But rather, giving in is an exercise of power. Giving in is a conscious release of a false sense of personal identity. Circumstance no longer defines us.

Giving in is letting go. It's the letting go of the frustrations over the things we never did for the acknowledgement of the things we've done. It's the letting go of anger over things we are powerless to change, and the embrace of the power we have. It's the letting go of idle hope and the embrace of action. Giving in is not giving up. It is the first step in moving on, of taking stock of who we are. Now. At this moment. Giving in is the inhale, the in breath. It gives us pause. A pause that refreshes our identity.

Over and over.

Because water moves.


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