Kruxfest 2015 (Show at Art Obscura): Alabama Deathwalk, Back of a Car, Asa Martin

kruxfestSo I finally ventured out to a live music show here in Las Cruces, New Mexico. There was a long build-up to last night’s five minute drive to the Art Obscura gallery to see a handful of local singer-songwriters (Asa Martin, Back of a Car, Alabama Deathwalk) ply their respective trades as part of Kruxfest 2015. The seed was planted a few months ago when a friend turned me on to a local art blog called The Truant, which features a detailed music calendar. A quick scan and some random googling then turned up the music of Alabama Deathwalk, a.k.a. Eric Reed. I had been half-heartedly searching for (and not finding) a soulful music scene here in my new town that might partially fill the void left after relocating from Carrboro/Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After three years here I had pretty much given up hope that Las Cruces could satisfy my particular musical sensibilities. These two Alabama Deathwalk songs restored that hope:

There’s such a sincerity in this dude’s voice, and when his music hit me I was like, “Yes. This is something I can get into. I wonder if there is anything else along these lines here in town?” Then a trip to Alabama Deathwalk’s Facebook page yielded a web of connections which formed a local indie-folk-singer-songwriter scene that had been invisible to me until that point. I bought a couple of Eric’s CDs from his Bandcamp site, then started cyber-stalking his musician Facebook friends, starting with KT Neely. When I heard her recordings, I liked them so much that I immediately bought everything she had on her Bandcamp site. I soon discovered that KT works at my favorite local coffee shop, and that she and Eric are a couple who sometimes record songs together:

Clicking around some more on the Alabama Deathwalk Facebook page I soon discovered the likes of Asa Martin and Back of a Car, the other two dudes on the bill last night along with Eric. Asa’s opening set last night was wonderful–at turns charming, disarming, and powerful. Here’s a recent video that gives a good sense of Asa’s vibe:

Back of a Car (a.k.a. Kelley Williams) followed Asa with his own captivating and awesome set. All I knew about Kelley going in was that he works at a local coffee shop/eatery (he made me a great sandwich a couple of weeks ago), he plays a ton of shows around town, and he had the opportunity to open for the legendary John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats) a few months back at a local benefit show. Here’s a video of Kelley doing his thing, which includes some interesting guitar arrangements on a badass pink electric:

Eric Reed closed the show with a soulful set of tunes that had his friends in the crowd singing along, and had me pumped full of inspiration to run home and work on my own music with renewed energy.

To make a long blog post short, last night’s show was fantastic. I found myself in the middle of a local music scene that seems pretty special. Along with KT Neely, other local musicians were in the crowd showing their support, including members of Decade of the Dead Arcade, a local band I haven’t had the chance to check out yet, aside from this video, which is pretty sweet:

So there you have it. I finally got out of the house and discovered that there is a thriving indie music scene right in my own back yard. Thanks to all of the above for the music and inspiration, and I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

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Red House: Jimi Hendrix, New York Pop, Randall’s Island, 1970

Every several years I rediscover this version of Red House, which features some of the best guitar soloing I’ve ever heard in my friggin’ life. It starts with Hendrix saying, “Fuck off man, let me talk…”, and then he and his guitar have a serious conversation about the birth and death of the universe. Eric, Jeff, Doug and I sat together many-a-time in our living room on that fifteen-seater couch spinning vinyl, getting ready to hit the town, or coming back from a night on the town looking to take the party to a new level, and we’d drop this Hendrix compilation on the turntable:

jimi hendrix concerts

Then came the “Fuck off man, let me talk…”, then the respectful, reverential shifting of attention into full focus, then this:

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Jason Molina

I’m searching, but I can’t for the life of me recall how I was first exposed to the music of the late Jason Molina. I believe it was a random event that I happened to hear the song “Back on top” from the album “The Lioness.” I remember initially being somewhat put off by his voice, as I was by Neutral Milk Hotel‘s Jeff Mangum at first listen. As with Jeff though, I was quickly won over by the sheer soul being transmitted into my brain, laser-like, by Molina’s music. The lyrics, in particular, to “Back on top” had me reeling:

I’ve been thrashed by the truth of your body
I’ve been thrashed by the truth of your eyes
You looked me square in the eyes
You said don’t take but one thing to be your truth
You said don’t take but one thing to be your truth

Sad, heavy music–just the kind I like to lose myself in, especially when playing and singing songs myself. Rather than fanning the flames of sorrow and self-pity, I find that such immersion and expression cleanses me in some deep way. Anyway, for whatever reason, I purchased the tune from iTunes, but never got around to exploring the rest of the songs on the record, not to mention Molina’s full oeuvre. It was my mentor and hero, Glen Hansard, who put things right when he released an EP of Molina’s songs earlier this month. “It was triumph we once proposed” is a tribute to Molina and the friendship that sprung up between the two men over their mutual connection to the heart and soul of music. Hansard’s lovely take on Molina’s tunes inspired me this week to explore further. After listening to Hansard’s EP, I discovered a documentary on YouTube that gives a glimpse of the sweetness and intensity and sadness and wondrousness overflowing from Molina as he was immersed in the process of recording the album “Josephine”:

Then, earlier today, I learned Molina’s song, “Being in love,” and I’ve been playing and singing it with a growing urgency for the past two hours or so. Turns out the song was featured on the “Lioness” record. I should have bought it all those years ago! But then I wouldn’t be enjoying the discovery of it now, right now actually, as it plays in the background while I type these words. I will be making a purchase later on this afternoon…

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Little things

DSCN3068

Change the strings.
Trim the beard.
Make the bed first thing upon arising.
“Little things…”, as Mom likes to say.

Take a stroll.
Clean up the garage.
Fill in that hole in the back yard that you dug up five or six weeks ago.
Grab up a few weeds while you’re out there,
while you’re at it,
while you’re in the mood.

Sing a few songs,
old songs you haven’t thought of in a long time.
Write a few new ones,
ones you’ll forget about for a long time,
or maybe forever.

Remember your father.
Little bro.
Think about the good times,
the beginnings that came after the endings,
and the moments in between when all seemed to be lost.

Light a fire.
Let it burn out in its own time,
on its own terms.

Lay back and sink down into the dream once more.

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Restless soul syndrome

[A snippet from a writing project in gestation that will probably make more sense if you read the preceding snippets.]

If you asked me six months ago to imagine a scenario which would result in me living with my parents, I would have laughed heartily and given you some wildly unrealistic turn of events, like a complete mental breakdown or traumatic brain injury. I mean, shit, I’ve been away – hundreds if not thousands of miles away – for fifteen years now, and there’s simply no way in hell such a thing could happen, yet somehow here I am, upstairs in the house where my Grandmother lived for most of her life. My brother and I used to stay in this very room when we visited Grandma. I remember we needed to have a bucket to piss in, so we wouldn’t have to make the long trek to the bathroom downstairs. I wish I had that bucket right now, as my mother has some friends over this morning and I’m trying to wait them out.

I’m starting to get better at adapting quickly to change, as life has been unfolding in unpredictable ways for the past several months. In the past several months I’ve stayed in Kentucky, North Carolina, Vermont, Mexico City, El Pueblito, and now good old Troy. Troy, New York: The Home of Uncle Sam! That’s what it says on the big green sign you see on the way into town. “The Armpit of America,” is a descriptor I remember reading once in a magazine. I call it “home,” and it could have been a lot worse. I’ve got at least several weeks ahead of me to continue “pre-habbing” for knee surgery; then I go under the knife and begin the nine-month to a yearlong rehab process. The doc says no way I can head back to Mexico until spring rolls around (at the earliest), which means a long time apart from Molly and all my unfinished business south of the border.

Today I took a stroll around the neighborhood, breathing in the crisp autumn air and noticing the many changes wrought by the fidgety hands of time. Those hands had hold of my mind as well, sliding my thoughts around like chess pieces from present to past to future. In some ways it’s good to be home again. I feel a sense of reconnection that typically gets lost in the chaos of brief holiday visits. And I’ve been able to maintain at least some equanimity this time around, whereas I usually tend to withdraw into a passive daze after a few days under the Trojan moon.

Even though I was only there for a couple of months, my time in Mexico was a real tonic. In fact, despite the difficulties I faced there, in some ways it was easier to tap into the energy of creativity, and easier to maintain focus and discipline in the face of inertia and stultifying habits. I felt more awake and alive than I have in a long time. Of course, this has been the case whenever I’ve made big changes or, more commonly, when big changes have been thrust upon me. Once things settle down, however, and I settle into a relatively static routine, it’s not long before I drift back into a semi-daze, feel existentially/spiritually disconnected, and start to feel the whole Restless Soul Syndrome coming on all over again. But I’m determined not to fall into the same old traps this time around. If it’s change that’s needed to keep the juices flowing, well shit, there’s nothing but change, if I take the time to notice. Maybe I’ll finally get it, or maybe I’ll continue this same old shuffle of “one step forward, two steps back.”

This reminds me of something an old professor told me while I was in graduate school. He was quoting the Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, who said something like, “For years I was taking one step forward and two steps back, but that’s okay – I was headed in the wrong direction.” I was especially fond of that professor—Charlie Tart was his name. He had made a name for himself in the Wild West of Woo known as Transpersonal Psychology. I call it woo not to be totally dismissive. I did, after all, go into considerable debt in pursuit of a master’s degree in the field. But much of what I encountered at the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology was dubious even to my then freshly cracked-open mind, and even the things I thought (and still think) were life-changing and avant-garde were (and still are) dismissed as claptrap in the mainstream of the mental health field. Professor Tart was especially known for his work in the area of altered states of consciousness. Here’s a snippet of a paper I wrote for that class, just to give a taste of what my “unconventional” education was like:

If a child were fitted into a virtual reality helmet at birth, his or her experience of “reality” would be quite different from non-helmeted humans. Much as our typical human experience is limited by the structure of our organism (e.g., our brain and sense organs) and its relationship to the physical environment, the experiences of helmeted humans would be determined in large measure by the programming of hardware and software. If there were a power failure causing a complete shutdown of this virtual world, would a person born and raised in this computer-generated reality experience a death of some kind? What would his or her experience be of the “natural world” if he or she were to take off the helmet and perceive light and sound through their naked eyes and ears for the first time? Would they be “born” again?

Helmeted humans! It was Charlie’s class—and an incredibly hot girl I met in his class—that inspired me to wander into Buena Vista park one day to purchase my first bag of weed. Brenda was an unabashed pothead who extolled the many wonders of weed smoking nearly every time we got together. I eventually smoked with her, on several occasions, but the only effect of note was an unpleasant amplification of a general state of self-consciousness. Brenda speculated that my problem was an inability to relax and let go into the experience, suggesting that perhaps if I smoked up alone in my room I wouldn’t feel as self-conscious about how the drug was affecting me. And so I headed up Haight Street toward the park, a section of town where normally I couldn’t walk a hundred yards without being offered “buds” or “doses” by some dreadlocked teenager passing me on the sidewalk. When I first moved to San Francisco, I actually thought these kids were calling me “Bud,” as in “Hey Buddy, how are ya?” Yeah, I was pretty naïve back then, but now that I was hoping to purchase some of these magical buds, I couldn’t attract the usual attention from the would-be dealers. So I headed up into the densely forested section of the park, like a fly hoping to get caught in the spider’s web. It worked like a charm. Some nappy-headed hippie gave me the nod within a few minutes and I awkwardly negotiated the deal, heading home with a plastic baggie full of something that smelled a lot like what had been in Brenda’s plastic baggie. I had nowhere to be for the next two days, so I closed the door to my room, filled Brenda’s pipe with a load of green, and smoked the entire bowl with a series of deep huffs in rapid succession. It was like chugging a beer, I reasoned, hoping the quick hits would bypass the whole self-conscious thing and move right into this “high” feeling that everyone was raving about. While I was waiting for the effect to dawn on me, I filled the bowl again and “chugged” it in with another several deep draughts, coughing up half a lung in the process. “That ought to get things rolling,” I thought, but before that train of thought could move any further, the thing went completely off the rails.

I got so high so quickly that I could no longer keep a thought in my head long enough to anchor myself in the old familiar world where things made sense. I rapidly cycled through phases of déjà vu and amnesia, which frightened me a great deal, but not as much as the amplified sensation of my heart beating against the walls of my chest. I became certain that I had overdosed and would pay for the mistake with my life, and so I attempted to make my way into the living room to the telephone where I could call 9-1-1. Fortunately, my seventeen-year-old housemate Helen was home, and she quickly divined the precise nature of my predicament. She assured me that, although I sincerely thought I was going to die, I most definitely was not actually going to die. Despite her young age, Helen had been through a bad trip or two in her day, and she expertly coached me back into state of relative calm and sanity. I had no idea that marijuana could have a hallucinogenic effect on a person, no matter the amount smoked. The experience unnerved me, but intrigued me enough to try it again a few weeks later. It took a bit longer to move from high to tripping balls, but I got there once again, this time documenting my reaction on a hand-held tape recorder for posterity. The next day when I listened to the recording, I was amazed to discover that I had only uttered two sentences, which were whispered and separated between long, long periods of absolute silence.

“Oh my God I think I’m going to die…” and “That’s not me, that’s not me…”

The first thought was a return of the deeply held conviction that I had smoked too much pot, that it was likely laced with something toxic, and that I was going to be punished for my foolishness with a heart attack. The second was something I said after noticing my reflection in the full-size mirror hanging just outside the bathroom. I looked at the image in the mirror, could not fully convince myself that it was my own reflection, and gradually became stricken with a doubt deep enough to drop me to my knees in a state of abject horror.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. One step forward, two steps back. Restless soul syndrome. I need to fight against it, to keep things in constant motion so the patterns can’t set in. Stay in the flow. Which reminds me that I have to piss like Niagra Falls. Mom and her friends are still clucking away like a brood of hens. I have neither a bucket nor a pot to piss in, nothing but an empty plastic water bottle. I’ll give them five more minutes; then I’ll choose between pissing in the bottle (and possibly all over myself) and the thirty seconds of awkwardness I’d have to endure interacting with strange humans on my way to and from the bathroom. I’m sure there are more options, but sooner or later a man has to take that next step, whether or not he can tell the right direction from the wrong. Reminds me of another Robert Johnson quote. Not the analyst, but the bluesman:

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees. Asked the lord above, “Have mercy, save poor Bob, if you please.”

Robert_Johnson

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Mirror, mirror

[A snippet from a writing project in gestation, which will probably make very little sense if you haven't read the preceding snippets on the the Zia page.]

640px-Mirror_baby

Our host family in Mexico didn’t have a mirror in their bathroom. I found this to be curiously unsettling during those weeks before construction of our separate quarters was complete. I missed checking in with myself each trip to the bathroom, giving myself the old “thumbs up” or flashing myself a goofy smile. It was as if I wanted reassurance that I was still the same old me, that I hadn’t withered into a husk while lost in a daydream, or shape-shifted back into some long-forgotten, original form. Like any habit, the mirror check-ins served a function, kept a familiar pattern in place. “We are what we repeatedly do,” is a truth that can be verified in difficult circumstances, when one’s choices have been restricted. Try locking yourself in a cage for a few days, or better yet, a few weeks. The drunk becomes sober, the smoker a nonsmoker, because one can’t truly be a thing without doing the thing that makes you that thing. It’s a foolproof method of transformation, so long as you don’t mind living in a cage, and you never get your hands on the key.

Now that I’m back in the land of free—Troy, New York, USA—I can indulge once again in all the little habits that keep the me-machine running. It’s a major upgrade from my jualita (little cage) to the swanky minimum-security prison I’ve come to call “home,” which comes fully equipped with all the amenities, including a spotless, well-lit bathroom mirror. This mirror is more than a mere reflector of cold, hard facts. It’s a canvas upon which I cast my hopes and fears, creating a sense of illusion every bit as convincing as the work of a skilled stage magician. It’s a seductive and compelling illusion, but as with stage magic, at bottom I know it’s not real, I know I’m not really free.

Suddenly I’m reminded of Whipple, of his own reflections on his reflection, the news anchor game he played with his sister, the nightmares of his father’s slightly altered face, the deep-seeded doubts about his own identity. Was any of that real? Was Whipple just the whimsy of someone’s imagination? I can’t know for sure at this point, so why not sit back and enjoy the show before questioning everything to death? To question everything means considering the possibility that I never went to Mexico at all, that maybe I’ve been living with my parents all this time instead, for years even, retreating ever deeper into the recesses of loneliness and regret. Some questions are better left unasked, better left quarantined with the other queasy feelings until they slip from the tip of the tongue and into oblivion.

Morning. I limp down the stairs, through the kitchen, and into the bathroom. An unpleasant bouquet of cigarette smoke and shit lingers from my father’s last visit. There are no sheets of toilet paper left on the dispenser, so I hunt around for the back-up stash. I don’t have to go. I’m just looking out for my Dad, covering up the evidence of his crime. Under the sink, my mother has enough T.P. stored to make it through a nuclear winter. There are no short stories, not even a haiku, written on any of the rolls that I can see, so I grab one at random and place it on the dispenser. I turn around to face the mirror, only to find my own reflection and nothing more. I give myself the old thumbs-up, flash a goof-ball smile, but feel no comfort or reassurance, only a gnawing sadness. The smell my Dad left behind is starting to sicken me, so I crack the window to let in a little fresh autumn air. My Dad grew up in this house, one of five kids in this teeny, tiny mouse-hole of a domicile. Eight people, if you count my grandfather’s spinster sister Hazel, shared this one little bathroom for all those years. I remember the day my grandfather collapsed right beside the toilet. My grandmother called in complete hysterics, and so my Dad threw me in the car and we were there inside two minutes. I’ll never forget the look of sheer terror on my grandmother’s face, or the sick feeling I got in my stomach as I tried to determine why my grandfather was slumped over on the bathroom floor. He survived that heart attack, but died soon after from another one that struck him down out back while he was packing the car for a fishing trip. I was told he was found lying down on the soft green of the lawn, staring up at the clouds with a peaceful smile across his lips. I wonder if he saw any forms in the clouds before he passed on, like a turtle, or the outstretched hand of God.

One particular moment from the funeral is seared into my memory. I was kneeling beside my father before the open casket, alternating glances between the man in the box and the man beside me. “That’s his father, and he’s my father” were the words that I recall floating through my head, but the sensation that gripped my entire being held a meaning far beyond the words. That’s when I discovered the horrible truth that one day it would be my Dad in the box. I’m not sure if it occurred to me then that I too would be in the box someday, but if it did, that thought didn’t seem to matter one bit compared to thought of losing my father. I buried that thought deep down, and for a long, long time I let it lie fallow. But now that I’m home again I see the handwriting on the wall. The chain-smoking, the disregard of dietary recommendations, the frequent illnesses, the yearly medical procedures, the mounting pile of medications my Mom puts out every morning in a little plastic bowl marked “Sam.” I can hear the rumble in the sky, see the dark clouds banding together on the distant horizon. There’s nothing I can do though, nothing except enjoy the company of the man who has been to me everything a son could hope for in a father.

The sound of my parents’ car pulling into the driveway snaps me back to the little bathroom in their little old house. A quick glance back up at the mirror and I notice my beard is starting to come in thicker than I’ve ever seen it before. The thicker the beard growth, the more I look like my Dad. In fact, if had just a little more hair on my face and a little less on my head, I’d be a dead ringer for my father as he looked when he was my age—thirty-six. At that point I was just a kid of 8 or 9, just about the time the two of us knelt beside Grandpa and his box. I’ve drifted off again, and suddenly I’m no longer a man seeing his own mirror image, but rather a boy seeing a strange man, a father-imposter, and now I can completely relate to Whipple’s nightmare.

“Ro-BERT!!!”

My father’s voice startles me back to the here and now.

“Stop admiring yourself in the mirror and help your mother bring in the groceries! I’ve gotta take a dump!”

I fling open the door and there he is. The real deal.

“But Dad, I can’t help it that I’m so pretty to look at. And keep that window cracked, will you. The paint’s peeling off the walls from your last trip in there.”

He feigned a playful punch to my midsection as we squeezed past each other in the doorway. A box of Fig Newtons was poking out of the one grocery bag he left on the kitchen table. My signature childhood snack. Before I could reach the back door my Mom kicked it open carrying at least three grocery bags in each hand.

“Oh, Bobby. I didn’t know if you were up or not. Don’t worry about the groceries. I can get them. I don’t want you to hurt your leg. Where’s your Father? In the bathroom? One lousy grocery bag and he’s done! See what I have to put up with?”

I gimped out back to the driveway to grab the rest of the bags. I set them down for a moment so that I could close the trunk of the car, and in gathering them up again I became fixated on the narrow patch of earth between the asphalt of the driveway and the fence that marked the property boundary. This two-feet-wide strip of earth that stretches the length of the driveway is where my brother and I would dig for worms, collecting them in an old Maxwell House coffee can before heading out on a fishing expedition with Dad and Grandpa. It seemed to me that there was an inexhaustible supply of worms living in that skinny patch of ground. My brother and I never needed to seek another source. When it rained, the edge of the driveway would be lined with squirming worms that had been washed out of their cozy holes. I remember going up and down the driveway as a kid, picking up the worms and tossing them back on to the patch of earth. I felt like a rescuer, a hero even, saving those poor worms and sending them home to their grateful families. Somehow it never occurred to me that these were the same worms who, on the next fishing day, I would be pulling from the embrace of their family members, kicking and screaming. Who I would toss into a coffee can, pierce with a fishhook, and then cast away to their certain, gruesome deaths.

A little while later I was back upstairs doing my morning mindfulness meditation. It’s been super hard to stick with this practice since I’ve returned home, but it’s not because I don’t have the time. I’ve got time to piss away, to burn, to stew in. And it’s not because I can’t find a quiet, peaceful place to sit for twenty minutes at a stretch. I think it’s this: It turns out sitting in silence can be a far more objective means of generating a reflection than a mirror mounted above the bathroom sink. In fact, it’s the perfect gauge for the most accurate and updated information on the state of my soul, and since I’ve been home the needle on that gauge has been bouncing around like an old pick-up truck on a God-forsaken dirt road in Mexico. Like those infernal trucks that rolled in every few days carrying loads of battered and bruised watermelons. Those infernal trucks that would stop just outside my window, bright and early, as I was trying to squeeze in a few more precious minutes of sleep. They’d stop and then start blaring some fucking annoying sales pitch into a megaphone. I’d have preferred to be awoken by a tarantula crawling across my face. At least then I would’ve had the satisfaction of exacting revenge. Yes, since my return home the soul needle has been bouncing around just like all that, straight away each morning before I can enjoy even a breath’s worth of peace and serenity.

Mindfulness is hard because my mind is full of worms writhing on the hot asphalt, half-hoping to flail their way back onto a patch of cool, moist soil, half-hoping for the swift mercy of a swooping bird or the rolling tire of a car full of Fig Newtons.

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The Goastt of Waxahatchee

I rarely get excited (or even mildly interested) in new music these days. Like many aging Gen-Xers, I wince when I catch wind of what passes for a “hit song” today. I know, I know… Most popular music in every era is pretty shitty. And it’s subjective, yada yada yada…

However… over the past week or so a couple of Facebook associates linked me up with the following nuggets of new music that I find to be quite pleasing in my ear holes. First up is The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger with “Animals.” The visuals (including the beautiful naked women) probably contribute to the allure of this tune for me, not to mention the fact that John Lennon’s look-a-like sound-a-like son Sean is fronting the band, but I’ve been singing this song around the house for days, so there’s more to it than meets the eye.

The GOASTT – “Animals” Video from stereogum on Vimeo.

Then there’s Waxahatchee, who is Katie Crutchfield, a young singer-songwriter from Alabama. She reminds me of early Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), and embodies that totally stripped-down, recorded-in-a-bedroom-on-a-lonely-night sound that I find so compelling when delivered with soulful vocals:

Actually, I had the opportunity to see Waxahatchee perform live the other day at one of the DIY venues here in Las Cruces. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it, due to the fact that I am totally lame and old and a withered husk of human being. Perhaps that’s a tad harsh. The show was on a Tuesday night and I had to be fit, bright and early, for a long, full day on Wednesday. The sad truth is that, be it age or some unknown source of lame-itude, I just can’t live the late-night, music-scene lifestyle any more, especially during a school night. Now the entirety of my “scene” takes place right here, in my little office with all my little gadgets to keep me company.

*Sigh*

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Nice beak!

two toucans talkingI’m feeling tired and unsettled these past few days. Morning has broken and the birds are singing, or rapping, or babbling incoherently–whatever it is they do. We like to think they’re singing. But who’s to say they’re not hurling insults at each other all morning?

“Nice beak!”

“Thanks! Your Mom thought so too when I was preening her last night!”

Anyway… Feeling lethargic. There are plenty of grad school assignments to attend to, but just the thought of that busy work sends me deeper into the trance. I suppose I should go for a run, let the sun hit my retinas, warm my skin. Should, but not gonna.

I’m a man out of ideas, but I am other things as well. Like half blind in my right eye, packed full of poo, burdened by chores, without a functioning speedometer in my car, worried about my family, bothered by the mounting signs of aging, waiting for things to happen, seeking an entertaining distraction, finished with my cup of coffee, needing to brush my teeth, about ready to empty my bowels, graying in the beard, curious about the life of birds, seemingly unable to follow through with changing the strings on my guitar, unconvinced of the value of twitter, willingly deceived by my own thinly veiled excuses for not living life more fully and courageously, scratching myself between sentence fragments, staring off into space every few minutes, spending way too much of every day in my pajamas, becoming more and more socially isolated, grasping at straws, setting fire to time.

I feel distant from the source, disconnected, like I’m going through the motions. Fingertips flutter as chemicals flash like rainbowfish back and forth across the tiny spaces between neurons. Who knows what it all means. What it’s all for. Nothing. Nada!

Too much unrestrained TV/computer watching, time wasting, pizza eating, beer drinking, circularity of thinking, compulsive door-lock checking, on the toilet sitting, chip munching, chore avoiding, intention ignoring.

Not enough guitar strumming, soccer playing, song singing, butt shaking, muscle flexing, novel reading, navel gazing, out reaching, soul searching, gong heading.

However…just about the right amount of beard stroking, showering, coffee drinking, around the block strolling, home calling, class attending, bill paying, grocery shopping, mail checking, garbage curbing, dish washing, wife loving, bed making, stick shifting, tooth brushing, hours sleeping, day dreaming, bird watching.

Done writing.

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Know or die

hawkWhen she said, “About three quarters of an inch okay?” I should have said, “I like to keep as much as possible.” But I didn’t say that, and so she went right ahead and cut most of it off. The hair on the top of my head. That top part of my hair that falls over the “thin zone” to provide the illusion of youth and vigor. She severed my illusion! So now I’m stuck with a bad haircut, and by bad I mean a haircut that reveals the truth, the real reality of my ever-expanding forehead.

I don’t like losing my hair, however much that goes against the grain of my “acceptance-based” spiritual ideals. Even if it weren’t a sign of getting old it would be distressing. My attractiveness level (on the ubiquitous scale of 1 to 10) peaked out at about a 6 back in the early nineties. Hair loss does not boost my rating. And now, twenty years or so after starting my decent toward the six-foot hole at the bottom of “the hill,” the hair loss has that added, objective, sign-of-decay-and-pending-demise sort of significance as well. But hey, it’s morning time, and the birds are singing!

Yesterday you could hear a turd drop for that twenty minutes or so that the giant hawk was perched on my neighbors roof. It was duck-and-cover for just about every life form within a square mile. How they all know the difference between a hawk and a really really big pigeon is a mystery to me. I suppose it’s a know-or-die type of scenario. You either get it or you get it.

I wonder if spiritual realization is like that, in a way. If it’s a know or die type of thing? Except that the death associated with not knowing is a living death, a zombie-like existence whereby deep down you know that you know, but you’d rather go on pretending that you don’t know. You know? You either get it or it gets you. Know thyself, or else! Or else the giant hawk will pounce, will lift you to the clouds before dropping you on your big, balding head.

Next time I’ll be sure to say, “Just a clean-up around the ears.”

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Stand-up guy

Bathroom-Stall-Dimensions1All things being equal I prefer not to move my bowels in a public restroom, but the bowels want what the bowels want. I had just finished tidying up afterwards when I looked up and saw Tim staring down at me with a perplexed look on his face.

“Can I help you?” I said, concealing my fear that he may have watched the entire performance.

“You wipe standing up?” Tim asked, as if he were inquiring about the time of day.

“Yeah. Why? You don’t?” I responded, playing along as if it were socially acceptable for an adult to watch another adult engaged in such a private activity.

“No way man. I just stay seated. I mean, first of all, I’m already sitting down. Secondly, my ass cheeks are nice and spread apart in that position, so I can get all up in there. You know what I mean?”

“Ummm, yyyyeah. I never thought about it before, to tell you the truth.” I said. “I’ve been standing up to wipe my entire life, and never thought to question the efficiency of my technique. Maybe I started standing up when I was being potty trained, like to show my Mom what a good job I had done, what a good boy I was to get my hynie so clean. The habit must’ve stuck. And what with butt wiping typically being a solitary pursuit, I’ve never seen anyone do it any differently. But explain this to me… How do you get at your asshole with your dick and balls just hanging there, in the way? Do you just lift them aside with one hand and wipe with the other?”

“What?” Tim asked, seemingly unable to generate a corresponding mental picture to what I had just described. “What are you talking about? You just reach back, from behind, and wipe up in the direction of your tailbone. No need to lay a finger on your twig and berries. You can use your other hand to spread your butt cheeks even wider apart, if the situation calls for it, but otherwise your other hand is free to hold a book, make a phone call, whatever you like.”

“Hmmm. Interesting.” I said. “I’m glad we had this talk. Remind me never to masturbate in here. I don’t think I can handle finding out that I’ve been doing that the wrong way too.”

“It’s not about right or wrong, dude.” Tim said. “This is America. Our forefathers laid down their lives so that we could be free to jerk off in whatever way the spirit moves us.”

And with that, Tim and I went about our business as if nothing unusual had transpired. The next time I had to take a dump I tried out Tim’s technique. I didn’t like the whole “reaching behind me” thing, but I had to acknowledge that it didn’t make a lick of sense to stand up until the entire procedure was complete. I never stood up to wipe again.

And that’s how I learned that change is always possible.

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