One man’s trajectory, another man’s tragedy.

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

She would have guessed the Novocaine would be the worst part of her day: that deft little needle in her cheek and the roof of her mouth, and the dead sensation that followed.  Pain, she realized, discomfort even, was not the worst part of going to the dentist.  The smell of burning enamel, the terrible squealing sound as they drilled her tooth away, the vibrations that rattled her jaws and every vertebrae, none of those things were the worst part of going to the dentist, or at least they weren’t today.

“If it sounds like someone is working on the roof, it’s because they are,” said the dentist from his perch.  She could hear them walking around above her, pushing ice and snow off of the building in order to remedy damage inflicted by Sister Winter.  All the while during her procedure, she could see ice falling past the window from the corner of her eye.  How was she to know it was foreshadowing?  She simply needed to have her tooth repaired.

Paying a modest fortune to have that tooth repaired wasn’t the worst part of going to the dentist, but she wasn’t aware of that either.  Rather, when she crossed the lobby to exit, her thoughts were consumed with the promise of future dental work, more invasive, more expensive.  “You may need a root canal,” her dentist had said with equal parts regret and hope.  “We’ll see you soon to finish this up.”  She did not want ever to return to the dentist.

Another patient was exiting with her.  They descended the stairs together and listened as the noise of the men on the roof grew louder, their scraping of snow and ice becoming much closer.  She and this other patient were both numb in the face, and they joked halfheartedly together with drooping mouths and stupid tongues. “Do you think they’ll know to stop when we step outside?” The two of them looked nervously up at the overhang from whence blocks of ice and hearty tufts of snow fell at irregular intervals.

Of course they would know to stop–they were professionals, right?  They would surely know when to stop, wouldn’t they?

Perhaps they weren’t professionals, who knows.  But it is safe to say that on this day, for this woman, the worst part of going to the dentist was when she stepped outside just as a particularly dense chunk of ice was pushed from the roof.  It struck her in the back of her skull, and that was it.  It killed her instantly, while the other patient managed to skitter away untouched.  “Hey, look out!” came a cry from the roof of the dentist office, but it was moments too late, the damage was done.  The other patient, although unharmed, turned around and yelled up at the workers, “Are you crazy?”  They didn’t have much to say to that.  But secretly, in the furthest corners of her mind, this other patient was a little bit envious because she, though still alive and with a future full of promise, would continue to make these visits to the dentist, while the other woman would never have to.

They searched each other’s eyes and were unimpressed with what they saw.

Friday, January 11th, 2008

“I don’t find you particularly attractive,” says the man.

“And I think your wit is vapid,” is the woman’s reply, “and your posture is embarrassing.”

At least they are in agreement. At least there will not be a pitiful show of unrequited affection. At least, at the very least, their lifeless conversation has provided carbon dioxide to feed the balding conifer trees which surround them here in this romantic park of all parks, John Muir. It is a January afternoon,  a Saturday. The noise of the freeway drones on beyond the tree line. That freeway never rests, bringing desperate winter travelers from one point to another. It brought them both here today, and soon it will take them off in opposite directions. It will be a relief for everyone, even those who never knew them. It will be a relief for you, if you can believe that. Can you believe that? Are you able to believe such a thing?

It is not a break-up, this exchange of callous, calculated words, and neither is it a chance meeting, a slightly obscured “How do you do?”.

“How do you do it?” asks the man.

The woman would smile if she had any lips, if she had a heart. She has a hand, and with a violent motion she shakes it in such a way that a leather glove falls off of it and lands on the snow between them.

“How do you do it?” the man repeats. Demands, “Tell me.”

With a shake of her other hand another glove is flung from her and rests inches from the first. On each of her fingers on both of her hands is a large diamond ring, each with a different setting, each a different size. She takes them off, one by one, and puts them in her mouth. One by one she swallows them. The man watches with tears in his eyes. They are both crying now, but for very different reasons.

“So long, you,” says the woman, once she has swallowed the last of the diamond rings. She leaves her leather gloves where they are lying, turns, walks away. She has not answered his question and never will.


Millions of cats. Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

I miss you Pepper.


The snow is always whiter.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Hello year 2008.

I am changing. Really! It used to be that I hated Wisconsin and hated the winter, and maybe it’s way too early in the season to make a statement like the one I’m about to, but I think it’s maybe becoming the opposite. Here is the thing: for a month now it’s been freezing cold and wet and slippery and gray and dark and all those depressing adjectives, but it’s done very little to make me depressed, and in fact it has me a little bit excited about the coming three or four months of this weather. Honestly, what is becoming of me?

In the spring of 2006 I moved back to Wisconsin after living for nine months (including one winter) in California. I thought, “Surely when this next winter hits I will experience heightened depression, having tasted the alternative. Surely I will regret my choice to return and will take the first presented opportunity to get the heck back out of Wisconsin.” I was bracing myself for a reaction like that. And granted, last year’s winter didn’t start until after the New Year (we’ll have an entire extra month this year!) but those dreaded feelings of gloom never came. Why not?

Of course there were distractions to help keep my mind off of the weather. I was starting my new temp job at the bank, I was applying for grad school, I was preparing for my Northern Waters art show, I was falling in love, those kinds of things. I’m positive there were days when I muttered about the cold and vowed to return to a warmer climate, but I don’t think it was ever very urgent, or very sincere. Through all of last winter you could say I tolerated the season but I don’t think you could say I appreciated it yet. You certainly couldn’t say that I liked it.

No, it seems those emotions would come this year. Earlier I wrote a post saying I found winter to be hilarious, but also noble and endearing. It brought us together as a Northern people. We are stronger for facing these winters. We are braver, kinder, and generally more well-balanced. Some would say we are crazy, for remaining in a climate so unkind to the human race with our naked skin and reckless driving, but the people who say that are neglecting to notice some of the things which I have been noticing–for the first time even –this winter.

If we take the unpleasant decrease in temperature and the frustrating conditions of the roads and put that aside for a moment, what you have left is one of the most fascinating aesthetics of all the seasons. The lush color of spring, summer and fall are obvious choices, and I will always love those seasons more than winter, I think. But winter–look at it! Who doesn’t enjoy waking up and finding that the world outside has been covered with a fresh blanket of pure white snow, and everything–the power lines and the tree limbs and the housetops and neighbors’ cars–is all part of the scenery? Of course we like that, it’s a post card, it’s a snow globe. And when the sun shines down on this landscape it is dazzling. But that’s not the winter I’m talking about. I’m talking about the winter that is gray and sloppy, melting and freezing and melting again. The streets are dirty and the sun hasn’t been present for days, and the trees are bare and twisted and ugly. There is no Christmas cheer and no one is walking around with a skip in their step. We are all depressed.

Except we shouldn’t be! Because there is something gorgeous about this miserable landscape. The world has been, temporarily, drained of color and we exist in the gray scale. Aesthetically it is remarkable–it is challenging and the values are subtle. We can’t rely on color to tell us anything. The world is a line drawing. Metaphorically it is just as challenging. We are grimy humans and we can, for a time, dwell in a world more suited to our dismal thoughts and continual failures. Life can be so ugly–here it is! We have this season to truly wallow, if we want to, or if we’re not the wallowing type we can be that beacon of hope, that smile which signals that spring will surely come. We will thaw and the ice around our hearts will melt. I’ve never been so sure of spring as I have been this winter. “I don’t mind the weather, I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters.”

People living in warmer climates have troubles too. If you move there, you will not leave them behind. I’m glad that I learned this.

Greener Grass (From the August EP, August 2006)

Prince of Peace in a war-torn world.

Monday, December 24th, 2007

I thought I’d write a little bit more about Mary and Joseph this Advent and in the end I didn’t write a thing about them.  Guessers may suggest it was a Protestant reaction against the virgin Mary (which is not true) or a skeptical mistrust of the earthly father of Jesus, who is barely mentioned after the Nativity story (Did he even stick around?).  But the truth is, I have all kinds of respect and devotion when I think about the parents who raised Christ in this world, I just didn’t have the time to write much about them.  In my private thoughts I did consider what it would have meant for a scared fifteen year old virgin to learn she was pregnant with the son of God, and why her fiance would stand by her in a time in history when it was not only acceptable but even expected that men put women in their place.  I know there was a lot of divine intervention through all of this to make sure that things went on as planned, but even considering that it is pretty evident that Mary and Joseph were some incredible human beings.  Those are the things I didn’t have time to write about this Advent, I apologize.

I have a little time today though, on this Christmas Eve of 2007, and I wanted to just say a few things about the Prince of Peace whose arrival we will celebrate tomorrow.  Something I have been wondering this season is, “Where is the peace?”  Since the birth and life and death and resurrection and ascension of Christ there have been countless wars and holocausts, genocides and massacres, and what’s worse, many of those were exacted in his name.  (My grade school mascot was the Crusader, for crying out loud!) Jesus may have been a pacifist himself, but we don’t go around calling every kind-hearted soul the Prince of Peace.  Even Ghandi didn’t get that kind of a title.  I don’t pretend to know history–I have no idea if the cummulative blood shed was greater in the time before his life or after his life, but I know that this post-Christ era is seemingly infinite and the body-count is growing.  How can we call Jesus the Prince of Peace when there is no end in sight, where violence is concerned?  Jesus may have saved the souls of this world, but he left us here on earth in no better condition than when he came.  Right?  So why the “Prince of Peace”?

I don’t really like to admit that my Advent meditation was, at times, less than adoring.  We’re supposed to focus on the savior, after all, and didn’t I even write a few words about that, about our expectations being horribly misaligned from God’s?  So I continued to ponder it and slowly my skepticism was clouded by a realization.  In Advent we are not only remembering what it is to anticipate a savior–a savior who has already come, as those of us in the A.D. know–but we are waiting this very day for his return, when he will bring peace!  This is one of those ideas that I’ve heard a thousand times–the second meaning of Advent–but I guess I needed to come to realize it on my own for it to fully sink in.  We celebrate the birth of a savior who presently brings peace and quietness to our troubled souls, but we also await a prince of peace who will return and obliterate the suffering of this world!  This is something to get excited about, this Advent.  Peace is coming!  And that name bears all relevance: we await the Prince of Peace.

Choose to bruise.

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Somewhere in my dreams last night I had a thought about free will, which was piggybacked by the thought “You should write about this when you wake up.” It seemed so vivid in its brilliance last night, but like so many dreams upon waking, it has since lost some of its luster. I think, though, that after such an effort to remember this, I owe it to my subconscious to report.

So here. In the dream I was talking to someone (who?) about concepts surrounding God. We came to free will, and I must have explained (although I don’t remember this part) that God created us with free will because he loves us and desires for us to love him back because we want to, not because we have to. The response from this shadowy person was something like, “That’s stupid. If God really loved us he would have omitted free will from our design. Better to be robots who are happy and free from pain and suffering. Better to be robots in tune with their creator than lost and wandering free thinkers.” He went on to explain, “What is the alternative to free will? If we were programmed to obey God and follow his commands we wouldn’t be capable of sin and would never have fallen away from God. We would not need a savior to attain God’s desire for us–eternal fellowship with him–because we would already have it. We might not have chosen it, but everyone would have it and if God really loved us he would want that, he would want to make sure that we were all polished up and neatly put into our places at the end of the day. Instead God has given us the right to choose, putting our salvation at risk, along with our earthly wellbeing: free thinkers dieing of murders, war, cancer, famine, rape, neglect, abuse, disease, poverty, depression, loneliness, suicide–all a result of our choices. This is where our free will ultimately gets us, and maybe some will still choose to seek God through all of that, and to one day spend a perfect, painless eternity with him. And they have chosen to, which pleases God, but isn’t that a rather expensive cost? To turn his eye from so many others, because they wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to hear but he refused to make them tell him? Isn’t this just selfish, on God’s part?”

In my dream I didn’t have an answer, I was more intent on committing the idea to memory. I could come up with a response right now in my wakeful state but it would feel defensive and contrived. My subconscious wanted me to present this side of the argument right now, which is strange because I don’t agree with this side of the argument, and I have never really heard anyone suggest this side of it. The person in my dream genuinely wanted to be a robot! I expect people to say “It’s my life, I can do what I want,” and “If God can turn a blind eye on suffering then I don’t want anything to do with him.” Those are sentiments I can understand, not the desire for programmed response. Who despises their freedom, and the God who gave it to them? Apparently some facet of my subconscious does.

On another day I’ll write my response. I’ll write a love poem about free will–a sonnet, maybe. I think it’s a wonderful thing, although it makes life much more difficult. I think to love someone, you have to let them choose.

It is snowing again. I’ll mention every time it snows, it’s a reflex. You’ll get used to it. I’m trying to get in the habit of using tags, but I think I’ll throw the “weather” tag out the window. I mention the weather a lot, but I don’t want people to get the impression that this is a blog for meteorologists (in case you were starting to wonder). So long weather tag.


Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

There is a great sea. It might be all that is left, it might not, but that would certainly make for a more dramatic story. Upon this sea floats many vessels, most all of them the size of fishing boats, the kind you row with two oars while your buddy casts a line off the side. But there are no oars on these boats–there is no need for oars, because the sea is packed so full of vessels that there is not an inch on either side to row even if a person wanted to. No, these boats are their homes: a single person inhabits each boat–no less, and rarely more–nestled closely with their floating neighbors, packed tightly into a grid-locked soup, together, but very much alone. It is up to each person to determine how many of their personal possessions they wish to carry along with them just above sea level. Some have found their greatest, heaviest treasures too difficult to part with; it was often this lust for material wealth which capsized their very homes. The others, the wiser, kept their possessions to a change of clothes and a few bits of sentimental value. Occasionally amongst this sea-faring colony there would be an outbreak, a mild pandemonium. For whatever reason–an angry hornet, a hungry reach for a neighbor’s fish-cabob, a simple turn in one’s sleep–and the chain of events snowballed, spread like fingers across the bobbing homesteads. For every action an equal reaction. One person would tumble into their neighbor’s boat, forcing that person to hop onto the next boat lest the both of them would sink. Sometimes it would happen; a pause in the chain just long enough that someone’s recently invaded boat would fill with water and sink down, down, carrying with it those few objects of personal worth (family photographs, a novelty keychain, a hair pin). The freshly sunken boat’s inhabitant would have no choice but to hop into another neighboring boat, forcing them from theirs. In this way the pattern continues indefinitely, though never in the same place for terribly long, which leads the floating nomads to doubt the inconvenience of it all. It’s simply the way things are. There is a great sea. There is a great sea-sickness.

Cloudy with a chance of in three parts.

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

One morning you might wake up and realize that last night’s sunset, which seemed so breathtaking at the time, was really just the product of copious amounts of air pollution, refusing to let white light pass unbent.

Breathtaking indeed. You could choke on beauty like that.


Everything that this man on TV predicted about the weather is coming true. They say he has a contract with God, that every night God leans down and whispers in his ear precisely what to expect of the skies that week, and God is never wrong. In exchange for this gift, this hand-out of impeccible accuracy and resulting success as a public meteorological figure, the weatherman must spend no less than 40 percent of his free time devoted to local charities and other good causes, which God allows him to choose freely. Forty percent does not seem like much of a request, considering the fame his divine connection has brought him. Though four times a usual tithe, 40 percent is really quite manageable. He can accomplish a lot of good in his charitable hours, if he so desires.

This morning the man on TV predicted flooding on the north part of the city. Many years earlier God promised he would never again flood the world, but the north part of the city, I suppose, is expendable. I’d like to think he’s got it wrong this time, considering I live in the north, but he gets his information straight from God.

I’m worried for my cat. My dog is a strong swimmer, she will do fine. But what about my cat?

Sometimes the weatherman does his 40 percent service at the local animal shelter. I think that people who work with animals must be very kind. I’m happy that he has acheived great success in life. Some people aren’t as deserving.

I think it’s beginning to rain.


You have ribbons for eyes, you cannot see.

Can you find meaning?

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

There is a woman who listens and a woman who speaks.
Seldom do these two women meet.
Seldom they sever; their discourse is never
too clever
if ever they discourse at all.

This source of life has no remorse for strife inflicted by the fall.
We are all, each one of us, a knife plunged deeply in the wherewithal.

Celeste! Celeste! This is your quest, can you find meaning in it all?

But who spins the wheel?

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

Her life was a game of Life, unmistakably. Her rank had been determined by a spin of the plastic wheel and little else. Thinking it would give her an advantage, she took the longer route–the University route. All that did was set her back.  

She married young–she had to. Society had placed a mandatory STOP, determining she was unfit to proceed through Life independently.

She drove a station wagon.

She was still paying off her college loans when the first child arrived, a blue stick of a thing, a boy. They came quickly after that, another boy and a set of twin girls, each one of them plastic, in a manner of speaking, and each one of them a burden. But this was Life and the plastic wheel continued to spin and she loved her husband and she loved very much her children and told them so every morning as she plopped their little stick bodies into the back seat of the station wagon.

At random intervals her life was colored by tragedies and triumphs: She started a party business. She was injured in an automobile accident. She had a short story published in The New Yorker. He uncle died of bone marrow cancer and left her with a dozen cats.

She was not afraid to play the stock market, though often she lost. She wasn’t aware–or perhaps she simply had no use for–the rules of the game of Life: whosoever hath the most by the game’s end wins.

And the game would certainly end, though she nor her plastic contemporaries cared to acknowledge that fact as they sped along, the plastic wheel spinning, always spinning. But it would come and it did: the Day of Reckoning. And all of her wealth was spread out before her and she was awarded a lump sum for each child she had bourne and raised and it was all about money–it had always been about money.

But she would have none of it. Her life was not a game of Life, she knew better. And with great satisfaction she broke the spinning plastic wheel into pieces. It was just that simple.