“Do Not Expect More From Your Friends Than They Can Deliver”



Jedi's and shit How many times have I said this to my family, my students and myself? Hundreds. It is one of the themes I teach my students, one of the maxims I gave my children, a point my wife and I discuss and a truthful paradox I laugh about often.
     The indictment is not one condemning friendship or relationships. Nor is it one that exclusively places blame for such disappointments. It’s more of a “buyer beware” maxim that calls into question both the seller and the buyer, a warning label that should be heeded but is usually ignored.
     If I have a good friend, but one whom I know has a problem keeping a shared secret, it behooves me to keep said secrets to myself. If I know my friend cannot keep a secret, sharing one with them and expecting them to keep it is foolish. If despite this, I share anyway, hoping they will display different behavior, the responsibility for the consequences falls on me.
     Does this mean they cannot be my friend? Some might say so. If a person has an ultimate mental canon of perfect friendship in their minds and holds all friends up to, those who fail to measure up might not be considered friends. I think this is flawed thinking, however. Ultimate friendship profiles are usually inspired by media: fiction, music, movies, television, etc; and mirror but darkly a faux reality shadowed by entertainment and profit. Holding real human beings up to such an ideal die is to do friends a disservice and to set oneself up for disappointment. Life is much more fragile and complicated than any friendships or relationships portrayed in the media. Ultimate and unrealistic criteria can leave one quite lonely.
     Thus again, does this mean that those who cannot measure up to expectations cannot be friends? I believe they can, but only as long as I embrace their limitations or inabilities and do not expect more from them than they can deliver—and am willing to forgive them when I forget, and they can’t. If I do not expect friend “X” to keep my secrets and do not share my secrets with them, then I do not set both myself and them up for failure, disappointment and drama. We can still go out to pizza or a movie, party on a Friday night, laugh over past experiences or talk about religion, politics and best recipes, but if I need to share a secret, bare my heart or my deepest fears, I know they are not the friends to go to. We’ll both be happier and have more satisfaction from our relationship if I don’t.
     This raises the issue of how does one know if a friend is one with whom secrets can be shared? This is the painful part of relationships and life; it’s all about experience, trial and error. Share a secret and find out. If they disclose the secret, it may hurt, but now I know their colors and can adjust my expectations accordingly. I may find myself at a painful crossroads. Was it a slip or a character flaw? If the relationship is one which I hope has depth, I might take a second chance. If my secret is once again shared, my path is then clear.
      “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me thrice and I’m just a fool.”

     I have friends who say and do careless and hurtful things. Despite having such pointed out to them, they just do not understand the discomfort they cause. They are simply incapable of such recognition. Their characters will not allow for it. It would constitute an admission too hard and uncomfortable to acknowledge; one that would beg an adjustment too difficult and (to them) unnecessary to make. Do I discard them as friends? No…not necessarily. Unless what they are doing is harmful in some concrete way toward my reputation, myself, friends or family, I try to adjust my expectations, ignore their foolishness for what it is, and do my best to carry on. I find that nature takes care of the rest as we gradually go our separate ways.
     The term “secret” is but a metaphor. Substitutions include: loan of clothes, money or lawn tools; promises or favors; baby, pet or house sitting; kindnesses or considerations; tutoring or lending a hand; moving help or answering calls of distress; sympathy or empathy; truth or honesty—friendships can flounder on many points. Some are more competitions of one-upmanship than anything else…feeling better at the expense of others (others, by the way, who are probably hoping we’ll rise above it and should clear us from their agendas when we don’t!).
     Friendships are squishy things. Each has its own shape and tradition. Each must be judged on its own merit. Figuring them out is a skill that demands a different application each time and is something most folk work on all their lives. Half a century later, I’m still honing my skills, still hoping for the best, still being both disappointed and pleasantly surprised.
     Along with this maxim, I also teach my students “never [to] place [their] total happiness on the hands of another…unless [they] are prepared to face the consequences.” Flawed we all are, mistakes we all make, but there is such a thing as foolishly placing the heart in harm’s way. This speaks more of personal desires and problems than it does the shortcomings of others.
     I love my friends, but I try to keep in mind that my disappointments in our relationships do not necessarily originate with them, but ultimately in my own flawed needs and poor judgment. I cannot control my friends, but I can control myself and attempt to rein in unreasonable expectations and assumptions. It may not mean that all my relationships are carefree or as organic as I might wish, but it truly makes me thankful for those that are and makes me less stressful for that don’t.

The Eight-Pointed Star

Symbol_of_Chaos.svg      Forces in my life are at a nexus; the results of the feelings and thoughts and experiences and situations which have been developing within and without for sometime.
     On January 16, Callista crossed over the bridge and now awaits me on the other side. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. So very hard, but not as hard, I found afterward, as living without her. I can hardly even think on it. I do not expect anyone to understand how much she meant to me, what an anchor she was. Understand or not, I feel what I feel. Her battle with canine osteosarcoma began in August of 2012 and lasted an amazing two years and four months. Everyday with her was a gift, a treasure I hold in my heart-of-hearts. I hope that when I am stronger, I can do her a fitting tribute and somehow tap with words—and by doing so fully heal—what she truly meant to me. As it is, the grief process has yet to allow for it, though she has come to me in my dreams…
     I believe her death, though a long anticipated eventuality, was an unexpected catalyst of some sort, for my own health has taken a turn. I find myself faced with mortal realities I had never seriously considered before. So many dreams unrealized. So many goals undone. So many desires unfulfilled. Each a call with its own powerful voice. I realize now, with sobering finality, even as the dark-shadow grows within me, that the chances of answering some of those calls are gone. People age. Opportunities evaporate without notice. I can never be young again and those things appropriate and possible at 20 or 30 or 40 no longer are. This is not said with angst or bitterness. Decisions were made. Roads were taken. Songs were sung that cannot be unsung. I accept this, but it is both amazing and sobering to be made aware of it.
     The Voices are strong and they sing with great power, even in my dreams. They have always been there, of course, but I did not listen with mortal ears. I heard with immortal ears.
     “Fool of a Took!”
     Now, they sing in a cacophony of sound that is overwhelming and jarring. So many worries. So many disappointments. So many unforeseen circumstances. As a result I have been paralyzed, unable to answer any of them. I have not been able to write fiction, for example, afraid as I am of making a misstep and sacrificing what time remains only to do exactly that with my indecision. The things I am moved to write…journals, secondary world myths, private prayers…are worthless in the greater scheme of my ambitions, earning the condemnation of writing “authorities”, whose validity though I acknowledge (after all, they are published), frustrates me nonetheless.
     Chaos, the eight pointed star. I feel I am at its center surrounded by avenues, but cannot seem to choose which to take. All that still remain are open, but I understand now I no longer have time enough to take them all. I believe I must swiftly evaluate those voices, make my peace with those that can no longer be and take those that remain and move on for as far I can.
     It is also sobering to realize that when it comes down to its dagger-like point, I am alone in this; no one understands those voices or fully comprehends their demands but me. As a consequence, I must face them alone. No one can choose them for me. No one can navigate them for me. No one can explain them—they are in a language known only to me. If I keep waiting for encouragement, waiting for a response, waiting for “someone” to finally offer a sense of understanding I have no hope or right to expect, then I am simply sacrificing what time I have let on a false altar of self-pity.
     “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”
     Gandalf’s admonition to Frodo resonates more strongly with me now than it did when I first read it at 10. This then could be the final battle I must face—to choose which voices to answer and travel their paths alone. For in the end, I alone am accountable. And if I have done all I can with what time I have left, then maybe I can be satisfied I did not waste it all and go to my God with a lighter heart than the one I bear at present.
     The time of decision is now. I must find the bravery and integrity within to acknowledge my present reality, focus on the paths still available and walk them without regret or remorse.

Samhain Reflections

Autumn Setting     As I measure my year from Samhain to Samhain, my version of “New Years” approaches. I have often written a reflective entry in my journal around this time or during the Thanksgiving holidays. There have been seasons, however, when I have avoided doing so because it was simply too uncomfortable to honestly reflect, especially when the past was extreme.
     It is no exaggeration when I say that life has been challenging this season. As my closest friends and selected family understand, I have always tried to be “…the captain…” of my fate while at the same time struggling to avoid a tendency towards melancholia. As a result this uncontrollable year has been exceptionally hard on my spirit.
     Some of the challenges have been external and include the gradual and seemingly unpreventable de-volvement of a marital partnership due physiological changes; the emotional and financial strain of a treasured pet’s cancer and care; the psychologically jarring experience of shattered home-owner dreams, subsequent short-sale and moving into a lackluster rental; the long distance move of one daughter and the natural and growing emotional distance of another; the chemical dependency of a son who moved “back home”; the financial, mental and spiritual stresses of hosting said son and family in far too small a space; the steadily retreating horizon of retirement due to said finances and the career demands of an unsympathetic and misguided school district administration and board.
     Some of my hardest challenges, however, have come from within: a loss of health due to age and poor choices: weight gain and sleep-apnea; an automobile accident (brought on, I feel, by poor health) that, though it did not involve serious injuries or deaths, was my fault and ended in totaled cars (my own included) and higher insurance rates; the emotional and financial strain of purchasing a new car; the gradual deterioration of ambition in areas of emotional expression—bagpiping, writing and gaming—due to above; a growing anxiety stemming from a lack of privacy resulting in a short-temper, growing unhappiness and an ebb in emotional fortitude; and a growing inability to focus on complex tasks and the discipline to see them through.
     I am not trying to suggest that there have been no bright moments or positive memories made during the year because there absolutely have, but in the balance, their fire, though warm at the time of burning, has been unable to hold at bay the hounds of winter.

     I suppose I want to measure my year in accomplishments as I believe accomplishing things, though they may not in and of themselves alleviate my sense of anxiety, go a long way to assuaging perceived stagnation. Indeed, it may not necessarily be a sense of accomplishment I desire so much as a sense of positive forward momentum. And though I understand momentum occurs regardless if it is felt or not, if the landmarks I lay in time’s wake are lackluster and unsatisfactory or simply the results of breathing air, is it any wonder I feel as I do under the pressure of the external and internal storms I described above?

     At this point, it is the accepted tradition to make a list of resolutions and resolve to accomplish them. Alas, such a strategy has never worked for me. Under the pressures mentioned above, which have no innately predictable resolutions associated with them, I cannot resolve to do anything. Plans are unable to stand up to them.
     I think it would be better if I turned what energies I have to the development of stronger personal focus and discipline. Qui Gon’s “…your focus determines your reality…” resonates strongly under present conditions. I would add to this that “…discipline creates it”. I am under no illusions that stronger focus and discipline could in any way change the reality of my dog’s cancer or my son’s addiction, but they could help change my anxiety at a perceived lack of momentum or progress. I must somehow “…navigate the river…” and cease to allow the river to navigate me. I cannot alter the river’s currents, flow or changing conditions, time is time after all, but how I navigate it, how I perceive the challenges of its rapids and snags or take on the shallows or sandbars, that might be more reasonable and in my power to effect.

     Even as I write the above, it seems “…fracted and corroborate..”. I feel unsure if I’m speaking the truth or simply lying to myself—something humans all too easily do. There may only be comfort in the “…doing of the thing…” and let focus and discipline take care of themselves. I just don’t know.

I Am Stone

I Am Stone     My life is so far from where I want it to be. Indeed, I am so far off course that I feel utterly and fully lost. Despite goals and resolutions, do-overs and re-starts, I cannot seem to find the path—I will not say “the path back” because I fully doubt that I was ever on it to begin with. I realize that I must be careful here. For what we offer ‘honestly’ is not necessarily ‘truth’.

     I feel like stone. Wind and lichen, frost and sun, ice and moon light. My world is blue. My use is not forgotten, for it has never been discovered.
     I feel like stone. I was raised with purpose. Can it be that I have missed it in watching the path of the sun? Winter is here, yet still I cannot find the way.
     I feel like stone. Could my use have been so brief that I lived the moment without realizing it? I understand so much better now how one can tire of life, tire of trying not to wait and yet being forced to because there was no where to go.
     I feel like stone, but then I take a breath and my fingers hum. I am enveloped in the sound. An envelope…no! A gate. I move carefully about the room. I must not lose my balance. I must not wonder if I have found the way or I will stumble back to stone.
      “Here stone. Now, right now. I have brought you a gift.” My lady of sorrows, my bronagh bean-uasal, she has opened a door to the place between. The rift hums and vibrates. Through my buzzing fingers. Through the breath. The truth comes out.
     She does not heal me. She does not offer comfort, a soft word or an answer. She simply allows me to hear my pain, completely, utterly, accurately, honestly, truthfully in a way that these…these broken stones, these words never will! No confusion, no hesitation…or a time I am lost in its purity.

     The vibration ceases, the portal closes, the vacuum hammers my ears and I crumble bursting into a thousand pebbles. 53 and my heart weeps like a child. I am in the Library. The gate is closed. Silent silver and black. I never left. Yet I walked a thousand years.

Dog Wrangler

Bella 2b     Nearly all my writing time continues to be devoted to the class-profile project mentioned in my last two posts. Though after my third weekend at it, I am still not done, I have made progress. Amongst numerous interruptions and the need to do certain unavoidable chores—grandchildren visiting and the wash—I got three hours in. Today I hope to make even greater inroads, if not necessarily in an accumulation of hours then in concentrated effort. I hope to have this done sometime this week.
     Once I’m finished with this profile, I can start the second one I was assigned. Yes, a second one, this time for my senior English class. :-P. The silver lining here is that it isn’t an honors class description and thus, not nearly as in-depth or detailed as the one I’m working on right now. Because my honors class is an accelerated class, many of the assignment descriptions are similar to those in the upperclassman senior profile and the chore of describing which Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking they meet has—to a point—already been done. This particular requirement takes a great deal of time if done right and honestly. To have even some of it already done is a boon.
     So…no writing time in sight, but I’m eating my frogs left and right, even if only an hour at a time. Eventually, just like a visit to the dentist, it will be done and over…despite the interruptions.
     Putting this thing together has been a challenge even at the best of times, whether at school or at home, but one would think “at home” would be best. No students to interrupt me, no administrators asking for yet more, no fellow teachers looking for “X” (everything from a cuppa to a lesson plan), no interruptions. Ha! Let me give you an example of the shit that happens around here.
     Yesterday, Marirose brought two of my granddaughters home to spend the night. Mom and dad are in the process of moving and needed some time without the girls underfoot to get things done. I can relate, I thought. On the other hand, hey, they’re my granddaughters and they have Seannair wrapped around their fingers. That being said, it is amazing how much chaos a two year old and a six year old bring with them when they visit. Eventually I had to put on headphones as a sign that “Papa-nair is busy” and with piobaireachd playing, I powered on. After a bit Yai-yai took pity on me and decided to take the girls shopping…brave woman. I was hard at it, headphones still on so I didn’t hear them drive up when they got back.
     The first I was aware of their return was the two year old calling out, “Bella!” Oh, no! I thought and immediately spun around in my office chair. Sure enough, the two year old had opened the front door, which had been left unlocked and Bella The-Run-Away-Wonder-Dog of a few posts ago was out the door like a shot and again at large. Grrr. In the guise of dog-catcher, I’m out the door after her, my granddaughter speaking two-ish to let me know Bella had decided to tour the neighborhood.
     When I got out on the street, she had already gone a block or more. She was smelling hear way along, pushing her nose into hedges and bushes, seemingly deaf to my calls, but every now and then casting a watchful eye my way. I could tell that it was going to be a long chase, because as I narrowed the gap, she’d widen it. Just past a “T” intersection, however, which Bella navigated with aplomb, a situation arose that both slowed her down and alarmed me. On our side of the street, a couple of folk, a man and a woman, were working in their yard and had been watching our approach. Bella is very friendly, so I was hoping she’d stop by to say, “hi!” at which point they might get hold of her collar. Just across the street, however, and approaching fast, was a guy walking his shepherd. Bella had yet to see them, so we were safe for the moment, but I wanted to capture her before she did. Now, you have to understand. I do not appreciate it when folk let their dogs run loose, especially when I’m walking my own and I was pretty sure Bella would make a B-line for the other dog if she saw it and I honestly didn’t know what might happen if she did. At the very least I knew she wasn’t going to look both ways before crossing the street.
     Luckily, Bella turned into the couple’s narrow yard. On one side of the yard was a garage, and on the other was a fence with the yard-working couple near the sidewalk. These worked to funnel Bella to their front door. Aha, I thought, I have you now (if you remember those were Darth Vader’s famous last words from a New Hope—I should have taken it for an omen).
     “Where to go now,” I said as I entered the yard behind her, my back to the street. The man chuckled and moved to a guard position so should she make for his side of the yard, he could lend a hand. I picked a half way point between his garage and where he stood and began to close in.
     Well, Bella, may not be wise but she’s smart. She took one look at her would-be dog wranglers, got our measure and decided to make a break for it. Now we still might have been able to catch her, but as she was approaching us, belly low, mouth open, tongue out, she saw the dog and its walker across the street. Now that dog is fast, but suddenly she got a whole lot faster. Even as I knew it would be like trying to catch a rocket propelled grenade, I turned to the left in an attempt to cut her off. It was no good. She was just too fast. And me? I’m just too fat. I kept spinning was sucked into her wake like a leaf on the wind as she careened past between the couple and me and out into the street, her eyes fixed on the dog walker.
     Everything went into slow motion after that. Cars! My mind screamed. “No! Bella!” I yell and just as I’m about to cast a quick look for any approaching vehicles, praying there are none, it happens. My foot catches on something and I stumble. I try to get my feet under me and surge forward, but it’s no good. My weight tips beyond the break point and trip just as I’m leaving the lawn for the side walk.
     Shit! May-day! May-day! This is the human-zeppelin Sunwolfe! We have lost control and our air-ship is descending rapidly. May-day! May-day! I repeat, we are going down!
     In this sorta outta-body state I watched myself cleare the side walk and the bruising edge of the curb with this stupid vague sense of happiness that I wasn’t going to land there—“concrete is so hard!” Like black top is any better? With a final and instinctual push to right myself, I slammed into the asphalt with all the force of a runaway train. I landed hard on my left side lower chest. Pinned between the blacktop and the full force of my considerable 250 pounds at full tilt, my left arm from elbow to shoulder took most of the impact. Unfortunately it was just like falling on a sharp curb edge. Trapped between my body and the ground, it severely bruised and, I suspect, “cracked” my ribs. My glasses went flying as I continued to slide along the street. Everyone yelled…the couple, the dog walker, a girl with a basket ball across the street—where the hell did she come from?…and me. When I finally came to rest and the world reassumed its normal speed, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Dazed I lay there wondering if I’d seriously injured myself.
     The other half of the couple, the woman, told me to lie still as I tried to push myself up. She took after Bella, calling her. I was shocked for a bit, but did a quick subconscious assessment of my bones and then forced myself shaking to my feet much to the man’s consternation. I could hardly breath. Oh, damn I hurt, but the only coherent thought I had was to get Bella away from the dog walker.
     “What is her name?!” the lady called.
      “Bella” I croaked from a bent over position.
     After I said that, everyone was calling her. The dog walker, the couple, the girl with the basket ball. She was probably thinking that she needed to get out more into this nice neiborhood where everyone knew her name and wanted her. Me? I was not calling her. I was thinking about calling an ambulance! Oh, shit, I hurt. The basket ball girl won the come-to-me contest. I’m not surprised as Bella loves kids and young people. I staggered across the street holding my ribs like I’d been shot. I didn’t even think about thanking the couple until later or apologizing for beaching myself in front of their house. I don’t even remember what happened to the dog walker. I think he took a side street in an attempt to get his traumatized dog home as soon as possible—“Babe, you’re not going to believe it! We just saw a blimp crash land down the street! I shit you not. Look how freaked out Jasmin is!”. Ya know, I don’t even remember if his dog barked.
     When I got across the street to the basket ball girl, Bella was trying to lick her face. Please, please, don’t let the evil man take me.
      “Are you alright?” she asked, “I saw you fall. That was bad.”
      “Yeah,” I gasped, still having a hard time breathing. I was beginning to register pain from other places on my body; my knee, my lower leg, my shoulder.
      “Thanks for grabbing her; she loves young people. My granddaughter let her out by accident. She’s a runner—the dog, not my granddaughter.”
      “No problem,” she laughed. “You’re the guy who walks the white three-legged dog, huh?”
      “That’s me…it’s the four-legged variety that kicks my ass. Thanks again,” I took Bella by the collar and began to hobble back across the street.
     I turned back to her one more time.
      “Thanks again, and just so’s you know, I’m not an evil man.”
      “No problem,” she called and went back to dribbling.

     When I got the dog back to the house, I collapsed in a chair in my library. Marirose suggested the ER. I flatly refused the idea. My injuries reminded me of those I’d suffered after a couple of bike wrecks I’d had in the past. From experience, I knew the ER would take hours. They might take X-rays, but more than likely, they would poke and prod me to make sure it hurt, clean my scraps with neosporin for which they would overcharge me horrendously and send me home. I needed to get to my report, so she gave me three ibuprofin and a worried look instead. I took two pills—I hate taking medicine–and sat in the chair for about half and hour after which I cleaned my self up and got back to work.
     I’d only been at it for a half and hour, when Marirose announced that the youngest granddaughter had lost the car keys…or should I say my youngest granddaughter who likes to pretend she’s locking and unlocking doors and who had been given the keys by her Yai-yai so she could pretend to “unlock” the front door out of which the dog ran, had lost the car keys.
     Really?! Really! Really. Yeah, and there it is! Anyway, the kid’s only two, so we didn’t get too much out of her during her interrogation beyond a shrug and a request for chocolate milk. I wisely decide not to mention to my wife that she is somewhat older than two and should have known better than to give a two-year old her car keys and along with my older granddaughter go on a bug-hunt for the keys, she zooming up the stairs, me crawling after her. We found them about half an hour later just as the dryer buzzer went off and it was time to fold clothes.
     With each passing hour, I was hurting more and more and it was getting harder and harder to move naturally. It is amazing how much one uses up abdomen muscles at seemingly unrelated tasks. By this morning, I was a basket case. I type this out of rebellion. My report hovers in the background, but I just need to be a bit creative before I dive in…or before something else happens here. Where are those dogs, anyway?

Dedicated with love to my brother John, A.K.A. The Cat Wrangler

Note To Self: “Remember, at least you’re alive”

     I’m still working on the report/course description/a – g template monster mentioned in my last post…that monstrosity about which words fail to make anyone understand what a overwhelming task it is. I think I’ve died and gone to hell and found out it’s a place where ivory-tower demons pile on endless paper work and force the teacher to describe one of their classes in ancient Babylonian—which he does not speak. All the while imp-bureaucrats wearing suits worth more than my monthly pay-check and sporting U.S. congressional security badges threaten to reject the teacher’s students as, “…sub-standard…inferior…” and the class as, “…without merit…hardly college preparatory…”. A giant hour glass keeps time, but rather than sand, its lower chamber fills with student heads spouting random facts and fallacies. The upper chamber always runs out just as the report is nearly finished and it bursts into flame to the laughter and angry cries of the demons, who force a new and different form on the teacher and demand he now write it in Aramaic.
     I’m so late on this, it’s nearly criminal. It’s not for a lack of trying, however. I took Friday off to work on it; that was mostly a bust as I scoured the internet for a sample reports or any hint of help. I worked on it Saturday morning before my bagpipe teacher arrived from L.A. Sunday night I did a little and spent most of the day yesterday at it. It’s still not done and regardless of my ignorance or inability, it’s my responsibility. I just wish I had a sample to give me a hint as to what this thing is supposed to look like rather than having to guess at it and hope I’m on the right track.
     Oh, well. “Burnin’ daylight,” as they say. Hopefully this experience will make me a bit more careful with and appreciative of my creative time. Until then, it’s back to it. I plan to give my charges a “reading day” today while I work on this at school. LOL…now there’s the irony and the ugliness: to finish a description of the teaching of a class, I give the class a day without teaching. What a joke 😦

Goal Troubles and Intrusions

     Hammering my life into a shape that accommodates my goals and commitments is tough and may even be impossible. Like many of my fellow wannabie-writers, I worked up a 2014 goal list. Though I did not post mine as I thought it looked pretty much like what everyone else was posting, rest assured there are plenty of reasonable goals listed. For example: I will write 1000 to 2000 words, 5-7 days a week, on my present manuscript. After a couple of weeks hard at it, however, I am frustrated to say that I have already met with trouble and have reached only a couple of my targets.
     The challenge boils down to the limited amount of time I have left after my work commitment. My career demands a lot of time, a minimum of nine hours on the job plus a two hour round-trip commute. I rise at 04:00 and try to crash between 21:00 and 22:00. Sans weekends, that leaves me with about five to six hours a day to do everything else. It sounds doable and crunchy, but as any adult knows those half dozen hours are subject to the laws of civilized life which includes everything from attending to bodily functions to having a conversation with the wife. Toss in all the other squishy domestic, social and nuts-and-bolts obligations of adult life and there are really only a couple of hours left in which to address what I ironically consider my most dearly held and important needs: my writing, my music and my health.
     It’s the unlooked for intrusions that really piss me off. For example, I am obligated to update the UC A-G Course Description for one of my classes. In the early years of my teaching career, this was a matter of a page or two. Now, with all the changes to education over the last few years, it has evolved into a document that can clock in at over 20 pages. I’m talkin’ hours of work (the level of detail required by the University of California is almost manic). Where do I get those (unpaid) hours? Yep—that would be the vast amount of sanity-saving, personality-shaping, character-building time I have after everything else is done. Yeah, my writing/music/health time.
     So this is it for the day…these few hundred words: nothing for my manuscript, nothing for my writing course, nothing for my bagpipes, no dog-walk…just this. And then I—what (alarm on my phone is ringing…I shit you not)? LOL…got to run. I forgot it’s Wednesday. I have a Student Council meeting this morning before school starts.
     Yeah, I know: want some whine with that cheese?

“I Like What I Do Because…” Page

I Like What I Do Because     Today I started a project I have been thinking about for sometime: a new blog-page entitled “I Like What I Do Because…”. My experiences as a wannabe writer are made possible because I am an educator. At times I resent this order of precedence and wish it were writing that I had chosen to come first all those years ago rather than education. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I hate the bullshit and political games surrounding it. I despise the disingenuous who cry for reform and change but are not willing to fight the battles and actually do the uncomfortable things required to make those changes. Even after almost a quarter of a century hard at it, I become discouraged in the light of such and wonder why I chose as I did. A page highlighting some of the reasons I teach, some of the great experiences I have had as an educator, could be just what I need to remind me of why I like what I do.
     The link is at the top of the site.

Good Stuff

GoodStuff     At present, I am not a novelist. I am a writer. I have produced manuscripts, some of them very long, but I have not produced a novel despite the mind-altering propaganda-like encouragement to the contrary from the Office of Letters and Light and the NaNoWriMo.
     Why, if I have written manuscripts of up to and beyond 50k-words, am I not a novelist? Because to have a novel, I must have a finished manuscript; what I have is rough draft. I do not have a novel. I have various stories, at various stages of completion. I even have one rough draft that is nearly done…as a rough draft, but I do not have a novel. What I have is an unfinished manuscript.
     To be clear, a finished manuscript is one that has been revised and rewritten to completion, not simply one that happens to have a beginning, middle and an end or one that has only been proofread and edited for spelling and grammar.
     Even though I have been an English teacher for 25 years, even though I have written since I was 10 years old, even though I have taken various courses in creative writing, even though I advise young writers, my rough drafts are most decidedly not novels.
     My rough drafts are certainly not publishable. To become so will require painstaking and multiple revisions, not simply cursory proofreading, but honest changes that make my manuscripts better, more readable, up to snuff and worthy of publication—with tight story lines, empathetic characters and interesting prose that moves a reader onward with euphony and economy. A truly finished manuscript will take rewrite after rewrite, drastic changes, conservative additions and heart breaking deletions; it will take time and effort.
     I will not attempt to publish my present manuscripts via an E-publisher or a vanity-press, I will not send off a query or advocate for them at a conference, convention or weekend-retreat because they are but rough drafts, unfinished, and crap which I have no business muddying up publication waters with. They are “under the bed” stories and essays in the craft, stepping stones toward something greater. I understand that I must not fall in love with my writing and think it perfect or “done”. I will not get over-excited and publish my manuscripts before their time without carefully considering the writer’s craft, what little I know of it and how much I need to learn. I will not use reverse psychology and be taken in by the self-deception that a rough draft is a finished product. I will not confuse proofreading or editing with revision and rewriting. Fitzgerald rewrote This Side of Paradise three times; he rewrote and revised The Great Gatsby almost up the moment of publication. I am not Fitzgerald? Only too true, but I’ll be damned if I’ll seduce myself into believing I can do anything less… or better by simply skimming for bad grammar.
     I love writing. I want to write well. Of course, I want to publish, but I want to publish good stuff, stuff that people will enjoy reading and want to read more of, stuff of quality that will honor and further the craft I love so much.
     At present, I am not a novelist. I am a writer.

Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo: Days 21 and To The End

Thanksgiving Pies 13     Thanksgiving…usually a time of great blessing for me. The trial of moving has put a strain on it, however. Hosting it was probably not the best idea, but it gave us a goal of having the house unpacked enough to have guests.
     My mother came over the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we prepared apples and dough for pies together. I had hoped it would be a transition into a more relaxed holiday mode, but this was not to be. The next day was devoted to getting her to and from the hospital for her biopsy and keeping an eye on her a bit. Time wise, it really amounted to little impact, but the emotions and concerns it stirred were consuming. Wednesday was filled with shopping and cooking, trying to find things that were still packed or packed away, and trying to get a final head-count of who has coming and who was not.
     Thursday morning started out slow, but soon ramped up to full blown stress mode as my wife and I mis-communicated on our definitions of a “clean house.” When the day was finally over, I was glad we had hosted Thanksgiving, but it did not have the satisfying afterglow it has had in the past. Circumstances and miscommunications conspired against it.
     Writing? Are you kidding me? Well…some…very little…but some.

     Black Friday—of all the days in the year, I hate this one the most…with a passion, I say. In the United States we have few holidays that are uniquely American….something that stirs a sense of admiration in our international cousins and pride in ourselves. We have the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. In my opinion Thanksgiving is being conscripted by capitalistic concerns as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It was one thing to claim Black Friday, but now major business are opening their doors as early as Thanksgiving morning in an effort to claim the cash. It utterly and completely disgusts me. Another sign of the times.
     Autumn is sacred time to me and as far as I’m concerned, Black Friday is a black eye on America’s cultural landscape. Some love it—more power to ‘em. They can have it.

     Marirose and I are both creative, she a song writer and musician and I a literati and piobair–piper. In addition to several other obsessions, we both suffer—endure, entertain or indulge, take your pick—an irresistible need for artistic fulfillment. Thus, in addition to service oriented jobs that are extremely demanding, she as a nurse administrator and I as a teacher, on any given day are both off pursuing our particular muse wherever they might lead us. This might include my wife heading to an out of town practice with various band members, partaking in an online “Go-Girl’s” musical support group chat, or scoping out a new venue. For me an early morning writing session, an online bagpipe lesson with my piping-mentor or brainstorming session with sticky-notes and colored pencils would not be unusual. The point is, we are “a-blowin’ and a-goin’” at Iona Céin. Time for slowing down is as much at a premium as it is sacred. Unfortunately we don’t find that time often enough.
     The odd thing is that with two such creative people living together, one might think we’d give each other time to be creative without interruption. This is most definitely not the case, but rather than wade into that morass of volatile tar here and now, I’m going to save it for a future post.

     Winter and Christmas are coming. I dread that holiday most of all. Probably because of how its more contemplative bent has been bent all out of sorts and reformed into one huge season’s long commercial. Yesterday was the staff party. As usual I did not go. The emails of “if you are going send your money…” really turn me off. This weekend is the Student Council party…I can hardly stand that: “Remember, don’t spend more than $15.00 on the gift exchange…”
     Why not, “…we’re getting together to play games, build gingerbread houses and watch “Home Alone”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “White Christmas” or “A Christmas Carol” while we stuff ourselves with homemade goodies. Wanna bring a dish and partake?” No frackin’ gift exchange. No frackin’ entry-fee. No frackin’ money required. You wanna exchange somethin’? Make a homemade card and actually write something thoughtful on it for a change! God, I hate Christmas.

     Sick time.
     If you can’t tell, I’m sick. As in ill. Maybe the other way too. Almost very year I get sick with a heavy cold right around Thanksgiving. Last year was an exception. This year the bug waited a few days until after I was back in school to strike. Monday after vacation, mid-morning, I got that itchy feeling in the back of my throat that got steadily worse throughout the day. I have no clue how long it will hang on. It steadily gets worse and worse and then, typically, after a week or so, begins to lighten up. I can usually feel it gradually releasing its death-grip on my throat as it leaves. Today is but day four. The croups are yet to come.
     Needless to say writing creatively is not something I find myself particularly inspired to do. I’d rather sleep. I will, however, soldier on. Even if it means but a paragraph a day. I will write.