exactly because it’s so dreadfully painful that one has to drop it

last day for me on the Camino

So vividly I remember this last day walking on the Camino. Knowing I’d soon be saying goodbye to the simplicity of a normal day there. Getting up before the sun, pulling on my boots & hoisting my pack before trudging out along The Way.

Bidding farewell to all of it had as deep an impact on me as actually being there to begin with. Knowing I was only going to be at it a single week meant it was always in the back of my head that I had to savour it as much as I possibly could.

Makes me think of other times I’ve had to let go of something meaningful to me. Moments when I’ve known a situation wasn’t good for my well-being, but I so desperately wanted to hold onto it anyway.

One of the illusions of maturity is that when you’re older, you’ll somehow gain wisdom. The fallacy of this is that just because you experienced a setback, or a complete failure even, that  wisdom doesn’t automatically result from the situation. One can be faced with the most obvious life lessons and continue to respond to it all in the same old predetermined manner.

Breaking out of that pattern seems to take a certain amount of persistence. I will NOT keep responding to adversity by banging my head against this wall.

Yet that’s how so many of us approach sick and twisted circumstances. I know that if I just stick with this at all costs, then this time it’ll magically turn out differently.

Nope. Just stop it. Quit. Give up the illusion.

I so enjoy the metaphor of each of us carrying round a huge rock. It’s individual in it’s size and density – some folks just don’t have any use for carrying a small boulder, but they are the exception.

If you were to fully let go of that rock that’s weighing you down, what’d you even have left? My personality is so steeped in holding onto that rock.

It’s my rock, after all. My entire persona is this rock, and I find myself hunched over it quietly insisting that I could never let it go.

Mine,’ I whisper pleadingly. It’s exactly because it’s so dreadfully painful that one has to drop it. ‘Not yours,’ a voice responds. No idea whose voice that was, but the message was unmistakeable. Drop it.

Drop the rock. You might think you could always go pick it up again, but why would you even want to? Just drop the damned thing.

going home (if there even is such a thing)

Ella and Louis somewhere in Austria

This might be a bit strange- this blogpost. Yes, I’m aware my writing can be odd on a semiregular basis, so this isn’t necessarily the most shocking opening gambit, but nevertheless…you’ve been warned.

See, I want to ask one of those big questions that blogging really isn’t capable of tackling. This is a novel-sized theme. Many blogging experts, if there is such a thing, insist on the need for concise, clear writing. Nothing wrong with having that as a goal, right?

Some of my favourite writers are anything but concise. Faulkner and Melville get a bad rap for it, but one they probably deserve. It was a different era, you know. Over-explaining was the done thing. In the modern era of literature you had writers, such as Hemingway, attempting to trim the fat and give the reader the most streamlined version of the story.

The conventional wisdom is that blogging should be more like A Farewell to Arms and less like Moby Dick. You probably know some bloviated blogs. Ones you know are good, but reading one of his blogposts is a time commitment.

Here’s a test. If you convince yourself you need a beverage in hand to read someone’s blog, it might be that the posts are too long. I can hear you saying, ‘But lahikmajoe, I always read with a coffee in my hand. That’s no indicator.’

That’s not quite it. Before you read this hypothethical writer’s blog, do you say to yourself, ‘Ok, I know I like this blog, but every single time I read it, I need a libation of a larger-sized than normal,‘ because that’s the sort who are conspiring with the likes of Captain Ahab. Who’re so focused on hunting the White Whale that they have no time for reflection on their method.

I’m going to try and take my own advice on staying brief. My question is simply this: What is home?

For me, it’s those beautiful red dogs pictured above. As long as they’re with me, I’m home. Full-stop. We could live most anywhere and Ella and Louis would be perfectly happy. Their needs are simple. As are mine, which I’m finally beginning to see.

What about you? What do you need for a place to be considered home? Is it a physical need? Do you need, for example, to be near a park or forest?

I know what I said about being long-winded, but blog comments are another story. You’re welcome to write a blog comment as long as you like. See? I’m magnanimous like that.

enough abandonment

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One of the first people I met when I moved to Germany was Dermot. Fantastic person and even better artist. He’s Irish of course. Have you ever met a Dermot who wasn’t?

He is also a woodworker who specialises in lamps. The one above is rather beautiful, isn’t it?

After the last few serious blogposts, I wanted to share a bit of beauty. Life is fleeting. There’s no reason to ignore the preciousness of the littlest things.

If you love someone, don’t hesitate to say it. If you feel alone, reach out. Someone is there for you.

The story of my Dad and me has gotten me thinking about the fragility of our bonds and how essential it is to appreciate what one has while it’s still around.

See, he wasn’t my natural father. Although he was my Dad, I didn’t call him that until I went off to college. Until then he was my mom’s boyfriend and then later her third husband.

The first husband was Ken, Sr, who was my natural father. He died in an auto accident when she was pregnant with me, and unfortunately she remarried quickly thereafter. She was lonely. Husband number two took advantage of her vulnerability, and then when the responsibility of raising me and the son of his who’d arrived in the meantime got to be too much, he Made a New Plan, Stan and Dropped off the Key, Lee.

It’s ok. He was a schmuck. Good riddance and all that.

Then, it was the three of us for a number of years. At some point, my Mom had one of her infamous annual Christmas parties and one of her guests, the son of one of her older friends, fell asleep with her under the Yuletide tree.

Not a bad love story, is it? He never left. Felt so at home, the man moved in almost immediately.

There was only one little problem, and his name was Ken. I wasn’t the most receptive to a new dude in the house. My track record with men was that they stuck around for a bit and then fucked off when the going got rough. It was obvious to me that this was going to happen again. It was only a matter of time.

Well, I might be a decent judge of character in other circumstances, but about this guy I was wrong. He not only stuck around, but he socked away enough Sweet Moolah from Uncle Rico that my Mom really needn’t worry about money from here on out. Not too shabby, eh? I think so.

Bill Auvenshine died six years ago, but sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. He was the gentlest, sweetest man I’ve ever had the honour of having known. When I went to Ohio for school, I saw some of the father figures my college friends had endured, and I realised how lucky I’d had it.

At that point, I stopped the charade that I’d been carrying out all those years. Until then, I’d refer to my parents as ‘My Mom and her husband Bill‘. However, from then on I easily switched over to ‘My Mom and Dad‘.

He told me something when I turned eighteen that I’ll never forget. It showed two undeniable things: he had a dark sense of humour and was a ponderer.

A thinker, if you will.

Ken,’ he said, ‘You should enjoy being eighteen, because this is the smartest you’ll ever be. For the rest of your life, you’ll slowly realise how little you really know.

I know you can’t force someone to do something they really don’t want to do. You can plead and beg, but if they’re dead set on not doing what they don’t want to do, you’re generally out of luck.

My Mom wanted me to have a father. It was important to her, and she thought this guy would make a good one. As a child, I thought she forced the issue. I felt like accepting the new guy would be some sort of disloyalty to Ken, Sr.

And most importantly, I was sure this new character was there for a while but would eventually tire of us and be on his way.

Once when we were in the car and talking about something unrelated, I made a little snide comment that he’d only stuck around for my Mom’s love but that we (her two sons) were clearly a hassle and a burden, even.

He turned to me with a very serious look on his face, and said, ‘No, Ken. I loved your Mom very much, but I stuck around for you. There had been enough abandonment in your young lives. You needed a Dad and I wanted to be it.

Remember what I said at the beginning of all this? About the fragility of bonds between us humans? Well, in that moment he won me over. Not once after that did I ever question his motives. He was my Dad, and that was that.

forgiving the unforgivable

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soldiers responsible for the flags at the memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches of the Israeli Olympic Team

One never knows what people will like. My last blogpost was one I’d saved, because although I thought it was morbid and dark, I thought it’d spur some conversation. Not in the least.

Amy over at Lucy’s Football commented on it, but she’d comment on me cutting and pasting swaths of the phone book. She’s on my team. Getting her into the conversation is sort of a given.

Why did I even go as negative as I did in Five things to harass the Dying? Well, believe it or not, there was method to my madness. I knew I’d be going to the ceremony commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics that day.

When I was having my first cup of tea that morning, I really pondered what it must’ve been like to be a family member of one of the slain Israeli athletes. Could I really forgive what was done in the name of making a political statement? If the people who perpetrated the crime never apologised or even saw that what they’d done was wrong, then how could forgiveness even be a topic under discussion?

I suppose the forgiveness is part of what’s slowly happening between the Jewish people and the German State. Think about it for a second, will you?

Your people were murdered in the millions in a methodical manner during a war that somehow engulfed most of the planet. Then nearly thirty years later the international community watches as your citizens are brutally murdered in the same country in which those wartime atrocities had taken place. How would you feel?

I know it’s very popular to criticise Israel, especially on the left, and I won’t begin to defend the way the present day Palestinians are being treated. It’s a travesty. Full stop. However, when I look at the way the Israeli citizens are treated in very symbolic ways, I can’t help but feel that there is some sort of prevailing anti-semitism on the world stage.

When the two athletes were killed at 31 Connolly Straße in the Olympic Village in Munich in the early morning hours of 5 September 1972, the world watched as those in control of the Olympics decided that the show must go on. Really? Two athletes had died at the hands of terrorists.

Because of enough of an outcry the Games were halted on that day while the police tried to figure out the best way to handle the situation. It was only much later that night that the remaining members of the team (both athletes and coaches), as well as one West German police officer, were killed by the terrorists.

Well,‘ you ask,’Certainly, they stopped the Games then, didn’t they?

You know where this is going, right? After what was deemed a suitable period of honorable waiting, the Olympics went on. The prevailing wisdom was that stopping the event would be letting the terrorists win. Twelve people had been murdered at the Olympics, and the Israeli government should somehow be grateful that there was a memorial service for those who were killed. I don’t think that’s how they saw it. Am pretty certain they saw it very differently.

I’m prepared for preposterous comments here as a result of this topic. Please be warned that I’ll delete any ridiculousness. If you can’t be civil, go somewhere else. I’ve got little, if any,time for nonsense. Really, I don’t.

Here’s what I wrote about in The Munich Eye after attending the memorial: Flags at half staff for the victims of the 1972 attacks. Notice how respectfully I tried to deal with it without getting overly political. Of course, I’m aware I could be emotional on the topic. I decided my blog was where I’d make my editorial comments.

Five things to harass the Dying

thoughts of mortality are understandable especially when one’s on a Greek island like Astypalea (photo from 2010)
Recently, I was handed a German article about five things one should or could say to the dying to help them in their journey to the afterlife.
Never to pass up an opportunity to take the piss, I’ve decided to write my own list. Here are Five things to harass the dying:
  • Remind them what they’ve done or what they did
  • Point out to them that this (their life, their family, everything good and bad that they’ve done) will eventually be forgotten
  • Whatever palliative medicine they’re receiving, take it away and no matter how they beg for it, don’t give it back
  • Invite each of their enemies over (unexpectedly) for one last little chat
  • Make as many references to your plans once the dying person is finally gone

Now, I realise this isn’t the nicest of lists, but I have one very pointed question for those of you who may or may not be offended.

Why are we trying so hard to make things easier for the dying?

Certainly, if they’ve had a good life and made some sort of peace with everyone in it, then the above list will be useless. It won’t touch them. They’re immune from my machinations.

Lucky them.

Please don’t think I’ve done any of these things on my list. I’m actually quite pleasant and caring to the people in my life who’re at death’s door. I learned quite a lot while watching my father slowly die of complications related to his diabetes.

He died six years ago last week, and lately my thoughts’ve been swirling around topics of mortality. It’s actually quite understandable.

So, what’d possess me to make such a heartless list of cruelty like the one above? What’s wrong with me?

Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you in the form of a few questions.

Why? Why should I forgive what’s been done to me? What benefit does it serve?

I know a bit about Buddhism, and I know the tenet that carrying around such bitterness is akin to taking poison. Not only am I aware of this, but I even try to practice forgiveness. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time.

But like an irregular French verb, there are always exceptions. And what to do with those? Aren’t there some things that’re unforgivable? I believe that the jury’s still out on that one.

a bluer moon

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Super Moon on the Costa del Sol back in May

When I was a kid, I loved the moon. Not sure why I was always so drawn to it. I remember being very small and waiting at the bus stop in winter and looking up at the moon with wonder and awe.

One of my favourite summers when I was a younger man was the summer of 1996. I spent the summer playing at the Aspen Music Festival, studying with musicians Bil Jackson and Dennis Smylie, and working part-time at the Stew Pot in Snowmass Village, which is less than half an hour up the road from Aspen.

Why did I love that summer so much? Although I can give many halfway decent answers, I’m going to have to blame it on the Blue Moon. When you have two full moons in one month, the second is a Blue Moon.

There were many good things that happened then, as well as many frustrating and overwhelming ones. One memory comes to me again and again. It was the end of August. We’d had a fantastic Summer Season, in which we played some masterpieces of the symphonic literature. It was all winding down, and most of the musicians had said their goodbyes.

It was bittersweet. A part of me knew that we’d shared something magical that summer. I was driving down a deserted mountain road outside of Aspen, and Neil Young’s song ‘Harvest Moon’ came on my radio. In that moment that the song’s opening guitar sounded, the Blue Moon
appeared from behind one of the mountains.

For a split second, everything was just alright with me and the world. I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened in my life.

We have another Blue Moon this month. Tonight’s the first one. Then later in August, the Bluest of Moons is on its way. I can’t guarantee anything, but I get a good feeling about the whole thing. That the Blue Moon here in 2012 might be the best one yet.

‘Come a little bit closer/hear what I have to say.
Just like children sleeping/We could dream this night away…’

curse all you want

Don’t hold that rage in, son. Let it out. For goodness sake, let. It. Out.

Have you ever wanted to just yell at someone, but you couldn’t? Anti-social as it might be, sometimes the only thing that will satisfy that desire is to let loose. To open your pie-hole and just unload a torrent of abuse. If there were only a place that would let you get that aggression out.

Oh, wait. There is. There’s a hotline that offers this very service. You can call it and scream to your heart’s content. You can say all the words that you’ve never had the nerve to say aloud. You can say pretty much anything you want.

There’s one catch, though. It’s in German. Not that I think it matters. If you really wanted to spend the money to make the call, I think you’re free to use whatever tongue you so please. So, what is this brilliant website? Where can you go to scream bloody murder. Here it is:

Schimpf los has been specially created for someone of your ilk. The hot-headed sort who needs to blow off some steam, but doesn’t want to lose your job. Or offend your partner.

Or maybe you’ve already yelled at everyone in your daily life, and you just need someone new. A new target for your ire. My thoughts immediately went to: ‘What sort of person would sign up to work for such a hotline? It’s enough to work at a mind-numbing, soul-crushing company, but do you really want to add being verbally assaulted to your list of daily concerns? Really? Do you?

I suppose if you knew it wasn’t personal, and that the person doesn’t know you…well, I suppose that might make the whole situation tolerable. I guess so.

However, one of the nice things about my life is that I have plenty of people I can holler at for free. Well, nearly for free. If you yell at a person in public in Germany, you can receive an Strafanzeige, which is an official police citation. You’re charged for having committed a Beleidigung, which is an insult. If you insult someone and there are witnesses, you’re going to pay a fine.

Or if you’re honest when the police come and ask you whether you said the thing you’ve been accused of, and it’s part of your civic responsibility to be as honest as you can, you’re obligated to be as truthful as you can. Do all Germans tell the truth at all times? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

But if you want to be safe…to scream and holler and hurl insults at a stranger on the other end of the telephone line? Well Schimpf los, my friend. There’s no time like the present.