About Richard M. Rosso, CFP

I'm a money manager; a writer at heart. I love to observe the imperfections and dig into my own. On occasion, it's a bloody ordeal.

A Thanksgiving Moment.

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Welcome to the parade! Well, when we had parades.

1974.

Thanksgiving Day.

I watched Mighty Joe Young, King Kong (and other movie classics), playing black & white all day on WWOR Channel 9. On a cold day when tree branches resembled elderly fingers pointed to the sky and thick cloud cover melted everything in shades of brown, the decay of sycamore leaves the only color left.

 All the while, I never understood how the divine choosers of television programming decided Thanksgiving was a perfect day for savage gorillas.

Overall, it seemed perfect.

Oh Joe, the things we do for love.

Anyway – I overdid the container eggnog-like dairy product (as usual), felt the edgy excitement about how the family-run stores in the neighborhood would be decorating for the beginning of Christmas shopping season (Black Friday), and listened to my mother who already overdid the vodka, try to wedge processed turkey breast (with gravy-like substance included), into a compact, gloss-white Tappan oven.

Tiny kitchen, tiny stove, tiny poultry-like something.

All I heard was that tin-like cooker hit the blue-speckled sides of the oven multiple times before it awkwardly met its fate, settled in a hot tomb.

The more noise I heard, the more vodka mom consumed.

A holiday culinary symphony. And ironically, I miss it. It was both of us against the world.

A time and space when she thought only of me. And the best fake turkey I ever consumed were on those days.

Walking around early Thanksgiving morning back then, is something I’ll never forget. Unusually solemn for a city daybreak.

Quiet suffocated the apartment complex. Stillness was priority. Not even the bustling subway trains ran on a normal schedule. Their odd disappearance generated vacuum-deafness louder than any roaring speed as steel hit steel on elevated tracks.

Everything about Thanksgiving Day was magically different. The calm so out of place, especially for a city. I’d get on the empty F train and travel its entire route on holidays. I did it to observe, behind speeding glass, the wonder of what was going on in the compact kitchens of other 3-room walk-ups. Most of it was in my imagination, but a comfort, nonetheless.

The quiet gave me a chance to breathe, gather thoughts and not stress out over how the hell was I to eventually escape from the brick, cement and tar crap hole.

Listen, we are all trapped in crap holes at times. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to break free. The time allow thoughts bigger than ourselves to enter the crowded real estate in our heads.

It gives us a chance to appreciate those we love, whether they’re here or gone. Sometimes, there’s permission for old ghosts to sneak back in, and there’s a sad-excitement to that too.

On Thanksgiving we’ll strive for peace and gratefulness…

Like the feeling you get when your clanky, quiet holiday before 8am, re-emerges from the deep of your mind. Or whatever your choppy memory of what Thanksgiving is. Or was.

When the sun is low, narrow and yellow-sharp against a blue pitch, we think about all we have lost.

We try to let it go. But we never really let it go.

We just put it aside. And sometimes we don’t.

We allow in shadows of those we love and some we may not love so much.

We give them a free pass.

To follow alongside.

Invite them to feast with us.

And find comfort in what they were.

Good or evil.

Because at Thanksgiving, the peace and the quiet overrules everything.

Amen…

Ellie.

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In 1936, 26-year old Ellie McGovern found herself in a precarious position.

Caretaker to an ailing father – three years, exactly. For every turn of the planet he languishes, her spirit loses two.

If asked about her situation – how father was faring – the response would leave most scratching their heads until they just stopped asking.

Mrs. Abernathy next door. The first and last time around six months ago.

How’s your father doing, dear?

Response: He’s still here, if that’s what you’re asking.

Ellie keeps to herself, mostly. Correction: She keeps to herself always. For now, father is the convenient excuse for self-enforced solitary.

The daily rituals – Lift a body, a wet sack of cement from the bed, support a feeble frame to toilet, and every day, permit a frail soul the grace to crumble into a cracked leather chaise by an expansive picture window.

An empty soul, seemingly. He sits. He watches the outside darkness surrender to light when ironically his fate lies in the entirely opposite direction.

For three years of care for an only parent, Ellie as doting daughter placed her young, vibrant life on hold.

Well…

Ell’s life has been ‘on hold’ for as long as she can remember. She calls it ‘still.’

Sounds less debilitating with a hint of enlightenment.

Like she knows something more than anybody else in this sleepy yet occasionally pretentious place.

In high school – a loner. No, it wasn’t her looks. Quite the contrary. She was a striking girl. When most of her brethren suffered through awkwardness of pocked skin, Ellie’s alabaster complexion didn’t relent.

When others were dealing with hair that never looked right, hers jet-black and straight never required much effort to sheen and fall.

Her eyes, pools of olive. In the light – emerald. In them, many lives witnessed. Lost in thought, there is always something going on behind the irises.

No, indeed not her looks. It was who she was. Inside and out. It was how she sought things to be. An invisible wall thick as lead nonetheless, kept others far until the point the girls, even the boys decided to just leave her be.

No. Never bullied. Perhaps it was an overall sadness about her. It draped her like an old ghoul for naught to depart a crypt. As if she had nothing to lose and one day just explode and take others down with her.

Whatever it was, overall, it was best to leave her be. And left she was, to take care of a withering parent who barely recognized a daughter.

His eyes could never meet hers for long.

In the enclave known for Eastman-Kodak, her existence a mere frame, frozen in time, locked in the lens with focus on the slow demise of another.

In a modest Rochester home with failing white clapboard, at the corner of Andrews and Paul, Michael McGovern, Mikey for short, embraces early mornings by a large living-room pane and reflects a toothless smile as sun claws into another day.

Redbirds gather outside. A young poplar’s limbs serve as respite, the gatherers stare ahead to reciprocate with the shell of a human in the window. As so it appears to Ellie, who observes.

The birds as accustomed to this habit as her father; she thinks it must be strange magic. A bit of nature’s message how senior McGovern will perhaps sprout wings and join them soon.

For Ellie, she forsees father’s return as more a dark serpent who slithers into Mrs. Abernathy’s chicken coup only to lose his head to the sharp edge of a hoe.

The thought shamelessly lightens her face. Not much makes her smile these days. Well, there are the sunflowers in the expansive backyard. In peak summer, they tower.

Unopened disc florets meet her eye-to-open eye. The wind bows them to her presence in yellow ribbons. She curtsies and dances among long stems.

Lost in the seductive rhythm of nature.

As the petals die or relent to forces greater than their delicacy, she does a bit too…

To Ellie, life’s snapshots are far from vivid. Trauma. One she never discusses. At ten years-old, she lost the ability to process color. Colorblind overnight. In every sense of the word, her world went to variations of gray. Yet the best of doctors could never find anything physically wrong that would cause such a dilemma.

Every morning except weekends around 7:30, for three precious hours her father sleeps uninterrupted – a combination of medication and onset of brain disease yet to be determined – made him restless often.

She escapes.

Ellie high-heel steps a short walk to Main Street. Before reaching the destination at the corner of Elm and Main, Ell’s olfactory senses ignite; prominent since the colored world abandoned her.

An especially beautiful morning for spring. A season when winter bows away, and a new enters gracefully as to not upset the balance of things puny minds of men can’t comprehend; the cold gentles to cool, then eases to warmth – slow like a warm blanket out of a dryer or a quilt hanging on a clothesline in June.

The air smells peppery – sharp, demanding, full of life. She inhales deep, hoping the razor fresh inspires her.

New sun yellows storefronts that grace her short journey. The baked artistry deep in the space of Wilson’s Bakery already showcased in glass upfront, ready for the day’s workers and anxious mothers who use sugar treats as pacifers or rewards for chores and school work completed.

Even with door closed, heavenly smells of fresh blueberry scones and six-inch thick cinnamon rolls – pregnant with thick white icing that glob-rolls and stills at the sides, penetrate brick and glass to overwhelm this petite, soulful girl.

She imagines how Benjamin Wilson’s artistry in swirly sugar and paste can ignite her sense of smell. She wants to believe his baking skills can magically flip a mental switch that turns her eyes to process colors again.

How she misses the hues of existence, the ones others take for granted. This black and white world belongs within the locked confines of aged film noir, not her life.

With dread, her daily commute requires she pass an empty shell of a dead business. Most days she crosses the street to avoid it. When she can leave the house earlier than usual, Ellie invites a longer sojourn that takes her way off a direct path to her destination.

For three generations this business thrived. Over the last couple of years, in Ellie’s opinion, it was fittingly left to die.

Strange.

Today is different. Once a sinister, dark siren, the plank wood is gone from the front window. Lights on, door open. The large pane that faces the street of the the former Mikey’s Hardware and Paint, sparkles clean and inviting.

Ellie peeks in. A flurry of men in overalls work feverishly. She finds her breath labored, her heart pounds loud in her ears. She fights for air in large gulps; she’s forgotten how her lungs operate.

She wants to pass and ignore this place. She wishes often for it to burn to the foundation but she also doesn’t want anybody to get hurt.

Ellie doesn’t fancy what Ms. Barilla will do if she’s late for secretarial school. For some reason, it doesn’t matter today. Her feet with a mind of their own, lift above the single concrete step of the entrance.

Willingly, her body gives in to the mouth of the beast.

She moves with guarded cadence. Her heels delicate, stem to toe, manuever as if she walks a mine field. Nobody pays her any mind. The distinct, sour smell of hardware, embedded in the walls for over 50 years, a shade of its former self. The pungency of fresh paint enough to destroy it.

Drab battleship-gray no more. Bright, or white to Ellie, makes the interior seem less ominous. Narrow aisles once filled with non-descript stuff such as nails and hammers used to make other stuff, are gone. The space is wide, no longer threatening.

At the longest wall, a worker in overalls. On second to the top rung of a towering ladder his back to her, he paints. Much like a surgeon works a scalpel, this young dark man small brush in hand, forms a petal. One of a giant sunflower.

As one tingles when eyes are upon them, he stops to turn his head. He was the prettiest man she’s ever seen. Their eyes meet, she can’t turn away, she cannot blink…

“Can I help you?”

Silence.

Her mouth agape, all she manages is a squeak, such as the last gasp of a dying mouse.

Ellie takes off, flees for the exit!

Fred Johnson, the artist on the ladder leaps from his perch. In a single jump, even before his work boots hit the floor, he gives chase. It’s as if he first fled on air before gravity brought his soles to earth.

Hey wait!”

He halts on the sidewalk out front. Already, pedestrians walk. Fred looks around. The girl who captivated him now gone.

A couple pass. A hitch in their gait as they shoot Fred dirty looks for blocking the sidewalk. The two observe a young woman as she cowers in the doorway of Manna’s Shoes two doors down.

“Well, this place is certainly getting strange,” the woman laments to her flat-lipped husband.

Ellie figuring her day interrupted, skips class. She crosses the street to Beckman’s, the diner a neighborhood fixture for 32 years, and takes an oval red-leather seat at the counter. She spins herself once. Angela Beckman there to meet her after one revolution around the diner.

“You want to order Ellie or are you just here for a spin?”

The girl chuckles. Her clear skin only rivaled by the whiteness of her smile. Ellie feels naughty but warm inside. An unfamiliar feeling.

“Coffee please. Cream, sugar… Oh, and one of those,” Ellie points.

Under the heavy glass of a circular counter pastry display, a muffin. The blueberries erupt from the top, crystal-sugar fractals the overhead lights.

Angela with a skeptical look on her face, commands a square of wax paper lifts the lid and pulls the breakfast delicacy.

“You’re gonna eat this all by yourself, huh?”

Angela’s eyes pour over Ellies’ tiny figure.

“Where you putting it?”

The muffin is shown no mercy. A ravenous pastry tiger, Ellie rips it apart and takes in carbo-chunks in large bites.

An elderly man at the next seat, stops his breakfast to watch her. Ellie notices and slows. She wipes clean her hands, her cheek bulges like a squirrel late to gather nuts.

“I’m… I’m sorry. That wasn’t very lady like.”

“Oh no, no. Nice to see a young girl… Relish her food. Don’t I know you? You’re Ellie. Ellie McGovern.”

She stares.

“Bill Larson. I worked for your father at the hardware store. My lord, look at you. All grown up. Heard your pa was ailing. How is he?”

Ellie digs through the innards of her purse, pulls a couple of dollars, tosses them on the counter.

“Sorry I need to go.” She’s off the seat. Bill notices it still spins long after she’s out the door.

Angela now where Ellie WAS.

“What’s up with her?”

“No idea, all I did was ask about her father.”

Angela gathers the two bucks.

“She paid for a dozen muffins. I haven’t seen that girl in ages.”

Ellie scurries home, key to the front door in hand but she doesn’t need it.

The door is open.

Her eyes dart. To the trees in the front yard. Next, the bushes. On to the poplar by the front glass. Through the window, she believes she sees her father in his familiar spot. But that can’t be. How would he get there? Ellie enters, her step deliberate, ready for anything.

Indeed her father is there. Eyes closed, mouth open. In his chaise. All around him, the redbirds. On his shoulders, top of his head. In his lap.

She cries aloud and collapses.

Nature has freed her from the unnatural…

The Town I Never Knew.

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I know so well…

Can only be reached by a single-lane road.

Comprised of rock, the path bleached white from the sun; further crushed to pebble from the universe of dreamers before me who have perhaps traveled here…

To the town I’ve never been, others have never been, too.

Don’t ask me how I know.

I’ve participated in the crush of these stones, although I have never been behind the wheel of an auto. My feet have not tapped a gas pedal or rode the brake. Yet, I have gone 35 mph over hills through wooded canopies to get to the place I never traveled.

I pass a farm on the way to the town I never knew.

A shadow man rides a tractor through vast acreage, uniformly tilled. He never fails to wave as I pass. His hand gray smoke, it disappears to a whisper and reunites with the wheel of his machine.

I make sure to return the greeting before I enter the town I have never been.

Eyes on the road. Broad-leafed trees afire in fall, a perpetual season of harvest. Boughs relent, drip low in orange-red homage to those who pass underneath.

Limbs extend in the direction of this hamlet. They point directly to the place I visit often and yet I have never been…

Verdant arteries spider down jagged hills of blood-red dirt.

At bottom, green melts into blue-emerald water. White caps twirl, roll, collapse into the clear. The peaks, briefly sunkissed before collapsing into blue, then rise again in a steady, calm cadence.

But, I haven’t experienced the cool of this water on my skin…

A cliff across the waves. Majestic, comfortable and worn with time. Houses pepper the strata. Each place, distinct. Each occupied. At least I think. Lights on, shadows shimmer in windows.

A special abode. Constructed mostly of redwood. An expansive, wraparound deck; a wall of glass showcases an unobstructed view of the town I never seen, close or afar.

In the living room a majestic tree, it prospers through a wood floor. The biggest Bonsai. Six-feet tall – highly unusual for such a species. A floor-to-ceiling stone hearth captures embers that never die, perpetually warm. I never planted this tree. Nor have I sparked an eternal flame that warms inhabitants and visitors. This seems to be a safe place.

The walk through town, visitors who enjoy the view from the deck, have been occupants in my head – a persistent dream for going on four years now.

I am relentlessly at peace in this house I’ve never been…

I enjoy the company when it decides to arrive. I have no idea how and why they’re there.

The air, cold. Not a bite, just a nip. The winds pregnant with warmness of wood on slow glow. Jasmine rises and is carried by air. The fragrance of rosemary permeates dusk. The sky, bluebird blue; dissipating heat births broiler waves onto a blood-orange horizon as warm water relents to the cool of the night.

The town itself is small. Quaint. Aged with whitewashed exteriors, they badly require a coat of paint. Some structures are brick. Inside each establishment, the walls replete with cedar panels.

A pub, a tiny restaurant – lit candles on every table, a grocer; a shop that sells dried flowers and tinctures. I can never make out shopkeeper faces except for smiles. Although nondescript, these folks radiate warmth and invitation.

These friendly souls beckon me to stay, but I never do. There’s no time for that yet. I need to depart…

The people I see for who they are; the ones who visit the town I never been and house I never lived, are those I know. Or knew.

They are people long gone.

Loved ones from the past. My past. Friends, family, mentors. It comforts me to see the serene expressions on their faces as they investigate and enjoy the town I’ve never been.

Mind you, once I succumb to sleep, I have no idea if the town will ever again enter my nocturnal thoughts. I have no idea who’ll I’ll run into.

A couple of nights ago, dad came by. Haven’t seen him in a while. He tried to tell me something. His mouth moved, formed words. Yet they were non-sensical, jibberish, as much as I tried to understand.

I probably wasn’t ready to hear what he was saying.

The town I never walked is a place of comfort. I’m always excited to visit. The home with the Bonsai tree is a sanctuary, a fortress of love.

I watch the sun from the deck as it gives up the last edge of light. The dying warmth makes everything gleam; the dull, faded wood of the town I never been, appears to glow.

I drove someone who’s alive into the town I never been.

Her breathing radiates with the sun. A slight crinkle to her nose when she smiles which I can never forget, makes me believe she’s earned a visit to the town I never been. The burnt of leaves warms the already-natural beauty of her face.

We navigate a convertible through the trees.

She’s happy for the adventure.

And with this woman I’ve been to the house I never been…

The farmer waves.

The shopkeepers smile.

The Bonsai bows.

The woman’s hair captures the sweet fragrance carried on air.

The town thrives.

But with eyes open, life has a way of saying.

Visit me whenever you like, you cannot stay.

We’re not ready for you.

You are not ready for us.

But someday, this white road you travel will be your last.

And it’ll be the best day, ever.

A History Lesson in Resiliency.

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As a small child, Washington yearned to be a British officer.

While other children were playing games, doing what children do, Washington gravitated to rigorous study of famous battles as recreation.

He lived the victories and defeats; with extraordinary precision, a young George envisioned and documented battle strategies, actions he would have taken to turn around and win losing engagements.

Washington possessed an indomitable fire fed by love for the home country. In his view, Britain was an honorable, unstoppable world force. Washington’s plan, early on in childhood, was to be an English patriot, ready, perhaps even anxious, to fight and die for king and country.

So, what series of events occurred that turned a searing heat of unstoppable love, dedication and passion for a home country into the ice of disappointment? How did a boy and young man eager to die for king and country turn and become the father of a new nation?

How does a passionate believer in and contributor to a country to take over the world morph into a searing combatant against his first and greatest love? What does that do to a person inside? How did that twist him? How did he mourn? How did Washington reinvent himself? Turn love into hate, ostensibly dispassion, to calculate and fight against a home country he now perceived as an oppressor of people he loved?

Virginians first. Then a scraggy mess of countrymen, Americans, he took on to fight a beast 100x the size? Awaiting the French, attempting to keep the cause alive until they arrived.

Listen, I couldn’t build out a fictional drama character or develop a protagonist for a full-length feature film as perfect as the circumstances which turned Mr. Washington.

A change of heart so dramatic, men with less resolve would have folded or disappeared into private life never to be heard from again. Washington did indeed do just that for a period. At 27, he retired from military service to Mount Vernon only to become an innovator at agricultural techniques founded by farming expert Jethro Tull.

A man lives and breathes false truth, encounters a series of adverse circumstances, (some emotionally devastating), which continually confront and mar that truth.

Concurrently, an alternate truth begins to emerge. A truth this man doesn’t want to admit and fights against until one, last devastating personal setback, turns him completely, causes him to retrench, only to emerge different, beholden by a new truth.

Is one man’s fiction another man’s reality? I l believe it to be so. Every fictional character is in some part, another’s reality. I’m sure we all know people who have overcome obstacles that would have broken others.

The stock market is fiction. Prices of stocks are based on stories those who get sucked in to the stories. Supply and demand of stories, possibilities, hopes. All regulated. Mostly, fiction.

So, how and why did Washington change so radically? What can we learn?

WASHINGTON UNDERSTOOD THE VALUE OF RETREAT, RECOVERY & RESILIENCY.

Washington embraced strategic retreat, avoiding major engagements until he felt the opportunity was right. On occasion, it was never right, and he needed to re-group and find an alternative plan to victory.

Self-preservation and those of his men was paramount. Live to fight another day. Small victories, flanking attacks forged morale for a ragtag army that at times didn’t even possess shoes.

Britain scorned Washington numerous times, turning him down for major battles. A tremendous disappointment.

In 1754, British leaders galvanized against Washington when at the Forks of Ohio not far from Fort Duquesne (occupied by the French), Washington, an officer in the British Army along with men he marched through mountainous and dangerous terrain of Maryland and Pennsylvania, met up with a band of Iroquois to confront a French party of 35 men, fifty-five miles from the Forks.

What Washington perceived as his contribution to a first battle between two of Europe’s greatest empires, turned out to be an eventual well-publicized massacre of diplomatic messengers. One of the messengers named Jumonville was carrying a letter which was to be delivered to English authorities declaring Ohio Country as French territory. He was the first to be slaughtered by the Iroquois.

The attack was particularly gruesome and later didn’t write well in periodicals back in the home country, especially due to the brutality of the Indians who split open French scalps with tomahawks and rinsed their hands in victims’ brains.

As Russell Shorto wrote in his impressive tome – “Revolution Song,” – “The event, the series of fateful missteps by an inexperienced provincial officer, whose signatures carried the official weight of the British Empire, meant that, for the first time an event in North America would trigger a war in Europe.”

Back to the battle: It was only a matter of time before more than 1,000 French soldiers back at the Fork would know of the combat and seek to attack. Washington retreated with 400 men to a wide meadow and built a makeshift fort in the middle of it to await the next encounter.

French military head up ironically by the brother of Jumonville, passed through the gruesome massacre, now even more motivated to confront Washington and his men. With swift and diligent attack, the French took positions behind trees and rocks and precisely began to pick off Washington’s group.

They picked off men on horses, they killed more than 100, forcing Washington’s hand to surrender. The Indians had run off before the French arrived.

Military protocol at the time required George Washington surrender in writing. The French drafted a document. Washington signed it.

What the father of our country didn’t understand was that he was placing his name to a document that referenced the “assassination” of Jumonville. Washington believed the document referenced the death of the French leader, not an assassination. Unfortunately, it was probably due to the lack of skills by a novice interpreter. No matter. Washington signed a document of admission to the assassination which made the battle even more repulsive to the British.

To make matters worse (can you imagine?), a letter Washington wrote to his brother bragging about the encounter, referencing how the whistle of bullets to be a “charming sound,” was exposed and published in London Magazine.

A prominent writer portrayed Washington as foolish and the consequences dire – “The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.”

I’m not sure about you, but this series of events would have convinced me to leave the military and never be seen or heard from again. And Washington did indeed do so. For a bit. He went straight to the earth. He pondered a new life as gentleman farmer. He learned to grow tobacco on a commercial scale, he became a voracious reader and student of several heady topics including the law.

So, how do we take in what Washington experienced, how he reacted, and reinvented? Obviously, he was a Stoic in the making. He was a student of the German philosopher Nietzsche without knowing, either.

Tom writes in his book – The Divided Era – a well-sourced tome about the long-term divisions in our country (today isn’t all that different from the past.)

“Washington had extraordinary public and private character. He was virtuous in the classical, selfless sense. Combined with his notoriety, Washington’s character would permit him to accomplish unprecedented and revolutionary things.”

It was just who he was.

Nietzsche described human greatness as:

“Amor Fati or love of fate. Don’t bear what is necessary but love it.”

Marcus Aurelius said:

“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that’s thrown at it.”

Epictetus lamented:

“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens. Then you will be happy.”

Washington was an empath.

He took in the pain of others.

The Stamp Act and taxation by Britain forced oppression upon him and his brethren; denied him and his fellow man the freedom to prosper.

Thus, the rest is history. The man who loved and wanted so much to be loved by the British, found a new and greater love, a bigger mission, a higher truth. Mostly from great setback. Just like those incredible characters in films and series we are hooked on.

A non-fictional American story that resonates today.

Who The Hell Are You Anyway?

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All I remember were the wires – the strange form of apparatus attached to her head.

Designed to send an electrical current through her sick brain to cure it.

Or make it worse.

An AC/DC frontal lobotomy for the pre-disco era.

A temporary grasp on unreality. A last hope. When all else fails – hey, consider electricity?

Hey Carol Ann, don’t go into the light. I need you to stick your finger in it.

 

Lightbulb

I longed to push the button, pull the switch, thank the warden, increase the voltage, add water – whatever it would take for her to improve or just short-circuit the mortal coil. I was good with either direction this went.

Where’s the bathtub and the plugged-in curling iron therapy?

“Hey doctor or whoever you are. What is this supposed to do?”

“It will ease her severe depression. But she may forget a few things.”

“Like what?”

“Who you are, where she is, who she is.”

“Oh, is that all?!”

I was wondering if this brutal treatment was going to fry the brain inside her skull. Fry it even more than it was fried, already. I never remember anything positive coming out of electricity going through a head. Now I realize, at ten years-old, I was absolutely correct.

My sordid frames of reference then:

Conquest

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – Electrical current “encouraging” Caesar the talking ape to utter a human word.

Electrodes = bad

And what the hell was an electrode anyway? Who cares, actually. Sounded intimidating.

the-brain-that-wouldnt-die2

“The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” Another freak of nature kept alive by electricity (and maple syrup I think).

And of course, we remember Frankenstein and his bride. Overall, this electricity meeting up with lobes didn’t appear to conclude on a good note.

Naturally, electroconvulsive therapy (fancy name for electroshock treatment) was first introduced by Italians – Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini in 1938. Almost anything that my ethnic brethren delivers outside of pizza and art fails miserably. Oh well. Another good point for things not looking so hot post shock treatment.

In the 70’s electro-shock was employed for severe depression, mania, nymphomania (kidding), and it appears women felt more comfortable than men undergoing this form of torture. From what I recall it was common in my neighborhood. Maybe it was fluoride in the water; perhaps it was me chasing girls with used Kotex pads on a stick that caused young moms in the area to be depressed. Not sure. I’d do it all over again. No regrets.

All I knew then. All I know now – electrical current and a brain are not a match made in heaven.

shock man

 

How far will you go to forget?

The bad stuff. Those who wronged you. Those who fooled you, those who caused distress, the failures, the words you can’t take back, the actions that hurt others, the actions that hurt you, the deaths, the illnesses, the bad attitudes, your weariness, the negative thoughts, the self-sabotage, the wine you spill, tears, milk, guts. Never forget the bad. The bad adds perspective, wisdom. The mental path you’ve followed, the pain, the failures are a form of beauty. The setbacks blossom empathy, forgiveness, strength. Flaws make you beautiful. Human. The bad stuff is the blood which bonds us.

Who the hell are you? You’re bad. You make mistakes. Love yourself for your faults.

What do you do to remember?

The good junk. When your world is in sync. The break in the clouds, the deep breaths, the relief that comes from tiny blessings, the friendships, the beauty around you. How do you share that good? How do you reach out to those who need a positive word? The human voice, encouragement, devotion, laughter, listening. The good stuff is the heartbeat that keeps us going.

Who the hell are you?

You’re good. You make others feel worthy. Share your strength with others. 

Who the hell are you?

You’re human. You make strange purchase decisions, your brain is not wired to invest. Ask for help. Seek opinions that disagree with your own. Live with money mistakes. Revisit them often. You’ll avoid them in the future.

What doesn’t mix, doesn’t mix.

Electricity & brains, you & her, you & chocolate, you & alcohol, you & fried foods. Don’t force it. Learn to make peace with doesn’t mix in your life. What doesn’t mix causes friction (also not good for the frontal lobe).

Work to accept what doesn’t mix. Move on.

Who the hell are you? You understand what doesn’t mix is not your fault, it’s just the way it is. Learn to cherish the inner peace of acceptance.

“Who are you?”

“It’s your son, mom – Rich.”

“I have a son? I always wanted a son. I always wanted someone to love.”

“Me too, mom, me too.”

And for a brief moment.

There was electricity between us.

The Great Crabapple War of 1974

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“You’ll be dead soon.”

crab apple

Crabapple – a hard, bitter monstrosity. 

Not quite red, not quite green. Not quite sure where it fits within the grand scheme of all elements nature.

God had to be pissed off at the planet one day and said – “Look what I can do!”

Crabapples are a permanent fixture on the island of misfit fruits.

Wait: I’m not even sure it’s a fruit.

If you’re the unfortunate target of nature’s musket balls especially when hurled by 10-15 year old boys with arms fueled by mischief and sticky thoughts of 16 year old summer blondes in tube tops and denim cutoffs – then start counting the seconds from the sting until a perfect-round red welt appears somewhere on your exposed body: 1.2.3.

Worse than a swarm of yellow jackets turning a bare ankle into a hive.

A crabapple tree is nature’s ugly stepsister. Branches hang low enough to tear open the face of anybody adventurous enough to venture near its trunk.

At the ends of imperfect extensions hang clusters of green-reddish spheres. Oh, beautiful species of crabapple trees do exist. I hear they produce magnificently colorful flowers.

The abomination on the corner of Whitney Place & McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn was an exception. Oh, it tried to bloom. As kids, we messed with that poor tree so much, I believe it never had the chance to be left alone long enough to flourish.

Clearly, the tree wasn’t right.  Why was it allowed to live in misery? It managed to survive in the middle of a squared patch of dirt among a jagged brown and green glass compost blend of discarded beer and Coke bottles. Amazing.

Imprisoned by the apartments’ tenant garages on one side and an F train subway artery on the other, the only natural sunlight available to SadCrab  was high-noon sun filtered through elevated rail slats of the subway line anchored by massive steel beams that were driven deep into McDonald Avenue.

Unfortunately, the tree appeared to be half in this world, one root in hell. The blooms were sparse. Short-lived for a couple of weeks in early spring. The fruit appeared ‘halfway’ developed as if it were reluctant to make an appearance.

I’d walk by the thing every day and grimace.

One day I stopped. Stared with disdain. Shouted in its branches  – “You’ll be dead soon.”

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that ugly tree deserved respect. Just the fact that I remember it so well and how it contributed to the great CA wars is surely credit to its existence. I can’t be the only one who remembers the depressed crabapple tree.

The Great CA Wars switched on and off for a couple of years. I have no idea what triggered it. I was just recruited. Sloan and Whitney Place kids pitted against each other through the greatest (probably the only), crab-apple skirmishes in Brooklyn.

You see, Sloan kids were perceived as rich. Ironically, we were all part of the same alphabet swirling around in the same socio-economic soup bowl. Yet, Sloans were deemed the high brows. Lower-middle class “1 percenters.”

Although the apartment complex on Whitney was a mirror image of the red-bricked three-story structure on Sloan, the exterior was the envy of Whitney folks. Freshly painted exterior bordered by robust bushes and flowers. Sloan was the king, baby. Parents and grandparents sat outside on actual folding chairs. Whitney? The stoops.  Poor Whitney. The interminable ugly step building. Dead grass, chipped lead paint (great for snacking).

See, you existed on Whitney, you LIVED on Sloan. There was a difference. Even the spring air on Sloan carried with it a spiced aroma. Joyous floral scents that sliced through an otherwise musty urban atmosphere.

So, what do boys do to vent frustrations? Establish borders, place the crabapple tree in the neutral zone, collect massive quantities of bitter musket balls and get ready for ALL OUT WAR! What else?

And war it was. Hundreds of nature’s pellets scatter shot through the air like an unripened mob of bloated bees.  Sloan on one side. Whitney on the other of a street selected as official battlefield.

Street-parked Chevys, Fords, Buicks served as Detroit’s finest foxholes. Elongated hoods and doors – trademarks of 70’s autos, remained under assault for a solid 30 minutes. Metal was no match for the onslaught. Several car surfaces were reduced to pimply apple-hailstorm fodder.

Hundreds of crabapples suffocated the street. Injuries took kids out who ran crying and fleeing from the scene. After a couple of hits in the back of the head and the bitch of  a sting from a smash to the cheek, I’d was out of Dodge, too. The wars weren’t long but they were painful. Eventually, we lost interest. Even angry ones. The Generals. They bailed on the troops. Or if I recall correctly, somebody’s mom screamed for Paulie to get the hell home for dinner ( remember – moms’ voices carried for 20 city streets).

No winners. No resolution. Yet of course, Sloan army always believed THEY WON. And that is indeed a win, isn’t it? Even when you lose, you win? Unfortunately, the only medals we had to show for the effort was a stripped bare tree, welts and boys who were about to catch hell for damaging property.

That darn tree lasted longer than any silly war and every next generation of kids who were raised, grew up, moved away.

I figured the tree took my words to root. Died years ago.

At the least, I assumed the owners of the buildings cut it down. Why would they allow it to live?

Life is funny – Little did I realize…

8 Random Thoughts (from a crabapple tree):

Every day decide the “how” to survive.

Life is hard. Learn to live with what you got. Work to thrive in the perfection of your imperfection. I have. Even when brats picked me clean. You can too. No excuses.

Used or ignored – a bit of both? You’re gonna be there.

There will be a time when people will want what you produce for their own selfish purposes. Then you’ll go ignored. Stand strong. Brace for any condition. Bloom when the weather feels right to do so again. Understand that most who cross your path are temporary.

A life can grow from anything. Even broken glass.

Growth emerges from beauty or ugliness. Born wedged between an F train and a concrete wall  – or in a soil rich patch of zip code, all of us seek the basics to stay alive. Appreciate our common ground: Love, food, water, maybe happiness (if you’re lucky).

Don’t assume I’m miserable being what I am.

There’s a reason I exist. Even if it’s for boys who write of me 40 years later. I’ll stand with dignity and serve my mission. I don’t owe you an explanation for my mission. I’ll win my battles quietly – behind the scenes. Under your radar, I will prosper – despite what you believe.

You have the right to produce bitter fruit.

You don’t need to be joyful all the damn time. It’s not human. It’s not for trees either. Happiness ebbs and flows. Life happens. Bad situations arise. In turn, you will bear cynical fruit. Revel in sorrow a bit. Not too long, though. Eventually you’ll find a way to bud flowers. If I can, you can.

Mock me, mock yourself.

Mock the ugly in me? You’re not in acceptance of the ugly in yourself. Swallow that bitter crabapple.

Who’s got it worse?

You assume I’m sad. That’s because you cannot relate to me. Just like I can’t relate to how you pack into that F train subway car like a human sardine the same times twice every day until you die.

I’m alive. Are you? 

Four decades ago you said I’d be dead soon.  Let me ask – Who’s closer to death? Me or you? How do the odds appear now?

Thanks to Google Maps I know that crabapple teacher is indeed, still alive. Despite my nasty words, it didn’t die. It wasn’t cut down, either.

Today, that tree has a high chain-linked fence around it to protect it. Not sure why.

Maybe to prevent another crabapple war. Highly unlikely. Kids don’t play outside anymore.

Maybe it’s to protect branches from boys who at one time, liked to climb that gnarly trunk. Nah. Boys don’t play outside anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure boys are allowed to be boys anymore.

Perhaps this tree got the best of me. Perhaps it’s more protected than I’ll ever be. Maybe today, based on how the world has changed, it stays safe and thrives behind a barrier. Guarded from jerks.

There’s a great chance that tree I mocked so long ago, outlives me.

My daughter wants to visit my old neighborhood when we visit New York in December.

I may just show her that tree. Tell her the story.

Ask her to visit that tree once I’m gone.

Just maybe the greatest lessons that tree taught me were empathy and irony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Bird Box” Path to Sanity in 2019.

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We all have a Bird Box.

We just don’t pay enough attention to our internal Bird Box: It’s called “the gut.”

A flutter which arises when things aren’t quite right – although on the surface it appears to be biz as usual, a tingle, a quiet thought that seems to come out of nowhere attempts to cut through the noise and gain our attention. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore our gut when it advises us to flee – whether it’s a cancerous relationship, a job we hate, a family member that causes grief – we talk down to or discount our “Gut Box.”

In a popular Netflix movie, Sandra Bullock and two children are focused to escape an ominous force that motivates observers to commit suicide. Victims stare into nothing, hear voices of deceased loved ones, perhaps experience their greatest fears, their pupils get weird and then BOOM. Suddenly, poor bastards are jumping in front of cars, stabbing themselves in the neck with scissors. Blindfolds are a necessity.

Birds can detect when this invisible death mist is rolling in. They go into a frenzy. The heart of the film is a blindfolded crew of Bullock and two children who must travel a treacherous river to safe haven. Ironically, a home for the blind located downstream.

Our three protagonists have the ragged clothes on their backs and death-grip on a box with a strap. The box has holes. Inside the box? You got it. A couple of birds. Nature’s ADT against “the thing that causes you to horrible things to yourself.” Personally, I thought it animal abuse. I mean, aren’t there enough birds to pay attention to in the sky without having to keep captive two parakeets in a tiny box?

But I digress.

Anyway, you don’t need play to hunter or hit up Petco to stock up on birds. Inside your body is the best primal warning system on the planet. I thought about calling it a “Turd Box” but that’s gross.

So, How do we trust our guts more often? Why do we tend to ignore when the birds start flutterin’?

Random Thoughts:

Remain vigilant with each human encounter no matter how minor it appears.

I was involved with a person who exhibited signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Over the last 3 years, I’ve spent hours reading all I can about narcissism only because the word gets thrown around flippantly – I truly wanted to understand it. Most important, I wanted to figure out who I was and why I fell so hard for someone with this alleged condition.

The gut nudged me on numerous occasions to get the hell away. However, my thoughts, mostly my heart, promptly suffocated the birds; I carelessly discounted my Gut Box. I was in denial. I thought it would get better. It didn’t. It got worse.

Only rivaled by a negative experience with a former employer, this was the worst association of my lifetime (so far). I have nobody to blame but the person who stares at me in the mirror. I’m fortunate it’s happened once. I know people immersed in repeated instances, entrenched patterns with those who are unhealthy for them.

Now when my Gut Box flutters, I listen. I am conditioned to conclude, depart, and never look back. It took pain to awaken my respect for the Gut Box.

Never be afraid to walk away or at the least, fully explore what your inner voice is telling you.

Don’t discount the feeling because…

Your gut is a survival tool. The best early-warning system you got. Ignore it at your own risk.

Ignore the “Bird Box” and the next step may be a pine box (or whatever they use for caskets these days). In reality, ignoring the Gut Box may cause death, too. It’ll just take longer and possibly be more painful than anything Sandra Bullock would need to deal with if she dared to remove her blindfold.

Your inner warning system deserves attention. Stop the attempts to rationalize or squelch the voice. As children, we observed people through clear lens. As adults, our lens are smeared and warped by life experiences and biased perceptions. The more proficient you become at verbal and physical cues, the stronger a gut sense will become, too. The gut is the ultimate people “decoder.”

Be an observer. Work out your core Gut Box. Stand outside life and look in a bit. 

Sit in a coffee shop or any populated public place with pen and paper and notice how those around you behave. Can you pick up on verbal and physical cues? Anything you can do to sharpen observation skills will help to work out your core Gut Box.

It’s acceptable to disengage with those who set off your internal sense of danger. No questions asked. Sure, you will mess up a couple of times. The collateral danger is worth long-term health and sanity.

Ironically, a well-toned Gut Box can make you seem psychic. You’ll deftly anticipate whether an association needs to conclude or a relationship is worth the effort.  A Gut Box will allow you to engage with the world and not cut yourself off based on negative episodes of the past, thus making you increasingly socially adaptable!

So, watch Bird Box. Personally, I thought it was meh. No big deal. Too many holes in the script, but enjoyable.

Focus on the Gut Box in 2019.

It’s the best early-warning system you got.

Discard the blindfolds that life has placed over your eyes.

It’s a matter of life or death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Your Flame – 2019 Edition.

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Marcus Aurelius referenced ‘Amor Fati’ often in his work.

Amor Fati –  Love of fate. Every moment, every encounter- happiness, suffering, loss – treated as a welcomed visitor. 

Embrace the stranger or friend forever at the door. Amor Fati – the zealous acceptance for all that crosses our path.

Author and friend Kamal Ravikant would deem Amor Fati as the light of truth and only in that blinding bright can one discover who they are, who they’re meant to be.

Nothing dark survives in in Amor Fati. We are bigger than any obstacle, even death.

Image result for embrace death

Perhaps a radical acquiescence of suffering and all that is “meant to be,” is truly the Holy Grail of happiness. To fight Amor Fati is to burn inside. Wedged within the hot space between where we wish things were in place of gratitude for how things are, festers a debilitating friction. Ironically, to fight, to wish things were different, is to fall victim to despondency and self-pity.

I admit Amor Fati is a great challenge. Daily, I must focus on what I’m grateful for (even if it’s an unfortunate event), and train my brain to feel happy about all that enters my space. It’s interesting how after months of focusing on gratefulness, I am increasingly sensitive to friction and adept at correcting my course. Like when a car starts to veer into another lane. A spark goes off in the brain, you take corrective action.

My continued challenge in 2019 will be Amor Fati (that loveable scamp). What will you do to accept it into your life?

How can you make Amor Fati a reality?

Some ideas.

amor fati

Random Thoughts:

CONSIDER THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN.

Your brain turns what you believe even if it’s false, into reality. It doesn’t know any better. In other words, if you focus on the pain, you’ll feel the pain. If you consider the worst that can happen in your life then realize it hasn’t occurred, a wave of gratefulness (relief) will take over. I call it ‘endorphin pinging.‘ Turning on the HAPPY TAP.

What you’re doing is training your mind to ponder negative consequences (why bother with positive, we like when good stuff enters our lives), and rewire how you deal with adversity.

I’ve made it sort of a game. On the way to work I imagine I have a blowout and wonder how I’d react; at work I’ll consider losing my best clients then reach out to talk to them grateful they are happy over some life event, or share concerns with me. Get it? Do it.

DOCUMENT GRATEFULNESS DAILY.

Yea, I know. Pain in the ass. At least I thought. Then at night before sleep I started to document 3 things I was thankful for. Some of it was stupid shit like not spilling coffee on my shirt which tends to happen often.

On rough days when nothing seems to go right or I feel like I’m deep in the badlands of dickhead city, even then I find a moment to find something positive. Surprisingly, I find myself grateful for the assholes; I’m able to deal with a situation with grace, not envision the satisfaction of hitting somebody in the head with a bat (obviously, I’m a work in progress).

EMBRACE ADVERSITY WITH VIGOR. Well try at least :/.

Just because you embrace adversity doesn’t mean you sit there and get rolled over. Just the opposite. I had a health scare a couple of years ago based on an aberrant blood chemistry. For an hour I was frightened. Frozen. I became detective Columbo to understand what I may be ahead for me and the latest medical diagnostics available to determine whether I really had something to worry about.

Long story short, I found a prominent specialist who believed in the advanced medical testing I suggested and although expensive I was able to avoid an unnecessary (and highly inaccurate), biopsy procedure. The more research you undertake to understand your obstacle the less you’ll fear it. Trust me.

EXPECTATIONS = 0 = AMOR FATI SQUARED.

Best. Math. Ever. I have 0 expectations of anybody I know, anyone I encounter, every engagement. Truly zero. And with that process comes zero disappointment. It was like my mind subconsciously established a test, set some bar that others needed to pass or jump for me to feel happy. Now? NADA.

This revelation has sparked encouragement to seek the good or at least pleasant, in each encounter and engage the present moment. I’m delightfully surprised on many occasions (hell, it’s not tough to exceed 0). It’s sort of gotten weird because if the experience feels too good, too easy, or events turn out perfectly as planned, I question the outcome.  Sound strange? Yes, a bit. However, it keeps me grounded as I realize nothing is permanent.

AMOR FAT(I) SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

The healthier my savings account, the warmer my embrace of Amor Fati. Perhaps having cash to deal with adversities makes it easier to buffer financial fragility and remain calm enough to think a situation through. I don’t know how much cash equals Amor Fati to you. However, an emergency buffer of a year’s worth of living expenses sounds right. Two years sounds even better.

VISUALIZE YOUR FLAME AND UNDERSTAND HOW THERE ARE ALWAYS ASHES IN THE END.

I visualize tossing wood into a fire. I see a stone hearth, raging flames. The core of a log connects with a color I feel at the peak emotion of an event: Blue for heavenly, amber for warm, red for anger, yellow for apathy. All that meets us, crosses us = leaves us. Good or bad, what fate provides and (including us), inevitably turn to ash and forgotten. Each flame is beautiful. Each flame is different. Each flame dies. Within glowing ambers, it is all the same. In this unity and calm of an ending smolders Amor Fati.

So, how will you incorporate Amor Fati into your life in 2019.

May nothing black survive your cleansing process.

 

 

 

A Christmas Tree Story: What is Yours?

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vintage five

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

And maybe that’s one of our problems.

Well, some do. Unfortunately, trees are so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk. Nostalgia neurons burn cobwebs, fire hot in my brain. I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood curiosity and just a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell remain fresh and raw for what feels like an eternity.

A Christmas tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality. To me, anyway.

Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.

I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado. vintage four

Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.

Ornaments that adorned real pine, plastic, and even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles . Lights that that stick around, never to be extinguished In my mind. The beauty refuses to burn away.

Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff straining branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).

Some memories joyous many sad.

A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.

You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.

Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.

When I think about the 4 city- block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree. In my mind, every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house? In my imagination, these sentinels guarded against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.

vintage three

So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.

Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.

On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year. The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big  toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.

However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.

“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”

“Thank you!” Big smile.

I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.

He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).

He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.

Random Thoughts:

Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year. Even if the stories are sad, they now go down like a fine bourbon – in 5 seconds you’re overwhelmed by warmth.

Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, the memories never die. Nor should they. They are you. Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.

Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.

Our trees are dying every day.

Vintage two

So what’s your Christmas tree story? Can you remember it today? Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?

vintage one

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

Perhaps there’s a good reason.

Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.

Can you feel the joy again?

In this moment like a last moment?

Can even the sad be cathartic?

Try it and see.

It’s fine to be surprised by feelings that are unpacked and adorned for all to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Things I Know. The Rest Is Bullshit.

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Sometimes everything at once. Sometimes just the sky.

Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I fuck up a lot.

I try. I fail. I try again. I stop trying. I regroup. I attract some of the worst people on the planet and work to process how they don’t represent the masses.

On occasion, I win, I learn, I grow. My biggest issue is I’m not grateful enough for the flowers, the victories, the end products. I’m loving the seeds but minimizing the impact of the blooms. There’s something noble about toil and decadent about the results. I am no longer impressed by decadence. The effort turns me on.

Jordan B. Peterson in 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote To Chaos, wrote – “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

The dirty stuff learned through toil and experience means everything.  Happiness is in the ‘grit’ as my friend Byron Kidder calls it: At the crunch beneath a footfall an idea forms, a road is begun. One word leads to six, then ten. Then a page. As my friend Randy Lemmon garden-expert extraordinaire says:

“It’s all about the soil.”

Life is a robust mixture of experiences –  sorrow shadows, bullshit rules that society deems honorable but as we age make no sense, boundaries crossed, beautiful offerings, misfit gifts if unwrapped reveal lessons when needed the most.

Let’s face it –  life is finite flesh & blood dichotomy – what you put into it can grow beautiful. However, you best know the weeds and kill them quick.

Otherwise, they take over.

As I focus on lessons learned, lived, loved, (hated at times), I realize how these tenets align, allow me to re-focus on what’s important.

That damn flower. I’ve finally found comfort in inevitability; that flower is gonna die. Can’t do a thing about it. I’ll enjoy everything about it while it’s here. I take notice how light accentuates grooves in the pedals at low sun; I can observe, sort out without mental drift, how and why it has a reason to exist (so I can enjoy it, others can, too!).

In the quiet times, when it’s just me and the sky, I document observations, write script dialogue, have colorful conversations between my ears. I ask questions to the 25 trees at the homestead. Depending the direction they sway, answers are revealed. And yes, they sway when queried. I also know whether it’s a no-stop-go. Or just a stop. Trees are nature’s Magic 8 Ball. I’m convinced.

Here are the 11 things I know. You have your personal doctrine. I have mine. They’re not up for disagreement or discussion. Doctrines serve best those who create not criticize them. Share yours.  Write. Follow.

Writing is inky-swear oath to yourself.

Random Thoughts:

Not everyone deserves forgiveness. You however, must forgive yourself.

Listen it’s rare, but some people do not deserve a free pass. Their intentions are untrue. They seek to use, inflict damage upon others. They follow a script that serves only them.  It’s fine if duped. You’re human. I say let the universe deal with these types. They’ll never be happy, never learn. Until karma finds a way to strike them, they’ll live their lives and not give a second shit to setting yours back.

Life is a 50/50. 50% shock, 50% awe.

If you don’t have chaos, you don’t have change. If you don’t change, you die. Or worse. Get stuck in a life you hate. Learn to weather the shocks, enjoy the awe. What’s the alternative?

If you’re gonna a hater, be a good one. If you’re a lover, be a great one. If you’re hated, make sure you’re really, really reviled. If loved, make sure it’s the best love ever.

Love and hate is fire and ice. Both burn. Both can motivate. Both can kill. Be the best at both. Leave your mark on others. Burn them or freeze them. Nothing in between.

Love is infinite. Humans and technology block the flow of it.

Adults manifest mind-garbage. Over time, a multiplying, rotting dump of negative experiences must be bulldozed aside with each new person met. Ultimately, the debris is piled so high and deep, you can no longer bulldoze it. Instead, you’re consumed by it.

What I’ve noticed is that garbage people always leave a little bit of debris with you after they’re gone. The flow of love, the give-and-take of understanding, empathy, suffocates and dies among the rubble. Technology, especially social media has the ability to accelerate the build-up of garbage in the dump.

Be comfortable sitting in the back.

All throughout elementary school, high school and college I had to sit in the front row. I have no idea why. I believed my focus on the lessons would be better. I considered all who sat in the back as slackers and losers. Nobody taught me that. It was just my perception. Boy, was I wrong.

Sit in the front, die from myopia. Sit in the back, see the big picture. Feel less pressure. Yea, I sit close to or in the back. Sitting up front is too narrow a perspective for me now.

Consider the lack of magnificence a mark of virtue.

Want to feel small? Focus on the sky.  Twice a day, 25 seconds. Just when you think you’re the shit or “all that,”  vastness of the never-ending injects poison into an ego. It’s a freeing “I can die in my driveway and the waste management dude can cart me a way,” kind of feeling. Don’t perceive this as negative. Far from it. Humility realigns focus on how to be a better iteration of a human. It allows you to give yourself a free pass, shake who you were at another time. Any other time. Who you were doesn’t matter. Who you are now means everything.

As Rick Warren said:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” 

At all costs, avoid the “Dust People.”

Dust People. My term for the darkest breed of narcissists. Those who use others for career advancement, sex and social status. They do nothing but lie and blame to divert from their true motivations. All the while, they create the ultimate relationship escape plan. They always have prospective new lovers (suckers), waiting in the shadows.

Once Dusters have fed off their victims, once their fake game is up, they shake ’em off (like dust from old jeans),  move on to the next and newest conquest. Ostensibly. the lethal pattern continues. They morph into the lives of new love/lust connections until their true self is revealed, thus leaving another victim shattered emotionally and/or financially.

I’ve been immersed in the trials of the Old West -New Mexico Territory specifically, as preparation for a screenplay – “The Rifleman – Origins.” The back story of how an ordinary farmer and rancher named Lucas McCain became a legend. The Rifleman was a hit television series from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The saga of a proud father who alone raises his only son Mark McCain.

In the brown-dirt land of New Mexico Territory the parameters of law are newly forged. Boundaries between life and death are easily blurred and crossed with devastating consequences. Lucas’ noble intentions to begin a new life, revitalize an abandoned ranch and keep his son safe in the middle of this tumultuous period, are frequently tested.

Lucas’ stalwart friend, father figure and new lawman in the town of Northfork is a creased and lean former gunslinger with his own healthy share of sleeping demons.

Micah Torrance, known equally for his sordid past and change of heart due to personal tragedy, had friends in high places like Granville Henderson Oury, a well-known American politician, lawyer, judge for the New Mexico Territory and fierce soldier who managed to survive the Crabb Massacre of 1857 where 100 Americans were killed after an eight-day battle with Mexican forces.

Micah and Granville fought side-by-side through several bloody skirmishes. Granville personally handpicked and deputized a reluctant and skeptical Micah to protect the recently-organized town of Northfork which in Granville’s view, was to become the West’s shining example (experiment), of how the law can protect and help citizens thrive. And as Micah would lament – “Big Ol’ Granville usually gets what he wants.”

It’s amazing how much I learned about dust, yes dust, writing this monster. Dust could be feared as it was associated with drought and drought portends ruin. The abrasive nature of dirt and dust had the ability to rot clothes, rip bare skin, which made it important for cowboys to dress and protect accordingly. Scarves, heavy canvas, denim and tartan long-sleeved shirts.

The irony is Micah is a reluctant lawman; he possesses little faith in humanity and grapples with why he should bother to protect it. “Just let people do what they do, it’s no concern of mine. If they do or don’t figure it out, they’ll die, just the same.”

It’s feigned optimism and protective care for Lucas and Mark that motivates Micah to take Granville up on his offer to galvanize and protect Northfork. Perhaps they remind Micah of his own son and grandson slain by vengeful Apaches.

I’ll share some dialogue between Lucas and Micah when it comes to dirt and dust:

After a six-month drought, the abandoned Emerson Ranch, three miles north of Northfork, appears dead and hopeless to Lucas McCain. He bends his lanky frame at the knees to observe a single flower that grows from the dust. The dry powder he picks up to rub between his fingers disappears easily into the heat. Lucas looks up and across what’s left of worn fences, dirt-blasted barns and a wood and stone structure that would be home for him and Mark. Micah is behind him. Purposely silent until the quiet was 10 minutes too long.

MICAH

Well, the price is right.

LUCAS

I should be paid to take it.

Micah

Yea, if life worked that way it wouldn’t be called life or whatever this shit is we go through.

Lucas

The dust. It’s in my nose. My clothes feel like they’re rotting from the inside out because of it.

Micah

The dust is in your head, Lucas. Turn this into something. Get out of your head and into the toil. Nothing stays the same. The rain will come. Your head will clear. Your thoughts will clear, Lucas Boy. The earth will show you what it can do. You’ll build something here. For you and Mark.

Lucas (finally stands from his crouched position)

It’s tough for a man to think clear in the dark, Micah.

Micah

The dark is no bother to me. I ain’t afraid of it. Can’t get to the light if there isn’t dark first. I bet when the sun comes up over that ridge, it’s a sight to see.

Lucas (looks over at Micah and smiles lightly)

You trying to sell me something that isn’t for sale, Micah? (Silence). Alright. I’ll give it a thought.

Micah (gestures over to barn entrance where Mark is smiling and waving to catch the adults’ attention).

Looks like Mark already has.

Lucas

Yea. I was afraid of that.

****************************************************************

There’s a point we all must make a choice to cultivate dirt and make it something better. Dust people you cannot change. You must detect and walk.

Or you’re going to lose so, so much.

Recognize every person you meet is not the best or the worst. Just something in-between.

We are marginal at best, mired in the comfort of status quo. The best and the worst of people have lots of energy to share. It’s fine to spend time with those in the middle. They’re on a path to best or worst and exciting to listen to, understand what drives them to move from the middle to the outliers. I also find it fascinating what keeps them mired in middle. Is it security, fear, complacency, low T?

There’s a point you’ll be afraid of the dark and joyfully anticipate the light which follows.

You’ll appreciate the light all the more when the dark is behind you. Enough said. You can figure this one out on your own.

Life is 110% conflict – 109% with yourself.

Our minds and egos create alternative lives of “what would happen if,” that have nothing to do with the present state. Whatever we fight internal or external, we are drawn to or own a piece of it.

Until you find out and destroy what you’re contributing to the battles, they’ll never cease. One party needs to drop the weapons. If smart, it’ll be you. If not, you’ll continue to fight imaginary wars and lose all who are close to you.

Bad experiences are unwrapped gifts that provide lessons only when opened.

I’m not a big fan of the “everything is a lesson,” mantra. A lesson should mean I don’t repeat the same mistake or if placed in a similar negative situation, I respond differently. I’ve had many bad experiences but few lessons. It’s fine as the opened gifts are exponentially greater than the ones I continue to leave unwrapped.

We all have rules, subconsciously or on our sleeves for others to see, we follow every day.

In this society, at this time, your spirit is in constant jeopardy. Make sure your ingrained tenets aren’t major catalysts for the death of it.

 

Dedicated to “The Rifleman” co-writer and “Mister LA,” Kelly Raymer.