Random musings…

Glad you stopped by… take a peek inside for a collection of short stories, social commentary, poetry, rants, and excerpts from current projects. Hope you enjoy your time here, check back often for new material and of course feel free to submit any questions or comments…

Author retains all rights to published / posted material – all posts are solely the work of the author

Joe

Death by Addiction

Juls had a knack for making wherever she was elegant, fresh flowers, candles, handmade soaps – little touches that transformed common place to magical. I loved going to her home for a cup of coffee or simple meal she always found a way to elevate the experience.  It was never about showing off – money – pride – or some baseless motivation, it was a respite from the ordinary. The saddest part of my weekend was walking into her home and finding all the special things, the cups, plates, candles, soaps, an empty vase on the table… but the magic was missing – the energy that was my big sister. There was a haphazardness to it all, as if she had all the pieces but just couldn’t put them together – my sister died two weeks ago, but taking it in I realized she had been missing much longer. 

I spent the weekend sorting through the physical remnants of her life while trying to reconcile a myriad of feelings – anger, sadness, recrimination, and in flickering moments of honesty relief. My sister didn’t die of an overdose, but the corrosive nature of addiction killed her just the same; you see not all addicts die with a needle in their arm or a carelessly spilled bottle of pills next to them. My sister died on the floor of her small bathroom… alone. I hope it was quick and painless, but I know that’s my selfish attempt to absolve the guilt dancing just out of reach… odds are it was neither.

I have heard all the platitudes – don’t be an enabler, addicts have to reach rock bottom, it’s a choice, helping is just codependency – I have parroted them oft enough myself and as true as these are… I have to live knowing that they are also a convenient excuse for apathy. I loved my sister, but I am faced with the reality that the physical manifestation of my love was clearly inadequate while it mattered. It was easier to insulate myself with these protestations than reach through her addiction and love her in a tangible way that may not have saved her, but would have given her some moments of happiness. I wasn’t able to change her addiction and at the end her death was just a reflection of her journey – but I should have made the effort anyway.  

There is a brutal finality to scooping ashes out of a simple box surrounded by those caring enough to be there… no what might be, could be, or should be – just a fine grey dust eddying into a series of smaller vessels – reminders of what once was. I have heard it said none of us escape alive, but whether that end is in a velvet lined box surrounded by friends and family or on the counter of a lonely kitchen consigned to a simple urn – the result is the same. There is value in the experience, in the loss, in the reflection, in the memories – not about addiction, death, or the physical remnants, but about love and the brief flicker of time we all share in this space…  

My sister was an accomplished artist among many other things, I found this in her bedroom – not sure if it’s her work or not, but it speaks to me of transition… leaving life behind – the tree a metaphor for life if you will… it seems fitting in a melancholy whimsical way…

For My Big Sis…

It’s Thursday evening and I am reflecting on the project I just finished in Phoenix, my flight is going to be late getting into Dallas… which means another night away from home. Modern technology allows my phone to be connected even at 30,000 feet – I’m watching the sun set through the window of 6A when I receive the message that my older sister has died…

There’s no positive way to get news like this, no way that makes it easier to absorb, so I watch the sun set and whisper goodbye – I foolishly hope she was at peace, as if somehow that makes it better, changes something… 

When we lose people the tradition is to polish their lives up, make them brighter – better than they probably were – I won’t do that with my sister. Her life is who she was and I loved her no matter the season. 

Julianna was seven years older than me, for as far back as I can remember she was “Lani” a leftover from the days before I could pronounce her name. She was my big sister – introduced me to rock and roll, David Bowie, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and the best of the seventies. She taught me about girls and nursed me through my first teenage heartbreak. When I moved to Virginia after our mother died she helped me get settled in a new home and city. It was her couch I slept on when my young marriage was falling apart and she encouraged me to work it out. Life took us in different directions and our relationship was reduced to holiday and birthday phone calls, promises to get together and reminiscing about the “old days”, but she never stopped being my big sister. 

They say not to speak ill of the dead… whatever that means, life is messy, complicated and … her journey was long, but I maintain worth the trip in the end. She explored life – the good, bad and the ugly if that’s not too cliché – a national level equestrian rider, a debutante, she eloped with a Naval officer at eighteen, lived free and hard all over the world, divorced and then started a new life. She loved the simple elegance of a vase of flowers, a properly set table, and the energy of a live concert. She was a mother of an autistic son and champion of autistic children’s rights, a business woman, artist, drug addict, but more than anything Lani was my big sister… 

Goodbye sis, I love you and I miss you… turns out none of the mess mattered in the end… 

Remember to hug the ones easy to love a bit closer and the ones hard to love even closer than that… You see when it’s done all you’ll have is the memories and as sweet as they may be it’s a poor substitute for time spent together…

Joe

Life on the Net

So, I spent about an hour on FB this morning and this is what I came up with… Has your life become an internet meme? 

Do you think to yourself, I should do something I love cause then I’ll be happy? Broke, living on the street, un-showered but fucking happy as hell! 

Are you tired of reposting, reposting, reposting… so some kid you don’t know can get better – wouldn’t it be nice to have an update on that shit – AMEN?

What about having to look at all these food pics that you know you can’t make and neither can the asshole that posted it and besides didn’t you just spend $300 on some super shake solution that tastes like shit?

Politics – just fuck all of them…

Olympics – yeah fuck them too – well except the Russians – cause anyone that can drill a hole in the lab wall and pass clean samples back and forth deserves a fucking medal…

Motivational posts – seriously you are trolling FB all day – I don’t think they are working on you. 

Your baby, puppy, kids, blah blah blah – do I even need to say it? We are all glad yours are so much better than everyone else’s! oh and fuck off…

You’re so blessed – fine we get it now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You blessed someone else – fine you’re the greatest person in the world now stop rubbing that shit in our faces

You’re kneeling, standing, crawling, running, walking whatever shut the fuck up – we’re all just trying to get through the day… just leave everyone the fuck alone already

Happy everything, hope you have a wonderful fucking day – do I really need to keep hearing about it? 

Since obviously no one will tell you – you suck at relationships cause you’re an asshole stop posting about it please… it’s definitely your fault

Stars and Stripes…

I’ve heard all the arguments, the passionate defenses, and angry protestations… and I agree with all of them, every one… but I agree because I believe this country, we as a people have it within us to collectively define, embrace, and demonstrate the best humanity has to offer not in spite of our differences but because of them.

You can say the flag is a symbol of oppression, freedom, colonialism, democracy… and you would be right because we have the choice to define it in the way that represents our present circumstance and understanding – not everyone’s just our own.

For me though this isn’t a symbol from the past, it isn’t owned by a particular ideology, it doesn’t represent a singular belief system – no it is the very tapestry of this land – those stars represent all of us… every beautiful square foot of this country from the concrete jungles to the snow covered peaks – and those stripes… they were where we started not where we are ending.

That flag is big enough to be knelt in front of, to be saluted, to be burnt, and to be draped across the box of someone you know, someone that lived in your town, on your street, or in the bedroom down the hall.

So no matter your ethnicity, color, creed – if you just got here or if you were here before the rest of us, we all have a choice, we can accept the same old tired arguments that aim to separate and strive to keep us from our full potential or we can choose to make an individual choice about the type of person we want to be and by extension the type of nation we will become.

Do you believe that flag is big enough to cover all of us… because if you don’t then it isn’t the man kneeling on the sidelines, the millennial protesting in the streets, the water protectors at Standing Rock, the men and women that work shoulder to shoulder every day, the immigrant searching for a better life, or those that wear the badge on their chest or flag on their shoulder that are the problem…

Just one man’s opinion…

Moments

The sky blossoms a kaleidoscope of color – the heat a lover’s embrace on a winter morn… It’s only a moment, but in that moment the realization of a thousand other moments… the compression – expansion – dissipation of time itself… a horn blows – the traffic moves and it occurs to me we have no moments to waste…

Two Cases of Jam

A somewhat true story lightly based on actual events…

The whole thing was fucked up Ashleigh thought to herself, the sulphurous breeze rushing through the Ford’s windows whipped her long brown hair haphazardly across her bronze shoulders, she ignored it lost in the hum of the tires and the static of an AM country station out of Jessup. It had been almost two weeks since she had been headed to the Lil Cricket for a pack of Marlboros – she had gotten sick – twice – in the stained bowl tucked in the back of the store between the stacks of Styrofoam cups and cases of Mountain Dew – a pink plus sign later she had run not knowing where she was headed or even why. Now two hours from the Florida border with less than twelve dollars in her pocket she still wasn’t ready to accept that all of this was real, but home was still home.

They say fate will find you where you are, and you can’t hide from your destiny; but she would be damned if she wasn’t going to try. She hadn’t wanted any of this, hell you couldn’t be more careful than she had been. Two more positives in a CVS bathroom had confirmed that God must have some kinda fucked up sense of humor – it had only been one time and not much at that she thought with a sad smile, hell they weren’t even really together. Should have learned my lesson with the last asshole, she thinks to herself picking up 17 South and heading toward the Georgia border. She didn’t have a destination, but she couldn’t face any of them and the only thing she loved in Florida, her dog Charlie, had died in an accident so she sure as hell wasn’t going home. It just wasn’t fair she had dreams, plans, places she wanted to see this wasn’t supposed to happen, not now… not ever she cries as the hot breeze sweeping off the Carolina low country dries her tears and the miles sweep by.

The roadside sign promised home-made baked goods, local vegetables, and boiled peanuts; it wasn’t much more than a lean-to-shack a few feet off the road – grass growing through the gravel pull off betrayed the lack of traffic. She can hear the tick and ping of the engine cooling as she heads inside in search of something cold to drink. Eyes adjusting to the dim light she can barely make out the ancient black woman in the corner, “Come in child all is well…” She doesn’t say anything else and Ashleigh isn’t sure if she had even heard her right, and she was pretty damn sure all wasn’t well and wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Forty minutes later and a few miles down the road with two bottles of water and three jars of homemade elderberry jam she still wasn’t sure it had been real but the gentle clink of the jars in the seat next to her were reassuring in a strange way.

She ate shrimp in a parking lot in Statesboro wishing the a/c worked her feet folded under her a sweet tea sweating in the cup holder. Taylor county had peach trees ripening in the afternoon sun as far as she could see – pulled off on the shoulder she wandered down the rows picking a few of the low hanging fruit listening to the silence around her. A couple miles further on at the farm stand she added two jars of fresh peach jam to her collection. A day later she had hiked up the base of the Toccoa falls listening to the roar of water drowning out the noise in her head, standing in the mist the drops of water shining like diamonds in her hair as the sun set behind her she had cried again. On her way back to the car she had wandered through the college – a life she had thought about before life had happened.

She spent two days in Helen, a Bavarian style little town nestled in the North Georgia mountains, eating brats and pretzels – dancing with the old men in their lederhosen she was almost able to forget, but she had finally headed West with three jars of apple butter added to her growing collection. She spent a night camped out at one of the big lakes along the North Carolina border listening to the night birds and an orchestra of frogs singing her to sleep, Waffle House for breakfast and she had headed Southwest towards Alabama stopping in Rome debating whether to continue further West. As it happened she had accumulated another two jars each of strawberry and cherry jelly along the way – she was up to eleven jars now.

It was in a small diner outside Bowden Corners when she started to question herself, it had been nine days since she had left and although she hadn’t reconciled this whole having a kid thing yet, she also knew this odyssey wasn’t going to last forever. Climbing behind the wheel she heads East her jars clinking in floorboard next to her, she had moved them into a box two days earlier. The pecan orchards flash by, the long rows of tall stately trees quiet sentinels to her inner struggle. The orchards give way to the open fields of the few remaining cotton fields sprinkled throughout the red dirt, the puffy boles ripening in the late summer sun a testament to simpler yet harsher times. She can smell the lowlands and the paper mills as she approaches the coast and the way home.

She carries life with her and with a wan smile she realizes her life is on a different trajectory, one she couldn’t have imagined and had never wished for but that had found her nonetheless. There were conversations to be had, plans to be made, and a life to figure out. The road stretches out before her leading her home, forward, and into a future unplanned but still hers to define… and she has jelly lots and lots of jelly.

Independence Day

I wrote this about fifteen years ago and have for the most part dragged it out every Fourth since then… this afternoon I’m halfway home sitting in a much to luxurious hotel room in Chicago looking out over a city I love to visit…. the staff takes good care of me here, most are immigrants working hard on this “holiday”… I take the time to listen to their stories when they are willing to share… It’s the true story of freedom – independence – the pursuit of opportunity this country still represents to those outside clamoring to come in… I think about my trip East from Seattle this past week – the beautiful country I have passed through – but also the blatant racism in so many small towns where Native Americans are treated as second class citizens – how do we embrace “…all men are created equal…” when we look the other way uncomfortably? Maybe these are questions without simple answers… I think probably, but I believe when we stop asking we have conceded point and the bright shining example we should and could be is tarnished a little more…

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The sweet smells of cotton candy and caramel corn dance through the early evening air mixing with the laughter of children and the soft murmur of a thousand conversations. The sun begins its slow descent and you can feel the anticipation thrumming through the stadium. As the sharp cadence of the Color Guard recedes the lights go down and the first shells burst in a spectacular blaze of color and thunderous sound. I lean back in my seat and let the show assault my senses.

Independence Day, a day of celebration, a day of remembrance, a holiday so simple yet so fraught with the complexities of modern day politics and the ever-shifting landscape of international policy it should challenge us to examine its true meaning. In its purest form we celebrate the courage, vision, and perseverance of our forefathers. They created a new nation with their very blood and infused it with a set of ideals and beliefs that has not only become a rallying banner for democracy everywhere, but a siren song for the oppressed and downtrodden the world over. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident…” the power of these words shaped a nation and challenged the greatest imperial power of the time. They also set an inescapable responsibility for us as a people, we cannot embrace our history, our independence, carry on our annual celebrations and displays if we ignore the balance of our declaration: …” that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have taken this responsibility upon ourselves and have found opportunity in our history to rally to it: The fascism of the Axis powers in WWII, our vigilance against the insidious creep of Communism during the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the Jihadist of the Middle East and in defense of those most vulnerable within our own borders. These political and military battles may represent our collective will, but the achievement of our independence was built on the personal efforts and decisions of those men and women who chose to shoulder the burden of, not only defeating our imperial masters, but also investing themselves in the creation, nurturing, and guiding of our country as it took its first steps on the path to greatness. Too often it seems that the ideals our founding fathers espoused have become the fodder for today’s self-serving political machine. It unfortunately transcends party and pollutes the purity of the democratic process. We must always remind ourselves of those “self evident truths” and understand that the preservation of them is a personal responsibility.

The final rumbles are fading into the distance and the last vestiges of smoke have cleared, chased across the horizon by a warm breeze. I take my daughter’s hand as we begin the slow walk to our car and I silently rejoice in the fact that she will grow up in the greatest country in the world. I promise myself to teach her the history of Independence Day so she can one day become the conscientious steward of our freedoms that is the legacy of our citizenship.

Two Vases

A good friend was telling me a story about an abandoned home where the folks had left their “parents” or maybe “grandparents” cremated remains behind… that seemed incredibly sad and lonely to me… I imagine a conversation something like this…

Two Vases

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

I feel you near me dear
Do you remember my kiss
Now it’s just the two of us

Long passed are our days in the sun
The sand soft beneath us
The kids playing in the surf

I remember the stars above
The singing of a mountain stream
Marshmallows by the fire

It seemed so long I waited
Now you sit beside me
Matching vases in the shadows

Time ceased its count long ago
And the voices have faded
As the dust deepens on this lonely perch

The North Wind

The North Wind

I have always been here
I chiseled the peaks
I carved the valleys
I smoothed the prairies
I have always been here

I was here when the Red Men came
I carried their arrows
I lifted their prayers
I cherished their songs
I have always been here

I was here when the White Men came
I spun their windmills
I closed their highways
I weathered their curses
I have always been here

No voices cry in the silence
No prayers are left to carry
No songs are left to sing
The firs bow in final supplication
I will always be here

Author’s Note: I was driving across Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota recently experiencing a relentless North wind… the land is beautiful beyond my meagre ability to describe and always the wind, the wind… the words have been stuck in my head ever since so I share them with you…

JC

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day I am always reminded of our men in uniform and how cavalier we tend to be about the potential sacrifice they face everyday. I think back to the tales my father and grandfather shared with me about their experiences in WWII. I was always fascinated by their differing perspectives: my father joined the Navy at 17 and served aboard a submarine in the Pacific theater and my grandfather was a Colonel in the Air Force stationed in Panama during WWII. As different as their military service was they shared the common bond of having lost men they knew and served with; as a young boy I didn’t really understand the significance of this sacrifice and the impact it had on them.

In the many years since, I have often wondered if we, as not only individuals but also, as a society truly understand the sacrifice we expect of our military and what Memorial Day actually signifies. I know for myself – as a young man still in high school – I had the good fortune to read a speech by Gen. Douglas MacArthur addressed to the West Point cadets in 1962. I am still stirred by his words and the impact they had on me and even more how they bring a substance and gravity to the memories of my father and grandfather. I imagine I can hear these words echoing as he spoke: “…It is the story of the American man at arms… His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give. He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast… I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips, the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: Duty, Honor, Country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light…”

I find it impossible to read these words and not take a moment to reflect on those who have laid down their lives for this country and the ideals we hold dear. Whether it be 200+ years ago in a war for self determination or yesterday in somewhere far from home – it is incumbent upon us to honor the sacrifice of our fallen. I recently re-read the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, from a speech he gave in 1884 at a Memorial Day dinner, remember this wasn’t shortly after some world wide conflict of good vs evil but a war among ourselves brother against brother… he said “But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead…where the ghosts sit at the table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves–the dead come back and live with us.” I believe he was speaking about more than just their memories he was reminding us that on this day of all days it is their sacrifice we not only honor but remember lest we forget the mighty toll of our conflicts and vast responsibility it creates.

So my friends as you gather together for that afternoon BBQ, the morning round of golf, or whatever activity you may have planned for that “end of spring extra day off from work Monday,” let us take even just a brief moment to honor and remember those who embraced “Duty, Honor, Country” as more than just a slogan.