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You can’t have one without the ooother

12 Nov

If you say you are a 1 and 0 type of person—black and white, right and wrong, yin and yang. It would be wise to make certain you don’t mean “or” instead of “and” because you get both in life.

You also get joy AND sadness.

Pain AND pleasure.

Night and day.

Life and death.

Rain and shine.

This and that.

Are you getting the idea?

We, like everything in nature possess duality.

It IS our nature.

You get both.

With everything and everyone.

No exceptions.

Now, don’t you feel rich?

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How to be Free

2 Oct

Come closer

I want to tell you a story

Shhhh….

Listen….

Can you hear me through the din

Within?

I want to tell you how easy it is

To be free

I want you to know
that loneliness is a myth

That happiness is your birthright

That your destiny

Is death

And that I am just like you

And you are just like me

And it’s just that easy

Close your eyes with me

For just a moment

Can you see clearly now?

I want to show you something

Very important

Look inside.

You already know everything

You need to know.

Just listen.

There is nothing you can say that hasn’t already been said. Nothing to write that isn’t already written.

Truth is only waiting to be proven.

Outside the infinite confines of your mind

A galaxy folds back the sheets

And crawls into a lintless bed

Shhhh… Listen.

When two roads converged in a wood, I took the Allelopath

18 Apr

Allelopathy, I discovered yesterday—is the effect one species has upon the growth, survival and reproduction of another species by chemical, biological or ecological processes. For instance, a tree that grows to be tall and wide benefits the humans beneath it by providing shade where they may have a picnic, make sweet love and carve their initials into the pliable bark marking the first moment of their life-long commitment to benefit each other and their future children. The same tree does not allow any other species to thrive beneath it because of the very shade that benefits the humans.

I also discovered that plants aren’t the only ones with allelopathic tendencies.

It was a typical Tuesday morning eradication session at the Leon Creek Greenway where the Invaders volunteer their time to eradicate non-native invasive species. Ie. Kill things, record how and when they were killed, pinpoint a GPS location of the slaying and record it in a national database. It’s satisfying work because you can see the difference you are making in a landscape right away. Where once there was a mono-culture of invasive species, you can see the potential for new native growth almost immediately. Kind of like getting a haircut: It always makes you feel better about your future somehow.

This day was going along par for the course. I had my first kill and a fat one at that—around six inches in diameter. I had to use my Gomboy or folding handsaw. Felt good to get a big one under my belt first thing. I called out my count and the code for loathed Chinaberry Tree. Most of the trees we eradicated that morning were big Chinas. We had a crew of about 10 and it only took two to do the work of even the biggest tree. So the rest of us just sort of milled about watching or looking for our own pre-flagged specimen to fell.

I’ve been on several of these expeditions before but this one was different in so many ways, it really made me stop and think. The work we did at Rancho Diana seemed much more unobtrusive. We weren’t felling large trees but we were pulling, chopping and spraying hundreds of Nandina every week. There was the “Nandina Forest” where the bamboo-like plant had taken over an entire area of underbrush. That week I learned how to identify Nandia in every  stage of life from a newly formed sprig to a mature bush with berries. Somehow it seemed not only physically easier to hand-pluck the babies from the lush fertile forest floor but cognitively, I didn’t suffer other decisions. Like, which weapon to most effectively destroy the thing. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with the same plant sawing or even break a sweat. All I had to do was seek, identify and destroy. Now look out honey, ’cause I’m usin’ tech-knowledgey…Somebody come and help me please…Somebody better save my soul! Wha? Oh, sorry Iggy Pop sideline. Happens every time.

So, the other thing is that something gets me out there in the civilized wild. A trail runs through it, but nature remains in control. Very early in our first effort to girdle a hug-sized Ligustrum we were verbally accosted by a few well-intentioned tree evangelists who proclaimed us “black-hearted sinners” for our defiant act of ecological restoration.

Black hearted sinners forever

Black hearted sinners forever

“We’re all invasive species!” She exclaimed passionately.

I see her point. So who decides?

If nature or her G-d for that matter saw fit for this plant to grow and thrive who are we to destroy it?

My rebuttle was weak. “But it will KILL all the other plants.”

Interesting perspective. Not true though.

It in fact, does nothing actively to kill anything. It only exists for the sole-purpose of existing.

Sure, its leaves drop and make the soil beneath it more alkaline insuring its own survival and the survival of other plants whose tastes agree. Sure, its canopy is large and dense to the detriment of many beneath it, earning it its nickname The Umbrella Tree. Sure, its prolific berries fall and turn to seeds and take their turns growing where they are unsurreptitiously planted. But if blame is due, it might just as well rest on the wings of that ill-fated bird who eats—gorges itself actually—becomes drunk on the toxic berries, flies downstream and deposits the seed at the mouth of another river where Chinaberry has never grown before and then dies. But not before making another even less desirable deposit of bloody seed encrusted feces on your freshly washed but unfortunately unwaxed clear coat instantly lowering your resale value.

Ultimately, we are the ones responsible for introducing the plant here in the first place. It’s a beautiful tree. Resilient. Hardy. Fast growing. Deciduous and flowering; it provides a brilliant if not common display of something in every season. It only becomes ugly when you see it choke out every other species or block a river from flowing freely. If you never saw a snake strike, you could assume it had no fangs. In these woods, the Chinaberry are sparse but large. They aren’t showing their fangs here. But as anyone who has ever been bitten by a snake knows: Size does matter.

Somewhere downstream or over the next hill or around the far bend the effects of these and several other non-native invasives that you can buy and are often touted as best use landscaping plants because of their tolerance for neglect and extreme weather. And that’s our justification for killing. G-d save our black-hearted souls! Funny thing though, they always seem to sprout back up in threes for each  individual we take down to a stump. Some say it’s a futile effort. We call it job security.

Makes ya kinda wonder though, doesn’t it.

Living the dream

10 Apr

So, I know this guy and whenever you ask him what he’s up to, he says: “Livin’ the dream.” And he smiles this sardonic, sarcastic smile that reminds me of the scar tissue on a bleeding ulcer. But it’s true for him. He is living the dream of the typical American – work hard, make tons of cash and save, save, SAVE for retirement. Except he works so hard at working that he has zero time for a home life where things continuously and predictably fall into disrepair. He works so hard at working he has no time to eat or exercise so his body falls into disuse and disease. He works so hard at working that his family sub-conciously creates disaster crisis scenarios for him to fix because that’s the only time he responds to their pleas for attention. And every day is a crisis because the guy is a genuinely good guy and people want him in their lives.

He thinks himself different than most because he practices austerity. He fixes things. He knows how to cook a good, healthy meal for his family and he does so on all the very special occasions or very nearly. He buys things with cash. He has no desire to wear the latest trends or sport the newest ride. But he’s no different from anyone who ever mouthed the words, “I need to be financially stable to feel secure.”

What does that mean exactly? For me, it means cutting my expenses to the point where I know I can get a job anywhere, anytime to meet them and gaining the experience to do whatever job might come my way. To him it means $300k a year. To you it might mean, $56k but the fact remains you’re putting a numeric value on security. Security which by every standard of American living in the last century was all but guaranteed to you if you “worked hard”.

So what is working hard?

Letter to a Runaway (and Jesus)

6 Oct

Dear Johnny,

When I saw you crying in the Bell Towne Plaza breezeway  somewhere between Jamba Juice, Peter Piper Pizza and what appeared to be inconsolable anguish, I could only imagine what you were going through. I  thought maybe some bullies at school were giving you a hard time. You said you  ran away from home. And when I asked you why, you called it “rough times”. Then  you broke down and said you just wanted to call your dad. Did I jump at the  opportunity to offload your woes on someone else? Instead of asking you; I told  you how you felt and you agreed.

You didn’t even attempt to hide the way your body heaved with each convulsive sob. I didn’t even offer you a hug. Water, yes and the peanut
butter crackers I keep on hand in emergency situations like this one, along with the first aid kit and flashlight—but what about compassion, sympathy, genuine emotion? All I could muster was that sweet smile I put on especially for times like these, coupled with an intense desire to fix this for you.

I should’ve thought it through before I drove ahead and parked with the intention of accidentally intercepting you in your forward path and simply asking you if you we’re okay when you so obviously were not.

I know that hopeless feeling. The one that says you can’t go back but where do you go from here?

The one that tilts your head up to the skies seeking an  answer, any answer and the one that pulls your shoulders down so low it looks  as if you’re carrying a bag of slump blocks instead of books on your back.

Oh, Johnny. I know how unbearable that weight can be. So, why didn’t I ask you before? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to go home?

You were so determined to make that call and the urgency in  your voice forced me to comply. Twelve years old. I could feel you putting on the mask for me so I wouldn’t hurt for you like you  hurt. I recognize the protective instinct. Do you have any brothers or sisters? “Yes, my little brother is probably so scared I’m gone.” He hung his head in shame at having caused that. Let’s go inside and find a phone. We’ll call your dad and tell him you’re fine and where you are and he’ll come pick you up and everything will be okay.

Only some dads are the reason things aren’t okay. I thought maybe that crack on your lip was just dry air and heat and you really seemed desperate to speak with your father. A few yes ‘sirs and a couple I love yous later I thought okay, you’ll be just fine now. I thought. But did I see? I listened, but I did I observe? “He’s not angry. More upset than anything,” you say reassuringly.

Just as I ask out loud, “Johnny, is there any reason..” Jesus jumps in from behind the counter with the rapport-establishing small talk. What grade are you in? What school do you go to? Do you like sports? The stuff I always take for granted no one really wants to hear. The kind of questions that make a person want to tell you what  you want to know without asking. I let him take over, nod and smile at the kid
consciously wondering if there is not a more appropriate facial expression to
wear at the moment but still can’t think of one so I just sort of flatten it out a little.

“Things have just been rough,” you say again. You got a bad
grade in math. “Been there,” Jesus half sighs as if he’s confessing his entire
life story in an exhale so sharp I know you must have felt it too, Johnny
because you stepped back and the tears came out again. Only this time you
seemed relieved. “Me too,” I say.

I swear it was never uttered but I’m quite certain what we all heard was—You’re not alone.

With that we were silent long enough for the lady not really
browsing reading glasses nearby to jump into the conversation she was eavesdropping
on, most likely trying to determine if some sort of authoritative intervention
was going to be required or if Jesus and I could handle it. Well, lady the TWO
security guards I strategically met Johnny in front of were not interested in
the slightest bit to this boy bawling his eyeballs out or the young woman who
kept making eye-contact with them while they chatted about who knows what. Another human being is suffering right in front of you and you don’t even see it! I thought I heard her think, “That’s just inviting drama into your life.” as she stepped
back in front of the mirror and tried on the 24th pair.

You started to look antsy so I thought it might be best to leave you two for some man to man time before dad arrived just in case there was something you needed to say that you couldn’t say in front of me. But I invited you out “to warm up in the sun” and to my satisfaction you opted to stay, looking strangely at ease with the man assembling lamps behind the counter. Before I’m out of range I hear him ask you if you have anyone to talk to, someone you trust? You say yes, you have counselors and it’s been a rough time. Your eyes soften. The tears subside.

Well, if you ever need a big brother man, or just someone to
talk to—I’m here. And that’s just what I want to hear before I walk out the
door and redial the phone number you tried on my cell before we went into the
store. I spoke with your grandfather. He sounded scared. I repeated my name and
phone number and told him I was the person who found you and he could call
anytime.

I have to be honest, Johnny. I think I failed you.

When your dad pulled up looking all sketchy and fingered you
over rather than approach Jesus, who escorted you out of the store I got
between you for a second but couldn’t decide. I looked him in the eyes and saw
nothing before they darted away. Your grandma smiled graciously as I waved to
you and sang, “Goodbye, Johnny. It was nice to meet you,” with a smile in my
voice so sweet I got sweaters on my teeth. What I really wanted to say was
drown out by the music in my head.

Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, be good. Be good. Be good, Johnny.

When you told me your name as we entered the store, I said
deliberately, “That was my dad’s name,” to illicit some response from you. You
twinged.

I cried too, just like you: On the city bus, on the walk to
school, at my locker, in the girls’ restroom, all the way through home room and
halfway into second period geometry before Mrs. B gently folded up my soggy,
unfinished first-quarter final and led me outside the classroom.

I was scared too. Just like you. I should have seen! I
should have been there, instead of wherever I was. Sipping my Caribbean Dream
uncontrollably and smiling. After you left, I went back in to consult with
Jesus. Did we do the right thing? Do you think he’s going to be okay?

He looked into my eyes for a few seconds searching for the
right words. Then he smiled the smile the son of god surely smiled at the men
below him. The one that means forgive them for they know not what they do and
said, “If he was my son, I would have hugged him.”

Oh, Jesus! What have I done?

All I ever claimed to want in life is to help others. I
failed this innocent child who had escaped the grip of blinding, deafening love
that is an abusive parent—if only momentarily and through the greatest feat of
strength he had probably exhibited in his life up to this point in a
death-defying leap of faith into the unknown which I know from experience
requires enormous amounts of will and determination. Not to mention a steel
resolve to disregard the pain and suffering that will surely follow whether you
get caught or not.

Because the fact is Johnny, none of your counselors may ever
be with you long enough to tell you that to be the kind of person who runs away
from an abusive love relationship you have to be the kind of person who is
willing to accept and inflict pain on yourself. As a child, realizing that your
parents are the bad guys and that it just might be safer out there than in here
YOU end up feeling like the one out of control. Eventually, you dare to go out
on your own alone into the world just to try it and decide half way down the
block you’re never going back because you’ve practiced feeling the pain of
separation by cutting yourself or getting into it with the bullies. You’ve internalized
the guilt over not accepting that kind of love by reminding yourself that you’re
not worthy of love anyway because that’s what you hear them say when they ignore
you to fight over bill collectors or how to get cash for these useless food stamps.
You train yourself to accept the fear of no longer pleasing those you wish to
please most by getting bad grades in your best subjects and being punished for
it. Isn’t that right, Johnny?

I may have sent you back into the lion’s den, but I can promise
you this. They do love you, Johnny. They do care. They’re just too wrapped up
in their own hell to show you how much. THIS is the hidden gift in the smile I gave
you. You will get to the place where you don’t have to hurt yourself anymore.
You will be a capable, talented human being who loves and accepts love,
respects and is respected by those you choose to let into your life. And you won’t
have to run—anymore.

__________________________________

Jesus, you were perfect. But now I am so jaded I question if
you did it for me or for the boy? Because later when you had me paged at the
store I told you I would be going to when you said we don’t carry that sort of
thing here, I thought you were just as lost and concerned as I was.

I thought you genuinely cared enough to ask for a miracle.
When the voice over the loud speaker inconceivably announced, “If there is a
customer in the store named Jessica, please come to the fitting room,” and then
repeated itself I was busy staring blankly into a dusty plastic bin wondering
if it would hold everything I needed it to hold. I am constantly, consciously unfurrowing my brow over and over at the thought of Johnny’s less than joyous homecoming to grandpa, baby brother and no hugs. WHERE is his mother?

Ever so slowly, I push my empty cart back to the fitting
room reasoning there must be a least five Jessicas in the store at any given
time, but there is no one. Only the kindly attendant Theresa, who had helped my niece
and I find the just the right bathing suit two weeks before and what do you
know, it just happens to be on sale too.

“Have you found your Jessica?” I ask disbelieving my own question.
She puts both hands on my shoulders. Oh my GOD! Are you her? “Well, I don’t
know…”  It’s the strangest things she proclaims. Never had anything like this happen to me before—a man called and asked if I could.. and if I would.. could she.. So I did.

I called you back at the store across the street, thinking
god knows what about Johnny. I’m not even sure what you said, but I gave you my
phone number and you texted me yours and what the hell is that shit they’re
trying to pass off as food in the grocery isle anyway?

I’m having trouble concentrating on this list. Why do you need boxes? I’m running away too. But this is different. Isn’t it? Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one else even bothered to stop.  I need to eat. Sit down. Smoke. Talk to someone real about why and how and if only and maybe I’m just projecting.

There are some dads who do make everything okay. Maybe Jesus is one. Or maybe he just wanted my phone number.

Either way, Theresa insists she’ll be an honored guest at the wedding.

And Johnny, if you’re out there and you’re still listening—be good.

Filling the Void

27 Sep

When you get to the place

Where you realize

you have nothing to offer

to anyone else that they aren’t

completely capable of giving themselves

and expeditiously, and you see

the reality that you have nothing

to lose but that which you

give away expecting something

in return you take notice

that there is no one who

has anything to offer you either

though you each have everything

to gain.

Nutsack Girl

28 Jul

She carried a bag of nuts with her wherever she went. One day I asked her about them and this is what she told me. “These are not your ordinary nuts. These nuts are hard to crack. Some are shaped oddly, some have a thick outer shell, some are slippery and well, you get the point. The fact is that these nuts are a lot like people and I carry this bag around to remind me of that. You have to have just the right tool and just the right technique to crack these nuts. If you don’t do it right, you stand a good chance of getting hurt. Or worse, hurting the tender meat that is sustenance inside the shell.”

Then she lit up a joint and I knew our conversation, at least the part that made sense was now over. “So here’s how it works, sis. Every day I take out one of these nuts and study it just like this.” She slid her long arm bronzed from daily exposure into the small opening she had created by pushing two fingers of each hand into the tiny hole drawn tight by a double drawstring at the top of the bag and gently massaged it open as if she were pulling back the red velvet curtains of a tiny stage. She never looked inside. Letting her arm relax, I could see her wrist and hand begin to writhe inside the bag like arachnid acid. She was getting off on the feeling of the nuts passing between her fingers as she grasped a bunch and let them fall or just let her hand pass underneath them, through them; sensing this one and that with only the deft touch of her left hand. The sound was quite entrancing from my end but that was not her gig. She loved to touch and she was good at it. She continued on like this for some time, letting out a squeal when her hand, which now seemed separated from the rest of her, found some tactile treasure and felt it necessary to share that pleasure with the brain. Her brain was now in a fog so deep it would take hours for her to come back up. She could still register pleasure and pain without the tedious business of thought to bog the whole mechanism down and this is exactly where she sought to be when she got high.

She touched something she liked. I gauged this from her reaction. Her body never lied when she was in this state. She could hide nothing. The tone was lazy this time and more like a moan that she maintained at a lower octave than the others as if to say, oh now this is the one. Then, lazily she threw her head back and with it the hair that had been shielding her face like blinders on a Thoroughbred about to race the Dubai World Cup. Her perfect face now flushed with excitement over the tiny nut she would remove from the bag and attempt to crack. There was a moment of sheer silliness when she realized she had gripped the thing so tightly that her fist made it impossible for her to get her hand out of the hole she had created earlier. She wasn’t tender this time. She pulled the bottom of the bag with her right hand and without loosening her grip, yanked her left fist out of the top, leaving a red mark around the base of her hand where it met her wrist. Why she didn’t just let the drawstring go slack, I didn’t think to wonder about then.

It was a Brazil nut. Nigger toes as dad used to call them. It makes us both cringe to think that there are people related to us who still talk this way. We raise our eyes  simultaneously, but there is no one here to correct or to be embarrassed of. “Brazil nuts only grow in virgin rainforests you know,” I didn’t know. “Not only that but there is only one bee – the bombardier bee – you know the really big one? The one that looks like a B-52? It could just swoop down and bomb your little insect town at any moment.” I know she’s really gone when she starts mixing perspectives like her colossal fondness for WWII aircraft and irrelevant penchant for calling my mons a little insect town, but she’s my sister and I love her. She goes on to tell me about the great coiled hood of the Brazil nut tree’s yellow flower which contains a sweet nectar unlike anything ever tasted by man and that this bomber B-52 bee is the only one with a tongue strong enough to lift the hood and long enough to navigate the coils. Sounds like a legendary invasion my little insect town could hold a parade for or name a street after. Brazil Nut Bee Lane. Yes, lane. Boulevard sounds too spacious and street well, that’s just plain trampy. Lane it is. BNB Lane people would affectionately call it – home of the sweet nectar of the yellow-flowered-Brazilian goddess; a narrow two-laner, recently-paved, smooth and relatively quiet. You wouldn’t want to drive a Cadillac down there though – it’s definitely Not a Thru Street and the three point turn would be a bitch.