Monday, July 25, 2011

Spiders for Breakfast

I was at the top of a water slide yesterday afternoon at Yucaipa Regional Park. My eight year old had just launched himself down without hesitation. I thought he would chicken out. Two girls I knew looked surprised at me and asked if I was really going down. I’m not sure why they questioned me. Other adults were going down. I told them I wasn’t scared of anything. One nine or ten year old girl said she wasn’t scared of anything either. “What about spiders?” I asked and she announced that she had killed a black widow when she was six. The fact that it had been with a vacuum cleaner didn’t seem to diminish her bravery.

The interesting thing is that just an hour earlier I had a six-year old reprove me for being afraid of the water. I tried to explain that I wasn’t afraid; it was just that the water was cold. I was content to stay on the shore and build a sand castle. She was trying to pull me into the water and the thought of being deep in cold water did not sit well with me. Was I afraid? Not of drowning, no. But that icy feeling when cold water sucks your breath away? Yeah, a little.

Earlier that afternoon I had gone and sat in the backyard and ate raw Top Ramin® noodles out of the package. Our chickens all came over to investigate. One of the bolder ones jumped up on my lap and tried to go after the package in my hand. I enjoyed feeding them bits of my raw noodles and at one point had two chickens on me, even one on my shoulder, while the others circled around me all staring in their curious manner and waiting for another pale noodle crumb to drop. Olive the hen was not discouraged when I pushed her off and would pause a beat and then jump back up. In the midst of the experience of almost being smothered by chickens I thought that if someone had an unnatural fear of chickens this would be the definitive nightmare. I can see how someone might be legitimately afraid of spiders and that afternoon with Olive and Amelia hopping up on me, pecking at my shirt and staring at my face while the rest of the ladies hung around at me feet, I could appreciate if someone had a fear of chickens.

I had a friend who was attacked by a rooster once. Her face got scratched up in an unprovoked attack. When I was sympathizing with her days after she calmly told me it was okay. “I’m gonna eat that chicken,” she declared.

Now that’s an attitude I wanted to prosper in me. Whatever gets the best of us, instead of being afraid of it, eat it for supper. Maybe it’s better to say, use that experience to benefit from it, let it nourish you. Then move on be a better person. I might be pushing this analogy too far because I don’t think anyone would want to eat just anything they might be afraid of for breakfast. (I could justify my analogy by saying that my past week’s blogs have been too serious and I’m just trying to pass off something light.) But I came away from that talk about her eating the chicken with a genuine inspiration. Resolve to rise above what might try to conquer you.

So yesterday afternoon I launched myself down the waterslide. It was completely dark most of the way down. I could feel the fast motion going down and water all around me. Being like shot out of a gun or being born, maybe it felt a little like both. Then daylight ahead and I hit the cold water of the pool. I was so disoriented the lifeguard had to tell me where to exit. I was coughing water for awhile after eating some for desert. But after building a cool sand castle, eating a nice supper and more caramel corn, this waterslide was still the best part of the visit. I’m glad I wasn’t a chicken.

Monday, July 18, 2011

no balloons go to heaven

At the local concert in the park last night I ate popcorn that had been soaked in too much homemade caramel. I sat in a camp chair and listened to a band playing rock and blues music while the sun set and the air cooled. The experience was pleasant for me to the point of what some might call heavenly.

Behind the stage were merchants. A real estate agent was giving away balloons and every five minutes or so another one would escape into the air. A keen eye could watch it contrasted against the sky until it disappeared. In my relaxed state I could sit back and ponder the absurd but romantic issue: Do all balloons go to heaven?

Well I know part of the answer to that and at least on the surface it isn’t that romantic. I used to survey in an area of Southern Riverside County where wind currents crossed. We worked in a valley where the ground would get hot during the day and then, even in the summer, significantly cool as soon as the sun was down. We traipsed through mostly untouched wilderness all day. But once in a while I would see a flattened Mylar balloon on the ground. I think that something about the air currants and the dry cooling at night made this area a graveyard for them. Its string would be tangled in the shrubbery and a coat of dirt concealing whatever design had once attracted the owner. Someone took a liking to this balloon and paid for it. Now it was ruined and almost unrecognizable. It was always a little sad to see them.

Now if you take some of today’s thinking that came from Eastern philosophy what happens to these balloons would be exactly what happens to people. They are released from their confines where their empty shell falls to earth. What was inside them that gave them lift and shape escapes and joins the existing substance that holds the world together. I could take this further and say that if the balloon was good its air is breathed in by a meadow of flowers in Tibet. If it’s bad then it’s bottled up in a cheap beer only to turn into flatulence.

There is argument that when we die our spirit joins up with a collective consciousness. But when the balloon’s air escapes into the atmosphere it is scattered. It would lose any individuality it had. If our souls left our bodies and joined some spiritual commune I wonder this: Would that mean all that made us who we are would blend into it? Maybe that is supposed to be blissful. But to me losing what you were created as sounds like death plain and simple.

If we are not God’s creations then there is no reason for social justice or human rights or anything that reflects the love of our creator. Because being good does not make our soul shiny enough to be pulled into something good once its host is no longer working. The air currents over Southern California don’t judge. When a balloon is let go then it belongs to the air. The good news is that God keeps is from this current by never letting us go. What is heartbreaking is that so many of us think that we ought to be free. We think this grip on us is constricting. And then we cut our own string. He’s left there without something He bought and paid for.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Message in a Bottle Part II

Deus Ex Machina is a term used by writers to describe when an unexpected event happens that saves the day. If our hero is saved from a fire that the bad guy set by a sudden rainstorm that is Deus Ex Machina and bad writing. My early science fiction stories are full of it. The problem is that the hero did not do anything within his own power to overcome the conflict which lets down the reader. The problem is not that these things don’t happen every day. They do. Deus Ex Machina translates as god out of the machine. While God does not emerge from the wings of the stage at the opportune moment and say boo, he does have a plan.

I’m going to step out and postulate spiritually now. Each of us were created for a reason. That goes against decades or centuries of scientific assumption that takes God out of everything. But if you would just swallow your pride and stop thinking that you are an autonomous product of biology you will have to accept the alternative. The truth is that God has a plan and you are not so unique that you were left out of it. And when you accept that you are part of this plan there is a considerable amount of struggling that you can stop. Because unlike the movies, there is nothing you can do in your power to overcome this main conflict.

It is idolatrous to create your own god with the humanistic qualities that you think a supreme creator ought to have. And it’s idolatrous to think that God does not care about you. Accept this: God does care about you. God does have a plan for you and get this, God can make this plan happen regardless of where you are in your life or what you may have done to distance yourself.

There shouldn’t be miraculous coincidences in fiction. But this writing is a work of fact today. And in the real world, as I stated, God steps in and saves people every day. It’s not necessarily by a work of nature either. It’s usually by the work of His people being obedient to Him. One day a thousand pairs of shoes are given away. Another day a fervent prayer is spoken while holding the hands of someone who is hurting. One day it’s just a message in a bottle.

This message came to me last night as I was working. The person I thought of does not read this blog as far as I know. But someone they know does. The message is out there. It’s just a little act of faith that I will drop it and hope it gets to where it needs to be. But if it’s part of the plan I ought not to worry. There is a plan.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A purging silence

When you have tinnitus there is a constant ringing in you ear. Every minute of every day and night I hear a high pitched tone in the background. It’s best described as the noise old fashioned televisions would make when turned on. If you walked into a TV store three or four decades ago you would hear the high pitched whine of a wall full of televisions and that is what every room sounds like to me. And here’s one important thing: the quieter the room, the louder the noise in my ear. So by day I like a radio on and at night I like to have a fan on or a window open or something if possible. So I’m not used to silence. Absolute silence damages my calm.

Back at my old house I was about 300 yards from a freeway. That provided constant background noise. My old work was even closer to that freeway and even indoors that background noise was there. It wasn’t until I started my new job on relatively quiet Bryant Street that I noticed how calming the background freeway noise had been. My first evening at work got quiet. Inside and even outside was peaceful. So quiet in fact that I began to feel panic at the lack of background noise. The ringing in my ears seemed louder than ever.

So last evening I was pondering out loud what I might compose for the blog I post every Monday morning. I have a few stories of my childhood still tucked away. I could write about my kids or my cat or how much I love my wife. But even if I don’t act like I care that people read this, it really does matter to me and three paragraphs of how pretty she is and how good the biscuits were she made for supper and a lot of personal stuff might get tiresome. So last evening I was doing something I’ve never done which is, as I said, pondering aloud what to write.

Prajna suggested I consider writing about the present rather than the past. As she tried to explain it I thought she meant write about what happened to me that day. I told her that I had chronicled events right after they happened like my road trip to Big Bear with the young boys, my near miss driving home from work one night and most recently picking oranges.

Prajna tried to explain to me that she meant what God was trying to show me each day. Not that there was anything wrong with writing about the magic of a whale breech 14 years ago but that was the past. What am I experiencing and getting from God each day now?

As she tried to explain this two of my boys pounded though the room yelling and chasing. I apologized that I didn’t hear her because I was distracted. She said that was exactly what she was trying to explain. And the information I needed was lost because I was distracted.

While it’s okay to try to drown out my tinnitus with background noise I tend to drown out something more important with other distractions. I tend to keep my thoughts constantly racing. I am always thinking about something in the past or something I wish would happen or how I will set out my tasks at work next time. It goes on and on. Like a freeway in the distance there is continuous background noise in my head. And I’m afraid that if I turn it off the silence will be terrifying. But behind that silence what kind of direction or instruction might I get? What could be pointed out to me to observe and learn from? And I don’t know if it’s that communication I’m afraid of or not. I think it’s more the silence surrounding it that makes me feel alone. But that silence might just be necessary. I must be there to purge the distractions.

If this is the direction I should go then my blog should reflect it. By me posting this today I leave my comfort zone and state that there is something I ought to do and readers should know if I don’t.

My task now is to relax that tightly woven part of my mind. Turn down the distractions and listen to the silence for a Still Small Voice.

Monday, July 4, 2011

What about fear?

Once there was a little girl who was afraid of needles. So when she learned that she was scheduled to get a vaccination in a few days she sunk into a pattern of fear ruling her life. She only thought about getting a shot and how much it would hurt. When the day arrived she pinched herself as hard as she could over and over, telling herself how it would feel. When she finally got the shot she didn’t feel it. She pinched her arm so much she had numbed it. Years later when she shared this story with me she told me how she realized that fear of something can be worse than the actual thing.

My earliest memories of Independence Day were hiding under the covers while fireworks exploded outside. I would hear the loud bang followed by laughter. I didn’t know there was any difference between fireworks and firecrackers. I thought they looked like a saltine cracker with a fuse that people lit and then flung into the air. I didn’t understand what was so fun about them. At that young age loud noises frightened me. Back then I also didn’t care for my dad’s lawn mower because it was so loud.

I finally outgrew my fear of loud noises and nowadays crank up my MP3 player while I vacuum. I like to think that I am not really afraid of anything. Aside from talking on the telephone which I dread I have no typical phobias. Spiders, sharks snakes, and heights don’t paralyze me. But to say I’m fearless is way off.

I don’t risk anything very much any more. I’m afraid of failure. I failed at trying to get my teaching credential and be a school teacher. Some might call it a setback but I called it a failure and I gave up trying. So now the only goal I have with writing is to wake up and write something as many days a week as I can. I don’t fail at publication or even word count because that is not the goal. No goals, no failures.

Throughout college and my life after it I took significant risks and achieved a lot. I think that I remembered the story of the little girl getting the shot and plowed on never letting fear stop me. It’s hard to imagine I was ever like that. Indeed here I am sitting in a comfortable chair sipping coffee with my kitten watching me on my day off from my nice comfortable job. Why would I possibly want to risk anything to do anything? Leave that to the kids who just graduated High School or college. I’m done.

If the second half of the above paragraph looks a little overconfident and naïve I noticed that too. I bluster about how I’ll just sit here and never have to risk anything again and that is a big fat lie. I have two teenagers in the house. In six months I’ll have three. I won’t be back down to having two for six years. Teenage headaches I have been able to weather… so far. But this week I realized that I need to step out of my comfort zone in order to lead. It’s time for college applications, driver licenses and chats about adult topics. There is no place for paralyzing fear of the future because now it’s more than my future. The future was thrilling two decades ago. But maybe that joy wasn’t squashed. Maybe it was only made dormant. I hope that under the fear of failure and layers of comfort I can take that thrill and excitement over what the future holds and harness it and model it.

So, let the fireworks begin.