Minnesotans are beside themselves

Minnesotans take a certain pride in winter. Lesser mortals couldn’t survive here and so we go so far as to sing the praises of blizzards and below zero temperatures. It builds character and culls the herd. Population control. Let the weak leave, and leave the strong behind!

So why then is this particular winter bringing out the mad whiners in so many of us? Everyone is pissed! I went outside one morning recently and saw five inches of new snow, with drifts over my driveway and screamed: #$#@#%!!!!! A neighbor a few doors down thankfully didn’t hear the actual message but only the sound of the shout and turned and waved.

I would argue it’s the worst winter in recent memory. Biggest snowfall? No. Coldest temperatures? No. But a constant onslaught of cold and snow and snow and cold. The best of us are bitching like teenagers forced to stay home, eat only broccoli and do advanced placement homework – every freaking day of the year.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this. Our proud stoicism has frozen to icy anger. We feel let down as if winter had always been this devil to which we’d sold our souls and agreed that you kick our ass some and we’ll stay by you as long as you keep the hoi polloi at bay. But it seems winter has changed the details of our deal. Winter just keeps on kicking and kicking and kicking, and we’re getting a little ticked off – no, a lot ticked off! And the hoi polloi? I’m constantly pushing them out of the driveways they didn’t think to shovel at all.

I used to see a cross-country skier and think, way to go, man! Now I see them and recognize only the stupidity of their actions. You, my friend, are giving in to the enemy. You cannot enjoy this torture! Go home! Drink bourbon in front of a fire and let us plan together our flight to the land of the weaker mortals. We could rule those fools and that simple land! We will never again scrape thick ice from our cars! Never again spin our tires and slip backward on tiny inclines! Never again will we spend untold hours shoveling and shoveling and shoveling, just so someone can walk down our clear sidewalks!

Instead we will sit upon a beach with our toes in the sand, the salt water washing over our feet. That is what we will do! Together! It will be spectacular!!

That is, after tomorrow, after the plows go by and leave a three foot ice wall between our cars and the icy roads. After we take our plastic shovels and slowly chip away at that wall as our fingers devolve to tiny, dying icicles. Right after that! We all leave! Together!

I Resolve to Tweet More?

I struggle with the social media landscape only because it moves much faster – quicker – than I do. My mind is old school. I prefer a conversation or an article and find a tweet or a post lacking. I know that’s the point – the whole 140 character limit and all that with Twitter, particularly – but sometimes it feels like someone walking by the house, opening the door, shouting “Check out this great article on winter bicycling!” slamming it and leaving. “What? Who? Where?!”

But I’ve made it a resolution to embrace it as best I can. Hashtag that, my friend, and wish me luck.

I dig resolutions. I dig New Years entirely. It’s an opportunity to do a time-check. Feels a bit like flipping that Etch-A-Sketch over and giving it a good shake. (RIP Etch-A-Sketch inventor, Andre Cassagnes, who passed in 2013.) I can make grand statements about what I plan to do better, more, less and so on. And sometimes, though not often, they stick, a little.

Every year I resolve to be more focused, follow through, drink less, run more, yell around the house less, hug the kids more (impossible, they’d be smothered), eat out less, eat in more, drink less (that deserves a second nod), pay more real attention to my lovely wife, fix up the house, fix up the yard, …

And I feel hopeful, like it might happen – or some of it. And why not? It’s a brand new year! The perfect opportunity make today the first day of the rest of my life! (That’s from an old commercial, I think. God bless the marketers.)

I told my kids this morning that 2014 is “The Year of Daddy.” They said, “No, it’s not.” “The year of listening more to mom and dad!” “Nope.” “The year of being nice to one another!”

How about that? That’s a good one for us all – politicians, priests, family, strangers, friends and foes. Let’s resolve to be nice, accept differing opinions – we can disagree without demonizing, tearing one another a new one, lying, cheating, bitching, complaining, or even blowing up a teeming marketplace.

Less horrifically in the particular instance, but plenty rotten in the aggregate: What inspires someone, say, BlueBlood42, to feel the need to rip into, say, LadyFirst63, in the comments section of some article? BlueBlood42 hides behind a pseudonym and attacks another pseudonym. The result is simply, well, there is no result. Resolve that crap out of your life.

I lift my beer (struggling with the drinking one) while burping up a little Taco Bell (ditto eating better and eating in more) and say to one and all, Happy New Year.

Stay tuned for my next tweet. It will be momentous! Although frustratingly short, at least, for me.

Let’s first look and then think

Let us all stop.
pay the attention that the rest of the world deserves. travel.
puts our own life into some sort of matrix with the rest of the world.
We have our one percent, god bless em,
and then there’s the true reality of our
one world.
I once read that one in seven people on our planet is a Chinese peasant.
Think
create some semblance of equality, fairness and decency
in the most basic of all human needs – the care of ourselves,
our loved ones
and our families’
health.

Perspective from the Mini Van

I was driving the other day with my daughter in the back seat when she asked, “Papa, are we rich?

I looked around me at the cracked and worn interior of our ten-year-old rusted Mazda Protégé, glanced at the 126,000 miles on the odometer and noticed the always-on engine light. My mind wandered to our other 10-year-old mini-van, our 1,100 square foot house in need of windows, siding, and roof among other repairs and thought about the piles of debt our family had, laughed a little sarcastically, and said, “No, Olivia, we are not rich.”

Then it dawned on me and I added, “Actually, we are rich.”

“We have our own home with a roof over our heads, that we can keep 70 degrees when it’s 30 below and 68 degrees when it’s 100. We have more than a thousand square feet in there – plus the basement! We have two cars that run – with just two drivers in the house. We have a pantry, refrigerator and freezer that are bursting with food – there’s no room to put anything more! We get new clothes constantly. We have so much stuff that we get to go to the Goodwill twice a year and give a box or two away to people who are not as rich as us! We have computers, an iPad, smartphones, internet access, and cable tv.”

I was just getting started.

“We have a brand new street in front of our house, and roads to take us anywhere we want to go that are lit at night. We have free parks, schools, and libraries all around us. We have wonderful family and great friends who love us and we love back. We have amazing neighbors. We have our own business that provides six darn good jobs. We are surrounded by great little Vietnamese, Thai, East African and good old American restaurants that we have enough money to enjoy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of people with much more than us and many with much, much more, but there are a hell of a lot more people on this planet with much, much less! We are blessed! So, hell yes, Olivia, we are rich!!

I half expected some applause to accompany my goose bumps, but when I looked in my rear-view mirror, my little girl was just gazing out the window of the van at the world passing by.

“Pretty sweet, huh?” I asked, and she turned, met my eyes in the mirror and smiled.

“Yeah.”

The Human Condition of Toxicity

This is not a tale of our environment trashed and gone rogue on our poor souls. This is the story of just one woman – a woman who I both despise and pity, a woman who is obviously evil and hurting. So does the latter negate the former? Maybe, in theory, but not in practice. Our actions are our own, no matter what the extenuating circumstances – maybe not in the eyes of the law, but in the practice of the person and the outcomes they beget. For it is not some statute or former case that decides this sort of guilt, but the suffering of the innocent players. A well-paid lawyer can turn his eye to her actions, but no one in her cross-hairs can.

Okay, that’s a rather overblown beginning just to talk about a regular person in the regular world going about her life in a regular job among regular professionals. So what makes her so evil? That is the question – and that is why I am torn about her. I had the opportunity to work with this person for about a year. It began with warnings about her from those who knew her, but I saw none of the serial negativity they described. In fact, it appeared we were on an entirely different track. She seemed to like us and what we did, she even, and this is where I should have seen it coming, acted as if we were in cahoots as she quickly denigrated her colleagues conspiratorially almost immediately when we were alone. I was taken aback as it was entirely unprofessional, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Mistake, that.

Needless to say, she turned. Her vitriol was soon pointed my way, and you could see that the cahoots was now among others and we were the denigrated and trashed. It’s mostly over, and I certainly don’t judge myself in her eyes, and I’m angry and even shocked that she gets away with what she does, but ultimately I pity her. She’s old. She’s alone. She’s bitter. I can imagine that this is her purpose – so much easier and more powerful to be small, malevolent and angry than to do the work required to make good, make friends and even love. She fills her emptiness with that contempt. She doesn’t deserve that life. Something outside her led her there. No one chooses to be that toxic because there’s never a happy ending. Only endings. And lots of them.

I can’t despise her. I can only feel bad for her. I’m a karma guy. I believe, despite my reality-soaked, scientific enlightenment bent, that somehow she’ll have to pay for these actions, but then again, maybe she already is. We reap what we sow, not in some distant imagined place of suffering, but right here and right now. Bless her.

Joe Six Pack is Dead – in Praise of a Nine-Pack

Joe Six Pack was something other than a real man.

The kind of guy who would flinch. Step aside. Protect himself

when the damsel’s distress got ugly.

Sure, he was buzzed, but also cognizant of his own mortality and I think a drink should conjure immortality.

Save that girl.

Step in front of the bullet.

Or you’re just Joe,

just plain Joe.

And a twelve pack is a bit much, ain’t it? A six pack gets you up the chair lift,

but a twelve pack will lead you                    astray,

a ski stuckinarut,
and off the peripheral cliff,
crashing
onto the rocks
below,
the end of Joe.

Much too much.

A nine-pack would give you the gumption to get up the hill and then

drop

down

over the lip,

through the moguls and flats, over the jump into a Steamin’ Streamin’

(daffy, tip-drop, daffy, if I recall),

then back into moguls, dips, flats, and whatever the mountain had to present.

Represent, mountain, it’s our challenge now.

So let us all call unto the brewers, the big boys and the small taps. Give us a nine pack, we ask,

or give us death – or trepidation. We need neither, but the sweet spot in between, the middle, the fiddle-de-diddle.

Let us fight the tyranny of the six and the twelve together.

clueless 1

I’ve had my acoustic guitar for many years – possibly ten. My wife bought it for me for one Christmas and since I’ve been playing it constantly to the point where it really does feel like an extension of me. When I see it across the room I want to hold it and play it. I want to strum it and sing with it. I want to harmonize with it. I was staring at it just now and noticed the brand and realized that at any time over the last ten years if anyone would have asked what kind of guitar I had I would have only been able to say, “acoustic.” If they pressed for the brand I would have had no idea! I saw the name just now: “Cort.” It’s a Cort. My guitar is a Cort and as much as I’ve loved it, I could never have told anyone that that it was/is a Cort – and there’s probably another name as well – The X44 or The Chrysalis. It’s like not knowing the name of your wife. I feel terrible – because I never knew, and also because now I do.

Cort. No, just my guitar.  I’ve never been good with names.

The Reluctant Alpha Dog

Okay, so how did this happen?

First, I never wanted a dog. I was fully aware of how much work dogs are, how much they tie you down, how much exercise they need (that is, if you care enough about them you will make certain they get, which is one of the things that so amazes me about many so-called dog lovers who let their dog sit in the house all day long and then merely open the back door when they get home so doggy-do-nothing can amble about in the 300 square feet of outside space available to them – rant complete), I was especially fully cognizant of how much they poop, and also how much the annoying little bark machines can cost you in food, dog accouterments and vet fees. So how did this happen?

It may not come as a surprise, but I don’t even really like dogs and those same dog people are always quick to say, “That’s because you never had a dog growing up!”, as if not having a dog growing up is like not having ever ascended Mount Everest growing up. I had plenty of access to dogs because pretty much everyone else had a dog and quite honestly even that was too much dog for me.

So one night, admittedly, after a few beers – and years and years and years of friends, family, and every other dog person who felt the right, telling me that I had to have a dog and that my kids needed to grow up with a dog (lest they end up a dog-hater like me – touché) – I simply caved. I walked into the living room where the kids were watching tv and my eight-year-old daughter asked again, as she had a hundred thousand times before, “When can we get a dog?”

I remember the moment. It’s visually kind of gauzy now, like one of those wax paper photo effects of yore, and I felt my strength not only ebb but drop out of me like I’d eaten a pound of resolve laxative. I paused for a split second and then said it, “We can get a dog.”

All faces turned to me, stunned, which would have been truly comic had it not simply reinforced what I suddenly realized had come out of my mouth.

I was screwed.

I followed up with something about how it had to be a rescue dog, as I’m particularly annoyed by those who concern themselves with holding one bucket of dog genes above another. You know the Nazis did that.

And, yes, I know, suddenly I was the great champion of dogs, but I do have to make that distinction: you can heartily dislike dogs as an aggregate, and yet also not want any one of them to suffer. I don’t have any particular affinity for deer but you’ll never find me hiding in a tree (dressed like a tree) punching a hole through one’s neck with a high-powered rifle. There are plenty of people we dislike passionately, but we’d still pity them their terminal cancer diagnosis, right?

My wife was on the Google and in minutes and had all sorts of printed pictures of future dogs that they all pored over screeching, “Oh, look at that one!” “Ooh, daddy, I want this one!” “I love Scout!” “Can we get Molly?”

Note that I married into a family of serious dog people. There are more dogs than people, I think. These people would shoot one another rather than withhold a biscuit for Spunky. Family get-togethers are like trips to the humane society. Imagine the stress I was under.

Fast forward to today and we have a half black lab/half Australian shepherd (we think) female dog animal named Bindi (came with that, by the way) and here’s the mystery: I’m her alpha dog. She follows me everywhere – up the stairs, down the stairs, into this room and out of that one – into the bathroom for the love of god. She lies at my feet at any opportunity. She stares at me.

The entire family can be yelling “No, Bindi! Drop that, Bindi!” and she’ll just stand there looking up at them, and then I can walk in the room and say, “Drop it.” And the ravaged shoe is on the ground.

But why me? Does she know about my past? Is she affording me this deference because I never wanted her in the first place? Is she trying to break me as they did, but this time not from non-dog-owner to dog-owner, but from dog owner to dog lover?

Restaurants consider themselves either “kid-friendly” or “kid-tolerant”. I am dog tolerant. I am a dog tolerant alpha dog.

Yes, there are fleeting moments where I look over at her and she’s staring up at me, cocks her head every so slightly, and raises an eyebrow and, yes, it’s kind of cute. But, really, did I trade my freedom (she can’t be alone for more than about 6 hours), my money (we talked about that), and my dignity (I pick up her poop, she does not pick up mine), for kind of cute?

Apparently so. And she does sit when I tell her to sit.

I'm only smiling because she's not pooping... right now.
I’m only smiling because she’s not pooping… at least, not right now.

The art of knowing you’re no artist

A good buddy of mine suggested painting lessons recently because essentially I suck at painting. I really do. I definitely suck from most people’s point of view – t’were it you saw my so-called paintings. That’s because I’ve no training at all. Nor do I with music or sculpture. All things I do a lot.

So there sort-of begins the conversation, right? I do these things without any formal training but only, and maybe selfishly, because I really, really dig doing them. I shape heads out of clay. I paint faces on whatever surface I want to – actual canvasses, basement floors, walls, beams, sheets of already printed-on paper. I grab my guitar, play chords poorly, and sing whatever the hell I’m thinking at that moment. And I have the gall to record it, douche bag that I am.

And now don’t be surprised, but none of it is winning any awards.

I know it might be pure laziness that I don’t take the time to learn how to paint an apple in the manner that the masters have. “You must paint an apple, before you can paint a tree,” I can imagine my zen-like artist teacher telling me. But I really don’t want to paint apples. I like painting silly, ever-evolving, cartoonish faces, all the time.

I bought my first 50 lb box of clay without anyone telling me even what the hell was in the box. Clay-like stuff, I figured, rightly. And since then I’ve shaped heads – lots of them. Should I have copied the great works to learn how to sculpt? Certainly, to learn how to sculpt like the masters, but I kind of just wanted to make heads and whatever heads came out of some hours of grabbing, slapping, rolling and shaping the clay, were exactly the heads I really, really wanted to make. That’s why I bought the clay.

It’s like that horrible cliché – it’s the journey and not the destination. But in this case it’s really true. The joy is in the process, the work, and the serendipitous outcome of non-talent meeting rigor. A passionate idea evoked through the foggy lens of a cipher – just some guy messing around with notes, or colors, or clay. It ain’t great, I promise you that. It may not even be art. But it’s me, really quite unfiltered by actual teaching or maybe even talent.

But it’s all good because I don’t want to be good. I just want to do it. I’ve no designs on being an artist, but I do like to make shit up.