Pendulum

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A pendulum swings.

A pendulum keeps time. Keeps the beat. After all, that’s it’s purpose. Without the oscillation there would be no rhythm, no use. Correct and over-correct, constantly displaced. How many times does it carve out this path?

There is a point on the journey where the pendulum says “enough”. More than enough. This path has been traveled to its conclusion. And it begins to turn its swing in the other direction, back toward equilibrium. Back to home. There’s another beat waiting there to be struck and it simply won’t do to miss it.

It is at this instant of syncopation, in the space between moments, that a wonderful thing happens. If you’re attentive you can catch it, the split-second where the pendulum is no longer moving. When it can no longer be said to be traveling in this direction, but not yet in that one either. It stands in place, however briefly, entirely at rest. This is eternity. Utter stillness amid perpetual motion.

May this be that moment, peace both fleeting and forever.

Show up

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Dear Self,

No. Just stop. Stop.

Stop performing your life for an audience. Relax and let whatever comes out come out. You are not rotten. You are not broken. You are beautiful inside and it will all come out naturally beautiful. There is no impending judgment. Only this moment, right now. Where are you right now? Be here where your power lies.

Pick up the sword and start fighting the correct battle. You will win. All you have to do is show up. Stop running. Stand still. This is a good place to be. The sun is out. Amelia is cleaning her fur on the bed. You have a pen in your hand and it is moving. This is what you want. You’ve done it. There is nothing else to do but be here. Here is your strength. You don’t need anything else. Live here.

Stop building in imaginary futures and lamenting that you aren’t there. Build here. It will stick.

You have been so absent. No more! Your life is here and if you don’t show up soon they’re going to start auctioning off all your stuff. Nothing is wrong here, only in that place to which you’ve abandoned yourself. Turn off the mind for a little while and see what happens. This is a good time for it. Things are stable and everything can wait. Try living your life. You might like it.

Love, You.

Fighting

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I thought I was fighting for us, but maybe I’m just fighting. Maybe it’s time to put down the damn sword and let natural things occur. I might be being selfish. Is fighting for things selfish?

There’s no clear way to determine when it’s time to give up. Have I done enough? I’ve done an awful lot more than anyone could understand. Few would have made it this far. Does that make me a doormat? Stupid? Tough? Stubborn? Kind? Who’s supposed to judge these things? Do I really have to just figure all this stuff out on my own? What if I fuck it up?

WHAT IF I FUCK IT UP? What’s the backup plan? Who comes to save me? Me?? This is a terrible plan. I shouldn’t be trusted with this shit. I’m damn unreliable in these situations and this is super important stuff. I can’t do this without a lifeline of some sort.

At least let me phone a friend.

Authentic

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Dear Self,

You are gripped by an anger that won’t let go. Your entire body is shaking involuntarily as your eyes stare off, unfocused, into the distant nothing. There’s a burning in the pit of your stomach, an ache behind your ribcage. It would be so easy to give up now.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. You deserve so much more than you’re getting. All of these things are true, not that it helps. You could blow it all up if you wanted to, and you’d be right to do it. Who could blame you after this?

Deep breathing isn’t working. Peace seems like an impossibility — not just now, but ever again. How could anything go back to the way it was? Maybe it was never that good…maybe you were just fooling yourself because you didn’t want to see this.

Anger is whispering dark words in your voice.

There’s no advice that will help today. Sometimes you just have to sit in a feeling with no escape, no relief. Feel it. Allow it. Listen to the voice and understand what has to say. Whatever action you choose next will be authentic and it will be yours.

Love, You.

Bad Beat

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I’m staring at two diamonds in my hand and two on the board, with one card still to come. My opponent just placed a bet and is staring daggers across the table at me, as if his scowl could affect my decision. I consider the situation: if a diamond comes out next I will hit the flush and win, otherwise my hand is a steaming pile of crap. Should I call his bet and take the risk, or is the smart move to walk away with what remains of my money and live to fight another day?

Luckily there’s a clear answer to this very common situation, and (surprise!) it’s math.

Time for some quick mental calculation while everyone’s staring at me. There are 52 cards in a deck and I can see exactly six of them: two in my hand and four on the table. Of the 46 cards I can’t see, some are in my opponent’s hand, some have already been folded or mucked, and the majority are still in the deck that’s being dealt. Since I don’t have any information whatsoever about any of these cards, it doesn’t help me to think about these different categories. I just know that there are 46 possible cards that could come out next and exactly 9 of them are diamonds. A roughly 20% chance of making my hand. Not worth it, right?

Hold on a minute. Knowing the odds of success is extremely helpful because it tells me that I’ll win this hand about 1 out of every 5 times I play it (or 4:1 odds against). But there’s one more piece of information I need before either pushing my chips in or licking my wounds. How much did the sucker across from me just bet, relative to the pot? If he made a large bet, I’ll happily fold. Risking a lot on a slim chance of victory is just dumb. If, however, my opponent has made a blunder by betting too little, well then we might just be in business here. Let’s say the pot was already $500 and he just bet another $100. I’d be looking to risk $100 to win $600…and I’d win 1 out of every 5 times. I walk through five example hands in my mind: lose $100, lose $100, lose $100, lose $100, win $600. I come out ahead in the long run and I’m going to take that bet every time. Come on, diamond!

Stressful situations like this at the poker table are rife with opportunity — especially if you’re playing with my friends. Most of them just ‘play from their gut’ or some ridiculous nonsense. It makes it especially satisfying to see that last diamond come out and to hear them marvel at how I knew it would happen. But I didn’t know. I just played the odds. More often than not, a useless card comes out and they guffaw at how dumb my move was as they are scooping up all of the chips and I’m excusing myself to go puke. Regardless of the outcome, I sleep well at night knowing I made the smart move. Over time the chips eventually find their way home to me.

My relationship with the stock market is much the same, really. I place a large number of reasonable bets, knowing that they won’t all pan out. As in poker, the point is not to win hands but to win money.  I continue to collect a bunch of small losses and large gains, watching my portfolio get larger and larger as the years march on. It’s no different a feel than ‘gambling’: I’m still putting my money down on the table because I think I’m observant and astute enough to come out ahead, and I still don’t sweat the inevitable dud.

Due to my good “luck” in the stock market during my early thirties, I found myself in a position to make an even larger bet. I started my own business. As always, I analyzed the odds and carefully considered the risk/reward topography before committing my proverbial chips to the pot. This one was worth a shot.

What came next wasn’t a diamond. It was more like a club.

I’ve struggled for two years with the fallout of that decision. Anger, self-loathing, despair. It’s so easy to retroactively question my decision or to invent reasons to blame myself for circumstances out of my control. At the end of the day, we have to own our choices and play the hand we’re dealt.

Today I started my second business. This one is worth a shot. Knowing that a play like this might work out about one in five times is enough to make it worthwhile. It was basically my entire dating strategy, before I won that whole damn game (2016 champ).

Like poker, life is a game of both skill and luck. All you need is a chip and a chair, and you can start to climb your way up the ladder one decision at a time. Fortune comes and fortune goes. Just because you get a bad beat, it doesn’t mean you made the wrong move.

Companion

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I love my mother. She is there for me.

When the kids came, my mother stopped working so she could stay at home with us. She returned to her career after we were all in school and old enough to survive on our own, but for many years she was my constant companion. I was a bookish boy in the heyday of video games, which is to say I spent a lot of time at home.

When my gang of young friends would hang out, the mothers would swap turns in hosting the two or three or four of us (and it was always the mothers). It probably wasn’t as taxing at it sounds. Back then, parents could just say “Go somewhere and be back for dinner” and kick us out of the house. We would run out the front door to wherever our imagination called us. Usually exploring a creek or biking to the pool. More often, we were sitting quietly in front of a television set with Nintendo controllers in our hands. When we were hungry, sandwiches and macaroni and cheese would appear magically from the kitchen at just the right time.

She’s always loved to watch me play video games. She’d sit there for hours yelling “Get him!” or “Look out!” while folding loads of laundry. She’d listen to my explanations of the storyline and let me know when she thought one of the characters was a prude. I always felt important around her. The things I cared about mattered.

It’s a full-time job, running a household. Especially the tight ship she ran. My mother was never off the clock. If there was a mess, she’d clean it. The laundry never ended. She did all of the grocery shopping, the cooking, the mopping, the dishes, the ironing. Hell, I had a packed lunch waiting for me on the kitchen table every morning, straight through high school — a brown paper bag with stickers on the front. Stickers. Every day. For fifteen years. Sometimes she’d slip a nice note inside: “Hope you have a wonderful day, Love, your mom”.

I remember the first time I had my heart broken by a girl. My mom told me, “Don’t worry. You’re a great guy and there are lots of girls out there. One day you’re going to meet the one who is meant for you and she’s going to be amazing.” We had that same conversation over and over through my teens and my twenties and my thirties.

No one else fed me. No one else watched me. She was the one who yelled if we tried to shirk table clearing duties after dinner. She nursed my first bee sting, which must have been a very traumatic experience for me because I’m completely terrified of the little demons to this day. She taught me about god and politics and what it means to be a great neighbor.

She bought me my first comic book.

I get a call about once a week from my mother asking me how I’m doing. I’m doing great because I’ve never been alone.

A Still Moment

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I was only going to get one shot at this (I hoped). Everything had to be perfect. She certainly was.

The ring box was burning a hole in my carry-on luggage and my mind for the entire trip there. I was so worried that they would open it up during security screening and my surprise would be spoiled. That was silly, I knew. Why would they need to bring attention to it? They’ve seen this kind of thing a million times and know better than to mess up my big moment. This was just jitters.

It was more likely that she knew it was coming already. I’m not great at hiding things, though I had given it my best effort. The meetings with the jeweler were conducted clandestinely during work hours, as we carefully designed a ring that I would be proud to present and that she would be proud to wear. The sizing happened at night while she was in one of her deep slumbers, slipping each of her own rings onto her finger until I found one that fit like a secret glass slipper. I told the jeweler my firm budget and then spent twice that. I went with an asscher-cut solitaire sandwiched between two trapezoidal stones to make sure it mesmerized. They told me the stone was internally flawless and I knew it was hers.

Once finalized, the gorgeous ring was stashed away: in a box, in a bag, in another bag, in the back of the closet. It was unlikely that she would discover it accidentally and almost as unlikely that she’d find it if she went searching. Still, I checked on it almost daily. I didn’t like sitting on such an expensive item. Secrets weighed heavily on my heart.

I thought for sure she would know it was coming when I asked her to go on a trip out of the country. Such a telegraphed move, but what else could I do? Life had been so difficult lately, with the business obviously failing and the stresses of life piling up with the bills. I told her we needed to get away and she agreed.

The ring was a special sort of problem, as I had to carry the bulky box on my person at all times. I certainly wasn’t about to let it out of my sight or leave it in anyone else’s care. It would be a miracle if she didn’t ask me what the heck I had in my pocket. I resigned myself to carry out the plan and hope she at least acted surprised when the time came. She’s nice enough to do that.

We boarded the cruise ship and discovered that they had booked us in a room with bunk beds. This was not part of the plan. Was the mistake mine or theirs? It definitely didn’t sound like a mistake I would have made…I’m a notorious triple-checker and this was important to me. I asked kindly if they could move us, but it was impossible. We would be sleeping in bunk beds for the trip. So be it. The plan still moves forward.

Once we were all settled and the only thing left to do was relax, I started to panic. This was as far as I’d gotten in the planning. Where would I pop the question? What would I say? What would SHE say? I insisted on bringing my backpack with me when we arrived at our first port: Key West. She asked why I needed it and I snapped off some feeble excuse and changed the subject. She had to know. It was time to put an end to all the secrecy. As we wandered around Key West, I searched for the perfect spot. Near the dock, in front of the gift shop, at the bar? Nothing seemed romantic enough so I decided to wait until later.

We took a boat out onto the water for tandem parasailing. Raised up above the world, everything got quiet. The ring was in the bulky box, in the unnecessary backpack, in the boat with the strangers, way down there with the rest of the world. Only she and I existed up here, smiling in the sunlight and wind and enjoying the still moment. I forgot about the ring and the plan and everything. And I remembered- only she mattered.

After we came back down to let another couple have a turn in the sky, I looked around at the beautiful world and realized that this was it. This was the perfect moment. I gave the boat crew a heads up so they would take some pictures and I got down on my knee. I told my beautiful girlfriend that I couldn’t imagine living my life without her and I showed her the ring.

She was surprised. She was speechless. She didn’t know which finger to put the ring on. She would be my wife and I knew that everything would be perfect from that moment forward. And it is.

Ariadne’s Thread

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How much had Theseus given up in order to slay the Minotaur? Everything, it seemed.

Though he was royalty by birth, nothing had been handed to him. Raised by his mother and a stranger to his father, he came to manhood by virtue of his rearing and circumstance, like anyone else. Growing from boy to man was easy. It was a straight path.

The troubles started when he decided to claim what he understood to be his birthright. When he decided to leave. Setting out on a winding path towards destiny, he fought nobly to find his way. He outwitted bandits and overpowered bullies. He corralled wild animals and wrestled with cruel masters. He loved. Eventually Theseus had traveled far and conquered enough and could rest easy in his father’s home forever.

Except he couldn’t. The Minotaur was out there and he knew it.

It was the beast that called to him, perhaps had always called to him. The labyrinth was an extension of the same maze of twists and turns his life had taken, he knew. His body could feel the familiar calling of the jumbled passageways, each similar to the one next to it, each promising to take him to his dreams, each lying. Theseus had wisely heeded the advice of his lover; “Go forward, always down, never left or right.” It was this tender compass that had seen him through the winding passages and navigated him to the center of his life’s maze. And there he did it. He slew the beast.

He did it without hesitation, without emotion. The Minotaur had exacted a great toll on the world and it could be suffered no more. This was his purpose, he understood. Theseus brandished his sword and watched in horror as he sliced the beast from sex to throat. The violence of the act was unimaginable, the scene ghastly. No words will consent to describe it. Theseus alone knows what he witnessed and how it changed him. He dropped his sword in the pooling blood and fur and stumbled back into the maze.

And now he wanders, lost in his own mind. He turns left as his attention wavers. He turns right as he seeks relief. The passageways wander and confound the man who can no longer remember where his path leads. His only hope is to notice the golden thread of his lover and to follow it back home before the beast takes him.

Revolution

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You know what? We can do this. We can rise above our petty instincts. We can sublimate these lower base energies and turn them into beauty. This isn’t a civil war on the horizon — it’s a revolution.

An interior revolution such as the world has never seen. Not brother versus brother, not right versus wrong. This is us going within ourselves, doing the necessary work, and excavating the pure gold that lies in wait inside of us. Alchemy. Internal, transcendental alchemy. As the world watches we will rediscover love and its power to shape this planet and our lives. We will put down our devices and pick up our phones. To reach out. To connect. To remember all that we once found beautiful. Movies. Concerts. Picnics. Togetherness. Music. Poetry. Stories.

Real stories, not the stuff we fill our heads with these days. True tales of valor and compassion and tribulation. Sunrises. Lovers. Family. This is our story and it doesn’t have to end the way everyone expects. It’s time for a twist. We don’t have to attack, we can love. We don’t have to yell, we can cry. And then sing. And then embrace. We can be one if we just realize that we are one. One people, one tribe, one body. One story. The story of us; not us versus them.

What will it take? Not a little. It will require that we see each other as human, not as bits and bytes and sound clips. It will mean that we dig deeper, always deeper, beyond appearances and beyond our established rutted paths. We’ll have to do things differently, each and every one of us. We are not fighting for control. We are creating something new. As we begin to exit the haze we realize that these are the pangs of childbirth and the moment of revelation is nearly upon us. This great and beautiful new thing is here, the day is dawning. Whether we are ready for it or not, this new creature called us will be born. It will walk among us, look like us, talk like us. Indeed it will be indistinguishable from us because it is us. We are becoming something strange and beautiful.

Are we ready? No, certainly not. There is no preparing for this, only acceptance, anticipation, love. Excitement! Fear and worry and animosity have run their course. That time is done and that act is now complete. The climax is here and it’s going to be a doozy. We can do this. We are doing this.

If I start a revolution, will you follow?

Encounters

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My first sexual encounter was with a boy, sometime around the fifth grade. We were close friends, maybe best friends. We had a regular crew of summer sleepover buddies and all the moms would rotate hosting us. And it was always the moms who scheduled and wrangled us. The dads were off at work, doing dad things.

I can’t remember which specific toys he had at his house. It was always something different — one boy collected Legos and another had Transformers. Or GI Joe or Thundercats or He-Man action figures. One kid had a gigantic Star Wars collection that required a dedicated room.

I actually think he was the one with the educational Speak-N-Spells that taught various levels of language and grammar. I guess they worked.

It didn’t happen at night or in a blanket fort. It was the middle of the afternoon and he asked if I wanted to kiss. I wasn’t sure, but he swayed me with the argument “how will you know what to do when you start dating girls?” It was reasonable and I was curious, so we kissed. This went on for a couple of weeks, as we would lock ourselves in a bedroom and practice making out and undressing each other. Things never got R-rated — it just felt nice to express this new sexual energy and to feel the love of someone who welcomed it. Being with him was one of the most beautiful encounters of my young life and the feeling of being wanted made everything seem brighter.

We weren’t particularly great at hiding it and we got caught. The repercussions were swift and definite as my Proper Catholic Upbringing informed me that these actions were ugly and disappointing. There was no punishment, other than the shame, and no explanations of how to use this energy productively. Only the knowledge that I had sinned and that “good” boys didn’t act that way. The disgusting behavior would stop immediately.

I don’t remember what happened next. No recollection whatsoever of how this affected him or what conversations we had in the days or weeks that followed. Now that I’m typing it out, I wonder if this was the start of the disappearing memories. I only know that we drifted apart completely and have seen each other twice in the past thirty years, in passing at a wedding or some such. We’ll probably never talk about it.

I’ve made out with only a handful of men in my life. There’s something inside me that tells me it is ugly and disappointing. Sometimes the feeling bleeds over to women as well.

I still feel shame.

I didn’t do anything wrong and neither did anyone else.