Author: louie

Woke

by

I really like the word ‘woke’ as people use it today. It’s a relatively new slang- it couldn’t be more than five years since I first heard it. People who use it knows what it means, but I’d have a hard time describing it clearly. The closest synonym is probably enlightened, which is itself a word that is difficult to define. If you know, you know.

I had a conversation recently with a college student who came into the gallery to see my wife’s art. He was one of the ones who “got” her work, if that makes sense. They are the ones who stand for minutes in front of the same painting while everyone else is milling through the room around them. They find themselves speechless with a lump in their throat or they explode with a million questions or look for someone to hug. It’s amazing to watch- they recognize something magical and powerful in her art as it reaches in and triggers their emotional centers. This guy was one of the talkers.

Being an artist himself he marveled at the craft, recognizing that each of these pieces must have taken months, if not years, to create. He peppered me with technical questions about her process and technique that I could only answer with a shrug and a blank stare (“Black magic, maybe?”). He gaped at that painting for a good ten or fifteen minutes as we talked about art and my job and his school work. He wasn’t in a hurry, didn’t think about whether he was bothering me or taking up too much of my time, wasn’t looking for anything more than the experience of standing right there, right then. He even shared with me a very personal story about his family that the painting had made him think of before he hugged me and moved on.

That dude was woke.

Year After Year

by

I live in a state of disbelief. Year after year I convince myself, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, that the Cleveland Browns have finally turned it around and could make the playoffs. I did it last year, I did it this year. I promise I’ll do it again next year, reality be damned.

We finally have a quarterback, I say. The offensive line was vastly improved this offseason. We’ve piled up valuable draft picks- that rookie is the real deal! The schedule looks easy. The division looks weak. The fans are thirsty. We finally have a quarterback (for real this time)!

And year after year I sit in stunned disbelief as my optimistic dreams crumble before me, one interception at a time. The rose colored glasses turn a depressing brown and orange as the losses continue to stack up. We haven’t sniffed the playoffs in a decade and a half. We haven’t celebrated a single victory since last Christmas. As of this writing, the team has lost 37 of the past 39 games with no predictable end in sight. This level of ineptitude is frankly unheard of outside of federal bureaucracy or a Three Stooges marathon.

But it will work this time. If Corey Coleman can stay on the field and Josh Gordon can stay off of drugs we’ll have a shot. If Joe Thomas doesn’t retire and Brian Sipe suits up and Lou Groza comes back from the dead. History gives me absolutely no reason to believe, but that just means we’re due. Right?? Hand me my rose colored glasses!

In the scientific world, this behavior is known as confirmation bias- the tendency to interpret information in a way that backs up what you already believe (or desperately want) to be true. You notice all the things that confirm your predetermined hypothesis while simultaneously refusing to see anything that refutes it. It’s honestly not all that different from today’s political discourse, where we fault the “other guys” for acting a certain way but then act oblivious when a member of our chosen team commits the same sin. We make excuses, we grasp for any reasonably logical explanation of why it’s different this time. We don’t notice how our attitudes depend so much on whether there’s an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ next to a name. We just know that our team is the one who will make the world a better place if we can get them in office and keep them there, reality be damned.

But let’s face it. The Browns suck.

Time is Broken

by

I realize now that I have been absent for a long time.

My sense of time is bizarre. I can remember things that happened to me, but they are not moored to any reference points. Did I live with Mark a decade ago, or two? How old was I when our cat died? It’s all a jumbled mess of things that I think I did. Sometimes I can piece together enough context clues to anchor the memory to a timeline, often not. Things just happened.

There are pieces of my life missing. Memories that should be there but don’t seem to appear when summoned. When people walk up to me and act like they know me, I just play along. When a friend asks if I remember something, I say “Yeah, that was great.” I almost always get away with it.

I can’t judge how long I’ve been like this. Maybe since childhood. Or after college. I’m certain it got worse about five years ago.

I made a giant mistake and I’ve been terrified of making mistakes ever since. So I stopped making choices. I let my sister pick out all of my clothes. I buy the tires the sales guy recommends. The wife is obviously in charge of anything related to color or decorating. I’ve been gradually abdicating responsibility over pieces of my life. With nothing left to do, I fell asleep.

Fast asleep, I wake up and go to work, staying there only as long as I absolutely have to before I rush home to space out in front of the television. I don’t notice the people around me or what they are saying. I’m not sure what my dinner tasted like or who won the game I was watching. Time marches on without me and I can’t understand how everyone’s memories sound so clear. I’m caught on a ride that doesn’t seem to end.

But then one day I bump into a stranger in a book and he tells me a secret. There is no right and wrong. We are all one. I am important.

I start making choices that bring me happiness. I give away any t-shirt that doesn’t have a superhero on it. I buy the cheaper tires because I don’t care how long they last. I still don’t stay late at work- I come home early and choose to write. I build new memories. And I awaken.

Like a time traveler from god knows when, I open my eyes with no sense of what has happened between then and now. I step outside, blink a few times, and look around with fresh eyes.

Has the whole world gone mad, or is it just me?

Changing

by

Dear Self,

You struggle with the great distance between who you are now and who you used to be. You remember being so strong, brave, effortlessly happy. You had so much fun. It pains you that this current version of you seems flat, detached. Broken. You don’t know what happened.

Something changed you. When the struggle became overwhelming, you disengaged. The world obliged and disengaged as well. Now you feel lonely as well as broken. You miss your old self.

You are not alone. Not broken. You are changing.

Your current self has bright spots too, if you’ll see them. There are paths available to you now that were not before. In taking a step back, you gave yourself room to make choices. You were one thing, now you are another. Having seen both sides, you have learned to recognize the differences.

But none of it matters when you remember that there aren’t two sides. There aren’t two people, the old you and the current you- there’s only you. And the new thing you are becoming.

Love, You.

Ganesha

by

I love my wife. She made me a painting.

It’s a framed piece, about 30 inches wide and 40 inches high. Yes, I just measured it. That’s a substantial size, big enough to take up half a wall. Its large wooden frame is cracked and dented from being dropped over the years. It was painted on paper, using watercolor, acrylic, pencils and who knows what else. I wouldn’t be surprised if she used markers, dye, egg yolk and voodoo as well. I couldn’t possibly explain her artistic process but I can attempt to describe this painting. My painting.

The subject of the picture is an ethereal white figure of Lord Ganesha, the Hindu god. The breaker of obstacles. My wife swears he wasn’t part of the original painting, he just popped out of the abstract one day sitting in yogic posture and gazing serenely ahead. What makes the entire thing so arresting is that Ganesha himself is more suggested than outlined, an elephant man in flowing robes who is made of paint. Paint that is escaping his body and dripping toward the sky.

The background of the artwork is primarily a kaleidoscopic blue field of many shades. Mingled across it are shadows of greens, yellows, whites, and the stray rivulets of Lord Ganesha. The entire thing is chaos- dark blue splotches on light blue ponds with bright yellow circles outlined in thin white pencil. No patterns, just a free-flowing explosion of creativity. Every inch holds a surprise of color or fade or figure or beauty. Underneath the god’s crossed legs is a bed of yellow and white circles that make me think of flowers or straw or sequined pillows depending on my mood. Along the right edge the paint gradually thins and the baby blue gives way to speckles of untouched white paper. I could stare at this painting for the rest of my life and never feel I know it. Always Ganesha stares back, tendrils of energy encircling one outstretched hand and a look of calm knowing in his steady eyes.

I don’t think the she originally knew she was making it for me, but that was its fate. The painting sat prominently on the front wall of her little studio from the day we opened it six months ago. We positioned everything else around this piece, ensuring that it was the first thing visitors saw when they walked in and that it was visible from all the way down the hall. We typed what we thought was a bold $475 price on the small placard with her name. I stood proudly next to this painting month after month, watching people’s eyes light up as they came in the studio door. I got to share my admiration for it and hear others express what it made them feel. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one who could see the importance of this treasure as more people lingered than walked by.

After we realized it wouldn’t sell, my wife took it down to make room for her newer pieces. The painting ended up on the wall of my meditation room, sometimes known as the guest bedroom. Every morning at five o’clock I sit in front of a breathtaking work of art, breathe slowly, and feel my heart swell with love. I even hung the $475 price card underneath it to complete the visual.

It is the most beautiful thing I have ever owned and it is not for sale.

The Hallway

by

The man had lost the directions.

He was certain he’d had them just a short while ago, but both of his hands looked to be empty and he couldn’t imagine where else they might be. The pocket! They could be in there, he supposed. He dipped one of his hands into the pocket and fished around. Though it held many items, the directions were not to be found. A sense of dread settled among the folds of his stomach. He searched the floor around him, peered down the darkened hallway as far as he reasonably could. Nothing. He was lost.

No this can’t be, thought the man. He had sacrificed so much to get this far, survived so many trials. The Rift, The Swim, The Leap. Red Right ‘98! Danger had been his companion and determination his steady blade. He was the Hero of the Fitful Procession, who laughed at his misfortunes and marched into murky situations without hesitation, however uninviting. Kind of like that hallway.

If only he had been listening when he asked for directions. Though to be fair, why would he? His memory wasn’t as reliable as it had been yesterday. The directions were being written down in meticulous detail and he could just follow them. The plan was working flawlessly; consult the directions and go where they say. Heroes don’t have to wing everything.

The man squeezed his eyes tight and tried to picture the definitive phrasing of the directions in the recesses of his mind. He’d heard that hypnotists and television cops could jog a person’s memory in times of great need, but his watch was in the shop and he had never been on television. The only scrap of instruction he could recollect was “Go down the hallway.” The rest was lost forever in the trivia and the cobwebs of his psyche.

The man turned to face the hallway. The darkened, uninviting hallway. He checked his pocket again.

Streaks of light

by

Some moments swim around in the back of your memory for a long time, coming up for air every now and then to make you smile or laugh or cry. Sometimes all three.

One year ago today, I was standing in a rest stop parking lot in Arizona with my new wife at three o’clock in the morning, staring into the night sky. The car was filled to bursting with suitcases, pillows, empty water bottles, two cats and a dog. We had woken up early on the final day of our trip to get away from city lights so we could see the largest meteor shower in years. We were half asleep, exhausted from travel, excited to lay eyes on our new house. We were nowhere. We were free.

And there, in the dark desert sky, was a trailing line of brightness. And another. Streaks of light appearing sporadically across our field of vision before fading back into night. Pieces of an ancient comet, now become something new and beautiful and ephemeral.  We would catch one out of the corner of our eye and try to point to it quickly so the other person wouldn’t miss it. Every now and then one would appear right where we were looking and our faces would light up with it.

We held hands and gazed silently into the heavens, halfway between our old world and our new. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

Named

by

I could be writing. Right now. That’s the thought that has been bothering me from the back of my mind whenever I’m at home lately. It’s the thought I’ve been trying to name for months now as the nausea and restlessness have intensified. I figured maybe it was stress about the debt or anxiety about work. Or maybe it was more personal; Was I afraid I wasn’t living up to the ideal of a man or that my wife deserved more from me? But I know it’s not any of those, really.

I could be writing. Right now.

It pops up when I’m watching Netflix or reading a comic book. It’s even louder when I’m absorbed in some silly game on my phone or disappearing into the internet for a few hours. I could be writing, right now, and instead I’m doing something that is conspicuously not writing. So why don’t I do it? Why does that last question bring tears to my eyes every time I ask it? I say I want to write, I dream of being a writer, I have so many fantastic story ideas already sketched out. So why don’t I write?

There’s pain. I haven’t worked out yet where it comes from, or if I have I’m doing a great job of feigning ignorance. Did something happen in my childhood that has me spooked? Did my recent business failure scar me more deeply than I realize? Is there some ingrained belief that doesn’t allow me to express my creativity and show it to the world with my name on it?

Is this what a failed writer feels like?

Nowhere else

by

There are two basic problems when it comes to spirituality, and people usually have at least one of them. Some of us have trouble being here, and others have trouble being now.

Being here means connecting with the physical world around you. Getting out of your head and quieting the daydreaming mind. Seeing through the stories about the way things are and noticing it yourself. It’s about awareness. Awakeness.

Being now means enjoying and accepting the present moment, as is. Recognizing the difference between a goal and a necessity. Release of petty concerns and a liberating lack of needs. Contentedness.

One is no easier to achieve than the other. The journey to either of these states is measured in months and more likely years. Many of us will tackle both of these problems at once, others not at all. Your mileage may vary.

I find that meditation helps to keep me connected to both the here and the now. While on my meditation rug, I remember that the story I’ve created about how I’m such a burden on my friends is hogwash and that I don’t need to tell it to myself anymore. When I set aside time in my day to just sit still, I think of my wife or my cats or my home and realize again that my life circumstances are amazing and I don’t need anything else to be happy. Daily meditation has a specific place and a specific time in my life so it naturally checks both boxes.

It is difficult and demanding to begin or deepen a meditation practice, but its fruits are focus and harmony. Happiness can only be found here and now.

Year One

by

One year ago today I woke up alone for the first time in a long while. They say it’s bad luck to see the bride on your wedding day so she’d stayed with her parents. I would see her soon enough.

I spent most of the day in a mild state of panic- a carryover from the week, still so much to do. The cat was recovering from his recent seizures but needed frequent attention and pills. I hated to leave him alone like this. My suit needed ironing and I hadn’t picked up the party favors yet as I’d planned. Coordinate the groomsmen, check in with the venue host, drop everything off at the hotel room, make sure the cupcakes get picked up. Don’t forget the rings!!

One of the bridesmaids called to inform me that my wife-to-be had woken up even sicker than last night. They were pumping her full of drugs to get her through the day. I could tell it was worse than she let on. I carved out fifteen minutes to write her a cute little card that I’d have one of my groomsmen deliver before the ceremony.

After taking care of everything I reasonably could, I granted myself a long hot shower and reminded myself that this was the best day of my life. I took my time grooming the beard she’d begged me to grow out and thought of her. I ran out the door only slightly behind schedule and laughed when it started to rain.

As we gathered at the front of the room and started the ceremony, I looked out on the crowd. I was almost surprised that I recognized them all, this support group of family and friends that would be there for us through the years. As I was smiling at old friends and waving to my little niece and nephews, the music paused briefly. All eyes went to the back of the room as a Beatles song announced her arrival. And finally there she was: my beautiful, radiant, medicated bride. My face erupted into a grin that still hasn’t fully worn off.

We didn’t make the standard wedding promises that you typically hear. We didn’t take each other for better or worse, richer or poorer. Not a mention of sickness or death. Those boiler plate assurances seemed unnecessary for us and our love. The officiant asked us only one question: Do you both promise that there is nowhere else you’d rather be than right here, right now?

And I said yes.