Friday, September 25, 2009

I Love This Place!

We've spend almost a week at Ocean City, Maryland. We are using a time-share week. Time-shares are a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Since we are also in the travel business with our bed and breakfast, it is not always easy to get away on our own. (And this time, we lost money from bookings we couldn't take while spending money on a vacation we could.)

We've been to Ocean City before. Since close friends live in southern Delaware, this is a convenient way to visit loved ones, use a time-share week, and get away from it all.

Last night, my wife remarked, "I could live here." We realize we have missed peak seasons and dense crowds in this resort community, but it still seems more laid back, cleaner, and developed with more thought and care than similar beachfront strips we've visited.

This is the second time we've managed to be here during Sunfest. We enjoyed the day with a bus ride from the convention center, the many beautiful and imaginative arts and crafts booths, the over-priced-but-good food, and the family-friendly and classy entertainment.

The layout of the Boardwalk featuring acres of flat beach with its volleyball areas, playhouses, amusement park, and pier--and shops,shops,shops--reminds me of a fantasy sequence in some Italian movie. Where there is expectancy and magic in the air.

Ocean City evinces civic pride and responsibility. The broad streets are clean and well-designed. There are monuments to soldiers, firemen, and the rich ocean legacy. I feel safe here and at peace with the people and nature.

The same goes with all of the Chesapeake Bay area I've experienced. It's real. Unpretentious perhaps, but solid.

We enjoyed an Elvis impersonator with his backup band and vocal duo. He did a good job of conjuring up the iconic wonderment of the gifted performer too soon gone. While Jesse Garron offered his rendition of "American Trilogy," I glimpsed the colorful ferris wheel behind the stage and the American flag which backdropped the performers. I couldn't help but feel this is Americana, this is what we strive and fight to preserve.

Almost There or Not

My wife has become quite involved with a game on Facebook, called Farm Town. This game apparently simulates running a farm--choosing the virtual crops that will grow there, planting, and harvesting said crops. And you have to time the growing season so your crops won't wither before you get back online to take care of them.

There is great promise in this game and the ramifications thereof. Let's say that I eat virtual foods. With such foods, there must be the possibilty of a virtual diet. So, I can eat these virtual foods and even undertake virtual exercise. If real food does not enter my body, then, in virtually no time, would't I be able to lose all manner of weight?


Trip, Stumble, and Fall ... and ...

In her book, High on Arrival, Mackenzie Phillips of the '80's sit-com, "One Day at a Time" revealed the shocker that she'd had a long-term incestuous relationshipe with her father, Mamas and Papas' rock legend John Phillips.

I saw her on bits from "Oprah" and "Today." One could make a rhyme of her remarks and appearance: diver, survivor, thriver. She had explored life's dark side with drugs, arrests, sex and apparent incest, unemployment, and divorce. Somehow, as much by the grace of God as by her own efforts, she had survived.

She seemed composed and even self-actualized. She acknowledged that she eventually became a consenter in the sex with her father. She appeared transparent in discussing her own flaws with drugs and boundless behavior. The interviews elicited her full awareness of the lack of parental support and guidance. Yet, she professed continued love for her family, especially her deceased father.

Mackenzie Phillips declared that she wants to help victims of incest to tell their stories and to grow past the pain, bitterness, and stunted self-image. I felt I saw a fully-functioning human being as she articulated her position. I saw one who thrives, full of love and devoid of naivete about the challenges confronting her.

I don't know if she ever received Emmy consideration for her performance in the TV series, but if she is anything less than the emergent person she appeared to me on these recent telecasts, she is long overdue an Academy award.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Peaking at Ruby's

We should eat at home more, but it seems we're often out at mealtime. This time, we decided to use a Ruby Tuesday coupon we'd received in the mail.

We hadn't eaten at this chain in a while, so the menu seemed fresh and brand new. (It may have been.) The room where we were seated was pretty quiet, with a few people speaking in friendly conversational tones. A feeling of well-being surronded me.

Music played nice, easy-listening standards. The food was good. Then, one of my favorite singers, Sarah MacLachlen, began to sing "I will remember you .... Will you remember me?" I felt tears well up inside me. If she'd sung "Angel," I think I would have lost it completely, become a blubbering wreck, and prompted patrons to call 911.

I don't know where all this emotion and rapture came from. I liken it to Maslow's peak experience. There have been periods during which I could almost conjure up these oceanic episodes of spritual oneness and fulfillment. I hadn't had such an experience for a while. I wondered what this meant--both the moments of supreme inner peace and their previous scarcity.

Perhaps, I'd been too preoccupied with the trivial or life's busy-ness. Perhaps, I'd forgotten spirit and had dwelled upon lack and defeat. It was as if this lesson was sent from spirit: Will you remember me?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Inside Job

There is no true atheist. And, I'm not saying this because I'm trying to press religion on the unsuspecting masses.

I've had several atheist and agnostic friends whose moral conduct equals the best of my religious friends. But, religion is about more than morality, isn't it? It involves worship of and devotion to something greater than self. My friends also display altruism in abundance. They devote themselves to family, friends, jobs, community, country, and even to the planet.

Perhaps I'm speaking of spirituality as much as religion--a sense of the sacred.

Time magazine (October 25, 2004)devoted considerable space to "The God Gene." Various research studies point toward the conclusion that we are "hard-wired" for searching and recognizing the divine. Who has not been awed by the first cry of a newborn, or a spectacular sunrise or the smile on the face of a loved one (or desired one)? There are those inexplicable moments in everyone's life, of wonder and connectedness to something vast beyond comprehension.

Godness is within--as well as outside--us. We may call this immanence "God" or something else or nothing at all. But there are those glimpses, however fleeting, when despite our busyness, confusion, or seeming disbelief, we are stilled and we know.

30-30 Vision

With April being National Poetry Month, my big literary push was in that direction. The Writer's Digest poetry blog challenged us to write a poem daily for thirty days. Their blog offered a prompt each day to get us started.

In my case, the effort generated more quantity than quality. Although, I think a few gems peaked through. "Revelation" compares heaven with hell, with the latter not faring all that badly. "Sacrifice" gets close and personal to the debt we owe our service personnel, to the tremendous grief and loss of war. "Femme Fatale in Diapers" may sound like a Depends commercial for the Geritol generation, but it is not.

Other titles include "Never Lust and Call It Love" and "Tripping through the New Millennium." In "Ah, Sigmund," we find the immortal phrase: "Yet, there are...moments...when a cigar is more, much more than a good smoke." And I did manage to come up with one instant classic, "The Trouble with Nosehairs."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Punchin' That Ticket

On occasion when my wife, LaVonna, and I commit a good deed, we'll remark that we're punching another hole in the ticket, meaning the ticket to heaven. We usually refer to this metaphorical step toward eternal salvation when the task is one that isn't convenient. Our thinking goes like this: the more we go out of our way to do the favor, the larger the hole (the greater the number of "brownie points.") We say this jokingly, but our traditional upbringing is still imprinted somewhere within.

Easter Sunday, we heard a sermon that was probably similar to many Protestant preachments on that day. Our pastor spoke of Jesus' resurrection and the promise of eternal salvation for his followers. As an adult, this approach has bothered me.

It seems like the hook that seals the deal, the big "What's in It for Me?". Take the steps to become a Christian (and hopefully a practicing one) and you cheat death. You die, but are raised and achieve eternal immortality in paradise. No car dealer can offer incentives like that.

As a parent and former teacher, I see this as similar to paying a child to make good grades on a report card. If the student learns the three R's and other stuff, that's nice, too. But such a plan of reward may do little to inculcate a love of learning or to grant insight into application of the facts the child can recite or write at crunch time in school.

When I taught, I used to ask my students--especially the more flamboyant Bible thumpers: "If you somehow became convinced that there was no afterlife, would you still try to live a good (Christian) life?" I posed this as a rhetorical question, but still I got no affirmative answers.

And living a good life does not seem to be enough for many Christian theologians' satisfaction. An atheist or Muslim or Hindu who otherwise follows the Golden Rule and obeys the laws is still doomed to hellfire and damnation because he or she does not subscribe to a particular creed.

What happened to virtue as rewarding in and of itself? What becomes of loving the unlovable or feeding the hungry because it is the right thing to do? I'm going to presume to think like God, here. D-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s I know. But wouldn't God be more pleased if we'd just learned to get along with one another and to protect the planet because we wanted to?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Going Postal on the Mail Carrier

It's been one of those days. Where are do-overs when you need them?

First, I went to pay for some groceries at Walmart. No wallet. I went out to the van and looked all around. No wallet. I guess it fell out of my lap or pocket or something, and someone picked it up. Now comes the fun of replacing credit cards, insurance cards, driver's license, et cetera, et cetera.

Later, we were eating a tasty meal at an Italian restaurant, and our great granddaughter upchucked all over the carpet. So, we stopped mid-meal to clean her and the floor.

But the thing that really stuck to my craw was the sticker on my car window. We'd been babysitting in our grandson's neighborhood. There are a lot of starter homes there with mailboxes every few feet and small driveways. I had to park on the side walk. to further congest matters, it was trash pickup day.

The sticker read: "Please do not park in a manner that blocks the mailbox. The carrier is unable to deliver the mail." Or something to this effect. All the carrier had to do was move his or her @!%!#$**@! ass and walk over to the @!#$**@! box and put the @!%!#$**@! mail in it. What's so @!%#$**@! hard about that? No wonder we have so much obesity in this society. Every one's getting too @!%$**@! lazy to walk. I bet the mail carrier's fat. In fact, I hope s/he/it is. @!%!#$**@! that carrier and @!%!#$**@ anyone who doesn't @!%!#$**@! that carrier. And now I've got to scrape the stubborn paper-torn remains of that @!%!#$**@! sticker off my window, so my vision won't be obstructed the next time I see a mail carrier coming down the street.


Well. brethren and sistren(?), don't believe everything they tell you. Even nice guys have a dark side.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gardener with a Pen

Last month, my wife and I attended a literary event, compliments of a friend whose philanthropic organization sponsored the gathering. The panel consisted of three noted regional authors, one of whom, Crystal Wilkinson, has written Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street. These linked short story collections have influenced my own work in progress, Matheson Station. It was another panel member, Rebecca Howell, who caught me square between the eyes and opened my heart to an aha! moment.

The topic had to do with writing about the land and its influence on that writing. Ms. Howell grew up in Perry County, Kentucky, and--as part of her payback to the land--has worked against mountaintop removal. She likened the work of a writer to that of a gardener, and I was instantly moved.

You see, I love to garden, especially with vegetables. I like the solitariness, the soft breeze and warm sun on me, the closeness to the land on my life-long home here at the farm. I enjoy some semblance of control as I run the tiller or hoe the soil. There is a fascimile of order to life when I lay out the rows and plan what to sow or plant. Then, mystic, anxious waiting ensues. Will rain and sun and nutrients be sufficient for actual germination and growth? Will this plot of dirt transform into green, blooming, tasseled beauty? Can I keep the birds and rodents out of the garden or at least from taking more than a share of the produce? Finally, come the majestic moments of budding, of full fruition! And to dig potatoes. No fabled pirate ever thrilled more over uncovering buried treasures.

We writers plant the seeds of words and imagination. In fact, we plow our unconscious mind, unearthing many of the inspiring ideas we use. We place these elements in some kind of order and nurture them through vision and re-vision. Finally, in the most fertile of soils and by diligent sweat behind furrowed brow, we bring forth our harvest--the poem, the essay, the story or memoir. Like the good gardener, we share these fruits of our labor with many others for their enjoyment and growth.

The garden figures in my writing another way. The first and most storied garden is Eden, the earthly paradise where beauty and balance rule and nakedness is not to be feared or ridiculed. Utopian literature inspires me. I write to eventually create utopian fiction. Fiction yes, and not everyone's idea of a perfect place. But a writer's reality is rooted in the stuff of dreams.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Holy In Deed

I could have stayed home. I had plenty to do on a beautiful Sunday. A travel writer is coming Monday night to stay with us. Naturally, we want our bed and breakfast to make the best impression possible. And a cold, wet weather pattern was scheduled to move in later that day--yesterday.

But I had administrative duties to attend to. And Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week. So we went to our little church in the country.

It was a pleasant enough service. Life-long friends sat throughout the pews. The children marched in, waving palm branches. We laughed during Bob's levity-filled announcements. We reverently interceded for sick folks on our prayer list.

We have a small, but dedicated choir. But, yesterday, Wendy our choir director sang a solo. This is always a real treat, for her voice is powerful and sweet and sure. And she launched into "The Holy City." Now, I knew why I'd gone to church. See, my father sang many solos at our church during his lifetime. "The Holy City" is one of the most memorable. And Mrs. Stubblefield would play the stirring piece to perfection. She had to be more than perfect to match his sometimes-varying tempo. To make yesterday's moment sweeter, her two daughters were in the choir.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing ...." Wendy's soaring notes caressed every inch of our sanctuary's cathedral ceiling. And Svetlana's piano accompaniment was right there for every beat. And my full heart was right there as well.

I remembered a poem I'd written, called "My Daddy Sang."

...In the wedding for a loved one,
weaving music to the mem'ry,
crowning hope for rich tomorrows
Daddy sang.

Kentucky Home and Holy City,
For His Eye Is on the Sparrow,
and Let Me Call You Sweetheart
Daddy sang....

...In my heart and in my mind,
where Daddy sings
today it rings.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Sunday's sermon was on self-giving love. Our minister used Jesus the Christ as the sterling example through his crucifixion. Bob also alluded to different kinds of love--eros, philios, storge, and back to agape.

In his brilliant little book, Love, Leo Buscaglia says that there are not different kinds of love, but rather different degrees of love. I tend to agree, and I would add that we choose different ways to display or act out our love.

A Course in Miracles holds that every act is either an act of love or a cry for love. Powerful stuff, this love business. We spend a liftime (or two) to get a handle on it all.

Dr. Buscaglia also admonishes us to not try defining love. To define love is to "delinit" it. I agree here, also, but like the child who must touch the forbidden hot stove, I'll give it a shot.

My understanding of love is that it is an intense and unconditional feeling of good will. Love opens us up. It reaches out, often in immaterial as well as material ways. We may not always be in control of our loving, but it is intentional early on. Real love is endless, so it has to be without conditions. We'd like to get love in return for love. We'd like for our love to make a positive difference in our loved one's life. But, love be free-flowing. It must say, "I want what is best for you whether or not that 'best' includes me."

In my writing, I explore human relationships. I seek to answer questions about the nature of loving. Hopefully, I'm not being too Freudian when I say that I suspect there are elements of the erotic, the selfish, the selfless, the platonic, the reckless, the premeditated, the conscious, and the unconscious in the way love plays out as we make our journeys across the stage or my characters trek across the page.

Another understanding--largely from a lifetime of church attendance--is simply(?) that God is love. So, is the converse not also true? Love is God.


Set to clear the breakfast table, I notice the platter of leftover fruit. Sun streams through the east window, surrounds the crystal in shimmering haze. Vibrancy leaps from grapes and orange and pineapple slices. "I should have taken a picture," I tell my wife. She replies, "There will be other opportunities."

We've finished another meal, this one with English muffins and baked oatmeal from an Amish recipe. Our guest was Rob, a New Zealander. This man of means, whose humility and graciousness strikes us as precious, has left to enjoy the day with associates.

I scan the dining room of my family home. Parchment-hued walls and China cabinets shelved with heirlooms shine back at me.

I spread the covers on our bed, a queen with its white ornamental headboard. Actually, it is creamed, a change wrought by blended smoke stains. Our 19th century home survived a fire not long ago, another miracle. Pillow cases feature a wildflower pattern. I gaze at the quilt sewn by my mother-in-law. Double-warmth.

Massive white furniture my father made houses our clothes. A gray plastic tub holds toys for our great granddaughter's delight and exploration. The lustrous pine floors, on which everything stands, date back to 1869.

Again, I peer out a huge window. The yard, the farm, birds swooping through sundrenched air--all this fills me to lightness of being.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Well, I Met a Witch in Phoenix Just to Watch Him Fly

I know. It sounds like a bad parody of a Johnny Cash tune. Actually I did meet a Wiccan whose coven name means sun god. He was a calm, accessible person. He read my aura, said that I had a highly-developed spiritual chakra, but that I kept too much to myself. He loaned me a book about healing by redirecting energy fields: Hands of Light. He also introduced me to the writings of Starhawk, a wiccan eco-feminist and activist. Her epic utopian novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, contains some of the most beautiful writing I've read.

If you believe that today's practitioner of true withcraft is an ugly crone with a crooked nose, who wears black, worships the devil, and places curses on people, you've fallen prey to Hollywood's penchant for misinformation and sensationalism. Wiccans include men and women from all walks of life who celebrate the wonders of our natural world and the seasonal cycles. They believe that whatever they do comes back threefold. Only the most masochistic person would open him/herself to a "hex" times three.

Can a pagan and a Christian co-exist or become friends? I explore this question in the short story, "Sacred Death", which is available through Echelon Press e-books. In Pagans and Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience, Dr. Gus DiZerega states that "Neither [Christianity nor paganism] need be intrinsically better than the other, so long as they are followed with a good heart."

For a long time at the expense of protecting Mother Earth, many Christians have focused on eternal salvation found in the afterlife. With the current environmental crisis, perhaps we all need to more fully embrace our inner pantheist and expand our vision of the sacred.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prayer and the Problem with Orgies

First, I've never participated in an orgy. Nor have I attended one, although I have dabbled in sociological research and am a member of that most noble group of voyeurs--writers.

From limited reading on the subject, it seems that focus of attention would be problematic in such endeavors. I think sex or lovemaking works best between two partners. In a group situation, how could either partner of a given pair concentrate on each other? Sounds and movement would distract. Inevitably Joe would sneak a peek to see if his ministrations measured up to Jim's. Barbara would want to know is she or Ethel were having the best time of it. Add to this, the questions of physical endowments, and the whole effect--rather than pleasure for self and partner--would be a blurring cacophany of sensations with all reduced to nothing of value.

So, I wonder if public prayer can escape some of the same drawbacks. As a worship leader intones aloud, how much does s/he attend to the Almighty and how much does s/he perform for the listeners? There are various kinds of prayers and a whole host of praying situations. Rightly, many public prayers can benefit the listeners.

Maybe, it's my introvertive bent that looks at prayer this way. But, I see it as similar to making love with God. This, we cannot do if we draw in an audience with "See how eloquently I can speak to the Almighty."

In the best of prayer times, we go nakedly to our Creator, and we merge spiritually. Our focus is on God. Only God can attend to all the petitioners at once.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Google is after me.

After writing my third post Saturday, I received a warning that my blog has run afoul of the algorithm robots. (I shall henceforth view Fox's Sarah Conner Chronicles with deeper respect and fear.) I have been flagged as a possible spammer. I don't know what I've done to warrant this charge.

Hell, I don't even like Spam.

My sainted mother was a fine cook--mashed potatoes, corn pudding, pimiento cheese, chicken salad, stewed tomatoes (when she splurged on Ritz crackers and sugar instead of saltines). But when it came to some meat dishes, well there was some abuse involved. I never knew why people raved about steak until my sophomore year in high school. Our basketball banquet featured Swiss steak. A new world opened up for me--one which did not include fried steak ... or Spam. I have to hand it to Mother. She did try to dress the potted innards up with brown sugar.

Well, it seems I have not escaped these many years later: the Spam-intolerant now a "spammer." There is some poetic justice in this, I suppose. Thomas Wolfe has been over-quoted that "you can't go back home." It seems I've never left.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Green and Read

Our book club is reading one of the most important books I've ever encountered. I hope President Obama, along with millions of citizens and policy-makers world-wide, will read multiple-Pulitzer journalist Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

Let me say at the outset that Friedman supports his thesis and sub-theses ad nauseum with example after example. His work is redundant, and some readers would find it boring and tedious. That said, this book is more than just another treatise on global warming and the fact that it is bad.

Friedman points out that emerging economies, such as China and India, will doom the world to environmental extinction unless we all make drastic changes in how we live. The United States is the world's single largest user of oil and other pollutants. (1) We need to reduce our consumption and waste, and (2) we need to choose leaders with environmental vision. Contrasts between national environmental policy during the Carter and younger Bush administrations show the impact of governmental attitudes on alternatives to fossil fuels, for example. Additionally, new approaches can be financially and politically profitable. We must aid developing nations in how to advance without damaging the earth as we have.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded builds upon some of the foundation presented in the author's previous bestseller, The World Is Flat: we're all in this together; what is done in one nation impacts the rest of the world ... and quickly. I discovered that I could catch his main points and skim the examples to read faster. However, I found the examples from articles he has culled and experts he's interviewed to be as interesting as they are varied.

The last chapter opens with a speech delivered to the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit by a 12-year-old Canadian girl named Savern Suzuki. If you can read this 1992 address, a plea for generations mostly yet unborn, and not be moved, you either lack a pulse or heart, or both. We have become rather fluent in greenspeak, but Suzuki reminds that "You are what you do, not what you say."

It may be fitting that this book is difficult. Its message is not pleasant (although Friedman believes we have the potential to save our planet). The task is daunting, far beyond the PC feel-goodism of the token recyling or planet-friendly light bulb purchase. The work will be hard and expensive. Work your way through this book. Everything earthly hangs in the balance ... and perhaps so does soulwork beyond.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lent from My Navel

I used to enjoy Easter.

As with most so-called Christian holidays, the spiritual and secular intertwined. This special Sunday featured bright colors on clothing and Easter eggs, an anticipatory and often chilling sunrise service, family gatherings, inspiring church anthems, the earth's springtime renewal, and hope for a general resurrection and second chances.

Then, our church began to emphasize Lent, the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The Wednesday night soup suppers were nice (cheese, crackers, various soups, fruit, water, and fellowship), and I'm nothing if not gluttonous. But again, excitement grew muted. The lenten services were pretty much downers. We were sent inward to reflect on our basic moral depravity and to ask forgiveness.

Maybe I'm odd. (I'm sure I am.) But, don't a lot of us--basically decent folks--spend too much time beating ourselves up over things we've done or things we didn't do, but should have? Do we need official religious sanction to wallow in our weaknesses and to obliterate self-image even further?

Perhaps such introspection on personal negatives would do an ego-maniac good. Psychopaths and sociopaths could well stand some downsizing of their aberrant thinking. Yet, somehow I'm afraid the ministrations of Lent might be lost on them.

To all this, Mel Gibson has given us a new opportunity as voyeurs to mankind's darkest depravity in The Passion of the Christ. I admit I haven't screened the film, but from impartial reviews it seems like an extension of the climactic torture scene in Braveheart.

True, as a friend once remarked, "You can't have two mountains without a valley in between. You can't have resurrection and rebirth without death. What would spring be without winter?

Still, I long for Easter of brighter color, of ascenscion from a high plain rather than a deep valley, self-actualization up from a normal thriving rather than from depraved existence.

Even our soup suppers have been downsized--no more cheese or fruit. I'll still introspect anyway and expect much from myself. But to regain the splendor of Easter, I might just have to give up Lent for Lent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spirit Moves

Welcome to my first blog.

I will include what the Spirit moves me to talk about. Sometimes, the content will be spiritual, in the conventional sense. On these occasions, the blog will indeed be a spirit-ual movement. On other occasions, whatever spirit moves me may seem decidedly un-spiritual. I may rant, vent, complain, or even whine a little. It will still be what I'm "moved" to say.

What moves me in a positive--even peak experience sort of--way? Certain scenes: kindness shown, a radiant sunrise or sunset, dolphin leap (dolphins doing anything), lovers hugging, the beach, a hot air balloon floating, multi-generational groups. Certain music: easy listening, a powerful ballad, an old hymn, a song with profound lyrics. Probably nothing unique to me. But, I hope many of my posts are inspirational and make your day a little better for having read them. Or at least, may they help you to ponder something in a new way.

I write. Fiction. Poetry. I'll share some of this, as well.