Sunday, July 28, 2019

Living Out The Ninth Life

So our house got just a little quieter yesterday. We were forced to put down our nearly fifteen year-old cat, Chester. Chet, as he was affectionately nicknamed by my father in-law, had been losing weight for the past six months and we all knew the end was coming. When he lost function of his back legs yesterday, we figured this was it. We've had other cats and knew that the typical lifespan is about 15 years. (He would have turned 15 tomorrow.) So none of this was a surprise.

That it wasn't a surprise doesn't make it any easier when the time comes.

We took him to the Vet and were present when he was peacefully laid down. It was sad and painful, yes, but being there when he died was a form of closure for us too.

That's not to say that the rest of yesterday wasn't hard, as I suspect the next few days will be. Death of anything close to me always hits like a gut punch. This was no different. Last night I was walking the dog and dragging my own corpse around the neighborhood feeling the weight of death in all its heaviness. Everything takes effort. Death saps a person.

And even though this was just a cat, it dredged up feelings I'd not had since the loss of my brother in 2011. Death re-reads stories you'd finished and hated. That bottomless pit feeling of loss is soul crushing and you don't realize how a small fur-covered animal can stir up memories of people and other past pet deaths.

At the same time, Chester had a good life, a good run, if you will. He was a polydactyl cat with one extra toe that made him look like he had little baseball mitts on his paws. We think that was the reason he was one of the last of his siblings left when we adopted him.

Like every pet, he had his quirks and rituals. He loved to lay in the bathroom sink when it got over 80 degrees outside. It was probably the cool marble that attracted him. He also waited outside the bathroom every day for when I finished showering. Then he'd slink into the bathtub and lick up the water. He was a fresh(?) water junkie and liked it anywhere outside of his very available water bowl.

He loved his sister Isabelle, and the two often slept curled around each other sometimes forming a cat heart. His latest trick was to sit in one of the two kids' chairs at the dinner table and watch us eat. Once in a great while we'd feed him a bit of meat from our plates and he'd chew it and wait for more. We'd become the weird cat owners, but we knew his time was not long, so babied him a bit.

As with any cat, he came at a price. There was the endless vacuum containers full of hair, the countless cat yaks found everywhere around the house and, more recently, the naughty boy pissing around the house. We hated that more than anything.

So with the passing of him and eventually his sister Izzy and probably his brother Toby the dog, in the next few years, our house will grow quieter and more lifeless. My wife always said that cats - love them or hate them - do bring a life to a house that would not be there. She is right about that.

And Chester, with his big paws and his sweet face will be missed greatly.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sorting Through The Quiet

This empty nest thing has left me lots of time and headspace to do some thinking about how I got to this point, where I've been and where we're going. When we had kids around you sort of crash through life putting out fires, meeting physical and later, emotional needs and falling into bed at the end of the day. With our daughter in another state and Ben 70 miles away, it's all over now, except for the worrying...a lifelong thing, of course.

Thankfully I had a significant change in my work situation in the past year, which occupied much of my time and thoughts. Even that has settled down now (a bit) and I have even begun to assess how I got to this place in my career. Don't get me wrong, I still love my job, it's just, like most people, you never know where your career path will take you. It's a winding road.

I think about the series of events that brought me to Wisconsin. I think about the twists and turns that brought my wife to me from NY. I think about friends that have come and gone and come back again.

Every Saturday morning, my wife and I go for a coffee date. It has become a ritual I cherish, but the topics have become significantly different than they were even two years ago. Lately we've been talking about our future together, where we want to live, what we want to see (travel-related), our expectations for personal growth, post-retirement and even what would happen if one of us died. It is a great source of reconnection and gives me someone to talk about the deeper things in live with.

I just find it a little odd talking about old people things when I'm not old. (Sarc.)

It is a coming to terms with the fact that life is a vapor and we need to seize what's left of it. I am more conscious every day of how lucky I am to have it. And while the struggles of the day, (people, money, job stuff, cars, kids, dealing with this godawful political climate, etc) are not to be ignored, I know that there is a higher purpose to all of it.

So I do what I can. I am increasingly cognizant of my face-time with others. At the end of the day, it is one of the richest parts of life. Coffee with friends, a listening ear, a word of encouragement. I refuse to fall into the negative social media crap that is SO prevalent these days. (If you're doing it to "help raise awareness" you're doing it wrong. I don't go there to get a hard shine on my world view. That is set and you aren't changing it. -end of rant.)

I don't know when the introspective effects of our empty nest will taper off, but I am using them for reflection and forward looks. I realize I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be alive and doing fine in middle class America. I take none of it for granted and am aware that all of it could change in one heartbeat or unfortunate accident. So I plan on continuing to live it hard and make sure people know how much they mean to me. Because in the end, they're all I've got.

So thanks to each of you. You bring depth and richness to my life and I'm lucky to have you in my life.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bee Wranglin'

This time rolls around every year, and every year it's the same story. As I lay there in backyard hammock, looking skyward in hopes of maybe an afternoon nap, I inevitable see the activity I dread most with an old house.


I lay watching them come and go with great flurry from either their current nest, or their nest in progress. Every year they seem to find a new nook or cranny to roost, and with an old house, nooks and crannies are the norm.

Two weeks ago I found a few paper wasp nests-in-the-makes in my garage eaves as I was scraping the trim readying for paint. I grabbed my ever-present can of wasp killer and set to work. It is a dance of aim, spray, adjust, duck and, sometimes run.

After I'd done away with the two small honey combs being started on the garage, I looked at the flat roof area outside our back door. There was a sizable nest there, on the order of a small cantaloupe.

Well, dangit all!

So I fetch the extension ladder climb up to the flat roof, and blast away. Let me tell you, all of the chaos that ensues on the ground when eliminating these buggers is ever-more perilous when you're on a ladder 10' off the ground.

Once they were convinced there was no entry to the nest, I blasted it with our hose and pulverized it to bits. I know honey bees are good, but these are not those. These are the ornery stinging kind that annoy. If I was more environmentally conscious about them, I would surely get a bee outfit, some smoke and bee-whisper them all to a safer, less house-attached area.

But a hose works too.

So after a couple weeks of no bees, I'm laying there today and lo and behold, there's activity into and out of the soffit/roof above my back door.

Well, dangit again!

I get out of my hammock and carry out the routine. The bees are confused when they return to a poisoned opening. I then went to the basement and got my caulk gun and ladder. I climbed a couple of steps and started filling the entry hole, thereby sealing in those that would be dead from the spray, and sealing out the ones out annoying people at their picnics.

So I figure I either have to stop taking hammock naps or get a new house with zero potential beehive areas to it.

For now though, the naps need to happen, so I'll have to settle for caulk and spray. 

Note: No bees were killed in the making of this blog.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Black And White Moon

Tomorrow we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of landing on the moon. It's hard to believe it was that long ago because that would make me old. There are a number of celebrations around Milwaukee and Waukesha as well as the rest of the country, I imagine.

For example, my wife's employer, Purple Door Ice Cream is selling their "Purple Moon," ice cream at UWM on Saturday for a Lunar Party. More locally at Retzer Nature Center, they are having a festival called Apollopalooza. These parties are justified in revisiting the incredible feat of actually landing a spacecraft on the moon.

I remember the night the moon walk took place. I was only 7 years old at the time. We had a black and white TV set and I can remember watching the lander sit on the surface for an hour, with nothing much happening except a lot of bleeping and some commentary from the news crew. As the wait for the astronauts to get out of the Lunar Module went later and later into the night, I grew antsy. 

And the record gets fuzzy from there. I'm not sure, but I recall being told to go to bed, because no one knew how long or late it would be until they deboarded the module. The other possibility is that I just didn't have the patience to watch nothing happen for another hour or two. I'm not sure which story is correct, and while I didn't resent it too much at the time, looking back, I guess it would have been cool to say I saw it live, but I didn't. I guess the one thing I can say is I saw the LM sitting on the surface of the moon in all its black and white, (with static) glory. I remember the night, just like I remember the night MLK was assassinated. One doesn't forget events like that.

Space was all the rage back then. I remember my brother Tom buying and building an Apollo rocket that stood over a foot tall. The thing was amazing, but everything Tom managed to spend time on was amazing. I remember having an Apollo coloring book and seeing moon/Apollo stuff everywhere. It was a world changing event.

A number of years ago I went to Huntsville, Alabama to the NASA Museum down there. The software company we used was based in Huntsville and they threw a big party every year at the Space Center. It was fascinating walking through the exhibits and seeing just how small and tight everything was for those men. It gives a person a real feel for how miraculous the whole thing was, especially given the technology of the times.

Of course I remember the Apollo 13 near-disaster as well. I remember hearing that these astronauts could end up orbiting in space forever. And I remember the relief the country had when they made it back down.

And I recall where I was for each of the space shuttle disasters. One was at my first apartment out of college, the other was at a men's conference for church. Both incredibly sad events in our space history. Unfortunately cutting the edge of our reach to the stars requires loss of lives.

So as we look toward Mars, maybe there will be a day my great grandchildren will be sent to bed before we walk out onto the Martian surface. I hope not, but if they are looking for people to head that direction in the next 10 years, I'm in line.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 14, 2019

On Deck

I've been thinking a lot lately about what's next from a writing standpoint. I realize I have two forthcoming poetry books, Thoughts From A Line At The DMV, and Genetically Speaking and ,another major memoir in the works, but like any good writer, I'm always looking ahead.

Of course finishing memoir #3 is first on the agenda. The Cretin book is at 65,000 words or so, and just in need of some attention and commitment. I may have sent it to its room for misbehaving. I'll let it out when I've had a chance to step away for a bit. It's going to be quite good, but right now I'm thinking the book and I should see other people. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that.

While I don't want to commit just yet, my ideas are threefold.

My first idea is to write another memoir about Milwaukee, my move to it and the life I've built once I got here. It would be in large part a book about moving away from Minnesota, finding out who Jim really is, establishing a career, and my blooming relationship and eventual marriage to Donna. I've already got a couple of stories started there, stories that could serve as standalone stories if I decide to start submitting them.

The book would certainly give me plenty of material and thus is my first choice. All I need to do is start hacking away and see what happens. If it becomes something, I'll follow through with it. If not, I might have some decent stand alone stories.

My second idea would be to re-work my uncle Jack's book and try and get it published as a co-authored book. It is an intriguing idea, but would take a whole lot of work, with all of it being in the fiction genre, which is not my area of great experience.

And finally, my other thought is to work on an entirely new fiction novel. Not having done much fiction writing though, this one seems the most daunting of all. It would probably be a dark humor sort of novel - possibly science fiction with a humorous twist. Lots of possibilities.

So, like an unfocused kid, I can't keep my train of thought on any one of those for very long. I think I will just start hacking away at #1 and see where it goes for now.

I've often said my only regret is not starting my writing sooner in life. Now I'm trying to catch up for lost time and writing like a maniac.

And that's a good place to be. At least for me.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Coffee And Lightning

As usually happens at my Thursday coffee discussions with my buddies at a local coffee shop, the conversation took twists and turns that one couldn't have predicted if they tried.

In this particular case, the conversation started at a discussion of reparations for Native and African Americans, but ended with a discussion of hearing the voice of God.

It was a winding path, to say the least. I can't recreate the thread that got us on to that topic, but it was an interesting one indeed. Basically, one of the guys said that if the Bible is the only way some people say we hear from God, does that mean He's not talking to those people, or are they just not attributing a moment, an experience or an emotional reaction to perhaps being the voice of God. The whole discussion started on the topic of the Originalists with regards to the Constitution and went on from there.

But the best part about the conversation was how these two guys and I all told stories of our artistic pursuits, music, art and writing that led us to have either emotional reactions or a feeling of unwarranted inspiration. The question for all of us was, was that God moving in some form? The answer is, who are we to say it isn't? If you put God in a small box and say He doesn't operate that way, then, you're talking about a different god than me, (and my friends would probably agree.)

We talked about our old days as more conservative people of faith when we had God (and God's word) boxed up pretty tight, mostly out of fear of the lightning bolt. (Some of which still exists, mind you.) We joked a little about the days when a friend said they didn't like to do Christian book studies because it was just someone else's thoughts about God, and why shouldn't we just stick to scriptures?  (Wow, okay)

We kick around our understanding of the Bible and all of its good and bad. We talk extensively with both reverence and a bit of healthy questioning about what the "Good Book" really is and should be used for. Because none of us claims to know what it really is, and most are a little scarred by the way it was used to drub us in the past. We know its good, but we also know it can be used for harm. {Waits for the lightning bolt...}

I could go on and on, but the crux of my story is these guys, every Thursday, help me work things in the world out. We talk politics, world issues, religion, family life, art, and pretty much anything else. I would say it never ceases to go way deeper than any conversations I have the rest of the week. And for one hour a week, I am challenged to look at my faith, my country, my world and myself.

And I've said it before, it is one of the best hours of my week.

Blogging off...

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Genetically Speaking

While I don't have too many memories about my dad, I do have several of my stepfather, Jack. He and my mom dated for nearly 10 years before they married in 1979. While he was by no means a perfect father, (I mean, who is?) he was all I had growing up, with maybe the exception of a few father figures that played various roles in my upbringing.

Perhaps Jack's most redeeming quality was his sense of humor. He was nicknamed Happy Jack because of it. It carried over into his drinking where he was known as a happy drunk. (Believe me, I've seen both happy and mean drunks, and I'll take a happy one any day.)

But his sense of humor was what carried him through life. It made him more tolerable and someone whom people loved to be around. I credit much of my own lightheartedness to him. One of his famous phrases was "Not to worry," said with a hint of an Irish accent. I use that as my mantra most days of the week.

I bring Jack up because this past week, I had a poetry manuscript accepted for publication. It is centered on the theme of Fatherhood and is a product of a 30 poems in 30 days contest that took place in April. As part of the contest, we submitted our final 30 poem manuscript for judging. Mine took an Honorable Mention so was offered for publication as a chapbook (chapbook = a short collection of poems).

Frankly, I am ecstatic about it because as a collection about fatherhood, it is intensely personal yet, I feel it will resonate with practically anyone who has had (or been) a father. (Which about covers the whole world, right?)

In the book, I look at Fatherhood from all different angles including stepfathers, fathers in-law, godfathers, father figures and would-be fathers. Of course I build in plenty of my own fathering experience, having recently entered the empty nest phase of life.

The book was incredibly inspirational for me, causing great introspection as I wrote it. My experience as a young boy with the death of my natural father and the introduction of a stand-in surrogate for 10 years, then formal stepfatherhood provides plenty of diversity in my reflections. It was both healing and revealing for me, and not all the poems are happy-shiny fun. Some are raw and tough to chew. But the sum total of these makes for an interesting collection that I think people will love.

So, stay tuned as I await publication time frames and details. This will be my 5th poetry collection and my 7th overall book. And like all of the rest, I feel it's important and represents stories I think need to be told.

And I can't wait to see it in print.

Blogging off...