Updates and Upgrades

The house I share with my wife and two children will be one hundred years old next year.

We’ve done our best to update, improve and maintain our home—a luxury in an American city where housing prices are escalating quarterly, I admit, and a benefit we’re happy to acknowledge even as the weight of ownership bears down us from time to time—but the eye, as they say, does not lie:

It is a ramshackle bungalow that went through an unfortunate 1970s-era remodel.

The project this season, beyond the typical amazing work my wife does with the landscaping, is to re-side the upper unit, place new windows, re-do the gutter system, replace the front door, touch up paint.

Nothing flashy or even exciting.

It is exciting to us, though. Fundamental improvements—foundational upgrades—make our house much more of a home, and this work supports our contention that if we take care of our house, it will take care of us.

In fact a lot of my work, be it creative, spiritual, professional, familial, has been in this same space the past two or three years. Hard labor, lots of heavy lifting. Nothing flashy, nothing exciting. Nothing that is going to upend or revolutionize. But important. Necessary and essential.

The house reflects that, I suppose. As above, so below. Within, without. All of that.

Bourdain

There is more to write about the cultural importance of Anthony Bourdain than I can currently articulate.

Since his suicide just days ago, I’ve read remembrances and recollections that further colored in the man’s humanity. Many expressed better than I can his humble and humane approach to people, to food, and to places.

I need to have my say, though, and it is this:

As I’ve written elsewhere in my blog, I’m not what I’d define as a traveler. I’ve known many who seem to have that naturally-sourced wandering spirit that drives them to learn languages and to spend whatever resources they have at their disposal to visit the next place.

It has only been in recent years that a thirst for getting myself out into the world—to open myself to the experience of travel—has corresponded with my taking a job that requires me to weekly deal with the hassles and joys of being on the road.

Perhaps I’m too easily letting myself off the hook, but I doubt I would have appreciated roaming around had I done it more in my younger years.

Watching Bourdain’s various travel shows, reading his books, absorbing his simple yet profound message that sharing a meal with others is the nexus of culture: it’s where high meets low, where rich meets poor, where artisanal meets DIY. Slowly absorbing this message has opened for me a more expansive, and frankly, a far better world.

We are more than the sum of our appetites, but it is through accepting, voicing and experiencing those hunger pangs—together—that we share what it means to be human.

Let’s follow Bourdain’s example and travel far or wander close and take our place at the table.

Situation Abnormal

Not an excuse, but I can't deny that the current American political shit-scape has affected my writing. 

Creative acts haven't seemed as important as remaining vigilant and active to the many ways that the current presidential administration is trying to screw over the American people.

(I know this is wrong...not about the crass and openly opportunistic actions of the Trump administration and its salivating and obedient GOP lapdogs, but about creative acts. We must continue our artistic endeavors especially in times such as these.) 

This is not a political blog; however, I acknowledge that the personal is political, and when the political becomes personal, writing has often lost out on my priority list. 

So, like the rest of us, I'm doing my best. I wish I had more faith in American politics to correct itself, but the GOP is hopelessly lost, and the Democrats can't seem to organize or codify an effective strategy.

Partisan politics won't save us.

We have to push from the bottom up. We have to get out from behind our screens and engage each other. That takes time, and it takes energy, and it's the only way to fix this mess.

Thus I turn again to writing and the minutiae of my own life. Maybe I can finally complete a project.

How We Live, How We Die

My high-school friend committed suicide 5 years ago.

The event, and the circumstances around it, aren’t as present as they once were, but invariably on the anniversary of his death, something will trigger a memory followed by an acknowledgement.

We—his family and friends—collectively know more about why (although why is always extremely tricky when discussing suicide). He and his family suffer from a genetic predisposition to Huntington’s Disease, and he was experiencing symptoms. Again, causal connections that explain why someone would take his or her own life are always specious, but for many of his friends like me who could fathom no earthly explanation as to why he’d end his life, I found some solace in the deeper understanding of his circumstances.

Still. The obvious feeling that doesn’t go away is one of shocked loss. An abrupt realization that the person I knew and did some of my growing up with is gone. Five years hasn’t dulled that reaction.

In a similar way, recent end-of-life experiences with my wife’s family are making the turn of the year somber and reflective. I don’t spend much time thinking about death—or more specifically—my own death. Like I suspect many of us do, I shy away from the chaffing discomfort and outright fear of that event, that common denominator.

Age and circumstance and overwhelming evidence are showing me that it’s time to consider more than just the mortality of other people.

Thanks to the news-feed on my phone, I discovered some fascinating articles about the topic—and the practice—of dying. Stating the obvious, this is a specific (and Buddhist) perspective, but for me—someone who was more or less raised around a haphazard exposure to Christianity—I find that the disconnect from my childhood religious tradition makes it easier for me to consider the topic. It’s less…fraught.

Perhaps it will be for you, as well.

We Are Not the Normals

Whether because of age or circumstance, the place that writing--or really any creative act--maintains in my life has shifted, refocused.

I can now acknowledge that during my 20s, I needed others to acknowledge me as an artist, as someone different than the normals. Special because the writing I strove to accomplish every day set me apart.

I thought that's how artists of any discipline behaved.  

Now in my, ahem, mid-to-late forties, creative work and meditative practice are virtually synonymous, and the thought of being outwardly acknowledgement seems....odd. Wrong, even. The practice has become the reward, and I know that to be a creative person in no way separates me or sets me apart or makes me special. 

There are no normals. Just us.