memory

from psymily on morguefile.com

When we were rocking on the porch, chatting, I felt at home. Young people faking elder people’s habits: it’s what we do until it’s authentic.

“Home” fleeted. As you know, Experience moves out and your new roommate is Memory. Well, Memory moved into my head with most of her furniture. I was young and lacked furnishings, so why not use these? I sat in Memory’s couch while I watched the evening news, uncomfortable as it was. I wrote my letters with Memory’s quill, even though it cracked. I sipped Memory’s gin until I realized it was poison. The light falling on everything I came from Memory’s lamp, until the bulbs died. Memory was a bicycle with a slow leak. It took me places, slowly, exhausting me until its condition required I dismount and find some other way around; at some point, you must.

Memories fade and baggage unravels when it is not maintained, like how demons starve when you don’t feed them. The sun rose and set a couple thousand times since Experience bid his adieu. I got new memories, new roommates to my head. I even figured out how to live in the present. Here I am. I am happy to forward to you my new address.

This home, now, feels empty. So much has happened. Nothing lasts forever, especially not a state of mind.

The tricky part is making sure I’m being wise with all this empty space.

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Sober

Every year I do “One Word“. This year: “steady“. First: I hate reading things I wrote in the past. I wrote that I wanted to be akin to a kayak in the wind. Really, Chris, you wrote that? Anyway. Diagnosis: Success. I am realistic about my commitments and cut down the remaining vestiges of aspirational unreliability. My kids are still alive and healthy enough so I did well there. I slept a lot more, helping to steady my emotions and emotional presentation. I had little sense how the sleep deprivation inherent to having small children unmoored me. I revamped how I organize my life, making me more productive at work. I did the stuff I said I would do. I did not do the stuff I said I would not. I apologized when I was wrong and I resolved my interpersonal debts the best I could. So I leave this year feeling confident that my one-word project had adequate success.

Next year: “sober”. It’s not a goal tied to my relationship to alcohol, though that could stand to be a bit more distant. Sober as in clearheaded. Sober as in serious. Sober as in self-control. Sober as in temperate when encountering discursive intoxicants, designed to distract me from “what is” towards a different, fictitious if easier world. I am not immune to the fear pervading the edges of all my social worlds. I am not immune to intoxicating ideologies reifying the status quo. The gentle lullabies of a comfortable life put me to sleep too. The world, as it is, can be hard to see. The ways it is gray and unresolved can require stamina to coexist with it. The ways it is wrong can take courage to fight. I aim to see what is and engage accordingly. I don’t want to distort the world into what I wish it to be, what makes the most sense to me, or what is the most convenient. I’m not going to tell myself things are OK if they are not. I am going to be brave enough to look what is in the eye without some salve of wishful re-framing.

In 2016 I focused on being consistent. In 2017 I plan to focus on being real. I also resolve to continue trying to be kind and gentle in the process. Life is better that way – mine and hopefully the other people I interact with. I resolve to keep being reliable. I resolve to do better for my community and for my family.

I hope 2017 is a wonderful year for all of you. I appreciate that you choose to take the time to read this blog. Thank you.

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Exit: Stage Five

Coming to terms with mortality has been a 5-stage grieving process. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I spent most of my life in denial. You know, death being that thing that happens to *other* people. Then I noticed a few creases around my eyes and the wear of my body and it’s a short jump from acknowledging aging to acknowledging the inevitable outcome of aging.

I spent probably the first part of this year low-key angry about death’s inevitability and the ephemeral nature of everything.

I got super protective of my safety this spring and summer, like I’m trading the things that make me feel alive in order to actually stay alive. Risk mitigation is part of the Living Terms of Service, but there’s reasonable and there’s tight-grip fear-driven attachment security theater, the sort of which makes never leaving your house seem appealing. I wanted control. Control is often at least a little bit mirage.

Doom encased much of my perceptions and I became very sad. Like every time I experienced something I loved, I thought, “This too will pass.” Found myself quietly lamenting every change, like I wanted to take the current circumstances and cast them in stone. I want the the people around me to be here forever. I want these joys to be reliable, not fleeting. Life is ephemeral, and therein what makes it so sweet…

Any claim to “acceptance” is tenuous, at best, but somewhere, somehow, I’ve ripened into a deeper sense of peace.

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Solstice

Chalice in my dining room. December 21, 2016. My photo

And every solstice I’m grateful for the longest night because it means the days will get longer.

Buffalo Central Terminal from Memorial Circle. December 21, 2016. My photo.

The last three years I’ve spent a couple hours marking the death of those who died while homeless, in the shadow of Buffalo’s legacy, in a neighborhood emptied of most of its housing. It’s sad. Death is the part of the work that bothers everyone the most, even in a context where effectiveness buoys a lot of hope.

Orchid at my desk. December 21, 2016. My photo.

This orchid began to bloom today, like I needed a reminder to wake up. The year begins anew.

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“Innocence is overrated based on what you haven’t done”

Military Road in Kenmore, NY. December 9, 2016. My photo.

You’re not innocent.

Innocence is purity and purity sometimes happens in chemistry and never happens in people.

You’re not right.

Righteousness requires purity. We’ve already been over that.

You can make the world imperfectly better with imperfect strategies.

There’s no utility to guilt unless it includes accountability. Ideally, accountability comes on a sliding scale of severity. I am hearing from people a fear of being ostracized for things they do not understand, being condemned when they need to be educated. Not that this need is always recognized by anyone involved. We use the same words and speak different languages.

The need to be innocent is toxic. Rhetoric is too easy to tangle, too easy to manipulate, too easy to believe. It is too easy to rewrite the moral codes to include whatever you do. People do it all the time, when the worse thing they can imagine being is wrong.

Demanding total innocence from others is violent. Obviously, right? We’re human. Purity never happens in people.

I have found greater peace accepting that the world I live in, the world I came form, the world that gave me every molecule of my being, is primarily made of dirt. With that starting point, I can just be. I can just do. I can evaluate the best I can do from a stance unthreatened by the fact I’m never actually the best.

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2016

Paderewski Drive near Fillmore, approaching Central Terminal. December 14, 2016. My photo

 

In 2016, I

  • turned 30
  • embraced birding
  • started using fountain pens
  • started bullet journaling
  • worked on accepting my mortality
  • spent a lot of time wishing I’d just accept my mortality
  • had some excellent professional success
  • had some professional challenges
  • re-evaluated all of my beliefs
  • took risks
  • retreated
  • took more risks
  • retreated again
  • experienced great joy in my relationships (spouse, children, family, friends, colleagues, etc)
  • made sufficient peace with my 20s
  • made almost as much peace as I’d like to all around
  • started talking about my twenties as a bygone era
  • learned a lot about how to be an effective advocate
  • learned a lot about how not to be an effective advocate
  • got quiet
  • got louder
  • Started writing more
  • started sleeping more
  • had clearer thinking than in the previous two years
  • felt more comfortable in my skin than I ever have
  • learned a lot about my weaknesses, in the “OK now I can do better” sort of way
  • realized some stuff
  • got braver
  • became more discerning
  • learned a lot
  • ended the year feeling like I knew less than when it started

In 2017 I would like to:

  • Still be living in a democracy
  • Still be living in Buffalo
  • Doing items 1 and 2 at the same time
  • Do what I gotta do to make 1 and 2 happen at the same time
  • See a purple finch
  • Get better at painting with watercolors
  • Refine my handwriting
  • Directly contribute to at least three positive tangible changes in my community
  • Indirectly contribute to a lot more
  • Learn coding in a meaningful way
  • Get a broader imagination for the good that could be while I’m fighting the world as it is
  • [placeholder of private stuff]
  • [find ways to be private and still share my soul when it needs to be shared]

 

 

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What the water gave me

Main Street, Buffalo. 12-15-2016. My photo

 

A foot a snow. That’s what the water gave me.

—–

Scene: a nightmare. The roads suddenly turned to ice and my car careened into a yard. I walked home, walked into the house, looked through a kitchen window that does not exist in real life to see a thunder-snow-induced tornado in the distance. No, no, no. I thought to myself. How will I convince my small children to stay still under a rug in the basement? I scurry them down, try, fail, but the house doesn’t blow away. I run upstairs to the window. The tornado appears to be moving in a direction that isn’t my home. I tell my family that I’ll be back, lace-up my work boots and run downtown to see. I see the damage in the buildings that the tornadoes caused, fire and electricity shooting into the sky. I notice the tornado is heading into the East Side of Buffalo (a very worn and poor part of the city). I cannot see the damage it’s doing to the East Side with the buildings in the way, but I know it is. I lace my boots back up to run home, “I think we’re going to be safe” is what I want to tell the kids, but I’m so afraid that is not actually true. It is still too close. I woke before I arrived.

The fear stayed with me through the day. I feel like I am witnessing terrifying things happening mostly to other people.

Buffalo has a reputation for being snowy, but I am going to let you in on a less-known fact: the south and eastern parts of the city get most of the snow. The suburbs south of Buffalo get a lot. Thanks to a quirk of the city’s orientation to Lake Erie, downtown and neighborhoods of Buffalo that are north, where I work and live, tend to be above the severest parts of the snow band. Not always. I have a foot of snow outside, none of it plowed. So the news tells tales of dramatic accumulation and not infrequently I’ll see blue sky above me and green grass below me, with a dark gray band of doom in the sky to the south. You’ll see the errant car in the Wegmans lot that clearly had the snow brushed off but everything else is dry. Living in the northern part of Buffalo is thus this experience in being a bystander to another area’s weather troubles.  It’s not to say we never get snow. We had a blizzard just today. Northern, Western Buffalo infrequently get the dramatic accumulation Buffalo is known for.

There was a famous storm two years ago, our county executive calls it “Winter Storm Knife” and everyone else calls it Snovember. Some of the region got seven feet. In Northwest Buffalo, we got hardly anything. I remember standing in the sun on the corner of Military Road and Hertel Avenue, staring south into a wall of black. The sky above me was blue. It’s surreal. I feel that way most of the time.

I am heartbroken over the indiscriminate killing in Aleppo and I feel powerless. I am angry over how the election did not represent most American’s ideals and Trump’s fascism and I feel impotent. Professionally, my work makes some inroads, and some people’s lives safer and healthier in regards to a serious social problem in my area, but my labors do not reach much farther. I see many more problems than I can fix. Society is a long game, and its duration exceeds generations. I dream of a better world for my kids discouraged by the one I see, aware of humanity’s tendency to do the same human things. Human history is a long list of people treating each other badly. So far, I’ve been spared.

Of course I could run into the fire. Of course I could go swimming into the undertow trying to save those already there. I could do something for the sake of being able to say I did it, to tell my grandchildren I did the “right” thing, that I was not the bystander to an atrocity. Sometimes it feels as if I these efforts are attempting to move a lake-effect cloud. I am smaller than the wind. I could run into it, but it simply diverts around my body and continues on its present course. Windbreaks must be larger than just me. I could run over to assist with the snow removal, but all I have is a shovel. There’s people with snowblowers. Heck, even plows, like whole automobiles whose only purpose is snow removal. I know if I coordinate with them, in this case, they’ll say stay away. But don’t forget to pay my taxes.

I loathe when people act as if performing concern is some sort of moral obligation. “Why aren’t you saying anything about THIS THING THAT MATTERS MOST TO ME?!” strangers yell at each other across social media, as if what gets banged out in 140 is the entirety of another’s soul. Quiet gets confused for indifference. Don’t get me wrong – the two often co-exist. Policing people’s performance of concern will always result in the target being condemned. The world has yet to run out of incidences of life-or-death concerns, injustices, or suffering. The fact is that, in most cases, me sitting in my living room being sad will do exactly nothing to solve most of the far-off problems, though sadness is a reasonable response. When I was younger, I understood happiness as the absence of sorrow. Slowly, I’d learn more about how enduring awful the world has been and it would stay with me, poisoning all my moments until I learned to compartmentalize. Thank God I learned to compartmentalize. I could not do my current work if I had not. I also learned to reduce the amount of ownership I took of the problems that were literally too big for me, or in another’s responsibility, and to let it be. I’m told these are called “boundaries”. There is utility in being aware and calm in being able to surrender to your limits.

Most of the time we’ll be staring at the metaphoric Lake Effect Cloud dumping snow somewhere else.

Sometimes it’ll be in our own yard.

Know where the snow is.

Know when you’re the person to pull 0ut the shovel.

Know when you’re the person to pay the taxes.

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