It’s All One Post

Somewhere in Neil Young’s live album Year of the Horse he yells “It’s all one song!” I’m beginning to feel that way about my posts lately. Guess I write what I know, eh?

Today we learned my mom was accepted at the assisted living facility we loved and hoped for.

H’ray!

We also discovered that there’s more than $700 missing from her bank account, and the most likely explanation is, sadly, the abuse of trust. Another reason we’ve been putting all legal docs and records under the control of one of her children instead of the wrong people having too much access.

But, she has a new home, and we can start moving her soon, and clean out her apartment.

And then I can go home.


Bells

His mother picked up his sister from our house. She said he’s not answering his phone we have to go.

His mother, young enough to be my daughter, cut him down.

His sister ran to the neighbor, my friend: he’s dead he’s dead.

My friend knelt over him in the hallway for two hours doing CPR until the paramedics came. Two hours.

The paramedics worked for two hours before they gave up.

My friend texted me. He just didn’t have the strength for the phone call.

I told my wife. She cried.

We talked. We told our daughter. She cried. Her first death.

My wife said I have to be there. We went over.

We hugged everybody. Everybody hugged everybody.

There was no crying left.


Three months later I wrote this song.

I finally cried.

Bells

I really don’t blame him he chose not to call
he’d been there for hours crouched in the hall
he sent me the message my heart tore in two
said someone was dead he said it was you

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

Why didn’t I see you were so lost?
Would have done anything, paid any cost
But I never asked, and you never said
And some days I wish, it was me instead

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

no matter how black there’s always hope
but it’s hard to see at the end of your rope
in the middle of love now there’s a hole
silence so loud taking its toll

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go


Aging Squared

My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.

My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.

When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.

Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.

She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.

I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.

Maybe I’m just too old, period.

(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)


Two-Friend Tent

Sue was digging through an old box and found this story I wrote 26 years ago. Perhaps the second story I ever wrote.

Two-Friend Tent

I think Mike and I have always been friends. Always except last week I mean. Last week he said something not very friendly, so I told him we weren’t friends anymore. I guess something like that needs some explaining.

Two weeks ago we had a new kid in class. His name is Artie Stevenson. Everyone always wonders if a new kid is a nerd or if he’s OK. You can always tell by lunchtime. Artie didn’t raise his hand and try to answer every question in class, and at lunch he didn’t have a dumb lunch box or anything like that. His mom sent carrot sticks, but when he said his dad lifted weights and he ate carrot sticks for lunch no one said anything.

Anyway, some of us went over to Artie’s house after school the next day, and that’s when we knew for sure he was OK. When he saw our bikes, mine and Mike’s and Billy Swenson’s, Artie said let’s go riding. When he got his bike from the garage, we could tell he was OK because he had the coolest bike we’d ever seen but he didn’t brag or say anything about it, just, “Come on, let’s go, guys” and we raced to the empty lot.

The next day, Mike wanted to come over and play Captain Crash on my computer. Well, really it’s my dad’s but he lets us use it if we’re careful. I said let’s go bike riding with Artie, and he said, “Okay” but I think he didn’t want to. He didn’t tell his usual number of dumb jokes that day. (Mike’s jokes are alright, just a little goofy sometimes.) I guess I didn’t notice then, but I do now.

After that, it seemed like every day Mike wanted to do one thing and I wanted to do something else. My something else usually meant going to Artie’s house. Before, Mike and I always wanted to do the same things. I couldn’t figure out why he was being so weird.

That weekend, Artie’s mom said he could have one of us guys over to spend the night in his tent in the back yard. He could only have one of us, she said, because it was a small tent. Artie picked me, and I was real happy, and Billy didn’t mind, but Mike was just weird. He just said, “I’ll see you guys later. I gotta go.”

My mom said I could go straight to Artie’s right after school Friday so I took all my stuff in my school backpack.

Artie’s tent was neat. His dad barbecued, and his mom made us some snacks for after they went in the house. His parents are real cool. They even made sure we had a flashlight, in case we needed to come in the house in the middle of the night or anything. Then we had homemade pancakes for breakfast. Not homemade from a box, homemade from just kitchen stuff. His mom even made the syrup!

After that, Artie came over and we played Captain Crash until my dad needed to use the computer. (Dad says when he gets a new computer I get to have his old one in my room.) Artie is pretty good at Captain Crash. He said his best friend at his old house had it and he was glad his new best friend had it, too. He meant me.

When Artie went home I called Mike to tell him how good Artie was at Captain Crash. All he said was, “Yeah, okay. I gotta go, okay?” Then I asked him how come he was so weird all the time, and then he said it.

“At least I’m not a computer nerd like some people.”

Mike never had any problems with computers before, but I wasn’t gonna let him say that, so I told him he wasn’t my best friend anymore. I told him Artie was my new best friend. I told him he couldn’t play my computer anymore and his bike wasn’t cool, and he said he didn’t want to be a computer nerd, and how would a computer nerd know what was cool anyway. I got mad and hung up.

My mom and dad were weird all day Saturday. They acted like something was wrong with me. I said, “If you want to see someone who has something wrong with them, go to Mike’s house.” They didn’t go, but they were less weird I guess.

Monday Mike and I didn’t sit together at lunch. All the guys were acting weird, so after I ate I went to the library instead of going out to play baseball like I usually do. I didn’t want to see a bunch of weird guys right after lunch. Especially not Mike.

Guess who was in the library.

I was just minding my own business over by the baseball books when Mike walked up and started looking at one of them. He just looked at it for a minute and then put it back. Then he just stood there. Finally I asked him, “How come you’re in here being a library nerd instead of playing baseball?”

He said, “You know I can’t play catcher with one of those other guys pitching. You know they always almost hit me.” I didn’t say anything about what I would do if I was pitching. Then the bell rang for class, so Mike left and I checked out the book I was looking at.

That day after school, Mike called. He said he and Artie and Billy and Reggie Williams and some other guys were playing baseball and did I want to come over and pitch. He said, “I told Artie how good you are, and he said I should call you. So I did. Are you coming or what?” I didn’t want to, but it was boring playing Captain Crash by myself because I know all the levels, so I said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

When I got there they were already playing. Tommy Wethers was pitching, but when Mike saw me he yelled, “Hey, let’s get a real pitcher in here,” and Tommy threw me the ball and ran to shortstop where he usually plays. I didn’t want to pitch to Mike, but all the guys were waiting and looking so I went to the mound and pitched.

It was a pretty good game, but the main thing I remember is that when we started playing, it was hard to stay mad at Mike. You can’t pitch when you’re thinking about something else; you have to concentrate. Also, the pitcher and the catcher have to work together. You can’t just throw the ball and hope he catches it. He has to know what to expect, like Mike said.

The baseball book I checked out says the pitcher and catcher are called ‘the battery’ like they’re charged up or something. After the game I told Mike that, and he said something about us being real high voltage. Then he asked if he could come over and play Captain Crash. “Aren’t you afraid of turning into a computer nerd?” I asked.

“Naw,” he said. “I know a guy who’s a computer nerd, and he’s the best pitcher in the whole world, except maybe Nolan Ryan.” I didn’t know what to say about that. I just punched him in the shoulder and said, “First one to my house gets to use the Electro-Ray adapter” and took off. Mike beat me like he always does.

We played Captain Crash until dinner time, and Mom asked if Mike wanted to stay for dinner. My dad and I drove him home afterwards because it was getting dark.

On the way home my dad said, “It’s nice to see you and Mike being yourselves again. Friends are important.” I guess he noticed how weird Mike had been acting.

On Friday, Dad asked if I wanted to have someone over for dinner. “And spend the night?” I asked.

“Sure, if you want.”

I ran to the phone to call Artie, but I guess I accidentally punched Mike’s number. I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I had the very best idea ever. “Can I have two guys over, Dad?”

My mom answered instead. “As long as you promise to give me just a little peace and quiet this evening.” I said I had an idea, and she would get peace and quiet.

Mike said yes, and when I called Artie he said yes, too.

When I got off the phone my mom said, “You know dear, some kids have two best friends..”

I said, “Yeah, like me.” That was my super idea.

My tent sleeps three.


More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.


15-Minute Song

That’s not 15 minutes long, it’s 15 minutes to write.

Last Saturday we played some of my songs for a bunch of friends in our living room. During the show, folks scribbled notes on slips of paper and dropped them in one of 6 hats:

  • people
  • places
  • moods
  • things
  • times
  • ?

At the end of the evening, I drew a random sample of suggestions from all 6 and wrote a song. In 15 minutes.

The suggestions were

  • pensive
  • dark ages
  • Costa Rica
  • Aunt Jemima
  • old motorcycles
  • siblings
  • a cowboy who doesn’t like horses or cows

I chose 2 people which is why there are 7 on the list.

It pretty much wrote itself. The video below (lightly edited for bonehead mistakes) was shot 15 minutes after I drew the suggestions. I’m switching a lyric to specifically mention Costa Rica, but even though “dark ages” would fit where I used “medieval” it just doesn’t flow, so that stays.

Lyrics

I wonder why I didn’t post these before?

what do you do when you’re in the wrong place
in the wrong place in the wrong time?
thinking like that can ruin your breakfast
looking for reason and rhyme

roping and riding and drivin’ ’em in
is driving me out of my mind
so I’m moving on
next week I’ll be gone
the week after that I’ll fine

my sister just doesn’t get it
she doesn’t have to, she knows I’m okay
her Harley will get me to LAX
I’m flying south today

chorus

I’m off on a plane to the tropics
heading south as fast as I can
get away from those horses and smelly old cows
in Costa Rica I could work on my tan

chorus

no more bacon and eggs in the morning
Aunt Jemima’s got nothing on me
that medieval torture of saddle tramp days
is washing away in the sea

chorus


Frustrating Dreams

My dreams follow a pattern: someone is waiting for me, I have somewhere to be or a task to get done; essentially, a clock is ticking and it’s my job to beat it. Never happens. Every dream is a cosmic conspiracy to mire me in failure. Now, lest you get the impression I’m having some groovy James Bond Mission Impossible action adventure in my head, here’s what was going on just before I woke up this morning:

We were rushing to get ready to go somewhere important, “we” being, perhaps, my family when I was a kid. People in my dreams tend to morph between past, present, and imaginary. I could not find my one and only good dress shirt. I found a pile of shirts and knew I had to take each one off the hanger before I could see the next one. The first shirt, red rayon or thin cotton, Hawaiian print, had frayed buttonholes. The buttons caught in the threads and it was torture getting each one undone. Every button was buttoned.

Trivial, eh?

At this point in the dream, I’m having trouble breathing, my chest is pounding, I’m in full blown panic, beyond reason, flailing and raging internally like an animal, but carefully stifling any expression of emotion lest others, already tense and frustrated and blaming me, become offended.

I never finished the shirt because I had to put the fish in the freezer. I’d told everyone else to go ahead and I’d come on my own because I knew I’d never be ready on time. They chose to wait for me, but still expected me to be ready on time.

Walking from the kitchen to the bedroom, something was wrong. I went back and walked it again, some giant package which was apparently frozen fish (though it wasn’t cold) in my arms.

The freezer was gone. I’d been walking back and forth through the space where it had been.

At this point the panic reached the point of madness. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the people around me I would have cackled maniacally, knowing my mind had entirely lost its grip on reality. Vague thoughts of doing grievous bodily harm to myself or others hover in the back of my mind; I can no longer bear the madness of confusion, frustration, obligation. I would surrender if I could, but the thought of all those people waiting on me drives me on in my useless, fruitless, hopeless quest.

I could picture my shirt. I kept seeing flashes of the pattern but it always turns out to be that blasted red shirt with the frayed buttonholes.

No one knew where the freezer was. We were all late.

I woke up.

Why can’t I have flying dreams?

Oh, the fish? No idea where it went. Before the dream ended it was just gone.


Merciless

We read in order to learn how to face life’s challenges.

A book without challenges teaches us nothing.

The greater odds our hero faces, the more we learn from their success (or, to be fair, failure.)

I’ll confess that the young boy in my current work in progress is me, and I’m using the book to work through some childhood difficulties I’ve never been able to shake; nothing world-shattering, just the usual pains of being different and trying to grow up.

Continue reading “Merciless”


2-for-1: Food, Family, Fear, and Whiskey Waffles

Hurry up, get in, let’s go. Two stops to make today.

Ladies first: Elizabeth Kaiser joins me in the post Food, Family, Fear. They’re connected, oh yes indeedy.

Then, my friend and editor and occasional drinking buddy Tom ‘BentGuy’ Bentley interviews me about my books, process, and tastes. And we talk waffles. And whiskey.


Pause

tl;dr — I’m taking a break from my online presence

Here’s why.

I registered my first domain name in February of 1999. (It was spinhead.com, the one I use for my web design company and my primary email.) I’d already been designing websites for 4 years prior, and working with computers since I first went to work with my Dad sometime in 1976 or so.

For the past 20 years I’ve spent more and more time online.

And less and less time in the real world.

I’m trading the deceptive ease of online relationships for the messy complications of infinitely more satisfying connections in real life.

More time out in nature.

More time playing music.

More time with Best Beloved and our Little One.

More time sharing meals with friends. And taking my cooking from good cook to creative chef.

More time writing and studying the craft of writing, novels and music.

More time out in it and less time in my head.

Some Things to Note

If you know me in real life, you know how to get in touch. Do so, or wait till you see me later in the week.

Otherwise contact Sue (Sue@Spinhead.com or 715.296.0347) and she’ll know what to do.

Here’s what this is not about:

  • Nothing is wrong. Honest.
  • This is not a reaction, it’s an action. A choice based on deep thinking, meditation, and conversation with those I trust most.
  • It’s not about you. You didn’t offend or hurt me. Not now, probably not ever.
  • I’ll still be writing. A lot.
  • I don’t know when, or if, I’ll resume my previous online shenanigans, meaning posting everywhere, emailing like a dervish, living in social media. But don’t hold your breath.

P.S. from Sue – I fully support Joel in this decision. As his Chief Social Media Officer however, you’ll note that I’ll be managing his social media accounts on his behalf. So if you see his tweets or posts on his Facebook Author page, that’s me behind the scenes. ;)