Thursday, July 31, 2014

The night I saved the baby Jesus from a church fire


July 31, 2014
          Day 92

Yes, I think too highly of myself at times.  Yes, the title of this reflection is pretty 'out there'.  And yes, this is just about a dream I had...but let me tell you how it went.

At first, things were quiet.  Everyone around me was just praying in complete silence.  Suddenly, a huge fire broke out, I don't know how, and everyone started running for the only exit at the back of the church.

Because I was up front near the altar, I was near the very back of the crowd trying to escape.

By the time I reached the main aisle of the church, there were less people now trying to get out, and I saw in the middle of the aisle a small baby crying by himself, no one leaning down to lift him up and rescue him.  I recognized him right away as Jesus (I don't know how or why).  So I picked him up right away, and carried him outside to safety, where everyone was just milling about calmly.  People were acting as if now that they had escaped, everything behind them was all fine again.

Several priests were standing there smiling, all dressed up in robes like this was the highest holy day imaginable, and right in front was my old novice master, Father Francis.  Strangely though, he had red hair, like me. No one seemed to notice I had a baby with me, or even that the baby was Jesus.

And that was it.  I had this dream some time after leaving the religious life, but I can't recall now when it was.  I'd have to search around to find some previous journal record of the day I woke up and wrote it all down.

Interpretations, right or wrong:

1) I have a savior complex.  I think I'm the only one who cares.

2) I was being told to help rescue the innocence of Jesus from the hands of the church, to bring Jesus back to the people, outside the confines of religion.

3) My novice master was my biggest challenge in the religious life.  He disliked me very much, and told me as much many times in many different ways.  No matter how hard I tried, he always made me feel insignificant and unworthy.  Seeing him as a redhead (he actually had dark or gray hair) was teaching me to understand him as I try to understand myself, to love him as I love myself, and to forgive him as I forgive myself.

Those are just some best guesses for now...but I'd welcome your interpretations anytime too!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer's Flying By


July 30, 2014
          Day 91

If you're anything like me, the last week of July automatically turns you into a philosopher. 

"Wow, the summer is totally flying by!"

"Oh man, just one month left now!"

and...

"Wait, August is this week?"

And the worst part is (I hate to tell you this), Labor Day this year is on September 1st.  Yep.  The 1st!  That means as soon as September arrives, summer is unofficially OVER.  DONE!  KAPUT!  FINISHED!  Sometimes September gives us a few days or even a week to adjust, but this year, you can be sure that once September arrives, you may as well pack those white shirts away and start decorating for Halloween, because baby, the good times of summer will be G O N E !!!

The good news is, we still have another month to go!  It hasn't happened yet!  This summer feeling, these summer days, that summer warmth?  It's all... still... here!

So what will YOU do with the next 32 days before September 1st arrives?  Even if you don't have money, you can still find things to do to pass the next month or so, right?  Of course you can!  You just need to take the time to do it.  And if needed, make the time to do it.  Seize the day, seize the hour, seize the minute, and just absorb all of the summer you can grab hold of, and don't let go.

Summer flies by every year, but this one hasn't flown us by yet!  So make sure to enjoy as much of it as you can, and as often as you can.  We only get so many summers in this life, and this one's right here, right now, and right and ripe for the picking!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The smelliest prank


July 29, 2014
          Day 90

It was probably during my junior year of high school.  My friend Brendan and I both worked at the local A&P supermarket in our town, so we'd work whatever shifts we could, weekdays and weekends.

Now I was a fairly good student growing up, but I also found ways to slide by when I could, too.  Some nights when my work shift and my homework got to be too much, I'd plan to get some work done in the school cafeteria the next day before my first class.

The problem here, is that Brendan knew this.  Oh yes, you better believe he knew this.

What exactly did he know?  Well, he knew there was a fairly good chance the book bag I'd brought to work that night after school would not only not get opened during any downtime on my shift, but that I probably wouldn't even open it again until the next morning at school.  And the worst part of all of this?  Brendan and I worked in the fish department at our local A&P.

Starting to see where this is going?

So picture the scene.  8:00 in the morning, 50 to 100 kids eating breakfast, talking loudly, hanging out, studying, and just whatever else.  And then there's me, sitting at a table in the middle of all of this, and planning to finish some homework as quickly as I can before class.  I toss my book bag onto the table, and open it up quickly...and something is wrong.  Something is very, very wrong.

Right on top of my books is a small bag that's giving off a horrible smell.  At this point, I wasn't thinking of my friend, or our job at the supermarket, or anything else.  I was just in a hazy, early-morning shock.  So I open up this barely closed bag (it wasn't tied or anything), and I see this...this face staring back up at me. 

See, in the fish department at A&P, we often had fish heads displayed around the cuts of fish.  The display was always set up very nicely by the department manager.  Lots of ice, some fillets of various types of fish, and here and there, interspersed for a fun decoration, were these fish heads. 

After a few seconds, as I allowed my brain to fully process this dead fish with bulging eyes and sharp teeth staring up at me, I closed the plastic bag it was wrapped in, and then made for the nearest garbage pail as calmly and as quietly as I could, and just prayed that no one else had noticed.  I imagine if they did see what I had in my bag, the story would have probably circulated pretty quickly, and subsequently haunted me for the remainder of high school.  But thankfully, this fish tale is simply relocated here instead.  My friend had pranked me, and pranked me good, and my book bag didn't lose the...well, the aroma for the rest of the day. 

So kids, the moral of the story is, do your homework at home the night before it's due, and not the morning it's due.  And if you happen to work in a fish department, please don't leave the supermarket without first checking to see that no other creatures, living or dead, are leaving along with you!

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to write a book

My first and second books, as displayed by my friend
and fellow author, Richard J. Tomack.

July 28, 2014
          Day 89

So let's say you want to write a book.  Where do you begin? 

If you think it starts with a great idea for a book, you're very close, but incorrect.  Actually, when beginning a book, you have to first start with an absolute determination to eventually complete the book-writing process.

No great idea will get you anywhere if the book never happens.  And no book will ever happen without a person first choosing to believe in him or herself.  You must begin with this basic desire and determination to succeed before you can ever hope to see a finished product displayed on a bookshelf.

So...

Step 1: Determination to complete. 

Step 2: Have a great, original idea with a thorough plan.  If someone asks you what your book idea is, you'll need to be able to give them a thorough answer, and not just a foggy idea.

Wrong: It's about aliens with penises on their heads!

Right Better: It's about a race of aliens from a nearby galaxy with penises on their heads.  They find Earth, and find out that some Earthlings have penises, but in the middle of their body, not on top.  The book becomes a fun adventure as three of these aliens form an unlikely bond with three men and three women, all of whom work in The White House!

Now for me, steps 3 and 4 can become interchangeable, so decide what works best for you once you're ready to start.  In no particular order though, they are...

Steps 3 and 4: Create an outline, and begin to write.  These two steps are interchangeable, because you need to decide what your own brain would prefer. 

Do you need to figure out a chapter topic or scene description to help get you going?  If so, you'll probably prefer to create a basic outline first, so as each new chapter or part of your book-writing arrives, you know how it needs to evolve, or what subject matter needs to be discussed. 

Or do you need to just write, and let your creativity pull everything together first and foremost?  If so, then beginning to write is what you need to do right off the bat.  The outline can form over time.

Either way though, an outline is crucial to keeping you focused, and helps you concentrate on the many tasks at hand.  And it is MANY tasks, because book writing isn't just about writing; it's about storytelling, stories-telling, story-arcing, and connection.  It's not easy, but you can do it! 

For me, I wrote my first book without an outline.  I didn't know where it would go, and I just let it carry me forward.  I wrote my second book with an outline.  It had a plan of action, a general setting or character structure for each chapter, and it had absolute turning points in the story which were predefined.  And now that I'm working on my third book, I'm learning to do BOTH of these different systems at the same time, which I think may work best of all.  I started writing my third book with ideas and notes (approximately 25 pages' worth of notes!), but no hard outline.  I've decided to allow the outline to slowly form as I need it to.

Step 5: Find an ending.  An ending doesn't have to be earth-shattering, and it shouldn't be lifeless either, but it should feel finished.  Unlike the reader of a book, you as the author must know how it ends before you get there.  It may not all reveal itself to you in one moment or one day, but it should start coming to you sooner rather than later.  Knowing the ending will only help you find your way to that place in your book.

Even in a series like I've been working on now, concluding with my upcoming third book, each book's finale needed to be strong, leading up to my third book's ending, which I want to feel not just big, but gratifyingly so too.  I want my readers to feel they got any and all questions answered about the series by book three's end, and to feel as if, even though more could always be said, that I gave them a great overall story filled with many cool smaller stories.

Beyond these five steps, you need to then begin editing your book.  That's worthy of its own long blog entry, so I won't go into it here, except to say the editing phase for a book should take you months to do, it should be handled by a professional editor, and your book should ideally be seen by multiple smart people who can rip you to shreds if they need to, in order to help you achieve the best finished version your book can be.

So to recap:

Step 1: You need to have the determination to really do this, and not just start it.

Step 2: You need to have a great idea.  Not a foggy idea, not a general idea, but a really great idea you can turn into a plan of action as you write.

Steps 3 and 4: Form an outline, and begin to write.  Figure out what works best for you, but definitely HELP YOURSELF by forming some general outline as you go along!

Step 5: Find an ending.  You may not even have the exact ending in mind when you begin the book.  That's fine!  That's normal!  But you do need to figure out how it'll end before you finish. 

That's all I've got for now, but by all means, reply and ask me anything!  (Just don't ask me about the aliens with penises on their heads.  I'm trying to forget.)







Sunday, July 27, 2014

A weekend flew by

July 27, 2014
          Day 88

And just like that, the weekend's over. 

This Friday night, Andy and I got Chipotle as we usually do, and then, once 1 AM came around, I was fast asleep.  What I didn't know was, I wouldn't end up getting up until around 1:30 Saturday afternoon.

Time flies!

By Saturday evening, we were headed out to a block party, just for an hour or so...we thought.  Six hours later, we finally left, and were home around 1 AM.  Friday night and Saturday were now behind us in the rear view mirror, already fading from view.

Sunday morning (today), I got up around 10:30, made some coffee and toast, and turned on my computer.  Our friend John came by around 12ish, but by 2:30, we were beginning to get ready for my nephew's wife's 30th birthday party at 4.  And I just got in from that now a little while ago.  It's almost 10 now on Sunday night as I write this, and my entire weekend, full as it was, is now gone!

I treasure weekends full of nothingness, but I have to say, even really full ones like this one are full of many happy memories, and lots and lots of laughs!

The weekend flew by, but in its wake, we're left tired and happy.  And life is good!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Big things are coming

Click for full picture + click x in top right to return.

July 26, 2014
          Day 87

There's something extra special about Colorado that I don't think many outsiders know about. 

When you land in Denver, you're not landing anywhere near the mountains.  In fact, the airport itself feels closer to Kansas or Nebraska than it does to Denver.  It's just way, way, way out there, and the mountains are still far off in the distance.

Once you get into the Denver metro area, you still have a drive before you start getting into higher elevations, and even then, you're still in what's often referred to as the front range.  But then it happens.  Huge mountains and gorgeous vistas begin appearing before you.  Snow-capped mountains--even in the 90+ heat of July--reveal their beauty high above you in the sky. 

Like my trip into the mountains, this entire year's worth of daily blog writing is my way of moving up slowly to my 40th birthday.  I chose to go through this journey from age 39 to 40 so publicly, because for me, my life is already quite public to begin with. 
"Life is like playing a violin solo in public, and learning the instrument
 as one goes along." --Samuel Butler
I've reached many mountaintops so far in life, but I didn't publish my first book until I was 37, and my second was published after turning 38.  I hope to have the third published before I'm 40.  I was a monk for four years, and planning to be a teacher of English Literature and Theology.  (I was also planning to be celibate!)  Seventeen years now after leaving the religious order, I've built a new life for myself, including a beautiful relationship for the past 12 years, a beautiful home in a beautiful town called Malverne, and just a beautiful life filled with great friends, great travel experiences, and many great memories.  My life is absolutely beautiful...but I do still have more mountains I want to climb.

The mountains I see up ahead of me are filled with new adventures just waiting for my arrival.  I don't know what 40 will look like, or even what the rest of 39 will look like for that matter, but I know I've been blessed with a beautifully scenic road so far.  The turns in the road have often surprised me, sometimes scared me, sometimes even upset me, but more often than not, they have completely delighted me. 

The road to the mountaintops I hope to reach with my writing career, and indeed with my life as a whole, is a long one.  Sometimes, the peaks still seem too far away to ever hope to reach.  Yet I keep on driving down this road anyway, and I enjoy the scenery as I go.  Maybe I'll get there, and maybe I won't, but either way, I'm grateful for the gift of the beautiful road I'm on right now.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Choosing to remember

Boulder Falls area in Boulder, Colorado.
Photo, as always, is click-on-able for the full size.
Just click the x in the top right to return to this blog entry.

July 25, 2014
          Day 86

We cannot escape the uncomfortable, annoying, or downright miserable moments of our lives.  We can't wipe them away, or even rewind time to handle things differently.  But we can always choose what to remember about our past.

On vacation to Colorado and Wyoming this past week, Andy and I filled up more large parts of our brains with new happy memories we will treasure forever.  We experienced so much in 5 short days in the area, and we loved just about every minute of our trip.  We took tons of photos and some videos, and we mostly just basked in the joy of vacation.

Those are memories we choose to hold on to, choose to treasure, choose to remember forever.  We could choose to focus on dragging luggage through the airport, or how miserable our seat mate on the plane ride back seemed to be.  I could choose to focus on how exhausted I was coming into work the past two days, or how difficult it is getting back to a normal schedule.  It'd be easy for me, for us, to call on any number of little miseries in the past week, or from any time in the past.  But instead, we choose to remember the happy times instead.

We choose to take photos of the happy times, not the sad.

We choose to tell friends and family about happy stories from our trips, not bad stories.

We choose to focus on so much that is good, instead of so much that could have been better.

We choose, we choose, we choose.  Our choices are important, because they set the tone for our whole world, our entire emotional universe.  We choose to remember the good times, because those are the memories that sustain us and inspire us, that keep us smiling, keep us happy, keep us ready to take on new adventures in the future.

Our choice for happiness is a simple one.  Misery will follow us everywhere, especially if we keep inviting it to come along.  But joy is there for most of us at many more turns in the road than we realize.  We choose which memories to hold onto, so we may as well choose to remember the joy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I need a vacation from vacation

Not sunburned...just the weird glare of the computer flash. :)
July 24, 2014
Day 85

Our flight landed in New York sometime after 10 PM last night, so I got to bed by 12:30 this morning ahead of a 7:30 alarm.  I know, I have no right to complain, as so many get less sleep than this all the time.  But couple this with the time difference and the post-vacation haze, and I'm one sleepy Seanny!

Have you ever said the phrase, "I need a vacation from vacation"?  Have you ever felt this post-vacation haze, the frustrating challenge of getting back to the grindstone right away, of readjusting to so-called "normal" life?  It's rough coming back to work right after vacation!  I could have planned today and tomorrow off from work, to ease myself back, but I didn't.  I chose to save these days for another trip.  Andy, on the other hand, was smart.  He's almost definitely still in bed at home as I write this.

Colorado and Wyoming are now two time zones behind me, and though all my photos and memories of the region came back to New York with me, the beauty of that part of the country remains there.  I hope to get back, but you never know, you know? 

Maybe this is another trait of turning 40 I have to accept: the older you get, the less certain you are you'll ever get back to a certain place again.  I'm sure this feeling grows and grows as we age, but at 39, I'm only just starting to feel it.  I've vacationed all over the place, but at some point, will it be my last chance to see a place before I die?  At what point is a trip somewhere more like a farewell tour than a booze cruise? 

Well, I guess I'll let thoughts like that simmer in the far back part of my brain for now!

Today, my trip to Colorado and Wyoming is behind me.  Ahead of me, I see a weekend, various plans with friends and family over the next few weeks, and best of all, another vacation at the end of August!  But right now, I need copious amounts of coffee poured into my mouth...multiple cups at a time, if at all possible! 

I need a vacation from vacation, but I'll happily settle for a light work day followed by some extra sleep tonight if I can.  Maybe by tomorrow, I'll be a bit more ready to grab hold of that grindstone.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Farewell, Colorado


July 23, 2014
          Day 84

And that was our vacation!

It's 9:18 AM local time here in the Rocky Mountains, and I'm about halfway done with my venti white chocolate mocha.  My suitcase lays open on the bed, and my clothes are in a pathetic little pile on the floor, waiting to be packed away again.

The journey back is still part of the journey, so we're not done yet.

2:21 PM local time in Denver.  We’re pretty early for our flight, and heard it’s about half an hour late.  Lovely. 

8:33 PM New York time.  We’re somewhere over Ohio...I think.  Hard toe over Ohio I think.   _______________________________________________________________________________________________ tell.  Our liftoff was a little more eventful than I’d prefer, as it seemed to take longer than it should have for us to get air born.  And turbulence welcomed us to the less than friendly skies soon afterward. 

Right now, Andy’s reading, as I was too just before opening up my Netbook to type this out, and we’re about an hour away from New York.  The sun will soon set behind us in the west, and the east coast of the United States awaits our arrival as we slowly drop in altitude.

We’ll be back at sea level once we land again in New York, and the Rocky Mountains will be several hours and maybe a couple thousand miles back behind us.  Our trip had its highs and lows, but mostly highs of course.  We drove up 10,000-mile peaks, close to two miles above sea level, and that was after landing in the mile-high city of Denver before that.  Hard to beat the heights we reached on this trip, but we always manage to find new fun in each new trip we take.

In the meantime, we are grateful for all we saw, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted on this trip. Colorado and Wyoming gave us much to appreciate, and much to think about.  As the sun slowly sets behind us on our journey, we already look forward to the new sunrises still ahead. 

11:45 PM in New York.  Home sweet home!

The trip is over, but the journey goes on...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Colorado, Day 5


July 22, 2014
          Day 83

One more day, one day more.

Today was our last full day in Colorado.  We spent it hiking around a large park called Elk Meadow Park, so named because you can supposedly see elk all over the place.

Strangely, we didn't.

In fact, the only brush we had with the elk population came after we left the park and were driving around checking out the area.  As I was leaning in looking at the most recent photos I'd taken, I heard Andy, behind the wheel, say, "Whoa!" as he swerved the car slightly around a sharp bend.

There on the side of the road, eating someone's plants and bushes, was a large elk.  At least we think it was.  It may have been a deer, but we've heard the elk's antlers are larger, and the elk are more social than deer.  So I have no idea yet.  We got a couple of photos of the beautiful creature and will take them back to the "lab" (New York) for "testing" (ask smarter people than us what kind of animal it is).

The one sighting we had once we were off the regular trails reminded us to remain open-minded about our expectations.  You may not find what you're looking for in the place you're sure it'll be.  And you may find the object of your search just inches away when you least expect it.  Expectations then, are unreliable.

What are you expecting?  Who are you expecting?  Are you on the roads you hope to find it/him/her?  Have you considered doing something completely different?

When we went off on a new road after our hike, we didn't think we'd see anything elk-like, but we were happy to be wrong.  Sometimes being wrong is the only way to be right, and sometimes going to all the right places is just all wrong.

________________________

Leaving tomorrow.  Will update this blog very late Wednesday night once we're home.  And by the way, I learned something new from a woman I met up at Bear Lake the other day.  When you take a selfie with an elk, it's called a selkie.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Colorado, Day 4


July 21, 2014
          Day 82

One of the funniest things I've seen up here in the Rockies are signs that say, "Scenic Area" followed by a parking lot or pull-off area.  What's crazy and funny about this is, of course, the fact that everywhere you look, there are scenic areas!

Today we went to the beautiful ski resort area of Vail, Colorado, but of course even before and after that area, we were told to look around us through these signs.  Do people not look around?  Do they not see what's right in front of them?  Hmm.  Maybe that's our message for today.

Saint Augustine once said, "Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering."

We have had a ton of amazing vistas reveal themselves to us in the past four days, and it's difficult to truly appreciate them the more they surround us.  It's constant.  Nature is constant.  Mountains and meadows and hawks and trees are all constantly revealing their beauty over and over again.  So the longer you look on them, the more you realize it is not they who are changing and growing, but instead it is us.  We are changed by their majesty, and we are grown by their beauty.

As we close out our fourth day here in Colorado, we are exhausted and overwhelmed.  We are exhausted by the driving and the doing, and we are overwhelmed by the size and scope of these mountains.  As we marvel at their heights, we are humbled by their scope.  We are just two small souls wandering over the many huge mountain tops in our rental car.

When we finally arrive back on Long Island this Wednesday night, we won't see any signs for scenic vistas on the parkway as we drive home.  Signs like that are rare, but if you think about it, they're also unnecessary.  We have so much worth seeing all around us everywhere we travel on this planet, and the revelations of the journey are always happening inside and not outside of us anyway.

So open your eyes.  Really open them.

And see the beauty all around you...without being told which way you should look.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Colorado, Day 3: Trip to Laramie, WY


July 20, 2014
          Day 81

It was always the plan.

Laramie, Wyoming was close enough by car to the Boulder, Colorado area, so I wanted to make a kind of pilgrimage there, to honor Matthew Shepard's spirit by sending our warm wishes out into the wind.

There was no need to go to the exact place those guys took Matthew and left him for dead.  There was no need to go down the street that would take us to the other street and the land where he was found.  A brief search on Google and then Google Earth showed me the spot, and just seeing it on my computer screen was enough.  So today would just be about driving through town, understanding the area a bit, and simply seeing the place he was found...from a distance.

The way we die doesn't matter.  None of us would want our loved ones to focus on our method of death or the place we happened to give up our spirit.  Yet this place means something to so many of us.  It's a place we think of when we think of Matthew.  And Matthew is a boy we think of when we think of the uphill climb we're all still on.

So how is the place?  How is Laramie?  The answer might surprise you.

Laramie is, for lack of a better word, average.  It's just a quiet little town surrounded by many, many, many miles of quieter fields and hills.  And the people we met in Laramie were likewise...average.  That is to say, they are just like you and me.  They were friendly and kind, warm and gracious.  They didn't kill Matthew Shepard.  They didn't even want him hurt.  They just live there, and they just grimace like the rest of us when the issue is raised.  (We didn't bring it up, but you can tell these people would not be happy to have their quiet little Wyoming town remembered for anything other than the beauty of the area, the stillness of the land, and the simple, happy life they all live.)

As we left Laramie, Andy put it best.  We were thinking about the event that night that ultimately took Matthew Shepard's life, and thinking about what we'd just experienced in the town of Laramie (a brief drive through town, and a short lunch).  As we pulled onto the highway, Andy said, "These aren't bad people at all here; they're just like us.  They've got all the same stores we do too."  His point was simple and perfect.  We're all the same anywhere you go on this earth.  There are people who do bad things, and there are people who do good things.

So I guess my point is, what have you heard about the town of Laramie before or since Matthew Shepard's murder there?  I'm thinking, like me, you'd answer nothing at all.  Laramie is just a little town where on one night many years ago, a horrible thing happened at the hands of two very disturbed young men.  But on every day since then (and it's already almost 16 years now), life has gone on the same, and nothing horrible has made the news.

Laramie doesn't deserve to be branded a place of hate.  It's simply a place where hate once happened.  And because our planet is so vast and filled with so many kinds of people, it's helpful to remember that just as hate will show up here and there, goodness will prevail much more often.

Matthew was taken from us through a bad act 16 years ago, but Matthew's spirit reminds us of so much more good found every day since...in his name, because of his life, and through his never-ending legacy.

The smoke of a burnt-out candle is not the candle, and the bright light of Matt's life is clearly shining on...forever.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Colorado, Day 2

Rocky Mountain National Park.  Gorgeousness abounds, though
those are the outhouses in the foreground. :)

July 19, 2014
          Day 80

Today we went high up into the mountains here in Colorado to Long's Peak and hiked around Bear Lake.  There are lots of stories to tell, but here's just a small one I think is funny.  Ironically, for the second day in a row, I'm going to discuss bathrooms.

In the parking lot before we began our walk, I ran into the bathroom quick to pee, not expecting perfection, but definitely not expecting what I saw.

The lid was down, which always makes me worry.  Was there a flushing problem the previous user didn't want to tell me about?  Or perhaps he just wanted to be polite somehow?  So I walk over and raise the seat, hoping it'd be clean.  Well, the good news right away was that there was nothing in the pot.  The bad news is, it was because the toilet literally had no bottom.  A simple glance downward showed me a giant mass of...  Well, a giant mass of bodily product about 10 feet down.  It was light enough to see much more than I'd like to, but dark enough to help me focus on something closer to the area all around me in the tiny bathroom.

But yeah, there I was up in the mountains, delighted with the amazing views all around me, yet reminded right away that being part of nature meant really, really accepting nature, if you know what I mean.

Soon enough, of course, I was back out in nature, enjoying the incredible snow-topped mountain vistas up above, and absorbing each and every bit of the day I could.  I stopped thinking about the bathroom adventure, and focused on the sightseeing adventure.  And yet of all the things I could have written about here, I chose to focus on the strangest, most mundane moment.

I think it's because it was the most profound reminder I could have been given that this beautiful state, these beautiful mountains, and yes, even this beautiful earth, are all grounded in beautiful reality.  No matter how high up we reach for the clouds, no matter how stunned we are by the beauty around us, and no matter how impressed and inspired we are by the movements of spirit, we've still got lots of shit, too.  And the shit's a reminder of perspective.

Today is the 17th anniversary of the day I left the religious life.  It's a day I recall each year to remember the freedom I have now.  An old monk I took care of a bit in my last year in the monastery once taught me, "If you don't take the bitter with the sweet, you can't tell the difference."

A massive literal shithole beneath the outhouse today kind of helped me appreciate the beauties of nature even more.  And the beauties of nature today also helped me appreciate all the shit I was trying not to think about.  The bitter and the sweet, and the difference appreciated.

Day 3 begins in a few hours, and it'll be a day marked by some pretty shitty feelings and some pretty amazing views.  But more on that tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Colorado, Day 1

July 18, 2014 Day 79

I've always been a huge fan of air flight, and I'm sure it began when I was very little.  My father was a gate agent with Eastern Airlines at Kennedy Airport, so we flew often, and always for free.  At takeoff, when some kids are scared, I was always smiling, because my dad made the experience fun every time, demonstrating by showing me his hand take off in the air just before our plane did.

As an adult, the experience is different, but still really, really fun for me.  I'll often ask people what they see when I point upward toward a plane in the sky.  "I see a plane," they invariably reply.  "Well, yeah," I answer, "But for me, I see a hundred or more people flying through the air, watching TV, sipping cocktails or reading books."  The answer sounds snarky, but I mean it with enthusiasm.  Flying is just such a cool experience.  We're miles high in the air, flying above the clouds, while still experiencing so many of the comforts of home.

But sure, I understand the inconveniences too.  There was a crying baby nearby just before we took off before, and I couldn't help but remind myself I don't have to hear that at home.  (Andy hears me whine now and then, but he's always very well behaved himself.)  And yes, at home when I want to use the restroom, I don't have to ask the person in the aisle seat to allow me to get up.  He was nice about it, but took his time too.  Sorry, gatekeeper, but I need to use the bathroom.  It isn't personal.

The bathroom on the plane is its own fun experience.  You get in there and start to study the whole room like there will be a test later.  Okay, so where's the flusher button?  Okay, over there, right, right.  And to operate the sink I just--ahh yes, there it is.  Now where are the paper towels?  Is this them--no, that seems to be tissues.  Oh here they are below the tissues, okay cool.  Great, great.  Now, garbage, garbage.  Where would I be if I were a garbage can or slot?  Oh, there you are, cool.  It's all so different, you think they'd have the flight attendants take us through this lesson in the beginning too.

I get back to my seat, and the gatekeeper is sitting quietly, his eyes closed, and so I ask him to pass.  Once again, there's a delay before he seems to decide to allow me safe passage.  I thank him and make my way back into my seat, assuring him this should be my only interruption now for the remainder of the flight.

There are all these different elements to airplane travel, but I really don't mind the quirks and inconveniences that much, because for me, the view is worth it all.  To look down on Planet Earth from this high up is to see humanity differently.  In the plane, you can't see where one state ends and another begins.  You can't tell which people down below are rich or poor, what color their skin is, what their ethnic or cultural background is, whether they're gay, straight, bi, or trans, and certainly not who they voted for in the last presidential election.  No, from up here, all I see are the traces of roads, the developed areas where humans are settled, and the beautiful greens of Planet Earth.

Air flight has its positives and negatives, but for me, the things I love far outweigh the things I'm not crazy about.  The small drinks?  Eh.  The turbulence?  Ugh.  The popping ears, annoying people, and small amount of personal space?  Not loving it.  But the view of Earth, the ability to travel so far so fast, and the undeniable perspective of this life we're living are all priceless gifts to me.  Down on Earth, all we do is over-worry and over-analyze just about everything.  Up here, I see the world as one mass, one organism, one people.  And whether they realize it down there or not, they're all connected on that one beautiful planet.

Written earlier today on the plane ride here.  Colorado is stunning!  Many more things to share with you in the days ahead!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Planning a vacation

Breathtaking photo from Colorado (found online).  Click for the bigger image,
but remember to click the X in the top right to go back to the blog.
July 17, 2014
          Day 78

So this is it!  Tomorrow, Andy and I start a small vacation to Colorado and Wyoming.  I say small because we only have 5 days and 5 nights, and our vacations the last few years have tended to run closer to twice that.  I know, I've got no right to even slightly complain!

But because it's a relatively short trip for us, we're going to try our very best to just soak it all in, to simply drive around a lot, and appreciate nature and the beautiful views everywhere we go. 
July 18: Fly to Denver Airport, head over to the Boulder area to spend time with friends
July 19: Boulder area, time with friends
July 20: Wyoming + head down to hotel in Black Hawk, CO
July 21: Staying in Black Hawk, exploring area
July 22: Staying in Black Hawk, exploring area
July 23: Leave Black Hawk, head to airport, fly home to New York

Why Wyoming?  I wrote about it on this Website.
I'll be writing a vacation reflection each day now while we're there, so for those following this journey o' mine live as it happens, please bear with me through any delays in my postings this coming week!  (And for those reading it later on, well, you can already tell me how my vacation went.  Did I like it?  Did I take a lot of nice photographs?  Let me know!)

Before I go on any type of vacation now the past few years, I start a packing list weeks in advance.  This vacation, the list has been in the form of a memo on my phone.  Right now it reads like this: Netbook, cord, battery, extra phone battery, phone charger, car phone charger, GPS, cameras and memory cards, flash drive, kindle, pens, crossword book, bathing suit, casino card stretchy band, chewing gum, camera batteries, some warm clothing, hat and gloves, sunblock.

I used to write things like underwear, socks, shirts, shorts, and sneakers on lists like this, but I've learned over time that all of those things are never forgotten.  It's more the other stuff on my current list that get left behind, and--  Oh!  Just added glasses, sunglasses, and cleaner wipes to the list too!  The chewing gum is for take off and landing; it helps my ears.  The warm clothing, hat, and gloves are for our higher-elevation jaunts.  And the casino card stretchy band is because we're staying at a casino resort for 3 of the 5 nights.  Colorado or not, if there are slot machines nearby, I will be playing them (a little). 

So yeah, that's my planning progress so far, before the madness of packing later today.  I think I've got almost everything squared away now!  Just tell me one thing, people reading this in the future, did I love Colorado and Wyoming?  Did I appreciate every moment of my vacation, and not just stand around taking pictures?  I sure hope so!  Please let me know if at all possible, but in the mean time, my Kindle is charging right now, my blog for today is now finished, and my mind has already converted itself to Mountain Time!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

6 quick facts about Ramadan


July 16, 2014
          Day 77

Though there are over a billion people worldwide who already know these facts about Ramadan, most of my readers will probably not, so I thought I'd just lay out a few simple notes for you.  Our brothers and sisters in the Muslim faith are honoring this holy month right now, so try to lock these to memory if you can.  That way, the next time someone asks, you'll be the one to pass on some of this helpful information.

And thank you to Wikipedia and Google for the help!

1) Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month of the Islamic calendar.  It marks the time when the prophet Muhammad first received the revelations found in the Quran. 

2) The word Ramadan means scorching heat or dryness.

3) Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims reflect on many events in the Islamic faith, some of which include crossover traditions from the Jewish and Christian faiths.  Both the Torah and Jesus are referenced on different days of the Ramadan calendar.

4)
For about 30 days, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, neither eating nor drinking anything at all (not even water).  Fasting is obligatory, but is waived for those who are sick, pregnant, or diabetic.  They must also refrain from smoking and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset each day.  They wake up early to eat as a family before sunrise, then go through their day without food or drink, reminding themselves what the poor and hungry must feel all the time.  At the close of each day, they break fast together through a shared meal as a family or community.

5) Muslims fast during this month as a way of thanking God/Allah for guiding them, not just through the fast, but through all things.  They also pray more during this month, and give more to charity.  It's seen as a special time to focus on God and purify their souls, just as Lent is in the Catholic Church.

6) In 2014, Ramadan is celebrated from June 28th to July 28th.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The importance of self-accountability

July 15, 2014
          Day 76

When I was a vowed monk in a Roman Catholic religious order, I was accountable to many, many people.  I had to tell Brother John Gerard when we needed more supplies in the kitchen.  I had to tell Brother Karl how exactly I'd spent that twenty-dollar bill I'd been given two months earlier.  I had to tell Brother Lawrence John about issues in the laundry room.  I had to speak with Father Francis, Brother Michael, and Father James anytime I had issues at school or with my fellow Brothers.  The list could go on for paragraphs.

After I left the religious life and received my dispensation from Rome, I was on my own.  Though I lived with my parents again on and off for a few years, my life was now completely mine to manage.  If there was a money issue, I needed to handle it.  If there was a laundry issue, I needed to handle it.  If I needed more food or toiletries, if I needed an issue solved at work or at home, it was now all my problem and no one else's.  Life was now completely in my own hands, and I had to be accountable for every part of it.

Though most who will read this were not living in monasteries, the growing-up process is still very much the exact same.  We are accountable to others in the beginning of our life, and then at some point, perhaps quite suddenly, it's all up to us.  We're on our own. 

Today, I'm happily partnered to the love of my life, and we've been together well over 12 years now.  And I'm happy to be accountable to him as well as myself.  I account to him for my health, my wealth (ha), and my life as a whole.  We are, both of us, accountable to each other.  I know life is easier because there's someone else going through it with me, handling half the chores, managing the finances and bills along with me, and just being there for me in a thousand different ways. 

But at the end of the day, there's always just me.  I'm the one who closes my own eyelids each night, and I'm the one who thinks about what the day was filled with, and what the next day might bring. 

Though I'm happily accountable to my partner Andy, I've always got self-accountability too.  It's up to me to look at my life and manage what needs to be managed.  If I need to reach out to a friend for advice, or call up an old colleague for a referral, that's on me.  Likewise, if I have to complete a project at work, write an article for a website, pick up dinner on the way to a class, or change my password for my checking account, those are all things I'm handling.

We all depend on others for a whole slew of things in this life, but we also depend heavily on ourselves for almost everything that really matters.  We are, whether we recognize it or not, constantly self-reliant and constantly self-accountable.  At the end of every day, we have to answer to our conscience, our stomach, our body, our brain, and every other part of who we are.  We are self-accountable by nature. 

As we close our eyes each and every night, we're alone.  Even when there's a partner or pet beside us, we still just have this one body and one soul.  We're alone by nature.  We're self-accountable by nature.  We should care about others, and we should help our fellow souls, but at the end of the day, it's important to remember that we can't save others from drowning if we ourselves don't first learn how to swim.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Don't forget the guh


July 14, 2014

          Day 75

It was just one of those teachable moments my family didn't see coming.  First came the sneeze.  Then came the response.  And then came the lesson.

So here's what happened.  Someone sneezed, and someone else said, "Bless you".  My young niece heard this, and corrected the person quickly by saying, "You forgot the guh".  It took people a moment to realize what she meant by this.  The guh?  I forgot the guh?  But then they realized.  She thought the correct response to a sneeze was the phrase, "Guh bless you".  That's what she thought was being said, and for good reason, because it had now morphed into this. 

The creator of Heaven and Earth, the Father, the Mother, the Master and Commander of the universe, this being beyond definition who we usually refer to as God, was apparently now known as simply guh.  It had happened without anyone realizing it, and certainly without anyone intending it. 

When someone sneezed, the youngest member of our family believed, you should respond by saying, "Guh bless you". 

Now I wouldn't exactly call my family a bunch of holy rollers, but we do very much believe in God and Heaven.  So yes, hearing our littlest one say we forgot the guh was a bit of a wake-up call!  I'm sure more than anything else, it was just funny, but it also reminded everyone about the importance of pronunciation around a toddler, too!   

And therein lies the lesson.  Maybe you'll use this example as a reminder for spirituality, or perhaps just a reminder of the importance of proper pronunciation, but it's a true story, and one I thought you'd like.  It's certainly a story I've thought of often over the years.  So please watch how you say things around children, and most importantly, don't forget the guh! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Death Penalty And You

July 13, 2014
          Day 74

Another uncomfortable topic I choose not to make any more uncomfortable than it needs to be...

I'm also going to do the opposite of what I did in my reflection on abortion yesterday.  Today, I'm going to make it clear right from the start that I am 100% opposed to the death penalty in any form for any person for any crime.

We get into discussions about costs to the tax payers for jail cells, deterrents to criminals for their heinous acts, and ways to ease the pain of those whose loved ones have been killed, but at the end of the day, choosing to end a human life should be the only thing we're talking about.  And no matter how awful the crime, no matter how many lives were taken, no matter how cruel and uncaring the criminal, why do we have the right to kill a human being because they have killed human beings?

I simply refuse to believe that taking any life in response to any death is a just decision.  If something horrible happened to my own family member or partner, I would go insane with grief, but I wouldn't have the right to retribution.  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it best when he said, "That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind.  The time is always right to do the right thing."

I respect most people's beliefs and opinions on the matter, and I respect your reasons and rights to have said opinions.  I just refuse to agree that any human being has any right to take any other human being's life.  I hope you'll understand I'm very steadfast in this personal belief, and whether you agree with me or not, I hope we can always choose to talk about things more than we do without just accepting the awful realities around us.  May we always, as a society and as a species, choose to engage in honest, kind, philosophical (if not spiritual) discussion on this and many other topics.  Keeping the conversation open is always, always, always a great place to start!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Let's talk about abortion

July 12, 2014
          Day 73

Yeah, I know.  This isn't exactly a fun topic, and there's a good chance I could make you uncomfortable.  That's why I promise you in advance I will consciously try not to.  And as with all topics in this year-long journey o' mine, I hope you'll see these next two reflections as explorations into my mind as an almost 40-year-old.  Perhaps with more perspective years from now, I'll feel differently.

My desire here is just to express my thoughts on the topic very briefly, and refrain from doing so with any shade of judgment or finger wagging.

People expect either one thing or another from me.  They think my spiritual side will mean I'm pro-life/anti-abortion.  Others don't see me this way.  They see me as a liberal gay activist, someone who will champion a woman's right to free choice.  The thing is, I'm both of these at the same time.  I'm someone who will gladly fight for a woman's free choice over her own body, but I'm also someone who thinks abortion might be--I repeat, might be--immoral.  I honestly have no idea, so I have trouble taking sides.

And at the end of the day, I kinda wish more people would join me in this middle ground.  The truth is, no one's pro-abortion.  No one with a sane mind is walking up to pregnant women and encouraging them to just end their pregnancy.  When you believe in free choice, the right to choose, that doesn't mean you are anti-baby, or anti-fetus.  The argument for free choice is only that: a philosophical belief in a woman's right to choose what does and does not happen to and inside her own body.  Likewise, a belief in the right to life is only that: a belief in a right, a moral defense of a could-be child.  There's a middle ground here I wish more people would consider discussing logically, and, if at all possible, calmly.

So that's what I think.  I personally "believe" that a fetus, especially a later-term child in a womb, is already a life worth protecting.  I believe there are lots of people willing to help babies find homes if their mothers are unwilling or unable to care for said child.  But I also believe a woman has every right to make the decision herself, without outside influence or jurisdiction.  Is there an absolute grey area?  Yes.  There's a matter of time.  When is a baby a baby?  But I'm not offering that discussion here and now.

I am a mix of beliefs, and I offer my ignorance with pride.  "I don't know" are three very wise words, and I hope (and even pray) more people would adopt such an I-don't-know attitude.  It's far superior, I believe, to an attitude that makes a person our enemy because of their strongly held opinion or moral belief.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ima faint


July 11, 2014
          Day 72

Today's entry will officially be my shortest one yet, but it's because the lesson here is quite simple.

Some contractions make sense.  We substitute "wasn't" for "was not".  We substitute "don't" for "do not".  In both cases, only one letter and one space is sacrificed on the altar of grammar.

Please do not, however, under any circumstance, say "Ima" in place of "I am going to".  Not only is it dangerous to create words without first mastering the English language, but you also have no right substituting four separate words with only one.  It's 10 letters long with three separate spaces!  Turning this entire phrase into the single-word "Ima" sounds really, really dumb.  More to the point though, it just is really, really dumb! 

So don't do it.  Ever.  A'ight?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Knee I Say More?


July 10, 2014
          Day 71

I don't know if it's necessarily a 39-year-old's problem exactly, but it does seem to be an aging problem.  At some point in life, your knees start resenting you.

They hate you.  They mock you.  They assure you they will have the last word on how quickly you climb those stairs, thank you very much. 

It's not that you're old now at 39 or 40, it's just that your knees are effectively four decades old, and they're gonna start getting cranky more often.  And this week, my left knee was acting like a real bitch.

I had gone for a workout at the gym, my usual two 20-minute sets on the elliptical, but on Monday I followed this up with an hour of tennis once I got home.  And it's not like any of this was that far removed from my fitness regime either, as my workouts, tennis matches, stair climbs, situps, and weightlifting are all working my body quite often these days.  But for whatever reason, on this day, my left knee decided he'd just had enough.

"Oh, hell no!" he seemed to scream that evening as I went to put my legs up to relax.  The pain was awful, but I allowed myself to just stay off my feet and relax a bit.  The pain, I knew, would go away after a little while.  But then the funniest thing happened.  The pain didn't go away.  In fact, it got worse. 

So I took two aspirin before bed, and hoped for a good night's rest.  I was woken up randomly around half past midnight as Andy came to bed, but I could tell my knee was already feeling 85% better.  There was still some pain and stiffness, but for the most part, I was healed.  Alleluia!

On Tuesday though, the pain was back.  It got steadily worse throughout the day (nothing major), and I even found myself using the elevator instead of the stairs by day's end.  More aspirin was needed that evening.  I took it, I slept, and I went through Wednesday finally feeling better.  Whew!

I suppose I should just accept the fact that the pains of aging begin sooner than I'd once guessed.  50s or 60s?  Yeah, that I could understand.  39 though?  No.  This is not what I signed up for when I blew out the candles this May. 

My knee is all better today, but we're still not speaking to each other.  He'll get over it.  Just do me a small favor, though?  Don't tell him I'm playing tennis again this Saturday!


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My poetic process


July 9, 2014
        Day 70

I thought I'd give you something a little bit different today.  I do a lot of prose writing these days, between my books and this year-long reflection collection, but I also really enjoy writing poetry any chance I get.  So I thought I might just write a short poem here, and then edit it, and show you the process I usually go through.  If you don't want to read the majority of this post, you can just look to the end and read the finished poem.

To begin, I write a first draft...

Imagined scenes of beach dunes
waving the length of the boardwalk,
the walk of the afternoon,
the haze of our small talk.

The sea calls to us like a friend
and we jog down with joy
to see her and feel her company
welcomed by the ploy.

A laugh is shared as we stand there
waiting for the next wave to reach our knees
hoping for the happy chance
to get wetter than we'd planned.

The seagulls circle over,
don't wonder who we are,
but we laugh along with them,
and call out our plan into the wind.

________________
Okay, so that is, by my estimations at least, a very poor poem.  It's just my first draft though.  I need to form it into a better version of itself.  So I look at choices I made and words I used, and I begin thinking about ways to refine the poem.  I like to use rhyme when I can, but I don't always do so.  This time though, I think I will.  I also take note of the word "planned", and remind myself of the word "sand".  After these quick glances and thoughts, I get to work on the next draft.

Draft 2:

I imagine all the beach dunes
waving along the boardwalk,
the daze of the afternoon,
and the haze of our small talk.

The sea calls to us like a friend,
and we jog down with laughs,
to see and feel her embrace,
immersed in refreshing baths.

A smile shared as we stand there
waiting with our feet in the sand,
hoping for the happy chance
to get wetter than thought or planned.

The seagulls are circling overhead,
they don't wonder at all why we're there,
but we laugh along with their calls,
and the breeze is a gift that we share.

________________
The second draft above helped me seal a lot of things up, find my rhyme, delete what didn't work and find what I could, but I still need one last go of it now.  I spent too much time to leave it where it is (about 7-10 minutes on each draft).  I need to honor it now with a third and final (I hope) draft...

Draft 3:

I can still see all the beach dunes
waving along past the boardwalk,

the haze of that afternoon,
and the joys of our small talk.

The sea calls us like a friend,
and we jog down quickly with laughs,
to see and feel her embrace,
craving refreshment of her bath.

A smile is exchanged in a glance
wading with our feet in the sand,
hoping for the happier chance
to get wetter than thought or planned.

The seagulls still circle overhead,
don't wonder at all why we're there,
but we laugh along with their calls,
and the breeze is the gift that we share.

________________
Okay, so I'm often done by now, but I'm not.  Something's still off.  I didn't count my syllables, and I need to.  So this fourth and absolutely final run-through is just to perfect the poem as best I can:

Step 1 of this final draft: Count syllables without changing anything.

I can still see all the beach dunes (8)
waving along past the boardwalk, (8)
the haze of that afternoon, (7)
and the joys of our small talk. (7)

The sea calls us like a friend, (7)
and we jog down quickly with laughs, (8)
to see and feel her embrace, (7)
craving refreshment of her bath. (8)

A smile is exchanged in a glance (8)
wading with our feet in the sand, (8)
hoping for the happier chance (8)
to get wetter than thought or planned. (8)

The seagulls still circle overhead, (9)
don't wonder at all why we're there, (8)
but we laugh along with their calls, (8)
and the breeze is the gift that we share. (9)
_____________________
Though I love 7-syllable lines in my poetry, I seem to have fashioned more of an 8-syllable one here, so I'm not going to argue with that.  What I need to do now is change the 7- and 9-syllable lines into 8-syllable lines for the best flow.  While doing this, I often change more.

Step 2 of final: Fix and finish to arrive at final product:


That day

I can still see all the beach dunes
waving along past the boardwalk,

the summer haze of afternoon,
and memories of our small talk.

The sea calls to us like a friend,
and we jog down quickly with laughs,
to see and to feel her embrace,
to rest and refresh in her bath.

A smile is exchanged in a glance
wading with our feet in the sand,
hoping for the happier chance
to get wetter than ever planned.

The seagulls still fly overhead,
don't wonder at all why we're there,
but we laugh along with their calls,
and the breeze is the gift we share.

Sean Patrick Brennan


_________________________
And that's it.  I like it!  Maybe I'll go back and change more at some point, but I've come a long way from my first draft.  I hope you like the finished product above, but even if you don't, I hope you've learned something from my poetic process!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My 80s Fetish

July 8, 2014
        Day 69

The 80s wasn't the decade I really grew up in, as the bulk of my high school and college years were in the 90s, but the 80s were definitely the years in which I was brewed before pouring.

In the 80s, I was between the ages of 4 and 14, so all the music, movies, and hairstyles of the period were more like flashing lightning bolts before me than they were lamps turned on in the corner.  In other words, I was being formed by it all without even realizing it. 

While my older siblings were in high school and college in the 80s, experiencing the 80s in a myriad of ways, I was more often found in front of the TV, witnessing the 80s burst forth and grow in the world outside my door.  Sure, I experienced a lot of it myself, but mostly, it got under my skin.  It was the world as I first started seeing it, and so it became a permanent part of who I still am today.

On a recent episode of GLEE, Blaine insisted they watch a movie made after 1989, and I laughed out loud, because 1989 is my all-time favorite year for films.  I could name a bucket load of favorite movies made in the 80s, but so many of my favorites seemed to have all come out in 1989 (the year I finished 8th grade and started high school).  So hearing this newly minted high school graduate on GLEE whine about how he doesn't want an old 80s movie just makes me laugh.  I understand it though, as if I was always forced to watch movies made before I was born, I'd get annoyed too.

And there's something else about the 80s for which I am very appreciative: they've got staying power more than any other decade in the past fifty years.  It was a major new time period for change, and because of that, the many new technologies, songs, movies, dress styles, and wacky weirdnesses of the period have stuck around.  They may not be experienced the same way as they were back then, but they're still appreciated by a whole lot of people.  We hear 60s and we think of many things.  We hear 70s and we think of several things.  We hear 80s and we think of LOTS of things.  But when a lot of us think of the 90s and 00s, there's just a bit less, and it's cloudier.  Technology's advanced so much so quickly, it makes sense that our distractions have, well, distracted us. 

The 80s had a uniquely powerful grip on the world, and it still hasn't let go.  It's like there's this gigantic Pee-Wee Herman wearing leggings and a Mr. T backpack that's still marching across the planet.  And I'm okay with that.  I may be getting old now, but I like that the 80s is traveling along with me, with every proud step I take...into the future!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beginning to crumble

July 7, 2014
        Day 68

I may have said this already, but it bears repeating: at 39, my age is beginning to catch up to me. 

My best guess is, if I've been getting away with looking and feeling 5 to 8 years younger for the last decade or so, the gap is about to close.  Within the next three months, I may only appear 4 years younger.  By January of next year, I'll only look two years younger.  By March, just one year younger.  And on May 1st of 2015, my 40th birthday, I will look approximately seventy-five years old. 

These are just my best guesses for now, and it's not like I'm expecting to be right, but I gotta tell you, waking up at 38 years old a year or so ago?  I felt fine!  Life was good, and things all still felt the same.  But this year, 2014?  There are tiny little issues that are just beginning to show up. 

I'm not complaining!  (Seriously, I'm not!)  I'm just taking note of the tiny differences I've noticed in the past few months.  My eyesight requires I sit just an inch closer to the computer screen.  My legs require a two-second slower leap to my feet when I arise from my chair after a long while.  My heartburn, my ear hairs, my hairline, my muscles, my sleep cycle: pick one, and I can give you an essay on what's slightly changed in the past year. 

So here's my warning to the younger people who will read this: it all begins at 39.  Life is still great, and I have no right to complain, but be forewarned, this seems to be the year when the subtle changes begin to creep up.  Don't be frightened, and don't even pre-worry your non-gray hairs about it yet, younger people.  Just remember my promise to you here and now.  The 39 to 40 leg of your journey is about transition as much as it is about perspective!

To those older than me, and to my older self looking back, yes, I probably sound insane.  Nuts even.  But I wanted to document the journey as best I could, to remember later on that these tiny little issues began to show up in a few tiny little ways in my 40th year of life on Earth.  I'm not complaining!  I'm just...  just... just documenting!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Direct Connection

July 6, 2014
        Day 67

There are a few things I'd like to say right now, but first and foremost, let me be clear: I do have a direct connection to God.  I don't talk about it often, but yeah, it's true.  God and me are tight.

That said, I don't have a phone I can pick up and call God on, and neither can I receive calls from God on my cell phone or on any mobile device.  Perhaps the technology will be there in a post-Planet In Between world, but we aren't there yet unfortunately.

We actually all do, however, have a direct connection within us.  It isn't a phone line or an e-mail address.  It's not even a Morse code or a smoke signal we can send.  But we do have the technology to talk to God and Heaven at any time, day or night.  Their hotline is open 24/7...even on Christmas!  (Though there may be a short delay during some World Cup matches, so please stay on the line for the next available operator.)

Inside each human being, and quite possibly inside some of our pets too, we have a built-in transmitter that connects us directly to the creator of the universe.  We don't have to ever use it, as many agnostics and atheists choose not to (and that's okay!), but we do have the power.  It came with our operating system, and still works on all models.  The instructions, too, are easy.  All we need to do is talk, or even just think about what we want to say, and the message will be received.  That's it!  That's all you have to do!

Here's the only teeny, tiny catch though: you'll get no response.  God will hear you loud and clear, even if the connection seems muddled on your end, but God won't do anything about it.  I'm sorry, I really am, but it seems to be the way things work. 

Sure, some people will tell you that God does get involved and does save some lives here and there, but when they say this, they're actually painting a pretty damned cruel version of God.  If God helps save one life and ignores another, if God saves a bus filled with children on one day and not on another, or even if God saves three thousand people from disaster on one afternoon and lets another fifty thousand perish elsewhere on the next day, what kind of messed up reality would that be? 

If you believe your direct connection is better than another person's, you're not just full of yourself.  You're really, really full of yourself.

Is there a direct connection?  Yes.  Do we all have it?  Yes.  Do some of us have better connections than others that can make God answer our prayers and requests more than others?  No.  That would just be fucked up.  Sorry, but it's true.

Our direct connection to God is a one-way call while we're living on this planet, and that's okay with me.  I know this life we're living right now just is what it is, and I refuse to believe in a version of God who saves one baby from disaster but lets another suffer and die.  I don't believe in a cruel, picky kind of a deity.  If you'd like to believe in that kind of a malicious justice system, knock yourself out.  But I won't.

Despite all the beliefs I have heard from a whole lot of people, I have learned this much in my first 40 years: no one gets more of God's love based on how much they went to church or how often they cited scripture.  The only reason that formula makes so much sense to so many people is because it's how their own brains work.  They treat people better based on how they are treated (a very unChristlike philosophy by the way).  Instead, I believe the creator of all answers all calls from all people.  He listens, and She loves.  And everything that happens here on Earth?  It happens. 

But do keep calling!  Parents enjoy hearing from their children, after all.  They don't generally like hearing their children fight with each other though, so stop that!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My love affair with butter

July 5, 2014
        Day 66

Butter and I have been together now for well over 30 years.  It's been a mostly wonderful relationship, if you can call it that, although truth be told, we have had our rough spots.

He's basically what you'd call a feeder, you see.  He likes me plump.  And I in turn have let him do this to me.  I eat at him, and he in turn eats at me.  It's a very, very unhealthy relationship, I know, but we love each other, okay?!  It's real, damn it!

I don't expect you to understand, but butter just does something incredible to me.  He makes me feel so much better about everything.  I put him on toast or a bagel, and watch him just melt away slowly before I eat him up, and I just--  I just need him, you know? 

But there have also been bad times, and because he's not here right now (or even knows how to use a computer), I can tell you the truth.  He hurts me sometimes.  He's not good for my health.  He's even given me pimples.  He makes me fat.  The more I have of him, the more others are turned away, which is probably exactly what butter wants in the end.  He wants me all to himself.

My partner Andy knows about him, by the way.  It's been a constant issue in our relationship.  Andy will tell me to just cut back a bit, to only see butter now and then, not every day, or even every week.  And he's right, I know he's right.  But it's hard.  Butter is waiting for me at every supermarket, delicatessen, and restaurant.  He's got me craving him all the time.

I've broken it off now and then, spent more of my culinary time with Country Crock spread, but Crock doesn't give me the same delight as butter does.  Crock is nice and all, but she doesn't appeal to me as much as butter.  And don't even get me started on the other man in my life (Hellmann's). 

Ugh...I really don't know if I'll ever be able to break it off with butter.  He's just always there calling to me, asking me to just give him another chance...and I do.  Like a fool, I always do.  I always take him back.  But life with him is good too, you know?  Butter is just so, so good.  He makes me happy, and that's the most important thing, isn't it?  Being happy? 

I know he's not good for me, and I know our relationship is doomed to melt eventually, but if this is real love, I'm willing to take that chance.  For 30-something years now, butter's always been there to make my life taste better.  And if nothing else, that's worth the pimples and the extra gym time. 

Some love is forbidden, some love is true, but my love for butter is just a long-term hydrogenated mass of caloric daydreams...and I'm okay with that.

___________________________

Note: You better believe this is the G-rated version of the story I could have told here!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Give to Caesar

July 4, 2014
        Day 65

There are some people who get royally pissed off when I remind them that love of country should come second to love of God.  I don't mean atheists either.  I mean real God-loving people.

But why?  Why would you ever love a country, a geographical location marked by walls and boundaries, over your love of mankind?  I just don't get it, and I don't think I ever will, but no matter...because today, I'm going in the opposite direction.  (You're welcome!)  Today I'm reminding you that this poligilous, religical coin has another side to it.  Love of country does absolutely have its time and place, even in the soul of a devout believer of any faith.

The 4th of July in the United States is Independence Day, and as such, it's the high holy day for American pride.  We celebrate our independence as a country, our very birth as a country, but we also celebrate all the freedoms and liberties we enjoy as citizens of this great country.  Most of all, we celebrate that the United States of America is one kick-ass awesome place to live, and we are so, so happy to be here! 

Any time I go overseas or even up to Canada, I miss my country.  I miss my language, yeah, but even more than that, I miss my people.  And because I'm a New Yorker, "my people" doesn't mean skin color or ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.  For me, "my people" are those who have similar accents and styles unique to our geographical location.  We speak to each other with an understanding, and though we appreciate the many differences in our culture, we all live our lives as proud citizens of our one country.

We know there's an awful lot wrong with our country, and it's wrongs brought on by well-meaning people from the left and the right.  But today isn't about what's wrong.  Today isn't about who our favorite political party is or which politician we hate the most.  Today is about all we've gotten right.  It's about all we love about our beautiful country, and its many beautiful types of people.

So God, please bless America this day and every day?  Please keep us safe from harm, and please watch over our Armed Forces here and abroad.  Please help our police officers and firefighters to make wise, safe decisions as well. 

And God, can I add just one more request?  I pray we may all never stop being grateful for this incredible, majestic, beautiful land we love!