the monk in sheep’s clothing

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacific

I think I’ve heard that in Texas they have a phrase… “all hat no cattle”…that means that someone is pretending to be something they’re not.

From all outward appearances, you might think they own a big spread…but the reality of the situation is that they only have a talent for playing a part.

They’re only good at shopping for nice hats.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who is hiding a secret ability or achievement behind an unassuming countenance.

They might be a straight-laced hippy in a business suit…the theologian in a McDonald’s uniform…the physicist pushing a mop…anything really that would inspire a “you’re what?!!” reaction if we knew their secret.

I think that as I get older I appreciate the low-key, hide in plain sight approach a lot more.

It’s flashy and obvious to be one of the people who are “all hat”.  It’s the easiest part of a transformation to get the costuming part of it down.

But something deeper…something with some long-term commitment to it…that’s what really captures my imagination.

Something beyond just some guy wearing a big hat.

I’ve known some really cool “counterculture” folks in my life….most of whom, except for maybe a well placed secret tattoo (on their skin…or on their spirit)… or a really eclectic book collection, wouldn’t seem any different than anyone else walking down the street.

I’ve known some “hippies” who were real uptight jerks. All they had going for them was a carefully cultivated crop of dreadlocks….they were “all hat”, for sure.

I guess that what I’m saying is that appearances really are pretty deceiving.  We can dress the part and sometimes that’s as far as it goes…a carefully manicured image that doesn’t have anything to back it up.

What’s kind of strange about this whole situation is that often times, even though I know what the game can be, the person who looks the part is the one that I suspect fits the part.

I’m fooled by a “good costume” just as much as the next guy.

I’m fooled because I just don’t have the time to try to understand what a person is really about.  I only have the time to make a snap judgement based on their appearance…or the part of them that they’re willing to portray….much like I have to decide if that dog wagging its tail is excited because he might have a chance to bite me when I step out of the mail jeep….or if he really is “just happy to see me”.

We don’t know who anyone is, really.  We know what we think they are based on appearances…we know what we think they are because of our conception of them…but we don’t know them.

I guess that’s what makes it all so interesting.  We’re given the opportunity on occasion to meet someone brave enough to share “who they really are”…and sometimes we still like them even after the “truth” comes out.

It’s hard to put a value on the invisible.  Spirit, intelligence, creativity, warmth, humor….the sometimes quiet parts of a person that lie somewhere underneath the surface…are qualities that are hard to market.

It’s harder to sell than a “big hat”…but that’s where the real value of a person can be found.

image from here.

 

 

 

burn it up

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I bought a load of logs the other day.

Jenny said that when they delivered it in the tandem dump truck that the ground shook when the driver dropped the load.

It is a big load o’ logs.

Not only is it a big load of logs, it’s also a load that has some really big logs in it.  He must have had to kill a huge oak tree to bring me this giant pile of huge logs.

Now I’m “processing” this giant pile of wood….”processing” is a funny word…makes it sound so much more clinical than being out in the sunshine with a chainsaw and a gallon of bar oil really is….now I’m cutting up this big pile of logs so that I can split and stack and eventually, after it’s had the Summer and Fall to dry out, burn it up.

That’s kind of crazy, really.  It’s necessary…we have a little Jotul stove and one of those big logs wouldn’t fit if I didn’t cut it up to make it smaller…but what other activity do we do that ends like that?

Most of what we do is done with the idea of a somewhat permanent and positive conclusion.  We build a house so that we can live in it for a while…not so that we can burn it down when the appropriate season occurs.

We build our “nest” so that we…and any “little birds” that might find their way into it…can live in it.  We build to live…not to burn.

But what happens when it’s time for the little birds to fly away?  Then we realize that our nest was a place to live…and a place to launch.

It’s good that all this happens in real-time.  If it was like one of those films we used to watch in school ( before video tapes…before DVD…before downloaded files on a laptop hooked up to a projector….you know….OLD SCHOOL)…like one of the films of the flower growing and opening up in a couple of minutes it wouldn’t be a good thing.

If we saw our lives and the lives of our children happening like that it would drive us crazy.  I don’t think we’re designed to be able to see that far ahead…or understand what happened before so completely.

Being distracted can be sort of a gift sometimes.  Life is designed to be lived every day…each and every single day… but it’s easy to get ahead of our selves.  Planning too much can be a great distraction, sometimes…it’s the space between plans where the life happens.

A change is not an end…it’s just a change.

We process the wood so that we can burn the wood so that we can stay warm so that we can live to cut the wood another day.

That’s not a “Lion King” worthy circle of life…it’s a lot more simple than a cartoon movie deserves…but I think that everything we do really does have some kind of circular movement to it.

What’s the law of physics? ” For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

Well….

We burn the wood, we raise the children, healthy birds learn to fly…it’s all just stuff that happens around us in this life.

And that’s the way it is.

01 The Way It Is

image from here.

the enamored contemplation of quality

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“the enamored contemplation of quality…”

That was the last line of a dream I was having before I woke up (late) this morning.

In my dreams, I must be kind of a wordy blowhard…but only in my dreams.

When I was in High School, my friend Ben and his father were reading a book called “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“.  They turned me on to it…and I’ve read it a couple of times in the years since then.

The reason I mention the book is that the central theme is trying to define exactly what quality is and where it comes from.

It’s still kind of elusive, really.  I know when I see it…I know when it hits me like some kind of accidental friendly wind, filling my sails with pleasure and appreciation….but I don’t always feel it coming.  It doesn’t always hit me from an expected angle.

Our first trip to Colorado, we listened to the audio version of the book.

If you’ve ever read it, you know that it’s kind of “wordy”, too.  Lots of long passages about quality and ethics and a lot of other pretty heavy topics….it can be a book that requires some effort and thought.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t a bad choice for a long drive through the middle of the country in the late night of Summer.

It fit to listen to a book that also talked about a long motorcycle trip (in addition to all the philosophy) while we were taking the first long road trip of our young children’s lives.

I don’t know why that phrase would pop into my head at the tail end of a dream this morning…but when I woke up and remembered that I must have been dreaming about quality it made me think about this book…and the rest is, how they say….hist….

I don’t know that as a culture that we really expect quality like we might have at some other point.

We expect rapid obsolescence….so why be surprised if anything is built to be more than temporary?

If you look at Architectural Digest or the Robb Report… magazines that seemed designed to celebrate and fuel the lust for things, you definitely get the impression that quality can be bought.

If you’re willing to shell out some money, you are going to run the chance of getting something that may be pretty high quality.

But it doesn’t guarantee that you’re purchasing something that is going to have any lasting value.  It doesn’t guarantee that you haven’t spent a lot of money for this year’s style or fad.

One of the nicest surprises I get when I’m shopping is finding a product that’s inexpensive and also…because of how it’s designed and constructed… is of really high quality.

I don’t know why that would be a noteworthy surprise.

You can’t really explore what quality is in a 500 word blog post…I think it takes at least half a continent to do that…but when you wake up from a dream with words lingering, what else are you going to do?

OK…..512 words…514…

 

freakin’ truck deuce

 

rusted truckA parent’s goal is to make things better for their family.

At least, I think that’s what a parent’s goal should be.

I changed out the starter for the fourth time in the little Toyota truck my daughter drives to school.

The first time, I changed out the factory starter because it dragged a little bit when it got really cold.  I wanted the little truck to be right if my baby girl…my soon to be 18 baby girl…was going to be driving it.  So…I went down to the parts store and found a remanufactured starter that I could replace the high quality… but possibly failing… factory starter with.

It worked…sporadically.

The funny thing about a lifetime warranty is that what it really means is that they will replace the faulty part one time in the lifetime of owning the part…and when they replace it, they give you a “new”  (ie unused… but remanufactured) version of the same part that was failing in the first place.

Imagine the frustration in knowing that you were going to get to replace a piece of junk with a brand new, in the box, shiny bright…piece of junk.  Coooooool.

But what was my option?  I replaced the starter with a brand new remanufactured replacement…and it did the same thing.

A young lady shouldn’t have to rap on the solenoid with the handle of a ball-peen hammer to get her car to work.

I’m sure that it’s a character building experience in some way…but it shouldn’t have to be a normal part of adolescence to even be aware that sometimes things don’t work the way they should.

Adolescence should be more about good beginnings than breaking down.  A kid doesn’t need to concentrate on what won’t work all the time.

Life could roll more smoothly than that.

This time, when I replaced the starter (for the fourth time), I used a factory starter that I got from a junkyard.

It is amazing how much easier it is to replace a starter in a 1988 Toyota truck when you’re doing it for the fourth time than it was to replace it the first time.  You get good at things you have to do over and over….or maybe you stay bad at it but just get more efficient.  I don’t really know.

I remember driving down to visit my sister’s family in Atlanta when the kids were little.

We had an old Plymouth Valiant at that time…slant six, automatic transmission, four door.  If a child was going to draw a car, this car is what he’d portray….boxy.

This old car was really dependable….really tough…but kind of ugly.  It was ugly in that cool patina sort of way that some old cars get…but it was kind of a beater.

When we pulled into the driveway, my nephew (who’s now a lawyer…but at the time he was pretty young) said, “What’s that?”

He was looking at the rust on the wheel wells.

I guess he’d never had the chance to see or own any cars that had any rust.

We live in a moist area of the country.  We have a lot of rain, lots of humidity.  Things grow like we were living in a jungle.

Rust loves moisture…so we have a fair amount of rust on some of our cars (if you can’t stop it in time).

Cars rust.

It’s a good thing when a child isn’t up to speed on what rust is.

Back to my original point…I guess that what I’m thinking is that we really do all just live what we know.  Until I can show my daughter that it’s not the norm to have to always whack on the starter with that hammer you carry in the truck, she’s going to be used to that being just a normal part of the driving experience.

There are a lot of different types of normal, though…maybe we’ll try a car that’s not rusty from time to time.

Maybe we’ll try cars that start all the time.

I have high hopes for this new starter…and I have high hopes that I can do my part to make our lives roll easy.

image from here.

 

tattooed stranger

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We live a little ways out in the country.

Usually, when someone makes it out this far, they have a reason for being here.

So, when a guy with tattoos all up and down his arms knocked at our door last night, it was pretty unusual.

“Hey…do you have any jumper cables?  Our car broke down…”

I told him I’d help him…and went to find our cables.

It was a red Tercel…pretty beat up, full of personal belongings…sitting across the road from our house.  There was a lady behind the wheel…and when we’d hooked up the cables, she turned the switch and the car started right up.

When we disconnected the cable, the car died.

” I think it’s probably your alternator”, I told them.

She asked me if I could drive them in to town if she gave me twenty dollars.  I told them that I’d help them if I could …but that I didn’t need the twenty.

We’ve had a string of breakins in our area within the past week….something new out here…and just that evening there’d been a triple homicide in our town…so it was probably bad timing for them to ask me for help…but I told them to hold on and I’d drive them.

I went into the house to tell my wife what was going on.  She was kind of freaked out…”We don’t even know these people…where are you going?  Who are these people?”.  I think that sometimes she is definitely the one with some common sense.

Anyway, to make a long story a little more bearable, it turned out that they wanted me to drive them down the watershed ( a bunch of miles of “two lane driving in the deep dark woods”…. of no streetlights and no houses ) to a town I’d never heard of…in the new darkness of a fading twilight.

Nahhhhhhh….I thought they wanted to go into Hendersonville.  Forget that weirdness.

I wonder if they’d asked me to bring a shovel and my sharpest ax on the trip if I would have been so unthinkingly helpful?

Hopefully my survival instinct is more finely honed than that.

Anyway, we went back out, hooked the jumper cables up again,  and let their car charge a little more… and I sent them on their way in the darkness.

It was all pretty darn sketchy, if you ask me.

But it got me thinking.  It got me thinking a little bit…in addition to my amazement that I was just going to let these strangers, with their pillowcases of God knows what, get in my car so I could drive them who knows where in the darkness….it got me thinking when they were driving down the road how much my “charity” was just a desperate attempt to get these guys outside my orbit again.

It was a real comfort to see their car disappearing in the distance.

Sure…I wanted them to be alright.  I’ve been stranded…broken down in some strange place…and the kindness of strangers made all the difference in how the situation played out.

But I also realized that most of my attempt to help these people was that I wanted these guys and their weird set of self propagated problems to just go away.

I don’t know how far down the road those two made it with that car…maybe I’ll pass them going to work…but last night, AWAY was far enough.

I was like a Good Samaritan yesterday evening…except in MY story, I’m the one who would be thinking, “Man…I am so sick of looking at you down in that ditch…let’s get you some help so I don’t have to think about you anymore.”

Not so noble when the truth comes out, is it?

image from here.

 

 

load o’ logs

Reynolds-Bros-Mill-Logs-ca.-1920-P0204012-1024x609I called a guy who does tree work about getting a load of logs yesterday.

He’s going to bring it this morning…a tandem load of oak logs that I can cut up for firewood.

That is a lot of wood.

That is a lot of wood piled up in our front yard.

When you have a giant pile of logs piled up in the front yard, you really start feeling the urgency of the situation.  It is a necessity that you cut and split that wood efficiently.  It is important that you do all you can to remove it from the front yard…soon.

I have a giant load of logs coming this morning.

What have I gotten myself into?

It’s kind of like being a parent, though…in some ways, I guess.

Who’d want to be a parent if they could see the whole job layed out in front of them?  Who’d wade into that “giant pile of logs” if they really understood what it meant down the line?  You can’t cut up a tandem load of logs all at once…just like you can’t raise a child instantaneously.

What a shame it would be to miss any part of the journey if you were given the choice to hurry the process.

When I start cutting up this wood, I’m going to have to take it a log at a time.

It is really dangerous to try and practice two-fisted chain sawing.  I have two saws…and I guess that with some creative thinking I could probably come up with some sort of strange jig or something that would allow me to use two saws at once…but I think it would be a real liability to try and save time that way.

I could kill myself by being in too much of a hurry.

So, when I begin to “process” my giant pile of logs, I’m going to have to take it one log at a time… and when I begin cutting that one log up, I’m going to have to take it one cut at a time until I reach the end of that one log I started on.

And so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so……………

That’s the way it is with logs…you have a certain protocol when you have a big pile in your yard.  There is an order to the situation that must be obeyed.

My life with my family is like that, too….there is an order to it that, even though I don’t understand it…and even though I don’t always follow it…really needs to be followed.

If I saw the “giant pile of logs” clearly when any of my “main life events” happened, I’d be in a constant state of panic every time something changed.

I would be in a constant, never-ending, all the time…. state of panic.

I guess that like cutting through a log…working my way slowly from one end to the other….and then starting on the next log….I just need to take everything a day at a time.

And at some point, I hope I can say that “eating an elephant is like riding a bicycle….once you’ve done it you don’t forget”.

 

Image from here..

YouTube days

“With a head as full of nothing as a head could be!”

That sounds like the perfect jingle for an amazing undeveloped product.

I wish I could think of something to pump out into the marketplace.

We’d all be RICH.

Joan Armatrading had a song years ago where she sang, “some days the bear will eat you…some days you eat the bear…”.

I don’t have any bears on my horizon…but there are mornings when a commitment to write a daily blog post feels like it might be just a little overwhelming.  What to do when you’ve exhausted enough good ideas to count on both hands and you still have get to write something?  What are you going to do to keep the quality as high as the quantity of posts you let float out into the webisphere?

You look to the only thing that might have any hope of inspiring you.

You look to YouTube.

Like this morning.  Right off the bat, I found this video of a pit bull having fun with a tree.

What could be more inspiring first thing in the morning for a mailman to see than a pit bull having fun with something…and never letting go?

I don’t know about you, but that image gets my blood going like no Venti regular brew ever could.  It gives me something to think about all day long.

Just yesterday, I delivered an intact package to a home high on the mountain.  When I pulled up to the residence, a GIANT APBT (that’s American Pit Bull Terrier for the folks not in the know) came around the corner from behind the house.

My heart skipped a beat…until I noticed that she had a pink heart name tag attached to her collar…

“Whew..”, I thought….”nobody’s going to put a pink heart on a mean dog’s collar!

“That must be one nice pit bull, for sure…”

It turned out that after some talking, bone sharing (milk bones…I carry “store brand” milk bones with me), and generally just trying to instantaneously read the situation that the little pink heart was well deserved.

She was a giant wiggling, tail wagging ball of muscle and teeth…all sweetness and potential dread.

I left the package on one of the two porches (the one that didn’t have her food bowl and dog house on it)…told her not to chew it up…petted her one more time…and went on my way.

I guess that there’s always something happening in my life…sometimes I just don’t remember it until  a Russian dog trying to pull down a limb jogs my memory.

Sometimes I don’t remember it until something with really strong and persistent jaws drags it out of me.

Only metaphorically speaking, of course.

 

 

getting used to out of tune

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When did good music from “my era” become classic rock?

When did I have a time that I could call “my era” develop?  How did that happen?

I was listening to some good music (ie classic rock) the other day….and I noticed that some of these guys really sang out of tune.

It might have been my own sense of hearing…maybe I was hearing discord where there wasn’t any conflict…but some of it sounded just a little off.

Some people say that familiarity breeds contempt.

Hearing these classic tunes made me wonder if it doesn’t allow us to cut folks some slack sometimes, also.

The way we hear it becomes such a long-standing tradition that we just accept it for what it is…a talented guy who made pretty good music in spite of probably being high as a kite when he made it.

( I don’t believe that being a heroin addict helped Charlie Parker play the sax any better…he was just a great saxophonist who needed a fix . I guess there might be some who’d think that the music was what it was because they were high.  It’s hard to say. )

We hear this music and think, maybe subconsciously, that “it’s just the way it is”.

After a while, we’re so caught up in it all that we don’t even notice how out of tune some of it is…and we just roll with it …enjoying the music.

Autotune can fix everything these days.  If you don’t mind sounding like a robot,  every note that comes out of our mouths can hit the mark all the time.

Perfection sure is weird and boring.

There was an “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode where Ray tries to introduce his father to music on CD.  His father freaks out…yells something like “that isn’t music!”  When they finally track down the old LPs that Ray had hoped to replace with CDs, the look of calm and comfort that crosses the old man’s face is priceless.  He liked the click and pop, the warmth of an LP…”now…that’s music”.

Some of the greatest music I have ever heard has been made sitting around a wood stove in somebody’s cabin.

If all the notes were in tune, I’d be surprised. Some of it might have been grimace worthy…it’s hard to remember that part of it all…but some of it was pretty great.  The parts where we all rose to the challenge of just hitting the notes…and it was in tune and the joyful noise was out in the air…that’s the part that I remember.

I don’t remember any of us thinking, “well…we can fix it in the mix…a little Autotune and that wrong note…that human element…will be history.”

What I remember is the triumph that came in-between the wrong notes.

What I relish is the thought that “Yes…we’re human and we get it wrong a lot of the time…but sometimes we get it so right.  Sometimes we get it so right that we look each other in the eyes and wonder just exactly where that moment came from.”

Inspiration… “inspirare”…”to breathe into”…we respond to the human side of our nature…we recognize the occasionally triumphant space between human failings.  We celebrate rising above the day in and day out “out of tuneness” of our lives.

That’s what classic rock is all about.

Really?

Now…I’ve heard the word inspiration means “with spirit”…”to breathe into”…maybe that’s why we look at each other in surprise when something outside of us guides us to be more than we thought we were capable of.  We are touched by the hand of God whether we believe or acknowledge it.

It’s a gift to be able to appreciate the getting up part of falling down.

It’s a gift to be able to enjoy the “out of tune” moments.

image from here..

 

 

it’s all about the terror

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I don’t know how smart a chicken is.

If you watch them for a while, you have to come to the conclusion that a chicken is a pretty stupid animal.  They don’t seem to give much thought to anything except eating, drinking, and pooping.  They’re just not the smartest bird I’ve seen in my minor league bird watching lifetime.

But when you’re chasing a chicken around the yard, trying to get them back in their coop, they seem pretty crafty.  They zig, they zag, they evade.

A chicken can make you feel pretty unintelligent while you’re chasing them behind the picnic table.

Maybe a chicken is smarter than I think.  It would take something pretty brilliant to make me feel like I was a dullard….of that I’m sure.

We had some full-grown chickens before we got this batch of chicks.

Something was picking them off one by one in the night.  We came to the conclusion that it must have been an owl or a hawk…something big enough not to leave a trace of any chicken in its wake.

I don’t notice these chickens looking to the sky for the bigger bird that’s sure to kill them.  Maybe they do it when I’m not around…but to me, they seem unaware and unafraid.

We’ve had a number of break-ins lately in our area.  From what I hear, it’s some gang members from Greenville who’ve decided to migrate north and hit up the easy targets in NC.

I never worried about locking everything up before they started kicking in people’s doors.

The old cliché is “ignorance is bliss”….true statements that get used to death become cliches….but it sure is a lot easier to migrate through life expecting the best.  What’s the other cliché?  “Expect the best, prepare for the worst”?  I don’t know how you prepare for every random event.

I guess that’s what the insurance industry is built on.  Fear is an easy sell.

Thinking about these random break-ins got me wondering about how terror works.  It’s not just the event that leaves the real mark…it’s the lasting expectation of what might happen in the future.  We forget that the owl swooped down to kill….if it didn’t get us…but we remember that something bad could happen at any moment….even if we can’t predict or define what “bad” is.

Who would have thought that something benign like the Boston Marathon would be a target?  Runners have no politics while they’re running…it’s just the running.  It was effective terrorism because it made no sense. It changed our expectations of what might be possible.

That’s the thing about “effective terrorism”…it takes the “who would have thought” moment…and turns it into another opportunity to fear something that “could happen”.

I am going to miss those “who would have thought” moments when they’ve all disappeared.

After the Boston bombing, a lot of people shared this Fred Rogers quote.  I’ll close with this video because I really believe that in spite of all the fear and trepidation, there is a core of goodness in most people…we just have to figure out how to make it come out.