the saddest Christmas song ever sung

Ahhhh, Joni….why’d you have to be so sad?

This is probably one of the saddest Christmas songs…one of the saddest songs in general…I’ve ever heard.  It is also one of my all time favorites.

“It don’t snow here, it stays pretty green…I’m gonna make a lot of money and I’m gonna quit this crazy scene”.

Joni said that when she was recording this album (Blue), it devastated her…too raw and emotionally exposed…too close to the bone for her to live with.  Every song on this album is like that…even the upbeat ones strike close to the heart.

Christmas is a funny season.  What a joyous celebration…and we attach so much to it that for some reason, it also becomes kind of a sad time for a lot of people. I don’t know how to shield myself from any sadness…how to shield any of my loved ones from sadness…but we are vulnerable at Christmas…caught up in memories good and sad.

But…I expect a very nice Christmas…so sadness isn’t something that takes the reins these days.

Back to Joni Mitchell…if you haven’t ever heard Blue, seek it out.  It was released in the early 70’s…I think (1971, to be exact)…and is an amazing, timeless piece of music.  You could probably hear the album in its entirety at Grooveshark.com  or Spotify.

my brave new world

ipad disconnectComputers make my life easier.

I can access more information than I need faster than I’ve ever known that I don’t need to know about something than ever before. Unless…something isn’t working like I expect it to.  System restore, bang on the box, cross my fingers, turn it on and off….maybe just sit and look at the screen and wonder, “what’s going on?”…I’ll try it all, my life ticking away while I sit, frustrated and flummoxed.

I stopped using Firefox after all the computer voodoo this morning…couldn’t get it to work right so I just gave up.  Google Chrome seems to work so I’ll just go with the “happy accident” and roll with learning about a new browser.

I think our brains work differently now than they did before we became so tethered to our electronic devices.  I remember thinking that it was so funny when I saw someone walking down the street talking on their cell phones….so funny that they couldn’t seem to give it a rest for even an afternoon. Now I have a cellphone ( a Tracfone…what a cheap skate!) and people can reach me anywhere if I have the phone with me and they know my number.  I’m one of them now…a reformed Luddite, a late adopter, dipping my toes into the pool to see how cold the water really is.  Now we think fast…able to accelerate our attention until we can notice everything even if we don’t really understand anything completely.  4G, wireless, fast and new…best…the next “must have”…the newest “don’t be left behind”.

I remember the first time I heard a Sony Walkman.  In the dining hall at Falling Creek Camp, Burts Bryant walked up and let me listen to one of his camper’s new “toys”.  I felt like some sheltered tribesman…jumping back in wonderment when the sound started coming out of the headphones.  What a revelation….”that little cassette player sounds like that?  Cool!”…it was quite an eye-opening event  at the time.

Now we make fun of it…like it was a wood and steel wheel….a relic from a distant time…our generation’s Victrola.

If I think back, it was really the beginning of a new kind of isolation.  I can’t remember anything before that that let us zone out quite as completely as the Walkman…maybe reading a book?…I don’t really know.  We were in the world…but not really of the world.

We are more connected to each other now… and less interactive.  We can have thousands of Facebook friends…and not have a single true confidant.  It is a strange time…and we get more used to it being the “new normal” with each passing day.

I guess that every generation has some kind of old benchmark…something that ties them to what they suppose were the good old days.  Maybe someday the next round of old people will say, “remember the days of 4G? …before the holographic implant and the wondertether?…things were microseconds slower and you had to carry the plastic box?…didn’t we talk more before the cranialscrew machine stopped all that? …weren’t things better when we didn’t race the solarshield hovercraft and move through the liquid field?”

Who knows what’s going to happen.  Maybe we’ll have some kind of “back to the dark ages” EMP and the closest we’ll get to technology will be burning the hot dogs over the fire…and then we can say, “remember the days of the store-bought bun?”…and reminisce as we stare into the flames…the brave new world of the Walkman far behind us.

 

why?

When I dropped our oldest off for her first day of kindergarten, she started to tear up.  She’d never been apart from us and was scared.  I remember kneeling down and hugging her…remember telling her, “don’t cry, sweetie…it’s going to be alright”.

For the most part, in our lives it has been “alright”.

I don’t know why things like yesterday’s horrible school shooting happen.  As parents and educators….and law enforcement and politicians…to the best of our abilities we are vigilant in protecting our children.  We worry about sharp corners, if the monkey bars are too high, is that wet floor “too slippery for little running feet?”…but we don’t foresee something as terrible as someone as evil as the young gunman in Connecticut coming to hurt our child. It’s not generally in our catalog of reasonable fears to think that someone would hurt our children like that.

Our news media makes the sharing of disaster instantaneous.  We share the grief of strangers…united in the common denominator of just being parents, or brothers or sisters. We grieve for them…and try to make sense of any small part of it all around the world. We have more awareness of all the things we can’t change than at any time in our history…the fact that we can maintain concern for the tragedies speaks well of human character. It isn’t something that happened to them…it’s something that happened to us…and we grieve as a nation.

It’s a beautiful thing about our human spirit that in spite of all the information we have to the contrary, most of us seek out an optimistic outcome.  When something like the school shooting happens,  we are damaged…both by what we’ve lost and by what is left behind…damaged beyond repair and beyond forgetting.  The shooter is gone…dead by his own hand and choice…but we are still here…dealing with the aftermath of something we can’t understand.  Whether it is a horrific school shooting …or a German concentration camp…or any other strong expression of the darkest side of what a human being is capable of…we do what we can to survive…do what we can to comfort and heal.  There is no spin we can put on this to give it the veneer of “being alright”…but we seek what we can find in order to heal.

I will never forget a little face starting to cry on the first day of kindergarten so many years ago…and how I was given the gift of being able to comfort her.

Pray hard for the parents and children…the teachers and law enforcement…and everyone else affected by this tragedy.

 

Chris Rosser lives in Asheville

chris rosser

Chris Rosser lives in Asheville.  I suppose that makes him a local artist….one of the many talented musicians that live in our area.  But there’s more to Chris Rosser than just being a local musician…he’s a world-class talent with strong interest in a lot of different styles of music…music from all over the globe.

We’ve had the good fortune to hear him on a couple of occasions out at the Flat Rock Bakery.  Excellent performer and a really intelligent writer…good sense of humor and tons of insight.  It is such a pleasure to get a chance to listen to musicians of his calibre in a really laid back setting like the bakery.

This is a “multi-cultural” Christmas song from his album “The Holy Fool” that came out in 2000.  He’s a follower of the Bahai faith so he might approach the season from a different angle than most of the Baptists around here…but it’s an interesting song and one of the few “holiday” songs on his albums…so I thought I’d put it up.

Check him out if you get a chance…he’s an artist worth seeking out.

10 Christmas in the Ashram

 

 

 

I’d tear it all apart

100_1600You take an old house that’s gutted when you bought it, limited carpentry skills, and no money for tools and materials…and what do you get?

A constant reminder that you might have a shot at doing a better job the second time around.

We are constantly re-doing.  I am amazed when I tear out a section of the old repair and realize how wacky what I did before can be.  “Holy Smokes!!  Check out this used 2×4 that I scabbed together with this cut down 1×6 to give us enough room to balance this part here...it’s INSANE!!!”  It’s like digging up a shot of weirdness from the past…3 Stooges archaeology…but it’s just me.

Jenny helped me to a crazy degree…hauling 5 gallon buckets of dirt out of the hand-dug, water- proofing project ditch behind the house (when she was 7 months pregnant), sitting on every board I had to rip because the thrift store table saw blew up, painting…sanding drywall with a baby on her back,etc….so I don’t want to give the impression that it was all my effort…that wouldn’t be even close to true.  But I think that looking back on it all, most of the really weird element was my doing.

Occasionally, I’ll come to a part of the house that really surprises me with an elegant and appropriate solution to a problem…but that is pretty rare. Usually, it’s a strange, overbuilt compensation for fear and a lack of knowledge…”maybe if I double up on these 6×6’s, it won’t cave in on us in the night?”  (this is the kind of post that they use in the building inspector’s deposition later).

We bought our house before our first child was born.  Our firstborn “worked” on this house in the womb in tandem with her mother…so she grew up with the whole hopeful process.  I think that when we bought the house, we thought that “6 months from now, we’ll be featured in Architectural Digest”…that 6 months from now we’ll be warm and dry and safe and FINISHED!! We were inappropriately optimistic about the whole process…babes in the woods (or at least as close to the woods as you could get and still be sleeping inside a structure).

The reality of the situation was that the first winter we spent in the house we didn’t have any insulation in the ceiling…just rafters and tin and a too small wood stove downstairs to keep us warm.  It was cold…our friend Steve Longenecker helped me pound nails in the ceiling with his piton hammer…getting it insulated and ready for the next winter.  He’s a long time wilderness instructor…spent a lot of time camping and climbing…and he said that he’d rarely been that cold.

That’s the way to keep a recent wife and new mother happy and comfortable, huh?

We are getting ready to celebrate our 19th anniversary in about a week.

My wife was looking at old pictures the other day and commented that “we had an awesome life!” That’s a good thing…to have some way to put it all into perspective. The natural tendency, I think, is to hold onto the hard memories…to catalog the pain behind every callus, the embarrassment of the home improvement project gone awry, the lack…and to build them up into a monument and reminder of “what should have been”. It’s hard to avoid wishing that things had been easier….but we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have that set of experiences.  The “spin”…the ability to take something hard and see the bright side of the situation…that’s an awesome ability and legacy to shoot for.

The title of this post isn’t really appropriate.  There really isn’t anything that I’d want to tear apart…literally or figuratively.  There are a lot of things I’d like a “do over” on…I think I could probably do a better job when I had some of it all figured out…but I don’t think that I’d want to tear it all apart.

Little by little, we fix a house and move on in. Year by year, we build a life and a family.  I’m glad it doesn’t happen instantaneously…I don’t think I’d know what to do.

 

 

don’t make a move

DON’T MAKE A MOVE!” our three-year old said in as tough a tone as a three-year old could muster.  He’d hidden a gun somewhere in his pajamas and he’d picked this moment to pounce.

His mother held up her hands and stood in the kitchen…waiting for the crime to play out.

The gun was small.

The pajamas were loose.

Minutes later, the gun was in his hand and his pajamas were around his ankles….and the naked criminal had pulled off another heist.  He’d managed to find his tiny gun after a lot of digging.

We learn by watching.  I know now that to try to pull off a holdup  with my gun hidden in a loose onesy is not going to end well.  I know that to yell “DON’T MAKE A MOVE!!!” is going to lose its impact if I have to do a lot of screwing around to dig out my “piece”.  I know that I need to be very descriptive of exactly what I’m doing if, as an adult, I have to describe trying to dig out my “weapon” in the middle of a crime…no matter where it’s migrated to in my pj’s.

What’s cute for a child is creepy on so many levels if an adult tries the same thing.

We picked the same child up after a bath the other night….taking him in to get him dressed for bed time.  We carried him like a “mini me”…facing forward, held to our chest…to the same place to do the same night-time ritual we’d done hundreds of times before.  “WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME!?”, he yelled.  “Where are you taking me?”.  Where does a question like that come from?  It’s a good question…probably a question that all children should ask their parents more frequently…but what led to a question like that?

In retrospect, I might have asked that question a time or two in my own life.  A person looks back and wonders…like the Talking Heads song…”how did I get here?”.  It all washes over you…time and experience…a string of disconnected events that somehow makes some sense at some point. I could attempt to “wax philosophic” about all my efforts to understand it all…but it’s just blowing smoke in the end.

When you get down to it, when you are digging a toy gun out of the foot of your pajamas, you better be 100% present.  There isn’t any room for a lack of mindfulness…there isn’t any room for an awareness of mindfulness…you just are.  That’s the beauty of being a child…there isn’t any weird internal dialogue going on about mortgages or college or insurance or menus or workplace dramas or any of the other things we think about as adults…it’s just the “now”.

I don’t know how to live completely in the “now”.  I guess that the more I wonder “how” to live like that the farther away I move from living in the present. If it’s still an ongoing struggle, I suppose that I haven’t figured it out yet.  Life shouldn’t be a struggle…or a quiet desperation (no matter what Thoreau said). I guess that a person has too much time their hands if they can ponder some of these issues too deeply, anyway.  There are a lot of floors that need sweeping…it’s probably important to get out of your own head when it all gets “too deep”.

Maybe if I can picture myself standing in the kitchen in my oversized onesy, yelling out to no one in particular, “DON’T MAKE A MOVE!!!”, I’ll be able to keep it in perspective.  When in doubt…stand VERY STILL.

 

The Asian man has popcorn

Before I started writing this blog, I used to get up every morning and watch a movie on the computer.

I couldn’t sleep… I wake up every morning at five like clockwork…so to be quiet while everybody else in the house was still in bed, I’d check a couple of the different sites I’d found and pick out a movie to watch.

Most of the movies that were on the site were still in the theaters…some hadn’t come out in America yet..so to get a chance to watch them was kind of strange and exciting.

I learned that there are a lot of different ways someone can bring a movie to the internet early.  There is the “screener” where a copy that was sent out for review is leaked to the internet.  These movies are usually just like watching a dvd…because the source material was a dvd. This is the most desirable way to watch a movie early…the best quality and sound is going to come from a screener.

The other most common format is what they’ll call “cam” on the movie sites.  This is where someone has brought a camcorder into the theater and recorded the movie.  This is usually pretty sketchy in quality…bad sound, shaky camera work, outside noise…lots of weirdness can happen with a cam quality movie.

One of the most entertaining things about the cam movies is the people leaving and coming back to their seats.  People come back with popcorn…big cups of soda…giant pigs heads pickled in some sort of pungent brine (just kidding about the last one….it’s too dark to really tell that much detail)…outlined in silhouette against the grainy movie screen, the cameraman not telling them to get out of the way of the camera because he’d probably go to prison if he got caught filming….so why draw attention to yourself by being too demanding?

It seems like a lot of these cam movies come from foreign countries…Russia, China, maybe some of the Middle Eastern countries.  It’s kind of like a twisted black market National Geographic.  Because all the action off-screen takes place in silhouette, you really have to use your imagination to pick up any cultural nuances.

This is really against the rules.  The MPAA doesn’t condone taping a movie off the screen and then posting it on the internet…no matter what country it happens in.  Next time you go to watch a movie, check out the poster warning of the penalties for taping in the theater…it’s something they take pretty seriously.

Watching a movie recorded in a Chinese theater kind of brings the “social element” back to the movie going experience.  We are so isolated in some ways…Netflix and other streaming (legally streaming) sources take all the social element out of the experience…we don’t have to see anybody and watch what we want, when we want…so to get the impression that other people are in the theater kind of grounds us in our humanity.  Maybe there is a legitimate market for that kind of experience?  I’m sure there are a lot of lonely people in the world who would sacrifice video quality for the feeling that they weren’t alone in watching another movie at home.  It’s kind of like watching a fireplace video on the big television…maybe better than nothing….but not by much.

I wouldn’t mind too much if an Asian man needed some fresh popcorn every once in a while.

We bought a tree

We bought our Christmas tree yesterday.

In earlier years, we’d gone up in our woods and cut a little Charlie Brown tree, purchased a tree at one of the home improvement stores, and we even had an artificial tree for a couple of years…but we always had a tree…even if it was Christmas Eve before we put it up.

We bought our tree from someone I deliver mail to.  It is a good thing to “keep it in the neighborhood”….keep the flow close to home…to be able to say, “thanks again, Doyce..”.  I guess buying local is kind of a movement…I’ve seen the bumper stickers…but beyond it being a “movement” there is something really nice and satisfying about buying from a neighbor.

When we got it home, I trimmed the lower branches, cut the base off a little, and took it inside and set it in the holder.  My wife and I put the lights on it ( newer lights that all worked…what a luxury!  We were talking about how nice it was to not limp along with used lights that we had to wrestle with to get to work…what a real pleasure to just plug-in the strand and have them all light up) and then she and our 3 year old decorated it.

What a beautiful tree!  Our youngest had such a time hanging the ornaments on the lower branches….getting a little history lesson with a lot of the different ornaments, “Daddy gave Mommy that one before you were born” etc. He’s like any of us…if he feels like he’s useful…that he is contributing…he really responds well to that.  They did a great job.

“Breaking Amish” and the “truth”

We’ve watched a show on TLC a couple of times called “Breaking Amish”.  It’s about these young Amish adults who bust loose from the Amish lifestyle and go to the city to experience the “good life” as some of us know and live it.  What hijinks follow–tattoos, drunken parties, weird food…and even SEX.  Holy Smokes…those Amish kids are GOING OFF!!!

It’s kind of like the dark side of the simple life…they give the impression that burning underneath most of the simple living folk’s psyches is the tremendous need to BUST A MOVE and cause some major havoc in an urban setting…that if it wasn’t for the strict rules they have in their community, we’d have a drunken guy in a dark hat throwing up on our street right now.

Then you read in one of our news magazines like People or Us Weekly that it’s all staged…that somebody was a single mother stripper, or stole cars, sold meth, dated a dolphin, or did any number of sordid things before they temporarily towed the “straight and narrow” so it would look better when they joined the “Amish gone wild” crew. It’s all a setup.

Surely they could have found some photogenic Amish young adults who legitimately wanted to go to the dark side?

I’ve read about a term called rumspringa that they use in the Amish community.  It’s a term that is either used to describe adolescence in general…or a period of “forgivable” disobedience.  These kids aren’t shunned when they experience the world…and most, after baptism, return to the church and the simple ways they’ve grown up with.  It’s not sanctioned crazy…it’s just a period that the adults recognize as maybe a little necessary to produce good adult Amish.  I think the important thing is that most of these kids sow their wild oats…and then come back to the life. What most of us take away from the news reports of rumspringa activities is the feeling that there must be a whole lot of trouble in simple town.

So…what’s our fascination with the fall?  Where did that come from? The “I knew it was too good to be true!! Look at those Amish kids go, Flo!” attitude…the cynical expectation that anything good has to be “too good to be true”…why do I enjoy seeing some of that stuff? Maybe enjoy is the wrong word…maybe “watch with disgusted fascination” would be better.  The moral train wreck…black hats and bonnets amongst the wreckage…and me, sitting back in semi-legit moral superiority, thinking, “oh…isn’t that…horrible. Wait…don’t turn the channel…I’ve got to go to the restroom…I’ll be right back!!! The dark-haired one is getting her first piercing in the next segment!!”

I don’t watch the show often.  I will stop on it with the same “mindfulness” that I’ll display when I see a strange infomercial…”those pills will do what to your what?“…and watch it with the same lack of attention. It’s a strange world we live in, sometimes…stranger than I was aware of if everything I see in the media is true…stranger still if I keep watching the lies.