All in the Prep Work


We can take a can of paint, re-coat a rusted chair
making it beautiful, almost new again
but if the rust and old loose paint wasn’t cleared away
it’s just a matter of time until chips and rust resurface
a painful blemish on our new perfection

Just like anger!  If we don’t deal with the resentment
if we just move on, deal with the present, keep it clean
avoiding the real bone of contention underneath
the poison, the rot, the untreated decay patiently
waits for the next bump to bring it back to the surface

How do we balance moving on, not letting yesterday ruin today
with clearing away the root of the problem? Surely the hardest
part of the Serenity Prayer; dealing with past problems,
and changing, requires one foot in the past. It’s not the same
as setting troubles behind and then joining them there

Do we just accept the things we cannot change? Spray
on a new can of ‘just for today, it will be ok’? Do we
take up the fight and change the circumstances?
Deal with the unpleasantness of confrontation
risking clearing our resentment, but losing the other person

Where do we gain the wisdom to know the difference?
How do we set aside the emotions to not react?
As with most things, it’s all in the prep work. Take
the wire brush of reason, bounce thoughts off others
and then, choose the next right thing

Quest for the Perfect Fort, pt 1

The Perfect Fort


When we were growing up, a favorite activity of our gang of boys was the search for, the building, or outfitting, of our hideouts or forts. Whether it was an unused shed, a covered porch, a hole concealed with plywood, or even a dense clump of bamboo, the search and discovery process of finding the perfect fort was a driving force in our life. Forts were necessary for our group. We always felt the need to have privacy and a place to hide their booty. It didn’t matter whether we gathered things from the neighborhood trash, or stole stuff from the local stores, or even took it from our own homes.
Continue reading “Quest for the Perfect Fort, pt 1”

The Quest for the Perfect Fort

Introduction to story

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine from high school had the misfortune of having his apartment building burn down. having his apartment building burn down. He didn’t have renters insurance and lost all his possessions, which included his music equipment. Being a musician, the fire wiped out his ability to make money, as well as taking most of his possessions and his residence. He ended up on the streets learning how to be homeless.
His pride was beaten down, but he refused to let most people know he was on the streets. He referred to his new living situation as “camping in the city” and set up a system of rules for himself which I am proud to say, he followed his own rules most of the time. He always appeared clean, wore clean clothes, and he always looked and smelled washed. Without knowing his situation, one would have no idea he was homeless.

My friend rented the smallest available u-haul space to keep what he owned and even though it was against the rules, used the room to change daily
. He found places to sleep where he was safe and would not be arrested for vagrancy, and he found places to eat in trade for some small manual labor so that he didn’t have to beg. He tried not to rely on any one friend for too much support, paying back what he could when his monthly royalty checks came in. He did his best to make the best of a horrible situation.
I often wondered how I would do in the same circumstance. His situation was like many on the streets. Living paycheck to paycheck, then all of a sudden, that state of affairs becomes fond memories of the good, old days. One misstep or tragic event kicks you to the street and survival takes over as the primary need.
urban camping
His situation always made me think about gratitude. But, at the same time, it also got me thinking about what I would do to find survival on the streets, if my life fell apart and circumstances changed. Would I be able to go “camping in the city”? Had my successful living robbed me of my basic instincts instilled as a child?

As a kid, some of the greatest adventures of my neighborhood friends revolved around finding new forts
. I first had the connective thoughts between living on the streets and our old searches for forts twenty-some years ago. At the time, after moving back from New York, I found out that a different friend was living under a bridge for a while, on his way to hitting his bottom.

My other friend’s recent troubles ran all these old thoughts through my mind again and put much of these earlier thoughts about survival on the streets into clearer focus
. Homelessness is no joke and I would never make light of their plight. If anything, these considerations put things into perspective for me. But for the grace of God, there go I!
This I do know, my youthful thinking is still always with me. To this day, I never come upon a spot that would have made a good fort, that I don’t stop and look at, thinking of all the pros and cons. All the same considerations go through my head before I even know it. How would I get in and out without being seen and would my stuff be safe? Is there any way to block the entrance so I can use lights? What would be my alternate escape route? Will I be sheltered from the elements? Will I be trespassing or more importantly, will I be prosecuted if caught?
I never want to find out how I would do in real life living day-to-day on the streets, but I can’t help but to think this way. I know I could survive, if it came down to necessity.
Over the course of the next few posts, I will share the story of my, and my friends childhood quests for the perfect fort. My goal is to capture the fun fantasies, the talents and ingenious adaptability of my group of friends. The joys of growing up outdoors instead of in front of a television or computer monitor still impact my thoughts and memories. Here is a glimpse at the ways our youthful choices affected our lives and the joys of finding the perfect fort.

Clipper Ship on Stormy Seas

Clipper ship

Clipper Ship on Stormy Seas

Round bales of wool cut into two and a half inch segments
Grouped by color, wrapped and numbered, filling a box
One by one, given a new home on the canvas
Fold over hook, insert, loop, pull, and adjust
Space by space, row by row, color by color
Move on to the next row

Compulsion, obsession, suppression
Fear of stopping drives the progress
A world of people, places and things
Waits patiently for the hook to be put down
Keep moving until the fingers are raw
Seventeen days later and almost done
Fighting through blisters, cuticles bloody
Loose wool lint coating clothes, chair, and floor

Began with the sky, ending with the green-blue sea
Light and dark and dark greens, creamy foam topped waves rolling past
A small JC in the bottom corner finished off the piece
Withdraw preserved in strands of wool
Mounted on the wall to always remember
The pain of beginning a new life with choice
A clipper ship on stormy seas now safe at port

A move and then another, a couple more to come
Its new residence, a shelf in my parent’s basement – forgotten
Cardboard boxes are never safe in floodwaters – everything ruined
Decades later another flood and the need for repairs
Demanded the first floor be cleared, boxed and stored
And there on the top shelf of the hallway closet it sat
Folded, safe and sound, the colors just as bright

The first seventeen days of my new life preserved
Strand by strand, hook by hook, fingers raw by nightfall
The sinking ship that was my life prior, reprogrammed
Thirty-five years later, still sailing along with choice
Row by row, hook by hook, day by day
The years line up and life takes on an image
Gratitude for the reminder of what was lost, then found

Previously published by Silver Birch Press as part of the Lost and Found collection

Spiral of Decline

I used to enjoy watching the spiral wishing wells found in malls. You would place a coin in the slot and watch as it raced around, finally falling into the drain at the bottom as it began its trek, a slow, meandering trail, circling the rim. Each pass took it lower down the side as it picked up speed. When it got to the bottom it was almost a blur, it was moving so fast.

Anyone can explain the physics of the decent. As the circumference became smaller, the time it took to pass was reduced. The tighter the circle, the faster the quarter appeared go. The assumption of speed was only that. The speed of the pass had nothing to do with the velocity of the coin. The time  to circle got shorter instead of the coin getting faster.

I haven’t seen one of these in years but the picture recently came to mind. Isn’t this the perfect description of the progression of decline? At first it’s a slow collection of similar occurrences that build into a pattern. The pattern causes other noticeable declines leading to a limiting of risks. Limiting leads to a continuous closing off of options until the circle of our life is reduced, and the speed of our decline is noticed.

The elderly and the addict are perfect examples of this gradual decline. Much happens before the speed picks up and the drain appears. The fun and excitement that hides the addiction leads to a one dimensional life, a smaller group of interests and a smaller group of friends. The choices are on their way to being singular and the decent picks up speed. By the time they notice they are falling they are already caught in the vortex.

The same can be said of the elderly as they realize their decline. Limiting their activities, and the things they give up, make their world smaller. The sameness of every day makes doing anything new seem like a big change. Their smaller world makes the drain at the bottom appear larger and larger. The list of things they can no longer do grows, and their old life more distant, until the thought of getting up to make a meal seems mountainous

At least the elderly have a reason for their decline and hopefully they had a full life. The same can’t be said for the addict who’s vortex is much more associated with toilets. Their choices removed healthy options and they end up flushing their life, giving up everything for their drug of choice, never letting life interfere with their high – using, taking, lying, cheating, circling the drain faster, until they reach the bottom, flushing a life of promise down the drain, always wishing they could just catch a break.

Is it possible to learn ourselves out of this cycle?  Can we slow the descent?Continuing to learn and grow, keeping our life options open and our days full, making the path around the spiral as wide as possible, accepting that we can’t do something, but replacing it with things we can.

Wishing well instead of toilet; accepting our limitations, but living fully, enjoying the day’s journey on our slow path to the next stage of our life.