Fact or Fiction


Note: After my 2nd reading, I think this post may become part one of something more.

I have finally reached that point in my life where I have come to understand that not everything can be understood. On the surface what I mean by this is that we are surrounded by so much information about so many things that it is sometimes almost impossible to discern what is fact or what is fiction. Many times what we think we know about a certain subject is a subtle blend of both. Not always, but it seems in many cases this is certainly true.

On a much deeper level however, what I am trying to say is this principle seems to hold true about our memories of past events in our lives. While some are likely set in stone, many seem to be a bit foggy when it comes to the actual event coinciding with our memory of it. As we age it seems that memories seem to alter themselves to what we thought happened rather than what actually took place.

For instance, when I was young and growing up in Port Huron, Michigan, I remember asking my father for a ride into town. From where I lived on Mason Avenue, this meant about 3 or 4 miles if memory serves. His answer was that I didn’t need to go to town and again if memory serves, my unspoken answer to him was, “You don’t really know what I need!” It was at this point that I began to hitchhike into town to meet my friends. We are talking about the early to mid-sixties here so it was a much kinder and gentler world in which we lived. Not many would be killers roaming the streets in search of that rebellious kid just looking for a ride into town.

This memory is significant because I didn’t always get a ride and my walks around Port Huron and its outlying environs are the stuff of legend in my mind’s eye. As I remember, walking was my way of processing my life and the only way I could truly feel at peace. I would often walk until I was tired enough to come home and read or fall asleep. My nighttime dreams of this time are sometimes visualized as a cartographers map which includes a ground level Google map version of the same. I seem to be in the picture and at the same time looking at myself in the picture. I am sure that some of these walks at night I actually took and some are just my imagination: a further embellishment of what actually happened. Yet the dreams (memories) are precise and full of detail and feeling. There is mystery and intrigue and a sense of purpose that is deja vu to the tenth degree.

Sometimes we purposely add to or subtract from our memories and after several years of this can’t remember what was reality and what was our added fiction. Instead of that strikeout in game five of your Little League playoffs, you remember the home run in game one and your memory of that particular game becomes positive instead of a blended negative.

Just the other day my memory was jogged in another familiar/unfamiliar way. A Facebook connection reminded me of a double date to a prom in 1967 that we were part of. She said she had a picture and offered to send it along. Suffice it to say, when I saw it, I can’t say that I remembered the person I looked to be at that time. My visage was gaunt and distracted in a way that I can only say was disconcerting. I was distant with a cigarette between my fingers. I can’t say I remember the night the picture was taken but do remember some of what was unfolding around me at the time. A stormy period if there ever was one.

I guess the point here is that the past is really the past. Fact or fiction, it existed in another time and space from the one we live in today. We have been shaped by the events we have lived through, for better and for less. But in the end, we need to live in today, be thankful for the past and look towards a future that will accommodate the person we have become. Dreams will come and dreams will go: a mixture of fact and fiction, like it or not. In other words today is all that we have, so make the most of it.

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The Amazing Mr. Kite

For those of you who are familiar with what we affectionately call the “high country”, it will be easier to understand the little story I am about to unfold. Somewhere between the not so warm spring days and the cool evenings, there often are 40 to 50 mile-an-hour winds with gusts that reach even higher.

Just this week, after a couple of days of heavy rains, I was walking from the Wellness Center to Bare Essentials Natural Market, which is just across the street, not more than a fifty yard trek.

It was cold enough to wear a coat but not cold enough to zipper it up and as I began my walk up the stairs behind Bare Essentials, hands in my pockets and body bent against the howling wind, I was literally picked up like a kite and was on my way down the stairs and to a nasty fall. I was able to get my balance momentarily as I felt myself falling, coat filled like a spinnaker sail as the next gust of wind picked me up and pushed me backwards again. At this point, mentally freaked out, I was able to get my left hand out of my pocket and grab ahold of the steel rail and was wrenched back against the cement wall as my arm was twisted trying my best to hold on against the pounding wind.

I really don’t remember when I came to the realization that I had narrowly missed a serious accident and the thought of that old Amy Grant song “Angels Watching Over Us” came to mind. But it could of been bad—falling backwards down a flight of concrete steps.

However, when I told my story to the crew at work, I guess the image of “little ole me” being literally picked up like a kite was Vaudevillian enough to elicit belly laughs that the Beatles may have had in mind when they wrote “Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite” and sang:

Over men and horses hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire
In this way Mr. K will challenge the world

The celebrated Mr. K
Performs his feats on Saturday at Bishopsgate
The Henderson’s will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don’t be late

Messrs K. and H. assure the public
Their production will be second to none

Enough said. Hope your ride is better than my wind-full one.

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The Essence of Creativity and Imagination

I am currently reading a book entitled “Hard Boiled Wonderland & The End Of The World” by Haruki Murakami. It is a novel that was recommended to me by a co-worker who is younger than I am by 25 years and whose tastes form a much different reality than those that I am most familiar with.

That being said, I am thankful that I am still in a position where I can be challenged in many mind expanding ways as it pertains to movies, music and literature. What I have found is the paths that I have walked down most of my life were beginning to get a bit threadbare and to experience what others have discovered in their walk is a real adventure.

I don’t always find the flow with what is recommended, but I am pleased with the fact that there is a lot more to experience that I would have found on my own.

One of my favorite pastimes used to be wandering the isles of most any bookstore, chain or independent, and wait for a book to “speak to me”. I know that must sound a bit odd but I have discovered some very good poets and writers using this technique.

But I digress.

While reading the Murakami book, which is unlike anything I have read before, I was presented with this thought: Where in the world do fiction writers go in their imagination in order to create these alternate realities. How can they see the paths their characters travel and describe this journey in such vivid terms. And in the process create a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end—or some such rendering as well.

As a writer of poetry I must say that my approach to this medium is more like a short story writer rather than a novelist. I am often inspired by a quick thought or two that might lead me around the block but very rarely do I find myself in another state or universe. I like reading stuff that provokes my thought process and takes me into my imagination but  doesn’t require a PhD to understand. In my narratives, I have been known to skip from ABC to XYZ without much explanation and I tend to make assumptions about my readers ability to follow my sometimes meandering byways. Otherwise, I am a quick study type—I like to visit for a moment and then catch the next train to the next station.

One of my favorite bible verses is at the very beginning of Genesis where we are told that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”—with the emphasis on the word “created”. The Hebrew word translated “create” is Bara which means to form, fashion by cutting, shape out. When the creation story is looked at from the novelists perspective, God’s imagination is heads above any story that has been written or verbally passed on since. We are given the idea that God saw the beginning, the middle and the end even before we read that man gave names to all the animals.

Knowing that God created and had a fantastic imagination, I have to ask myself, where is this same sense of creation and imagination being taught and or used today. Now I am not thinking about creation/imagination in terms of inventions (cars, airplanes, iPhones, medical breakthroughs, etc.) but as we can apply it to living our daily lives. It seems like many of us get into a habitual rut of just doing the next thing and fail to see life as the creative journey it really is. As a people group we are afraid of “different” and act like marching to the beat of a that different drummer is something only odd balls do. If we stopped long enough to pick up the beat we might actually enjoy it and much like taking a co-workers advice on another book to read, our lives would be impacted in a positive way.

Sure, we are all unique and I readily admit that I don’t have my wife’s ability to scope out a piece of land and turn it into a landscapers’s paradise—much as she has done with our modest country acre. She can just “see it” much as I can see and troubleshoot things in the realm of computers and digital design.

Yet I find myself many times falling far short of the creative thinking and use of imagination I was and am endowed with by the Creator of the universe. If we were indeed created in the image of God, then we have the inherent ability to live life creatively abundant in whatever moment we are faced with.

And while I don’t have this whole thing thought out yet, it is something I am going to allow my mind to drift with during this long ride I find myself on. I hope you can do the same or similar—find your own beat and follow it down the highway.

 

 

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Getting Out Of Dodge For A Food Tour

Several weeks ago my wife suggested that we go on a little adventure and asked me to check out a food tour taking place in Black Mountain, NC, a little over and hour and a half’s drive from our home in Boone. Apparently a friend of hers had taken the tour, was really excited about it and thought that we might be interested in it as well.

And as it almost takes an act of congress to get me out of my comfort zone, I was a bit reluctant to check it out, but after a few proddings from Sandi, I looked into it and signed us up to take the tour at 2pm last Saturday the 28th.

At the time, I thought the price was a little high but decided that we hadn’t been out of town in a while (a long cold winter) and what the heck—let’s live a little.

In the two weeks after signing up, the weather went from the high sixties to the low forties and this past weekend was forecast to be below seasonal norms with lows in the twenties and highs in the thirties. However, as it turned out during our tour, the sun was out in Carolina blue skies and the temperatures reached the low fifties with just a little breeze.

This is fairly typical weather for spring in the North Carolina high country—ups and downs every which way and almost a vengeance in letting go of winter. Sometimes it seems we go directly into summer without ever experiencing the delights of a milder spring that slowing advances into shorts and tee-shirt days outside.

Anyway, we get to Black Mountain and have a few minutes before the tour begins and being Terry and Sandi, we start walking around the small mountain town on our own. Our first stop was a garden center on the main drag that seemed to stock everything a backyard gardener would ever need. I could have spent several hours in that shop but was limited to buying a few High Mowing seeds and some other seed starting supplies. After that, it was quick trip around the block and then back to our food tour beginning destination.

We began our delightful tour at the restaurant inside the Monte Vista Hotel. The chef fixed a pulled pork empanada and a half a glass of a good Pinot Noir and at that point, with such an auspicious beginning, I was glad we had made the trip. Within the next two and a half hours, we visited 5 more food places and were treated to what amounted to at least three lunches. We were served chicken on waffles at the Red Rocker Inn, vegetable soup and a half sandwich at the Black Mountain Bakery and a great ruben and pasta salad at the Dark City Deli and Pub. At Louise’s Kitchen we ate a pulled pork quesadilla served with their homemade lemonade and ended the tour at the Asheville Place with spiced tea and pound cake. Not to shabby for an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon.

It was on the way to the third foodie place that I realized that the price that we paid was not really that high and that this adventure would be one that Sandi and I could add to our scrapbook of things that we have done over the past 10 or 12 years. This includes a walking food tour that we took in NYC, which at the time I thought cost too much as well. After it was done, I realized that I probably would have paid more had I known what we were getting for our investment of time and money—lots of good memories to share on those long, cold winter evenings.

As you can suppose, I can’t say enough about this recent tour. Each and every host was genuinely happy to see our group of 12 arrive and most importantly to me, each and every one seemed to take great pride in serving the community and were grateful to be a part of the tour. During the many question and answer times, we were able to ascertain that most used locally sourced ingredients in their food preparation and that each an every one worked very hard but felt satisfied and fulfilled in their chosen occupations. This feeling that they shared, was to me, almost worth the price of admission as was the food and town history that accompanied the tour.

In Ecclesiastes 5:18 we read: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.”

To enjoy what we do on a daily basis, that which we call work, is indeed a blessing. And one that I was reminded of several times last Saturday, walking through a small town in the mountains of North Carolina.

That’s what I call a great ride.

 

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Alternative To What?

It seems like just about anything can stimulate me to begin thinking about my life and the lives we collectively lead.

Just the other day I was given a mix CD entitled “Songs you should know, If you don’t already” by a young coworker. My department at work is suddenly full of people who are just beginning their lives or are starting to put on some years of experience. Suffice it to say that our daily conversations have become something of an adventure and are always thought provoking and real.

Since I had never heard of 18 of the 19 groups listed on the aforementioned CD, I took a trip to the iTunes store in order to find a genre of music these songs belonged to. What I found was that all of the songs were listed under the Alternative genre. Which in turn got me to thinking about what alternative really meant since most of the songs are quite different in tone and vocal approach.

According to Wikipedia, “Alternative rock (also called alternative music, alt-rock or simply alternative) is a genre of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1980s and became widely popular by the 1990s.”

In other words, any type of music that didn’t fit under the more established categories, (ie: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Metal, etc.) are thrown into the Alt category.

The music genres that I am most interested in are the singer-songwriter, folk and jazz groupings. Pete Seeger, Miles Davis & Bruce Cockburn fit very comfortably into these three genres.

Anyway, as I was listening to the mix CD, my mind wondered into another related direction—how we tend to simplify and categorize what we know about people and the information they give us about who they are and what they are up to in life.

For instance, a friend of mine has spent the last seven years of his life in Tanzania, Africa, and teaches a course called “Farming God’s Way” to locals in an attempt to help them out of poverty. I had some basic understanding of what I thought this course taught only to find out yesterday that I had made several assumptions without ever really exploring what this Farming God’s Way process actually entailed.

What I realized is that most of us tend to take a piece of information and our minds sort of attempt to fill in the blanks for us to create a “whole”. It is like that line drawing sketch of a face that you see and our brains fill in most of the details that are left out of the basic drawing. We aren’t even aware that we do this—that we create conclusions based on a few fundamental pieces of information without ever considering that what we really know about anything (not fully studied) is only piece meal and almost as useless as putting a group under the Alternative banner when they don’t easily fit into another category.

Recently I read an interesting article that attempted to explain the human condition called a “crush”. Most of us have had “crushes” and understanding what the real dynamics are is quite compelling. You (a guy) are on a bus and see a girl several seats away with an unusual smile or a unique hat or you are struck by the way she turns her head to look at you. What the article explained is that our minds take this little piece of attractive (to us) information and then go on a runaway train trip to create a personality, which is most likely a thousand miles from the actual truth of who this person is. In so creating this “reality” we form a crush based on one or two observations of something that we like about this person and many times even create a scenario where our lives might end up were we to actually meet.

On a more personal note, many people assume that because you identify yourself as a Christian, you are this way or that way when it comes to politics, etc. and they in turn create many impossible-to live-up-to expectations based on their concept of Christianity. If I have learned anything it is that there is more grey than black and white in real life. Not that there aren’t truths’ that form our foundational beliefs, but that life is not always that cut and dry.

I guess by now you can see how my mind took a little turn to the left or right beginning with a few songs on a CD which I had no category to fit them into. Not that categories are bad, but what I have learned is that we can’t let ourselves be trapped into thinking that people and music and art always fit neatly into something that we can know in a brief moment of time. We owe it to everyone to not jump to conclusions and realize that the many boxes we have put things into over the years might need emptying every once and while and thoroughly cleaned out.

Not bad for a days ride or two.

 

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Back In The Day

According to the urban dictionary, “back in the day” is a reference to a time period previous to the present, usually recalled with a somewhat blissful vision.

And if our own history is taken into consideration, I would have to say that most of us remember the good times more than we do the bad times.

In my own life, many of my memories are compressed into what I would call “thought-bites” which are short on detail and long on the feelings that surrounded the “back in the day” event.

I remember my early twenties, taking long, pipe-smoking walks along lake Huron during the early evening hours of summer in Port Huron, Michigan. What I recall is that sense of loneliness which led me to take these walks in order to settle my wandering mind. Walking was a way to wear me out but also provided a moving medium within which I could paint my thoughts. And that is not to say that I was unhappy during that time—my walks, although precipitated by a sense of aloneness, actually were the source of some of my happiest memories.

I have since come to realize that we create coping mechanisms which enable us to bear the weight of our lives and that what we are left with, at the end of the day or decade (as it were) is who we are. We are shaped by these events, small and large, and I have made peace with that part of me that requires movement in order to feel at rest.

There was a time (keeping our back in the day theme) when I thought I was a poet. That feeling lasted until I realized that what I had to say had most likely already been said by someone else and that too in a much more elaborate way. Reading good poetry has always had a singular effect on me—that is a desire to write my own. To this end I have numerous journals of all sizes and shapes that go back years and years and are filled with my thoughts and musings.

I began Looking For The Long Ride in November of 2006 as a way to deal with the feelings I was having about leaving a church I had been a part of for 20 years. The theme fit my life and still is an effective tool that allows me to express that part of myself which  continues to move forward, talking long bike rides and endeavoring to understand the world around me.

I still enjoy reading poetry and even write my own on occasion. And though I write for my own pleasure, I believe there is always a part of any writer, musician, or artist that hopes there will be someone on the other side of this or that creation, reading, listening or looking at what has been created. I think that is called “feedback”.

So, even though I have come to recognize that I am not a poet in terms of being published and earning a living from my writing, I still have these feelings that there is something left to be said and shared with whomever has the time to follow these threads of thoughts and wanderings.

The ride is less lonely knowing this. Enjoy yours today.

 

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The Fine Art Of Getting Older

George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying that…“youth is wasted on the young”, which seems to mean that the young waste their youth doing things of little value and those who are mature enough to do meaningful things have little youth remaining to do them.

Of course we know that this quote is only as true as the people it is meant to represent. I am sure there are many young people who have a mature perspective on life and many older folks who are literally wasting their time away.

However, that is not the point, is it? The point is really that most young people have no idea of their own mortality and we can truthfully say that when we were young, we thought we were going to live forever.

During those tumultuous late teens and early twenties, I thought that I wouldn’t make it past 30, which as I grew older became 40 and then that idea was put to bed after having made it that far without checking out.

I am now 65 years old and yet “feel” as if I am still a young man—that is just before I look in the mirror and realize that time is really passing. When I was younger I took every opportunity to check myself out—every reflective surface assured me of who I was and how I thought the world perceived me that day, week, or month. Now I joke with friends that I take one look in the mirror in the morning and carry that image with me all day—as if that is all it takes to assure me that I truly exist.

Some mirrors are unrelenting and highlight every nook, crevice and wrinkle that time has left on my face. It is like there is one person inside peering out at another person looking at himself. The man inside peering out seems so much younger—filled with hope at the same time trying to reconcile the image being flashed back at him. There have been and continue to be, so many instances of me—one reality overlapping another as one dreamscape fades only to reveal a hundred more.

Suffice it to say that it is amazing at this point to ponder the waning of my life—we all seemingly begin at about the same point and end the same—with all sorts of diversity in between those two points. In between the beginning and the end, we meet at times on the road to find out as Cat Stevens once sung. Flesh and blood is what we share as well and a common ancestry in the Garden—we are all a mixture of this and a little bit of that.

This past Saturday, as I sat in the rocking chair with one of my granddaughters, I was struck by the fact of how different our skin textures were. As the sun shone in on us both, I noticed the highlighted flesh on my hand and was amazed at the somewhat waxy, wrinkled and pale, translucent skin that covered my veins, knuckles and fingers. My granddaughter’s hands were quite the opposite in their smooth, pearly white display—kissable I would say.

There are no instruction manuals given to us when we are born or when we become parents and within certain cultural structures we are more or less on our own learning path as we proceed through life.

Getting older is a process of noticing the changes which is an awareness not unlike looking through a frosted window pane. Change is gradual, not overnight—the longer you go without looking the more frightening it is when you finally take a peek. I am sure this is something that all older people share in—the awareness of aging and the changes that this process brings with it.

And with that awareness comes the dichotomy that I have mentioned previously—that of how one feels on the inside and how one begins to look on the outside—that discrepancy, that difference between actual age and the perception of who we are that we carry in our thoughts and dreams.

As I have grown older, I have come to the awareness that our culture is all about the young and looking good and that there is very little about the waning life that is taught in our churches or schools. I have felt the disrespect that comes from the younger generation who, like we must have been, feel that they have the inside scoop on how things are supposed to be. I have been on both sides and can see the strengths and weaknesses of what I perceive to be a know-it-all attitude. Yet I am a firm believer in the proverb that says, “…in the multitude of counselors there is safety”.

I was reminded last week by that still small voice inside my head that we need to be thankful for all the little things that bless us. From now until that last big “event” we need to be ever mindful of the people that are in our lives. Scripture says that it is the blessings of the Lord that make one rich and I know that most of us would like a little more money in our pockets. Instead of this being a monetary thing, I think that this type of blessing is an enrichment of our souls.

Indeed, these last days, however many they may be, can and should be the best of our lives. What is wasted on the young is this perspective that begins to acknowledge the eternal while yet living in the present. These states of being overlap with a fulness that can only be expressed through being thankful and living each day with the understanding that this life is only a part of the bigger picture.

And that is a part of the long ride that we are all on.

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