Avocado Salad

(Modified from “The Higher Taste” recipe)

1 ripe avocado

1 small tomato (plum is good)

.5 cup pitted Calamata olives

½ bunch Romaine lettuce

Dressing –

A sixth of a cup of olive oil

1.5 tablespoons of lemon juice

.5 teaspoon salt

.5 teaspoon Japanese Seven Spice

.25 teaspoon ground cumin

                Blend on low speed in a blender for one minute.

Cut avocados and tomatoes into small pieces. Place in a medium bowl with the olives. Pour the dressing over it all and mix lightly. Marinate for at least ½ hour in the refrigerator. Serve over lettuce.

Serves 2.


A plan – poem

Why do I write all this down?
Why do I document my days, 
catalogue my dreams, my discoveries?
Is it important that I write down
that once again
I went to bed late,
got up late,
was in a rush,
didn’t have time
to write letters or make art
but did have time
to watch meaningless videos 
through Facebook, like I’m
channel surfing for something meaningful
to share to inspire or encourage or inform.

Deep down, I’m not made for this life
of early mornings, of schedules,
of having to be anywhere and do something
like a trained monkey.
It is hard to fit
a full-time life
alongside a full-time job.

Maybe I’m writing up my
escape plan,
detailing the attempts to escape
that have failed,
so I can remember
to not do that

The Sneeze

Sarah spent that whole day sneezing. She was being paid for it. It was a job, after all, even though it was just for the day. Some crazy photographer wanted to capture what a sneeze looked like, so he had put up fliers around town. Actresses came but he shooed them away. He didn’t want a forced sneeze, or a pretend one. He wanted the real thing. Only an authentic sneeze would do. This was for science after all. At least, that’s what he told himself.

He almost didn’t hire Sarah – she seemed too fancy. He suspected she was an actress by her clothes. She assured him that she dressed up for every interview. She believed it was best to dress better than expected. But she had no idea what to expect for an audition to sneeze, so she wore her best party dress, just to be sure. She needed the money. She couldn’t afford to act like it was a done deal, that she’d get the job without any effort.

The photographer liked her spirit, so he decided they needed to try to capture her sneeze. It wasn’t allergy season, so they had to resort to various methods to induce one. A feather was used, then a pinch of pepper, then some snuff. Sarah stood before the camera and tried each item, and the photographer pressed the shutter release. He rigged up a new system to take 10 photographs in quick succession. It wouldn’t do to miss one, and he never knew exactly when it would happen. They tried all three things and got three different sneezes – small, medium, and large. Sarah was a little embarrassed how much she sneezed after the snuff, but it was exactly what the photographer was looking for.

But he wasn’t just photographing her sneeze. He had her stand barefoot on a metal pad during the experiment. Wires ran from it to a small metal box with dials and scopes and a paper readout that looked a bit like an EKG. He was testing to see if there was a difference in her when she sneezed.

The Church taught that it was dangerous to sneeze because it was the breath of God you were casting out. So while it looked like he was photographing a sneeze, he was really measuring what God’s breath was. Did it have weight? Was there an electrical charge? Did the person lose anything during the sneeze – and if so, did it come back, and when, and how? Was there a difference if you said “God bless you” or not? What if the person wasn’t a believer – was there any change then?

He was a curious man, barely over 5 feet tall. He had a small voice it always seemed to be apologizing for something or other. His nails were clean, now, but sometimes they bore traces of nail polish in improbable colors. Nobody knew if he had a significant other, and if so, what gender they might be. He didn’t even have any pets. He kept to himself, except for the once a week he went to the local American Legion Hall for the music. He went there for the same reason he got a flu shot. He thought it did him some good, or ought to. He wasn’t certain enough to miss either one of them, just in case. He wasn’t sure what he’d catch if he wasn’t a little social. Maybe depression? Delusions of grandeur? Right now he barely had delusions of adequacy, but he knew that was part of the territory of being an artist.

And an artist he most certainly was. When he stepped behind the camera he became someone else, someone confident and sure. He was no longer short, or strange, or socially awkward. He could talk with people instead of just at them. It was a lifesaver that he had discovered photography as a form of self-expression.

Most artists had to build up their clientele, schlepping around their portfolios like second-rate prostitutes. He’d had the good fortune to start his career doing school photographs. He could learn the trade and get paid for it. No marketing – all he had to do was show up. Somebody else made all the contacts and did the hustle for him. It was ideal. He thought all artists should have it this good. Being an artist and marketing your work were two entirely different skill sets, after all.

It was while he was photographing Mrs. Murphy’s first grade class that he got the idea about documenting a sneeze. It was on an unusually cold day when school picture day came around, after a month of warmer temperatures. The children, unused to the sudden change, were sneezing in the makeshift studio that was set up in the gym.

Several retakes had to be made to make sure he’d gotten a good portrait. All the mistakes got tossed into his seconds box. He wasn’t going to do anything with them – they were for an acquaintance he knew at the American Legion. She was a songwriter who was almost as eccentric as him. They were an unusual sort of pair – both united in their oddness. They didn’t fit with people, but because of that they sort of fit with each other. They weren’t a couple, mind you, just friends in an offhand sort of way.

She fancied herself a visual artist as well, cutting up pictures from magazines and gluing them in her handmade journals. Sometimes she’d slap paint or stickers on the pages with the pictures and write stories about the people. He figured she’d like some actual photographs to use so he brought them to her.

Little did he realize but she was also a bit of a psychic. When she saw the first image of six-year-old Brian Thornton having a sneeze into the crook of his arm, she threw the photo down in shock, exclaiming “He’s not right!”  After she recovered, the photographer asked her what she meant. She simply stated “He has no soul!” and left it at that.

Now maybe that was true for little Brian. He was an odd child according to the teacher. But he was also sneezing at the time, so maybe that was it. So the photographer was now on a quest for the human soul, by way of photographs.

Idola-tree – poem

Strange fruit comes from
the Idola-tree. 
This tree grows tall and strong 
fed with fear and desire
sometimes pretending to be
love. But love doesn’t feed
this tree. It is a strange love
that looks like greed 
that looks like hunger 
that looks like jealousy. 
It is not a giving kind of love.
It is not an open kind of love
that is filled with 
joy and compassion and care 
for your fellow human kind.
No, there is no kindness 
in this tree. 
Fruit of this tree is bitter,
small, and it chokes 
as it goes down. 
The fruit of this tree will not
fill you up will not 
nourish you. 
The fruit of this tree 
never ripens into anything
other than disappointment,
never creates anything more 
than a sick feeling in your stomach.

Being completely healthy

There is a lot to being healthy.  It is a synergy of body, mind, and spirit.

It involves being fully present in the moment, exactly as it is. It is a kind of martial art. But the thing that you are fighting against is the experience of being pulled off center.

 You have to do the groundwork. A building cannot stand if the foundation is shaky. The foundation has to be daily prayer and maintenance of the body. No longer can we treat the body as extra, as a thing, as something to be neglected or abused.

It is also important to understand that the body has to be reined in. You must control it or be controlled by it. Discipline and disciple.

You would not shortchange your car. If you did, you wouldn’t get anywhere. Likewise, you shouldn’t shortchange your body. Deprivation of the body through starvation or abuse is not acceptable. Likewise it’s not wise to over indulge.

There must be a balance. There must be a middle path.

Our way – poem

Our way is the way
of the new green shoot,
pushing up
from the cold February ground.

Our way is the way
of the young mother,
laughing with her child.

Our way is the way
of the lone dogwood tree
in the forest
that blooms all by itself
yet in time
with all the others
it cannot

The Wind

She felt the January wind slink into her apartment, curling in like a cat, all sly and sophisticated. It thought it could slide in, lurk in the corners long enough that she’d get used to it, let it stay, like an afterthought. This interloper wind, this vagabond gust thought to hide in the corner, unnoticed but still unwelcome, a silent squatter.

But she was through with hangers on, of all sorts. She’d lived alone these last 20 years, ever since her husband moved away to find work in another state. Or had he simply moved without her, a divorce in all but name? They’d grown apart ever since she became sober. Only when she wasn’t seeing life through the fog did she realize she‘d not married well. But, a vow was a vow, so they muddled on, more roommates than spouses.

It had worked, for a while, but then it all became clear, slowly, like a Polaroid photograph developing. Only then could she see who she’d married – or perhaps worse, the person she’d become since that day.

How had she forgotten who she was? And why had it taken so long to remember?

She had her back injury to thank for this, she mused. Nothing makes you reevaluate your life like pain. She’d had to stop everything and re-learn who she was, learn how to put down all the heavy things she was carrying. It didn’t take her long to realize that meant more than just physical.

So she made less time for him. She started spending time with friends. She started spending time on herself. She started learning what it was like to not spend so much time around someone who was addicted to being broken, to being a victim. It was liberating.

It was sad,in a way, to realize how much he had leaned on her, how much he had expected of her. But she was through listening to his litany of complaints, his lists of people who had done him wrong. It was sad, too, to see how special he thought he was – and not in a good way. He thought he was unique in his pain, that the world paid special attention to him, singled him out for abuse, when in reality the world was as indifferent and impersonal to everyone.

This need to play the victim, to play the indirect object, the one who was acted upon rather than the active agent, was what had put him in his funk. She could see this plain as day, this self fulfilling prophecy of disappointment and delusion. He had not gotten better in the decade they’d been together. Perhaps he had gotten worse. And so she agreed to the separation, to see if perhaps he would learn on his own. It was how she’d learned, after all.

It wasn’t intentional, this separation. She hadn’t asked for it, but welcomed it all the same as the gift she’d never thought to ask for.

He had fallen on hard times since the layoff. A cozy job with the government, safe and secure, was his ace in the pocket for years. He could coast along, unmotivated, lackadaisical, feckless. Perhaps that had been his undoing, that job where mediocrity was the name of the game. Perhaps he’d learned too well that it didn’t pay to try harder. There were no promotions for those who tried to improve upon the time-tested procedures. In fact, mostly there was censure from the fellow dozens of that lackluster lair. They invariably pulled down anyone who dared to make their own mediocre workload look as lackluster as it really was. Only if they all conspired to put forth the least amount of effort could they continue in their façade. 

But then there was the layoff. Or was it a forced retirement? Being civil service, they couldn’t be fired, but they could be subtly forced to leave. Privileges could be revoked. Expectations could be raised. Work could be documented, quantified, tracked. This weeded out some of the lazy ones, but not all. Some clung on harder, determined to outlast the push to eliminate them. Some were determined to stay until the end, until they retired or things got bad enough that going through the ordeal of finding another job seemed better in comparison.

Somehow he lasted through the waves of attrition, kept his head down in that strange game of musical chairs where people weren’t fired but still found they didn’t have a job. Every week certain jobs were deemed unnecessary or redundant. It was clever, if not exactly honest. The people weren’t eliminated. The jobs were . It was a simple as that.

And that is why he left, before the ax came down on him. But that too is how he was patterned – to think that he deserved better but didn’t have to work for it – in fact, shouldn’t work for it.

It was nearly a year before he worked up the momentum to get another job, in the meantime relying on the kindness of his wife to keep him in the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. And then she’d had it. It was only her anxiety attack that put her in the hospital that motivated him to start looking in earnest. Even then what he found was just part time, with no health insurance.

She’d promised, she said her vows, but she hadn’t counted on it being worse more often than better. She thought it would swing both ways, where they’d take turns relying upon each other. She’d not expected this protracted siege upon her compassionate nature.

And so finally he moved out, but not before she pushed him out of the bedroom, pushed his clutter out of the kitchen. She told him years ago it was her or the hoarding, and he’d not chosen her. So she got to do the choosing, slowly but surely maneuvering the situation to pushing him out without overtly doing so.

He was used to being a bit player in his own life anyway, so it was easy enough once she set her mind to it. No more would she be his emotional garbage dump. No longer would she pick up after him when he “forgot” to clean up his own messes – physical, financial, spiritual. She’d never agreed to having a child and certainly didn’t want one who was nearly 50.

So they lived apart, and it worked in a fashion. It wasn’t a normal marriage as far as they knew, but maybe it was. Maybe most people lived like this but never talked about it. Maybe behind closed doors all marriages were all the same. Meanwhile, it was time to do something about that draft. It wouldn’t do to let the wind get the better of her. She was done with being taken advantage of.

(written 1-3-19)