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Fatherhood, Fiction, Fiction Fridays, Guest Posts

Father’s Day

June 18, 2021
poppa

By Shirley Dees

We’re going to visit James’ dad again. Before we leave I manage to squeeze a few moments alone in the bathroom of the duplex James and I rent and hang my head over the cheap, cushioned toilet seat, the kind that keeps your ass from hurting while you’re doing your business, and try not to puke while James stands outside the door. The timing of this year’s trip is a real bitch. He’s been dead for ten years, and every Father’s Day, James and I drive out to the cemetery to stand next to his headstone with James’ Poppa and talk about nothing. I never met him, but since I started dating James six years ago, I tag along.

“Leah, you about ready?” James is in a hurry. That’s what all of this is, really. A dreadful hurry.

“Can you give me a skinny minute?” I am surprised to find I can open my mouth without vomiting. Things are looking up.

“A small one. I hate to make Poppa wait.”

I stand up and move over to the sink. I study my face for obvious hints of morning sickness and add a touch of makeup. I don’t want his grandfather to be put out, either, so I try to hurry. “Is your Poppa feeling good enough to drive today?”

“Larry is taking him,” James says. His voice comes through the bathroom door like it’s worn down by hammers. I give myself one last scan, one last breath to steady this awkward and hurried day, and open the door.

“Okay, let’s go.” I walk by quickly without giving James the chance to get a real look at me. I am running out of time to tell him about the baby. I love him, which only makes all of this more complicated. He pulls the car keys off the hook hanging by the backdoor as I throw my purse over my shoulder. I feel him behind me, staring at the door, doing his yearly hesitation.

“James,” I begin, “we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.” He grabs the door handle to pull it open.

“It’s Father’s Day, Leah. You know I have to go.” Before I can ask again, he’s outside, feet crunching the gravel as he walks to his Ford Ranger. “Come on,” he says.

Every year, I try to cruise through this day with a level of indifference to make it all sort of just disappear, but every time I see the scars on the back of James’ head, that indifference melts into protective anger. I want him to know he is the one in control now. But I’ve learned not to push the issue. I offer to stay home in his seconds of hesitation by the backdoor, just to remind him the option is always on the table, but he always declines, stating it’s his duty to go. After all this time, I don’t really expect anything different anymore.

I climb into the steamy, black truck we share to get to and from work, each of us alternating with co-workers and carpooling when we can. We never drive it more than fifteen miles in a day so this is the truck’s longest journey every year at 60 miles, and I wonder how much longer it will last. James always says we’ll drive it until the wheels fall off, but I don’t think we can make it until then. This truck is twenty years old and suddenly too small. I crank the window and let the air hit my face, praying to God I don’t have to throw up on the way there.

Pretty soon we’re pulling out of town and the annual tour of my boyfriend’s childhood horrors begins. When he first told me about the abuse, it rolled off him the same way it does now. Ritualized. The Dairy Queen they met at for his dad’s public visits. The house where his dad used to live with Larry, an old friend and now Poppa’s neighbor, and the place James went when his dad was finally allowed overnight custody. This house was the one with the stairs whose pointy edges lead down to a wooden floor. The stairs and floor that birthed the scars on the back of my boyfriend’s head. He points them all out, every time. I’ve come to see them as his demons, evilness that must be excised regularly to keep them away, the reason for all this hurried dreadfulness. There must be a better way to heal, for everyone.

The heat-scorched Texas earth zips by as we cruise down the highway at the fastest speed the Ranger allows: sixty-three miles per hour, which means it will takes us an hour to make the trip. This is easy math that I keep in my mind to help make this day seem simpler, but one look out my window at the speeding ground and my head spins.

“We’ll stop in McKinney and get a bite to eat, that okay?” he asks like this isn’t what we always do. Normally, the stop in McKinney is the highlight of the day. They have this burger joint where the burgers are so juicy, they soak through the paper that lines those red, plastic baskets. The French fries are cooked in oil and bubbled until they’re perfectly golden and crispy, the ketchup salty and tangy on the lips. Food so good it makes you want to slap your granny. But today, just the thought of those greasy burgers makes me want to dry-heave, so I push it away and curl my legs underneath my hind-end.

James glances at me from the side. “What’s up?”

“I don’t know, maybe we can try some place else this time.”  I look straight ahead, keeping my sour face out of view. A car screams by us on the left, a red convertible of some type. I’ve never bothered much with learning car brands and models, but sometimes I’ll take a guess at what it is to impress James. He whistles as the car switches back into the right lane, ahead of us.

“Damn, must be nice,” he sighs. I give a little silent shout of praise to the owner of the sport car for pulling James’s attention off my lack of an appetite. I know we’ll probably stop there and eat anyway, because there is nothing else in McKinney. Maybe I can get away with scarfing a small quarter-pounder and puking in the restaurant’s commode before we get back on the road.

“Your Poppa still going out to the cemetery every day?” I ask.

“He doesn’t like driving much anymore so he only gets out there when Larry can take him.”

“I didn’t realize he wasn’t driving anymore,” I say, pausing a moment to let a passing thought linger. “What’s he going to do with that truck of his?”

“The man’s got to get to the grocery store and what not. He’s just not driving anywhere long distance.”

“I wouldn’t call fifteen miles to the cemetery long distance.” Immediately I recoil, guilt pinching at my insides.

“Yeah, but to get there he’s got to get on the highway.”   

“Oh, I didn’t think about that.” I realize I’m coming off like I’ve been waiting for Poppa to slide his big toe inside the old folks’ home to transfer the title to his vehicle into James’ name.

“You want to take his truck?”

“Well, no I just . . . I don’t know.”

“That’s Poppa’s vehicle, Leah.” James’ voice takes on that condescending tone that sends tethers of defensive coils up the back of my neck.

“I know.”

“Man ain’t quit driving more than a month and you’re already thinking him some kind of invalid.”

“No, James.”

“Claiming his property.” James shakes his head and disappointment spreads over him along with the crinkles that set into the corners of his eyes when his temper has run out of fuse.

“That’s not it at all.” I keep my voice calm in hopes to steer him back towards sanity.

“We have a truck, Leah.”

“I know.”

“We ain’t ever had a problem with it. But my Poppa gets old and you start seeing money bags.”

“I wasn’t thinking about taking your Poppa’s truck, James.” His knuckles tighten on the steering wheel and I know I need to get control. “You know me better than that. I just don’t want him giving it away without talking to you about it first. You know how some people will take advantage of Poppa.”

“Hmm,” he keeps his eyes on the road but I both hear and see his suspicion. He is trying to keep his temper in check and keep his demons tightly roped inside. “Okay, just sounded like you had other intentions.”

“Please don’t put words in my mouth.” Another car zooms past and there goes his focus, just like that. A little flame of frustration still flickers away in my mind but I swallow again to try and put it out. My temper is on a shortened leash today, too. I can’t handle the accusing tone he gives me all the time when stuff like this comes up. We fight about the most stupid things like any normal couple, but mostly we argue about the future. He believes he’s doomed to repeat the mistakes of his father. James ain’t ever hurt me. Not physically, anyway. We’ve had our bickering, and he’s gotten in my face a time or two, but it never goes any farther than that. It’s like a spark, something goes wrong and he snaps into anger, a few harsh words come flying out of his mouth without thinking and then his face fills with remorse. It’s what I point out to him all the time the minute I know he recognizes it.

“You see,” I say, never backing away. “That’s why you ain’t like your daddy, James. You have awareness.”

I think that’s why I haven’t left yet, because I can see past those crinkles of anger and deeper than the illness that’s cursed his genetic line. Awareness. It’s been like this since we first got together and I’ve just put up with it because I love him deeply. I’ve never asked for a ring, but I’m pregnant now and it ain’t just our future anymore.

The miles speed by in silence. Pretty soon, we’re pulling into McKinney and I see the burger joint up the road. My stomach is feeling okay, so this may not be so bad after all. In fact, as we walk in, I’m ravenous. I scarf my burger and inhale the fries. I want all the Coke that’s in the soda machine and then I order a chocolate milkshake to go. James wants to share, and I oblige, even though I don’t see why he can’t just order his own damn ice cream.

“You know, Dad used to buy us ice cream from here,” James says as we walk back to the truck.

I perk up. “Oh really?” James has never mentioned this before.

“It tastes the same now as it did then.” He reaches over and grabs the cup from my hands and pulls a mouthful of shake from the straw. “Then I got sick one time and threw up in his car and he beat me so bad I couldn’t sit down for a week.” He semi-slams the paper cup in the holder on the dash and angrily turns the key. Gravel shoots off from the Ranger’s tires as we pull out of the parking lot and are back on the highway again, heading towards complications. Maybe it’s my shortened temper, but for the first time in the six years of this annual trip, I get upset with James for this outburst and let out an irritated sigh.

“Oh, Jesus Christ, James.”

“What’s wrong with you?” he says, turning his entire head towards me.

“Nothing,” I say, crossing my arms.

“Don’t pull that.”

“I’m tired of this damn stuff every year,” I spit out. “We drive these terrible sixty miles and the entire time you talk about all the bullshit he pulled when you were growing up, and then by the time we get there, you’re all angry and pissy with me and Poppa and the whole thing just sucks.”

“Well, Christ, what do you want me to do about it? Not go? Poppa’d kill me if I didn’t come out here every year,” he keeps his eyes on the road and I can tell he’s trying to control his temper again.

“No, all I’m saying is, well, don’t you think you can at least try and think of something good? I know it couldn’t have been rainbows and peaches with the man, but there had to be something. Maybe if you think of something good instead of all the awful, you won’t be in such a foul mood by the time we get out to the cemetery, and then Poppa won’t get on you about being a grump, and I don’t know, we can finally spend Father’s Day in some peace.”

James doesn’t say anything for a hot minute. He passes a car on the left and then switches back over to the right lane.

“You’re not being fair,” he says.

“Ain’t I?”

“There ain’t nothing good I can talk about.”

“Bullshit.” I try to dig for a specific moment, but nothing is coming to mind under pressure, and I start to panic.

“I said there’s nothing,” his grip tightens on the wheel again. I cross my arms and start to run through holidays and moments that could spark a memory, any memory that was positive, but it was pointless. James hates Christmas for reasons I know stem from his dad. His family was poorer than mine so trips anywhere as a kid were a pipe dream, but I’m desperate. I have to keep the stack from wobbling too far off course into a dangerous area.

“James,” I start to say, my voice soft and flat. “Come on, tell me something good.” He says nothing, his eyes with that tempered glaze. I ignore the feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Come on.”

“No!” His wrist hits the steering wheel and the truck swerves, the car next to us honks, but I don’t think James hears him, or cares. “There isn’t any good stuff. There never was!” His voice bounces off the windshield and the passenger window. I pushed too far, but it was too late to try and reverse course. I might as well keep steering this messed-up ride on my own course.

“I don’t believe that,” I say.

James groans. “You’re being damn difficult.”

“You can’t blame me for wanting my boyfriend to remember decent things about his father.”

“I just don’t see why it’s so important to you.”

“I think it’s important for you, James.”

“I don’t.”

“So we disagree, but I still want you to try.”

“I have tried.” James says this with a touch less anger, and it saddens me because I know it’s true. But I push on.

“Try harder,” I say.

“You don’t understand.” He shakes his head.

“James, I can’t believe your father didn’t love you.”

He doesn’t say anything for a while, but I keep my eyes on him, studying the muscles in his face. I take his silence as him going to those depths, to find something he’d kept shoved at the bottom of his soul, buried in the darkness.

“He didn’t love me,” he says.

“How are you so sure?”

“Because. . . I didn’t love him.”

“James. . . .”

“You wanted the truth, Leah, so there it is. Though, I don’t know why you haven’t figured out any of this before. My dad broke something in me long ago. Love like that, it ain’t possible, alright? Not for me. There ain’t no good left.”

“But how can you say that when I’m sitting here right next to you? I mean, you love me, don’t’ you?”

“That’s different.”

“No it ain’t. Love is love, James.”

“Like shit it is.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, well…” he breaks off into a silence.

“What’re you trying to say?” My stomach rumbles. A wave of nausea hits me and the road swerves, but James’ hands are tight on the wheel. I grab the dashboard to keep the earth from flipping upside down. “You can’t love anyone else?”

No answer. His silence is like a scythe. Heat pulses across my body, a salty sickness creeping its way into my mouth. The Ranger jumps a slab of buckled asphalt and suddenly I have to vomit. No time to ask him to pull over, I slam my hand on the window crank and lower the glass just enough to poke my head through and unleash the juicy burger and fries on the side of the highway at 58 miles per hour.

“Leah!”

I pull my head back inside and roll the window up. I pop open the glove box and pull out one of the hundreds of restaurant napkins we keep stashed in there. “Sorry, must have gotten car sick.”

“Car sick? You ain’t ever gotten car sick before.”

I wipe my mouth and lean my head back against the seat, closing my eyes. My stomach feels lighter, calmer, but my heart is beating too hard, sadness spilling from its chambers and spreading through the inside of the Ranger. “Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything.”

I consider a couple of options. I could cry and tell him I’m pregnant and everything else that is on my mind. Or I could ask him to pull over and let me out, find a way back home and pack up my stuff and leave. Problem is, neither of those options really solve the problem. There’s still a life growing inside me.

Fatigue falls on me like rain so I close my eyes, the sun on my face and shoulders failing to comfort me the way a blanket would a tired baby. I want to sleep and figure I can because James clearly isn’t in the mood to talk anymore, and to be honest, neither am I.

***

I didn’t notice when the truck stopped. I didn’t even realize I had fallen into such a deep sleep. James shakes me and I see his face as I open my eyes, close to mine, holding a cup of Sprite to my lips.

“You feeling alright?” He actually looks concerned, all of the glaze and crinkles gone from his eyes. Fatigue melts into affection as I stare into those honey irises and feel their devotion. I don’t know why he thinks he isn’t capable of love.

“I’m okay. We here already?”

“Yeah, but Poppa ain’t yet. Come on, take a sip of the soda.”

I grab the cup from him and place the straw between my teeth. I sit up and look out. The cemetery is empty, the grass a light brown, thin and withering into dust. There isn’t a single cloud in the sky and I feel the heat radiating off the marble and concrete headstones from inside the Ranger. I pull a sip of soda from the straw.

“You want to wait here for Poppa?” I ask.

“No, let’s just go on over. He should be here in a minute.” James pops open his door and steps out, so I follow. Caliche rocks poke the thin bottoms of my flip flops and I regret the decision to wear them. The sticker burrs in this dead grass are going to tear my feet to hell. We start walking to the gravesite, one of my hands firmly on the soda as I suck in more of the cold liquid. A pathetic excuse for a breeze tries to blow over the cemetery but it really only feels like God just opened a giant oven door. My brain is beating on the sides of my skull and I try to swallow the rest of the Sprite to get it to quit. I wonder if it’s disrespectful to puke on hallowed ground.

“I didn’t bring anything,” I say, realizing we don’t even have a single flower to place on the headstone. James just shrugs. I guess it doesn’t bother him that we’re the first ones to arrive and are walking up to his dad’s grave empty handed. Doesn’t seem right. Poppa’s usually the one who gets here first and typically has something to lay on the grave. Typically, we all stand around, James shuffling his feet in the dirt while Poppa talks, saying nothing more than “yeah,” and “uh huh,” which usually pisses Poppa off. Then we all get quiet for a while. Poppa takes out a folded piece of paper from his pocket and stares at it for a few minutes, then folds it back up and stuffs it into his wallet, never reading it aloud, never leaving it by the headstone. James has never asked what that was all about, and because he hasn’t, neither have I.

We pass a few more rows of grave markers before we arrive at his dad’s. It is so hot I consider hiding out in one of the freshly opened plots, just so I can run my hands through the cold soil that’s been shielded from the heat by layers of earth. We stop a few feet from the stone, and both of us stare at the ground. I start picturing the memories James brought up in the truck and a feeling of anger ripples across my chest. I know it’s not the time or place but I can’t help it. Love spurns a protective desire, but what could I do? The son of a bitch was already in the dirt.

“Well. . .” the rest of my words die away. They all seem so pointless, even more so now. I want all of this to be over and I feel the hurried dreadfulness creep between the graves and lie at our feet. James puts his hands in his pockets and lets out a breath, but he doesn’t say anything, either.

Tires moving through the caliche make us turn our heads. “That’s Larry and Poppa,” James says as the truck parks a few rows back, but only Larry gets out of the vehicle. He’s wearing starched jeans and snakeskin boots with a collared shirt. He is dressed for another occasion separate from this disaster of a day.

“Poppa driving himself?” James asks.

Larry shook his head, his white hair bouncing. “Sorry, James. Your Grandfather wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make it out, but he does want you to come by before you head back home.”

“Well, he could have called.”

“He figured if he called you this morning and said he wasn’t coming you wouldn’t show,” Larry says.

“Well, that’s not a lie.” James wiped the sweat from his brow.

“But he wanted you to have this and he asked if I could bring it to you.” Larry reaches in his pocket and pulls out the familiar, aging folded piece of paper and hands it to James.

“You serious?”

“Well, your grandfather sure was.”

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Keep it, I think.”

“Poppa don’t want it back?” I ask.

Larry looks back and forth between us, then opens only the corners of his mouth to answer like he’s trying to protect us from something. “I don’t think your Poppa’s going to come back out here much anymore.”

This isn’t a hard truth. Poppa is getting mighty old, and Larry is only in his late fifties and has a business to run and new grandkids of his own to visit on Sundays. He doesn’t have a whole lot of time to bring Poppa out here, though I’m sure he would keep doing it if Poppa didn’t step in and say something. I suspect it was all Poppa’s decision, seeing the stuff Larry had piling up on his plate. He didn’t want him missing out and knew he would keep coming unless he told him to get lost, so that’s what he must have done this morning. Very quickly I saw the Father’s Days in the years ahead and tried to imagine what it looked like at this graveside, and who was all standing here if one of them wasn’t Poppa.

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll leave you two to your affairs. I’ve got a barbecue to get to. Just, go see your grandfather. I think he’d like to see you, James,” Larry says.

“Sure, thanks.” James sticks out his hand and shakes Larry’s before he turns and walks away.

“Have a happy Father’s Day!” I shout after him. He waves a backwards hand and gets in his vehicle and drives off. I turn back to James and eye the paper in his hand. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“The paper! Aren’t you wondering what it says?”

“It can’t be the same one, can it?”

“I’d recognize that folded paper anywhere. Your Poppa always brings it every year.”

James looks down at it, then at his dad’s grave, then shakes his head. “No, let’s just go.”

“James.” I try to let him know this decision is more ridiculous than this whole affair combined. “You stubborn asshole. Just read the thing.”

“Fine, but then we’re going straight home. We ain’t going to Poppa’s. I can’t stand this heat no more.” He unfolds the paper and takes a step closer to the grave and starts to read, rotating his back towards me.

I wait, reading his body language as I imagine his eyes running across the lines of writing and try to think what the paper has to say. Another boiling breeze moves across the air and a sickness stirs in my stomach again. That would be something, to throw up on this man’s grave. I look over at where we parked the Ranger and wonder if I’d even make it back, giving the cup in my hand a shake and almost weeping at its empty silence. After about another minute, James picks his head up and turns around, staring straight through me like hail cutting through trees. A hot redness creeps onto his cheeks, and I expect the glazed, crinkling look of his eyes to follow, but instead he allows the muscles in his face to fall flat. His shoulders droop and his lips curl south. His knees shake and bend, and then all at once, he falls to the ground.

“James!” I drop the cup and kneel down next to him, sticker burrs poking through the soft layers of the skin on my legs. I put my hands on his arms, his neck, and then his face, and pull it into mine, a river of tears streaming down and off his chin. The tremble of something buried deep in him rises to the surface. It is complicated. It is confusion. It is truth. He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. I pull him into my shoulder and let him cry, the paper in the dirt half folded, only a few lines visible on the bottoms of the page. I hold James in my arms, and everything unspoken pours out of him and into the ground below us. Suddenly, the heat doesn’t seem to be such a bother anymore and if he needs me to, I’ll sit here for the rest of my life with him.

The cicadas pick up and that stirs James enough to lift his head. “Okay,” he says.

“Okay,” I reply. He stands up and shakes the dirt from his legs and then helps me to my feet.

“Let’s go see Poppa,” he says.

“Okay.” I fold the paper and place it in my pocket. I’ll ask James what he wants to do with it later.

He grabs my hand and stares at the grave. I don’t pull him along.

“I wanted to love him,” he says.

“I know.” I give his hand a little squeeze, and then we move back to the Ranger, opposite of how we arrived, hand-in-hand, neither of us wanting to let go.

We keep our hands together for the fifteen-mile drive to Poppa’s, and I turn the radio on, music filling the cab for the first time on this trip. As we pull into Poppa’s driveway, James turns off the engine and turns to me, still holding my hand.

“I know about the baby,” he says.

My heart leaps into my throat and tightens every muscle around my voice box. Something like a roar fills my ears. “James—”

He shakes his head. “It’s okay.” His voice is like cotton. The burn of tears builds in the corner of my eyes and in my heart.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” and a smile so big lands on him with such assurance, I let everything inside of me go and weep like a child.

Shirley Dees received an MFA from Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional writing in Spring 2021. When not writing, Shirley is busy parenting, seeking sunshine rays, and sampling local craft brews. She lives in Southeast Alabama with her husband, daughter, and geriatric pet turtle.

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You know it’s an amazing year to be a reader when Emily Rapp Black has another book coming. Frida Kahlo and My Left Leg is remarkable. In this book, Emily gives us a look into how Frida Kahlo influenced her own understanding of what it means to be creative and to be disabled. Like much of her writing, this book also gives us a look into moving on (or passed or through) when it feels like everything is gone.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon and let us know what you think!

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Are you ready to take your writing to the next level?

Two of our favorite writing resources are launching new opportunities for working on your craft. Circe Consulting was formed when Emily Rapp Black and Gina Frangello decided to collaborate on a writing space. Corporeal Writing is under the direction of Lidia Yuknavitch. Both believe in the importance of listening to the stories your body tells. If you sign up for a course, tell them The ManifestStation sent you!

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen and on being human

Fiction, Guest Posts

The Honest Clown

February 26, 2021
balloons against sky, joe

By Shirley O’Shea

Joe the Moper walked from the entrance to his apartment building across the parking lot to a narrow space between the Dumpster and the recycling bin and lit up a cigarette. This was where he smoked when he was at home. It was cozy.

It was a foggy September morning in upstate New York.  As Joe exhaled, the smoke drifted, dispersed and became part of the cloud that had settled all around the neighborhood, which sat on top of a hill which overlooked other round, sleepy hills that Joe could barely see.

Joe liked his morning smokes because few people were about. No one passed by him, looking away. Joe was tall and skinny, with a head of thick, wiry salt and pepper hair and skin that seemed to be stained a tint of grey by his years of enjoying tobacco. In the early evenings, after work, Joe would go to the Dumpster to smoke and sometimes people passing by pretended not to notice him. Occasionally someone would give him a small smile and mutter a greeting. Joe, however, would widen his mouth into a melancholy smile and say, “Hi, how are ya,” almost invitingly, even though he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to have any kind of conversation.

The thing was, Joe looked wretched.

His clothes were hanging on him, and they seemed to have the same grey patina as his skin. His cheeks were hollow, and his chest was caving in. He wore a jacket in all weather. His eyes were slightly sunken. It wasn’t good.

He’d moved to the apartment complex after the tire outlet, at which he worked in customer service, had cut his hours, making his mortgage payments unmanageable. His wife, Mary Jean, had been philosophical about the loss. “It’s always boom or bust in this country,” she’d said with a sigh. “At least we have a roof over our heads.” She’d then rolled over and fell asleep. Their daughter, Christina, fifteen, had immediately begun to think about how she would set up and decorate her new, smaller bedroom. She was creative, and welcomed challenges.

Although Joe was a conscientious and, despite his appearance, energetic worker, helping the residents of Blacksville and its surrounding rural villages choose the most suitable and economical tires for their vehicles, he considered the job an avocation, the means to support his real work, which was entertaining and enlightening people as a clown.

Now that fall had arrived, he would have fewer clown gigs. He thought about this as he flicked an ash to the ground. He had to find a way to get as many apple and pumpkin festival gigs as possible because 

The cloud-fog was lifting, and Joe looked up at the emerging patches of cerulean. In the northern sky he saw the waning gibbous moon, white-grey and bluish where the craters and valleys were, sensual like a pregnant belly and as full of secrets.

“Hey, moon, can you line up a few gigs for me? I really need them,” Joe said plaintively. His cigarette was smoked almost down to the filter. He threw it to the ground and let it fade out.

He reached into the pocket of his blue flannel shirt and drew out another smoke. He’d been a clown for almost twenty years. The best times were during the summer agricultural festivals, which took place every weekend all over the local counties. Dairy fests, garlic fests, blueberry fests – they always wanted a clown or two to make balloon animals and tell ridiculous, innocuous jokes as they did so. And to perform a few magic tricks. Now that it was autumn he’d get called for the festivals at the waning of the year. It seemed to Joe that the revelry at the autumn festivals was all the more intense because of the shortening of the days.

Despite his reputation for being somewhat unconventional, Joe the Moper got calls regularly to perform at these country family hootenannies. There was inevitably at every festival two or three people playing a guitar or fiddle, occasionally a banjo or mandolin, and singing songs that were playful, mournful, spiked with wisdom, because it is a musician’s duty to sing or strum or bow the truth in a way that compelled the wandering, meandering folk at the fair to stop and listen carefully, if only for a few moments. Even during the Dairy Princess crowning or the awarding of the blue ribbon to Best Rooster in Fair, every soul on the fair ground hungered for an uplifting moment of truth.

Joe figured it was for the best that he would not be getting too many more calls to play the clown. He was weakening in almost every way; even his jokes with customers at the tire outlet were deflated and rueful. The tumor that had begun in his right lung had grown upward, encircling his esophagus like a snake or a choking vine, and made it almost impossible for him to swallow solid food. Mary Jean had demanded that he go to the doctor, who knew Joe smoked and had ordered a CT scan which revealed the reason for all Joe’s physical suffering. He had told Mary Jean nothing, putting her off by saying that the doctor had ordered some tests but wasn’t very concerned, that he results were not available yet and it was probably something gastroenterological.

“Well, what tests? Why are they taking so long? You look like a scarecrow.”

Joe shrugged. “You know there’s not a lot of doctors around here. Everything’s slow.” Joe couldn’t bear to tell Mary Jean that he would begin radiation treatments in a week. Until then, he would smoke as he always had, slowly, thoughtfully, considering the great gift of tobacco that the Creator had made to humanity and its almost supernatural ability to calm the agitated and arouse the lethargic.

If Joe could have smoked when he did his clown gigs, he would have. After all, he’d seen a number of photos of artists with a cigarette balanced between their lips as they worked. He thought of Jackson Pollock smoking while he drizzled paint all over one of his canvases. And Joe’s favorite was an elegant portrait of Tennessee Williams seated before a typewriter, a nimbus of cigarette smoke swirling about him like a muse. There were more addicted artists than anyone could count, Joe often thought. It was an unfortunate but necessary pathology of the creative urge. It was probably why he smoked three cigarettes after he made love to Mary Jean and she drifted off to sleep.

When Joe did his clown jobs, he wore black, head to foot, What he believed was most impressive about his clown costume was the long black tunic he wore over black trousers, and the black bowler hat he’d purchased from an antique shop. He believed the get-up made him look like a Victorian clergyman. He painted his face white, of course, but he took special care when applying his mouth paint. It was a dull carnelian, with just a hint of an upturning at the corners. The great circles about his eyes were violet, and his dramatically arched eyebrows were a ponderous black. He looked like he was someone who was almost shocked, but not quite.

He placed a rubber rat beneath his bowler, and when he introduced himself as Joe the Moper, he bowed and removed the hat and feigned mild surprise that a rodent had hidden itself in his favorite topper and wanted to launch a career of his own as a comedian.

Joe wore black because he wanted to tell the truth, like a good priest in his black robe would while sitting with an anxious seeker. Joe knew that humor came from fear, desperation, isolation. Like a seasoned clergyman or a Buddha, one faced it all with a slight smile of equanimity, and Joe vowed to himself, and his audiences, that he would do the same.

“You can stay in here and mind your own business,” Joe the Moper said to the rubber rat as he slipped it into the pocket in the side of his tunic. “Or maybe I’ll enter you in the beauty contest! You’d make a great ambassador for locally made cheese.

“Oh, you wanna be a clown, huh? Well, you didn’t pay good money to go to clown school, like I did. I am a highly educated clown, like some of our most illustrated politicians – oh, I’m sorry, folks, I meant to say illustrious politicians. Although most of them seem to be cartoon characters. Oh, there I go again! Better get to the balloons.

Joe made nothing but birds with he balloons. “Why d’ya think owls have such large eyes?” he asked the small crowds gathered around him.

“Because they hunt at night!” someone, usually a child, would call out.

“Precisely! Very good!” Joe said, and pulling out a white balloon, he fashioned into something that looked very much like an owl. He twisted the head three hundred sixty degrees and then a wind always came, caught the owl out of Joe’s slightly trembling hands and bore it away. This happened with every owl, hawk, and woodpecker balloon Joe huffed and puffed and twisted into existence. The children and most of the adults strained to capture the balloons as they soared overhead.

“You can’t get them – no one ever does,” Joe called out. “I don’t know where the magic comes from. I just tell lame jokes. And I didn’t go to clown school. At least, not in the usual sense. But I think we all go to clown school. You all think about that. The balloons are always out of reach because the wind wants them. Have a wonderful day. Wow! Look at this sunshine!” Then Joe would walk with long, gangly strides to the back of the agricultural pavilion to smoke a couple of cigarettes.

Now, this morning, watching the uncanny amorousness of the swollen gibbous moon, which had remained in the morning sky while Joe smoked four cigarettes meditatively, he felt like the moon was his wife, and he was impatient for her to give birth. He thought of Mary Jean just over fifteen years ago, and the impossibly round protrusion of her belly, all amniotic fluid and placenta and baby. Mary Jean had begged him to give up smoking the moment she had found out she was pregnant, and he’d said he’d try, but he was less than sincere. He knew he’s smoke more than ever. Between the two of them, there were barely able to make their mortgage payments. The anxiety grew in him, and some mornings, before getting up to dress and have coffee followed by cigarettes, he curled up in a ball and prayed.

Growing up, he’d listened as his mother instructed him to pray everyday, throughout the day. He and his brother, who was now an insurance sales rep in the Midwest, and their parents has attended a fire-and-brimstone church which had only served to set Joe’s nerves on fire. How could the pastor say that God is Love and be so eager to send poor, foolish human beings to hell? When Joe, still in grade school,  had asked his mother, in desperation, why this was so, she’d shake her head and tell him there was nothing to worry about. And when he’d brought up his fears with his brother, his brother had shrugged and said, “That guy is crazy. Sneak a book into church and hide it in the Bible. I do it all the time. I think Mom and Dad know, but they’ve never said anything to me. They just pretend …”

But Joe continued to listen to what the pastor said, because there was some kind of terrifying logic to it. Then he went off to college and let the bond between himself and church dissolve. But the fear lived on in his body without abatement. He studied sociology and was a competent student – some of his professors even told him he had talent – and returned to upstate New York and ended up in retail.

Because Joe still had the demons, he liked to make jokes. They purified the air around him and drew people to him. He considered finding out what it took to do stand-up, but he knew he would get so nervous before performing that he would probably die. So he decided to be a clow. No birthday parties or school character education gigs, just the local seasonal festivals when he could be outside, twisting balloons into birds.

His first gig had been a spring festival with a medieval theme. A man in green velvet played a lute while a lady with a ring of artificial flowers in her hair and a purple gown sang songs with little ribald jokes, to celebrate fertility. Morris dancers stomped on the cold earth, to awaken it. The sun had shone brilliantly on that day, and the air was almost hot.

Joe had studied books on balloon animal shapes and practiced for dozens of hours before the full-length bedroom mirror, making cats and poodles and alligators. But now that he was here, in front of a curious audience, made all the more enthusiastic by this burst of light and warmth after an upstate winter, he froze. All he could think of was birds. He’d found some shattered robins’ eggs on the ground that morning, as he had brought his boxes of uninflated balloons to the car, and the pale blue of the fragments made him pause and he exhaled forcefully enough to ruffle the feathers of a hatchling that lay on the ground, forced out by its mother, Joe thought. Then he drove to the fair.

And as Joe drove, he began to feel light-headed. When he arrived at the fair and saw the Morris dancers pounding the sodden ground, he thought of the shattered eggs, the doomed hatchling, and the fact of the perpetual changing of the seasons caused his heart to race and his breath to quicken. If only his life could be one unchanging winter or summer, without the interruptions of the seasons of emergence and withdrawal, that disoriented him and filled him with such grief at their brevity and their blatant declaration of the impermanence of things. He thought that perhaps his entire performance should be blowing air into balloons and releasing it, slowly, so that the kids would laugh at the flatulence-like sound. But then he came to himself, realized all of this was stage fright, and drove on until he reached the Blumenfeld Vernal Fest on the top of a hill that overlooked other gently curving hills transforming into verdancy under the kindly sun. Spring was, perhaps, not quite so disorienting, Joe thought, as he parked his car and began to unload his boxes of balloons.

The parking area for vendors bordered on a stretch of woodlands, and Joe heard the calls from the cardinals and robins as he lifted the boxes from the hatch of his car. Then he stopped and pulled out a cigarette. He had been so deep in thought about how this gig was going to play itself out – how he would play himself out – that he hadn’t even thought to smoke. This was passing strange. It was as if he were keeping the air in his lungs pure and strong before forcing it into the balloon toys he was about to make.

Joe took one last drag on his cigarette, crushed it on the ground and then put it in an empty coffee cup in the car.

So, now he would find out if he could do it. He stacked the three boxes of balloons – much more than he would need, but best to be prepared – and walked to the information kiosk to find out where he should set himself up. The lady at the kiosk – round, grey-haired and amiable – told him he would be near the petting zoo, which was about one hundred fifty yards west. Joe looked up at the sun to determine where west was, and followed, glancing upwards every few seconds to keep his bearings. Some fair goers looked at him and grinned, others looked with slight consternation – a clown, in springtime, should not be wearing black. And his smile should be wider, freer. Joe had the feeling these people considered him a clown with an ungenerous spirit. And what was the point of that? A clown gives himself completely, divests himself of all dignity, and even self-respect in order to entertain. Joe didn’t feel a vocation to be quite that kind of clown.

The balloons and the wind – they stole the show. The creatures Joe intended to make resisted creation – dogs, giraffes, monkeys. They all twisted themselves into birds, and the moist spring breezes lifted them away. The children jumped up and tried to grab them, but they soared out of reach and the audience let out a groan. It seemed as if the wind grabbed the balloons out of this strange clown’s hands. But Joe pretended that was exactly what he’d wanted to happen. “Well, folks, thanks for stopping by. Remember, I’m Joe the Moper. Weird and inexplicable things happen whenever I’m around.”

So it went with all of Joe’s performances. But the people didn’t come to listen to his mordant humor, his absurd imitations of celebrities, and the few magic tricks he had learned to broaden his appeal. They came to see the bird balloons. And how impossible they were to hold. People in the audience believed that Joe the Moper and the wind colluded to let the bird balloons ascend into the heavens.

Joe looked at the moon again and thought of how his daughter was growing, so awkward and lovely, and he knew the Mary Jean would give her all the love she would need. That didn’t mean Joe the Moper didn’t intend to fight this serpentine tumor with all the strength, sarcasm and something like faith that he had in him. But he knew how these things went. The radiologist wanted to shrink the tumor, get him some time.

For much of his life, Joe, with his easily rattled nerves, had felt that time could not pass quickly enough, so that night would come and in the darkness he could feel unseen and uncalled upon to be anything but what he was – a confused and congenitally frightened man. All the sardonic jokes that he threw out into the air, to his wife, the guys at the tire shop, to his bemused audiences, did nothing to protect him from his terror. And now that he finally had something to be beside himself about, he felt gentle and quiet and somewhat remorseful about his jokes. And he felt gratitude for the balloons that had all taken flight and left his audiences in awe.

That night, as Mary Jean slept fitfully beside him, Joe knew he had to tell her about the tests, the tumor, the treatment. He began to shake and feared he would have a sleepless night. Well, all right then. He remembered the angels that the pastor of his youth had described in more than one sermon. The angles in the Book of Revelation were monstrous – immense, with countless eyes and wings, wings, wings flapping and concealing and then revealing those eyes. There was no place one could hide from them, and that was why Joe wanted an angel to pay him a visit. He prayed, “God, let one of those hideous and holy angels come and look at me. I want – need – something now that’s not like anything I’ve ever seen. I’m not afraid of being afraid – at least not now, not of that.”

But as Joe lay awake, no angel came. Well, perhaps it’s invisible, Joe thought. Even without the angel’s help, he would tell Mary Jean that …

While he was in a deep sleep, a great golden balloon, as round as the sun, drifted down to Joe, as he sat in a meadow overlooking the round, verdant hills in upstate New York, someplace where he’d visited as a child and had been very happy. The gold balloon had one great eye that looked on him with mercy. It extended a wing and enfolded Joe, who was now in the realm beyond speech. He was in the air, the golden air and with the balloon floated higher and higher and he could see himself far below, where a crowd had gathered, and he could see himself at the center, as his black tunic fell off and he stood denuded before the audience laughing until they cried.

Shirley O’Shea is a freelance writer and full time mother living in upstate New York. She has worked as a paralegal, elementary school teacher and small town newspaper reporter.

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Rebecca Solnit’s story of  life in San Francisco in the 1980s is as much memoir as it is social commentary. Becoming an activist and a writer in a society that prefers women be silent is a central theme. If you are unfamiliar with Solnit’s work, this is a good entry point. If you are familiar with her writing, this is a must read as she discusses what liberated her as a writer when she was discovering herself as a person. 

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

Fiction, Fiction Fridays, Guest Posts

Little Buddy

February 12, 2021
creature

By W. T. Paterson

The chill in the air settled against the fading blue sky as Porter lugged an ancient wooden storm panel around the side of the house. The cold sand shifted under his boots turning each step into an arthritic nightmare for his knees. It felt like the end of an era. The summer house that once teemed with life now sat empty and cold leaving only the rat-a-tat knocking of a pesky woodpecker that wreaked yearly havoc on the panels. Buddy, his son, had always helped with the end-of-season board-up, specifically shooing away the bird, but the boy had moved to the big city for a fancy hospital job and Porter was lucky if he got a phone call every other month. Minnie, his wife, took over their Massachusetts house after her therapist suggested a trial separation now that Buddy had grown. Minnie agreed before Porter could weigh in and all but exiled him to his family’s seaside cottage in Maine for the winter. A quarter-century worth of marriage dissolved like a cruel magic trick. One moment things were fine, and the next the veil lifted to reveal the great absence of a used-to-be.

The wooden panel slid into the de-screened slot and hooked into place with rusted latches. Porter rested his sore shoulders and aching back and looked out across the empty beach. The calm ocean barely rippled, more lake than tidal beast roaring with surf. With the summer crowds gone, the small town barely stirred. A part of him believed that being holed up in the place for the winter would bring some clarity to the situation, that the isolation would do him good until the rat-a-tat started up again.

Porter wiped his brow and then slapped the boards. The thick panels shook, and the knocking ceased.

He stepped outside and around the house toward the bulkhead for the final panels, and that’s when he saw it; the creature hiding near the cement foundation of his neighbor’s place. A baby dinosaur, a dilophosaurus by the looks and no bigger than a housecat, watched with cautious curiosity. Its yellow skin with red-striped belly sniffed the air through a long, ridged snout. The creature gave Porter a weak warning growl to reveal a curved row of small, jagged teeth.

“Monsters,” Porter said under his breath, and shook his head at the wealthy summer goers like the Hartwells who loved to buy exotic pets in the spring only to decide they didn’t want them come fall. Instead of heading to proper shelters, they stuck the creatures outside to fend for themselves and left town without so much as a second thought. One year, animal control wrangled a Chupacabra after reports of missing cats piled up, and a few years later, the carcass of a tiger was found in the snowy dunes frozen and starved. Finding the small dinosaur was, unfortunately, par for the course.

Porter closed the rusty bulkhead and went inside even though he wasn’t finished. He held his fingers under warm water to melt the stiffness in the joints and considered phoning the town. From the kitchen window, he watched the dinosaur sniff around and make chirping noises, neck craned and eyes large as the shadows of the houses stretched over the dunes and onto the empty beach.

*

The dark autumn sky swallowed the day. No one at the town hall had answered when he called, so Porter left a voicemail requesting that someone collect the dino. Poor thing won’t survive the cold, he said. It’s their blood. They need the heat. Porter wasn’t sure how he knew this, but he knew it to be true. Leftover details from his childhood fascination with predators perhaps, or something pulled from Buddy’s picture book filled with sharks and crocodiles and yetis and wolves.

That book was still upstairs, he was almost certain. They read it together every summer until Minnie complained that Buddy should turn his interests toward more sophisticated prose and came home with books about the anatomy, and physiology, and medicine. She tucked the book out of reach where it collected dust and rendered the sturdy pages fragile.

What an odd thing to remember at a time like this, Porter thought as he sat on the well-worn and sun-beaten couch. The muted television glowed with his favorite trivia show as static crackled across the screen. He waited for the phone to ring. He watched in quiet until the contestants shouted with glee as a big-money gamble paid off huge. They danced and twirled and pumped their hands up and down like they had just gotten married, like they had a few glasses of fine wine and a belly full of prime rib and sauntered to the dancefloor still believing the person they married was who they believed they were, that an office job wasn’t built to turn a man inside out, that unconditional love could actually heal a person, that paying hand-over-fist for a future that benefited everyone but themselves was a noble path. “Dreamers,” Porter said, and tried to will himself into a nap. That type of happiness made him uncomfortable. It was exhausting, a game for the young. It was why those trivia shows never cast anyone over thirty, because anyone older knew the that the world was a limited path with nothing but forced naps that wouldn’t come in a cold and empty house inside of a town that only lived for a single season.

When the evening news came on and the weather forecasted only cold days ahead, Porter went into the kitchen to scrounge up some dinner. In a cupboard was an unopened box of Rainb-O’s cereal, buddy’s favorite. He purchased a new box every year in the hopes that his son would visit and they could both share a bowl like the old days. He didn’t want to open the box, just in case.

In the back of the freezer, he found two steaks so frozen and frostbitten that they could hammer a nail. He took one out and ran it under the faucet resigning to finish installing the panels in the morning. Over the hiss of the tap, he could faintly make out the lonely wail of the baby dinosaur somewhere outside.

“Poor thing,” Porter said, and against his better judgement, filled an unused bamboo salad bowl with water and walked outside. At the base of the front steps, he put the bowl on the ground and whistled for the creature. The long, gravel driveway wound around sleepy dune grass, cut through overgrown lawn grass, and intersected with a paved road lined with tall pines. The neighboring houses stood like vacated caverns. Crickets pulsed in the chilly air like the slow breath of a sleeping giant. A moment later at the edge of the shadow, the dilophosaurus poked it’s head out from a patch of cratered dunes and sniffed the air. Porter clicked his tongue and pointed at the water. The small creature took hesitant steps and growled a curious growl.

“Atta boy,” Porter said, and watched the creature approach. “Don’t get used to it, though. Done enough charity for this lifetime.”

The idea turned him sour. Why did he always have to do things for the benefit of others? Why was it his responsibility to fix things? There was that time at the restaurant where Minnie had a little too much and started in.

“We should call and check on Buddy,” she said.

“He’s an adult, Min, he’s fine,” Porter said, feeling the night balance on the edge of Minnie’s fragile mood.

“People can be adults and still drown in the bathtub, Porter,” Minnie said, cupping the wine glass with such ferocity that it was a miracle the thing didn’t shatter.

“Ok. We can go,” Porter whispered, and put on his winter coat. He tossed an extra-large cash tip onto the table in an unspoken attempt to smooth things over with their server – a college girl with large eyes and full lips.

“He thinks money will buy you,” Minnie said, stumbling through the slurred words as the server picked empty plates from the table. “But he’s not your type, is he?”

The server went flush and smiled politely, and something about the reaction made Minnie go ice age. She didn’t talk to him for the rest of the night.

In the morning, she knew she had done something, but couldn’t remember what.

“Jog my memory,” she pleaded, rubbing her head. “You’re upset, and I can’t change if I can’t remember.”

“Said some things is all,” Porter mumbled, and twisted the gold wedding band around his finger to let the feeling go extinct.

A chill ran Porter’s spine, so he turned suddenly to go back inside. It startled the dinosaur and the creature reared back on its small hind legs. A scaley umbrella-like mane shot out from the sides of its head. It rattled like a snake, an unmistakable warning.

“Oh please,” Porter laughed. “Been married for nearly three decades. Know what that does to a man? Teeth don’t scare me, pal.”

He chuckled his way up the cold and creaking steps and closed the door inside. As he turned the porch light off, he watched through the glass as the small dinosaur retracted its mane, approached the bowl with curious eyes, and gulped down the water.

That salad bowl was a wedding gift, Porter thought. What an odd thing to remember at a time like this.

*

Just past sunrise, the rat-a-tat returned—a crude wooden alarm to usher in the rising coastal sun. Porter pulled the thinning comforter over his eyes and tried to ignore piercing rap, but the tapping pushed awake-ness through his eyelids like the slow drip of a hangover. His bones ached, the fossilized remains of a great used-to-be. Once a man so sturdy he could board up the home by himself breaking a sweat, he now struggled to sit upright in bed. All those years in an office behind a desk staring into sheets and memos and computer screens left little behind, and what remained had eroded into sun damaged skin and liver spots.

Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat.

Porter slid out of bed still in jeans from the day before and shoved his wool-socked feet into tired work boots.

“I’m up,” he grunted, and wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes. He put on the same flannel as yesterday and walked downstairs. The bones of the quiet home creaked with every thumping step, the arthritic walls wailing and moaning too. With day old coffee sitting cold in the cloudy glass pot, Porter poured the thick mass into a mug and tossed it into the microwave. A single spotted banana stared at him from the fruit bowl and he considered the possibility, but instead watched the digital seconds count down until the ding produced a steaming cup of bitter jet-fuel. After one sip, he knew it had turned but he finished the mug as to not be wasteful before heading outside to finish the job.

A familiar dull pain pulled at the muscles between Porter’s shoulders as he lugged another wooden panel from the bulkhead to the side of the house. Two more, and then he could shelter without worry of those winter storms.

Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat.

Porter shoved the panel into the sand below an open slot and huffed. He wanted to confront that damn bird, the constant pecking and relentless picking, but what good would that do anyone? No matter what he felt, the bird always came back and the rat-a-tat became a wooden, mocking laughter. At least with Buddy around, the boy could chase the bird through the cool and crunching dunes until he got tired, or bored, wanted to help with the panels. But Minnie always came outside demanding that Porter do something about the incessant, belligerent, ridiculous racket.

“It’s fine, Minnie,” Porter would say.

“Some people come here to relax. Some people need quiet reflection,” she’d say, and flap back inside chirping about how she married the only man in the world who couldn’t stand up to a bird. Buddy would watch from the dunes with large, confused eyes until Porter explained that it would have been Uncle Marius’s birthday.

“Oh,” the boy would say, and spend the rest of the afternoon quietly chasing birds, and bugs and while his father boarded.

Now, as Porter turned the corner of the boarded-up porch, he saw the small dinosaur crouched in the grass watching the gnawing woodpecker.

“Get!” Porter said and swiped at the bird. The dinosaur tilted its head. The woodpecker did a quick loop in the sky and swooped back onto the sill with an anarchic rat-a-tat. Porter’s blood boiled and his ears went hot.

“I said…” he shouted, and the bird took off again. This time, as it swooped over the dunes, the young dilophosaurus expanded its scaley mane and spit a dark glob of venomous, paralyzing phlegm, which wrapped the bird and brought it crashing out of mid-air. The woodpecker landed lifelessly in the nearby sand. The baby creature trotted over and ate the remains with big, proud bites and then looked at Porter with glistening, hopeful eyes.

“Not bad, little buddy,” he said, and though he couldn’t be sure, it looked like the creature smiled at the compliment.

For the rest of the morning, the dinosaur walked along the sand and dunes chasing away seagulls, butterflies, and crickets that came too close as Porter fixed the final wooden panels into place.

At lunch, Porter cooked the other remaining steak, but something chewed at his wandering thoughts. The spotted banana eyed him from the fruit bowl, and Porter knew that sometimes cooking for one was really cooking for two. He slapped the steak onto a Corelle plate and popped outside. The dino poked its head out from between long blades of dune grass.

“Eat up, you done good today” he said, and balanced the plate on the bottom step of the stoop. The creature sniffed the air, eyed Porter, and scampered out to devour the cooked meat. Porter peeled the yellow banana back and ate the sweet fruit—though he didn’t enjoy it—happy to be able to lend his talents to an appreciative crowd.

“If I let you in, you gonna be good?” Porter asked. The dinosaur looked up and continued chewing. “You gonna be good? If you come inside? You’ll be a good boy?” The creature pondered the question like it understood, and finally chirped as it stepped toward Porter’s knee. He gave it a gentle head-butt. Porter reached down and rubbed the top of the scaley head with his tired, heavy hands. “You’re a good boy.”

The baby dinosaur leaned back and sneezed. A tiny fleck of black, venomous phlegm landed on Porter’s knuckle and burned the skin with a terribly, fiery pain.

“Sweet mother of mercy,” he said, rubbing his fist on his jeans. The creature shrank with alarm when it realized what it had done, eyes wide with a different kind of hurt. “Ain’t your fault, boy,” Porter said. “It’s just how you are.” He stood to walk inside, and then whistled. The dilophosaurus perked up and followed, trotting next to Porter’s knees but never crossing in front.

*

Porter started to suspect that something was different that evening. Not wrong, but different. The dinosaur took a wheezing nap against the electric baseboard heater of the thin-walled coastal home. Upon awaking, he watched Porter as though trying to communicate something.

“You hungry?” Porter asked, and the sound of his voice seemed to put the creature at ease. The young dinosaur rolled to his feet and tip-toed over to the couch and placed his scaley and unusually heavy chin on the top of Porter’s thigh. Porter smiled and rubbed the creature’s rough and uneven head. He noted the retracted mane on the neck like wrinkled skin and wondered at nature’s design. The dilophosaurs relaxed into comfort, but the type of comfort that stems from concern and, he wasn’t sure how, but Porter could sense it like a light left on in a room he was no longer using.

When he moved his leg, the creature stepped back and followed him into the kitchen where the man pan-fried a chicken breast and put it in a ceramic cereal bowl – the big one that Buddy always filled to the brim with colorful Rainb-O’s but could never finish, until the year that Minnie insisted he switch over to something more nutritious like sausage and hash browns.

“A growing boy needs protein,” she said. “You keep giving him this, he’ll stay small forever, and be fragile, and his bones will be weak.”

“Ok,” Porter said like a deflating balloon, because every fight with Minnie was an unwinnable task. She fought with the fury and guilt over her wheelchair-bound brother Marius who drowned in the tub as a teen while she took a brief nap. What could he say to curb venom like that? Nothing, and Porter absorbed every last bit until there was nothing left.

The creature chomped at the chicken breast and pulled it apart with a ravenous hunger until everything was gone.

“You’ve got some appetite, lil’ buddy,” Porter said, and opened the cupboards to try and find something else to feed it. All that remained was the unopened box of Rainb-O’s. He rattled the cardboard and the dinosaur tilted its head. Porter popped the top and poured into the ceramic bowl. The creature sniffed the sugary O’s, looked at Porter, and then slowly lapped up the bits with his dark tongue. It only made it halfway through before walking away from the bowl, back into the living room, and pushed himself against the heater.

“How about a bedtime story before the sun goes down?” Porter asked, watching the young dino give in to heavy eyelids and long, strained breath. He knew just the book, it had to be here still.

Upstairs in the closet tucked in the very back of a shelf was the picture book of predators, the thick and sticky pages the same as they ever were. He remembered nights going through the pictures watching his son’s wide-eyed wonder at sharks, and coyotes, and lycans, and felt the venomous sting of a used-to-be erode the sides of his heart.

Downstairs, he sat on the couch and whistled for the dinosaur. The creature lifted its head and walked with a sleepy limp over to Porter, who opened the picture book and read aloud the simple prose. With each picture he pointed to, the creature seemed to smile and drift further into the clutches of sleep, seemingly happy to hear the man’s voice.

*

Porter’s worry began to peak. The creature asleep at his feet sounded like it was having more trouble breathing, and it kept twitching with miniature seizures. He didn’t know if this was natural, or a cause for alarm, so he pulled the phone from his pocket and wondered if his son might take a call in the big city. Wondering things such things made him feel insignificant, burdensome, left behind.

“Hey Pops!” a voice answered, which startled Porter. He hadn’t been aware that he even dialed, and it sounded like his son was at a restaurant, or a bar, or out with friends being social.

“Hey Buddy, it’s your father,” Porter said.

“I know. Call ID. What’s up?”

Porter wasn’t sure where to start, or how to even ask. Stuttering through ideas, he blurted out the only thing that sounded plausible.

“What do you think about having a dinosaur as a pet?” he asked, and then held his breath for the reply.

“Nah, you don’t want a dino. They have to have their own feeding space because they need to eat live meals. Birds, goats, sheep. Lot’s of blood and entrails, pretty heavy cleanup. Only raw food. Their micro-gut biomes are so strong that cooked food doesn’t get transferred into nutrients and they’ll starve to death. No people food. It makes’em sick, like dogs and chocolate. A lot of work, too much work, Pops. Why? You, uh, you doing ok?”

“Oh yes, yes. Just daydreaming is all,” Porter said. Dread rose from his chest into his throat as the creature kicked out again, writhing in some sort of pain. Porter did what he could to mask the anxiety. “How did you get so smart, anyways?”

“Years of mom forcing me to read books about how bodies work. Go figure,” Buddy said. “Hey, can I call you back in the morning? The firm just got a grant and we’re out celebrating.”

“Of course, son. Sure thing,” Porter said, and wheezed out a half-hearted, lonely laugh.

He hung up the phone and bent over the creature. The skin didn’t feel right. He wasn’t sure what right should have felt like, but this wasn’t it. Dry, too dry, and far too warm in the head, while the yellow belly with red stripes felt too cool.

“Don’t do this to me,” Porter said. “Please, I’m doing the best I can.”

The creature opened its eyes and chirped, but it was a distant noise. The pupils irised like a dimming bulb.

“I didn’t know any better,” Porter said, taking the head into his arms and cradling. “I did the best I could with what I knew, with what I had! I’ll try harder, please!”

The dinosaur began to shake and froth. Porter couldn’t look away even though the sight physically pained him, this creature in so much helpless, needless pain. Had the little dinosaur been like this all summer? Slowly starving to death?

A rattle began in the creature’s chest, which forced the remaining air from its lungs like a tea kettle coming to boil. Porter physically felt the life inside the dinosaur diminish, and he broke down into tears.

“I could have done better, I wasn’t ready for you, but I’m thankful we had this. Know that I’m thankful we had this,” he said. A small spark of life came to the young dinosaur’s eye and for that brief moment, they saw each other in the cold room. Porter wasn’t sure how he knew, but he knew that dinosaur loved him in their short time together.

And then, as the sun dipped over the horizon, the remaining light turned to darkness, and Porter was alone.

*

Porter barely slept, if he even slept at all. After carrying the creature into the basement and deciding to bury it in the woods later, he couldn’t shake the image of the dinosaur’s last moments and how this all could have been prevented with a little attentiveness and research.

Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat.

Porter wasn’t in the mood. Of course another bird had come. Of course.

Then he realized it wasn’t a knocking, but a ringing. His cell phone vibrated against the wooden night table with an incoming call from the town offices.

“Heyo, Porter, it’s Len from City Hall. I didn’t wake you, did I?”

“No,” Porter said, and sat up.

“Anywho, got a call from the Hartwells asking if we’d seen a small dinosaur. Said it escaped as they were packing up last month. I told’em you’d called with a sighting, and they said they’d swing by. Wanted to give warning.”

“Thanks Len,” Porter said.

“Ayuh,” Len said, and ended the call. The morning sun forced its way through the thin drapes with blinding reminders. It didn’t seem fair that days got to start and end.

Porter sat up and put on his flannel, the same as the day before, and noticed a few places where venomous phlegm has burned small holes through the fabric. He ran his thumb over them and felt the immediate, pressing absence of a used-to-be.

Work-boots on, he limped downstairs with cold and tired knees as a shining car with New York plates blasting loud, electronic music pulled up the drive. He saw a young man and woman in their early twenties in the front seat, dark sunglasses pulled over their eyes, hair styled like they had just come from a fashion magazine’s photo shoot.

“You the guy?” the woman asked as she stepped out of the car in high heels.

“Len said you’d seen our dinosaur. Tricky bugger snuck out while we loaded the car.”

“Over those dunes,” Porter said, pointing away from the house. “I was boarding up. Saw’em hiding near the beach.”

“Is he still there?”

Porter shrugged and shoved his aching hands into his pockets. The woman rolled her eyes and whispered to the guy that she couldn’t walk in the sand with heels, and that he should go, and that he better be quick because she wanted to get back to the city by nightfall.

“We have a buyer, you see,” the guy said. “Top dollar.”

Porter didn’t move as the Hartwell boy traipsed into the dunes and whistled, pushing aside long blades of grass to look for any sign of the creature. He walked near the beach, deep into the grass, and then back again before returning to the car.

“Anything?” Porter asked.

“It’s a baby, how far could it have gone?” the woman said, annoyed. She leaned against the car and scrolled through her phone.

“Maybe you should have kept a better eye on it,” Porter said. He took his hands out of his pockets and crossed his arms.

“Excuse me?” the guy said and took off his sunglasses. He stepped into Porter’s personal bubble.

“You left this town two months ago. Never once came back looking. You can’t treat things that way, can’t abandon something just ‘cause you’re bored. You have to love it. You have to try at least and sometimes stand up for yourself, even when it’s hard, and you have to commit to working through tough times. Otherwise, anything that matters goes extinct and everyone ends up alone.”

“It’s just a dinosaur, dude,” the guy said. He held up his hands like he was trying to ward off a charging bull.

“Let’s just go,” the woman said. “We’ll tell Franco it was hit by a car or whatever.”

The woman opened the passenger door and sat down as the guy stomped around to the driver’s side cautiously eyeing Porter. At the end of the road, a familiar car turned into the drive. The car with New York plates turned around and sped out of the gravel drive as the other car—Buddy’s car—pulled in. Buddy parked and stepped out into the slowly warming day. He stood with large shoulders, a yellow and red striped sweater hugging his frame. Though he hadn’t been away in the city for too long, Porter couldn’t believe how much his boy had grown.

“Hey Pops,” Buddy said, holding an overnight bag. “What did those clowns want?”

“Something they shouldn’t have,” Porter said. “What’s the occasion?”

Buddy shrugged.

“Talking to you last night, I dunno, thought you might enjoy some company.”

Porter hugged his boy and welcomed him inside. With the wooden panels up along the porch wall, the inside felt cavernous and dark, but Buddy brought a certain light to the rooms that hadn’t existed in quite some time. They chatted in the kitchen about life in the city, about Porter’s move to the seasonal home, about the split with Minnie and how situations never stopped evolving.

“It’s good to see you, though,” Porter said after a while.

“No way, is that a box of Rainb-O’s? Haven’t had those in years. Don’t tell mum, but…” Buddy said.

“Say no more,” Porter said. He went into the cupboard and pulled out the recently-washed bamboo salad bowl.

“A growing boy needs his nutrition,” Porter said. Buddy sat at the kitchen table like a happy child while Porter popped the top of the cardboard cereal box. He poured the colorful O’s until the bowl had nearly filled and the box had all but emptied, and sat with his son in a warming house as daylight spilled through the cracks of the ancient wooden panels illuminating the presence of an always-will-be.

W. T. Paterson is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and is a graduate of Second City Chicago. His work has appeared in over 80 publications worldwide including The Saturday Evening Post, The Forge Literary Magazine, The Delhousie Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Fresh Ink. A semi-finalist in the Aura Estra short story contest, his work has also received notable accolades from Lycan Valley, North 2 South Press, and Lumberloft. He spends most nights yelling for his cat to “Get down from there!”

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Gratitude, Guest Posts, memories

Take The R Train

April 2, 2020
choice

By Laraine Herring

My mother could have remained in Bay Ridge, taking the R train into Lower Manhattan to work at the Stock Exchange. She could have not met my father, who could have passed Spanish at Wake Forest and graduated there instead of transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where they did not require two years of Spanish for a History major, where he did meet my mother, who was the first female accepted into the graduate school of mathematics at Chapel Hill, at an uncharacteristic football game where she’d gone with her roommate as an out for her blind date. But if she had remained working at the Stock Exchange riding the R train this would not have happened.

My father would have married a woman named Betty, not Elinor. I’m reasonably confident of this because when he died we found drawings Betty had made for him of his face, his golf swing, his eyes, and she called the house a lot and tried to make friends with my mother. She stopped calling once we moved from North Carolina to Arizona, but I still have one of the pictures she drew in a box in my closet. She could have been my mother, but there’s a reasonable chance she is dead now, or at the very least married to someone who never quite measured up to my father, but who nonetheless was a decent man. Betty could be writing this piece too. She would start with: I might have married Glenn…and I don’t know what she would have written next because I don’t know her. But I have her picture.

My father could have died with the polio in 1949 like he was supposed to. Like everyone did. Like the boy who was in the iron lung next to his who died in the night, my father talking to him in the dark, not realizing he had gone. The boy’s name was Charlie, and the two times my father spoke of him, he trailed off into ellipses.

Charlie could have lived like my father lived. He could have broken out of the iron lung and not imprinted my father with his death in the night. It is hard for a boy of eight to carry the death of a boy of seven in the dark. That’s a weight that lingers, like the bitter of chocolate.

My father could have died in 1976 after his heart attack like he was supposed to. Like the doctors said he would. Like maybe he would have, except one round of doctors had already told him in 1949 he should have died and he told them he was not going to die and so he had a script for what to do the next time he heard that.

I could have died in 2017 of colon cancer, but I didn’t. I knew how to tell the doctors no because my father told them no twice. Even when he died, he told them no. He pulled out his tubes in unconscious urgency. He clawed at his oxygen. It was his time for dying, and he was telling them no to the saving.

If my father hadn’t died in 1987, I would have gone to Oregon. I had a scholarship to William and Mary and I was desperate to get out of the desert and into the green. But I graduated from high school in 1986 and I knew I couldn’t go because my father was dying and so I didn’t go, but every time I visit the Northwest I see my shadow in the train and I see a possible life where I wouldn’t have met my husband, who is a born and bred Northern Arizona man, a man who becomes sad in the rain. Too much sun makes me sad, but not my husband, and somewhere between 1986 and now I realized that every choice I make may not give me everything I want. Every choice is many choices. I can visit the trees and the water and the damp, but I slept with many wrong people before I met my husband and I know what right feels like now, even if it’s in the desert.

If I hadn’t lived with the abuser in 1988 after my father died, I wouldn’t have had my heart smashed open to an empathy I didn’t know was possible. Or I might have died there. Other women do. I walked out of their graveyard.

If my father’s family had not been Southern Baptist we might have remained in the will and could be living in North Carolina by the Atlantic in the family home. We could have an altar of sand dollars on the dining table, gathered over years of morning walks at low tide. I might wear navy and forgo white after Labor Day and know how to can peaches. But probably not.

If I had stayed in Phoenix in 2003 instead of moving to Prescott—I had to get out of the haunting heat-sun—I wouldn’t have met my husband. I left Phoenix because a tree fell on my house and then I had a dream that echoed the dream I had when we first moved to Phoenix in 1981—I will die in this place if I don’t leave—and so I was gone in a month. This is the only time in my life I made a decision of that magnitude so quickly.

That’s not true. I told the oncologist I would not do chemotherapy and radiation even quicker. They pushed it like a desperate realtor hawking swampland in Florida but I said no. I come from a long line of people who told the doctors no. They were exasperated and fired me as a patient. This was OK because I am not patient.

If I hadn’t told my doctors no, I wouldn’t have met the psychic in Encinitas the year after my surgery who handed me a rose quartz and looked me straight like only the real psychics can do and said, “It must have been so hard for you to fight for your body’s intuition.” And I cried in the middle of the psychic fair, watching the Pacific breeze blowing her psychedelic psychic skirt around her legs. She was the first person to recognize that—the first person to let me recognize that—yes, yes, I had to fight to say no. I had to fight. The wrong choice was easier. The wrong choice was covered by insurance. My wrong choices—every single one of them—were the easier decisions. The ones that cost me my voice.

“I didn’t know how hard it would be,” I told her. Harder than cancer. Harder than surgery. The refusal to walk the pre-written cancer-journey-story filleted me. “If I did chemo, I would die,” I said. And she held my hands and let me cry and the ocean carried my salt away like she always does.

If my mother had stayed in Bay Ridge riding the R train, I wouldn’t be with her today, riding the R train, returning to Bay Ridge to eat pizza at Lucas, which is now the Brooklyn Firefly, because it was where they went for pizza when she was a girl, back when she wasn’t allowed in the special math and science high school because it was only for boys, back when my father was learning how to walk again and Betty was drawing his picture and I was waiting somewhere velvet-dark until I found the woman who was strong enough to bear all of me.

Laraine Herring holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in counseling psychology. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in national and local publications. Her fiction has won the Barbara Deming Award for Women and her nonfiction work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in K’in, Tiferet Journal, The Manifest-Station, Quiet Storm, Vice-Versa, and others. She currently directs the creative writing program at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. She can be found online at www.laraineherring.com.

 

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Advice, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Some Thoughts on Parenting

October 18, 2019
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By David D. Speer

Recently, my family was at a birthday party at Peter Piper Pizza in Ahwatukee. I was watching my son and his cousins run around, happy as children tend to be with pizza and games. It was while I was watching them that a few things occurred to me. These things are, in my opinion, things that all parents could and probably should have in common. With that in mind, here is some fatherly advice from an Arizona father:

  • Hug your kids. Often. For no reason at all. Sometimes they just need it and will never turn you down. In fact, hug anyone you love whenever you have a chance. Life is short.
  • Say, “I love you” as often as you can. In fact, make it the first thing your kids hear in the morning and last before sleep. Say “I love you” plenty in between, too. If we fill this world with children who know they are loved, perhaps this world will become a better place.
  • Let ‘em play. They will only be able to do this for a finite amount of time and these memories of playing will be the foundation of great memories.
    • Play with them whenever you can, too.
  • Chocolate milk was made for blowing bubbles into.
  • Don’t swear. At least don’t swear in front of your kids. If they hear you swear be prepared for possibly two things: 1) They are going to ask you what it means and 2) They may repeat it. In either case it is not a conversation you want to have.
  • Don’t get mad when the kids do something wrong and please don’t correct them in a way to embarrass them. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people yell at their kids just because they can. Its just awful to see and they may treat your grandchildren in this fashion someday.
  • Mom and Dad equals the name of God to children. Be a benevolent one.
  • Kids will go out of their way for your acceptance and to try to make you proud. If they don’t find it, they will look for someone who will accept them. Be very careful here.
  • Kids are usually quick to forgive and, therefore, you should be too. Don’t be afraid of saying “I’m sorry.” just because you’re a parent.
  • Kids are usually smart. In fact, they will surprise you if given the chance. However, don’t get hung up on math scores and academics. We all have individual talents and individual smart-ness. Kids are no exception. If they are struggling with their grades its ok. They ALL have a talent somewhere. Help them find it.
  • Teach them to say things like, “Please” and “Thank you”. They don’t cost a thing and are a simple way to be polite. Mr. Rogers was on to something with this.
  • Kids grow up fast. Before you know it, they go from asking for milk to asking to borrow the car. Cherish the little things that make them unique.
  • Take copious amounts of pictures while they are growing up. You can thank me for that one when they move out.
  • Never ask, “What’s wrong with you?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?” when you are mad. If they answer “Nothing!” or “Forty-two more times!” they gave you your answer. If you need to, take a few moments to compose yourself before dispensing discipline.
  • Be a friend when they need it and they need it more than you’d think. Be a parent when they need it too. I have found that the correct balance of parent and friend makes an amazing parent.
  • Leave home for a least a weekend once a year. Longer and more often if you can. Vacations are where the most memories of youth and strong family bonds tend to be made.
  • If you live in Arizona, get them a pool or take them to one and let them swim, all summer long.
  • You are going to make mistakes. Sometimes, big ones. Its ok. Admit it and move forward. Its when you hang on to those mistakes that things go south. Being human is allowed.
  • Stay off your phone (or other device) when your kids are around. They need to know they are more important then that text or whatever you think is more important. Trust me, they notice when you are not paying attention to them.
  • This one is for grandparents: You have waited your whole life for grandchildren, so make sure you are available for your grandchildren. The memories they have of you when they are older will resonate their entire lives. Make the most out of the small window that time has given.
  • Growing up is tough, but we can make it fun and little easier if we try.

There were some other things that hit me too. Not necessarily related to parenting, but I feel you should know:

  • Whipped cream has no business on cake and is NOT frosting, so stop trying to pass it off as such. Frosting is Frosting.
  • If you stand to pee, lift the seat. Or, at least wipe it after. To do otherwise is just lazy and gross.
  • If you haven’t called your mom today, pick up the phone and call her! Right now.
  • Don’t try to control things too much. You just can’t.
  • Delete Facebook, Instagram and other social media. IT IS A HUGE WASTE OF YOUR TIME. It also wastes the time of people closest to you. This is probably a form of addiction, though, so slowly ween yourself off.
  • No one can tell you the meaning of life but you. It is different for everyone and tends to change over time.
  • Say “Hello” when you pass someone on the street, in the hallway or at work. You never know if you are going to make a new friend or make the other person’s day.
  • Call someone from high school every year.
  • Visit all 50 states at least once (bring the kids).
  • Visit Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America at least once.
  • Put down that silly vapor pen. Those things will probably kill you, too.
  • When someone says, “To be honest” my first thought is that they probably tell lies most of the time.
  • Most things that seem important now probably won’t be in 10 years. (remember Walkman, Discman?)

And, finally:

  • Try something new and possibly thrilling. You’ll be glad you did.

David D. Speer is a husband, father of three, high school teacher, athletic coach, small business owner and aspiring author. He has a Master’s in Business Admin and a BA in Secondary Ed and a BA in History. He has lived in Phoenix most of his life, but has also lived in Colorado and Washington.

 

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Addiction, Fatherhood, Guest Posts

There’s A Bus Waiting

August 17, 2015

By David Lintvedt

We called him “Satellite Mike”, but I never knew his real name.  I heard that at one time he had a family, house and a good job, but all of that was taken away by alcohol and drugs.  For many years he’d struggled with his addictions, and had been in and out of AA, rehabs and detoxes.  By the time I met him the abuse had left him with brain damage, what we in ‘the rooms’ refer to as a wet brain, which is almost like a perpetual state of drunkenness.  This condition robbed him of his ability to think clearly and this left him unpredictable: it was a little scary, but could be interesting.

I would occasionally give Mike rides to and from meetings…and although this meant that we had to ride with the windows open (as personal hygiene was not high on his list)  I enjoyed talking with him, hearing stories of his drunken adventures, and the fantasies created by his sodden mind.  Yet these talks also left me feeling very sad, as I could see flashes of the man he once was…before the addictions took him away.

Satellite Mike had been trying to find long term sobriety for years, but every time he would get a few weeks or months of clean time together, he would feel better and decide that his problems were not that bad, and he would go on another bender.  Once he told me that he regretted not taking advantage of those opportunities to find sobriety early on, when he still had a chance; but when I knew him, he was so far gone it was hard to tell whether he was drunk or not.

We put up with Mike in the program, understanding that when he disrupted a meeting, or flipped over a table at the diner, it was because his brain was pumping out bad chemicals.  As a reward for accepting Mike, we learned a lot from him as Mike was a true power of example…a warning of what was waiting for us, if we became complacent, or let our guard down…if we ever came to believe we could handle (or even deserve) our next drink or drug.

When he was going to meetings and in treatment, Mike lived in transitional housing provided by a non-profit group called Project Hospitality, whose goal it was to help people who were struggling with addiction. When he was not sticking to his program Mike would just disappear; sometimes he’d be in a hospital, once he was locked up in jail for a short stretch, other times he was just off on a bender, perhaps sleeping in the Ferry Terminal or on the streets of Manhattan.  Eventually however, he would come back to the meetings, looking sheepish, asking for rides, food, cigarettes and forgiveness.  He came back because he knew that there was nowhere else for him to go.

Satellite Mike was living in one of these transitional housing units when he went on his final drunk.  I never learned how much of what happened was due to the amount of drugs and alcohol in his system, and how much was due to the damage already done to his brain…and in the end it really did not matter, the damage was done.

One cool and damp spring night, after being kicked out of a bar, Mike began roaming the streets of Staten Island, yelling at cars, and accosting passersby.  Finally, he got it into his head to play “bull fighter” with city buses, out on Victory Boulevard; he waved his coat like a cape, and was heard yelling “Toro, Toro!”  Several buses missed him, but as he leaped out of the way of one bus, he landed in the path of another bus, going the other way, and he was gone!

In the years since he died, I have often wondered if Mike meant to get hit by the bus that night, if that was the only way he saw to end the misery caused by his damaged brain, and the horror of not being able to drink without pain, while not being able to get sober either.

 

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Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, Race/Racism

A Black Remembrance of My White Father.

June 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Erika Robinson

I have not shared this photo before. I have wanted to keep my father to myself, perhaps because, when he was alive, I had to share him with so many.

But it’s Father’s Day, and it is both nationally and personally a sober time. So I am giving all of us a gift by sharing my father once again.

My father left for college when he was only 16. He left for the big city from a farm in Nebraska, where he had no exposure to Black people.

There was no one whiter than my father, with his light eyes and hair, his aquiline nose, his Midwestern twang, and the way he said words like egg and roof. Tweed jackets with leather elbow patches and Oxford shirts were his uniform. He lent them a white guy cool by finishing his look with khakis and topsiders that he wore with no socks. He smoked a pipe. He loved Latin and classical music and German food. He was completely and unapologetically white.

My father was also the greatest man I have ever known. I described him to a friend recently: the way my father was committed to social justice and the cause of civil rights; the way he gave his voice, his body, his life force to the struggle for equality for Black people to the degree that he received letters of thanks during his lifetime from Martin Luther King, and to the degree that he was eulogized in Congress upon his death.

My friend said “Your father sounds as though he was very…optimistic.”

This friend of mine is a very polite young white man. I could tell from the pause between the words “very” and “optimistic” that what he’d wanted to call my father was “naive.”

Here is what my father was: he was grounded in his identity as a white man, aware of the privilege this status conferred upon him, and acutely conscious of the mantle of responsibility laid upon him to live a life of service to those upon whom society had conferred a different status entirely. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, healing, parenting

How To Parent On A Night Like This.

November 25, 2014

 

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Carvell Wallace

My son is home from school. He stays in bed while I take his little sister to her 4th grade class. He watches about 8 hours of television. I have to work. We watch Skyfall together in the morning. The violence is a little beyond what I would normally allow, but something about a father and son watching a spy thriller together…I can’t resist. A Final Showdown at the Scottish Manor. Helicopters and explosions. Cars with semi automatics in the headlights. Sawed off shotguns.

I pick my daughter up at 3:30 while he stays at home. I take her to the grocery. We talk about persimmons and how to tell if they’re ripe. She asks me how I decide which chicken to buy. I explain about air-chilled, and free-range, and grain fed, and hormone free. I realize that I don’t actually understand “air chilled.” I send her clear across the store to go find peanut oil. She does. I am impressed.

In the car, she asks about her brother. I tell her he’s home alone. She is quiet for a few more minutes. Then she tells a story of the time her mother went to the store and left them home alone. And they heard a sound. An explosion of a kind. And her older brother started panicking, telling her it was gunshots, telling her to close the blinds and hide on the floor. And how she became terrified and FaceTimed Mommy from her iPad. And Mommy tried to calm her down, but eventually came right home, leaving a cart filled with groceries in the aisle.

Helicopters are already circling downtown.

She tells me that she now knows that they were overreacting. That it was probably fireworks. It didn’t sound like real gunshots. She’s heard real gunshots. They happened one afternoon while she was playing on the schoolyard. The teachers told them to run inside and they didn’t even have to line up. That’s how she knew it was serious.

We come back home and the kids are reunited. Rare is the day that one has school and the other doesn’t. They are so used to being together in the same cars on the same schedule, even at different schools, that when they see each other, there is awkwardness. They want to check in. If they were adults, they might say “how was your day?” and “I missed you!” But they are not adults. So they argue about who is the worst teacher at the elementary school, and then reminisce about funny episodes of sitcoms that they’ve watched. She quizzes him on his menu, keen to make sure that he didn’t get an ice cream or a cookie on his day off. She’s always keeping track of things like this. Everything must be even.

Grand Jury Decision is expected to be read at 8pm CST.

She begins her homework. He watches vaguely racist and sexist youtube videos.

I make her a snack of plain yogurt and granola.

Rumors are starting to spread that there will be no indictment.

I already know there will be no indictment. I’ve been a black man in America for a long time.

The house is quiet, everyone engrossed in their screens. I am agitated. Scrolling social media, lead in the pit of my stomach.

We’ve been here before. As a family.

We are black people in Oakland. We talk about race a lot. We talk about gender a lot. We discuss transphobia and homophobia a lot. We discuss capitalism and civil rights a lot. We’ve heard helicopters and chants and seen the streets burn. We’ve been to protests. We’ve held signs and played drums. We’ve had our car broken into and our heart-covered backpack and pink size 3 trench coat stolen from the front seat on the first night of Occupy. We’ve driven past armies of cops in riot gear in our minivan. We’ve been here before. We are black people in Oakland. Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, parenting

Powder Blue Polyester Tuxedo.

October 23, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Ben Tanzer.

There is quiet. Can you hear it? Just wait a moment. Pause. Take it in.

There is no screaming about toys, Animal Jam, showers, homework, dishes, screen time, or even screaming about why someone is screaming.

No one is complaining, crying, wheezing, moaning, grousing, grumbling, protesting, or bleating. And no one is watching Pokemon, Pretty Little Liars, Kicking It, H20, The Fosters, America’s

Got Talent, or The X Factor. It is quiet, and it is like magic. It is magic.

Noah, the little one, is lying on his back, brow furrowed, skin as buttery as ever, and he is reading Miss Daisy is Crazy!, one of the 20 million books in the My Weird School series by my new best friend Dan Gutman. Other titles include Mr. Klutz is Nuts! and Mrs. Roopy is Loopy! and on and on ad infinitum.

Myles, the older one, is sprawled out on his stomach in our bed, his spiky, mushroom cap hair flying in 50 directions, his long legs splayed everywhere, and he is re-reading, yes you read that correctly, re-reading Insurgent, a book that couldn’t be more in synch with what he loves: scrappy, underdog, outcast girl discovers she is special and then kicks all kinds of butt.

Continue Reading…

Fatherhood, Guest Posts, Inspiration, Truth

Now Is An Uncomfortable Place To Be. By Carvell Wallace.

September 29, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-blackBy Carvell Wallace. 

Sometimes I have dreams where I wake up crying. Intensely. Childishly. These are dreams about a broken heart. Usually at the end of a love affair.

But last night I dreamt about Ferguson. We were there. My kids and I. There were railroad tracks. Singing. Candles and crepuscular bands of light silhouetting black bodies against the sky. I don’t remember what happened, but in the dream we failed. Somehow we failed. And I was wailing alone like a motherless child.

I kinda stopped posting about Ferguson or about police. Because there’s so much. So many unarmed people shot, killed, and beaten by police. I mean, we’re all kind of scrolling past now, aren’t we? Video shows police shoot unarmed man. Video shows suspect had his hands up. Video contradicts police story, Man in wheelchair beaten by police. See the shocking video. Woman kicked in the face by police. Pregnant woman slammed to ground by police. See the shocking video. Police arrest woman waiting for her children to use the bathroom, Police taze man waiting for his daughter to get out of daycare. See the shocking video. Police shoot man for following the directions The Police gave him. My feed would be 100% this. There would no longer be a Carvell. Just post after post after post to prove that it matters. That it’s happening and it matters. Continue Reading…

Uncategorized

One Dad’s Search for Beauty in His Daily Parenting Routine.

March 3, 2014

By Steve Edwards.

Before I tell you about the snowy owl I saw on Christmas or why I got pulled over by the police twice in the last three days, let me say a little about my life and daily routine. I’m a husband, a father of a four-year-old boy with special needs, and I have (and my wife does, too, for that matter) a full-time job. I teach a 4/4 load as an assistant professor—writing and literature courses, mostly—at a university in central Massachusetts, and the entirety of my paycheck goes to paying for my son’s medicine, doctor’s bills and specialized pre-school. My wife’s paycheck goes toward the rest of our expenses—rent, heat, food, student loans. We make good money but barely scrape by. Sometimes we try to laugh it off, calling it our “posh special needs lifestyle.”

I get up at six and make coffee. My wife has an hour commute and is out the door about the time our son leaps from bed and starts asking what’s for breakfast. I make him toast and get together his meds. He has four of them—I think. I’ve done this routine so many times, I do it without thinking at all really. But I think it’s four. Drops go in his milk. Then a plunger-vile of another prescription. Then a teaspoon of another. Then a capsule I break open over applesauce or sorbet.

After breakfast I turn on the TV for him so I can pack his lunch, pack my lunch, then set out his clothes for the day and iron my own clothes (though admittedly, I have a gray sweater and a pair of brown cords that are in pretty high rotation because they don’t have to be ironed.) Once I’ve gotten us ready for the day, my next big task is getting my son to put on his jacket. For some reason, the thought of wearing his jacket sends my son into apocalyptical fits. He will rage and cry and curl up in a ball in the corner. I would just take him outside without his jacket—hell with it—but it’s Massachusetts, and winter, and this morning it was 5 degrees. Some days, after I’ve gotten the jacket on him and gotten him out to the car, I say, “Oops. I forgot something inside. I’ll be right back.” Then I rush inside and let out a string of profanities at the top of my lungs.

After that, I drive an hour to my son’s special preschool (where, thank god, he gets amazing care and support). Then it’s another hour commute to my job. And that’s pretty much the morning—frenetic and mind-numbingly dull at the same time. The rest of the day, I meet with students and try to appear like a normal human to my colleagues who probably wonder why I am wearing that sweater and those cords AGAIN. After work, I race home, clean up the breakfast dishes and prepare dinner for my wife and son who are both exhausted from their days, and cranky (as am I, most nights). An hour of after-dinner television or music and it’s bedtime for my son. You can imagine how well this goes over: he yells, screams, swats at us, cries his eyes out, and then—once he’s finally in bed—turns so angelic I hate to say goodnight because this is the only good part of the day. “Sing me a song, Daddy,” he says. “Sing me ‘Thunder Road.’”

And of course I do. You have to.

That’s a typical day for us in what has been anything but a typical year. At the end of the summer, I had a kidney stone and had to make a midnight run to the emergency room. Two days later, with no warning at all, our son’s preschool (a different one from where he goes now) said he needed a full-time aide or they wouldn’t allow him back. Spoiler alert: we didn’t think he needed a full-time developmental aide, and we couldn’t have afforded a full-time developmental aide even if we did. So they effectively booted him from preschool two days after my kidney stone and only a week before my fall semester started. After a mad scramble to find him a new school—because if we didn’t find him a new school, either my wife or I would have had to quit our jobs in order to pay for the services our son did, in fact, need—after all that, my wife got sick with pneumonia. She hacked and coughed and was practically bed-ridden for three and a half weeks in the month of October.

Then (yes, there’s more) after she had recovered, she slipped while carrying our sleeping boy from the car to the house and badly damaged her left knee. She was on crutches for a month, and, thankfully, only needed a cortisone shot and not full blown reconstructive surgery. But she was in severe pain every day, and it often woke her at night if she shifted in her sleep. And none of these challenges, of course, made it any easier for my wife or I to do our jobs, to work with our special needs child, or manage the bills that kept pouring in like so much floodwater in a basement.

So it doesn’t surprise me that, through it all, I forgot to get the sticker for my car that certifies it has been inspected by the state to meet emissions standards. In Massachusetts it’s something you have to do every year, and, as an environmentalist, I’m glad the state makes at least a cursory effort to protect our air and water. That’s why I drive a Prius—to lessen my environmental impact. But what can I say, Prius or not: I forgot to get the inspection. I didn’t have the sticker.

The first day I got pulled over was a Wednesday morning after a big snowstorm, and preschool had been delayed for two hours. This meant that instead of prepping for the class I had to teach that afternoon, I was watching Barney & Friends with my kid. I drove by the police car, it pulled out behind me and the lights came on.

The officer took my license and registration back to his cruiser and ran them through his computer, then returned and pointed out my expired state inspection sticker. I was frustrated by the delay in an already delayed day, and annoyed that that was the reason he had pulled me over (Didn’t he have something better to do?), but I thanked the officer for only giving me a warning ticket and was on my way. The encounter took about fifteen minutes, and I made mental plans to get the inspection on Saturday. Which is exactly what I explained to the officer who pulled me over this morning for the exact same reason. Only this time I was driving my son to an early 8 a.m. appointment with his speech therapist and we were on a busy stretch of road.

We were on a busy stretch of road at the busiest time of the morning commute. I passed the police car, thought about Wednesday morning’s episode, and breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t pull out behind me. But then—off in the distance, in my rearview mirror: flashing blue lights. Surely, I thought, he can’t be rushing after me. He wouldn’t force the eight or ten cars behind me, at the height of the morning commute, to pull over just so he could hassle me for having an expired state inspections sticker on my Prius on the way to take my special needs child to speech therapy.

Wrong.

“License and registration,” the officer said as the cars on the road whooshed by and my son repeatedly asked why the police man was talking to us.

I handed the officer my license and registration, and I showed him the warning ticket I’d gotten on Wednesday. I told him that I had made arrangements to get the inspection done on Saturday.

“Just be sure you do that,” he said sternly, handing back my papers. “You’re two months expired. You’re living on borrowed time.”

“I’m going Saturday,” I said again.

“It only takes fifteen-twenty minutes,” he said.

I told him a third time that I would get it done Saturday and thanked him, and after we had started off down the road and the officer had turned, I banged the steering wheel and in frustration yelled, “FUCK!”

And in back my son said, “FUCK!”

Before we got pulled over this morning, I had been thinking that I would write something about Beauty and the necessity of Beauty for getting through hard times. I had been thinking about our trip on Christmas Day. We drove out to the coast, north of Boston—just the three of us—to gorgeous Plum Island and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It was cold but clear. Fourteen degrees. Breezy. Along one of the roads by the water some cars were stopped, and some people had big-lensed cameras held up to their faces. They had spotted a snowy owl. At my wife’s suggestion, I pulled over and grabbed my binoculars and ran out to catch a glimpse of the bird.

Before getting pulled over this morning, I thought I would reflect on the incredible and almost healing beauty of that owl’s stoic countenance among the rustling beach grasses, the Atlantic gleaming like a dark blue crystal in the distance. I wanted to say: THIS. This matters. Beauty matters.

But after getting pulled over, that sweet thought was gone, replaced by adrenaline and anger and resentment.

I wanted to tell the officer that I didn’t have fifteen minutes to just buzz by and get an inspection, that we all lived on borrowed time. I wanted to tell my son not to say the F-word. I wanted to tell myself not to say the F-word in front of my son. I wanted my wife to again be the healthy, happy and wonderful woman I had married five years ago, and I wanted to again be her healthy, happy and wonderful husband, and not the sleep-deprived, stressed out, anxious, grumpy mess I had become. I wanted my son to just be better. To be healed somehow. To not yell and scream and cry all the time. To not be overcome by mysterious waves of gut pain. To not say to his mother in stern tones: “Mommy, you are NOT my friend! YOU ARE NOT!” I wanted us all to feel good for a change. I wanted that, and the only thing I could do was to keep driving and breathe deep and hope that that owl might glide back into my thoughts on silent wings.

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*This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Steve Edwards lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son. He is author of the memoir Breaking into the Backcountry, the story of his seven months of solitude as the caretaker of a 95-acre homestead along the Rogue National Wild and Scenic River in southern Oregon. You can find him online at steveedwardswriter.com and @The_Big_Quiet on Twitter.

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer living on an airplane and the founder of The Manifest-Station.  She’s leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing for all levels. She and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up is NYC in March followed by Dallas, Seattle and London. 

Inspiration, Q & A Series

Cameron Mathison: From Good Morning America Correspondent to Family Man. The Manifestation Q&A Series.

May 2, 2012

Welcome to The Manifestation Q&A Series.

 I am Jennifer Pastiloff and this series is designed to introduce the world to someone I find incredible. Someone who is manifesting their dreams on a daily basis.

Someone like Cameron Mathison.

I first met Cameron in December when Good Morning America came to film my Karaoke Yoga class at Equinox. I knew I liked him right away when I offered to give him one of my Manifestation t-shirts which I sell to raise money for Prader Willi Research (you can see him wearing it in the segment) and he insisted to pay for it. I told him it was a gift and he refused. I knew right then and there, before we even began to film, just what kind of guy this handsome man was. He may be beautiful on the outside (and he is folks, he is) but, I can assure you, he is way more beautiful on the inside. He fished in his pockets and found $25 and made me take it knowing where the money was going. (My nephew has a rare genetic disorder called Prader Willi Syndrome.)

The whole room was meant to sing for the duration of the class but right away I asked Cameron if he wanted to do a duet with me. (Mind you, I cannot sing at all.) For me, it was a way to get way out of my comfort zone. He said no.

Sweetly, of course.

He then turned around and said he would sing the duet. He too would conquer his fear.

Yes!

It was at that moment I knew that I really loved this guy.

Needless to say, we sang a duet of “I Got You Babe” and it was one of the best moments of my entire life. My cheeks hurt from laughing. I had never felt such pure joy and such freedom. I also knew I had made a new friend.

Click here to watch us on Good Morning America.

Singing "Let It Be" during my Karaoke Yoga Class at Equinox for Good Morning America

Cameron is inspiring on so many levels. He travels nonstop for Good Morning America, and yet and still, is an incredibly devoted father and husband. He practices and teaches meditation and is committed to serving others in a way I haven’t seen in many actors. He truly makes me want to be a better person, and that folks, is the kind of friend I want.

I might also add that one of the things that I find most inspiring and refreshing about him is his devotion to meditation. We can all learn from him. (Or, at least I can, with my monkey mind.) Below he says: Through meditation I have recognized that all the happiness there is in the world comes from wishing others to be happy.

Does it get any better than that?

His answers below are honest and funny, inspiring and authentic. Cameron Mathison is someone you should know. 

Below he says “I truly feel that my success has been largely because I try to be appreciative, kind and I ALWAYS try to enjoy what I do.” I can safely say that Cameron is waling the talk. That is exactly how he comes across.

It is my greatest delight to share his delicious gems with you today. 

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are you most proud to have manifested in your life?

Cameron Mathison: A family so full of love. We are so incredibly close it’s amazing. Just this morning my 5 yr old daughter said she wanted to marry her brother Lucas. Then she added… And Daddy! Just lots of love.

We are a family that tries to emphasize Love and kindness. We take the kids to a Sunday morning “Dharma for Kids” class where there is a little meditation and a teaching on Love, patience, generosity, compassion etc… So sweet.

We really feel grateful for what we have and continue to try and bring meaning into our lives by being a benefit to others. I think I’m most proud to have manifested that. A family that seems to be on a spiritual path together:)

Jennifer Pastiloff: A mantra I love by is “I do what I love and I love what I do.” You seem to embody this as well. Have you always lived this way?

Cameron Mathison: I truly feel that my success has been largely because I try to be appreciative, kind and I ALWAYS try to enjoy what I do. Even during the most challenging times in my career I really try to smile and have a positive attitude. I also try not to grasp too much at my job being a true source of happiness. I enjoy it and I am so grateful, but it’s not how I define myself. I wasn’t always that way, which was difficult when things wouldn’t go they way I had hoped. I try to keep a much healthier perspective regarding work which allows me to enjoy it even more.

Jennifer Pastiloff: I know you are pretty serious about your meditation practice. Can you share with us a bit about that and about your teaching?

Cameron Mathison: Meditation has changed my life. It has shown me how our experience of our world is totally dependent on our mind. Studying meditation makes clear nothing is fixed and is completely fluid and changeable. Engrained habits of body, speech and mind can be completely reversed through a meditation practice and in doing so attaining a much more stable and genuine happiness. Nobody is inherently angry or bad, nobody is forever one way or the other. Meditation is an extremely powerful tool to make changes in our life that lead to deep happiness regardless of our external conditions… And in doing so, we become such a benefit to those around us. All based on the fact that true happiness comes from inner peace. We know this from experience… Sometimes when things are going well in our lives we can still get upset or depressed if our mind is not peaceful. In the same way, when things externally may be falling apart, we can still be peaceful and happy if our mind is peaceful. Meditation is a phenominal tool to develop lasting peace and happiness.

Yes, I occasionally get the opportunity to teach classes at Kadampa Meditation Center. Its an extremely meaningful way for me to volunteer my time:)

Jennifer Pastiloff: Who/what inspires you the most?

Cameron Mathison: People that devote their life to benefitting others. Massively inspiring to me. Something that I continually try to improve… My ability to benefit others.

Jennifer Pastiloff: What is the greatest lesson you have learned from your children?

Cameron Mathison: That I have a lot of work to do on myself! They are the ultimate teachers. I am a very involved dad and I never want to stop trying to improve myself for their benefit and the benfit of others. My kids can show me the areas I still need work on:)

I feel like our time here on this earth is very short in the grand scheme of things and I want to use my time here to become the best person I can be.

My kids show me that I can become more patient (especially at homework time!), a better listener (when I have tons of other things to attend to). They have shown me how deeply it is possible to love… How wonderful if we could expand that love to others!

The Mathison family.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From being an actor?

Cameron Mathison: Hmmm…. What have I learned from being an actor? To be less self aware. I think in order to be a good actor on some level you have to not worry about what others are thinking. To truly lose yourself in a role. I think before I began acting I was too concerned about what others thought of me. Through my career I was able to start letting that go.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From being married?

Cameron Mathison: That it takes work. That life becomes so meaningful when we work and try to improve ourselves. That taking responsibilty for OUR part in any conflict is so incredibly important. That blaming is toxic. It’s through my wife that I found the meditation practice I study so there’s no way to express my gratitude. The love and connection we have is beyond what I thought was possible, and it’s largely due to being on a spiritual journey together.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From your meditation practice?

Cameron Mathison: That true, real happiness comes from within… From inner peace. In general we try to solve our problems externally. Fixing a situation “out there”. New partner, new job, new house, change this or that. Arranging our externals so we can be “happy”. That happiness generally is only temporary. By training in meditation we can be happy “no matter what”. It’s so liberating. Of course we still try to fix a diff situation when we can, but meditation has taught me that the real the real source of happiness is a peaceful mind.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From teaching meditation?

Cameron Mathison: That I have so much to learn. Sometimes its hard to express my experience with meditation to a class. I guess because my “self” still gets in the way… Can’t wait to get out of my own way and simply just try to benefit others. It’s such powerful stuff. Luckily I have an incredible teacher so I just have to follow his lead.

The bulk of the classes are guided meditations with some Buddhist philosophy and teachings in Between.

Of course by having the opportunity to teach, I end up learning SO much about what I’m teaching.

Jennifer Pastiloff: From singing a duet with me on Good Morning America?

Cameron Mathison: That I conquered yet another fear!!! You helped me with that! Never thought I would do that.

Cameron Mathison: What has been your favorite part about being a correspondent for GMA?

Cameron Mathison: GMA has given me the chance to literally learn and expand a whole new career. They have been beyond kind to me. I love my job with them. Not only because I get to do all sorts of fun segments, but because they are like an extended family. Beyond grateful for the continued opportunities there.

Jennifer Pastiloff: Who has been your greatest teacher?

Cameron Mathison: That’s an easy one: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. He is an internationally known meditation master and phenomenal teacher and author that is guiding so many people to find true lasting happiness:)

Jennifer Pastiloff: If you weren’t acting and being a host what would you be doing?

Cameron Mathison: Hmmmm… I used to say a ski instructor in the winter and work at a golf club in the summer. I’m not sure anymore. Maybe a full time volunteer:) 

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are some words you live by?

Cameron Mathison: 

Happiness comes from inner peace.

Be kind.

We can do anything we put our minds to. The mind is infinitely powerful.

Jennifer Pastiloff: Let’s talk Twitter. I love what you tweet. How has social media played a part in your life and your career?

Cameron Mathison: Thanks for saying that. I try to balance the everyday “what I’m working on” stuff, with some meaningful spiritual tweets. I find it very hard to balance it. I actually don’t think I am very good at it! I’m trying!

I’m not sure how social media has affected my life and career. Well, I do host an online show as well part owner of the app FRIENDTHEM, so I guess it has affected my career! Both opportunities have been absolutely great. Very grateful.

I think we have to be a little careful because It sure can be a big distraction if you let it. There is pressure out there to tweet about different jobs etc… But I really like to use it as a way to put out some good energy:)

Jennifer Pastiloff: What was it like being on the red carpet at this year’s Oscars?

Cameron Mathison: So cool! I was on the red carpet, then back stage during the show for a live web cast, and then GMA the next morning. What an experience.

Jennifer Pastiloff: My sister Rachel, whose one son has Prader Willi Syndrome asked me to ask you the following: How does one continue to manifest your dreams while being a parent? I watch you travel so much and I am fascinated by how you juggle it all.

Cameron Mathison: Great question. The answer is I pretty much cut out everything else in my life! Until I find a bit more balance with work, the only things I’m doing these days are work and be a dad (all while integrating my spiritual practice). I literally schedule my flights and trips around pick up and drop offs at school:)

Cameron and his kids.

Jennifer Pastiloff: Do you practice yoga?

Cameron Mathison: No:(

I certainly have the wish! Vanessa and i even had someone come to our house to try and do private classes so we could fit it into out life. Didn’t last:(

Help me Jen!!!

(Note from Jen: ask and you shall receive.)

Jennifer Pastiloff: Gratitude is the greatest force In my life. Most of my classes are set to this theme. If you could say thank you right now, who would it be to?

Cameron Mathison: I literally don’t have the time to write the list it would be so long!

The obvious ones are my parents, wife, kids and My spiritual teacher Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

I really try to be grateful all the time.. To everyone. I train in it actually. It’s such a powerful mind. Even the people that might seem unkind can be seen as people to be grateful to. For helping me train in patience, compassion, love etc…

Jennifer Pastiloff: When is the last time you have laughed at yourself?

Cameron Mathison: All the time! I think laughing at oneself is a great way not to take ourselves too seriously.

(Note from Jen: My most famous rule in my yoga class, as Cameron very well knows, is if you fall you MUST laugh.)

Jennifer Pastiloff: What is your favorite memory?

Cameron Mathison: I’m not sure if these are my actual top 3… But they are up there:)

1) The birth of both my kids. In an instant when Lucas and Leila came into the world my life had greater meaning. It’s very hard to explain, but it was like my first real experience of how blissful it is to be more concerned about others than myself. Of course I thought about others before that, but this was on such a deeper level.

2) A sort of meditation retreat I did in Brazil. My spiritual teacher was giving teachings at this remote temple in Brazil and I flew down to listen and meditate. There was no cell service or emails or any distractions like that. All I did was listen to beautiful teachings, meditate and volunteer. I remember noticing such freedom from any negativity in my mind. Totally free from anger, attachment, craving, jealousy or any agitation. Just a truly peaceful mind.

It made me realize the potential we all have. 

3) Our honeymoon. It was 7 years late so I thought I had to go all out! We were in the Maldives and it ws the first time we had been away from the kids like that. Really spectacular time together. I will never forget it.


Jennifer Pastiloff: How has meditation changed your life?

Cameron Mathison: I’ll try to keep this short because I could talk about it all day:)

Meditation has had the single biggest positive impact on my life.

We live in a world where it seems we are encouraged to do everything possible to distract ourselves. Internet, tv, movies, video games, cell phones, ipads, etc… Its so rare to take an opportunity to look “inward”.

I couldn’t even go across town in a cab in NYC without plugging into my iPod, or getting on my cell phone. Literally I panicked when I was somewhere alone and couldn’t “tune out” through distractions. I had literally never been alone with my own mind in a still and peaceful way. Whenever problems arose I would just try to adjust “externals” to fix them. I would also try to numb out through distractions and objects of attachment. That would work for a little while but it never lasted.

Meditation changed all of that.

When faced with adversity I learned first to look inward to solve the problem. Of course I still try to adjust situations externally if I can, but the key is to do it with a calm and peaceful mind.

My meditation practice has brought inconceivable meaning to my life.

I have learned to watch my mind and see what thoughts are beneficial and lead to real happiness, and which thoughts are deceptive and lead to agitation and suffering.

I have learned that if I change my mind, I change my perception of the world.

I have learned how much more of a benefit I can be to others by watching and training in virtuous states of mind.

Through meditation I have recognized that all the happiness there is in the world comes from wishing others to be happy.

I should point out that we don’t need to be sitting in formal meditation to meditate. We can do it anytime in anyplace! Some of my best insights come to me meditating in a car, walking, or on a plane:)

 

Jennifer Pastiloff: What’s next for you? 

Cameron Mathison: Wish I knew. So much change in my life lately. It’s been a great opportunity to practice acceptance and patience. Whatever is coming my way I hope I handle it with a happy mind:)


Cameron at the Oscars!

The beautiful Mathison family.

Cameron on Dancing With The Stars:

Clip of the class singing “Let It Be” during Karaoke Yoga:


Follow Cameron Mathison on Twitter here for daily doses of inspiration and to see where in the world his adventures with GMA take him.

Jennifer Pastiloff is currently a writer for Positively Positive and is writing her first book. She travels the world leading Manifestation Retreats and workshops. When she is not traveling, she is based in Los Angeles where she leads public and private yoga classes. To book a workshop with Jen or to buy a Manifestation t-shirt to raise money for Prader Willi Syndrome please visit jenniferpastiloff.com

Connect with Jen on Facebook 

Connect with Jen on Twitter

Cameron and I after we filmed for GMA. Sweaty and happy.

Inspiration, Q & A Series

Alimi Ballard: Divine Source of Inspiration. The Manifestation Q&A Series.

January 16, 2012

Welcome to The Manifestation Q&A Series. 

I am Jennifer Pastiloff and this series is designed to introduce the world to someone I find incredible. Someone who is manifesting their dreams on a daily basis.

Alimi Ballard

Dear Manifesters, I have been bugging this guy for ages and it has finally happened! He did a Q&A! I have known Alimi Ballard for about 15 years. I first met him when I was working at the Newsroom Cafe and his girlfriend Dahn (now wife) became my regulars over a period of 13 years. I watched them grow and marry and have kids. 

This is a special guest for many reasons. He has seen me on my journey in a way most have not. He has watched me transform into what I am now, and, he is one of my biggest champions. He is also my go-to source for inspiration.

Alimi is an actor by trade but I think of him as my spiritual guru. I stalk his Twitter and Facebook daily for positive messages and simply to feel good. ( I recommend you do the same.) I find people in my life who I want to model my life after and he is at the very top of my list. His positivity is infectious, Manifesters. 

You may recognize from the film Fast 5 or the tv show Numb3rs, where he was one of the leads. I want you to get to know him because he is a divine source of inspiration, wisdom, joy, and goodness for me. He is an amazing father, husband, actor, friend, and teacher. His answers below made me smile as I knew they would. It is my greatest honor to introduce you to one of my oldest regulars from my waitressing days who is now one of my dearest friends and teachers.

Jennifer Pastiloff: What are you most proud to have manifested in your life?

Alimi Ballard: Most proud of manifesting….well co-manifesting ( the wife and GOD had a part in it too 😉 the two DAZZLING, DYNAMIC, DIVINE souls that are my children.

– Secondly, it would be MANIFESTING my path.. my earth-walk.. my calling.. my way.. having discovered why I AM HERE. 🙂

Jennifer Pastiloff: What is the greatest lesson you learn from your kids?

Alimi Ballard: Humility. I believe, if you are paying attention, the presence of children reconnects you to GOD. To that vast other side. The very act of them EXISTING from a drunken night of naughtiness with my wife STILL bugs me out. I can always FEEEEEEL the aspect of life that is BIGGER than what I can put my two hands on, when I see them.

Jennifer Pastiloff:  You are such a source of positive inspiration for me and for so many people. Where does all this positivity stem from?

Alimi Ballard: About two year ago something happened to me. In the most mundane of events, I was watching a music video ( yup, it was Wale ‘Nike Boots’ ) and had an epiphany. Hahahahahahaaa….I kid you not. I’m watching, enjoying the song and BAM, a light comes on. I realized that I didn’t have to WAIT to make a difference. I could affect POSITIVE CHANGE from right where I was at AT the moment. What I have to give.. share.. offer.. is ready right now. “You can make a DIFFERENCE….no matter WHO you are. No matter WHERE you are.”

Jennifer Pastiloff: What can we expect Alimi to be manifesting for 2012?

Alimi Ballard: My first BILLBOARD!!!! Look for me on the side of the BUS when you’re in traffic. 🙂

Jennifer Pastiloff: If you could say thank you to one person right now, who would it be?

Alimi Ballard: Kwasi. He was a father figure to me from about 10 months to 4 years. 

Jennifer Pastiloff: Who/what inspires you the most?

Alimi Ballard: The ACT of sharing that INNER LIGHT that LIBERATES, HEALS & TRANSFORMS. Whether you’re on a street corner, Thanksgiving diner or in a Yoga Studio you can sometimes FEEL it. Sometimes you can FEEL when the air is charged with that special BUZZ that gives off goosebumps. OOOOHHHWEEEEE!!!!!

Jennifer Pastiloff: When was the bets part of working on Fast 5?

Alimi Ballard: Running the risk of playing favorites, it was Dwayne THE ROCK Johnson. I’ve been in the ent. industry for about 20yrs and know that how people SEEM, may not always match up when you meet them in person. I can honestly say that Dwayne exceeds all expectations of Graciousness, Warmth & Sincerity. Being roughly the sized of a Sherman tank, it would be so easy to have an intimidating persona. THE EXACT OPPOSITE. 🙂 The man is like the Mayor wherever he goes. Humility in ACTION is such sight to behold.

Jennifer Pastiloff: I see you are directing now. How did that come about and can we expect more of that in the future?

Alimi Ballard: I haven’t gotten to directing just yet, but I have begun producing and writing. The 1st short film I’ve produced, along with my wife ( she also wrote it :), ‘INTERCEPTION’ it getting great Film Festival reception. YES!!! 

Currently developing an action based web series that I COULD NOT BE MORE EXCITED ABOUT!!!! So yes, more behind the camera fun-ness in the future. 🙂 

Jennifer Pastiloff: I miss seeing you on my tv screen weekly. Any plans to return to episodic television?

Alimi Ballard: MANIFESTING as we speak. 🙂 Very Excited!!!

Jennifer Pastiloff: If there was one message you could share with people who want to manifest their dreams, what would it be?

Alimi Ballard: “Visualize this thing you WANT. See it, feel it, BELIEVE in it. Make your mental BLUEPRINT and begin.” – Robert Collier (Note from Jen: this is manifesting folks! This it it!)

Jennifer Pastiloff: I have a list of rules. See below. What would some of Alimi’s rules be…..

Alimi Ballard: Be KIND

– Be THANKFUL

– Do as much GOOD wherever and WHENEVER you can.

– Worrying is a habit….STOP THAT!!!

– Learn to love yourself FIRST, before trying to LOOOOOOOOOVE anybody else. ( It’s like being on a plane when the Oxygen masks fall. Put yours on FIRST, then get to the person next to you. 🙂

– Nobody is allowed in the bathroom when daddy is occupying the throne. PERIOD!

– This life is NOT a dress rehearsal. This is the BIG SHOW….and the clock is ticking. BRING THE RAUCOUS BABY!!!!

Jennifer Pastiloff: Where can we find more of you?

Alimi Ballard:www.InspirationWorks.Tumblr.com

– www.AlimiBallard.net

– www.Twitter.com/AlimiBallard

– www.Facebook.com/AlimiBallardFampage

Jen Pastiloff’s rules:

1. Be Kind.

2. Have a sense of humor especially when it comes to yourself

3. Write poems, even if only in your head

4. Sing out loud, even if badly

5. Dance

6. If you don’t have anything nice to say… you know the deal

7. Find things to be in awe of

8. Be grateful for what you have right now .

9. Watch Modern Family

10. Duh, do yoga

11. Don’t worry. Everyone on Facebook seems like they have happier and funner lives. They don’t.

12. Tell someone you love that you love them. Right now.

13.. Take more pictures.

14. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. No such thing.