Our Tribe. Our Problem. Our Challenge.

I am most proud this weekend that I still don’t know the name or what the shooter in Oregon even looks like. This is relevant to me because I choose not to make any judgements on who he is and just believe that he is another crazy fuck that has no regard for human life. I don’t have time for these people in my life. If he believes that this horrid act is worthy of recognition, he is as sick as I mentioned. Selfish to believe that his statement is important. Self-centered enough to consider his voice more important than those that lost their lives.

The tired same old arguments don’t do it for me anymore. Is it a mental issue? Is it a gun issue? Could someone have stopped this before it happened?

The answer is yes, yes and YES!

Does it matter that these question get asked when all we do is promise to pray for them to never happen again? Then we move on to our next tragedy in…T minus 5 1/2 weeks and counting. It is true that the world can be a cruel place but DAMN this is cruel.

It takes a tribe. This happened to all of us. We are all responsible for these incidents. We all will need to heal from this sad story.

I would find it surprising by now if we all haven’t had tragedy touch us in a personal way. A family member shot? A close friend beat down for being in the wrong place at a particular time? Someone we’ve met that went face to face with death? Hopefully survival was the outcome for these people in our lives. There is a good chance this may not be the case.

It may be hard to understand that statistics say our society is no more dangerous than it ever has been. Our ability to care has changed. We are more numb to these events because it is a part of our 24 hour news era. With this around-the-clock coverage, we feel much more and do much less.

Our elected leaders are entrusted by us to address problems and work on solutions. Our leaders are doing much less. At the same time, it is our responsibility as humans to consider others when acting. Society is doing much less. Corporations will not consider the fallout and effects of anyone beyond their shareholders even though consumers make them who they are. Business is doing much less.

This all seems a little selfish. Check that, it is a lot selfish. Sound like anyone else I just described?

It takes an effort from all to answer why or how we got here.

It takes a tribe because the tribe is all to blame. The tribe is responsible. The tribe has to live with this. The tribe can only fix this. The tribe may be made of individuals but standing as one will be our truest test.

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My Honorable Writing Peeps

As I sit here at the cutest and most classy pizza joint on the Island, Croll’s Pizza, I realize that I owe my self one. The fact that my hiatus has reached almost 2 months since I have offered a post, a drive over the bridge and a refreshing breeze seeping in the front door which I’m facing has me in the writing mood. My wandering thoughts in this new venture of life has me appreciating my opportunities at hand. Disgruntled and sour are not descriptions of my mood unlike the loudly opinionated gentleman to my left.

A question came to mind while sitting in the line waiting for the draw bridge to  drop. What about my writing group, continues giving me the feeling of belonging, when I have been a complete no-show for some time? The group may push for material and production but I have never heard judgement from any for excuses. Their diversity in interests and backgrounds can only be cherished by a person like-minded to myself. This means the stories are fresh and never ceased to grab my attention. I’ve always been a believer that everyone has a story and they are all worth hearing, mostly because that tale is not mine. The seed of that a person’s story is cultivated from within and the flowering is when it’s shared. I’m a fan of the bloom. I do my best to be a part of the nurturing of that process. This is why even in weeks that my blog has been absent, I do my best to water and shine light on my fellow Island writers that have the courage to share. That courage is not like going to war or saving someone in a burning building but wait, it just might be similar.

If a person is looking for the strength to overcome a tough breakup and how in the world do you get back on that horse for trusting or dating? You may have come across @b_louise_emery sharing this exact quandary and found a likeness to your situation. You may be a writer in the making but can’t seem to organize your plot or develop your characters? @Mishka824 has provided a multitude of how-to’s and game plans on trying to get over the hump. Integrating food with your mood, you may have wondered in what ways does this effect your well-being? I’m sure a stop by @SevaWellness could be a help and eye-opening study. Have you ever wondered if making a living as a writer is possible? How many hats need to be worn to make it as an author? In what ways is grinding it out as an author any different from the daily sweat required in your career or profession? You would appreciate the honesty, creativity and talents of @juliaparktracey as a grounded source from a Poet Laureate and published author many times over.

It should be made clear that it is a slight injustice to represent their blogging only to these particular bubbles because visiting their pages can give you much more. These are just a snapshot of some of the writers in this group I’ve come to cherish. These few writers that I’ve featured are only a smidgen of our writing ecosystem. I would not want to ignore our other talented bloggers. One of my favorite creative minds, @hrmaicy. @lmdaltonwrites is an entrepreneur, author and life coach that is the definition of grabbing ahold of life and dictating its direction for growth. While these featured writers are examples of some great bloggers that you may want to check out, I can’t understate the importance of what many others bring to the table. Many of us are in different stages of life with various goals in writing. This diversity has created a rich environment that can give a perspective of what it means to look inside and produce with the pen. As shameless as this plug might seem, I am proud to plug my friends without an ounce of shame whatsoever.

So for now, I’m a part-time participant but full-time supporter of all things, “To Live and Write in Alameda”.

The Uneasiness Of Reality

This could be a time of relief from the decisions made regarding the Confederate Flag. It seems awkward to capitalize that symbol of so much discourse. In many ways, I do find this historical. I have felt heavy-hearted thinking of the result of the shooting in Charleston. It happened so far from where I live, but the hate necessary to commit the act make it much closer to home. There is a thought that in California, we are living differently. I don’t see it that way. Just a stones throw outside of our metropolitans, racism and hate are alive a strong. I experienced a touch of this recently. It was not to the extent of Charleston, but still a reminder that it IS a part of our culture everywhere.

I can’t accurately estimate the amount of times that I have heard, “just let it go” or “that’s in the past.” I’ll tell you as a half black and white man, the number is staggering. The fact that talking heads from certain media outlets feed the public this argument, many factions of the public can’t help but to regurgitate what they’re fed. I’m aware enough to know that prejudice is a part of the human experience. Racism is a different and more visceral thing. When I experience or witness this action, no matter how small, it is a reminder to me that people can be judged by others that have no knowledge of their focussed hate. We all lump others in a common group to create comfort in ourselves. We do this to develop a plan on how to handle people or a situation. After all, it is uncomfortable for most to coldly enter an encounter that is foreign or unknown. It is a defense mechanism that prepares us for a possibly scary situation. If this is as far as you allow your thoughts to go, then I believe this is where people can differ.

Do you have empathy? Is it possible for you to imagine what it is like for another person?

A derogatory comment was made towards me a week ago regarding my race. It was not the first time this type comment was directed at me and it most definitely will not be the last. It was not meant to be demeaning I’m sure. I could easily write it off that the individual just slipped in an attempt at humor. Perhaps the amount of alcohol consumed in a setting not typical for this type of partying was to blame. But when I look around in the crowded setting I was in and realize that I’m the only one in the whole surrounding, it made me feel singled out and uneasy. It was an easy situation for me to fire back with the same tasteless banter but that was not my choice. I made this choice because of an empathy that I felt for a possible character flaw the person may suffer from as to why he decided to single me out. What I did do was file that comment and not forget it, so I can remember who I may be dealing with in the future. When I was singled out again in front of crowd of people this past weekend to make it a third time over two weekends, I have now formed an opinion of this person and his lack of empathy. After the last time, I chose to make a comment towards this person and was quickly hushed.

I’m writing this piece to give an example of how entrenched race and differences are felt in our society. It would be easy to think this is all just petty stuff that should be ignored. I mostly can say that this was ignored by me but the relationship has been defined. My choice will be to not take this experience into the next time an encounter similar occurs. I’m not sure this can be said for this other person I’m describing. When a majority group or person from that group chooses to single out someone from a minority group or impose their dominance over another, we are seeing exactly how racism works.

I’m happy the flag is coming down. I’m not confident that a single thing will change or improve. Steps towards more tolerance will always be welcomed in my book. It does inspire me to see many faces of all races marching to support this movement. I choose to not let my will be broken. I’m not living, if I’m not evolving.

Embrace diversity is my motto.

Water Chestnuts

I often write of reflections in life. The truth is that I am often a jovial light-hearted person and not always so deep. I decided to lighten the mood this week. This is my first poem about a small fear in my life:

The Water Chestnut

Angst and trepidation
Queasy nervousness
Unsettled gut-wrenching doubt

As unpredictable as a 12 to 6 Uncle Charlie
My knees buckle from the horrid and gnarly
My mind perplexed as to why this has been served?

I can treat this as a passing fad
Or I can dive in with reckless abandon
Hit the sweet spot with the precision of a feasting hummingbird
How does that little bugger know?

If I’m to figure this out
The conscious must clear
At this very moment
Memories of the past are cast to oblivion

My plate may be full but not from my service
Send back the fresh tomatoes
Sticking that cucumber in any hole of convenience
Would be a fine repurposing.

Water chestnuts were born of an evil warlord
This warlord prides itself in the delivery of nothingness
Microscopic itsy bitsy taste buds Asleep
Weakened wasted disappointment for 4 of the 5 senses
Only the ears bear any gratitude in this mashup.

Grueling decisions can cripple the mood
Bulging protrusions from under my brow
Tell the story of discontent

As to not offend
To not cause strife
Secret feelings towards these perishables
Can monkey wrench my life

Master Of My Mediocrity

In a less than spectacular fashion, I have the incredible talent of learning new skills fairly fast. I also have the ability to quickly find satisfaction in this early adoption of most things and to then move on to my next challenge. In many instances, our kids are taught to find and focus on the one thing they do well then beat that talent into the ground. Does your child show a talent and the pipes for singing? Maybe your kid has the eye and hand coordination necessary to smack a baseball or softball? Your kid might have the ferocious and fearless attitude it takes for downhill skiing? A term used far to often in my opinion is God-given-talent. It’s a way of creating a comfort in both the parents and child that destiny has already determined the inevitable success coming. This is not an attempt to take cheap shots at setting goals and fighting hard to achieve them. I’m not sure that those that live by that creed understand the education in experience that I learned.

As a very young boy, I was enamored by the concept of the Renaissance Man. If I was introduced to somebody that was described as a Jack/Jill of all trades, like a sponge was my attention. It was my desire to learn a little about everything rather than everything about one thing. Perhaps it was my Latchkey schooling that fueled my appreciation for different and diverse interests? I know that sports was a big influence in my house and my father’s rooting rotated with the sport of the season. This constant change meant I was always joining a new sport and trying something new. I sang in choirs and acted in plays. I went to arts and crafts summer camps in the Redwoods of Northern California. I spent at least a month in Central Washington for many years. My thirst to open my eyes to new experiences was great. I knew my commitment to the many teams I played on was not the same as my teammates. Even more important for me was that I had tons of teammates that span multiple sports and hobbies. There wasn’t one friend I had that left practice early to make it to drama rehearsals or vice versa. My friends spanned every background, culture and economic faction of the community. Weekends at my friend’s houses were wonderful. I wouldn’t trade my rich injections of diversity with any kid that played year-round baseball. How miserable I would have felt spending mornings before school, 3 hours after and every weekend working on one dream!

I only refer to a single interest as a dream because the numbers tell the story. If this narrowed focus paid off, it could mean a trip to the pinnacle. This pinnacle was not the end result for most. By most, I mean 1% is a generous number in the sports I played. My father is a practical thinker. I get this way of seeing the world from him. I would never tell a person dedicated to following their dream to quit. I would not hesitate to tell a person the odds on successfully reaching them if they asked me for my thoughts. When I think of the pure number of experiences I have gone after in my life, my advice would be to make smiles and laughter your top priority. I’ve listened to my elders. Their advice and regrets sound quite similar more often. They wished they had done and lived more. I am happy that I paid attention to their advice.

In the end, I will not attain the success of Michael Jordan or Yoyo Ma. In my least cynical voice, 99% of the people I walk past everyday will not achieve this success either. I can live with this fact in all the glory of my mundane existence. I am the master of my mediocrity.

A Day In The Wine Country Via Texas

Last week I spent a day in the Napa Valley. Rutherford Appalachian would be the venue for my family to escape from the impending angst that my Father was facing a couple of days later. He has dealt with the specialist, MRI and probing sessions for months. Cancer was floating around in his body eluding the doctors many radiation treatments like a tiny cracked piece of egg-shell avoiding the attempts to retrieve it out of the yolk before scrambling. They located some on his neck back in December. Then later, his troubling leakage in his left eye turned out to be more on his eyelid. Finally the tumor was found and it was good and frightening at the same time. The tumor had surrounded that left eye on both sides of his socket and they explained that it appeared to be aggressively spreading. There was no hesitation in the decision that he would have to have his eyeball removed to perform the surgery. The thought that this sweet man, who made all the right moves in his life and never missed regular appointments regarding his health, was catching another tough break. Cancer is a cruel visitor that doesn’t wait for an invitation to enter. Cancer doesn’t just take over cells. Cancer takes over lives and upstage all other plans on the agenda.

 

I received a call from his wife to see if I would like to have a family day in the wine country before his daunting surgery. It would be the two of them with my sister and myself traveling to the soul-healing majestic Napa Wineries. She wanted to know if I would induce my knowledge of wine and schedule a tour of a few wineries ending at one of my sister’s favorite restaurants, The Rutherford Grill. I had spent the last six years learning all things wine in what most would imagine an unlikely place, Texas. I grew up in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area with no knowledge or love for wine and it wasn’t until the economic crash in California did I find myself searching for new pastures in Texas. Within a year, I had hooked on with a liquor and wine retailer. It wasn’t until then did grow an appreciation for libations that would see this fermented juice from the gods as more than a way of getting blitzed. I worked hard in my field and was quickly named manager of a store that carried more than 1,000 different labels and a classroom that we used educating the public. I received training from my company on the nuances of wine. Old world versus New world styles. How viticulture and viniculture affect the quality of the finished product. I studied the typical styles that were produced from the various countries around the globe. Suddenly the names on bottles had meaning to me and I would spend time infecting other newcomers with this information in classes that I taught. I was no longer on the fringes and now a part of this culture. A culture that was only a stones throw away from where I had spent most of my life.

 

Rutherford Canyon is stuffed full of history with some of the most famous wine makers in the world. I studied the map intensely to give the family an unforgettable experience. My goal was to visit some wineries that they could then find on the shelves when shopping. I also wanted to let them explore some different varietals to open their opinion of more than their favorites. With so many different labels and styles when shopping, it can be extremely intimidating exploring new wines. This often leads people to reaching for the same familiar bottle of Ménage A Trois or Kendall Jackson. Wines like these have their place in the world but there are so many others that fit the bill with subtle differences at the same price. Finding a new gem to add to the collection is one of my favorite aspects of wine tastings. Girgich Hills, full of expert wine making and a history unmatched was a favorite of ours. In the early 1970’s, California was struggling to establish a presences in the wine world. Girgich Hills entered their Chardonnay in a blind tasting in France and was awarded best-in-show. Although our server explained that everything about the movie Bottle Shock was inaccurate, She did assure us that it was accurate in that we were standing on the property that inspired and changed how California wines would be viewed forever. I’m a true lover of a story entrenched in history. Sequoia Grove and Louis Martini were great hosts as well. As we wrapped up our day, The Rutherford Grill was a perfect last stop. To tie up my visit in a zen-like way, I enjoyed the BBQ pork ribs sauced with Texas Hill Country BBQ sauce. It only felt right to include Texas on this trip.

 

You our know that feeling when you are staunch in your belief system but have room for an outsider view to seep in just a little bit? The idea that things happen for a reason is a view that would ask me to believe that some sort of other-worldly force is determining every move. I generally have a tough time buying into that belief. As we exited out of the winding highway 12, I contemplated whether something called me to Texas to only bring me back home. Did I travel 2,000 miles away for 6 years to appreciate more, my family and home? I’m not so sure that’s how it works but I left California for a reason. I found work in a field that eventually delivered me an appreciation for wine that others travel the world to experience. If I’m to let soak this theory, I will attest that life and the world truly do work in mysterious ways.

 

Dad’s surgery went extremely well. I, like my family and friends, hope that he is out of the woods and there will be many more visits to the beautiful California Wine Country.

The Summer I Drove 8,000 Miles

It was the summer of 1998. This was 2 years after my Mother lost her battle with cancer. I was spiraling downward emotionally. Work was becoming my only activity which meant my education was taking a back seat. This was not necessarily the worst scenario if I was advancing up the chain with my company. I was not. I was in dire need of a reboot and my taste for adventures always seem to get me salivating with this teeter-totter of life. I was like a mad scientist on the brink of a potion that would turn life as we know it in a whole new direction. This was a road trip that make all the others I had taken pale in comparison. My potion would be Alaska!

I wasn’t looking for a week or two to help me reset. By all means, this was a much greater need I was feeling. Along with friends, I was thirsty to go long and far. I wanted to climb mountains and see wildlife. I wanted feel the strength of a group coming together and willing to lean on each other to accomplish a dream we all wished for at one time or another. If I was going to discover the burning desire to challenge myself, driving the Al-Can highway would be a perfect journey. I planted the seed with my friends that this calling inside me needed to be fed. As this trip became closer to reality, more friends signed on with an enthusiastic and enlightened look of the possibilities. I spoke with many people not involved about my adventure. Time and time over I was met with feelings of lost dreams by others that explained that this trip was a dream that they never accomplished because of careers, family or simply not grabbing the opportunity for fear of not being the right time. Suddenly I was filled with the responsibility of carrying a trunk full of regrets. These regrets were explained that it was an often visited emptiness in there consciousness that they would have chosen differently if they could rewind the clock. Alaska was evolving into something bigger as every day passed.

There was only one thing notched in the plans. On the mouth of the Kasilof River, a wonderful couple spent many summers in charge of a salmon processing plant that assured us of jobs and a shanty of plywood cabins that we could call home for 2 months. Picking the route was in our hands. I have always been a passionate road map nerd and could lose myself in the rivers, mountains and parks plotted out in an atlas. The long meandering roads were not going to be rushed. We made the pledge to do about 300 to 500 miles a day. We would stop at any landmark or vista that grabbed our attention. If we stopped to camp at a place that was one-of-a-kind, we would make it a 2 day stay. By making this our only guidelines, we spent 15 days on the road soaking in every mountain, spring, lake, landmark, city, and rural native town we rolled up on. The wildlife you ask? Fugettaboudit! I can only give an example that sums this up. Imagine traveling on a gravel highway in northern British Columbia, we come around the bend and see break lights on the few cars on the road and look to my left to be only 20 yards from a Black Bear chilling in the sun and picking berries. Mind you, this was only minutes after we had stopped watching a Moose bathing in the river which we only noticed because a Bald Eagle was fishing and a stretching of our legs was suddenly welcomed. On that day, life was fabulous. In retrospect, Mother Nature was whispering to my soul to step back and understand that not just that day but all days are a blessing if I would just see what is happening around me.

The time I spent working at the fish camp was an experience unlike any other but this summer was split into two parts for me. The time on the road there and back was 27 days. It is this time that affected me in the most profound way. We camped in 30 different places. There was time of team work setting up camp and family dinners. There was also the unforgettable and retrospective times of solitude when I drifted away from camp to walk a trail or simply sit on the side of a lake drowned my concentration into a color of blue that I’d never experienced. Laughs and enjoying each other was unforgettable. Tensions that can only be felt when isolated in a car packed with everyone and everything needed for survival in the wild. Deep thinking about what this trip meant for me was the nucleus. There was this feeling of loss because my mother’s passing was still vivid in my mind. There was a great appreciation that ALL of this trip of a lifetime was only possible because of this same event. It was this dichotomy of life that made my journey so clear. I ventured off into the wilderness to light a torch to my mother’s life. The torch would burn out if I didn’t go after the life that she always wanted for me. Living a life of freedom and independence was a quality that she instilled in me. 8,000 miles of exploring every aspect of this journey was the message. I embraced her and myself fully everyday. When I returned home, life was seen through new eyes.