Use a Bigger Hammer

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It’s a Sunday. What does that mean to me?  it’s one of the two days I’m not strongly encouraged to attend two chapel times in return for having a roof and food.  It’s true everything has a price.  But is it one of the central tenet of the most faiths, charity through belief, more of an example to bring people in than demand observance?. Why is the field forfeited to those with a such a convert’s zeal? Those with a crusade attitude?  Is this only my experience? The ones that could answer that won’t read this blog. My road to non belief has been one of discovery. Time hasn’t worn down that curiosity driving to ask why.

The Reformation spun off chunks of the Catholic church.  The book reminded the same.  The focus changed. Today the traditional churches are losing numbers to the more bible based ones.  The message has been once more reshaped to fit the time.  That also opens the door to the loss of the history fostered by the traditional pathways to leaderships. Learning the history of the symbols, shapes and architecture has revealed the co opting of the beliefs that came before.  The shelter is an open door monastery.  Communal living. Shared meals. And an order imposed on the day. Except religious monasteries are self selecting communities with a common vision.  They willing live a life reflected of Christ. Having been on a week long retreat to such a community, I may have a better understanding than others.  That peace is shocking in its absence with the community run by Bigger Hammer crusaders. warrior against a secular world. History shows that wasn’t a great time to believe other than  the ones wielding a Holy sword.  Weapon and cross all in one.

We are not broken men. We are men with a number of chronic problems from years of abusing our bodies or  chemical imbalances in our brain that led to bad choices. Many struggle with what happens after the craziness is removed. That disconnect is a constant stress. Old habits and learned behaviors still exist to guide unconscious thoughts. No one would willing be where we are.  Life has a funny way of changing our plans.  The pastors, preachers and saved believe the answer is a all knowing, unseen God.  Except the same god that the highly successful quarterback who won the game is the same one the linebacker who missed the tackle prays to.  Playing favorites? Couldn’t say because he isn’t telling.  A series of small decision taken in my mixed up reality at the time has put me here. So my problems are caused by a force that could cure me but didn’t for some unknown reason.  A hidden reason that I will never know. And forcing me to be witnessed to for twenty five minutes twice a day will being understanding?

This was tried before. The Inquisition.  Convert or die.  In the case of Jews it didn’t matter except of paper. The ingrained social customs of history have been imbedded in how the church operates. Michigan winters are no joke.  Follow the rules have a warm place to stay. No one is kicked out they bring it on themselves. Fair point. Except the stress caused by all the factors creates the perfect environment for many to fail. Everyone except me is a Christian. Forcing chapel is making them angry. Being poor is hard. Staying positive is a struggle. Being older and knowing your future is not what you wanted it to be is hard. Being controlled by the bus schedule limits work options. Dealing with people who are have little to no social skills stirs it all up. Many compare it to prison or jail.  The stress of getting hit by the word of Jesus is one we don’t need.

My roommate has started sleeping more. It a response to all this. Depression. Look believe anyway you want.  I served to defend that freedom.  Militant Atheist are grouped with bigger hammer christians on the circle of extremes. Both are counter productive in the their stridency.  My non belief was not easy to admit.  It placed my outside of the larger population where I live. Bay City has a church and bar on every corner.  It’s also a diminishing city. Community connects become critical to stability. Slowly traditional stores are closing.  It’s becoming a seasonal destination. Fewer jobs,  rising cost equal more stress.  I am in a fundamental conflict with my basic needs and deeply held core values.  Where a discussion around deeply held principles become a high stakes gamble. I’ll let you want happens.

Expectations

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Going to use sports metaphors so bare with me.  Teams that should win play down to the level of their opponents. The cinderella teams during March Madness. Playoff eliminated teams play spoiler for those still in the chase. The question becomes why.  Professionalism only works for those getting paid. The argument could be made for the indirect payment for college athletics.Both through scholarships and major programs being NFL lite. What I believe is it starts with a leader. That uniquely indefinable brew of personality, belief, parent, mentor and disciplinarian. A wise man told me that all you can control is within armslength.  A situation. The environment. Anything. The power of one gets others to extend their arms to full extension.  Making the circle bigger. The strength comes not from touching fingers. It comes from locking waist and foremans together to form a solid base.

Any good salesperson knows that they sell the sizzle not the steak. The emotion of summer grilling with friends.  The taste of the almost perfect char on the tongue. It the idea of what will happen imagined by past experiences.  Many talking heads have bemoaned the lack of leadership in America.  Our collective past has witnessed by the Vanderbilts. Fords. US Steel. Massive public work projects that are now part of our language.  The Titans of today are the unseen world of medicine, physics and computers.  The ease in which we use these technological advances hides their very complexity. It’s reflect of our societal shift from the physical to the intellectual.  That’s been man path throughout history.  The difference now is the knowledge is diffused. We are no longer the sole keepers or guardians of progressive ideas and wisdom. This guarantees we won’t descend into those periods of ignorance again.  Except for those left behind in the rush toward the bright shiny future.

Where I’m at is a temporary respite from such a situation. So is everyone sharing the time space with me.  A constantly shifting cast of characters that leaves eddings in their wake. A rising tide lifts all boats except those with holes in them.  Some are allowed to sink.  Many others expend energy keeping theirs afloat.  Temporary patch jobs in order to do the same on the other side. All that’s missing is a leader.  Someone to show the way back.  A steadying hand in the chaos.  The shelter has a program that is designed to stop the cycle of dysfunction that led to us being in their shelter.  The difference between a boat and a man is simple.  A hand is guided by an idea made real in the physical world. Easy to repair. Humans are infinitely complex. We can also create critically or unknown flaws in a design. Shakespeare said best, we are but the actors on the stage.  We not only The Star but the builder, set designer, writer and director. More importantly the Critic. The broken and battered need leadership more than any sport team.

Inspiration. Hope. A direction. But most importantly higher expectations. For someone coming from a place of little or no expectations, that can be a source of continued failure.  We’ve all worked for companies that set us up for failure. Unattainable goals, production quotes or not enough support. Having lower expectations make sense in the short term.  But. Is it too easy?  There were outside forces operating on all of us.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Does support through classes and structured time but limiting actual work for wages help?  Yes working without a structured environment led to this. Integrating the old and new realities is difficult. Old temptations. Parolees returning to the old neighborhood fall into the same patterns once more. The ease of old habits trump the fragile new ones.

Our consumer society has become accustomed to discarding, replacing, the used for the newer model.  That has creeped into the DNA of how we see the world.  It’s how value is arbitrarily assigned by the mysterious matrix we has individuals has learned to live by.  Learned from birth,  Absorbed with an uncritical eye. Framing a world that is constantly challenged by conflicting concepts. Those damaged by self inflicted wounds are still in need of hope and dreams larger than they can imagine for themselves.  That includes myself.  My response is to stretch my arms wider.  What have you done to rise your expectations? What do your kids see? That answer comes later.

Life Lessons and Dads

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In an community of close living, life stories are compressed.  Stories learned over weeks or months, become uncovered in hours. Certain questions are asked indirectly. A human’s discomfort with empty time tends to release most of the details. The why of why I’m in a shelter instead of moving for work is simple. My children are here therefore I stay. Three other men are staying here for the same reason. Whatever bad decisions or wrong turns they’ve made, wanting to be an absent father isn’t one.  Do they get to see them? Not always. Are they used has a pawn in a power game of gotta? Sometimes.

Outside the window of where I sit are families.  Grandparents herding a van load of kids into the library. Parents and small ones coming in to spend time in the children’s area.  Being with their kids.  No restrictions or barriers.  Every parent feels the weight growing with the time spent away from the most important thing in their lives. Men of my generation are fairly stoic about separation. It was a reality we grew up with. It’s one of the reason the new group of Dads aren’t. Personalities cluster around commonalities. This one of the strongest. The desperation that drove men to leave their families to find gold is still a mystery.  A time measured in years not days or weeks. To return from a fools errand richer in experience but nothing else. The only group that got rich were those who sold supplies to those with such expectations. Chasing dreams. Failing. Depending on the circumstances of your upbring, it’s a shelter or regroup among family support.  One has a narrower set of choices.

The fear of becoming the Yoyo has become a constant companion. The rotating door of old habits overwhelming of the newly learned is what I see everyday. There’s only way open to me now. A future filled with uncertainty.  Many have commented on how they see me.  It doesn’t match the way I see myself. That comes across as being negative. Is it negative to understand that taking an action with full knowledge of failing is still a good thing?  There’s a simple inescapable fact, mentally and physically there are limitations on the type of work I can do. A series of options is more than one dad has.  So many barriers.  How many will he take with him when he fails? It’s watching a train wreck happen. You know what’s coming but can’t change the outcome. Maybe deflect the flying debris from the not so innocent travelers.

Every man wants to be like their dad or m. Most fall in the middle somewhere. A majority of good with episodes of not so great.  A child sees the there dad has an infallible god until he proves different.  Questions without enough information to answer. So they fill the gap was what’s at hand. Times of revisions will color their relationship. History repeats itself in the long line of Sons and Father stretching back through time. Where mine and the others story end are still being decided. All you other Dads, go hug your kids.  Sons call yours.  Do it for others that can’t.

Shifting Gears

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There’s a building where an island was before. That sums up my new reality.  Change sucks.  My personality tends to on the lazy side. Lots of reasons or rationalizations.  Years of realizations actually.  Too much surface illusion  without understanding the underlying conditions. There has always been the nagging comment about being more of a dreamer than worker. Guilty. A large part of it is being Bipolar. One side benefit is being a creative thinker. That and a cup of coffee leaves you looking throough job listings. There are exercises and methods to change my behaviors learned over years of coping.  It took 4 tries and 3 doctors before the stars aligned to get the right meds from the right person. Ones that won’t suddenly stop working. That’s the driving fear the mentally ill face every day.  Years of chaos disappears. Or receed into the background. Hope and relief.  With the full knowledge that peace has a time limit before it all starts over.

The knowledge that comes with the lack of fear doesn’t eliminate the bad days.  It makes the occasional days worse. Being fully aware what is happening and sometimes the why. Consist awareness strips away the illusions of created by magical thinking. Which makes right now so difficult. There’s a struggle between the old master of short term thinking and my amater skills at  long term planning. I’ve found an employment opportunity in an environment that will set me up for failure. It is diametrically opposed to the awareness of who and what I am.  There have been too many jobs filled with dread of walking in the door. A windowless metal box in different clothing. People doing jobs that leave them empty. A landscape littered with broken dreams. Dreams have become the source of all my writing. Until a year ago I started calling myself a writer.  Someone who the has the compulsion to write. It is my way of of navigating the world. A successful author refer to herself has an editor not a writer. So very true. The burst of inspiration is the easy part. Molding into something readable, that’s the hard part  Last year I fully accepted fully the title of writer.

In big letters, I am a writer flowed from my pen. Again and again. Joy burst a the deep emotional well. One that was always at the edge of my sight. This time I was not afraid to turn and see it. It had always been there. Waiting. Indifferent in it own way.  That was the first step on another path. From the people that have liked my post enough to folllow me, many have gone through the same moment of clarity. And stood where I am now.  Wondering what to do next.  the old well trod path is so inviting in its comforting ease. The known. the accepted way.  No silence to the answer of the defining question of life.  What do you do for a living?  A question asked out of habit. Not any real desire to process the answer. An assumption an standard answer to fit into a comfortable hole.  A piece of the who of the image they have built without conscious thought.

The world demands certain realities that increase age and responsibilities.  A limiting of possibilities.  Youthful dreams are critically analysed or carelessly discarded. Studies have quantified our behavior.  any raise will be used to buy more stuff.  Anything the financial gurus say are easier when you aren’t living paycheck to paycheck.  Selling hope for a good retirement, the permanency of home or weight loss is a good living.  How many books are in your bookcases gathering dust before the next garage sale?  The Tiny house movement is driven by stagnant wages has much as an ideological decision.  Personally I feel those houses surrounded by seas of green are best maintained with goats or sheep. Owning a house is a lifestyle choice.  One I’ve rejected.  That small amount of freedom still has costs attached.  One of which is causing much stress in my current situation.

My children are center of gravity in my life.  Whatever else can be said of me, being a bad parent isn’t one.  In part it has been a way to deal with the contentious relationship with my father.  I can’t use the word dad with a man who is still a mystery. forgiveness has laid to rest much of my resentment and anger. But I’m my father’s son. Seeing my kids every morning has become a habit and many times the best part of many bad days.  Which is now in direct conflict with the location of the shelter and economic destitution.  Gas has become a barrier not easily bridged.  The past year has created a seismic shift in the discover phase of understanding.

There’s a an aspect of all this that can’t be ignored. Early in life Robert Heinlein cast a spell on me.  His later writing matched an undiscovered major tenet of my teenage self. The words about sexuality, religion and how his characters explained their actions appealed to me.  It fostered a sense of specialness in a boy caught in the eye of a dysfunctional hurricane created by an abusive mentally ill father. A flawed man god a boy wanted to love but couldn’t trust him enough to.  This is my statement on human behavior.  One I stand by.  We do things because it makes feel good about ourselves.  The universe does revolve around us. Yes children and family are rationalized in the tight circle. Look at the bumper stickers on the back of minivans. Cynical? Selfish? Self centered? Been accused of all of them. According to the people at the mission, god fixes all. Does helping others fulfill a basic need that have? How’s is that different from a universality of core beliefs of religions systems and the people doing the same?  Place. Country. Culture.

So here I sit looking at the ugliest building in an otherwise charming downtown writing on my computer about my thoughts.  Practicing writing skills that in years to come will make me cringe. Circular. Wandering. Or missing the mark completely.  If there’s not a little fear when putting my words out for the world to see, I’m doing it wrong.

 

 

A Winter’s Day.

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Snowflakes dance on the wind.

One partner visible due to other

Tango. swing. Hip Hop.

Skeletal trees color. contrast.

One Many  Clouds of black birds swirl

Dart dodge to the sound of an unheard melody.

At rest still in a moving world

suddenly explosive in response

from a single liberty window.

Where Would be IF…

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One of the great question is why are we here.  I think the more important is how did we get to where we’re at. This is an exercise in imagination. List 3 people who influenced your life in some significant way.  Time isn’t important. Influence is. No hurry I’ll wait.  Ready.  What if they weren’t there?  That mentor outside of the family you didn’t fit into.  They loved you. Maybe supported the dreams they couldn’t understand.  I hear that the way families are supposed to work. How many do? One small casual moment doesn’t happen.  The dominos fall different. This is the stuff of movies and plays.  Two gentlemen of Verona.

The hardest part of being in the shelter isn’t the rules.  The vast majority of men there come out of some institution with strict rules.  the two other vets with me and myself are used to the framework from the military.  no the hardest part is the empty time. I use it to listen.

Mom was doing drugs when she was pregnant with me.

My folks were good people but not really curious.

Family smoked so I been smoking since age 12.  Hope it’s not COPD or cancer

Have a degree but can’t find a job. Came here with a promise of an opportunity. Just need some place warm so I can get back down south.

I’m a good welder but would wander to the machine shop because I was bored.

That could have been any of us with mentors and role models. The drug culture and gangs, minus the illegality and destructive moral issues, are the only business they know.  Those football players who make it out had people in their life that helped them see a different life. When you’re dealing with the basic needs, It’s hard to find hope. To those of you in a stable place, is it built on sand or something stronger.  This is the lesson.  I’m where I’m at for circumstances beyond my control.  Having had mentors, role models and family, my future is brighter than others.  Others won’t ever be very productive members of society.  Too much baggage or afflictions. Missteps others avoid by a guiding hand or a hand up.

Who are we and how did we get here? The answer always changes.

World View, What’s yours

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The world is experienced in shading of grey. The popular book is about the sexuallity Americans work to make fit into nice little boxes with high walls. What I’m illuding is more fundamental. Is the prism of your worldview more Utopian or Dystopian?  Tigger or Eeyore? The orientation of the prism begins at birth. Fifty percent of all we learn is in the first five years. Kids, sponges without filters or prejudice. Adults channel and refine those lessons. We don’t always get it right. My son reflects things learned in ways that make me cringe. What I see was a learned pattern from my father.  Did he ever see his father reflected back in me?  It’s a question that can never be asked or answered.  What has been a surety is being challenged by the overtly christian surrounding of the shelter. Everyone needs to defend what they consider core beliefs occasionally. Not they will change under the pressure.

A particular toxic mixture of conditions made any relationship with my father contentious. Age and distance has allowed me the freedom to examine elements in a different light. Recent combat injuries and the NFL concussion issues have led me to believe my father suffered from such. in 1941 he played interior lineman for a very competitive high school in Houston. Before the injury he was a writer, active in civic activities and ROTC. Then the blackouts started.  He was now 4F during WWII. The defining moment for the entire country.  The last picture from that time is of a smiling good looking young man working for the DOD in Hawaii.  The twisting poison hadn’t worked it way through the man to be yet.  Forgiveness is a hard thing.  It’s letting go of something that has been an anchor point around which our lives have traveled.  A basic reality is an illusion.  Questions long settled spin free.  Answers of a younger self no longer fit. The person you have become now examine painful moments. What becomes revealed is that we were wrong in principle and fact. Only the strong can look into the abyss.

I gravitate to the dystopian view. It was too much a part of my home life. Rage and uncertainty or cold indifference. We never lacked for anything.  Which makes being in a shelter that much more jarring. Over the past 8 years, I’ve learned how to survive with a different set of skills. What still surprises me is the basic decency and humanity of those in the same condition. House rules are chapel every week night.  While I will defend the right of street preachers to be at public events, it’s the utterly disrespectful manner they show for others that piss me off. Respect and courtesy cost nothing. Taking a small side step changes how things appear.  One speaker talked about trust. And how that made us vulnerable. Pain is to be avoided. It drives some to drugs or extreme behavior.  Many to suicide. Including Mitch who shared my room. I understand that pain.  Has a contrarian expecting the worst, I’ve developed a higher threshold.  The older I get the more wearing it becomes. Lucky that street is no longer my permanent address.  I do visit occasionally.

In being forced to listen in exchange for food and shelter, their stories are compelling.  The same desires and fears.  A common theme running through all the stories in the shelter.  Call it arrogance or pride or just being stubborn, believing in an unseen hand is highly improbable. None is absolute.  None of that diminishes the respect I have for those who give of themselves for what they hold has true in their heart.  So my shading has become degrees lighter.  Sunshine and unicorns are impossible.  It simply could be not having learned to trust has a children makes it harder for me to learn as an adult.  Trust and chaos are opposite ends of an yardstick.  From birth to death we are all works in progress. Outcome, unknown. A man reaching for the stars with feet in the mud.

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