Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Loving Blind

Every year I write a poem for our Christmas Eve get-together at Mom's.  Typically composed of bad puns and play-on-words that could at best be described as "a bit of a stretch," these holiday-themed ditties rely on questionable rhyming schemes and an ever-present pool of Turner mishaps. This year, however, I did a little something different. Remembering all the old tapes I found in Dad's barn office over the summer, I decided to make a compilation CD with songs from each of the tapes.  While the wonderful Terry Murphy took my handwritten playlist and magically turned it into a finished product (I still don't download music), I worked on an accompanying poem that served as this year's Christmas Eve reading.

The fact that I find most modern country lyrics to be about as kitschy as my holiday poems...and thus had an avenue of critiquing things like "country girl, shake it for me," was just an added bonus.
Luke Bryan is ridiculous.
Many clichés find home in the lyrics of country songs...
a plethora of American flags, rusted tailgates, and tragic "loves gone wrong;"
throw in some beer, maybe a football game or two and radio success is sure to follow,
with windows rolled down, drivers passionately mimic phrases that seem unfailingly hollow.

And, you know, maybe songs from our past were much the same,
simplified versions of small towns, chock full of double names.
Being part and parcel of our memories, however, they inevitably rank higher,
gaining significance as we subconsciously elevate them out of a lyrical quagmire.

Songs like Loving Blind and Forever And Ever are permanently etched in my mind,
perhaps a testament to an authenticity often lacking in the contemporary kind;
or maybe it's that I see my dad in the words of Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, and Lyle Lovett,
in songs that embody cross country road trips nearly any daughter would covet.

I see him as the stoic cowboy in a Chris LeDoux song;
the Simple Man Ricky Van Shelton insists others got wrong;
the devoted father who taught his girls to Keep it Between the Lines,
the man with an unintentional legacy who will be Always on my Mind;

the concert-goer and chauffeur at the Kentucky State Fair
(a night spent with George Strait and the five pre-teen girls in his care);
the young man with a touch of outlaw in a Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard sort of way;
the jack-of-all-trades dreamer who Kenny Rogers would've played.

And so on this Christmas night I celebrate not the choral hymns of the holiday season,
but the Guitars, Cadillacs, and Hillbilly Music that defy religion reason.
I celebrate the man I'd give All the Gold in California to have back,
the father I miss everyday...and to whom my adoration never lacks.

And thus, part of your presents are a collection of old country songs,
taken from the tape case of a man who never met a story too long.
He was the cowboy and farmer and occasional ruffian they all tried to portray,
and so take this CD - and a little bit of him - as you go on your merry way.
All the songs italicized and all the artists mentioned in the poem are on the playlist.  Here is my favorite...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This I (don't) believe in...

In the last post, I closed with Silas House's essay, "The Knowing," written for the recently released anthology, This I Believe: Kentucky, a collection published by an organization of the same name. As described on the company website linked here, "This I Believe is an international organization engaging people in writing and sharing essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. Over 100,000 of these essays, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here on our website, heard on public radio, chronicled through our books, and featured in weekly podcasts. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow."

I included it in the last post, one dedicated to animal-themed projects, because I love Silas House and I love my dogs.  I appreciate that of all the noble concepts he could have so eloquently explored - some element of faith or friendship or tradition or love - he chose a theme seemingly mundane. While many of us consider our pets "family" and understand the reciprocal devotion nurtured in these relationships, if given the opportunity to tell the literary world about our "core values that guide [our] daily lives," I doubt many of us would go with "dogs make us better people." No, we'd probably try to tug heartstrings with moving soliloquies about things that seem more "literary worldish." We'd use a bunch of adjectives.  We'd employ emotional catharsis to relay passion. We'd likely make the stoics and skeptics among us gag. 

And I offer that last little pleasant prediction because I myself have felt it. Sometimes when I hear people talk about their certainties and beliefs, I secretly scoff. And while aware of my figurative eye rolls, I have never really thought too much about the motivating rationale until the past few days.  So, while I included the House essay because of a very literal and obvious connection to the last post's dog theme, it has (somewhat frustratingly) sparked a much different philosophical conversation in my head. I have been forced to consider, "What do I believe or believe in?"

The answer I've come up with: very little.

And I want to say up front that I don't think what follows puts me on some intellectual or analytical pedestal. While doubt is sometimes a product of open-mindedness, science, or research, it can also be a sign of weakness, selfishness, or lack of resolve. In fact, I associate some of my own skepticism with these obviously less noble motivations. I certainly wish I could, in good conscience, espouse lofty (yet entirely authentic) faith in more than I do.  When it comes down to it, however, I take neither pride in, nor feel guilty about, my conclusions on the four basic categories below (categories that seem to be the "go-to"s when discussing belief/faith). It simply is what it is.

In religion...
I pray, but to whom or what, I don't know. I don't believe that things happen for a reason and I take very little comfort in notions of "divine paths" or "destiny." I would never suggest that I have an understanding of heaven or hell or that I know who might end up in either. I know kind people who are atheists and kind people who are devout Christians; I don't think either kindness trumps the other.  I don't have any real sense of what faith means to me.

In others...
I have complete trust in only two people.  I know what to expect from them. I think they have a strong grasp of their own core values and feel fairly confident that if I were to ask them questions today, I would get the same answers I would get if I ask them those same questions in ten years. I feel like they know, and appreciate, the me that I like.  This isn't to suggest that I don't respect, or even love, other people in my life; I simply don't find a sense of comfort and stability in those relationships.

In myself...
I can come across as confident...and sometimes I actually feel that way.  Speaking my mind about things that matter to me is not a problem.  I consider myself a moral person with good intentions.  Nevertheless, my issues with stability in others are the same issues I have with myself.  I worry I don't have the resolve to stick with/to things for the "long haul;" I'm always dreaming of other possibilities or pondering what I could - or should - be doing.  I have little confidence that the things I want now will be the same things I'll want in 5, 10 or 20 years.  I crave a sense of settledness, and yet fight against it with everything I have. 

In love...
While some people do affect us in profound ways, often both indescribable and unexpected, I don't really believe in soul mates.  I think we can love a variety of people in completely different ways and occasionally at overlapping times.  I don't think "love is enough" or that "love conquers all." I think sometimes those who would be best for each other can't be together because of circumstances beyond their control. I don't think things necessarily "work out in the end." I think we can miss and regret and mourn someone for an infinite amount of time.  Does love exist? Of course. And do some people have what most would classify as "true love"? Sure. Will we all have it? No.

What I do believe in...
*Dogs DO make us better people.  Whatever my understanding of faith is, I have more of it in my animals than I do in anything else in my life.  I know Charley will scratch my nose when I try to put the leash on her in the morning because she's so excited to go out.  I know Lucy and Willie would protect me at all costs. I know Lightning is not going to kick me when I'm cleaning the stall while he eats breakfast.  I know which blanket DC likes to use as a bed and which of my shoulders Wendell prefers to sit on while he loudly gives himself a bath. I know they all make my life better. I know they make me less selfish. I know they know I love them.

*the Avett Brothers. This sounds dumb considering I doubt my faith in a higher power, in others, and myself. I don't care; it's the truth. I see my life in their songs.  I feel more alive when I'm at their concerts than I do at just about any other time.  They inspire me to be more honest because they make me think about how I really feel.

*the influence of books/art/synchronized dance and the power of collective joy.

*the legacy of my father and my desire to lead a life that he would be proud of.

*the possibility that one day I'll have faith in more.
I also believe that sometimes we have to fake it...for our own sanity, so as to not put others in weird positions, to keep or regain perspective, and/or because wallowing never fixed anything.  I saw this on a friend's Facebook or Pinterest page a couple of weeks ago and although neither an uncommon nor particularly witty cliché, it was a affecting slap in the face when I needed it most.
I had been sad and sad for a while. I had not worn much makeup because I figured I would just cry and mess it up at some point in the day. I just didn't care what others thought or saw. I was stuck in my own frustrations.

The best thing I did for myself: I got up one morning and put on mascara. 

Not allowing yourself to fall apart...this I believe in

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Dogs make us better people. That's what I believe." - Silas House

Unlike Terry Staley, who resolved to be nicer and drink fewer Diet Cokes (pledges that lasted almost two days), I didn't even pretend to set new year's goals for 2014. I would rather drink nothing but water for the rest of my life than run another marathon; securing a certain amount in a savings account by the end of the year makes my 15 cats and 3 dogs laugh; since I have blueberry bagels with my coffee every morning and frozen cool whip topped with cookies, cake, or candy every night, losing weight seems unlikely. I guess, generally speaking, I just want to be more creative, work harder, and think of others more. 
A few pet-themed suggestions on the creativity front...
1. Poetry can invoke eye rolls. Poetry can be intimidating. Poetry can be really damn hard to write.  Nevertheless, poetry can also be fun. Have someone give you an opening line, then you add one, then back to the other person, etc.  Tag team your next poem. Lee and I did this one last fall.
To love a dog is to be parent of a child who never learns to speak, each need assumed from squeals and small dances deciphered,
dances that to the untrained eye seem gibberish in motion, but as subtle as Vegas neon to the doting maker of homemade dog treats.
To love a cat you must first admit you are its pet, and always ready when they are accepting affection;
for you see, even the most adoring of felines is prone to play the cowboy that rides away, not the corseted woman with an unfortunate namesake.
For them to love each other is more common than cartoons would have us believe, though Garfield and Odie are pretty spot on.
Whether it is the cat's instinctual inclination toward indifference or the pup's incessant hunt for new playmates makes no difference;
as long as they rally around the same bipedal, they are family, and may tease one another to reinforce that fact,
"tease" occasionally evidenced in a good ol' paw swipe to the nose or WWF take-down in the grass, neither performed in malice or spandex.
A bit of stolen kibble or an overzealous tongue bath may be the first shot in these short-lived feuds,
feuds ended by an inevitable truce born and bred of sibling love and a shared giant pillow.
They never grow up, always quick to tap into that inner kitten or pup, and deserve more years than nature gifts them;
for in a fair world, those most inclined to forgive and equally unlikely to disappoint, would be memoralizing us in poem instead.
2. Vow to actually make some of the things on your Pinterest boards before you pin anything else.
Very professional and well-written instructions: Cut board however long you want it (mine were about 12"). Paint paw print wherever you think it looks good. Buy coat hanger/leash hanger and edged wall mount at Brown's Supply and screw in. While at Brown's, also get that metal ring thing that I think has something to do with a radiator. Get tiny screws and attach unknown metal ring to board by bending the slats a bit with a flathead screwdriver and screwing in. Tighten the ring so that it snugly holds a mason jar. Fill with dog treats. Hang on wall by dog entry/exit. 
3. Read everyday, even if it's just an essay....like say, this one (includes audio...you're going to love his voice), from my one day husband, Silas House. 

"The Knowing" as featured in the This I Believe anthology
(This really does make me think of Waffle, Lucy, Willie, and Charley).

"I believe that if more people were like dogs, we’d all be a whole lot happier.

My dogs make me a better person just by being themselves. They don’t care about what color I am, or whom I love, or my religion, or any of the other ridiculous things that separate us as people. They only care that I am kind to them and others. That’s what should matter.

My dogs also know that giving and receiving affection are the most important things in life. Yes, eating is right up there, too. But I believe that if my dogs had to choose between lying still in a patch of sunshine while I sat beside them on the grass giving their bellies a good rub or devouring a meal of the same dog food they get every single day of their lives . . . well, I truly believe they’d choose the loving, despite their genuine devotion to gobbling down their kibble as if they might never have another morsel of food offered to them in their whole lives.

When they offer themselves up to receive adulation, they cause me to become still, to remember that most things actually can wait a few more minutes to get done because this moment right here, this moment of sitting beneath the trees with their swaying limbs, the sun warm on my face, the scent of the creek down in the woods, the birdcall in the deepest parts of those woods, and the holy world (all of it holy, every single bit of it) shimmering all about me, this moment is what life is about.

Having a dog—or any pet—makes us better people. They force us to slow down (each time I return home I have to spend a few minutes patting the belly of our outside dog, Rufus, because he’ll lie down on the driveway on his back, right in my way as I’m rushing to the door; I can’t refuse that and I often fold myself down onto the ground with grocery bags standing all around us to give him some loving), to pay more attention, to be kinder (especially to Pepper, who came from an abusive household before ours, and carries all of that grief in his eyes, in his damaged back, in his wariness), to give and receive affection, to be patient (especially on days when Holly Marie just doesn’t really feel like going to the bathroom anytime quick), to love and love and love.

Writers aren’t supposed to throw that word around much. We’re supposed to be stingy with putting that on the page. But it is necessary when talking about dogs because that’s what they embody. They remind us, time and time again, of the most important thing. Such a shame that we actually forget that. But we do.

I know that some people think it’s a sin to think an animal has a soul, but I do. I don’t care what anyone says or thinks. Because if anything in this world is close to God, it’s a dog. I believe a great amount of being in touch with God is required to hear the thunder from way off, or to feel the trembling of a train miles away, or to know when someone they care about needs them, and offer comfort no matter what, and not have one tiny bit of judgment in their whole beings. I believe a sort of holiness is required to remind us that everything in this world deserves affection. Dogs know these things. They know and know and know.

Dogs make us better people. That’s what I believe."