Archive | September 2013

Familiar Unfamiliarity.

Or was it the other way around-unfamiliar familiarity. Either way, the moments, the memories, the comfort, all of it on display last night.

A friend of ours from the old neighborhood just completed an epic journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.  A walk of close to 3000 miles. The entire concept of such a distance makes my feet sore. I am so impressed with his determination and desire. The people he must have encountered, the stories, the places he must have seen, engaged in, amazing.

We were invited to a celebration of his feat and safe return.

Last evening, we drove the fifteen miles to our old stomping grounds and enjoyed a few hours reconnecting with some friends.

It has only been two months, hardly any time at all, but only the second time the four of us have been together, so close to our old home.  I could feel something different in the car as we exited the freeway and pulled up to the church where the party was being held.

It was an odd sensation-a familiarity, loaded with discomfort.

Sometimes, I dream I am places from my past-The years I was on a mission, or being in high school. Sometimes I am at the University and have forgotten to complete the term assignment due that day. All these places are familiar and at one time were very welcoming, places I wanted to be. Often, in the dream, I feel that pull of desire to return, but almost always along with that pull is the realization I no longer belong there.

When I used to ponder moving from Salt Lake, I would get so excited at the prospect of new things, a new house that didn’t require so much maintenance, a larger place for my family to live and grow. This would lead to nights dreaming we had moved and almost every morning, I would awaken feeling relieved we had not. This time it wasn’t a dream, we have moved and instead of fearing my new place, I feared I would wake up in my old room, and I would not feel pleased or comforted. I would instead feel deep regret.

As we drove away from good friends and good memories, I was filled with happiness. This new house has become my home. I am happy here, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Funny revelation after only two months. I expected it to take much more time.

Dexter is Over

Warning-spoilers inside. P.S. I am assuming most of those who read this know most, if not all of the story to this point.

So, that is it. After 8 seasons, Dexter ended in dramatic, chaotic, violent and in many ways unsatisfying fashion.

For many reasons, the first season of the show will always be my favorite. I love the grittiness of it. The show was so completely different from anything I had ever watched. I was a fan from the first episode.

Most love season 4, with the performance of John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer marking the high point of the drama, which is hard to argue against. Many of those same fans feel that from this point on, the show becomes aimless, trying to recapture the power of those 12 episodes, and failing, finally culminating in the mess of seasons 7 and 8. I am not one of those fans.

Dexter for me, has been a journey of exploring what it means to be human. Diagnosed as a psychopath, Dexter lives a life of charades and lies, pretending to have emotions, pretending to care about those around him, living by a code that allows him to survive in a world he really never understands. Well, at least at first.

As the seasons progress, each challenge Dexter faces uncovers what he tries to hide-Yes, he is broken by what happened in his youth and yes, he has a near uncontrollable urge to kill others, but underneath it all, he does feel, and he does change.

At the end of every season, some set back causes him to re-evaluate what he learns about himself, most times, brushing aside his revelations as something that will only further complicate his existence.  This casting aside is most often an exercise in futility as he cannot unlearn what he knows, or how that knowledge changes the course of his life. he does feel, he does have emotions and he is capable of being more.

All of this is what makes the series finale so frustratingly bad.

Dexter falls in love with Hannah and is willing to run away with her, raise his son and leave his old life behind. And while that might frustrate some fans of the “old” Dexter, it makes perfect sense in the progression we have witnessed. This time, instead of finding some reason to bury his emotions, he revels in them. He feels he is deserving of some happiness and is going to take it.

Then as usual, events spiral out of control and some choices have disastrous consequences. Rather than kill Saxon, his latest serial killer nemesis, he spares him, turning him over to his sister, Deb. Saxon escapes with the unwitting help of a federal marshal who was tracking Deb and Dexter for helping Hannah hide from the police(an absolutely idiotic scene when you take into account that Saxon was wanted for mass murder, his face all over the news and certainly, the marshal’s office as well). As he is fleeing, Saxon shoots Deb, leaving her for dead, but she is able to call an ambulance.

Complications from surgery leave Deb with severe brain damage, unable to breathe on her own. Dexter crafts another plan to kill Saxon while he is in police custody, and though he breaks every rule in the book, his former colleagues at Miami Metro let Dexter leave, calling the incident a case of self defense (again, badly executed scene).  Dexter has little time to escape as a tropical storm is descending on Miami, threatening to trap him there while Hannah and Dexter’s son try to make their escape to South America.

With Saxon dispatched, Dexter returns to the hospital and in the best scene of the season, he unplugs Deb from her life support machine. We see here a fully emotionally mature Dexter. He cannot leave his sister behind in such a state and with absolute tenderness, he disconnects her from the tubes and wires, whispering “I love you,” in her ear as she flat lines.

For one final time, Dexter takes his boat out with one more body (Deb) on board. He calls Hannah as she is about to board the plane. He talks to his son, telling him to remember he loves him. Then he tosses his phone into the ocean.

He gently carries Deb’s body to the edge of the boat and like he has with hundreds of corpses, tosses her overboard.

Dexter has determined he causes the death of everyone he loves, and in order to spare Hannah and Harrison (his son), from the same fate, he fakes his own death, driving his boat into the storm where it is found, demolished the next day.

The last two scenes show Hannah finding the article detailing Dexter’s death and a bearded Dexter, living an empty life somewhere in the the northwest, driving a lumber truck, living in a broken down room.  The final moment leaves us with Dexter staring out the window, then turning towards the camera for one final look.

And that was that. Open ended, meaningless, incomplete.

What saddens me most is not that it ended in such an incomplete and frustrating way, but that if we are to take the final scene for the ‘end’, then after all is said and done, Dexter has learned absolutely nothing. All the death and sacrifice of those around him end up being pointless.

Rather than see how his not being around would affect his son and Hannah, he selfishly chooses to wallow in his own misery. In Saxon, we are presented with a representation of what Dexter could have become if not for the code, if not for the caring of those around him, but Dexter refuses to see any of this. Instead he focuses on the darkness, falling into the same traps he always does. He blames himself for what happens to Deb, failing to see the choices she made that ultimately lead to her demise. He willingly ignores what she has told him over and over, (and the evidence that exists in his life, Hannah, Deb, Harrison) that he is a good person, a good father, a great brother, and that he deserves happiness.

Throughout the series, Dexter fears that if his family and friends knew his secret, they would recoil from him, condemn him, and in the case of Deb, turn him into the police or kill him on the spot. In almost every case, those who care for Dexter and learn his secret do no such thing. In fact, the opposite is the case. Deb is understandably shocked by what Dexter is, and it takes her a long time to come to terms with all that, but she does.  The first night she discovers his secret, Deb helps him cover up the murder. She kills Laguerta, rather than Dexter. She accepts Hannah because of Dexter. She always chooses Dexter, and Dexter’s choice to throw away his happiness out of misplaced guilt and selfishness, makes Deb’s sacrifices meaningless. This final choice makes the entire journey pointless, every lesson, every success and sadness, meaningless.

The writers of the show have said on numerous occasion that the story could never be just Dexter doing the same thing over and over, or it would be over very quickly, and for much of the story, the did not allow that to happen. They gave Dexter a life beyond killing and showed us a great deal about the human experience, about unconditional love and redemption, but then at the critical moment, when it matters most, Dexter fails to take the final step. He remains the same selfish, self absorbed creature he was from the beginning.

I had hoped for more.

Dressing (Redux)

This is an old idea, and I’m not sure which one is better executed. Opinions?

“I think the red ones first,” she says, the bundle of clothing draped across her forearm shifting slightly left, which is where my eyes go; away from her. “The thighs in the fours are always too tight, but I fear the sixes will slide right off me.” which would indeed be dreadful.

A bell over the door rings as other would be patrons wander in, captivated by the wonderful colors, some of which defy reason. Bright peach pants and Pepto Bismol pink shirts stretched too tight on mannequins, pale white and featureless, tiny heads attached to stiffened torsos, impressively perky B cup breasts. Sleek dimpled lines cut into plastic enticingly lead to pointed hips. I have fallen in love with these aliens before, pubic mounds pressing underneath the latest Spring Fashions. Nothing but temptation after temptation. I resist again, prepared to purge my deviant thoughts later.

“I need the size 4,” her hand rising from the emptiness, over the shutter slatted door of the dressing room (white, always white), offering me the offensively large pants. I take them and wander to the neatly arranged stacks, bright blues, deep greens, a subtle orange.

Nothing like the last time, when she invited me behind the door, blue bra tossed casually aside, her back curving up and away as she buttoned jeans. The mirror opposite showing a movie-like-life representation of her long dark hair hanging forward, her navel sinking back and away, just visible, and I could not stop myself from reaching towards her reflection, like we were always like this, and the heaviness of our shared loss did not weigh heavy over every word, each forbidden touch. She would turn and sit on my lap, her arms loosely on my shoulders, a heavy kiss on my forehead as she pulled me close.

Pulling at My Heart

I’m feeling that tug, the need for sad songs.

We all understand the pull of music, especially during hard times when all we really want is someone to say, “be sad, it’s perfectly fine.”

Life has sneaked up on me a little bit. It is easy to be overwhelmed by events out of your control, especially when the effects will ripple on and on.

If you feel that pull today, if you want to stop trying to make sense of it and just feel the sadness for a while, listen to these songs with me.

Amanda Palmer-Trout Heart Replica 

Cranes-Far Away

Peter Murphy-A Strange Kind of Love 

The Shins- A Comet Appears

William Elliot Whitmore-Everything Gets Gone

Just a Little Bit

When I graduated from high school, I weighed about 185 pounds. At just over 6’3, I was one skinny dude. Whenever I found myself at a swimming pool or a water park, I was embarrassed to remove my shirt, as every time there would be some joke about how many ribs you could count or if my parents were starving me.

The high metabolism of teenager was a curse. I never learned good eating habits, or how to control myself when it came to food. If there was pizza, I ate until it was gone. Ice cream and cake could be devoured by the half gallon and full cake pan. I recall one week where I drank four Big Gulps each day. It was commonplace to have at least two a day, everyday.  Even when I tried to put on weight, I couldn’t manage more than two or three pounds in a four month time frame.

I convinced myself I could go on like this forever. I was seriously surprised when in my mid twenties, I stepped on a scale for the first time in five years, and discovered I was pushing 230. I knew I had gained weight. My stomach was rounder than it had ever been and clothes didn’t fit the way they used to fit. Now, when I went swimming or to water parks, the shirt stayed on for the opposite reason as before.

A job at UPS dropped thirty of those pounds in a hurry and I felt I’d found the secret. Hard, physical labor would allow me to continue eating the same foods, doing the same things.

When I went back to school full time, the job was no longer an option. The weight came back , and then some. I peaked at 245.

Over the course of the next ten years, various attempts at losing, maintaining weight left me floating between 225 pounds and the dreaded 245. I convinced myself I didn’t look heavy, that all men my age put on some weight. It wasn’t until I had to up the waist size of my pants once again (and buy dress shirts with an 18 neck) that I realized things were getting dangerously out of control.

The scale revealed I had reached a new peak. 252. I was frustrated, sickened, depressed and worst of all, hopeless in the face of what I had done to myself.

Sheryl’s family started a contest-Whoever lost the most percentage of overall body weight would get free babysitting. Surprising to me, the contest brought out a competitiveness I didn’t think I had. Three months and 40 pounds later, I felt better, looked better, was better.

Unfortunately, that sort of weight loss is never permanent. I had reduced calories, not changed the way I thought about food or exercise. I had found some determination to not eat, but in my head I knew this was temporary.  Naturally, once the contest was over and old routines returned, some of the weight came back. I still looked pretty good so I didn’t let it bother me.

This has been the trend for the last four years. I get complacent, gain some of the weight back, then get angry and force it off.

But this post isn’t about weight loss, really. I use it as an example of the way I think about too many things. I get frustrated at failure, consumed by my lack of commitment, get mad enough to make some slight changes, then slip back into the same routines. I do this with writing, with family, friends, but especially food and exercise. Every little set back seems to consume me and all the mantras in the world (do better, feel the success, focus on the positives) leave me empty.

Slowly, I am realizing something.

Again, it is simple and something I have known for a long time. Life is a continual progression filled with high and low moments, some lasting longer than we anticipate. Unfortunately, we rarely focus on the good times. Rather than see that overall, I am healthier, in better shape, happier, I focus on a number on a scale. Of course I can do better, find ways to balance out my diet with the foods I enjoy eating, but to be honest, I am getting better every day. I need to focus on that.

When I pay attention, I see this everywhere. I am becoming a better friend, a more attentive father, a better writer, bit by bit. Even the worst days, where I see only failure, am overcome by all the band choices I have made, there is something positive I can focus on. Maybe I went to bed at a decent hour, or talked with the boys and showed genuine interest in what they had to say. I may not have published a blog but I did write three sentences, two paragraphs, a good email.  Perhaps I ate too much at dinner, but it was on a date night with Sheryl and our relationship is now closer, more loving.

I try not to end blogs with a question much anymore, but I am deeply curious-What do you think about any or all of this? How do you fight through the confusion and frustration of continual failure? Tell me your secrets. I need to hear them.

All of us, every day,  a bit better at something.

 

Muddy Waters

The first house my parents owned backed up to a canal that fed from the Jordan River and (we were told) ran all the way to the Great Salt Lake. A six foot chain link fence blocked the subdivision from the slow moving water and though it was climbable, the easier route was walking to the end of the block, out into the wheat field and up to a trail that ran along the south end of the canal.

In the summer, the water often rose to inches below the bank and in my childhood memory, it flowed menacingly by, daring the foolish to jump in.

Of course we did, my friends and I, every chance we got. I was never a very good swimmer and sometimes fear would keep me on the bank, watching as other kids swam about in the murky brown water. It had to be disgusting, mostly used to irrigate fields, and knowing the nastiness that flows in the Jordan River, its offshoot can’t have been a healthy place in which to swim. But we were 11 years old and those things never mattered.

canal2Today, when I was out on a morning walk, I stumbled across another canal and the scent of the stale water, the sound of it, the native plants that clung to its banks, even the pebble and dirt road that ran along it took me back to those years I lived next to similar water, played in it, made foolish mistakes, shared blissful summer days with friends.

It may be the same water, though it seems too narrow to be the same canal. This one could be jumped across by someone with the determination to try. I would have certainly slipped.

I have talked in the past about smells triggering memory, even more than places. When the smell of the water washed over me, I could see so many days from the years we lived next to that canal.

canal3Once as four of five of us swam about in the water, my dog (who I was convinced was too dumb to know how to swim), who had somehow followed us on our adventure, jumped in at a full run. I screamed, certain he was going to sink and drown in front of me. He swam about with a pleased smile on his face.

In the winter, when the water was drained, and the bottom littered with garbage and decaying fish, I would take a few toy guns with me and wander to the bridge about a quarter mile from my house. I would imagine myself defending the river from hoards of hostile forces. My small platoon outnumbered and outgunned, yet we stood firm, even as our casualties mounted. We never lost the bridge.

The canal road was the fastest and safest way to get to the 7-11. It was the closest store and the only place within five miles where we could buy baseball cards. At least two miles from our neighborhood, we would walk or ride our bikes several times a week, coming home with several packs of cards with rock hard bubble gum inside, a big gulp, and a candy bar.

Sometimes it startles me to think of the places I went and how far from home I would wander at such a young age.

Things are different now; kids aren’t just out the way they used to be. Maybe it is better or maybe my generation is just over protective. More likely, we know the trouble we got into, the things we did that sometimes haunt us, and don’t want our own children to make those same choices.

Regardless, I am grateful for those memories and even more grateful for the walk I took this morning and the right turn down a dirt road that let me encounter the smell of the water.

Reading Between

Sometimes I buy books, thinking I cannot wait to read them, then they end up on a shelf somewhere, waiting. To be fair, this happened a great deal more when I was in school. I would be convinced of the oodles of free time about to come my way and almost giggle at the thought of all the books I could finally choose to read.

Everything gets read eventually, though some books take decades. One such book is  “Three Steps on the Ladder of Wrtiting” by Hèléne Cixous. I became familiar with her while studying critical theory. One of three oft discussed French feminist thinkers (Cixous, Irigaray, Kristeva), Cixous was always the most accessible to me. In one of my favorite essays, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, she argues for the necessity of female writing (not writers).  The clarity of her writing was a gift after reading the psychoanalytic musings of her counterparts. Cixous wrote in a way that felt more human.

In “Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing”, Cixous argues for a certain kind of book, a certain way of reading and writing. Like me, she thinks writing takes something from you, changes you. Writing should be something that pushes, takes you places you are afraid to go and perhaps aren’t ready to go. In the first chapter, she speaks of the first rung of the ladder being a visit to the School of the Dead. “Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us.” (p.10)  This is hard for me. I’m not complaining as much as demanding change from myself. Too often, I wander near the edge, but never close enough to really be in any danger (of failure or success, which is after all, the point of the edge). I wan’t to write like that, near the extremity of life, even if I am not exactly sure what that means or how to know I am writing from that place.

“The only book that is worth writing,” Cixous writes, “is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write.” And there it is, the crux of it. I want to write that book, the one I am feel incapable of writing.  After all, the books I love to read, the ones that impact me deeply, feel like they exist at the extremity of life.

Cixous quotes Kafka-

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

I agree, completely. I only want to read things that impact me, change me, inspire me, destroy me. I want to write things that do the same.

When I write, when I am successful, ten lines, three sentences, a few paragraphs, leave me speechless. I hope they do the same to others.

There are those that disagree and I would never imply that this type of writing, reading, is best for everyone, though I cannot help but feel it is a better way to write and read. Writing and reading should matter, shouldn’t they?

We all have a “frozen sea” in need of axing.