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He knew enough of the details that made up their daily lives to piece together a patchwork of snapshots, imagined and remembered, that could serve as a surrogate coexistence for him. There was solace in this, as he could wander through that world left behind whenever he pleased, occupying the back porch seat across from his dearest friends, raising a glass and talking long into the night over the fire. He could stroll along the riverbanks of the park near their home and watch the sunlight spray diamonds across the ripples in the stream. He could sit on the porch of his father’s home holding a warm mug filled with just enough raw sugar and heavy cream to cut the strong brew’s acidity, feel the breeze raise up as the sun breaks the horizon and stirs the air, and watch his father’s face light up with wonder. He could toss the baseball to his young nephew in his brother’s wooded back yard, listening to a litany of the rules of baseball explained by an excited four year old and hold his niece in his arms as she smiled and looked deeply into his eyes as only she could do. He could sit late into the summer evening’s moist darkness, slowly sipping whiskey and chewing the tip of a dark cigar as conversation with his brother floated on the crests and troughs of the cicada’s crescendos. These journeys served to ameliorate the sense of longing that others believed he must be feeling, they were a tonic against the pangs of doubt and a remedy for his upwelling of woe in twilight hours and he used them frequently.

He also knew the other side of the coin all too well. That of those still inhabiting the spaces where only a memory of his shadow, now growing longer and soon to fade in the afternoon sun, resided as a reminder of his presence there before. He understood that they, when attempting to conjure up an image, any image of him, had no context within which to place him. He had taken that final step through the misty shroud of imagination’s boundaries and seemingly disappeared. Even if he were to somehow step back through and appear before them unchanged, they would be none the more certain of what existed on the other side. As it were, they had no framework over which to stretch the thin canvas for designing a memory. And so, in imagining, they expended much more fruitless effort, grew more aware of absence and loss, and were therefore less and less inclined to spend their moments in such pursuits.

Contact between them could decrease over time, as is customary to those divided by space and time. Or, he could extend to them phantom fingers in an attempt to secure a tether, build a bridge and cross it to meet them at the middle in a place occupied by memory and imaginings. Perhaps this way he could rejoin their worlds in a place where the magic of the human mind is capable of designing credible images of the impossible so that they could all be together, at peace, and rest in the security of their eventual returns.

So he set about the task of gathering images, sounds and tidbits of information of the world as it surrounded him, packing them away in catalogued boxes, taking detailed notes of each moment they included and devising a scheme to deliver them without appearing to gloat or boast about his newfound life, for there was danger in this also.

At times, when we receive a traveler’s notes, post cards and pictures, our initial reaction is one of disdain and jealousy. Each of these emotions serves only to distance us from the sender, not attract us. So it was that he began to understand the delicate balance it would take if he desired to quietly construct his reality before them as a set designer works behind a curtain, quieting the viewer’s mind, stifling its initial rejection of falsified surroundings, and providing the most complete and realistic setting for them to imagine him in.

He realized that the scene he set must be one that reflected all sides of life, not the picture perfect whitewash so often built up in so many electronic scrapbooks through careful selection and self editing. He would have to deny himself the pleasure of capturing only “beauty”, only cleanliness and order, only happiness and relaxation. For how could anyone know that his life was just as imperfectly perfect as theirs if he never let on?

Photo Credit : http://english.cqnews.net/html/2014-04/12/content_30450061.htm

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– Between Salvador and Pedro de Valdivia –

The two clung to the center pole together, faces close. His chin level with her nose, ebony hair draped over her left shoulder. The soft curve of her neck left open and extended, she looked into his eyes and he into hers. Their conversation drowned in the noise of the train. A history unfolding slowly, narrated solely by their body’s actions. Her left arm extended, she ran her fingers lightly down from shoulder to chest and adjusted his scarf never once breaking their gaze. His thumb lit gingerly on her cheek as the index finger brushed something lovingly from her forehead and tucked a loose hair back behind her ear. Her eyes creased in the corners as her lips drew up and out at a gesture full of the intention to protect her image. The train slowed. The two, leaning into each other against the train’s inertia, needing nothing more than each other’s body for support against the forces of the universe, moved in unison towards the doors. Hands clasped, they passed over the threshold, synchronous steps into the Friday night crowd.

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In the early days there, when time was freer, less occupied with the comings and goings of a life lived to pay off debts accrued, and once they had settled into a place of their own, he and his daughter would walk the four blocks west to the seaside in the afternoons once the air had had a chance to warm. The sun shone down the western facing streets as they passed apartment buildings with first floor shops, the smell of fresh baked bread wafting from some melded with the salt air and made walking pleasant enough. She would reach up for his hand and he would take hers gently. Sometimes he pulled her, others she tugged him along. She had a way of shifting her grip to his fingers to keep her hands from sweating, and he loved to hold her whole hand in his, knowing that it wouldn’t fit there for too much longer. The town was made for walking, cars almost intuitively stopped at each cross street to let pedestrians pass out of courtesy for the majority. At the busier intersections they would wait until the green walking man told them it was safe to cross. It was safer, and better he told her, to learn to respect the signals that keep us safe. In retrospect he wasn’t so sure this was the best life lesson, but it was his way of keeping her safe for now.

They would end up at the gorgeous Plaza adjacent to the Casino. Filled with palms, palmettos and gigantic trees he did not yet recognize by name but marveled at nonetheless. Earthen pathways swept clear of leaves meandered their way through the well kept grove, bird of paradise lying dormant in their beds for the winter months. When they reached the park’s other side, there lay a playground, simple enough in its construction, but with a magnificent view of the outward stretching sea dotted with the silhouettes of cargo ships waiting their turn in port. She would swing in the blue tire swing, unabashedly speaking English to her father, urging him to push her higher, harder and faster as had always been her way. He sat and watched her at play among other children and felt the glow of the sun reflecting off the ocean, brushing aside the ever present pigeons scrounging in the dirt for specks of food.

Around 5 o’clock they would make their way across Avenida Peru to the stone abatement bordering the water, climb the wall, he would go first lifting her to its top second, and they would pick their perch. They would sit to watch the waves, pay respect to the waters lapping stone below and wait for the sun to set. As it did it lay down its golden path to shore, stepping stones of restless light reflected, and he sat in awe of this expanse in front of him, this brilliant light of a child next to him, and the chance to enjoy them both.

They spoke of many things as fathers often do with their children. Conversation as fluid as the ocean spray filling the air and their lungs, respect for the ocean, love of place, they imitated the sounds of the gulls. They would bet on which wave would be the one to wet a particularly interesting stone just below them and he would rejoice at the unexpected joy she displayed each and every time she thought this one was “the one”. When the rays finally sank below the horizon, and the air took a dramatic shift into lower temperatures they would gather themselves up and make the walk back to their apartment, hand in hand again, in the expectation of her mother’s coming home to join them after a long day’s work.

There is always life, waiting to spring forth, given the right conditions.

When did it all get so complicated?

I heard an economist on a talk radio program, giving us all an update on the state of the economy.  He was tasked with the difficult, even impossible job of explaining the nuance involved in the multi-layered, multi-variable system surrounding us at each and every moment of the day and night.  He was citing figures and indexes that each provided him with a glimpse of trends and the possible predictions that could be derived from them.  I’ll admit it was mostly background noise to me…until he got to the part about consumers,

THE PART ABOUT CONSUMERS

the consumer confidence index and the consumer spending patterns; tales of money pouring from wallets into drawers, stories of figures drawn down from ledgers with the swiftest most imperceptible and indelible swipes, legends of searches for the perfect accouterments for this or that corner of our unfilled spaces.

I hung on his every word to see what role, if any; I was playing in this economic opus playing out around us.  And then he said that, by and large, consumers had been “doing their part”.

WHAT IS OUR PART?

At that moment, something registered in me, resonated against the sentiment of that statement that lumped humanity in the US (or the world) into one measurable group.  There were so many things about the statement that no longer fit within my vision of the world.  The statement that we are “doing (our) part” carries with it several real implicit assumptions about the purpose of our existence, our existence itself, and the effects of our actions.

He said we were doing our part, but it felt like when that was said it was as if we hadn’t been at some other time, as if, without us this whole thing might just fall apart.  Perhaps it felt as if “we” had, from our lack of doing our part in an earlier moment of time, played some critical and criminal role in the more dire state of things experienced over the past three years and that, thank goodness we had finally come back into the fold and begun doing our part again at House Depot and Bullseye, Pear and Jason’s Gallery of Jewelry.  As if, finally, we had begun contributing again, in the right proportions not more and not less.  As if those of us who stay home, opting out of the air-conditioned and advertising laden spaces that cry out to us on a hot summer’s day to bring in our money and walk away satisfied from having played our role and done our part, are somehow less a part of the oh-so desirable steady march back towards what we only recently recognized for a few as unsustainable progress.

IF THIS IS ALL WE ARE, SOMETHING IS WRONG

And then I just felt sorry.  Sorry for a mind and thought process that feels this kind of reference is normal, that allows language to become so callous that it depicts humans as cogs or numbers or economic performance indicators.  Surely he is a caring man, kind to his children and wife (if he has them), giving of his time and attention to those around him, taken in by friends, hobbies, and loving of the world around him.  I just wonder if he would see my family’s decision to remain a one-car unit as “missing the point” or “coming up short” of our duty… I wonder if he sees independent rural farmers, subsiding on their own ability to cultivate and care for the land and animals around them as “failing to contribute”?  Would those people who have chosen to live “alternative lifestyles” fit inside of his grid of humanity, or would they be written of as outliers, unimportant to the overall equation?

And surely he is but the end product of a thought process, drawn out over decades towards this same conclusion, that depicts us as behavioral models of spending in good times and bad, but assumes that spending is a must.  Consumption is a must.  Without it, this model falls apart and that must be avoided at all costs, for in a steady climb, backsliding is not allowed, nor is looking down…only, I just did.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Is anyone else out there pondering these things too?  What do you think “your part” is in all of this?

I’ve been thinking about sustainability a lot lately.

Not from the traditional, global economic and environmental standpoint – how many people can this plant support at the current rate of consumption – as sustainability is concerned.

I am more interested in sustainability from an individual perspective.  How do the activities that we are each involved in, in every aspect of our daily lives measure up when held against the definition of the word?

Are the things we are expending our most precious resource on (Time) able to be sustained, supported, over the long term without depleting the finite elements of our life?

I plan to continue thinking along these lines with the goal of creating a framework or lens through which to view all of my life choices so that I can begin to make individual decisions based solely on this fact.  I think that, if I can carry it through, this could be of enormous benefit to all.

There are so many interdependencies here the possibilities are headspinning.  Each one of us contributes daily to the sustainability index of this place we call home.  I will be chiming back in soon with my own opinion, but I am very interested in yours.

Do you ever think about this subject?  What does sustainability mean to you?  How do you carry this on in your daily life?

Hope to hear from you!

ImageFor 10 months we have been living with a constant shroud of doubt over our heads, with the possibility that my daughter would need another surgery, with the probability that the next trip to the doctor was the one where we would find out her other eye got glaucoma.

We battled with glaucoma in her left eye, one surgery, two surgeries, then another, then weeks and weeks and weeks of wait and see.  I got in a bad car crash, totaled my car.  I struggled with career decisions, life path decisions.  I got in the habit of worrying that my place in the company I worked for was being affected because I had to work from home.  Got in the habit of expecting and preparing for the worst and only hoping for the best.

Becoming a Professional

I am coming to realize now that all of this was practiced fear, practiced negativity, practiced doubt.

My practice started early in the morning and lasted late into the evening.  It was rigorous.  I would get up wondering what the next chip to fall would be.  I grew anxious about the possible terrible events that might just happen today.  I would talk to my friends and family about all of the major and minor events that had me down, and finish positive stories with a cautionary “don’t get your hopes up” afterward.  The most surprising part of it, looking back, is that this practice was effortless.  I didn’t have to force myself to worry or doubt.

Like any practice, done with enough frequency it becomes a habit.  Once you get in the habit, there is very little effort expended to continue it.

Practice does make perfect

Malcolm Gladwell said that you need 10,000 hours of any activity to become a master in that field.  I am nowhere close to 10,000 hours of practice in negativity.  In fact I am most often a very positive person, ask any of my friends and I believe they would tell you.

But when we sat in the doctor’s office yesterday, and heard nothing but good news about the state of my daughter’s eyes…good pressures, great images, improving vision…my automatic reaction was not to celebrate, but to brace myself for the “but”, the “however”, the bad news I was sure would come.  I couldn’t accept that there would not be any.  I couldn’t allow myself to feel good.  It felt bad to feel good.

We condition ourselves, through the constant practice of thought, through the emotions we allow ourselves to dwell on.

What did I get from practicing fear?  I got fear when I needed hope, I got doubt when we needed certainty, I got negative expectations even when everything, every single sign, was positive.

I have decided to start a different kind of practice.  I have decided to look for opportunity rather than threat.  I will look for breaks in the clouds rather than the possibility of rain.  I will look at the clock and see what time it is, not what time I wish it was.  I will celebrate when even small positives come from negative events and look for the meaning and message in the difficulties and challenges.  I will be posting about the process from time to time as significant and insignificant events occur.  I know it will be a struggle at first, but I believe that it, like anything, will become a habit as well.

Have you ever been through a period where your emotional tone became more negative than positive?  I would love to hear about it.  What practices did you use to turn it around?

Enlightenment

Unpacking Emotions

Is it still worthwhile to hold on?

Countless are the number of times I have dragged the past into the present, brought the feelings caused by a previous interaction into a current conversation, carried the emotions of the day through my front door and unpacked them at the dinner table without a second thought about what I was doing.  Moreover, the same is true for the number of times that I have wondered where exactly the emotions I sense in others have come from or what might have caused them, because they certainly don’t apply to our interaction.  All of this has gotten me thinking.

Our emotional response to any given situation is, in a fair definition of the word, involuntary.   We do not will our emotions into being.  They are not summoned unless by remembering some previous experience that generated a specific emotional response. Save for that, we do not really generate or control the feelings that surge forth instantaneously in each moment of our lives.

Distinctly, our decision to carry any emotion forward with us is, by every definition of the word, a voluntary act.

It is a choice (conscious or not) to allow ourselves to move forward under the influence of a past emotion.  It is an indulgence that we permit the emotional response to a past instant in time to remain as the dominant force upon the surface of our minds and lives.  Allowing this indulgence can be unfair to the world, to the people and things around us.  It is a denial and shutting out of those other stimuli that might, if given the chance, spur on new shifts in feeling from within us and, in doing so, change our state of mind.  If examined in this light, is the emotion we are currently experiencing really worth holding onto?

I have often allowed myself to tint otherwise glorious opportunities for inspiration, peace, joy, or any other of the vast spectrum of emotions to come to the surface by simply holding on too long to that argument, pining for different weather, or wishing someone else hadn’t behaved the way that they had.  Yet, “You can’t should have done something differently yesteday, today” (more on that later…)

Instantaneous reactions are the building blocks of our world experience and our interaction with it.  This bubbling up of humanity within us is thwarted the moment  we latch onto any one given emotion and say “yes, this is the way I feel and this is the way I am going to feel no matter what comes next.”  Albeit momentary, this dominance of one emotional state is an imbalance that could lead us toppling over into an abyss (if negative) or manic state (if positive).

In my experience, negative emotions especially, such as Frustration, Anger, Jealousy, and Envy seem to weild the power to ride atop our conscious thoughts, weighing them down, skewing our every sensory intake and therefore our sensory response to it.  These can be particularly dangerous if we allow them to smother our perception of the current instant.  As we are drawn into our emotions, we are drawn out of the physical world around us, away from the people we are interacting with.  The moment becomes cerebral not sensory, selfish not receptive.

I am in no way attempting to make the case that emotional responses to our lives are negative.  Mindful consideration and time to reflect on one’s emotions is hardly a negative practice.  On the contrary I believe both activities should form an integral part of our daily lives.  That is the very reason that I contend it is the voluntary retention of past emotions without reason that we should guard against, for the benefit or ourselves and those around us.

Thank you for reading…I would love to hear what you think.

Travis