The Apple and the Daffodil

A year ago, I reflected on the nature of the seed and the beauty of the inherent potential all of us has within us. Reading a book by Thich Nhat Hahn today I came to a beautiful augmentation of my understanding of the myriad possibilities of nature of the seed I’d like to share.

When I first pondered the seed, I began to understand the true nature of the potentiality of the seed and all the ways that it’s growth into a plant can be affected by the world around us. But that potentiality is also affected by the impermanence of all life and the fluid nature of the universe. Just as a seed has the potentiality to grow into an apple tree or a corn stalk, that tree and that stalk grow into the leaves and the roots and the flowers that will one day die, decompose, return to the soil and be reborn into one another. The corn stalk becomes the apple tree. The apple tree becomes the daffodil. The daffodil becomes the woman and the woman becomes the child. Exquisite beauty in the impermanence of all life.

My sickness lead the person I was to a death. I was reborn into a drug addict and alcoholic. And I was reborn again in sobriety to the recovering alcoholic writing this post. All these selves were the manifestations hidden in that one seed. This is a beautiful concept because we all have the same hidden potentials in all of us. Everyone I love, hate and am indifferent to can be, has been and is now quite literally the same person. In my life, the reporter and alcoholic and animal lover have grown to blossoming trees and flowers, died, decomposed and were reborn into the person I am now. Like a new seed, I have been all these things, played all the roles of son, lover, friend, asshole, casual acquaintance and, yes, even the subject of fear and resentment. And inherent in this is the startling (at least for me) beauty that each and every one of us has the potential to be the lawyer, nurse, musician, dictator, criminal, son, husband, wife, father, mother, child, brother and millions of other potentialities. This is a daunting yet exhilarating prospect. I am and you are all of these things intertwined into the impermanent beings of ourselves. All of us is a seed with unlimited potentials and we have those potentials every moment of every day.

I gave up Facebook for Lent and eliminating that addiction, for it is an addiction if we are not careful, has opened up many other potentialities of my life that I am looking forward to sharing after this Lent is over. For now I will say that I have realized the many ways of manifesting my up-to-now hidden potentials that have been with me since that horrible sickness I sustained 11 years ago. Some of those potentials will be realized, some will not, and all are glorious. One of my ultimate goals is to come to be the wisest manifestation of my potentials, with one of the soundest realizations being openness to the wisdom I can glean from others as we all have experiences to share and wisdoms to absorb from each other. The simplicity and beauty of that is truly a miracle.

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Million-Dollar Idea 5

You’d think that by this time, someone would have put one of my million dollar ideas into production and started reaping the rewards, yielding me with enough intellectual property revenue from selling one of these ideas to the highest bidder that I would be a multi-millionaire by now. But alas no, nothing yet. I’m patient. And besides, this one is not a product, but a service and I know local law enforcement across the country will be so jazzed by this idea that I can look forward to at least the keys to a few cities, maybe an honorary diploma from a police academy or two. At this point, I’ve given up on getting rich on my ideas. I’ll settle for at least being famous, if not rich.

Y’know how you can be driving down a residential street or parking lot buried away from the watchful eyes of Johnny Law when suddenly (!) what do your wandering eyes spy but a flagrant disregard for traffic laws? I was leaving a meeting and pulling out of a parking lot the other day when I saw, in blatant defiance of the “No Parking This Side of Street” sign was, you guessed it, a parked car. Now, it was a gravel road that ran just to the side of the parking lot and there were many cars parked on the other side (mine being one) of said road. But there, plain as the nose on your face, was a Lexus SUV parked right underneath the No Parking sign. Maybe it’s the bitter, resentful part of my nature that gets all bent out of a shape that I can’t afford a Lexus SUV or maybe it’s the ego that goes with the sense of entitlement that the jackass driver of said Lexus SUV seems to have. Whatever it is drives me into an almost uncontrollable rage and makes me want to run a key all the way around the vehicle and carve a smiley face on the hood. It’s the same bundle of agitation that feeds the flame whenever I hear the PA at the airport crackle on and a booming voice commands the driver of the Cadillac or BMW or Mercedes or Lexus or whatever to go outside and move their freaking car or it will be towed at the owner’s expense. When that happens, I root for the tow truck.

This train of thought was augmented a day later when I walked out to my car, parked on the street in front of my house this time, to find a $16 ticket under the wipers. “Crap,” I thought. “I guess this solves the mystery of whether cops ever ticket the cars parked in front of that fire hydrant on the parking green.” You’d think that if anybody knew the value of the fire hydrant being there, it would be me. But alas, I had been to the gym that morning and was just grabbing breakfast and changing before I headed to work, so I had the same thought what millions upon millions upon millions of people have had since Henry Ford invented the automobile. To wit, I’ll be in and out. No harm, no foul. Well, wrong-o.

So as I squeezed through the Lexus on the illegal side and another car on the legal side, I got the idea for the Citizens Control Cop Patrol, or CCCP. It works thusly:

You are John or Jane Q. Public and you attend a 6-week course which thoroughly covers all traffic laws. After completion of said course, you are issued a CCCP pad, a whistle and a can of mace. The whistle and the mace aren’t really necessary but they would be super-official looking on the utility belt you would wear around your waist or Mexican bandoleer-style across your chest. Plus, even though you are only issuing parking citations, you never know when the violator may come up on you and pop you across the jaw if you aren’t all official-looking. I bet the same guy would think twice of he were 35 years of age or older and would be intimidated by the CCCP identification (Remember that was the abbreviation that the Soviets used to use for the U.S.S.R. in Rocky IV? Good, I thought you would). You could even attend another week-long class to obtain a certificate of completion and forthwith have the authority to fine people for not picking up freshly deposited dog poop in the park. The class wouldn’t really cover anything other than the instructor handing you a hand shovel and some poop bags so you could clean up the mess yourself and set a good example, but it would have to last at least a week to fall in line with all the other shit the government does that takes 5 times as long as it should because we have to pay the bureaucracy for doing nothing and …

Sorry. Didn’t mean to go all libertarian all of sudden but y’know that tendency of people to get more conservative as they get older? Yeah, that. I mean, I’m not ready to vote Republican or anything, but I do kind of wish I could grab the 22-year-old Andy who voted for Ralph Nader and box his ears with a couple ladles. Not because it gave the election to W, just because it would be the right thing to do.

There’s a host of other purposes that people in the Citizens Control Cop Patrol could fulfill that I haven’t even touched on. And this program would be especially helpful to those without a job and seeking work as it would pay them minimum wage. Believe me, I know. I’ve spent the last few weeks looking for a job and employers act like their doing you a big favor if they offer you ad dollar more than that. Plus it would satisfy a civic necessity as it would free up police to work on more serious crimes like public urination or confronting those jerk-asses who drop their cigarette three feet from the public ashtray outside Walgreens. I don’t even want a cut of the fine money for this idea. A simple plaque outside City Hall and maybe a street named after me would satisfy me just fine.

Him (Wails of Desperation)

I hear you

Gnashing your teeth

The desperate, desert cry of despair

And it makes me smile

I know you are close

So close to the one that brings it all to a close

You almost made it 3 years

Almost

You thought you would dance

You thought you would sing

You thought the pretty girls would smile

So often I told you you would be back

Come, lay your weary head

I’ll take you in my slithering snake arms

And I’ll crush your skull

And I’ll crush your will

You will be mine

At last.

Who Hid My Phone Cord (Get it? Like “Who packed my parachute?”) ?

I just got home from the gym and there it was.

My phone cord.

In my lunch box. Where it always is.

I have two phone cords and the one I speak of is the one I use when I am at work. See, with my current job (I say “current’ because I won’t be at the job for much longer), I have a lot of down time. So, when one of these one-hour or two or longer stretches besieges me (they’re seriously that long. And since I gave up Facebook for Lent, I spend a lot of time listening to Audible audio books or watching TEDtalks on my phone), I retire to my secret hiding spot, plug in my phone and indulge. The reason seeing my phone cord in my lunch box is so remarkable is that yesterday, I lost said phone cord.

I mean, I lost it. I was in the hiding spot and I got a call to an airport gate and was sitting there for about half an hour just people watching. And I know the phone cord was in my jacket pocket because I went directly from the hiding spot to the gate. And at some point between leaving the hiding spot and when I was on the jet way waiting for the plane to arrive, I found that the cord was in none of my pockets. On my pants or my jacket. I had lost the cord.

No matter, thought I. This is why I have 2 cords. For this very reason. So I only have one now. And so it goes.

So when I walked in to the dining room this morning and saw my second cord nestled snug in my lunch box, it was a bit of a shock. Now, I know you are thinking “But Andy, Buddhism doesn’t allow for the presence of ghosts or spirits or goblins or anything else in our world.” Well, that’s true. But it also doesn’t not not allow for them either. My new path of enlightenment doesn’t address the presence of supernatural beings in the lives of humans on this earth. I mean, Buddha basically said “Hey jackass, there’s plenty of problems in the here and now that we all need some guidance on and I spent many a lonely hour under that goddamn [sic, sort of] bodhi tree trying to figure out what to do about them. I didn’t really have to time to contemplate the true nature of Celebrity Ghost Stories or The Blair Freakin’ Witch Project.” What it doesn’t say is that a poltergeist lives somewhere between my house and the airport and last night it got a wild hair up its ass, went down to the airport (no small feat, even for an apparition, since there are no sidewalks going into or out of the airport) retrieved the cord and came back up to my house while I was sleeping or at the gym. And that’s, like, a four-hour window when I am not in the immediate vicinity of the lunch box anyway. And I know you’re thinking “Poltergeists are invisible Andy. You wouldn’t have seen it even if you were around.” True, but since poltergeists deal with concrete inanimate objects (at least I’ve never heard of a dog or fat, lethargic cat being moved around by even a well-meaning demon) So, I spent the last 30 minutes trying to decide who or what decided to give me back my lost cord and I have a few theories:

Napoleon. One of the audiobooks I listen to all the time preaches about success in the personal, physical and professional spheres. And everybody knows that the kind of world domination that Napoleon was trying to nail down falls in line with this since it is that kind of drive and passion (albeit for fascism) Napoleon had a knack for, so his ghost is certainly a plausible culprit. However, Napoleon did lose at Waterloo, so for my purposes, he’s out. I mean, that fact alone calls into question his drive to do such a thing. In fact, it’s a couple points against him. He probably would have gotten distracted by conquering downtown Omaha or at least the dairy on the way to my house.

The Buddha himself. But see, there again, Buddha was only concerned in spreading the wisdom he had gained from meditation about this world. He could have given me back the cord out of altruism but I have decided that is unlikely because he was all about moving past earthly possessions to achieve enlightenment. Plus, he did take his message all over his native land, so he was no stranger to at least kind of promoting himself, but in that distinctly Buddhist way. I mean, the Buddha didn’t remain sitting under that tree, he took his show on the road in the mildly passive aggressive way that other Buddhists like Thich Nhat Hahn and Za Rinpoche and Richard Gere have done. A smartphone would have been pretty handy to a guy like the BuddhMeister, that’s all I’m sayin. But I have never heard anyone say “Oh my God! My boots have been moved clear across the room! It must have been the Buddha.” That’s something you just never hear.

Kilgore. The dog you seen in the backdrop of this blog is certainly a viable culprit since I have been thinking about him a lot lately since I’ve been thinking how easy it would be to talk my landlord into letting me and my roommate get a dog once I have a normal schedule. Kilgore was my spirit dog in many ways, so a case could be made that he knew I was thinking about him all the time lately and just wanted to say hi. And I also remember how much of an asshole I sometimes was with that dog around when I was drinking so it certainly would be in keeping for him to mess with me as much as I, occasionally and totally inadvertently, messed with him. But as one of my authors always says and I agree, I do hope that Kilgore is romping and running in the world beyond this one and not hanging around some bridge waiting for me to die. I would hope that the afterlife, if there is one, is at least marginally more interesting than that.

My dead grandfather. This is highly unlikely and probably only on my mind because my good friend lost someone close to him recently so that’s got me thinking of lost loved ones. But Bapa died like 25 years ago, not to mention the fact that he would just be confused by a smartphone and USB cord and would figure I probably didn’t need the thing in the first place.

So, after much deliberation, I have decided that it had to be George Carlin. Think about it. Carlin often joked about God and the afterlife (Shit, he once said that he had decided that if there is a God, it is Joe Pesci). So I imagine that heaven to a guy like George, especially if there is a possibility of fucking with the living, would be precisely the kind of place where he could spend the rest of eternity throwing car keys in the toilet, moving vases from Ohio to the Himalayas and dropping entire air crafts in the Indian Ocean only to move them to backwoods forests in Greenland (What, too soon?) And George would have most certainly have come across my blog on a coffee break or something as I was such a huge fan and decided “Man, I need to give this kid something a little-hearted to write about instead of poems about lavender and shit.”

Thanks George. Good to know you got my back. And thanks for the phone cord back.

Planning for the Past

So many things I wish I had done

Kisses savoured, loves cherished

The purple, massive shroud of lost hopes

A seductive temptress of should

And for what?

Regret? Remorse?

The stifling, black cloak of singing suns missed?

So many mornings turned to evenings before my very eyes

As I clucked hooves down a path of blindness and shame

Well no more

Again, no more I say

This is my great getting-up morning

Of hope, potentials and promise

The past lurks behind corners like an abused child, a beaten woman

Masked as a false prophet

An empty promise that will never come true

Enticing me to plan for a future of myth

And a past of squandered blessings

I will not believe in her true story of pain

For there is work to be done

But for now

I will sing this night of sweet lullabies

Why Flywheel Should Hire Me

Like a couple million other Americans, I missed much of the tech revolution because I was busy with other things. When I was 22, I did move to Seattle near the beginning of the all-out information technology assault on the American economy and American culture, but my contribution was limited to writing content for the online catalog of the outdoor gear manufacturer where I worked. As time went on, I slipped further and further behind the digital pack, first as a reporter for the Omaha newsweekly The Reader, then in a hands-on role in the animal care industry. The whole time I clung to the life preserver that floated behind the digital boat, but that’s where my involvement ended.

Then along came my exposure to WordPress, which happened to coincide with my interest in creative writing. WordPress was so easy to use that I was able to focus on the meat-and-potatoes of the personal blog which is personal experience. At the tender age of 36, I had at least a couple of lifetimes’ worth of it, too. I’m in a couple Facebook groups and while it may be a stretch to say that other members hang on my every word, I will say that WordPress is so user-friendly that I’ve tried many different types of writing from poetry to fiction to personal observations and have been met with much applause. After writing for publication for The Reader for a few years, it’s fair to say that writing for publication, even unpaid publication, carried the same magic and satisfaction that editing my high school literary magazine did 20 years ago. And I find that the more I learn about WordPress, the more I want to learn even more about WordPress and all the purposes it’s fulfilling for so many people.  Being a Happiness Engineer would be like learning to ride a bike for the first time. I’d want to discover everywhere that it can take me.

 So when I discovered that Flywheel was hiring for a Happiness Engineer, I had an “aha!” moment. A big, bright light bulb filled the room (well, actually, a big chunk of snow fell off the roof in front of me, but same difference). I thought that putting my pretty extensive customer service skills and working knowledge of WordPress to work in said position would be a fantastic way to reenter the atmosphere of the digital planet we now live on (okay, okay, I’ll stop with the “digital” metaphors).

What I lack in experience I make up for in eagerness and willingness to learn. So, Flywheel brass, you should hire me. Seriously. I’m fairly intelligent, I’m affable, and did I mention my eagerness to learn? I did? Well, it’s true. Shortly after I started in the animal care field, I decided I wanted to do it more than 40 hours per week, so I started In Your Place pet-sitting, the name of the business of which I am the sole employee, as well as owner, proprietor and chief executive. I have been doing IYP jobs for 9 years now and I absolutely love it. Some jobs, I stay in a client’s house while they are on vacation, and sometimes, I stop by my customer’s house and walk their dog  in the afternoon one day per week. I even thought about starting a WordPress site for the business, if not for other obligations like my pesky day job. The way I figure it, becoming a Happiness Engineer is the perfect way to learn about the WordPress experience from the inside out and Flywheel would be an excellent place to do it because I would be learning the ropes in an environment of driven, passionate people that definitely know that they are doing.

Oh, and I play piano. Badly. So I’d fit right into the Happiness team.

You Gotta Walk Before you Can Crawl

“I’m having flashbacks,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Mom asked.

“It’s like I’m making this walk on one of those days where I didn’t practice enough all week and she’s gonna yell at me.”

So it went that I walked the block I walked starting almost 30 years ago over to Mrs. Fogarty’s house. Her name isn’t Mrs. Fogarty anymore though. She told me what it is now but I have forgotten. Maybe I’ve mentioned the problems I have with my memory, but more on that later. As we walked up the cement stairs to her porch, Mom commented on how cold it was and I reminded her that I need her to take the photos. Turns out she filled a much more crucial role.

“Hello Andy! So good to see you again!” I hugged Mrs. Fogarty and we stepped into her living room where the piano I first learned on has been sitting for these 30 years and more. She didn’t bother to correct me to call her by the new name she took when she married Dwayne who joined us after a while. And I didn’t think to ask her. Funny how at 39 years old, it still felt strange to call anything other than Mrs. Fogarty. I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable with another name anyway. The relationships we have seem to always call for certain monikers no matter how much time has passed.

“You weren’t bad if I remember correctly,” she said. I have always said that one of the three biggest mistakes I ever made was quitting piano at age 15 precisely because I quit just when I started to get good. And the other two mistakes change depending on the day. She sat on the other side of them room by the fireplace in the old house my parents’ area of town is known for. Property values skyrocketed when many, many people decided they wanted to live in the quaint little area of town that has seen quite a bit of rejuvenation in the last 20 years. My hackles would go up when my former fiancé would refer to the Dundee neighborhood with disdain because of what she perceived as a kind of hoighty-toighty air to the neighborhood and I had to remind her that when we moved in, the biggest intersection in the area had a drug store, a hardware store, a little neighborhood grocery store (where I had one of my first jobs. My first job ever being as a dishwasher, paid under the table, at a little Italian restaurant across the street from the grocery store, and a gas station). Most recently, the intersection’s claim to fame is that it was where Warren Buffett and Paul McCartney were walking along with the ice cream they purchased from a parlor where the drug store used to be when they were approached by a young girl who sought Sir Paul’s autograph (word is she didn’t know who Buffett was).

Anyway, I had written down a half dozen questions that I intended to ask Mrs. Fogarty about her career teaching, her professional life in the arts and other things. But in my excitement I forgot the notebook with the questions and the digital camera I planned to give to Mom to take pictures. The meeting turned out to be a lot less formal than that. I told her about the TEDTalk presentation I had seen that depicted the neurological benefits of playing an instrument, how actually playing an instrument and not just listening to music is like a full-on party going on in your brain. Then I told her that a couple months ago I had purchased my brand new digital piano with pet-sitting money I had earned taking care of my parents’ next door neighbor’s dog for 3 weeks. I had set it up in my basement and was already starting to see improvements in my memory that was severely damaged by the bacterial meningitis I survived. She and her husband shared similar stories they had read and heard about the wonders that playing music can do for one’s brain. I told her about the book I am working on that chronicles my life after the meningitis and coming out clean in recovery from alcoholism. It’s a good thing I brought my Mom too because she had to remind me of the biggest reason I came to Pat’s house in the first place.

Me and Mrs. Fogarty

I told her I wanted to thank her for starting me on piano all those years ago, even before I ever really took pen to paper and became a writer. I told her about the 4 years I reported for the Omaha newsweekly, which she knew well, and that I never really thought about playing piano again until I saw the TED presentation. She smiled and told me how wonderful it was to hear from me and how my story was certainly one of the most remarkable she had ever heard. I sat on the bench next to her at the old piano that was a faded gold now (when I started playing, it was black) and she even offered me the Alumni-Seniors discount if I wanted to start taking lessons with her again. I told her that so far, I was doing very well with the “teach yourself” book and that if I took lessons from her again, she would most likely tell me I was doing it all wrong and start instructing me from scratch. To this we both laughed before we parted company.

I’m glad I didn’t ask the questions I had punched up. It was so much more natural and touchy-feely-warm-fuzzy just sitting with her and thanking her after all these years. Maybe when I settle into a more humanoid schedule with my job, I will take her up on her offer of letting her teach me again.

Me at piano head down 1