THIS IS HOW I START MY DAY

Coffee at dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how I start my days.

At four a.m. I awaken with a start. It isn’t that I wasn’t sleeping well, but this is my witching hour. The first five seconds is the hardest, as in my waking dream, I reach over to gaze upon my wife and instantly realize … she is no longer there. She will never be there again. It is a fleeting and aching “awakening”, but this, too, is part of my healing. The pain dissipates quickly, and I realize that one day I won’t even have this. It’s a cruel way to start each morning, but it is a new morning, and that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

I stretch deeply and take a moment to gaze out the window into the moon-drenched early morning darkness. I am in absolute awe at the beauty of its silence.  This moment belongs to me, alone.

I quietly swing my feet to the floor and sit for a moment. My muse is impatiently pulling me into awakening, but I do my best to resist. I want to sleep just a little bit more, but my eyes have already made out the flashing light on my hibernating computer and just like that, I want to be writing more than I want to be dreaming.

I gently close the bedroom door behind me and make my way into the kitchen. I put water in the kettle, light the stove, and grab my pack of cigarettes. I head out the door, inhaling the wet damp pre-dawn air, thick with the scent of pine and lilacs and the petrichor of moist soil and green grass.  I sit on the second stoop, and light up. The ritual never changes.

Here, beneath the canopy of constellations, I look for my special star. I don’t know what it is called, and I don’t know why it is that star…but I need to start each day in a silent commune before it. Once I find it, I stare at it for a few minutes, emptying my mind of creeping thoughts. I slowly shut my eyes, inhale another drag – and listen. Deeply.

I am listening for the voice of this star. We often converse, as only a man and his star can. I ask this star profound, life-guiding questions. I ask about the width and the depth and the breadth of the “whys” and the “what nows.”  It answers me in a dazzling array of pale blue twinkles.  If I listen hard enough, the answers come.  They always come.

Like little mice on padded feet, words start scampering around my brain. The writing has begun.

I toss the cigarette into the night, watching a spiral of red sparks ascend, then descend, as if to punctuate the purpose of this ritual. From the kitchen, the kettle begins to sing, and I rush in before it hits full crescendo. I pour the steaming water over a cone of coffee grounds and inhale the rising steam. In a seamless arch, I take my cup of coffee to the kitchen table, flip open the lid to my computer, and hit the resume button.

And then I write. And write and write and write.

At this point, what I write is irrelevant. That I write is the point. The wee hours of the morning are not the time to self-critique or to spin a plot. It is the time for the bleeding of words. And in these words, I find my way forward. I find the meaning that often eludes me in spoken words.  I find my healing.

This is how I start my days.

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Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Personal Reflection by Dennis

three-roads

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Which One Shall I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday. This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key. It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that.

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete. How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered? My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today. My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters. Today, I write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit. I am the protagonist. Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward. I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot. Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow? It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen. If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow, all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility. To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today. I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.” The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.” Plan for what? All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique. I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom. If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

Genie, You’re Out! (or Reflections on the Death of Robin Williams)

BuzP7p0CMAE3_-cI am devastated about the loss of Robin Williams, as are the millions of his fans, and more so by the fact that he took his own life.  Despite all of his money and all of his available resources, depression reached its bony fingers into his life (and dragged him to an untimely death as it certainly has for millions of others.)  Drugs and alcohol are certainly a part of his story, but make no mistake…this is a story about the savage blow of depression.  The pills and booze were only a symptom of this man’s sad demise.  Depression was the death blow.

Anyone who has never suffered from the savage effects of deep depression will find it hard to comprehend his decision to take his own life. Depressed people don’t kill themselves out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life isn’t worth living. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. Depression is an invisible agony that for many reaches a certain unendurable level where life and death are near equal terrors and death becomes a lesser terror than living.

For those who decide to take their life, they spend their final days and hours in much the same way a trapped person  eventually chooses to jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.  For the depressive suicidal, it’s not the desire of death, it’s the terror of living. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

In this same way, a person who doesn’t suffer the agony of depression will never be able to understand the torments and terrors suffered by those afflicted. Never. Just as depression is an invisible agony, so, too is the understanding of true depression invisible to those who do not suffer it.

We can, and should, have a conversation about depression, but unless you’ve ever stood on a ledge with flames coming closer and closer, you will never truly understand the agonizing decision to jump.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams..your Genie is out.

I Bark, Therefore, I Am

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I’m not going to yank your leash – it’s been a busy month. A few weeks ago, my humans took me into the scary place with the man in the white coat. You know the place. It’s where everyone gathers around me as I lay on a cold. steel table and they poke and prod. Seems I had something called cancer and my human’s seemed really, really worried and sad. It couldn’t be all that bad, I thought, as the treats seemed to triple recently… but before I could whimper, “let’s get out of this place”, they left me and went away.

Now, I know I’m a brave boy…at least that’s what they told me as they left. But I certainly didn’t feel brave as the man in the white coat took me into the back room and put me into a deep sleep.

I dreamt of all the eight, wonderful, play-packed years I had spent with my humans. I must have chased ten thousand bouncy things in the park, and they always bought me squeaky things to keep me occupied as they went to work each day. I dreamt of the day they rescued me. I had been kept in a breeders cage since birth, and when I was freed, I had seizures brought on by the new flood of attention and love. But as they said, I’m a brave boy, and I was so happy when they took me home to share their kennel with me. Over the next 8 years, I learned to play and cuddle and found my utmost joy in the little humans that would pet me, cooing, “Oooh..he’s so soft!”

I confess, nothing was as much fun as Christmas at my human’s owners house in Grass Valley when I get my new toys and treats! Didn’t much care for the firecracker day each July, but I found my comfort behind Mama’s legs. Oh, how I dreamed some big dog dreams.

When I woke up, the scary man in the white coat was smiling, and there were my humans!! They had come back (as they always do). My tail thumped as I could see how joyful and happy they were! “I got it all,” beamed the white coated man. “It’s was a low grade cancer and I’d be surprised if it comes back,” he said. I don’t know what all the fuss was about, but my humans were no longer sad, and that was all that mattered to me. I’ve got a lot of living, chasing, and loving to do still yet.

As I left the room, I looked back at the white-coated man and gave a little bark. He wasn’t so scary after all, and I felt I owed him a bark of thanks.

 

The Life and Death of My Creativity

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It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius.   And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that  childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.  To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first  draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable.  It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been.  It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.

Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years  can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write.  Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper. For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write.  I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it)  is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.

Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage.  When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy.  I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull.  Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident.  Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps  I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”

Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive.  Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.

I may never know what truly fuels my creative process.  The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out.  While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius.  Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.

Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone.  And that doesn’t require creativity.

Living for Today: Necessary Choices in My Emerging Journey – a Reflection by Dennis

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.  Which one will you choose?

Three Roads: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Which One Should I Choose?

The reason most people find themselves stuck in a rut is because they insist on seeing tomorrow as an extension of today, and today as an extension of yesterday.  This has been the most difficult, and necessary, lesson of the past year and a half of my life. My ignorance in adhering to this faulty belief invited me to voluntarily step into mental leg irons that have no key.  It has hobbled me in everything I have striven to achieve, for it is a false assumption and a dangerous one at that. 

Yesterday is a story that has already been told. The book is closed. The lessons, oh dear God, hopefully, learned. No amount of regret can change the ending of a story that is now complete.  How can I ever hope to begin a new chapter if I continue to dwell upon an ending that cannot be altered?  My past has served its only purpose, which was to instruct and to deliver me to today.  My only regret, my biggest regret, is that the lesson came at such a cost to another.

Today is all that truly matters.  Today, I  write the story, big or small, dull or incredible…the words are all there – and it is up to me to arrange them as I see fit.  I am the protagonist.  Only I can determine whether I turn left or right, whether I move forward, stand still or retreat backward.  I have come to the realization that to stand still or move backward is to settle for a weak plot.  Only in moving forward can the inspiring stories be written… and written well.

And what of my tomorrow?  It is nothing more than a blank piece of paper not yet ready for my pen.  If I live with one foot planted in today and the other in tomorrow,  all I will have managed to do is straddle the fence of possibility.  To be stuck on that fence is to surrender half of the possibilities of today.  I have chosen to get off of the fence and plant both feet firmly on the path of “ Now.”   The fallacy of tomorrow is the falsehood that I need to “plan for.”  Plan for what?  All the things I missed today?

This worldview is not clever or unique.  I did not come up with it. Smarter minds than mine have been advocating this for eons. I am just serving as the echo of their wisdom.  If I choose to live fully at this moment which is today, I have no choice but to surrender yesterday to the sweetness of memory, and tomorrow to the providence of faith.

Beginning now, I choose to immerse myself in the wonder and infinite possibility that is today. I do so with the humility to comes from the sacrifices of others who helped me find my way.

Defeated

defeated (1)

Like most people, I am caught in the web of learning  to navigate the constantly changing twists and turns of today’s fluctuating societal ups and downs.  It seems every day someone achieves their dreams while another is blown to bits by a terrorist’s bomb.  I celebrate a birthday with friends at the same time a mother buries her child.  This insidious balance of good and evil renders me near catatonic with a mixture of soaring joy and abysmal despair.  It just doesn’t make sense, and I am completely lost in a world I no longer understand.

The shooting at Sandy Hook and the resulting flood of grief as Death descended on this sleepy community left me in tears and shaking with sorrow.  No sooner had the bodies of these innocent children been pulled from their classrooms then I found myself out shopping for Christmas gifts in anticipation of a joyful family reunion. I watched the mix of loved ones waiting at the finish of the Boston Marathon, full of love and pride as their champions crossed the finish line, suddenly blended with the explosions of hate that laid low the lives of three people, one, a child who now joins the bitter fruit withering on the vine of life, not yet fully blossomed.  I have found that I am incapable of processing this confusing blend of despair and bliss.  My psyche is not wired to route the neurons of my emotions bouncing back and forth within my soul so randomly, and my mental landscape is muddled beyond words.

I am left feeling that I have personally failed in my journey upon this earth, this blue-green marble that spins wildly on a shaky spindle.  I don’t know how to proceed. No sooner than I fall on my knees in prayer that word comes of another senseless act of violence.  Is this how God answers desperate prayers for comfort and understanding?  Am I a fool to think that a simple act of Divine intervention might be suggested amongst all this violent loss of life?  So I stop praying.  God must be a sadistic voyeur for the silence of His absence in all of this is deafening.

My life does not slow down, however, to properly mourn, for no sooner than my heart is laid low by the killing of a dozen Syrian children, then the phone rings and I’m invited to a party celebrating the engagement of my best friend.  What cruel and atrocious mocking of life this all turns out to be.  Where do I find understanding amidst the laughter and the tears?  How do I proceed with any semblance of balance?  I retreat into the only sanctuary where I find an ounce of control: my writing.  But as the words pour out upon the page, my sadness and confusion only becomes more evident.  I start to write of hope and love, and in moments my words become dark and sullen.  I am the world I live in. And like that world, I am confounded  in both mind and body.  My pen stops and weeps uncontrollably.  My writing is exhausted and no longer makes sense.

I am caught in a bubble devoid of clarity, floating mindlessly through each demanding day. I cry out,  “Please, someone, pop the bubble!”;  explain this senseless woven tapestry of life so that I can chart my course, so that I can find meaning in this tower of babel.  To God and His perfect plan I say “Fuck You” – this pain is no longer bearable.  I cannot trust the joys I know when lurking behind the next corner is just another tragedy waiting to crush my spirit once more.  I need to get off this see-saw and find shelter.

I can no longer play His celestial game of ping-pong.