Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dammit! I was just thinking about him! I wrote it here only a few weeks ago, and it spiraled out into the netherverse, and Death himself took notice. (Yes, I have that much influence.) It is so weird, to me. You say it here, and it comes out -tragically- there. And he never finished his list.

But I must point out the title of the LA Times obit: "Adventurer Fulfills Most of Childhood Goals". Yes. Most. I consider this a wild lifetime accomplishment. As most of us have only one or two of them, and yet, never get around to (either) one. He had a list of 127 childhood goals. He got to 120. And if you think that old age slowed him down, when he was 61 he was at #108.

He gladhanded peril; kayaking down the Nile, running combat missions in World War 2, setting speed records in experimental aircaft, and milking rattlesnakes on the side -and the great adventurer John Goddard enthusiastically tells stories about it all, and since he's lived most of them himself, he deserves to. But I like the one where a guy comes backstage after a lecture on SCUBA diving, saying he'd always wanted to dive. Then, a year later, the same man comes backstage after a lecture on mountaineering, to say that he'd always wanted to climb. Then the following year, the same man came backstage after a lecture on skydiving. But Goddard was prepared.

"Don't say it," he said. "Next Saturday at eight AM there is a parachuting course out at Lake Elsinore. Here's the phone number."

The man told Goddard he couldn't possibly do it. He was too busy. He couldn't afford it. But that Saturday night, he phoned Goddard and said, "I did it. When that chute blossomed over me today, it was the greatest moment of my life."

Death. Adventure. What's to say about it? Except that the latter is ill-defined without the former. I wanted adventure when I was young. And I must say I got a little, but it left me lonely, so I opted for something else: Wife. Children. The Suburbs. And I also must say, if you can believe it, that it was all more treacherous than I expected. And perhaps that is my weakness: that I didn't expect it. ("Marry and have children" is #126 on Goddard's list, by the way. He checked it off. Six kids.)

The secret to the fulfilling list, John Goddard claimed, was that he would lay in bed at night, with his eyes closed, and picture himself, for example, shooting deadly rapids. "If I capsize, what are my options? I run through them in meticulous detail. Then, when I'm actually on the river, I've rehearsed it so often in my mind that I know just what to do. I pre-visualize my goals." And what about walking on the moon? (Goal #125)

"My word, yes! I love pre-visualizing myself on the moon, bouncing along in my space suit, weighing twenty-nine pounds."

I, for one, believe him. Because I have no idea what I weigh on the moon, and have never gone through the effort to figure it out, much less internalize it. But some nights I lay in bed and pre-visualize how I am going to get through the work day tomorrow with a good attitude. I picture myself with the tools, smiling, coming to terms with the fact that I don't know everything, but that I have the ability to find out the answers, if I have to. I remind myself that I am a simple man, and a slow learner, and that I just have to be patient in the trough, between the crest of each swell. That I have nothing to lose but time and money, which I can always make back. It does the job, sometimes.

We can't all be adventurers, or should be. Goddard himself went through two wives before finding the third that understood him. Sacrifices were made. I can only imagine the pain involved, and that was spread around. They don't write about that in the obituary. And those distant wives, those old commitments? They weren't interviewed on the subject. Goddard defined himself with a goofy List, and that's what he's remembered for.

I will be remembered for nothing so interesting. But I would like to be remembered as being devoted to my family, as a man with integrity, as a man who was mostly honest, as a man who appreciated the hard, patient work of a productive garden. I suspect none of this will make the LA Times, but the God I believe in might be impressed by it. I don't know. I hope so. I guess my list is different. And if my God is real, He won't be impressed that John Goddard jumped out of airplanes. But that one guy who Goddard encouraged to? I suspect something significant happened there.

Still. Pathetic as I am, I dream of seeing the Nile. Maybe my wife would join me. Maybe someday, after the kids move out. We don't need to milk cobras or hang with headhunters, I just want to see the pyramids. They're so cool-looking, you know? All tall and pointy. But it's not important.

"It's ridiculous to tippy-toe through life." Read it to the end to understand John Goddard.

But I'm not like that.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

I haven't had a drink in a week. I've been replacing it with mineral water (and a splash of lime!) to fill my stomach at night, after the kids are in bed. You know, to unwind.

It's a "cleanse". Seems people are into "cleansing" these days. They'll banish gluten and soft drinks and soft cheeses from their diet. Go all veggie. Puree the greens and sip it down three times a day. See if they feel any better. That doesn't sound cleansing to me. I'd rather suck down a carafe of WD-40.

But, hey, to each his own. I'm also running every day. I do this from time to time. I claim it's to keep me in check, but there's more to it than that. I want to focus on something dumb for a while. Change up the routine. I want to see if life is different from how I regularly perceive it. I want to find where my body is at. And I want to show everyone that I can. And pathetic, it can be.

I didn't tell anyone, not even my wife. I did this, I think, because I was worried that I might give in after a long hot work day and indulge in -horror of horrors- a beer or two. I started on a Sunday, at church, where these things usually occur to me, and the truth came out around Wednesday, when Mrs. Ditchman noticed I was acting strangely. On Friday, she was thinking about opening a bottle of wine and I said, "I'm not going to have any, but you can." To which she responded, "DO YOU HAVE TO PUNISH US ALL?!"

On Saturday, which I knew was going to be the toughest day because all five of us are home for the duration, I caved and had a beer at the end of the day. It was my beer, one that I'd made and had been aging, and I was dying to try it. It was good. And I had another. So, in the end, I bragged that I had only had two beers all week, and it was beer that I had made myself. This impressed no one.

I love beer. I do. I love wine, too. (I love it more, actually, but good beer is cheap, compared to good wine. These aluminum patio covers don't allow me the choice.) I am fascinated by it all; the recipes, the trends, the tradition. I like the bitterness, which is an adult flavor. And I like the buzzing high from the alcohol, which is an adult sensibility.

And sometimes, I admit, I have been known to drink too much. It is a very shaky path. One of the big lessons in life is learning when enough is Enough. God has built into us insatiability, and we should ponder its benevolent characteristics. But we not only want more of a good thing. We humans, sadly, want more of even a half-good thing, if we are but half-developed.

And alcohol is that. It is a half-good thing. If you've ever been drunk, you know this. We kid ourselves that it's all good because it has been around for eons and, some argue, may have been the one thing that galvanized the advancement of technological civilization, and so our indulgement in it is justified by the ages. But the truth is, it is merely testament to our inherent, perfectly human fallibility -that we cannot control ourselves, however hard we try. Alcohol is here as a test. Can you rise above it? Can you transcend both its blessings and its pitfalls?

So I took some time off the drink, and I was a little surprised by the cravings. I did have cravings, and at the same time every day. It was like having to turn off a reflex, which wasn't too difficult, but then I felt a prolonged craving for sugar, which is when I knew that this could be a serious physical problem.

Alcohol is a mutated, transformed version of sugar, if you didn't know. I say, "if you didn't know" because your body may not know this. So it asks for sugar. And I was looking for old Easter candy before bedtime, and I found this mildly alarming. But in a day or two, it passed. And then I found myself just wanting a relaxing buzz, to drown out the pained, plaintive sounds of the hurried and worried day, and this was easier to quell, with a Pellegrino and an early bedtime.

I don't drink the hard stuff. Though I have, in the past, been wryly amused by a wildly shaken gin martini, or the smooth, peaty scent of a fine whisky, I have never pursued it. Maybe it's because I am a Pisces. I like to drink. I like to swallow liquid. The hard alcohol stuff denies me that pleasure, and there are more places to stumble on that path than are first apparent. (In the coming months I may give up coffee for a week, though I fear I am not so brave.)

The week is over, and I admit I am glad of it. I like my beer at the end of the day. And I told my wife that if I ever drink too much, she should tell me. And then I told her I would fight it a bit, but then relent, because I knew what was right, and, at the end of the day, I am weak.


Friday, May 3, 2013

The truth cannot be buried. It claws, tooth and nail, to the surface, and punches its outstretched hand skyward, like in an old zombie movie. The truth wants air, and it wants light, and it will move ever-forward to get it. It cannot be stopped. And, like those noir zombies, it is immortal. 

If we ever feel we have buried the truth completely, then it is a lie we tell ourselves, as we only bury it skin-deep, in our hearts. Other hearts demand their piece of it, and so they will claw their way in, into your heart. And if some truths are taken to the grave, then when God Himself meets you there on The Other Side, it's the first thing He demands you hand over.

Some truths are not buried entirely, but locked away, placed in ambiguously numbered crates and stored in a warehouse of a thousand other secrets, like the Ark of the Covenant in that first Indiana Jones movie. These truths are too dangerous to be fully known, too powerful to be shared, too horrifying to admit, too embarrassing to be set free. But we keep the keys to the warehouse, just in case. These may be truths we can use some day, we lie to ourselves, piling on.

Here is a story I have never told anyone:

I lied to my father, years ago, and I was an adult -or so I thought. I had borrowed some of his nice 35mm camera gear for a trip to Great Britain. It was the last day of the trip, and we were driving back to London. We had just departed Stonehenge, a hundred kilometers back, and I noticed I was missing a lens. It was a good Zuiko lens; expensive, heavy, made of black metal and perfectly hewn glass. I remember it very well: 50mm, f1.4. A nice lens, if you know anything about lenses. With such a low f-stop, it could see through the dark without the aid of any artificial illumination.

Anyway, I must have set the lens on the roof of the car when I switched to my telephoto, and when we drove off, I suspect it rolled into the tall grass. My friend asked me if I wanted to go back for it, and I said, no. too far. And we kept driving. Driving down the wrong side of the road, in England.

Well, my dad asked me about it several times over the years, and I always claimed that I had it, somewhere, but I never admitted that it was in safekeeping on the other side of the planet, hidden amongst the age-old Celtic reeds of Stonehenge. And I never told him the truth because I was afraid of him. It was the nature of our relationship, where the truth never felt safe between us.

Ten-long years later my dad and I got into an argument. My parents were getting older, old, and we had to move he and my mom to a smaller apartment -which is a difficult thing- and I was trying to help, but he yelled at me, apropos of nothing, "and you lost my camera lens when you went to Europe!" And I stopped. He had always known it. And then, because I was a fool, and not yet a mature adult, I re-stated the lie: No, I didn't lose it! I still have it in my closet somewhere! And then the argument moved on to other, more forgettable things. But we continued to burn. No, we smoldered.

Then, a year or so after that, I was chatting with my brother, who was living with my dad at the time, and I asked him how dad was doing, because my dad was getting infirm and distracted, and I was worried about him. My brother said, "He wants some camera lens back. He says you have it." So, after more than ten years, in the name of a twenty-year old, pre-digital, old-school camera that was nearly obsolete, I piled on. I went to a used-photography equipment store and bought an old Zuiko 50mm f1.4 lens sitting on a glass shelf. I remember the dealer was trying to sell me the f1.2, the best lens of all, for a great price, but I wouldn't have it. I plopped down a few hundred dollars and walked out with the lens. I gave it to my brother and told him to give it to dad. He did. And then, later, I asked him what my dad's response was, and my brother said, "It's funny. He looked down at it. He rolled it over in his hands. And he seemed kind of sad." Less than a year later, my father died.

That was nearly a decade ago, and today I am the caretaker of that lens, and the lies I told about it. I had eventually inherited the camera gear, and with it I inherited a store-hall of insufferable truth that I am doomed to keep with me to the end of my own days. The truth about the 50mm, f1.4 lens is a small one, but through that lens goes a dim, focused light, and through that lens everything is properly exposed.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I made a list. Sometimes it just comes to that. People who don't make lists mock list-making, so I want to stop you right there. I made a list of 13 things and by the end of the weekend I had accomplished and crossed out twelve of them. I showed the crossed-off list to Mrs. Ditchman on a Sunday night before bedtime and she took a step back, thought for a second, and then said, "Wow. That's pretty good."

So I was very proud of myself. The next day I made another list, starting with the one thing I didn't accomplish from the previous list. This list had about twenty things on it, so I had substantially upped the ante. But I was overconfident, and only got to cross off about half of them. Discouraged, I did not show Mrs. Ditchman this list.

After about two weeks, I had it down to two uncrossed things, so I made a new list. It's Thursday now, and I don't think I've got anything crossed off.

I believe I made a few mistakes with this list. Some of the things were just too big. I mean, you can't write MAKE MONEY on the list. Oh, it's a good idea and all, but it has no place on a list. I mean, when are you ever gonna realistically be able to cross that one off?

Another mistake is putting things on the list like REMODEL BATHROOM. Yes, we all agree that it's something that definitely needs to be done, but a list like that needs to be framed and nailed to a wall. I mean, you're gonna have that list around for a couple years.

Third mistake: putting weekly chores on the list. Unless you're certain the entire list can be accomplished, signed off, and thrown away, don't put FILL YARD WASTE BIN on the list. Because if you fill the yard waste bin and then cross it off the list, and then you don't finish the list in a week, your just gonna have to write that on  the list again. And then you're stuck in a Mobius Loop with the list. A Mobius List. It's what you're always in when it comes to things like household chores, loving your spouse, and weight loss. 

The key to a good list is to put really simple things on it. Not things you were going to do anyway, but things that you've been meaning to do but only take about twenty minutes. This way, you can rationalize "wasting" twenty minutes on something for the sheer purpose or goal of crossing the thing off the list. Because the whole goal of making a list is to be able to successfully and righteously cross things off the list. It's more satisfying than doing the task, really. Hey, you could be crossing something off a list right now, but here you are reading this. STOP. Whatever you're doing, put READ SEAN'S DUMB BLOG on your list right now, read the following few paragraphs, and then cross it off the list. You'll feel much better.

When I was in kindergarten, I lived up the street from a guy named John Goddard. Maybe you've heard of him. I met him once or twice, when I was a kid, and I remember him speaking at my school, my church, the local library. My mom knew him, and I think my older sisters went to high school with his kids. Anyway, for all the awesome things John Goddard eventually became famous for, he will be most remembered for his List. When he was fifteen he made a list of 127 things. A big list! Anyway, he's about 90 years old now, and has crossed off 109 of them. Here's the list. Best list ever.

I'm not that ambitious. I've got things on the list like REPAIR SIDE GATE and FIX DINING ROOM PICTURE FRAME and ADD LAWN SPRINKLER. But I'm gonna do these things. I'm gonna do all of them. And then I'm gonna cross them all off the list, crumple it up in my fist and toss it in the trash. Take that John Goddard! Ha! I finished my list! Let's just see you get to the South Pole at your advanced age!

After I throw the list away, I won't ever have to think about those things again, and this is not to be underestimated. I've found over the years that I spend more energy fretting about all the things that need to be done around here, than I do when I actually do the thing. As you get older, you find you need to conserve energy. And if the only way to do it is to fake yourself out and make a list, and then make crossing the things off the list more important than the actual things on it, then it's worth it. Because none of this stupid stuff really matters in the long run, anyway. Save your energy for the important things in life. The unexpected stuff. The serious stuff. You're gonna need energy for all that.

If all of life was simply about crossing things off a list, I think we'd all be happier people. No, seriously.