letting go.

30 April 2015 § Leave a comment

hey you. what’s it like over there, on the other side of that chasm?

i can still throw a rock across it, it’s so close, right behind me.

i’m hesitating to sharpen my knife. taking it slow. listening to the rough shine slif of steel over stone.

as if metaphors help, now.

thanks for reading, all of you. it’s time for me to move on from Structured Roots, this disorganized mess of a blog that has commanded so much of my attention over the years. and so little.

it’s publishing practice, right? a way to keep up with the modern world. well. a few months before I signed up on wordpress and started this site in 2009, i left all the tech of the audio engineering world behind because it seemed to me that i was caught up in the electrical currents, addicted to the jolt of plugging into guitar amplifiers, recording studio parties, and emotional self-destruction. i wasn’t where i needed to be, no matter how bad i thought i wanted to be where i was, to have what i had. so i left. took off traveling, poking around the world. i started writing here because it offered an ultralight journal option, and let those who wanted to know where i was that, for better or worse, i was still kicking rocks.

part escapism, part searching for my Self (as privileged white americans such as myself are wont to do), and part looking for home (knowledge, often, of the less-privileged), the journey brought me full circle: my only home is me. so i watched, listened, smelled, tasted, sensed, and felt myself for something to hold onto: other people emerged as non-options for my attachment. when they were options, i pushed them away.

i continue to. i am, now. pushing you, subscribers and wordpressers and interwebbed peoplebots away. if having a cultish twitter/tumblr/instafacepress following is the road to success as a writer today, i decline the pursuit. thank you for your following. neither of us need our roots to be structured; let them seek nourishment where and how they may,

wild.

here’s to you.

with love,

s.

The Crane Wife: A Review

26 April 2015 § Leave a comment

Patrick Ness’ novel The Crane Wife leveled me completely. I practiced putting it down sometimes, that I wouldn’t get to the end too quickly. It reads like a fairy tale, features the kind of symbolism and irony I wished for in tenth grade English class. Maybe I just thought I understood it more than I understood The Scarlet Letter because I’m older now. Maybe it resonated me to near collapse every chapter or so because I’ve been in love, and this story is that story.

Close enough, anyway, that I was consoled by the humanity of Ness’ characters. The Crane Wife opens as George, the American London print shop owner, hears an odd sound in the middle of the night, and discovers a giant white bird with a giant arrow piercing its wing in his back yard. The next day, as he fiddles with a new art form, an enigmatic woman named Kumiko walks into his print shop and alters the course of George’s life with a little, innocent question and a lethal dose of calm. What follows is a middle-aged American-in-London’s path to freedom, and forgiveness. Which are, perhaps, as we find out later in the book, the same thing.

It is also a story of George’s daughter, Amanda, who despises everyone but her son and, rarely, her father. Through a surprisingly normal series of events—trouble getting along with co-workers, being left out of the loop about dad’s new girlfriend, sleeping regretfully with her ex-husband—Amanda begins to feel like she never has before. Tears, just below the surface. Unexpected blurting of intimate thoughts. Pushing others’ hot, hot buttons very, very hard.

George and the mysterious Kumiko collaborate on tile art that devastates everyone who sees it. Art people begin to offer ridiculous sums for the tiles, composed of feathers and cuttings from used books. As the worlds of George and his daughter Amanda start to overlap to no small degree, the reader may find himself in the back yard of his own logic.

Patrick Ness writes art and poetics into a self-aware, humorously critical narrative that is both seamless and timeless. With a small, dynamic cast, Ness shamelessly explores the confuzzled feelings that spark and sometimes erupt between two people regardless of who they think they are, or who they are to others.

I highly recommend The Crane Wife first to anyone who thinks they know what love is. More, to those who have been cast from it.

small reminders for the morning.

7 December 2014 § 2 Comments

do your self a favor: be aware that your actions and every shred of your energy are yours alone: manage them well. be careful and dignified within. seek counsel from the wise, and be slow to accept advice. your energy is sacred; giving it away frivolously will only harm you. some will try to help themselves to it: you must decrease the interval between the present moment and your highest response. use all of your senses during interactions, and know that what is being communicated is seldom with words at all, but with the subtleties of body language and intention. how you carry yourself will determine how you are treated.

that which you found yesterday has been you all along. welcome to yourself. welcome to how you show up in the world, and relate to others. intellectualize it, avoid it, and you will never be satisfied. fear is a series of obstacles between you, and the outcome of your desires.

you are the sole proprietor of your fear. own it, take responsibility for it; no one else can, or will. as with your creativity, forgive and thank those whom inspire it.

what is within begs to be without. so let it out, and let it be. you cannot unring the bell.

congratulations. you have arrived at the beginning, and everyone is watching. no – they are aware. they react to your energy, as you react to theirs. these ripples ebb and flow only with your awareness. only in authentic action can we truly serve another.

an iPhone introspective

24 October 2014 § 1 Comment

“What does it look like?” the student receptionist asked.

“It’s an iPhone,” I said.

“Okay. Put your…um… email address here, and we’ll write to you if it’s turned in.” She slid me a post-it note and a pen. Her voice still echoed through the oversized hall behind me, off the mahogany trim of the office and restroom entrances, the sealed concrete which squeaked under my rubber soles.

Walking through Reed College in autumn is a wet and colorful ride. Many of its trees were planted when the school was built in the earliest days of the 1900’s. Its Gingkos and maples, white oaks and american sycamores have grown tall and wide, start to drop fluorescent leaves when Portland’s rain comes pouring out of the post-summer sky.

At the end of work the previous day, my co-worker pulled the Sprinter into a bus stop, and I jumped out to run to my truck, parked across the street. My feet sloshed in my shoes; my pants soaked as if I had jumped into a lake. Focused on the warm shower awaiting me, I didn’t notice my iPhone tumbling out of my lap, and into a puddle. At home I noticed it had vanished, I assumed it was still in the truck. I went to my messenger bag to text my co-worker, hey, I think I left my phone…

Denied.

I needed to confirm plans with a friend. Email could work, perhaps. Or facebook.

But..but…I couldn’t. My fingers longed to tap in the four-number passcode on the phone, to swipe the futuristic screen; I wanted to watch the colors and numbers and apps flow past, animation that just doesn’t exist in Gmail. Or in the real world.

The real world. Outside of the extensive list of phone numbers, some of which I know I will never call again, apart from the calendar to which I’ve given myself entirely, without which I miss meetings, concerts, the to-do list! That fucking iPhone was an extension of my will — an opportunity to reach out, or reply, when otherwise I most certainly would not. Quickdraw information to decimate debates, a device to enable my anxiety when waiting to hear back about something important, and to top it off, it’s my only alarm clock (I overslept this morning, missed work, couldn’t text to apologize, couldn’t even get the address of the next tree work job to meet my co-workers). Never mind the photos.

Never mind that I’ve routinely dismissed the iCloud backup alert, the one that requests to be connected to my computer, asks for my Apple ID password. This iPhone hasn’t been backed up in 32 weeks, it said. Yeah, because I’ve never plugged it into my computer. Not once.

Yesterday, I re-traced my steps. Went back to Reed college. Asked the receptionist if anyone’s turned in an iPhone. Nope. Walked out to the bus stop. A beautiful chocolate woman stood at the stop, earbuds in, now and then glancing toward my determined scan of the grass, the sidewalk, the puddle. Nothing. I looked up at her, distracted from my search. She didn’t return it. Something told me, go to her.

Yes. Behind the beautiful young woman lay my prize. A completely destroyed, totally and utterly obliterated Apple iPhone 5, its glass shattered, and the leftover pieces of a Lifeproof case. Proof that a hundred dollars for a palm-sized piece of plastic is not insurance enough. I’m going to re-prioritize where my money goes from here on. I’m unconvinced that technological co-dependence is where it’s at. I just paid the Verizon bill two days ago.

Let it be.

iphone shattered

The Settling

1 October 2014 § 3 Comments

I’ve lost track of you. As an individual, as a group. Grand-scale socializing for this introvert peaked, and not even the trusty iPhone kept up. If we’ve connected recently, and the ball is in my court to get back to you, picture me dropping the ball, distracted as ever by the pulsing energy flying past.

Maybe I’m not supposed to “keep up.” Maybe I’m caught up in the relationship reciprocation game, the social network, the outstretched hand. Maybe conversations continue, and there is no end. Maybe I’m missing the jagged shimmer of turmoil.

In third grade, I was caught by the recess duty trying to set ants of fire with my eyeglasses. My energy now is focusing like that sunlight laser beam. Things and people are falling in and out of focus. For better or worse, something’s about to burst into flames. Steady hands, steady heat.

I’m back in university as of yesterday – a two year gap – and grateful for the first go-around. She said once, if you don’t start now, you never will. And I wouldn’t now, if I had to start from the beginning.

But I don’t, because I’m past the beginning. Past the bright and shiny, brain-drug phase of life where each smile feels like forever and always, and each heart prod is still an experiment with assumed-yet-unknowable results. I’m making peace with the new peace, the change, the acceptance, the settling. The settling. Not so suddenly, SETTLE no longer means or implies DEATH. It means, listen. Observe. Participate. Be yourself. Understand and love your Self. Your self – my self – is not a product of another being, though we can be driven by inspiration; love is not determined by another, though it often seems dependent. The Settling is not about place, time, or giving in. It is about steady hands, an internal knowing: one palm on my heart, the other open, upward.

I’ve lost all your coordinates, all your stars. But I’m beginning to find my own.

A scammer and a 49er walk into a casino…

21 August 2014 § Leave a comment

“I won the Nigerian lottery,” Tony said, deadpan. “Four million dollars.”

Tony, Heather and I stood ten paces from the door of Muckleshoot Casino, the most profitable casino in the country, according to the concierge. Tony met us for an Elvis Presley impersonator concert at the Galaxy Lounge. The last night of a seven-day run, the musicians flowed through the setlist like an oiled assembly line: tight rhythm, perfect solos, big smiles. During the encore, an inebriated woman stumbled on stage for a spot-lit moment with the wigged singer, and “Elvis” kissed her cheek as security ushered her offstage.

“All I have to do is send them $150,” he said. “I’ll pick the guy up at the airport in Seattle, and he’ll give me the cash. After expenses, of course.”

The fluorescent lights of the parking garage created a sort of halo around Tony’s stocky silhouette. I couldn’t see a smile forming, reassurance that he was joking. So I waited for the punchline. Heather looked us both over, sensed the gap in humor.

Tony lives in a tiny home on his sister Susie’s gated vineyard in rural-esque Washington. Armed only with a Chrysler 200 convertible, a monthly Social Security check, and his past, Tony navigates his 60’s with a Garmin GPS that doesn’t always show him the right way to the doctor’s office in Tacoma. Tony needs a defibrillator to replace his pacemaker, because there’s a higher chance that his heart will stop cold turkey than go arrhythmic.

As the gatecode-keeper, Susie determines who Tony should have as visitors. I’m allowed, but no one else, it seems, like the family of a young man he mentored. You see, Jeff stayed with Tony years ago, and stole a gun from Susie’s house. She pressed charges. Jeff went away.

Jeff was shot and killed by police in Wenatchee not long ago. The infant and the girl Jeff left behind are not allowed to visit Tony, per Susie. What if they steal something?

“It may be that I only have to pay $50,” he added. “They’ll keep a higher percentage, but I’ll still make three million dollars.”

“Sean,” Heather said to my agape jaw, “he’s serious.”

Tony was quiet.

Standing speechless in the chasm between the casino and the parking garage, I wanted to tell them about an episode of This American Life I listened to in 2008.

Ira Glass interviewed an American who operated an online forum dedicated to taking revenge on the Nigerian lottery scammers: when a forum user received a common spam email which read something like, Your great-great uncle, Arthur Hatterfield IV, left you an inheritance of 3,400,000. We would like to pay this sum to you as soon as possible: all you need to do is give us all of your personal information and $50.

The forum users would conspire replies, encourage the “trustee” to develop a relationship with the scammer: yes, I would like to receive the money. Please meet me in Somalia.

In one case, a Nigerian scammer took a series of buses across sub-Saharan Africa, in hopes of receiving US$50 – a huge sum. He emailed the trustee, a middle-class twenty-something in suburban U.S. America, and said that his bus was overtaken by guerrilla militants at the border, and he was stripped and tortured, broke in a country where he didn’t speak the language, and could the American please send some of the $50 to help him?

It was hilarious fodder for the online conspirators – nothing is true on the internet, after all – until the intrigued forum administrator followed up on the tale. He made some calls, and somehow got through to the scammer’s employer in Ibadan, Nigeria: yes, the man had gone off to Somalia, he must make money; yes, he called us about his bus, but he is on his own. We cannot help him.

The forum administrator told the story to Ira Glass, and I stored it in my memory, and think about it whenever some such email shows up in my inbox. No doubt Tony read a similar message, then looked up from the computer, out the window at the mansion and the vineyard – Susie’s little kingdom – and thought, well, fifty bucks isn’t much.

“Maybe the Nigerians will pay,” Tony said. It was getting darker outside the casino, and the fluorescent halo seemed brighter now.

I had just caught up to the fact that he wasn’t joking, or telling us some joke he played in his spare time.

“Tony, there’s no money!” I blurted, just as the pieces of hope slid together in my mind. The tiny home, the controlling sister, the missed doctor’s appointment; Tony needed to win the lottery.

If a man has nothing, I remembered from a scene in Flight of the Phoenix, as two men stood amongst the wreckage of their airplane in the Sahara Desert, give him hope.

I can’t help but think that by saying there’s no money, and by writing this, I am taking hope away from a man who needs it more than he needs four million dollars. Tony’s got more than his past and a GPS: he has a lifelong dream of seeing the San Francisco 49ers play in Candlestick Park, and I’d love nothing more than to sit with him in on November 2nd, as they play the Seattle Seahawks, albeit in the new stadium, as a gesture of apology, and love. That would be my lottery winnings.

the second’s coming

14 August 2014 § 4 Comments

More than once since I returned from commercial fishing in Alaska two weeks ago, friends and strangers alike have said to me, “where’s part two?!” To which I squint, and try to discern if they’re talking to the right person.

The summer vacuumed words from me. I barely feel them bubbling beneath my skin, I can’t seem to remember the small details of interactions, the energetic statements of character which make up novels and relationships. There’s a great void within, where a mountain used to be – and what is the protocol when a fucking mountain, of all things, vanishes, and one no longer feel its vast stillness, and the crags and glaciers and lava become dreams – or worse, hallucinations?

As Bristol Bay rocked me to sleep each night, I felt no pull to write, no desire to document the sunset, or the tides. I did not lose language itself, rather the motivation for expression. The story disappeared.

In the timeless movement on the outdoor dance floor last weekend, a man put his hand on my shoulder, and said something like “fellow storyteller, thank you.” He touched his heart, and looked me in the eye as he floated away with the music.

I didn’t know or recognize him. Which scared me–how many times have I wondered who’s looked at my facebook page, did not “like” or comment, or reads Structured Roots. A phantom readership. Is this how authors and artists feel?

Perhaps it seems obvious, but it occurs to me that placing “Part I” on the end of a title implies a second part, a conclusion or continuation, requests some gesture of taking responsibility for an audience I have, somewhat accidentally, cultivated.

During the hitch trip I referred to at the end of ‘Escape from Bliss’, I thought, maybe I’ll write a story as the second part. Back in Portland, in the days between travel and fishing in Alaska (do I have any others?), I transcribed the trip journal. I thought I’d integrate the experiences over the summer, and it would magically appear as some grand, published piece. A lofty goal for a focusless ex-vagabond fisherman.

The second part is coming. Some of you have heard the succinct version, the “ending”. Even if the creative force within isn’t flowing like a class IV river, my main writing goal at present is to follow through with this story. I’ll be with you shortly. Thank you for reading, listening, asking.

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