Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 31

Every book is a children's book if the kid can read.
                         ~ Mitch Hedberg

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writers & Dogs

I am as confounded by dogs as I am indebted to them
                                              ~ Roger Caras

I share my life with two dogs, Jack & Joey.  Jack was a rescue I adopted in 2006. In the weeks and months following the death of my partner in 2011, he saved my life.  I cannot imagine how lonely my apartment would have been without Jack there to greet me every night, or sleep next to me.

This past July, Joey joined our household.  He was just five weeks old, born on a farm, and he was placed in my arms with a homemade twine leash by two teenage girls who used the annual Delhi Daze to find homes for Joey and his siblings.  It took less than five minutes for the four puppies to be snatched up.

I would never have thought of myself as the proud dog person I have become.  I would never imagined my dogs would become my muses (oh, how I despise that word), but their snuffling and romping and furry selves show up regularly in my poetry.

Today, however, Joey tested the writer. 

Like any writer, I have books.  Lots of books.  This week, I received a copy of Tim Gunn's latest fashion book (confession: I have seen every episode of Project Runway) and 'The Shape of Poetry' signed by one of my poetic mentors, Peter Meinke.  The books were on the coffee table, but while I was working, Joey dragged them into the bedroom and made confetti of Mr. Gunn (in fashion, one day you're in, the next, you're a dog toy).  Poetry did not taste as good; Meinke's book suffered only a couple of tooth marks.

Sure, I raised my voice while picking up the shredded pages; scolding Joey for such a desecration.  Then we went for a walk in the brisk autumn afternoon, my anger forgotten, and now he's sleeping at my feet as I write this. You can only forgive a face like Joey's.  You can only see poems in those sad, brown eyes.

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 30

If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?

                          ~ Lily Tomlin

Monday, October 29, 2012

Daily Zen - Monday, October 29

Gross ignorance is 144 times worse than ordinary ignorance.

                         ~ Bennett Cerf

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seniors LipDub Monster Mash

I suppose it's the unofficial anthem of the Halloween season, and certainly we all sing along whenever we hear this charming earworm.  I love the spirit of these senior citizens, although some of them appear to be ambivalent about the recreation director's idea.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Superman Takes The Leap

Like typewriters, princess phones, and beepers, the printed newspaper is facing certain extinction.

Over the past decade, with ad revenue shrinking and the juggernaut that is the Internet, newspapers struggle to maintain viability and relevance in our world.  The recent reduction of issues of the New Orleans' Times-Picayune made newsroom editors shiver around the world.

I'm a devoted newspaper reader (although it's really just about doing the crossword puzzle). I grew up with the Des Moines Register and had the good fortune to live in Florida and read the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Times), both papers have won a handful of Pulitzer Prizes.  When I'm feeling flush, I buy the Sunday NY Times.  Have you picked up a Sunday Times lately?  It used to be a mammoth issue, but now seems almost demure in size.

I fear the death knell of the newspaper though, the final straw, rang this past week when DC Comics announced Clark Kent is leaving the Daily Planet to start his own news blog.  Our mild-mannered reporter has grown weary of covering the Kardashians and the Metropolis Cat Show.

Perhaps what I fear most is being unable to spend $5 on a crossword puzzle.

Weekend Zen - October 27-28

What would the sky be like if there was nothing to see but stars?

                         ~ Kevin Brockmeier

Friday, October 26, 2012

Second Thoughts From the Wilderness

In the morning, I write in
the cabin's tiny kitchen.
Today was day four in my faraway cabin, or as those of you still intimately connected to civilization call it, Friday.

Since my first wilderness journal entry a few days ago, I've learned a few more valuable lessons and I thought I'd continue sharing them.

Note: You may want to print these journal entries. 

In the event you find yourself alone for days in an isolated northern California cabin, these critical survival tidbits will come in handy and you will no doubt be lacking a good internet connection.

Slippers. In my first entry, I noted the importance of packing socks for this journey. As it turns out, the value of socks as foot warmers has been greatly exaggerated. Two days ago, I drove to Arcata and bought some cozy fur-lined slippers.

Dishes. No matter how many plates, bowls, or cups you use during each meal, wash them only once a day. Once your hands get wet and cold, it feels like they'll never warm up again.

Baseball. I listened to the second game of the World Series on the radio. No problem with reception, but I discovered that my brain finds it much easier to focus on a radio sports broadcast when driving than when sitting alone in a room staring at nothing. On the plus side - Go Giants!

Mittens. A good idea. See issue with dishes noted above.

In the afternoon, I move
to the front porch to work.
Fire. (Update) I have tons of kindling and firewood, but ran low on the most essential element of fire starting - newspapers (you remember, those things we used to read every day before the internet came along).

Anyway, should you ever run low on starter fuel for your woodstove fire, paper towels will suffice (Bounty, jumbo roll, no design). Also, the cardboard box in which slippers are commonly packaged will burn slowly and may produce a lovely blue flame.

Walking. Yesterday I took a stroll through the forest. The redwoods and fir trees are stunning, and I can’t describe how beautiful everything smells. I stopped at least a dozen times just to look up in wonder and breathe deeply.

… Is hard. Fits and spurts, but it’s happening.

Daily Zen - Friday, October 26

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
                         ~ Mary Oliver

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 25

Pay attention to where you are going because without meaning you might get nowhere.                       
                         ~ A. A. Milne

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 24

Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.

                             ~ Voltaire

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Impressions From My First Morning Alone

Quiet. A small wood-framed clock sits atop the refrigerator, and from every corner of my tiny cabin, I can hear it marking the passage of time. Tick-tick-tick.

Fire. When I arrived last night, the owner of the cabin had left a cozy fire burning in the wood stove to welcome me. The fire died out overnight, so this morning it was up to me to re-kindle the flame.

Apparently, it takes more than old newspaper, firewood, and matchsticks to start a fire. I have new respect for arson as an occupation.

Socks. Essential. See issues with re-kindling fire noted above.

Stillness. One other thing I learned in the first two hours this morning – sitting alone at small table in an isolated northern California cabin is not the same as plopping your butt down in front of ESPN at home.

~ Coffee made? Check.
~ Fruit cup eaten? Check.
~ Cell phone picked up 50 times to confirm there is still no signal? Check.

Okay, now what?

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 23

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

                            ~ e.e. cummings

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jeff Is Going Off the Grid, But the Blog Rolls On

The Backstory
About a dozen years ago, I began toying with an idea I had for a fiction novel. 

It's a story about a middle-aged guy who wants more happiness in the second half of his life than he had in the first half. He thinks he knows how to make that happen, but after some wacky stuff happens, he realizes much of what he knows about life, well, it might just be total crap. It all works out...maybe. (Can't tell you everything, can I?) It's your typical transformation story, only eloquently told with charm, wit, and an online thesaurus.

Anyway, about 18 months ago I stopped dabbling with the idea and began working on the book in earnest, and earlier this year, I finished a first draft. With more than 400 pages completed and 145,000 words committed to "paper," it turns out - that was the easy part.

Since early summer I have been revising that first draft. The editorial process for a novel, I have learned, can take far less time than the original writing (which is good because I don't think I have another decade in me for this project), but it takes even more focus and commitment. 

Commitment has always come easy to me, but concentration, not so much. Which leads us here...

Jeff's retreat in the redwood forests near Arcata, CA.
(Note: I don't know the woman pictured on the porch. I hope she's gone.)

The Next Four Weeks
Between now and Thanksgiving, I will be living in this tiny cabin, deep in the northern California redwoods. With no internet, phone, or cable TV immediately available, I will be largely disconnected from the real world. 

I'm hoping to find greater focus here than I have been able to muster in my daily life in recent months, and with a little luck and a lot of effort, I should make tremendous progress on revising my novel. 

You Can't Stop The Way Things Turn
I won't be publishing The Way Things Turn each day, but the world will continue to spin and events worthy of note will still need to be...noted.

I've asked my friend and fellow writer Tim Juhl to take over the helm of the blog for the next month, and lucky for all of us, Tim agreed! He will continue to publish daily zen posts, and hopefully, share with you some of his personal views on "politics, culture, and other best laid plans."

Tim will promote his daily posts via Facebook, so feel free to "friend" him. You can find his FB profile here. I will also "share" his blog posts thru Facebook and Twitter every few days when I make way to an internet cafe.

If you want to be sure you continue to see everything posted on the blog, all you have to do is subscribe. Just enter your email address in the "Follow By Email" box near the top of the left-hand column, and follow the simple instructions. You'll get an email each day with links to the daily zen and other posts.

That's it for me. I'm signing off for now. Wish me luck. Many thanks to Tim for taking over the blog for a month and.... always thanks for reading!

Daily Zen - Monday, October 22

The best way is just to observe the noise of the world. The answer to your questions? Ask your own heart.

                     ~ Hsu Yun

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Zen, October 20-21

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot. 
                    ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, October 19, 2012

Daily Zen - Friday, October 19

Travelers, there is no path; paths are made by walking.

                   ~ Antonio Machado

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 18

When you get there, there isn't any there there.
                  ~ Gertrude Stein

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 17

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. 

                      ~ John F. Kennedy

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 16

If you shut your door to all errors, truth will be shut out.
                 ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Monday, October 15, 2012

Daily Zen - Monday, October 15

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the unknown place where it leads. 

                      ~ Erica Jong

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Celebrating National Coming Out Day and Remembering Matthew Shepard

This is an update of an article that was originally published in October 2011.

What a strange coincidence that the celebratory National Coming Out Day event occurs each year on October 11, the day before the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death.

At the risk of dampening the uplifting message of NCOD, I like to use this time each year to remember Matthew, and in so doing, bring attention to the enormous need we have for greater tolerance in our society, as well as the importance of showing support for those among us who struggle to accept their own sexuality.

Matthew Shepard
Matthew Shepard was 21 years old when he died fourteen years ago on October 12th, 1998.
He was one of two sons born to his mother Judy and his father Dennis, along with his younger brother Logan.

He was a student at the University of Wyoming. He loved politics and traveling.

He was a slight kid, measuring only 5'3" tall and weighing not much more than 100 pounds. Matthew was gay.

Just after midnight on one cold night in early October, Matthew met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming. Under the guise of giving Matthew a ride home, the two men, also both in their early twenties, drove Matthew to a ranch in a remote area outside of Laramie.

It was in this secluded setting on the outskirts of town where McKinney and Henderson brutally pistol whipped Matthew and beat him savagely. They delivered repeated blows to Matthew's head, which fractured his skull in multiple places and left more than a dozen lacerations on his face and neck. The two men pummeled Matthew so badly that his brain was no longer able to regulate his heart rate, body temperature, or other vital functions.

The fence.
And when they were finished ruining this young man, McKinney and Henderson took his wallet and shoes, tied him to a fence, and left him to die alone in the near freezing darkness of a cold Wyoming night.

Eighteen hours later, Matthew was discovered by a cyclist who found him tied to the fence, and who at first, believed him to be a scarecrow. Matthew was taken to the hospital where his injuries were deemed too severe for doctors to operate. He survived a few days in intensive care, never regaining consciousness, and having no chance to say goodbye to his mother, father or brother, before he was pronounced dead at 12:53 a.m. on October 12.

The world has changed dramatically in the fourteen years since Matthew's murder.

Daily Zen - Friday, October 12

Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything. 

                    ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 11

In a perfect world, I don't think it [one's sexual orientation] is anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. 

                ~ Anderson Cooper

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 10

Sometimes we look for those thunderous things to happen...for our lives to change or go in the other direction. We seek the parting of the seas, the moving of the mountains. But no, it's a quiet thing.

                    ~ Ben Vereen

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 9

You're just left with yourself all the time, whatever you do anyway. You've got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It's all down to you, mate. 

                   ~ John Lennon

Monday, October 8, 2012

Daily Zen - Monday, October 8

The power of a man's virtue should be measured not by his special efforts, but by his ordinary doing.

                   - Blaise Pascal

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Forgiving a Serial Killer (And Saving Yourself)

Linda Rule, 1966-1982
I can think of nothing more cruel in this world than having your child brutally raped and murdered.

Robert Rule doesn't have to wonder how that might feel - he is the father of Linda Rule, a sixteen year-old girl who was a victim of Green River serial killer Gary Ridgway. 

At Ridgway's trial, after he was convicted of murdering 49 women, Mr. Rule and family members of other victims were given the opportunity to address the killer directly.

Understandably, the suffering and anguish of those who lost loved ones was clearly on display, as one family member after another wished a painful death on Ridgway and assured the killer that an eternity in Hell awaited him.

The rape and murder of a child is an event of such horrific magnitude and power that it would surely shatter any parent, leaving them broken, bitter, and empty - with a life in ruins.

It's hard to imagine anything strong enough to heal that kind of wound. How could anyone move forward from that kind of awful destructive grief? How could you fight such permanent darkness?

Apparently, there is a way.

It's an unthinkably difficult path that perhaps runs counter to our most fundamental instincts - but it's probably the only way out, and when Robert Rule spoke to Gary Ridgway, he illuminated it brilliantly.

I have never seen the power of forgiveness and human kindness so simply and honestly displayed.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend Zen, October 6-7

         Get mad, then get over it. 
                   ~ Colin Powell

Friday, October 5, 2012

Facts About Jobs Before and Since Obama (September 2012 - Election Edition)

UPDATE (NOV 4 2012): October 2012 employment results were released on Friday 11/2/2012. The 170,000 jobs created exceeded expectations and are a sign of continued consistent recovery.

While GOP conspiracy theorists (like former General Electric CEO Jack Welch) embarrass themselves with baseless allegations that the White House somehow manipulated the numbers, President Obama spent the day touting the undeniably positive facts included in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
  1. September saw 114,000 new jobs added, making it the 31st consecutive month of private sector job growth
  2. The unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 8.1% to 7.8%, the lowest point in four years. (Notably, this month's decline was NOT due to workers who "gave up" and dropped out of the workforce.)
  3. The economy has added 5.2 million jobs since March 2010.
Chart created by Steve Benen of Maddow Blog, using BLS numbers
A few months of consecutive private sector job growth might be luck, but thirty-one consecutive months of increases is an undeniable positive trend that is evidence of a steadily improving economy and the directional correctness of our nation's economic policy.

Romney and his GOP supporters can (and probably should) continue to key on the unacceptable pace of the economic recovery, but results like these take much of the sting out of any election season barbs they throw at the President.

In a November 2011 post, I said that Obama only needed continued consistent forward motion in U.S. labor results to re-secure his place in the White House for four more years. With this year's employment trends, which have been capped off nicely by September's significant reduction in the nation's unemployment rate, I stand by my prediction.

Daily Zen - Friday, October 5

To fly we have to have resistance. 

                     ~ Maya Lin

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Turn of Phrase - Federer Receives Death Threat

"On October 6, I plan to assassinate Federer for the purpose of tennis extermination." 

- From a threatening message posted on under the name Blue Cat Polytheistic Religion Founder 07. 

The message, which was published on a popular Chinese website, was accompanied by an image showing a decapitated Roger Federer on his knees on a tennis court, with a masked executioner holding an axe next to him.

Federer and his family recently arrived in China in advance of the Shanghai Masters tennis event. In light of the threat, tournament organizers have stepped up security around Federer, as well as other players. 

Why anyone would want to assassinate Roger Federer, a gracious and well-liked international tennis star who is essentially a-political and non-controversial, is beyond me. I have to assume there is some heavy-duty lunacy afoot in China.

Daily Zen - Thursday, October 4

Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. 

                ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Daily Zen - Wednesday, October 3

Don't be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends. 

                    ~ Richard Bach

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Daily Zen - Tuesday, October 2

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. 

                 ~ Ernest Hemingway

Monday, October 1, 2012

Daily Zen - Monday, October 1

It's only in uncertainty that we're naked and alive.

                   ~ Peter Gabriel