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Really?

Apparently, post-masculine is a thing.

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When you’re a man of a certain age, you read things that make you go, What?!

Apparently, post-masculine is a thing.

No one told me about this, but literature about it abounds.

Suddenly, things I used to feel shame for are vogue, and men are embracing their softer, tender, spiritual side. Imagine: after years of talking to the witch-doctor about how shabby I feel being part of a community that fetishizes hyper-masculinity; or how inadequate I am when I’m in a locker-room; or how hurt I am when someone makes fun of the way I walk; or how embarrased I get when told how I sound when I speak — now men are embracing their vulnerable, creative, and nurturing sides; except I can’t seem to find any of them in my neighborhood.

No matter. In this age of canker and snark, it’s good to know there are men beyond my phone’s radar scans who subscribe to Marcus Aurelius‘s and the stoic’s philosophy of being the best man one can be.

Now, if someone, please, could explain all this to me, I’d very much appreciate it. Discuss…

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Chores

There is lots to talk about and share, the challenge is deciding where to start. So, today, I’m making a list of things I want to write about, I’m nailing said list to the wall so it won’t fall to the floor next to this week’s To Do list, and I’m scribbling sentences together to meet a goal of 500 words.

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When you’re a man of a certain age, you like doing things your way.

In my case, I prefer not doing – as in, I can do that later, or better yet: tomorrow.

Things like paying bills, sending thank you notes (or texts), returning phone calls, cleaning out the freezer, or picking up pencils from the floor can wait. When I feel uncertain that I’ll be able to straighten-up from a forward bend, I leave it to the cleaning person to pick up the trail of pens, pencils, and notes I leave behind me when my lower back complains about doing work.

All of which brings me to this space. Since April (Goodness! Has it been that long?!), I’ve let the place go unattended and paid little mind to it. In the time since, summer’s come and continues to cling stubbornly on; a hurricane luckily spared us the worse, yet left a mess behind; dating continues to leave unfavorable impressions on a dwindling hopeful mind; and once again I find myself asking, what do I do about my ennui?

This morning, when I switched on the light on this blog, I found the tables, floor, and walls dusty and full of ideas that have gone nowhere – not for lack of want, but because my follow through is rather poor. I keep telling myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow works better for me,” and this turned what at first I thought would be a couple of days into quite a few months. “Tomorrow,” I kept saying, a la Miss Scarlet. Trouble is, tomorrow never came for Miss O’Hara nor for this site.

So, rather than defer to another morrow what I can do today, and knowing there are more pressing things I should be doing, I decided to put those things aside (Note to self: today is the first day to look for health insurance on the Health Marketplace; must have health insurance!), deferring them to another day, and I began to clean up this space. Throwing open the curtains, wiping the dust off the keyboard, and getting the mop from the closet (Note to self: replace mop head and get extra Clorox), I spent a good chunk of the morning scrubbing, wiping, and tossing months worth of neglect into the recycling bin.

FMThe work is far from spic-and-span; in fact, this post is really much ado about nothing. But it’s a start. The writing muscles are twitching and feel sore, but it’s a good kind of sore. The mind is foggy and dull, but it’s nothing a few cups of coffee can’t fix. The fingers are re-learning to contort their way around a keyboard after months of swiping and thumbing their way around a mini-screen deleting and blocking unsuitable dating choices.

There is lots to talk about and share, the challenge is deciding where to start. So, today, I’m making a list of things I want to write about, I’m nailing said list to the wall so it won’t fall to the floor next to this week’s To Do list, and I’m scribbling sentences together to meet a goal of 500 words – or thereabouts – that I can post to the blog. It’s too bad, really, that my Apple watch does not have an activity ring for words or characters typed, though it would be no more an incentive to write or do things like move around, stand-up, or take a walk around the block. (Again, must check health-insurance plans!)

For now, as the scent of Febreze fills the room and an allergy coughing and sneezing fit subsides from the dust inhaled in the process of writing, I can look at myself in the mirror and admit, “Dude, you should go walking around the block this evening. No, seriously. Go walk!

Impromptu

We had decided not to call it a date. Instead, we were “meeting” as two fellow single folk who suddenly find themselves in an odd situation trying to make the best of it.

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Like all good things, it started with a snafu.

I was sitting at my computer, bored, browsing profiles, drinking my first cup of coffee when a chat window from the personals popped open.

“Hi,” the message read. I looked at the picture of the person sending the greeting. It was a woman’s. Oh, Lord, I thought, another lonely-heart. I was about to write back to let her know about her misfiring finger when she wrote back, “Sorry!”

I giggled.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the profile’s picture to see who the woman was. I was doubly surprised. Not only was she beautiful, her reading choices were impressive: Steinbeck, Nabokov, Dickens, Garcia Marquez. Her description was funny, without a trace of self-deprecation. We had similar interests in the kind of men we’re looking for. She is fifty-two. She had impeccable punctuation. And her idea of sexy was indeed sexy.

No worries, I replied. Trust me, your profile is confusing me and almost makes me want to reconsider what I’m looking for.

She LOL-ed back. “Any luck?” she inquired.

I’m batting about as good as you are right now, I replied.

“Too bad. Same here” she said, and wished me luck.

I went back to my browsing. There was no need to continue the conversation, and I was not about to get myself entangled in something I couldn’t finish. While I looked at profile after profile of potential coffee dates, none of the matches compared to the woman’s profile. Why, I wondered, is everyone here so uninteresting? It’s like I’m looking at an army of clones. Isn’t there anyone original, or substantive, any more?

“Have a good day,” the woman chimed in again. I couldn’t help laughing now. She was gutsy, at the very least, and had a sense of humor about her trigger finger.

What are you doing today? I wrote back. It’s beautiful and neither one of us should be indoors.

“Nothing,” she wrote back. “Walk.”

Coffee?

We met on Lincoln Road, in Miami Beach. Busy. Popular. Neutral. It was her idea and her neighborhood. I recognized her immediately from her photos. She was shorter than I imagined. She had not lied about herself on her profile; I just didn’t read it carefully enough. She looked like Penelope Cruz (from the Almodovar days), long brown hair falling over her shoulders, brown eyes that reflected the sun, and lips that should have been on an ad for lip gloss. She didn’t wear make-up, nor did she need to. She had dark, smooth skin most women would pay for.

She smiled and shook my hand firmly when I introduced myself. Her face was very expressive. She handled herself with confidence. She wore a turquoise skirt that seemed almost too long on her with a white top that flattered her figure. She didn’t seem embarrassed at us meeting. Rather, she treated it as another one of those things that happen in Miami and one later find himself telling friends about.

After a quick chit-chat while we waited for our order, we decided to sit outside. This was an odd situation for both of us. We had decided not to call it a date. Instead, we were “meeting” as two fellow single folk who suddenly find themselves in an odd situation trying to make the best of it. Read More

What’s up

Once again, it’s time to update my Now page, and answer the question: “What’s doing? …”

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Once again, it’s time to update my Now page, and answer the question: “What’s doing? …”

WHAT I’M DOING
Designing and creating stationery for a fountain pen user. I gave up design work years ago, but when this opportunity was presented to me, I decided to give it a go because of its unusual nature. The task: create, design, and deliver stationery for a fountain pen user who wants to give her stationery a personal touch, that can be easily produced at home, while keeping costs to a minimum. I had never used a fountain pen before this job, and so far I’ve learned a few things about pens, nibs, papers, ink saturation, ink bleed, paper weight, paper composition, desktop printers, and how to trim/cut paper. In the process, I’ve learned to love writing with a fountain pen (see NEW TECH below); discovered the differences between ballpoint, gel, and fountain pens and inks (future post?); found out why some papers are cheaper than others; and moved from using a medium/bold pen nib to an extra fine pen nib. It’s all about scratching paper!

WHAT I’M READING
Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton. I can’t remember the first time I was assigned this book in school. Maybe it was in a Womyn’s Lit class during my undergrad years, or for a Writing for Learning class in graduate school. The point is, I never read the book and didn’t think I would. Now here I am, years later, flipping pages, delighting and holding my breath as May Sarton documents a year of her life in Nelson, New Hampshire. The journal is full of day to day minutiae: flowers she keeps around the house, letters and visits from friends and strangers, details about writer conferences, and musings about her garden. It’s what is in-between her daily observations that make this such an interesting read: her keen observations about the writing life; her struggle with anxiety and depression; what it’s like to be a woman, artist, and writer in the 70s; what her fears and life as a lesbian woman struggling with love feels like; the choices artists make in trying to cultivate an artist’s life. Slowly, mindfully, honestly, quietly this journal gives readers a glimpse of a woman’s life, making us feel like peeping toms, while holding up a mirror to our own and making us question the minutiae that gives meaning to our days.

The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer. An excellent, though at times a bit too academic, introduction to journal/diary writing and keeping. Ms. Rainer has written a textbook for anyone wanting to keep a journal. In her book, she offers advice on how to start writing a journal and the many different, and personal, ways to go about it. The book is full of examples of diary entries from journal keepers. The material is well researched and is presented in organized chapters that leads budding writers through the rigors of jotting down personal thoughts and reflections. She goes deeply into topics other journal writing books merely skip over. But the tone of the book is more academic than personal. There are other journaling books I have enjoyed more than this one, but I haven’t highlighted as much in the other books as I have in this one. If you want to learn the art of journaling, this is a good place to start.

FAVORITE ON-LINE READ(s)
SOOO-THIS-IS-ME. This is one of my new favorite blogs to read. I quoted Stephen’s writing here once before, when pondering love. In his own words, Stephen has lived: “most of my life hidden in the closet and suddenly realized, it’s just not working! I started the process of coming out (way back in 2006) and wanted to write about it, hoping to meet people along the way, both men and women. My blog has shifted a bit now, sometimes gay issues, sometimes every day issues.” The result are intimate, poignant, and personal posts that are a joy to read with a style all of their own. I look forward to reading Stephen’s posts, and encourage anyone looking for a blog to read to check him out.

WHAT I’M WATCHING
The Good Wife (Amazon Prime). On my first Now write up, I talked about how I was watching and enjoying The Good Fight, CBS’s spin off to The Good Wife. I decided to go back to the original series and find out how Diane Lockhart became embroiled in her current situation. A few weeks later, I’m binge-watching The Good Wife sometimes up to four episodes a night. Great cast. Excellent writing. Wonderful actors. Makes me wonder why I didn’t watch when it originally aired on television. I’m more than halfway through the series, and I find myself wishing there were more than seven seasons available.

Class (BBC America). This Dr. Who sci-fi spin off has all the ingredients of a British hit show: good cast, interesting premise, and a strong, established series behind it to back it up and give it context. The problem, it’s too new to know if it’ll last, and it runs the risk of being a carbon copy of its predecessor. With only one episode aired, it’s hard to know where they will take the show and how it will stand on its own. But if it’s anything like Dr. Who, and the stories thrill and excite as much, it will be fun to see how this series evolves and regenerates over the coming weeks. And one can only hope that River Song will somehow make an appearance on the show too.

NEW TECH
Faber-Castell, Ambition – pearwood, extra-fine fountain pen. Gorgeous! If I have to blame a pen for making me fall in-love with fountain pens, this one’s the culprit. Stylish, modern, light, and easy on the hand, this is my pen of choice for journaling and writing. While the nib is not as fine as a Japanese Pilot fountain pen, it nonetheless writes like a dream! The natural, real pearwood makes a nice contrast to the polished chrome metal, and its use of international standard ink converters and cartridges makes it a versatile choice for anyone wanting to change inks and ink colors easily. If you like to write, this is one fine instrument to spill ink with.

FAVORITE PURCHASE(s) UNDER $100

Marpac Dohm-DS All Natural Sound Machine. I was not aware of the virtues of having a white noise machine until the witch-doctor plugged one in her office. The soothing noise coming from the small openings in this discrete box lulled me to a calm state that allowed for relaxation. Before I knew it, my inhibitions were down, I wasn’t feeling so vulnerable, and I didn’t mind sitting next to my demons when it was my turn to spill my deep dark secrets. I enjoyed the feeling of calm so much, I got one for my bedroom and marvel at how outside noise and distractions are drowned out by the natural white noise the box produces. Since turning it on, my sleep has improved about 60%, I feel more calm when I’m writing, and I’m not as distracted when I read. I love this thing!

The simple good

Even if I feel anxious, or alone I can pause, recognize, and be grateful for the simple good that abounds in my life.

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One day, I am certain, I will look back on these days and long for the good found in them:

Lucky dog’s companionship
Daily readings in the morning
Sipping a warm cup of tea out in the backyard
A gentle breeze cooling off a Florida afternoon
The sound of a palm tree swaying in the wind
Blooming orchids in the yard
Having time to journal and write
Ordering and the arrival of a new fountain pen
Meditating quietly on my bedroom floor
Sitting in the yard with Lucky next to me
Watching turtles show their heads out in the lake
A hawk flying overhead
Time to read and study herbs
Playing fetch with Lucky, and picking up after him

One day, I’m sure, I’ll move and leave elsewhere. The landscape and the location will change. The air around me will feel and smell differently. The cast of people around me will not be the same. I may be more busy with chores (or less), taking care of different folk, looking out a different window, or sitting in a different yard. I may have a different garden to sip tea, a chair that is more comfortable to while away the evening hours watching as evening settles in. I may pick up after a different dog, or a person I’m living with. I may turn in a different home. And my pens and paper, journals and writing will document different struggles and worries from the ones I write about today.

But today I’m able to recognize that even if I feel anxious, or alone I can pause, recognize, and be grateful for the simple good that abounds in my life.

Gruffed

The notion or possibility of dating anyone, let alone hook up for sex, while appealing at some level, leaves me feeling exhausted.

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LJ, as he goes by on Gruff, is a handsome Panamanian I have been chatting with for a couple of days. LJ is funny and playful; he likes to flirt. Today, he is in London on business. I was surprised to get a message from him on Gruff, but I did not make a lot of it. I replied to his greeting, keeping things light, but without any overt indication of interest on my part for us to meet when he returns to South Florida.

It’s not that I’m not interested in meeting LJ; it’s just that at this time, if anyone were to ask me what it is I’m looking for, I’d say I’m interested in meeting people and making friends. Nothing more.

I wouldn’t be lying if I said this to anyone. At this point what I really need is a friend, or a couple of friends I can go out and enjoy myself with. Good friends are hard to come by these days, and most people I speak to about this in South Florida agree with me. Even my best-friend warned me about Miami’s tough crowd when I moved back a few years ago. “It’s not the same Miami you remember,” she warned. “People are ruder, louder, and harder to get to know. Everyone’s set the bar high for everyone else, but no one’s done anything about it for themselves.”

When I talk to acquaintances, they all say the same thing: if you’re not rich, driving the latest Lexus model, and living in Brickell, you’re nobody. And if you don’t have the abs to show for it, then you might as well retire to Naples or Pensacola.”

The notion or possibility of dating anyone, let alone hook up for sex, while appealing at some level, leaves me feeling exhausted. I don’t want to go through or put up with the effort of flirting and putting myself in a situation that will yield little for me. Certainly, a sexual fling would be pleasurable. If I wanted that and only that, there are plenty of opportunities for it an hour’s drive away in Wilted Manners. But after last year’s dating debacle, even that seems like a lot of work. I’m just not interested. Read More

Different

Some folk say that the more things change the more they stay the same; but to me, it’s beginning to look like the more things change, the more different they will be.

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I must have shown my age today and taken one step closer to becoming my parents.

This afternoon I went to Staples in search of a notebook. Not a computer or digital writing pad; a notebook: the kind with paper made from trees. And not just any notebook. I wanted Mead’s Five Star college ruled notebook, the one with a plastic cover (preferably in blue or red, but I’ll settle for green), a sturdy back cover, with 3 or 5 subject dividers that have pockets so I can put handouts neatly in the book. Oh, and not a full size, 8.5 x 11 notebook either. I wanted the half-size 9 x 6 notebook that is easier to carry and tote around in a backpack.

Turns out, I’m one of those people who learns and memorizes by writing things down, in lists, over and over until my brain absorbs the information. I’m not good at memorizing; I’m more of a doer. I learn by moving or by doing what I’m being asked to do. In school, I did much better in practical exams than in written ones. If I’m taking a multiple choice test, I can argue and make the case for all the wrong answers, so I didn’t fare as well on written exams. Practicals were easier because I was doing. I immersed myself in the topic I was being tested on, and when it was my turn to demonstrate how well I knew the material, I excelled.

So, when I started writing down the 240 Chinese medicinal herbs by category I need to memorize for the board examination, something clicked in my head and the information started to stick. Now, I know that Chai Hu is an herb that Releases Exterior Wind Heat just like Bo He (mint) and Chan Tui (cicada skins); while Xin Yi Hua (magnolia flower) and Gui Zhi Release Exterior Wind Cold. Who knew?! When I look at Zhi Mu and Tian Hua Fen I remember that I’m looking at herbs that Purge Heat from the body, but Sheng di Huang and Mu Dan Pi Purge Heat from the Blood. Huh! Writing all this information down is a long and tedious process. It’s boring, really. But it works. Now, I remeber 56 of the 240 herbs I need to know, with the rest (hopefully) coming in the next week or so.

So in a flash of inspiration I rushed out the door and drove to Staples to buy a couple of Mead spiral bound notebooks where I could write my list of herbs over and over in a notebook that I can take with me and practice with when I’m not at home. I’ve been using these notebooks for years, so it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to find them.

When I arrived at the store I walked to the notebook aisle and didn’t find the wanted book. There were plenty of notebooks to choose from on the shelves, but the selection was lacking in the half-size and divider with pockets section. I walked up and down the aisle several times to make sure I had not missed what I was looking for. I even walked over to the Day Planner section thinking, maybe, they would be there with half-size and pocket sized books, but nothing could be found. When a red-shirt-uniformed store attendant asked if he could help me, I told him what I was looking for and he showed me a regular size notebook.

No, I said. I want the half-size one. It’s smaller and easier to carry. He showed me another notebook the size of a notecard, and I told him that would not do either. There are far too many Toxic Heat Clearing herbs to list on one page. He looked at me blankly unable to provide me with what I was looking for. When he asked me to follow him to the Martha Stewart business supply aisle, I turn in the opposite direction, walked out of the store, got in my car, and drove across the street to Office Depot. Read More

Hope from a flower

I only have to wait for the right moment, and the right person, to show my real colors to, and to make an ordinary moment a memorable one.

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There are times where I sit at my computer or before a blank piece of paper to write something and nothing happens. My mind draws a blank. I come up empty. After a half hour of letting my mind wander from here to nowhere, I give up and return to doing what I was before.

When that happens I feel disappointed. I walk around the house wondering why my life is not more interesting. I go to the fridge, open the door, and ask the milk and juice cartons why I’m not like the Instagram or Facebook A-listers who jet-set to Thailand, Timbuktu, or Tokyo to post photos of themselves at ancient temples, eating deep-fried crickets bought from a street vendor, while thumb-upping standing next to a world-class martial arts trainer who doubles as a world-class chef at a restaurant recently opened in the Mongolian desert. (I know, right?)

While I make myself a cup of tea, I sigh and ponder: “Face it. You’re not glam. What have you done that’s so interesting that you have to share with the world?”

Most of the time I come up empty. My life is not glam, I admit. I’m stuck learning and memorizing 240 herbs and 160 herbal formulas for an exam I should have taken in January but keep postponing because there’s just so much to remember. When you’re a man of a certain age, things don’t come as easily as they used to, and the paper trail of Post-it notes reminding me to keep track of, or do something, keeps getting longer and longer.

When the tea’s ready, I sit outside and contemplate a garden that has more weeds than actual grass and a few remaining trees struggling to stay alive. Not glam at all, I think. Nothing to share.

I turn my gaze to the small ceramic pot that sits on the edge of the deck, and there I find what’s left of an old, forgotten plant my sister gave my mother years ago. At one time, the plant was full of leaves and pink flowers that delighted everyone who saw it. But over time, the plant withered and wilted and now looks more like an ancient stump of wood someone stuck in the planter as if making a poor joke. Over time, the plant has rotted from the inside out, and now has a hole on the center from which you can see insects and ants that have chosen to make a home for themselves in the plant’s interior walls.

For some unknown reason, the half of the plant that is still alive hangs on and sprouts leaves at least once each season. At other times, it is just a stump giving no indication that life remains within. Every time I’m ready to give up the plant for dead, and want to toss it out with the garbage, I notice a new leaf breaking free from the old bark and a few weeks later the plant is green again. It’s a game we play, I guess, or one the plant plays with me. I fall for the joke every time.

This morning, I woke up with every intention to write something clever for the blog. I was ready to sit down and write about my latest round with the witch-doctor; or how we had to cut and dig a hole in the living room to access a plumbing pipe that had rotted and was backing up sewage; or how my nephew wants to dress up for his prom as the Penguin from the television show Gotham (thank goodness he has a fairy god-father to keep him from such errors!).

But when I sat at my computer, I drew a blank. Every sentence I wrote lacked cadence and gravity. No two words I put next to each other made sense. So before I spent the next half-hour berating myself, I decided to walk to the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea so I could drink it outside.

When I turned to the potted stump, I noticed a brand new flower from the tallest branch of the living part of the plant. A pretty little thing it was! White, with touches of pink around the petals’ edges that spilled to a yellow center where a bee buzzed with delight. I had to smile and thank the stump for it’s latest joke.

Neither I nor the half-dead plant are glam. In fact, most people would take a look and dismiss us as they walk by and past us. Fewer still would give us a second glance. But anyone with enough patience, or anticipating a good joke, would sit idly by, enjoy a nice cup of tea, and wait for the right moment for us to make our move. I guess I don’t have to be an A-lister, a jet-setter, or a celebrity to make a statement. I only have to wait for the right moment, and the right person, to show my real colors to and make an ordinary moment a memorable one.

Long form

Now more than ever, we need to know and understand the issues affecting and challenging our country and our world, instead of letting titillating and false headlines distract us from the real issues.

When people ask what Inquietudes is about, I either direct them to the site’s About page or say my posts are mostly restless thoughts that call for something deeper, and longer, than a tweet or a share on social media.

Back in the day, blogs were the original social media platform. Intrepid Internet users took to the Net to share information, resources, and knowledge that was not easy to come by. At the time, Google was only a novelty word few of us could pronounce, let alone spell, and the search engine had not yet reached the verb status it enjoys now. Twitter would not make an appearance until a decade later, so most of what people found on blogs and personal Web sites were topics explored and expounded upon ad nauseam, leaving readers with a good understanding of what was meant to be said about such topic. Succinct and to the point were not en vogue, so rants and diatribes could go on for paragraphs, if not days, if flamers were involved.

Inquietudes harks back to a time when attention spans were able to focus on written pieces that are longer than 140 characters, and whose authors attempt to provide more original content than what a share attempts to on social media. This, admittedly, weeds the number of readers down to a handful. These readers, however, are interested in topics and rants blog writers share, and they appreciate the time and effort that goes into stringing a number of words together.

I have to admit that I too suffer from a reduced attention span when reading or browsing the Web. While I don’t read as many blogs or visit as many Web sites as I did when I started blogging, there remain a few blogs I do have interest in reading and there are Web sites I can’t spend a few days without visiting. Some of these Web sites are reliable sources of “un-fake” news, with articles and information harking back to the days of old-style journalism: news based on facts (not opinions), quantitative information (instead of midnight tweets), and reliable sources (which do not include a certain Kellyanne).

One of my favorite long-form journalism publishers is the The New Yorker, a magazine devoted to classic style investigative journalism and excellent writing source. I have been a New Yorker reader for two decades, and even though I can’t claim to have read every issue cover to cover, there are plenty of articles that have given me a deeper and better understanding of current events than anything I have found posted on Facebook.

Recently, The New Yorker has had some troubling reads about the current administration and their political entanglement with a certain foreign country. The articles are not quick reads; seldom does The New Yorker have a quick read. The magazine’s articles are considered long-form journalism: in depth write-ups about a particular topic, subject, or person that gives readers a an informed understanding of the subject at hand. Read More

Lucky dog

I have a weakness for dogs, and given the choice, I’d rather spend a day with a four legged pooch than people.

This is Lucky. He’s a good boy.

When my sister goes out town, Lucky stays with me — or perhaps I should just admit that he becomes the boss of me. I have a weakness for dogs, and given the choice, I’d rather spend a day with a four legged pooch than people. This has always been the case. I once got reprimanded by my father (not a dog person) when I voiced my companionship-preference, but years later I still feel the same way. Other dog people agree with me.

When I say Lucky is the boss of me, I am not kidding. When he’s home, our conversations tend to go something like this:

Lucky: Let me out. I left my ball outside.
Me: You just came in. Your ball is right there.
Lucky: Wrong. That is not my ball. My ball is outside.
Walter goes outside with Lucky.
Lucky: Wait here. I left my ball inside.

I have fallen for this on more than one occasion. I feel like a fool when I do, but something about Lucky’s brown eyes make me loose all sense of competence, and I’m easily overcome by canine logic.

When Lucky visits, we both get plenty of exercise. A Golden Retriever loves to run, and Lucky is very possessive about his belongings. Lucky has a soft-chewable ball he likes to keep with him at all times. When he’s indoors, he carries the ball in his mouth wherever he goes. While napping, he’ll rest his head on the ball, and at the sound feet coming anywhere near him, he’ll open his eyes to make sure the ball is safely guarded from prying hands. When he’s outside in the backyard, he likes to play fetch and run after the ball. Our games are simple and go something like this:

Lucky: Let’s go outside and play fetch.
Me: We just came in. I’m not going out now.
Lucky: Wrong. Let’s go outside. Throw me the ball.
Walter goes outside with Lucky and throws Lucky’s ball.
Lucky: Fetch my ball. I’ll wait inside.


I’ve lost 15 pounds since Lucky and I began playing fetch. He makes for a good workout partner and coach. The walking and fetching are a lightweight’s version of cross-fit exercise, with stepping on a pile of old dog poop the only danger to look-out for.

The more time I spend with Lucky, the more I wonder at canine intelligence and cunning. Dogs are not as dumb as some movies make them to be. Hollywood has a tendency to claim that dogs are not as clever or smart as cats, and that they are easily distracted by, say, chasing after a squirrel or trying to catch a limpkin. But I don’t find that to be true. On a recent visit, Lucky displayed dexterous flexibility and rational thinking skills while I made myself a snack.

Lucky: Gimme a milkbone. I’m a good boy.
Me: I already gave you four. That’s enough for today.
Lucky: Wrong. You don’t know how to count. Gimme a milkbone.
Walter gives Lucky a milkbone.
Lucky: I meant a bacon strip yummy. Gimme a bacon strip yummy because I’m good.

All of which proves my point that dogs are better company than people. On Mondays, when my sister comes to pick him up, I find myself longingly looking out the window hoping he’ll come back again, soon, so we can play fetch again, and curl up with the latest episode of Cesar Milan’s The Dog Whisperer. Now there’s a human who needs some dog training!

Talking to myself

I seem to have discovered that I hold conversations in my mind with people who are no longer part of my life.

The witch-doctor leaned into me and said, “Okay, what do you see?”

I was lying on the couch in her office, eyes closed, holding a yellow pillow in my arms. The room was comfortably dark and cool, just the way I like it when I want to take a nap, which is exactly what I wanted to do.

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s dark. It’s just me in a dark room. I don’t see anything.”

The witch-doctor leaned in closer. I could feel her breath on my face. “Try again. Look around. What do you see?”

I tried looking. I turned my head one way. Then the other. My “private place” was pitch black. Someone had turned the lights off and neglected to tell me where the light switch was. “Nothing. It’s just dark. I can’t see anything. No furniture. No demons. No monsters. Are you sure we can’t burn some incense? Drink some ayahuasca? Or use chicken blood instead? You know, try voodoo or something to jumpstart my visions?”

“That’s illegal and beyond my scope of practice,” the witch-doctor said. “Let’s try this another way. Tell me what happened when you meditated this morning. Tell me about your thoughts. You said you found yourself talking to yourself. That you were having conversations with people who were not in the room with you.”

“Yes.”

“Does this happen often?”

“I guess. I only just began to realize this.”

“And who are you having these conversations with? Who are these people?”

“Old people,” I said.

“Old as in your grandparents? Elderly people?”

“No. Old as in a long time ago. People from way back.”

“Okay. Then tell me about those people. Tell me about those conversations.”

I seem to have discovered that I hold conversations in my mind with people who are no longer part of my life. Some of these conversations date all the way back to when I was a teen, or when I was experiencing hard or difficult times.

I’ve begun to catch myself having these conversations when I’m meditating, and when I do, I tell myself, “Stop. This conversation is not taking place. It’s not real. Let it go. You are thinking.” That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re meditating and you realize you’re distracted by thoughts. At least, that’s what my teachers taught me to do.

This seems to work most of the time, but a day or two later, I will hold another conversation with the same or a different person, or I will mull over an event that left a negative impression in my mind. This time, however, instead of letting the other person hurt me, or get the best of me, I’m the one in control of the situation, gaining the upper hand.

I don’t know if this is healthy, or if this is something I should stop doing. I’d like to figure out why the conversations are taking place and how I can get to the root of what may be triggering them in order to make them stop. My guess is that these are unresolved issues and situations that I am still processing and that have affected me. I want to come to terms with them in order to let those experiences go and not feel as if I was carrying a burden I should no longer be carrying.

I suppose this is what people call personal baggage: experiences that color and distort my daily life, thoughts, fears, and influence decisions I make. My baggage, instead of being a backpack that fits comfortably in an airplane’s overhead compartment feels more like a traveling trunk I’m carrying on my back. The trunk is big and heavy, and I can’t seem to be able to get rid of it. It has so much stuff inside that I can’t figure out how to sort the junk inside in order to toss what I no longer need.

Most of the conversations I have seem to be with men who’ve hurt me. They have to do with letting go of moments that left a wound in my heart. In other conversations, I try to convince myself that I am better without those people and situations, and that there is no reason for hanging on to them. Not everything in life gets the comfort or finality of having closure. The truth is: I’m still hurt, my ego is bruised, and at a certain level I blame myself for not seeing those situations clearly and for not leaving them sooner.

Yesterday, I ran across one of those “feel good” posts people share on Facebook that read: “The hurt is where the Light comes in.” This made my prostate contract in not a good way. I smirked and closed the window right away, but later, as I sat in meditation, I had to admit (begrudgingly) there was some truth to the statement.

Some good has come out from the hurt I’ve felt in the past. Without it, I wouldn’t have started meditating, or writing, keeping a journal, or seeking the help of a witch-doctor (albeit one who works without incense, ayahuasca, or chicken blood) to help me make sense and move past the hurt. Over time, and through hard work, I’ve begun to feel happier, better, and healing has begun to take place.

What I want is for the conversations to reach a certain conclusion and for them to stop. I want to be able to empty the trunk I’m carrying and go back to a manageable backpack or fashionable shoulder bag that is easier to tote and where I can just keep my personal things so I can leave those people, experiences, and conversations where they belong: behind me.

I heard the witch-doctor sit back in her chair. She let the words hang in the room between us for a while. “I think this is good,” she said. “I think this is a positive observation and discovery on your part. Where do you want to take this?”

“Forward,” I said. “I want to lighten the load, and move forward.”

“Good!” the witch-doctor said. “Let’s do some work then.”

Days like these

Give me a bright blue sky, a cool breeze, palm trees, and an ocean view that stretches out to the horizon and all my troubles seem to disappear and melt away.

Palmeras

When the Shirelles warned that there would be “days like these,” they weren’t kidding. Their Mama knew better, so she told them of those days, and we all hoped for better ones ever since.

When I have one of them days, I take to the ocean. Give me a bright blue sky, a cool breeze, palm trees, and an ocean view that stretches out to the horizon and all my troubles seem to disappear and melt away.

Here in Miami there are plenty of spaces where anyone can while away “those kind of days.” Our city is graced by the Atlantic, and on sunny days there is nothing better than spending time listening to the sound of waves crashing on shore.

Biscayne bay is a favorite of mine. If one ventures into Coconut Grove, one can visit at Kennedy Park and picnic or sit on one of the bayside benches that overlook the causeway onto Key Biscayne. Another favorite spot is along South Miami Avenue, right next to Mercy Hospital, where the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity offers another splendid view of the bay and one of the best ocean breezes available in Miami. The photo above was taken there not long ago, during one of those days, and after an hour of listening to the waves rub against the sea wall, I had nearly forgotten what had brought me there in the first place.

Just down the road is Vizcaya, the old Italian palazzo that is yet another spot to heed Mama’s advice. Here, the old world meets the new in gardens and European style architecture that makes anyone believe they’re in Tuscany, and not in the swamplands of South Florida. Vizcaya was once famous for hosting the White Party, a gay circuit event that raised funds for the fight against AIDS. The party has since moved to Miami Beach because of some gay-drama or other, rowdy revelers, and can’t-help but-rub-intimately size crowds but the palazzo remains one of Miami’s best kept secrets for spring-time afternoons.

I have a love / hate relationship with Miami and South Florida: I love to hate it when I’m here, but I hate to love it when I live elsewhere. Ours is a tedious relationship my witch-doctor and I can’t seem to unravel. When I lived in New York, there was nothing that would make me want to come back and visit. But after 18 long winters, Miami beckoned and I had to close up shop and move back.

This is the time of year New York has nothing on Miami. I love the weather, the light, and cool breeze that blows from the east. Sitting outside on a warm afternoon feels lovely, and I wish days like these would stretch endlessly as far as where the ocean meets the sky. Around Memorial Day, however, said weather will turn on us and suffocate everyone with stifling humidity and shirt-drenching heat. That’s when I want to forget all about Miami and head — elsewhere, really.

On days like those, there’s nothing Mama can say that will make me feel better.

Kryptonite

Chris Wood, playing the role of Mon-El is my new kryptonite.

As a man of a certain age, I thought my days of swooning over a handsome face on television were behind me.

Back in the day, when I was growing up, I used to look forward to Saturday nights when I tuned in to watch Battlestar Galactica (the classic flavor), so I could gawk at swarthy do-gooder Apollo played by Richard Hatch. While the rest of the country — and junior high girls — melted over Dirk Benedict’s cigar smoking, bad boy Starbuck, I was drawn to Apollo’s brooding and soulful character.

When my sister was in ballet class or playing with her friends, I’d steal into her room to flip through the pages of Teen- and Tiger Beat magazines to scan the latest photos and pin-up centerfolds of the week’s heartthrobs. When she discarded old issues, I rescued the magazines from the trash, tore up the wanted pages, and clipped the images of the stars I was infatuated with. I stashed the photos away in a secret box, and I would only look at them at night, when I was alone, under the protective and invisible shield cover of my bedsheets.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself recently gasping at a new face on television that makes me hold my breath every time it appears on an episode of the CW’s Supergirl. Chris Wood, playing the role of Mon-El is my new kryptonite. Playing opposite Glee alumni Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl, he is the perfect contrast to her do-gooding character. His goofy, awkward, dude-like character makes my toes curl every time he steps on screen, my attention hangs on his every word, and whenever the script calls for him to appear shirtless, it is cause for celebration.

The CW has made a hit of television shows that exploit teen angst and alienation. Most of their prime time programming adheres to a formula where parents and adults are misguided and evil and where teens or young adults know and do better. Theirs is a fantasy world of alternative realities full of inclusive, ethnically diverse casts, tolerant and embracing of aliens, misfits, vigilantes, and meta-humans.

The epic, soap-opera-ish story lines brim with enough melodrama to keep one watching week after week in anticipation of what hair-raising twist the plot arcs will take on next. In every show, villains are larger than life and far more evil than the current administration. Actors come in every flavor and shade of beautiful. And it is not difficult to find oneself considering attending a Comic Con gathering in full superhero regalia if only to get a glimpse of your favorite hero/star.

When Supergirl premiered last year on CBS, the show garnered enough fans to save the show when CBS decided not to renew it. The producers moved the cast and crew over to the CW where the rest of the DC Comic world enjoys a solid following, and where it made more sense for the show to thrive. In its new home, Supergirl lost one of the best reasons to watch the first season of the show. Calista Flockhart, playing Cat Grant, added the much needed sarcasm and snark to off-set Kara’s do-gooding nature. But when the show’s production moved to Canada, Ms. Flockhart decided to leave the show, giving way to new characters to step in.

At the end of the first season, a new shuttlecraft from outer space landed in National City with a good looking alien lying unconscious inside. Said alien, we got to find out this season, is Mon-El, last son of Daxam, Krypton’s nemesis planet, and Supergirl’s new love-interest in the latest Romeo and Juliet twist.

chris-wood-supergirl

When Chris Wood assumed the role of Mon-El, I did not think much of him. In fact, I wanted him off the show. What drew me to watch Supergirl in the first place was the emphasis on making a female-centric show where the hero is a modern day woman learning what being a superhero in today’s world means. I am a fan of stories where strong women are the focus and heroines. I am drawn to strong female leads and characters, which is why Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek Voyager is the reason I am a Star Trek fan.

In Supergirl, Kara’s sister, Alex Danvers, played by Chyler Leigh, is one of the characters I am drawn and more interested in. This season, her character came out as a lesbian, and the way the show’s producers are handling her storyline is worthy of praise. As the second season unfolds, the stories are beginning to intersect and become more complicated, adding Mon-El’s to the mix as he finds his way in a new planet and to Supergirl’s heart.

I had not heard of Chris Wood until his recent crash landing, but in the last few episodes, he’s fast becoming a character to watch and love. Mr. Wood (chuckle) has given Mon-El an awkward but likable bro-like personality that ranges from infuriating to endearing as he learns to fit-in with humans. While we may have missed what Kara went through when she arrived on Earth, we get the full dose of what it’s like for an alien to assimilate in Mon-El’s story. In the hands of Chris Wood, it is easy to watch week after week, particularly when he is scantily clad in boxer briefs and socks in Kara’s apartment, or when a mischievous alien drops him off at DEO headquarters almost naked.

It came to no one’s surprise that Mon-El and Supergirl have a romantic entanglement that was consummated in last week’s Valentine’s day episode, but whatever happily-ever-after afterglow one may have expected after that evening was quickly dispelled in last night’s episode with Mon-El reverting to his dude-like ways and a plot twist that will continue to play itself out until the series’s season finale.

None of this makes for high-brow television. There is nothing deep or enlightening about Supergirl, other than good entertainment and its girl-power affirming message. In National City, women are empowered and supported by their friends and don’t need to be rescued by men. That is all well and good with me, especially when it leaves handsome Mon-El available for someone to keep him company when Supergirl is flying about saving the world. I’d enjoy volunteering for such a role, and would not mind hanging out with him anytime he finds himself free after a night of bartending to aliens. So long as he gives me one of his dimpled smiles, I wouldn’t mind succumbing to his kind of kryptonite.

MON0

An urban art walk

Wynwood is home to many fine examples of urban art. Regarded as one of the country’s most dynamic and up-and-coming art districts, the industrial neighborhood is home to an ever growing number of art galleries, bars, and shops that have turned the once forgotten and abandoned neighborhood into one of the largest outdoor art installations in the world.

Over at Willy Or Won’t He, Wyllym gives an excellent art history lesson on the beautiful murals Marc Chagall painted for New York City’s Lincoln Center’s Opera House. Wyllym writes:

Chagall painted the two allegories in his Paris studio and had them shipped to New York.  Each canvas is 9.15 metres by 11 metres (30 by 36 feet) and is ripe with figures and symbols familiar from many of his previous works amidst those swirls of colours that captivate Walter and so many of the rest of us.

The paintings are indeed larger than life, and every evening they welcome Metropolitan Opera patrons with their dazzling colors, swirls, and imagery that pay homage to music. I remember being swept by the paintings every time I attended a performance at the Met. At the time, I felt lucky to be able to attend and appreciate the art museums and exhibits New York is well known for.

Thus reminded of the power of art, I decided to venture to one of Miami’s most popular and accessible art museums with my best friend. On Sunday we drove to Wynwood — Miami’s epicenter of urban art.

Squeezed between Miami’s Downtown and Design District areas, Wynwood is home to many fine examples of urban art. Regarded as one of the country’s most dynamic and up-and-coming art districts, the industrial neighborhood is home to an ever growing number of art galleries, bars, and shops that have turned the once forgotten and abandoned neighborhood into one of the largest outdoor art installations in the world.

Taking over what used to be the warehouse and manufacturing district of Miami, developers have rehabilitated warehouses, shuttered factories, and other unused buildings and transformed them into art complexes, galleries, performing art spaces, restaurants, and cafes.

With the introduction of the Second Saturday Art Walk in the District and the arrival of the Art Basel fair in 2002, Wynwood now boasts unparalleled growth as it earns attention by residents and visitors as the go-to place for an alternative and cultural nightlife in Miami.

Today, Wynwood offers a varied array of art walkstours, and art that is constantly changing, evolving, and disappearing. A mural or painting that may have graced a side street or shop front a few months ago may now be painted over or replaced by a new artist, making a visit to each city block a new experience. Wynwood’s outdoor art museum is really the ultimate art SnapChat where one can spend hours walking and basking in the color and power of modern urban art.

You can click on any of the photos below to see them in a slideshow.

Shadowplay

That’s when I notice a visual Yin and Yang of light and shadow that makes me pause and wonder how I never noticed this before. Seen, yes; notice not until now.

IMG_9444.JPG

Shadowplay. 2017

Every evening, as the sun begins to set, I stand and walk over to the window to shut the blinds.

I’ve been doing this for years. It’s no more a ritual than brushing my teeth or taking a shower. The action has become a habit I don’t think about anymore. At a certain time in the day, depending on the sun’s position in the sky and the season, sunshine streams into the room unimpeded, warming the space beyond what I consider comfortable. If I don’t close the blind before the room reaches 80 degrees in temperature, I can expect an evening stewing in South Florida heat while I read or watch television.

Normally, when I shut the blinds, I don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. I’m usually doing two or three things at the same time: reading a book, chatting with a friend, figuring out a crossword clue, writing in my journal, watching a pack of tigers take down a drone, or trying to decide what to have for dinner. It’s not rocket science, and not something I waste time thinking about.

Unless sunlight hits the blinds a certain way, the reflection catches and flares on my glasses, and makes me pay attention. That’s when I notice a visual Yin and Yang of light and shadow that makes me pause and wonder how I never noticed this before. Seen, yes; notice not until now. So I pause, tilt my head to the right, then to the left, decide that this is something I want to keep and remember later because the light will never be the same again, nor my way of seeing. It won’t matter how hard or how many times I try to conjure the same image: if I don’t capture it now, it will be gone. Forever.

And that’s just how things are: fleeting, vanishing, elusive. If we don’t pay attention, we miss other sunsets casting light against shadows, each a different take on nature’s artistry and genius.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography.