The Labyrinth

Posted in Family, Verse, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2015 by Mike

Go walk The Labyrinth.

It’s on the lawn of the Laughing Heart Lodge,

just a 10-minute stroll from your house.

Though your heart is seldom laughing these days,

the Labyrinth may bring it some passing amusement.

 

Resist the dirty building or cabin detour.

You don’t need it.

The swig may briefly numb your new reality

but liquor is a deceitful mistress,

picking your pocket while stroking your hair.

 

During your walk to the lodge, you will talk to someone you know,

or meet a stranger, maybe a through-hiker or retreat guest

that you will befriend through your playful sociability.

And you both will need that exchange, a moment that is

reproduced 50 times a day in Hot Springs,

maybe more if you’re walking the streets.

 

The Labyrinth is a spiral stone pathway with a single entry designed

for pedestrians to meander their way to the center.

Of course you could walk right over the rocks and save yourself

some time, high-stepping to the center of the spiral–

but that would be missing the point.

You’re supposed to walk the whole thing.

And there are times when you think,

“Why am I even bothering to do this?”

It does seem pointless.

But it’s like grief: It’s long, painful, sometimes hardly worth the trouble,

with a questionable ending.

Will it even be worth it? What is the payoff?

But you have to do the steps.

You have to make the journey and do the work.

You need to pay attention to the walk and trust

that at the end you will be centered

and somehow more at peace.

 

There’s likely a good description of the Labyrinth in the lodge’s brochure,

a deeper meaning, a more convincing why,

but the fact that someone arranged all those rocks into that dwindling orbit

is reason enough to go mosey down the path.

 

I walked over with the kids and they both took the shortcut–

they stepped right over the stones in a beeline to the middle,

bored with the long circular stroll, unimpressed with the design

and unaware of any underlying point.

 

They are new to all this–just beginning their own walks–

and it’s impossible to guess where their paths will lead them.

And I know we both want to watch them

find their way as long as we can.

All we can do is go until we stop

and encourage each other’s shaky progress.

I still toast our efforts.

labyrinth2-01

Oh, The Ways I Could Go

Posted in Gags, Verse, Writing with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by Mike

This is for all of the people that ponder their own demise -

and why not reflect on it while paying homage to the great Dr. Seuss?

ways i could go

Am I the only one to stop and dwell

on how I’ll die and how I fell

and where it was and who could see

and if the end was on TV?

 

A shark could bite me right in half

or I could O.D. in the bath–

or freeze to death while stuck outside

or get derailed on a subway ride.

 

Or I could burn up in a crash

or get compacted with the trash–

a falling tree could squish me flat,

I could catch a virus from a rat.

 

Terrorists could blow me up

or dump some poison in my cup;

my flight to Rome may get shot down–

I may get stabbed to death downtown.

 

Or I could just fall down some stairs.

A random man would find me there–

he’d lean in close and check for life.

Authorities would call my wife.

 

I could get run over, choke on steak,

or drown like Jason in Crystal Lake.

A lightning bolt, malignant tumor,

a crazed colleague with no sense of humor.

 

Or maybe I’ll just fall down dead.

That’s the scene stuck in my head.

Just like that, my heart will stop–

no real sign and there I’ll drop.

 

I hope if that’s the way I go

that everyone will always know

the last thing that I ever did

was something fit to tell a kid.

 

Not reading smut or driving drunk

or with a strange man in a trunk–

no time to squirm or sugar coat

or write “you caught me” on a note.

The Third Thing

Posted in Verse with tags , , , , , , on March 3, 2015 by Mike

Why can’t I ever remember the third thing in a series?

My wife told me to bring three things

to the party and I can’t remember the third thing.

I was supposed to bring the diaper bag,

the USB-speakers,

and the blaahhh.

What was it? What the hell?

I can never remember.

 

Where does it go?

Must be a problem with my input network.

The information receptors are only running

at 40% functionality since those mental resources

are being routed to more important

tasks like remembering passwords and kids’ birth dates.

Or maybe it’s a faulty filing system in my head.

The misfiring floret of neurons is like a file clerk

that has died at his desk

and his assignments have piled up in disarray

and no one’s coming behind him

to put everything where it belongs.

I’m a malfunctioning Task Machine,

the Vonnegutian 3000 way past its warranty.

 

Two things are fine. Three things are just too much.

Crosby, Stills and hhmmm

Earth, Wind and guuuh

Maybe it’s ADD or an early sign of dementia?

Or maybe remembering two things is good enough

and my brain is automatically

sorting the items and putting the least important

thing at the end.

 

But in the wee hours, the third thing comes dancing

across the stage in my mind with jazz hands–

Here I am!! How could you forget?

It’s me, the new camera! Of course you need me at the party, dummy.

Then it gloats and I feel stupid and shown up

by a harmless piece of data.

 

I hope the third thing is never so important

that its omission is life or death–

never a time when I’m engulfed in flame

and I stop

and drop

and

squint blankly up into space,

waiting for the connection

that never comes.

 
https://soundcloud.com/mikeorthej/the-third-thing

 

Thing No 3

Staying on Track: Finding Inspiration at the Local High School

Posted in Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , on February 28, 2015 by Mike

I had a heart attack at 36 and an emergency stent inserted into an artery saved my life. I didn’t die there in an unknown hospital. If my life had stopped then, I would’ve left my wife a widow after only two months of marriage and would’ve never had my two wonderful kids, never lived the millions of meaningless and joyful moments that happen in an eight year span of time.

Eight years of life also move a survivor farther and farther away from the event that nearly killed him. So the emergency element tends to fade. The doctor’s warnings become muted. The dietary ascetic that I was right after the heart attack has long since reintroduced chicken wings into the rotation.

Running is often the one healthy thing I do. I run 3-4 days a week–5K at least, 6 miles at most–to keep my damaged heart functioning as well as possible, polishing the rusty instrument that I’m left with. Do I like to run? I do not. Do I get a runner’s high? Don’t I wish. But running is something I need to do and I try to find small ways to enjoy it.

Lately I’ve been running around the track at our local high school.  I did not attend the high school and have no affiliation with it besides geographical proximity. Even though I still run the backroads of our quiet NC community, I find myself driving to the track quite often. What am I getting out of it? What’s the appeal? The benefits are numerous and I think you should try it.

Each of those numbered lanes counts off the reasons why:

Lane 1. Running around a high school track makes you feel like a high school track star. While you run, you can populate those empty bleachers with whoever you want. Presidents, ex-girlfriends, parents who never came to your meets the first time around, scouts for the UCLA track team who like your dedication and mincing steps. Whomever you can imagine can sit there and watch you run. It also injects you with a second-hand school spirit and provides the fleeting sensation of going to school there. You’re not just some old dude running around the track, you’re a Scorpion or a Tiger. At least for a lap, you can feel like a student again.

Lane 2. The uniform quarter mile laps make it easy to count off progress. A meandering, five-mile run can seem endless and I’m the type of runner that needs to feel like he’s knocking off milestones. Eight down, eight more to go! Besides, the elliptical layout makes you feel like you’re in orbit and a part of something structured and bigger than you.

Lane 3. There’s something about the solitude and general safety that is appealing. There’s no traffic to contend with, no cars hanging too close to the shoulder and forcing you off the road into the knee-high weeds. There are no rabid animals lurking in the shadows to threaten you. I was charged and bitten by an aggressive dog six lots away from my house and started running with mace. That’s not exactly the ideal way to exercise, especially for someone that needs to keep a lid on the adrenaline.

Lane 4. Running at a high school track offers a great place to cool down. After my laps, I often walk the steps of the bleachers and look for treasure. Saturdays after home football games are great times to visit. I once found an unopened Happy Meal toy and a carefully sanded piece of wood that was a love memento for a girl named Rhianna. The fact that the place is deserted adds a layer of mystery—you feel like the survivor of a plague or death comet scenario. It’s just you in a sweaty t-shirt amid the relics.

Lane 5. You can bring your young kids and keep your eye on them the whole time. If they stay on the football field, they are literally never out of your sight. And when you’re done with your run, you can scour the bleachers for treasure together. My son likes to goof around on the random equipment that’s laying around. He ducks under hurdles, jumps out of the starting blocks, long jumps into the wet sand. One winter day we lolled on the giant high jump mat and let the blue, sun-soaked plastic warm our skin.

Lane 6. It’s easy to think: This is a professional track made for serious runners. At a track you’re not a weekend warrior going through the motions–you are training. The stopwatch feature on your iPhone has a lap counter if you want to really geek out and do a mid-run analysis to make sure you’re not fading too much. Personally, the spongy material helps my aging joints absorb the shocks of running. There are no potholes, or mole hills, or hidden ankle-turning dips.

Running at the local high school is a great way to mix up your cardio routine. It’s also the ideal location to start your fitness regimen if you’re coming out of a health crisis, or trying to avoid one. An imaginary crowd can really make some noise.

track_1

Rock and Roll: The Famous Child Wrestlers

Posted in Family, Toons, Verse, Writing with tags , , , , , , on February 15, 2015 by Mike

While playing with the kids this morning, I called him Rock and her Roll and pretended they were a ferocious wrestling duo each with a signature move that tied in their names. I thought it would make a fun story and set off to conceive, write, illustrate, and post an idea in the same day. Foster, my 6-year old son and colorist, was the inspiration for Rock. Nearly 3-year old Alice Wren personifies Roll. This exercise was supposed to show me that I can actually complete a creative project if I commit to it fully–plus, it was cold out and staying inside provided ample time for arts and crafts.

 

RR1

RR2

RR3

RR4

RR5

Excuses

Posted in Toons, Verse, Writing with tags , , , , , on January 18, 2015 by Mike

excuses4

Goodnight, Hester

Posted in Family, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2015 by Mike
nanny2I lost my grandmother just before Christmas. I got a call that she was in the hospital and not doing well–I drove six hours to the mountains and joined the family vigil near the ICU–the next day she was gone. Three days later I stood in front of family and friends in a tiny church in Hot Springs, NC and tried to blubber out these words.

I’m not sure how it is for you, but this is how it is with me. There are two spigots inside me right now and they’re both running wide open. Out of one of the taps is a torrent of sadness but I’ll try to ignore that one for now and focus on the other spigot. Rushing out of the other tap inside me are fond recollections from 40-something years worth of memories that are just flooding back. A million things that I’d forgotten. My otherwise foggy memory has provided these unexpected gifts, brought them out of the recesses for me to ponder and reflect on and I thank my memory for those gifts, and those memories are coming fast and strong.

With one tap spewing sadness and the other tap spewing wonderful memories, there’s a sea of emotion rolling just beneath the surface, and I imagine we are all going through a similar thing, each in our own way, each with our own flooding memory banks.

Here are a few reflections of Nanny from my happy tap.

Nanny was sweet, caring, and always interested in what you were doing and thinking.

She was funny and had a way of delivering one-liners and old-timey sayings that would break you up. “My stars…” was used to express mild disbelief…but “You’re kidding…” was reserved for special occasions and true family scandals.

She was extremely thoughtful and generous. If the Carter’s Children’s store in Gatlinburg has a Hall of Fame for Legendary Spenders, she is surely a part of it.

As many of you know, she was a gracious hostess and lived to serve others. You could not enter her house without having to eat a bite of something. She was not above waking you up from a sound sleep to ask if you wanted more pie.

There was nothing like watching Nanny and Deedaddy manage a meal in the kitchen. Deedee poking at some bacon in the frying pan; Nanny wiping up crumbs. She was forever wiping up crumbs. Nanny had the unique ability to see crumbs that weren’t even visible to the naked eye. They had a playful, spunky, ongoing chatter with each other that always made us laugh. It was a dance. And for people who think Dancing with the Stars is entertainment, they never saw Nanny and Deedee work a kitchen.

She stayed in touch, even when you weren’t doing your part.

I looked in my phone for something from Nanny; we talked a lot but I recently deleted a bunch of stuff from my phone. The last item in my deleted voicemail folder, was a call from Nanny.

It said, “Call me when you get a minute. I want to see how busy you are today. I guess you’re real busy, aren’t you? Let me know. Talk to you later, honey. Bye.”

I like to think I returned that call, but I don’t know. I am busy. But we’re not as busy as we think we are. There’s time to carve out for people. Showing your love, concern, and gratefulness is easy. Love is a currency that we all use, we all give it and take it, spend it, share it, or save and hoard it. You never know when you will lose the ability to give it or receive it. So it’s up to each of us to send that love around while we can.

I love you, Nanny. I hope you knew how much.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers