The Snake Whisperer Part 1

It is tremendously easy to say something flippant like “I was born among snakes and that is why I like them.” But, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? I read stories all the time about family businesses shutting down because the next generation couldn’t care less about their parents’ passions.

I know musicians who wish their children would pick up an instrument and give it a try, but some of them never do. Immersion in something from childhood does not guarantee a love for that thing.

That being said, I was born among snakes and I still love them.

This past weekend Gypsy and I were lucky enough to spend a wonderful Sunday morning among friends and amazing creatures at the Pittsburgh Reptile Show in Cheswick Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh show is not huge by any means but what it does contain is a group of dedicated reptile breeders that genuinely love their animals and in my opinion strive for the safe, healthy propagation of the animals in their care.

We have only missed this monthly show a handful of times in the past three years. We go to see beautiful animals, visit with some of the most magical friends and to just basically enjoy a couple of hours immersed in one of our greatest passions.

My father loved, collected, kept and studied snakes for much of his 94 years on this planet and I find myself sometimes on this strange teeter-totter of emotion about that because at any given reptile show I may see half a dozen animals that my father with a lifetime of experience never got to experience.

This post is about a couple of those animals, though it may veer a bit into my views on animal keeping.

Our dear friends George and Desiree own a very cool pet store in Coraopolis Pa. called Off the Hook exotics and they were kind enough to bring this beautiful creature with them. I am not sure if he has a name but I nicknamed him Kreature after the house-elf in Harry Potter. Kreature is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) that in and of itself is not unusual. Dad had probably a dozen of them in his lifetime and I have had at least that many in mine.

They are one of my favorite snakes in the world but the reason that I have not owned more of them is that they get huge. The retic is the longest snake in the world. Females can get upwards of twenty feet, pushing thirty and males can reach lengths of a dozen feet or more. In order to correctly house and care for such snakes in a way that maintains their quality of life is a very difficult task. And so, though we both loved them for the beautiful animals that they are, we have not sought them out and only kept ones that we took in as rescues.

But you see, here is where Kreature becomes a rarity. He is a naturally occurring dwarf python from an island locality known for producing smaller retics. He is several years old and between 6 and 7 feet long. Here he is.

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He sadly belongs to a friend of George & Desiree and so is not available but if he was, I would likely be trying to decide which kidney I could sell to buy him. He and I spent about 90 minutes together, just enjoying each other’s company as hundreds of people moved around us. I answered questions, helped dispel fears and allowed tiny children to touch Kreature’s miraculous skin and sent them on their way with the knowledge that they had touched the longest species of snake in the world.

I can only imagine the look of wonder on Dad’s face had he been around to see this snake. Beauty, intelligence, (yes, snakes can be very smart. Much smarter than they are given credit for.) and personality combined to make this one of the most awesome pythons I have ever been around and I want to thank George and Desiree for the opportunity.

Here are Kreature and I sharing a moment.

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There are two factions waging a secret, under the surface war in the reptile community. There are those to whom snakes and reptiles in general are nothing but a business. They breed thousands of snakes and their animals spend their entire lives in opaque plastic bins, in towering rack systems, seldom if ever handled and given no stimulation other than feeding and breeding and never knowing sunlight or fresh air.

The other group, the ones like me believe that these animals need to be cared for, stimulated, given a good, happy, pleasant life. There is an absolutely spot on moment in Jurassic world where Claire, the super a-type corporate suit says to CEO Masrani:

Claire: “We don’t have a way to measure the animals’ emotional experience.”

Masrani replies, “Sure you do. You can see in their eyes, right?”

That gets a rush out of me every time!

We handle our animals all the time, and I pick up every snake that I can. And not to brag on myself but I am pretty good at this. I am jokingly referred to several of our friends as the “Snake Whisperer.”

Just this past show, another of our friends, Eric who owns Midgard serpents had an absolutely beautiful young female Jungle Carpet python with him. I asked him if he minded if I took the lid off of her container so that Gypsy could photograph her. Eric warned me that she was bitey and that I was welcome to take the risk. Gypsy took a couple of pictures of her and then said, “Take her out so I can get better pictures.” You could see the smile creep onto Eric’s face, he knew that I was going to get nailed as this female bites him every time he handles her. So I pulled her from the container and she was flighty for a minute or so and then began to settle down.

Much to Eric’s disappointment, I held her for about twenty minutes before patiently working her back into her container and thanking him, all without getting bitten.

This is her.

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I don’t mind being bitten, but I am not afraid of it. I have known far worse pains than snake bites and I know their reasons for what they do and if they are going to bite me, then they are and there is nothing I can really do to stop them and so I just don’t concern myself with it. I am never nervous around them and it just seems to go in my favor and so perhaps I have a gift, perhaps it is just luck… That isn’t for me to say.

 

End of Part 1

On Love

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Here in the shadow of Valentine’s Day, I find myself drawn to talk about love.

I am tempted to make reference to Nietzsche’s words, “That which is done of love, takes place beyond good and evil.”

Or even to give voice to Lao Tzu, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

But in the end, words given to you by someone that you cannot know personally can often seem to have a hollower ring, even if they touch you and speak to what you feel, and so, I will tell you what I know. And you can know me, talk to me, question me, and I will give you all the knowledge that I have.

Love is not hard. Love is not painful. Love is not troublesome, or blind, or stupid and love is never done for the wrong reasons.

We bind up a million other emotions, needs, distractions, expectations and illusions with love and mistake them for the actual emotion of love, but love does not have a painful component.

It is only when it is knotted together with loss, lust or longing or confused with greed that it becomes painful to us, but love is the sun in our emotional world and even at night it shines as evidenced by its reflection on the face of the moon.

The metaphorical heart, that symbol splashed across the face of American culture each February is actually a function of our tremendously complicated brains. We feel love in our breasts but it burns in our skulls, it makes butterflies in our stomachs but hatches their cocoons in our ever beautiful minds.

Do you love? Of course you do. Do you love someone who doesn’t love you? Probably. Do you understand that love is not exclusively meant for your significant other, parents, children and siblings? Maybe. Do you allow yourself to love as much as your mind wants to? Probably not.

Why not?

To explain what I feel, I will offer this quote by one of my greatest heroes, a fictional journalist named Spider Jerusalem, created by the mad genius Warren Ellis. “I can fall in love eighty times a day just by stepping out onto the street and opening my eyes.”

Now does this mean that I am out finding eighty committed relationships a day? Or that I am taking eighty lovers, or even lasting friendships each day? No. What it means is that I can allow my heart to take people in to it for even a moment, and I can do it with as many of them deserve it.

I have loved little old ladies at the farmers’ market that giggled when I told them that they were already sweet and didn’t need that clover honey.

I have loved tiny children whose eyes pop open as wide as planets when I vanish a coin for them on the bus between little towns.

I have loved grumpy, silver haired men that tear up when they talk about things that they saw in the war, or the girl that wasn’t there when they got home.

I have fallen unabashedly in love with musicians, dancers, artists and the occasional street performer.

I have loved animals that I have worked with, owned and even ones I have encountered briefly on my travels through life.

I love a few people that I have never met. Authors, teachers, amazing people who I have been inspired and changed by.

I have even fallen in love with a few people that don’t exist. Don’t judge me, I am not in any way unhappy or ashamed of this. Or if it makes you feel better, go ahead and judge me but be aware that it doesn’t affect me or how I love.

I love my friends, and will tell them, freely, all the time, because people need to know that they are loved and more than that, that they are worthy of love.

And you are.

If you think to yourself that only one in a million people could love you, then you’re in luck because that means there are more than seven thousand people out there who will find you just perfect.

I cannot tell you how to love. No one can do that. It is as hard wired into our matrixes as anything we do. But what I can do, is offer a little bit of advice from someone who is a lover, someone who loves and doesn’t regret loving.

Our heart is resilient, powerful, and self-repairing. It will break, and it will fix itself and it is capable of a vast amount of loving, even when it is shattered into melancholy scarlet shards.

Go out, physically and metaphorically, go out and fall in love! Do it every day. Open yourself to the experience of loving someone without expectation. Love is a gift you give yourself and so does not require payment. You can love someone without the requirement of them loving you back because loving them just means that you see them, truly see them and appreciate their existence in your life.

Love violently, completely, like a thunderstorm. Let it fill the sky and light up the darkness and if it passes, it leaves growth and beauty behind it. Love doesn’t have to be permanent, it doesn’t have a term limit or a shelf life, you are permitted to love for an hour, or for a lifetime.

Be passionate about yourself and your life. Love what you do, or find something else to do! Be passionate, even in your mistakes! Throw your heart into the ring with everything you do and it will echo in your life, your work and on your face and you will be stunned by the way it changes the way people react to you.

Hug, kiss, touch and compliment people as often as you can, and you give them permission to do the same. We are all seeking permission to have connection, we are all seeking to have some level of love with the lovely creatures around us.

And lastly, love without shame or regret. Never shackle your love with those two emotions or you will cut its wings from it. You love who you love, regardless of the prevailing winds of society, regardless of who lives in the white house, who lives down your street or who serves your meals. So much stigma has become attached to gay marriage, to gender in general, but the heart sees none of that. The heart sees love and love only and if you are ashamed of who you love, then you have betrayed the most pure thing that has been given you.

The same goes for your passions. From the type of music and movies you love to the types of food you adore and the way you barely play guitar but love the act of trying, let no one ever make you feel that your love for these things is unworthy.

I tell you these things because I love. I love every day and it has made my life beautiful and to know and I mean KNOW that you are loved back, even by someone who isn’t “yours” is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Take care of each other…

Sacred

Today is Imbolc, pronounced i-MOLG, and it is one of my favorite holidays and crossroads of the year.

The celebration itself is ancient and its origins are shrouded in conjecture, mystery and the whimsy of antiquity.

What we do know is that Imbolc is celebrated today on the first of February as it is close to the halfway point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox and so it considered a turning point, a beginning of the spring season and a celebration of the lengthening days.

When Christianity swept through the British Isles, this holiday, which was thought to originally honor the Goddess Brigid was appropriated, along with the Goddess herself, who then became Saint Brigid in order to more easily sway the pagans into conversion.

But that part of the story has little if any impact on me when stacked next to the feeling, spiritual weight and magic of this day.

I am fascinated by intersections, confluences, crossroads, bridges, anything that either physically or symbolically represents a transition from one place, or state of being to another, and this one is big for me because I am not, I am loathe to admit, a big fan of winter.

Imbolc for me is a festival, a rite of fire, where we light candles, lanterns, torches, bonfires, anything we can to remind the sun that it is in heat and light that we find growth. We light candles to drive back the darkness, not because we fear it, but because we are craving warmth. We ourselves shine our inner light on those that we love and those that need us in order to bring nature and the spirit of spring into ourselves and perhaps gently push the process along.

Imbolc is a time for filling our bellies with warm food, good tea and heating the air with stories, songs, kisses and laughter.

Imbolc is a reminder that because the world, the earth, nature is alive and vital, that we are to be as well.

Among my Pagan, Wiccan, non-christian friends, Imbolc has always been a time of creative rites and celebrations. We have filled snowy clearings with blue candles arranged in spirals. We have built hanging cage fires on frozen ponds. We have sculpted goddesses from snow and then burned candles in their bellies that gradually turned them to water, allowing the air to once again take the moisture up and make it into more precipitation to nourish the ground.

Today I will symbolically plant seeds, today I will cook warm, belly filling meals, today I will write poetry filled with fire and love and today I will try to help people, I will try and encourage them and I will try and remember that each day, the sun stays with us a minute or two longer.

I will burn candles in all of the rooms of the house, and some out in the wind and snow too. I will tend to my plants and talk to the snakes and lizards that share my home and tonight, we will gather around our table and offer up food and love to each other and to all those gone on before us and those following us through the shadows into the light.

But beyond all of this, there is a symbolism in that we, through all of our pain, difficulty, loss and sorrow have come to brighter times, brighter days and things will improve. Aye, indeed, there may again come dark days but there will be turning points and it is important to greet them with gratitude, enthusiasm and joy.

That is something that I think that a lot of us miss. Gratitude. We get caught in the quagmire of all of the things we don’t have and all of the struggles that we are facing and we forget about all of the things we have and we forget how blessed we our with our gifts, our loved ones and the world that we do have access to.

I am often accused of being lost in my whimsy. That all of my little rites, rituals and symbolic gestures don’t really mean anything, but I cannot disagree with that strongly enough. What are we here for if not for the creation of temporary moments of beauty, tranquility and love?

I think it is our greatest purpose to chain together multiple acts of magic, multiple islands of joy in the daily rigmarole, make, through our efforts, small, or huge, sanctuaries for the spirit where for a minute, a day or a year, a tired being can just breathe, can inhale clean air, find a moment of peace and remember to smile.

While looking through a book in Half-price books the other day I saw a photograph that stopped me in my tracks. It was a beautiful stone Buddha, slightly weathered, a small amount of moss beginning to color its shoulders. The Buddha was photographed in profile. It was seated on a stone in the middle of a black pool of water, and the pool itself was surrounded by beautiful, natural rounded stones. All of this was in a clearing in a pine forest and there was a fresh fall of snow on the ground. The image was everything about beauty, peace and tranquility. It was one of those islands I spoke of above.

I have been unable to find out who owns that Buddha or the place it is residing but I will, and I will because I want to personally thank them for the thing that they created, to tell them that I am grateful for the beauty that they have inserted into the world.

What are you grateful for? Who are you thankful for? Do they know it? Today, on this ancient holiday, take a moment, here at the crossroads to acknowledge to yourself and to those people that you appreciate them.

I am burning candles and sitting at my keyboard this morning, because I appreciate you and I want to offer you a couple of moments of beauty and distraction.

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I hope it helps…

Blessed Imbolc and take care of each other…

Take Note ~ Journaling

“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”  ~ May Sarton

Last night our family conversation drifted into journal keeping.

My father kept journals for about the last thirty five years of his life. I have many of them and their value to me is immense, but I saw how vital they were to dad as well. He often referred back to them to find locations, dates, names of people or when a certain experience in nature happened so that he could see if it was a single occurrence or cyclic.

My father, beginning in elementary school, taught himself Spencerian script. He wrote in it through the length of his life and examples of his handwriting were sought out by teachers, historians and calligraphers all over the country. When you received a letter, handwritten from my father, you held within your hands a labor of love and you knew it.

So within my possession are thousands of pages, elegantly penned, that speak of a life lived for nature, for immersion in the wild world, and for his efforts to share and teach what he knew. But buried within those pages are frustrations, hopes, dreams and rage. They contain diaries of vacations and memorials of those who had died. Sadness over broken friendships, discoveries of his own gifts and his utter, childlike delight in the green and natural world.

They are my father, whispering to himself, all of the things that he thought were important, beautiful or rife with meaning.

An entry from one of Dad’s journals showing his exquisite penmanship.

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I journaled quite a bit. For years, dad and I would always have either our tiny notebooks or our full sized journals with us everywhere we went and you could find us sitting at picnic tables at the end of wonderful days recording what we had seen, heard, felt and learned. It was one of the things that connected us greatly during the middle years of our time together.

I had about two dozen journals of differing design, filled cover to cover with thoughts, poems, observances, confessions, drawings, pressed leaves, pieces of my broken heart and all of the other myriad things that fell into those pages. During one of my last hospitalizations, those books were destroyed by the negligence and carelessness (and perhaps callousness of others) but that isn’t what this is about.

Gypsy and I were impressing upon Erych that journaling would be good for him and in so doing, we found ourselves both bitten with the bug to begin journal keeping again.

What will a journal cost you? Depending on your needs, a good usable journal can set you back from $0.99 for a spiral bound notebook at your local drugstore, to hundreds of dollars for hand bound leather books with handmade satin paper pages, but plan to spend six to ten dollars for a nicely bound book that will stand up to being opened all the way and won’t begin to drop pages after a few weeks of use.

By the way, I discourage keeping digital journals. While there are certainly wonderful journaling apps and programs out there, I believe that it limits creativity, self-evaluation and the loss of the tactile sense of an actual book is pretty serious. I have tried electronic journaling and it left me with the same feeling that tofurkey does. It will keep you from starving, but it isn’t what you want…

What kind of journal you should buy will most likely be a journey of discovering your own needs. Do you prefer lined or unlined pages, perfect binding, spiral bound or top bound? Do you draw as much as you write, do you need bigger pages to fill with doodles, sketches or plans? Are you like me and do you only write on the fronts of pages? I do it because I have a heavy writing hand and if I write on both sides, I invariably poke holes in the pages which is a disheartening thing.

Dad wrote front and back and always in ballpoint pen. I prefer rollerball pens, but I also fall into times when I work in sharpies, felt tipped pens, mechanical pencils, crayons and colored pencils. I have also done finger paintings in my journals using my own blood. (Don’t ask, it was a complicated time.)

So for an investment of less than ten dollars, (and let’s face it, if you are reading this, you most likely already have at least the writing implements section of this covered) you have a medium and method for self-discovery and self-expression that is pretty much unrivaled in the modern world.

My current journal and one of Dad’s old ones, along with my current favorite pen.
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“Okay, okay, I get it, it isn’t expensive or complicated, but why should I add something ELSE to my already full plate?”

I hear you. I get it. But here’s the thing. Journaling, especially if done with regularity will help so many other aspects of your life.

Because I believe in having people do much of their own research, I will only give you the basics here, but trust me, I have vetted them out.

Stress reduction. Writing out your pain, your frustrations, your angers and your problems, helps ease the burden of them and often helps us find solutions that were lost in the clutter of our emotions.

Writing activates the left brain, which while engaged, encourages the creative right side of your brain to be free to make connections, seek solutions and express itself within the writing itself.

Journaling is also a journey of self-discovery. We often find clues or glaring declarations of our own passions written with open honesty within our journal pages. The key there is to not exaggerate. Do not try to make yourself grandiose. Remember that the journal is a confessor, not something that is truly meant for others and so you are free to be yourself within those pages, with no call to impress or to pretend passion for something that you truly have no love for.

There is an anonymous quote that says, “When you have to make a hard decision, flip a coin. When that coin is in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping for.” It is the same with journaling. If you allow yourself to be honest with the pages, all the time, your truth will find its way onto the paper.

Gypsy and I have decided that we are going to take Erych out later this week and let him pick out a journal. Then we are going to have at least one evening a week (hopefully more often) when we sit for an hour and do nothing else but write in our journals. I actually got the jump on this and filled three pages this morning and it feels amazing to be back at it.

I encourage you to join us. Pick up something to write with, something to write on and see what it does for you and see what emerges from it. I do not think that you will be disappointed.

Take care of each other and yourselves.

Frankenstein Heart

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~

It is difficult to be vulnerable.

To allow yourself to place your heart on the chopping block and take the risk that the person you are showing it to will not drive a knife through it and walk away, laughing.

It is also very easy to stab someone through the heart this way, especially once it has been done to you.

For much of my life was the well armored clown. The man who made you laugh, kept you at ease, kept you amused, anything to keep you from looking too closely at me, close enough to see the flaws, the broken pieces, the scars, the still seeping wounds and the fear…

I am a master magician. I am flawless in my misdirection, I can conjure dragons and peonies from the very air if it keeps you from noticing my pain.

I have also become a master surgeon, I have grown quite skillful at taking my butchered heart and binding it back together with staples, wire and butcher’s twine. In my romantic’s mind, I like to think of the Japanese custom of repairing broken pottery with gold, thus making the flaws beautiful and so I hope that my jigsaw heart has been made more beautiful because of its suffering, but I am not sure.

My journey over the last year or so has been profound. It has altered me more than any other path I have followed in my life. More than the years studying Zen, more than my life as a martial artist, a practicing pagan or a poet and author. In the last year I have come at last to the big reveal and though I am far from the end of this road, I can finally understand the beauty of my Frankenstein heart.

In this era of social media, much of the world has found a home for their hate, their anger, their frustrations, it is seemingly a world with no consequences. I do not like to believe that it is human nature to be hateful, to mock those different from you, to belittle others for their character, but there is so much of it to be seen that it must be true, right?

I don’t think so.

As it has always been, the most insecure, angry and hateful are the ones who are the most willing to be loud, to scream their opinions from the parapets and to force change through fear of reprisals. But beneath that blackened surface lies a whole world of beautiful people. Ones who love with all they have, support others with every fiber of themselves and care for even the most misunderstood.

We notice the monsters more because they are the ones that make our hearts hurt. We scroll through our timelines, we dial through our radio stations, we flip through our newspapers and we almost instinctively find the things that make us believe that the world that we know and love is coming to an end.

This is not just about this election and inauguration. This isn’t about any political stance, this is about the spirit of mankind.

I do not believe that everyone can be saved.

There, I have said it.

Humans are flawed, like any other organism, but unlike most of the others, we do not have a natural culling process that weeds out the ones that disrupt the balance of nature, the ones that keep it from being all that it can be.

Now, I know, some of you that have been reading me for years are beginning to think, “Ah, there is the old bloodthirsty bastard I remember, about to call for a killing.”

Sorry to disappoint you, but no.

Here is today’s metaphor. We are on a gigantic sinking ship, but some of us have found a raft, a huge one that looks like life and have climbed aboard.

It is now our job to look around.

Here is what you will see.

There will be the loudest ones, the ones screaming about how faulty the ship was, and how weak we are for climbing on board the raft instead of floating around waiting for god or the government to save us. They will blame the ocean for stealing their ship. They will claim that it sank because we are not Christian, or because we are sexually experimental, or because we don’t see skin color in our judgements. They will scream for attention and as they scream, the ocean will rush in and one by one, begin to take them down.

Then there will be those who are just floating, not even noticing that the boat has gone down, they will be glued to their devices, to their stock portfolios, they will only notice that the world has changed when they go to buy themselves something to make themselves feel more complete and discover that they died long ago.

Lastly, there will be the important ones. The ones with the desperate tears streaming from their eyes, the ones looking at us unsure if they can trust us, the ones that have been whipped, wounded or sure that they are about to be whipped or wounded. The scared, creative, solitary, introverted people with hearts so bright that you can see them even below the surface.

Save every last one of them.

Let the rest go.

It is for the best.

Now is a time for bravery.

Look around, you know that one friend or family member who cannot change or be reasoned with, that one person who lives for the celebration of their hate and bigotry.

Call out to them, once.

Tell them that there is room on your raft.

If they refuse, then turn away and look for someone else.

Let them go.

It may seem cruel but now is no time for tilting at windmills, now is a time for burning bridges so that we can use the light from that fire to see the road ahead.

We can burn them, because we built them and can do it again.

Come onto my raft, there is plenty of room within the sound of my Frankenstein heart…

Take care of each other.

Gardens in the Trenches

Last night, one of the most compassionate people I know had a moment. She posted about it on facebook and when it scrolled through my timeline, it made me pause. She spoke of being adrift, scared when facing the world that we have currently sculpted for ourselves and upset because she felt that she was not able to adequately help others who felt the same because she wasn’t sure there was any hope to be found.

I felt terrible when reading her words because I too feel many of those fears, worries, inadequacies, and feel woefully underprepared for the what if’s posted to me, especially by my step-son.

But as I thought about it, I realized that this is what we are best at. If you remove government, corporations and commerce from the equation, if you slap media out of the conversation and get right down to it, we can be pretty amazing to each other.

Sure, there are people out there who are quite horrible, to other people, to the environment, and just in general, but take a step back and think for a moment, ask yourself this question, “What can I do in the face of such wanton disregard and inhumanity?”

The answer is that you can be kind.

Yes, our country is on the verge of tearing itself asunder but our country, on the most basic of levels is not us. Sure, the country is made up of us, but we are made up of 75% water and it does not make us a birdbath.

Do you remember a proverb that circulated back in the mid to late 90’s that said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Hillary Clinton used it in a book title and it was attributed to be an African proverb, though there is some controversy as to its origins. Be that as it may, it is nevertheless true.

But it isn’t only children, we need community, tribe, family, a group of people around us that we can rely on to be kind to each other.

For all of human history, as things were happening in the upper echelons of society, things that could often lead us to very bad ends, things that could mean our very lives and deaths, you could find tiny pockets of people who strove to look after one another on the most basic human levels, with love, caring and kindness.

This is not me saying that we should not be politically involved, I am not saying “Let’s retreat from the grid and build a commune.” and I am not saying that what is happening does not matter. But I am saying that while we are aware of what is happening and we will deal with it and be involved, we will also protect, care for and be kind to our village, our tribe, and those people around us that right now, need a little extra reassurance.

My step-son is transgender, bi and eccentric as hell and this new administration scares the hell out of him. He worries for himself and for his rights in the future. He worries at the open mockery, hate and divisiveness that he is seeing thrown up on a constant basis by the media and around the dinner tables of his less than enlightened associations.

How do we contend with it? How do we make sure he knows that he is safe? How do we show our support and help him feel safe? By doing those exact things. We contend with it. We talk about it, when he wants to talk about it. We do not shrug off his concerns, we address them, right then and there and we make sure that we have truly answered his questions and reassured him before we move on.

We cannot be with him every minute of the day, but we make sure constantly that he knows that we have his back, or her back, depending on the day. He is still finding his way and I tell him all the time, “So am I Sparkle Boy, so am I.”

I read Jenna’s post and it made me tear up and wish for arms long enough to reach her, but her tribe has her back and so all I did was try to hold up the mirror and remind her of her worthiness, her magic and her kindness. Isn’t that what we should all be doing for each other, all the time?

It is, but we forget.

The barrage is endless. One side is calling us oversensitive, mocking the strides we have made in equal rights, and all the while rushing to stuff their pockets with as much as they can, all the while screaming, “You can’t have any, it’s all mine!”

Meanwhile, the other side can’t stop finger pointing long enough to do any lasting good and are so lost in their own agendas, causes and fears that they can’t stop long enough to say, “It is important to help everyone, but right here in front of me is someone suffering and they need me for a moment, an hour or a day.”

Is it missing the forest for the trees? Sometimes. But each tree has needs, and while it is vastly important to preserve the forest, the suffering of so many individual trees is just as big of a threat.

Do something for someone close to you that needs it. Pull your head out of the sand or climb down off of the soapbox for just long enough to help one or two real, flesh and blood people that need you. And if you are scared, overwhelmed, suffering, reach out.

Here in the trenches of the world, we are growing gardens and in those gardens we are doing something that makes us worthy of our time here. We are loving one another, we are saying thank you and meaning it. We are listening, I mean truly listening to the voices of the frightened and at the end, we are telling them that it will be all right. And it will be all right because it is what we do for each other that speaks loudest, even when the world is screaming…

We are stronger together, not as a movement, as a statement or even as a social network. We are stronger as a family, a tribe, a people.

Take care of each other and if you need me, I am here…

Half the Man

380 pounds.

I am beginning the year, this beautiful New Year filled with possibilities at a body weight of 380 pounds.

I am two, count them, two reasonably sized guys. Three small ones. I am a crowd, enough for a party, or at the very least an interesting game of monopoly.

This is not the heaviest I have ever been. No my good reader, I once topped out at nearly 500 pounds but that was long ago and for a very different reason. So at one point, I was a girls’ volleyball team.

But now, here, today, I am 47 years old, I will be 48 in July and I am 380 pounds, which by almost anybody’s statistics means that my time on this planet is extremely limited.

I can tell you all sorts of things that on their surface makes it not as bad as it seems. For instance, my usual blood pressure is 110 over 70. I am very active for a fat guy. I am capable of fending for myself, taking care of my family, I can escape the house in case of a fire and if the fight doesn’t go on too long, I can beat your ass in rather brutal fashion.

I can touch my toes, I just can’t see them if I am standing upright.

I am not subject to depression eating or stress eating, not even of boredom eating, but I eat bad things, things that are incomplete nutritionally and I do not move around nearly enough, which in combination has led me to being here, writing to you from a very large, slightly bowed computer chair, telling you how I feel.

I hurt. Emotionally and physically I hurt. Each day, I begin the day trying to get my body, which has seen its share (and possibly someone else’s) share of trauma to work correctly. I often tell Gypsy early in the morning that my body feels like it has been assembled by a group of drunk dyslexic kids with poorly written instructions.

My feet hurt. All the time. I do not currently have good walking shoes as money has been an issue recently, but standing for long periods of time hurts them because of the weight I am carrying.

I have a couple of pounds of steel in my left leg, the reminder of a car accident that nearly took me out for the long dark ride. My leg aches, I mean throbbing, toothache kind of aches at the end of a long day. I don’t complain, I have done this to myself.

My lower back hurts, it hurts when I sit, it hurts when I stand or walk, it was not built to carry this burden.

In general, I ache more than I thrive and that too is shortening my life.

I cannot climb a set of stairs without feeling exhausted at the top of them and I balk at some activities because I feel incapable and I cannot fit in the rides at most amusement parks.

I cannot find nice clothes on a budget. I do not even own a suit. A man should own a suit, especially when you are burying your friends, and in 2016, I buried a lot of friends.

You should not have to feel self-conscious at your friend’s funeral because you can’t wear a proper suit.

I do not feel attractive.

I have some nice features.

I am charming.

Well read.

Well-traveled.

I am an amazing storyteller.

I am funny.

I see magic in the everyday.

I can be very uplifting and supportive to others.

And, I am learning to be kind, tolerant and compassionate.

I am also a phenomenal cook, which in its own way is a big part of the problem.

But I feel wretched, I feel hideous and I feel like a slob most of the time and feel ashamed to be seen in beautiful places on the arm of my beautiful Lady because I feel like she deserves better.

The arguments will come, loudly from those who love me, they will say that I am fine, just the way I am, but they know and I know that I am not fine and if I do not do something about this in the immediate future that it is not going to matter for very much longer.

A year ago, even a few months ago, I would have NEVER allowed you to see this picture, none of you, that is how important that I think this is and how desperate I am to change my life!

fatboy

Fat guys, unless they’re Santa Claus don’t live very long.

Gypsy and I are both overweight and both sick to death of it and over Christmas, without planning to, she dropped a challenge in my lap. But it wasn’t just my lap, it went out to her brother, her son and I. She said, “What if we set a challenge to all lose 50 pounds next year.”

It was very quiet at the table for a second, maybe five, then one after another we all began to nod. Just that quickly it was settled and it has grown to include her sister and one of her cousins.

Now her sister isn’t looking to lose 50 pounds, but to tone up and feel more fit, but the rest of us have committed to this and we have established a text message group to support each other.

This may be the greatest physical challenge that I have ever faced. I once learned to walk again after spending two years in a wheelchair. I have earned four black belts. I have climbed mountains, swum rivers and camped rough in a variety of locations, but I was younger, I was more sure of myself, I was better off financially and I thought myself immortal.

I’m not.

That is why this is so damned important.

I am a great one for talking about living in the moment and being mindful, but I do not blame you for not completely taking my message to heart if I cannot even take care of my one true possession, my body.

But that will be changing.

“How?” you ask.

We as a family will be eating better. The teenager will balk, but he knows he needs this too and I will get him involved in creating the menu.

As of yesterday I gave up one of my most long standing traditions, sugar in my tea. I had already given up (for the most part) drinking soda, so this is the next logical step.

We will be eating a lot more veggies, no more processed or instant foods. Pasta will be an occasional thing and breads will be kept to a minimum, at least for Gypsy and I.

The exercise thing leads to some more serious challenge. Because of the pain in my leg and feet, large amounts of walking will be difficult for a while and the two things that my doctor recommends biking and swimming are both a financial outlay that aren’t feasible at the moment.

Normal bicycles are not built to handle my bulk and so a specialty bike is required and specialty is an old Latin word that means (expensive). But I will be keeping my eyes open for possibilities and hopefully sometime in the new year finances will turn around and we can overcome these hurdles sooner rather than later.

Are you in the same situation?

Are you dying from nothing? From doing nothing?

What will it take? What kind of a scare will it take? Dizzy spells, constant pain, hospitalization, a heart attack, or a stroke?

Are you complacent about how the world will thrive if you die early? How about your families, your friends and your lovers? If you think that it won’t make that much of a difference in their lives, then let me tell you from first-hand experience, I have attended the funerals, I have watched the faces of the survivors, I have heard them crying and many of them, still are.

Come with us. Make a change. I can’t live this way anymore, neither can Gypsy, and you know, neither can you…

Take care of yourself… Please!

Death Will Tremble to Take Us

tremble

I am angry today.

Angry and sad, but not in equal measures, but the math of it doesn’t matter, what matters is the reasons and the cure.

I go today to say farewell to a friend, someone I have known for much of my life, someone who is only a couple of years older than I am and is going on the journey far too soon.

I am sad at Joe’s passing, sad at the number of funerals that have come through my life in the last couple of years, sad at the pain that death causes for the living and sad because of the beautiful lives that are simply missing from us now.

I am sad because the goodbyes were always incomplete, sad because of the loss of hope at the end and sad because those of us left behind must try to figure out how to comfort each other. I have many facets to my sadness, but I can sleep easy with the sadness, it is the anger that keeps me up at night.

I am not angry at death, as that would be pointless. It is an inevitability, an eventuality that is waiting for us all and I am at peace with that. I am also not angry at those who have passed, as they have done nothing but followed the course to its eventual end.

I am angry at the dead who still walk among us.

The complacency and disregard for this tremendous gift of life that we are given is devastating to me. We stagger forward, awash in our indifference, armored in our fear and quick with a proverb or an excuse as to why we are not living to our utmost and making every day shine like the precious thing that it is.

“I don’t have time.”

“I don’t have money.”

“Mommy didn’t love me enough.”

“I picked the wrong ___” (spouse, career, neighborhood, major, sports team)

“God hates me” (Or life, or my car, or the world, or my computer, or my car, SOMETHING hates me.)

“I didn’t get that part in the play when I was 13.”

“Mom hated me.”

“So and so broke my heart.”

“I’m too old.”

“I’m nothing special.”

“I’m too fat (skinny, plain, weird, crazy, emotional, dorky, ugly, male, female)”

“I’m too young.”

“I can’t…”

That last one really pisses me off.

You were born with the tools you need to DO, to BE, to LIVE!

Stop waiting, stop putting off your joy, your love, your very lives! What are you waiting for? The next time? Your next chance? Your next spin on the coaster?

There isn’t a next time. And even if there is, it will not be one where you remember this time, and so, once again, you will be complacently sitting around, flipping channels, scrolling screens, thumbs upping worthless bullshit and lamenting the dead.

Fuck that.

Stop giving death so much say in your life. I don’t want to see you celebrating the anniversary of someone’s death anymore. “Oh Prince died a year ago, I need to raise a glass of purple kool-aid in his honor.”

No! Stop it!

If you want to celebrate someone, celebrate their birthdays, even after they are gone. Celebrate their accomplishments, not their deaths unless their death was the single greatest achievement of their lives.

Bukowski said, “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

This will be a short post because I want you to spend the rest of your day living, loud, beautifully and full of love! Love for people, places, music, animals, or for the sheer joy of the fact that you are living.

No more excuses.

There isn’t any more time.

This is all we are going to get.

I dare you…

I double dog dare you.

To live…

Up from the Roots

sunset

We just emerged from the longest night of the year and the morning dawned grey, unseasonably warm, but with a true sense of winter to it and as we walked to the car, I felt myself inhaling it into my breast and I felt renewed.

During the long night, the Holly King dug in the earth, down through the forest mast, the rich loam, through the clay, until there, curled in the roots, he found his sleeping brother.

The Oak King.

Carefully, reverently, the normally cold and cruel monarch of winter lifted his sibling up in his arms and laid him in the leaves, acorns and twigs of the brown understory of the great ever forest.

His blue eyes fell on his brother’s face. He leaned there on the rim of the grave, his breath slowing, each exhalation coming in a bellows gush of mist, until he saw, finally with the sky growing pale in the east, his twin taking his first massive inhalation, taking in the cool, clear air that his brother offered him.

With the first breath that the Oak King took, the Holly King slumped and fell, sliding heavily down into the roots of the world trees, into the dark womb of their mother.

Opening his honey colored eyes, the Oak King looked around, expectantly, hopefully, the frost burning off of his brown curls, melting out of his beard, falling away from his broad, heavy antlers. He looked around for his brother, but knew where he would be.

He rose, stretching like the light that reached up from the horizon, his fingers brushing the clouds that swept by from west to east. Sighing heavily, he stepped over to the edge of the grave and looked down to see his brother, already withering, shrinking, becoming a husk, as he himself had been mere months before.

With a tear threatening to spill onto his cheek, he leaped down, taking his twin’s almost weightless form into his arms, he curled him into a fetal position, like a seed waiting within its shell and tucked him into the pulsing roots of everything.

As he leaned in to his brother’s brow, the Holly King’s antlers crumbled, falling to dust in a soft grey halo around his shaggy silver mane.

The Oak King climbed from the hole, up into the light of the first lengthening day, he stood, his chest filling with winter air and exhaling life, letting the sleeping green world know that he has arisen and that once again, the wheel had turned.

He paused, as his brother had done six months before, and sang. His voice a rich, deep baritone, made slightly hoarse by disuse and an eternity of laughter, he sang to the earth, to his mother, who swelled, heaved, contracted and swallowed the grave of her other son.

The Oak King sang until his tears made him choke.

He knew the way of things.

He knows how it must be.

But on this day, he misses their play, he misses their gamed, roughhousing in the shallows of a rumbling stream and eating from the land as they sang by the fire.

On this day, he wishes it could all stop.

He will grieve for a while, and so, in his brother’s honor, he will let it remain cold.

In six months, during the longest day of summer, the Oak King will come, he will dig, he will harvest his twin from the rich earth, and for a while, it will remain warm, as the Holly King mourns.

Blessed Solstice to you my friends, Blessed Yule, Hold your loved ones close.

Please take care of each other.

The Fire Monkey’s Sermon

ganesha3

There is no cost to kindness.

There is no calculable worth to forgiveness.

There is no equivalent weight to love.

There is no purchasable happiness.

All of these are free for the taking, but are unattainable to us while we find ourselves unworthy.

2016 has been a trying year, but for me it has been one of tremendous awakening and transformation. The year of the Fire Monkey, in the Chinese Zodiac has been the year in which I finally emerged from my chrysalis and am striving toward the mountain with new, powerful wings and a joy in my heart that resounds like great drums.

One hears so much talk about mindfulness, meditation, living in the present and so many other wellness clichés that it becomes like snow, like background noise, present but meaningless.

Sure, once in a while a particularly stunning image in a meme will brings us to a halt long enough to digest the message that comes with it, and even more rarely that message resonates on the frequency where we feel things, where we truly experience things and then, for a moment, or an hour, or perhaps a day, we change. And if feels good, and we wonder how we can make sure that we feel this way all the time.

Then the feeling fades. We do not pursue it. We flirt around with the edges of it, but gradually it lessens in its impact, and then poof, it is gone.

That is not happening with me anymore. The feeling doesn’t fade, I have been living on this level of passionate intensity for about ten months now and if anything, it is gradually increasing.

I have a certain primal excitement within me that makes me feel like a child, but with an adult’s awareness. Each day holds some raw fascination, each thing that comes along is an invitation to adventure. I do not see warnings about winter storms as things to dread, instead, I curl up to watch, to experience, to immerse myself in what might be.

What changed?

I committed to an attempt at genuine mindfulness. I tried to slow down, actually read the memes, listen to the talks, examine the paths, and to listen to what others said, not so that I could respond, but to truly hear what they had to say.

I attempted to live in the moment as much as possible. I immersed myself in experiences, some as simple and small as a warm breeze on a chilly spring day, others more intense like the rolling, post storm surf under a cloudy sky in North Carolina.

I took time to breathe when people cut me off in traffic, I stopped to sit on the ground and pet the dogs and cats that crossed my path, I watched hawks and vultures soar and circle in the summer thermals and listened to the sparrows titter to one another at first light.

I lit candles around the house, as often as I could and burned good incense when the mood struck me. I meditated. Sometimes for thirty or forty minutes a day, sometimes guided and sometimes just sitting with my back to a tree, or the bricks of a building and let the world fuse into watercolors around me.

I loved with all that I have, I forgave old grudges, even ones against myself and I reached out and am still reaching out to old friends. I visited memories and examined them with a Sage’s eye and learned from them more about who I am. I visited places that I thought were lost to me and found pieces of myself there as well.

Gypsy and I began to re-follow old family traditions, we celebrated birthdays with the importance that they deserved and we let whimsy lead us to some breathtaking places, and gods, we laughed a lot this year.

We began to eat at home more, we grew herbs and vegetables in buckets on our back deck, we ate what we grew and we grew spiritually from our connection to the earth. We spent the second half of the summer and well into fall obsessed with a single beautiful Zinnia plant that arrived next to our parking space without human intervention. It sprang up from the mulch by the parking lot and over the course of four months, it gave us 16 blossoms, huge, beautiful and unexpected in its gift.

Gypsy too went and is continuing to go through her own awakening. Her photography has grown from brilliant to breathtaking in the year of the Fire Monkey and she had changed people’s lives with it, at least their perceptions of their own beauty. (Isn’t it odd, yet wonderful how sometimes it takes someone else showing it to us for us to see our own beauty?)

We stopped fearing the future, we stopped asking, “What are we going to do?” and started being excited about it and declaring, “This, this is what we are going to do.”

We joined an orchid society and immerse ourselves in the beauty of that once a month. We welcomed a handful of rescue animals into our lives and gave them the care, love and compassion that they needed and in return, they thrived for us and have become members of the family, or have moved on to brighten the lives of others.

We traveled as often as we could afford to, and sometimes traveled when we could not afford it, because we needed the road more than we needed other things. We visited her family, we visited our family and we gained new family as they months progressed and I never cease to be amazed how wonderful and kind some people can be. But that is, after all, the key to what I am talking about here. We all have the potential to be beautiful, kind, mindful, loving and loved.

But you cannot alter the world, except by altering yourself.

This year was far from perfect and we fell. We lamented. We lost. We cried. We raged. We felt unworthy and we lost our way more times than I can count. We struggled, I struggled and am struggling still but I am also hopeful, grateful and at peace with the process.

As each day passes, I pause as I walk through our home and I offer gratitude and honor to the gods that populate our space. I pause before the Morrigan, strong and fearless, and I offer her a candle and I stand a little straighter, knowing that she has prepared me to protect my family. I cradle the tiny white Mother Goddess in my hands and thank her for all that she has given me over the decades of my life. I give a nod and a smile to Sun Wukong, the monkey King, Equal of Heaven, Great and Holy. I thank him for my sense of humor, my relentless hunger for what is right and my ability to persevere. I give a moment to the Buddhas as they watch from the windowsills and book shelves, always high so that they can be seen and their lessons remembered. And lastly, I give thanks to Ganesha, I tell him of my gratitude for his help in bringing down the barriers that for so long held me in stasis.

Find someone, something to lean on, until you can rely on yourself. If I, who for so long lived in doubt, rage and suspicion can make this progression and transformation, then you have the potential. I promise you, it is better on this side.

I am by no means a guru, or a sage or a Buddhist master, but what I am is in love with the beautiful kaleidoscope of life and I am willing to help. I cannot ferry you over the river that lies in your path, but perhaps, if you are wanting and willing, I can help you learn to swim.