I was in Springdale today, chasing the unicorn of outdoor security lights I wanted. You can’t wait on a landlord to provide the minimum of safety, after all. It was my second visit to 64 in fifty-three days. My eyes devoured the familiar yet mercurial sights as I drove.
I can’t explain how, but I knew my old friend Mike would be in his yard if I drove by unannounced. (I’ll call him Mike for this anecdote to protect his anonymity and association with me.) On a whim, I navigated the byzantine streets and headed to the cul-de-sac he wisely chose to buy a house in. I saw Mike standing along the fence, holding a mug. Two of his dogs were with him.
I parked and said hello and let the dogs lick my fingers through the wire fence along the perimeter of the curved curbside. There was a break in the beautiful line of vegetation and flowers they’d carefully planted.
He’s not one to be idle. Along with the rest of his family, he did everything right regarding C19. Even though he’s a lifelong community servant, he took the time to be careful. Despite being vaccinated, he got covid.
It was such a pleasure to see him and hear his brand of rapid-fire yet laconic wit.
He told me he’d retire in a couple of years. I laughed. He might retire from his chosen career – but he’ll never relax. Mike is not wired for it. For years, I’ve asked him to transition from one form of public service to politics. He’s uniquely qualified. The fact that he doesn’t think so proves that he’s the right candidate, no matter what office he might seek or hold. Anyone who knows him would immediately agree.
I showed him my scar. “What’s a worldwide pandemic, divorce, and surgery to complain about?” I jokingly asked him.
Seeing an old friend, fatigued but safe from severe harm from this scourge of a virus, I left, happier than when I’d arrived. That “light you up” thing? Yeah, Mike’s one of the good people.
And a reminder that even when you do everything right, things can and will go wrong.
That gives hope to a poor soul like me.
I came back to the apartment and spent a couple of hours installing the lights, my heart filled with fondness on two accounts.
I’m adjusting to taking several shorter walks instead of long, meandering ones. Instead of pushups, I opt to find a new place to put my feet if I go out. It’s led me to see so many beautiful houses. Fayetteville is packed with artfully done architecture and stunning homes. Even in areas where the houses have been neglected, I find surprises to admire.
This morning, a woman was out on her wide, covered porch. She was smoking, and a large decorative mug was on the wood railing. “Your house is incredible, ma’am,” I said as I walked past. “Is it?” she answered. “I forget. You probably have a better view of it than I ever do.” Because I’m all about the metaphor, I replied, “I think that’s true about everyone and everything. We get proximity-blind to the things around us.” She laughed, nodding. I waved as I walked away.
A block further along, a dog of some sort, a mix of indeterminate origin, sat on its haunches next to the sidewalk, not too far from a fragrant magnolia. It watched me approach. No owner was in sight, and only one light was on inside the nearest house. The dog wore a nice collar. Without caring if the dog decided to bite me, I kneeled and held my hands palms up. The dog wagged its tail and lunged at me, its tongue licking my arms and then my face. I let it show me affection as I petted its head and flanks. I laughed. I carefully sat on the edge of the sidewalk and the lawn. The dog laid across my legs as I petted him. I sat there for several minutes until I feared I might cramp; I hated to break the reverie of the unexpected interaction. As I stood up, the dog licked my fingers. I scratched its ears. It did not follow me as I walked away. I’ll come back by on a random morning, hoping to see him.
Though I probably walked only a mile on that short excursion, it was exactly what I needed. The moon shone brightly above, and the chill of the air was calming without wind to make my bones chatter.
I am “taking it easy.” I’d rather be at work, surrounded by turmoil and activity.
I took this awkward selfie this morning. I’m wearing a nifty phoenix brooch that I modified myself, as well as my favorite rip-shirt. You can see that my custom Dumb & Dumber wood print to the right gives me inspiration, now more than ever. My nice incision reminds me to be careful, especially if I see a surgeon sneaking up on me with a scalpel. It’s okay to look at the weird, jagged scar. It’s a part of me forever. Everything is, in part because I’m dedicated to remembering that no matter how well things are going, life is both beautiful and capricious.
Let the day begin.
Watching the sun inch down, I found myself asking Alexa, “What’s the score for the Razorback football game?” I NEVER do that. Being around hard-core fans somehow has made me hopeful for them. This stupid epidemic has stripped a lot away from people. Is it too much to ask for the team to shock Texas and win? Probably. But I’m hoping. I told a fan today that I predict that Arkansas will win.
Because one of my neighbors is a huge fan – and because I was feeling especially grateful to just be alive and optimistic about anything, I decided to surprise the family with a couple of anonymous pizzas as a gift.
When the driver knocked and explained that a neighbor bought them pizza, the woman’s face shifted from absolute confusion to delight.
I took that glimpse of delight and pocketed it inside my heart. It’s not about me giving something, it’s about the surprise.
PS Dominos was supposed to take all the information off the box. They accidentally left my phone number on it. The person getting the pizzas called. The anonymous part was ruined but the feeling of giving a surprise remains.
I’ll gladly accept. Things often go awry. It’s no reason to keep trying.
I am sitting here at my desk, trying to find the words to write another truth. This one is a stone in my throat.
This story unfolded minutes ago.
As life does, a story walked up, disguised as a man and woman. They went to the dumpster in the front. Both had backpacks. The woman fearlessly climbed up and inside. The man stood to the side.
My heart opened unexpectedly. I got my full coin jar next to the door and exited the apartment.
I swallowed my uncertainty and approached the man. There’s no doubt he expected an admonishment from me.
Who am I to judge?
“This is for you,” I told him. I handed him the heavy glass jar.
“The jar has sentimental value. The coins have real value. I want y’all to have it.”
He was dumbstruck. The realization that I walked over to surprise him with a gift instead of cursing him washed over him.
He looked at his girlfriend or wife and said, “Did you see what he just gave us? I can’t believe I’m tearing up.”
I reached out and shook his hand.
“Don’t you want the jar back? If it has value to you?”
“No, I’ve had it for 20+ years. I’m in a new life now.”
We shared comments back and forth. He said he’d give the jar to his dad, who loves such things.
“I hope karma repays you, X.” It was odd he used the word ‘karma’ to me. It permeates so much of my life.
The last thing I said to him, when I turned and walked away: “I’ve got a good life and more than enough.”
The woman did an expert job at rummaging inside the dumpster, a place most wouldn’t dare enter.
As I finished this, I got a text thanking me for going out of my way to tip a delivery driver. Twice.
I think I have it better than I realize.
Step outside into the overcast day. I’m sending out a wave of gratitude. Even in this place, there are moments of clarity.
Note: everyone reading this will have at least one gong go off in their heads. I’m not sure why, but a muse settled in my head this afternoon. Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong.
The Botany Rule: Love and nurturing are on Maslow’s hierarchy for a reason. If you don’t bring your water bucket and a bit of sunshine to those you love, they will needlessly suffer the absence of that which nourishes; if possible, they’ll find it elsewhere. It isn’t the plant’s fault. Just because we have reason and consciousness should not fool you into thinking that we aren’t wired for intimacy.
So much of what ignites us in the minds of others is practiced. Take a moment and tell someone that they’d made your day better. Instead of speaking when motivated by recrimination, find a way to say something positive. People’s ears become deaf to love when criticism fills the air. We have only so many minutes in a day and attention to spare. Choose, rather than react. Sometimes, in silence, hug unexpectedly, and whisper in the midst of shouts.
Words fade but attitude invades.
The longer you wait to tell someone an uncomfortable truth, the harder it is to be open the next time you want to. Someone who loves you will respond with hurt, but that hurt will be tempered by eventual acceptance. And if not? They have a disparate image of who you are than you do.
If you’re in an unequal relationship, and most are, you might as well open yourself and crowd them; the end is as certain as the curtain on Broadway. Take your swing and crowd the plate. Living loosely is a great idea but a terrible way to survive.
Rare is the couple in which one prefers to dance and the other to sit. They exist and if you’re in one, relish it if it has lasted. But if your partner won’t dance for fear of looking foolish, they’ve placed appearance and decorum over you.
Love is foolish and its demonstration is seldom appreciated by onlookers; those dancing don’t count the eyes or ears observing them.
Someone smart said, “Faults are thick where love is thin.” If you find yourself listing grievances, you’ve allowed your inability to honestly communicate to sever a significant part of your intimacy.
“Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve” is a great example of something that sounds reasonable while simultaneously belying the fact that we are emotional creatures disguised as thinking adults. Look around. We admire smart people who care enough to not care about how others interpret their sentimentality. Those people feed my soul. I think they do yours, too.
“I would love you more IF” is a thought that should warn you that either you need to work on yourself – or the unstated expectations of your relationship.
I learned something about myself. If a person can tell me his or her worst secrets, my capacity to love and appreciate them blossoms. If the opposite is the case, it’s very difficult to navigate misgivings as they arise.
We protect nothing by failing to reveal who we really are.
The best truths are written in dirt. The best voices are broken. And the kindest souls have learned to turn off their judgment when others fail them.
Finally, one that is not mine, and I’m sharing it as I found it:
“You sit in sh!t too long, it stops smelling.”
I put off laying down until I thought I would sleep like the dead. Thoughts of the day still swirled mercilessly in my head. Because of a promise, I took melatonin. Sleep grabbed me and pulled me under. And at 11:11, it spit me back out, leaving me awake and wondering what had prompted my brain to so completely jostle me out of my reverie.
This time I did as I had promised myself I would. I got up, dressed lightly, and left my phone, wallet, and usual artifacts of life on the stool I use as a table. There are times when walking without distraction can be one’s only peace.
I went outside into the night.
And walked, directionlessly.
Mile after mile, both time and distance unmeasured.
Despite finding the heat of the night and the sights and sounds invigorating, I realized I had to go back. Because I didn’t have my phone, I couldn’t Uber. I made it back to my apartment with time to spare.
But I used the calculus of those who often don’t sleep well to determine that I’d be better off to take a shower and go to work early. I did smile toweling off, seeing all the wonder and color of my new shower curtain.
Now, I’m trying to convince myself that I didn’t dream that long walk. The long muscles of my legs are whispering to me otherwise, though.
Returning, and looking at my phone, I laughed. My thoughtful cousin had sent me a link to read the next time I found myself gripped by sleeplessness. Ha!
I’m frowning at my sleeplessness.
And smiling at all those miles of asphalt and concrete.
A long day lies ahead of me, and a longer night lies behind.
I am here, enough, and waiting for next the next surprise. It’s Wednesday for us all, and yet I feel like I got an extra day between today and yesterday.
My new polychromatic shower curtain is here. It’s part of what has made this old apartment lack a bit of accustomed craziness. It’s a large, high-resolution mix of words, symbolism, and ideas. I can’t take a picture of the whole curtain as it hangs, given the reduction of my bathroom, so I’ve included a draft image.
A few of my favorite “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” words adorn it: zenosyne, oleka, onism, and sonder. IF you’re not familiar with this, visit it on the internet and YT channel. I envy everyone who visits with fresh eyes.
There are two phoenixes on this shower curtain, and for a good reason. One is depicted as a live phoenix. The other is in transition next to an “X” in fiery metamorphosis, taking seven flying birds with it.
Along the top, there is an “X,” alongside Earth hanging on a bow, adjacent to an incomplete infinity symbol and the words “thank you.” It’s a reminder that time is short and that I have a world of choices if I dare and have a grateful heart. I’ve learned that if I can breathe through the flareups of doubt with hope in my head, things will probably work out well. And if they don’t, I still have only two choices: move or don’t.
There are also a couple of dozen other symbols and imagery, many of them hidden from casual viewing. Some of them are deliberately misleading, but all of them are added with hope and delight. None are metaphors for ill will or negativity. .
Minutes before, I endured a needlessly hateful experience at the retail level. I’d done my diligence and arrived with everything from the company itself to keep the process simple and without hitches. I should’ve known that would have disturbed the gods of Inner Peace & Tranquility. In response to being treated terribly, I gave my creative side permission to unleash a little hell on them. It was gloriously fun. I’ll write about it some other time. I admit that while I engaged in frivolous tomfoolery to repay their savagery, I was disappointed a bit at humanity in general, as if the rest of us were responsible for whatever that behavior was.
Proposed rule: “The greater your belief that you have dotted every ‘i’ and covered every base, the greater the likelihood that hell will rain down upon your head no matter what. And triply so if retail is involved or the word ‘service’ is literally in the job title of the person causing you grief.” I know the spirit of this is already contained in several Murphy’s Law. Nonetheless…
I ate lunch somewhere other than Mr. Taco Loco. (I wanted a lot of pico de gallo.) When asked for my order, I said, “Anything on special. Even cow hooves.” (Because I had no plans to eat it, anyway.) Two women were already seated closely nearby, to my right. Though I wasn’t eavesdropping, I could hear every word they said.
Something about the way they talked hinted at things that weren’t being said. I can’t put my finger on it – nor does it matter. I felt my mood flip to being grateful and for those in my life who could see past my stupidity and issues. It was Divine.
I told the waitress to bring me their check and asked her to say nothing to the two women. I spoke in Spanish, of course. The two women had carefully avoided speaking too loudly when they saw my little mountain of pico de gallo. I don’t know what they made of me. I ate quickly, too.
I paid for all three meals, tip included, and walked back to their table, placing one of my infamous index cards at the end of their table. “I included tip, too,” I said. I pirouetted quickly and marched quickly away from there before a torrent of thank-yous could envelop me. Near the front door sat a table full of construction workers. They looked up at me as I marched. The women behind me were excitedly commenting. I’m assuming the difference in pitch and enthusiasm, combined with me blazing across the floor after a dramatic pirouette confused the construction workers. I half-expected one of them to jump and prevent me from exiting. I laughed loudly and unexpectedly as I walked outside.
Behind me, as I left, I knew I’d surprised a couple of strangers. And that they had something to think about. All of us were a little more buoyant.
No matter who you are, take a moment and think about that sudden overwhelming flip of emotion I experienced at lunch, the one preceded by needless hatefulness and followed by sublime happiness. I hope you’re lucky enough to have people in your life for whom you can do the same.
Today, I climbed a tree and sat in it, probably higher than I should have. While I was there, I attached a surprise to one of the branches. Below, people ambled by, unaware that a middle-aged man observed them from above, half-laughing at the absurdity of it. Since losing weight, I’ve climbed several trees. When I climbed down, I wrote a message on a pink index card and propped it against a brick sign. A man walked over, curious. “That’s nice,” he said, as he read the card. In a lemon moment of overconfidence, I hugged him, and he laughed. I briefly told him that I put such cards all over. I also pointed a few feet away, to a rock that had a previous day’s message written on it. He laughed again. “Interesting. I never thought of that.” As he waved and walked away, I said, “You won’t be billed for the hug.”
PS Yesterday, I took a pristine new piece of thick chalk and wandered around, writing messages on the pavement. Some were cryptic, some were specific. A pair of women noted that I was writing. I watched them walk in an arc to read my musings. For my last one, I wrote, “Who is the guy in the green jacket following you?” I walked quickly away and turned once I was out of their line of sight. As they reached the last chalk message, they both immediately turned to scan the path behind them. No green jacket-clad man in sight, of course. And then they laughed. I wonder what they made of it.
Today, I walked more than I have in a few years.
Because it was chilly and the sky was overcast, the atmosphere didn’t feel like May at all. It was glorious. My walk to get there was indeed long, but my feet floated on the grass and pavement as I made my way across town. As I walked, I witnessed several hundred drivers nervously hit their brakes as the increased holiday traffic police presence caught their attention. I passed a massive grove of honeysuckle, whose scent was unique and vibrant; the odd observation is that the same patch also contained more trash than any other single stretch I passed today. I noted that Magnolia Gardens is now Natural State Rock & Republic, a haven for cyclists. (Their website is top-notch, by the way.) The grounds at Magnolia are still beautiful, just like a few of my memories made there. A woman stood on her long, covered porch. As I passed, she offered me a cup of coffee. “Next time,” I told her, and she nodded. I found a picture of a young woman stuck in the criss-cross pattern of a chainlink fence – and couldn’t stop myself from conjecturing what led someone to place it there. (I’ve done the same thing countless times in my life.) I left the picture artfully placed there, hopefully for the next passerby to ponder. I wrote several index cards of messages myself, using a pack of multicolor ones I had forgotten that I had. Some of these I placed on fences, while others I left in cracks on the sidewalk, across tables in open spaces, and a couple in the branches of trees. Some were humorous, some serious. All of them contained hints of me.
On a last-minute whim, I decided to skip a usual walk and instead take a longer one to one of the main cemeteries in Springdale. I visited a couple of graves, including my cousin Jimmy’s. I spent a few moments spouting off one-liners to roast his absence. It’s not something that many people would understand if they overhead me doing so. Jimmy, though? He would howl with appreciation. I imagined his Mom, my Aunt Ardith, rolling her eyes and muttering, “Oh brother!” as I did so. Jimmy’s grave is the closest to the meandering creek on that end, and because of the recent rains, the stream echoed and combined with the birds squawking and announcing their presence.
As I walked along one of the main horizontal streets in the cemetery, I passed a group of men. They were smoking pot and drinking from tallboy cans. I could see them circumspectly look up at me. I’d already decided that my presence might make them nervous. So, I nodded and told them in Spanish to carry on and that no one would disrespect their moment at whomever’s grave they stood. They all nodded, and I left them in peace.
It’s a moment Jimmy would have appreciated. No matter how his life ended up, he was a devout admirer of marijuana when he was younger. For anyone who would mind me saying so, Jimmy wouldn’t. Now that eight years have elapsed since his death, I am sure that all truths, both small and large, bear him no harm. Whether he lies in eternal silence or walks in his idea of heaven, I know that he’d laugh and say, “F’em.”
I left the cemetery, trying to decide whether I should walk further. I walked quite a way in the opposite direction before opting to walk back to downtown. Emma was closed off, and people were setting up tables and chairs along the main street. Vendors were scattered along the same path, extending up to Shiloh Square and Turnbow Park.
I ate at Mr. Taco Loco (because life is too damn short to miss a chance to do so). I spent a few minutes waiting for my food and inadvertently listening to several tables full of people gossipping and saying things louder than they probably intended to. Though I had headphones on, I wasn’t listening to music, though they probably assumed I was tuned out to them. In honor of this, I’d like to give a shout-out to Nathan, who is never returning to the job he hates and is using the excuse of the holiday to miss all next week: his employer thinks he had a death in the family. Rock on, Nathan.
To my surprise, I convinced myself to forego an Uber back to my house. I’m glad I did, although my legs are complaining a bit already about my choice. I tried to focus on walking to the next traffic light and no further. Usually, as I make these small commitments, the walk doesn’t seem as daunting. I feel like there’s a metaphor or analogy for life in this somewhere.
By the time I made it back several hours later, the sun was out, and making my choice of wearing a light jacket a regret. I still carried the shadows from along the creek in my head, though. No one can see them, nor the smell of dozens of honeysuckle plants in my nose. I’m not sure why I know I’ll remember this walk for years to come. In part, it will be the length, yes. The other facet is that each of us is a work in progress, often unaware that we’ve shifted in ways both insignificant and transformational.