Why The Flame

Like an ant to syrup I respond to this word
“Pure”
In any context
Even the painfully inaccurate
By seeking to savor and store something
From it
Out of it
Drip it Drip it’s Dripping
Slow love if you’re lucky
Are you lucky
That was a question

What about the moth that runs from the flame
That was a question

When you have always known
You are a teacher
And you hate the idea
Which circle of hell will you flat track

That, too, was a question

Like, Have you seen me lately
Or, Does heaven have a landlord
And, How many white doves does it take
to satisfy the devil

Answer as you would if you were naked and
Cold and
Pure

Wrestleair

Jacob was the a.k.a. extra heir
Esau was heir enough but sold room in his lungs for food
(one cannot breath and swallow at the same time)
And as far as we know
He lived happily ever after as a hairy man with many wives
(God bless him)

Angels are often depicted as smooth skinned
Aerodynamic ephemeral creatures
(which is why they refer to each other as “the boys”)
Made of the remaining air from God’s intent
After breathing seeds of life into the foundation of time
(which is why God refers to them as the “sons of exhaustion”)

I wrestled Jacob in the shadow of Esau’s forgiveness
He demanded a blessing which was not mine to give
(the text falls shy of truth: he had me by the balls)
But I delivered it yet so God set me aside in his humor
To be the fallen angel of oxygen margins
(is how he said it, and then smiled)

I am all wind over 30 miles per hour
I am balloons
I am the small gasp at the site of someone you cannot love
I am lost hats
I am under every falling leaf
I am 30% of home runs and touchdown passes
I am the snort when laughter snorts
I am a pause on the radio
I am farts
I am on jet planes
I am friend to the woodwinds and cousin to brass

This is an abridged list, of course

But you know me, the angel of extra air

Toggle And Shift

There was a time, almost 30 years ago (few here will remember) that I was in graduate school studying to be a therapist. I even put in over 1,000 hours toward my licensing requirements for California, back then. That means I was sitting in very small rooms with people who were court referred to counselling. Some of these people were scary, like the kid who bit off the head of a pigeon he caught in the quad, a la Ozzy, during lunch time at the local high school. That kid is 40 years old now and I hope he is an accountant somewhere and has bird feeders all over his property. “How come you’re not acting like I’m a freak?” he asked me. “If you want me to think of you as a freak,” I said, “you need to do something really insane, like roasting your dog. You have a dog, right?” I’m sorry to tell you about that. But that’s what I said to this kid. It really upset him. He actually asked for a different counselor. But my supervisors knew what they were doing and made him stay with me. They made other people stay with me too, even though I was what they called “unorthodox” because, they said, I engendered trust. I was standing on couches and proclaiming…stuff, long before Tom Cruise. That was one of my signature pieces in couples counseling, standing on the couch so I could reach for the ceiling to demonstrate one person’s expectations. But I didn’t stay with it. For years and years I told people that I quit because I could not imagine sitting in a room all day listening to people’s problems. But the truth is–and, yes, this is a rare Facebook honesty moment–I quit because of life circumstances. I was actually on my way to being a really good therapist. My supervisors even staged a kind of “intervention” to try and get me to remain on track for becoming a therapist. They brought all my fellow trainees into a room and they took turns telling me why I should not abandoned the path. What a gift that was. I wish I could have accepted it. And here I am now, like you. I adjust, I make room, I toggle and shift. I find a path that is both practical and interesting enough. I have been so lucky to discover coffee. And I have never compromised my requirement of making a difference, Nope. One time I had a counseling client who was court referred for something I cannot describe because it is so difficult a topic. He was only seventeen. I asked him to draw a picture of himself and his mother, his only parent, at the table having dinner. He drew the picture. When he was done I told him that i could not tell who was the mother and who was the son. He said, “It doesn’t matter.” The look on his face as his own words sunk in, because i said nothing, was like an earthquake. He was so young, but he understood what he had just said. I held the picture up in front of him and i told him that we had to find out who was who because the story would never make sense if we didn’t. Before I could move forward with this kid, I left my role as a counselor. The thing is, none of the reasons I left were as important as the people I left, the pigeon kid, the mommy issues kid, the guy with a fixation on women’s underwear, the girl who’s mom was only 15 years older than her and she was trying to compete for the bad ass award. I left them all behind to pursue something material. Dumb ass. I don’t do that anymore. Mostly, I don’t do that anymore. Sometimes you have to knock twice, but if you do, I will face down the demons with you. I promise.

Dig Like You Invented Digging

I collect these things…whatever you choose to call them, garden trowel, hand spade, little bitty shovel. I don’t collect them as in buy me one for my birthday. I collect them as in I can’t leave one on the shelf at a thrift store when it’s 77 cents. Also, I keep them stashed all over the back and front yard so there is always one handy because, yes, I lack focus.

But this one here is my favorite. It’s a Smith & Hawken, sort of a fancy brand when it comes to gardening. I would never pay what they ask for this new, though I think I did pay over a dollar for this one, used. It has a design flaw; a little tin cone fits over the spot where my index finger is. It comes loose eventually (this has happened to me on other S&H hand garden tools) and you need to cut it off with tin snips, or re-fasten it. Can you say, “superfluous”?

Other than this minor inconvenience, it is my favorite garden tool. It is stainless steel, so it doesn’t rust (admittedly, I like it when stuff rusts but in this case, I make an exception). The thing of it is is, the way it feels in my hand.  At last count, I own a dozen of these little shovel things and none of them feel as good in my hand as this one. It’s not only the weight, it’s the balance and, I’m sorry to say, the way it looks in my hand.

There are dozens of things about marketing that I know but cannot explain. I know that a certain word works better than another, but I can’t explain to you why. I just know.  I know that this font is wrong and that font is right and I cannot tell you anything about how I know.

Weight. Balance. Material. Design. Shape.

If anyone ever tells you they understand these things better than others do, in some objective sense, escort them, politely, out of your presence.  Nobody knows nothing.  If I invited you all over to test drive my little shovels and pick your favorite, the results would be… you guessed it, varied.

So what’s a marketing guy to do?

Pick the shovel that feels good in your hand and dig like hell. Dig like you own the soil. Dig like no other hand spades or garden trowels exist. Dig like you invented digging.

There’s a lot of marketing science out there, and I have written elsewhere about how that voodoo is all good and well. Mostly, it can bite me.

What I know for certain is, it has to feel good in your hand, the weight, the balance, the design of the thing. Listen to yourself first and give yourself extra points on the vote because who you are matters on a very basic level when it comes to growing whatever it is you are trying to grow, tomatoes or peas or whatnot. When they try and tell you otherwise, it is time to find a new garden.

Swat

When I was in the third grade, a classmate named Richard shoved past me as we entered the classroom, returning from recess. Being on the weary side of bullying, I went after him and took him down in a classic grade school head lock, asking…or pleading, “Do you give?” until the teacher, with great disappointment directed toward me, broke us up. Richard was the type to be in trouble often. I was not. My teacher made it very clear, in ways I was and am very sensitive to, that she was not happy with me. Her expression, her body language, even the way she was more physical with Richard than me, told me that I, not Richard, had disappointed her and perhaps even ruined her day. I think her name was Mrs. Freeland.

She took us to the Principal’s office, Mr. Williams. Richard went in first while I sat on a bench outside the office. After a few minutes, Richard began to plead loudly, as if begging for his life. This was 1973 and, clearly, Richard was going to get a swat or three. As Richard was pleading and crying and generally, it seemed, making it difficult for Mr. Williams to apply the spanking, my mother appeared, miraculously it seemed. My mom was a PTA volunteer at the school and her duties, whatever they were, brought her into the front office as I sat awaiting my fate.

The principle’s office door opened. Mr. Williams and Richard emerged just as my mom walked up to see what was going on. Richard was crying, like a baby I thought at the time, and still think now. My mom surveyed the situation and looked at Mr. Williams.

I cannot remember what she said, exactly, but it was in the realm of, “What’s going on here?”

And then I had my very first experience of politics. Mr. Williams smiled a very handsome smile, even though he was not a very handsome man, and said something about boys being boys. My mom then said something I can’t remember but which amounted to telling Mr. Williams that she would let him do his job. Then she walked out of the office, which is, of course, exactly what she should have done.

Mr. Williams invited me into his office, where Mrs. Freeland was sitting in a chair looking not at all happy with the events of the day. She was a very kind person and I now suppose she found this all very distressing.

The Principle, holding a paddle in his hand, gave me a short lecture about fighting and provided a even-when-provoked “caveat” that made me realize that my teacher understood what had happened but was obligated to see both parties punished.

It was at that moment I determined that I would not put on any display of regret or plead my case in any way. I would, I decided, take what was coming to me because, not only did I deserve it for physically assaulting a classmate, but I had put my teacher into a state of distress, which was neigh to unforgivable when your teacher was as caring as Mrs. Freeland.

Mr. Williams asked me to bend over, grab my ankles and look at the doorknob on the door to his office. I remember thinking that this was exactly the way swats had been described to me.

But then, Mr. Williams paused. He asked me to removed my wallet from my back pocket.

Here, we must take an aside: My school, Danbrook Elementary, had been plagued by an outbreak of rubber band and paperclip attacks. It seems many student, almost all male, had figured out that they could use a rubber band as a a sling shot and launch paper clips at a variety of targets, inflicting damage and untold irritation. This epidemic had become so widespread that the principled had declared that any student caught with rubber bands or paperclips in their possession would automatically receive a swat, i.e. spanking.

And so we return to what Mr. William’s thought was a wallet in one of my back pockets as he sought to administer a swat. I was actually the number one supplier of rubber bands to the underground third grade rubber band and paperclip combine.

I reached into my back pocket to retrieve what the principle thought was a wallet and removed a handful of rubber bands.

As I placed the pile of unruly rubber bands on Mr. William’s desk, I looked for signs of an increase in my punishment. After all, not only had I been caught fighting, I was a rubber band pusher. And then I received my second lesson in politics. They both smiled and then Mr. Williams proceeded to administer my swat, for fighting. I did not receive any extra punishment for the rubber bands because, as I understood, my value as a “good kid” outweighed the need to punish me for a crime that was, in terms of being caught, unknown outside the room. I had already decided that I would not “plead for my life” as Richard had done. So I took my swat silently and, I think, somewhat stoically. In a fit of over confidence I reached for the pile of rubber bands after receiving my spanking. It took only a small groan for Mr. Williams to halt my reach.

I knew as I left the office and walked back to my classroom that I was supposed to feel shame or regret, but I felt only pride. I was proud that I had not cried or begged. I accepted my punishment and took it like, well, like a 10 year old human who accepted their punishment.

It was the first, but not the last swat I was to receive in the public school system of old, I am somewhat proud to say. The second swat is another story. Although I don’t want anyone spanking my children (and would, without hesitation, spank them back), I can’t say my swats were detrimental or undeserved. Times change. And, to be honest, I don’t think Mr. Williams was swinging very hard.

Funny vs. Funny

There is a good chance I have made you laugh, chuckle, or at least smile, and a better chance if you have spent time with me in person. I have a good sense of humor. I’m not bragging. I had almost nothing to do with it. Both of my parents are funny in day-to-day life, have good timing and a quick wit and can crack off a good one with regularity. As you expand into my extended family, especially the aunts on my dad’s side, this everyday humor is common and, well, normal. My siblings are funny. My wife is funny. My kids are funny. We have funny going on ‘round here.

But again, it is very very important to note, I am not bragging about this, mostly because, well, I can’t help it. And that is not always a good thing. I can and have made jokes at inappropriate times, or just too often, usually because I’m nervous. More than once, someone has had to ask me to stop joking. I try really hard to keep it in check, not only because a joke is not always called for, but because I have to admit, the percentage of funny against the percentage of jokes can sometimes be annoyingly deficient.

When I see people I have not seen in some time, there is a better than even chance they will mention laughing at something I said on Twitter or Facebook. You have to believe me, while I enjoy making people laugh, it is not something that makes me proud.

The reason for this is, while I’m funny, I am not “funny.”

When I was in college I always participated in variety shows and other performances, but usually behind the scenes, usually writing sketch comedy. One year, during a talent show, a guy named Tom took the stage. He was listed as a “stand-up.” He didn’t bomb, he died. He died so hard there was blood on the stage. He did not receive so much as a chuckle or even a forced courtesy laugh from his friends and family in the audience. We carried him off stage mid-set on a stretcher and put him right into a coffin.

As he regained his senses he chose me as the person he would talk to about his humiliation. I told him I had an appointment for a root canal, but he just kept talking.

He didn’t understand. He was the funniest of all his friends. When he was with his friends, they spent their time laughing so hard their stomachs cramped, usually at something he said. It was true. I didn’t know him very well but he had made me laugh on several occasions. He was funny, he just wasn’t funny. Tom had walked onstage without a prepared act because he thought he could wing it because that was what he did every single day and people laughed.

I took this lesson to heart. Although I did not understand why, I knew that funny in life did not equate to funny on stage. I felt like I could probably put in the work and the time to hone my craft and one day be funny on stage, but I knew I did not have the right type of intestinal fortitude to endure the years of pain.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned why funny in life does not mean funny on stage. I was listening to an interview with Jon Stewart and he explained, as if he knew I was listening, why funny in life did not mean funny on stage. It was simple. Stewart pointed out that on stage, you must provide the set-up and the punchline, cold, from scratch. In life, your friends or other people or the circumstances are providing the set-up and all you have to do is provide the punchline. Boom. That was it. I was never going to step out onto a cold cold stage where nobody was throwing set-ups for jokes in front of me. Writing your own set-up for auditory delivery of funny is really super hard. Much harder than jokes that are simply read…on Facebook or Twitter for example.

I have fun because my goal is always to make myself laugh and if I do that I have succeeded. If someone else laughs, it is nice sugary icing on the cake. I try and do no harm, not make too many jokes or joke because I’m nervous or joke because the room is too quiet. If sometimes I “write” a joke that includes its own set-up and people laugh, well, the percentages are with me. I have to pull it off now and then. It’s amateur luck.

Some of you will understand this as the “do funny vs. are funny,” or “Funny Bones” perspective. It’s an important paradigm in my life, and for more things  than just funny.

So you can stop asking me “Why I don’t…” Now you know. As for why I never tried my hand at writing comedy, well, that is a different type of intestinal fortitude and a different blog post.

Functional Beautiful

I have been obsessed with this photograph for a few days. This is a farm worker’s kitchen in Essex New York. It is actually a reunion of workers who have worked on the farm, Essex Farm, which belongs to Kristin and Mark Kimball. I read about them.

The thing that obsesses me about this photo, this kitchen actually, is it is the most beautiful kitchen I think I have ever seen. It is, to my eyes, 100% functional…and gorgeous.

I am a huge fan of good design. I am a huge fan of very basic, just get it done, functionality. I sometimes cannot reconcile the two.

If you came to visit me, and we sat on my deck to have a beer, you could spend a lot of time exploring all the non-functional details of my container garden. I have moose, seagulls, lions wearing nightshirts, Irish pub signs, and a ever increasing variety of containers in which things are growing, from a crock pot to a retired smoker. All of this is not only functionally irrelevant, it is, in more ways than one, dysfunctional. At the same time, if you ate the potatoes I had the the BBQ tonight, you would have tasted green onion, sage, rosemary, basil, all of which I “harvested,” chopped and applied to the potatoes on the deck, as I was cooking. Very functional.

Off the deck: compost placement? Functional. Fire pit placement? Functional. Garden tool placement? Functional. Metal rack from which all the garden tools hang, which was originally intended to display collector plates? Functionally dysfunctional. My entire backyard? Well, it depends on what kind of animal you are.

There is so much freedom when functionality is the bottom line. Look at the photo. Look at the floor. Freedom. Look at the plates and the serving dishes. Freedom. But the freedom of functionality so often, probably always, comes hand-in-hand with very, very hard work.

I don’t think anything about the kitchen in the photo is intentional beyond the fact that it works for people who work. The calender fits…there. The mailboxes work…there. Hang the pots with what? Nails. Nails work. A shelf is what? Wood. A shelf is wood. Wood works.

So, I’m not sure I will discover how to reconcile the zombie gnome in my garden with the tomato cages that are just stacked randomly about the yard, waiting for their turn. But I do know that if the kitchen in the photo were my kitchen, I would be proud of it. But I also know that this is a kitchen where nobody stares absent-mindedly into the refrigerator during the commercial break, wondering what they might snack on.

Sweet Georgia Green

My first spring in Georgia in 2010 I was out of town for a few weeks in April. When I returned I was hesitating and even making wrong turns trying to weave my way through different routes in my neighborhood. All of the landmarks I used to navigate had vanished. Everywhere I looked was a wall of green. The change was so dramatic that I just did not recognize the landscape. And beyond my neighborhood, some houses on larger properties had completely disappeared.

While I was in Seattle for a week recently, it happened again. I wasn’t losing my bearings this time but I was still struck by the change. Before I left I could see eight neighbors’ houses from my back deck. When I came back, I could see two, the same two I would be able to see all summer because they are on either side of my house. The rest had disappeared…completely. The only way I know they are there is because they occasionally fire up a lawn mower or yell at their dog to “go potty.”

It’s full spring in Georgia and it is beautiful. Fall is my favorite season here, but only by a smidgen. The burst of green, the birds pairing off and defending their territory, which is also my backyard, the peas clamoring to cling to something, anything, in my garden. The darkness of the mid-afternoon shade. I love it.

Yes yes, the mosquitos are coming, as is the humidity. It won’t be long before the only thing showing when I work in the garden are my eyes and my glasses will slide down my nose on a sheet of sweat unendingly. I will bask in the air-conditioning every 30 minutes and I will shed 10 pounds before August.

But I won’t care. I will remember the spring and look forward to fall, like a sophomore who knows nothing and everything at the same time. The sweat will sting my eyes and the bites will itch and I will cuss but I will cuss with a little laughter mixed in because how lucky can one man be? How lucky?

Sweet Georgia green. I loved growing up near the beach, sometimes on the beach, in California. But I have to tell you, my middle age is more suited to a climate that takes and gives in equal measure, a climate that requires my cooperation as much as my surrender, air that requires my active participation beyond simply inhaling and exhaling. I’ll tell you, if you grew up in California and walk out into a July day at noon in Georgia you will not be inclined to assume survival. It’s like a reminder, a reminder I need and appreciate and am grateful to experience. There are places where you can take the air for granted. Not Georgia.

Anything that requires you to be conscious of your breathing is a gift. Anything that requires you to stop and start again is a gift. Anything that forces you to acknowledge that some things are bigger than you…is a gift. Sweet Georgia green.

Another Tough Day In Coffee

Hey, most of my days are pretty damn good days, I mean, compared, or relatively speaking, or whatever. I get the bad days here and there, like everyone else, but bad days are rarely related to my job and when they are, well, it’s usually some petty stuff that is actually my fault and I can let it go in my sleep.

I work in coffee. Come on, how bad can it get? Recently, I was surrounded by 10,000 coffee people in Seattle and more than once I had to grab one of them by the face and say, “You work in coffee. How bad can it be?”

So, we’re good on the bad day thing, right? Now, let’s talk about a good day.

We have a partnership with Monday Night Brewing here in Atlanta. What I mean by this is they used our coffee for a cask coffee IPA over a year ago and it went well. Recently, they let us know they wanted to do it again, but step it up, do kegs and 22 ounce bottles and put our logo on the bottle and, yes, I pinched myself.

Tasting commenced, tasting of coffee and tasting of beer and palates wagging about the finer points of…palatey things. We settled on a coffee, we settled on a roast profile. Boom. The first batch was brewed, everybody loved loved loved it.

Which brings me to today. At 10 this morning I arrived at the brewery and my friend and colleague Ren Doughty arrived also with a certain poundage of coffee and we watched as our coffee was added to beer, which included: Tasting the beer before the coffee was added. Tasting a previous batch, you know, for comparison. Tasting the beer as it came out of the filter where coffee was present. Tasting the beer as it came out of the tank. Tasting a previous batch, again, for comparison. Tasting a porter…because it was there and there was a glass and a spout. And, finally, tasting a previous batch because I was being interviewed for a video for a beer blog.

It just plum wore me out. Tough tough day.