Saturday, December 29, 2007

When Pigs Fly

I remember visiting one of those fifty percent off card shops. My wife was exploring Joanne’s store and I needed somewhere to spend time. I spent my time looking at statues of bears, clowns and angels. Later in my exploration of the card shop I discovered a unique coffee mug. Pink pigs with pink wings and red Converse high top tennis shoes were flying in a blue sky filled with quarter moons, Saturn planets, and round golden suns. Beneath the six flying pigs were large halves of pink planets with gray circles.

I showed my wife the mug, my new treasure, which was on sale for two dollars. She gave me the “not now” answer. During each of our treks to Joanne’s Fabrics I led Sharon to the card shop and pointed out my treasure. I collected enough “not nows” to fill a mythical dance cards, over a period of two years. I was amazed by the fact that the “when pigs fly” mug was still there. It was as if it was waiting for me to take it home. It seemed as if I would get the mug “when pigs fly.” However, on warm summer day, which was just right for pigs to fly, I heard the most wonder words resonating like a tabernacle choir in my waiting ears, “okay dear.” Those to delightful words sent joy tingling in my spine.

I took the mug and its flock of pink pigs home, washed it like the feet of a dear friend, and brewed delicious decaf coffee. I paused in a moment of reverent silence before filling it with Verona decaf. The two fingers beneath the thumb of my right hand gently wrapped themselves around the large white handle of the mug and its white rim met my lips. I took a sip of coffee and the ritual was completed.

The new metaphor for living was captured in the symbolic art work on the mug. The answer to the order of wet blanket nay-sayers soared in a sky filled four flying pink pigs. All my moments lacking vital yeses to new challenges and lofty goals were met by a mug of black coffee brimming with the answer and steaming hot with new passion for life. My voice resonated words of new resolve. Pigs do fly and soar freely in the beautiful blues skies of our imaginations where planets of possibilities orbit as they please and gravity gives way to weightlessness and sets the soul at ease.

We perpetuate the seasonal myths of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and frame them in story books with colorful images. While they may be heart warming and able to capture incentives for giving, they pale in the presence of the inspiration offered our imaginations by the metaphor of four flying pink pigs wearing red high top Converse tennis shoes. They are the Converse reply to Nike’s “You can dot it!” The very thought of pigs in space gives us feelings of new found freedom and grace. Perhaps, they, too, could be the stuff of story books with colorful images. A new season to celebrate with songs of new tomorrows and joyful tingling spines massaged by inspired imaginations could greet us with yes-filled answers for one and all. It is not true that seeing is believing, but rather imagining is becoming. Instead of cards with anemic greeting such as “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings,” we could send pulsing, heart racing thoughts such as “Pigs Fly” or “Pigs Soar.” Inside we may read, “And visions of red Converse high tops touching the sky, dance dangling from pigs that know how to fly. May all your hopes and dreams soar higher than high and may each and every goal become the stuff of great stories before you die.”

Madison Avenue could start a new trend and advertise everywhere that life is good before and after it ends. Miss Piggy could be a new spokesperson and wear new wings. She could begin with a karate chop and say, “Hi Yah!” to troublesome things, and dubious doubts that would never fly and alas a conversion of “Here’s mud in your eye!” Come hope and dreams, and yeses all in a row, now is the time to sprout your new piggy wings as off you go, click your red high top Converse heels together and shout, “There is no place like home.” It could be bigger than a Macey’s sale, bigger than a runner winning the Olympic gold after years of hitting the trail, as big as an innocent man being freed after years in jail. I challenge those gold makes all the rules to fly with pigs and stop being fools. I challenge you to get up and greet each new with a grand new slogan “My pigs are flying and I’m on my way. I know I can do it and I’ll tell you why; my pigs are soaring in a summer sky, with planets of possibilities on a day of imagination filled with delightful dreams.”

My muse today is a patient mug that waited two years to come home with me. After a long period of “not now” it finally had its day. The truth is that every flying pig should have its day. The four on my mug received an okay from my wife and each of their four yeses came home with me to stay. This mythical metaphor for our imaginations carries with it freedom and a passion for living and a whimsical muse filled with as much truth as the unbeliever’s regime of rational fiction. Each of us is left to embrace life and cleanse our souls from the dark shadows of doubts. We begin by embracing one yes to a hope or dream, or goal.

Robert Schuler built on Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive thinking and transformed it into Possibility Thinking. Robert earned his pink pig wings by transforming a humble start in an Orange County drive-in to a Crystal Cathedral worthy of all who dare to fly. He shared the story of a fifty seven year old out of shape janitor who found his first yes and trained for the Boston Marathon. After believing enough to train and shed his fat, he won the Boston Marathon’s first place ribbon for seniors and he kept running and collecting blue ribbons. I believe that Peale and Schuler, and the running senior should be knighted in “The Order of the Four Pink Flying Pig*’, or receive acclaim in the”Flying Pigs Hall of Fame.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Compliments To Jess Lair

Jess Lair wrote a book entitled, “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, but I Sure Ain’t Lost.” I looked for the book, but I couldn’t find it. The book is lost, but memories and inspiration remain. He tells the story of a man lost at sea, surrounded by endless plains of emerald ocean water. It had been days since he had experienced the comfort and safety of his boat. He never dreamed that he would be imprisoned in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean. His lifejacket kept him afloat and yet there was no hope. He waited for death to come and relieve him of his agony. Time was running out for him like the sands in an hour glass. Suddenly after what seemed to be an eternity of suffering, he saw a bright light. A seaman on a fishing boat noticed something in the water and alerted his captain. Their searchlight revealed his presence to them and they lifted him out of the waters to the safety and warmth of the fishing boat. He didn’t know where the boat would take him, but he knew that he was no longer lost.

Life was filled with endless possibilities when we were young and it seemed that anything was possible. We were overwhelmed with choices, inspired by dreams and filled with passions. We believed that we were invincible and old age was very far away. But years eroded the plethora of possibilities, and dreams wilted like spring flowers, as the spring and summer of our lives turned to fall and finally winter. The fires and passions that once raged in the hearth of our hearts could no longer fill the room with warmth.

Zorba the Greek disagreed. When his death neared, he raged against the dark saying, “They say that death steals the fire inside of a man, that he hears death calling and says, ’Come in.'

That is a pack of damn lies. I’ve got enough fire inside of me to devour the world.” Nikos Kazantzakis, the Greek author, journalist and statesman, 1883 to 1957, wrote the book, “Zorba the Greek,” Zorba was the sensual man of passion and the Englishman was the intellectual man of reason. Zorba tells the Englishman, “You have everything but one thing, madness. Without madness, you can never cut the rope and truly be free.” The Englishman weighed everything, used all his book learning and knowledge to ensure that he met his goals. But he lacked the ability to take risks. Zorba asked The Englishman, “Why do people die, why does anybody die?” The Englishman answered, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” Zorba pressed the question by asking, “If you and all your books can’t tell you that, then what they tell you?” The Englishman’s voice resonated sadness when he answered, “About the agony of men who can’t answer such questions.” Zorba lived his life with reckless abandon, but he loved Bubalina and he was overwhelmed by grief. Zorba followed his passion, but lost in his sea of chaos he needed an island of reason to keep his sanity. Zorba needed the Englishman’s reasons to give him some meaning and order in his life.

Life demands choices of us that aren’t safe, choices that help us to get unstuck and set us free, choices that create new possibilities when there don’t seem to be any possibilities. To be alive is to chance and adapt and grow. Without friction the tires spin but the car doesn’t go anywhere. Without challenges and risks our lives stall and we begin to die, a slow, depressing, painful death. Helen Keller wrote, “Life has no guarantees. There are guarantees for alarm clocks and automobiles, but there are no guarantees for life. Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.” She was deaf, dumb, and blind, but she was less handicapped than most of us. She figured it all out through what the German philosophers call “geist,” which means an effort of comprehension, a journey into unexplored possibilities that creates new meaning. We are all explorers for a brief time, yet we may discover new lands, and new paradigms. We may not know where we are going, but can’t be lost if we are willing to risk the journey.

“The Lady and the Tiger” is a familiar story. A princess and a common man fall in love, but her father won’t let them marry. His punishment is a choice between two doors. Behind one door is a tiger, and behind the other is a beautiful woman (not the princess who he loves.) The princess knows what is behind each door. She tells him which door to choose. Is she jealous enough to give the man she loves the door in front of the tiger, or does she love him enough to save his life though that would require him to marry the beautiful woman. Will he trust her and heed her advice, or assume the worst and choose the other door? We are left to decide.

Shakespeare wrote, “When you ride a tiger, you can never get off.” Many of us ride our tiger; invest most of our time pursuing our careers. Others make the love of their life their first priority, and don’t climb high up the ladder of success. True love requires great sacrifices but it leads to a depth of intimacy that tiger-riders will never experience. Either choice may lead to regrets latter in life.

Cat Stevens wrote a song called, “The Cats in the Cradle.” A parent was too busy with work to spend time with his/her children. Old age arrives and the parent’s child is too busy with his/her work to spend time with his /her parent. You can exchange spouse for parent and spouse for child, or change parent to parents and add spouse and child, and so on. The song is about our regrets over not spending time with the people that we love.

This is a true story. A very wealthy man went to a counseling appointment with a PhD clinical psychologist. He wrote a check for $10,000 and said, “I’ll give you this check if you can show me how to experience love.” He wanted to know what to do because he had never experienced love. The PhD clinical psychologist shook his head and said, “I can’t do that for you.” He was prepared to offer more money, but all of his money could not buy him love. Perhaps life’s greatest journey is our search for love. To love someone and to be loved by that person may be life’s greatest gift, but it is not available on demand. The other person must fall in love with that one special person and continue to choose to love him/her. Love must be nurtured if it is to grow. Neglect can often put out the fire of love and leave both people wanting its warmth. Love requires the daily investment of our time and sacrifices to meet the needs of the other. Sometimes keeping love alive and healthy can be hard work and seem to have no immediate rewards. It takes courage and commitment to “Blow on the coal of the heart,” but often I have seem dying embers transformed into glowing fires, more than enough to keep the room, where two hearts live, warm.

My bias has emerged. I learned how to get off my tiger and spend time with those I love. I left an eighteen year career behind and worked tirelessly to make up time. There is lots of fire in the hearth and little money in the bank. Some days I feel lost and ride my tiger in my dreams. But morning comes and I hold Sharon in my arms, and I know that I am truly a wealthy man. I have a lot to make up for with my wife and children, but they have been kind to this sixty year old man. The truth is that I don’t know where I am going, but I’m not lost. I am on a journey and love is my path, my guide, and my passion. Today I spent time with my son Tom, and the love of his life Rachel. It brings me great joy to see how much they love each other. They have begun a wonderful journey and I pray that love will always be their path, their guide and their passion. May their lives be filled with enough reason to keep their sanity and order their chaos, and enough passion to keep the fire burning in their hearth and keep the room warm where two hearts live as one.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's Still Me But I Have Changed

My son Tom is standing with me in the first picture. He has been writing his blog for some time and he is an excellent writer. You can find his blog at Sevel years ago he set up a blog site for me. I called it "I Ain't Dead Yet," but I seldom wrote anything. I reasoned that no one wouls read my thoughts. Tonight I decided to begin again, though I am unsure of my audience. The man you see in the first picture with his son, is sixty years old. I have lived a full life as Zorba the Greek puts it "Wife, house, children, the full catastrophy." In my case, four children, a wonderful wife for thirty eight years, a manufactured hime, an old Saturn and an old Pontiac Grand Am (given to me by a friend for $500).

I have manged to live an interesting life without climbing the ladder of success and without acquiring material wealth, but as My grandmother Gertrude once said, "I'm just as happy as if I had good sense." Happiness has little to do with being rich, or having a career which leads you to the top of the ladder. It has a lot to do with having and loving a soulmate, and my wife Sharon fuels the passion behind love poems and the keeps the fire burning in my hearth. It has a lot to do with seeing the gifts in ordinary moments, and saving the memory of them in the treasure box of our minds. During the Great Depression my gandfather Fredrick found great strength in a humble life affirmation, "They can take everything from me but my memories. I keep them in the treasure box of my mind and take them out on rainy days.

Pictures shouldn't stay packed away in boxes. I discovered that I had lots of those clear plastic picture boxes with cardboard backings. I sorted through hundres of old pictures and selected a set of pictures for each of my children. Four clear plastic picture boxes were placed on my bedroom wall. I created all sorts of picture boxes after that and pictures of my sisters, my mom, sharon's om, my dad and sharon's dad, and on and on until I covered our bedroom walls and our living room walls with memories from the treasure box of my mind. When I arrive home at the end of the day, I greeted by wonderful memories.

I bought a scanner/printer for fifty dollars at Walmart and scanned hundres of pictures into organized picture files, made picture mugs for Sharon and I, to take to work, and scrapbook pages with clever sayings. I intend to have scrapbooks on our coffee table waiting to take our family on journies through treasured memories.

I designed a quilt with Sharon's help, a story quilt with images that symbols of moments in our life. Soon I will stitch together my tapestry quilt and hang it on the dinning room wall. Perhaps it will become another step into the journey of memories, which adds new meaning and purpose to our lives each day. I have learned that we all of memories wich we can celebrate in created ways. We can focus on the good things in our lives instead of complaining or getting lost in regrets.

The second picture is my poetry reading before a packed house. The audience laughed, and cried, and applauded spontaniously. I will share some of those poems later. I come from a long line of storytellers. I tell stories as my father did when I was a child. I took a six hour graduate class in how to teach students to write. Elanor Michaels a professor of education at the University oF Idaho introduced us to the Northwest Inland Writers' Project, part of a natioanl moment to encourage teachers to teach their studenhts to write and inspire them to love writing. The idea behind my presentation was to teach them how to use storytelling as prompt for writing. I dressed in black and put white make up on my face. I held my storytellers staff while the teachers waited in a circle. I turned and faced them and handed my staff to one of them. It was fashioned i China from fine wood and was over five feet tall, As I told my holocaust story I gave them parts to act out. Soon my words and their words were transformed into rhythmic poetry, words became the dance of life, as my main characters song of a freedom, to great to be contained by a concentration camp, gradually led him closer and closer to his death, "I am free like the eagle. No fence can hold my soul. You can destroy my body, but my spirit remains whole. I'm am free." His sacrifice gave new life to each prisoner and as they joined him in his song, freedom transformed their souls. When I finished my holocaust story, tears flooded the teachers faces, and they were too moved by the story to write. The story came akive in each of them and for a few miutes they were the prisoners in a concentration camp witnessing the courage of the singer who refused to quit singing his song. I failed. My story did not serve as a writing prompt, but the story succeeded in something much greater. We connected is human/inhumane experience and together we found the fullness of our humanity.

The third picture shows me breaking bricks for the first time. I was in graduate school at the University of Arizona and I needed exercise. I signed up for lessons in Kenpo karate. It wasn't easy for me because I am uncoordinated. My muscles complained about the new martial arts discipline, but their resistence gradually gave way to the will of my instructor. Years later, I took lessons from Al Tracy, the grandmaster of our Kenpo system, and one of the greatest martial arts teachers of our time. I earned a brown belt after I mastered eleven katas and over one hundred and sixty self defense tecniques. I had my own Kenpo school for four years and I saw many boys and girls, men and women change dramaticly as they learned Kenpo.

My sister, Barbara Lee, who now calls herself Micayla, used to say, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." Though I lost her because of a family conflict, I will always carry her in my heart. She was my teacher many times in my life, and I celebrate what I learned from her. I regret losing her, ut she lives in so many wonderful memories in the the treasure box of my mind. There is a place there for the people we lose. My father died when I was fifteen, but he lives there. My mother has passed away, but she also lives there.

I am old and I have changed, but I refuse to complain. I treat each new day as a gift and I am still collecting memories for the treasure box in my mind. If we are meant to journey together, you find. Perhaps you will share some of the memories in the treasure box in your mind.