tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

A Ghost in Every Window

There’s an old farm house down there where the road turns. There’s no one living in it, the barn swallows and owls roost, rats and mice and skunks shuffle through openings and go about their business in the secret way that animals do. The Coastal Cypress trees, their trunks obscured by ocean fog, mark the way to the cliffs above the waves. And the waves are working to move the land, they will never tire. They have a deal with the Sea: to throw themselves against the land until the last stone turns to sand, and the oceans all reunite.

In the dark, the house above the sea stands hollow. I wonder of it’s abandonment. I imagine that it has housed many hearts. I am dreaming now, creating maybes and might-have-beens. What ghosts are looking at me through warbling windows? What caused the separation of habitation and inhabitant? There is, I must admit, something beautiful about a structure returning to nature. There is not a single hint of paint. The wood is all the color of drift wood, both grey and green at the same time. And the bleak, scraped land is all around. Artichokes and Brussel sprouts are the crops of choice. Miles of plastics cover the crops and there’s not a hint of plant life save that which is planted and sprayed and plucked and processed. Farming here looks more like a science project. Maybe that’s why the house is empty; new people practicing new ways. Not too far down the road is a sign with the name of Donald Trump in gaudy red letters saying something about making America great. I feel an urge to drive down to the cliffs and watch the ocean, to look at something I know is true.

The low branches of the cypress are huge and rotten. Up 30 feet they are more solid, some of them droop all the way to the ground. Everything is drenched from the rain event last night. There was lightning over the ocean. Just before dark, when the sun was still coloring the upper terraces of the world, a whale surfaced and spouted, the flume hung white in the dark air for a full minute after the whale had passed. And in the night I thought of that whale out there in the dark — maybe hanging in the black with the storm overhead while the lightning spoke the language of the clouds. Maybe thinking bigger and deeper thoughts than any human could ever imagine. Maybe even mapping out the course of all things that have ever been and looking into the future by mirroring the past. Maybe understanding the way of things because it is a whale and not intimidated by vastness and expanse, and, in truth, a child of both those things. And I listened to the rain and thought of that whale and remembered the color of it’s breath as it hung in the air over the water and beneath the clouds that were still lighted by the last rays of the sun. But that was last night and this tree is tall. My nephew is with me and he’s watching me navigate. We are Jacks-in-the-beanstalk. We are climbing to the clouds. And one branch at a time and a 100 feet high and again and again to the sky. My nephew doesn’t talk too much, I think he’s too busy thinking to say a whole lot. He’s strong and listens as we move into the top-most branches. Coastal Cypress trees are cool because you can top out and stand above everything. Several pelicans fly over with a tiny black and white tern in their jet-wash. All the birds look at us, we are odd in their space. Far below is the RV, the dolphin, looking as tiny as ever. I can see my lover reading her book about octopuses in the broken sunlight. A couple miles away sits the abandoned farm house and the ghosts are in every window, looking out.

Looking out. And smiling.

The Average

I’ve been in Venice Beach, CA for a few days now. I came down here to do some tattoos and spend time in the ocean. VB has it’s own distinct feel. There’s really nowhere else like it. While I’ve been here, I’ve watched homeless folk talk intently, sometimes argumentatively to themselves. I’ve watched the wealthy do the same thing and look remarkable similar except that they are wearing some device linked to a phone. The drug addicts have an alley where they push their carts to and fro, while delivery trucks bring organic, free range, non-gmo, gluten free goods to the restaurants that sell $17.00 sandwiches made by chefs with curly mustaches to the folks in flip flops. While I’ve been hear, I’ve talked to my lover on the phone in an attempt to try and feel her warmth. I’ve talked with her about the differences in people and direction. While I’ve been here, the earth has rotated exactly 5 times, she is tilting and tilting toward winter, although here in SoCal you’d never know it.

There is something about the masses that has a pull. It’s dangerous. Everyone move to the mean. Average is the word. This is where the mundane takes control and there is little beyond what is. And so we begin to accept our trudging fate. Static drowns out the brilliant harmonies of creativity and expression. And so on and so on until oblivion. Even the rich, even the poor fall into the trappings of average life.

Of course, this is my opinion. This is how I see it through these eyes that I inherited from my parents. It’s just an opinion, so not to be fretted over. Maybe you like the average, I’m sure that’s out there. But to rise out of the average is to experience more life. And to experience more life is to extract the most out of the most wonderful of gifts. A wholesome discipline is what separates the average from the wondrous. Small efforts in our daily life. Choosing what to think and how to think it. Allowing the mind to free itself of petty prejudice. It takes intention to push the heart through endurance, and endurance is a good thing. If a person wakes to see the dawn and the stars that hum in the morning sky, and if that person sits quiet and thinks about his/her position under the cosmic silence, changes will occur. Nothing is really all that sudden. It takes a lifetime to practice living. There must be some intention in order to have realization. The truth is that we are all simply here, on the surface of this blue and spinning world. It is up to us to appreciate the value in that fact. The world will spin on with or without us.

There is an old expression about keeping your ear to the ground. It was the practice of old time hunters listening for large herds of hoofed animals, mostly for hunting. I remember putting my ear to the train tracks outside the tunnel in the mountains near the stream I loved to fish. I could here the train click-clacking miles away and I would wonder which way it was going. Having your ear to the ground insinuates that you are listening through the earth and reading what is to come. I like that idea. It’s a good thing to put your ear to the ground. It lets you hear the earth and it’s workings. It connects you to the ones you love. It pulls you from the masses and delivers you back to that ancient feeling of being a part of the world that wrought you. Far more important that what you look like is what you are? Average is easy and sad. Living with intent results in magnificence.

Practice elevated thoughts. You will not be average.

Random Case of Funk

Words. They spell out our feelings, kinda. Depending on how well we use them, they transfer our thoughts into the heads and hearts of others. We explain ourselves. Well chosen words are magnificent.

Lyrics and quotes and poems and sayings. My life is filled with the thoughts of others. I comfort myself with words written by someone long dead. I can read Rumi’s poems and learn to be better at being. The back portion of my RV is lined with books. I can see them when I lay down at night and I can feel their presence. Thousands of thoughts held, like butterflies in an aviary.

I am less a writer. More an illustrator. I have more control over the lines in a drawing than I do in script. I try to write. Most of the time I feel like the fella who showed up for the triathlon in jean shorts and flip flops — I’m down to try, but I ain’t gonna impress anyone.

It does seem like the old-fashioned use of words is changing. Conversations are not the same these days. Distractions are rampant. Words are being traded in for digital expression. Misunderstandings thrive in a world of texting and shortened messages.

I sure do like sitting with my friends and seeing them see me. I like laughing out loud with my lover, in person. I like to see the expression on a person’s face as they speak to me. Words with heart. Words with smiles. Words that I need to hear coming from the face of a friend. Words that hold the sound of my Mama’s voice, warmed by her wonderful heart. Words that tell my good people I love them. Words in the night, with the stars overhead. Whispered words. Remembered words spoken in earnest. Words that tell a story and hold the precious attention of the little ones. Words kept for the sake of the fragile. Words properly placed to help a limping soul.

We set a lot of store in words. We even choose what we will say on our tombstones! Us humans are a crazy lot. Seems like we always have one more thing to express. I’m included. This morning, I’m here, trudging away and writing with one of those little black clouds over my head. Grumpy. Bad night’s sleep. Barking dogs. Upset stomach. Right smack dab in the middle of this life. I reckon I’ll end this pile of writing with a misunderstanding. I’ve always kinda liked the band Rage Against the Machine. Yesterday at the tattoo shop I heard a song by them that I hadn’t heard in a while. I was drawing mountains. As usual, I knew some of the lyrics but not the name of the song. So I was singing, “it’s a random case of funk, it’s a random case of funk….” I looked at the name of the song and it is,  Renegades of Funk. No biggie, I’ve just been singing Random Case of Funk for 16 years at the top of my lungs and no one has told me that ain’t right. Thanks a lot everyone. And you know something? I like Random Case of Funk better anyway. It fits me.

 

The Ghost of my Grandad

Proem: This piece has been brewing. It began in my head, in the woods, over the hole my buddies dug. I worked for a couple days building an outhouse over the hole, all the while my thoughts collected and boiled.  It continued to steep in the woods by the creek. Down there where my rig was stuffed between the cedars and madrones like a tick on a dog’s haunch. It takes time and coffee and early morning blue to choke the words outa me. This morning things are lining up.

 

The ghost of my Grandfather payed me a visit today. He was in the cedars.( His blood is back in the earth now, so he goes where he pleases these days. Seems a Crabtree trait to do that — go where you please.) The day was beautiful, the woods busy. I was happy Grandad decided to check in on me.

He saw me hand cutting the cedar poles and tacking them down and measuring out the tin roof. He watched me leave my hammer on the ground and cuss and climb down and back up to the roof. This day full of estimates and guesstimates and re-conjured tricks-of-the-trade. I am, and always will be, a hack carpenter. I’m at my best with less codes and proper materials, more improvisation and crooked beams.

Gramps was there earlier, when the sky still held the stars in a belly of periwinkle. He saw me hear the owl call and he liked it. He always liked that I loved the birds. He loved the birds. He loved the birds before me, way back in 1905 when he was only 7 years old. Back when more rivers ran free to the sea, before the World Wars and Carbon dating and nuclear reactors. Before rocket ships and airplanes filled the sky. And then a more distant owl answered, muffled by the duff of the forest. Or maybe that was Grandpa himself, speaking owl speak, that one language that crosses over. Owls do cross over, you know? They don’t subscribe to petty realities. They are denizens of all spaces and they move softly on speckled wings, unfettered, with hearts that chase the midnight voles through bone-colored grasses.

Then by the creek. Gramps remembered his blood as he watched me drop into the cold pool below the deadfalls. A Blue Darner flew through the shade with the speed and patience of all great hunters.  And there with the lilting trout and the red crawdad I settled in to wait for my bones to chill. From under the water I could see the sky and the trees overhead. At the head of the pool, wedged flat and quiet between the layers of serpentine, I spotted the slick body of something different: An eft, waiting to become.

And when the day came down and I headed back to the company of my people, my Grandfather stayed back. He stood at the edge, where the cedars cast their shadows. I called out loud to him and told him I loved him. That I would not forget him. He stood there with a hand full of feathers and his hair was long and beautiful and his spirit was throughout.

Epilogue: Elmer Lindson Crabtree was born in 1898. He was a native, a Choctaw. He called himself an Indian. He died sitting up in a chair with a cup of coffee in his mitt and a pair of old, worn out boots on his feet. His dog, Barney, had been used in Vietnam to spot planes, and he could still spot planes from the back stoop of the house. There were tools in his shed of all sorts. The ones without handles were waiting against the wall, while Elmer worked with shaky hands to fashion new handles from old wood. He broke his back on a fall from an oil derrick when he was in his 40’s and he lived with a shake for the rest of his days. I still remember him threading hooks even with his tremors, just kinda waiting them out, and then giving me a smile when he got it. In one of those legend-like stories that everyone has about someone, he lifted the back of a car while his brother fitted a tire back on the studs after the jack had failed. Of course, I didn’t see that happen, but I told the story like it was gospel when I was a kid. He showed me how to catch songbirds in homemade live-traps, see them up close and then set them free. He told me that being an Indian had less to do with blood and more to do with heart…and that everyone was a native from somewhere. He roams the mountains. He watches the stars. He calls to the owls from the hollow, just the other side of this life.

The Sea and Doc Fitz

There’s a stretch of land in northern Chile that embodies the word barren. For hundreds of miles the world is an arcing horizon without a single sprout of green. The hills are subtle. The sky and the earth look like they’re in a contest with forever. It is a landscape the evokes emotion. It stops the tongue from wagging and galvanizes a kind of soulful inventory that might cause one to think of past deeds and future changes. I stepped off the bus to stretch and look for a snack in the kiosko, and I looked out over the massive Atacama Desert. I remembered reading that scientists believed that during one particularly long period, 1500-something till 1971, the central part of this desert had no rainfall. Four hundred years is a long time to wait for water. But as a man, a human being, there is an inexplicable feeling I get from places like that. I am only me. Just this boney, blinking sack of blood. I am the engine of my mind and my heartbeats are limited, I am prone to think on things like the immensity of this crusty desert. On the bus to Antofagasta, I tumbled backwards in my memories. I remembered other things that were vast like that desert. I finally fixed on the big mama of all things vast. The Ocean.

If you’re a slow-grinder like me, Physics is a thing you believe exists, but it’s kinda like the sun: it affects you, but you’ll never, ever, ever touch it. So instead I read anecdotal stories by the smart people, and I understand more about the internal workings of the universe. Something I read once talked about how every motion, no matter how small, starts a ripple  on the surface of reality that goes on and on. This might be stressful to some, but it makes me feel good about movement. It makes me feel significant against the backdrop of infinity. I’m glad Physics is not something I need to check on, like boiling water for my coffee, ’cause we’d all be screwed. I forget that shit all the time. But I will use a word from physics to begin this story. In fact, I’ll bring the word to life by giving it flesh and blood. Gravity. And gravity to me, on this particularly dark night, had a name, Doc Fitz.

This is about Doc Fitz and the ocean. This is about men, like me, who were focused on survival in a very real way. No matter how tough you are, no matter how hard your fist, the ocean will soften you. She does not wait, she begins at the shore and never relents. The ocean isn’t cruel, but I can see how she might be mistaken for something malevolent. I remember it was February. It was my first week in Reconnaissance Company. Whatever romance there had been with becoming a Recon Marine had been dissolved in the briny Pacific. I worked non-stop to keep my inner fire from being snuffed as I could see no end to days that were lined up in front of me. Cold days. Gaunt days.

I had been charged with the security of the boxes of MRE’s stacked in a tight square just outside of the GP(General Purpose) tent.( MRE=meal ready to eat. And that is a truth and a generalization. A person can eat an MRE, but so can a person eat a box of rocks.) I was there because I was new. I had arrived just a few days too late to be in with the fellas that were in the throes of the dreadful initial training referred to as RIP. (Recon Indoctrination Training) And so I was watching what was to come. This is what I had to look forward to. And with each man that came, shaking and quaking and stuttering out the words, “I quit,” I had to check my desire to be.

These fellas were not sissy-boys. They were studs, all of them. And from the mud cliffs over the sea, with the foggy hinterlands of Pendleton behind me, I could hear them counting off numbers in the dark. And the waves rolled in and brought the cold. And the Recon men sang out in broken unison. And the dark filled my soul right to the top.

“Did you bring your PT gear.” Doc Fitz was looking at me. He was filling his camouflage uniform the way a tiger fills it’s skin. Doc had a beard like mine, black and immediate, but that’s where our similarities ended. Doc Fitz was big enough to eat a bowl of men like me as a snack before coffee. He looked like he might be smiling, which worried me since I wasn’t really all that funny. Later I realized that Doc Fitz always looked like he was smiling, and maybe he was, but it was the kind of smile that is disconcerting. I think Doc Fitz smiled because he had the foreknowledge that as long as man existed, so would pain and the endurance of pain. To Doc, these things were warm and fuzzy. I’m sure he was born on a cold, dark night. My views on pain and suffering have changed. You know that saying, “pain is weakness leaving the body?” Bullshit. Pain is pain. Weakness is weakness. To endure is to desire and all that jabber in between is people trying to make sense of it.

With my PT gear (shorts, t-shirt and running shoes) on, I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I not only could guard the MRE’s in the rain, but I could also do all manners of calisthenics. This matched up perfectly with the powers that be and the boredom that inevitably comes from waiting for the fellas to come back from thrashing about in the surf zone. There were at least 4 other instructors besides Doc Fitz so they took turns running the boys ragged day and night. In case you wondered why the MRE’s needed guarding, especially since no one with any sense would ever want to eat one, well, me too. This is something I learned from the beginning, if you ain’t busy, the Marine Corps can find a job for you.

At some point, in those hours before dawn when the birds haven’t started singing yet, I walked the 20 steps between the boxes and the edge of the bluff that overlooked the melee down below. The ocean was roaring and a red light was blinking in the inordinate blackness beyond the surf. I could just make out the dim chem-lights attached to the boys that were on their pre-dawn swim. A mile out and a mile back. In all the world, I’ll never forget that feeling. It was a foreignness mixed with deep understanding. Each man swimming. The shape of the world and the vastness of the thoughts that came with it. The darkness of the water, which is different than any other darkness, and the lurking unknown beneath. (there is a change in a person once they have ventured alone and into the ocean at night. there is a vulnerability imbibed through the willingness to swim out beyond the security of terra firma. there are equal parts submission and connection. man alone is naked in the sea, beyond all control save that of the simple self, and even that is in constant question.) I stood looking out for a while and then I turned back to the boxes of bad food I was guarding. Doc Fitz was there in the dark, right there, where he lived. “Are you thinking it over, Crabtree?” The question was simple, so was my answer.

“Yes.”

And then he said something that fit. “It sure is real, ain’t it?”

So much Love I lost a Shoe

May I tell you a thing or two about my life? I would assume that your silence implies consent, that and the fact that you’re still reading this. Let’s see, how can I say this without being naughty. My parents have never been crass. My tilt toward the inappropriate must come from some degenerate ancestor. Who knows? I sure as hell don’t. But what I wanna tell you is that I live in disarray. It would be easy for me to cuss right here, but I’ll hold off for a bit (except for the little hell-bomb above…besides, hell is a place, not a cuss word). I know this sounds like I’m about to spend some time talking about how jacked up I am, but nope, I’m not. This has a direction.

Every time I’ve been in love with someone, and then it didn’t work out, I felt like I was falling backward off a cliff. Then after some time I realized that it wasn’t their fault. I realized that I had been trying to get them to love me along with all my weirdnessess. Like, I have a ton of them. I mean, I live in a damn r.v. and I have all my belongings, every thing I own, in bags. I own nothing besides this. Nothing. I leave shit scattered from one end of the States to the other, hell, I even have things stashed  in other countries. I have forgotten that I lost more things than the number of things I own. Essentially, I don’t own a thing, because I will have forgotten it somewhere eventually. So, when I think about the lovers I’ve “lost”, or whatever you wanna call it, I can’t help but see myself as being the agent of my own distress. It’s always been this way…until a year ago.

Some people talk about what is referred to as a “sure thing.” That has never been me, or at least that ain’t how I picture me. A year ago I ran into a girl that looked right past my bags of junk and piles of shit and she looked right at me. I squirmed around a good bit at first and even pointed at my baggage as a kind of distraction. I wasn’t used to that kind of acceptance. For a while after we met I talked about the improbability of the two of us being linked. I used words like foolish and unlikely. I would string together longs sentences filled with examples and reasons for why a thing like us would never work. It was like throwing snowballs into a volcano in hopes of putting it out. She’s stronger than me. She’s even tougher than me, and I’m good at taking a beating.

When I hear people talk about love, most of the time I kinda wanna vomit. You know…Love at first sight or He’s perfect in every  way or We’ve been soulmates since we first laid eyes on each other. Yuck. My eyes begin rolling even before those statements make it out of someone’s cakehole. But now I’m loved. Like, completely loved by someone.  I’ve written tons of sappy letters (and some brilliant ones). I’ve taken her to meet my family. I’ve met hers. We’ve had fights (I lose). Our love is…um, really fun. So, what it is is that someone doesn’t count my mess-ups.  Someone loves me despite of my jackassedness. Someone loves me relentlessly and without fear. I found someone who loves me. Period.

I’m a geek when it comes to science. I might not understand something, but I’ll read a damn 3 volume book on it. I listen to podcasts like This Week In Microbiology. The world of microbes and viruses is amazing to me. Little jungles under our fingernails! The thing I’ve learned about viruses that sticks out the most is that we don’t really know viruses. Scientists still argue over what they even are. Life? Non-life? I like that.

My lady and I recently drove across the deserts to see my folks in Colorado. I picked her up in Taos. I hadn’t seen her in a month. On the way to get her, I began to feel bad. I didn’t know it, but I was coming down with a case of the Shingles. It’s a kind of herpes that attacks the nerves and effects the body in meridians. Big nasty bumps formed under my arms and on my nipple. My lady, Kayla, spotted the first one and said, “What is that?!” in a way that I didn’t like at all. You know that feeling when someone looks over your shoulder into the dark and gets a scared look on their face? Or when a dog barks down a dark hallway? Or when something drops from a tree onto your sleeping bag in the dark…and then skitters away? Yeah, that’s kinda how I felt when she said there was something weird developing on my spine. Needless to say, I became a hack expert on viruses over the next few days. Kayla helped me and soothed my nasty sores. She laid next to me and kissed my face. She put up with my grumpiness over the entire stay at my brother’s house. She was sweet and…well, pretty near perfect.

When we drove back to the desert, we had a fight. It was over something that I was saying in a too harsh kinda way. In the end, I realized once again that I was picking on her, pushing her. She endured. She has level gray eyes, like Tarzan, like the kind I grew up wishing I had. I’m jealous of her eyes. Did that sound sappy? Whatev’s. She is rad…and we are good.

Everyone talks bad about viruses. I think they are life. I think they are here and they are fighting to be. There is something about the virus that I like. They don’t quit. If you don’t stamp them out completely they come back stronger. They are patient. They are adaptable. They are opportunistic. When you think about it, they are like us. We are capable of all those traits along with others that are far more insidious. It is my good luck to have stumbled into love like I have. I think it’s cool that Kayla has endured my orneriness. She has seen me be a mess and helped me get up again. We first met in the mountains between Bend and Salem, Oregon. It was a year ago, up on a road called Homestead. It was so good that I lost a shoe. I reckon we should go back soon, I miss that ol’ shoe. It was homemade.

I don’t think I deserve a thing. I really don’t. I think I get what I get. But there is this shining eyed woman that keeps coming back to me and loving me and believing in me, and it makes me wanna say something sappy. So instead of that, I’ll just say this: if I’m dreaming, leave me be. Don’t wake me up. This one is too good to quit.

Post Script: I rarely write about romance. When I do, it’s usually with a solid dose of sarcasm. So I appreciate your patience through this essay. I don’t plan on becoming a romance writer, but if I do, it will be under a fake name. Like Henry James Ironloins or Jackson Suede Klinsingtonsonstien. 

 

When the Wind Worries the Leaves

My Ma texted me at 7:37 this morning. She told me she loved me and that she was proud to be my mother. At that moment I was holding my phone, checking the time, deciding the layout of my day. Coffee was on the near horizon and the air was chill and the jays were overhead in the cottonwood scolding me for not being a jay. I jumped on my bike and sat up straight, no hands, down First St. and out onto Portland. I noticed the peach tree on the way, heavy with sweetness in the little alley behind 2nd St. I gotta hit that soon.

After coffee I shot down to the river. It was just chilly enough to see my breath. Morning dive. Deep down, eyes open. Green rocks and fish. I jump in this spot 2 or 3 times a day when I’m in Bend. There’s this big rock about 10 feet down, it’s shaped like a flying saucer.  My dive carries me down to it. I know where it is and I find it and I latch ahold of it under the current. My feet flag around and the I am there, fluttering deep. It’s down there where the world comes close, gets right up against me. My heart. My brain. My hands. Me. I am down there with my things. I would stay much longer if I could, but I’m a surface breather and the sky calls. Up. There are clouds floating under the sun. I sit to dry on the edge of the river and an American Dipper skitters by me between the rocks, under water. She pops up a few yards away. Water beads on her back and she gives me a quick tilt of the head, then she is under water, then back to the same spot. I have known her kind my whole life. She is drab grey but her life is as brilliant as a star. She is a favorite of mine. I speak to her in human talk. She responds in the silent language of the wild, which is a most beautiful tongue.

After the river, I went back to Jason and Rachel’s place. The boys were naked and dancing in the back. The hot tub was open and Jason was smiling. We piled in. Life is quite dandy when I am at the Arbettor’s house. Dandy indeed.

This may be difficult to understand,  I’m not wise enough to relate to everyone, so take this or leave it.(No big deal to leave my insights piled outside the door with the muddy shoes. After all, they’re worth about the same.) I’ve spent a good deal of time switching back and forth between being God and being the dirty ol’ Devil. That’s what it is you know? I don’t think the two of them are sitting out there in the ether playing chess with our souls. I am a real piece of work. Oh my, I’ve been a wreck at times. I know for sure I’m just as capable of good as I am of evil. It’s all there. Choices are waiting for me, like peaches on a tree. All along the way we create the things we need so that we can cope. Sometimes God. Sometimes a bottle of bourbon. It isn’t all that easy being a person. The soul is fragile, just like life. We are here for a blink and then we are gone and then we are forgotten. When people talk about a legacy, I can’t help but see that as a manifestation of pride. I think it’s more important to make a baby laugh than it is to be a billionaire. And if you’re thinking, that’s easy for him to say, he ain’t a billionaire…you are correct. It is easy for me to say.

Years ago, when my buddy Christian died in the towers in New York, I sat in Central Park and wept. It had been weeks since he went down in a cloud of smoke and fire but I hadn’t really stopped crying. No one had stopped crying. Dave Kenneally told me I might never stop crying, and that would be alright.  I had been bulletproof until that point in my life. It took me years to realize that I was bad ass. It took a fleeting moment, falling walls, a phone call, a furious drive from California to NYC and the look on the face of Christian’s dad to lay me lower than I had ever been. Not bulletproof at all. I’ll skip the story, it’s been told and retold. That afternoon in Central Park though, when I sat and wept, I saw my hands in my lap. I stared at them as if they did not belong to me. I kept thinking that I was inside my body and it was just this husk that my soul was using to get around. I wondered that the hands on the ends of my arms were the same ones that belonged to the little Toby that sat by my Ma in church. The same hands that drew super heroes in 6th grade and passed them to Dan Anglin for a laugh. These were the hands that tugged at my Grampa’s pant leg to get him to show me his fake leg with the painted on sock. How could this possibly be? In what dream did this happen? Even now, I sometimes drop in on this feeling. It’s huge, so excuse me while I breathe.

The attempt here is to explain myself. I am struggling with translation. There are leaves that are falling in the woods high above the roads that cut between the mountains. They still hold life but they are separated from the trees where they budded. They are floating on the wind and the wind is running along the ridgelines. As the leaves flow and rattle, the stones wait. The foxes slide between the quakies and move along the ground on tiny feet. They are smelling the world and they are listening through the wind and their quicksilver hearts are giving them the blood they need to run. They will sleep tomorrow in the sun and they will dream of rabbits and muskrats and they will puff through their teeth as their feet twitch and flutter. These things will happen.

It’s my intent to be here with all my might. My mistakes are piled high, they are too many to count and too heavy to carry. I am fortunate to know love and sorrow. If there are any kids reading this, I want to give you some advice. Hang in there. Life is painful and scary and guarantees are not to be trusted. Trade right and wrong for awareness and compassion. Be sweet to the younger ones, they are trying to figure it out just like you. Instead of arguing, listen. Treat your mother good, even if she’s bad. Write letters with your hand, on paper. Be fair to the animals, they belong as much as we do. Stand in the rain and say thank you to the sky. Sleep on the ground and climb a tree. Ride your bike. Don’t hesitate to sing, no matter what you sound like. Draw without apology, stick figures are funny…and rad. Dance when the song calls you. Never fake love. Remember that your parents are humans. Remember that this life is the only thing you really own, treat it like you love it.

There’s more…but I don’t wanna ruin the fun. Go find it out on your own.

Soulshine

I wonder if it’s too late to compete in the Olympics. I guess I’d need to choose a discipline. One of my buddies suggested synchronized swimming, I informed him how difficult those moves are while smiling and holding your breath. Plus I don’t think there’s a men’s division, and even if the girls let me in, I wouldn’t make the team. Maybe if there was an Olympic sport like coffee making, or hide-and-go-seek, which isn’t a sport, but it should be. I won’t take too much time here bragging, but I’m good at hide-and-go-seek. I like to play even when other people don’t want to. I’ll hide from you just for fun. And ya see, that’s what it takes to be an Olympian: You can’t just be good at it, you gotta do it ’cause you love it. I’d probably need an age waiver, but I feel like my immaturity would sway the committee in my favor.

There’s so many things I’d like to try. Like, I wouldn’t mind being a rock star, even if it was just for a bit. I wouldn’t want all the tabloid stuff, but I think it would be so rad to sing a cool song and have everyone all blissed out over it. I mean, wouldn’t you? Maybe I’d make one album (are they still called albums?) and it would be awesome and then I’d just disappear, but then I’d be sitting in some little cafe in Laramie and I’d hear my song come on in the kitchen and the cook would turn it up a little and say, “I really like this song.” And I’d smile and drink my coffee, but I wouldn’t say anything, I’d just love it on the inside. Secret arrogance is easier for people to tolerate. Besides, I have enough hang-ups without being obviously prideful. It’s ok to have dreams that are a little out there. I’m sure there’s a balance between dreaming your life away and not dreaming at all. Life is here, you know? It’s not a clock. It’s a living breathingness. No matter how much we define it or figure it, time isn’t real. It’s a thing that we say is real, but it will be gone when we are. I’m sure physicists would roll their eyes at me, but I would just ask whether the sun cares about time. And they would call me crazy and I would laugh like a fool. The minute doesn’t need to control us, but it does, hence the big rush. The angry man shaking his fist and riding six inches off my rear bumper does not change the moon in her phases. I care more about heartbeats and how we choose to use them. Being prompt and efficient is good, but not at the cost of real living.

I heard some smart person talking about memory, how the amount of times we ruminate over a specific memory determines the accuracy of that event. Come to find out, the more you hash something over, the more it changes. It’s those things that come out of our dusty pasts, mid-morning on some random thursday, that are the closest to the real deal. I guess it doesn’t matter, but it’s a little sad to me. The memories I visit the most, become something else. Memories are changelings .

The past is defined by that same smarty-pants as anything older than 8 seconds. The present is fleeting. Here we are on this big blue earth, spinning through the stars. Trillions of thoughts are fluttering and flitting out into space. Tiny birds are thinking. Somewhere a deer is browsing near a backcountry road, stamping at the horsefly on her flank. Twenty miles away, a car is traveling in her direction. She is making choices, which leaves to pluck. A memory flickers through her head and she moves out toward an especially lush spot along the creek. The road is just ahead. Out of all the possibilities, she will be at the road just as the car rounds a curve. Old instincts will fire and her quicksilver muscles will take over. There will be a moment where lives hang in the balance. There are billions of maybes. Sometimes hearts no longer beat. Thoughts cease. Wonders endure.

I went for a run along the river. It was cool and I felt good. I love running with someone out in front of me. I like trying to reel them in. I’m sneaky, I try not to let them hear me, and then I pounce. Sometimes, when there’s no one out in front of me, I imagine someone catching up to me from behind. My mind creates them and they are always younger and better looking and more talented than me. They don’t have to try as hard as I do, I imagine them thinking that I’m easy pickin’s. And I pick up the pace and I lean into the turns. I run harder up the hills because I imagine that they won’t think I’ll do that. Ha! They are behind the last bend and they don’t know I’ve picked up the pace even more. I imagine them rounding the turn and frowning at the distance I’ve created. They will match my speed, but the end is in view and they might not be able to chase me down. The fire in my gut is too much. Grit wins over talent! And I am heaving and my head is pounding and I am staring at the ghosts that chase me. They are all walking around shaking their heads and they are muttering words like “lucky” and “should have” and I am outwardly humble…but I’m laughing on the inside.

post script: 

I reckon I’ll end this with a dedication. I know that we all belong. It’s difficult for me to understand this unless I extract myself from the process. I’m not in charge, and I’m sure I’d be a terrible god. Here’s what I do know: no matter how evil we are, the earth will take us back and turn us to elements and minerals. We all become food for the flowers eventually. But I am certainly a witness to some things that qualify as amazing. Sometimes it’s people that amaze me. Chris Pilaro is one such person. He is here in the world, and like us all, he doesn’t know how long he will be alive. However, he’s been told by people in the know that his time is up. Of course, he was told that 4 years ago and he decided that he had more living to do. As the cancer crowds his guts, and his system begins to show the signs of an expiration date, he continues to shine. His eyes are bright and he speaks candidly about life and the living of it. He skates with a colostomy bag in tow. He answers the questions that his boys conjure while they skate together. He meets me for tacos and tells me the pluses of having a bag, how you can eat more by simply emptying it. There is light in his eyes from the edge of the universe. He has no desire to argue, save that for a person bored with living. He’s very here. He’ll be here till he’s not. He showed me how to fill the space between the sky and the ground, just fill it with your heart. Save the meanness and smile. Laugh at the irony. Giggle at the funny stuff. Only quit when your done and then do so with grace and love and awareness. When you run, run! The ghosts are back there but you’ve got more fire in your gut. 

“soulshine, is better than sunshine, better than moonshine, and damn sure better than rain….” Greg Allman

My Pet Nasty

I admire the quiet ones, the ones that don’t seem to care if they’re noticed.  I have a few friends that stand and listen and smile at the things I am saying. I can be such a rager, but these folks have found a way to weather the storm, wait for the bravado to pass, and still be my friend. The quiet ones wait. They don’t pop the lock when feelings are pushing at the gate, because it’s in those moments when words run amok.

If babies had a full vocabulary at birth, I believe we would have a whole different perception of mankind. There is no sorrow or fury like that of a child. At least you can say that a baby’s not faking it. And when they fake it, they fake it with all their heart. The little ones make no bones about it, they want only and all of what they want.

Whenever I catch myself starting to exaggerate, I know that I’m talking too much. I know that, for one reason or another, I’m feeling inadequate. The person that I am is acting out and wanting more room inside the mind or minds of the people that I’m exaggerating to. I am unabashedly begging for attention. There are several reasons for why I might embellish reality but they all point back to me. I guess I could say it’s my ego, but whenever I talk about my ego I feel like I’m talking about something separate from me. Like my ego is a naughty little pet that is performing deeds without my permission. Have you ever heard folks talk about themselves in third person? “Oh, Tobias don’t like that kind of thing at all! That’ll just set Tobias off!” It really is a way of allowing yourself to behave a certain way but not lay claim to it. “Aw man, my ego acted up last night. Sure hope it didn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.” So I’ve been trading the word ego for a personal pronoun, Me. Come to find out, I’m my ego. Damn. Yeah, so it’s not my naughty little pet that did that, it’s me. And I’ll just go ahead and say it, sometimes I want attention just because. It’s pathetic. I don’t want to be blatantly adored, but adored nonetheless. I want my friends to admire what I do and how I do it. I think it’s a part of being a human animal: to desire to be needed and loved and admired. Exaggeration is just a lazy way of creating admiration, it’s creative but it lacks substance. It’s what I think I need to be without actually being it.

I guess the best way to be needed and loved is to be real. And being real will sort out who your friends are and are not. It will also force you to evaluate your actions. It will temper your selfishness with lovingkindness. In some cases, it will make you more lonely. Being a human is tricky. Life is all about dynamic adjustments. It does seem like we humans are masters at making things more complex than they need to be. Lies are complications. Truth is patient and solid and simple. It’s me that is a work in progress, Me, not my pet ego. It’s me that loves the friends that endure all my rantings and ravings. Tobias is working on himself and we’re pretty sure he’s gonna be ok. He’s got good friends and sometimes they call him out on things, and he’s ok with that. He’s a lucky dude.

Jots and Snippets: A Preview to the Apocalypse

Don’t you go and worry this won’t be too scary. The end of human life has always been coming. In the beginning, whatever beginning you believe in, humankind (all those previous simians included) began the long steady march into a hand-fashioned grave. These thumbs are brilliant, and mischievous; the latter are the ones that grasp the grave-digger’s shovel so firmly. But follow that thumb back on it’s joints, up the elbows to that floating shoulder and across the graceful clavicle to the upper sternum. And then bore with me through the bone and drop into the upper guts, are you there? Can you hear the thunder? The pulsing engine of the heart? This is the seat of our existence. It is the point of origin of all our capabilities. Our tiny god of thunder. The heart. It runs on alchemy. If it stops, we are done. No more thinking, no more loving, no more cruelty; when the heart stops, we stop. It’s strange to me that the heart can even choose spiritlessness, because that is what fuels the heart. Spirit is the alchemical soup that causes us to love and fight and dance and laugh, but we can choose to abstain from the spirit. When that happens we begin to dress for the grave. Sure, we’re still here, but we are on life support.

I’m not bitter, not really. I mean, I have my moments, but I’m too in love with creeks and music and my Mom and my lover to be bitter all the time. Bitter is pinched, like a butthole. Walking around with a butthole mouth is ugly, not that buttholes aren’t necessary, they are! I actually love mine, but it would be ugly on my face. I’ll try not to lose you here, so I’ll leave the crass chatter behind me. (There’s still a joke there, but I won’t do it…nope, I won’t.) I can tell who is bitter. The ones who are angry with life are bitter. They don’t even know that they’re angry with themselves. Here’s one for ya. How ’bout this fella two days ago, in a beautiful giant F-350. He was in front of me at a light and he was glaring rearward through his giant mirrors. He had a big Trump sticker on his bumper, which told me that he was certainly an American. Only Americans would love Trump. On his back window, centered with painstaking accuracy was another sticker of Calvin (he of Calvin & Hobbs) taking a piss on the word environmentalist. 

 And I gotta take a minute to talk about these stickers who are using Calvin for things like pissing on other things. Perhaps I’m shouting into a vacuum here, but Calvin was just a little boy with an amazing imagination. He was in his own world that didn’t include Chevys or Fords. His world was by the creek in the gully where the seasons were contemplated in a transcendental kind of process. Hobbs was present to provide some grounding so that Calvin didn’t just wander away forever. Hobbs was Calvin’s anchor. Calvin was the inventor, the creator, the wild animal, the dreamer. He wasn’t a tree hugger, but he was almost a tree. His thoughts and actions could only be seen in comic book form, because they wouldn’t have been believed otherwise. Trump wouldn’t have been a blip on his radar, just as I am not a blip on Trump’s radar. Calvin saw the universe in a turning leaf. So let’s get something straight, when Calvin took a piss, it was because he had to go. And it was on a fern or off a bridge or in the highest arc possible to show off in front of Hobbs, not on a word or a brand. If you wanna talk about how dedicated you are to a brand or a party, make a stupid little image of yourself claiming how right you are while you point your little penis at the things you hate. (obviously i’m talking to men here, women are more sensible and don’t seem to take much part in pissing contests) But hey, leave Calvin out of it. He’s what I wish we were. Oh that we had a little more Calvin & Hobbs. There’d be more smiles, more laughing and more wild wagon rides down the steep hills toward the creek.      

Now, I’m not sure what the definition of environmentalist is, but I know what the dude in the big truck was getting at. As he turned the corner, he continued to stare rearward with his mouth pinched in the shape of a…like a kind of a, well, like a wrinkled, pitted prune. (Ha! You thought I was gonna go back to butthole, but I didn’t!) I could see his face, most of it, behind the aviator glasses and I’d put him in his late 60’s. The side of his upper lip lifted a little and he flicked his cigarette butt into the air and onto the dry grass of the median. Somewhere along the way I had to turn, I was going to swim in the river. My guess is that he probably wasn’t going to do the same thing. I wonder about that ol’ feller’s ticker. I wonder about his guts and his dreams when he sleeps. Does he sleep soundly? Or do his lips twitch and jerk at the taste of bile and the smell of hate. I wonder.

I looked up the definition of environmentalist. It’s what you’d think. I have a feeling that it denotes more than just a person who cares about the environment. I’m sure a rancher might have a more colorful definition for that word. And I’m not ripping on people who ranch. Or farm. I love a good many folks who do both. I just don’t understand what the difference is between wanting to raise animals on good land and wanting the best for the environment. Seems like it can easily be both. I’m beginning to think the only “perfect world” is the one without humans in it. But I don’t like that. I don’t like the thought of not being here. After all, I’m convinced that our greatest attribute is that we can love. It’s not that hard to do. Like, I can even love things I’ve never seen. I can love a child I’ve never met who lives in Burma, where I’ve never been. I can love a star on the farthest edge of our universe. It might sound soft, but it ain’t. I loved every fella in my Recon team in the Marine Corps. No one will ever fight harder than for the ones they love. So, us humans, if we love, belong. If we don’t, we don’t.

It ain’t hate that’ll crucify love, it’ll be indifference. It’ll be apathy that does us in. There’s a weird feeling I have when I see too many people in one place, but no one is paying attention to actual life. I can’t help but bring up technology here; it’s a sad old sack that I beat on quite often, so allow me to do so again. I have done personal experiments with my smart phone. I’ve found that the more time I spend on it, the less I care. The less I care about anything, and the more jaded I am about life. It’s depressing. In fact, it’s dreadful. If I put it down for several days, I am fiery and wild. I am full of desire and my drive to create is powerful. It makes perfect sense. Every single app is designed to make you want to stay longer, to stay connected to the screen. It begs you to stay. And with the games that interact with the world, it causes us to see the world through the device. They have become our lenses with filters to make the virtual world better than the actual world. It’s similar to needing booze in order to have a party. It’s a terrible, dangerous little path. It will not lead to feelings and words. It will not make us closer to the wild, it will make us want to visit the wild in order to record it with our devices so we can feel validated virtually without ever having interacted with our actual world. It is slow death. It’s a party and we are waiting for the guest of honor. Oblivion is at the door, don’t take your eyes off the screen, this is gonna be great!

Post Script: Please don’t think I’m excluding myself here. I too, fight the fight. Likes and loves and pokes and emojis and little yellow faces. Symbols and tweets and chirps and texts and airdrops and bluetooths and apps and double taps, googles and wikis and pokemons and streaming data. My goal is not condemnation. My dream is to be more aware as a living, breathing animal, and I’d love it if you were there too. So let’s meet, all of us. Out there under non-filter skies and listen outside of our earbugs to words that are spoken and not played and let’s discuss and disagree and flex our muscles and dance to music that is real and alive and full of feelings. This is not the end.