tobias crabtree

defining lines; drawing and writing

Tag: dave kenneally

Life Metaphorically

There’s this life. My buddy Jason Arbetter could tell you how life is like a river. Each submerged rock is a possible problem or a moment of play. Jason floats a kayak like I walk on two feet, and I walk like a boss. My buddy Hunter Dahlberg might tell you how life is like hot metal. How it takes work and attention and muscle and heart to make an elemental chunk of Iron (Fe) to become a wonderful tool or a handrail in a friend’s house to protect against a fall. My pal Gary Begley might tell you that life is like a wind current. It can’t be predicted and cannot be discouraged. It will continue on it’s own until it has curled out in even temps under the bows of the pines where the titmouse sings. If you fly, you must understand that you are a passenger and the wind is the conductor. The train rambles, you ride. My friend Tim Easton might say that life is a song. That the ideas exist before the words put them to use. That there is nothing which hasn’t been felt since hearts began beating and so songs are simply an homage to everything that has ever been felt. And sweet life is a song. My friend Paul Turecki might tell you that life is a stone, because stones are always waiting and they are basic and they hum with the sound of the beginning. Paul’s face is a stone. Old Brian Foster might say that life is a fight. That punches being thrown at your face are simply an offering. The fight is easy because you are living. The end is sad because it is over. Everything in the midst is life in wondrous animation full of blood and sweat and spit. Katherine Fontaine might say that life is a building. A structure with hallways and arches and doors. Pay attention to stress points and defects and old weather wearings. And there are views and lights in the distance and moss on the bricks and grains in the wood. My kid brother Josh sees life as endeavor. It’s what’s in front of you with nothing left out. It’s Mom’s broken washer, it’s Dad’s love of God, it’s the kids’ inner workings, it’s his wife’s love of dogs and his older brother long wanderings through the extra thick fog. I think Dave Kenneally sees life as a breath or a laugh, but really, what’s the difference? Kenneally laughs with his breath and breathes in his laughs.  Dave Muller sees life as a line. It might be the line from the crest of a wave on the very outer sunset (the outer outer sunset where civilization gives way to wilderness and voices drop off and dolphins braid lines in the waves underneath) and it might be the line in a drawing or the line at the door of his restaurant or the line of a song that he’s singing. He might say that life is a line…non-linearly. Elizabeth Luma sees life as a shape. Whether clay or the flowers or the clouds or the food on your plate, it’s a thing you can see…it’s right there in front of you, you might as well get to know it!

I am in awe of of the hearts of the ones that I love. (And I have left out a good many…this time around) The folks that see through all the metaphors and pay attention to life as it is. Life.

I’m with these folks. I believe what they believe. I am walking behind them all, making sure they make it. These kinds of folks make a difference. We are all just children of the universe. Remember to believe.

the Iranian

Writing is a trip. What we experience becomes a memory, then what really happened changes a little, maybe more. Even the stuff that is going on right now will change as I remember it. Like, it’ll be different tomorrow, then it’ll be different again in 1 year, and again in 10. So really, the only time everything is exactly as it is is right now…after that it’s a shit show. I do my best to recall and not exaggerate, especially where my feelings are involved, but I seem to always change something. Some little thing left behind. Something added. Truth is, if I was held to some strict standard, I’m a liar.

With that out of the way, I feel a little better. Life rolls by like a river and all the things that pass are fleeting; every love, every loss, every wish, every dayhourminutesecond. The biggest trip is that I know I’ll die and that’s just so unacceptable as of now. I mean, I have so many more things to look at. There are thousands of letters I haven’t written. Babies I’ve not held. Waves I’ve not surfed. Lovely words I’ve not told my Mom. Races I’ve not run. Hidden spots I’ve not found. There is a fairness I’m being held to that I will always try to dodge: this whole death thing really cramps my style. It’s super difficult to be cool from the strict confines of the grave. For one thing, if someone talks shit about me, I can’t defend myself. I gotta just lie there all gray and cold with my mouth wired shut in some outfit that the coroner picked out for me–maybe he even thought it matched my eyes.

I guess I’m gonna talk about a time in NYC when Davey Kenneally took me to a sangha in Brooklyn. I think I’d been to one of these things before, but I ain’t sure. This one had a couple of monks visiting from Thic Nhat Hanh’s monastery in upstate New York. Both these dudes were cool and I could see it in ’em right away. They were genuine. Not fake genuine, but real genuine. I watched one of these fellas stand in the doorway of the room, waiting to enter. I was new to this whole thing and I was watching him ’cause he was super interesting. His smile was easy and real. He was intently looking into the room and as I watched him I began to have a hypothesis about what he was doing. I felt like he was waiting to gain eye contact with every person already in the room. I watched. Eventually he looked at me where I sat like a regular dude in the room, but he looked at me and beamed out a smile that was really pretty cool. Whether he was doing what I thought he was doing doesn’t matter, he was doing something out of the ordinary, and in my eyes, that’s a good thing.

We all sat down and had some chatting and stuff. Soon enough we began a meditation that lasted for about 20 minutes or so. I liked it. We were also told at the beginning that we would be allowed to speak what was on our mind at the finish, if we were so inclined. At the end of the meditation, a couple people said a thing or two, all very brief. Then this fella, an Iranian dude about 60 years old spoke up. He just wanted to tell about a thing that moved him. I’ll write it as best as I remember.

About a year ago, I was up early helping my grand-daughter get ready for school. I live on the 17th floor of an apartment building in the Bronx. On the next apartment building, I saw a hawk sitting in the morning sun and she was so beautiful. I thought to myself, “I wish I could look at you up close, you are so beautiful.” Well, a couple of mornings ago, I was having morning coffee and my grand-daughter was getting ready for school and she said, “Grampa, look on the porch! Look out on the porch!” And there on the porch was the hawk and she was so close and it was incredible. There we were, and the hawk, and she was just as beautiful as before and she was there, in front of us on the porch just a few feet away. It was all so amazing and I am so humbled to be here.

Now I’ll say this. Something broke loose for me during this little story about the hawk on the 17th floor of the Iranian’s apartment. Something inside me started to crack and what came out was salt and water. I ain’t sure about the reason, but I can tell you that while other people sat and smiled, I cried. I cried like the world was coming to an end. Like everything was done and I was done. At some point, I wanted to leave but I wouldn’t be able to do that without crawling, so I stayed. When old Iranian dude was done with the story, I was a mess. I’ve thought about it since, about what it was. The best I got to offer is that I’m a sucker for someone who loves beyond himself/herself. I’m a sucker for the sincerity that comes from believing in the heartbreaking beauty of it all. That stuff that we can’t explain that makes us almost depressed for not having the words. Yeah man, I like the big stuff. The deep stuff.

I’ll never be as sweet as that Iranian dude…or Dave Kenneally who is on his way to being a monk (nice job you sly fox), but I’m down with knocking some teeth out for the things that need protecting. Like the blue blue sky and the polar bears and the whales and the pelicans. The palid swallowtails and the sprouting cedars. The vireos and the tiger salamanders and the pill bugs and the crawdads and the sea urchins and the mayflies and the box turtles. The wild rivers and the moss covered caverns that hold the sturgeons and the sturgeons and the scrawny little mange covered coyotes. The great whites that hunt the likes of me. The scariest of all in the darkest of darks…it all belongs. It all belongs like us. Get it? These are the things that are beautiful, without them we are alone. And alone is a heavy stone.

blue to indigo


this morning, while the sun came up over the bay to the east, i watched a crow shadow a redtail hawk. the crow above, the hawk below, each completely silent. i know it’s not a game for either. redtails often prey on crows, especially the youngsters. i think about what it must be like to do what that crow is doing.  a decent analogy would be if i went looking for great whites and then swam above them, prodding them to drive them from my favorite swimming area. of course, a crow is in it’s element on the wind; the ocean, no matter how much i love it, is not my natural element. but those two birds, the hawk and the crow, they did the most breathtaking dance. it could be that it was so wonderful because of what is at stake. and isn’t life like that? we give more when more is at stake. duh.

i decided to drink my coffee out of a smaller cup this morning. that way it seems like i’m having more cups but i don’t suffer from the shakes as much because i’m drinking less. it’s self-psychology, or at least that’s what i’m telling myself. and i’m not telling myself out loud, i’ve been trying to not talk to myself out loud as much because people stare. oh, we’re allowed to do it when we’re 7 but it’s a different deal when you’re 46. so yeah, i talk to myself, it’s just with my inside voice…and i mean inside.

i write sometimes to my buddy, dave kenneally. we’ve been bud’s since ’96 or somewheres there about. he knows me well, i know him well. we were both marines together and then we had several years where we suffered through the same tragedy. life must’a known we needed to share that one or else one of us might have just quit on things. dave used to be a great drunk, one of the best ever. it came fairly natural to him, like a talent. one of my favorite stories he tells is the night he drunkenly told me we needed some mcdonald’s. it was in the days when i might eat something like that if i was drunk enough. we ordered and then he tore through his meal before mine was open, when i came back from the restroom, my meal was gone as well. i told dave the next day to get a laugh but i only saw sadness. soon after he stopped drinking alcohol. now he’s a practicing buddhist. now he smiles like he used to drink — with all his heart.

davey tells me i’m sometimes too hard on myself. i just tell him he couldn’t understand unless his brain was way smaller, like mine.

my skateboard is just lying here next to me as i write. i want to take it for a spin down the hill. my ankle is still swollen from the last spin down the hill that ended with an unplanned trick involving several summersaults. i think i’ll wait one more day. sometimes inanimate objects have a louder voice than my voice of reason. my skateboard is a loudmouth.

before my fingers start shaking too bad to type from my third tiny cup of coffee, i’d like to put down a few more words. something about understanding. something about soul. i sat in the sun and talked for a bit with johnny’s daughter, seidel. the sun was nice and warm on the stoop while we chatted. she’s 4 years old. i asked her if she knew the word soul.  the yes she gave seemed like a no. i assumed she might be telling the truth and i asked her where we could get a soul or two. she glanced at me sideways like kids do when tricky questions get asked. “from the flowers,” i asked,  “or from the hummingbirds?” again, the glance. she never answered, but instead walked off with nary a word. later that night she gave me a fresh painting from out of several that she was working on. she told me it was for me. it was a beautiful blue with a bit of indigo on one side…

colors of the soul.

ah, good night!

i can sing like my dad, not nearly as good but good enough to make my brothers and sisters laugh. i know his changes in cadence and expression.  my pop sings a lot and he sings damn well. he is a preacher and he will break into song whenever the spirit leads. he’s a wonder.

when my dad is surprised, he never cusses. he uses one expression more than any others. he say’s, with a little pause prior, “good night!” i have friends who’ve never met my old man that use this expression because i’ve talked about it so much. i love it. i love him. i have the tendency to falter into a litany of four-letter expletives that would make a sailors neck turn red. i’m nowhere near as eloquent, nor as disciplined as my father. he’s a man of God. i’m less. 

in my experience, it’s what i don’t say that usually makes the difference. like, the more i’m willing to listen and think and refrain, the more help i can be. i’m mostly scratching my head because i just don’t know or i’m thinking and probably won’t know after i’m done doing that. if i’m comfortable, i might start giving my opinion, then we’re all in trouble. my opinion is mixed with experiences that make little sense to me. what i dreamed life would turn me into has resulted in my present person. this ain’t what i expected. i thought maybe it’d be a little more heroic or something. the guy i am is, umm, is, how should i say this without sounding pathetic, is…less. now, i know there’s ways to cope with this; whiskey and long distance running and cold water swimming and blogging (oh my, the last is so damn pathetic i can hardly stand it) but whatever, i gotta write it somewhere and napkins are just too damn flimsy.

wanna know something? i’ll tell you. “good night” is a perfect expression.  it helps set thing aright. somehow, my dad found a way to affect me even through all our differences. he wasn’t there in the ocean when my buddies and i were being thrashed and february was proving that 28 days can be a long, long time. he wasn’t surface swimming with me in the middle east toward failaka island with my recon team while the submarines cruised like nuclear whales below us. he wasn’t with me when christian and i came down in the winds that were crashing against the aleta del tiburon in the french valley. he couldn’t stop my world from turning in it’s course as time ticked off seconds and september 11th approached. (and christian left me in patagonia to take his job as a new firefighter right there across the brooklyn bridge from the world trade center.  i came back a couple weeks later and went to climb in yosemite. while i was 1000 feet off the ground i was told that the towers fell in new york city.) my dad, couldn’t help my relentless heart as i drove toward the city where i was convinced i was going to find my dear brother and he would be safe and he would be full of stories, because no way could he have died; i knew him too well.  i knew that he had found a strong-hold where he and the folks he would save were going to be found. and when i needed help, as i sat in a truck stop and watched, for the first time, the towers fall and turn to powder, there was nothing my old man could do. he couldn’t stop my changing life, as much as he would have liked. i was falling. 

can i tell you? i know everyone has their story. my hurt wasn’t more, it was just mine. i watched my buddy, brian, crawl out of my car and cry. you see, brian loved christian too. let me tell you something, brian doesn’t cry. i watched new york city cry like brian. i sat on the subway and cried like brian. and when nothing of christian was ever found, i conjured his face in the stories i told in the bars i began to haunt and his firefighter fellows raised their whiskeys and their wild irish hearts. i watched the cuban girl cry as she took my money in the breakfast joint on the upper west side. on the train, i watched the jewish woman hold the thick-necked black man whose wife worked in tower 1. and we all cried, man, we all cried. a day before i left nyc, i went to central park and sat on a bench. broken is an understatement, i was shattered from that event. i lost one of the most significant people in my life when christian regenhard burned. he was a powerhouse; he was a raging, dancing-on-the-bar, carrying the-light, fighting-the-man, towing-the-line, i-gotcher-back kinda guy. so, as i sat on the bench, i wondered if what my buddy dave said was true, that i might never stop crying…and so what? a woman with a little dog sat down on the bench next to me. she said, after a minute or two, “darling, you’ll get better. life is made for this. your heart will heal.” well, i put my long-haired head on her little shoulder and crumbled down to nothin’. and you know what? she was right. life keeps on plugging away. since then i’ve been broken down a few times, loves have been lost…and so have keys and wallets, and i’m godamn fine.

like my old man says, “good night.” and good night is right, christian, love you man. i’m carrying your fire.