Gold Through The Grey

Woman holding flower

I’ve had a cold for the better part of the month. I’m operating at 60%, which sucks.

Everything seems impossible, or, at the most, slightly doable.

Deep down I know it’s the sickness that’s clouding my vision.

Yes that’s it. The real me must be curled up in hibernation somewhere waiting for the storm to pass. I can’t seem to wake him up but he stirs occasionally.

Like this morning, I went down to the garage to pull out the car.

The car barely fits in our garage (we have to pull the mirrors in), so, to get in the driver’s side door, I have to shimmy my way past.

As I was doing my shimmying, I noticed a single dandelion, bright and gold poking its head up where it’s not supposed to be, through the cement where the wall meets the floor.

And it may sound crazy, but that dandelion talked to me, perhaps because I was the only one in the room.

It talked to me, and you know what it said?

“Dude, it’s all good.”

(Strange words, coming from a dandelion. Honestly, I was hoping for something more profound.)

But as I side-squeezed my way into the car, I noticed I was smiling.

If that beautiful gold weed can sneak through the hard, impersonal grey of a damp garage, then so can I.

If all the rain coming down creates something beautiful coming up, then the rain’s on my side.

Soldier on, sick boy. Let the storm do its thing.

In time the gold will emerge.

Part of the Solution

2 person holding hands

Another shooting, this time at a university.

The killer is still at large. My daughter, 16, usually the pragmatic one, surprised me with her response to the news coverage.

“How sad your life must be to kill a buncha people.”

This made me think about something I learned in grad school as a counselor:

Never try to help someone you don’t have empathy for.

I remember the teacher writing down different types of perpetrators, masochists, and bullies on the whiteboard.

“If you don’t care about these people,” she said, slamming down her marker. “For God sake’s refer them to someone who does.”

This set off a murmur in the classroom, as we openly struggled with finding empathy for serial murderers and pedophiles.

But, ya know, we eventually found it. Those of us that tried, anyway.

I think we can all take a lesson from this.

There’s good in everyone. And where there’s bad stuff, it’s usually not just a morass of black evil. Rather, there’s a wrong turn somewhere, an index finger pointing, an unfinished conversation, a pattern of suffering. At some point, back in those soft years, there was a lack of empathy.

The only way to fix a hole is to fill it.

Little by little, we can do that for each other. Fill a little of the hole, or, at the very least, if we can’t bear to be part of the solution for that particular person, we can walk away and make space for somebody who can.


white textile on brown couch

I wish it were a grander dream.

I wish it had taken up the whole night.

But it was only a moment, a quick flash of a scene.

We were all in the Airstream trailer. He was sitting across from me in a fleece vest on a bench seat.

(That should have been my first clue. He couldn’t possibly have been on that seat.

But he was.)

What could I do? I just stared at him. His perfect beard was back! And he was glowing, just utterly glowing. Not unlike an angel, but more like a flesh-and-blood best friend who had just learned all the secrets of the world.

He stood up and it took no effort at all, no help from his husband, not even a little push off the armrest. His legs were sturdy, his cheeks flushed, his eyes bright and full of life.

His smile was wonderful. It made me hear his voice again, even though (in true Patrick form) he wasn’t talking.

In the dream, I didn’t know how special the moment was. It was just another moment, which I guess is what makes it so special now.

When Patrick got up, we all got up. It was clear it was time to go.

And, though we didn’t fixate on our friend, he was doing something to us — sending a gushing wave of love into our hearts. (It had to be him!)

I could tell we all felt it by the depth of our goodbyes. That was the gift: closeness.

We gave each other those extended chest-to-chest, cheek-to-cheek embraces, the long slow ones that signify, perhaps inaccurately but beautifully nonetheless, that everything will be alright.

The Wakeups

Morning Sunrise Over the Mountain

I tend to wake up with a song in my head. Usually a pop song. Not a slow one, a fast one usually. I bop my head to it while I go to the bathroom.

I wonder what it’d be like to sing it out loud. I’m thinking it would perfect, like filling a glass of fruit punch all the way to the top or laying back into a snow angel.

The wakeups are best when you just sort of a wake up.

Ah, the midday nap….

Coming into consciousness in my clothes, under a blanket, in daylight, in that sweet grogginess of wondering if I should get up or go back to sleep, I find myself in a lazy haze. Senses heightened. I notice the child’s drawing on the wall, stuck by only 3 thumbtacks, the 4th corner trembling in the gulf stream of the heat vent. I hear the uneven screeching of a jet plane’s turbine cracking open the sky. My own breaths, as hypnotic as lapping waves, soft and gently spaced apart.

So content, I sit on the precipice of comfort before it cascades into boredom.

And then, of course, there are the crappy wakeups. Being shaken out of peaceful dreamlessness on the couch by little fingers covered in marker and cookie crumbs. Hearing the growl of the garbage truck engine in the morning, 2 stories down and knowing I can’t make it out in time. The irrefutably ominous buzz of my cell phone on the bookshelf at 3am.

Whatever the time, when I’m woken up unnaturally, I come into awareness without logic. I bring my dreams into the real world, making others laugh with my ridiculous but earnest declarations:

I’d better not cook the eggs now.

Let’s look out for skunks.

It always draws a laugh.

But isn’t this also a state of a bliss? Unconstructive, outlandish thoughts elbowing out the pragmatism that hogs our synapses 16 hours a day.

Oh and the crappiest wakeup of all: the wakeup without the glorious go-back-tosleep, when that horrid claw of consciousness just won’t let go and the to-do lists scroll endlessly like a ticker tape at the bottom of a news cast.

We’ve all been there.

When you get down to it, they’re all great: the wakeups. Even the bad ones.

Coming back into the world, another shot, a chance to unwrap your gifts in a different way.

This time.

More precious minutes to collect.

Out of our brains and into our bodies, into the big bad world or the great big world or the great great world, the only place where dreams actually do come true.

We can celebrate that.

Can’t we?

Scarcity & Community

Outside bookstore to swap books

Scarcity, such a beloved virtue, creates the need for Community.

When we look to our neighbors for the things we don’t have, we step outside of our walled worlds and open our hands. So much is possible between two people with open hands! It’s through these small gestures and fragments of conversation on the curb, that love awakens and coyly transfers itself, like a shy kitten unfurling itself from one human leg to another.

This transaction nourishes us. We’re a social species.

But we forget how important togetherness is and often strive for privacy and isolation, partly because of respect for each other’s assumed desire for privacy and partly out of a lazy acceptance of convenience.

As we become more prosperous, we strive to own the things we need, we fill our garages and our closets, we donate instead of volunteer, we buy instead of borrow, we build magnificent fortresses, we outsource our precious walk to the neighbors.

And, though we no longer have to deal with scarcity, we fear it more than before. We become its shepherds.

It’s strange, this drive toward disconnection; it goes against the very nature of what we are, like a school of fish fighting to get on land, or a forest of trees bending into each other’s shadows.

We’d do much better to embrace the gaps in our collections, to keep ourselves in need.

Our survival depends on it.

Slow Talker

close-up photography of human feet on brown sand during daytime

An ex-girlfriend once said to me that my voice makes her want to lie down.

(I guess that can be taken several ways.)

From what I can tell, she meant my voice relaxes her.

Total compliment.

But there are drawbacks to eliciting relaxation. I notice sometimes when I talk to people, they’ll yawn. Sometimes two or three times, like they can’t help it. Or, they’ll settle back into their chairs, like they know it’s gonna be a while.

Admittedly the yawns are hard to take but I can’t blame the yawners; when I watch videos of myself, my first thought is, “Wow! That boy talks slow!”

Ah well. That’s me.

I’m in no hurry. I cherish questions like I enjoy dessert. I love choices. I love resting in the space of decision-making, whether mine or other peoples’. My feet are always up. I’m the last to leave.

I’ve learned to enjoy the visual and aural cues of relaxation. They show up everywhere in my life.

The relaxation mascot!

I was on the phone with a silverware company ordering more spoons… (Where do the spoons go, anyway? With the lost socks, I suppose. Sorry, another post.)

The woman on the phone, Canadian I believe; she answered diligently. “Thank you, sir” and “One moment Mr. Flamer” and all that. But by the end of the call, she’d dropped the last consonants from all her words and replaced platitudes with colloquialisms

“I get that” and “Totally.”

Another success!

I could hear her chair creaking as she leaned back and told me about the call before mine.

That’s what I do: lean people back in their office chairs, or better yet, take them out of the chairs and put them on a chaise lounge. At the beach. With an umbrella drink.

My voice sets you on vacation or at least takes you into the weekend, a little sunshine on your face in the middle of the day, your tired toes in the sand.

Such a better place to be.

I guess that’s worth the yawns.

One Conversation

Descent Into The Mist

Whatever happened, or didn’t happen…

You are always one conversation away from making it right.

And the more difficult the conversation, the more important it is to have and the more beautiful the landscape on the other side.

Wisdom comes from failure; love from loneliness.

Walk into the fog scared.

And leave whole.

Imposter Syndrome

mask on wall

In talking with people about their aspirations day-in and day-out, I’ve come to understand that we ALL experience imposter syndrome at some point. (Those of us that don’t, have much bigger problems.)

Here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter how smart you are, what level job you hold, or how big your house is. It doesn’t make a difference if you’re President…

You simply don’t know everything and you never will. This means you may not be comfortable in certain situations.

But that doesn’t mean you’re not awesome.

Imposter Syndrome happens when you find yourself playing on someone else’ playing field and keep measuring your performance against theirs. Rather than trying to run alongside them, huffing and puffing, I suggest figuring out how to get back on your own turf.

For example, if everyone in the room is talking about their big, fat bonuses, stop and think about what’s important to you. Then operate from there.

If people are speaking eloquently in double-jointed sentences and it intimidates you, realize you can change the game by speaking from the heart.

If the topic is about something you know little about, sit back and enjoy learning.

If everyone is talking passionately about politics and you put your love into something else, talk about that.

Although it may not seem like it, no one person in a room makes up the rules. And no one person, ever in life, can tell you which set of values you have to operate from.

Hell no. Blow the whistle on that shit and get back on your own playing field.

Always seek to improve yourself.

And win on your own terms.

What Creates Kindness?

Finding my roots

Are we innately driven to be kind? Or do we have to work at it?

Is kindness linked to some greater purpose or is it just another goal.

Why am I so obsessed with it?

Where did it come from?

My parents are certainly kind. My mom was a nurse, not just in profession but in her heart. She is almost too helpful. My dad checks in on everyone he passes, especially the guy sweeping the floor. How you doing, brother? After all, that was his dad: the janitor everyone passed.

I didn’t see much kindness in my grandpa but I think he was just sick of kids by the time I came around. And he grew up unfree. To be black in the 19th century. How does kindness survive that?

Some of my great aunts were the sweetest people I’ve ever known. They even got nicknames for it. Kindness found a way.

And further back… Great Great Grampa Percy, you ambitious lot! Sharing an office with Frederick Douglas! Daring to be smart, educated, and black during Reconstruction. You fled DC for some reason, and it probably wasn’t kindness.

What about the other side; the White side? Grampa Vic was always fixing things for people. And doing it for nothing. If I even mentioned something was broken, I’d come home from school and it’d be fixed. He didn’t love me with words; he loved me with his screwdriver. And a litany of pancake breakfasts.

Let’s go back a bit further…

Trailblazers with Viking blood crossing the sea. Constant struggle. Building their own houses, losing people to the elements. Working the land. Heavy hands, calloused fingers.

But that’s nothing compared with the stinging pain and transgenerational cruelty of the whip.

Great Great Great Great Grampa Chief Tecumpseh, the articulate, optimistic diplomat who had the outlandish idea that he could unify the tribes. A consensus-builder, a revolutionary, against all odds.

He represents the best part of my heritage, which is no one part, but rather all the parts: the mixing.

Tribes with Tribes.

Natives with non-natives.

Confederates with Yanks.

Black with White.

Immigrants with non-immigrants.

What can I say? I was born to blend. Programmed to unify.

The blood of my rivals mixes in my own veins. It stirs like a storm. It burns from conflict and cools with tenderness.

You see, I am kind by design, by necessity. And for this I am grateful.

If I’m to be who I am, to honor my heritage and those that made me, well, then I must love. And love hard in all directions.

The lesson is in my bones. The story is in my roots.

Like an oak reaching toward the sun, I wake up to the same task.

My work is clear.

That Time We Snuck Into The Most Elite Club in Denmark

black and gold panel on -2

Me and my friend Jesse had some pretty awesome adventures in Europe in our twenties.

Probably one of the best moments was sneaking into The Most Elite Club in Denmark. That’s how it was described in our travel book.

The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Don’t even try to get in.

We tried to get in.

The only entrance was past two 7-foot tall bouncers in front of a gold elevator.

Jesse, equipped with some acting talent, found 5 supermodels who agreed to let us trail behind them into the elevator. I think he told them he worked for MTV, which he did. Sort of.

Anyway, after a very awkward elevator ride, we made it into The Most Elite Bar in Denmark.

I don’t remember the name, but I’ll never forget the interior. It was all white: the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the bartenders’ tuxedos. There was no odor and no temperature. The place was the meaning of the word clean, the edges of everything, sharp and well defined…

It felt a lot like standing in a hermetically sealed heaven.

Or a 5-star hospital with extremely comfy couches.

Our brightly colored drinks, in their triangular glasses, resembled Star Trek elixirs.

We’d made it. The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Beautiful architecture, incredible views. Possible celebrity sightings. You can never quite tell.

The people were pretty enough to be actors, leaning into each other and sharing secrets.

We walked around, trying not to squeal.

We probably would have stayed all night, had we not ventured to the far end of the club.

It was empty of people, but there were tiered rows of white tufted chairs all facing the same way, like a poofy home theater. Only, instead of a screen down in front, there was a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. You could see all the way down to the first floor which, quite surprisingly, was not white and vaccum-sealed at all. Rather, it was filled with masses of gyrating, bouncing, pulsating people. Hundreds of them. If I had to pick a color for that room, it’d be red. Almost like… well, Hell, I guess.

It looked less like a dancefloor and more like the earth was erupting. You couldn’t hear the music from behind the glass but you could see the sweat on peoples’ skin, and, if you tried to, you could feel the bass pushing up through the white marble floor.

Jesse clutched my arm, without taking his eyes from the glass. “We gotta get down there, ” he said.

“Yeah, I know.”

But there was a catch: that pulsating first floor was an entirely different club, another venue altogether. It was not The Most Elite Club in Denmark. Rather, it was the club next to The Most Elite Club in Denmark.

And if we left, we couldn’t get back in, because, as you well know, we’d snuck into the club in the first place.

We got another $28 drink and sat down to think about it in the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever known.

Sometimes, we shape our story by the thought of telling it to people later on, and, in the process, end up telling someone else’ story and skipping an important chapter of our own.

Or maybe we just didn’t want to pay for $28 drinks.

It wasn’t a hard decision. We were mid-chapter and we knew it.

Upon entering the club next to The Most Elite Club in Denmark, the atmosphere changed immediately. And we changed, osmosis at work, molecules passing through the skin and eyes.

The thick warm air put sweat on our skin, the bass filled our lungs, and the people, with their flailing arms, splashing drinks, relaxed hips, and smiles as bright as the sun, beckoned us inward.

We became part of the volcano.

The room was a pit of people.

We rocked back and forth in a wave, all of us, stomach to back, elbows up and out of the way to make room for more people. We flowed like the tide. My movement wasn’t even entirely up to me anymore.

Someone knocked me on the head from behind. It was Jesse. He was already 2 people away from me and floating away in the people-tide. We laughed big inaudible laughs up into the rafters.

Past his head, way up there on the wall, I could see the glowing white rectangle of The Most Elite Club in Denmark.

Two figures stood side by side, not touching, arms bent holding Star Trek drinks.

So many chapters unwritten.

I knew they couldn’t see me. It was silly, but I waved, an exaggerated wave like I was trying to get someone’s attention on the other side of a busy street. It was the least I could do for them.

Alas, they walked out of the glowing white frame without giving me a signal.

But a trio of sweaty-faced dancers just a few feet from me… they waved back, the same silly, genuine, over-the-top wave.

I laughed.

They laughed.

I laughed again because we weren’t laughing at the same thing.

But, then again, maybe we were.

That club. It was a cauldron of silliness. An unpredictable lava flow. A seismic shift prompted by intense physical closeness and tribal-like bass beats, shaking the room above just enough to keep it from being perfect.

Redness bleeding into whiteness. Hell reaching up into Heaven.

Or the other way around.