The Secret Behind Mama’s Smile

It was Christmas morning and a thought was forming

inside my little-boy brain,

as I lay in a heap of wrapping so deep

my heart felt a little pain.

“Mama, I’m sorry” my voice was quite jarring.

“With presents I’ve come up short.

“You gave me a ton and I only gave one,

and it’s not even close to store-bought.”

She sat up and there was a flash of her camera

a smile so wide it surprised

for she’d just been divorced, now alone in the house

her and me, me and her, I realized.

“Dear child don’t you worry, I’m enjoying the flurry

in my heart as I go on believing

that one day you will have a heart that shall fill

’cause Giving gives more than Receiving.”

Oh the crazy things a mom’s heart will sing.

She can’t possibly mean all of that.

I gave her a mug, I thought with a shrug;

she must not want me to feel bad.

Many winters since then, it’s Christmas again.

I’ve gotten my share of mugs

and things I don’t need, not another tie please,

as the wrapping spills over the rug.

I sit back in the din, in the house that I’m in.

the days piled up like the gifts

and my mom far away while her grandkids all play

my thoughts, without trying, they drift.

Such love in this life, more than pain more than strife.

I sit with my camera and tea.

Oh mom you were right, my heart is aflight!

I am full, we’re the same, you and me.


Done with Oppression

silhouette of woman standing on beach during sunset

I’m done with stories of oppression — Twelve Years of a Slave, The Piano, The Handmaid’s Tale…

I need no more evidence of our ugliness. I know it’s there. It’s so there.

And I don’t need what comes after that either: vengeful violence of a hero, a bloody and sinister vindication wrapped around triumph.

Violence is used like a Vegas sign to draw us in and justify the second violent act, and there is always a second violent act.

But I am already justified. I am already motivated. I have my weighted bag of hard-earned ghost stories.

So show me a different ending, the one after the last episode: sun shining into an open window, a circle of people standing patiently aware of their own failings, watching a birth, a new growth, fingers unfurling, soft and unlike their own.

Hands far from shackles.

Mind unbounded.

New eyes opening, using the light differently, writing the sequel so easily, before uttering a word or taking a step.


Changing People’s Minds

Person standing in boat

When we challenge someone’s core beliefs — their religion, their politics (which are often one and the same) — we threaten their worldview.

Our comments cut the line to their anchor.

And, somehow, we expect them to thank us for this.

No one wants to drift into the storm, which is why we grip our ropes so tightly and stay to the shore.

What might happen if we let go, if we allow our lines to be cut?

What parts of the sea might we discover?


Love & The Selection Process

I often wonder how I got with my wife.

We’re super compatible in so many ways.

And yet, I must admit, I originally noticed her at that barbecue

because she was hot.

Well, maybe there was more to it.

She wore blue jeans not a skirt.

Boots not heels.

She was working the room (or the yard as it were), painting smiles on passersby.

No name brands.

A cool long, suede jacket a cowboy could wear.

Her hair wasn’t done, wasn’t crunchy or full. It was just there.

She laughed wonderfully. Naturally.

And when we talked for the first time, it was like a waterslide.

No friction,

going everywhere together effortlessly.

Yeah, I was lost in her eyes

but I would have noticed if the flow wasn’t there.

So maybe love isn’t just an impulsive arrow going through.

Maybe it’s a bunch of little pieces,

coming together.

Flecks of stone and wood and glass swirling up off the ground

to create something



and able to hold things.

Fate, love, joy, peace, magic…

Maybe there’s more going on,

a blueprint designed in the blink of an eye

an algorithm being written

dutifully evaluating the physics of the scaffolds that will become our towers,

a massive amount of computation

going on

in the background

all at once

while I contemplate her lips.


The Underground Prison We Put Ourselves In…

Monochrome Prison Cell

Humans are strange. Our way of dealing with stress is to summon more of it.

When we’re caught in a tough situation or we get a cold or our luck is different than usual, we tend to say something like:

“This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me…”
“I’m not the kind of person who…”
“I’m not like this…”

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but YES YOU ARE.

Right now, you are.

The stress you’re under is bad enough; don’t add another layer to it by bringing in denial and self-loathing. That’s like adding more bars to your underground prison cell, more shadow to your cave.

Because, eventually, you’re going to want to break free, right? And then you’re going to have to saw through those bars. You’re going to have to dig through that dirt. So why create more barriers?

When stress comes at you next time and surrounds you, suffocates you, do something unexpected: say hello.

Reach out and touch the wall of the cave.

It is there, you are experiencing it, that’s the first step to your jail break – recognizing you’re in jail, both the good news and the bad.

But here’s more good news for you:

That stress you feel, those walls that create the darkness, they are separate from you.

Knowing this is the key to your escape.

One final piece of advice: Instead of digging in the dirt and sawing through the bars to go back the way you came, just extend your arms in the darkness, trail your fingertips along the walls, and find the door.


Tired Not Tired

Shallow focus photo of woman leaning on doorway

It’s okay that you’re tired at the end of the day.

You’ve worked hard. It takes a lot. Mentally. Physically.

You’re human!

Up and down is our way forward.

Just because you’re tired, doesn’t mean you have to rethink your life.

Instead, when you recognize you’re tired, just do something that will make you untired.

Focus on gaining your energy back, not on wishing it was always there.


Truth Seekers & Truth Killers

Balance macro ocean pebbles

We walk the earth carrying our thoughts, a heavy load for a single person. These thoughts become laws. They become a rock-hard truths, stories of stone.

And we may use these stones to step on, to enable us to reach higher – this is a good thing – it’s why we carry them. But the more familiar they feel in our hands, the less likely we are to let go of them, thus, the more dangerous they become.

We get weighed down. We walk in circles.

Have you ever had this happen?

You hold a dear memory. You’ve always told the story the same way; it’s one of your favorites. It’s as real as the air you breathe. And then, one day, you share it with a friend who was there and they say, “That’s not what happened.”

The time of day was wrong. The punchline was different.

Oh dear.

You’re a bit angry, you can’t help it. How could they do that?!

That’s the problem with stones and memories. As much as we don’t want to believe it, they erode with touch, with the friction of use.

We kill our truths with our own hands, by the need to fit them in our pockets.


Lying Down & Getting Up


The problem with Self Help is that it presupposes there is something wrong with the way you are now.

But fully embracing your current state, whatever that may be, can prevent meaningful growth and change.

Take the simple example of lying on the couch. When you resent yourself for lying on the couch and not doing __________, that only makes you heavier. You surround the couch with guilt. However, if you embrace the couch too much, you fear never getting up again.

We’re constantly battling this tension — getting up and lying down. We work (getting up) so we can watch Netflix and chill (lying down). We mow the lawn (getting up) so we can picnic in the yard (lying down).

Some people try to avoid lying down completely (I’ll sleep when I’m dead). Others leave out the getting up part altogether (I need my rest). Neither strategy works. Eventually, both the sleeper and the non-sleeper fall into the same hole.

Money doesn’t solve this predicament. Neither does time. Success doesn’t help either. No matter how grand the accomplishments, the glow will fade and you’ll be back on the couch, wondering, in a far corner of your mind, what’s next.

So what do you do with something that’s both inevitable and unsolvable? A riddle on your fridge greeting you every morning.

You laugh at it.

You put it in your pocket.

You crumple it up and throw it in the air.

You lie down and you get up.

And you fucking love both.


The Wasp and the Spider, A Sequel

Macro photography of spider web

Exactly a year ago, I wrote a post about a Moth at my Window.

The moth, in being attracted to the light of my computer screen, flew into a spider web and nearly died — would have been eaten by the spider— had I not turned off my screen. I cast myself as the hero in that drama.

Well, there’s a sequel.

Yesterday, a wasp showed up hovering in that same corner as the moth, bouncing around in the cobwebs, now thicker and wispier. As the wasp hit the web, out came the spider, predictably so. It reared up and lashed out at the wasp with one of its spindly legs.

At first, I was rooting for the wasp, just as I had for the moth a year ago. But then I realized it was the wasp that was making the attack this time.

The wasp wasn’t caught in the web. The spider was. It’s fight was a defensive one, to protect the homeland and the bounty – a last stand.

I leaned in, safe behind the glass, like humans do.

I could see the textures of the wasp, it’s legs wrapping around the spider, it’s stinger swooping down and in, repeatedly like a jack hammer.

The spider didn’t have a chance.

The wasp flew away, leaving the spider a balled-up mess, and I wondered if the wasp was just in it for the kill.

I silently hoped the spider was playing dead, but one of its legs had been pulled off and was dangling off the edge of the web. It was over.

I pulled away from the glass, went back to work, forgot about the massacre.

It wasn’t until the wasp returned that I thought about the spider again. The wasp, hovering , examining the web, the spider’s bounty now its own.

Wait. The spider.

The crumpled mess was gone.

Had the wasp eaten it already? (I would have noticed.)
Did the wind blow it away? (Nothing on the sill.)
Had the spider made a run for it?
(How am I to know?)

Hope is not an easy thing to let go of.

Even now as I type these lines, here on the other side of the glass, I stopped for a second to knock on the window. I’d love to give you a fairy tale ending.

But death is all around us. We just miss the drama because we’re wrapped up in our own.

I thought about my part in this particular death. I could have knocked on the glass earlier. I could have opened the window and swatted the —

Ha! It happens so quickly.

Like the spider to the moth and the wasp to the spider, my agenda on top of another’s, drawing a line through a life to finish my own story.

Depending on where you are in reference to the glass and the web, life goes on.

Or doesn’t.


A Good Worshipper

A spiralling stained glass window inside a chapel at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas.

I thought I didn’t have a religion, but then I realized I’m wrong about that.

I realized it when I was having a bad morning and pulled a chair out into the sun and picked up a book of short stories by a guy who’s long gone and then I started reading one of the stories and by page 2 I was feeling much better.

And then in the woods, walking with my daughter, I talked about divorce with a slow deliberate pace, which brought me to talk about marriage and into love, in which she will inevitably become entangled. She hung on my words as tight as her grip on my hand, realizing, as had I at that moment, that there was something different about the way I was speaking.

After a TV show, just like the book, I replay the scenes, I respeak the best parts, dangling them like a mobile, the pieces spinning on their own, catching the light as they come around.

It’s the same reason, I sit back in a conversation of more than 2 people. I’m doing something over there on the side of the table. I’m at communion, taking it all in, tasting it.

And, oh yes, and what deeper prayer could there be than getting up before the sun, sitting in the ritual chair and clicking out verses in the dark! Transcribing the notes playing on the inside to allow the Great Manifestation to take place, something from nothing, as miraculous as the cosmos.

Head bowed, hands working without the mind, I am in awe, like a child creating fire from sticks, a flame out of the air.

My awakening must have been in my late teens, no wait, maybe earlier, tracing curved dotted lines on a Xeroxed page of a book. According to my mother, it happened even earlier than that, on day 1 of life, when I opened a single eye to look up at her, and only her.

Yes, I have religion.

So when you catch me off to the side smiling, or sitting in the sun with a book clamped on my index finger, chin up to the sky, eyes closed, ears open, you don’t have to wonder.

You’ll know what I’m doing.