To Georgia Jade, On the Occasion of Our Birthday, Year One

Another year in the books for me. I’m a whopping 47 today. And that, as you’ll come to believe soon enough, is “Really old!”

It hasn’t been a stellar year, if I can be totally honest. Health issues have reared their heads and brought me low, nearly to the brink of death. I spent some time in the hospital, wearing a flimsy gown, freezing, throwing up, and having my FUBAR kidneys poked and prodded and generally fretted over. And I am not out of the woods yet. I am on dialysis, taking a bunch more medications, eating better, trying to exercise more, and waiting on a kidney transplant.

The funny part?

I imagine your mom and dad right about now, reading this to you on your first birthday, and you bored to tears, laughing and walking away to play with your toys.

That is cool with me, kid.


I’ve watched you do it all year. Go. To loud stock car races and demolition derbies. To a farm. To bed. From here to there as you’ve crawled, then taken your first steps. Big things and small things and in between things that must have all seemed like big things to you. To your parents. To all of us as we watched you grow from a tiny little thing full of boogers to a beautiful baby girl, a toddler, a lover of life.

You don’t know any of this yet. You just smile and go and then do it again after a nap. You don’t know how just seeing your smiling face is breathtaking. Literally. Choked sobs as you do what you do. Sobs of joy, to be clear. When life hurts, you bring joy. Let me say that again . . .

When life hurts, you bring joy.

As I’ve gone through every single thing during this shitty year, I have been reminded, every time I see a picture or a video of you, of the gift this life is. Of the way a smile can light up the world. One day, you’ll understand how cheesy and cliché that sounds, but I hope you’ll also know, deep in your heart, that it is absolutely true.

A smile can light up the world.

As can so many other things we do when we live mindfully and reach out and embrace those in need. I’ve felt that embrace in innumerable ways over the course of the past few months. Among friends and family and casual acquaintances and complete strangers. Compassion and sacrifice given freely. This is the stuff of a life lived wide. Open to being a force for good.

One day, you’ll know this. You’ll have seen it lived. Been told of those who have gone before who lived that way. And how we have all benefited from the kindness of others. At every turn. In every way. If only we open our eyes and see.

But today, on your first birthday, you won’t get all that. You’ll eat cake and play with some new cool and shiny stuff and go to sleep so exhausted. With a smile on your face. And I will do the same . . .



What I Would’ve Said

I don’t want to talk as much. It’s nicer to think dear, pretty thoughts and keep them in one’s heart, like treasures. I don’t like to have them laughed at or wondered over.
– L. M. Montgomery (1874 – 1942),
Anne of Green Gables, 1908

You create your opportunities by asking for them.
– Patty Hansen, Prevention Magazine, 11/05

Funerals. It seems I’ve seen a billion of ’em. My father served as a funeral director for much of my teenage years, and I helped out occasionally. Drove the family car once or twice. Stood solemnly and greeted relatives and friends as they shuffled past, looking worn out and void of hope, wearing polyester suits and smiles. And I know the agenda. The quiet hymns delicately plinked out on vintage organs. The 23rd Psalm. The Lord’s Prayer. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

And always the words spoken. Some confident and strong, but most of them choked out between heaves and sobs. Tears, wiped away with Kleenex plucked from tiny cardboard boxes or pulled from pocketbooks or blouse sleeves. There is generally an order to these things. First a close friend or minister, the appointed Master of Ceremony. A eulogy, read from tattered notecards, by a close family member or friend. Then an invitation for any and all to stand and share if they feel so led. It’s a precious and spontaneous proceeding where laughter and tears mingle. An embarrassing story. A favorite joke. A lasting memory.

Even knowing all this, I missed my cue. Now that I’m older, it’s sometimes hard to hear. Is it now? Should I wait? Let others go first? Time eternal in the blink of an eye. I’ve never been good in now-or-never situations. I let them pass far too often. I overthink. Try to gauge the moment and end up letting it pass. Afraid to interject my will upon something that feels ordained, orchestrated, and beyond me and my skills or insight.

So, as is my way, I sat still. Silently. Reverently. And the door closed.

What would I have said? I had given it considerable thought. I could have mentioned to Adam my desire to say something. Anything. Nothing formal or written down. Just off the cuff. A few sentences strewn together that would have summed up so much of the eddy in my heart.

I would have said how weird it felt, to meet someone for the first time, face to face, after they are gone. How there is no way it is possible the made-up, prissed-up person in the glistening casket could ever compare to the majesty of someone in the flesh, breath to breath, bone to bone, spirit to spirit. How the shell can never truly represent the person inside.

I would have spoken very briefly, but with a passionate belief, in the power of online relationships. How, even though two people may never breathe the same air, or sit at the same table, they can share the world. How it is true that, while two people may not ever see the little things and be bothered by them, or rejoice, with a nod and a grin, in the ways those little things sometimes best define a person, there are nearly always larger, more meaningful things afoot. How this is an acceptable tradeoff. And how many relationships would benefit from digging into the dirt and finding a sturdier common ground. How there is a happy dichotomy here worth exploring.

I would have said that I carried upon my shoulders the love and admiration of so many others who couldn’t be there. Those who had also crossed digital paths with Stacy and felt the same tug of her soul. How, though the room breathed with wall to wall life, there stood in the periphery an unseen legion of hearts and minds who were touched by her life. How it was an overwhelming honor to bring to her this love and respect as a final and lasting tribute.

I would have shared, with her family and closest friends, how she saved my life. Not in some vague way, but in the way that is personal and without walls of ambiguity. How her, and so many others, reached down to me when I was at my lowest, and offered a hand up. Even amidst their own pain and loss. Even though it meant going beyond a well-intentioned word or pithy platitude. Even though it meant opening up their scars, to bleed again, to relive a very personal, pit-strewn path. And how every unsteady step I take these days is upon the backs of friends who have decided to join me in looking up to see the hope scattered amongst the stars.

I would have said thank you. To those who helped mold and shape the beautiful space she embodied. To Stacy, for being both pliable and yet so solidly and boldly herself. To the fates, for allowing our journeys to intersect.

I’d like to think I would have said all that. Maybe not in so many powdery words, but with the same spirit. With my heart in place and beating strong. Alive. And in stepping away from the podium, trembling but lighter for having taken the risk, Stacy would have been proud . . .

Thank You, My Friend

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

  • Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

All people want is someone to listen.

  • Hugh Elliott, Standing Room Only weblog, May 8, 2003

Last year sucked. If you don’t believe me, just scroll down and read my last post. I’ll wait . . .


Never mind. Don’t read that shit. So much has changed since then. Some of it awesome. Some of it not so much. I’ll get to all that eventually. But back to last year, when the suck rolled in.

Robin Williams. Fucking Robin Williams. I liked Robin Williams. He was stellar in some very dark roles, like in One Hour Photo, or Insomnia, and I like my movies dark. It wasn’t so much that I loved his body of work beyond that of others, or felt he was the funniest comedian alive, or even that he was a super cool person who I wanted to be like. No, he killed himself. Behind the smiles and laughs and pouts lurked some dark shit of his own. Again, this wasn’t news. He’d been up front about his struggles before. Bu he didn’t win. His sky never cleared. And he was gone.

I lost it. Maybe it’s a silly thing to hit bottom over, but it tore me up. Like the proverbial icing on the cake, or the proverbial last straw, or whatever proverbial imagery you want to employ, my ground shook, my pain haunted me, I was in a bad way, and I recognized that I needed some help. All those “seek help” posts people put up? Worked.

So, naturally, as is the way these days, I confessed to Facebook:

I made the call. First therapy session tomorrow. I’m worried that I’ll talk too much. Or maybe not enough. Or just cry a lot. Tips and tricks welcome …

And, as is the way, support rolled in. In comments. In private messages. Familiar names of people notorious for caring about me despite my shit. And then, a pleasant surprise . . .

Anastacia Campbell

Brian. I don’t expect (and neither am I asking) you to share, but I’ve been thinking of you this weekend hoping all went well with your visit. I admire you. Your choice, motivation, conviction, follow through…all of it speaks to your You-ness and character that is beloved and appreciated more than you possibly know . . . if you ever need a thing, anything, know that I’m here and odd though it may seem, the internets do create ties that are real and I do care. I’m cheering for you.

Staci Fucking Campbell.

Back when I started this blog, the Big Thing looked like getting a post published somewhere besides your blog. And all the cool kids were submitting like crazy to a site called Indie Ink, a blog dedicated to posting the awesome writing of all the cool kids. And I so wanted to be a cool kid. So I sent in a story about my weight loss surgery. And, holy shit, I got a reply! From the founder of the site! She thought my writing rocked and wanted to put it up.

I crapped my pants.

But here’s the thing . . . Anastacia stayed in touch. She read my miserable excuse for a blog, and I read her posts and wept regularly. Such beauty thoughts, expressed with such beautiful words. She was cooler than the baby Jesus, and I had her email address!

Then Twitter. Then Facebook. Then Goodreads. Our paths crossed more frequently and, even amid the vapid minutia of the new micro world, she dug deep. Sure, she posted her share of cray cray, but when she got serious, I always listened. We talked about books, as she did love a good yarn. Our mutual admiration for Dan Simmons’ novel Drood led to many other recommendations and conversations. We both hated Nic Sheff’s Tweak, but loved his dad’s book Beautiful Boy. And she almost convinced me to actually buy and read The Luminaries instead of listening to the audiobook:

Anastacia Campbell
Oh my god was it ever good. So good. I loved it. I’m the wrong person to ask re audio, though! I’ve never experienced an audio book before. My gut is that there are so many beautifully complex characters made up of such subtleties the book would have to be better. But. I’ve never done audio.

On the radar, then off the grid. In touch, then silent. Her life moved outside my immediate circles, so I saw her when she wanted to be seen.

And then yesterday morning, I saw the news. Five updates in a row from friends sharing the fucking news. I have never felt quite so speechless. All day, I couldn’t stop Facebooking. Old friends, new friends. Everyone had a story. A favorite selfie, quick snapshots, or one of her many meme-ish style posts she would put up that had all of us rolling. And so many sweet memories.

I will remember her as one of many friends who came alongside during a time of extreme need, and met me head on with empathy, words of hard-won wisdom, and love. Always love.

Staci Fucking Campbell. Thank you, my friend . . .

Anastacia Campbell
(June 22, 1977 – September 16, 2015)

Coming Clean

So many thoughts percolating this morning. Things that need to get out of my head.  Do I share them here? These are private matters, I think. No good will come of this . . .

A friend posted an article on his Facebook feed this morning titled “This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense.” In the year since it originally ran on Huffington Post, some people have called shenanigans on the author, while others have called shenanigans on those calling shenanigans.

I’m too tired to care. This is not an attempt to validate or disprove Linda Tirado’s tale of what goes on in the lives and minds of the poor. This is my tale. Where I’m at right now. In my life and mind. The article merely got me thinking . . .

We will probably lose our house soon. I am several months behind on both mortgages, one with the USDA, and one with a local lender.  We got our house through a government program that subsidizes the amount we pay based on income. What seemed like a good idea at the time has been a disaster for us. I knew I was not fit to own a home, but I caved in to the “you need a home” mentality and told myself it would all work out in the end. This sort of thinking is usually bullshit. Maybe this will be a good thing in the end. Maybe we can go back to renting. Move closer to town. To the schools. To work. So commuting back and forth as much as we do won’t be such a burden or time suck. Maybe then we’ll have a landlord that will fix the shit I can’t seem to manage.

I am a shitty homeowner . . .

I am a diabetic. I haven’t been to the doctor in a couple years. I know what the doctor will tell me. I know the risks. I also don’t want to know how bad things have gotten. Things are bad. Yet another hole to climb out of, if that’s even possible anymore. Maybe too much damage has been done. I could die. And I don’t have the strength to face it. Maybe it isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe all I need is a tweak here or a new med there or some more vitamins I can’t afford. Maybe it will be painless. Or at least quick. I need to see a doctor soon. 

I am a shitty diabetic . . .

We are down to one car. My wife’s van quit on her while she was driving down the freeway. At 70 mph, she lost everything. No acceleration. No power steering. She managed to get to the side of the road, barely. And, unlike previous breakdowns, where whatever is wrong is obvious or makes sense, this time it is a mystery. The code reader doesn’t work. It could be a fuel pump. More likely some control module thingy, but no one can say for sure until they get the car in the shop. It will be expensive to fix. And I don’t have the money to do it. Maybe I can go and get a newer car. At one of those places where they’ll give anyone a car. Sure, I’ll pay too much in the end, but what else is there to do? It’s how I got my Honda last November. A 2003 Honda that gets us around and takes a percentage of my paycheck that would make most people say, “Wow! You got fucked!” In the meantime, I’ll just have to swallow my pride and keep mooching rides from coworkers and family members for all our vehicular and transportation needs until the compassion wears out. Which it most certainly will. 

I am a shitty car owner . . .

Student loans.  What fucking idiot takes out as many student loans as I did and doesn’t finish his degree? I tried, but when you work at a job where you don’t have the same days off from week to week, taking classes on campus is not possible. And most classes are not offered online. Especially higher level English/creative writing and philosophy and religious studies classes. Even in 2014. Who majors in that shit anyway?! And it was so easy. Just sign here, digitally even, no actual pen required, and you’re set. The money did help us stay afloat. And times have been such that I have been able to qualify for forbearance. But that will all end soon, I suppose. They’ll want their money back. Maybe one day I’ll find a way to finish. Maybe I’ll do some program for busy people, where classes are extremely flexible, short, and jobs are practically guaranteed if you believe the hype. Maybe. If only I didn’t feel so stupid. So past my prime. Like I’m losing it up there in the attic of my mind and the cheese is falling of the cracker. Like my mind can’t hold a thought or string together anything that looks meaningful or productive.

I am a shitty college student . . .

My dogs have fleas. I watch as they slide around the house, or the much coarser driveway, on their little dog butts in a comical yet heartbreaking attempt to scratch away the critters eating them alive. I yell at them to stop, even as I feel their pain and am unable to afford the prescription meds and veterinarian visits required to get rid of the fleas for good. So we resort to home remedies. OTC bottles of stuff that are the very definition of the axiom “You get what you pay for.” They look at me with their sad, rheumy dog eyes and I know they hate me. Maybe we’ll have to get rid of them if we move. The kids will hate that. I will hate that. But then maybe they’ll get new owners who will take care of them property. Give them the kind of respect and care even animals deserve. I’ll miss the way they snuggle with me when I sit in my broke down rocker. How they dance and spin when I give them a special treat or table scraps. But they’re dogs. They’ll adjust. At least my cat seems relatively unscathed.

I am a shitty pet owner . . .

Remember Tyler Durden’s “fridge full of condiments and no food?” Yeah. I’d take a picture if it would help you believe that I’m not kidding. We have half-whatever bottles of salad dressing, honey mustard, honey barbeque sauce, some Miracle Whip for bologna sandwiches, some of that lemon juice that comes in a cute little squeezable container shaped like a lemon, and some teriyaki sauce that we used for something once that I can’t remember. These things linger. Not milk. That shit is gone in the proverbial blink of an eye.  We could literally buy milk every day of the week. Because it’s good for you, mostly. It’s substantive. Like the loaves of bread or the rolls of hamburger. We buy these things when we can. My wife works for Kroger, so we get our share of deals and discounts. But we have no real budget for groceries. We just pick up what we can when we can, often one meal at a time. We visit the library and check out cookbooks filled with Crock Pot recipes and really tantalizing color photos and then look at them over yet another Hamburger Helper or tuna melt or $5 deli pizza. Sometimes we eat out just to mix things up. Dollar menus rock, and a large sweet tea and a double cheeseburger split two ways is a steal. The others just have to fend for themselves. We are not starving. We are not healthy. We have weight issues because we don’t think about it, we just eat to keep on living another day. Eating right takes time and money and planning and persistence and knowledge. Maybe one day, we’ll sit down to a good meal, all of us crowded around the table and laughing together, with nary a care in the world. Where the work of preparing a good meal is appreciated and feels rewarding. Maybe something good for us will one day taste better than pancakes and syrup makes us feel. 

I am a shitty provider . . .

I could go on. Being all witty and self-loathing. About how my kids will only ever go to college because our income qualifies them for a program where they get to go to a state school for free so long as they stay drug free and get good grades and we stay relatively poor. About how my daughter was too embarrassed to ask me for a new pair of shoes when hers got a hole in the sole and she knew that buying new shoes would be an issue, that maybe we could afford them this month or maybe not. About how that last sentence was so bad, but I’m too tired to think it through and write it better. About how our overpriced internet service will probably be cut off again soon and thank God for the library. About how cell phones are such a time suck and maybe losing them wouldn’t be so bad because thank God for the library. About how maybe they’ll eventually stop picking up our garbage and we can just stack it in the garage like we did a couple years ago and thank God for winter. Boo hoo.  On and on.

Linda Tirado made an observation about smoking. I am a smoker. And I get that part of her article. Sometimes I smoke just to feel something. To keep the heart going even as it all is supposedly killing me. Also the part about spending money on foolish things just because you sometimes need to be foolish and things are not going to get better anyway so damn it all while you can. I’ve never impaled roaches, though. I don’t get that part.

And I hear all the objections and admonitions and whatnot. About how my life isn’t so bad. About starving all over the world and true poverty and how the consequences of the decisions I’ve made are mine to bear and so suck it up, you weak and stupid little man. Or, more crushing, will be things left unsaid. The looks. The shaking of the head. The pity that isn’t really. I’ve done that. Felt that. Been disgusted by that. I get all that. I will never blame others for the mess that I’ve made. I plowed this field and I’ll reap whatever sprouts. Maybe things will get better once the bottom falls out. That happens, right? You wake up and see things for how they are and you live on despite the circumstances? Maybe that’s what I’ve been waiting for. But I see only the negative side of things. Failure means confirmation that I am incapable of living a life that makes sense and ends well and looks like hope. All I see is failure and misstep after misstep and a gradual loosening of the reins or of hands thrown in the air, abandoning it all to the wind. I hide behind a veneer of togetherness. I bury my head in books and hobbies and other things that are apathy in pretty clothes. I am stuck. And moving is hard. And I am tired.

The people I love tell me they love me. That they are by my side no matter what happens. Like I am somehow worthy of their love even as I turn away and hide my face and take that love and grind it down to a nub of nothing. I am grateful for my true friends. The ones who make life bearable. They listen to me and help even when it’s hard. And it must be hard. My counselor tells me I spend too much time thinking for others, filling their mouths with ulterior motives and hidden agendas, things for which there is no supporting evidence. I belittle myself on behalf of others and darken their light. Yes, I have a counselor. She rocks. She also thinks I need to see a doctor. Maybe I’ve fucked my body up so much that it is now fucking me back. I simply must be depressed.  Maybe a pill can help me. I began seeing her after Robin Williams killed himself. Because if he can lose this battle, then I have no chance at all. It’s all I’ve thought about for years. Because living another minute is just another minute to fuck things up even worse. I see no minutes ahead of me that aren’t loaded with further and deepening regret.

But I want to hold a grandchild one day. I want to see what becomes of my kids. I want to meditate and get up feeling not like I’ve wasted my time but that I’ve fought and won. I want to look at my wife and hold her hand and put my head on her shoulder and hear her talk to me. I want to feel again. To see San Francisco. To say a proper goodbye to my father in law amidst the redwoods. A bucket list of things that will seem silly to most people. I want to read what Yann Martel writes next. Even if it sucks. I want to see U2 in concert. I want to sit with a small group of friends and say things that are helpful and feel like I’ve contributed something. I want to listen and not be distracted. I want to be there for you when you need me. I want to see you smile like you mean it. I want to hang decorations and buy a real tree and trim it with popcorn on a string and celebrate like it all means something more than just going through so many motions and grasping for meaning. I want purity and simplicity. Little things. Things that take planning and saving and hope for a future time when little things will seem like possible things.

I can’t see it from here. And I don’t know how to get out of here.

Blah blah blah.

Carry on . . .

To Georgia Jade, On the Occasion of Our Birthday

Dear Georgia Jade,

Welcome to the family!  Harpers are good people, and all of us are smiling big today. We’ve been waiting for you. And you are beautiful.  I know people always say this about babies.  But who cares.  I’m not above riding that particular bandwagon. 

We share a birthday, you and I.  I believe that to be a welcome serendipity.  It wasn’t planned this way, of course, but I’ll take it.  You are the most wonderful of gifts. 

I cried a lot today.  So many things make me cry lately.  Some of it is because I’m a softy.  Sentimental.  I am easily moved emotionally, and your arrival moved me.  And sometimes I cry because life, as you’ll no doubt find out soon enough, is hard.  Even when it’s good.  Even when I am surrounded by joy and smiles and the sun is shining, life often overwhelms me. 

But, you.  Precious, tiny, swaddled you.  You’re a promise.  Of things to come.  Of potential.  Of days and days and more days of life in all its splendor and passion and awe.

And you’re not even a day old yet.  Isn’t that something awesome, and maybe a bit too big, to think about?  But it’s all right there in you.  All of it.  Love, life, pain, joy, sparkling eyes, pink cheeks, and so many footsteps along roads that lead to places grand and wide and rough and waiting.  For you.  It’s all right there, in each breath you breathe.  In every tear you cry.  In every strong and steady beat of your heart.  In every thought you’ll think.  It’s all loaded to bursting.

Take it all in.  Let it all out.  Cling to nothing but the love that you find.  But not too tightly.  Another cliché.  These things have the ring of truth. 

I’m 46 years old today.  I’ve been around for a bit.  Trust me when I tell you: Life is a good thing.  Welcome to it . . .