This is a true story of an average family driving fifteen hours in one day to get home! Perhaps, many of you can relate?
The acronym, OPP, is used in this story. It stands for Ontario Provincial Police.
My father, the consummate road warrior, meant business. Radar detector standing sentinel against prowling OPPs, the new Peugeot rolled along at a fantastic speed. The sun was bright, but Ontario’s November weather strained out any cheerful radiance. Sitting behind my father, I depressingly stared out my window.
The highway was featureless. Signs gauging our progress, in kilometers, only confounded me. Two hours complete, the return home from visiting family in Detroit was still thirteen hours further. This ride was always grueling and tedious. Only one planned stop, mid-way to pee and inhale food, proffered any sort of relief. My father tackled this drive as he did home improvement, chores and workouts. Unpleasant tasks were dispatched as quickly possible, preferably, all at once.
My backseat companion was my sister, Rachel. She was four years my junior. She sat behind my father’s girlfriend, who was amiably trying to make the best of the trip. An agreed upon invisible barricade separated me from my sister. Any perceived violation of the treaty was promptly called out.
“Move over! You’re on my side.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Your pillow is touching me!”
My father never tolerated bickering.
“Quit it! Both of you. It’s a long ride. You’ll just have to make the best of it, so zip it!”
The amiable, carefree, grandeur of July consistently catches me of guard. August has yet to cover everything with its smothering, hazy oppressiveness. Gone is rainy June weather, typical of Cape Cod. Nights, still relatively cool, host clear skies affording amazing opportunities to stargaze along the shore. Constellations, Scorpio and Sagittarius, hang high in the south, while the Summer Triangle glimmers straight above. Arrival of the perennial onslaught of tourists, coupled with inexperienced summer help, had created utter havoc with local businesses a month earlier. Now, with kinks worked out, stores are moving and grooving, serving four times what they might at other times of the year. It’s the height of the season. A sense of hope permeates, promising plenty of time remains to squeeze all the fun in.
As a means to exploring the passage of a year, artists have richly painted scenes full of imagery detailing the stages of a human lifespan. I keenly resonate with this creative device employed to personify the seasons. Youth portrays the essence of spring. The prime of adulthood represents summer. Autumn is characterized by the newly retired, enjoying the fruits of years of labor. Old age depicts winter. Accordingly, July is the zenith of growth and vitality. Oxymoronic in nature, it is the crossroads where young and old meet. The festivities, annually occurring this month, echo this middling of the tides of time. Fourth of July is a riotous event displaying national pride, hope in the future and honoring the history of this great political experiment. Also in July on Cape Cod, the Wampanoag Powwow celebrates the continuation of the tribe, while paying reverence to an ancestral way of life. Lastly, July signals the arrival of Cape Cod’s annual county fair. It has changed considerably from the agriculture event it was in days long past. Yet, enough exhibits of livestock and garden produce remain inducing a sense of nostalgia.
A memory from visiting this county fair distinctly reminds me of an experience where I felt “old”. This wasn’t the first time I had reckoned with the reality of my age. I “died” a little when I realized my hair was thinning, reluctantly gave up my goatee because it was mostly gray and nearly fainted upon discovering my co-worker was younger than my kids. A younger me laughed listening to “Older” by “They Might Be Giants” Haven’t heard it? Check it out on Spotify or Youtube. See… I’m still hip. Maybe? The lyrics go something like:
“You’re older than you’ve ever been…and now you’re even older…and now you’re even older … and now you’re even older….”
Terrifying, yet true! Relax. Listen and take heart. The memory I’m about to share with you is an effective antidote against the downside of getting older. All the fuss about aging is due to our insistence on splitting every aspect of life into good or bad. Think of a time you struggled fitting a facet of life into one of two polar opposites. Usually, things are not that easily rendered down in such fashion. I enjoy pondering the adage, “There’s a thin line between love and hate.” Anyone who draws breath, walks this planet and shares their life with another will leap up and shout, “Amen!” My point? Most things lie on a spectrum. This includes getting older. I propose, if you look carefully, you will identify a key moment when you realized aging isn’t all loss and pain. There is joy in remembering the way things used to be. One becomes the steward of the stories, the perspective, the wisdom and the history.
Please click on the link to my historical writing portfolio page to read an amusing story about the time my twelve-year old son didn’t know how to use a telephone. Spoiler: the phone was avocado green, plugged into the wall, and used a rotary-style dial. Can you hear the disco playing?
This past week began with the last Monday of May and consequently people throughout the United States observed Memorial Day. Ask friends, family and neighbors what they did over the weekend. Most will speak of cookouts, trips to the beach, or visiting their favorite summer time haunts for the first time this season. Local municipalities in all likelihood held a parade or other public event to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country. But, this national holiday like many others has essentially devolved into another long-weekend allowing for rest, relaxation and partying. Traditional outdoor fun is expected and a poor weather forecast causes much consternation. The nation has in many ways strayed far from the original intent of the holiday. Some wonder why we memorialize those who died in military service at the end of May. Veteran’s Day is attached to the anniversary of the ending of World War One. I confess being under the illusion that Memorial Day must similarly coincide with the anniversary of the Second World War’s final resolution. Yet, surprisingly, the chosen date was selected for purely botanical reasons.
Memorial Day as a national day of mourning has its roots farther back than the wars of the early Twentieth Century. Growing up I remember my father staying up late watching old black and white John Wayne war movies. The mythos of the greatest struggle the world has ever seen reigned supreme. Most kids had toy army soldiers made of green plastic for the good guys and grey plastic for the bad guys. In college I was shocked to learn World War Two was not responsible for claiming the most American lives. Such dubious honor falls to a conflict entirely of our own making. The American Civil War is estimated to have claimed upwards of three-quarters of a million people. Considering the population of the country at the time was only around 35 million the number of lives claimed was staggering and far-reaching. I pause to consider this may have been the first time in the nation’s history war cemeteries of great magnitude were created. Even before the war ended communities on both sides were decorating the graves with flowers in May. The debate still rages amongst a score or more American towns and cities in regards to who started this practice. But, it is established that on May 5, 1868, General of the Grand Army of the Republic John A. Logan designated May 30 as Decoration Day. As to the earlier mention of botany, it is reported he chose the date because it would be a time of year when most flowers would be in bloom. It seems our general was a practical man who knew a thing or two about gardening. Not until 1938 was Decoration Day designated a national holiday and it was in the 1960’s when the name changed officially to Memorial Day. This made sense given much of the public already called the holiday by that name after 1945. A long weekend break was next guaranteed with the date of observance moved to the last Monday of May. Finally, President Johnson in 1966 waded into the controversy over the exact origins of the holiday by signing a proclamation recognizing Waterloo, NY as the birthday place of Memorial Day.
Now is it a bad thing to hold cookouts to mark the start of summer? I suspect not. Your average astronomer will surely point out, summer doesn’t commence astronomically until June 21. That’s a debate for another time. Memorial Day can be flexible enough to include a whole host of events serving a variety of purposes. We should remember until modern times summer was for humanity celebrated as a period of easy living. It was an age old symbol of health, happiness and abundance. If our ancestors fought to protect this boon for future generations then feasting and celebrating the advent of summer rightly aligns with remembering the debt we owe to those who died safeguarding it. Thankfully most labored throughout World War Two without sacrificing their life. My grandfather served during the war and survived to enjoy a long life passing in his sleep at the age of 80. I am grateful he was spared dying in battle. I like to think he would have risked his life if asked to. Yet, none of us know how we would react in eminent danger. I suspect there are a myriad of ways to show bravery. Placing the needs of others before yourself is probably key.
I have a keen interest in history. I enjoy learning about how I am connected to the past. With the advent of genealogical websites hosting vast databases of information more people are seeking to delve back in time to recover details of their ancestry. I applaud this. But, to truly connect with the names of past relatives one must understand how life was for them. I place my trust in the family stories, the details passed on, the facts that paint a more colorful portrait of the individual. Unfortunately, as in the same way the origins for celebrating Memorial Day have receded into obscurity, all too often the stories of our elders are forgotten. I find myself returning to what I know about my grandfather’s time of service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Forces. I cherish having the old photos in his scrapbook to peruse through. I can only wonder who exactly are all these people he knew. I am hoping one day to write a story loosely based on his experiences. Perhaps if I cast the net wide enough I will snare a few truths with good old fashion luck. I’ll never know in this lifetime if I hit the mark. To start this project I first endeavor to simply narrator what I know. With a bit of research I think I can reconstruct the circumstances of his life during the war.
Click the link below to read about my grandfathers experience during World War Two.
My youngest turned 18 years old today…which in my mind makes me officially old. Many parents face this milestone with a sense of accomplishment at a job well done. They got their child to adulthood. Their son or daughter can now vote, is legally responsible for themselves and most likely is either in their first year of college or getting ready to start it. My son is 18. But, due to complications from an acute illness he had as an infant, he won’t be going to college, voting or ever to acting like an adult. For us this is just another day; a continuation of the responsibilities and care giving required over the last 18 years. I know most people who don’t know me or my son will instantly utter something like,
“Oh, that’s awful. So tragic. Poor thing. I’m so sorry to hear that.”
I do appreciate the well-meaning, genuine sentiment behind those words. Yet, these days when someone meets us and reacts this way, I feel a sense of embarrassment for them. I respond firmly stating,
“Yes, it was tremendously tragic 18 years ago, but not now.”
You see my son is perfect just the way he is. Do any of us really get to decide how their life plays out? I stop to reflect on what is it that they see as so grievous. They only see the things he can’t do. Of course they haven’t gotten the chance to get to know him and see how happy he is. A stranger doesn’t know what my son is capable of appreciating in this life. But, the people close to us celebrate his life for what it is. He lives in the moment untroubled by past and future. He judges no one. He is wide-eyed, curious, social and loves being in the thick-of-it surrounded by busy, bustling people. He enjoys walks outside and watching the trees speed by during a drive. His wookie-like vocalizations and his huge smile are delightful. (Incidentally, Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Chewbacca is also deaf.) In a word, my son is joy.
Science fiction is rife with examples of extraordinary medical technologies that can cure all of this world’s current health woes. Instantly, I think of the character James Rhodes from Ironman. Rhody who becomes paralyzed is aided by Tony Stark who creates braces allowing him to walk normally when he is out of the War Machine suit. Similarly, LeVar Burton’s role as Jordy, on the television series, Star Trek: Next Generation, gave writers an opportunity to explore topics surrounding life with disabilities. The character was blind, but benefited from a stylish visor implant. The device not only restored his vision, but allowed him to see things the normal human eye couldn’t. Of course, I can’t help mention the suit Darth Vader wears after the loss of his legs and his near death at the lava fields on the planet Mustafar. The idea of using medical devices to help people live a better life is a noble one. Yet, some few point out that just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should. The deaf community has long fought to counter the push to use the cochlear implant as a means to “cure” deafness. Most people who are deaf resent the idea there is something that needs to be fixed about them. For them the inability to hear is just a part of who they are. They live happy, productive, rich lives.
Taking the idea of using technology to benefit humanity a bit further, there is a growing interest in wearable technologies that people can use to enhance the typical human body. VR googles, iWatches, and eye glasses that allow us to access the internet with eye gaze is perhaps the current limit to this concept of merging human and technological systems. Yet, anyone familiar with the Borg from Star Trek: Next Generation will give a bit of shutter and pause to consider if this is the direction we want to go in as a species. The Borg are an advanced humanoid society that have evolved to meld their biological bodies with robotics. They are very advanced and billions of individuals are connect intimately through a kind of wireless neural network. The end result is a total lose of free will and self-determination in the aim of serving the whole. The idea of a collective consciousness is one well explored in some eastern spiritual traditions and it has a sense of beauty to it. The Borg though are anything but this, they are merely pieces of a vast machine.
Another theme that is explored frequently in science fiction and fantasy is time travel. This is a concept that is immensely appealing to all of us. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back, hit delete a few times and rewrite the story of our live? I liken it to a video game. When the character dies you can restart at the same point, if you save your progress sufficiently. Feels like a cheat to me. Again, I return to my son. Would I wish he never got sick at two months old? Yes! Would I change that? Yes. Should I change it? Pause…now I’m not sure. I have always subscribed to the notion life’s tough knocks and bumps are learning lessons. They refine us, make us stronger; purer. When the storm clouds come it can be fierce and dreadful. But, as they recede we see the rainbow. So, I try to reflect on the unexpected joy, good, and benefits coming my way from the bad situations in life. Yes, we all have things we would change. But, I venture most of us wouldn’t.
Son, I love you just the way you are. I look forward to witnessing all the things in life you will do. I know you will make a huge impact on those around you. Like a pebble thrown in a pool of water your life will make ripples throughout the world. Happy Birthday!
Welcome Friend! If you’ve gotten this far I venture to say you too are an avid fan of fantasy and science fiction. This blog is my attempt to explore this reality and what it means to be human. I feel strongly one of the best ways to accomplish this is through reading, writing and discussing fiction. I particularly find genres which allow the writer to bend the rules and create elements impossible in this world work best for my purposes. Who can resist the allure of delving deep into stories like Star Wars or The Silmarillion to ruminate on life? College professors find this material ripe for the picking when developing coursework for philosophy classes. How easily these tales bring to the forefront heavy, tantalizing questions attracts people who find themselves thinking beyond more mundane aspects of life. Fantasy and science fiction literature almost begs its readers to consider the tough issues. What does it mean to be sentient, alive or human? Why is there evil in the world? Why are we here in this unique universe? Who or what created us? How was everything formed? Are there other times, dimensions and worlds? This is just the tip of the existential thought iceberg. I propose humanity weaves tales instinctually as an attempt to try to understand itself and the world around.
I was six years old when Star Wars overtook the world in 1977. I’ll never forget first seeing the trailer for the movie. It was a hot, humid summer day in Ohio. I should have been out playing with the kids in my neighborhood. Instead I found myself in a waiting room at the local hospital. Sitting next to my mother, I was nervously awaiting impending doom. I was cursed with the common childhood blight of short eustachian tubes. This defect in my inner ears caused me countless, painful ear infections. My parents had agreed that I should undergo a minor procedure under anesthesia to alleviate symptoms. I was unhappy to say the least. I stood crying as my mother checked us in. The receptionist gave me a small little Pillsbury Doughboy figure to comfort me. Perhaps you remember him? He was the weird, white humanoid figure with a baker’s hat. On television commercials he giggled when someone poked his belly. He was a mascot for Pillsbury. They were plugging Pillsbury…flour… cake mix… croissants? Geez, I really don’t know what they were trying to sell! Funny how the memory works. Some things stick and others flee. I remember liking the smell of the plastic used in manufacturing the doll. Alas, the toy didn’t distract me. It did not stop my whining. Nothing could shake my fixation on the knowledge the dreaded ear doctor had signed the order for implanting tiny tubes in my ears to allow for better drainage. The ear doctor was a figure looming large in my life. He was more sinister than Darth Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin. To this day, having my ears poked and prodded at the ENT physician’s office is in my mind akin to what Princess Leia had to endure at the hands of the Imperial interrogators. Little floating robot with a huge hypodermic needle….bring it on….just don’t touch my ears! As I fussed and squirmed hoping against hope I would escape this operation my mom tried another way to distract me. She pointed out what was on the television. I looked up at this small, black and white tv with grainy resolution typical of the 1970s. No HDTV in those days! Adding insult to injury, the tv was suspending from the ceiling of the waiting room too! But lo! Lightening struck and the heavens moved! Flashing across the screen, etched forever in my memory was my first glimpse of the interior of the Millennium Falcon! It was just a promo clip being played on a local news program spotlighting the new film. The scene they showed was the iconic escape from the Death Star. I was hooked. The music, the action, the sense of heroism was scintillating. Harrison Ford was simply dashing as he sat in the gunner’s chair blasting away at pursuing tie fighters with radiant streaks of red laser. I like to think the brief encounter with the film gave me courage to face what I had to do. I survived the operation and a popsicle later I was back outside in the heat playing with my friends. I saw Star Wars later that month and every chance afterwards that I got. Back then you had to wait for it to be re-released. I am confident I watched it in the theaters and drive-ins at least 7-8 times that summer.
Now, my father taught at a local community college in those days. He was an engineer. His field was in packaging engineering to be exact. Sounds exciting doesn’t it!? He was an expert on designing boxes and ‘whatnot’ needed to protect items while being shipped and stored. I know it isn’t as exciting as aerospace engineering, but his job was soon to be an unbeknownst boon to me! He came home one day with toys… Star Wars toys! Not just one x-wing, but three! I was also laden with scores of actions figures and a land speeder too. To my little mind this was heaven on earth. Apparently, his department was doing a project with the toy manufacturer Kenner handling all Star Wars toys. Once the packages were used for educational purposes they were up for grabs! Dear ol’ dad was kind enough to bring them home to me. I was the only kid on the block to have three x-wings! I played Star Wars every day for years! Of course I collected more toys, ever expanding my ability to create my own storyline. You see, I didn’t reenact the movies. I wanted the chance to escape into that world and learn more about it. This involved inventing my own plots. Gosh, I must of witnessed the Rebels and the Empire clash thousands of times! This was the start of authoring my own stories, although I wouldn’t start to write them down until I was in middle school.
It still startles me to think how readily I took to Star Wars. Yes, just about every kid had seen the movie and most had the toys. But, I began to realize as I got older, I was different from a lot of my peers. I know now that Star Wars had tapped into something I yearned for at even that age. I dreamed of a more fantastical world populated with heroes, villains and the timeless battles between good and evil. I longed to do something of consequence… to save the day. That feeling has grown and evolved with me throughout my life. I went on to devour book upon book from many of the more well-known (and lesser known) science fiction and fantasy writers. I wrote my own stories in high school and even won a short story contest for a piece I entered for the school magazine. It is important to also tell you growing up I was raised in a comfortably lax Catholic home. I learned about God, Jesus and all the usual biblical stories. I understood what it meant to be good and how to avoid sin and evil. But, all that felt far off and disconnected. I liked the message…just not the story telling. I guess the first time I connected fantasy and science fiction with spirituality was when I was in college. I recall a friend expressing their wish they had more of a religious background. Asking why, I learned they had found it difficult time after time to truly grasp the religious undertones authors often explored in their literary works. I didn’t think much of her observation at the time. However having entered into adulthood with all its complexities, I drifted back to explore my own religious upbringing. This inevitably lead me to investigate other types of spirituality. I began to recognize religious and spiritual concepts within most if not all of the fiction I read. Throughout the make-believe stories were the same values, truths and lessons I learned in the real world.
Now middle-aged, I still proudly claim the title of sci-fi/fantasy geek, but I also consider myself a mystic. Before you accuse me of delusions of grandeur, I am not claiming to be a guru, theologian or shaman. The only wisdom I possess is a few scraps picked up from reading, going to church off and on throughout my life and of course from my own experiences. I would hesitate to guide anyone on any type of spiritual path. I claim to be a mystic in the sense that I am ever seeking to learn more of the spiritual side of life. Amusingly, I have for quite some time found myself having an epiphany right smack in the middle of watching a show like Battlestar Galactica, Sabrina or Supernatural. I am now more cognizant of the evolution of delightfully rich characters that defy the easy label of good or evil. Think of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant, White Gold Wielder! Experiencing stories like these begs the question… can evil ultimately be made to serve the purpose of good? When we yearn for the villain to change sides, act good and aid the hero against an even greater threat we are likely to reflect on the true nature of judgement, sin and redemption. If we really dig deep… is it ok to mercilessly slaughter orcs or storm troopers? Do they have family and loved ones at home waiting? Did they sign up for their jobs? What informs their choices? Were they feed a line of convincing propaganda? I suspect the ‘masters of storytelling’ provide us plenty of clues to answer these questions. Ultimately as a new author, I dare to walk in their footsteps. My hope is my writing may, as others’ stories have for me, be a clarion call to awake from the material dream. So, with this first post on my blog, I invite you to join me as I explore life and all its messiness. Our guides will be the characters of fiction who allow us to safely experience without harm. In the end I suspect we will learn much about what it means to be human.