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thThe guy across the street died four months ago, and I had no idea whatsoever until this past Saturday. I guess it’s a testament to the insular world I live, I guess. But nevertheless I was shocked when I went by his house, didn’t see his car, and my wife told me he had died “some months ago.” Maybe I’m just not in the loop around here, either because I’m not from around here originally or because I just don’t know my neighbors that well. In twelve years of being neighbors, I never even knew his name.

He had one of those boat cars. You know the kind, that is long and wide. When he would pull out of his parking space he never looked to see what other traffic might be around. Which I guess was okay around here because everyone knew he pulled right out regardless and veered clear when they saw him coming. No one ever honked.

Then, when he was home, he would sit out on the stoop (it was really just a slab of ground in front of his house) and smoke his pipe. He would nod when I passed by, and I would always nod in return, but that was pretty much the most communication we ever had over the course of those twelve years. I think he was married but I’m not really sure. The lady I saw at his house could very well have been some other relative because I hardly ever saw them together.

And now his house is going to be for sale. I can tell. No one is living in it right now, but the yard is being maintained, and the house looks suitably humbled. It’s larger than ours. I can tell from the outside. When my wife mentioned that if the price was right maybe we could move in I looked at her like she was crazy, though.

“We can’t move into a house where a guy died,” I told her.

“We don’t know if he died in there,” she replied.

“But still, maybe he did,” I said.

“And so what?” she asked. “People have died in every old house.”

She was right, of course, but maybe it was more the feeling that the house across the street will always be his, even if he only inhabits it in spirit form now. Perhaps in a sense every house is like that, too, that every house has the spirit of its former occupants, that they are as ingrained in its wood as the bottom layer of paint on its wooden slats. Could you imagine? When you walked through the halls you could feel those spirits all around you, either inviting you in or scaring you away.

I still can’t believe it either, that he’s really dead. My brain can’t quite fathom it because it seems like just yesterday he was sitting out there in front of his boat car, on his little stoop, smoking that old pipe and nodding to me as I passed. But it wasn’t yesterday, and it wasn’t the day before. It was over four months ago, and I hadn’t missed any of that interaction in all that time. It made me realize that if I were to pass, I would probably also be “that guy across the street” to my neighbors. It made me want to do more to embrace my community and have my community embrace me.

Maybe then when I die they’ll call me Sam. Because I was him to them.

Sam

tigerwoodspgatour10_WII

He looks mad, doesn’t he? Sorry.

I haven’t played Tiger Woods golf in a couple of weeks, which is about an eternity for me, but it has been for very good reasons. First off, I’ve been working on my next novel, which in and of itself is a labor of love. Quite literally. I’m writing a modern love story, a genre I haven’t even remotely wanted to venture into before, and it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point, but I’m quite satisfied with my character development, so that’s a bonus. Secondly, I decided to pause the novel in order to release my second collection of poetry, Subjects, (now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble).

That in addition to working these two jobs simultaneously for six weeks, and you can see why I’ve been fairly busy. These are the days when I wish I could get paid for blogging. Honestly. I do it enough. These two jobs tax two completely different areas of my brain, though, so I can certainly compartmentalize them. Tonight I’m working the glorious 6-10 shift at Target, and tomorrow morning the principal is coming in to observe me at summer school. Oh, and report cards are due. Fun times for all.

Not to mention fantasy football season is right around the corner again and I’m the defending champion in one of my leagues so I have had to do some serious research to give myself the best fighting chance to win the title yet again this year. During the past week I’ve already had two fantasy drafts and approached them both in completely different ways. We’ll see how they shake out over the course of the long season, but just having them in my pocket helps me for the one draft that really counts, at the end of next month.

Oh, and ferrying the kids around. Did I mention that? These girls are doing all sorts of summer activities. Maddie is in summer school, so I pick her up at the end of her school day. Lexi is taking art classes so she comes home with so many interesting stories (and sometimes paint on her clothes — they were “glazing” today). And both girls are taking swimming classes at the local community college, so I drive them out there to meet their mother, and — bless her soul — she swims with Maddie in the parent-and-me class. I get to swim with her tomorrow night. Where is my bathing suit again?

But I’ve neglected Tiger Woods, and for that I’m incredibly sorry. Maybe this weekend. We’ll see.

Sam

what-to-do-when-your-bored-at-school_4My wife and I have been talking quite a bit lately about how challenging the school work has been/hasn’t been for Lexi. When she first started school it was a concern for us because she had shown aptitude for advanced processing and we wanted to make sure that school was sufficiently challenging her brain. Then, when we found out that she had ADHD we knew it would take a renewed effort to ensure that school was “tough enough” just to help her keep focus. But we’re still concerned.

When Lexi got her report card at the end of the school year that divide was still quite evident, with all of her strictly academic grades in the wonderful category while her behavioral grades are under the average. Why is that? We had a talk with her about it soon after the school year ended…

Me: So, Lexi, how come your grade in art is so low? You love art.

Lexi: I know, but I keep finishing early.

Me: And what happens when you finish early? Do you work on more art?

Lexi: No. I just go around and tell other kids how to fix theirs.

Me: You think what they’re doing is wrong?

Lexi: No. But I’m bored, and since I’m artist I wanted to help them.

Me: And what does the teacher say about that?

Lexi: She says I’m too loud and distracting others.

And therein lies the issue, in my opinion. Lexi more often than not finishes ahead of the other students, with significant time to spare, and then has to come up with things to do in order to fill her time. Most times, because she craves interaction with others, that means interrupting them while they’re trying to finish and getting in trouble for it. Simply put, she’s bored, and when Lexi’s bored she finds things to occupy herself, not all of which are good ideas.

Me: Did you stop going around and trying to help others?

Lexi: Well, yeah. I did, but then I got bored again so I started playing with the paints.

Me: Is that why you have a big spot of paint on your pants?

Lexi: Yeah. And the teacher said I wasn’t supposed to be doing that either.

Me: Did she tell you what you could do when you finished early?

Lexi: No. She just told me what I couldn’t do. Continue Reading »

Crafting Poetry

apple2c2I never had one of those old typewriters, but I sure wanted one, with its cartridge and ribbon, and its ability to make mistakes that couldn’t easily be erased. Instead I learned to type on an old school version of the Apple computer where the letters were huge and shaped like computer bytes, or what I felt computer bytes would have looked like if they were letters. There wasn’t even a word processing program, just an ambiguous “notes” area that didn’t automatically move an entire word to the next line, chopping it into untidy sections that would have to be cleaned up later.

It was in this rudimentary way that I crafted my first piece of poetry when I was twelve years old. It was a treacly sort of writing endeavor, with sixteen lines of more prose than anything else, chopped up into sections that I thought resembled stanzas. Back then I was married to the rhyme, like a quasi Dr. Seuss in younger form. I often forced the form because of this self-imposed restriction, and it’s one of the first things I tell prospective poets. Don’t get so hung up on form that you lose content and meaning, because a poem is all about that content, that meaning, and a certain depth that can be lost when form takes over.

I had a simple 4x4x2 structure to each of my poems back then. Every poem I wrote for that first year was four stanzas long, with four lines per stanza, and lines two and four in each stanza rhymed. Those were really the only guidelines I set for myself. My dad wrote poetry, but in that vague sense that I knew he did but I rarely saw any of it, so it wasn’t like I had a real mentor. Instead, I made all the stumbles a young writer makes in the process of understanding a certain craft. That being said, I wouldn’t trade any of those missteps in for a quicker route to my own poetic voice. Each mistake was one brick in the path that got me here.

It’s funny, looking back, on all the ways I tried to stretch and grow as a poet during those first few years. I had definitive stages, not unlike Picasso’s phases, where for pockets of time every poem I wrote seemed to keep the same forms, to carry the same themes, and to stagger the rhyme schemes in the same exact ways. For what seemed like an eternity, but what was really just five to seven years, I was stuck in that pattern and my poetry suffered for it. In fact, I look back at some of the poems I wrote during those stages and I laugh at them. I wouldn’t share most of them with anyone now, but as any other art form, some of them did shine through like jewels among swine.

e8ea51cbabad42a20578c90ef90ac9edNow when I am in the mood to write in the poetic form I take out my Dell laptop, open up a blank Word document, and just let it flow, for better or for worse. But it usually takes a fluid shape while I’m writing it, and before I’m done I know where it’s heading and where I need to be before I’m finished with it, or before it’s finished with me, because a poem is an organic form. It lives and breathes on its own, and sometimes I honestly do feel like simply its translator, so that you the reader can understand what has come through me in the telling. It’s these poems that I feel closest to. They are my children, and I live and breathe them every single time I read one of them.

That’s why when I’m at a poetry slam, or a more traditional poetry reading, where I’m sharing some of my work, I never read a poem aloud more than once. There’s just something about reading it one time through for ears to hear and to process that exhausts me emotionally and physically. For these words are more than words. They are experiences, emotions, feelings, deep and filled with a soul that is both my own and not mine at the same time. It’s what I love most about poetry.

Sometimes I pretend I’m back in our old dining room in Southwest Philadelphia, with that green screen vivid in front of me, waiting for inspiration and getting clumsy baby steps instead. But those baby steps helped me get to where I am now. They helped to get me in touch with a side of me that may have indeed lain dormant for the rest of my life if I hadn’t opened up myself to it, way back then, on a computer that has long since died. I still have one of those floppy disks around here that I saved them on, but there is no program that will allow me to open it. Maybe that’s for the best. There are so many new poems to be written.

Sam

BFFAs a society we tend to use friends like dinnerware. Some are good for parties, while others fit at sit-down dinners. Some are fancy for holidays while others are paper and plastic. And best friends, where have they gone? In a world where everyone is apparently your BFF, does that mean no one is your BFF?

The idea of having a best friend is a long-standing one from ages ago.  A best friend was defined as someone you spent the majority of your time with, who did everything with you, and who you never tired of, no matter how often he/she stayed over at your house. You shared clothes and their parents called you “that extra kid we can’t seem to shake.”

Even as an adult you had a best friend back in the day, someone who went to concerts and state fairs with you, who threw you hilarious birthday parties with a Paula Abdul theme (every single time), and who carried you on their back when you got stung by an electric eel and swelled up to twice your normal size. Who else would have been around at all those different times but your best friend?

But in this age of “love you all,” and saying “best friends forever” to even your fringe Facebook friends, who can honestly take the moniker seriously anymore? And we now have friends for every occasion. There’s the guy we get drunk with, the girl who we go to the movies with, and the kids who we hang out with when no one else will hang out with us. There’s the girl who we go to the park with, the guys who we play ball against, and the dude who meets us for tea on Thursdays. There’s just not that one person who does everything with us anymore.

I guess that’s kind of sad. And yes, I know that a select few people do still have best friends who they still do everything with, but in this day and age that’s seen as sad and depressing by all the others who have mix-and-match best friends. Well, I’m all for it, you sad and depressing types who still have best friends! Sign me up, because I think there are some things we’ve lost in the tradeoff, in the separation of us from unique individuals whose only thoughts are of doing everything with us. So, if you still have one, and the definition still fits, good for you. But if you’re in the masses who think everyone is your best friend, you don’t really have a best friend.

And that’s okay. Fringe Facebook friends will do.

Sam

roadrage72_7Dear Journal,

I almost leaned on the horn today, and you know how rare that is for me, but this guy in front of me was going 30 mph in a 45 zone. Seriously. I would have gone around him but inexplicably there were these double yellow parallel lines that went on what seemed like forever. Then he began going even slower. Argh. I had places to go and things to do. I did not have time for a lazy Sunday driver traveling down a relatively busy road on a Thursday afternoon.

When he finally turned (and pretty slowly, too) I put the pedal to the medal, happy to finally have my freedom back. It made me think, though, was I always like this? Did it take something relatively small like that to get me angry? Was it just because I was running behind schedule or is that just my m.o. now? I was saying choice things under my breath the entire time we were creeping along at a glacial pace, and I felt embarrassed for them after they were out, but that doesn’t excuse them slipping out in the first place.

That’s happened more lately for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s all the construction EVERYWHERE this time of year, but it honestly seems like everyone is conspiring against me on the roads. Even the traffic lights are in on it. I was on my way somewhere really important (a different place), and I was running behind schedule (yes, again) when I got stuck at a light that was solid yellow. It wasn’t changing at all, and people were stopped on all four blocks leading to the intersection, so it must have been stuck on yellow for everyone. I mean, really?

Maybe I’m just getting old and crochety. At least that’s what my brain tells me after the fact. But I did restrain myself enough in each instance not to get so frustrated that I laid on the horn, or passed the slowpokes when that imposing double yellow line was present. Even when I’ve been behind farm equipment I try to breathe in and out deeply to get out all the pissed off feelings. After all, it’s not like they’re doing it on purpose to drive me insane. They’re not, right?

So hopefully my mutterings don’t turn into real road rage. I always think about those guys who get so fired up over what happens on the road that they flip each other off, or pull off the side of the road to get physical about it, and I know I could never be one of them. I can’t even be a George Costanza and follow a guy who I feel has flipped me off. I like to think I’m more civilized than that, but maybe I should get rid of the mutterings anyway. They’re not going to get me anywhere any faster than keeping my mouth shut so what’s the point anyway?

Oh, and my horn. I think I’ll save that for when the Ford Fusion in front of me decides not to go once the light has turned green because the lady in the driver’s seat is fiddling with her phone. Grrrr.

Sam

This Echo

River tracers fording a river valley near Taroko Gorge.There is joy
In this echo
And the silence
That comes after
So succinct
Like gathering rain
Searching for land
Warm and distant

There is laughter
In the solitude
That descends swift
And as delicate
As a puff of air
Moving sideways
To tickle your neck
Such a fragile touch

There is music
On the edges
Of this renaissance
Simply elegant
In its beauty
A trick of the ear
Haunting like a fire
That refuses to die

And it echoes
Off the stone face
Of our canyon
Waiting for a reply.

Sam

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