Friday, November 03, 2017


My dad has been hospitalized for about a week with a 
life threatening medical situation.
The current situation is a culmination of his life choices, 
his experiences, and his pathology.
All of this was preventable
but none of it was preventable by the person that he is.

It's made me reflect on the ways that we understand our parents
the context that they have for us
and how the view of a parent evolves and matures as we do.

This post is sort of a portrait of the man who is my father-
but I fully recognize that this is only one of the facets of him-
not the sum total of him or even how others see him.
He's beloved.
He's human.
He's complicated.
My PawPaw and my 15 year old Dad.

My dad is a high-functioning alcoholic.
He is a passionately dedicated smoker.
He is a lover of all salted pork products and doughnuts.
He is a product of his generation and place....
where men worked hard, lived harder, and died happy.

He thinks exercising as a purposeful activity is stupid.
He actually thinks lots of things are stupid.
Hobbies, fiction, non-fried vegetables, TV preachers and politicians.
That's the word he uses...stupid.
But he says it like sch-TEEEEW-pid.
With feeling and finality.

He was a custodial engineer for 20 years with a school system.
That is a fancy way of saying he was a janitor.
Before that, he was a sewing machine repairman in textile mills.
Like everyone else in our family and our area during that time.
During the week, he worked 12 hour shifts.
On the weekends, he mowed, gardened and chopped wood-
in 12 hour shifts.
Until this year, I have never known a time that he was not physically active.
So I guess that is why exercise makes no sense to him.
Who needs to practice lifting and hauling?
Only lazy people in his mind.
My Dad and me circa 1975.
Two years ago, he had a stroke and was hospitalized for about a week.
Before that, he had been to see a doctor twice in his adult life.
Once to get a general physical required to get his custodial engineer job.
One more time as a follow up to that appointment.
And then never again until the stroke.
He didn't go when his breathing sounded like a car back-firing 
for an entire winter.
He didn't go when he broke his wrist at his grand-daughter's roller skating party.
He didn't go when his legs hurt while he waxed the floor at school
or when he ached as much in the morning as when he went to bed at night.
This time around in the hospital, he's getting his first ever doses of antibiotics.
Can you imagine?
He has never had a z-pack.

Dad's first ever hospital visit-it was scary but not as scary as this one.

He is a creature of obsessive habits.
Any change in his routine is a red flag.
He prescribed himself a regulated amount of alcohol for years.
During the week, he had six beers nightly.  
On weekends or holidays, he might have 12.
Very rarely did he change his consumption by more than 
one or two beers
which is how we knew something was wrong two years ago
 when he had a stroke.
He forgot to drink.

He gets up at 8 and goes to bed around 9.
He watches the Young and the Restless every day.
Every Day.
He gets up in the morning 
and drives to the gas station to get a
biscuit, a paper and a pack of cigarettes.
Every day.
Until recently.

Halloween in the 80s-he was a very padded,happy clown.
He is vain.
In spite of his dislike of doctors, he will happily go to the dentist.
He wants his hair and beard trimmed.
He keeps an NC State cap perched on his bald head at all times.
He likes his person and his house to be neat and tidy.
He has incredibly blue eyes and refuses to wear glasses.
He can see fine thank you very much
while he holds a paper out 2 feet from his face.

In fact...he is always 'FINE'.
That is code for leave me alone.
He is fiercely independent and does not want anyone looking at him.
As a child, he had a speech impediment and was weak and sickly.
He can still be hyper-sensitive about being the focus of attention.
He will go to great lengths
including ignoring his own health 
to keep people from interfering in his routine or 
badgering him, or being a burden.
He is the single most stubborn human I've ever met.

He is superstitious and a constant worrier.
Watch out for thunderstorms on the way to work SugarBear....
(what will I do if I encounter a thunderstorm exactly?)
Do you have enough gas?  Don't ever let it get below half a tank.
Are the eyes on the stove off?
Did you check?
Is the iron plugged in?
Go back and see.

Be careful.
Be safe.
You're getting on a plane to where?
Are you crazy?
Watch out for snakes, fast cars, hateful men, spicy food, 
citrus fruit, loud noises, illnesses.
Be careful.
Me and Dad last Thanksgiving
He is careful.
Full of care.
He is tenderhearted and gracious.
I have watched him all week in this hospital be kind to people 
who are putting him through his literal idea of hell.
Needles, doctors, foreign surroundings, IVs and alarms that beep
loudly for no apparent reason.
Plus they took his clothes (except his NC State cap).
You could not craft a more terrifying experience for him.

And yet....
When he has nothing nice to say...even in hell...he shuts up.
Occasionally he makes a joke about his pain or discomfort.
He has convinced all his nurses to make him milkshakes.
And ignore his steady intake of cookies and Halloween candy 
given by the grandkids.
He is pleasant and welcoming.
He is gracious.
He is full of grace.

He has a deep, deep voice and when I was little, 
I was scared of him.
He's often super serious-even when delivering a joke.
And when I was little...he was sooo big.
A giant at 5'7".
Until I figured out that he is the sweetest of the sweet.
He has several shotguns but he hasn't killed a deer in 40 years.
He will eat what others hunt but he can't bring himself 
to kill something so beautiful.
He taught me how to do a dove call with my hands cupped,
how to sucker a tomato,
how to honor a moment,
and how to turn the other cheek.

He recently told me that he is a Presbyterian.
This cracks me up because I've seen him willingly inside 
a church only at weddings.
But he said it so seriously so I will have to take him at his word.
Presbyterian he is.

I have called him a redneck Buddhist since my early twenties when his 
advice to a bad breakup was....
"I sure did like that boy but...he will reap what he sowed.
Just watch and see SugarBear.  
What goes around comes around.  
I know your heart is broken but better to know the truth. 
You take care of you.  
The world will take care of that boy."
He was right.

He has never said one word about my mother
that wasn't calm and supportive and saving room for a child's love.
She's my mother and he will always honor her to me.
Not because she deserves it by her behavior to him
but because to do less would be forsaking his job of Dad.
That he can maintain that perspective after
everything my mother has done to him and to our family
is something I would love to be able to emulate.
He is a father and a grandfather extraordinaire.
Dad and 15 year old me

He graduated high school as his highest level of formal education.
He doesn't have a checking account or a credit card.
He carefully tracks and regulates his spending-never going outside of his means.
He despises travel-
anything farther than an hour or so is not really worth seeing.
Not if you have to be away from home and routine.
Not if you have to eat strange things.
But when there is something that he wants to know or understand
he can be quietly relentless.
When I told him I planned to go to college, 
he asked me why I would want to do such a thing.
And then...he became incredibly engaged in what I was studying.
He would ask about my subjects and then find 
articles or information to talk about on my breaks.
When I worked for a startup in the dotcom glory days, 
he educated himself about stock options.
If it comes on the news, he will know it.
If it sparks his interest, he will dig deeper.  
How he manages to dig deeper I haven't figured out 
yet since he doesn't know how to use a computer.
He's probably a genius-although he really 
hopes you don't figure it out.

It took a long time for us to sort out the disaster of my childhood.
He is incredibly patient and kind...
and as a dad, he just tried to do the next, right thing.
Sometimes he screwed up.
But most often...he was brilliant-even though I didn't know it.
He held the light for me so I could find the path of 
when everything around me was dark.
He's complicated.
But he's also the best.

Current view of my dad.  All prayers for him are appreciated.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Last post was a good old fashioned 'BEFORE' picture.
You can review it here: Insights from a Garage
I opened up all the dirty laundry that was hanging out in this 
little bitty shack behind our house.
Then I gloated a little bit about how trans-formative a change it has been.
This post is all about the 'AFTER'.
Who doesn't love a good before and after?
You've seen the mess:


And so you might be expecting to see a complete and utter re-do-
where everything is different.
Where the life that existed 'before' is completely over-hauled and off-set by several thousand dollars of purchases or plastic surgery or weeks of intensive exercise. 
Isn't that what a good makeover show will do?
Allow you to get rid of your life and replace it with someone else's?
I don't think so.
The big reveal.....AFTER!
At least...that's not what you'll see here.
We didn't buy new furniture or remake our lives with more stuff in this transformation.
We didn't become butterflies from caterpillars.
We are already enough-we don't need to be someone 
completely different or inhabit a whole new land of stuff to prove that.
There were a few trips to Lowe's Home Improvement 
but we had almost all the containers that we needed.
Sit with that for a sec...under all that pile of dysfunction
It was already there, 
waiting to be uncovered or put into it's actual, right place.
Am I totally on drugs to think that this is such a good metaphor for living a whole life?
The last time we had a live Christmas tree was B.C. (Before Children)

The first day of the garage weekend cleanout weekend, we pulled everything out of the garage.

We split it into 3 piles:  trash, sell, and keep.
Our current yard is a tenth of an acre.  Approx. a tenth of that is grass.  

The trash pile was easy to agree on.

The pile to sell or get rid of in a different way was harder.
That required quite a bit of negotiation.
We owned a lot of stuff.
Some of it was valuable-but only valuable to someone else.
Motorcycle helmet? No longer needed.
Rock climbing gear? Haven't used in 16 years.
Cool strings of lights with hearts on them ? Still in the package.
We had to assign a value to the item and then try and sell it.
Some of it did not sell.
This stuff was heavy.
It needed to go.
There was real risk of it settling back into some new nook or cranny
 if we didn't have a plan.
We agreed on a timeline...
the stuff that didn't sell was donated to our church's youth group
 who was having a yard sale.
We have a lot of need to strap things down and hang things up.....
Now onto the stuff that we decided to keep.

We agreed that it is useful and necessary.
But....there was a lot of it.
How do we put that back in so that we can actually use it?
How can we help this space work for us 
instead of maneuvering around things constantly.
Everything has a place
This took most of the second day.
And some fiddling.
But the things we need and use most often (bikes, tools)
are handy.
The things that we only use occasionally 
(golf clubs, camping gear) 
are stored away.
No more random piles of screws, nails, bolts, hooks.  They live in this handy containers.

We grouped like with like.
So...all the tools are with similar tools 
(hammers together, screw drivers, ratchets).
Also, tools for similar projects are together-
painting supplies are in one area, 
electrical work in another.
Fuses and cables and cord-OH MY!

And labels are on many things.  
Labels to remind us where things go so we don't have to try 
and hold the pattern in our tired brains. 
Labels to remind us what we have 
and what we don't.
Labels so that we can understand the system and continue it. 

Calling a thing what it is, keeps it in it's place.

Our garage is useful now.  It's not just a thing that we have to carry around or fill up with stuff.  I keep did I get this life that is so beautiful?  And much more beautiful this life is when I prepare for the beauty.

Chairs for soccer and room for a little bit of beauty

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Can you tell what's behind this door?

Because I've been talking about a lot of emotional stuff....
I just want to pause and talk about real life.
Specifically the tactical, tangible changes that are happening in my life 
as I learn to live and breath into myself.
The innate super-powers that become enabled when I have clarity on self-care.
It's possible that I am just gloating and obnoxious about this whole subject. 
Warning....I'm going to talk about it anyway.

Turns out....getting clear on your priorities allows you to do magic.
Let me give you a for-instance.
When you are clear on your priorities,
you can actually schedule a whole weekend of time....
to clean out your garage.

I know-it doesn't sound that sexy or magical.
But it is the DIY equivalent of losing 20 pounds.
It is breathing and air.
It is taking care of myself and my life.
It is about damn time.
The before shot.  I was afraid to get too close.
We have lived in our current house for 11 years.
It's a lovely house that is exactly the right size
for 4 humans who are reasonable editors of their stuff.
There is a picture of my garage at the top of this post.
So cute right?
It is not actually big enough for one of our modern SUVs to park in
but it is big enough to store our tools, bikes, and assorted accessories.
Or at least it should be.

Some bikes we use.  Some bikes we don't.  KEEP THEM ALL was our motto.
We are not
in fact
good editors of our stuff.
We have been piling crap that doesn't work in our lives in this garage
 for a solid 10 years and 11 months.
There are so many things in this garage that are useful and needed.
Things we use daily or weekly.
Tools that are expensive and should be cared for.
Toys that are beloved and provide joy to each of us.
You just have to wade through all the crap to get to it.

No one in my house has played golf or racquetball in at least 3 years.

This garage is a useful metaphor for my life.
I have a couple of lines of thought that justify continuing to keep stuff around.
Line of thought #1 is based in a myth of scarcity, a fear of missing out or just plain anxiety.  
It goes something like this:
I might need this one how about I just keep it.
Just in case.
 I definitely cannot let this item go.
It is valuable and useful.
To someone.
Possibly to me....
Although I haven't used it in years.
Maybe not ever.
It is important! 
I don't remember I'll just keep it.
Just in case.

Can you see that desk chair?  Neither could we.

Line of thought #2 is based in a lack of responsibility or failure to take ownership.  
It goes something like this:
This doesn't actually work anymore but will require me to change my routine
in order to get rid of it.
It's too exhausting to get rid of it-
it's too heavy, too cumbersome, too toxic-
so I'll put it here until I feel capable or interested 
in taking care of this problem.
I don't want to make time to take it to the place 
where it needs to go (i.e.-the dump) 
so I will just put it in the very back and start stacking things on it.
I'll never need to look at that broken thing again
if I can pile more useful, prettier things on top of it.
Hopefully it will disappear into the landscape of my life.
Exactly how many half used containers of cleaner do we need?

Can you see how this is JUST LIKE LIFE?
There was a long time where all aspects of my life
were the equivalent of this garage.
Outside, with the walls and masks up-
everything looks ok.
Open that door up and start looking around and
I promise you'd be shocked.
Apparently, all aspects of your life are all connected
even if you're refusing to believe it.
Having trouble with your work relationships?
You're probably experiencing those similar themes in EVERY relationship.
Hustling for your worth with a parent?
Probably hustling for your worth in every venue.
Trying to measure up?
The measuring stick is ever-present, even when you refuse to see it.

My soul work is to let the outside match the inside
Let what it is
be what it is.
Stop spending energy trying to pretend or hide.
Accept reality.
Once you accept it, you can begin to change it.

Back to the garage...
All the pictures in this post are taken on the first day of our two day garage clean out.
They are the literal piles of junk that we took out of that little tiny space.
Our tiny yard could barely hold all the stuff that was crammed into this garage.
The goal for the first day was to take it all out, 
put it in the light of day,
 Mission was accomplished.
Next post will show the fruits of our labor.

Here's a little foreshadowing...we bought a label maker.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017


Artwork created by my daughter 

Once upon a time...
there was a little girl who was smart and beautiful and silly and erratic and lazy and weak.
She was lots of things (as we all are) but....
the trait that defined her within her family was strength.
Again and again she was praised for being strong.
So that is what she came to understand about herself.
She was strong.
She could do it.
All of it.
For everyone.

The little girl learned to be what other people told her she was-
she got really good at wearing that mask.
The one where she was strong
and her other gifts were shadow traits.
Strong is the new pretty right?
My sweet girl many years ago....

As the little girl grew up the mask grew with her...sort of.
It was really tight and only stayed on if she held herself still.
No rocking of the boat and she could still fit that narrow label.
No weakening of the resolve or expansion of the heart and she remained.

Strong began to feel pretty constricting.
Like being wrapped in a vise by a large, lethal snake.
She couldn't breathe.
Like whole parts of her had to be suppressed or annihilated in order to fit.
Tools were sometimes necessary to remain in this place...
tools like denial and lots of words that end in -ism.
Maybe even alcoholism.

An early representation of my masks....

The formerly little girl began to wonder...
does everyone else have to live like this?
Or is it just me?
Am I the only one who has to stay within a mask?
What would happen if I stopped, took it off, stepped outside?
What would my label be then?
She thought about these things for a few years.
While she did, the mask started to fracture and slip.
People around her started to question her actions
-she wasn't always doing the things that were expected of the strong.

She was wearing the mask so she was the one assigned 
to do the heavy-lifting.
Be strong.
Fix us.
Keep it together.
She tried.
Really hard.
With all the strength she had, she tried hard to maintain that mask.
It was her defining characteristic after all...the one that mattered.
Without that mask, who would she be?

Poetry by Nayyirah Waheed.  Incredible Woman.

And then...the mask broke.
More like....It shattered. didn't break so much as she destroyed it.
One day she threw it against the wall in a fit of anguish and gut-wrenching rage.
Then stomped it into little bits on the floor and swept them away in the wind of her screams.
Turns out...strong can't contain everything.

The woman born that day slowly began to realize that while she is strong
it is not nearly a large enough label to contain all that she is.
She is all things-and none of the things.

Art by me available periodically via my Etsy Store.

That one-time girl has resolved to never be in jail again-
even a jail of soft comfort.
She is still able to hold the line 
frame the resolution
protect the weak
comfort the weary.
Those are definitely gifts of strength.

She is also able to
 dance like a dervish
laugh until she snorts
be almost inconsolable in heart-break
speak out in the face of injustice
refuse to meet expectations
and rest because she is tired.

That woman will not wear a mask so that others can be comfortable.
She has no interest in making anyone else wear them either.
That includes all areas of her life but especially within safe spaces.

She will not be jailed
and she is not a jailer.
All of her is showing up-all the time.
Ready or not.

Art by me available periodically via my Etsy Store.