I Am. I Can. I Shall.

images (1)A friend of mine recently introduced me to a weekly Buddhist meditation group.  The attendees get together, and we have two silent twenty-minute sitting meditation sessions with a ten-minute walking meditation between them.  After the second sitting meditation, we recite some Buddhist philosophies and have an open discussion.

Meditation isn’t something that is natural to me.  I’m a high-strung, hot-headed, anxiety-carrying, self-doubting dude.  My brain never stops obsessing over minutiae of all the things in my life, over possible outcomes of different scenarios, over money and bills, over the wrongs of the world, over all the things I need to do.  I also constantly berate myself inwardly for not living up to the high standards, especially moral ones, that I have placed for myself.  Attempting to be “quiet” inside is a challenge.

I’ve been told that you can’t control having thoughts during meditation, but that when you catch yourself thinking about something in particular, you acknowledge to yourself that you had the thought, but not entertain that thought.  You must let it go.  It has been described to me as watching a train come to a stop in front of you.  You know it’s there, but you don’t have to board. 

Last Sunday night, one such thought came to me during the first meditation session.  The thought was six simple words:  “I am.  I can.  I shall.”  While I was supposed to be thinking of nothing, I was writing this blog post in my head.  But I will gladly accept inspiration whenever and wherever it comes, so I don’t mind having boarded this train. 

As I mentioned above, I’m an individual plagued by serious self-doubt, and self-affirming statements are an uncommon occurrence.  But there it was.  I am.  I can.  I shall. 

I wrote a poem in 2009, which was a bit of wishful thinking in rhyming form, and even as I was writing it, I wondered whether it was something I could actually enact myself, actually make real.

                              At Peace  

                   Peace from all the voices,

                   Peace from crushing noise,

                   Peace from inner rumbling

                   That mania employs- 

                   I seek way through the river,

                   I’ve turbulence inside.

                   I yield too much to chaos;

                   Within, my thoughts collide.

                   I pray to God and Buddha,

                   To divinities that may be,

                   To help me find the hidden path

                   To a peaceful reverie,

                   To be placid as still water,

                   To rest when things seem grim,

                   To endure as does the oak

                   Despite the weather’s whim.

                   As a rock amidst the rapids,

                   Though buffeted, still prevailing;

                   It’s time I learned to simply live

                   With all that Life’s entailing.

                   Too long at war inside my mind

                   (Often war begets no peace),

                    I become as stone and waters pass

                    ‘Til the voices simply cease….

Lines from this poem also ran through my head while meditating. 

There was a time after my separation from my wife when I would constantly wallow in depression, and I would try to pull myself out of it by repeating the word “endure” to myself.  It was like a lifeline that I threw to myself.  I’m not in the state I was at that period of my life anymore.  So perhaps it’s time I had a new mantra, not one to help me simply survive, but one to help me grow.

Will I ever find a greater level of inner peace, be in a better mental place with reduced anxiety and fear and greater self-assurance?  Will I be the better person I strive to be?

I suppose my meditating mind already answered that.

I am.  I can.  I shall.

images (2)

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Geek Chic

IMG_1903I guess you’d say I was a late bloomer; I hung onto my childhood vices of reading comics, watching and reading science fiction films, programs, and books, and playing role-playing games well through high school and into my 20s.  In fact, I’m not a great artist, but I’m above average, and I credit comic books for teaching me most of what I know about drawing and anatomy.  But this was something you didn’t divulge back then in the ’80s and ’90s….unless you wanted to be even more publicly ostracized than you likely already were and make those teenage years of being an artistic geek rather than a football player even more of a living Hell.

Flash forward 15 years, and I was driving past the comic shop I used to frequent, and, out of a sense of nostalgia, I picked up some comics to read while on vacation. The next thing I knew, I was back to reading them regularly.

The difference is that now the universe has turned on its ear, and geek culture is about as mainstream as anything can possibly get.  There are gym rats working out in Captain America t-shirts, adult-sized hoodies that look like superhero costumes, sci/fi and superhero movies are the hugest box office hits, and people don’t think twice about any of it.  Target, Old Navy, and various stores at the mall sell Star Wars and comic book t-shirts, hats, and accessories.  Somehow, inexplicably, even the British cult television show Dr. Who has made a major surge into American popular culture and acceptability.   Would a show like Big Bang Theory have had such popularity and such an impact on merchandizing 20 years ago?  Would Game of Thrones be the best thing on T.V., viewed, discussed, and anticipated by so many?  I can’t honesty see either as having happened, but somehow escapist fantasy has taken over.  It’s so weird to see the things for which I worried about getting beaten up becoming ‘the new black’, to see Geek Chic become the norm.

But I want to be clear that I’m not too bitter about this development.  I think it’s wonderful to be able to wear an Iron Man t-shirt, or say that I loved Guardians of the Galaxy, without being looked at as an immature man-child.  It’s relieving to see things I’ve enjoyed for most of my life finally becoming something everyone loves.  There are folks that like to play at being some rebel, liking a band when hardly anyone knows them, but resenting that band once they achieve a measure of success.  I think that’s a pretty pathetic mindset, and I won’t have that attitude about the Realm of All Things Nerdy opening its portals to the masses.  I instead choose to rejoice in the fact that my childhood and teenage loves got their due.  I even got back into the role-playing games 2 years ago, and hardly anyone bats an eye when we meet in the food court at Wegman’s to play.

I suppose that it’s all because Star Wars as a franchise has thrilled so many despite the terrible ‘prequels’.  Or maybe it was that, as later generations picked up on the Star Wars franchise, they also had their imaginations piqued by Harry Potter, the fantastically written and portrayed series (I consider it the Star Wars for their time).  Maybe it’s just the fact that so many of the superhero movies are so entertaining.  Perhaps it’s because of a major confluence of all these things, and more.

I’m not sure how it happened; I’m just glad it did, that things I’ve enjoyed for most of my life are finally getting their due and being enjoyed by so many.  I love that NERD is the word, and that GEEK is chic.  You know what?  Maybe this means that I was actually an early bloomer after all….

Hospitals

Hospitals. What a horrific word. When one thinks of hospitals, he or she probably thinks of the sick, the broken, the dying, the dead. Some may actually think of them in a positive light, as a place of healing the infirm, aiding the impaired, curing the ill.

Hospitals aren’t always for the physical, however.

In my own life, I’ve had loved ones, the most important people in the whole world to me, suffer from trauma and other wounds on the INSIDE. THAT’S what I think of initially. Inpatient facilities, outpatient step-down programs, psycho-therapeutic drugs, depression, shock therapy. The complete cessation of a once-normal life.

I’ve watched these loved ones become unable to go to work or school, sometimes unable to get out of bed. I’ve had loved ones unable to be at home for their own safety, as well as others’.

This is what the word “hospitals” conjures up for me.

I know I could look at them, in these cases, as the places of healing, and don’t get me wrong; I do. I am so very grateful for all of the programs out there that you never knew existed until they were needed. I’m thankful to every single soul who chooses the profession of helping the people in need. Thank God above (or whatever entity or force may exist) for all of this.

For the foreseeable future, though, horrific is how I’ll describe them.

I’ve logged so many miles driving more than an hour to visit my loved ones in these facilities, sometimes leaving from one place to visit someone else in another. Afterward, I’d go home, sleep, go to work, and do it all over again.

I’ve logged so many miles on the NJ Turnpike that, if you check out the details of the many included in my New Jersey tattoo, there is an outline of the Turnpike (the green strip going diagonally up from left to right). This was, in fact the impetus for the design. I’ve earned that detail, like a badge. A medal in fact, since there were times, as the last one of my family “on the outside” I called myself The Last Man Standing. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank God (or whatever entity or force may exist) the hospitals are there, but I pray to God (ditto) you and yours will never need them.

My Writing….

I’ve been encouraged to share more of my writing, and even to get published.  I don’t know about the publishing thing, especially because of cost and the fact that in order to sell books as a poet, one needs to be 1. Maya Angelou, 2. Nikki Giovanni, or 3. Deceased.  But I thought I’d share something I wrote that’s very personal, and I consider it one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  The story is true.

 

 

 

This Was Not                                                      10/29/09

 

 

Standing at the work table,

I’m off drifting in my brain.

My body knows what it’s doing,

And the mind has its own way

Of passing time.

I remember many things

While standing at my table.

My hands have done these tasks for years,

So the memories flow unbidden

Into the waiting silence.

 

I remember buying you cheap toys

For your eighth birthday,

Your first back in Jersey.

It was all we could afford

After eight months of medical bills

And your mother out of work.

One broke that very evening,

And I was so scared you’d be upset.

It didn’t seem to faze you,

But I’d wanted so much more

For you

After the SHIT

That had become of that year.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

I leave my table, the work abandoned,

As I need to dry my eyes.

But my synapses decide

Upon my return

That they’re not done just yet.

 

I remember being asked

In one of the Fairmount family groups,

What my biggest fear for you was.

You hadn’t been HOME,

Residing in centers

For traumatized children

For most of the year.

This was where you’d spend

Your NEXT birthday.

My answer was that all this

Would still be going on

And you’d lose the last years

Of the closing window

Of your childhood

Without getting to have

A normal one.

 

I remember helping you move

From there to your third center,

And eventually to your fourth,

All within two years.

It was at the fourth one

Where you’d turn

The ripe old age

Of ten.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

I remember the times before this,

When you told us

Things,

Things your biological father did to you.

We decided that

When you came off the school bus

You would be given dinner,

And some things would be packed

For you and your mother.

I’d stay behind to pack our things

And arrange for the movers.

I watched

As you were driven back to Jersey that night

In a February New England blizzard

To save you from your father.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

I remember when

We had just reunited

After the midnight run out of Rhode Island.

You were uncontrollably

Acting out, as we now know

Abuse victims will do,

Because of what your father did to you.

The  daily and nightly rages,

Triggered by flashbacks,

Would eventually require

Restraining you

Because of the harm

You’d cause

To yourself,

And to others.

This became

Your daily experience,

And it was a miracle

When you were actually able

To make it to school.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

I walk away from my table yet again,

Knowing someone will see me

Soon enough.

I tell myself,

“Endure!”,

Wanting desperately to hold it together.

 

But then I remember

Your mother and I

Reviewing the options given

By the prescribing therapist.

You needed help with the feelings

And the images

In your seven-year-old head.

THIS drug may cause

Kidney failure

After six months of use.

THIS drug may cause

Seizures,

Or other loss

Of motor function.

 

You have had your

Blood polluted,

Your chemistry FUCKED with,

Because you were worse off

Without these poisons

Meant to help you heal.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

You will soon turn eleven,

And you’re still not home.

You are still not able

To handle the rage,

The flashbacks of your father,

All of the emotional damage,

And I know that window,

That precious window

Of time

Called your formative years

Is gone;

What I feared for you

Has happened,

And I can only cry

At my work table.

 

This was not the childhood you were supposed to have.

 

©2012 Jordan Fox

“Turn Up Light and Sound”

I saw the band Rush on Friday, October 12th.  Rush is a band I’ve loved since 1989, and they’ve been a musical and lyrical inspiration since then.  In fact, I credit them with expanding my own lyrical skill in the first place.    MusicallyRush has always been a creator of challenging and interesting material, and have influenced and inspired uncountable amounts of musicians over their 38-year recording career.  Geddy Lee is still my all-time favorite bass player, Neil Peart is one of the most widely recognized monarchs of the drum kit as well as of lyrics, and Alex Lifeson is an unbelievable guitar player, capable of very emotional and technical solos, and able to play an incredible array of styles.

A picture on my wall of Geddy Lee. It was taken by the band’s late longtime photographer, Andrew MacNaughtan.

I only saw them once, in 1990 or ’91, and  I sat way up in the 3rd level.  As a result, I didn’t feel like I was even there.  I was also very young, had the attention span of a gnat, and wasn’t mentally able to take it all in.  I wanted to see them last year, on their  tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their signature album, Moving Pictures.  Veterinary bills kept me from being able to attend, and there was no way I was missing this one in support of their newest album.  It was absolutely amazing.

Detractors of the band have consistently pinpointed one reason for not liking Rush, and that’s Geddy’s voice. He’s known for singing in a very high register, and it was especially stratospheric in the earlier part of their career.  His voice can’t quite do the highs as much anymore, and it’s reflected on the last 2 albums in the lower range he chooses.  I’m curious as to how much that effects their decision when choosing which songs to perform.  One thing to consider when analyzing his performance is that he sings while playing some incredibly complex bass lines, as well as the synthesizer parts.  He’s practically a band unto himself.

The show definitely focused on the latter-half of their career, with the exception of classics that would be murderous of them not to include, such as their hugest commercial success, Tom Sawyer.  And Geddy’s voice held up better than I expected.

Rush, as a group, have a very jovial way about them, and this always translates onto their tours, despite the seriousness of their album content.  They always do slapstick films on the rear projection screen, have roadies run on stage in bizarre outfits, and have done things over the last few tours such as having washing machines on stage out of which roadies take t-shirts to throw into the audience and having a chicken rotisserie which roadies come out to baste while wearing chef’s hats and aprons.

While I was intent on taking the show in and not missing anything (who knows how many more tours there’ll be), some of the glow still disperses as daily life overtakes the memories.  Thanks to the magic of youtube, however, there’s an entire catalogue of performances recorded on cell phones (with surprising quality), including the show I saw in Philadelphia.  Getting to rekindle the magic is priceless.

As for the album they’re supporting on this tour:  Rush, in the past, has done numerous long songs (entire sides of albums, sometimes) with a story being told via the lyrics.  The latest offering, Clockwork Angels, is a full concept album, and it’s also surprisingly heavy musically.  One treat that they did this time was work with author Kevin J. Anderson to produce the story as a novel as well.  The novel helps to make more sense of the album since Anderson had 300 pages to work with as opposed to 12 songs.

In the book, Anderson (who has been friends with Peart for many years) drops lines from Rush songs and other references that long-time fans will understand throughout the text.  Inspired by this, as well as the experience of the concert, I wrote a poem which uses song titles in the same way.  I also chose a really obscure rhyme scheme.  Instead of using couplets or rhyming every other line , I waited 3 lines after the initial one to rhyme.  I did this to honor the 3 members of the band.

Turn Up Light and Sound (What a Rush) 10/14/12

A 22-year devotion,

To see these 3 on lighted stage

The aural assault, the lighting’s dance–

An evening charged with emotion!

And as these stars advance in age,

There may not be another chance,

So I ponied up what entry cost.

It didn’t matter, to make this night;

I’d work out paying bills somehow.

I couldn’t bear this opportunity lost,

To miss them in latest limelight

Circumstances I couldn’t allow.

Stage hands scrambled all about;

I sensed the countdown impending.

They made their final preparations

Before the band could come out

To amaze all who were attending,

And feeding all our anticipations.

Like a body electric, the stage came alight;

We watched the big screen animate.

You bet your life I had to be there,

Hear those mystic rhythms that night,

An evening to leave our mortal state

And revel in a show beyond compare.

And hours later, to have been exposed

To a musicianship, a stagecraft

Lovingly honed for 4+ decades,

To some of the greatest rock composed,

A spectacle upon which we can graft,

And a euphoria that meets the accolades.

Nothing lacked in their chemistry,

Other bands seen a far cry from this.

I wished for a time stand still, to perceive,

Savor, prolong the sweet miracle before me,

For vapor trails become of this bliss.

I pray the afterimage will never leave.

 

© 2012 Jordan Alan Fox

Rush – YYZ Live 10/1212 Philadelphia PA Wells Fargo Complete Killer Multicam HD Show 2012www.youtube.comAwesome show. as always with this amazing band.this is one camera angle out of 4 that will be an amazing mix. if intrested inthe complete show email me at ba…

“The Anarchist” Rush@Wells Fargo Center Philadelphia 10/12/12 Clockwork Angels Tourwww.youtube.comThe Anarchist, Rush, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA; October 12th, 2012; Clockwork Angels Tour

Rush – Tom Sawyer – Philadelphia 10/12/12www.youtube.comWells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA, October 12, 2012. Entire show filmed (stage shot), partial show (screen).

RUSH – “Headlong Flight” – Official Lyric Videowww.youtube.comThe official lyric video for “Headlong Flight” – the first single from the new album Clockwork Angels – available everywhere June 12th. Pre-order here: http:…

RUSH – “The Wreckers” Official Lyric Videowww.youtube.comThe official lyric video for “The Wreckers” – the new single from the album Clockwork Angels

Subdivisions – Rushwww.youtube.com”Subdivisions” is a Rush song often considered to be describing feelings of isolation, boredom, conformity, and sadness springing up from teenage life in the…

clockwork-angels-hardcover-book.html

Clockwork Angels

Of Cruelty and Shame, of Lennox and Buck

Lately I cry and cry.  I have to admit that I’m an overly emotional person (I once had a female manager tell me I was “worse than a woman”).  Regardless of the fact that I’m given to feeling things profoundly, I’d have to say that the last 6 months or so have been exceptionally turbulent with tears.

Those that have followed my post or at least read a sampling of it before might know that my hobby is animal advocacy.  To all of you that have been to Grasping the Tale before, I apologize for the months since my last post, but it is my engagement in this second full-time, non-paying vocation that has kept me from blogging.  In fact, I haven’t really written even my poetry/lyrics with any kind of appreciable frequency.  Whichever part of the brain it is which I utilize to advocate has kept me wrapped up there so I can’t transition to the creative part.

About  the tears: it is so draining to see the animals for which I advocate suffer so much, have their innocence and dependence upon mankind be betrayed so badly.  It runs from the (unfortunately) typical cases of neglect to the worst possible scenarios.  Two cases recently have taken a toll on those of us that dwell in the “online animal kingdom”.

One is the story of Lennox, an American Bulldog/Retriever mix that was a family pet in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Lennox was seized by the Belfast City Council for violation of DDA, or Dangerous Dogs Act, which is known as BSL (or Breed Specific Legislation) in America.  The Council determined Lennox to be a Pit Bull even though he is the breed mix stated above.  Pit Bulls are banned in Belfast as per the DDA.  Despite the fact that he only resembled a pit bull and had never bitten, attacked, or even threatened anyone, Lennox was taken.  While in their custody, one member of the Belfast Council declared Lennox too dangerous to be allowed to live, even though video exists of her with Lennox stitting by her feet and at one point even licking her.  The family fought through the legal system for two years to regain their cherished family member.  After losing the last round of appeals at the end of June, the family’s legal counsel advised them to end the fight.

During this entire ordeal, the world became aware of the story, and literally hundreds of thousands of advocates were signing and posting petitions to free Lennox and return him to his home.  Later on, well-reknowned animal behavior experts such as Cesar Milan and Victoria Stilwell offered to take Lennox out of the country and work with this “dangerous” dog to become a well-mannered, safe member of society (which, of course, he already was).  The City Council ignored all requests.  The council declared that they would euthanize Lennox at 7:00 a.m. on July 11th.

There was a flurry of activity to add even more signatures to the petitions, and media markets all over the world ran pieces about the fight to save Lenox’s life.  Hoping that the negative publicity would move the Council even if the appeals to their human decency failed, the animal-loving world held its breath.

Lennox was killed by the council as declared on the morning of July 11th.  So many mourn this senseless and evil loss of life, and sympathize with Lennox’s family, who were denied requests to see him one last time, to be with him when he was killed, and to at least receive his collar as a relic of him.  They were told they MIGHT be given some of his ashes after he was cremated, though even that has not been provided at this point.  It has of course been theorized that Lennox was either killed while the legal battle was still going on or that he died languishing in his meager cell (pictures showed it devoid of food and water bowls and even appropriate bedding).  These are just theories, though they are highly likely scenarios.

The other dog’s account that has crippled me emotionally is that of Buck, a blind elderly dog that was released from a shelter to an individual that either let him free or negligently allowed him to escape.  After weeks of searching for Buck, his body was found in a concrete enclosure.  It has not been revealed at this point how he ended up in this cement resting place or whether he died of exposure and lack of sustenance, torturous foul play, or a mixture.  The fact that he died alone and hungry, thirsty, and without even the sight to understand his surroundings is too much.  I keep thinking that some SUBhuman beings might have even abused him to death, which is worse.

I sometimes wonder whether it’s worth being part of this world when such stories of incomprehensible pain and cruelty seem increasingly the norm….

I had written a poem for Lennox upon hearing of his official end (the grief being so great that the artistic flood gates finally broke), and will conclude this post with it.  You’ll notice the title says “Part II”, and this is because Part I was written the night before as a sort of prayer (unanswered, obviously)  for his life to be spared.  I am too drained at present to write one for Buck, though I absolutely want to do so.

For Lennox, Part II                               7/11/12

Belfast now a place of scorn

As countless hearts lie ripped and torn

For all the pleas you would not answer,

Your pride and ignorance like a cancer.

You could have picked another way

Yet bathed your hands in blood today.

You heeded none, for you thought best

To lay an innocent one to rest.

I hope your conscience one day wakes

And your hands shake in fits and quakes

When you see doings that you sought

Have not justice, but murder brought.

You’ve disgraced yourselves before the world;

In Hell’s fires your souls be curled

Around a spit and searing slow

For how you have brought Belfast low.

I can’t see why you’ve made this choice

Now countless cry in Lennox’s voice.

 

 

National Tattoo Day

June fifth is National Tattoo Day, and I was asked to write about the tattoo topic.  I had previously posted about why I got mine, so I think I’ll cover some other, broader aspects.

Tattoos, of course, have a negative connotation due to various cultures using them to mark criminals, the times criminals (or would-be criminals) marked themselves as a status symbol, and the fact that anything that breaks the norm is usually scorned.

However, in today’s world, the tattoo taboo isn’t as great.  Tattoos are actually fairly commonplace, and are seen everywhere.  Many women have them on ankles, shoulder blades, or have the infamous lower back “tramp stamp”.  Men get them on arms, legs, backs, and chests.  But why do they do this?

Well, starting with the criminal element, tattoos can mark loyalties (especially to gangs) and acts committed.  I don’t think I need to cover this realm further; I’m sure you get it.

Members of the military have gotten them to show loyalty as well, or pride in their service.  Tattoos have also been done to honor fallen comrades.  One of the coolest tattoos for military (and sailors in general) is a pair of birds.  I believe the birds are swallows.  My understanding is that when one is sent overseas, they get one swallow to mark that they arrived safely there, and get the matching piece done when they arrive home.  I think it’s an awesome tradition.

Many get representations of loved ones and pets.  And some cultures, such as the Samoans, are tattooed as a right of passage.

Of course, a lot of people in the Western World get inked because they’re trying to be cool or present a certain image, but this should not be allowed to take away from the millions of works of art created every day that have legitimate meaning, if only to the person bearing them.  And this is indeed an art form.  One apprentices before they can get a regular gig as a tattoo artist.  They have to earn their dues.  And even the finest graphic artists would have a hard time doing what they do via a vibrating needle and oft-times moving, wincing, flinching canvasses.

I realize some may think of me in a certain light because I would have to wear long sleeves and pants to cover all of mine, but every tattoo I’ve gotten had thought put into it and means something to my life.  And this is the last reason I’ll give as to why people get work done:  For many, including myself, these works of art are landmarks.  They signify where we’ve been, what we’ve been through, and where we want to be.  The only one that brings me a twinge of regret is my ex-wife’s initial on my shoulder.  It happens, but I could always cover it up if I choose to do so.

I hope this was informative.  And maybe you’ll get one of your own now if you haven’t already–welcome to the establishment!