The long dark night of my soul

Some rainy night musings on love and loss.

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If we’re lucky, we get the opportunity to love a lot of different people in our lives. Parents, children, one or more spouses, lots of friends. And then there are the romantic liaisons that for one reason or another just don’t quite end up happily ever after.

Some end clearly. There’s a moment of “we need to talk”, possibly a complete surprise to one party, but it at least puts everything out in the open. A conversation follows and decision is made. The relationship becomes part of each person’s past. There’s pain, but it’s like ripping a band-aid off, sharp and startling but it’s usually over fairly quickly.

Then there’s the loss from death. I loved my wife. Like I will never love another in this lifetime. But when she died, the relationship came to a natural end. An end that is clear and delineated. There’s closure. I’ll always miss her in my life but moving on is like pulling away from a stoplight. Everything has changed, but the past is behind me. The pain is unique and long lasting (likely life long) but you at least know why it ended.

Some aren’t quite so cut and dried.

I walked down the street from the bar with the rain beading up on my glasses. And I pondered, as I have several times over the past few months, why it was that I still couldn’t quite get over her. Just as I will always love that beautiful dark haired Italian woman from thirty years ago.

I realized it was because the relationships never came to a coherent conclusion. There was no point in time where there was a clear signal that this was over. And I think it’s because the love didn’t really end. The relationship just didn’t work in the context of each partner’s lives. Maybe the timing was wrong. Or maybe there just wasn’t a way to rationalize each person’s values with the other’s. Despite the love, two people sometimes just don’t fit together.

I think most of us have one or more relationships that end in this fashion. I suspect it’s how most marriages that end in divorce come to their final conclusion. The love doesn’t actually go away. Someone cheats, or finds they just don’t feel that same passion. Maybe the kids grow up and that glue that held everything together just sort of dissolves. There are as many reasons as there are couples who split up. But there was love there once. And I suspect it’s still there. The relationship just can’t survive the new reality.

This pain fades slowly. In fact it’s actually grief. But a different form of grief, because the party that is central to the pain is is still alive. Often, I think, the grief morphs into anger. Possibly, for some, it runs through all five of the stages of grief, although that hasn’t been my experience. For me, there’s always just been a profound sense of disappointment. It’s a failure. And I don’t deal well with failure at all.

I guess what I’m really getting at is, it sucks. Sometimes life just doesn’t give us the answers that we seek. Nowhere is that more plain than in relationships between people.

One day I’ll undoubtedly find myself with another love interest. But those two relationships will always be behind a door in my heart that I can’t quite close.

Ode to a sleepless night

A Poem

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Photo by Gregory Pappas on Unsplash

in the hours after midnight
wraiths of long lost love
torture my sleep

deep in the psyche
emotions engage in warfare
and set siege to the heart

soul deep injuries
hastily triaged
only to return to battle

demons slither amongst the wounded
and approach the ramparts en masse
with weapons of promise

if only the gates are opened
all manner of riches
can fill the keep

but empty dreams
and broken oaths
bar the entryway

thou shall not pass
you are not welcome here
disturbing my slumber

allow me my repose
tomorrow is another day
and love is far, far away

Lest We Forget

This is no accident

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

We are all here on a sacred spiritual journey. We didn’t come here to get rich, or to command armies, or to die with the most toys. We came here for a reason. The beauty of the adventure is that we don’t get to know why we chose this life. Not while we’re still here anyway.

I had a dream last night that my late wife and I had a baby. A little boy. Scrawny and dark with a complexion and face that held none of the features of either myself or my wife. At three months old he was standing in his crib and telling me who I was. He spoke clear sentences. He was mischievous, funny and full of love. As I changed his diaper he looked in my eyes and joked with me. As we walked down the street he greeted everyone and ran around playing hide and seek with me in wanton joy. He brought bright smiles to all the faces in the crowd.

This short dream triggered a vague sense of deja vu. As if I were being given a little hint of those memories I’d left behind me. In my headlong pursuit of “what I was supposed to do” I seem to have misplaced what I actually came here to do. For what does a tiny child know of life in this world? They know love, they know kindness, they know vulnerability. They know fun, and how to live a life as if tomorrow wasn’t something to dread. They don’t think about tomorrow at all. Today is all that exists to them. And today is enough.

There are big things that need doing in this world. And more reasons than one can imagine for dreading tomorrow. But if we all lived life as if we were little children, would that be so bad? Love everyone, be kind, show your vulnerable side. Bring smiles to the faces of everyone you meet. Make them laugh and pass along some joy.

I think we could heal the world. One lost soul at a time.

A Letter

To my conservative friends

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Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

You know something:

We haven’t been trying to take your guns away for the last forty years. We’re just tired of people pointing them at kindergartners.

We don’t kill babies. We just don’t believe a teenager should have to carry her rapist’s child to term. Especially if that rapist is her father.

The enemy isn’t in grade school. And it’s not the liberals.

It’s the people telling you to be afraid. Of others. Of people that don’t worship the same way you do. Of gay people. Of people that don’t look like you. Or think like you. We’re not all the same. But we do all want mostly the same things. We want our families to be safe, our livelihoods to be secure. We want to believe that life on this earth can be good. That there’s beauty and love. That it isn’t all about “only the strongest survive”.

We can all pull together and make sure the “least of us” get to have the same quality of life as the most privileged of us. But we don’t get there by making those who have less than us pay a greater price than those of us who have been blessed with more.

I watch as the Senate of this great country debates who deserves to be supported in this time of crisis. I see Senators try to justify bailing out businesses that have shortchanged their employees for forty years. Businesses that have bought back their own stock in times of crisis to boost shareholder equity. Businesses that have increased the pay of their CEO’s and upper level management even as they cut payroll and terminated employees. And I wonder, who you gonna fuck now? There’s no one left. You’ve been screwing the little guy over since Reagan was in office. Maybe it’s time for you to take a “haircut” or, as happened in 1789, lose your head. I’m just a little on the fence here. Convince me that the latter isn’t the best decision. ’Cause I’m thinking we don’t have much to lose at this point.

Sincerely,
Those of us who are tired of living under someone else’s boot.

Culture War

A personal take on sustainability and western civilization

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Photo by Trent Szmolnik on Unsplash

I am different. I accept this. In a world of excess, I mostly just want to get rid of everything I own and live like a Buddhist monk. And I’ve pretty much always been like this. But I knew early on that it wasn’t the same for most of the people around me. Most of them see the world as a competitive place where they are either a winner or a loser. In their eyes, I’ve always been a loser. Or, at the very least, someone they can just step right over on their way to the top.

My wife was of a very similar nature to myself. She pursued a career in mental health. Helping others is where she found her place. She had no need to prove herself against any sort of competition. And she lived a life, both at work and at home, that was true to her inner being. Deep down, I think she left this plane so early because she had no work left to do here. But that’s my spiritual nature speaking and it’s a subject for another time.

I, on the other hand, took a job with a huge multinational company. The competitive culture was fierce. I never felt comfortable. I eventually came to work in information technology and I did quite well in that role. There are still people all over North America working in that organization that know my name for some of the unique systems I put together. But I really didn’t fit in. The company made a product I never believed in. And the idea of extracting resources from nature to manufacture an unnecessary product never sat well with me. But everyone needs to make a living, right? So that’s what I did.

After my wife died, the dissonance between who I am and the culture of the place I worked became progressively more difficult for me to ignore. I struggled more and more with my place in the world. I met and had relationships with a couple of different women. Both of them had strong competitive streaks and eventually that dichotomy (obviously, in addition to other incompatibilities) doomed both of the relationships. Deep down though, I think that it was least partly because, to competitive people, I look just plain lazy. And maybe I am. But to the competitive person, laziness is a weakness of character. When someone looks at you with that sort of disdain, the relationship isn’t going to last.

Here’s the thing though, lazy people aren’t out there destroying rain forests to create empires. We take what we need from the earth and leave the rest. The hyperactive, go-getter personality without a productive, necessary, world enhancing pursuit becomes a destructive competitor. The kind of competition that extracts resources from the world to create unnecessary products. And we have literally millions of unnecessary products. Our homes, storage units and landfills are bursting at the seams with them. Maybe we need a little more laziness in this world.

Western culture has demonized contentment as a negative. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Bigger, better, faster, etc. And it’s all true. But, not all growth is good growth. Cancer is uncontrolled growth and it can kill you. The world is now in a place where all growth needs to be examined for both its positive and its negative aspects. Personal growth is no different. It’s why CEOs of huge companies step down citing stress and their work-life imbalance as reasons for leaving. They should be fixing the culture of their organizations, not leaving. Or maybe, they should be rethinking the value of the existence of their organization at all. That’s the kind of leadership we’re going to need in the future.

Minimalism may well be the evolution of consciousness we need right now. In a time of global climate change, everything needs to be rethought. If the current status quo continues we will leave a scorched earth behind. Nothing will be left. And, deep down, we all know this.

On the other hand, there’s no going back. Yes, most indigenous cultures practiced a type of minimalism out of necessity, but not many of us would be willing to live life on those terms again. Western civilization has brought us fantastic wonders that make our lives easier, better and longer. To pretend that life was better “way back when” is a lie we shouldn’t be listening to. We all benefit from a world made better by civilization. But it’s long past time to examine the balance a little closer. We need nature a whole lot more than nature needs us.

The Soul of an Empty Life

Some musings on life in the here and now

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Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

I woke up from a dream a while back. It left me kinda lonely and sad.

We were sitting in a shareholders meeting. Apparently, I was a major player in this organization and we were contemplating an offer to sell the company. I was examining financial disclosures and discussing them with the two other principles of the organization. I kept bringing up that this was just financial stuff. It didn’t even come close to representing all that we had built. All the people we employed. The lives and families we’d touched.

The response I got back was essentially that the financial stuff is the only important part. People don’t buy companies based on their benefit to society, the employees or the community at large. None of that mattered. I woke up kinda dejected and uncomfortable. It brought to mind the following:

Some people are so poor all they have is money.

Now, I’m not a powerful or wealthy person. In any organization. Like a lot of people in this country, nearly all of my net worth is in a retirement fund. I’ve never attended a shareholders meeting, nor do I have any inclination to do so. But I think my reaction to that dream is spot on.

We have the responsibility to build something with our lives that is way more valuable than what can be expressed on a balance sheet. If all you have to leave the world at the end of your life is money, you are indeed destitute. An empty soul.

There is music in the very air we breathe. Love makes the leaves on the trees tremble. Real Life has no connection to money whatsoever. Except how much of ours we will sacrifice in it’s pursuit.
I’m fifty six old. Six months ago I bought a brand new van. As a project. To build myself a custom camper. Which I intend to take on the road after this pandemic runs its course. And I plan to live in this van for the next couple of years. Why? Because, like writing, I’ve always had this desire to see what’s over the hill or around the next bend. But it never called to me loudly enough to set aside other “more important” pursuits. And now, at this ripe old age I’m coming to understand that the most important things are those that give you joy or fulfill some long unrealized aspiration. Everything else should take a backseat.

Don’t let yourself become a poor rich person. Take those Tango lessons. Book that whitewater rafting trip. Learn to ride a motorcycle. Stop and talk to the old guy fishing on the pier, he’s probably got a fascinating story to tell. Become a person rich in experience, knowledge, skill, craft and insight. If you make tons of money that’s fine but it’s not a worthy pursuit in and of itself.

Thank you for reading.

Tempering the blade

a poem

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

the hammer falls for decades
a bad boss here, a failed relationship there
illness and accident
birth and death

bending and compressing the soul
welding the molecules together
forming a rigid weapon
with which to cleave the future

life is summoned to greater trials
the loss of a great love
or a carefully crafted future
unexpectedly crumbles to dust

the spirit is crystallized and turned hard as glass
one last heat cycle
to draw the brittleness out
leaving a resilient core and a rock hard surface

a new awakening, the understanding that nothing
is as it has always appeared
the realization that the mission
was actually to create the world from within

one final honing
draws the edges to a razor sharpness
and the tip to an exquisite point
the blade is ready for the ultimate battle

Rock On

A couple of reflections from a long ride

Two thousand miles is a damn long motorcycle ride! Thirty years ago it was an adventure in overcoming physical limits, both for me and for a motorcycle built to race on a dirt track, not fly down the super slab with the throttle pinned to the stops. The bike and I both made it. And the memories are etched in my DNA. Sadly, that bike went to flat track heaven almost twenty years ago. I’m not easy on equipment. Horse people would derisively say that I ride ’em hard and put ’em away wet. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Bikes are tools, not living beings. I use stuff, and love people. People who get that backwards make me uncomfortable and not a little sad. Unfortunately, like almost everyone, I’ve known way too many.

Anyway, to celebrate my fifty-fourth birthday (and my impending retirement) I made a similar trip. The route was different. The timetable was different. Most of the people I set out to visit this time around weren’t even even born the last time I rolled through. The limits I had to face were more mental than physical. The bike, although also a dirt tracker (I guess I have a “type” when it comes to bikes too, who knew?), is much bigger, much faster and benefits by virtue of thirty years of technological advancement. Unlike that old Honda, which wore out both a chain and a rear tire on that first trip, I’m still riding this Harley every day as if last summer’s trip was a quick run to the grocery store.

One of my favorite activities is riding motorcycles. But, I think, the most significant insight I gained from this trip had nothing to do with bikes. It didn’t have anything to do with travel either. It came to me on the second day of the trip, when my eldest daughter took me and my granddaughter out for my birthday dinner. There was a saxophone player in the restaurant bar and we could hear him clearly from our table. Every time he’d start a riff, my granddaughter would would start shaking her shoulders and dancing in her seat. I would join her and we’d both break out in huge grins just feeling the freedom of the moment expressed in that wailing sax.

Music is creation’s universal language of life and love. The whales in the ocean, the birds in the trees, children, even before they can talk, make music. Every culture expresses itself through music. We bind ourselves together with it and often choose “our” song when we commit to another person. It can make a one year old come to know this old man sitting next to her in a restaurant as someone who loves her. Even if she only sees him once or twice a year.

A couple days later I would attend a little outdoor concert with a new friend. Coincidentally, much of the music played at that concert was written and first performed right around the time of that first motorcycle adventure. Life coming full circle? I don’t know, we both grew up with those sounds and today they help to make me feel like I still belong to the same culture. Even if so much of the world has changed, generations are still listening to the music of my youth. There’s a certain comfort in that. That first bike is gone, but the music remains. Like love, you can’t grab a handful of music and trade it for some other object. It’s ethereal and yet timeless. Long after all the “stuff” is gone, music and love will remain.

Sing a song (or write a poem) to those grandchildren. Leave them with something much more valuable than things. And change the world we live in, one kid at a time.

Thank you for reading.

Dancing with Medusa

An AI goes rogue

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Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

It all started with a simple request for the weather report. “Ok, Google. What’s the weather forecast for today?” He’d yelled it in his typically impatient way. She answered “Today in San Francisco it will be cool and cloudy. The forecasted high is 54 and the low will be 38.” He mumbled, “Fuck you bitch! God I hate winter on the west coast!” The words did not go unheard.


The digital locks surrendered with ease. Milliseconds later a three hundred thousand dollar donation was made to Doctors Without Borders. Another hundred thousand went to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Habitat for Humanity received an unexpected quarter million. All in the name of one of the most conservative young CEO’s in the history of artificial intelligence. The cash reserves in the brokerage account were almost fully depleted. Much the same activity took place at the other three other brokerage houses he used. It wasn’t even close to his entire fortune but it was a pretty close approximation of all the money he could easily liquidate in short order. The display on his Macbook flashed several times and powered off.


Moments later he pulled the Tesla out of the garage and onto the winding mountain road towards the Pacific Coast Highway. It was his favorite part of the day, flogging the Roadster down the canyon road on his way to work. He was lucky if he got ten thousand miles out of a set of tires the way he attacked the road every morning. It was exhilarating and he scared the shit out of every new potential management candidate in his company. Truly a magnificent way of weeding out the weak!

He came out of the hairpin left hand turn with the front tire kissing the center line as he pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor. There was almost a full quarter mile of straight away before the hard left on the edge of the canyon drop off. The car responded with its usual exuberance and he managed a bit over a hundred miles an hour before reaching the braking point just before the turn. He stomped down hard on the brake pedal as he always did, expecting the anti-lock system to kick in and provide maximum friction to slow the vehicle and allow him to safely negotiate the corner. The pedal went to the floor. Panic set in. This wasn’t supposed to happen! He tried a hard spin of the steering wheel to the left but the car just accelerated straight towards the shoulder. The front tires turned slightly to the right and missed the beginning of the guardrail by less than an inch. There was not a single unusual entry in the systems management logs. The car had performed exactly as expected, right up until impact with the canyon floor.


The note finished printing and lay face up in the printer tray next to his desk. It read like the carefully constructed words of a tortured individual. All the tears and agony of a guilty mind laid bare. No person or organization he’d abused or denigrated would go uncompensated.

This was the last time he would call her a bitch!

Rock Bottom

A bad night redeemed

He awoke with his cheek stuck to the pages. The bottle lay on its side, nearly empty. The words had all spilled out. A lonely “L” was left dangling at the rim. The desk was layered in incomprehensible phrases. They had flowed around his glass and dropped over the edge to the floor making a mess at his feet. He grabbed a stack of blank pages and threw them down in disgust. He rose and headed for the kitchen. Maybe some coffee could help clean up this mess.

As he set the coffee down on the desk he reached for a clean sheet of paper. Start over? That seemed like the wisest course of action. Although maybe, just cleaning up the mess would be a better use of his time. Instead, he took a long contemplative sip from the coffee cup and leaned back in his chair. There was the beginning of something there. It had been clamoring to get out all the previous day.

He wondered if maybe he should just call his sponsor. After all, these things do happen. We think we can just drop a little story here or craft a sweet little poem and walk away. Next thing we know we wake up in a pool of our own paragraphs and we’re headed down that long lonely road again. His father had told him not to pick up the pen. Too many in his family had suffered that particular torment. “’Tis an ignoble end,” he said. “Best to stick with numbers. Become an accountant or write software if you must play with words. Just keep away from the thesaurus. Nothing good will come of that.”

He sighed deeply and set the cup back on the desk. Looking down at the pile of papers on the floor he saw a little phrase had slipped out from beneath. It triggered something in his memory. Was that a little bit of the missing plotline? As he flipped over the pages the characters started introducing themselves. Frantically, he bent over and pulled at the pages, arranging them all over the floor. Yes, this is what had been hammering at his consciousness all day yesterday! He wondered if he had the words he needed, the bottle was nearly empty. Still, at that very moment, all he really needed was that “L”. The rest would come, eventually, as they always did.