“Keeping Seattle Up”

Following is a chapter from my brand new novel, available now on Amazon and B&N. This is an on-air conversation between Rex, the man character, and one of his nighttime callers. :

“Hi Rex, my name is Emily and it’s very difficult for me to call you.”

“Hello Emily. I’m glad you called. Maybe we can do something that will make it easy for both of us.”

“That’s fine, I think the best way for me is to just launch right into it,” she said, hardly taking a breath.

“Take your time Emily. There’s no rush.” I sat back in my chair and dropped my shoulders to relax.

“I’m 56 and my husband is 71. We’ve been together for more than 20 years and we’ve had a great time together. But now, at this stage of our lives, something has come up. I don’t have any friends I can talk to about this, but I heard your show the other night and thought I’d take the chance.”

“Well, I like you already and I hope we can say something that will help. You have my complete attention.”

“You see, I’m kind of out of my prime, you might say. I’ve gone through menopause, my hormones have changed, I’ve lost some pep and—this is the real burr under the saddle—I’ve lost interest in sex.”

“Uh-huh, that can happen,” I said. “And is that an issue for you, for your husband or for you both?”  There were a few seconds of silence.

“Well, I’d have to say all of the above. He still wants to have sex. I don’t. He gets hurt and mad, takes it out on me. I like him less and grow more distant. It’s a problem for both of us.”

“Seems like it’s a bigger issue for him. He wants you, can’t get what he wants, gets angry. But it might be OK for you if the whole thing never came up –is that right?”

“That sounds about right. I guess. I mean I’d like to know more about what’s going on with me and if it really is ‘the end’ for that part of my life.”

I heard the voice drop and the tears come in.

“Yeah,” I was nodding. “I get that.” I paused, then said: “Sounds like you don’t really want it to be the end of your sexual life.”

“I don’t. I don’t. I miss it.” Another long pause. I hear a big inhalation. “Rex, what can I do?”

“First you can tell me a little about what your husband wants and what is point of view is like.”

“OK, to be fair, my husband, bless his heart, does appreciate the fact that I’ve gone through some changes, so he doesn’t really mean to blame me. He’s just frustrated. So he says to me, something like: ‘look honey we can still be amorous and affectionate. We don’t have to have intercourse just because I start rubbing your breasts. We can do what we want to do, we can stop in the middle, we can go on, it’s up to us’. I think he really misses being touched.”

“Yeah, and what do you think of that?”

“I like the free choice part. Then he says: ‘You can put me in your mouth. I can put you in mine. We can rub each other’s genitals. It doesn’t have to be exactly like it used. Maybe orgasm isn’t so important. Maybe we can do lots of things that don’t lead to the big bang.’”

“I have to say Emily, that I understand him so far and I kind of agree with him. He’s asking for what he wants and what he wants is not that unusual. And I heard you say he misses being touched.”

“He’s told me that. He just says openly to me: ‘Can’t you touch me a little more than you do, rub my shoulders, hold the back of my neck the way you used to, pat me on the butt?’”

“How’s that feel to you?”
“Sad. And guilty. I’m sad that he’s sad. But I don’t seem to be able to change anything.”

I leaned into the mike and lowered my voice. “Since I’m talking to you and not your husband, I want you to look at the question we voiced a moment ago: Do you want this to be the end of your sexual life?”

“No,” she nearly shouted. “But Rex, I don’t know how to want something I don’t want.

“Oh I hear you. It’s what happens to that want that I’m intrigued by. We both know that a piece of this is physical and chemical and it’s something I strongly urge you to ask you doctor for help with. But you and I put that aside and look at the relationship part is.” I was getting enthused.

“OK.”

“Stick with me a minute Emily. I believe that energy, the life spark or the attraction we feel for someone comes out of close contact. Life happens because of two forces contacting each other. It’s like a couple of magnets with polarity –if they’re far away from each other, nothing is happening. As they come closer to each other, it becomes important whether they’re going to repel each other or be drawn closer. Do you get that picture?”

“Sure, though I don’t know what it means to me and my husband yet.”

“Right, I’m just getting warmed up. What happens over time is that the magnets drift away from each other so they don’t exert the same pull they did when they first hooked up. It may not be dramatic, this distancing, but ever so gradually they lose their influence on one another and they lose energy because of it.”

“OK,” Emily said, hesitated and let out a breath. “So what we need to do is get back in touch with each other?”

“I think you do. I’m hesitant to tell people what they need to do. I would just like it if you heard me and did what you wanted to with what you heard.”

“I respect that. But give me just a little more road map here. Give me a suggestion or two.”

I liked Emily even more. Over the past 10 minutes she had softened and become more open. Her energy was different, more receptive and somehow more feminine.

“OK. First, the energy in the personal relationship matches the energy in the sexual relationship. If there’s not personal contact, there’s no sexual contact. And in this case I think it’s vice versa, at least for your husband.”

“Gotcha. I can see that.”

“So you can pull those magnets closer together, come into the border of contact and liven things up. And how do you do that, he said, anticipating her question? You do that by being completely who you are in the moment, by being completely open, by listening better than you’ve ever listened in your life and by staying with the other’s experience as well as your own.”

“Wow, sounds like a lot of work. It also sounds exciting.”

“There you go. It is exciting. It’s exciting because you are facing each other at close range. And Emily, the same thing is true physically. I urge you to try some new things and try some old things in new ways. Listen to some of your husband’s suggestions and see if you can try them. They might just be fun.”

“I hear you Rex. I guess I’ve gotten a little complacent, I guess.”

“It happens to all of us, believe me. And I want to say one more thing:

If you or your husband were going to die tomorrow, wouldn’t you want to touch him?”

“A lot more than that, Rex, lot more.”

“Emily, thanks for calling. Be good to yourself.”

I sat back with a grin on my face, feeling good about the call. I caught Stan waving to me out of the corner of my eye. He got my attention then pointed to the phone. There was one more call and he wanted me to take it.

I punched the flashing light.

“Hello, Rex, this is Peter and you were just talking to my wife.”

“Well, hello Peter. How can I help you?”
“You don’t need to help me. I just wanted to add to and clarify my position. I liked your conversation with Emily and I’d just like to say a little more.”

“Great. Shoot.” I was relieved he didn’t call with a complaint and rebuttal.

“I think we’re missing something, Emily and I. We’re missing the chance to be amorous with each other. That’s my favorite word for it. It’s sexual without necessarily being genital. It’s a reflection of deep love for each other expressed physically. Are you with me?”

“Absolutely,” I said and meant it.

“I think everyone needs to be touched. It’s a matter of health to me. As I’ve gotten older I’ve appreciated all kinds of touch on different parts of my body. With my wife, I have the chance for that touching to be erotic and somehow connecting for us. And I don’t want to give that up.”

“Peter, you heard the conversation. Maybe now she’s ready to try. Maybe she didn’t completely understand what you needed.”

“That’s possible Rex, though I’ve said it many times. I’m going to try again; she’s in the next room.”
“Go for it Peter. And I’ll be thinking of you.”

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The Writer as Young Man

I have been writing for public consumption since the sixth grade.
When I was twelve I submitted a poem to the school newsletter. It was about a young Native American performing a rain dance. I remember the first two lines:
There was a little Indian who tried to make rain
He tried and he tried but he tried in vain
In the next few lines he succeeded –it finally rained– and thanked his God and thanked the sky. I can look back now and say the themes were about doing something for his community, perseverance and gratitude. My mother, as you might imagine, saved a copy of the newsletter until she died.
I share this with you—the circle of people around me—in order to reflect on these themes: creating for my community, perseverance and gratitude. Over the years I have written about myself, and others, in order to encourage self-awareness, learning and loving. I’ve explored feelings, power, fear, leadership, culture, relationships and what it means to be human. I’ve done this to express myself, so it’s met a need of mine, and I‘ve done this with the hope that others would be moved and/or learn something about themselves.
I believe that the writer and the artist serve as bellwethers for the community in that they express themes and explore subjects that are therapeutic for the society in which they live. Words and images are able to move others to new depths, inspire action and promote healing.
Sharing these words and images takes perseverance. Any writer or artist will tell you about the struggle of trying to find an audience, connecting with people who appreciate what they do, making a living and feeling some kind of connection that comes from response. Many, many people give up and find an easier path. Many are driven to self-doubt and life laden with problems, discouraged by their perceived lack of significance.
I wrestle with the issue of response and have as long as I can remember. Am I saying something that matters to anyone? Am I just shouting into the empty space of the universe and finding no connection? It’s something that I –and many others– have had to come to terms with in order to continue expressing things that matter.
I like for my creation to have impact. The worst response is no response at all. I am not one who writes or creates images, steeped in the pure pleasure of creation, and then stores them in a drawer. So I keep doing this.
Perseverance leads me to gratitude. I continue to write essays and books and hope they see the light of day. I continue to produce images and hope they find a place in a home or office. I would not continue this if it were not for all of you and your support and encouragement — whether we know each other very well or just a little.
I still wobble on the dichotomy of creating-selling. I have had dreams of myself standing on a street corner hawking recent pages to strangers. I have written friends about the evils of capitalism and the forces of the market that “made” me sell something in order to have worth. It was painful. And part of that pain was a resistance I had not fully faced. I was whining about something that had to happen in some way if I was to reach any kind of audience.
I learned about reframing. What I had to do was look at what I was doing through different lens, see it for something different, and call it something new. Lately I have looked at it as sharing. I like to share what I do. I get excited about sending folks a new essay or a new piece of artwork. Sharing is a lot easier and more fun than selling.
While the idea of sharing things works, I am still left with a dilemma. My inner circle is small, relative to say, millions people that might see Katy Perry on the Internet. How can I expand that circle so I can have some reasonable effect and so I can justify keeping this creative-response circle going?
So, I’m sharing this with you. This is why you get these occasional e-mails from me that tell you I’m having another art exhibit or publishing a new book. I want you to know it’s a bit of a push-pull with me. I don’t like to self-promote but I don’t think anyone else is going to do it for me.
I hope you will stay in touch. Thank you.
John

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Gender – an excerpt

Following is an excerpt from “Be Strong Be Smart — a father talks to his daughter about sex:

 

Gender –Why is this word in here? I want to say a few things about gender because it means something different than sex and I think the difference is important. A lot of people use the word gender when they’re talking about male or female. I take the word gender to mean masculine or feminine and the word sex to mean male or female.
Here’s why I think it’s important: you were born female and you learn femininity. I was born male and I learned masculinity. So gender behavior is something that I learn from various sources: my extended family, school, siblings, films and television, role models and the culture I was born into. In my case, I soaked this up from my dad.
Time and place is very important too. Being born a female in Los Angeles in 1998 has a different influence on your life than if you were born in Beijing in 1698. You can imagine that your family and the culture would expect radically different things from you. What would it mean to be a girl and a woman in China three hundred years ago? You and I can only imagine.
So if you and I learned our gender beliefs and behaviors it means we can unlearn them, or change them to fit our current values and lifestyles. Could I, for instance, consider developing more of my feminine side? Does your mother want to grow her masculine persona?
You don’t have to be a woman to be feminine and you don’t have to be a man to embrace masculine behaviors. When the culture looks at certain traits such as nurturing or receiving as feminine and subtly discourages that in boys, it is a loss for the boys and the society.
Picture the yin-yang symbol and think of the black and white sides as masculine and feminine/ They fit together, snug with each other. They are not in competition, they don’t struggle with one another. They compliment each other.
What does all this mean to you? I don’t want you to be limited by a picture others may have of you as a woman and therefore only feminine. I want you to embrace all that you are and not limited by some kind of cage that the culture may put around you.
In the sexual arena this means you can be your full powerful self and act on how you feel and what you want, without reference to being someone else’s idea of feminine or masculine. There is no reason I can think of to either embrace or deny either your masculine or feminine side.
This is as good a place as any to address same sex relationships.
I’ve never had strong feelings about homosexuality, one way or another. When I was a youngster there was a lot of prejudice and violence and laws regarding men with men and women with women. All that’s changed remarkably fast and I think we’re a better society for that change. That doesn’t mean that everybody is suddenly in favor of gays and lesbians, but I am happy to see the social change and the legal changes that allow every one of us to feel and act as we want to.
My stance is to learn from as many people and points of view as I can. I have learned a lot from the men and women I know that are in a same sex relationship and I urge you to do the same.
Here’s what I hope for you: If you have strong feelings for any individual—of the same sex or different, of the same race or different, of the same culture or different—that you will honor that feeling and not feel guilty about it. AND, this is big, that you will carefully consider the choices you have before you jump into a relationship. Remember, I am always here to talk with you about choices.

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Be Strong, Be Smart –an excerpt

Below is an excerpt from my new book, “Be Strong, Be Smart –a father talks to his daughter about sex.” The 10,000 word book, published by Booktrope and available as an e-book or in print, is divided into sections. This is the section on:

Attitude
A wise man told me when I was in my twenties that the most important sexual organ I had was my brain. I nodded my head, thinking I knew what he meant, as a twenty-year-old will, but it took me at least twenty more years to fully integrate his wise words into my behavior.
What I want to say to you is that your beliefs and attitudes about yourself, men, and your sexuality will govern you, so you better learn what they are and make friends with them.
I see the openness and wealth of information our world now has about sex that did not exist in my youth. You have access to so many words and images now. You can learn things in a few moments that it took me years to find out, and you can see things that I didn’t even imagine.
And I wonder how our basic attitude in American society has changed, or not. It seems to me we still have some Victorian-age shyness about sex that causes us to hide, snicker, and, beyond all reason and taste, continue to burp out raunchy jokes about women.
While your mom and I have not been very strict and haven’t restricted your freedom very much, we have tried to instill certain values—respect for yourself and others and a healthy, open relationship with us among them. But it seems that we too have neglected to engage you before now about sex, and for that I apologize.
I want you to come to terms with that fear and awkwardness. While I appreciate a good sense of humor as well as anyone, I think it’s a serious mistake to make remarks and tell jokes about the opposite sex or about an act that has the potential to be quietly spiritual and certainly ecstatic. The longer men engage in that sort of exchange with their peers, the more they poison their own experience. I’d like you to learn an effective way to respond, as a woman, to what is essentially men’s fear of women.
So explore your thoughts, and decide what place in your life you want sex to occupy. Does that sound strange? I think we give that kind of thoughtful consideration to food, homes, money, religion, our careers certainly, …why not sex? Do you want your sexual life to be private, open, funny, sacred, productive, spiritual, informed, romantic? Think about it. Do some reading. Talk with others. Expand your consciousness, and slowly build a stance about your sexuality that you will carry into your primary intimate relationship.
An attitude is an ongoing set of feelings and thoughts about something. Of course I’d like to you to experience freedom and joy in your life—all of it, including your sexual life. The sexual phase of your life lasts a long time, and I’m suggesting that you start with a healthy foundation that has to do with your attitudes, values, beliefs, and desires. Those are things you and I can talk about.
A creative, optimistic outlook will take you a long way in your sexual life. Sexual frustration, frigidity, and impotence are definitely related to a person’s worldview and view of self. Do you have a sense of meaning and purpose in your life? Do you have the feeling that you matter, that you are full of life energy and are ready to interact with the world in a joyful way? These questions are important. They address the spiritual nature of making love and making love happen.
That attitude folds into your feelings about your own body and your sexual urges. Get clear, accepting, and strong with yourself first; then you can take that to someone else. There is nothing about your body or urges to be ashamed of. Your body – your only body — needs to be kept clean, healthy and in harmony. Don’t make the mistake of separating the sexual from the spiritual.
One of the most important things I can tell you about sex—and about relationships, period—is work to manage your judgments. What I mean here by “judgment” is setting yourself up as a judge of someone else (or of yourself) and deciding whether others are good or bad, right or wrong. It is an imposition of your own morality on another, and it is one of the biggest obstacles to intimacy that I know of.
In the course of the coming years, you will discover how different you are from the one you love. Perhaps you will discover how different your non-romantic loved ones are from each other as well. Your job is to refrain from judging the differences and appreciate your partner for who he is—just him, there in front of you, growing like a daffodil in the garden. He has his own path, just as you have yours.
Some say that the appreciation of differences is the foundation of intimacy. We tend to love people who are similar to us, but not too similar. We love people who are different from us, but not too different.
The process of becoming intimate is a process of the discovery, acceptance, and appreciation of those differences.
Often what we do instead is try our hardest to change the person across from us, to make them something we want them to be. This leads the mind to construct a kind of self-contained bible of what is right and what is wrong. We might want a spouse who speaks to us in the right way, does the things around the house we want them to do, drives the way we want them to, and makes love in just the right way. If he does not, we will work hard to change him. Believe me, both sexes do this.
Appreciating differences means dropping that way of thinking. It means you do not have God in your pocket, continually informing you of what is good and what is bad. It means seeing another person who has a different past and a different future than you do. He has a path and he will live that out as he wants (I hope), and he is doing his best to do that every day.
A large part of intimacy—sexual and otherwise—means being humble enough to truly see someone else and learn from them, instead of insisting that something be done or expressed the way you would do it.
If you have the attitude “My way or the highway,” you will end up alone.
The sexual act gives us the ultimate opportunity to let our judgments fall away and drop into pure appreciation and joy. If you are in your head, constantly thinking about how big or small or pretty or ugly you are, or evaluating each part of your partner’s body, you will miss that opportunity. The gift you will give yourself and your partner is the acceptance of who you are, just for yourself—not in relationship to anyone else—just who you are. In other words, you are not in this life solely for him, and he is not in this life solely for you; you both are here to live your own lives and be companions on a long journey.
Sexual joy is about letting go, surrendering yourself to a union that is more than both of you, and you can only get there by surrendering your ego, your insecurities, your self-importance, and your judgments. When you can do this for yourself, you will find it a lot easier to do for others.

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Freedom people, Freedom

Freedom!

If there one word that sums up the reason America is a nation, it’s got to be this one.

But the current attitude regarding freedom among libertarians, red staters and
other conservative camps is mind bending. I’m just going to call them ’the right’ so I can use two words. The right seems, on the one hand, to want less government interference in our lives. That was the thrust of the original Tea Party slogans. But if that is inconvenient, they want the government to intervene so that a man cannot marry a man, a woman cannot marry a woman, a buyer can decide whom to sell goods to and persons in general cannot do what they want in the privacy of their own bedroom.
Religious beliefs cover a lot of ground. It gets pretty damn weird when you think of some of the implications of refusing a person something because of what you believe.
What if my religion unequivocally states a man shouldn’t eat red meat? What if my minister tells me that it’s absolutely forbidden to hang out or do business with someone who symbolically eats the body and drinks the blood of their savior? What if I believe it’s wrong to worship snakes? (I’d have to check for holes in your arm.)
I mean, we could eliminate a lot of business here people. We could have Wal-Marts just for Muslims, Starbucks for Christians and Burger Kings for Jews. We could have airlines for the Amish.
If we, in any way, decide to refuse service or goods to a person because of our belief system about the world or any god, we are trashing the one concept that must go along with freedom. That word is tolerance.

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SPLITTING WOOD

My brother and I used to say that wood will warm us twice—once in the splitting and again in the burning. And it did, as we strained and dripped sweat, maneuvering our saws, axes, wedges and mauls to put up some firewood on a snappy autumn afternoon.
In the process of cutting (really ‘butchering’ is a better word) a 100-year-old oak that had been split in two by a massive charge of lightening in a summer storm, we discovered the tenacity and obduracy of this wood. One of our splitting wedges would disappear into the middle of the oak, swallowed up in a short piece of the trunk and nearly followed in by our maul. We drove another wedge into the heart of the tree and it too was lost among the ligaments and strands of the core of this tree so long in the making. A third wedge followed.
Finally, the 18-inch piece would yield, split and pulled apart, and the wedges would flop out onto the grass like small animals that had been taken into the mouth of a large beast and released only when the beast died.
We went on as long as our arms and backs would take us and realized that we could make a winter out of this, that we could swing and split and groan day after day for months and not finish off this great tree, this quercus quercus. And we did not. But there were more cold days to come and more occasions for splitting wood.

All days are good for splitting wood. Warm, with my shirt off, collecting sun and throwing off sweat. Snowing, in a warm hat and good gloves. Crisp and clear while the sounds of the ax finding its home in the middle of the wood ring through the trees standing around me. Ah the sound; the swing, the downward flight, then the sound.
The ax, balanced easily in my hands and then swung back in a graceful arc behind my back, over my head, racing down toward the cylinder of bark and watery tissue, then “Thok.” That is a good solid sound and there is a tearing too, as the wood separates, divides in two and drops dead on each side of its companion piece.
And the smells. In the fall, the earth is damp and sends up its own sweet perfume that must compete with the pungent oak, the sweet cedar or the fresh fir. Each entry of the steel into the wood brings a breath from the tree. Often I stop and hold the split wood close and breathe it deep into my lungs. Each day outside splitting wood bring some new sound, smell or feeling. It may be the ax, the maul, the wet leather gloves, the noisy jays that review my performance, the damp leaves on the ground or the sun in the dry dust.
There is no better day than this one– a chilly, foggy morning with no promise of sun. There is enough mist in the air to wet my hair and color the wood more intensely. It is a weekday, quiet and still. Several alders have been felled alongside a seasonal creek and then sawed into lengths that will squeeze through the fireplace door. Gray and green bark, dotted with black and white fungi, frames a wet orange circle of wood. No two pieces are the same.
Small dark branches, knots, scars, small limbs, slots from the chain saw and crotches in the trunk give each round a different look, a different invitation to be split. They stand each in their own way on the splitting block, which is one of their own, and ask for their own angle, stroke and strength in the down stroke.
The splitting wedge, eight pounds of steel hung out on the end of a hardwood handle, employs considerably less nuance than the sharpened ax. The wedge depends, like a Sumo wrestler, on its weight and bulk. It is neither polite nor clean and does not apologize for the crude way it divides the alder down the middle. Alder, compliant, fresh and innocent compared to the old oak, surrenders easily to the repetitive swing of the maul. Again and again, the short log divides and falls easily to the wet grass.
Thok.
Thuk.
Whok.
No other sound. The dark wet bark parts on each side of the steel and reveals a clean, white middle that nearly glows in the morning mist. The shiny green grass, laden with rain, surrounds a growing pile of gray, black, orange and creamy white. These are the short strokes on the artist’s palette.
My breathing becomes steadily heavier and louder with the rhythm of the steel maul. I lay it down alongside the wood. Then I begin to grab the slippery, short pieces of wood and toss them into the dull blue wheelbarrow and they “thong,” “sprong” and “thunk” against the metal sides.
I dream, as I push the wheelbarrow across the field, feeling the water run down my nose and cheeks, feeling my heart beat. I dream of the evening and of laying the fire, of hearing the first crackles as the small pieces catch. I assure myself that I will remember each piece I put on the fire and how it split in two and how it fell.

John Thomas Wood

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REMEMBER:

C A L M

O  P  E  N

STRONG

A  W  A  R  E

Remain calm amid the high emotion and drama of the rest of the world. Be at peace and accept what is. Maintain the clear pool at your center.

 

Open yourself to your own deep experiences. Be honest and straight with others. There is no reason to hide. Experience the freedom and the energy of transparency.

 

Know and hold to yourself. You can be powerful without being rigid. Dwell in what you know and maintain your mental, emotional and physical strength.

 

Deepen and broaden your awareness of yourself and the world around you. Awareness is the necessary first step to change. Keep your senses sharp and receptive. Listen and watch.

 

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A work in progress

Understand that everything is a work in progress.

That is just another way, maybe, of stating Darwin’s statement about evolution, but he was not thinking about relationships, work teams, organizations or politics. I am.

I think a lot about love and power. I write about them and I have recently – at this latter stage in my life – rediscovered the fact, the idea, that love is a work in progress.

Maybe you think it’s foolish to have believed anything else, to believe that love, once put in place, would stay there. If you worked hard to plan and build a house on a piece of land, you expected the house to stay there. Well, maybe not forever, but you get the idea.

But love is not like a house on a lot. If you think of all the metaphors that have been composed about love, not many of them are static. Love is not a rock. Love is not the sky. Love is not the Lincoln Memorial.

Like it or not, love is alive. Love is more like a river or a primrose. It is born, it changes and it dies. How could it be different? Everything is the universe has a cycle, even the universe itself. It has a big bang, it shrinks, it grows and, sooner or later, it implodes.

At this point you may think the subtext is discouraging: Don’t expect too much, don’t expect love to last. Maybe. Expectations are hard to manage and maybe your love will last all of your life and maybe not. My message, today, is best said by someone I have admired for a long time:

be of love(a little)

More careful

Than of everything…

 

Cummings wrote that and Sister Corita Kent plastered it on a poster and I have read it and re-read it for fifty years.

Love does need nurturing. It needs attention, tending to, fertilizing, honoring, repotted and guided to change. It certainly is admirable when you can do this to and with another person, but I am focused on doing these things to love itself – the way you love and the love that in that space between you and another person. That process needs care.

It’s very possible that love can die prematurely, for a hundred different reasons: neglect, strangulation, abuse, imbalance—you know the reasons, you know the feeling when that space between you is polluted, muddy and tense.

One of the saddest things about our education is we don’t have any training in love. We seem to learn by osmosis, by watching our parents, by meeting someone who knows a way of loving we don’t or — most of us – by trial and error.

From the chair I sit in today, love is still a little mysterious. There are still doors to be opened and things in the corners that need a light shined on them. Love is still a work in progress, a long trip that is often exciting and frequently boring. Sometimes there’s a rest stop, sometimes a dinosaur museum, a beautiful sunrise and an afternoon of singing along with the radio.

Love requires change. It needs a balance between growing on its own and being tended. What I wish for you and me is that we have the opportunity to practice this ongoing, sometimes elusive, often sacred space between ourselves and another person.

What else is there?

 

 

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BE STRONG, BE SMART

Following is the beginning of my new book, published by Booktrope in Seattle.
In coming weeks I’ll publish excerpts and I welcome your comments.

BE STRONG, BE SMART

A father talks to his daughter about sex

PREFACE

I am the father of three children and, for reasons I cannot explain, have not talked to any of them about sex. I wish I had of walked bravely into those kinds of conversations and might of, if they’d asked for them. I had a good open relationship with all three of them and can’t think of a concrete, specific reason why I did not share more. No excuses, but maybe regrets.
It’s something that is missing in our culture: a broad and loving dialogue about sex between children and their parents, but I can’t assign blame to our society. The responsibility lies at my feet. While we have had great talks about a lot of other things, the deeper conversation about sexual behavior has gone wanting, a product of my embarrassment, I guess, and that of my kids too.
What is the root of that embarrassment? I asked myself that more deeply as I began this “assignment” I’ve given myself. I suppose it’s shame, some kind of leftover Victorian shame about the body and it’s natural functions and the various acts of sex that most people still think are very private. Even after the so-called sexual revolution and the explosion of information and images available to young people, a meaningful dialogue between parent and child is still lacking in most households.
And so, here is this minor effort at correcting that in my family. This, I hope, will begin a dialogue, although, at this writing, I really don’t know if anyone of my kids will carry on the conversation with me. I may be suspect as a source or it may be, in the end, just too embarrassing to talk with their dad about such matters.
This is not so much an attempt at sex education as it is a statement about how I would like to see my daughter, in particular, treat herself and the men in her life and how she will get what she wants. If I have any wisdom at all, I’m going to try to stumble through the awkward moments and pass it along. The remainder of this is addressed to her, with love.
Maybe you could call this the conversation I wish I’d had.

A Beginning

Here is what I’ve been waiting to tell you about your relationship with the man in your life. This is centered on sex, but not exclusively, as you will see. Even though I’ve really wanted to talk with you about this, I have not found the courage to be as open and explicit as I will be now.
I have a belief, something I learned from a love of mine a long time ago, that my sexual life is a microcosm of the whole of the relationship with my beloved. How we are in our sexual behaviors and attitudes is a direct and accurate reflection of the power, love, fear and communication in our ongoing, everyday relationship. You will see this belief reflected in what I will share with you in this volume.
At the risk of embarrassing you, some of what I write here will be about my personal experience. And some will be lessons I have learned, from a variety of sources, that have rung true to me but I have not necessarily experienced first hand. The difference between what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned from other sources is not really important, because anyone other than you will take what they will from the words alone. I just hope it rings true for you.
You didn’t ask for this to be written, but, as I am nearing the middle of my life, a certain feeling of responsibility and duty rose in my chest. I am sure this is not only about you, my daughter, but is also directed to the men who will meet and bond with you and eventually be the father of your children. So this is for you and for them and perhaps for young men and women everywhere who are at, or near, the starting point of their sexual lives.
So let’s begin.

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A crisis reveals a system

 A crisis reveals a system.

You will see this played out on the evening news nearly every day. A hurricane, rising gas prices, child abuse in a school, a scandal in government – each event/crisis will lead to a closer examination of the system which gave birth to the crisis. Reporters will swarm and dig and report to the public how public agencies responded, how we are too dependent on foreign oil, why children are left alone during hours of the day and how lobbyists influence government. The crisis itself will open a door to understanding of a system that was heretofore hidden or misunderstood. Likewise in an organization, a breakdown, a failure or a threatening crisis will draw immediate attention and attempts to discover how things happen –how the I.T. department really works, why distribution is inefficient and how advertising is completely off base.  A healthy organization will not live the “unexamined life.”   Leaders will maintain a vibrant curiosity about how things work, how things are changing and continually communicate these things to everyone who needs to know. Do not accept the status quo in any part of your organization. Do not wait for the crisis to reveal to you what is not working.

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