Poem: A Few Days After

BANDS

A Few Days After

A few days after the wedding.
A cup of coffee in the morning.
Quiet talk. Hands clasped.
Life slowed down at last,
claiming the truth
that the ceremony, the gathering,
the vows,
were only the beginning
of the love story.

About the poem

Back from the honeymoon.

Our rings were custom made by Beth Moser-Duquette, a friend and maker of wonderful jewelry who lives in nearby Pawlet, and has a shop in Salem, NY.

Tom

Personal: Quiet Defiance

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I wish I had taken a picture of him. Instead, all I have is the picture of his boat.

He was a young man, maybe early thirties, cleaning out his boat after a seven-day trip out to sea, looking for scallops. Clean cut. Polite.

He had parked his truck on the pier to load and unload things into his boat and apologized for being in our way as we walked the piers on the last night of our honeymoon. A chance encounter turned into a conversation that is still with the both of us.

He has two kids. Another on the way. He was, he told us proudly, a fifth generation fisherman. He and his family have fished from Provincetown all his life. He had worked as a deckhand until he earned enough to buy his own boat.

But it is getting harder. A few years ago the government took away the deep sea licenses from all the small fishermen like him, and gave the same licenses to larger companies with their big factory boats. Now, he can only go three miles out, over seabeds that have been overfished and over harvested.

And the competition is fierce. Where once these fishermen in their small boats could go out past the three-mile border of state waters and into federal waters spreading their fishing over vast areas of water, now they are all crammed into a tiny area, all searching for whatever is left, trying to fill their boats.

It’s been made harder recently, with an influx of new fishermen, sons of the wealthy that come to, or live in Provincetown. These new fishermen are given new boats, new equipment, no real worries of whether they make a profit or not. They don’t know or don’t care about the protocols that allowed seamen to work the same waters for generations without harming each other’s equipment, or getting in the way of each other. Their gear is new, but too often hidden, like a trap, just under the water, unmarked, tangling in the nets and dredges of other seamen, those who depend on the sea for a living.

He was a proud young man. Not in that bustling, chest out, testosterone filled kind of pride young men are after full of, but in the pride of someone who has been part of something bigger than himself.

Five generations. That phrase came up again and again. “This is all I know how to do.” he said. “It’s all any of us know how to do and we are being squeezed out. We sell to the local restaurants. Everything they get is fresh. The factory boats? They sell to wholesalers, They freeze it all. Someday, there won’t be fresh scallops anymore. Because people like me are being shut down.”

But it was not a mournful conversation. No, the pride was intact.  He was simply telling us what was happening to his world, a world he loves. Five Generations.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.” he said.

And that’s it isn’t it. When you have done one thing all your life, the same thing your father did and your grandfather and two generations more, it’s hard to see your way to something new. It’s hard to understand why the forces around you are pushing you out?

“What difference to I make to the factory boats?. People like me are small potatoes.”.

He told us a story of people visiting the pier one morning after he and several others had been out for a few days. They were unloading their boxes of fish and shellfish. It smelled as much as you would imagine it smelled. That’s what dead things go.

Two tourists walked by, loudly complaining about the smell. “They should not let these boats be here.” the woman complained.

And then they walked down the pier to have dinner at The Lobster Pot. “They buy my scallops at the Lobster Pot.” he said “They probably had my scallops for dinner. But they don’t want me here. They will miss me when they end up with nothing but frozen scallops though.”

He showed us his boat. Then his wife called. “I’ll be home soon, Babe” he said. “I’m talking to some nice people on the pier.  We wrapped up the conversation, and he drove off. The woman I love and I went to the Lobster Pot for dinner.

A couple of days later, we are home. Our honeymoon over. But he haunts us. His story haunts us. His last words said less in defiance than in hope were “I’ll figure it out.”

Five generations. I wish I had taken his picture.

Poem: Seaside Landscape

ptown 1

Seashore Landscape 

A few intrepid souls trudge to the water,
like a seaside painting in a British museum,
braving the wind that insinuates itself
through the gaps in the buttons and pockets.

They stand a while, walk a bit, throw bread to the seagulls,
and then turn back, almost defeated by the cold,
except perhaps for that sliver of peace, a shell, a rock,
a reminder of the waves and sand

and that one moment of peace
brought home to stay.

Personal: Acceptance and Safety

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I am on my honeymoon. I am happy.

I know, I know, that’s what you would expect. If you can’t be happy on your honeymoon, you probably will never be happy about anything. And in a way the two are related, but maybe not in the obvious way. Maybe the right thing to say is that I am joyful. Not I have moments of joy, or I have moments of happiness. Life is full of those tidbits of time and grace, all mixed in with the tough and the tragic. This, it seems, is something deeper.

And I am not sure what to do with it.

For a long time, well over a decade, maybe almost two, life has been a battle to fight. I was not unaware of the joys and blessings in my life. I was very aware of them. I was not unaware of the good things in my life and I was grateful. But I seemed to struggle with…. well….. everything. Everything was hard. From getting up in the morning to making a phone call to the power company to doing my work, to writing. It had all become hard.

A lot of that I know, was due to depression. I suffer from it. I am pretty sure my father before me suffered from it. It almost took me down a little more than a decade ago, and the fight back has been just that, a fight. A day after day drudge of a fight that after a while, with the progress so slow, and so erratic that at times it could not be seen, and at times even seemed to be going backward, and it was hard. . It was more an act of faith than an act of confidence, I built good habits, did the work, chipped away at it all. I made my therapists proud.

But boys and girls, for most of that time, I was not feeling it.

Today at lunch, as the woman I love and I were sitting over coffee, looking over the harbor in Provincetown, we found ourselves talking about acceptance, and emotional safety. It’s an important topic for both off us because we’ve both had long stretches of life that we did not have either, and that fact took it’s toll on each of us. Part of what has drawn us together, I think, is that we’ve gotten a big dollop of both from each other and after a couple years or more with each other, it’s become our norm with each other. We both count on that acceptance and safety, lean on it, and grow within it.

Looking at where we were then, and where we are now, there’s been a dramatic difference, We’ve both taken chances we might have taken without that level of safety. We’ve taken risks and leapt into changes we might have done otherwise. And there are more ahead for both of us.

I have often talked about and written about the power of safety. It is something I believed in even when I was not experiencing it. I have long felt that when we live in a place of safety, that is where we flourish. It’s true when we are talking about kids. It’s true when we talk about employees. It is true of refugees, of people searching for faith, for artists of all stripes. Studies say so. Doctors say so. I believed so.

But I am feeling it for the first time. Or at least the first time in many, many years.

How does that show itself? That came out in our conversation today as well. Things that have been happening without me realizing it. Things that crept up on me, that only now, in their fullness, am I starting to understand.

I’ve rediscovered a sense of possibility. I’ve done good work the past 15 years or so. Some of it I am very proud of. But it was just work. I didn’t have any excitement in it. Not nearly the joy of accomplishment I once had. I worked to pay bills, not to push myself and see how good I could be. I didn’t take any risk in what I did. I went after safe work, stuff I knew I could do without stretching myself. Very unlike my younger self.

Slowly, and this past year, that has changed. I feel a need to be much more as I was when I was younger. To stretch. To push myself to do work outside my comfort zone. To see what I can do and be. I am still paying the bills, but slowly, the money has become less and less a factor of why I do what I do, and I have a passion for what I am doing. I have a need to grow again, not just exist.

I’ve found it easier to battle my depression. No, it is not gone. Depression doesn’t work that way. It never quite leaves, even when things are cruising along like a 1953 Bel Air on Sunset Strip. It hides and waits for the moments when it can kneecap you out of the blue, and it often does. No, the depression is still there. I still have to make an effort to get up each morning and get to my work, to my day, to my responsibilities as a pastor, a parent, and all the other roles that are part of life. But I am finding easier to push back the blackness. When you have people reminding you of your own value regularly, you feel accepted and emotionally safe, and the demons, those snarky little liars that live in my brain and easier to slam back in place.

It’s like playing “Whack-a-mole”. You get better and better at bopping that bad boy on the head and pushing him back in his hole. Or at least I have.

Another thing that has emerged is my humor. I used to have a wicked, quirky dry humor. I saw the ridiculous in nearly everything. No, I was not ready to be the next Fallon or Colbert, but I was funny. Sneaky funny. Twisted point of view funny. and it came out, probably a bit too often. I wrote poems to cockroaches. I had people chuckling even when talked or wrote about serious things like politics and religion. That ended somewhere about fifteen years ago.

But it’s been sneaking back, and people I’ve only come to know in the past few years look at me sometimes, when I insert some silliness or strangeness into an otherwise normal conversation, as if I was a new being. And then they laugh. I am not so sure that this is the best thing in the world. but it’s new, and once again, it only happens (or at least in my case it only happens) when I am in a place of safety and acceptance.

Because when I am there, I am free. I am powerful to create. I am….

Ridiculously happy.

Now, let me say this. I don’t think I was unaccepted by all the people around me all those years. Sure, I was rejected my a (now-ex) wife. My dad and I had a round now and then. But mostly I think the people around me have been pretty accepting. I live a pretty mild life without tons of controversy. But the combination of my divorce, my depression beating me about the head and shoulders (especially about the head) moved me to a dark place.

I wasn’t able to feel the acceptance. I didn’t feel safe. Even perhaps, at times when I was. Such is the nature of the beast.

I’ve been making progress the past seven or eight years. Slow, painstaking, two steps forward one step back progress. So slow, I don’t even think I saw it coming.

Part of the magic of the woman I love ( I am sure scientist and therapists would have their own point of view that use big words and buzz words, but me, I am going with magic), is how she has accelerated the process. I’ve never felt so emotionally safe. I’ve never felt so completely accepted. That woman knows my wierdnesses, my weaknesses and my past. She knows my fears and where I don’t work so wanymoremore – physically and mentally and emotionally. And she likes me. Heck, she loves me in that no holds barred, I am in your corner Jack, never doubt it for a minute kind of way that few of us get to experience.

She’s been that way from the start. She’s that way now.

And it seems to be working. I’ve grown a lot with her in my corner. I am less afraid. I am stronger in almost every way. But most of all, I am unafraid to fail, because I don’t doubt she’ll be there to pick me up instead of throwing me to the jackals (most of whom live inside my head.).

Don’t doubt your power to make the biggest of differences simply by letting the people around you know how much you love them, by being fiercely positive and supportive, I’ve believed this forever, and have seen it work with kids, churches and companies. And finally, at the ripe old age of 61, am experiencing it myself. It sounds too simple to be true, but trust this former captive of his own demons, it’s powerful stuff.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Personal: Blurred Images

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I have been carrying around this picture (above) for almost a decade. It’s a glass slide I picked up cheap at some antique store somewhere and have never mounted or done anything with.

It gets shuffled from my desk to my workbench to the counter but I never quite admit that I am never going to do anything with it.

Part of it is Paris. It is a picture of Paris. No firm date, but likely somewhere around the 1800’s.  I like to think of it as 1888. I even wrote a story about that date somewhere back there.

I have a thing for Paris, even though I have not been there yet. I grew up reading French novels (translated, I am terrible at languages). Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite novel. I read it almost yearly.  A young addict to NPR, I fell in love  Debussy, Ravel and Maurice Saint Saens – a strange mix to the rock and roll that was also part of my time and culture. I aoften listen to French cafe music and French jazz, even if I can’t understand the words. And the art! The impressionists sing to me. Picasso fascinates me.  I love the idea of the left bank artists and salons and…. all of it.

I am perfectly aware that my vision of Paris is a romantic one. But that is how I see things. Not through rose-colored glasses, but through romantic colored glasses.  That causes me problems sometimes. And I am very wrong sometimes. But it is how I see. When I travel to a city, particularly a city or village overseas, I see it differently than most people. It is like living in a novel, with that same richness of feeling that you only get in novels and at times, the most sublime of poetry.

Seeing things romanticly is a problem sometimes. I have been slow to see when people around me dislike me, or even hate me. I have been slow to see the bad in people, even when others around me see it loud and clear. I often have hope when perhaps, it’s time to abandon hope and get down to some nitty-gritty painful admissions. I am not good at protecting myself from pain.

A decade ago, my therapist and others around me put in a lot of work trying to help me see things more clearly.  I can do it now. I don’t like it, but I do it. Sometimes.

I am one of those guys that puts up pictures of things I want in life to remind me, to help me eventually get “there”, where ever “there” is. In my office, you’ll see a small gathering of pictures from Venice (where I did get to and where I hope to go to again) and Paris. Perhaps I keep the glass slide for that reason, to constantly prick me, to remind me that I will, someday, go.  Recently though, the slide has taken on a different importance.

It’s blurry.

So much of life is blurry. We think we know where it’s all going, and then we find out we don’t.  We think we recognize someone and they turn out to be something very different. Heck, sometimes we think we know ourselves and then we do something totally out of character and we end up scratching our heads wondering “Where did THAT come from.”

I spent the first fifty years or so of my life thinking otherwise. Things and people and plans were what they were. I laughingly thought I had a modicum of control about life and where it was going.

Silly boy.

I was wrong about a lot of things I thought. Life is a lot less certain and a lot less clear than I imagined back then. Less realism and more impressionist. I have become comfortable with fog, with letting the blurred shapes in the distance unfold as they unfold. And this picture reminds me of that.

I get married in 2 days, after more than a decade living on my own. Am I looking at that through romantic eyes? Yeah, probably.  I have taken the time to step back and look at it with realistic eyes (My therapists would be proud of me.). But mostly, I look at her, and our marriage through eyes blurred with love.

And like this slide, I kinda know what is there. But there are lots of details I can’t see.

When I do get to Paris, I am hoping I can find this place and take a new picture, all clear and in color and full of detail, of the same spot. But that will never replace the image of this old glass slide in my mind.

That’s the way I choose to live. I can turn romanticism on and off, but mostly, I leave it on. Blurry pictures and all.  Come to my house and you will find lots of pictures of places I have traveled.  Many of them are not photographs, but old postcards from the forties and fifties, some in black and white, some are hand colored, almost like paintings.  They don’t capture the detail. They capture the essence, the feeling, often far better than modern, high definition images of today.

And that’s what is important me, far more than the details – the essence.  And it can get lost in the details. It too often does. A person makes one mistake and they are branded by it the rest of their life. A person says one stupid thing and we remind them of it forever. We fail once and that failure is like a brand burnt into their reputation.  We have one diverging point of view on politics, religion, life – and we tar and feather them and ride them out of town.

We never give them the chance to play out who they are. We dismiss them fast and hard and throw them aside. The details. If they aren’t perfect, we paint them with the flaws.

I’ve been painted that way, and discarded. You likely have too.

But I don’t want to live that way. No, for me, I want to live impressionistly, and let the details get lost in the essence. I can live with the fog, with the blur, with the belief that most people are good, with the belief that God is love, that there is hope, that I can make a difference, and that the people I love are wonderful.

Not perfect.  Wonderful. There’s a difference.

And I’ll take wonderful every time.

See you in Paris.

Tom

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