Soaring Spring

One of those evenings I’ve come to love. Pink and purple hues across the horizon blending as tufts of cloud dally with the ground in the distance and rise, gray and ominous, white and cotton-laden and like wisps of steam come and go with the dappled and fading sunlight.

It’s spring. It’s glorious spring–even in California where seasons are really a perfunctory name for the change of light. The temperature varies but little: it can be cold like winter or warm like summer and sometimes both in one day. The rain came last week and while there is certainly room for more, it doesn’t appear there will be too much in the near future. Cynics and central planners decry it. Those of us who actually have faith that the world works believe that when you choose to live in a desert, you should expect little rain.

Spring break next week meaning that Friday is the last day of school for a little bit. It’s also the day previous to Shannon’s 11th Birthday. I’ll have more to say about that Saturday night. Suffice to say, I’ve blogged about her birthday each year (though I think this only goes back to 2005) and what a remarkable time. The joy she brings me–to Sue–is immeasurable.

And so I could complain, gentles. There is a good deal I could complain about. Shannon has a cold, but she’s fighting. Finances are….well….finances. Teaching is….well….teaching. And writing is…..you get the picture. But what I really have is joy. I’m happy because I have people to love who love me and whom I care about a great deal. I have faith that all will be well…

And I think the Supreme Court will overturn Obamacare. OK. Sorry—just had to throw that in.

Peace. To all–even those who disagree with me.

Onward.

Spring flowers

Health scare. Again. This time me. Things were swelling that shouldn’t be. Sensitive areas. Worry and fear. Lack of sleep. Serious soul-searching and wondering. Went to doc…

Doc says not to worry. The things that are swollen do that sometimes and the way they are swollen is not a worry to him. Give it time, relax. Should be fine. Something changes? Gets worse? Gets larger? Call. We’ll investigate a bit further. Still, not much to worry about.

Whew…

One week to go until spring break and that will be nice. Doing some writing, doing some teaching, doing some reading. All good–but here’s the thing. It ain’t about me…

Peanut will be 11 on Saturday and Sue and I have been reminiscing. You know–a year ago this week—a year ago on this day. That kind of thing. And those of you parents know this, feel and felt this, have been through this and it’s as right and true for you as it is for us. How does raising a child become cliche?

How does thinking about the time she wouldn’t go to sleep in a hotel as a baby, forcing us to drive two and a half hours home become a simple smile? How does remembering the two nights she spent in the hospital when she was 18 months old having trouble getting her breath become nothing more than a hazy flecked memory of 2 A.M. wake-up calls and a a sick and tired baby sleeping on Sue’s chest all night long? How does coming home from work to a one year old waving her hands at me, smiling and saying, “up, up!” become, “Hey dad. How’s it goin’?”

Sigh.

Now, the beautiful child is reading seventh grade books, learning about the periodic table of elements, riding a horse, singing like an angel and watching iCarly. 11-years old and finishing her last year of elementary school. I was 10 when I moved to California. I remember it all well. I’m watching through her eyes as she checks out new ground, finds out what she’s made of and thanks to her mom, my beautiful wife, becomes a more centered, focused and balanced child.

If nothing else in my life got better–it’d be OK. She does. Every day.

Onward

Righting the Ship again.

The world has turned on its head the last week or two and I’ve been playing a lot of catch up. The IRS wants its pound of flesh and the financial strapping that comes at this clove of seasons, my very favorite time to talk of weather and landscapes and enjoy some kind of peaceful retreating, is interrupted by the practical necessities of feeding the beast.

I’m rather excited that this morning I get to interview Father Gregory Boyle, Los Angeles Priest who is widely known for his work at Homeboy Industries as well as his book, Tattoos on the Heart. Said book is the subject of the One City, One Book program here in our little burgh of Camarillo. So, Father Boyle has agreed to come talk to an audience and the paper asked me to cover the event. If one can be a fan of Priests, count me one of Father Boyle’s. This is a man who has set about to show the practical and even-handed reality of boundless compassion and love. What more could you ask?

Read over at Hugh Hewitt’s blog about Mr. Clooney. Along with Mr. Hewitt, I too don’t agree most of the time with Mr. Clooney’s worldview. But I respect his passion and his stand on Sudan, an issue that deserves wider attention and Mr. Clooney is smart enough to realize that the media ignores the issues that matter in favor of the ones that don’t. His film, The Ides of March, apparently shows that, too–though I have not yet seen it.

I did see The Descendants the other night and I was moved well beyond words. Mr. Clooney’s acting is a thing to behold and the story itself is so moving, so utterly graceful and and storied that it deserves its own post here (as though that’s a real charm to the film itself…) and I’ll provide one when there is more time.

The girls went off to church this morning, but I had some homework to do before interviewing Father Boyle. In addition, Simon is now chomping at the bit. We walked in the rain yesterday and that wasn’t his favorite. We were told by the weather gods that today would be rainy and cold and windy, too. 1 out of three ain’t bad, I guess…it is a little chilly out. But the skies are blue and there is no wind. No clouds on the horizon, either. It was a nice big rainstorm last night with hail and everything–but it’s gone now. Remember this each time you hear one of these cretins pontificate about climate change–like they know what they’re talking about. They can’t even seem to get the weather report right within 24 hours, let alone next year.

Onward.

Hope

The sunsets in late winter early spring in So. Cal are beautiful. Crisp, sharp breezes kick up blowing wisps of cloud through orange and blue hues across a painted sky. Spring, as I will carry with me forever from a former student, Jake Parres who was in my  junior English class 12 years ago, is the soul-chasing season. Indeed it is.

So we await rain which winter wouldn’t deliver and which appears to be arriving this weekend and which I look forward to.

Simon asleep next to me, Shannon at work on the computer in the playroom, Sue upstairs getting ready for bed–it’s a Wednesday night. I have a deadline that I’ll handle shortly and I have hope. People Media Group has tasked me with a good deal of work about which I’m more excited than I have ever been about a freelance assignment. Challenging, worthwhile and lucrative, I’m excited to be working with such a quality group of people and a quality outfit. I feel like I’ve arrived.

Sometimes, it is merely a matter of faith. Prayer, patience and peace. Writing full-time for the newspaper has allowed me to become a more efficient and more focused writer. That has opened up opportunities for me about which I never dreamed and I’m aware that its’ not full-proof, but there is more opportunity here, more chance to do the things I love to do and it feels like I’ve been climbing for about three years and have reached a plateau from which great things may happen.

It is not a dream, either. It’s not an accident. It’s taking advantage of opportunities within a framework of options. This, friends-is exactly what I asked for. And I’m up for the challenge.

Onward.

What Counts…

I had Friday off and this was a boon to the psyche. Mind you, a booned psyche can be a dangerous thing. Especially in my volatile psychological state. Allow me to illuminate:

I had come to my mid-life crisis honestly and with verve. Sell the car. I’ve owned it since 2005 and it’s been good to me, but it’s time to let it go. It’s a Scion xB. This one:

I put it on the estimable Craig’s List and within a day, I had a serious buyer. This would have solved a number of problems: It would have paid off what I owe to the IRS this year (about 5K) and it would have given me another 3K and change to buy a used (greatly used, perhaps) car. I’ve got the right stuff in place to do it, too. I have Joe, the father of one of my fine students, who makes a hobby out of buying and selling cars and he was going to set this all up for me. We were going to buy a used Honda Del Sol or a Mazda Protege 5 (these are my choices) and use it to fill in the blank that the Wine Box left.

But it was not meant to be. Sigh.

So, I had the buyer ready to go, I was ready to move forward and I went cold. I couldn’t let go of the box. I couldn’t do it because I the thing is so damn reliable, such a part of my family and it’s not really about me: it’s about us. Sigh. Again.

So I didn’t sell. And I am going to buy–but not yet. Soon, though.

Am  I sure I did the right thing? No, I’m not. But so far, it feels like the right thing. Here’s how I know: I’m more interested in the cash than I am in the car. The IRS is not kind when it comes to what is owed. I guess they’re proud of that reputation. I think it will send them to hell, but hey–what do I know?

So, they’ll still get their money–I am just going to have to work harder in order to get it to them. Meanwhile…

The idiots in the cul de sac, college students with a serious party jones, have made our lives hell for weekends at a time. While we were in Solvang, one of their drunken minions wound up in our backyard trying to break into our house. Luckily, Aunt Laurie and Lucy the wonder-dog let her have what for. But she was so drunk, she argued with my sister-in-law. My sister-in-law won. We’ll leave it at that.

It’s awful stuff. Last night, party crashers causing all kinds of problems. Police came twice, then this morning on a follow up-apparently. So, my neighbor Roger and I paid a visit to the offending children this afternoon. They were passive aggressive with us, but at least they got the message. We’re not going to tolerate this silliness anymore.

Architectural writing this weekend-and a memorial service for our dear friend, Jean. Her faith inspired us–all of us. And for this I am grateful. In the midst of all the discord, the silencing of ambition and the compromise of the soul–God reminds us that it’s really not compromise at all. It’s love that counts. It’s as if sometimes the things we care so much about disappear like dust before us–reminding us that it’s not important. None of it.

But I wish that sometimes it didn’t take such loss, such utter seriousness to remind me of it…

 

 

Michael, William and me.

And we’re on to a Tuesday…the roll call of the week is always a bad way to start a blog entry. That’s like starting your essay, “The Scarlet Letter is an American classic…” Yeah. Whatev…

But it isn’t a ho-hum day at all, actually. There’s just so much going on that my energy level is still high and it’s the kind of high I know will fade as soon as soon as I sit on the bed for about five minutes. I’ll doze off looking at something or reading something and dream with it pervading each little corner of my mind.

Michael Arndt, the Artistic Director of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Company came to my Shakespeare class today to talk to the kids. He’s come every year for four or five in a row now and it’s always good to have him. It’s funny, he brings the focus of Shakespeare to the classroom, but what I note about him is his very easy teaching style. He’s completely at home as a teacher, relating with the students in smooth and easy tones. They listen to him, too. Yes, he’s a guest-so it’s fairly natural that they would listen, but it’s more than that. It’s that he doesn’t condescend to them nor ignore them where they are. In fact, he focuses directly on who they are and meets them with Shakespeare’s words right where they are.

Michael and I have known each other since the late 80’s when I was a student of his and a dept. aide in the theater arts (then called the drama) dept. Later, in 2006, when I was already teaching and 41 years old, he cast me as the Duke of Venice in The Tragedy of Othello. It was there that I learned about the craft of teaching Shakespeare–I went back to the classroom that fall and revamped the entire Shakespeare curriculum. I ignored the standard English practice of text analysis and essays and directed the students’ focus to character development, acting out scenes, textual relevance and collaborative learning. Studying my character during those six weeks helped me master Othello. It could do the same for the kids in my class.

So, in many ways, it was Michael who changed me into the teacher I am today. Michael’s knowledge base as an actor and a director built that skill in me–but that’s not what makes him a great teacher. It’s his connection to the kids and ability to relate to them that works. It’s a skill I admire and one I seek to emulate. Teaching, regardless of what the press is talking about, is an activity that requires not just skill–but people skills and ignoring those means ignoring real teaching. Expertise is all good and well, but in the end, you have to create relationships. True in life, too.

Onward.

The horse lesson

March comes in and it’s hard to believe. Peanut will be 11 at the end of this month. The years have rolled on like a dream and raised the specter of growing older, but prospering in their wake.

Today, a day after the Santa Ana winds blew through and wiped away sharp edges and pointed  peaks, the sun rolled in softly over the still green hills and warmed the afternoon, burning off the cool morning breezes. Peanut and I were on our way to the dog park with Simon when a fortuitous distraction took us north instead of south to the groomed mounds, hills and larger foothills of Tierra Rejada and Moorpark to see Castle Rock farms.Peanut is a horse girl and one of the fine people for whom I write, John Lockhart, invited us out to Castle Rock to see his daughter Alice do her practice and run through the paces with Vinny, an off-track thoroughbred. He’s gorgeous, of course. At 16.2 hands, he’s a tall, roan beauty, muscular, driven and ambitious. He wants to run.

And so does Peanut. So she watched like a hawk as Vinny was charged to go cross country over four-foot bars and jumps. John’s kindness was unforced and smooth as was his daughter’s. We were so easy and calm and Peanut was blown away by the skill of horse and rider as was I. Simon came with us and his dog-sense told him that these animals, in all their grace and nobility, were not his to rule. He whined while we watched them, mostly because birds flew overhead–birds of all kinds that drew him like a flame on the hot afternoon breeze. March is spring and the burning Santa Anas of yesterday gave way to slow, calm warmth today. Simon was keenly aware of it, keen to it and while it slowed horse and human down, it only made him more electric.

Peanut awoke this morning thinking of horses-reminded of the problems she ran into last Thursday when she slipped, made mistakes and didn’t give herself the charge, the seriousness and the focus she needed to. “Dad,” she said. “Do you think I can be a serious horseback rider?”

And for the first time I’d thought about the way she asked questions. When she was five or six or seven and would ask, I felt a need to answer. I felt that I had to jump in and point out who she was going to be. I knew that what I said could make a difference and could make her choose an outcome–based entirely on what I chose. But that was no longer the case.

“Well,” I said. “I do have an opinion on this. I have known you long enough to know that you can be whatever you want to be, honey. That if this is a passion you’re choosing, then you can do it–yes. But it’s not really important what I think…”

Two nights ago, I raised my voice. Two nights ago, she had chosen to regress, to become less than she was and to hide behind the little girl she used to be. Instead of pulling her out of it and making her think more seriously, more calmly about what was next, I grew narrow and insulate. “You don’t get the luxury of acting like a five-year old when I’m paying for lessons like this…” Suddenly, money was more important than her personality, than her own humanity and occasional regression. Suddenly, the stark and bold darkness of an ungrateful child, entitled and spoiled was all I could see.

It took me all night to see it–but I was ashamed of myself.

So, this morning–after telling her yesterday how wrong I was–how I didn’t have all the answers, I thought better of it indeed.

“Honey, the reason I behaved so badly last Thursday is actually pretty simple. I retreated to the place where I solve all your problems for you–with either love or anger–I went backward, just like you did. I said, ‘you don’t get to go there with my money.’ That was wrong. You see-you’re now at that odd age where you’ve made some choices on your own, like choosing to learn to ride horses–but you’re not entirely capable yet of making your own decisions.

However–this one is definitely a decision you get to make. You’ve chosen to ride-to learn horses and to be part of that world. Do I think you can do it? Of course I do. I think you can do anything. I know you can.

The question isn’t about what I think, Shannon. It’s about what you think. Do you think you can be that kind of horseback rider? Because it seems to me yours is the only answer that matters.”

And that’s when it occurred to me that another milestone was past today: I had to tell my daughter that what I thought wasn’t the issue and that what she thought was. “What do you think?

I learned more than she did today–and it was a little painful and a little wonderful all at once.

Onward.