Vignettes of a Traveler

Aaron A Schultz. Writer and Photographer

Our Suffering Imagination

Seneca, a roman philosopher, once wrote that “we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
I enjoy the rhetorical work of the word “imagination.” I also appreciate the Stoics’ philosophical similarities to mindfulness and Buddhism.

Two meanings of the word “imagination.”We suffer more often in imagination than in reality

First, it means our emotional reactions–our pain, anger, loss, insult, embarrassment–are only imaginary.

By any measure, these emotional states are suffering because they are labeled as “negative.” Often, as part of our fight-or-flight response, our mind manifests this suffering to protect us from harm. Our reactions run the self-destructive gamut of fighting, drinking, shutting down, or running.

If we stop, breath, and then question our ego, we often find we fine, the suffering not as bad as we first thought.

Second, it means our daydreams and reveries, the places where we reply our injuries and insults.

Often, within these imaginative replays, our frustration grows, our anger seeks justice. These scenes are where our imagination reacts when life happens (insults, arguments, misunderstandings, love, etc.). During these scenes, we suffer more in our mind’s reaction than in actual life.

If we stop, breath, and then question our ego, we often find we fine, the suffering not as bad as we first thought. This is the power of mindfulness.

TL:DR

We make life harder because our imagination loves to make us suffer.

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The Injustice of American Healthcare

Objects Are More Important Than People

“Of all the form of inequity, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane,” Martin Luther King said 50 years ago.

Healthcare is not a privilege. It is a right. Speak up. Don’t be a bystander.

Despite spending the most per-capita on healthcare, the USA shows the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates.

In 1966 MLK said, "Of all the forms of inequity, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane."

We have the worst healthcare system in the first world because our country thinks an object (money) is more important than a person. Ask yourself if this is your personal value. I doubt anyone of us feels that money is more important than a person. It’s cruel and uncaring. So why is this a national value?

Our American social-programming tells us that winning at the cost of others (losers) is “life.” I call bullshit.

In fact, we all know winning at the cost of others is bullshit. Having more more money than others isn’t winning–waking up everyday and having the tools to shape our life in an honorable, ethical, and compassionate way, now that’s a win. Nobody loses in this way of living, AND we all still maintain our power to choose.

But, the choice isn’t superficial, like Coke or Pepsi; our choices become meaningful,  impacting your mood and the well-being of others. Now that’s altruism; that’s being a good neighbor.

Competition Now an Illusion

100, 200, or 1000 years ago, humans competed fiercely. Back then, most people lived to the age of 35 or 40. Up to fifty percent of children didn’t make it to adulthood. Resources (food, money, education) were limited and seasonal.

However today, with a global food production surplus, low infant mortality rates (i.e. healthcare), and any pleasure we desire available to us (coffee, Spotify, massage, all-wheel drive), competition for resources becomes an illusion. Competition, an illusion, is packaged as an essential. We call this “free-market capitalism.”

Free-market capitalism’s sole purpose is to control resources. It does this by creating illusionary needs (I have no time), then selling a consumable product to fill that need (Krueger single-serve pods).

We call it a consumable because after we finish it, we throw it away, our life accessories disposable, destined for the dump.

There are many forms of capitalism, many systems of economics. Don’t let some politician or newscaster tell you otherwise. They are politicians and news casters, not economists. Politicians and newscasters feed us a distorted, politicized version of Econ 101 (freshman Econ). It takes people years to earn a PhD in this deeply nuanced social science. Here we see one way anti-intellectualism destroys our cultural unity, but that is another essay.

Healthcare Bystander

We have reached a point in human civilization where we no longer need to horde resources at the expense of others, competition now an illusion. There is plenty of food, money, and healthcare for everyone. We have a cure and a pill for just about everything. Heath is not a consumable, something we throw away, and it should not be sold as such.

One’s health has an intangible value, meaning we cannot assess it as a commodity like lumber or toothpaste, its true price immeasurable. Such things, like health, happiness, and freedom, live beyond the petty scope of capitalism, beyond baser things like money and competition. Health should never have a “price” attached.

So, why do some of us not have access? Why do drug and insurance companies keep raking in record profits?  Why should others sacrifice saving accounts or go bankrupt for something as essential and fixable as our health? If people are healthy in mind and body, they are healthy in spirit. If our society increased its overall health, we would see a MASSIVE boost to our GDP.

So I ask again, if your personal values say that people are more important than things, why do you allow our American system to value the opposite, to value things over people?

We all have the power to make the change. Speak up. Don’t be a bystander while your American neighbors are denied healthcare.

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Repeal of the ACA Obamacare

Many people are sharing their stories of how the repeal of the ACA (or Obamacare) would impact them through the denial of services because of pre-existing conditions. Here’s my story.

For over 25 years I have battled major chronic depressive disorder, major anxiety disorder, and PTSD, a set of conditions that often left me, at best, in bed for days at a time and, at worst, suicidal. In addition, my panic attacks, a separate type of torture, felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart over and over for ten to fifteen minutes. These are just a few of the consequences of my mental illnesses.

For the last 22 years, I’ve basically had three good days a year. That’s right, three days a year where I didn’t feel like a pile of crap, didn’t want to kill myself, and could smile without feeling like a lair. This condition cost me jobs, friendships, relationships, and financial stability.

2005 Bachelors Degree

Twelve years ago at the age of 30, a therapist finally gave me a proper diagnosis because I finally had access to healthcare because I was school. Before diagnosis, I alternated between feeling like a  weak-ass chump who couldn’t suck-it-up or a crazy schizophrenic. You cannot imagine the confusion. The only reason I sought therapy is because I thought I was a bi-polar or schizophrenic.

When I was diagnosed, at first I felt skepticism, then relief, and finally anger. But, I finally had a name for my demon, and this I could fight.

However, instead of going on record for a pre-existing condition, I paid out of pocket for therapy and refused to be prescribed antidepressants or SSRIs. Instead, I quite drinking, changed my diet and began meditating three times a day. Hiding an illness from healthcare records is just one of the stigmas that people with mental illness face.

2014 Graduate School

Flash forward nine years to the end of my first year of graduate school. I am working two part-time jobs, struggling to pay bills and rent (often a month or two behind), commuting 90 miles to be a full-time student all while managing a severe mental illness. I cracked, hitting bottom so hard my head spun and my wife cried.

2 week old baby and mother sleep.

My daughter at two weeks old.

The next day, I drove the 90 miles to campus, saw a NP, and was prescribed an SSRI. Even though I still have nightmares 3-5 nights a week, you cannot imagine how drastically my quality of life has improved. For three years, I have not felt suicidal or had a panic attack. You cannot imagine how grateful I am to have crawled out of hell and into the sunlight.

Land Without the ACA Obamacare

If the ACA (or Obamacare) is repealed and my wife looses her job, I will probably never have health insurance again because of my pre-existing condition. Whatever, I can take care of myself.

My actual fear has to do with who I might re-become around my daughter and my wife without access to healthcare and SSRIs. Watching the fear and pain in my wife’s eyes during my struggles before medication was heart breaking. She suffered her own set of traumas unique to people who live with someone struggling with mental illness. I don’t want to pass this trauma on to my daughter.

The repeal of the ACA (or Obamacare) will affect more than those of us who need healthcare; it will affect those we love.

This breaks my heart.

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Snowboarding Dawn Patrol

Trail Report. Dawn Patrol. Teton Pass. Wyoming.

The ritual starts the night before by packing your pack, which if you’ve had a good winter is packed already and just needs replenishment. Water. Powerbar. Apple. Chocolate. Layers. Headlamp. First aid kit. Lighter. Multi-tool. Eyewear. Avalanche kit: probe, shovel, beacon, inclinometer. Optional small thermos for coffee on the summit. Keep pack light, but bring some comfort. Next check the weather and the avalanche conditions. Plan your route for time allotted (punch in at work at 8:30 a.m.) and safety. Maybe wax snowboard or wrap duct tape around pointer finger of glove to fix the hole worn from cranking on bindings all season. Drink a cup of tea and stretch. Bed by 9 p.m.

Alarm, 4:45 a.m. Reach over, grab your snowpants and slide them on because every skibum house is drafty and cold in the morning. Next, pull on long sleeve base layer and socks, then bang on roommate’s and backcountry partner’s door. He grumbles and rises. In the living room, slide feet into snowboard boots hoping they dried before the wood stove died. Shiver. They are always a little damp and cold. Now into kitchen, brew coffee, set oatmeal boiling, then dash outside to warm up the truck, which moans twice then sputters and kicks over. Back inside. Roommate’s up. Eat, checking weather and avy conditions for last minute changes. Pour coffee into travel mug and add two ice cubes so it’s a drinkable temperature. Grab pack and snowboard.

 

Outside. Your breath freezes; what doesn’t stick to your hat and beard drops to the ground. A perfect winter morning. Still. Hard. Dark. Look up. So many stars. Look down. Hoar frost on snow reflects the starlight, sounds like crystal in the wind.

Slot snowboards into bed of truck between sandbags, over the tires and into snowdrift behind the cab. Slam door. Shift. Pick proper music for drive, something with a beat. It’s fucking early and you are goin’ fuckin’ snowboarding. You’re pumped.

Track two. Town is dark. Chimneys pump smoke and steam, which billow white, then dissolve into dark. Take right at the flashing stoplight. Clutch. Shift. Fifth gear, track three. Caffeine. Sleepy but alert, always waiting for black ice to kick the truck sideways.

The two lane country roads are dark, black skids through dark grey valley; flat, seductive, a good thing to drive while waking up. Ahead, a black hole in the stars. Mountains. Track four. You will be standing at the event horizon of mountain and stars in an hour. Maybe you pass a car, an early commuter. You are grateful you no longer work the breakfast shift, grateful you only make coffee and breakfast for you and your lovers.

Ahead, the road disappears up, into black, towards the mountain pass. Down shift, fourth gear, start climb. Track five. RPMs and BPM’s increase. You know this road, know the straightaways and the speed of each corner in every condition. Track six; turn it up, nod your head to the beat. Turn one, downshift through switchback. Partner sparks one up, hiking preflight commences. Turn two, plows came early, sand pings off undercarriage. Turn Three, preflight complete. 9500 feet, the pass, your parking lot is on the left. A white F150, a blue Tacoma, a brown Legacy, and a patchwork Dart are parked in the lot. Buckles and boots clicking, shaggy silhouettes move, steam under dome lights and headlamps, last minute gear checks. You know those dudes, but will see them on the summit.

Inversion today, so keep shell and fleece layer in pack. Unzip the vents on your snow pants. Nothing between you and the sky except base layer. You are grateful to be above the valley, above the stale cold and smoke. Still winter up here: must move. Finish coffee, shoulder pack, go.

The boot pack starts at the edge of the parking lot, a ladder of kick-steps up the six-foot snowbank created by snowplows after the last storm. You are not the first hikers this morning. Another group has broken trail through the fresh snow, probably going for a longer tour across ridges and around cirques, probably looking for an untouched line in the middle of nowhere. Lucky bastards. Your consolation prize: freshies and a sunrise before work. Leave headlamp in pocket—plenty of starlight.

Left foot. Right foot. Breathe. Check technique. Check posture. Repeat. Follow the staggered, black-manicured craters, your staircase in the snow. At 9700 feet, 5:30 am on a clear day, you walk towards the stars. Breathe.

Left foot, right foot, breathe….

You follow the footsteps before you, each step taking you five inches higher, towards a peak where you will watch the sunrise. Then, when cold and satisfied, you pick any number of lines, dropping off the top, falling from the stars, surfing white noise.

Trail Report-Being Prey I

Being Prey. Mile Twenty-Four.

Lightening jukes and strikes far down the canyon, moving away, out over the valley. I hike through a light rain, blowback from the hot day. My legs and feet are numb and heavy. I am one mile from the Spanish Peaks trailhead—one mile from the truck, flip-flops, and beer—and fifteen minutes from absolute darkness.

I am in some kind of zone, some definition of perfect, some form of idiot sensuality. Another hot, jagged streak sideways, outline of thunderhead and foothills. Echoes rumble up the canyon. One fat raindrop hits my forearm, then another, making a cool mud out of the day’s dirt and salt.

Beautiful and unnerving, dusk slowly closes down my sense of sight, transforming the broad and flat canyon and its erratics, trees, and bushes into black lumps, lines, and scuffmarks. Fifty feet to my left, burl on lodge pole pine, a beach ball sized silhouette, catches my attention. I like how the black shape inlays the dark grey of mountainside.

Suddenly, the burl moves further up the tree.

“That’s weird…” I mumbled to the dog, then alert, “oh shit, where’s mom?”

I look around, squinting, sucking in the last bit of light, and resting my hand on my bear spray. Thousands of black shapes sit in the deep, dark grey of the forest.

I pray momma is bear behind me and push forward, adrenaline wringing the day’s mileage out of my body.

Conspiracy Against American Teachers

50% of new teachers leave the field after five years.

Think about it. Just when someone is getting the hang of this difficult job, they leave for a different field. All that training, experience, and education gone, deprived from our children.

The way teachers are treated in this country makes me sick. One must wonder if budgets and salaries are choked on purpose.

As someone who teaches college freshman, I can testify that the K-12 education students are receiving is far different from the one I received. It is inferior in scope and curiosity.

From corporate marketing and lobbying to the twisted rhetoric of politics, these disciplines blur our focus and create shallow cultural divisions. With all the lies and manipulation of truth constantly floating past our eyes and into our ears, teachers are needed more than ever.

Teachers teach critical thinking. This blend of the scientific method, historical context, and logic contains unlimited power and efficacy. Blending these takes constant practice and an experienced guide. Critical thinking uses flexibility and creativity of thought.

The best part, we don’t need more B.As., M.As., and Ph.Ds. Critical thinking can be taught in K-12 instead of some bubble wrapped and standardized way of thinking. Furthermore, critical thinking is the only way to combat today’s pervasive fear unique to our historical moment.

As the National Education Associate states, “A recent Teachers College survey found that, on the flip side, investing in education leads to higher individual incomes; higher property value rates; lower crime rates; and lower costs for public health and welfare services.” Aren’t these the things people complain they want? Why hasn’t this information floated to the surface and influenced budgetary and legal decisions?

If you want to chase a real conspiracy against the citizens of this country, forget the nefarious “they” (i.e. government, mass media, Obama, Illuminati, gremlins, aliens, Islam, sheeple, etc.). Look directly at big money in politics to see why one of the most important professions in the world (teaching) is being strangled to death by a supposed 1st world country.

I suggest that teachers and congress swap salaries. I also suggest that corporate lobbyists pay for a teacher’s lunch or fly them to Jackson Hole for a ski vacation. Or, better yet, have them pay off a teacher’s car loan, mortgage, or student loans. According the the Atlantic, ” Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures.”

It’s not better jobs, patriotism, equality, big government, science, religion, or entitlements that will make your life better; it is an educated society capable of critical thinking.

We are only as good as those who surround us, only as strong as the weakest link.

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Do What You Love: You Are Saying it Wrong

The Love Affect

“Do what you love.”

We’ve been saying it backwards.

This confusion isn’t our fault because we give and receive this platitude casually, thinking it makes us sound enlightened. On the surface, this bumper sticker sounds satisfying and achievable, like building then sitting by a fire. Looking deeper, however, “do what you love” is more like your last, wet match in the cold rain—frustrating and hopeless.

This command orders us towards some permanent and unattainable bliss. When we do consider this option, we often respond by asking, how we can “do what we love” with bills to pay and family to look after. As a command, “do what you love” compels us to obey, and feel like we have disappointed someone by failing. Having disappointed someone, guilt and shame follow close behind.

In reality, very few people will ever achieve this distant privilege of doing what they love, and these people used a rare combination of luck, privilege, and sacrifice. Good for them. We should all enjoy watching other people succeed—as long as it is an honorable success.

Here’s the problem with “do what you love”—love is a concept or feeling. Love as a destination becomes distant and abstract. When we put “love” at the end of the sentence, we postpone love, saying we cannot be content until we achieve this distant love. This makes life feel hollow and unsatisfied, the opposite intent of those who say it.

However, by flipping “do” and “love,” we set the words in the proper order.

Love what you do.

That’s better, and much more satisfying because we can all love what we do. Now, as the subject, “love” becomes accessible and attainable.

Now, in “love what you do,” we see our real choice and real power to love. Love, after all, is an emotion already within us, not some far off destination we must earn. It’s easy as hugging your brother or smiling at the checkout clerk, easy as cooking breakfast or returning an email. We manifest and give love.

Furthermore, as a word, “do” is the space where we make our change, where our intentions manifest. At the end of the sentence, “do” empowers love to affect change. “Do” is where we affect our lives; it is where we make love.

“Love what you do” takes place now, in the concrete yet malleable present.

“Do” is an act in action.

Chop Wood, Carry Water.

There is a story I heard once.

One summer morning, a young monk and his master prepare the monastery for the day.

“Master,” the young monk says, “how does one achieve enlightenment?”

Turning, the master smiles, then picks up the ax.

“Chop wood, carry water,” he says. Disappointed, the young monk grabs the water bucket and follows.

They walk outside into the pinks and blues of dawn. At the woodpile, the young monk stands a chunk of wood on the splitting block. The master swings, and the seeds of breakfast divide and fall to the ground. They repeat, chunk, split, silence, the steam from their breath swirling and fading.

After a few minutes, the young monk asks, “So, what does a person do after achieving enlightenment?”

Flicking his wrist, the master seats the ax blade into the splitting block.

“Chop wood,” he says, picking up the bucket. “Carry water.”

Love What You Do

If you “love what you do,” instead of striving for an abstract destination, you will find love, right now, in concrete action. Not only is love the path to enlightenment, love is enlightenment, and it is something we can access right now, in the present moment. It is our emotion and state of mind, and it is already within us.

Each moment YOU choose how to feel and how to act. You create love.

Love what you do.

White Male Anger – Response to Trump’s RNC Acceptance Speech

The System is Rigged – Response to Trump and the RNC

The system is rigged and I’m angry. I live with crushing student debt, career and savings destroyed by the recession, and a lifetime of stagnate wages. I have no idea how I’ll be able to retire and I wonder what kind of world my daughter will inherit. Growing up poor and on a farm, I always believed that I would “get ahead” in life; meaning, if I work hard, I’ll be financially stable, have a few toys, and build a retirement fund. To this end, in my twenties, I always worked two or three jobs. I still never got ahead.

Then, the recession took twenty years of blue-collar experience and a fresh B.A., soaked in four years worth of blood and tears, turning me into a retail sales associate earning minimum wage and capped at 19.95 hours a week. On the way to work, I’d walk past “Mexicans” on a construction site and think these illegals had my job because they were getting paid half of what I used to make as a carpenter. I didn’t care if they were picking cherries, but how dare they take honest work from a citizen. How did I know they were illegal? I didn’t. At work, while folding and straightening jackets and socks I couldn’t afford, I would think my thirties were wasted years, a decade gone. Many of us have a similar story or know someone who does.

Everywhere I looked—at developer’s new BMW, another person’s vacation to the Bahamas, a customer’s new $500 jacket, a trust-funder’s new house—I saw a rigged system, and I was angry. However, as the recession lingered on, one year turning into five, I also started seeing why America is better than ever.

“Great” is So Boring

“Great” is such a dull and boring word to describe America; it’s bland like cold oatmeal. No wonder people are unable to see “great.” Their vision is blurred and nearsighted, too focused on an iPhone, bank account statement, or trumped up fear and distrust. Real America, the America I know, lies beyond lukewarm “great;” America is fucking awesome.

For three years, the Oregon Health Plan and SNAP food benefits helped Jen and I survive on $8-12,000 a year—if this isn’t a step beyond “great,” then I don’t know what is: this is an American program that helped two Americans stay healthy, fed, and off the streets. Today, I look around and I see friends choosing fulfilling careers over salary. I see neighbors placing water bowls on sidewalks for the local pets. I see a driver stop and wave me across the intersection. I see mothers and fathers forgoing a two-salary income so one can stay home and raise the kids, the most noble of professions. I see my family of relatives and in-laws giving and receiving love. I watch the students I teach help each other grasp a concept or deliver feedback with kindness and joy. Again, all situations are awesome, as in “inspiring awe and wonder.”

Skin Deep

Last Month, a stranger pushing her cart from the grocery checkout finishes our conversation by saying, ”God bless you.” I let the love and comfort and power of these word wash over me, then through me, buoyant and healing. A random “God bless you” is pretty damn “great,” if not down right amazing. This is not the first time someone has said this to me, but each time I am awed by the love and power in those words. Last time it was a retired white man in a coffee shop. This time the woman was black and 70 years old and grew up in North Portland, near the college where I work. African Americans, her parents and grandparents, moved to North Portland in 1948 after Vanport, Oregon washed away in a flood. It was okay because the war was over and Vanport was mostly filled with the poor and unemployed.

Today, North Portland has Portland Community College, a new flower shop, a new children’s boutique, and rows of new two story condos sitting on retail space. This woman’s mother and father built the planes and bombs of WWII, but were denied employment and home loans after the war while being segregated and oppressed. When there was employment in the rail yard or lumberyards, blacks were the first to be laid off when profits fell. It’s hard to get ahead without financial stability. The system is rigged and she should be angry. She will have to move because of the privileges denied to the color of her skin. I have a sweet job and apartment because of the privileges of mine.

Of course, the last statement is a reduction. I have worked hard for my education, to create a quiet life, and follow my passions for exploration, creativity, and teaching. However, the assumptions front loaded into people subconscious because I have a “white” name, white skin, and talk in standard English, allows me to live where I want and navigate the bureaucracy of life with confidence and entitlement.

Shit Fucking Happens

I don’t feel the fear, anger, or the hate that some people preach are all around us. Last spring, a man was shot outside the window of a classroom my colleagues and I had left just five minutes before. Last winter, I had two students confess to me they were suicidal, one because she had been raped several months before. Another student of mine went into rehab, and a student in colleague’s class stopped showing up because she overdosed and died. Despite the loss of Winter, my 13 year old dog, the death and dysfunction that surround both my wife’s job and mine, or the recent mass killings in Florida, France, and Germany, I do not feel death breathing on my shoulders, waiting.

Last Tuesday, the day after police were again gunned down by a black man, when I walked to class, I felt like I had a target on my back. Not being a veteran or a gang member, just a white farm boy from Minnesota, this was a new set of feelings for me: first vulnerability, next fear, then rage, and finally a desire to act. Actually, I’ve felt this sequence before, a long time ago as a child, trying unsuccessfully to avoid blows from a drunken father. Here on campus, I scowled—I wanted to act, to scream racial slurs and obscenities, to carry a gun because somebody was trying to kill me because I am white.

The system is rigged and I was pissed that the privileged safety of my skin color had been violated. Instead of acting through violence and vitriol, I took a breath and stepped into my classroom, a mix of at least three genders, six nationalities, twenty different skin colors, five veterans, six parents, two ex-cons, three addicts in recovery, and ages 16 to 55. For the first hour, we worked to define “hate,” and the incongruent feeling between the hate motivated by broccoli and hate motivated by race or sexuality. Should we be allowed to use this word to describe our feelings toward vegetables when the same word causes so much death and horror?

Bootstrappin’

My classroom and college are the land of second chances, and third, and fourth, and fifth… you get the picture. This place is a second chance for those students to try to get ahead once and for all. This is the American dream and it’s still alive and far more than “great.” Each term, for every person that falls to suicide, drug addiction, or poverty, three students pass through another term empowered and one step closer to providing a better life for themselves and their families. However, the system is rigged and I’m angry.

These students struggle with poverty, addiction, being single parents, and language barriers and all they get from society in return for their hard work is racism, bigotry, and ignorant fucking rhetoric. This country is not so “great” to them even though their parents and grand parents help to build this country. While this is most of my students’ experience, they don’t piss and moan about lost safety and privilege, two things they never had in the first place, they put on their big girl or big boy panties, work a full time job, go to school full time, take care of their families, and excel beyond a simple “great” and into the one-of-a-kind American Dream of liberty and self-determination.

It’s All About Choice

We live in the world we choose, including the emotions that vibrate and color our world. I believe in half full. I believe in the kindness and blessings of strangers. I’ve seen half-empty, and that was me trying to be positive about life situations that were totally empty. I don’t live in a world where fear and hate dictate my feelings and actions. I choose not to obsess about the tragedies and vitriol that brieYou Are Americansfly and sporadically intrude on life. Instead, I choose to see all the cooperation, community, and love that surrounds me every, single, moment.

The system is rigged and we should all be pissed. But, instead of destruction based on blame and division, we need to focus on community and creation. This country is pretty damn “great” and perfectly “safe.” Shit will fucking happen regardless of who is president. Neither candidate can “fix” anything because YOU hold the power. YOU decide how to feel, how to act, and most importantly, how to see the world surrounding your every breath. It’s time to look beyond “great” and see the true awesomeness all around us that already exists.

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Old Dog Shaky Legs

(I wrote the following last December, 2015. The photo was taken during Winter’s last camping trip, the weekend before she died. Last Sunday, Jen and I picked up Winter’s ashes, a paw print, and a lock of her fur.)

An old dog lies in a campsite by a campfire.

Winter Dog, my friend of 13 years during her last camping trip.

Winter Dog, sweet Winter Dog.

Her hind end has been shaking more and more. Lately, when we go for walks in a Portland park, and she knows it’s a walk and not a sniff and stroll through the hood, Winter follows behind me, her hind legs only there for balance. They move like her pads are sticking to the ground, some herky-jerky movement, a stiff swinging motion uncomfortable when not in contact with the earth.

I love her eyes lately. They’ve always gotten bright with joy every time we go for a hike, or the local park during the last few years. But, there is an extra spark in them, a wisdom, a knowing that something is different. Maybe Winter knows her time with me is limited. I sense this from her. But it’s different, it’s some doggy awareness, its meaning far different from mine.

Dog on a trail

Winter heads towards the Columbia River during one of our trips to 1000 Acre Dog Park.

I think about Winter dying a lot lately, or at least her death is always close to the surface of my thoughts. Sometimes she lies so still on her bed and I reassure myself that she’s going deaf. So, I call her name or give a command like “lets go,” and she still lies there. And, I think, “Oh shit, is she dead? Is it time?” but just for a second, or until I touch her and she startles, looking up from the bed, then slowly, shakily, Winter smiles and rises, ready to go wherever. (December 2015)

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Response to Pulse Shootings

Last night I had a dream. In it, I was searching a hotel, trying to find someone.

Man shoots an AR-15A woman stopped me in the lobby, saying, “50 people were just murdered, shot to death in Florida. It’s a new record.” Sitting down on a nearby bench, I put my head in my hands and started crying, soul sadness pushing out from my heart in tears, then sobs, then emptiness.

I woke up, morning sun and birdcalls coming through the window. From a speaker near my bed the quiet voices of news radio, voices that help me fall asleep every night, detailed things like “hostages” and “terrorism.”

Some people will want bombs. Some will want diplomacy. Some will buy a gun. Some will plead for new laws. Some will want to close the borders. All will blame “those people” foreign and domestic. All will want action NOW. All will skip sadness and anger, searching for strength in righteousness.

All will forget that it is okay to be sad and angry, that it is okay to mourn the dead without calling for vengeance or action. Do not judge how that life was lived–or how it was lost. If you want to honor the dead, then honor your tears and mourn the loss of each person’s greatest gift: life.

Those who call for vengeance, for fear, and for hate do not honor life because they have not taken the time to honor the sadness about the lives lost. Instead of seeing a life lost, they only see death and its darkness; they only see the end and not the life. They lie to themselves and to others in an attempt at control. They say they have the solution, but this is a solution for death, not life.Meat Skeleton

As isolated emotions, fear, vengeance, and hate cloud the mind, leading to irrational decisions in the name of “do something now.” Fear only generates more fear, vengeance only more vengeance, and hate only more hate.

However, if we spend time first being sad and angry without acting, we come to know these emotions as strong and honest. Sadness and anger generate perspective. Perspective, a unique blend of time and information, helps us measure our reaction and create an honorable space for mourning then action (the opposite of reaction).

In this space, we see that the whole of a life lived is a million times bigger than petty, short-term vengeance and hate. By honoring their life, this then becomes a space where we truly honor our dead.

This is the space where true strength lives.

I turned off the radio and crawled out of bed. In my living room, two dogs wagged their tails and my pregnant wife kissed me good morning. I will be celebrating our life by being sad and mourning the loss of others. I will not be listening to the news for a few days.

Dogs on the trail in Forest Park OregonI do not need some biased politician or angry newscaster telling me how to feel. I do not need them to serve me some simple “solution” to sooth my fragile fear and hatred. People look to them for “solutions” when we all know damn well it’s never that simple, that these same, tired “solutions” will never fix anything: these solutions only propagate hatred and murder in the name of righteousness.

For now, I just want to be sad, again, about the tragic loss of life and grateful for 41 years of mine.

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