My dad and me with our new train set on Christmas day
On Friday, I got up before dawn, as I often do. This time, however, it was not to write, but to listen. I walked two blocks to the clubhouse of a retirement home, where the local chapter of Toastmasters was in session. My father has asked very little of me in the six years we have lived across town from each other in the sleepy hamlet of Ojai, California. Today he wanted me to come hear him give a speech.
Valerie and I are planning to move to London, to be close to her family and to start a new chapter in our life together. My application for a settlement visa is at the British Consulate. After it arrives I will find a job. If you know of any dynamic, world-bettering companies that need a Chief Technology Officer with a mind for scalable web architecture and the soul of a poet, please let me know.
Although the timeline is not yet clear for our move, we decided that it was important to reach out now to our community of friends for support. Also, this gives us the opportunity to start to say “goodbye” to so many wonderful people on this continent.
We are especially fond of Ojai, the small town in California we have called home for the past several years. The word “ojai” means “nest” in the language of the Chumash Indians who first inhabited this area. Indeed, it has been a nest for us in which to be nurtured and grow strong. Now we fledge. Continue reading →
My grandmother’s glass cabin, perched high in the Sandia Mountain Range of New Mexico, is a place I would visit each summer of my childhood without fail. This is my first time back since I left home for college, and with it, left childhood. Everything seems, although familiar, smaller as well–the drive up the mountain shorter, the cabin diminished, the ponds shallower and grasses shorter even than they were in my late adolescence.
New Mexico represents a spiritual home to me much more than the barren Sonoran desert where I spent the remaining eleven months of each formative year. As such, I wanted to bring my wife here more than anywhere. And I brought my adult self, too, as a bemused observer, along with a paperback copy of Christian Wiman’s collection of essays entitled Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet.
This place is dense with evocative glimpses of earlier selves. I have been rifling through internal snapshots like an old-time flip book, hoping the rapid succession of annual impressions might create a trajectory of motion that I could identify as “my development.” Continue reading →
When I created the “Fatherhood” category on my website nearly five years ago, I knew that becoming a dad marked a rite of passage. It never occurred to me that our son James might only live three days, or how having and losing him in such short succession would change me. No man accurately anticipates the full impact of fatherhood. And as much as I knew the birth of our son would better me, I never expected that by his departure I would also gain in courage, compassion, and strength. Truly, it is a remarkable being, who both by his coming and going can have touched my life so profoundly.
I crossed both the equator and the International Date Line this week to meet another remarkable being–my new nephew. He is my wife’s sister’s child, and, like James, he seems to have inherited his lip line from that side of the family. But unlike our James, his eyes are open, and everything about him is inquisitive and alive. It feels both precious and surprisingly natural to spend time with him–hoisting him up to get a better look at the tropical fish at the aquarium, feeding him spoonfuls of mush, and pushing him through the rainy streets in his waterproof pram in search of great fish and chips.
Val and I leave tonight for Sydney, Australia to visit her sister, sister’s husband, and our new baby nephew. As a friend and fellow bereaved father pointed out, there is more to this adventure than just a holiday down under. Though I have held one very special little girl since the passing of our son, meeting James’s male cousin, who shares some of his genetics, does seem like another milestone in my journey from grief to hope.
I disciplined myself to take just one book of poems from the shelves that line the walls of our small cottage. I am taking Marvin Bell’s Nightworks. His strong voice and piquant musings are a comfort to me on long trips. If there were something like a break room for great philosophers, where they could congregate, sip coffee, and chat, Bell’s poems capture bits of what we might overhear. This book seemed like the perfect companion with which to cross the dark Pacific.
Between friends, family, and marsupials, I don’t know how much I will be blogging in the next two weeks. But watch out for photos on Flickr, and I’ll be back in the Northern Hemisphere again soon.
“…how amiable the gorgeous advantage of the newly born.”
-Marvin Bell, “The Book of the Dead Man (#42)”
I am somewhere over the Midwest as I type this, returning to the West Coast from a weekend in Boston. Val and I made the trip to attend a very special wedding. Seeing two dear friends–both kind, courageous men–exchange vows with each other, and blessings with all in attendance, renewed my understanding of what marriage is all about.
We stayed in the Omni Parker House Hotel, home to Emerson and Longfellow’s Saturday Club, and spent what little time we had on this trip getting acquainted with American history up close. We visited beautiful old churches, and made the trip up to Harvard–a school founded by Puritans to unite scholarship with spiritual pursuit. Continue reading →
On Thursday, I will leave for the fifth and final residency of the Pacific University Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. A new twist this time: my lovely wife will be joining me. On balance, with the omission of workshops and the addition of a graduate reading and thesis review committee session, it looks like this special final residency schedule will be slightly less intense than the previous four. So, I asked Val to come along to watch the graduate readings, hang out with the amazing writers I have befriended in the last two years at mealtimes, and soak up the outstanding faculty readings each evening. I look forward to introducing her to the Pacific Northwest, and the remarkable faculty, staff, and students in this community. We’re mulling over the packing list now. This is going to be fun!
I stuffed some peppermint tea bags into the percolator, along with a single-pot coffee pouch, and stirred chocolate instant breakfast into the result. Armed with this variant of mint mocha, and the esoteric knowledge passed on by a friendly maintenance guy, I have bypassed the timer on the fireplace, and am watching the waves from my window, slowly imbibing the choco-minty warmth. Fine sand is still whispering over the dunes, despite some drizzle. The soundtrack to the film “Once” is playing through my laptop speakers, extolling transitory love. Soon I will be navigating security checkpoints, on my way back to the hustle of a high-tech job. What I have experienced at this residency seems all the more profound for its fleeting nature. Like poetry, it is a place I can not fully inhabit, but still am loathe to leave.
Last year, during the Winter residency, we had snow on the beach. This year, the wind is driving fine sand over the dunes in silky rivulets. Apologies for the shaky camera work. It is really blowing out there.
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“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
I couldn’t have expressed this better myself. We are homeward bound today (on my birthday–what better way to spend it than five miles above Greenland?) No doubt I’ll be unpacking our experiences for some time to come. Photos from this trip (and others) are available here.
We went to Cambridge yesterday on a train that suddenly lost power. The conductor pulled over, shut it down, and started it up again. I never knew you could reboot a train. I guess Windows is everywhere.
Gazing up at the delicately vaulted ceiling of King’s College Chapel, the construction of which spanned the reign of several monarchs during the tumultuous Wars of the Roses, it struck me what a magnificent sanctuary the university system remains. It shares a common heritage with the monastic tradition. In a world beset by conflict, disease, and poverty, universities still stand as a tribute to our higher and more refined natures–both Soul and Mind. Prior to the Age of Reason, academic endeavor and spiritual quest were considered more similar pursuits. One aspired to contribute to Knowledge for sake of of a glory non nobis, Domine.
How strange to see science and spirituality become so unnecessarily polarized as the power of the church became destabilized through hypocrisy, and the power of the academy became decentralized even up to our present postmodern state. Strange, because despite all the technological advances we have gained through the scientific method of inquiry and through standing on the shoulders of previous scholars, so much of human behavior remains as barbaric and Medieval as ever. My thought and prayer in this chapel was: thank God (and Henry VI in this particular college’s case) for the universities, which still preserve the some of the highest and best aspirations of our culture.
We went up to Hertfordshire to visit Val’s parents yesterday. On the way to our train in King’s Cross station, we passed a bricked-in archway with half a luggage trolley stuck into it, as if passing straight through the wall. Above the trolley, a standard train station placard announced: “Platform 9 3/4″. That’s right–the magic portal to Hogwarts from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. England has a history of celebrating the blurred boundary between fiction and reality. In Old Hatfield, when we arrived, Val’s mother pointed out the Eight Bells pub–where Bill Sikes ostensibly sheltered after killing Nancy in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.Val was also delighted some years ago to discover a plaque inside The Church of St. George The Martyr in Southwark purporting that Little Dorrit sheltered there one famous night in the Dickens novel by the same name. Clearly, the English have a long and continuing tradition of literature informing life. I was hard pressed to find analogous American examples.
After lunch in Covent Garden, we went into the bookstore district of London today and had a look around Foyles. While the poetry section was not as physically large as Powell’s Books, it was well appointed with contemporary poets, including several feet of Ashberry. It also had all the old warhorses on the shelves, and Stephen Fry’s book on becoming a poet, which, on brief skim, seems to set the cause of non-metrical poetry back by a hundred years. Overall, there seemed to be a strong focus on verse and intricate lyric–though they did feature a number of free verse American poets, and prominently displayed Allan Ginsberg’s Howl. Still, the selection was noticeably different from independent bookstores I have perused in the U.S.–and certainly better equipped to meet the needs of a literate, poetry-loving people than your strip-mall Barnes & Noble or Borders chain store.