Come on, be a friend

I’ve mentioned numerous times in my recent posts that grief isn’t linear. Loss means you jump back and forth across the continuum and experience a full palette of emotions; that’s at least how I’ve been processing the death of Mark.

Two weeks ago, I felt a bit of creative intensity returning. I’ve been able to blog, mainly personal reflections about losing a son. However, I’ve been short on new ideas. Grief affects our cognitive abilities, just one of the “gifts” that grief delivers.

I remembered a friend of Mark’s that I met at his celebration of life. He had offered his eye as an editor for anything—taking a look at Mark’s work, or even ideas I might have.

Hesitant about sending something I’d put together—an idea for an essay related to Mark and my experience as his father processing death, grief, and some of the bitter/hateful reactions from some corners of the internet. I used an essay written by David Foster Wallace as my jumping off point, and the reaction that his subject had when Wallace later committed suicide.

At the very least, his reaction was disappointing. I’m fine with being offered a critique, and even some suggestions about how best to pitch something like this. Instead, he chose to be dismissive at best, offering little in the way of encouragement.

My mood over the past few weeks has been alternating between deep sadness and red-hot anger, with several outbursts of frustration. As disorienting as this up-and-down yo-yoing looks and feels, the counselor we’ve been visiting for two months assures me (and Mary) that all this is quite normal.

Someone I’ve never met, but who had been following Mark’s journey, initiated an online conversation shortly after he was killed. It’s obvious from his public profile and body of work that this person is immensely talented. He also knows compassion and how to extend it to those suffering loss. He recommended Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking as a place to find some solace and a book on mourning that was worthy of my time and effort. I’m grateful he did. Continue reading

Marching forth for Mark

Grief does funny things to you. It’s not linear, and no, there aren’t five stages. Perhaps if you need to stage grief, know that passage doesn’t proceed neatly.

Mark was killed on January 21. We weren’t the first people who found out. Word passed slowly from where Mark was mangled by the side of the road by a woman, who at the very least couldn’t maintain her lane and left it—hitting Mark walking legally, in the ribbon of pavement reserved for pedestrians (he was walking against traffic, in the middle of the day, while wearing his fluorescent vest)—to possibly being distracted by something other than simply maintaining control of her 5,000-pound lethal weapon.

It was nearly 10:30 on Saturday night when the Maine State Trooper knocked on our front door. That was more than eight hours after Mark was pronounced dead.

I now know more about the timeline and who found out before we did. Some of those people botched the handling of that information. I’m not surprised, really. It’s pretty obvious to see from their actions since Mark was killed that they don’t care at all about how Mary and I feel about losing our only son. Obviously, they know little or nothing about grief and at the very least, they come up woefully short in the empathy department. Lacking basic humanness, could they not at the very least, send a corporate-produced card with a perfunctory message that says, “we’re sorry for your loss”? I know Hallmark carries some decent ones. Apparently not. But, it’s also not my fucking job to help you improve your skills in the area of compassion and grief. Continue reading

Life Isn’t a Movie

If you’re a sucker for what some consider a better time in America, especially viewed through the lens of nostalgia, then arguably, there may not be a better movie at this time of year than It’s A Wonderful Life. The final 8 minutes could be one of the best holiday segments of any movie ever made.

But life lived in the real world rarely follows the tried and true formula of a Hollywood script. As much as we adore George Bailey and root for him each and every year when we watch the movie, yet again, people these days are rarely that concerned about others in their own families—let alone someone from their hometown—like the people gathered at the Bailey residence in Bedford Falls.

It’s easy this time of year to become wishful, longing for a time that we might consider better than the America we’re living in today. That was surely part of the appeal of Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” even if it’s looking more and more like it will be nothing but empty words for most. Continue reading

Moving Day

We have lived in the same house since 1990. It was the first and only house that we’ve owned—the one Mary and I dreamed of having when we were first married. Mark grew up here. The land our house sits on was deeded to us by Mary’s parents.

At one time, all of Mary’s extended family lived within two miles of each other. Her father has been gone for more than 15 years. All the family members, but us, have left Durham, for greener pastures.

For the past couple of years, we’ve talked about being a little “closer to town.” Living where we’ve lived for the past two decades means we’re always 15 minutes away from most things, at the very least.

From what we know about the couple buying our house, they’re excited to live here and have plans for making the place their own. We’re excited for them, as well as excited to be living somewhere new for the first time in 26 years. New adventures await.

Waiting for the movers to arrive!

Waiting for the movers to arrive!

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Shopping Season

Thanksgiving week is an odd one. A national holiday tacked onto the tail-end of a work week makes for a disjointed flow at best, when breaking rocks for Whitey.

For those of us punching in on Friday, it’s essential to keep in mind that the day has been hijacked by commerce and consumption. Any business transacted will likely take place between Black Friday bargain hunting.

If you are one of the people cursed to be a retail worker, it’s the start of a month’s worth of madness leading up to the high holiday of shopping and crass commercialism, Christmas. I’m glad that my part-time merry-go-round this year doesn’t include a seasonal stint for a well-known online retailer headquartered in Freeport. I’m not feeling overly-Christmas-y this year, with all its uniquely American decorative flourishes. I’ll be keeping it as simple as can be.

Indeed, I’m opting for as much normalcy as I can latch onto here at the close of 2016. So, I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find me out at the mall or Big Box any other day in December, either.

Bargain-hunting on Black Friday

Bargain-hunting on Black Friday

Elections and Alienation

With the 2016 election clanking to its completion, like a car with a malfunctioning transmission, I’ve taken a different tack the last few weeks—disengagement—imbibing next to nothing from the mainstream. My inner environment has been almost tranquil. Rather than alienation and discouragement, removing myself from the ongoing dysfunctional din of reality has been a positive and necessary corrective.

Just because someone demands that you see the world one, or two ways, doesn’t mean that you have to. Binary thinking leaves you dead-ended, painted into a corner.

If voting mattered...

If voting mattered…

Over the weekend, I picked up several books that seemed to be waiting for me on my local library shelves. These books provided historical context, as well as reminding me of perspectives I hadn’t considered in quite some time.

What I found fascinating in reading about America’s history of radical politics, was the role of European immigrants in bringing socialist, Marxist, and anarchist perspectives to these shores. What I’ve also been ruminating about is why the town where I grew up—with many immigrants from Europe—was and continues to be a place where conservative values reign supreme. This is a topic that I’m likely to come back to at some point. Continue reading

The 5th Always Follows the 4th

While the candidates for president were out and about on the 4th of July, lying to American voters, I spent the long weekend uncharacteristically relaxing, even attending a wonderful family gathering and cookout hosted by “the hostess with the mostest,” Aunt Tomato.

Alas, another work week’s begun. There are still a few jobs to be done in what remains of the Republic.

In this age of truncation and Twitter, I thought something I read in Jay Parini’s biography of Gore Vidal was fitting and Twitter-ific. It was also noteworthy enough to break my silence on politics here at the JBE.

Vidal (just prior to the nation’s Bicentennial year, working on his new book at the time, 1876) was being interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, and he gave an answer to Wallace about the reporter’s claim that Vidal was being overly cynical about the nation’s fate at the time, 40 years before we’d suffer from an election choice of Clinton vs. Trump.

Vidal explained that “cheap labor and cheap energy” were gone, and the results would be dire. He continued, “We’re never going to have that again. We’re going to have to have less gross national product, not more.” Prescient, I’d say.

Promising things they can't deliver.

Promising things they can’t deliver.

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From the Bike Seat

On Sunday, I was out biking around Massachusetts, and even up into New Hampshire, part of the Bicycles Battling Cancer (BBC) ride, which was staged from Hillside School, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. A fun time was had by all, or most of the riders, save for some Monday aches and soreness from riding anywhere from 30 to 100 miles.

Mary and I opted for the 70-mile leg, which today feels just about right. I’m sore, and a bit tired, but am grateful that I was able to help in some small way the battle against the scourge of cancer. I’m also appreciative of those who helped me double my fundraising total of $300. Stay tuned, as I want to give a public shout out to all of you later in this post.

Marlborough is like many places I’ve dropped in on in Massachusetts, always passing through. If all you ever do is drive to Boston, or blow through the state via the many interstates criss-crossing The Commonwealth, then you’d think the state is nothing but one big strip of convenience stores, strip malls, and business parks—and much of Massachusetts consists of these things.

The best part of BBC, save for the underlying purpose, was getting out on my bike and seeing things that you’d never experience from interstates like I-495, or I-290. Even better, biking slows travel down to where you actually notice things on the side of the road and can begin to assemble a different narrative, recognizing that Massachusetts is more than simply Boston, or Worcester, or even Cape Cod. Continue reading

Battling Bicycles

Bicycling is one of the three elements comprising a triathlon. Usually, the bike event follows the swim, and precedes the run.

Travel by bike seems just about the right speed. You can get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time, compared to walking or running. Pedal power only seems subpar because of our addiction to high-powered gasoline engines that allow us to hurry about going nowhere. When you bike somewhere, you actually notice things on the side of the road. Plus, it’s great exercise.

This spring, I’m not doing a triathlon. It’s the first time in three years that I’m not training for a June tri. I’ve decided to ride 70 miles on June 12 instead, taking part in Bicycles Battling Cancer, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. My fundraising goal is $300, with donations supporting the American Cancer Society. I’ve reached the goal and am hoping to push it to $600, which would be double my requirement. Here is my donor page if you’d like to donate.

Spring has been packed with baseball games, and other assorted duties related to “making a living,” whatever the hell that means. I haven’t been able to bike as much as usual and certainly not as much as I like to.

Slowly, but surely, my mileage has been increasing. I rode 30 miles in the rain this morning following an early morning swim. I thought the showers would hold off and to be honest, had hoped to hit the 40-mile mark on my training ride. If you’ve ever been drenched, you know that it’s no fun. I plan to get out this weekend for a couple more rides. Once I’m at 40, I feel confident that 70 won’t be a big deal.

Bicycles love smooth, new blacktop.

Bicycles love smooth, new blacktop.

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April Baseball

Like most members of Red Sox Nation, I was disappointed that Monday’s season opener in Cleveland was postponed due to cold weather. Baseball and 30 degree weather don’t make for optimum conditions. Having grown up playing baseball in the cold and pitching in some brutal weather in Aprils past during high school and college, I concur with the decision, and hopefully, the boys can get at it this afternoon, in Cleveland.

Listening to afternoon sports talk, on-air personalities on WEEI, yesterday. Dale Arnold, Michael Holley, and Jerry Thornton, questioned the postponement of the game, indicating that Tuesday’s weather won’t be much better. Having Cleveland host a home opener in April is always fraught with cold weather possibilities, but their fans are entitled to see their baseball team host an occasional home opener. The Tuesday forecast at Progressive Field is calling for sun and 34 degree temperatures, sans yesterday’s wind along with rain and snow showers.

I don’t envy Cleveland’s hitters getting jammed by a David Price fastball. The Sox batters are also facing a tough pitcher in former AL Cy Young winner (in 2014), Corey Kluber. On paper, it appears that it might be a low-scoring affair. Hopefully the Sox packed their thermal undergarments and balaclavas.

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

Wearing the mask. (Getty images)

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