Category Archives: Hoof to Head

Moving past lost while short of found

“Man is the strangest of all animals. He is the only one who runs faster after he has lost his way.” — Rollo May

I expected to arrive. I pulled a corner on the emotional road map of my life and expected to see this figurative place to pull into and get off the road. A long road trip over. I thought I’d arrive and sigh a contented sigh.

Until the truth dawned. I was not where I wanted to be. I was the opposite of arrived. Lost.

My red-rimmed eyes pinched as if somehow grief had crowded out their normal occupancy in my skull. My head felt crowded, like when visitors are sleeping on your floor with suitcases strewn about. Visitors usually arrive invited. The imposition becomes a temporary exchange for the pleasantness they bring. Instead, Grief had arrived without an RSVP.

“Just who the hell let Grief in?” I demanded, the obnoxious lump in my throat leaving skid marks on my voice box.

I needed to move around a bit. There was no room for me within me.

Fresh air. Sunshine. Sweat on the lower back. Camera poised at the ready determined to see something. Anything. Look anywhere expect in there where all the churn churned and churned. Except I didn’t really click the lens. With the menu of life all around me, my taste buds were bland and pasty filled with indifference to anything of flavor.

“Direction is so much more important than speed.”

My spiritual director posted this on social media. They have a way of pissing me off without even noticing it.

Surprise. No matter how fast you move when lost, it’s difficult to enjoy anything other than being found.

****

 

I’ve come to grips with me a bit since then. I chased Grief out with a broom. The dust motes of it remained behind.

I am a sojourner who dreams of home. It’s a discontented travel, one that misses the strides in search of the destination. My spirit wanders, while my mind talks trash. My gut clenches and wags an angry fist about how fucked up it is to be caught in the middle.

Can’t we all just get along, I wonder.

And then She speaks up.

“You have what you need. I have not deprived you. But only you can decide to see it or not see it,” God says.

I wince at a stern voice.

Well… hell, I think. That blows. Once again, I’m the fucking problem all along.

Memory plays tricks. Remember this? Remember when? Like watching an old movie, you feel something vague but sweet as you recall life’s finer moments that you want back. Instances of intense intimacy when every sentiment is shared with another, when feelings expressed are joys not burdens, when every touch is electrified not cloying, when every pain is dulled the by the light of the other’s eyes that look at you that way, the way that makes you feel immortal.

This is not false sentimentality or flaccid Rom-Com prose. No, we mock what we don’t know. This could be the glimpse across to the Other Side where our full humanity meets the aspiring divinity of another. It is rare and dangerous and wholly holy, a time of transcendent coupling when the sentimentalist in me believes he can hear the angels sing.

Life can only be lived in the present tense. Memories come along for the ride. Like unexpected emotion, they clutter up the living room of the soul. Not badly all the time. Sometimes they fall in place, but I still think it best not to leave them strewn about.

The present tense feels a bit lost. Found seems still out there under a blanket of Karl The Fog. But I’ve slowed down. I’ve tried to rediscover direction instead of pace.

I’ve given this wandering about of mine a different name than “Lost.” I’m calling it “today.”

Today is fine. And so am I.

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Life in a selfie-free zone

“The self is something that can be seen more accurately from a distance than from close up.”–David Brooks

Imagine if Ansel Adams arrived here in a time machine.

He would encounter a world that turned everything he knew about his art inside out. We’ve turned the power of capturing beauty through a lens of exquisite composition and clarity back onto the one thing that seems to matter more: ourselves.

Selfies make me feel old. From the start, they seemed a touch banal. But hey, they are fun. You huddle up and squeeze into the photo and usually look weird, but it’s OK. It’s a moment to remember. I tried a few here and there, and they all looked bad. My son told me I had to step up my selfie game.

Now they have sticks to hold the camera to a better length. The selfie game is serious. Occasionally, I wander around Facebook–a neighborhood I liken to a crime-riddled war zone where the danger of mental beatings lurk around every corner–and I see people are EFFin serious about their selfies. And why not? Everyone is now the star of their own reality show. Jay Z and Jay T aren’t the only ones looking to elevate their “brand.” Screw that, I’m a brand too mutherf….

Only most of us are not. We are human, not brand. We can be truth, not pose. We can live real lives that are messy and real, not staged for social media viral approval. We can touch a human being, not text one.

Here’s the twist: We are fearfully and wonderfully made, yet that secret concoction that makes us us, isn’t often captured in a selfie.

If we understood our created/evolved/miraculous beauty a bit more, our need to have it reinforced, moment-by-moment with poses and quips and selfie art and like counts and a whole bunch of other chores in a calculated hope to affirm the beauty within, wouldn’t be so compulsive.

We live in a time of epidemic self-focus. Only the lens is not focused inward toward capturing a picture of a true self, but in search of a photo to be dispensed outward for approval of a pretend self. Psychologically this leans toward narcissism, which is rampant in our culture these days. But holistically it is more simple than that. We’ve lost our focus because we are viewing our lives backward. We are Kim Kardashian, not Ansel Adams. As such, we are missing most of the beauty that gives life purpose, both out there and our own, because a selfie is no way to view either.

I felt myself turning the camera of my life around recently. I looked for validation from the other. I saw instead a side of me that needs more work. Focus blurred. My son was right, I need more work in my selfie game, so I turned the camera back around and pointed it out. My moments of suffocation let up, and air came back in. Sad air. But air. Air is good.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “The question is: How do you succeed in being introspective without being self-absorbed?”

Turn the lens around and try life for a while in a selfie-free zone.

 

Four who make the sun rise for me

I had to take a bit of reprieve from posting as of late, while I dug deep into other work, some of it social change development and some of it artistic development. But over the last few days, I’ve tried to sit back a moment and let my mind run where it wants to run.

It takes less than a second to land on four people who leave me breathless with gratitude.

My kids, of course. In that way, I’m the biggest of cliches. All parents think their children are one rung below the sun.

Still, I can’t help but think mine really are.

I feel like my life’s top pursuit is like this guy in the photo above: I’m going down the tracks of life, camera in hand, capturing what they do. Then in quiet moments I flip through the images and live them all over again.

Again, this is Captain Obvious stuff, right? Dad loves kids, film at 11. No breaking news here. But, when I do take the time to flip through the images of our lives together I feel again how they inspire me. And I miss them. They are my best friends. I can never have them around too much, even when they annoy the hell out of me (actually, we all know its more the other way around).

I silently cheer when my son almost convinces me to take the Libertarians seriously this election (almost… but, no…) and then backs that up with a remarkable post about a homeless lady and dog. I recall memory after memory where his huge heart shows through.

I swell when I think of my oldest asking me for connections to volunteer in her new community before she seeks a job. I recall the mountain of memories where she’s reached out to help others, including all of us in her family.

I connect back to a recent time when my “favorite” daughter (as she calls herself) recites vows to her new stepchildren on her wedding day, and I tear up again for the 17th (and counting time).

I glance again at The Youngest One, who is so determined to meld classiness, art and impact into a career path that won’t be easy, but I know… I know… will be thrilling and important and delightful and I couldn’t want anything more for her. Screw the backup plan, I whisper again. Life your life.

My kids may fly close to the sun in my eyes, but they are nowhere close to perfect, which relieves me. I see them for who they are, not characters I want them to be, and I admire them all the more. They have rough edges (as their incredible spouses can lovingly attest) and dichotomies and some ugly traits too, because, after all, they are my kids. I see my fingerprints on them and wince.

But when you stare at the beauty of the sun you don’t fret too much about the edges. They will figure all that out. That’s not my job.

My job is to cheer them on and enjoy my place in the audience of their lives.

I love my job.

My beloved city has a brand problem

“When San Franciscans look back on 2015, we may decide that this was the year the city stopped having fun,” San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Caille Millner wrote.

I’m not sure about that. I think the roaring ’20s-like atmosphere in the beloved city of San Francisco isn’t quite ready for 1929 yet, but an ominous note has finally reached the level of consciousness.

The reality is many San Franciscans aren’t having much fun at all, but they haven’t been for a long time. Walking through the Powell Bart stop on a chilly winter night, sleeping bodies lined the corridors like a scene out of the depression.

Ours is a city of great disparity and that growing divide between those “having fun” and those desperately struggling to survive threatens the city like a fault line.

San Francisco has a serious brand problem. Folks come here and see the desperate homelessness, the trash and the potholed streets and wonder what all the love is about. In too many places, this great city does look like a dump.

Add to that the uber wealth that shoves the middle class and arts communities right out of the city. That’s the real issue. We’ve become a city for the silly rich and down and out and not much else. Far too many who work normal, well-paying jobs here, live in other communities and make the long commute because they can’t afford to live here. Yes, the $4,000 a month rent is awful and the million-dollar price tag for a fixer upper make home ownership a mirage for most of us.

All of this is cited by Millner and impossible to argue against. But arguing isn’t going to help. Wringing hands can’t solve the real problems the city faces. Solutions?

Maybe. Some are very committed to it, including the wealthy, many of whom are passionate defenders of liveability, as evidenced by a generosity theme sponsored by the philanthropic arm of The Battery, an elite social club in the city’s financial district.

The focus centered on solutions for a city of 1 million that works for all its residents.

The sheer size of the problem discourages creative solutions. Can an entire city collectively fight for its liveability? Can incentives for people of each class improve help keep balance? Is economic balance necessary or even American?

God, I hope so. Diversity is one of the most important reasons I love urban life. San Francisco is at its core, diverse. Economic diversity is part of it. Genuine solutions for those on the margins can be sought, and the margins include those sleeping in BART and those middle-class families moving out or away altogether.

What’s laudable about The Battery’s philanthropic effort is that it doesn’t accept limited ideas that the city’s stubborn problems of gentrification, ridiculous housing costs and oppressive homeless can’t be solved.

This little seed of belief within me and others who love this city, a belief that San Francisco can work for ALL, has grown to become among the most important issues and causes I support. I don’t know the solutions. I just know they exist.

San Francisco has a brand problem. But if any city can truly create a city that works for all, it’s this one. We may not have as much fun, but we will have a city that lives up to its highest calling.

Socks at the theater isn’t the worst idea

Thanksgiving lurks, which means a slew of “do-gooder” campaigns about to be unleashed.

I’ll be the first to admit, most of these bother me. Especially the sentiment of giving a shit about others because it’s the holidays. Why aren’t there stories about helping the homeless in May and yet so many spill out about Good Samaritans between Thanksgiving and Christmas?

These little campaigns make us feel a bit better at a time of heightened awareness of our mostly self-centered lives that occurs during the holidays. We mitigate the rising internal tension by tossing some canned goods in a collection barrel or texting $10 to a cause of the day.

Cynical, I know.

Every little bit helps, I know.

So just a few minutes ago I got an email about a “holiday campaign” called “Socks in the City.”

Oh, please.

The email came from SHN in San Francisco about its upcoming presentation of the Broadway musical IF/Then.

I felt the derision well up inside me. I wanted to mock whatever it was before I knew what it was (which shows how ugly my thoughts can be left unchecked).

Two things caught me in my own self-important righteous BS. First, the campaign had been going on for a while and was wrapping up by Thanksgiving, so it was poorly named as a holiday campaign. Second, it is simply an excellent idea. Often the best ideas are the simple ones. This is that.

Check it out:

Thanks to YOUR generosity, we’ve collected over 1,800 pairs of socks for St. Anthony Foundation’s “Socks in the City” campaign benefiting the homeless men and women living in shelters and on the streets with no access to clean socks and shoes. Socks are still the number one most requested clothing item at St. Anthony’s and with the holidays coming up, SHN wants to do something extra special.

How can you help? IF you bring a pair of socks to your performance of IF/THEN (barrels will be set up in the SHN Orpheum Theatre lobby), THEN SHN will match your donation (through Thanksgiving Day).

I’m out on the streets from time to time talking to homeless folks and trying to do what I can, whether it be the San Francisco Night Ministry (a blessed way the presence of God has been on the streets of SF for 50 years now) or my own little lunch dates. Little of what I have done amounts to much, but giving people socks is a HIT every single time. Folks need socks. I try to take some with me anytime I’m out. And this little program has raised 1,800 and counting pairs of socks.

That humbles me.

 

Homeless people eating a can of donated food don’t really care about the motivation of those who gave it. They’re just glad to have food.  And I know they love getting socks. Never once have they said, “no thanks, I don’t want to be a token act of kindness for do-gooders.” Of course not. I’m an idiot.

Do-gooders, knock yourself out. Tis the season. Why not?

In the meantime, I’ll check myself and my shitty, self-righteous attitude. Who am I to judge the action of others? I stand in judgement on myself.

There…

Even though really, it still bugs me. I can’t help it. It bugs me but still do it. Toss the canned food in the barrel. Text a donation. Bring socks to the theater. Go for it. God bless.

In penance, I brought socks to If/Then, so I’d feel a bit better about myself, too.

As Bill Murray said in Stripes, “Talk about mass potential for growth, I am the acorn that becomes the oak.”

Clearly, I still have a lot of growing to do.

Lunch meetings build connections to those unconnected

I like to spend time with the homeless and struggling in my neighborhood. They are appreciative and interesting, and often teetering on the sharp edge of reality. I’ll make some peanut butter and banana sandwiches and go out to the park. I find out a bit more of what they need and try to round it up for the next time. It doesn’t do much, but for a minute it helps them stay aloft on the edge a bit better.

The more I get to know some of these folks, the more two things become unmistakable:

  1. They are fully human with deep feelings, conflicted thoughts and even some faint mixture of hope amid the sorrow and regret. In other words, just like us. The titles they wear–homeless, crazy, bums, nuisances, etc.–don’t help. They share the one that is important to all of us: Human.
  2. They are fully traumatized. They suffer a lack of nutrition, sleep, security, comfort and any measure of peace. They are on their last nerve, or more accurately, far beyond it. I heard a homeless advocate once asked why the homeless seem so, well, crazy. She responded that crazy is the most normal state in those conditions. If you were kicked awake any number of times a night, if you were frigid cold and hungry and scared without respite, how long would you hold onto your sanity? Ever snapped at someone because you didn’t sleep well the night before? Imagine that times 100. Those that aren’t crazy are the miracle. I’ve met these miracles. Happily so.

Disclaimer time: I have no interest in the political scrum. I’m not one any side. I’ve walked down Market Street and see the deterioration. I know the city suffers and residents have grown weary of trash, urine, panhandling and misery at their doorstep. I get it. I take no sides. I just want to know my neighbors.

One of my favorite folks to run into is named Papa Smurf. He’s sort of the leader of the band in our neighborhood. He says he has a spiritual intuition and could tell the moment I first walked up that we shared a spiritual bond. Over lunch in a park with about five others, I overheard him call me a guardian angel. I felt like I won an Oscar, well aware I couldn’t live up that in a million years or with a million peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

I’ve been asked a lot about “what can be done” about “the homeless.” I’ve never once ventured an answer. There is no membership club. “The homeless” is not a thing. It’s a condition with a wide revolving door, a complex group of people suffering from any number of causes: financial calamity, addiction, past mistakes, mental illness and trauma to name a few. I don’t spend lunch with my neighbors because I have any answers; I spend lunch with them because they are my neighbors. When my family walks through these places, I want the residents to know us and for us to know them. I want to feel safe, and I want to contribute to their feeling of safety in some small measure. If they know one neighbor, they are likely to feel a bit more like the belong.

The sad part is, they won’t belong for very long. San Francisco is the host for this year’s Super Bowl 50. Even though the game itself will be played in the 49ers billion-dollar albatross of a stadium far south of here, the village for the eight days preceding will be at Justin Herman Plaza and Market Street, which is where these people I share my lunch with now live.

Mayor Ed Lee has not been shy about displacing those who make their home in the plaza or along one of the city’s signature streets.

“We are always going to be supportive,” Lee told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But you are going to have to leave the street. Not just because it’s illegal, but because it is dangerous.”

Well, the reason my neighbors live here is because it’s less dangerous. I’ve gone out at night in the city’s notorious Tenderloin district, home to all the vices in the world and a vast number of the city’s more than 6,000 homeless residents. For homeless folks trying to sleep there, well that’s dangerous. As Papa Smurf explained, the folks who come down to Justin Herman Plaza are seeking the outskirts. They want away from homeless politics and fear. They want to rest. On Sunday afternoons, there is even a church service, for the homeless, by the homeless. It’s their community church. It’s part of the neighborhood.

But the mayor is clear. The Super Bowl is coming. They got to go. Lee made that clear: “They are going to have to leave,” he said after the city announced its Super Bowl Village plans.

There goes the neighborhood.

Morning has broken and great things are ahead

I’m a morning person. I wake up and almost inevitably the first words out of my mouth are “thank you, God.” I start the day pretty on top of the world (and try to fend off slipping into the bog of life’s struggles the rest of the day).

I’m kind of surprised how few people I know share this basic head-start I feel to each day. Even people who say they are most effective in the morning often tell me they aren’t “Morning people.” I’m not sure I understand.

I think one of the first steps of genuine wholeness, the hoof-to-head balance and wellness that makes life better starts in the first moments of every day. It’s like the clothes we put on. It sets the tone. If we opt for joy, joy stands a better chance of meeting us throughout the day. If we consider how much we have to celebrate on this side of heaven, our most creative sides are freed to expand and grow.

An artist created us and sustains us. We are the result of Her craft and She called us “good.” When we let our artistic expression loose, we become more divine.

Or as Tony the Tiger the said, “Theeyy’rree great!” (He may have been talking about Frosted Flakes, but I like to think it was life in general that got that big cat going. He’s a morning feline for sure).

But the point here is not to coerce, but to enthuse. I’ve written before that my favorite word is ardor. My wish for you is you wake up today with ardor for the day ahead. May your energy be infused with the joy of life.

Here are some little helpers I’m offering that may help you get off to a great start today:

First, grab your coffee or tea or water with lemon, sit in a good spot and stare at something pretty while you press play to this:

It’s hard to not to feel cheer when you listen to Cat Stevens.

Next, give yourself a minute of nothing but quiet. Sit and do less. Ahhhh. Breathe. Slide the corners of your mouth into a half-smile, just a little uplift. Pet the dog. Then breathe once more and say, “Thank you, _____.” (God, divine, self, sun, spirit, universe, etc.).

I’d get up and move around a little bit. Maybe a few sun salutations if you do yoga or simply stretching to the heavens. Make a loudish noise like AHHHHHHHH or WEEEEEEE! You can’t help but snicker a bit.

Think ahead to your day and try to nail down one thing you’re really looking forward to. Maybe it’s dessert or a phone call to a friend, or doing something you love, or someone you love, or whatever. But if you don’t have one thing, figure out something and cram it into the schedule. Make it happen. No matter what else goes awry today, you’ll have that to look forward to.

And now before you dive into your routine, I leave you with the wisdom of the Rabbi Zechariah the few months before the birth of Jesus who sang,

“Because of God’s tender mercy
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death
and to guide us to the path of peace.”

May the morning light of heaven greet you today.

Feel free to share this within a CHEERY GOOD MORNING to any “not a morning person” in your life. And return often just to feel the sun of positivity on your morning skin. Peace.

New challenge for ex-heroin addict: going vegan

There are two things you need to know about today’s guest blogger, Doug Piotter. First, nothing is off-limits when he writes, as evidenced by a health blog that includes words like penis, Depends and heroin. Second, dude’s funny, which is why I encourage you to get in line for advanced copies of his upcoming book, Fixed: dope, dye packs and welcomed back. Subscribe here, comment below or contact us to learn more.

I guess there’s a third thing too: You’ll want to read this. Enjoy.

Greener Pastures
By Doug Piotter

I’ve kicked heroin, so going vegan should be a piece of cake, without butter and eggs.

I recently got a Vegucation on Netflix, and like the unsuspecting victims in the documentary Vegucated, my wife and I also agreed to go vegan for six weeks.

The charming documentarian lured us in with a mixture of scientific data and comedy. I felt quite entertained. Then she lowered the boom with a thousand forms of animal cruelty, I could barely swallow. She had me.

I didn’t want to be responsible for any more K.F.C. crispy popcorn beak buckets, so we made our six-week vow.

As soon as I agreed, panic set in. I wasn’t about to throw away any perfectly good organic animal limbs, so I unconsciously put on my giant bib and went on one last “meat bender.” A 48-hour fleshfest ensued, followed by a sluggish food coma. After coming to, I noticed the first side-effects of my new vow. Vegan depression set in. The world as I knew it was over.

I have refused to buy new pants, but I practically need a shoehorn to get into my old ones. One button undone is almost unnoticeable in public, but three wanders into the realm of pornographic. I’m hoping to remedy that. I’m looking forward to being re-introduced to my penis, which has hidden under the awning of my belly for years.

As the vow’s first week continues, I wander aimlessly in the grocery store and mumble to myself, white knuckling it past the cheesy bargaining chips. I am broken yet unbowed, determined not be a broken link of inconsequence in the mighty chain that saves the planet.

“What’s on the menu tonight?” I ask my wife.

She informs me, “We’re having garlic flavored mulch, again.”

Soon I’ll be eating straight out of the yard waste container with the rest of the worms. Human interaction is way overrated, so the garlic thing may just work out to my advantage.

I have night sweats and vivid imagery of all-you-can-eat Korean short ribs that haunt me while I sleep. I’m transfixed with the empty caskets in our refrigerator that used to house the dead and frozen animal components. I’ve loitered in front of the neighborhood BBQ joint. I look at my cat in a different light. I have olfactory hallucinations of bacon frying right under my nose.

I tell myself, “I’ll just eat one chicken, nobody will know.” As my six-week test continues my experiences are as vast as my mood swings:

  • I can no longer refer to my wife’s nether regions in a carnivorous love-code kind of a way. I have to come up with a humane vegan alternative. Tofu wallet? She’ll adjust as well.  Though she’s never referred to me as Yard-o-Beef, will I now be her celery stick?
  • I’ve scoured the web in search of family farms with happy animals that are glad to sign off on being slaughtered so I can eat them. Still looking.
  • I take some comfort in the list of famous vegetarians through the ages, geniuses like Plato, Albert Einstein and Mike Tyson. Bob Marley may have smoked a lot of weed but he didn’t smoke meat.
  • I purchased some eggs at $9 a dozen. These hens are college educated and live in abandon campers with no doors. For hens it’s a penthouse. They come and go as they please. Seriously. Never has the concept of Bacos looked so good.
  • Do humans actually milk soybeans or are they hooked up to machines too?

This vegan business is time-consuming. No matter how much salad I eat, I can’t seem to make a proper turd. Now I get why cows eat all the time. There’s also a lot of preparation time involved. I’m in the process of developing a human feedbag so I can free up my hands and actually get some work done.

I’ve always viewed my system as old reliable. With one strong cup of coffee and cream in the morning, the previous 24 hours worth of consumption is bam, gone. Another solid effort turned in. Not so as a vegan, Now it’s more like Old Faithful. Things are unpredictable and happen fast: Veggie Shrapnel. I tremble between meals in fear that my volcanic bowels will suddenly erupt. Can’t stay long, just passing through, but wait, there’s more. To keep things under control, I practice my cheek squeezing technique. I feel as though I must be ready with trousers dropped and Charmin in hand. I’m pondering having a couple more toilets installed in my house, one in the living room and one in the hall, or maybe wear a porta-potty with a seat belt just in case.  Hopefully, it’s just an adjustment period.

Just shoot me now.

I thought I’d hit pay dirt when I learned that Oreos are vegan. All was not lost! I added several packages to the shopping cart. My wife squashed that bug as soon as it landed because they don’t actually contain any food.

“When tofurkeys fly,” she told me.

I’ve been lustfully reading cookbooks, meaty, cheesy cookbooks swimming in gravy. It’s comparable to smut or browsing that Sears catalog as a kid, while the voice in your head reminds you, “You’ll never get that Stingray with the banana seat and butterfly handlebars.” Only this time it’s a Double-Double with extra cheese.

I’m paying for dandelion greens when they grow free in my yard, I may have to become a goat for financial reasons.

“If you stick with it, you’ll be able to complain well into your 90s,” my wife tells me.

As foodies who spent countless hours in conversation about our sublime masterpieces, our silence around the dinner table is hard to take. I don’t have anything nice to say, so I don’t say anything at all. Our orgasmic groans of culinary bliss have been replaced. The low hum of mandibles grinding roughage now fills the air, like a factory. Potlucks have suddenly become shit-out-of-lucks. We have fallen out of favor with our foodie friends. Potluck pariahs.

Do vegan foodies even exist, or are they as hard to find as the Abominable Snowman or black Republicans? With awareness comes responsibility. What a drag.

“What’s for lunch?” I ask, as my wife as she slaves over the skillet.

“Sautéed fennel, carrots and cabbage with chick peas and sunflower seeds,” she says brightly.

I chew and chew and chew, tiring while I build muscle mass in my jaws and my head becomes disproportionate with the rest of my body. I’ll soon look like a balloon on a stick.

Fuck it, tonight I’m having a steak, a roasted cabbage steak with A-1 sauce. Tomorrow I’ll have my steak chard.

****

Two months have passed and I’m five pounds lighter. There’s been a penis sighting. It’s been confirmed I still have one. I feel pretty good. I’ve quit cooking, not because I’m lazy, but because I don’t know what to do. I graze just like a cow. I should wear a bell. My wife is frustrated with me for being underfoot in the kitchen while she mashes and steams and sautés and chops and blanches and peels and purees. I sidle up to her like I’m going to help and then slip an almond in her mouth just like feeding a meter. It buys me more time while I look for more snacks. By the time dinner is ready, I’m not hungry.

Somehow, after finishing our six-week vow, we just kept right on going.

***

Three months in and I’ve completed my detox. Things are slowly solidifying and I’m learning to cook. I am starting to believe I have another 40 years to complain, which cheers me up to no end. Here’s the shocker: Vegetables taste good.

And another shocker: there’s no need for Depends, only Maybes.

Read more from Doug Piotter:

Surf’s up, I’m down and feeling good all over

I have loved the idea of surfing for decades. I’ve romanced it in my thoughts even though in practice the actual experience involves something far more consistent with drowning.

I have never once called myself “a surfer.” But I EFFin love surfing.

So I was stoked to make arrangements to go surfing recently. I knew I’d suck. But sucking does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for surfing.

I got up at the crack of down and was soon prying myself into a wetsuit while listening to the waves crash on the beach. Nothing big, but they were nice pretty rolling waves that made my heartbeat rise. The surf was up, which meant soon I’m be down, rolling around, crashing around in my humility. It thrilled me.

I pondered all of this floating out on my board among far more proficient surfers. They sat up  straight and still looking out for the next great set, while I wobbled and waded like a dysfunctional Weeble. I looked across the dotted landscape of surfers knowing full well I was the worst one out there. Three guys who counted two hundred years of age between them surfed by me with ease, like artists of the ocean.

But sucking didn’t bother me.

Normally I mind sucking. I mind it a lot. I mind it enough to stop doing what I suck at or work very hard to stop sucking.

Surfing has never been convenient enough for me to practice much. The gaps between outings relegate me to learning and re-learning the same stuff. And surfing’s hard. I’ve done most sports and done many of them well enough not to suck. But this is one that humbles me. The ocean can do that to you.

Remember that line from Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Paul Rudd plays a surf instructor who keeps saying, “Do less. Jump up. Do less…less, well more than that. Jump up. Do less…”? Well, that’s surfing. Somehow you have to do less and do it so well that you can succeed at something that takes an incredible amount of energy, grace and courage. I suspect that’s why I love it. It’s hard.

As the sage Jimmy Dugan says, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

So, I didn’t worry too much about my general sucky-ness. Instead I embraced the present moment. I practiced stillness and tried to relax. When I positioned for my wave I tried to deepen my effort with less frenetic energy. When I paddled out I tried to even my breathing despite the enormous effort required. When I crashed (most every time) I tried to roll with the turbulence rather than panic.

I even stood up, sort of, a couple of times.

In between sets as I weebled and wobbled, my new BFF/surf coach and I talked about God, work, vocation and disappointment. We talked about stuff, the real stuff, the stuff that makes life a life. We had just met in person after weeks of getting to know each other online. I felt like I known him for a long time.

This is the stuff, I thought often, of both the conversation and the experience.  All too often I get so wrapped up in trying to find my life, I forget I’m living it. I get bogged down in the muddle and forget that the muddle is the life. So I remind myself often, this is the stuff. This is my life.

I needed this morning in the water flailing about. It turned into one of those hoof-to-head type of days that restore my sanity. Even as I wobbled trying to stand in the roaring tide of the surf, I felt the joy of needed balance coming back to me.

Sitting on a surf board in the Pacific Ocean challenged me physically, energized me mentally, nurtured me spiritually and well, it was just … bitchen.  Something about it.

But it was also something about me. Coming up on six years sober after a twenty-year dance of destruction with alcohol, I am well aware of how much more expansive life is these days. It’s full even in the struggle, rich even in the poverty, blessed even in the suffering. It’s surfing even in the near drowning.

I do all sorts of things I suck at simply to experience them, things I would have never taken the time to do, or had the interest to do, or been humble enough to do back in the ambitious, flawed days in my addiction.

Somehow in all of this I learned to accept what I suck at, which enhances the embrace of those moments when I don’t suck, those ah-ha moments when I say to myself, “I’m an EFFin Artist, man!”

Someday soon I’ll hit that moment on a surf board when I say, “I’m an EFFFIN SURFER, Brah!” and that will be … beyond bitchen. Until then I’ll keep practicing because when I do I feel better, from my toes to my bald head and everywhere in between.

Sucking never felt so good.

Effin Art from rocks and dirt

I write best when I think.

But if life crowds out anything, it’s time to just think. I find myself holding all these gadgets that offer so many things to do and ways to lose track of time with mind-numbing simplicity that my brain often goes hours a day without doing much of anything I consider important.

Digital drugs, I call them. Like most of the world I see, they can quickly shift from useful tool to crack-like addiction.

So what’s all this have to do with writing? Because I haven’t been writing as well as I can. More importantly I haven’t been writing as well as I need to in order to accomplish my two writing goals: 1) pay the rent each month, and 2) write books that people actually read.

I was having coffee recently with a mentor where I languished over what I was supposed to do with my life. I had spent so little time thinking, I was mostly in knots. I felt out of sorts, out of kilter, off target … like one of those map gadgets that says “location can’t be determined.”

She reminded me of a Frederick Buechner quote from a book I read decades ago: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I’m not sure my writing is exactly what the world’s deep hunger yearns for, but it’s about as close as I ever get. I started thinking why I wasn’t writing about these things, because writing is my deepest gladness. I recognized I wasn’t writing enough about what I wanted to write. Paying the rent had dominated and my deep gladness had suffered.

But to write what I wanted requires thinking, another thing lost in the shuffle of time. Like a cat chasing my tail I circled around and around these thoughts aware that I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Not thinking is like that. It’s full of motion that accomplishes little. Thinking, I have found, is more stillness with far more recognizable results.

So thank goodness into the cacophony of my mindlessness I agreed to help my daughter and future son-in-law fix up their yard. I arrived to great piles of debris and the change to do some real hoof-to-head wellness work that had been lacking in my life.

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For four days I hardly held a gadget. For four days I worked. I hauled logs, raked dirt, burnt slash and cleaned trash.

In the midst of all that labor I took a bunch of dirt and rocks and made them a pond, which I have found is about the most alluring little place to do nothing but stop and think.

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As I worked, I thought. My mind was not hyper like the cat/tail, but calm and focused in contrast to growing physical fatigue.

One thought that kept returning: balance. We live on a spinning sphere both figuratively and literally, so it makes sense that a great and ever-present challenge is to stay in balance. A cell phone is handy, but excessively it can erode your ability to connect with others. A computer is necessary for work, but excessively it can replace healthy activity. Working to the pay rent is responsible, but working too much can become an ego-building obsession.

Four days with dirt and rocks reminded me of other talents I have, artistic expression that is not just time at a computer banging keys much like I’m doing right now. It reminded me of muscles I like to use and brainpower that demands attention to stay oiled and creativity that results in something pretty.

Ironically, my daughter’s family is having the same struggle with imbalance. Theirs is the opposite. They have a new home and with it a fierce desire to make it perfect. The project list is long and all-consuming. They are wearing out with work, badly in need of some down time that may well be doing little more than looking at gadgets for a while.

What we do is often amoral. It’s purpose and value comes from how we do it and what its results are and how it all stitches together in a balanced fabric of our selfhood.

I’d just been too busy to think about such things until I got busy doing things that gave me time to think. Infused with thoughts, I look forward to writing and reconnected to that deep gladness of my life with a faint hope that such words might also skitter across the lake of the world’s great need.