PART VII: Father/Daughter Stories–Proving Santa.

Santa petrogliph“Daddy guess what, there is no Santa Claus, my friends at school told me!” Two years ago December, my then seven-year-old daughter Madi came home from school to start Christmas break with the inevitable story of how her friends at school said that there really was no Santa Claus. “Their Mom and Dad said so too.” I was caught off-guard and didn’t expect to hear this quite so soon.

Too many parents these days are careless or apathetic about Santa, and it shows. The statistical age of a child losing their belief in Santa Claus has dropped in the last 30 years from 11-12 years old to 8-9 years old. We are losing something here; our information age is missing some important information.

The question parents should be asking is not whether we believe in Santa Claus, but why we believe in Santa Claus. Some of you may know my view of the importance of childhood wonder, (see PART V: Father/Daughter Stories October 23), the ability to be inspired by the unseen and unknowable is a cornerstone of a happy adult life. The knowledge that there is a benevolence in the world that knows, cares, and provides for us no matter who we are is a basic human necessity. How some parents can be so attached to their rationality that they are willing to rattle the wonder and magic out of a child’s head is beyond me.

Thus confronted however, I had to think fast. I fell back on my improv training. First rule of improv, agree with the premise. I answered without hesitation.

“Well of course there isn’t.”

“There’s not??” She was surprised and a little alarmed.

“Not for them anyway. The reality is that if you don’t believe in Santa Claus then he doesn’t exist. And, he won’t leave you presents. These kids who don’t believe in Santa anymore, do they get presents from him?”

“I don’t think so, they say it’s their parents are doing it.”

“Exactly! Presents from parents pretending to be Santa, but not really from Santa, because he doesn’t come to their house, because they don’t believe.”

“Ooh.”

“You get presents from Santa, because you believe in Santa, right?”

“Right!”

Success for now, but it was only triage, doubts still lingered with her. If Madi stopped believing in Santa Claus, then Santa would stop visiting our house, and that would be sad. I needed a longer-term solution, something that would stick, but how do you fight the kids-at-school, the modern, empirical, verifiable, sensible, rational, mundane of the world. Ironic isn’t it? How readily some give up the Santa myth, but not the merch.? –Black Friday indeed.

Christmas Eve came, Madi was snug in her bed, Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” read, and visions of sugar plumbs already dancing in her head. I went downstairs to put out MY presents to her.

I had found no solution. Upset and bereft, I stood staring at the tree puzzling like the anti-Grinch with his finger to his chin.

“I must save Santa, but how…?”

When in doubt, follow the premise, if this then what?   Improv had spoken, it was clear that what I needed was PROOF, but how can you prove the un-provable?

“Screw this, I’ve got work to do.”

I had unfinished business at my computer. I didn’t have the resources, the program, or the technical expertise to finish my work, so it took me another four grueling hours before I was satisfied. I went to bed near three am.

At five thirty Madi bounds into my room, ready to go downstairs.

“Hang on a minute, let me check my iphone first.” I thumbed through my phone as her impatience roiled.

“C’mon Dad!!!”

“Okay, let’s… What the f**k is that!! Wait…! Holy sh*t! I can’t f**kin’ believe this!!”

DADDY!

“Oh, sorry sweet pea, pardon my French. (still staring at my phone) You just won’t believe this picture!”

“Lemme see!” she reached for the phone, and I yanked it away.

“Wait, I’m looking!”

“Daddy lemme see lemme see!!!”

“Okay, let me tell you first… Last night I was finishing up some work on my computer, it was a huge pain in the butt you would not believe… but anyway, I heard this thumping from upstairs. I thought maybe you fell out of bed, but when I checked on you, you were fine. So I went down stairs to set out my presents to you, and stopped to take a picture of the tree. You know that ornament that your aunt and I used to say was our favorite that belonged to your great grandmother? I took a shot of that, and here’s the picture.” I handed her the phone. She stared intently at the photo.

“So?”

“Look carefully.”

“I don’t see it”

“Look at the window behind the tree.”

“I don’t see it!”

“Look in the lower right hand corner of the window, what do you see there?” Suddenly her eyes snapped wide and she inhaled like she had just come up from deep underwater.

Santa window pic

This cropped version doesn’t have Great grandma’s ornament in it.

“WHO IS THAT!”

“Whom does it look like?”

“Oh my gosh it’s SANTA! It’s Santa, it’s Santa daddy, you got a real picture of the REAL Santa, an actual picture of the actual Santa!”

“It sure looks like it.”

“Did you do that?”

“Hell no, I’m as surprised as you are. (I enlarged the picture.) Look at the glare on his face from the reflection of the tree lights. They are in front of his face. Whatever is there was outside the window. Let’s go down and see what he brought.”

“I can’t believe you got a picture of the real Santa, daddy you have to send this to the Smifso… Smifisonio…”

“Smithsonian Museum?”

“Yes!”

“I’ll email the curator tomorrow, they’re closed today. We must be the only ones Madi.”Santa Window close p

When we got downstairs we looked from the same position I took the photo. I went outside to stand in the garden to judge his height, and then came back in.

“From the look of it, he is between four and five feet tall, and has a pretty big head; the only tracks where right by the window, so it couldn’t be somebody else. He must have just come down from the roof, and that thumping sound I heard was probably him landing on the roof.”

I checked the NORAD map of Santa’s flight we track and concluded that the photo was taken at roughly the same time that Santa hit North America. After we examined the milk and cookies, and read the note from Santa wishing us a merry Christmas, telling Madi that she was a good girl this year, and suggesting that her dad get to bed earlier, we ransacked the presents under the tree.

Later we sat on the couch and mused over the photo again.

“You know what I think Madi? I think that nobody sees Santa unless he wants to be seen. I think he meant to be in that picture, came down from the roof for just that purpose, because he wanted us to know that he is real.”

“That must be true Dad.”

The next Christmas Madi used that photo to make her own Christmas cards to her Mom and Dad.  When this question comes up again, I will be prepared, I am saving this…Virginia clipping

It’s also for you, dear blog reader, a Christmas present from me, and here it is…

If you have never actually read, in its entirety, the September 21, 1897 editorial in The New York Sun, by Francis Pharcellus Church, here it is for you.

This is a photo of the actual clipping. In it, Church answers an important question from an eight-year-old girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the newspaper at the suggestion of her father who assured her that, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

Church’s answer to this ubiquitous childhood question is the most profound and enduring answer to a “skeptical age”, which you or I or anyone since can come close to.

For our children, Santa is real; for us he is a metaphor for something that is as real as you or I.

Screenshot 2014-10-24 09.03.19

Virginia O’Hanlon’s home at 115 West 95th Street as it appears today. Notice the plaque out front.

Have a very merry Christmas everyone!

Wookin’ Pa Nub: Love, Relating, and the Muse

Love sculpture - Robert Indiana -  ShinjukuI love being alone. Wait, that’s not right, I hate being alone. I love solitude. A solitary mind is not alone it is connected with everything. The difference is that there is no one around whose presence alters yours. Zen masters call it aloneness, and it is not lonely, it is full and resonant and whole. Have you ever sat and looked up at the night sky and contemplated the stars and your existence? That is aloneness. Have you ever done it in a crowd or with even one? There is a difference isn’t there? Solitude is where you can project your consciousness out into the universe and sense what is reflected back to you, a sort of echolocation wherein you may find yourself in the deepest sense of the word.

I love solitude, right up to the point that I realize that I am terribly lonely! It’s true we are not islands. We require connection with others as part of our realization of who we are. That realization, and pardon my use of the broadest and therefore most meaningless term we have for it, is Love. Finding it is easy for a fortunate few, but for most of us, not so much.

Allow me to narrow if I can my meaning here with regard to this our most over-encumbered word. The union of souls, there that gets us a bit closer. We might call it romantic love, though sexual intimacy is not a necessary aspect of it, neither is gender.

As this post’s title implies, we are all “wookin’ pa nub”, with a grateful nod to Eddie Murphy’s SNL skit where he plays Buckwheat from “Our Gang” singing pop favorites. Truly, looking for love should never be taken too seriously. If Love eludes us, it is usually for a reason. News flash, it isn’t them, it’s us, and unless we find and escape the patterns we set, we are doomed to repeat our failures.

As for my own farcical search, it has been largely fruitless. It is a sisyphian tragedy, a fable of sorts, but the old kind, with a cruel recurring ending.

For me, the only type of people I truly understand, the ones that fascinate, engage and inspire me are artists; actors, musicians, performers, painters, sculptors, dancers, but with regard to the true union of souls, I had painted myself into a corner from the beginning.

I have always played the role of leader among artists, either as a producer, director, talent booker, or manager. There is a cliché in the theatre about the type of actress who carries on with her director, and this notion extends to my other leadership roles as well. It holds that any woman that takes up with the man in charge is either a mindless tart or a manipulating bitch. (Most directors are content enough with the former, and often fall prey to the latter.) Any good girl is unlikely to put herself in the line of fire of that cliché. They will be too afraid that they will become a target, one suddenly in competition with other women, judged, scrutinized, ostracized. Those fears are phantoms of course, anyone who truly cares about you, who sees you truly happy, will be happy for you. The rest can go hang. But try explaining that to a good girl.

To make matters worse, the only kinds of relationship I value are intimate ones, whatever the type of relationship. I am not an acquaintance kind of guy; I acquire precious few, and very close relationships. When I encounter someone I feel I understand and see clearly, I seek closeness, intimacy. With women (the only way I lean) it doesn’t have to be romantic or sexual, and often it is not, but since I don’t know how to stop seeking intimacy, and refuse to label what I don’t yet understand, there comes a point where I get too close and they don’t know how to let me in. Confusion and fear is the result and they play it safe, turn tail and run. I have been around that block more times than I will admit. This is my pattern, and a trap I still do not fully understand my way out of. It’s either that pattern or not being accessible at all, which is worse.

I wish I liked tarts.

Give up being a leader? No, that won’t work either. Though it sounds special, being in charge is not what it’s cracked up to be. I dislike being a leader, but I lead because the only thing I like less than leading is following. I stand in my painted corner brush in hand.  eyes-6-wallpaper right

Sad to say, I gave up on my failed pattern long ago with no resolution. Disgusted and bruised, I locked away wookin’ pa nub in a trunk, and shoved it under the bed. This time I decided that it was better for me to focus completely on my four-year-old daughter dealing with a newly divided home, than waste my energy on looking for Ms. Goodbar. It was a good decision, but even good decisions have their expiration dates. It has been clear recently that my daughter would benefit from my finding Love as much as I would. So I reached for that dusty old trunk and opened it. When I looked inside I was surprised and deeply moved to see that what I had left there so long ago was EXACTLY THE SAME AS WHEN I LEFT IT! What was I expecting, the problem to solve itself? Time to roll that rock up that hill again Gary, maybe this time it will be different.

In a fit of compassion for my little girl I tried on-line dating. I put up a profile and spent three hilarious days watching pings come in. They couldn’t even wait for a date before they started telling me what to do, how to post, and what I need to do to fulfill their expectations. “No thank you, when I want a girl who is looking for the next stub to blame her misery on I’ll call you.” After three days I scrubbed every bit of it off the Internet. I will put my faith in the Law of Attraction thank you, even if I die alone!

Guys are simple; they are looking for either their mother or a porn star. God forbid their mother was a porn star. Women will too often compromise their truth by settling for less than what they want in order to not be alone. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that, but they will be dishonest with themselves about their expectations, still hoping for their desire, and end up resenting the fella who is only there to hold space. I submit that there was never a relationship that “failed” where there was real honesty with one’s self and with the other, a true understanding of expectations, and the integrity to follow through on them.

Even the word “relationship” is misleading. It’s a noun. We are not nouns; we are verbs. We are ever evolving and changing things, our relating must also change, evolve, and be new each day. The correct word is relating, the verb; a relationship is something that was, not something that is.

I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a failed relationship. Every relationship, no matter how good or how bad has its gifts. There is always growth and value to them, so how can we call them failures? My biggest peeve is people with a two dimensional view of relating. We are either friends or lovers, lovers or strangers, right or wrong, good or bad for each other. Bunk. There are as many kinds of relating as there are people to relate with. Each one is unique and should not have to fit into our cultural conditioning or confined by common archetypes, values, or morality. As unique as the individuals are, so too is their relating. How much love has been lost in the world because it did not conform to accepted standards, sad.

This understanding can answer some confusing questions about relationships that “didn’t work out.” Some souls enter our orbit, and we theirs, for reasons that we do not fully understand when it happens. The power of their pull and the serendipity of their arrival lead us to assume that these must be lovers sent to us by destiny. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. I call them Doorways, they are captivating, inspiring, and open us up to parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed, and break wide open a sky full of new possibilities. They fill our lives with light. This has to be destined love, right? Maybe not.

We often serve the same purpose for them as well, making it seem impossible that we should not be together, but there always seems to be some block or consequence or taboo that gets in the way of smooth sailing with Doorway people. Yet we are at times gifted with these unlooked for miracles of love for a special and often finite purpose. When their orbits are complete, when we have opened the doorways they offered, and they ours, their trajectories shift away from us. If we failed to understand or accept their true purpose for us, we would believe that we have lost at love, that the relationship had tragically failed, and it can leave us deeply heart broken. These can be deep, mystical, intimate and powerful connections, and for the unaware they can be quite a handful. Just the awareness that there can be lovers in our lives, even ones we never touch, that are not part of the ‘ever after’ myth can be a valuable insight for healing.

Did I mention they hurt? All growth hurts my friends. Never abdicate your happiness in the present for fear that it will end in the future, because guess what, everything has its ending.

eyes-6-wallpaper leftThere is another word used to describe my Doorway people, the ones who inspire us to new heights of achievement and depths of self-insight, it’s an old fashion word used mostly by artists, but anyone can have them, they are called Muses. My advice to you, and trust me on this, because I have encountered them many times, if you are lucky enough to find one, grab them by the hand and run as far and as fast as you can, while you can! The benefits far outweigh the risks. They are precious things, gifts from the Gods, do not run, do not hesitate, dive in, and conscience be damned.

I believe that much of our trouble finding Love has to do with a true understanding of what it is. We shroud it in illusions, some of which are not at all pleasant to release. What we call love is really a whole spectrum of relating. At the primal level, love is sexual attraction. Many of us remain stuck there, because our conditioning has burdened our sexuality with all kinds of expectations and repressions. As our awareness rises, we can begin to experience the love that exists beyond sexuality and honors the unique individuality of the other. We begin to understand that our partner often functions as a mirror, reflecting unseen aspects of our deeper self and supporting us to become whole. This love is based in freedom, not expectation or need.

One magical night you will finally meet your soulmate, that one perfect person who will meet all your needs and fulfill all your dreams. Right? Wrong! This myth that songwriters and poets are so fond of perpetuating has its roots in the womb, where we were so secure and at one with our mothers. We yearn to return to that place, and look for it in others. To put it bluntly and quite brutally, it is a childish dream. Nobody, whether it’s your current mate or some dreamed-of partner in the future, has any obligation to deliver your happiness on a platter, nor could they if they wanted to. Your happiness is self-bestowed. Real love comes not from trying to solve our neediness by depending on another, but by developing our own inner richness and maturity. Then we have so much love to give that we naturally draw lovers towards us. This is what I mean by the Law of Attraction.

Often we are not able to see each other clearly. Each of us may be projecting an image we have constructed in our minds, covering the real face of the person we are looking at. We all get caught up in this sometimes, projecting movies of our own making onto situations and people surrounding us. This happens when we are not fully aware of our own expectations, desires and judgments, instead of taking responsibility for them and owning them, we try to attribute them to others. They are clouds that prevent us from seeing reality as it is. We must recognize the game. Does what you see in others really belong to you? Is your vision clear, or clouded by what you want to see?

What are your definitions of Love? If you don’t have any, then how can you find it? I will share a few of mine that I have found, in case I caught you off guard. My favorite is, to delight in another’s happiness. When you experience bliss in another’s bliss even when it has no connection or benefit to you, chances are that Love connects you.

There is a marvelous story that Joseph Campbell told about two cops trying to talk a man off a bridge who intended to commit suicide. As one cop tried to coax him down from the railing, the man jumped. This cop jumped after him, right over the side himself. He caught the man by his legs as the other cop caught his, saving both of them. The first cop had a family and kids and everything to live for, so why did he throw his own life after a perfect stranger’s? He was asked this afterwards, he struggled for an explanation, and being pressed for how he felt at the instant he jumped after the man, said that it felt as if he was jumping, that he was the man throwing his life away. This is my next definition of Love, a recognition of oneness.

We are all made of the same stuff, we are one, and in extreme moments of clarity this inner knowing shows itself. What is this stuff? This stuff of which we are made is love. It’s not a metaphor; we are actually made of it. We are love. Find someone within whom you can see this truth, and you will have an end to all your fruitless searches.

My sister recently reminded me of what my mother said of love. The next day I was certain I remembered her saying it to me; she probably said it to all her kids. It is indeed the simplest and most profound observation of love I have yet found. She said, “You do not love another person for yourself, you love them for them.” Having a child can teach you that about love, and I know that I love others that way as well. Imagine though, loving another person like this, who loves you in that very same way. That is a true bond of love, and a union of souls.

My mother would also say to me somewhat ruefully, “Gary, you want the world to be a perfect place,” that’s right Ma someone has to. If I ever find a perfect world, it will most likely be in a pair of eyes, one that sees in me what I see in them.

Now that would be something.eyes-6-wallpaper

Flying in the Face of Fear

warriorI have had a life-long fascination with flight. When I was six, my most fervent dream was to be able to fly. I had no thought of being a pilot, I wanted to levitate off my bed and sail through the air by force of will alone. I held on to that dream into my teens. I was neither the loudest nor the cutest, being a middle kid in a large family, so I was often invisible. Granted, that was fine with me most of the time, but it did leave a vague sense of being overlooked.

In my mind, spontaneous flight was the obvious solution. My prayers each night for years was to wake up and discover that I could fly, now that would get me some attention! I would nonchalantly float down the stairs one morning to the surprise and astonishment, and dare I say it, admiration of all, not to mention the host of baffled doctors and scientists at the door.

My first actual airplane flight happened when I was about nine. I had a window seat and spent the entire flight with my forehead glued to the window. It was one of those glorious days when the aircraft curved lazily through a towering forest of high cumulous clouds that created spectacular cities of immense sky-castles. I remember thinking that if the plane suddenly fell out of the sky and killed us all; I would be all right with that. I would die happy, and I wouldn’t mind being afraid.

clouds3_fly_590x300When I was in my twenties, I would occasionally be gifted with a flying dream, a dream wherein you find yourself flying through the air not unlike my childhood wish. As a result I began practicing techniques for acquiring a waking dream state, and became pretty good at it for a while. A waking dream state is a state where you are consciously aware that you are dreaming, and you can in some cases control or direct your actions within the dream. It’s a pretty cool experience when you get it.

Once I would become “awake” in my dream, I would walk forward then jump up a little on each step, lengthening my “hang-time” on each bounce. Soon I would be doing moon-landing size leaps, and then finally stay airborne. It takes a great deal of concentration, but I would often be able to stay aloft and fly around at will!   As cool as this was, it was just a dream; it wasn’t really flying. Yet, it was not without its own sort of peril.

Some times I would lose myself in it and fly too high. Looking down from a great height while floating in the air calls to mind falling. This is distracting and can break your concentration, which is the only thing keeping you in the air! Fearful thoughts of, “I could fall”, and “ holly shit, what am I doing!” creep into your consciousness. Suddenly you are Icarus with wings melting and it is really terrifying!

Dream or not, your subconscious does not know the difference, and the fear is real! A huge effort of concentration is then required to quell the terror and will your body to sink, sometimes agonizingly slow, back to the safety of the ground.

One time I was riding straddled atop a balloon no bigger than a beer keg high over a beautiful white city when it occurred to me that the balloon could pop, sending me to my death. It took me “hours” of fear and suffering to get that damn balloon down again, and I awoke drenched in sweat. Fear does not need a real circumstance in order to be potent, ask anyone with nightmares.

Years later I found myself between marriages, with no life, but reasonably funded in a bachelor pad in Orlando. One day while contemplating the cul-de-sac that was my life, I thought to myself, “Holly crap! I could learn to fly!” Two miles down the road was Orlando Executive Airport, which had a very nice little FBO and flight school, so I literally got off the couch, drove down and signed up to get my pilot’s license.

They told me I could choose my own instructor and ushered me into an open workspace filled with a dozen young men doing their time as flight instructors, building their hours on their waypoint to a job with a major airline. Stricken with the romance of it all, I decided I wanted an instructor with a personality, a rebel and a free thinker who would make this a fun and adventurous experience. It didn’t take me long to spot him, sitting on the edge of a table, foot up, smirking at his shoe, clearly in the midst of an extracurricular story to the guy beside him working.

After chatting up the guys, I suggested that this fellow would be my instructor. I noticed an exchange of glances between the flyboys, and one of them pulled me aside.

“Are you sure you want to pick him, there are a lot of guys here with more experience teaching.”

“Yeah, I’m good, thanks.” (Jealous? Come on boys there’s only one of me!)

It turns out I got everything I was asking for. My flight instructor, let’s call him Dale, because it is possible you may have once been on a flight he piloted, was an alcoholic and a terrible teacher. I’m not saying that he was ever drunk when we were flying, at least not that I could tell, but he was often hungover while we were out. I never gave up on him though, and true to form, he was a hell of a lot of fun.

A few months later, Dale said, “Izzo, let’s do your first solo flight.” I wasn’t sure if his request involved some secret knowing in the heart of a flight instructor, or if he was just bored; I think it was the latter. The first thought in my head was, “No way! He’s trying to kill you, the bastard is actually trying to kill you!” So I approached a gaggle of jaunty, desk-leaning instructors and asked them how you know you are ready for your first solo. They passed a glance around as if deciding which of them would give the unanimous answer.

“You’re never ready, “ one said with a rueful smile.

I wasn’t ready.

The minimum requirement for a first solo flight is for the pilot to taxi out, take off, do one full circuit of the pattern, and land on the second one. You get a hand held radio to your instructor on the ground and that’s it.

Warrior2

This is not my plane, but veery much like it.

We flew out to a nearby airstrip where we once practiced dead-stick landings. It was small, remote, and had no tower or traffic to contend with, ostensibly it was chosen because it was easier on the pilot, but I think it was also because you would kill fewer people when you crashed. I have taken a lot of tests in my time, but never one where if you failed you died!

I taxied out to the end of the runway. My legs were rubber, and my fingers were numb. Checklist complete. Staring at the open runway, there were a seemingly infinite number of reasons NOT to do this, and only one to go forward. Embrace your fear, I heard. So I kissed it squarely on the lips, “Fuck it!” Set flaps, power up, takeoff roll, V2 reached (take off speed), rotate (lift the nose) airborne!

“Wait! I changed my mind! I wanna go home! Oooh, shit!”

I focused on my rate of climb and compensated for wind to stay in line with the runway falling away beneath me. I had done this many times, but with no instructor it was completely different. I had never been so frightened, so alone, so beyond aid or assistance, so utterly reliant on myself, so completely in control of my destiny, so awake, so alive…!

“Whoo hoooo!! Ha Haaa!!” Heart soaring, I flew the first circuit perfectly, and then lined up my downwind leg.

Flying has a lot of cliché sayings that are never so true as when you live them. Among them, “Flying is easy, it’s landing that’s hard.” The Downwind Leg is where you are flying parallel to the runway before a turning decent to your Base Leg, and then turn onto Final Approach to land. This is where you begin a series of tasks that must be done accurately and in sequence; radio calls, airspeed, rate of decent, flaps, gear, etc. all while doing the actual flying to put you in position to get your plane on the ground. As I looked out my left window and saw the runway stretched out below me, I forgot everything.

I began to panic. Flaming squirrels were running up and down the inside of my spine, and I could not remember anything about landing an airplane. I have had stage fright before, but my life never depended on it. Another flying cliché popped into my head, “Panic equals death.” Imagine that you are taking your SATs, you have two minutes left and your looking at the last question, one of those ridiculously complex math essay questions, and someone has the barrel of a loaded gun to your temple ready to fire at the bell if you don’t finish it in time. I had to control this panic.

I’ve heard it said that you must “fight your fears”, those people in my situation end up a smoking heap in the asphalt. There’s no fighting that kind of fear! That is not the way to conquer fear. Embrace your fear.

Fear, in all its various forms, stops action. When we encounter fear, our instinct is to run from it, to run to safety. But we are not animals, and we rise above our base instincts. How many of you, I wonder, spend your lives chasing your dreams while running from your fears? You wouldn’t be alone. Have you ever stopped to wonder why those dreams never materialize before you? It’s because they are behind you, on the other side of those fears you are running from, and they are chasing you! Yup, you are actually running from your dreams. Sorry, tough luck my friend, no one said this was easy.

Do you really want to reach your dreams? Turn around. Open your arms, and let that fear wash right though you. Embrace your fear, accept that you are afraid, no fighting, no denial. Forgive yourself for it, befriend your fear, acknowledge that it is a part of you, breathe, and watch as it dissolves before your eyes. Fear cannot exist without your compliance. Your acceptance of it denies it of its power over you.

Scan, call Left Base, airspeed, rate of decent, scan, quarter flaps, scan… me and my pal terror began to land the airplane. Final approach. Fly to the numbers.

Most people think landing a plane is like a bird landing, where they just gently glide to the ground, but airplanes tend to want to stay in the air (thank goodness), so you actually have to point the nose down and fly it to the ground. It’s a little unnerving, at least to me. You aim straight to those great big numbers painted at the very end of the runway.Landing in Hyannis

By now I am showered in sweat. The runway looms toward me with its odd perspective and I am suddenly reminded of an old Star Trek episode, the original series, the one where Captain Kirk is fighting a giant ship-eating space thing that looks like a giant traffic cone, its open end glittering with a planet devouring plasma. Kirk was heading straight into the mouth of it, his only way to destroy it.

“Steady Mr. Sulu…”

If you know the episode, you’ll remember the corny music theme, the one they used whenever something dreaded was approaching. It sounded like this:

Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!

Desperate to remain focused and away from the panic still lurking in my scull, I invoked Captain Kirk, and began singing the little anthem.

“Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!”

It helped. I felt just stupid enough to regain control of myself. Full flaps, Vso (landing speed) reached, fly to the numbers.

“Steady Mr. Sulu… steadyyy…”

“Da..nah Da..nah  DA..NAH  Da..nah… Diddley DEEE…!”

Since that day, I sing that little tune in my head every time I line up on final. Thanks Star Trek.

Warrior3Once you are over the runway and within Ground Effect (about as high off the tarmac as your wingspan is long) your plane will encounter a cushion of air that makes it kind of float a bit. The trick of landing well is to flare at just the right moment. Flare is lifting the nose so that your rear landing gear touches first. Flare to soon and your plane stalls and then comes crashing onto your landing gear making a truly awful sound that makes little dollar signs fly out of your head. Flare too late and you land flat or on your nose gear, possibly collapsing it, and ruining your day (year).

Just my luck, as I entered ground effect a cross wind came up. A cross wind will blow your plane off the centerline of the runway or even off it entirely, unless you correct for it by adding rudder and yawing the plane into the wind. This lines up your flight path, but your nose is cocked into the wind, which will make your wheels land sideways-ish, and they don’t like to do that. So, you must straighten out the plane just before you land. While you’re doing that, if you should let your upwind wing tip catch air underneath it, the opposite wing tip may touch the ground, and that’s very, very bad, i.e. cartwheel in a fiery ball of death bad – probably. A mild crosswind landing is a very easy maneuver once you get it, but for a terrified and under rehearsed first solo pilot, it’s a chore.

The panic returned, and at a point in the landing where there was really nothing to do other than do it right. Fear spoke.

“Oh fuck, I’m gonna land sideways, I’m gonna hit a wing tip I know it, I am screwed!! I will die here!”

As fear made its case, I countered out loud with a line corny enough to be worthy of Captain Kirk himself, but it didn’t seem that way to me then.

“Not today, pal, not today!

The landing wasn’t what I would call perfect, nor was it worthy of a cinematic ending, but this is real life. The first two kinda hurt, but the third bounce was okay!   (No, you’re not supposed to bounce.) Dale’s voice crackled in the hand held as I completed my landing roll.

“Congratulations Izzooo, you just completed your first solo!”

“Yeah, sorry about that landing, it wasn’t so good,” I said, as relief and pride swept out the last of the panic.

Dale responded with the best and truest flying cliché of all, “Any landing you walk away from is a good landing.”

I got a whole lot better at flying after that. After a total of seven month’s of training, I finally got my license.  I eventually bought a plane and leased it back to the FBO, one way to own a plane if you’re not rich, which I’m not. I owned a sweet little low wing four-seater, a Piper Warrior II.

On calm days when it was partly cloudy I would leave my bachelors couch, gas up my plane and go flying. I loved it, hard. Flying alone on these days was best. I would soar through cloud canyons and sky-castles remembered from my very first airline flight. I would fly parabolic arcs, climbing steeply then pushing sharply on the yoke, diving down until loose items floated through the cabin and I was lifted weightless in my seat. I had finally achieved my childhood dream of flying through the air at will, and I was not afraid.

I used to open the tiny forward window and stick my fingers out into the wind, remembering the words of John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “…I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings… … and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds… … put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

A dear friend of mine, now gone, used Warrior4to say that there are only two choices to make in life, Love and Fear. I say that if you want to live an extraordinary life, do something that frightens you every day, and don’t mind being afraid.

Remember too that those who say No are rewarded with safety, and those who say Yes are rewarded with adventures!

Beginner’s Eyes: What My Daughter Taught Me About Perspective

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I am fifty-six years old, and the number makes me laugh. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. When people ask me how old I am, I tell them I am twenty-three, then they laugh. It’s a joke of course, but only sort of, because I still feel twenty-three, and I actually do think of myself as that age, less the angst, plus the life experience. Perhaps “thinking young” is the reason why people still guess my age as low as forty. Even at forty, the number sounded so ridiculous to me that I began a practice of counting down in years each birthday thereafter. Next year I’ll be “twenty-three” and the timing is just right.

Why twenty-three? Because that was the age I just began to know myself well enough to know what I really wanted. It was when I best recall having all the energy, vision, and time I needed to take my life wherever I desired, a time when everything was possible. I feel that way today, but it hasn’t always been that way.

DSC_0115I have somehow always known that I would have a daughter. I was first married at twenty-six, but was in no hurry to have a child. I wanted to wait until my thirties to raise a child, because I wanted to have the life experience to do it properly, and not while I was still so absorbed with starting my own life. It took a little longer than I expected, but that’s another story. I was forty-seven when Madi finally came along. By then, I was hoping that raising a child would keep me thinking young.

It worked.

I remember the moment I heard that my fifteen-year quest for progeny was finally realized. It was over the phone, I was sitting alone in the dark, in a garden. Suddenly magic, beauty and wonder that I hardly knew was missing seeped back in to the world. The dark garden filled with colors I hadn’t noticed, and I decided then that I would not let them fade again.DSC_0192.JPG - Version 2

I set my intention to seeing the world through my child’s eyes, to reengage life as I had originally found it when I began it myself. I wanted to reach back, if only in fractured moments, to life in its newest, purest form. I wanted to touch, if I could, original innocence, trust, play, bliss, and above all wonder. Of course we can’t go back to being a child, nor should we want to, but if these things can be brought forward to where we are now, how much more potent would our lives be? Seeing through my daughter’s eyes became a practice of mine, one I came to call seeing with “beginners eyes.”

What does that look like? Let me ask you, do you remember a time when you walked down the street in the middle of the road because it just made natural sense? Do you remember the feeling of an open space needing to be filled, or a time when there was never a question of trust? Do you remember when colors had no name? Do you remember when your only concept of time was dusk in the sky and your mother’s voice calling you in for dinner? Do you remember when a woods or open pasture was a choir of adventures calling your name? Do you remember nature? Do you remember what it was like when the word future had no meaning? Can you recall when understanding the world around you was more important than understanding yourself and your place in it? These are the things you see with beginner’s eyes.DSC_0171 - Version 2

If we had this view, if we found the practice of it in our daily lives, we could see past the thought-forms and constructs we adhere to in order to survive in an orderly world; how the clock and the agreements we make segment our life. We could see from a greater vantage the way we steep ourselves in a complex game of achievement. How we barter and compromise ourselves in relationships, and the way we run the race to the future, and overlook the present.

We choose this game of life, and so far as I can determine, we are here to know ourselves within its context, to find and actualize ourselves as best we can for some secret purpose that must somehow include growth. It’s a great game, a wonderful game, but we invariably get bogged down in it and lose our bearings, like a war we fight until we forget what we are fighting for and the battle becomes all that matters. My daughter taught me to keep stopping, stopping to look at things I knew well, as if they where brand new.

One dewy Spring morning Madi and I leave the front door in a rush to get into the car.

“Daddy wait! Look at the flowers!”

“Aww, Madi don’t run through the wet grass with your good shoes, come on we’ll be late!”

She turns and gives me a curious, almost sympathetic look as though I must be thick or something, “But Daddy, it’s the first flower.”

“Of course, right. My bad. They’re called crocuses…” They were white with purple and looked like little girls bent over with their long hair thrown over their heads, feet in the dirt like my daughter. We were late to wherever it was we were going, with wet shoes, but we had marveled over our garden’s first flowers and had given them their due. It is amazing what you will see when you stop to look.DSC_0319

Winter. We’re in the school parking lot for a morning drop off at school, there is a light snow, and it’s cold.

“Daddy look, snowflakes!!”

“Yeah, yeah sweetie it’s snow, let’s go, come on now.”

“No… Look!

She was staring at the car window. The temperature was just right for each snowflake to fall unspoiled and perfect on the darkened window.

“Wow! Cool Madi!”

“How do they do that?”

“When water in the air freezes, nature turns them to crystals, they say that no two snowflakes ever look the same. Imagine how many snowflakes have fallen and each one is completely different.”

“Awesome. Daddy can we save them?”

“No, but I’ll take a picture of them for you, so you can look at them later.” After I dropped her off, I spent fifteen minutes in the cold staring at them.

DSC_0116 - Version 2Summer evening. There’s a new moon and the sky is brilliant with stars.

“Daddy, what are all those lights up there?”

Stars, some planets, and Galaxies, which are huge groups of stars, but mostly it’s stars.”

“What are stars?”

“You know the sun, the sun is a star. Imagine the sun so far away that it looks like those tiny points of light.”

“Whoa, there are so many. How far away are they?”

“Well, they are so far away that the light we see from them takes millions of years to get to us. In fact, the light we see is so old, that the stars we are looking at may not even be there anymore.”

“Then what is behind the sky??”

“What indeed Miss Madi, what indeed?photo inchworm

I take great comfort in the fact that even though she takes as commonplace the stunning visual effects in movies and dazzling electronic toys that would have blown my mind as a child; she is still in rapture over a caterpillar on a stick.

I have incorporated “beginner’s eyes” into my work, in the form of exercises I use in my creativity and improvisation workshops. Participants might begin by pointing to and naming objects using anything but the name we all agree upon for them. They will be asked to find and hold an object in their hands and look closely at it, then they are tasked with forgetting its name, color, shape, purpose, until every cognitive construct we use to associate it into our understanding disappears. Then they are asked to see everything around them without any artificial symbol or association, and finally to see themselves in that way. The way the world comes alive for them, and the realizations they come to about themselves is often quite moving.

DSC_0119The practice of this gives you the ability to break tightly held mental patterns, and to broaden your perspective. We walk a maze of our own creation, following arbitrary and self-imposed rules. So what shall we do when our life’s maze offers us a dead-end? We climb over the damn wall!

The gift of a child’s experience, installed in an adult life grants us a nimble perspective. When we lose our job, instead of feeling trapped and failed, we may see a new career beckon. When we lose love, instead of feeling lost and alone, we may see a fresh new page turn. If we have a dream, we may run to fill it. When we run out of time, we may learn to let go of time. When we find ourselves directionless, we may listen for what calls us next. We may learn to stop throwing our happiness into the future, and learn to accept it now. We may even learn to stop searching so hard for ourselves that we forget who we are, or fail to see others.

My daughter will grow up, and she will fall prey to all of these things, as we all do, as we all must at some point. She will forget her beginner’s eyes someday, but I will never lose her gift. When she needs it most, her father, still twenty-three years old, will be there with these eyes, the ones she gave me.

And I will return the favor.

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