The Drive

A couple of days ago, my brother in the throes of cleaning the house dug up a piece of my past that I thought was long gone: "The Drive."

Prior to my joining the Armed Forces, I was a prolific amateur photographer who had serious aspirations of becoming a professional photojournalist.

Early in life I had messed around sporadically with my mom's old SLR 35mm, but with the advent of digital cameras I found a whole world of possibility open up to me. I shot with our family's point-and-shoot compact 2 megapixel for a while, then worked a whole summer on a local farm to save up enough for an 8 megapixel prosumer ZRL (zoom reflex lens). Over the next two years I shot around 40,000 photos. My photos were all stored on a hard-drive when I went off to Boot Camp and when I came back I found that I had completely and inexplicably lost all interest in my creative outlets. Photography was no exception.

Photography was the most important thing in my life before joining the military, and as such, returning to that obsession became the path that I navigated as I sought to return to something of my former self.

I took what I thought to be the first step back when I met a girl who somehow helped me to see colors again, (ironically, she had just gone color-blind) and I felt a hope that among other things, I could be the obsessive photographer again - the trait I thought that defined the pre-military me. Then she left my life completely and I soon abandoned my reborn photographer in favor of going on a long streak of heavy drinking and writing heaps of ridiculously emotional music and poetry.

The final blow came one day when the hard-drive with all my work on it started clicking and suddenly died as well. At first, I felt sick to my stomach thinking that my greatest tie to my prior self was gone.

At first I thought about spending the heaps of money that it would take to recover the photos, but for reason, I felt a strange peace and acceptance that the photos were gone. No longer would they haunt my existence, bidding me return once again to my former obsession. I think now that I was right to feel that way, and my life has been better since I gave up that pipe-dream. 

However, although I gave up on being a photojournalist, I found in it's place a revolving door of other aspirations whose urges and capabilities came and still come to me in an almost clock-like cycle. 

It will happen (often suddenly) that when I am within grasp of finishing a project, such as the production of my music album, that I lose all creative drive in that direction and find myself writing heaps upon heaps of lyrics and poetry instead. In time I'll move onto some other interest, and then something else, and even spend weeks just subconsciously adsorbing stuff, and many days later when my drive for making music returns, I find that I want to take my album in a completely different direction and I'll start all over again from scratch. This cycle has repeated in some form ever since photography ceased to be a part of my life, and now it seems with ever increasing regularity.

I've only recently, and quite gradually become aware of the surety this phenomenon, and I find that I am actually happy with it. Granted, I'll never be really good or well known for any one thing in particular like I felt sure I would be as a photographer, but I see and experience so much more without my eye glued to a simply viewfinder, or a microphone, or a monitor, or my fingers tied to my computer's keyboard or a guitar's neck.

So, this hard-drive showed up, bringing with it some turmoil, memories, phantoms of ambitions and dreams. It reminds me of the two years I spent looking through a lens; of the perhaps one thing I could have been really exceptional in my pursuit of; but it also reminds me of the life-time I might have spent doing just one thing, trapped by ambition and obsession. 

So I suppose I'll keep this little doohickey safe, and one day years from now I might see if I can recover the photos. But in the meantime it serves to remind me of the path I once travelled to a destination I thought I knew; and the path I'm on now which could go just about anywhere.


Frozen Pond

My ventures left no visible marks 
                 where I walked
 yet the surface of the pond was marred
           where the deer 
              and the raccoon stalked
                    Upon midnights so brightly starred
                          Their wild spirits led them 
                                                              to reach
               Where my own feet would not go
                        for the ice popped and cracked beneath
          my firmly planted
                                      cautious feet
        I walked for a time 
                         the edge
                and on the bank 
           when the ice was weak
                    there I fought the briery hedge
to step again 
 where the ice did not creak
           The ice in the center was likely
                          more sure than that on the rim
                                where it was full of fractures 
                                                           and weeds
                           But I stayed 
                where I could easily reach the shore 
                     and would not risk drowning 
                                   simply to feel free.


A Christmas Poem

"To My Fellow Gentlemen"

Let us lift a glass of Christmas cheer
To welcome the coming of the New Year,
With pungent smoke where we, sitting,
Will reignite what is manly and fitting.

While the cold outside gathers strength,
We at sit at home and talk at length,
On finer aspects of our various lives,
In smoky rooms, away from the wives.

A decanter of port is slowly tipped,
And the fruit of the vine is fondly sipped.
A fine tradition passed on from our fathers -
From homelands far over blue waters.

Yet, there are many who don't understand
About finer things which wait for a man.
For if only moderation he would employ,
Simple pleasures are what he should enjoy.

So here is to all who seek simple pleasures,
May it come to you in tasteful measures.
In a season when our great gift is to be alive,
Please, I pray you, don't drink and drive.


Remember to thank a deployed Service Member, Fire Fighter, EMT, or Police Officer if you know one who is working hard over the holiday to make sure that your's is a safe one!

May God bless you all, and have a very merry Christmas!


As It Was

I am walking the rails that run between my house and the river, looking for solitude and a coal nugget or two in the white gravel where they often lay, both glittering and void-like in the moonlight. Melancholy hangs heavy in the air about me and fills the spaces within my chest, like the frost on my sleeves and the bitter cold in my knees and lungs.

The spirits and memories of the past hover and watch me in the deepening shadows, waiting seemingly in vain for the coming of the Sun. I am not far from where the place where I had not long ago lost a battle with my heart - an outcome I had long feared.

In the silence of the night, I hear footsteps echoing from ahead and look up to see a spectral scene approaching from afar:

With head hung low and hand buried deep a man is walking towards me. He kicks at the gravel as he walks and yet it does not seem to move. I stop and stand in the shadow of a tree to watch him pass. A ghostly light seems to follow and I see faint, quickly vanishing images of lights and buildings and people all around him. As he comes closer, I see his face, covered in ice crystals. He is just about to pass the place where I stand thus shrouded, when he stops and turns slowly to look in my direction.

I stand in place, frozen with apprehension and fear. Then my heart stops beating for just a moment as I realize that the face looking at me is very much like my own. I feel a chill run through my body and I turn to flee but cannot move at all. I see that the face holds no expression except an odd grimace which the ice had frozen onto it, the eyes sunken there are lifeless, filling me a nameless fear. My thoughts fail and I fall into a strange, sleep-like state.

The cloud cover the Moon's face and the wind dies. How long I stood thus transfixed I did not know, but sometime later I find myself still standing there and I look about to see no one around me, only the moonlit trees swaying silently in the wind. The vision is gone.

I look down at my feet which had melted the ice beneath me and become refrozen in place. Breaking free of my icy bonds, I run home as fast as my legs could carry me, shaking with the cold and shaken to my core, and vowing to myself to forsake no more the warm company of my fellow man for the bottle and the solitude of my dark studio.

He walks the tracks as they once were 
In the places where they still are;
Under gaslight's eternal glow 
He revisits these places
Looking for the faces
He used to know 
And knows no more.

A young man who died old.
He walks still in the world;
A prisoner, earthbound 
By a love he'd found,
And a love he betrayed
They have all moved on 
And he has stayed.


An Update:

Well it's been a while since I posted anything, and I'm not happy about that.

It's been an absolutely crazy  month. But I'm hoping to have a chance to relax and gather my thoughts in the next few days and maybe have something to say. In the meantime here's a recap of some of the things I've been up to lately:

Fishing: I never really thought of myself as someone who would get into fishing, but being out on the water with no distractions and just swish and buzz of casting a line, interrupted by the thrill of an occasional catch has proved itself be like a mini-vacation. It helps that my friend's home is just a stone's-throw from a fully-stocked pond and there's no packing and unpacking of the boat to deal with. Going out on the pond surrounded by good friends, still water, and nature's bounty is truly a worthwhile escape from the madness of the world.

Fall colors...

Jim, looking like an old dude.


The Sun dipping low in the sky...
 Theatre: I was recently apart of a local community musical theatre production in my town. This Sunday was the final performance and we played to a packed house. There were a couple of rough nights, D.O.A./small audiences, but the rest of the nights more than made up for them. The play was written, produced and directed by the extremely talented Langden Mason. It's all about a year in the town in 1954 and is written around a local radio station that ran at the time. I was a part of 7 different numbers, including a solo, a duet, a quintet, two sextets, and two ensemble pieces, with my characters ranging from a radio singer to a cowboy, irish immigrant, marching band member, to a vampire. It was a healthy bit of fresh air and exercise for my multiple personality disorder.

Langden out front directing a rehearsal.

Langden at the piano surrounded by the cast of On The Air

Little brother Sam (second from left) and some fellow cast-members during rehearsals.
 The second and last weekend of performances fell right on my duty weekend, so I drove over an hour both ways, from the base to my hometown three times in total that weekend, getting up at 5:30AM and going to bed and 1:00AM each day. I just now am starting to feel like I might actually eventually catch up on sleep!

But what has been really amazing about this whole experience is that I actually saw the play the first time it ran in 2001. I was 14 years old at the time, and it made a huge impression on me, one song especially: "Your Love Haunts My Dreams" which is a piece written by Langden Mason when he was 16 years old (what better age for writing entrancingly hyperbolic music?) and is based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. It was a haunting performance that has stayed with me since the first time I saw it, with Langden singing from the orchestra pit and Terri Long up on the stage, exuding vulnerability and emotion. When I auditioned for the play, I assumed that it would be the same deal as last time, but Langden decided to have me replace him in the number and I found myself onstage with Terri, who came back again to reprise her two roles in the production, and singing a song that I never thought I'd hear again, not to mention have a chance to perform. All in all, it was nothing short of thrilling, especially just to be a part of this group of talented, positive-minded, and truly wonderful people. But the whole experience has ultimately been quite exhausting and time consuming. In consequence and conjunction with everything else that has happened recently, mostly mundane and un-post-worthy, there have been no blog posts.

Terri Long as "Lucy" and myself as "The Count." (photo by Barry Long)
 Riding: I got my bike up and running, cleaned it up, and have been rolling out the miles pretty steadily on the odometer. The cold weather has necessitated my layering-up and I walk out the door most days looking something like the "Michelin Man." But the added hassle of dressing for the cold is vastly out-weighed by the liberation I feel when blasting through turns and cruising down the highway feeling the full force of the elements, fully aware of my surroundings, the smells, the temperature and humidity, the position of the Sun and clouds, the colors and all the sensations of acceleration and gravity, friction and momentum. There is no ignoring the natural world on a motorcycle.

The bike stripped down and ready to clean and polish.

Graduation: My younger brother, Andrew, graduated from Army Basic last week, and those of us that could drove down to Georgia for the day. Contrary to reasonable expectation, it did not get any warmer the farther south we went. It was, in fact, quite the opposite. And it was something of a blitz back and forth, but we were able to spend a few hours with Andrew and it was well worth it.

Slipping down the road, trees like water flow by.

Keeping the natives happy with my iPod Touch.

Almost there...

The Georgia "moonlight in the pines" can seem so sultry in the words of a song...

... and slightly less so in the middle of the city.

Fueling up at Denny's.

A Georgia morning...

...mist and Spanish moss.

The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Ft. Benning

My brother, a newly graduated U.S. Soldier.

... and that is some of what's transpired since I've last posted.

A closing thought: 

Which definition of love do you find most accurate?

1. Deep affection and warm feeling for another.

2. The emotion of sex and romance: strong sexual desire for another person.

3. A beloved person.

4. A strong fondness or enthusiasm.

5. A zero score (in tennis.)

Leave it to sports terminology to sum it up correctly, right?


Journal Entry: 1st Days in Iraq

April 1st-2nd, 2009 - Iraq

After a cramped ride in a C-17 from Kuwait, we arrived in TQ at about 2100. We unloaded our bags and piled into the briefing room for our base orientation a complete combat load of ammo. Then after waiting around for the word on our ride out, we retired to temporary housing for a few minutes of shut-eye and found the rest of our engineers from the previous stick already there. The word came down that our convoy was delayed an hour and a half, so we went to the chow hall for Mid-Rats. The Best D*** Hooters Show was on the television there and needless to say, there were a lot of open-mouthed stares for the next 45 minutes, admittedly, my own person was included in this pathetic group of women-starved Marines. The desert is the breeding ground for desperation and all but the very strongest find themselves staring at the occasional WM as they walk by and wondering what they would look like in civilian clothes.
We unpacked and repacked a whole conex box so as to be able to fit all of our gear as well as the rest of H&S Co.'s into it. We formed a chain and knocked it out quickly and with no room to spare in the box we spent the next ten minutes trying to latch the door completely, finally realizing that it was a problem with the door and contented ourselves with latching only half way. Our Armadillos and MRAPs arrived soon after and we suited up. 1st Sergeant [L.] called us around him and said to us, "This is it, gents. This is the real deal. A rocket landed in Ramadi yesterday and the last convoy out just got hit with an IED. Keep your heads on a swivel and stay alert."
Instantly I felt the tension rise. We loaded up and began our ride in silence. Every sway and every bump was felt acutely. Between the IED threat and this being the first seven-ton ride since the accident, it was a very nervous beginning. Then we all heard a sort of rhythmic "swish, swish, swish" like a washer machine as something became lodged in our passenger-side middle tire. The sound gradually turned into thumping and the truck began to shudder as the tire became more and more flat. We had to stop for a moment when we saw debris in the road and a sign next to the road, as well as lights in a house began to flick on and off. The whole ride I was praying fervently for myself, my comrades[...] But we arrived safe and sound in Camp Ar Ramadai after a tense 45 minute ride through the town it was named after.
Briefs kept us awake for a couple more hours and everyone was walking around in a zombie-like state as we settled into our temporary quarters, an old Iranian [Baathist] School building. Unpacking and setting up kept us awake until about 0500, so most of us stayed awake to go to morning chow at 0530. The chow was overwhelming in quality, variety, and selection. Although completely exhausted we ate with relish and when we finished we headed back to our barracks and fell promptly asleep. We were awakened at 1000 to have classes to update us on IEDs and the CREW systems and then to go BZO our weapons. Finished up by evening chow, we relaxed in the barracks for a few hours and then went to a class at 2030 which ran until 2200. After we finished up, we all headed back to the barracks and slept like the dead.


My Winter

Make me shiver
My cold, cold wind
Your eyes are brown leaves
You're my winter

The frost is thick
On the ground black glass
On the blacktop I slip up
I look up and go down again

Years pass and still I die
When lips kiss yours
And those lips aren't mine
Belonging to some strange soul

Breaking bones every time
I fall and remember
You should be setting them
You should be kissing them

Where does hurt end
And healing begin?
Deep underground
Below the frost line?

Dirt beneath my fingernails
How I got here, I can't tell
Awakened in a field
Face frozen over with tears

I am driven wild, undone again
Pacing the highways
On a dark horse, swift as wind
Running from a broken day


Training Journal Entries

A few entries from a journal written while training for Iraq:

Nov. 13th, 2008 - Camp Horno, Camp Pendleton, California.

Well, we are settled into our barracks, a squad bay that will be our home for the next two months. It has good head facilities and washer machines, plus some drink fridges and microwaves, so it could definitely be a lot worse.

Today we woke up at 0645 and hoofed it over to the chow hall. After chow we ran through some hip pocket classes about det. cord ties, improvised explosives, and claymore mines. We went to afternoon chow at about 1100 and when we came back, we cleaned the head and squad bay. I caught some sleep after reading the Constitution for a bit... no surprise there.

I was awoken [sic.] when we had to run over to the parade deck for a battalion formation... 847 of the men we will be deploying with. After a motivational speech by the CO of [Battalion name redacted], we were dismissed for chow.

After evening chow we made our way back to the squad bays and 2nd squad got changed over into boots and uts. and we headed up the nearby mountain on a fire trail. We made it up about 3/4 the way before some of the guys got too tired and we started back down. It was a fun little jaunt... good team building, camaraderie promoting exercise.

I am now sitting in bed, listening to helicopters passing over head, and thinking about this path I have laid out before me. I never knew it would feel like this. The rosy hues of my childhood war fantasies didn't include being away from my family and most of my whole life for a year. But I suppose it will be a good thing, if I choose to make it so.

This mandatory detachment from the hum-drum routine and getting by that characterized my prior existence can be a good thing. I must remain, however, on the offensive to ward of the attack of sloth while I am in this period of my life. There will be a lot of down time through out this whole process, but it would be a waste if I were to not use this shaking up of my existence to grow.

Nov. 14th

Today went well. Reveille went at 0600, and aside from getting our weapons and other gear issued, the day was unremarkable. We went to chow, we came back and ran through some classes, then went to chow again, then came back and ran through some more classes.

Tomorrow we are headed out with the grunts to a range where we will be doing some breaching and clearing trenches. Our goal is to demonstrate to the grunts our capabilities and training so that they will be able to effectively utilize us in-country.

My hygiene and eating habits have improved dramatically over the past few days. No longer a bachelor, I am Marine who is proud to maintain a smart appearance and whenever possible, smell good. I imagine that I could very easily live this way indefinitely. I can see how people can do it. But not people with dreams, goals, and ambitions.

I aim to be the master of my own fate, so to speak. I don't like answering to men that I wouldn't otherwise have to answer to if they were not nominally placed in positions of authority without actually meriting it.

There is not a whole lot a Marine has time to do or be except be a Marine and do the things that we do. It's not a bad life, but it is not a life I could willingly accept as my future permanent lot, knowing full well as I do that the world is much bigger and more exciting than what we see in our day to day existence.

There has been a question that I have asked myself, bringing to account the different strengths and weakness that my paths have shown within me. One of the paths I have considered is law enforcement leading into a career in the intelligence field. Could see myself leaving behind the self-centric, self-expressive lifestyle of an artist for the opportunity to serve others.

I believe that I could leave behind the softness and depressive weakness that defines my life when I yield to my artistic tendencies, and adopt a common-sensical approach to life. But this path always seems much to narrow, and even though it would be a stable existence, it would perhaps be a waste of the different aspects of myself that were hardwired into me at my creation. Even now, I become a hard man to adapt to this lifestyle, stoic and accepting of whatever comes my way.

But is this the way a man was meant to live? Are we not meant take in as much as we can? How can a man call his live well lived if he did not experience the keen hunger for life, at least in his early years? I am not fighting this experience or who I am becoming, because it is essential for me to retain my sanity and be effective in my day-to-day life in the Marines, but I cannot allow this attitude to determine my choices for my future paths.

Nov. 15th

Today was a good training day. We woke up at 0445 and beat feet over to the Parade Deck about 3/4 of an hour later. After a while of waiting for the rest of "E" Co. to get things in order, and scarfing down a MRE for morning chow, we stepped.

We were attached to Echo Company for the whole of the training exercise today. We stepped from the Parade Deck in a staggered column at about 0730, with Team Ramrod (my fire team) providing rear security. We hit our first hill a short time later and for the rest of the next two and a half miles we climbed up the steep grades of a fire trail.

The Com guy got broke with a couple of minutes of stepping off, so we traded off carrying the pack in front of us for the rest of the time. It wasn't too bad, but I had to carry it more downhill than up, which meant my shoulders suffered, rather than my legs. After a four mile patrol, we arrived at our "range" which was really just an area in the middle of nowhere that had some concertina put in random places and trench[es] seemingly dropped from nowhere.

We rested and had an afternoon chow MRE at about 1030, and pretty much sat and rested for a while. Then as the grunts began their breaching exercises we made our way to the training area to observe their activities. They had received basic instruction already from some of our [Company's] Marines in clearing with grappling hooks and bangalore placement, so they performed these task with relative proficiency, however we were able to comment and advise on how to further improve themselves.

After this various marines and I began teaching classes to the grunts in order to familiarize them with basic procedures and our capabilities in assisting them with breaching obstacles and urban mobility breaching. I taught an APOBS class to most of the company in several different sessions, as squads and platoons finished their infantry exercises. I also assisted Cpl. [H.] in teaching a Line Charge class and Urban Mobility Breaching.

We finished and at about 1830 we got picked up in a 7 ton and were brought back to Camp Horno. We turned in our weapons at the armory and took quick showers, got in our civvies and headed over to the rec. center at about 2015, where we ended the day with some Subway and relaxation.

Now I sit in my rack reflecting and writing. Keeping a good attitude makes all the difference in long marches and other demanding exercises. They say the mind gives out long before the body does, and I have found this to be very true. I have always had trouble with not giving over to the defeatist, lackadaisical attitude, but for some reason I remained in high morale throughout the entire day, even though my shoulders ached from the highly uncomfortable pack and my feet and legs hurt from the long patrol. Overall, this whole week has felt like a turning point in my approach to life.

Nov. 16th

Today is Sunday, so reveille went at 0645. We ran through knowledge on Urban Mobility Breaching so that we were all up to speed for teaching the grunts. Then, after cleaning the head, we headed over to the chow hall for a somewhat late morning chow. After chow was finished, we hit the PX where I bought a laptop cover and a "Don't Tread On Me" sticker for my laptop.

At about 1230 we headed over to the armory and cleaned weapons for almost an hour, then headed back to the barracks and changed over to PT gear, then headed over to the Gym. To pumped [sic.] some iron, and did some grappling on the mat there. After about 3/4 of an hour, we headed back to the barracks and I showered and we changed over to cammies for chow.

After chow we came back to the barracks and had down time for the rest of the evening and headed over to the Rec. Center from about 1830-2100. Now I am sitting in the rack, waiting for SSgt [H.] to come brief us so we can finally hit the rack. We are supposed to do HEAT (Humvee roll-over training) tomorrow, but there are some problems getting it locked in.

Nov. 17th

Today we did HEAT Training... it was supposed to simulate a Humvee rollover, but it was more like a really bad carnival ride. But it was it wasn't hard or stressful. It seems like for some reason none of these phases of training are phasing me. I have been focusing on keeping a positive mental attitude. For the first time I have broken the hangdog approach to training that I learned in Boot Camp. The harder the training the more enjoyable the challenge. Life is a matter of perspective.

Nov. 18th

Today was a good day. After morning chow we hit the PX and then did a thorough field-day on the squad bay. After that we hit the Gym for about 1.15 hours, pumped some iron and rolled a little on the pads. After that we went to afternoon chow and went back the squad-bay to do classes and down time for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow we are doing a hump 4.2 miles up and down mountains with a fairly heavy pack load, then after doing tables #3 & #4, we are humping 4.2 miles back. Most of the guys are somewhat dreading it, but I view it as a good challenge. Something is driving me. I can't tell just exactly what, but I haven't felt sorry for myself, nor am I planning to at any point. The greater difficulty, the greater the reward, both in this world in the next.

I know I need to be tougher mentally and physically, and I could ask for no better way to improve myself than to participate in activities that I have dreaded in the past and take them in stride. I cannot express how grateful I am to God for the continuance of mercy He has shown me in giving me a good attitude. I know that I cannot get through this without His grace.

So, anyways, I'm just sitting here compiling a playlist and wrapping up the day in the best way I know how. I've never felt so sane.. it's strange.

Nov. 19th

Well, today was the long awaited day. We humped out to the range for tables #3 and #4, about 4.5 miles through the rolling California foothills. We carried our main packs stuffed with our new flak jackets, along with our kevlars and various other items of equipment. It was good stretch of the legs.

[K.] and I lead the two columns, and the engineers of 2nd and 3rd squad lead the formation, followed by the H&S element of [Battalion name redacted] and we made it out there in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. We BZO'd our weapons, then did table #3 which was comprised of shooting from different yard lines, different stances, and while moving.

Then night came and we did the night element, table #4. We used our Night Vision Monocles and the IR beam pointer, PEQ-15. Then after making final preparations and counts, we stepped at about 20:00 to head back to Camp Horno. We made the hump in under an hour, and the detachment definitely was pushed a lot harder, but we arrived safe, sound, and in full numbers at the Parade Deck.

After turning in our weapons, we made our way back to the squad bay and showered and compiled a huge order for Dominoes. I'm a little sore, my feet hurt a little, but I am relatively no worse for the wear. We had quick class to prepare us for tomorrow's training evolution, the Gas Chamber qualification, and now we are sitting around waiting for the pizza order.

Nov. 20th

Today was a full training day. I am exhausted and tired, and I am getting up tomorrow at 0430 to head into the field, so I cannot write long. I just need to write a little to put some things to rest.

I truly hope that someday I will be a good man. I don't like who I am, but I am not in rebellion against who I am. I am who I am for a reason, and I stay this way for a reason. I am here to protect my family, and somehow I've discovered that the only way I can protect them is to lose them. I won't be with them for a long time, and those short times that I am, I fear the terrible potential for me to be a poor influence upon them.

God, please [make] who me who you need me to be, I don't want to be me.


Fish Story II - "Pond to Plate"

Caught a decent Smallmouth Bass today in Ben's pond, and it looked so nice I decided to keep it and cook it up.
So I began my epic first encounter with gutting and filleting a fish.
I had very little idea of what I was doing, but that's never stopped me from doing anything before.
 It was a massacre. A slimy, scaly, frond-scented massacre.
 Viewing the aftermath of the carnage I begin to wonder, "Why do I feel hungry? And where's my Precious?"

 But I shakes off the feeling, clears my throat: "gollum... gollum..." and I heads inside to clean up off the pondscum and cook the filletsssss.
 The finished product is NOT raw and wriggling. It is broiled with a basting of olive oil, sprinkled with lemon juice and parsley served with bread with Ben's home-made hummus. Yum! I jumps in it!
Photos of me taken by my good friend and fishing buddy, Jim McGuire.

Remember the Fallen

Morning creeps in, silent, still,

Afraid today will see it's dawn
Worlds collide with violent will,
While the silent trees watch on.

The words of men can cause such dispair,

When the strength of our wise men fails.

Wringing hands and terrified they stare

At a world of pain and they pale.

The Strong grow wise as they fight a war,

That takes them and sends them afar.

The eyes of youth soon are forever lost

When the truth is shown and the awful cost.

They pay the price for the life we live

Today for freedom, his life he gives.
- 2007

This Man was a warrior through and through,
And he died whilst in my brother's arms on that terrible day.
He lived by a code and he remained ever true;
He was killed pulling a wounded man from harm's way.

I was not yet a warrior when I attended his service that day;
A whole community came together, stood and prayed.
People spoke of his potential, and strong men wept
I wished I could have known him; bright star that now slept.

He wrote to his family on the day he died, somehow knowing;
His mother said he wrote saying he knew where he was going,
And that he believed in the things he was doing.
I watched as tears streamed down her face.

I have this photo that was taken minutes before the fight.
There is no fear or hate behind this man's eyes.
Only contentment to be now at his comrade's side.
I wish to have known him, this man who changed my life.
- 2009

Cpl. Bradley T. Arms, killed in action on November 19th, 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


A Night in the Life...

I rode my bike out to Richmond this evening to see my musical hero, Sufjan Stevens perform at the National, after years of waiting for him to do a show somewhat within the area. I got in line and stood for half an hour for the doors to open and got a spot standing a few feet from the stage, directly in front of Sufjan's mic. (At this point I'm feeling pretty good about my decision to get there early.) After an hour of waiting for the show to start while standing in the midst of a throng of farting, yapping, unwashed college students, or as I heard one of the people there describe it, "a hipster concentration camp" my back finally started giving out (thank you Marines.) So, after getting through the pain of waiting with back aching and senses reeling, I ended up having to sit fairly far away from the stage after all. Still, it was an incredible show, thanks mostly to the intrinsic value of the musical experience.

In a world where most songwriters manufacture music like so much furniture, Sufjan is one of the few true artists. His music repels any attempts from the casual listener to penetrate to the source of it's appeal. Sometimes haunting, sometimes bittersweet, sometimes quite disturbing, there is no "Quintessential Sufjan song" because he defies delineation. His music can be thematically simple, but with indescribably complex arrangements, symphonic repetitions with jack-hammer persistence, melodic vocals and lyrics like a feather tracing memories in the sand; a tapestry of songs, tapestries within songs: He is, in my opinion, a true genius whose work never ceases to affect me in profound ways.

It was an incredible experience to see him perform live at long last. The show ended with a few minutes to spare for me to ride the 70 miles back in time to change and go to work at 1 Am. I layered up to keep out the chilly temperatures on the interstate and blasted out on the road, feeling artistically satisfied and creatively buzzed. I feel a thrill as I realize my clothing was going to keep me warm the whole way back. I break free of traffic and begin making great time on the road. Then, thirty minutes from home, my engine cut out. No big deal. I switched the fuel selector to reserve, (which in theory allows me to use up the remaining 20% of the tank) pull over to the side of the road and get my half-gallon fuel bottle out, dump it in the tank and hop back on. I should be good to get home, with some to spare.

But I'm not. After another few miles, the engine cuts out again. I pull off the road again, now within sight of an exit where I know there is a gas station. But it's up a long hill, about 3/4 of a mile away and I'm wearing boots with cowboy heels. In my refusal to accept that I had been so prepared for nothing, I wasted precious moments staring into the gas tank, the dry bottom barely illuminated by my cellphone screen, fiddling with the choke, turning the engine over until the battery started to show the first signs of weakening, cursing the fates, calling people who couldn't have gotten there in time to get me to work on time regardless of whether they answered or not (they didn't,) cursing the fates some more, and then after one long, last desperate glance up the road, hoping to see some kind Samaritan pulling in to help me, I grab my bike's handle bars and break into an awkward trot with my legs scraping against the saddlebags and my left arm, which had to stay bent in order to keep the bike straight was already beginning to ache after the first few steps. Out of breath at the end of the off-ramp and at the top of the hill, I try to switch sides to give my left arm a rest but my legs are too tired and I'm too out of breath and shaky to mount the bike and dismount on the other side. So I try to go around the front and almost lose control of the bike.

So there I was, holding on with a kind of insupportable death-grip to both handle bars from the wrong side of the windshield, puffing and cursing and all the while pondering whether it was the right time to call my work to tell them I was going to be late. Folks in cars pulling by probably only saw some red-faced leprechaun locked in a timeless struggle with an untamed steel mustang. I was aware of this aspect of my situation and it lent a strong dose humiliation to the already potent mix of mortification and despair.

"Curse you, Fates!"

I can see the station now in the distance, and I break once more into a run and a few minutes later arrive at the pumps, hands shaking too hard to retrieve my wallet from the bowels of my once well-conceived and comfortable, now steaming and clinging layers.

"Curse you, Fates!"

The process of getting my tank filled and the bike started complete, (the battery, miraculously was not dead after many turn-overs and a long while running the hazards) I hopped on - like a leprechaun, quite dignified - and tore off down the road. Some time later I pull into my parking lot, with only five minutes left before I was supposed to be at work. I jump off my bike barely stopped rolling and run into the Condo like someone gone quite mad. I hastily shed the many layers that I had at first donned so smugly, threw on my uniform, grabbed my bug-out-bag and ran back out to my car. I arrived at work six minutes late, ran up the stairs and arrived for my shift flushed, flustered and out-of-breath, which is of course how one should always start their workday.

And that is a story of how a night of soulful artistic luxury can turn into a wretched ordeal, starting with a sputter of a 650cc motor.


Writing Your Story

There is not a human, alive, dead, or yet to live who can write a perfect work of literature. For words themselves fall vastly short of perfection and at best very feebly express those things come natural for us to feel so strongly. We can only do our very best, and perhaps then do a little better - as we can - and then maybe even a little better when more time passes. But this present excess of imperfection is no reason not to try today. In fact, if we don't try now, we will only later make the same mistakes that might make us better today.

Writing a story is like living your life. You really don't know at all how it will end, or what twists and turns will come. You can only keep typing and hold on tight. You can only keep on breathing, live and hopefully find a way to enjoy the journey.

For while it will never end the exactly the way you first or ever wanted it to, the ending isn't what it's all about; it's about the joy we feel when we stand upon the cusp of the unknown and take that next step blindly. Such is the spirit of every true adventurer in history and lore: Carpe Diem!

What Do You Do When You Run Out of Quarters?

Cue the banjo music.


Video Games (Life-Flavored Ramen Noodle Soup)

Most of us know first-hand at least a little bit about technology's ability to capture our our attention and hold it for long periods of time.

These days unless you are, (a.) a hermit, or (b.) a savage dwelling deep in the Amazon jungle, the odds are very high in favor of the likelihood that you are subjected daily to the addictive pull of technology. We all have at least one, if not all of the following: Computers, cellphones, cars, ipods, television, etc.

... and these things are fully integrated into our social interaction, creative sides, productivity, entertainment, and countless other aspects of our lives.

We hear about it in the news, we see and experience it in our lives and the lives of people around us; yet it's a sort of "elephant in the room" that nobody really talks about or wants to think about seriously. Video games are the most obvious examples of this phenomenon.

There are quite a few studies out there about the addictive power of video games. There are reports in circulation about Game developers actually incorporating both physiological and psychological elements into their products that can build an addiction to video games on par with such illegal drugs as heroin. Whether utilizing visual effects that trigger chemical responses in the brain, or incorporating game-play that appeals to both a broad range and also specific personality types, there can be no doubt that it is a kind of epidemic.

However, if you are a "Frequent Flyer," a platinum credit-card holder, or subscribe to any sort of incentive/rewards program that offers earning graduating status, achievements, or any other type of gratification above the actual purchase and basic use of a product, you too have been "snookered" into playing a game - whether you realize it or not.

But opening that box of lovelies would probably could suck the hours of my life like a mana-draining spell. And with that reference I have of course exposed myself as the closeted gamer... dang it.

The painful truth I want to talk about is that throughout my life I have, and probably will continue to intermittently play a given video game to the point of obsession, then dropped both that particular game and video-gaming in general for a season for no apparent reason. First-person shooters, MMPORGs, action-adventure or strategy games, etc... all these and others have sporadically captured my attention and mental focus throughout my life, whether it was the early years with Math Blaster on my dad's Apple II, or more recently the massively popular and notoriously addictive World of Warcraft. But no game has ever really captured my interest for very long. I've often wondered why these games have such long-term and devoted players that never seem to lose interest.

***At this point I lost interest in finishing the post and left it dormant for a month. Tonight I picked it up again and try to finish the thought:

I fully intended to devote this whole post to developing a detailed psychological comparison of the mind of an addicted gamer and why games have never held my attention for long. I took a couple of tests to figure out what particular type of gamer I was and planned on using that as a reason why I've never experienced long-term addiction to video games. My results were not nearly as remarkable as I thought they'd be - mostly because like most amateur scientists do when dabbling in the methodology of creating a theory, I did research and experiments with this pre-determined result in my mind and so of course I synthesized and filtered data, I narrowed my exploration to specific studies and concepts.

So, while I learned some interesting things over the course of this project, the lengthy discourse I planned to launch myself into fell by the wayside due to lack of scientific integrity, calling to me for all of a few hours.

Now, months later, I revisit this still smoldering wreckage of scientific incompetence, I stumble upon the reason why I never have been a long-term addicted gamer. I guess it's nothing against gaming in particular, it's just because I have only rarely spent more than a month devoted to anything.

In fact, the healthier my interaction with other members of the human race becomes, the less I worry about finishing my EP album, or sticking with a single blog, or art and photography, or working on my novel (which I've scrapped and restarted four times), or staying up-to-date on a particular topic of interest. I think that most obsessions grow in the space where real interest and interaction with people and our world should reside.

Experiencing emotional fulfillment can make writing songs about heartbreak seem inconsequential and self-flagellistic.

Learning to more fully experience the multi-faceted beauty of our world makes compiling simple snapshots of it seem confining and meaningless.

Feeling completely unsure of one's own path through life, and being satisfied with that feeling makes trying to finish a story seem like an exercise in ignorance.

But every healthy aspect of your life, both good and bad can be completely negated by either masochism and/or escapism in the form of artistic pursuit, some sort achievement/entertainment-driven gratification, or some other self-destructive agenda.

Whether you don't know that there is more to life, or even you do and choose to sacrifice living fully for something that you consider more important, you will not experience any measure of contentment - only a placating placebo to the vital urges, desires, and questions that make our human experiences so wonderful.

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy had a notoriously unhappy family life due primarily to his unrealistic expectations. But rather than adjust his expectations and move forward, he persisted in the fantasy that family life could be romanticized. This was masochism and escapism at it finest, and it produced the 1400+ page novel, "Anna Karenina" which I have read and re-read multiple times, and enjoy it more every time I do. But as many truths and revelations as I continue to find there, to say that I know about life after reading it is like saying that I know what oriental food is after eating this:

It did taste really good though...


When We Lose Ourselves

I am one of them;

One of those struggling no-accounts and castabouts who succumb daily to the world's humanistic sophistry in pursuit of a fantastical, all-consumptive wealth. I am convinced by all I see around me that I am obligated to accrue some measure of worth extralimital to dwelling in God's grace - as if true worth is something that can scraped by our own ineffectual struggles from the bottom of some universal pot of fortune - but in reality we are dragging our nets through a cesspool where one can only finds brewing only the potent poisons of nihilist desperation, myopic ambition, and a seductive, sickly sweet aromatic cloud of vapors which elicits hallucinations of happiness which quickly fade in the hard light of the truth.

Recently more than ever I have been knocked upon my back and have fallen repeatedly; been broken upon the reality of my complete personal failure to capture that mythical creature called "Happiness" and in this dark and compromised place, I find a strange and most unexpected revelation not only of God's love, but also His sense of humor when I see that I've been striving in vain to carry a small bundle of pebbles up a steep hill, fully convinced that I can use them to build a house once I reach the lofty mountaintop.

But upon falling all the way down again, I awake from my desperate fantasy to find that what I seek on that mountaintop cannot be found anyplace except in God's perfect, inestimable plan. At first I feel only mortal chagrin, but when at long last I come to a place of acceptance of my heavenly Father's gentle remonstrances, I find a peace that passes all my understanding.


Power Out

Because of a unseasonably summer-like windstorm, the power went down in our neighborhood. So like all good survivalists would in this type of situation, we had an MRE cookout. Cheeseburgers anyone?


Fish Story

Went fishing this evening with Ben and friends and caught a couple of crappie (yes, that is a real fish name).

They were yea long!


Your Hair

I recall now, years later and with shortness of breath
The way your hair gathered upon your head,
The pony-tails, the tangles and curls,
The dark, shining glory that filled my world.

You've always been a mystery, and now, even more,
Though I knew you better than anyone before.
Your eyes and your smile tease me from a photo frame
And I lose every inch of ground I've gained.

Like a flower pressed between my mind's pages,
You stay always the same, and the same storm rages
When I open the book and forget I left you there,
I try to close my heart, but I remember your hair.


Time Flies

This weekend my unit went to Norfolk for some amphibious assault training.

We got on the buses Thursday morning.

Stayed aboard the good ship, USS Whidbey Island.

It was very tight quarters and it wasn't long before cabin fever set in.

But the sunrises were nice.
Click on image for full-size panoramic view.

We did some training on the beach and worked on our farmer's tan.

This is my fireteam. Yup.

 And we did a familiarization tour onboard the USS Wasp

The ship had recently returned from busting up drug smuggling in Cuba where they earned the snowflake on the side of the ship.

This is me and some of my fireteam waiting on the buses to go home... did I mention that we are special people?