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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Past Midway

This was a busy week and when I logged on and read the previous post I thought to myself, “Let’s face it, you’re past midway.” I’m smiling as I type because I’m really not one to care about such things.

Case in point: I’ve worn a neatly trimmed beard for about fifteen years. In the early years, there was barely a hint of salt and pepper, but more recently it's gone half gray. (If you’re reading this and you see me on a regular basis—work with me on the half-gray part. It’s sort of like “midway” is true…if I live to be 100.)

I’ve considered using “Just for Men Gel” to hide the tenure of my professorial beard, but if I did that—even though the jingle sings “You look so natural; no one can tell… Just for Men Gel”—everyone would think, “Whoa, what’s up with the beard. Looks like he drew it on with a magic marker.” But of course they wouldn’t say this out loud. They'd think it while mumbling something vague like, “Did you get a hair cut?” or “Nice tie.” Anything but, “Your Marks-a-Lot look so natural.” (Sort of like this "doctored" senior picture of unknown origin at the right.)

So I just trim the graying whiskers and hope for the best… hope that it looks like Sean Connery in First Knight (If I could do that eye brow thing, we'd be twins--yeah, right!); or Earnest Hemmingway from his Old Man and the Sea years. (I've got more hair on top.)
Oh, here’s a hoot. I was actually stopped in Circuit City the other day by a guy who told me I looked “just like” George Lukas (right amount of hair, but I have less gray and neck).

“I bet you get that a lot.” he smiled.
“Actually you’re the first,” I replied, but he was not dissuaded. “You guys could be brothers.” I thanked him and thought to myself ... if George Lukas were my brother, I would probably not be standing in this line for a $30 rebate coupon on this $79 printer.

But the real kicker on knowing I’m past midway was the fact that we had the opportunity to watch five children between the ages of four and eight this weekend (starting Thursday). Only three of them spent the night three nights in a row. We loved having them. It was a blessing and fun in many respects, but it made me think back to those “Disney” years I mentioned in that last post… and it made me very satisfied to be right where we are in life.

Seeing my daughters interact with little boys was funny. They never had brothers. Watching them help “watch” the kids, made me realize how much closer my oldest is to being a “mom” than a little girl—chronologically speaking that is—and how mature our youngest is… and what beautiful young ladies they’re all becoming.
And besides... they like my beard.

Midway isn’t bad… even in the rearview mirror.

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Friday, March 10, 2006


Tonight is our annual Elementary School Carnival hosted by our middle and high school students. The big kids are clowns and "barkers" and Keystone Cops putting people in jail. (I just got sprung a few minutes ago.) There’s cotton candy, face painting, balloons, a “Scary Maze”, dozens of games, a petting zoo, and on and on—you know…a Night on the Midway—a perfect way to end 3rd quarter and mark the very middle of the 2nd semester.

It’s fun to walk around and watch the youthful exuberance and the joy of the older students serving and entertaining the younger students—and... loving it! (As Maxwell Smart used to say.) Disney classics are playing in the background—a nice touch. I must confess that after a few hours, it all becomes a blur of happiness dampened only by the reality that we will soon have to clean up. It's been a hard week.

So just now I step into my office for a moment of quiet. The hubbub of the “midway” fades but for the Disney music which is still playing on the office PA. I sit down to my computer to see if there is some five-minute task I can "check off" before the weekend—and Wham! it hits me, that ache of joy thing I’ve talked about before…. It happened again—an unexpected sense of sadness right in the midst of countless causes for joy.

The last time this happened was December 2004—entirely different circumstances but the same overwhelming sensation. I didn’t know that Disney music would have the same effect on me, but I guess it does. I’m hopeless. I think it's because these melodies were the themes of our family life when my girls were little and those songs were new. When Aladdin, and Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast, et al were released, and all the older "classics" were re-released.

For years, those titles were all that drew us to the theater as a family. But their hold didn't stop there. Oh no, the same musical themes continued when the videos were released and played over and over on road trips and vacations in the family van. Then they were immortalized when we actually went to Disney World in 2001 and they were pumped at us from fake rocks and hollow trees and magical stage shows. I'm not talking about that "earworm" tune from the petite global ride I won't name; I'm talking about dozens of wonderful songs that were etched fondly in our psyche unaware. So like I said, I was sitting here in my office when the ache of joy hit me.

I don't think it was triggered by the music alone as much as by the stark contrast between the festivities outside my door and the solitude within, but perhaps most of all… by a "midway" feeling of a different sense, the realization that not long ago Julie and I were the young couple strolling around with the our little girls (like the many young families in the building tonight).

Now we are midway through life. Our girls don’t drag us by the hands anymore. The oldest is a junior in college and out on a date; the middle one is a senior running a booth down the hall; and the fifth-grader is enjoying the carnival with her best friend from another school (who’s spending the night when we’re done). Yes, I have a hundred reasons to be happy...and I am... very.

In case you’ve never delved into the archives of this blog (who could blame you?) here is what I wrote when I first tried to explain this feeling 15 months ago:

"I felt strangely alone as I drove. A light snow was falling and the radio was playing Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” That’s one of those goose-bump songs that sums up the way students and teachers feel in those busy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.... I thought back to all the Christmas programs the girls have been in and....I started to sing along with the radio. [F]rom out of nowhere, my voice cracked with emotion and a sort of sadness swept over me.
'Where did that come from?' I wondered aloud.

It was the first of several unexpected pauses in the days to come when happy recollections would suddenly seem too wonderful to bear, and rather than a smile they brought the ache of joy: a fragile awareness that life is a collection of mostly uneventful moments. They do not pass but gather; they are not spent but shared; and only rarely do we begin to grasp their value—or allow ourselves to think they will someday change—and when we do, our grip goes numb, like in a dream, just when it matters most to hold on.

That’s what I mean by the ache of joy. It’s not a passing feeling but the passing ability to sense what’s always there, the simplicity of life that is lost in the complexity of living. It catches us off guard because it’s stored not in our cherished memories but in moments that have passed forgotten. Out of nowhere it comes, this ache of joy, but briefly seeing life this clearly blurs the eyes...." (From post of January 11, 2005)

Yes, that must be it... Good night from the midway.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Thoughts from Lemonjello's

Well, I must say, this feels a little strange. I’m writing from a small college coffee shop called Lemonjello’s across the street from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. It’s not a very big café, and nearly every seat is taken. The name Lemonjello’s fits this place—posters for unknown bands near the door, student art and poetry on multi-color painted brick walls (only one is yellow), cool acoustical music and vocals in the background, and an aquarium with one huge goldfish staring indifferently at passers by. There’s a couch and chairs and tables, sort of like—dare I say it…“Central Perk” in Friends (and for those who know of it… “CupaJoe’s” in Cedar Falls, Iowa). It’s probably like a thousand non-Starbucks across the country, but I don’t get out much—at least not to sit in unfamiliar places alone for two hours.

So what’s so strange about being here? Well, for starters, I’m at least twice the age of every person in the place—except the lady by the window who just saw me look at her. Oh, great, the only other middle-aged person in the room just winked at me. Maybe not; maybe I’m just feeling conspicuous by looking around.

That fact alone sets me apart—my sitting here taking in the sounds and smells and “characters” is probably my most isolating feature. Every other table is in its own world, and the orbit of their conversations seems to have no gravitational pull on the tables around them. I see two categories of patrons. There are eight or nine other people perched behind laptops, like me, and then there are laughing friends enjoying a Sunday afternoon away from serious thought. It just occurred to me that the java dive of the 21st Century has replaced the soda shop of 100 years ago.

Take the couple to my left: They are clearly not a “couple” but good friends talking non-stop. Out of nowhere she announced that she got a Mac. After explaining its features, she added, “It’s so cute.” “Well, that’s the important thing,” the young man confirmed with a twist of friendly sarcasm like the lemon on the side of is glass, clearly aware of what it means to be a “guy friend” whose role is not to argue but to listen and gain a plutonic understanding of the opposite sex. Such relationships are a soothing balm for the bumpy times of life; they are less like fragrant perfume or cologne and more like the comforting smell of Vick’s VapoRub. Here-here to non-romantic friendships!

I'm not eves dropping on them—honest I'm not—I couldn't tell you much of what they've said, but their tone and pace and supply of conversation is rare. Someone should probably warn these two that after a few years of such conversations about the people they are dating or were dating and they'll suddenly realize that the person for them has been sitting across a small table Sunday afternoons all along. I did glance their way while "unkinking" my neck (alright I was faking the kink) and they do have the kind of eye contact that says this relationship is mutual.

It's the kind of friendship that could either lead to marriage... or the kind that will require explaining in their marriage to someone else (unless the spouse is uncommonly non-jealous). Someone should give them a copy of Our Town and say, Act II, flashback to the soda shop—you two are George and Emily if ever two friends were, but if they knew it now it might ruin everything. Discovering such endearment must occur long after the stain has set.

So what am I doing at Lemonjello’s? Well, first of all... Holland, Michigan, is a great place. It’s a little quiet on Sundays because they roll up the sidewalks at 2:00 in the afternoon. (This is one of the few places open as I type.) Last spring, Julie and I just took a day off and strolled these cobbled walks. We didn't hit places like Lemonjello's, of course, but there are lots of shops and galleries in Holland's historic downtown.

But the reason I’m here now is... that I dropped my daughter off at a local church where she is getting acquainted with a Hispanic ministry called “La Roca” (meaning The Rock, and yes there is a growing Mexican population here in the middle of Tulip Country). She is very excited about getting involved in some way there—it’s only about 30 minutes from home—but since she didn't know her way around, I drove her here this first time with the promise of “disappearing” for a few hours.

So here I sit at Lemonjello's… down to my last cold sip of coffee… with another hour to go... feeling like Dobie Gillis with graying temples. The fact that I even thought of such an image merely confirms the fact that I am way out of my element. I think I'll pack up and stroll those cobbled walks.
The Dobie Gillis link doesn't show a picture of the "beatnik" hang out where Dobie and his buddy, Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver before Gilligan's Isle) hung out in in their free time—but it was a retreat of sorts (kind of like "Als" in Happy Days) and a bit like Lemonjello's.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

No Buzzer to Beat

My body’s alarm clock is pretty dependable during the work week. I can always tell the difference between a simple 1AM roll-over (or a 3AM pillow-flip) and that vague moment when I know without looking to turn off the alarm clock before the buzzer goes off.

This morning was a little different. Before going to bed, I checked a few on-line weather sites and all of them forecast freezing rain by early morning. I went to bed knowing I needed to get up extra early. Around 4AM, I went down to check the driveway. It was damp but not icy, so I crawled back in bed, and to my surprise... fell back asleep.

In a half-dream I heard the light tap dancing of fingers on a plastic keyboard. It was my wife typing on my laptop. Still dreaming a bit, I began wondering why she brought the laptop from the pub table in the family room (where I had left it the night before) into our bedroom. Both of us sometimes write at odd hours, but she never uses the laptop. Oh, well, at least she hadn’t turn on the lamp. I rolled over to try to block out the clicking sounds and bumped right into... my wife. Well, who’s typing? I thought, looking toward the sound coming from the loveseat. No one was there. No one was typing on a laptop.

The faint noise was wet sleet hitting the window in soft unmeasured rhythms (—exactly like the sound my fingers are making at this moment as I type). I put on my robe and slippers, and hurried down to the garage door where I had been 90 minutes before. This time, as I stepped onto the damp cement—now glazed in ice—and without moving my feet at all, I slid slowly to the bottom of our long driveway like a curling stone in slow motion.

(I have a strange affinity for that odd “sport” of curling—it’s the opposite of most sports, it’s mesmerizing, hypnotic to watch. The curlers and sweepers (if that's what they're called) do their tasks with an understated intensity. There’s no buzzer to beat—no sense of a clock at all. It's like a dream. There’s no jumping and screaming in victory—just quiet balance and the glissade of soles on ice gathering stones. It’s a soothing ritual more than a sport.... Anyway, as I was saying....) "I slid slowly to the bottom of our long driveway like a curling stone in slow motion."

I was tempted to slide down the driveway again just for fun, but duty called (besides, I must've looked absurd standing at the dark curb in a robe). Within five minutes I dialed the automated numbers of all four TV networks to close school (along with every other school in the area). I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in this space before, but I’m a school administrator. Trust me; “snow days” are much more of a treat when you learn of them on the other end of a phone beside the bed. Having to get up hours early to check the roads and “decide” takes a good deal of the fun out of it, but on a morning like this when it’s ice instead of snow, all the schools close and there's no second guessing.

So here am I clicking away on my lap top when I could be curling in bed… with no buzzer to beat. I may just do that.
P.S. Added at 5:00PM same day. By mid-morning the freezing drizzle stopped; by noon; the roads were safe; by late afternoon the sun was shining through a cloudless sky--glad I wasn't the only one to close school this morning.

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