Thursday, May 28, 2009

My New Place

Back from the supermarket
(eight boxes of cereal)
and beating the rain, now
lying on the floor
watching the ceiling fan
swirl round and round
a lonely feeling settles in.
"Be strong and do the work."

--1 Chronicles 28:10

Lectio AM

"Be strong and courageous, and do the work."

--1 Chronicles 28:20

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lectio PM

"Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?"

--1 Chronicles 29:5

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I reconfigured the 'garden' allow more room for the tomatoes to flourish, and because this area gets more sun. The four pepper plants are planted individually and line the south side by the gate. Four tomato plants planted individually line the second south side (on the left), the rest are the big pots full of beans, squash, and cucumber. The tomato trees will be compliment planted in these pots as well, two to a pot, in about two weeks when the seedlings are mature. And this way, the beans, cucumbers, and squash can climb up the fence and cascade down the other side, 10' down to the driveway.

If God was a gardener, he would garden much differently from me. Rather than focusing on maximizing yields and having everything edible and constantly moving and transplanting seedlings, God would plan, plant, and wait patiently, everything would produce its yield, and it would be pretty too, and much more varied. He would not be constantly thinking about the plants or ways to 'get more out of them' or controlling them, placing them here and there, but would be content to let nature do the work. His way is slow and steady. My way is...less so. So gardening has become a spiritual discipline. My whole spiritual life has always been a curvy line, a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next...anxious, impatient, unbridled, defiant. It never ceases to amaze me how all food, all trees and plants and flowers...arise from a single seed. Nature is truly a miracle worker.

comment to andy jones (frames of figure and ground)

"a retired australian boxer told me about the sport in thailand: 'if you're enjoying it you're not doing it right.' i think that's true for boxing...not necessarily true for writing. let's be compassionate with ourselves, maybe be flexible...say, four-five days a week vs. every day? shit, you had three views today holmes. somebody is reading your jawn, including me. i have been away most weekends, so you're not the only one not writing every day. but remember anne lammot's 'one inch picture frame': all you have to do is write what will fit in a 1" picture frame. and remember muhammad ali's poem, the shortest in the world, and very profound: Me We. you have been writing long entries. try short ones. say everything you want to say for the day in two or three lines. you will find writing then becomes more conscious, less wasteful...and possibly less intimidating. remember to write shit every now and agian. shit is good for the soil."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It's Small-Space Garden Time!

This is year one of patio gardening at Debbie's. We have four pepper plants, threee cucumber plants, sixteen bean plants, eight winter squash plants, and fiften tomato plants (twelve of which are Italian "tomato tree" plants). We got a lattice at Lowes to do "vertical growing." The tight spacing is based on the French Intensive method and modified for containers. The bigger pots are companion-planted. We're hoping to have twice as many plants next year so we can live (for a week or so, at least) on what we grow. It's been a lot of work getting dirt from my parents' house and compost from the Fairmount Park recycling center, but it will be worth it come fall. Now they just need water. We also started a compost bin in the driveway. I am excited!

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Debbie has started going to the bi-polar family and friends support group in Wilmington, "just to be proactive." This means a lot to me, that she supports me in good times and bad. One thing she picked up at the meeting was a brochure linking smoking and depression. I never really thought too much about the effects of nicotine--all those little 'highs'--on the neurotransmitters in the brain that deal with pleasure, but it can really mess things up.

We have been completely smoke free for five days now, and to be honest it feels good. I feel like it's good for my brain too. I am less snappy and somewhat more clearheaded without the ebb and flow of nicotine in my system. Riding my bike (my new Maza...thanks Todd) to work has been good for the endorphins. I am stepping down and hopefully phasing out Zoloft from my medicine cabinent, and I can already feel my sex drive coming back, and I don't feel as numb to things. I am taking ginko biloba to help with this, and would like to see about going on St. John's Wort at some point. The less chemicals in my body, the better, I suppose. I feel like I'm getting back on the health track. It feels good.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Career Paths

I am beginning to think the career path
to heaven or hell
is less about being bad or good
and more about whether you prefer
what is easy
or what is hard;
what is wide
or what is narrow;
what requires work,
or what comes naturally.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Good Man

My dad made a friend a few years ago, when he retired. My dad's friend is 'agoraphobic.' That means he is afraid of public places, and is confined to his home. My dad visits him, brings him cigarettes and soda, talks with him. It is through this organization called Compeer that helps find friends for people with mental illness. The man is very interesting, too. He used to be a screenwriter in Hollywood before his illness got the best of him. He looks like a mad scientist, but is very nice, if not a bit nervous.

My dad is not big on public service, especially while he was working and busy with us boys and my mom. But this is one thing he has done that I am particularly proud of. Because my dad suffers from mental illness as well, he can relate to his friend. I don't even put the word 'friend' in quotes, because it is not like some token dad really has gotten out of himself and engaged himself in the life of another. It is genuine, and I am proud of my dad for taking the time to care...making a difference in the life of just one person. This man has said to my dad, "Bob, you are my only friend." That is very special. Even though it is just one person, it is fully engaged, and my dad is committed to this man, and is proud to call him a friend, not because he is "doing" something, but because he is 'being' someone--himself. I think these are the kinds of things God wants us to do, and God does not forget such things, and I hope when my dad dies, as he eventually will, that God will remember him and this little thing and welcome him home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'm not really one for inspirational poetry, but I have a photocopy of this poem posted on my desk wall at work that a co-worker gave me...for obvious reasons.

Don’t Quit!

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but do not quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Dialogue on the morning bike commute

Rob: Life is hard.
The LORD: You want the ups without the downs.
Rob: *!
The LORD: In the time of my favor I will answer you.

Lectio AM

This is what the LORD says:

In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me,
the LORD has forgotten me."

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

Isaiah 49:8, 14-15

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Being a pessimist makes you a complainer to yourself. I'm not too fond of complainers, including myself...when I get like this....grass is greener feeling...everything 'unsatisfactory.' Not liking where you are or who you are or what you feel capable of. Seeing an expanse of future gray. Feeling overwhelmed. Being afraid of cars and people and people in cars hitting people on bikes and the city and competition for finite resources. Longing to work quietly in a nursery ("Grass Is Greener Nursery") planting things. The LORD blessed me with a new route home on a bike path. I'm sure I could think of a few other good things as well. But the sun is almost's much past my bedtime.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What now?

I was told last week that I did not get the job at Rosemont College that I had been hoping and praying for for months. I thought it would be devastating, and in a way it is, but I remembered the story of David's son's death, and meditated on it:

"After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground.

On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, "While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate."

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.""

Like David, I have nothing more to say on the matter. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away...blessed be the name of the Lord!" What's dead is dead. What lives still needs to be fed...

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Safe Distance

The other day I saw a client who was recovering from an addiction to crack-cocaine and who also had bipolar disorder. He was getting ready to be discharged from a halfway house and had no family in Pennsylvania to live with. He received $102.50 a month in cash assistance and $200 a month in food stamps on which he was expected to live. I had to find him a recovery house where he could live with, one which would take most of his welfare for food and board. He was very nervous about relapsing giving these stresses. I couldn't tell him anything.

Another client I spoke with last week was in a similar situation, but with a wife and child. He didn't want to resort to hustling, but given his intensive outpatient treatment, he was not permitted to work, and had to rely on that $102.50 to live. He kept saying over and over, "I can't work, and I can't go back to my old ways. Rob, what do they expect me to do?"

How in God's good name is someone supposed to live on $100 a month? It is hard enough for non-offenders to get jobs in this economy...ex-offenders have it even worse. And trying to stay clean, stay off the streets, raise a family, find housing, be a productive member of society, given these circumstances? These guys did make choices in their lives, but compared to the hardships of trying to make a life in society, many of these guys figure it is easier to live in prison, and go back. It is such a broken system. These guys have been dealt a shitty hand in life. Some people emerge from such lives like weeds through cracks in the concrete, but many succumb to the environment. I feel like asking my boss, like my client, "What do they expect me to do?"

If you really care enough, it is enough to drive someone to despair. No wonder there is such high turnover and rates of burnout in social work. It's a heavy weight to bear on one's shoulders. That's why I give it to God, whose "yoke is easy, and burden light." I cannot save the world, I can only do what I can do. I try to maintain a safe distance between myself and these problems, for the sake of my own fragile mental health. It's a survival tactic. Or maybe it is just being realistic, and not giving in to emotional response that does no good. Whatever it is, I still marvel at how people weeds in the concrete.

That same man who asked me in disbelief what he was expected to do...I had nothing to tell him, nothing tangible to make his life better. But I did listen to him. I listened to him talk for almost a half an hour. And that had value for him. He told me so..."it just helps me to talk." So I guess I can do something. Listening doesn't cost anything, and you never know how far it will go. My friend Andy believes in people's stories. And stories, however mundane or tragic, deserve an ear.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Poem for the Morning

Nighttime I dream
about seeds,
sprouting food
for me and my family
to eat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"There's no way like the American way..."

Debbie calls me "earthy-crunchy," but in all honesty, my favorite part of hiking, camping, and the great outdoors is that it makes me appreciate domestic life that much more. Hot showers. Tables and chairs. Not having to carry everything on your back. There is a direct relationship between how much you have been denied something and how much you appreciate it. So, if anything, camping outdoors gives me a new appreciation for being indoors.

I see a viral discontent creeping into our generation because of the fact that we are able to have what we want, when we want it, without having to wait for it. The Medusa from which all these serpents sprout? Credit. Credit is a relatively new phenomenon, as far as how easily accessible it is to the general public. We no longer have to wait til Christmas to get what we want.

This extends to other areas as well. I fear for how the easy access to pornography is affecting men's relationship with their significant others and their sex lives in general. There is a numbing, a desensitizing that occurs with sex-on-demand that isn't always immediately seen but over the long run. As with drugs, the psyche becomes resistant to sexual stimuli and demands more to get the same high. The expectation this places on women as partners to fulfill fantasy nullifies what actually is, and what exists in the relationship between flesh and blood. We reap what we sow, and we as a culture are sowing some bad seeds.

I'd like to try an experiment. For the rest of the week, I would like to try smoking two cigarettes a day: one in the morning, and one in the evening. I am notoriously bad at moderating things like this, so it will be an exercise in discipline. I am hoping this exercise will strenghten my resolve to commit to living a chaste life, to learn to forgo immediate gratification if for nothing else than to appreciate what I have, and to put me through a little hardship at the same time. There is no clean without dirty, no leisure without work, and no redemption without suffering.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Make It Happen

Ever since getting hit by a car over the winter, I have been a little skittish being back on the road on a bike. But the bonds of love are too strong to keep me out of the saddle for long. I gave away my work-issued May Transpass last week in the hopes that I would start riding my bike to work again in order to: 1) save money; 2) get exercise; 3) feel good; 4) promote bicycle commuting; 5) keep off the 23 bus; 6) cop free endorphins. I started today, in the rain, and it was great.

The first thing about riding in the rain is that fenders are your best friend. Since installing a pair on my 3-speed, they have made commuting so much more clean and enjoyable. I ride through puddles and don't splashed. I don't have a wet strip crawling up my back. Riding with fenders makes you feel like a gentleman, and a gentleman on a bicycle is a lovely thing.

The second is that the adage, "there is no bad weather, just bad clothing" holds true. I have two pairs of wet-weather pants I made: one from highly-breathable water-resistant fabric, and one pair from less breathable waterproof/breathable fabric. I chose to wear the more breathable pair this morning since it was only a light rain, but my pants ended up getting soaked through in the front and I got to work with wet thighs and crotch. I keep an extra pair of pants at work, but decided to just wear them as is when I got in the office and let them dry as I'm sitting down. Next time I will wear my waterproof pants, but it was a good experiment, and getting wet is not the end of the world.

I wore a pair of cotton mittens and they were great, because they were breathable and the wind and heat my hands dried them as I rode. Whenever I wear waterproof gloves my hands always sweat and it is uncomfortable. This was much more comfortable. I keep a pair of latex gloves in my bag just in case the rain turns heavy and my hands get cold, but I was pleasantly surprised that the cotton mittens did just fine. To keep my head dry I wore a polypropylene cap that doubles as a balaclava when the weather gets colder. I also wear a helmet now since the accident, and I don't like it, but it makes me feel a little safer. I keep all my stuff dry in a waterproof messenger bag (Cordura lined with PVC-coated vinyl) I made. It works like a charm.

I remember having a revelation on a training ride when I was in college racing for Penn State. We got caught in a thunderstorm and as the storm was approaching I remember we would ride faster and faster, in some attempt to minimize our time in the rain. But once you're wet, you're wet. It won't kill you. I slowed down, and remembered Ray Smith in The Dharma Bums and his realization, "you can't fall off a mountain!" Remembering that wet clothes dry with time makes being caught in the rain, or commuting in the rain, less of a miserable experience.

I locked up my bike in the basement of 260 S. Broad and took the service elevator to the 8th floor, and polished the grit and rain off my black dress shoes (they are waterproof) with a wet paper towel. I felt good, like I accomplished something, like I earned my bread, and I'm sure the endorphins were circulating in my brain. I clocked in and was surprised to see that I arrived fifteen minutes early and it only took me 50 minutes to get from my living room to my office, and that was riding at a leisurely pace. It takes as long on the bus.

Thinking about riding 8 miles in the rain to work makes me a little apprehensive when I think about it, but once you're out there it feels great. I get my exercise in, I'm not on the crowded bus, and I have time to myself riding on the bike path along the river. Now I look forward to it...rain or the highlight of my day.
"Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien."
(The better is the enemy of the good.)

--Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness

Monday, May 4, 2009

Lectio AM

"Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it."

--Ps 39:6