A Good View of God

I’m a home builder by trade, but when I grow up, I want to be a writer. Since writers publish books, that’s the next step. Bankruptcy is the one thing common to both writers and builders. While the financial poverty of writing is constant, the financial woes of builders are violent, like a train derailing on a bridge over a canyon.

It’s a difficult choice. A dull ubiquitous poverty versus a sharp dive into the abyss. And that’s the appeal of writing, it’s predictable, there is a wealth of new material to write about with each new sunrise, and one can financially plan for a predictable threadbare existence.

I’m being facetious. The building business has been a blessing to me and my family. Although, the minimalist in me does love the idea of writing with pen and paper in an attic dormer converted into a crow’s nest wondering how I’m going to get paid for carving ideas from the alphabet.

But for me, writing is an avocation and I’m not giving up my day job.

With the editing skills of my daughter Lauren and brother Greg, I’ll have a new book ready to publish soon and will have it available in Kindle format and paperback format. It’s a book of essays and stories called, A Good View of God. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter called, “Kiss Me Like That.” It’s about the neighborhood in which I grew up, our longing to be loved and included, and well…kissing.

…My friends and I roamed the woods using mischief to paint graffiti on a neighborhood canvas that could have been mistaken for time or a billboard or grinding boredom. We built fortresses in the woods behinds our homes, in the event of an invasion by the Soviet Union. We also pondered the deeper questions of supple formative minds, like whether or not Neil Armstrong had a good view of God while walking on the moon July 20, 1969. This was after all the dawning of the age of Aquarius, and we wondered why we no longer felt revulsion around girls.

My first crush and heartbreak over a girl made as much sense as Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. She was twice my age, sophisticated, blond, shapely and fifteen. Like a dog chasing a car, I had no idea what a boyfriend did with a girlfriend, but I was a smitten seven-year old, jealous because the fifteen-year old twirler in the high school band loved my neighbor, Randy. He was the first pretty boy I knew, an olive-skinned Romeo, dark, handsome and sixteen to my short, pale and seven. I was as hopelessly in love as a seven-year old boy could possibly be.

Jan, who lived across the street in a red brick Cape Cod house with white trim, fell madly in love with Randy. I hated him for that, as did my neighborhood buddies. I had fond memories of Jan babysitting. We would sit on the couch while I leaned against her arm and she’d run her fingers through my hair as we watched Gilligan’s Island. Or I would hang out at her house in the hip upstairs game room with the shag rug listening to “Oh, Sweet Pea,” by Tommy Roe or The Temptations “My Girl” and wishing it were so.

Randy’s sister, Christy, was the first girl I ever kissed. We found ourselves alone one day in the wood box in the backyard with the lid down. We were both five and hadn’t a clue but had seen it done, so why not? And in the sixth grade, under a persimmon tree I kissed a girl, not passionately, but rather the thin-lipped front porch mannequin kiss. Kissing under the persimmon tree felt like eating a persimmon: not romantic at all, puckered, organic, indifferent.

I wasn’t a participant in my first real kiss, only a spectator. I walked into the laundry room of Randy’s house on the day they were leaving for good, the Ross family packed and ready to drive west to Colorado. My nemesis, my romantic rival, was finally leaving, and I thought the door to everlasting love was opening. But the door I opened to the Ross laundry room revealed a surreal scene, boy saying goodbye to girl. Jan’s eyes were swollen and red, leaking emotion onto his shirt like rain skidding down a window pane, as she pulled away from a kiss and turned to look at me, an intruder to their farewell intimacy, their tangled goodbye. I discovered passion as a voyeur next to a washing machine, watching with envy, this weeping river of emotion dotted with red eyes and trembling lips, tightly hugged, wrapped in longing, hidden in shadows of whispered anguish.

That moment in the laundry room was my first lesson in kissing. Sure, I’d seen Julie Andrews kiss Christopher Plummer in the “could this be happening to me” kiss from the Sound of Music but this, this cloying evocative embrace framing the kiss was what made me want to kiss a girl. I wanted what those two had. A desperate longing to be held, loved, touched, cried over if I ever left town. It made me want to get a girl just so I could leave. Just once to have that feeling of someone wanting me desperately, tearing them to pieces. Yea, kiss me like that.

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Reading to my Children

I’m a lousy Dad. At least it feels that way sometimes, the feeling you get that you didn’t say enough or share enough or that you put on a mask and didn’t reveal your inner self to your children, that they never really “found you out.” And maybe that’s best, because as my wife often says, “Just once I’d like to get inside your head for a day and see what it’s like…or maybe not, I might not recover.”

And so just like any Dad, I have regrets. I worked too much, played too much golf, didn’t laugh enough, cry enough, teach enough…and then I realize that maybe the best thing my kids can know about me is that I’m broken, I’m a jar of clay, brittle and easily shattered, but sometimes capable of holding vast amounts of beautiful refreshing drink. I think they’ll get that, because they’ve experienced the same human condition of loneliness coupled with euphoria, brokenness mingling with beauty, the spiritual world breaking in on the physical and revealing itself as the real one, the happy one, the way to perfection that trumps all the masks that we wear.

I used to read to my kids, not as much as I should have, but I read to them some. So when I read Robert Bruce’s blog, “The Time Robin Williams Read Narnia to His Daughter,” it struck me as so true. That our children just want us to be Mom or Dad, not some made up character with lot’s of money and jokes, a walking Father Knows Best.

Here is an excerpt from Robert Bruce’s blog, 101 books, which talks about Robin Williams reading Narnia to his daughter Zelda.

“I would read the whole C.S. Lewis series out loud to my kids. I was once reading to Zelda, and she said ‘Don’t do any voices. Just read it as yourself.’ So I did, I just read it straight, and she said ‘That’s better.’”

Robin Williams was famous for his voices—and the frenzy at which he shifted in and out of character. To have Robin Williams as your father—it would be like having a Monet, a Hemingway, a Jordan.

But, still, he’s your father. He’s not “Robin Williams” as we know him. He’s just dad.

 

lion-book-cover

Revealing truth to our kids is sometimes as easy as getting out of the way and being real. Of letting other spirits speak for us what we cannot say well. Wisdom, beauty, relationships, truth are the things we should pass along to our kids. Yes, they remember the funny faces, our jokes, our quirks…but they long for meaning that we often miss because we wear masks of adult condescension, always trying to teach more than we need to teach, or hide what we don’t need to hide. We just need to live and speak and work and play and read…in our own voice, without the mask. Just be real, that’s all my kids ever wanted or any kid wants really, just read to me about life Dad, in your own voice. That’s better.

Here’s the entire piece written by Mr. Bruce if you’d like to read it.

The Time Robin Williams Read Narnia To His Daughter