Archive for March, 2012


Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I think of your happy eyes
your smile
your warm touch
and the kindness within you

your strength
your grace
given freely to those in need
during difficult times

I think of you
wanting to know the stars
wanting to know the world

I think of us
at the moment of our first kiss
cooking together
watching clouds
floating in the pool
dancing in the kitchen
sitting under a tree

and i know
i can’t live
without us
without you

passing friends

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

My daughter called to tell me that my friend Jay passed away. I had thought of him yesterday when i was looking at his old fly rod that he gave me the year before I moved from Blacksburg to Texas. That day on Claytor lake, I remember hooking his hat on a back cast. He took it all in stride and just said “elbow up.” We never caught much at Claytor, but he loved setting up his boat for the trip, bringing sardines in mustard sauce, cheese, and crackers. Those foggy mornings on the lake were cold and truthfully, not really fun, but it was the time with him that I did it for. I knew I’d learn something.

Our later trips to the new river were more exciting. I remember him telling me to put the paddle away at the front of the canoe, that were were going to go UP the rapids. This I’d never seen done and was a bit nervous. Jay would sit up tall and read the water, looking for the slackwater, and the zigzag path up through the rocks, he’d move the boat forwards, then sideways, then back a bit, then forwards, and before I knew it, we were upstream of the rapids. We’d go wade fishing then, working shorelines and structure, pulling little bass out and letting them go. I remember casting to an undercut, popping the bug once and seeing the water bulge up behind the lure. At that moment you hold your breath, waiting for the fish to smash the lure. But it kept coming, past the lure, headed for me! I was hip deep in water, standing on slippery rocks but must have done some fancy steppin to get away from whatever it was. Jay came over and with his calm voice said something like “you’re supposed to catch him, not have him catch you”…

Jay had always been the most passionate person about architecture that I’d met. He’d study a building in incredible detail, trying to learn what the architect and the builders had infused into the fabric of walls, roofs and especially cabinetry. He was a principled man, leaving a tenured university position because he didn’t agree with the emphasis on sports, and then spending every day in the year after in the library and visiting our offices. We’d have a lunch, i’d be amazed by the amount of habenero sause he’d put on his food. He told me once that it was the only way he could taste anything.

Jay was a lifelong smoker. He had tried everything to quit, but just couldn’t. During the summer he rode his motorcycle from Virginia to Texas to visit for a few days on his national tour he said he wasn’t feeling good, but after a few days rest, he put the leathers on (in 104 degrees!) and head on to see friends in Alabama I think. He was looking into retiring in little towns in Oregon, where the water was clean, the trout and salmon abundant, and people thought for themselves. I could see the excitement in his face as he talked about it. It was always great to see him excited, about a new tool, a water-jetted part for his motorcycle, or about his travel plans.

I was telling the one who holds my heart about Jay just this weekend, probably just as he was passing from this life to the next. She was amazed that he would travel by canoe, in the early years with his dog, but later, all by himself. Canoeing for almost two weeks in the wilderness, executing a plan that he had meticulously worked out for weeks during this time of year. He’d give me dates and locations where he thought he’d be, and leave a trip map with me in case I didn’t hear from him. Jay used to stay at the same motel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin that Dad and I stayed at, and then go for pie at the Norske Nook in Osseo. They knew him by name there, and would mention him when Dad and I checked in. He was memorable.

I’d guess that a few thousand students were lucky enough to pass through his studios at Virginia Tech. Many rankled at his high standards, but Jay was more of a coach than a studio master. He’d be there with the students late at night, showing them how to precisely draw the engine block he’d just cut in half, or how to model an off the grid house inspired by Thoreau.

Jay had thought he was ill when he came to see me, and i’m told when formally diagnosed that he refused treatment. Hospice looked after him that last week I’m told, and I’m sure his friends from the department were around him. I wish I had been there.

One never knows what those last days and minutes are truly like, or if our presence bedside is important. I think its a way we honor the person, respecting them to the end.

I’d like to bring his memory to my students, but i don’t think i could. I’ll try to coach them a bit harder though, help them a bit more. Its what he taught me.

I’m hoping his students remember him today. I know his friends are. My world’s a bit smaller now. But i’ll think of him when i throw a cast, or take the tools to the field.

We all have a few close friends in life, and usually they can be counted on both hands (Steve, Chuck, Frank, Marcel, Ward, Heiner, Bill, this means you). Jay was one of those for me. Make sure yours know what they mean to you. Life is shorter than we all think.

Send in a comment if you’d like me to post your memories about Jay, I’m happy to host them for you and his memory, he’d like to see more from all of us i’m sure.


Monday, March 5th, 2012

I had a bit of time in the car this past weekend, driving to see the one who holds my heart and back home had me in the springlike sun in the Texas countryside.

We’ve been seeing the signs for a few weeks now, an outbreak of red here, a wash of yellow over the fields, but not the solid signs of spring. This time the signs were everywhere, bluebonnets beginning to take over the road shoulders, daisies by the handful next to the road, signs of nesting in the trees, the return of the cardinals and jays, all of it means that its almost here.

The equinox won’t arrive for a few more weeks, so we’ll not be official until the 20th, but its already spring in the lives of the plants and birds. The cattle seem to believe it too. After last years drought drew down the herds, I was surprised to see so many cattle in the fields, and so many calves, some pretty much brand new by the look of their legs.

Seeing the calves reminded me of the day I watched my daughter and her friends have their first encounter with a calf as part of a middle school science project where they would raise and show a calf. Not a big deal to some who spend their lives around them, but for my urban daughters it was quite a challenge. Those first few minutes when they would be skiing through the feedlot muck holding on the the rope halter shouting “stop” “sit” “heel” trying to get the calf, who was only thinking of food in the trough, to listen and behave. It was their first encounter with a part of the world that didn’t listen to them or pay them much attention. I remember going after school most days then, watching them feed and groom the calf, and through these little acts of kindness, earn the trust of the calf, if there is such a thing. But the calf and the girls slowly figured out how to work together, how to signal each other (the head butt didn’t mean good things) and over time, they had the calf accepting their intentions, learning how to stand, and getting ready for the performance in the ring. Inevitably, once inside the judging pavilion, the calf would have other ideas, and revert to its “i wanna be out in the field eating!” state of mind, but overall it was a good thing…learning to cooperate, earn trust, with a stubborn creature…its kind of humbling.

The girls will be taking on a similar task soon, trying to get someone who hasn’t really cooperated, has broken trust, and isn’t really interested in them as people, to be civil, and polite as first steps. I’m not sure it will work, a handful of hay won’t be enough incentive this time, and theres a chance it will turn on them and they’ll have to walk away to protect themselves. But like the middle school encounter with the calves, I’m proud that they have a plan, they’re united in the goal, and they know that sometimes you just have to let the calf go. Ok, maybe its not a calf, but you get the idea…

I was surprised how uplifting it felt to see water in the landscape. Creeks full, ponds full, tanks full, and green re-appearing in the landscape for the first time in almost a year. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it made me feel hopeful that we’d have a quiet normal year ahead, without the fires. There’s still tending to do, lots of pruning and tree removal, evidence of the damage the past year has wrought on the land, but today in the sunlight, in the green of the land, it looks survivable.

Lets keep our fingers crossed that this continues, I’ll have mine crossed for my daughters and their effort, and will be enjoying the renewal that is spring.

So get outside if you can (in Texas, i know spring hasn’t made it far north yet) walk in the green, smell the flowers, and get to the garden center…its not too early to plant! and planting gives us hope. Maybe give a friend a packet of seeds this spring, or a little tree, both your friend and the environment can use a little of your shared hope.

Take care of each other, be good to each other

is it only money?

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Well, after about four years, about 12,000 in legal fees, a few phone calls to the police, and about 750,000 dollars, its over.

What did I lose?
The house I built and all the equity, about a quarter million dollars, half of my retirement…which means i’ll never retire…about 125,000 dollars, 41% of my take home pay every month, for the next ten years, about 1/3 of a million dollars, and most of my savings…gone.

But there’s good news, the person who tormented me and my children is out of our lives now, and after five years of counseling, we’ve all learned that the tormentor has some problems, and that we are survivors of abuse…but we are survivors, thats the important part. We won’t suffer the anxiety of birthdays and christmas anymore, having our gifts scowled at, and discarded that same day. We won’t come home to a tree decorated with the images of dead and dying people…that was a real holiday treat….we won’t have to endure the scowls and frowns and little digs that were intentionally designed to hurt us each at the deepest parts of our psyche….and by someone who’s now a mental health provider! Tell me it wasn’t all on purpose…I don’t believe it….

So we lost some things, the ability to fly and be together whenever we feel the need, and our ability to weather the adversities and emergencies of life, health and the economy is pretty severely dinged, but so far we’re getting through ok…fingers crossed!

We lost some innocence too, believing that a mothers love was unquestioned, and was a kindness… our tormentor proved that you couldn’t just take that at face value, that love and trust are earned, and lost, when we are exploited, deceived, and ridiculed.

But we gained a few things too, really important things as it turns out, that we’re all in this together, that our family of three can do well together, survive and flourish, even add members! I gained a freedom of sorts, one that was costly, but maybe thats the best kind of freedom, a freedom thats earned. In my freedom I’ve learned that I have things to contribute to someone, and like my children, learned that it isn’t all our fault, and that anyone who isn’t able to accept their responsibility for causing pain and suffering, is a red-flag person, and it doesn’t matter if they cover themselves with hearts, they are a source of toxicity that can’t be in any normal persons life…set a firm boundary and enforce it with the full protection of the law…it turns out stalking across state lines is an interstate crime thats taken very seriously these days…and I’m comfortable asking the police to help me hold that boundary.

I’ve gained a deeper sense of how important my relationships are with my children, and how blissful, how freeing, a love relationship can be. For the second time in my life, i’ve given my heart to someone, and this someone has taught me that love isn’t about making the other person feel bad about themselves. I’d never known this kind of love before. Even at her darkest hour, her most stressful moments, she doesn’t have a glimmer of the mean spirit i’d endured for decades. Its truly amazing.

My ability to make a future has been significantly reduced. I have to work harder, longer, to try and earn back what’s been paid for freedom from pain, but when you think about it, its a good deal on the whole for me and my daughters.

I watched a person riding their bicycle on campus this morning as i walked in for my early lecture. The person was pedaling away, smiling. I wondered if they were happy about where they were going or where they had been, but now I think they were happy where they were. Thats a gift, a life skill many of us have to work at. But, in the final analysis, its a priceless gift.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t have empathy, who hurts you, physically, socially, or emotionally, GET OUT! What we’ve learned from this is that you cannot “fix” them, and until they hit bottom, they won’t get better. It doesn’t matter that they are in the field of mental health, they won’t get better until they make the effort themselves, and accept responsibility. My recommendation is get far away from them and stay far away from them. BPD is widespread, toxic, and will ruin your life. So if you have to give up most of what you’ve built in life to get free, do it….and i hope you find one person who will hold your heart gently…its the best!

Take Care of each other, and take care of you!