There is a line – an indistinct line – between one phase of life and the next. We never see it coming, but only discern it once we’ve passed. I feel that I am on the cusp of such a line. I can feel myself moving from my adult phase to the middle age phase. And it’s not as disconcerting as I expected.

I’ve been a grandfather for ten years, but that fact did not initiate a change in my phase of life. I was an active healthy forties when I became a grandfather. The phase change didn’t happen until just recently. I found that most adults around me were younger than I. And they were looking to me for advice and leadership. Yeah, weird. Also, my children are all adults and I have taken on the role of the older parent, the ‘boomer’ that doesn’t understand anything in this newfangled world. It is very disconcerting and confusing. And I don’t like it.

My new phase in life shook my confidence, even if it was only symbolic. I had the sudden realization that I’m not only getting old, but am old. Ugh!!

When I was young, I always had a ‘someday’ waiting for me. I’ll figure that out someday, or I can afford it someday, or I’ll have time for that someday. I suddenly found myself with fewer somedays.

In years past, I put everything on my todo-someday list, because I always had someday to look forward to. Now, I’m limiting that list, realizing that I no longer have all the somedays I had before or the energy – stamina – drive I once had. So fewer things fit on the list. My PhD in History is still on the maybe list, but my singing career is probably off for good.

I think people react to life changes differently than others. For some, this is when many people go through the proverbial mid-life crisis. I’m not feeling any urge to buy a Porsche or get a mistress or even a tattoo, really. Maybe I’m handling it better than some. I wish my father were around to compare notes with.

I try to imagine his reaction to reaching this point in life and wonder how he handled it. He did not buy Porsche or have a mistress (as far as I know). But what did he go through? How did he handle it? I don’t know. I was unaware of the line at the time and so couldn’t ask. Now I wish I had him around to talk with.

Both my father and grandfather died in their mid-sixties – the grandfather phase.  I’m in the same phase now. However, they were both smokers with high blood pressure. I am neither, therefore in theory I will outlive them and enter a phase of life they never experienced. In contrast, my grandmother lived to be ninety-nine years old. I intend to live to one hundred and twenty. I don’t know what phase that is, but I will be ready.

Now that I am aware of the indistinct lines that separate life’s phases, I will be better prepared when they appear and will embrace them as the mile markers they are meant to be.

via The Giant Exhale

The winter exposes the bones of the landscape,
the skeleton of the world.
I have cried at the table because the meal
brought me back to who I used to be.
It was easier to put a dog down when I was younger;
now, my proximity to death scares me.
I took pictures at her funeral to prove
to HR that these were actually bereavement days.
My mind blurred as I read his poems.
I wanted the words to bend one way
and they didn’t. I wished he was drunk.
Listening to Tupac’s “Brenda Had a Baby”
and I cried at the lines, “She didn’t know
what to throw away and what to keep.”
How the fuck did he know that?
That’s fucking sad and brilliant.
And while I was meditating,
I forgot to breathe in.
I exhaled my life out through my nose.
I will be so happy when the currency
of the flesh is no longer at war
with my internal life,
but that might be the GIANT exhale.
The loss of that tension might
equal the loss of drive.
Letting it all go.
Letting it all out.
Forgetting to breathe
in.

Jason Fisk lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has worked in a psychiatric unit, labored in a cabinet factory, and mixed cement for a bricklayer. He was born in Ohio, raised in Minnesota, and has spent the last 25 years in the Chicago area.

I have kept quiet up to this point on the Black Lives Matter protests. I fully support the protests and have not been quiet about that at all. My social media shows that clearly. But I have hesitated to add my voice to the cacophony of voices available on the topic. I am an educated white male and didn’t feel that it was my place to say or do anything other than provide silent support. This movement does not need a white savior but should be lead by those who have needed the voice for so long. They should get the attention and the platform and the focus. My experience is so removed from the pain and crushing scrutiny our neighbors endure every day of their lives, that I was not sure I had anything at all to add to the conversation.

However, as a writer, I have a talent and an audience that many of the voiceless of this movement have no access to. A friend of mine pointed that out. She said that writers have an obligation to be the voices of the voiceless and to speak to our audiences in a language that the movement may not be able to speak to.

So, from the view of a white man on the privileged side of the tracks: Protest!!! Grind it all to halt. The system we have is not working and must be rebuilt. But you can’t do that while you’re still clinging to the old. I know this will alienate or freak out many of my relatives and readers, but I’m okay with that. I would rather be alone on the right side of history than hang out with the losers on the wrong side.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that All Lives Matter. But you can’t really say that the system works that way and until it does, the system is broken. When a white criminal and a black criminal receive vastly different police interactions and prison sentences. You cannot say that All Lives Matter. When the police routinely choke and beat black youths. You cannot say that All Lives Matter. A police officer pulling their gun should be the very last resort in any situation, not the first.

If you actually believe that All Lives Matter, then you should be in the streets protesting too. Because our justice system does not believe that All Lives Matter has demonstrated that time and time again and again and again.

It will only stop when we as a nation demand that All Lives really do Matter, every one of them. That is not what we have today. And that is why I support all of the protests.

My wife, Sheri, and I went hiking this weekend. We hit two different trails around St Louis. One we had used before and explored a new one. We enjoy hiking because it’s a mix of exercise and nature. I’m not a fan of staring at a wall or an idiot box while exercising. In fact, I would usually prefer the blank wall if given a choice. However, since it was a beautiful summer day we chose to go hiking. We even saw a very young fawn still with its spots and was able to get rather close. The mom was nowhere to be seen and at one point the little one was calling her, so we scrammed.

Anyway, we shared the trails with a number of people, both on foot and mountain-bike. But everyone was so completely lovely and polite, stepping off the path to let others by and greeting each other. It was a nice change from the usual city-people grump we experience.

Sheri commented on how polite people were and I said that assholes don’t hike. Upon reflection, I think that is generally true. Her is my proof: Hikers are usually nature lovers. Nature lovers are usually very empathetic people. And empathetic people are generally very polite due to their empathy. Therefore, nature lovers are generally very polite and caring people, i.e., assholes don’t hike.

See… No Assholes!!!

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I’m sorry about the crappy picture, but I took this years ago on a trip on the Chicago subway system with my wife. Chicago has the best public transportation system in the US in my opinion. It is easy to navigate and doesn’t smell like piss at all.

But we ended up sitting across the aisle from this little button and speaker on one ride and my wife was fascinated by it.

“Could we really talk to the driver?” she asked multiple times.

“Uh, sure…” I said. “Don’t touch it.”

Which, of course, was the wrong thing to say, because now all she could do was stare at. I watched her lick her lips and reach out toward it.

“Don’t touch it.”

“But…”

“You still can’t touch it,” I repeated.

“But I just imagine a little train conductor sitting behind that grill waiting for someone to touch the button,” she said.

You have to understand that my wife and I both have very creative imaginations and tend to let them roam on occasion. Our travels are almost like improv theatre at times.  We let ourselves get crazy. So, I proceeded to play along.

“And do you know what he’s going to tell you?” I said. “Don’t touch the button!”

Yeah, people were looking at us weird, which I think is an accomplishment in Chicago.

She still wants to touch the button.

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My wife, Sheri, thinks a nice yard is relaxing and gives her a place to find contentment. I agree with her, it is relaxing. But having a yard project completed is even more relaxing. In my case I stripped out yard down to dirt and rock and started over. Now we have grass growing, paths completed, flowers planted and replanted, and even a birdbath.

I feel complete and peaceful now. My landlord will also be thrilled. Yes…that is what I said. I spent months of weekend labor and >$1000 on a yard that is not mine. All for the sake of my wife’s sanity and contentment. She has been forced to work from home for two months, while I’ve continued going to my essential industry job every day. I haven’t had any ‘lockdown’ days. So when I get home she is ready to get out or climb the walls. She needed something to spend her pent up energy on and she chose the yard.

I want to make clear that she does NOT have a green thumb, by any means. She likes flowers, and pretty plants, and even vegetable gardens, but she has little skill or luck with them. When we go to our local garden center the ferns and hibiscuses shake and shiver as she approaches. She is the ‘widow-maker’ of ferns. She loves them and waters them and moves them into the sun and out of the sun and talks to them and then they still die. So every spring out trip to the garden center for a new troop of plants is much like a prisoner selection for the gulag. It is a short one way trip. Always.

I’ve joked with her about just planting silk or plastic flowers. Which just makes her laugh. Apparently her grandmother actually did that and even water them. For years, my wife thought they were real. So, I believe that her lack of plant skills is hereditary.

I dislike yard work in any form, so am willing to support her yearly death march to keep her happy. I absolutely do enjoy a good yard and beautiful flowers, so if I have to continue to be the undertaker and bury the corpses of each years batch of volunteers, I will do that. In fact, I will bury whatever I need to to keep the Goddess happy. Mostly because I’m afraid of what other projects or interests she would find to spend her energy on. I have no desire to start square-dancing, or bowling league or stockcar racing or competitive tatooing. I am a simple man that wants a complete yard with as little of my own labor as possible. 

This year has turned into kind of a bust in the no-labor plan, but I do have a nice yard now and a very happy wife. So, overall, mission accomplished.

 

 

 

Once in a while, I like to compare myself to my father at the same age. What did he feel at this point? What were his thoughts? What was he experiencing? What had he accomplished? And then ultimately: How do we compare? Like most kids, my father was my role model, my hero. He was the standard that I was set against.

Now, I see the years behind me as a trail of signposts, allowing me to compare us, my father and I side by side at the same point in our lives. These signposts and comparisons are a way of putting myself in my father’s shoes, so to speak, and wondering how I compare to him. He is my benchmark for being a man and a father. He taught me about hard work, humor, optimism, humbleness, wisdom. So, by attempting to place myself in his shoes, I am trying to fill them and to feel that I deserve them.

However, as my analysis of my father has progressed, I am finding faults and limitations and shortcomings. I’m finding that my memories and the myth/image I built of my father are not standing up to the deeper scrutiny I am giving it. The gilding and luster are rubbing off. It’s like the old saying: “Never meet your heroes.” In my case, it is: “Never look at your heroes too closely.”

It’s proven correct on several occasions. But in this case my father is the hero, the person I looked up to and tried to emulate. But the reminiscing and timeline comparisons have done nothing but show me that my father was fallible and human. We made different decisions and held different opinions.

For example, he was religious and I am not. I think we are the same politically, but miles apart when it comes to books, movies, and art. We both had mechanical skills, I even became an engineer. We were both curious and not afraid to learn something new. And we both married more than once; the second one is always better. We both raised large families, he five boys, and me five girls. I think he was a good father and I hope I compare well. But was he a good man? Am I? That is really the big question. 

He only lived to see sixty-five years. I have never smoked and have better healthcare, so I expect to live far beyond that. In less than ten years I will surpass him and strike out on my own establishing lone signposts with no one to compare to.

I can honestly say that I’ve stood in shoes similar to my father’s. I can say that I’ve been my own man and feel that I could look him in the eye as a near equal. And to me that is saying something. He is still my role model, the origin of my work ethic and sense of humor. But he less a hero and more a peer and good friend. As he should be.

 

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It has been a while since I’ve posted any poetry, which is sad because that was one of the reasons I started this page. However, I was under that mistaken belief that there was a paying market for poetry out there and that if you posted your work online, they wouldn’t take it. That part is actually true, but there is a minuscule market out there for poetry. So I decided that it wasn’t worth my time. I still love poetry and write it when I can, but I will be posting it here for the time being. Enjoy.

I wrote this poem for my grandson for his birth in 2014. I’ve only seen him a handful of times since. Life…

On Day One

Our first meeting

You fresh to the world

Still wet around the ears and scared

I smiled the worlds’ welcome

On Day One

You were all things

All potentials and possibilities

The seed of everything, anything

On Day One

Perched on the cusp of infinity

You were a multiverse at a point

An infinity, a singularity

You could be anything, go anywhere

With all of life before you

Please spread your wings and savor it all

For you will never be more free

Than on Day One

From here on the world closes in

It presses around you

Forms you

Controls you

Stereotypes you

No path is completely untraveled

No life without influence

After Day One

Forces will pull you

Warp you

Change you

So hold on to what you can of yourself

For only on Day One

Were you completely free and completely you

Prologue

I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve thought about it, of course, we all have. But the thrill is not what I expected. As I worked out the details and fleshed out the plan, my excitement built. Now, standing over my victim with a baseball bat, I feel it much more than I could have imagined. I’m almost giddy.

Once I had the planning complete, Devin made the rest so easy for me. Sicily described him as a sloppy drunk, and she wasn’t kidding. He was at his usual spot on the beach and in extra special form today. Drunk off his ass and not even noon. Hell, it might be a continuation of yesterday’s drunk. Who knows? I imagine he thought of himself as a beach bum, he did live in Florida after all, but he looked more bum than beach.

After a friendly hello, all I had to do was offer him a fresh beer, and he downed it without hesitation. What a douche! There was enough drug in it to put him down for hours.

“We’re going to need more beer,” I said and lead him to the car; like luring kids with candy. I should be arrested.

In her discussions, Sicily spent a lot of time on how to find the perfect location. It is the most critical part of a plan, she said. But it turns out that Google does know everything, making it easy. Online satellite images helped me locate the perfect cabin.

Requirement #1 – Old shack built out over the swamp. Check!

Requirement #2 – On rarely used back road of another back road. Check!

She couldn’t have described it better; this place has been unused for years. Even the discarded beer cans and trash are old. Once I finish with Devin, I only have to push the body off into the water and walk away.

Honestly, the hardest part was getting him out of the damn car. He’s a big boy, and dragging his unconscious body into the shack was harder than I expected. I really should have rented the SUV and backed it right up to the door. Lesson learned.

The main room of the cabin is bare except for Devin, inert in the middle of the floor. His hands are tied behind his back, but legs free, as per the plan. A chair to prop him in would have been handy, but watching him writhe on the floor will be just as good.

I’m shaking and sweating in rivers. My heart pounding in my chest. And yet I’m smiling and fearless. The nervousness and fear I expected have vanished. The swamp air is hot and moist, but it seems fitting.

I’m about to kill someone! Holy Shit!

I pace while I wait for Devin to wake, breathing deep to calm my heart. I hope I didn’t give him too much of the drug. An overdose is not the death this ditwad deserves. The bugs circle and buzz in a growing cloud. The message must have gotten out. Fresh meat! I swat at them angrily as they start to get vicious. I’m getting impatient.

Finally, my victim groans and begins to squirm. I take another shaky breath and heft the baseball bat to poke at him. He had to be awake for this part.

It’s time to start.

[Let me know what you think in the comments.]

 

 

I went to high school in a small town in Northern Minnesota. It was a great place to grow up and taught me the value of hard work and education and getting out. I left soon after graduation, eventually gained a college degree and a career. Since then I’ve continued my education and explored the world. However, like many people, I failed to maintain contact with friends from home or people from my past. I honestly suck at keeping friends. But Facebook and other social media have made it possible to reconnect with people or even to stalk them if you are just curious and unwilling to actually reach out to them.

Lately, Covid-19 and middle age have got me thinking about the old days and old acquaintances. Curiosity eventually led me to Facebook in search of old classmates. A few of them had at least a basic profile and some pictures. It turns out that most have not gone far from home. Most are still in that little town raising kids and hunting and fishing.  Living the Good Life, so to speak. Things haven’t changed much.

It is wonderful to see them with kids and grandkids, looking so mature and happy and in some cases old. Compared to many I seem to be aging well. Good for me.

What struck me most during my look-through of posts from home was the unexpected realization of how far we had drifted in ideology. The Trump flags and assault rifles and racism were surprising. And disappointing. Could these be the same people I knew from the halcyon days of my youth? Could we all have come from the same place that molded what I believe and who I am? It made me question my view of the place and stripped away the whitewash that time had used to cover up the old uglinesses.

I then recalled the homophobia, sexism, the Indian jokes and hatred, and the narrow insulationist thinking. And I remembered why I left. I never belonged there. Not ever.

People will always have disagreements on important issues but I have made a lifelong point of avoiding extreme opinions. I’ve tried to see both sides of an issue in order to meet in the middle. I believe that once you remove the most extreme ideologies we tend to agree on more than we think. We should concentrate on the things we agree on rather than getting angry about what we don’t. There is always a middle ground where we can live as neighbors. But the social media coming out of my hometown doesn’t make me believe that I could find a middle ground there.

I’ve considered going home for a visit, but I have no family there and haven’t been back in almost twenty-five years. I also realize now that I don’t have any friends there really, just people I used to know. I’m not a part of that world anymore and I’m fine with that. I also believe that the part of there that I thought I carried me never really existed or else was chased out of town and forgotten like a gay cousin.

Maybe I’ll visit someday, but I’m in no hurry to put myself through that. Particularly since no one there has reached out to me. Maybe someday.

Or – maybe it’s not that you ‘can’ never go home, but that you never should. Maybe it was never home, to begin with.

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