Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Skipping Like a Calf

It's a beautiful night here in Lincoln. I'd been inside for most the evening, so it caught me by surprise when I stepped out to put the recycle bin by the curb at 11 and a steady, cool breeze surrounded me. The kind you don't expect this time of year. The kind that makes everything feel more alive. When I went back in the house I opened a few windows, but that wasn't enough to satisfy what the wind had stirred in me. So I decided to go for a walk, grabbed my iPhone, headphones, and keys, and was quickly out the door. I'm glad I live in a place where walking outside this late at night is safe.

While I walked I listened to the song "Farther Along" by Josh Garrels. (It's from his album Love & War & The Sea in Between that I downloaded for free from Noisetrade yesterday. It's too good to be free. I recommend you download it straight away.) Anyhow, the song was the perfect backdrop for my walk tonight. I've been in a kind of contemplative mood all day, and with the music, the wind, the trees and lush green grass, the porch lights and streetlights lighting my path... I couldn't help but smile and add a skip to my step as I walked and let my senses overpower my thoughts.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Far Cry

When I wake up it’s the clearest
If I strain I still can hear it
It’s a whisper that lingers in my veins
But the more I try to tame it
The more my hands just can’t contain it
It’s a windstorm, it’s a cloud that drifts away

And I’m walking in a land I know I’ve never known
But somehow it feels like home
I’m singing you a song I’m sure I’ve never heard
But somehow I know the words

So take a moment to consider
How could something so unfamiliar
Feel like communion, like the binding of our souls
We break the bread, we pour the wine
And hope there’s something more inside
And when the dreams feel more awake, we close our eyes

And we’re walking in a land I know I’ve never known
But somehow it feels like home
I’m singing you a song I’m sure I’ve never heard
But somehow I know the words

It’s a far cry from the feeling
But it’s the most my heart’s revealing
In the morning when I rise

I’m walking in a land I know I’ve never known
But somehow it feels like home
I’m singing you a song I’m sure I’ve never heard
But somehow I know the words

I keep retracing the path
Though I know I can’t go back
You tuned my heart to the song
Was it in me all along?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Steel Train Touch

I'm up by 7:55 this morning to give Taleah a ride to work.  Her car died on Saturday night.  Up in flames.  No joke.  And don't you worry.  The seat-cover rugs survived.  Phew.

The AC in the house isn't working this week.  Luckily, it also happens to be the first ridiculously hot week of the year, and it's not even summer yet.  No one likes this weather.  82 degrees at 11 p.m. is no one's idea of a good time unless they're some sort of jungle cat.

I put the high velocity fan on "super" and pointed it straight at me when I got in bed last night.  This seemed like a good idea at the time, highly logical even.

This morning, however, is a different story.  Every muscle aches.  It's hard to walk straight.  I'm certain this is what it feels like to be run over by a train.

That's what I told Taleah at least, when she came downstairs and found me on the couch a few minutes ago.  She asked why I was so sore, and bam, just like that, last night's dream came rushing back to me.

There were 20 or so of us on a large fenced in field, playing some sort of organized team sport.  The exact details of the game escape me.  I know we were broken up into pairs, one person in a car and the other on foot, and the point of the game was to see which person could outrun the other.  So of course I was the person on foot, and the game had already begun, and I didn't know what was going on. Then I noticed something moving behind me, so I turned around.  Next thing I knew I was running for my life.  The car was barreling towards me.  The driver's eyes were fierce and cold.  I darted to the edge of the field, lept up and latched onto the chain-link fence.

No wonder I woke up this morning feeling so exhausted. Never again with the fan.

Now we're in the car, on our way to Union.  Sara Bareilles' Kaleidoscope Heart is playing on the stereo.  Probably on track 8 "Basket Case," 'cause I can't get enough of that song.

"Is this Sara?" Taleah asks.

"Yeah, " I say, smiling.

"Change of plans!  Drive around for an hour so we can listen!"

Thursday, May 05, 2011

In Remembrance

The other day I was walking out of Target when I noticed across the parking lot a gold Buick Le Sabre just like the one I used to own in high school.  My first car.  It's been so long ago now, more than ten years, I'd forgotten how well I remember it.  But with just one glimpse, it all came back.  The feel of the door handle.  The smell of the seats.  The air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, shaped like a yellow smiley face and smelling like Banana Boat, our sunscreen of choice those endless summer afternoons at the neighborhood pool.

My dad bought the car for $2,000 from our next-door neighbor.  We named her "Bessie" because if ever a car was a cow, she was.  I think she averaged 0 to 60 in about 30 seconds.  But she was mine.  I was sixteen and had just passed my driver's test (though I don't know how; midway through I started to drift onto the rumble strip and the woman had to remind me to stay on the road).  It was the summer of '99.

I remember the freedom of my first drive all by myself.  I remember the heat and the humidity and wishing for an air conditioner but not complaining because I was just happy to have a car of my own.  Oh the novelty of hooking my portable CD player to the stereo with my fancy new cassette adapter and cruising the Nashville neighborhoods with my windows down, music blaring, head bobbing to the latest Carolyn Arends album, This Much I Understand.  (It's still good; I recommend it.)

Racing to school down Myatt Drive because my sister Emily had made us late yet again, then somehow making the drive in only 7 minutes and feeling frustrated because that meant we would leave even later the next day.  Giving our friend Stacey a ride home after school, though it was just down the street, so the three of us could sit and talk in her driveway for hours on end.  I remember the daffodils on the hill beside her house and how it was absolutely covered every spring, more daffodils all at once than I'd ever seen.  I loved the way they lit up the ground.


Last night I woke up afraid.  It was after 2 a.m.  Not a noise in my room but the gentle drone of the sound machine under my bed.  No cause for panic.  But the world seemed ominous, and I couldn't fall back asleep.  Something in my memory took me to another time when I woke up afraid, years ago.

It was the week after my high school graduation.  My dad, sister, and I were at the Nashville house, getting ready to move to Maryland.  We'd stayed up most the night packing because my dad wanted to leave that day to make a trip up to Maryland with a truckload.  It was late Sunday afternoon.  I was too exhausted to keep working, so my dad said I should lay down on the couch and rest for awhile.  We would leave whenever we were ready, and it would be okay.

Next thing I knew my sister was standing beside the couch, calling my name, trying to wake me up.  It took me awhile to hear her and understand what she was saying.  Something about Dad.  He'd fallen asleep in the back of the U-Haul and was making a weird noise.  She couldn't see him very well, he was up behind some of the boxes, and she was worried he might fall.  Still groggy from sleeping, I didn't understand what the big deal was.  Emily was insistent.  I didn't know what we should do.  Mom was in Maryland already, and there was no one else at home.  We decided to call our family friend Lorie.  She said she'd come right over.

The next thing I remember is the look on Lorie's face when she climbed into the truck and saw my dad and told me to call 911.  Then sirens.  The ambulance.  The hospital.

It still shakes me up when I really think about that day.  Not so much the death part, anymore.  I've come to terms with that.  I've grieved.  I've moved forward.  But that day...  When it's the middle of the night and I'm stuck going through the motions of that day in my mind, I can't shake the feeling of waking up to that uncontrollable moment.  It leaves me helpless, and I can't fall back asleep, overwhelmed with the fear of what new nightmare I might wake up to.


And then, the fear is gone. I'm not frightened anymore. Somehow I get distracted by a thought, or I forget to remember, and just like that, I'm off somewhere else.


This will be my last week working at Union College.

You know, it was never my plan to work at Union.  It just kind of happened.  I didn't have a job.  I loved Union.  There was a job opening. Now here it is six years later and it's hard to imagine doing anything else.

A few nights ago at dinner at the Barber's we were talking about life after college. What it was like to transition. How much has changed over the years. Kylie, who just graduated, asked those gathered around the table, "When will it feel real?"

"August," everyone agreed.  "When everyone else is going back to school, but you're not."

In that moment it hit me that I haven't had an August yet where I haven't been at Union. And with that realization came a panic.

All wrapped up in my head, of course, too fresh and real to share yet. Out loud I said, "I remember the Friday before graduation is when it started to sink in for me. I got really nostalgic."

"I remember you being depressed," said Ashley.


"You were definitely sad."

"Sad.  Sure.  I agree I was sad."

I wasn't ready to let go. In many ways, I'm still not.

But it's time.


A few weeks ago John was visiting Lincoln as part of his cross-country trek. We were driving in my car, probably on our way back from doing something involving food, and I don't remember what exactly we were talking about, but somehow the course of the conversation led me to turn to him and ask, "Is this maturity?  Or am I just jaded?"

"You're jaded," said John. He thought another second. "Yes, that's actually a really good word for you."

I just now looked it up. Jaded means "tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something."

And that's me, spot on. Dangit.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crazy Old Plant Man

This is the plant that sits on the filing cabinet in my office.  I saved it from certain death.

Sometime last fall Debbie and I were visiting Buell's new office on the 1st floor of the ad building to steal Angie's old office chairs.  (Long story...)

I noticed this plant shoved on top of a bookcase in the corner, forlorn and forgotten.

Since I'm such a plant-crazy old man, I of course scolded everyone in the room, grabbed the nearest water bottle, drug a chair to the bookcase, and climbed up to water the plant.

A few weeks later all three of Buell's student workers showed up at my office, all smiles, carrying the plant.  "Here," they said.  "This is for you."

I was ecstatic.

It's been on my filing cabinet ever since.  All I've done is water it and turn it every couple weeks, and it couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Closer to the Moon

We’re sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the Saturday evening Hutchmoot session to begin when Ashley turns to me and asks, “Now, why aren’t you living here?”

I don’t have an answer. Not a good one at least. So I make something up (as I tend to do). She replies. I say more things. You know how a conversation goes. By the end she’s unswayed. “You should move here,” she says, and I can’t disagree.

The next day we visit Michael and Angela at their new home near Nashville, and they’re giving us a tour of the house. Angela leads us down the hall, showing us the master bedroom, the guest bathroom, the linen closet. When we get to the end of the hall she opens a door. “And this is Ben’s room,” she says. She might be kidding, but she’s also serious. And everyone laughs, but only after I do.

The week after Hutchmoot it’s hard to be back in Nebraska. Fall semester is just starting at Union, and our department is busier than ever. Enrollment is up. The TLC’s student numbers have practically doubled. It’s good that there’s so much to do; it doesn’t leave much time for reflection. Still, I know my heart’s not in it.

“Why can’t you just go for a few months and see what happens?” asks Ashley. It’s sunset and she, Ben, and I are walking the dam at Holmes Lake. “You could always come back,” she says.

Ben agrees. “You’re in a unique position. You have nothing tying you down. There’s no reason you can’t go.” Again, I can’t disagree. All that’s holding me here is fear, and that’s just one more reason to go.

A couple weeks later I hire Justin Okimi to write up the detailed plan of my move to Nashville. It will include a stimulus (to get me out of here) and it will be feasible (meaning "capable of being done with means at hand and circumstances as they are”).

When I tell Taleah about hiring Justin, she’s a bit put off. “I already made your plan for you,” she says. It’s one of those times when I’m at work and Taleah comes to visit me and she sits in the chair by my desk and we wax poetic about the days of our lives.

“But you didn’t write it down,” I tell her. “I need a written plan.” I hand her an extra-large Post-it pad and turn my attention back to Facebook and the important matters of the day while she gets to work.

Phase I
1. Put necessities in car.
2. Be sure guitar and cello are in car.
3. Choose 3 plants.
4. Drive to Nashville.
5. Start playing on the street.
6. Enjoy the adventure of being on the road and being a free bird.

Phase II
1. Circumnavigate the world.
2. Write a book.
3. Break even on your book.
4. Feel satisfied.

She hands me the list, and I look it over. “My favorite is the last one,” I tell her. “Feel satisfied. I think any good plan should end with that. I’m going to start adding that to the end of all my plans.”

What I don’t tell her is that her free-bird plan, her follow-the-open-road plan, the longer I let it sit in my mind, the more it feels like acid burning a hole in my skull, and the sides are caving in, and all that’s left is a huge puddle of panic gurgling around where my brain used to be.

Days pass.

John calls me to chat. He’s driving to Portland for an oven presentation, or something food service related like that. We talk a bit about his life, and then the conversation turns to me.

“I feel like I’m nearing the end here,” I tell him. “This is the last year.”

“Haven’t you said that before?” he asks. Dang him and his memory.

“Yes. But this time it’s for real. Even if I don’t have a plan.”

“You need a plan,” he says. He knows me well.

“Well, I’m accepting ideas. Would you like to make a submission? It’s a contest. Maybe you’ll win a T-shirt.”

“A T-shirt?”

“Yeah. We’ll make a T-shirt of whoever’s plan wins.”

We decide we need a shirt that has Ashley’s smiling, supportive face, saying “You can do it, Ben!” Next to her will be John saying, “No, Ben. Get on the treadmill.”

“You should be a session musician,” says John. “I think you would really enjoy that. But you’d have to move to Nashville. Or L.A. But for you...,” he pauses, “Nashville.”


“You need to use your connections. You know a lot of people down there. At first you will probably have to play for nothing, just to get your name out. But then one day some band will be in a bind at the last minute and someone will say, ‘Hey, I know this guy. He’s just starting out, but he’s amazing.’”

“Have you been talking to Ashley about this?” I ask.

“No. Why?”

“Your plans are very similar is all.”

His phone loses reception, and just as suddenly as the conversation started, it’s over. Which is just as well. Conversations with John rarely have a true beginning or ending.

The grass in Lincoln is green again these days, but I know it won’t last. I linger in the simple moments. Sitting in the car in the driveway long after I’ve arrived home. Turning up the music. Looking up at the night sky and feeling closer to the moon than I have in years.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


On nights when I'm alone and I can't sleep
Sometimes I sing the songs you wrote for me
With hope that I'll remember the way that kind of love
Felt to us when we were young

Under my breath, I hear you sing the words
Beneath my hands, your fingers play the chords
Your song feels like a broom to the fragments and the shards
Piled in the corners of my beating heart

Through the cadence of your melody
I feel you coming back to me
If only in this reverie of mine

I meant the promises I made to you
And though we're not together now, some still hold true
If this love was up to my decision
By tomorrow's morning sun, I'd be done
Instead, beneath the stars, I fall apart

By the cadence of your melody
I pray your grace will rescue me
If only from this reverie of mine

Now you tell me life is what it is
And we take what every morning gives
We can't question the past
And it may be for the best
That ours is resting where it is

May the cadence of your melody
Lead you to pause and think of me
If only in this reverie of mine

If only in this reverie of mine

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