Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's London

We've finally decided on a trip for the Fall, and it's London. I've never been there before, so I'm really looking forward to it. Some friends at work have been giving me all sorts of advice about where to go and how to get around, not that I have any doubt that we'll have plenty to do.

I would really like to see Hatfield, where Elizabeth I lived and learned she had become queen. There was supposedly a big tree outside the house that she was standing beneath when they gave her the news. Beyond that, of course there is the theatre and all the sights around London. Part of me would like to take a trip to see Stonehenge, but I think it's really far from London and most people tell me it's not worth it.

So that's all booked...now we have to start thinking about where to go in the Spring!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bad Blogger!

I haven't created an entry for something like a week! Not good! I should be like that Dobby character from Harry Potter: "Bad Blogger! [smack head with shoe heel] Bad Blogger!"

Most of my first month in Hapkido went by and I had a great time, so I signed up for the six month contract! I can already feel my legs and sides are stronger and I have a heightened sense of balance.

I'm still continuing with my Melville kick. I'm about a third of the way through his fourth novel Redburn, which is pretty good so far. Jim and I are alternating between watching Farscape and The Tudors on DVD.

Did another bike ride...finally! The weather has been in the 90s for a long time, so it's been impossible to do anything outdoors. We got about 24 miles in this time, so we're working up.

My parents are coming to visit for the Fourth of July weekend, so I'm taking a few days off. Should be fun.

So I'm well aware that this is a really lame post. It's more like an amalgamation of entires on some vapid twitter page. Bad Blogger!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Another goal?

I should be a bit careful what I write about on here after experiencing the power of writing about martial arts and then feeling impelled to go do it all the more! But...I've been toying with the idea of going back to school yet again!

I got my BA in Marketing from NIU, then later on thought about an MBA for a week before I came to my senses. Then I actually started on a Masters in IS at DePaul, but realized it wasn't at all a fit for me (although I did quite well). Finally, Jim and I both decided to get Masters in Liberal Studies at North Central College right here in Naperville. It was fun because we got to share the experience, and I got to take all sorts of cool classes: writing, history of science, globalization, literature, public discourse, leadership, etc. We had to do a thesis to graduate, and I did mine on the theoretical underpinnings of astrobiology. It was terrific, and the two years went by very quickly!

I had skipped my high school graduation because...well...who cares about graduating from high school? I skipped my NIU graduation because I just wanted to move into the city and get started with my life. But I went to my Masters graduation! Jim and I both went. I invited my family, had a big party, made a major deal out of it. This was my first degree I got solely because I wanted it. It was tough, and I was proud of it.

So, anyway, I was thinking that I've always loved literature and have taken loads of classes in it. I'm always reading (note the posts on Melville!). If I'm reading this kind of stuff in my spare time, why not do it as part of getting a Masters in Literature (or something)? I have no idea what I would do with such a degree but, well, why is it that I have to do something with it? Why can't getting a Masters in Literature be an end in itself? Something to enjoy and a goal to attain?

I need to think more about this.......

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paul moves

Paul is one of my best friends (he's in the pic on the right with another close friend Gretchen), and he's moving to Austin, TX in a few days. I'm bummed about it.

Of course I'm happy for him. He's going to pursue some of his life goals (not to mention he can avoid Chicago-area winters). However, it sucks having someone who you are close to moving so far away.
On the plus side, I now have a place to crash should I ever visit Austin!

I guess I feel that - as you get older - it seems more difficult to form new solid friendships. Of course, I've never been someone who wants or needs a ton of friends. I just couldn't deal with that kind of social calendar. But that means the close friends I do have are all the more important to me. There's all that history, and they know my strengths (as well as the stuff you'd rather they didn't know!).

I suppose this is a wussy post...after all this is the 21st Century, and there's more ways to keep in contact than ever before. And it's not like he's moving to India or something. Oh well, enough whining. Good luck in Austin, Paul! See you this winter!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Herman Melville - Mardi (1849)

After the successful one-two punch of his first books (Typee and Omoo), Melville took a little more time to produce his next novel. In the interim, he got married and contributed to journals (he wrote 'Hawthorne and His Mosses' at this time). Unfortunately, when released, Mardi was such a complete critical and financial failure that it single-handedly destroyed his newly-won success as a writer. Melville never recovered his audience after Mardi and, after reading this fiasco, it's not hard to see why.

Mardi actually starts off very well as a third episode in Melville's South Seas adventures, picking up where Omoo left off. However, the plot is much tighter than in Omoo and far more interesting. In fact, for the first fifth of the book, Melville's definitely bringing his A-game. There is some grandiose phrasing unlike his typically crisp style, but it doesn't detract much. At first.

About a fifth of the way into Mardi though, after the characters melodramatically rescue a girl named Yillah from some island priests, the plot collapses. Several chapters ensue that are, quite frankly, pale retreads of the 'island life among the savages' stuff that Melville did much better in his two previous novels. Then Yillah, who has become the main character's squeeze for no apparent reason, disappears. Unfortunately, since Melville never made her anything more than a two-dimensional presence, I really didn't care about her or the narrator's feelings for her. This left me uninterested as a reader, and effectively diffused Melville's plot. Incidentally, for those who debate about Melville's sexuality, his descriptions of Yillah are absolute proof he was gay - especially when you compare these tepid platitudes with the homoerotic, head-over-heels rhapsodies he pens for Jarl ('his Viking'). It's pretty clear who he thought was yummy! But I digress.

Not only did the plot collapse, but it was also at this point that Melville's writing turns into amateur, pretentious crap. His prose is slathered with endless mythological allusions and stilted language that strangles his narrative flow and renders anything he is trying to say laughable. He describes Yillah's beauty: 'Of her beauty I say nothing. It was that of a crystal lake in a fathomless wood.' How vague, trite, and random is that? Then there's: 'For oh, Yillah; were you not the earthly semblance of that sweet vision, that haunted my earliest thoughts?' There's page after page of this hoity-toity phrasing, and no viable plot to help you look past it. Much of Mardi, in fact, is directionless, unrelated ramblings sewn together like Frankenstein's monster.

A great example of how overgrown Melville's prose had become while he was writing Mardi is in the chapter 'Mardi by Night and Yillah by Day'. The core of this chapter is Melville's beautiful panoramic word painting of the Mardi islands at night, and the poignant emotions such a scene stirs in him. However, the brief description and his emotions are buried within a two page 'chapter' of stilted writing, overwrought metaphor and simile, and adolescent histrionics.

You want stilted writing? How about: 'obeying a restless impulse, I stole without into the magical starlight' or 'but how your mild effulgence stings the boding heart.' You want histrionics? How about: 'Am I a murderer, stars?' Or try out this little gem (and try not to laugh): 'Oh stars! oh eyes, that see me, wheresoe'er I roam...tell me Sybils, what I am.' Melville groupies - judging from some reviews of this book I've read - are able to excuse anything from the man who wrote Moby Dick. I'm sure Melville had high aspirations for this book, but that really doesn't excuse anything. Mardi is pompous, sentimental writing that would have made the stereotypical 'lady novelist' pull out her editing pen. Coming from Melville, it's just embarrassing and I felt bad for him.

Unfortunately there's more. Throughout Mardi, Melville layers on bombastic (and oftentimes trite) metaphors and similes like a baker using super sugary icing to cover up that his cake isn't all that good. In the brief two page chapter noted above, Melville references Saturn, Indian wigwams, waterfalls, Greek mythology (two or three times), gnomes, and elves sailing on nautilus shells - all in ONE paragraph! This is awful writing however you spin it and, after a dozen chapters like this with no plot or coherent thematic thread, I'd had it!

In short, Mardi is unreadable. I am not surprised it was a flop in Melville's time, nor that it single-handedly finished him with the reading public and the critics. Melville realized his error, as well, for his next book - Redburn - was a return to the pseudo-autobiographical approach he had used with Typee and Omoo. Published less than a year after Mardi, it was obviously an attempt to sweep the failure of Mardi under the rug and recapture Melville's public. Unfortunately, the damage was too great and Melville was ignored for the rest of his life. This meant there was no one paying much (if any) attention when he produced a masterpiece in Moby Dick.

Although some empty-headed academics may worship anything the author of Moby Dick wrote, the objective truth is that Mardi is every bit the debacle it is usually painted as, and only Melville's name on the cover keeps it in print. Consider yourself warned!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wizard Of The Wood

poem 2 from The Ancient Elm

Chained by illusion
I sustain the Castle Keepers,
their gates and walls.
Until, a mere boy,
I dare the Untamed Wood –
outside…

Where trees become wands,
I live in an ancient elm.
Alone with secrets,
I can remember them.
Without twisting nature,
I gain power over it.

At my command:
illusions vanish,
the rainbow returns
to pure light,
and I reform the world
weaving my own mythology.

Now the Castle Keepers
matter not –
their gates and walls

do not signify –
for when illusion tempts me,
I go outside…
When I am chained,
I go outside…
When I need power,
I go outside…


This poem picks up with the idea of being lost in illusion, or a way of thinking and living that is not real and is not in your control. Although this is completely self-inflicted, it often seems to stem from people around us, our job, expectations, our life in general, etc. (the Castle Keepers). That's ultimately why I felt I had to get away via my Pete Retreat; it was the only way I felt I could shut all that stuff down long enough to escape illusion and think without distractions (alone with secrets, I can remember them). So the narrator in the poem becomes like a hermit/wizard and seeks enlightenment away from it all (where trees become wands). However, I also wanted to turn all that imagery on its head. There is no magic or mysticism to Zen, once you get outside of illusion by simplifying how you view things (the rainbow returns to pure light) you are able to find the wisdom you have inside and take control of your mind and life (weaving my own mythology). This is finding enlightenment. Once you experience enlightenment, you can mentally summon it at any time to center you and guide you so you can sidestep illusion. The more you learn about Zen, the easier it is to not be seduced by illusion, and this ultimately gives you serenity and power over the world around you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Me After My First Bike Ride of the Season

Technically, this isn't my first ride of the season because I biked to work a few weeks ago, but that's only a few miles so it hardly counts. This afternoon's ride was 16 miles, which is a good starting ride(I usually get up to 30 miles a ride as Autumn approaches).

There's a lot of great bike paths where we live (the Illinois Prairie Path), and they all connect up into probably well over a 100 miles of paths. Much of the IPP is wooded and not interrupted by roads much. So you feel very much that you're in nature. It's refreshing to be outside like that for a few hours, and there's often wildlife to see (on this ride Jim and I saw two deer!).

The best part of this ride was what I call 'the Cathedral'. It's a section of one path that is lined by slender trees that rise up about 50 or 60 feet, with their branches meeting above. The angular shape reminds me of the ribbed inside of a cathedral, so it's like this pagan hall of worship. It was getting dusky, and there were all sorts of black and silver greens and a wonderful sense of quiet there. Easy to forget about anything that's bugging you.

Only potential problem is that, after my Hapkido class on Wednesday, my hamstrings were aching a bit and I plan to go for my second class tomorrow. I'm hoping I'm not going to regret this ride!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Hapkido Class

Didn't post last night because I went to my first Hapkido class. It was awesome! Really good work-out. Of course, as a white belt once again (the 'picture' at right represents my white belt!), much of the time was spent watching the higher ranking belts do their drills. The idea is that you learn by watching as much as by doing.

Just as I was getting impatient to be up again, our Master paired us with some higher belts and we did some more advanced kicks. Careful what you wish for...I wanted to sit down again, because I was so lost!

Naturally, after 10 years away from martial arts, I'm lacking in flexibility I once had, cardiovascular endurance is much lower, and just the extra coordination needed is lacking. But it will all come with practice. As last time, the students seemed welcoming and many said hi to me as I came in. Another guy was very patient showing me how to tie my belt (I completely forgot how!). Overall, it was a very comfortable environment.

The only bad thing was that I think I tied the drawstring on the lower part of my gi wrong, so I kept having to hitch it up towards the end of class. That kind of sucked! But that was the only bad thing, and I'm really excited about my next class!


One thing I should mention is that keeping this blog may have been a big part of what got me out to check out the school at all. Writing about wanting to get back into martial arts (even in a public forum like this that no one reads but a few people) somehow made me get off my butt more to make it happen. Partly so I could have something to write about, partly because once I wrote it I felt more compelled to make it happen. After the horror of that first school I checked out, I wonder if I would have gone to this school at all without this forum as a motivator.


I suppose blogging can be every bit as positive an activity as keeping those journals all those years was.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jimmy!

For this post, I am finally getting around to mentioning my partner. I felt kind of guilty for taking this long to mention someone I have shared thirteen wonderful years with (thirteen in August, that is), but then I figured, to a certain degree, blogging is a self-absorbed activity so I can't be too hard on myself!

This painting is one that I did of him a bunch of years ago when I was way into oil painting. He's in his garden, which is his favorite pastime. He grows flowers, trees, grasses, bushes, tomatoes, peppers, raspberries, strawberries, and who knows what else. And he uses the berries and tomatoes to make his own pasta sauce and jams. Yum-my!

He is also extremely talented at just about anything around the house. He redid all the doors and trim in our house. Cut the trim with a mitre saw, stained the trim and doors, and installed them all himself. He made his own archways for in the garden, and a workbench in the garage. In short, he is what is typically called 'handy'. I am what would be called 'not handy'.

Jim is quiet and shy, very much a homebody, while I am loud and outgoing and love trying new things all the time. We're very different in a lot of ways, but we are in perfect sync on the basic things about how to live life and what makes for a good life. He's my best friend and, while we verbally spar all the time, we rarely ever argue, which is pretty odd considering how ornery I can be! He's the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I love him very much.

So, that's right! I'm gay! And I've been in a relationship longer than many straight people. So quit the hating, stop running on about the 'sanctity of marriage', and let us get married if we want to!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Herman Melville - Omoo (1847)

One year after Melville struck gold with Typee, his first novel and a colorful account of life in the Polynesian islands, he published Omoo. Melville's success with Typee, while not stratospheric, was significant enough for his publisher to print Omoo sight unseen. Unfortunately, Omoo is a prime example of the dreaded sophmore slump so feared by artists. Omoo is more of the same subject matter found in Typee, but as we all know lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place. Omoo is a pale imitation of Typee.

The main issue is Omoo lacks a unifying theme, such as Melville's captivity on a tropical island which gave Typee a core. On top of that, Melville tales (or yarns, depending on how much truth you believe are in these pseudo-autobiographical novels) this time out are not nearly as interesting as those found in Typee. I was pretty bored with Omoo for many of its pages.

Melville's writing is just as crisp and immediate as it was in Typee, but this book centers more around Melville's wanderings in Tahiti than it does on Polynesian life. Other sailors and the colonial towns are really at the forefront of this book. There's more commentary on the missionary movement which may be interesting from a cultural standpoint but it just doesn't come alive.

I found some of the items Melville touches on interesting from time to time, but the overall travelogue feel of this book - which Typee largely managed to avoid - means Melville can't develop any of them. For example, a Polynesian joins Melville on a ship as they leave the Marquesas, and this man's homesickness is touching. However, the character just vanishes at some point, and I don't even remember where or why. Another example is the author's meeting with Pomaree, the Queen of Tahiti. There's a big build up to this meeting, but the pay-off is a drab let-down.

Omoo was a modest success for Melville due to it being enough like his first book to lure readers back for a retread. Most modern readers should probably read Typee and skip Omoo.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Checking Out Martial Arts Schools Is Not Fun

About ten years ago, I took karate at the Japanese Cultural Center in Chicago. It was a great experience, and lately I've been considering getting back into martial arts.

Shopping around for schools here in the burbs, though, has been depressing. Some schools are only about advancing 'Brandon' and 'Britney' even if they stink, to make sure mommy and daddy keep shelling out bucks.

Then there's the 'tournament schools'. While I admit it takes athletic talent to do gymnastic stunts, these students are no better than show dogs jumping through hoops for applause. Some of them lack even the basic respect of wearing their uniforms properly, and who thinks putting corporate logos on the back of a uniform shows respect for the martial arts? These instructors should be ashamed of themselves; it's sad that students put so much energy into something and get none of the benefits.

The first school I actually visited was a mixed martial arts school run by a guy who came on like a used car salesman with a lemon to unload. At one point, he showed me a statue in the corner and said, "I just got that Buddha statue. Cool, huh?" Ick. I googled him later and found he had a criminal record and once belonged to a school that tied advancement to the amount of money you shelled out. Gotta be very vigilant, even in 'family-friendly Naperville'.

Yesterday, I checked out a Hapkido school and I'm encouraged. There was good energy, a great diversity of students, and the class was small. The instructor was terrific, and the work-out he put his students through looked challenging and fun. The students seemed friendly to each other, and clearly knew their stuff. I spoke to the instructor afterwards, and he suggested I come back to speak with the Master before signing up. And of course he pointed out that karate and hapkido are pretty different in their intent, which I'm fine with naturally. Even after this positive experience, I'm a bit nervous. My experiences so far really have me on my guard!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Illusion

poem 1 from The Ancient Elm

I know it's all illusion
somewhere in my mind,
delusions bleeding through the air
on wings of empty sky.

Personas wrapped around myself,
my path is doomed to err.
Running through a universe
I know is never there.

And every vision chased
will only dim my sight.
A thousand fingers beckoning,
and none of them are right.


I typicaly object to writers explaining their work. Art should stand on it's own, but this is my blog so I'll do what I want. Anyway, for the first poem of The Ancient Elm, I wanted to set up the cycle by introducing the speaker as someone who, like so many of us, is caught up in the drama (mostly self-inflicted), emptiness, and confusion of everyday life. I also used the rhyme and structure to indicate a kind of rigidity or prison. Illusion is a Zen concept that suggests this prison is self-imposed and comes from an unhappy illusionary world we each create around ourselves to the degree we are not able to control our minds and find wisdom.

The First Week

It's been a week, and I've posted everyday! This is getting to be like keeping a journal, which is exactly what I had hoped for. Well, this would make for a pretty poor post for the day so I'll have to make sure I put something else up.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Notes From the Obama Era

I know the whole happy-happy-joy-joy thing about Obama being elected has been done to death, but I wanted to write about my happy-happy-joy-joy in context of a cold dose of reality I faced just the other day.

Not too long before I was born, Dr. King had a rally in Chicago. During the march that followed people threw rocks at him to protest what he stood for. To go from that to seeing Chicagoans of all races in Grant Park ecstatically cheering as the first black president sealed the deal was mind blowing! How's that for perspective? How far we've come!

Two days ago I traveled to Racine on business with a white coworker who just moved here from South Africa. We stopped at a restaurant in downtown Racine to have lunch and, as the greeter sat us down, the following exchange ensured…

Greeter: Where are you from?
Me: We're from the Chicago burbs.
Greeter: No, I mean him [my coworker]. He has an accent.
Me: He just moved here from South Africa.
Coworker: Yes, I'm from South Africa originally.
Greeter: South Africa? You're the wrong color, but that's okay.

My coworker is still adjusting to the US, so he had no idea the woman was serious and I was too astonished and embarrassed to know what to say. Luckily, she just waddled away and we didn't need to continue the conversation.

How far we've come, indeed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Ancient Elm

While I was on the first Pete Retreat (see earlier post), I put together the seeds for a cycle of poetry that became The Ancient Elm. The Ancient Elm started off as a kind of poetic expression of the process I experienced by going on the Pete Retreat and semi-cutting myself off from 'civilization', but eventually it got very layered and covered a bunch of things I was interested in at the time.

In addition to the Pete Retreat experience, I was exploring Zen, meditating with koans, and learning to control my mind. I was also approaching 40 and - while I certainly didn't regret it - I felt a need to reevaluate myself as a 'man' and not a 'young man'. I was really obsessed with male imagery (wizards, knights, emperors) and reading a lot of male-oriented literature (Le Morte de Arthur, the Iliad, Beowulf, Viking sagas, etc.). So there was all sorts of personal stuff going on and interesting inputs simmering in my brain. The perfect hatching ground for creativity!

The Ancient Elm ended up being about coming of age (not teen-age!), but transforming yourself from potential (a boy) into an actuality (a man). It's about becoming powerful though wisdom, but yet also embracing your physical strength...and some of the traps that lie along the way as you become your own man. Celebrating 'guyness', I guess. I'll start posting the poems, but here are the titles of the poems that make up The Ancient Elm:

Illusion
Wizard Of The Wood
Zazen
Siegecraft
Imperial Triptych
a. The Court Of The Sun
b. The Twisted Myth
c. Emperor Of Thorns
High Priest To Heretic
New Moon
The Myth Continues...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Herman Melville - Typee (1846)

I love reading classic literature. To me, if it hasn't lasted at least fifty years then why take the risk! I think I am the most happy when I am sitting in my living room all alone with a nice hardcover book, a glass of red wine, dark chocolate in easy reach, and a nice breeze blowing in the window. Bliss!

Right now, I'm on a Herman Melville kick. I'm reading his books in order of when he wrote them. Last year, I did a James Fenimore Cooper run and read all five books of the Leatherstocking Tales. We'll see how long I make it with Melville.

Typee was Melville's first book, and it became an immediate success because of his colorful handling of his (arguably) real adventures after deserting a whaleship in the South Seas and living with the natives for a few months. I'm pretty sure that, were it written today, Typee would be classified as 'narrative fiction', meaning he took his actual experiences but molded them a bit to communicate a larger idea he had in mind.

Melville's theme in Typee is the contrast between so-called civilized Europeans and the 'savages' of the South Sea islands. What I love about reading books from this long ago is that they can be a window to a time and place that is completely lost. Even though Melville can't explain many of the Typees' customs, it's fascinating to read his account and see a 'peep' of how they lived before the incursion of Europeans. While the plot is a little thin, Melville switches subjects quick enough so that you don't get bored and there is enough of a plot to keep this from turning into a travelogue.

I enjoyed Typee a lot. After I read it, I went onto amazon.com to see what other people thought and I had to laugh. There were some Melville groupies on there talking about how 'deep' and 'symbolic' Typee was. I think sometimes people think that just because Melville wrote Moby Dick that everything he wrote was some complex meditation on nature and the universe. I guess academic types have to do what they can to make it in the publish-or-perish world.

Anyway, I recommend the book as the topic is just as interesting today as it was to the people in Melville's time who made Typee - and the author - famous overnight.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chrysalis of Fire

As I mention in my profile, I am a writer. I have had poetry and short stories published. Although not published in hard copy, I have published a science fiction novel called 'Chrysalis of Fire' through Kindle. Here's the synopsis from Amazon.com:

"Two centuries in the future, a military power called the Nexus controls a war-ravaged Earth. Science is treason, and the scientists and engineers (the 'Galileans') are exiled to harsh off-world settlements.

"Commander Aaron Drake thrived in the battle-hardened world of the Nexus - despite his scientific background - until the Nexus ordered him to destroy a mysterious probe that might represent first contact with aliens.

"Caught between ruthless Nexus agents and dangerous Galilean raiders, the probe leads Drake from a battle on the pirate settlement of Vesta to the Galileans' base on Ganymede, where he learns the truth about the Nexus, the Galileans, and his own past.

"But Drake's battle for survival really begins when the Nexus and Galileans are forced to work together after decades of enmity. As the Nexus and Galileans race to a final showdown with each other - and a power that could destroy humanity - Drake realizes he has to choose whether he is a man of war or science."

Writing a novel was something that just sorta happened, and it was a long process. While I may not sell many copies on Kindle (given that this post is pretty much the extent of my marketing efforts), I'm still very proud that I brought such a huge project to completion. A novel is a huge canvas to fill, and it was a lot of fun. Check it out at:

http://www.amazon.com/Chrysalis-of-Fire-ebook/dp/B0014CS4A6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243982969&sr=8-2

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pete Retreat 2009?

All right...today I will not write about Zen. I did not create this blog to proselytize.

A couple years ago I did what I called my 'Pete Retreat'. There was a lot of bad stuff going on in my life at the time, and I just needed to get away from everyone and everything and be alone.

So I rented a cabin in Michigan during the fall (see picture for the setting), and went into the woods all by myself. There was NO ONE around. There was no phone service, no internet, no cell service, nothing. There was a TV in the cabin, but I unplugged it and shoved it in a closet. It quickly dawned on me that I had a whole week to fill and nothing to do. What an amazing feeling! Never happens even on a vacation.

So my pace immediately slowed down; there was no reason to rush anything because I had far too much time. I'd wake up at 6AM (my usual wake-up time!), look out the window, and see deer walking by. I'd hike the woods twice a day, just thinking about whatever popped into my head...or sometimes not thinking at all. I drew, read books I'd been meaning to read, walked on the shores of Lake Michigan - no one in sight - and watched the sun set for an hour.

Before long, I got into a totally different place. I skipped showering one day because the trails were really muddy, so why bother. I didn't shave the entire week, and for one 36 hour period I didn't speak. Think about that. When's the last time you can think of an hour where you didn't speak? Pretty wild.

And it was amazing how easy it is to live without 'stuff' you normally think you can't do without. In that stripped-down kind of existence, I was able to clearly think about all my problems and map out how to deal with them. Everything suddenly seemed so simple and obvious!

Anyway, I changed a lot of stuff in my life as a result. New job, new goals, and I finished writing a cycle of poems I called 'The Ancient Elm' that kind of capsulized the whole experience. I tried to go back the next year, but it wasn't the same somehow. I've thought about doing another Pete Retreat, maybe somewhere else, but perhaps I got what I needed from that experience and it's over.

But each year, I think: do I need a Pete Retreat? Maybe I should try to take it further and actually camp or something? There's something appealing about challenging myself that way because, at heart, I do love my 'stuff'!