Winter

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I was not dead then
I gathered life
Like wheat at harvest
I shed the seeds
That flourished and bloomed
I breathed the sweet air we all share
Bathed in the life giving glow of the Moon
Swam in the endless sea of light
Traveled months of darkness without fear
Sensing all I was a part of
With awe and gratitude
No, I was not dead then
But I am so much more alive
Now

Released

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Too long ago
A lifetime
Millennia it seems
I sheltered my heart
And bound my flesh
In hopeful anticipation
I wore the numb pain
Of isolation
Like a badge of honor
I learned acceptance
Became aware of something greater
Than I ever imagined
My Self
A connection to All
I learned to navigate the path of Life
With gratitude
Even for suffering
To live with intention
Compassion
Patience
Still
I was alone
My limbs
Once coiled springs
Memorized their routines
My nerves
Quieted by the absence of touch
Slept
My mind
Made up for what I did not have
With story and song
But neuron and synapse can not replace passion or union
I filled my soul
With all that I desired
Until it became a blazing beacon
That lit the way and carried my call
Across empty miles
To you
You heard my song
Flew to my arms
In a moment my world changed
The chains of solitude evaporated
In a single perfect kiss
My eyes fell upon a world made new
A world with you
How joyful
The pain of awakened nerves and patient flesh released
How perfect
The song resonating in spaces reaerved for Us
How sweet
The memory

A good heart

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My vehicle
Wasn’t always taken care of
Old as it is
It shows the scars
Of its rough history
It’s paint
Lacks the luster of its early days
The interior
Is cracked and stained and torn
Sometimes it requires repair
I have the tools
The ability
Patience
I do what I can
But some of the work
Is too little too late
And it breaks down
If I could do it again
Start from the beginning
With the skills and knowledge
I have today
I would take better care of it
So it would last longer
It would shine
Be clean
It would have fewer dents and scars
A better life
But I’d keep the engine from this one
Because I run good

 


 

Image: “A Good Find” by J M Greff

 

 

 

This is the oilfield

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It took everything I had to get to Fairview, Montana, 1,900 miles from home, and once I arrived it was not as promised. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good.

The contracts needing fulfilling have not started. I was told they were not going start until the 8th, a full week later than I was told before coming up here. Two days later I’m told that they were pushed back to the 15th and when I spoke with the brokers myself on Monday I discovered they would not start until the 21st.

In the meantime my prospective employer does me a “favor” by lining up work with his relatives hauling beets for $18 an hour. I talk to one of them who says he’ll “keep it off the books.” That he and his three brothers would each cut me checks to keep the payments under $600, the legal limit for a 1099, and if I needed gas or tires or whatever I could charge it to his account downtown.

This may sound like a fair deal but it is outlaw trucking and it is one of the worst possible positions a legitimate driver can find themselves in. It is a trap. Money is often withheld on promise of payment. Gas and meals are charged back to your account at double the rate. There is no legal recourse in these situations because you are invisible and they most often end with the driver walking away.

It is modern slavery and it is more common than you’d think.

I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with bait and switch and outlaw trucking and because of that I’m careful and always ready to bail within minutes because it can be dangerous. It is always stressful and rarely profitable.

Monday I talked with my employer. I was polite but firm and persuasive. I made it 100% clear that I would not be driving outlaw for his cousin or anyone else. I let him know I had already made some calls to the broker in charge of the contract he is on and was given the dates and rates. Then I told him I would continue to make calls to people and companies I know here to line up real work for his truck and suggested some sources for him to call as well.

An hour later he calls back with a fresh contract from one of my sources, a company that I’ve worked with before that knows and respects me. The contract pays $110 an hour. I’ll get 25% of that. Not the best money but not bad given the circumstances.

More than that it’s a good contract that will probably last until just before Christmas with people I trust. People that will see to it that I get paid.

Like I said, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know the rules. And I make a horrible victim.

This is not unusual. It’s business as usual and I’m used to it, as much as a person can get used to things like this.

It’s the world I am working so hard to leave behind. I think you can begin to see why.

Here’s the good parts:

Most importantly, I’ll leave here debt free and with enough banked to upgrade the Caravan and buy some time to focus on writing.

I have a home to return to. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that.

The camper I paid $560 dollars for is now in livable condition. It’s not complete yet but the majority of the work is done. Windows have been taped and sealed with plastic and boarded where needed. It’s air tight. Roof is sealed. Cushions are replaced. Wood oiled. New carpet. It’s small but solid and actually quite comfortable and easy to heat and I will make a decent profit from the sale when I’m done with it.

The truck I’ll be driving for work is in good condition and the trailer is excellent quality.

The new boss owns an RV Park outside of Fairview where I am parked for free. I won’t be signing any rental agreement. There is a very nice community building on site with laundry, showers, big screen, and more all in new condition.

The new boss is not a bad man. He does not have bad intentions. Its just the way things are done out here. There are too few of us who refuse those ways and that’s why they persist.

He drives the school bus for his young children. Is involved in the community. He spent the extra money to make a comfortable place for his employees to live. That’s a rare thing.

He was afraid of losing a driver because of the delays and thought he could help his relatives by putting me in a bind while he waited for his contracts to begin. I am certain his relatives can use the help but I’m a hard man to bind up.

There is no way he could know I am as resourceful and determined as I am until he did what he did and no way for me to know this would happen without coming here. It’s always a bit of a gamble because I can’t always fix a bad situation. I’m grateful that I did this time.

No, he is not a bad man.

This is the oilfield.

A note about my recent posts

I know the reason most of you follow my posts here is because I unfailingly find good in even the most dire situations and that some of my more recent posts have been less than positive. This is done with intention.

I don’t talk as often about the difficulty and pain that comes before reaching those positive conclusions and in doing so I may be misleading or least sugar coating the pain that leads to those ends  but I don’t want to give others the impression that living a life of faith and hope, love and gratitude, is some sort of magic pill that makes everything easy.

There is no magic pill. No amount of meditation or breathwork or metta or exercise or healthy eating or yoga can change that. Life holds suffering for everyone. That is an inescapable fact. Nor would I want to escape it. There is a lot to be learned from suffering.

This is not to say that I actively pursue it. Just that I refuse to allow it to make decisions for me.

Having a positive outlook, living in faith, finding gratitude in even the most unbearable situations, are things that are cultured and nurtured. It isn’t natural instinct for any of us.

So here I am, in dire straights, and rather than share only the positive thoughts that are always there, even in the worst times, I have decided to take the opportunity in what I knew would be an extremely difficult and stressful situation and share those other things we all have in common and maybe in doing so I will be able to convey the methods I use to reach those positive ends.

I do feel pain. Fear. Anger. Self doubt. I am no different than you.

So stick it out with me on this journey. Stay tuned, as they say, and let’s find out together where this chapter leads. I have no doubt it will be someplace better!

Be well and know that you are loved.

James

Thoughts from the morning before

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It’s 3 am and I’m up with a case of heartburn so bad it feels like a heart attack. I’d blame the blackened red fish I ate for this wretched agony but it’s not that. Nor can I blame the Sazerac that complimented it. No, this is borne of frayed nerves and fear.

It is my last night here in The Mansion, an 1850’s monstrosity of a home in the heart of Mobile, and I am afraid. Afraid that I will always be scurrying to catch up. Afraid that I will never realize the person I am trying so hard to become. Afraid of the journey ahead of me.

Tomorrow, today, just a few hours from now, I will begin the long drive North. 1,800 miles back to the oilfield. Again. Stupid mouse to cheese trap. I have beaten the odds for a dozen years and managed to get the cheese before the trap clamped down on me. One day it will break my back and I’ll stare with glazed eyes at the molding cheese and wonder why I kept coming back for more.

I wish I could roll over and hold you close to soothe my nerves but the bed is empty. It is always empty. There has never been a woman in this bed.

That thought makes the heartburn worse so I throw the blankets back and scramble to the bathroom, sure that I’ll soon lose that excellent meal. The surge subsides before I get there but I’ve had enough nights like this in the last week to know it’s just a small reprieve so I down a handful of antacids to head off the inevitable follow up.

This is not the norm for me. I have been in situations that were far more stressful without suffering any kind of physiological effect.

So why now?

Writing, for me, has become a form of therapy. Visual meditation. A way to explore the thoughts that constantly ebb and flow with a life all their own. So I sit down and begin to write, casting my net with each stab at the keyboard until I snag that one random image that defines what it is I am feeling.

In this case it is the image of the empty bed and what I am feeling is lonely. No, not lonely. Alone.

Big surprise. You’d think I would have caught that as I wrote the cryptic poetry I posted earlier. I guess it was too obvious. So I read the poem again, something I really should do at least a few times before publishing. Write once, edit a hundred times. That, I’ve been told, is the set rule of writing. I should probably try it. The poem is horrid. It has potential, but it really is horrid. All over the map. I don’t recommend reading it. But it tells me what I need to know; I am never alone.

Right now there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people all over the planet feeling exactly the same thing I am feeling.

I close my eyes, slow my breath, and reach out to them. To assure them they are not alone, to let them know that they are loved, that I am here with them and in doing so I offer those same things to my Self and receive them from others and those thoughts, or the combination of those thoughts and the antacids (credit where credit is due), begin to slow the burn and the frayed edges of my nerves begin to mend.

Still, I wish I could get back into that bed and hold you close.


Photo by Josh Applegate

Storm


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There was I time I thought of myself as “Stormchaser”. It was a label I assigned to offset the difficult times that seemed to follow me as a way of reversing the odds.

I saw myself as not only actively engaging those hard times but as pursuing them in a “if life is suffering and suffering brings enlightenment then, for fucks sack, bring it on” mentality.

I was wrong.

Man, was I wrong.

The hard times pursued like a predator on blood scent and I, tough as the wind, really was bleeding, profusely.

I’ve said before how I’m only now rubbing the sleep from my eyes, but I look back with these blurry eyes and see that young man and rather than think “whaddadouche”, my favorite quote when it comes to ignorance, I can say “good start.”

It really was.

Since then I’ve learned that Life is more often concerned with giving lessons than with leading me to them and that the path of life is much more flexible than I thought.

She is the train
I am the rail
Or more like the spike
Or the ground it’s driven into
Or maybe just a house it passes by
Sleeping

That’s my attempt at Zen poetry, which I’m okay with, in a Zen sort of way.

My point is this:

I have felt the storm.
I feel it now inside me.
I’m not sure it ever goes away.
I’m okay with that.

That, by the way, has nothing at all to do with either Zen philosophy or poetry, it’s who I am.

So right about now you’re probably asking yourself what the hell this post is about so I’ll sum it up in six words …

 

We find what we are looking for.

 

… okay, seven words.

 


 

Audio: “Stormchaser” by J M Greff

 

so close i can taste

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a light rain
more a mist
a wet veil
cools the humid air
that clutches
and claws
suffocating
like some silent
assailant that cant be escaped
it swirls
in slight eddies
like cool water
in a warm pool
sweat runs off me
in a stream
still it feels like spring
life constantly flows here
something always in bloom
mushrooms sprout and die
sprout and die
the resurrection fern
mostly green
sleeping only hours at a time
the rain seems to never stop
yet does nothing
to subdue the humidity
giving life
to all this glorious green
even I
suffocating in the heavy air
grow


Image by Johannes Hofmann

Captured

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Arms out touching phantom limbs and ephemeral vine.
Closed eyes focused on aery chimera that plays like
faded film, enshrouding me in palpable memory like a mist.
August oaks and resurrection fern and aged buildings
replaced by towering cypress, snow wreath,
rhododendron tall as the homes lining these neglected streets
broken by root allowing the very least of natures
determination to reclaim, one minuscule stem, one straggling stalk,
one unnoticed flower at a time, its verdant refuge,
once sanctuary to boundless existence long since
consumed by distressed homes, distressed economies,
distressed people.

Not now. Not in this moment. In this moment I am alone in
ancient woods making my way along a secret trail
winding through prehistoric marsh fed by countless miles of
free flowing rivers giving life to this lush alluvium filled with
musky smells of decayed wood and stale water and something
sweetly familiar I can’t put a name to.

If you saw me there, on that canted sidewalk, you might think
I was mad or lost or wandering under the influence of
something other than my imagination. If you looked
closer you would see a smile. If you noticed me at all.

More likely you would pass by without second glance
accelerating to whatever urgent appointment or function or task you
scurry to. “Nevermind the crazy man”, mother says to
daughter, ears stopped with buds to obstruct the uninvited,
eyes adjusted to the screen of the tiny world she holds in her
hands while thumbs impulsively tap out affirmations or declarations or
insinuations with inherent indifference to a faceless complicant
selected as benefant, marginally amused at mother’s dumb
mouth, assigning words consistent with expectations in place
of those overridden by disapproved music. “Are you listening to me?”

Mother chatters voicelessly. A silent movie. A mime.
Daughter sneers. Fires a message of discontent into the void.
Co-conspirators.

You have missed far too much.
Where are you going
that you have no time to look?
To see.
What horizon are you fixed upon
that blinds you to miracles?
To live.
How can you occupy the same space
without sharing it?
To love.

I see you drive by as in a dream, intruder, trespasser to my vision.
Out of place and time. The vision is disrupted.
The winding path is replaced by
fractured concrete.
Smells of sacred land replaced by
exhaust fumes and humanity.
Rhododendron to azalea.
Snow wreath to palm.
Cypress to oak.
Marsh to asphalt.
The veil lifts.

The image remains.

Captured.


Image: “Misty Veil” by JMGreff

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Life

Almost a year ago I chose to move to Mobile to pursue the possibility of a committed relationship.

I learned quite a bit about love from that relationship and from the bond that remains.

Almost three months ago I made a decision to stay in Mobile to accelerate my training as an independent insurance adjuster instead of heading back North to earn enough money to carry me through until I get deployed.

In those three months I have learned ten times as much as I’ve learned in the last year and I have gained numerous certifications, but I have not worked a single day.

As I write this I lay alone in bed in the rooms I pay for through barter. I don’t know when, or even if, I will get deployed. I don’t know if my car, which I repaired with tape and a prayer after it started on fire due to faulty wiring, will last another month, or a week, or even through tomorrow. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep gas in it. I don’t know if I will ever reach my next goal of turning of writing full time.

While these things and more can and certainly do cause me some stress they do not represent my future nor do they rule how I feel today.

Those decisions I made, to move here and to stay, were based on hope and faith and love and a strong desire and the will to create positive change in my life and because of this they were the right choices regardless of how they turn out.

So all those things I don’t know are really no different than not knowing if I will get struck by a meteor tomorrow, and I don’t see any reason to worry about it.

If I could share just one thing I’ve learned in life it would be this:

I am not defined by the things that happen to me but by how I respond to them.

Am I stressed? Yes.

Will I get through this? Absolutely.

Is this my life? Well, yes. It is.

Am I grateful? Always.

 

 

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