Poem: The Man In The Checkered Shirt

A man in a red and black checkered shirt walks back and forth in the book aisles,

the books have little bunny rabbits and little brown bears and little yellow tigers on the covers,

the man in the checkered shirt walks as if he’s holding someone’s hand in his hand.

 

He lets go of the hand and opens a book,

he flips the pages, softly,

not reading, just seeing,

the printed animals go through their ordered adventures,

neat adventures that are wrapped up in the end with a neat little bow.

 

The man in the checkered shirt puts the book back on the shelf,

a tear in his eye,

falling down the ripples of his cheek,

as his face contorts to hide the sadness,

imaginary hand in his hand once more.

 

In the neat little stories, someone always asks the right question,

someone asks if you’re okay,

but no one asks him as the man in the checkered shirt walks down the aisle,

looking for another book that might tell him what to do now,

or one that might ask him where did that laughter go that used to come with him.

Poem: Be Alive

You’re just some flesh and bones,

blood and muscles,

an animal like all others,

nothing more, nothing less,

the cosmos don’t care just as you don’t care about the ants in the wild,

the sun shines regardless and not especially for you,

the planets revolve around it, this one included,

you revolve around it and not the other way around,

here today, gone tomorrow,

your life perhaps will make the tiniest ripple,

if you’re lucky,

if you’re blessed,

one day you’ll be ashes,

the same as all that know you,

and yet,

your daily thoughts are concerned about others,

your ego trips over itself,

thinking people care how you look, what you do,

dimming your own hopes and dreams as not to attract unwanted attention,

blunting your experience of life just to fit in,

the days are numbered,

it’s all for nothing,

meaningless,

yet the handful of days you’ve got left,

you can make them worth something,

give them meaning,

through a leap of faith,

by going towards the unknown, the uncomfortable, the uncertain,

and making your life an art,

for once it’s gone, it’s all gone,

here for a second,

from nothing, back to nothing,

ashes the final form,

in between the nothingness, be alive.

 

Short Story: Times They Are A-Changin’

I was ten years old when I finally went fishing with my grandpa. He had promised the fishing trip for months. Before we left the house mom handed me a black Nike baseball cap that once belonged to my dad. She said it was going to be sunny and to keep my face out of the sunlight. She asked my grandpa if he had enough sunscreen. He showed her the bottle in his bag. Alongside the sunscreen, there were a couple bottles of water, a few small packets of chips, a four-pack of Jameson, an orange juice and two sandwiches which he had made that morning. Mine was without pickles and olives.

During the drive, I kept on looking at my grandpa. I was trying to sit like him, to look at where he was looking, to match the same expressionless features that were carved into his face. My dad passed away when I was young so I never really knew him. Grandpa became the man I wanted to be like. Every now and then he would glance in the rearview mirror as he switched lanes and I would look too but all I could see where the tips of the fishing poles sticking out in the back of the pick-up. They seemed naked and out of place.

We fished at lake Issac. We rented a small two-seater boat and rowed to the middle of the lake. There was a heart carved on the seat with the initial A + D inside of the heart. I traced it with my nail. I sat in between my grandpas’ legs and rowed or at least I thought I did. I went through the motions but my grandpa did the pushing and pulling. Once we were far away from the shore, somewhere in the middle of the lake, grandpa stopped rowing. We cast our lines and then waited. Grandpa said to be patient. He said that’s what fishing was all about.

“We learn to be patient and to sit still,” he said. “We learn to feel the motion. To go along with the movement of the water.”

  The breeze picked up and the mist from the water occasionally fell on my sunscreen covered arms and legs. We listened to Bob Dylan songs on the portable radio that my grandpa had brought along.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

“How are you doing in school?” He asked.

“I got an A in history.”

“In Maths?”

I looked at the oblique dancing light of the sun in the water.

“B-.”

He tapped the brim of my hat. I pushed my hat back up.

“You need to study more.”

“Yessir.”

He tossed me a bag of chips and he took one for himself and we both ate listening to Dylan’s raspy voice, watching the fishing lines slowly move up and down with the rhythm of the water and feeling the warm touch of the sun. Every now and then my grandpa would hum parts of Dylan’s tunes and mimic the raspiness as he sang a few words out loud.

The sun was passed it’s prime for the day and fell on my back. There weren’t any clouds and the sky, in a way, mirrored the lake water. Clear, blue, endless and daunting.

“Mom said you were sick,”

“Did she?”

“Are you?”

He crumpled the empty chips bag and stuffed it into his bag pack.

“I am.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I don’t think so. Not this time.”

The sunlight seemed only to fall on me. Grandpa smiled.

“Want some orange juice?”

I fell asleep sometime in the afternoon. By the time I woke up, grandpa was rowing back to the shore with an ice bucket full of fishes. He said that I snore a lot for a kid my size. I said I didn’t snore. He smiled. Bob kept on singing about war, death, and change and I ate my sandwich and washed it down with the last sip or two of the orange juice.

Since that day I’ve had this reoccurring dream. I feel like this trip was the catalyst for my perpetual dream because in my dream, I am rowing in a little two-seater boat just like my grandpa’s and the wood is chipped and scratched in the same places and it even has the same love initials carved into it. I am rowing in the middle of an ocean and I can’t see land at all, no birds, no fishes, the water is perfectly still except for the bit I disturb with my push and pull. The only other thing that is a constant in my dream is the sun. No clouds to block it’s touch, no hat to cover me. It was me, the boat, the oars, the water, and the sun. Those are the only qualities that are the same. My attire changes every now and then. No more shorts and stained Mickey Mouse t-shirts, they are replaced by buttons ups and khaki pants. Sometimes the empty seat is occupied. But what never changes is that I am there, the sun is there, the oars are there, the boat is there and all of us are floating on an ocean, even the sun seems to float on an upside-down ocean.

The first time I had this dream my grandpa was there. His foot tapped along to his own humming and he hummed Desolation Road. The oars peacefully dipped in and out of the water. I wanted to say something but no sound came from my lips. We just stared at one another as I rowed nowhere but there was no sense of worry. The light from the rising sun fell upon my grandpa’s back, he shielded its rays from me and he had a smile on his face as he glowed from the light. His crystal blue eyes teared up but I felt like the one who was crying. After he passed I stopped dreaming about him. It was like he had fulfilled some rite or ritual by showing me how to row and now he could move on.

When I graduated high school I took a year off from studying. In that year I went to Vietnam and Thailand. I spent a week visiting my cousins in Australia and I had plans of going to Japan but those fell through. I had the same dream often that year. But for some reason it was unclear like I had been staring at the same spot for too long and the surroundings became blurry. I could clearly see my hands on the oars but the oars themselves were out of focus. The water was lighter. The horizon foggy but there was no fog. The sun seemed to be a distant star from another galaxy.

Once that year was over, I started university. The dream started to return to its clarity again.

I once mentioned my dream to this girl I was seeing. We were laying in bed, her head on my chest, we were coming down from both a literal high and a spiritual one, having just made love.

“You ever feel like you’re just floating around, not knowing where you’re headed?”

“How much did you smoke?” She laughed.

I brushed away her hair so I could look at the side of her face.

“I mean in general like in life or something.”

“I’ve got a pretty good idea about that.”

“You do?”

“I’ve already started sending applications for my summer internship. Once I get that, along with my grades and volunteering hours I’ll be able to attend Columbia for my graduate program.”

“That simple?”

“I don’t think it’s simple. It’s going to take a lot of work but I’ll get there.”

We listened to some Beatles and then I told her about my dream. 

“That’s a pretty dream,” she said.

“You think so?”

“Sure. We should go fishing sometime.”

“Just pretty?”

“What else could it be?”

“I don’t know.”

She raised her head and looked at me.

“Do you want to talk about it some more?”

I shook my head.

“Not if you don’t find it significant.”

“Is it significant?”

“You tell me.”

She reached over to my bedside table for some smokes. She took a cigarette out and I helped her light it. She smoked and passed it to me.

“It’s kinda silly,” she said.

“What’s silly about it?”

“I don’t know. You just rowed around in some water by yourself. Doesn’t it seem silly?”

I handed her the smoke.

“It doesn’t to me. I think there must be some meaning to it if I keep dreaming about it.”

“Maybe.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Explain it to me.” She let me finish the cigarette.

“I can’t explain it. I don’t know. It’s not silly, that’s all I know.”

“Okay, it’s not.”

I had told her about my dream because she had been in the boat last time I dreamt it. She was wearing a sundress that revealed her slim ankles and a cream coloured straw hat which she wore on our first date. She needed that hat as the sun was above us. She was humming Yesterday. I suppose that’s why I told her about the dream. That song came on as we lay in each others arms and she began to hum it, I felt the vibrations from her throat in my chest, in my heart.

I probably dreamt of that boat more than twenty times but less than thirty and each time she was there, even after she passed away in a car accident. Only after I graduated did I find myself all alone on the boat. The sun blinding me without her being there to shield it.

There were other women in my life but none managed to come aboard. I waited for a couple, especially my wife, I thought surely she would meet me there but she never came.

I once brought that up during our couples therapy session. My wife, still my girlfriend then or was she my fiancé? All I know for sure was that she was pregnant with our first child and the stress of the unexpected kid coupled with our work lives and perhaps her hormonal imbalances resulted in us seeking therapy as advised by my wife’s friend.

The therapist asked for a lot of money in exchange for simple questions that you may find in a fortune cookie. What’s bothering you? Is there something you wish to say but haven’t been able to put into words? Have you tried seeing things from her perspective?

One time we were asked to come alone so it was me and this therapist who seemed too young and too pretty to know about problems let alone have ways to fix them. When I think about a therapist I think of sages, old wise men, hell, even Gandalf or some wizard who can snap their fingers and make all that is wrong, right again.

The therapist asked if there was something I wanted to tell her now that my soon to be wife wasn’t in the room. I shook my head. This was her idea and I had nothing to say.

“Nothing at all?” She asked.

“Nada.”

“Just try and think of anything. Even something as small as the way she says hello or perhaps the way she sits.”

I thought for a moment.

“She never came on the boat,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

I told the therapist about the dream. The sun was descending. It no longer blinded me and yet I could not help but feel even blinder, lost, alone rowing endlessly watching the water swell as if something was about to break the surface, break the calm and I wanted, I needed, someone there with me.

The therapist normally had this rhythm about her when she talked as if she were a calculator and one had to punch an equation in and the answer appeared instantly. The only difference being that instead of answers she spat out more questions. But now, at least for a moment, an error sign flashed as if I had plugged in an incomputable number.

When she finally spoke she asked if I dreamt of this often.

“When I was in college I kept track of the dream for a year and in that year I dreamt of it a hundred and sixty-five times.”

“The same dream?”

“For the most part.”

She picked up her notepad. “Please explain any change or differences.”

“Well at first the sun was half consumed by the shoreline.”

“First?”

“When I was about ten or eleven.”

She wrote that down.

“When I started keeping track of it that year in college, the sun was directly above me.”

“And now?” She asked.

“It had started to descend.”

“It’s setting?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it’s setting but it’s on its way. Maybe in a normal day it’s about four pm, I think, so a couple hours before it really sets.”

“I see.”

Her pen scribbled with quickness and she flipped the page of her notebook.

“Does it anger you that your wife isn’t there?”

“No,” I said. “It doesn’t make me angry or sad or petty. I was just curious that’s all.”

“You believe if she were on the ship—”

“Boat.”

“Boat. If she were on the boat then the two of you would have fewer problems?”

I thought about that for a few minutes. The therapist was used to awkward silences but I wasn’t so I answered even though I was still thinking about it.

“No that sounds unlikely.”

“Have you told your partner about this dream?”

“No.”

“Any reasons why?”

“I don’t think she’ll understand.”

“Understand what exactly?”

I took a sip of water.

“Do you think it’s silly?”

“Not at all,” she said.

“Did you always know you wanted to be a psychologist?”

“Not always but when I sat down to think about it I was drawn towards helping people.”

“So you always knew where you were going?”

“For the most part, I guess.”

“That must be nice.”

“You don’t feel the same?”

I finished the glass of water. “When I sat down to think about it I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to do. Things just kinda happened, you know, I never planned for none of it, I feel like I’m always catching up to things, trying to steer the right way as the wind changes. Sometimes it feels like it’s all for nothing. Sometimes I feel like I wasted my life. I don’t know. I feel like, I feel like—-” I don’t know why I started to cry.

The alarm on her phone buzzed. Time was up. She said that we had made good progress and that next time she’d like to discuss what I said along with my wife. I asked her what she and my wife talked about but she said she can’t tell me that.

It was soon after my wife gave birth to our son and we stopped going to the counselor. I didn’t dream my dream for a long time after. Probably because of the stress of raising a little human and not knowing the instructions for it. Then came our marriage and then our daughter. In that time I realized I was an adult and that I was old.

I dreamt of it again after I took my son on his first fishing trip. It wasn’t even the trip that triggered it but rather the Dylan song that randomly came on. It’s strange how sometimes what we consider important and significant can slip from our memory. I had spent a good part of my twenties thinking about this dream and then it’s significance almost left me. I guess having kids can do that too you. Their needs takeover your own and you spend your time thinking about them to the point where you forget to think about yourself. I told my son about my dream and like a kid he asked about the boat and what it looked like, if it was wet, if the water was cold, if I had sun screen on, a life jacket and if I was afraid of sharks. If it wasn’t for his line catching I would still be answering his questions.

That night I dreamt it and my son was there. Almost identical to what I had worn when I first dreamt of the dream. I could not see the sun but I felt its presence behind me. The setting sun cast a faded blood like image on the sky.

Another thing I noticed was that I was no longer rowing. My son was. He didn’t know how to. I could see the strain in his face and feel the rhythmless pushing and pulling. I wanted to reach out and show him how it’s done. To tell him how to breathe in and out with the oars and feel the water, using it to help you rather than fight against it. But I woke up before I could say or do anything.

As we ate breakfast that morning my son started to hum Times They’re a Changing.

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“You were singing it in my dream.”

He said the sun was rising behind me.

Poem: Before It’s All Up

Passing of the day,

the sun goes down,

another grain goes under,

how much time do I have left?

 

The seconds, minutes, hours,

daily, weekly, monthly, yearly,

all of it seems to go by,

all of life seems to go by,

yesterday a child,

today a child but grown,

tomorrow, nothing,

how much time before I go back home?

 

Before it’s all gone,

before it’s all for nothing,

before I set,

I wish to live,

simple, loving, alive living,

to spend the time my way,

am I that privileged?

 

I hope I haven’t used my luck thus far,

I hope I still have some in my back pocket,

so I can fail some more,

so I can laugh some more,

so I can feel some more,

before it’s all no more.

 

Eventually, my time will be up,

luck will be up,

life will be up,

remember, remember.

 

Poem: Freedom

Living on borrowed time,

wasting it as if tomorrow is a real thing,

all around are dying people,

you are one of them,

yet, in your actions, you act immortal,

thinking that you could borrow some more time,

not understanding that you have no say over how much time you were given when you first cried out in this world,

still crying about useless things,

wasting your breath,

precious breath,

the inevitable marches on,

avoiding thinking about it,

inevitably it will catch you,

today, tomorrow, one day, someday,

till then there are really only two choices,

keep acting like you’re immortal,

or accept your mortality,

with acceptance comes freedom,

freedom to live the seconds you have left,

with avoidance comes slavery,

thinking there is a tomorrow,

a slave no more,

death sets you free,

all around us is death,

I am dying,

and so I am free.

Bruce Lee On The Importance Of Being A Quality Human Being

You know how I like to think of myself? As a human being.

For Bruce Lee, it was important to identify himself as a human first before any race, gender or ethnicity. By emphasizing his humanity over anything else, it helped him transcend social and cultural barriers and at the same time, it allowed him to think broadly and to have his philosophy be attainable to any individual.

However, Bruce Lee’s goal wasn’t simply to be human. Rather, it was to be a human of “quality”.

The function and duty of a human being, a “quality” human being, that is, is the sincere and honest development of potential and self-actualization.

Self-actualization means to achieve one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world. Simply put, to become the best version of yourself.

In order to fulfill one’s own potential, it is important to hone the ability to self-reflect. Self-reflection can allow us to detach momentarily. To see our own flaws and limitations so we know the areas we need to improve or strengthen.

We can ask ourselves: What habits do we need to break? What habits do we need to start? Where do we lack knowledge? Are we too passive? What part of our life requires immediate action?

For Bruce Lee, his goal was to actualize himself and he believed that should be the goal of all humans.

To promote the growth process and develop human potential:

To get through social role playing

To fill in the holes in the personality to make [one] whole and complete again.

The social role-playing part is important as well. We are social creatures and we have to do well by our community. It’s not a selfish attitude that Bruce Lee advocated but rather he believed in actualizing ourselves by performing our social duties to the best of our ability while improving upon our flaws. Both can go hand in hand. If we become the best version of ourselves then the ripple effects of that are felt by our friends, families and the community we live in. At the same time, by dedicating ourselves to being a productive member of society, it can help move us closer to our ideal state.

What the hell; you are what you are, and self-honesty occupies a definite and vital part in the ever-growing process to become a “real” human being and not a plastic one. Somehow, one day, you will hear “hey, now that’s quality; here is someone REAL.” I’d like that.

The key to being a quality human being is self-honesty. If we lie to ourselves and run away from who we currently are then there can be no improvement. Other people can point out our flaws but it’s easy to rationalize that truth and act as if other people are wrong. It’s also important to understand that who we currently are isn’t what we have to be. Bruce Lee also advocated constant change and this change has to come from within. We can only improve and grow if we wish to and in order to do this, we need to be honest with ourselves. Brutally honest about somethings. It can be uncomfortable to pick at our own flaws but there really is no other way to inch towards self-actualization. There needs to be constant ownership and accountability of our own actions. Perhaps in this manner, one day, someone can look at us and say “here is someone real,” just as Bruce Lee was.

Book referenced: Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living 

Poem: For One Moment

Most lives are spent unexamined,

borrowing beliefs of others,

changing with the wind,

rotten core, cracked foundation, generational opinions,

never understanding the only person you can ever understand.

 

Most lives are spent in desperation,

trying to stay alive,

trying to feed kids,

trying to find love,

trying.

 

Most lives are spent dying,

death of dreams,

death of expectations,

death of love,

death of oneself.

 

For one moment,

I want to see myself,

for one moment,

I want to do rather than try,

for one moment,

I want to be alive,

before it all goes away.