Monday, April 26, 2010

Three Years Ago Today

I was watching my father die. It would be his last day with us.

It was, without a doubt, the most difficult time of my life. In the weeks preceding the 27th of April, 2007, I watched him stop eating. He slept for hours a day. He soiled himself and was humiliated by the failure and betrayal of his body.

Three years ago today, I sat in his bedroom, singing to him, playing *his* guitar, while he barely smiled. Still, I could tell he was happy, even if I could not complete any song without losing my voice. But no matter how poorly I sang, every time I looked over, he was smiling.

I struggled with his earnest request to "help him" to give him enough morphine so that he could "go". I remember, heartbroken, telling him I'd look into it, even though he was asking me to kill him. I agonized for days as I researched how much a dosage he would need to be done, to do for him the last thing he asked of me. And, in the end, he saved me from that decision. The next morning, he made his own decision. He saved me from having to kill him. Thank you for that, my father.

Like I said, it was the hardest time in my life.

So, I'd like to thank some people who were there for me in ways only they could help.

Denise, my wife. You gave me immeasurable support during this time. You were there for him in so many ways, which meant you were there for me. I don't think I can thank you enough. Thank you for loving me, for loving him, and being there.

Jessica and Sarah, my daughters. You each were there for me in ways, not so much substantial but with a presence that reassured me during this difficult time. It was so important to me.

Kerry, my present wife and partner. Though you never got to meet him, and were thrown into the after-drama of his death, you accepted it with a grace and purpose that cemented my love for you.

Jack, good and trusted friend. Thank you for talking me through the myriad questions of what Dad wanted and helping me figure out if I could give him what he wanted, even though I didn't have to. I don't think I could have had that conversation with anyone else.

Marla, my good friend and confidant. You helped me through an aftermath of his death that no one should ever endure. Your patience and validation was everything I needed. Thank you.

So that is today. I have no idea what tomorrow will be like. At 8:30 in the morning tomorrow I have a conference call. I will be at work, so I figured it would be better to get this out today.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Soldier Suicides

It has been reported that more soldiers have committed suicide than have died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. This might be a good time to post this:

Mars On Love and War v3

Copyright 4/8/2007

Revised 6/10/2009

Donn Christianson

This is a spoken piece, best presented by a single speaker. A monologue.

I come to you – Mars; God of war, warrior’s Father.

Under my watchful eye, your men, and now women, carry shields, and wield weapons dire, in foreign lands.

Not in my name but in yours.

And yet, what is it that you do?

You send loved ones off to my realm.

They leave behind the peace and beauty of your arms, the bliss of your beds – and for what?

It matters not. To warriors, it matters not why you send them. It matters not why you allow your countries to send them.

They go. They swore an oath, so they go.

I will not send them all home.

I will not send them all home whole.

They shall not return to you unchanged.

Yet, when I do, when I return them to you…

Love them. Broken though they may be; love them.

Embrace your warriors, for they need you in their next darkest hour – that of returning home.

Accept them. Love them, just as they are, just as I have returned them to you.

Hold them, if they stay silent.

Stand by them if they speak of whence the came and what they saw.

Calm each sleepless night with your loving embrace.

Soothe their nightmares.

Kiss away their loneliness.

Bathe them in your love and cleanse their souls.

Only then, only after you do this, only after you accept my warriors, your warriors -- as you have sent them and as they have been returned.

Then and only then, consider sending them back to me, Mars.

Once more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I am not things...

What is all this stuff I have, the possessions, the weight of things.
What is the need to have and to hold, to gather, hoard and keep.
I am not my things and they are not me.
They will be nothing when I last sleep.

This heaviness on my shoulders and the weight upon my back.
Of things bought, traded and collected along the way.
Carried through my days in boxes, trunks and bags.
What do things mean to me today?

I came into this world with nothing.
I will leave with nothing still.
I am not things and they not me.
I will not be remembered for the things I leave.

It will be my acts, my deeds.
My faults and strengths.
How I loved and failed.
How I loved and soared.

It will be memories raised though the days
of the people who knew me well.
That will make them smile and remember.
That I mattered to them in some small way.

I am not things and things not me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Murder or War and are they different?

A friend posted this link on facebook. If the link does not work, suffice as to say that it shows military personnel responding to a perceived threat and causing collateral deaths and injuries to adults and children.  It's raw and difficult to watch, especially for those that have not been there and don't understand the dynamics of the situation.

This is sad, unfortunate and, from my point of view, not surprising.  Having been in Iraq, worked with soldiers (both good and bad), and watching the video closely, I can completely understand how and why this happened.  This doesn't make the deaths of the apparently unarmed people any less tragic but, consider this:

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to walk around with large black items slung over your shoulder.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters  flying above, maybe it isn't a good idea to furtively crouch behind the cover of a wall with a long lens jutting around the corner.  As the soldiers said, it looked like an RPG, which have killed many soldiers in Iraq.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, maybe it's a monumentally stupid (though heroic at the same time) idea to drive into the battle zone in a vehicle to rescue them.

  • If you are in a war zone, with armed helicopters flying above, which have engaged a group of men, killing many and wounding others, why in the hell would you drive the aforementioned van into the battle zone with children in the vehicle?  Why?

    This is tragic beyond words but I'm not surprised that it happened. Soldiers are pretty determined to survive their missions and to protect their fellow soldiers during said missions. They will engage people they perceive to be a threat and they will eliminate that threat as quickly and as efficiently as they can. When engaging those you perceive to be hostile, you only have so much time to determine if that is the case.  You try to make the best decisions you can and only shoot the bad guys. You want to go home and you want your friends to come home too.

    Unfortunately, people who are acting like bad guys (carrying items that look like weapons from that distance, hiding behind walls carrying items that look like objects, pointing said objects around walls -- all the things that photographer was doing) but aren't hostiles, will be treated like bad guys.

    That is the tragedy that happened here.

    When I was in Iraq I faced multiple instances where people who were acting as threats barely escaped with their lives.  Here is one example.

    Just outside the perimeter of our base, the perimeter that was breached by people intent on stealing munitions which they used to manufacture IEDs, was a farmer's field.  There were signs all along the perimeter, in English and Arabic, warning people to stay away at least 100 yards from the perimeter.  That sign said that deadly force was authorized.

    It was near sundown. We got a call that there was a pickup truck about 30 yards from the fence.  There were two men digging behind the body of the truck, hidden from the view of the Iraqi guards in the overlooking security tower.  The guards were nervous as they had been shot at before from near this location.   I arrived to find the truck where they said it was and two men crouching down behind it.

    Now they could have been fixing a flat, tying their shoes, readying an RPG to fire at the tower or setting up a mortar/rocket launch (this had happened just a week before on the south side of camp).

    From behind the cover of the tower, I engaged them with an interpreter.  As he ordered them to stand and raise their hands, I opened the covers on the scope of my M16-A2 rifle and tried to see what they were doing.

    One man raised his hands and stepped from outside the truck.  He started arguing with the interpreter about something while I looked for the other man.  Suddenly the other man stood up and started arguing too.  Then he lunged into the cab of the truck.  My weapon went from safe to burst fire as my cross hairs followed his shape. As I trained my sights on his dark shape, as my finger lay on the trigger of the rifle, he emerged with a long object in his hands. My sights steadied on his center of mass. I started taking up the slack in the trigger.  His buddy and the interpreter were yelling at each other.

    The object was long, dark and glinted of metal in the setting sun.

    He raised it out over the roof of the truck and brandished a *shovel* at me.

    A shovel.

    A goddamn shovel.

    My finger came off the trigger and I put the rifle back on safe.

    Fortunately for him and his friend, I spent $300.00 on a scope for my rifle before went to Iraq. Fortunately for him I was the one who was dispatched there (I was the only one with a 4x scope) instead of one of my colleagues. At that distance, it would have been harder to see the details with the naked eye.  Fortunatly for him, I wasn't in a hurry to kill anyone but also wasn't going to break the promise I made to Denise, Jessica and Sarah that I'd come home.

    In that situation, he and his friend could very well have died at my hands that day.  Like the cameraman and journalist, they may have been found to be unarmed.  They may have been just digging a hole to plant some melons in an areas we told them they couuld not.  But they placed themselves in a dangerous sutiation, didn't comply with orders and acted in a manner that could easily be taken as threatening.

    So, tragic that the deaths of the journalists may be,  I understand why the soldiers in the video engaged those people.  I understand their congratulating each other on what they thought was a good shoot.  I completely get them protecting the soldiers on the ground.

    Let's not forget.  Even if you don't personally support the war, we, as a country, sent them there.

    We sent them there to deal with life and death, to deal out death if need be so they could come home alive to their families.

    We did that.

    We did.

  • Thursday, April 1, 2010

    On being a performer

    My friend, Courtnee, shared this:

    "Listen to the stage manager and get on stage when they tell you to. No one has time for the rock star act. None of the techs backstage care if you’re David Bowie or the milkman. When you act like a jerk, they are completely unimpressed with the infantile display that you might think comes with your dubious status. They were there hours before you building the stage, and they will be there hours after you leave tearing it down. They should get your salary, and you should get theirs.
    — Henry Rollins, Black Coffee Blues"

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    My inside voice

    "Yes, I clicked on the logout button. I'm sure I want to log out."

    "No, I will not take $375 sight unseen for my $500 item just because you spent all that energy sending me an email in response to my craigslist ad."

    "No, you cannot use my photograph on your web page for your show, which you are charging tickets for, without asking my permission."

    "Your logic is impeccable but the problem is here; your first assumption was that 1 + 1 = 3."

    "Why yes, I'd love you send me a phony cashiers check for the motorcycle I have for sale. I'd like nothing more than to waste as much of your time as possible so you don't hook some unsuspecting loon into your false shipping scheme."

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010

    How to do business

    So I have this guitar for sale on Craigslist. It used to be my father's. It has some sentimental value but, that isn't what is determining the price.

    It's an older guitar (made in the late thirties), likely a Harmony, per the two professionals who have played and worked on it. Both of them said it was worth "around a grand" to a collector, based on how it plays and the condition.

    Based on what they said about the guitar, I put it up for sale at a starting price that I think is reasonable. I'm open to in person reasonable offers on the guitar. I don't expect to get my asking price, but I'll listen to what folks are willing to pay when they play it.

    I get this email from a guy who who claims to be the owner of a local used music store. are a few excerpts:

    "your guitar is worth $350-400 no matter what it means to you personally

    you should keep it

    only a fool would pay even half what you ae asking. Its cool, you just clearly are clueless about its value"

    Not a good opening...badmouthing the price (a common tactic) and calling me clueless. But then...

    "Also, this guitar was not made in the 30s but rather the mid to late 40s or early 50s.

    Your ad is dishonest sicne Harmony was not even a company then"

    Accusing me of dishonesty. I'm not being dishonest. I'm going on what I was told about the guitar by experts and what I could find in research.

    It may not be a Harmony -- it's what the luthiers thought it likely was.

    But wait, there's more..


    youll see. bring it down to my store.

    I own Trading Musician. I have dozens of your guitar

    So, a person who calls himself the owner of Trading Musician wants an idiot to bring a guitar down to his store so he can...wait for it...wait for it...see the end.

    "You are one ignorant bitch

    some people you just cant reach

    put it on ebay and watch what happens big man

    you just have no clue.

    noone in their right mind told you that guitar was worth $1100

    It was sold by Sears and Roebuck in the 50s"

    Readers may note that my father owned this guitar when he was 13, during WWII.

    "It is a cheapass guitar that doesnt even have a trussrod to adjust the neck

    you will be lucky to get $400

    slow learner. again, bring it to my store.

    I will give you $300 cash"

    wait for it...

    Offer me $300 cash.

    What a business man. Why, I think I'll run right down there today, just because I've been browbeaten into selling it.

    Here's the thing. The guitar may not be worth what I was told it was. I'm trying to represent it as best I can. The price may be too high but I'm completely open to offers from people with respect and manners. If someone comes and plays it, loves it, and even offers me half of what I'm asking, I just might sell for that amount. Respect and manners go a long way.

    I will admit that I did not respond kindly to this tactic in email but, hey, I'm not the one trolling Craigslist and insulting sellers to get a good deal.

    So, if the owner of the music store does business like this, people should know about it and take it into account.

    Hence the Yelp review. :)

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    The Plan -- and a change.

    It's good to have a plan, to figure things out, to plot, conspire, until you have just the right path to take to, dare I say it, rule the world?

    Well, my world, at least.

    I've been thinking about stuff, and lost dreams.

    I've been thinking of all the plans I made (be an architect, a photographer, a writer, a pilot, a cop) that didn't come to fruition, for whatever reason. Everyone has false starts, dreams that never come true once you wake up and have to go commute an hour to the job that pays the bills that keeps your lovely wife and beautiful children in a home, with good health care, in a good school system, in a community 40 miles from where you really want to live.

    And now they are gone, grown, out on their own, and you have a chance to live the life you dreamed of, you read about, you drew up plans for that never got executed because the needs of other people came first above your own. I'm a Daddy - it's my job.

    But, it's not my job anymore. I am answerable to myself and my new wife.


    What now?

    Well, the house is for sale.

    My guitars, my books, my bicycles, my motorcycles, my bar, my tools, my furniture, guns, gun safe, ballistic vest (interesting life, no?), the movies, the records, the stereo, computer, not the art -- it goes in storage, the stuff I don't need to carry anymore -- it's all for sale.

    And, we are moving, after the house sells.


    To a yacht, on Lake Union, the Ship Canal, or Shilshole Bay, to live simply, in a small space, that is a sailboat.

    And when the muse strikes us, to slip lines, raise a bridge or two with a sixty foot mast, and take our hearts and our souls to the open water; living an adventure under sail, on the water, with the clouds as our shade, and the wind as our horses.

    Wait till you see the chariot.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010


    George Carlin (bless his departed soul -- wait, he didn't believe in God), once said, "you need a place for your stuff. Then you get more stuff. Then you need a bigger place for your stuff. Then you get more stuff..."

    To that, I ask, "what if you got rid of your stuff?"

    What if you got a place so small you can't get more stuff.

    Would that free you from stuff?

    It just may.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    The Freedom of the New

    I just returned from seeing Undine, at Theater Off Jackson. Following the wonderful performance by Faith Helma, there was a panel discussion moderated by Brendan Kiley of The Stranger. The subject was the balance between creating new works (Undine was a new work) against the presentation of older, established works in Seattle.

    I don't have much to say at length about theater -- I'm a baby actor by the standards of these people; definitely not one of the cool kids playing at the local fringe theaters.

    What I do have is an observation, spurred by the statement of a young actor who sat behind me. He does new works because he wasn't getting cast. He didn't fit into the "suits" people expected him to fill (as a side note, he was also asian).

    I could see the value in this.

    Also, it comes to me that the draw of both presenting and seeing new work, for me, is that -- get this -- there is nothing to compare it to. True, that does not free the performer from putting forth good work, from breaking their hearts and backs for the audience. What it does do is free the audience from comparison to how someone did it before. They aren't seeing a presentation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and comparing it to a previous run at a fringe or established theater. They are free to experience the new, here, now, without the burden of past experience seeing that performance.

    One of the things I have marveled in, and discussed with other actors, in doing new things is hearing us/them fret about getting a word in a line wrong. Letting that meta-worry get in the way of craft. When that happens, I remind them, and myself, that the audience has not read the script. They have never seen it before. Therefore you can free yourself of your petty fears and give them the best, the most fearless, the most risky performance of your life.

    Then again, the are taking a chance on coming to see you.

    That is the freedom and the risk of of new work.

    And that is why it's worth doing.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Your Baggage, Your Fears, You Carry Them

    I went riding with my wife the other day. We took our scooters over the 520 bridge in Seattle. It was her first freeway trip on the new scooter after a couple weeks of riding around town. It seemed about time to stretch the legs of the new Scarabeo 200, seeing as we have been talking about taking longer road trips this spring and summer.

    Upon posting the news of our little adventure (minor really in the realm of experienced riders), on Facebook, she received a lot of cheering and support from her friends.

    However, one of our concerned friends posted this:

    "You're scaring the shit outta me. This is not good. Sorry I'm not supporting you're adventuring, but i think scooters on freeways afre a terrible idea. i wouldn't even drive a SmartCar on the freeway"

    Two more pipe up in support of the fearful friend.

    Now, as a motorcyclist of over 35 years with over 300,000 riding miles under me, I am not surprised at this reaction. Many non-riders have reactions like this.

    If they aren't our friends they spout off about the dangers of motorcycling, calling us crazy, or organ donors and the like.

    If they are our friends, they express concern about our safety, but the message is basically the same and it comes from the same place.

    Where do these opinions or concerns come from? They come from the speaker's own fears.

    Now, I've gotten used it, being exposed to it my entire riding career. I've smiled and said nothing at times. At others I've tried to educate. When I read this concern by a friend, I was at a different place this time.

    That place was, "Oh, fuck you."

    By the way, I mean that in the friendly, at the bar, just had a drink, calling a friend on their bullshit, New York, "Fuck You."

    Why so direct and crude? Why not have more patience with it? Allow me to elaborate.

    None of these people will be convinced by my 30 years of accident free riding (yes, I had two accidents in the first two years). Their story won't change if I show them my riding gear (full armored suit, full face helmet, good gloves and boots). They won't be swayed by the fact that I am a former Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor. Often, they will continue to rail against the dangers of riding, some of them as they roll down the road in their single occupancy SUV, talking on their cell phone, not paying attention to the task of driving.

    The speaker was scared. They said so. That was not good as far as they were concerned. They were so scared that, in fact, they had to apologize for not supporting our "adventuring" while going on to condemn it even more. Then they went on to tell us that riding scooters (even very road worthy scooters with motorcycle level brakes and suspension) on freeways was a terrible idea. Why they wouldn't even do what we did in one of the safest compact cars on the planet.

    Oh yeah, you bet.

    I love you my friend but, sincerely, Fuck You.

    Why do I say that?

    I don't see a reason to live my life based on whether someone else is scared about something I'm doing.

    I don't see a reason to change my behavior, my adventures, just because someone else judges it "not good". Don't people do that to us all the time? Why do we forget how it feels when we are doing it to others?

    If you are going to apologize then apologize for what you did, not to excuse what you have just said, as you go and continue with your diatribe against my decisions.

    If you are going to tell me that something I am doing is a bad idea, then I'll weigh my own experience against yours. In this case, you have been riding two wheeled vehicles exactly how long, how many miles, with what training?

    Because, while I acknowledge that the message may have come out of emotional concern, even from a friend, the manifestation was one of foisting the speakers fear on us.

    That's right; foisting their fear, asking us to carry their baggage, dumping it on us while my wife posted about a triumph, an accomplishment in her riding career. In other words -- raining on our parade.

    My friend, well meaning though they may be, should have either kept their fears to themselves or gone and seen a therapist about them.

    As my wife and I talked about the response, my beautiful, wonderful, who I could not imagine living my life without, girl asked me, "So, would you have any regrets if I were killed while riding?"

    "No," I said. "I'd be heartbroken but not regretful. Not if you were doing what you love. I would only regret if I didn't take the opportunities I have to help you learn to be a better rider so you can enjoy it and be safer."

    As I sit here thinking about it, I'd likely ride to her funeral.

    So, thanks for your concerns, friend but, we can't carry your fears right now. We're busy.

    "Sometimes, living is more than just breathing in and out." -- Dave Svboda