Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Story of One Of Us

One of Us

We all know this vehicle. On days when we are behind it, we are saying goodbye to someone we love. On other day we may be frustrated because it is holding up traffic and we have somewhere we have to be. Then, there is the day we may be in the back of one.

Today, a very dear woman who I knew was in this one as I took the shot. I had just officiated her funeral. I was asked to by the family, which I thought was nice and touching which is why I agreed even though my ordination is more technical than active. 

Less than an hour before the service, I found out from her daughter, Mimi, that one of Virga's dying wishes was that no one else other than me perform the service. I think she knew that I was no longer an active minister and I do not think she cared. I was one of her dying wishes and that moved me on a level I could not explain. 

I call this the story of us. This is her story.

My first significant conversation with her was when I buried one of her little ones. A woman I went to high school with who was the mother of one of the kids in my youth outreach. I sat and spoke with her as she wore her broken heart on her sleeve and we bonded. We talked about her religious journey and the people she buried and how she was not ready to say goodbye to her loved one that day. Later, she thanked me for making it okay for her to say goodbye to Reka.

Virga was born in 1926 at only two and a half pounds as a premature birth delivered by a neighbor. As a little girl raised by share croppers, she would pick peanuts and cotton in the fields.  She would grow to be a young woman who served her country during WWII by working in a factory that made powdered eggs for the troops overseas.

In 1944 she got married to her true love and they would move to Chicago. She would go on to work for Western Electric for 40 years building circuits for telephones.

She would lose 4 babies, but successfully have and raise 3 others. They would give her 8 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren. Never to be outdone by anyone, she took pride in her abilities as a seamstress and a cook.

She was loved by everyone and the neighborhood kids would come to her as the mom for all. She took this role for 3 generations and touched the lives of five. She lived a life that was hard and full of loss and pain that began at birth and ended hooked to machines to do what her kidneys could not.

She hated every treatment, but she felt to stop would be suicide or quitting. She wanted death, but on her terms. And that meant fighting on. To spend another day with her family and tell another story.

I saw tears in the eyes of 4 generations as I spoke. Some of them were the kids from my youth outreach. They are no longer kids. They are no longer teens. Some are married or have kids. They have jobs and college degrees and lives.

Without knowing it, Virga and I were loving the same people who needed love. We were partners in love. Together we made a difference and we did not know it.

To give her rest and tell her story was...and honor.

She had a heart of gold and the world lost a treasure. I just thought you should know a little about her.

A few facts will not sum up a person.

All I can tell you is that her smile could light up a room. Her light was pure and honest and loving and kind and strong and bright burning fire. She was amazing. She was interwoven into the fabric of so many hearts and we are forever connected through that.

I wish the angels in our lives could stay with us forever and never die. But that is not how things work. They die. We lose them. We have been handed a lovely legacy and it is now on us to love as she had.

I still do not know why she chose me. Why she insisted it be me. I am glad she did. I am humbled and honored she did.

I miss her.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Yesterday I took some amazing urban shots from rooftops I was not supposed to be on. I knew the pics were right, I did not have to look at the screen to know this. The very screen that would tell me that my memory card was not in the camera. Rather, it was sitting in my Mac in my bedroom. Yep. I did that.

So, if I needed a substitute, I figured something from a Eucharist or communion where some see Jesus as a substitutional atonement for the sins of mankind would work. It sparked some interesting emoitons as I have not looked at these shots in awhile. This particular set of elements was the day I was ordained. This shot was taken less than an hour before I would be surrounded by bishops blessing me and ordaining me into the lineage of apostolic succession. It was a day filled with emotions that were hopeful and proud of a long and arduous journey. It was a day full of dreams and hopes that would have to be substituted.

Life has not gone the way I planned it. Today's entry and picture did not go the way I planned it. The day did not go the way I planned it.  When I focused on my plans not working out, I was frustrated. When I changed my focus to the things that made me laugh and smile today while shooting from the hip, it was okay.

Back then I hated having to substitute one plan for another. One dream for another. It felt like the end of the world. I did not like things outside of my control. I did not like people in the way of progress. I could not accept or abide it. Sometimes I still do not.

And when I focus on the wrong thing, I am miserable. When I let the change happen and change the plan and expectations, it seems to be all right.

Recently some expectation that were not mine to make alone did not go the way I planned. And in my resistance to the change, I almost lost the core of one of the most precious gifts in my life. It was only after I stood at the precipice near the point of no return...something else happened and everything changed.

Was it the expectation? No. But it looks like where it is going is even more beautiful and honest and good.

The Dali Lama once said:

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

Plans do not work out.

Things happen.

We can substitute and still be true to us.

Sometimes the plans we make are not ours to make.

Yep. I think I covered it all.

Human Wheels

Human Wheels
This is the exterior of the historical Graue Mill in Oak Brook, Illinois. It is a grist mill. The large exterior wheel outside driven by water powers a series of mechanisms that ultimately did (and does) one thing and one thing very well. The turning wheel and its machines grind grain into flour. 

Fredrick Graue saw a different wheel turning and used the building for another mechanism. The human wheel of history and freedom. The Graue Mill housed runaway slaves in the basement under his watch as a stop in along the underground railroad. 

In this area of Illinois, there were many stops like this. But this is the only one in the county that remains with nothing more to tell the story of their humble role in history and humanity save a few words written on a wall in the mill.

So beyond the history lesson, why does it matter? What compelled me to go there for two days and shoot many shots and share this one?

For the human wheels of history to move forward, we need scoundrels and rogues and rule breakers. Looking back we all know human slavery is wrong and we celebrate the underground railroad. 

The slaves who ran and the people who coordinated the paths and stops to bring them to space where they could live free were criminals. The act of a reprobate. 

The right thing is often a subversive act. Many will not understand why you are doing the right thing. Sometimes you will feel like you are a lone drum beating in the night. The right thing is not always the easy thing or even the legal thing, but it is the right thing.

Grist mills have been common and ordinary since mid evil  times. This one had a remarkable secret inside for a period. We are common and ordinary as well, but we have within us the rogue spirit that can do things in secret that will change lives.

I know a single mom who will not only do anything for her kids and her few carefully chosen friends, but will go the extra mile for special needs children or neglected children at the school she works at part time and will be helping prison inmates soon. I know a pastor in a small church who does what many churches claim to do, but do not...she accepts all and her unique family (congregation) shows that fact. I know a taxi driver with a rap sheet who will educate whomever will listen about the nuances of race relations from a place of love and knowledge. There is an artist who fights every day for the freedom of her daughter while working a shitty job who will be there for a friend regardless what she has on her plate. There is a model who works hands on with GLBT children who are homeless. I know others. They will not be remembered by the history books and they will never tell their own story. When the time is right and the picture is right, I may tell their stories. Even if I do not, their stories matter to the ones who need them. 

I don't tell my story often. I try to do my part. That is all I will say about that. 

Be the rogue if it is right. Be the scoundrel. Be a simple ordinary vessel capable of the extraordinary.

The wheel of history needs us all. 

Even if we are forgotten.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Back when I was a Taxi Driver I found this space completely by accident. This is the old abandoned Iron works. It goes on for acres and acres. Once upon a time, Joliet was known as the city of stone and steel. Many of those once glorious and state of the art mills and factories are now closed and abandoned like this one.

One night we had a major thunderstorm and the seemingly unthinkable happened. The 2 way radios went out and half of Joliet lost power. I looked at my phone and found out there were tornadoes nearby. Lost in the dark with pouring rain and only frequent lightning to show me a path I got turned around in the dark.

I was on a gravel path with no clue where the hell I was and the wind was picking up. It was raining sideways. I was scared. I could not see it, but I could hear a tree fall not too far away from me. In the dark I saw a open warehouse door? Yes, it sure was! I turned into it. Suddenly the headlights were working and my wipers were no longer needed. I was inside an abandoned warehouse. The one in this picture. 

But it was not abandoned. Scared and huddled eyes could be seen in the headlights. They were the homeless. The homeless that could not get shelter in one of the many homeless shelters. Most of the time when that happens, they are either criminals, violent, suffer from emotional disorders, underage or a mixture of a few of the above. 

There were about a dozen of them, doing the very same thing I was. Seeking shelter from the storm that raged outside. With eyes upon me I opened the car door and slowly got out. I saw a few shrink back and one elderly black man with a white beard advance on me with a broken bottle in his hand. 

"Whoa, whoa whoa, old man," I said calmly and firmly with palms out in a sign of peace,"I ain't gonna hurt you and you ain't gonna hurt me. Okay?"

"What you doing here?" He screamed waving the broken bottle.

"Same as you," I replied, "trying to stay out of that storm."

"How did you get in here?" he demanded.

"I don't know," I said. "I don't even know where I am. All I know is I'm in an abandoned warehouse."

"Abandoned!" He laughed,"First sensible thing you said. Yeah, it's abandoned. We all abandoned. That makes you abandoned. We all abandoned. You got a smoke, son?"

"You put down that bottle, I got a square for ya."

He put down the bottle and I gave him a cigarette and lit it. I often kept a case of water in my trunk and this was one of those nights. Some of the others gathered around my taxi and we smoked cigarettes and drank bottled water while the storm raged on. One of them passed a bottle of clear liquid. I was offered some. I am not sure, but I may have taken a sip of gasoline. It was the worst home brewed liquor I ever tasted. 

We never exchanged names, we did not share our life stories. We mostly sat in silence watching the storm rage on. The storm passed and the radio came back on and I could see lights not too far away. I got back in my taxi and as I did the old man yelled after me,"You one of us now. You abandoned. We all abandoned together. You one of us." and then he laughed until he hacked and continued laughing anyway. 

Until just now, I never told a soul about how I rode out that storm or where I was. 

Often we feel abandoned and run down. Like the warehouse, we may feel good for nothing other than to be victims of random acts of vandalism further diminishing our worth and value. We may be like the homeless lives with no shelter, even from those spaces promising shelter in the name of a once homeless god. 

But in the midst of life's most violent storms, we the abandoned can sometimes find shelter in each other and an acceptance that needs no words...because we understand and are understood. In those moments, we realize that we can be alone together and we are abandoned together. Which makes us no longer alone or abandoned. It makes us beautiful survivors who understand the honesty and beauty of our shared existence. 

The Bridge Between Worlds

Bridge Between Worlds
Just so you know. This is an entire rewrite. I knew the picture was right, but what I wrote was wrong. All wrong. I was trying too hard. But I just finished a long conversation and now I know what to write.

This bridge is one of the busiest bridges in Joliet, Illinois. The canal divides one city into two with different identities. One is more suburban and middle class. The other side is more urban and lower class. One side has a pretty veneer or facade and is polite and the other side is raw and dangerous and honest. The bridge is how you get from one side to the other.

We are so much like that. We have different sides to our nature and at different points in life we are on different sides of the canal. We cross that bridge. When we are on the bridge, or even close to it, we can see both sides and we know that we have these two sides to us. Sometimes we raise the bridge to keep the sides separate and deny one side exists. We think we have two natures. But we are wrong. Just like this messy and beautiful city, we are one. We are diverse, we have different sides to us, but it is one person and to deny that is to deny ourselves.

We could gentrify and homogenize us, but like the residents of the city, we would diminish and harm and destroy a very real and lovely part of the diversity of us.

Stand on that bridge in your heart. Cross when you need to and accept that both sides are a part of you.

I will be honest. Sometimes the closer you are to the canal of the divide that is within you, it gets foggy and we often want things clear. But the demand for clarity is to deny the reality we live in.

We want things to be east or west, good or evil, black or white. Like most of my work, it is shades of grey and nuanced and sometimes a little blurry and out of focus.

As a long time resident near this city, I can tell you that the natures have changed over the years and there is no telling what the future will bring. The bridge has been there for over 80 years now and will continue as the natures of the two sides change.

Accept it and accept you. The bridge is meant to be crossed and there is only one you.

It's ok.

I promise.

Trust the whole of you and trust yourself.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Sunday Silence: Where the Photo Tells the Story: Empty

On Sunday's the photo speaks for itself. Happy Easter to all my Christian friends.

Storytelling Saturday's: The Circle

Introduction: I wanted to do something different on Saturday's the video storytelling was not connecting. On Sunday's I have a picture tell a story without words. So on Saturday we will try having a story paint a picture. My previous writings and book have been well received and I selfishly miss writing and it is my blog. So here we go:

I am a huge Bon Jovi fan. As a younger man it was all about the music. As I grew and got to know more about the artists, I connected with Jon Bon Jovi on matters of dreams, goals, philosophy and the need to try to make the world a better place.

The Circle, to this day, is my favorite album of theirs. It was a return to their roots with some amazing songs. But the title of the album was related to the band's inner circle. The circle of friendship is something that is hard to get into and even harder to leave.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently. She is a writer in Detroit and our conversations are very honest and transparent. In one of our conversations recently, she said this, "With all the shit you have been through, it is amazing that your heart is not pure steel by now. I love that I am in your inner circle. I get it. You let so few people inside those walls, but once they are inside, they are there for life with you."

My friends are some of the most beautiful people I know. There is one who saved my life over coffee.

We were sitting at a Starbucks, as was our habit, and I was pontificating on one thing or another and she laid a truth bomb on me.

"You are becoming so dark, Pat. All there is is anger and it is getting scary."

I knew how hard it was for her to say those words. Critique in compassion is not her thing. I looked at her and defended my anger even though I knew on a very fundamental level that she was right. The truth of the matter was, anger was the only thing keeping me from going numb, but the bitterness was consuming me like a cancer.

But I saw something else in her eyes. Fear. Not fear of me, but fear for me and the fear that she did not know how much longer she could stay in the circle and like my Detroit friend, she knew what the circle was and how few were inside it. It used to be a beautiful place, but it had become cold and desolate and dangerous. The thing is, she was deeper in the circle than almost anyone. Without her, what was left of the ecosystem inside would be thrown out of balance even more than it was.

Here I was, knowing she was right. But I secretly had stage 4 bitterness eating away at me and I was not doing anything about it. I put on a pleasant smile and changed the topics, but I knew that she knew it was bullshit and an act. She played her part and we went our separate ways.

I got less than a mile away before I stopped the car with my hands shaking and tears welling up in the back of the soul. I could not allow the tears. So I screamed punching the steering wheel and the ceiling of my car. I felt the pain as my knuckles cracked open and blood flowed from the right hand.  Then I prayed. "Fuck you old man. Fuck you. I served you for years and now I lose everything. What the fuck? You and the devil decided to have another go like your sick little bet with poor Job? Are you a vivisectionist dissecting hearts for your entertainment?" Then I spoke to myself. "Fuck you, Pat, You didn't lose everything. You lost stuff. You lost money. You fucked up a few things! This is your kingdom. You made this mess and now you are going to lose the last thing you have left. People. How many more? How many more will walk away? She was a lifer and she wants out! Who's next? Your kid?"

My heart was steel and the walls around the circle that once protected had become a fortress to keep all out. Inside was ruins. The beauty was buried under rubble.

Jeff Bridge's once said that, "Most cynics are really crushed romantics: They've been hurt, their sensitive, and their cynicism is a shell that's protecting this tiny, dear part of them that's still alive."

When that part dies, there is nothing left. Over coffee I learned it was dying and I did not know what to do. I had no fight left in me. I knew I needed to find the fight because time was running out.

When I take pictures in the night. It is not the darkness that I am fascinated with. It is the light that shines in the darkness that allows us to see. We do not see light itself, but light allows us to see. I think CS Lewis said that.

As I wrap this up, I know this is not a story. Consider this the introduction to the reason for the work. Everything I write and every photo I share is part of the struggle back to life. It is not only my tale of rising from the ashes to bask in the moonlight that pierces the darkness and my quest for the dawn, but it is also my genuine hope that it connects with the darkened hearts of others and inspires.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Time Neglected

Time Neglected
Presence is a pretty popular concept right now. Like meditation and yoga, presence has been removed so far from it's roots and repackaged in such a manner that it can happen at your favorite zumba club for a fee. I am about to do the same thing, but I hope I honor the Buddhists who taught me how to embrace it and made me aware of how I neglect it.  

At it's core, presence is paying attention to life and appreciating it as it happens. We live so much of our life on auto pilot that we miss the moments. When we miss the moments we have neglected time. We have missed now. When things change we may look back upon the now we missed and wish we had spent more time aware of that moment. Enter the viscous cycle of time neglected. When we realized we missed moments and focus on those we missed, we are not seeing what is about us right now. 

So what? Regret, fear, anxiety and so much more comes from those moments where we compare the past or the future to now. We wish we had or had not, we worry that this may or may not happen. When we stay in what happened or worry about what may happen we neglect and miss what is happening. 

In my path of neglected time and neglected now, I have lived with regrets and anger with a dash of deep sadness. In that path I have also worried about tomorrow. In that state things got darker and darker. Then came the morning I woke up in a hospital bed and looked around gingerly feeling staples in the back of my neck. A nurse came in, saw my expression. As she checked my vitals she looked at me and simply said, "Today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday." I stared at her blankly. "The good news is," she continued,"is that you are here now."

A few days ago I had a wonderful moment. That moment was tied into so much of my past, that had I focused on what happened, what was happening may never have gone the way it did and beauty would have been lost.

This moment matters. Right now. Every moment is precious time passing. Will we embrace it or neglect it?

Pay attention to life. Don't neglect it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lost In the Woods

Lost In The Woods
I used to run a wonderful youth aid outreach called YASO.  The teens and young adults sometimes compared me to Captain Mal Reynolds. Highly encouraging for the ego, I assure you. Anyway, one time some of us in the leadership were discussing a serious issue. I stepped away for a cigarette because I was tense. As I walked back in I heard one young man say,"We're lost in the woods, even Pat." My co leader, Dana, said, "The only difference is, he likes it that way."  I walked in and said, "The only difference is the woods are the only place I can see a clear path."

It used to be true. Being lost with a dash of danger used to be exhilarating for me. There was the challenge to find my way out. In real life that has been out of the woods, back to shore, out of a bad neighborhood, toward the light and even in some caverns once. In emotional life I have been lost in life situations not knowing what to do or where to go. 

These days it is less exhilarating, but I am usually calm because I have been lost before and I have made it out every time. There are times where I get paralyzed with fear and I freeze up, we all do. There are times where the body or the soul hurts and has been so injured I am not sure I can press on, but I do anyway. Survival demands it. 

Patience, getting your bearings and perseverance among many other factors will get you out of it. 

For me, this picture of a German hut visible through the forest represents that moment that you know you have found your path. There is that moment of relief and victory rolled up into one. Regardless of how weary and broken you may be, that moment of realization energizes you and that next step that once seemed impossible takes on a new determination along with the confidence that you are going to make it. 

You may not know exactly where you are or where you need to go, but you know that you are no longer lost in the woods or in the dark or any other such thing. You are free of it. That moment is wondrous. 

If you are lost, keep going, stay calm and stay safe. You'll find your hut and your path.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Trying Too Hard

Trying Too Hard
So there was a time where I transitioned from my 35mm SLR to a digital SLR and a fresh copy of Photoshop. I was back to my passion of photography. One day I took a hike along the old canal trails in Lockport and came across a series of historic houses by the old boat yard. 

I carefully took each shot and then took the RAW files to my MacBook and fired up the Photoshop to start creating. 

I tried too hard. I used so many damn effects that I missed the beauty of the actual shot that I took.

Sometimes we all try too hard. We overthink. We take some imagined standard too far and miss what was actually done. 

I had a beautiful moment. I had a beautiful day. I had a calm in the storm of my life. As opposed to just enjoying that, I overthought in a mass of angst ridden post edit recreation. 

In life we will have moments that are just fine the way they are and we look back and overthink them or try to manipulate it into something else. 

Sometimes in this blog I try too hard. Often in life I do as well. When we do that, we are not ourselves, not truly.

Accept things as they are and do not try so damn hard. The ones who matter most do not keep score.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


There are wonderful diners that you find that sometimes bring up memories of your past by either marketing design or because the owner has not remodeled in quite a few decades.

The past is not a space we want to live in all the time, but some of the fond memories are nice to visit. To this day if I smell pipe tobacco or a wood burning stove, I am a teenager visiting my dad. 

It can be a smell, a diner, a taste of food. So many things can take us back to a moment unexpectedly. Most of the time they are good moments. When they are memories of someone no longer with us, they are bittersweet, but that is all right too.

This diner I was at with my son brought back road trips and vacations with my grandparents. I am glad I got to share that memory with him even if he was unaware we were somewhere else in the mid 1970's.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ever Climbing

Stairway to Heaven
I love the urban jungles and alleyways. I wish I had a clear explanation as to why, but I find beauty in it all. Brick and limestone and steel and people and noise and trains and noises in the night. It relaxes me.

When I was in a darker space, I took this shot and called it stairway to heaven because it ended before the sky. It was also rusted and run down. It was not lost on me that fire escapes are about going down, not up. 

Our inclination is to climb. It is in our spirits and our hearts. We want to understand ore. We want to own more. We want to be more. Ever climbing and never stopping to find a moment of content and good enough. Maybe more stairways should have a peak so we can just stop and reflect.

Maybe if we recognized where we came from, we would be more proud of how far we have climbed and stick around where we are for awhile. 

Have a good week. Look around before the next climb.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

About Saturdays and Whimsy

So this project is now about to finish the third week.

I am slowly learning what works and what does not. The video Saturday's are not working. Everything else seems to finding it's stride.

It is rather like all the attempts we have had at seeing things in 3d or virtual reality.

Some things work and some things....don't.

So. On Saturdays, We will find our stride in other things. For today, I am showing a picture of a throwback of yesterday. Something that we would view today and possibly scoff at the execution. But if we think about some of out most amazing toys and gadgets today, they will look at quaint and silly 100 years from now. Outdated in most cases in about a decade or less.

That does not mean we should stop innovating. There is a reason you can still find Stereoscope kits and cards, it's kinda cool. Without it, we may not have ever had 3d movies and awkward VR helmets.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Storm's A Comin'

Storm's A Comin'
First of all. I am going to make a confession. Though I was using one of my DSLR's in this shot, it was not composed well and I threw the rules out the window. My child and I were trying to get to cover along with others before the heaven's opened up and poured their fury on Walt Disney World. 

Storms in life are interesting, aren't they? You can be in what seems like a wonderland lost in the sunshine and joy. Then, you can feel a change in the air and see the clouds coming. Sometimes it is minor and passes swiftly, other times, you realize that this one will not pass easily and your very safety may be threatened. 

The moments of joy instantly turn to concern and anxiety as you seek shelter. In the middle of it, it can be terrifying and you wonder if it will ever end. The storm's always end. This storm that was a comin? It came, it was furious, and it passed. Later that night we had a wonderful dinner on a veranda and enjoyed the traditional parade and fireworks. 

When the air changes and you see the clouds rolling in, stay calm. It's hard, I know. Especially when loved ones are with you in the storm. Especially when there is fear of loss. If you can keep a cool head, you can find the shelter. It will end and you will enjoy the sunshine again.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Beauty Swiftly Passing (but worth making)

Passing Beauty
A friend of mine sat in a small tent for three days. For three days she would start the day with sand and a plate and spend the day creating a piece of art as people walked through the tent to observe and interact with her. At the end, she would ceremonially destroy the created work. 

The beauty she meticulously created in a small tent under the southern Summer sun was fleeting, but memorable. The beauty we create in this world may not last. Making that moment may take longer than it's duration. It does not make it less beautiful or less worthy. Sometimes it makes it more precious knowing that you were there to see something and be a part of something.

Keep creating beauty. Do not worry about how long it lasts. Some beauty remains for centuries and others mere moments. All beauty is worth the effort.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Whim

Niagara's Whim

The year was 2013. I was freshly divorced. I was without income. My finances were dwindling. I had a conference I had to go to in upstate New York. I was still an ordained minister and it was my denomination's annual conference. I had driven my car to New York.  In the course of the entire conference I felt numb. On my second day there, I got a call from the dad of one of my former congregants that I was fond of. He called to tell me she was laying in a hospital after a serious accident on her motorcycle. I was hundred's of miles away and not able to be there for her and her family in the hospital.

Everything felt like it was falling apart. In many ways it was.

When the conference ended I got in my car and was ready to drive back to the Chicago area. Then I remembered on my way to the conference I had seen signs for Niagara Falls. I had never been to the falls. I went to a gas station and bought a map (old school) and plotted my course. It would take me about an hour and a half to get there and about the same amount of time out of my way. I did not care. I had never seen the falls and today I was less than two hours away, so I was going to see this natural wonder.

I got there. I parked. I walked. I stood in awe. I found various vantage points to take several pictures of the falls and then I just stopped from a good vantage point and just watched. I do not know how long I stood there, but I stood there. I breathed. I felt the tension release from my shoulders and my soul. The anxiety found a calm in fury of nature.

For the first time in over a year I did something for me. I took control and found peace in that moment. It was on a whim that I gave myself permission to go out of my way in spite of demands and just be. I would return home and go back to losing myself and things would get worse for a time. Later in life, things would get better. Why? Because I started to fight for me.

The road to a better self starts with doing something for one self. Self care is important. Before it becomes a habit, we may have to find it in moments.

Take a moment for you. Take a moment in wonder.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


There is a theologian/philosopher named Peter Rollins. I once heard him talk about what he called "the divine absence". He draws the analogy of having lost someone due to either a death or break up or an end of a friendship. In the tale he tells, you can be in a pub that the two of you used to frequent. The other is absent, but no one else is aware of the truth of this, but you are and it is agonizing.

I was once at a coffee shop where I would often meet someone. I was there alone. For the first time in my life, I felt this principle and understood it. I looked around and no one else seemed to notice. It was all I could focus on.

In the Buddhist principle of impermanence, people will always come and go from our lives. Sometimes they die, sometimes we stop being friends or lovers, sometimes they just move. We will sometimes be in spaces we used to share and now do not.

Allow the absence to be felt, but do so in such a way that can not only appreciate those in your life right here and right now more fully and richly, but also appreciate the gift of sharing time and life and even love with the person who's absence you feel. Appreciation will offer more peace than bitter agony.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Among the Trees Where Dreams Come True

Among the Trees
Near Chicago is a theater that was built recently. It had a grand opening celebration that one of the architects who was involved in the lighting design did not get to be a part of. It was her first project with this company, but she left the firm and moved on to better things before she could see this beautiful project come to fruition.

She went there and was sitting in a fascinating space filled with natural light and explaining the design to me when an older woman sat near us. The older woman asked us what we thought of the space.

She replies that she "may" have designed the lighting. She explained the vision now to not only me, but the older woman and her husband.

The tour almost took us to a balcony/catwalk that surrounded the outside of the building. It was closed off and locked off and you could see her disappointment of not being able to see the balcony/catwalk. She told us how it was part of the vision of making one feel they were among the trees. Part of nature. But we were restricted from the access.

A little later on we were in another room that could be rented for gatherings and...we found a door that could get her to the catwalk/balcony. I used my wallet to keep the door from locking behind us as she walked the catwalk to the corner. Her face lit up as she got to see the finished dream and she stood in wonder...among the trees.

Many of us will start good works and we may never get to see the dream fulfilled. Sometimes the dream will be brought to life and we are locked away from seeing it even though we helped craft the wonder and the reality. However, once in awhile, we just may find a way to see the dream come true. Sometimes a door is forgotten and a lock can be overridden with a wallet. Sometimes we get to tell out story and have it celebrated as we experience the joy of life among the trees.

Even if you do not get to see the fruits of your labor, know the labor is worth it and you may see the dream fulfilled.

Sunday's Stand Alone Photo: The Artisan's Shop

The Artisan's Shop
*On Sunday's the picture is the story. No other words or descriptions.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Magic Man-Saturday's Second Video Story

Every Saturday a story is told by video. Still trying to find my stride in the vids as this is the second one.

I hope you enjoy this little Irish tale about magic.

Friday, March 11, 2016


American Dream
Sometimes, like an old house, we are worn out. We are run down. We are dilapidated and have weathered one too many storm with not enough care.

We can rebuild, restore and be rehabilitated. 

This house was torn down and is now additional parking, but others like it have become something beautiful. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Buddha's Buddy!

Buddha's Buddy
In my life as a parent, I have had to travel on business. Some seasons the travel is more frequent than others.

There is a strange little stuffed critter I have named Little RockNRoll Dude. Red body, blue yarn hair and a little guitar in hand.

He even had his own Facebook page for a time with more likes than me. In that page he had pictures with everything from cops to well known DJ's, authors and other figures as well as in many exotic places. Some friends would borrow him for their trips. I can remember that he has been to France, Italy, Japan, China, London, Spain, Mexico, Norway, Germany, Morocco, Canada, the DR and a few other places.

The pictures of his adventures were mostly for my kid, but they took on a life of their own and still does to this day.

The principles of Buddhism and Zazen meditation have given me more guidance and peace in my life than any philosophical or spiritual adventure. I think I can honestly say that if it were not for Mahayana Buddhism, I am not sure I would be alive today.

This picture was not taken in an exotic foreign land, it was right here in the US. Two symbols in one picture. One represents travel and adventure and my child. The other represents peace and wisdom. In their own way they are both anchors. They also both remind me of the fluidity of life and what Buddhist call the nature of impermanence. Everything is always changing.

In that vein of though, I will leave you with the five remembrances of impermanence. Travel well, make the moments count, and feel free to tell me your symbols. Symbols of not only past memories, but the ones yet to be made.

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill health.
There is no way to escape ill health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love
are the nature to change.
There is no way to escape
being separated from them.
My actions are my only true belongings.
I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Just Another...

Just Another Bridge
I once read an interview with Kevin Smith. He was talking about his movie Jersey Girl and how he stood behind it. He mentioned that one critic gave him flak for using the slow clap. His answer to that was essentially, "Yeah, I used the slow clap. But it was my slow clap."

This is just another bridge that I shot with just another filter that I used. Many others have taken pictures of bridges and filters, many of them may have even used this bridge in Lockport, Il. This, however, is mine and I rather like it.

Some of us may have written a sonnet with simple rhymes, a haiku, a 3 chord song, or many other oft used conventions. Some of us may have made mix tapes for a crush "back in the day". This list of examples could go on for paragraphs.

Now, back to the bridge. Bridges are opportunities to cross over into something new. Sometimes we do not know what is on the other side. Sometimes, we burn bridges in life. We see a lot of memes claiming that burning bridges will light my way forward. Maybe that is something that we have to do on occasion. I hope that is not the default position, though. In my life I have done it a few times. I have found myself trying to rebuild what I destroyed and it is difficult.

Leave the bridge there. You don't ever have to cross it again, but sometimes we find out that just another bridge is exactly the bridge we, and others, need.

Just another bridge.

Just another community.

Just another friend.

Just another job.

Just another girl.

Just another bridge...can be precious.

Less burning, please.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Freedom Caged

Caged Freedom
There are limits in life. Sometimes they feel like cages. There is an irony to me that the winged symbol of freedom is not only endangered, but in cages and fences across the nation for us to view.

Maybe personal freedom is endangered and caged. I am not talking about the political stuff, I am talking about the freedom to be ourselves and pursue our dreams.

We live in expectations and judgement and so many other boundaries that limit us and endanger us and restrict us from soaring.

Our focus is all too often on the cage and not the proud bird that we are wanting to soar.

At the moment, if I am being honest, I am not in a head space that I can express my thoughts well. I have screwed something up and I am dealing with that reality. Some days are like that. I will close with Maya Angelou's wonderful poem. Before I do, I will say this. If the cage is of your own making, tear it down and soar. If the cage is made by others, they were wrong to do that to you. Sing your song of freedom and never be less than you. You are beautiful and worth it.

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.
Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

Writing Our Lives For Our Lives

Writing Our Own Story
I never really thought much about journaling. The people I knew that did it spoke of it often. They made it sound like it was this amazing tool for life. I tried it a few times, but I felt like Charlie Brown writing dear diary.

When I was a minister we had a youth outreach that was not very well liked by members of the community. Why? We reached out to the kids that needed help as opposed to youth group kids.

When I learned that there were prayer groups dedicated to stopping our march of unconditional love, my give a damn of other people's opinions broke. We would often have guest speakers over. It is amazing how many artists, poets and even known young adult fiction writers came in and out of Lockport, Il without anyone knowing.

One night I pushed the envelope even for me and had Jade Bryce come to speak with and meet the kids. Jade Bryce is a well known MMA ring girl and a playboy model. More than that, she was once a homeless teen and at the time, she gave 20% of every paid modeling job to charities like Invisible Children. She traveled without escort to third world countries in an effort to protect little ones whom she had a heart for. This was too beautiful a person not to have inspire the teens.

She came to us fresh from a shoot in the city. While she spoke she showed the teens her dog eared journal and how she used it. Her writing was artistic. The words would create patterns like spirals or steps and other designs. She also had tabs of her own design. She would use the tabs as a guide. The example she used was if her heart was broken and she had no idea how she would get through it, she would reference the last time she had endured a heartbreak and learn from herself. For the first time I saw a journal as a tool. It was a tool that I was not ready to use yet.

Then I would grow closer to someone very special who used her journal in a very different way. Her journal was part meditation and part prayer. On mornings that she does journal, her day starts off centered and the storm of her mind is calmed and ready for a new day. She had allowed God to speak to her and her to speak out her heart. Her heart is many beautiful things, but it is first and foremost a mother.

It was through her inspiration and example that I finally went to a bookstore and bought my own journal and took to writing in it as often as I can. I am forever changed and a better man for her inspiration. My style is neither like her's or Jade's. It is my own. Sometimes it is reflective and other times it pleads and begs for a better life. Sometimes it is grateful and other times bitter. It is always honest, holds no disguise and can bleed and celebrate with abandon.

For some it is an autobiography. For some it is a prayer. For some it is a reference tool. For some it is all of the above and more and less. There is no right or wrong way to do this. We each have within us an individual heart that beats to its own rhythm of passions and pains.

If you do not journal, I hope you will look into it and try to write your story in your manner. If you do journal, I would love to hear more in the comments about how you do it and what you have gotten from it.

Write. Love. Express. Never stop expressing.

Monday, March 7, 2016


The Willis Tower in Chicago is more popularly known as the Sears Tower. It used to be the largest skyscraper in the world. It is now, arguably, the tallest or second tallest in the US and the 14th tallest in the world. Despite losing it's 25 year throne as the tallest, it is still a tourist trap with an observation deck on the 103rd floor. From over 1300 feet, the view is impressive for some and intimidating for others.

My son falls into the latter category of intimidated by heights. He wants to go up and see things like this, but is afraid to. Phobias are intimidating.

I get him every other weekend. One Saturday we went to downtown Chicago to see the Field Museum to visit a T-Rex named Sue and mummies and other wonders. While we were out we decided to walk about downtown.

We were walking by the Sears Tower and we looked up and could not see the top due to the foggy fall day we were having. We could not see the top...that meant from the top you could not see the bottom. I had an idea and we went inside. There was no line to the Skydeck. No one was going to pay money on a day such as this. I spoke to the people working the counter. No one had been in in over an hour. The Skydeck was empty. With a little sweet talking, we were in the elevator and on our way up.

We stepped off the elevator and the fog was so thick that you could not see much of anything. It was perfect. We were there and the things that normally intimidated him were not visible. He was aware of how high up he was, but the scale was lost due to the foggy visual.

They have these enclosed clear ledges you can step out onto that jut out 4 feet. He was nervous to get out on it, so we went together and he loved looking down at the fog and up at the fog. So did I because I saw the wonder of the fog through his eyes. I went to the neighboring ledge and took my shot.

Later in life I thought of this day. I had recently tried something wonderful and exhilarating and scary to me. It did not work out.  Had I been able to see how high up I was and how far I had to fall, I may have been too intimidated to try at all. I was aware of the height I had soared and was exhilarated and alive by it. More alive than I had ever been. I could not see the dangers and the pain. The fog insulated me and allowed me to step on the ledge.

I could only see the moments. I could only see right here and right now as my focus should have been. Right here and right now was amazing and wondrous. The free fall and hitting the ground as I fell from the top had the impact you would expect. I in many respects...broken.

But I was there.


Friday, March 4, 2016

The Unexpected Twist of Honesty

The video took an unexpected twist of raw honesty. It is not the artistic story I intended to tell, but it is honest, so I went with it. Feel free to comment if you relate.

Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it enkindles the great..... Comte DeBussy-Rabutin

What About Bob?

What About 
One night I had a marketing mission that was bestowed upon me. Part of it involved charming potential clients with special VIP passes to an enclosed area that had it's own band playing, free food, drinks and some of NASCAR's top drivers. Getting my hands on these passes took some charm and finesse, but I had them. They were the leverage to relationships that like an arranged marriage in a fucked up third world country could lead to mutual financial benefit.

I was having fun running about the race fan rally knowing I had golden tickets. Then I met Bob. I love skulls and the Jolly Roger. Bob had a skull ring that was almost exactly like mine. I commented on it and showed him mine and we got into a conversation. 

Bob is the same age as my father. Bob served in Vietnam and worked as a machinist most of his life. Now, in what should be his golden years to enjoy retirement with a juicy pension, he is barely hanging on. The pension was lost to some bad investments performed by young stock traders with no respect for the future of Bob and all his peers. Hardworking people who put decades of their lives and their bodies into a company in good faith that they would receive what was promised them. 

A worn out back, arthritic hands and a widower living in a cheap motel having to park his motorcycle blocks away from where he lives so that it does not get stolen. His Harley is his only luxury left in a world that abandoned him. Now, in all these trials and horrors he has faced, everything was all right. He smiled and laughed and enjoyed life and told me of his grand kids and told me stories of his wife when she was alive. We also spoke of sports and that led to NASCAR. His favorite driver was in the VIP section. I knew this, but Bob did not.

So I told Bob where his favorite driver was and gave him 2 VIP passes. He looked at me and his face lit up. Arthritic knees and a bad back practically skipped off. 

Later in the night I was walking by the VIP section. I saw Bob having a beer with his favorite driver. Both men were enjoying each other's company.

Bob had a good day. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Artist's Wages
Train stations, airport terminals and various other spaces I hear the sounds often. Street musicians with a box for tips. Most of the time I walk on, as do most of us. Every so often you hear a street musician that makes you stop.

I was walking by the Joliet Public Library when I heard a familiar song from an unfamiliar instrument. I was, walking and texting when I heard the sounds of a violin playing Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer. I stopped, put my phone in my pocket, grabbed my camera and started snapping pictures of this woman playing with intensity.

For the first time, I was about to have a conversation with a street musician. Susan, I would learn, was a 4th generation musician who earned her Masters in music with the help of grants and fellowships. She had a distinguished career of more than 25 years that included work with some renown conductors. I've likely heard her play first chair in my younger years while enjoying wine and cheese in various outdoor pavilions in the area.

Now, she struggles to self promote playing minor league baseball games and attempting to get students and ever elusive contracts. Then, of course, she is playing in the streets for tips.

"What happened?" I asked.

"The world changed. Artists became less important than bankers. It could be worse. Some of my fellows and peers are in homeless shelters or dead. "

She gets offers to play for free being told it is good exposure. At least on the streets, she had told me, I control my exposure and make a few dollars. I asked her how many a few were and she shrugged a little and started to play "The Lark Ascending". The woman who now has found a niche for tips with pop covers on violin was playing Vaughan Williams. It was flawless and serene. There was nothing to do but stand there for 15 minutes while she played from memory. When she was done, I could see a single tear stain on her cheek.

I had $37 in my pocket. I only needed $7 for a sandwich as I started to place $30 in her tip receptacle. I then decided I did not need to eat supper that day. I had just been fed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Dreams Deferred

Dreamers for Joy
"In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die;
Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?"

-Lewis Carroll

It is a well known fact that from birth we are destined to grow old and eventually die. What is not so well known is that is merely the physical death. There is also the emotional death. The death of the ability to dream and to love and to wonder. 

A simple example would be as follows. A daughter with a heart full of dreams grows up to be a wife and then a mother. Through divorce and financial struggles the woman will say goodbye to the little girl while still hoping that she would find her ever after. She will, as many do, eventually believe that the day dreams of a better life must go to the space that all daydreams must go. That space where they are forgotten and it is allegedly better to live in a world where there are rules and sensibilities. It is when dreams die that we die. 

I spoke with these two men at a park near Union Station. Taxi drivers both. One is my age and the other is a little younger. They live in a world where independent contractor is a thinly veiled phrase used to keep them from being employees protected by employment laws. This has them making slave wages at over 70 hours a week. This is not a job you dream of in life, it is where rules and sensibilities take some for survival. When survival takes precedence, a dream can either die or be deferred. 

A dream dead is a heart that dies. 

A dream deferred means the dream is still alive and the belief in that dream deferred will get you through the hard times and the storm will pass. The dream deferred is a dream that is alive and that spark of life can keep a cab driver living in a low rent studio while a gold coast executive may be dead inside. That spark of life and belief just needs the kindling and a little breath of air to light a fire, but without the spark, there is just a pile of dead wood. Lifeless and without warmth. 

I ask only this of you. Look at the picture of the two men. Forget for the moment their names or their dreams. Just know that the moment this picture was taken they were in the middle of a 12 hour shift making next to nothing in the middle of a week they would do this 6 days a week. Know that three men sat in a park by a train station and we spoke of dreams deferred and because of our dreams, we are alive. 

Look into the smiles. Look into the truth of life in their eyes. Then, look into your eyes and smile into a mirror and tell me this: Are you alive or dead? Do dreams still exist in your heart or did the beauty of wonderland become a cold living death of "reality"?

There is an old saying that man can live 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air, but only for one second without hope. Hope lives in our dreams. 

The zombie apocalypse is here, my friends. We are surrounded by the living dead. They do not eat brains, though, they devour dreams. 

Stop being sensibly dead and comfortably numb. 

Wake up from reality and dream.