Monday, August 25, 2014

Scott's Flock Talk: NFL-Not For Long

In the beginning of the Chip Kelly NFL experiment there were doubters galore. In fact, everyone involved in the food chain that is the NFL was doubtful that Kelly would succeed. They felt it was simply not going to work in the NFL.

To some extent, the doubters were spot on. What Chip Kelly ran at Oregon and New Hampshire before that would not work in the NFL. What they failed to see was that Chip Kelly did not run the spread option at Oretgon because he was trying to force square pegs into round holes. He ran it because it would work. He understood what it meant to be successful.

He studied football almost exclusively. There were no wives; no girlfriends and no children. In short, there were no encumbrances which would conflate him to one genre or another. He was a football junkie and he would use his mad scientist skills to change what he did and adapt to the NFL.

The naysayers simply forgot to look toward New England and even Buffalo and the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The hurry up offense as an entire game plan is not new. The Patriots, under Belichik and Brady had perfected it in a different way-but it was possible.

Kelly took the NFL by storm destroying the old adage that ball control equals winning. Time of possession was not relevant to Kelly or the Eagles as it had not been to Kelly while at Oregon.
But there is another truth about the NFL; what the acronym stands for. First, it officially stands for “National Football League.” But there are a couple of other ironically accurate meanings. The “No Fun league” for their propensity to take the joy away from the athletes and turn them into corporate robots  going through the motions. The other acronym “not for long” typically refers to the life span of a playing career in the league. It also, though, refers to coaching life span. Not for long.

If you win, you stay. If you cannot win, someone else will be the next ‘big thing’ and take your place.
That’s what concerns me about Kelly’s decision to bring in Kenjon Barner recently. Kelly has been nothing if not loyal to his former players. Many times he brings in players he knows are destined for the practice squad or cut line to help practices be as efficient as possible. And that is fine. It is a necessary evil and players like Will Murphy probably know what is going to happen.

But there is a difference between that player and the borderline NFL player who may or may not make their prior team. It was a stretch to take Huff in the draft and many of his moves have been a stretch. As long as he wins, no one will blink twice. But if he starts losing, his affinity for stockpiling former Ducks could come back to haunt both he and the Oregon program.

The adage pertaining to Oregon by opposing coaches in recruiting is that the Ducks players could not get to the next level and succeed. If Kelly cannot help them succeed in Philadelphia, you can be sure that it will once again be used against Oregon in recruiting. And if Kelly starts losing more than he wins; does not progress past that barely above .500 record of a season ago, the NFL will mean not for long.

Kelly is taking a big gamble by hitching his NFL wagon to so many former Ducks, and if the wheel falls off too soon, it could also derail the future hopes of the program he took to another level. And that would not be a good thing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flock Talk: Reclaiming Dignity

Coming out of the closet.

This is a trend in athletics that has caught many off guard, some not so much. One thing is for sure, though, that the announcements of high profile players that they are gay has stirred plenty of debate and commentary across the board. Some are for the announcements, some against.

The more troubling trend, though, are the naysayers who claim, vociferously, to not care either way. I know. I was one of those people. As a former college football player, I didn’t care whether any of the linemen that protected my quarterback were white, pink, purple, black, straight or gay.

Then, as I was driving home Thursday night, I asked myself about my own motives in those protestations. I wondered aloud if the issue is not the sexuality itself, but how we on the receiving end of the message perceive its intent.

Yes, these are football (and basketball) players and all that should matter is their performance on the field. But then a strange question popped into my head, and the answer I gave myself showed me why my initial thoughts were simply wrong. I did not get it, and neither do most.

When Brent Musberger became fascinated, almost creepily, with A.J. McCarron’s girlfriend at the time, we were not offended by her picture. In fact, most ‘red-blooded’ American men secretly agreed with Musburger; she was very beautiful. The football fans, that inner Neanderthal inside us all would have also called her “hot.” It’s what most men watching thought.

In other articles inside Sports Illustrated and other sports journals, many times a question is asked about the players celebrity crush. No one winces at the answers. No one says “I don’t care” — they do care and they read and determine what kind of “taste” the player has in women. What if a player said “Well, I think Justin Timberlake is hot, he’s my celebrity crush?”

Honestly, you know what would happen. False protestations voiced everywhere we can imagine that ‘we don’t care about that stuff.’ Well, we do.

Further compounding the issue surrounding sexuality in football especially is the level of machismo that is a part of the football culture. It is thicker than Alabama mud. When Jonathan Martin exposed the harassment that had been directed at him, some were appalled, but a majority of people secretly, some more publicly, ridiculed Martin for not being “tough” he was not being a “man.” He was called a “sissy” by plenty of people. As children growing up, anyone who was not able to throw well was said to ‘throw like a girl’ and was also called a sissy. Being ‘feminine’ had no place on the football field.

I would like to say that the people talking about Martin in such mannerisms were the minority, or the uneducated, or just simpleton fans. Unfortunately, this attitude extended not only to his own team mates but his own coaches, his own management in the Dolphins front office. Think about those terms for a minute and let them sink in. His “manhood” was questioned. Even worse, commentators versed in sports programming were mimicking these thoughts. They perpetuated the stereotypes. Some of the same commentators who now applaud these announcements ridiculed Martin’s ‘manhood’ last year.

So much of football is wrapped in a misogynistic stereotype of masculinity that it becomes difficult to unravel what is necessary to compete on the field and what is left over from a different time.

You say you don’t care. Then why were so many people disgusted when Michael Sam kissed his significant other after being drafted? Did anyone respond with that kind of vile and vulgar disgust when McCarron kissed Katherine Webb? Would anyone be upset if Marcus Mariota named Mila Kunis as his celebrity crush if asked? Would anyone say ‘we don’t care’ about that?

When the Eagles’ Riley Cooper dropped a specific derogatory racial epithet last summer, he was roundly criticized as he should have been — his actions and words were despicable. Had he used that language on a consistent basis during practice, in the manner which he used it (derogatorily), there would have been hell to pay in the locker room.

Now think about a different word. “Faggot.” It is a constant in many places, especially in the locker room. If you are gay, this word is just as demeaning, just as derogatory as any racial epithet. A constant reminder that you, as a gay man in that locker room, are not worthy.

Sam, Jason Collins and now Chip Sarafin are speaking out, not because they want you to care about their sexuality, but because they want you to no longer care about sexuality at all. No longer should they have to hide in corners keeping their lives a secret, afraid of what people will think.

The culture inside locker rooms has been far too offensive for far too long. These announcements are not about sexuality; they are about a changing world, a changing demographic. The sports world has stuck to the past with the concept of tradition for many years. Change of any type in sports is fought tooth and nail by traditionalists. But football and sports are changing.

I once thought that I did not care about the sexuality of players. I was wrong. I applaud these men for their courage. They are tired of the negativity. For football players who happen to be gay, it’s not about sexuality, it is about dignity. They have reclaimed their own dignity and now have opened up the world for everyone to reclaim theirs.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thoughts on the complexity of the endings

So, I have this thought about the final chapters, I know it is going to be very heavy in dialogue, but the responses will not be typical short answers in dialogues... each of the two characters will respond with lengthy diatribes on their belief... in one exchange, they will have met at around sunrise on morning and will talk throughout the day...

that much I already knew. I know where the final sequence occurs (not revealing it here, though!) and I have the concept for this person opposite the protagonist (Brian), but I have still yet to decide the exact nature of their relationship...

So this idea hits me, he is going to ask her if they are on a date, if they have been dating the entire time... and her response will be along the lines of this:

Does it matter? I mean, all of our lives, we have tried to compartmentalize our relationships with people. I feel like that has made my relationships less than full. I put each person in a box and say 'this is you, you fit here' and that traps them.

What if my brother could have been my best friend? But instead of turning to him based on some pre-defined relation, I turned elsewhere.

What if I label this a date? Will that change the tone of our discussion? Will you look at me differently? Of course it will, and of course you will, because now you will see me in a small box; trapped inside the corners of your own minds definition of what 'date' means.

I want to explore the world without relationship definitons. The old way clearly did not work for me and I don't think it worked well for you either. You trapped everyone into a box inside your mind and you wouldn't let them escape that pre-defined role you had imagined them filling.

What if your conception of that relationship is wrong? And who tells you it is wrong. By shoving people into a corner like that you not only imprison them, you imprison yourself. There is no growth in your understanding of yourself or others.

On the other hand, if you open up, stop categorizing people by some pre-defined ideal set by a society we both agree is broken, if you do this, and you begin to explore the world without all those little boxes constraining your mind and your spirit, maybe, just maybe, your relationship with the  world will grow in a way you could not have imagined. Maybe all that loneliness you have felt for so long will escape when you open the boxes.

Are we on a date? Well, that depends on how you classify date. Stop letting a a definition decide your actions. Act as your will dictates not as your mind. Free yourself from life as a 'jack-in-the-box' and learn to run free. Stop. Be."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Directions and inspirations...

another mini-inspiration adds 500+ more words. Just a brief interaction that I knew was coming, just was not sure when it would happen...

To clue you in, conflict cannot all be resolved in just a few chapters... and there cannot be too simple of a "ep
iphany" so, there has to be a girl come along that seems right, but is not...

There will be more journeys... the protagonist already took one small excursion, I am planning at least two MAJOR excursions and a move to a new city...

The tortured soul

The tortured soul. Throughout recorded history, there have been tortured souls.

The strange part is that it is the tortured soul that has made the world a better place, only to take away their gift all too soon. Art, that very act which took an uncivilized people and created a vast and deep culture, is the province of tortured souls. From the very first symbol drawn on a wall, the artist has been a part of every major development.

That first symbol; the first hand gesture; was the beginning of communication. Without their angst and need to create a form of communication, later forms of art would not be possible. All art has evolved from those first pictures; those first grunts.

There would be no Mozart without the first words and no Shakespeare without the first written word. There would be no Monet, no Picasso without those first pictures. Throughout it all, it seems, art has been permeated by tortured souls.

Maybe it is the very nature of the muse which inspires the artist. Each artist has a unique muse; one that gives a message either visually or verbally. It is often just a hodge-podge of stimuli which is processed uniquely by the artist. Oftentimes that creation is something so entirely unique that no one else is capable of interpreting the initial inspiration in such a beautiful or haunting manner.

Whether it be from the epic poems of ancient Greece, the beautiful music of Mozart. Even in modern times, music, art and acting have provided a vast number of tortured souls.

Some are capable of overcoming the dark side of the muse and find a way to triumph. In reality, all souls have a form of their own torture. The duality of existence creates a form of tortured soul in us all. We are all conscious of our existence and we are also very conscious of the fragility of that existence. Most of us simply go through each day without ever really digging into the depths of our duality.

We simply exist.

The artist, though, takes that digging and creates something that brings joy to many. If they cannot bring themselves joy, they take great delight in bringing that joy to others. It is a tenuous existence at best. From the Greek sculptors, Bupalos and Athenis, who were rumored to have been driven to suicide by unflattering commentary from one of their subjects, through contemporary artists like Kurt Cobain, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and now Robin Williams, the list of artists who committed suicide is too long to detail. Suffice it to say, though, that the list is inclusive of all forms of art.

What is it that makes the artist unique? They use their pain to bring joy to others. By exposing their pains to the world, though, they are in a constant state of edge. Living life always on the edge can be a dangerous choice. Add in the somewhat strange need to medicate their pain while not performing through other addictive behavior and the tortured soul is perilously close to the edge of oblivion on  a regular basis.

We will never be able to understnad the tortured soul. After we lose an artist of immense talent, many, many people will talk about what we can learn. The truth is, we realty cannot truly learn what it is like to be that tortured soul. It is a loneliness that only he or she will ever understand. Their torture is unique to them. There is nothing from Kurt Cobain’s tortured mind that will translate to Robin Williams. Though they may have had the same ultimate end to their torture, the arrival at such a place bears no resemblance to one another.

They were each tortured souls.

What we are left with are memories. Memories of music, laughter, beautiful pictures and beautiful words. We must only embrace the beauty they left because they are like shooting stars. Their time here is short; how short only they can ever tell, but short nonetheless. Take their words, their music, their life and enjoy their beautiful souls while you can. Even if they were not tortured souls, their time is still short.

Their tortured soul, though, has made the world a better place. Duality creates so many questions with so few answers. Why is it that the tortured soul brings so much joy to the world around them, yet cannot find joy themselves? That is a question that cannot be answered in this life.

Enjoy what they gave us. Hope they find the peace in the after-life they could not find on Earth. But know this, the artist give their tortured souls so the world might be a better place, even if only for the briefest of moments.

Thank those tortured souls. Enjoy their gifts. There is not much that lasts forever. Not even the tortured soul. But their gifts will always be.

Inspiration can come from anywhere

So, I needed someone at the end of the book, someone who could provide like an earthquake of challenges to Brian's mind. KI was unsure about this  until, as I considered, and as I was browsing Facebook one night, the perfect inspiration hit me...

You see, there are a lot of Facebook friends for me, many of whom friend requested me due to the writing... which is all good and I don't mind at all... and I have followed along through all of the ups and downs of some of them... the truth is definittely stranger than fiction on occasion!

Well, as I was reading one day, it hit me that there is a particular person whom I do not know that is the perfect, and I mean PERFECT inspiration behind a new character. I would never reveal this person's name, but the history will be deep and textured and will provide the perfect creative challenge to the protagonist!

The words written are gold. Not as they are written, but as I see them changed in the story.

Life, Working and writing

The most difficult part about writing a project like this book is when you have a full time gig that takes up 40 plus hours per week. Add in commute time, sleep time and that leaves precious little time for writing.

For me that is exaggerated by also being a power lifter who is unwilling to give up being in shape and the fact that I write three articles a week covering sports. Suddenly there is hardly any time left.

Because of this, my time has to really be used wisely. Today I wrote during the first part of my lunch...w as able to get 1000 words to the story. I also decided I need to take my notepad everywhere. There are ideas I have not yet incorporated that I can plug in later, and new ideas are always popping up... being able to jot them down is important.

I have also found that this stream of consciousness stuff can be a big time blessing in disguise. Yes. You are going to bare YOUR soul a little. But when you can train yourself to write AS THE CHARACTER, then you are going to see some amazing things come out.

Don't worry about grammar or punctuation; syntax or tense, simply let your fingers pound out some words and then you can go back through it to see if it makes any sense. And, guess what? It probably will, and you will think it is some of the best stuff you have ever written.

Writing is art. To think that we can plan every facet of it, takes away the art. If I wanted to write formulaic books, I could. But that is just paint by numbers. I don't want to be that guy. I cannot paint a picture with oil, but I think I can do so with words.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Exhausted creativity

Writing is  a unique endeavor. every character created by the writer is a small piece of our sould. Every line is a small window into our psyche.

Despite these quick visions of a person, they do not represent us in our entirety. They are but small glimpses at a piece of us.

At the end of a piece of fiction, we should be spent mentally, having exhausted ourselves of every ounce of our internal being. Yet, when we put pen to paper once again, that spirit is refreshed anew. All that we put to paper prior is behind us while what we begin to put down the next time around begins the cycle all over again.

Like life, there is a circle of consciousness in writing. There is no way we can create a character, a story, without incorporating some small piece of our soul. Finding a way to do so without permanently losing that soul is much trickier.

I often wonder if this is why writers such as Salinger struggle to make further inroads into their own consciousness. Sometimes, at the end of a project, we come to the dark realization that we have given everything we have; we are spent. With nothing further to give to a particular endeavor, in this case, art, we simply seek other endeavors.

I hope when I get to the end of this project, I have more inside me; I hope that muse comes back with a vengeance and a force never before seen.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Reading and writing...

I have seen some writers that say they cannot read while they write; that it somehow blocks their creative flow... I cannot imagine right now NOT reading while I work on this project... but it has to be very, very good writing.

I find that it stimulates my mind; creates a new flow of my mind. I want the protagonist character of Brian Jefferson to grow and develop organically. If I try to focus solely on the book and the characters, I think I will lose that organic spontaneity.

I want there to be changes; differences, directions I did not pre plan. I have already made some big time changes in the development of the character and I hope to get inspired with other changes later. I cannot do that if all I do is keep a singular laser like focus on one direction.


Writers note: Decided tonight that I would release the rest of the first chapter of the book. Rather than just that piece, here is the first chapter in its entirety.

Chapter I

In the middle of nothing is everything. In the middle of everything is nothing. Memories of the past are fuzzy, but the past is clear. Thoughts of my future are clear, but the path is fuzzy.

The simplistic will refer to what I see as duality by the all too easy zodiac sign; the Gemini. Sadly, it is far too complicated a life to look to some meaningless alignment of stars as the sole basis for the conflicted mess that has become the mind of man today. Would we assume that these alignments are to blame for all duality? Are only those born under the sign of Gemini conflicted? If not, then signs of the zodiac cannot begin to explain our daily duality. No. That explanation lay considerably deeper. This is simply my story of conflicted development.

As all stories have a beginning, so too does mine. Reality, though, says that the beginning is no different than any beginning. The beginning is not the story, but the story only exists because of the beginning. I was unaware of where the story began until this moment as I reflected on the events which brought me to this place.

Several years earlier, I began this journey. At the time, I had only the knowledge that I was moving somewhere. Forward, I assumed; or should I say hoped?

I found myself, after several years of rapid development, without work looking for the next step in the ladder I had been climbing. After several weeks of what felt like disregard, I took to the road. This was not a vacation, it was a soul discovery road trip under the guise of a mind clearing drive to the coast.

I had spoken frequently to the young mothers I counseled about the importance of goal setting. “Begin with the end in mind,” I taught.

Choosing to ignore my own words, I simply set to the road. Driving South, I thought the answers would arrive within minutes. I had been fortunate enough to save well during the five years that had passed since graduation. Though no one would confuse me with Bill Gates, money, it would seem, would not be a deterrent on this trip. Deterrents would arise, though, and more swiftly than I had imagined.

As I backtracked towards middle America, I found myself in Boise.

“What'll it be,” asked the attendant.

“Fill it with regular.”

“Where you headed?”

“You know, I'm not sure. Taking a trip, but just not sure where I am going or how I am going to get there, other than by car.” I did know, though. I was going away. Fear of the known was driving the Lexus, I was merely along for the ride.

“Really? Always wanted to do something like that, just never had the balls to go on the road without a plan.”

“Not sure that balls is what it takes. This started because I had nowhere to go, and no one with whom to make the trip. I simply got behind the wheel of my car and started driving,” I confided. Not even sure I was confiding in this man. I was unsure of myself and talking about this only exaggerated those doubts. Nonetheless, there I was, practically baring my soul to some stranger in a gas station.

I could have gone on for hours, but certainly the thick man with deep-set brown eyes and jet black hair had no desire to listen to the ramblings of a man who had no real knowledge to pass along. It really exemplified the state of my mind. I was headed east; I was driving, but the truth is, I was headed to the middle. But which middle I did not yet know.

It was a bright, sunny August afternoon. I had left Seattle early in the morning thinking I was taking a scenic trip to the Oregon coast. The jagged rocks and crashing waves always gave me a sense of comfort. Though it seemed that August days were nothing but misty haze along that particular stretch of beach, the truth of the rocks and waves were always something to behold. When I reached Portland, though, I turned east.

At home were many of the regular creature comforts that many had grown accustomed to; nice furniture, flat screen television, an apartment full of that which I thought proved my successes. I had graduated from Lewis & Clark College, a small private college in Portland five years earlier. In those aforementioned five years, I had rapidly developed in a career working with underprivileged families. This was not the typical underpaid social worker environment. I had graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before earning a law degree. As an advocate employed by a division of the Walters Foundation, I worked with underprivileged families scarred by mental health trauma. Many of the families I had worked with suffered from various forms of mental and physical abuse.

I was unsure exactly why I chose to confide in this attendant. I guess I needed someone other than myself with whom to speak. On these long trips, I frequently turn the music up very loud if for no other reason than to temporarily drown out my continuous thoughts. I was quite familiar with controlling topics of conversation and guiding conversations along a pre-defined path.

As I headed out of the store front towards my gleaming silver Lexus convertible, I turned back and asked the man, “Is there anywhere peaceful that I could stay?”

“Idaho Falls isn't too far, but it will be another 300 miles or so.”

“Yuck. I've been on the road all day. Maybe I'll head up there tomorrow. Know any good places to eat nearby?”

“Depends on what you're looking for. Most people don't know this, but Boise has one of the largest Basque populations around. There's a really cool little Basque restaurant over on Capitol. If you want more traditional, there's a place over on Protest or an awesome old-fashioned drive in restaurant that serves prime-rib over on State Street.”

“Basque, you say? You know, it always seems easier to go with what I know. Think I'll go a different direction. Guess I am on an adventure. How far is it?”

“It's just up the road a bit. Get back on the 84 take the 184 towards downtown, at the end, you'll be downtown just a couple blocks away,” said the attendant.

Feeling up to a new experience after a long day on the road, I asked for the name of the restaurant.

“Easy. Bar Elkano. I remember that because I love elk meat and the name of the place was real close to that. They have lots of different lamb stuff on the menu,” he said.

“Thank you,” I replied. Wanting to show a friendlier side, I scoured for a name tag. Just as I was walking out, I caught a glimpse of the name; Todd. “Thank you Todd. I appreciate all your help.”

As I got into the Lexus, I called information to get the address. Plugging in the address to my GPS, I headed right to the heart of downtown Boise.

As I approached the door, I saw that they were open until one o'clock. I was thankful as I had not eaten much. So consumed with driving, I had only stopped for gas and snacks. I was desperate for some good food. Maybe, too, I was looking forward to being in the company of others. It had been a long day of lonesome driving. Though I kept the music loud, the thoughts still crept out and invaded my consciousness.

I had taken quite the circuitous route from Seattle. Almost ten hours on the road had taken its toll on my eyes and my body. The Lexus was comfortable; but ten hours is a long time to sit in a car grinding along long stretches of nothingness.

Driving through the Columbia Gorge, I saw plenty of National Scenic area signs, but most of it was vast stretches of brown fields running alongside the Columbia River. While a student at Lewis & Clark, I had explored much of the West end of the gorge, near the Portland metro area, but had rarely gone past Cascade Locks. On a sunny day, it was a peaceful drive, but not much on the scenery. Once I headed up the mountains, though, that changed. The Blue Mountains were quite picturesque. Not in the way that say Mt. Hood or Crater Lake would have been on a warm clear afternoon. More so how any pine tree lined stretch of highway would have been. There was a small river along much of the stretch.

I pondered as I moved from the bleakness of the fields in the Columbia Gorge to the wondrous mountains just how it had been so long since I had truly noticed what surrounded me daily. Far too often, when in work mode, the mind switches to auto-pilot. We are conscious of everything we pass, but are not conscious of our consciousness. It baffled me that I could be so close to such vastly varied landscape without even considering any of it for more than a moment.

I couldn't, though, as there was always somewhere to be; always working; always in meetings, it seemed.

Surely everyone who loses a job goes through this same thing, I thought to myself. Suddenly aware of everything around them. Suddenly cognizant of their own lack of consciousness.

All this passed through my mind as I worked my way towards Bar Elkano.

As I entered, it occurred to me that the crowd was diverse to a degree I was not accustomed. I had taken to eating only in fine restaurants. From the outside, this tiny corner bar seemed to be a place less suited to a man in his early thirties wearing a dress shirt with jeans and driving shoes. Look around, though, there were older people dressed similar and younger people considerably more casual.

I sat alone, in a corner booth.

Noticing that I appeared to be somewhat lost in my mind, an older man with short gray hair and dark colored glasses asked from another table if I needed help.

“Not really. Just trying to figure out what's up with this place. Just in town for the night and needed a place to eat. Guy at the gas station said this was a pretty good place. Said Boise had one of the largest Basque populations in the country?”

“Not 'one of;' the largest Basque population in America,” said the man with a weird sense of pride.

“Really? Tell me how that happened?” I was always a little curious about the smaller stories of the American migration. The history books could not do justice to the reality of what transpired throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

“Pretty much like any migration,” the man began. “You see, a Basque is an ethnic group, not a nationality. In fact, the Basques have never had a country of their own. There are only about two million world-wide. Originally, the Basques inhabited a small corner along the borders of Spain and France near the Pyrennes mountains.

“John Adams used the form of government practiced by the Basques as his inspiration for his Defense of the Constitution of the United States.

“In the late 1800's, large groups arrived here as gold miners, but quickly turned to sheep herding to make money. Liking their success, they wrote home to family and friends, encouraging them to move West and join them. Just like that, between 1900 and 1920, the Basque population in Boise began to grow.”

“What is it that differentiates the Basques from the French or Spaniards,” I asked?

“For one, the Basques have their own unique language. It is not an Indo-European language and many speculate that the Basques are the inhabitants of Europe prior to the spread of this language. We take great pride in being what we consider the 'true' inhabitants of Europe.”

“Ah, so you are a Basque descendant, then,” I interrupted.

“Sure am. Paulino Agire. I am the curator of the local Basque Museum. Pleased to meet you. I come here every Saturday for dinner. Have to support Basque businesses and this is one of the best. People call me Paul. Food is like the center of what the Basque culture is all about.”

“Smells pretty good in here,” I responded. “Anything you recommend?”

“Absolutely. Try the Solomo which is a pork sandwich with peppers. Incredible here. And, if you want to expand a little, try the Isastegi Basque Cider,” Paul said.

“Cider? Really? Is that like the hard ciders that have popped up all over the markets?” I asked.

“Not even close. This comes from the Basque cider-making tradition, which eschews the addition of sugar or carbonation. The result is a true expression of the fruit, and the processes of fermentation,” Paul assured me.

And, so began my first night. Unsure, I ordered the sandwich and the cider. I had heard of many friends who spent summers in Europe while in college. This is how they lived; exploration for several months at a time. They would wander about the continent and find out of the way places, enter and become like one group of traveling friends. Friends for just the night before each individual or couple moved on to the next adventure.

This is what it felt like for me this first night. I had never taken part in that summer ritual so many of my classmates had in Portland. Most of them were schooled on their parent’s income while I worked and paid my way. Such is the life of a man who was born without the same privileges. I had envisioned myself a self-made version of “Pip” from Great Expectations. While he had a benefactor, I was making this upward move on my own accord. Cognizant of my past, I forged ahead with blinders ignoring a past that I had put in a rear view mirror lodged deep within my mind.

Here I was, though, with memories of inadequacy flooding back. Paul need not know. He saw a man before him who, though dressed casually, had clearly some advantage and comfort in the company of men of character.

Paul seemed a pleasant man at ease with where he was in life. But I began to wonder about his culture. He spoke proudly of the Basque culture and his heritage. There was no secret shame in his dark eyes. He showed no signed of trepidation when he mentioned the shepherd past of culture. Yet I had some knowledge that the culture must have changed over the last ninety years. After all, sheep herding is not exactly in high demand these days. Surely the Great Depression changed the culture of the Basque sheep herding just as the Dust Bowl migrants had their entire lives turned upside down.

Yet, here was a strong vibrant group considered the largest Basque population in the nation right here in Boise.

Had the small ethnic group truly maintained their culture? It was difficult for me to know for sure. Without knowledge of Paul's ethnic heritage, one might never know much about his culture. He seemed perfectly assimilated into American culture.

As I was pondering these thoughts, Paul startled me back to reality.

“I didn't get your name,” he said.

“Sorry. Brian. Brian Jefferson.”

“Brian let me ask you a question. You say you're just in town for the night. Which way are you headed?”

Still a little lost in my thoughts, I simply responded “Not sure. Might head out to Idaho Falls for a while. Just taking a break from home for a while.”

At that thought, I began to eat my sandwich. I was starting to feel self-conscious about where the conversation would head with Paul. He had a great sense of pride in his heritage and I feared that a longer conversation may lead to my questioning what it all really meant. His ethnic pride seemed almost a mirage to me. Here was this man, talking fondly of the past; a curator of the local museum. But something struck me. There was a glint in his eye when talking about his culture and heritage, but there was a shallow tone. Discontent.

Paul thought himself a preservationist. Here he was, speaking to anyone who would listen with great pride about the history of his small ethnic group. But all his words came out in a past tense. There was no mention of what his people were doing now; no pride in current accomplishments.

I understood this feeling. I had some knowledge of my own ancestral glory; but for me, it just just that; ancestral. A part of my past history that had little effect on my daily life. We reminisce about the glory of our past, but it is a shallow pool of remembrance. Nothing of consequence about my ancestral history had any impact on my daily life. Like many, I watched Braveheart. I had great pride in the accomplishments and bravery of my own origins.

Now, that soul; that heritage. It wasn't even a memory. It was simply images flashing on a screen or words printed on paper. Somewhere along the line, my heritage became nothing more than history book fodder.

I imagined if I had continued too deep into conversation with Paul, I may have gone to a dark place that he did not want. The reality is more that I did not want to get too deep into conversation with myself. To do so might require forming a relationship that seemed far too fleeting for intimate conversation about my own history and my own past. Yes, I knew a little of my history, but I had no relation to that history.

A life lacking in the ability to be intimate had led me to many inconsistencies. One of these was an inability to allow my thoughts overcome fears. The only intimacy I knew were brief encounters. A life of brief encounters seemed easier. I had no intimacy with women and felt ill-at-east with myself in their presence. Paul's seeming self-confidence only reminded me of something missing from my mind. Sure I had relationships that many consider intimate which were, in reality, nothing more than short bursts of fear masked in dominance.

Superficially, I could relate to everyone. And that is where intimacy ended. I could have bored Paul all night with my knowledge of my own family history. Having traced our family genealogy back over a thousand years, I knew that we had descended from the Clan Gregor of ancient Scotland on my mother's side. Recitation of Scottish facts; of my Highlands ancestry may mesmerize many. Nonetheless, I was quite aware of my surroundings and felt it inappropriate to get to such intimate levels with strangers. I was but a stranger and did not wish to become an encumbrance.

Knowing the easiest way to fend off intimate conversation was to engross myself in an act that could truly only be individual, I finished my sandwich and drank the cider. The sandwich was quite unique; the pork was marinated in a special pepper sauce with pimentos on a fresh made baguette. AS the tender meat melded with the sweetness of the sauce, the textures and smells took me to a simpler state of mind. For such a simple sandwich, this was exquisite. The cider was still a little too sweet for my taste, but I got the appeal. This was real cider. The meal made me almost feel like I had traveled back in time to an earlier European restaurant.

I noticed as I was finishing the sandwich that Paul had begun to leave. As he was walking out the door, he offered a polite wave. His hand barely to shoulder level, he seemed disappointed, almost, that I had cut off his talk with dinner.

I had noticed a motel just a block away; nice looking place. Good enough for the night. The clerk was tall and slender, a tern yet polite face greeted me and offered his assistance. He appeared to be in his early forties with thinning hair. His greeting was as genuine as you could imagine that of any man who spent eight hours a day being cheerful in the face of weary travelers. It must have been somewhat easier working in such a place with painted with soft hues and finely furnished to present the upscale image of a modern country club sitting room. He looked tired, though. Through the cheerful looking smile, his eyes had deep dark circles and the corners were worn.

I checked in and parked the Lexus. After heading to my room, it dawned on me that I only had a duffel bag with enough clothes for one overnight stay. No matter. I put my bag on the bed and decided I wanted to take a walk. I needed time to really think and nothing did that better for me than a walk alone.

As I walked out, the daylight had barely begun to fade. Boise was warm and I enjoyed the feel of a cool breeze gently blowing as I strolled on to the paved sidewalk. While I had originally set out to spend my night at the coast, I felt a comfort near water. Close by in the downtown area was a river in the midst of lush green parks. Downtown Boise was vibrant in its appearance and I enjoyed a long stroll along the river as I contemplated so many things that I really could not focus on any one specific. I wandered by the river. This was not a rapid heavy river, or at least not this section. It was gently meandering through the city. A river has no friends, only the random touching of objects along the way.

I felt much like this river. Perhaps in large part that I was a stranger in a city where no only one man even knew my name, but this place seemed no different than any other place I have called home over the years. If you looked from the sky with no knowledge, Boise is like an oasis in a vast brown wilderness. Outside the city, long stretches of brown and nothing. In the city, though, you would never know just what lay beyond. A metaphor, I pondered; or maybe a parable. The river flowed through Boise like I flow through life; in contact with many, friends with none.

And there it was, that thought that kept creeping in my head. In the middle of nothing is everything. In the middle of everything is nothing. The former seems illogical while the latter is logical. Memories of the past are fuzzy, but the past is clear. Thoughts of my future are clear, but the path is fuzzy. It was like an intruder planted this seed in my soul. What did it mean?

Like this river, I had shared the banks of my life with many. Pleasantries and drinks shared informally with like-minded people. Just like a river, though, I could be gone in an instant and be but momentarily missed as the next band of water rolled through.

I had entered law and began working for the Knight Foundation in an effort to help others overcome. Along the way, I always thought I had been helping. So convincingly friendly to all, yet without friends. Just clusters of acquaintances with whom I shared nothing past superficial conversations.

As the thoughts became more convoluted and less pleasant, I decided that the time for introspection was not at hand. It is difficult to understand your own relevance without first understanding what it means to be relevant in the first place. To understand the self, I felt I must understand what the self is in the mind of others.

I had done well with school which made me believe that my mind was strong enough to overcome any and all adversity. Lacking, though, was the recognition that if the mind does not have control of the body, it is easy to succumb to the pleasures of the body. Thoughts of past pleasure tricked the mind into a false state of happiness.

While this is something I understood extrinsically, I had never been able to internalize the knowledge. To understand inadequacy, I had to allow myself to be intellectually intimate with others. This thought scared me as it seemed far too difficult. With that in mind, I simply wanted to escape the haunting thought that to be less dissatisfied with my station, I needed to enter uncomfortable territory. It seemed simpler to forget the problem for the time being and move on to a vibrant club in the downtown area.

Strolling through this strange yet familiar city, the scents attacked my mind more so than the sights. Oftentimes, cities seem almost homogeneous in their appearance. The shrubs and trees that lined the river, though, created its own unique identity. The pleasant smell briefly took those thoughts away as I walked only to create more as they took me to a different time.

With many people the sense of smell brings only the pleasant memories. For me, however, pleasantness would frequently be short-lived. Being beside the river, though it was far from childhood took me back. A time that should be nothing but innocence and all I could seem to remember was loss. Not the kind of abject loss that happens. No, this was the abstract loss of long-forgotten dreams.
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