Thursday, January 25, 2007


I know what day it is. I know that I neglect this blog. I know that I make empty promises with semi-regularity when I promise to blog. But today is a new day! I made a revelation today, an awareness of a promise I've long over looked. I'll get to it in a moment but for now I offer a sort of explanation.

I have a job now, moonlighting in the fullness of day as a warehouse worker at a local company. I like the job and the people there though packing boxes is contrary to my dreams of playing music full time and I don't intend to keep this job but for a couple more months. I have little time at home now, even less time to sit, think and write, and a comparable amount of time with an internet connection. Blogging has unfortunately fallen by the side of the road and I fear that today I am no Samaratin but rather a passing Pharisee with clean feet and every intention of keeping them that way. I do, however, promise to blog with more care and will elaborate on this in a moment. But first...

For many years I have struggled with the mystery of an unusual man who looks like this: His name is Meat Loaf and for years I have continued to pay homage to this man everytime I've taken a seat at a piano in spite of two years of college piano study. I have always been plagued by the ever lingering question of, "What is THAT?" Yes, the infamous that of "I wont do that," from the song "I Would Do Anything for Love." For years I have considered Meat a coward, a spineless man who would do anything for his love until the moment in which his selfishness would overcome him and he would no longer do anything for her at all. It was Meat Loaf's door to independence and the return to the glorious life of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Today, a co-worker and I waited for our lunch and the song came over the loudspeaker. He asked, "What is the that?" I said I wasn't sure but that I believe there was a duet in the song that may or may not answer the question. "The duet!" I thought. "How could I have forgotten?" We listened as she rattled off her requests and Meat promised in return. Eventually she asked if he would fool around on her, returning to the life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll when all of a sudden he says, "But I wont do that." It hit me that the title of the song was, in fact, a promise and that the coward Meat Loaf was actually galiantly balladeering his utter service and faithful devotion to this woman for the rest of his life. I had it all wrong!

There is something to be said for such a promise and I choose these words carefully. I promise to blog, soon, with as many as three new posts over the next week so please check back. I have many years of misunderstanding to repay Meat Loaf and I do not take this lightly. But for the time being, I am home, I'm extremely tired, chores are many, and I must go. Until then. Cheers!

Monday, January 01, 2007

it's the most wonderful time...

Christmas has come and gone with more haste than ever yet much is familiar. More so than any other time of year, tradition runs wild as some things never change and those that do become traditions unto themselves. On this day after Christmas, I am engaging in perhaps the latter of these. The 007 Days of Christmas is in full swing and I am compulsively engaged in “The Man With the Golden Gun”. I have mocked many a movie in my years yet this tale of kung fu, super spies, flying cars, and three nippled assassins garners respect as do the other 21 companion films. I know what you are thinking: “There are only 21 Bond films, not 22!” And yes, “Never Say Never Again” is an unofficial remake of “Thunderball”, not made by EON Productions, but it is still Bond and I will stand by it.

Presently I am enjoying a day with absolutely nothing to do. This is very unusual these days as the sum of my responsibility leaves me with little time alone and void of responsibility. Gone are the golden years of sitting home all day, desperately seeking something to do. If I, in fact, had a day at home, I would have no end of things needed doing but my good fortunes find me at my parent’s house in Chattanooga. This house is quite clean and filled with the charming reminder of Christmas. Vintage Garrison Keilor plays as my father and I clean our fly-fishing lines. My mother sleeps in front of the television. This is vacation.

In light of this time, I will blog. So here it is: my report of Christmas as it occurred, the standard, silly, and sacred, in the year of our Lord, 2006.

Sarah and I walk heedfully down the steep, slippery driveway, turn down the walk and come to a stop in front of the house. It is the house of my godfather, Charlie, and we are arriving at what is the first traditional gathering of Christmas in the Stiles family holiday comings and goings. Charlie runs the local soup kitchen for the homeless and he and his wife Cindy were my parent’s first friends as newly weds. Every year we gather either at our house or theirs and we celebrate Christmas. The stories inherent would take more time to tell than I have but over the years we have met many guests at Christmas with the Hughes family in the role of “significant other”. This year is my first time to bring such a guest in my 24 years of nearly 35 years of tradition. I turn to Sarah and say, “After you.” “No, you first,” she says. The night is wonderful, the friends old and rich and the Christmas season is in full swing.

Saturday morning, we drive across town to my grandmother’s house, my dad’s mom. This year my grandmother is married, unlike any year I can recall before. Another difference is Dad’s brother Cliff has made the journey from Pennsylvania, one of only two or three visits I can recall in my lifetime. He brings his third wife Tracy, baby Connor, and my mumbling nine year old hurricane of a cousin Donnie. I say none of this with any kind of cynicism in my heart but I would be lying if I said that Cliff has had a good relationship with the family over the years. It is obvious we don’t always know what to say, but as the morning progresses, I am reminded of the endurance of family. At Christmas the playing field is level. I know little of my family history and upon asking my sister am told I’m better off not knowing, but I also know that healing is occurring and that Cliff and his family are surviving and growing for, perhaps, the first time. Our time is chaotic yet good and it is a lovely day out.

The weather demands walking and Sarah, my parents, and I spend the afternoon wandering Chattanooga’s north and south shores. I am dismayed at the speed with which I forget what a simply charming town this is. Interesting stores, coffee shops, riverside parks, bridges, a striking aquarium and even an art museum of postmodern twists and corners line both sides of the river. We eventually settle at the movie theater downtown and watch “The Pursuit of Happyness” (actually spelled happiness; see the movie, it’ll make sense). The movie is sweet, tragic and inspiring yet as I’ve thought back on it, I am saddened for two reasons. The first is that the main character’s dream of happiness is intrinsically tied to wealth and I believe wealth to be no solution for happiness though a solution for most anything else. Success is not measured in wealth as I am often reminded by various people I admire like my father or our friend Charlie. The second source of my sadness is that for every one person who travels from filthy rags to riches hundreds and thousands remain on the streets waiting for a bed in a shelter or a seat at a table with food on it. And on a more anal note, I can’t stand un-necessary narrators.
Christmas Eve is a mellow day of church and family with a candle-lit evening service and a dinner at our house afterwards. The dinner is the only time both sides of the family get together. At one point, I am asked to play guitar for the family and I realize all too well that I don’t respond as well to being asked to play as I do being told what to play. I need to work on this. I am also terribly out of practice right now. I need to work on this.

One new tradition is that the intermediate family now has Christmas on Christmas Eve. As dinner winds down and extended family leaves, my parents, sister, and brother-in-law gather to exchange presents. I love being past the age tearing through presents and find watching other people open and react to theirs encouraging. We are all past the age of really wanting or asking for things and most gifts our given out of shear thoughtfulness and I love the reasons for gift giving. My father, for instance, gave my mother a lovely vacation they have only talked about for years and wrote a poem on the inside of a book that detailed the dates, destination, and even the issues of finance. I was given two gifts that corresponded specifically to an idea as well. The book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an author’s thoughts on moral life philosophy as he and his son rode their motorcycles across the American west. My dad and I have always talked of such a trip. I was also given George Harrison’s “All Things Shall Pass”, and was told that Harrison always felt he had no definite guitar style but would always try to play whatever it took to make the song most effective. I have always struggled with a musical identity and dad said this album reminded him of me. My parents are always extremely thoughtful and this Christmas was no exception on so many levels. These are the gifts I really treasure.

The remainder of the season was rather low key. I ran errands with my parents, got a hair cut, watched several movies, and did a variety of things I can’t really remember. Eventually, Sarah came back to join the family and we took her fly-fishing. It was a pleasant day on the river, overcast and cool. It was a beautiful winter scene and I hardly noticed the fish weren’t biting.

And apparently I have asthma. Well, I might, but near the end of my week, I went to see the doctor about my ever lingering cough. We discussed allergy problems and he listened to my breathing. “Hmm”, he would say with every exhale; this does not inspire confidence. “I think you have asthma,” he says, and I am sent to the hospital to take a lung capacity test. The lab technicians sat and talked gossip and their desire to drink margaritas at 10 in the morning. The woman actually manning the computer served more as a breathing coach, cheering me through each test like a hyper-active dog owner coaxing her new toy of a puppy through any number of tasks. “big breath, Big breath, BIG breath... BREATH OUT! GO GO GO!” I thought it hilarious. I had never been admitted to a hospital and wore my bracelet with pride for the remainder of the day.

I am now back in Nashville, having spent a nice, low key New Year’s Eve with some friends. I confess that when I started writing this blog that I thought I had a lot more to talk about but I can’t seem to remember any of it. You the reader may consider yourself fortunate. Before long, I will give a sort of “Year in Review” as I see it but we’ll take this one thing at a time. I will, instead, leave you with a few final thoughts.

I think we are quite fortunate to have a time of celebration that marks new life and rebirth. It is the coming of hope and a clean slate to make things right. I am reminded of this as I see my estranged uncle reintegrating into the family. I know that we shouldn’t rely on a holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ but I think the reminder is worth while as our lives our distracting enough as it is and the holiday season is even more distracting. For the truth is such great news! The King, the long expected Saviour has come! “Then the one who sits on the throne said, ‘Look! I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). Great news indeed!

Happy New Year...