Posted by: silverback | 2019/08/08

People Kill People (redux)

Not quite two years ago, I wrote the below entry in this very blog:

Having reread it just now, I still feel most of my points in that post are valid. I think it bears some refinement, though. For the sake of posterity, because I sadly just know we’ll likely revisit this place again, and again – we’ve just had two mass shootings in America in the space of twenty four hours.

In El Paso, Texas, a young white man opened fire in a crowded Wal-Mart that was primarily used my Mexican and Mexican-American patrons. This young man had been seemingly emboldened by the hateful rhetoric coming from our highest Office, and decided to do something about the “immigrant problem.”

In Dayton, Ohio, another young white man opened fire in a busy nightlife area, killing his sister, among other innocent people. This person seems to have been disturbed, mentally unstable, borderline sociopathic for some time, if the initial reports are at all credible.

And America has responded just about as expected – split right down the middle. Half the people saying “Guns Don’t Kill People,” and the other half saying, “But People Use Guns to Kill People.” Stalemate. Some lawmakers are considering a change of heart, while others are expressing Thoughts and Prayers – which are powerful things, if authentic. Even our Most Esteemed Cheeto In Chief has expressed that “…Our Nation Must Condemn Racism, Bigotry and White Supremacy.” Again, a powerful sentiment, if it proves to not simply be lip service…

As I wrote previously, I still hold the opinion that all arguments are equally invalid. The guns are merely a symptom of a broken system.

Some readers might be nodding in agreement, “Yes! The system is broken! Our government…” STOP RIGHT THERE, PLEASE.

I’m not talking about any system that humans might have created. Let’s all take a step back – like, a BIG step. Let’s travel a million miles out, and view our tiny whirling blue ball as the system:

Earth Seen by NASA's DSCOVR Satellite

Maybe we should think of it as a cell. If we were to put this cell under an electron microscope, we might see some troubling things – signs of disease, perhaps…

Look closer, you might see the arctic ice caps melting at a rate not before seen in recorded history. You might sample the atmosphere and find CO2 concentration the likely cause of increasing temperature within the biosphere:

Image result for co2 concentrations over time

If you were a doctor, you might say the cell looks feverish.

The dominant creature of the seas is slowly running out of its natural bountiful prey as the oceans are polluted and emptied and turning acidic from the elevated CO2 levels, because chemistry. As a result, it is venturing closer to shore and beginning to eat members of the dominant land creature as they frolic in the shallow water by the shoreline.

An intelligent creature might look at the balance of life in the biosphere and wonder why the dominant species on the planet seems bent on the outright consumption of its only known habitat. It would be impossible to understand, that this species has over the span of its existence created an abstract concept of wealth that some can collect easily – and the collection of that wealth seems to make it easier to collect more – while most of the rest of the species is left to fend for themselves. The people with the wealth are able to create systems to protect the wealth and prevent it from being shared across the breadth of the species to benefit all. That concept is another abstract called “socialism,” apparently, and those holding the wealth view it as categorically bad.

To top it all off, in the purest form of consumerist folly, we’ve created these amazing tiny computers that simultaneously give us access to all the collective knowledge on the planet, but which remove the need to physically connect with other members of our species. We willfully create distance between us as our very human need for community is slowly forgotten, rendered a mere glint of ancestral memory.

My point being that I believe the system is diseased. Every single organism on this whirling blue ball is part of the system, and as such, we are all connected by the very energy that holds us all together. Trees talk to each other, we are finally “discovering,” only perhaps we are remembering – ancient peoples seem to have known this intuitively. Fish and birds move in schools and flocks, their fluid, complex movements as groups incomprehensible to us. Bees collect nectar for honey, but their purely instinctive movements manifest the very existence of fruits.

A man named George Yancey wrote this open letter to God, which I think bears a careful read. He expresses some of the ideas I can’t hold in my head all at once.

If we view all things as part of God – if we are All One, and God has gone feverish, then there are bound to be nightmares.

Nightmares always come with a fever.

Posted by: silverback | 2018/12/12

country livin’

Eleven inches of snow and still falling, is what I woke up to this past Saturday – the first snow of the year. We were warned, and I was as prepared as I could be. The power was off, which was no surprise. My new house is way out in the country, nearly to the end of the power line spur. I had fresh water, gasoline for the generator, and a huge stack of firewood.

Coffee! Always the first order of business. I got out the little Primus stove from my backpack and heated enough water for some cowboy coffee – a french press the first thing to go on the list for next time. I poured the gritty mixture through the filter of the coffee pot and quietly sipped my first cup of the sweet elixir of life. Damn was it quiet. The foot of snow muffled all the sound, save the occasional branch breaking or clump of snow falling off the ineffective power lines, and not a soul was moving yet.

After a moment, I took some time to stir the coals and stoke the woodstove. The lack of power made no difference to the temperature in the house, as the woodstove keeps this small space toasty. I put on my boots, bundled up, and headed out to fire the generator, which hadn’t been run in a while. I didn’t want to put all the food from the fridge outside if I didn’t have to!

The generator wouldn’t run off choke, so it was necessary to do a quick carburetor disassembly and cleaning – the main jet was almost completely clogged by stupid ethanol gunk. I pulled the spark plug and cleaned all the fouling off, and soon the old Chinese 6.5kW was running like a top – better than it has in years! With the fridge plugged in, my main concern was abated, and I could go about other things. There are always other things when you live in the country.

I grew up in the country. I was a suburban kid in New York until I was eleven, and New York winters were never a joke. I remember walking up the long driveway through waist-deep snow, and roadside snowplow berms well over my four-foot head. We had epic, half-mile sled runs some winters, down through the horse pasture, under the livestock gate, and down through the woods almost to the shore of the tiny local lake.

At eleven, a rising sixth grader, my parents moved us down to rural North Carolina, to a tiny community some twenty miles northwest of Asheville. It was for sure a culture shock. All of a sudden, each day became a seemingly nonstop series of chores. We had pasture to clear of evil invasive rose thickets, postholes to dig, fence to run, outbuildings to build – things I had never ever done or even conceived of doing at any time before the summer of ’79. Looking back, I’m grateful that my father gave me those many, many opportunities to learn how to homestead.

I was half of the build crew for both of these structures. I had no idea…

We initially lived in a trailer – a situation I vowed to never, ever repeat in my entire life. A single-wide trailer in the seventies was no real protection from the elements. Wind howling up the knoll from the north would shake the entire thing, blowing away the cheap vinyl underpinning and making the metal roof thunder like some giant piece of foil. In the winter, the oil furnace would just barely maintain 60 degrees, but only in the main room. And all of the pipes would freeze after the underpinning was once again hurled off the hilltop by furious wind, allowing all the elements to reach all the outside surfaces. It was awful.

Five years after moving into the “temporary” trailer, we decided to build a house. Or rather, mom finally decided that if dad didn’t build her a house, she might not be staying there anymore. We moved all our shit into either the barn or the tiny house we found to rent right down the road. Just in time for winter. I believe that place was just a tiny bit nicer trailer plopped down on top of a half a “foundation” which had the kitchen and bathroom. At least it didn’t shake when the wind blew. Sometimes the kitchen would flood a little when it rained real hard, so we’d splash around in a half inch of water in our galoshes. Good times.

Country living is different. The grass grows faster, and the woods constantly try to reinstate themselves. Bugs are omnipresent, and mice, and snakes. The infrastructure we grow to depend upon in the urban areas – power, road clearing, brush removal, drainage systems – they just don’t exist. Or they are unreliable. So we learn to do the things ourselves. For me – a male of the species, with much of my ego connected to what I can accomplish – the ability to remain self-sufficient in the absence of that infrastructure is deeply rewarding.

Living way out in the country, I learned to drive whatever car was available in whatever conditions the weather presented. I learned to build a roaring fire in a woodstove, sufficient to heat my entire house. I learned to make coffee and prepare food with a single burner. I learned how to take apart the things that weren’t working and fix them so they work again. I also learned how to be resourceful, to make do when the thing still won’t work. I learned how rewarding it is to cut and split firewood. I learned to be conservation-minded.

Surrounded by nature, I think we remember where we came from, and it all becomes just a bit more valuable. I start to think of ways I could become more self-sufficent with less disturbance of the very beauty that I can only experience way out in the country.

Posted by: silverback | 2018/04/09

moto dad

I could not even believe how nervous I was for him.

Lucas is thirteen now, and this year decided to consolidate all his Christmas and birthday loots into a season of racing motocross. No presents, no trips, no summer camp – just racing. We flipped his DRZ125 into a Honda CRF150R, which is much bigger and much more powerful – an honest-to-God motocross race bike. It’s a big jump. I got a deal I could not pass up on the Honda, but it’s a “big wheel” version, and Lucas is still small for his age. This means it’s a challenge for him to pick it up and sometimes to get it started without somebody helping just a little bit. And he’s sensitive to needing help when none of the other kids need it on their small-wheel two-stroke 85’s.

practice line.jpg

I was nervous because he just headed out for his first 85/150 combined practice, and suddenly he was in the middle of a giant pack of screaming, smoking, fast-moving mini bikes, on a big outdoor track where he’d often be far away from me, and occasionally completely out of sight. I had no idea it would affect me so profoundly. Instantly, it became clear that the number of things that could go wrong had increased exponentially. My heart rate jumped, and I was having to take full, deep breaths to keep from hyperventilating.

Those who know me will understand this is uncharacteristic. I am not risk-averse. I regularly put myself in harm’s way in pursuit of one adrenaline rush or another.

On this occasion, it wasn’t me in harm’s way, nor was it the adrenaline rush I was necessarily pursuing. Yet as I wiped the cold sweat from my brow, I recognized it for just that.

Lucas’ learning curve is in warp speed right now. We got the DRZ last spring for his 12th birthday – about the time I was putting together a basketcase YZ250F for myself. I got my first dirt bike for my 13th birthday, and have ridden one motorcycle or another pretty much constantly since then – over 35 years. I’ve had dirt bikes and street bikes and dual-sports and full-on roadrace bikes. Having the opportunity to share the same experience and joy with my own son has been indescribable. It has helped me understand what it means to be a father, and to be a man. I learned to ride my dirt bike on my own, my father wanting nothing to do with any two-wheeled vehicles at all, ever. Riding with Lucas has brought me more joy than I would ever have thought possible.

Last spring, he began with enthusiasm and an inkling of talent. We rode trails and a few practice tracks through the summer and fall, as I watched his comfort and confidence grow with every ride. It became evident that the DRZ was a perfect bike to learn on, but he was quickly outgrowing its capabilities.

On the new bike, his innate talent and growing skill has become a thing of wonder to me, as I see his understanding of how the thing works – how all the things work – grow with every single session. Part of me wishes we’d started sooner, but I tend to have faith in the way things happen organically rather than the way things might have been. As it is, his maturity is growing at the same rate as his skill.

My favorite part of this right now is that he is willing to listen to me, and to try to put into practice the things I tell him. I’m a good rider, but I think I might be a better coach, because I can tell you how the thing works, if you want to know.

None of the skill and confidence and talent matter in this moment, however. I anxiously watch him trying to work out some passes in the midst of a pack of a dozen brightly colored, speeding minibikes, as they fly over the upper tabletop and disappear into the woods.


After a few seconds, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I silently remind myself to BREATHE – words I’ve said to Lucas many times.  When I see him come flying back into view, he’s worked his way nearly to the front of his little pack. As I watch, he works out how to carry just a little more speed through the downhill left-right, and he finally crushes the second-gear step-up off the tight uphill right, giving him enough speed for the middle step-down. He finishes the practice session with no incident.

As he rolls back to our pits, I can see him beaming beneath his helmet and goggles, “Oh MY GOD DAD!! That was soo much fun! Did you see me get the step-up?”

I sure did, kiddo. That was bad ass.

Posted by: silverback | 2018/03/07

twenty-year-old machines

My father was a brilliant and creative, yet tortured, and socially awkward, mechanical genius. I grew up in his shadow, spending most Saturdays and summer vacations working in his auto repair shop. I learned so much from him that I graduated at the top of my Navy Machinist’s Mate “A” school without hardly cracking a book.

As with most male children, I imagine, my father was to me both awe-inspiring and terrifying. He could be incredibly tender and nurturing, or he could be angry and distant – the stormclouds often visible across his brow and behind his eyes. My own son must experience the same thing with me, only I hope to have improved somewhat; perhaps a little more warmth and a tad less thunder…

I began this blog several years ago, with a few posts about mechanical things, and the connection I feel with deep, universal equations when I’m fixing or creating things. The past several years have been incredibly fulfilling in the machine shop, as I get to do math all day long, get to fulfill my need to create things or fix things constantly. As with most jobs, there are good days and Mondays (euphemistically speaking). In my own garage, however, I don’t experience too many Mondays. Especially when I’m deep into a machine, cleaning, inspecting, restoring old interfaces to operation. This winter, I’ve had a deeply cathartic experience with a twenty-year-old Triumph Speed Triple.

Growing up, my father always had a twenty-year old project car that became, against all common sense, a daily driver for the family. In the early seventies, we had a fifties-era Jaguar MkII Saloon:


(I have very early memories of tossing giant pop-together plastic beads out the back window, just to watch them bounce down the road behind the car…)

Being an auto mechanic by trade, my dad would get these cars on the cheap because paying somebody to fix them would be too expensive an undertaking for their owners. Then, he would easily fix them. I imagine he had aspirations of restoring them, and flipping them, only to discover that nobody really wanted to own a twenty-year-old project car.

When I was in high school, I drove for a while (including a solo trip from NC to Arkansas to visit a romantic interest) a seventies Lancia Beta sedan, like nobody in most of the country had ever seen:

lancia beta.jpg

(On the aforementioned trip, I suffered a flat tire, then found out the spare wheel was a thirteen inch Fiat item vice the stock fourteen inch wheel, and I had to remove one rear brake caliper in order to mount the spare and get home. I tied it up in the undercarriage and wedged something in there so it felt like I had brakes…)

My T509 Speed Triple is much the same. I got a really good deal (I think) on a classic British motorbike from a classic British marque. The bike had all its bits, but had been sitting for some time.

Having owned this 2005 model Speed Triple,

Picture 001.jpg

(I loved this bike. She brought a smile to my face every time I rode her!)

…when the opportunity popped up to buy this 1998 version of the same bike, I went into a near-panic to make it mine:


I’d always loved the classic lines of the T509 model – those absurdly overdone side scoops, the more conventional silhouette, the novelty of the twin headlights.

More than that, the idea of a restoration project has a soulful appeal to me. It tugs at me – I want to take it all the way apart, down to its most basic assemblies. I want to touch every single piece, the way I might touch a lover. With curiosity, with tenderness. I want to understand what the engineers intended, and then bring those parts all back to life, return them to proper function at least, or at best, to improve upon the original.

As I spent time on this restoration project, I felt my connection with my father more deeply than at any time in my life. Every evening I retired to the garage to spend an hour or two (or three) engaged in communion with deus in machina, I began to feel that same incomprehensible (tho not really) connection to the old machine.

As she showed herself to me, part by part, assembly by assembly, I sensed the ghost of my father watching, guiding my intuition. As she came together and the fire was reignited in her metallic belly, the lubricating oil circulated around her various journals and meshed gears, I experienced the same joy and satisfaction that he must have felt putting the final touches on countless twenty-year-old machines, hearing those same fires ignite.

The pure nervous joy that comes with rolling the machine to the roadway for the test drive must be genetic. After all, nobody is really going to be clamoring to buy a twenty-year-old motorcycle with 57,000 miles on the clock, so I guess I’ll ride it for awhile.

Posted by: silverback | 2017/10/04

people kill people.

I’ve heard it several times over the past few days, “Guns aren’t the problem; the problem is our Godless society.”

My biggest problem in the last few years of my life has been my ability to see all the sides of any issue, despite my own opinions and thoughts on whatever it is. In this case, as horrific as it is, I can still see both sides.

I think it’s ridiculous how staunchly the 2nd-Amendment advocates will defend their dogma – that every citizen is somehow Constitutionally bound to support the idea that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It doesn’t matter that the text was written in the infancy of an unstable rogue nation, by a group of defiant white men in constant danger of being squelched by the most powerful nation on the planet at the time. But – it’s the Constitution of the United States of America, and right or wrong, volumes upon volumes of archaic laws have been founded and defended by the principles within. At least as many good laws as bad ones, I’d propose.

And it’s also quite true that a gun, held in no hands, is itself incapable of harm. It’s an oversimplification, of course. A nuclear weapon in a perfect vacuum is similarly harmless. But of course, a gun, or a stack of guns in this case, rarely causes a tragedy or even makes the news, unless in the hands of a madman.

The problem as I see it is the increasing numbers of madmen.

As far as the idea of a “Godless society” goes, I understand this is meant as a dig towards a liberal agenda as promoted by such institutions as the ACLU, the Kennedy Democrats, Planned Parenthood, and Hollywood. Having grown up as a Yankee transplant to the heart of the Southern Baptist south, I understand the threat that Red-State America feels. Liberals have become emboldened enough in the Clinton and Obama eras to force the extremes of our progressive ideas about equality and morality on the Conservative institutions of Big Christian Ideas as supported by the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament. We’ve kinda rammed our ideas down their throats. We judge our brothers and neighbors very harshly when their ideas of what’s appropriate and demure clash with ours. When their beliefs hold that chastity is virtuous, modesty is wholesome, and sexual activity is best enjoyed behind closed doors between a loving couple. Or that the text of the Bible is sacred. Or that abortion is a sin along the lines of murder. We’ve often sneered – the liberal version of unkindness. Add a little ill-disguised pity for their old-fashioned ignorance, and the seed of resentment is planted and well-fertilized.

Even as I write the words, I realize I’ve created the division between “them,” and “us.” It’s what we do as humans – some leftover vestigial sense of a threat from outside our tribe.

Pointless are the arguments, though. All the arguments. We have indeed become a Godless society. We’ve forgotten the Divine ideas of Compassion, Kindness, and Love. We’ve reverted to a tribal mindset almost globally. In America, we divide ourselves roughly in two, only it’s rarely just two, but rather two again and two again, until there are so many factions that we end up merely concerned with ourselves, because well, self-preservation. I go round and round and round in my own head just hearing the daily news, just watching what’s happening across the globe. The system has seemingly gone haywire. We’ve Eased God Out – a friend of mine used to say that’s what “ego” stood for.

Everybody has an ego. It’s the part of the psyche that tells us we’re different from each other. It tells me I’m smarter or dumber, better than you or the worst person ever, stronger or a helpless victim, etc. It’s the judge – it indicts you for being different from me, for not thinking like I do, for not living where I live or believing what I believe. It tells me I don’t need you or anybody to create my ideal existence. It tells me you deserve to be harmed if you cross some line on the landscape of my beliefs. Ego makes up the rules that you have to follow, but from which I am exempt in special situations, such as are also determined by ego. Ego drives commerce, industry, sports, and politics. Ego feeds on power – the ability to control people, places, things.

So how do we turn back towards our Divine nature? How do we begin to embrace the Big Idea that there’s no “them,” but simply “ALL OF US.” How do we squelch the belief that we are separate from God? We are all God. God is all.

If human nature is inherently egoistic, in that we are hard wired to discern the threat of a member of a different tribe, and our society is daily seeking ways to divide us into ever smaller tribes – liberal or conservative, Christian or Muslim, further even – Baptist or Episcopalian, Shiite or Sunni, Southern Baptist or Missionary Baptist, Calvary Church or Freedom Fellowship? Ford or Chevy, coffee or tea, PFLAG or homophobe? If it’s always Us vs. Them, then what path lay before us but the eventual self-destruction of the species?

People kill people.



Posted by: silverback | 2015/02/22

remain calm

People like to freak out, At least, that’s my perception. We get so wrapped up in our first-world problems that we so often forget that life is about love and happiness, and that it’s our choice to exist in that space – not at all dependent on external factors. Stuff doesn’t make us happy. Circumstances don’t make us happy. We find happiness, in the form of peace or serenity, or gratitude, simply in staying present. For most of us, there is nothing wrong in this moment. If you’re able to read this, for instance, a) you’re alive, b) you have electricity and internet service c) you have time for luxurious things like surfing said internet. I’d say life is pretty fucking good.

Last night, my soon-to-be fiance and I were heading to the big party. We rode our bikes, because the annual party is called “Bike Love.” There was some nervousness, because she knew I was planning something, and there was some discombobulation, because we were trying to get the three rambunctious boys all set with the terrified babysitter. We rode all the way across town before realizing we’d left all our identification, money, and even the tickets to the party at the house.

“Oh FUCK!”

My thoughts ran crazy for a few minutes. I had set up with the party organizer a very small window in which I could grab the mic and make my grand proposal. I didn’t have tickets to even get in the door, and there was no way I had time to make the round trip back across town to get those tickets. We had no money and no ID. My honey was frantically calling a friend who we thought might be inside to see if we could borrow a vehicle when it occurred to me that it was all going to be alright.

People knew us. We decided to try the door first. A parable in itself.

And to make a short story even shorter, the girl working the door knew us. I explained that I had bought tickets, but then forgot them. But the organizer of the party (name-drop) was expecting me, so could we please just run in and find him? She told us to go talk the the second door-person/hostess, who promptly just gave us wristbands as if we had actually possessed tickets. In less than thirty seconds, our friend showed up and told us she had started a tab and that we should just put our drinks on that.

The rest of the night went without a single hitch. It was perfect, in fact. I had managed to remember the one piece of paper on which I had made a few notes so that I could try to keep my unrehearsed proposal somewhat coherent. And she said “YES,” so it was an unmitigated success as far as anybody was concerned.

In short, there was never a problem to begin with.

Part Two finds me headed the slopes today to snowboard with my son. I had bought some vouchers via a groupon-esque deal, and had printed two of them out to use today. When we arrived at the resort, short on time to begin with, and only after having stopped to rent his boots and board, I realized I had left those tickets in my overnight bag on the floor of my bedroom.


I really can’t afford to buy full price lift tickets, but we’re here, and I’d been promising the trip all week. So we get in line.

(Pay attention, because this is how shit happens for me). As I’m waiting my turn in line, some stupid little college-student bitch (easy – just my internal judge initially sizing up the situation) slips into line ahead of me. “Really?!” I exclaim only to myself, as I sneer at the back of her head. Then she goes to the window with her phone and says “I found the vouchers in my email…”

WHAM! Bolt of lighting. I tell the boy to stand right there, and immediately bolt for my phone, which I’d left in the car. I hustle back up to the window just as I locate the email with the voucher numbers…

In short, there was never a problem to begin with. I needed that little girl to step into line ahead of me (since she’d apparently already been there) to show me the way through my situation.

In Part Two of Part Two, I reached into my jacket pocket a couple hours later to find my phone and check the time, only to find the soft lining of my jacket pocket…and nothing else.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? I’ve lost my phone!

It could almost be anywhere. I tell the boy I’ll meet him at the bottom, but I’ve got to go back and retrace my steps down the last couple runs I did, and look around the one place I fell down, ironically trying to demonstrate to my son how to control his edge so he wouldn’t keep falling down.

The next thirty minutes were a little frantic, as I searched the slope and asked the lift operators and visually scoured under the lift as I rode up…

Then I decided there wasn’t really anything I could do today, and I’d rather enjoy the time on the slopes with my awesome kid than worry about the demanding piece of technology that seems determined to make me work for it. I have insurance on it, but even if I didn’t, and couldn’t get an early upgrade, I had almost decided to just get a “dumb” flip-phone for a few months and take a little vacation from the device. Sounds heavenly.

I enjoyed the rest of the day, and we even caught the very last run on the very last lift of the day. When we finished our run, I asked the ski patrol guy if anybody had turned in a phone and he said no, but that there was a lost and found in the Lodge. I had walked about ten steps toward the lodge when I heard, “Hey! Hey man! Red jacket!”

As I’d walked away from the Ski Patrol towards the Lodge, a teenage boy had come to the same Ski Patrol guy trying to turn in a phone he’d found on the slope.


I thanked the kid profusely, and told him that he was an awesome human being. Then I got a little overwhelmed by all the good shit in the past twenty-four hours, and shook the young man’s hand and again told him just how righteous a dude he was, and then I told his mom the same thing. She knew it already.

Yet again, there was never a problem to begin with.


I firmly believe that things work out EXACTLY as they’re supposed to. If I believe that the only thing I have is this moment, and the only time I can be happy, or at peace, or content, is RIGHT NOW, then all moments leading up to this one have been perfect, and this moment sets the stage for every future moment to be just as perfect.

Sometimes I make bad decisions, sure. But I’d wager most of those bad decisions are based on false information from my past that I’m holding on to, or fears of an imaginary future that hasn’t even happened yet. So as a result of those bad decisions I get to learn a lesson, sometimes more than once.

What’s become crystal clear to me in the past few years is that most of the time, if I just resist the urge to freak out, and instead let the Universe come back around to bring me what I need (or even sometimes the things I merely want), that usually…

there was never a problem to begin with.

Posted by: silverback | 2015/02/03


I maintain my assertion that the Universe seeks nothing so much as equilibrium. I think it’s a cosmic joke that keeps us in check.

As Groundhog Day has come and gone, I posted a silly meme on my Facebook wall that struck me as funny:groundhog

Of course, a few friends “liked” it, and a couple took issue. I find it absurd that “Climate Deniers” are even a thing. Even if I had done zero research, had zero knowledge of scientific things, I would have to imagine, in a common-sense way, that since humans (that’s us) of the industrial age (since, say, 1900) have extracted about 70% of the world’s total resources, that we must’ve had some sort of massive negative impact on the planet.

I have friends that routinely post the doomsday predictions. My tendency is to believe that we’re going to fuck ourselves right out of a place to live.

I have friends that post spiritual guides regularly. I consider myself a spiritual person, so I’m one of those people too, I suppose. I think our best results come from staying present, seeking to remain conscious, and trying to connect with each other and the planet and the Universe. I believe in the God of Quantum Physics, so my hope is that we figure that riddle out before it’s too late for our kids.

I have friends who are a little too zealous about their religions for my taste, but I respect their right to believe whatever the hell makes them feel better. I try not to judge some of those folks for quoting the Bible while being generally self-absorbed, greedy, or even downright shitty people. We’re all on our own respective paths, right?

What I’m sensing, as the years pass, is that more of us seem to be heading for the far ends of the scale.

It’s like the political system in America. Each party travels further to the left or the right to appeal to their base, shouting partisan taglines as if they were powerful talismans, able to ward off the evil intentions of the Koch Brothers or Obamacare. Only the Koch brothers are real villains, doing real sinister shit. And the Affordable Care Act, while well-intentioned, often feels a tad oppressive and somehow more beneficial to the insurance companies than the people at the end of the day.

For every person committing to renewable energy sources, there’s one buying shares in Keystone XL.

For every person adopting the practice of yoga because it makes us feel good, there’s another mindlessly buying cheap GMO crap for their family.

For every one of us who worships the woods and the clear water and the pristine back country that remains, there’s another that wants to open ANWAR for oil drilling so we can keep driving big trucks for a few more years.

For every one of us who believes less is more, consciously abrogating loads of material crap, there’s a crew building another shopping center where there used to be woods.

For every conscientious objector there’s a teenager gung-ho to get issued a gun to go waste some ragheads. Or a Jihadist zealot anxious to behead an innocent in the name of Muhammed.

It feels like madness at these extremes. Too much or not enough. Dogmatic themes, only with different Gods, different governments, different innocents.

As we seemingly split down the middle, it feels more and more every day like we take up residence at the very edges, as far away from each other and any sense of unity or common cause (you know, like the survival of the species, or the preservation of the only place we can live for the time being) as we can possibly get.

It’s a strange, disheartening disconnect. I often wonder, a bit hopelessly, what it’s going to take to shake us back down to the middle again. Is it even possible? Is it folly to seek neutrality? What’s the point of trying to stand on the fulcrum?

Well, no matter which way the seesaw falls, the middle stays up, right?

Posted by: silverback | 2015/01/27


As I sit here comfortable in my writing chair, those damn dogs are yapping again. Incessantly. My immediate neighbors keep a number of little yapping dogs penned up outside their house. In my head, they’re Pomeranians, or some such tiny dog. I can make out at least four distinct wailing barks, maybe six… The people probably keep them outside because they bark at the sound of the wind rustling the few remaining leaves left on barren winter branches. I’m sure their 60-inch HDTV is probably cranked up to deafening levels as well just to keep the plaintive howls from penetrating. It sucks for many reasons, not the least of which is the itching feeling I get behind my eyeballs when they all start barking frantically in unison.

I think occasionally that I should walk over there and knock on the door to ask them nicely to do something about their goddamn little yappy dogs disturbing my serenity, but I’m afraid to do that. I’m afraid of my darkness. I’m just not at all sure it would be a polite, neighborly exchange. I’m afraid that I might just snap and the words I’m thinking might be the ones that slip out, and then I end up with the weight of remorse and/or shame for my actions.

I had an uncomfortable little daydream about purposefully walking down there with a medium-gauge shotgun and laying waste to all the obnoxious little creatures one at a time…BANG! shick-shick BANG! shick-shick BANG! shick-shick BANG! And then looking calmly into the horrified eyes of those neighbors who had come running at the sound of the ruckus, daring them to speak a word of outrage. Shick-shick.

OF COURSE NOT! See – I love animals. I could never follow through with any kind of plan that would cause harm to a furry little mammal, no matter how piteous and exasperating. When I was about twelve, I once cried for thirty minutes after reading a fucking National Enquirer article about a bunch of rabbits that were maimed and/or killed in a movie shoot. And of course the stupid little yappy dogs are in no way responsible for their situation – it’s their shitty, oblivious, self-centered owners. And of course I couldn’t ever get away with shooting one or more real people…right?


I’m generally a very tolerant person. I know I do mindless things that likely annoy the shit out of some people. But there’s quite often this very cruelly creative movie running in background, like that Michael Douglas movie where he just cracks one day and goes around LA with a shotgun, righting all the wrongs he can perceive. When I had my big goddamn truck, I can’t tell you how many times I fantasized about simply running people off the road. The thing weighed 7000 lbs and had 600 ft-lb of torque. I am a skilled driver. I’m pretty sure most of the time I would have carried on my way without physical harm, or really even much damage to my vehicle. How many times have you, say, been having heated words with somebody and just fantasized throat-punching them, in a Bruce Lee kind of way? My girlfriend is my actual hero because of an incident involving a mouthy homophobic tourist and a cocktail napkin, but she still wasn’t able to walk away without consequence.

I don’t think it makes me an awful person to have these semi-psychopathic fantasies. I also don’t think I’m so abnormal. I see all kinds of people wrestling with their own forms of darkness. I believe it’s all subconscious babble. Judgments we’ve made concerning how people around us ought to behave; beliefs we’ve adopted for no good reason other than our parents or authority figures in our early years told us what they thought was right; old hurts that we’ve buried out of shame or fear but maybe still feel we’re owed a vengeance – or at least an apology! Our brains are these mixed up gray sacs full of fact and fiction and conjecture, all competing for scraps of meaning. It’s a wonder sometimes that we’re able to maintain a coherent connection with the world in a way that even allows interpersonal relationships.

Sometimes the darkness slips out. We just get pushed to the edge by certain interactions with people who trigger us, or by stress, or by tragedy, or by fear. My son sees glimpses of mine after the fifth time I ask him nicely to not do that thing, and he does it the sixth time. “All of a sudden,” daddy becomes a very loud, scary man. I always feel terrible about losing my shit on this mere child, assaulting his ears with cusswords and harsh criticisms and threats of corporal punishment. He always crumbles, always with the same look of terrified surprise. So far, I’ve always gone back and calmly apologized for my slips, assuring him that my love for him is deeper than the momentary rage. I also practice mindful forgiveness – letting that moment go, because it’s over. No grudges, no guilt. And I usually admit that it’ll probably happen again if he continues the same negative behaviors. Parenting is no joke.

I also believe that like most things in life, the darkness is necessary. We exist in the form of dualities – good/bad, right/wrong, positive/negative, up/down, light/dark. The Universe seeks nothing so much as equilibrium. Without one extreme, the other could not exist. So I think it’s important to acknowledge the existence of my darkness, to be familiar enough with it to understand the ways to keep it in check. But we do keep it in check, right? I guess we have to…

Posted by: silverback | 2015/01/05


I’m not the same person I was yesterday. None of us are. I’d like to promote a bold idea: let’s let each other evolve. Let’s encourage it, celebrate it, believe enough in the potential of each other to leave the past behind us.

We all know difficult people. We all have relationships with a huge range of personalities. Some we judge instantly, others we judge based on our experiences over time. Some people we love, others we hate. Oftentimes, those feelings around a particular person are based on something that doesn’t exist any more. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that almost ALL of our daily relationships with whomever – boss, co-workers, friends, lovers, spouses – are based not on who that person is in the present moment, but in who we’ve come to imagine them to be.


As I said, I’m NOT the same person I was yesterday, last month, last year. I make mistakes daily. I learn from those mistakes and adjust my behavior, my thought processes around my actions. I learn new things daily. If you tell me that something I do bothers you, my general response is to take that into consideration in our interactions from that moment on. I seek to empathize with you, and I change for the improvement of our relationship, so long as it’s reasonable to me that my actions could be causing you discomfort. So long as easing your discomfort isn’t directly causing me harm. It’s not in my nature to dismiss your feelings, because I have them too.

So many of our actions are unconscious – we don’t even know we’re doing it. Many of our learned behaviors are distilled from fears and prejudices that were instilled in us before we were even old enough to understand and discern. We just accepted, adopted, and believed those things from that point on. Many years later, we meet with enough contradicting evidence to begin parsing through those old belief systems and discarding the ones that no longer serve us, if we’re lucky and/or aware enough. But so often, we lapse and relapse again and again, until the new thoughts are powerful enough to supplant the old systems. When I judge you based on your unconscious speech and actions, then I’m making judgments against a person who’s not really you. Wouldn’t you rather have the opportunity to be understood as you actually are? The person you believe yourself to be?

By the same token, I’d like to be more aware of those things I say and do unconsciously. You owe it to our relationship to be honest with me, to communicate your needs. I’d like for each of us to agree to extend the benefit of doubt. Generously. Charitably. Radically. Speak to me with love. Ask me what I mean. Don’t make assumptions about who I am based on the outside of me. Try to be willing to forgive me yesterday, and extend to me this day.

I’d like to reset daily. Pretend you’ve never met me. Take a moment each day to view your relationships anew, and make the decision to allow the people in your life a fresh start, as if yesterday never happened.

There’s also this idea that we manifest our own realities. If I’m expecting you to behave in a certain way, to say and do certain things based on the person I’ve judged you to be, then I’m not really giving you a chance to be who you are – I’m instead either gratified or disappointed, in a self-righteous way, by the way you’ve responded to my expectations. Once you’ve done what I expected, even if it’s not what I want you to do, then I get to maintain my certainty about my perception of you. If you happen to surprise me, I often chalk it up as a fluke, because it’s difficult to release others from our preconceived notions.

I believe change is the only constant. There’s always the underlying debate about whether or not people can actually change. I think we all change. Some of us have radical shifts based on a eureka moment, while others of us simply mellow with age. Sometimes we slip back into a person we once were, when surrounded by a certain group of people, such as our families or high school friends. Other times, we relate to another with such a certainty that we force him or her into the box we believe they should be in. When one person in the relationship is unyielding in this way, it makes it very difficult for the person actively trying to make a change. We talk of this in terms of “pressing buttons,” or “triggering.” If I’m trying to amend my relationship with you, but your demeanor remains constant towards me – if there’s no avenue for me to relate to you in a different way, then we’ll remain trapped in the same ruts we’ve always trodden.

I resolve today to live in the present. I resolve to give radical benefit of doubt to all the people in my life, to speak impeccably, and to suspend my assumptions about who I believe them to be.

Grant me the same, and watch me evolve.


Posted by: silverback | 2014/04/08


My buddy Aaron called me a dickhead the other night. It’s not unusual, because I kinda am – not maliciously, but my sense of humor goes to dry, occasionally biting, wit. I just calls ’em as I sees ’em.

In this case, however, he was chastising me because I was riding “too fast.” He was lamenting that I wasn’t leaving anything on the table, going balls-out on the motard on early-season dirty roads. We had just returned to his driveway from a blistering hour on local roads, climaxed by both of us momentarily losing the front ends of our bikes in the same corner – nearly side-by-side. I couldn’t really figure out why I was the dickhead in this case – I wasn’t twisting his throttle. In the corner we both washed, he was actually in the lead!

I’ve been riding motos for 32 years, on the street for 27 of them. I have a whole lot of miles under my wheels, and a broad base of skills in other vehicles, on dirt bikes, and on the track. He’s been on street and track for only five years or so. I think this is where he judges me to be unreasonable – comparing his comfort level in relation to mine. When I pull on the helmet and set off down a curvy road, everything changes. The road just pulls me – I see the lines I want to take, and I sit atop this machine that was designed by men to do such-and-such a thing based on my inputs, and I use the skills I’ve developed to ride the line I see, using the machine as best I can to accomplish that. Most of the time I can moderate, but often enough, I become so focused on following that line that everything else fades into the blurs at the edges. When things are clicking, I just forget everything else. I exist in the moment – the very microsecond now where all the inputs and all the feedback and all the intangible information come to maintaining the knife-edge balance of forces that allow these bikes to do what they do.

We’ve been hitting some dirt roads. I love dirt roads – I can get the same thrill at a marginally lower speed, I think because the bike slides around – the magnitude of forces acting on the bike are lower because there’s less available traction. The bike works the same, though – and that’s a hard thing to wrap one’s head around. So many riders tense up and ride stiff (which is exactly the opposite of what we should do) when traction is limited. To really enjoy riding dirt roads, you gotta loosen up and play. The brakes work, just not as well – spend some time experimenting with how hard you can apply the brakes before the tires start sliding. Acceleration works the same – apply throttle, weight shifts rearward, and the bike accelerates. If you apply too much throttle, though, the rear will start to spin – but it’s manageable just by changing your input. When leaned over a little, if the rear begins to spin, the bike will rotate because you’ve compromised the friction component that was causing your change in direction. So with more experience comes more confidence, knowing how much drift ought to come with a certain throttle input. It’s a matter of not only instinctively knowing the appropriate inputs, but also knowing the traits of your own machine – to an extent.

Aaron has been cautious on the dirt – he does not appreciate not being hooked up, tractionwise. As I watch, I see very tentative braking, then a very cautious tip-in to an artificially reduced lean angle, and very hesitant application of throttle. Granted, his dirt riding experience is extremely limited – most of his riding has been on clean, dry streets or racetracks. His excuse, though, was that his modern, stiffly suspended, tuned-fuel-injection Husqvarna motard is less suited for dirt than my old, soft, enduro-conversion KTM. And I believed him up until this past weekend, when I convinced him to let me have a go on a dirt road familiar to me.

I hopped on this wonder of modern machinery and headed down the gravel road, expecting this thing to be a handful of ill-handling, fire-breathing, rear-swapping terror. Into the first corner, brakes to threshold – ooh, nice fork action! really good feedback. Then flip it into the corner, dirt bike style, with a straight inside arm, outside elbow bent, weight atop the seat, expecting a big push – oh wow that thing just turned! Finish the corner with a little throttle, bracing myself for the inevitable swap – I’ll be damned, this rear suspension really is amazing!

Whereupon the dirt road just started pulling me forward. Everything behind my helmet disappeared – the line showed itself, and the bike did exactly what I asked it to do. Pretty quickly – within a matter of two or three more corners – I was riding that bike as if it were my own, drifting it off every corner with a heavy whisper of throttle, leaving a dark trail of roost between upshifts, then heavy brakes into blipped downshifts and just enough rear brake to set it sideways on approach, bang it on its side thru the apex, and back on the throttle to maintain a graceful arc to corner exit, stand it up, shift, repeat…

A couple miles later, I came out of my speed-induced haze and thought to myself, “Wow. This thing is really good! Which means in comparison, Aaron is probably not having near as good a time on my heavy, ill-handling (in comparison) old beast. I guess I’ll stop here and wait for him to trade back.”

I have to admit, I waited long enough that I started to get nervous he may have dropped it. But then he came around the corner and rolled up shaking his head.

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