Christopher T. Miller

Issue 4

published July 24, 2018

Summer is upon us, and the gardens in northeastern Ohio are doing well. I see them, not only in my own backyard but along the roadside as I drive to work, to home, to someplace I’ve never been just to get a little road under my wheels.

In my own yard, the cascade hops have grown in so luxuriantly that I’m going to have more than I can use. That’s a good situation to have. I planted them about five years ago, and it’s gratifying to see them doing well.

That’s turning out to be something of a theme right now: watching actions taken years ago coming to fruition. Watching people, namely, my kids, grow up and move out, finding their own way in the world.

And then there’s us, the adults, still trying to find our own ways. Reaping the benefits or consequences of the decisions we’ve made. We don’t stop growing; adulthood is kind of a myth. It’s a destination that keeps moving, and in many ways, it’s an illusion. Like too many things, it’s what you make it.

Like your garden. Like the route you take to work. These organic choices grow beyond us, sometimes dragging us along, revealing new paths, bearing fruit we hope for and sometimes do not expect.

Being Approximately Yourself

Once every two years, my family goes on a vacation together. We rent a big house and share some common spaces. We each take a night of the week to make dinner, and during the day, we all go our separate ways to go do things.

My wife and I were still engaged during the trip two years ago, and in the intervening time, we’ve had a wedding, a honeymoon, and several trips on our own to hone the way we like to travel together. Our modus operandi is:

That’s an excellent time for us. We get to relax and move at our own pace. Thankfully, our kids like that pace of vacation as well. We’re all a bunch of introverts, so it all tends to be very low-key.

Finding the way you like to travel, and by extension, the way you want to live is liberating in the extreme. For years, I didn’t think I had much of a choice in how I interacted with things. I just had to react. It was keeping the plates spinning and planning things out to the Nth degree.

But in the last two years (and I credit my wife with this), I’ve been able to slow down and find out who I want my life to be. How I wish to set up the boundaries by which I interact with the world. And the most exciting thing? It’s not so different from how I was when I was a little kid.

I suppose that’s not a surprise. There’s a well-known story about Carl Jung and how wanted to find a way to re-engage with the creative impulse in his life. He liked to make castles when he was a child, so he took a holiday and started to pile rocks at the beach to build castles. The result: it sparked a youthful joy in him that he use could to recharge his soul and fuel his other endeavors.

We go through our lives being who we are told to be because we think it’s the only practical way to be. To some degree, it’s that practicality that becomes the tyranny. It is built on a list of assumptions which we almost never question and which are almost entirely inaccurate. It’s our cooperative neuroses that keep us reacting, prevent us from embracing the person we know ourselves to be.

There is a saying in the book Alamut: “Nothing is true; everything is permitted.” It’s an extreme view, but what it means is this: humanity has made all of this up. Societal expectations. Economy. Religion. Rules. Assumptions. It’s all make-believe. Once you see that, you can start to push back. To set new boundaries.

Day to day, we are an approximation of ourselves, but we are shackled to our concerns, our insecurities. There is a joy beneath those that can lift us out, and that joy is born of knowing what you love about life and embracing it.

It means embracing that thing that you most worry about what other people will think. “Is this too hippy for my friends and family? What will the boss think of the 20-sided die on my desk? What if people find out I really prefer being a goatherd to taking calls in a call center? What if people find out I prefer to spend a night at home with a book instead of seeing them?”

No one cares. They’d prefer if you were happy. Even if you’re a little crazy to them. And if they don’t like it…walk away. You don’t need them.

Realizing how far you’ve drifted from who you used to be while becoming more faithful to who you really are is the best kind of liberation. Love yourself. Listen to yourself. Be yourself. Who else are you trying so hard to be?

Quotes

“People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person, or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.” -Plato

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor E. Frankl

The News From Marlow

Sunday morning I was sitting out in front of the Prince of Cups coffee shop when I got to see a protest.

I was reading a copy of Poor White by Sherwood Anderson when the commotion started. People shouting. Looking up over the village green, two groups were standing opposite one another. They broke down into the usual sides…a lot of Trump signs on one side of the sidewalk, rainbow pride signs and anti-ICE signs on the other. I asked the barista if she knew what was going on, and she said there was a general protest of Trump policies set up for today, and that the president’s local supporters had registered a counter-protest.

“College town in rural Ohio,” she shrugged. “Like vinegar and baking soda.”

“Which is which?” I asked.

“Depends on who you voted for, I expect,” she shrugged again.

I took my refill and sat back down outside. I went back to my book.

About five minutes later, the shouting got much louder. Both sides looked angry. Even the police out on the square started to frown. Something ugly was brewing.

One woman stepped forward From the Trump side. She was not a college student…from a distance she looked to be in her mid-forties, brown hair tied back, wearing a t-shirt and jeans. She carried no sign as she stepped out. She crossed the concrete and, with no warning, embraced a young woman with blue hair sporting a Pride flag.

The blue-haired woman struggled for a moment then pushed the order woman back a step. The shouting grew louder. The air was thick with tension.

The older woman said something I couldn’t make out, and then stepped forward and embraced the blue-haired college student again. And this time, the younger woman started to sob. Softly at first, then progressively louder. This was painful, what she was going through. The crowd’s shouting died out. Pain sobs are unlike any other in their violence and their release.

Seconds passed. The rest of the square was quiet. Slowly, people from both sides lowered their signs and began to drift away. The two women at the center remained locked in a hug, but everyone else drifted away. After five minutes, the two women were all that was left, standing, whispering.

Later I was able to find out what happened. The older woman was the younger’s aunt. The younger had come out of the closet after the election, and that went about as well as you might expect. She was alienated from her family. She was angry, and perhaps rightfully so. No one knew precisely what the aunt said, but that hug was real, those tears were real.

You can make up any number of lessons or morals here, but I prefer to let it stand on its own. We were witnesses to a moment of love that stopped everything around it. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, and I never want to.

Recipe

The Elderflower Collins

This is a drink recipe I stumbled across when looking for something to make with St. Germain. It is perfect for summer…light, floral and refreshing. If you’re like me and have dandelion wine lying around, you can add a bit as a substitute for the elderflower.

Add the first three items to a shaker and ice. Shake, strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top off with soda water. Garnish with a lemon wedge or wheel

List of Nine: Summer Holidays

  1. Midsummer: Summer Solstice (around June 20) – European and related former colonies
  2. Dominion Day: July 1 – Canada
  3. Independence Day: July 4 – United States
  4. Tisha B’Av: July 22 – Jewish
  5. Lammas/Lughnasadh: August 1 (modern) / first full moon of August (traditional) – Celtic/Pagan
  6. Feast of the Assumption: August 15 – Christian
  7. Eid al-Adha: Sunset, August 20 – Muslim
  8. Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Day: September 8 — United States
  9. Ganesh Chaturthi: September 12 – Hindi

Influences

Photo

The photo for this issue is the path leading up to Castle Bran, the once-home of Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula. I visited there a couple of years ago. It was amazing. Special thanks to Bogdan and Tony for taking me there.

Endnotes

Thanks for stopping by, folks. If you like this newsletter, please pass it on. It survives on word of mouth alone.

Let’s be careful out there. See you in a month or so, gods willing and the creek don’t rise.

-Chris