Archive for the Observations Category

America’s Coarse

Posted in Observations, People on June 1, 2018 by Vince.Puzick

How’s my driving?  Call 1-800-Eat Shit.

My daughter and I sit at breakfast at a local restaurant that serves an awesome huevos rancheros with a green chile that is so hot it brings beads of sweat to my forehead.  I look over her shoulder at the man sitting at the next table.  His shirt, bright orange with block white letters, reads Peyton Fucking Manning.  With every forkful, I get an eyeful.

The President’s daughter is a feckless c**t.

Another bumper sticker warns that my kid can kick your honor student’s ass. I sit at the stoplight and read and re-read.

Maybe I am a prude.  I could, clearly, be called worse.  Maybe I am a weakling of a liberal snowflake.

Grab ‘em by the pussy.

 If I wanted to look away from the bumper sticker, the t-shirt, the TV to avoid the profanity, I couldn’t.  There is no place to turn.

A friend posts a video on Facebook of a black comedian saying that times will be fairer when more white kids are killed and white mothers are crying, mourning their deaths.  The audience laughs. The 30-second grab from the longer “performance” loops through again. It’s an endless feed.

There was a time long past when we would cringe at any one of these incidents.  Our civil sensibilities would have been violated. Locker room talk, right or wrong, had a place – and it was in the locker room. Vulgarities might have flown in a sports bar or in a basement.  Today, we are all – every one of us — the audience for a steady stream of Technicolor invectives offered up through airwaves, bumper stickers, and digital delivery.  We can’t shield our eyes. Can’t cover our ears. It’s Dolby surround sound.

We need a societal mouth washing with Dove soap.

Our plight has been an evolution.  Or rather devolution as we have devolved into united states of a coarsening America.  Thoughts become words.  Words become actions.  As a man thinketh … Just listen. We have dulled our ability to cringe.

We can point our finger at, or give a finger to, the person we claim “well, he started it!”, or the one who has been more offensive, or more racist or sexist or homophobic or obscene or more out of line or somehow further over the top than our own over-the-topness.  We aim to one-up as we aim to cut down.  Entertainers strive for Nielsen ratings when what we should be watching is the Richter scale measuring our cultural tremors, no longer terra firma as we have lost our footing.

Maybe I’m a prude.  I’ve been called worse.

We clamor about lyrics of rap songs, images in video games, the photoshopped perfection of objectified women, the crassness of the cat-call.  And yet we endure a litany of daily assaults on our senses, we adorn our shirts, our cars, our media with crude and dehumanizing language.  We’ve become tone deaf in the din.

How’s my driving? 

 It’s horrible.  Right into the ditch.

 

“Press at the Edge of Memory and Truth”

Posted in Observations, People, Writing on October 24, 2017 by Vince.Puzick

Mary Karr talks with Sherman Alexie at The New Yorker Festival 2017

October 6, 2017

nyfWhen I heard that Mary Karr was going to have a 90-minute conversation with Sherman Alexie as part of the New Yorker Festival of 2017, I had to find a way to get to NYC.  I searched flights from Denver to LaGuardia, searched lodging on TripAdvisor, mapped out an itinerary.  After I had the logistics of the trip mapped out, I realized that on October 7, the morning after their conversation, I had to be in Denver for a commitment to present at a conference.  The adrenaline rush to hear two of my favorite writers puddled into disappointment. 

But I kept at the planning.  And an unlikely solution came to me.  I’d fly out on Friday morning, arrive in the City around 3:00, find the theater, have dinner, and go listen to the conversation which would end at 8:30.  I’d catch the flight back to Denver at 10:45 and arrive at DIA around 1:00 a.m.  A long day, seventeen hours, but sandwiched in between flights would be a literary event I would not have the opportunity to experience any other way. 

In the dark theater of the School of Visual Arts in the Chelsea neighborhood, I scribbled notes in the composition notebook I always carry, sporadic chicken scratchings, scrawled out haphazardly and cross-ways to the lined paper.

So what stuck from the 90 minutes?

In the best moments, it felt like eavesdropping on two people who hold huge mutual respect for each other talking about family, in general, and more specifically about Sherman Alexie’s newest work, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, a memoir about his relationship with his mother who died in July of 2015.  Of course, they were also “on” and their conversation had an audience; the act of being observed changes the nature of the object being observed.  We were, in essence, a part of the event.

There were awkward moments in the conversation like there are in any other conversation.  Moments when Mary’s question (it was such an intimate space that I am going to sometimes use first names), a good question, caused Sherman to pause, gather his thoughts, and in some instances, collect himself before answering.  He became choked up with some responses, like when he commented on how his mother probably saved his life:  “the first was when she quit drinking and the second was when she let me leave the rez.”

Karr’s questions were almost those of a therapist – exploring, pressing Sherman to reveal motivations behind the book, the drive to tell the story about his relationship with his mother.  And he said early in the conversation, “I had never written about her before” that he “avoided writing about her” and was somewhat “scared of writing honestly about my mother. I wanted to be truthful.”  Mary said later, “your book is very loving” toward her and it was a book that had to be written.

At one point, Sherman said something like “I knew there would be this priestly thing” about having this conversation with Mary.  So maybe the conversation was somewhat confessional since they joked about Mary’s Catholicism and Sherman’s belief system characterized by what he calls “spiritual coincidences.”

At other times, she probed about the nature of memoir writing.  She asked him if he considered writing this book as fiction.  In the first three months after his mother’s death, Sherman wrote something like 150 poems and “thought [he] had a book of poetry.”  And somehow it morphed into his first – and what sounds like his last – memoir.  “I’m not going to do it again!” he laughed when Mary pressed him about the challenge of writing memoir, a genre, she joked, that’s “very ghetto in the literature world. You’ve sunk to the bottom.”

In the midst of writing my own memoir, I was an active and reflective listener during the dialogue, listening carefully as Karr mentioned how family stories change depending on who is telling them and with the different occasions and contexts for the telling.  How we move, as Sherman said, from being “the boy on the kitchen floor,” absorbing the stories and experiences in the family, to being the storyteller, the voice for the family stories and family history.  And that shift is always a jolt as you may hold on to an idea that you convince yourself is true about your family – but perspective, time, and memory may ultimately challenge that idea.

And there it was, the heart of the conversation, the reason I was there eavesdropping: the steady pulse throughout their talk about family, truth, and memory.   To illustrate, Sherman’s memoir includes the story of his mother being conceived by rape told three different times in the memoir.  And when Sherman told how he came to write that story of his mother (and of his older sister who was also conceived by a rape), Mary expressed her admiration at his “willingness to press at all the edges of memory and truth and how stories are told in your family.”

My daughter would ask, once I was back in Colorado, if attending the conversation was a life-changing event.  I had to think for a minute.  Did the conversation change my life?  It was a once-in-a-lifetime event in many ways – but did that make it life-changing? If I had to label it something, the label would be “life affirming” or at least “affirming of a writerly life.”

It affirmed the power of stories and the necessity of telling them. It’s through sharing our experience in the world that we may give others strength and hope.

I’m left these three weeks later, summoning the courage to press at the edges of memory, to tell my one, true story.

Eulogy for the Misfits, the Tenderhearteds

Posted in Observations, People on April 5, 2017 by Vince.Puzick

For all who feel they don’t quite fit
Inspired by and in memory of Chris Winter, 8/6/86 – 4/5/16

Sometimes this world was too large for you. Sometimes, too small.

Too large because it seemed you could not find your place.  It didn’t always feel inviting.  Didn’t offer an easy chair to kick-back, where you could sink in and be yourself.

Too small because it could not contain what you brought into this space, what you filled it with – your heart, your laughter, your humor, your spirit.

Sometimes, I remember, when you entered the room, what you presented to the world screamed that you were unapproachable, don’t touch, hands-off. Let me be. But on the inside you sought acknowledgement, notice, connection.

On other days, the exterior you presented to the world whispered “Here I am. Notice me” and your interior throbbed with loneliness, sadness, with fatigue from your struggle to be in that world that was, at the same time, too big and too small.

I could feel your state of being when we would hug – even if it was brief – because you would either relax into the embrace, body heavy against my chest, your arms embracing back. Or, on bad days, your grip would be limp, your torso rigid. Those days you needed to be held more but you desired it less.

You had such unbridled creativity and didn’t always know how to channel it. Your fascination with The Stanley Hotel, and by extension, King’s The Shining, was riveting to observe. You knew the architecture, knew the backstory. And that time you built the replica of the Titanic! You knew details about the Titanic that we didn’t. You knew answers to questions we didn’t even know to ask.

Maybe we always struggled with that, knowing which questions to ask.

You didn’t see the world as others do – and you wondered why. You saw this disconnect as something “wrong” with you – rather than seeing it, maybe, as a shortcoming in the world around you.

Sometimes I wondered, we asked, why you couldn’t see the world, see you, as we did. Was that the wrong question? Maybe we needed to ask how you saw the world.  Did you see it as too big, one vast ocean? Or too small like the chamber of a heart? How can we fit in this space that seemed sized for somebody else?

You were fiercely independent yet had such close bonds with those you would let in. And when we were in, you were fiercely loyal and loving. Which is why losing you touches us so deeply. We thought that since we were in, we knew you. We had you and you, us.

Strength to fight yet tenderhearted; bold but sheepish; spirit and flesh; engaging but distant.

Oh, how we wanted to bridge that distance.

dic-tion-ar-y

Posted in Observations, Teaching, Writing on October 1, 2016 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve always been relatively neutral in the hard copy book versus kindle versions debate. I like the feel and touch of paperbacks or hardcovers, but not having those formats is not necessarily a deal breaker for me. I understand the sentimentality of holding a book in one’s hand, maybe marking cool images or commenting on passages in the margin. And I get the convenience of having five or six or ten novels on my Kindle – easily accessible at any point. The highlight and annotation features on the Kindle are great to use. Regardless of format, it’s the content that stimulates my thinking or moves me emotionally.

This past week, though, when I was visiting a second grade class, I was intrigued by the student’s introduction to dictionary work. She was working with a small group of five students and introduced the task to them.The teacher admitted it was a rough intro; we’ve all been there as veteran teachers. You just slightly underestimate kids’ readiness to tackle the learning.

The target word, pulled from the students’ reading, was “horror.” The teacher distributed five copies of the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary and students dug in. The teacher worked with them on header words at the top of each page. When all the students were on the page with the beautiful picture of the horse, she directed their attention to the different entries until they found “horror.”

At one point, a girl in the group said, “This is hard. So many words!”

And it was at that point that my note taking on the class took a turn. I continued to listen and watch, but my attentiveness shifted to reflection rather than observation. She is so right. So many words on that page. And so many pages!

I went back to my elementary days and the fascination with dictionaries. We had dictionary games in fifth and sixth grade. The teacher would give us a word and we would try to guess the definition. Then the students with dictionaries would find the word, read the definition, and we would laugh if we were far off and cheer when somebody was close to the definition.

In all honesty, during my second grade classroom observation, I got a bit sentimental and nostalgic for those hard copy dictionaries. I watched as kids negotiated their way through the thick book, possibly the thickest book they have held in their hands.

I realized that with Google and with Siri, I can do a search or simply ask for the definition of a word. On my Kindle, I can click a word and see the definition. As can the students in that second grade class. And all of a sudden I felt a bit of sadness for them.

I loved having that dictionary open on my desk in Mrs. Meyer’s sixth grade class. And not just to find the target word of the day or to seek out the definition of the word she called out. I liked reading the word above the target word and the word after it. I liked to flip a few pages and find some random words to explore.

And I remember being introduced to the Oxford English dictionary in Dr. Boni’s class at Colorado State University and having the same reaction as the young second grade scholar: “So many words!”

To-do List: Things I Have Never Written About (but maybe should)

Posted in Observations, People, Places, Teaching, Writing on September 28, 2016 by Vince.Puzick
  1. Colorado Springs. I have written about places before – different houses we’ve lived in, places I have hiked or fished. Mesa Verde. Lost Creek Wilderness Area. But I have never written about my hometown with any real focus or commitment. I was born and raised here, have seen the changes that time and people have brought to the city, and have observed how things have stayed the same, too. I’ve wondered about the identify of the place – home of Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, NORAD, Focus on the Family (a transplant from California). I’ve pondered Penrose Hospital – the first building to rise up over ten stories, my mother’s employer for 40 years, my birthplace. I’ve thought about the neighborhoods – Wood Avenue, Tejon Street with tree-lined homes of doctors, lawyers, and Colorado College professors. Of Roswell, the homes of blue-collar workers from the assembly line who worked with my dad. How Colorado Springs sits at the base of Pikes Peak, America’s mountain, the Colorado 14er furthest to the east. It’s not a mountain town or a town on the prairie. Military town? College town? Tourist destination? Olympic City (I heard that on the TV)?
  2. Baseball. America’s pastime. My boyhood passion. I played in little league baseball starting when I was eight years old and played through high school. I was on the Red Sox, the A’s, the Orioles. We played “homerun derby,” 500, wiffle ball at Bonny Park. We mimicked our heroes – Reggie Jackson, Clemente, Bob Gibson. Me mocked our foes – Pete Rose, Yaz, Wilbur Wood. I played epic one-on-one pitch-and-hit battles with my older, southpaw brother. He struck me out way more often than I got hits off of him. I chased him through the fields surrounding our house, me waving the bat above my head. I was never a good loser. Ten summers of organized ball. Family vacations postponed until August and built around little league schedules – Saturday morning games, afternoon practices. Championships were celebrated. Losses were mourned. Friendships made.
  3. My Mother. I have written relentlessly, filled up reams, about my father. I have only rarely written about my mother. Short bursts of an image of her, a recollection of a conversation, or her devotion to a nursing career. I wrote a poem about her once, “Sestina for the Nuns,” about her work at Penrose Hospital, run by the Sisters of Charity. I have down some notes, and I have certainly pondered her life, but I have not written about her with the same sustained energy and focus that I have about my father. Maybe it is the same as poetry; we are motivated by the pain of the human experience to write poetry more than we are motivated from that place of beauty and peace. Maybe it has been easier to write about the dysfunction of my dad than the strength and consistency of my mother. I have not written about our evening conversation at Penrose Hospital, her first bout with lung cancer, when the loudspeaker said “Visiting hours end in 15 minutes” and I stayed another 45. The staff, her colleagues, understood.
  4. Reluctant Readers. I was a reluctant reader throughout high school. A typical high school boy (some may argue that it doesn’t have to be typical), I was more interested in baseball, backpacking, and eventually beer than in books. I was, still am, a strong reader, but in school I would make my way through the assigned reading and basically call it good. I’d devour Sports Illustrated. Outdoor Life. Field and Stream. It wasn’t until I worked in a factory, White Automotive, after dropping out of college, that I became interested in the written word. And my interest was borne from the impulse to write while working on the assembly line at Whitco. And it wasn’t until I declared myself an English major – due to that interest in writing rather than reading – that I turned the corner as a reader. I was naïve, in fact, when I declared as an English major and came to realize, you know, how much actual reading that academic major required. Add on a minor in history and my nights were spent in Morgan Library on the CSU campus.
  5. Fatherhood. I was 36 years old when my daughter was born. I have written some things about her – poems, mainly, and occasional observances of her life – but I have not written about my own observations about and experiences as a father. For a long part of that time, I was a single father. Jessica’s mother and I were divorced when Jess was about a year old, so I experienced being a parent with shared custody. When Jess entered middle school, she lived with me for all but her 8th grade year. I haven’t written about the joy of watching her mature. I haven’t written about the conversation in the kitchen that gradually grew heated as it headed to an argument and then, in a memorable moment, turned to provide such a lesson. So here it is: I was standing at the kitchen sink, rinsing that night’s dinner dishes. Jessica was leaning against the doorframe between the kitchen and the dining room. I don’t recall the topic of our conversation, but it was escalating. I finally said to her, “Jess, I am learning what it is like to parent a 16-year old.” She looked across the kitchen at me and said “And I’m learning what it’s like to be 16.” But I haven’t written about that.
  6. Teaching. For nearly 30 years, I have pursued my career in education. The first 15 of those years were in the classroom. I have written a brief article or two about specific strategies or instructional practices, but I have not explored my own philosophies, perspectives, or experiences in the classroom or in my roles outside of the classroom. I haven’t written about the moments that evoked great pride in my students: the student journalists on the Palmer newspaper (The Lever); the scores on the IB exams; the conversations about Song of Solomon, Mary Oliver and Eavan Boland poetry, the narratives we wrote. Mike and Ian emphatically pointing at the book and yelling “Let’s go back to the text! Where’s the evidence?” I haven’t written about those less-than-stellar moments of my teaching – the sarcastic response, the dropped f-bomb, the poorly planned lesson. I haven’t written about the tears shed at the loss of a student due to a heart problem, the ache in my heart hearing about a student suicide, the collective grief over Columbine.
  7. On Keeping a Notebook. Or this one could be called Regrets. I have had maybe two dozen attempts at keeping some sort of a writer’s notebook for a long, long time. Only in the last 5-7 years, though, have I routinely written in one. I have had some great starts in the past, but I could never really settle on what the notebook should “look like” – what should be written, how should that writing sound. None of that matters. Not the way entries look on the page. Not the way they sound. Dated or undated entries. Should it read like a diary or like Lewis and Clark’s journals? Visuals and drawings like da Vinci? None of that matters. Just get stuff down. Instead, I only have memory and recall to draw from. So I should write about writing … I should write about keeping a writer’s notebook to those who are reluctant to do so or not sure why or what or what it should look like. Just show up. Lined or unlined? College-ruled or narrow? It. Does. Not. Matter. Writing does.

 

My (first) Tattoo;

Posted in Observations, People on August 21, 2016 by Vince.Puzick

On the drive to the tattoo parlor (do they still call them “parlors”?) I had my usual second- guessing.

  • What if it comes out bad?  Really bad?
  • Are tattoos a “need” or a “want”? (As my mother’s voice echoed in my head in chorus with my own voice when I spoke in the past with my daughter about her budgeting practices.)
  • And ultimately, do I really want to do this?

The answers arrived at each stoplight.

If it comes out bad, really bad, I can wear high socks in the summer and long pants in the winter.  (I was not clear on the line between a “bad” tattoo and a “really bad” tattoo;  I would know it when I see it.) Since I had decided that the placement would be on my right calf, it would not be blatant.  With that placement, it would not be obvious to people when we met.  It wasn’t like I was getting it on my cheek where it would scream “Here I am!  Look at me!”  And since I wouldn’t be able to see it myself without some gymnastic contortions, I could pretend it wasn’t there.  Disaster in the form of embarrassment and humiliation could be avoided if it turns out really bad.

Of course tattoos are “a want” and not “a need.”  It’s a luxury item.  It’s an adornment. It’s a statement, I guess, of some value, belief, some passion or interest that a person has.  We can make statements in other ways.  Write a blog. Post a FB rant or pic.  Buy a t-shirt. Tweet or Snap it.  Those expressions are fleeting, though, and the statement would have to be made repeatedly to “stick.”

“Well,” I said to myself at the stoplight at Forge Road and Garden of the Gods Road.  “No need to worry about if this statement ‘will stick’; it’s what you would call permanent.”

A need or a want? I was in a place where I could financially afford it.  And to answer my mother’s voice rattling around in there, I may have even said out loud in my car:  “I’m 59 years old. And she’s not alive to witness it.”  [I remember when I got my ear pierced and went over to her apartment.  When she noticed the ear ring, she said “Vincent! I told you if you ever got a piercing or a tattoo, you were not welcome in my house!” (She was joking to make a point, sort of, about that.) I looked at her and said “Mom, I’m 35.”]  Today, in this day of less stigma about and much greater acceptance of body art, I think she would say something like “you know, some of them come out very beautiful” and she might pause and then add “but some come out bad.  Really bad.”

My second-guessing about “a want” was answered by the time I reached 30th Street.

The second-guessing question that remained, “do I really want this,” moved back and forth from the back of my mind to the front of my mind for the whole trip.  The other questions were actually easier, so as they pushed their way to the front of my mind, I answered them.  I had about seven minutes until I reached Redemption Tattoo Shop on west Colorado Avenue.

I had debated on whether I “really want to do this” for several years.  My daughter, Jessica, who got her first ink on the day she turned 18, was now in a place where she rolled her eyes whenever I showed her a sketch of a tattoo idea or even mentioned it.  She had heard it for years.  Jannetta was the same way.  If Jessica and Jannetta were in the same room and I mentioned my ideas or even my desire to get a tattoo, they would roll their eyes in perfect synchronization.  They didn’t know why I had any hesitation;  they attributed it to the anticipated pain of the needle.  They attributed my lack of conviction to the whole idea of body art in any form.  I didn’t even know why.  Fears of really bad tattoos.  Fears of not being able to go to my deceased mother’s apartment.

I had cried wolf before.  Told them of my plans.  I posted status updates on Facebook seeking recommendations for artists and parlors (or shops). People responded with names and locations but I never took that step of actually, you know, going to the shop.

For months, ok — years, I sketched out designs.  I had random images that I had roughed out in my mind and on paper.  I had images from the internet that I thought would be cool.  I reached the decision that  I would get a tattoo inspired by my passion for fly fishing.  Yeah, that would be it.  Some of the fly fishing guides that I hung out with had some cool fish and river and nature designs.  I started to sketch out some ideas.  I considered using a line from Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” or the line from Emmylou Harris, “I am standing by the river; I’ll be standing here forever.”

Jessica rolled her eyes. Jannetta gave me a look and asked me to pass the chicken.

To make matters worse, I started to see people’s tattoos of a simple yet sophisticated punctuation mark:  the semicolon.  I always have liked the semicolon.  I didn’t know so many others shared my passion for it!  Then I read about Project ; 

Project Semicolon’s vision is to increase awareness and initiate honest conversation about suicide, mental health, and addiction.  I sought out more information.  And the need for this conversation is not lost on me.  I have been in recovery from my own addictions for a little over 30 years.  When I was 19, and again when I was 26 and only hours before I entered my own period of recovery, I had what they would call suicidal ideation.  The recovery rooms have seats filled with those who have battled similar suicidal thoughts and fought wars with their own self-harm.  If those battles aren’t tough enough, we usually fight them in silence and in isolation.  We feel alone.

I have had very close friends, and friends of family members, and former high school students who have committed suicide.  I have loved ones who, through some periods of their lives, battle the thought everyday.  I won’t share their story here out of respect for the families and friends;  it is their story to tell, in so many ways, and it is for them to decide the time to initiate any public conversations about their experiences.

I have come to hate it when people in recovery rooms say “I was going to suicide but I didn’t have the guts for it. I was too chicken.”  We need to change the language.  “I was going to suicide but for some reason, I still held onto an inkling of hope, a spark, something or some Higher Power kept me moving forward. I had enough courage to go on.”

So I decided on Monday morning, August 15, to get the semicolon tattoo.  Tuesday morning, I messaged my friend (who also came highly recommended), Josh Heney, at Redemption Tattoo Company my idea for the image. He responded a little later, and I tweaked the design.

I had put the fly fishing idea and moved ahead with the semicolon project.  I didn’t tell anybody I was going on Friday afternoon.  I texted Jessica and Jannetta the mock-up of the art work that I designed myself.  They expressed enthusiasm for the image, and I am sure they rolled their eyes that I would ever get it done.

As I turned right from 31st Street on to Colorado Avenue and saw the shop’s sign, I was confident in my decision.  Josh showed me his design and then put the pattern on my right calf.  I studied it in the mirror and we were ready to roll.

For the next 75 minutes or so, I lay face down, motionless, and speechless.  I was not going to move and I did not want to talk to the artist at work.  It’s my first tattoo — do not distract him with some sort of idle chit-chat!  At one point, his fellow artist walked through, stopped and observed.  “That’s cool.  A different approach to the semicolon design.”  I felt inspired.

IMG_7089

When I drew up the design, I started with the semicolon.   That’s the whole point.  And then I thought of my own passion for and interest in writing.  In fact, when I was 19 and battling my own depressive and suicidal thoughts, I would go home at midnight from the factory where I worked and I would write –poems, short stories, one-act plays.  The writing, as far as writing goes, sucked.  But it allowed me to get my story down, to get my story out, to begin to create a voice.

semicolon

As I shifted to lean on my forearms, I thought of my own friends, family, and former students who have been impacted by suicide, mental health issues, and addiction.  I thought of those who have not yet found a solution that they either don’t know exists or don’t believe they deserve.

And to them, I say, you are the writer, your life is your story.

Your story is not over; _________________.

 

 

About Family, Family History, and Proximity

Posted in Observations, People on March 24, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

My childhood home was at the north end of Colorado Springs. Not the Historic Northend as some of the new street signs read. Further north than that.  Where Cascade Avenue basically came to an end cutting through fields of yucca and prickly pear cactus and few trees.  The north end. Nothing really historic or glamorous about it.  Just the outskirts of town.

I grew up bordered by my father’s family.  Aunt Millie. Aunt Mary.  And when I was still a baby, Grandpa Nick and Grandma Eva.  Aunt Dorothy — who had married my Uncle Steve.  For some reason, a reason I hope to discover or at least hypothesize in this current writing project, all of the Puzick clan stuck together and carved out a little niche of four households barely a half a mile apart.  Not only within walking distance, but, if the wind was blowing right, within shouting distance of each other.

Not so with my mother’s family.  She and her siblings — two brothers — spread out from their South Dakota and Wyoming childhood homes and pursued their independently from one another.  Reunions with them seemed special because the times together were infrequent.  Cousins were born and got so much bigger since the last time we saw each other.  Little kids grew into teens then adults.

So we had this great and immediate proximity to the Puzick side of the family.   Not so much with the Wertenberger side, my mother’s side.  And so with this proximity we knew the Puzick story.  The coal mining side.  The immigrant Serbian side.  The German side was distant.  Less intimate.  Overshadowed.

And the richness of a family tapestry cannot be fully seen in the threads of one texture.  And so this writing project is the other thread.  to be continued …

So you’re a native!  So what …

Posted in Observations, People, Places on February 4, 2015 by Vince.Puzick

I was having breakfast a few weeks ago with a new friend who recently moved to Colorado Springs, and during the conversation I said “I’m a native.”

“You’re the second or third person I’ve talked with in the last few weeks that pretty quickly points out that you’re a native of Colorado Springs.  Why is that?”

It’s an interesting question.  In our very mobile population, it is almost expected that people will move to different parts of the country or, living in a city with five military bases such as Colorado Springs, different parts of the world.  When I ask, I’m usually expecting the answer to “where are you from” to be something other than Colorado Springs.

So from my friend’s response, my blurting out that “I’m a native” must seem, what, a little prideful?  Does it come across as creating difference – “you’re new, I’m a native”?  — and therefore maybe a little arrogant?

I have pondered why it is important to express, blurt out even, that I am a native of Colorado Springs.

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Perhaps it is out of nostalgia.  I remember when … the north end was not even “The Old North End.”  The north end of Colorado Springs was basically north of Uintah Street, or maybe even north of Fillmore.  The north end ended where Nevada Avenue merges onto I-25.  Rockrimmon was simply the site of the old Pikeview coal mine and, more when I was growing up, high school woodsies and keggers.

Penrose Main on Cascade Avenue was simply Penrose.  The 13-story red and white building was the only Penrose Hospital in town.  And Penrose was a visible and meaningful landmark in the town.  Until the Holly Sugar building was built in the early 1960’s, Penrose rose up out of the tree-lined streets of the north end like a beacon.  One could always orient one’s self by finding where he was in relation to Penrose Hospital.  And when it is your place of birth, it grounds one in familiarity, foundation, reassurance.  Coupled with the fact that I was born there, Penrose was also where my mother was trained and as a nurse and then employed for some 40+ years.

The Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo breakfast was a small town event.  So was the 4th of July gathering in Memorial Park.  The population throughout the 1960’s was only around 90,000 residents.  Today, the 4th of July event draws more people than that to the Park.

I remember when the Manitou Incline actually had a train car that pulled people the mile up.  Those were saner, simpler times.  And Jones Park was a hiking and backpacking experience where you would not see another hiker (and mountain bikes were not even invented) for the entire weekend.

Does it just come down to nostalgia?  Maybe it is just due to the fact that I am getting older faster and reminiscing more often and more deeply.  The old and familiar of Colorado Springs still serves as my anchor despite the changes.  I love walking down Tejon Street despite the loss of Michelle’s ice cream, Lorig’s cowboy boots and hats, Hibbard’s pneumatic tubes where your payments zoomed out of sight and where the elevator was tended by an elevator man.  I love the presence of the Fine Arts Center even though I do not take advantage of the richness of it as often as I should.  Despite my own liberal leanings, I think NORAD is awesome, the Academy is beautiful, and Fort Carson (where my uncle worked) is pretty cool.

But maybe my blurting out “I’m a native” is also about roots and place, about the rootedness in where you “grew up.”  When I told my friends in California, after living there for all of the 1980’s, that I was moving back to Colorado Springs, they thought I was crazy.  (I’m sure it was, ironically, native Californians who mostly responded with this disbelief.)

But there is something about waking up with the sun-reddened granite of the Pikes Peak summit greeting you on fall mornings that lingers bone deep.  (It is also knowing “Pikes Peak” has no possessive apostrophe and being OK with that despite being an English teacher.)  It’s knowing the effect of the chinook winds, that today’s snow may be gone by sunset tomorrow.  Or even later today.

It’s knowing that despite living in the most conservative of all counties in Colorado, we weathered Proposition 2 twenty years ago. It means we can enjoy a rich arts community even if it feels tiny at times.  It means despite our growth, we can enjoy nature experiences within our city limits and wilderness experiences within an hour’s drive.

So, yeah, I blurt out that I am a Colorado Springs native.  It’s a statement that says welcome to what I have known for many years, and it serves as the segue into the near-apology of “I know, things could be better here.”  Maybe it’s a bit protective of a life that once was and is not the reality today.  Maybe it is an invitation that says let’s continue to create a space together that has all the closeness of a small town but the richness that 400,000 people may bring.

“Tending to” Regrets

Posted in Observations with tags on December 30, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Over the last several months I have been thinking a lot about “regret” — both the concept in the abstract and two specific regrets I have somehow managed to tote along in my life for quite a while.

There are two competing perspectives, it seems to me, about “regret.”  One school of thought holds that you can’t escape having regrets; they’re part of our human make-up.  When we look back on our lives at different points, we wonder “what if” or question a decision made along the way.  Friends around me have said, “There’ll always be regrets. No escaping.  It’s human.”  I’m not a believer in “everybody does” or “it’s part of being human.”  What’s the spiritual solution to the mental obsession of regret?

Another school of thought says “get on with your life, no looking back, no regrets.”  As that great philosopher of the late 1990’s said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.”  Rafiki, from The Lion King, then goes on to say “You can either run from it, or learn from it.”  The Swami Sivananda may have influenced Rafiki’s thinking:  “Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future.”

The question that has been running around my head, then, for the past several months, is how do you get to that place of “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it”?  Of course, the past is past and what is done is done.  I get that. But just saying it doesn’t end the thinking or sometimes the downright obsession with the regret.

In 1975 (yes it goes back to the summer I graduated from high school), I was denied admission to Colorado State University.  My math scores were too low to be admitted into the College of Forestry and Natural Resources.  CSU recommended that I attend Fort Lewis College in Durango, take my math and other general ed courses there, and then transfer to CSU.  I decided in June of 1975, while working at the Colorado Outdoor School in Vail, not to pursue that path.

Instead, I worked in a factory for a few weeks and then re-applied to CSU as an Undeclared Liberal Arts student.  And I was accepted.  I went for one semester and withdrew again.  During the next 13 months, I worked the night shift at another factory.  When we got off at midnight, I would go home (usually after a stop at the Tam-O-‘Shanter Pub on Garden of the Gods Road) and write for two hours or so.  I’d write poems, short stories, one act plays usually based on my experiences in the factory and the people with whom I worked.  Motivated by the desire to write, I decided to return to Colorado State as an English major.

33 years later, after some minor turns and some major changes (like getting sober 31 years ago), I have been committed to my career in education.  It has fulfilled me and I would like to believe that I have made an impact in people’s lives over the past 28 years devoted to this honorable profession.

So, where is the regret?

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to learn to fly fish — which has meant hours spent in nature, in the mountains of Colorado, in the natural resources we are so fortunate to enjoy within such close proximity to our home.  It has rekindled my inner young adult’s spirit:  the guy who backpacked nearly every weekend from 9th grade through high school, who cross-country skied in the Colorado winters, who had two summer jobs of outdoor leadership after graduating from high school.  The 20-year old’s voice keeps whispering to me “what if…Fort Lewis College… Colorado State.”

And over the past two and a half years, I have the had opportunity to write a blog for a local fly fishing shop.  As I have developed my own fly fishing skills, I have had the opportunity to interview fly fishing guides, to write about some of the spectacular experiences Jannetta and I have had in some of the most beautiful country in Colorado.  I have had the opportunity to advocate, at times, for the preservation and conservation of our natural resources, specifically cold water fisheries and wilderness preservation.  It’s probably the most sustained writing I have done —even in its sporadicalness — over the past several (many, many) years.  So the young adult factory worker, the one who was motivated to return to college to study the craft of writing and literary arts, is passing me mental notes:  “what if … you had pursued writing more aggressively after CSU rather than heading into the field of education?”

Grace Slick captures the essence of my two somewhat interwoven regrets:  “When you get older, it’s not about what you did that you regret; it’s what you didn’t do.”

As I write this, I see the beauty of my own life right now: the rich profession I have enjoyed for nearly 30 years;  the opportunity to spend considerable time in the outdoors pursuing fly fishing (more than a hobby or pastime and closer to an obsession) AND with the person I love; the chance to write about that obsession, er…interest on a frequent basis.

(Amazing how writing will do that — reveal some truths about one’s own life.  I’m not dissatisfied with what my life looks like and still …)

In studying “regret” — not the kind that could be defined by past actions (because two things can happen with those:  karma or making amends) but the type of regret that can be defined as inaction or not accomplishing something — I have discovered this:

Henry David Thoreau writes “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret is to live afresh.”

I have probably attempted to smother the sorrow of not pursuing the academic path offered by CSU’s College of Forestry and the sorrow of not pursuing more aggressively my own desire to write.  Thoreau’s comment to “tend and cherish” is more how I try and live today. His admonition to not “smother your sorrow” is, for me, right on target.  It has never worked for me to try and stifle, smother, or deny my human emotions.  Why do that with feelings of regret that surface?  The question becomes: what to do with them?

“Tend and cherish” until it becomes a “separate and integral interest” sounds like detaching (with love) from the regret while also realizing its essence.  For whatever reasons that a profession in Forestry or a more active engagement in writing did not materialize (addictions, then lack of focus, then lack of resolve), the “integral interest” is still with me.  Who we are and what we know at a given point in our life form the foundation for our decisions made at that point. I think that what remains, the integral interest, will need to take a new form than they may have taken 30 years ago.

The road down the College of Forestry & Natural Resources and the road down total immersion in writing are still seen from my rear-view mirror.  Any regrets that have traveled with me, stored away in the trunk of the car, can also allow me to “live afresh” on this road I have traveled.  They don’t have to be smothered but, instead, freed to bring energy into this day.  I think their essence will be part of my recovery as the two converge to meet on the banks of a river.

William Shatner says “Regret is the worst human emotion. If you took another road, you might have fallen off a cliff. I’m content.”

As am I.

My brother. The cop.

Posted in Observations, People with tags on December 23, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

My brother retired a few years ago from being a cop.  He served the Colorado Springs community, his hometown, for 30 years.

I learned a little about police work watching my brother.  He worked the bar detail for awhile checking places like The Wagon Wheel on (what was then) the east part of town and then he’d drive over to The Cotton Club in downtown Colorado Springs.  Bar owners liked him.  He was fair with them.  Wanted to protect their business, their livelihood. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a sergeant and then working undercover on drug detail.  He once described police work as hours of routine and monotony interrupted by very intense, life or death, adrenaline-pumping action.  Arriving on the scene of a bar fight, or busting through a door with a suspected meth dealer, armed, on the other side gets your attention.

As a cop, his interactions with the public were almost always in high stress, unpredictable situations.  You don’t roll up on the scene where humanity is showcasing its finest behavior.  You get a tainted view of humanity, I suspect,  because you constantly view its underbelly.  It’s the nature of the job.  And it takes its toll.

My brother was a good cop.  And by that, I mean he was skilled at what he did; he was respected by his peers and by cops who served under him in his sergeant command.  And he was a good cop, an ethical one.  He lives by a strong moral compass.

And this writing is not some unexamined, younger-brother-admiration of his older brother.  We argue.  We don’t see eye-to-eye.  My brother, 15 years older, is a product of the 1950’s.  He is on the conservative end of the spectrum.  My liberal leanings are fodder for an argument in which he always seems ready and willing to engage.  I both admire his conviction to his beliefs and wince sometimes at his unwavering adherence to them.  I suppose it is true with all of us — “conviction to” borders on inflexibility. ”Seek to understand” sometimes doesn’t exist.

I have thought a lot about him over the last several months.  I have thought a lot about cops.  I have thought a lot about community. About humanity.

I have thought a lot about Eric Garner and Michael Brown.  I don’t understand … I’ll just leave it at that.  I don’t understand.  How they both died, unarmed, by the hands of  cops for apparently pretty minor crimes.  How their resistance to whatever the cops were asking them to do escalated so quickly that they were dead within minutes of the interaction.  And I have thought about Tamir Rice who, at 12 years old, was shot within seconds of cops arriving at the park where Rice was brandishing an Airsoft pellet gun.  Or playing with.  His naiveté and kid-innocence tiptoed up to adult realities he could not really know.

Three black males — 12, 18, 43 — dead on the street.

And I have thought about cops being shot at lunch, like the two in Las Vegas over the summer, and, more recently, the two in their cruiser on a Brooklyn street.  I don’t understand.

Our view is skewed by the color of our fellow man’s skin or the hue of his uniform.  Are we all becoming profilers — racial, ethnic, religious, gender, occupation?  Our reactions toward and interactions with others are based on perceived and preconceived roles rather than relationships.  Perception is reality.  The cop in blue or the black man in a hoodie.  The cop.  The black man. Threat.

We see an icon, an image, a caricature.  We have lost touch with our humanity.  We become transfixed with seeing images of a black kid hugging a white cop not only because of racial implications in the photo, but maybe because of the touch.  Arms around each other.  Body to body.  The humanness. When are we ever this close to another human being, particularly those we may see as a threat?

The creation of more dialogue to build understanding and relationship won’t guarantee a fix.  But the absence of dialogue, the lack of effort to build understanding, surely guarantees no progress. The human voice touches.  Art touches.  Literature touches.

The cop.

My brother.

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