Archive for the Observations Category

Variations on a Theme

Posted in Observations, People on April 7, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Georgia O’Keeffe drew, painted, sketched, studied thousands of Calla Lilies.  Hundreds, thousands, of skulls.  She never painted the same lily twice.  Each a different angle.  A new perspective.  A different shade of white.  A Calla Lily situated against a skull.  Another against the robin egg sky over the red New Mexico landscape. When asked, she said she neither liked nor disliked lilies.  She had “no feelings at all, really, toward them.”

And so it is with my father.  I turn him this way for a view in.  A glimpse from this angle.  Place him in the piñon-covered hills in Huerfano County walking where his roots are, roots that for him would never take hold.  Place him here, on the barstool of the Bella Vista, smoke-filled, Anne Murray on the jukebox.  I turn him over in the palm of my mind.  Place him on a Greyhound bus.  Still photos from a restless life.

I hold his image here: the distance from my my mind’s eye to my fingertips.  And it’s this space, this distance, that distinguishes my approach from O’Keeffe’s and her Calla Lily.  I have no feeling at all, really, toward the man.  But this space, this reach between the father and the son, I roll around in the soft light of a pinon-scented, smoke-filled landscape.



Untold Tales at the Tailwaters

Posted in Fishing, Observations, People, Places on January 20, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Five of us headed to the Arkansas River, to the tailwaters below the dam on Lake Pueblo.  Usually we head toward the Nature Center or Valco Ponds.  This day, we went further downstream instead, more into the city of Pueblo.  Fishing in an urban setting is a different experience than being in the Canyon, or wading at Deckers, or stalking brookies in a small stream.

Oh the people we met.

As we were getting ourselves ready, a Hispanic man pulled into the dirt parking lot in a dark red sedan and began to get ready.  He said hello as he began to get his waders on and get his rod set up.  In a few minutes, he was offering some recommendations.  Obviously a local, he certainly knew the river.  If we were heading upstream, he said, pointing with his rod, fish at a hole just a little ways up. Another hole is by the rocks, further, just around the bend.  He offered the suggestions freely, as if he were talking to a couple of long-time friends.  We thanked him as we headed upstream where we fished for the next couple of hours.

Back at the car having lunch, an old Chevy blazer pulled in: grey, dark windows, hip hop pouring out of the open windows.  Another older model SUV pulled in next to them.  Both cars were packed with Latino and Latina teens and young adults in their early 20s.  Each one had a bottle of beer.  A few got out of the cars and passed around the joint somebody offered.

Before long, one by one they each had put on a light blue t-shirt.  Some of the guys had draped the shirt over their shoulder as they laughed, drank, smoked.

It was amazing how many young people were there so quickly.  One guy came over toward my car where I was sitting.  He had a beer in one hand and cradled a Crown Royal purple box in the other.

“You had any luck?” he asked, his baseball cap pulled down to eyebrow level.

”Caught two,” I said.

”I usually come down for night fishing.  I work ‘til 7, come down at 9 and fish under that bridge until about 11.  I’ve just been having this craving for trout…you know how that goes?  But I haven’t had much luck since Christmas!”

I wondered why he was down there now, with his group of friends.  I don’t know if I asked what was happening or not.  Somehow he told me:  they were there honoring a friend, 19, who had died in the last week.  Had left a party drunk to go get a deck of playing cards.  Took a corner over by Irving School, “you know where that’s at” he asked, pointing east.  I shrugged.  ”Not really.”  ”Yeah, he took a corner down there.  At about 90.  Rolled it.  Killed himself.”  I wondered to myself if he saw the sad irony happening in that dirt parking lot.  ”These are his friends.  So we came down to honor him.”  Now I could see that the blue shirts were a tribute with images of their deceased friend silk-screened on them.

Maybe his need to tell somebody was relieved.  Maybe it was just time to go back to his friends at the grey Blazer.  We shook hands.  I told him to be careful today.  He nodded.  ”We will.”

A few minutes later, my nephew and I were heading upstream again.  An older married couple was behind us, out walking their two dogs.  The man called out “where are you guys going to fish?”  We told him we didn’t know, we’d just pick a spot.  He was a local, too, having moved there from “the Midwest” five years prior.  He told us of some holes and stretches, under the railroad bridge, or down by the culvert feeding the river, and then further up by the spillway.  Conor asked what had brought them to Pueblo.  ”That’s a good question,” the man said. His wife offered, “we visited some friends here and decided to move. Like anyplace, it has its pros and cons.”  We turned off the path and headed down to the river with a “thanks for talking” and a return “good luck.”

I think of the mix here along the banks of the Arkansas.  The friendliness of the locals sharing fishing information.  A steady stream of folks walking and biking along the trails that parallel the river. An incredibly large group of teens — tattooed, stoned, drunk and getting more loaded — sharing their loss, their pain.  A married couple, retired, enjoying their walk along a river bank in a town which somehow became part of their destiny.

At the end of the day, the five of us stripped off our waders, each with our own story, each with our own path that somehow got us here today, our stories converging once again and yet still, here at the Tailwaters.

Sober Mercies … yes, the book moved me.

Posted in Observations, People on January 18, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

For those of you who know me, you know that I am neither a woman nor a Christian in the devout Christian sort of way.  But enough about me.  I want to share my thoughts on a forthcoming book, Sober Mercies, by my friend Heather Kopp.  Despite our differences, her book moved me and, despite our differences, she made me consider my own relationship with a Higher Power, my own addictions, and my own path of recovery.

Heather’s book traces her own recovery … and, yes, I have read many of “those kind” of memoirs.  The recovery-story memoir.  Heather’s exploration, though, was new for me.  I’ll put to the side her experience of being a recovering woman;  I think men and women have distinctly different issues in both active addiction and in recovery.  That is not to say we don’t have similarities — self-loathing, deception, secrecy, feeling alone, desperate for help while isolating and distancing ourselves from that very help — but gender does make a difference.  I did get greater insights into the challenges of a woman’s path to recovery, though, so I am grateful for Heather sharing her experience.

What moved me, though, was Heather’s experience as a Christian woman moving toward her path of recovery and her subsequent journey on that path.  With the very foundational competing definitions of alcoholism — is it weak-willed, immoral, sinful behavior or is alcoholism a disease of mind, body, spirit? — Heather confronts conflicting belief systems.  A committed Christian woman entering recovery, Heather not only battles the nature of addiction but also the nature of conviction.  And her path unfolds as a sober Christian woman — or as her sub-title expresses:  How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk.

I think Sober Mercies is a moving and valuable read in the genre of recovery memoirs.  Heather’s story is moving, graceful, and meaningful not only for women who may be entering (or well into) recovery from alcoholism, and not only for Christian women, but for anybody walking the path of recovery and developing a relationship with a Higher Power, a God, of their own understanding.

The Blind Faith of Lola

Posted in Observations on January 9, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

ImageA few years ago, my daughter brought home a little black and white kitten whom she soon named Lola.  When we stood in the kitchen, Jessica holding Lola in her arms, I noticed that Lola’s pupils were dilated even though it was a brightly lit room.  I questioned whether her eyes functioned correctly.

Sure enough, Lola is blind.  Oh, we can’t tell how blind she is, but she is certainly visually impaired.  She runs into walls.  She pounces on our other, older, wiser cat, Harry, but misses him by several inches.  She pounces on items on the floor — but overshoots them nearly every time.  Jannetta says Lola sees the shadows and traces the movement with her eyes.  I am convinced she can barely see anything.

Lola’s blindness doesn’t make her any less daring, though.  She wants to be like a normally visioned cat.  She will make her way to the top of my desk, or to the window-sill, or to stretch out on the bed.  She slowly, courageously inches her way to the top of my desk, for example, first by getting to the seat of my chair, and then to the top of my desk — using her front feet just as a blind person may use a white cane to judge distance.  She’ll explore the desktop just as Harry does.  She’ll sit in the window-sill enjoying the warmth of the sun.

But then she needs to jump down.  She makes her way around the books, over the papers, across the top of my desk.  And she gets to the edge.  She paws at the air with her white front foot. Then she switches feet — feeling in the air for something of substance.  But it is just air.  She stares out.  Whatever visual impairment she suffers, it includes depth perception.  She knows the firm hardwood floor is there, distant  … but how far of a drop?

Finally, she jumps.  It is some sort of a blend between a tentative jump and one of confidence.  She doesn’t jump down — she jumps out.  Her legs are spread just a little wider. Unless my eyes deceive me, her legs are bent a little at the joints to absorb the impact when she lands.  And her landings, it appears, are an unpredictability to her.  She knows she will land firmly on the firm floor;  it is just a matter of how long will she be in flight.

And she does land.  She steadies herself after the abrupt landing.  She strides away, confident, into the blend of shadow and light.

24 Hour Resolution

Posted in Observations, People, Uncategorized on January 1, 2013 by Vince.Puzick


I don’t write New Year’s resolutions. Not for over 25 years now.  I made plenty of resolutions before then, but they were resolutions with plenty of words but with neither action nor commitment.  They seemed like good ways to put the past to bed and arise on January 1st of the new year with, well, resolve.  I stole from the self-help book du jour.  They were good resolutions, well intentioned, not overly ambitious but promising to be pay dividends:  get to the gym more; read more;  eat more protein, fewer carbs; be more frugal.

And the resolutions would have a short shelf-life.  Maybe they would life with me through January.  Perhaps to Valentine’s Day.  Rarely would my resolutions see the light of the Spring Equinox. I’m human, after all, and a life-time of steadfast, sheer willpower-driven resolve is hard to sustain.

So I stopped writing resolutions for the new year.  I shifted to daily commitments.  I guess, in essence, I resolve to live each 24 hours to the best of my ability.  To live these next 24 hours with integrity.  To live these next 24 hours a little less selfishly, a little more selflessly.  To live these next 24 hours with a little more God-consciousness (Christ-consciousness, Divine Mind, Buddha Nature), a little less self-consciousness.

I’m human, after all, and if my reflection at the end of the day predictably reveals my humanness, then I get another chance, tomorrow, at sunrise.

The Day After

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching, Uncategorized on December 17, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I remember preparing for class my English class of April 21st, 1999.  It was a Wednesday, the day after Columbine.  First period would be the most challenging in some ways — the students’ first chance to be in class together after a night that was too long, too draining.  Of course, many had talked to each other on the phone the night before.  They had talked, hugged, probably cried in the halls in the morning before class.  Class time, though, would be the first time that we came together as a tiny little community — a community of learners, a community of people who truly cared for one another — and I felt inadequately qualified for what those first 50 minutes of the school day might hold for us all.

How do you prepare at all for the kind of conversation — or  no conversation? — that was about to unfold?  I decided that I needed three plans … and would have to just rely on my own gut instinct to read the class that I had come to know so well over the prior months.  I would need to take their lead:  were they needing to talk as a group?  were they needing to just return to the normalcy of the class and continue with the lessons we had been working on since Monday?  or would it need to be some blend of those two?

I went into class prepared for all three scenarios.

What I knew I would get from this class was unfiltered, raw emotions and probably some deep reflection on the events of the previous 15 or 16 hours.  They were my IB sophomores — smart, insightful, lively…and only 14, 15 or 16 years old.  Littleton is 60 miles away from us.  I did not think that the students would have personal connections with any students from Columbine High School.

I was wrong.  Jesse knew guys from their football team because of summer leagues and football camps.  Other kids had friends either from the school or friends of friends from Littleton.  It was closer to home than I thought.

I let them talk.  And talk some more.  And get quiet in a reflective moment when they knew — but could not articulate — the feelings that a classmate was either expressing or trying to express.  They looked to me not so much to lead a conversation but to provide a safe place to have the conversation.  And we did.  What they needed — what we needed — was genuine connection, honest and safe dialogue.

When the energy was almost exhausted from the room, when they had connected to each other’s lives in ways that made the world safe and ok again for them right there and then, I shared the only piece of literature I brought to class that day,  an excerpt from Donne:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I shared that the deaths of the teens 60 miles to the north of us diminished me.  We all feel, grieve, cry, and mourn people with whom we have distant connections because we are involved in mankind.  We cannot lose that.

Assault Art

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching on December 15, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

Sandy Hook Elementary. Aurora movie theatre. Virginia Tech. … Columbine.

Such horrendous acts are too complex to reduce to simple cause-effect relationships, to reduce to simple answers answering a complex and bewildering “why.” I want to offer this thought, though, knowing it is probably inadequate and insufficient.

One of the reasons I love being an English teacher and a student of literature — being brought to tears by poetry, being moved to consider my own tiny existence in the aftermath of a performance of a Shakespeare play or an O’Neill drama — is that, as has been said so often, literature conveys the human experience. Literature, a window into another’s experience and a mirror of my own, serves to nurture my vulnerable soul. It’s why I go to art galleries, why I “bother” to take time out during my summer or during a vacation to go to a museum, a concert, or a gallery. The arts — dramatic, literary, visual, musical — touch, move, inspire, awe me.

And I wonder about the effects of decreasing attention to these arts in our schools today. English classes should serve up heaping spoonfuls of Mary Oliver like metaphorical meringue. We should feast on Hemingway. We should have mounds of Morrison. All kids should receive a birth certificate and a library card when they enter the world. They should — we should — celebrate the human experience with a mandated trip to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and a summer performance by Theatreworks. Immediately after immunizations, children should be prescribed one story read to them. Two if they are feverish. Daily doses for a lifetime.

My point is this: In a world growing more complex with interdependent relationships across the room, across town, across zip codes, across area codes and time zones, we need the window of literature even more. We need the glimpse into our shared experience.

Maybe the solution is not so much in controlling guns or threatening to snatch away what people argue is their Constitutional right. Don’t get me wrong; I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why a person needs an assault rifle for any sort of “sport” shooting; their sole purpose is to inflict as much damage in as little time with as little effort as possible. The very name — assault rifle — is an assault on reason and civility.

But maybe we need to think and act differently to find a solution. Maybe the solution is not just in limitation and restriction. Maybe it is to be found in expansion and inclusion. Maybe white males (it’s always white males, isn’t it, behind the mask, under the body armor, firing the weapon?) would be less likely to pull the trigger if they recognized the humanity in “the other,” and perhaps if they were in touch with their own.

Maybe part of the solution is thinking bigger — where we recognize each other’s humanity, where we peer through the window of literature into the lives of others and into our own reflection.

Why This is Not Columbine … or any other “school shooting”

Posted in Observations, People on July 21, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

As the adrenaline rush begins to subside from the latest violent episode to jolt our society, I have heard the comparisons between the “Movie Theater Massacre” (as one media source dubbed it — how quick we are to “name” our tragedies for the continuous scroll at the bottom of the screen) and Columbine.

But how similar are they, really? What they share is a perpetrator (or perpetrators in the case of Columbine) who were meticulous in their planning and very, very callous, calculating and cold-blooded in their thinking and in their actions. They are similar in their inexplicability. Rational, sane, sober, clear-thinking people cannot fathom what drives a person to this level of violence. Even after thoroughly digging into the history of the two Columbine killers, as did Dave Cullen in Columbine, we cannot really get to a deep level of understanding of what motivates mass murderers.  The events are similar that innocent victims had their lives taken at the hands of males who are disconnected — emotionally, spiritually, mentally — from their fellows.

But it is the difference between the two events that occupies my thinking.  Schools are self-contained cultures and communities within the walls of their building — and even beyond the walls.  Columbine had its own culture and community.  Relationships formed.  Cliques and clubs — informal and formal — shaped part of the school culture and community.  Students knew who belonged to which club or group and knew those students who sort of move in and out of given groups.  Schools have probably been like that forever.  I was a jock — but mainly during baseball season.  I was not a stoner.  I didn’t hang out at the smoker corner across the street.  I was academic but I was not AN academic.  I certainly wasn’t preppy.  There were drama kids and yearbook kids.   I knew which students fell into those groups, though, and I was good with it.  I think we were all good with it then.

The point I am trying to make here is that a school culture and community  is formed and shaped over time with student and adult populations that, in the case of high school, come together every day for years.  Students enter as 14  year old freshmen and exit as 18 or 19 year old young adults.  We may not hang out with all of our high school graduating class, but we know them.  We are “part of the class of ’75 (or ’98, or 2012)” even if we are on the fringes.  And there is continuity as next year’s entering freshmen enter the mix.  Traditions evolve.  Histories develop.

At the movie theater, though, we have come together for a mere 2-hour purpose.  We may come with one or two friends or as one person in a larger group (particularly at a midnight showing such as that on July 20th).  Some of us may even go to the movie alone.  The only interest we know we share is that particular film, actor, or genre of movie.  We have not built relationships over time.  We have not shared the joy of team victories or the thrill of a prom.  Our time together will be a mere flicker in our lives.  We are an audience — expecting to be entertained, stimulated, or otherwise engaged.  Mostly we are passive participants.  Interactions are superficial if they happen at all.  Of course, we may share a laugh, or a tear, or even an eruption of applause at the end of the film.  We share the moment.

We occupy our individual seat.  So does the man next to us and the woman down the row.

But no man is an island.  And as the violence exploded in that Aurora theater early on Friday morning, we all experienced the loss.  “Each man’s death diminishes me.”  After the event, community surfaces.  Those in the theater are like Titanic survivors, or Mountain Shadows residents — or Columbine students and teachers: nobody else will share what they directly experienced.  What springs up BECAUSE of their experience is community.  They have a bond — whether it is further developed or not — that nobody outside of that theater can share.  The teenage boy who helped the young couple with their small children — only audience members a few minutes before — are now part of that community.  That which didn’t exist before, exists after the fact.

It is ironic that community is what sustains us after these tragic events and that a tragic event can create community where none existed before.

And maybe in that way the two events become more similar.  The threads of shared experience weave together.  And we all respond as another thread in this fabric of the larger community.

And maybe, just maybe, in that we have a chance.

Lip Lancing: one fish’s metaphor for living

Posted in Fishing, Observations on April 23, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

I like the hole just downstream from the rock at the curve in the river. Next to that submerged log on the bank.  Near the cattails jutting up in the air like sentinels.  They weren’t acting like sentinels this day , though.  More like spectators.  That part of the river, at this time of the year, with the early spring bugs just hatching, is a tasty place to spend the day.

I usually start the day down low.  Watch for any new bugs emerging from the rock and pebbly floor of the river.  As the day progresses, I move up and down the column.  That way, I can feed in either the slow or the fast water, next to the rock or closer in by the bank.  It’s my favorite feeding hole.  If it is a cloudier day, those Blue Winged Ones start hitting the water and I can get a pretty good meal in just a few rises.

Well, you know, they say fly fishing — or what we call “lip lancing” —  is a metaphor for life.  I guess that’s true for me, too. You jockey for position. Up and down the column.  Close to and further from the rock, maybe move over closer to the bank.  I’d use those cattails to help me position safely against the bank of the river.  It’s a fact of life is, though: you’re facing upstream, tail-fin constantly moving to steady yourself, keeping a wary eye out for anything from above.  I mean, the Rainbow downstream in the riffles is no threat, right?  Always from above.  They come from above.

You’re in the flow of the stream.  A steady rhythm of the water rushing through your gills.  Rising and eating, dropping back down, re-entering the rhythm of the river.  The Blue Winged One hits the water just upstream from the rock.  I watch it as it dips in the current.  I rise, taking the meal off the surface of the water.

The lancing in my lip stings for just a flicker of fin.  I dive back toward the rock.  An incredible force turns me.  I thrash. Rise and break through the water.  Try to dive again.  Get turned sideways against the current of the river.  Disoriented.  Where am I?  Rise again.  I swim in the direction of the pulling force.  Less resistance. I think I am free.  I get turned again.  I turn to swim downstream, toward the ripples with the Rainbow.  I see them scatter.  I’m feeling tired.  I get turned again. Pulled upstream.

They come from above.  I get scooped up in some contraption that lifts me out of the river and into the way-too-dry, way-too-bright air.  I’m suspended above the river.  My lip is throbbing.  My gills heave.  Then I am out of “the net,” suspended upside down in the hand of the one from above.  I twitch.  I flail.  To no avail.  The lancing in my lip stings again.  More pressure on my lip.  Then nothing.  No stinging.

I’m right-side up again.  Then I feel the cool rush of the water on me.  Water flows through my gills.  I can’t move though.  Still held.  I feel alive again.  Strong.  Then the release.  I take off.  Dive.  Swim along the river bottom to the safety of the bank.

Life is like that. Enjoying the steady rhythmic river when, without warning, so suddenly snatched from the comfort of your life.   When the trout-eat-trout competition that is basic survival turns into the fight for your life.  Some say it makes you appreciate what you have — when you come face to face with your own mortality, you live more fully each moment of the day.

That’s a bunch of crap.  I huddle under the bank, under the watchful eye of the cattail sentinels, wondering what the hell just happened.  I only have a memory of about seven seconds.  After I catch my breath, I’ll be right back out there. In the unpredictable seam of fast and slow water.  Suspended in the water column.   Rising for a meal.

If “family” could talk

Posted in Observations, People on April 3, 2012 by Vince.Puzick

If my “family” — the collective unit — could talk, it would have said something like “c’mon, people, get it together” when I was growing up. “Family” would have recognized we’re all fine and interesting people. It would have seen the potential in each individual member and nurtured each one toward that potential. “Family” would have recognized the joys and sorrows of living, celebrated the former, mourned the latter. It would have seen the creative genius of Phil. And celebrated each of his accomplishments. “Family” would have nurtured the spirited independence of Deb, celebrated her unique and artistic eye. “Family” would have smoothed the rough edge off of Steve’s sturdy shoulders, shoulders strong enough to carry burdens thrust upon him. Celebrated his strength without shackling and muzzling his sensitive nature beneath an armor of 50’s macho. “Family” would have said “you’re not just alright, you kick ass.”.

Instead, “family” waited patiently until we grew older. “Family” waited until we each grew stronger and gentler with ourselves and with each other. “Family” invited us back together, painted us in soft watercolors on stretched canvas: river in the foreground, Collegiate Peaks in the back. “Family” said “don’t give up.”.

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